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July 26th, 2012 - Ripples and Currents

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Sam never thought he’d get used to leaping. The wild bouncing sensation. The disorientating feeling of suddenly being in a whole new situation, an entirely different life.

In this instant, the flash of light dropped him right into the middle of a fire fight. His fingers squeezed the gun stock in his hand as hard as he could, and he shot off an awkward round that zinged past the center of his targets.

He dodged the bullets chasing his footfalls. Running was a good idea, his hind brain informed him. As did the bullets zinging by his ears.

Then someone started yelling at him. Well – the new him.

“Mikey! What the hell are you doing!?” The yell-ee was a chubby man in a loud Hawaiian shirt with a scope rifle and a golden chain looped around his neck.

“I’m sorry!” he said, secretly relieved to get a name this early in the get-go. His hands groped around for the cool weight of a gun and – ahah! Found it at the small of his back. He pulled it out, aimed, and…well, thankfully winged the guy they were trying to kill him.

“Nice shooting, Tex,” Hawaiian shirt said.

“I try,” said Sam, because it felt appropriate.

Whoever the hell he was, he needed to get them out of there; there were at least six more guys hiding behind walls and trees, trying to shoot them down. Sam took a look around him, as Hawaiian shirt shot two more guys. Then he saw two legs pumping, a bald head, strong shoulders - and more bullets being pumped into the air, getting two more bad guys right between the eyes. Hawaiian shirt guy was jubilant about this and slapped Sam hard enough on the shoulder to hurt him. Ahah. Whoever he was, this guy was on their side. But judging from the number of bullets singing by their heads, he needed to get the entire team out of dodge before it was too late.

Sam was rusty with his aim; it had been what felt like years since he’d leapt into someone who knew how to shoot. But Hawaiian Shirt got another guy, Sam wounded two, and suddenly there was an alarming roar as a black Dodge Charger barreled toward the two of them.

He winced, expecting to be run over, but instead he was pulled to his feet. “Come on!” yelled Hawaiian Shirt, “get in!” Someone had flung the passenger side door open, and he dove inside after the chubbier man, closing the door as the bald guy peeled away across the blacktop.

Sam blurted out the only thing he could think to blurt out in his relief. “Holy smokes, that was close!” Then Sam bit his tongue, as the man beside him stared him down as if he’d said something painfully offensive.

“Uh…Mikey, are you feeling okay?” Hawaiian shirt asked.

“Fine! Never better!” Sam said quickly. Then he leaned his head against the backrest and took a breath. When they pulled up before a rather grungy-looking warehouse, he didn’t need Al to tell him what he was seeing. The palm trees, the humid air – this was Miami, though where exactly in Miami he had no idea.

“I’m gonna unpack the trunk!” Sam said. “Take it easy, Mikey. You banged your head pretty bad on that overhang back at the drop off point. We need you in tip top shape for the Atlantic City trip.”

“I’ll do that,” Sam said, and watched Hawaiian shirt leave the car. The bald-headed guy adjusted the mirror. His expression was less affectionate than Hawaiian shirt guy’s.

“Mike, I know I’m kinda new to this team – but I’ve never seen you look this rattled. Are you sure you’re all right?” the bald guy asked.

“I’ll be fine, I just need to rest my head.”

“Jesse!” shouted Hawaiian shirt. “Can you help me out here?”

“All right,” said Jesse. As he opened the driver-side door he added, “we’ll get to Atlantic City and Fiona will go free,” he said. “Remember that.”

With the bald headed fellow leaving the car, Sam let out a sigh and closed his eyes.

“Nice shooting, Tex!” A familiar voice said nearby. “Gotta tell you, Sam, that guy’s got a good head for cheesy lines – and a great sense of fashion...”

Sam didn't open his eyes until he'd stretched out his stiff neck. But when he did, sure enough, his best friend was beside him. “Oh boy. Al, what have I gotten myself into this time?”

Al had materialized right beside him, between Sam and the door out, sporting a bright neon-spattered shirt and pants set that rivaled Hawaiian Shirt Guy. “Nowhere good, Sam. Looks like we’re somewhere in Miami in the early 2010s,” said Al. “Your name is Michael Westen and, in case you can’t tell from the snazzy suit you’re wearing, you used to be a spy in the 80s and 90s. You really love blueberry yogurt, you’ve got a crappy abusive childhood knocking around in your head and it’s done some primo damage to your life, and normally you spend your time doing odd jobs for the poor and downtrodden while you try to get your burn notice cleared…”

“Wait, this guy has a burn notice on him?”

Al nodded. “Yep, he’s blacklisted. But that’s not his fault, as he found out recently, according to Ziggy. Oh, and Gooshie's been pulling files on the guy all afternoon - he says that Mike's already working for the CIA again. He got really curious ‘cause of what Michael's been saying down in holding. Apparently he's deadly - and skilled - and dangerous. He tried to pick the lock on the room with a paper clip and a piece of gum…”

Sam blinked. “Wait, this guy sounds like MacGuyver!”

“He kind of is. Years of experience and creativity make him the best at what he does – Wolverine but less hairy, Gooshie says, whatever that’s supposed to mean...”

“What else does Ziggy know?”

“Your girlfriend’s about to get out of the clink after doing a few months thanks to the deal you just cut with the feds. Tomorrow you’re heading to Atlantic City with your little brother – Nate, short guy, has a lot of issues from your childhood too - hello gambling addiction - but has a job and a wife and a kid, and is trying to prove himself to you apparently - to find the guy who’s been making your lives miserable and planted evidence to get Fiona – that’s the girlfriend – put away.” Al whistled as he took a look at Ziggy. “Hoo boy, is she a looker…”

”Al…”

“I’m serous, Sam, she’s got stems that go all the way…”

”AL!” Sam said. “Just tell me what she did!”

“Sorry, sorry, I’m back on task, I’m here.” He whistled one more time around his cigar and kept pressing buttons. “Anyway, she got put away after being accused of blowing somebody up with one of her homemade bombs – seems like Fi’s a bit of a pyromaniac. Loves her explosives.” He whistled. “The hot ones are always edgy…”

“For pete’s sake…”

“Don’t worry, that’s not her fault either, she was blackmailed by a guy named Anson, who you’ve just finished doing the bidding of. “

“So what'm I supposed to solve? Everything you’ve told me sounds like good news. My girlfriend’s getting out of jail, I’m working for the CIA – where’s the catch?”

“Ziggy doesn’t know. I’ll keep you posted on that. I do know that you and your brother are going alone to Atlantic City because Sam Axe – that’s Hawaiian shirt guys’ name - he and Jesse are supposed to be getting some files from another friend of yours...”

“Wait a minute, Sam Axe?! That has to be a fake name!” Sam proclaimed.

“Nope, you’ve been buddies with Mister Axe since at least the early 90s, he tried to turn you into the feds because they were holding his pension hostage – that got solved, he’s currently trying to sweet talk a rich hotel owner while working weekends at a burger joint. Most of the time, tho, he mooches off of you, makes out with rich widows and buys fancy shirts." Askance, Al asked, "do me a favor, Sam – ask that guy where he gets his clothes? He’s a dresser after my own heart!” Al sucked on his cigar and kept typing.

“Sam, huh? That’s going to be really confusing,” Sam said.

“Eh, we’ll just call him Sam Number Two. Anyway, I don’t know what kinda secret files either, but you and Nate are leaving and they'll be somewhere else. Make use of your time and try to get to know ‘em while you still can!”

“I’ll try to,” he said. “Thanks, Al.”

“Hey, I’m just doing my job!” Al said. He winked as he disappeared in a sheet of pale white light.

With a grunt, Sam got out of the car and confronted the hulk of a nightclub where Michael lived. It wasn’t pretty, but it seemed serviceable.

He’d find out how serviceable it was soon enough.

 

 

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it turned out it was surprisingly well-things were shiny and modern in there, and he understood that much of that was due to Fiona's creativity. Soon he was having dinner with Sam Number Two, Jesse, and a morose-looking man who was clearly Nate. Sam Number two dominated the conversation, apparently as he always did, by talking about the job he’d taken on to make ends meet.

“You’re actually working in a fast-food restaurant?” Sam asked, because he figured Michael would say something like that.

Sam Number Two winced and laughed. “Y’know how it is Mikey. The old sugar well’s gotten a little dry, so I’m nine-to-fiving at Burger Heaven. Got this week off to help Barry, tho.”

Sam nodded his head. Okay. Things sounded all right. Then he noticed Nate picking morosely at his dinner and said, “what’s wrong with you?”

Nate glared. “Just fed up with my brother trying to baby me…”

Sam Number Two rolled his eyes, and he could see Jesse mentally check out of the scene playing out before him. Interesting. “Nate!” Sam said. “I’m just…looking out for you?” that sounded more tentative than he’d meant it to sound.

“You’ve been looking out for me all my life, bro,” said Nate. “When are you gonna treat me like an adult already? You trust me enough to take me on this trip with you, but you won’t let me in on what you’re doing with Fi…”

“Nate, we already talked about it. You don’t have the experience. You need to stay behind Mike and let him deal...” said Sam Number Two.

“I’ve been on jobs with you before,” Nate interrupted. “I’m not an idiot, dude.”

“Just trying to do what’s best for you,” Sam said.

“Whatever,” Nate grumbled. Sam Number Two winced. Not fighting Nate and letting him stew instead seemed to be a good idea, so Sam let the fight go.

That night he slept in Michael’s makeshift bed, listening to a torrential rainstorm and the soft and trying to figure out what tomorrow might be like.

He’d cross his fingers for the best. That worked for most of his leaps.

 

 

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The trip to Atlantic City was a lot shorter than he’d anticipated. Nate had slept most of the way there, which was a good thing – it gave Sam more time to talk to Al.

Which Sam had to do in the men’s room to avoid drawing suspicion.

They were packed in knee to elbow, but Sam didn't complain. Al looked a little more frazzled than he had the day before. “Yeah, Ziggy says your brother used to be an ex-alkie too - like Ruth, the wife, who's fallen off the wagon. So keep an eye on him. He falls off the wagon again, and something Michael did leads to…” he winces. “Ziggy doesn’t know, but it looks serious. Michael ends up working with the CIA again, but it only leads to worse trouble for him until he has to fake his death and move to Ireland. Two years after that, Fiona’s old enemies find them and kill her, leaving Michael alone with Charlie…”

“Wait, who’s Charlie?!” Sam asked.

Al fiddled with his communicator. “Charlie appears to be your nephew. You end up with custody of him…” he winces. “After your mother dies. And your mother has custody of him…”

“…Because something happens to Nate on this trip.”

“Bingo,” Al said.

“Does Ziggy know what?”

“Not at the moment – I’ll ask her, and if it doesn’t work I’ll put my boot in Gooshie’s butt and see if I can get some results.”

“Thanks - are you okay, Al? You don’t look so good.”

“Don’t worry about me, I’ve just got a little case of the screaming nerves – it’s that Michael character, he tried to climb out the heating duct today. Held a tech hostage for a couple of hours with a pen, too. Gotta tell you, Sam, he’s got security at its wits end. They had to tranq him...er, you.”

“I’ll work hard to get this leap done."

“I know you will. So the guy you’re looking to get is named Anson Fullerton.” He held up a picture. “Don’t let those mid-range accountant-like looks fool ya – the guy’s a snake and a murderer. The best thing you can do is protect Nate while tracking this guy.”

“Got ya. You’re the best.”

“You’ve got to be to work in this place,” Al said, taking a step back and leaving the hologram room in a sheet of light.

Nate was awake when Sam returned to his seat and began strapping himself in. Nate refused to meet his eyes.

“Uh, Mike. I know I haven’t made it easy for you, but I promise I’ll help you as much as I can.”

“Thanks. I love you, Nate.” He realized too late that that wasn’t a sentiment that a man like Michael would give away freely.

“Wow. You actually smiled when you said that.” Nate strapped himself in tighter. “I haven’t seen you smile in years. It’s kind of scary.”

“It’s time for me to start being happy. Fiona and me and Sam and Jesse and you…”

“And Ruth and Charlie,” he offered.

“You miss them?”

Nate lowered his head. “Every day. But Ruth’s drinking is getting worse all the time, and I don’t know how to make her stop it.”

“Then you have to be the best you you can be. For your boy,” he said.

With that, the plane began its descent and Sam braced for the gentle impact.

 

 

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There was a two day surveillance period, and it was boring as hell. Various leads went nowhere, and when Nate disappeared in the middle of a false lead Sam had an eerie feeling that he knew exactly where he was – in the belly of a rundown casino, giving in to his worst demons.

Sam paused before approaching the craps table. He needed the right words – words that would have been gentler than what Michael Westen would’ve given his brother.

“I think this is the moment, Sam,” Al said. He was sitting at a slot machine, pulling the arm – winning, naturally. “You have to stop Nate from going after Fullerton. That’s when the worst timeline splits off from reality.”

“I know..." He paused and looked at Al. "Al, you can’t do anything with those coins.”

“I know that and you know that – but that’s no excuse to avoid playing the game!” Al said.

Huh. That was inspiring. “Al, I think you gave me the solution I needed.” At that point he approached Nate, who winced at the sight of him.

Nate frowned. “I know. Loser brother falls off the wagon again, film at eleven.”

“You’re not a loser, Nate.”

Nate blinked at him. “Sorry, I think I just heard you tell me I wasn’t a loser?”

“Don’t get your ears checked, your hearing’s perfect.”

“You’ve spent most of our twenties telling me how much I suck, what changed your mind?” Nate asked.

“Nate, I know how hard you’ve been trying to live up to my expectations. It means a lot. I wanted you to know that you’re working hard and I see you.”

“Thanks.” Then his eyes widened – there was something going on behind Sam's back. “Oh my God, that’s Fullerton!”

Sam turned around and sure enough, there was Fullerton, trying to scurry away into the darkness.

Sam quickly drew his gun, but Nate was already on him.

 

 

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So this was Anson Fullerton. Sam stared at the face until it was burned into his faltering memory, as he hauled him out of the casino beside his brother. The CIA member he'd had Nate radio was prepared to make the pick-up; all they had to do was get to the lobby. He felt proud of himself – until Al grabbed his shoulder.

“Don’t go outside!” Sam spun in Al’s direction. “That’s the Bad Thing. If you go outside, a sniper shoots Fullerton and gets Nate in the process!”

He grabbed Nate’s shoulder. “We can’t go out this way!”

Nate looked confused. “Uh…why not? That’s where all of the cops are…”

“I…I’ve just got a bad feeling. Let’s tell them we’ll meet them out back.” They made it to the back entrance together, and Sam felt confident he’d done the right thing.

Until a bullet whizzed by his ear, and he shoved Nate and Fullerton as a unit to the ground.

 

 

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It seemed to take forever for the cops to scramble and find the person shooting down at them. The brick fragments that bounced, stinging his skin, off of the walls made him shiver, but he couldn’t do anything but keep Nate pinned down. Relief filled him when it stopped, and he let both men back up. Nate seemed unharmed, and Fullerton was bleeding from the head but not shot.

“What the hell was that?” Nate asked.

“I don’t know, but someone didn’t want us to turn this creep in," Sam said.

“I prefer distinguished negotiator,” Fullerton said, rubbing his bloody ear against his shoulder. The police then descended on them.

Sam sighed as his thoughts turned more prosaic. His shoulder hurt like hell, and Nate looked like he wanted to fight him, but the person on top of the roof had already scrambled away, their cover blown; meaning there was a mystery to be solved but Nate had survived.

A few hours of debriefing passed by before he was reunited with Nate. “Thanks for saving my life back there. Maybe someday I’ll return the favor," his brother said.

“Nate, you’ve saved me plenty of times. When we were kids…” Sam didn’t know the specifics of their shared childhood, but abusive backgrounds tended to be the same.

Nate’s eyes got misty. “I didn’t think you remembered.”

“Of course I did. I’ll never forget it.”

They hugged then – quickly, but with great intensity. Sam felt some relief.

His mission had been accomplished – at least to some degree.

 

 

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After a long flight back to Miami, they met back up at a little joint named Carlitos. Sam Number Two paid for dinner with his employee discount, and gave Sam the files on Anson they needed to complete the mission. He then escorted Nate back to the safety of his loft, where he immediately called his wife, to whom he bragged; the conversation sounded promising. Sam Number Two drove Sam to the jail, chattering all the way about how ‘even he’ missed Fiona (Very interesting. That would be a backstory he’d ask Al about later). Then Sam Number Two grinned, saying he was going to give Fiona and Michael some alone time before making himself scarce.

"Sam?" Sam asked Sam Number Two.

"Yeah, Mike?"

"Where do you get your shirts?"

Sam Number Two laughed. "Can't give away all of my secrets, Mikey. Let's let that mystery lie."

Sam was several feet from the Charger when Al materialized beside him. “Well, you can't blame a guy for trying.”

“You've got enough shirts, Al. What were you gonna do with them, anyway? Dress up for Tina when you get home?” Sam held up a hand and quickly said, “Don’t answer that, please, forget it, I withdraw the question.”

“Don't be such a smart guy. Maybe I will,” he replied lightly.

“So did I do everything right?"

“Looks like it. Ziggy says Michael and Fiona open a private detective agency with Sam and Jesse – and wow, even his mom. They stay happy and successful and the business thrives. They finish renovating the loft, get married, have a couple of kids, and when Michael’s sixty he writes a best-selling memoir featuring all of his best spy tips.”

“What about Nate?”

“Ziggy says he joins the police force, becomes a good cop and raises his son to be a successful guy. He salvages his marriage, and they see Mike at least once a year, sometimes more. Charlie gets inspired by his Uncle Mike’s memoir, and…hah! You won’t believe it. Becomes a senator, then a presidential candidate,” Al said.

“Does he win?”

“We’ll find out in ten years,” he said. Al nudged Sam’s shoulder. The gates of the jail were parting. There was a slim redhead walking toward him in a white dress and strappy high heeled sandals, swinging a Gucci bag. “Go on, kiss her.”

Sam smiled. His arms were open, and Fiona was striding toward him. He wrapped his arms around her, he dipped her backwards….

….And a blast of white and blue light deposited him upside-down in a harness. When he opened his eyes, he realized he was suspended over a large indoor pool in front of a roaring crowd…and over the snapping jaws of a crocodile.

“Oh boy.”