February, 2000 New York City, NY Everything Al had ever accepted about the way his life operated had broken apart in front of him and, while a healthy part of him was angry, the rest was confused and maybe even scared and, though the question, `What now?' had yet to be voiced, it was in the back of everyone's mind. What he felt about Beth was a muddled disaster, but the one thing he was sure of was that he still loved her. The moment he'd found out she was gone, that fact became crystal clear and everything else faded into the background. The moment she'd walked through the door and reached for him, he felt surging relief and even a little shame at the way he'd acted towards her earlier. As far as he was concerned, the human mind wasn't designed to wrap around a concept this incredible. Now he didn't know if the reason for her tears was because something had happened to her or because she was just upset about what had been revealed that night, and, for a minute, he didn't care. He held her tightly and looked past her to see Sam leave the room. Where he was going was unsure, but he had no place outside of this home to go to and so Al put it out of his mind. Sam wasn't what he needed to be concentrating on now. "I'm sorry," he whispered, "really, really sorry." He inhaled slowly, angry at himself for upsetting her this much. Like this wasn't difficult enough without him acting like he had when she'd most needed him. "I don't know how to apologize for something I don't remember doing," she answered tightly. "You don't have to," he said firmly, resting his cheek against her hair. "I'm just...I'm so sorry, Beth." She pulled back a half step, wiping her face. "I'm not doing very well with this, am I? That's twice in three days I've broken down." "These aren't exactly minor things." He smoothed back her hair and wiped off a stray eyelash with his thumb. "Are you okay? You shouldn't have gone out at night alone - I was really upset when I found out that's where you were." "I know...it was stupid. But I didn't know what you were going to do." He let his hand drop from her face and turned slightly away from her. "I didn't, either. I just...I couldn't stay here." "I know." Her voice was quiet. "Al, what do we do now?" There. Someone had said it. He sighed, took a step for the couch, and felt her slip her hand into his. He relaxed faintly at the action. All he knew was, he couldn't imagine what his life could possibly have been like had she not been there when he came home, and he didn't _want_ to imagine. "I guess help Sam." "I wasn't talking about Sam." He stopped. "I know." She stepped back into his line of view, scared to ask, but scared not to know what was going to happen to them. "Al, I can't live with blame and ‘what ifs'; that's not a home or a life." "It's just...a lot to take," he stated slowly. "Do you wish it had happened the other way?" she asked in hushed tones. "Beth..." He lifted his gaze to look at her eyes. "Of course not." She looked at him through her bangs. "So can't you just be happy that it didn't, that you had a friend who loved you enough to make sure it didn't?" He closed his eyes, trying to process everything, to tell her what she needed to hear. "Al, I'm sorry. I know I shouldn't have doubted, but that's easier to say from this end of things. If I'd known...if I knew you were alive, I'd never have even thought of..." "I know," he assured her quickly. "I know it..." "Then what's wrong?" He couldn't look into her face, not when she was trying so hard. "Tell me how to make this right." Now he looked at her. "I just need...a little time. I wish I could...just...not think about it, but-" "I know. Me, too." She nodded. "Time, then. For both of us." "I'll try - I promise," he stated. "What are you going to do about Sam?" she asked, earning a startled look from him. "I wish I could do something for him beyond finding his family." He hesitated. "I wish I could...remember him." He thought he'd had a flash of something, earlier, while he was walking, but it was surely his imagination. "Al?" He glanced up to see Sam in front of them, regret plainly written on his face. "Are you okay?" It was Beth who answered. "We're fine, Sam." Sam took a breath and let it out slowly. "I'm so sorry - I should never have-" "It's okay," Al said quietly. "It's the truth. The truth is rarely easy." Sam nodded and stared at the floor miserably and Beth nudged him gently. "Sam, I've got some people tracking down your brother." Sam's expression brightened immediately, filled with barely restrained hope. "That's right. He...was in Vietnam." Abruptly, his eyes darkened again, as if he'd just remembered something, but he didn't say anything and Al let it pass. "I'm hoping to have a location for you by tomorrow, but with things the way they are now..." "Al, is there any way you can find out...if Quantum Leap was built? Maybe Ziggy can help or-" "Ziggy?" Beth asked, beating him to the punch. Sam smiled faintly. "Al called her Ziggy. She was the hybrid computer used to-" "The what?" Al asked sharply, a sudden dread twisting his stomach. Beth cast him a puzzled look that he barely caught and he knew she was just as startled. "Hybrid computer," Sam repeated unnecessarily. He sat on the arm of an easy chair and started to map out visual aids with his hands. "There's no such thing." "Well, it would've been classified, of course, but..." "One's never been successfully built," Al insisted with absolute certainty. *Unless someone's been screwing with me even more than I realize.* "How do you know?" Sam responded evenly. "I just do. It hasn't been done." Al was expecting Sam to drop the subject, but was quickly reminded that Sam knew him...well. The scientist narrowed his eyes. "What are you working on in that office building, Al?" "What does that have to do with anything?" he asked with a straight, emotionless face. "I think it has a lot to do with everything." Sam took a step forward and Al could practically see the gears turning. "I know you can't talk about it, that it's probably classified, but is that all you guys are doing?" Al turned the veiled request for information over in his mind. "It's rare to have a program that focuses entirely on one area." Sam bit back a grin and Beth exhaled slowly. "Are you using it for anything in particular?" "Not specifically, not yet. But I'm sure people have ideas in mind." There was a moment of silence as Sam thought and Beth kissed Al on the cheek. "I need to go to sleep. So do you...you have all that junk to take care of tomorrow and it's really late." It was, too: almost 2 AM. He turned to her as Sam contemplated the next question. "I know...it's been a long day." She looked into his eyes and nodded. "We'll talk more later." He took in her uncertainty, comforted that he saw the same thing in her that he was feeling. "I love you." She reached forward and put her hands on his waist and he embraced her. "I love you, too, Al," she whispered, then pulled back. "Goodnight, Sam." He pulled from his thoughts and looked up at her. "Thank you for fixing my mistake." "You're welcome," he replied quietly and she nodded and left. Al followed her with his eyes until she closed their bedroom door. "All these years..." He snorted softly. "I called it luck and chance. Who knew?" Sam sighed. "Look, you're welcome to use the spare room. I've got a lot to do tomorrow - I'm under criminal investigation, but I'm-" Sam looked up, startled. "You're what? What for?" He winced. "They think I'm skimming off the top of our funding." Sam groaned. "Perfect. Is there anything I can do to help? Unofficially, of course." Al contemplated him, thinking. If no-one knew him, perhaps Sam could help out with one or two things. "Maybe. I'll know more tomorrow, after we get underway. I just spent all of yesterday yelling." "I remember," Sam commented dryly. "Always getting yourself into trouble...who says this new timeline is that much different?" he added passively, then his brow furrowed. "What does Meredith do?" "She's a neurologist." "Are you doing things with holograms and neural links?!" "No..." Al said, blinking in surprise at Sam's sudden excitement. "Why?" Sam nodded. "I guess that would be too much of a coincidence. What else are you doing, then?" Al folded his arms. "I can't tell you that. But you really built a hybrid computer?" Sam nodded again, obviously thinking along the same lines as Al. "So you can tell me how to do it?" "Oh, that's classified," Sam responded without missing a beat. "Oh, that's rich," Al retorted. "Were you this annoying in the other timeline?" "Almost as annoying as you," Sam responded and laughed. It felt good to see him laugh. "I'd better let you get to sleep. Just give me a computer tomorrow and I'll try and get some answers for you." Al hesitated, not really appreciating how easily Sam assumed he'd be in on whatever the admiral was doing. "Why don't we wait on that?" Sam flushed slightly and stared at the wall behind Al. "Oh. Sorry." The air was charged with the awkward nature of their relationship and Al ran a hand across his face, wanting to apologize, but not knowing how. "I...need to get to sleep." "I know. I'm sorry I've caused all this trouble tonight, Al. And I appreciate all the help you're giving me finding Tom." Al was already moving towards the guest room and he opened the door, relieved when he saw the spare bed was already made up. "No problem, kid. You just stick around here tomorrow - I'll call at some point during the day." Sam's shoulders slumped. "Okay. Goodnight." "G'nite, Sam." Al watched as he pulled the door shut behind himself and felt what was becoming a familiar sense of loss. He wished again that he had something more he could offer other than just finding someone who _would_ look at the kid and know his face. Even if he'd been dead five years. Al shuddered. He turned off all the lights, double-checked the front locks and security system, and went to his own room, getting ready for bed in the dark. Then he slid next to Beth and pulled her into his arms, settling in for the night. "Sam okay?" she whispered faintly, half-awake. He smiled sadly as her hand rested on his. "I'm not sure I could help him if he's not."