"Hey, who taught you everything you know?" Al reminded Sam, trying to circle in front of him and cut him off before he could leave. "You trust me to teach you how to fly the X-2 but not how to box?"
Sam stopped and turned back, frowning. "X-2? What's an X-2?"
"Sam, your first leap! Don't you re–" Al broke off and dropped his gaze to pretend to study the hand link. Stupid question. Sam didn't remember his own name half the time, why would he remember previous leaps? Only, Al had assumed that Sam did, that in all of this he'd have the consolation of the good he'd done.
"No, I don't remember!" Sam snapped, starting to leave again. "And a hologram still can't train me," he said over his shoulder. "I need a real person who's actually here." He hit the light on his way through the door, leaving the church, and Al, in darkness.
Al gave the air a few more jabs and a right cross. He wasn't sure if he was remembering his glory days or trying to punch God in the face. He sure as hell wanted to hit something right now. "I was good, too," he said regretfully.
Back in his office, he tossed his jacket on a chair before slumping behind his desk and cutting a new cigar. The third drawer down held a bottle of scotch and a pair of glasses, one rarely used now. He took another couple puffs before sliding the drawer open and pouring himself a finger. Any more would knock him flat, with the amount of sleep he hadn't been getting. Goddamn neighbours and their goddamn cars.
"Vraaa vraaa vrooooom," he muttered as he booted up his computer and punched in a query. "Tom Stratton, and Samantha Stratton, and what was the wife's name? Peg... Margaret Stratton." Ziggy could probably dig all this up in a nanosecond, but Al didn't have the patience for his ego right now. He manually sifted through the data banks until he found a newspaper picture of Samantha's graduation from Stanford, cum laude, standing between her parents and beaming big brother. He printed it along with Tom's test records, a schematic of the Bell X-2 and a photo of Mikey's wedding.
An hour later, he had a whole stack of printouts: baseball scores, players' lives, their kids, records of former mobsters turned upstanding citizens. Some were fragmentary, and he couldn't find everyone. It'd take a proper research assistant and local archives to get it all.
These, at least, were snapshots, enough for mosaic of the lives Sam had changed in just three leaps. Al held the papers for a moment, weighing them between his hands, then stuck them in the drawer with the scotch bottle.
When Sam got back, they could go through them together.
"Wanna bet?" Al demanded.
"Yeah," Sam said, not just happily but jubilantly. "I got connections."
Donna was quiet for a long time after Al stopped talking, and he let the silence rest between them. Hell, he couldn't think of anything to add. So he waited, perched on the corner of her desk, and watched her study the wall of pictures of the life she and Sam had made together. He didn't remember what had been there before, or whose office this had been. It was fading so quickly.
When she finally spoke, her voice as thin as new ice, he jumped a little. "Why did you tell me?"
Al shrugged. "It's your life Sam's messed with. And..." he hesitated, shrugged, went on. "And if I hadn't, Ziggy probably would have. I didn't want to be the nozzle keeping stuff from his best friend's wife."
"Or his staff?" Donna asked dryly.
"Nah," Al waved her off. "I hide things from my staff all the time. How do you think me and Tina are still together? Other than my good looks and charm, naturally."
"Naturally." She sounded distant. Her eyes had come to rest on her wedding day. Donna and Sam: arms linked, looking at each other like they were the only two people in the history of the world. It had caught Al turning to say something to Katie, and the sun burned away too much contrast, but Sam insisted it was his favourite. "Do you remember this?"
"I don't remember anything else," Al told her honestly. "Oh, I meant to ask: can I have a copy of that one?"
Sliding off the desk, Al crossed the room to her side. "I know I have one somewhere, but half my stuff is still in boxes, and those boxes are piled under more boxes in storage. If you give me that one I can copy it in two shakes and have it right back."
"What do you want it for?" she asked, reaching up anyway. A shadow of the frame stained the wall behind it.
Al hesitated, picture held between them. He'd always kept his little side project to himself, a private connection to Sam, but now... "Why don't you come along, and I'll show you."
"Sam!" He was a hologram; he shouldn't need to chase after people, and yet...
Sam spun to face him, incidentally letting him catch up. "What?"
"I didn't say you didn't want to go with her; I said I didn't think you could."
"Who's going to stop me?"
Donna's involvement had moved the pile of papers from the back of a drawer to a proper scrapbook. Now she sat at his desk, attaching hangers to a picture of Allison Grimski, age fifty, managing a hotel in Rio. "She was very beautiful," she commented. Al bent to study her expression, but couldn't make it out.
"Deadly," Al confirmed. Shoving his hands in his pockets he rocked back on his heels and sucked at an unlit cigar.
Her slender fingers pressed each corner in place, then picked up the jacket of Dangerous Dames by Seymour Davis, turning it this way and that before flipping it face down. The tray of hangers rattled as she picked it up, flakes of paper scattering lose. Donna curled her hand into a fist and drew it back under the desk. When she looked up, her eyes were dry and lined with hurt. "Oh, Al."
"He doesn't remember you." He wanted to lean down and touch her shoulders, smooth the lines from her face. He'd have offered her the comfort Sam found in Allison, if he could, if they were the ones who'd forgotten. "If he had the littlest tiniest glimmer of a memory of you, he would never in a million billion years... and she... she had nothing on you."
"She was there. That was enough." Donna stood. "I think it would be better if you kept track of all this. I'm going to work on the retrieval program."
When the door had clicked shut behind her, Al sat at his desk and poured the scotch. He made it a double and toasted the air. "Just me and you again, kid."
"She was my sister. She is my sister. I should have known. Maybe I could have helped her. Maybe I could have saved her from a lot of pain."
The last was almost a question, and Sam's eyes were begging Al to deny it, so he did. "Yeah, but it... it wasn't your fault."
Sam never believed Al when he said that. "Maybe not, but if I can't stop Cheryl from marrying Bob, it will be."
Al hadn't been able to bring himself to go back to shoving papers in a drawer. Donna had been laying out in double page spreads, and writing little captions under each picture. Since she'd left, the captions had grown increasingly terse, but the organisation remained.
He'd left an empty corner between a list of Cheryl's Peace Corps missions and an ad for the grand opening of Jill's automotive repair shop. Grinning to himself, he sketched a diagram of the Mom-mobile, and scrawled under it, Don't take this heaven from one/If you must cling to someone/now and forever/let it be me. Let Sam and his swiss-cheesed brain make of that what they would.
The clock read 1727, so mid-evening in Hawaii. If Al put off calling much longer, he'd have left it too late.
He hit the machine anyway. They had one of those family messages where everyone had to pitch in with their name then "leave a message," mostly in unison. It gave him enough time to condense everything he needed to say into, "Katie, it's Al Calavicci. Wanted to tell you that Sam's still okay, and he was talking about you today; all good things, I swear. I thought you and your mom should know. Hopefully, he'll be back in touch with you soon." He killed the connection and sighed, staring at the phone in his hand.
The book still lay open across his desk; Cheryl Hassan, née Wilson, smiled up at him, face lined with laughter and care. She didn't look much like Katie, but they'd come to the same end. Al wondered if Sam remembered how happy his sister was now, even after everything. He should have smuggled in a picture of her and the girls, rules be damned. "Next time," he promised.
Until then, he'd remember for both of them.
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