Part VI

July, 2002
Northfield, MN

Beth's mother had died not long before she and Al had met Sam, and that
was part of the reason Al was so reluctant to read her letters. He knew
she'd continued to write them (she and her mother were always very
close), address them, and seal them, then she'd tuck them away in a box
kept expressly for that purpose. Al, who had never had any real
relationship with his own mother - nor did he ever desire one - had once
asked her why she bothered.

"A lot of reasons, really," she'd replied. "It helps me put my life in
perspective, looking at the overall picture, it helps me work through my
problems, and...it helps me feel closer to her."

Now, in the wake of Sam's departure, in the oncoming dusk, he stared at
the pile of letters and the one he'd had for seven months - the note
she'd dictated from the deathbed his absence had condemned her to. And
he asked himself the same question he'd asked Sam not long after the
incident at the vending machine: "If you can't go forward and you can't
go home, where can you go?"

There was no answer now, either. Just silence.

"Oh, Beth," he breathed into the stillness, "I wish you were here -
you'd know what to do. Everything's just - really messed up, you know?"
He chuckled softly. "I'm really messed up. I can't tell which way is
which anymore."

He sat still for several more seconds, then tore open the first letter
and started to read.

 Mom,         April 14, 1988

It's been about a month now and, though it seems silly to do this, I
really need someone to talk to. Normally, I'd just call you, but it's
not going to work this time.

I really miss you, especially now. Things aren't going much better than
when you were still alive - Al's always away, immersed in work with this
project of his or hiding out in town. He still won't talk to me or tell
me what's wrong and I'm afraid that, for the second time, I've been
contemplating things that won't be easy for any of us. I know you
consider "divorce" a dirty word, but I guess when you're out of options,
it can almost be a relief. He did come with me to your funeral and
things almost seemed normal again, especially that evening. He can be
very reassuring when he wants to be.

But now, I'm afraid, we're back to square one. I don't know what to do -
I'm at my wits' end. The girls seem okay for now, but they know
something's wrong and I don't know what to tell them.

I just heard the front door - I hope that means Al's home. I love you
and I wish you were here.


Al folded the letter and stuffed it back into the envelope. "Mistake,"
he muttered. The reminder of those days was the last thing he needed.
Even in this history, with a wife and four children, Al had had his
personal wars that seemed intent on destroying him. While Al himself had
not been in as deep of a hole as before, he also stood to lose a lot

And then Sam had come along and showed him that the happiness he had
been so desperately searching for was right under his nose. Sam Beckett
had been a faithful friend and a trusted partner in every respect for
years. But all that had changed and Al was no longer certain if he
himself had done what was right, or was merely justifying his decision.

So was Sam right in doing what he had or wasn't he? Or did it matter? Al
had to admit to himself that, had he known Sam was back, he would most
certainly have gone off to be involved in the next adventure. How much
did Sam really think he'd been protecting him, though?

More importantly, did the death of his faith in Sam indicate the lack of
validity of all his ideals? Either way, Al had learned a lot from the
innocent farm-boy with the puppy dog eyes and he put it into practice
now. What did he have? He had a home to go to, a daughter who loved him,
and a family to welcome him. The main difference, he reflected, between
then and now, was that now, he was going to seek out and cling to what
he had left, instead of hiding from it.

Al made a mental note to call the movers in the morning.


Whatever small part of the summer that remained passed by without
incident. Al sold the house where he and Beth had lived and moved up to
Ely to help with preparations for the baby who, they eventually found
out through ultrasound, was indeed a girl.

Sam and Elane proceeded with work on the project as if Al had never been
present to disrupt it. Sam tried several times to locate Al's new home,
but to no avail. He found out the names of Al's daughters easily enough,
mostly through his own scattered memory than with any help of the
system, but he didn't know who Al was staying with and, of the two who
had married, he didn't know married names. Had Ziggy still been
assembled, the problem could have been solved in short order, but that
wasn't going to be done until the time to test the new experiment drew

Sam's relationship with Elane grew and expanded out of the professional,
but never advanced into the degree of any romantic interests. She did,
however, become a valued friend and advisor in the light of Al's
absence. Even so, Sam felt the pain of that loss frequently and acutely.

It wasn't until November or so that Sam began to be aware of pressures
that felt painstakingly familiar. Even though they had dropped behind on
construction, they were still pretty much on schedule and all costs were
well within the proposed budget. If anything, things were going much
more smoothly than Quantum Leap ever had. Admittedly, this was due
partly to the fact that they set up base back in Stallions Gate. It only
made sense - fewer alterations were necessary and all of Ziggy's
components were still there.

But suddenly the Committee wasn't happy. Interestingly enough, the
complaints coincided with concerns Elane was starting to express -
concerns reminiscent of those Al had mentioned to him. Now memos landed
on Sam's desk nearly every week, demanding reports on the level of
progress on a new wing, or the amount of calculations he had left, memos
he used to go running to Al with. Inevitably, Al would calm him down and
assure him it was nothing, just "routine nosiness from the nozzles in
the capital", and then send him home to get some rest. Sam would argue
for a while before meekly obeying. It was about the third time Sam came
back the next morning to find Al still dressed in the same clothes and
looking as if he'd been hit by a bus when the scientist finally realized
it _wasn't_ nothing - far from it. The fifth time it happened, he sent
Al out the following evening for a night on the town with Beth.

Then he leaped.

Things were different this time, though. For one thing, one of the
issues he was arguing with them about was who was going to leap. Sam
voted for himself; he didn't have anything holding him back - Donna was
dead, Al was gone... The Committee said `no'. He put Elane's name in the
pot. The Committee said `no'. More to see what would happen than
anything else, he suggested Al. This time, the answer came back twice as
quickly: `NO!' With that, Sam knew Al had been right - they'd lied from
the start.

All of his badgering only served to confirm that Al had been right and
they had never intended to leap him anywhere. If only he hadn't been so
damned confused and sick and torn up over Donna's death when he agreed
to everything...

So now they were nearing a stage they might never get beyond. The group
of senators wanted to send a Dr. Martin Boyd, a man Sam had met several
times. Dr. Boyd had a Ph.D. in quantum physics and was a genius in every
sense of the word. He had done extensive studies into many of Sam's pet
projects and was the perfect candidate in every way: historian, scholar,
even had a Masters in psychology. As far as his bio was concerned, Sam
would have been a fool not to agree on the spot, except for one problem:
the man didn't have an original idea in his head.

Not one.

He could recite, he could analyze, he could explore a laid out scenario
into as much depth as anyone could hope for, but he was not a dreamer,
not a visionary. In other words, he was an extension of Weitzman.

The wisdom of Al's warnings were becoming clearer by the day. And as
each of those days came to a close, he realized there was less and less
he could do about it. Weitzman had set things up too perfectly. He'd
told him of his wife's passing, their plans to use Al in whatever scheme
was being cooked up, then they gave him a new dream and the money to go
along with it. As he thought back, he realized the people he'd hired to
come onto the project he actually hadn't chosen. Weitzman had found
them. Not that they weren't qualified - far from it. But they were all
followers, they all played by the rules. Even, to some extent, Elane.
And that, Sam realized, was the difference. Al knew the ropes, could
anticipate and see through any attempts of Congress to gain a
stranglehold, and he _never_ played by any rules but his own.

Dr. Beckett could weave numbers into a complex pattern Al couldn't even
hope to understand, but Congress had created a trap for him that he
hadn't even seen, much less been able to negotiate a mode of escape

So he had to face one terrible fact: he was stuck. He and Elane were
going to have to break all the rules, and perhaps put an end to the
project, to get unstuck.

December, 2002
Ely, MN

Marina sighed heavily and tried to adjust into a more comfortable
position. She was eight months pregnant and she felt every bit of it. It
was at the point now where she was counting down the days, just ready
for the whole darn thing to be o-ver!

David paced in front of her chair in their bedroom. He was a little
agitated with her, she knew. After all the plans to move her father into
the spare room, after all the work and effort, she was now pulling this
on them all.

"What," he asked slowly, stopping his pace and turning to face her, "do
you mean, `He's not happy'?"

She shifted again, anxiously. "I mean he's not, David."

"Well, did _he_ tell you that?"

"No," she admitted.

David threw up his hands. `So?' the action said.

"Look...you don't understand. Dad's never been one to sit by and let
everything happen in front of him without involving himself, for better
or worse. I remember when I was a kid, he'd go on endlessly about the
idiots - excuse me - nozzles he'd have to put up with. About how some
lieutenant wasn't doing his job right or how the liaison he was dealing
with wouldn't listen. I used to ask Mom what was wrong with him and
she'd say, `He's just having the time of his life.' He was never happy
unless he had some hopeless cause to fight for, from getting Dr. Beckett
on his staff to saving the environment single-handedly."

"So why did you want to drag him up here in the first place?"

Marina glared, suddenly angry. "Because I wanted him to be around
family," she stated, as if her logic was obvious.

He seemed about to retaliate, then he sucked in a calming breath.
"Okay," he said tensely, "fine. What do you want me to do about it?"

She hadn't gotten that far. She'd assumed, she supposed, that she just
expected he'd know how to correct the situation. David rolled his eyes
and left the room before she could protest. Thirty seconds later, he
came back in.

"Come here," he said, extending a hand to help her up.

By this point another mood swing had hit and she felt close to tears.
"Why?" she said shakily, ignoring his offered assistance.

"Because I want to show you something."

Reluctantly, she grasped his hand and he led her to the doorway and

Stretched out on the couch was her father, fast asleep, his face
smoothed into an expression of peace. Snuggled up next to him was Jay,
laying half on the couch, half atop Al, one small hand grasping the
fabric of his grandfather's sleeve. Despite herself, a small smile rose
to her face.

"Still think he's unhappy?" David whispered in her ear and left her
standing there while he went to start dinner.

Her smile faded slightly. "Yes," she murmured sadly.