February, 2000 New York City, NY Al was having trouble concentrating - all he could do was think about Sam. He was worried and he didn't entirely know why. It was probably all the fresh memories that had been unlocked - it was enough to make him wish Time had kept its secrets better hidden. "Time," he muttered aloud, scrolling past numbers he'd looked at hundreds of times already today. There had to be something he wasn't seeing, something he just couldn't get. He frowned, dollar amounts rising and falling before his eyes. Something about...time. Al opened the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet and sifted through its contents. They'd tracked the missing money back about eight months, now, and everything appeared legit. He grabbed an armful of folders and carried them back to the conference room, tossing them on the floor. Everything seemed by the books except where things intersected his desk and he was going to take the fall. He needed more personal information of everyone on staff to decide who was setting him up, and it was information he didn't have access to. Barry came in, took one long look at him crouched on the floor, spreading sheets across the carpeting, and left, shaking his head as he went. Al scarcely noticed. Slowly, he eliminated those with no access to program funding, people who had been there for less than eight months, and those who'd been away for any large amounts of time over the past years...but was still left with a large number of people. The phone in the conference room rang and he picked it up absently. "Calavicci." "Admiral, there's someone waiting outside your office to see you." He laid aside another profile. "Oh, yeah? Who?" "He didn't give a name. And your wife's here." He brightened at that, then glanced at his watch - it was a little early for quitting time and he wondered what she was doing there. "Okay, I'll be right there, thanks." He stared at the last paper in his hand thoughtfully. There was nothing particularly unusual about it except that he didn't know the person it was on...and yet, he did. He folded it and tucked it in his breast pocket. Beth was standing outside his office, talking to a man Al didn't immediately recognize. From her body language, he could tell she didn't think much of him and her eyes gleamed with relief when he walked up. She stepped forward and kissed him lightly, rolling her eyes and tilting her head back when he broke free. She turned back to her companion, standing pointedly close to Al. *If this nozzle's been hitting on her, I'll be happy to remove his colon for him...through his ear.* "Admiral, I'm sorry to come so unexpectedly, but we have some security issues we need to discuss," he said, seeming slightly startled at Beth's clear indications that they were married. The guy obviously hadn't realized she was married to _him_, and Al felt an intense satisfaction that the revelation had rattled him, however slightly. "Do we." Right off, Al wasn't impressed. "You'll have to excuse me for just a minute." Al rested a hand on Beth's back, drawing her several steps into his office but keeping watch on the man over her shoulder. "What's up?" She looked uneasily at him. "I'd hoped you'd have a moment to talk..." He cringed. "I really can't, honey. Everything's haywire and-" "Okay, but I do need to tell you something's wrong with Sam." Al saw the man perk up and look pointedly in their direction and he lowered his voice. "What do you mean?" "He called me at work because he couldn't get ahold of you, but that he needed to go to New Mexico." *Oh, no, Sam...what are you doing now?* "Why?" "Something about proving your innocence." "Ziggy," Al muttered angrily. "What did you tell him?" "He didn't give me the chance to say anything. I think you should talk to him. What's he doing?" she added tensely. He didn't reply directly. "I'm worried about the kid. I'm not so sure he's thinking clearly." "Al, he said there were things he needed to find out at Stallions Gate," she continued, feeding him any information she could recall. "Things like what things?" Al demanded. "I - I don't know, he didn't say. He wasn't being very clear, but he was obviously upset." She touched his arm lightly. "If you two need to go down there, go." He brushed her cheek with the back of his fingers. "I'll call him." "Where is he, Admiral?" the man said abruptly, stepping into Al's office. Al reacted with immediate dislike. "Come again?" "You're referring to Sam Beckett, aren't you?" "Who?" Beth asked innocently, sensing the same thing as Al: that this man didn't need to know anything about Sam. "Admiral, there was an unauthorized access into the intricacies of the finances of this program. The codes matched the long ago clearances of Dr. Beckett, but he's been missing for five years. If he's been found, we obviously want to know about it-" "I'm sorry, but are you in the habit of eavesdropping on other people's conversations?" Al cut in tartly. The crawling instinct was growing and he felt the urgent need to talk to Sam. "Because my wife and I were speaking privately." He tilted his chin up and looked down on both of them. "I am sorry - I know it was inappropriate-" "It was rude," he corrected, beginning to anger. "What is inappropriate is that you still haven't told me who you are." The man took a tense breath. "I'm the newest member of your committee," he stated, and Al was immediately wary. He hadn't even had time to meet with the newer members individually, even though they'd been voted in almost 10 months ago. He found it more than a little coincidental that the man was here now, after the investigation was underway and after Sam's numbers showed up in the system. "I'm Gerald Breslauer." Al blinked. He knew the name, but couldn't immediately place from where. His pause must have been conspicuous, because Beth jumped in. "Beth Calavicci," she said, offering her hand reluctantly. Al shook his hand as well, unable to shake the feeling that he knew him from the other timeline, but only vaguely. Beth cleared her throat and he reawakened to his surroundings. "I'm afraid we're going to have to meet some other time," he told Breslauer politely, "I have a previous engagement." Al took Beth's arm and led her to the elevator, pressing the button and only half-facing the committee member. "Admiral, it's rather urgent. Dr. Beckett is an important man and if he's back and trying to break into your system...into the financial records of the program..." He raised an eyebrow. "Doesn't that point the finger at him instead of you?" The elevator opened and Beth stepped inside, holding the door for him. Al glared at Sam's partner. "I'm sure I don't know what you mean," he stated, and let the doors close as he joined his wife. ~~~~~~ Sam was pacing, agitated, when Al walked in the door. "I met your partner today," Al stated without preamble, his body language leaving little room for speculation about how he felt about it. "He's not my partner," Sam muttered angrily. "Took me a little while to remember where I'd heard the name," Al continued as if Sam hadn't spoken, "but then I just rechecked that article you photocopied for me." The admiral studied him carefully, noting how he avoided his eyes. "It's him, isn't it? He's taking the money." "I'm real close to proof, Al, the numbers match up." Sam stopped pacing, finally, and looked at him. Beth had long since disappeared; Al didn't know where to. "What is it, Sam?" Al asked softly after a lengthy silence. Sam shook his head and sank onto the couch, and Al noticed for the first time that his hands were trembling. "I can't do this, Al." "Can't do what?" Sam lifted his gaze. "Leap." Al frowned and his heart skipped several beats. He moved in front of Sam and sat down on the coffee table, folding his hands in front of him. "Why would you do that?" he demanded, finding it difficult to keep his voice in check. He mumbled something incoherent and moved to stand, but Al put a hand firmly on his shoulder and pushed him back. "Sam, you _tell_ me what you're talking about!" "Don't you get it? This...it's just another leap! I realized it today while looking for something to prove your innocence - I leaped in and this happened. When it's done, I'll leap back out and I can't _do_ it anymore!" Sam buried his face in his hands and Al sat, stunned. "You don't know that for sure." "That's the other reason I need to go to Stallions Gate. I can divert enough power to Ziggy to find out." He shook his head, hair tumbling about his fingers. "Al, I can't..." He stopped. "Can't what?" Al prompted. When Sam didn't reply, he put his other hand on Sam's shoulder and pushed him upright so he could look at his face. "Can't what?" he repeated firmly. "I can't do this alone. Not anymore." Sam caught his breath, then pushed on. "Not for another five years, not even for one more leap." Then Al understood: Sam was scared. It had never even occurred to Al that Sam was out there alone; some part of him assumed Project Quantum Leap was running as it always had, just without him. And Sam was scared of losing himself in a sea of identities that were never his own. "Maybe this isn't a leap, maybe you're finally stopped for-" "Look at this," Sam said fiercely, holding the wallet between them. "It's all there - everything I had in Al's Place, everything I had before leaping back to 1969. It doesn't belong in this timeline, Al, but it's stuck here, just like me. If I'd leaped back for good, it wouldn't be here." Al swallowed and said nothing and Sam pulled free, standing and turning away. "I don't remember it all yet, but I've been getting flashes. I'd wondered when that would happen." "Flashes of what?" he asked dully. "I have to know the truth, Al." "Flashes of _what_?" Sam's shoulders slumped. "I don't think they ever found me." He turned back in the stillness and locked gazes with Al. "I...I just can't do it..." "Now you listen to me," Al stated firmly, letting his rage towards Gerald fuel his actions and his resolve. He stood and gripped Sam's arm tightly. "If I have to dump every penny I have into it, I'm not going to let that happen. If it comes down to that, I'll get Ziggy started back up, I'll observe until you come home, I'll-" "You can't do that! They'll never let you. The project's been dead for five years, Al. Five years!" Al's focus shifted from objective to emotion. "So have you. You came back." "I've been _leaping_ for five years!" Sam countered. Al stared into his green eyes, searching for the man he'd called a friend for so many years, trying to find a way to reach him through his own anxiety. He wasn't letting himself remember, Al knew, but he couldn't hold out like this for too much longer. "If you need to go to Stallions Gate, you can go," Al said softly, "but I'm coming with you." Sam nodded, then his face darkened again. "I can't do it, Al... I just - I can't." Impulsively, realizing four daughters had softened him more than he'd ever be willing to admit, Al hugged Sam tightly, trying to offer comfort. "I know, Sam. It'll be okay. I promise."