"Sink or Swim"
Part IX

September, 1986
Gulf of Alaska, AK

Trying to forget about it didn't work and, as Kate tossed fretfully on
the seat, she eventually came to a decision she was sure she'd regret,
she just wasn't aware of how much. Checking to make sure Allen was still
asleep, and not having the heart to wake him, she went back to the
window and eyed her clip board. She could still see it - it was still
there. Surely if it had lasted this long, it would last that much
longer, wouldn't it?

She wasn't aware of the hologram that popped in behind her as she
contemplated the best way to go about bringing the information inside,
where she knew she couldn't lose it.

"Oh, hi, sweetie," Al greeted her cheerfully, a huge weight off his
shoulders with the reconciliation of Karen with her father. "You're
looking better."

She took a deep breath, bit her lip, and glanced behind her back towards
her stateroom again. The door was still shut.

"Everything okay?" he asked her, even though he knew he would get no
reply. "Sam?" he called, glancing around the cabin. What was unusual was
that he got no reply from his partner, either. He blinked out and
reappeared in the wheelhouse to see Elliot with a walkman on, staring at
the screens, humming to himself. Al rolled his eyes and returned to his
previous location. "Sam?" He started to walk towards the stateroom when
he heard Kate groan audibly.

"I shoulda just brought the data in when I was done outside. Serves me
right for being lazy," she muttered to herself.

Al froze, then retraced his steps back to her side, looking over her
shoulder. The wind caught the end of one of the sheets and it bent
upwards precariously, catching his eye.

"Okay, that does it," she stated firmly and started pulling on her

"Sam!" Al cried, afraid to take his eyes off of her in case something
else happened. "Sam, where the hell are you?"

She took a deep breath, closed her eyes to fight back the nausea and
prepare herself for the blast of cold air and wind, and opened the door.

Al wasted no more time. "Gooshie, center me on Sam, _now_!" He
immediately found himself next to the leaper, who was lying on the
mattress, snoring softly. "Wake up, Sam! Wake up!" he yelled anxiously.

"What?" Sam mumbled, nestling deeper under the blanket he had over him.

"Dammit, Sam, get off your bed! Kate just went outside!" Al was growing
frantic. If he could have slapped the younger man to wake him up, he
would have.

As it turned out, it wasn't necessary. Sam practically jumped up, panic
shining in his eyes. "Oh, shoot, I feel asleep!"

"No shinola," Al retorted. "Hurry it up - she's out on deck. Don't
fiddle with jackets and boots, Sam, just get out there."

Sam was pulling on the boots anyhow. "If I don't, I'll be sliding all
over the deck and I won't do either one of us any good," he responded.
"Go out there with her, Al, I'll be right out."

"I'm gone," Al responded and punched out.

The water was crashing around them in angry whitecaps, pounding against
the hull and over the rail. Kate's approach to the problem was sound:
she was gripping the ladder directly outside the door. The table wasn't
that far away from her, but there was a small space between the reel and
the table where there wouldn't be anything to hold onto. From there it
was several paces to the rail, but the deck was tilting to extremes now
and it was all empty space. Even the few tubs that normally lined the
rail had been stacked and put away earlier.

"Just stay there," Al ordered her. "Sam'll get your stupid clipboard for
you - just stay there."

She didn't listen.

When the boat tilted away so the port rail was high in the air, she made
her first move and grabbed onto the reel with an unsteady grip. There
wasn't a lot to hold onto to begin with and it was slick and she hadn't
put on her gloves. When it began to tilt back, Al watched with an
overwhelming helplessness as she lost her hold and slid towards the
ocean. He cried her name and heard the sound echoed as Sam charged out
onto the deck, through Al, and tackled her. They fell hard against the
wooden floor and rolled together, hitting the wall simultaneously. Al's
heart started beating again.

"God, Sam, you could have gotten yourself killed," Al scolded, nearing
their position. Sam remained in a prone position, but reached up to grab
the rail to keep from sliding the opposite direction. "Crawl," he

Sam nodded tightly and pulled Kate onto her stomach. She was gasping,
soaked from the water drenching them over the side, her face pale as she
registered what had just happened. "You okay?" Sam yelled over the
noise. She just nodded, her eyes wide. "This is what we're going to do:
crawl back towards the cabin with this wall keeping you on board, then
time it so you can get into the doorway."

"Get her data, Sam. It's on the table," Al instructed.

Sam remained at his position until she was safely inside, then he made
his way slowly to the table, reached up to get her clipboard, and
followed her in by the same method. He shut the door hurriedly behind
them, panting hard.

"Are you all right?" Kate asked him, also trying to catch her breath.
"Thank you so much," she continued before he could finish, clasping his
arm. "You saved my life."

He straightened, keeping his balance by holding onto the handle just
inside the cabin. "Hey, I always take care of my observers."

Al shook his head and grinned as Sam offered Kate a hug, then leaped.

November, 1999
Stallions Gate, NM

"Mission accomplished," Al announced, tossing the handlink triumphantly
on the console. "No thanks to Sam - kid fell asleep."

Verbena inclined her head slightly. "Congratulations. Now you may want
to get topside. Karen's waiting to say good-bye."

He raised his eyebrows. "She's leaving?" he asked, a bit surprised at
the flash of disappointment that flooded him.

The woman nodded. "She has family in the area and I told her you'd drop
her off in town so they could come pick her up."

Al went up to the front entrance to see her waiting for him. "Leaving me
so soon, are you?" he asked gently.

She looked up, startled. "Yeah. My father wants me to come home and I
really want to get back, start fixing things between us."

"That sounds like a smart move. C'mon, I'll drive you in."

They got into Al's car and he pulled out of Project Quantum Leap and
started the drive down the dusty excuse for a road that led to project
grounds. They rode in silence for a while, the music Al kept in the car
the only sounds filtering through the recycled air.

"I want to ask you something," Karen said finally.

He shifted his weight in his seat and gestured with his right hand.
"Sure, sweetheart. What's on your mind?"

She bit her lips together, then cleared her throat. "All those things
you told me, they make sense, and I understand what you were trying to
say. But... I still don't understand why you did it."

His brow furrowed and he glanced at her for a second. "I don't follow
you. Why I did what?"

"I haven't seen you since I was a little kid, and I know it's not your
fault, but I don't understand why you'd go to all this trouble for
someone you barely know."

He sighed. "First of all, I am sorry I haven't kept in better touch, and
that _is_ my fault. I apologize. Secondly... Well, your father is a good
friend of mine. Just because we don't talk a lot anymore doesn't mean I
don't still consider him one. He came to me in distress because he
needed help, and I was in a position to help him. How could I turn him
down?" He looked at her again. "How could I turn you down just because I
haven't seen you for a decade?" He thought of Sam Beckett, leaping
around in time to help total strangers, and hardly ever complaining
about it, just accepting that if there was a need he could fulfill, he
would do it. How could he do any less for a friend's daughter? For his

"Well you didn't have to. But I'm glad you did. Thank you." Her words
were slow, but sincere and he felt a flush of warmth at her expression
of gratitude. "And my father says to thank you as well. He says he's
sorry he couldn't have been there for you when you needed him." She
shrugged. "I don't know what he meant."

Al locked his eyes on the road. "I do. He's talking about a hard time in
my life, but that was years ago and I had someone else to help me. I
hope your father turns out to be the good friend to you that this man is
to me."

"I hope so, too." She paused. "I hope I can be to him, too."

*You will, Karen. You will.*

They rode the rest of the way into Santa Fe without speaking, but it was
a comfortable silence. Finally, they pulled up to where her ride was
waiting. Al got out of the car and she followed suit.

"You take care, hon," he ordered, hugging her tightly.

She pulled free and kissed him on the cheek. "You, too. I'll be thinking
about you."

"Karen? You ready to go?" said a voice from behind.

Al kissed her on the head and turned - and found himself face to face
with Kate. She was older, dressed in a conservative blouse and slacks, a
wedding ring on her left hand. Her hair, still long, was swept up into a
twist with a few stray locks pulling loose and falling over her eyes. He
stared, mouth agape.

"Oh, sorry," she said, flushing slightly, then offered her hand and
opened her mouth to introduce herself, but Al beat her to the punch.

"Kate," he blurted without thinking, shaking her hand.

She looked surprised. "Yes, have we met?"

"This is my aunt," Karen said, looking confused as she alternated
between gazing at them both.

"Must be on your mother's side," Al said with a grin. Karen and Kate
exchanged a curious glance and he suddenly realized he was still holding
onto Kate's hand. The grin widened slightly. "It's a pleasure to meet
you," he said honestly and kissed her hand. Her blush deepened.
"Ladies," he proclaimed, "have a safe trip." He released Kate and winked
at Karen, then got into his car and drove home.

[I found out yesterday that, in 5 weeks, I'm going to be without
internet access for 3 months at least. (I'm going away....) So, I'm
going to try really hard to pump out these next 2 stories fast before
I'm gone and maybe finish my work-in-progress and get that out, too.
Next on the list is "Lost Causes" and has all the angst this story was
lacking...  And then some. Hope you enjoy! I'll start posting, oh,
I'm aiming for Monday. -amkt]