LETTING GO

By Lorraine Anderson

Prologue:

Even though I try to straighten out the lives of the people I Leap into, I can't help but feel that I'm trespassing. Perhaps they can't handle the situations that I attempt to fix - I don't know - but it certainly doesn't seem fair to them that I take the triumphs and the griefs that should be a part of their experiences, not mine.

Of course, that wasn't the problem in this Leap...

Part I.

As Sam faded in, he found himself holding a drink and staring intently at a model ship on a mantelpiece. The ship was a three-masted affair - although Sam couldn't remember the type, it looked like something a pirate would sail. He put the drink down, then picked the ship up and looked down the bow. It was beautiful craftsmanship. Why did it look so familiar?

He looked around the place. It was a small house. A black and white television played low in one corner - local news. Next to it was an old stereo, the portable kind with the fold-down turntable. The rest of the house was decorated in early attic - a bean-bag chair, brown-loop furniture from the 60's that had seen better days, white end tables, rickety lamps. He grinned at the lava lamp on one of the end tables.

"I haven't seen one of those in..." He heard a knock at the front door.

He sighed. A longer break would've been nice, but it seemed he was going to be dropped into this person's life already. Reluctantly pulling his gaze from the lava lamp, he strode across the room. He opened the door, then he staggered back and broke out in goosebumps.

"Beth," he finally gasped.

Beth stood on the front doorstep, eyes wide. She turned white as a sheet. "Are you a ghost?" she finally whispered.

"N...no," Sam stammered.

She gasped and covered her mouth, then swayed. Sam grabbed her and pulled her against his chest. She started gasping and sobbing. "Oh, God, it's you. It's you. I didn't know, I didn't know!"

He rocked her back and forth. She buried her face in his chest. "Oh, God," she gasped, "I'm sorry! I'm sorry, Al! I'm sorry, I'm sorry!"

Al? Sam stopped rocking, startled, then ducked his head so he could see his face in the window of the door. He stared at himself, then sighed. Al!

After a while, Beth's sobbing subsided. "Come on," Sam said gently. "Let's sit down." He led her to the couch, handed her a box of tissues, then escaped to the bathroom on the pretext of getting a cold washcloth. He gripped the edge of the sink while the water ran and stared at himself in the mirror. He had seen correctly - the face was a younger version of his friend.

How could this be? He knew that Al had never seen Beth after he returned home from 'Nam. Was he there to reunite the two?

Wouldn't that be a major paradox? Of course, wasn't it a paradox when he saved Tom's life? After all, Sam clearly remembered the date his brother died in 'Nam. Yet his brother was still alive in the nineties. Al had confirmed it. He shook his head. He'd figure it out later.

Al. He wished he could escape from this leap. He was afraid he would hurt his friend deeply. It was bad enough that he "looked" like Al, but to be involved with his lost love...

Sighing, he wrung the washcloth and returned reluctantly to the living room.

He was half-tempted just to toss it to her - just in case Al was already watching - but she looked so woebegone that he sat on the couch beside her. She took the cloth, ran it over her face, then looked at him as if he might fade out at any moment.

"I am not a ghost," Sam said gently, smiling. I may not be Al, he thought ironically, but I'm not a ghost.

She ducked her head. "I thought you were dead. It's been such a long time..."

"I know." "I had you declared dead," she said, looking away.

"I know. I know what happened."

"I honestly thought..." Her voice shot up, and Sam grabbed her hands. She looked at him.

"You did what you had to do."

She stared at him intently. "Al, I've remarried." "So I've heard," Sam said dryly. He looked away, trying to remember what Al had told him. "But when I got back, nobody knew where you had gone."

She looked at the fireplace. "There were too many memories. Even talking to your friends was painful. So I had Dirk take me away. I'm just in San Diego temporarily." She looked at him. "You were in 'Nam all that time?" She looked a little angry.

Sam made a face and looked at the bottle. "I was a P.O.W."

"You put me through so much!"

"I couldn't help it."

"I know," she said softly, crumpling. "Dear God." She settled against him.

Sam quickly got up and strode across the room before things got too intense. "So...how'd you find me?"

"I wasn't looking..." Her eyes widened. "Charlene! She's probably ready to call the police!" She ran out the door and waved at a car far down the street. The woman in the car drove up and parked in front of the house. Beth picked up a bag Sam hadn't noticed before. He grinned.

"You're an Avon lady!" She looked a little defensive.

"Actually, I'm helping an Avon lady who's helping another Avon lady. We're casing the neighborhood. I wanted to take a break from nursing for a while." She grinned sloppily. "I don't make a good housewife."

Sam grinned back. "No, I don't imagine...you never did," he finished lamely.

A chunky woman with bright red hair - not chunky, Sam amended, very pregnant - slowly got out of the car and walked up the sidewalk, looking slightly wary.

"Charlene!" Beth said brightly. "This is my..." She stopped, looked at him, and blushed "...ex-husband."

Charlene gave her a bewildered look, then extended her hand. "Nice to meet you, Mr..."

"...Calavicci," Sam supplied, extending his own hand. She took it gingerly. "Al Calavicci."

"Charlene is my sister-in-law," Beth provided. Sam looked blank in spite of himself. Beth noticed and blushed. "Dirk's sister-in-law."

"Beth, I thought...you never mentioned...," Charlene started, looking confused.

Beth blushed again. "I didn't know. I'll tell you all about it in the car." She turned to Sam. "Al, I'd like to see you again. Can we...?"

"I'll give you my phone number." He hurried back into the house. Fortunately, there was a pad of paper by the phone, and the phone had the number printed in the dial. He scribbled the number down, almost tore the sheet in half, and hurried back to the door. "Here."

"Thanks." She smiled at him until Charlene grabbed her arm. "Beth, we have to get back. John will be home soon." She looked at him, frankly curious. "Nice meeting you, Mr. Calavicci."

"Call me Al." He winced a little, then watched them walk down the sidewalk.

Charlene looked back at him suspiciously when they got into the car. "Beth, are you sure you should see him?" she said lowly, obviously not realizing Sam could hear. "I don't want you to get into trouble with Dirk out of town." He couldn't hear Beth's reply over the roar of the car, but she looked annoyed.

Sam winced as the car pulled away. Sometimes he wished his hearing wasn't quite so good. "Oh, boy," he muttered.

He heard a noise behind him, shut the door, and turned reluctantly. "Sorry I'm late, Sam," Al said, "but Tina was going out of town and she decided to throw this farewell party, and well..." He stared at Sam, who blushed and looked back at him. "Jesus H. Christ." He said softly. "You're me."

Sam sighed. "I take it you didn't talk to anybody before you barged into the Imaging Chamber."

Al shook his head. "I told you I was late." He thought a moment. "Come to think of it, Gooshie did try to stop me." He stared at Sam.

He was still so long that Sam got worried. "And how many were at this party?" Sam tossed out, trying to distract him.

Al stared blankly at him. "Oh, lots of people." "How many?"

"Well," he said, "two." He hesitated. "It was a very exclusive party. Invitation only."

"Ah." Sam hesitated, then decided to come straight to the point. "What can you tell me?"

Al punched the hand link half-heartedly, then looked up. "Not much. Apparently I arrived in the waiting room dead drunk. All they got was my name, rank, and serial number before I conked out." Al looked around. "We're in San Diego. I got this place right after I got back from 'Nam." He looked at a calendar up on the kitchen wall. "Yeah. That would be about right."

Sam went over to the fireplace and picked up the ship. "You still have this."

Al leaned forward and peered at it. "Yeah." He looked thoughtful.

Sam sat down on the couch. "Al, B..." he started.

Al whirled and pointed at Sam. "I remember this, Sam!"

"Al..." Sam shook his head.

"No, really!" He leaned towards Sam. "I'll bet you found yourself holding a drink."

"Uh...right...?"

Al leaned back and tried to take a puff of his cigar, which had gone out. Stuffing the cigar in his pocket, he went on. "I lived in this house right after I got back from Vietnam and found Beth gone."

"You were drinking heavily."

"Yeah. I thought it would help me forget. I was wrong, of course."

"I agree," Sam said. Al stood silent. "Well?"

"I lost a day. Blacked out. It scared me so much that I quit for a while and straightened up."

Sam looked at him. "Well, that explains that paradox. You lost this day, anyway."

"I must've been about ready to pass out when you Leaped in." Al got a look of determination on his face. "I'm going back to talk some sense in that fool." He opened the Imaging Chamber door.

Sam stood up rapidly, almost knocking the lava lamp over. "Al, you know you can't do that! We don't need major paradoxes along with everything else that's gone wrong."

Al sighed and closed the door. "Yeah. I know. Damn it."

"Besides...making sure you sober up is not the reason I'm here. You did that the first time without my interference. Check with Ziggy."

"That's the only reason I can think of. Isn't it?" "No, it's not." He hesitated. "Beth left just before you popped in."

Al went pale. "She was here?" He turned away. "I knew it wouldn't be that simple."

"It never is, pal." He pointed to the control. "What does Ziggy say?"

"I must have blacked out already when she came to the door," Al muttered to himself, then he stared at Sam. "Did she know I was here?""

Sam shook his head. "No. She was selling Avon."

Al looked sceptically at him. "Avon?"

"She was helping out her sister-in-law. Dirk's sisterin-law." Sam pointed at the hand link. "Ziggy?"

"Oh. Ok. I don't suppose you're supposed to help us get back together." He punched a button morosely. "There's an eighty-five percent chance that you're here to..." He hit the thing, then stared at the screen, galvanized.

"What!" Sam stood beside Al, looking over his shoulder. "Keep Beth from being shot. Oh, God." He pointed at the control. "Keep it going! When, where?"

Al pushed a few buttons. "Tomorrow. Case unsolved -no suspect, no motive, no location. She was found along the side of S21."

"S21?"

"Runs up north of San Diego, along the coast." He shook his head. "Not only was she shot, there was a head injury. She only partially recovered. The bullet also damaged her spine...and she was in failing health the next ten years. Her husband took care of her, bankrupted himself, and ruined his health. He died two years after Beth." He looked bleak. "Dear God. No wonder I never could find her."

Sam tried to put a hand on Al's shoulder. It passed right through it, but Al noticed the gesture and nodded. "You know I won't let that happen," Sam said.

Al smiled wanly at him. "I know."

Part II.

It was weird the next morning, trying to shave a face that I knew - but still wasn't my own. I feel certain, after having to deal with different styles of hair, that I could get a good job as a hairdresser when I get back. Of course, I would have to shave my customers while staring at them in a mirror...I may lose a few that way...

Sam was still shaving when he heard a voice. He poked his head out the door. Al was pacing the living room, muttering to himself, some of which ran into the general vein of "why isn't he up and why didn't she call?"

"Sleep at all?" Sam said, retreating back into the bathroom.

Al started. "Oh. You're up." He resumed his pacing. "To answer your question - after a fashion."

"Hardly at all, huh." Sam rinsed off his face and went out to the living room wiping it off. "Al, relax. It's only seven." He went into the kitchen.

Al looked at his watch. "Are you sure? I have about noon...next cabinet over."

Sam opened the cabinet and found a box of corn flakes. "You know better than that. Our times almost never synch." He looked around the kitchen. "Bowls?"

"Other side." Al looked out the window. "Oh, yeah...I thought it seemed a little dark."

Sam was in the process of opening drawers, looking for silverware. He looked at Al. "How long have you been here?"

"Oh...three or four hours." He blushed a little. "No wonder you weren't awake yet."

Sam shook his head and opened the refrigerator. There was an open carton of milk. Sam smelled it, decided it was still good, and sat at the kitchen table. "I'm impressed. A fresh carton of milk."

"Purely accidental." Al studied his fingernails nervously.

"I know. I've seen that culture container you call your refrigerator."

Al moved over to the window. "If it doesn't move, eat it. That's my theory."

"Which is why I don't eat anything out of your refrigerator. Most of it tries to escape." When that failed to get a response, Sam tried another tack. "Well. Can I eat some of your food?"

"Be my guest." Al walked back to the living room. Suddenly, Sam saw him stand stock-still, then push his head through the front wall. Sam stood up, alarmed.

"What is it?"

"Beth's walking up the sidewalk." He did a double-take. "For heavens sake, GET SOME PANTS ON!"

Sam looked down at his boxers, then took off for the bedroom. He was just zipping up when she knocked on the front door. "As if she hasn't seen you without pants on," he muttered to Al as he hurried to the front door.

"Yeah, well..."

Sam opened the door. "Beth! What a surprise." He glared at Al, who was beside him. Beth followed his gaze and looked at him, puzzled.

"I was in the neighborhood..." Al looked at the hand link. "Sam, her sister-in-law lives in El Cajon."

Sam smiled. "In the neighborhood...huh?" He looked out at the street. All he saw was a rusty blue Mustang, parked about a block down the street. "Where's your car?"

Beth blushed a bit. "I took a taxi. I didn't want to wake Charlene. May I come in?"

"Oh. Of course." Sam opened the screen, then caught sight of his bare chest. "Take a seat, and I'll get dressed." He retreated into the back bedroom, while she looked around the living room. Al circled her.

"This house reminds me of the bungalow, Al." "The bungalow...," Sam wondered. "Oh, yeah! The bungalow was much prettier, though."

"The bungalow had creaky floors and spastic plumbing," Al interjected.

"...in spite of the floors and plumbing," Sam finished.

"It was a nice little house, wasn't it?" She flopped down into the bean bag chair. "I always wanted to try one of these things."

"Hmmm...?" Sam looked out of the bedroom at her. "Oh, yeah. Well, I needed another chair, and the price was right."

"Certainly was," Al agreed. "Cheap."

"Yeah...cheap," echoed Beth, and Al looked at her. Sam came out into the living room.

"Of course, it's hard to get out of one of those with any dignity..." He looked at her. "...especially in a dress," he added.

Beth pushed at the sides of the beanbag, attempting to get up, and only succeeded in changing the shape. "You're right," she admitted.

Sam held his hands out to her. "Let me help." She took hold of his hands and pulled her up - right into his arms.

"Why Al," Beth said, blushing slightly. "My hero."

"Oh, Sam," Al bit his cigar and turned away.

"Sorry," said Sam, disconnecting himself. Beth looked vaguely disappointed.

"Look...um..." Sam fumbled for something to say.

"Offer breakfast," Al offered. "Waffles. There's a little coffee shop a couple of miles..."

Sam looked at him and spoke almost simultaneously. "...have you had breakfast yet? There's a little coffee shop a couple of miles away that has the best waffles."

She dimpled. "Waffles. You remembered. I haven't had waffles in the longest time."

"Doesn't...Dirk take you out for waffles?"

Her face went quiet. "Let's not talk about Dirk right now, ok?"

Sam gave Al a long look. "Don't look at me," Al said, and spread his hands.

"I see," Sam said slowly. "Uh...ready for breakfast?"

After a search, Sam found Al's car keys. Al, of course, couldn't remember where he had put them the night before, but he suggested a hook in the kitchen where he usually hung them. When Sam didn't find them there, Al continued to make similarly unhelpful suggestions. Finally, Beth looked in the seat cushions of the couch.

"You were always losing your stuff in the couch," she giggled as Al blushed and Sam grinned.

"Well, no-one's perfect," Al grumbled. "Let's get going."

As Sam drove, Beth chattered about "do you remember?"'s and "guess who's where"'s, all the while tapping a finger incessantly against the arm rest. At one point, she said, "I wish I had a cigarette."

"When did you quit?" Sam said. Beth looked at him.

"How did you know?" Al looked at Beth. "You're right."

"Well," Sam said, "you used to smoke quite a bit. I haven't seen you light up and I haven't smelled any smoke since I met you."

"Oh," She said. He made a quick right turn after Al pointed out the corner. "I quit right after I married...Dirk." She looked wistful for a moment, then said "Besides, I haven't seen you smoke your old stogies."

"None in the house," Sam said quickly. Al stared at the one he was smoking.

"Ah," Beth said, and quickly changed the subject. Sam continued to make non-committal responses, while Al sat thoughtful in the back seat.

After they had given their orders at the coffee shop, the three of them sat quiet at the booth. Sam wondered for a minute where Al had found a chair in the Imaging Chamber, then decided to ask him later. He tackled the more important issue. "When did you and Dirk separate?"

Al leaned forward. "That's what bugging her!" "What do you mean?" Beth said steadily. "What gave you that idea?"

"She's evading the issue," Al said, sitting back. "You've been giving out smoke signals all morning."

"Smoke signals?" Beth said, incredulous.

"Ok, the entire fire." Sam took a sip of his coffee. It was a little bitter, so he dropped a lump of sugar in the cup.

"Since when have you put sugar in your coffee?" Beth asked.

Oops. "Stop avoiding the issue."

Beth slumped and stared blindly out the window. "About a month ago. Technically, I'm helping Charlene."

"Why, that son-of..." Al growled. Sam ignored him.

"Charlene and John suspect, I suppose," Beth continued, "but I never told them. Besides, they really did need help with John working so many hours."

Sam looked at Al. "Whose idea was the separation?"

"Well - both of us, I suppose. I got tired of all the time he was spending at the office."

Al was still muttering. "And..." Sam went on. "...and I suppose he got tired of me nagging about it." She sighed. "There were other things." She looked out the window, then stared curiously at Sam. "I thought you'd be happy that we're separated."

Al stopped and looked at her, then sighed. "I can't be happy unless you're happy, Beth."

Sam repeated it. Beth smiled sadly. "You're sweet."

"So we'll make her happy enough so she'll re-marry me." Sam gave him a warning glance. "Well, it's worth a try, anyway." He turned around and stared at the counter.

"Sweet...humph," Sam said, trying to look disgusted. Beth laughed.

In the corner booth, a short-haired, clean-cut man, dressed in jeans and a spotlessly white T-shirt, watched her every move with maniacal fervor. His hand tapped rhythmically against the table.

Part III.

I knew Al had every right to be there, but he was making me very jumpy. I appreciated his help...but I never did like back seat drivers, no matter how necessary. In this case, it was like taking driver's ed in the instructor's personal car, and it was bothering me - badly.

"The waffles were delicious," Beth said, taking the last bite on Sam's plate.

"I figured you'd like them," Sam said, glaring at Al. Al had been staring at Beth all through breakfast, and making comments about Sam's table manners - mostly that they were too good. Sam finally raised his eyebrows and mouthed "What!"

"I was never that dainty about my food," Al said, pointing his cigar. "Go for the gusto - that's me. You're eating like...a...a...bird."

Sam glared at him and expelled his breath forcefully. Beth looked up. "Is something wrong?"

"No...no..." Sam backtracked. "Just getting full."

"You?" she said incredulously. "On one helping?" She looked at him, concerned. "Do you feel well?"

Al sat back and looked triumphant. "See?" Sam took a sip of coffee and smiled. "I had some breakfast before you came." So there.

Al looked disgusted. "Lucky out, Sam." Sam dropped his napkin, leaned down to pick it up, and pointed towards the restroom. "Again?" Al spouted. "I think I know the location of every toilet between 1955 and 1997." Sam looked at him. "Ok," he said violently and stalked off through the bathroom door.

Sam stood up. "Excuse me - I'll be right back." She smiled. "I'll be waiting!"

"Good," Sam said, with as much conviction as he could muster.

Al was pacing the restroom when Sam got there, then pointed to an occupied stall. Sam took the next one. Al leaned in through the door. "Are you sure you should leave her alone?"

"She'll be fine," Sam whispered. "Look - pal - could you please disappear for a while?"

"What do you mean?"

"Amscray. Take a coffee break. Take a nap..." He looked closely at Al. "...you can certainly use one."

Al looked as if he had been pole-axed. "But..."

"You're making me nervous."

"Who...me?"

"Yes!" he whispered violently, leaning forward. "It never bothered you before."

"I was never - you - before!" He sighed. "I'm sorry."

Al straightened up and out of the stall. "I'm sorry, too, Sam," he said, and Sam heard the Imaging Chamber door open. Sam heard the other man leave, and he burst out of the stall in time to see the Imaging Chamber door close. Once again, he felt like he had mucked things up. Perhaps he had been a little hasty.

Not knowing what else to do, he washed his hands, reentered the restaurant...

...and found Beth gone. "Where did the lady in that booth go?" he asked the counterman, a little panicked. The man looked at him oddly.

"Calm down, Al. She paid the bill and told me she'd wait for you outside." Sam relaxed. "You better get out there, though. Did you see that guy in the corner booth? He was staring at her all through breakfast."

"Uh..." Sam looked around.

The man flipped a pancake. "Well, it's probably nothing, but he left right after she did."

"Oh, boy." He hit the door running and emerged into the parking lot just in time to see a rusty blue Mustang tear out of the lot. Beth was struggling with a man in the front seat.

"Damn!" He grabbed Beth's purse off the pavment, got into Al's auto and turned the key. The engine started, then stopped. He turned the key again, and it caught. He looked frantically up and down the street, and finally spotted the car heading northbound.

He gunned the car, almost stalling it. He then let up on the accelerator and slowly pressed down, babying the engine to gain speed. "I may as well have a bicycle," he muttered under his breath.

His thoughts churned. Why did I leave her alone? Why did I drive Al away? Al could have helped me locate her! Why did I leave her alone? He kicked himslef mentally to get out of this rut, then started calling out for Al, on the offchance he may still be within hearing distance.

He caught up with the Mustang about a mile down the road. He could see Beth in the car - but she had stopped struggling and seemed to be talking to her captor. One of two things, he thought to himself: either she knows the man, or he's got a gun on her.

Probably the latter, he thought, and dropped back. He didn't want to startle the man into shooting.

The man kept turning right, then left, and Sam began to wonder whether they were going in circles. Eventually, however, they turned north on highway S21. They drove about fifteen miles, and Sam was getting more nervous each mile, especially since he couldn't always keep a car between the two. Finally, the Mustang turned off into a residential area, made a couple of turns, and ended up behind a small, white, tidy little bungalow. Sam parked down the street, got out, and tried to stroll nonchalantly towards the house.

From his vantage point, he could see the man herd her in - and he certainly acted as if he had a gun. Beth looked scared, but determined.

Sam walked down the street. The kicker was that he didn't dare call the police - Al hadn't mentioned any court cases, and he hadn't met up with Beth after getting back from Vietnam. Any court case against this wacko would inevitably involve calling up Al as a witness. Even if Sam had to stay around for the case, it would involve a major problem - on top of all the rest of the problems in this leap.

He sighed. He was wasting time. With some major qualms, he went up to the front door and knocked. Then knocked again.

"Look out, Sam!" Startled, Sam jerked, then hit the floor of the porch just as a gun blast tore through the door. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Al rush through the window, then heard another shot, then another. He screwed his eyes shut in failure. Then he heard a strangled half-scream, got to his knees, and peered through the window.

Beth was sitting on a couch, her arms trussed up in front of her, her ankles tied, and a gag in her mouth. She looked wide-eyed at the man, who was busy tracking Al around the room.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, you can't get me," Al said, weaving and dancing around the room. He glanced at Sam, shrugged, and said, "The mentally absent are on our list, remember?"

"Yeah," Sam said weakly. After he had worked the man up to a fever pitch, he ducked through the front door. The man followed closely, hampered only a small bit by the closed door.

"Get Beth out of there!" Al yelled, as he ducked and weaved down the street. A couple of people looked out their doors at the man shooting at shadows, then they dove back in. Sam hoped they were calling the police.

Beth looked wide-eyed as he came in, then she quickly grabbed her purse, which was sitting beside her. Sam scooped her off the couch and ran to the car, depositing her in the back seat. He drove off in the opposite direction, slowly, just under the speed limit. He was shaking like a leaf.

He could hear Beth struggling to sit up. "No!" he said loudly. "Stay down." He turned the radio on to mask their conversation, and winced slightly when Sonny and Cher sang "I Got You, Babe."

"I'll undo you in a minute," he said softly. "I want to get clear of the neighborhood, first." She settled back, her eyes wondering.

He worked his way back to S21, found an empty beach lookout, and parked so that most of his activities would shielded from the road. He opened the back door, and she looked at him reproachfully. He avoided her eyes as he quickly untied her.

"I wanted to stay and help the poor man!" she said, angrily while rubbing her hands.

"Poor man!" Sam exploded. "He nearly killed you!"

Al popped in beside Sam. "That's Beth for you - always for the underdog." He looked thoughtful. "Maybe that's why she married me.

"He was also one of my former patients," she went on, oblivious to Al's diatribe. "When I was at the navy hospital, he was brought in with two broken legs, a broken wrist, and a belly wound. We got to be quite fond of each other before he was discharged." She looked at Sam. "But I was married - to you - and it couldn't work out." She stared out at the sea. "Half of the time today, he thought I was a North Vietnamese spy." She looked at him again. "I want to know why we took off so fast."

"Um...can't."

"Why not?"

"Uh..." He glanced at Al, then looked Beth in the eyes. "It would be very inconvenient for me to get involved with any court case."

"Oh," she nodded knowingly, blushing a bit, and rubbing her feet. "I forgot. Top secret, huh - ouch!" She looked down.

"You might say that," Sam smiled.

"Sounds logical to me," Al said enthusiastically. Sam looked at him , and Al quickly got to work on the hand link. "Lessee - don't know his name, so we cross-reference the address...ah-ha - Richard Simonski - arrested this date for general disturbance and reckless discharge of firearms -received psychiatric help and drug rehabilitation and made a complete recovery - Sam!" He looked up and grinned. "Would you believe he's the head of a Psych hospital?"

Sam, who had been listening with half a ear while trying to restore circulation to Beth's feet, looked at Al and raised his eyebrows.

"'S the honest-to-God truth!" He crossed his heart. Sam nodded at Beth. "Oh," Al said. "I'm sure she's fine, but I'll check... " He looked at the device, started, and his face grew bleak. "Damn," he said softly, and looked at Beth. "Oh, my darling."

Al looked at her so long that Sam became worried. "Sam," he finally said. "There's no change." He slapped the side of the hand link. "And it still won't tell me where or when!"

Beth got up and walked around the car, stomping her feet and wincing as the blood started to circulate again. She hopped up on the hood and looked at Sam closely. "Hey. Al, we got away. What are you so glum about?"

Part IV.

This Leap didn't seem to be going so well, but I knew there was some way to save Beth. Why else would I be here? But then I had a horrible thought - what if the only reason I was here was to get Al off the booze and into a direction that would lead him to Project Quantum Leap?

I refused to believe that.

The statistics seemed to stay the same no matter which way they went, so Sam decided to drive back home. They continued to talk "remember when's" for quite a while, with Al providing details. Finally, they lapsed into silence.

"You know," Sam said slowly, "you're going to have to reconcile with Dirk." He felt as if he were driving a stake into Al's heart, and he was afraid to look back.

"No," Al whispered. Beth closed her eyes. "No," she said softly, then she said, "Of course, you're right." Tears crept slowly down her face, and she sighed and looked at him. "But I still love you!"

"No," Sam said, as kindly as possible. "You don't. You love the idea of me." He bit his lip, then went on. "You love your dead husband come back. Beth, you buried me a long time ago, when you fell in love with Dirk." He glanced back at Al, who sat very still in the back seat. "And, all those years in Vietnam, I fell in love with an idealization of you." He shook his head. "I'm sorry. We're not in love anymore." He glanced at both of his companions and felt like a villain.

"No," Beth cried. "Yes."

"Damn you, Sam. You're right," Al said slowly. They drove on in silence a few minutes. "So," Beth said brokenly. "What do we do now?"

"We have to stick with her," Al said quietly. "The odds haven't changed."

"Well," Sam said, looking at his watch. "It's almost three - what about lunch?"

"That wasn't what I meant," Beth said.

"I know."

"Well, ok," she half-smiled, her face wet. "May as well salvage the rest of the day." She looked in her purse. "You're going to have to pay - Richard took all of my money."

Sam laughed, pulled out his wallet and handed it to Beth. "I think I only have a dollar left, myself."

She grinned and opened the wallet. "You sure do. What good are you as a knight protector?" She looked in her purse again. "Bingo," she crowed, pulling out her checkbook. "We'll just stop at the bank and get some money."

"Why don't you..." Sam cut himself off. He was about to ask why she didn't use her card at the ready-teller. He remembered just in time that they didn't come into popular use until much later.

"Hmmm...?" she said, writing out a check.

"I'll pay you back when I get the cash - ok?" "Oh, don't worry about it." She pointed out the window. "There's a branch!" Sam made a quick left turn into the parking lot. Beth was thrown off-balance, laughing. "Quick reactions!"

"Yeah, well, you know us old Navy men..." "...fast moves and fast women," Al and Beth said together.

Sam looked startled, then smiled. "Yeah."

She hopped out of the car. "I'll be right back." She ran into the bank before Sam could move.

"Sam, you better..." Al started.

Sam was already out of the car. "I know." "Gooshie, center me on..." Al disappeared... ...and reappeared in the bank. "Oh, damn!"

"Is that door locked now?" a ski-masked young man was screeching. He had a neck hold on Beth, and a gun was at her head.

"Yes, yes, they are," said a nervous little man in a dark grey suit. A set of keys jingled in his hand. Al saw Sam try the door, then pound on it.

Someone shifted his weight. "Don't move," the man said loudly. Al saw the gun shake and the trigger move back a fraction.

"No!" Al screamed, took a step towards the couple... Suddenly, the nervous little man started moving. He looked down at himself, looking surprised. Then he grinned and launched himself towards the robber.

The man knocked the gun upwards just as it went off. Surprised, the robber let go of Beth, and she fell forward. The man lashed out with a one-two punch, and the robber flew backwards, his gun skittering across the bank floor.

Al stood glaring down at the unconscious robber. The little man in the gray suit grinned at Al, then blue light surrounded him and...

Al found himself outside, pounding on the door. He stopped and looked at his hands, wide-eyed, then he continued pounding. He'd figure it out later. He could see Beth lying on the floor, blood surrounding her head like a halo. The dark-suited man was looking down at the robber in shock. "Let me in, you moron!" Al shouted.

The man shuddered and fainted. One of the tellers grabbed the keys out of his limp hands and unlocked the door. Al rushed past her and leapt across the room at Beth, ending up on his knees beside her.

Someone gasped, "the woman!", but Al was too busy. He tore off his shirt, balled it up, and held it against her head. It was only then that he realized that Sam was beside him, wearing his aluminum jacket, his face - and holding the hand link.

"Sam?" he said, and the other man nodded.

"I think it's only a flesh wound," Sam said.

Her eyelids fluttered. "Al?" she whispered, her eyes flicking back and forth between Al and Sam. "Al?" she said louder, panicked.

Sam and Al looked at each other, startled, then Sam punched a button on the hand link and reappeared across the room, out of Beth's sight.

Al, wide-eyed, started to say something, but then Beth looked at him. "There were two of..."

"Hush," Al said. "You're dreaming." Her eyelids dropped. "The ambulance is coming." He looked around and suddenly noticed the police dragging the robber away.

"They came in with you," Sam said. Paramedics burst into the lobby, and one of them gently pushed Al aside. Al retreated to a lonely section of the lobby, and Sam followed.

"She'll be fine," Sam said, then he looked Al. "Are you all right?"

Al shook his head. "I'm not sure. What happened? How did this happen?"

Sam exhaled. "Al, I can't even remember how to get home!" He looked thoughtful. "I made a triple Leap. First, I was outside. Then I was there." He nodded at the grayfaced teller. "I was outside again, then I was in your place." He shook his head. "I still haven't figured out how."

"But we double-Leaped! I thought..."

Sam shook his head. "Um...not exactly. I seem to have been the catalyst. And we didn't exactly Leap together, I just Leapt into your life at a later date. I'm still not sure why you didn't end up in the Waiting Room."

"Well, I'm here now." Al said looking at Beth, then he focused on Sam. "Did we...?"

Sam looked at the hand link. Most of the buttons looked vaguely familiar, but he couldn't remember how to access Ziggy. "Oh. Yeah. Well, I'll work on it." He looked at Al. "I guess you better stay with Beth."

Al stared at Beth. The paramedics were shifting her onto a gurney. "If I stay with her, I'm not sure I can let her go."

They started to move her out. "Worry about that later," Sam said. "Go!" He pointed at the door.

"Wait a minute!" Al yelled. "I'm going to follow you to the hospital." He rushed out the door after the paramedics.

Sam smiled, then felt slightly lost, wondering what he should do next. He circled the room and listened to the bank manager talk to the police. "I don't know how I did it, officer. All of a sudden, I felt like I was across the room, watching myself attack the man." He hesitated and gave the officer a grin. "That was quite a nice one-two punch I gave him, wasn't it? I didn't know I had it in me."

The officer looked him over, sceptical. "I wouldn't have believed it either, but everybody backs you up."

"Guess there's a turning point in every life, huh, officer?"

The officer snorted a bit. "Yeah. Guess so." Sam smiled. It looked like Al - young Al - might be able to return home without any unexplained events to tie up. Suddenly remembering, he stared at the hand link again. It fit in his hand as if he had designed it - which, on second thought, he probably did.

A blinking light caught his attention. Shrugging his shoulders, he punched the button underneath it. "Al!", the hand link yelled.

Sam grinned widely. "Gooshie."

"Of course, it's Gooshie!," said the slightly nasal voice. "Look, I know I'm not supposed to use this channel, but what-in-the-hell is going on in there? Your adrenaline levels have been seesawing, there were two major spikes in the power systems, and there was a reading that looked like a Leap!"

"Gooshie, calm down. Everything's fine now. I'm back."

"Huh? You're back? What d'ya mean by that?"

"I'm..." Sam stopped with a sinking feeling. Come to think of it, he really wasn't back, was he?

"You're what, Al?"

"I'm...I'm coming out. Want to open a door for me?" A rectangle of bright light opened up before him. Sam squinted. "Jeesh. Gooshie, why does it have to be so bright?"

"C'mon, Al, you know why."

Oh. He had forgotten. To keep the research scientist in the dark. He couldn't help but feel like a guinea pig -in his own experiment, yet! "What harm would it do to turn the lights down?"

"Do you want to break one of Sam's rules?" Sam remembered Gooshie was a stickler for rules.

"I break them all the time," Sam laughed.

"I know," Gooshie said ominously.

Sam laughed and walked out into the corridor. "Take five, Gooshie."

After he got into the corridor, he had to wonder what he was trying not to show himself...the only distinguishing feature of the corridor was all of the lights. The closed door at the other end was understandable - that was the control room.

He opened the door a little nervously. "Tina wants you to meet her tonight - at her place." Gooshie looked up a little resentfully, almost buried between a pile of candy wrappers and coffee cups. He was the only one in the room.

"You're working the graveyard shift, huh? That looks nutritious." Sam nodded at the pile.

"Somebody's gotta do the work."

"Yeah, but you still have to eat right."

Gooshie compressed his lips. "You sound just like Sam."

"I do, huh?" Sam turned away, then remembered something. "Um...I'm having a little trouble with the hand link. Could you run a profile of Beth through Ziggy?"

"You always have trouble with the hand link. Mebbe if you stopped smacking it on the side..." He took it and punched a few buttons. "Beth Calavicci Simon, married Dirk Simon, four children, presently a nursing supervisor in a hospital in Detroit...want me to go on?"

"No," Sam smiled. "The Leap was successful." He looked at the display, then started. "Charlene had delivery complications. She saves Charlene's life tomorrow! Must be she gets out of the hospital tomorrow."

"Tomorrow, leap time, you mean. It's after midnight here." Gooshie looked unconcerned. "That's good. And has he Leaped again?"

"Kind of," Sam said. "We're just waiting for a goodbye."

"Huh?"

"I'm going to grab a couple hours sleep." Sam grabbed the hand link and walked out of the room before Gooshie could ask any more embarrassing questions.

After escaping out into the hall, he first looked one way, then the other. He had some vague idea of going to his office, hoping it would jog his memory - but he couldn't remember where it was!

A pretty female technician walking past smiled warmly at him. "Hi, Al."

Sam raised his eyebrows. "Hi, uh..." She went past, and Sam stared at her back. He never had figured out why the beautiful females fell for Al.

More techs walking by, looking at him curiously. He was feeling a mite conspicuous. After a short moment of indecision, he went right, hoping he would find something familiar.

No such luck. Apart from the neo-Navaho hangings on the walls and the nametags on the doors, the place was as featureless as a hospital. One hall looked like another. He began noting his turns, hoping to find the Imaging Chamber without getting lost.

Fifteen minutes later, Sam was lost. He looked down the corridor and shook his head. He had spent years almost entirely in this building, and he was lost. He looked to heaven and shook his head.

He walked on, simply because he couldn't think of anything else to do. Rounding a corner, he saw a nametag on the door. It was the Waiting Room. He looked at the tag, chewing his lip, then put his thumb to the I.D. plate. The lock clicked open and he opened the door.

"How's he doing?" he said to the nurse who was bending over the monitors. Sam avoided looking at the screen.

The man jumped. "Al! Jesus, you startled me. I was half-asleep myself." He looked at the form on the cot. "Still out like a light. We've been making sure he keeps sleeping, per your orders." He looked at his watch. "In fact, it's time for another shot. Who is he, anyway? Why the hush-hush this time?"

Sam stared at the nurse, then realized that perhaps Al didn't want everybody to know about this Leap. "You know I can't tell you."

"So? Well, no harm in asking."

"No, guess not." The man on the monitor groaned and turned over. Sam instinctively looked at the screen, then stared, mesmerized. It was the first time he had seen his own face since the start of the Leaps.

"I better get in there," the nurse muttered. He grabbed a hypo.

"Wait," Sam said. "Don't give him any. He's just about ready to go back."

"On whose authority?" The nurse hesitated at the door.

"Mine." He knew Al would back him up. "Well...all right. I'll just check up on him." He put the hypo down, then opened the door and went in. Sam followed.

It was even more eerie in person. He studied the man on the cot and chewed his lip. It had been a long time since he had seen his very own face. Maybe someday he'd be home.

Suddenly, young Al's eyes opened and focused on Sam. He looked puzzled and said something unintelligable. Then his eyes closed slowly, and he slept peacefully again. Sam broke out in a cold sweat, then relaxed, realizing Al probably wouldn't remember the incident.

He looked at him with a frown. He wished that he could've let Al go back to Beth. However, destiny had other plans, apparently. Probably if Al had gotten re-married to Beth, he wouldn't have gone to MIT - and then he wouldn't have been involved in the project.

He shook his head and sighed. This was neither here nor there - and it was time to go back. "See you later," he said to the man on the cot.

"Ok, Al," the nurse said, distractedly, as Sam exited the room.

His immediate problem was that he was still lost. He walked down a hall, then came across a big atrium which looked familiar...

The building's floor plan suddenly snapped into place. He grinned and went to his office, and opened the door tentatively. Looked just the same as he remembered it -desk, couch, books, computer terminal - except that it was a little too neat. And there was the addition of an up-to-date picture of Tom, his brother -the brother he saved from death. He smiled broadly at it, knowing Al must've placed it there.

He moved behind his desk and turned on the computer, then stared blankly at it. He couldn't remember how to access the programming, much less remember the equations he used to postulate time travel. He remembered the theory that he used - the string theory - but that didn't help him much. And he doubted that Ziggy would help him.

With a sigh, he shut off the computer and flopped down on the couch. He was sleeping soundly two minutes later.

Sam woke up slowly the next morning. After stretching, he got up and shuffled off to the bathroom. He glanced in the mirror and gasped, then blushed. He had forgotten that he was still wearing Al's face.

He washed his face, somewhat spooked, then walked back to the Control Room. Gooshie was still there, but a couple of techs were working in a corner.

Gooshie looked at him when he walked in the door. "Everything all right?"

"Fine," Sam said. "Why?"

"You look almost happy."

"Why shouldn't I?"

Gooshie spread his hands, almost dumping a half-filled coffee cup. "Because you just don't ever look happy."

"I'll try to remember that," Sam grinned, then he got serious. "Hey, got a notepad? I want to write someone a message, before I...forget."

Gooshie handed him a pad and a pen. "Getting senile in your old age?"

"Kind of." He quickly wrote something on the pad, then tossed it back to Gooshie. "Give that to me when I come back. Open the door, ok?"

Gooshie took a drink of his coffee, winced at it, then pushed a button. The Imaging Chamber door opened. "There you go, Al - your train to the past now boarding Gate 1." He laughed.

"Gooshie, you never could tell a joke." Sam hesitated, but he couldn't resist. "I'll tell you one - I'm not Al, I'm Sam."

Gooshie stared at him. "Har, har, har. You're a card, Al."

"In which case, you're the whole deck, Gooshie. Well, I tried. Oh, uh...center me on Beth."

Gooshie hit a few buttons, then his eyes fell on the notepad and stuck. "Wait a minute..." It was a note to Tom Beckett, Sam's brother - in Sam's handwriting! He rushed over to the closing door and pounded on it. "Sam, come back!" After getting no results - except for making the techs stare at him - he stopped pounding and looked at

his hand. "Oh, hell...they ain't ever going to believe this!"

He emerged from the hallway into a hospital room. Beth was sleeping, an IV trailing from her arm. Al started, then looked up, blinking his eyes. "Close the door, Sam," he said.

"Oh. Yeah." He moved away from the door, pushed a button, then looked out the window. It was early morning. "How did you talk them into letting you stay?"

"Told 'em I was her brother. Since she kept Calavicci as her middle name, they didn't question me too much..." He smiled. "She's going to be all right. She'll be let out today."

Sam waved the hand link. "I know. Gooshie and I got it from Ziggy. Remember?"

"Oh. Yeah."

"Did you call Dirk?"

Al yawned slowly.

"Al...?" Sam's tension level increased.

"Give me a break, will you? Of course, I did. Had a hellish time finding him, too - he was in New York. But once I told Charlene what had happened, she figured out the number and called." He yawned again. "He should be here any minute now."

"Do you think you should be here?" Sam said softly.

Al's shoulder's slumped. "No. Probably not." Beth's eyelashes fluttered. "Dirk?" She opened her eyes. "Al. Did you stay all night?"

Al nodded. "I called Dirk. He should be here soon."

She closed her eyes. "Thanks." She opened them again and smiled at him. "Dates with you never gave me killer headaches before."

Al smiled. "Sorry." The smile faded. "Beth, I truly hate to say this, but...I don't think we better see each other again." Sam saw how hard it was for him.

Beth raised her eyebrows, then winced. "Ouch." She looked at him. "Why?"

"If I stay around, things will be too complicated." He turned away. "Because it would be very easy for me to fall in love with you again."

"Oh, Al." She thought a moment. "Yes. And I with you."

"And neither one of us wants to hurt Dirk. He's a good fellow - I guess."

Sam couldn't resist. "That wasn't your first impression." Al glared at him.

"He is." She looked steadily at him. "I'll tell everybody you're my first husband's cousin from the East coast - and that you had to catch your plane to get back."

Al grinned, sadly. "You have a devious mind, dear..."

"Thanks. I try."

"...but I already told the hospital I was your brother."

"Oh. Well, I'll just tell the hospital you lied so you could stay with me. If it comes up."

"Charlene...?"

"I'll explain to her what happened between us. She's a good sort. She won't tell anybody."

"Even John?"

"Not even her husband." Beth grinned. "See? She's as devious as I am."

He sighed and smiled at her sadly. "I have to go now." He looked at Sam, who caught his meaning and turned around. He heard them kiss.

Beth sighed after a while. "Al...I'm glad you weren't killed."

"Me, too, darling. Me, too." Al moved towards the door, and Sam rushed to follow him. "Goodbye, Beth."

"Goodbye, Al," Beth smiled, tears running down her face. Al smiled back, then rushed through the door. Sam quickly followed, then ran to catch up with him as Al strode through the hall, wiping at his eyes.

They walked in silence for a moment - Sam knew that anything he said would be superfluous.

Suddenly, a panicked-looking man careemed around a corner, almost ran into Al, then ran through Sam. They both turned to look at the him. "Dirk?" Al asked.

"Dirk," Sam agreed, bemused. He had just gotten used to Al walking through things, but not through himself! "She's in good hands," he said, finally.

"I still think he's a nozzle." Al sighed. "Well, when do we Leap?"

Sam laughed. "When we get back to your house, remember?"

"Not necessarily, Sam," Al said slowly. "I was in my car when I came to. Parked."

"Do you remember where?"

"Yeah. Just around the corner from my house. I was shaking so badly when I realized what had happened that I walked home."

"Oh. Well, let's at least go to where you parked."

Al looked back. "Yeah," he said finally. They went to the parking lot and got into the car, Sam hesitating a bit before walking through the car door and squatting down. Al pointed out the button that would keep him with the car instead of the car leaving him behind. They drove back towards the house in silence.

About a block away from the house, a small boy with a bike darted in front of them. Al slammed on the brakes, squealing the tires. Startled and scared, the boy scrambled back to the curb...

...just as a small red sports car shot down the street past them. The boy ran back into his house.

Al drove on. "Damn kids," he muttered, then he looked startled. Al and Sam looked at each other. "If I hadn't scared him back to the curb..."

"...he would have been hit by the other car." Al parked sloppily at the curb and looked at Sam. Sam grinned. "Now?"

"Now." The car disappeared from their view in a flash of blue light.