"Lost Causes"
Part X

April, 1992
Pomona, NE

Dr. Beckett pulled up across from the building and eyed his surroundings
suspiciously. Surely this couldn't be right, could it? He reached for
the slip of paper beside him and confirmed that it had to be this place.

So now what? He couldn't just knock on the door, but, by the same token,
he couldn't call the police - Al had said that this was about Quantum
Leap and the police couldn't be involved in that. So what could he do?
He stared at the empty building another moment, then opened the door and
got out. There were no noises from within that he could discern and a
quick walk along the outskirts of the property revealed nothing unusual.

He took a deep breath and climbed the front stairs and tried the knob.
The door opened silently and he peered anxiously inside, trying to hear
the sounds of anything above the thudding of his own heart. The door
swung open to reveal a long hallway with two or three doors on either
wall and a stairwell at the far end. At the stairs, the hall branched
into a perpendicular direction both ways, no doubt leading to more
series of offices. To his right a few paces in was a small room, the
door halfway open. Empty bars spoke of a walk-in closet, once used by
the employees that used to work here. Something Sam couldn't make out
was in the corner, but he didn't move to investigate yet. He was still
frozen to the spot, worried his actions would attract the attention of
whoever else may be present.

Several more seconds ticked by before he moved into the room and knelt
down. He picked up the ropes with a heavy heart, bracing himself against
the concrete wall as he stood. Moving out into the hallway light, he
could see they'd been cut and there was a faint impression of blood
against the threads. Anger overrode fear and he gritted his teeth and
clenched his fist around the cords so tightly that it hurt. He was so
furious that tears rose in his eyes. What if he was too late? What if Al
was already dead?!

A voice echoed down the hall suddenly and Sam ducked back into the
closet, pulling the door shut behind him, braced to fight if necessary.
He couldn't hear the man's companion, but the entire county must have
been able to hear him. He was almost yelling, his voice tinged with
rage, almost uncontrolled, and a terrible urgency.

"You're damn right I'm taking his gun! They told him to leave it behind
to get _our_ money," he was saying. "So help me, if you tell me to calm
down one more time, I'm going to..." He stopped, sounding defeated.
"You'll regret it when I get back." A pause. "Let me tell you one
thing." The man and his quiet companion stopped outside the door. "If
she does anything to him I'll shoot her and I don't care the
consequences." Sam stood next to the wooden barrier, straining to hear a
response. "You know who she is - who she must be! I'm not going to let
her do to Al what she did to Alia."

Sam caught his breath and reached for the handle, wondering if this was
the ally he needed. Before he could decide, he heard the front door
slam. He threw open the closet door and reached the front door just as
the dead bolt was locked from the outside, trapping him inside. He
banged on the door in frustration, but either they couldn't hear him or
they were ignoring him. He looked out the window to see one man get into
a car and drive off at alarming speeds. He never saw where the person
he'd been speaking to had gone.

In desperation, he threw the stained ropes he still clutched to the
floor, jumping in surprise when the clinking of glass scratched harsh
tones in the air. He turned to see the ropes hanging halfway out of a
box. Curious and somewhat grateful for the distraction from the
predicament he was only starting to realize he was in, he bent to
inspect the box and it contents. Once he saw the needles, the empty
vials, it was a fight to contain the bile that rose in his throat. After
the nausea had passed, he got up abruptly and quickly, not even stopping
to think that there may have still been people in the building that
could hear him, and entered the room across from the makeshift prison.
It was an empty office with a modest-sized window. Channeling the
adrenaline in his system, he kicked the window out, not even flinching
at the loud shattering of glass or at the pain in his ankle as it
absorbed the shock. Then he climbed out, gasping in the fresh air and
wondering where to go from here.

April, 1992
En Route to Ainsworth, NE

Halfway to the place he knew they had to be taking Al, Sam remembered
being in the closet, remembered being found by the police and notified
of Al's death, remembered his friend having lost his life before ever
knowing he had it. The new memories ran together with the ones he
already had like watercolors, leaving Sam confused and afraid of how the
odds were shifting.

April, 1992
Ainsworth, NE

Al could feel sweat beading on his forehead as he watched her. It was
over now, he knew that. Whatever courage he'd mustered was gone and he
had faded back into his original mind-set. They'd pulled off the straps
that held his arm down while the IV was attached, but his forearm was
still lying across the arm of the chair. He knew she was going to kill
him anyhow - why bother fighting?

The two men were gone; if he hadn't been so shaky and nauseous from the
drugs and if she hadn't had the gun tucked into her belt, he could have
been out of here by that point. She pulled a vial out of a case and
focused on the needle as she filled it. "So, Admiral," she said
conversationally, "I trust you're ready for this to be over?" She turned
now to look at him, but he didn't respond. For a moment, a flash of
anger erupted in her eyes at his silence, but then she smiled again and
resumed filling the needle. "Do you know what this is, or has he not
even told you that much?" she asked with genuine curiosity.

He looked up to see the liquid draining out of the small vial. "Who?"
His voice was rough.

"Your friend." Her grin widened. "I see. I told you you should have
picked them more carefully, but we'll get to that shortly. He should be
here at any moment."

He felt he should demand to know who the hell she was talking about, but
he was still sick to his stomach and he wasn't sure he was up to it. She
fingered the handle of the gun, as if to remind him who was in charge
here. She tapped the needle with her fingernail and looked at him.
"Worried?" she inquired.

He shrugged. "Should I be?" The advantages to not caring, he thought to
himself - it took less effort than defiance.

Anger darkened her eyes again, for longer this time. She crossed the
room to him and pulled out and cocked the gun, aiming it at his head.
"Time's up."

He squeezed his eyes shut tightly and braced himself for the sound of
his own death.

The door banged open and his eyes snapped open to see Derrick standing
in the doorway, a gun of his own aimed towards the woman. "Stop!"

She didn't even turn to face him, but held the needle next to Al's arm.
He sucked in his breath, waiting for the blow that had to be coming one
way or another. "Nice of you to join us. I thought you weren't going to
make it, Doctor."

The use of the title soaked slowly through the haze on Al's mind. It
certainly surprised him. Something about it seemed to surprise Derrick,
too, because he flinched.

Derrick readjusted his grip and bit his bottom lip anxiously, but there
was little hesitation in his blue eyes. "If you do anything, I'll shoot

She moved slowly, the gun lowered by her side, but the needle remained
where it was. "Surely you know by now that shooting me won't do you much
good unless you're an experienced marksman. And, I'm told, you're not.
It obviously didn't work well last time." She returned her attention to
Al, but kept her words focused to her would-be murderer. "Did it, Dr.

Al felt the blood drain from his face and he glanced towards Derrick,
expecting the obvious protest to the mistaken identity. Instead, the
man's breath began to quicken and he avoided Al's eyes. "What good is
that needle going to do you, Zoe?" he pressed. "It is, Zoe, right?"

Al shifted uncomfortably, but he couldn't find the voice to speak the
hundreds of questions flooding his mind. As it was, Zoe (if it was her -
she never gave him the satisfaction of a confirmation, or so it seemed
to Al) wasn't going to let it drop that easily. "Why don't you tell him,
Doctor? Why don't you tell him Quantum Leap works? Though...not for

Derrick - Al still refused to accept what was before him - took another
step into the room and, suddenly, Al remembered the last few days. He
remembered how Derrick had known so much about him and his situation,
how he had known everything about Sam, and how he'd known of Quantum
Leap. He remembered how he'd seemed to change into a completely
different person, how he'd known about Al's worst fears.

"No..." Al whispered and moved to stand. She pressed the point of the
needle against his skin and he shrank back, barely registering Sam's cry
of warning.

"I would've thought you'd enlighten him about your adventures, Doctor,"
she continued, still sturdy and self-assured. "Why don't you tell him

Derrick's face paled. "How...?"

"We know all there is to know about you, now. No more secrets. Why don't
you tell him how you had the chance to save him and you left him there
to rot for five more years?"

"There's more to it than that," Sam insisted, seeming to try and
convince Al, but he was still looking unflinchingly at Zoe. His own
uncertainty seemed to be driving his need for a defense.

"Or how about..." She laughed lightly. "Why don't you tell him about

Al looked sharply at him. "What about Beth?"

Sam opened his mouth, but nothing came out. Zoe filled in the gaps. "Go
ahead, Doctor, explain this one away. Explain to the man who trusted
you, who poured out his heart to you, that you refused to tell her he
was alive. Go on."

The leaper swallowed harshly. "That's...not what I was there for."

She nodded in understanding. "Ah, I see. So you couldn't even do that
for someone you called a friend."

Al gripped the armrests tightly, staring at her. "You're lying. Sam,
tell me she's lying." His voice was almost a plea. For the first time,
Sam looked him in the eyes and Al could see no denial there. "Sam,

"You have to trust me, Al. You have to trust that there was more going
on than you know about - things I don't have time to go into right now."

The word was back: trust. But Sam'd just betrayed that, hadn't he?
Without thinking and with a strength he hadn't possessed a few minutes
earlier, he rose to his feet, ignoring the bite of the needle, and
grabbed Zoe's gun, pushing her to the floor at the same time. Sam caught
his breath, eyeing her and the unnamed liquid in her hand, then lowered
his weapon, exhaling in relief.

Al leveled the gun at him.

Sam froze, but there was no apprehension in his eyes, no fear. If
anything, the atmosphere spoke more of trying to talk Al off a ledge
than pleading for his life. "Al, put the gun down."

"No." The muzzle of the gun shook almost as much as his voice. "This
doesn't make any sense - none of it makes any sense."

Sam held out his hands, letting his own gun fall to the floor. "I know
it doesn't, Al, but you just have to relax, okay? Please - you don't
want to do this."

Al took several unsteady steps away from them both. Zoe was sitting up,
rubbing the back of her head. When she stood he jumped slightly and
moved to point the weapon at her. She was still smiling, but she said
nothing. "What's going on?" Al demanded. "Are you really...?" He trailed
off and took a deep breath.

Sam nodded. "Yes, I am. And I can tell you, things are going to get
better. I promise it - I've _seen_ it."

"Why don't you shoot him?" Zoe grinned, "or me? You once commented that,
given the opportunity, you'd kill me yourself. Used a very nasty term to
refer to me, too. So, can't you do it, Admiral? Or is it that you've
killed so many innocents that you-"

"Will you shut up?" Sam raged. "Haven't you done him enough harm
already?! Leave us alone!"

"Then answer me this: why did you come back here? Was it to save his

"He wasn't dead when I leaped back. He and I coordinated the leap
together." Sam tilted his chin up at the minor victory. "So what are you
going to do now, Zoe, use my actions against me? _Al_ told me to do it
all. He told me to leap back, he told me to use the situation to get
what we needed, he told me to do it all!"

Al blinked, an eerie feeling crawling across his skin, but he didn't say

"He told me to do what I had to do when I leaped into Vietnam - didn't
even tell me he was there, that I could have saved him. And he accepted
my decision about Beth in the end." Sam took an angry step forward.
"We're partners, dammit, and you can't use that against us."

Al wasn't entirely certain what happened next, but he saw Sam make a
sudden dash across the room. His attention drawn to the moving target,
he never realized the reason he acted was because Zoe had made the first
move, out of anger or vengeance. Before he could regain control of the
real threat, he felt something cold and hard connect with the back of
his head and there were hands on his. The gun went off between his palms
and someone - it may have even been him - cried out in anguish.

Al fell to the floor, huddled in pain, and wished it was all over.
"Sam," he murmured, trying to open his eyes, trying to see, uncertain if
his friend could even hear him, "please make it stop." As if in reply,
he felt another blow to his head and it went silent.

[3 more parts....I hope to have them out on Friday. Thanks! -amkt]