February, 2000 New York City, NY Beth walked into their room, tossing her purse carelessly onto the bed. It bounced once and landed on the floor. She sighed, releasing only some of her irritation with the action; she wanted to save some for him. It wasn't something she was used to getting from Al: being kept in the dark. This day had been stressful enough for all involved without that, too. She turned as Al closed the door and folded her arms, nailing him with what he'd long ago dubbed ‘the Look'. It was the same look he'd claimed could melt steel and she used it on their children when they were misbehaving. It clearly stated that the last thing she wanted to hear was the phrase, ‘She did it'. Al had the decency to look abashed. "Al, what the hell is going on, here?" She wasn't going to back down until she got her answers. "I think you owe me an explanation." She found it hard to keep her fire, though, especially with the way he kept looking at her, as though he couldn't stop. He tried for a halfhearted grin, but the way she was transmitting her emotions stopped him. "Beth, there's something I have to tell you and it's not going to be easy." She retreated to the bed and sat down on it, easing up with her frustration. "What is it? After all that's been going on, I'm sure it's not-" He stepped forward quickly. "I'm remembering," he said over her words. She stopped, feeling her world close off, everything fading into the background. "What?" He knelt in front of her, but didn't touch her. "I'm remembering the other timeline, before Sam fixed things for me. When I found out about Tom, it just kind of triggered-" "What about Tom?" she asked. Her anger had dissolved, but apprehension was starting to overtake the space it had vacated. The way he kept looking at her made sense the importance of what was going on. "He was on a mission, in 1970, to rescue me, but he failed and was killed. Sam leaped into their squad to make sure the mission was a success, but, when it came down to it, he couldn't save Tom and complete the mission, so I had to make a choice." She stared at the man in front of her, astounded by his calm explanation of those events, events which had to bring to mind painful memories, and in awe of how much he had to have cared for Sam to do something like that so readily, without a second thought. "So you didn't tell him..." "There was no contest: my freedom or his life. It was an easy choice for me, but it wouldn't have been for Sam." She nodded tensely, unable to speak, and his eyes softened and he touched her cheek lightly, running his index finger across her jaw. "And, at that point, you weren't home waiting." Now that he'd brought it up, they'd have to face it. "You remember when I-" He didn't give her the chance to finish, but rose halfway and kissed her tenderly, cradling her face in his hands. She lost herself in his actions and, though he didn't say ‘I love you', his touch did: she had not felt it so clearly for a long time. Beth reacted instantly and instinctively, holding him close; it was the first time things had felt right between them since learning the truth. She never did get to finish her sentence. ~~~~~~ Al slapped the alarm off when it started and laid on his side, trying to wake up. After the day before, he was tempted to call in sick (and he certainly had a good enough excuse to do so), but that would leave his fate in Barry's hands, and he was convinced a trained monkey could do better. He smiled in amusement at the mental images that called up, especially in light of the leaps he'd been remembering. "You going to get up?" Beth asked softly and he kissed her shoulder. "So I go in an hour late. What are they going to do, fire me?" he demanded. "If you give them the right excuse," she countered, but nestled closer to him anyhow, her actions speaking volumes. "I need to get ready for work, anyway." "Mmm." "Al?" She started to turn towards him, then aborted the action almost as quickly. "Yeah?" She rested her hand on the arm that held her. "I'm sorry." He propped his head up on his hand and stared over the tumble of dark hair, sighing softly. "What for?" She shook her head and he saw the tension in her muscles. "Just am," she whispered unsteadily. "I'm sorry. I wish I could make this all go away." She didn't answer and he hugged her firmly. "I was never angry at you, Beth." She sniffed softly and he felt an irrational anger towards some unknown entity for putting her through this, for putting them all through this. "I just don't understand how it could have happened, how I could possibly-" "I know how," he interrupted in hushed tones. "I know you were scared and alone. I saw. And I understand, Beth." "It's just...gonna be hard." "I know. Believe me, I know." He stroked her hair for a moment until she relaxed and then he rolled out of the bed. "This is going to be a long day." He pulled on a robe and then sat on the edge of the bed across from her, staring out the window. She sat up slowly, running a hand through the tangle of hair that fell across her face. "Al, you're being an angel about all this," she told him, fighting for a smile. He stood up and grinned at her. "I wouldn't give up this life for anything, and, knowing what I had to go through to get it just makes it more valuable." She nodded slightly. "I'm going to go take a shower and then have Sam hook into the system from here. Maybe he can do some snooping for me today." He bent and kissed her sweetly. "Okay." Al gathered his papers for the day and, when he finally emerged, he found Sam passed out on the couch, still fully clothed, never having even made it back to the guest room. Al smiled faintly and perched on the arm of the couch watching him sleep, feeling suddenly protective. The suddenness and intensity of the emotion took him off-guard and he found himself wishing one of his children was in town, just so Sam could meet her. He sat still for at least five minutes, listening to Beth's shower run, and then reached down and shook Sam's shoulder lightly. "Hey, Sammy, rise and shine." Sam opened his eyes slowly and grinned up at Al. "I got to talk to Tom. I'd hate to see your phone bill, but I got to talk to him." Al couldn't hide his satisfaction at the statement, and he wouldn't have wanted to try. "I'm glad. And I told you before: don't worry about the bills. Did you find Donna?" His friend sat up, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. "No, but he's looking. And we still have her sister's number." "Good. You up to sitting in front of a terminal for me today, or do you have more people to call?" he asked mildly. "What can I do?" Sam asked immediately, as Al had known he would. "I've got a list of people..." "Lemme at it," Sam said stoutly. Al laughed. "Is Beth okay?" "Yeah, she's a little upset, but she'll be fine." As if on cue, the shower stopped running and both men seemed to reawaken to the fact that time was short. "I've got to go in and see if I can save my neck, but I'll give Donna's sister a call somewhere along the way if you get me the number." "Oh, Al, I don't want you to have to worry about-" "Just write it down, Sam," Al instructed patiently and watched as Sam scribbled the number on a slip of scratch paper. "Good." Both men glanced up as Beth came out of the bedroom, fastening her watch on as she went. "I've gotta get going or I'll be late, but help yourself to some breakfast, Sam." "You're not going to eat anything?" he asked. "I'll, uh, grab something on the way in." Al glanced at his watch. "Oh, geez, I may have to do the same thing." He stood up, shooting Sam a reassuring gaze as Beth walked up to him. "You sure you going to be okay going in today?" she persisted. He put her hands on her shoulders and kissed her lightly. "I'm sure. Stop worrying. Go, have a good day." "You, too." Al turned briefly to Sam. "Thanks for your help, pal. I'll be calling." He was out the door before Sam could reply. ~~~~~~ Sam spent the morning looking through the files on the names Al had given him, but nothing turned up anything suspicious other than a few minor things here and there. Meredith, it seemed, had had a little snafu with her clearance which Al had chosen either to ignore, or wasn't aware of. Knowing Al, the former was entirely possible. Sam stared at the list of names and realized he wasn't going to get anywhere until he had a feel for how the flow of money actually went. The list, he recalled abruptly, was created more for busywork than anything else, before Al remembered everything about their history, and he could only get so far with it. As he plugged away at the system, he ran up against wall after wall, and then Al called. He hadn't managed to call Donna's sister yet, but things weren't looking good for him. After a few moments of persuasion, Sam got his clearance codes and resumed his snooping, eventually discovering that the money came in from either government channels, or a few private donations. Al's project was in conjunction with NASA and did indeed deal with more than hybrid computers. They were working on the union of science and thought. Basically, they were studying the chemical and neurological impacts of something as basic as a thought or an idea, and then integrating that into the hybrid system. After a few astonished moments, Sam realized the upshot of such a monumental undertaking was telepathic communication through computers. If a machine could read your thoughts through biology... It was absurd. Wasn't it? Sam shook his head as he scrolled down through the information. If he'd created a computer with original thoughts and capacity to grow beyond programming, why couldn't they take the functions that created those ideas and apply it to humans? Or maybe it had been done vice versa. Either way, he wondered fleetingly if that direction of experimentation had had anything to do with Al's sudden and still inexplicable recollection of an entire timeline. His focus drifted momentarily to see if he could find out anything more about his own disappearance, and he called up Project Quantum Leap. His codes were inactive, which he found vaguely suspicious. If they thought he was dead and they'd killed the project, why go to all the trouble? He got in through Donna's codes, only to find his were still operative at higher levels. Obviously the cleanup crew did a halfway job. The instant he got in, somewhere, a little warning bell started going off. And the man on the other end of it didn't entirely realize the rude awakening he was in store for.