February, 2000 New York City, NY Al was growing more steady by the moment, partly because he was adjusting to the sudden interruptions and partly because they were growing fewer and more far between. He told Sam this, but the scientist still took hold of his arm and led him back inside. Al was beginning to wish everyone would stop making a big deal out of it, especially seeing as he didn't consider it anything to fuss over. The feel of Sam's firm grasp against his skin sent conflicting messages: that he should be annoyed and that he should be grateful. Given how intensely he remembered missing Sam, he settled for the latter. They went back to the room to see Beth standing outside the door, looking distinctly displeased with them both. "Sylvia was all ready to discharge you until she found out you were already gone," she scolded and he couldn't tell if she was truly upset or just saying that. She shook her head at them, then softened. "Did you do whatever you needed to do?" "Yeah." Al took in her expression and then, abruptly, he remembered the leap Sam had told them about, remembered going to see her at Sam's gentle urgings, remembered being furious at himself for lying to Sam and for putting her through all this because of his own stubborn pride. He could see her tears in his mind, could feel the anguish when the only thing he wanted was to touch her and tell her he was sorry and he couldn't. Just one whisper, one brush of her skin against his, it would have been enough to ease his pain, and maybe hers. But he couldn't reach her; he'd begged and she couldn't hear. But then...he'd kissed her... "Al?" Sam's voice broke through and only then did Al realize he'd drifted again, that he was leaning against the wall, his whole body trembling beyond his control. Sam was keeping him upright and Beth was touching his hair, trying to reach him, to understand. "I'm okay," he assured Sam, moving to the bench and sitting down. "I just..." Beth knelt in front of him, concern rooted deep in her eyes. "Al, I want you to stay here overnight." He reached out hesitantly and rested his hand on her shoulder, half-surprised when he made contact. Her expression told him he wasn't making a good case for his inevitable protest to her suggestion, but he couldn't help himself. This particular memory wasn't pleasant, and it was strong. Sam's face registered sudden understanding; he knew what Al had just remembered. "I really don't want to stay here, honey." "Beth, he'll be okay. You just need to give him some time to explain," Sam piped up, much to Al's surprise. He'd expected both of them to baby him. She didn't look sold, though. "I don't know, Al...you're really starting to worry me." He moved forward and took her hands in his, using any excuse he could to touch her. "I know. I'm sorry, but we'll talk when we get home, okay?" She sighed and he knew that he had her. "Okay, but it's against my better judgment." He smiled and hugged her gently, almost forgetting Sam's presence for the moment. "Thanks." She pulled back and looked up at Sam. "You get him signed out - I'm going to bring the car around. We can pick up something to eat on the way home." Sam looked at his watch, noting how late it was getting. "Okay, I got him." "You'd think I was a piece of cargo," Al mumbled sourly. "Precious cargo," Beth corrected and kissed him before heading out to the car. Al watched her go until Sam touched his shoulder gently. "You remember that leap, don't you?" Al turned his attentions to his friend. "This history is still the one that stands out in my mind, but the other one is clear enough to remember most everything about you...and how it felt going all those years without her." He stood up and Sam moved beside him, falling into step as they headed for the front desk. "What changed your mind after you told me ‘no'?" Sam stared straight ahead. "After what you did for Tom? After you told me what you knew and how, if I'd followed the rules with him, he'd still be dead...after you helped me anyhow, how could I not? You gave me a very precious gift at a high price." "So did you, eventually." "I didn't know what I was giving up when I did it; you did," Sam persisted. "And Donna, too - you helped me with her, I remembered after I leaped in here. I knew, every time I thought of Beth and you, that I didn't deserve to have you as my friend." Al put out a hand to stop him. "Sam, that's nothing but sentimental baloney." Sam looked sadly at him. "I don't think so," he said and resumed walking without a word. Al sighed and trudged after. They checked Al out of the hospital and Beth was waiting for them outside. It was long since dark and he was grateful that it was covering for any residual unsteadiness he was experiencing. He was only getting fleeting images, now, of basically minor events. After her preliminary fussing over Al had passed, he leaned back in the passenger seat and watched her drive, took in every little nuance that he hadn't noticed for years. Maybe getting both timelines was more of a blessing than a curse. He suddenly remembered what he'd been meaning to tell Sam since that morning and he reached into his pocket and pulled out the piece of paper, smiling slightly to see that it was still there. "Here, kid," he said, passing it back, "here's Tom's current address and phone." Sam accepted it, slowly, disbelief on his face. "I knew if anyone could find him, it'd be you." "A friend called me this morning with it. He called me back later this afternoon because he happened to find out about Operation Lazarus and he thought I should know." "What's that?" Beth asked, sparing him a fleeting glance that he caught easily in the darkness. He hesitated, not certain if telling her was a good idea at this point. "I'll tell you tonight." Her face was now distinctly annoyed and he winced. "Fine." Sam seemed oblivious to the exchange, but was staring at the paper, reading it over and over by the lights of the city even though one glance had committed it to memory. Al smiled slightly, closed his eyes, and leaned against the door of the car, the hum of the engine lulling him into a light sleep. ~~~~~~ Sam sat alone in the Calaviccis' family room, staring at the phone. He wasn't certain why he was so scared to call his own brother, but it probably had to do with the violent reaction Donna's sister had had at the mere mention of him, let alone his thoughts of what could have happened had he claimed that's who he was. He was trusting Tom to be a little more levelheaded and, potentially, to recognize his voice. He glanced out in the general direction of Al's bedroom, hoping Beth was doing okay, and then decided he was done stalling. He dialed, clutching the phone tensely. Sam was surprised when a woman answered, but then abrupt memories of Shelly, Tom's wife, flooded his mind. He also had the vague impression of a nephew and excitement momentarily overtook apprehension. "Is Tom there?" "Can I ask who's calling?" she asked politely and, to Sam's dismay, without a trace of recognition. "I'm...an old friend." "Hold on just a minute." Sam smiled, relieved, and tried to conjure up memories of her and the still-unnamed boy. Although, he corrected mentally, doing the math, he probably wasn't a boy anymore. Depending on when Tom married, he could be a teenager, or even a young man. Between hearing about Al's girls and how they were already having children of their own and now thinking of the age of Tom's son, Sam was starting to feel old. "Yes?" Sam recognized the voice instantly and he could feel his heart race out of control. "Tom?" One word obviously wasn't enough to give him a good idea of who was calling, but there was hesitation. "Yes...who is this?" The one thing Sam hadn't given much thought to was how he was going to answer that one. Without being hung up on again, that is. "This is going to be a little difficult to explain," he started slowly. As it turned out, explanations weren't necessary. "Oh... It can't be!" Tom's astonished statement came forth almost instantly. "Who is this?" he repeated, with an urgent edge to the words. "It's Sam." "Sam?!" Tom's cry drew a startled echo from Shelly. "Where the hell are you?!" "At the moment I'm in New York with a friend." Sam bit his lip, hardly knowing where to start, then decided to let Tom lead. "Where have you _been_?! Sam, everyone thinks you're dead - we've thought that for years. And now you just pop up out of nowhere...." Sam sat forward. "I'm okay, Tom, I'm fine. But I'm very...confused and the last five years are kind of blurry." "Sam, who knows you're alive?" he persisted. Sam knew he'd have to give a little before he could coax the information he wanted out of him. "Just you. You're the first person I've been able to find. I tried calling Mom's house in Hawaii, but nobody there knew her. And I can't find Donna..." Sam paused, holding back his anxiety and the overwhelming relief that he'd found someone (that Al'd found someone, he corrected mentally) and that he wasn't going crazy. "Okay, little brother, take it easy. Mom moved in with Katie and Jim about six months after you vanished. They live in Utah now where Kate works at a huge consulting firm. Donna moved in with her family in Illinois for a couple years and now I think she's somewhere in the southeast." "Great," Sam muttered. "Tom, what happened?" "I don't know, I can't tell you. All I know is what that jerk you were working with said: that you'd been working on some classified experiment out in New Mexico somewhere and there was an accident, that you were admitted to a hospital and then disappeared before you were released and nobody knows what happened to you." Tom exhaled heavily. "What did happen?" Sam strained to recall something as basic as last week and failed. All he could remember was leaping. "I don't know, Tom, and that's the truth." "Dr. Breslauer convinced Donna that you were gone and we had a memorial service for you and that was that." *Gone. Which means...what?* Sam winced at the reminder that he'd done to himself what he'd saved Al from. "Can I have Mom's and Katie's numbers? And Donna's, if you have it." "Why don't you come out here and we can work things out? There's...people to call, paperwork to handle, all that." He laughed slightly. "I hardly know where to begin. I really want to see you, Sam." "Me, too. But I can't come out there just yet. I have to help a friend out with something, first." Sam was grinning from ear-to-ear, wishing he could go out today. First Al remembering him, then this; it was almost too much. But Al was in danger of being sent to prison for something Sam was positive he wasn't capable of doing and he didn't want to go anywhere until he was certain that wasn't going to happen. Al himself wasn't being too much of a help as he was too busy worrying about and caring for Beth and him, and Sam wasn't about to let those actions condemn him. For a change, Al was the one on a timetable. "Okay, then," Tom agreed reluctantly. "Give me your number and I'll see if I can find your wife. We've sort of semi kept in touch with her and her family. I think Mom knows how to find her." Sam closed his eyes as Tom confirmed what he'd been afraid to ask about. So much of this new life felt like what had happened to Al and he'd been scared that Donna had given up, as Beth once had. "So she's still my wife?" "What did you think - she ran off with the milkman?" Tom asked lightly and Sam held back a sigh. "She had a lot of support, Sam. She thinks you're dead, but she hasn't replaced you, yet." Sam breathed a silent `thank-you' to Whomever and smiled faintly. He couldn't help but wonder that, if Beth had had that, maybe Dirk wouldn't have been able to take advantage of her like he had. Maybe she would have been able to keep faith if she'd had the network of support Donna had. "Thanks, Tom. That means a lot." "Do you have to go, or can you talk a while?" Sam leaned back in the chair, straining to see to Al's bedroom. The door was still shut, and Sam had the impression Al wasn't going to be coming out anytime that night. "I have time," he said in calm satisfaction. "I want to hear everything."