February, 2000 New York City, NY Al had been whisked away upon their arrival, no doubt to start a whole battery of tests to figure out what was wrong. Beth, in the meantime, wandered off to find people she knew and hopefully forge a few channels to get information and results faster while Sam sat in the waiting room, completely miserable and helpless. A couple hours of waiting found them outside Al's temporary (very, they assured them) room, talking to a doctor Beth apparently was friends with. "No heart trouble or anything?" the doctor asked Beth. Sam was seated on a bench in the hallway, watching the conversation without comment. Beth was pacing. "No, Sylvia, you know as well as I do that he always comes back a clean bill of health from his annual physicals." Sylvia sighed and held the clipboard to her chest, crossing her arms over it. "He went into shock, Beth, but no-one knows why." Beth frowned deeply. "Then I was right," she stated, absolutely no satisfaction in the words. Although she knew it could have been something a lot worse. "Yes. Now," she resumed, pulling the chart back down so she could see it, "he's stable and should be awake within another hour or two. I hate to even suggest it, mostly because I know Al would have my head for the mere idea, but should the problem be psychological, there are-" "I think he's just been under a lot of stress. He's under investigation at work for missing money and it's probably just catching up with him," Beth covered. Sam's story was too fantastic almost for her to believe; she certainly wouldn't try explaining it to someone else. "Al?" Sylvia asked in surprise, then smirked. "They obviously don't know him." "Tell me about it. Oh, and he's been getting migraines." "Migraines? Do we know why?" "Don't give me that clinical look," Beth scolded. "What look?" Beth glared. "Listen, he's fine. We're just trying to figure out what happened is all in case there's something we've overlooked. People don't generally go into shock because someone jumps out behind a door or because the credit card bill is a little higher than they thought." "Maybe he can tell us," Sam interjected, feeling suddenly foolish as they both turned. "When are you going to wake him up?" "We're going to give him an hour and, if he hasn't come around on his own, we'll give him something. But he's fine," she added for Beth's benefit. "And his pulse is getting stronger and more steady by the minute, so I'd give him another twenty minutes." "Then what?" Beth asked. Sylvia hesitated. "Why don't we just take this one step at a time?" she suggested. Beth seemed about to protest, then changed her mind, glancing back towards Sam. "I'm going to go sit with him. I'll call you when he comes out of it," she added the last towards her friend. "Thanks for your help." Sylvia nodded and patted her arm. "No problem." She nodded to Sam and headed down the hallway. Sam stood up. "I'm going for a walk - I'll be outside," he told her, but she snagged his arm as he passed. "Sam, are you okay? She said he'd be fine-" "Yeah, I know." He pulled her hand off and smiled halfheartedly. "I just need some fresh air is all." "Okay," she said softly as he started walking, then exhaled sharply and went into the room, shaking her head. Al looked peaceful and still, nothing but an IV running into his arm and she sat down beside him. "You scared the heck outta me, Al," she said quietly. "When I found you I thought you'd had a heart attack or a stroke or..." She stopped, then took his hand. "Was it me, Al? Was it that you couldn't handle the thought that once you came home and I was gone? I've been having trouble with that one myself." She forced out a laugh. "I don't know whether to feel ashamed or flattered. "There's something wrong with Sam, too. He's been so distant since last night and he was acting strangely when I got home today. I think he really just needs to see someone who knows him and, at the same time, he's afraid to leave you. With the stunt you pulled today, I can see why." She sighed and brushed his cheek with her fingers, jumping slightly when his fingers moved in her hand and he slowly opened his eyes. "Al?" He blinked once, trying to bring her into focus, and then sat up quickly, putting his fingers to his temples as if he had another headache. Beth stood up and moved her hand to his back, concerned. After a moment, he turned to her and she hesitated, uncertain of the look in his eyes. "Just take it easy, Al," she said softly, smiling at him. "You're at the hospital." "The hospital?" he asked, startled, and touched his temple again, lightly. "Why?" "You should lie down." He didn't move, staring intently at her, and she relented. It was the way he looked at her that bothered her, though, like he wasn't really focusing on _her_, but was concentrating on something else. "You went into shock and blacked out. Sam and I found you at your office. Al, you scared me to death!" He exhaled heavily and finally seemed to look at instead of past her. "I'm sorry, baby." His gaze didn't waver and it was starting to unsettle her; something was wrong. "Do you remember what happened?" "Uh...I was in my office..." He stopped, closed his eyes, and shook his head slightly. "My whole body just started shaking and I couldn't stop. Everyone else was already gone for the day and I was just waiting for you two. Then I got cold, all over...and..." He squeezed his eyes with his fingertips. "What happened before that?" "I was on the phone. I'd just gotten off, that is. I'd been talking to a friend about...Tom..." "Who?" she asked, puzzled. "...And that's all I-" He opened his eyes. "Where's Sam?" "He's outside, but Al-" He started to get out of the bed and she reached for his arm and held it firmly. "What do you think you're doing?" Al stared at the IV and winced. "Ooh, I hate this stuff." He reached for it anyway and she pushed his hand away. "Al, stop!" "I have to see Sam," he said, but didn't move for the needle. "Beth, it's important. What on earth did they do with my clothes?" he added, glancing around the room and plucking at the hospital gown with one hand. She was frozen for several long seconds, then she pulled out the needle. "You know what caused this, don't you?" He stood up, paused to regain his balance, and then crossed over next to her. "I just need to see Sam." She went into one of the drawers and pulled out his suit. "Here." He pulled on his slacks and buttoned the shirt hastily, not bothering to tuck it in. "I'm sorry," he told her, "I'll explain everything later." He turned, maybe a little too fast, and then swayed and grabbed for the rail on the bed. Beth moved quickly, catching him before he could fall. "Al, please..." His eyes were shut tightly and he shook his head. "No, it'll be okay. Just give it a minute. Just..." He lifted his head suddenly and looked at her as if he couldn't believe what he was seeing. "You're beautiful when you worry," he whispered. She didn't know what to think at his confusing behavior. "Then I'd rather not be beautiful." "Couldn't help it if you wanted to." Slowly, as if afraid she would pull back, he kissed her and she could feel an overwhelming need from him at the contact. She held him gently until he stepped back, his face solemn. She furrowed her brow. "Al?" "I'll be back soon," he stated, but didn't move for another minute. Then he turned and left unsteadily. She shook her head. "Man's going to get himself killed," she muttered and then sighed dramatically and followed him out to find Sylvia. With his luck as of late, he'd collapse somewhere in the hospital on the way to find Sam. ~~~~~~ Sam sat on the bench and stared at the sky, thinking. If he was smart, he'd just leave now, let Al straighten out his life in peace. He'd caused enough trouble as it was. There were two things Sam had always counted on where changing history was concerned: that both he and Al would initially retain memories from the original past and that, in time, those memories would fade and the new past would be integrated into their thoughts. Neither of those seem to have happened, making this experience painful for all involved. He stood up, actually thinking of leaving but not knowing where to go, when he heard a familiar voice behind him. "Sam?" He turned quickly and saw Al standing on the second step of three that led down into the grassy area Sam was in. He was holding onto the handrail tightly and Sam took a couple steps towards him. "You should be in bed." Al stared at him, then closed his eyes and stood still, as if listening to something only he could hear (something Sam could easily relate to), and then refocused his gaze on Sam. "You have a brother," he stated. Sam frowned. Of course Al knew he had a brother: he'd told him! Puzzled, the scientist nodded slowly. "Yes." "He was a Navy SEAL." They were statements, not questions, but Sam felt compelled to respond. "Yes." Al squinted at him. "And he went on a mission...to rescue me." Sam's eyes widened in surprise; how had Al known about that? "That's right." "But he failed because..." Al hesitated again, his attention wandering constantly, and then snapping back to Sam from time to time. "Because...I didn't tell you it was me. Because I led you back to save his life." Sam suddenly found he couldn't breathe or move and he just continued to stare at Al. "Yes," he said, barely even a whisper, a confirmation Al couldn't possibly have heard. "You came home," Al murmured tightly. In his eyes, Sam could see the one thing he'd been craving for the last five days: recognition. Al took a step forward and faltered as memories he didn't know existed washed over him. Sam's paralysis was broken and he ran to Al's side, grabbing his arm and holding up him. "It's okay, Al, come sit down." Al gripped his arm and Sam could feel his friend trembling, overwhelmed by shifting realities. Now Sam knew why he'd gone into shock and he was suddenly scared it was happening again. "Take it easy..." Sam sat him carefully down. "Don't leave us again, Al...just breathe." Al tried to obey, but it was too much. "I remember...when she was gone, Sam. And when you were..." "What of the other history _do_ you remember, exactly?" Sam asked, his arm around Al's shoulders, steadying him. Al gazed down at his own hand, still clutching Sam's arm. "Enough to know how good that feels." Sam laughed at the same time as a tear rolled down his cheek. "Are you okay?" "A little confused... And I think Beth thinks I've lost it." He swallowed, his face a mask of concentration and Sam felt him steady by degrees. "25 years of altered memories...it's a lot to get at one time." "Al...I'm sorry. None of this would've happened if I hadn't-" Al held up a hand to stop him. "You're human, Sam, you seem to forget that. You didn't have anywhere else to go. I forced you into the rest." Sam nodded reluctantly. "Besides, it must have really hurt when I didn't know you." Sam didn't respond, but his eyes said it all. They connected with Al's - really connected - and he pulled Al into the hug he'd been waiting for for five years.