Author’s Note: This was written a *very* long time ago, so I’ll openly admit neither the writing nor the research is up to the standards of my more recent work. However, I still love the pairing and the concept and there are still parts of it I’m very proud of, so here it is. Hope someone out there enjoys it in spite of itself. 🙂
All of the dialogue in the first scene comes from the series finale of Quantum Leap, “Mirror Image.” Other episodes referenced are “MIA” and “The Leap Home”/”The Leap Home Part II: Vietnam”. The nurses in the last section were all named after people on the C-Leapers mailing list.
April 2, 1969
That was what Mom had told her when she called to tearfully announce that Al was MIA. Her mother had been surprised at how vehemently Beth felt the loss, since only a week before she had talked of filing for divorce when Al came home. But by the end of the night, Beth had admitted that she was still in love with the daredevil pilot. So Mom told her to hold on. Hold on to that hope, that love, and it will bring him home.
“But it didn’t bring Dan Merril home,” Beth accused the empty silence around her in their bungalow. “Anne loved him more than anything, and he still died out there. How could you do this to me, Al? If you loved me as much as you said you did, how could you leave me?”
Naturally, her absent husband did not respond, but still, to Beth it felt like another betrayal–one of a long list. Already the memories that kept her holding on had begun to seem insignificant.
“I can’t hold on any longer!”
There was still no reply. Both the lawyer and the cop who had seemed to be courting her the past few days had left long ago. Dirk chased away by the over-persistent Jake, who had then mysteriously departed with muttered apologies. Now, the solitude closed in around her.
Then, there was a change in the room. Nothing looked different, but the feeling of loneliness had vanished, as if Al had just walked through that door.
If he does come back, she wondered, what will he be like? Will he still be my Al?
He would advance in rank, no doubt. She smiled, thinking of how he had once told her that anyone with a rank above lieutenant was a horse’s ass!
Beth laughed softly, and the room seemed to hold its breath at the sound. On impulse, she stood and walked to the record player, for some reason putting on their song–“Georgia On My Mind.” She closed her eyes and Al’s presence suddenly seemed almost tangible.
Slowly she began to dance the same familiar steps they had danced together so many times before–even the first dance at their wedding. With her eyes closed, she was dancing with him again. She could feel him close to her, their hands almost touching, but for some strange reason, not quite.
And she heard his voice–that rich, rough voice that could still make her shiver. He was asking her to hold on, but in the moments of silence between his words, he was also saying goodbye.
I want you to wait for me, Beth. Don’t give up, honey. ‘Cause I’m alive out there. And the only reason I’m alive is because of our love. And someday…Oh, Beth…someday, I’m gonna come back home to you.
He kissed her, and the sensation was more real than anything else that had happened that night. She felt his lips press against her forehead, and then he was gone. Beth opened her eyes once again to the empty house.
Her hopes faded with that whisper, the echo of his goodbye still ringing in her thoughts.
Startled, she turned. There was a man standing in her house, a man she had never seen before. Amazingly, she was not afraid. Wary, but not afraid.
“Who are you? How did you get in here?”
“I’m not going to harm you,” he promised, honesty and something else she couldn’t quite identify gleaming in his green-gold eyes. “I’m here to help you. Help you, and help Al.”
“Al?” She stared at him, this strange man who looked so young but old, naive but also wise, all at the same time. A streak of silver in the front of his hair caught the light, and as his eyes met hers once again, she realized her lack of fear was because she…recognized…him. She tried to shake the thought out of her mind because she KNEW she had never seen this person before in her life, but the evening had been so full of strange impressions that defied her senses that she couldn’t shake the sense of familiarity. He had said he was here to help her and Al…maybe he knew Al, and she was sensing that mutuality. She had always been able to understand her husband on some level she couldn’t explain.
The stranger nodded.
“You’re a friend of Al’s?” she continued.
“Yeah, I’m a friend of Al’s.” There was a deep sense of loss, of separation in his voice, causing it to break as he pronounced her husband’s name. He sounds like he thinks he’ll never see him again. She fought to hold back tears. I know that feeling all too well. Oh, God, please don’t let that be what he has to say!
“Do you think we could sit?” he asked hesitantly.
Beth nodded, noticing for the first time how tired her visitor looked–as if he’d been carrying the world on his shoulders for years, without any chance to set it down and rest. They sank into the couch, facing each other. She tried not to let him see in her face the fear that was executing a victory dance right that moment in her heart.
“I’m gonna tell you a story, Beth. A story with a happy ending, but only if you believe me.”
Beth blinked, startled by the unexpected beginning. “And if I don’t?” she asked curiously.
“You will. I swear you will,” he promised. “But instead of starting with ‘Once Upon a Time,’ let’s start with the happy ending.” He hesitated, and Beth realized that she was holding her breath.
“Al’s alive. And he’s coming home.”
Tears welled up in her eyes at the unexpected news and a wave of astonishment swept over her. I believe him!
She didn’t question how he knew, just believed. And in that moment the power to keep hoping, to keep holding on, returned. Her visitor turned to look over his shoulder at something behind him, as if he had heard a sound. Just as she had earlier that evening, Beth could have sworn Al was in the room, though there was no way he could be.
Suddenly, the stranger’s form seemed to explode into a brilliant flare of blue-white light, and he disappeared. Stunned, Beth just stared through the thin film of tears at the place where he had been, wondering if it had been a dream or a vision.
Her mother’s words came back to her–“Hold on”–and with them the words she had prayed earlier that day: “Give me a reason to hold on. Give me some reason to believe he’s still alive out there.”
May 10, 1970
“You’re living in a dream, Beth. It’s been almost four years! Just because you had a dream a year ago about an angel telling you Al’s alive doesn’t mean it’s true.”
Beth sighed. It had been a long year, and she had often wondered herself if it had been a dream. Maybe Cheryl was right.
“Then what do you suggest I do?”
“Go on with your life! This guy, Dirk, who’s been such a help to you–go out with him sometime or something!”
“I don’t know…Cheryl, I’m still married.”
“To a dead man!”
There was an uneasy silence.
“I’m sorry, Beth. I didn’t mean to be so blunt. Look, I wish Al were still alive too. I know how much you loved him. But don’t you think we would have heard something by now?”
Beth nodded mutely. Her sister’s logic was not only blunt but difficult to dispute.
“I don’t want you to give up hope, but I don’t want you to be miserable holding on to false hopes either.”
Hold on. How many times had she heard that since Al disappeared? But a person could only hold on for so long. Maybe it was time to let go.
“All right. I’ll call Dirk and see if he wants to join us for dinner tonight. Will that be all right with Jim?”
The phone rang just as Beth reached for it. With an amused smile in Cheryl’s direction, she picked up the receiver.
“Beth?” a familiar voice asked.
“Captain Chase! How are you?”
“I’m all right. Listen, can you come down to the base? There’s something here I think you should see.”
A cold chill wrapped itself around Beth’s heart. “What is it?”
“I can’t tell you until you get here, I’m afraid. How soon can you come?”
“I’ll leave right away.”
“Beth, this is Lieutenant Tom Beckett. Lieutenant, Beth Calavicci.”
“Pleased to meet you, ma’am,” the young man responded politely. Beth took the offered hand, trying to shake the feeling of familiarity. The lieutenant looked like someone she had met before, but who?
“Beth, Lieutenant Beckett is the leader of a SEAL team that was on a mission in the same area where Al’s plane was shot down. About two weeks ago, they got this.”
Chase handed her a manilla envelope, which Beth took and opened with trembling fingers. A photograph fell into her hands and her breath caught in her throat.
“Oh my God…” she whispered.
It was Al. The man at the end of what looked like a chain gang was Al. He was the only one looking back.
“He’s alive! He is coming back!”
The captain and lieutenant exchanged an uneasy glance. “He WAS alive as of two weeks ago, ma’am. We don’t have any more recent information. Much as we’d like to see him come home, we can’t make any guarantees.”
Beth didn’t need their guarantees. Al’s eyes in that photo were guarantee enough. Somehow, he must have known that picture would one day be in her hands. He was looking at her, his eyes saying the same thing she had heard him say the night the angel appeared–I’m alive out there. And I’m only alive because of our love. And someday…Oh, Beth…someday, I’m gonna come back home to you.
July 25, 1973
Beth spun, startled at the sound of her name. A young man with Lieutenant-Commander rank insignia waved at her. He looked familiar, but she couldn’t quite remember why.
“Remember me? Tom Beckett.”
Her face brightened. “Oh, of course! It’s good to see you again, Lieutenant. Or I guess I should say, Commander. How have you been?”
“Pretty well. I banged up my arm a little bit, so they’re sending me home on leave for a while.” He indicated his cast. “This is kind of a halfway point.”
“What happened to your arm?”
“Multiple fractures, I think they said. Nothing permanent, but it puts me out of service for a few months. If you want to know the full diagnosis, you’ll have to ask my little brother. He’s in med school.”
“Your LITTLE brother?”
The young officer’s face was shining with pride. “Yeah. He’s nineteen. Graduated MIT in two years with a double major in Physics and pre-med. He was the youngest person ever to graduate summa cum laude from that school.”
“Wait a minute…” Beth shook her head in amazement. “Your brother graduated MIT in two years, at age nineteen?”
“No, eighteen actually. He graduated from High School at sixteen, and he’s been in Med school for a year now and is also polishing off Masters’ in Theoretical Physics and Archaeology.”
“Well, either your brother is a genius or he never does anything except schoolwork, not even eating or sleeping!” She smiled.
Tom beamed. “He’s got a once-in-a-generation mind, we’ve been told.”
“He must. Sounds like someone I’d have to see to believe.”
“Well, you might get a chance, if you work here. He’s flying out here for a few days, and we’re going home together. He should arrive tomorrow.”
“Actually, I’m going to Mississippi tomorrow. A friend of mine, Anne Merril, lost her husband in ‘Nam a few years ago, and it’s always been hard for her to be alone on the anniversary of the day he died.”
He nodded sympathetically. “I can imagine. What about your husband? Have you heard anything else?”
Beth shook her head, her eyes sad. “Not since you gave me that photograph.” Her fingers drifted automatically to the bracelet on her wrist that she had worn night and day for six years now.
“I know how hard on you this must be, Ma’am.”
“I keep wondering if I could have stopped him. I was so mad at him when he left for his second tour–I almost told him if he left I wouldn’t be here when he got back. I thought it might make him stay. But I couldn’t. I told myself at the time that it was because it wasn’t proper to divorce a man just as he’s going off to a war, but I realized later it was because I could never leave him, not as long as I have any reason to believe he’s alive. But I still sometimes wish I’d tried harder to get him to stay.”
The l-c nodded. “That sounds familiar. When I was getting ready to leave for my first tour, my brother about had a heart attack.” He smiled fondly. “He got this crazy idea into his head that I was going to die on April eighth, 1970. Said he had come from the future to save my life. He tried everything he could think of to keep me from going. When that didn’t work, he got me to promise him I’d crawl into a hole on April 8th and stay there all day.”
“That’s unusual,” Beth commented. “Especially the coming from the future part.”
“Actually, Sam’s always been interested in time travel. His favorite show when he was little was Captain Galaxy. He’s said for years he was going to travel in time someday. The strange thing about it was that he was so SURE…” his voice trailed off thoughtfully. But soon he shook himself out of it and laughed.
“It’s a good thing I didn’t listen to him, though, because if we hadn’t gone on that mission, we wouldn’t have gotten that picture of your husband.” Tom’s eyes saddened. “We were supposed to free the men in that camp. I only wish we’d found out sooner that it was a trap, then maybe Lieutenant Calavicci would be home now. I’m sorry, ma’am.”
“It’s all right. Al wouldn’t have wanted you to walk into a trap he was the bait for. I’m sure if he were here he’d be telling you to be thankful you got out of there alive, and not worry about him.”
“But if he doesn’t get out of there alive, Mrs. Calavicci–”
Beth stopped him with her hand. “He will. Don’t ask me how, but I know he’s coming back.” Her voice was calm and confident, though the pain of separation still came through clearly.
“You sound as sure as my little brother did that I’d be killed,” he replied softly. “It scared me, you know, how certain he was. I argued with him about it a lot because I was trying to convince myself that he was wrong. Sometimes I still find myself wondering if maybe he WAS telling the truth. What if he had come from the future somehow to warn me? And what if he somehow found a way to save my life? It sounds crazy, doesn’t it?”
“Not really. You never know, after all. Miracles happen every day.”
Tom smiled. “My mom says that sometimes. I don’t know…” he shook his head, his eyes haunted with invisible images. “It’s hard to believe in miracles after you’ve seen what I have. What the Viet-Cong’s done to those people, and even worse, what we’ve done to them.”
Beth was silent, watching the young officer. He reminded her of Al, or rather, of what Al might be when he came back. This disillusionment was something she’d seen so many times. It made her begin to understand a little bit the drive behind the anti-war protests and draft dodgers. She’d been so condescending towards them at first, before the first of the wounded started coming in… She hoped Al would keep his sense of self and humor as well as this man seemed to.
“You know…there’s something I think I should tell you. When we first got the roll of film that photo was on printed, it was brought back to our team so we could be the first to see them. One of the guys, ‘Magic’ we called him, went straight to that picture, as if he knew it was in there. And when he saw it, he looked up, as if he was looking at someone, and said ‘You could have been free.’ I don’t know why, but I feel sure he was talking to the picture–to your husband. And the scary thing about it is, we could have succeeded on that mission, but I probably would have gotten killed, like Sam said.” He shook his head slowly. “It always makes me wonder–‘You could have been free.'”
June 15-16, 1975
June fifteenth, 1975. Al’s forty-first birthday. Beth bit her lip to hold back the tears. Eight excruciating years had passed since he disappeared from the skies over South Vietnam, six since an angel had promised her he was coming home, and five since she had seen the photograph that confirmed he was alive, giving her the strength to believe the heavenly promise.
She wondered where he was spending his birthday. Was he still in that POW camp? Had he somehow managed to escape?
As if in answer to her questions, the phone rang.
“Beth? It’s Ryan Chase.”
“Captain, good to hear from you again.”
“I thought you might want to know, Al arrived on Oahu yesterday from Saigon. He should be getting on a plane out of Honolulu right about now. He’s coming home.”
Beth almost dropped the receiver. Tears filled her eyes as the news she had been waiting so long to hear sank in. He’s coming home! He’s really coming home!
“When will he be here?” she asked, her voice trembling.
“Sometime tonight, if all goes well. They wanted to bring him in through Bethesda, but I convinced them to send him to Balboa instead, since you guys live here.”
“Thank you.” There was more she wanted to say, to thank him not just for this call but for risking his career to show her that classified photograph five years ago. For doing everything he could to help her hang on to the hope that Al would return. But she knew if she said any more she would break into tears.
“I’m just glad I could help. But I hope you don’t mind if I ask you to break the news to him about his promotion. He might take the news that he’s become a horse’s ass better from you.”
Beth laughed. She had forgotten how widely known Al’s comment was in San Diego’s Naval community. It was a good thing Captain Chase knew him well enough to not take it seriously.
“I don’t know, Captain. After all this time, he might take the news well from anyone. He probably thinks it’s about time.”
“Maybe you’re right. Well, I’ll see you tomorrow. Take care of yourself, Beth.”
She set down the receiver with trembling hands, tears of joy streaming down her face. He was finally coming home. That promise she’d been given so long ago was coming true.
Beth shivered as she realized for the first time how close she’d come to abandoning Al. If that angel hadn’t appeared in her living room, she probably would have given up hope of ever seeing him alive again. But he was alive, and would have been even if she had given up. But he might have come home to an empty house.
“Thank you,” she whispered, a tearful prayer of gratitude. “Thank you for not letting me give up.”
Then she glanced at Al’s picture on the mantel, the young, vibrant, carefree sailor who had left her so long ago to fight for people they’d never even met. They’d waited eight years for the chance to be together. Now, at last, the waiting was almost over for both of them. He was finally coming home.
“Happy Birthday, Al.”
Beth arrived at the hospital before her shift began the next morning. She had wanted to meet him at the airport last night, but had forgotten to ask where he was coming in. For all she knew, he could have been flown into Miramar, North Island, or even Lindbergh Field. But she knew he was coming to Balboa Naval Hospital–Captain Chase had made that very clear.
“You’re here early,” Jennie commented as Beth stepped out of the elevator. “Any reason in particular?”
Beth just smiled, and the other nurse studied her, curiously. “Okay, what’s going on? I haven’t seen you glow like this since…” she paused, a connection falling into place. “Oh, my word…Beth, they found him didn’t they?”
She nodded vigorously, trying to keep in check the happy tears that threatened to overwhelm her. “He’s here!”
“What?!?! Here at Balboa?”
She nodded. “Captain Chase said they were bringing him in last night. Now all I have to do is find his room and who’s assigned to him. ”
“Oh, Beth, I’m so happy for you!” Jennie threw her arms around her friend. “I don’t know how you waited so long, hon, but I guess it was worth it.”
“What was worth it?” Susan asked.
Jennie released her at the sound of the other nurse’s voice. “Al’s home!” Beth managed to gasp out. “Captain Chase convinced them to repatriate him through San Diego, since we live here, so he was supposed to arrive here sometime last night!”
Susan’s delighted shriek attracted the attention of every other nurse on duty it seemed. Within moments, they were all clustered around Beth, who repeated the news to her eager audience. The subsequent cheers caught the curious stares of passing doctors and orderlies, but those stares changed to knowing looks upon seeing who was at the center of the hubub.
“Wait a second…” Nancy put her fingers to her forehead. “I think I remember hearing something about a POW being brought in under security last night. If you’d called me and told me he was coming home, I would have paid better attention and then I could have told you where he was.” She smiled.
“Wait, I’ll check the schedule,” Bronwen interjected. She reached behind the nurses’ station and flipped through the papers on a clipboard. “Room 234. That’s one of Jennie’s rooms this shift.”
Jennie blushed. “I wish I’d checked that one first. I haven’t even gotten up there yet.” She glanced at her friend. “Do you want to trade, Beth?”
Beth shook her head. “No. I’ll just get some time off. If I was assigned to Al, I’d be with him all the time and neglect my other patients.”
Nodding, Jennie flipped through the papers on her clipboard until she came to Al’s file. When she found it, she tugged on her friends elbow, a mischievous smile dominating her face. “C’mon. I’m going to go check on my new patient and I INSIST you come with me for consultation purposes.”
Jennie squeezed Beth’s hand as they approached the room. “You go in first,” she whispered. “I’ll come in after you two have had a little time to get reacquainted.”
She grinned. “Don’t give us THAT much time! You know how Al would define ‘reacquainted’ where the two of us are concerned.”
The other nurse giggled softly. “All right, but I’m waiting at LEAST ten minutes.”
Beth nodded and took a deep breath before peering into the room. Her heart leaped at the sight of that face, framed by dark, curly hair that had grown too long during his imprisonment. His eyes were closed, as if sleeping, but she could tell by the tortured look on his face that he was anything but rested.
She was startled to note that he was curled up on the floor, instead of the bed. Dragging a glucose IV with him, he had somehow stumbled out of the bed and into a corner on the room, where he now lay, curled into a tight ball with the blanket half-pulled over him. His eyes were squeezed tightly shut against a scene that she was sure was only in his mind, and therefore invulnerable to the physical darkness he was subjecting himself to.
He’s so thin, she thought, her eyes sweeping over his frail frame that was frightfully visible through the inadequate coverage of the hospital gown. She knew he was suffering from malnourishment. That, and the fact that he had picked up several nasty parasites had been in his file, which she and Jennie had reviewed together before coming down here.
He stirred slightly, his sleep light and fitful. Beth hesitated, almost afraid to go in, because it might wake him. A shudder went through his body, followed by a low moan of pain, and one word.
That was all she needed. She had waited too long to hear his voice say her name again. There was no way she could walk away after hearing it, even to let him rest. Quietly, she entered the room and knelt at his side.
“Come on, we need to get you back in the bed,” she told him quietly, the nurse taking over because she could think of no words to capture how she felt. “And I’ll need to check that IV too.”
Al was awake now, but not looking at her. His eyes were on the floor, seeing no more of her than her shoes. He tried to pull away from her hold on his arm, making Beth realize that he did not yet recognize her. A pang of fear went through her, followed by the realization that his mind was probably still in the cage she was told he had been kept in for much of his time as a POW. He was on the floor because things like beds had become too foreign to him.
Gently she eased him to his feet. He resisted, but was too weak to put up much of a fight. “Al, please.”
It was as if the sound of his name pierced through the clouds in his mind like a ray of sunlight. He straightened a little, and for the first time, looked at her. As their eyes met, she saw lucidity return to him. Maybe it was only there for a little while, but it was there.
He was staring at her, drinking her in with his eyes as if he couldn’t believe she was there. But she was, and to assure him of it, she took his left hand in hers, entwining their fingers as they had done so often before he left. Al reached up one shaky hand to touch her face. As he brushed a strand of hair away from her ear, Beth caught her breath. Every nerve in her body reached for the place he had touched, the longing of the past eight years pinnacled in this moment of closeness.
Then, unexpectedly, her husband wrapped her in tight embrace, more powerful than he seemed capable of. Her arms went around him in return, and years of pent-up tears broke free from her eyes.
They were still holding each other and crying when Jennie returned a half-hour later to check on him. Smiling, she quietly hung his chart outside the door and left. Neither Beth nor Al even noticed she had ever been there at all.