"In Circles" pt. XI September, 2000 Stallion's Gate, NM The project continued in full swing, testing Al's strength, not to keep up, but to relinquish control. It was not something he did easily but he figured seeing as he would be willing to die for Sam, the least he could do was let someone else take care of him for a while. To take care of both of then, he ammended with an inward grin and just a touch of chargin. In between visits to Sam, which proved uninformative for both of them, he spent his time sifting through the numerous reports that landed on his desk. Things didn't appear to be any different then they had been at all the other committee meetings he had attended, so why the sudden change? McBride had always been very adept at holding off the dogs before, but there was a new force eager to get him out of the picture: Franklin. A short investigation revealed that the other project was no longer there and Al hadn't the slightest clue where it had relocated to. Now that he was back in the dark, the senator had it much easier when it came to shutting Project Quantum Leap down. That was the last thing he intended to allow to happen. The number of phone calls he had made in the past few hours made his own head spin, and not necessarily just in the figurative sense. The pills Verbena had given him had been put to good use during the duration. God, Fate, Time, or Whatever had seen fit to provide Sam with all the knowledge he needed to help stop this from happening, but He had neglected to tell Al how to go about doing it. He leaned back in his chair and rubbed his eyes. Maybe if he kept his eyes closed long enough, he wouldn't see his office, bare and uninviting, when he opened them again. Or not. One thought, as much as he had tried to dismiss it as unimportant, nagged at him. It was the revelation that if he did manage to do this, Beth wouldn't come to see him and maybe that friendship would never be. Abruptly, he pushed back form the desk and stood up. This was doing absolutely no good and, medical problems or not, Al could never handle not doing anything at all. He had to get Tina's car from her because there was no way he was going to be driving his own, not with a dead body in it. Just the thought made the grief swell up inside of him until he could taste it in his mouth. He couldn't remember the reasons he had given Tina for needing the car, but things had been a little tense between them since Beth showed up and he wasn't so sure he wanted to remember. Verbena had once scolded him, telling him he had a perfect picture in his mind that didn't leave room for anyone else, but he needed time to think about that one and Tina was not a patient lady. Within moments, he was on his way out to the airport to go to Washington a day early. If there was nothing more he could tell Sam and nothing he could do down here, he saw it as the only other option. Because he could not, under any circumstances, let things happen the way they had the first time. ^----^----^----^----^ February, 1989 San Diego, CA Sam knocked softly on the door and waited a moment or two. "Mom?" No answer. He cracked the door and tried not to flinch at the smell of alcohol that swept over him with overpowering force. A small desk lamp provided the only source of light and he could barely make out the entirety of the room. It gave him a creeping feeling and almost sent him back out the door as he recalled what Amber told him that morning about calling 911 on her. Whatever this was, it certainly wasn't a family. Slowly, he entered the room, closing the door softly behind him. "Mom, I wanted to talk to you. Do you have a minute?" She looked up from the magazine she had propped open on her lap, eyes bleary and hair tangled and unorganized. "What do you want, Jake?" "I....just wanted to make sure you were all right. You seemed a bit out of it at work and I didn't-" "Jake, I have things to worry about." She slammed the magazine on the night table and Sam jumped. "Nothing you'd understand, so you just go on with what you've got to do and leave me alone!" "What's going on?" Amber appeared suddenly at the door, gazing suspiciously at them. "Amber," Sam started guiltily. "Um, I was just talkinng to your - to mom about the situation here. I just thought that if it all got out in the open, that-" "What?!" Amber's exclimation caught him off guard. "I hadn't told mom I was pregnant yet!" "Um...well, I hadn't either," he mumbled and glanced over at the woman. The woman's features had hardened somewhat. "I didn't need you to tell me. I overheard you talking to that sponge of yours." She stood slowly - an increasing tower of intensity and rage about to descend. "I harbored both of you for years, you little slut!" Sam flinched and raised a shaky hand as if to push all the rage and hatred away from him. "Mom, please." "ME? If you could keep your nose out of the bottle long enough to notice what's going on-" "Don't have to. I can hear it just fine," she shot back. Sam clumsily interjected himself between the two women, fighting for some semblance of control. "Okay," he said calmly. Amber pushed him roughly to one side. "Oh, fine. That's just great! We don't need you or your money." "Then where are you gonna get the cash to get rid of that baby of yours? Stupid fool...what makes you think we got the money to take care of-" "I am not getting rid of this child. How could you? You monster..." Amber's entire body trembled with rage as she tried to pound her mother with closed fists. "OKAY!" Sam roared, pushing them away from each other. "Can we _please_ talk like civilized people?" The hatred that energized the very air in the room made the hair rise on his arms and he suddenly found it focused towards him as Amber turned her rage in his direction. "There's nothing civilized about that woman," she insisted. "I'm not the one sleeping around in my own mother's house at age seventeen!" Sam had had enough. He grabbed Amber, bodily dragging her from the room and slammed the door behind him, dulling the sound of insults still being hurled from the bedroom. "What is wrong with you?" he demanded. "Me? You heard her." Amber folded her arms defiantly over her chest and stared at him. "Yes, you. You're no better than she is." "Oh, don't feed me that bull, Jake. You know how she is: nothing gets through to her. She's just an old hag," she said, raising her voice to be heard through the door. Sam shook his head and walked down the hall away from her. "Forget it." Amber looked after him and, unable to restrain herself, caught up with him and grabbed his arm, twisting him around to face her. "Forget what?" "You. Her. Everything." He closed his eyes briefly and exhaled sharply. "This." Her eyes filled with confusion. "What?" "_This_!" he repeated, gesturing fiercely to the floor. "I can't fix this! I can't even relate to this. She's screwed up, Jake's screwed up, and you-" "Yeah? Me what?" she demanded, tightening her grip on his arm. "What gives you the right to judge me?" Angrily, he shook his arm loose from her hold. "Don't you get it? I. Can't. Fix. This. It's too much. There's too many loose ends, sore spots..." He trailed off. "Al, I want to come home," he whispered in despair. He could almost feel the fight and the will to drive forward until he completed whatever he was supposed to do drain out of him, as if Time and her games had pulled the very life from him. If she heard his plea, she didn't comment. "No-one's asking you to fix this." "That's not true," he said quietly. "Well, _I_ certainly am not. I have enough trouble keeping you in line, keeping this whole damn family together." "Yeah," he muttered, breaking her gaze and staring at his feet. "Jake..." She sighed. "I'm sorry, okay? I'm sorry." "Yeah," he repeated sullenly. "Great. I'm sorry, you're sorry, everyone's sorry. That's....great." He looked up at her once and then walked away. ^----^----^----^----^ September, 2000 Washington D.C. Senator Franklin was in his office. It had been a toss-up between seeing him first or McBride and Franklin was the winner. Either way, Al personally considered himself the loser. Damned if you do, damned if you... He pulled off his gloves that represented the final touch on the dress uniform he wore and held them loosely as he walked down the hall, gaining slow but steady strength from the sound of his own footsteps, echoing confidently in the hall. The secretary, who he was entirely too mentally numb to notice was making eyes at him, ushered him into the office and Franklin looked up without the barest hint of surprise that Al was up there a day early. "Admiral," he greeted him cheerfully. "So glad you're here - I did so miss our exciting mind games. Please, have a seat." "I'll stand, thanks. I don't plan to be here long enough to get comfortable." He caught the faintest flicker of annoyance behind the senator's mask of arrogance and confidence. Then Franklin grinned a little. "Ah, they've started already." "You relocated," Al stated flatly. It was no use hiding his own emotions because Franklin already knew them, but he kept his words empty and unemotional anyway, just to withhold the satisfaction. "And now you're going to bury us." "That's right." He gritted his teeth. "And what I want to know is...how can we stop that from happening." This time, he did look surprised, the impression Al's statement had made clearly evident before he could do anything to hide it. "Admiral, you're not trying to bribe me, are you?" "Not with money, no." "Then with what?" Al blinked rapidly and clenched his fist. He could still feel Sam's hand, trembling faintly, gradually loosening its hold as life fled... "With whatever you want." *Cards on the table.* Franklin stood quickly. "What I _want_ is Project Quantum Leap. Are you prepared to give me that?" Al didn't say anything. "Would you sacrifice what you are scrambling so desperately to save?" "No." The defeat was in his tone - he was unable to avoid it - but not in his eyes. Never there. "Then we don't have anything further to discuss. I have to finish preparing for the meeting and, it seems, so do you." Al narrowed his eyes. "See you in hell, Senator." He runned his fingers together, trying to erase memory with contact from the present, and left, just barely restraining himself from slamming the door behind him. Suddenly, he couldn't go see Senator McBride. He just couldn't. Something told him it wouldn't do any good anyway, and he just had to go someplace where he could be alone. He checked into a hotel room, calmly and steadily, and locked himself in it. As soon as the door had been closed behind him, he dropped the briefcase and the small duffel bag on the floor and collapsed agaist the wall, breathing hard. He fumbled unsteadily for the pills and took one, hoping against hope that it would solve the problem, but knowing it wouldn't. He slid slowly to the floor and looked about the room, small and unpersonal, which seemed to be just what he needed to hold everything together. *Spit and bailing wire,* he thought dully to himself as he rubbed a hand across his face. No matter what, he wouldn't cry because to cry would be to admit that Sam was dead and never coming back and then everything he was doing would be for nothing. He had to keep reminding himself of that. After a few moments, he stood up and sat heavily at the small table in the room. He pulled out a sheaf of papers and started to flip through them. "This is hopeless," he muttered to himself. "There is nothing I'm going to find in here to prove that the project should continue sapping their money." He rubbed at his eyes. "And the odds are-" he paused dramatically "-eight hundred to one against." Another sigh. Pacing didn't help, nor coffee, and finally, for lack of anything more productive to do, he fell asleep curled into a ball at the foot of the bed.