"Off the Beaten Path" pt. XI

May, 1988
Nant, NC

  "Mr. Geller," Al said suddenly, standing.
  Beth, standing behind Sam, crossed her arms and frowned at
them. "Can you please remove this circus from our home, Al?"
  Sam turned slightly to face her. "Mrs. Calavicci, I just came
to get my daughter."
  She seemed about to say more, but then she just fired a hurtful
glance towards Al and left them alone. 
  "Mr. Geller," Al said again, trying to decide what to say.
  Al looked to be at the end of his rope, Sam thought. He was
quiet and reserved, the hurt and conflict driving him to act that
way to protect himself. And, sooner or later, something was going
to have to give. To Sam, he looked older than the hologram he had
spoken to earlier. When he looked deep into his eyes, Sam could
see the dreams that still haunted him, even while he was awake.
  Al opened his mouth, but Sam cut him off with a wave of his
hand, worried that the only thing he would have to say would be
the name of Sam's host again. Instead, he turned his attention to
Eve. "You ran off again," he accused.
  "The two of you need to talk," Al said quietly, turning on his
heel. Sam could see Eve's disappointment at the motion.
  "Sit down," he told her. If she was shocked at his tone, she
didn't show it. She sank to the couch without comment. He took
Al's seat. "Eve, there are things you need to learn, for better
or worse. And," he continued meaningfully before she could say
anything, "there are things I need to learn. But the first thing
you have to remember is that if you can't sit still long enough
to listen and accept and offer input, you will never...ever...get
anywhere. Do you understand?"
  She nodded.
  "Look at me," he said. She glanced up and he held her gaze
firmly with his own. "If you leave again, I am not coming after
you." Eve started to protest, but he held up his hand. He let the
silence linger another instant to let the meaning of what he was
saying sink in. "I love you and I care about you and you will
always have a home with me. You will always have a family with
me. But you need to want to be there or it will never be a home.
And...we will never be a family."
  "We aren't," she said, anguish in her eyes.
  "No," he conceded quietly, "but, with a little work, we could
be. Just like, with a little work, the group of people in this
house could be. They've known loss, too. They've known hurt." He
put his hands on her shoulders. "And, eventually, they'll
overcome it. I promise you that. The question is: will you let
_us_ overcome our hurts?"
  She reached up and gripped his arms. "I...miss them," she said
tightly, softly.
  "Let it out, Eve."
  She bit her lip and shook her head, looking down at her lap.
  "Eve," he said again, more forcefully this time. "It will
destroy you." The image of Al materialized in his mind. They were
more alike than either of them knew.
  Then, something Al had said to him earlier in the hotel room
came back to him.
  ^"I don't really know how to get her to face everything, Al."
  "You're doing a good job, just keep pushing. She's a smart girl
- she knows where the road she's on is heading. She just needs to
be shown that there are other roads, if she can find the courage
to change her direction." Sam studied Al carefully, wondering if 
he was thinking of the incident at the vending machine, recalling
that Sam had shown him another road. "You're good at this stuff,"
he insisted.
  "I just can't relate to her. I don't know what to say."
  "Just tell her you love her." Sam furrowed his brow. "I mean it
Sam, nothing else matters. If there's one thing I learned from my
girls, that's it."^
  Sam squeezed Eve's shoulders lightly. "Evelyn." He smiled. "I
love you."
  The first tear slid down her face, and then everything broke
free. He slid a notch closer on his seat and held her while she
cried. He hoped, back at the project, Verbena was making some
progress with Daniel. They were going to need each other for a
long time. He closed his eyes, relishing the moment. It were these
times he lived for - it were these times he _had_ to live for.
  He heard the soft sound of movement below the sounds of Eve's
release and glanced up to see Al watching them from the doorway.
The two men locked eyes and then Al went as silently as he had come.
Sam heard the sound of the front door opening, then a car engine
roaring to life. He was utterly torn, but he knew he had to stay
with Eve, for now. Taking care of Al would have to wait. 
  He laid his cheek on her head and rubbed her back gently. Then,
as he glanced blankly at the corner of the room, something caught his eye
from between the cushions on the couch.

  Al sat alone in the corner of the bar, his back to Sam. Sam
took a deep breath, and walked up behind him. Sensing his
presence, Al shifted in his seat. "What do you want?" he asked
  Sam moved around in front of him and took a seat. "To talk to
  "Why?" The word indicated interest, but the tone didn't. The
elation from passing that first hurtle with Eve had long since passed and
Sam was faced with the difficult task of driving his best friend
over the edge - on purpose. 
  "I...wanted to thank you for helping my daughter."
  "_I_ didn't do anything."
  "Well, you tried-"
  "You're not listening," he said in strained tones. "I didn't do
anything, okay? Just leave me alone."
  Sam took a deep breath and pushed his way in another step. "I
couldn't help but notice that you're having trouble. Is there
something I can do to help?" *Wrong way, Beckett,* he thought in
frustration. *I can't _do_ this!* How could he go against what every
fiber in his body was telling him to do? He clenched his fists, certain
Al would not react favorably to that comment. Al _still_ had
difficulty asking for help - he certainly wasn't going to take it
now, from a complete stranger. That was part of the problem, Sam
realized: how was he supposed to dig deep enough into Al's pain
to bring it to the surface when, for all intents and purposes,
they - Daniel and Al - didn't know each other?
  "Yeah," he said, looking up angrily, "you can mind your own
business. Geez, what _is_ it with your family?"
  Sam resisted the urge to turn the conversation to something
harmless. Instead, he took the straightforward direction. "What
do you want, Al?"
  The question caught them both off guard, Al so much so that he
answered it honestly, quietly. "I just thought...I could make a
difference." The pain in his eyes cut straight through Sam. He'd
seen it so many times before...
  ^"I was just wanting _something_ in my life to work right."
  "She was there when you came home; wasn't that enough?"^
  Sam smiled gently. "You will, Al. I promise you, you will. But
the things that need fixing right now are not out here - they're
in there," Sam said, pointing a finger at Al's chest. "What do
you want now? In there?"
  At first, Al was silent, but then his eyes snapped back to Sam,
as if just remembering he was supposed to be angry with him.
"Look, when I want your opinion on my life, I'll ask you. And you
have no right to question me about anything."
  For a moment, Sam closed his eyes. Facing things brought issues
to the fore, and he knew Al was not equipped to deal with them
now. Instead of tip-toeing around, he had to come at it point
blank. He took several deep breaths, as if rallying his strength.
When he opened his eyes, Al was staring at his drink.
  "You know what I think?"
  "_I_ think we're done with this conversation," Al returned
sharply. "Look, I don't know who you think you are and I don't
know who you think I am, but, other than through a passing
acquaintance with your daughter, I have no link to you."
  *_You_ don't even know who you are,* Sam thought with an
internal sigh. Al started to get up, but Sam rose, put a hand on
his shoulder, and pushed him back down. "You know what I think,
Al Calavicci?" he demanded, pushing on before Al could answer
him. "I think you're a mess. I think your marriage is hanging on
by a thread and you aren't enough of a person to step out and try
and fix it before it falls apart." Al was staring at him with a
kind of horror, reflecting Sam's own feelings, but he had to do
this. For Al's own good, he had to do this. "I think your
children are having to live in this middle of this and I think
it's going to hurt them more than you realize, and..." *And I
know there's still some coherant part inside of you that doesn't
want that.* He swallowed harshly. He couldn't go on. Sam suddenly
felt close to tears, and he sat down hard. *I can't.* It was
painful all around.
  But the damage, good or bad, was done. Al's respiration slowly
increased, his chest heaving more with each breath, but then he suddenly
closed his eyes and visibly pushed his rage down, postponing the outburst.
Sam hoped it had been enough, and he wished the hologram would return to
read off the odds before Al left the bar.
  Al opened his eyes and stood slowly in front of Sam, a
trembling mass of anger and pent up frustration churning within
him. He held out a shaky finger and pointed it at Sam. He opened
his mouth and, for a minute, nothing came out. "Go to hell," he
finally said, his voice a low, dangerous river of emotion. "And I
don't know what you know, but stay away from my-" He choked,
pulled out several dollar bills, slapped them down on the greasy
table beside the drink, and turned his back on Sam.
  "Family," Sam finished miserably for him.

  Sam Beckett sat in the hotel room, rubbing his hands anxiously,
turning every so often to eye the door to Eve's room. The next
evening, he'd told her, they were leaving. If the event he was
hoping for and dreading didn't happen the next afternoon, if Dr.
Sam Beckett, just introduced to Project Starbright, didn't seek
out Admiral Calavicci to extend his gratitude for the job, Sam
didn't dare wonder what would happen then.
  Suddenly, the welcome sound of the Door came to Sam's ears and
he jumped up eagerly. "Well?" he asked his friend before he got
two paces into the room.
  Al eyed him carefully. "You okay, Sam?"
  Sam waved his hands impatiently. "Yes, fine. What are the
  Al barely glanced at the handlink. "99.5%"
  Sam let out a cry of joy, wishing he could, at the very least,
pat Al on the back. "That's fantastic!" He let himself bask in
the glow of success, then he sobered. "Al, that was one of the
hardest things I've ever had to do."
  "I know, kid," he soothed. Vague memories of the incident were
beginning to filter through for Al, Sam could see. Then he
changed the subject. "I guess it's finally time for you to leap
out, huh?"
  "Right." Sam grinned happily for a moment, and then the smile
slowly faded. "Only if that was it, wouldn't I have leaped out
after I talked to...him in the bar?"
  Al's brow furrowed and he lifted the 'link. "You're right. I
don't get it."
  Sam puzzled over that one for a moment, the periodic squealing
sounds from the handlink being the only things interrupting the
silence, then his face brightened again. "It's okay, Al. I know
what I still have to do."
  "Sam, Ziggy doesn't even know. What is it?"
  "You'll see," Sam returned evenly, bursting with hidden
  Al raised his eyebrows and then grinned affectionately. "Don't
I even get a hint?"
  "No. What time does-" he gestured awkwardly "-happen?"
  Al keyed in the request and then frowned. "Ziggy's not sure.
Well, let's see. I don't remember too much of that day..."
  "Well," Sam grinned wryly, "neither do I. I guess I'll just
have to hang out around there 'til it happens."
  "You can't get on a top secret project," Al pointed out, "not
as Daniel Geller, anyhow."
  Sam considered this. "I don't really need to," he said. "In
fact, it may even be better this way."
  Al shrugged and returned his attention to the device in front
of him. Apparently, he was too tired to attempt to pry the
information from his partner.
  Sam sat cross-legged on the edge of the bed and watched his
partner fiddle with the handlink. Something began to dawn on him.
"You still haven't slept?"
  Al's expression turned immediately guilty. "Soon, Sam. I've
just been real busy."
  "After I leap," Sam prompted. "Promise me, Al."
  Al lifted his expression to meet Sam's and Sam was shocked to
find fear there. The admiral was afraid of what he would find
when he let down his defenses. Even so, Al nodded slowly. "I
  The connection was broken, but the mood remained. "Al?"
  Al focused on the handlink. "Yeah, Sam?"
  "I don't...have any kids, do I?"
  Al looked instantly uncomfortable. "Now, Sam, you know I can't-
  "If I did, or do, or whatever," Sam interrupted, "you'd be
their father for me, wouldn't you?"
  He looked up, partly from surprise, partly from the kind of
sorrow in Sam's voice. He swallowed hard. "Of course."
  Sam nodded. "Thank you."

Gee, once again, thanks for the comments...it surprised me how many people
are reading this story. Thank you very much for taking the time to write.
All that's left is one more part and an epilogue which I hope to get out
next week. And, hopefully, by July, my next story will be ready to go.
Hope you enjoy the rest of this one!