CHAPTER FIFTEEN "We've done a good job," said Sam as he surveyed the bedroom. Though the smell of fresh paint lingered, all traces of decorating were gone and a blue carpet was finally visible. The room no longer looked pale and faded, but bright and sunny with yellow walls and white trim. The chest of drawers and small wardrobe, now sky-blue with yellow handles and knobs, stood in their proper places against the sunshiny walls. "It looks really cheerful - if a bit empty." "Yes," said Helen softly. "Not bad for a librarian and a time traveller." She couldn't prolong it any further. It was time to tell him. And time for him to Leap. She drowned that thought in a sea of physical impressions; the weight of his arm across her shoulders, the traces of blue and white under his fingernails, his steady breathing. *Right, let's do it.* "It's time for the furniture. We'd better go bring it in." She turned down the hall with a long, swift stride, so fast Sam was left staring at her back, startled by her quick move. She'd been behaving a little strange all morning, lazing in bed, lingering over breakfast. Even yesterday afternoon she'd not been quite her usual energetic self. They had been painting the last of the woodwork and he had speeded up, knowing they were nearly finished, but Helen had become ever more careful with her work. She'd dipped her brush into the pot almost reluctantly, letting the paint drip back into it, before finally brushing the window frame with long, slow, deliberate strokes. Sam's brows knit as he followed Helen's upright figure out to the timber garage. She waited, almost impatiently, until he caught up with her, then threw the doors wide. Light streamed into the dim interior. It was a handyman's paradise. A veritable battalion of tools lined the walls; mechanic's tools, gardening tools, saws, hammers, awls and planes. A bench ran along one wall, equipped with vices, chisels and a small lathe. There were a couple of cupboards and a cabinet with a legion of small drawers. Leaning against the other wall were two women's bikes, a couple of fishing rods and a net, a wheelbarrow, a lawn mower and the usual odd bits and pieces found in garages the world over. Helen marched past all these to the back of the garage, where a large, grey, lumpy shape stood. Again she waited for Sam to follow, standing stiff as a poker by the lump which, as he drew closer, he could see was a dust sheet swathing something. He could also see that Helen's face was an odd mixture of defiance, hope and fear. "Helen, what's wro-" She yanked off the dust sheet. "This is it. This is the furniture." The lump metamorphosed into a baby's crib and a high, narrow table with two shelves beneath. Both were scratched and battered with use. The warm, honey-colored wood had even been chewed, tiny teethmarks clearly visible along the side rails of the crib. Sam stared. "But it's a crib!" "Yes. My Dad made it for me," Helen said casually while her heart pounded. She ran her finger along the teethmarks, not looking at him. "I think we'll have to sand it back and re-varnish it. I'd forgotten how much I bashed it around." Sam was dumbstruck. Helen turned her attention to the table. "Dad made this, too. Mom used to get terrible backache changing me on the floor, so Dad designed this. Look, he set the top down into the frame so I couldn't roll off and the shelves are for diapers and things. And this piece swings out and sits on this." She lifted up a vertical frame that hung from one end of the table and set it horizontally onto a hinged stand that swung out from under it, then indicated the oval cut out of the frame. "And you put the bath in here." Sam finally found his voice. "But it's for a baby." "Yes, Sam." For the first time since she had revealed the baby furniture, Helen met his eyes. She took a deep breath. "Do you think your son will like them?" Silence. "Do you think your son will like them?" she repeated. *For God's sake, say something!* "My son?" Sam sounded as though he was being strangled. "Yes. Your son." Even through her terror, Helen's mouth began to twitch. "My SON?" he repeated stupidly. "Yes, you big, dumb idiot," she replied, catching hold of his arms, almost shaking him. "S-O-N, son. Male offspring, boy child, chip off the old block. Your son." A half-smile brushed her mouth, while her heart pounded so hard she thought her ribs would crack. "OUR son. I'm pregnant." Sam's heart stopped dead. "Oh, God! I've got you pregnant." That's why she had been so odd the last couple of days. Why she looked so scared now. He hadn't thought to ask if she was using anything - not that it was her responsibility. He should have checked, not just assumed she was. He hadn't assumed that. He hadn't given it a thought at all. So caught up in how she made him feel, he'd never once thought about the possible consequences of their actions. How irresponsible can you get! He was no better than some ignorant, young jock out for a good time. A lead weight settled into his stomach. He had ruined her life. "Oh, Helen. I - I'm so sorry." Sorry! What a dumb, stupid, INADEQUATE thing to say. Helen jerked away as though the fabric of his shirt burned her fingers. "Sorry! Is that all you have to say?" Her eyes were hard. Blazing emeralds. "I'm having your baby and you're just SORRY! I thought you might be ANGRY that I didn't explain to you earlier - but never in my worst nightmare did I think you'd be 'sorry'!" Sam recoiled from the spitfire before him. "You've every right to be mad at me. I should have made sure we were protected. It was my responsibility. I -" "Your RESPOSIBILITY? To make sure we were PROTECTED?" "I didn't think. I -" Helen raised her hands, effectively silencing him. "Wait." She shut her eyes, reorganised her chaotic thoughts, then opened her eyes again. "Let me get this straight. You think I'm upset because I'm pregnant?" Sam nodded, perplexed by the mercurial change in her temper. Her eyes no longer glittered dangerously and her mouth was curving into a smile. Helen jammed her fists into her hips and looked up at the rafters. "This is not funny." She shook her finger at the spiders in their webs. "I swear, if I ever get up there, I'm going to topple that big chair of Yours and send you down to the Other Place for a while." She turned her attention back to a now completely confused Sam. She held his arms again, tenderly this time. "Listen, you big, RESPONSIBLE dope. I'm GLAD I'm pregnant. I want this baby very much. It's what is supposed to happen. It's what you're here for. To make a baby - a son." Her eyes shone with happiness. Sam's heart kick-started again and raced away at full throttle. A slow, delighted grin spread across his face as her words banished the sick, horrible weight from his stomach. "I'm here to make a baby? For me? For us? That's the reason for this Leap?" The Door opened and Al stepped through, just in time to hear Sam's words. "Yes, Sam," replied Helen, sliding her arms around his neck. As always, she acknowledged the presence of the Observer, her eyes never leaving Sam's. "Hi, Al." "So you finally got around to telling him," said Al. "About time. I've nearly blurted it out half a dozen times during the last few days." He beamed at the couple with an expression of paternal approval. "My congratulations to you both. If I could, I'd give you a cigar, Sam." "She's pregnant, Al," breathed Sam, still gazing into Helen's eyes. "She's going to have my baby, my son." "Yes, I know." The look Sam was giving Helen was pure joy. Helen looked pretty ecstatic, too. Al felt as though he was trespassing. He cleared his throat and moved over to the baby furniture. "Say, these are really nice." Sam switched into physician mode. "Have you done a test yet? How many weeks are you?" Helen's brows tugged together. "Have I done a test? What test? If you mean have I been to my doctor for a test, you know I haven't. It's too early. And I'm not quite sure how far along I am. It could have happened anytime since that first time at the cabin, but I know I am." "And you know it's going to be a boy?" "Yes, Sam. I know. It's a boy. Yours and mine." Suddenly his face fell and he pushed Helen away, his eyes twin lumps of clouded ice. "You mean yours and Brian's. Not mine. This isn't my body." The flat, dead voice and stricken look cut her to the quick. The garage walls teetered, the ranks of tools threatened to crush her. She caught hold of Sam's sleeve with frantic fingers, eyes dilated. "No, no, Sam. It's your baby, not his." She tried desperately to reassure him. "I don't know how, but it's your child. It's why you're here." "Don't be stupid, Sam," rasped Al. Sam looked from Helen's frightened eyes into Al's angry ones. "Of course it's your body. You really are there in 1977 and Brian's here, in the Waiting Room, regardless of who you or anyone sees. Ziggy worked it out, remember. It's just the illusion of Brian's physical aura that everyone sees - even me." The angry light faded somewhat from Al's eyes as he saw the hard set of Sam's shoulders soften. He shrugged. "Somehow the aura doesn't affect Helen. She sees right through it. That's why she can see YOU - and not even Ziggy can work out how she does it - and he's spent enough time trying to find a 'scientific' explanation. I think it's got some- thing to do with Old Angharad." He gave Sam a sly look. "And so does a certain Dr Sam Beckett Carter who's working here, at the Project." "WHAT did you say?" "Dr Sam Beckett Carter. Your son. He works here. Gushie hired him. Not that Gushie knows who he is. No-one knows, except me." The handlink squawked. "Oh, and Ziggy." Al made an exclamation of disgust. "Ziggy keeps calling him 'Bro'. That overgrown filofax seems to think they're related as you created both of them. It's weird seeing the kid. He looks a lot like you - only with her eyes." Helen watched the awful, horrible, dead expression leave Sam's face and be replaced with life and light. Her legs turned to water and she managed to stay upright only by reaching for a sturdy, safe wall behind her. She leaned heavily against it, its rough timber jabbing splinters through her shirt. A grey specter had been constantly by her shoulder that day. Fear that, as soon as she told him about the baby, Sam would Leap. The stress of keeping the fear hidden away, so he would not see it, had been enormous. His unexpected reactions to her revelation had stretched her mentally and physically almost to breaking point. Now an inevitable backlash hammered into her and her whole body shook as tears of relief streamed down her face. Al swore. "Damn! Say something quick, Sam. This is killing her." "Oh God, Helen," moaned Sam, drawing her to him, wrapping his arms tightly around her. HOW could he hurt her like that? "I'm sorry. I didn't think. My stupid Swiss-cheese brain!" He gently smoothed the hair away from her ashen, tear streaked face. "Al says our son is working at the Project. He says he looks like both of us." Wiping the tears away with his thumbs, his hands cupped her face and he whispered, "He's got your eyes, Helen. Your incredible eyes." "I t-told you the baby was ours." She managed a crooked, little smile. "You s-seem to be doing nothing but apologise to-day." She gripped his shirt tightly. "Oh Sam, you looked so hurt and - and I didn't know what to do." She burrowed into him. Her only concern had been for him. Sam's heart threatened to break out of his ribs and fly in and out of the cobwebby rafters. "If you EVER do anything like that to her again," threatened Al, "I'm history. I swear I'll never come through that Door again. You'll be on you own, Sam. I'll quit." "I won't, I swear," said Sam, over the top of Helen's head. "If I do, you have my full permission to quit." Helen surfaced from Sam's arms. "Al's going to quit? Why? What did he say?" "Nothing worth repeating." Her forehead remained creased. Sam smoothed the lines away with a gentle finger. "Can we start this again, please, Helen." Change history. A tiny Leap in time for Helen. A smile hovered around his mouth. "Tell me again. Why is there a crib?" Her mouth curved in response. "Because I'm going to have a baby." "That's wonderful!" Sam picked her up and swung her around, allowing the joy he had suppressed with foolish fears to come bubbling, pouring, gushing out in a great burst of energy. Helen clasped her arms around his neck, so glad to see him happy at last that her fear withered. It became a tiny thing, easily ignored for the moment. When he set her on her feet again, both were laughing, breathless. They stood, whispering sweet nothings, kissing. "That's better," growled Al. "Only try to do it right the FIRST time round when it comes to your own life, Sam, or I'll go through that Door and never come back, and without me you'll be in it up to your neck. I will - I'll quit. I don't care what Ziggy or Gushie OR your son say. They'll have to find someone else to be your Observer. Only they won't be able to because I'M the only one linked to your brain- waves. Even your son can't do it because his brainwave pattern's like yours, not mine." Their son was working at the Project. Al had met him. Sam looked up. "What's he like, Al?" He turned Helen within the circle of his arms and pointed out Al's position for her. "Who? Gushie? Or Ziggy?" queried Al innocently, still shaken by Helen's panic-stricken look and mad enough with the man who had caused it to deliberately misunderstand him. Sam gave him an exasperated look. "Oh, you mean Dr Carter." Al studied the end of his cigar. "Well..." He put the cigar in his mouth and in-haled. He took the cigar out again and slowly blew a cloud of smoke. Sam shifted impatiently. Finally he said, "He's a real pain in the ass. He interferes with everybody, tells 'em what is or isn't their business. Especially me. Like with Tina and me. And Suzanne and me. And Christine and me. And the gor-" "Al! I really am sorry. Please tell me," Sam hugged Helen into his side, "tell US, what he's like." Al relented. "Okay. Well, he's a lot like you were when I first met you. In fact he's so much like you to look at that I can't believe I didn't realise who he was." He grinned. "Must have been Helen's eyes that had me fooled. Everybody here loves him. He's bright and breezy, and he's got so much charm, Clinton would be green with envy. He's got all the women here eating out of his hand. They chase after him as though he's a living Hershey bar and they've all just come off a diet." Including Maxine. She'd taken one look at Sammy as he'd hauled himself out of the pool at that barbecue, said, "Ho-ly Mackerel!" in a way that set Helen choking with laughter, and tried to monopolise Sammy all afternoon. The kid had treated her with an easy, teasing affection as though he'd been used to dealing with little sisters all his life. After the barbecue, Maxine had announced she was going to be a quantum physicist and was still applying herself to her school-books. Al prayed no-one ever told her Sammy's interest was purely brotherly. Someone else the kid treated with brotherly affection was Sammy-Jo Fuller. Of all the women at the Project, she was the only one who hadn't fallen for him, though she liked him well enough. Al decided not to mention her. He wasn't sure how Helen would react to the news Sam Beckett already had a daughter. He wasn't even sure if Sam remembered at the moment. So he continued, "The kid could have had every last one of them, including Tina, if he wanted, but he just smiles and fends them off so smoothly they don't even realise he's done it. If I had just an atom - no, a neutron - a QUARK - of what he's got I'd have rampaged through the dolls at the Project like a tornado - that is, if I was still single." Sam was softly repeating Al's words to Helen. At this last comment she said, "He really does have a one track mind, doesn't he?" "I told you he was girl crazy." "And what's wrong with that?" demanded Al. "Nothing, I guess. Except sometimes it would be nice if you could see people in terms other than those related to sex! There's more to life than trying every flavor ice-cream at the soda fountain, you know." Al raised an eyebrow. "What about all the flavors you've tried on your travels, Sam?" To Al's delight, Sam actually blushed. "It's not like that, Al, and you know it. It's my job. They think I'm whoever I've Leaped into and I have to respond to that, if it's the right thing to do." Al waved his cigar at Helen. "What flavor's she?" "Coffee fudge ripple," Sam replied without thinking. He became acutely aware Helen was listening to his half of the conversation and continued hotly, "It's not the sa-" "Yeah, yeah. I know - it's not the same thing. It's everlasting fire. She's yours and you're hers. Body and soul." Sam blinked in surprise. "Yes, that's it. Exactly. How did you...?" "Never mind. You wanted to know about the kid - other than his success with women? It isn't just the girls he's got hooked, it's everyone. You remember St John in Admin?" Sam shook his head. "You know." Al imitated a plummy accent. "'Edward St John the Fifth'." When Sam shook his head again, he shrugged. "Oh well, you should be glad you can't remember him. It's no loss, believe me. A real pompous nozzle. Always wears the same dark suit and tie and thinks the Project will collapse into chaos if we don't follow the rules to the letter. He smiles at the kid - actually SMILES - or at least, he tries. Looks more like indigestion to me. I think his face has forgotten how to smile. And he calls him 'dear boy'. It's the same with all the other conservative suits. "The Funding Committee have been demanding to know what the extra cents they so generously gave us have been spent on, so I took him to one of their interminable Budget Reviews. We got through it in half the usual time AND he wangled more funds for researching some new gadgets for Ziggy to play with." Only the kid and Ziggy had almost finished the research and the money was quietly being spent on the hardware Sammy-boy said was necessary for Ziggy. The Funding Committee would have taken months to give the go ahead to any alterations to the hybrid computer, so he had 'forgotten' to inform them and Ziggy had buried the purchases away in the admin accounts, where even St. John wouldn't find them, amongst the toilet paper and staples. "He even has Gushie asking him how best to deal with Ziggy." Al wondered how much Gushie knew - and Dr Beeks. "You can be proud of him, Sam. He's as brilliant a programmer and quantum physicist as you are, and he's still only twenty-one." Again Sam had been repeating Al's words in Helen's ear, but at Al's last comments he looked up and frowned thoughtfully. "He's a programmer and a physicist." Light dawned. "He's going to find a way to get me back. I'm going to stop Leaping." Light at the end of the tunnel, growing brighter every second. "I'm going to get back to my own time, be me again." "Yes, Sam," said Al and Helen together. "But you won't go home straight away," continued Helen. Sam was going home. The specter threatened to break through the sea of thoughts in which she had tried to drown it. She ruthlessly pushed it back. "You have to Leap some more first so you can send the letters. You have to tell me who you are and when you're coming." She made herself smile and stroked his cheek. "Then you're going home, Sam." "That's right, Sam," agreed Al. "You just have to complete enough Leaps to send the letters and then you'll Leap home. At least, that's what Ziggy calculates." The handlink squawked. Theorizes. Same thing - almost. "Ziggy says you'll arrive back in the Retrieval Chamber, into this time - your time - when the kid enters the Accelerator. You see, Sam, he doesn't just find a way to get you home, he takes over from you. His brainwave pattern is so similar to yours that it'll take only minor adjustments to Ziggy for him to Leap and for mine and his brainwaves to be linked." "Our son is going to take over from me?" Sam asked Helen. "That's why he's born? Just so I can get back?" Helen nodded. She was still making herself be happy for Sam's sake, but her smile faded at his phraseology and the odd look on his face. "You got it, Sam." Al gestured upwards. "I think He's set it up this way. You get to go home, which is what you want, but there's still someone to fix up life's little mistakes, which is what He wants. Everybody's happy." "No," snapped Sam in a tone that brooked no denial. His arm dropped from Helen and he stepped closer to Al. His hands chopped the air. "No way. I won't allow it. You tell him under no circumstances is he to enter the Accelerator. He can't do this." His voice rose until it echoed around the garage. "What do you think I am? Do you think I'd let my son sacrifice himself just to let me get back there? I refuse to allow it, do you hear me?" The garage walls loomed ominously over Helen again. She caught hold of Sam's arm. "But he doesn't think it a sacrifice. He WANTS to do it, Sam." He whirled on her. "He's no idea what it's like, how difficult it is." He almost forgot to whom he was talking as the old nightmares came back. Losing yourself in a haze of other personalities. Not knowing who you were. Not belonging. "He's no idea how - how DRAINING it is. No idea at all. He CAN'T do this. I won't let him." Al saw Helen's face turn chalk-white, saw the grey eyes dilate. "If you don't stop and think about what you're saying and how it's affecting her," his face was black as thunder, "I'm going through The Door and not coming back." He stabbed at Sam with a savage cigar. "Dammit, Sam! If you keep doing this to her you'll get your wish and he won't Leap. He won't exist because there won't BE a baby. She'll miscarry it!" Sam stared down into the girl's face, saw the frightened, worried eyes, felt the shaking fingers for the first time. He gently touched the pale cheek, then slid his fingers into the heavy hair and stroked her face with a contrite thumb. "Oh, Helen. I'm sor-" He swallowed the rest of the over-used phrase, and leaned his hot forehead against her cold one. "You have to understand, I wouldn't wish this 'job' on anyone, Helen. Least of all someone who's part of us." A firm hand pushed him away a little, just far enough so she could see the flecks, the fragments, in his eyes. This she could deal with. "But YOU have to understand that he's already done it. He likes it. He's happy. I have proof. He has Leaped - will Leap, I mean." Suddenly, laughter was back, lurking in her eyes. "Do you know, the thing I hate most about time-travel is the way it's so confusing to talk about." She raised her voice. "Al, get Ziggy to invent a new tense, please - past and future together - with grammar and syntax to go with it." "Yeah, I'll tell him - just as soon as I've banged some sense into this - this KNUCKLENOSE'S head." He glared belligerently at Sam. "Come ON, Sam. I'll show you." Helen grabbed Sam's wrist and yanked him out of the garage and back to the house. "Hey, wait for me!" Al punched one of the handlink's buttons and appeared in the hall, just in time for Helen to charge right through him - Sam too, protesting as she tugged him after her. "Slow down, Helen. It won't make any difference. I don't want him to do it. It's not right." "Not right? Of course it's right, you big dope! And I won't slow down." Helen whirled into their bedroom. "I don't want that look on your face a moment longer than necessary. Sit!" She indicated the old chest at the foot of the bed, and shoved him down when he didn't comply. Sam sat with a bump, banging his coccyx. Helen turned to the dresser and opened her mother's box. Al walked through the wall. "Of course it's right, you fool. I wasn't exactly sold on the idea at first, either. I've spent hours arguing with the kid, pointing out all the disadvantages. He reckons what happened to you, your near burn out, was a result of believing you'd never have a reprieve, never get to go home. He knows that when it's time he'll Leap home. There'll be a way out for him somehow when he needs it, the same as there's a way out for you. He also knows what he's getting into, you didn't. You thought you were just going to do a bit of hopping around in time. He KNOWS he's Mr Fixit." Sam propelled himself off the chest, preparing to argue with Al. Helen caught sight of him in the dresser mirror and turned, her hand full of letters. "I said sit!" She pushed him back down, none too gently, turned her back and carried on sorting through the letters, muttering, "Where IS it?" Sam opened his mouth to protest. Al jumped in again. "Ziggy says that yours and his DNA are the same so the kid should be able to Leap into any time during your lifetime, not just his own. He's absorbed every last bit and byte of data Ziggy's got on your Leaps, Sam, using that photographic memory he inherited from you." Including a couple of things Al rather the kid didn't know, like his part in a certain Leap to Vietnam in April 1970. Helen had never told her son. The bear hug the kid had given him when he'd found out his uncle was still alive partly due to Admiral Al's 'sacrifice', had left him chewing frantically on his cigar with a mouth that was inexplicably dry, trying to speak around a lump which had no business being in his throat. Al swallowed hard at the memory. "Believe me, he knows exactly what he's getting into." He raised a sardonic eyebrow. "He says it's time you moved over, Dad, and let the younger generation have a crack at the family business." He puffed on his cigar, eyes glinting, waiting for Sam's reaction to the last comment. Sam blinked, then scowled. "Smart-assed little..." "Yeah, I've called him that, too. Only he's not little. He's as tall as you - maybe a shade taller." Sam thumped his fist on his knee. "None of that makes any difference. What if his brain gets Swiss-cheesed? He doesn't know how disorienting it is. He hasn't actually experienced it-" "Yes he has." Helen whirled around from the dresser, holding out a letter triumphantly. "Found it at last. He remembers enough to be able to write to me, or maybe his Observer reminded him. Here - read." Sam took the piece of folded paper from her outstretched fingers. "Where's Al?" asked Helen casually. Sam nodded absently in Al's direction as he unfolded the letter. Helen sat beside him on the chest, blocking Al's view of the paper Sam held. "Hey! Move over girl. I want to read it, too." Al moved to the other side of Sam and looked over his shoulder. Sam absorbed the single sheet in an instant, speed reading. The letter was short, sweet and to the point. Superlatives jumped off the page - 'incredible', 'amazing' - eagerness and vitality apparent in every sentence. '...doing so much GOOD - and it's fun...' Fun? Yes, it had been fun sometimes - a long time ago. He read the last line, and folded the letter quickly and gave it back to Helen. "Hey! I haven't finished," protested Al. Sam shrugged. "It doesn't say much, apart from 'Having a wonderful time, glad I'm here'." "See, I said he was happy." Helen turned Sam's face to hers with gentle fingers. "Satisfied? Are you feeling better now?" "I guess so." He sighed, then gave a wistful smile. "I can't stop him. He's a grown man. It isn't up to me what he does, is it?" She shook her head. He carefully removed some cobwebs from her hair, caught when she had sunk back against the garage wall. "Are YOU feeling better now?" he asked, drawing the silky, tumbled mass through his fingers. Helen nodded. Sam drew her face closer to his. "Bye, Al," she whispered. "Thanks, Al." Sam waved his friend away with his spare hand, just before his and Helen's mouths brushed together. Al saluted them with his cigar, then slipped quietly though The Door. Sam gently disengaged his mouth from Helen's. She heaved a deep sigh and looked at the letter she held in her lap. Sam took it from her and unfolded it. He pointed to the last line. *My new Observer is shaping up better than we thought.* "My NEW Observer?" "Yes, Sam." "How many children are you going to have, Helen?" He knew the answer and she knew he knew. "Two, Sam." Grey-green eyes looked steadily into hazel. "Two children, two fathers. One to Leap, one to Observe." One to Leap with a brainwave pattern almost matching his own, one to Observe with a pattern matching Al's, already linked genetically by a single mother. Yes, Ziggy's systems would need only minor adjustments to operate with the next generation. "That's why Al and I will meet, it isn't just coincidence," Helen continued. "He can't keep going for ever, either." The flecks in the hazel eyes suddenly danced. "He'd be the last one to admit that!" Helen grinned back, reassured by his humor that he understood at last the reason why she was going to have a relationship with Al and that it didn't change the way he felt one iota. Sam nodded at the box on the dresser. "Are you going to let me see the rest?" "No. You'll know what to write when the time comes." "I wonder when they entered the loop? You know, what came first, the chicken or the egg?" What came first, hearing 'Peggy Sue' in his own time or teaching Buddy Holly the lyrics in an earlier time, seeing an adult Michael Jackson moonwalk or showing a younger Michael how to do it? "I don't know." Helen shrugged. "Maybe that's just the way it is." Her brows tugged together. "If you were repeating everything Al said in the garage, I don't think he knows about his child, even now. Do you, Sam? Did he say anything to you at all?" Sam slowly shook his head. "No, he didn't. I wonder why he doesn't know. There must be a reason." He shrugged. "We'll just have to be careful we don't blurt out anything when he's around." The way Al had had to be careful not to blurt out anything in front of him. Sam finally broke his promise. "Al's known about the baby for quite a while. Is that what you told him about at the cabin?" Helen slowly nodded. "Why didn't you tell me about the baby earlier?" As he saw the bleak look in her eyes he wished he'd bitten out his tongue, rather than asked the question. He already knew the answer. It had been gnawing at the back of his mind ever since she'd told him she was pregnant. Helen looked at the faded knees of her jeans. She picked at a loose thread. "I thought..." Her voice was a mere thread of sound. She cleared her throat and tried again, drawing strength from her disgust at sounding so weak. "I thought that as soon as I told you, you'd Leap. In fact, I don't understand why you haven't." Her voice sounded clearly this time. She looked up at Sam and lifted a shoulder. "I wanted you here as long as possible so I procrastinated. I'm glad I did. I wouldn't have missed 'Star Wars' for anything." "Neither would I, Helen." Sam reached for her, but she caught his hands and held them, not allowing him to close the gap between them. "I don't understand why you're still here. I - I was so sure... Can you think what the reason might be?" Sam shook his head. "I don't know. We'll have to ask Ziggy when Al comes again. I do know I'm DAMN glad I haven't gone yet." "So am I. Oh, so am I!" she said fervently. Her gaze dropped to their clasped hands. "As you are still here I think there's something we need to talk about." She looked up at him through her lashes. Sam cocked an enquiring eyebrow and waited expectantly. "Having two children was the last of my little 'surprises', Sam. I've told you everything. Now it's your turn - so 'fess up like a man. How many flavors have you tried at the soda fountain?" He was off the chest and by the bedroom door faster than he could say 'ice-cream'. He slammed his hand into the doorframe. The trinkets and bottles on Helen's dresser rattled in protest. He KNEW she had understood that one-sided conversation. "Damn and blast you, Al! Why did you have to make me say that." He leaned heavily against the door- frame, not daring to face Helen. "It's not his fault. You started it. I think he just carried the metaphor further and turned it on you. Am I right? So, answer the question, Sam. How many flavors?" So many faces they blurred together. And, because it was necessary, because it was right, he had loved them all. God, he sounded like Al. "I - I don't know. I can't remember," he told the empty hall. "Brain Swiss-cheesed again, huh?" Once more the trinkets and bottles protested. She must be hurting all over again. He turned back to face her. "Helen, I -" She was lounging across the old chest, leaning back on her elbows, legs outstretched, ankles casually crossed. Her mouth was twitching at his embarrassment. "How on earth did someone like you and someone like Al ever get to be friends? No - don't answer that, it was a rhetorical question. I just KNEW you'd think I'd be upset or jealous. Honestly, Sam, it's ridiculous." He gaped at her as she swung her legs to the floor and went to him. "So much of what goes wrong in life has to do with relationships of one sort or another. You must have had to love, to have really cared some- times, or how else could you set things right? I accept it's part of what you had to do, Sam." She could see he wasn't convinced, and she needed him to be, before she moved on to what she really wanted him to think about. She took a deep breath and tried a different tack. "Look, you said you didn't care about Al and I. Why do you think it's different for me? You're being really chauvinistic about it in a reverse sort of way, you know. Do you think it's different because there have been so many different 'flavors'? You think the number bothers me? For Pete's sake, Sam! I've had two years away at college. This is the Seventies, not the 1900's! How do you know I didn't go rampaging through the guys there like a tornado? Have you forgotten what college was like - all those rampant hormones? Or were you a complete nerd?" Sam suddenly found the carpet very interesting. Helen's eyes narrowed. "You WERE a nerd!" She gave a choke of laughter. "Oh Lord! I might have guessed. A bit of a late developer, were we?" "Stop it, Helen. You sound just like Al." She swallowed the rest of her mirth, though her eyes still danced. "Sorry, Sam. Look, I may not have been a tornado but I certainly didn't behave as though I was living in a convent. Does THAT upset YOU?" She was a true child of the Seventies. The repressed morals of the Fifties were long gone. The era of free love from the Sixties still lingered and the specter of HIV and Aids was far distant. Learning and experimenting weren't confined to the classroom - not unless you were a complete nerd. "No, Helen, it doesn't upset me." "And you know now that what YOU have done doesn't upset me?" He nodded, finally convinced. "At last!" A thought struck her and her eyes sparkled wickedly. "I bet Al wishes he Leaped and you Observed. It must kill him to have to watch you with all the women." Sam gave a sudden hoot of laughter. "Yes, it does." The laughter set him completely at ease again. He grabbed Helen around the waist. "C'mere and give me a hug, Witch." She willingly complied, then pushed him back to Angharad's chest, commanded him to sit again and made herself comfortable on his knee. "So, we have established - finally! - that I am neither upset nor jealous of any relationships, physical or otherwise, you have had. That's the first point." Helen checked it off on her fingers. "We have also established that any relationships I have had do not upset you. That's the second. We're lucky enough to have something with each other that's very special - maybe unique - that's amazingly, incredibly, INDESCRIBABLY wonderful - don't do that!" She batted at his hand. "Please, Sam. I need to be able to think - that's the third." She stopped checking off her fingers and twisted so she could see directly into his face. "In view of all those things, tell me, what are you going to do when it's necessary for you to love someone - in whatever form that may take - when you start Leaping again?" He stared into the eyes, dark and serious now, of the girl perched on his knee. He hadn't thought of that. He'd concentrated so hard on the present, concentrated on 'savoring' it, ignoring all thoughts of the future. The feel of Helen, the weight of her across his legs was perfect. He tried to imagine someone else there instead, wanting him, needing him. "I'll love," he said finally, "if it's necessary to make things right." Helen jabbed a finger into his chest. "Just make sure you do. Nothing you have to do during a Leap would ever hurt me, Sam, and you mustn't let thoughts of us interfere with what may be necessary. Because if you do, you won't Leap and you'll never get back home." She gave a rueful smile. "And I'd hate to think of all my hard work going to waste." Sam gazed into the steady, grey eyes that smiled so lovingly into his. Through the love, through the steady strength, he saw the agony she couldn't quite hide at talk of him Leaping away. "Dear heart," he whispered. "Keeper of my heart. Helen. Oh God, however are we going to do it?" "Because we must," she replied fiercely, her knuckles white as she gripped his shoulders. "Because it's necessary." Maybe she would disappear into one of the holes in the Swiss-cheese. She almost hoped she would if it made it easier for him. Al would make sure he wrote the letters. Al would give her a baby, too, without knowing it and she'd have to make him cheat on a wife he obviously loved very much. That would be hard. She wished Al was still a stranger, that Sam hadn't told her so much about his friend. It would be much easier to do that to someone who meant nothing to her. Even though she couldn't see or hear him, Al was fast becoming her friend, too, and she didn't want to have to make her friend be unfaithful. But she would - because it was necessary. "Now, Sam, there's something else we need to do." "What's that?" he asked in a voice still rough with emotion. He hurriedly cleared his throat. They didn't have enough time to waste it on being miserable about the future. "What do we have to do now, Witch?" "Shopping." "Shopping!" They didn't have enough time to waste it on shopping, either. "But the last time we went shopping we bought enough to feed an army." Helen slipped off his knee. "Not food shopping. Baby shopping." She pulled their jackets out of the wardrobe and threw his at him, before shrugging herself into her own. "We need to choose fabric for the drapes in the nursery." She smiled as she used the word for the first time. "And the crib needs a new mattress, and we need to buy sheets and blankets - or maybe the baby would prefer a quilt. What do you think? And he'll need a bath and a stroller and diapers and clothes and - and a hundred other things. Oh, I nearly forgot, we need to buy more sandpaper and some varnish for the crib and table, too."