Disclaimer: I do not, never have, and never will own the rights to anything associated with "Quantum Leap," and I do not profit from the publishing of this fan fiction.
Author's notes: To my faithful readers, no, I am not back. Yet. Thanks for sticking with me. To new readers, welcome! This is my first fan fiction for QL, just a simple little idea that came to me after the end of one episode, which you'll readily recognize when you read this... Reviews are very welcome, I haven't written seriously in years and I'm afraid I've lost my edge.
This story was previously simply titled "Kept," I changed it because I didn't think it communicated the theme well enough, even though I don't like how cliche the new title sounds. Let me know which is better.
Enjoy this little interlude re-uniting someone from a Leap with a cherished memory...
You're crazy, Calavicci... he thought to himself as he turned onto the street with the address of the high school. The brick building soon came into view and he held his breath as he slowed the car down and fell in line with the traffic of parents arriving to pick up their children. Maybe this hadn't been the right decision...
He had gone back and forth in his mind about it for hours, but when nearly a day had passed and no new visitor had showed up he rationalized the trip to everyone, including himself, as a way to take his mind off the stress of waiting. Not that he told anyone the real reason he was driving to Arizona, only that he needed some air and space. And it had taken quite a bit of fast-talking to convince Tina that he wasn't leaving her behind on this trip because of another woman. For once, it was the truth. At least in the way Tina was thinking.
He found an empty space across the street and parallel-parked the rental car—he thought his own was too conspicuous—and stepped onto the sidewalk just as countless teenagers streamed out of the school like roaches that had just had the lights turned on them. He put his hand in his pocket and tightened it around the handlink, debating his next move.
Those kids were completely absorbed in themselves, and they all looked alike to him. How would he find her in that mob without Ziggy? But he couldn't ask that nosy set of circuits what she looked like now without giving his game away, so...he'd have to hope that she'd recognize him.
The prospect suddenly made him nervous. It'd been less than a day since he had last seen her, but to her it had been nearly sixteen years. She wasn't a little girl anymore, and he didn't need Ziggy to tell him the odds of her remembering him. And what would he even say to her if she did? 'Hi honey, remember me? The angel with the yucky shirt and the Swiss cheese tie?' He was only good at small talk with Sam and with women he intended to take to bed. And Teresa Brookner was neither of those things.
His churning gut urged him to get back into the car, but his rapidly-beating heart kept his feet anchored to the pavement, his eyes scanning back and forth for anything remotely familiar. He failed in marriage, failed in his personal health, and failed in most matters that required common sense. But he had never broken a promise to someone he truly cared about, and he wasn't about to start now.
And that's when he saw her.
Her hair was still long, and she wore it pulled back with a headband. Her sky-blue jumper fell just above her knees and a thin white sweater covered her arms. A dainty, heart-shaped gold locket completed the look, and Al couldn't help the soft smile that came to his face. In a world where everything was spinning out of control and the human race was fighting over the fundamentals of its existence, one lovely young girl had somehow remained pure and free from it all.
It was enough for him to see her now and what she had become. The joy of her smile and the sparkle of her eyes as she laughed with her friends put him at ease, and he would have been ready to leave as soon as she was out of sight. But then by chance she looked across the street, and her eyes met his.
His expression didn't change as he held her gaze, smiling softly and leaning against the back of the car with his hands folded casually in front of him, a cigar between his fingers. Her face was curious and intent, and his eyes brightened as he saw recognition come to hers. She looked both ways and then dashed across the street when the traffic was clear, her clean white Reeboks bringing her to a stop a few feet away from him. Her face had the curious childlike joy that had enraptured him a few hours before, and somehow he wasn't nervous anymore.
"...Angel Al..?" she said tentatively after a moment.
"Hello Teresa," he responded softly.
"It is you..." she said as she looked him over, not seeming to believe it herself.
"Yes, it's me."
A moment of silence followed as they looked at each other, him smiling with calm affection and her with innocent awe and curiosity. She slowly lifted her hand and moved it toward him, her eyes asking permission. He returned the gesture, presenting his open palm to her. After a moment of hesitation she placed her small hand against his aged one.
"You're...real," she breathed.
"You're...not an angel," she said with understanding.
"Nope. Just a man," he replied, and felt his heart calm when he read no disappointment in her eyes.
She took her hand back and fiddled with the strap of her book bag. He decided to take the initiative.
"How's your brother and sister doing?" he asked.
"...Kevin's well. He's getting married this summer. And Susan is enjoying school."
"That's great. And your mom?"
"She's doing well, too. She should be here somewhere, to drive me home," she replied, and glanced around.
"Fine...that's fine..." Al said, his expression the same.
"Just Al. Or...Mister Al, if you want to be formal."
"Al," she said with a laugh, and he smiled. "What...who are you?"
"I...can't exactly tell you that."
"But, why...you were with me, and...I remember, you weren't...I could put my hand through your body," she said, her young mind trying to make sense of it all. "I've wondered for years if I just imagined it..."
"You didn't imagine it. I just...can't tell you who I am, or how those things were possible."
Her smile faded and a hint of worry touched her bright brown eyes.
"What I can tell you..." he continued, "is that we were there to help you...and your family, when no one else could."
He watched her eyes as she processed what he had said. He knew what she was thinking. Was he telling the truth, could she trust him... Was he still a figment of her imagination, or was more at work than she understood.
"You've grown into a lovely young woman Teresa. I'm glad I got the chance to say hello in person."
She held her folded hands low in front of her and smiled shyly. "You...kept your promise."
"I kept my promise."
Her eyes brightened again. "I used to dream about you, whenever...something would scare me. When Kevin and Sue would fight, or when mom was too tired to read me a bedtime story... I would dream about you reading to me, and telling me everything would be okay."
Al took a shaky breath. "I'm glad I did some good."
She shook her head in awed disbelief. "You are real, everything really happened..."
He nodded slowly.
"But...why? Why would a stranger come to watch over me? And what happened to mom?"
Al took a draw on his cigar and looked at her sheepishly. "Would you believe me if I told you that was Top Secret?"
She looked at him hesitantly. "Is it?"
He nodded again. "I'm afraid so. We were there to help you, we accomplished our goal, and we had to leave. That's about as much as I can tell you."
"Would things...be different, if you hadn't come?"
He drew from the cigar again and answered slowly. "Your family would have experienced a lot more sadness if we hadn't been there."
At that moment a whine from Ziggy drew them out of their conversation, and Al pulled the handlink from his pocket to see what the insistent computer had to say.
"I remember that! But...it looked different when you were here before. You talked to it a lot," Teresa said, watching with interest as Al poked at the buttons and read the screen. Then her face fell as his seemed to. "Is something wrong?"
"Sort of..." he said, and replaced the device in his pocket. "I'm sorry Teresa, I...have to go keep a promise to another friend."
He smiled. "Yeah, Angel Sam. He's...in a bit of trouble, and I've got to go get him out of it."
Just then a car pulled up behind Teresa and a familiar blonde woman called out the window.
"Teresa, I've been waiting for you! Who are you talking to?"
The teenager glanced at her mom and then back toward Al, sadness in her eyes.
"Did you ever tell her about me and Sam?" Al asked.
"Yes, but she didn't believe me. Neither did Kevin or Sue."
"Maybe they will now."
Teresa looked down and fidgeted with her book bag. "I...I know it's silly, but...I was hoping...that..."
"That things could be like they used to be?" he filled in.
Al took a deep breath. "We could play peek-a-boo if you want, but I think you might get bored after one or two turns."
She laughed and gave him a melancholy smile. "Will I ever see you again?"
"Do you want to?"
"I want...to know who you really are. I know you said you can't tell me, but it's...I just have so many questions."
Ziggy whined from Al's pocket again, reminding him why he couldn't give her any answers.
"I'll tell you what. If I can get my buddy Sam out of the trouble he's in, I'll come back. But that...could take years..." he told her honestly.
"Why? Oh, don't tell me... Top Secret?"
"Yep," he nodded.
She laughed again and they locked eyes, both knowing that the special gift time had given them was ending.
"Thank you...for keeping your promise," she said softly.
"You're welcome, sweetheart. God, fate, and time couldn't keep me away."
A solitary tear slipped down her cheek, and she stretched her hand out to him again. This time he took it and gave it a gentle squeeze.
He gave her hand one last squeeze and then let go. She turned to get into her mother's car where the bewildered woman had watched their goodbye, and Al replaced his cigar in his mouth as they drove away. Something inside told him he'd never see either of them again, but since he had kept his promise...somehow he was okay with that.
Ziggy whined at him again and he took the eternally unreliable handlink from his pocket. Sam had finally been found, this time on a high school football field back in '62. He thought that was fitting since the Super Bowl was in a couple of days. He got back into his rental car and began the long drive back to New Mexico.
He had another promise to keep.