"The Day After That" pt. V August, 1980 En Route to Washington D.C. Al shook his head - it was clear he didn't understand. "So, she's going back to San Diego. I don't get it." Sam braced himself against opposite walls of the small compartment as the plane shifted. "So San Diego's where she lived with you. It's where she met Dirk. Where she had her breakdown. Al, she lost everything there." Al shook his head. "I just don't see where that-" "Would you ever find it easy to go back to Vietnam?" Sam interrupted him. Al blanched slightly. "Not likely." The leaper raised his eyebrows as if to say, `doesn't that prove my point?' "Okay, fine. So she can't handle going back, facing all those memories. I still say there's something more." Sam pursed his lips and sighed. "Maybe," he conceded. "Will you come back out there with me? She's sorta-" he fumbled, tumbling his hands in confused gestures "-closed up and I can't read her." A restrained dread crept in his eyes and Sam remembered that he had really only been around her once with Sam. He hated to do this, but he needed his observer. "Sure, Sam," he finally said. Sam opened the door and squeezed out down the aisle. He sat back down to Beth's right, smiling faintly at her as he pulled on the seat belt. "You okay?" She moved in discomfort tempered with anxiety. "Sure." Sam wanted to touch her hand, give her reassurance and strength through contact, but something in the way she was fingering her necklace gave him pause. At first he thought it was the restless trembling as she flipped the chain around her fingers, then he realized the ring was now around the gold chain. Perhaps there was something to Al's earlier assessment about San Diego. Why would she be clinging so fiercely to that reminder if she was so avidly trying to avoid her past? "Oh, Sam," Al fretted anxiously, running his eyes over her form. A thousand subconscious signals coalesced into one determination: "She's not doing so well." Then his eyes caught a faint flash as she tucked the necklace away. "Sam...she's wearing her ring. That I gave her!" For an instant, he was too astonished to react. Then the emotions came flooding across his face. "Did you tell her where you're going?" Sam shook his head minutely, even though she was staring out the window again. "Don't you think you should?" Al was aghast. *Do you really think she'd go if I did?* Sam thought fiercely, frustrated by his limitations on communicating with Al. The next time he tried something like this, he was devising a telepathic hookup first. "Just because she's skittish around you doesn't mean she wouldn't still go," Al continued. Inwardly, Sam grinned. Maybe he already _had_ a telepathic partner. Al eyed Beth again and his face reflected more than a little regret. "Why would she have that ring with her, Sam?" "I don't know," Sam murmured, forgetting himself for an instant. "You don't know what?" Beth asked in a comfortingly steady voice, turning to face him. Al shifted his eyes to a distant point, as if afraid of being caught looking at her. "I don't know...how we're going to get through D.C. traffic tonight." Al made an exasperated sound and muttered something about the tragic implications of terminally honest people. "It'll be a lot easier than fighting rush hour in the morning," she pointed out. "Isn't your friend coming to get us?" Sam hesitated. "You have to tell her at least that much, Sam," Al remarked. "Beth..." He looked at Al, taking encouragement with Al's certainty. "I have to tell you something." A mask slammed down over her eyes, but her voice was pointedly neutral. "What?" "This person...he'll help us out, but he's not a friend of Linny's - mine," he corrected himself. "And...he doesn't know we're coming." She permitted herself ten seconds' recovery time from that statement before exploding while Sam squirmed. "He _what_?" She said in a whisper that came out more like startled gasp. "Linny, how could you _do_ this to me?" "I had to." He hands clenched the armrests tightly. "I don't see where you had to lie to me." Al stepped forward slightly in unseen support. Then he turned to Sam, pointing his cigar towards her. "It's a cover, Sam. Used to confuse the hell outta me. She gets really angry when she's the most hurt or upset." Sam had already guessed that much, though, and he carefully kept his voice calm, trying to battle panic with reason. "Beth, would you have come if you'd known?" She didn't respond, but the answer was clear. "You pulled yourself out - that's the first step and the hardest. And I - I didn't think you'd do it if I hadn't..." he shrugged "...embellished." She had to laugh at that. It was a real laugh, too, not the strained, tight, sometime sarcastic sounds of before. It was light and amused and showed promise. And it sounded free. Al smiled slowly, some of the concern draining away. Sam could see the tenderness deep in his black eyes; even now, he loved her so much. It strengthened Sam's resolve and convinced him that he was doing the right thing. "Embellished," she echoed, the humor still plain in her expression. "You've got a real gift for understatement." "So I'm told," he responded, casting his friend a glance. "So how do you know this guy'll help us if you don't even know him?" A hint of irony crept in a tugged at the corners of Sam's mouth. "Trust me. I know." Beth shook her head. "Linny, who is he? A shrink?" "No!" His startled expression must have shown because Beth didn't question his sincerity. "You said you wanted to keep this under wraps and I'm with you - for now." "So who is he?" "I'll introduce all of us when we get there." *Or, at any rate, I'll introduce myself.* "Just relax. We'll get through this, okay?" "Right." She didn't look as if she believed him. But maybe, hopefully, she wanted to. ^----^----^----^----^ August, 1980 Laurel, MD He was hanging up his uniform for the day when his buzzer sounded. Al threaded his way back through the apartment, avoiding the few stray boxes that still lingered. Ellie had said everything of hers would be out by that morning. Anything left over, he fully intended to keep. And if she didn't like it, she could take him to court. She probably would, too. He could still hear her grating voice shouting at him. ĎAlbert Calavicci, don't pretend you don't hear what I'm saying! Do you want to make a federal case outta this?!' She said the same thing every time. Once, he'd mouthed the last phrase with her. She threw the alarm clock at him. Broke the clock and damn near broke his hand, too. Geez, he hoped it wasn't her at the door. It wasn't. A young, attractive blonde with pale blue eyes that didn't interest him half as much as the rest of her stood outside his apartment. Things were definitely looking up. He sagged against the door frame and looked her up and down a few times. "I don't know you yet, do I?" he questioned, an unmistakable glint in his eyes. The look on the blonde's face was one of faint exasperation. "No. But I need your help." "Come on in, honey. I was just about to fix myself some dinner. Care to join me?" She hesitated, then extended her hand. Al took it in both of his and kissed it. She pulled back sharply. "Commander, my name is Linny Bell." She drew a step into the apartment even though it was clear she was uncomfortable with him. Al sighed inwardly. Ah well...it as probably too soon after Ellie anyhow, and he didn't like to push. Plus the use of his rank had caught his attention. "I just flew out from Washington state to see you." Curiosity overrode seduction and he raised his eyebrows. "Why?" he asked bluntly. Linny glanced out towards the parking lot, then closed the door slightly, blocking anyone's view from outside, an act Al watched with increasing intrigue. "Are you in trouble?" he asked. She took another step forward, eagerly. "Yes. Please, we need your help." "We?" When she didn't immediately respond, he got the feeling she'd released too much information too soon. "Why did you come to me?" "Well, I have someone with me, waiting out in the car, actually. She's the one who's in trouble, more so than me. She's-" "Ms. Bell, why don't you just start at the beginning?" The strange visitor never got the chance because a woman pushed open the door and touched her arm cautiously. "Linny?" "I asked you to wait in the car," Linny said quietly with genuine concern. "I know you did, but I'm feeling dizzy and I wanted to know-" She broke off as she stared at Al. As for him, he had been speechless ever since she'd walked in the door. A deathly silence fell over the trio and finally Al turned to Linny, peering at her as though through a thick fog. Sensations he couldn't even being to identify swirled within him. "Is this a joke?" he demanded sharply, fire sparking in his eyes. "Is this your idea of some kind of sick _joke_?!" Beth took a step back and Linny reached for her arm as if to keep her in the room. "Commander, I don't think you really-" Linny started, but Beth cut in, pulling free. "Why didn't you tell me?!" she cried. "You know I'm scared to death of San Diego and so you bring me here instead?" "Beth, he can help-" "No!" she cried, stopping Linny again. She started to back out of the room. "This is insane... I can't even - why are you _doing_ this to me? I've got to go back." The last was said with unsteady panic. Linny took a step forward and risked a light touch on her arm. Al couldn't move and the meaning of the conversation he was witnessing was entirely lost on him to begin with. His own emotions were crippling. "Beth," Linny implored, "you know you can't do that." "I don't care if it kills me!" Beth shot back, gripping the opposite sides of the door frame. "It probably will. Please, will you just stop for a moment and listen?" The look on her face was horrible and then she ran. Linny glance briefly to her right, paused for several seconds, then looked at Al. "You have to help her. You're all she has," she told him somberly, then took off after Beth. When he went to the door and looked out, he saw Beth sobbing hysterically in the grass and Linny bending over her, doing her best to comfort. All he could do was watch. ^----^----^----^----^ March, 2000 Stallions Gate, NM "Are you okay?" Al grinned weakly, but kept his back to the doorway. "Fine, Verbena." He waited for the sound of his office door clicking shut, knowing he wouldn't hear it. Sighing deeply, he turned to her. "I just need some time to myself. You know, to sort it all out." Verbena stood in his doorway, nodding slowly. "I know, But I wanted to make sure you understood something." "Oh, yeah?" His tone wasn't quite sarcastic, but it was lined with a certain amount of disbelief. He twisted around in his chair to face her. "You haven't been keeping me updated on the situation, but I've been doing my own research. I've been talking with Linny and Ziggy both and I think I understand part of this." Al extended his hand, indicating that she should sit down. Then he stood up and leaned against the desk in front of her. "This end or that one?" Her smile was irritatingly enigmatic. "Both. But let's talk about that one." "Fair enough." "She never told Linny about you," she started. Al crossed his arms and looked down at her. "So?" "So how could her friend have known unless she did her own research?" "I don't get where you're going with this, Beeks." He wasn't outwardly impatient yet, but it was drawing closer. "So Linny betrayed her. And you did." He was genuinely startled. "Me? How?" "By leaving her, by not coming back, and then by coming back too late." Al's brow furrowed as he turned that one over in his mind. "And Dirk betrayed her," Verbena continued. "By abusing her," Al supplied. "For not being you," she corrected. "Don't you get it, Al?" He threw up his hands. "Apparently not!" "Beth is afraid, but not of Dirk." Al raised an eyebrow in question. "She's afraid of you." See how much restraint I'm showing? I'm not going to beg for comments. Until the last part is posted...so start thinking now!