"The Final Chapter" - Prologue May, 2002 Stallions Gate It had been at least a few weeks since the accident and Admiral Al Calavicci had yet to get a good night's sleep. Either Beth was waking up in the middle of the night in pain or his own memories of the incident (both ways it had occurred) plagued him in his dreams. It had happened mere yards from him when a man with a knife attacked her while he was inside a cafe having lunch with Sam and Donna. Al rubbed at his temples, trying to erase memories of the attack on his wife with physical touch. It wasn't working. He and Sam Beckett had made it a point to explain to all who cared to listen that they were not pressing charges against the man who attacked her. What the general public didn't know - what they would never be informed of - was that it was really a leaper and there was no reason for the leapee to be any further traumatized by the experience than he already was. Al glanced at his watch and then stood from behind his desk, straightening a stack of papers and slipping them into a folder. He crossed into the main living space, where Beth stood. "Sam needed me to check out something. Will you be okay for a while?" Beth lowered herself onto the couch. "Sure, why?" He narrowed one eye at her and shrugged elaborately. "I dunno. I just kinda felt like there was something wrong." "No, I'm fine, but these painkillers are making me exhausted." She smiled slightly at him. "Go out and play, Al, I'm just going to take a nap." He still looked uncertain. "I'll only be gone an hour or so. " "Go. Goodness..." She shook her head and laid down on her right side, pulling a thin blanket over her legs. "Say hi to Sam for me." Al stopped at the door and retreated back to the couch. "Sure," he said, bending to kiss her on the cheek. She took his hand as he did so, clenching it tightly, and then slowly releasing it. "See ya." The door closed behind him with a dull thud and she sighed. The moments ticked by and eventually the silence became oppressive. Why hadn't she told him? If there was one person who knew about nightmares, it was Al, and she had had her fill in the past couple of weeks. Knowing now that it was Thames who had tried to kill her (and indeed, in one time line, had) made it all clear. She told herself she had suffered too long at his hands and she would be his victim no longer, but it wasn't working. And why had she never told Al what he did to her those horrible days in the other project? More than anything, Beth wanted to cry. She wanted to sit there and let it all pour out from her, but tears wouldn't come, just fear. Knowing as she did that she would regret it, she let herself fall into an uneasy sleep. Al started to kick the door closed behind him when he remembered there was a good chance his wife was asleep somewhere in their quarters. He put down the briefcase and files tucked under one arm and closed the door slowly as he entered the room. Leaving his things by the door (an endless source of frustration for Beth), he crossed the hallway into the living room and smiled to see her fast asleep on the couch. He started to move past her into the kitchen, but something stopped him. Maybe it was the way she was moving in a kind of restlessness on the couch that seemed painfully familiar. Or maybe it was just a keen knowledge of his wife. He altered his path and knelt in front of the couch, studying her face carefully. Al lifted his hand and softly brushed away a strand of hair, resting his palm on her cheek. After a moment, her eyes opened and she smiled at him. He returned it, a little sadly. The smile faded and she tried to avoid his eyes, but he simply looked at her, waiting. Then the calm expression seemed to fold in on itself and her shoulders began to shake beyond her power to stop them. She bit her lip, fighting for control. He continued to watch her, rubbing his thumb slowly against her cheekbone. Finally, the fear won out, and as she surrendered to the feelings she's had earlier, Al rose to sit beside her. Gently, he lifted her to the sitting position, and then leaned her back until she was laying against his chest. Still not saying a word, he enveloped her in his arms, stroking her hair and rocking her tenderly as she sobbed. She twisted in his grasp and buried her face in his shoulder, the trembling now so fierce that she could feel her teeth rattling. Al held her for a long time, just helping her feel safe. Each time she seemed calmer the grief and the shame would swell up inside her chest again, constricting her heart and memories would flash despite her best efforts. During one of the lulls, she lifted her head to look at Al and he met her gaze, her sorrow mirrored in his eyes. His thumb wiped the tears away and she sniffed, gripping the handkerchief he had long ago handed her. "I'm - sorry I didn't - tell you," she whispered, spasmatic breathing making speech harder. Her voice rose as she fought a fresh wave. "But it just - hurt so bad and-" She hadn't told him anything, hadn't even spoken until now, but he just brushed her hair back and kissed her on her forehead. "Shhh. Just cry, baby, just cry." She let the assault overtake her, not even aware of the point when Al pulled the blanket up around her shoulders and tightened his grip on her. Her arm was causing no pain, but whether it was because of the painkillers or the fact that it was merely overshadowed by a much stronger emotional pain, she wasn't sure. After a while, all she was aware of was the even beating of his heart and the rise and fall of his chest. Every time she whimpered or even cried out aloud, and every time the horrible reality of flashbacks overcame her own sense of reality, she could feel him hold her tighter, as if he could cover every inch of her body with his touch. As if he could make it all better again, heal her wounds himself. She wasn't aware of how much time had gone by, but it was dark outside before she found the voice and the strength to tell him about her first encounter with Thames. She told him how the man had hurt her, physically and emotionally, and her fear that he would try again to kill her, even her fear that he would leap into Al and she would never know until her life was over. Al listened silently as she poured out all her agonies, nestled safely in his grasp, and she sighed. He rested his chin atop her head and started to hum, a tuneless, motionless song that drifted through the room. Her fingertips slid upward to the side of his neck and she could feel the vibrations from his throat. For the first time in weeks, she felt warm and safe and she fell deep into a dreamless sleep.