February, 1989 - Original History San Diego, CA Work turned out to be in the kitchen of a restaruant. It seemed to be a fairly nice place, from what Al could see, and he figured they made pretty good money there. He found Sam moments later, striving to keep up with impatient commands tossed in his direction. "Sam, that steak is supposed to be medium rare," Al said, peering over his friend's shoulder. Sam jumped reflexively. "Al, I'm a little busy here." He pointed with his cigar. "Yeah, I know, and I'm telling you, you're cooking that wrong." Sam looked daggers at the hologram as he scrambled to remove the food from the grill. "Don't tell me you've worked in a restaruant." "No, but I've made a steak before, Sam," Al countered sourly. "Doesn't take a genius. Used to have steak all the time when I was with Brenda. Ooooh, you wouldn't believe how energetic she'd be-" "Al..." "-when we'd have-" "Al!" Al stopped and cast an innocent look in Sam's direction. "Any luck with Amber yet?" He took a drag on his cigar and watched the smoke drift upwards, "mingling" with the steam from the grill. Sam reached through Al to get a spatula. "Not really. She does know she's pregnant, though. Probably went to the free clinic or something. Why? You got something else for me?" He cocked his head thoughtfully. "Nah, but I've got to go up to Washington and I may not be back until tomorrow afternoon. I just wanted to check up on you before I left." "Oh. Trouble?" Al shrugged. "Same 'ol, same 'ol. Everything's fine. They just need to hear it from the head honcho." "And they'll settle for you?" Sam joked. The admiral glared half-heartedly at him. "Everybody's a comedian." "Yeah, so why do you really have go to Washington?" "Well, one day there was this boy named Sam. And from a very early age, in his plot to regain all the money spent on taxes and build the world's biggest ego-" "-Until he met an admiral who already filled the bill. Come on, Al. Quit messing with me." The expression on Al's face changed abruptly. "Sam, do you trust me?" "Al, you know I trust you." Al nodded. "Then don't, Sam. Just don't." Sam stopped his work for a moment and studied the hologram. "Okay," he said quietly. "Jake! Take twenty," called a man Al didn't recognize. "Sure," Sam returned, handing off the ticket he was holding to someone else as he left the kitchen. Al followed him as he got his food and proceeded back to the break room. "Thought you didn't eat red meat," Rick commented as Sam entered the room. Sam took a seat across from him, casting a sidelong glance at his partner as he did so. The more the day wore on, the less he liked "the boyfriend". "I made an exception. It's been a rough day." "Rough?" Rick's voice was harsh as he laughed and leaned back in his chair. "Hell, this is a slow day. What's up with you, man? You're not normally this sluggish." Sam didn't bother to reply and took a bit of his food to cover the silence. Al, on the other hand, felt no such inclinations. "Geez, Sam, what's his problem? This the boyfriend?" Sam nodded slightly as he chewed. "Does he know?" Another nod. "Some father _he_ oughta make." The physicist was inclined to agree. "So, Rick, I heard the good news." Al coughed subtley. Rick paused; the food on his fork slid off and onto his plate as he halted its upward ascent. "What do you mean?" he asked carefully. Had Amber lied? "About Amber...and...you know." "How did you know?" he demanded, setting the fork down with a sharp clang on the table. "She, uh...." He glanced at Al for guidance, but he just shrugged and pointed to the handlink. "Well, she told me." Rick seemed to hesitate and then laughed. "Oh, well I suppose that's okay then. She told me she didn't want anyone to know yet." "Why not?" Rick picked his fork back up. "Dunno, I mean, it's not like they're not gonna find out eventually. I think she's kinda ashamed, you know? But that's okay. She'll get over it." "Sensitive fellow," Al remarked. "You got the money to handle this, punk? What about the time?" "Well, I got to get back to work. See you tonight." Rick stood and left Sam and Al alone in the room. Sam sighed and buried his face in his hands. "Oh, I just hate this, Al. What do I know about all this?" "I'm afraid I can't help you too much there, pal. You know people, though." "I'm so tired of dealing with everyone else's problems. I just want to be home and simply deal with solving my own. What do I need with the trials of the world? One person at a time...." Al closed his eyes. "I know," he murmured, but they both knew the words had long ago lost their comforting value. A phone conversation Al had had just that morning rose up in an unwarranted sense of urgency within his memory. ^"I don't know if we can call off the dogs on this one, Al," Senator Barrett said. "This guy's a genius, right? He can take care of himself." "Right. Like travelling through time is your everyday occurrence."^ Al ran a hand across his face. Barrett had been wrong when he had spoken with him earlier that day. Al hated to admit it, but he was. Not, unfortunately, about the first part, but about the last, he was just plain wrong. ^"I don't think I can make it without you, Al."^ "What?" Sam twisted his spoon in the ice cream in front of him. "I didn't say anything, Al." "Oh." There was a silence and then Al gasped sharply, almost doubling over in the process, and Sam looked up at him. "Al?" Al smiled reassuringly at Sam, too focused on his breathing to respond verbally, and fumbled in his pocket. He pulled out a bottle of pills, which slid out of his unsteady fingers and rolled to someplace Sam couldn't see once it lost contact with Al. Al's eyes traced some invisible path along the floor and his expression contorted into one Sam wasn't all that comfortable with. "Al? Are you okay?" The admiral glanced up. "'Bena?" he choked out and fell to his knees, gasping for air. Sam was up out of his seat in an instant, though he couldn't do a thing. "Al!" he called, worried that his friend was having a seizure or worse. Verbena suddenly appeared at his side, gripping his arm just as he fell completely to the floor, trying to prod him back into consciousness. It didn't appear to be working. Her expression was tense and worried and she said something to someone else in the room with her. Then, to Sam's utter amazement, another person clutched at his other arm, helping Verbena to haul him up and into a wheelchair they apparantly had nearby. Sam was so intent on using his doctor's training and instinct to figure out what was going on that he had to look twice to make sure it was who he thought it was. "Beth?" he muttered to himself in disbelief, knowing that she couldn't hear him. Al hadn't said anything about this. "What on earth?..." Verbena cast him a reassuring look and the trio disappeared out of the Imaging Chamber, leaving Sam feeling more alone than he had felt in a long time.