"Hidden Agenda"

April, 1995
Emmitsburg, MD

"Verbena!" Sam exclaimed in surprise, drawing several curious looks from
those in the office. Verbena glanced around him and he suddenly seemed
to be aware of how much interest he was attracting. He stepped out of
the center of attention, finding his way to the ladies room after just a
few wrong turns.

"Nice outfit, Sam," she murmured, hiding a grin.

Sam waited until the door pulled closed before replying. "You can see me
as me?" he asked with scientific curiosity.

She squinted at him. "Sorta. It's like a fuzzy afterimage, but it's not
very strong. I couldn't even see the woman you've leaped into in the
Waiting Room." She took a step back. "You could do well to shave your
legs, though."

He sighed. "Please, I get enough of that from Al. Speaking of which..."
There always seemed to be a good reason for Al's random, though seldom,
absences from the Imaging Chamber. It had only happened a few times, as
far as Sam could recall, but it was always disconcerting, both because
he worried there was something up with the funding, or because he
worried there was something up with Al. Each time it happened, it always
seemed to leave him feeling abandoned, lost. As if the one connection
had been severed and he'd been left alone, even though there was someone
else there to observe. Truth be told, it was as much the attraction of
one constant as the man himself that made Sam uneasy when he was gone.

"Oh, don't worry about it, Sam. He went up to Pennsylvania to meet with
a scientist who has an idea for some improvements for Quantum Leap. You
leaped back in rather quickly and he got held up, so..."

"Held up how?" Sam asked, somewhat suspiciously, as if afraid he was
being lied to. She seemed calm and relaxed, though, and an internal
guide told him he didn't have cause to worry.

"Oh, he's driving back. He told me to tell you that everything was fine
and he'd be back as soon as he could," she reassured him, seeming to
sense his need for it.

He chewed on his lip, then turned to face the mirror at his back. An
attractive blonde stared back at him, batting long lashes as he blinked
in amazement. She was maybe 5'3", 5'4", short hair that curved around
her ears elegantly, and deep hazel eyes. When Sam smiled, her face lit
up. She was absolutely charming, not to mention that she had the perfect
figure. "Al's gonna hate himself for missing this one," Sam observed
with a wicked grin, turning once to catch the entire picture. "Enough to
make him cry," he added, glancing at Verbena.

"I'll let him know," she returned with a smile. "It'll get him back

Sam turned back to her, resting his hip against the counter. "Well,
what's the story?"

"We don't have a whole lot, yet," Verbena warned, lighting up the
handlink and punching in a few codes. "Ziggy's in a tizzy because Al
left. I can't tell if she gets upset because she likes him, or she just
likes picking on him."

"Most likely a little of both," Sam noted, crawling through fragmented
memories of her leading Al in circles of logic and taking extreme
pleasure in it. Al would be pretty proud at being able to follow her
until he realized the trap, and then he would inevitably be banging on
Sam's door, demanding they `do something about the over-evolved
dishwasher'. She'd never been as manipulative with Sam, but that was
probably because he didn't tend to get as riled up as Al did. Ziggy
obviously liked a good show.

"At any rate, we have a little of the background, but not enough to get
us through this leap, so I sure hope she straightens out. I may have Al
give her a talking to over the phone. And he may be back before it's
over," she amended, a little guiltily. "Anyhow, back to this: your name
is Regina Prather, but everyone calls you Gina. You work at an
advertising..." She shook the handlink meekly, to no avail, then glanced
helplessly at Sam. He shrugged, grinning a little. She mirrored the
gesture and whacked it on the side, then laughed slightly. "All these
years, I figured he did it for kicks. Anyhow, you work at an advertising
agency, have worked here for the last five years: you've been working
your way up. You hold a Bachelors in communications and this was your
first job out of college."

"How old?" Sam questioned.

"Um...26. You live by yourself outside of town in an apartment, and you
have a grandmother in a nursing home in Baltimore that you visit every
third weekend in the month."

He nodded and wiped a hand over his face. "When am I?"

"Uh... April 4, 1995."

"I don't supposed you know what I'm here to do..." Sam surmised, a
little disappointed. He hated this woman's wardrobe already and the
sooner he could get out, the better.

"Afraid not. We only just started running scenarios on Gina's future. As
soon as we know, I'll tell you, but, for now, just keep an eye on
yourself and any coworkers. Maybe we'll get lucky and figure it out."

"Yeah," Sam agreed without conviction. "In the meantime, tell Al to get
his butt back here. No reason I should be the only one working..."

November, 2000
Moores Hill, IN

Al and Celia met in the lobby for breakfast before starting out. It was
early, but Al was feeling rested and refreshed, thank goodness. Maybe
he'd even be able to keep his temper with her today. As she came down,
he saw that was most likely going to be the least of his problems; he
could tell right off the bat by the fact that she avoided his gaze that
she was still extremely uncomfortable with what happened the night
before. It was perfectly reasonable, he figured, who wouldn't get upset
recounting that incident?

They sat down together without much conversation except what etiquette
dictated, and they were halfway through their meal when Al got the call
from Project Quantum Leap. By the time he hung up, he knew he had two
good reasons to get back to Stallions Gate as quickly as possible: Sam
may need him, and he definitely needed to see this woman Sam'd leaped
into. Plus seeing Sam in her clothes was going to be good for a few

"We've got to get on the road and try to do this straight through," he
informed her, tucking the phone into the inside pocket of his jacket.

"That's a long way without stopping," she pointed out, sipping
tentatively at her coffee. "What's wrong?"

"They need me in New Mexico. I told you I couldn't do this," he added,
accusation he hadn't meant to express making the atmosphere tense. Then
he exhaled, relenting. "Look, Celia, about last night-"

She lifted her chin to look him in the eyes. "Nothing happened last

He gazed uncertainly at her. "I just wanted to tell you that I-"

She wiped her mouth with her napkin and stood up. "I thought you wanted
to get moving. I thought you had to get back to Dr. Beckett."

There was something in her tone he couldn't quite identify as she spoke
Sam's title, but then it passed as quickly as it had come. He'd thought
today would be easier; he was obviously wrong. "Do you want to take the
first shift, or do you want me to?"

"I'll do it." She slung her purse over her shoulder and marched past

*Woman's almost as good at burying things as I am,* he thought
fleetingly and followed her out.

They stopped first at a gas station before hitting the highway; they
were only down to a quarter of a tank, but it was easier to do it now
than stop later. Celia filled the car while Al scrounged around the
sorry-looking store for something to hold them over to the next stop. As
a result, he wasn't paying attention as Celia capped the tank, got into
the car, started the engine, and started fiddling with the radio knobs.
He didn't see the man who walked up from behind the vehicle, opening her
door suddenly and grabbing for her, and he never heard her startled

A frenzied fight ensued and, as he turned from the counter, what he
_did_ see was Celia desperately trying to push him back outside,
kicking, shoving, whatever she could manage. He saw her slam the door on
his fingers, causing him to reel back in pain and shock, clutching his
hand to his chest, and saw her flooring the gas, tearing out of the lot
in what was proving a successful attempt at escape. Al dropped his bags
on the dirty tiles and ran out of the building as the man headed for his
own car at a near-run.

"Hey!" Al yelled to get his attention, intersecting his path as he got
the car door open. Al never slowed his pace and they hit the side of his
vehicle together. Celia's attacker nailed Al immediately with a blow to
his stomach that stunned him and he backed up a step. The man was
bigger, stronger, and maybe even angrier and Al's best defense would be
to gain distance and go with his strengths, but he didn't know if the
man had any weapons, so he tried to keep as close to him as he could,
blocking his own maneuverability, but hopefully doing the same to his
opponent. Al grabbed his injured hand and he cried out, but didn't slow
his aggressive style in the slightest, didn't allow Al even a minute to
catch his breath. Al knew almost immediately that he wasn't going to win
this one and his directive shifted from winning to stalling. He couldn't
seem to gain the upper hand, pinned between the filthy exterior of the
car and this man, who never let up for a second.

In what could only be a last-ditch effort to get him out of the way, the
man slammed Al against the side of the car and Al felt the world dim for
an instant. The man let him fall away from the struggle and he stood,
shakily, took several steps, then fell to his knees on the pavement,
feeling sick to his stomach. He put his hand to his forehead and the wet
stickiness that met his fingertips told him things were a little worse
than he'd thought. He never heard the murderer drive off, but he was
sure the man had. He just hoped Celia was long gone by this point. He
didn't think, yet, when or even if she would come back for him.

A woman was suddenly beside him, a concerned hand on his shoulder, then
a man in a suit hurried to their location. "Hey, are you okay?" the
woman was asking, and he shook his head, wishing the ground would stop
spinning, just for a minute. He wasn't in a lot of pain, but he
definitely was fuzzy and unsure of himself. The man mumbled something
reassuring and helped him to his feet and led him to the curb outside
the store. He sat down, grateful as things started to clear.

"Do you need anything? Should I call an ambulance?" she asked him and he
looked up at her, managing a weak smile.

"No, I'll be fine. Just got knocked around a bit - I just need to sit
here for a minute..."

As if on cue, the rental car pulled into the gas station and Celia
maneuvered it to his position and got out, stunned. "What happened?!"
she demanded, kneeling down beside him. "You're bleeding."

"Figures, he comes after you and _I_ get beaten to a pulp," he grumbled,
then pushed her hands away. "Celia, it's fine," he stated in obvious
contradiction to his earlier comments.

"What did he do? Run over you?"

"Came damn close, actually," the man offered. "Went tearing outta here
as if he was on fire. Why on earth did you go after him?" he added to

"You what? Are you nuts?"

"Won't anyone listen to me?" Al demanded, feeling more steady by the
second. "It's fine. I'll sleep it off in the car." He stood up, testing
his vision and balance, and he found that all he had now was a dull,
throbbing ache at his temples.

"Al, you shouldn't have gone after him," she said quietly.

Her use of his name surprised him, but he didn't say anything about it.
"If I hadn't, he'd've been right on your tail," he informed her.

Satisfied that he was okay, the couple left them alone and her facade
slipped. Again. "How on earth did he find me?"

He opened the passenger's door and sat heavily on the seat, pulling out
a handkerchief to wipe his face. "I don't know, but I don't think he
realizes we were together. He coulda done a lot more than just stun me,
but he just bought himself enough time to get away and nothing else."

"Or he just didn't want to waste any more time finishing the job," she
contradicted calmly. Then she leaned against the back door. "This is
such a nightmare," she said unsteadily.

Al glanced up at her, then touched her hand reassuringly. "I know."

She pulled away quickly, clearing her throat and rubbing her hands
together as if to rid herself of the sensation of his touch. He observed
the action without comment. "We'd better go, just in case he does decide
to come back here."

"Right." Al pulled his legs in and closed the door, reclining the seat
and easing gingerly back.

Celia stopped in the store to pick up the bags he'd dropped and to get
him an ice pack and some Tylenol. Then they pulled out on to the highway
to continue what was turning out to be a very long trip to Stallions

[I hope to have the last 4 parts and the epilogue out on Tuesday. All
comments can still be mailed to me at  through May
5th....or at  through May 15th. Thanks! -amkt]