"In Circles" pt. XI September, 2000 Santa Fe, NM Al rapped gently on the door and waited a moment. No response. His carefully neutral expression mirrored none of the inner turmoil that was going on inside of him as he opened the door. That changed directly afterwards. His face fell as he saw what was inside the room and a shadow of pity crossed over his eyes. Donna was curled up in the huge armchair in the bedroom, a handkerchief held to her mouth to stifle her anguish as she cried. Al crossed the room and knelt beside the chair. He laid a hand on top of her's and rubbed it gently, feeling it tremble underneath his grasp. "Donna? Are you alright?" It was obvious she wasn't, but he wasn't certain what else to say. The image of Beth flashed through his mind, as it had been a lot recently, ever since he found her under Franklin's "care". He had come very close to death several times over in Vietnam. If he had died and she had waited, wouldn't her world have been that much more torn apart when she found out? Even worse, he hadn't left behind any close friends of theirs to help her through it; all of his buddies were in the service with him and many of her friends had been in similar situations as her. Donna's sobs slowed slightly and then intensified with renewed force and helplessness. "Al," she choked between her spasmatic breathing, "I don't know what I'm going to do now." He moved his hand up her arm and held her upper arm loosely in his grip. "I don't either," he admitted. "Why? Why does it have to be this way? Doesn't He care?" "I think you're asking the wrong person, honey," he said with a thin smile which she didn't return. He wasn't even sure if she saw it. He had long ago learned the art of pulling the curtain over his feelings, muting and smothering them under a protective shield, mostly because for a large chunk of his life, he didn't have any other choice. Donna, on the other hand, had no such talents and he often found himself as the consoler, even more so than Verbena because he had been in that place before where she spent most of her life. Every time he saw her there, it brought back his own painful memories, but for her sake and Sam's, he continually pushed it aside. It was even helping him to understand Beth a little more. "Al, I can't do this anymore." She finally looked at him and her eyes were red and puffy from crying, her face pale, and her whole body was wracked with shivers. He closed his eyes briefly in sympathy. "I mean, what am I supposed to do now? Wait just in case he still manages to leap back?" She gripped Al's wrist with her right hand. "I don't know what to do, Al." "I know, honey. I know." He reached up and pulled her close, unable to just watch her suffer alone. She slid off the chair and onto the floor beside him and he gathered her into his arms, stroking her hair. "What should I do, Al?" she asked, her words muffled as she spoke into his shoulder. He winced. "I don't know, Donna. I can't tell you that." "_Could_ he come back?" "I don't know," he repeated, each word a dull tone to his own ears. "I can't go on like this," she said and Al held her a little tighter. "Are you giving up on him?" he asked, his voice strained. "I'm not sure, Al. I just don't know..." She broke off into more sobs and curled up a little tigher within his embrace. He could feel the dampness of her tears through his sleeve and, inside, he was crying along with her. Crying about a lot of things. Because when all else fails, sometimes there's just nothing else you can do, you are just so overwhelmed by everything. Either laugh, or cry. And crying won. ^----^----^----^----^ September, 2000 Stallion's Gate, NM Franklin was obviously the outsider. The Project Quantum Leap staff stood like a barrier against him, expressing their contempt through some language other than verbal communications. Undaunted, he stood there, not doing anything other than observing the hanging. Al stood, fuming and helpless, watching as Franklin's men checked in to make sure proper procedure was being upheld. Donna had been left at the house, a little sooner than Al would have liked. He didn't like to leave her alone when she got like this, which happened more often than he felt comfortable with. There had been times when she would call him at some incredible hour of the morning in tears just because she couldn't bear to be in the house alone, and he would drive over, provided Sam didn't need him, and spend the night on the floor in her room. So it was apparant why he was reluctant to leave her, but he wanted to be there when Franklin pulled the plug, just to make sure there was nothing else he could do. Gooshie stood hesitantly next to the admiral for a moment, then tugged on his arm boldly. "Admiral?" he whispered. Gooshie's fears were unfounded; Al had neither the heart nor the desire to become angry with him. "What?" "I have an idea." Al turned slowly towards him. "Gooshie, if you can find us a way out of this, I'll never threaten Ziggy again." The scientist grinned and motioned for Al to follow. "What are you doing, Admiral?" Franklin questioned as Al and Gooshie moved to a console in the corner of the room. "We're, uh, saving a few last minute programs, um, sir," Gooshie fumbled before Al could reply. The admiral sucked in his breath sharply and the little man winced. "You had better not be trying to override anything," Franklin warned. Al grunted, but refused to reply. Verbena eyed them in the corner, watching as Tina wandered casually over and then joined in the fray. The moments passed and then, with the slow agony of a painful death, the walls moaned and the lights faded. The incessant hum grinded to a halt and Al dropped his hands to his sides, as if he had been deactivated as well. Franklin tossed his clipboard on a nearby console with a loud clatter that echoed in the omniously still room, and looked at them in the dim lighting. He had the grace not to comment, but Al could still see the glint in his eye clearly through the dark. Had he been a few paces closer, Franklin would probably have been on the floor by that point. And Al smiled. "You won. Either way you slice it, you won." Franklin tilted his chin up, but still didn't comment. "Let's just hope-" he glanced at Verbena "-let's just hope I don't lose this one." He turned and headed towards the Accelerator. "Al?" Verbena gasped slightly and reached in vain for his arm. "Al, what are you doing?" Like all doors once automated, the door was jammed open. Al stood in the doorway a moment and then walked slowly inside. The psychiatrist whipped around to face Gooshie. "You didn't power up the Accelerator, did you? Gooshie?" The scientist started to reply, but she ran to the Accelerator without waiting for a reply - and stopped dead. Al stood a few feet into the room, staring at the figure standing in the center of the room. "It worked," he whispered. "Dear God, it worked." Sam Beckett blinked slowly, taking in his surroundings and for a moment, the entire room held its breath. Then, slowly, he started to laugh. He laughed for at least five minutes until tears dripped down his face, and nobody moved, then he fell to his knees and started crying as if he was a child. The paralysis was broken. Al dropped to his side and pulled him close, rocking him gently. No body spoke and the sound of Sam's sobs were the only sounds to be heard. Verbena turned to the crowd of people who had gathered, clogging the doorway and spilling out into the Accelerator and ushered everyone out of the room with a whispered, "There'll be plenty of time. Give them a few moments first." "It's okay, Sam, it's okay. You're home." He rubbed Sam's back soothingly and Sam shuddered in his arms. "Shhhh...." He was reminded of Donna, who he had tried to comfort in the same manner just a little while earlier. "I'm sorry, Al," Sam said finally. "That's okay, Sam, you don't have anything to apologize for." He released Sam reluctantly and looked him in the eye. "You alright?" "A little shaky, but I'll be fine," he assured him, slowly coming back to that place where he could function beyond the moment. "Just give me a second." "Sure, sure..." Al's eyes were filled with concern and something else Sam couldn't identify. "Are you up to seeing everyone else? I'm sure they've called Donna down to the project by now." "Um, yeah," Sam said, suddenly grinning from ear to ear. Al patted his arm. "Welcome home, pal." There were cheers when Sam exited the Accelerator - lots of cheers and hugs. Al slipped off behind the group of people after a little while, leaving Sam to the welcome he deserved. He passed Donna who was practically flying as she moved through the complex and they connected and clung to each other as if they could never let go. He smiled at that. Her eyes were still swollen and bloodshot, but he doubted Sam even noticed. Franklin, he noted, was nowhere to be seen. As much as he himself wanted to stay and help welcome Sam home, he had to check something first. He went all the way out to the surface and out to his car. He opened it and peered inside. The passenger's seat was empty. There was nothing: no blood stains or any other form of turmoil. He sat in the driver's seat and ran a hand along the passenger's seat, slowly. The tears began to fall, squeezing their way from him in heartwreching sobs. The storm had arrived, now that he no longer had a multitude of worries to preoccupy him. He no longer had the committee to battle with, Donna would not be calling him over at two in the morning because she was on the edge of hysteria, and, most importantly, Sam was home. The project was done with, which would eventually cost Sam a great deal of sorrow, but for the moment it just put his mind even more at ease because now he knew Sam couldn't do anything foolish. Everything was perfect. Excepting, of course, him. He ached with every fiber of his being, and he was angry at himself for it. He was filled with more relief and joy than words could express, but he had also seen Sam die and if there was one thing he learned in Vietnam, it was that that kind of memory didn't go away easily, if at all. And the worst part was that he was the only one who knew. Finally, he was unable to contain the bottle deep inside of him where he hid all of his feelings. He buried his face in his hands until from sheer exhaustion of spirit and will, the flow slowed and stopped. He clung to the steering wheel with both hands, trying to regain some measure of control over himself, but it was a lost cause for the moment. "Al?" It was Sam. Al didn't turn around. He wondered momentarily how Sam had managed to extricate himself from Donna's grip; she was likely never to let him go again. "Where's the ball and chain?" He could feel the grin. "She's waiting just inside the complex." Sam laughed. "Just, _just_ inside the complex. We're all waiting for you to pop the champagne." He closed his eyes. "Aw, Sam, I'm sorry to run off like that. I don't wanna take away from your celebration. I'll be in in just a couple minutes, I promise." Sam laid a hand on Al's shoulder and the admiral flinched. "There celebration can wait. It waited five years and it can stand a few more minutes." Al heaved a long sigh. "Don't misinterpret this - I am so glad you're home." "I know, Al." "And this has nothing to do with that...." Sam removed his hand and crossed to the other side of the car, sliding into the passenger's side. Al took a steadying breath to slow his heart rate. "What is it, Al?" Al hesitated and Sam took his hand and grasped it tightly. "There's time now," he said gently. The feel of Sam's hand in his was too close and he almost lost it all over again with Sam right there. He choked a little, but he couldn't lie to Sam and he couldn't avoid him. "I....saw you die." He felt Sam's grip loosen a little in surprise. "What?" "Right here. Right _there_! Two days ago. Do you want to know why I was so late that last leap?" he demanded, shaking off Sam's hand and twisting in the seat to face him. Sam recoiled at the look in his eyes. "I was late because I was watching you die, listening to you tell me how you had lived eleven years in Jacob's life because I failed. Eleven years, Sam! And from what I saw it wasn't a pretty life." He looked away, unable to hold Sam's gaze any longer. "How?" Sam asked slowly, with obvious reluctance. Al laughed harshly. "Got shot. Twice. Had blood all over me." He looked at his hands curiously, as if not certain what he would see. "I don't know what to tell you, Al. Do you want to tell me about it?" "No." He managed a thin smile. "Let's let the past stay in the past, just this once." Sam let out a relieved breath. He wanted to help but between all the emotions rushing through him and the prospect of his own death, it was almost overwhelming. And whether Al knew it or not, he wasn't off the hook with it yet; they'd work it out together as time passed. "So are you ready to come inside?" "You have to promise me something first." Sam looked a question at him. "You have to promise me that you'll never do anything like that again." Sam stared somberly at him. "I promise," he said. Al blinked rapidly for a moment and then grinned. "Then let's go inside, huh? Everything can wait a while." They went back inside, where Donna reclaimed Sam, taking hold of his hand and leading them down into the mess hall, completely oblivious as to what was going on. Al had not, of course, told her any of what he had been through regarding Sam. The celebration lasted far into the night, with the entire staff eventually arriving to join in. The following day they would worry about where their next job would be, but for the moment, they were content just to help welcome Sam Beckett home. Finally, Donna led Sam home to their little adobe house outside of the city and Al joined the other handful of scientists that lived at the project in activating a generator for the purpose of warm showers and lights until they made other living arrangements. Al spent a little time before retiring for the evening outside, staring at the stars. One wonderful thing about being out in the middle of the desert seemingly miles from civilization was that there were always so many stars in the sky. He stood, smoking a cigar, and felt a warmth that didn't come from the sharp desert chill. It was the feeling, for the first time, that Someone was smiling down on him. He took a deep breath, and let it out slowly, savoring the sensation of just being still and peaceful. Then, slowly, he smiled back.