"Linked" Book II, Part XIII ~~~~~~~~~~~~ February, 2001 Stallions Gate, NM ~~~~~~~~~~~~ Al burst into wakefulness, jolting Beth out of her own sound sleep. Heavy breaths heaved his chest and he reached out blindly for the light. It clicked on and Beth arose the rest of the way into full awareness. "Al?" She rubbed his shoulder methodically. "What's wrong? Are you in pain?" Al had stopped taking pain medication the day before, as soon as he thought he could stand it. He shook his head and she squeezed him gently. "Nightmare?" He shook his head again. "Sam...he's landed." "How do you know?" Some of the tension started to flow from his muscles, but he was still alert. "I don't know - I just feel it." With the events of the last couple weeks, she could believe it. "Al, how strong is your connection with Sam?" He gazed down at her, confused. "I don't know...why?" "When you were still in and out, you told me you'd wanted...something. Do you remember what you were talking about?" He looked blankly at her for several seconds. "When you woke up," she pressed, "you told me, `I wanted this'." The light of recollection sparked in his eyes. "I'm not sure I was thinking all that clearly. I mean...it's impossible." She sat up. "Al, they pulled two bullets out of your body. _That's_ impossible. What happened on Sam's leap?" "Beth..." Her voice became stern. "It's not going to go away. Tell me." Al focused his gaze on nothing. "There was this little boy they'd kidnapped. He was four years old." She didn't interrupt to ask who `they' was. He chuckled, but there was no humor in the sound. "Kid could see me and he was scared and there was nothing I could do except sit with him and make promises I couldn't keep. So Sam goes after these guys - doesn't think, just barges in. Only it was the wrong place and the kid was somewhere else." Beth looked at him, waiting for him to continue. When he didn't, she touched the back of his hand. "What happened to Sam?" "These nozzles, they cornered him. There were three of them and they were all armed; Sam'd long since lost his gun. Just as Sam's partner came up from behind them, one of the guys - shot Sam." He stumbled verbally and Beth smoothed his hair back and folded him into her arms. He resisted, then finally relented to her efforts to calm him. "He'd already been beaten up pretty bad and I didn't think he was gonna make it. His partner had backup and they were just a split second too late." He took an unsteady breath. "So I figure that's it, it's over. Thought Sam'd leap out, but he didn't. Turns out no-one knew where the boy was and Sam had to tell them before he could leap out. But he's lyin' there on the pavement dying. And there was - blood everywhere. All he could do was just look at me. I don't even think he could hear me - he just stared. So I'm standing there thinking, `God, why do You have to do this to him? Why can't You just leap him out?' But He didn't. That's when I..." He stopped and pulled free, wiping his face with a hand. "That's when you asked for it to be you instead," Beth supplied, her hand still on his back. "Isn't it?" He smiled faintly. "Yeah. All I could think was that I'd do anything to change it, to take it for him. Crazy, huh?" She tried a smile, but it failed her. "For whatever reason, though, Sam started breathing a little easier and he came around long enough to call out the location to his partner. Then he leaped and I had this terrible migraine; thought it was just the stress." "But you're still linked with him, aren't you?" He turned to her, studying her face in the dim light. "I dunno - I guess so." "You're sure he's leaped in?" "Absolutely," he answered, seeming surprised at his own resolute response. "Is it enough to find him again?" A painful longing materialized on his face. "I'm not sure, but I only know that-" "Admiral." He stopped, seeming confused. Beth looked worriedly at him, then placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. "What is it, Ziggy?" "Senator Weitzman is on the phone, line two." Dread was almost tangible in the room. "Donna's been doing the weekly reports for you," Beth noted. "So they know." "She told them the truth." He said it as if he couldn't believe she'd do such a thing. "Al..." "Give me the phone." She passed it on to him and laid back down, watching him carefully. He could be so single-minded. "Calavicci." "Admiral. Back on your feet yet?" He gritted his teeth. Weitzman qualified as the enemy and it was hard enough being scared and vulnerable in front of Verbena and Donna and even Beth without all of Congress being privy to his medical status. "Getting there. Thank you, Senator." The pleasantries came out in a gravely voice. "I've just finished reading the latest set of reports." Al glanced at the clock. 0238. Even on the east coast, it was still early. "You always make your hard core decisions in the dead of night?" "I haven't _made_ any decisions," Weitzman countered. "That's for the Committee to determine." "So why are you calling me?" "These reports...they're rather vague." Al met Beth's eyes. "I haven't read them - how vague?" "Lost contact with Doctor Beckett. Malfunction with implant. There's not much more to it than that." "That's...pretty much the whole story," he said, wondering how much Weitzman knew of his condition. "That is _not_ the whole story, Calavicci!" the senator snapped. "Doctor Elysee neglected to mention how it malfunctioned, why it malfunctioned, and why we weren't notified immediately. More importantly, she conveniently left out any estimations of possible recovery. If I understand the concept, Admiral, once contact is completely lost, it's virtually impossible to reestablish a permanent connection." "That's not entirely accurate, Senator," Al cut in, trying to dampen the man's anger with whatever means possible. "Oh, of course not. You can also track changes in history to try and locate him, but each alteration causes an avalanche of shifts and, by the time you discover the source, he'll be gone again. Have I forgotten anything?" Al was taken aback by the man's seemingly extensive grasp of the workings of Project Quantum Leap. "Who's coaching you?" "No-one. Admiral, at the last meeting, I believe it was you who suggested that I, and I quote, `either attempt to gather at least a rudimentary understanding of the particulars of PQL, or leave speculation to the experts.' Did I get that right?" Al cringed. Trust Weitzman to call him on everything. "So I did my research and I found no very good reason not to urge my colleagues to shut you down." He'd been dreading this day, had had nightmares about it before. But what could he do? Tell Congress he had a telepathic link with Sam? He wouldn't buy it if he was in Weitzman's position; he wasn't even sure he bought it from his own. It was...impossible. "Senator, we are currently working on-" "Oh, no, Calavicci. No, no, no. Your halfcocked ideas have always been plentiful, but I'm not accepting it anymore. You will not start any new pet projects without submitting a proposal first." Al sat up a little straighter. "I'm Acting Director of this project and as long as I'm here, I'm going to do whatever I can to initiate a rescue operation." "You do anything - _anything_ - without Committee approval and I'll have your stars for it." This was it. It was all or nothing. "Senator, with all due respect, go to hell!" He slammed down the receiver and leaned against the headboard, shaking. "That was a mistake," he muttered in response to Beth's unvoiced question. He handed the phone back without looking at her. "What's your plan?" she said quietly. He gazed at her. "Plan?" he repeated blankly. "To get Sam back," she explained patiently. "Are you sure you don't want to take some more pain meds? Verbena brought by plenty." "No. I don't have a plan. I lied." She could see the hopelessness in his face. "And when the Committee meets next week, it'll be over." ~~~~~~~~~~~~ March, 1998 Fairbanks, AK ~~~~~~~~~~~~ The next hour passed as a blur. Certain dynamics within the family began to make themselves known as the seconds ticked by. The greatest conclusion he came to was that Sherri seemed to be handling the situation better than anyone else. And she wasn't just pushing back her feelings or shutting herself off - she was truly dealing with it. Somehow, from what little he knew of her, he wasn't surprised. All the while he sat there, fumbling his way through what would have been an awkward conversation to begin with (and was made even more so without the coaching he needed at the start of a leap), Sam put out his mental feelers. He didn't know exactly what he was trying to do, just that at the end of the prior leap, he was sure the presence he'd felt was Al. He'd felt his friend's pain and his struggle. And, somehow, Sam had been able to help him. Now, there was nothing. Not even loneliness. The complete lack of feedback worried him. Even before all these odd things had started happening, Sam had always had a sense of what was going on with Al. It was a connection forged from years of trial and pain and victory and now Sam knew he'd taken it for granted. *Whatever happens, God, please don't let him be dead.* "Alex?" Sam glanced up, realizing he had drifted away from the conversation. It wasn't fair on this front, either. He'd saved Sherri's life who knew how many years ago and now leaped in just to watch her die of something which, judging by her charts, was too far along to stop now. He was also sort of shocked to see she hadn't married Gary, and even more amazed when she'd mentioned Gary and Cindy as a couple. It just went to reinforce that sometimes what he wanted wasn't what the leapee wanted. It was actually common for things to just naturally happen so that he and his host were of one mind, a bleed-through of the host's personality, he supposed, but it hadn't this time. He wondered why that felt so unfair; neither Gary's nor Alex's lives were his to keep anyway. "Yeah, what is it, Sherri?" She reached out and took his hand. "You seem distracted today. Is everything okay?" "Oh...the doctor talked to me earlier. We have some decisions to make," he improvised, falling back on his previous conversation. "Oh." Her voice was very quiet. She turned to her children. "Jessie, take your brother down to the cafeteria and have some lunch, okay?" Jessie looked less than thrilled with the suggestion, but she took the money Sam held out to her and left. Sam took the seat she'd vacated. "Now," Sherri said quietly, "tell me what's wrong." He cleared his throat. "These treatments..." "It's not about the medication or treatments. This is about you and me and the kids. Now, Alex, what's wrong?" Honesty seemed to be the best route. "I'm just...having a hard time dealing with this." She readjusted her hold on his hand. "Alex, you have to talk to them. They're children." He wasn't sure how she'd made the transition from him to Jessie and Jeff, but she knew more about it than he did. "I - I know." "Especially Jessie. I don't think she's handling this well at all." She paused, then smiled dimly. "I don't think you are, either. If I know you - and I do - you're closing up on them when they need you the most. You're all they have." "I'll talk to Jessie," he vowed. She touched his cheek with her index finger. "Thank you." "About the new treatments-" "I don't want them," she interrupted." Sam was stunned and it showed. "You what?" Her expression was chiding. "Alex, I don't have much more time. You know it, I know it, and the doctors know it. And children listen - they know, too. It will just be so much more painful to drag it out. Won't you let this end gracefully?" "No, I won't!" The gentleness in her features was replaced with a fierce determination so quickly that Sam was startled. He could plainly see the woman from his previous leap. "Alex. Give me my dignity." He was at a loss of how to reply.