May, 1988
Nant, NC

  Sam took a step back, uncertainty asserting itself into every pore of the
situation. The stakes had just been raised, and he would have liked nothing
more than to have the option of folding. "Oh, Al, I'm not so sure I can... I
mean, how could I possibly make your situation any worse than it already is on
_purpose_? I couldn't..."
  Al sighed and stood up as well. "I don't know what to tell you, but I do
know things could have gotten even more miserable for me if you _hadn't_ shown
  "You could have pulled yourself out," Sam protested desperately.
  "We were real close to divorce, Sam. Please don't let that happen." He took
a step forward. "Please."
  Sam looked carefully at him. "What else aren't you telling me?" he asked,
not really certain he wanted to know the answer.
  "Nothing. I think that maybe-"
  "Al!" Sam interrupted. "What is it?"
  "Can't you ever let anything go?" he asked, waving his right hand around in
front of him.
  "Nothing as important as you," Sam replied matter-of-factly.
  Al made a face. "Don't get sappy," he commanded.
  "I'm not." Sam had the air of having stated the obvious.
  They stared at each other for another minute and then Al rolled his eyes and
sat back down. "I had a dream the other night," he said, so quietly that Sam
had to move closer to hear.
  Sam rested his hands on the back of the chair. "I don't get it," he said
after a moment.
  Al raised his eyes. "As in, the kind I'm probably having right now across
  Sam's face fell. "Al..."
  Al got back up and traced an oval pattern around the room as he walked,
paying little mind to the furniture. Sam watched him pass straight
through both beds. "I just don''t know if I can handle this a third time,
Sam. The first time, Beth had to practically give up her life to...take
care of my problems."
  "You probably don't give yourself enough credit," Sam pointed out.
  "Let's face it, I was a mess," Al muttered in disgust.
  "I think you're forgetting that helping you through that wasn't necessarily
something Beth _had_ to do. She wanted to do it. That's what it means to be in
  Al didn''t look at him, but continued as if Sam hadn't even spoken.
"Then, the second time, it almost destroyed our marriage. And now... I
just don''t think I can take it again."
  "Did you tell Beth?"
  "She knows," Al confirmed.
  "Did she blame you?" Sam asked suddenly.
  Al stopped in mid-pace. "No!" He looked taken aback.
  "Did she get angry?" he said levelly.
  "Did she seem discouraged?"
  Al eyed his partner curiously, wondering where this line of questioning was
going. "No..."
  Sam smiled. "Then I''d say yu'll be just fine. Wouln't you?"

June, 2000
Stallions Gate, NM

  Al sat behind his desk, eyes closed, lights off. His conversation with Sam
had been _hard_. Dredging up all those memories, all those feelings, had been
almost as difficult as when the dream had forced him to do the same thing. He
didn't like to think of his actions now as hiding out, exactly, but he didn't
feel in the mood for company.
  In the stillness, he actually began to feel ashamed - ashamed that he'd
almost let Eve die because he was so scared of losing Sam. In retrospect, had
Al needed to choose between Sam and one of his girls, as much as he cared
about Sam, there would have been no question. He hadn't been thinking all that
clearly at the time, but that was no excuse. Then Beth had mentioned Justin to
him. There was someone he hadn't thought of in a long time. It was a time in
his life he hadn't wanted to think of at all, but this leap forced it on him.

	^Al rushed through the hallways, barely seeing the blur of people as they
passed by, hardly noticing when he bumped an intern. They'd been trying to
call him for hours, they said, and they were still trying to find Beth. He'd
been pulled out of a meeting to come down to the hospital to see his oldest
	Marina had always been "Daddy's Little Girl". Julia and he got along
splendidly, Meg wanted to follow in Beth's footsteps, and Emma was purely
mama's daughter, but Marina was his treasure. Whenever the girls wanted
something out of him, she was the one they sent to ask. She looked the
most like him, too: long, dark curls, large, deep eyes, small form. She was a
very strong-willed individual. She rarely complained and hardly ever got
upset. In fact, the one manner in which she was _least_ like him was her
incredible level of patience. That, she got from her mother. She was
undoubtedly the mother hen type. And what she lacked in natural ability, she
made up for in pure determination.
	So when Al rounded the corner and saw her lying in the bed, an IV taped to
her arm, bruises on her face, and tears in her eyes, it was all he could do to
remain standing. Without stopping to think, Al raced to her side, sat on the
edge of the bed, and leaned over to gather her into his arms. She started
sobbing and the sheer terror he could feel from her made his heart break. She
seemed suddenly so small and fragile, a complete opposite from how she
normally was. She was 13, but she may as well have still been a little baby to
	When he finally pried himself away from her, he remained by her side,
stroking her hair and face and doing his best to offer as much reassurance as
he could. He held her hands in his as the doctors told him it could be months
before she would walk again, if ever. They had wanted to tell him in private,
but he couldn't bear to leave her and he said they were always completely
honest with their children and she'd find out anyway. It was half way through
the explanation when Beth appeared - they'd finally located her. She was calm
and soft as she spoke to Marina, but Al could see the panic in her eyes that
was only slightly beginning to abate. He held his daughter with his right
hand, and kept a reassuring touch on her shoulder with his left.
	When Al asked what had happened, the nurse said she'd been hit by a car. She
then produced a man - Justin Waters.
	Beth, standing closest to the stranger, shook his hand. When Al started to
pull himself free to do the same, Justin just shook his head. "No need for
handshakes, sir," he said in a lilting drawl. "You just stay with your
	Justin told them how the driver had missed seeing her come across the busy
intersection as he was turning right (legally) on a red light. He had swerved
in an attempt to avoid her, but caught her with the right front side of the
car. Justin said he then called the hospital from a pay phone and
administered first aid until the ambulance arrived. It was the nurse who
informed the Calaviccis that he had saved her life with his first aid
knowledge. It was also she who told them that a bystander said Justin had
risked his own life, rushing out into the resulting confused tangle of
traffic, to retrieve her. Justin merely denied he'd done anything spectacular.
	"Is there some way we can thank you?" Al asked him after the stories had been
told and Marina was starting to drift off into sleep, partly induced by drugs
her adrenaline level had kept from being effective earlier. "Something we can
	"No, please, sir. Ma'am." He glanced at their daughter. "I had a little girl
myself. She died of leukemia about four months ago." He looked back at Al and
Beth, who were clenching each others' hands. "Just...hold onto her."
	"We will," Beth murmured, smiling sadly in apology for his loss as he turned
to go. When they were finally left alone and Marina was asleep, Beth started
crying in Al's arms.
	They never saw Justin Waters again.^

  In the dark, Al laid his arm across the desk, his fingertips resting against
a cool, smooth surface. He smiled, knowing it was the picture of him, Beth,
and their children. The group of people he'd once told Eve Geller were not a
family had proven him wrong.
  ^"Don't you have a family?
  "Not tonight."
  "What, do you rent them on the weekends?"^
  And he was so glad they had.
  Al ran his fingers across the frame, closing his eyes even though he
couldn't see anything anyway. He had heard what Justin told him, but he hadn't
_listened_. He hadn't held onto them, not just for the crisis, but for every
moment of his life. And he hadn't learned, until much, much later, the true
value of a family.
  Al leaned back in his chair, barely registering when the door opened. "Al?"
Beth called.
  "Don't turn on the light," he responded.
  "Well...are you okay?" Her silhouette hadn't moved.
  "I told Sam everything."
  She let the door close behind her and felt her way to the chair across from
him and sat heavily in it. "Everything?" she echoed.
  He nodded, even though he knew she couldn't see it. "Don't you ever get
tired of knowing exactly when I need you to show up so I can talk?"
  He knew she had to be smiling. "Sam and I, we know you, Al."
  "Don't you ever get tired of putting your life on hold for _me_?" Now he
sounded troubled.
  "I love you," she replied simply.
  "I was just sitting here...thinking about when Marina had her accident. It
was about that time that all the trouble began to start."
  "She knew it, too. It used to bother her, and...there was a time when she
blamed herself."
  "I didn't realize that," he said quietly.
  Beth reached out, finding his hand and covering it with her own. "Why don't
you give her a call? I'm sure she'd love to hear from you."
  He smiled. "I may do that."

May, 1988
Nant, NC

  Sam looked across the table at Eve. He'd spent his entire night thinking
about Al and hadn't given a single thought to how he was going to get Eve to
come to terms with the deaths of her mother and sister. Even worse, with all
the time he'd invested into worrying about Al, he didn't have any clues in
that direction, either. 
  Eve hadn't said a lot to him that morning, as if she was trying to gauge his
mood. He was so busy trying to do the same for her that neither of them were
really getting anywhere. 
  "Eve," Sam said finally. She looked up. "I'm not going to get all angry and
yell at you," he informed her.
  She fingered her toast. "I know."
  "But we do need to talk."
  She shrank a little more inside of herself. "I know," she repeated.
  "Running away from things rarely accomplishes anything," he told her. "It
just makes it worse. And everything you spend time fleeing builds up and up
until it all crashes down on you."
  She nodded, staring at her hands. These were the consequences she'd said she
didn't care about, and she'd endure it. But this homecoming wasn't what she'd
expected it to be.
  Sam sighed heavily. "Are you listening to me, Eve?"
  "When can we go home?"
  "At this rate? It'll be a while," he muttered.
  "Nothing. Eve..." He leaned forward, folding his hands and resting them
on the table. "I want you to pay close attention to what I'm saying.
Listen very carefully. The situation we had, at home, was bad enough that
you felt you had no other options than to leave. I'm certain the life
you've been living for the pat two months wasn't one you'd want to go
back to."
  *At least I had control,* she thought. *At least it was _my_ life.* "No,"
was what she said. "I'm sorry, Daddy."
  He cleared his throat. "It's not that simple. I know you're sorry. I know
what you've been through... But we have to change things."
  "I don't - I don't understand."
  Sam pursed his lips. He'd never done anything as drastic as Eve, but where
she'd lost a mother and a sister, he'd lost a father and (as he could still
remember Tom's death, though only vaguely) a brother. "Eve, it's okay for
things to change when someone you love dies. It's okay for _you_ to change.'s okay to mourn for them." Eve flinched and bent her head. Sam
reached across the table and touched her arm. "It's also okay to go on without
  "You didn't!" she yelled suddenly, snapping her head up and standing up so
violently that her chair was knocked to the floor. People began to watch.
  "You didn't go on living and you decided neither could I! You stopped the
world when they died, but mine didn't have to stop, too!" She was enraged,
trembling and exposed, but she didn't even seem to notice the looks she was
getting. "Didn't you love them enough to make them proud of you?"
  He thought that was a curious statement to make, but, before he could say
anything, she turned and ran from the room.
  *Running again,* Sam thought as he rose to his own feet. *It's all she knows
how to do. And I'm sure she learned it from her father.* "Eve, wait! I'm
sorry!" he called, but she refused to stop. He ran after. "We need to talk
about these things! This is why..." He let his words trail off as she ran into
the suffocating heat, vanishing from sight before he could tell where she'd

+Just a couple quick notes:
1.reminder that ^ represents flashbacks
2.sorry if some of the apostrophes or other stuff gets messed up. This
chapter's formatting got really screwy and I can't tell what shows up as
what anymore...hopefully it'll get better from here.
3.THANK YOU so much for your kind comments...I've had several and I'm very
glad to hear that people are enjoying these stories like I enjoy writing
them. The reason these parts are coming out kinda slow is b/c I've just
hit full steam on my next this rate, it may be ready to post by
June, July LATEST.

-again, thanks! amkt