Waiting

Man, there are times I wish I could talk to you. Times – that’s a riot, isn't it? Times... There are always times for us, Sam. That's all we ever have. Time. But I wish there were more time for us to talk. I wish there were something...

Al watched the world resolve around him. The stark white and greys of the lab transforming into bright colours and loud, energetic sounds as he – what? Landed? – in yet another new place. He looked around first, as he always did, for Sam. Sometimes Sam leaped in, in the middle of things and started right away yelling for him, needing Al's help to get his bearings. This time it looked as though Sam had things under control.

Rather, he hadn't leaped into the middle of a crisis. He was standing in a barn, empty and to Al's eyes looking as though it had been so for a very long time. Sam was looking around, getting his bearings, checking out his clothing and his new body as best as he could. Al watched, not announcing his presence until Sam needed him. Maybe this would be a quiet one.

"Hey, Al!"

Al smiled at the cheerful call, and headed forward. The world shimmered slightly, as it always did whenever he moved – it was disorienting, being surrounded by a holographic world – but he was used to it. "Hey, Sam. Like your outfit. Is that straw part of the ensemble?" He pointed to the straw stuck to the legs of Sam's overalls. Sam looked down and laughed.

"Don't you know, it's what every fashionable farm boy is wearing these days. Uh... I am a boy, aren't I, Al?"

"Let me check," Al brought up his handlink and made a show of looking up the information. He glanced up and saw Sam's expression and smiled. "Your name is Albert -- a fine name, if you ask me -- Devins. You're a farmer-"

"I guessed that part, Al."

"Quiet, or don't you want to hear this?"

"By all means, Al."

"You're a farmer living near Ulysses, Kansas. You grow corn. The date is... June 4, 1981."

"Great. Any idea what I'm doing here?" Sam had gone back to looking around the barn, completely unconcerned with Al's reply.

Al watched him, looking completely at home. It was nice to see Sam relaxed about a leap for a change; he hoped the rest of the leap would be the same way. It didn't explain the feeling of disappointment, though. He knew why he felt it and promptly squashed it. "You're here..." He glanced back down at the link and read off, "to convince your family to start growing soybeans. Otherwise in about five years they lose their entire crop of corn to some bug and have to sell the farm. Family breaks up, folks never see their kids again, grandpa ends up dying all alone in the local nursing home." He put his hand down, relaying the rest of the data by memory. "If they have soybeans then the family stays together, everyone's happy, grandpa lives to be 109."

"Great! Sounds easy enough." Sam smiled, looking so carefree.

Al gave his friend a look of warning. "Don't get cocky, Sam. There's no telling what could happen."

"I know, Al. But at least there's no one shooting at us this time."

Any answer Al might have given was cut off by a woman's voice. "Bert! Bert, are you in there?"

Sam turned and called back, heading out of the barn towards the woman. Al stayed where he was, watching him go. Sam wouldn't need much help with this one, he knew that. A simple matter of persuasion, something Sam was pretty good at. There'd be articles, available even at this early date, at the library which Sam could use to justify his 'new-found' belief that the change in crops would be a good idea. In a few days all would be well and Sam and Al would be on their way someplace new. Chances were he wouldn't be needing Al at all, unless something unexpected came up. It often did, of course, but until it did... Al turned and opened the imaging room door, and stepped back into the other world.

He glanced out at the lab, saw the technicians triple- checking the equipment and Verbena, waiting outside the Waiting Room for a report on Albert Devins. They'd probably tell the young man he was in a hospital, fainted due to heat stroke or something and he'd be fine soon and sent home. Al skirted past her and headed out of the lab. She only called to him once as he walked out the secured doors.

Al knew he couldn't go far -- not with Sam maybe needing him at any time. He'd moved into his office years ago: a cot and a fridge and his bookcase lined against one wall. He couldn't bring himself to leave the compound for very long because he never knew when Sam would need him, him or some vital piece of information from Ziggy. The first time he'd left for the day while Sam was on a leap Sam had promptly gotten into trouble and they'd had to page Al, call him back to the base. After that he'd refused to leave as long as Sam was leaping.

Sam didn't get very many days off.

Punching in a quick code for his office/apartment door, Al walked in and tossed the handlink onto his desk. He was tired. He ought to catch a quick nap, but he was too wound up. Instead he settled into the chair, leaving the lights off, propping his feet up on the desktop. With a sigh, he rubbed his hands over his face. Sam would be meeting the Devins about now, getting to know them, figuring out who would be easy to convince and who would need some work. Maybe he'd even be able to recruit on of them to help him talk the others into the plan. He hoped so. Sam needed an easy leap. Not that the last one had been very bad, but it was always better to have an easy leap than not.

The feeling he'd squashed earlier was threatening to return. Al hated it. He hated feeling resentful of Sam's being able to handle a leap on his own. He knew that it was better when he could. It meant that the leap wasn't dangerous, wasn't tricky, wasn't going to blow up in their faces. It meant Sam would be relaxed, happier with his role. It meant Al could come home and rest, do something besides stand by waiting for Sam to need him. So why did he resent it?

It wasn't like he ever knew for certain, beforehand, that Sam wouldn't be needing him. He'd wait -- just as he was now -- nervously nearby, checking in with Sam every so often. He'd end up hanging around as much as he did when Sam was in trouble only he wouldn't have anything concrete to do to occupy his time. No facts to dig out of the history books, no moral support to offer, no fancy dancing to convince Sam to get back in there and try again. He'd just have to stand there, listen to Sam tell him about the leap he was in, and he'd smile and make jokes just to make Sam laugh.

But that wasn't the only reason. He had to admit it, even if only in the dark solitude of his office. After so many leaps, he needed Sam needing him. As focused as Sam's life was now, on helping those around him in order to fix whatever had gone awry, Al was focused on Sam. Keeping him together, making sure he could do whatever needed to be done. Al's life was about Sam, now.

Now. Al shook his head. It had always been about Sam. For the last how many years, anyway. That part wasn't anything new. What was new -- what was hard -- was how little of Sam's life was about Al.

When was the last time Sam had asked him how his day had gone? When was the last time Sam had asked him how he felt? Al pressed his hand against his eyes. He was tired; maybe he should go lie down. When was the last time Sam remembered who I was? What he means to me? What I mean... used to mean... to him?

He never told Sam he'd moved to the base, getting friends to house sit so their place wouldn't be torn apart by vandals or dust bunnies. He never told Sam about selling his car because he hadn't used it in a year and had no idea when he'd ever need one again. He hadn't told Sam about missing his cousin's wedding because Sam was in a leap and Al couldn't bring himself to leave. Sam didn't know about them, and Al had no one else to tell.

That's the worst part of all. The one person I used to be able to share anything with, all my problems and worries and everything I felt... this time I can't tell him anything. Because he's the problem. And he can't fix it until he comes home.

Al leaned back in the chair, stared up at the ceiling. The last thing Sam needed was something outside of his control to worry about. Something else, that is. Sam had enough in his hands just trying to fix the lives of strangers. There wasn't time for Al to demand that he sit down and talk to him about silly things like selling a car. Maybe that was why Sam didn't ever ask. Maybe he knew he couldn't handle one more thing he couldn't touch. Or maybe he thought everything was fine back home.

With a yawn, Al closed his eyes. He missed Sam. He wanted to go back to the imaging chamber and see him, talk to him for awhile. He wanted to hang out and watch, even if Sam didn't need him. He wanted to be with him. Wanted to talk to him. Wanted to reach out and touch him again, dammit. Mostly, right now at least, he wanted to talk to him. Wanted to tell him everything that had happened in his life since Sam had leaped away.

He shook his head. There wouldn't be time, there wouldn't be privacy even if there were time. He'd have to just wait, give Sam whatever he could and just wait.

God, Sam, I need you. When are you gonna leap back home and fix this stranger's life?