"The Final Chapter" pt. XII July, 2002 Santa Fe, NM Senator Franklin heard the yelling outside his office for several minutes before Admiral Calavicci managed to push his way into the room, followed by several of the senator's employees. Franklin stood up in surprise, but then smiled. "Admiral," he greeted him passively. One of the several people standing behind Al put his hand on the admiral's shoulder. Al looked pointedly at the senator, and Franklin nodded. The man retreated, closing the door behind him. Franklin sat down. "To what do I owe-" "This bull stops now," Al said angrily, taking several steps into the room. "We're going to settle this and then I'm going to undo what you've done." He cast a confused look across the room. "Admiral, I'm afraid you've lost me there. What have I done?" "You know damn well what you did. You thought you were going to take care of me once and for all?" Al advanced directly up to the desk. "Let me tell you something - you've got a lot to learn. If you set out to take away everything a person has, you've created a deadly problem, not a solution. And this problem has just landed on your desk." He placed his hands flat on the desk surface and leaned towards the senator. Franklin stood up. "I haven't done anything." "_You_ haven't...?" Al murmured in astonishment. "You tried to shut down Quantum Leap, you attacked my wife, and now you've leaped someone into her and who knows what kind of havoc has been unleashed since I left." The senator stared, and then broke into a broad grin. "Into...your wife? Admiral...that's the perfect idea." Al paled. "What are you talking about?" Franklin walked past him towards the door, but Al jerked him back by the arm. "Do you mean you haven't done it _yet_?" he demanded. "All you had to do was what I wanted. It's your own fault I've had to resort to drastic measures. It was what I wanted, or this." "I don't like those options." Franklin shrugged. "Why do you keep trying to twist _my_ arm?" "He who holds the money, holds the project. Plain and simple. Dr. Beckett may be the brains behind the organization, but you keep the cash flowing." "So why can't you just kill me and leave them alone?" "Publicity. You're the one under the eye of the government, much more so than Dr. Beckett. You're the one they see all the time; you're the one who writes the reports, evaluates the personnel, meets with the committee. If I killed you, there would be hell to pay. I'd risk exposing my project - it was something I'd hoped to avoid unless necessary. But now..." A glint materialized in his eye. "Now I think you've just created the perfect setup for me. You come in here in a rage, everyone sees it... I'd bet money that you're armed, and so am I. An opportunity this good may not come along again. The words `self- defense' garner a great deal of pity. And, of course, I can offer up one of my employees to take your position. This may just be what I need to separate your association from either of these projects. No government wants to be associated with a madman." Al cocked his head, as if he was amused. "And, yet, you're in office. Explain that to me." "It's because I'm the one who does the shoving; I don't wait for someone to shove me. You've been around Dr. Beckett too long, Admiral - you've lost some of your fire." "You may change your mind when you have to deal with him." "But he'd still be so much easier than you," Franklin purred. Al shook his head. "You're crazy." Again, he simply shrugged. "You've gone back and forth more times than history," Al muttered, more to himself than the senator. "And you've completely stopped making sense." "Don't you see, Admiral? It's a no-win situation for both of us. You can't kill me and, well, I suppose it would be unwise for me to kill you as well. We both need each other to protect our respective interests. You think the disappearance of a US senator wouldn't generate it's own healthy dose of the press?" Al narrowed his eyes. "You said, `unwise'." "I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going to call security and you're not going to leave this building in one piece. You see, we exist in a delicate balance here, a balance of silences, bargains, and promises. It's a game of poker. Sometimes, to even see what the other person is holding, you have to risk a little more." "That's where we differ. You play games with lives. I don't." Franklin inclined his head. "Exactly. Which is why you're losing. You're not bidding high enough." Al backed away a step. "All right." A ripple of anger flashed across his face, and then he pulled out his gun and pointed it at the senator. "I call." Franklin didn't react. "What do you have?" "Your project," he said calmly, right before Al pulled the trigger. The world went black for both of them. "Al?" He heard them calling from a great distance, sounding hollow and lacking substance. "Al, can you hear me?" The last thing he wanted to do was respond. He had the impression that to do so would call back pain he wasn't ready to deal with yet. "Dr. Beckett?" That was a different voice. It was female and the first was male. Why did they sound so familiar? "I came as soon as I could." The woman...at least they weren't talking to him anymore. "What happened to him?" There was a regretful sigh. "Someone knocked him unconscious." Sam. Finally, some sense of recognition was returning to him. "In fact, I spoke to the woman who hit him. Her name is Amanda and Melana leaped into her a while back. I think...she recognized Al, or some part of her did. She told me Franklin had requested a meeting with her and on her way into the office, she heard the shot." Sam sighed and Al could have sworn he felt pressure on his arm. "She panicked and hit him with some object from Franklin's bookshelf before he even realized she was there. When she recognized him, though, she locked the office and got help. He'd probably be dead if she hadn't. She said she didn't know why she locked the office, just that she had a feeling things would have gotten much worse if she hadn't. By the time they broke into the office, the trigger-happy folk had been ordered not to do anything drastic and things started to calm down. We couldn't even find him when Melana and I got here with the clean-up crew. I don't want to think about what could have happened if you hadn't made it a point to call and mention you were coming down." There was a longer pause while she absorbed all of this. "I've talked to the committee. Ever since Admiral Calavicci spoke to me about Franklin, I've had some checks running on him." "So what is the bottom line here?" "The bottom line is with all Melana was able to tell us, I think we can turn this into primarily a scandal with Franklin, and leave both projects out of it. And with the senator dead, the funding he was receiving will be severed as well. His private donors won't want to be associated with a scandal." She took a breath. "Is he going to be all right?" "I don't know. It's been about...six hours now. I'm really starting to worry. He should have come around hours ago, depending on what exactly they did." The pressure on Al's arm moved to his head as Sam inspected the damage the blow had done. "I'm giving it another twenty minutes and then I'm taking him to a hospital. I thought earlier he was okay, but now I'm not so sure." "Maybe you should do that," the voice he now recognized as McBride's agreed. "I'm no doctor, but that seems to be a long time." "It is," Sam agreed before hastily adding, "but it's not just because he was knocked...I think Security sedated him. At least, that's what I got from the blood test earlier." There was a pause and then Sam spoke again. "Thank you, Senator, for all your help." "My pleasure." There was the sound of retreating footsteps and then Sam began prodding him again. "Al? Come on, pal, wake up." As if against his will, Al opened his eyes and blinked several times to bring the room into focus. He was laying on a stretcher, people bustling in and out of the room. It appeared to be the Control Room right outside of Franklin's office. "What happened?" he asked, barely a whisper. Sam gripped his hand to give him a focal point. "Someone knocked you out." "Franklin?" "He's dead," Sam explained. "It's okay, Al." "No," Al groaned, struggling to sit up, but Sam pushed him back down. "Take it easy. There'll be plenty of time for explanations later." "No time," Al murmured. "Sam, I figured this all before I did it. If we can disassociate me with the project, I can take all the heat from this and Quantum Leap won't be touched." He sucked in a deep breath. "One crazy nut..." He laughed lightly. Sam squeezed his hand tighter. "McBride already figured something else out and there won't be any need for that. Based on what we found out from Melana's leap, we can turn this thing around. Remember? The one where Thames tried to kill her? You told me once you saw Franklin, that you remembered seeing him in Melana's leap before she vanished. She told me the whole story. We can use that, Al. "Sam, no. I don't want her to have to re-live everything for-" "For what?" Sam demanded, "your freedom? People need you, Al. _I_ need you, not to mention Beth and Melana. Let us help you out of this one, please. This won't be pretty, but at least we can keep the truth away from the public." "What about behind closed doors? What happens there?" This time Al shook free and hauled himself into a sitting position, massaging his temples to try and dull the pain throbbing through his head. "Well, that's a little more complicated. There'll be charges, of course, but the committee is working on something. McBride told me not to worry." "Right," Al grumbled. Maybe this had been a mistake, but he had long since learned to take care of his own problems and to do what had to be done. He didn't have that numb feeling of unreality at all; he knew the implications of what he was going to do before he did it. "Al...this all happened real fast." He pulled himself out of his reverie and smiled dimly at Sam. "I know, kid." "Do you remember...the other history?" he pressed. He was torn between hoping Al would forget it and praying he'd remember so there would be someone else on this crazy road with him. Al studied him carefully. "Yeah, I remember." Tears filled Sam's eyes and he dropped his gaze. "Hey," Al chided, "not in public, huh?" When Sam looked back up, Al was smiling at him. "Come here," he commanded. Sam stepped forward responsively and Al gave him a warm hug, patting him on the back. When he pulled away, the scientist looked considerably more steady. With Sam spotting him, Al climbed down from the stretcher and reached for his jacket, draped on a nearby counter. "So what happens now?" Sam sighed. "Well, McBride has said not to worry about this now, so we go back to Quantum Leap. She's going to oversee the disbanding of this project herself, and we can just get back to work in Stallions Gate whenever we're ready." "And our funding?" He eyed a technician who had drifted a little too closely before continuing. "Still flowing, as far as any of us can tell. That'll have to be made official, of course, but it's unlikely we'll suffer directly from this." Al nodded. "Small shock waves, huh? I can live with that." Then he looked up suddenly, as if a thought had just occurred to him. "Did Zoe still leap into Beth?" "No, Franklin never had the chance. And the instant history changed, Melana showed me how to get here and we all came. You should have seen it, Al, everything was in complete chaos. Nobody knew what to do or who to follow. You sure caused a stir." "So you volunteered to lead, huh?" Al grinned, then pressed the heel of his hand to his head. "Man, my head aches. What did they do, throw a whole bookcase at me?" "I think they gave you something to keep you out for a while, but I'm giving you the once over after we get back to PQL, just in case. They had you locked up in some room by the time we found you. You should thank your lucky stars - you could easily have come out of this with more pieces than you came in with." Al didn't comment on that. "Where's Beth?" "Oh, she's outside in the hallway. She was in here earlier until McBride came in." "She okay?" Sam ran a hand through his hair. "She was really worried about what was going to happen to you when we found out you'd killed someone." "And now?" Al paused in the act of straightening his jacket to eye Sam. "She's tougher than you give her credit for," Sam responded, grinning slightly. "Than _I_-" Al sputtered in mock amazement. "Beckett, you are something else. Truly." Beth chose that moment to enter the room, carrying a long coat draped over one arm. "You're up," she cried, a bright smile lighting her face. The look on Al's face confirmed for Sam that he remembered the other time line just fine. And that he was still bothered by it. "Al?" he prompted. "Oh, yeah," he mumbled, coming back to the present. "I'm fine, Beth." She moved directly in front of him, but didn't touch him. "How's your head?" "Mercy," he pleaded. "Sam's pestering is enough; I don't need two doctors after me!" "I'm just worried about you," she said softly. "I know, hon. I'm sorry." He managed a small smile and clasped her hand warmly. Her expression told him she needed a hug, but he didn't want to do that here, with countless strangers moving in and out. Instead, he turned to Sam. "Can we go home, now?" he asked wearily. "Can't think of anything I'd rather do," his partner replied and the three went out together.