February, 2000 New York City, NY Al scrolled down the list of names instead of sifting through financial reports, as Barry had told him to do. He glanced up to make sure the nozzles weren't anywhere around and then he picked up the phone and called home. The answering machine picked up and he frowned, and then just figured Sam didn't want to answer the phone when it wasn't his house. "Sam?" he called after the beep. "Sam, it's Al. Pick up." "Al?" Al smiled slightly. "How is the investigation coming?" "Badly. For me." He flipped through the papers in his hand. "I have a list of names of people who have access to the money, and the ability to move it around. What I don't have is any proof, and I'm responsible for it unless I can prove something." "Oh. Is there anything I can do?" Al sighed reluctantly. "Not yet. How are you doing today?" "I've been trying to find my wife...if that's okay. I'm afraid I may be racking up your phone bill," he stated sheepishly. "It's okay. Any luck?" "No..." Sam sounded depressed, Al decided, and who could blame him? "The article said she went to Illinois to be with family and I know her maiden name, so I'm trying to locate her that way. It's not a common name and there aren't many." "But none of them are her family?" Al asked curiously, momentarily forgetting the problem in front of him. "I think I may have spoken to her sister, but when I asked about ‘her husband', she hung up on me. I can't figure out what's going on." Al sighed in sympathy. "Put the number aside. I'll call her tonight and see if I can get anything out of her." "Okay. Thanks." Al frowned. "Sam? Are you okay?" "Yeah, I'm just..." He laughed nervously. "I'm not doing so hot this morning." Al tapped his pen against the desk. "Is there anything I can do?" "No..." Sam stopped and Al wished he could see the man's face: maybe he'd get a clue of what to say from that. Kid practically broadcasted his emotions. "But I'd like to help you, if I could." Al glanced at his watch and gave in, as he'd known he probably would. It seemed Sam just needed something to take his mind off it all and, after all, he had spent the last five years dedicating his life to helping others. Maybe it would put him more at ease. "Okay, look, I need help looking into some of these people. The office is normally vacated by 6 and I don't plan to leave here before then anyhow. Beth should get getting home around 5:30, so why don't you two come here and we'll take it from there? She has a key to get in - she's worked with us here before." "Okay," Sam replied, sounding a little more encouraged. Barry walked back in the room and Al hesitated. "Okay, then, I'll see you this afternoon. I gotta go." "Bye, Al." Al hung up the phone still feeling that something wasn't quite right with Sam. Maybe everything was catching up with him and he was having a hard time dealing with it. He punched a few more buttons on the calculator and stared at the list, then looked up at Barry, who was sitting opposite him at the other end of a long table. "Didn't it ever occur to anyone that it's the people giving us the money?" Barry glanced up from his papers with a blank look that made Al immensely glad he was able to plead his own case; he'd end up behind bars for sure if it was up to this nozzle. "Look," Al stared pointedly, as if explaining something to a small child, "all I ever see are numbers and figures. Accounting actually balances the books. I move money around and that's why everyone's pointing the finger at me, right?" "What's your point, Admiral?" he asked coldly and Al held back a frustrated sigh. "My point is...what if none of us are even seeing the right numbers? What if it's someone above us claiming we're getting x amount when we're actually getting 3% less? We'd never know anything was wrong." Barry stared blankly at him for several more second, then stood up. "I need to make a private phone call," he stated without preamble and left again. Al made a sour face and leaned back. "Probably going to find out what Accounting does." The phone rang and he picked it up automatically. "Calavicci." "Al, it's Drew." Al leaned forward. "We found that guy...he's a captain in the Navy - stationed out west." "Oh, that's great," Al said with a grin, reaching for a slip of paper and writing down the address and number as Drew fed it to him. "Thanks - this was really important." Drew laughed. "You recruiting again, Al?" "For this baby?" he asked lightheartedly. "No way - just trying to keep my own butt out of the fire. This is for something else." "Okay, well, now you owe me several." "Oh, who really keeps track?" Al countered, folding up the paper and tucking it away before anyone else could come in and see it. "You did. When I owed you." Al chuckled dryly. "Way of the world. I gotta get back to work. Thanks again." He cut the connection and stood. *This ought to help Sam's disposition some,* he thought lightly. He looked at his watch again and headed out for the upstairs labs. Meredith had told him she had something she'd wanted to run by him and, investigation or not, he still intended to be involved in what was going on. Jeremy may have sent someone to replace him, however temporarily, but Al had no intentions on being replaced. He stepped into the elevator and leaned against the bar that ran along the back of the car. The door slid shut and something flashed before his vision so quickly he couldn't identify what it was, but he staggered slightly, catching the handle with his hand and glancing slowly around. It hadn't been something in the elevator, though, it had been...like suddenly being aware of something he hadn't been before. Just as quickly, the impression passed and he shook his head and realized the doors were open on his floor. He tucked one hand in his pocket and went to see what the latest was. ~~~~~~ Sam was sitting at the kitchen with a piece of paper and a pen when Beth walked in. She tossed her purse on the countertop and looked over his shoulder. "What are you doing?" He stared down at the sheet, filled with numbers that were scribbled out, some with question marks and some that he'd doodled by as he contemplated them. "I'm trying to remember people's phone numbers. I had a photographic memory, Beth, and then I leaped and my brain's like swiss-cheese. Can't remember hardly anything, it feels like. I was..." He shrugged, suddenly embarrassed. "I was trying to see if any of them look right." She laid her hand on his shoulder, squeezing it briefly, and then turned back to the counter and started sifting through the mail. "You hungry?" "A little." he twisted in the chair to look at her, but her back was to him. "Al wanted us to come by the project this afternoon. At 6." She glanced back at him. "What for?" "To help him figure out who's messing with the books," Sam clarified with a small shrug, even though he knew why Al had suggested it. Al had always been a little too protective of him, especially when Quantum Leap was heading towards success, and, whether he realized it or not, that's what he was doing now. For once, Sam didn't mind: he'd always been a little overprotective of Al, too. It was a mutual thing and it had served them well. What he hadn't told Al on the phone (even though he knew Al had sensed something was wrong and just didn't know what) was that he was starting to recall little pieces of this timeline. His memories of Al and their friendship didn't seem to have faded, but now he had two different recollections of all the major events. What he recalled of Gerald Breslauer, he didn't like. The man had been controlling, rude, and pompous and neither had had a choice in the forced partnership. The committee had wanted someone to keep an eye on Sam, to make sure he wasn't doing anything they'd disapprove of, and Gerald had been pushed into the job. He wasn't a scientist and he handled the finances and personnel, much as Al had, but not nearly as well. Sam was convinced that, even with his own bias about Al's abilities, the man still hadn't come close to Al's talents in that area. "He wants some help researching a few people." "And he asked _us_?" Beth asked, a little startled. She turned around, leaning against the counter. "Okay... Maybe we can pick up something to eat on the way there." Sam nodded. "Beth? How often do your children come to visit?" She raised her eyebrows. "Whenever they can, I suppose, but they have busy lives. Why?" He stood up and gathered his things, paper clipping them together. "No reason. I was just hoping to meet them...you know, eventually." She looked sympathetically at him. "That's nice, Sam. But I don't think they're planning on paying us a visit anytime in the immediate future." He tried for a nonchalant shrug. "Just curious. Should we get going?" They didn't make it to the Jefferson Building until quarter after 6, but Beth reassured him that Al probably would have been surprised if they'd made it there on time anyhow. She flashed her badge with authority and they went into the elevator. "Did he say where he wanted us to meet him?" she asked and Sam hesitated. "No. He just said to come here." "That man," she sighed, pressing the button for the fifth floor. "Always thinking ahead." She folded her arms and smiled slightly. "Where are we going?" The doors slid open. "I'm going to check his office. You go down to the left to the conference room. He told me last night that's where he and Barry were going to spread out all the records, so they've probably got a computer or two set up in there, too." Sam nodded and went dutifully towards the room, opening the door to see a mess of forms, calculators, and pencils strewn about. Knowing Al, he knew the papers had to be in some form of order that he couldn't readily conceive of. He made note of the two computers against the far wall and the fact that he was the only one in the room. He turned, closing the door behind himself, and heard Beth cry out Al's name in alarm from the other end of the hall. He froze for an instant, hand still resting on the knob, then started to walk and then jog towards Al's office. He swung around the doorjamb. "Beth?" he asked, then stopped and stared. Al was lying on his side on the floor, not moving. Beth's medical training had already kicked in and she was bent over him, looking first in his eyes, and then she took his wrist in one hand and watched her watch, taking his pulse. "What happened?" Sam asked, his recovery time a little slower as he advanced into the room. She was silent for another moment, counting, then she stood up and slid the phone on his desk next to her. "I don't know, but I think he's in shock. And his pulse is kind of erratic." She lifted the phone. "You bring him down to the car - I'm calling the hospital and telling them we're on our way." She turned away from Sam, her shaking hands the only sign that she was in any kind of distress. She dialed and started speaking, rattling off details with someone she probably knew, and Sam bent and lifted Al into his arms, straining as he stood up, and went as quickly as he could to the elevator. As soon as he was inside and alone, it was a fight to keep his composure. "I'm sorry, Al - this is all my fault. I knew I should have let it go the instant I said good-bye that first day." Sam didn't know exactly _how_ it was his fault, but he couldn't shake the feeling that it was. He burst outside and somehow managed to unlock and open the car door and get Al inside. His friend hadn't so much as made a sound throughout the whole thing and Sam bit his lip and fastened the seat belt, noting Al's uneven breath as he did so. Shock, Beth had said, and she was probably right. *Shock over what? What I told him last night?* He'd been angry when Sam told him, but for Al, nothing was ever resolved right away. He had a habit of burying things he didn't like and had never seemed to grasp the concept that he'd have to deal with them eventually, and that's probably what he'd done this time. Sam looked at his eyes and then took his pulse as Beth had earlier, then swallowed hard and laid a hand on Al's chest, uncertain of what he was looking for. The admiral didn't move. "Al...I'm sorry." "Get in the back," Beth said suddenly from behind him and he jumped, then obeyed. She glanced at her husband, laying her hand briefly against his face, and then shut the passenger door and got in, roaring the engine to life and pulling out quickly into traffic.