"Lost Causes"

February, 2003
Stallions Gate, NM

Al was reading a book Verbena had dropped by earlier when Sam moved,
sighing slightly as the anesthesia wore off. Al's feet, which had been
propped up on an open drawer, hit the floor abruptly, and he leaned
forward, laying the book on the small table by the bed.

"Sam?" Al put his hand on Sam's as he had earlier, and watched his
friend's face, waiting for him to push the rest of the way through.
Finally, the scientist's eyes opened slightly and he blinked several
times, trying to bring the room into focus. "Hey," Al said quietly with
a small relieved smile. "Nice of you to join the land of the living."

Sam locked eyes with him and the corner of his mouth lifted in a faint
smile. "Al..." Then he made a face. "Tastes like I've swallowed a

Al chuckled and reached for his thermos. "I'm not sure I want to know
how you're familiar with that sensation already. Need some ice water?"

"I would be forever in your debt," Sam replied, still weakly, but with
growing solidity to his words.

Al poured some water in a cup for him. "How are you feeling? You look
pretty good for someone whose body was as swiss-cheesed as his brain."

Sam accepted the cup, grateful that Al kept hold on it to steady the
liquid. "All right, I guess. Kinda...still half-out of it."

"So what's new?" Sam intentionally knocked the cup over onto Al's sleeve
without a second's pause and the admiral jumped and transferred the cup
back to the table to shake the droplets off his hand. "Man, you play
dirty." Sam just grinned. "That's cold water, too!"

"I've been shot and you're sitting there complaining that I dumped some
water on your arm." Sam shook his head. "For someone who's been through
all that you've been through, you're an awfully big baby."

Al wiped his hand on Sam's sheet. "I've been sitting here feeling all
bad that you got shot, but not anymore, buddy boy."

Sam folded his hands over his stomach and relaxed. "Good."

"Ah, so you're not even going to give me that satisfaction, are you?"

"Nope." Sam shifted slightly, then winced at the stiffness and pain the
action brought.

Al shook his head and leaned forward, resting his elbows on the
mattress. "Are you okay, Sam? I mean, really."

Sam raised one eyebrow. "I was about to ask you the same thing." He
touched Al's wrist lightly. "I know it was hard for you that I was
there, but I'm glad I was." His words were still sluggish and slurred,
but his eyes were clear and bright.

Al shrugged slightly. "You sure confused the hell outta me in 1992, I'll
give you that much. Things kept changing until I didn't know which way
was up anymore."

"Payback for the grief you put me through all those years after that."

He smiled reluctantly. "You're a good teacher, Sam. And, I know, before
you get to say it, I'm a crappy student."

"Yeah, well, you know what they say about old dogs and new tricks."

"You sure don't _act_ sick!" Al cried, throwing up his hands. "That does
it - that whole thermos is going on your head."

Sam adopted his best sick-puppy look, just to assure that Al wouldn't
make good on his threat. "You're such a great friend..."

Al patted his arm. "I'd better let you get some rest, Sam, or they'll be
in here to scold me for bothering you."

"You're not bothering me," Sam insisted, a little quickly, and Al

"Maybe not, but you still need some rest," Al stated firmly, all teasing

"When did you get your M.D.?" Sam grumbled, but settled back to go to

"And, anyhow, I need a shave and a shower. I'll stop by later, okay?"

"Okay." Sam dutifully closed his eyes and Al stood in the doorway,
watching as he fell quickly back into sleep, no doubt due in part to the
drugs still circulating through his system as well as the exertion of
talking with him. Al smiled faintly, and left the room, pulling the door
shut quietly behind him.

April, 1992
Santa Fe, NM

Sam moved restlessly in his sleep. This was their second night home, but
the first night anyone had really been able to get a full night's sleep.
They'd flown in late a couple days earlier, and then there'd been the
incident at the project. It took Sam another ten or fifteen minutes to
calm Al down and then he and Donna had taken him back to his home. Sam
tried to stay, tried to talk to him and reassure him, but Al would have
none of it. Donna left them as they lived within walking distance and
Sam remained in Al's home, continually trying to put Al's mind at ease.
When he finally did leave, exhausted and frustrated, he did so doubting
Al would sleep at all that night, no matter how much his body needed it.

Suddenly, Sam jolted awake, sweating and fearful. Beside him, Donna
moved slightly, and then he heard her call his name softly. "Sam? You

He swallowed loudly and sat up, leaning back on his palms. "Yeah. I
think so..."

She turned and looked up at him. "What's wrong?" she asked in weary
tones as she tried to wake up. Even half asleep, she wasn't buying that

He shifted uncomfortably, rolling his shoulders to try and erase the
tension in his neck. "I don't know. I just... I feel like something's

She put a hand on his arm, trying to reassure him. "Sam, you know
everything's being taken care of."

They'd spent the whole day on the phone with the committee, McBride in
particular. Charges were already coming to bear against the other
project and there was even talk of relocating Project Quantum Leap so it
couldn't be exposed after there was something concrete to expose. There
had been only a few arrests thus far, but at least things were set in
motion, pulling the truth slowly out into the light like a piece of
thread through fabric. "I know."

"Then? What is it?"

He shifted again. "I'm worried about Al," he confessed. "I'm worried
something's wrong."

"You're still thinking of the other night," she supplied.

"Yeah. Maybe I should call him..."

Now she sat up, slightly, propping herself up on the pillow at her back.
"Sam, it's 3 A.M. He needs a good night's sleep - maybe you should just
let this rest until the morning."

He nodded slowly before even realizing he was doing it. She was right,
of course, it made perfect sense. But... "I'd just feel better if I

She bit her bottom lip, but handed over the phone. He dialed Al's number
and let it ring. After the third ring, the machine picked up. He waited
as Al's message played, and then spoke loudly into the receiver: "Al,
are you there? Al, it's me, pick up!" The seconds ticked by and no-one
answered. He hung up and dialed again, but this time it picked up after
2. He tried yet again, but with the same results. Finally, frustrated
and worried, he hung up the phone and handed it back off. "He's not
answering. I hope he's not out getting smashed."

"He hasn't touched alcohol since he got back, has he?" she questioned in
genuine curiosity. She hadn't seen it, anyhow.

"Not that I know of, but it's hard to tell with Al." He hesitated
another few seconds, then came to a decision. "I'm going over."

She glanced at the clock, as if to confirm her earlier prognosis. "Now?"

"Yeah. Now." He got up and fished around for a shirt and slacks.

She laid back down. "Do you need me to do anything?"

He bent over her and kissed her briefly. "No, you just go back to sleep
- I'll take care of this."

She nodded and pulled the covers up and he scooped up the spare keys to
Al's house, picking them off the hook in the kitchen, and headed out the
door. All the lights in Al's house were out and his car was in the
driveway. When he saw that, Sam almost turned back; everything seemed to
be in order. Either Al had turned off the ringer, or he was sleeping too
soundly to hear the phone, which was entirely possible - he certainly
was overdue for some solid rest. Still, something prompted him to press
on and he moved up the front walkway. He knocked on the front door,
hesitant to ring the bell, and peered in the front windows, straining to
see what was going on. He was turning to go back home to his own bed
when a sharp cry, muffled by the door, was audible. Frantically, Sam
fumbled with the keys and pushed the door open, hardly pausing to shut
it behind him, reminded only by the distinct chill that followed him in.

Sam followed the sounds of distress into Al's bedroom and saw him fast
asleep, caught up in horrid memories and fighting against an unseen foe.
He was drenched in sweat, the sheets tangled around him, only seeming to
add to his panic. Sam didn't pause to further evaluate the situation,
but moved hastily to Al's side, shaking him sternly. "Al, wake up!" Over
the past couple years, Sam had wakened Al from any number of nightmares.
They usually came back a day or so after being convinced to give up the
bottle, and he usually returned to the bottle after just a few of them.
At least, that had been the pattern at Starbright, and Sam had thought
they'd broken him of it for good, up until a couple weeks ago.

But this one was different. Sam would be hard pressed to explain how,
but he knew Al and this just _felt_ different.

"Al!" Sam winced as his friend whimpered and then opened his eyes. Sam
pulled back, expecting the normally violent reactions that followed Al's
return to reality, but this time there were none. Sam remembered the
first time he'd woken Al up - the admiral had been crying out the name
of a woman Sam didn't learn about until much later, and his first
instictive reaction upon awakening was to hit Sam - _hard_. Sam had
learned to expect confusion and sometimes a terrible need for Al to
defend himself and was expecting the same this time, but, instead, Al
rolled onto his side and put his hands to his face. The atmosphere was
desperate and his whole body trembled. Although there were no tears, Sam
could think of no other word to explain what was going on except to say
that Al was crying. He put a hand cautiously on Al's back, relieved when
there was no negative reaction. "Al?"

"I can't do this - I can't, I can't..." Al broke off, shaking harder.

Sam moved to sit on the edge of the bed. He rubbed Al's back slowly,
thinking he just hadn't completely come back into his surroundings yet.
"Al, it's okay, it was just a dream. You're safe, everything's fine."

"No," Al gasped out, gripping his blanket in a tight fist.

Sam could feel the sweat through his shirt and he swallowed. "Listen to
me - it is. Everything's in the past, do you understand? Vietnam's in
the past, that project's in the past - none of these things can keep
hurting you unless you let them. It's all been fixed, it's all been
taken care of. It's all fine."

"You're wrong," Al stated in a trembling voice. "It'll never be fine
again. _I'll_ never be fine again."

Sam exhaled heavily. "Al, can't you see that...all these people who've
done wrong by you, can't you see you're one of them?"

Al's breathing slowed, but he didn't respond.

"Just once, why can't you give yourself a chance?" The admiral shuddered
and Sam squeezed his shoulder lightly. "Al, it's okay..."

"No..." He sat up, but didn't move away from Sam's touch. "No, it's
really not..."

In the dim lighting, Sam could see a few stray tears escape down the
side of his face. He wiped them away before they could travel far. "Al,"
Sam whispered, "you can't imagine how much it hurts to watch you destroy
yourself. If you won't do it for you, then do it for me." Al hesitated.
"Or do it for us - we're partners, right? Just promise me you'll try.

"Sam, I can't..."

"All you have to do is try," Sam pressed gently. "And if you need help,
if there's something you can't do yourself, you just have to ask. It's
just that simple."

Al looked him in the eyes and held the gaze, as if looking for
something, searching for some answer. "Sam, I..." Sam held his breath,
waiting. "I don't think I can be alone tonight."

He let out the breath, relaxing in relief, and smiled at Al. On impulse,
he hugged him tightly and, this time, Al responded. "I'm glad you're
home, Al."

Al didn't reply verbally, but when he pulled back and curled up under
the covers, when Sam pulled down a sleeping bag out of Al's closet and
stretched it out on the floor beside the bed, and when Al finally fell
asleep again, Sam knew what his answer was. He also knew that, in a week
or two, Al would be craving a drink, or he would have another nightmare,
or he would push Sam away again. But each time Sam got through to him,
it was a little easier.

Sam Beckett was holding out for someday.

[And that's it! Hope you enjoyed it...the next one is going up fast: I
hope to start posting on Monday. It's called "Hidden Agenda" (title
courtesy of Pat Chachich) and is somewhere in between Sink or Swim and
Lost Causes in terms of how heavy it is.... My 3rd one, "Strangers By
Choice", isn't going to make it out before I leave town, it looks like
so it won't be out for at least 4 months or so... (sorry). -amkt]