Sam Beckett disliked, above all things about leaping, the moment of arrival. That moment he first realized he was somewhere else, someone else, but never who...or where.

This time was no different. In fact this time was exponentially worse than most. His mouth and nose smarted from a sudden impact simultaneous with the moment of arrival. The street was dark, few vehicles were about other than the rows of parked cars along the narrow road, and he was surrounded by six or seven young men reeking of a combination of cigarette smoke and drink and looking anything but friendly.

At that point he noticed that he was doubled over and that the clothes he was wearing were freshly ripped in places. Something else about the clothes teased his subconscious but there was no time to pursue it.

"Okay guys," he said carefully. "What's the problem here? Is there anything I can do for you?"

"Yeah, die," retorted one of them.

"Ah...did I do something wrong?"

"You didn't die at birth," sneered another one.

This was definitely not going to be a fun leap.

Sam ran a hand over his face and felt dampness on it that wasn't sweat. He tasted it. Blood, from his nose and mouth.

"Can't we work something out, here? Do you want money? Information? What?"

Two of the men took hold of his arms again, lifted him and slammed him against a wall.

"Don't touch the f...ing blood," one of the others squawked nervously.

Another, the apparent leader of the group, hit Sam in the solar plexus and slapped his face with a deliberately open hand several times.

"Your kind are disgusting," he sneered. "You never learn. You still trespass into areas where you just aren't wanted. Killing you people should be a law instead of a crime. This country doesn't need filth like you."

Sam looked around. There was never a mirror when you needed one. The pain in his mid-section was only just beginning to recede and his face still smarted from the slaps, finger marks still visible on his cheeks. He felt strangely weak, and, he was beginning to realize, unwell.

The pair who were holding him let go again, as though their turn was over.

Beckett straightened, preparing himself mentally to put up some kind of defence as they muttered among themselves about how much more entertainment he might afford them, about the possibility of ending his life, as if he were a troublesome insect or something.

He was about to launch an attack of his own when a patrol car slid up the street, apparently just doing its rounds of the area.

One of the thugs saw it and alerted the others.

They closed ranks around Sam, milling casually, as though nothing was wrong.

Sam, however, had other ideas. Using his feet and his fists he launched into the group decking several before breaking free and lunging toward the police car.

As the car slid to a halt, Beckett could see, in the light of a street lamp, the face of the officer in the passenger side staring back at him.

The middle-aged cop's face was a study of contempt and disgust. He looked at the group of men, at Sam and then spoke to his partner. The car pulled away.

Sam ran after it but it vanished around a corner. He could hear the others coming after him, and took off at speed. He ran and ran, pain in every limb of his body, down roads, across vacant lots, between buildings and, finally, into an open convenience store with a number of customers in it.

He'd lost them. His chest hurt from dragging in breaths he could no longer quite catch and he was trembling from over-exertion. He leaned against a drink machine to catch his breath and was again puzzled. His body ached, his head ached and he felt like hell. Nausea was beginning to make itself apparent. He straightened and felt in his pockets for change, and a wallet, a key, anything that might tell him who he was.

There was a key, several of them in fact, on a personalized Mazda key ring. So, he had a car. The expensive leather wallet, amazingly enough, was also intact. Driver's licence, car registration papers, credit cards, medical information card...medical information card?

Sam studied it for several long, somber moments then carefully put it back in the wallet. The acronym stood out like a brand.

HIV.


His name was Jason Michael Noakes. He was 32, owned a Mazda sports car and was carrying several hundred dollars in his wallet.

He found some change and used the pay phone to call a cab, still preoccupied with Jason Michael Noakes. He looked down at the expensive carved red leather boots he was wearing, the designer jeans and ruined but very expensive, very conspicuous shirt. Then he stepped out of the phone booth and turned toward the counter to buy some juice.

A woman met his glance briefly, then turned away. Her child stared. A young couple half smiled, sympathy in their eyes. The sales clerk didn't seem to care one way or the other. He listened indifferently to Sam's order and put the orange juice on the counter.

Beckett held out the one dollar notes, feeling that sanity had at last prevailed.

The thirty-something male clerk looked down at the hand and waited.

"Something wrong?" Sam said quietly.

The clerk waited.

Finally, feeling every eye in the store on him, Sam put the money down on the counter. The clerk picked it up, put it in the register and looked up to make change, but Beckett had gone.

Sam waited in the car-park for his cab, angry, confused, outraged and still feeling ill. When it arrived he slid straight into the back and gave the address on the driver's licence. He watched the Cuban's eyes in the rear-view mirror as they sized him up and concluded that Noakes was nothing better or worse than anyone else he had seen during a long, shitty day.

For most of the trip Sam didn't speak and the driver made no attempt at conversation. It had been a long time since Beckett had seen Dallas, but his mind was elsewhere and the scenery slid by for the most part unremarked.

The one thing he wasn't sure of was the year. The date of issue of the licence was June 1990, which kind of narrowed it somewhat to somewhere between June 1990 and the renewal in 1992.

He closed his eyes. Did nothing ever really change? He'd faced bigotry in the fifties, in the sixties, and still, here in the nineties, he was forced to confront it again.

He stared at the picture of Noakes on the driver's licence. He was a young, square-jawed, athletic looking man with dark collar-length hair. He was wearing a business suit and a small diamond stud in his right ear. There was a distinct look of amusement in his deep blue eyes.

Beckett quietly unclasped his seat-belt and slid along the back seat until he could see his own reflection in the rear-view mirror. In the darkness he could see little but the outline of a head of dark hair but what he could see bore a less than healthy resemblance to the photograph on the licence.

At that moment they drove under a streetlight and Sam saw his new face for the first time. His fists clenched. He grew angry all over again for all that had happened to Jason Noakes since the beginning of this leap. The momentary image was now frozen in his photographic mind and he studied it at length.

Jason Noakes was no longer the man who was photographed for that licence photo. He was fifteen or twenty pounds lighter, his eyes were dull and withdrawn, his cheeks hollow, and there was a laceration on his forehead. His lip was swollen from the altercation and there were grazes on his cheek. There was dried blood around one nostril and a bruise under one eye.

The car slid to a halt. Sam paid the driver and watched the cab drive away.

Noakes' apartment was impressive. It was modern, with a lot of chrome, white carpet and black trim. There was an expensive sound system, a gleaming kitchenette, books scattered everywhere and expensive leather furniture. Sam closed and bolted the door behind him then walked across to the antique upright piano by the window.

He lifted the cover and ran his fingers along the keys. For Sam there was something very special about the feel of piano keys. As he dabbled at notes he allowed his gaze to continue around the room. Finally they came to rest on the photos on the piano top itself.

There was one of an elderly couple, parents probably, one of the same couple only much younger, with several children of various ages. He picked out a twelve-ish Noakes without difficulty.

Sam picked up another photo and studied the two figures in it. Jason Noakes looked fit, relaxed and gloriously happy, his arm draped casually over the shoulder of his companion, his face lit with laughter. The other figure was looking at Noakes with what could only be described as love, the same way Sam knew he would have looked at...a memory fluttered at the edge of his consciousness and vanished, the same one that had plagued him almost since the beginning of his odyssey in time. Instead, a beautiful young face floated in his thoughts...yes, as he would have looked at Abigail...

The second man was sandy-haired, blue eyed and had a big grin to go with the tousled hair, baseball shirt and obviously well -loved blue jeans.

Sam put the photograph back and moved away from the piano. Reluctantly, he wound back the tape on the answering machine and listened to the messages.

There were several. Someone was selling tickets for charity, another wanted to know if he wanted to make an appointment for his six-monthly dental check-up, the idea of which made Sam smile. The next message wiped the smile away again.

"Jason, it's Miriam, Peter is asking for you. We're all worried about you. I've been trying to get you for over 24 hours. Call me when you can, and I'll tell him you're all right."

Sam listened to the last two messages, one wrong number and the other another call from Miriam, before turning the machine off.

What did he do now? Who was Miriam? And Peter? And where the hell was Al?"

He went through an address book next to the phone looking for help. There was no Peter listed. Miriam was listed under her first name. There was a smilie next to the word Miriam, and no surname.

He reached for the phone and changed his mind. First he had to get cleaned up. The bathroom was as modern as the rest of the unit. Sam looked longingly at the spa bath before stripping and stepping into the shower. He messed up an immaculate face cloth wiping the blood and grime from his bruised face but the hot water felt wonderful. He allowed it to run on his back until the ache in his joints finally forced him out. He closed the bathroom door looking for a robe on the back of it, but found a full length mirror instead.

Sam didn't flinch. Nor did he breath. He studied Jason Noakes' body with both with a doctor's professional interest, and Sam Beckett's compassion. The weight loss had ravaged a once athletic body. Now he was cadaver-pale and sores were scattered over his torso and back. The eyes that looked back at him had lost all the life and sparkle the photograph had seemed to glow with.

He found a robe in the bedroom and wrapped himself almost defensively in it while looking for clothes in the closet. In fact, two closets. There were two distinctly different sets of clothes and shoes. The clothes were on average a size apart and the shoes two sizes apart. He found a pair of worn blue jeans, a baseball sweatshirt and a pair of sneakers.

He was in the kitchen fixing hot tea and a sandwich when Al arrived.

"You okay, Sam?"

Beckett looked up from his tea. "So you finally made it."

"Yeah, I'm here. We had kind of an emergency when Noakes leaped in--that's who you are by the way J--"

Sam held up his hand. "I know, I know," he said quietly, noticing for the first time that Al looked more than a little shaken, even somewhat pale.

"Yeah, well, Noakes collapsed as soon as he leaped in. He's got broken ribs, a ruptured spleen and a fractured cheekbone. He must have been given a real work-over by somebody."

"Tell me about it," Sam muttered.

Al stepped closer to the breakfast bar and peered at Sam's bruised and battered face. "I'd have gotten here sooner, but I was the only one in the waiting room when Noakes...How bad was it, Sam? Are you--?

"I'm fine, Al. I got away from them, no thanks to the police, before they could finish me--Jason off.

"They? Who are 'they?'"

"Six or seven guys outside a place called the Red Steer. I don't suppose Ziggy would happen to know who they are..?"

"Not yet. But looking at you, and Noakes, and considering where we are, I'd say it was a bunch of rednecks out for a night of--"

Sam's eyes narrowed. "Gay bashing?"

"Then...you know about Jason?"

Sam nodded, but had nothing to say to his friend's tone.

"Jason Noakes died of AIDS related complications in 1994," Al said quietly, aware that he'd been reproached.

"Then why am I here, Al? It's not as if I can change that."

"No," Al agreed. "You can't. You're here to stop Peter Logan from killing himself sometime this week."

"Who exactly is Peter Logan? There was a phone message from someone called Miriam saying that Peter wanted to see me--I mean Jason."

"Peter Logan is Miriam's brother, and your--Jason's lover," Calavicci explained uncomfortably.

Beckett looked down at the distorted reflection in the polished bench-top.

"And he has AIDS too, doesn't he?" He guessed.

Al nodded somberly. "He's been in a private clinic for some time now. He's a lot more advanced than you...than Jason is. He gave you the disease."

Beckett scowled. "As if it matters who gave it to whom," he muttered. How advanced?"

"He would have died in less than two weeks, anyway," Al said flatly.

A look of pain came into Beckett's eyes. "It must be bad for him."

For some reason the empathy in Sam's voice irritated Al almost to the point of snappishness.

"It was a hell of a lot worse for the people he left behind especially since he off-ed himself with someone else's medication."

"He what?"

"He took sleeping pills from the personal effects of another patient in the room. Then the other guy--Steinman--had to live with not only AIDS but a monumental guilt trip because he smuggled the pills in, in the first place. The stress accelerates the progress of Steinman's disease and he dies in the spring of 93 instead of New Year's day, 1994."

Sam looked up at his friend. "Why am I sensing so much hostility from you, Al? I thought, after--" Sam hesitated. Remembering things was so often a painful exercise. Sometimes whole leaps simply vanished into a cheese-hole, only to reappear when the memories suddenly became relevant much later on. There, was, however something. Something relevant to this leap.

Al exhaled heavily. "You thought after our experience during your leap into that military academy that I would just skate through this like Sonja Heinie on a roll. Well I have news for you, Sam. People just don't change their fears and prejudices overnight. Not completely. No matter how much they might want to. No matter how many Coaches and Tommys and Phillips there are in the world."

Sam frowned, recognizing the note of concession in his friend's voice, and perhaps something else he couldn't quite put a finger to.

"Want to?"

Al nodded.

Sam did the same. "I'm sorry," he said softly. "I just...I--"

"We can't all be heroes, kid. Some of us kind of dirtied our white suit and sold the charger to pay the bills, a long time ago."

Beckett dragged a hand over Noakes' battered face. "I know, Al. Maybe it bothers me so much because I know my dad would feel the same as you did--do--"

"Did," Al corrected. "You think he might not have understood if you or Tom--?"

"It would have killed him. I like to think he would have tried, but..."

"Your father was a good man, Sam. That doesn't mean he couldn't make mistakes. We are what life makes us. He grew up in a time when right and wrong were still real black and white. And there was somethin' to be said for those times," Al mused. "For all their shortcomings. Don't get me wrong--" he added when Sam frowned. "--I'm not condoning bigotry or intolerance, but hey, once upon a time it was easy to tell the good guy from the bad guy. Today it's a lottery."

"Does that mean that you concede that I'm not wearing the black hat this time?"

Al hid behind the handlink. Then something seemed to occur to him.

"Why is this so important to you? Why do you care so much about this Noakes guy?"

"Because I--" Sam paused to think about it. "Because I feel him, Al. And what I feel is a good man. I don't know why it's important what you think of him, it just is."

Al's eyes narrowed. "Just how cross-linked are you to this guy, Sam? I tried to get here as soon as I knew what your situation was, and I did as soon as Gooshie relieved me of that little medical emergency in the waiting room. I have to say I expected you to be a little less...comfortable with the situation," he added brusquely.

"Comfortable?!" Sam yelped, then colored with shame when he realized where that response had come from. "Al, if you think this leap is comfortable! Look, if you thought I was in trouble when I was doing that--that radio talk show about sex--then you know what a stupid statement that is. It's just--I'm not as green as I used to be. And right now, Jason Noakes' sex-life is about the least important issue here."

"To whom? Sam, do you really believe you can do this?" Al asked, largely unconvinced.

"Do what, Al? I'm here to save Peter Logan's life. I'll do what I have to, to accomplish that. I'll get through it just like I always have."

Al thought about that. Sam had, on various occasions, all but given birth, been a chimpanzee, competently run a household complete with children, housework and in one case, husband; been a small boy, old men, a teenage girl, even a trapeze artist and he'd always come through. If only he wasn't such a damned choirboy...

"Yeah, well, maybe you will," he conceded, "but considering how well you've dealt with issues of sexuality in the past--"

Sam scowled. "Al, I'm supposed to be visiting Peter Logan. Where is he?"

"Uh?"

"I need an address for the clinic."

"Oh." Al consulted the handlink. "1420 East-forty third street."

"You okay?" Sam asked, his tone suddenly gentler.

Al closed his eyes. "I'm tryin' Sam. I really am, but this leap is way out of my depth," he said quietly. "I'm worried about you. On top of everything else you could have been killed today."

"You don't think I'll be able to handle this, do you?" There was genuine concern in Beckett's voice.

"Like I said, I'm worried about you," Al repeated. "The bottom line in all this is that you aren't gay, Sam. You never cease to amaze me, but there are times when you're so green about life it's almost painful."

Sam looked away. He knew it. If sex had once been mentioned in his family's household when he was growing up, maybe he'd have been different, but his mother wouldn't even tolerate the now infamous Make love, Not War T-shirts of the sixties in her house, leave alone any serious discussion of sexuality--any that is, outside of Dad's man-to-man discussion down at the cowshed, first with Tom and then with Sam, at age 14. All a little too late, of course, but well intentioned, and well away from the family forum and any sort of open discussion...


"Al, can you tell me where I left--where Noakes left his car?"

Calavicci blinked at the change of subject, but consulted the handlink anyway.

"It's probably here, Sam. According to the police report in the original history, Noakes went downtown by cab. There's a garage in the basement."

        *******

Beckett walked into the foyer of the clinic and immediately felt self-conscious. He explored that, and realized that it was because his, Sam Beckett's, was a dishonest position, and this place was above all places, a place where only honesty would do. Honesty was always the first victim of a leap. He was not an AIDS victim. He was not gay.

He shook himself hard. Dwelling on the negative side of leaping never helped anything. He went straight to reception.

"Where can I find Peter Logan?" he asked.

The youngish nursing sister behind the counter looked up from the file she was studying.

"Oh, its you, Jason. What makes you think we've moved Pete? He's still in number seven."

Sam took a punt to cover himself. "Sorry, I must have misunderstood Miriam's message," he told her, and smiled engagingly.

The girl smiled back. "More than likely," she agreed dryly. "Don't forget your check-up on Wednesday. You're due for assessment for that new drug trial you wanted to get into."

Sam thought quickly. "Ah, yeah. I wanted to ask you about that. What--what are the chances of Peter getting into the program?"

The girl's face clouded. "Jason, Doctor Betz has been over this before with both of you. Nothing has changed. I don't even know why you're asking me."

Sam felt an unreasonable surge of frustration and just plain hurt.

"Sorry," he said roughly. "I guess I was just kinda hoping..."

He wheeled and strode down the corridor to the austere three-bed ward designated number seven. It really wasn't big enough to be called a ward. Beckett expelled a long, unhappy breath then entered the room. One bed was empty. A worn brown teddy bear lay on the pillow. The occupant of the second bed was asleep. The third watched Sam pick up the bear.

"Yesterday," the young man said quietly, without raising his head from his pillow.

Sam looked around curiously.

"Andy went at 8.27 yesterday morning. They took him to IC a couple of days ago. His mother couldn't bear to look at that so she left it here."

"Andy?" Sam asked quietly.

"You remember, the kid. I know you haven't been here for a long time, but your brain couldn't be that eaten away."

"I--I'm sorry. I don't really r-remember," Sam said uncomfortably and put the bear down again.

"You mean you don't want to remember. There's no justice in the world. The kid has his tonsils out and instead of ice-cream he gets a death sentence. He was seven years old, Jase. Seven."

Sam closed his eyes, remembering how much time was wasted by the government and the medical community in the early days of the disease. "So much could have been done so much sooner," he said angrily under his breath.

"What?"

Beckett remembered where he was.

"I was just...I remember now. I was mad at myself for forgetting."

This must be Peter Logan. He was gaunt and emaciated, but something about the eyes still reminded him of the photograph on the piano.

"So how are you?" Sam asked, casually picking up his chart off the end of the bed.

"We were worried about you. You were out when Miriam called. You haven't been around since then. Miriam tried."

Logan was in the final stages of his illness. He was suffering from pneumocystis and KS. He had shingles, and his liver was affected. He spoke slowly and painfully. The bones in his gaunt face pressed against the paper-thin skin and his blond hair was dry and thin against his head. The warmly alive young man in the photograph on the piano was now a shadow, barely even able to lift his head from the pillow.

"I'm sorry," Sam apologized. "At--at first I had some things to do, and then there was some trouble." He wasn't sure what to say, or do. He was an outsider, and he felt like one.

Peter blinked his ravaged eyes as Beckett moved to the bedside and sat down on the chair next to the bed. He smiled a little.

"I can see that," he said, studying Noakes' face. You been playing footsie with those boys at the Red Steer again?"

"Again!?" Sam exclaimed, before he could stop himself.

"Yeah, again. I wish you wouldn't clown around about this stuff, Jase. They could kill you."

Sam searched for the right words. "I just--I don't want to talk about that now, Pete. I'm here, and I'm okay. Don't worry about me." In fact, for once he wished he could leap, right there and then, and be gone.

"Worry about you?" Peter closed his eyes. "Damn it, Jase. I love you. How can I not worry? I asked you to leave it alone. I'm asking again. Stay away from the Red Steer. It's my fight, not yours. Besides what's done is done."

There was both emotional and physical distress in the young man's voice.

Sam instinctively put a compassionate hand on his shoulder and squeezed, very gently, his own unease momentarily forgotten.

"Don't," he whispered. "I won't go back. I promise."

"I missed you Jase. I didn't think I'd see you again."

"Why?" Beckett was surprised into asking.

"I thought you were going to stay angry forever," Logan told him, before being overcome by a coughing fit. Sam held his shoulders until it was over, then sat down again. "I'm sorry. About everything. I wish you would believe me, that there wasn't anyone else. I don't know what happened. But I didn't lie to you. There was no one--"

Beckett leaned forward and put a staying hand on the agitated Logan's right arm.

"I believe you. I should have believed you right from the start," he said adamantly. "I'm the one who should be sorry. Like you said, there must have been another reason. Could you have shared a needle, or did you have even minor surgery in the last few years? Any mishap with blood, or somebody who was bleeding?"

Logan looked up at him dazedly, then frowned. "Needles?" He said, more to himself than anyone. "I never thought of that. All this time I've been racking my brains, going over everything that could have accounted for..." he trailed off. "You remember that fourth of July night we spent at Artie's place a couple of years back? You remember how much stuff he had lying around? I put a bunch of syringes and crap in the trash can in the morning when we were cleaning up. It was just a scratch. It was nothing. I never even thought about it until this minute. Damn it." Tears welled up and spilled down the papery cheeks. "Shit," he muttered.

Beckett too, swore under his breath, angry at himself for the automatic assumption that Logan's illness had been sexually transmitted. Especially after all his past vilification of Al for his stupid assumptions.

"I'm sorry." Peter said miserably. "As much as I hate this crummy place, I hate not being with you even more. I missed you like hell. I need you," he whispered.

Sam instinctively tightened his grip on the frail arm. The eyes that looked up at him beseechingly were still the eyes in that photograph, and, somehow, he couldn't let them down.

"I'm here," he said thickly, hoping he would not falter. He was Jason Noakes now, not Sam Beckett. "And--and I think I need you too."

It was true. Sam was certain whatever had driven Jason Noakes to the Red Steer that night, whatever had caused his death in the original history, had been motivated by his love for Peter Logan, whether he knew it or not.

Logan smiled weakly. "I love you," he whispered.

Sam smiled back. He would not hurt this man. "I love you, too," he replied without reservation.

"And about time," a voice said behind Beckett. He straightened and turned.

It was a woman of about thirty, perhaps younger, attractive, naturally blonde, a little overweight, but pleasantly so, with tired blue eyes.

"Hi," Sam said, his nerves jumping, hoping someone would drop a hint.

"Don't you hi me, you--!" She scolded, then stepped forward and wrapped him in a bear-hug. He quite willingly hugged back, hearing the chamber door slide open at the same moment.

"Miriam, be careful. He's just come back. Don't break him, or I won't see him for another month," Logan warned.

As they drew apart Sam kissed her cheek. "I'm sorry I stayed away," he told her. "It was stupid," he added, thinking of the picture, and meant it.

"Yes, it was," she agreed. "But I'm glad you're here. If there are two people in the world who were never meant to be apart its you two. Damn near destroyed my faith in Human nature you did," she told him and leaned forward to kiss her brother.

"Mom's coming in on Friday. She's knitting again."

"Not bed-socks?" Logan said in mock-horror.

"Bed-socks," his sister confirmed.

"How's dad?" he asked, the word sending a pang through Sam.

"Better," Miriam told him. "He's mad as hell because mom won't let him travel until he's over it. He kinda knows that he can't bring the flu in here, but he misses you like crazy."

"I miss him too," Logan whispered. "He doesn't have to come, you know. I know he hates this place."

"He knows that, Peewee. But he loves you too much to stay away."

Peter laughed almost inaudibly. "I know. But that doesn't stop every homophobic hair on his body from standing on end when he comes in here."

"Peter Logan's father is a cattle rancher outside of Waco," Al offered, reminding Sam that he was there. "Can you excuse yourself to go to the can or something, so we can talk?"

Beckett did so and made his way down the corridor to the single visitor's toilet. There was barely enough room for Sam in the room and talking to an Al half merged into a wall or a hand basin was more than a little distracting, so he put down the seat cover and sat on the pedestal while Al talked.

"Ziggy says that your original mission was to save Noakes' life, and when you didn't leap after that she assumed that you had to save Logan from committing suicide. How-ever, now that you seem to have reconciled the two of them, the odds of Peter killing himself are very low. Ziggy found out his original motivation was officially recorded as being the combination of his illness and his estrangement from you, ah, Jason, plus the fact that Noakes blamed him for infecting him with AIDS."

"Then why haven't I leaped?"

Al shrugged his shoulders. Sam scowled.

"Al, you have to tell Jason what really happened. You have to tell him Peter remembers hurting himself with an infected needle at someone called Artie's place."

"Yeah, sure, I'll tell him. He's improving by the way. He's going to be all right, but it was touch and go there for a while with that spleen," Al reported in an unusually subdued voice.

"That's good, Al. There's something else. Can you tell me why Noakes was at the Red Steer when I leaped in here?"

Calavicci consulted the handlink and shook his head. "It never came out at the inquest. It must have been real personal, because those things are pretty thorough. All that was said was that Noakes was attacked on the street by an unidentified gang of hoods and beaten to death, presumably because he was gay. His wallet was untouched."

"Well whatever it is, it has to do with Peter Logan. See if you can find out, somehow. Ask Noakes if that's possible. I think I'm going to need to know what I promised to stay away from."

"Sure," Al agreed distractedly. "How you doin', Sam?"

"Okay...I'm okay," Beckett told him. "The Logans seem to be good people."

"Well, just be careful. I'll see what Ziggy can find out about the Red Steer." Calavicci continued to sound pre-occupied, as if he had something on his mind.

Sam watched him disappear through the chamber door and sighed a little, before rising and taking himself back to the ward.

Logan was asleep. The occupant of the other bed had stirred in the meantime and was talking to Miriam. Beckett had liked her immediately. She looked up now and smiled at him, and he knew that his instinct had been correct.

"Jase, come and meet Nat. He's been here almost as long as Pete."

"So you're Jason. I'm glad you came. He's been breaking his heart over you for weeks," Nathaniel Steinman observed. "Are you sticking around?"

Sam nodded, mentally assessing the progression of the young man's illness. He looked less ill than Pete over all, despite the disfiguring purple swelling on his nose and face, but he seemed exhausted, worn down.

"You look tired," he said aloud, hoping Steinman would elaborate.

Nat obliged. "I don't sleep--in the night, anyway. I can't help the naps in the day time. I--I just don't sleep at night. I get run down, so they bring me in here until I'm well enough to go home again."

"Have you had any help with your insomnia?"

"Pills," Steinman told him morosely. "But I already know what it is. I don't need a psychologist to tell me why I can't sleep."

Sam had seen the fear in the brown eyes. He didn't need anyone to tell him, either.

"Scared?" He asked softly.

Steinman nodded.

"You don't have to be," Sam told him.

Nat's eyes widened. "Oh yeah? And who are you, God?"

"I mean it," Sam continued. "It's inevitable. As inevitable as time. It's gonna happen, whether you wait until you're ninety, or you walk in front of a bus, or you catch whooping cough as a little baby. If death was such a terrible thing, why would it be one of the universal constants? Death is like birth, it has a purpose in the scheme of things. If--If you aren't scared of dying when you're ninety, why be scared now?"

"You really believe that?" Nathaniel said suspiciously.

Sam grinned. "Didn't know I was such a philosopher," he added self-depreciatingly. "But, yes I do," he said with conviction. "I just hope some small part of you can, too. Don't die before you die, Nat. There's too much to do before then."

Nat's eyes searched Sam's. "Maybe," he said softly. "Pete's one lucky guy."

Beckett colored, but nobody noticed. "I don't seem to have been much of a...a partner up 'til now," he muttered.

Miriam put a hand on his arm. "Nobody blames you for being angry, Jason. We're all angry."

Sam looked at her for a long moment. "Are you angry, Miriam?"

"Enough to take apart the Golden Gate bridge with my bare hands." She looked down at her brother. "In a while I won't have a little brother any more." Then she looked back at Jason. "And..."

Miriam looked away painfully but Sam had understood. He took her hand.

"Don't you ever feel like the whole world wishes you and Pete, Nat, and all the others would just disappear?" She whispered.

He nodded. "But who needs the world when we have each other?"

Miriam smiled, but with difficulty. "Some of us do, Jason."

Sam didn't understand exactly, but he could feel the tension in her, something that had been held back a long time. He drew her gently into his arms and held her while she wept. When she was quiet again he spoke against her hair.

"How about I take you somewhere for coffee, at least until Pete wakes up?"

Miriam drew back. "Your place," she said.

"Okay," Sam agreed, and wondered why she would want to go all the way across town instead of down the street to a cafe.

        *******

Al was waiting in the apartment when Sam let Miriam and himself in.

"Kitchen," Sam said aloud. "I'll put the coffee on and be right back. Why don't you...ah..." He looked around. The sound system. "How about some music?"

Miriam sat down on the sofa. "How about a little peace?" She said wryly. Sam smiled a little, nodded, and headed for the kitchen.

"Al," he demanded as he burst through the door. "What am I here for--who am I here for?"

"It looks like you're here for Miriam, Sam."

"Miriam?" Sam looked back at the door. "Why?"

"Because Miriam was engaged to one of those nozzles from the Red Steer. She still thinks she's in love with him, even though she'll tell you she hates his guts."

"What happened?" Sam asked, not sure he wanted to know.

"When Grant Bracewell found out Miriam's brother was dying of AIDS he freaked out. She'd never got round to telling him Peter was gay. He beat her up, called off the engagement and generally made sure Miriam was considered poison from then on. He also threatened to kill her for exposing him to the virus, which of course is all crap, but you can't reason with a butthead."

"That's what Jason was doing down there? I don't get it, Al. If this Bracewell guy is such a...a butthead, why would Jason be trying to get them back together?"

"He wasn't," Al said darkly. "He went down there to kill the guy. Noakes worships Miriam. He knows he's finished anyway, and he was the one she went to after that bastard attacked her and nearly beat her to death. He was the one who took her to hospital, and sat with her through the night because she was too terrified to sleep."

"She was raped?"

"No, thank God. That moron was too scared he might catch AIDS from her. Can you believe that?"

Sam looked up at Al. "How can Miriam still be in love with him?"

"There's really no explaining things like that. Except, maybe, some part of her believes that Bracewell is really a good guy who just can't deal with this one thing. After all, she knows even her own father can't deal with it, beyond the effort to visit Peter once a week."

"But doesn't she realize that if he uses violence to deal with something like this, then he's going to do it again, as soon as he can't deal with something else?"

Al shook his head. "Women go back to violent men all the time. Some go because of fear, some because they literally have no place else to go, and some, well some just--they just go back."

"But Miriam's not stupid," Sam objected.

"Brains have nothing to do with it, Sam."

"Then--then I have to stop her going back to this Bracewell character?"

Al nodded. "If you don't, she'll spend years as a battered wife, continually trying to smooth things out, to put it all back together again, until finally she kills him, and does hard time."

"How--?" Sam said in disbelief. "In this decade they recognized that when battered women are driven to kill, it's in self-defence."

"If it can be proved," Al said soberly. "See, Miriam always believed that she could change Bracewell. She never reported the beatings, never went for treatment for her injuries unless she could pass one off as an accident in the home. By then Jason was gone. No-one knew. There were some who testified that they suspected, but there was no proof."

Sam shook his head in anger and frustration. "But if he's terrified of AIDS how did they end up together?"

"Bracewell takes her back after Peter's death because he thinks the AIDS thing is over, and it makes him feel like a big man to be all forgiving and big about it, but he was no good before, and he's no good after she marries him."

"No..." Sam said softly. Then he remembered something else. "Jason--have you talked to him? Did you tell him about Peter?"

"Yeah. I told him. He remembers the night, and a lot of heavy stuff going down, but he has no recollection of Peter being injured by a syringe, or any mention the incident. I told him it could be because his mind is swiss-cheesed from the leap, but he didn't buy it. He doesn't believe Peter accidentally became infected with AIDS from a syringe."

Sam hung his head as he made the coffee and tea. "I believe Peter, Al."

"Why? You don't know the guy," Calavicci pointed out.

"I know that. It's--I can't explain it. It's like I just know."

Al's eyes narrowed. "Are you sure some of Jason's mind isn't cross-linking with your's?"

Sam looked up. "Maybe. Maybe that's what it is, but it's not the same as when I lose control. Not like..." But he couldn't remember. There was just the knowledge that there had been other times, and that, sometimes at least, he'd been afraid. "It's more like he's just left some memories behind, or something," he said instead.

"But he doesn't believe Logan."

"Doesn't he? I think he's just so angry, so scared that he won't believe anything right now."

Calavicci seemed to be looking inward, perhaps to the memory of the bashed, ill young man in the complex's infirmary.

"You could be right," he said quietly. "I'll ask him about it again, next time I see him."

Sam's eyes widened, but he made no comment. Something was definitely not right with Al.

"I have to take this back in there, before Miriam comes looking for me," he said and opened the door.

Miriam was curled up on the sofa. Sam put the tray on the smoke-glass coffee table and sat beside her.

"How are you feeling?"

"A mess," she confessed and sipped at her coffee.

"You're still thinking about Grant."

She looked at him irritably. "Don't start with that again, Jason," she warned.

"With what?"

"With your 'he's a creep, he's no good for you,' speech. People are scared of AIDS, Jason. Especially people who don't understand, people like Grant."

"Grant doesn't want to understand. You're not seeing the big picture, Miriam. You're only seeing this one issue. Think about what he did to you, and tell me that if it were something else--after you're married, say--if you were losing your house, or he lost his job, that it wouldn't be exactly the same. Tell me that if you had to face him after say, smashing his car up, that he wouldn't do the exact same thing!" Sam demanded more heatedly than he might have wanted.

Al, watching from the doorway, knew where that strength of feeling had come from. Sam knew what he was talking about.

Miriam blinked. "Jason, you sound...different."

"Different?"

"I don't know, just not like you."

Sam half smiled. The irony was there.

"Maybe its because I'm right about this. Think about it, Miriam. Whatever he seems on the surface, he's still the same guy who put you in the hospital, and he'll always be that guy."

"My ex-fiance," she said hollowly. "The man I believed in enough to agree to marry. Now you're telling me I was a fool?"
She stood up. "I'd like to go home now, Jason."

Sam stood up, flustered. "Miriam, I didn't mean--I'm sorry..."

She hesitated a moment. "Jason, I know you care, but it's not your place to meddle in things you couldn't possibly understand."

Sam was taken aback. His eyes narrowed. "I couldn't understand? Are you saying that because I'm gay I don't understand any other relationships?" Beckett's voice rose in anger. "We're talking about Human nature here, not people's sex lives! I understand Human nature as well as anyone, maybe a little better than most. I thought you were different."

Al came to Sam's side. "A little hard on the kid weren't you?" He asked. "Anybody'd think you were Jason Noakes."

Sam swung around. "Right now, in every way that matters, I am," he snapped.

"You're cross-linking," Al retorted.

"I am not," Sam argued.

"She's going to think you're looney," Calavicci reminded the seething Beckett.

Sam turned back to a non-plused Miriam. "Sorry," he said awkwardly.

"You are not what?" She asked.

"I am not...going to argue with you," Sam improvised. "I didn't mean to seem crazy. My--my mind was working faster than my mouth, and parts of what I wanted to say to you got left behind. I'm disappointed in you, Miriam."

"Oh nice one, Sam. She's either going to believe you're the cerebral, sensitive type, or that you've cracked completely," Al interjected.

"Disappointed?" Miriam said tiredly. "I don't really care any-more. I love Peter and I've looked after him since you walked out. Nobody, not you, my parents, Rick, or anyone was there for Peter when he really needed them. Just me, and whatever relief the support group could give me."

"Rick is Peter's older brother," Al added.

"And if you can't accept that I won't ever understand why he's the way he is and you're the way you are, and that I don't want to, even though I love you both dearly, then you can take over. I'm through. I'll visit, like the others do, once a week, no strings, no nothing."

"She's saying that you're going to be responsible for Peter, Sam. That means you'll have to--"

"I know what I'll have to do," Sam muttered. "Miriam, do you really think I can take your place? Peter loves you--"

"He also loves you, or have you forgotten? Or are you planning to dump him again?"

"No," Sam said swiftly. "No. I wouldn't do that. I just meant, well, you're just going to go? Just like that?"

"Scared?"

Sam looked her square in the eye. "Yes," he said.

"Then you know how I've felt every day since I first started at the clinic," she said quietly.

"You know," Al said in a subdued voice. "Everyone is talking about Peter, and Peter's welfare. Seems like not too many people are worrying about Jason's future welfare."

"You know," Sam said carefully. "I always wondered how my family would cope when the time came--"

Al immediately flew into action on the handlink.


"Well, if their past track record is anything to go by--" Miriam drawled.

"That bad, huh?" Sam muttered without thinking.

Miriam chuckled. "What were your exact words after your last thanksgiving visit?"

Sam was lost. "I..I can't remember," he said.

"You said the Spanish inquisition would have been more fun," she prompted wryly.

"Yeah, Sam. She's right. Jason only went home to see his mother and sister. His father never speaks to him. His mother wants to see him, but she's terrified people at home will find out he has AIDS. She even told everyone there he has leukemia."

"I understated," Sam muttered.

Miriam finally laughed, her frustration dissipating. "I meant what I said, Jase. You walked out right when things were getting tough. If you're still a part of this relationship, it's time you started behaving that way. Forever includes the good and the bad. And the two of you did say 'forever,' once."

"You're right," Sam agreed. "Only I'm not sure I can do it," he told her honestly. "I really am scared."

"You should be," Al said in a strained voice. You don't have AIDS, remember?"

Sam shot him a silencing look, leaving him frustrated and annoyed.

"I know," Miriam whispered. "It's not fair that you'll be left alone. It's not fair that it happened in the first place, but it did and now we just have to get on with it."

Sam silently agreed. None of it was fair. He wished he knew how the real Jason really felt about everything.

Al must have read his thoughts, because his next words were about Noakes.

"It's not only not fair, but for Noakes the idea of being left alone is terrifying. He knows there's no way his family will be there once he reaches this stage. Sam, I've been talking to him. I think you're here because he had no intention of coming back. There's a lot of anger--and fear in him. I think you're here to help Miriam, and also to be here for Peter, because Noakes wasn't."

Beckett looked directly at him then, and Al could see the apprehension in his eyes. Sam was feeling painfully uncertain and perhaps unprepared.

Calavicci was about to speak when his head shot around.

"What?!" He demanded. But he was not talking to Sam. Suddenly he wheeled, hit the hand-link and strode towards the exit, for once not conveniently at his back.

Sam watched him exit the imaging chamber with a sinking heart. Al had looked distressed, and leaving without a word was not characteristic of his friend.

What the hell was going on?

"Miriam," he said quietly. "It's been a long day, and night. I think I should try to get some sleep. Would you mind if I took you home, now?"

"Never mind," she said without rancor. "I'll drive myself. I'll bring the car back first thing in the morning."

Sam sighed. A break at last. "Thanks," he said, and meant it.

Miriam picked up the keys. "Thank you. I'm glad you came back, Jason. I just wish you could understand Grant a little better, that's all."

Sam nodded, not wishing to provoke another argument at this late stage.

"I'll see you tomorrow," he said as she let herself out, then locked the door behind her. When he was done he turned and leaned against it, sagging with exhaustion, pain, and more than a little fear.

Every so often on a leap he would find memories of a previous leap. One that he'd remembered several times, in fact now carried a more-or-less permanent recollection of, was the time he was pregnant. It was for him, at once scary, exciting, and wonderful. Something not to be forgotten.

Only now the memory of the physiological transference that occurred on that leap terrified the hell out of him. His body ached. He'd been feeling nauseous on and off all day, and he was manifesting early symptoms of a urinary tract infection. He hadn't been able to bring himself to mention any of it to Al. Never before had he felt that he couldn't talk to Calavicci, about anything. He looked around the empty apartment, sighed and drew himself up.

He wasn't hungry, but somehow, the act of preparing food was a comforting one. Even if it was just a sorry excuse for a sandwich, and a glass of juice.

Silence drummed in his ears as he sipped at the juice in a stranger's kitchen, a stranger's home. Slowly, he allowed himself to consider everything that had happened.

He'd leaped into a man who was going to die, whose lover was near death. And now he'd suddenly been thrown into the role of partner and care-giver of an AIDS victim, and best friend to a troubled woman. This wasn't a leap, it was a nightmare. And if that wasn't enough, now Al was acting strangely.

He snorted softly to himself. Perhaps Al's homophobia had reared its ugly head again...

Sam closed his eyes. That was unfair, and unworthy. In truth, he was worried about the older man. He straightened and leaned back. His mid-riff ached and he was feeling sick again. The sandwich had been filling, the juice cold and pleasant, but neither were welcome at their destination. The dash to the bathroom almost fell short. Only a skid across the tiles got him to his destination in time.

The chamber door opened at his back. It took only a moment for Al to realize what was happening and why.

"No, God damn it! No!" he exclaimed.

Sam tore up some toilet paper to wipe his mouth, rose and went to the hand-basin to clean up properly.

"Al, are you all right?" He asked urgently when he turned. "What happened?"

Al looked away. "Nothing for you to worry about kid. I just had a problem with some unfinished business."

"Al, it's me," Sam said quietly. "What's going on?"

Al looked him in the eye. "Beth's car broke down," he said forcefully.

Sam didn't believe him, but he understood when he was being told to butt out.

"Sam, this is crazy. It can't happen. Noakes is there. You're here. You haven't got AIDS."

"Yeah, and I wasn't pregnant either, and Billie's baby was in Billie," Sam pointed out sarcastically. "Al, I'm scared."

"Understandable considering you've never been ill a day in your life. You've gotta do what you're here to do and get the hell out of this leap."

Sam nodded. "But how? You said I not only have to make certain Miriam doesn't marry Grant, but that Ziggy thinks I'm also here for Peter."

"That's true," Al said humorlessly. He tapped the handlink. A moment later Ziggy responded. "Ziggy says there's still a 73% probability you're here to make Peter's last days bearable."

"Well, can't...can't you talk to Jason and convince him to come back? I know he really loves Peter, no matter how angry he is. He'll never forgive himself if he lets Peter die without telling him."

"Jason doesn't even want to come back to this time," Al said bluntly. "He wants to buy those extra five years, to see the turn of the century before he dies. He thinks if he stays in 1999 he might have a chance to live."

Sam blinked, then stepped back. He swallowed. "He could be right, Al. What if, what if he--?"

"Don't even think about it, Sam. His time is now. You can't give him your future."

"That's so damned easy to say," Sam retorted.

"Is it? Sam, if you stay, you die."

"Do I?"

"Billie's baby leaped back. What do you think?"

"I think having a baby is not an illness," Sam said irritably.

"And I think heaving over a strange toilet should tell you something," Al shot back. "You look terrible. You have no color whatsoever and your bruises look awful."

Sam looked in the mirror. "You mean Noakes' bruises," he said absently.

"No," Al said, pointedly looking at Sam, rather than the mirror. "I see Sam Beckett, not Jason Noakes. And I see Sam Beckett deteriorating before my eyes."

Sam rounded. "Are you sure the reason you're so edgy doesn't have something to do with the fact that Noakes is gay?"

"Well you sure as hell haven't thought about that part," Al snapped. "Sam, you're sick. Besides, whether you like it or not, doing nothing is not necessarily going to enable him to stay in the future."

Sam bellowed in frustration, a kind of wounded roar. It echoed in a sad, lonely yowl around the bathroom.

"You can't stay here either," Al said quietly. "Get some sleep and I'll ask the doc what we can do about you being ill. You certainly can't take Noakes' medication."

Beckett put a hand over his eyes. "Whatever," he muttered. "Wait a minute. I forgot something important. Nobody's said anything about Noakes' job. Do I work somewhere?"

"Until two weeks ago you did. You were ah...let go. Don't worry, though. Noakes was an astute investor. He's pretty much set."

"For what? Life? That's not going to take much, is it?" Sam retorted, walking back into the bedroom.

"Sam, you're a doctor," Al said suddenly. "Can you remember anything about being a doctor?"

Beckett frowned. "Yeah, some. A lot, actually. A lot...Why?"

"How much do you remember about AIDS, and more importantly, about avoiding infection?"

"Enough," Beckett growled. "Stop worrying about me and start worrying about how to get Miriam to drop this...this Bracewell guy." He grimaced in pain, grabbed his stomach, turned and headed for the bathroom.

"You gonna be sick again?" Al called after him.

"No," Sam yelled back.

"Oh...oh brother," Al groaned. "I'll go see what Ziggy's got. Get a good night's sleep and I'll see you in the morning."

A groan was the only reply he got as he stepped through the chamber door.

        *******

Sam woke in a cold sweat. The hangover from the nightmare refused to leave him. He dragged himself from the bed and went to the bathroom to look in the mirror. A cold shiver went down his spine. He jumped when the chamber door opened.

"Al," he said without turning, "Al, I dreamed--"

"Sam you look terrible."

"I do? I dreamed Jason was near death--I was near death, in the hospital, wasted...alone. There was no one there..."

Al closed his eyes. Moments like these were the most difficult of all. The times when Sam needed more than just words.

"It was just a dream, Sam. Pull yourself together. Ziggy says you have to get over to the hospital. Miriam was serious about handing Peter over to you. She'll be here any time."

Sam's fist clenched, but he went to dress without comment.

Al waited for the inevitable burst of frustration.

Instead Sam said quietly: "Al, if Peter is being cared for by volunteers, does that mean he's not under strict medical supervision?"

Calavicci snorted. "Are you kidding? They haven't got enough doctors in that place to supervise the lancing of a boil."

"Then--then it would make sense to bring him home, here, where he wouldn't be alone. I'm a doctor. I can do the medication."

"Sam you can't be on twenty-four hour call in your condition. And besides, you have to help Miriam," Al pointed out.

"All right. All right, I'll arrange for a volunteer to do four hours in the day time, and I'll hire a nurse to do four hours at night--okay? You said there was money..."

Al shook his head. "Have it your way," he muttered, "But I don't like it." The older man looked tired, and washed out.

"You don't have to," Sam said almost unpleasantly. "Have you spent any more time with Jason?"

For a long moment Al just looked at his friend. "Yes," he said finally. "And no, he hasn't changed his mind."

"Damn it," Beckett muttered. He stomped into the last boot and did up his belt. "I'm going to the hospital to make arrangements. Then, depending on the position Miriam has left me in with Peter, I'm gonna try and talk to her about her jerk ex-boyfriend."

"Ah, Sam, the doc has checked with Jason about all of his medication. He says its safe for you to use the anti-puke stuff and the stuff for the runs, but you're not to touch anything specific to any organism, since we don't know if you got any of those yet."

"Maybe...maybe what you have to do is find away to stop his physical and emotional fluctuations cross-feeding into me," Sam said impatiently. "Hypnotize him, sedate him. Anything to get him off my back!"

Al's eyes narrowed. Sam was very green around the gills again and he truly looked as though his cheeks had been deflated and his eyes had sunk into his head.

"I'll go talk to Beeks, and Ziggy and the doctor. Maybe there's something...I'll be back as soon as I can."

Beckett turned to go back to the bathroom.

"Hey kid..."

Sam turned.

"We'll get through this," Al said softly.

Beckett stood for a few moments, struggling against the desire to say the words his mind was screaming out: Take me with you! Don't leave me here.

Finally, he succeeded.

"Thanks," he whispered.

Al, however had read the rest in Sam's face. He nodded, his eyes darkened by strong emotion, and disappeared once again.

        *******

Apart from the usual civilities, the drive to the clinic with Miriam was a largely silent one. Sam wasn't sure why the atmosphere between the two of them was so tense. Certainly neither had displayed any further sign of temperament or impatience toward the other.

He listened quietly while the routine was explained to him, the clinic and volunteer schedule, the medication, oxygen and the basic necessities, like the diapers in the bedside cupboard, the pans for throwing up, the cleaning equipment, new bedding, fresh gowns, the bathroom, the kitchen.

A doctor arrived as Miriam completed her emotionless monologue in the small kitchenette that served several wards and the staff's requirements.

"Jason, this is Doctor Betz. He's been supervising Peter's case. Doctor Betz took over from Janny Curtis not long after you...went away," she explained.

"Oh," Sam said quietly, and extended his hand to the doctor. He was pleased to find it accepted without hesitation. He was becoming sensitized by the subtle but relentless small rejections he was encountering each time he ventured out of the apartment.

"Jason Noakes," he said.

"Pleased to meet you, Jason," Betz smiled. "You do fully understand the extent of the responsibility you're taking on here, son?"

"Yeah, well I wanted to talk to you about that, actually," Sam said carefully. "I want to take Peter home."

Miriam did a violent doubletake but remained silent, her eyes watchful.

Betz studied Beckett. "Well, Jason, you must realize that you're talking about a 24 hour a day responsibility," he pointed out.

"I--I know that. I'll get help. Money isn't a problem, and I'm betting you could use that extra bed. Peter should be home, in a place he knows, with me until..."

"There's medication--"

"I can follow instructions," Sam said impatiently. "And I have some small medical experience."

"How--?"

"Research," Beckett said quickly, and in fact, honestly. "He'll be as safe as he is here, and a lot happier."

"Well, that remains to be seen. Why don't you ask the boy what he wants, and then we'll talk again."

Sam nodded reluctantly and watched the doctor go, unable to shake the feeling of having been patronized.

"What are you up to, Jason? You stay away all this time, and now you want to take him home?" Miriam demanded when they were alone.

"That's right," Sam said roughly. "We both know he hasn't got much time left. He deserves better than to die in a strange bed. What if you or I aren't here when it happens? I'll make it work, Miriam. He should be home. Besides, I thought you were washing your hands of the whole thing?"

"He's still my brother and I don't want him hurt again. You don't even know what you're getting yourself into. How do I know you won't throw your hands up after a few days and run away again?"

"I won't," Sam said vehemently. "And now, if you'll excuse me, I'd like to go be with Pete."

Peter was awake, and watching the overhead television that slid on a ceiling rail above the foot of each of the three beds.

"Good morning," Sam said and seated himself next to the bed. He didn't see the slightly puzzled look in the blue eyes.

"Jase," Logan whispered, a slow grin spreading across his ravaged features. "I missed you."

"There's something I need to ask you that might fix that problem," Sam said carefully. "I want to take you home. And I need to know how you feel about that."

Peter was silent for a long moment, staring at the television screen.

Sam began to worry. "Peter?" He said, putting a hand on Logan's forearm.

The arm turned and bony fingers slid around Sam's forearm, tightening slowly. Moisture pooled in the blue eyes and trickled down wan cheeks.

"Pete?"

"Home?" He whispered.

Sam grinned. "Yeah, home," he said hoarsely.

Peter was trembling now, and still gripping his arm tightly. Sam spoke soothingly to him about the weather, the apartment and anything else that would take his mind off the excitement of going home. He was beginning to think it had worked, when Peter jerked suddenly and heaved.

Sam snatched the stainless steel pan off the ever-present trolley table and put it under his friend's chin just in time, carefully easing a strong arm under Logan's shoulders and gently lifting him to a more comfortable position as he continued to throw up. When it was over Beckett changed the top sheet and found a new gown.

Removing the old one was a slow exercise in gentle manipulation, trying to move the tender body as little as possible in the process. Sam learned as he went, mostly on instinct. When it finally came free he threw it with force into the special waste disposal between the beds and turned to put the fresh one on.

He stopped, unable to prevent a sudden jagged intake of breath. The combination of lesions, bruises, blisters from the shingles and crusted remains from previous attacks made a cruel mosaic across the wasted body. This was what waited for Jason Noakes...

Peter watched him knowingly. "I wish I could be there for you," he said softly.

Sam blinked rapidly several times and launched himself into getting the clean gown on to Peter.

"I'm getting you out of here tonight," he said adamantly when it was done and the sheet was back in place.

Logan chuckled. "I'm up for a jailbreak if you are."

Sam laughed with him, but his heart wasn't in it.

Through the day they talked and watched television together. Sam learned the hard way how to change a hospital bed with the patient still in it, to begin to cope with the sounds, small and large, of constant pain and to face his most difficult challenge of all: dealing with a complete lack of personal privacy for someone he was beginning to care about.

The chamber door opened as he finished reapplying his most successful attempt yet to copy Miriam's unique diapering style. She had created a strong, practical style of protection for her brother, including a home made waterproof cover, that prevented a degree of soiling of linen and a lot of unnecessary discomfort for Peter.

Before Sam could turn to go to the waste hamper, the chamber door reopened, and closed again.

Sam sighed, and finished his task.

Within the hour Peter went to sleep again and a relief care-giver came to give Sam a break. He went straight to the front desk to begin discharge procedures.

There was remarkably little to do. Peter was still capable of signing his own name, so that even Miriam was not required for any authorizations. Medication and transport were arranged with a minimum of fuss.

Beckett was tired. To the bottom of his soul, he was tired. His own body ached like hell. He'd only been sick once during the day and had kept the fluids up, but exhaustion was catching him up anyway. He made his way stiffly back to the ward, only to be confronted by Al at the doorway to the kitchen.

"Ziggy says you gotta take it easy Sam, until we can find a way to stop you cross-linking with Noakes," he said a little too quickly.

"Is that so?" Sam said wearily. His voice was uncharactistically harsh. "Well then you tell Ziggy to hurry the hell up."

"Are you mad at me, Sam?"

"Why would I be mad?"

"Don't play games, Sam. I walked in at a bad time, and I left again. No big deal. I'm here now."

"No..." Sam said, almost to himself. "No big deal."

Al went on. "The reason I'm here is because there's been some progress with Noakes. Verbeena has been working with him. He's coming around. Slowly. She says he has to work through his anger first. That means we can't sedate him or even try hypnosis."

Sam looked bleak.

"We're working as fast as we can," Al reassured him. "Ziggy still says you can treat your symptoms, but that you don't need medication for Noakes' infections. The bugs are in 1999, not here with you."

"And what bugs prey tell might they be?"

Al listed several including pneumocystis.

Sam's shoulders dropped. Two of the others accounted for most of his symptoms.

"All right," he said. "But treating the symptoms may not work either, since they're really only echoes of Jason's."

"I gotta get you out of this leap," Al said darkly.

Sam gave him a 'you're telling me look,' then paused. Al still had that haunted look in his eyes.

"Al, what's going on? And don't give me that stuff about Beth's car. I want to know what's going on."

Calavicci stared at Sam's ravaged face for long moments, as if weighing something in his mind.

"They tested me...they tested me for HIV," he said at last. "When I helped Noakes in the waiting room there was blood ...and I got it on my clothes, on my...hands."

Sam swallowed. "And the test?"

"We don't know yet," Al said bleakly. "It had to be sent away. Since that breakthrough in '97, detection only takes a couple of days, but we haven't had word yet."

"I'm sorry, Al. You should have told me."

"You've got enough to worry about right here," Calavicci told him pointedly. "You don't need me crying on your shoulder."

Sam held his gaze. "But I need to be there for you..." He trailed off. Al was always there for him. "And I never am."

"You're wrong, Sam," Al said. "More than you know."

Sam dropped his chin onto his chest and sighed. "I have to go. I've got forms for Peter to sign, then I have to get him ready before the transport arrives to get him home."

"Fine," Al said unexpectedly, "I'll be with Peter."

He was in the ward when Sam arrived. The relief care-giver stood up and smiled at him.

"He's slept well. I think the excitement must've worn him out."

Sam nodded. "Thanks," he told her. "I'll take over now."

Al watched Beckett make preparations to treat Logan's mouth lesions. He wanted to know how Beckett was coping, but he wasn't sure Sam wanted him to ask. Besides, he thought bitterly, what the hell good can I do...?

"Where's Miriam?" He asked, apropos of nothing.

"I don't know," Sam said. "Her business, not mine. Once Peter is settled I'll see what I can do about Bracewell, but right now I think she's probably just enjoying her freedom. Why don't you go find out?"

This time it was just a request. Beckett's voice was calm and reasonable.

"Sure," Al replied, not unhappy to be getting away from the clinic. "Sam--?"

Sam looked around, read the older man's expression and nodded.
"I'm okay Al, really. I mean, none of this is okay, but I know what I'm doing now."

"Keep being okay," Calavicci said softly. He punched something into the handlink. "I'll go check on Miriam now."

Beckett watched him pop out then looked down to see Peter watching him. He swallowed.

"Hello. Sleep well?" He asked as naturally as he could.

"Great," Peter told him. "Who is Al?"

"Someone who helps me, gives me strength occasionally," Sam told him.

"Well I've heard Him called a lot of things. Al's a new one on me, though."

Sam chuckled in spite of himself. Al would be tickled. "Yeah, well, when he's working it's fine, but when he's not it's a major bummer," he pointed out jovially, making Peter smile.

Sam found simple things, like bathing Peter's mouth, to be the most soothing, in terms of focus, and in terms of feeling as though he was achieving something, as though he was really helping.

When it was done he brought out a parcel of clothes he'd brought from the apartment. The shirt was soft and loose and the jeans were lightweight and well worn.

"I thought maybe you could use these," he said, gratified to see the glow in the other man's eyes.

"God, it's been a long time," Logan sighed. "Even if its just for a little while it's going to be worth it."

It took a lot of time and some painful manipulation to get the pants on, but Logan declared that it was worth it, even if he had to take them off again before they left. The shirt was relatively simple. Sam started to do the buttons up but was stopped by a pale hand.

He watched with satisfaction as Peter concentrated on the effort to dress himself. The desire to try was far healthier than the silent resignation of the Peter Logan who'd been destined to live out his final days in the hospice.

Peter looked up with satisfaction from the last button. "I want to go home in the car. I want to see everything," he announced as he laboriously signed the papers on the clipboard Sam had place on his chest.

Sam was apprehensive. A van was being organized by the support people for them. He wasn't sure Peter could cope with an extended period in the passenger seat of the Mazda.

"Pete, I don't know--"

"Well I do," Logan said emphatically. "I don't care if it takes a week for me to recover, I want to go home to live Jase, not to go on dying."

"Is that...is that what it felt like, being here? Waiting to die?" Sam asked.

Peter looked away. "Sometimes," he said. "Mostly..."

"I'm sorry," Beckett whispered, wanting to grab Jason Noakes and shake him. "I should never have left--"

"Well you're here now, and this isn't getting us out of here," Logan pointed out and smiled. "I want to get home before I have to change my pants again."

Sam laughed. "So do I," he agreed. "I'll bring the car around. Don't go away." He could hear Peter's soft chuckle as he left the room.

Nathaniel Steinman, too, heard the chuckle but continued to pretend he was asleep. No one saw the tears that squeezed out from beneath his lids as he lay curled up in the bed that now constituted a significant part of his lonely world...

        *******

Sam returned to the ward some ten minutes later, having returned the paperwork, picked up the medication and brought the car to the front door.

"No chair?" Peter asked.

Sam looked at him with mock exasperation. "It's bad enough you're going to be sitting up all the way across the city, you aren't going to bump all the way to the car in one of those ancient chairs."

Beckett was stunned by the ease with which he was able to lift Peter Logan. As a doctor, he knew the slender body was wasted and frail, but to lift Peter as if he was lifting a bird, after having seen the picture on the piano, was heartbreaking.
Sam felt like he needed to go somewhere and scream, loudly.

He didn't, however, have that luxury. The act of lifting caused Logan a great deal of pain; pain which was not lessened by their passage through the building, despite Beckett's gentleness.

As Peter clutched weakly at his shirt as they went down the steps at the front of the building, the first shadow of doubt about the whole exercise fell over Sam's confidence.

"Pete? Are you sure you're going to be all right?" He asked anxiously as they reached the open passenger side door.

"Don't you take me back in there," Logan panted. "Please don't take me b..back." He was looking up at the sun, the sky.

No, Sam would not take him back.

"Brace yourself," he warned, and heard Logan's gasping intake of breath as he bent to slide him into the seat. It was far more difficult than it appeared to be. Logan was light, but he wasn't small.

He cried out several times as he strove to help Beckett get him into the car, always panting against the relentless pain.
When he was in Sam leaned against the door, looking up, so as to avoid letting Logan know just how much it had cost him to put the young man through that. When he had collected himself he leaned down again and fastened the seat belt.

"All right?" He asked, forcing himself to smile.

Logan was drawn and obviously hurting, but he smiled back.

"S'long as you've got plenty of barf bags," he drawled through a jaw clenched against a thousand small agonies.

"Plenty," Sam assured him. Peter wasn't the only one who might need those.

It was all Beckett could do to walk around the other side of the car without doubling up. Every cell in his own body screamed from the effort of carrying Logan. He too, would pay for this exercise later on.

By the time he'd done his seat-belt up, Al had arrived in the back seat. He didn't say anything, just nodded to Sam in the rear view mirror.

Beckett spent as much of the trip watching the pleasure in Peter's pain-racked face as he did watching the road. There was something wonderful about that kind of joy.

Al was watching too. The kid should have been in a hospital, not in a car riding across town in all kinds of agony. He didn't know what Sam, as a doctor, had used for justification but right now it seemed to Al that there wasn't any.

He said so.

Beckett appeared to ignore him. Instead he turned to Logan.

"Happy?" He asked.

"I'm alive," Peter said, his eyes glowing, really glowing, with pleasure.

Sam's eyes met Al's in the rear view mirror.

Calavicci nodded silently.

They had to stop three times, filled more than one barf bag much to Al's discomfort, and drove extra slowly when they went by any favorite haunt.

At Peter's behest, they bought beer because it was Noakes' favorite, flowers for the apartment, and on one barf-stop which turned from harassment to hilarity, car air-freshener. On another he begged Sam to buy donuts from a familiar stand for old time's sake. No one but Al had an appetite for them, and he could only look at the bag spilling out on the back seat hungrily.

He observed that sometimes being a hologram sucked, badly.

Beckett chuckled to himself.

Logan turned his head stiffly to face his driver. "What?" He asked, still smiling, despite the strain in his face.

"Let's just say I'm easily amused," Sam told him.

"You got that right," Al rejoined. "We're here. Now you gotta get him inside. You should've brought help."

"Al..!"

"Him again," Logan chuckled as Sam slid out and went to call the lift down.

The process of getting Logan out of the car proved to be marginally easier than the reverse. However, somehow, somewhere between Sam reaching across to undo the seat belt and accidentally causing the seat to recline, and Peter announcing that the jeans had failed to make it, the two men ended up in fits of laughter, despite their considerable pain.
Al watched them and wondered at his friend's capacity for understanding, and love.

"I'll watch the car," he called after them as Sam carried Peter into the lift.

"Fine...f-fine," Sam yelled back between howls of laughter.

At the apartment Peter managed to get the keys in the lock and found the strength from somewhere to open it. His newly found energy was waning fast. Sam could almost feel it ebbing away.

The bedroom was ready.

"You sure about the jeans?" Beckett asked, as their laughter subsided.

"Positive," whispered Logan, still chuckling, despite the fact that his body was trembling from the overexertion and constant pain.

Sam smiled back. "Well, you're a big help," he observed as they came into the bedroom. "I'll put you on the divan until I've locked the car up, okay?"

"I'm not going anywhere," Logan replied flippantly and grinned as he was lowered onto the soft seat, though his voice was little more than a strangled whisper.

The car secure, Al rode back up in the lift with Sam.

"Verbeena is doing great with Noakes," he reported. "She says he's been 'expressing his rage'. Boy, is he mad at his father, at his whole family as a matter of fact. And his ex-boss and his former doctor and--"

"And Peter?" Sam asked.

"Yeah, we-e-ll," Al said uncomfortably. "Verbeena is kinda working up to that. She thinks that's gonna be the big one, so she's getting rid of all the others first, unless of course he brings it up."

"And his health?"

"Improving steadily."

Sam's head shot around. "Improving?" He repeated.

"Yeah. He looks a lot better than when he first arrived. He's feeling pretty good, as a matter of fact."

Beckett on the other hand was looking cadaverous, and more than a little green from the ride in the lift. His pace accelerated as he approached the apartment door.

"And you?" He asked.

Al shook his head. "We don't know yet. I checked on Miriam, by the way. She's home, alone."

"Is she okay?" Sam asked, unlocking the door.

"She's fine. I'd say she was just enjoying the freedom. She was in her jammies, the television was going, a yumola dinner for one was cooking and she was reading a book."

"All at the same time?" Beckett asked, getting paler by the second.

Al chuckled. "I don't know how they do it. Women must have a special talent for multiple tasking--"

The smiled faded as he watched Sam sprint for the bathroom.

When he was finished throwing up, Beckett launched into the effort to make Peter comfortable again.

Al could hear water running.

"You leave a faucet on or something?" He asked.

"No," Sam said over his shoulder as he turned the big bed back.

Al touched the handlink, hopped across the room and stuck his head in the door.

"Don't you think both of you should rest before you go lifting him again? You look awful sick, Sam. And he's had a rough time."

Sam looked across at Logan, who was dozing on the divan, divested of his travelling clothes, cleaned up, and resplendent in his own robe for the first time in months.

"After all the excitement, all the pain, there isn't anything that could be more soothing or relaxing," Beckett said in what Al labelled his 'physician' tone, removing his own shirt and shoes and heading for the divan.

Peter stirred as Sam checked his vital signs.

"Hello," he whispered, sounding a little less strained at last.

"Hello," Sam replied. "How does a warm bath sound?"

"Bliss," Peter sighed and braced himself to be lifted. Both Logan and Calavicci were surprised then, when Beckett proceeded to wheel the divan across the room instead.

"Great idea, Sam. How'd you know it had wheels?"

"I looked," Sam muttered pointedly.

"Oh." Sam's powers of observation never ceased to surprise Calavicci. He knew Beckett hadn't specifically looked.

At the bathroom door Sam removed Peter's dressing gown and lifted him with great gentleness. He carried him carefully to the spa, unable to remember the last time he, himself, had been in so much pain, and stepped into the water, jeans and all.

Al exhaled loudly. The things Sam did sometimes...

He watched Sam sit down carefully, easing Logan into the warm water.

Not even Vietnam could prepare him for the destruction rendered on the body in Sam's arms. He shivered, half at the visual evidence of Logan's suffering, and half at his own ignorance.

Beckett turned the faucets off and the spa on. He'd set the jets to a bare bubble, but they still came to life noisily.

At first Logan trembled with a combination of chill and pain, then gradually, as the warmth of the water eased into his ravaged frame, he began to relax. Sam shifted carefully to support his head and shoulders while still allowing most of Peter's body to experience the feeling of as much freedom as possible, from both gravity and the pain it caused.

Sam, too, began to feel the knots going out of his back, even the pains in his midriff subsiding as the water did its work.

"Okay?" he said softly.

"Mm," came the peaceful reply. "We had some wonderful times in here," he said sleepily. "Remember when you knocked the Moet bottle over and up-ended the entire thing in here? What a waste," he sighed contentedly.

Sam made a noise of affirmation, but he'd suddenly become much less comfortable, and only just resisted the inclination to call a panicked end to the bathing there and then.

Al knew exactly what was going through Sam's mind. He would have sprinted.

"Are you hungry?" Sam asked, trying to shift the focus of the conversation. "I can make most anything you want. If not, I'll have it delivered," he joked.

"No," Logan replied. "I just want to be with you."

"Sa-a-m," Al growled.

"I'm here," Sam said carefully.

"I knew this was a bad idea."

Beckett scowled fiercely at Al, who this time stood his ground.

"That's what I mean," Logan went on. "Who cares about food."

"I do," Sam told him. "I'm starved. That's what happens when you feel good. You get hungry."

"Jason," Peter said quietly. "What's wrong?"

Sam looked miserably at the ceiling. "I ah...I'm scared," he said honestly. "It's your first night out and I don't want to have to rush you to hospital."

Peter turned his head so that his cheek was against Beckett's shoulder.

"Just hold me," he said sleepily.

Sam swallowed. He could do that. For Peter. He drew his arm across the narrow chest and shoulders and clamped it there gently.

Finally, a considerable, peaceful amount of time later, Beckett lifted Logan from the bath, swathed him in a bath sheet and carried him back to the bedroom.

He was swift and efficient, getting the patient into the warm bed as quickly as possible to avoid the possibility of further respiratory infection.

Logan was almost asleep when Sam turned to go and change his saturated pants. He returned in a sloppy joe and track pants, his hair combed and his wits settled.

Peter was sleeping more peacefully than any time since Beckett arrived. There was even some color in his cheeks.

"You were lucky," Al muttered, shattering the silence for Beckett, and making him jump. "You aren't always gonna get out of it that easily."

"Get out of what?" Beckett whispered sharply.

"These are two people who are supposed to love each other," Al pointed out. Logan may be very ill but he isn't dead. You can only avoid intimate contact for so long before he's going to be either hurt or suspicious."

Beckett made a face. "You're a mine of information all of a sudden."

"I know what it's like to be in love," Al pointed out.

Sam looked at him then, surprised. "Are you drawing a comparison between your love life and--?"

"I'm saying," Al said severely, "that everyone needs to feel loved, no matter what their lifestyle choice." He looked down at the sleeping man, a haunted look in his eyes. "Especially when they're vulnerable."

"I know that," Beckett hissed. "I just--I just need time."

He swayed and bent slightly, holding his stomach.

"Sam?"

"I'm all right, Al."

"You have to get some sleep, early or not," Calavicci told him.

Sam nodded. "I have to make up a bed on the sofa."

"Good idea," Al agreed, then frowned when Beckett was overtaken by a fit of coughing.

When Sam recovered he looked back at Logan, then grabbed the bundle of blankets and pillow in a pile by the door.

Al followed him into the living area.

"Nice settee," he said helpfully, watching Beckett warring with himself.

Sam ignored him and proceeded to make a bed on the less than comfortable looking seat. He was pounding a pillow aimlessly when he suddenly turned and looked straight at his friend.

"Al, if you had brought...if it was Beth you brought home tonight--?"

"You don't need me to tell you the answer to that," Calavicci said quietly.

Sam exhaled long and loudly. After several long moments he snatched up the pillow and went back into the bedroom.

Pain was making Logan restless, but he was still sleeping. Sam carefully slid into the other side of the bed and gingerly made himself comfortable.

"Are you going to stay here all night?" He snapped in a sharp whisper when Calavicci reappeared.

"Ah..no, but I'll be back in the morning," Al said reasonably. "Sleep tight," he added.

Sam scowled and rammed his head into the pillow as the chamber door closed. He was as angry with himself as he was annoyed by Al's flippancy.

As distressed as he was, the warmth of the bed rapidly seduced Beckett into a deep slumber. One not disturbed for two full hours.

He woke to the sound of pain.

Peter was awake and hurting, badly. Sam scrambled out of bed and went for the medical equipment and medication prepared for him by the staff at the clinic.

He came back to find that Logan was worse. He was crying, alternately moaning and crying out in severe pain.

There was distressingly little Sam could do after he'd cleaned his friend up once again and administered the stipulated dosage of Dilaudid. Logan was sweating profusely, even after he'd been exposed to the cold while Sam laboriously changed the bed beneath him. He didn't speak, except for his eyes. They told him he was glad Sam was there, that he was afraid, and that he was tired.

Sam reached out and touch the other man's face reassuringly.

The eyes seemed almost to smile, then they closed as Logan turned to the task of coping with the pain.

Beckett brought water and cloths and gave him a sponge bath, using the strokes of the wet cloth to gently massage his head, shoulders, back and torso as he did so.

Gradually, whether through the morphia or the massage, or both, the tortured body began to relax. The pain was still there, but the intensity of the attack was fading.

When he seemed almost restful again, Peter opened his eyes.

Sam saw immediately that the pain had not gone, it had merely been controlled.

"Why--?" Beckett asked, emotionally rather than intellectually.

"Because that's the way it is," Logan replied hoarsely. "But it's all been worth it."

For a split second Beckett's heart came into his throat.

"I'll probably be like this all day tomorrow," Peter went on, "but it'll get better. I'm home. I know its going to get better."

He hadn't given up, then. Relief brought a surge of tears pricking at the back of Sam's eyes.

"You bet it will," he said thickly. "We're together, aren't we?"

Peter smiled and closed his eyes. Sam sat with him until he'd drifted into a fitful doze. Even then, the tension had not completely gone out of the tortured frame.

The rest of the night followed a similar pattern. Sam woke from the longest rest he'd had all night, almost three hours, to find that it was morning. Peter was awake, lying quietly, though there was still pain in his face.

Sam slid out of bed and padded across to the bathroom. Inside he leaned against a wall and closed his eyes. He'd run away again. Al was right. He did what he had to do and went back.

"Good morning," he said lightly.

"What are you afraid of, Jason?" Peter asked quietly.

"Us," Sam replied.

"Are you sorry you came back?"

Beckett shook his head slowly. "No..no, nothing like that. I just...I can't really explain it."

"Does it have anything to do with Al?"

Sam's eyes opened wide in surprise. "Kinda, I guess," he said, non-plused.

"I don't blame you for finding someone else--"

"No, wait," Sam interrupted. "It's not like that. He's not--I'm not--Damn it, there wasn't anyone else," he stammered.

"You've changed," Peter said slowly. "It's like you don't know who you are. One minute you're more gentle and caring than I can ever remember, next you're like a virgin on her first date."

Exactly, Sam thought grimly. "Maybe," he ventured, "maybe I'm just scared of tomorrow."

Peter didn't answer. When the silence began to stretch into long seconds, Sam became concerned and started toward his bedside.

"Sam! Sam!" Al burst through the chamber door as Beckett opened his mouth to speak.

He turned, annoyed.

"Sam, you have to get over to Miriam's. She called that nozzle boyfriend of hers and asked him over. Ziggy says its gonna get ugly."

Beckett looked at his watch. In ten minutes a relief worker would be there to sit with Peter.

"Peter, I have to get dressed. I need to see Miriam. It's important. Somebody is gonna be here with you, though--"

There was no response.

Sam came to his side. Logan was staring into nothing, tensed with pain, weeping silently. There was only one thing he could say now.

"Peter," he said gently. "I...I do love you."

When Logan still didn't respond he rose reluctantly and went to change.

It took less than eight minutes for him to shower, change and be ready to leave when the knock came at the door.

"That was fast, Sam," Al commented as Beckett emerged from the bathroom. "You handled things pretty well, I thought," he added.

Sam blew out an exasperated breath as they came into the living area. "No I didn't. Let's face it," he said in a near whisper. "I'm blowing things big time here. I am not gay and I don't know how to be gay."

"Listen who sounds like me," Al said dryly. "Sam, just be yourself. It's been working up to now, whether you see it or not."

Beckett shook his head as he opened the door. A young man stepped inside and introduced himself as Mike Banyon.

Sam introduced him to Peter, who nodded but remained silent, and didn't look at Sam at all.

They walked back to the door together.

"We'll talk while you're away," Banyon said perceptively. "Repressed hostility doesn't do anyone any good. If nothing else I'm good at annoying people into yelling at me."

Sam smiled. He liked the young man immediately.

They shook hands and Sam looked at his face closely for the first time. The tiny purple lesion was little more than a large mole half-disguised by his dark eyebrow. Sam's heart constricted. How many more..?

"Thanks," he said almost normally. "I'll back as soon as I can. We ah...we had a difference of opinion. Just...just take care of him, okay?"

Banyon nodded and smiled again. Sam looked back at the bedroom again, sighed and departed.

        *******

Miriam's house was some distance away. An average bungalow in an average suburb. The Mazda slid to a halt behind a blue Blazer parked out the front.

"Ah, that's Bracewell's car, Sam. I'd be careful from here on, if I were you. Remember, he was the one who tried to reorganize your face the other night."

"How could I forget?" Beckett drawled. "What does Ziggy say I need to do here?"

An ear-piercing scream came from the house.

"Well, for a start you can stop that slime from redecorating Miriam's face," Al pointed out as Sam flew out of the car and sprinted across the grass to the front door. Miriam screamed again, but the cry was cut off half way through.

The screen door was locked, but the main door was open to let the breeze through. Sam let go with a kick that smashed the lightweight door open and ran through the house.

"Miriam!" He shouted.

He found them upstairs. Miriam was crouching in a corner, her dress torn, her face already swelling up.

"You bastard!" Sam snarled, and launched himself, landed one solid blow, then found himself slammed against a wall.

He'd miscalculated his current strength. As he struggled against the blows to his face, Miriam screamed at Bracewell to stop. In reply the big Texan hit him in the solar plexus and threw him on the floor.

"You sonofabitch!" Al yelled.

"All you got is your little fag friends to come to your rescue," Bracewell spat. "You're pitiful, Miriam."

Sam dragged himself to his feet and head-butted Bracewell in the stomach only to find a big meat-hook of a hand grabbing his shirt as he tried to spin away. Bracewell threw him across the room again.

Beckett hit the wall hard. He had the most incredible pain in his abdomen and his stomach was heaving. He tried to get up and discovered that he now had equally as much pain in his back. The nausea spiralled upward and he threw up half against the wall, half on the carpet.

"Leave him alone!" Miriam screamed. "Can't you see he's sick?!"

"Yeah, leave him alone, you scumbag!" Al shouted, panic in his voice this time. There was nothing he could do but watch.

"That ain't my fault," Bracewell snarled and dragged Beckett to his feet once again. "If the little queer had lived a decent, normal lifestyle he'd still be as fit as me," he sermonized, shaking Beckett mercilessly.

Sam threw up again, making Bracewell even angrier. As he wiped his mouth, Beckett saw the punch coming, blocked, twisted and sank an elbow into Bracewell's pride and joy. He leaped away when the big man let him go howling in agony, straightened, spun around and dropped him with a kick to the head.

"Nice one, Sam!" Al yelled gleefully, then lunged forward when, almost in slow motion, Sam sank to the floor, barely able to move for the pain. It did absolutely no good. Sam fell right through his hands.

A weeping Miriam scrambled to her feet and came to Sam's side.

"Jason! Jason are you okay?" She sobbed. "Should I get an ambulance?"

Sam's face was covered in sweat and his breathing was labored. He started to cough again.

"Only..for..him," he said with difficulty and tried to smile.

Miriam half-laughed, half-sobbed. "He sure isn't going to be having any fun for a while," she chuckled damply. "I didn't know you knew martial arts."

"Well," Sam grunted, struggling to get to a sitting position. "You never know what you can do 'til you try."

Miriam helped him up. "You're ill, Jason. I think he might have hurt you inside, too."

Sam took stock of himself. His head ached, his back was in exquisite agony and his stomach felt like it had just tested for the space program. There was a deep, unrelenting pain in his chest and every muscle in his body ached, a deep, pervasive pain that drained the energy from him.

"No, just bruised," he told her. "Miriam, don't marry this creep. Please...don't marry him. I don't think I can keep doing this for much longer."

Miriam wavered for a moment, half laughed at his joke, then threw her arms around him and cried.

Sam held her gingerly, and allowed her to hold him too, leaning rather considerably on her strong shoulder as she wept.

"I know...I know you think your whole future is over," he said carefully, "but that just isn't so. There's a whole big wide world out there and it's your sandpit as much as everyone else's. You don't need him. You have yourself. You have me...for another couple of years yet, anyway. There'll be a lot of other guys. Trust me on that. Whatever choices I've made, I am a man, and I know you won't be alone for long."

"You got that right, Sam. In about six months she meets a great guy, a hi-fi salesman in Dallas, and they marry and have four kids."

"Great," Sam groaned. "Now I can leap?"

"I hope so," Al replied fervently. Enough was enough.

"Leap? You'll be lucky if you can turn over after this," Miriam told him soggily.

Sam drew painfully away from her, unable to straighten. Maybe Bracewell had re-arranged a little more than he bargained for after all, he thought darkly, still smarting from the failure to leap.

Part of him wanted to leap. Badly. But he was still there...

"Miriam, I'm gonna drag this creep outside, and then I want you to lock the door," he told her. He would have suggested calling the police, but this was not the time or the place to rely on the cops. Neither he nor Miriam would have a chance if it was their word against Bracewell's.

In the end Miriam had to do most of the dragging. After his first attempt Sam collapsed again, wheezing and coughing.

Al's anxiety grew, and with it his frustration. "Sam, are you all right, buddy? Sam? Maybe you should tell her to call a doctor after all."

"Yeah," Sam groaned, "And when the doctor finds no pneumocystis, no bugs, no AIDS virus, no nothing, what then?"

"Jason?" Miriam squawked. She had finished dragging Bracewell out, and was bolting the door. "Are you delirious?"

"M..maybe," Sam croaked. "I dunno. Can't you see that weird guy there?" He added flippantly.

"Very funny, Sam," Al said. "But you need help."

Miriam half-laughed. "You're just trying to make me laugh. Don't joke about being sick, Jase. Please."

"Sorry," said Beckett, silently relieved to have gotten out of another indiscretion. "I have to get home," he groaned again.

"No!" Al exclaimed. "You could be bleeding internally. You have to see a doctor, Sam."

"No!" Sam snapped. "Miriam, help me up."

When he was on his feet Sam took several very painful deep breaths and straightened slowly.

"I'll go out the back way."

"What if Grant is still there?" Miriam demanded.

"I can take care of myself. Stay in the house. I call you. He'll be mad, but at least you won't be spending the rest of your life taking that kind of abuse," he wheezed.

"No," Miriam said with conviction. "No, I won't."

Sam smiled. "Then I've done what I was here to do," he said, and headed for the back door.

Bracewell was only just coming around from the blow to his jaw by Beckett's very accurate, and booted, foot.

Sam stood over him for a few moments. He was about to warn him to stay away from Miriam when Al popped in alongside him.

"Wanna hear something crazy, Sam?" He asked, looking down distastefully at Bracewell, then at the handlink.

Sam looked sideways at him.

"This nozzle has been beating up gay men and doing much same to prostitutes all over the city, for years, not to mention availing himself of the young ladies' services. Only he does it once too often, now that he doesn't marry Miriam. Ziggy says that one of the girls turns out to be a junkie who's HIV positive. Eight months from now he is diagnosed HIV positive. He commits suicide three months after that."

Beckett's head bowed. When a leap made things worse--for anyone, he always grieved. He sighed heavily.

"Is Miriam safe now, Al?" He asked, watching Bracewell stagger off to his car.

Al nodded. "He's history."

"Yes, but whose?" Sam muttered desolately, and headed for the car.

        *******

The apartment was quiet when Beckett poured himself through the door. He went to the kitchen and drank cold juice from the bottle to quench his thirst, then regretted it. He spent the next several minutes convincing his stomach to retain its contents.

When he was confident he wouldn't throw up he crossed to the bedroom. Mike was sitting in a chair near the bed, engrossed in a college psychology text book. He looked up. And then stood up very quickly.

He was at Sam's side in a moment.

"What happened to you?" He whispered and ushered Sam back out into the living area.

"It's all right, Mike. I just got into a little scrape, that's all," Sam told him. "I'll be fine. I just want to take a long bath and then spend some time with Peter. Thanks for coming over. You've been a big help. Bigger than you know."

Mike left reluctantly. Sam could tell he was worried that Jason Noakes was in a lot worse shape than he was letting on.

"And he'd be right," Beckett muttered to himself, grabbed some fresh clothes and headed gingerly for the bathroom.

Taking his clothes off proved to be an odyssey of pain. A worthwhile one though, Sam decided, watching the bath fill with water. He caught a glance of himself in the shaving mirror and was taken aback by the new damage to his reflection's features. They looked exactly how he felt right then.

"More like run over by a semi," he amended grumpily as he swung his leg into the hot water. He ran the jets and the air full on, and just wallowed in the luxury of it for a while. When the warmth of the water eventually seeped into his bones, Sam found that the ache, the pain had subsided just a little. He closed his eyes and relaxed, for the first time during the leap.

It was some time before he bestirred himself from the small oasis of tranquillity, pulled on the fresh jeans he'd brought in with him and snatched up his sweatshirt.

He emerged from the bathroom to find Peter awake.

"How is it today?" He asked quietly and was mildly surprised when he got a reply.

"Did you see Miriam?"

"I saw her. I saw Bracewell too. He's not going to bother her any more," Sam told him.

"Bracewell? That's why you look like you went three rounds with the lawn mower."

"We don't have a lawn mower," Sam pointed out, pulling the sweatshirt over his head.

"We don't have a lawn," Peter retorted.

Beckett heard the amusement in his voice and smiled. "We have a pot of alfalfa on the windowsill in the kitchen," he offered facetiously.

"Close enough," Logan laughed.

"Can you eat something?" Sam asked.

Logan's good humor faded. "Soup," he replied resignedly.

The day passed relatively peacefully, although Peter was markedly weaker. Sam knew he was very ill. They played music, talked about broadway shows, argued philosophy and even found time for a game of chess, with Sam manipulating the whole board and being reminded playfully and not infrequently of the folly of cheating by his companion.

As evening approached Peter grew worse. As Sam completed another bed change and sponge bath, it occurred to him that Al and Verbeena ought to have Jason Noakes ready to leap back. He was worried about Peter. The day had been all too easy, too impersonal. Sam knew he was hurting, badly. Al hadn't given any indication that he'd changed Peter's history, but...

Beckett's own temperature had also risen and the pain was back. It didn't seem to matter which position he stood, sat or laid in, nothing helped.

Why was he still there..?

He was worrying about Peter's deterioration and ramming sheets into a washing machine, when Al finally did return.

Calavicci watched him slosh bleach and washing liquid hap-hazardly into it.

"Why haven't I leaped?" Beckett demanded, slamming the lid down and ripping the dial around before setting the thing going.

"Nice to see you too, Sam," he retorted.

"Sorry. I just don't understand why I'm still here. Don't tell me Verbeena couldn't convince Noakes to come back?"

"Well, ah, he's real close. You've got nothin' to worry about. Right now he's throwing things around the waiting room and telling the world how unfair everything is."

"Well, good for him," Sam growled. "While he's been having this tantrum for the last few months, he's left the person he loves to suffer alone. I'd say it was past time he got his act together." Sam shoved a bunch of wet washing into the drier with more muscle than was really necessary.

"Isn't it a little late to be doing that?"

"No."

Al shrugged. "Okay."

Al watched Sam stiffly fold the dry clothes he'd previously removed from the drier half in anticipation that Beckett would leap any minute.

The handlink chirped to life.

"What?" Beckett demanded.

Al went very quiet, staring at the device.

"Oh no," Sam whispered. "Al you--?"

Al looked up slowly. "No...it's...the test is clear. I'm all right," he whispered, as if to himself. "I'm all right."

A grin the size of Manhattan spread across Sam's ravaged face. That's great! That's wonderful, Al."

Calavicci nodded slowly. "Yeah," he said softly. "Yeah, it is."

And when Sam went back to check on Peter, he followed. A swift word to Ziggy on the handlink provided no answers to Sam's problem. All she would say was that Noakes was progressing well.

Beckett crossed the room and closed the curtains. The sun had well and truly gone.

"Jase, are you really scared?" A voice asked in the darkness.

Sam turned on a lamp. "Well, yeah," he said, coming to the bedside. "I wouldn't be human if I wasn't."

"I'm sorry," Peter whispered. "I'm sorry."

"For what?" Beckett asked. "It wasn't your fault."

Peter's eyes grew very bright. "Yes it was. I didn't scratch myself on a syringe," he said with difficulty. "I used it. I never told you because I knew you wouldn't understand."

"Sure I would," Sam said instinctively, then realized that Noakes probably wouldn't have.

"You always hated it. That's why I stopped using. You always said that if it wasn't for you I'd be dead by now anyway."

"I did?" Beckett said uncomfortably. "Then why--?"

"Because it made me feel good."

"Didn't anything else make you feel good?"

Logan shook his head. "Except us. But you were always so busy with your career. I couldn't talk to you about how I felt. You wouldn't talk about anything."

"You mean I wouldn't talk about anything negative," Sam guessed.

"You never wanted to hear about my problems and you wouldn't even admit you had any--even though I knew it was killing you about your dad."

Sam looked away. "Sure it was--it still does, but not everyone deals with their pain the same way," he said softly.

"And some of us don't deal with it at all," Peter added, his breathing labored.

"Yeah, well, I can't argue with that," Sam admitted. "What about you? Are you dealing with...things?"

Peter closed his eyes, silent for several long moments before speaking.

"I'm scared, Jase," he whispered unsteadily.

Sam sat down on the edge of the bed. "I know," he said quietly. "I am too. But you aren't alone any more."

Peter looked up at him. "Are you afraid to die?"

"I guess so," he admitted. "I haven't really thought about it that much. I am kinda curious about it though."

Al smiled to himself. That was Sam Beckett talking.

Peter chuckled. "Curious, huh? You want I should send you a postcard?" His voice cracked at the last.

"You won't be going anywhere any time soon," Sam said roughly, "so I guess I'll just have to go on being curious."

Peter turned his head away and swallowed hard.

Al shifted uncomfortably. Logan's pain-filled blue eyes seemed to be looking straight at him.

"You really do believe me now?" He asked.

"Believe you?" Sam asked, non-plused.

"That I didn't know--that there wasn't anyone else?"

Sam couldn't suppress a tremor of distress. This most damning of all diseases was also the most emotionally destructive.

"Yes," he said gently. "Like I said before. Of course I believe you."

"I never thought I'd hear you say that," Peter whispered tremulously, his eyes filling with moisture. "Jason--?"

"Pete?"

"I'm not like you. I'm not curious. I'm scared to death." The blue eyes turned back to Beckett, pain and fear in his face.

He grasped a handful of Sam's sleeve and tried to pull himself upright, but failed, falling back and gasping with pain and breathlessness.

"Pete?" Sam put a hand to his throat, feeling for a pulse, felt his forehead, scanned his eyes, his skin tone.

"I don't want to die," he gasped.

"I know," Beckett said with difficulty. "Neither do I, but we can't change things. What--" Sam's voiced wavered. He gathered himself. "What we can do is face the future together."

Logan nodded, but there was still fear in his eyes. His hands trembled and he didn't seem to be able to catch his breath. Then suddenly his eyes grew wide, blinked, then searched the depths of Sam's gentle hazel ones.

"Hold me," he whispered. "Please..."

Sam looked into the blue eyes, then smiled a little and nodded. He lifted the fragile shoulders and carefully drew Peter Logan's ravaged body into his arms.

"It's all right," Sam whispered as Logan wept. "I'm here."

He closed his eyes against the renewed anger and frustration in his aching gut, striving not to give way to tears himself. Beckett could feel Peter's emaciated body battling against the pain, tensing and untensing, shuddering as he panted against the worst. He drew his arms a little tighter and looked up at Al.

"It's not fair," he whispered.

"No," Al said. "It's not." The handlink squawked. "Time to go, Sam."

He looked down again. "Now?"

"Now."

"Good-bye, Pete," Sam said unsteadily and rested his brow for a moment on Logan's crown. As he straightened, he frowned to himself, leaned down again and kissed the once golden head.

At the touch, Peter turned his face enough to look at Al, then up into Beckett's eyes.

He smiled. "Good-bye...Sam," he said softly.

Calavicci shot a startled look at Beckett.

Sam leaped.

The End



Sam blinked. He looked around the room. A girl's room.

Oh, no...not again.

He sighed in frustration and walked to the mirror. A pretty honey-blonde somewhere around twenty to twenty-five looked back at him through nut-brown eyes fringed by long lashes.

Oh...boy...


* * *



Part Six: Full Circle