February, 2000 New York City, NY Sam scrolled past the introduction the list of credentials, and began to read. It was the first hint of what Al had mentioned at the restaurant that he'd been able to locate and what he found was not encouraging. The magazine had few actual facts and details, mostly because they seem to have been restricted, but did hint at some project nobody seemed willing or able to talk about. He wondered if it was this timeline's version of Project Quantum Leap, but there was no way to tell unless he was able to talk to some of these people interviewed. The name Verbena Beeks caught his eye and he felt a warm flush of hope and relief at that. Finally, it seemed, someone he knew and cared about who was supposed to know him. Surely there had to be some way to track her down. And Donna. The article stated that Donna had refused to comment on any of it, probably because they tried to catch her after the memorial service (briefly, he wondered if he'd be able to handle reading this). All it said about her was that she had gone back to Illinois to be with family, which was a start. He remembered her maiden name, and it wasn't a common one: how many Elysees could there be? It seemed he also had a partner, a Dr. Gerald Breslauer, who, judging by his comments, didn't have a prayer of even hoping to measure up to Al's dedication and friendship. He was also running for a position on the Senate at the time of the article and Sam didn't get the impression he was all broken up about their project going under. The only comment he had to offer was tight and impersonal and Sam read it with increasing dismay: "`I respected Sam Beckett as a professional, but his methods as a scientist were unorthodox and unpredictable, which was both a blessing and a curse on his work. As to his current whereabouts, the specifics are not for public ears, but, wherever he is, he's not coming back.'" Sounded a little like Quantum Leap to him. Sam closed his eyes against the cryptic comment, trying not to think what it could mean. He had to get out of this building, and he had to do it now. He grabbed the papers he'd copied and walked hurriedly out. Public record could tell him nothing, he knew. He'd have to talk to people, like Donna. Sam walked without noting his surroundings, his rapid pace more indicative of his attempts to escape the suffocating reality closing in all around him than his eagerness to reach his destination. He just wanted his life back! He wanted his wife and he wanted his friend. He rounded the corner to see the Jefferson Building looming in front of him, and pulled out the pass Al had given him the day before. Someone escorted him upstairs, warning him as she dropped him off outside Al's office door: "He's been yelling all morning; I'd watch my step." At first he'd taken this as exaggeration until he drew closer and peered in the half-open door to see him standing, back towards Sam, staring out the window. He was giving someone on the phone a vicious tongue lashing. "And just who the hell is this nozzle, anyhow, Barry Hamner? Man probably still has difficulty tying his own shoelaces... No, you listen to me! Jeremy, I take an awful lot from you. I put up with your threats and your sour personality and your love of doing things first and telling me about it after, but this has just crossed the line! You support this program, _I_ support this program, and now you've stabbed me in the back. I would certainly never presume to call you more than a professional partner, but how could you even _think_ I could be-" He stopped abruptly and started pacing. "Well of _course_ it's my signature all over everything - I'm the Program Director for goodness' sake! That's my job!" He turned abruptly and Sam flinched, but Al didn't beckon him in or signal for him to leave. "Does the word `delegate' mean anything to you? I don't have time to be looking over everyone's shoulder all the time." Sam took several hesitant steps into his office, grateful Al didn't turn loose some of that anger on him. The way he was feeling, he didn't think he could take it. Al eyed him, then looked back out the window. "I'm not taking this sitting down. You want a war, you've got one." He slammed the phone down and whipped around to face Sam. "_What_?" Sam jumped. "I, uh...you told me to meet you here at noon..." Al glanced at his watch and his voice softened somewhat, but there was still a dangerous undertone that told Sam not to push anything. "It's gonna have to wait - I don't have time to talk to you, and I don't have the focus to pay attention to what you have to say." He started to push past, but Sam moved in front of him again. "Please, Al," he said, knowing there was desperation at least on his face, but not being able to help it. "It's important." "I don't have time," Al protested. "Then, could you at least look at this?" he asked, sliding the folder into Al's hand, the folder that contained the articles in "Time" that, he hoped, would prove to Al he was who he said he was. Al sighed deeply, then accepted it. "Look...why don't you come over to my house tonight, around 7 PM, for dinner. We can talk then, okay?" Before he could respond, Al was gone. "Okay," he murmured to the empty air. It was almost like leaping again. ~~~~~~ Al plodded in the front door and kicked it shut behind him. "Beth? You home?" He crossed into the family room and she looked sleepily up at him from the couch. "Oh, sorry - didn't mean to wake you." He sat down on the edge of the couch, bent over her, and kissed her deeply (despite himself, with definite intentions in mind). She laid her fingers against his neck and smiled when he finally pulled back, bracing himself on the back of the couch. "I forgive you," she teased. "You know, Beth, I'm going to have to sit up before my back leads a mutiny." "Oh, I'm sorry," she said quickly, releasing him and pulling herself up into a sitting position. He did likewise, rubbing his lower back gingerly. She smiled softly and slid next to him, resting her hands on his shoulders. "Let me make it up to you?" He laughed and slid his arms around her waist. "I'm afraid we don't have time for it. I told Sam to come by for dinner, is that okay? I'll cook..." She was a little disappointed, but kissed him one more time, and then leaned against the back of the couch, letting her palms rest in the crook of his elbows. "You didn't talk to him today?" "No, I...was busy with other stuff." She squeezed his forearm to get him to look at her. "What other stuff?" Then she noticed the bags under his eyes and the way his shoulders sagged. "Al? Oh, you still have that headache, don't you?" He grimaced. "Oh, yeah," he commented dryly, "that and a huge pain in the neck named Jeremy." She sighed deeply. "What did he do now?" "What did he do?" Al leaned back next to her. "I'm under criminal investigation, that's what." "What?!" Her eyes flashed with anger and alarm. "Why on earth are they doing that?!" "Missing dough, of course." "And they think that you-? Al, that's insane. Jeremy of all people should know you well enough to know that you-" "Beth, you know as well as I do that he agrees with me when I agree with him, and no other time. He's been on my back ever since I proposed expanding the project." He watched reluctant admission cross her face. "He's never supported me: he's supported the research, which, in a way, you have to respect." "Yes, but thinking that you were the one responsible is ridiculous! Why would he assume it's you?" she demanded angrily. He shrugged helplessly. "I'm the one who signs the checks and balances. I'm an easy first target." He continued on before she could voice the protests rising in her throat. "I don't know what he thinks: if he's trying to do this by the book or if he honestly thinks I had anything to do with it, but the only way we're gonna get through this is to cooperate." She raised her eyebrows. "Oh, right, like you called him and told him that." He laughed reluctantly. "Okay, I may have chewed him out a little..." "A little?" She smirked. "He's still breathing, right?" He settled her in his arms. "Oh, sure. The trauma team was one of the best." "So Sam's coming over tonight?" she resumed, making him realize just how concerned she was about Sam being around. "Oh, yeah, I guess I'd better get going on dinner, then. And there was something he gave me today..." He untangled himself from his wife momentarily and pulled the folder from his briefcase. When he opened it, Dr. Sam Beckett's face stared back at him, younger and more carefree, more...untainted. There was no mistaking it was the same man. "Son of a gun," Al breathed, "it _is_ him." "What?" She pulled the report 45 degrees so she could see it. "He was telling the truth," she sighed. "What now? Did you find out anything more about his brother?" "No, I didn't exactly have time..." He flipped absently through the photocopies in his hand. "Damn, I wish I knew what he wanted." "I thought he wanted you to help him find his-" "There's more to it than that," he stated in no uncertain terms. He looked briefly at her, thinking of the night before. "I want you to do me a favor: while he's here, can you try to remember where you know him from?" She shifted uncomfortably. "I've been trying to think of that all day, but I... It's something I just don't want to think of." "Why?" "I don't know," she returned, and, though he didn't doubt she was unintentionally lying to him, he felt perhaps she knew she was lying to herself. ~~~~~~ Sam arrived a little early, probably because he had noplace else to go. Beth answered the door when he rang and ushered him into the house, then joined Al in the kitchen. "Are you coming out?" she asked him. He clicked the oven light on, peered at the contents, then nodded. "Yeah, I'm not needed in here for a while." He took her hand and squeezed it gently. "You doing all right?" "Sure, I'm fine," she stated which obviously was a lie; just the way she said it held tension and anxiety. "Good," was all he said as he guided her out of the kitchen. He took an instant to study Sam on the couch before Sam noticed his presence and stood up. "Dr. Beckett," Al greeted him. Sam looked relieved as he sat back down across from the couple. "You read them." "Well, I must confess I haven't had time yet to read them, but I saw what you wanted me to see." Al kept one hand on his wife's back, more for his sake than hers. "And so I'm going to ask you again: where have you been for the last five years?" Sam shifted against the yielding cushions of the couch. "I honestly don't know. I think...it has something to do with my last project, the one my partner-" he seemed to choke on the word "-mentioned somewhat cryptically in the second article." "I'll have to read it more closely tonight," Al replied, feeling again that he was being told only a half-truth. There seemed to be two layers to each of Sam's story and he couldn't fathom how that could be. "In the meantime, I've found a couple people who are familiar with your brother and are working to track him down. He was a SEAL?" Sam winced. "Yeah. He was in Vietnam." Beside him, Beth tensed and he rubbed her back gently. Another connection: surely this couldn't all be coincidental? Sam didn't seem to think so, and Beth indicated likewise. All he had to go by were facts, and, well, those seemed to support their judgment. "He make it out in one piece?" Sam flinched again and Al wished he'd stop doing that. "Yes, he did." The words were quiet and Beth cleared her throat and stood up. "Al, we'd better check on dinner before it burns," she reminded him, but in her eyes was a meaning that Al didn't miss and Sam couldn't possibly have, either. He trailed her into the kitchen and, as soon as the door closed behind them, she spun around and gripped his forearms for support. "Beth?" "I know where I remember him from," she said calmly, but there was fear in her eyes. "You remember last night I...told you about that day in 1969?" "Yes." "Well, I never told you why I waited. I had...a vision. Well, I thought it was a vision, but everyone eventually convinced me it was a dream. It was the following night." She pulled free and started to pace around the small cooking area. "I dreamt a man appeared in my home just as I was about ready to stop hoping once and for all, and told me you were alive. He told me that you were alive and you were coming home." "Beth, that was over 30 years ago," he reminded her, trying not to sound condescending. "Are you sure it's-" "I'm _sure_," she responded with more force and certainty than he'd ever seen in her before. "Al, he gave me the faith to carry on and I swore, dream or not, vision or not, that I'd never forget it. I'm positive." "So, what, this...kid comes to you and says-" "No, he wasn't a kid. He looked...just like he looks now." She frowned as she realized what she was saying. "Maybe it was a dream and he just..." She stopped again and the frown deepened. "Stranger things have happened." Al stared at her, then turned and marched back out into the living room. "All right, Dr. Beckett, I've made several shows of good faith," he announced, dimly aware of Beth standing behind him and to his right, "and now I not only want to know how you know me, but why my wife remembers you from 1969." Sam's expression turned into dread. "Oh, boy..."