"Lost Causes" Part XII April, 1992 En Route to Santa Fe, NM Sam didn't comment as the turbulence knocked Al from sleep, didn't comment as his friend wiped the sweat from his brow. Eventually, without a word, Al adjusted his position into one that seemed only marginally more comfortable, and drifted off, back into a restless world. When he began to shift in the seat moments later, Sam put a gentle hand on his sleeve, rubbing his arm slowly until he relaxed. Still touching him protectively, Sam stared out the window to his right. Things had already been bad before - how were they ever going to recover from this? He couldn't even begin to imagine what Al was going through - he wasn't sure he wanted to. Al'd been taken advantage of and Sam wanted to make someone pay for that. He was sure Quantum Leap had to be over, now, and, without proof, there was nothing he could do about the other project. Surely they were going to get rid of Al after this stunt, and Sam wasn't so sure Quantum Leap could survive without him; he wasn't sure he _wanted_ it to. Even though he'd only explained things to McBride in sketchy generalities and even though he hadn't even mentioned Al to her, someone was sure to have gotten wind of what was going on by now. Sam thought back to Pomona and all the odd occurrences that had taken place there. Shortly after busting out through the window, he'd gotten a phone call from someone only claiming to be a friend of Al's. Now he realized it had to be Derrick who had made the call and who had let Al call him earlier. In a rush, Derrick had given him directions to Ainsworth and Al's location, telling him that the place was the current site of another project, one based on Quantum Leap. But now Sam had no proof for anyone - by the time anyone McBride sent had gotten there, the place was deserted. Either they had been prepared to move their base of operations quickly, or it wasn't their base at all, both of which meant that these people could go elsewhere and start all over again and never be found. A sound like a strained breath reached Sam and he turned back to Al, who had his eyes shut tightly, his lips moving in soundless patters. Sam shook him gently, trying to rouse him before his nightmare completely encased him. "Al? Al, wake up." If Al woke up screaming on a plane full of people, he was sure to be embarrassed, at the very least. He prodded a little harder and repeated the admiral's name firmly until, finally, Al opened his eyes, pushing Sam's hands away at the same time. His breathing was frantic and ragged and just a little too uncontrolled for Sam's comfort. "Al, relax. It was just a dream. Take it easy." Al swallowed several times. "How much longer?" Sam stared at him, afraid he would do something extreme, afraid he'd get himself hurt or, worse, hurt himself. "Al-" "How much longer?" he repeated stubbornly, still staring straight ahead. Sam glanced at his watch. "An hour and 15 minutes until we touch down in Santa Fe." The silence was oppressive and Sam didn't think he could take much more of it. He'd had a more productive conversation with him on the phone than he was having now - Al had been more open, more willing to talk and to listen, but now he was cutting himself off again. It was back to how it always was and it was frustrating for Sam to go back to having to chip away at a very thick, very solid wall, one fragment at a time. "Al, please talk to me." He clenched his jaw. "No." "Why?" Sam challenged. "Not here, not now." It was an old tune, a song of evasion and denial. "Then where? When? You may drink to forget, but it's still there in your present, waiting for you and the time when you remember again. The only way to be free - really free - is to put it in your past. You just can't do that without facing it!" Al continued to stare straight ahead, gazing off into nothingness. "I know you don't know how to do that, but I'm trying to help you. You have the strength, you have the courage, you just don't seem to possess the will." "Sam, please don't..." The coldness thawed somewhat and Sam pressed a little further, taking advantage of the crack in Al's resolve. "Al, listen, I understand that you're scared to trust, that every time you have, you've been hurt, but I don't want to hurt you." When Al spoke, it was with barely restrained emotion. "Dammit, Sam, I said not here." A stewardess walked by, paused and looked quizzically at them, then walked on and Sam knew Al was right. Mentally, he subsided and, after it became apparent that he wasn't going to say anything else, Al's tense muscles loosened and he closed his eyes. He remained that way for the rest of the flight, not sleeping, but afraid to move in case that brought it all tumbling down on him. He didn't wait for Sam's prompt when they landed and pulled into their gate, but got up and, having no luggage, stood waiting for Sam. Donna met them at their gate, looking worriedly for them, not knowing what to expect. All Sam had told her was that he'd found Al and they were coming home, nothing else. She waved to Sam as he exited and kissed him, smiling with relief. Before either man could protest, she gave Al a warm hug. "It's good to see you, Al." He nodded and Sam put a hand on her arm, motioning for her to back off. "Let's take him home, honey." "No." Sam and Donna stopped in amazement, staring at him. "I need to go by the project." ‘The project' consisted of little more than a series of dreams in a building outside of downtown Santa Fe. At the moment, it was a hallway with labs, offices, and conference rooms on either side. Sam's desk was littered with blueprints, projections, and equations. Had anything ever been out of place in Al's office, a bystander would have seen financial reports, correspondences both with the Navy and Washington D.C., and photocopies of nine tenths of the forms Sam had. "Al, the project can wait until tomorrow. For now, I really think you should-" "I need to go now," he emphasized. Sam held his gaze a moment. "Okay," he agreed reluctantly. They waited on Sam's small piece of luggage and then piled into Donna's car and drove in silence. "I'll wait out here," Donna told them as they pulled into the parking lot. "I have a book I brought anyway to occupy myself in case I had to wait at the airport, so I won't be bored. And, Al, the reports are on your desk." He glanced up at her for the first time. "What reports?" he asked quietly. She turned to face him. "The ones you faxed in these past couple weeks. They're on your desk." A slow smile emerged on Sam's face. "Donna...you didn't!" She raised her eyebrows. "Did you sign them, too?" "No. I dug up an old report and made a copy, then I clipped out Al's signature and taped it onto the new report I wrote, and faxed it out." Sam chuckled. "I don't really think I want to know where you learned that trick." "You could get into trouble for that," Al pointed out, softening slightly. "You could have gotten into trouble if I hadn't," she countered. "And, besides, who's going to tell them?" Sam leaned over and kissed her. "Thanks, Donna. We'll be back..." he glanced towards Al, "eventually." Al and Sam got out and the scientist followed his friend down the hall to the computer lab. Without preamble, Al sat down at a terminal, turned it on, and started typing. Sam pulled up a chair behind him and watched, clueless as to what was going on. Al didn't even stop to think, but moved his fingers in a constant flow. "Turn on the printer," he ordered after a good ten minutes like this. Sam was shaking his head, finally realizing whose system Al was in. He reached over and clicked it on, then continued watching. "How do you know how to get into this?" "It pays to be observant," he remarked, never missing a beat. Then he came up against a wall. He tried several times to get into a locked file, and failed. "Damn. Get on another computer - I may need your help. It's tracing me before I can get in, then it kicks me back out." "They'll know where we are by now," Sam warned, sitting down at another terminal and following Al's earlier patterns. "They know that anyway." The time passed in silence, both working together but without verbal communication. Sam had the feeling Al still wasn't up to conversation, anyhow, either casual or related to what they were doing. And, on some level, gathering this information was the admiral's revenge for the terrible wrong that had been done to him, whether he realized it or not. Sam could see it in the forceful determination of his eyes, overshadowed only by all the other emotions he was straining to repress. After another hour had passed, Sam pulled the last sheet from the printer and placed it on the hefty stack they'd acquired. "That does it. That's everything," he stated in low tones, breaking the silence for the first time. Al lifted a modest pile of sheets and started to read. "Derrick told me he needed to get into the system, that I needed to know how to do it. So I paid attention when they questioned me, when they entered in information." Sam stifled a yawn. "Well, we sent it on to the committee. They'll need time to look over it all anyhow. We can call them in the morning and-" "No. We need to figure this out now," Al countered in a tone that didn't allow for any argument. "Al, it's late. Donna has been waiting for us for a while already. I want to get home, get some sleep, and I know you need to. We'll take care of this tomorrow." He reached forward and tried to pull the papers from Al's hands, but the admiral jerked them back and stood up, suddenly angry. "I don't think you're getting this, Sam! These people are murderers - we can't wait! We have to do this _now_ - we have to-" "Al, stop!" Sam interrupted, his own voice rising to match Al's. "Just stop it! This can wait ten hours more!" Al flung the stack on the counter beside him, a fury Sam couldn't comprehend flowing through his veins. "No! You go, then! You give up!" "Al!" Sam grabbed his arms, trying to break through, but Al pushed him away with surprising strength. "Don't _touch_ me!" He took a step back and Sam swallowed, suddenly scared. "Don't ever touch me!" Sam held up his hands and moved back himself, putting more distance between them. "I'm sorry, Al, I'm sorry." Al stopped moving, his chest heaving with panicked breaths. "You don't understand," he repeated, his voice lower, but less steady. "I'm sorry," Sam said again. "I know I don't, but I do know that you need some rest. You need to get some sleep in your own bed in your own home and you need to know that there's nobody around who will hurt you." "But how do I know that?" Al demanded and Sam could see the apprehension in his eyes. "How do I know they won't do something else, just for kicks?" Sam desperately wished he had an answer for him. ~~~~~~ February, 2003 Stallions Gate, NM "Al?" Al jerked awake and sat up quickly. "It's okay," Verbena continued gently. "I just wanted to let you know Sam's out of surgery. He's doing just fine." Al yawned and nodded, rubbing sleep from his eyes. "Thanks, hon. And it's okay for me to go in and sit with him?" "Would it stop you if I said no?" she inquired. He chuckled softly. "Not especially." She patted his shoulder and left the room as silently as she'd come. He stood after a moment and walked into the hall and then a couple more doors down. It looked as if Sam was just sleeping - the color had returned to his face and he looked so peaceful. Al smiled slightly and slipped in, sitting down next to the bed. "Hey, Sam," he murmured. Then he laughed lightly. "Talk about your ultimate role reversal, huh, pal? We went from you being my guardian angel to me trying to be yours." He rested his hand on Sam's. "Wish I'd done a better job." The only sound in the room was the steady sound of the heart monitor and Al focused on that, convinced he could feel his own heart following the same pattern. Eventually, he fell asleep again, still exhausted from the leap and the quick "hour here, hour there" pattern he was forming, a peaceful atmosphere in the room and a small smile on his lips.