Author's Notes: DISCLAIMER: I don't own any rights to these characters and no money was made from this. QUANTUM LEAP, and all things associated to the show, belongs to Don Bellisario and Universal Television. I would like to thank my wonderful, and easily bribed, editors: Ann Marie Tajuddin, Jennifer Rowland, and Pat Chachich. Not only have they suffered through this for a year, they've remained loyal throughout. Oh, and for the easily confused: the first two chapters are flashbacks. There are SEVERAL flashbacks in this piece. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org Christina L. Bartruff January 31, 1999 ======================= "Less Than Perfect" Chapter I APRIL 1973 BALBOA NAVAL HOSPITAL SAN DIEGO "She's lost a lot of blood, Admiral, and the internal damage was extensive," Lieutenant Commander Kelly Hardy Morgan informed Admiral Adam Whitmore-Jones quietly. "She's slipped into a coma, and we're not sure she'll regain consciousness." "Did they catch him?" he asked. His eyes gleamed with unshed tears as he looked down at Beth. His hands gripped the back of the chair. "Yes, sir." "Good." "Sir," Kelly asked, hesitantly, "May I ask why you requested that she stay on life support? I know her, and it's something she wouldn't wish." The Admiral barely looked at her as he handed her a folded document. It turned out to be a list of POWs and MIAs who were returning. Kelly's eyes scanned the list, her pulse quickening. "Oh, God," she whispered, as her eyes stopped at Al's name. "He's on his way to Hawaii as we speak," the Admiral informed her, stepping around the chair and taking Beth's hand in his. "I've ordered that he be kept in the dark about this until he is fit for travel. I requested that she remain on life support, commander, because I don't want her to be taken from him, completely, before he has the chance to say good-bye. I don't want him to come home to another headstone." The restraint on Kelly's emotions began to slip. She knew Al had a sister who died and he hadn't known. "She still might pull through this, sir," she commented, weakly. "Yes, commander, there's that small hope," he acknowledged, without turning. "She may surprise us all." APRIL 1973 TRIPLER ARMY MEDICAL CENTER HAWAII Lieutenant (j.g) Sabina Rose Barnhilt was angry. When the news of the shooting reached her in Washington, Sabina had just received confirmation that Al Calavicci was alive, more or less in one piece, and on his way to Hawaii. Admiral Whitmore-Jones then contacted her, with explicit instructions concerning how she should handle Al when she got to Hawaii. Sabina first met the Calaviccis while Al was serving his first tour. She met Al for the first time when he came home, but had learned a great deal about him from Beth. Her anger stemmed not from her orders concerning the pilot, but from that fact such a fate had befallen the couple. Mere weeks had separated their reunion, and now she was all but lost to him. She strode along the corridors of the medical center, half hoping that it would be several months before Al was fit for travel. She realized it would be impossible to keep the news from him that long, but it might give Beth's body a chance to heal itself enough to bring her out of the coma. She prayed fervently over the past six years that he would return home to Beth, safe and sound. Meaning, a short hospital stay. She had a feeling those prayers would be answered. **************************************** Lieutenant Commander Janet Thomas had also received instructions from Admiral Whitmore. The nurses and doctors assigned to the joint services team, who were helping with the returning POWs, took orders from an old friend of Admiral Whitmore. As a personal favor to the Admiral, only Army nurses and doctors were assigned to Al, and he was placed in an all-Army wing. There would be less of a chance for him to hear about Beth if he was separated from people who might know her. Janet was the sole exception. She was assigned to Al, but she had yet to visit him. Janet cried for hours when she heard the news about her friend. She was about to hop on a plane for San Diego when Lt. Barnhilt called and informed her of Al's return. Janet had been in love with Al for years. She was a good friend of Beth's, but envied her. Janet had enough sense to see that Al loved Beth, and had the grace to be happy for them. She was also not mean enough to do something stupid to break up the marriage. Now Beth was in a coma, and Al was coming home. Janet was torn between her gladness at Al's safe return, and the pain Beth' s condition had caused her. She had to keep a grip on her emotions, though, for Al's sake if nothing else. Though she hadn't checked in on him, she had caught a glimpse of him when he first arrived. Compared to most of the returnees, he was in a lot better shape than anyone might have expected. Janet learned that most of his problems were internal, like the resetting of some bones. The scars couldn't be helped, and he needed to gain some weight. All in all, she couldn't see anything in his charts that would warrant a long hospital stay. Janet had also heard, from the junior nurses assigned to him, that he had demanded to speak to his wife from the very moment he set foot in Hawaii Lt. Barnhilt was waiting outside Al's closed door. "Who's in there now?" "The internist, ma'am." Janet nodded. "Any news?" She didn't have to specify. Lt. Barnhilt's hazel eyes flashed with anger. "No, ma'am, but they have caught the gunman. Admiral Whitmore went to Balboa, personally." "I think they'll have Al on the plane before the end of the month," Janet observed. "I heard his psychologist telling the internist to have him ready by the middle of next week." Janet looked shocked. "Why?" Lt. Barnhilt shrugged. "My guess is that he's demanding to speak with his wife nearly every hour he's conscious. For the sake of Al's mental health, he wants him on the plane as soon as possible." *His mental health?* Personally, Janet thought that finding her in a coma would be *more* of a threat to his mental health. Just then, the door opened and the internist came out, looking grim. Janet smiled sadly. "Al has such a way with people." She sighed, and steeled herself. "Shall we?" As she stepped into the room, Janet caught her breath. Cleaned up and healthier looking than when he arrived, Al was almost like his old self. Janet swallowed painfully. *This is going to be a lot tougher than I thought.* She envied Sabina's self-control. She almost lost it completely when his face lit up at the sight of them and he actually smiled. "Finally! Some nozzle assigned Army doctors to me. You're the first Naval officers I've seen since they've admitted me." He paused, studying them both. "Hi, Janet." "Hello, Al." Janet was surprised that she got that out. "It's been a while, hasn't it?" Janet immediately realized how dumb that statement was. He nodded. "Yeah," his expression grew momentarily somber. "But I'm home now, and that's what matters, right?" Janet didn't trust herself to speak, so she nodded. Al narrowed his eyes at her. "Janet, you don't look so good." She couldn't do this anymore. It was too much. Janet turned and left his room, hurrying to the nearest ladies room. Unable to hold back any longer, she burst into tears, sliding down onto the tattered leather couch. ******************************************* Al stared, open-mouthed, at the departing nurse. He turned and looked at the younger woman. "What's with her?" "Some people get more emotional over reunions than others, sir," the woman replied. "Al," he corrected, adjusting his pillow. "Yes, sir." He sighed. "So, have we met before?" "Yes, sir. I was the admin officer at Balboa. We met when you came back from your first tour." Al could hear an angry note in her voice, but he didn't think it was directed at him. "That could explain why I don't recognize you," he replied, wincing. "I pretty much spent all that time between tours with Beth." He shook his head. "What's your name?" "Sabina Barnhilt." "Ah, now I remember you," he said, smiling. His jaw hurt when he did that. He hoped that she would return his smile, but so far she had kept her face neutral. It worried him at first, but he couldn't imagine what a personnel officer would have to say to him that was worth worrying about. Unless it had something to do with his pay, of course. "Have you spoken to Beth recently?" "No, sir." "Do you know where she is?" It occurred to Al that Beth may have been reassigned, and the Army couldn't find her on their own and would not admit that to him. "Yes, sir. She's at Balboa." Al perceived the tightening of her jaw as she said that. "Stop `sir-ing' me, will ya? We're the same rank." "No, sir we are not. You were promoted to lieutenant commander. I personally handled the paperwork." "Oh." Al couldn't find anything worrisome about that. "They won't let me speak to my wife." "Yes, sir, I know." "Why not?" "Orders, sir." Al didn't like the answer or the tone, but he could tell she wouldn't say anything more. "Sir, they want to get you home to San Diego with all possible speed." She paused. "By Wednesday, next week. Commander Thomas left before she could recommend that you cooperate with your doctors." "Why the rush?" Al asked suspiciously. Not that he would argue the point. The sooner he could hold Beth again, the better. "It would be for the best if you went home as soon as possible, sir." "Well, you've got that right, lieutenant." She turned to leave. "Ah, Lt. Barnhill?" "Barnhilt, sir." "Sorry. Lt. Barnhilt, could you see about getting a bouquet of calla lilies for my wife?" For a second, Al swore she looked like she was on the verge of tears, but just for a second. "Of course, sir," she replied, her voice as strong and clear as before. He must have imagined it. "Thank you." After she left, Al settled back down on the pillow, trying to get comfortable. He thought over the things the lieutenant had said. It still bothered him that he could not contact his wife. *Some general must've come up with that one*, he thought. Al learned long ago that the truly idiotic commands and policies were made by those wearing stars on their shoulders. The fact that they were rushing him through gave him mixed feelings. The prospect of a short stay lessened his irritation about his wife, but it also seemed a little impersonal to him. *They must have more patients from Nam than they have doctors and rooms*, Al surmised. The sooner he was patched up enough for the next leg of the journey, the sooner they could free up another group of doctors. Let the doctors at Balboa or North Island finish the rest. Al hoped they'd send him to Balboa. Beth would be close by. She could stop in to see him on her breaks, and during lunch, well, he'd have to find away to secure the hospital room door from the inside, to prevent any of the staff from walking in on them. Maybe, after the doctors were finish with him, he could persuade Beth to go on a second honeymoon. Back to Niagra, or perhaps here, in Hawaii. APRIL 1973 BALBOA NAVAL HOSPITAL SAN DIEGO Adam entered Beth's room and quietly approached the still form. He sat and took hold of her hand, gently kissing it. It had become a ritual since he came to San Diego. He was by her side nearly around the clock, using his rank to bypass visiting hours. He left only to eat or sleep, and then Lt. Morgan volunteered to keep watch during those times. Another part of the ritual was keeping her `updated' about his granddaughters and Al. "I've heard from Lt. Barnhilt today, Beth," he said. "That's why I'm running late. Al flies out tomorrow." He caressed her hand. "He's coming home, Beth. Do you hear me? He's coming home. He can't see you like this, Beth. You have to wake up." He paused. "Whatever possessed you to go for that gun? Why didn't you just phone the police?" Adam asked her this nearly every day. Even after reading the police reports and the sworn statements, he could not comprehend how or why Beth chose to involve herself with that student. There was no response. There never was. It angered him. He wanted to get up and shake her, force her to respond. Adam regained his composure and continued to caress her hand. "Sandy and Georgie loved the Easter gifts you made them. They're getting so big," he continued, fondly. "Theresa, on the other hand, is getting too hard to control. And Francesca is no help." Francesca was George's wife, and she liked to forget that she was a married woman. Theresa spent most of the time with her, but when Francesca couldn't be bothered with the girl, she left her with Adam. The child was impossible. "You should have children, Beth. You'd be a wonderful mother," he said, momentarily forgetting that she was in a coma. "I would love more grandchildren." The one thing that Adam should be telling her, he couldn't bring himself to say. He leaned forward and touched his daughter's cheek. "You mean a great deal to me, Beth," he said, "more than anyone realizes. I couldn't bear the thought of losing you, any more than Al himself could. Please don't leave us." The only sounds in the room where the sounds of the life support systems. Adam would give everything he had, including his life, for her to wake up. "Please, Beth, don't leave us."