CHAPTER SIXTEEN Despite the wide open timber doors, the garage still reeked of varnish. The crib and change table, now sanded smooth of all traces of their previous tenant's liking for wooden teethers, stood far enough inside to be out of any gusts of wind that might blow dust on the wet varnish, close enough to the doors to take advantage of the daylight. Sam hurled his brush into the varnish tin so hard that droplets scattered, soaking quickly into the sleeve of his overalls. Some fell on the dusty concrete floor, glistening circles of amber. "I can't," he said, getting jerkily to his feet. "I just can't do this anymore." "What, Sam?" asked Helen, rising from her knees. She waved her brush at the change table he had almost finished. "Are you sick of this?" She wrinkled her nose. "The stink is a bit much. We can stop if you like. It doesn't matter, I can finish it later." "It's not the smell I'm sick of, it's everything. I'm sick of everything." He looked out over the yard, at the vegetable patch dark with lush green leafiness, the flower borders bright with tossing colors. William lay snoozing under the laden apple tree, his ears twitching as daisies tickled them. The old swing creaked as it rocked in the breeze. The grass needed mowing. "I can't do it any longer," he said, turning back to Helen. The garage seemed dark after the bright light outside and he could see only a dim figure. "I can't pretend to be happy when I'm not. I'm not happy at all." He gave a short bark of laughter. "That's the understatement of the year. I'm miserable, utterly miserable. And so are you, Helen." He pointed an accusing finger at the girl he could now see more clearly, still holding her brush, looking lost in her father's too-big overalls, transfixed by his outburst. "I'm not blind. I saw you at the store yesterday, staring at the other couples, at the families." They had shopped til they dropped, almost emptying the baby and maternity departments. Helen had written so many checks, he'd been worried. "It's part of my inheritance from Mom," she'd told him with a sad little smile. "I don't think she'd mind it being spent on her grandson." That was the only time she hadn't covered up her unhappiness. He'd caught her purely by accident the first time. They'd just chosen a stroller and Helen was writing yet another check. He'd wandered off into the clothes section and spotted a pair of maternity dungarees, bright pink, which would have screamed at her hair. He'd turned to call her over, but was halted by the look on her face. He'd followed her gaze, disturbed by the sadness in her eyes. It was a young couple looking at baby clothes. The man carefully, proudly, carried a tiny infant in his arms and the woman's hand was tucked in the crook of his elbow. The sight of them made Sam feel suddenly sick. Helen would never have that, someone to carry the baby for her, someone to share the burden of a child's daily care. He'd started towards her to offer comfort, but the sales clerk had given her the receipt and she'd switched on the happy face again. So he had switched on his, as he'd promised Al, but he'd watched and seen the misery behind the laughing, chattering mask, and each time he saw it she was looking at families. Helen slowly laid her brush on the old rag she used to wipe her tacky fingers. It was true. She had watched the couples and their children. It had been a compulsion, her eyes drawn to them, drawn to the fathers. She had watched them carry their babies, push the strollers, swing their giggling toddlers around, hold their trusting little hands. And her heart ached for Sam, that he would never be able to do that with his son. So she'd covered up and dragged him frantically from one stand of goods to the next, hoping to make him too busy to notice the fathers and their children. He was a black silhouette against the daylight. "I'm sorry, Sam. I was hoping you wouldn't see." As she moved towards him his features came into focus. His face was dark and stormy. "And today it's worse," said Sam, "because it's ME you keep staring at. Every time I look at you you're already staring at me with those big, sad eyes, and then you look away and try to cover up. For God's sake, stop it, Helen! I can't take it any longer." "I'm sorry." She'd been trying to file away as many images of him as she could. "I have to go back to work at the library tomorrow. My vacation's over." A ghost of a smile touched her lips. "I think your 'vacation' is nearly over, too. We've both completed our holiday jobs. You've given me a baby and I've given you what you needed, the certainty that you're going to get home. I've been waiting for you to Leap - and yes, it's getting harder to pretend to be happy about that." She smoothed the white lock, hoping her touch would gentle the storm. "But YOU should be glad, Sam. When you Leap it means you've started the journey back to your own time." Sam pulled her arm away. "I don't want to Leap. Never again." Hazel eyes bored into grey-green. "I don't want to go. How can I leave you to cope on your own? How can I leave YOU? I'll do anything to stay. I'll even put up with being Brian Palmer the rest of my life as long as I'm with you." He caught hold of her arms, suddenly hopeful. "Maybe I'm not going to Leap. Maybe that's why I'm still here, because I'm not going at all." "No, Sam," said Helen, her voice steady. "I know you'll Leap, and you know it, too. You have to or I wouldn't have your letters. You still have a job to do, for a while. There are more people who need your help." "I don't want to help any more. I want to help ME, and you and the baby. I've done enough." His jaw jutted stubbornly. "History will change. I'm going to stay." Al opened The Door and, too intent on the angry and desperate man who raged before her, for the first time Helen didn't acknowledge him. She had to make Sam accept the truth. It did no good to hide behind false hopes and wishes. "History won't change, Sam," she said, ignoring her own hopes, setting aside her own wishes. She hardened her resolve and said firmly, "You will Leap. You have to." Sam almost shook her. "Why do you keep saying that? I don't want to go. I don't want the 'job'. Don't you want me to stay? How can you be so calm?" She simply stood, looking at him in the steady, strong way he usually loved so much. Full of anger and misery, he didn't see how much her composed effort cost her, didn't see her hands clenched so tight the knuckles threatened to break through the skin. Helplessness engulfed him. He wanted to break through her composure, make her feel as wretched as he. He tightened his grip, his fingers digging into her arms. "Is that all it is to you? Just a job that had to be done? Is that why you're so calm? Because you don't really give a damn that I'm going and you'll never see me again?" Helen's head swung back as though she had been hit. Her resolve crumbled, shattered by the cruel words. Wrenching herself from the powerful hands, she ran, gasping, stumbling up the steps into the house, away from the man and his taunting voice. She fled down the hall and into the bedroom where she slammed the door shut and fell back against it, chest heaving. Evidence of joint occupation of the room was everywhere. Two empty coffee mugs stood on the night-stand. A stray sock, too big to be hers, lay forlorn by the bed. Denim jackets were tumbled together on Angharad's chest. A man's comb lay amongst the feminine bits and pieces on the dresser, next to her mother's box, the box that held Sam's letters. The letters. Maybe Sam was right. Maybe they were gone. She launched herself at the dresser, picked up the box with shaking, eager hands and opened it. A pile of pale, flat shapes greeted her. She tore a letter out of the first envelope with fumbling fingers, scanned it frantically for any changes, then crumpled it and threw it away. She did the same to the next and the next, until the box was empty, except for a golden circle gleaming in a corner, and she was surrounded by little balls of paper. They were all there and they were all the same. Not a line was different, not one word altered. Sam would Leap, go somewhere she could not. She sank down amongst the paper balls, clasping her mother's box to her chest. Hot tears stung her eyes and ran down her face and she cried. Cried for Sam, for herself, and for the baby. Sam stared after the stumbling figure, unable to go after her as anger, which felt so much more satisfying than utter despair, still seethed through him. "Of course she wants you to stay, you fool," came a gravelly voice from behind him. He whirled around. "But she knows you have to Leap," continued Al, "so she's trying to be strong, to make it easier for you. Women do that sort of thing, you know, try and make things easier for us, especially when they love a man as much as she loves you. They kiss you and smile as they send you off to war, while inside they're praying you'll be all right and wishing they could go too, to make sure you ARE all right. And if you're a fool - like you - you don't see how it tears them apart." Al shook his head. "You really don't understand women at all, do you?" "I understand I don't want to leave her," spat Sam vehemently. He stalked away into the shady garage and glared at the crib and table glistening with wet varnish. She could finish them later she had said. Not 'we' but 'she' because he wouldn't be there to help her. He gave a short, bitter laugh. "God, it's so ironic, Al. The means of my being able to go back to my time means I no longer want to go there." Anger and resentment were apparent in the inflexible line of Sam's back, in the angle of his arms as he stood, fists jammed into hips, but Al offered him no comfort. He'd given his word to Helen that he'd say nothing about her presence in Sam's own time. So he remained silent, quietly smoking, watching his friend. Sam spun back to him. "What if ZoŽ comes back - or someone like her?" "She'll be well protected, Sam." "By an old woman half a world away and a cat?" "And -" Al's cigar gestured up. "Have a little faith." Sam turned his back on Al and faith, uttering a short, derisive, "Ha." He spun back to the Observer once more. "How can I leave her? She'll be all on her own, trying to bring up my son. MY son!" He stabbed his sternum with one rigid forefinger. "I can't just desert her." "You're not deserting her." Sam took a couple of quick strides and thrust his face into Al's. "Tell me, Al, what would you do if she was having your baby? What would you do? Would you just leave her, walk away - desert her?" "It isn't my baby, Sam, it's yours, and you don't have a choice about leaving, kid - in case you've forgotten." Rage at his powerlessness made Sam want to scream at Al that when he'd left Helen and her son, he'd left his own child as well. But a tiny shred of innate decency held him back and he bit down hard on the retort, contenting himself by saying sarcastically, "Oh, that's right, that's what I forgot. Even if it was your baby, you have a wife and kids already. You have a WIFE." He raked his hand through his hair. "God, that's all I want. I don't give a damn about my own time, Al. I just want a wife and a family. I want Helen." "But she doesn't want Brian Palmer - and that's who you are here. She wants Sam Beckett." Sam's hands hardened into fists at Al's tough words. Breathing hard, he glared at the Observer who held his furious, desperate, hating gaze with ruthless compassion. Sam's gaze dropped away and he charged out into the cheerful sunshine of the garden, scaring William, who streaked away into the house. "I won't let you control me anymore," he yelled to the blue sky. "I won't go. You hear me," he shouted at the white clouds. "I'm staying here - with Helen." His voice cracked as his finger stabbed towards the thick lawn beneath his feet. "I'm staying here," he whispered, "right here." "No, you're not, Sam," came Al's implacable, sympathetic voice. "You're going to Leap." Sam walked wearily to the apple tree. His shoulder sagged against its smooth trunk. "Go away, Al. Go away and leave me alone." Al shook his head pityingly. He pushed a button on the handlink and saw Helen. She sat on the floor of the bedroom, back supported by the old black chest, head bowed and shoulders heaving as she sobbed. Tears fell on the wooden box she held in her arms. Al pushed another button and appeared to sit on the chest, by her shoulder. He waited, until eventually she quietened. "That's my girl. Feeling better now? I wish that - that knuckle- head out there would do the same thing. It might make him feel better, too." Helen heaved one last, shuddering sigh and raised her head. She pushed her damp hair from her face. "Hi, Al," she said wearily. "Wasn't that a fun scene for you to observe." She looked around at all the crumpled letters and gave a weak laugh. "Oh God, it looks like a convention for ping-pong players in here. Either that or it's oversized confetti." She sobered instantly. "The only sort I'm ever likely to have around me. Sorry Al, I know that won't be your fault." "That's okay, kid. You did - will do - the right thing." She exhaled gustily. "Enough of this maudlin sentiment!" She picked up the nearest piece of confetti and smoothed it out on her knee, turning it back into a letter. "There, nearly as good as new." She opened the box, intending to put in the letter, but a gleam inside caught her eye. She took out the heavy gold ring and held it up so the light caught its engraving. "Have you ever seen this before, Al? It's my mother's wedding ring. I'll never be able to wear it, and that's not being sentimental. It won't fit. Look." The ring sat on the tip of her third finger. "I wonder what I ought to do with it? I don't want to keep it hidden away for ever." Al grinned suddenly. "It'd make a nice pair of earrings, kid." "Maybe I'll have it made into earrings," the girl said thoughtfully, carefully waggling the finger crowned by the circlet of gold. "You will - and you'll look beautiful in them, Helen." "Hmm, yes. That's a good idea." She popped the ring back into the box and shut the lid, then scrambled to her knees and gathered up the balls of paper. "I'll sort these out later. I need to find Sam." Pulling open the drawer of the dresser, she dropped in the letters, then picked up the box and set it back in its place. At the sight of herself in the mirror, she let out a squeak of horror. "I look terrible!" She sat on the little stool, grabbed a Kleenex and dabbed at her eyes, then grabbed another and blew her nose. Ruthlessly, she pulled a brush through her tangled hair, smoothing back the strands that still curled damply around her face. Then she looked at her reflection and pulled a face. "I still look terrible." "No, you don't. You look kinda cute - your nose matches your hair - though I have seen you look a heck of a lot better. I shouldn't worry. I don't suppose Sam will even notice." Helen swivelled around on the stool to face the room. "I'm okay now, Al. It really helped, knowing you were here." She shut her eyes and reached out to the man with the cigar and the flashing handlink she saw in her mind. "I wish I could...but I can't, so this will have to do instead." She blew a gentle kiss. "Thanks, Al." Al caught the kiss in his hand. "You're welcome, Helen," he said, giving her a little bow. "Any time, kid." Helen opened her eyes and stood. She took a deep breath. "Time to find Sam. I wonder where he is?" "He's in the garden," said Al. Helen hesitated. Al motioned her towards the door. "Go on. Shoo. This is where you get to kiss and make up, girl." He raised a suggestive eyebrow. "It's the fun part of having a fight. So, away with you." He watched her go towards the door and gave a nod of satisfaction. Tapping the handlink, he went through his own Door and closed it down behind him. Helen opened the bedroom door, and collided with Sam. "Sorry," they said together. "I was just com-" they said, still together. Helen stopped and chuckled while Sam continued, his mouth curving, "-coming to see if you were all right." He gently bumped his forehead against hers, then pushed up her chin with his knuckle. "You look terrible, Helen. Are you okay?" She slipped her arms around his waist. "I'm fine. I think all this crying must be due to my hormones changing. I'm not normally like this at all." She looked down at her abdomen. "You're nowhere near born yet, Child, and already you're causing mischief. How about you, Sam? Are you okay now?" She searched his face, noting the faint lines of strain around his eyes. "I'm fine, too. A little tired maybe. It's been one heck of a couple of days, hasn't it? One way or another." Sam slid one hand around to the small of her back while the other firmly but gently held her chin. "Listen, Helen, no more pretending - please - for either of us. Let's be honest with each other. If we want to be miserable we will. Promise?" Grey-green eyes looked steadily into hazel. "I promise." "I promise, too." Helen buried her face in his overalls, breathing in a comforting mix of engine oil, paint, old cloth and Sam. Sam buried his face in the silky hair, smelling citrus shampoo and a faint muskiness that was Helen. They stood, holding each other. "Helen," said Sam eventually. "Mmm?" "It's funny, now I know I can be unhappy if I want to, I don't feel so unhappy anymore." Helen raised her head. "Me neither. Do you want to finish the varnishing?" "Yeah. If the brushes haven't dried out." Hand in hand, they walked slowly out to the garage. * * * * * William reclined in his favorite chair, ears twitching like radar, and watched the two humans seated at the piano. Dinner was over, the kitchen tidied, and Sam and Helen had retired to the living room to indulge in what had become a nightly ritual. Every evening, apart from the night of the Spanish Inquisition, they sat together on the sturdy piano bench while Sam coaxed sweet music from the old upright. Helen listened while the pictures of her mother and father and Old Angharad smiled down on them. Sam played themes from much of the music they had listened to during the previous few days and they turned it into a game. He swirled the music together, bridging the pieces effortlessly, flowing from one composer to another while Helen listened intently and tried to guess what he was playing. Sometimes he played a piece by one composer but in the style of another. Sometimes he slyly inserted themes from 'Man of La Mancha' and 'Star Wars' into Bach or Chopin. Always she guessed correctly, laughing as she gave him the answers. He moved on to other contemporary film and television themes, but had to stop when she knotted her forehead, baffled, as he played 'Superman' and 'ET'. Realising his memory had played him false and they couldn't have yet been released, he returned to music he knew she had in her collection and the game continued as before. As the evening wore on, Helen became more subdued and leaned her head on his shoulder while his hands glided smoothly over the keys. Suddenly he stopped. "Sing for me while I play, Helen." He'd never heard her sing aloud on her own. She sang along quite happily with the stereo and hummed or sang in a low voice cheerfully while she cooked, but never loud enough so he could really hear her voice. Helen stared, eyes wide. "But I can't. I can't sing." "Of course you can. I've heard you." He smiled. "You sing all the time when you cook." "Oh that." She dismissed it with her hand. "That's not singing. I've told you, I can't." Her gaze lifted quickly to her mother's picture on top of the piano. "My Mom could sing. She had a beautiful voice, soprano, so sweet and clear." She turned her eyes to her father's picture. "Not that I heard it very often after Dad died." Sam wasn't going to let her off that easily. He'd wanted to ask for days but hadn't because he felt that if he did she might not sing at all, not even while she cooked. Certain now they had very little time left, he wanted a chance of carrying away a clear memory of her voice, so he pushed a little harder. "And you have a good contralto. Come on, Helen. I like contralto voices, that's why Ziggy's got one." "Ziggy talks?" exclaimed Helen. Sam nodded. "Wow! That's incredible! A talking computer! It sounds like my sci-fi authors have got the future right. Just a minute, Ziggy's male. You always call him a 'he'. How can he be a 'he' with a contralto voice?" "He isn't always a 'he', though, thinking about it, I've always called him 'he' to you." Sam shrugged. "Ziggy doesn't really have a gender, but with an ego as big as the one he's got, he's definitely not an 'it' and you can't say 'he-she' all the time, so sometimes he's a 'he' and sometimes she's a 'she'. But I gave him a female vocal range. I told you, I like contralto voices." "No wonder he has breakdowns," said Helen in a disapproving tone. "You've confused him about his sexuality. He doesn't know if he's male or female or bi. That's enough to give anyone a breakdown. I know. I saw it happen at college. Poor Ziggy." "He doesn't get confused over his sexuality, he hasn't got any," retorted Sam, nettled. "And don't waste your time feeling sorry for him. He doesn't respond to pity. He isn't programmed to. He isn't programmed to feel pity himself, or remorse." "Worse and worse." Helen's eyes danced. "He only has half a personality. Even more confusing." Sam's eyes narrowed. "Stop trying to distract me. It won't work. I want to hear you sing." The light went out of her eyes and she looked down at Sam's pianist's hands. "I told you, I can't." "But you said you sang in the choir at school, so you can't be that bad." She dismissed that, too. "Only in the choir, Sam. I wasn't a soloist, like you. I can't sing like you can play." She gestured to the piano. "You're brilliant." She wasn't unsure of much about herself, she knew her own worth, but in this one thing she was shy. She had grown up in a house where music was very important, with a mother whose pure, Welsh blood showed in her love of music and her pure, lyrical voice. As the sound that came out of her mouth was not like her mother's, Helen felt it wasn't good enough, even when her mother had encouraged her to sing. *That's lovely, cariad. But don't hide it away in your chest, let the sound come out.* Now here was this man, who played the piano as if his hands were an extension of the instrument, who could sing as well, in a lovely, light tenor, with never a wrong note. She had listened when he sang as he painted, concentrating with her whole being on his voice so she could replay it in her mind after he had gone. And HE wanted HER to sing? She shrank away at the thought. Impossible. Sam hooked a knuckle under her chin. "I don't care how good you are, Helen. I just want to hear you. Because it's you." His thumb brushed the side of her mouth. "Okay?" Slowly, reluctantly, because he wanted it, she nodded. Sam smiled reassuringly and caressed her face once more before turning his attention to the piano. "Sing this. I like Simon and Garfunkel and I know you know this one. I was watching you the other afternoon." His smile was sly now, trying to make her relax, as he played the introduction to 'Bridge Over Troubled Water'. *Oh God. You had to choose that one.* The first line came and went while Helen stared blindly at Sam's hands. He stopped. "Hmm. Wrong key." He modulated into a key a couple of notes higher and played the introduction again. "Sing, Helen. Please." So, because he asked, almost hating him for persisting, she shut her eyes, took a deep breath and pretended she was still only singing in her mind, that he couldn't hear. "'When you're weary, feelin' small When tears are in your eyes I will dry them all...'" Paul Simon's wonderful words and music poured out of her mouth and she sang, as she had never been able for her mother, letting her heart and soul come pouring out with her voice. 'I'll take your part when darkness comes and pain is all around' ...Whatever he needed... 'Your time has come to shine. All your dreams are on their way' ...Sam was going home... 'I'm sailing right behind' ...But only for this one, brief moment... 'Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down.' If only she could - for always. Her part ended and she sat, silent, while Sam played the climactic finish. No, she didn't have a wonderful voice but, within her vocal limitations, she had sung well. Drawing the air into her lungs, deep down, using her diaphragm, opening her throat to let the sound soar. But the feeling, the expression on her face, the love and the pain. Sam's hands had faltered and he'd stopped watching her because it hurt too much. He'd concentrated instead on playing the correct notes, looking down at the keys, listening to her technically while his soul cried. The last note of the piano died away and they sat, staring at the black and white of the keyboard, not daring to look at each other. Eventually, in a small, tight voice Helen said, "I wish - I wish I was Al." "What?" Sam turned to her, brows raised, startled. Helen rubbed one fingertip over the brass lock of the piano. "I w-wish I was Al." She raised stormy grey eyes to his. "Then I could watch over you, make sure you're all right. I want to be there for you - like the song - and I can't." Sam didn't know whether to laugh or cry. He cradled her face in his hands. "But you've already been there for me. Without you I'd be lost, driven over the edge, falling forever. You've given me back myself. You've given me everything." He smiled lovingly. "And you're going to give me a baby, too." Helen leaped off the stool. "Damn the baby! I don't want it. I want YOU." She stood by the window and stared out into the dark street, arms crossed tightly over her ribs, body taut as piano wire. "I want you, Sam," she whispered. He came and wrapped himself around her, crossing his arms over hers, resting his cheek on the dark-red hair. She was going to be lonely for the rest of her life and there wasn't a damn thing he could do about it. Safe within the circle of Sam's arms, feeling his strong, gentle hands cover her own, pass on their strength, the tension left Helen's body and she exhaled with a sigh. One hand slid from under Sam's and rested across her abdomen. "Oh, Baby. I am sorry. I do want you, I DO. But your Dad's going away soon, and I will miss him so." Her hand found Sam's and held on tight. "It isn't fair, Sam," she whispered. He was going where she could not follow. "No, Helen, it isn't fair." He was going where she would not be. They stared out of the window, beyond the pale circle cast by the streetlight at the end of the drive, into the black and lonely night. * * * * * Later, in the big, mahogany bed, they made love repeatedly and as they kissed they tasted bitter salt. The fire burned through them but there was no joy, no exultation, only desperation and need and want - and it was never enough. When their bodies could no longer respond to the demands they made of them, they lay as close as they could, clinging wordlessly, trying to keep out the cold of a lifetime with embers that would not die.