"Pieces" pt. II

April, 2002
Santa Fe, NM

  Although he gave no outward sign of it, Sam could plainly see the grief
Al wore around himself like another article of clothing. Even though she
was still alive, Sam didn't count her chances as being very high. In a
small room in the hospital was the chosen location for the police to have
a talk with the group so that they wouldn't have to leave the building.
Sam and Al sat in the room with the detective who had been chosen to work
on the mystery of why someone would stab someone in broad daylight for no
apparant reason.
  Slowly, with every bit of his photographic memory being put to good
use, Sam related the events as he saw them, all the while casting an
occasional glance at his friend, who sat ramrod straight with a hollow
look in his eyes. Any comfort Sam tried to relay through a touch or a
smile was met by the tension of unwanted support and he began to truly
worry. It was bad, but it wasn't hopeless and he only hoped Al realized
that. But he was closing off, Sam realized. One last shot at happiness
had fallen short and he knew it was only a matter of time before the
tight grip of control Al had on the entire situation relaxed just enough
to cause the breakdown that would be all the worse for the wait.
  "Al?" Sam prodded gently, touching him carefully on the hand that
gripped the arm of the chair.
  Al's head snapped up and a momentary flicker of confusion flashed
through his eyes. "What?"
  "Mr. Johnson needs to ask you some questions," he said in a tone that
said Al should already have know that.
  The man cut in before Al could reply. "I know this may not be the best
time, but if you could just tell me what happened now, while it's all
still fresh in your mind."
  "Don't think I'm likely to forget," Al said in even tones.
  The detective shifted nervously in his seat. "Yes, sir, well if you
wouldn't mind...."
  He swallowed, but still remained silent for another few minutes,
staring into the nothingness where he obviously felt more comfortable.
When he finally did speak, his voice sounded ragged and incredibly tired.
"I was going outside to see if she needed any help getting things out of
the car. She went out to get some blueprints she's been pretty busy
perfecting the past week or so, but she'd been gone a long time and so I
just wanted to make sure everything was all right. I thought maybe she
couldn't find them and had left them at home by mistake or something. But
when I went out this woman stopped me. She came running out from the side
street and when I asked her if everything was okay, she said someone in
the alley had a knife and that's all she told me. I thought she meant she
was the one in trouble or that someone was after her and I told her to
stay put while I went to check it out. I heard her following me anyway
and when I turned the corner I saw...her and I told the girl to go get
Dr. Beckett because I could tell she was hurt. So she left and got Sam
and the rest you know."
  The man scribbled something on his notepad. "So what did you see when
you went into the alley?"
  "I told you," he protested, impatience mingling with anxiety. "There
was....there were two people and then the person who hurt my wife heard
me yell and ran off. That's it."
  He frowned down at his pad and then looked up, offering a shallow smile
that went unnoticed. "Well...thank you. Is the woman who asked you for
help still with you?"
  Sam sat forward slightly to draw attention to himself. "She's outside
with my wife."
  "Thank you. I have your number and I'll notify you the instant we find
anything more. Could you ask her to come in?" He included both Sam and Al
in his request, but the admiral didn't move. "Sir?"
  Sam hesitated, then turned to the detective. "Is it alright if he stays
in here while you talk to her?"
   He glanced between the two, then nodded. Sam departed and seconds
later, the woman walked through the door. She looked pale and shaken and
more than a little afraid. Al looked up at her, only partly registering
her presence and appearance. "Miss? Please, have a seat." She smoothed
her slacks and sat down with the space of an empty chair between her and
Al. "What is your name?"
  "Jenna Stevens, sir."
  "And could you tell me what happened?"
  Al rested his forehead in an upturned palm, hiding his eyes from the
other two in the room. He heard her clear her throat nervously and shift
in her seat. "Well," she said in a quiet voice, tinged with anxiety, "I
was walking home from downtown and this woman was just coming out of the
200 Steet Cafe and I really didn't notice her. It's just down a little
side street off the main road and I guess we were really the only two
people in the immediate vicinity except the cars on Main Street which you
could kind of see from the parking lot. Um, she walked by me and this man
came up to her and asked her if she knew a doctor because someone was
hurt. She said she was a doctor and she saw me and asked if I would come
and help. I didn't really know what to do, but the man seemed pretty
insistant that the person was really hurt and so I said yes. We went all
the way to the far end of the alley and then he pulled a knife on her. I
was so scared, I just didn't know what to do. She told me to run and he
told me to also. I don't know why; I thought he would kill me too. So I
ran and..." She paused and cast a sidelong glance at Al. "And I saw him
in the parking lot. And that's really it."
  "Hmmm. Do you remember what the man looked like?"
  She uncrossed her legs only to cross them the other way a second later.
"Um, he was kinda medium build with brown hair and...."
  "Let me have you talk to Susan," he interrupted her. "And maybe we can
get a drawing before too much time goes by."
  He stood up and she took her cue. "Okay," she said timidly with a shy
  Al lifted his head and stood suddenly, much to the surprise of the
detective, who hadn't seen him move since he walked in the room. "Excuse
me," he said, tugging on Jenna's arm before she could leave. "I just
wanted to say thank you."
  She smiled her first genuine smile thus far. "Listen," she said,
digging in her purse for paper and pen, "here's my name and number. Let
me know if she's okay, please?"
  He returned the smile with a paler version of his own and offered his
hand. On impulse, she gave him a quick hug and left hurriedly, carefully
avoiding his eyes.

  It never ceased to amaze him how the bright whites of a hospital always
seemed so bleak and overpowering. Sam sat on the arm of the chair in the
waiting room, hand held tightly by Donna. He could feel her shaking
slightly. He looked across to the far corner where Al sat with his head
in his hands, knowing he wouldn't be there for long. As soon as they
entered the room, Sam and Donna had sat down, but Al had gone to the
farthest point from them and had followed a steady pattern ever since.
Unlike them, he also hadn't even taken the time to change clothes, even
though he had had plenty of opportunities to do so. After a moment, he
stood up and started pacing. Again.
  For five hours, Sam had watched the same thing over and over. And over
the past hours, Al had begun to look steadily worse and worse. His curls
stood out from his continually running his fingers through his hair and
he looked unnaturally pale in the sharp lighting. After another ten
minutes had elapsed, he sat back down and Sam finally turned to his wife,
smiling sadly at her.
  "How much longer do you think it's going to be?" she asked quietly.
  He shrugged. "Could be a couple more hours yet."
  "Can't you go see? You're a doctor." Her tone had an edge of panic to
it and he rested his other hand on her shoulder.
  "Honey, they don't need me in there looking over their shoulder." He
looked back up at Al. "You know, there's a good chance she may not make
  Donna choked back a sob. "I know," she whispered.
  He leaned back against the wall with a dull thud. "And we can, well..."
  She sat up suddenly, shaking off his touch. "Sam, no."
  "Sam, _no_. You promised me! You promised him!" She pulled back to face
  The look in his eyes was one of intense regret. "Donna, I could stop
  "Sam, you _promised_," she repeated, nearly begging.
  "The retrieval program has been perfected. It's at an 89.4% chance of
  She clenched her fists. "89.3."
  He looked away. "Donna..."
  "Sam, no. That's it. We are not even having this discussion. No."
  He grabbed her arm suddenly, angry and confused. "Look at him, Donna,
look at him!" She followed his gaze unwillingly to see Al up and pacing
again, his anguish evident even from across the room. He was shivering,
Sam noted, despite the warm press of air around them. "Do you really
think if I told him right now I was going to step into the Accelerator
that he'd stop me?"
  She followed his pace with her eyes a moment longer as if compelled to
watch, then she pulled her eyes away. "You know Al better than that."
  "Really?" he demanded. "You didn't see him, Donna. You didn't see him
that one time. He...he would have done anything. Do you hear me?
  Her gaze was cold and unyielding. "I saw, Sam. You don't
understand....all those years you were gone. You don't understand what he
did for me. For us. Oh, I saw. I saw every time he asked me not to leave,
not to give up. Every time he _begged_, Sam." Her words spilled out into
the empty space between them, unwavering but not really pledging to one
side of the argument or the other. "So don't you sit there and tell me I
don't know what she means to him. I can see it in his eyes."
  "That's why I should go," Sam murmured. But he sounded a little less
sure of himself than before and she pressed on at the opening.
  "That's why you should respect what you promised him, Sam. He wouldn't
want you to risk that again. Leaping has blinded you to one thing: bad
things happen and when they do it's not a cue to go back in time and undo
them all. Bad things happen to good people. It's a fact. Al is one of the
strongest people I know and he wouldn't be if bad things hadn't happened
to him. Sometimes it's better to live through it."
  "Not if he doesn't have to."
  "Even if," she corrected. "Take it away, Sam, take it all away. Take
away the years, the friendship, everything. To anyone else he's just
another man with a hard luck story, someone on the street. What would you
do then, Sam?"
  He furrowed his brow. "I can't just wipe all that away."
  "Then you're not thinking rationally."
   He stood up, frusturation burning in his eyes. "Maybe not, but it's my
choice. For years, I was denied the right to decide things for myself. Am
I to give that up now, too?"
  She lowered her gaze, completely torn. "But you promised."
  Dawning realization descended on the scientist and he looked at his
wife, momentarily held captive by surprise. "You...you don't like her, do
  "What?" Donna felt her heart begin to pound and part of existance began
to fade at the notion. "What do you mean?"
  "Beth. You don't really like her, do you?"
  She looked down at her hands. "You make me sound so petty," she
whispered, tears in her voice if not in her eyes.
  "No," Sam said without a trace of gentleness or pity. "No, but I'd like
to know why."
  "It's hard, Sam." She twisted her hands around each other and watched
her fingers turn white with the pressure. "He idolized her, too much
perhaps, but I kind of started hating her. For what she had done. I know
how it sounds," she added quickly, as if seeking forgiveness. "But it was
just easier to hate her. It made it easier to wait for you. I don't want
to have to do that again." She finally looked up at him, her desperation
spilling out from her expression, pleading where words wouldn't.
  Sam stood, unmoving, and took a step back, as if eager to put distance
between him and her, to think it all over for himself. "I know I'm not
hearing this," he said quietly.
  "Sam, I try not to be that way, but it just takes time. There are no
perfect seams here, it's all stuff that has been ripped out and sewn back
every which way. It's not going to come out pretty and neat and smooth.
And....I'm getting there, but it takes time."
  "I don't want to hear this," he repeated.
  "Have you been shielded from your own problems for so long you've
forgotten how to handle them? Al's in no condition to walk you through
every confrontation, Sam. You learn something, and then you deal with
it." She squinted at him. "I'm trying."
  He shook his head slightly and captured her eyes with his own. "If you
truly loved him, as a friend, you'd try harder," he snapped and left her
alone in her misery.