pt. VIII

September, 2000
Santa Fe, NM

  With any luck, they had noticed she was missing. That was the one thing
this plan would have to count on and the way Al saw it, it was a pretty good
chance her absence would be called to attention immediately. As soon as the
guard she mentioned knocking out came to, in fact.
  He turned to Lieutenant Barnes, the only other person he had brought along
for this, and nodded slightly. Barnes returned the gesture and the two of
them crouched in the bushes outside the door, waiting. Christina stepped from
her car and fought not to glance at the two of them as she walked up to the
door. Taking a deep breath, she slid her card in the slot and the door
unlocked and slid open.
  The guard turned to her in surprise. "Dr. Meth! Senator Franklin is looking
everywhere for you!"
  She panted hard, as if she were out of breath. "I know. I have some
incredible news! He is going to want to hear about this! Please, bring this
satchel up to my office immediately and then find Senator Franklin. Don't use
the intercom because we've been tapped into. His life is in danger. Do you
  The look on the guard's face showed he clearly did not, but he'd rather die
than admit it. He nodded briskly and then took off at a rapid walk towards
her office. She gave a sigh of relief and turned to let the admiral and the
lieutenant in. She didn't speak, but motioned for them to follow her.
  The trio worked steadily downward into areas that construction had not
entirely fixed up yet and Al became aware of the increasing heat. Christina
motioned around the next corner and Al pulled her away from the hallway,
moving to go out in front. He held up his hand and gestured: 1, 2, 3. They
burst from the wall into plain sight but there was no-one there. Al turned to
Dr. Meth with a questioning look. "Well? Where is she?" he asked, irritated
and angry.
  "I don't understand. They must have moved her." She began to walk forward
again but Al grabbed her arm.
  "I don't believe you," he said coldly. He released her and turned to
Barnes. "We're leaving."
  She grasped at him, catching the edge of his sleeve in desperation.
"Please! You have to believe me."
  He turned back and looked into her eyes. They were desperate, pleading,
begging. And he believed her. He closed his eyes momentarily and then sighed.
"Let's go." Barnes shot him a questioning look which he ignored. The relief
in her face, he prayed, was genuine.
  They jumped out around several more corners before Al began to feel
slightly foolish and then a couple more before they found what they were
looking for. Two guards, not one as Dr. Meth had stated, were held at
gunpoint by Al. He took their radios and weapons and waited for Barnes to
enter the room. Fumbling with the keys, the lieutenant finally unlocked the
door, backing up slightly at the blast of heat. His face fell at the sight,
but Christina, standing beside him, smiled in calm relief.
  "Admiral, do you have a knife?" he asked, turning to Al.
  He grimaced. "She's tied up."
  "Here." Al held out the gun to Barnes, and he took it. Al pulled out a
pocket knife and went into the room, trying hard to make everything out in
the dim light. And the rough floor wasn't making it any easier. In the corner
of the room, he could make out a figure, apparantly Christina's friend, tied
to a pipe that ran down into the floor.
  "Hurry," Christina urged.
  "Go help Barnes keep an eye on them," he instructed, eager to get her out
of his hair. "Tell him to knock them out. We're going to have to do that
anyway so they don't sound the alarm on us."
  She nodded reluctantly and turned to go back out into the hall, where it
was cool. Al crossed the room to the woman, who was also gagged, and knelt
down beside her. She felt the refreshing cool touch of his hand on her chin
as he held her still to cut the ropes. She gagged slightly and he started to
carefully cut the rope that held her neck, aware that every little jerk put
more pressure on her windpipe. She tried to cough around the gag in her mouth
and he moved the back of his hand to her forehead, trying to cool her down.
  "Easy," he said, keeping his tone low, trying to fight back the panic that
demanded he do this as quickly as he could. He felt that if he went any
faster, he could choke her to death, the rope was that tight. "You're
alright, I promise you." *At least she's alive,* he thought to himself.
  The bind on her neck came away easily enough and she leaned forward
slightly in obvious distress. He pulled her gag off, placing his hands on her
shoulders so she could avoid extra pressure on the ropes on her hands. "Just
breathe," he said gently. "I'm so sorry you had to be involved in this, but
I'm going to take care of you, okay?" Her shuddering slowed and then stopped
as he bent to release her hands, and then her legs. Stiff muscles and burns
on places where she had been held down all throbbed and she hoped she could
walk. He reached for her arm, intending to assist her to her feet, and felt
her muscles tense as if in instinctual fear under his touch, making him even
angrier with Franklin.
  Then the unexpected happened. She twisted in his grip, buried her face in
his shoulder, and started to sob, deep, heaving sobs that left him at a loss
for what to do. He didn't know whether to feel relieved that she was all
right or to be angry that she was holding up their escape. He had fufilled
his end of the bargain, but they would never get around to Christina's if
they got caught. And she was already apparantly terrified.
  He wrapped his arms protectively around her, torn by her fear and its
almost tangible nature in the room. "It's okay," he soothed. "I'm sorry, but
we have to get going or we'll never get out of here in one piece. Can you
  She pulled away from him with obvious reluctance and bent her head to wipe
her face. "I think so," she said quietly, holding onto his arm with a shaky
  Al stopped.
  Hardly daring to do so, he reached out and lifted her chin so she had no
choice but to look him in the face. And Al's world fell apart.
  She blinked as if she didn't recognize the name and then she clutched at
his arm. "We have to go," she said unsteadily. He nodded slowly and stood,
pulling her up with him. Outside, the security alarms had begun to go off and
Al wrapped her arm around his neck, ready to carry her if necessary. He
traveled with a detached feeling, as if he was watching someone else in his
place from a great distance.
  They almost made it out of the building with no problems, surprisingly
enough. Then, two guards cornered them just in sight of the exit. Al took out
one and Barnes the other and then they were out, but not before smashing the
door that would no longer open with Christina's clearance card.
  Al put Beth in the back seat and was about to move to the front when she
called his name and he found himself unable to leave her. Lieutenant Barnes
drove going, despite obvious security risks, to Project Quantum Leap.
  Al belted Beth in and proceeded to inspect her for signs of injury. "Are
you hurt?" he asked, looking to inspect the bruise on her cheek where
Franklin had hit her earlier.
  "My side hurts. I think I may have a broken rib or two," she admitted,
trying to ignore the pain.
  Al nodded, trusting her say on medical matters over his own. "What about
your neck?"
  "Al, will you forget about this for a minute?"
  He turned away, painfully obvious of the other two in front, unwilling to
have this conversation in front of them.
  "It's my fault," he whispered. "He was going to use you to get to me, but
then when he realized...."
  "Al, I-" she winced in pain and he turned his attention back to her.
  "Quiet," he said. "Please don't talk and don't move until we can have Dr.
Beeks check you out."
  She leaned against the support of his shoulder and even managed to fall
asleep on their way back to Stallions Gate. But Al was in no condition to
rest. Seeing her again had brought up a whole new set of feelings and
memories that he just wasn't equipped to deal with at the time. He had eight
million other things going on; why this? However indirectly, he was the
reason she was here, and he would just have to deal with it.
  He watched her sleep against him and swallowed the knot that had formed in
his throat. She was still beautiful....
  He brushed her hair away from her face and saw the shadowed pain there,
although he wasn't sure if it was due to her physical injuries or her
emotional pain. He ran a hand down the side of her face and noted the shiver
that wracked her body. Abruptly, the image of Alia's frightened gaze
presented itself in his mind and he remembered Verbena's mention that she
hadn't been able to remember anything from her stay at the other project. He
wasn't sure he even wanted to know what Beth had been through.
  Al wrapped an arm around her, gingerly, and whispered to her until the
trembling eased, but he could no longer tell if it was hers or his own.

September, 2000
Stallions Gate, NM

  Al leaned back and enjoyed the first cigar he had had the chance to light
up in a while. Lost in paperwork was a good place to be, he decided.
Christina Meth was assigned guest quarters to get some rest before she shared
with him her ideas for shutting Franklin down, and Verbeena Beeks had a new
patient that he fully planned to let her handle. If ever there was a time he
could have used Sam home....
  It was only a moment or two until he wished he really could be lost in
paperwork, lost where no-one could find him, because he heard a movement and
when he looked up, Verbeena was gazing down at him.
  "What?" he asked, trying not to sound as grumpy as he felt.
  "You know what," she said, sitting down despite Al's obvious lack of
invitation to do so. "Do you know how scared that woman is right now? She has
just been through hell,  she's surrounded by people she doesn't know, she's
in pain, and she needs somebody, Al."
  "Yeah?" he demanded. "So why does it have to be me?"
  "Don't you want to see her?" she asked.
  "No." He returned his attention, or tried to make it seem that way, to the
work in front of him. Work that wasn't due for at least a week, Verbeena
  "What are you scared of?" she asked. He bristled at the comment, but
refrained from yelling back at her, which is exactly what she'd hoped he'd
do. "Are you afraid she'll want to talk about it? Al, talk to me."
  "I'm not scared," he insisted in level tones. *I'm terrified,* admitted a
small voice that he quickly silenced. "But I've got too much to do to worry
about your patients."
  She nodded slowly. "I see." Without comment, she got up and left his
  What harm could it do, after all, just to go and see her? They didn't have
to talk about what happened between them; they could just chat about things
that had happened since then. But, Al realized, he didn't really want to hear
about Dirk either, or any children she may or may not have. Was anything safe
to talk about?
  He didn't know the answer to that, but, he decided, he would never know
until he found it within himself to try.