Book I, Part IX

				June, 1980
				Anchorage, AK

"You're kidding," Sam stated, grinning slightly. "You found rope in here?"

Mary returned the grin. "It was being used to tie a box shut and I just
thought it could come in handy."

"Sure," he encouraged.

There was a sound behind them and Sam turned to see Cindy emerging from the
duct. He quickly reached out his hands to grip her wrists and help pull her

She paused to regain her balance, then glanced around. "Sherri's not back

Sam let out a heavy breath. "No. Not yet."

"I think they're using her as a bargaining chip," Cindy said breathlessly. She
kept hold on Sam with one hand, as if needing his support. "I didn't find any
more people in the building, but I did hear two of the guys talking."

Sam sat her down and lowered himself in front of her. Mary stood above them at
his side. "What did they say?" From deep inside of himself, he felt a mental
twinge, but he couldn't identify it, so he ignored it.

"They're trying to get the judge who sentenced the guy's brother in here. Ron
wants to...execute him."

She trembled slightly, but otherwise was holding up better than Sam would have
expected. "Did they say anything about Sherri?"

"Not specifically, but I think they have one more room of hostages somewhere
on the same level. I couldn't tell where, though."

He squeezed her hand gently. "You did great, Cindy."

He started to get up, but she didn't release his hand. "There's one more
thing," she said, seeming hesitant to mention it.

He looked carefully at her. "What?"

"I found a set of keys. They had it sitting on a chair in the room they were
talking in."

Sam's breath caught in his throat. "Do you think they'll leave without them?"

"I don't know. If the other guy has some keys, I don't see why they'd need
both sets, but if it's still there, I might be able to reach it from the duct,
even if they're still in the room."

Sam was amazed. "Cindy...are you volunteering to try this?" He glanced up and
saw shock in Mary's face.

"I don't know," she fretted, twisting her fingers into a knot. "I don't want
to let anyone down, but I'm scared."

"Cindy, listen carefully to me: anyone would be scared suggesting what you're
suggesting. If you don't want to do it, nobody's going to hold that against
you." The indecision on her face was agony. "Do you need time to think about

She bit her lip and shook her head. "There may not be time to think about it.
Why did I have to be such a coward? Why couldn't I have taken then when I
first saw them?"

"It's okay," he soothed. He wanted desperately to push for her answer, the
image of Sherri as Ron grabbed her so crystal clear, it was painful. Sometimes
a photographic memory could be a curse.

Like with Al, for example. He could call up a flawless image of him
instantaneously, but it didn't do a bit of good if he couldn't help him. On
top of it all, he kept expecting the Imaging Chamber Door to open, kept
expecting that the whole situation had been rectified and then things would
return to normal.

The emotional twitch came again.

*Denial,* a part of his brain informed him. That was bad, because it meant he
still had anger and grief to go through before he hit acceptance.

"I don't see where we have a choice," Cindy said quietly, brushing a few
strands of her short blonde hair out of her eyes. "I have to do it."

"You're sure?"

She shrugged away from his touch. "Stop asking me that - I don't want to
change my mind."

Sam took her face briefly between his hands. "Cindy," he said firmly, waiting
until her frantic eyes met his, "you're not a coward."

She slid into his embrace, shaking slightly.

Sam gave her a few seconds, then pulled back. She'd been right - they didn't
have much time. "Ready?" he asked.

She nodded, not trusting herself to speak, and slid back into the narrow
opening, the sound of her heavy breathing echoing ominously against the cold
metal walls. Then she vanished from view.

Sam let out a deep sigh and leaned against the wall.

"You did the right thing letting her go," Mary said gently.

He looked dully at her, feeling as if his soul was raw. "I always do the right
thing," he muttered, then walked away. The tone in his voice wasn't gloating
or ego - it almost sounded like disgust.

*Oh, Al... Wherever you are, I hope you're okay.*

Sam Beckett sagged against the wall in the corner, closed his eyes, and
started to pray.

				June, 2001
				Stallions Gate, NM

"You wanted to talk to me?" Beth asked from Verbena's doorway. Just being
around her friend made her relax slightly. If Sam was the brains of Quantum
Leap, and Al was the heart of it, then Verbena must have been the glue that
held them all together - and kept them all from going mad.

Doctor Beeks glanced up from the papers in front of her. "Is Al awake yet?"

"Not last time I went to see him."

Verbena gave her a knowing look. "You forget about Ms. Sees-All-Knows-All.
You've been in there with him since the surgery ended." Beth sat down across
from her. "When I said not to take too long, was I talking to myself?"

"Define ‘too long'," Beth countered.

Verbena sighed. "I know you're worried, but-"

Beth stood up again as if on a spring. "My husband is lying in an infirmary
dying! How on earth am I supposed to feel?!"

"I didn't mean to say there was anything wrong with it." The bottom fell out
of Beth's anger. There was nothing left to do but say it. "It's been suggested
that we reinsert the implant."

Beth's eyes widened and she clutched the back of the chair. "Why?"

"The experts upstairs say that if we can get Al back in the Imaging Chamber
before Sam leaps, while we still know his time and location, that we may be
able to reestablish the link."

Beth shook her head. "There's more to this story," she stated not-quite
calmly. "Are you going to tell me what it is?"

"He has to be conscious."

"And?" Beth pushed.

Verbena pushed herself away from the desk. "Based on the original history, Sam
should be leaping out within ten hours and I'm scared to wake Al up before
then. He's already..."

"At death's door?" Beth inquired, holding back her grief.

Verbena looked up quickly. "I wouldn't have chosen a phrase quite so
melodramatic, but he is in a precarious state at best." She cocked her head
and folded her hands in her lap. "Do you still...feel him?"

Beth lowered herself back into the seat, clutching the armrests as if by doing
so she could keep a handle on her emotions. "After he came out of the coma,
they'd stopped."

"And now?"

"Now...I really don't know. I know he still feels alone, but it's different."

"Different how?"

"I don't know!" Beth cried, feeling helpless. "Don't you think if I could
reach him, I would?"

Verbena stood and walked around her desk, moving to Beth's level and looking
her in the eyes. "What is it, Beth? You have a right to be upset - you have a
right to be on edge. If you weren't, I'd be more concerned than I am."

"How do you do it, Verbena? How do you keep everything together? You're a
friend, a go-between, and a doctor all at once. And I know you care about Al."

She shrugged. "I cry into my pillow at night."

Beth managed a weak smile around the tears.

Verbena covered Beth's hands with hers. "I wasn't kidding," she said quietly.

Beth met her gaze on even terms. "I feel as if he's trying to decide whether
to give in or not."

"Al's strong. You don't go through what he's been through and not become
strong because of it." 

"He's strong, but he's also tired. So, so tired," she whispered, tears falling
as she was more fully immersed in the connection. "He's scared and alone."

"He's not alone," Verbena emphasized.

"Are you going to do it? Are you going to insert the implant and try to revive

"I don't know, Beth." Though she didn't come out and say it, Beth knew she was
putting that decision in her hands.

"He'd want us to," Beth stated shakily. Verbena watched her steadily - just
because Beth knew Al would want it didn't mean she would want it for him.
"I...I have to do what I know in my heart he'd want me to do."

Verbena squeezed her hands gently. "You're a very impressive woman,

"No, I'm not. I'm a mess."

"You're allowed to be."

"I need a hug," she whispered.

Verbena reached up and held her tightly. "It's gonna be okay, Beth."

"Thought you weren't into false assurances," Beth said tearfully against her

"So that should tell you something," she responded, rubbing Beth's back

"Do it, Verbena. Insert the implant and give him nine hours."

				June, 1980
				Anchorage, AK

They'd heard gunshots.

Gunshots and yelling. The shots ceased after three or four, but the yelling
continued. People were running up and down the halls.

Sam reached for the cover of the duct and started to put it back on.

"My God, man, what are you doing?" John demanded, but did not intervene

"Look," Sam snapped, swinging around, anger exploding forth as if from a
cannon, "if she's dead, this won't do a bit of good."

"And what if she's not dead?" he countered, waving a hand through the air in
an arc.

"Then she's safer in there, anyhow!" Sam cried in dismay. He was losing his
handle on this leap - and himself. It was every worst nightmare come true.

Plus, he was just so tired. Every bone ached and he wanted nothing more than
to lie down and slip into oblivion.

Before John could offer another argument, the door banged open and one of the
four brothers poised in the entranceway, his gun tilted up. "Where is she?" he
demanded. Sam felt a brief flash of hope pass through him. Maybe Cindy had
made it away unharmed after all. "Your little plan didn't work," he informed
them coldly. He reached into his pocket with one hand for his walkie talkie.
"Anyhow, one good hostage is really all you need to get the job done." Anger
clouded Sam's mind and he lunged forward. His adversary pulled the trigger
but, with only one hand to absorb the backlash of firing such a powerful
weapon, his arm jerked back and the shot went wild.

Sam Beckett made contact with the man's throat, stunning him instantly. John,
deciding to be useful for once, helped Sam hold him still and pulled the gun
out of his hand.

"Where's Sherri?" Sam demanded, contempt emitting from every pore. The man
remained silent.

"He's not going to tell us," John stated with painful certainty.

"Where is she?!" he raged, choking the man as he held him against the wall.

"Hey!" John yelled, pulling Sam back, "take it easy, huh? You don't know she's
dead yet. We can find her, okay?"

"If anyone more dies, someone's gonna pay," he declared, surprising even
himself with the ferocity of the statement. He spun to stare at Mary. "Where's
that rope?" Within minutes, they had him tied securely, trussed up like an
animal, and had locked him in the room.

"What do you plan to do now?" John asked. Now that the immediate crisis had
passed, he was back to his standard tactless commentary.

"Now we find Sherri," Sam responded without hesitation, "and we pray that both
she and Cindy are both alive." *And Al. Oh, I could really use your help on
this one, Al...*

There was no response except for a paralyzing loneliness within the deepest,
most vulnerable part of his soul. It was a feeling that didn't seem to be
coming entirely from himself, but he couldn't identify exactly why he thought
that. All he knew was he was so, so tired.

Another part of himself railed against the urge to give up, to lay down and
surrender to the unbearable pressure. Quitting was simply not an option and he
understood that, as long as he kept going, he still had a chance.

Thank you, all. The 2 death threats were nice to get. ;-) Keep 'em coming!