"The Day After That" pt. XI

August, 1980
Washington D.C.

  Sam paced. Al came home early, for which he was extremely grateful, but he
couldn't shake the feeling that something was going to go incredibly wrong.
  "Did you go to the lawyer's today?" Al asked as he came out of the bedroom.
He was still in uniform.
  "No," Sam replied, his anxiety almost tangible.
  "Hey, Linny, you okay?" At Sam's puzzled glance, Al clarified, "I thought
you were the one who insisted that we get these divorce proceedings on the
road."
  "Yeah, but-"
  "Linny?" Beth was silent when she saw Al.
  "What?" Sam asked. He felt suddenly very tired.
  "He called me."
  "What?" Sam demanded. He'd been home all day. "Dirk? When?"
  "Just before Al came home, when you stepped outside," she replied anxiously.
"He told me if I didn't go to San Diego with him, he'd kill me."
  Something made Sam wonder if she was lying, but she seemed to be truly
fearful and that doubt was quickly laid to rest.
  "Go to San Diego?" Al asked. He turned to Sam. "What's she talking about?"
  "I really don't know," Sam replied honestly.
  "It's something Dirk wanted me to do," Beth answered hurriedly.
  Al tensed. "What?"
  "He was busy with work and all and so we couldn't do it in June like he'd
wanted to..."
  "_What_?" Al pressed.
  "We..." She stopped again, looking at Sam in a silent cry for support. "He
wanted us to go back to the church we were married in. He wanted us to renew -
our marriage vows."
  Suddenly, Sam understood. Having already betrayed Al once, she couldn't live
with herself to do it again. So she hadn't. She'd let him kill her instead.
She died over the implications of a symbol, for the only man she loved.
  Al didn't seem to see it that way, at least, not at first glance. He paled
and backed up a step. "Marriage vows," he echoed in hollow tones.
  Sam knew the look in his eyes too well. "Al..." he started but one look from
the commander silenced him.
  Al turned and left the apartment, his pace increasing with every step until
he was at a full run. He almost fell down the stairs as he ran out onto the
lawn. Beth went after him, Sam on her heels.
  "Al!" she was screaming. He stopped in the middle of the lawn and bent over,
his hands on his knees, breathing heavily. "Al, wait!"
  He bowed his head and, as they drew closer, Sam could see him shaking.
  "Sam!" Admiral Calavicci shouted over the commotion, appearing suddenly to
Sam's right. "Sam, you gotta-"
  "Al, please!"
  He brushed her off, the pain evident in his eyes. "Please, Beth, just leave
me alone. I can't - process this now. Just-"
  "I wasn't going to go. Al! You've got to believe me!" She took a step
forward, then retreated again, uncertain of how to react to him.
  "Sam! Dammit, listen to me!"
  "It's not that. Beth, please don't do this to me. Don't ask me this."
  "I'm sorry! Al, please, I love you!"
  Both Sam and his observer froze at the words, but the commander straightened
and turned to her. There were tears in his eyes, glistening on his cheeks.
"And you left me," he said flatly, but his voice gained various levels of
volume and accusation as he went. This steam had been waiting to be released
for a long time and they all knew there was no stopping it now, so nobody
tried. "You gave up on me! You left me for dead!" His breath shook whenever he
stopped for it. "And I survived. I did it because I loved you and I didn't
want to abandon you. _I_ was the one with barely enough hope to live through
another day because I was in so much pain it hurt to breathe." Absently, he
wiped at one eye. "Thinking of you kept me alive. Loving you gave me faith and
hope and reason to keep going. _I_ didn't want to give up on us! You lost
faith, Beth, not me. _You_ did!"
  "I know," she whispered, horror on her face.
  Al fell to his knees in the grass, his whole form trembling, oblivious to
the display he was creating. "Dammit, Beth, why did you do it?"
  She was crying now. "I'm sorry..."
  "You tore my heart out. How could you? How could you even doubt me? How
could you betray me?!"
  "Don't," the admiral whispered and Sam turned to him.
  "How could you? You broke my heart..." Al buried his face in his hands,
trying to regain whatever shreds of control he could grasp.
  Beth stood alone, exposed and shaking. "Al..."
  Sam reached for her, but she stepped out of range, a trapped, horrified look
on her face. She ran away from him, from them both, back into the complex and
the hologram jolted out of his trance. "Sam, stop her!"
  Sam had begun moving towards the man on the ground in front of him, but
abruptly shifted tracks without stopping to question why, and ran after her,
calling repeatedly to her. She stumbled up the stairs, barely seeing them
through her tears. Desperately, she clawed at the doorknob and fell inside,
shutting and locking the door behind her.
  Commander Calavicci wept in a small huddle by himself.
  "Sam, you gotta get in there!" Al cried as Sam launched himself up the
stairs. His desperate tone was starting to put Sam on edge.
  "What's wrong?" Sam gasped as he swung up onto the second level. The door
was locked. The commander, rising from his knees in the lawn, was only just
starting to realize something was going on.
  "Everything's wrong. Sam, break the door down!"
  Sam kicked at it repeatedly, then threw his weight at it, all the while
trying to block out Al's frantic urgings. The hinges groaned and the door
opened slightly. The leaper looked at it in dismay. "She put something in
front of the door. Something heavy." What if she was going to harm herself, or
worse? "Al, what-"
  Then Beth screamed.
  "What's going on?" the commander asked in a not-quite steady voice as he
came up from behind Sam.
  "No," Sam whispered in shock, "it can't be..."
  "It is!" the hologram yelled. "Sam, you gotta get in there." While Sam
turned to the commander, Al centered in on her.
  They were in the den next to the couch Sam had slept on for the past week.
Dirk had one arm around her waist and a hand over her mouth and he threw her
down on the floor just as Al appeared.
  "You've got to fight for yourself, baby!" Al cried as Dirk stood over her.
"Don't give up!"
  "I can't do it, Dirk, I _can't_," she gasped out, leaning back on her
elbows. "I can't betray him again."
  "You're not going to redeem yourself now, Beth." He grabbed her forearm
roughly, pulling her to her feet. Al stood right beside her.
  "Beth, honey, just lie to him. Tell him you'll go - it doesn't matter. Don't
die for me!"
  She had stopped crying, but now a few more tears slipped free.
  "Why did you leave me?" Dirk asked almost gently. He put his hands at the
base of her neck and clenched tightly. Beth didn't make a sound. "Well,
Elizabeth? Why'd you do it?"
  "I had to!" She sounded tortured and desperate. But not quite ready to give
up yet.
  Dirk slapped her and the sounds of her sobs were an unpleasant undertone to
Al's protest. "He's _dead_! He died the day you married me."
  "No," Beth retorted with surprising strength. "That's when he started to
live again."
  Al wasn't certain whether to cheer on her spunk or fear for her safety.
  "He's dead! And the sooner you get that, the better off you'll be." He
shoved her against the wall and kissed her roughly. "I'm the only person in
this world who loves you. I'm the only one who could."
  She seemed about to accept what he was telling her and Al stepped directly
in front of her, staring past her tearstained face, looking deeply into her
eyes. "I love you, Beth. Even when I yelled out there this afternoon, I still
loved you. Even when I came home and you were gone, I still cared more for you
than you'll ever know. I always loved you."
  Beth spit in Dirk's face.

  Al joined Sam in his efforts to push the door open, but neither seemed to be
having much luck. Whatever Dirk had moved in front of the door was heavy and
it wouldn't budge.
  Al turned to him. "Go get help," he urged, trying to push Sam in the
direction of the stairs.
  "No," Sam retorted. 
  "Linny, don't argue!"
  Sam hesitated in the face of what almost seemed like a sexist attitude, but
there was no time for a debate and Sam had to admit to himself that he would
have done the same thing had he been in Al's position.
  "Sam! Ya gotta hurry!"
  "Al?" Sam said reflexively.
  The commander didn't stop in his attempts to look at him. "Yeah, go! He
could be hurting her in there!"
  "He is," the hologram cried in near panic. "Just go get help, Sam. You've
got to find some way to get into there."
  "Stay with her," Sam told him, as if he needed to urged. Then he put a hand
on the commander's arm. "You've got to hurry," he said, then turned, went to
the closest apartment, and started banging on doors.

  She couldn't feel much anymore. All she knew was that there were things
worth dying for. And now that she'd found that out, she already felt
liberated.
  Beth struggled back to her feet, but he knocked her to the floor again. It
would be better, in the long run, to stay there. He was doing more screaming
than kicking, but there was definitely pain. A dark wave was beginning to
crash over her vision as bright flecks scattered across her eyes. Everything
went hazy, then black, then hazy again.
  Then she heard someone calling her name.
  "Beth! Beth, are you okay?" Someone was banging on the door, trying to get
in. "Beth, answer me!"
  "Al?" she whispered.
  Ever since she'd met Dirk, he'd been controlling and possessive. She just
hadn't seen it - she'd been blinded by her need for stability and support. And
hope. But from his need to control Jake until he'd chased the detective away
to his pressing her to have Al declared dead so quickly after meeting her,
he'd been controlling her.
  If nothing else, she was going to die on her own terms.
  "Al!" she called out, her voice cut off with a cry of pain as Dirk hauled
her back to her feet.
  "Hang on, Beth! Just hang on!"
  She cried out to him again, but there was no response.
  Then Dirk hit her full in the face. She spun and hit the wall hard, feeling
blood from her nose and mouth.
  "He's dead, Beth. If you can't handle that reality, I'll give you tangible
proof," Dirk said, his voice low and threatening.
  As she slid down the wall, the world faded and everything went blissfully
black.
  The very next thing she remembered was opening her eyes to see Dirk pushing
the shelving out from in front of the door. It was only  of the way clear
when a terrible crash echoed through the small room.
  She felt hands on her arms and she blinked rapidly, trying to see, to move.
The hands released her and she pushed herself into a sitting position. There
were noises like a scuffle and then she forced focus and direction back into
her mind. When her vision cleared, she saw someone standing over her. No, not
over her - in front of her. Dirk stood in front of him, several dark bruises
growing on his face. And a knife in his hand.
  Beth reached out blindly. "Al?"
  He spun and Dirk lunged. Before Al could recover his concentration, Dirk
swiped at him and sharp steel met with soft flesh, cutting a line along Al's
forearm as he reached out reflexively. The damage was already done, so Al
leaned into the swing and knocked Dirk's hand back. The knife fell to the
floor, the blade stained red. Al backed off to give himself a few seconds'
recovery time, but Dirk regained his balance in the meantime.
  Beth looked up, saw the sleeve of Al's uniform marred with a slow spreading
stain, and something else clicked for her.
  Still dizzy, she grabbed the knife and pulled herself to her feet. "Stop!"
The word came out in a shrill whistle and she gripped the handle of the weapon
tightly. "Dirk, stop it!" She clumsily stood in front of him. "Don't hurt
him."
  Dirk's eyes widened, then he relaxed and grinned. "Why? You already cut him
open, didn't you?"
  Al reached forward and put a hand on her shoulder, trying to draw her back
without endangering her. "Beth, don't listen to him."
  "It's true," she whispered, too low for either man to hear.
  "You hurt him and he'll never forgive you for what you've done."
  Al pulled slightly on her. "Beth, ignore him! Just give me the knife -
you're going to get yourself hurt."
  Dirk took a step closer. "You'll have to live with that forever." He almost
had her. "And when I kill him, it'll be on your hands."
  It was the wrong thing to say.
  With a cry that could have been physical or emotional anguish, she rushed
him and Al lost his grip on her. The blade grazed Dirk's cheek, but he
recovered quickly, grabbing the wrist he'd caused injury to seven days prior,
forcing her to release the knife. Before he could gain a firm enough hold on
her, Al yanked Beth backwards and she tumbled to the carpeting behind him.
  Dirk had just adjusted to having the upper hand and Al took advantage of
this, surprising him as he delivered a blow to his windpipe that stunned him.
Al backed him up against the wall, his arm across the man's throat. He applied
pressure until Dirk's every thought was how to continue to draw breath, then
he put his face right up to his opponent's.
  "This," he emphasized, "is for every time you hit her. And," he continued,
adding more and more force with each point, "for using me against her. And for
every time you ever made her cry." The front door scraped open and Sam tumbled
in. The leaper stood in shock at the scene. "And this," Al snarled, pushing
Dirk's chin up, "is just because I really, _really_ hate lawyers." He moved
back abruptly and Dirk's gasping for air filled the room. As soon as he
straightened, Al smiled, then threw two punches, one with each fist, to his
jaw and he went down at Al's feet, unconscious.
  "Al," Sam said into the resounding silence, "how did you get in here?"
  Al pointed to the sliding glass door, shattered from the impact of a chair.
"I climbed up from the balcony below us," he answered.
  Sam took a step into the room. "What did you do?" he asked, noticing the
bloodstain on Al's sleeve.
  He looked down at his arm. "Oh... It stings a bit and it looks bad, but he
just broke the skin." He smiled wearily.
  "I'm sorry," Beth whispered hoarsely from behind him and he turned to see
her kneeling on the floor, shivering uncontrollably. "I'm sorry," she said
again and again like a mantra.
  Al seemed to forget about "Linny" and he went down on one knee in front of
Beth. He put a hand on each arm, but she pulled back. "Let go," she whispered
shakily.
  "No," he said gently but firmly. "I'm not letting you go." She tried to pull
free, but he held on. "Look at me, Beth." She obeyed after a moment. "Listen
close because I'm only going to say this once." They sat there, suspended for
an instant as mirror images of each other, breaths fast and desperate, eyes
locked on each other. His gaze softened. "I forgive you."
  She trembled, then tentatively put a hand on his arm. He pulled her against
him as the dam broke loose. "I love you," he whispered, then closed his eyes
and touched her head with one hand and held her carefully with the other as
she cried softly into his shoulder.