"The Day After That" pt. IV August, 1980 Seattle, WA When Beth called, Sam was still formatting his plan. He still didn't know how to get through to her, though. Al had confirmed that the Simons didn't have any plane tickets for the following week. Dirk obviously hadn't gone anywhere after she died. So they were back to square one - getting the information from her. Sam was on his way out the door when Al materialized beside him. "Sam, I have something new for you." Sam looked at him expectantly. "It seems in July of 1970, Beth had a breakdown. They wanted to hospitalize her and put a suicide watch on her, but Dirk wouldn't let them." Sam sat in the driver's seat. "Is that when she left the Navy?" Al consulted the ‘link. "It was about a month and a half after that." Sam looked carefully at Al. He was spouting out the information with amazing detachment. "And then," he continued, "it was another two months after her breakdown that they moved out here." "That's an awful lot of coincidence. Think they're connected?" Sam waited while Al lit a cigar. "Could be." Al sucked on his stogie and Sam noticed he hadn't shaved yet. "You spend all day with her?" Al looked genuinely startled at the assumption. "No. I caught a few hours sleep and did some research." He carefully neglected to mention the hourly stops into the Imaging Chamber. "I see. I'm on my way to see Beth. I bought two tickets to D.C. this afternoon. For tomorrow. We can always change the date if we can't get her to go that soon." "You're pretty confident." Sam shrugged. "I try." "Okay, you go talk to her - try and find out what you can, but top priority is to convince her to run to the other side of the country with you." "I know." Sam watched as he punched out. He wished Al was coming with him, but he knew it was difficult for him and so he hadn't pressed. He started the engine and, moments later, was pulling up outside of Beth's house. He wasn't in a hurry this time and he took note of the fancy shutters on the outside, the perfectly kept garden, the brick walkway. Beth was waiting for him, seated on the front steps. "Linny," she greeted him without inflection. "Beth. I have something for you." Sam dropped a manila envelope in her lap and she pulled out the plane tickets he'd told Al about. "What's this?" she demanded, holding out the tickets. "I'm fighting," Sam replied. "Against him. For you." "I don't need you to!" she cried, rising to her feet. "Yes, you do." "Well then I don't _want_ you to!" "Beth," Sam said, putting his hands on her shoulders. She pulled back and closed up on herself, her shoulders rounding, her arms wrapped around her waist. "Why do you insist on punishing yourself? You don't have to stay here - we can go to D.C. and he'll never find us there!" He shook his head. "Why are you more afraid to go than to stay?" "Why D.C.?" She avoided his question, but he felt a flash of encouragement at her response. She was coming around - it was slow, but steady progress. He just may have her on that plane tomorrow after all. "I've got a friend who's agreed to put us up for a while." "Good Samaritan, huh?" Sam smiled slightly. "He'd disagree, but I think so." "He?" The sudden panic that registered in her eyes was like a physical jolt for Sam. "Linny, I don't think-" Sam took one of the tickets she was trying to shove back into his hand and held it in her palm. "Please." His eyes pleaded with her as he tested the bonds of this friendship. "I won't go." Looking into her face and beyond, he saw a different answer. Not the one he wanted, but not the one she had given, either. He held her ticket to freedom out. When she refused to take it, he released it and it flitted to the ground between them, settling with the dust and dirt on the walkway. "That's up to you," he said quietly. "The plane leaves at 11:30." ^----^----^----^----^ August, 1980 Laurel, MD He shuddered into wakefulness with a jolt. The darkness, the emptiness around him usually served as a comfort. Tonight, it gnawed its way at his composure, taunting and- He reached for the lamp, but his hand met with empty air. "Damn," he muttered, amazed. "She even took my _lamp_?" He got out of the bed, stood unsteadily, and sighed deeply. "Guess being dead had its advantages." The urgent call for light and vision once again assaulted him and he crossed the room, sliding his hand across the wall until it clicked the light on. He surveyed the now half-empty room, rubbing moist palms together as he did so. "Vultures," he smirked bitterly to himself. It was time to get back on the horse. Sure, his second of as many marriages had just come to a shuddering halt and maybe his batting average hadn't been so good, but that was no reason to give up, right? He could call his friend, the one from up north in Bel Air, get reacquainted, and forget all about Ellie and...everyone else. He rolled his eyes at his own internal dialogue. "Optimism's overrated," he told the mirror solemnly. Or maybe he was telling the face in the mirror. Either way, Al Calavicci had never been a flowers and sunshine type of person and he saw no reason to change now. Maybe that was why she'd left him. Which she, he wasn't sure. There had been so many. And there had been only one. But he knew why Ellie had left him: Veronica. So much for discreet. When had this happened, anyhow? There had been a time when the question of faithfulness hadn't even been broached. There was no need for it. It was the time when the woman in his life had been just that: _the_ woman in his life. Somewhere along the line, that had changed. As much as he tried to deny it, he knew exactly where and he knew who it had changed with. Or, rather, who it had changed after. And so another marriage was down the tubes, but he couldn't blame this one on her, could he? That made two and counting... Except that he had no desire to put himself through that kind of grief again. Why should he? The first time had stung badly enough and the second time...well, maybe not as badly, but it wasn't exactly pleasant. "Maybe each time it just gets a little better." Al made a face. Wishful thinking wasn't really him, either. He dealt in facts. And the fact was, he hadn't done a very good job of burying his past. Five years later, and it was still coming back to haunt him, if not in his waking moments, than in his dreams. *The dream.* He'd almost managed to forget about that. Maybe that was what ultimately broke down the relationship with Ellie: his refusal to talk with her about thoughts and demons that desperately craved voicing. Nothing had happened between him and Veronica, not really. A little harmless flirting perhaps, a few dinners, but nothing that was that far over the line. Maybe it was just the betrayal itself, not how it manifested itself in their relationship. He couldn't blame her; he knew what being betrayed felt like. A sick feeling slid through his stomach and he felt the tendrils of the dream grip him again. They shouldn't be this hard to shake after all those years. If he wasn't reliving a nightmare in his sleep, he was fashioning one of his own, usually with her. This one had the Calavicci seal of inspection on it, all right. She'd been in it. His normal course of action was to forget what he'd dreamt - banish it to some locked files in his mind that never needed to be reopened, but this time he tried to remember, strained to recall - he needed to remember her, if only for a moment, to gather the strength to face a life without her. What had she looked like? What did she smell of? Did she still laugh the same, smile the same, touch his cheek the same? Love him the same? What had he done when she'd come back to him after 11 years of abandonment, the pain of which still hurt more than anything any enemy could ever do to him? All he could remember was that the dream definitely did not end in "happily ever after". For him, he supposed, it never would. ^----^----^----^----^ August, 1980 Seattle, WA "You should reschedule." "She'll be here," Sam replied with a confidence he didn't feel. Al fretted beside him in the airport, fidgeting alternately with the handlink and the cigar, not really using either for anything more than a distraction. "She's not coming, Sam. It's 11:20 already." "Will you stop worrying?" He made a face. "What turnip truck did you fall off of?" "She'll come," Sam insisted, as if the more he said it, the more he could convince her. But the time for convincing was over, he knew. "Part of her really wants to. It just has to reason with whatever's keeping her in an existence she hates." Somewhere in that part of him that had learned to read people, that had lived through trial with the best and the worst and everyone in-between, knew that if she didn't come now, she wasn't coming at all. "Ask Ziggy." Al bit the cigar and activated the `link. "She gives it 50/50." "Nothing's ever really 50/50," Sam said, annoyed. The admiral held out the colorful box towards Sam. "Tell her that. I just read what I see." Sam frowned. "11:25," Al said quietly, pulling the `link back towards himself. He bit his lips together. "Is it that you don't want her to show, is that it?" Al's pessimism was starting to become grating. "Of course not, Sam!" Al was taken aback. "Give me a little credit, here." Sam rubbed the back of his neck. "I'm sorry, Al. I'm just frustrated and disappointed that she didn't come. I shouldn't take it out on you. I guess I should go get our tickets changed." He started to gather his belongings. "So are we going or not? It's the final boarding call." Sam glanced up in amazement. "Beth." She dropped her carryon luggage at his feet. "Look, I'll go. I just don't have to like it is all." Sam bit back a grin. " So let's go - we're gonna miss the plane. Sometimes Dirk comes home for lunch and if he sees I'm not there, he'll figure it out that much faster." Sam watched as she recollected her things and turned towards the gate. "Or he could think you just ran out to do a few errands." She shook her head, holding out her ticket to be checked. "He didn't give me any errands to do today and he gets suspicious if I go out when he doesn't. He calls home somtimes in the middle of the day, too, just to check up on me." Al uttered one of his more colorful phrases between barely parted lips, then he punched out. "Besides," she continued, "I left my wedding ring on the night stand." They boarded the plane and took their seats. Beth stared out the window. "He'll know." He glanced at her hands automatically and saw the pale strip of skin on her ring finger of her left hand. Then he saw the gold band on her right hand. "What's that?" She shifted uneasily in the chair and slid off the ring, holding it tightly in her hand. "Nothing." Sam let the subject drop and touched her shoulder carefully. He had the feeling he knew what it was, anyway, and he wondered how much Beth had told Linny about it. "I'm sorry this couldn't be easy." She shrugged and forced a smile that didn't touch her eyes. "That's okay... At least I won't have to go back to San Diego with him."