"Pieces" pt. XIII May, 2002 Stallion's Gate, NM Al Calavicci yanked the pillow into a more comfortable position and laid back down on the couch. Melana had finally cried herself to sleep in his bed and he was wondering why he seemed unable to follow suit. But he did know why; it was guilt. Boy, was he ever familiar with that feeling. After five years, he ought to be. It was probably just as well, he figured. He never slept well when he was this troubled anyhow. Not that staying awake would stop the memories from coming. Dammit, he ought to be better at this! What was his problem, anyhow?! Al gave up on sleep and sat up, listening carefully for any sounds from the bedroom. From time to time, a whimper echoed in the silence and tore at his heart, but otherwise it was very still. He wondered if she would be condemned to re-live everything repeatedly as he had been. "Why did I leave?" he demanded of himself in the stillness. It was a very old question. "Why didn't I check things better? Why..." *Why did I have to put Sam's ease above her life? Why didn't I take the extra two seconds it would have cost me to just double check and see that history hadn't changed again? Sam could have waited another two seconds for me on that trapeze. It wouldn't have cost _him_ what it cost her.* He wiped a hand over his face and went into the small kitchen for a glass of water. He was beginning to feel grateful that Sam had cleared out all the alcohol. He sat in the dark in the kitchen, resting his head on the cool surface of the table in front of him. "Why did I have to do something so stupid?" he asked the emptiness. ^"What are you trying to do?" he demanded, cradling the woman that had just fallen. Sam swung far above the ground back and forth, the sight holding more than a hint of insanity in Al's mind. "Kill your sister too?" The words were sharp and cruel and, even though Sam hadn't actually killed "his" mother, he saw the regret and shame deep in the green eyes as if he had been personally stung by the words. Maybe there was something to this bleeding through of the host's personality theory of Ziggy's after all. Al was about to offer a word of encouragement when the handlink began to go a little nuts. Without even waiting for Sam to come down, he popped out and suddenly found himself in the middle of a dark alley. The bright orange of an incredible blaze assaulted his senses and he held up his hand. The entire place was in chaos: sirens, firetrucks gathering in a large cluster at the base of the building, people watching. "Dammit, Gooshie!" Al bellowed, panic giving his words a hard edge. Center me on Melana!" "You _are_!" "Al?" He looked up to see her pressed up against a wall. "I'm lost. Help me, Al!" "It doesn't matter! Just run! There's been a change and now-" He interrupted himself as two men swung around the corner, grabbing Melana and throwing her to the ground. "NO!" Al drew closer and tried in vain to push them away. "Melana!" He stood over her, trying to catch her attention, but she was screaming. "Melana, for God's sake, stop! Listen to me!" Al crouched down beside her and waited until she met his gaze. But by that time the nightmare had already begun. One of the men backhanded her and she hit the back of her head against the pavement, stunned. Her called her name again and, confused and scared, she started to cry. "Listen!" Al ordered, keeping his voice steady and his tone commanding. For her sake, he could dredge it all up: the times when he was faced with such pain and agony that it seemed unbearable. The loss, the hopelessness, all of it, was no stranger to him. "Are you listening?" "Al!" she cried, a heartbreaking plea. She seemed transfixed by the vibrating shadows the firelight was throwing on the opposite side, on the cold stone. A large man grabbed her face and pulled her gaze towards him. "You're not testifying, you got that sweetie? And now you're going to pay for crossing us." "No," she whimpered, trying to pull away. He held her tightly, driving his knee into her stomach. Al closed his eyes. How had he endured? How would she? Ziggy was giving it 99.4% odds that she was going to die, and it was his fault, but Al knew it wasn't the time for self-pity. He moved an inch closer, trying to block out the horror around him. "Melana, listen to me! Just me, do you understand?" "Please," she whispered, not seeming to hear. "Please don't." "No, honey, no! You don't exist there anymore. Just listen to my voice, okay? Please..." Before Al could completely capture her attention, the man moved back to her face, putting his own right up to her. "Baby, I want you to take a good look. I don't want you to forget my face. Ever. You were gonna use that to put me away and now I want it to haunt the rest of your eternity." She closed her eyes and turned away, but he lifted her head by her hair and made contact agaist the ground with her skull again. "Forever, baby," he cooed and Al turned to face him, his breath constricting in his throat. This was it. It was over. He pulled out a knife and Al shifted to look in the man's eyes. For Melana, he wasn't ever going to forget either. Forever...^ Al jerked his head up, a headache throbbing at his temples. He had fallen asleep after all, and he was certain he would live to regret it. He promised himself he would never forget the face of Melana's murderer, only she wasn't murdered. She had come close, there was no doubt of that, but Melana herself had not actually died. But nonetheless, every time he closed his eyes, Al could see the face of her tormenter as clearly as if it had just happened. And it was in that instant that he realized: he knew him. He hadn't at the time, but he did now. It was Thames. But more than that, deep in the shadows, he remembered someone else. And he knew for certain that Senator Franklin had, once again, been behind it all. Al was asleep. She paused as she exited his bedroom to see him stretched out on his couch, a blanket half draped over him. Eyeing him carefully, she crossed the room and sat at his computer terminal. Ever since she'd returned, she'd had a bad feeling about everything. About Al, about that leap of hers, and about...Al's wife. The sudden memory of Sam's conversation with her regarding Al's wife came back in a flash. Al hadn't mentioned her at all since she'd returned. At the very least, that explained his odd behavior last night. Her decision formed, she clicked on his terminal and called up her very last leap, the one she had barely begun when she was pulled home. He had tried to hide it, but Al had a stricken look that couldn't be denied when she stepped out of the Accelerator. Pieces hadn't fallen into place yet, but she felt led by some kind of instinct and she sifted through Ziggy's computer banks with ease. A half hour later, she'd found what she was looking for. As she read the data, learned what went on the past month, her incredulity turned to horror and a kind of shame. "I could have fixed it," she murmured. Movement from behind startled her and she turned around quickly, only to see Al repositioning himself on the couch, still fast asleep. His rest seemed as uneasy as hers had been. She couldn't begin to imagine how much that decision had cost him. In light of his sacrifice, and Beth's, her own pain diminished a notch. Melana wasn't certain how long she sat there, just watching Al as he slept. Even in sleep, he seemed uneasy and troubled. *You need someone to look after you, Al,* she thought to herself, too afraid of waking him to voice the thought aloud. *I'm sorry.* There was, she decided, enough guilt and pain to go around. "It wasn't your fault," she whispered. "I don't want you to ever feel what happened to me is your fault." Slowly, she rose to her feet and headed towards the door. She didn't know what she was going to do, but she couldn't shake the feeling that she had to do something. He shifted again and heaved a long sigh, a name leaving his lips as he exhaled. "Beth." Then he groaned and gripped the edge of the blanket. Melana was frozen to the spot. Time seemed to stand still and, in an instant, she knew what she had to do.