"In Circles" pt. VIII September, 2000 - Original History Santa Fe, NM He thought he remembered the place. It had been a while and there was enough trouble with the regular swiss-cheese, let alone the fact that he had "lost himself" for almost ten years. The sparse atmosphere made him think of a lame truck stop. He walked in, feeling Ben's constant presence behind him. He had been a little paranoid for a month or so, but he was beginning to feel more and more comfortable around him. On the other hand, as more of Sam Beckett surfaced in his mind, he began to worry increasingly about his predicament. This diner was the first time he had been out in the middle of nowhere with the man. He had taken to hiding in large cities and working his way slowly to New Mexico. Now that he had made it, he couldn't seem to remember exactly where Project Quantum Leap was. He sat down, not noticing the way Ben was eyeing him. A waitress who's name he couldn't remember sauntered up. "What can I get you boys?" she asked, voice smooth as silk. "Just coffee, thanks." *Oh, and the directions to a top secret government project, if you don't mind.* He stifled a sigh. Ben started rattling off a huge order and Sam gazed absently at her. She was beautiful, he realized, with a form to kill. Then, the obvious struck him. "Excuse me," he interjected, cutting off Ben in mid-sentence. She turned loose a killer smile, one that certainly would have turned Al's head and most likely kept his attention firmly locked on certain parts of her anatomy. "Yes?" she batted long lashes at him. "You wouldn't happen to know an Al Calavicci, would you?" The smile grew brighter and a seductive glint materialized in her eye. "Sure I know him. You his friend?" "Yeah. Do you have his number?" "Sure, honey." She swatted his shoulder playfully. To Sam's amazement, she pulled out her waitress pad and handed it to him. "It's on the back," she explained. Sam had to grin at that. Standing up, he walked over to the phone booth which was all but hanging from a loose wire from the ceiling - the result of a fight, he recalled - and started searching his pockets for a quarter. The waitress went back to the kitchen and Sam began to feel a bit uneasy. He dialed and listened to the phone ring once, twice, and then he heard someone pick up. Sam clenched his hand around the phone in anticipation. "Calavicci." He almost called him "Al", but he was so scared his friend would become suspicious. So, he opted for the more formal - anything to get him face-to-face. "Admiral Calavicci?" "Yes. Who is this?" he asked carefully. He was already suspicious. Sam's heart was racing and he fought to keep his voice steady. "I'm at the diner, the on just outside of Santa Fe." The only other two patrons left the diner at that moment and then Sam really began to worry. He backed up against the wall. "Please, I need to talk to you immediately." He tried unsuccessfully to keep the panic out of his voice. Ben stood up and started to advance towards him and he knew what was coming. It was his own fault for being so careless. "I-" Ben grabbed him and his hand released the reciever, letting it thud against the wall. He couldn't hear Al calling through the phone over the ringing in his ears. "Ben..." He coughed and tried to pull the man's hands from his throat. "I'm getting 500,000 dollars for you." He stood back and lifted his gun. "A couple grand to protect you and five hundred more to finish you off. Now that's what I call a good gig." The noise was deafening. Sam flinched as it went off two times. Amazingly, he wasn't hit. He wanted to laugh, but then he closed his eyes for an instant - couldn't have been more than a hundreth of a second by his count - and Ben was gone. The waitress was there, though, about ten feet away and he couldn't tell how she had gotten there so quickly. What he did know was that she was screaming. Sam looked down and realized somehow, he had been shot. He didn't feel a thing, but a glance at the phone told him that Al would be there soon and then everything would be all right. And he knew things: suddenly, mysteriously. He knew Al was coming and he knew he was dying and he knew that if he went to a hospital, he would die without ever telling Al what he had to do. But it was more than that. He knew what had happened to Al, too, bits and pieces. He knew what happened to the project and everyone there. He looked up at the waitress, still staring at him with a terrified gaze to horrible to explain and he smiled. "I understand," he murmured. Then he lost consciousness. ^----^----^----^----^ September, 2000 Santa Fe, NM "Do you understand? Al, I need to know that you understand," Sam insisted. Al forced himself to meet Sam's eyes. "No, I don't understand. What happened to you?" "I...lost touch, Al... With you and with myself. With nothing to cling to, I couldn't hold onto who I was." Al clutched Sam's hand in both of his. "I don't understand," he repeated. Sam smiled slowly, a gentle reprimand. "Yes, you do, Al. It's...time to let me go. Staying here won't accomplish anything. By now _he's_ wondering where you are." He swallowed, fighting his impulses at every step. "Don't, please..." "Go put right what went wrong, Al. I...don't think there's anything else I can tell you." Sam's chest spasmed and he coughed up more blood. He seemed about to say something more and then he shuddered and died. Just like that. Al felt the life leave him as surely as he held his hand, slack and limp now. His eyes burned, but he refused to cry. Instead, he laid Sam's hand on his chest and closed his eyes with a trembling hand. There was blood on his hands and when he touched Sam's cheek, it left a deep red smudge, like a tear on his face. "So now I know, Sam," he whispered, trying to wipe away the stain he had just created, but he himself was too marred to do any good. "Did you have to die for it?" Anger rose to cover sorrow and he slammed the palm of his hand against the steering wheel. "Dammit, you promised me, Sam! Don't you remember, back at Star Bright? You told me not to judge you by what other people had done, that you wouldn't abandon me when I really needed you. Well, do you think I don't need you anymore? I don't have anything left now." He shrugged out of his blood-stained coat and pulled it over Jake's body, but he couldn't see Jacob Marks anymore. Somewhere through Sam's recitation, that had happened. Now he looked at him, unable to respond to the urgent feeling that he should already be on his way back to the project. "Well," he said finally in a quiet voice, "I care about you, Sam, in spite of you and your stupid ideas. And if I have to leap into you myself, you're not going to die." He paused a moment and then twisted in his seat and took off at top speeds back to Project Quantum Leap. ^----^----^----^----^ February, 1989 San Diego, CA "It sure took you a while, Al, it's two in the morning." Sam sat on Jacob's bed, arms crossed, looking as if he could kill. Al lit a cigar, using the motions as a cover for how unsteady he was. He was glad it was night. He was also glad he had not been intercepted by Verbena on the way in; he needed some time to sort things out in his mind first, to see Sam safe and sound, even if a decade in the past. What would he have told her when he saw her? "Oh, I'm going to see Sam and, by the way, his corpse is in my car?" He shuddered. She'd lock him up for sure at that one. "Al?" "Just tired, pal, it _is_ two in the morning." "Oh." Sam's temper, usually short-lived anyway, seemed to have dimmed for the moment as he forgot what he was so upset about to begin with. "Trouble?" Al thought about the phone message from Senator McBride that had been waiting on his desk upon his return, and about how the next ten years of Sam's life would be if something didn't change. "Just the usual." He also thought about the talk he was going to have to have with Verbena in the end. He still had to avoid this second stroke and he believed pure necesity had allowed him to evade the first. At least there weren't going to be any surprises. "Lemme give you the rundown and then I'm off to bed. Deal?" "Deal. Shoot." "Your name is Jacob Marks. You live in San Diego, California with your sister, Amber, her mother, Carol, and her boyfriend, Rick. In two days, on Thursday, February 18th, your mother, or Jake's mother, kills Amber because she finds out Amber's pregnant. She does it during break from work because all of you except Amber work that day. She forces Amber to take every pill in the medicine cabinent. Sam flinched. "Doesn't sound _too_ hard. Just so long as Ziggy's sure about all the data and all." "Trust me, Sam," Al ran his fingers through his hair. Oh, he hurt, right down in his gut, as if pieces of him were being pulled out one at a time. Part of him never wanted to leave the Imaging Chamber and part of him wanted nothing more. The only thing that was holding the grief back was the knowledge that it may soon be a moot point. "So spend some time talking with Amber and try to help her out, but keep an eye on her mother. Got it?" "God it." Sam leaned back against the wall. "You're not leaving now, are you?" Al hesitated. "I have to, Sam, I really have a lot to take care of." He felt momentarily like a father abandoning his son and the knife of pain twisted in his stomach again. "You'll be just fine, Sam. Just don't forget because if Amber dies, she won't be around to keep Jacob on the straight and narrow and he ends up as a drug dealer. Dies because of it." He swallowed and averted his eyes, but Sam didn't notice. "Thanks, Al." Al met Sam's gaze for a moment, pulling up a smile from the greatest depths. "Sure thing, pal. Take care." The silvery light rose behind him and he vanished from Sam's world. Turning on his heel, he descended the ramp slowly. Verbena was waiting for him at the bottom. "Al, is there something you're not telling me?" He froze. "Ah...what?" She frowned and folded her arms in front of her. "Gooshie called me up - your lifesigns were less than reassuring while you were in the Imaging Chamber." He exhaled sharply to cover his relief. "You wouldn't believe danger of a heart attack, would you?" She lowered her arms abruptly and was at his side within seconds. "Al, what are you talking about?" "You heard me. Now, I need you to listen carefully. Sam's taken care of for the moment and he can handle this just fine. I need you to get some people to dig up our records for a trip to Washington D.C. in two days. I need to go before the committee." She gazed steadily at him. "You're delegating? You must be serious." "Dead serious," he muttered with an innward flinch. "I am going to get some sleep; have someone wake me up in seven hours. Got it?" This time she just stared at him, openmouthed. "You _are_ serious. Al, what's going on?" "Classified," he said without missing a beat. "And get me some medication. And, no, I am not kidding. I'll see you in seven hours." He left the room and the psychiatrist turned to Gooshie. "When the admiral begins to worry about his health, batten down the hatches because something's brewing on the horizon." Gooshie just shrugged and turned back to his console, leaving her to wonder when Al would ever stop surprising her.