Sam didn't feel much like eating, and he certainly didn't feel like socializing with unknown friends. He knew he had agreed to meet the Coach at dinner, but decided that if Hank wanted to chew him out some more he could always come find him.
Al may have managed to lift the worst of his depression, but he was still on a downer, feeling frustrated and full of pity – mostly for Jill Kinmont of course, but more than a little for himself.
He guessed that deep down he liked being the guy in the white hat, the knight in shining armor, the gallant hero. And he was used to winning. All his life, success had followed him in all his endeavors; studies; theorems, experiments, Leaps. Okay, so maybe his relationships had not always been so easy to manage, but didn't everyone have problems there? His experiences over the past few years of Leaping suggested that marriages seldom ran as smoothly as his parents' seemed to have done; that parenthood was a minefield and friendships complex in the extreme, while the dating game seemed to have an ever changing set of rules that were impossible to keep track of.
Yet, on the whole, for Sam failure was seldom an option. Now, though, he couldn't help thinking that it would be easier to swallow than being denied the opportunity to try.
A loud, insistent hammering on the dormitory door abruptly interrupted his introspection.
"Oh, boy!" He sighed as he rose to answer it, "Guess Hank is about to lay into me again for something."
He was therefore taken aback when he opened the door to reveal an attractive teenage girl, with a clear complexion, big brown eyes and thick brown hair in a neat short bob. She was taller than Becky-Lou, and though slender, she was equally blessed with womanly charms, neatly packaged in a pair of pedal pushers and a tight fitting sweater. Not standing on ceremony, she pushed past him into the boys' dormitory, craning her head to left and right as if searching for something.
"Can I help you?" Sam enquired, politely, following her back into the room.
"Don't flatter yourself, B-J!" she retorted haughtily, giving him a playful punch on the arm. "Be-sides," she looked at him coyly; head tilted on one side, her hands behind her back, one foot twisting back and forward, 'Becky would never forgive me if I made a move on her 'dreamboat'!"
So, she must be one of their team from back 'home' in Beersheba Springs. Since Al had told him there were only two girls on the team, she had to be Becky's best friend, Tammy.
"Where is she, then?" suddenly Tammy was brusque again, all hint of flirting gone.
"Becky-Lou, dummy. Or do you have another girl in here?" Tammy frowned at him with a look that clearly said, 'You'd better not have, buster, or I'll set Becky-Lou on you again.' as she checked beneath the bunks and in the wardrobe for signs of life.
Not wishing to be on the receiving end of another of Becky's temper tantrums, Sam hastened to reassure Tammy that he had been completely alone until she had shown up. As Al had long since departed, he said it with a clear conscience.
Tammy did not seem pleased to hear it. "I'm worried about Becky-Lou, are you sure she isn't here with you?" They both knew it was against the rules, but then teenagers seldom let details like that stand in their way.
"Nope, I haven't seen her since she stormed off. Hank said to let her cool down, and it seemed like a good idea at the time." Seeing the concern in Tammy's eyes, he was no longer so sure of that.
"She's not been back to our dorm. She didn't show for dinner either, and you know how particular she is about meals."
Sam didn't, and Becky-Lou's svelte figure didn't suggest that she was inclined toward gluttony, but as Tammy knew her better, he took her word for it.
"Oh no! B-J, she wouldn't be that stupid, would she? Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" suddenly the look of concern escalated to one of panic, and she grabbed him by the arm, dragging him to the door.
Sam hadn't been, but he was starting to. Alarm bells rang in his brain as he put two and two together, mentally sifting through comments B-J had made in his diary, and the clues Tammy had just given him. The penny dropped with a sickening thud.
"First stop, the canteen. We're going to need some food." He was thinking aloud as they raced through deserted corridors, Sam allowing Tammy to take the lead, as she knew the way. "Oranges would be good, for vitamin C, and American cheese if they have any – rich in Chromium 3. Then candy of course, and fruit juice, or even better nettle tea, but I don't suppose they'll have that." He muttered his shopping list, at the same time praying they reached her while she was still conscious enough to ingest it.
The canteen had just closed; they were informed in loud impatient tones when they hammered on the doors, but when Sam explained the situation in panting breaths, they allowed the teenagers access to stock up with the requested items, and wished them well.
"How are we gonna find her, B-J? She could be anywhere." Tammy didn't seem to have thought this far ahead. Sam had. Giving her half the supplies, he instructed her to seek out Hank, rounding up anyone she could find on the way.
"Just in case, get him to organize a search party up the mountain. I think she was headed toward the pine groves, but she wouldn't have gone far. I'm betting she came back and is around here somewhere, so I'll start by searching the Lodges and around the camp. If you find Ritchie and the others (he recalled one of the names Al had briefed him on), send them to join me. Don't worry, Tammy, we'll find her." Silently he added, 'I only hope to God we find her in time.'
"Ad-mi-ral?" a soft seductive voice broke Al's concentration once more.
He grunted in response.
"Admiral!" the voice repeated, more insistently.
Al threw down his pen with an exasperated sigh, and rubbed his forehead. He was tired, more tired than he could remember being in a long time.
"What is it now, Ziggy?" he snapped.
"I am aware that you wished to remain undisturbed, Admiral, but I have been monitoring Dr Beckett's vital signs…"
"Sam!" Al was instantly alert, pushing himself up from his chair and heading for the Imaging Chamber. "What's wrong, Zig? Is he hurt?"
"There is no need to panic, Admiral. As far as I can ascertain, Dr Beckett is uninjured. However, his pulse and blood pressure are both elevated, as is his adrenalin level, and he appears to be somewhat stressed. I felt you might wish to - what is it you say? -"Touch base" with Dr Beckett, in case he had need of your assistance."
"Damn right, I do! Thanks Zig." Al hurried on with a sigh, wondering why it seemed that he couldn't turn his back on his friend for five minutes without the scientist getting himself into trouble of one sort or another.
By the time he got to the Control Room, the ever vigilant Gushie was holding the hand link out ready for him to grab without breaking stride, and the Imaging Chamber door was sliding up to admit him. He ducked under before it was fully raised.
"Gushie…" he instructed…
"Center me on Sam" Gushie finished with him.
Al materialized in an apparently empty hallway.
"Sam?" he called.
"Aarrhh!" yelled Sam, right in his ear, as he came up behind him. "Don't do that, Al!" instinctively, the Leaper had skidded to a halt to avoid the collision that would not have occurred.
"You want I should go?" Al affected a Yiddish accent, complete with obligatory hand gestures, just as Sam had done earlier, and with equal aplomb.
"No. NO." replied Sam emphatically. "It's just a bit unnerving when I wish you'd show up and" he snapped his fingers to indicate the immediacy of the response, "you appear right in front of me like a genii from a bottle."
"You wished me here? Neat trick, Sam." Al grinned. "What can I do for you, O Lord and Master?" he folded his arms; palms flat, across his chest, and bowed.
"We haven't time for your nonsense, Al" cut in Sam, curtly.
"Zig wasn't kidding when she said you were stressed, sheesh." Al retorted. "What's up, buddy?"
"I'll explain later. We need to find Becky-Lou, and fast. Can you have Gushie center you in on her?"
"If she's within range, yeah. What's the problem?"
"Later, Al. Just find her."
Obediently, Al passed his request to Gushie, and popped out of sight.
Sam looked around, uncertain whether to resume his own search, or wait where he was for his friend's return.
He didn't have long to ponder his dilemma. Al re-appeared almost immediately, and his face broadcast the fact that he now understood Sam's concern.
"This way, Sam, she's in the ski room." He began leading his friend by the shortest route, as fed to him by Ziggy. "She doesn't look too good, buddy. What's...?"
"Is she conscious?" Sam interrupted, picking up his pace still further.
"I think so, but barely. She's pale and sweating and she's got the shakes. She looks confused, well out of it. You'd better hurry, buddy."
Sam already felt like he was going to break Bannister's recent record, but he somehow found his second wind and sprinted after his spirit guide. Finally, when Sam felt that in another minute his lungs would burst, and every muscle ached from his mini marathon, he arrived at the ski room and dashed in to find Becky-Lou slumped on one of the benches.
Sam practically collapsed next to her, panting hard. He gently eased her back into a sitting position, feeling her pulse and not liking how it felt.
Her hair stuck to her forehead with sweat, and he brushed it back, noting the distant look in her eyes.
"Becky-Lou, can you… hear me?" he asked softly, between labored breaths.
He received no reply. She seemed unaware of his presence.
Sam took her trembling shoulders, and shook her very gently, then cupped her face in his hands and tried to make her focus on his own.
"Becky-Lou? Talk to me, honey." Remembering that though he was really there as her physician right now, she needed to see him as B-J.
"Huh?" she mumbled, uncomprehendingly.
"Drink this, hon." He coaxed, offering the fruit juice he had procured up to her lips.
He held her head firmly but gently, and tilted it ever so slightly so that he could trickle a little of the liquid into her mouth without choking her.
She still appeared distant and unaware, but she was conscious. Just.
"C'mon honey, swallow for me." He encouraged, "you have to swallow."
Reflexively, she obeyed. Then she coughed, a feeble cough, which suddenly became a jerky spasm of her whole body. Sam held her close while they rode it out.
"That's my girl. It's okay." Sam intoned. "A little more now." He held the drink to her lips once more.
Suddenly, she seemed to see him, as if for the first time, and her brow furrowed in confusion, as if unsure who he was or why he was there.
"Huh?" she mumbled again.
"Try to eat a little something, hon." Sam whispered persuasively. "You need to eat something now."
He forced open the orange with his nails, squirting juice into the air, and ripping a segment from inside. He stroked her lower lip with it. "Come on Becky, open up, there's a good girl."
"Nah-uh," a slight shake of her head said 'I don't want it'. Somewhere in the back of her confused brain, a hint of defiance remained.
"Don't leave me, Becky-Lou. Stay with me, darling…" pleaded Sam, hugging her and giving her arm an affectionate rub.
That seemed to penetrate a little, and a hint of a smile creased the corner of her mouth.
"Atta girl, c'mon now. Eat something, just for me, eh?" wheedled her 'dreamboat'.
She took the slice of orange and chewed it half-heartedly. Then another and a third. Gradually she became a little more focused.
Finally, she spoke:
"Headache" she complained.
"I know, honey," sympathized Sam, offering her some cheese.
"Dizzy" she pronounced, her hand going up to her head, as she leaned into his shoulder.
"I'm not surprised," there was just an edge of criticism in his voice, as much as to say, 'what do you expect, you silly girl'.
"Scared" she sobbed softly, then suddenly the tap turned on, and the tears flowed freely again. Sam cuddled her, and reassured her, and did his best to dry her tears.
"What were you thinking?" chided Sam a few minutes later, when she had eaten enough to raise her blood sugar level and was more coherent. "What were you trying to do?"
"Punish you, pig." Her voice was matter-of-fact, bereft of emotion.
"By deliberately getting yourself hypoglycemic? Becky-Lou, sweetheart, you could have died." Sam ignored the insult. Whether or not it had been unwittingly earned, it was all water under the bridge now.
"Guess I wasn't thinking straight." She conceded. "I thought it would be easy. That I'd just slip off to sleep and not wake up. But then I started feeling weird, and I got frightened and confused and I was so alone, and I felt so weak and I couldn't move or cry for help or anything and I… I…" she finally paused for breath, whereupon she immediately broke down in tears again.
"Its okay, Becky-Lou. I'm here now, honey. It's all over now. It's gonna be okay. You'll be fine. I'm gonna take care of you."
"Promise?" she looked up at him with huge shiny bright tear filled eyes. "Promise you'll always take care of me."
"I'll be here for you as long as you need me." As Sam said the words, he had the strangest feeling he'd told another girl the same thing. For some reason, the thought gave him a chill, and he shuddered. He hated making promises he was not sure he would be around to keep, and was even less sure those he'd replaced would honor. He tried to avoid making rash promises whenever possible, especially far-reaching ones, but whenever he was cornered into one, he tended to make it as ambiguous as possible. Sam Beckett did not believe in making and breaking promises lightly, as many men did. To him, they were a sacred duty. "Don't say it if you don't mean it" his parents taught him, and it was a lesson he took to heart.
"Bobby-Joe?" she looked at him questioningly as he tucked her into bed sometime later, having made sure she had eaten a proper meal, and was completely stabilized.
"What is it, honey?"
"You saved my life, didn't you?" After a brief bout of lingering petulance, he had been forgiven his earlier transgressions, and was once more her hero.
"I suppose I did."
"Was I very close to dying?"
"Don't worry your pretty little head. It doesn't matter now."
"No, tell me. I was, wasn't I?"
"Let's just say I wouldn't have wanted to cut it any finer. Why?"
"Cos I thought I saw an angel, telling me to hold on, that you would be right with me. Only he was dressed funny - in a loud turquoise suit. Do guardian angels dress funny?"
"You bet they do, honey - almost always." Sam laughed and shot his friend a beaming smile. Al looked uncomfortable, then offended.
"What d'you mean, funny? There's nothing wrong with this suit." He gestured up and down the length of his body.
"It was weird." Becky-Lou continued. "When I first saw you in there, just for a few moments, you were different, older - like I was seeing you years in the future. As if I'd died and you'd gone on without me."
"How could I go on without you, honey?" It was Sam's turn to look uncomfortable, and he tried to steer the conversation away from her disturbing revelation.
She smiled at his declaration, appeased.
"You really should get some sleep now, honey." He leaned over and kissed her forehead. "Tomorrow, it'll all seem like a bad dream."
"Who are you calling a bad dream!" snorted Al, indignantly.
Sam let a slight jerk of his head tell Al that they would talk in a minute, in private.
"G'night, B-J. I love you." She reached out and held his hand, as if to stop him leaving.
"Good night, Becky, love you." He returned, easing his hand free and blowing her a kiss. "You sleep well, now, you hear?"
"Mm-hmm" she snuggled down, weary from the day's dramas, and was asleep by the time they had retreated through the dorm door, leaving Tammy to watch over her.
"She saw us, Sam!" blurted Al, when they were alone once more. "She saw both of us," he moved his hand to indicate first himself, then Sam, and then himself again, "as us!" he began pacing nervously, fingers subconsciously playing on the keys of the hand link.
"Would you calm down?" Sam replied evenly.
"But nothing, Al. I admit I was a bit shocked too at first. But she said it was just for a few moments, and she obviously couldn't see or hear you just now." Sam was reasoning it out to himself as he spoke. "She said it herself, she was dying. Uh, isn't it true that people on the point of death have seen us before?" He frowned, trying to tie down the specifics of that vague recollection.
Al did remember, all too clearly: Maggie looking up at him, recognizing the prisoner she had just photographed, only older. He was troubled by the memory, and had no wish to trouble Sam with it. Sometimes, a memory like Swiss cheese could be a blessing in disguise.
"Yeah, right." Though still inwardly rattled, both by Becky-Lou and by thoughts of Maggie, Al shrugged his shoulders and pretended to be up beat again.
After Sam's earlier bout of despondency, the last thing he needed was to feel anew the guilt of Maggie's death, and Al's own extended incarceration. Sam the super genius was good at many, many things - not least of which was beating himself up over things he could not help.
Al cast around for a way to change the subject.
"Wish it had been that Tammy seeing me, she's a bit of alright…" when in doubt, resort to sexual innuendo. He'd lost track of the times it had succeeded in distracting Sam, even if it did usually earn him a disapproving look or a lecture on morality.
"Al!" Sam responded predictably.
Al smiled, accepting the rebuke with raised hands in a gesture of surrender.