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I stepped through the IC door, bracing myself for what I was about to hear. Sam had leaped in an hour or so ago, and he wasn’t going to be pleased that I left him on his own for so long.

"About time you got here!" Exactly what I expected; sometimes he’s so predictable.

"Hello to you, too," I replied, definitely not in the mood to start a fight. I’d already had one with Ziggy, which was the reason I was so late. She had the nerve to tell me that the year Sam had leaped into was 1944. That’s nine years before he was born! Theoretically speaking, that’s impossible, but Ziggy doesn’t bother with theories, not Sam’s anyway. She makes up her own, and as much as I hate to admit it, she’s usually right. This time she was feeding me the simo leap theory again. Ever since Sam and me switched places, she claims it’s possible that he leaps further back than 1953. She was positively gloating when she told me that this leap was proof that she was right.

And then there was this other little thing, the one he’d leaped into... It could mean nothing, just a coincidence, but these last five years have taught me there is no such thing. Hence the sinking feeling I had when I faced Sam...and burst out laughing.

"It’s not funny, Al!"

"I think it is," I laughed. "Talking about a cosmic sense of humor!" It was too ridiculous for words. I knew Sam had leaped into a woman again, a middle aged woman, but I wasn’t prepared for the way he would look. A baggy dress, almost worn out, feet in slippers that looked like they had barely survived the trashcan, but the thing that made me bust up was his hair. Up in rollers!

"Have you looked at yourself in the mirror?"

"I don’t need to," he snapped, pulling at his hair. "I have to get these things out, one way or another."

"You’d better, otherwise you won’t get any coherent information from me," I grinned. Taking pity on him, I continued," Sorry about the delay, Ziggy and I had a slight communication problem."

"A what?" Green eyes were staring at me, a twinkle starting. "Is that what you call it nowadays, when she’s acting up?"

"Alright! We had a fight! And I lost, again!" I still felt pissed about that. The handlink squeaked in triumph, causing a grin on Sam’s face.

"I would like to see the scores," he grinned "Ziggy 200, Adm. Calavicci 0."

"Not funny, Sam," I muttered, annoyed, because he was right. Thank God, Ziggy didn’t keep score.

"Who, where, when and why?" Sam asked, busying himself with removing the rollers from his hair.

I glanced at the handlink, muttering a curse under my breath when Ziggy showed me the scores of our fights. Sam wasn’t too far off.

"Just gimme the info!" I swear I heard her chuckle, but that could’ve been a figment of my imagination.

"You’re in New York, it’s November 5th, 1944…" I paused, waiting for the interruption, which followed within a split second. As I said, predictable.

"That’s impossible!"

"Tell Ziggy that!"

To my amazement he smiled, an understanding grin. "She’s been feeding you the simo leap theory again."

"Damn right she did! Wait-a-sec...you remember that?"

He nodded, his face beaming. I knew there was something terribly wrong with this leap, and I had the notion I was about to find out what.

"I remember a lot. Almost everything."

Now that was news, although I wasn’t sure it was good news. There are certain things I don’t want him to remember. Sounds harsh, but call it survival on my part, something I’ve become an expert at.

"You don’t like it." Damn! He was reading my mind again.

"I’m not sure." Keep a poker face, I told myself.

A knock on the door prevented Sam from replying. He yanked the last few rollers out of his hair, smoothed it with his hands and looked at me, eyebrows raised. I shrugged and consulted the handlink again. If I had thought Sam’s returned memory threw me off balance, what I read there sent me into a state of shock.

Sam opened the door, an awkward look on his face. A young woman stood outside, holding a little girl by the hand. I knew what I was going to see, but still the sight had me shivering.

"Hello," she greeted Sam. "I’ve brought the kids."

"Kids? I see only one," Sam replied, glancing at the girl. I saw the immediate connection, something that didn’t surprise me. He smiled at her, and the bright smile she gave back brought tears to my eyes.

"One?" The woman cried out, looking around her. "Where is that devil?? This is the third time he ran out on me on the way over here!"

Despite my worries, I had to grin. Sam threw me a confused look, the one that has ‘help’ written all over it. I decided to have mercy on him. This leap would get complicated soon enough.

"Your name is Josie Taylor, you’re 52, widowed. You’re supposed to baby-sit tonight."

Sam had taken the girl by the hand, while the woman left in a hurry to find the missing child.

"Oh great!" he hissed. "That’s why I’m here? To baby-sit??"

"Apparently."

"What went wrong in the original history?" He gestured toward the door. "The kid went missing?"

"No, that’s not the problem, Sam,’ I answered, silently adding, ‘I hope’. "And nothing went wrong in the original history, not that I know of."

"That you know of??" Sometimes his perceptiveness drives me nuts. Like now.

"Do you have to take everything so literally?"

The green eyes narrowed. "There is something you’re not telling me."

Again I was saved by the bell, so to speak. A whirlwind stormed in, followed by the woman.

"Stay here!" she yelled at the other kid. "Don’t you dare run away again!"

Sam looked a bit shaken by this sudden entry of a new player, but he managed to smile reassuringly at the woman. "I’ll make sure he doesn’t go anywhere."

"I hope so." She let out a sigh. "It’s so good of you to look after them I wouldn’t know what to do without you."

"It’s okay."

"I have to run. See you kids tomorrow!"

‘Tomorrow?’ Sam mouthed at me I merely nodded and leaned against the wall of the IC chamber, determined to enjoy this. The woman left, obviously glad to get away. I couldn’t blame her. Sam crouched down by the little girl.

"Hi," he said. "What’s your name?"

So, he remembered that too, did he? Animals, children under the age of five and mentally challenged people see him, not the person he’s leaped into. She didn’t answer, just kept staring at him with huge eyes. There was no fear in them, just surprise.

"Who are you?" The voice came from the other end of the room. Sam’s head snapped up, staring at the boy with startled eyes, then his gaze went to me. I couldn’t react for a moment, too stunned myself Another impossibility, or not? It didn’t take me long to figure it out, and it scared the hell out of me.

"You see me?" Sam stammered.

"Yeah sure. Wadda ya think, I’m blind or something? By the way you look stupid in that dress."

Despite his shock, I saw a smile tugging at the corners of Sam’s mouth. "Don’t I know it," he muttered.

"Then why do you wear it?"

The smile got bigger. "You want to know everything, don’t you?"

A shrug. "If you don’t wanna tell me."

"It’s a bit complicated." Sam settled himself on the couch, pulling the girl on his lap. It was such a wonderful sight, the trust she had in him.

"Try me." A pause, in which I saw Sam gather his thoughts. Then unexpectedly, "Who’s that other guy?"

"Who me??" I was surprised I could even form the words.

"Yeah you. I don’t see anyone else."

The look on Sam’s face turned from confused to desperate. I thought by now he had managed to figure this whole situation out. Obviously, he hadn’t.

"I’m his friend," I explained, gesturing at Sam. "I help him."

"Gets into trouble a lot, doesn’t he?" It was said with a mischievous grin, something that was uncomfortable to say the least. I heard Sam gasp back a breath.

"Oh boy!"

"Oh boy??? What kind of expression is that??"

"That’s what I keep telling him," I grinned.

"Doesn’t help?’

"Nope."

"Hey you guys, stop it will ya!" Sam exclaimed. "I hate it when people talk about me like I’m not here. "

"Touchy..."

Sam ignored that comment and turned to me. "You have a lot of explaining to do. How can he see me, and you for that matter?"

"Brainwaves," I replied. It was the only logical explanation. Hell, it was the only explanation.

He seemed to ponder that for a moment. "Could be. So, his brainwaves," with a wave to the kid, "are pretty similar to yours or mine."

"Mine. And not ‘pretty’ similar, exactly the same." Digest that, Mr Genius. The wheels were turning in his brain, I could almost hear the sound. Then it clicked, all the right connections were made. Took him long enough.

"Oh, that’s...oh boy!"

The boy had followed the conversation with growing interest. "You know who I am?" he asked, suspicion clear in his voice.

Sam nodded. "Yes, I do. But not like you are now." He sighed . "Look, this may sound strange, but hear me out. I’m from the future."

"And you expect me to believe that?"

"Not really," Sam grinned. "I knew you wouldn’t take things at face value. But it’s true, I’m from the future, some fifty odd years into it."

"That’s from....1994!" If Sam had wanted to convince him…me...him with that, he failed miserably. Sam seemed to notice that too, getting that look in his eyes I knew all too well. He’s used that on me so many times, I’ve become resistant to it. That’s what I tell myself, at least.

"From 2000, to be more precise." I couldn’t believe I just said that and neither could Sam. It was the first, no second, time I’ve told him what year it was in my time. The first time it had been necessary, the only way to get him back home. What made me tell him now, I don’t know. It couldn’t have been that look....nah...

"The next century??" Disbelief was replaced by curiosity, as I hoped it would be.

"Yes, although we’re only into the 21st century by about three weeks. It still sounds odd to me."

"I’ll bet." Narrowed dark eyes focused on Sam again. He stared back, meeting the inquiring look with a confused one of his own. Then another remark that came out of left field, "You didn’t know, did you?"

I amazed myself there, and that’s saying something. Sam slowly shook his head in reply.

"No, I didn’t." His eyes found mine for a second, sending me a silent ‘thank you’. For that alone, I would move the universe.

"He never told you?"

"No." Suddenly a grin brightened up his features. "It’s a rule. And before you comment on that, it’s a rule I set myself. "

"How did you know what I was going to ask?"

The grin became broader. "I know you, remember?"

"That’s what you told me."

Oh, this was fun! Sam trying his damnedest to convince me of something and I had the pleasure of watching it. I decided to sit this one out on the sideline, study it closely and try to think of a way to defend myself in a similar situation.

"Okaaay....," Sam mused. "Your name is Albert Calavicci, and you’re about...ten years old now. This is your sister, Trudy." The last words were accompanied by a ruffle through the little girl's hair, who squeaked in delight. Hearing him mention her name touched something deep inside me, not only because he remembered it. It was as if only now I became aware of her presence. She gazed up at Sam with such adoration, I felt a shiver running up my spine. He told me numerous times that he had wanted to meet her. I guess he got his wish.

The stupefied expression on my younger self’s face pushed those thoughts away. I couldn’t help grinning at him.

"You find this all terribly funny, don’t you?" he shot at me, defense mechanism in full working order. It shocked me to the core. I had always thought the walls that had surrounded me for so long weren’t in place then. I thought wrong, the living proof right in front of me.

"I like to see Sam twisting and turning to get himself out of a situation," I shrugged, revealing another little secret.

It earned me a big grin. That, he could live with. It wasn’t directed at him, so it was safe.

"Thank you," I heard Sam mutter. It had us both laughing, Trudy joining in, although she had no idea what was going on. The sound of her laughter was music to my ears, I hadn’t heard it for so long. If there was one thing she could always do, it was make me feel better.

"You make her laugh," the younger me softly said to Sam. He had won the battle, yet again.

Sam shrugged off the compliment. "She heard you two laughing, and she decided to join you, that’s all."

An impatient shaking of a head. "No, she has to trust you to do that. And she doesn’t trust many people."

A faint blush colored Sam’s cheeks. "Do you trust me?"

"Guess so. Though it’s all pretty weird, you knowing my name and all."

"Can’t blame you there. Let’s start again." Sam patted next to him on the couch. The boy took the invitation and sat down. "As I said, I’m from the future. I’m a time traveller, who travels into the past."

"Only the past?"

"So far, yes. Theoretically it is possible for me to leap into the future, but it has never happened." One of the things Ziggy keeps bugging me about, I believe she’s disappointed it doesn’t happen.

"No one knows the future, but the past, well..." A shrug. Oooh, Ziggy I wish you could hear this! As if on cue the handlink uttered a soft protest. I hadn’t heard the last about that.

"You could be right," Sam grinned. "The theory is that I can travel within my own lifetime."

"You’re that old?" Coy and with twinkling eyes. I stifled a laugh, but Sam caught me just the same.

"I see you haven’t changed a bit," he remarked snidely. "In fact, in my own time, you’re older than me, you even call me ‘kid’."

"Get outta here!"

"I wish I could." Sam’s mood change caught us both unawares. He hung his head, burying his face in Trudy’s dark hair.

"You can’t get back to your own time?" A hand was placed on Sam’s shoulder. Envy raged through me with the force of a tidal wave. No, not envy, pure jealousy. That awful green demon that can destroy a person. Why can he touch Sam?? Why not me, it should’ve been me!! The fury only lasted a few seconds, then it flowed away. It left me with a lot of unfinished thoughts, swirling around my brain like confetti. I’ve felt envy before, but not this white hot rage.

"Sam?" I croaked out. "I’ve gotta go now. Be back soon." I caught his surprised look just before the IC door closed behind me. I had some explaining to do when I got back, but for now I just had to get out of there. That, or embarrass myself completely.

I walked out of the IC on unsteady legs, threw the handlink in the console and headed for my quarters. Peace and quiet, that was what I needed right now.

It was near midnight when I got out of the shower. I took a shower to cool down, to get a clear head. It didn’t help. The image of my younger self with his hand on Sam’s back kept swirling before my eyes. I was overreacting, I knew that. After all, it was me out there with Sam. A sharp pain in my head sliced through my thoughts. Timeline change. I should be used to it by now, but it always caught me unawares. Especially now, I hadn’t expected the timeline to be affected by this leap. What had Sam changed this time, and moreover, how?

My quarters didn’t seem different at first glance. It’s always the first thing I look for, it usually gives me an indication of the changes. Not different, slightly larger, but that could be my imagination. Wandering into the bedroom my eye caught the door next to the bed. That hadn’t been there before. My mind was racing when I opened it. Another bedroom was behind it. Two bedrooms? Why did I need two bedrooms?

It took a few minutes, but then I realized I was in someone else’s quarters. I felt like an intruder, but my curiosity won out. Why was there a connecting door between my quarters and someone else’s? And whose quarters was this?

A clutter of framed photographs on the dresser. Crossing the room, a strange comfortable feeling came over me. I had been here before! Tina, was the first name that popped into my brain. I grinned, that would make sense. The grin faded when I picked up a picture in a heavy silver frame. It was a picture of two men, arms slung around each other's shoulders. Tom and Sam. It was almost an exact copy of the picture I showed Sam on one of the earliest leaps , but in this one they seemed to be older. I knew Tom had survived Vietnam, thanks to Sam, but it still was a shock. Slowly, the memories filtered through. I had been there when this photograph was taken, in fact I’d done it myself. That would mean I had met Tom. I didn’t recall ever meeting him, apart from that leap, but that memory would come back, I was sure of that.

Sam’s quarters! Another startling thought, that came out of nowhere. These had to be Sam’s quarters! That they were next to mine, made sense. Ever since Starbright we had been neighbors. No, wait, not Starbright. I had met Sam at MIT, twelve years before Starbright. A gawky nineteen-year-old, too smart for his own good. I smiled at the memory, it was a good one. Flashes of nights we spent together, going over some of Sam’s crazy ideas, pushed their way into my mind. I tore myself away from them. I had to know what was going on. Somehow I had the idea this wasn’t the whole picture.

Wandering into the living room the first thing I noticed was that it looked lived-in. Books were scattered all over the place, a tee-shirt was carelessly thrown over a chair, CD’s on the floor in front of the stereo. Not the kind of place that had been unoccupied for the last five years. I searched my mind for some, any, memories, but drew a total blank.

"Admiral?" The soft, almost shy voice startled me no end. My eyes darted across the room, finding no one.

"Admiral?" The voice again, now more determined. "Don’t look for intruders, you won’t find any."

"Ziggy!" I gasped. "You scared the life out of me!"

"You seem healthy enough to me," the disembodied voice replied.

"Smart ass!" I hissed. "But what is it?"

Amazingly she didn’t comment on the ‘smart ass’ remark, which was a miracle in itself. Maybe I had finally gotten her in line.

"The timeline has changed, Admiral."

"Tell me something I don’t know!" That damned computer knew exactly how to get on my nerves. "Anything else?"

"This change is a major one. It affects this whole Project." Now she had my attention.

"How so?"

"I think you’d better sit down for this, Admiral. It’s complicated." I did as she said, settling myself behind Sam’s desk, smiling when I found a Ziggy cartoon taped on the monitor. Sam loved those.

"Okay, shoot!"

"I’m still trying to work out how this shift came about. The logistics are very complicated..."

"Ziggyyyyy..."

"As I said, the logistics are very complicated, but the bottom line is that Dr. Beckett isn’t trapped in time."

It nearly knocked me off my chair. Of all the answers I had expected, this wasn’t on the list. It took me a few moments to get my act together again. "You mean he could walk in here any moment?"

"Not exactly. Currently Dr. Beckett is in a leap. The one you left about an hour ago. But he can be retrieved, in fact he has been successfully retrieved after every leap."

"The retrieval program works??" A shimmer of hope began to rise inside me. This was almost too good to be true.

"Yes, it does." The shimmer became a flame. "But there’s more." I knew it was too good to be true. "How he did it, I haven’t been able to determine, but he set back time. The current year is 1996."

Another shock to my system. I wondered how many more I could take, I was already developing a beaut of a headache. A thought crossed my mind, causing me to chuckle. "I’m four years younger?’

"Technically speaking, you are four years younger." Oh great! The tone of her voice had become flat, emotionless. It always happened when she was unable to find a solution to a problem. Damn Sam, for programming every episode of Star Trek in her databanks. Had I known then that Ziggy would develop a major crush on Data, I would’ve deleted them personally. Now she wouldn’t let me.

"You’re not telling me everything." It was a statement, not a question. "And please, stop the Star Trek routine!"

She didn’t listen, as usual. "You are quite correct in assuming that this is not all the information. Still, I am not sure if I should inform you about the other change."

"Another one??"

"It is of a personal nature. It affects both you and Dr. Beckett..." A pause. Just a few short seconds, but it was all the time I needed to get the picture. Things started falling into place so quickly my head was spinning. The connecting door, the tee-shirt on the chair, that I now identified as mine.

"Sam and me???" I gasped. Sam and me, more than just friends? My mind was unable to form the right words. "Nah, impossible!"

"Very possible."

I couldn’t help it, I busted up, laughing so hard tears were streaming over my face. Whether it was from the shock, or the fact that Ziggy suddenly gave a great impersonation of Q, I didn’t know, but it made me feel a lot better. "Zig," I grinned, "I didn’t know you could do that."

"Oh, I’m capable of doing any voice you can think of." It was her own voice again, sultry and with a hint of amusement. "I thought you could use a laugh."

"You thought right," I smiled. "Thanks."

"You’re welcome."

"But this thing about Sam and me being....." I still wasn’t able to say the word.

"Lovers," she finished. "It is true, Admiral. You have been for the last fifteen years."

Fifteen years. Fifteen years of being as close to Sam as two people can possibly be. Fifteen years of loving Sam…and Sam loving me. That was the most amazing of all, and the most difficult to understand. Sam being capable of loving me. Oh, I knew he loved me as a friend, but even that had been hard to grasp for me in the beginning. The longer I thought about it, the more unlikely this whole thing seemed to be. And yet....

"Dr. Beckett will be leaping in 2.1 hours, Admiral."

"You can predict that?" The moment the question left my mouth, I knew the answer. Of course she could. We could control Sam’s leaps, so we could get him home any time we wanted.

"Sorry, stupid question. What does he have to do before he can leap.. I mean before we retrieve him?"

"I don’t know. But I need time to download and process the retrieval program."

"You need 2 hours for that?" She had to be kidding!

"No, 6 minutes. I thought you’d like to go back to the Imaging Chamber for a while." She didn’t sound insulted. Things had certainly changed.

"You’re thinking right again." I rushed to my own quarters and threw on some clothes, then headed for Main Control.

It was virtually empty, which was not surprising considering the late hour. Gooshie was at his post, though. I wondered if this man ever slept.

"Admiral," he greeted me. "I’ll power up the IC for you."

Well, at least Gooshie hadn’t changed. Thinking two steps ahead all the time. Only Sam could beat him at that - he was thinking 30 steps ahead.

"Thanks Gooshie." I picked up the handlink and studied it for a while. Nothing different. Drawing in a deep breath, I entered the IC. Ziggy had said that Sam was in the same leap as he was in the other timeline, but I wasn’t sure. I had to see it for myself.

"Admiral, one warning." Dammit, that was twice in one day she managed to scare me shitless.

"Ziggy, please don’t do that!"

"Sorry. But I had to warn you before you saw Dr. Beckett. He isn’t aware of the changing of the timelines, therefore he doesn’t know we can retrieve him. I would strongly advise you not to tell him."

My first impulse was to get angry. After all this time we could get him home and I wasn’t allowed to tell him that??? Then I realized what she meant. Suppose she couldn’t retrieve him? Although in this timeline we had been able to do that every time, what if it failed? I didn’t want to give Sam false hope.

"You’re right. But let me know when you try to retrieve him."

"Acknowledged." Now it was Picard. This was getting amusing.

Sam was not in the living room, so I wandered around the house to find him and soon got lost in the memories. I remembered this place now. Mrs Taylor used to baby-sit when my father and his girlfriend had to work. She was nice, truly cared for us.

I found Sam in the spare bedroom, reading a bedtime story. Trudy was already asleep, and I…the kid...was listening to him, open-mouthed. Must’ve been some story. I watched him, not hearing a word of the story, as focused as I was on the sight of him.

"Hi."

"Hi to you too." I smiled at my younger self. "You liked the story?"

"Yeah!" I saw Sam crack a grin at that reply.

"Story’s over, time to sleep," he announced.

"Saaamm!" The grin got wider.

"Don’t you ‘Sam’ me, you-are-going-to-sleep. Now!"

"Yes Sir!"

"You’ve got him giving orders?" I asked the boy.

"He started!" An accusing finger was pointed at Sam, who didn’t blink an eye.

"I did. And you obey them."

The muttered, ‘yeah, I guess’ had us both laughing. After shooting a positively annoyed look at us, he decided it was wiser to join our laughter.

"And now sleep!" Sam ordered, playing his part to the nines. He seemed to take some perverse pleasure in ordering the younger me around. I wasn’t at all sure if I liked it.

We walked back to the living room, Sam sagging down into a chair. I grinned at the sight, they had really worn him out.

"Tired, kid?" I asked.

He looked up at me, a twinkle in his eyes. "You know, it was a treat to call you ‘kid’ for a change."

"I’ll bet," I grumbled. He was going to tease me with that for ages, no doubt about it.

"But to answer your question, yes, I am tired. And frustrated. Does Ziggy have any idea yet as to why I’m here?"

"No, she hasn’t." It was the truth, although I was beginning to get a vague idea. Maybe it was just wishful thinking, but it appeared that whoever or whatever was leaping him around had decided to give him a second chance. Like he had given second chances to so many people. Why this leap was chosen was a mystery to me. He hadn’t done anything spectacular, hadn’t changed anything. At least, not here.

"Nothing at all?" The impatiently asked question cut through my musings.

I shook my head. "No, but I’ll check again." I glanced at the handlink. There was some new information, but it had nothing to do with the reason for this leap. Ziggy informed me that she had decided to retrieve Sam in half an hour, which was fine by me. The sooner the better.

"Nothing," I told Sam, hoping he couldn’t read my mind. He has the irritating habit of doing that sometimes. This time I was lucky. His face darkened, and he sagged in his chair.

"This is getting annoying," he snapped, hitting the arm of the chair with his fist. "Not that I didn’t like this, I did," he added in a softer voice.

"Sam?" A voice from the bedroom. Sam rose from his chair, jaw squared. Oh boy, I was in trouble. I followed him, curious as to what he would do.

"What is it?" His voice was surprisingly soft and gentle.

"Will you still be here in the morning?"

A smile stretched Sam’s lips. He sat down on the edge of the bed. "I don’t know. I wish I could tell you more, but I can’t."

"I want you to stay here." The statement was delivered in a determined tone, but I could see the plea in his eyes. It was another proof that I was trying to hide my true feelings even then.

"I can’t, I explained that to you. But I also told you we will meet again."

"But I want you to stay now!"

Sam muttered something that sounded suspiciously like ‘stubborn brat’, drew in a deep breath and continued, " I wish I could stay too, although I could do without these clothes."

That brought a smile. "Guess so."

"I want to ask you something. When you wake up tomorrow, and I’m gone, be nice to Mrs Taylor. She will be confused for a while." Perfect move, Sam, I thought fondly.

"I will."

"Good. And now you go to sleep." Sam rose, but was halted by a hand on his arm.

"Could you stay here until I fall asleep?" No more hiding, the vulnerability was plain to see.

"Oh, alright," Sam grinned, setting himself down again. He glanced at me, the warm affection in his eyes moving me to the core. I had no doubt that my thoughts and his were similar. How many nights had he done that, sitting at my bedside, keeping the nightmares away? When things got really rough, he would even sleep on the floor next to the bed. A memory pushed itself to the surface. A new memory. One night when I was having a really bad spell, he didn’t lay down on the floor, but crawled into my bed, holding me until the worst was over. One thing led to another, as they say, and we made love. It was our first night as lovers, the start of what would become the best years of my life. It was strange, but this new-found memory didn’t startle me as much as I thought it would. It was a vague, unsettling feeling, but not a bad one.

"He’s asleep," Sam whispered, carefully freeing his hand that had been locked in a death-grip. He stood and looked down at the other bed. "I’ve always wanted to meet her, Al," he said.

I nodded, unable to speak around the lump in my throat. He had told me that many times.

"I guess I got my wish." He softly stroked Trudy’s dark hair. "She’s as wonderful as you said. So happy in her own little world." He turned around, now looking at the young me. "As for this one, he’s a handful," he grinned. "But I knew that already. What really breaks my heart is to know what life holds in store for you. You’re still so full of dreams now."

"I survived, Sam," I replied. "And many of those dreams have come true."

"I know," he sighed. "But still..."

How I wished I could tell him everything, tell him how he changed history for me, erasing a lot of painful memories, healing a lot of wounds, but I knew I couldn’t. If we could get him back home, then I would tell him. I’d have to. "There’s nothing you could’ve done, Sam. Many of the things that happened to me were my own fault."

"Maybe so, but a lot weren’t." His next move sent a shockwave through me like I’ve never felt before. He bent over and pressed a soft kiss on the boy’s forehead. It opened my eyes. The thoughts that had been whirling through my mind ever since Ziggy told me about the timeline changes fell silent and a quietness descended on me. I knew at that very moment that what we had in this timeline was right. Nothing had ever seemed more right in my whole life. I loved Sam, and not only as a friend.

A squeak from the handlink. It was time, I didn’t have to look at the little device to know that. "Sam?"

"Yeah?’

"Leap’s over." The last thing I saw was his confused face, then the walls of the IC appeared around me. I stood in the middle of the chamber, staring at the brick walls, not having the courage to step out and face whatever was coming next. A soft noise came from the handlink. I glanced at it. It only said one word: "YES." Relief washed over me, my knees grew weak and I had to sit down. Sam was back. Home, after all this time. Still, I had to compose myself before going back to Main Control For the people in there, this was no big deal. For them Sam had gotten home after every leap.

Part Two


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Chapter Text

 

The More Things Change Part Two

 

Part Two

After a couple of minutes, I tried to stand up. My legs were still wobbly, but I could walk. A grinning Gooshie awaited me.

"Another successful leap," he announced. All I could do was nod. To my surprise he laid a hand on my shoulder when I brushed past him. "It took us a long time, and I don’t know what he did, but he’s back." His grin got wider, when he saw my startled face. "I work with Ziggy every day. I know about the timeline changes, although I don’t experience them. What I do know is that Dr. Beckett was stuck in time before this leap."

"He was. But you’d better keep your mouth shut about that." My voice sounded distant. It made sense though; as he said, he had been working with Ziggy every day since day one. He knew that computer inside out and no doubt he had found a way to access all her databanks.

"My lips are sealed," he promised me.

"Good," I replied. "Dr. Beckett is in the Waiting Room?"

"Yes, very confused, I might add."

"He would be. I didn’t tell him about the timeline change or that we were able to retrieve him."

"Wise decision."

"Give Ziggy credit for that," I waved the compliment away.

"Why, thank you Admiral!"

"Oh shut up you!" I barked into thin air. "I’m going to the Waiting Room." With those words I rushed out of Main Control. I escaped, more like it. One more minute and Ziggy would have had me involved in some verbal sparring match and I wasn’t up to that. I had to see Sam. Make sure he really was home. Which was easier said than done. The whole layout of the Project had changed somehow, so it took me ages to find the Waiting Room. When I finally did, I hesitated before entering. So many things had changed, how was I going to explain it all to him? One step at the time, my brain supplied. Tread carefully.

Drawing in a deep breath, I finally entered.

"AL!!!" The next thing I knew I was scooped up in a hug, the kind of bear-hug only Sam could give. He was home. We clung to each other, desperate to feel. Nothing else, just feel. When he drew back, tears were on his cheeks.

"How?" he whispered.

"Long story, kid. And I can’t explain it to you, most of it anyway. I’m still having trouble figuring it all out. But there’s one thing you have to know." I paused, looking up at him, drinking in the sight of him.

"And that is?"

"In this timeline you made it home after every leap." Stunned didn’t even begin to describe his expression. I could relate to that, I hadn’t tried to grasp this whole concept. "Don’t ask me how, I don’t know. But I’m telling you because you…"

"Don’t expect a welcome home party," he cut in, grinning from ear to ear now.

"Yeah, something like that," I smiled back. He was taking this rather well, I thought, but I refrained from telling him more.

"Pity," he said. "I was kinda looking forward to that. But it doesn’t matter, I’m home!" Another hug, less desperate than the first one. But oh, it felt good, to have those strong arms around me, to feel his body against me. I didn’t want this to end, wanted to stay like that forever.

"My, my, aren’t we cozy!" Beeks. Leave it to her to spoil a party. Sam stepped back, a fierce blush coloring his cheeks.

"Do you have to barge in like this?" I snapped at her.

"I knocked, but obviously the two of you were too busy doing whatever you were doing, to hear it." That damned amusement in her voice, that much too sweet smile, I was ready to hit her. And she knew it.

"Hi Beena," Sam said, his voice hoarse with emotion.

"Hi Sam," she replied warmly. "Tough leap? You look kinda pale."

"Uh...yeah, you could say that." I took pity on him and cut in.

"What he needs is a good night's sleep and he’ll be okay."

Beena threw us a stern look, nodded and grinned, "Alright, as long as it’s sleep, Admiral!"

"Yes Sir!" I saluted her. The questioning glance I got from Sam didn’t escape me. 'Later’ I mouthed at him.

"Get outta here!" We obeyed, like two good little boys. Beeks held Sam back just before he got out of the door. "I want to see you first thing in the morning, mister!"

"How early is first thing?" he quipped.

Beena didn’t answer that. She stalked away with her hands in the air. "Men!"

"She hasn’t changed," Sam grinned.

"She never did. Everyone changed at one time or another, but she was just too stubborn."

"That’s Beena for you. Everyone changed?" No doubt about it, his mind hadn’t suffered. He still managed to surprise the hell out of me.

"Everyone," I nodded. "Even me."

He didn’t reply, just walked beside me, deep in thought. I was waiting for the next battery of questions, but it didn’t come. I was relieved when we reached my quarters. Sam went in and immediately flopped down on the nearest available chair.

"Tired?" I asked.

"That’s putting it mildly," he sighed. "I feel like I’ve been through hell."

"You have," I said quietly. "More times than one."

"I guess," he shrugged.

I crouched down in front of him. "Welcome home, Sam."

His eyes grew wide for a second, astonishment plain to see. Then understanding, and finally sheer happiness. He slid to the floor, straight into my arms, crying his heart out. It was an inevitable reaction and a very healthy one. At least he didn’t keep things bottled up, not that I had expected that from Sam. He had always been easy displaying his emotions. Unlike me.

He cried for a long time, shaking in my arms. Finally, the shaking stopped and the crying faded to sobs. A tear-stained face looked up to me.

"I needed that," he sniffed. "I’ve been wanting to do that for the longest time."

"What? Cry in my arms?" I kept my voice light, making it sound like a joke. I was more than a bit shaken myself, but I wasn’t in the mood for intense conversation.

"Yes," he said softly, those green eyes very serious. "You’re the only one that knows what I’ve been through, the only one that would understand."

I nodded, understanding perfectly. To be honest when he said ‘yes’ my nervous-system received the nth shock of the day. I was amazed that it could take so much. But his explanation let that shock fade quickly.

We sat like that for a while, not talking, words were not needed now. Sam uncomfortably shifting made us get up in the end. The poor guy was dead tired, he could hardly stand on his feet.

"Off to bed with you," I ordered. He started to protest, but I cut him off. "No ‘but’, you need sleep."

"Yes Dad," he said with a shadow of a grin.

I manhandled him into the bedroom, where I put him on the bed. His eyes closed and he let out a long, contented sigh. "Ah, this feels good!"

I went to his bedroom, and fetched him a tee-shirt and some clean underwear. "Here," I threw the garments on the bed - well, on him. He picked the shirt up and stared at it. "It’s a tee-shirt," I commented.

"I can see that," he replied.

"You don’t want to sleep in that thing?" I gestured at the Fermisuit he was still wearing.

"No, guess not." He blushed bright red.

"Then what?" I asked, although I had a pretty good idea what was bothering him.

"You want me to change?"

"Boyscout Sam," I grinned. "Okay, I’m out. Give me a yell if you need anything."

The look of relief on his face was comical. I went back to the living room, chuckling to myself, especially when I heard him grumbling that he wasn’t a boyscout.

"Al?" I heard after a few minutes.

I entered the bedroom again, finding him lying flat on his back on the bed. "Yeah, kid?"

"This is your quarters."

"Yes."

"Why didn’t you take me to mine?"

I organized my thoughts as quickly as I could. Up to this moment I hadn’t considered the reason for taking him to my quarters. It just seemed a logical thing to do. "Because you needed to sleep first." It was a lame answer, but he seemed to buy it.

"Too many things there that need explaining," he said, more to himself than to me.

"You got it."

"Okay, but tomorrow I want to go there."

"Alright. After you’ve been to Beeks."

He pulled a face, then grinned. "I guess there’s no way I can avoid that."

"Beeks?" I shook my head, chuckling. "No chance in hell, kid."

His eyes closed again, nearly asleep. "Sleep now," I told him. He didn’t answer, so I assumed he was asleep. I turned and was nearly out of the room when he called me back.

"Al?"

"I said sleep!"

"I will, but..." He swallowed hard. "I don’t wanna be alone. I’m afraid."

I heaved a deep sigh, silently cursing myself for not seeing this coming. "What do you want then?’

"Could you stay here?" The words echoed in my mind, a similar picture appearing before my mind’s eye. I had asked him the same thing, not too long ago. I didn’t want him to leave either.

"Sure." I crossed the room and sat down on the edge of the bed. "Want me to read you a bedtime story?" I joked.

"Idiot," he muttered good-naturedly. "You don’t mind?’

"To stay with you, no, but I think I’ll pass on that bedtime story." That brought a real smile to his face.

"You haven’t changed," he mumbled. His eyes closed again and within moments he was fast asleep. I stayed with him as I promised. It wasn’t a chore, I hadn’t wanted to leave in the first place. During his leaping this had been one of the things that had kept me from going insane. In long nights when sleep wouldn’t come, or at times when I needed some peace and quiet, I often went to the IC to watch him sleep. It was my way of relaxing and it had the same effect on me now. Apart from that brief moment in the bedroom, my thoughts had been in constant turmoil almost from the moment he had leaped into Josie Taylor. The tension flowed out of my body as I watched him. Suddenly it came to me, that I could do more than just watch. Carefully I reached out and stroked his hair. He muttered something and rolled onto his side, facing me. It was wonderful.

While I sat there, his last words filtered through. I hadn’t changed, he said. I smiled, how wrong he was. Which was a definite first, because in the past he could read me like a book. I had changed. I had become more patient, not letting my temper rule my actions that often anymore. The sharp edges had gone. A terrifying thought hit me and made me chuckle at the same time. When Sam found out about that, he would tease me relentlessly, saying my age was finally catching up with me. Which wasn’t true, of course.

After I made sure he was fast asleep, I went to the bathroom and changed into my pj’s. I didn’t think twice about my sleeping place for that night, in my bed, with Sam. I threw another blanket over him, and crawled in myself. He hadn’t moved a muscle in the time I’d been gone and he didn’t move now. Still, I stayed awake for a while longer, to make sure he was alright. Soon, I had to give up the battle with sleep, felt my eyes close, and the darkness claim me. Sleep, a whole night of uninterrupted sleep lay before me.

The first thing I noticed when I woke up the next morning was the fact that I wasn’t alone in my bed. Not that that was a new experience to me, but lately it hadn’t happened too often. Tina and I had drifted apart - my fault. I didn’t spend enough time with her, and although she understood the reason why, I had to let her go Without regret, I might add. She was still a good friend, but nothing more. Which brought me back to the other person lying in my bed. Holding me in a death-grip. A head on my chest, an arm around my waist. Sam! During the night he had moved so close to me, that he was now almost lying on top of me.

I felt myself tense up completely. What would his reaction be when he woke up? I hadn’t told him I was going to sleep in the same bed with him. My startled movement woke him up. I waited, holding my breath.

Sleepy eyes opened, stared at me for a second. A smile followed.

"Morning," I said softly.

"Already?" he muttered.

"Yes, sleepyhead, already." It was impossible to keep the relief from my voice. "But you can sleep in today."

"Gee, thanks." The eyes closed, and he was out like a light again.

I glanced at the clock. 0800. I had slept for...6 hours! Which had to be a record. In the last five years, I hadn’t been able to sleep more then 3, 4 hours at a stretch. And at the oddest times. Often enough, Sam’s time wasn’t similar to ours, so I had to sleep in the middle of the day.

I couldn’t sleep anymore, just lay there, holding Sam. Inevitably, my thoughts went to the timeline changes. Most of them I could explain to him, with some help from Ziggy. He’d be challenged to no end by them. But that one change, how on earth was I going to tell him that? And what’s more, how was I suppose to tell him I wanted it? I had to do it, no escape possible. No doubt everyone on the Project knew about us, being the tight community it was. Knowing Sam, he had probably told them from the start.

First, I had to figure out how he made those changes. Which required some major brain-searching on my part. After all, I was the only one who actually had those memories. Sam didn’t. He knew about the shifting of the timelines, but he never experienced them.

Disentangling myself from Sam’s grasp, I slid out of the bed. He uttered a vague protest, but didn’t wake up. I threw on my robe, and headed for the kitchen. Breakfast. Something I usually skipped, simply because of the lack of time. But my stomach was grumbling, it seemed like I hadn’t eaten in days. Which probably wasn’t too far off.

I whipped up a simple breakfast, and settled myself at the table, a mug of steaming coffee in my hands. Time to think.

I let the memories wash over me slowly, going back to that living room in 1944. At first, only the memories of the actual leap surfaced. Then, agonisingly slow, I began to see it through other eyes. The eyes of the ten-year-old me. How startled I had been to find a man instead of Mrs Taylor. How silly he had looked in that dress. Then, another image. Me, the me from the future, leaning against the wall, grinning. Confusion filled my mind. This was weird!

Sam’s voice, telling me he was from the future. So far, these were things I had witnessed as a hologram. I had to dig deeper, find the memories from the time I hadn’t been there as a hologram. Sam’s voice again, now giving more detailed information about his leaping. Telling me in somewhat simplified terms how he took over someone's life for a while, making things right that had gone wrong in the original history. Excitement flooded through my system. I smiled at that. Like Sam, I loved challenges, and this was certainly the biggest challenge I had faced in my ten-year-old life. I heard myself tell him about my dreams, to become a pilot, to walk on the moon. That had me sitting up with a shock. That had to be it! Suddenly, the memories came quicker, rolling over me like the waves of the sea. I had told him about my deepest wishes and he had taken them seriously. Had encouraged me to follow those dreams. Which I had, but I had done that in the original timeline too. It seemed I was on the wrong track here. No wait, maybe not. From that day on, I had another dream. To travel in time, like Sam.

Time took a leap forward in my brain. Sam and me, working on this Project. Me, insisting on having a perfect retrieval program before he took his first leap. Sam, protesting, but going along with it anyway.

I heaved a deep sigh. One problem solved. I had worked on the retrieval program first, having it up and running before Sam took that first wild leap. Which, even in this timeline, he still did. This time, the problem had been the Imaging Chamber. I hadn’t been able to reach him until the end of the leap. But it worked, and Sam came home safely. To a very angry me.

From then on, we had no worries any more. Sam had proven his theories and money poured in by buckets. I still had the Committee breathing down my neck, but it wasn’t as bad as before. The leaps were planned carefully, although I had an idea this last one wasn’t.

My thoughts were interrupted by a bleary eyed Sam standing in the doorway. I smiled at him, still not used to the fact that he was really home.

"Good morning."

He smiled back, rubbed his eyes, and sniffed. "Coffee!"

"On the counter," I gestured. "Want some breakfast?"

"Oh yes, please!"

He poured himself a mug of coffee while I made him breakfast. He stood beside me, watching every move I made. "I still can’t believe it," he said softly.

"Me neither," I replied, perfectly understanding what he was getting at.

He reached out his hand , put it on my arm and sighed. "You know, I expected it to pass right through."

"Odd, isn’t it?" I asked.

He nodded. "Yeah, but nice."

I could only agree with that, although I didn’t tell him what that touch was doing to me.

We sat down at the table again. Sam attacked his breakfast like a starving person. I grinned, seeing that. Must've been a while since he had a decent breakfast.

"Wadda you grinning at?" he asked around a mouthful of cereal.

"You," I replied. "You attack that food like you haven’t eaten in weeks."

"Feels like it." He let out a deep sigh and continued, "It feels great to just sit here and eat breakfast, and not have to worry about what will happen next. I keep expecting the IC door to open and discover that this is all another leap." His voice trailed off with those last words.

"It isn’t," I reassured him. "Remember what I told you yesterday?"

"That I’ve made it home after every leap. It just sounds so incredible!"

"As in ‘too good to be true’?"

He nodded. "Sounds silly, I know."

"No, not at all. I still have trouble grasping this. I can tell ya, when Ziggy told me, I didn’t believe her."

He grinned at me. "Doesn’t surprise me. You won the fight?" he added, seemingly casual.

"For your information, it wasn’t a fight!" I snapped. "I was too stunned to get into a fight over that, besides, she was as confused as I was."

That got me an inquiring look. "You’re not telling me everything."

"No," I sighed, considering if I ought to. Ah well, what the heck! He would find out anyway. "Okay, here’s the story. Somehow you’ve changed history in your last leap..."

"Tell me something I don’t know," he muttered.

"Sam! Bear with me, please. This is complicated enough!" It earned me a smile, one of those warm, affectionate ones. It turned me into jelly instantly.

"I’ve been sitting here trying to find out what it was that caused this change, and I think I’ve figured it out."

He got that intense look in his eyes, which usually meant he heard something absolutely fascinating. "Oh, you have?"

"Yeah, at least I think so." I reached over the table and put my hand on his. "You’ve changed me in that last leap."

"You? But what has that to do with all these changes?"

"You told me about your time travelling, right?" A nod. "Which was breaking all the rules in the book, but that doesn’t matter. I was interested, to put it mildly. It planted another dream in my head. I wanted to do what you did, only I would make sure I could make it back to my own time. The bottom line is, when we started working on this Project, I insisted on a full working retrieval program before anything else."

"I protested, but you got your way," he nodded, understanding dawning in his eyes.

"That’s right."

"Wow!" he uttered softly. "Who would’ve thought that another leap into your life would cause this?"

"Not me," I agreed. "But there’s more." I paused, waiting for his reaction.

"I had a suspicion about that," he smiled. That smile gave me the courage to go on.

"Somehow, and don’t ask me how, you’ve turned back time. I told you it was the year 2000, but it isn’t anymore."

"It’s not???"

"No, it’s 1996." That took a few minutes to filter through.

"Four years?" he gasped in the end. "But how?? And why??"

"How, I don’t know. As to why, I have a theory about that." In answer to that, he grasped my hand tightly, like holding a lifeline. "I think that whoever it was that had you leaping around in time, wanted to give you a second chance." He stayed silent for a long time, staring at our joined hands.

"A kind of reward?’ he whispered finally.

"Something like that. God knows you deserve it."

"He probably thinks so," he chuckled. It was a nervous giggle, as if he had trouble understanding it all. I couldn’t blame him there, I was still pretty confused.

"And He’s right," I stated. "I haven’t had the chance to check with Ziggy, but I think that all the changes you made over the years haven’t been erased."

"You assume correct, Admiral," a totally unexpected voice cut in. It had Sam jumping.

"Ziggy! How many times do I have to tell you to announce yourself???" I was trembling, with shock and anger.

"Next time I’ll knock," she replied sourly. Sam and I stared at each other, then burst out laughing.

"She’s still as bad as ever?" Sam hiccuped.

"Worse," I laughed. Ziggy made some offended noises, but it wasn’t with conviction.

"Welcome back, Dr. Beckett."

"Thank you, Ziggy," Sam replied, still giggling. "It’s great to be back."

"I expect the Admiral has filled you in about the changes in the timeline?"

"He was working on it," Sam said, with a smile at me. He had released his grip on my hand, but now he grasped it again., his grip warm and sure. I felt my insides melt like snow under the sun. I didn’t fight it, just let the feeling roll over me.

"I gather he hasn’t told you everything?" Ziggy continued undisturbed.

"No, I haven’t!" I snapped at her. "Gimme a break here, he has only been awake for an hour!"

"Oh, I see. Did you have a good night’s sleep, Dr. Beckett?" she purred. Sam’s eyebrows raised at that seductive tone.

"Yes fine, Ziggy."

"In the Admiral’s bed?" I gritted my teeth in frustration. Blowing up now would only make matters worse, so I clamped down the urge to pull her plug.

"Yeah, why?"

"Oh, no reason. Just asking."

"Ziggy, that’s enough!" I couldn’t keep it in anymore. Another minute and she would’ve spilled everything. She muttered something, and we heard a definite ‘click’ when she turned the voice module off.

"What was that all about?" Sam asked.

"She was teasing you." I stood, and began to clear the table. "Testing you, I guess."

"Testing me?"

"To see if she could still tease your pants off!" I grinned, then had to turn away quickly to hide my reddening face. That was a poor choice of words, if there ever was one. Sam didn’t seem to notice or he pretended not to. I heard him chuckling behind me.

"Let her try!"

It brought back another memory. I wasn’t sure from which timeline it was, but that didn’t seem important. There was no doubt in my mind Ziggy had tried to tease him in whatever timeline.

An image of Sam sitting at his computer floated before my eye. A cursing, extremely annoyed Sam. When things didn’t go the way he wanted them to, Sam could turn from the shy farmboy into a furious demon in the blink of an eye. A slap on the side of the screen, then a whining voice from Ziggy, "Ooouch!" Sam’s astonished face, and a giggle from that computer. Teasing, oh yes.

"Wadda you grinning at?" Sam stood beside me, looking at me with a twinkle in his eyes. I told him about the memory and he started to laugh.

"I don’t remember that particular incident, but I had to put up with a lot of her teasing!"

"Same goes here, kid,’ I grumbled. "You wouldn’t believe what stunts she pulled on me."

"If she hasn’t treated you well during my absence, she’s got something coming," he replied, with a glance to the ceiling. No comment, just a deadly, clearly offended silence. Sam broke into a wide grin, the gleam in his eyes telling me he had won the first round. Yeah, but not the war, kid. The next instant I was pulled into a hug, unexpected, but not unwelcome. I melted into his embrace, letting my thoughts carry me away for a moment. How good it would be to have this for the rest of my life. Coldness replaced that warm feeling when he pulled back.

"I needed that," he sighed, his cheeks flushing.

"Me too," I confessed, smiling. "Guess we’ll be doing that a lot in the near future." And more, my treacherous mind insisted on adding.

"No objection." His smile was blinding, brighter than the desert sun. "But what was Ziggy talking about?"

"Later," I gestured. "First, you’re gonna take a shower. You have that appointment with Beeks, remember?"

"Do I have to?" he pouted.

"Yes, you do. If you don’t show up, she’ll come looking for you here."

"Why here?"

"Sam! Get into that bathroom!!"

He went, grinning to himself, obviously aware that he had me cornered. Which he had, but no way I was going to tell him that. The mention of his appointment with Beeks kicked up another problem. Beeks didn’t know any more than that she had to evaluate his last leap with him. I pondered whether to call her, or let sleeping dogs lie, and decided to do the latter.

I heard Sam singing in the bathroom, a sound that went straight to my heart. He was happy and I couldn’t blame him. I only wish I could be that carefree. So far he had taken everything well, but the doozy was yet to come.

"Daydreaming?" His amused voice cut through my musings, making me wonder how long I had stood there.

"A bit," I admitted.

"Either you daydream or you don’t," he stated. "So, what was it?"

"Alright, I did!"

"Nice dreams?" Stubborn Sam was back.

"Yeah," I smiled, trying to hide my worries. "I’m glad you’re home, kid."

He stared at me through narrowed eyes, a clear sign that he didn’t quite believe me. I braced myself for his next move.

"Something tells me that’s not all," he said. "C’mon, Al, talk to me."

Damn! That kid knew me better than I knew myself sometimes. "Yeah, there is something else, but I’ll tell you when you get back from Beeks."

"Stalling," he mumbled, but he made no further attempt to squeeze it out of me. Instead I received another of his bear-hugs and then he was gone. I breathed a sigh of relief. Now I had time to gather my thoughts.

I went to the bathroom, intending to take a long shower to get the kinks out of my back and neck. Sleeping with Sam was very nice, but he tangles around you like an octopus. I shrugged out of my robe and stepped in the little shower stall. I’d set the water very hot, and the feeling of it running over my body was like heaven. As the feeling of Sam’s arms around me had been. I tried to push that thought away, but my mind was betraying me again. No escape possible anymore, I really had it bad for this guy. A smile came to my face as I discovered I didn’t mind. There had been a time I would've been disgusted by these kind of thoughts, but Sam had changed all that. He had changed me. Not only in this leap, that was just the icing on the cake, but he had slowly worked his way into my heart, never caring for the defense systems I had put there. And now I didn’t want him to leave, he belonged there. I only hoped he felt the same way.

After an indecently long time, I turned off the water. A long shower wasn’t a luxury I afforded myself too often. After all, water is scarce in the middle of the desert.

"Ziggy allowed you to shower that long?" a teasing voice greeted me when I entered the living room.

"What are you doing back here already?" I countered, frantically trying to control my racing heart, which was not an easy task, I can tell you. Sam was sprawled over the couch, one leg on it, the other draped over the edge. He looked good enough to eat.

"I snowballed Beena," he announced, very proud of himself. I pushed his legs from the couch, in vain, since he put them back immediately.

"I want to sit!" I sputtered.

"Sit there," he gestured at the easy chair. "It’ll hold you."

I flopped down in the chair, and glanced at him expectantly. "Snowballed Beena?"

"I was great!" he grinned. Modest, he isn’t. "I told her this last leap was very nice, and that I didn’t need counselling for it. I enjoyed it."

"And she believed you?" If that was true, we should place an ad for a new shrink.

"Apparently; she let me off the hook almost immediately."

I couldn’t hide the smile anymore. Formidable lady, that Beena. "She snowballed you, Sam," I told him. "She obviously sensed there was more to it, but she leaves it up to you to talk about it. Not that she’ll stop bugging you."

"Think so?" Surely, he couldn’t be that dense. One glance at his face told me he wasn’t.

"Take my word for it," I grinned. A broad grin was my answer, then his expression sobered.

"I didn’t lie to her, Al. I enjoyed the last leap, although it was pretty emotional for me. Seeing you and your sister together, it was...." His voice trailed off, his head resting against the back off the couch, his eyes staring at the ceiling, smiling softly. He didn’t need to explain, I knew what he meant. Our emotions seemed to touch at that moment, I could almost read his thoughts. His head came up again, and our eyes locked. He had sensed it too. "It was a great last leap, one I could only dream about."

"And it got you home," I added.

"That too." Again that soft, dreamy smile. "To you."

This was it. The opening I needed. But still, I hesitated. He seemed stable enough, but I knew he wasn’t. He was running on adrenaline now, still high on the fact that he was home. Then again, I might never get an opening like this again. "Sam," I started, "There is something I haven’t told you. One more change."

"I was wondering when you’d come to that," he said, smiling at my astonished face. "Beena said some things that I couldn’t understand. For one, that remark in the Waiting Room, about the ‘sleeping’," he elaborated.

"Oh that," I sighed. That I was ready to strangle her for that, I wisely kept to myself. "Yeah, that has to do with it." I sank a little deeper into my chair, carefully monitoring his reactions. "You and I have been friends for a long time, haven’t we, Sam?"

"Yeah, but you’ll have to tell me for how long in this timeline."

"Longer than in the original one," I said. "In this timeline we met at MIT in ‘72." I organized the memories as they were flowing back to me. They were stunning. "When I came home from ‘Nam, in 1971..."

"That’s a few years earlier than in the original timeline," he cut in.

"It was. And will you let me finish my story, please?"

"Okay." He leaned back again, staring intently at me. I felt a shiver run up my spine. The look was familiar, I had seen it many times during his leaps: the slightly narrowed eyes, the tension in his body, it all said ‘you’d better tell the truth or else’.

"When I came home from 'Nam, I spent months in the hospital recovering. That’s where I met the man who was part of the team that had made an attempt to rescue some POWs a year earlier. The mission failed." I paused, waiting for a reaction, but none came. "He was feeling guilty, told me that it was the only mission that had failed under his command. Then he showed me a clipping from a paper." Now I got a reaction, a gasp, and eyes that were widening with each word I spoke. "Yeah Sam, Maggie’s picture."

"The man..." he said softly.

"Tom," I nodded. "He had done a second tour and had just returned. Anyway, we got along great." That brought a smile. "I was thinking about leaving the Navy, but he convinced me not to. I wanted to go back to school, get a degree - he said, ‘let the Navy pay for it’. I soon found out what other reason he had for saying that. He asked me to look after his kid brother."

"He hired you as a baby-sit?" Sam cried out.

"Sorta," I chuckled. "I did it, went to MIT and met you. You needed a baby-sitter, alright."

"Aaalll!"

"You did! Shy, nerdy, thinking of nothing else but studying. Forgetting to eat, sleep..."

A pillow was thrown in my direction. I caught it just before it hit my face, and continued, "But I never regretted it, Sam. Not one single moment. You took care of me, too. Oh, I was the first to say I didn’t need looking after, but you and I both know that was a lie. I protested against it for a while, but gave in in the end." Taking a deep breath, I moved on to the tricky part. "You took care of me in a way I had never experienced. Not out of pity, but out of friendship."

"I did," he said, voice deep and hoarse. "No matter what timeline or situation, I did it because I liked you. I knew you didn’t need pity. Pity is an easy thing to give, Al. Easy to give and easy to forget. You needed someone who cared."

"I needed you," I stated. "More than I dared to admit at first, but it kept creeping up at me, until I had to surrender to it. I accepted you as a friend, and then....much later...as more than a friend." There, it was out. I sat back, feeling completely drained.

Sam’s expression changed from surprise to confusion, back to surprise, then downright astonishment. "You’re saying that in this timeline we are lovers?" Whatever reaction I had expected it was not this flat-out question.

"That’s what Ziggy told me." ‘Chicken !’ I yelled at myself. On the other hand, it was the truth.

He stayed silent for a long time, staring at some invisible point in front of him. Finally, he sighed deeply and scrambled to his feet, looking like the weight of the world was on his shoulders.

"I have to be alone for a while, Al. There are so many things I have to think about, my head is spinning." He glanced at me, an almost apologetic look in his eyes.

"Sure, take all the time you need. You want to go to your quarters?" I was surprised I could keep my voice steady. Only the fact that Sam didn’t need an emotional reaction right now, kept me from falling apart. Yet, deep inside something tore. It was like all my old wounds were ripped open, leaving me bleeding. I kept a calm face as I walked Sam to his quarters, but I knew I wasn’t deceiving him.

Just before he went in, he turned to face me. "I need to think, Al. Sort out all these changes. It doesn’t mean I don’t care anymore."

"I know," I said softly and I did. I could see it in his eyes, that were gentle and warm. He didn’t want to cause me any pain. It offered some comfort but not much. "Come over for dinner?" I asked.

His face lit up and a smile curled his lips. "Me, turn down a Calavicci dinner? Never!"

I found an answering smile somewhere, and pushed him inside. "Go then , I’ll see you tonight." I didn’t wait for an answer, turned and rushed back into my quarters. Another minute and I would break down in front of him. And that was something both of us could do without.

The day dragged on endlessly. I busied myself with doing some overdue paperwork, boring stuff that I could do with my eyes closed, talking to a concerned psychiatrist for over an hour, which didn’t do wonders for my own state of mind - in short, it was one hell of a day. Late that afternoon I started preparations for dinner, but I couldn’t put my heart into it. During the day, all kinds of memories had surfaced, making the pain inside me even worse. Memories of how good it was to be loved by Sam, how wonderful it made me feel to be held by him. It’s funny, but that was all I needed now, just to feel those arms around me. All the other things, though very nice, were not important. All I needed was to know that he could love me.

He bounced in around eight, trying his best to look cheerful. One look at him and I knew the truth, he was feeling as lousy as I was. His face was pale, eyes darting around the room, carefully avoiding mine, and he was just a bit too cheerful. I let him be, keeping up the pretence. For my own sanity as well as his.

"Al?"

"Yeah?" During dinner we had talked, small talk mostly. The tone of his voice now made it clear he was ready to talk about other things. I sat down in the easy chair, keeping a safe distance between us.

"I....I have been thinking a lot today," he began, settling himself on the couch. "Wandering around my quarters, looking at all the things. It was frustrating."

"I can understand that," I replied. "There’s so much in there which isn’t familiar to you."

He nodded, giving me a grateful look. "I felt like an intruder in my own home. But slowly things started to fall into place. I pulled out the files on my leaps, from both timelines, and tried to find the connections. It worked, I can now pinpoint where I made changes. Can’t remember it though, but at least I know what caused it all."

I smiled, this approach was so Sam. When everything else fails, there’s always logic. No wonder I used to call him Spock. He returned the smile, knowing what went on my mind.

"The Spock approach, I know," he smiled. "But it was the only way. I couldn’t let my emotions control me, I had to keep my head clear. After that," he sighed, "There was nothing left but emotions."

It was plain to see. He was even paler than when he came in, the color a stark contrast with his eyes, huge and dark brown. A tell tale sign that something was deeply troubling him. "I’ve tried, Al, I really did." For the first time his eyes met mine. "But I can’t grasp it, not yet."

"Not yet??" I squeaked. No more hiding, I wanted to know.

"No, not yet. I need more time." He sounded truly sorry, but to me it sounded like betrayal. At that moment I hated him with a fierceness that had me reeling.

"Oh sure! How much do you need? A day? A week? Why not take the whole year??"

He seemed taken aback by my outburst. "I don’t know how much time I need, Al. When I have made a decision, I’ll let you know." He stood, cast one long look at me, and walked out.

"Stupid, stupid, stupid!!" I cursed. I felt like hitting myself. How could I have done this?? I’d probably blown the only chance I had, if I ever had one in the first place. That thought sobered me up, the anger faded and left me wondering what I had been thinking of. Did I really expect Sam to fall into my arms just like that? To simply turn our friendship into love? I shook my head in amazement. Of all the stupid things I had done in my life, this one took the prize. I had to think of a way to repair the damage I’d done, but my mind was numb, nothing sensible came out of it. Giving in, I headed for my bedroom. Although I sincerely doubted I could sleep, I didn’t know what else to do.

Part Three


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Chapter Text

 

The More Things Change3

Part Three

The next few days were murder. Sam avoided me as much as he could. I couldn’t blame him for that, but it hurt none the less. Burying myself in my work didn’t help, not that I thought it would anyway. It was only a way to pass the time.

By the evening of the fourth day I was at the end of my rope. Standing in the bedroom, looking at that connecting door, I made up my mind. Tonight I would get my answer, one way or the other. I opened the door and walked into his quarters. He wasn’t in the bedroom, so I went to the living room. He was sitting at his desk, staring at the computer screen. Of course. His eyes flew up when I entered, surprise rapidly replaced by annoyance.

"What are you doing here?" The words hit me like gunshots, hurting me through and through. But I bit the pain back and threw him an angry look.

"I came to get an answer."

"I will give it to you when I’m ready." His eyes went to the screen again.

It took all the self control I had to not knock the damn thing from the desk. Instead I went on talking. "And when will that be, huh? When hell freezes over?"

"Al, come on..." He turned in his chair and faced me. The pleading tone made my blood boil.

"No I will not!! I’ve given you time to think about it, now it’s my turn. So Sam, what will it be, yes or no?" Acid was dripping from that last sentence and I saw him flinch. "Scared, Sam?" I taunted.

"No! As in ‘no I’m not scared’ and ‘no, I won’t go for it!’."

My world fell apart, hopeful dreams crashed into a thousand pieces. I had tried to win the war by force, and I had lost. I turned on my heels, ready to bolt, when a sudden flash of anger shot through me. No way I was going to take this!! Not like this!

"And you expect me to just walk away, and pretend like nothing happened?" I asked, my back still turned towards him.

"That would be the wisest thing to do, but knowing you..." His voice trailed off with a sigh.

I whipped around, ready for round two. "Knowing me?? Do you?? Do you really think you know me?? Have you thought about how I might feel about this?" The answer was in his eyes, he hadn’t. "Thought as much!" I sneered. The pain inside doubled, and there was something happening to me that I had no control over. The last wall was cracking, that wall I had put up first, the one that was the strongest. Only Sam had had an occasional glance at the things that were going on behind that wall - well, he was in for a lot more. To hell with defences, to hell with my habit of hiding my feelings. He would know what went on inside, whether he liked it or not. Once that decision was made, I felt lighter, free to speak up.

"I really can’t blame you for not thinking about me. No, hear me out!" I raised my hand to forestall his comment. "For the last five years all you had to do was think about others. I want to tell you how I feel. I should’ve done that right away, but I was scared." The crack became wider. "I was shocked too when Ziggy told me about our relationship in this timeline. However, it didn’t take me long to discover it didn’t matter that this was a created relationship, something caused by your meddling with time."

"My life hasn’t been easy, many things have gone wrong, a lot of them by my own doing. I thought I left all the bad times behind me when I married Beth. Her leaving me...I didn’t think I could survive that. Yet, something inside me kept me from ending it. I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t end my life just like that. Why? I still don’t know. So, I built a fortress around myself, created the self-assured man of the world, the man I was when we met. Alcohol was a good way to dull the pain. It didn’t stop the screaming though. Inside I screamed, day in day out, every minute of the day. No one heard, because I didn’t let them. Then you came along, took one look at me, and you heard. You saw through all the protective layers I had so carefully wrapped around myself, listened and heard the cry for help. With you I didn’t need to talk, to explain. You understood without words." I paused to take a much needed breath of air. The wall was almost down. "How could I not love you?" A roar in my ears, the last remains of the wall crashing. Tears were sliding over my face, I didn’t attempt to wipe them away.

Sam hadn’t said a word, nor had he tried to. I had seen his eyes widen every now and again, but that was the only visible reaction. He rose slowly from his chair, and walked towards me. Every survival instinct went to red alert, and I bolted. Sam’s arm shot out to catch me, but I managed to avoid it. I fled, running away from that place as fast as I could, not really knowing why, or where to. All I knew was that I couldn’t stand to be there anymore.

The red haze before my eyes cleared when I got outside. The cold air hit me hard, forcing its way into my lungs, making me gasp. Still, I kept running until finally I collapsed , my legs unable to support me anymore, and I landed on my face in the sand. My whole body was aching, my heartbeat off the scale and I could hardly breathe. Turning my head, I gulped in some air and gradually the beating of my heart became slower and less loud. But the tears didn’t stop, running over my face, mingling with the sand. I cried out of pure frustration, at first, then the feeling became deeper, and more painful. Every mistake, every heartache, it all poured out. And yet, unlike other times, there was no bitterness. Just pain. When I finally stopped crying, I felt like raw meat inside.

Crawling back to my quarters seemed to take hours, every step I took was an effort. Once inside, I fell down on my bed, and passed out.

Morning came, and I cursed it. I wanted to sleep forever, never waking up to the cold light of a new day. All I felt was pain, and a terrible itch. The sand! I was covered in it, and so was the bed. After shifting a bit, I decided I could care less. Let it itch, I was too strung out to get up. Staring at the ceiling, the memories of the previous night washed over me. What had I done? Threw away all that was dear to me, a grim voice inside my head said. Despair got the better of me for a second, but then the anger flared up. No! I had told Sam what was in my heart, and for the life of me, I couldn’t regret that. The feeling had always been there, but last night I had finally found the words to say it. It was a startling thought, the realization that I’ve loved Sam for that long, startling but not unwelcome. It even brought a smile to my face.

That’s when I saw the envelope on my nightstand. It was set against my alarm clock and had my name scribbled on it. Sam’s handwriting, I would recognize that scrawl anywhere. Hesitantly I reached for it, not sure if I wanted to know what it said. But I had to know. My hands were shaking when I pulled the single sheet of paper out of the envelope.

My dear friend, it started. Tears came to my eyes, the feeling of relief so strong, it took my breath away. I hadn’t lost him completely. Anxiously I began to read.

To say your confession stunned me would be the understatement of the century. I think I’ve never been so lost for words. And I still am. I need time to think about this, that’s why I’ve gone away for a while. But I’m promising you, I’ll come back. Whatever happens, nothing, absolutely nothing will make me leave you.

Sam.

I read it over and over, until I knew the words by heart, while the tears streamed over my face. He would come back, he would never leave me, those were the things that stuck. It was more than I had bargained for, and I wasn’t sure I deserved such loyalty. He obviously thought I did.

I don’t know for how long I stayed in bed. Time had lost its meaning. I drifted in that place between sleep and waking, just let time pass by. I wasn’t up to doing anything else. Until Sam came back, the only thing I wanted to do was sleep.

The loud noise of a telephone ringing roused me. I wanted to let it ring, but I’ve never been able to ignore that sound, so I stumbled to my feet and picked up the receiver.

"Calavicci," I snapped.

"Where’s Sam?" Beeks. In a lousy mood. Just what I needed.

"I don’t know," I answered truthfully.

"Oh come on! You two are joined at the hip!"

"I told you I don’t know!!"

"Temper....Had a fight, Admiral?" Her voice was sweeter than honey, and as deadly as a shotgun.

"Not exactly.." I wasn’t lying, it hadn’t been a fight.

"And what do you mean by that?"

"That it wasn’t a fight," I sighed.

"Then what was it? It isn’t like Sam to take off like that."

"He had his reasons, okay?"

"That’s it." The sound of a phone being slammed down. I knew what was coming next. Within minutes she would be here, demanding explanations. Better get dressed.

I showered and dressed in record time and was just about to grab some coffee when there was a loud knock on the door. I grinned as I crossed the room - Beeks had learned some manners. Usually she just barged in.

"Beeks," I greeted her, when I opened the door. "Want coffee?"

"Coffee and an explanation." She flopped down on the couch, her dark eyes following every move I made. She’s one of the few people who can make me shiver, and she knows it.

"So," she started, mug in one hand, cigarette in the other (Beeks tells everyone she has quit smoking, I know better) "What happened here?"

I’d made some fast decisions while I was in the shower. The only thing I could do was to tell her everything. She had the brains to grasp the whole concept, and to be honest it would be a relief to tell someone. Besides that, I could trust her.

"It’s a long story and a complicated one. So hang on for the ride."

A grin split her face and a twinkle appeared in her eyes. Just what I had hoped for, Beena was never able to resist a challenge. She listened patiently to my explanation, not interrupting me once.

"That’s quite a story, Admiral," she said, when I had finished. "It sounds like a science fiction novel, but I’ve gotten used to these things over the years."

"Say what?" I gasped. In this timeline she’d been on the Project for a year, not years.

"I can surprise you!" she crowed in triumph. "You just made my day here!"

"You’re welcome," I muttered, which made her laugh even harder. This woman never ceased to amaze me. Once I think I have figured out what makes her tick, she turns around and does something unexpected. Come to think of it, she says the same thing about me.

"Alright," she chuckled, wiping the tears from her face. "I know I have been here for only a year, at least I was when I checked my calendar this morning. But I’m aware of the changes Sam creates. Don’t ask me how, some twist in my brain perhaps, but I’m sure that two days ago I was living in the 21st century. Now it’s suddenly 1996 again. Not that I’m complaining, but it did make my head spin."

"I can believe that. Mine isn’t quite recovered yet." I smiled. Another unexplainable thing. I’d better stop thinking about it, it was giving me a headache.

"But it isn’t that, is it, Al?" Her voice was softer now. Full shrink mode. It used to make me jump up and run, but I needed to unload this.

"No," I shook my head. "I’m happy that Sam gets a second chance to do things the way he had planned them. He deserves that. But...it’s...eh...our relationship."

"Thought as much," she nodded. "You feel awkward about it?"

"It’s not me! It’s Sam!"

That threw her off balance completely. "Sam?"

"Yeah Sam. He’s the one who has trouble with this. Once I had gotten used to the idea, I realized that the feelings weren’t new to me..."

"You love him?" she interrupted me.

"Yes."

A small, understanding smile crossed her features. "And Sam doesn’t love you?"

"I don’t know. He refuses to talk about it. And now he’s gone." Sadness came over me as I said those words.

"He’ll be back."

"I wish I could believe that."

She stood, crossed the room and crouched before me. "He will. The Sam I know is devoted to you, whatever timeline. Take my word for it, Al, he loves you. He just needs more time to adjust to all the changes. You can’t really blame him for that, now can you?"

"Guess not," I shrugged. I wanted to believe her, I wanted it with a desperation that amazed me.

"I’m going to give you some advice, whether you want it or not. It’s something I have wanted to say to you for a long time, and I think the time has finally arrived to do so." She stared up at me, waiting for permission to continue.

"Tell me."

"Stop fighting. You still fight to survive every day. You don’t need to do that anymore. Go with the flow, let things happen, relax a bit."

"How can I?" I cried. "How can I just let things happen??"

"There you go again," she stated, unfazed by my outburst. "I know this Project keeps you busy, but that’s your job. Okay, maybe more than that," she added, cutting off the protest I was about to utter. "But when are you going to wake up and realize that it’s working? That you and Sam did it? You’ve made it, Admiral." The mentioning of my rank did the trick. Slowly the meaning of what she was saying began to filter through in my mind.

"I see your point. But if it hadn’t been for Sam..."

She reached out and shook me affectionately. "You would’ve made it too. Don’t underestimate yourself. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone with so much inner strength. Or as pigheaded."

That last remark had me smiling. "So, I’m a pig?"

"I didn’t say that!" She sounded exasperated. "Although sometimes you are." Leave it to Beena to have the last word. I grinned when I saw her roll her eyes upwards. "You are every psychiatrist's nightmare!"

"Glad to oblige."

"Impossible, that’s what you are!" She rose, smiling now. "Impossible, hard headed, annoying..."

"Stop!" I raised my hands in defence. "I get the picture!"

"No, you don’t." And she calls me hard headed. "But also devoted, loyal, kind, someone I’m proud to call a friend."

I closed my eyes at her litany. Compliments were the hardest to take. I hadn’t received many of those in my life.

"And still unable to take a compliment!" With that closing shot she walked out. It made me smile. She did know me well.

I leaned back in the chair, taking a few deep breaths. Baring my soul was very difficult for me and I felt completely drained. Drained and lighter. It had been good to tell someone.

The relaxed feeling didn’t last long. Soon my thoughts returned to Sam. Where was he? A careful inquiry to Ziggy didn’t help. She flatly refused to give me any answers. No matter how many tricks I pulled, three days later I was none the wiser. And going crazy. Beena stopped by my place every day. The talks did some good, but didn’t erase the gut-wrenching feeling I had.

On the evening of the third day I entered my quarters after a long and gruesome day. A surprise visit from the Committee had me running around all day. It kept my thoughts away from Sam for a while, until they started inquiring about him. I told them in no uncertain terms that it was none of their business. They didn’t buy that of course, but once again Beena came to the rescue. She told them she had sent Sam away for a short vacation. That he was overworked. I had to leave the room when she delivered that statement, unable to smother a laugh. God, that woman could put up a smokescreen! The wink I received when I came back in , almost had me running out again.

I felt tired to the bone and dragged myself to the bedroom. Shower and sleep. The first one was easy, but sleep was elusive these days.

I noticed the rose immediately. A red rose lying on my pillow. Slowly I crossed the room and picked it up.

"Sam," I whispered.

A rustle from the corner of the room. I whipped around and saw him standing there. Shy, somewhat awkward. Long moments passed while we just stared at each other. Then he moved towards me, stopping only a foot away from me.

"Not too mushy?" he inquired softly.

I had too digest that for a moment, then realized he was talking about the rose, that I still held in my hand. "No."

"Good." The relief was clear to see on his face. What had he expected? That I would laugh at him? "I...eh...didn’t know what else to do," he confessed.

"It’s beautiful, Sam," I said, leaving it up to him whether I meant the rose or the gesture.

He took a deep breath and I braced myself. The moment of truth. Hands cupped my face and green eyes bored into mine. He didn’t say anything, but I saw it. The one thing I had been hoping for, love.

"God, Sam...I..." He silenced me by putting a finger on my lips.

"No talking, not now," he said softly. The finger lingered for a second and was then replaced by warm lips. That soft touch shot a flare of electricity through me, so powerful it would put a lightning bolt to shame. I hung on to Sam’s shoulders, my legs were buckling. All I felt was that warm mouth on mine. When he drew back, it took me several moments to regain my balance. He didn’t give me much time to recover. Gently removing the rose from my hand, he tossed it on the floor and crushed me close to him. It was heaven to be held like this and I really didn’t need anything more. Sam however, had other plans. His hands were everywhere, tugging my shirt out of my pants, removing my tie. Just as I was going to stop him, because things were moving a bit too fast, even for me, he stepped back, looked at the bed behind him and flopped down on it.

"C’mere."

I laid down next to him, and was almost immediately gathered in his arms. This felt even better. Time passed as we lay there, just holding on to each other, marvelling in the closeness. My thoughts went back to the night I had held him like this while he slept. How confused and worried I had been then.

"Why are you smiling?"

"Just happy to be where I am," I answered. No need to tell him about my real thoughts. Those worries belonged to the past.

"So am I," he replied, and resumed his attack on my clothes. I was rolled over on my back, looking up to him, while he was busy trying to get my shirt off. It was a new thing for me, to surrender. I had always been the one in control during sex, and this was unusual, but I had to admit, not unpleasant. Which said volumes about my trust in Sam.

Shirt out of the way, he leaned over and kissed me. This time I gave it all I had, my arms locked around his back, my mouth devouring him. He was gasping for air when we parted, but not for long. Lips at my neck, kissing, nipping. He soon found the spot that had me jumping. It received a thorough treatment, no doubt leaving a mark there. The mouth went lower, kissing me everywhere. Sometimes he would look up, and I could see that he was pleased to get such a response from me. I tried to come up with something flippant to say about that, but my mind had left the building.

He divested me of all my clothes, one item at a time, and kissed every spot that was revealed. By the time he got to my briefs I was flying so high, I could touch the ceiling. He sat back then, rapidly removing his own clothes. I stared in awe as his body was revealed to me. It wasn’t the first time I had seen him naked, but now I looked at him through lover’s eyes, and what I saw had me moaning. Pushing fifty he still had a body that made your mouth water. I suddenly felt very self-conscious about mine.

"You’re beautiful," he smiled, reading my thoughts once again.

"Nothing compared to you." I reached out and pulled him on top of me. The feeling of skin on skin made us both cry out, my nerve endings on fire. I wanted to prolong this, to give him the same he had given me, but we were both too far gone. Hips moving, setting a rhythm, and then the final thrust as I reached the stars.

I must’ve dozed off, because when I opened my eyes I found Sam lying next to me, watching me, a smile playing around his lips. He looked wonderful.

"Sleep well?" he asked.

"Yeah. Have I been out long?"

"An hour or so. You looked like you needed it, so I let you sleep." He leaned over and gave me a soft kiss. "It was nice to watch you sleep. Now I know why you watched me during the leaps."

"You knew?"

He nodded. "I woke up one time, to find you standing at the end of my bed. I didn’t have the heart to tell you I was awake, you seemed so contented just watching me. And it gave me a sense of security."

I snuggled closer to him. His confession didn’t bother me, in fact it made me feel even better.

"Al, I think I need to give you an explanation." His words came down on me like icewater. The deep contentment I had been feeling vanished and was replaced by panic. Irrational, I knew that, but I couldn’t help myself. "Don’t," he smiled, obviously noticing my mood change. "I just want to tell you why I reacted the way I did. I owe you that."

"You don’t owe me anything," I muttered, meaning it.

"I do. But I’ll settle for that explanation right now." His tone was light, trying to lift my mood. As always, he succeeded And to be honest, I wanted to know.

"Shoot."

He grinned and shook his head. "That I won’t do."

"Idiot," I grunted. "Now tell me."

He grinned again, then his face turned serious. "First, I didn’t mean to hurt you. I was just so confused, that I really didn’t know what to do. All those changes, it was a bit too much at once."

"I understand that, believe me," I admitted.

"I guess it was the same for you, with the exception that you’re used to timeline changes, I have never experienced them first hand."

"I’m never getting used to timeline changes, but I understand what you mean."

"The setback in time, the fact that this Project was running the way it should, that was all easy to adjust to. And once I discovered that none of my previous leaps had been erased it was like I had landed in heaven. Then you dropped that bomb on me." He paused and sighed heavily. "I got so confused. And you were right, I only thought of myself, but not because I didn’t consider you." His head bent, as if he was afraid to look me in the eye. "I thought that you would never go for this."

"Me??" I cried out. "Whatever gave you that idea??" The second the words left my mouth I knew the answer. "Okay, I’ve never given you any indication that I did want this."

His head came up again. "You haven’t. But that’s not all. Do you know how it feels when something you have wanted for a long time, is suddenly handed to you on a silver platter?"

Understanding suddenly dawned. "You were afraid."

"Yes." He seemed ashamed to admit it.

I ruffled his hair. "Don’t feel guilty over that," I told him. "I wasn’t so sure about the whole thing either, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it had nothing to do with the changing of the timeline."

"You mean you love me, no matter what?"

"Yes."

"That’s all I needed to hear," he sighed.

"I told you that before," I couldn’t help remarking.

"You have?" He sighed again. "Yeah, I guess you have. I’m sorry, but I was so shocked about what you said, it didn’t register."

"Don’t worry about it," I assured him. "Things are how they were meant to be now."

"Yes, they are." The blinding smile went straight to my heart. "But I want to ask you something else."

"Need to know everything, don’t you?" I sighed in mock exasperation.

"It’s in my nature," he quipped, smiling. "But since none of my previous leaps seemed to have been erased, I miss someone here."

"Here? In bed?" I knew who he meant, and frankly, I hadn’t given that a second thought, too preoccupied as I was with my own future.

"In a manner of speaking, yes."

"Can’t give you an answer to that," I admitted. "But I’m sure Ziggy can."

The look he threw me was irritated, and I couldn’t blame him for that. "Alright, I’ll ask her. Ziggy?"

"Morning, Dr. Beckett, Admiral. What is it that you wanted to ask me?"

"Can you tell me something about what happened to Dr. Alesi?"

"Dr. Alesi is working on this Project." The short, clipped answer had us both gasping. Unusually perceptive, Ziggy went on, "However, you and Dr. Alesi never had a relationship. You reunited her with her father, she could go on with her life from then on. She got her degree and worked on various Projects before she was assigned here. At the moment you met her, you and the Admiral were already involved. She’s a good friend of the both of you and a well respected colleague." I nodded my agreement at that last remark. While we hadn’t been the best of friends in the timeline she had been here as Sam’s wife, I never underestimated her as a scientist. She was brilliant.

"Is she married?"

"Yes, Dr. Beckett. To your brother."

Silence fell, a stunned silence, Sam staring at me with his mouth open. "You’re not kidding me, right?" he finally managed to utter.

"I don’t ‘kid’," Ziggy replied in an icy voice. "He came to visit you and the Admiral in the early days of the Project, met her, and sparks flew, as they say."

Sam broke into a grin, part amusement, part relief. "That’s great news, Ziggy."

"Thank you."

I had finally regained control over my vocal chords. "That is good news, Sam."

"It is. It will take some getting used to, though. But then again, we had to adjust to so many things over the past week..."

"What’s one more?" I cut in, grinning. It warmed me to hear him say ‘we’.

"So many changes," he mused. "And all of them for the better."

"That was your job," I said. "To play some cosmic boyscout."

"Can’t you be serious just once?" I was grabbed and pulled on top of him, looking down at a smiling face.

"I can. But only once," I countered.

"Are you serious about me?" My first impulse was to slap him. Didn’t he know by now? Yet, I couldn’t do it. His expression was almost pleading when he asked it. So, instead of giving him a good whack, I laid my hand against his face.

"I am serious about you. I love you, Sam."

He pulled me down for a kiss, and I felt his gratitude through it. It was humbling.

"Love you too," he said, when we drew back.

"I know, Sam." And I did.

We made love again, very gently and sweet. Afterwards, he snuggled in my arms, just like he had done a week before. Holding my love in my arms, I fell asleep.

I was the first one to awake the next morning. I really didn’t want to leave the bed, but nature called, so I carefully disentangled myself and went to the bathroom. Deciding Sam needed his rest, I wandered to the kitchen, made myself a cup of coffee, and went to the living room.

The place was so quiet, as quiet as I felt. It was like everything was cleaner, brand new. I simply stood in the middle of the living room, letting it all wash over me, my thoughts running free.

Arms around me from behind. "What are you doing?"

"Thinking about what Beeks said to me some days ago," I smiled, leaning against him. "She told me to stop fighting. That it wasn’t necessary anymore." I turned in the embrace to look at him. "And you know what? She was right. Why fight when you have everything you ever wanted?"

He answered me by pulling me close. It was enough. Once again, we didn’t need any words to express our feelings. I hope we never do.

The End


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