"Pieces" pt. VIII May, 2002 Stallions Gate, NM The funeral came and went. It was all over. Sam felt that he had never seen so many calla lilies in one place at any given time. The day had been long and trying and he wanted nothing more than to just go to his room and curl up with Donna and just...be still. But he couldn't. Not yet, anyhow. At the moment, he had other things he had to take care of, Al being first and foremost on the list. He had left the instant the funeral ended and, what truly surprised Sam, was that he hadn't said a word throughout. Both of her children had delivered some sort of eulogy, but he had refrained. Sam sighed and exited the elevator down in the depths of the project. He had already checked Al's quarters, but they had been empty and so he assumed that for some unfathomable reason, he was in his office. He hoped. At least his car was here, otherwise Sam wouldn't have the slightest clue. And he still couldn't shake the terrible feeling that Al would try to leap. He supposed he could just ask Ziggy, but Al regularly turned off the monitors in his room or office while he didn't want to be disturbed and Sam was certain this would be one of those times. An incredible crash echoed in the barren halls and Sam broke into a full run, throwing open the door to Al's office without knocking. Al, seated on the floor, glanced up, momentarily startled. Sam, for his part, remained stunned for much longer. The desk was overturned as well at the chair. The horrendous explosion of sound, however, had obviously come from the bookshelf, a full six and a half feet tall and full of texts, novels, and files that now lay on the floor, it contents trapped underneath it. Al sat leaning against the wall next to it, his arms curled around his knees. "Al?" Al looked back at his trashed office and smiled weakly. "I guess you wouldn't believe that I tripped?" Sam took a step into the room and closed the door quietly behind him. "No. Are you okay?" "I-" He stopped and surveyed the mess again, but didn't attempt to complete the thought. Sam walked over to him, avoiding the scattering of office supplies on the floor and knelt down in front of his friend. "What is it? You haven't come to terms with this yet, have you?" "The bookshelf has," he replied. Neither of them smiled. "I can handle it, Sam." "No you can't. I'm sorry, but no you can't. Whatever made you think it would be easier the second time? Or the third, for that matter," he added, recalling the leap that almost destroyed them both. "You're tearing yourself to shreds, Al." He reached forward and pulled apart Al's intertwining fingers, grasping his hand tightly. "Let it go." Something slid free, like a dam slowly crumbling. "I can't. Dammit, she was everything! I got a second chance and I blew that one, too." "Al, I-" "She was so scared, Sam. Scared to take that risk with me, scared to bring that carefully constructed wall down, the one that she had to build to survive." He was speaking faster now, all the feelings stirring a tornado of emotion within him. "She had such sterile answers for everything. Reasons why it wouldn't work to try again, reasons why we couldn't possibly be in love after thirty years, but I convinced her to take that chance with me. And what did it get us? Five months?" Al looked up at Sam, his expression pained. "It got you more than that. It got you thirty years." "Bull," came the succinct reply. Al pulled away sharply. "It did. Don't you think she felt that way?" Al swallowed harshly. "I talked to McBride, you know?" Sam drew back, confused at the random thought that Al had just expressed. "I don't understand." "About Franklin. She told me she'd keep our talk confidential, but then a week later, Beth is attacked. Do you really think that's coincidence?" he demanded angrily. Sam saw the direction the conversation had taken and he didn't much like it. "Al..." "I may as well have been holding the knife." He shook his head in disgust. "I read the transcript. I know it was a leaper." Sam could almost see the visible change: he was closing up on himself again. "I'm sorry," he said quietly. Sam leaned against the wall beside Al and closed his eyes, suddenly tired beyond explanation. He could hear Al's breathing over his own as the admiral struggled to control his conflicting emotions. "No, I'm sorry, Sam," he said quietly. "I've really put you through the ringer the past few weeks, haven't I?" "It's okay Al," he said without opening his eyes. He heard slight movement beside him as Al leaned forward. "I just wish you'd let someone help." "It's a bit late for that." "Do you want to talk? I won't say a word if you don't want me to." He opened his eyes again to see Al resting his head forward on his interlaced hands. "It hurts so bad, Sam." Sam reached out to touch him on the arm, but then drew back. He mentally searched for something to say, but came up blank. Again. "I can't do this. I just can't." His voice broke and he took several deep breaths to steady himself. "Yes you can, Al. You're not alone, and you have to remember that. You can do this. I know you have it within yourself to go on without her." He paused and then pressed on. "I understand what you're going through. When Tom died-" "Tom's not dead," Al interjected passively. "Just because something didn't happen it doesn't mean I don't remember it," Sam persisted, slowing slightly to reflect on the absurdity of the statement. "It's not the same thing." "Not completely, no, but it has its similarities." "How?" Sam lowered his eyes, wondering if Al would understand what he was going to say next. Self-evaluation wasn't always his strongest point. "I loved Tom. He was my older brother, my hero. I idolized him, and that cost me a lot." "So?" The word was unsteady and Sam thought he heard a hint of tears. The scientist stared at his hands, clasped tightly in front of him, and took a deep breath. "Are you telling me you didn't idolize her?" Al didn't respond for a moment. "I - I loved her," he said slowly, as if he was uncertain of what he was saying himself. "I know you did, Al," he said soothingly. He had started this line of conversation with a point to make, but somewhere along the way, that had become unimportant. "I know it." He touched Al's shoulder carefully. "Don't touch me, Sam," Al whispered, his tone strained and trembling. Sam could see the breaking point again on the horizon and here, in the privacy of Al's office, he saw his opportunity to press. It was now or never. He slid away from the wall, wrapping his arm around the older man's shoulders which shook suddenly with suppressed anguish. "Oh, Al..." he murmured gently as he rubbed the admiral's back slowly. Tears stung his own eyes, tracing wet rivers down his face. The last bit of control tore away and Sam felt it crumble as Al cried silently for the woman he had been unable to let go of for over 25 years. Sam knew he was embarrassed that the scientist was with him when his emotions overwhelmed him, but Sam didn't care. Whether he would ever admit it or not, Al needed him right at that moment, and Sam was determined that he would never have to ask for what pride demanded he keep silent about. Sam wasn't sure how long they sat there and Al was so quiet that he could barely tell when the tears had stopped, but still neither one of them moved. Then Al shifted slightly, subtly, and Sam removed his arm, rising slowly to his feet. "I'll be right back," he offered. Without waiting for a response, he left the office, collapsing against the wall right outside the door. He breathed heavily, trying to get a handle on his own emotions. The idea was to give Al a few minutes to pull himself together, but he found the immense need to do the same. He lingered for a few minutes before tapping softly on the door. There was a pause and then it opened and Al offered him a slight nod. "You're a good friend, Sam," he said quietly. A shadow of a smile crossed his lips. Sam returned the smile. "Al, we've both seen each other at rock bottom. This is nothing, right?" Al didn't reply, but the smile faded slowly. "Listen," Sam went on, to break the oppressive silence, "I wanted to apologize for those things I said to you yesterday at the police station. I didn't mean them; I was just trying to...well, I'm not sure exactly." His companion nodded. "Yes you are. And I appreciate your attempts, if not your methodology." "Oh, and am I to take lessons from you?" he prodded. A corner of Al's mouth lifted in faint acknowledgement and Sam felt a little encouraged at the sight. Finally, finally they were on the right track again. They still had a long way to go, but it helped to be aimed in the right direction! Sam bit his lip. As much as he wanted to stay, Al still looked exhausted and he needed some sleep. "I'm going up to check on retrieving Melana. I'll see you in a bit." Al looked back up and they locked eyes. He opened his mouth as if he was going to say something, then appeared to change his mind. "Sure, Sam," he murmured, strength slowly returning to his voice. Sam stood still in the doorway for several moments before Al questioned, "What are you waiting for?" "I don't know, I just want to make sure you're okay before I go." Al sagged against the door frame. "I'll be fine." The scientist met his gaze evenly and when he saw the unspoken comment in his partner's eyes, he smiled gently, squeezing Al once on the shoulder before departing. Sam Beckett frowned as he looked over the figures in his hand. Gooshie stood by nervously, seemingly upset about something. "Are you sure?" Sam asked pensively. "Ziggy ran the numbers three times. There's definitely something going on that's wrong here." Sam shook his head and flipped through the pages. "So are we saying we can't retrieve her at all?" The programmer looked startled at the question. "No," he reassured him, taking the sheaf from Sam and searching it for some tidbit of information to prove his point. "It's just that we can't reach that far back, that's all. When we retrieved you, you were in 1989. She's in 1979 and because of this that and the other, Ziggy just can't retrieve her from that far back in time. She estimates an 82.4% chance we'll be able to get her if she leaps in 1985 or sooner." He shifted his weight. "Provided..." "Well that's fine then, isn't it?" Sam asked, talking over his coda. Then he frowned. "Provided what?" "Over the last hour and a half, her chances of being found when she leaps close enough have gone down 12%." Sam sighed heavily, sparing a stray though to wonder if Al was pulling himself together several stories below them to handle this new situation. It was certain once he heard about it he wouldn't be able to sit back and do nothing to help. No matter how much rest and grieving time he might need. All the same, Sam saw a definite improvement now that the admiral had surrendered to the much-needed release, even if it hadn't been quite enough. The scientist sat down smoothly and prepared himself for the worst. "Why have the numbers changed?" he asked. Gooshie regarded him for a moment and then leaned against the console. "Ziggy thinks it has something to do with her last leap." Sam waited a moment, but Gooshie just gazed at him. *He's been spending too much time with that computer,* he thought irritably to himself. "What about it?" "She's remembering. And it's causing no small degree of trauma, which in turn is making it harder to maintain a lock, let alone retrieve her." "Gooshie that's ridiculous!" Sam insisted. "You name one leap of mine that wasn't filled with trauma and then we'll talk." "That's...what she says," he said, his tone slipping uncomfortably in the direction of a whine. "She says if Melana remembers while she's still leaping, we could lose her again." Sam slapped down his hand on the arm of the chair. "What the hell _happened_? Gooshie, she doesn't know, I think Al does but he's not talking... Just what's going on?" Gooshie shook his head mournfully. "All I can tell you is what I heard from this end, Dr. Beckett." "Which is?" he demanded, leaning forward with anticipation. "Well she had leaped into this woman who was killed in the original history for witnessing a murder. Admiral Calavicci showed up in time to warn her of a bomb that had been planted in the safehouse she was at. Apparently you were waiting for information, so he left her right away to go see you and then Ziggy said something was wrong and that she still died. And he got there too late. Her host died and we all assumed she died, too. But see the catch was we were never really certain the host was dead. From that night on, she was never found and there was no records of her anywhere that Ziggy could find. And then when Melana vanished we just assumed..." "Okay, so why is everyone being so tight-lipped about all this?" "You'll have to ask the admiral about that because I just don't know." Sam closed his eyes and ran a hand over his face. He was really beginning to feel tired. "Well what went on while Al was talking to her?" Gooshie hesitated a moment before shrugging, an action that seemed to bring him more in upon himself. "He did a lot of yelling...something about listening to him. I guess someone else was talking to her at the time. And he was really upset. When he came out of the Imaging Chamber he just went to his office and didn't come out the entire rest of the day. Never turned in an official report of what went on." Sam mulled that over for a moment. He knew there was something Al wasn't telling him. "So I can't let her remember, is that it?" he asked finally. The universe seemed to be dispensing some kind of cosmic justice in that department, he decided. Gooshie nodded mutely. "Well, I'd better go talk to her then, before we lose her again." "I'll talk to her, Sam," Al said quietly from behind them. Both men whirled simultaneously. Sam studied the admiral for a moment, quiet and subdued and made his decision. "We'll talk to her together," he announced, holding Al's gaze steadily. "And we'll work this out together."