"Linked" Book II, Part XIV ~~~~~~~~~~~~ February, 2001 Stallions Gate, NM ~~~~~~~~~~~~ Al took a deep breath as he made his way down the hallway. Beth was in her lab, trying to work herself back into her normal routine, as much for him as for herself, he suspected. It was a futile exercise as their reason for existing was no longer there and therefore there was no reason for them to still be operational. Still, her efforts were comforting. Besides, Al had ideas, plans. Finally. He glanced up as the elevator door opened and Dr. Spenard looked curiously at him. He inclined his head as Al entered the enclosed space. "Admiral." Al narrowed his eyes slightly, but his voice was conversational. "Doctor. How much longer are you staying at Project Quantum Leap?" Spenard took off his glasses and scrubbed at them with the corner of his shirt. "Perhaps just another few days, depending. For observational purposes." Al sighed. "What about you?" The admiral glanced up in surprise. "I'm not leaving." Spenard cocked his head to one side and replaced the glasses. "You're not being shut down." Al snorted. "Not if I have anything to do about it." The doctor held out his hands as if to calm his companion, though Al seemed more determined than distressed. "Please understand me, Admiral, you have only just begun the long process of recovery from this. I would hate to have to extend my stay longer because-" "Don't worry about it," Al stated tightly. "You'll be able to get back to your country club soon enough." The replying stare was slightly affronted. "You must also understand the...things I did, the things I suggested... I was simply doing my duty as a doctor." "I understand." Al's words were unconvincing. "But now you understand: Sam Beckett is my partner and my friend and I will do whatever it takes to get him back." The expected retaliation never came. Instead, Spenard actually smiled. "I think I just got it." "Got what?" There was respect in the man's eyes as the elevator doors slid open. "You, Admiral. I think I finally got you." He nodded slightly. "It's been a pleasure," he stated, then left Al in the stunned aftermath. ~~~~~~~~~~~~ "No. Out of the question." Al paced two more full lengths before the pain forced him to retake his seat. "Verbena..." "Does Beth know you're here?" the psychiatrist asked. "Don't change the subject." "I didn't. I closed it," she replied simply. She tossed her pencil onto the desk. "Now you answer my question." Al was about to push his point, but he decided he'd get his issue addressed faster if he relented to her stubbornness. "No, she doesn't know I'm here. I haven't spoken with her, either," he added before she could press that button, too. "Don't you think you should?" "You can't stop me," he stated, ignoring her question. "The hell I can't," she said forcefully. "Al, take a look at yourself! You just had two surgical operations a week and a half ago! Goodness, how long did it take you to get down to my office unassisted?" Al's expression was hard. "And then I hear from Donna that you want to leap? Oh, no...no way." "I have to. Verbena, the Committee's gonna cut us off at the knees." "And what good will leaping do? If you knew where he was we could find him, couldn't we?" He dropped his head, staring at the base of her desk. "What?" "Nothing, Beeks. It's nothing." She could tell he wanted to be pressed, but she didn't think she had the energy. "Al..." He looked back up. "Don't you trust me yet?" He slid forward a few inches. "Do you remember Beth telling you that she...felt..." He stumbled, embarrassed. "You?" His gaze steadied. "Yeah." He exhaled heavily. "Everything about this situation is weird." "So we agree on something," she remarked, drawing a reluctant smile from the admiral. "So you have the same connection with Sam?" "Normally, I'd say no. I mean, I don't feel anything unique or inexplicable." "But," she supplied. Even when Al came to her office of his own volition, it was like pulling teeth to get anything constructive from him. "But...when I was about ready to give in, there was a sensation of...someone there. I don't know, Verbena, I can't explain it." He said the last as a halfhearted mumble. She'd been told as much as she was going to get in that area. "So what makes you think leaping is going to do anyone any good?" She saw the relief in his eyes as she drew the conversation away from the metaphysical and back into the logical and tangible. "I figure if...whatever this is that's going on is so strong that physical objects have been pulled from Sam's world into mine, maybe I can hit the mark." "By leaping." He winced. "By...leaping." "Why not standing in the Imaging Chamber?" "I tried that already. I was in there for five hours this morning." A look of disbelief crossed her features. Since when did Al Calavicci give up on anything after just five hours? She studied his face, noting the lack of color in his cheeks and the discomfort in his black eyes. She toyed briefly with the idea of forcing him to go back on medication for the pain, but then changed her mind. She'd lose that one for sure. "Why don't you give it some more time, Al?" "We don't have time, remember?" he exploded, slumping back in defeat. "How are we going to get you back?" "Sammy Jo's coming back from her vacation tonight. I was gonna talk to her then." She sat back, considering him. "I want to be there when you talk to her and I want Donna there, too." He nodded reluctantly. "For now, you should discuss this with Beth, don't you think?" "I was going to," he stated, his tone indignant. "I wouldn't commit to leaving without talking to her, first. I made that mistake once and once was enough." While she tried to figure out just what he meant by that, he rose slowly to his feet and left her office. ~~~~~~~~~~~~ March, 1998 Fairbanks, AK ~~~~~~~~~~~~ "I've got to go out tonight, Dad," Jessie called as she snagged her coat from the back of the armchair. "Hold it." Sam dropped the paper he was reading. He'd spent the last twenty minutes in the Burtons' small den. The wood paneling and the soft, tan colored furniture, and pale red carpeting created an atmosphere that was relaxing and helped him think. "Where are you going?" "Out. Sharon and Carrie are waiting for me." Sam glanced at the header on the paper again. Fairbanks, AK. Wednesday, March 9, 1998. "Don't you have homework?" "No." She met his gaze steadily, but he could see a coldness there. He'd seen the expression from time to time, especially in Al's eyes. It was a wall he'd construct to hide emotions he wasn't equipped to deal with, so, instead, he'd determine not to feel anything at all. All those years Sam had fought with him to overcome that made dread crawl in his stomach when he sensed the same thing in Jessie. "Why don't you stay in tonight? It's getting late and it's been a long evening." "I promised I'd meet them there." "Where?" "The library." That was definitely a lie. Sam bit back an irritated response. "Thought you didn't have any homework." "We're just meeting there." Sam folded his hands in his lap. "And then where are you going?" She pulled on the coat. "I don't have to tell you everything." There was more going on here than just teenage defiance. Her attitude towards him in the hospital, Sherri's concern for her, all the signs pointed to a troubled person. "I'm your father. That means you do." "What do you care?" He felt the feeling intensify. "I care. Why wouldn't I care?" "Because..." She took a step away from the door. "Because you don't even care that Mom is dying. You sit with her all the time, but you don't care." He blinked against the unfairness of it all. Sam certainly cared, and he couldn't fathom Sherri marrying anyone who would turn an apathetic shoulder towards her. "Jessie, you're wrong." "Well...you just don't understand," she retorted, signaling that her earlier comments had indeed been out of line. "So tell me." He expected her to explode, to rail out at him that he was unfair, that the world was unfair. Instead, she tightened her facial muscles into a grimace as she fought back tears. "I have to go," she said quickly, unsteadily. Then she fled out the front door, letting it slam sharply behind her. He wanted to go after her - his first instinct was to get up and call to her from the front steps, but he sensed that she needed her space. Her mother was dying and that couldn't be an easy thing for someone her age to face. Especially at that fragile time when everything else in her world was already in a state of constant flux. Sam sank back into the armchair and took a heavy breath. *Oh, Jessie...you think you can avoid pain forever? I tried it...when my father died. And you can only go so far before it all catches up with you.* Problem was, once it did catch up, it could wreak disaster. Again, Sam thought of Al. And he worried. He closed his eyes and forced himself to relax in the chair, forced himself to clear his mind and focus. He was out there on his own, leaping from life to life without direction, without guidance, without his observer. Sam Beckett reached out to his friend, trying simply to determine that he existed. For a full half hour, he sat there, beginning to feel vaguely idiotic. He was just about to give up and shake off his frustrations, when his mental probings reached what he had been searching for. In a world of mist and nothingness, he was aware of a channel of life as distinct as the clothing Al always wore. It was a small vein crisscrossing with thousands - millions - of others, but it was there. In that instant, Sam felt his courage and determination and he knew Al was worried, knew he was scared for his friend. But he was alive. "Dad?" Sam jolted awake to see Jeff standing anxiously at his side. He quickly overcame his momentary disorientation and was just left with the mystery of what he'd experienced. He prayed it wasn't a dream. "What is it, Jeff?" "I'm going to bed." Sam hugged him. "Okay." Then he patted the boy's shoulder. "It's going to be okay." "Is she gonna get better?" Sam's expression was strained. "I don't think so, Jeff, but I was telling you the truth - it is going to be okay. Just because someone dies doesn't mean it's not." *Please, God, don't let it have been a dream.* ~~~~~~~~~~~~ February, 2001 Stallions Gate, NM ~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Are you insane?!" So far, the conversation wasn't going well. Al felt he should be defending his decision, but thus far she was still too upset. "Beth..." he said in what he desperately hoped was a reassuring voice. She stood facing him from the opposite side of their small living area. He wasn't sure if it was subconscious or not, but she'd moved so the couch was between them. "Don't," she stressed in a tone tinged with anxiety. She held out her hands, palms towards him. "Just...stop for a moment, okay?" He nodded, keeping his distance. "Sorry." She hugged herself tightly, her distress charging the room and making the nerves on the back of his neck tingle. She was taking this even worse than he'd imagined. "So let me understand this." Her voice wasn't sarcastic - in fact, it was dangerously close to tears. "You want to leap. You don't know where or when, but you want to do it anyhow. You know Sam's leaped in, but the visitor is unresponsive. You haven't felt a thing since, but you want to make a blind shot in the dark anyhow. And you have no idea how to get back. Is that it, Al?" She backed up against the wall. "You almost died. And now it feels the same as giving up." "It's not giving up," Al countered, "it's anything but! Giving up would be to stand by and let Congress close us down." She leaned against the wall as if wishing it would open up and swallow her. "Al, I just... This is just too much too soon. You still have trouble sleeping through the night without nightmares or, more often, pain." His expression made it clear he didn't appreciate being reminded of that. "How are you going to make it through a leap?" "I was hoping not to have to." "How are you going to prevent it?" He looked hopefully at her. "I'm talking to Sammy Jo the instant she gets back to discuss that." "Sammy Jo," she echoed in hollow tones. "No offense to her genius, which rivals even Sam's, but she hasn't been able to bring him home yet." He advanced a few steps. "We won't know anything until I talk to her." She inhaled deeply, willing herself to relax. It didn't work. "I, um, I have to get some air. I need to go for a drive or something." Al bridge the gap then and put his hands on her shoulders, relieved when she didn't pull back. "Beth, you shouldn't go out when you're this upset." "I'm a big girl, Al, I can handle it." "You shouldn't drive," he emphasized, ducking down to meet her gaze. She raised her head. "Do you have any idea how hard it is when the qualities I respect and love about you are the ones that cut me so deep?" The sorrow in his eyes was a sharp contrast to the strong front of before. "I'm sorry," he whispered, touching her cheek. "So am I. Thing is, it doesn't help." She pulled his hand from her face and left the room and their quarters. A suffocating grip of panic clutched at Al's senses and he broke free from his trance and ran out into the hallway. "Beth! Wait!" She turned in her tracks and he could see the tears she hadn't wanted him to see. "I'm just going for a walk. I'll be back." The expression on his face must have been frantic because she forced out a weak smile. "I'll be back." He desperately wanted to go after her, but he restrained himself, let her leave from sight. His world had been turned upside down and inside out ever since Cokeberg. He'd never had such strong feelings regarding Sam until then, and he'd never needed such constant reassurance from Beth that she was going to come back to him every time she walked out the door until the moment he had a family to care about. It was still just too close to the time when he'd still lost her for him to feel at all comfortable about the way she'd just left his - _their_ - quarters. *Why am I doing this? I had to wait so long to get her back - why do I have to turn around and leave her again?* She'd argued, but never asked him not to go because she knew he couldn't just sit back and let this go. She'd even tried to keep from breaking down in front of him, tried to make an already difficult decision a little easier. Instead, it made it that much harder. What if he didn't come back? He didn't even have the faintest idea of the stats, but they couldn't be good. Why was he banking everything on the pitiful odds (odds he certainly wouldn't bet on) that he'd just happen to arrive in the same place as Sam? Since when did Al Calavicci rely on blind faith? *Since God gave me Beth back. Since He gave me four beautiful daughters. Since He gave me a friend like Sam to keep me from screwing it all up.* Since it was the only chance he had. ~~~~~~~~~~~~ Several stories above him, Beth Calavicci sat underneath an outcropping of rock, staring at the clear sky, and wondering how she was going to handle it if Al never came back.