April, 2000 New York City, NY Al stared at the ceiling, reflecting. He seemed to have a lot of time for that, lately, especially seeing as sleep didn't come easily anymore. It had been a long month - for him and for Beth (mainly because she'd had to deal with him), and he wasn't sure the coming months were going to be much better. The project was drawing to an alarmingly fast close, due mostly to the amount of data downloaded from Ziggy's memory banks. Once the specifics of Sam's brain child had been picked apart to the core, half of their studies would be shut down. He sighed and rolled over onto his side, closing his eyes. He was tired; why couldn't he sleep?! Every night was like this and, aside from being annoying and frustrating, it was starting to worry Beth. The phone rang suddenly and he flinched, startled. He reached for it after the first ring had died away, but it never rang a second time. *Beth must've got it,* he thought to himself and rolled over onto his opposite side. He was getting so tired of staring at the same four walls. He was getting tired of it all, but he didn't know what to do. He laid there a moment longer, then sat up and slipped on his robe and opened the door slightly, standing in the sliver of light that stabbed into the darkness. Beth was standing in front of the coffee table, phone in hand. "No, Jeremy, he just went to bed and I'm not going to wake him up so you can yell about something twelve hours sooner." She sighed deeply and sat on the couch, her back to the bedroom. "He'll call you first thing in the morning, okay?... I don't know if he's looked over the reports yet or not - Jeremy-" She stopped frustrated. "First thing, I know. From the _office_. Goodnight." She hung up the phone, shaking her head, and then leaned back heavily against the cushions. He advanced into the room. "Is it important?" he asked and she gasped and turned quickly. "Al, you scared me." Her expression softened. "Did the phone wake you?" "No. I couldn't sleep," he replied and sat down next to her. She looked sympathetically at him. "Again?" He shrugged. "It was nothing important; Jeremy just wanted to discuss a couple of the newer committee members with you, especially the one that replaced Gerald. I told him it could wait." "Thanks." She nodded slowly and he tried to ignore the way she was studying him. He hated it when she turned motherly on him. "Here, at least lie down," she instructed and he gazed at her, then shook his head, smiling slightly. "Humor me," she persisted. His soft chuckle communicated that he was doing just that as he stretched out across her lap, then exhaled contentedly. The only thing he hated more than her mothering him was when she was right to do so. "I wanted to thank you for being so patient with me lately," he said after a long moment and she smiled and tipped her head to the side, resting it against the back of the couch. "You know I don't mind." He stifled a yawn and closed his eyes. His head rested against the cushion at the end of the couch, but he could feel the warmth of her against his torso, and it felt good. It felt like...home and comfort and familiarity. He felt her fingers brush his face and the sleep that had so constantly eluded him earlier started to descend. "I know," he murmured, just before it claimed him. The next thing he was aware of was her nudging his shoulder gently. "Al?" He felt her arms around his middle, hugging him from behind, and he realized he was in bed. Given how exhausted he'd been, she'd probably been able to lead him there like a zombie. He opened one eye slightly and caught sight of the alarm clock: 0320. He groaned faintly. "Al?" she repeated, "didn't you hear the alarm go off?" "No," he answered honestly, nestling closer to her. He had no intentions of getting up this early, either; when she'd promised Jeremy he'd call him first thing in the morning, this wasn't what he had in mind. "You insisted last night that you had to go see Sam at 3:30 AM," she reminded him and his eyes snapped open as if a switch had been thrown. "Are you going to go?" He sat up quickly, startling her faintly, but then she released him and curled up under the covers, closing her eyes slowly. He stared down at her, amazed, and then moved stiffly, pulling himself off the bed. "Tell him I said, `Hi'," she said sleepily without even opening her eyes. He nodded, more to himself than to her, especially as she was already almost back to sleep, and then leaned over and kissed her head softly. Then he turned and fumbled his way out of the bedroom. Maybe she'd been dreaming, maybe she'd... He stared into the complete darkness - there were no windows, even, to let starlight in. Hardly even daring to speak, he stood there, then said, hoarsely, "Lights." In immediate response to his command, the modest-sized quarters were flooded with artificial lighting and now he knew it had to be true. "Ziggy?" "Ye-es, Admiral?" she responded in sultry tones. He shook his head in a vain effort to clear it. "What the hell is going on, here?" She sniffed. "Nothing all that interesting." "What did he do?" he persisted. "Why am I here?" "You work here," she reminded him with an audible pout. "May I remind you that Dr. Beckett will be requiring your assistance shortly?" "Okay, fine," he retorted, pulling on the robe draped over the chair, "but then you and I are going to have a long talk!" He made it a full two steps into the corridor before Ziggy floored him for the second time. "He is now quite strenuously requesting your assistance." Al's steps faltered and then stopped. "He's...requesting...? How?" He could have sworn he heard her sigh. "Admiral, unless you desire him to begin questioning your parentage..." He shook himself free of the trance he was in. "Yeah...yeah, I'm going..." Al walked slowly down the halls, his steps slowly steadying with false confidence as he went. He wasn't sure exactly what had happened, yet. A familiar face with a name Al couldn't immediately identify was in the Control Room. "The Imaging Chamber's online, Admiral," he informed him in uncertain tones. Al was about to ask if he was sure when a nudging instinct informed him that the lack of conviction was a norm. Instead, he nodded and started to head up the ramp, backtracking once to belatedly grab a handlink. The Imaging Chamber Door slid open and he stepped into a smoky room filled with people, champagne, and music. Patrons with cigarettes in hand walked directly through him and he jumped, alarmed. It had been a long time (or so it felt - it had actually been either just recently or not at all, depending on how you looked at it) since he'd been a hologram. His sudden desire to see Sam safe and sound overrode all apprehension and he scanned his surroundings. He was standing in the middle of a large room adorned with tables drenched in dim candlelight. A bar stretched across the length of the wall in front of him, and all around him the conversation buzzed into a subdued drone. He gripped the handlink tightly. "Sam?" he called, half expecting people to turn and look at him. "Al," someone hissed and he spun and his eyes met with the form of his friend, standing several feet away, beckoning discreetly but intensely. Al moved to follow him as he ducked out of view of those around him. "Sam," he gasped out, searching the physicist's face, "are you okay?" Sam gave him a quizzical look. "Yeah, I'm fine - I just need Ziggy's odds." Al nodded absently and pulled the `link into his line of vision, trying to hide how confused he was. "What took you so long, anyhow," Sam resumed, faintly annoyed, "didn't Ziggy tell you I was waiting and that Felicia was going to be here early?" *Which is the second mystery...* "Yeah, how did she know?" All annoyance vanished from Sam's face, only to be replaced by a cautious probing. "The same way she always does." And then it hit him. "She read your thoughts." Sam didn't reply, but he seemed to think this was the obvious answer. "It works..." Al suddenly noticed the way he was being watched and he cleared his throat, once again using the handlink to cover his fumblings. "Um, Ziggy says the odds are...86.4% that you're supposed to ask Felicia to marry you - uh - the guy you've leaped into..." He frowned as another thought struck him and it was out before he could stop it. "Ziggy didn't tell you I was coming?" Sam's expression soured vaguely. "She reads my thoughts, Al, I don't read her memory banks." Al rested his gaze on the flashing lights. "Oh..." "Yeah, well, she's been here ten minutes already which is why I needed..." Sam trailed off, trying to catch Al's eye and failing. "Al, what's wrong?" "What?" Al asked, trying to appear innocent. "What's wrong?" Sam persisted. "Oh, nothing, it's just..." His frown deepened and he couldn't hold back the question anymore. "What did you do?" "What did I do?" he echoed, then his expression turned guilty. "You mean...about Beth?" "No." Al shook his head and paced two full lengths in front of Sam, the conflicting memories he had starting to confuse things. Surely, in this timeline, they'd discussed that particular change already. Unless Sam'd swiss-cheesed the conversation. "I mean about us." "Us?" That seemed to sufficiently startle him. "Yeah," Al clarified, almost angry with frustration. "Don't you..." He stopped. "You don't, do you?" "Don't what?" "It's nothing." He would just have to get his answers from Ziggy, he realized. "Al, don't _what_?!" "You don't remember what telling Beth about me did to my life - and yours." He waved a hand through the air. "Well, it's not important," he said with a feigned casual air, almost missing that Sam had just said something. "What?" Sam met his gaze, and the connection jolted Al down to his core. "I said, I do, but I didn't think you would." Al was aghast. "Then why did you pretend-" "Al, when I changed history and then found you, I nearly destroyed your life and if I just hadn't said anything..." He hung his head. "I didn't want to make the same mistake twice. I thought all of your questions were because you were still shaken about who I'd leaped into." Al's focus suddenly shifted. "Who did you leap into?" "Gerald Breslauer. Felicia is Meredith's mother. He did the same thing on Project Quantum Leap in this history that he did to your project in the other, so Ziggy was being really cautious about how to handle things when I leaped in." Sam shook his head. "Wait a minute: you didn't remember anything earlier in this leap. Or if you did, you didn't let on..." Al shrugged. "I don't even remember this leap." Sam ran a hand across his face. "Well, if the physics has to be screwy throughout all this, at least it's consistently screwy." Al nodded absently. "So what did you do, Sam? What did you change?" "I didn't want to change anything," he said quietly. "I was scared to. I leaped into myself at Starbright in 1988, but you never directed the project in the history with Beth - you were just on staff." He nodded. At least that much he knew. "That's right." "So at the time when, previously, I was trying to find you to ask you to hear my theories on time travel, this time I was looking for the director. And when family troubles were getting to be too much and you were beating up on an innocent vending machine, I was in the director's office talking to him about a proposal I didn't realize at the time he was going to toss into the trash can the instant I walked out the door." He shook his head. "So when I leaped in, I knew where I was, but I was scared to do anything that could jeopardize your family. In the end, though, I couldn't think what else I could possibly be there for and...I needed you." He said the last as if he was ashamed of it. "The last leaps after New York have been so hard, Al, and I-" "They've been hard on me, too, kid," Al said gently. "I tried to find you - I did, but Ziggy could never get a lock." Sam couldn't help the rush of relief that flooded his expression. "Oh. I'd thought maybe..." "Maybe what?" Sam shrugged. "Maybe you'd forgotten everything." Al wondered if maybe it was that nagging fear that had made the leaps hard. He also recalled Beth telling him that it was important that he remembered. "No, Sam. I never forgot you." Sam nodded, then jumped slightly. "Felicia! I've left her sitting there all this time!" "Is Meredith in North Carolina, or on Project Quantum Leap?" Al asked him. Sam squinted. "Quantum Leap, I think, but I can't be positive. I'm still adjusting to this timeline, too. But I think she was the reason I can have a one-way correspondence with Ziggy." "Oh, right, I'd forgotten about that. Well, I guess you get Felicia to marry you, uh, Gerald, and we just hope Margaret doesn't pop out of existence." "Not likely," Sam countered, "she's already pregnant." "And married?" He asked the question of Ziggy, but it was Sam who answered. "No. Originally, the guy proposes tomorrow." "Oh." Al nodded absently. "You know, Al, after I leap, I probably won't remember any of this. And, in time, you probably won't, either." Al laughed uneasily. "First good news I've heard today." He hesitated. "Are you okay, Sam?" "Yeah, I'm fine. All the big wrongs are right again, aren't they?" Al grinned faintly. The leaper glanced around the corner, searching the throng of people for one face. "I've kept her waiting way too long. I've got to go propose." "Good luck." Al lowered the `link and nodded, but neither of them moved for another few seconds. "I'll get you home, Sam," he vowed suddenly, softly. Sam took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I believe you," he said, and turned to wipe another mistake from the pages of history.