Outside, as the cool desert night swiftly fell, Dr. Verbena Beeks began what she called her "rounds", her periodic walk around the complex of buildings that made up Project Quantum Leap. During it she would talk with whoever she happened to meet, though sometimes she would look up a person who she knew was having problems, but was reluctant to make an appointment with her. Although she did keep regular office hours (at least, as regular as she could manage), she'd found that this helped her to better gauge the psychic health of the Project's personnel.
As usual, she stopped by the Waiting Room first. Actually a small suite of rooms, it was where the current occupant of Sam Beckett's body lived for the duration of his leap. Sam was in transit now, that period of time between his last leap and the next. Though to Sam the leaps were instantaneous, on the Project end it could be a few hours to several days before he showed up somewhere in the past. This particular transit had already lasted nearly 12 hours.
Verbena inserted her keycard into the slot beside the door, listened for the click of its lock releasing, the pushed it open and went in, crossing the simply furnished living area to the bedroom beyond. She spoke briefly to the duty medtech, her eyebrows lifting in surprise as she received an interesting piece of news. Verbena thanked the woman, then moved to the bed where Sam's comatose body lay, connected to and surrounded by state-of-the-art monitoring equipment. Equally state-of-the-art life support equipment stood ready nearby; Verbena fervently hoped it would never have to be used.
Aside from the muted beeping of the machines the room was utterly still. A single glance at the monitors would have apprised Verbena of Sam's condition, but she examined him anyway, being a firm believer in the therapeutic value of touch. She then checked the padded restraints (a necessary evil) about his wrists, making certain they weren't too tight. Having done all she could for now, she merely stood there, one of his limp hands in hers, looking down at him.
No matter how often she'd seen him like this, it always hurt, especially when contrasted with the alive, vital person of her memories. One day, she knew, they would get him back, but sometimes doubts would come to gnaw at her mind....
She resolutely pushed them back, reaching down to gently touch Sam's face, the slack features almost as pale as the blaze in his dark hair. Then, with a parting nod to the technician, she left the room.
After some deep breaths to restore her equilibrium, Verbena next went to look in on Al. This last leap had been very harrowing, with the Observer just about dead on his feet by the end of it. Since it had been out of the question for him to try driving back to town, and with her office closer to the Imaging Chamber that his quarters here on-site, Verbena had settled Al in there.
The lights came on automatically as the door opened, and she slapped hastily at the dimmer switch, though she needn't have worried; Al, his small frame sprawled on the couch, one arm and leg dangling over the edge, only stirred a little, his sleep unbroken. But it was far from restful, as Verbena saw when she drew closer; his features were pulled into a frown, and he muttered unintelligibly, limbs twitching.
Her dark eyes clouded with concern, Verbena set about making him more comfortable, rearranging the trailing limbs on the couch, and spreading the afghan he'd thrown off back over him. Al's body gradually relaxed, as if, even in the grip of nightmare, he could sense the psychiatrist's calming presence.
Verbena straightened up with a sigh, watching Al's face smooth out as he slid deeper into sleep. His and Sam's friendship went back years; in many ways this was as hard on him as it was on Sam. But she was well acquainted with Admiral Albert Calavicci's career history and psych profile, and was convinced that if Sam had been less adamant on having him as Project Observer, Al would've been well on the road to alcoholism by now.
Making a mental note to see that Al got some food in him after he awoke, Verbena left the office and continued her walk. While passing a certain door in the complex's residential wing, she noticed a thin ribbon of light beneath it, and paused. Considering what the Waiting Room tech had told her, she wasn't really surprised to find Donna still here, although until recently she'd rarely used her quarters; after finishing work she'd usually returned to the ranch house she and Sam had off-site. Verbena hesitated to disturb her, but pressed the door buzzer anyway; if Donna didn't want company she would say so.
"Just a minute," came the muffled reply from inside. A minute or so later the door opened and Dr. Donna Elesee stood there. She and Verbena were of a height, though she seemed taller because she carried herself so erectly. Her dark blonde hair, usually worn up, tumbled loosely about her shoulders, framing a handsome, slightly narrow face lively with intelligence, lit up now with pleased surprise.
"Hi, Verbena," she said, opening the door wider. "Come in."
"You're sure I'm not disturbing you?" Verbena asked, hesitating, for the welcoming smile on her friend's face didn't quite hide the tiredness she saw there.
"No, no. I was just finishing up some things. Please." She closed the door and seated herself at her desk, shuffling together some papers on it, while Verbena took a nearby armchair. "How's Al?"
"Still sleeping," Verbena told her. "I just looked in on him."
"Good." Donna nodded. "He needs the rest."
"And so could someone else I might name," said Verbena, her tone slightly scolding.
Donna flushed, but accepted the mild reprimand, knowing it was deserved; she had been keeping far too many late hours that was good for her, especially now. She touched the gentle swell of her belly, feeling again that utter sense of wonder, tinged, as always, with sadness.
"I know, Verbena," she said, "and I'll get some after I'm done here." She gave the psychiatrist a small smile. "Promise."
"All right." Verbena paused. "Claire told me you were in to visit Sam today."
"Yes," said Donna softly, sobering.
Carefully, Verbena said, "I...didn't know you ever did."
But the other woman didn't take offense. "I try to be unobtrusive about it," she said, "though I've heard the rumor, that I don't go see him at all."
Verbena nodded; she'd heard it, too, and was ashamed that she'd put even the least amount of credence in it. Anyone who had seen the two together before Sam had begun leaping, as well as during that all-too-brief time when he'd come home, could not have doubted the depth of their love. Now, though, because of the magnafluxing effect of the leaps, what Al called the 'swiss-cheese' effect, Sam didn't remember her, and the Observer was forbidden to tell him.
"I'll try to stop it," she said, angry with herself now for letting it go on as long as it'd had.
Donna shook her head, though her face tightened with pain. "It'll just start another, possibly worse, one. Besides, it's partly true. During the leaps I stay away; I couldn't bear to see someone else looking out of his eyes, speaking with his voice..." Her own voice shook slightly and she took a breath to steady it. "So I go to see him during the transits. That way I can look at him and see only my Sam, and hope that the next time his eyes open he'll be looking out at me, not some stranger." Tears trembled along the edges of her eyelids; she blinked them away impatiently.
"It's okay to cry, Donna," said Verbena gently, leaning forward to touch her hand. "Have you cried at all since this began?"
"Almost every day, for the first few months. But," she sighed, "you can do that for just so long, before you feel your hopes start to fade." A sudden fierceness suffused her voice. "And I won't let that happen."
"None of us will," Verbena promised.
"I know, " said Donna. "That helps, too." She smiled then, somewhat self-deprecatingly. "I write him letters, you know." She waved a hand over the neatened papers on her desk.
"And why shouldn't you?" Verbena countered. "After all, it's not as if Sam were dead." She said it as briskly as she could, trying to exorcise the vision of that too-pale face against the pillows in the Waiting Room.
"No, it's not," Donna echoed, but her fingers twisted the broad gold band on her left hand.
Verbena nodded toward the closely-written sheets. "Will you let him read them?"
Donna let her hands fall apart. "I don't know," she admitted. "Some of them are...very bitter." She looked away, but not before Verbena saw a spark of that bitterness in her eyes. She yanked open a drawer and grabbed a bulging manila envelope, flinging the papers from inside it across the desk. "Should I let him read--" her voice grew brittle "--how angry I am with him for stepping into that damn Accelerator before perfecting the retrieval program? Or how jealous I am of Al for being able to at least talk to him? Or that I even hate him sometimes for leaving me again? Or--" Her voice broke and she sat there, taut, her eyes tightly shut. Tears squeezed out from beneath the lids and slipped down her face.
Alarmed, Verbena quickly crouched beside Donna and put her arms about her, calling her name, using her voice and touch to anchor the other woman against the fierce tide of emotions swamping her. At last, the tension draining from her body, Donna slumped back into Verbena's supportive embrace. When she opened her eyes, they held only dismay and shame. "I'm sorry," she murmured, pushing herself upright and caressing the bulge of her child, as if to soothe it.
"For what?" Verbena chided. "Being human?" She gave Donna a reassuring squeeze. "No. If that were the case we'd be apologizing to each other constantly."
Donna swiped a hand, childlike, across her damp cheeks, lips thinned in self-disgust. "Is it human to have such ugly feelings toward someone you love?"
"Yes," Verbena answered firmly. "As long as, after the anger and jealousy and hatred are gone, the love is still there."
Rubbing her wedding band as if it were a talisman, Donna said softly, "It is." Then doubt crept into her voice. "But will his still be there for me, if I let him see these?" She fingered the pages strewn over her desk.
Verbena sighed, but Donna raised a hand, forestalling her. "I know you can't decide this for me," she said, her gaze level. "Just tell me, as a friend, what you think."
Touching Donna's ring, Verbena said with conviction, "Sam married you, Donna. All of you, the ugliness as well as the beauty. And if you believe he can't face that and still look at you with love, then you're not being fair to him. Or yourself."
Verbena stood as Donna, a reflective look on her face, carefully gathered the scattered pages back together, slipping the thick bundle back into the envelope and replacing it in the drawer. "Thank you," she said quietly.
Verbena grasped her shoulders. "Just keep loving Sam," she said earnestly. "One day we will bring him home, and it'll be for good." Donna walked with her to the door and they hugged warmly.
"Finish your letter, then get that rest," Verbena advised. "I'll see you in the morning."
"Good night." Donna closed the door, and sat back down at her desk, scanning the last few lines she'd written before Verbena's visit. With a nod of satisfaction, she picked up her pen again.
'Verbena just came by, Sam, and...'