Part XIV

January, 2003
Stallions Gate, NM

The hall was deserted. It had been for an hour, now.

On one hand, that was just the way Sam wanted it. On the other hand, Al
hadn't shown up, which meant Weitzman had probably made it into the
Control Room and Sam was on his own. In the Waiting Room a couple hours
in the future, Lt. Collins was probably talking to Weitzman, pretending
he had no idea who he was or where he was. At least, the idea had been
that he'd be pretending - Sam had tried to improve on the side effects
of leaping as well, including the swiss-cheese effect. Unless this
modification had worked correctly, he wouldn't be pretending, which
worked just as well.

If Sam's seemingly intact memory was any indication, he'd been

He worried that, without Al there, someone would catch him, but nobody
came by. Collins had set this up nicely, Sam thought. He spared a
thought of pity for Al, who was probably dealing with his nemesis in
Sam's time. He smiled slightly. "Just don't hit him, Al," he muttered.
Then he glanced at his watch. Fifty more minutes to go before they
pulled him out. Except...

Except twice now, he'd felt a subtle tingling and a tug. What if
Weitzman was trying to retrieve him? Or, worse, what if Al and Elane
were trying, and it wasn't working?

He rubbed his brow and started working with renewed vigor.


Elane folded her arms and set her features in an expression of stubborn
determination. Weitzman sighed deeply. "You're going to prison - you do
realize that, don't you?"

She blinked. "Yes."

"We let you off before because you were under strain and-"

"-And you didn't want any of your people implicated in my injury."

His smile was harsh. "Just keep this in mind, Doctor: if neither you nor
Admiral Calavicci assist us in his immediate retrieval, we won't be
retrieving him at all."

"You can't do that," she cried angrily.

"Madam, it's not our first choice." He leaned in. "I know he's in the
past. My question for you is: what's he doing?"

The door opened and a small man in a suit looked in. "Senator? I think
our team of scientists have something."

Weitzman nodded politely to Elane. "If you'll excuse me..."


"What are you going to do?" Al demanded angrily. He was still shaky and
lightheaded, but he was feeling considerably better than when he'd
walked out of the Imaging Chamber and collapsed. Even prepared for the
possibility that it would happen, the ferocity of the symptoms and the
suddenness with which they struck took him off guard. It took his
escorts off guard, too - they pulled a gun on him before realizing he
was truly in pain. Now, whereas Elane had been taken back to the Waiting
Room, for some odd reason, Al had been left under armed guard in the
Control Room. It served his purposes, though - at least he was privy to
what was going on.

"They've figured out Dr. Beckett's retrieval system. I'm going to use it
and then I'm going to put all three of you behind bars for interfering
in a government procedure."

"No! You can't!" Al cried out desperately. If they retrieved Sam within
the next half hour tops, it wouldn't be enough time and the data could
still be reconstructed. By the same token, if they waited too long, all
the data would be gone, including the instructions on how to retrieve
him, but Al and Sam had agreed on a little leeway time for that. They
had two hours.

"Why wouldn't you want me to retrieve Dr. Beckett?" Weitzman asked with
genuine curiosity as he turned on Al. "Oh, I'm going to enjoy destroying
what's left of your career, Admiral. You've been a thorn in my side for
far too long. You've done mudslinging with the worst of them, so get
down off your high horse. You know how this game is played.

"I don't play the same game as you," Al countered, trying to buy some
time. He glanced around the room. Three guards, one covering him, one by
Weitzman, and one by the door. Weitzman stood by two of Sam's
scientists. Too much risk of them getting hurt to act... And too much
chance of him buying it before he could do what needed to be done. No,
better to talk his way out of it.

Except Weitzman was too smart for that. "No stalling. Let's just do this
and see what happens, shall we?"

Al watched, helpless, as they activated the program. A bright blue light
shone through the room and there was a violent roaring sound that rose
in volume until they couldn't hear anything but that.

It was time.

While everyone's attention was occupied by what was going on, Al stepped
rapidly forward and slammed the young marine under the jaw with his
elbow. Caught unawares, it took the guard an instant to regain his
equilibrium, but that was all Al needed. He lunged and they hit the wall
together in a tangle. They were both on the floor before anyone else in
the room was aware of any kind of trouble. The tremendous cry of
retrieval began to die down and a new kind of chaos erupted.

As Al had hoped, the two scientists didn't know enough to get out of the
way and Weitzman and one of the guards were preoccupied with that. The
other of them advanced on Al as he struggled through the haze that was
still settled on his brain and fought furiously to gain control of the
gun. Just as he was certain it was a hopeless cause, Sam emerged from
the Accelerator and grabbed the man before he ever reached Al. They
swung around in their own private struggle and Al finally managed to
gain the upper hand. He shoved his opponent's hands against the wall
repeatedly and grabbed the gun as it fell from them. Then he scrambled
to his feet.

"This is your two second warning," he yelled into the fray,

The clump of people began to disperse and Weitzman was left with the gun
pointed directly at him.

"Al..." Sam called cautiously.

"Admiral..." the senator said at the same time.

But Al just tightened his grip on the weapon. "I said get the hell out
of the way!" he yelled to the senator. Then he fired a shot less than
half a foot to Weitzman's right, eliciting a spray of sparks from the

Weitzman moved quickly out of the line of fire and Al started pulling
the trigger.

The consoles went first, exploding in a shower of light and jagged edges
that left everyone else in the room ducking against the walls. As he
fired, something else took hold inside of Al and the past seven years
were all slowly being avenged, one with each bullet of the gun. So deep
was the passion within him that, when he ran out of ammunition, he
grabbed the gun Sam's opponent had dropped and emptied that one, too.
With each release, a small piece of him gave way.

Sam leaping.

Congress' constant threats to cut them off.

Sam gaining a wife only to have lost her.

Beth dying because of manipulations the committee insisted on carrying

Over and over. His breaths came fast and sharp. Sam was yelling at him,
but he couldn't hear. The whole of the room was alight in a blaze more
brilliant than Sam's retrieval and much more dangerous.

Again and again.

Havenwell. San Diego. Elk Ridge.

So much suffering, so many broken hearts. Betrayal. Torture. Pain.

"Beth..." he whispered and then this weapon, too, was useless.

But it was far from over.

Bright blue fingers danced across the panels, intersecting and drawing
more deadly flame out of the core. Then there was a low hum that grew in
intensity until it consumed the small party of people.

"Al! Get down!" Sam yelled.

He blinked and the gun slipped from his fingers. People were running for
cover in the Imaging Chamber, directed by Sam. In an instant, he
realized why: everything was going to blow.

Shaking himself back into reality, he turned and took two steps towards

And an explosion sounded behind him. It knocked him off his feet and he
hit the wall beside Sam - hard. There was a white flash of pain
everywhere and nowhere. Sam grabbed his arm and pulled him into the
chamber. He'd hit his head and things were starting to fade out, but he
fought to remain conscious. He practically stumbled into Sam's arms and
the Door closed behind him. Al slid gratefully to the smooth floor,
noting the worry rooted deep in Sam's green eyes.

Al smiled. "Kick in the butt, ain't it?"

"Be quiet, Al, take it easy," Sam said firmly, bending in close to stare
at Al's eyes and examine the place he'd hit his head. "My gosh, don't
ever scare me like that again."

Al relaxed marginally. "Did I do it?"

"Yeah, you..." He laughed uneasily. "There's no doubt."

Weitzman knelt beside him briefly. "As soon as we can get the safety
lock on the Door off, we'll take him to the hospital." Even the senator
knew, it seemed, when to call it quits.

Sam looked into Al's eyes, trying to determine the damage. "He may not
need one," Sam said and Weitzman glanced at Al and left.

"Sam?" Al whispered.

"I'm right here, Al," his partner said, turning back to him. Al thought
he felt Sam's hand clench his, but he wasn't certain; either way, his
friend's presence was solid and comforting and he felt he could finally
let go of his own anger and sorrow. "I'm right here."

Before he could say anything more, Al's world went black.

February, 2003
Northfield, MN

Sam stood on the front steps and slowly broke into a small smile.

"Dr. Beckett," the woman in front of him proclaimed. "I told Marina I
wouldn't believe it unless I saw it with my own eyes and..." She laughed
lightly, then gave him a firm hug.

Sam held her out at arm's length. "Emma, it's been so long - I can't
believe it."

Al's youngest daughter blushed slightly. "When do we get to meet this

"She'll be at the ceremony, of course."

"The other three here?" Emma questioned.

He nodded. "Yeah, they're inside already."

She took a deep breath and her eyes adopted a somber light. "Well,
then...let's go."

They filed in with the few remaining people and sat down. For the first
ten minutes or so, Sam drifted, but then he heard Al's name, then his
own. Taking his cue, he stood up and moved into place. He studied each
of Al's daughters, then looked at Al.

Al was in full dress whites, his medals gleaming in the dim light. He
always meant business when he got into uniform, whether to impress
someone, or because it was his way of showing respect. Or, as he once
told Sam, because Beth requested it. The rest of that conversation had
dissolved into fond exasperation as Al got that trademark gleam in his

Now he wore it to be laid out in a coffin.

Admiral Albert Calavicci had been declared dead of massive internal
injuries and head trauma at 1040, January 29, 2003 by Doctor Samuel

>From the instant Sam had dragged Al to safety, he'd known Al wasn't
going to make it. He'd hit the wall pretty hard and if the head trauma
alone hadn't been enough, there definitely had to be internal bleeding,
a diagnosis confirmed later at the hospital. His eyes had been so empty
that Sam wondered if Al had been seeing him when he looked at him. Then
Al had lost consciousness and, minutes after, he stopped breathing.
About the time his heart stilled, Sam was in a state of near-hysteria.
He performed CPR repeatedly until someone pulled him away, and then he
just clutched Al to himself and cried, trying to deny that any of it was
happening. The steady confidence he'd had just minutes before had died
with his friend. The next thing he was aware of, Elane was there, trying
to calm him down and not succeeding.

Sam swallowed and turned away, his hands clenching the sides of the

It wasn't fair. Dammit, it wasn't! The project was _his_ mistake - why
did Al have to die for it? Why did his children have to suffer the loss
of both parents in just over a year's time?

They sat in the front row together. Julia sat in the aisle seat next to
Reg, her husband. Their daughter, Al's oldest grandchild, sat on Reg's
lap, wide-eyed and uncomprehending. Her name was Kendra, and she was
Al's jewel. Had been. Next to them, Emma sat, looking at him, her gaze
quiet. The only evidence of her sorrow lay deep in the eyes she'd
inherited from her father. Megan sat beside her, crying silently as she
slowly rocked back and forth in her seat. Beyond her were David and
Marina. Jay sat in David's lap and he held onto his son with on hand and
rubbed his wife's back with the other. She cradled Elizabeth and just
sat there, staring into her eyes.

Sam took an unsteady breath and surveyed the rest of the crowd. Most of
the faces he knew: Elane, Verbena, Tina and Gooshie, Senator McBride.
Some people were only vaguely familiar and he had the feeling he knew
them from the birth of Project Quantum Leap. Others he didn't know at

Somewhere in the room, he could have sworn he'd felt Beth's presence. Al
had always wanted Sam to have a positive relationship with her; aside
from his children, he'd once said, they were the two most important
people in his life. Beth, he knew, had loved Al with a passion and
faithfulness that matched his feelings for her. Years ago, when Sam was
having some marital difficulties with Donna, she'd pulled him aside to
talk. When Sam complained that, with the birth of Project Quantum Leap,
everything had been changing in their household and their relationship,
she'd just smiled and sat him down and told him, "Sam, I want to explain
something to you: I fell in love with Al three times. I fell in love
with him when we were young and got married. I fell in love with the
look in his eyes as he watched me, with the way he held me while he
slept, with his tenderness. Then I fell in love with him when he came
home from Vietnam - I fell in love with the man he'd become, the person
he'd changed into, the person war had changed him into. I loved the way
he had an almost painful empathy for others in need and I loved his
courage and dedication. And then I fell in love with the look on his
face when he held our daughter - the gentleness I never thought him
capable of, the way I could see how her life meant so much more to him
than his own, than mine, even. And I've been madly in love with him ever
since. In a way, it felt like starting a new relationship with three
different people, and in a way it was just a new side to a person I'd
known for years, a new angle I'd yet to see. That can be a wonderful
thing, Sam."

>From that moment on, Sam had jokingly referred to her as his
psychologist. He wished she was there or, at the very least, that he'd
been able to be there when she died.

At some point, he knew, he'd have to start talking. *Why? Why did I have
to be there when he died?* The answer came just as quickly. *Because he
needed me.* He cleared his throat and locked eyes with Elane, gathering
silent courage from her supportive gaze. "I think I know most of you.
For those I don't know, Al and I were partners; we knew each other for
14 years. He was more than just a friend - he was family. And I..." He
paused for an instant to restrain whatever emotions were clawing to get
out. "I didn't really know what to say and so, at the advice of a mutual
friend of ours," he began, glancing towards Verbena, "I'm just going to
tell you a story."

"Al and I worked together, trying to create a dream of ours. The closer
we got to completion, the more...obsessive I got in my work and Al
seemed to always be the one to act as my reality check. We were always
getting these notices from our sponsors and, to be honest, they were
rarely good. I'd had something I wanted to try, but I didn't have the
money to do it. So when I got the notice about some cuts, I panicked and
went straight to Al, not really realizing it was to be the first of
many. He knew I was on edge and that I hadn't been sleeping or eating
well and so he sat me on that couch in his office and calmed me down.
Said it was nothing, said that a few phone calls would fix it and why
didn't I just go ahead and take off for the day and get some rest.

"So I did, eventually, and I came in the next morning, feeling better,
but still anxious. I went straight to his office and found him asleep on
top of a disarray of forms on his desk. I later found out that the form
I got was faxed to me by mistake - it was supposed to go to Al and I was
eventually told that it wasn't the first time we'd gotten a notice like
that. I also found out that, not only had he spent the entire night
moving funds around to make sure the money was where I wanted it to be,
but he'd spent the whole night _before_ working, too, trying to take
care of it before it became a problem and slowed down our results.

"And the truly amazing thing was a week later we'd have a minor
disagreement, he'd fly off the handle and I'd get upset, and then he'd
come back later declaring that he didn't know how I put up with him. He
always credited me for more than I deserved - always made it seem like
I'd saved his life when it was falling apart - like I'd created
something worthwhile instead of finding what was already there.

"Nothing hurts more now than to know it's gone forever."

He paused to steady himself. "I was - with him when he died and...he
knew. I don't know how he did, but he knew. He tied up all his loose
ends, said all his good-byes - he knew he was going to die, here,
fighting for what he believed in. I once told someone that I knew Al
would do anything for me, and I guess I was right. He would have done
anything for his family, too. He was a passionate man with a strong
sense of justice and what was really important." Marina looked up and
met his gaze steadily and without emotion. Sam's palms rubbed against
the corners of the podium so hard, the skin became red and sore. "Not
many people knew him - I mean really knew him. He'd put his life on the
line for you, but ask him to tell you how his wife's death hurt him, and
you'd get nothing. He'd never even tell me, but at least he trusted me
enough to show me, to need me to be there for him. From Al, that was a
lot. For those glimpses onto who he was...and for all the countless
times he demonstrated his loyalty and unflinching sacrifice-" He
faltered for the first time and locked eyes with Verbena, somehow amazed
to see tears on her face. Her husband put an arm around her shoulders,
but she didn't break the connection with Sam. "I owe him..." Sam

He squeezed his eyes shut. *Please, oh, please, not Al. This can't be
happening...* His memory betrayed him and he could see Al's face, blood
on his temple, flowing onto Sam's hands. He could hear his uneven
breath, feel the pain that he wondered if shock was completely able to
hide, remember what it was to know your friend was dying in your arms
and not being able to stop it.

He opened his eyes slowly to see Al looking at him. His eyes stared
straight through Sam, black and empty, and Sam staggered back a step.

 ^"...as if you don't have a friend in the world. Well, you're wrong. I
came back, didn't I?"^

"Sam?" It was Elane, speaking in hushed tones, trying to draw him back
from memories suffocating him. It didn't work.

The eyes blinked and Marina looked at him out of them.


 "I'm right here, Al. I'm right here..."^

 ^"Sam, no, stop! He's dead, Sam, let him go!"


 "There's nothing you can do! It's not your fault, Sam."

 "No, I'm not letting him die - I _can't_! Al, you hear me?! Don't die,

 "Sam, it's too late..."^

*Why did I have to see my friend die? Now I can never forget...*

"I'm sorry," he whispered, backing away. "I can't do this," he breathed,
and fled the room.

There was a small bench outside the room and he fell into it, leaning
forward and burying his face in his hands, just as he had been when Al
found him in the hospital, waiting to see Elane. Al had always had an
uncanny knack for showing up just when Sam needed him most. In a fit of
selfishness, Sam wished he could do so again.
Someone sat down next to him and he lifted his head, expecting Elane.
Instead, Marina smiled sadly at him. He shook his head mournfully. "Oh,
Marina, I'm sorry...he loved you so much. There...was nothing I could do
except be there while he died." He felt tears on his face, and did
nothing to erase them.

Her fond gaze made her seem beyond her years. "Don't you think that was

"Your father was the best friend I ever had. It could never be enough."
She gazed at him and he found himself wishing she didn't look so much
like Al. "You're so controlled," he remarked in amazement.

Her expression made it clear that his comment had taken her by surprise.
"Things always take a while to set in for me. Another day or so and
it'll all hit."

He chuckled wryly. "You're so like him." He put a hand on hers. "Do me a
favor? When it does all hit and come crumbling down...give me a call.
Maybe we can talk."

She squeezed him lightly. "I know you would have done it for him, too."

He nodded and hugged her. "I loved him."

+Ok....please don't hurt me....  -amkt