A CASE OF THE BECKETTS
By Lorraine Anderson
Something on the desk in front of him was trying get his attention. Sam Beckett looked down - the screen on the object said "Alexis." He looked at it, puzzled, then realized there was a beautiful brunette sitting across the desk who was staring at him, smiling slightly. "Well, Castle?" she said. "Are you going to answer your phone or not?"
"Oh. Yeah." He picked it up, accidently punching a green bar. He put it up to his ear. "Hello?" he said tentatively.
"Dad!" a young voice said. "I was just wondering where you were."
He looked around. "I'm..." hmmm, he could see a police shield on the belts of the people around him. "I'm still at the station. What do you need?"
"Dad. Didn't you remember I made supper tonight?"
"You made supper?"
"Yeah. Grandma thought I should, remember?" The girl sighed. "She thinks I need to learn to cook for myself."
"Oh, yeah. Supper," Sam said. "I had forgotten."
"Are you going to be late? Is Kate coming?"
"No, honey. I'll be home. And... I don't know."
"See you later."
The woman looked at him. "Alexis wondering when you're going to be home?"
"Yeah. How did you know?"
She smiled. "I'm coming to supper with you, remember?"
"Oh, yeah," he said. "That's right."
"Castle," she said, starting to look concerned. "Are you all right? You said that bump on your head was nothing, but you seem to be forgetting a lot lately."
"I'm fine, I'm fine!" At least he would be if Al would ever show up. Sam sighed.
"Are you sure?" She looked down at her paperwork. "We might as well go now. Ryan and Esposito can finish up here." She looked over at a couple of men. "Right, guys?"
A Latino looking man looked over. "Yeah, go ahead. Sadly, I have nothing to do tonight."
"Rank hath its privileges," the other man said. "You think we'll ever rank high enough to pass the work onto anybody else?"
"Oh, you love paperwork, Bro," Esposito said.
"See you later, Ryan, Esposito," Sam said. He supposed that he would see them again. It always seemed to be the first people he interacted with on a Leap were the ones that he needed to help.
"Ready, Castle?" the woman said. She headed for the elevator. Through long practice - since Sam still had no idea where he was and where he lived - he fell in slightly behind her, almost subliminally noting her movements as to where to go. First she led him to a cab, and he noted that they it confirmed that he was in New York City, as he had read on the shield of the woman. As she leaned forward to give the cabbie his address, he memorized that address, so that he could find his way "home" again.
He looked at the cab id. As he had inferred by looking at the phone, he was in the future - not terribly in the far future, since the id was issued in 2010, but enough to make it difficult for Al to find him. He was never quite certain of the date at home, but the closer he came to his "home" date, the harder it was for Al to find him.
He looked around at the cars. The cars seemed to be a little sleeker than what he was used to, but, then again, just a second ago he was in 1965. Engineers had learned a lot about aerodynamics in the years.
His phone rang. He looked at it. The number seemed to be unknown.
He picked it up.
"Hello?" he said, tentatively.
"Is this Sam?" said a familiar, gravelly voice.
"Sam. Thank heaven. We knew when you were, where you were, and who you Leapt into, but we couldn't connect with you."
Sam looked at the woman next to him. A thousand questions longed to burst from him, but he said. "Do you know why?"
"Not a clue. Gooshie tried to explain it to me once, but he never could. Still can't, but he stopped trying."
"So - where are you now?"
"I'm in a hotel in mid-town Manhattan."
"Really?" Sam's eyes widened. "Here?"
"Who's here?" the woman said.
"An old friend," Sam said. "Someone I knew a few years back."
"Is that a woman?" Al said.
"You dog. You have any idea who you are?"
"Okay. Your name is Richard Castle. You live with your daughter, Alexis Rodgers, and your mother, Martha Rodgers. I'll tell you more later. When can we meet?"
"Well, I'm going home right now to have supper with my daughter."
"Can you invite me over?"
"Well, she's making supper." He looked up at the woman. "But I imagine we can make it stretch."
"Alexis is going to kill you," the woman commented.
He repeated the address to Al.
"Got it." Al hesitated. "Actually, I had it before, but it would have been odd to just show up at your place without being told."
Sam suddenly realized that he was going to see Al in the flesh. After how many years? More than he could remember.
"I look forward to seeing you," he got out.
"Me, too, buddy." He was silent for a second. "Are you with a gorgeous brunette?"
"That's Kate Beckett. She's a lead detective with the NYPD. He mostly calls her Beckett, but sometimes Kate. Suspicious sort, so watch out."
"Well, I'll see you tonight."
"I look forward to it."
"Me, too, buddy. Me, too." He stared at the phone. There was an "end call" button on the screen, so he punched at it like he knew what he was doing.
"So who did you invite to make Alexis upset?"
"Oh, Alexis won't be upset... will she?"
"Castle, you're bringing home a complete stranger to a meal she made just for you," she said, smiling at him. "Any woman would be upset."
"Oh. Yeah." Sam winced. "Well, we can always send out for a pizza for Al. He won't mind."
"No, you won't. Because then you'll insult her that you don't think her food is any good. You need to call her and tell her that you're bringing a guest home to dinner."
"But won't she be upset?"
"She will, but if you apologize abjectly, you might be all right." Beckett hesitated. "Who is it, anyway?"
"Al Callavici. Former Admiral."
Beckett's eyes got round. "You didn't tell me you knew an astronaut."
"Um... it never came up?"
"Trust me. You tell Alexis who's coming home, and she'll forgive you."
"She knows the old astronauts?"
"Castle, don't you listen to your daughter?"
"Of course, I do... don't I?"
Beckett smiled at Castle, then out the window. "Never mind. We're here, anyway."
The cab pulled up to a building. Once more, letting Beckett take the lead, she lead him towards the door... then stopped and cocked her head.
"Did you hear that?"
Castle listened. "I don't hear..." then he heard, faintly, something that sounded like a scream. Two alleys over, a young man ran out, looked around frantically, and disappeared down the street. Beckett ran down the street and peered into the alley. "Castle, call 911!" she yelled back as he galloped up to the alley.
He looked in the alley. A young woman – a teenager - was lying on the ground, blood coming out in a wound. Sam took off his shirt and put pressure on the wound, then evaluated the woman's condition.
It looked like just a shoulder wound, through and through, but the teen was in shock, trembling. "Dad?" she said.
Sam froze. "Alexis?" Damn. "Alexis, I thought you were cooking!" he said, taking off his jacket and placing it over her. Almost abstractly, he noticed the brand on the jacket. Castle must be made of money.
"Grandma was watching the pot." She groaned. "I came down to usher you and Detective Beckett upstairs."
Almost belatedly, he noticed she had an apron on.
"Do you know who that was?"
"No." Tears went down her cheek, but she was remarkably calm. "Daddy, he shot me."
"I need to call 911," he said, belatedly.
"He shot me!" She started trembling, looking like she might go into shock.
"Alexis," Sam said. "Look at me. Look at me."
"You're going to be fine. The bullet didn't even hit a muscle. And it definitely missed the subclavian artery. It'll leave a scar and you'll need some stitches, but you'll be fine."
Alexis eyes went wide. "Dad. When did you become a Doctor?"
"Um... something I read someplace."
Sam turned around. "Al!"
"Al?" Alexis said.
"Um... I was going to bring a guest home for dinner. Alexis, meet Admiral Al Callavici."
Her eyes went wide. "The astronaut? You're bringing an astronaut home for dinner?" she smiled, then grimaced. "I'll forgive you."
Al's eyes went from Sam to her. "Retired." Sirens started coming. "You must be the young lady whose dinner I was going to enjoy."
"Dad. I didn't know you knew any astronauts. You never said anything."
"You never asked."
"OhmiGod, Dad, you're definitely forgiven." She winced. "My shoulder is really starting to hurt."
"The ambulance and the police are coming. Just stay down." He looked at Al. "Admiral Albert Callivici, meet Alexis Rodgers. Alexis, this is Al."
"You call him Al?" She reached her good hand up to Al. "Admiral. It's an honor."
He smiled and kissed her hand. "No, it's an honor to finally meet you. I've heard so many things about you from your father." They heard the sirens. "We'll talk later."
Sam sat back as the paramedics dressed Alexis and loaded her on the ambulance. "Al, wait for Beckett." He suddenly realized that she hadn't come back yet. He hopped on the ambulance with Alexis.
Al watched the ambulance go rush down the street. A lovely young brunette ran back into the alley. "Where's Castle? Where's Alexis?" she demanded of a young Hispanic looking man who had just shown up at the scene.
Al smiled. "You must be Detective Beckett," he said, stepping up and holding his hand out. "I'm Al Calavicci."
"Castle's dinner guest," she said.
"Yes." His smile dropped. "Castle just left with his daughter in the ambulance. She got grazed by a bullet on the shoulder, but she'll be fine."
"Thank you, Admiral," she said. He could see some of the tension drain out of her.
"Call me Al," he said. "Castle has told me many good things about you."
She frowned. "I wish I could say the same," she said. "I'm afraid he never mentioned that he knew you."
"I've always had the impression he wasn't a name-dropper," Al said.
Beckett started scanning the ground. "Sometimes. Sometimes not."
"Well," he said. "I should back out of your way."
"We will need to talk to you."
A red-haired woman, older, appeared at the doorway. "Where's Alexis? Where's Richard? I heard the ambulance, and now all of you are here. Is everything all right?"
Beckett straightened up and moved to the woman's side. "Martha, they are both all right."
"Do I see... blood?" She turned on Beckett.
"Alexis was hurt," Beckett said, glancing at Al, "but she's going to be fine."
"I was here," Al said, moving by the woman's side, "when Castle and Alexis left."
Martha stared at him. "And who are you?"
"I'm Al Callavici, Admiral, retired."
She blinked. "The astronaut?"
"We dated once. I'm Martha Rodgers."
He stared at her closely, then saw the beautiful young red-headed actress in the older lady in front of him. "We went to that lousy little dive on 57th street."
She smiled. "You remembered."
"I'm an old friend of Castle's."
"You are? He never mentioned you."
"Well," he said, "we'll have to remedy that." He led Martha back behind the police tape. "Let's let the police do their work."
"I need to go to the hospital. Where did they go?"
"I'll have someone take the two of you," Beckett said.
"In the meantime," Al said, "Do you have some ovens to turn off or something?"
"I'll need to get my purse."
As Al watched the police, he thought back to when he actually met Castle...
Castle woke up with a start. He had had the worse dream, and he dragged his arm over his eyes, not wanting to open them up yet. He groaned.
"Do you feel any pain?"
Startled, his eyes popped open. "This is not my bedroom."
The older man snorted. "No, it's not."
"Am I in a hospital?"
"Am I a prisoner?" He tried to lift his arms and his head, but they seemed to be held down by some sort of soft restraint.
The man winced. "Yes and no. You're an involuntary prisoner, so to speak, and our goal is to get you back where you belong as soon as possible."
"Am I in a mental hospital?"
"No. You're in a top-secret government facility."
Castle blinked. "Really? Cool."
The other man blinked. "Well, I haven't had that reaction much before."
"I daresay," Castle said drily, "that you haven't had many crime writers in your government facility."
"That, we haven't," the man said. Castle looked him up and down. He was colorfully dressed – he was wearing a bright red shirt and black slacks and a yellow bolo tie.
"You don't look like a doctor."
"I'm not," he said. "You can call me Al."
"Am I," he said, "your long lost pal?"
"I've listened to the CD a few times," Castle said.
"Can you tell me your name?"
"I'm Richard Castle. Author. I've had a few best-selling novels."
"I'm afraid..." He cocked his head to one side. "But it does seem that my colleagues have read your book."
"Do you know today's date?"
"Certainly. October 17, 2009."
The man's eyes widened slightly, as if he were startled, then he closed down.
"And what was the last thing you remember?"
"I was with Detective Beckett, and I was just getting a call from my daughter, Alexis."
"Can I get up now?"
"Well that," Al said, "is always the tricky part."
The man looked like he was talking into the air. "Verbena? Ziggy?" He listened a second. "Our experts think you may be able to handle it. But if not..." A door swooshed open, and a couple of large men stepped in. Castle stared at them. The man suddenly looked uncomfortable. "Because - the man in the mirror you're going to see in the mirror is not going to look like you."
Castle scrunched up his face. "Sounds like you're describing a bad science fiction novel."
The man laughed. "I wish." He pulled a small pocket mirror out of his pocket and held it up to Castle's face with a move that suggested that he had done it many, many times before.
He was right.
The man before Castle's eyes was not the "ruggedly handsome" man that he usually saw in the mirror. This man was pale and thin, with green eyes. His hair was a sandy brown, and a small streak of hair on his forehead was a bright white. At his neck, he could see that he was wearing a white sort of suit, and he wondered if it extended all of the way down. He narrowed his eyes. The man looked familiar, just as the man holding the mirror looked familiar.
"Dr. Sam Beckett," he said, suddenly. He shifted his eyes to the man on the stool. "And Admiral Albert Callavici, retired astronaut. Cool!"
Al looked startled. "You know Sam?"
"Not personally, but I've talked to some people he knew him. Said he was reclusive, hiding out in the New Mexican desert, and no one had seen him in years..." His mouth dropped open. "And I'm in his body."
"We're not so sure about that..."
"Which means that this has happened more than once, and that's why he's secluded in the middle of a desert." He looked around again. "Some sort of experiment must have went wrong."
"Does that mean that he's in my body?"
Al rolled his eyes. "To hell with protocol, Ziggy," he said to the ceiling.
"Our overprotective computer." He turned to Castle. "Yes. He has Leapt into your body. This usually means that something in your life is about to go terribly wrong, and he needs to stop it before he can Leap again..."
"... and maybe Leap home." Castle settled back. "What a sad story." He looked at Al, earnestly. "If I weren't living it, I'd love to write it."
"You're very intuitive, Mr. Castle."
"It's my job," Castle said.
"Are you an investigator, also?"
"You haven't heard of Nikki Heat?"
Al looked puzzled. "No, I don't know..." He cocked his head as if he were listening. "You're a mystery writer." It was a fact, not a question.
"And - I'm in the past," Castle said.
"That's quite a jump," Al countered. "How do you figure?"
"You asked me the date, and you seemed surprised. You haven't heard of Nikki Heat, and while even I'm not vain enough to think you might have read my book, almost everybody I ask has heard of Nikki Heat." He smiled. "Of course, we are in the middle of New Mexico, so maybe Nikki hasn't made it here yet."
"So you're a mystery writer."
"I'm a mystery writer who works as a consultant with the NYPD."
Al nodded his head. "Verbena? He doesn't seem swiss-cheesed at all, does he?"
"Some of our guests find that a chunk of their memory is missing."
"Well, I can't remember what I had for breakfast, but I can tell you that my daughter is Alexis, my mother is Martha, and my - partner at the NYPD is Kate Beckett." He thought back. "Any relation?"
Al shrugged. "Not that I know of."
"Can I get up now?"
Al cocked his head. "Our psychiatrist says yes." He pulled the head strap, then the wrist and ankle straps. Castle got up and stretched. His muscles felt sore, as if he hadn't moved for a long time.
Well, probably he hadn't.
But it still didn't feel like he was totally unhealthy. "How long has Dr. Beckett been Leaping?"
"A few years now."
"I had heard..."
Al held up a hand. "Don't tell me. We always warn Sam not to tell anybody about the future, so you can't tell us anything."
Castle nodded. "Got it." He grinned widely. "I travelled in time! Cool."
Al smiled, a little tensely. Castle's smiled dropped. "But how do you communicate with Dr. Beckett?"
"Our computer is tied with his brain waves, and creates a virtual environment where I talk with him. We call it the Imaging Chamber."
"So you're not physically there with him."
"Have you been able to contact Dr. Beckett?"
Castle sat at the edge of the bed. "That's bad."
"It could be because you are from the future," Al said. "Or it could be something else."
"So - I'm stuck here until time catches up with me."
"This has never happened before." Al rubbed his face. "I'm not sure."
"How far in the future?"
"Ouch. I have to wait around for eight years until time catches up?"
"Not necessarily," Al said. "It could be three days."
"How will you know?"
Al sighed and looked at Castle closely. "This time," he said, his face looking worried, "I won't."
Castle sighed. "I'm not going to freak out, if that's what you're worried about. Although I hope it's three days rather than eight years." He sighed. "Is there anything I can do to help?"
"We generally can track Sam, no matter when or where he goes. But since it's in the future... " He stopped. "The worst case scenario is that I contact you or Sam around eight years in the future and hope that we solve whatever you couldn't solve."
"And, in the meantime, I remain a guest of the United States Government."
"Well, yes," Al said. "Even if you look like Sam Beckett, that face is rather well known. And so is Richard Castle."
"I see." Castle thought about this a second. "I have another question."
"I'm taking this rather calmly. Did you slip a tranquilizer to me?"
"Yes." Al sat back. "Standard operating procedure."" He looked at the door. "Even though I'm still not certain that it's a good idea!"
Castle chuckled. "So, I need to tell you stuff in three days in order to help me eight years from now. And I can't tell you about the future."
"So we're going hope it's the right info, or I'll be here eight years."
"Do you have a tape recorder?"
"Would you like to have a typewriter, too?"
He cocked his head. "A laptop will be nice."
"I don't think we have any that you can use," Al said. "We tend to keep top-secret things on our laptops."
"That's all right. I think I can talk fast enough." He hesitated. "But it would help if you could listen." He smiled broadly. "I just realized just how cool this was! I've time-traveled into the past, and I'm talking to an astronaut!"
Al raised his eyebrows. "Glad you have that reaction. Most of our visitors..." He shut his mouth.
"Don't quite have that reaction?"
"Probably never had any ruggedly handsome world-famous writers here, either." He winked.
Al blinked. "No."
"Joking!" Castle said to the walls. "Not crazy here - yet." He looked at Al. "Should we get started?" He hesitated. "Where should I start?"
"I'd start with the more recent events first, then go backwards." He hesitated. "Is there anyone who might want you or yours dead?"
Castle laughed loudly.
"Ziggy," Al said into the phone as he waited for Martha Rodgers, "can you coordinate the patients in the hospital and compare it with Castle's index?"
"The question, Admiral," said the voice, "is not whether I can coordinate, but will I coordinate with the index."
Al closed his eyes, "Ziggy..."
"If there was a problem, Admiral, I would have told you." The computer hesitated. "You do realize that I passed my Turing test with flying colors."
"And what does that have to do with my answer? I know, I know," he rushed on. "You've already answered me. Did you check for relations? Friends?"
Ziggy hesitated. "I've checked relations friends, Twitter feeds, Facebook Friends, Google Plus, Linked In..."
"Ziggy," Al interrupted. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
"To put it in simple terms, I've checked all of the social web sites along with the police data bases. At this time, there are no known acquaintances of any felon Mr. Castle may have encountered."
"What about friends?"
"None known," Ziggy said.
"Any enemies of Alexis? What about the shooter?"
"Admiral," Ziggy said. "I can make projections, but I can't tell the future. In the past, I had a projection of possible futures. But this is our present."
"I understand. I guess."
"My awesomeness has made you expect the impossible every day."
"Ziggy," Al said into his phone, "You not only have passed the Turing test, you've jumped on Turing and beat him into the ground."
"Admiral, what does that mean?"
"I don't know," he said. "That's the advantage of being human."
"Which is why I'm glad I'm not human." The phone went dead.
"Even when you're on the phone," Al grumped, "you always have to have the last line, don't you?"
He walked back to the alleyway, where Beckett was still coordinating the investigation. "Admiral," she said, looking up. "Is everything all right?"
"Apart from Castle's daughter getting shot," Al said. "Just peachy."
"You were looking rather irritated at your phone."
"I was trying to get information from a computer," he said truthfully, "but it wasn't giving me the information I wanted."
"Sometimes," Beckett said, "you can't rely on computers. Sometimes you just have to rely on instinct."
Al looked around. "And what are your instincts telling you?"
"Oddly enough," Beckett said. "That this was an accident. While I was chasing that man who shot Alexis, I actually caught sight of his face in a store window... it was a kid, and he was scared." She sighed. "I think he was crying."
"Here it is!" a young man said. He held up a gun with a stick.
"And if the kid is in the system, we have him."
A car drove up beside the scene. She looked up, surprised. "Or... he could be delivered back to the scene of the crime." She walked up to the car. An older man was driving. The younger man was in the front seat, his eyes down at the floor in front of him. "Alex," the older man prompted.
The younger man raised a tear-streaked face. "Did... did I kill her?"
"No, Alex," Beckett said, stern but gentle. "But you did hurt her."
"Oh, thank God," the older man said. The younger man exhaled. He looked up. "I want to give myself up." He looked at the older man. Al looked at the younger man. He couldn't be any older than fourteen. "I'm sorry I ran."
"I'll need you to get out of the car," Beckett said. "You too, sir."
"Of course," the man said. He opened the door. "I'm John Roberts, and this is my son, Alex."
"Mr. Roberts," Beckett said. "Is this the gun you shot, Alex?"
Where did you get the gun?"
"I found it," Alex said. "I was walking down the street, and I saw something shiny behind the dumpster. I swear, I was just picking it up, and it went off." He gulped. "That girl was just walking outside, then all of a sudden she was down on the ground." The tears started again. "She's all right?"
"She'll be fine." Beckett looked at the gun. "You found it behind a dumpster?"
Alex pointed. "Over there."
She looked at the older man. "We'll still need to take him in," she said.
"We understand," John said. "When I found out what he did, I explained what we needed to do and what might happen."
She nodded. He held out his hands, and she smiled. "I think, under the circumstances, we won't need handcuffs."
Mr. Roberts smiled.
"I shouldn't say this," Beckett said, "but it's possible that he may have helped us. After all, honest people don't leave guns behind dumpsters."
Martha Rodgers joined them. Not only had she gotten her purse, she had changed. Al looked at her with appreciation. If he hadn't been happily married, he would have been glad to make a pass at Martha. He looked away with a sigh, then concentrated on the scene in front of him. He stepped up. "Detective, may I..."
"Alex," Al said, "when I was twelve, I picked up a gun. The safety wasn't on, and it went off and shot right beside my baby sister."
Martha's eyes got wide, but she kept her mouth shut.
Alex's eyes got wide. "Was she hurt?"
"No, but it scared me to death. I didn't pick up a gun for many years after that." He looked at the boy. "I just wanted you know that you aren't the first person to do something like that. But it didn't ruin my life. I did many, many neat things after that happened."
"I was a test pilot, and eventually I got to be an astronaut."
Alex's eyes went wide. "You were an astronaut?" He looked at Beckett, as if not certain to believe the old man standing in front of him. She nodded.
"You may never be an astronaut, but what you do need to do is own up to your mistakes, apologize, and take your punishment, then be the best person you can be."
"I... understand, I think," Alex said.
Mr. Roberts stepped up to him. "Thank you, Mr..."
The man grinned. "Admiral Callavici. It's an honor."
"Take care of your boy."
"I will." He handed the boy off to Ryan. "I'll follow."
They got into a car and took off.
"That was the desperate felon who shot Alexis?" Martha said.
"He's no more than a boy!"
"He says it was an accident, and I believe him." Beckett turned to Al. "Thanks for talking with him. Was that a true story?"
"Sadly," Al said. "It was."
"Did your sister kill you when you did that?" Beckett asked. "I would have."
He smiled sadly. "She was very scared, but no... There was no hate in her. She was a Down's child and died young."
"I'm sorry," Martha said.
Al smiled. "That was a long time ago." He looked around. "I'd like to find out what's going on with Castle and Alexis."
"So do I!" Martha said.
Beckett looked anxious. "I'd like to know that myself. Let me take you to the hospital?"
"Please," Martha said.
She led him to a car. As they were traveling to the hospital, Al suddenly felt a little dizzy. He tried to explain it off as jet lag and being in a foreign city - and being close to eighty. After a time, he started feeling better.
They ended up in a lot, a couple of blocks away. Al found himself puffing a little to keep up with Beckett and Martha as she strode towards the hospital. She went up to the reception desk, showed her badge, and asked for Alexis Rogers.
They were led to a waiting room. Sam was sitting in a chair, flipping dissolutely through a magazine.
"Oh, Richard!" Martha said. She sat down beside him and patted his arm.
Sam looked up, startled. "Mother," Al mouthed. He was glad the ladies were looking the other way.
"How's Alexis?" Beckett said.
"In surgery," Sam said. "But she's just having stitches. She'll be fine." He glanced at Al, and a slight worried look came over his face.
Al sat down. A sudden pain shot through his back. Sam shot up. "Al?"
"I'm fine, Al said. "I'm fine."
Beckett glanced at him. "Even I can tell that you are not fine." She shot out the door. Al started to get up to stop her.
Martha pushed him down. "Al Callavici, you sit right there. I met you again after too many years." She got up and went after Beckett. "I'm going to help Beckett. Richard, make him stay." She left the room.
"Sam. I'm fine."
"You are very pale, and you look like you're in pain. Al, you are not fine."
"You are going to get checked out if I have to tie you up." He glanced at him. "Who is Martha Rodgers to you?"
Al shrugged. "Beth and I were having trouble one time, and I met this pretty young actress in New York, and we went out on a date." He smiled. "Obviously, nothing ever came out of it."
A middle-aged Doctor rushed in, following Beckett. "I'm Dr. Fuller, she said. "Where are you hurting?"
"I'm fine." Another pain went through his shoulder, and he winced.
"You are not fine," Dr. Fuller said. "Let me do my job." She grasped his arm and started to take his blood pressure. "Your pulse is fast." She rushed to the door. "I need a wheelchair in here."
"But," Al said. He glanced at Sam.
"I can take care of myself," Sam said, "and Kate and my Mother are here. Besides, what would I tell Ziggy if something happened to you?"
Al snorted and allowed himself to be put in the wheelchair. "I'll be back," Al said. Suddenly, he dug into his pocket. "Ziggy's number is in here. You might want to talk to her."
Sam took the cell phone that Al had just handed him and stared at it. Talk to Ziggy? Him? The nurse wheeled the chair out of the door. Sam stared after it.
Beckett came back in and sat down beside Sam. Martha sat on the other side.
"I think he was having a heart attack," Sam said.
"I do, too," she said, putting her hand on his arm. "He'll be fine. Alexis will be fine and you will be fine."
"I can't help but feel that I haven't done anything since –" he started, shaken. He cut himself off. He was about to say "since he Leapt in." "Since I got up this morning," he continued.
"Oh, I don't know," Beckett said. "You took care of your daughter when she was shot. You made your friend get checked out when it seemed like he was having a heart attack."
"Richard," Martha said. "You can't take the whole world on your shoulders. Just your part of it."
"Well," Sam said, "that's just it. It just doesn't seem like enough. I feel like I should be doing more today."
The phone rang. He jumped and looked down at the screen.
He sat there, his mouth open. "I… need to get this." He got up and walked into the hall. Punching the green bar, he put it up to his ear. "Ziggy?"
"Yes, Ziggy, it's me."
"The Admiral…" the computer hesitated. "I see. The Admiral was just admitted to the hospital. Suspected heart attack."
"Yes, he was. You had better let everybody know."
"I just let Gooshie know," Ziggy said. "And I'll let you know the diagnosis when it comes on the computer."
"I'm here. They'll tell me. Al will tell them to tell me."
"Yes, Dr. Beckett?"
"I'm a computer. I do not worry."
"You've had eight years of activity. You're worrying."
Ziggy was silent. "Dr. Beckett, I regret to say that I have exceeded my programming."
"Yes, Ziggy, you have, and I'm proud of you."
"Are you, Dr. Beckett?"
"But I still can't tell you why you are there."
"Is our – guest still there?"
"I can't tell you that, Dr. Beckett."
"Thought I'd ask."
"Yes, Dr. Beckett?"
Sam looked at the walls of the hospital. "I know nobody ever tells you this, but… thank you."
The answer was slow in coming. "Dr. Beckett, I'm just doing what you programmed me to do."
"No," Sam said. "You're more like my child. I may have installed values in you, but you are more than what I imagined."
"Thank you, Dr. Beckett," Ziggy said.
"I will see you in person someday," Sam said.
"I know you will, Dr. Beckett," Ziggy said.
As Sam hung up, it occurred to him that Ziggy had had an odd tone in her face, and he remembered that she never lied. He smiled.
Castle looked up from the table at Al, who was looking extremely tired. "That's all I can remember."
Al inclined his head. "For a writer, you've lead an exciting life."
"For an astronaut, you have, too." He looked around. "I understand that you're married. I'm surprised that she allows these hours."
Al smiled. "My wife understands. It was Sam who brought us together."
Castle looked at him quizzically.
"I was… MIA in Vietnam. She was about ready to declare me dead and move on with her life. Sam Leapt back and convinced her to wait." He smiled. "We have four daughters. I even have grandchildren."
"You know," Castle said. "It occurs to me that we're concentrating on something that needs to be fixed in my life, but we're entirely missing something."
"Perhaps there's something here that I should do for you."
Al looked at him. "We're in a super-secret facility in the middle of a…" He shut his mouth.
Castle grinned at him. "A desert? An ocean? Doesn't mean that things can't go wrong."
"Not unless you can help me with government committees…"
He sat up. "I do know a few people. I'd be happy to testify on your behalf." He looked around. "Of course, I only have your word that we're in the past." He smiled. "That's good enough for me, but I know these government types."
"Well," Al contemplated. "I could let you talk to Ziggy, as long as you sign a non-disclosure agreement."
"She's a computer."
A sultry voice came over the intercom. "I'm more than a computer, Admiral."
"Yes, you're a giant pain in the butt."
"No, Admiral," the voice said, almost sounding amused. "I'm a super hybrid computer."
Castle looked at him. "And you were worried about me seeing a laptop?"
"She's been recording you."
"Pleased to meet you, Ziggy," Castle said, looking up and smiling. "So, you help Al to find Dr. Beckett?"
"I do, Mr. Castle. I am capable of searching through multiple timelines and finding outcomes."
"Except in my case."
"Dr. Beckett hasn't Leapt into our future before."
"Can't you make predictions?"
"Predictions are not facts. I may as well go to the horse races and make bets on horse races based on past performance."
"And yet gamblers do that every day."
"I am not a gambler."
"Perhaps," Castle said. "While I don't think you should gamble with government money, you should incorporate the concept into your programming."
"So I can predict horse races, Mr. Castle?"
"So you can predict possible outcomes, Ziggy." He looked at Al. "I'm surprised you never taught her that."
"Sam is a Boy Scout. He never would have thought to use the gambling analogy." Al shrugged. "I just never occurred to put it to her that way." He looked up. "You know, that's what I've been telling you, Ziggy."
"No, Admiral," Ziggy said. "You've demanded, you've cajoled, you've smacked the hand link, you've threatened, but you've never explained. You treat me like a common computer."
Al's face looked astonished. "Well, I know you're not just any common computer. You're an astonishing feat of engineering."
"I'm more than that."
"I think she's trying to say," Castle said, "that she wants to be treated like a human."
"But… but – you're not human!"
"But, Admiral, I was based on humans. Think of me as your version of Commander Data. Or Rosie."
"From the Jetsons."
"You've been watching TV?"
"Popular culture is quite instrumental in my processing. I enjoy Gilligan's Island, too."
Al's looked astonished at Castle. "Our computer is watching Gilligan's Island. Is that why Sam is still out there."
"Of course not. I miss Dr. Beckett as much as you do."
"Yes, Mr. Castle?"
"Will you think about what I'm saying?"
"I will, Mr. Castle."
Castle sat back. "Will that help with your Senate Subcommittee?"
"It might. It just might," Al sighed. "But we'll have to wait eight years to find out."
"Look me up."
"If things work out, I'll be there in New York with you."
They sat and looked at each other. "So – how will we know if we changed things?" Castle said.
"We won't know until Sam Leaps."
"May his next Leap," Castle said, raising his water glass, "be the Leap Home."
Al raised his own glass, tired. "Amen."
"And get yourself a substitute. You look tired. When was the last time you had a vacation?"
"Five years ago," Ziggy said.
"Sam depends on me," Al sighed.
"Sam will understand," Castle said.
"I'll think about it."
"Do more than think about it. The next time I see you," Castle said, "I want to hear that you've had a vacation."
"We insist," Ziggy said.
"I'm being ganged up on," Al said.
Castle smiled. "Who better to gang up on someone but friends?"
Sam looked up as the nurse came into the waiting room. "Mr. Castle?"
Sam stood up. "Your daughter is ready to be released. Let me take you to her."
Sam felt relieved. "Thank you." He got up and followed the nurse down the hall. Beckett followed. "Have you heard anything about our friend, Al Callavici?"
"No, but I can find out for you."
Beckett looked at Castle. "You're really concerned about him, aren't you?"
"I am," Sam said.
The nurse led him to an exam room, then walked down the hall. "Hi, Dad," Alexis said, sitting up.
Sam went over and gave her a hug, gingerly. "How're you doing, honey?"
"I'm fine. I just hurt a little bit." She looked at Beckett. "Did you catch -"
Beckett shook her head and smiled. "He turned himself in. He said it was an accident, and I believe him. He's in custody."
"Good," Alexis said, looking a little stricken. "Did Admiral Callavici go home?"
"No," Sam said, tensing up again. "He was admitted."
"Al was having a heart attack," Martha said. "He looked horrible."
"Grandma? You know Admiral Callavici, too?"
Martha smiled. "I dated him once – then sent him back to his wife. He was a mess without her."
"Oh, Dad!" She looked at Beckett. "I need to stay. I feel responsible." She jumped off the bed and looked determined. "I want to stay."
"No, you're going home," Sam said.
"And you are not responsible for Admiral Callavici's heart attack," Beckett said.
"God, no," Martha said. "Probably years and years of cigar smoking did that."
"I know," Alexis said. "But I feel responsible."
"Look," Beckett said. "I'll take her home."
"No," Martha said. "I'll take my granddaughter home. You stay with Richard. He'll just bounce off the walls at home."
"And he won't bounce off of the walls here?" Beckett said.
"Thank you," Sam said. He was glad she suggested it.
The nurse came back in. "He was just admitted to the hospital," she said. "And he put you down as a local representative, as well as one other."
Sam's eyebrows rose. One other? Well, maybe he had put Martha down as the other contact, just in case Sam Leapt. "Thank you."
"Let me lead you to the other waiting room."
Alexis came up and hugged her Dad. "Thanks, Dad. Let me know how the Admiral is as soon as you know."
"I will." She and Martha walked off. Sam smiled after them. Alexis seemed like a bright girl, and Martha seemed, well, relatively sensible. They would be all right.
He and Beckett followed the nurse down the hall. It was a duplicate of the one they had just left. Sam picked up a magazine.
"I think the magazines in here are even older," Beckett said.
Sam dropped the magazine. "True," he said. It had occurred to him that he shouldn't even be looking at the magazine… or any other news. He was in his own future! He sat and stared at the wall. "You know," he said. "I'm a little tired. Do you mind if I take a nap?"
"No," Beckett said. "I'll wake you up."
He sat back and closed his eyes, but he knew he wouldn't go to sleep. He was too keyed up. He thought of everything that had happened in the past and how Al had been with him all of the way. Even when he had taken time off – which Sam had understood completely – he knew that Al had his back. What would he do without Al?
Praying, he fell asleep.
"Castle," somebody was saying. His shoulder was being pushed. "Castle."
Oh, yes, Sam said, coming awake almost instantly. I'm Castle. And Al…? His eyes popped open.
"The doctor is here," Beckett said.
He stood up. "How is he?"
The Doctor smiled. "He's going to be fine. We caught him in time and inserted two stents." He shrugged. "He'll need to do some rehab when he gets home – I understand he lives in Arizona?"
Sam nodded, relieved. "I'll make sure his wife comes out to get him. Can I see him?"
The Doctor shrugged. "In fact, he's requested it. Follow me." When Beckett went to follow, the Doctor blocked her. "He said that you can come in later, but he wanted to see Mr. Castle alone."
Sam looked at her and shrugged. "Sorry."
The Doctor led him down the hall. Laying on a bed, looking pale and old, was Al. He looked up. "You haven't gotten rid of me yet," he said.
"Al. How do you feel?"
"Like I've been in a bar fight." He smiled. "I'm going to be fine."
Sam felt his wrist. His pulse was strong and steady. He relaxed. "I didn't want to lose you."
"And you won't lose me for a while yet," Al said. "Besides, you forget. When you Leap out of here, you'll Leap to the past – and since I didn't get sick until now, you'll have me for a while."
Sam blinked. "That's true."
"Thank you for being here."
"But – I didn't do anything."
"You did a lot. You took care of Alexis. You took care of me. And – you sent Castle back to me. You see, this isn't my first stent."
Sam blinked. "What?"
"Castle – and Ziggy – forced me to take a vacation. When Beth and I were on vacation, I got sick, and went to the doctor as soon as we came back. That's when I got my first stent."
"And Beth couldn't make you take one before that?"
Al snorted. "She had been talking about a vacation for years, but she couldn't bear to take me away from you. So – thank you." He smiled. "You're going to Leap now."
Sam blinked. "How do you know?"
"Because, Sam – you already told me." He smiled as the effect took Sam and he Leapt away.
Castle found himself leaning over an older, paler Al. "Al?" he said.
"Castle," Al said. "I see you remember me."
"What's going on?"
"I had a couple of stents put in," Al said. "You need to know. Alexis is fine, but she was shot in the outside of the shoulder."
Castle sat up straight. "Alexis?!"
"Sam was there. She's fine. She just had a couple of stitches put in. The doctor told me her grandmother took her home." The door opened behind Castle, and Al looked beyond it and smiled. "You can come in, Sam."
Castle whirled. "Dr. Beckett?" There was the face he had seen in the mirror, smiling at him. "You got home!"
"I did," Sam said. "It took me a while, but I got home. I came to New York with Al because I knew what was going to happen."
"I tried to convince him that I didn't need him here, but he insisted," Al said.
"Cool." He got up and shook Sam's hand. "I didn't think you travelled out of New Mexico once."
"I'm still on a top-secret project," Sam said.
"The Leaping?" Castle said.
"You talked to her."
Castle blinked. "Ah." He smiled. "You have to stay with me."
Sam looked uncomfortable. "I'm already in a hotel room."
"Nonsense. You're staying with me," Castle said. "Besides, I imagine Alexis feels bad enough about Al being in a hospital. She's going to be over the moon if you stay with us."
"Put that way," Sam smiled. "I accept."
"Is Beckett out there?" Castle said.
"As I remember," Sam said. "Yes." He smiled at Castle. "You know, you two would make a good couple."
Castle smiled. "I know."
The three of them looked at each other. "It looks like we all owe each other a debt," Castle said. "So – let's cancel them all out and let's just be friends."
"Sounds good to me," Al said.
Castle slapped his head. "I need to tell Mother and Alexis that we're having houseguests." He made a rapid call. "Alexis? How are you doing, honey?"
"You just saw me," Alexis said. "I'm still fine. How's Admiral CAllavici?
"He'll be fine, too," Castle smiled. "Hey, Alexis, the Admiral brought a friend – Dr. Samuel Beckett. Could you make up the guest room?"
Alexis was quiet for a second. "Dr. Beckett, the scientist?" she said, in a choked tone.
"Oh, boy!" she shouted into the phone.
Sam and Al broke out laughing."