Sam survived his encounter with Mr. Carter surprisingly unscathed. He'd been prepared to get it in the neck, not only for the whole 'nearly costing my daughter her life!' incident, but also for whisking her away from her hospital bed. It had been irresponsible, he knew, and he'd apologized for it sincerely.
Mr. Carter had been remarkably understanding about the whole thing. He knew how headstrong his daughter could be, and didn't blame B-J in the least for anything that had happened. In fact he thanked Sam for bringing his daughter back safely. William had heard about the tinfoil incident in the ambulance – it was the talk of the hospital how a patient who should by rights have been comatose and on the point of death had saved both himself and his girlfriend with an unconventional but brilliant suggestion.
Sam of course, being Sam, was not so lenient on himself. Once he'd seen Becky-Lou comfortably settled back in her bed, and Lillian Parnell had seen him once more tucked into his own, with a warm infusion of sweet tea to coddle him, he'd found himself at last alone with Al.
"You okay, Sam?" asked a concerned hologram.
"My ankle's aching a bit, but I'm fine." Sam assured him, though his tone was morose. He sipped at the warm tea gratefully, and a little dribbled down his chin. Sam set down the cup, surprised that his hand had been trembling quite so noticeably.
"What you mean is your ankle's hurting like hell, if I'm any judge," Al shot back, his keen eye having registered Sam's pained expression as he left Jill's room, and the relief with which he'd stretched out on the bed, "but that's not what I meant Sam. Something's bothering you - emotionally rather than physically. What is it? Out with it."
"I was just wondering if William Carter would have been so generous in his forgiveness if he'd realized that first time round, B-J didn't put his precious Becky-Lou in danger. She wouldn't have been up on that mountain if Sam Beckett hadn't blundered in with his big mouth. I'm supposed to make things better, Al. Yet twice on this leap, Becky-Lou nearly died, when she'd been safe in the original history. Seems to me she was better off before I came into her life."
"That's harsh, Sam." Al rejoined.
"But fair." Sam insisted. "I'd have gladly died to save her if the avalanche was the reason I was here, Al. Instead, we both almost froze to death because I told her something she wasn't ready to hear. Something only I knew for sure at that stage. Maybe I shouldn't be meddling with the past. Maybe I've just been supremely arrogant these last few years, assuming that I've been a force for good. Surely if I was really here to make a difference I should have leapt in earlier and saved Jill, poor kid. Did you see her in there, Al, with holes drilled into her skull like something out of a macabre freak show? She's only 18 and her neck is broken - she'll never walk, never mind ski, again. What a waste of a young life! Maybe…"
"Oh for Pete's sake stop it, Sam!" Al interrupted. "That's enough! We've been through all this before. Ziggy has terabytes of data on people you've helped. Lives you've saved. How can you possibly doubt the good you've done since you began Leaping? Ok, so you both had a close call. Thanks to Dr. Sam Beckett you're both alive and gonna be fine. What's more, you could look at it as kismet - if you hadn't ended up in the hospital here because of Becky-Lou's intensely dramatic nature, she wouldn't have heard what Bill Kinmont said about skiing, and wouldn't have had that pep talk from Jill. Ziggy says both conversations are pivotal in getting Becky-Lou's career back on track."
"Talking of which," Sam was distracted from his melancholic self-doubt by a stray thought, "How could Ziggy possibly know exactly what Bill Kinmont was gonna say - let alone precisely when? It must have been reported in the press, and Ziggy accessed the records I suppose, …" Sam mused, working it out even as he asked.
"Not exactly." Al replied, "She read the book! It was quoted in the biography E G Valens wrote about Jill's life. Page 142 to be precise." Al imparted this piece of trivia in the hopes of breaking Sam's somber mood totally.
"That's right!" Sam's photographic memory flashed into developmental mode again. "I remember now, I read it. They made two films too."
Al seized his opportunity.
"Do you by any chance remember the details of the biopics? Or what you read? I bet you do!"
Sam thought for a moment or two. "Yeah, it's all coming back to me…"
"Not exactly what you'd call a wasted life?" He cocked his eyebrow at Sam in challenge.
"Point taken." Sam conceded. "Triumph over tragedy as they say. I guess what seems now like the worst day of Jill's life is actually the first step – no pun intended – toward her fulfilling His ultimate plan for her."
"Just as Becky-Lou's negative experience has ended up leading her nearer to a better future?" Al pushed.
"I suppose so." Sam knew when he'd been manipulated, but accepted it graciously. "You're a wise man, Albert Calavicci." He gave his friend a lopsided smile.
Al shrugged in mock modesty. "Wise enough to know I should leave you to rest, kiddo. You've been overdoing it, that's why you're so cranky. You ought to be asleep."
"With you looking out for me, I reckon I can't go too far wrong, can I?"
Al blushed and waved a dismissive hand, but couldn't help feeling a little glow of pleasure that his efforts weren't taken for granted.
"Sleep." Al ordered simply.
"Okay, 'Poppa-bear', I'll be a good boy and take my nap now." Sam's smile widened, and he winked. They'd been here before too, not so long ago, which reminded him of something else, "I'm not sure when I'll leap, Al, so I want you to remember your promise…"
"Trust me, Sam, Scout's honor," Al assured him, sounding slightly wounded at the implication of the reminder, "I may not like it, and there's every chance you won't remember once you leap, but I made a promise, and I don't break my promises."
"I didn't mean to imply otherwise, Al. I know you to be a man of honor and integrity…"
"Oh, p-lease - spare my blushes, Sam!" Al sniggered self-consciously. "Now shut up and go to sleep." In order to make sure Sam didn't procrastinate further, Al called up the door to the Imaging Chamber and walked out with a wave.
Sam kept his word and soon settled down to sleep, his body telling him he really did still need the rest.
"Looks like Sam could be leaping real soon." Al announced as he stepped back into Project Headquarters.
"Ooooh, maybe we can – like - spend some quality time together then, lover!" Tina whispered in his ear as he went by her workstation.
"Sorry, hon, I have another trip to make." Al stated, matter-of-factly.
Tina huffed and turned her back on him, "You're going to see her again, aren't you?" she accused under her breath.
"I have to honor a promise to Sam." Was all Al would say.
"Like, whatever." Tina flounced, disbelievingly. "Well, if you'd rather spend your downtime with another woman, maybe I'll have me a little fun of my own." Tina sidled up to Gushie, draped one arm over his shoulder and with the other walked her fingers up his chest. "How about it, handsome?" she made sure that though her voice was low, Al would catch every word. Her hand had now reached Gushie's face, and she turned it by the chin so that he couldn't avoid looking her in the eyes. "Wanna show a girl a good time?" She winked at him, and licked her lips seductively.
Gushie blushed crimson and stepped back out her clutches, though with some regret. "I'm very sorry, Tina. Any other time, I'd be honored to oblige you, but I too need to take a trip, with the Admiral's permission. I have a – a personal matter to attend to." He cast his eyes downward, a look of profound sadness on his face.
"Permission granted." Al replied gruffly. He neither knew nor cared what Gushie needed to do; he was just pleased that Tina's little ploy had fallen flat. He knew she was just trying to make him jealous, but why did she have to pick Mr. Halitosis to do it with? On the one hand, Al was glad that she wasn't suggesting two-timing him with one of the good looking young studs on the payroll, like some of the military guys in security - one of the guys who really did stand a chance of turning a young girl's head permanently. On the other hand, it was a bit of an insult for her to suggest that Gushie - of all people - could be a serious love rival to the Admiral of Amour.
Before Tina could make things even more uncomfortable, Al beat a hasty, though dignified retreat, instructing Ziggy to inform him if Sam either leaped or needed his help.
In the wake of their unwise expedition, both Sam and Becky-Lou had followed medical advice and done nothing even remotely strenuous throughout Thursday evening, the night, and the following morning. Consequently, when the doctor did his mid-morning rounds on Friday, he declared both patients fit enough to be discharged, much to the immense relief of their respective parents, and a concerned Coach Montgomery.
Hank drove them back to the Lodge to collect their things. William and Lillian were anxious to get their offspring home to Beersheba Springs as soon as possible, where they could fuss over the teenagers and make sure they recuperated thoroughly.
Though not on the scale of Jill's roomful of good wishes, they had received cards and flowers and messages of support from their teammates whilst in the hospital, but Tammy and the boys had not been allowed to visit in the early stages, and since the competition was over, they had all flown back home already. So had all but a handful of competitors from the other teams.
Sam was going through the motions, keeping up the pretence of being B-J, but he really didn't know what more he was expected to do. Becky-Lou had confessed that she'd vowed to refrain from skiing until Jill was back in competition, which explained why she had originally hung up her skis forever. This time round, she had heard Bill Kinmont's comments, and Jill herself had urged Becky-Lou to fulfill her potential. Surely this was the crossroads that had needed navigating, and now she was on the right road? Which meant that Sam's work here was finished and he ought to be leaping out. Yet he felt no hint of the tingle that warned him his departure was imminent.
His clue came when they brought out their skis to load them on the roof rack of Hank's station wagon. Becky-Lou was looking at hers with a strange faraway expression in her eyes.
"Penny for them?" Sam intruded on her reverie, putting a gentle hand on her shoulder.
Becky-Lou gave a little shrug, as if she were not sure herself where her thoughts were taking her. She looked up at the mountain, and then lowered her eyes to stare once again at her skis.
At that precise moment, Al entered the scene, center stage.
"What's up, Sam?" he asked, without preamble. "Ziggy says the odds of Becky-Lou skiing again are slipping back down."
Sam frowned and gave a little shake of his head to indicate that he had no idea what was going wrong.
William Carter reached out to take his daughter's skis and stow them away. Becky-Lou held on to them grimly, but her expression was still unfathomable. She chewed her lower lip.
Sam took a stab in the dark, hoping that if he wasn't right, at least he'd get a clue as to the correct diagnosis from the form of her denial.
"Crisis of confidence?" he asked her, with the empathic perspective of one who had recently been there himself.
"You could say that." She answered softly, apologetically.
"Come on, you two, time to go home." Urged Mrs. Parnell. "Maybe if you're both feeling stronger tomorrow, we could manage a celebratory trip to the Opry. What d'you say, Will?"
"Good idea!" Mr. Carter concurred. They expected an enthusiastic reaction from their children, but it was as if they hadn't spoken.
"Are you worried you'll get hurt like Jill?" Sam didn't think this was the problem, but he wanted Becky-Lou to tell him for herself.
"Oh no, it's not that!" she reassured him, "I just don't think I'm up to it." "Of course not, princess." Her father put in. "You need time to convalesce. You know how delicate you are."
"I don't think that's what Becky-Lou meant, sir." Sam offered and she nodded in agreement. Sam had guessed correctly. Becky-Lou was so scared of disappointing Jill that she was contemplating ducking out. Better to quit now and have people wonder if she might have won, than to go out and fail spectacularly and ultimately let down the person she wanted so much to impress.
"Like falling off a horse, Sam." Commented Al, and his friend knew exactly what he was suggesting.
"Come on!" ignoring the confused and concerned expressions of the 'adults', and their protests, Sam grabbed Becky-Lou's wrist with one hand, and her poles with the other, and led her to the nearest ski lift.
Hank recognized what was going on, and calmed the anxious parents with the assurance that he believed Bobby-Joe knew what he was doing. He bade them take up a position where they could watch what happened next, and to trust that things would work out for the best, before seeking out his own vantage point.
Al had himself re-centered on Sam.
Minutes later, the pair had reached the start of one of the practice courses, and Sam had helped Becky-Lou to strap on her skis. He had not taken B-J's with him, not wanting to repeat the chaotic descent of his first arrival, and using his damaged ankle as the perfect excuse to 'sit this one out'.
Becky-Lou stood uncertainly at the gate, poking at the snow with her poles and fidgeting her feet. Sam stood behind her and massaged her shoulders.
"It's no good, B-J, I can't!" she spoke tremulously. "What if I'm not good enough?"
"Sure you can. I believe in you, Becky-Lou; you can do it. I know you can."
Still she hesitated.
"There's nobody but us here, honey. Just go for it! What've you got to lose?" Sam pressed. "If you fall flat on your face – or on your cute little tushi – (Al giggled, and Becky-Lou blushed) we can laugh it off and go home, no harm done. You know it's Bobby-Joe and Becky-Lou together forever, no matter what, but you owe it to yourself to try. How about it, hon?" Sam felt that B-J was helping him with his wording again.
She looked into his eyes, into his earnest face, and she saw the trust and faith he was placing in her. She knew in her heart that B-J would stand by her and support her, no matter what her ultimate decision, but she didn't want to let him down either. She bit her lip again, and then nodded.
"That's my girl!" Sam encouraged. "Deep breath now…"
She did as she was bid, and was about to set off, when suddenly she dug her poles in and stopped.
"Wait!" she said, grabbing Sam by the sleeve.
"What's wrong, honey? Its okay, you'll be fine. Do it for Jill." Sam buoyed her up.
"I know, and I want to. I'm not backing out again." Becky-Lou assured him. "It's just that you can't ski down with me…"
"You don't need me to hold your hand!" teased Sam gently.
"No, no, I didn't mean that, silly." Becky-Lou gave him a playful punch.
Sam gave her a puzzled look. This girl was a mystery wrapped in an enigma.
"I want you to go back down first," Sam started to protest, but she hushed him, "don't worry, I won't chicken out I promise. I just want you to be down there to watch me. I need you to tell me what you think of my run – but you have to tell the truth, good or bad - deal?"
"Deal." Agreed Sam, and even shook her hand to make it official. She giggled.
"Off with you then!" she ordered, "I can't stand up here all day waiting for you!"
Sam gave an exaggerated bow of acquiescence, and headed back for the ski lift as fast as his still aching ankle would allow. Once down, he got himself into position to have the best view of the maximum length of her course, which happened to be right next to Coach Hank Montgomery, who had already worked out the optimum location.
He was only just ready as she began her descent, and the two men watched in silence as she sliced her way down the slope.
Sam concentrated on her every move, and to his untrained eye, it was a fantastic display of skill and dexterity. He didn't know the names of the various maneuvers she was making, he had no idea if her technique was flawless, or merely average, but on a personal level, with the perspective of a rank amateur, he was as impressed as hell. The look of exhilaration on her face as she shot past them was clear even behind her goggles. She was in her element. It didn't take an expert to see that this was what she was born to do.
Once she'd reached the finish line, Hank lent Sam a supporting arm as he hobbled after her. They both approached her, seeing her expression turn to one of nervousness. She bit her bottom lip anxiously.
"Well," she asked hesitantly when they reached her side, "what's the verdict?"
Sam embraced her enthusiastically and smiled broadly, "You were great, Becky-Lou. Sheer magic!"
She blushed, but shook her head in denial. "You always say that, B-J!" and she gave him another playful slap on the arm.
"Only because it's true!" Sam argued, rubbing his arm.
"You always say that too!" Becky-Lou countered.
"Well then, we'd better ask the expert. What do you reckon, Coach?"
Sam turned to Hank, hoping for all he was worth that the response would be favorable.
Hank put a hand to his chin, tilted his head on one side and looked thoughtful.
Both Sam and Becky-Lou waited with their hearts in their mouths.
For an interminable moment, Hank kept them on tenterhooks, his face implacable.
Then a little twinkle crept into the corner of his eye, and he pronounced
"That was the most outstanding run I have ever seen! Terrific technique, easy style, smooth and sweet and graceful, simply the best run I've ever witnessed."
Sam let out a breath of relief.
Becky-Lou bobbed up and down with excitement. Coach Montgomery was not known to flatter. He was normally almost grudging in his praise. So this outpouring of commendation was not only unprecedented, it was beyond credulity.
"Really? Truly?" she couldn't believe Hank was talking about her, "That was my best run?"
"That isn't what I said, precisely" corrected Hank, but added as her face fell, "I said the best run, period."
Becky-Lou looked confused, unsure what the Coach was getting at. "Not just your best run." He clarified. "That was a championship run, Becky-Lou Carter. Pure Gold."
Sam thought for a moment that she was going to faint with shock, she gasped, and swayed, and he moved to catch her. Then she let out a squeal of delight.
"Shame you've missed your spot for this year," Hank continued, "but with four more years to hone your skills still further, you'll have the competition licked for sure."
Al, who had been observing subtly from the sidelines, pressed a couple of buttons on his hand link, then confirmed Hank's assessment with a simple thumbs up. Nothing more was needed.
"Do you guys really think I've got what it takes to be a winner?" Becky-Lou pressed.
Sam hedged his bets ever so slightly. He didn't believe in being too dogmatic.
"Trust me honey, I guarantee you're gonna take Gold in the '60 Olympics, or my name's not Bobby Joe Parnell."
"Oh, B-J, you're something else, you really are!" Becky-Lou stood on tiptoe and reached up to cup his face with both hands, tilting it down so that she could reach to plant a passionate kiss on his lips.
"I'd go along with that, SAM." Teased Al, as his friend Leaped…