Prelude to a Leap

By Alia

Summary: My version of why Sam stepped into the accelerator chamber for the first time.

Disclaimer: Sam and Al do not belong to me, I am only borrowing them and promise to return them as soon as I am finished playing with them. No infringement to copyright or disrespect intended.

Warnings: Angst & M/M sex.

Rating: NC 17.

Author's notes: Please be aware that this story is unbetaed and contains Australian spelling.

Comments: Are welcome and can be sent to aliajones1999@yahoo.com

----*----

Making his way through the labyrinth of corridors, tunnels and passageways, down to the very depths of Project Quantum Leap Al finally found what he'd been searching for. Once upon a time this would have been the first place he'd check when Sam was running behind, but wanting to trust, to believe what he'd been told had made it the very last place Al tried tonight. The door to Sam's bio lab was closed and other than the small sliver of light emanating from beneath, it appeared as abandoned as every other place he'd looked for Sam over the last hour or so.

Al knew better however.

He sighed at the sight and the implications of finding Sam here. Without further thought of why he'd been stood up Al tried the lock and as he had suspected, found it turned easily in his hand. Sam was in much the same position he'd been in the last time they'd spoken, hunched over his desk.

Despite the prevalence of such individuals at the Project, it did not take a genius to figure out why, after everyone else had finished for the day Sam was still working as if he were a man possessed.

Al knew, understood better than most in fact. It was difficult however to know what to do -- how to help Sam. In retrospect, it had been far easier before they became lovers. Back in the days when their mutual regard for one another was enough for either man to stop and listen to what the other said.

The likelihood of that happening now though was pretty scarce, especially since the Committee had informed them both that they would cease funding of the Project if results, namely a workable retrieval program was not completed within the next six weeks. Sam had become incensed upon receiving the news. He had also, much to the concern of those around him, Al included, worked day and night, foregoing meals, rest or anything that resembled a relationship, determined not to have his dream torn from his grasp before it could be fully realised.

Unable to do much else Al had stood by for the first few days, watching his young lover working himself towards what he feared would be a complete breakdown, all the time hoping that Sam would come to his senses on his own -- that intervention would not be necessary. It hadn't happened though and they had fought. The memory of which still lingered weeks after the actual incident. It still hurt to think about some of the things that had been said and left Al feeling as if he needed to be on his constant guard with Sam.

Oh sure, they had fought before, often and with a passion only equal to the way they loved. It was just that loving Sam didn't seem to be enough these days, and the very last thing Al wanted was another argument. There had been too many cross words and miss-understandings between them lately as it was.

Checking his watch, Al considered what he should do now that he had located his wayward lover. It was well past the time that Sam had promised to stop working for the day. They had plans. Nothing too elaborate mind you, God only knew their lives were complicated enough as it was without adding more drama to the little time they had to themselves. It was just meant to be a bite to eat at the local truck stop, and if all went well, an early night and some serious hanky panky.

Sam hadn't been much in the mood lately and even though Al understood why, a promise was a promise. Sam might think that the only way to produce results was to keep at the problem until it was solved, but Al didn't agree. There needed to be a balance. Sam might be a genius but he wasn't Superman. He needed rest and relaxation the same as everyone else, more so if he was going to meet the Committee's deadline.

Stepping a little further into the room Al made sure his reflection was clearly visible in the monitor in front of Sam. It took a moment for Sam to register what else he was seeing on the screen, but it was obvious to the man standing over his shoulder when he did.

Sitting straighter Sam twisted in his chair, allowing the built in swivel action to turn him from the monitor and to face his silent visitor. Al didn't look overly happy and Sam knew the reason why.

He sighed. Having a photographic memory definitely had its advantages, but it also meant that excuses such as loosing track of time were never going to be option with someone who knew him as well as Al did.

Standing slowly, his eyes now carefully avoiding Al's, Sam's mind searched for something to say, anything that would explain why he had not kept his promise to stop work at six and meet Al so that they could spend sometime together away from the Project.

"Would saying I'm sorry make a difference? Sam finally offered in his own defence.

Al shrugged his shoulders. "It wouldn't hurt."

Lifting his gaze Sam saw that Al's expression was no less serious than before. He didn't know what else to say though, and neither it seemed did Al. For long moments the older man simply stared at him.

Al had been down path so many times in the last few weeks that he had lost track of all the different occasions when he had tried to reason with Sam.

"We should go, or we're not going to get a table, he finally said.

Sam managed a half-hearted smile. "I'll just get my coat."

----*----

According to the road-side sign, Pedro's was the last stop before travellers in this part of the county took on the dissolute thirty-mile stretch of road and open desert that led to Destiny. Pedro's was more than a convenient truck stop though. For anyone who lived in or around the Stallion's Gate and Springs area it was the only place that stayed open past six o’clock at night, so if you wanted a meal or drink without driving across country, Pedro's was the place to go.

The parking lot appeared full to over flowing when Al pulled the Testarossa off the main road. A move that earned him a series of less than friendly horn-blasts from the vehicles waiting a head of him and a sideway glare from Sam.

Silence descended between the pair as Al manoeuvred around the over-crowded area, carefully avoiding those trying to leave and ignoring anyone trying to enter, finally parking in a space closest to the main refectory.

Unbuckling his seat belt Sam leaned forward to check the revision mirror.  He had half expected to see one of the drivers from the other cars coming over to confront them. Thankfully, no one seemed interested in them now. Settling back again Sam breathed a sigh of relief.

"You'll go too far one of these days," he said.

"Yeah, and first in first served Sam. Now come on."

Al was out of the car before Sam could react and with no other choice than to follow suit he begrudgingly joined Al at the entrance of the meal run. As expected there was already a queue of locals waiting for tables and Al’s less than friendly scowl assured Sam that he was far from impressed.

For reasons which Sam had always assumed were associated with his years in the military Al hated lining up for food.  Of course, like many things in Al's past, this particular aversion had never been openly discussed and for sometime both men reverted to their earlier silence, the conversations of those near by certainly more conducive to mixed company than anything they had to say to each other.

Eventually the line in front of them came to end and Sam slipped into a booth opposite Al. Immediately taking up a menu he studied the never changing list of chef's specials, mains and desserts while Al turned on the charm for the waitress waiting to take their drinks order, a beer for Sam and coffee for himself.

Sam really wasn't very hungry but he knew Al wouldn't accept his ongoing lack of appetite as an excuse for not at least trying to eat something. They'd been down that road too many times before and it always seemed to result in an argument, which was definitely something Sam wanted to avoid if at all possible.  

As soon as the waitress moved away Sam could feel Al's focus shift to him and could well imagine what his lover was now thinking as he continued to peruse the menu -- ready no doubt to make some comment about his weight loss or remind him that he had to keep his strength up. Usually the latter was accompanied by a suggestive wink. A part of Sam understood that Al was simply trying to take care of him, but another part deeply resented his refusal to let him keeping working when there was so much at stake. He could make the retrieval program work, he knew he could, he just needed time.

Glancing up from the menu, Sam offered the man sitting opposite a small smile. Everything would be so much easier he guessed if he didn't love Al as much as he did, or maybe if Al loved him more, maybe then Al would understand why he needed to work so hard and life wouldn't be so complicated. Either way it didn't matter, in the end all the mattered was proving to the Committee that his project worked. The smile on Sam’s face faded as his last thought took hold. What little interest in food he may have been able to summon for the sake of harmony was completely gone now. He pushed the menu aside.

"Maybe you should decide for both of us," he told Al.

Once upon a time Al would have jumped at any opportunity to take care of Sam. Sadly, he was a little older and wiser these days and he knew when Sam was simply placating him to keep the peace. He wasn't going to let it bother him though. At least he could make sure Sam had something to eat. And, judging by the way Sam had taken up his napkin and started making notes on it as soon he had passed the responsibility of their meal over to Al, eating something was probably the only promise he intended to keep tonight.

Ignoring Sam for the moment Al motioned the waitress over to the booth. Al turned on the Calavicci charm as she approached, leaning in as she bent lower to hear his order, and affording himself an eyeful of her breasts that swelled and threatened to spill over the top of her low cut uniform.

Al couldn't help but look, or smile to himself. Some habits, no matter how old, were hard to break. There had been a time when the sight of a full breast and a pretty face would have been all the invitation he needed to make a move, to pull out all the stops and go for it, but if Al was going to perfectly honest with himself, ever since he and Sam had gotten together, women had lost a lot of their appeal.

It was hard to explain.

All the years he had fooled around, cheated on the women he'd dated seemed like old history now. Sam was everything. Loving him, and having him love Al in return meant that he didn't need anything or anyone else.

A well established reputation required work though, and as much as Al loved Sam, his reputation as a ladies’ man had kept a helluva lot of people from asking questions about their living arrangements. Besides, a little flirting always made Sam sit up and pay attention.

It didn't work.

No matter how hard Al tried to impress, Sam didn't once look up while their orders were placed, or even when their drinks were brought to the table. Completely oblivious to Al's teasing he simply continued making his notes, collecting more and more napkins as his calculations took shape.

By the time their meals arrived Al had had enough. Sam paused briefly, making space as his plate was set in front of him, but he showed no interest in the food and only sipped at his beer as he continued with his work, ignoring Al and the promises he had made.

Despite his best intentions to see Sam through this, Al knew it just wasn't going to work. Sam's behaviour tonight made it clear that he wasn't willing to make even the slightest attempt to save their failing relationship.

Feeling more despondent than he had in ages Al glanced down at his own plate. His appetite had vanished along with his patience, he realised, and in a moment that he absently noted he would most likely live to regret he reached for his wallet, extracted a number of bills and tossed them on to the table.

Allowing his anger to guide him, Al stood, informed Sam that if was ever going to drag himself away from his work, he could find his own fucking way home and slipped out of the booth.

Without looking back, Al walked out of the restaurant and into the night.

Somewhere behind Al Sam slowly took in the scene unfolding around him. The once noisy eatery had fallen suddenly silent with a number of patrons shooting wary glances between him and the still swinging door through which Al had exited moments before.

Sam knew he had pushed too far. Sure, he had left the Project and joined Al for dinner as they had agreed, but he hadn't made any real effort to leave his work behind him. Even after Al had made it clear he wanted some quality time together, Sam had pretty much ignored his lover's request in favour of meeting the Committee's deadline. He'd been doing that a lot lately. <= /o:p>

Ducking his head in something akin to shame Sam gathered up his notes, took one more swig of his beer and followed Al outside, a room of curious onlookers watching his departure.

The parking lot had emptied out quite a lot since they had arrived, and much to Sam's surprise the car was still there. Al's compact frame leaning against the hood, his eyes focused on the ground, at something Sam could not see from this distance, a lit cigar hanging forgotten between his loose fingers.

For a moment or two Sam just watched him, weighing the situation the best he could, trying to decide if he should just go to Al and apologise or give him a little space. He could always hitch a ride along the main highway and walk the rest of the way home, or maybe back to the Project if it came to that.

It was getting late though and after the scene Al had made inside Sam wasn't up to the idle conversation or possible explanations needed to catch a lift with any of the exiting patrons, most of who gave him a wider than necessary berth as they moved passed him to their respective cars.

Sighing, Sam took a couple of steps forward, but it is not until Al looked up, his dark eyes stopping Sam in his tracks that he realised that he probably should have taken his chances on the highway.

Al's eyes are very bright and something inside of Sam began to twist and burn. He was so tired of this, this feeling that his dream was about to fall apart, that he could lose everything at any moment.

The sound of engines starting up nearby drew Sam from his momentary reverie. He spared a passing glance at the vehicles that pulled out of the lot, only shifting his gaze back in time to see Al as he pushed off the car. They were mostly alone now, which was probably for the best Sam decided. Pinching the bridge of his nose and mentally stealing himself for the coming confrontation with Al he took the last few steps forward.

Although he wasn't exactly sure what he was going to say Sam opened his mouth to speak, but closed it again when Al cut him off, making it very clear that he wasn't interested in anymore of the other mans excuses.

"This is getting out of hand, Sam. You treat everyone around you like their hired help, like they don't matter." Al's words trailed off, as if he had just realised something, but was still processing the information. When he spoke again it was clear that he had made up his mind.

"It's like I don't matter either," he finally added. "Like this thing between you and me is just something you do when you're not doing something more interesting."

Sam shook his head. "That's not true and you know it."

"No I don't, Sam. Not anymore."

Sam could only watch as Al moved passed him on route to driver's side of the car and then open the door. "I'm going home," he announced, getting in.

Part Two

If Sam had to recount the times when he had actually been in fear of his life, he would talk about first his train trip when he thought everyone was out to get to him, the storm that raged the night his sister Katie was born and maybe the time when he rolled the tractor and his father had to leave him alone while he went for help. After tonight though, if he were ever asked, Sam would also have to add the ten mile drive from Pedro's to the house he shared with Al Calavicci during the early spring of 1995.

----*----

Slamming to a halt outside of what has been their home for last year and half Al shifted into park and adjusted the hand-break in one fluid motion. He was out of the car and unlocking the front door before Sam could unbuckle his seatbelt or fully release the breath he'd been holding since they left the roadhouse.

The drive home had been shrouded in silence. An ever growing array of anger and frustration circulating between both men with neither willing to articulate what was happening.

But that needed to change, Sam decided, getting out of the car.

Al had already turned on a number of the interior lights by the time Sam had crossed the threshold. Closing and locking the front door behind him Sam found Al in the small guest room at the rear of the house. The room itself wasn't big enough to be used for anything else and had received its guest room status by default even though no one had ever stayed here in all the time they had lived here. It did however; contain a three-quarter bed and a small dresser.

Standing in the doorway Sam watched, confused at first about why Al had come in here, and then growing more so as the older man proceeded to remove his jacket and start on the buttons on his shirt.

"What are you doing?" Sam finally asked, wanting to step forward, but held in place by some unseen force.

Al sneered, pausing briefly from his task to look up. "What's it look like?" he said.

Sam didn't want to admit to what he thought he was seeing, because it looked very much like Al was planning on spending the night here and it just couldn't be that. That would mean he was giving up, that he wasn't prepared to talk about what was happening to them and their life together.

Sam did not answer straight away, he was too taken back to think let alone put any of it into words, somehow though he managed a choked response. "I don't understand, Al. I know you're angry but sleeping in the guest room and shutting me out won't help."

Al gave a humourless laugh, his shirt now lying on top of his discarded jacket, the belt to his slacks already unbuckled as he sat down on the edge of bed. "I'm shutting you out? God that's rich. Jesus Christ Sam, you've been shutting me out for weeks, months, ever since the Committee starting making noises about funding, you've been so closed off no one can get anywhere near you. Never mind help you. It’s time we faced it Sam, I am a guest in your life just like everyone else, everything is on your terms and I'm sick of it, sick of you."

The words stung but Sam wasn't ready to give up. "I just need more time, Al. I can do what the Committee wants, but I need more time. Can't you understand that? This is our future."

Incredulous Al simply stared for a moment and then. "You think we still have a future?" he inquired, shaking his head.

Wounded, Sam fell silent once more. Tears prickled at the corner of his eyes and he wiped them away quickly, refusing to let Al see. Everything he did was so that they would have a life together, now it seemed that even that could be taken away from him. There was more Sam wanted and needed to say but this time no words came out. Feeling more hurt than he had words to describe he watched as Al took off his shoes and socks, tucking them neatly under the bed and then as he stood to remove his slacks and underwear.

Without another word Al pulled back the covers on the small bed and got in.

----*----

Reacting purely on instinct Sam reached up and turned off the light. He didn't know why, he wasn't going anywhere. He couldn't face going to his and Al's bedroom without him or the thought of sleeping in their bed alone. Al was clearly angry, and perhaps he had good reason to be but not talking about what was happening wasn't going to help the situation.

Sam knew he needed to find a way to bridge the gap that had grown between them. A gap, that if he were going to be honest with himself, he'd been aware of for some time, but like the steady passing of each day he had felt powerless to do anything about. He stood for a moment, just letting his eyes adjust to the darkness and then crossed to where Al lay, feigning sleep.

"Al, please. We need to talk. I don't know where you got the idea that you're not important to me, but it's not true. I love you, Al."

There was no response from the man who currently had his back turned to his lover. If living with Al for the past five years had taught Sam anything at all, it would be that this was what he could expect for the rest of the night. When Al didn't want to talk about something then there was little that anyone could do to persuade him otherwise.

Sam was not going to give up just because Al had decided their discussion was over however. He knew he'd made some mistakes over the past few weeks, asked a lot of Al, but he needed him to understand how crucial everything was right now. The Committee could, and would withdraw their funding for the Project if he did not start proving his theories, then where would they be?

A shudder ran through Sam's tall frame as he stood over his silent lover. He wrapped his arms around his upper body, hugging himself in the absence of the arms he preferred, desperate to try and ward off the feelings of dread that seemed to haunt both his days and nights lately. He didn’t want to think about it now. What they would do if the unspeakable happened. He wanted to talk to Al, to explain to him that if anyone was a guest in their lives it was himself. That wasn't going to last forever though. As soon as he accomplished what he needed to with the retrieval program the Committee would back off. The Project's funding would be secure and he wouldn't have to work as much as he had since he'd received their ultimatum. Surely, Al understood that.

Sam stared down at the man on the bed, hugging himself even tighter, more confused and uncertain than he could ever recall feeling before. They still had a few weeks until the deadline was up but with the slow progress he'd been making, he couldn't help wonder if it was going to be enough time to prefect the retrieval program. Or, if after tonight, his and Al's relationship would last the duration. He couldn't remember the last time he and Al talked about anything that wasn't related to the Project, or how long it had been since they'd made love.

It wasn't that he hadn't wanted to make love with Al, it was just that with so much else on his mind, intimacy had been abandoned without him even realising it.

Heaving a despondent sigh, Sam unfolded his arms and let them drop to his sides. He hadn't meant to neglect Al, but he knew that in his attempt to give the Committee what they wanted, that was exactly what he'd done.

There had to be a way to make it up Al. To make him understand that no matter what else was going on in their lives, he was loved and desired in a way that Sam had never loved before, or believed he ever would again.

They needed to reconnect now more so than any other time in their relationship and there was only one way that Sam knew of that would accomplish that. That would make Al see, and understand all the things he hadn't been able to say lately.

Stripping off his clothes Sam left them in a jumbled heap on the floor and then without preamble or invitation lifted the blanket Al had covered himself with. Sliding into bed, he immediately moved to gather Al in his arms, pressing a kiss to one bared shoulder as he moulded their bodies together.

There was some resistance to begin with but Sam had expected that. Even as Al stiffened against him, he stroked over the tensed body, whispering words of devotion and begging forgiveness.

Al had known he had been fighting a losing battle from the moment Sam had nuzzled up behind him, and even if he had wanted to go on denying his interest, his body refused to cooperate. Eventually he turned in the circle of Sam's arms, seeking first to claim Sam's mouth and then to align their bodies so that each could gain the most satisfaction from the other.

Sam's hands felt like heaven after so long. His lips and tongue were insistent and he tasted of the beer Al had watched him drink. It was hot and urgent. Weeks of abstinence making everything feel desperate and neither, it seemed, could get enough of the other.

The guest bed was smaller than their own and what might have been a deterrent at any other time now only added to the thrill of the moment and the need to stay locked together.

Al growled his need, thrusting against the rigid heat of Sam's erection, clearly desiring a closer and more intimate connection.

"I want," he finally snarled. Pushing Sam away and forcing him on to his back Al moved with frightening speed to straddle his thighs and to arrange his arms above his head. "I want you, Sam, all of you."

Al had not actually said the words aloud but Sam knew exactly what he meant. Usually, everything that was needed for such a request was within easy reach. Not being in their own bed put another light on the situation however, and for a moment or two Sam wondered how he might achieve what Al wanted without having to get up and retrieve the lubricant from their room.

The fact that Al had quite literally pinned him to the bed was another factor to consider. Judging from the gleam in Al's eyes he had no intention of letting Sam go until they had finished what he had unwittingly invited.

Trapped beneath him Sam could only nod his agreement. His mouth had gone dry despite the fact that his dick ached from just the thought of being inside of Al again. Nevertheless, the simple gesture was all that was needed apparently because Al bent as soon as permission was granted, capturing Sam's mouth in a demanding kiss, bruising his lips as he forced them to part. It was a sample of what was to come, Sam realised as Al ravished his mouth -- of what Al would accept as retribution for neglecting him so long.

Sam trembled, completely willing to give Al whatever he wanted but all the time knowing that this was not going to be the loving coupling he had wanted. Al bit and licked his way across his face and jaw, slowly travelling to his throat and finally to his chest where he let go of Sam's arms so that he could move lower to focus his attention on his lovers nipples.

The pleasure only just overrode the pain, but all Sam could do was writhed and whimper under Al’s ministrations. His groin throbbed expectantly as Al moved against him, sucking and biting the swollen nubs on his chest into tiny peeks until they felt as if they were burning. Squeezing his eyes closed, he reached down to card his fingers through the damp strands of hair clinging to Al's scalp. From experience, he knew Al would not stop until he begged him to. He was not going to beg however, not this time. If Al wanted it rough then Sam was going to make sure he gave as good as he got.

Shaking and moaning almost incoherently as the pain slowly became too much Sam released the bowed head and reached for the two strong shoulders that were now holding him in place. Digging his nails into the taut flesh he scratched hard, using an upward motion to add potency to his own mode of retaliation.

Having already anticipated what Al's response would be Sam arched his spine as his tormentor stiffened and drew back, his abused nipple still clamped firmly between Al's teeth for an instant before it was finally set free.

Both men groaned as they separated. An animalistic sound that echoed through the still house and that only began to dissipate once it had been released into the open desert.

Still shaking and aroused now beyond what he had thought possible given the last few weeks and Al's none too gentle treatment, Sam opened his eyes and stared into the dark pools returning his gaze. There was so much passion. So much need to take and possess in Al's eyes that if Al wanted him to roll over right now and get up on all fours so that he could re-claim him as his own, Sam would gladly comply. Anything Al wanted he could have.

He'd been wrong earlier, when he had said that he wasn't the most important thing in Sam life, Sam just hadn't been able to tell him. Hadn't been able to explain that Al was not only the most important thing in his life, he was his life. Without Al, he was nothing, just a man with a dream, and no one to share it with.

Sam shivered at the thought. Not wanting to think about the conversation that had led to this encounter and only of Al, he raised a hand to stroke the dear face hovering above his own, his long fingers tracing carefully over the slightly stubbled cheek to his lovers parted lips.

"You should turn around so that I can," he started to say.

Sam's words faded and his throat closed over as what he was about to suggest was seemingly pre-empted mid-sentence, and he watched in something akin to awe, as one of his probing fingers was licked and then sucked into Al's mouth.

It was difficult at that moment, to imagine anything more erotic than seeing Al suck the captured digit, wetting it purposely and then adding another as soon as the first was sufficiently moistened. Of course, Al could always find new ways to stretch the limits of Sam's imagination and while Al sucked, he also moved, positioning himself so that he was kneeling over Sam's cock.

The cheeks of Al's backside separated invitingly as he arranged his weight above Sam. His own engorged member jutted out from his body, proud and tempting, the tip glistening with pre-come. It was always the sweetest of nectars Sam thought as he licked his lips, silently urging Al forward.

Understanding, it seemed; the look of longing in Sam's eyes Al smiled knowingly around his lover's fingers. He gave them one last suck, lewdly using his tongue to liberally coat each with more saliva and then lowered them to his cock, wiping the tip before he released Sam's hand.

"Time to put these to good use," he told him.

Shifting closer as he spoke Al offered Sam the opportunity to take him in his mouth and to prepare him if he wanted to.

No matter what Al might say on the subject, Sam knew there was always a need to prepare when they made love this way, and considering how long it had been since they had, and that this was probably going to be the only quarter Al gave him tonight, he eagerly took all that was being offered.

The angle was less than ideal but he did manage to take most of Al into his mouth, tasting everything that was unique about his lover while he worked at the small puckered entrance of his body. He was tight, painfully so Sam thought as he pressed one finger inside. Al moaned at the intrusion, trying to help the proceedings as he fucked himself on Sam's finger and alternately rocked forward into the welcome warmth of his mouth.

Al relished being penetrated, more than anyone else Sam had ever met and as he eased the second finger past the tight ring of muscle Al groaned his appreciation.  Withdrawing entirely from the warm confines of his mouth Sam could only watch as Al straightened his shoulders, along with his back, seeking to impale himself on his lovers questing fingers.

"Do it, babe. Do it now," he demanded."Oh God, Sam I gotto have you."

Sam could think of nothing that he wanted more than to give Al what he so clearly desired. His own cock was painfully hard now and though he would have liked to prepare Al a little further he knew neither of them would last much longer.

The sight of Al slowly working himself up and down on Sam's hand was enough to make him want to explode on the spot and it took a great deal of will power not to do just that as he used his free hand to draw Al forward again, kissing him hungrily and simultaneously removing his fingers from the passage he had loosened.

As expected Al hissed in protest. Pulling back, he let fly with a string of obscenities that under any other circumstances would make Sam blush but now only served to make his blood heat and his cock jerked with heady expectation. 

Immediately reaching behind himself to help Sam part the smooth cheeks of his backside Al guided his partners cock into place.

There was a moment of panted anticipation while both men positioned themselves, when their eyes met through the haze of sexual tension they had created, but no words could express the depth of their commitment to the other, and then another, of sharp, almost blinding pain as they joined.

It wouldn't last long, it never did.

Sam lay with his head thrown back, his eyes closed and his hands holding tightly to Al's hips while he rode out the feeling that his cock had been suddenly trapped in a vice. Breathe he told himself, just breathe. Somewhere through it all and above the sound of his heart pounding in his chest he could also hear Al's own attempts to calm himself and as the restriction in his groin finally grew bearable Sam opened his eyes. 

In Sam's mind Al looked amazing. His face was a mask of concentration, his whole body trembling with the effort to adjust to the presence inside of him. Sam smiled, his eyes filling with tears, his heart swelling with love as he regarded the man sitting astride him. They didn't do this often enough - - didn't spend anywhere near enough time just loving one another.

Reaching out to Al, Sam stroked the deeply furrowed brow, gently smoothing the creases caused by age and intense concentration. Al's eye's fluttered open under Sam's touch and once again he straightened his back, a look of profound satisfaction, crossing his dark features as he returned his lover's smile with a leer of his own.

"You feel incredible."

Sam felt himself heat under Al's gaze. "So do you," he returned.

"Gonna make it feel a helluva lot better, babe. You ready for that?"

Buried to the hilt Sam's cock twitched in response, and if the resonant flexing from Al was anything to judge by it was the only answer that was required. Without missing a beat or breaking eye contact Al took himself in hand, stroking his erection a couple of times before he released the engorged organ so that he could use both his hands to raise Sam's arms above his head once more.

Rocking forward on his knees Al used the prone body beneath his own with practiced ease. Finding just the right angle so that each thrust of Sam's sweet cock hit his prostrate Al set a punishing rhythm - -one he knew they would both enjoy.

Sam moaned his compliance, thrusting his hips to counterbalance those of Al's, urging him on and proclaiming his love with every ounce of his being.

Both men knew they would not last long and each revelled in the pleasure they gave the other and took for themselves. Every movement and each strangled cry for release brought them closer to the edge of their endurance until neither could hold back the flood that erupted from them in waves, scolding their already heated bodies and uniting their souls.

Part Three

Sam knew he should be asleep, that he should be snoring gently just like Al was beside him, wrapped in the afterglow of their lovemaking. But for reasons that he was all too familiar with, the rest he so badly needed eluded him in much the same way the solutions to the problems he'd been having with the retrieval program did.

As soon as Al's voice had trailed off, signally his decent into what Sam hoped would be a restful night's sleep, his mind had immediately returned to the Project and the Committee's ultimatum. He had tried to push aside all thoughts of what he'd been dealing with over the last few weeks and to only concentrate on Al and himself, but it was no use. He couldn't sleep and he couldn't just lie there when there was work to be done - when their futures were at stake.

Gently removing the arm Al had slung possessively around his waist Sam carefully slipped from the guest bed. Recovering his lover with the blanket again he stood for a moment to make certain he had not disturbed Al and then retrieved his clothes from the floor on his way out of the room.

Making the bathroom his first stop Sam washed and redressed himself in the jeans and T-Shirt that he had taken off earlier. From there, he headed for his small home office in the back of the house.

Turning the light on as he entered Sam immediately powered up his computer and typed in the code that would enable him to communicate with Ziggy off site. The monitor flared with life and after a moment's pause the words Good morning Doctor Beckett appeared on the screen.

"Hello, Ziggy." Sam whispered as he typed.

"It is very late Doctor Beckett shouldn't you be asleep at this hour?"

Sam sighed; he was tired and after the physical work out Al had given them both he knew he should be sleeping like a baby. The very last thing he wanted to do at two in the morning was to explain to anyone, especially a computer why he was still awake. Didn't anyone understand he couldn't just let his dream be stolen away from him without doing everything within his power to stop it? Shaking his head Sam ignored Ziggy's question and requested the schematics for the retrieval program and the last series of equations they'd been working on.

Thankfully Ziggy seemed to take Sam's not so subtle hint that he was in no mood for their usual conversation and provided him with the information he had requested without delay.

Comparing what they already had with the notes he had made at Pedro's Sam worked silently for some time until very slowly he started to feel as if he was actually making progress. Now if only he could find the last piece of the puzzle that would make the retrieval program workable his problems would be solved.

Knowing it couldn't be far off Sam continued to work relentlessly towards what he hoped would be the final solution throughout the night. Becoming so engrossed in the calculations he was running he did not notice when the sun rose outside his small office or the tread of footsteps through the house. It was only when Al came to stand at his side and he looked up did he realise that leaving Al alone to sleep had been a mistake, one he just knew he was going to regret. Now partially dressed in his shorts and shirt Al no longer wore the peaceful expression Sam had last seen adorning his lovers aged but handsome face.

"What are you doing?" Al demanded.

"Working." Sam knew it was the last answer Al wanted to hear and he cringed as the other mans expression went from one of annoyance to something he wasn't sure he could, or wanted to identify. It was a strange combination of fury and pain, he realised as Al reacted on cue.

"You've been here all night haven't you? Jesus, Sam...before, were you just lying there waiting for me to go to sleep so you could get up again? Did you even want to make love or was that just some ploy to get me off your back?"

The pain in Al's voice was more evident as he went on and usually, seeing or in this case, also hearing the turmoil in his lover's voice would evoke a truly sympathetic response from Sam. Tired and growing increasingly more so from the long hours spent working for what he still wanted to believe was for their futures it only served to confuse him further and bring his own anger to the surface.

Standing up and at the same time forcing Al to take a step back and out of the way Sam lashed out.

"How can you even ask me that? You wanted it as much as I did. God, Al didn't you hear one word of what I said to you last night? Don't you know that I am doing this for us?"

"Bullshit. You're doing this because you don't know when to say enough, Sam. Christ, for a genius you don't have a fucking clue about what's really important in life. Look, kid I want the Project to work as much as you do, but with one difference. I am not willing to risk everything else in the process. Can't you see what you're doing to yourself, or to us?"

Sam had heard it all before. Al had given the same speech countless times over the last few weeks and he was sick and tired of hearing how much Al said he cared. If he cared, really cared, then he would just let him work, understand once and a while that not everything revolved around them. Project Quantum Leap was going to change how the world looked at history; it wasn't a whim or something they could accomplish alone. They needed the Committee and that meant giving the members what they had asked for.

Toe to toe with Al, Sam hardly recognized him as the man he had fallen in love with and who he had believed would always be his partner through good times and bad. He didn't know when it had happened, when they had drifted so apart that there was no way of getting back what they had once shared, but the sudden realisation that they had made Sam's heart constrict painfully in his chest and his eyes sting with tears that had risen without warning behind them. 

"You don't want us," he choked. "If you did you would know that we need for me to use every opportunity to make the Project work... you'd understand, instead of complaining when I get up in the middle of the night because I can't sleep."

Sam's words trailed off as he pushed past Al. He did not know where he was going exactly, only that he needed to get away.

As upset as he was Sam still knew that before he could go anywhere he needed to find his shoes and car keys. The unwelcome reminders of what he and Al had done last night could wait until he reached the Project. Al would only keep badgering him if he stopped to shower and he didn't want that - he didn't want to hear any more of what Al had to say. What he had said already rung in Sam's ears as he retraced his steps through the house, taunting him at how each word seemed to foretell a future he didn't want any part of. 

Finding his shoes on the floor of the guestroom, Sam did his best to ignore the disarray he and Al had created the previous night in the usually tidy room as he pulled them on and then, leaving the unmade bed and lingering smell of sex behind him he continued the search for his keys. 

The tears that had threatened him since making the painfully realisation that Al was no longer the man he had believed he was finally escaped as Sam located what he'd been looking for by the front door. Snatching up the keys with one hand while the other reached for the doorknob he paused, what was he doing, was he leaving, not just to get away from the turmoil within the house, but Al?

"Sam?"

Once again Sam had not heard Al's approach. The knowledge that the bond that they had shared, which for years now had always let him know when Al was close by was disintegrating along with every else should of made what in his heart he knew he was doing easier. It didn't however and Sam simply let his hand fall away from the doorknob, tears falling unchecked down his cheeks as Al reached out for him.

The hand on Sam's shoulder was firm but not at all restraining and the voice of the man who he loved, and had believed until recently loved him unconditionally was strangely uncertain when he spoke.

"Where are you going?"

The question was certainly not unexpected but Sam still hesitated before answering it, his whole body shaking now with the multitude of emotions coursing through him, his own voice strained and unnaturally quiet. "To work."

There was another longer pause while both men stood quietly, uncertain of themselves and each other. Sighing heavily, Al carefully turned his lover to face him, his hands reaching immediately to smooth back the hair that had fallen across Sam's bloodshot and downcast eyes.

"No, you need to rest," he began wearily. Unlike Sam he had managed a few hours sleep but he was still bone tired. It just seemed that neither of them could find any peace lately and sadly Al knew why. Gently wiping away the tears that streaked Sam's handsome face and lifting his chin so that their eyes met, he continued. "You're exhausted. I know you think you can just keep going but you can't, Sam. You're going to make yourself sick."

It was difficult for Al to admit that he had been going about this the wrong way but the sight of Sam's truly despondent expression made him realise just how misplaced the anger he had felt at waking up alone had been. Exhausted did not begin to describe Sam's appearance.

It had gone too far though. Sam was well past caring about, or listening to anything Al had to say.

"Like you'd care," he snapped, shrugging off the hands that had been systematically wiping and caressing his face. "I thought I made you sick, Al. Isn't that what you said last night, that you were sick of me?"

Al flinched. Withdrawing his hands and folding his arms protectively across his chest as soon as Sam made it clear he was no longer willing to accept his touch, he took a step back and stared into the pain stricken eyes of his lover. He had been a complete jerk last night.Walking out of Pedro's the way he had, making a public spectacle of them both and then treating Sam like he was no better than a piece of meat when they got home weren’t things he was proud of. No matter how justified he had felt at the time, Al knew he had behaved very badly.

"You know I didn't mean that," he tried to explain.

"You said it."

"I say a lot of things, Sam."

"Yeah, like you love me. What I am supposed to believe, Al? That telling me you love is just something you say in the heat of the moment and it doesn't mean anything either, because you know that's what it feels like. Like you really don't give a damn about me or what I want."

Al did not want to fight. God only knew it was not going to help. Sam on the other hand appeared as incensed as he had been when they first received the Committee's ultimatum - as if he wanted to have this out, Al thought, though he wasn't sure.

Feeling suddenly older than his years Al shook his head and unfolded his arms. He couldn't fathom Sam these days. Once upon a time he would have known exactly what the other man wanted but now he simply didn't know how to help him. What to think any more.

"That's not true. I love, and care about you, and whether you want to believe or not, Sam, I still care about us." Al kept his voice low, trying to sound reasonable. He didn't want to be like the Committee and give Sam an ultimatum but he was out of energy and ideas of what to do for the best.

Sighing, he ran a trembling hand across his tired and weathered face. "It's you that doesn't seem to give a damn about anything other than the Project, and frankly kid, I've had enough. You don't sleep; you don't eat unless I put food in front of you. God, Sam you don't even talk to me if I don't ask you something first."

For a man who looked as if he was ready to take his lover's head off at the first opportunity Sam remained very quiet. His eyes flashed with unvoiced anger and Al knew it would only be a matter of time before Sam finally had something to say. He only hoped that when it happened, it would open a channel of conversation that would actually do them some good. If not, Al did not want to think about what he was going to do.

"Now," Al went on, hoping that finally setting some clear boundaries with Sam was what they needed right now. "I want you to do a few things for me, Sam."

Al didn't wait to see if Sam was going to agree to any request he made or even if he was going to keep listening to what he had to say. He adopted his more authoritarian tone and forged on, telling Sam exactly what he would accept from him and no less. "I want you to go and lie down again. I'll wake you up mid morning after I've cooked you something a little more substantial than toast to eat, and then if I think you're feeling up to it we can drive to the Project together. We've got that charity reception tonight in Destiny so you're not going to have a lot of time to work before we'll need to come back here and get ready to go out. I figure your head will be a helluva lot clearer once you've had some rest though so it'll probably be enough for you to finish what you've been working on all night."

As soon as he had finished Al took a cleansing breath and held it while he waited for Sam to absorb what he had said. It could go two ways he decided. Sam could either agree to do as he had asked, or he would force Al's hand in such away that he knew now there would be no coming back from this.

Sam stood motionless while Al stared at him, angrier than he could ever remember being with him. He knew Al thought he was pushing himself too hard and that he was tired of living in his shadow but it almost sounded as if Al expected him to just forget about the work that he had to do and simply do as he was told.

"I can't." Sam finally said, amazed by the fact that Al clearly thought he had a right to tell him what to do.

Al's heart sank and he let go of the breath he'd been holding. "Can't or won't, Sam?"

Sam shook his head, refusing to answer. He was not going to respond to another of Al's ultimatums. Not now. "I'm going to work." he said, turning around and opening the front door.

"Because I have too, Al," he added stepping outside.

Part Four

Operating mostly on what his body knew it needed to accomplish Sam put one foot in front of the other. The sound of gravel crunching beneath his feet barely registered as he stepped around Al’s car on route to the carport attached to the other side the house. The jeep he had requisitioned from the carpool two days ago was bathed in early morning sunshine and Sam wasted no time getting in and turning the engine over. Thankfully the car roared to life on the first try and without thought he shifted into gear and reversed out into the yard.

Sam could see Al standing in the doorway as he pulled out. He could just make out the look of disappointment on his lovers face, but it only served to anger him further.  He slid the car into drive and floored the accelerator. The back tyres skidded on the roads uneven shoulder as he crossed the property boundary, but he compensated quickly, skilfully regaining control of the vehicle as he steered in the direction he needed to go.

Al had no right to treat him as if he were a child. Especially after the way he had behaved last night and again this morning. He was a grown man; he didn't need to be told when to eat or to sleep. He had work to do. It wasn't just his dream at stake, or his and Al's futures. There were others to consider, everyone employed at Project Quantum Leap would lose their livelihoods if the Committee shut them down. Surely Al understood that?

He was not going to cry Sam told himself, not again, though the sting behind his eyes threatened to unleash yet another flood of tears all the same. He considered pulling over. Give himself a few minutes to settle, but he couldn't stop now -- wouldn't give into the emotions threatening his resolve. He had made his decision and he was going to see it through. Somewhere, perhaps from a place deep within the confines of his consciousness Al's voice whispered the unspoken end to his decree... even if it kills you, Sam?

In spite of the irritation he still felt it was enough to bring him to his senses. Instinctively Sam released the pressure he had on the gas pedal and slowed the car to a more manageable speed. He had no intention of killing himself. He was encountering more traffic with each passing mile and he needed to concentrate on the road.

Using the back of his hand to press against the incessant sting behind his eyes Sam accepted that Al was probably right. He had been driving himself for far too long. What was beyond painful however was the fear that by continuing to ignore his lover's advice he had made the worst mistake of his life. He had pushed Al too far this time and had likely lost him along with everything else in his life that mattered. The realisation was enough to make him want to turn the car around. A lump formed in his throat as his conscience warred with his heart. He couldn't think about it now. Getting to the Project and repairing the retrieval program was what he needed to do. Everything else would have to wait.

---*---

Al was torn between letting Sam go and getting in his own car and following him. The kid was stubborn sometimes. His most recent display however, was beyond anything Al had witnessed before; there had been something very final about the way Sam had left. To be honest Al wasn't sure that even if he did follow him what difference it would make.

He had tried to take care of Sam. God knows he loved him more than he ever thought possible. Sadly experience had taught him that pushing Sam when he was angry would only force him further away. He had tried and failed this morning, but he also knew it didn't mean that given a couple of hours and time to cool down Sam wouldn't be a little more receptive to taking Al's advice. He would try again, he decided.

With something akin to a plan forming Al closed the front door and went to take a shower. Stripping off he waited for the water to come up to temperature. Stretching a little the tell-tale signs that his body had been penetrated recently, and not overly gently, reminded him that he wasn't as young as he used be. Of course age had never slowed him down before and he was damned if he was going to let it now. The age difference between he and Sam had always inspired Al to ensure his younger lover never had reason to stray. It was worth a few aches and pains, if it kept Sam happy.

Last night had been good, a little rougher than usual, but certainly not something that in Al's opinion hadn't been long overdue.

Jesus, Al thought as the room slowly filled with steam and he stepped under the shower spray, he could never leave Sam. No matter what he had said or what he had tried to make Sam do. The younger man was as intricate to Al's life as breathing. He had been from the moment they had met at the Star Bright Project years ago. Al just needed Sam to know that. Maybe then Sam would stop trying to put them both in early graves.

Despite the difficulties, the desperation and uncertainty that was slowly eating away at both of them Al knew they would survive this. Even if the Committee with drew funding for the Project, he and Sam would find a way to start again.

---*---

After showering and straightening the spare bedroom Al dressed for the day. Retrieving his tux along with Sam's from the wardrobe and both their pairs of dress shoes he placed all of the items on the backseat of his car and headed for the Project.

His first instinct had been to find Sam, but a quick call prior to reaching his destination had assured Al that Sam was currently working in the accelerator chamber with Gooshie. He couldn't imagine what they needed to do in there. Sam had said the chamber had been working at optimum capacity, that it was the retrieval program that was causing all their headaches. It didn’t matter he guessed. He would find out sooner or later what the problem was. Maybe, he thought a little wistfully, Sam would explain it to him tonight.

Al went to his office to check his messages. His day planner reminding him that he needed to leave by four pm if he wanted to be on time for the reception and benefit they had been invited to attend tonight. According to Al's watch that meant he had almost six hours to kill until then. To be honest he wasn't sure he could wait that long to talk to Sam. He had to try though.

Much to Al irritation keeping busy and focusing on his work lasted exactly two hours and thirteen minutes.

Fast running out of patience Al's hand hovered over his phone, hesitating, trying to decide if calling Sam to remind about the benefit was the best way to start a conversation with him. It made perfect sense that he would do so. Though there was a very real possibility that Sam would see it as Al telling him what to do again or feel as if he was just adding more pressure to his already hectic work load. He wasn't going to risk it, Al decided.

Withdrawing his hand he let both rest on the keyboard in front of him as he considered an alternate means of communication. Sending an email would most likely have the same result as a phone call he concluded. Al let his fingers linger on the keyboard for a moment or two longer and then pulled back.

Pushing away from his desk he twisted in his chair and cast his gaze around the confines of his office. He'd hung their suits on back of his door when he had come in, not sure how he was going to get Sam's to him -- if he'd just send his PA downstairs or take it himself. Their shoes he'd place side by side next to the filing cabernet in the corner of the room. It was ridiculous he knew, but something about the sight of them now tugged at his heart. By his own misguided perception Al had always imagined that he would end up sharing his life with someone who worn stilettoes, or maybe pumps, not someone whose feet were two sizes larger than his own. Who would have thought that after all the women he been with and loved over the years it would be a kid genius from Indiana who would fill the part of himself he'd been missing. The purpose and belonging that he hadn't even realised would finally make him whole until Sam Beckett had entered and then changed his life irrevocably.

The stray thoughts were not the first their kind and Al doubted they would be the last. Despite the need to maintain appearances he loved Sam and only Sam. Why then, he wondered, pinching between his eyes to stave off the prickle behind them, did he feel as of his life was going to hell.

He knew he should probably wait a little while longer, but he couldn't just sit there. The need to see and talk to Sam was fast becoming all-consuming and if he didn't do something about it soon he knew he'd spend the next few hours thinking the worst.

Standing, Al retrieved Sam shoes and then his suit, folding it over his arm as he used his free hand to open the door.

---*---

The short trip to the Project's main hub was uneventful; Al received a familiar nod of recognition from those he encountered along the way and a few curious glances at the bundle in his arms, but other than that he moved unheeded through the many passageways and sections that would lead to his goal.

Rounding the last corner Al crossed the hub floor and then walked up the ramp to the accelerator chamber. As soon as he approached the entrance he was met with the long solid shape of Sam's back as he knelt in front of one of the chambers many internal panels. The outer housing of which was set to one side and Sam appeared to be making adjustments to the interior circuitry. Gooshie stood over his right shoulder, intent on whatever the Project's resident genius was doing.

"That's it Doctor Beckett, now if we recalibrate the wave variance and replace the integrated circuits that should be sufficient," he was telling Sam.

Enthused, Gooshie's face was as red as his hair and his grin spread from ear to ear as he hovered close to Sam. He was, Al thought, as animated as he had ever seen him and looked very much like he was about to burst.

A split second later the head programmer's gaze shifted, his peripheral vision finally registering the man standing in the doorway. A broad grin spreading across his face as he acknowledged Al's arrival.

"Oh Admiral, come in. Doctor Beckett has found our problem," Gooshie informed him proudly.

"That's good news," Al returned. Taking a tentative step inside the chamber he had the immediate and distinct feeling that he should back up again.

At the sound of his name Sam's head came up. Al could see the stiffening of his spine and the brief hesitation before he turned; pinning him with a look that made it obvious his presence was neither required nor welcome.

Al had already figured that it was probably too soon. So Sam's response to seeing him wasn't exactly unexpected. Of course there is a big difference between suspecting something and then coming face to face with it and Al was unprepared for the wave of disappoint that crowded in around him the. Leaving him, momentarily at least, feeling unsure about how he should proceed. Absently smoothing his free hand over the tux laid across his arm, he concentrating on grounding himself. It wasn't his intention to interfere or even interrupt. He'd only wanted to check on Sam. Bringing the suit down here had been an excuse, a reason to seek the other man out. From the look on Sam's face he need not have bothered.

Letting out an exasperated sigh Al looked from Sam back to Gooshie.

"So what have you found?" He asked the other man.

Glancing between them and no doubt responding to the very palpable discord circling amongst his colleagues Gooshie took a half step towards where Al was standing. He was less animated than before Al thought, but no less enthusiastic and he couldn't help feeling hopeful about what he was about to hear.

It was a feeling that didn't last however.

"Doctor Beckett has discovered that if we increase the voltage and adjust the wave variance that should provide enough power to engage the retrieval program. It's simple," he went on. "The higher the output..."

"Hang on a minute." Al shook his head, realising where this was going and not happy about it in the least. "You're talking about increasing the voltage inside the chamber. Won't that up the chances of turning Sam into a shish kebob?"

Gooshie smiled. Al's sometimes warped sense of humour was well known with Project staff. His expression faded though as he took in Al's more serious one.

"It's perfectly safe, Admiral."

Something about how he said it wasn't convincing Al. He wanted to ask the other man if he was insane, but the thought didn't quite make it past his lips.

Perhaps sensing Al's very valid concerns, Sam rose from his place on the chamber floor to join the conversation.

"We're reinforcing the insulation with an additional layer to protect the internal circuits, Al."

Sam had obviously showered and changed his clothes since this morning and as he stepped forward Al was once again struck by how tired he looked. God only knew that biting his tongue and keeping his thoughts to himself had never been a strong point of Al’s. Somehow he managed it though.

"What kind of insulation are you using?" he asked instead.

"Compressed gel sheets encased with a composite of quartz and aluminium oxide."

It sounded good, but neither Sam nor Goohie had actually answered his question. "Will that be enough?"

Al didn't want to sound as if he wasn&'t willing to take Sam at his word, but there was a hell of a lot more than Sam's pride at stake. They were planning to stand a man in a nuclear chamber and then run enough voltage through it to kick start atomic explosion. It was his head on the line if things went south. Surely he had a right to be concerned, to ask questions. Besides, it wasn't just any man they were talking about, it was Sam. If anything ever happen to the kid and he could have stopped it, Al knew he would never be able to live with himself.

There was a tense few moments before Sam responded. Al could see the condemnation turning over behind his eyes. He had spent years explaining his theories to men and women who didn't have half of his intellect and Al had witnessed first-hand the affect that it had on Sam&'s confidence.

"Yes," he was eventually informed.

Al didn't quite breathe a sigh of relief but it was pretty close. It was not easy under the circumstances but he managed a nod of approval and to give Sam a small knowing smile. One he knew Sam would recognise as Al's way of saying he was satisfied - that declared 'despite what you might be thinking right now, I believe in you.' At least that was what Al hoped Sam would see.

It was difficult to say.

Instead of returning to the panel as he expected, Sam seemed to finally notice the suit folded over the older man's arm and the highly polished shoes protruding beneath it. "Is that for tonight?" he inquired, his tone softening.

"Yeah, I figured you forgot it this morning."

The easy exchange lessened the lingering friction between them and Al allowed himself to relax a little. "Do you want me to put them in your office, or should I just give them to you now?"

"No, it's okay." Then, shooting Gooshie a sideways glance Sam announced he would be back shortly.

Following him out of the accelerator chamber and down the ramp Al fell into step behind Sam as they made their way to the office on the opposite side of the hub. Sam's office was no bigger than Al's. There was barely enough room to swing a cat Al had thought more than once or twice. Now being one of those occasions. Moving as far into the small space as was possible he handed his burden to Sam and watched as the younger man took care of the tux and then deposited the shoes on the floor under his desk.

An uncomfortable silence descended as Sam straightened and then made a show of organising the notes on his desk. The tension had returned and Al for one wasn't sure about how to deal with it. Drawing a cigar from his jacket pocket he held it for a moment, turning the Chivillo thoughtfully. Sam hated it when he smoked in his office and accepting that discretion was always the better part valour Al simply held it loosely between his fingers and then he propped himself on the edge of the desk.

"Do you think you'll be able make it tonight?" he asked, for want of something to say.

Apparently satisfied with his notes or perhaps tiring of the pretence Sam's head lifted and he made eye contact with Al for the first time since closing the door to his office. Gone was the annoyance he had exhibited earlier, leaving only the telling signs of a man fast approaching breaking point. The dark shadows which had been evident beneath Sam's eyes for some weeks were now more prominent, his skin was noticeably pale, slowly thinning and pulling back as a result of too many missed meals.

If it hadn't been for the events of the last twenty-four hours Al would have no hesitation taking Sam in his arms and smoothing away the creases currently marring the younger man's brow. Sam had walked out this morning, making it clear that he didn't want Al's interference. He wasn't sure where that left them, if Sam would even accept comfort from him or not.

No matter what happened between them Al knew he couldn't just stop caring.

It would be up to Sam of course, but as the silence stretched impossibly, painfully, Al slipped off the corner of the desk and closed the short distance between them. Pausing, only the briefest of moments to gauge his acceptance before he reached up and guided Sam's head to his shoulder.

There was an audible sigh from Sam as he rested against Al. Still a little unsure Al wrapped his free arm around Sam's waist to pull him closer, sighing himself as the other man finally relaxed in his arms.

Al didn't know how long they stood there holding each other, or what had prompted Sam's sudden surrender and he wasn’t about to ask. It didn't matter he decided. Eventually Sam pulled back. His face flushed and his eyes bright.

Running his hands through his hair Sam offered a small shy smile. To Al it was the kind of smile that had always melted his heart.

"You okay, Sam," he asked.

Letting his arms fall to his sides again Sam nodded. "I should get back to Gooshie."

"Sure, okay."

Rationally Al understood, Sam had to go back to work. There was a deadline and time was fast running out, but he wasn't ready to let him go just yet. He reached out, drawing Sam to him once again. Their embrace came more naturally this time and Al took the opportunity to press his lips to Sam's. Tentatively to start with. Still hesitant Al didn't want to push. He hated the uncertainty that the Committee's ultimatum had caused. Especially the way that it had affected their relationship. Thankfully Sam returned the pressure and parted his lips, providing Al with an unspoken invitation to take what he wanted. It was good, it always was. Wrapping his arm around Sam his hands explored and appreciated the contours of his lover's back and shoulders. Al didn't know what he was trying to convey. Forgiveness, an apology. It didn't matter because Sam keened against him, answering in his own way. For a few moments it was just the two of them. Fitted together. Perfect. If asked though, Al would have to say it was perhaps the saddest kiss he had ever shared with Sam.

In the end it was Al that drew back and then watched Sam go. He spared a passing glance towards the ramp to the accelerator chamber as he exited Sam's office and headed back to his own.

By four o'clock it was obvious that he wasn't coming. Al checked his email again and then his watch for the umpteenth time, sighing heavily. If he didn't leave now he was going to be late. He had sent the acceptance to attend almost three weeks ago and it was too late to let anyone know he wasn't going to make it after all. God, it was bad enough that Sam wasn't going to be with him tonight. He would have to explain to everyone that Doctor Beckett was un-expectantly unavailable and then spend the rest of the evening making excuses for him. Which was pretty much the story of his life; Al thought. He didn't want to think about the bitterness that accompanied the thought or how the hope he had felt earlier in the day was now slipping away. Al shut down his computer and headed out the door.

Part Five

As far as benefits go, Al assumed the organisers of the one he attended that night would have to consider theirs a success. He didn't know exactly how much money they had raised, but he hoped it was a good amount. It was a worthy cause and although he would have preferred to have skipped they whole event it had been okay. He had not been too happy when he had arrived, but as the evening drew on Al had relaxed, letting go of the animosity he had felt about Sam standing him up yet again and having to attend alone. As expected he had spent a good deal of the evening fielding questions about where the handsome Doctor Beckett was. Not that Al minded talking about Sam. There was a certain amount of satisfaction that came with having a younger, very attractive lover, especially one as smart as Sam. Their relationship may not be public knowledge, but he and Sam knew, and that was all that mattered.

The call from Gooshie informing him that Sam was leaping came straight out of left field. Shocking Al initially and filling him with a mixture of elation and something he couldn't quite put a name to. He had always believed Sam would prove his theory. It had only been a matter of time after all. Immeasurable pride was quickly followed by almost overwhelming relief. Something that no doubt translated as interest to the woman Al had found walking on the side of the main road only minutes earlier and subsequently picked up. He hadn't seen her before tonight, but she was most likely one of their neighbours, he decided.

As had been his default for years he refused to acknowledge the other emotions coiling inside of him. Usually anything that elicited a fear response was quickly pushed aside and Al would be the first to admit that old habits were hard to break. Besides, he reminded himself, they had discussed the risks when they had first started building the accelerator chamber and at various intervals along the way. This afternoon was a perfect example. While Al couldn't say he completely understood the actual mechanics of everything Sam told him, he trusted him.

He dropped his friendly hitch-hiker off at the intersection that led to the small housing estate where he and Sam had bought their house a little over a year and a half ago and then headed in the direction of the Project as fast as possible.

Despite his attempt to break the land-speed record the trip took no more than ten minutes. Wasting no time Al locked the car and broke into a jog. At this time of night most of the staff had gone home, but there was always a skeleton-staff who came in late and then worked though until the morning shift arrived. He saw no one as he entered the main entrance.

In Al's opinion some of the internal workings of Project Quantum Leap needed serious reconsideration. The lift in particular took what always felt like forever to reach the hub, especially when he was in a hurry. He cursed as he descended slowing, anxiety growing, refusing to be pushed aside this time. Even with some distance to go he could feel the shift, the palpable change in the air that broadcasted something wasn't right. Sirens sounded from far below him and the further he travelled the more urgent they became.

It had been a long time since Al had had a nightmare. In all honesty he couldn't remember the last time. Mostly they had been about his time as a POW. Sleeping next to Sam for the last few years had chased the last of them away though. He had been far too grateful for his freedom and the life he had with Sam to think much about the horrors he'd seen in Vietnam let alone imagine that he would be entering a scene that reminded him of the various war zones he had seen when he finally made it to the Project's hub.

Smoke and the smell of burnt conduits filled the space. Overhead, the safety lights turned in ever increasing circles and the sirens continued to sound, drowning out the chaos created by the men and women working to get the situation under control. It was difficult to see let alone to breathe. Ducking his head Al covered his mouth with one side of his jacket as he scanned the room. Small groups moved as if caught in time before him. Two technicians worked low to the ground at the front panel of Ziggy's internal circuitry and another stood behind, manning the super computers controls. Others, individuals Al couldn't identify through the melee appeared to be moving in and out of the small room adjacent to the accelerator chamber. The chamber itself billowed smoke and the distinctive sound of arcing power lines could be heard each time they made contact with something solid. Al suspected it was the chamber floor. His gut twisted and his heart rose to his throat.

There was no sign of Sam.

Stepping forward Al increased the length of his stride. He could see Gooshie standing at the entrance to the chamber, a fire extinguisher in his hands, holding two of the Projects engineers at bay as he shouted at them. Whatever he was saying was barely audible above the screech of the alarms. Al could only make out every second word. It was clear however, that the head programmer was saying something about the power.

Abandoning the limited protection provided by his jacket. "Jesus," Al barked, choking on the smoke. His eyes stung and his heart pounded so loudly in his chest that he couldn't hear a damn thing. "Someone turn those fucking things off," he ordered.

As if by magic or perhaps because they had finished their cycle for the time being the sirens fell silent, only to be replaced immediately by the insistent whirl of the exhaust system starting up. The effect was almost instantaneous and as he continued his march forward the smoke started to dissipate.

Closer now something sparked and snapped inside the chamber. Gooshie, along with the engineers flinched back. The power conduits, Al's mind supplied.

To his right he could hear the technicians working on Ziggy, trying to coax a response. The one at the controls communicating in much the same way Al had heard Sam speak to his unique computer, but only silence answered. He spared a fleeting glance in the general direction, absently noting the usually colourful display of Ziggy's outer housing was now completely dark.

His mind was awash as he stepped onto the ramp. The look on Gooshie's face should have told him what he would find there. It was beyond grim, Al thought, but he was never one to have someone else explain what he could see for himself. He was too caught up with finding Sam for him to listen anyway.

With three men already blocking the entrance Al found himself stopped at the top of the ramp. All eyes turned to meet him.

"Where's Sam? he asked, something unthinkable twisting inside of him now. Something that felt very much like a knife slowing separating his heart from his body. Images flashed behind his eyes and panic rose without warning, slamming into him like an out of control rocket leaving the atmosphere -- stealing his breath, his reason.

Al lurched forward, trying to see inside the chamber, but was held back.

"You can't go in there Admiral," he was informed in unison.

From the little Al could see, part of the ceiling had given way and some of the power cables had dropped down, exposing the internal wiring as they swung freely, arcing each time they connected with anything. He couldn't see Sam, but instinctively Al knew he was still in there. Dead or alive, he didn't know.

"Jesus Gooshie," he swore again. "Shut down the damn power and get him out of there."

"We're trying Admiral, but Ziggy is refusing to corporate."

"Then do something about it. Shut down the whole place and reboot." Al was desperate and each word spoke of it.

'We are running on the generator now, we can't turn it off without being certain the mains will take over. There won't be any fresh air."

"How long before you know?"

'Sixty seconds, but the smoke has compromised everyone here, they won't last for more than a minute or so."

Responsibility warred with determination. "What about to get in there and get him out?"

'Less than that, maybe twenty. But we'd working blind. With the power out..."

Al didn't need to hear the rest. Directing his next question to the other two men, he asked, "do either of you have a torch?"

"Yes," one replied.

"Good, get it ready," Al returned, reaching out and briefly grasping the engineer's shoulder before he turned his attention back to Gooshie. "Tell everyone to stay where they are and then shut the generator off. Count to thirty and power up the mains, if it doesn't work, turn the generator back on again."

Al could see Gooshie hesitate, trying to decide if shutting the power off was the right decision. They both knew that it wasn't just Sam's life at stake here, it was everyone else as well. If the mains didn't come online and the generator failed they'd all be trapped ten levels below the surface with no way out. Everyone would suffocate. Al understood but he wasn't prepared to let the other man's uncertainty stand in his way and he couldn't wait any longer.

"Do it, do it now," Al shouted. Moving aside as Gooshie descended the ramp and then after a tense moment, gave the order for everyone to hold their positions while the system was rebooted.

For a slipt second everything paused. The lights went out immediately and the exhaust fans continue to whirl slowly until they too fell silent. The air stilled and grew thin. Unpalatable. What was a moment ago an operation of precision inspired by one man's dream to travel in time was now a rescue mission, aided by one solitary torch and Al knew that if they didn't work quickly then everything Sam had fought for would be lost. He was also acutely aware that much more than a dream hung in the balance when they were finally able to enter chamber. Sam wasn't moving or responding to his name. Even with the torch held high above their heads by the engineer standing in the door way there wasn't enough light to see the full extent of the damage and what he could see would have to wait to be addressed. It turned his stomach and made his heart ache, but he wouldn't let himself think beyond the task at hand, he couldn't.

Together they carried Sam down the ramp to the small room beside the chamber and laid him on the steel table that had been set up there. The power came back on maybe a moment or two after Al had reluctantly relinquished his hold on Sam's prone form, stepping back to let Doctor Beeks and a handful of medical personnel work. With his back pressed against the wall he could hear the round of applause from outside as familiar sounds filled the space and breathing became a helluva a lot easier. He didn't move to investigate however, his gaze was transfixed on the scene in front of him and he couldn't look away even if he had wanted to. One side of Sam face along with his feet and hands were burnt, not badly, mostly superficial from what Al could see, but it was obvious that he'd been electrocuted. Scissors were produced and the Fermi suit that he must have changed into after they had last spoken was cut away quickly exposing his upper torso. Al waited, but there was no rise and fall, no sign that Sam was breathing. Something cruel and sickening rose inside of him and lodged in his throat, making it impossible to swallow, to think. He could barely stand, his legs were shaking and if it wasn't for the wall behind him holding him up he knew he would collapse. Flattening his hands against the solid surface Al tried to ground himself. He could hear the exchange between Beeks and the others, each word clipped with a level of urgency that made his blood run cold.

Al couldn't look away, but he did close his eyes as Beeks raised one balled fist and brought it down hard in the middle of on his lover's chest.

End.

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