"Basis of Control" pt. V January, 1989 Cleveland, OH Al stepped through the Imaging Chamber Door that evening to check in with Sam before going to bed. Julia was the only one of his daughters not arriving the following morning, but the other three were coming in early and he wanted a full night's sleep. He couldn't leave Sam to go out to the airport himself, but a full security team was joining Beth there. Sam was folding laundry when he centered on him. Al couldn't help but grin at the sight. "Hey, pal, how's it going?" "Okay. I still can't get a decent conversation from Aaron, though." Sam looked carefully at him and Al braced himself for the third degree, but it never came. "And then there's another minor complication that I just barely wormed my way through." Al cocked his head to one side. "Oh?" "Sam?" Al spun to face the doorway where a young girl stood clad in a night gown clutching a stuffed sheep. He heard Sam give a tolerant sigh behind him. "What is it now, Christina? Need more milk?" Al glanced back at his partner. "Gee, Sam...you're not really equipped for that." Sam gave him a chilling stare. "Christina, this is Al." Al turned back to her. "Hi, sweetie." She smiled sleepily up at him. "Can you check in my bed for monsters?" Her tongue tripped on the word "monsters", much to his amusement. He smiled slightly, recalling several nightly rituals involving everything from flashlights to banging pots and pans. "They can't hurt you, baby." "I know," she insisted, holding out the much-loved animal by its ear. "Matt says they eat sheep." Without pausing to wonder why Sam wasn't jumping into the conversation, Al crouched to her level. He needed this. He needed something as simple to him as checking a bed for monsters to take his mind off things. Part of him suspected that was why Sam was being so silent. "Well, sometimes big brothers don't know everything," he informed her with just a slight mental twinge. He wished that... Al shook himself. With all he already had on his mind, he didn't need to go down that road, too. "But I'll come check for you, honey." He thought he'd recovered well, but Sam was still conspicuously quiet. Rubbing at her eyes and yawning, the girl turned and walked down the hall to her room. As he followed, Al noticed Sam remained behind. Maybe something was bothering the kid, Al reflected somberly. Al ordered Christina to get into the bed and then he proceeded to check every place she instructed him to. Finally satisfied, she closed her eyes. He stood watching her as her breathing slowed and she began to drift off to sleep. It had been so long since his girls were that age - in fact, he really couldn't call them girls anymore. They were women - all four of them, but he supposed they would always be girls to him. Gazing at the child now, he felt a dull ache in his heart that became more intense by the minute. *I don't think I could handle it if anything happened to them.* "Al," Sam whispered from the hallway, snapping the admiral out of his thoughts. He trailed Sam back towards the master bedroom, pausing to offer Christina one last glance from the doorway. Sam heaved a sigh of gratitude. "Thanks. It was taking _forever_ to put her to sleep." Despite himself, Al smiled. "I know the routine. It's another glass of water, then a last goodnight hug, then a trip to the bathroom..." Sam grinned ruefully. "That's about the size of it. She's a good kid, though. I don't know how you finally got her to sleep." "Charm," Al replied without missing a beat. "At least you didn't sing her to sleep...we would all have suffered," Sam retorted gently, the smile taking the sting out of the words. "What does _that_ mean?" Al pretended to be affronted by the comment. "Can't carry a tune in a bucket," Sam was muttering. "I'll have you know," Al started, waving the handlink at him, "that I always sang my girls to sleep and they _loved_ it." "Great...the whole family's tone deaf." Al's responding laugh made the banter worth it. (Personally, Sam found the image of Al singing his daughters to sleep equally endearing and beautiful, if not musically, then emotionally, but he knew Al would respond better to the prodding.) "That's better," Sam commented. The laughter faded slowly and Al gazed curiously at him. "What's better?" "You. You always looked better with a smile, Al. Haven't seen it much this leap." Al's expression grew somber again. "Yeah," he said quietly. "Want to talk about it?" The admiral hesitated, then the words seemed to come out of their own accord. "I'm scared, Sam." The scientist was startled into incoherent shock at the admission. "What's going on?" he finally managed. Al gazed at his friend, pausing for longer this time. How much could he afford to say? "I'm scared for my family," he said slowly. "Are you in some kind of trouble?" Sam was feeling his way, he realized, trying to push and not to at the same time. "Yeah. We all are, Sam. Someone found out about Project Quantum Leap. I don't know who is was or how they found out, but they've got a beef with the project." Sam sat down slowly on the edge of the bed, absorbing it all. "Do you really think they'd-" "They threatened my children!" Al exclaimed, suddenly angry. And why shouldn't he be?! Things had gone terribly, terribly wrong and he didn't even know how to begin to fix it. "What kind of a person could do that?! What kind of a person would threaten to harm a man's _family_?" He brushed his hand over his eyes, surprised to find them moist. "Damn," he muttered under his breath, "I can't afford to fall apart now." Sam's voice was cautious and gentle when he finally spoke, giving Al time to recover his emotions. "Is Beth okay?" "She called me this morning from some hardware store. That's how come I ran out of here. She thought someone was following her. Sam," he continued, his tone taking on a desperate edge, "she brushed it off - said she overreacted, that it was a coincidence. But I'm not so sure it was." "Did you tell her that?" Al paced. "No. She's got enough on her mind what with-" He stopped pacing and turned away. "What?" Al kept his back to Sam. It would be easier to keep things from him if he didn't have to look his friend in the eye. "What with the girls flying in tomorrow and all," he improvised. "Oh." Al couldn't tell yet if Sam had bought his cover. No matter how much the admiral might have needed to spill his guts, he still had his secrets to keep. He rubbed his upper arm absently with his left hand. "I didn't know they were coming to visit," Sam continued. "We asked them to. This maniac sent two of them letters. Threats!" Sam's eyes widened. "Are you serious?" "Sam, I don't...I don't know what to do." Al looked at his friend, unconsciously placing a trust in him that went some degree towards unburdening Al's soul. The problem was, the trust was that Sam could fix the situation and they both knew that was impossible. "Watch your back, Al. And watch over those you love...that's all you can do." Al didn't reply, but the look in his eyes said, *Just give me the opportunity, and I'll give my life for theirs.* Sam tried to smile and failed. "I just hope your fears are unfounded." "I wish they were." ^----^----^----^----^ October, 1999 Stallions Gate, NM "How are you this morning?" Al asked as Beth exited the bathroom, rubbing at her wet hair with a towel. He was engaged in making the bed. "Terrible. I had nightmares all last night." She seemed to find it difficult to look him in the eyes. She was probably just as sick with worry as he was, he reflected bitterly. "I know. You were tossing and turning for hours." She winced. "Sorry." "Don't apologize. I know because I never fell asleep to begin with." Several times during the night, Al had held her, just to stop the tears that never seemed to completely call her from sleep. Each time, the sounds of distress had stopped within a few moments, but they occurred with enough frequency and intensity to keep him alert and anxious. She glanced up at him, then. "I'm scared, Al," she blurted out. "I mean, I really am." He walked around the bed and held her tightly. "I know, honey, me too. But it'll be okay." She wound her arms around his neck. "Maybe," she conceded softly, "but it isn't now and now is where I am." He sighed. "I don't know what to say that could make either of us feel any better." She took a shuddering breath and then pulled away. "I'm sorry," she said again. He smiled, knowing how she hated to feel needy. "I didn't mean to indicate that you had to fix it all. Goodness knows the last thing I want to do is put more on your shoulders." Al cleared his throat and pushed out a small smile. "I don't know how you do it," he said quietly. Her brow furrowed. "What?" "How..." *How even when I'm not there for you, you're always so unerringly there for me. How you can pull from some unseen reservoir of strength and manifest it so smoothly in your actions that no one even seems to notice it's there. How even your weakness gives me reassurance.* "Nothing," he said. It was probably the whole business with Donna that was making him feel melancholy. She gave him a searching gaze, then shook her head. "Anyway...the shower's all yours. I've got to get ready to go to the airport." "Right," Al said, shedding his shirt and reaching for a clean towel. "What time do they get in?" "They arrive within the space of about three hours. I'll just bring a long book." He nodded, pulling a suit from his closet. "I think Meg gets in first," she continued, "and then-" Her voice stopped suddenly and he turned to see her staring at him. "What is it?" he asked hesitantly, not certain he wanted to know the answer. "What did you do?" Now he was completely confused. "Beth, what are you talking about?" "To your arm," she clarified, crossing the room and taking his right arm in her hands. From his shoulder halfway to his elbow, an angry bruise stood out easily, attracting her attention and concern. Al flinched and pulled his arm free. "Oh...I didn't realize that had bruised." Beth dropped her arms. "What happened?" He shook his head in disgust. "Gooshie - he ran into me when I was going into the Control Room the other day. I guess the door of the elevator got me good." He shrugged. "It's just a bruise. Nothing big." He grinned. "Unless you think my wife is beating me." She refused to smile at the attempt at humor and narrowed her gaze. "Do you want some ice for it or something?" Al swallowed, knowing it wasn't what she wanted to say. He _hated_ lying to her. "No, I'll be fine." At least she was trusting him and not questioning. "You just go get the girls and I'll see you this afternoon." She stared a moment longer, then nodded and accepted the kiss he offered. "Okay, see you this afternoon." Al strode purposefully back into the Control Room after thirty minutes of unsuccessfully trying to lock onto Sam. At least he was reasonably sure the leaper wasn't in any immediate danger for this leap. "What's wrong with Ziggy? And I want answers this time, people!" Gooshie looked up from behind his console. Like everyone else in the room, he was aware that he was not speaking to Al - he was speaking to Admiral Calavicci, and it made him nervous. "As best as we can figure-" "Don't give me the run-around, Gooshie," he snapped. "You give me your best guess and I'll take it for what it is, but don't make me sit through disclaimers." The scientist cringed. "I think Ziggy tried to control Dr. Beckett's leaps." Al's carefully neutral expression slipped and he gaped slightly. "Successfully?" "Not entirely. She...was trying to leap him back in stages - a little closer at a time, but, in doing so, she was losing the lock. So she tried to maintain a strong enough lock so we could find him, but not enough of one to communicate." "Did anyone think to remind Her Highness yet that if we can't communicate with Sam there may not be anything _to_ leap back by the time we're ready?" His hand trembled and he balled it into a fist. "Dammit, I want him back, too, but we can't afford to lose a lock on him. It's too high a risk!" He glanced at the ceiling. "Ziggy, next time you get a brilliant idea, run it by us, first." "If you are concerned about the power outages in Santa Fe, I can assure you that-" "Power outages?" Al groaned. "Ziggy... Now I'll have Congress on my back, too. Terrific." "There is no need for sarcasm, Admiral. Simply inform the committee that it was an unsuccessful attempt to retrieve Dr. Beckett." "I have no idea what brought this sudden attempt on, Admiral," Gooshie apologized, "but it _is_ an idea to build off of. I mentioned it to Sammy Jo last night and she got this glint in her eye and has been locked in her lab ever since." "What 'brought it on'," Ziggy said before Al could respond, "is the recent events concerning-" "I thought those events weren't to be discussed in public forum, Ziggy," Al interrupted pointedly. "Yes, Admiral." Al raised his eyebrows at her subdued response, but didn't comment. "In the meantime, may I continue with my experiment?" "No!" Al cried, exasperated. Then he exhaled heavily. "Look, theorize all you want, but I want _full_ contact with Sam. Got it?" "If you insist..." "I do! Now...let's see how he's doing this morning."