"Off the Beaten Path" pt. VIII

May, 1988
Nant, NC

  Sam drove as fast as traffic would allow. Between all the problems they
had encountered on the way to Nant and Al's initial refusal to tell him
where to go from there, they had lost a _lot_ of time. Al had insisted
that the delays were His way of telling them that Evelyn's life was never
meant to be saved, but he wondered if it wasn't for another reason.
Either way, this was the reason he had endured it all and he was
certainly going to be there to save this girl's life!
  He peeled into the parking lot of a small bar (definitely, as Al had
said, a dive), turned off the ignition, and ran inside. Al was on his
heels, yelling things at him, but he couldn't take the time to find out
what they were. He had to go on what Al had already told him. As he
entered the room, his slowed his pace considerably, looking for anyone
who appeared to be concealing a weapon. A glance at Al told Sam he was
doing the same thing. 
  "I don't get it, Sam," Al said finally. "I don't see him."
  "Where's Evelyn?" Sam asked in low tones.
  "Worry about her later! First let's find this guy. Gooshie, center me
  "Why can't you just leave me alone?!" a female voice shrieked and Sam
and Al turned simultaneously. 
  "Will you calm down?" demanded another voice, this one male.
  Instinctively, Sam knew this was her. This was Evelyn Geller and he was
finally going to get to fix this and leap out. He launched towards them.
"Evelyn?" he called out, half to her, half to Al for confirmation.
  "Sam!" Al shouted after him, "it's her, but - Sam!"
  But Sam didn't even slow his pace.
  Everything went into slow motion - Al could have sworn it did. 
  "Let go of me, Joseph!" Eve was yelling at the same time as Sam crashed
into him, shoving him to the floor.
  The man Al had been expecting - had been looking for ever since they'd
entered the bar - the man he dreaded seeing, appeared from a crowd, gun
  Even the sound of the gun going off, though still deafening, sounded
low and drawn out.
  "Sam!" Al yelled, watching as his friend hit the floor. The gunman
pointed again, prepared to fire another shot. The handlink fell from his
hands and, for an instant, everything went dark.

	^"Daddy!" Al heard the cry as he hit the floor alongside the man
who'd grabbed him, protected on one side by the smooth side of the bar
and on the other by the stranger. He lost his grip on Eve in the process
and she was left standing in open view, screaming. Another shot intended
for him entered Daniel Geller's body and what little motion there had
been before stopped. Al reached out a hand and grabbed Eve's ankle,
tumbling her to the floor just in time to avoid the three extra shots,
fired in rapid succession, before someone grabbed the attacker from
behind, holding him firmly, and preventing him from causing any more
	Al looked down at himself. He was covered in blood and the man he
now knew was Daniel was most definitely dead. Eve was sobbing, barely
able to function, and Al grabbed her, trying to turn her away from her
father. She fought him, kicking at him, beating at him with her fists. He
barely felt the impact from the blows, but just kept trying to move her.
The man with the gun, who he now realized was the same man who had
attacked Eve the night before, was now fully restrained and he breathed a
sigh of relief at that one.
	"Eve," he tried to say, but nothing came out. 
	Instead, she shook completely free of him and started yelling,
her voice a combination of rage and sorrow. "How could you?!" she cried.
"You killed him!"
	"Me?" Al managed to gasp out, astonished. *She's not very
rational right now,* he reasoned. *You're the only one here she knows,
the only one she can take her rage out on.*
	She stumbled to her feet, backing away from her dead father and
her fallen hero. "When he shot him, that second time, you hid! I saw! I
_saw_! You hid behind him like a coward! And now he's dead. It should
have been you - a monster with a family he won't even admit to! It should
have been you!"
	"Listen, sweetheart," Al tried to soothe, but she cut him off
	"I have a name! A name and a family! Doesn't that matter?!"
	"I know you do, Eve."
	"I _had_ a family..."
	Al climbed to his feet and tried to catch her arm, but she
stepped out of his reach. "Leave me alone!" she screamed at him. "Go away
and leave me alone!" With that, she turned and ran from the room. Someone
called after her, that she'd be needed for questioning once the police
arrived. Sirens were already sounding in the distance. She didn't listen,
just ran from everything. After all this time, it was still the only
thing she'd learned how to do well.
	Al felt that he should run after her, but he couldn't. Instead,
he let himself slide slowly to the floor next to Daniel's body, lean
against the bar, and close his eyes.
	"She was right. It should have been me," he whispered.^

  The bullet struck inches above Sam's head as he fell against the bar
and then to the floor. 
  "Sam! He's gonna fire again!" Al cried, but Sam barely heard him. Out
of the corner of his eye, he saw someone pull Evelyn to the floor, but
couldn't see who. Almost at the same time, a second shot rang out, but
the bar stool Sam jerked down in front of them caught the bullet. Three
more shots went wild as someone struggled with the gunman, and then there
was silence.
  "Daddy!" Eve called out, throwing herself to the floor beside him. "Are
you all right?"
  "Call her Eve, Sam," Al advised quietly, standing beside him. He looked
  Sam stared at her, watched the pain in her face change to anxiety and
apprehension. "It's okay, Eve," he said finally. She fell into his
embrace, the long lost child welcomed home. He held her tightly.
  Al, standing silently by, nodded in satisfaction. "Time to leap out,
huh, Sam?"
  Sam nodded, but the seconds ticked by and nothing happened. Finally,
Sam gave up waiting for the leap to take him, and he pulled away from Eve
and struggled to haul himself into a standing position. "Are you okay?"
he asked her gently. Then he noticed the cast. "What happened?"
  "Uh, she just got herself into a little scrape," someone to Sam's left
said and the leaper felt a strong grip take his left arm and help him the
rest of the way to his feet. "Are _you_ all right? I thought for certain
you'd been shot."
  Sam dusted himself down and turned to the man beside him. "Oh, I'm fi-"
The word died on his lips as he saw who he was staring at. "Al?"
  Eve touched Sam's arm lightly. "No," she said, obviously confused.
"This is Joseph."
  Al, on the other hand, was staring at him. "Do I know you?" he asked.
The words were neutral, but there was a underlying bitterness to the tone
that set Sam's nerves on edge.
  "Do you...ah..."
  The hologram cleared his throat. "Sam, forget about him for now. I'll
explain everything later, okay? Will you just focus on Eve for the
moment? There's got to be a reason you're still here."
  "Uh, yeah," Sam said, responding to "Joseph's" question. "I work for
Sans and Harper. I think we ran across each other a few years back."
  His expression hardened even more. "Right. You have a good memory." Sam
almost choked at the irony of the statement. Al glanced at Eve one more
time, then wandered to the other side of the bar, waiting for the police.
  It took a matter of hours for statements to be made, and the entire
time, the admiral continued to steer Sam away from everyone in the bar
except Eve. It was late at night before they made it safely into a hotel
room. Mainly so he could talk with Al, Sam ordered adjoining, rooms for
himself and Eve. Eve wanted to talk, but Sam wanted answers from Al more
than anything, so he convinced her to let everything sit until the next
morning. The admiral stayed in the Imaging Chamber the entire time.
  When they finally had some privacy, Sam rounded on Al. "Why didn't you
tell me?" he demanded.
  Al lowered his gaze and sat down on a chair he had in the Imaging
Chamber. Sam sat across from him. "I didn't know," he said honestly. "I
mean, I didn't figure it out until Ziggy had me go see Eve. Then,
  Sam shook his head. "Forgive me for asking, Al, but how could you _not_
  Al took a deep breath. "This is gonna be a long story," he warned.
  The leaper shrugged. "Apparently, Someone has decided I'm gonna be here
for a lot longer, so..."
  "Sam, this is 1988."
  Al cleared his throat. "You and I met in 1988. Don't you remember?"
  "Not a lot," Sam confessed. "I remember...the hammer and the vending
machine. Not much more than that."
  "Okay," Al said, taking another deep breath, as if to prepare himself.
"This was a time in my life I tried _real_ hard to forget. I mean, all
marriages have problems, but Beth and I were, you know, at the brink. It
just seemed like one tragedy after another kept hitting us. First, there
was Marina."
  "Your oldest daughter," Sam confirmed.
  "Right. She got in a terrible accident in December of '87. For a long
time we thought she wasn't going to walk again."
  Sam's face registered sudden recollection. "She uses a cane, doesn't
  "Yeah. She does have a wheelchair for crowded places or when she has to
do a lot of walking, but she doesn't like to use it. Stuff like that,
Sam, it has a tendency to bring a family together. And it did, for a long
while. But then, it starts to create a strain, you know? You reach a rut.
I was working long hours, Beth was trying to work towards eventually
getting her M.D., all the girls were heading for those teen years...it
was hard. Marina, she's tough, but she certainly couldn't do it all by
herself and she needed constant help and physical therapy."
  Sam frowned. "I still don't understand how you got from there to here."
  Al held out his hands, as if to forestall any premature judgment. "It
was about the time in March when Beth's mother died. I had to go out of
town on the following day, we'd had a bad fight a few days before, and,
well, she obviously didn't want me to go."
  "You went," Sam guessed, his voice accusing.
  Al sighed heavily. "Yeah, I went. It was either go or lose my job, it
was that big."
  "She was in mourning and you left her?" Sam demanded.
  "I didn't _leave_ her, Sam."
  "You left her alone."
  Al started to protest again, and then nodded miserably. "Yes, I left
her alone. I'm sure something could have been worked out, but things were
already going over the edge..." He wiped a hand across his face. "Well, I
was gone for a week and, when I came back, things just got worse and
worse. I'd stay out late, just to avoid being at home, just to avoid the
fights and the hurt. Which, of course, left her with all the girls to
take care of herself and only made things more stressful for her. And
Beth, she would blame me for things I couldn't help, like having to put
in extra hours to get stuff done and whatnot. I was just wanting
_something_ in my life to work right."
  "She was there when you came home; wasn't that enough?"
  Al looked straight at Sam. "It should have been, but it wasn't. Not
then. Then came the night..."
  Sam wasn't entirely certain he wanted to hear the end of the story, but
he knew everything had to have turned out all right. It was the only
thing keeping him steady. "What happened?"
  "It was mid-April and I lost my wedding ring."
  "Oh, no..." Sam groaned and looked mournfully at his friend.
  "Beth got really angry and accused me of having an affair in the heat
of the moment. I wasn't, of course, and I suspected she knew that, but we
were both so hurt and so angry... Well, it had kind of a dual effect on
me. On the one hand, I wanted to keep away from her more and spent more
time away from the house late at night. But, on the other hand, part of
me was really scared of losing her, and I wanted to do anything to
convince her it wasn't true. That's why, when I went out to my little
evening escapes, I used my middle name. Then, I ran across Eve." He
paused, cleared his throat, and tried a halfhearted smile at Sam. "She
reminded me so much of one of my girls. She was bright, strong-willed,
young. She was only slightly older than Marina. She just..." He trailed
off and shrugged.
  "Took a spill on her bike?" Sam suggested.
  "Yeah," Al agreed. "And I wanted to help her, y'know? Well, in the
middle of trying to get Eve to take my charity, Beth filed for divorce,
and that's when the dreams came."
  "Nightmares," Al clarified. "About Vietnam. I hadn't had them since a
year or two after coming home, but I guess the thought of living without
Beth brought them back. I tried to hide them from her, but she knew. It
just made one more thing for her to have to worry about."
  "You're kidding," Sam exclaimed.
  "I told you, Sam, at the brink." Sam nodded reluctantly. "Well, I gave
Eve my number with the name Joseph, just in case I wasn't home, so Beth
wouldn't think I was cheating on her."
  Sam shook his head. "Sounds like neither of you really knew _what_ you
  "We didn't," Al agreed. "Well, when Daniel died, Eve lost it and
started blaming me. I guess I was just the nearest person around she
could blame things on. At any rate, I couldn't handle it. I had my worst
dream of all a couple nights later. I went off, got slammed, and that's
when I met you."
  Sam let out a long breath. "Okay, that brings us up to the present. I
don't remember _how_ you managed to fix everything with you and Beth, but
at least I know it happened."
  "Time and patience, Sam," Al replied with a slight smile.
  "I imagine so. You must have been at it for a while."
  "No, Sam. _Your_ time and patience."
  Sam could feel his face warm at Al's words. "Well, I do recall that it
was worth it." Then he stood up. "So why am I still here?"
  Al consulted the 'link. "Ziggy says it's twofold. She says that first
of all you have to get Eve to deal with the death of her sister and
mother, and..." He trailed off, his face paling.
  "What?" Sam asked.
  "And now, since Daniel didn't die, there's a 45% chance that...you and
I won't meet."

Sorry it took me so long to get more parts up, gang....I've been really
busy with job hunting and graduating (YAY). Anyhow, here are the next 3...
thanks to those who wrote with comments...always brightens my day. ;-)
AGain, if you have any input, please feel free to share. I write these
things for myself, but I LOVE that other people enjoy them too...