Part IV

June, 2002
Northfield, MN

Things didn't seem too much clearer in the morning - if anything, the
issue was more cloudy than before. Still, Verbena's closing statement
the night before rang in his ears and, through the anger and the hurt,
he knew it was true.

So he started making calls.

"Drew? Hey, it's Al Calavicci."

"Al!" The voice on the other end was warm. "Long time, no see. I thought
you and Beth were going to have to move up here with all the trips you
were making."

"You'd think so, wouldn't you?" he asked, relaxing into the
conversation. Drew was a good friend, but they hadn't spoken in some

"How are the kids and that beautiful bride of yours?"

"The girls are good." Al mentally braced himself. It was hard to tell
which he hated more: telling people about his wife, or hearing the
sympathy that came directly after. "Beth passed away this last

A few seconds ticked by. "I'm sorry to hear that, Al. She was a
wonderful woman. And you're a lucky son-of-a-gun to have had so many
happy years with her."

He smiled faintly; he should have known he could count on Drew to say
just the right thing.
"You're right. On both counts."

"So...what kind of favors do you need this time?" He knew Al well enough
to know that he rarely made calls just to shoot the breeze.

"None. Just information." He tapped the countertop anxiously. "I want to
know what kind of project Sam Beckett is up to."

The silence that ensued was just distinct enough that Al was certain his
friend knew exactly what he meant. "I'm not sure I know what you're
talking about."

"I'm sure you do," Al retorted, just on the edge of being rude.

"I thought Doctor Beckett was lost. I thought that's the reason you were
up here every other weekend."

"And I thought he was my friend, but I was misled. Don't lie to me, too.
Sam Beckett is alive and he's got a new pet project in D.C. All I need
to know is what it is."

"I can't tell you that."

"Then let me call in one of those favors."

"You've used `em all up."

Al felt his chances slipping away. "So I'll owe you one."

"Not this time, Al. I can't bend the rules on this one." There was
regret in his tone.

"Please. I'm asking you as a friend. It's important."

"Do the words, `top secret' mean anything to you?" Drew questioned.

"Does the word, `clearance' mean anything to you?" he replied evenly.

"It would if you had any." Al frowned. "Look, Al, I'm sorry, but I'm not
the one to give you this information."

"Then who is?"

"Nobody's gonna give you anything over the phone, not on this one."

Al leaned forward. He was making some progress - slow, but certain. "Who
do I talk to?"

"You're going to have to come up to D.C.," Drew warned.

"No." On that point, he was nonnegotiable. "I'm not going back there."

"Suit yourself, but you'll never get anywhere from Minneapolis."

Al's expression was very unhappy. "I swore I'd never go back there."

"Al... Listen, I don't know what you've been going through, pal, and I
wish I could help you, but
I can't. I've already told you more than I should have; I don't see what
else I can do."

"Right. Thanks," he said without enthusiasm.

In the instant after he hung up the phone, Al realized he had made a
decision: he had to go back to D.C.

June, 2002
Washington D.C.

It took two days and many hours of talking, persisting, and generally
pestering, but Al began slowly to ferret out the truth. One clue led to
another and that one to another. His passage of travel wove an intricate
design from office to office. The fact that it took him so long only
went to show that very few people knew about the project. Surprisingly,
even fewer people seemed to be aware that Sam was behind it. An even
smaller number expressed any kind of willingness to discuss it.

What he hoped was his second to last stop landed him outside Weitzman's
door. The secretary told him he needed an appointment and he told her,
in no uncertain terms, what to do with her scheduling notebook. Then he
marched past in the flustered aftermath and burst in on the man.

Weitzman didn't even bat an eye. "Calavicci. I heard you were back in

"What tipped you off?" he asked, sitting down without being invited.

"The row of white flags."

Al didn't acknowledge the statement as a joke. "Where's yours?" he asked
with a solemn face.

Weitzman folded his hands on the desk. "Don't have one. Never use ‘em
myself. I heard you were asking about Doctor Beckett."

"I got the information I came for," he stated.

Now the senator raised an eyebrow, his equivalent of gasping in
surprise. Al had the feeling he didn't believe him. "Then why are you

"I want a job on the project."

The other eyebrow went up, then he relaxed. "That's not possible."

This, Al knew, would prove to be the difficult part. "Why not?"

"All requests for employees have to go through Doctor Beckett or Doctor

"So?" It wasn't the excuse he'd expected.

"So it was Doctor Beckett's request that you not be on this project."

Al blinked, certain he had to have heard wrong. "What?"

"Oh, you missed that little piece of information in your interrogations,
did you? Who spilled the beans, anyway? The janitor? The secretary?" He
leaned back in obvious satisfaction with catching Al's inadequate

"It doesn't matter who," Al said absently, still visibly upset from what
the senator told him. Could he be lying, or was Sam? As much as he hated
to face it, given the respective track records of each, he was inclined
to believe that they both were. But, if it was true, Sam had gone to
great lengths to see that Al never joined the team. He wondered, in
light of what he had discovered about the latest venue, if he now knew
why. Surely Sam realized he would be disgusted with what he was
attempting. "What do I have to do to get a job on this project?"

He smiled; he had Al right where he wanted him, now. "Negotiate."

A dozen warning bells sounded. "Meaning?"

"Meaning you run things my way, or the only thing you'll be in charge of
is the cleaning staff."

"I've got plenty on you, Senator, so don't try and play this game with
me," Al snapped, leaning over Weitzman's desk. "I know what your project
is, even if Sam doesn't, and unless you want me to blow it wide open..."

"I wouldn't advise that, Admiral."

Al clenched his hands into fists. "Trust me, Senator, there's not a
thing you can do to me. And I can have your head."

June, 2002
Montgomery, MD

Something wasn't right.

He manipulated numbers, creating a harmonious movement of idea and
application that few could have followed, and it continued to not be
right. Frustrated, he tried again. And again.

Then, in mental exhaustion, Sam leaned back and threw down the pencil.
Deep inside, maybe not even that deep, he knew why what used to be so
easy no longer was. He was distracted, upset, and concerned. What he'd
done had ended a 13 year relationship, except he really couldn't claim
that when it had been nonexistent for over two of those years. But, like
it or not, the government owned him. At least it didn't own Al, too.

For the millionth time, he went over it. He'd done what he had to do,
right? It was getting so hard to tell...everything was in a jumble. His
thoughts kept returning to what Weitzman told him: that this whole
situation was highly sensitive and the fewer people involved... All he
knew was once the decision had been made, it was too late to reverse it.

He got up and moved through the small apartment that had become his
temporary home, the action serving as little more than an attempt to
clear his mind. True, the project was half done and proceeding ahead of
schedule, but, without Al's constant backing, it was missing a vital
piece that Quantum Leap always had the security of possessing. On the
other hand, even the vaguest threat of termination never seemed to be
present, a fact that Sam hadn't taken the effort to analyze yet.

Scarcely had he sat back down, determined to solve the current equation,
when there was a loud banging at his door. Sam jumped in surprise and
scowled. If that was Elane... Actually, if it was Elane, perhaps she
could help him figure it out. Before Sam could make a move for the door,
the banging came again, more forceful this time. Not Elane, then. Sam
began to be faintly annoyed, but he pushed the emotion back and crossed
the room to open the door.

Sam gasped in shock for the person standing in front of him was the last
person he'd expected. In fact, he'd spent the last three days - indeed,
the last two years - dealing with the concept that he might never see
him again. Before he could begin to frame a greeting that would be even
halfway appropriate given their parting, Al burst into the room.

"Sam Beckett, what the _hell_ do you think you're doing?!" he demanded

Sam was instantly flustered. "I beg your pardon?"

"Look at you," he ordered, "six PhDs and not a modicum of common sense
to show for it!"

Sam was so completely taken aback by Al's self-assured rage that he
couldn't even begin to grasp what Al was talking about. "I - I don't

"Your pet project. I never figured you for the type to do something
quite so stupid." Al snapped his fingers in front of Sam's face and the
scientist flinched.

"What do you know about my project?"

"Lemme tell you something, kid. When you're on the finance committee,
you know every aspect of an operation like this."

Sam folded his arms. "Barker spoke with you," he fumed in instant

"Barker's _under_ me," Al corrected.

Sam paled. "That's impossible."

"This halfcocked idea needs someone with at least half a brain to watch
over it and, hopefully, shut it down," Al declared.

"Shut it-"

"What are you thinking, Sam?" he interrupted, and began to roam around
the room as he lectured, waving his arms about emphatically. "Going into
the future? Our nation's leaders can barely handle a paper clip without
automatically devising a way to kill someone with it, and now you want
to give them a glimpse of what kind of goodies they'll have 50 years
down the road? Or 100? It's insane! When you were in the past, we
weren't in control, but this is deliberate shaping and changing we're
talking about here. To benefit who?!"

"That's not what I-"

Again, Al cut him off. "You think Congress had a secure hold on PQL?
That's nothing to the control they have over this baby. This whole thing
is trouble, and it's gonna blow up in your face."

"I don't want you on this project, Al," Sam said stubbornly, finally
seeming to regain his footing.

"That's what Weitzman said. Shocked the hell outta me, too, because I'd
somehow assumed that whatever you'd told me in my house was the truth.
Kinda naive, huh? Been around you too long." He cocked his head. "But
they say hindsight is 20/20, don't they?"

But Sam was not to be deterred. "I don't want you on this project," he
repeated, more forcefully.

"Tough. All he needed was the signature of you or Elane Prescott. Once
she got hold of my credentials, she signed on the dotted line. Seems you
never told her about me."

"I was scared to."

"Yeah, well, it's a rough life."

"Al, I'm doing what I have to do. Isn't that what you always did?"

Al stopped his pacing and ranting and looked at Sam for the first time,
perhaps looking for the man he knew. In one respect, it seemed, Sam
Beckett had died. "Yeah. It is. Let me tell you a story." Sam wasn't
feeling up for a story of any kind, but he held his peace. "There was
this guy - pillar of the community, right? College professor, father of
two, active in his church and town. Well, this guy finds out from a
friend that his wife's cheating on him. He dismisses it as a rumor. She
starts to go out at night and he becomes suspicious, so one day he says
he has to work on a Sunday, but he follows her instead. She runs some
errands and eventually stops in for lunch at some small restaurant. He
follows her in." Al paused and took a heavy breath, running his hand
across his face. "So when he sees her sit down to eat with another man
he... I don't know, I guess he goes a little nutso. He snaps, he loses
it. He also pulls out a .38 caliber pistol and shoots them both." Sam
cringed and sat down, wondering what this story had to do with anything.
"The man, he dies instantly, but his wife is still alive. Everyone in
the restaurant is terrified and there's chaos everywhere - people
screaming, running for cover, but, in the meantime, his wife is bleeding
to death on the floor. So this doctor who had been having lunch with a
friend goes to try and help her and he shoots her, too.

"Well, someone grabs the guy from behind and gets the gun and, by this
time, several of the patrons have dialed 911 and there's sirens in the
distance. The guy's wife dies minutes after the paramedics arrive, but
the doctor is still alive. She dies 10 hours later at the hospital."

Sam watched Al's face, which had become more and more tight as the story
continued. Still, he seemed to have much more control over his emotions
than he had at his house. With a start, Sam realized why: Al didn't lose
his composure in front of strangers.

"You know what? The day she died, I was here. They told me she died
_calling_my_name_, but I was here. Doing what I thought I had to do."
Sam dropped his gaze. "And the truly ironic part is, the woman was never
having an affair," Al's voice continued, all the more tense. "Beth asked
me not to come that weekend. She said she wanted me to stay home, to
hold her, to make love to her. She wanted to spend time with me, and I
told her, `no'. It was supposed to be our 42nd anniversary today.

"When I thought you were gone, possibly and - in my mind - probably
dead, it hurt. It cut me so deep that I thought everything my life stood
for had died with you. And, yet, Beth stood by me. When I became
fanatical in my efforts, she stood by me. Even when she knew I was
tearing our new life apart because I couldn't let go of the old, she
stood by me.

"And then she...died, and there was no-one left to cling to." He cleared
his throat. "I thought nothing could ever hurt so bad as losing my best
friend and my wife, but I was wrong."

"How?" Sam asked hoarsely. He felt Al's painful gaze on him.

"Because when I saw you at that airport, I couldn't handle it. I
couldn't handle the thought that I could be wrong and I'd have to lose
you all over - that's why I left! Even when you came to my house, up
until the point your hand didn't just go through me, I was still scared
to accept. And when I did...and found out you'd lied to me, it hurt more
than anything else in my life.

"And you, Sam Beckett, can never comprehend how much. So the next time
you do `what you have to do,' remember what they say about the road to

Without a backwards glance, Al let himself out of the apartment.

(I know these are still coming a little slow... I apologize. Thanks
again for those who wrote me after posting the last two!  -amkt)