"The Day After That" pt. IX

August, 2000
Washington D.C.

  Sam left the bathroom and went back into the guest room. He held out the wet
washcloth he'd finally located for her.
  "Why don't you lie down?" he suggested, moving to maneuver her into a
sleeping position.
  She curled into a fetal ball, her eyes lowering into half slits as she
watched him tidy up the room.
  "You going to tell me what happened?" Sam asked as he straightened some
  "I just don't feel well tonight," Beth said quietly.
  "You're _making_ yourself sick," Sam corrected. She didn't respond. He
sighed and closed another drawer. "Beth...how much longer is this going to
continue? You have to know we can't stay here forever."
  "I don't know what to do."
  "Press charges," he urged.
  She blinked. "I don't mean about Dirk," she clarified in a small voice.
  Sam looked at her with sorrow. "I know. Talk to him."
  "I - I can't."
  Sam snapped off the overhead light and sat down on the edge of the bed,
leaving the small lamp on the night stand on. "You say you can't and he says
he can't, but one of you has to."
  She shivered. "I'm scared to."
  He put his hand on her arm and rubbed it slowly. "I know you are. But don't
you want to be free?"
  A faint spark of longing burned in her eyes for an instant. "You're a good
friend, Linny. But you can't help me with this, and I can't do it alone."
  Sam held her hand with his free one. "Let him do it with you."
  Beth curled up a little tighter. "I hurt him, Linny. I can't ever take that
back again. I know what he's going through - I've felt it!"
  "You made a mistake," Sam said calmly.
  "One I can't fix. So I have to..." She fumbled.
  "Pay for it?" he finished sadly.
  Her eyes cleared. "Yes. Yes, that's it, exactly."
  "You really think that's what he wants?"
  "What who wants?" Al asked suddenly from beside him. He hadn't used the
Imaging Chamber Door and he looked agitated - he must have just been checking
up on Dirk's progress.
  "It's the only way to pay him back. It's...the only thing I have to offer."
  Al frowned. "Sam, what's she talking about?"
  Sam cast Al a frustrated look. "So you're what? A human sacrifice? And for
what?" Sam motioned to the hallway. "Do you think he's _enjoying_ this? Do you
think you're repaying him any of that potentially lost happiness?" Al was
silent and somber.
  She closed her eyes and her breath shook.
  "Oh, Sam," Al breathed, leaning into to look at her. "What happened?"
  "I just want him to be happy," she whispered. "He deserves to be happy. He
deserves to have something work _right_."
  "I know he does," Sam agreed quietly.
  Al lowered to her level even though she couldn't see him. "What about you,
Beth?" he questioned imploringly. "Don't you deserve to be happy?"
  "What about you?" Sam echoed.
  She made a gesture that could have been a shrug. "It doesn't matter. I sold
my soul a long time ago."
  "Beth, honey," Al said firmly, patiently, "you've got to trust someone, and
if there's anyone you can trust, it's him. Believe me, I know."
  "You can't think like that," Sam told her.
  She shrugged.
  "You've gone as far as you're going to get tonight, Sam," Al murmured. "The
both of you need sleep. You can start again tomorrow. Come on out into the den
and we can talk."
  Sam let go of her hand and patted her once more on the arm. "Get some sleep.
We'll talk again tomorrow." Beth didn't answer and Sam shut off the light and
closed the door on her and Al. A second later, Al walked through it.
  "Did something happen, Sam?" he asked, sounding tense and worried.
  "I think so, but she won't tell me what." Sam sat on the couch. He was
getting extremely tired of seeing the same four rooms of Al's apartment. "What
about Dirk?"
  "The nozzle's trying everything he knows, talking to anyone he can find even
remotely associated with Linny or Beth, but, since neither of you told anyone
where you were going, he's run across several dead ends."
  "So there must be someone who told him..."
  "Sure," Al agreed, "but I don't think it's anyone we can get to in time."
  "What do you mean?" Sam's expression was very unhappy and almost matched the
expression on Al's face.
  "He's started talking to people in the Navy. Any number of people know where
I am! Military paperwork leaves a trail of bread crumbs wherever it goes, Sam.
If he's talked to enough people, he's figured out at least _who_ she's with,
if not where. And where is just a matter of time."
  "I spoke with your counterpart tonight. I don't know yet how much good it
did. I guess there's no way to tell until tomorrow."
  "Anything in particular happening tomorrow?"
  "Yes," Sam replied in firm determination. "Tomorrow we're pressing charges
and getting a restraining order."

  Sam was up early the following morning. And, it seemed, he was the first one
awake, too. That suited him just fine. It also allowed him to take advantage
of the fact that he slept on the couch. Chivalry had demanded that Al offer
his bed, but Sam had quickly refused, if for no other reason than his accurate
prediction that both Al and Beth would need some neutral ground to retreat to.
  Sam occupied himself by fixing breakfast.
  Al appeared first, lured by the smell of coffee brewing. He paused when he
saw "Linny" making herself at home in his kitchen. "Finding everything all
right?" Al asked with forced amusement.
  Sam grinned. "I manage."
  Al took a bite of the omelet in front of him. "Ever think of taking cooking
  Sam sighed in frustration. "I do what my mother used to do. I just can't
figure why it never works."
  "Too bland," Al muttered, swinging around to the other side of the counter.
He seemed overly intent on focusing on the cooking, especially when Beth
emerged, sleep still clinging to her. Al smiled slightly. "You never were much
of a morning person," he said before he realized it.
  She looked up, startled, then withdrew a step.
  "How are you feeling this morning?" Sam asked.
  She hesitated. "Better."
  "Good. Then come on and get something to eat," he replied. "It's gonna be a
long day."
  She tensed. "Why? What are we doing?"
  Al just watched without comment.
  Sam took a step forward and pulled out a chair. She didn't move. "We're
pressing charges."
  "Oh...oh, Linny, no..."
  Al closed his eyes for an instant, as if holding a rapid internal debate.
"Beth..." Her head whipped around so fast Sam feared for the condition of her
neck. Al had her complete attention - maybe this was going to work after all.
"Maybe you should listen to her. It's pretty obvious things are..." He trailed
off at her expression.
  "I - I can't."
  "Why?" Sam asked. "Do you have a reason anymore, Beth?"
  She looked back and forth between them, a trapped look flashing in her eyes.
  Sam backed up a step, but Al walked around the counter towards her. Sam
watched in amazement as he stood in front of her. "Don't use me as an excuse
to let that bastard get away with this." Al's eyes were deep with sorrow.
"What are you continually punishing yourself for?" He reached up to touch the
fading bruise on her face, but she jerked backwards. He lowered his hand and
let her back away, recover herself. "Yeah, I remember that," he murmured
quietly. "Thinkin' that every time someone touches you, they're gonna hurt
you." He exhaled heavily. "And knowing you're wrong, but not being able to
help yourself." He leaned forward again and traced her wrist lightly with one
fingertip, as if to prove a point or maybe just to caress her. "I remember,"
he repeated, then turned and retreated to his room.
  As soon as the door clicked shut, she released the breath she'd been holding
and hugged herself tightly. Sam just looked curiously towards the closed door.
He wasn't quite sure he'd call what he just witnessed "progress", but perhaps
in some bizarre way, it was. Maybe some good could come out of their
respective situations. Maybe it gave them enough in common that they could
heal the loneliness in each other.
  Before Sam could say anything, the door opened and Al exited again, much to
the leapers's shock. He was tucking his wallet into his back pocket. "Come
on," he said, "let's do this."
  Sam grinned, then turned to Beth. She bit her lip, but Al wasn't pushing. He
waited patiently as she reevaluated the whole situation. This would, at the
very least, be an indicator of how much of a rut she was still stuck in.
  "You're coming?" she asked of Al after a lengthy pause.
  He tilted his chin up slightly. "If you want me to. If it'll be easier." His
voice lowered. "If you'll try not to be afraid of me."
  For an instant, it looked as if she would cry. Then she just nodded and Al
scooped up his car keys readily.

  For the length of the day, whether they were standing in another line or
filling out one of many endless forms, Al stayed by her side as if afraid to
leave her. As the hours rolled on, a new tension began to build up between
them and Sam wasn't sure it was a positive one. Although Al stayed true to his
word and did his best to help her and although she still seemed to need him
there, to need his constant consent on what she was doing, things started to
change. With each signature that read "Elizabeth Simon", Al became that much
more distant.
  Where one wall had crumbled, another had sprung up in its place.
  They hadn't hit the homestretch yet, Sam realized with bleak discernment.
They hadn't even hit the climax of the situation. That pent-up anger and hurt
Al was holding back was going to come rushing out at some point and, although
Sam knew it would be a good thing for Al, he worried how far it would push
Beth before things improved. He simply doubted she would be able to handle it.
  Al was probably thinking along the same lines because he was fighting to
hide it. Beth, completely caught up in the personal metamorphosis she was
trying to work her way through, never saw it. Sam, who knew even this Al
almost as well as himself, felt it could not have been any more obvious if it
was being broadcasted.
  By the time they returned home, Al was answering everything in one-word
sentences and Beth was closing back up on herself.
  "So now what?" Al asked of Sam as Beth entered the apartment. It was already
beginning to get dark out.
  "Now we have a legal basis to get the guy taken care of."
  "He's a lawyer - they're all slippery nozzles. He knows how to work the
system. He's going to bail himself out if he can, you know?" Al pointed out, a
touch angry.
  "Maybe. We've gotta keep an eye on her for the next few days."
  Al put his palms against the railing outside his front door. His apartment
was on the second floor and he looked down at the complex's token effort at
gardening. "I think this is as far as I go."
  Sam was startled. "This is only the beginning," he explained. "I mean, I'll
have to go home soon and she won't be safe in Seattle."
  Al's hands tightened on the rail. "It's not that I don't want to help," he
clarified, a bit impatiently. "It's that I don't think I _can_."
  Sam frowned. "She could stay in-"
  "I'm not talking about logistics," Al countered, swinging to face Sam. "I'm
talking about _me_. And _her_." He jerked his head in the direction she'd
gone. "I love her so much - I can't sleep knowing she's there, nearby and all
I can think about is when I get up and see her. Then it hurts too much to be
near her; every second is a reminder of...things." One hand released the rail
and clenched into a fist. "It's tearing my life right open and I just can't do
this anymore." He sighed heavily. " I don't know why I'm telling you this."
  "You're going to have to talk to her about this eventually," Sam said
  "No!" He waved a hand in her general direction. "You see her! You see her
around me!" He shook his head. "It won't work. It _can't_ work."
  "Al, you've got to make it work."
  Al rubbed a hand across his face. "It can't go on indefinitely," he stated,
then turned and followed Beth inside.