"The Day After That" pt. VIII

August, 1980
Washington D.C.

  Sam was on the phone in the guest bedroom. He waved to Al as the Imaging
Chamber Door slid shut, indicating that he should wait until the conversation
was over.
  "And he left when?" Sam was saying, then he scribbled something on the pad
in front of him. "Do you know where he went?" Sam bit his lip. "What's there?"
He raised an eyebrow. "Okay, yeah, can you give me a call if he comes back
into town? It's urgent." He hung up the phone.
  "Seattle?" Al asked somberly.
  "I was trying to figure out where Dirk was. I don't know what good it'd do,
exactly, but at least-"
  "I can just center in on the jerk, y'know?"
  "Do _you_ know how he finds us?" Sam retorted testily.
  "We're workin' on it."
  "Well, what if I can't keep her home that night?"
  "Sam, I'm well aware of what's at stake here."
  "I know you are, Al," Sam returned, more calmly this time. "But I - I'm just
scared to screw this one up."
  "If you're still on what happened in San Diego in `69, get off it!"
  Sam slid around in his seat to face the admiral. "Al, do you know why she
had her breakdown in `70? Do you know why she was hospitalized?"
  Al took a breath to brace himself. "No, tell me." His voice was flat.
  "She saw the picture," Sam said, staring at the wall. The memories
associated with the Pulitzer Prize winning photo were unpleasant for all three
of them.
  "The picture?" Al clarified as if he didn't understand, but Sam knew he did.
  "Yeah," the scientist said anyway. "She couldn't take it, Al."
  "Yeah, well, everyone's got their breaking point," he commented with just a
touch too much apathy. "So what are you going to do?"
  "Well, first, you check on Dirk, then...I guess I'll talk to the commander."
  "What are you going to tell me - him?"
  "I haven't worked it out that far yet," Sam admitted, "but if he's the only
one who can help Beth, he's got to at least talk to her! Maybe he can get her
to press charges."
  Al's mind drifted back to the scene that first night in their bedroom, how
controlling and hurtful Dirk had been. "There's still something we're
missing," he murmured.
  Al fished around for a cigar. "I dunno. But there's still something we're
not getting, something she's not saying. I mean," he continued, "we now know
why she left the Navy, why she had her breakdown, and why she never left
  "Yeah..." Sam shrugged. "So what's left?"
  "I'm not sure," Al confessed, lighting the cigar. "But if she's
that...desperate not to be around me, but she's staying, then that must mean
she's more afraid of San Diego than D.C."
  "Okay," he conceded. "But I still don't see where we're leaving anything
  Al narrowed one eye and peered at Sam. "Trust me, Sam, we are. And it's what
drives her to kill herself."
  Sam almost fell off the chair in shock. "What?! Dirk kills her!" he
  "He may have hit her and beat her until she died, but she killed herself. I
saw him with her and you didn't. She knew exactly what would get him off and
what wouldn't. Which means she could not have unknowingly pushed him that far
without knowing it."
  Sam exhaled heavily. "Al, this is so messed up."
  "No argument on that one, kid. Just...don't let her die, Sam. Please, take
care of her."
  Sam wiped a hand across his jaw. "I'll do my best," he said quietly.
  Al nodded. "It's always been good enough before."

  "Do you have a minute?"
  Commander Calavicci looked up to see "Linny" in his doorway. "Tomorrow's
Saturday so I guess I can't plead exhaustion from staying up into the wee
  Sam grimaced slightly and entered the room. Al was at his desk, stacks of
papers forming a tall mountain range in front of him. "Bills?" he guessed.
  "Divorce settlements," Al corrected. Sam winced. "Damn woman has to run me
into the ground to be satisfied." He held the pen loosely in his hand, tracing
idle circles on a piece of scratch paper.
  "Sounds as if you're headed for rough waters."
  Al laughed lightly, but there was no humor in the sound. "You didn't come
here to shoot the breeze," he stated bluntly.
  Sam swallowed and perched on the edge of the bed. Neither of them noticed
Beth hovering in the doorway behind them. "No, I didn't," Sam admitted. "I
came to ask for your help."
  Sam held back a sigh. "Yeah...again."
  Al's jaw tightened. "With what?"
  "Help me convince Beth to press charges."
  He turned in surprise. "You mean she's not going to?"  "She's not planning
  The pen shifted from one hand to the other. "She doesn't need me to tell her
what to do. Sounds as if she's had too much of that lately, anyhow."
  "She needs you, Commander."
  "The hell she does!" he exploded. The pen fell to the desktop. "Like Ellie
did? We pledged our lives to each other, too, and it didn't mean squat. Now
she's gone!"
  Another piece of the puzzle clicked for Sam, but he remained silent.
  "And now," Al continued, his voice rising slightly in pitch and volume, "she
wants everything I have!"
  "Is it really Ellie you're angry at?"
  "I said," Sam said levelly, "is it really Ellie you're angry at?"
  "Of course! Wouldn't you be?"
  "Probably. But don't you think there's more to this than just a bitter
  "Who are you? Dear Abby?" Al sneered, turning back towards the desk. 
  Sam shook his head. "You can't do it," he said in amazement.
  "I can't do what?"
  "You can't be mad at her; you won't let yourself."
  "I'm not mad at her," Al insisted stubbornly.
  "Why won't you let yourself feel what you feel?" Sam pressed. "Why do you
idealize her and then shut her out?"
  "What are you _talking_ about?"
  Sam leaned forward. "Why are you denying it?"
  "Because it's insane, that's why. It was five years ago."
  "Are you saying she didn't hurt you?" Sam asked, still pushing his way in.
So many years dealing with Al, he knew exactly how to do it.
  Al's laugh was harsh. "Are you kidding me? She cut me so deep I still
haven't stopped bleeding."
  Still unnoticed, Beth withdrew from the door.
  "So tell her."
  "And what does this have to do with pressing charges against her no-account
  "Because to turn her back on a life she's been living for over a decade, no
matter how miserable that life was, is going to be hard."
  He picked up the pen again, fingering the clip. "I thought she already did
that by coming here."
  "Physically, yes. I'm not so sure about emotionally." He paused. "She's
still wearing your ring, Commander. On a chain around her neck." Sam couldn't
tell exactly what Al's reaction meant, but it certainly was there. "She's
clinging to it harder than to her own life." He put a hand on Al's wrist. "She
needs you."
  "Well I can't do this again," Al said, more calmly than Sam would have
expected. The leaper pulled back his hand. "I'll help if I can and she's
welcome to stay as long as she needs to, but I can't become emotionally
entangled in this."
  "Not even to save her life?"
  "Don't do that," Al said angrily. "Don't make me responsible for her. Don't
make me feel guilty."
  "Why? Because you love her too much to give her any opportunity to hurt you
  He expected Al to get angry; it was actually what he was hoping for.
Instead, the commander looked at him with bright eyes. "Exactly," he
whispered. Then he let out a heavy breath and stood. "I need to get to sleep,"
he said, resting his hand on the knob.
  Sam got up reluctantly and left the room, flinching when the door shut
loudly behind him. He closed his eyes and rubbed his face. Two strangers
living under the same roof...it was all too complicated.

  Al shook all over. Intentions or not, he was definitely entangled in this
entire situation. Not exactly by choice, but not entirely against his will,
  He sank weakly down on the bed and scrubbed at his face with both hands. Why
did this have to happen to him?
  Feeling sorry for himself was not only a futile exercise that wouldn't help,
but it would also run him into the ground in the process. That, he knew. At
first, he had thought of Beth's arrival as weakness and self pity. Part of him
knew it wasn't true, but he thought it anyway. Now, he realized it was much,
much more.
  Her marriage to Dirk had not only destroyed him, but it had destroyed her,
too. He recoiled from the part of him that felt an odd sense of satisfaction
from that. What kind of selfish jerk was he?!
  He sat in front of the divorce papers for a few more moments, then suddenly
and violently pushed the stacks of forms off the desk, watching them coat the
carpeting with print and symbols he found revolting. It was...surrender. And
he wasn't one to surrender.
  But she had. More than once. Every time she had, Beth lost a piece of
herself. Each time her name changed, the image of the person she was became a
little more muddled.
  He stood up abruptly and left the room. Linny must have been in the bathroom
because she was nowhere to be seen. He walked silently down the hallway and
pushed the guest bedroom door open a few more inches. Beth sat on the bed, her
back to him. She was hugging her legs to her chest and rocking back and forth.
Al couldn't tell if she was crying or not, but he turned and left the room as
silently as he had come.
  He had been right. He couldn't get involved.

+I WAS trying not to put these up too fast b/c, although I have 2 more lined
up behind it, I have NADA after that and I prefer to spread things out rather
than have long dry spells. The most I have after these next 2 is a slowly-
forming idea, but still very immature in development. So...bear with me.