Chapter 25 Once into the swirling vortex of transition, Aaron sensed his adversary's steadily crumbling control, and gave 'voice' to his fury. *You shouldn't have done that, Sam!* he screamed. *You shouldn't have denied me!* Like the ravening wolf he'd been likened to, Aaron prowled the shadowy corridors of a frightened man's mind, searching out his quarry. *I destroyed all those sniveling little brats for just getting in my way. But you're dangerous. You're stronger than they were. Even stronger than that aggravating bitch, Evalyn. I'm gonna destroy you!* he 'shrieked'. *And I'm gonna enjoy doing it!* Turning into yet another narrow corridor of Sam's mind, Aaron prowled it's length, poking and kicking into the shadows of discarded thoughts and ideas. Relentless as a snake on the scent trail of it's prey, he continued his search. He would find this one. He had found all of the others, and had enjoyed their screams as he had enveloped them, smothering them with his rage. He had enjoyed destroying them, and he was going to enjoy destroying this one. Then he paused.... sniffed ...and a smile as bleak as an Arctic winter thinned his lips. Drawing in a deep breath of the stench of fear emanating from his adversary, Aaron plunged forward. *You tired of hurtin', Sam?" he screamed as he unerringly continued to follow the smell of fear. Drawing ever closer to its source, he felt his rage grow. ------------------------------- Sam had been in many fights since that first leap. Always the fight was against his will, and it was always to defend those unable to defend themselves. And he had rarely a second thought for his own safety each of those times. But now all the brilliance he had been blessed with couldn't keep Samuel Beckett from trembling all over as he waited. Waited like a rabbit for the hounds to swarm over him and rip him to shreds. Then suddenly the ugliest part of Perry Kirkwood's inborn determination to survive at all costs swarmed into the narrow corridor where he waited and boiled straight at him. The massive, almost venomous hatred all over and around him seemed to 'soak' into his being, and Sam struggled to breathe as he 'grappled' with Aaron. For a moment it seemed he was winning. Then the white-hot pain tore through his mind again and he fell. And as he fell, Sam felt Aaron press in with every bit of strength his rage afforded him. In that instant Sam felt his strength leave him and he surrendered to the terror. **AL!** he screamed wildly. **AL...HELP ME!* *Say goodbye, Sam!* Aaron shrieked into the maelstrom of the blackest rage that had ever driven him. Then, in the midst of the mindless terror intent on destroying him, Sam felt a sudden calm surround him. It sheltered him from the flying debris of unbridled rage, and like a child he clung to it. Then a new yet familiar voice spoke. ***Be calm, Sam*** Philip said. ***You are safe, but you must not speak. You must shield your thoughts and be silent until it is time.*** Sam obeyed. ----------------------------------- Standing only three feet away from the bed, Al had watched, a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, when Sam's body suddenly began thrashing violently on the bed. "He's in transition," he said sharply into the handlink. He opened his mouth to speak again, but stopped to swallow to moisten his dry throat. "Get ready. He could disappear any second." The words were barely out of his mouth... "He's gone!" Gooshie's frantic shout surged through the handlink. "Can the hysterics, Mr. Gushmann!" Al barked sharply. "We don't have time for 'em! Either get a handle on 'em or get outta the control room." Giving the chief programmer a few seconds to gather his momentarily scattered wits, Al punched a question into the handlink: 'Ziggy, exactly what part of Sam have we lost contact with?' The hybrid computer with an ego the size of a small galaxy responded instantaneously. 'We have temporarily lost contact with that part of Doctor Beckett's brain that controls conscious thought processes. Also that area that has been postulated to be the seat of emotions.' The Observer punched in another question: 'What about the connection through our shared mesons and neurons?' Ziggy responded: 'As long as Doctor Beckett's body remains alive, and barring any severe trauma to his cranium that might alter the internal pattern of the mesons and neurons, or..." "In twenty-five words or less!" Al snapped. Ziggy complied: 'As long as Doctor Beckett is alive, we can make full holographic contact.' There was a pause then two words appeared on the handlink's tiny screen. 'Thirteen words.' Off the top of his head the Observer could think of at least a half dozen ways he'd like to rip the haughty hybrid computer apart once Sam was safely retrieved. For the present he simply muttered an obscenity under his breath, and punched in another question. 'What about his life function readouts?' Ziggy's response was clinically correct: 'Doctor Beckett's body continues to function.' "Let's hope we can get the essence of the man back into that body," Al muttered softly. A sudden cessation of movement from the body on the bed grabbed Al's attention. "Gooshie?" Al demanded softly. "Here, Admiral," Gooshie said. "Sir....." Al knew he was about to try and apologize. But there wasn't time for that now. "Save it!" he said sharply. "I think Aaron's about to come out. Get ready for another switch." "Ready, admiral," Gooshie replied. -------------------------------- As his rage melted away, Aaron searched through the last vestiges of it, but found nothing, not so much as a particle of his strongest adversary remained. And he laughed. The sound of his cruel, triumphant laughter filled the darkness, the raucous sound echoing in the once active corridors of Samuel Beckett's mind. But the once stellar brilliance that had brought John Beckett's son to this moment had vanished. Aaron spent a few seconds gloating in his captured domain, but his restlessness for release wouldn't be denied any longer. He sniffed one last time....detected nothing.....and surged upward, seizing consciousness and freedom. As he rose up and claimed consciousness, Aaron lay still a few moments, orienting himself in his new body. Letting his eyes adjust to the low light in the room, he glanced idly around. Noticing the cup on the bedside table, he rolled over and picked it up and sniffed. "Um," he smiled, "chocolate," and drained the half cup of cold sweet liquid in a single gulp. He shuddered, wrinkling his nose at the taste. "Needs more sugar," he muttered, setting the cup down. Getting up, he flicked on the overhead light, then went to the closet and opened the door and assumed a pose in front of the full length mirror attached to the door. "Thanks for the body, Sam," he said aloud as he studied his reflection. "It's a great body," he said, "but there just wasn't room enough for both us." -------------------------------- Watching Sam's body moving around the small bedroom, knowing that the essence that was the true Samuel Beckett wasn't controlling it, caused a faint taste of bile to rise up in the Observer's throat. He swallowed, pushing the acrid taste down. He listened and watched without comment or private thought to Aaron's gloating. When he heard the last comment, Al knew it was time. He punched in a code on the handlink. "This is it, Gooshie. Time for some hand-to-hand combat. Switch." As he waited the few seconds for the shift to take place, Al never took his eyes off Aaron. "Let's see how you handle someone your own size," he muttered. So intent was Al's attention on Aaron that he didn't notice when the shift was complete until Gooshie's voice came over the handlink, advising him of it. Moving to stand behind Sam's body as Aaron continued to posture before the mirror, Al deliberately took a moment to light a cigar. He took a long slow puff of the fragrant Chivello before speaking. "The ride's not over, Aaron," he said darkly, a part of him enjoying seeing the startled personality jump in reaction to his sudden appearance. "In fact, it's just beginning." In an attempt to cover being caught off guard, Aaron swaggered toward the Observer. "Where the hell did you come from?" he demanded loudly. When the man dressed totally in black didn't reply, he felt his temper start to rise again. "If you're looking for the good doctor...Al," he sneered, "you're a little late." "Where is he?" Al asked, his tone not giving away anything. "Gone." "Gone where?" Al couldn't help the cold shiver that ran down his back when a malevolent gleam lit Sam's usually bright hazel eyes. He took another puff on the cigar, never breaking eye contact. Aaron's anger was steadily building again. He didn't like answering questions from authority figures or someone with an attitude; "authority" and "attitude" were written all over this guy. Strike one. He also didn't like others sneaking up on him, and this guy was too damned good at it. Strike two. But mostly what he didn't like was the fact that Al was cool, not easily rattled. Strike three. "As in for good.....Al!," he spat the words angrily. When Al didn't react, he spelled it out with cruel bluntness. "I destroyed him. Doctor Beckett no longer exists." He glanced down at himself then turned a cold smile on the man watching him. "Of course, his body's here....only it's not his any more. It's mine." He cracked up with harsh laughter. "And there ain't a damned thing you can do about it." "It won't work, Aaron," Al said, his tone becoming as cold, if not colder than that of the personality. "You're a part of Perry, not Doctor Beckett, and genetics is something you can't control." Aaron mistook Al's attitude, honed by years of experience, as arrogant bluster. Getting within an arm's reach of him, he smirked, "Oh, but I can...Al. In fact," he said, turning so he could admire himself in the mirror again, "I think it'll work out better this way. Sam's body's in much better condition than Perry." The Observer's outer demeanor remained unchanged, But inside, the hunter focused on his objective with an intensity he'd never felt before. *Come on, you bastard* Al thought. *Just a little closer...* "But that's just it," he pointed out calmly, not letting his Italian temper slip the stranglehold he had on it. Losing control now, would, most likely, doom Sam. "Without Samuel Beckett's mind, his body is just a shell. You don't have the slightest notion of how to keep it in this condition." "No problem," Aaron continued to smirk at Al, folding his arms across his chest. "I'll just use Dr. Beckett's memories as a guide." The Observer's smile was coldly calculating as Aaron unknowingly walked into the trap. "You can't." "What makes you so damned sure?" Aaron demanded in a particularly ugly tone of voice. "You've already admitted that you've destroyed Doctor Beckett," he said, his tone taking on the attitude of one who has just assumed control of a situation. "You have nothing to draw from." Now it was his turn to take a step toward the punk. "When you destroyed Sam Beckett, you destroyed his memories." Al took another long, slow pull on the Chivello and blew the smoke in Aaron's face. "And now you don't have any access to Perry either." He liked the way the punk's face went white, startled confusion written all over it. "What do you mean?" he shouted angrily. Al was enjoying turning every vindictive attitude back on Aaron. "Just what I said. Perry's in a place you can't ever reach him." "Howard...." "Not even Howard can get to him," Al cut him off mercilessly. He watched Aaron's cockiness begin to crumble. *How's it feel, you no good bastard!* he thought. *How do you like feeling the ground disintegrating under your feet?* He took another step, closing the gap between him and Aaron. When he spoke again, his voice was still, but now with an element of command. "How do you think the people in this town are going to react when Perry does a complete turn around? When he starts doing things that are the total opposite his normal behavior?" "They'll think he's finally woke up and started to enjoy life," Aaron shouted, grudgingly taking a step back as Al crowded him. But again, Al's words jerked him up short. Al advanced another couple of steps. "Or gone crazy. And they'll put Perry...you in the Colver County State Hospital for the rest of Sam Beckett's life." "Well...then, I'll just make Perry appear to change so slowly nobody'll notice." Al's voice was pure ice as he pronounced the words that slammed the trap door shut. "Nobody... but me." For the first time in his existence, Aaron felt an uneasy jolt go through him at Al's words. "What do you mean?" "Just what I said." "You're bluffing!" Aaron's voice rose to a fevered shout. "If the 'goody-two shoes' is gone, you can't reach him." "Wrong." Al paused to take a long slow puff of the Chivello, his eyes never leaving Aaron's defiant glare. "Dr. Beckett's personality may be gone, but I'll always be around, because I'm tuned to his brain waves." He noted that as he took another step closer, Aaron fell back another step. "You might control his body, Aaron," he continued, hurling each word with a precision that made each one sting worse than the one before. "But you'll never tune me out. I'm always gonna be here." He watched as Perry Kirkwood's most aggressive and dangerous alternate personality, now highly agitated, jumped like a frightened child who has just seen himself in a warped fun house mirror. Dodging away from the closet door, he moved across the room, wanting some distance between himself and Al. "Yeah, well, maybe so. But it won't do you no good. Sam ain't never coming back." "Maybe not. But it damn sure won't do you any good either," Al informed him, his words soft as silk, as he continued his steady advance toward Aaron. When Sam's back collided with the wall near the bedroom door, he got right up in his face. "You see....Aaron, nobody but you can see or hear me." The Observer's eyes took on a look of cruel pleasure. "And because no one else can see or hear me, starting right now I intend on making the rest of your life a living hell." Al watched the color drain from Sam's face as Aaron realized what he was saying. "You'll never know when I'm going to show up. And people who talk back to someone who isn't there ... " For effect, he held his cigar in Aaron's face then delicately tapped it, the ash disappearing as it fell. The sweat popping up on Sam's brow told him he'd scored a direct hit. "I'll...I'll just ignore you," Aaron shot back, but the words weren't as confident as before. "People in mental institutions..." Al began. Aaron temper began to reassert itself. "Nobody's gonna put me in no goddamm cracker factory!" Slithering sideways, he escaped from Al, backing hurriedly away from him. "Nobody'll ever get me in that booby hatch up the road." Al turned but didn't follow. Instead he deliberately looked from the cup on the bedside table to his watch to Aaron. "Oh you're going all right," he said. "Howard took care of that about fifteen minutes ago." He glanced at his watch again. "It should be taking effect right about now." "What are you talking about?" Aaron shouted, unaware of the large drops of sweat beginning to trickle down the sides of his face. "The knockout drops Howard put in that hot chocolate," Al said. He saw something in Aaron's...Sam's...eyes and nodded. "Guess he didn't use quite enough sugar to hide the taste." He peered closely at Aaron. "You know, you don't look so good. You feeling okay?" He looked concerned when Aaron stumbled as he backed up again. "Yeah....they're startin' to work." Too much was happening all at once. Aaron felt a wave of dizziness that caused the room to tilt crazily when he jerked his head around at the sound of footsteps pounding up the stairs. "I think you better get on the bed," Al continued to press relentlessly. "Because when those drops kick in, you're gonna go down like a load of bricks." "Shut up!" the now uncertain and desperate personality screamed. "Just shut up! Al smiled a small cold smile. There was fear in Aaron's voice. ------------------------------ Coming back downstairs, Howard had thrown out the rest of the hot chocolate and put the pan to soak in the sink. He then spent the next fifteen minutes chain smoking and pacing restlessly around the small room. Every few minutes he checked his watch and looked upward, listening. He was lifting his lighter to light yet another cigarette when he heard the shouting. Both lighter and cigarette hit the floor as he stared upward disbelievingly. "It can't be," he whispered hoarsely. "I used half the damn bottle! He should be out cold." When he heard the shouting start again, Howard tore out of the kitchen and up the stairs. As he reached to open Perry's bedroom door, his mouth set in a bitter line as he recognized the voice. Aaron! "Dammit all to hell!" he swore bitterly. "Just once! Why can't I catch a break just once?! First her and then Perry. And now this!" It was a bitter, desperate but doggedly determined man that slammed open the door and bellowed. "What the hell's going on in here?" -------------------------- The door slamming open and Howard's big frame filling the doorway was the last straw. Aaron's temper blew. "You no good son of a bitch!," he screamed. "Why did you drug me?" Howard's eyes narrowed. "Who told you were drugged?" he said suspiciously. "He did!" Aaron said and pointed at Al standing by the desk. Beyond caring, Howard shouted the only word he'd never spoken in his son's presence. "You're crazy! I didn't drug _you_, you rotten, conniving punk," Howard shouted, his own anger reaching dangerous limits. "I drugged my son so I could put him somewhere he'd be...safe." "You ain't locking me up in no goddamned nut house," Aaron screamed back. "I'll kill you before that happens." Even as the room tilted crazily, his fury pushed him to fling himself at Howard, fists flailing. But another wave of dizziness turned it into a stumble and he fell. Howard jumped forward and caught Aaron before he hit the floor and received a glancing punch on the jaw. Angrily, he manhandled Aaron into a reverse bear hug, his son's back to his chest and the boy's arms pinned against his body. "If it wasn't my son's body you're in, " he said against Aaron's ear, "I'd beat you senseless." Then, like Al, he noticed the glassy glaze in his son's eyes. "But you're about to pass out. And when you wake up tomorrow morning, you'll be in a strait jacket, in a padded room with bars on windows too thick to break and too high to reach." Shaking Aaron roughly, he half-pushed, half flung him on the bed. A semblance of decency made him go and arrange his son on his back in the center of the bed. Straightening up to his full six foot three inch height, Howard stared coldly into Aaron's glazed, half open eyes and said, "Perry is gonna grow old and die in Colver. And you with him." He paused, watching his son's body go limp as Aaron finally succumbed to the power of the knockout drops. "Good riddance to old trouble." ----------------------------------- When Howard burst into the room, Al had moved to a vantage point by the window, able to see everything in the room and with a good view of the driveway. A flicker of uneasiness flashed through his mind when Howard and Aaron started screaming at each other. A moment later the uneasiness became anxiety when the now half out of it personality flung himself at Perry's father, fists swinging wildly. He checked his watch again and looked out the window. "Come on, Margie," he said softly. "Sam's a goner if you don't hurry up." In the next instant he felt a sense of relief wash over him as a red station wagon pulled into the driveway and four adults and one teenage girl got out and hurried toward the house. Another moment passed and he heard the sound of multiple rushing footsteps on the stairs. "Hurry," he muttered urgently. Seeing the callous way Howard threw Sam's body at the bed almost made him lose it right then and there. Even when the big man relented and w ent to arrange Sam's body in a more comfortable position on the bed, didn't stop Al from hurling every filthy Italian epithet in his vocabulary at him. Rarely in his life had anyone ever done or said anything that ever left Albert Calavicci gape-mouthed with speechlessness. But this leap had seen that event occur once, and now, it happened again. The Observer's emotional outburst out of worry and concern for his best friend was no match for the cold and indifferent hostility of Howard Kirkwood's final words to Aaron. Al could only stand and stare at the man consigning his son to a lifetime of horror in bedlam. But in the same instant Al was rendered momentarily speechless by Howard's unfeeling pronouncement, a beautiful woman with snapping dark eyes stepped into the doorway. Never had a prayer of thanksgiving from Albert Calavicci's heart winged its way heavenward faster than when Stacia O'Nyan McCutcheon snapped, "You nor anyone else is putting my son in a mental hospital, Howard. You'll have to go through me and hell first." ------------------------------ Howard Kirkwood's moment of bitter triumph over the arrogant alternate personality of his son evaporated at the sound of a voice he hadn't heard so close to him for fifteen years. Whirling he demanded, "What are you doing here, Stacia? I told you never to come back here." But Howard was quickly reminded of one of the things he hated about his former wife when she didn't back down. Even in her early forties with a couple of strands of gray showing in her thick, black hair, neatly done up in a twist, Stacia O'Nyan McCutcheon was still a breathtakingly beautiful woman. And the independent and undeniable, unbreakable self confidence that Howard had despised was stronger than ever. She met his gaze squarely. "I came because my son called me yesterday and told me he was scared," she said advancing to stand toe to toe with Howard, not at all intimidated by the fact that he towered several inches over her. "Scared of what?" Howard's tone became ugly as all the reasons he'd driven Stacia away came rushing back. Her strong will, her intelligence and education, and several other reasons filled his thoughts. Bt when she spoke again, they vanished in the unshakable, unmoveable presence of a mother protecting her child when she answered him. "He told me he'd overheard you talking to someone on the phone yesterday morning. And," she continued strongly, "he also said he'd heard you say you had gotten the drops, that you knew how to use them." Howard felt his anger begin to rise at the accusing words being hurled at him. The fact that Margie Hennessey and her parents and Stacia's husband were standing in the bedroom doorway, watching and listening to everything being said only added fuel to the fury beginning to burn in him, the fury that hadn't burned for a long time. "He's imagining things," he shouted angrily, waving his hands in her face. "It's all those goddamned books he reads and his teachers stuffing his mind full of garbage about 'higher education.' It's your fault. You started poisoning his mind when he was little with all that garbage about climbing mountains and sailing seas and writing books and going to college to 'be somebody.'" Stacia remained undaunted. "Just because several members of your family who went to college became mentally ill and ended up in Colver, doesn't mean that the same thing's going to happen to Perry." She glanced at her son's unmoving form then back at Howard. "He's my son, too, Howard." "Don't I know it!" Howard spat the bitter words at her. "What's that supposed to mean?" she demanded. "Nothin'. Just forget it," Howard said coldly. "Should I also forget that Perry told me after you drugged him that you were going to sign him into Colver tomorrow morning before dawn?" "Prove it," Howard challenged, then saw the flicker of hesitation in her eyes. "You can't because none of whatever he told you is true." Barely holding the fury in check, he drew himself up to his full height again and stared icily down his nose at her. "It's my word against yours, Stacia," he bit the words off. "Now you ..." he swept the Henneseys and Stacia's husband, Jarrod with barely concealed contempt, "..._all_ of you get out of my house." He paused then said, "Anyone of you sets foot on my property again and I'll kill you." He ignored the gasps from the doorway, and sent a defiant glare at Jarrod McCutcheon. But Howard and the others went rigid with shock when a young familiar male voice...from the direction of the bed.... said, "But there is proof." ----------------------------------- While Howard and Stacia clashed, exposing a lot of things that had started tumbling pieces of this leap into place in his mind, Al had begun to pace back and forth beside the bed, keeping a vigilant eye on Sam's still unmoving body. "How much longer?" he said aloud agitatedly more than once. Howard issuing his threat to Stacia and the others doubled his worry. When the handlink chirped from inside his pocket, Al pulled it out and punched in a response code. Gooshie's babbling that the odds of Sam's possible death by Howard's hand had jumped to seventy percent decided the Observer's next move. Going to the bed, he leaned over so his face was above Sam's face and said sharply, "Things are getting outta hand here, Philip. You better do something and quick." The intense exchange kept the others from seeing the young man on the bed twitch slightly, a slight frown furrowing his brow before he opened his eyes and looked up at the Observer. "Philip?" Al said uncertainly. "Yes, Al," Philip said so softly Al had to lean closer to hear. "It's me." He also saw the question in the dark eyes watching him. "Sam is safe," he assured him. That's all Al needed to hear, and he heaved a deep sigh of relief. "Best thing I've heard in this room in several hours," he said. But some of his relief was curtailed when Howard issued his threat. He looked back down at Philip. "I think it's time for you to put in an appearance." He watched the others shocked reactions when Philip's quietly strong voice said, "But there is proof," and watched a young man they'd thought was drugged sit up and swing his legs over the side of the bed. -------------------------------- Howard was having trouble getting his breath as he turned toward the bed. The sight of Perry sitting calmly on the side of the bed, his eyes clear and obviously not in pain, sent shock waves through his body. Just looking into his son's face, he knew that it wasn't Aaron. But it also wasn't Perry. "Who...who are you?" he asked, stumbling over the words. ] "You..you should be knocked out. I used over half the bottle..." "Half of what?" Stacia asked. "My name is Philip," the male personality said as he stood up and moved to stand near Howard and Stacia. A glance at Stacia told him she was thoroughly confused. He turned to her and said, "I am one of several alternate personalities who have...been with Perry since he was a little boy." He glanced back at Howard. "And what he's referring to are knockout drops." He nodded when Stacia gasped. "Fortunately, I found them this afternoon before he got home and replaced them with water." "Why does my son need alternate personalities?" was the first question to cross Stacia's lips as she looked up at her son, confusion on her face. He'd been twelve years old and several inches shorter the last time she'd seen him. He was almost a man now. Al had to admire the aplomb with which Perry's mother received the next bit of information when Philip, though quiet spoken, answered bluntly. "To help him preserve his sanity and, more recently, to protect his life from his father." Philip turned a piercing, unwavering gaze on Howard. "On numerous occasions he's beaten Perry into unconsciousness," he said in an unhurried tone that carried a conviction that wouldn't be denied. "He's insane," Howard shouted, stepping between Philip and Stacia. "Can't you see it?" "What is it I should be seeing?" Stacia said, fighting to keep calm when her every instinct was telling her to let her anger loose. "That Perry's inherited my family's tendency to insanity," Howard said, talking as fast as he could, trying not to babble. "He needs to be in Colver where they can take care of him." "And that's why you beat him senseless?" Stacia stormed. He saw that the situation was getting away from him, but still Howard fought. His next words snatched everything irrevocably away from him. "It's the only way to get the gypsy outta him," he shouted at her as he grabbed her by the shoulders. "It started when he turned fifteen..." "Perry experienced his first kiss that evening," Philip explained softly to Stacia. His eyes went to Margie, standing in the doorway, a look of absolute confusion on her face. Philip smiled at her. "Margie was the girl he kissed that night." "God only knows what he woulda done if I hadn't dragged him away from her that night," Howard ranted as he lost touch with reality. And as the pressures of his own fears, suspicions, and jealousies, which he'd punished his son for finally broke free, all the defiance and resistance seemed to leave his body. He would have fallen if Jarrod and Margie's father hadn't darted forward to catch him. "Where's his room?" Jarrod asked. "The next door on the left," Philip told him. Jarrod nodded. He glanced at his wife. "I'll call the police and his doctor," he said. His eyes flicked to Philip and back. "Will you be okay?" "Yes," she said without hesitation. She watched as they walked Howard out of the room, then turned back to Philip. Her mind was in a whirl at the complex and disturbing information erupting all around her. Still she kept her wits about her. Reaching out, she hesitated only a fraction of a second before putting a hand on Philip's arm. "You said there was proof of...what happened to..my son?" Without hesitation she followed his gaze when he looked again to the doorway. "Yes, ma'am, there is," Margie said, her voice calm and steady as she went to Perry's mother and placed a slim, much handled brown diary tied with a shoelace in her hands. "Perry," she darted an uncertain glance at Philip, "told me yesterday about calling you," she said, looking into Stacia's eyes. "He gave it to me for safekeeping. He said that when you got here to be sure and give it to you. So you would know the truth." "What is it?" Stacia asked, turning the book over and over, but not untying the shoelace. "It's a diary that I and Evalyn, another of Perry's personalities have been keeping for a number of years," Philip told her. Stacia hugged Margie warmly. "Thank you for being his friend Margie," she whispered against the girl's ear. -------------------------------- This roller coaster ride was nearly over, and Al was glad to see it come to a end. But something was still missing. Sam. Catching Philip's eye, he motioned for him to come closer. It was Philip who spoke first. "Thanks, Al," he said, smiling Sam's smile at the hologram. "For what?" "For trusting me." The smile widened as he said, "Sam's right. No man could ask for a more loyal and caring friend." "I can say the same about you," Al admitted. "Thanks for being a safe harbor for Sam in the midst of a damned ugly storm." Philip smiled again, then glanced at Stacia and Margie, then back to Al. "I think it's time Sam came out so he can finish this leap." Sam's hazel eyes twinkled as Philip dropped a wink at Al's surprised expression. "Sam and I talked while we waited. Who knows?" he looked deep into Al's dark eyes. "Maybe some of what we talked about will one day help him return home." Al's next words were the closest thing to a verbalized prayer to fall from his lips in decades. "From your lips to God's ears," he said fervently. "Goodbye, Al," Philip said. "Goodbye, Philip." Al barely got the words out before Sam's eyes closed for a moment, his body swayed a bit, then regained its balance. This time when Sam Beckett's eyes opened, it was Sam Beckett who looked at the Observer and smiled. "Hi, Al," he said softly. "Welcome back, Sam," Al said, his voice a trifle husky. "We missed you." "We?" Sam asked, dropping his voice to a whisper. "Yeah. Me, Gooshie, Verbena, the ego-in-a-can...." Sam stifled a chuckle at the last part as he asked, "So, what happens to Perry?" Never had Al smacked the colorful handlink with more pleasure than he did now as recited the new history. "Well, considering that in 1964 nineteen wasn't legal adult age, Stacia goes to court and gets permanent custody of Perry until he turns twenty-one. It's also gonna take several years of intense therapy for all of Perry's personalities to reunite." "All...of them?" Sam asked, cocking an eyebrow at the Observer. "Yes, all of them," Al said. "Aaron's bullheaded about it, but eventually he comes around." "What happens to Howard?" Sam asked. "Is he okay now?" The look on Al's face told him not to hope. "Howard's committed permanently to Colver by the end of next week," Al said somberly, continuing to read the information Ziggy was feeding through the handlink. Al met his friend's eyes. "He's only there for a couple of years." He answered the question before Sam could voice it. "He dies in his sleep of a massive stroke on September 18, 1966." Al wasn't about to let the harsher details of the new history to cast a pall on the moment. Punching in another code he said brightly, "Oh, you're gonna love this. According to Ziggy, Perry's now a middle-aged physics professor at a small state college in Washington state." "Did he ever marry?" "Yep," Al said, retrieving that information. Sam turned his head and saw Margie watching him, and smiled. He understood her hesitancy when he held his hand out to her. "It's me, Margie," he assured her. Sam gently clasped her fingers when she took his hand, and drew her close. "Do she and Perry have any children?" Al smiled as he watched Margie walk unhesitatingly into Sam's arms and hug him tightly. When Sam looked over her shoulder at him, he said, "Two boys. Philip John...and Samuel Albert." But even with all things being as they should, Sam didn't feel a leap coming on. He quirked an eyebrow at the Observer. Quickly Al punched the buttons on the handlink. "Oh, Ziggy says that it's a ninety percent probability that once you propose to Margie, you'll leap." Never had Sam felt more at ease in proposing marriage than he did as he took Margie's hand and led her a few steps away from the group by the door. Taking her hands in his, Sam looked into her eyes and said in a soft, clear voice without any hesitation, "I love you, Margie. I have since I first saw you." He saw the color come up in her cheeks but her eyes never left his. "I know it'll be a while before it happens, but..." Sam paused just long enough to get down on one knee, her hands in his and said, "Margie Hennessey, will you be my wife?" "Yes," was quick, quiet but very firm answer. Then, her eyes shining with happiness, she leaned down for a quick kiss. "This will make an interesting story to tell our children," she giggled giddily. "How you proposed to me in your bedroom wearing just your pajama pants." Still on one knee, Sam laughed with her. As he pulled her close for another hug, he felt the familiar tugging tingle deep inside. "Be happy," he whispered, looking up at her as the tugging within became stronger. He barely had time to hear her whisper, "I know we will," before he leaped.