Before he'd even stepped out of the Imagining Chamber, Al's sharp call rang 
out into the Cold Room. The few tiptoeing interns jumped. From beneath the 
central "launch panel," there was a solid ~thump!~ followed by a slew of 
unintelligible curses. Gushie emerged, his face ablaze, gently nursing his 
oft-bruised cranium.
	"Perhaps you could find some way to warn us, Admiral, of your return."
	Al snickered, casually tossing the link to a young technician with a 
clipboard who nearly fumbled the catch. "Hi, honey, I'm home. Where's 
	He was greeted with blank stares. *Oh, geez -don't tell me this Leap 
screwed that up, too.* A certain hybrid know-it-all began to hum patiently 
and Al knew that if she had a face, she would probably look like a Cheshire 
cat all the time. He took a deep breath, clinching his fists.
        "Ziggy, I need a location on Ensign Clark. Please."
        Ziggy purred sweetly. "Ensign Clark is no longer on the premises. 
The Ensign is also not accounted for at The San Fermin Naval Base or at the 
family residence of 854 Red Cross Road, Champuya, Indiana."
        Al felt the angry bite of his nails as they drove deep into the 
tender meat of his hands. "Well, where the hell is she? ~Please.~"
        "She is currently being detained in Washington, D.C."
        *Detained?* The ugly hollow word nearly caused him to flinch. 
~Detained~ was a euphemism, one of those nice words bad guys used to lull 
others into believing there could actually be a Happily Ever After. Yeah, Al 
had been "detained" once and he was still waiting for the end of that 
nightmare to ride out.
        "What happened to Clark?"
        "The Ensign was en route to Hartford on a reconnaissance mission 
when she was intercepted at Phoenix West Airport by Vice Admiral Edwin Miles 
Sisko and Lieutenant Commanders Jake Hoyt and Paris Kwan."
        "Pentagon pricks," Al grumbled, half-walking, half-running out into 
the main corridor. Suits and lab coats choked the hallway in their hustle to 
plow through last minute problems and then scurry off to the cafeteria. 
Unlike most of the residents at Stallions Gate, the cooks called it quits at 
5:30 P.M., with no exceptions. It took the new people no time at all to get 
with the program, after having to resort to chewing on their tennis shoes 
the first few nights of missed meals.
        He was rounding a corner and cussing --well, like a sailor-- when he 
collided with another staffer at full speed. Papers exploded into the air 
like doves. "Sorry about that," Al muttered, snatching sheets from the path 
of oncoming traffic. "I didn't see you there-"
	He suddenly felt like he'd swallowed a mouth full of sand. His accident 
victim wore a soft, almost shy smile and a silver pen in her left breast 
pocket that she was fond of clicking while she talked. She also made a mean 
cup of Columbian and her hardest drink probably came straight from the tap, 
no ice.
	"Dr. Beeks." He quickly shuffled the pile to cover up the shaking in his 
hands. God, he was nervous. He hadn't felt this uptight since Sister 
Geraldine caught him running numbers at Confession.
	"Admiral. Long time, no see."
	"Yeah, well, I don't have to tell you how crazy things get round here." Al 
managed a shaky laugh, adverting his eyes. They stood there for some time, 
the mad dash of the world swirling around them. He could feel her watching 
his every tick and nuance. *Just crawl under a microscope, Calavicci, you'd 
make one helluva study.*
	Verbena chuckled, low and huskily. "No rest for the weary. Or the Project 
	Al tucked the fuzzy collar of his pajamas down into his sweater. 
"Occupational hazard. I gather these belong to you." He locked his elbows as 
he extended the slightly crumpled computer print outs to her. He saw her 
gaze dip to the ragged flesh of his palms. Just briefly. When her eyes met 
his, they were full of questions. He did not give her time to ask.
	 "Excuse me." He nodded curtly and continued onward to his quarters.

*		*		*		*		*
         *Home...for now.*
         Sam's heart gave a great, huge sigh. Even his brain was weary. The 
last remnants of blaring music and spicy food were beginning to fade as the 
stinging hot water of the shower beat down on him. He gave Noah's scalp a 
thorough massage and lathered himself in slow, lazy circles. Instinctively, 
he went for a large fluffy towel that hung on the back of the bathroom door 
and stopped in mid reach. So, his host was left-handed. Patting himself dry, 
Sam mused over his discovery. Leaping was like a lot of things that did not 
come with a manual. It gave a whole new meaning to phrase "on the job 
         He slipped into the cotton boxer shorts and white ribbed undershirt 
waiting for him by the sink. Though he had the choice between a candy pink 
and neon orange toothbrush, he picked a plain blue one and was surprised to 
find himself sprinkling a hefty dose of baking soda on the bristles. The 
inner Leaper cringed. *Well, when in Rome...* He sawed the toothbrush 
through his mouth a few times and gulped down a glass of water.
         Lola was sitting in the middle of the bed when he came into the 
room. She was somewhat huddled over her lap wearing a lavender robe. He 
hesitated. He couldn't tell if she was praying or in pain. Her hair fell in 
lustrous cascades, grazing the middle of her back. Sam moved closer to touch 
it. It had grown so much since he last saw her.
         *How do I know that?*
         Lola's head snapped up and the fine strands slipped from Sam's 
fingers. "I'm-I'm sorry," he stammered. "Are you okay?"
         She slowly unfolded her legs, a grimace shooting across her face 
and then disappearing. "Fine."
         A long stretch of silence followed and it felt like they were both 
holding their breath. It was the first time they had been alone in a while 
and Sam perceived this. The realization both frightened and excited him. He 
lowered himself next to her, amazed by how much smaller she was than Noah. 
He settled his hand lightly on her thigh. His lips tingled as they gently 
brushed the lobe of her ear.
         "~He esperado mil noches para ti, querida,~"  [I have waited a 
thousand nights for you, my love.] he murmured.
         A muscle in her jaw jumped as if she were clenching her teeth. He 
felt Noah's smile dissolve as Lola turned to face him, her expression cool 
and her eyes stormy. She whirled away from him, snapping her robe shut and 
stalked out of the room. Sam collapsed against the pillows, his heart 
thundering away in his chest. It was as if someone else had taken over his 
body, for that split second--
         *Noah spoke. Noah spoke...*