January, 2003
Hibbing, MN

Al flipped aimlessly through the magazine without actually reading
anything. It had been about five hours since David had shown up with
Jay, eight hours since Al had driven his oldest daughter to the
hospital. David was in the delivery room (where they'd only just moved
her 30 minutes ago), and he and Jay were left in the waiting room. Jay
had immediately taken to a toy plane there and spent a good hour and a
half running around the small table making appropriate noises to go with
the swoops and dives, but now it was an hour past when he would normally
be in bed and he sat quietly in Al's lap, his head resting against Al's
shoulder, one finger idly twirling the wheel on
the plane.

"How much longer?" he asked in muffled speech without even the energy to

"I don't know, Jay. We'll just have to wait and see."

Jay sat up as if he'd seen someone he knew, then collapsed back into his
customary slouch, his head jostling Al's arm. "I wanna go home," he

Al sighed deeply and rubbed his blonde hair (quite plainly from his
father). "Why don't you go to sleep?"

"Not tired." he replied, stifling a yawn.

"Uh-huh." Al rubbed his back slowly and methodically and, within three
minutes, his small hands released the plane and it slid off Al's leg to
the soft carpeting. Al smiled to himself - it had always worked with

Another half hour proceeded in silence, the occasional person wandering
in and out of the area, the smell of coffee drifting in from the
cafeteria down the hall. Al closed his eyes and leaned his head back
against the wall, feeling Jay's slight weight against his chest. He
relished moments like this. The time to play with the boy, to watch him
grow up. He loved the evening talks he still had with Marina, and the
feeling of closeness and support that abounded in the house.

But it wasn't enough.

He almost felt that there must be something wrong with him, that the
perfect life wasn't good enough. It had been, for a while, but now he
needed something more. He needed a life that wasn't attached to someone
else. Or, maybe just one that wasn't dependent on someone else.

"Sir?" Someone touched his shoulder lightly and he opened his eyes. A
nurse was standing over him.

"Is everything okay?" he asked.

She straightened. "Yes. A healthy baby girl, 7 pounds, 10 ounces."

He smiled. "Is it okay to go in?"

The answer came as a resounding affirmative and, after being swathed in
protective garb (a procedure Jay slept through), they were admitted into
the room. Marina drew a faint but radiant smile from the deepest part of
herself as he entered the room. She was watching David, who was holding
their daughter.

"Hi," she said quietly.

He bent and kissed her forehead. "Hi, sweetheart."

She laughed, a light, delicate sound. "You gonna wake him up?" she
asked. Jay was draped against Al's left shoulder, mouth hanging open,
eyes closed.

Al grinned, laying him down on the bed beside his mother. "In a minute -
he looks so contented."

"If David could give her up for just a while, you could hold her,"
Marina said pointedly.

"Oh, no, no," Al said quickly, "let him have his moment. I still
remember the first time I held you in my arms." He smiled slightly and
she squeezed his hand. "I want to hear you say her name," he murmured.

"Elizabeth JoAnn Seton."

Al nodded, staring at the baby across the hospital bed and held back the
tears. "Perfect," he whispered. Then, louder, "I wish your mother was
here to see her."

Marina didn't reply, but David suddenly decided he could part with her
for a few seconds. Al took her in his arms, chuckling as she opened her
big eyes to determine what was going on.

"She's beautiful," Al said quietly, brushing her cheek with his
fingertip. "Hello, Elizabeth. I want to tell you how special you are and
how much I love you..." He didn't want to keep her from her parents for
too long, but each instant he cradled her was a treasure. He had the
feeling there weren't too many more such moments left for him. Mentally,
he shook himself - what was he doing, thinking like that? Especially now
that things were just starting to get back on track. Elizabeth stirred
slightly and he looked up to see David grinning so widely that it
threatened to split his face in two. Al handed her back off. "Marina, I
don't want to start any trouble now, but I - I think I have to go."

Marina looked up, her first instinct to ask where he was headed, but one
look in his eyes and she realized he meant leave Ely. "When?"

"Well, I was going to drive out East tomorrow - I have a few things I
need to look into."

"Okay," she said quietly.

"I'm really sorry to do this to you, honey, especially now..."

Elizabeth started to cry and Marina took her back from David and  rocked
her gently. "I knew this day was coming, Dad. We'll miss you, but don't
feel bad." She laughed softly. "I think she's hungry."

Al bent over her. "Yep," he confirmed, "her grandmother's eyes and her
mother's appetite."

January, 2003
Stallion Springs, NM

The phone rang a fourth time before Sam reached it, just before the
machine would have picked up. He cupped the speaker in his palm and
glanced at the clock. 3 AM. He sighed and lifted the phone.


"Dr. Beckett."

"Weitzman," Sam groaned.

"Very good." The senator sounded smug. "I'm afraid I have some bad

*Here it comes,* Sam thought, but he wasn't prepared for what came next.

"Dr. Prescott broke into the complex tonight and tried to sabotage our
operation. She's in the hospital."

Sam stood up, shocked. "She what?"

"Yes." Weitzman's tone adopted something resembling sympathy.

"What happened?" he demanded.

"Oh, don't worry. Your computer's fine; she wasn't able to do any

"Forget Ziggy," Sam snapped. A lot had changed, he reflected. Two years
ago, he wouldn't have dreamed of talking to a US Senator like this.
"What happened to Elane?"

"One of the guards saw her and warned her to stop. When she didn't, he
tried to grab her and she jerked back and hit her head. The doctors
assure me she should be fine in a few days."

"Days?" Sam echoed in disbelief. He didn't believe it - he didn't
believe a word of it, except that Elane had tried to close them down.
After all that talk earlier...  Either she'd changed her mind or she'd
lied to him to keep him out of the picture. "It had to be more than
that! What did your people do to her?"

"Doctor, I'll thank you kindly not to speak to me in that way ever
again," he said coldly, all pretense evaporating from his demeanor.
"She's at the hospital; that's all I called to tell you." Without
waiting to hear Sam's reaction, he broke the connection.

Sam was ready to go in ten minutes flat. He dressed and forced a cup of
scalding coffee down his throat, then locked up and made a pathetic
trail out to his car.

*She could have gotten herself killed,* he thought angrily. It was hard
to say who he was more upset with: Weitzman or Elane. By the time he
reached the hospital, it was almost 4 AM and it had started to rain, a
light drizzle that added an atmosphere of dreariness to Sam's outlook.
He pulled into the visitor's parking and went inside.

"I'm looking for Elane Prescott," he told the nurse on duty.

The woman flipped through the charts. "Room 203," she said pleasantly,
"but the doctor's not quite ready for her to have visitors yet. It
should only be another hour or so if you want to wait."

"Thank you." Sam turned, took a few steps, then walked back to the desk.
"I'm sorry, can you tell me what her condition is?"

"Oh, it's nothing too serious, sir. Mostly bumps and bruises, a few
separated ribs, but she also had a pretty bad concussion and so they
wanted to keep her under observation for a few days."

Sam swallowed tightly. "I see - thank you. Will you let me know when I
can go in?"

She smiled. "Certainly."

He sat down on a long wooden bench up against the wall - the point
furthest away from anyone else in the room - and leaned forward, his
elbows on his knees, his head resting on his fingertips. Just once, why
couldn't something work right?

"Just once," he whispered between clenched teeth. "I should never have
come home." With no-one there with him, Sam began slowly to crumble.
Over two years of weight pressed onto his shoulders and he couldn't bear
it anymore! And now, with Elane hurt, he thought his heart could finally
and completely break. It could only bring relief.

Without entirely realizing it, Sam began softly to cry. Never before had
he felt so completely and utterly alone in his life.

Someone touched his shoulder, but he pulled away. He couldn't face
anyone like this, not even Elane. Not yet.

But then the person sat down beside him and a sad voice sighed softly,
"Oh, Sam..." Sam didn't even look at his face, just allowed Al to pull
him into a comforting embrace. As if he was a child, Sam buried his face
in Al's suit and wept.

After a few moments, Al spoke again, in low gentle tones. "I didn't know
things had got this bad. I should never have left. I'm sorry, Sam. You
listening to me? I'm sorry." He patted Sam's back. "I should never have
run when I knew you needed me." And he had: they had needed each other.

The flood of anguish slowed and stopped and Sam moved away, wiping at
his eyes. "Al..." His voice sounded hoarse and unsteady in his own ears.

"I come back into town," Al continued, still subconsciously soothing
with his voice, still touching Sam's arm protectively, "to find a mess.
And then I heard about Elane and what you two have been doing the past
few weeks... I see you sitting there looking as if you don't have a
friend in the world." Sam took a shuddering breath. "Well, you're wrong.
I came back, didn't I?"

Finally, Sam looked up at him. "Can you ever forgive me?"

Regret mingled with sorrow shone in Al's eyes. "Aw, Sam...kid... We all
do what we think is best at the time, and sometimes we're wrong. You
shouldn't need my forgiveness for trying to help me, but if you do, you
have it." Sam released a heavy breath. "I want you to know something:
all those times I messed up my life - came damn close to messing up
yours, too, remember? All those years after we met... Y'know?" Sam
didn't, but he nodded anyway. "I found out just the other day that Beth
- she prayed for you, for you and me both, the night before we met."


Al smiled softly. "While I was out there screwing everything up, she
prayed to God for help. And He sent you."

Sam blinked. He wasn't certain exactly where this was going, but he
wasn't sure he was comfortable with the glimpse he was getting. "Why are
you telling me this, Al?"

Al exhaled heavily. "I guess all those years you believed in me when I
didn't even want it, I guess I just need you to know I believe in you.
Sure, you screwed up - it happens. You screwed up big and that happens
more often than you might think. But I still have faith in you - I
always did, and what you've been trying to do at the project more than
justifies that faith. I'm real proud of you, Sam."

Sam closed his eyes. "I really needed that," he murmured shakily. "I'm
glad you came back."

"I'm glad you came home."

Sam laughed faintly. "I think, for the first time, I am, too."

"What about Elane? Didn't she ever make you happy you were here?"

Sam stared at the floor. "I guess."

"How is she?"

"I haven't seen her yet, but they say they're mainly worried about the
concussion. Weitzman made it sound as if she'd hurt herself trying to
avoid getting caught, but I don't believe it."

Al nodded somberly. "Donna loved you, y'know? More than anything."

Sam looked at him, confused at the jump the conversation had taken. "I

"But you're not defiling her memory."

Sam frowned. "You've lost me."

Al glanced up at him, surprised. "You mean you don't know?"

Now he was totally baffled. "Know what?"

"That you're in love with Elane."

"What?!" He shifted uneasily on the hard wooden bench.

"Sir?" The nurse stood in front of him, waiting for his attention. "The
doctor said if you'd like to visit Ms. Prescott, you're free to any

"Thank you," Sam said hastily.

"So then you haven't talked to her," Al resumed as if the interruption
had never taken place.

"Al...this is crazy. She's too young for me."

"What's a decade at this point?"

Sam smiled faintly. "A decade? Boy, do you think she's that young, or
I'm that old?"

"Go on, talk to her. I've known you too long - you're so obvious. You
love her."

Sam considered his friend. "Maybe," he admitted.

"Elane's special. She's the first lady I've met since Donna who's even
half the woman Beth was." Sam smiled despite himself. "Listen to me -
listen carefully. Don't waste one minute, Sam, not one! Life's too

Sam ran a hand over his face. "Since when did you get so philosophical?"
he asked with mild humor.

Al faced him seriously. "Since I cried for my best friend and my wife.
Since I held my granddaughter in my arms just a few days ago and heard
them name her `Elizabeth'. Since...I learned there is a God who gives a
damn about me." He paused. "Reason enough?"

Sam touched Al's shoulder lightly as he stood up. "I'll go talk to her."

Al stood, too. "Sam, wait," he called, stopping the younger man in his
tracks. "It's good to talk with you again," he murmured, suddenly

Sam retraced his steps and hugged Al tightly, feeling complete for the
first time in a long time. "You, too, Al. Thank you."