"Lost Causes"
Part V

April, 1992
Pomona, NE

He was alone again, too exhausted to move or struggle or concentrate.
All he could do was remember.

March, 1992
Santa Fe, NM

 "Dammit, Al, stop it! Stop pushing me away!" Sam's voice was forceful,
but it held a hint of desperation.

 Al had his arms crossed, trying to act indifferent. "Oh, just stop it.
Nobody cares - why should I?"

 Sam failed in his attempt to hide how much the claim had hurt. "I

 "Please! I'm a pity project, nothing more. I'm _your_ pity project,
Beckett," Al spat. "And I won't do it anymore."

 "That's simply not true!"

 "You have Quantum Leap now - you got what you wanted from me. Now leave
me alone!"

 "Don't you get it? The project's not important. I thought we were
partners." Sam moved in beside him, hands held out in a silent plea.

 Al swung around to face him. "Partners?! You've got to be kidding

 Sam visibly calmed himself. "Just tell me what you need, Al. Do you
need me to police your room every night for liquor? Do you need me to
get you some help? Do you need me to press you until you can get
everything out that you need to? I'll do it - whatever you need. The one
thing I _won't_ do is sit back and let you throw your life away."

 "Tough. It's _my_ life. You can't tell me how to live it!"

 "Really?" Sam demanded, his voice rising again. "Well, you're not
trying hard enough! You did it - you were making it work - and you

 "It wasn't working - can't you see that?" A waver entered Al's voice.
"There are...echoes in my mind that won't go away. I can't live with
them, Sam, I can't."

 "Al..." Sam almost stopped himself from continuing, almost prevented
the words from actually leaving his mouth, but then he continued,
knowing as he spoke that he'd regret it. "You have to make a decision on
where you stand."

 Al straightened. "I tried your way. It got me torment - nightmares,
voices that call to me and won't stop no matter how much I try. My way
gets me silence."

 Sam shook his head, knowing what was coming. "If you leave, don't
bother coming back."

 "I don't need you in my life and I don't _want_ you in my life. I've
had a better offer!" Al stormed out of Sam's house, got in his car, and

March, 1992
Nambe, NM

 It's not as if he went hunting for it - it was more like the bar found
him. From the looks of the sharp professionally done sign advertising
use of pool tables until 3:30 AM and the clean, kept grounds on which it
rested, it seemed to be fairly nice. It wasn't a place Al had been
before, but he didn't want to go anywhere where Sam could find him.

 He stopped at the door, hesitating, his argument with Sam flashing in
his memory. *Well, if I've already failed...* Still, he wavered in
indecision for several more seconds, then pushed the door open, sat down
at the counter, and ordered a drink.

 He wasn't sure how many more he'd had before achieving the numbness
he'd gone in there to get. The only rational thought he could process
was that he'd probably be spending the night in his car; it wouldn't be
the first time that had happened. He could always have the bartender
call a cab, but he didn't want to go back to his own home, either. He
still wasn't up to seeing Sam.

 A waitress offered to call a ride on his way out, but he brushed her
off. He hadn't spoken to anyone all night except to get what he needed
and he had no desire to start now. He emerged into the night air, cold
on his face and hands, and fished his keys out clumsily.

 Al Calavicci never heard a thing. The next thing he was aware of was
waking up in a dark, cramped space. He couldn't move his arms or legs
and, had there not been so much alcohol in his system, he probably would
have registered pain in his head and his wrists. After another minute,
he began to be aware of more, as if he was rising slowly into
consciousness. He was in a car or a plane - no, definitely a car. Even
drunk, he knew what it felt like to be up in the air.

 He started yelling, kicking at the small space, as much to fight back
the fear as anything else, and finally the vehicle slowed and stopped in
what sounded like gravel. Only when they opened the trunk did he
entirely register that that was where he was. A man, tall with pale skin
and a thin beard bent over him.

 "None of that, Admiral," he reprimanded softly in a voice that turned
his stomach. "Go back to sleep." Then he pulled out a needle and Al was
no longer aware of what was going on around him anymore.

February, 2003
Stallions Gate, NM

Al Calavicci was in pain.

He laid on his bed and considered having Ziggy call Verbena or one of
the doctors on staff who had to derive some kind of perverse pleasure
from poking and prodding him endlessly. But he didn't want to move. The
room was silent and the stillness was comforting, soothing, and he
decided he could live with the pain if it meant staying right where he

As he closed his eyes, laying on his side, he felt the mattress dip
forward as someone sat on the edge of the bed. A hand rested on his arm
and he caught his breath, then looked up at the woman gazing at him. The
woman smiled, transforming her face into the expression he'd fallen in
love with oh so many years ago.

She leaned forward and kissed him gently and he felt his throat close
up. "There's something I have to tell you," he whispered, his voice
rough, but she laid a finger across his lips, shaking her head at him.

Beth laid down beside him and reached forward to hold him, pulling him
into her arms as if he was a child. Her touch eased his pain, drove away
his fear, and he leaned against her. She ran her fingers through his
curls and kissed his forehead. When she spoke, her voice was silvery and
loving. "You can't bear the weight of the world forever," she told him.
"That was always your problem, Al. You are so talented at so many
things, but letting people help you is not one of them." She continued
to stroke his hair and he felt his breathing level. "There are so many
people who care about you. Let them."

She kissed his forehead again and he opened his eyes to see the
infirmary around him, the bustle of nurses and doctors as they went
about their business. He blinked in the sudden light, disoriented. Then
Verbena was at his elbow, touching his arm in the same place as... He
frowned at the surroundings.

"What happened?" he murmured.

Her eyes were very unhappy. "You blacked out in the Control Room, Al.
Don't you remember?"

He shook his head, still confused. "No, I don't remember..." The dream
was fading, now, and he only had the faint impression of being at peace.

"Well, you're going to be fine; they'll take good care of you." She
squeezed his arm and turned to go.

"Verbena?" he called. She turned back, her eyebrow raised in question.
"If you don't need to get back to Sam right away, could you - would you
mind..." He stopped, trying again to capture the dream.

"What, Al?" she pressed carefully.
"Would you mind sitting with me a while?"

She smiled slowly and sat down beside him. "I'll stay as long as I can,"
she promised.

April, 1992
Pomona, NE

"How much longer `til they come?" Verbena asked, standing still in the
center of the room, gazing at Sam as he prowled around its perimeter.

"Any minute now."

She chewed on her bottom lip. "What are you going to do, Sam? You can't
blow this - you know that. This is our opportunity to get what we need.
The sooner we do that, the sooner we get Al out of here. And the sooner
we get you out of here."

"I'm going to see if I can keep him in the building, that's what," Sam
responded angrily. The scene his mind painted for him in perfect clarity
from the night before made his stomach twist into knots and he didn't
plan to have a repeat performance.

"Sam, they probably won't let you be there, anyway. I'll be there the
whole time, no matter where he is."

"And what if they get ready to give him a deadly virus and he's an hour
away from me - are _you_ going to stop them?"

She moved to stand in his path - his pacing was starting to drive her
nuts - and he stopped short. "Okay, you've got a point there, but by the
same token, can't you go there? I'll be able to tell you where to go."

He didn't respond as positively to the suggestion as she'd hoped. "I'd
still rather have him here. I'd still rather have some modicum of
control over this situation!"

Someone banged on his door, then Marcus opened it. "They're here," he
said, then exited as quickly as he'd come. Sam cast Verbena a desperate
look, then followed him out.

"They" turned out to be an escort of three: two men and one women. In
spite of what Sam expected, he didn't recognize any of them, and he
wondered when Zoe and Alia were introduced into the little company and
how much power they had within its confines. The tallest man stood in
front, tall and commanding with a goatee that he had a habit of stroking
as he spoke. Next to him, half a pace back on either side were his
partners, positioned as if for some official ceremony. The woman was to
his right, dressed in a loose-fitting blue dress and smiling slightly as
she eyed them. To his left was a tall black man with anything but a
neutral expression; he seemed eager. For what, Sam didn't want to know.

Before Marcus could say anything, Sam stepped forward in an effort to
take charge. "We wanted to discuss a few details with you before you do
anything," he managed with forced confidence. Verbena stood beside him
and he took courage from her presence.

The man in the center shook his head. "We don't do deals this way. We
had an understanding from the beginning and all terms will be carried
out on both sides of this agreement." The black man nudged him and he
half-glanced behind himself. Then he straightened his shoulders. "What
did you have in mind Mr. Adams?"

"Given the...unusual nature of these circumstances, I would suggest, to
ensure good faith on both sides, that he not be removed from this

"That is unacceptable. All the information we need and all our tools -
our computers, our files - are all at our center of operations. I'm
afraid that is one factor we can't waver on." Before Sam could protest,
he held up a hand. "However, I am willing to up your fee by another
fifty thousand. And, if you can complete the job for us, we will double

"Complete the job?" Marcus said brightly, moving slightly in front of
Sam. In the leaper's mind, a dozen warning bells were going off.

"Yes. There's been a change of plans. In a week and a half, we want you
to kill him."

[OK, so I'm being really mean in this story.  Repressed emotion from
"Sink or Swim", I figure. ;-) I hope to have it all up by the end of
next week! Thanks! -amkt ]