"Pieces" pt. XIII

May, 2002
Stallion's Gate, NM

  Al Calavicci yanked the pillow into a more comfortable position and laid
back down on the couch. Melana had finally cried herself to sleep in his bed
and he was wondering why he seemed unable to follow suit. But he did know why;
it was guilt. Boy, was he ever familiar with that feeling. After five years,
he ought to be.
  It was probably just as well, he figured. He never slept well when he was
this troubled anyhow. Not that staying awake would stop the memories from
coming. Dammit, he ought to be better at this! What was his problem, anyhow?!
  Al gave up on sleep and sat up, listening carefully for any sounds from the
bedroom. From time to time, a whimper echoed in the silence and tore at his
heart, but otherwise it was very still. He wondered if she would be condemned
to re-live everything repeatedly as he had been.
  "Why did I leave?" he demanded of himself in the stillness. It was a very
old question. "Why didn't I check things better? Why..." *Why did I have to
put Sam's ease above her life? Why didn't I take the extra two seconds it
would have cost me to just double check and see that history hadn't changed
again? Sam could have waited another two seconds for me on that trapeze. It
wouldn't have cost _him_ what it cost her.* He wiped a hand over his face and
went into the small kitchen for a glass of water. He was beginning to feel
grateful that Sam had cleared out all the alcohol.
  He sat in the dark in the kitchen, resting his head on the cool surface of
the table in front of him. "Why did I have to do something so stupid?" he
asked the emptiness.

      ^"What are you trying to do?" he demanded, cradling the woman that had
just fallen. Sam swung far above the ground back and forth, the sight holding
more than a hint of insanity in Al's mind. "Kill your sister too?" The words
were sharp and cruel and, even though Sam hadn't actually killed "his" mother,
he saw the regret and shame deep in the green eyes as if he had been
personally stung by the words. Maybe there was something to this bleeding
through of the host's personality theory of Ziggy's after all.
      Al was about to offer a word of encouragement when the handlink began to
go a little nuts. Without even waiting for Sam to come down, he popped out and
suddenly found himself in the middle of a dark alley. The bright orange of an
incredible blaze assaulted his senses and he held up his hand. The entire
place was in chaos: sirens, firetrucks gathering in a large cluster at the
base of the building, people watching. "Dammit, Gooshie!" Al bellowed, panic
giving his words a hard edge. Center me on Melana!"
      "You _are_!"
      "Al?" He looked up to see her pressed up against a wall. "I'm lost. Help
me, Al!"
      "It doesn't matter! Just run! There's been a change and now-" He
interrupted himself as two men swung around the corner, grabbing Melana and
throwing her to the ground. "NO!" Al drew closer and tried in vain to push
them away.
      "Melana!" He stood over her, trying to catch her attention, but she was
screaming. "Melana, for God's sake, stop! Listen to me!" Al crouched down
beside her and waited until she met his gaze. But by that time the nightmare
had already begun. One of the men backhanded her and she hit the back of her
head against the pavement, stunned. Her called her name again and, confused
and scared, she started to cry.
      "Listen!" Al ordered, keeping his voice steady and his tone commanding.
For her sake, he could dredge it all up: the times when he was faced with such
pain and agony that it seemed unbearable. The loss, the hopelessness, all of
it, was no stranger to him. "Are you listening?"
      "Al!" she cried, a heartbreaking plea. She seemed transfixed by the
vibrating shadows the firelight was throwing on the opposite side, on the cold
      A large man grabbed her face and pulled her gaze towards him. "You're
not testifying, you got that sweetie? And now you're going to pay for crossing
      "No," she whimpered, trying to pull away. He held her tightly, driving
his knee into her stomach.
      Al closed his eyes. How had he endured? How would she? Ziggy was giving
it 99.4% odds that she was going to die, and it was his fault, but Al knew it
wasn't the time for self-pity. He moved an inch closer, trying to block out
the horror around him. "Melana, listen to me! Just me, do you understand?"
      "Please," she whispered, not seeming to hear. "Please don't."
      "No, honey, no! You don't exist there anymore. Just listen to my voice,
okay? Please..."
      Before Al could completely capture her attention, the man moved back to
her face, putting his own right up to her. "Baby, I want you to take a good
look. I don't want you to forget my face. Ever. You were gonna use that to put
me away and now I want it to haunt the rest of your eternity." She closed her
eyes and turned away, but he lifted her head by her hair and made contact
agaist the ground with her skull again. "Forever, baby," he cooed and Al
turned to face him, his breath constricting in his throat. This was it. It was
over. He pulled out a knife and Al shifted to look in the man's eyes. For
Melana, he wasn't ever going to forget either. Forever...^

  Al jerked his head up, a headache throbbing at his temples. He had fallen
asleep after all, and he was certain he would live to regret it. He promised
himself he would never forget the face of Melana's murderer, only she wasn't
murdered. She had come close, there was no doubt of that, but Melana herself
had not actually died. But nonetheless, every time he closed his eyes, Al
could see the face of her tormenter as clearly as if it had just happened. And
it was in that instant that he realized: he knew him. He hadn't at the time,
but he did now. It was Thames.
  But more than that, deep in the shadows, he remembered someone else. And he
knew for certain that Senator Franklin had, once again, been behind it all.

  Al was asleep. She paused as she exited his bedroom to see him stretched out
on his couch, a blanket half draped over him. Eyeing him carefully, she
crossed the room and sat at his computer terminal. Ever since she'd returned,
she'd had a bad feeling about everything. About Al, about that leap of hers,
and about...Al's wife. The sudden memory of Sam's conversation with her
regarding Al's wife came back in a flash. Al hadn't mentioned her at all since
she'd returned. At the very least, that explained his odd behavior last night.
  Her decision formed, she clicked on his terminal and called up her very last
leap, the one she had barely begun when she was pulled home. He had tried to
hide it, but Al had a stricken look that couldn't be denied when she stepped
out of the Accelerator. Pieces hadn't fallen into place yet, but she felt led
by some kind of instinct and she sifted through Ziggy's computer banks with
  A half hour later, she'd found what she was looking for. As she read the
data, learned what went on the past month, her incredulity turned to horror
and a kind of shame. "I could have fixed it," she murmured. Movement from
behind startled her and she turned around quickly, only to see Al
repositioning himself on the couch, still fast asleep. His rest seemed as
uneasy as hers had been. She couldn't begin to imagine how much that decision
had cost him. In light of his sacrifice, and Beth's, her own pain diminished a
  Melana wasn't certain how long she sat there, just watching Al as he slept.
Even in sleep, he seemed uneasy and troubled. *You need someone to look after
you, Al,* she thought to herself, too afraid of waking him to voice the
thought aloud. *I'm sorry.* There was, she decided, enough guilt and pain to
go around. "It wasn't your fault," she whispered. "I don't want you to ever
feel what happened to me is your fault."
  Slowly, she rose to her feet and headed towards the door. She didn't know
what she was going to do, but she couldn't shake the feeling that she had to
do something.
  He shifted again and heaved a long sigh, a name leaving his lips as he
exhaled. "Beth." Then he groaned and gripped the edge of the blanket.
  Melana was frozen to the spot. Time seemed to stand still and, in an
instant, she knew what she had to do.