"Off the Beaten Path" pt. X May, 1988 Nant, NC "How's it goin', Sam?" Al asked. Sam was sitting on the hotel bed, hoping in vain for divine inspiration to strike. "Oh, not so good," he sighed. "You?" He glanced up at his partner. "You look tired," he observed. "Well, Beth was well-rested earlier, so, you know..." Sam shook his head - five wives or one, Al always seemed to find _some_ sleazy story to tell. "Uh-huh. Aren't you sleeping?" "Not as such, but I've been so busy..." "'Not as such'?" Sam parroted, exposing Al's lie. He eyed his partner. "You really should sleep." "Well, so should you. What have you been doing?" "I mean it, Al, Sam continued, determined not to allow the focus to sway just yet. You can't run from this forever. You can't live without sleep." "At Project Quantum Leap?" Al was aghast. "There's no other way to survive." Sam frowned. He didn't like Al making jokes about something this serious. Nonetheless, he let Al steer the conversation to another topic. "What have you been doing?" his partner repeated. "Thinking. Thinking, testing ideas, and watching them all fail," Sam said miserably. "I'm having a lot of trouble with this, Al." "Where's Eve?" Sam rubbed his forehead. "I don't know. I tried to talk to her earlier and she got upset and ran out." Al nodded. "Well, these things take time, Sam." "She said Daniel stopped the world when their family died. One one level, I think I understand what she meant, but on another..." "Well, _I_ understand," Al said calmly. "You need to tell her, though, that her family didn't die. Her mother and sister did, but her family's still alive, if she lets it live." Sam nodded reluctantly. "If she blew up at you, you're on the right track, kid. She just needs to get everything out." Sam crossed the room to the bathroom, turning on the tap and splashing water on his face. The stranger looked back at him through the water spots on the bathroom mirror. "I guess you'd better tell me where she is," he said eventually. Al stood in the doorway, watching him. "Maybe that's not such a good idea." Sam reached for a hand towel. "What do you mean?" "I mean that if Eve's feeling smothered and oppressed by her father, him running after her each time she leaves may be counterproductive. When she left home, she only went five hours away. She didn't even leave the state. That says to me that part of her wanted to be found. When I met her, she'd obsess about my family. It always seemed so important to her. Well, now her family has come for her and she leaves again. She's used to people chasing after her; she _expects_ it. Maybe you just need to sit still now and wait for her to come back on her own. She knows you care and she knows you - Daniel loves her. But she's got to learn to take responsibility, Sam. Now maybe the rest is up to her." "She won't make any progress until she starts running in the right direction, you mean," Sam said, turning away from the mirror to face Al. "Right." Sam looked thoughtful. "That's good advice, Al." He tilted his head. "Thanks." "Now, can you take it as well as you dish it out?" Al blinked. "What?" "That's the same thing you're doing - there and here." Al opened his mouth, closed it again, then opened it once more. "You're right, Sam," he said slowly. Sam pretended to stagger, clutching at the counter for support. "Never, in my wildest dreams, did I expect to hear those three words in succession from you." Al smiled patiently, then added, "Maybe you should tell him that." "Oh? Isn't that pushing the opposite effect than the one we want?" Al didn't answer, but he could tell Sam was already planning his next move in that direction. He didn't ask what it was; he wasn't sure he wanted to know. This was going to be hard enough for both of them. "You think he'll be at the bar tonight?" Al shrugged. "Probably." "Then I will, too. And maybe I can figure out how to reduce those odds. What are they at, now?" "Uh..." Al pulled the 'link from his pocket and called up the information. "It's at 53% that you and I meet. That's not too bad - down 2% from yesterday." "Yeah, but it's still going down. That's not encouraging." Sam turned sideways to avoid walking through Al as he left the bathroom. "I guess it's time to give some serious thought about what I'm going to say to both of you." Al fiddled with the handlink. "Where is Eve now? Just so I know?" He keyed in the new request for information and his eyes widened. "Uh, Sam?" Sam, who was rummaging through the suitcase for something, stopped and turned to look at his partner. "Yeah?" "Did you happen to mention me to her?" Sam straightened. "Well, she asked about you from last night. I mean, how I knew you. Why?" "And you told her...my real name?" Al looked up from the 'link, gazing at Sam in amazement. "I don't know," he said impatiently. "I guess so, why?" "Because Ziggy says she's on her way to my house." Sam released the lid of the suitcase, letting it fall shut behind him as he crossed the room. "What happens?" Al was frantically pushing buttons, and then lowered it in defeat. "Ziggy doesn't know." "Well, were you there? Do you know?" Al shook his head. "I can't remember. Everything's really hazy..." "Well...what should I do?" Sam fretted. "Should I try and stop her, or what?" "This is not going to go over well," Al said quietly. Sam dropped heavily onto the bed. "I keep forgetting that's what we want." Al raised his eyebrows. "Yeah, you're right." He checked the readout. "And the odds have gone up a half percent for you and me." "That's it?" "Yeah." Sam stood up purposefully. "That does it. I'm going over. She's got to learn a lesson and she's either got to learn it from me, or herself. Or you," he added. Al smiled faintly at the acknowledgement. "Sam?" he asked his friend as he headed out the door. Sam turned slightly in response. "Be careful." When Eve arrived, confused and disillusioned, to the Calavicci residence, she was already feeling off-balance. She was barely taking in the appearance of the outside of the house as she came up the walk-way and climbed the brick steps to the front porch; she was already running how the conversation could go in her mind. So it was understandable that she was completely thrown when a young girl answered the door. Before she could even move to open her mouth and ask if she had the right house, a woman appeared at the end of the long hall, advancing on them curiously. She stopped mid-way to the door and rested a hand on the wall. "Who is it, Julia?" Eve stopped and looked - really looked at the woman. She was small and lovely and had a kind of grace and fluidity of motion about her that only represented a physical expression of her character. Eve felt suddenly very young and awkward. This had been a mistake. "I don't know _yet_," Julia was saying and Eve shook herself from her despair. She was just here to see someone, to talk to him. That was it. It was a completely harmless situation, so why did she already feel as if she was intruding? "I'm here to see Al," she said, surprised at her own boldness and strength of tone. "Al?" Her expression turned to surprise and then deep skepticism. "Al Calavicci?" Eve bit her lip and nodded, her fingers twisting together in anxiety. This was wrong - very wrong. Julia, obviously deciding her mother could handle it from there, shrugged and wandered off to another part of the house as the woman took her place at the door. Eve watched her disappear into a room off to the right. "He's getting some work done right now," she informed Eve quietly, still calm. But it was apparent that she was reluctant to let an unknown 16 year old girl into her home. "Is there something I can help you with?" "No..." Eve hesitated, blinking back tears. This was stupid - she was behaving like a child! "Could you please...just get him for me? It's important." The woman finally seemed able to push aside whatever emotions had been shining through and she smiled. "Of course. Why don't you...come on in? My name's Beth, by the way. I'm Al's wife." Eve knew that. Of course she knew that. Wedding ring or no, she was no idiot and this one was a no-brainer. Who _else_ would the woman be? All the same, when Beth said it, it felt as if she had been punched in the stomach. She barely registered the fact that Beth had begun moving through the inside of the house, leading Eve in. Eve closed the door carefully behind herself and followed her past the carpeted stairs on the right and the room Julia had gone into, getting her first good look at the inside of Al's home. There was another room to the immediate left which seemed to be a living room-type setting with a hutch housing good china and filled with furniture that looked too expensive (to Eve) to even think of using. The hallway itself was formed with deeply stained wood, giving it a dark, but rich earthy feel. Pictures lined both walls. To the right was a series of family photos, each one more recent than the one before. On the left side were individual pictures of the entire family. The abridged history lesson led Eve to believe Al had a gift for understatement: he said he had no family and yet...four daughters! How could he _say_ those things he'd said to her? She began to envy him ever so slightly. Beth walked past all of these sights without slowing and continued back to the end of the hall and to the left into the den. "Have a seat. Can I get you anything to drink?" "No, thank you," Eve said, sinking down onto the couch. "What's your name, dear?" "Eve," she said quietly, her hands clasped tightly in front of her. She watched Beth leave and cross over to the kitchen, on the opposite side of the hall. An instant later, she could hear Beth's voice again. "Al. I thought you were doing some work in the study." "I came to get some coffee," he replied evenly, his voice muffled by distance. "Do you know who just showed up at our front door?" she hissed. "No," came his flat reply and his following sigh was so loud that she could hear it clearly. "Who?" "Some girl, named Eve. Who is she?" She was more agitated now. "She's _here_?" Al said, a little too loudly. "Shh," Beth shushed him. "She's in the other room." Eve swallowed tightly and stared at her hands. How had everything suddenly become so complex in the last few days?! Nothing was making sense anymore; no-one was who they seemed to be. She felt as if the whole world had shifted a degree and someone forgot to tell her so she could shift with it. "Who is this girl, Al?" "She's someone who's in trouble. I just wanted to help her," he replied miserably. "Help _her_? What about us? What about you? Things are falling apart right under your nose! If you're so eager to fix something, you could start at home." "She's all alone, Beth. She's too young to be all alone." "What about me, Al?" Eve heard tears in her voice. "I'm in a house with five other people and I've never felt more alone in my life." Utter silence descended and she wondered if they'd forgotten about her completely. The gentle sounds of crying reached her and then they faded and vanished. And Joseph - Al - appeared in the doorway. "Eve, what on earth are you doing here? I thought you went home with your father? And how did you know where I live?" Eve turned towards him, wiping her face. He stood staring at her, his posture slightly slumped, his eyes dark and solemn. "My father knew your last name. I looked it up. There weren't a whole lot of 'em in the phone book," she added, trying to draw some mirth from both of them. She didn't succeed on either front. He entered the room, pulling a foot rest up and sitting across from her. "Eve," he started, his voice gentle, but tired, "you can't keep doing this. You can't keep hiding out with me." "I thought you wanted to help me," she said in strained tones. "I do want to help you, but you can't..." He stopped and ran a hand across his face, sighing deeply. "I thought I did help you. I thought your father came to bring you home." "He did, but nothing's changed. He keeps..." She frowned in frustration. "Nothing's changed," she repeated stubbornly. "Something has to have changed or you wouldn't have called him." "That's what changed with _me_. Nothing's changed with him." "Eve, you told me you didn't care about consequences. You just told me that you wanted to go home. Well, here's your chance. Why don't you take it?" She opened her mouth to respond but, before she could say anything, Beth entered the room, Sam Beckett on her heels.