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Part Six

Al

The kid is sick again and I automatically cover my mouth to avoid embarrassing myself, then step out of the way as Kate goes to help him.I feel sorry for him, I do, but he has Donna and the others with him now and before I even realise what I am doing I turn on my heels and make a beeline for the door. I tell myself its better this way. I donít want to end up puking all over the waiting room floor out of sympathy for Sam, but I know thatís not exactly the truth.

God almighty. Sam. I know I never gave up on him, even when the leaps seemed like one endless loop of impossible scenarios, I still held out hope that weíd get through it and one day bring him home, but itís hard to believe that after all this time he is here. Iím still reeling from the fact that itís actually him when I make my way through the main hub, somehow managing to avoid the searching eyes of all those I encounter as I travel the familiar route to my office. Wondering as I close the door and take a seat behind my desk how long it will be before someone comes looking for me. Verbena will the first I decide as I put my head down on the solid surface in front of me and just try to breathe through the turmoil inside of me.

Iím not sure what I am feeling. Itís a strange mix of elation and fear. Though for the life of me I donít understand why I am afraid. I just know I am. My mind is racing and the palms of my hands are sweating in a way they havenít in years. There is something, but I canít seem to put my finger on what it is about seeing Sam again that has me on edge. Itís good, great to have him back. Jesus weíve spent the last five years trying to bring him home. Feeling the way I do doesnít make sense, then again, there isnít much about Samís leaping around in time that does make sense so maybe I just need to relax and see how things pan out.

I close my eyes and adjust my position so that my head is resting more comfortably on my folded arms. I think about seeing him again, how different he looks. God itís only been six weeks since we lost contact and the last time I saw him it was like every other. He was confused I recall, but even that wasnít unusual. Now itís almost as if I havenít seen him in years. Heís aged. Honestly, he looks closer to sixty instead of not quite fifty.Heís still Sam I remind myself; no matter the changes to his appearance the neural link between us confirms it. There is no way I could have been centred on anyone but Sam Beckett when I stepped into the imaging chamber and had Ziggy search for him, itís just not possible. He is also my best friend, my conscience remarks - - except, the part where he kissed me. I squeeze my eyes closed a little tighter, my hands instinctively curling into fists as I try to ride out the other feelings that awaken with the memory. The thought of strong masculine hands and warm full lips pressed to mine, along with images of Sam in the throes of passions that try as I might, I canít reconcile and that only add to my confusion. I shift in my seat, attempting to ignore the undeniable urge to reach down and adjust myself as my body responses with a mind of its own.

Itís no use. I let hands relax and open my eyes. As much as I donít want to admit it I canít shake the notion that having Sam home isnít the cause for celebration that I know we all want it to be.

Shit.

In spite of the many times I have put my head down for a few minutes between leaps my desk isnít all that comfortable. I can already feel the pull of muscles across my shoulders and down my spine as I sit up again.

Resting against the chairs padded back I force myself to ignore my growing discomfort, splaying my legs to compensate for the hard on I am now sporting and simply let my eyes travel around the room. My office isnít very big. Standard design. Ten by ten in dimension and just like every other space in this particular complex itís full of memories, some good, some not so good. Some Iím not even sure where they fit in.

I take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Sam had been insistent that I remember. He had asked me a couple of times if I remembered us, but I didnít really understand what he meant by it. I still donít.

The truth is Samís leaping around in time has changed so much of our lives that I scarcely remember what it was like beforehand. Sometimes I think I do, but then something else clouds over it and it becomes less clear. I know we were close, that hasnít changed in all the years heís been gone. Some days though itís like we were very different men to the ones we are now. I get glimpses of it sometimes. Like before. Theyíre memories I guess, but Iím not sure. Beeks would probably say they are most likely repressed feelings and remind me that love was a part of friendship and I shouldnít be afraid of them, or how they make me think about Sam. Iím not going to tell her of course. I had enough of her psycho mumbo jumbo when he leaped into the Stormer woman and once was certainly one time too many for that kind of conversation if you ask me. Besides, I have Beth and the girls and I donít need to be delving into parts of myself that I left behind after the war.

My assumption that I wouldnít have to wait long before my first visitor showed up is spot on. There is a small knock on my door only a few minutes later and I sit forward again; covering the bulge in the front of my slacks and call out for them to come in. As expected, itís Verbena who appears on the other side when the door itís pushed opened. Looking very much like a woman with something on her mind she wastes no time making herself at home and I watch as she takes the seat opposite my own, mirroring my posture as she leans on the desk.

ďAre you going to tell me whatís happening Al? Or are you going to make me guess?Ē

She had been there when I had visited Sam via the imagining chamber, but it didnít take someone, even someone as clever as her to put two-and-two together. Sheís been right from the beginning and Iím the one who didnít want to believe what was staring us both in the face from the moment he arrived. ďYou know itís him, Verbena.Ē

Despite her previous optimism her face still lights up with confirmation. ďHow?After all this time how is it possible?Ē

I shake my head and raise my hands in a gesture of mock surrender.Trying, although I doubt how successful I am going to be at warding off her exuberance. I can understand of course. Samís sudden return must have everyone asking the same question.

ďIím as in the dark as you are,Ē I tell her. It was too soon to say for sure and really, now that he was here, safe and from what I can tell so far, mostly sound, it didnít matter why or how. Sam was back and we needed to stay open minded if we were ever going to find out why he had continued to leap for as long as he did. ďMaybe God, fate or whatever has been bouncing him around all these years decided heíd done enough and it was time to come home.Ē

I am not sure if I believe it myself, some dayís maybe, but Verbena has never been one to rebuke the idea of a higher power intervening in Samís experiment and now it seems is no different. She nods at what I have said and sits back a little in her chair. Her next question is as unsurprising as her presence here.

ďAre you okay, Al?Ē

She has probably gathered Iím not okay, far from it in fact, but I am not about to disappoint her by coming straight out and saying it.

ďOf course, Samís back. Itís great, what weíve all been waiting for.Ē

I expect her to launch into one of her speeches, tell me how therapeutic sharing your feelings can be, pry the way she usually does, but she doesnít react immediately and after moment or two I look away. I had pushed the reports I had been working on to one side when I came back earlier to gather my thoughts. They are out of order now and I spend a short while reorganising them into the relevant files; doing my best to look busy, hoping that maybe this time she will just take me at my word, but I donít have that kind of luck. Verbena is watching me like a hawk and the next time I glance in her direction it is clear she hasnít believed a word I have just said. Bloody shrinks, they are all the same. Between her and Beth I donít get any privacy.

ďYou know you can tell me if there is something bothering you, Al. Itís what I am here for and Samís coming home has got to bring up questions for you.Ē

ďYeah I know,Ē I return, carefully avoiding her eyes as I finish with the files and put them aside. It is safe for me to sit back again and I take the opportunity to stand up and get some water from the cooler. ďDo you want some?Ē I ask, holding out a paper cup.

The incline of her head is very small, hardly noticeable really, but I take it as a no and turn to face the cooler, preferring a view of the wall behind it to the back of her head. Filling my cup I stand for a moment contemplating the blank wall in front of me. My heart is beating a mile a minute and my head feels like it actually might explode. Thereís got to be plenty of people she could be talking to right now, she doesnít need to be here. Jesus, Donnaís got to be having some questions of her own. Not that she deservesÖ.shit. The stray thought brings me up short and for a moment I am not sure what I was thinking. All I know is that I donít want to be thinking or talking about any of this, not now, probably not ever.My hand is shaking a little as I lift the cup to my mouth and drain it in one quick swallow.

There is barely enough room in my office to swing a cat let alone to avoid someone as persistent as Verbena for very long and I know, short of creating some sort of emergency she wonít be budging anytime soon.I refill my cup, more to have something to do than anything else, and then take a deep breath, hoping it will help calm me as I return to my seat.

Verbena appears to be considering something as I sit down, but looks up again to meet my eyes. God I hate it when she plays the silent card; makes me feel like Iím the one whoís got to make conversation and annoys me to the point of wanting to tear my hair out. I look away and endeavour to make myself as comfortable, well as comfortable as I can, considering my company. After a few minutes of the two of us basically trying to wait out the other and me slowly draining the contents of my cup a little at a time, I canít stand it any longer and finally succumb to the inevitable.

ďDo you think heíll be alright Bena? I mean he looks like heís been throughÖĒ My words fade as I try to get my head around what has happened to Sam.Then add, ďGod only knows what,Ē when I canít find the right words. I try to keep the worry from my voice, but I donít think I am fooling either of us. I am worried. I got one hell of fright when it looked like the kid was having a heart attack earlier, and then remember we still donít know if thatís what happened. The thought sobers me, reminding me once again that above all else I cared about him and want him to be okay.

Looking up at last I meet Verbenaís questioning gaze. Sheís not sure herself I realise and I suddenly wish I had thought to ask her something less disturbing.

ďSamís in good hands and I am sure weíll all know soon enough.Ē

She adds one of her reassuring smiles then reaches across the desk, offering me her hand. I know she wants me to take it and I swallow the small lump forming in my throat. Forcing myself to unfold my fingers and reach for her.

ďWeíre all concerned Al, but I have the distinct feeling thatís not why you left the waiting room after Donna and I arrived. You donít have to tell me if you donít want to, but I am curious, does the reason youíre hiding out here have anything to do with Sam kissing you?Ē

Oh for Christ sake.

I try to retrieve my hand, but she is stronger than she looks. ďWhat the hell Verbena.Ē

I am rattled, having gone from reasonably calm to completely stunned in a matter of seconds, I canít seem to slow my heart down enough to engage my brain. Even as I open my mouth to keep protesting however, she is releasing me and providing me with the opportunity to get away. Seeing my chance for what it is I pull back as far as I can given the limited space, knocking the paper cup over in the process and colliding with the wall behind me as I attempt to put as much distance between us as possible. Fuck. I am shaking again and I take hold of the armrests on my chair for support and plant my feet.

ďWe saw it Al.Ē

My mind is reeling and I shake my head, it wasnít possible. It takes a moment or two, but finally my brain catches up with my mouth. ďWe?Ē I demand in the most accusing tone I can muster.

Verbena doesnít even blink. Then again I would be surprised if she did.Sheís an expert at dealing with attitude, especially ones as well practiced and predictable as mine -- from time travelling geniuses to the most pig-headed senates she had dealt with them all. Truly, some days I wondered if after all these years of working at the Project if I posed any challenge for her at all. Probably not I decide. Still, old habits are hard to break and I am certainly in no mood to start learning new ones now.

My heart is pounding again and my hands feel as if they will slip right off the upholstered arms beneath them as we continue to regard one another.

ďWe saw each other after you used the imaging chamber to locate Sam.Ē She reminds me.

I manage a small nod. It was true. I had seen them when I was trying to get back to the waiting room, but I was in no frame of mind to be dealing with Samís wife so I had back-tracked to the hub for a few minutes and then tried again.

ďSo you know Donna had come to investigate?Ē

I nod again.

ďI thought it best to prepare her,Ē she explains. ďTalk a little about the changes she would see in Sam before she saw him and she agreed to come to my office for a cup of tea and a chat.Ē

She pauses again and I find myself wishing she would just get to the point. So they went to her office for a chat. It wouldnít be the first time and not likely to be the last. Tea and empathy are standard fare when dealing with the likes of Verbena after all. I shift a little in my chair, feeling tired and uncomfortable. Lifting my right hand from the safety of the armrest I rub at the area between my eyes. I am worn out, as if the day has gone on forever with no view to end in sight.

Taking the opportunity to wipe my hand on my slacks before returning it to arm of my chair I wait for her to go.

ďAfter I explained what I could to Donna, she wanted to see for herself,Ē she continues, ďshe wanted me to access the closed circuit system Al.Ē

I glance briefly at the dark and hardly used screen on the corner of my desk, rueing its instillation and others like it throughout the Project. The security system is top notch and anyone watching at the time would have seen everything.My stomach churns and I feel my cheeks heat but I force myself to return her gaze.††

ďIn hindsight I probably should have waited, but at the time I didnít see any harm in Donna seeing what was going on in the waiting room. We saw you Al,Ē she repeats.

I shake my head again, not to dispute what she has told me, that at least seems pointless now, but because I still donít understand why Sam kissed me or why thinking about it afterwards made me hard. The realisation loosens something inside of me though and I feel my anger fade.Any lingering wish to keep denying what happened melting away as I lean forward again. ďHeís not himself,Ē is all I can think to say.

Verbenaís eyes are sympathetic and I donít resist as she takes my hands in her small ones once again, stroking gently over the back of my own.

ďNo,Ē she says, but does not elaborate.

Apparently lost in her own thoughts, I bow my head, wondering as I do why Samís coming home filled me with nothing but dread.


 

Part Seven

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