"In Circles" pt. XI

September, 2000
Stallion's Gate, NM

  The project continued in full swing, testing Al's strength, not to keep up,
but to relinquish control. It was not something he did easily but he figured
seeing as he would be willing to die for Sam, the least he could do was let
someone else take care of him for a while. To take care of both of then, he
ammended with an inward grin and just a touch of chargin.
  In between visits to Sam, which proved uninformative for both of them, he
spent his time sifting through the numerous reports that landed on his desk.
Things didn't appear to be any different then they had been at all the other
committee meetings he had attended, so why the sudden change? McBride had
always been very adept at holding off the dogs before, but there was a new
force eager to get him out of the picture: Franklin.
  A short investigation revealed that the other project was no longer there
and Al hadn't the slightest clue where it had relocated to. Now that he was
back in the dark, the senator had it much easier when it came to shutting
Project Quantum Leap down. That was the last thing he intended to allow to
  The number of phone calls he had made in the past few hours made his own
head spin, and not necessarily just in the figurative sense. The pills
Verbena had given him had been put to good use during the duration. God,
Fate, Time, or Whatever had seen fit to provide Sam with all the knowledge he
needed to help stop this from happening, but He had neglected to tell Al how
to go about doing it.
  He leaned back in his chair and rubbed his eyes. Maybe if he kept his eyes
closed long enough, he wouldn't see his office, bare and uninviting, when he
opened them again. Or not. One thought, as much as he had tried to dismiss it
as unimportant, nagged at him. It was the revelation that if he did manage to
do this, Beth wouldn't come to see him and maybe that friendship would never
  Abruptly, he pushed back form the desk and stood up. This was doing
absolutely no good and, medical problems or not, Al could never handle not
doing anything at all. He had to get Tina's car from her because there was no
way he was going to be driving his own, not with a dead body in it. Just the
thought made the grief swell up inside of him until he could taste it in his
mouth. He couldn't remember the reasons he had given Tina for needing the
car, but things had been a little tense between them since Beth showed up and
he wasn't so sure he wanted to remember. Verbena had once scolded him,
telling him he had a perfect picture in his mind that didn't leave room for
anyone else, but he needed time to think about that one and Tina was not a
patient lady.
  Within moments, he was on his way out to the airport to go to Washington a
day early. If there was nothing more he could tell Sam and nothing he could
do down here, he saw it as the only other option. Because he could not, under
any circumstances, let things happen the way they had the first time.

February, 1989
San Diego, CA

  Sam knocked softly on the door and waited a moment or two. "Mom?" No
answer. He cracked the door and tried not to flinch at the smell of alcohol
that swept over him with overpowering force. A small desk lamp provided the
only source of light and he could barely make out the entirety of the room.
It gave him a creeping feeling and almost sent him back out the door as he
recalled what Amber told him that morning about calling 911 on her. Whatever
this was, it certainly wasn't a family.
  Slowly, he entered the room, closing the door softly behind him. "Mom, I
wanted to talk to you. Do you have a minute?"
  She looked up from the magazine she had propped open on her lap, eyes
bleary and hair tangled and unorganized. "What do you want, Jake?"
  "I....just wanted to make sure you were all right. You seemed a bit out of
it at work and I didn't-"
  "Jake, I have things to worry about." She slammed the magazine on the night
table and Sam jumped. "Nothing you'd understand, so you just go on with what
you've got to do and leave me alone!"
  "What's going on?" Amber appeared suddenly at the door, gazing suspiciously
at them.
  "Amber," Sam started guiltily. "Um, I was just talkinng to your - to mom
about the situation here. I just thought that if it all got out in the open,
  "What?!" Amber's exclimation caught him off guard. "I hadn't told mom I was
pregnant yet!"
  "Um...well, I hadn't either," he mumbled and glanced over at the woman.
  The woman's features had hardened somewhat.  "I didn't need you to tell me.
I overheard you talking to that sponge of yours." She stood slowly - an
increasing tower of intensity and rage about to descend. "I harbored both of
you for years, you little slut!"
  Sam flinched and raised a shaky hand as if to push all the rage and hatred
away from him. "Mom, please."
  "ME? If you could keep your nose out of the bottle long enough to notice
what's going on-"
  "Don't have to. I can hear it just fine," she shot back.
  Sam clumsily interjected himself between the two women, fighting for some
semblance of control. "Okay," he said calmly.
  Amber pushed him roughly to one side. "Oh, fine. That's just great! We
don't need you or your money."
  "Then where are you gonna get the cash to get rid of that baby of yours?
Stupid fool...what makes you think we got the money to take care of-"
  "I am not getting rid of this child. How could you? You monster..." Amber's
entire body trembled with rage as she tried to pound her mother with closed
  "OKAY!" Sam roared, pushing them away from each other. "Can we _please_
talk like civilized people?"
  The hatred that energized the very air in the room made the hair rise on
his arms and he suddenly found it focused towards him as Amber turned her
rage in his direction. "There's nothing civilized about that woman," she
  "I'm not the one sleeping around in my own mother's house at age
  Sam had had enough. He grabbed Amber, bodily dragging her from the room and
slammed the door behind him, dulling the sound of insults still being hurled
from the bedroom. "What is wrong with you?" he demanded.
  "Me? You heard her." Amber folded her arms defiantly over her chest and
stared at him.
  "Yes, you. You're no better than she is."
  "Oh, don't feed me that bull, Jake. You know how she is: nothing gets
through to her. She's just an old hag," she said, raising her voice to be
heard through the door.
  Sam shook his head and walked down the hall away from her. "Forget it."
  Amber looked after him and, unable to restrain herself, caught up with him
and grabbed his arm, twisting him around to face her. "Forget what?"
  "You. Her. Everything." He closed his eyes briefly and exhaled sharply.
  Her eyes filled with confusion. "What?"
  "_This_!" he repeated, gesturing fiercely to the floor. "I can't fix this!
I can't even relate to this. She's screwed up, Jake's screwed up, and you-"
  "Yeah? Me what?" she demanded, tightening her grip on his arm. "What gives
you the right to judge me?"
  Angrily, he shook his arm loose from her hold. "Don't you get it? I. Can't.
Fix. This. It's too much. There's too many loose ends, sore spots..." He
trailed off. "Al, I want to come home," he whispered in despair. He could
almost feel the fight and the will to drive forward until he completed
whatever he was supposed to do drain out of him, as if Time and her games had
pulled the very life from him. If she heard his plea, she didn't comment.
  "No-one's asking you to fix this."
  "That's not true," he said quietly.
  "Well, _I_ certainly am not. I have enough trouble keeping you in line,
keeping this whole damn family together."
  "Yeah," he muttered, breaking her gaze and staring at his feet.
  "Jake..." She sighed. "I'm sorry, okay? I'm sorry."
  "Yeah," he repeated sullenly. "Great. I'm sorry, you're sorry, everyone's
sorry. That's....great." He looked up at her once and then walked away.

September, 2000
Washington D.C.

  Senator Franklin was in his office. It had been a toss-up between seeing
him first or McBride and Franklin was the winner. Either way, Al personally
considered himself the loser. Damned if you do, damned if you...
  He pulled off his gloves that represented the final touch on the dress
uniform he wore and held them loosely as he walked down the hall, gaining
slow but steady strength from the sound of his own footsteps, echoing
confidently in the hall. The secretary, who he was entirely too mentally numb
to notice was making eyes at him, ushered him into the office and Franklin
looked up without the barest hint of surprise that Al was up there a day
  "Admiral," he greeted him cheerfully. "So glad you're here - I did so miss
our exciting mind games. Please, have a seat."
  "I'll stand, thanks. I don't plan to be here long enough to get
comfortable." He caught the faintest flicker of annoyance behind the
senator's mask of arrogance and confidence.
  Then Franklin grinned a little. "Ah, they've started already."
  "You relocated," Al stated flatly. It was no use hiding his own emotions
because Franklin already knew them, but he kept his words empty and
unemotional anyway, just to withhold the satisfaction. "And now you're going
to bury us."
  "That's right."
  He gritted his teeth. "And what I want to know is...how can we stop that
from happening."
  This time, he did look surprised, the impression Al's statement had made
clearly evident before he could do anything to hide it. "Admiral, you're not
trying to bribe me, are you?"
  "Not with money, no."
  "Then with what?"
  Al blinked rapidly and clenched his fist. He could still feel Sam's hand,
trembling faintly, gradually loosening its hold as life fled... "With
whatever you want." *Cards on the table.*
  Franklin stood quickly. "What I _want_ is Project Quantum Leap. Are you
prepared to give me that?" Al didn't say anything. "Would you sacrifice what
you are scrambling so desperately to save?"
  "No." The defeat was in his tone - he was unable to avoid it - but not in
his eyes. Never there.
  "Then we don't have anything further to discuss. I have to finish preparing
for the meeting and, it seems, so do you."
  Al narrowed his eyes. "See you in hell, Senator." He runned his fingers
together, trying to erase memory with contact from the present, and left,
just barely restraining himself from slamming the door behind him.
  Suddenly, he couldn't go see Senator McBride. He just couldn't. Something
told him it wouldn't do any good anyway, and he just had to go someplace
where he could be alone.
  He checked into a hotel room, calmly and steadily, and locked himself in
it. As soon as the door had been closed behind him, he dropped the briefcase
and the small duffel bag on the floor and collapsed agaist the wall,
breathing hard. He fumbled unsteadily for the pills and took one, hoping
against hope that it would solve the problem, but knowing it wouldn't.
  He slid slowly to the floor and looked about the room, small and
unpersonal, which seemed to be just what he needed to hold everything
together. *Spit and bailing wire,* he thought dully to himself as he rubbed a
hand across his face. No matter what, he wouldn't cry because to cry would be
to admit that Sam was dead and never coming back and then everything he was
doing would be for nothing. He had to keep reminding himself of that.
  After a few moments, he stood up and sat heavily at the small table in the
room. He pulled out a sheaf of papers and started to flip through them. "This
is hopeless," he muttered to himself. "There is nothing I'm going to find in
here to prove that the project should continue sapping their money." He
rubbed at his eyes. "And the odds are-" he paused dramatically "-eight
hundred to one against." Another sigh.
  Pacing didn't help, nor coffee, and finally, for lack of anything more
productive to do, he fell asleep curled into a ball at the foot of the bed.