"Basis of Control" pt. III October, 1999 Santa Fe, NM Beth paced. She was tempted to call Quantum Leap again. Not that she didn't trust Ziggy, but...well, she didn't trust Ziggy. She sat down again, glancing at her watch and noting that only a minute had gone by since she'd last looked at it. Beth pulled her purse onto her lap and started to calculate times. Gooshie had said Al was in the Imaging Chamber, so that meant a few minutes or more wrapping up things with Sam. He must have just leaped in because he was between leaps when she left to go to the Beckett home. Then another ten minutes getting out to the car, about a half hour drive, and another few minutes to actually find her. Frustrated and upset, Beth got up and started pacing again. She hadn't meant to worry Al, but she didn't see any other options. Part of her had been hoping he'd tell Gooshie to tell her that she was being silly and paranoid and just to come straight home, but he hadn't. Which meant that he didn't want to take any chances, either. After leaving Sam's house, Beth had driven into town to pick up a few things for Emma's eventual arrival. Their youngest daughter had finally agreed to come for a week, but no longer, and Beth wanted to make sure the guest quarters were stocked with the essentials. It was after her first stop that she noticed the same car behind her the entire way. When she saw the man follow her into the store at her next stop, Beth began to worry, but she decided she was just imagining it. But then he was back behind her on the road. Unfortunately, she didn't have Al's cellular phone on her, but at the first opportunity, she pulled up to some hardware store to use the pay phone. He followed her, but had since vanished into the store, and she was starting to feel slightly foolish for panicking. Slightly. About an hour after calling Quantum Leap, Al finally showed up. Beth was becoming so tired of waiting and was feeling so impatient that she almost missed him when he walked through the door and glanced around, concern evident in his expression. "Al!" she blurted, rising quickly to her feet and scooping up her sweater and her purse in one motion. He turned to her, his face registering immediate relief. He stepped up to her and put his hands on her shoulders. "Beth, honey, are you okay?" She ducked her head. "I'm sorry, Al, I think I called you all the way out here for a false alarm." "What happened?" She shifted uncomfortably in his grasp. "The same car was behind me for a few miles and then followed me here and I panicked." He lifted her chin and smiled warmly at her. "That's okay. I'd rather you call me than not, understand?" "I feel so foolish," she murmured, attempting a mild smile. He hugged her tightly. "I'm just glad you're okay." They stood there for several minutes and then Al finally pulled away. "Sorry," he said, grinning slightly, "I have to get back. Sam leaped in and he needs information." "Is he in trouble?" "Naw. Not yet, anyhow, but there are a lot of gaps in our initial research that need to be filled so he can get on with things. You gonna be all right following me home?" "Sure. I can run the rest of my errands before we pick Emma up from the airport tomorrow." He took her arm and led her out into the bright sunlight. "When's her flight getting in?" "About 11:00 AM," Beth responded. Then she hesitated. "Al, where was Donna shot?" He was using the search for her car to avoid looking at her, she was certain. "In the leg, why?" "No, I mean, where in the house?" Al dug around in his pocket for his keys. "The kitchen." Beth stopped when they reached her car, but she made no moves to get in when Al unlocked and opened the door for her. "Why would she go upstairs after being shot to get help?" "I don't know, Beth, she wasn't thinking clearly at the time, I'm sure." Beth leaned on the door. "Yeah, but she had to have been in incredible pain and, to walk up a flight of stairs like that - even partway - doesn't that strike you as odd?" He seemed to be getting impatient. "I guess so. We'll never know now, though, so just don't worry about it, hon." "Did the intruder break in?" Al took a deep breath, resigning himself to have this conversation in a parking lot in Santa Fe. "I assume he didn't." "Then how did he shoot her? I was over there today, Al. There were no broken windows, no blood, nothing." "Then I guess he did break in." Beth unconsciously lowered her voice, even though there was nobody around to hear them. "Al, something's screwy here and I think we need to find out what it is." Al's head came up and he stared her in the eyes. "Look, Beth, I found her okay? Why are you trying to turn this into some foul play thing? What, exactly, are you trying to say?" She hesitated. What _was_ she trying to say? All of Al's explanations made sense and, even if they were wrong, what would change? Donna was still murdered and they still didn't know by whom. Except...if the holes in the story were really holes then that meant Al was covering. For what? Beth exhaled deeply. He was watching her, but he wasn't pressing. Several thoughts presented themselves, none of them pleasant. Why would Al lie to her? Unless...it wasn't Al. She shook herself, striving not to show reactions to her thoughts. She was being paranoid. "Nothing," she said finally. "Sorry, I'm just...upset, I guess, from Donna's death and I'm worried about Emma and-" "And you had a scare this afternoon," Al finished for her. He took another deep breath. "I'm sorry I don't have all the answers for you, but it'll all work out. Do you believe me?" She flinched when he touched her arm, but covered the action by fishing out her own keys. "Of course I believe you." "Good. I'll see you back at the project." He leaned forward and kissed her once, then unlocked his own car and got in. She stood dazed for a second, then followed suit. ^----^----^----^----^ October, 1999 Stallions Gate, NM Al walked the halls with Verbena. Beth had gone to take a nap upon their return to Project Quantum Leap. "She's practically catatonic, Al," Verbena was saying quietly as they reached the elevator and entered the small compartment. "I seem to make her nervous for some reason. Maybe it's because she can tell I'm a psychiatrist - that doesn't exactly put everyone at ease." "Well, there's not a lot by way of official records on this one and a lot of the information we'll need is gonna have to come from her," Al replied with an inward sigh. "Would it help if I spoke to her?" "I don't know. I guess it's worth a try. Most of the time female guests tend to respond better to a woman, but there's always an exception." Verbena shook her head. "Goodness knows you've always been able to charm any information you want out of me." He grinned in an expression of feigned innocence, then became serious. "I wanted to ask you, as a psychiatrist...have you noticed Beth acting oddly lately?" She raised her eyebrows, but didn't reply immediately. Al had a tendency to worry about everything and she didn't want to fan the flame in any way, shape, or form. He especially worried about Beth and his children and, with the fax he'd received (which he'd eventually shown to her), it had only served to make him more apprehensive and cautious to the point of paranoia. Not that she blamed him. "Not especially," she said finally, watching his brow furrow, "why?" He shrugged as if it didn't matter. "No reason. Listen, I'll talk to Sylvia if you think it'll help, but I don't want her any more traumatized than she already is. Is another person coming in, questioning her, and trying to explain things going to help more than hurt or vice versa?" Dr. Beeks took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I think it could help." "Good," Al said, accepting her professional opinion without question or hesitation. There had been a time when he would second-guess her decisions right and left, but he had since learned to accept how dead-on her instincts were. "Then let's go so I can get back to Sam. Poor kid's wandering around without a clue by now." "Is the husband home?" Al smiled slightly as he put his hand out to hold the doors open for Verbena. "Not yet, unless he's since shown up. I left in kind of a hurry." Verbena nodded as they walked down towards the Waiting Room. "Is Beth all right?" "Oh, sure. She's getting some of my paranoia." The psychiatrist rolled her eyes. "God help us all; the last thing we need is two of you." Al grinned. "Look at this," he declared, "five years go by without incident and now all this." "I find it hard to believe that _any_ part of your life was without incident." His grin widened. They paused at the door. "Anything else you should tell me before I go in?" he asked, ignoring her last comment. "Just go slow. I'll be in the Observation Deck." Al paused in the door. Sylvia was seated on the table, facing the door. She ducked her head and wiped at her eyes when he entered the room and he slowed his advance to give her time to compose herself. At the same time, he took a moment to study her and eventually decided she was a bit homely looking, but at the same time she had a sweetness about her that gave her a look of innocence. With a little make-up, the impression could change, but, for now, all he saw was the stringy brown hair that tumbled across her shoulders and her small hands pressed over her mouth. "Sylvia?" He kept his voice low and soft and she raised her eyes to meet his face. He smiled encouragingly. "Hi. My name's Al." When she didn't respond, he kept talking, moving slowly but steadily closer. "Would it be okay if I asked you some questions?" "Then can I go home?" she asked in a small voice. He sighed internally. That was what everyone wanted to know: when could they all go home? Just once, he would have liked to have an answer for them. "Not yet, sweetie, but we're gonna do everything we can to make sure you're taken care of, okay?" She nodded and uncurled slightly. "Do you have a tissue?" The request stirred hopes inside of him and he reached into his pocket and pulled out a handkerchief. He stepped forward to hand it to her, noting with satisfaction that his close proximity didn't seem to bother her at all. "I need to talk to you about your relationship with Aaron and I need you to be real honest with me, okay? The more you can tell us, the sooner you can go home." "With Aaron?" she repeated, dazed. "Your husband," Al confirmed, not certain if she truly didn't remember or if she had just been asking for confirmation. "What's been going on lately? Have things been hard?" "No, we have a great relationship." Even without Ziggy's prediction to go on, Al could still sense that her words didn't have the ring of truth but, rather, the feel of an often-used cover. "I see," he said quietly. "Is he around a lot?" "What does that mean?" she demanded, some fight coming into her words. He'd pushed too fast. "Every marriage goes through problems, Sylvia," he said gently. "I've been married for 38 years, and we've had our share of 'em. All I want to do is help you." She nodded and Al sensed her guard fall back another notch. "I guess things have been less than perfect lately." Al grasped at the opening. "How so?" The look she cast at him held a dose of suspicion. "Are you a therapist?" He had to laugh at that one. "No," he managed, still smiling. "But I've been around enough to know how things work." "He just seems so oblivious to everything. Aaron isn't a bad person, you know? He doesn't abuse me or our kids - would never even think about it. He provides well for us and he works hard to make sure we never go hungry or want for anything." Al could feel conditions coming on. "But..." he supplied for her. "But I think it would be better if he was home on Saturdays to be with the kids rather than making sure we have enough money to send Matt to soccer camp." Al nodded. "That's not an unusual situation, you know?" "So what do I do? He doesn't pay attention to me anymore and if I try to talk to him, he hears, but he doesn't listen." He was sensing they were approaching the heart of the matter and he looked encouragingly at the woman. "You have to make him listen." "How?" "Have you tried counselling?" She flinched, then tried to cover by wiping her eyes with Al's handkerchief. "No, but I don't think it would work." She was lying. Al wasn't sure why, and he would need Ziggy's input to confirm it, but he was almost positive she was lying to him. Nonetheless, he let the statement stand. "Why not? Maybe he's just not taking you seriously anymore because he keeps hearing the same things over and over. Maybe he needs an outside influence to shed light on the subject." "I just don't want a stranger knowing all about our personal lives." *Now she's changing her story.* "You're telling me," he pointed out carefully. "That's different. This isn't even real; it can't be." "It is," Al assured her. "But that's not important right now. Why wouldn't you talk to Dr. Beeks about all this?" "I don't trust psychologists." In spite of himself, he smiled. "I'm not overly fond of them myself, but Dr. Beeks knows her stuff. She's the best." "I shouldn't even be talking with you..." Al frowned. "I don't understand." Was Aaron manipulating her more than he realized? "It's just going to mess things up even more." He didn't pretend to comprehend what she was getting at, but an internal clock was telling him he'd left Sam alone too long and he should be getting back to communicate what he'd learned. "Listen, Sylvia, I need to-" "He doesn't love me anymore," she burst out suddenly and started sobbing. She bent forward, bringing her knees up underneath her chin, and just cried into her hands. Al softened and put his arm around her shoulders. He hesitated when she put her head on his shoulder, feeling slightly awkward, but then he was suddenly reminded of Donna. Every time she'd gone to pieces in his arms, he felt acutely guilty that he was the one there to comfort and console instead of Sam. The feeling surfaced again as he gingerly wrapped his other arm around her and let her cry herself out.