"Pieces" pt. III April, 2000 Santa Fe, NM Sam hesitated a moment or two from the doorway of the hospital. Al was back in the chair, head buried in his hands, rocking slowly. Sam really wasn't sure how the man would react to his need to talk. If there was anything Al was protective of, it was his feelings, but it didn't take a quantum physicist to figure out how he was feeling this time around. Sam clenched his jaw and crossed the room. "Here. I got this out of the car for you," Sam said gently, holding out a thick, warm aphgan he had retrieved from the back seat of Donna's car. "You looked cold." "I'm fine. Thanks," came the muffled response. "Al..." Al's head snapped up so sharply that Sam feared for the condition of his neck. He winced. "Al, I could see you shivering from across the room. Please." He held out the blanket again and this time Al took it, wrapping it around his shoulders. "You and Donna having a nice conversation over there?" "Not really. That's why I'm over here." Sam tried a smile, but it failed him. "Did you want to lie down or something? You've been pacing for hours." "If I wanted to lie down, I'd have done it by now," he pointed out, gesturing sedately with his hand. "Why did you really come over here? It wasn't for small talk." "You don't have to be strong for me anymore, Al," he whispered. When Al didn't answer, the scientist shrugged, an expansive gesture that seemed solely to try and cover for uneasiness. "I was worried." Al's expression relaxed somewhat and the explosion Sam had been bracing himself for was delayed and maybe even averted. "You and me both, pal. You and me both." He paused then looked over at him. "Thank you, Sam, but no." "What?" Al stood and resumed pacing again and Sam had to hurry to catch up. "For what you're thinking. But I don't want it and she wouldn't want it and God knows Donna would have a fit." He trailed off and his brisk steps slowed. "You two were fighting about it weren't you?" "Al..." "Sam, you promised you wouldn't get back into the Accelerator and I believed you. Don't make a fool out of me." He stopped completely again and dropped into a nearby chair. Sam sat slowly beside him and Al looked once at him, then turned away to stare at a spot on the floor just in front of him. "But thank you." The look Sam had seen in that one glance was fleeting and he would have missed it if some subconscious twinge hadn't warned him it could be coming. "Al, _you're_ not thinking of..." "Don't worry about it, Sam." That tight vise of control was back. "You have my promise and a paranoid spouse. What guarantee do I have from you?" The admiral looked back up at him, but he looked anything but like a Naval admiral. In the deep rims accentuated more so by dark eyes and in the sagging shoulders, Sam saw a grief-filled heart. And he knew in that instant he would not get any guarantee, because Al himself was not at liberty to give one. "I won't do anything until we find out if she made it or not. That's the best I can do." He re-focused on the floor and laughed bitterly. "So you found out something about Donna, did you?" How the man could pick up on these things was uncanny. "You knew?" "That she and Beth were not the best of friends? Yeah, you could say I knew that." He swayed his head from side to side in almost a drunken pattern. "But that's okay. Beth's a strong woman; she can take it." Sam thought about the woman who had been swept away over a few chance encounters with a stranger that she had almost seemed to forget the man who, thousands of miles away, could never forget her or it would have been his sanity. He knew it was unfair of him, but he almost began to see where Donna was coming from. "She was not a strong person," Sam muttered, almost without thinking. A sharp fury sparked in Al's eyes, then subsided almost immediately. "Maybe not as much then, but she still was. Sam, she lasted two years like that! An impossible two years with no real reason to believe I was even alive. You can't blame her for that. We all make mistakes. Mine was being foolish enough to go back for a second tour and her's was giving up, but that doesn't mean she was weak. She didn't have anyone, Sam." He glanced at Sam. "Donna did. Donna had a company of people looking after her and helping her and she always knew, Sam. She always knew you were alive. And even if she wasn't as strong then as Donna is now, but she doesn't deserve to have that thrown back in her face all the time." He paused as if to make sure his audience was still with him. "And she's been through a lot since then. She's lost a husband and a child and she deserves to be happy. And if she's not the strongest person in the world, well then, maybe that's just part of why I love her." Sam listened to Al pour out his thoughts, needing to make them heard, and then backpedaled along the soliquouy. "What do you mean, she lost a child?" "A daughter. Second born child. She was two and she tugged on a cord to pull herself up, and the leg of the coffee table snapped and she was crushed. To this day they don't know why it fell apart. Killed her almost instantly. Beth blamed herself for that, too, for a very long time." "I never knew that," Sam whispered. "I imagine it would take a strong person to survive the death of a child," Al murmured quietly, his tone free of malice. "I imagine so," Sam repeated, equally subdued. "Admiral Calavicci?" Al looked up quickly to see a doctor and in sharp contrast to his gradual calming over the past few minutes, Sam saw the black wave of anxiety and grief swell up behind him like a wave and engulf him. The tension in the shoulders returned and Sam could almost feel the urge to pace tingling the air around them. "I'm Doctor Grahm. I'd like to talk to you a moment about your wife." Al stood up simultaneously with Sam and out of the corner of his eye, he saw Donna get up and cross the room. "Yes, Doctor?" Sam was impressed and speechless. Had he not known Al so well, he might have thought the man had no more than a passing interest in what the doctor had to say. "I'm afraid it's not good news. She was stabbed fourteen times and by all rights she should never have survived. One of the wounds penetrated the intercostal space and nicked the aorta. In addition-" "Sam?" The scientist heard the anxiety now. "Could you?" The doctor looked confused, but handed the clipboard over to Sam, who was rather confused himself. Nonetheless, he glanced at the chart and began to read. "It penetrated the lining of the stomach in two places, the-" "Sam," Al interrupted again, sharper now. "I expect this from him," he snapped, gesturing towards the doctor, "but not you. Give me the bottom line." "She's got a punctured lung-" "The _bottom_ line, Sam. Please." The last word hung in the air for a moment and finally Al's eyes relented, looking away from the crowd at some point down the hall. There was a moment of silence as Sam examined the chart. "I'd say a 30% chance of surviving the night. Doctor?" "More like 25," he said, sympathy in every word. "Can I see her?" "Of course. If you'll follow me, I'll take you there," Grahm offered. They wandered silently through the bleak, impersonal halls, weaving a pattern that most likely only Sam remembered, and finally came to a stop outside of a closed door. Grahm turned to face them. "I really would prefer you not stay in there too long. She hasn't regained consciousness and we'd really like to keep her under as long as we can." Al nodded and turned the knob - and stepped inside. The door closed softly behind him and some part of him noted that Sam and Donna had remained outside. The rest of him remained focused on the figure on the bed. Blinking to hold back the stinging in his eyes, he crossed the room, his footsteps echoing in the emptiness. The only other sound was the steady beating of the monitor. An IV was in her left wrist and an oxygen tube was at her nose. The sheets were pulled up so he couldn't see the bandages that probably covered her torso. He took a step closer until he was standing directly over her, close enough, almost, for a kiss. Her skin was pale and beads of sweat rested on her forehead. Her lips were parted slightly, but otherwise there was no sign that she might even be alive. Even the heart monitor seemed to be just a measure of the countdown of her time left on earth. Very carefully, he eased his hand under hers, mindful not to jostle her in any way, and clenched her fingers tightly. There was stillness and calm here, but no peace. Al opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again. He reached behind him and pulled the chair closer to the bed, easing himself down into it as if he was in as much pain as she had been. Was in. "They-" He stopped quickly to clear his throat. "Um, they don't want me to stay too long, honey, so I'll have to make this short." He paused again, rubbing the back of her hand with his thumb. "I...I am going to try and be okay with this, but I don't know if it's gonna work. Because I know I'm gonna lose you. I can't say how I do, but I just know. So I guess I'm glad we both learned to sieze the moment, right? Because I don't have anything to say that starts with 'I never told you before, but'. But I did want to tell you again, Beth. "I wanted to tell you that I don't want you to die and that I will do whatever I can to avoid that. And I wanted to tell you again how much I love you." He wiped his eyes and strained to hold himself together. "You'll have the rest of eternity to be with your daughter; stay here with me a while longer. Please. Please...." His voice ended in a whisper and he inhaled desperately as if he was running out of air. He gritted his teeth and looked up at the ceiling and beyond. "Just once, dammit! Just once give me something without taking it all away moments later. What did I _do_?" Beth moaned softly and his attention turned back to the bed, looking anxiously for signs of life, but it was gone as quickly as it had come. "But You're not going to, are You?" Harsh words scratched in the heavy air. "Fine. I said I never needed You and I know more than ever why not." He brushed her forehead with his fingertips. "Come back," he whispered and, releasing his hold on her, he got up to leave.