Chapter 24

	Al waited, watching from the bedroom window as the gray 
pickup truck pulled out of the driveway.  When Sam flashed a 
glance up at the window, he gave him a quick thumbs up.  Then, 
as the truck disappeared down the street, he punched in a code.  
"They just left.  Keep me centered on Sam at all times, Gooshie."

	"Centering lock is set, Admiral," Gooshie's voice came 
over the handlink.  Intuition seemed to be running high.  "And 
don't worry.  I've triple checked, and only Sam can see and hear 

	"What about...later?"  Al's stomach twinged at that thought, 
but he dismissed it.

	"Everything," Gooshie emphasized again, "is ready whenever 
it's needed."

	As he was about to punch in the code to be centered on Sam, 
something crossed the Observer's mind.  "How's Perry doing?"

	"Verbena's been with him since you went into the Imaging 
Chamber," Gooshie replied.  "Ziggy says they're talking."

	"Good," was the only response Al allowed himself.  "Center 
me on Sam."  An instant later, the bedroom was empty.


	It hadn't surprised Sam too much when Margie's parents 
came out on the porch with her when he'd rung the bell.  *Some 
things never change* he thought, as he went through a ritual 
he hadn't `played out' since he was sixteen.  As Mr. Hennessey 
stepped forward, he suddenly recalled how Tom had helped him 
practice this ritual after the first time he'd gotten up the 
courage to ask Lisa Parsons out. 

	"Good evening, sir," Sam said confidently, extending his 
hand and meeting John Hennessey's eyes with a smile.  He saw 
the approval in Margie's father's eyes, felt it in the 
firm handshake.  "Good evening, ma'am," he said, turning to 
Margie's mother, keeping his grip light but firm. 

	"Hello, Perry," Mrs. Hennessey, a slightly taller and 
older version of her daughter, said with a warm smile.  "How 
are you this evening?"

	Sam, Margie, and her parents exchanged pleasantries for 
another minute or so.  Then, placing a hand under Margie's 
right elbow, he said lightly, "We don't want to be late for 
the first dance of the year," and turned toward the steps.

	"Have fun, you two," Mrs. Hennessey said, quickly kissing 
her daughter's cheek, then stepping back.

	"We will," Margie answered, smiling, her cheeks flushed 
almost as warm a pink as the slim, sleeveless polished cotton 
sheath she wore.  At the gentle pressure on her elbow, she 
turned to walk down the steps.  Glancing up, she flashed a 
warm smile up at her escort.

	"Remember, Margie," her father called after them. "Be 
home by eleven o'clock."

	"I'll have her home on time, sir," Sam said, pausing 
to look back at her father.

	The Observer had watched all this from where he stood 
by the driver's side of the truck.  But he had spent more 
time watching Howard than the little scene on the porch.  
He noted how Howard's lips thinned, then pressed together, 
hard, when Sam put his hand under Margie's elbow.  A glance 
at those hooded gray eyes told him that the first bubbles of 
suppressed anger had just broken the surface of Howard's temper. 
His countenance darkened almost to the same shade as Howard's, 
also in anger, but for a totally different reason.

	"Chill out!" he snapped even though he knew it was 
useless.  "He's your son!" he emphasized the word. "He's a 
teenage boy taking a teenage girl to a dance, not Jack the 
Ripper scoping his next victim!"  Glancing up, Al saw Sam and 
Margie almost at the truck.  Loosing his cool now....or any 
time during the next few hours...would only be a hindrance...
perhaps even a Sam.  Darting one last venomous 
glance at Howard, he yanked the reins in hard on his temper. 
Moving around the truck as Sam helped Margie in, Al warned, 
"Be careful.  He's already getting hot."  

	Sam darted a quick sidelong glance at Howard, then 
managed another in the Observer's direction. 

	Al read the question in Sam's eyes.  "I don't know 
why, but when you touched Margie, I could almost see his 
blood start to boil.  For damned sure he's having a hard 
time holding onto his temper."  The subtle nod Sam managed 
was response enough.

	The five minute ride to the school was silent.  Sam 
smiled encouragingly at Margie, and squeezed her fingers 
gently when she looked at him questioningly, unable to 
fathom the thick cloud of tension hanging over them.

	There were a number of students just arriving as 
Howard pulled up in front of the gymnasium several minutes 
later. Quickly, Sam got out of the truck and offered his 
hand to Margie to help her out.  Closing the door, he leaned 
down to look at Howard.

	"I'll be here at ten thirty to pick you up," Howard said 
tersely, his gaze boring into his `son's' eyes.  He didn't 
need to say anything else, the anger simmering in his gaze 
said it loudly enough.

	In spite of...or maybe because of...the pain now steadily 
building in his head, Sam voiced Howard's unspoken thought just 
loudly enough for the man to hear.  "Don't worry. You won't have 
to come and get me."  A part of him enjoyed the startled look on 
the other man's face.

	As the truck pulled away, Sam straightened and turned back 
to Margie.  He saw that they had been joined by Cathy Durwood, 
the redhead from chemistry class, and her date.  Almost as one, 
the two couples turned and went into the gymnasium.

	Brightly colored balloons on long strings were attached to 
every chair on either side of the large room.   Small clusters 
of balloons were fastened to the corners of the refreshment 
tables at the end of the gym across from the double doors where 
students were entering.  Long crepe paper streamers in the 
school's colors of blue and yellow dangled from the high ceiling, 
fluttering in the breeze from the air conditioning.  Along one 
wall was a broad banner bearing all the names of the juniors 
and seniors enrolled in Willandale for the new school year.  
Written above the names, in large blue and yellow letters was, 
"Welcome to the Willandale High School 'Junior-Senior Get 
Acquainted' Dance.  There are no strangers at Willandale High
...only new friends you haven't met yet."

	The music committee, two sophomore boys and the school 
music director, had the `music booth' set up in a corner 
opposite the refreshment tables.  They were laughing and 
joking as they selected records and made sure that the PA 
hook-up was working.  There were already several couples 
dancing to a tune that sounded familiar to Sam.

	As the two couples blended into the modest crowd of 
teen-agers, Sam thought, *Probably less than a hundred and 
fifty juniors and seniors combined.*  He and Cathy's date 
followed the girls to a section of seats along the wall 
opposite the gym's doors.

	"Could I have some punch?" Margie asked, looking up 
at Sam as she sat down.

	"Uh, sure." He glanced at Cathy. "Would you like 
some, too?"

	"Yes," she smiled coyly at him.

	From the corner of his eye, Sam saw the mischievous 
look light up the Observer's face, and shot a "don't even 
go there" look him.  He knew without hearing, that the 
saucy remark on the tip of Al's tongue would make him blush 
to his hairline.  Jack Wilson, Cathy's date, followed him to 
the refreshment table.  Al trailed along behind Jack.

	"Where'd you get the `courage pill'?" Jack asked, 
picking up a glass of Coke from the half-dozen or so filled 
glasses on the table and taking a swallow.

	"What do you mean?" Sam glanced at the tall thin boy 
with a shock of sandy blonde hair and bright blue eyes.

	"Cm'on, Perry," Jack said. "When school started almost 
three weeks ago, you practically stopped breathing every time 
Margie looked at you. Now you've brought her to the 'Get 
Acquainted Dance'." Cathy's date paused to take a longer drink 
of Coke.  "The way I figure it, you've found some magic 
`courage pill' and swallowed about six of `em to get you 
through this evening, or...."

	"Or?" Sam prompted.  He dropped one of the cups of 
punch when Jack finished his thought.

	"Or..." Jack paused, cocking his head to one side, 
looking Sam up and down.  "Or, you're not Perry Kirkwood.  
Hey!" he said, sidestepping a slosh of punch that splattered 
on the floor in front of him. "Lighten up.  I was just kidding."

	"If you only knew," Al said, grinning as he watched Sam 
mop up the spill with paper napkins.  He ignored the dirty 
look his friend shot him as he disposed of the used napkins, 
got another cup of punch, and returned to the girls.

	The first half hour or so of the dance followed the 
basic pattern that many school dances followed. Talking, 
laughing, eating, and as much dancing, especially the slow 
numbers, as the girls could convince their dates or any 
unattached boy into.

	For the most part, Sam enjoyed himself.  He tried a 
few of the more energetic dances, enduring Margie's and 
Cathy's gentle teasing at his attempts with good humor.  
But when the lights were dimmed ever so slightly as the 
first romantic notes of "Return To Me" filled the gym, he 
was the first `boy' in the room to stand and offer his 
hand to his date.

	"May I have this dance?" Sam asked, not realizing 
the appreciative look in his own eyes as he met Margie's 
warm brown gaze.

	Margie felt her cheeks flush as she smiled up at 
'Perry'. "Yes, you may."  Putting her hand in his, she 
stood up and let him lead her to the center of the dance 

	Giving himself to the mood of the music, Sam drew 
Margie into his arms, and as if the most natural thing 
in the world, she laid her head on his shoulder.  Folding 
her hand against his heart, he surrendered to the romance 
of the music.  For a few minutes the couple moved to the 
slow, romantic tempo of the ballad as if they were the only 
two people in the room.

	Standing to one side, Al smiled broadly as he watched 
the `kid'. "Atta boy, Sammy," he said softly. "Enjoy."

	But by the time the last gentle notes faded and the 
lights came up, things were starting to change.  When she 
stepped back, Margie saw a familiar sight as she got a look 
at `Perry's' face, now almost chalky white.

	"Perry," she said, putting a hand on his arm, concerned.  
"Are you getting one of your headaches?"

	All Sam could do was nod slightly. "I'll be okay," he 
whispered.  "I just need to sit down." Sam's head was hurting 
too badly for him to be embarrassed when she, and then Cathy, 
each slipped an arm around his waist and walked him to a chair.

	Even as he obediently sipped at a glass of water pressed 
into his hand, Sam set his mind to another equation, and the 
pain eased.  But not much.  Glancing to one side he saw the 
Observer a couple of feet away, his piercing gaze fixed on him.  
He managed a slight nod when Al said one word.  "Bathroom."

	Getting to his feet, Sam said, "I...think if I splash 
some cold water on  my face, I'll feel better."

	In her concern for Perry, Margie had sent Cathy to get 
one of the male chaperones.  He and Margie walked Sam out of 
the gym, as unobtrusively as possible.  At the restroom door, 
he convinced them that he could manage on his own, and entered 
alone.  Al was waiting for him.

	"You okay?" Al asked.

	"The intense focus isn't...working," Sam gasped, gripping 
the edge of a sink to keep from dropping to his knees as another 
sharp stab of pain tore through his temples.  When the pain 
eased and he could straighten up some, he met the Observer's 
dark eyes. "Don't worry, Al," he said. "I'll be okay."  He had 
just enough time to see the understanding in Al's eyes before 
everything went black.

	As soon as the words, "Don't worry" crossed Sam's lips, 
Al punched in a code on the handlink, then hesitated, his finger 
poised over the last button in the sequence. Only when he read 
Sam's eyes did he press the last button.


	Shaking his head a bit, Aaron opened his eyes and 
straightened to Sam's full height.  Checking himself in a 
mirror, he adjusted the jacket and tie. His lip curled 
derisively as he studied his reflection.

	"I'm never gonna wear anything like this again," he 
muttered.   Then he leaned across the sink, his face within 
an inch or so of the mirror and stared into the hazel eyes 
looking back at him.  "Come on, Sam," he mocked. "Let's get 
back to the party."


	"Perry," Margie hurried to him as he came out of the 
bathroom, then hesitated when he smiled at her.  She didn't 
know exactly what it was, but just by the look in his eyes, 
she knew something was different. "Are you feeling better?"

	Not wanting to tip his hand, especially with the 
chaperone standing there watching, Aaron smoothly assumed 
Perry's mannerisms.

	"Much better," he assured her. "In fact, I've got a 
hunch that was the last headache I'll have like that for a 
long, long time."  He slipped an arm around her waist.  
They entered the gym just as another romantic song was 
starting.  He turned to her, and smiled his most seductive 
smile.  "Let's dance."

	Margie couldn't understand it.  Couldn't understand 
how in the space of a few minutes she could go from not 
wanting to ever leave Perry's arms to feeling soiled by 
just the thought of him touching her.  "I think I'll sit this 
one out," she said.

	Aaron played `Perry' to the hilt.  "Oh, okay.  You don't 
mind if I ask one of the other girls to dance, do you?" he 
asked with just the right amount of shy uncertainty in his 

	"No," Margie shook her head.  She watched her date 
saunter over to a small cluster of girls a few feet away. 
 Almost immediately she saw him slip an arm around Patsy 
Klingman's waist and lead her amongst the other couples. 
She shivered, watching them, and then went to sit with Cathy.

	A few minutes later the song ended and Aaron returned 
Patsy to her girlfriends, leaving her with a knowing wink, 
then went in search of Margie.  He spotted her standing near 
one of the refreshment tables with a chunky redhead and a tall, 
skinny kid, all three talking and eating chocolate cake.

	*You're a much tastier morsel than that cake, baby* 
Aaron allowed the lascivious observation to slither through 
his thoughts as he walked up to them.  *And before this night 
is over, I intend to enjoy a sample.*

	"There you are," he exclaimed with a smile, deliberately 
standing very close to her.

	"You feel better now, Perry?" Jack asked, wolfing down 
a large bite of cake.

	"Yeah, sure," Aaron spared a brief glance in the other 
boy's direction.

	"That's great," Cathy said, unabashedly licking a spot 
of dark frosting from one finger. "But Mr. Weathersby decided, 
'just to be on the safe side'," she imitated a man's slightly 
nasal voice, "he should call your father to come get you."  
She popped another bite of cake in her mouth. "He should be 
here any minute."

	Aaron swore and screamed inside, even as he nodded 
understandingly at the ditzy redhead.  "Thanks for telling 
me."  He cast an eye at the bit of cake left on Margie's 
plate, then inclined his head to catch a whiff of the aroma. 
"Mmmm! That smells great!  Is it good?" he asked as she took 
another dainty bite.

	"Yes, it is," Margie said, swallowing the bite of cake.  
"Amy's mom makes the best fudge cake I've ever tasted."

	Aaron fixed her with a winning smile.  "May I have a 

	Wordlessly she nodded and lifted the last morsel on her 
fork, hesitating a moment before offering it to him.

	With the swiftness of a swooping hawk, Aaron grabbed 
Margie by the waist, pulled her against him and kissed her 
hard. *Get outta this, Sam* Aaron laughed raucously as he 
deliberately retreated into the blackness, forcing Sam out.

	He tasted chocolate...and something else.  As the 
blackness faded from his mind and his eyes focused, Sam felt 
the crimson heat flood his face as he realized that it was 
a girl's lips he was tasting.  Realizing where his hands were, 
he jerked them away, just as two heavy hands grabbed him by 
the shoulders and pulled him away from the girl.  Margie.  
For an instant all he could do was just stand, feeling the 
heat in his face double as he looked into Margie's startled 
eyes as she, too just stood there, too shocked to react.

	Fred Weathersby, the chaperone that had helped `Perry' 
to the restroom, had lingered nearby when he had returned 
to the dance, still a bit pale.  But when he saw the young 
man grab Margie Hennessey, he reacted instantly, grabbing 
the boy and forcing him away from her.  Not wanting to cause 
a scene if it could be avoided, he backed Sam several feet 
away from the startled girl.

	"I think you'd better leave now Perry," he said, 
keeping his voice low but sharp.  He glanced again at Margie, 
then back at the red faced boy in his grasp. Dropping his 
voice lower, he said, "It's a good thing it wasn't my daughter 
you grabbed."

	Sam started to apologize, but felt the pain begin again, 
even sharper than before.  Desperately he reached out a hand 
to Margie, only to have it slapped away by Fred Weathersby.

	"Keep your hands to yourself," the chaperone said, 
"and" His gaze and attitude was unrelenting.  
He waited another few seconds then said softly so only `Perry' 
could hear, "Don't make me call your father.  Or the police."

	Sam looked to Margie again.  "Margie, I am so sorry," 
he pleaded. "Please forgive me.  I..I don't know what came 
over me."  It was a lie. He knew all too well what had come 
over him.   "Please forgive me," he begged.

	Margie Hennessey's thoughts were in a whirl.  She hadn't 
moved an inch since the chaperone had grabbed `Perry' and 
pushed him away.  She watched Mr. Weathersby talking to Perry. 
She didn't really hear whatever it was Cathy was rattling on 
about as she put an arm around her shoulders. *She's so 
excitable.* The only thing she knew for sure was that in 
spite of his obvious embarrassment and whatever the chaperone 
was saying to him, she still trusted Perry.  Stepping out of 
her friend's comforting embrace, she walked over to `Perry' 
and Mr. Weathersby.

	"Margie," Fred Weathersby was surprised to see her so 
close. "I don't think..."

	"It's all right, Mr. Weathersby," she said calmly.  
"Perry didn't hurt me."

	"But he grabbed you!" the man insisted, still striving 
to keep his voice at a reasonable level.

	In spite of the tension hanging over them and the 
chaperone's steely grip on his arm, Sam kept his eyes on 
the slender girl studying his face. "Margie," he apologized, 
"I am so very, very sorry.  Please believe me.  It was the 

	"I believe you," she said, absolute trust in her voice. 
"It must really be a bad one."

	"It is," he said. "It's like I...blacked out." Sam 
hesitated. " know that I would never ever hurt you."

	When Margie reached her hand up to cup his cheek, Sam 
felt a spark of hope.  Gently  he pressed his cheek against 
her hand, his eyes locked with hers.  But his heart skipped 
a beat when she removed her hand and turned to face Fred 
	"Perry didn't hurt me," she said in a low, clear voice. 
"Yes, he grabbed me and kissed me, but that's all he did."  She 
glanced up at Sam. "I know Perry well enough," she said, "to know 
that he wouldn't do something like that deliberately."  She turned 
back to the waiting man.

	"He gets awful headaches," she explained. "I've been 
around Perry often enough when he's got one of his headaches 
to know how badly he hurts when he has them." Her gaze nor 
her composure wavered. "I think tonight the pain was so 
intense that he simply reacted to it in a very unexpected way."

	Fred Weathersby didn't say anything for a moment.  
Finally, glancing at the silent boy still firmly in his grasp, 
he said quietly,  "Are you sure you don't want me to call 
your father to come get you, Margie?"

	"I'm sure," she said confidently.  "And, Cathy," she 
glanced around for her friend,  "will vouch for me when I 
tell my folks.  She was standing beside me when it happened."

	"That's right," Cathy affirmed as she stepped up beside 
her friend. "I was."
	"I saw it, too," Jack Wilson spoke up as he moved to 
stand beside Cathy.  "We both saw what happened, Mr. Weathersby. 
Perry didn't hurt, Margie.  He just kissed her."

	It was another couple of minutes before Fred Weathersby 
released Sam.  Letting his gaze go from Margie to `Perry' 
he said quietly, "I advise you both to go straight home." 
He turned his gaze fully on Margie.  "And I will be calling 
your parents tonight to let them know what happened."

	"I'm going to tell them, too," Margie assured him calmly.  
"Because nothing but an unexpected kiss happened."  She glanced 
at her watch and turned to Sam.  "It's almost ten thirty, Perry.  
Maybe we should wait for your father outside."


	Through it all, Al, now a silent and invisible Observer, 
even and especially to Sam, had watched the scene unfold, 
drawing on his military discipline to keep his mind focused, 
putting his private observations aside to consider later. As 
he listened to the exchange, he punched a couple of questions 
into the handlink.   When Sam and Margie left the gym, followed 
closely by Cathy and Jack Al brought of the rear of the little 

	In the sultry warmth of the August night, Al strolled 
near the couples while they waited for their rides.  He only 
half listened to the idle chatter between Cathy and Jack; 
his main focus was on Sam and Margie.

	They sat together quietly on one of the cement benches 
several feet to one side of the gymnasium doors.  He hadn't 
been close enough to hear what  Margie whispered to Sam as 
they sat down.  But when he saw Sam shift his position slightly 
and lay his head on her shoulder, his eyes squeezed shut, his 
lips a thin white line, Al knew how badly his friend was hurting.  
For a moment he allowed his emotions to get loose as he mentally 
shook his fist under the nose of GTFW. 

	*He's done so much.  Suffered so much all these years, 
doing your thankless dirty work, putting right whatever it is 
you wanted put right.  What more do you want from him?*

	Realizing that it was neither the time or place for his 
emotions, Al allowed discipline to get his mind and thoughts 
back on track.

	It was exactly ten thirty when the Observer saw the gray 
pickup truck turn in the school driveway and head for the gym.  
There was a dark blue Chevy behind it.

	Pulling up in front of the gym, Howard saw his son sitting 
with his head on Margie Hennessey's shoulder. Not realizing what 
he was doing, Howard prayed that nothing had happened.

	For nearly ten minutes, Margie had sat quietly beside 
Perry. One hand held his while she gently stroked the fingers 
of her other hand across his forehead. When she heard the sound 
of a vehicle approaching, Margie glanced up and saw the pickup.

	"Your father's here," she said softly, listening to Perry's 
moan of pain at having to move.  She slid an arm around his waist 
as they stood up, steadying him.  By the time the truck came to 
a halt at the curb, she and Sam were waiting there.  

	Sam was sure his knees were going to give out as he leaned 
against Margie, wincing when Howard got out of the truck and 
slammed his door.  But, by the time Perry's father got around the 
truck to him, Jack had hurried over to open the door for him, 
then helped him inside.  Very carefully he leaned his head back 
and closed his eyes as Margie slid onto the seat beside him and 
closed the door.

	Jack bent down and looked in.  "You gonna be okay, Perry?" 
he asked, concern in his voice as he watched his friend's pain 
drawn face. 

	Sam opened his eyes and glanced at Jack, managing a 
slight nod. "I'll be fine," he whispered. "Thanks." 

	Seeing Howard hurrying around to get in the driver's side, 
Sam knew he only had a few seconds.  He glanced at Margie, 
hesitated then took her hand in his.

	"I'm sorry..." he whispered, looking into her eyes.

	"Shh," Margie whispered softly as she laid a finger on 
his lips.  "You don't have anything to apologize for," she 
reproved gently.  In spite of his pain, she could still see 
determination in the blue-gray eyes watching her.  A slightly 
mischievous grin touched her lips as she leaned closer to 
whisper in his ear, "So our second kiss was more public and 
unexpected than I would've liked." She paused then whispered, 
"I still liked it."  Drawing back, the wan smile turning up 
the corners of 'Perry's' lips told her he understood. 

	Even the slightest movement aggravated the steadily 
intensifying pain in Sam's head.  But that didn't stop him as 
he leaned close to whisper in her ear. When she drew back and 
nodded her understanding, he let go of her hand and closed 
his eyes.  He winced again at the sound of the door slamming 
as Howard got in beside him and started the engine.

	The silent ride to Margie's house was accomplished 
in less than ten minutes.  After she got out and closed the 
door, Sam slid over by the window and reached a hand out to 

	"Remember," he whispered urgently as she moved closer 
to take his hand.

	From the corner of her eye she thought she saw a frown 
darken Mr. Kirkwood's face.  She didn't care.  "Fifteen minutes," 
she responded softly, leaning close to whisper in 'Perry's' ear.

	Sam gasped and squeezed his eyes shut momentarily as 
an especially harsh pain stabbed through his temples.  "And
...don't be...afraid."

	Margie gave a small nod and squeezed his fingers.  "I 
won't,' she promised, then quickly leaned in and kissed Sam's 
cheek.  "I'll be there," she whispered against his ear, then 
stepped back as Howard shifted into drive and backed out of 
the Hennesseys' driveway.

	She stood watching as the pickup turned left at the 
corner and disappeared.  For a couple of minutes Margie 
stood quietly, listening to the sounds of crickets and 
cicadas chirping in the warm late summer night.  Then she 
heard the squeaky hinge on the front door creak as it was 

	"Right on time," her mother said.  "Where's Perry?"

	Margie didn't turn around. "He got a really bad headache 
at the dance," she said.  "He and his dad just dropped me off."

	There was quiet between mother and daughter for a few 
seconds. Then, "We have company," Ruth Hennessey said quietly. 

	At that Margie turned to look at her mother, then hurried 
inside.  The squeaky hinge creaked again as the door was shut.


	By the time Howard turned into his driveway, `Perry' was 
sitting more or less upright but his eyes were still closed.  
Getting out to go around to help him, he closed the truck door 
rather hard, then heard the gasp. Glancing inside, Howard watched 
his son grab his head,  pressing the heels of his hands hard 
against his temples.  Dismissing the flicker of guilt that 
flitted through his mind, he went around and opened the passenger 
side door.

	"Here, let me help you," he said as Sam carefully put 
first one then the other foot on the ground.  Sliding an arm 
around his waist, Howard slowly walked him up the front steps 
and into the house.  It took another couple of minutes for 
them to get upstairs.

	Gratefully Sam sank down on the side of the bed, enjoying 
the coolness and near darkness of the room.  He winced when 
Howard turned on the small bedside lamp, but didn't say anything.

	"Can you undress or do you need help?" Howard asked. 

	"I can manage," Sam said, pain coloring his every word.  
Leaning forward he propped his elbows on his knees and then 
dropped his face into his hands.

	"How about if get you something to drink," Howard said.  
"Some milk, maybe?" He hesitated then added, almost as an 
afterthought, "How about some hot chocolate?" Unexpectedly, 
a brief smile crossed his lips as a memory gentled his 
thoughts for an instant. "When you were little you loved 
having hot chocolate at bedtime."

	For a single moment, the pain in Sam's head eased enough 
for the question to come through in all its implications.  
"Sounds good, dad," he answered wearily.

	"Get into your pajamas and I'll be back up in a few 
minutes," Howard said.  He turned toward the door, then 
stopped and went to stand in front of Sam.

	When he felt a hand on his shoulder, Sam looked up at 
Perry's father.  The look in his eyes was the closest thing 
to caring or understanding he'd seen in the man since his 
leap in.

	Never had Howard hated himself more than at that moment 
as he spoke the cruelest lie of his life.   "It will help you 
sleep," he said gently.  "You'll feel better in the morning."

	Sam looked into Howard's eyes, knowing he was lying.  
Still he managed a tired smile.  "That's probably all I need. 
A good night's sleep."  Watching the big man turn and step 
into the hall, Sam felt his gut instincts kick in.  "Dad?" 
he said, waiting till the other man met his eyes.


	"I love you," Sam said quietly.  He watched Howard walk 

	Untying his shoes, Sam kicked them off.  Getting slowly 
to his feet, he shrugged out of his jacket and draped it across 
the chair by the desk.  The rest of his clothes landed on the 
floor.  He had just pulled on the pajama pants....


	When he was denied the opportunity of gloating over his 
host's embarrassment and humiliation after his brief emergence 
at the dance, Aaron's anger had blown up into full fledged fury.

	In the past hour he had raged and pushed and clawed, 
determined to come out.  Little by little, he began to recognize 
that his most resistant prey's strength was beginning to 
disintegrate like so much sand in a high surf.  

	Suddenly he found a gap in the resistance.  His fury 
became a black rage that ripped the small opening wider, 
and he hurled himself headlong into transition.


	Standing just a few feet away and watching Sam's suffering 
increase as Aaron prepared to emerge stirred the Observer's 
emotions to fever pitch.  Only the discipline of a lifetime 
helped him to push his personal feelings aside and wait for 
the signal.  He wasn't sure what it would be; it didn't matter. 
Al knew he would recognize it when it was given.  When he heard 
Sam speak a moment later, he knew.


	Sam gasped as the white-hot pain ripped through his skull.
Grabbing the edge of the dresser to keep from falling, he sagged 
against it, then dropped to his knees. Pressing the heels of 
his hands against his temples, his eyes squeezed shut, he did 
the only thing left to him to do.

	"Please..." he begged, tears of agony beginning to run 
down his face. "Please, stop.  I can't stand this anymore!"


	"Here we go," was all the Observer muttered as he entered 
a code on the handlink.  

	It was a very minute change.  But the change involved 
tweaking a few of the neurons and mesons he had received from 
Sam several years past.  It also caused a few seconds of slight 

	"Hurry up, Gooshie!" Al snapped, "or I'm gonna blow chunks 
all over this place!"

	Then, just as he felt his system resume `normal mode', 
Sam cried out for him.

	"Oh, God....Al!" Sam sobbed.  "Where are you?"

	Al hurried to his friend and there in the Imaging Chamber, 
knelt down in front of him.  At that instant, he knew that if 
he could have wished it into being so, he would have exchanged 
places with Sam in a heartbeat.  But it wasn't about to happen, 
so he used the skills he had.

	"I'm right here in front of you, Sam," he said.  "Open 
your eyes and look at me."

	Once again, Sam reached out through the pain, found the 
familiar sound of Al's voice, trusted it, and opened his eyes.  
Ignoring the steadily intensifying pain when the soft light 
from the bedside lamp touched his eyes, he focused as best he 
could on the Observer's face.

	"Al!"  It was a sob of agony and relief falling from 
Sam's lips as he looked once more into the dark eyes of the 
Observer.  "I can't take it anymore, Al," he gasped the words.

	"Fight him, Sam," Al ordered sharply.  "You have to fight 
him with everything you've got!"

	" him," Sam said, his speech short and 

	"Then you've gotta dig deeper and fight harder," Al used 
his "admiral's voice" as Sam had once deemed it.

	"I have been fighting, dammit!" Sam swore angrily as his 
pain doubled.  "But it's like a blind man trying to box. I 
know someone's there, I can feel the punches. But I can't see 
to hit back." 

	But no matter what he was suffering, Sam Beckett's 
ingrained sense of fairness wouldn't let him stay angry at 
his best friend. "I'm sorry," he whispered, tears cascading 
down his cheeks as he looked into Al's eyes. "It...just...
hurts so bad."


	Howard was halfway up the stairs with the cup of hot 
chocolate when he heard the soft thud followed by sobs of 
pain.  He took the rest of the steps three at a time and was 
at Perry's bedroom door in four strides.  Flinging the door 
open, he saw Perry on his knees, weeping, his hands on his 
head...and talking to thin air.

	Setting the cup on the bedside table he went to his 
son and without a word bent down and helped him to stand.

	"Come on," he said, half walking, half carrying the 
tormented boy to the bed.  Easing `Perry' down on the side 
of the bed, Howard sat down beside him, keeping his arm 
around his son's shoulders.

	"It hurts!" `Perry' wept, pressing ever harder on 
his temples. "Make it stop!" he begged, looking at his 
father.  "Please make it stop hurting."

	At those pleading words from his only child, Howard's 
throat constricted so tightly he almost couldn't breathe.  
But his hand was steady as he picked up the cup of lukewarm 

	"Here," he said quietly, putting the cup to his ‘son's' 
lips. "Drink some of this.  It will help you sleep...and make 
the pain stop."


	Al followed Howard and Sam to the bed, standing in front 
of them so he was directly in Sam's line of sight.  At Howard's 
quietly spoken assurance, he felt a knot twist in his belly.  
When he spoke, he saw Sam hesitate before drinking from the cup.

	"Are you sure you this will work, Sam?"  When his friend 
glanced up at him and nodded, Al acknowledged him with a nod. 
Then, as Sam took the first swallow, he punched in the special 
code on the handlink, once more becoming a silent and invisible 


	Sam took a couple of swallows of the tepid chocolate 
before finally turning away from the cup.  He noted that the 
pain had eased a bit.  He had a feeling it was just the lull 
before the storm.

	"You want some more?" Howard asked, glancing in the cup.

	"No, thank you," Sam whispered, wiping his mouth with 
the back of his hand. "I've had enough." He looked at Howard.  
"Maybe if I lay down"

	Howard nodded and got up.  He watched his son lay down 
on his right side, placing his head very carefully on the pillow.  
He noted how Perry drew his knees up, his arms against his chest 
with his hands folded under his chin.  *Just like when he was 
little.* he thought. 

	*And terrified* came the unbidden thought.

	Brushing that thought aside, Howard set the cup down and 
turned to draw the sheet up to Perry's shoulder.  Knowing how 
sensitive his son's skin was during a headache, he draped the 
sheet over him gently.  He noted the drying tear stains on 
Perry's face.  The tears had stopped, but he knew they would 
flow again when the headache resumed.  The bad headaches, like 
this one, always did.  They were never over with quickly.

	Howard dared to brush the damp hair off Perry's forehead.  
When the boy looked up at him he said softly, "Close your eyes.  
You'll be asleep before you know it."

	"Okay," Sam said, and obeyed.  Through his lashes, the 
time traveler watched Howard as he left the room, drawing the 
door closed with care.

	In the quiet of the low lit room, Sam glanced around. 
Trying not to think of the shadows, he took a deep breath, 
closed his eyes and relaxed.

	Then, between one heartbeat and the next he was snatched 
into hell.