Chapter 17 Sam returned to his spot at the deli counter as Susan looked at him with concern. "Are you okay, Mr. Calavicci?" Sam smiled at her. "I thought I told you to call me Al." Susan shrugged. "Sorry. Habits." Sam ate some of his chicken salad sandwich and smiled. "This is really very good." She smiled at him. "Thanks." There was a moment of silence and Sam looked around the deli, noticing how quickly it had emptied of patrons. "Lunch hour rush," Susan explained, watching his gazing around. "Like a mini-tornado. It's here and gone but leaves its mark." Sam laughed slightly. "I suppose it does." He paused, a thoughtful look on his face. "May I ask you a question, Susan?" She leaned on her right elbow against the counter. "Sure." "Do you like Italian?" Al, who had remained quietly attentive until that point, looked at Sam with a mixture of surprise and anger. "You're asking her out on a date? After all I told you?" Susan laughed. "Are you picking me up, Al?" "And if I told you yes?" She looked at him softly. "I love Italian. What did you have in mind?" Sam returned the look. "Would you mind coming to my place for dinner? Say at about eight o'clock?" Al looked concerned. "Sam, are you sure you know what you're doing?" Susan seemed to be thinking about the proposition. "Okay, Al. Eight o'clock it is. Need me to bring anything?" "Only if you want wine with your dinner," he replied somberly. Susan blinked at the way he said that but said nothing. Al, on the other hand, winced slightly, knowing exactly what he meant. Sam stood up after a moment. "Thanks for the sandwich. What do I owe?" "Oh, don't worry about that," Susan assured. "I'll put it on your tab." Al took a breath, seeing Sam's reluctance. "Let her do it, Sam. Believe me, you don't have enough money right now anyway." Sam sighed mentally while giving Susan a smile. "Thanks." "Don't mention it. You said eight o'clock, right?" "Right," Sam answered with a nod. Susan smiled at him. "Well, then, I'll see you tonight." "Great," Sam replied genuinely before leaving the deli, Al following him. "Sam, I really wish you would tell me what you're planning," the latter complained, walking beside the scientist. Sam was quiet for a moment, apparently in thought. "Al, you said Ziggy says I'm here to make sure you and Susan marry. Right?" Al nodded. "Right." He didn't sound happy with the idea. Sam nodded. "So, discounting keeping you and Susan together, what else does Ziggy think I'm here to do?" Al frowned as he pulled the handlink out of his pocket. He pushed a few buttons, slapping the uncooperative device. A moment later, he gave a triumphant smile. "Ah-ha! I was right! You're here to make sure Angela gets psychiatric help. Sam looked at him. "And?" "And what?" Sam glared at him knowingly. "You won't accept it, will you?" "Accept what?" Al questioned, his voice devoid of confusion. "That I'm here to keep you and Susan together," Sam told him firmly as they approached Comdr. Calavicci's apartment. Al exhaled. "Sam, how many times are we going to go over this with a fine-toothed comb? Susan and I are not meant for each other." "Maybe not as a couple. But what about as friends?" Al frowned a bit at Sam's words. "Friends?" he questioned, not as if the concept was something unacceptable but rather as if it hadn't even occurred to him. Sam stopped at the apartment door and looked at him. "You love Susan but you're not in love with her. Correct? Didn't Verbina once tell you that love was a part of friendship?" Al looked at him with surprise. He couldn't understand how Sam remembered fleeting moments from other leaps but couldn't remember his own middle name. His face softened a moment later as he realized Sam had a point in his favor. "There's still a problem with all of this, though, Sam," he told him not to negate Sam's intentions but rather to inform him of the obstacles he faced. "And that is?" Sam asked as he entered the apartment. "When I look at her, I see Beth, not her. What's to keep the Commander from acting based on that fact when he comes back?" Al questioned pointedly as he walked through the now closed entrance. Sam sat in Al's lounge chair. "You'll probably have to talk to him about that." He looked at Al firmly. Al immediately noticed his choice of words. "Me?" "No one knows him better than you, Al. He is you. You are him. You're the only one who can convince him." "Convince him of what?" "That he has to let Beth go." Al exhaled, thinking about Sam's words. "It'll tear him apart." "What would hurt him worse? Realizing it now or when he and Susan break up?" Al exhaled again, quiet for a moment. "I'll talk to him." Sam saw the haunted look in his friend's eyes and immediately wanted to hold him. It was obvious that he was asking a lot from the Admiral. But he could also see that Al, on some deep down level, knew that Sam was right. Al would have to hurt himself to save his relationship with Susan. Sam nodded to his best friend with understanding, for which Al was grateful. The latter opened the Imaging Chamber door. "I'll see you later, Sam," he said quietly as he stepped into the future and closed the door. Sam nodded again, this time to himself. Then, with a deep breath, he headed for the kitchen to prepare the meal he had promised Susan.