"In Circles" pt. X September, 2000 Washington D.C. Morning found Al still curled up, arms wrapped firmly about himself, lost in dreams of anguish. He sat up abruptly and held his hands out in front off himself, palms up. They were clean. He wasn't sure exactly what he had been expecting, but the memory of his hands covered in Sam's blood was disconcering enough to fill in the gaps. He wiped his hands on the bed covers anyway. It hadn't taken that long to wash his hands clean after Sam died. He closed his eyes, almost against his will, as the scene replayed in his mind. He had gone back to the project and somehow made it up to his room without being seen and the first thing he did, before changing or anything, was to turn on the cold water in his bathroom and put his hands into the running stream. He had watched with a kind of detachment as the tainted water ran into the drain and was lost from sight. He had had a lot of people's blood on his hands before, literally and figuratively, but nothing was quite as painful as remembering how clear that water had been before it touched his skin, and how ugly and filthy it had seemed afterwards. "May as well not have slept at all," he muttered, dropping his arms and heaving an unsteady breath. The wake-up call made him jump and he stumbled painfully across the room. Sleeping in a little ball did wonders for the back. The lingering tendrils of a dream left him, but that terrible feeling of having failed someone remained. After a hot shower and a change of clothes (which amounted to littlle more than some clean pants and the dress uniform again), he was feeling a little closer to human, but no less lost in the world. He shaved hastily and donned the finishing touches of the uniform. If nothing else, he was going to impress the hell out of the committee, and if he had to go down, he would go down swinging - he owed Sam that much. His breath caught in his throat at that thought, but he swallowed hard enough for it to be painful, and left the hotel. The descending chill settled itself directly into his bones and he shuddered as he walked up the steps of the location for that morning's execution. If he didn't pull a gun on them all, he would have to count the event at least a partial success. "Admiral," McBride greeted him formally from her throne in the center of the room. "Senator," he returned, sparing a carefully neutral glance at Franklin. Never one to beat around the bush, she laid her hands flat on the table in front of her. "Well, gentlemen, let's get this over with, shall we? Bottom line, Admiral, in spite of our various arguments and discussions presented by both yourself and certain members of this committee, we can no longer justifying spending 2.4 billion dollars a year on Project Quantum Leap for the sake of one man, no matter how loyal the cause." "Then you're sentencing him to death," he stated. Franklin leaned forward. "What Senator McBride is too polite to say is that your presence here is merely a formality - we've made our decision." McBride cast him a repremanding look and he subsided, apparantly having annoyed her in the past. "Please, you have no way of knowing that," she said carefully, responding to Al's protest. "You'd be surprised, ma'am, what I could tell you," he said with considerable restraint. "With all due respect, how exactly did you justify this cost the past five years?" "We justified it on the basis that eventually Dr. Beckett would return home and the present would reclaim from the past a brilliant mind." He tilted his head up defiantly. "Senator, I would like to request a moment or two to discuss something with you." She studied him a moment and then stepped down and led him to the far corner. "What is it? That's not a happy bunch up there." He cleared his throat. "I realize that, but what I have to tell you is of some importance." He paused then, and then laid down his wild card. "You have to understand that Dr. Beckett does a lot of good for a lot of people. You also have to understand that it's not just nameless, faceless people. At one point, he leaped into your husband." She blinked, opened her mouth, and closed it again. "Are you telling me - goodness, when?!" "On your honeymoon." He watched her carefully as she replayed the events of those couple of days over in her mind. "The astrophysicist," she whispered. "That's right." She looked him squarely in the eye, clearly shaken. "Admiral, I'm sorry. I wish I could say that would change everything, but it doesn't. My hands are tied here. I head the committee, but if everyone is opposed to me..." He snorted. "Led by revolutionary Franklin, no doubt." She narrowed her eyes disapprovingly. "Please don't prolong the inevitable. Franklin's right; this is just a formality." "If you think I'm going to stand by while this goes on, you're in for a shock." Her brow furrowed in sympathy. "I understand how you feel, but-" The sudden fury in his eyes cut her off in mid-sentence. "No, you don't. You can't. When you have to spend every waking hour worrying about your friend's safety and knowing that one little slip up on your part could mean his sudden demise, then you tell me you understand. Until then, until you come out and see for yourself what our staff goes through every day, then don't say that you understand any of this." "Then isn't it time for this to end?" she pointed out bluntly. He made a sound of disgust at her logic and she sighed. "Alright, fine, I don't understand." She took a step back from him. "But I think it would be in your best interests to let this go by quietly. There's nothing you can do anyhow and Franklin's got it in for you." "A man's life means more to me than my career. I will not just lie down and take it." She sighed. "Do what you feel is best, Admiral. I am truly sorry." He bit back a sharp response. "Thank you." "Let's get this over with, then." She raised her voice as she returned to her seat. "Franklin, read what you have to and let's go home." He stood slowly, with a slight ghost of a smile on his face. "Admiral Calavicci, on behalf of this committee, September 28, 2000, the funding for Project Quantum Leap has officially been severed. Final shut down will ensue in six hours and I will be joining you for that." Al had barely been seated a moment before jumping back to his feet. "You don't understand-" "Admiral, the death toll has been rung," Franklin interrupted, but Al kept speaking. "You can't just take a man's life and throw it away like yesterday's garbage. He was - is - a brilliant scientist and I-" "Admiral," McBride interjected, but Al was talking over her, his words spilling out in a desperate tumble. "-Don't give a _damn_ about what you can or can't justify-" "_Admiral_! It's over." Like a final shot, Al felt himself knocked into silence and he sank slowly into his seat. "We'll leave in ten minutes," Franklin said smugly, and stood to follow the rest of the committee out of the room. They walked past him, but he sat with his eyes closed and a calm expression on his face. He let everything settle inside of him, carefully, as if he was afraid to move. If he could just make it back to the hotel room, he'd be okay, but he couldn't let go here. They took everything, but they wouldn't take this. Silently, like a funeral procession, the last of the committee left the room. Al carefully avoided looking at any of them, especially Franklin. The door slammed shut with the creaking agony of a prison cell. "I'm sorry, Sam," he whispered. "I tried. I tried...." ^----^----^----^----^ February 1989 San Diego, CA Sam kept his eye on Carol all day, always making sure she was within sight. He didn't have to worry until things got busy at the dinner rush and then she wouldn't be able to leave anyhow. The evening passed with slow progress that left Sam wishing Al would show up. Then things began to pick up. The manager came into the kitchen and glanced annoyedly at Sam. "Where's Carol?" he demanded. "What?" Immediately alerted to his error, he pushed past the crowd of people and into the evening. The store manager called after him, but he ignored him. He made it back to the trailer in record time and tore through back to Amber's room. He flung open the door and someone's fist connected with his gut. He staggered backwards, gasping heavily. "Rick," he muttered, grasping for air. "What are you _doing_?" He shook his head and clucked mournfully. "I don't believe you came to help us finish her off, did you?" Sam leaned against the wall, trying to maintain distance until he had his wind back. "I don't understand. I thought-" "Don't think. You'll strain something. Siddown, you're just gonna have to be next." He reached for Sam, but the leaper stood up suddenly to his full height, ducked the swing aimed suddenly for his jaw, and tucked his food behind Rick's heel. He pulled and Rick went down immediately, dragging Sam down with him. Sam took a couple more punches and felt the sick taste of blood in his mouth. But Rick was inexperienced at this kind of fight, Sam could tell; he was used to having the upper hand from the start. They rolled around for a few minutes and Sam finally managed to get his arm around Rick's neck and his other hand held his right arm firmly behind his back. He lifted him to his feet. "Tell me what's going on!" Sam yelled. "Where's Carol?" "Lemme up, man!" Rick coughed, but Sam only tightened his grip. "Where are they?" "They're in the room. Lemme go." Sam twisted Rick around so they were nose to nose. "Sure thing," he muttered and dealt him a blow that sent him into unconsciousness. He jumped to his feet, wavered slightly, and then ran into the room, reaching for Carol as she fed another pill to Amber. Angrily, he pulled her away and lifted Amber's head. "Amber? Can you hear me?" She nodded slowly. "Yes," she said finally. "But you sound so far away. I'm so tired..." "NO!" Sam yelled, pulling her up. He led her to the sink and induced vomiting. She seemed much better after that. "Are you going to be okay while I call for the police and an ambulance?" She nodded, but Sam shook her. "No nods, talk to me." "I'll be fine," she said weakly, clinging to the sink with both hands. "Okay," he smiled reassuringly at her. "Don't sit down." He left her and she stood shakily, staring dimly at her reflection until he returned. "You doing alright?" he asked, helping steady her. She grasped at his arm. "Yeah." "Help is on the way. What's going on here?" She shuddered. "Mom wanted me to have an abortion and I refused. She said she couldn't afford to take care of both of us, so she-" A choked sob broke through and she clutched blindly at him. "It's okay," he soothed, smoothing back her hair. "And Rick...he found out it's not his baby." "Not his..." Sam frowned and tilted her chin up. Her eyes were slowly clearing and they looked at him with painful honesty. "No, Jake." "So they decided to kill you. That's sick," he murmured, sitting her carefully down in a chair. "That's our family for you." Sirens approaching broke him free of the obligation to reply and he led her outside to greet them. As he watched them load Amber onto the ambulance and lead her mother and boyfriend away, he couldn't help but wonder how such a troubled group of people had lived this long under one roof. He figured he would probably never understand. At least, he hoped he wouldn't. Sam stood in the middle of the yard and stared up at the sky, deep blue sliced through with thin white clouds. It looked so peaceful. "I'm ready to leap now."