"The Final Chapter" pt. V July, 2000 Santa Fe, NM Sam kicked at an invisible piece of trash on the floor and swallowed back another sigh. "What two people?" he asked, then held up his hand. "Wait. First, can you tell me where I'm going?" "Uh..." Al hit a few buttons on the handlink, then smacked it viciously. Sam's face formed into a wry grin at the familiar sight. "Well, we really don't have a lot of information on this project, Sam, beyond what you and I both know, but my guess is you're either beginning or ending your shift." "Terrific. Al, how much trouble is Karen - am _I_ going to get into if I'm not working?" Al shrugged. "Well, let's see if Ziggy can find one of your roommates and you can ask her. You risk looking foolish, but-" "-But it's better than wandering the halls all afternoon," Sam resumed. "Okay, where do I go?" "Hang on a second...Ziggy's doing a spatial evaluation of - ah, here it is. Turn right at this next corridor and then go straight down to the end of the hall," he explained, making pointing motions with his hand. Sam moved to follow the directions, resuming his pace as well as the earlier line of conversation. "So who dies?" "We're not exactly sure they die, as such..." Al replied, moving to walk next to Sam. "Oh, wonderful. Just tell me what we do know, please." "All right, just keep cool, Sam. It's around this time that two women, who were working here, disappear. Their families stop hearing from them, Franklin denies their existence, and nobody ever finds their bodies." "Names, Al. Names would be nice." "Oh, uh, Mason Ricca and...Sandy Hiller." "And I find these people where?" Al dropped his hand to his side in frustration. "We just don't have this information. How do you propose we find it?" "I don't know. Go talk to Franklin," he suggested bitterly. "Oh, sure, I'm certain he'll be happy to help out." Sam stopped walking. "Don't look at me like I'm nuts. I haven't lost my memory this time. You could just threaten to kill him again." As soon as the words left his mouth, he regretted them. Al dropped his gaze. "We never talked about that, did we?" Sam questioned carefully, relenting. "We never talked about anything unless you were leaping," Al mumbled half-heartedly. "That's simply not true," he protested. "Don't shut me out of this one." He stopped talking and pretended to study the files in his hand as someone walked by. When he looked back up, Al was staring past him at the wall. "What were you thinking, Al?" "I was thinking of taking care of our problems." "By going to prison?" he demanded. The memory of how calm and rational Al had been when he held a senator at gunpoint ran chills through his body. He was certain if he hadn't been there, Al would have shot him. "I'm sure Beth would have been delighted with you for that one." Al looked back at his partner. "She was scared of him, Sam. Besides, it doesn't really matter now, does it?" Sam shrugged slightly, his shoulders dropping back down heavily. "Do you really think it's worse this way for her?" "I don't know. I mean, I want to say yes. But..." "You don't know if you really mean for her or you?" Sam questioned gently. "Yeah," he admitted reluctantly. Sam nodded slowly. "There's only one way to find out." "Ooooh, no, I couldn't." Al took a step backwards. "And even if I did and she said that no, things had been terrible for her the past two years, I don't think I could hear that knowing I couldn't change it." The scientist folded his arms. Al had a point, he had to admit, and he was beginning to regret bringing it up. "What were you going to do after you shot him, Al?" he asked, surprised at his own words. Al shrugged, the sudden question not seeming to phase him at all. "Turn myself in, I guess." He shifted uncomfortably. "You had better find out where you're supposed to be, right?" he said, indicating the end of the conversation. "I'm gonna go check on a few things, namely what you and I have been up to the past couple of years." Sam sighed. "Back to the old grind, I suppose." "I'll be back soon," Al promised, sensing Sam needed the reassurance. "Tell Donna I said hello." The admiral smiled slightly in encouragement and let the door close. ^----^----^----^----^ July, 2002 Stallions Gate, NM Memories were sifting around and a few were beginning to fall into place. It had never taken this long before, except maybe with Donna. That had taken quite a lot of getting used to. He was certain she had thought him insane when he first saw her standing outside of the Imaging Chamber. He could no longer remember his exact reaction to her presence, but he knew it had been drastic. He vaguely recalled Verbena Beeks using the word "shock". Repeatedly. Al Calavicci sat at his desk, studying leap after leap that he didn't remember yet. Two years' worth. He didn't remember yet all of what went on in his own life, but he guessed with all these consecutive leaps that he had been very busy. He felt a flash of pride that he had apparently been able to keep the funding coming all that time. And then there was the other project. He wasn't sure of the exact circumstances of how it had eventually gone under, but he had a vague impression of having been there when it did. He was working on paperwork when they had called. McBride had called him from Santa Fe, telling him that Senator Franklin had gone under and was being taken into custody as they spoke and would he have a few hours to come help her clean up this mess. Not only that, but she had a few names for him that she felt certain would improve the staffing conditions at Project Quantum Leap. Sam's leap hadn't been particularly dire and he'd jumped at the opportunity. ^Al wandered the halls until he found a small aggregation of people gathered around a table where a fresh pot of coffee was brewing. Absently, he wondered how long everyone had been here before he was able to pull himself away and drive over. Senator McBride looked up when her aide pointed and beckoned him over. "Admiral, it's good to see you when I'm not looking down from the Committee Board Meetings." Al grinned slightly and shook her hand firmly. "Senator," he returned. "So what exactly is going on here?" He listened carefully as she outlined the situation for him, nodding periodically, all the while processing the information and trying to figure out what that meant for Quantum Leap. They had conversed for several minutes until movement just on the edge of his vision caught his eye and he glanced at a tall woman, pushing a wheelchair. He started to turn his attention back to the senator when he caught sight of who was _in_ the wheelchair. He put out his hand to touch McBride's arm, cutting her off in mid-sentence. "Who is that?" he asked, never removing his gaze from the face of the woman in the chair. She didn't see him. The senator looked at him curiously and then started rifling through papers, attracting Al's attention. "Forget the name, who _is_ she? I mean, why is she here?" "Oh," realization dawned and she laid the papers down on the table. "She's been held here against her will for the past year. Apparently, Franklin was going to use her as a leaper." Al felt as if he had been punched in the stomach. "Who's that with her?" "Dr. Williams. She's a psychologist. We called her up here this afternoon." Al let go of her arm, which he had failed to realize he still held, and walked away from her without another word, earning a stunned gaze at his retreating back. "I just need to get some papers and I'll be back out to take you up, okay?" Williams was saying to her and Al saw her nod slightly and close her eyes. Al maneuvered to corner the doctor. "Excuse me," he said, amazed at the automatic formality that had come out of his own mouth. "Is she okay?" Williams spared a fleeting glance at the back of the wheelchair and sighed. "Well if you're referring to her physical condition, she'll be fine in a week or so. As for her mental health, well," she sighed again, "I'm afraid that's going to take a little more time...Admiral," she added belatedly, noting the uniform. "Why the chair?" "She's exhausted and we just decided it would be easier on her. Plus Dr. Cone said she was slightly malnourished and dehydrated. There are a few other problems here and there, but I haven't reviewed the entire file yet. I just got here about 40 minutes ago myself." Al took a deep breath. "Where's she going?" "I was just going to wheel her up and we're going to put her up in a hotel in Santa Fe. Someone's waiting outside to take her there. And, I think, her husband's flying in tomorrow to get her." Al flinched. "I think they'll find her again later for questioning, but we all decided, with emphasis from myself, that it would be better if we got her back into familiar surroundings around people she knows before we press." Al was still staring at the chair when she asked him curiously, "are you Admiral Calavicci?" He snapped his gaze back to her. "Why?" Williams shrugged. "She asked for him. We found her and she gave us her husband's address and phone, asked us to call him. Then she asked if Admiral Calavicci was going to be here. I don't know what she was told. Are you?" Al opened his mouth, closed it again, and nodded. "Listen, do you mind if I take her topside? I need to talk to her anyhow." She looked him up and down slowly and then shrugged and handed him her clipboard while she fished around for a pen. "Sure. Let me give you my number to give to her driver. So we know where she's going to be tonight." Al waited while she scribbled down a number and handed it to him. "And have her drink something," she added, gesturing with the pen at the table that held a pitcher of ice water. Al nodded and returned the clipboard, moving to fill a paper cup with some water. Then he took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and walked over. By this point, she was leaning forward, resting her elbows on the arms of the chair, her face buried in her hands. He touched her shoulder gently, moving the cup into her line of vision. She jumped and moved her arms down by her side. "Here," he prodded, moving the water closer to her right hand, "the doctor said you should drink something." Williams had been right; she looked like she hadn't had a good night's sleep in a long time. Beth accepted the cup from him after a moment. "You _are_ here," she said without even looking up at him. He wasn't sure if she was saying it to herself or him, and he pushed the wheelchair down the hall and around a corner to avoid the prying eyes of the conglomeration of people still making reports, as well as a fair amount receiving them, in the hallway. When she still persisted on gazing at the floor, he walked around to the front of the chair and knelt down. "Yeah," he said finally. "I'm here. How did you know?" She shrugged slightly, as if it didn't matter. But she'd asked for him - _about_ him - that had to mean something, right? She had obviously been through a lot and it tore him up inside to see her so quiet and self-contained. White-knuckled hands clenched the edges of a thin sweater tightly, pulling it more securely around herself. "I've known you were part of this line of work for about a year, according to Dr. Williams. Franklin mentioned you." "Franklin," he repeated dryly. He considered this for a moment. "Well I've known you were here for about ten minutes, so go easy on me, okay?" he prodded gently. She smiled faintly and met his eyes for the first time. Al felt a wave of...something pass through him. He drew in a shaky breath and wiped a hand across his brow. "How about you let me take you to the hotel?" "I don't think so, Al." At the sound of his name from her lips, the feeling blanketed him again and he shuddered. However he could describe the sensation, "pleasant" would not top the list. He swallowed tightly and rose, resuming the walk towards the elevator at the end of the hall. They rode upwards in the oppressive silence and it became obvious to him that she was internalizing all the painful emotions she was feeling and they were threatening to destroy her. There was a small flight of three stairs before the front entrance and she rose, not without effort, and climbed them slowly while he pulled up the wheelchair. She leaned against the wall, watching him as he fumbled with the locks on the wheels. When he finally turned to face her, she was holding her stomach as if she was in pain. He held out a hand to her. "Beth," he said quietly, imploringly. "Please." She let his offer hang there between them, not moving one way or the other. "Please." Finally she reached out a shaky hand which he clasped readily, pulling her into a loose embrace just as the trembling spread, consuming her entire body. "It's okay," he soothed, rubbing her back. Beth simply held on for dear life.^ He had asked her again, then, if he could take her to the hotel, and she'd accepted. He wasn't certain what he was looking for, and he certainly didn't know what she wanted of him, but a familiar source of comfort seemed to be her main requirement and he was happy to oblige. Not but a few minutes into the trip there, she had fallen asleep and she didn't wake up when they reached the hotel, while he checked into a room for her. Nor did she wake up when he brought her up to the room and put her into the bed, pulling up the covers, and turning off the light. She didn't even shift in the bed as he studied her face from the afternoon light the shades couldn't quite block out, and he could only assume she had remained just as still as he locked the door behind him when he left. Now, in light of all these new memories that were in actuality over a year old, Al Calavicci stared at the phone on his desk. He had been staring at it for a good ten minutes, by his count. ^"There's only one way to find out" "Ooooh no, I couldn't."^ Al bit his lip, squared his shoulders, and lifted the receiver.