"Pieces" pt. I April, 2002 Santa Fe, NM It was an unusually mild day in New Mexico. A light breeze helped to offset the desert heat that beat down on the generous sized city of Santa Fe. The "company" as Al had taken to calling them all sat inside an over-cooled cafe enjoying what he hoped would actually prove to be a break for them all. The project was up and in full swing, although experimentation had not passed general stages. Once cheaper power sources began to emerge from their team of experts, it was just a matter of improving on Sam's theory to, perhaps, leap beyond the confines of a life. It was the alternate resivoir of energy that had thus far stumped the project personnel. The success of the retrieval program had seemed to be the only major victory they had overcome within the last year. The break for dinner was something Sam had insisted on; they had all been working a little too hard lately and some time to blow off steam was a must. "You don't know how to relax," Al Calavicci stated matter-of-factly. Sam glanced up at him, pen poised over the napkin he was scribbling unintelligible equations on. "I was just trying something. I know this was my idea, but we need something to show for all this time and work before the new committee starts getting antsy." "I told you before, let me worry about them." Sam shook his head and turned back to his scribble. "Sam, do you _have_ to?" Sam set the pencil down with a snap and reached for his glass. "Why, do you have any ideas?" "Try a gerbil." Sam paused in the middle of sipping his drink and then lowered it slowly. "What?" Beth giggled, but Al ignored her. "A gerbil. You know, in one of those little wheels?" "As a _power_ source?" Sam groaned in mock despair. "Five million gerbils, maybe," Donna put in. Al shrugged, still pretending to be dead serious. "Well, just in case Sammy Jo's theory doesn't pan out." Something resembling pride gleamed in Sam's eyes. "It'll work," he assured them. Since he had returned home, the truth had been revealed to both Donna and Sammy Jo about her father which had led to several outbursts and a few hollow threats directed at both Sam and Al for keeping the information a secret, but things in that area were finally starting to settle down. Beth, usually the quietest and most passive one in the group, took the momentary silence as an opportunity. "Sam? I have some blueprints I'd like you to look at for the expansion of the infirmary. I know we came here for dinner but..." Al groaned and rolled his eyes, only partly for show. "I don't recall this being a business meeting, honey," he repremanded gently. "I'll only take a moment. They're out in the car." Sam grinned and nodded. Al and Donna exchanged a look and Beth cast them an expression of innocence before getting up from the table. "Yeah, okay. Sure." Al made the premise of kicking him under the table. "Whaddyou been running off on her or what? She's brought home work the last three nights. Of course, I had to distract her..." Sam took another sip of his drink. "Uh-huh. She just brought work home because the two of you are having a fight." His companion looked up in surprise, almost dropping the cigar he was holding. "How did you know?" "It's written on your forehead," Sam answered, deadpan. Donna watched the exchange and took her cue. "I'll be in the ladies room," she said and gave a kiss before departing. "Am I that transparant?" Sam smiled, but didn't answer. "You knew this wasn't going to be easy, Al." "I didn't get into it on a quest for 'easy'. I knew it'd take time. And work." He sighed. "And time." Al twirled a straw in his lemonade. "But, yeah, we've hit a few rough spots recently. I guess it's me." "Why?" "Because it always is," he replied with a self-depreciating grin. "Let's just say I've made a trend of it the other four, well, five times." "She's not perfect, Al." "Sure, but she's always right and I'll be damned if I know what that makes her." Sam sighed. "Not perfect," he insisted. "Do you want to tell me what's really going on?" "Oh, I'm just feeling a little smothered. You know, it's been a while since I've been married." He paused and looked up into Sam's fond gaze and laughed. "I think I'm talking to the wrong person, here." A short internal debate whether to be amused or annoyed went on inside Sam until he saw the gleam of regret in Al's eyes. It was his own fault he was apart from his own wife for so long, but it was still a sore spot for both of them. "Maybe," he conceded. "You'll work it out, Al." "Yeah," he said without conviction. It wasn't often Al sounded defeated, but Sam couldn't think of how else to describe it. Al glanced towards the door. "Where is she, anyhow?" Sam laughed at that. "Almost seems like you _want_ to be smothered." "Some ways more than others," he replied, but he was too busy looking for Beth to put much effort into his words. "You're terrible," he muttered. Donna returned and slid back into the booth beside Sam, reaching instinctively for his hand. Al watched her actions and reflected on the fact that if anyone should be feeling smothered, it was Sam. Donna had been his constant companion almost every minute since his return, but he didn't seem to mind. "Maybe," he replied. "I'm still gonna go make sure she's got everything okay." Sam shook his head and turned his attentions to Donna. The sun was just fading from the sky in a brilliant display of colors when Al exited the restaruant. He paused a moment, contemplating what Sam had said and trying to ignore the nagging voice that maintained that he had only left because he was starting to feel distinctly uncomfortable under Sam's scrutiny. Their car was right around the corner, just out of sight and he started to head in that direction, but a call from behind brought him up short. "Wait!" He turned to see a young woman, probably early to mid twenties in jeans and a sweater, panting heavily as if she had just run a marathon. She had an unnaturally pale look and he thought she was going to be sick right in front of him. "Are you alright?" he asked, startled and concerned. She leaned forward, resting her hands on her knees to catch her breath. "I need your help," she gasped out. He glanced at the alley she had shot from, half expecting to see someone pursuing her. "What's wrong?" "In the alley....there's someone....with a knife and-" "A _knife_?" Al drew back, confused. "Wait here," he commanded, resting a hand briefly on her back and then without even pausing to worry about what he would find, he ran for the alley. He heard the faint sound of her slower steps under his own from behind, but didn't stop to send her back to the parking lot. He rounded the corner and stopped short at the sight. "Hey!" he shouted. At the sound of his voice, the assialant turned around and ran the other way. Then Al understood: the woman was asking for help for someone else, not herself. A figure in the middle of the street, about one hundred yards from them, swayed and then fell to her side on the hard pavement. Al turned to the woman next to him. "Go inside the 200 Street Cafe and get a Dr. Sam Beckett," he instructed her. "Do you understand? Hurry!" "Dr. Beckett," she murmured for confirmation and pulled some strength from an untapped source and took off at a full run. As he neared the victim, some portion of his mind recognized the white sweater, now soiled, and he fell on his knees on the pavement with and involuntary cry ripped from his throat. "Please, no, _please_." He touched her face and called her name, but she didn't move. Hesitantly, afraid to move her, he lifted her head onto his lap and watched the blood roll in thin rivulets along her hand, still clutched to her chest. It was bad. "Oh, no...." He brushed her hair off her face and saw her eyelids flutter slightly at the touch. "Beth? Beth, honey, can you hear me?" She groaned softly and he felt his insides twist into knots of dread. "Come on, Sam, come on," he muttered through gritted teeth. Beth started to struggle feebly in his grasp and he laid a hand on her's to keep her still. "Don't move, sweetie, don't move." Her face and neck were covered in a cold sweat and the red of blood stood out against pale skin. The hand pressed down on her stomach started to tremble and she opened her eyes once, briefly. They were glazed and shadowed and then they closed again. "Al?!" The admiral half-turned at the call and only then noticed the trembling of his hands. "Sam! Help me!" he cried out. "Oh, God," Sam breathed as he knelt down to examine her. The woman was with him, but Donna was absent,. Al didn't notice. "What happened?" "I don't know," Al said in pained tones. "Dammit, I don't know." Sam unbuttoned her blouse and Al flinched, turning away with a sick feeling sliding through him. "Sam?" Donna said suddenly out of nowhere, touching her husband on the shoulder. "Did you call the ambulance?" he asked tartly, only devoting a portion of his attention to what she was saying. "Yes," she said with forced calmness and a twinge of repressed irritation. "What do you need?" "Uh..." Sam moved Beth's hand and she screamed and started to thrash against them. "Al! Keep her quiet!" Sam snapped in a tone Al couldn't recall ever hearing him use before. The admiral grasped at the flailing hand and held her tightly, pressing his lips to her forehead partly to offer comfort and partly to avoid looking at the damage. "Um...get me some towels and some hot water for starters." Al closed his eyes tightly and pressed her hand to his chest. *Hang on...* Beth's cries finally eased, but her breathing was erratic and ragged. Al swallowed hard. "Sam? Sam, please don't let her die." He looked up at his friend, but Sam was too intent on what he was doing to notice or respond. "How bad is it?" he rasped. "Too much blood. Can't tell," Sam replied tightly. There was a pause. "But I think she may have gotten it in the heart." Silence descended and settled around them; Al could feel its pressure on his shoulders. "Will she make it?" "Probably not if she it got her heart," he replied without inflection. "Here. Put your hand right there," Sam instructed and moved his hand, forcing him to release his grip on Beth. "Now don't move." Al flinched at the slick feel of blood. "Here." Donna's breathless voice came from somewhere Al didn't exist anymore and he felt Sam lift his hand, put a towel under it, and push it back down. "Al?" Al straightened at the sound of her voice, just enough to look at her eyes. "What is it, honey?" he asked in a choked voice. Her other hand came up and stroked the side of his face. "You came home," she whispered, amazed. Her voice sounded rough and unsteady and her words were punctuated with slight gasps. He could barely make out what she was saying. "Home?" Her eyes closed briefly and then opened again. "You were gone so long. I was so afraid...something would happen..." He swallowed. "Yeah. I came home." "Oh, I'm so glad." She smiled weakly at him. The rest of the commotion around them dropped away and he was no longer aware of Sam or Donna or the woman who had found him. It had all ceased to matter. "I'm so happy you're home. I waited so long for you." He brushed her neck with his fingers. "I know you did, sweetie. I don't know what I'd do if you hadn't." She nodded as if he had just confirmed something for her. "I love you," she murmured between barely parted lips and her hand fell from his face back onto the cold pavement. The distant sound of sirens echoed Al's cry.