CHAPTER SEVENTEEN An alarm clock shrilled, jerking Sam awake, nerves jangling. For one stomach-churning second he thought he had Leaped, until he realised a sea of red tangles flowed over his chest and a heavy weight anchored him down. Helen's leg was across his thighs, her head rested on his ribcage and her hand held his, tucked securely under her chin. The thought struggled through his throbbing head that there was no way he could have Leaped with her pinning him so securely to the bed. Dawn had been pushing her first pallid fingers through the drapes before he had fallen, exhausted, into a fitful sleep that brought no rest, from which he had woken many times to clutch wildly at Helen to ensure he was still with her. He blinked, his eyes hot and heavy, and rubbed away the encrustations clinging to his lashes. He couldn't have slept long. It was still early, the light pale, the room a monochrome of grey. There was no sound, except for the occasional flutter of bird song from outside and Helen's soft breath, sighing against his ribs. The repeater alarm shrilled again. He quickly silenced it before it woke Helen. Carefully easing himself from under her, he sat on the edge of the bed. She stirred, throwing out her arm, searching for him. He caught her hand and stroked a strand of hair away from her cheek, noting her wan face and the dark stains under her eyes. "Hello, Witch." "Mmm." Helen's eyes remained closed, though the grip on his hand tightened briefly. "Try to sleep a while longer. I'll fix breakfast." "'Kay, Sam," she mumbled. She released his hand and snuggled down into the pillows. He got to his feet, grimacing as aching muscles protested, and wandered out to the bathroom, stretching. As soon as Helen heard the whoosh of the shower, ignoring her tired body, she pushed back the quilt, grabbed her shirt and jeans and quickly dressed. Then she opened the closet and yanked out Brian Palmer's tatty haversack. Laying a shirt and jeans on the bed, she pulled the rest of his clothes off the hangers and bundled them into the haversack. She moved to the chest of drawers and threw a pair of socks and boxers on the bed before stuffing all the other underwear into the haversack. She glanced swiftly around the room and pounced on the stray sock and threw that into the bag as well, before turning to the clothes on Angharad's chest that Sam had worn the previous evening. The jeans, boxers and socks she just fitted into the haversack. That left the shirt. She sat on the chest beside it and reached out her hand. It felt soft and cool as she scrunched it in her fingers. Picking it up, she buried her face in the fabric and inhaled deeply. The smell of cotton filled her nostrils, together with a tang of sweat and a faint, male muskiness that was Sam's own aroma. "I don't think Brian will miss one shirt," she murmured. "Not the way he throws his clothes around. I guess I'll have to wash it eventually - but not just yet." She stood and folded it neatly, then lifted the heavy lid of the old chest and lay the shirt on top of the linen inside, smoothing it carefully, before closing the lid with a slight thump. Picking up the haversack, she walked quietly to the open door, where she stood for a moment, listening. The shower still hissed, water hitting the tiles unevenly, indicating that Sam was still washing. Good. There was no need to make today more difficult for him by bothering him with this. She slipped past the bathroom door and in a couple of minutes had thrown the haversack into the back of Mrs Murray, returned to the bedroom and pulled off her jeans. She walked into the bathroom just as Sam stepped out of the shower. "I couldn't sleep, so I thought I better get up," she said, throwing him a towel. She picked up another and started to dry his hair, saying with a small smile, "I don't want to be late for work on my first day back." "You should have stayed in bed, Helen." Sam's voice was muffled. He pushed the towel down around his neck. "You've got to start trying to get more rest." "I will, I will." She lifted her shoulder. "It's just a little difficult today." "Yeah, I know." He rubbed her arm, then wrapped the towel around his hips. "So, what would you like for breakfast?" Helen's eyes gleamed. "Rocky road ice-cream and pickles." "I think I can manage that. How many scoops and how many pickles?" She considered, her head tipped to one side. "Mmm - six of each, please." "Your wish is my command, O Wicked and Wonderful Witch," said Sam, mixing his fairy tales as he bowed low, hand on heart. He backed away, still bowing, and disappeared into the hall. Helen heard a yowl of pain from William, followed by a thump and curses from Sam. A streak of orange and white shot past the doorway. Helen giggled, then ran to the bedroom door. "Sam, I've put some clo - oh, you found them." "Yeah, thanks." He pushed his arm into the sleeve of the shirt. "Go shower, Helen. I have to find William and apologise for treading on his tail. That's twice I've scared him half to death." The cat was lapping contentedly at a huge bowl of milk when Helen came into the kitchen. She looked very much the librarian in a navy panelled skirt, plain white blouse and neat, navy lace-up shoes. "Oh, boy!" exclaimed Sam, when he caught sight of her. "All you need is a pair of bifocals and you'd pass for someone about forty-five." Helen grimaced as she sat at the table. "Thanks a lot. I really needed to know that. I prefer my jeans but they don't exactly fit the quiet, competent image." On the table was juice, milk, coffee, a platter of fruit, toast, jam and honey. "Where's my ice-cream and pickles?" "Coming right up." A stack of pancakes appeared in front of her. "There you go," said Sam. "Ice-cream - and here's the pickles." He poured a swirl of maple syrup over the stack. "Mmm, yumola!" Helen sniffed appreciatively. She picked up her fork as Sam put his own plate on the table and slid into his chair. "What flavor ice-cream have you got?" she asked around her first mouthful. He looked at her sideways. "Coffee fudge ripple," he replied, before taking a huge forkful of pancake. Helen choked with laughter and grabbed her coffee. She took a hasty sip, then made a face. "Yuk! What have you done to this? It tastes like you've made it with iron filings." Sam gave her an appraising look. "If you're going off coffee already, you need to visit your doctor and have a full examination. You shouldn't be drinking it, anyway. Caffeine's not good for you - or the baby." He poured her a glass of milk. "Your diet's good but you need to increase your intake of calcium and iron. And if you need to snack, try to stick to carbohydrates rather then food high in fat. If you ever get any REAL cravings, it doesn't do any harm to indulge them, as long as you're eating the right things, too. Of course, you might not feel like eating at all but you must make yourself, even if it's only a little. If you DO feel like that it's even more important that you eat what is really good for you - make every mouthful contribute to your diet - don't just eat empty calories." Helen's eyebrows crept up her forehead and her mouth began to curve as Sam's list of instructions went on. "And keep up your exercise as long as you feel able, just watch your back and take a little more care generally because your ligaments will soften and it's easy to over- stretch them. And when you feel tired, take a rest, preferably with your feet up. Learn to listen to your body. And definitely NO alcohol, though I guess you could probably allow yourself a glass of wine at Christmas, you should be in you second trimester by then. ONE glass, if you really want." "Yes, Doctor Beckett. No, Doctor Beckett. You've already said that, Doctor Beckett." Sam had refused to let her have any wine at all at dinner the previous evening. "No alcohol is really important, Helen, especially in the first trimester. It can interfere with the development of the fetus - and so can some drugs, so no medications of any kind, especially not over-the- counter preparations." "Yes, I know. Why do you think I've only been drinking half a glass at most?" said Helen, mildly exasperated, though her eyes were bright at his concern. She put down her fork and reached for his hand. "Sam, I have access to a library full of information. What do you think I've been doing during my lunchbreaks at work for the last few weeks? Flicking through Cosmo? I also have an excellent doctor, whose known me since I was a kid, who will refer me to an excellent obstetrician at the excellent hospital here. I'll be well looked after. And I do have friends, you know, who care about me, even if you haven't seen much evidence of them." She smiled ruefully. "It would have been a bit difficult introducing you to them - I don't like calling you Brian - and the less people know about you the better. I made an exception in David's case because I really wanted you two to meet, though Heaven knows what he'll say when I tell him I'm pregnant. He'll probably call me a little fool." *If that's all he says, I'll be lucky. God alone knows what he'll call Sam - I mean Brian. Oh, well, I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.* "None of my other friends will give a damn that I'm pregnant, not my real friends. In fact, some of them will probably think it's real cool." She raised her fist. "Ms Helen Carter and son, striking a blow for women's lib." Sam grinned. "Yeah, you'll be a real Murphy Brown." "Who?" "Oh, just another woman who strikes a blow for single parenthood and non-nuclear families." He noticed her cooling pancakes. "Eat, and have some fruit, too." They ate in silence, until Sam said, "You need to buy him a computer." "Sorry?" "You need to buy him a computer - the baby. Not straight away but by the time he's about two he'll be able to start using one. Make sure it's an IBM or compatible." Helen gaped. "A computer? I used one at college occasionally, but in the house?" "Yes, though he'll probably want a handheld eventually." Sam saw Helen's astonished look. "Close your mouth, Helen, and chew. Lots of families will have PC's - personal computers - at home soon. They'll be used in all the schools, even kindergartens. I wish Al was here, then Ziggy could tell you what's best to buy. I don't think there's much available yet; you'll probably have to get a kit and put it together yourself." He grinned. "You surely have a nerd amongst your college friends who'll be able to help. You'll need to upgrade it regularly, the advances in technology will come fast and furious once the ball starts rolling; sound cards, CD-roms, the Internet, DVDs, speech synthesisers." "Wow! Science fiction's going to arrive with a vengeance!" She lifted her shoulders resignedly. "Okay, if you say he needs a computer, I'll get him a one as soon as I can." She glanced at her watch. "I have to go or I am going to be late. I'll just get my purse." Swallowing the last of her milk, she rose and walked quickly down the hall, ducking into the bathroom to grab Brian's razor on her way to the bedroom. She picked up her purse, and found her hands were shaking so badly she couldn't open it. Hurriedly, she sank down on the old, black chest, suddenly feeling sick. "Stop it, you weak-minded, feeble little cow!" she swore furiously at herself. "There's no way this is morning sickness. You're just being spineless. I won't let you cry. I won't! I refuse to cry!" Her mother's voice echoed in her mind, the voice of the woman who had watched her husband leave for Korea. *You don't let the tears fall until after he's gone, Helen.* Her mother hadn't cried on the day of her father's funeral, and neither had she, even though Mom held her hand so tight it hurt. Her beautiful, white-faced mother, her pallor emphasised by the black clothes and huge slate-grey eyes, had remained upright and calm until the last mourner had left the little house. Then she'd held out her arms to her daughter and they'd both wept for the husband and father who had left them. Locking her pain tightly away, Helen held up one shaking hand and watched it while she made the trembling reduce to acceptable proportions. "That's better. Now let's get out there and get it over with." She put Brian's razor into her purse, picked up her jacket and walked back to the living room, shoulders back and chin up. Sam was waiting by the front door. He held out a brown paper bag. "Lunch." Helen took the bag with a hand that shook just a little. "Thanks, Sam." He curled his knuckle under her chin and stroked the side of her mouth. Dark, grey eyes gazed steadily into his. "Have a good day at work, dear," he said softly. Helen smoothed back the white lock. "Have a good day, wherever - WHENEVER - you are, Sam," she whispered. Then she was gone, running fast down the porch steps and into Mrs Murray, starting the engine before daring to look at the house. Sam stood at the top of the steps, one hand holding the porch rail. He raised his other hand in a gesture of farewell, his mouth curving crookedly. She filed the picture away, fighting the instinct to go flying out of the car and back where she belonged. She managed to smile once at him, then turned her head, reversed the car out of the drive and was off up the street without a further glance in his direction. Sam watched the old wagon drive off, hanging on tight to the rail to stop himself from racing after it. When it had finally disappeared, he sank down onto the steps and let his breath go with a long, shuddering sigh. Wearily, he scrubbed his face with his hand and looked up. "Okay, I'm ready." Nothing happened. "At your earliest convenience?" Still nothing happened. William wandered out of the house and rubbed himself against Sam's legs. Sam sighed. "What am I supposed to do now, hey, old fella?" he said, absently rubbing under the cat's chin. William meowed and Sam made a face. "Let me guess, I haven't Leaped yet because I have to give you more milk." The cat's ears twitched at one of his favorite words. He ran back into the house and waited by the refrigerator, tail-tip whisking impatiently. Sam poured the cat a saucer of milk from the carton on the table, then looked at the debris of breakfast. "Well, I suppose I can clear this away," he said, gathering up dirty crockery, dumping it into the sink. When the kitchen was as spotless as Helen liked, he went out to the garage and gave the crib and table their final coat of varnish, keeping his hands busy in the hope it would keep his mind busy, too. He concentrated on making the varnish smooth, with no drips or runs, fighting his irritation that he hadn't Leaped, wishing he could make a quick exit like Helen. When he had finished, he cleaned the brush and found a space for it and the varnish amongst the paint pots in one of the cupboards. Feeling increasingly restless and frustrated, he went back into the house. The silence was deafening. "Why am I still here? Where are you, Al? I need to know what's going ON." He stood in the middle of the kitchen, feeling helpless. "Is there something else I have to do? What is it? For Pete's sake get on with it. This is driving me nuts." There was no reply, apart from the clock on the wall, which ticked away the seconds so slowly, and the hum of the refrigerator. He blew out a breath and stalked into the living room. The lid of the piano was still open. He and Helen had been far too busy the previous night, trying to make enough heat and fire to keep out the cold for a lifetime, to worry about closing it. He sat on the bench and found himself playing 'Bridge Over Troubled Water'. He remembered Helen's face as she'd sung for him, how it had wrung his heart. She wanted to be Al, silly girl, just so she could watch over him. She felt she hadn't done enough when she'd given him everything, EVERYTHING. His hands wandered into music of their own as he remembered all she'd said to him, done for him. How she'd taken away his fears and nightmares, given him back his pride and belief in himself. How her face glowed when she looked at him, healing him with her loving smile and laughing eyes. The words almost fitted the notes that sounded under his fingers. He stopped playing and stared at the keyboard. Maybe he could leave her something to tell her how much she meant to him. She would have nothing else of him, not even a photograph - until the baby was born. He played the notes again, and added some more while he searched for words. The phrases and music came slowly, hesitantly, at first and he mentally rubbed out many wrong notes and words. Then it became easier, the melody and poetry tumbled from him, faster and faster, until he had it, the complete song. A tape. He needed a blank tape. He'd seen some. Where? WHERE? The drawer in the kitchen where Helen kept all the bits and pieces that had no place else to live. Her Junk Drawer she called it. He raced to it, and found a packet of new cassettes in amongst the string and tacks and batteries. "Yes!" he crowed. Next to the tapes, tangled up with shoelaces, was the little microphone for the stereo. He pulled it out and, trailing laces, almost ran to the stereo. He inserted a cassette and the mike lead with fumbling fingers, then pulled over the little table from its place by the couch. He set up the mike on it, then went back to the stereo and pressed the record button. Sitting on the bench once more, he breathed deeply, slowing his heart rate, preparing his mind and body to perform Helen's song. "Thanks for the things you said, thanks for the things you did, I think that I can go now without fears. Thanks for the tender loving care, thank you for always being there, And thank you for your tears. While the west wind blows I will sing for you Blue skies and rainbows will I bring for you. Paint me a sunrise with your smile and laughing eyes Color it with the red gold of your hair. Welcome the dawn in soft as your kiss each morning But softer still your tender love and care. While night stars shine I will live for you All of the beauty I find I will give for you. Happy the day I first saw you and this happy song is for you Though it can't match the wondrous gifts you give. Whispers and wishes, teardrops and make up kisses Treasures I'll keep for longer than I'll live. While white birds fly above you I swear by the blue of the sky I will love you." A simple song, yet he felt more drained than after Carnegie Hall, after playing a Grieg Concerto before an audience of thousands. He rewound the cassette, pressed the play button, then sat on the carpet to listen, his head on his knee. At the sound of the voice he nearly cried. It wasn't him. It was Brian. Of course it would be Brian. In the same way any photograph would show Brian, any sound recorded would be his voice. He reached to erase the tape, then stopped. The voice wasn't too bad. A little husky and weak but at least it was in tune. And the piano playing was his own. Helen would know it was him, would understand what he was trying to say. It was better than nothing. He got wearily to his feet and put the tape back in its case, then placed it in the exact center of the kitchen table, where Helen would see it when she came home. The Door opened. "Al!" Sam nearly pounced on the Observer. "Why haven't I Leaped? This hanging around is driving me crazy. If I'm going to go I want to get on with it. What else do I have to do?" "Calm down, Sam. Ziggy says you don't have to do anything. He keeps running the data through his systems and each time he says you should have Leaped yesterday, as soon as Helen told you about the baby." "Well, in case it's escaped Ziggy's notice, I'm still here. There has to be a reason. He must be leaving something out of his calculations. Tell him to go through them again and input everything - EVERYTHING. This Leap isn't like the others. Tell him to check ou every variable, however unlikely." Al nodded and pushed buttons on the handlink, which squawked in protest. Sam prowled around the kitchen like a caged tiger. "I can't stand being here any longer, Al. I keep hoping I'm not going to go, that I can stay with Helen - but I know I have to Leap. I feel torn in two and the longer I'm here the worse it gets." Al looked up from the handlink, his eyes full of sympathy. "Yeah, I know, pal. Just be patient. Ziggy's checking the data again." He looked over his shoulder at something Sam couldn't see and nodded. Clearing his throat, he gave Sam a strange look. "Um, there's someone here who wants to see you, Sam. It won't be for long, it drains Ziggy of too much power and if Gushie found out he'd have a fit. Mind you that's nothing to what the Committee would do if they knew. They'd probably have me busted to ensign." "Who is it? Verbena Beeks? Tell her thanks, but I don't need counselling." Sam's mouth twisted into a wry smile. "Tell her I've been healed already, and I'd rather Ziggy used the power to finish his calculations, so I can Leap out of here." "It isn't Dr Beeks this time, Sam. It's someone else, and you won't think it a waste of power. Now, you won't be able to hear them. We can't risk the power to provide sound. We'll probably blow all the lights between here and Vegas as it is. It'll be like that time Dr Beeks needed to see you. Remember? My touching them will only bring in their image." Sam frowned. "Yes, I remember." "Okay." Al turned his head and nodded again but kept his eyes glued to Sam, wanting to see his reaction. A tall young man with coffee-colored hair and grey-green eyes, wearing a lab coat and a huge grin, stood next to Al. His arm was draped across Al's shoulders, his thumb touching Al's neck so he was in direct contact with his skin, thus providing the link that enabled Sam to see him. His mouth moved. "Hi, Dad," he enunciated silently. "Oh, boy!" breathed Sam. The green shade of the man's eyes deepened. "I told you he'd know who I was, Admiral Al." "Yeah, like it's really hard for him to tell who you are, kid, with the eyes you've got." Sam took a step forward and stared at his son. "My God, Al!" he whispered, voice hoarse. "The Committee won't just have you busted to ensign, you'll be swabbing decks and scrubbing out the head with a toothbrush for the next million years if they find out about this!" He tore his eyes away from his son to say fervently to his friend, "How am I ever going to repay you for this, Al? When I get back I'm going to buy you the biggest Havana you've ever seen - no, I'll buy you the whole city, the whole country!" His eyes were drawn back to his son. He looked so tall, so big and broad. Damn, he was even good-looking! Man, but it was strange seeing Helen's eyes in a strong, masculine face. Eyes that held a measure of the same love that Helen's eyes held when she looked at him. The boy had her smile, too. God, he looked good! Sam's heart swelled with pride and love. Love for his son, and for the woman who was his mother. He swallowed the lump in his throat and shook his head in wonder. "I didn't think I'd get the chance to see you. When I get back you'll be gone, you'll have Leaped." Sam Carter nodded, grinning all over his face. "I know," he said, exaggerating his enunciation so his father could read his lips. "I wanted the chance to meet you, too, even if it was only for a couple of minutes. That's why we set this up." He gave Al's shoulder an affectionate squeeze. Al puffed on his cigar, a difficult feat to perform when a Cheshire cat smile was splitting his face. "Tina's broadening Gushie's sexual horizons in his office, to keep him out of the way." "You asked Tina to - to...?" said Sam. "How could you even think of suggesting that to her? You have absolutely no principles, Al - and just for once I'm glad, REAL glad!" His gaze jumped back to his son and a crease appeared between his brows. "And you don't have any, either, if you agreed to that." "See, kid? I told you he was Mr Morals," muttered Al. Sam Carter's eyes sparkled with mischief. Sam shook his head. "It doesn't matter. What does matter is that you're here. Are you sure you want to do this? Start Leaping? It's not - not easy," he asked, still not quite convinced that anyone would be willing to give up all sense of self so completely and volunteer to Leap, not even someone who understood all it entailed, what they would be expected to do. "Yes, Dad. I'm quite sure. To have the chance to turn people's lives around, to know what I do would make a real difference. You bet I want to do it! Tell him, Al." Al repeated his words so Sam would know exactly what his son said, not just see his shining, eager face. Sam Carter made an impatient gesture. "So hurry up and get started on your way home so I can begin my job in the family firm. I feel like a junior partner whose never given a chance because the senior partner doesn't want to give the workload away!" Sam saw his son's eyes twinkle in exactly the same way as Helen's while Al repeated his words. He gave a slightly bitter laugh. "I'd give the whole lot away right this second if it meant I could stay here with Helen, with your Mom, and be a father to you." A knife cut through Sam Carter's joy. The grey-green eyes reflected the anguish of the hazel. No matter how loving a mother he'd had, there had been times when he'd desperately wanted his father. Wanted to play chess with him, maybe even beat him. Shoot hoops in the yard with him. Laugh and cry with him. Be hugged by him - hugs that would have been so different from his mother's - stronger, but just as loving. Most of all, he wished his Dad could have seen him when he'd graduated from MIT. He'd been so proud that day, and so had Mom, but mingled with the pride and elation had been sadness, as they'd both wished Sam Beckett could have been there, too. He made a move towards his father, but felt Al's hand restrain him. "You can't, kid," said Al softly. "You have to hang on to me or the link will break. I'm the only thing you can touch in here." Helen's son held himself back and stared at his father with hungry eyes. "Sorry, Al. I know that. I just..." "Yeah, I know. I think sometimes it's harder Observing than Leaping. Not being able to touch can be real tough." "Especially to someone like Al," said Sam Beckett, with a gleam of humor. He had his emotions well in hand again. He'd seen the look on his son's face and shut away his own pain and longing as tight as he could, allowing only his love to show. He smiled at his son. "I know I can't stay, much as I want to. I'm ready to Leap - as ready as I'll ever be, anyway - so I can start on my journey home. Then you, my young junior partner, can step into my shoes, but for some reason I'm still here. I assume there's something else I have to do, only I can't figure out what it is, and Ziggy's not being much help. Has he finished running the data yet, Al?" Al consulted the handlink. "He's still getting the same answer. You should have Leaped yesterday." Al banged the handlink, which squawked at him. "I know what you need to do, Dad," enunciated Sam Carter carefully. "You need to phone for a cab." "WHAT?" exclaimed Sam Beckett. "I KNEW you'd been holding out on Ziggy - and me, you wise-ass kid!" Al stabbed a very hard forefinger into the broad chest next to him. The handlink squawked again. Al glanced at its display and swore. "Hell! Gushie can't have any staying power at all. Ziggy says he'll be in the Control Room in thirty seconds. We have to go, Sam." He looked from father to son. The longing between the two men was almost tangible. "Tell Dad he has to call a cab and go to the library," said Sam Carter urgently in Al's ear while keeping his eyes on his father. "Tell him, Al, quick! Make sure he understands or he'll miss Mom." "You have to call a cab and go to the library, Sam." Al's voice softened. "I think you've got one last chance to see Helen before you go." Sam's heart began to thud. The handlink squawked imperiously. "Fifteen seconds," intoned Al. "I'm sorry, Sam. Time's up. We have to get out. Now." Sam Beckett saw the white-coated figure mouth, "Good-bye, Dad. I love you." "Good-bye, Samuel Beckett Carter," he whispered. "I love you, too, my son." He was alone in the kitchen once more, with the cheerfully ticking clock and the busily humming refrigerator.