Sometimes a Storm Arises: Part Two

Penelope Hill


Sam was immersed in the intricacies of a variable state analysis when the sound of his father’s voice intruded on his concentration. He looked up from the screen, automatically hitting the key that would save the current work, and smiled. The familiar figure was standing in the parlour doorway, his faded dungarees enfolding his once-burly frame with crumpled insistence; he pulled off his cap and ran a hand through white and thinning hair, while his face folded into stern anxiety.

When did you get so old, Dad? I used to think you were so strong.

He knew, of course. Too many things had weathered John Beckett over the years. His daughter’s disastrous first marriage; the day his beloved wife had been taken from him by the cancer that no-one had suspected; losing half his land to the bank and the struggle to put two headstrong young men through college ... Sam had eased that burden as soon as he was able, earning scholarships and grants to support his own studies, and he knew Kate had contributed toward Tommy’s qualifications, but it hadn’t been easy for the man who stood before him now. He’d tried so hard and he’d struggled so long that struggle had become a part of him; his earthy strength had been slowly compressed into a wiry shadow of itself, broad hands and broader shoulders supported on a frame of steel ...

"Sam," the warm tones announced, in much the same way they had once said Kate is coming home - after which the name of Chuck Brannigan had never again been mentioned within his hearing. "I want that man out of my house. Right now."


"I’m - sorry, Dad?"

"You heard me." His father walked into the room, moving to stand at his son’s side, and looked down at him with stern eyes. "He leaves - right now. Before he fills my grandchildren’s heads with any more fool ideas."

Sam stared at him, unable to believe his ears.

"I don’t - "

"I know you don’t, son, and that’s half the trouble here. If I’d known what kind of snake had got his coils around you, I’d have done something about it sooner. Well - I can’t tell you whose company to keep any more, but I can choose who I have and do not have in my house. And no smooth-talking, snake-oil salesman is going to poison Tommy’s kids if I have any say in the matter."

No - who the hell is he talking about here? Dad? Have you lost your mind?

"I always knew the folks on Capitol Hill were bad news," John Beckett went on, staring out of the parlour window at the low roll of land that lay outside. The November sun lay over it like a soft blanket of corn oil, the barest wisps of gray tainting its edges. There was more storm weather threatening on the horizon; wind and thunder mostly, since the previous day’s rain had pulled most of the moisture from the air.

"Dad," Sam protested with a half-laugh. "Al’s not a politician ..."

"He could sure fool me," was the growl that answered that. "At least - he doesn’t, son. I can see straight through him. You always were naïve when it came to trusting people. He’s using you. Basking in your glory, picking up the plaudits and putting his name to your work so as to reap all the reward. I know the type - all flash and no substance. Smooth talk and ambition; out for whatever they can get. And what he’s got is one glorious mealticket by the name of Samwise Beckett. He’s no good, son, and the sooner you see that, the better off you’re going to be."

Sam’s mouth dropped open.

He’s what? Using me?

"You don’t know the first thing about him," he defended hotly. "You had what - half a dozen words with him at breakfast? And you weren’t exactly receptive then. When did you start making such sweeping judgments?"

"I’ve had it figured for a while, Sam." His father’s voice was resolute. "One moment it’s just you, getting all this attention, going places, and the next - everything you do, everywhere you go, he’s there, buried in your business like a fat tick riding high on a hog."

A - ? Sam’s indignation clicked in with reactive speed. The accusation was ridiculous. Patently ridiculous. If it hadn’t been for Al, fighting in his corner, looking out for him, flying point like the combat veteran he was, Sam knew he’d probably be buried in some university somewhere, still dreaming, but watching those dreams crumble into so much dust ...

There’s so much I owe him, Dad. Would owe him, even if we weren’t - well, that’s part of it too. Using me? He goes out of his way to champion my cause - puts himself on the line sometimes - and he does it because he believes in me. Loves me. The way I love him ...

"That’s a load of bull, Dad." His response was just as tight as the statement that triggered it. "I’m not that kind of a fool, and if you think I am then you don’t know me as well as you think you do. Al’s got more honours to his name than I’m ever likely to have - and he’s earned every darned one of them. It’s a privilege to work with him, and he’s done far more for me than he’s ever gonna get back out of it."

"Like keep you from your family? Persuade you to take on more and more work? What’s he doing, son? Selling you to the government like some upmarket whore? I don’t care how deep a hold he’s got on you, he has no right to treat my son the way he does. Living off you, paying for flashy cars and thousand dollar shirts with your abilities. He’s a pimp, Sam. Nothing more and nothing less. And he’s out of this house now - before I throw him out. Understand?"

Indignation boiled into total fury. Each word, each slanderous, unfounded savagery felt like a personal attack. Was a personal attack. This was Sam’s Tomcat his father was talking about, the man who had been tempered by war and monstrous atrocity; who had reached for the stars and achieved his dreams despite the cruelties of fate and the hardships of his childhood. A man who had walked to the very brink of despair because he cared too much - and had wept in Sam’s arms while he faced the ghosts that haunted his life ...

You tried him, judged him and sentenced him before he even got here, didn’t you, Dad? I don’t know why, but you did. And you are so wrong ...

Sam got to his feet, meeting his father eye to eye. His anger was making him tremble, inside and out. "Understand? No, I don’t understand. Al drives all the way from Washington to bring me the best news ever, and all you can do is slam the door in his face? You don’t know him - you make no effort to know him - and you judge him with small-town prejudices without even looking past the first glance. I owe him, Dad. More than you can possibly imagine. Oh, sure - he drives an expensive car, and he dresses to match, but that’s just the surface veneer. Just the act, Dad. Underneath there’s a man worth his weight in gold. A man I’d trust to the ends of the earth, and then some. If you can’t see that, then you’re not looking. Not looking at all."

"Sam," John Beckett sighed. "I know you think - "

"No," his son interrupted. "You don’t know, Dad. You don’t know at all."

"That’s enough," the older man snapped, a man used to obedience from his children. "I’ve made up my mind. The company you keep elsewhere is your concern, but I don’t want that man under my roof for another moment. Tell him - tell him we want this to be a family Thanksgiving, and we can consider this matter closed."

"Oh, no," Sam denied. "If Al goes, I go. You don’t want him, then you don’t want me - and I know better than to stay where I’m not wanted."

His father’s face creased into a deeper frown, confusion adding to the layers of animosity in his eyes. "Now, Sam - "

"Uh-uh," Sam insisted, fury tipping him past caution and discretion. Past caring if he hurt this man he’d thought so much of and who was suddenly acting like a stranger. "That’s the way it goes, Dad. You didn’t throw Cindy out when Tommy brought her home, did you? Damn it - you even gave Chuck a warmer welcome than this! If you’re so cursed sure about Al - then I guess it boils down to a simple choice, doesn’t it? You - or him. And going on what you’ve just said, I’d rather choose the man who respects my judgment."

John Beckett’s eyes had narrowed at the mention of the man who had once nearly killed his daughter. A reflection of Sam’s own fury settled on his features. "Just like that, Sam? You’d choose a man like that over your own father?"

If I have to -

"Yes. I would. Because he’s not a man like that. And because I love him. Oh, yeah," he went on, lacing his words with bitter irony as his father reacted to that announcement. "Hadn’t you figured that yet, Dad? Your so-precious genius of a son also happens to be queer. Gay as they come. I mean - come on. Throw the man out because he happens to be my lover, why don’t you? At least that would be a reason, rather than an excuse."

The elder Beckett went white. Stark white. Emotion wrestled in his eyes, then his face closed down into lines of granite. "Don’t make fun of me, son."

"Fun? Fun! Ah - Dad ..." Sam threw up his hands and stalked away across the room. His shoulders were shaking, and he was having difficulty keeping his self-control. "It’s the truth. Ask Kate. She’s known long enough."

A moment by a sunlit pool, his sister staring in bemused disbelief while his Tomcat furiously announced his feelings ...

Just as he was doing now.

"He goes," John Beckett growled firmly.

"Fine," Sam spat back with equal ferocity. "Then so do I."

They stared at each other for a second or two, anger spun between them like a tangible force. Then Sam turned on his heel and strode out of the room, the pain of the moment burning through him like acid. He’d been so - so - ecstatic at finally having the chance to bring these two strands of his life together. His dreams were working out, his life was heading in the direction he wanted, and this was to have been the best Thanksgiving ever ...

Thanksgiving huh? That’s a laugh, if nothing else. My father decides he hates my lover’s guts even before he really gets to know him. So I throw the most precious thing in my life straight in his face like a weapon. You could have handled that better, Sam. Much better.

He took the stairs two at a time and slammed the guestroom door behind him. Loudly. It didn’t make him feel any better, but it did expend some of the energy that was boiling through him.

How dare he?

How dare his father judge a man with such vicious assessment?

He spun round and went into a taut routine, a combination of exercises designed to channel and control his inner chi. His sensei would be tut-tutting at him right now, accusing him of putting his emotions ahead of his comprehensions, of not making use of his self-discipline and training. The process didn’t make him any less mad, but at least it stopped his body from shaking.

Why did you have to do that, Dad? Why?

Not for the first time in his life he missed the warm presence of his mother, prepared to negotiate between her stubborn husband and her equally determined son. She would never have been so precipitately harsh in her judgments, nor so determined not to listen to reason.

He pulled his case from under the bed and began to throw things into it. His good mood from the morning had evaporated completely. He kept going over his father’s words in his head, each misconception a sharp edge on which to slice his soul. Smooth-talking snake-oil salesman ... It could have been a joke, words he might have used with affectionate amusement; but they’d carried insult in every syllable, had been delivered with dismissive derision.

I don’t care. If he doesn’t want to know, then neither do I.

Only this was his father he was considering, the man who had always meant so much to him. Almost as much as the man for whom he was prepared to throw it all away.

"... so the green frog went hoppity, hoppity, all the way home ..." Al let his voice drop down into the softest of whispers as he completed the story, a quiet smile painted on his face. Becky had fallen asleep on the pillows, and her sister wasn’t far behind. They’d both exhausted themselves with the excitement of the morning, and he hadn’t been wrong in judging that a pre-lunch nap might not go amiss. Not that he’d told them his intentions, of course. He’d learned long ago that a sneak attack was always more effective than a frontal assault, and he’d planned his tactics accordingly. Get them both comfortable on the furry animal-strewn surface of one of the three beds in their cosy room, absorb their attention with a nonsensical story or two, and - sure enough - they had eventually found their eyes closing, despite their fascination with their new-found uncle and his entertaining ways.

Never thought I’d want to put a girl to sleep on me, he grinned to himself, carefully tucking the quilt over Thelma’s sprawl of lethargy. She stirred and opened her eyes, dark green orbs looking up at him with a sleepy smile.

"Uncle Al?"

"M’m, sweetheart?"

"You’re fun. You gonna stay with us?"

He smiled back, brushing a wisp of hair from her cheek.

"I don’t know, munchkin. Maybe. Just for a while. Long as your Uncle Sam does."

"Good," she yawned, closing her eyes again. "I want you to ..." She drifted off into sleep, curling herself up like a kitten. He sighed softly, bending down to retrieve the collection of animals that Becky’s earlier enthusiasm had scattered around the floor.

Pink rabbit, green pig, a soft - and rather battered - bear. He arranged them carefully back on the bedside chair and spent a thoughtful moment just staring down at the two angelic faces as they slept so trustingly amidst the rest of the menagerie.

If things had happened just a little differently ...

He’d never had kids. Beth had wanted them, but the time hadn’t been right. And when he’d come home, expecting her to be there, depending on her to be there, she - and any dreams he might have cherished for a family of his own - had abandoned him to memories and regrets. His second marriage had barely lasted past the ink drying on the licence, and Rebecca -

Her mother wanted her to have children, so she didn’t. Simple as that. She never asked me about it. Come to think of it, she never asked me about much at all.

He still had a soft spot for his Jewish princess, still sent the monthly cheques with a little extra above what the court had asked for. Her mother maintained he did it out of guilt - which just went to show how much she knew.

As for Sharon ... she loved that damned dog more than she ever did me ...

So he had no-one to cherish as he might want to cherish - although these two monstrous moppets were making themselves firmly at home in his heart fast enough. Their elder sister threatened to be real cute in a few years’ time, and the boys - well, boys will be boys, right? And these were Beckett boys. With their grandfather’s nose, and the family streak of goofy charm written right through them.

Something about these damned Becketts ...

Like Kate, who’d tempted him easily enough - although that indiscretion was one that had nearly cost them both a price beyond measure. He was very fond of Sam’s elder sister. He’d like to get as fond of the rest of his family - since, for Sam, family was something he treasured, and he was lucky enough still to have one.

Alonzo sighed a second time, this one with feeling. He was sailing uncharted waters here. He’d spent a lifetime learning not to get too close to people, since the people you got close to always went away. But Sam was different. And he and his family came as a package. Which meant - whether they ever understood the why of it or not - that these adorable terrors were in distinct danger of having ‘Uncle Al’ becoming another influence in their lives.

God help ’em, he decided with a grin.

Somewhere out in the hall a door slammed. Loudly. With feeling. He jerked his head round at the sound, then back, wary that it might have undone all his hard work. Thelma had stirred but not woken. Becky was out like a light.

I guess it’s safe enough to leave ’em for a while.

He slid out of the room, closing the door with discretion. As he stood on the upper landing, wondering what might be going on, he heard the kitchen door below him slam just as firmly as the first one had done.

What the - ?

He half-moved toward the staircase, thinking Sam would still be working in the parlour, then paused, hearing sounds of movement from within the guestroom close by.


He opened the relevant door and went in cautiously, ignoring the inevitable black and white cat that escaped past his feet. His sixth sense was signaling red alert; there was a palpable sense of tension in the air that hadn’t been there an hour before. Sam was standing by the bed, dropping shirts and underwear into a suitcase. He looked up with an angry jerk as the door swung open; then the fury went out of his face as he recognised the man responsible.

"Sam?" Al queried, seeing the tight lines that were written in his friend’s eyes, the hunched shoulders and the rigid stance imparting a message of pain and anger and confusion.

What’s happened? God’s sake, kid, you look like someone just trashed your favourite car for the hell of it.

"We’re leaving." Sam’s statement was terse and bitter. He picked up another shirt and flung it down into the case with frustration. Al stared at him.

"We’re what?"

"Leaving." The repetition was no less intense. The speaker strode over to a drawer and began to remove bits and pieces without care for their condition or delicacy.

"Just like that?" The enquiry was tentative. Sam had every appearance of being about to explode. "Thanksgiving isn’t until tomorrow, Sam ..."

"I know that!" Sam rounded on him with vehemence; for a startled moment Al could sense an inner turmoil in the furious figure that - in any other man - might have led to violence. He took a wary half-step backward, and the hostility in front of him melted away into instant anguish and shame. "Oh, god - I’m sorry, Tomcat. I’m not mad at you ..."

Sam stepped sideways and sank onto the edge of the bed, dropping his head into his hands as he did so. He was shaking, Al noted with concern. He closed the distance between them, reaching a hand to the curve of his lover’s arm. Sam looked up - and the pain and the betrayal that lay in his eyes were like visible wounds.

I don’t know who did this to you, lover, but they’re damned well going to pay ...

"Hey, Sammy," he said softly. "What’s the matter, kid?"

Sammy. He never called the man that, except on very particular occasions. When the man sometimes went a little crazy and started acting like a goofball kid from sheer happiness, he’d found use for the term of endearment in gentle mockery, a way of indicating hey, come on, kid, I know you’re fooling around here. But right now -

- right now it held more than that, an offer of support, of sympathy and concern. As if - for a moment - his paladin, his saint, were as innocent and vulnerable as the children he had left sleeping only a room away. Sam found him a pained smile, then looked away, his teeth chewing at his lower lip - endearing evidence of his hesitancy and his distress.

Jeez-Louise, Sam. What the hell’s happened to you?

Al dropped to the edge of the bed beside him, draping his arm around the man’s shoulders with comforting intent.

You wear your heart on your sleeve, kid, you know that? Eyes as expressive as a book - and just as open. You’re bleeding here. So tell me why, huh?

"Dad - " That was a breath, no more, a sound of anguish washed out like a wave dragged back from a shallow shoreline. The curve of Alonzo’s hand tightened with sympathy, nothing more; he knew better than to push this. Sam was still trying to face whatever it was that had driven him to such intensity.

A deep breath, eyes still fixed on the neutrality of the wall. "Dad - " he said again, then finally turned to meet his companion’s anxious gaze. "I told him about us, Tomcat." The confession was made to hide the deeper cause of the pain, an avenue of escape rather than a true explanation; Al merely waited with patience, his eyes inviting confidence, his expression carefully schooled to avoid revealing his inner reaction to that statement.

You did what? Just like that, Sam? Or did you blurt it out, the way I did to Kate? Was it a confession, or a defense?

Sam put his hands to his face, fingers rubbing at the bridge of his nose and then out across his temples. He sighed, the sound of emptiness, as if - having lost the edge of his anger - he had nothing with which to fill his sense of self.

"I used to think he was so great, you know? So strong, so certain, so right all the time ... And today - " His hesitation held an echo of that betrayal; if he’d been a wolf he’d have been howling his pain at the moon. "He thinks you’re using me. Called you a - a - snake-oil salesman. He wants you to leave. So I told him. If you go - I go."

Oh, Sam ...

Now he understood the anger, and the anguish. Sam loved his father. Al knew that. Knew it with the pained comprehension of someone who’d lost his family before he’d been able to tell them he cared. And he also knew - with a sense of disconcerted wonder - that Sam loved him, just as strongly, just as certainly.

It must feel like being torn in two.

But, on the other hand ... John Beckett might have reason to be suspicious of a freewheeling stranger who parked a Lotus Esprit in his farmyard and sweet-talked his daughter-in-law - even if it was in jest. Al had no illusions about the impression he occasionally made on people. He was used to it. Even used it occasionally. There was a definite sweetness in watching the faces of the smug know-it-all bigots and the prissy nozzles who’d dismissed him as mere flash and smart talk collapse in disarray when he opened up with all guns blazing. Sucker ’em into complacence and then let ’em have it ... But they were generally men - and sometimes women - with preformed opinions who hadn’t bothered to read the résumé, or didn’t know what thirty years in the Navy and five in the franchises of the Hanoi Hilton might make of a man. Small-time politicians, civil servants, hidebound bureaucrats; the kind of people he wouldn’t want to get to know socially, if he could avoid it.

"Is that what you want, kid?" he asked softly. It wasn’t what he wanted; not to find himself coming between a father and his son. Not when he was sure that the father cared just as much as he himself did.

"Yes." The angry reaction. "No." The hurt one. "I don’t know. Does it matter? I blew it, Al. He’d made up his mind before I could make him listen and - I threw us at him. Like it would hurt him. I wanted it to hurt him."

Because he was hurting you? Or me? I can take it, kid. I don’t expect the whole world to like me. But it would have been good if your father had.

"I thought he’d trust my judgment. I thought he’d take the time. But he just - he just - "

"He just strode in with both feet and took action without thinking first?" The question was gentle. "I know another Beckett who’s pretty good at that."

Sam grimaced. He was still angry, but as much at himself as he was at his father. Al shook his shoulder gently.

"Seems to me," he offered softly, "that you’re a little too close to the problem here. And running away from it ain’t the answer."

"I just want to leave," Sam snapped, shrugging out from under the comforting arm and beginning to pace the floor. "I’m not about to stay where I’m not wanted."

"Neither am I, kid. But I’m not going to let you throw your family away because of me, either. You and your Dad can work this out. Maybe not all at once, but - "

"Don’t you understand?" Sam turned on him because no-one else was there. "It was a choice - him or you. And I chose you."

Oh, god, Sam. I’m not worth that. And if we leave it here, you’re going to end up hating me for it. I know you’re hurting. I know you’re angry. But there is such a thing as compromise. Negotiation. And your father’s a Beckett, too. Don’t you think I might be getting the hang of how to handle them by now?

"Yeah." He acknowledged the compliment sympathetically. "I know, Sam. But I’d rather you didn’t have to make a choice at all. And if that means me making one for you - then that’s what I’m gonna have to do."

He stood up, jabbing a determined finger at the suitcase. "You’re staying here, Sam. Even if I have to go."

"Al - " The protest was pained. He shook his head.

"Listen up, kiddo. What you have here - in this crazy episode of The Waltons that you seem to belong to - that’s worth something. It’s where you come from, it’s what helps make you, you. And I’m not going to let you throw that away. Now, maybe you got so mad your Dad won’t listen to reason. Maybe giving him the truth was one step too many. But if the bridge can be mended, then I’m going to fix it. And you’re going to walk over it if I do."

"Not without you, Tomcat."

"With - or without me, Sam. I’d like to be part of this part of your life, but if I can’t, well - I got all the rest, right? A few days over Thanksgiving won’t hurt me."

But it’s gonna kill you ...

Samwise watched Alonzo leave the room, conflicting emotions boiling inside him.

Dad won’t listen to you, Tomcat. He’s already made up his mind. And I really screwed up when I told him how it was between us.

He pushed the suitcase off the bed and threw himself in its place, staring up at the ceiling while the anguish went round and round in his head. He’d wanted his father - all of his family - to like the man he’d chosen as his soulmate. He’d never so much as thought they’d be anything less than enthusiastic in their approval. Kate had liked him, hadn’t she?

Too damned much. The memory brought a wry smile to his face. She had no idea ...

He sighed, turning over onto his stomach and resting his chin in his hands. Kate had been - understanding - about his preferences, approving of his choices in the end. Don’t tell Dad, she’d said. He’d never understand.

He had intended to tell him sometime. When he’d got to know Al for a while, come to understand his qualities and how important he’d become to his son.

But not like that. Not blurted out in wounded pride, not thrust at him like a knife, waved in his face like a red rag to a bull ...

Too late now. Al had gone in search of reconciliation; he’d find only stubborn anger and hostility waiting for him.

Why, Dad? Why did you have to shatter everything like that? What has he ever done to make you so antagonistic?

Nothing made sense any more. He let his head drop to the pillow and lay there, feeling too emotionally battered even to think straight.

When Al comes back, we’ll go. I don’t need Elk Ridge any more. I’ve grown past this place.

Only he hadn’t, and he knew it. Knew that some of his anger and his hurt lay wrapped around his need for his father’s approval. In the love and the memories he had for this place. His home. Something precious he’d wanted to share with the man he loved - because it was something he’d never had. Somewhere safe.

Somewhere where they care about you.

His hands clenched in the pillow. He wanted to scream ...

"Sam? You okay?"

Tommy’s voice startled him. He rolled over and sat up, almost guiltily.

"Ah - yeah ..."

Don’t lie to him, Sam. He’s your brother. You’re going to have to walk out on him, too.

"No, I’m not." He sighed, and studied the concerned lines of his brother’s face where he stood in the doorway. Al hadn’t closed it when he’d left; Tommy must have seen him lying there and wondered ... "You’d better come in, shrimp. I got something to tell you."

Tommy will have to know now. At least I get to tell it to him openly ...

"What is it, Sam?" his brother asked as he moved closer. "Is there something wrong?"

"I’m leaving. I thought you ought to know. And why. Sit down."

The dungaree-clad farmer did so, brushing back his dark-blond hair with an abstracted hand. He was watching his brother with anxious eyes. Innocent eyes, Sam realised, looking at him.

Are my eyes so trusting? Do I give that open, naïve impression?

Chelsea had always said that the eyes were the windows on the soul, and if that were the case, then Sam had the most beautiful soul he’d ever met.

Al’s eyes are so deep I could get lost in them. Sometimes I do.

"There’s something you need to know, Tommy. I never got round to telling you, and maybe that was wrong, but - I’m telling you now, okay?"

"Okay." Tommy’s answer was wary, but receptive.

How do I put this? Am I ashamed of what I am?

No. Not ashamed. Just - self-conscious about it. After all, it was really no-one’s business but his own.

His hesitation brought an unexpected smile to his little brother’s face. "Sam," Tommy drawled, eyeing him with amused sympathy. "You can be a real nerd some days. What do you want to tell me? That you’re really an alien in disguise? You’re a spy for the Russians? Or just that you’re gay?"

Just that ... you know?

"Ah - "

Tommy laughed at his reaction. "I’ve known for years, Samwise, big brother o’ mine. I kinda figured it out - you know? No girls, except for a few one-time dates - and it wasn’t just because you were so shy and awkward - and then at college? There’s this real good-looking black guy teaching you all these martial arts, and you start sharing an apartment with him? Now that ain’t cause for any suspicion - until the sports mags make a thing about him ‘coming out’ in - ah - ’78, was it?"

"’79," Sam corrected automatically, his voice a little shell-shocked.

You figured Chelsea out? You’re not just a dumb dairy farmer, are you, Tommy?

Of course he wasn’t. Tommy had a degree in agricultural sciences. He might not have his brother’s genius, but he was damned bright all the same.

"Yeah. Knew you’d know. So I put two and two together - or should that be one and one?" He grinned again, a warm, affectionate grin, laughing with his brother, not at him. "Anyway - I didn’t think it was any of my business, really. Not until you decided to tell me. You had decided to tell me ...?"

"Yeah." Sam had recovered from most of the shock, reassured that he hadn’t been as obvious as one moment of panic had assumed. "See - " He winced. "I told Dad. Today."

"Uh-oh." Tommy cocked his head to one side and studied his sibling with a gentle frown. "Not a good idea, Sam."

Sam sighed. "I got mad at him," he admitted, letting his shoulders slump a little. "He wanted Al to leave. Thought he was going to corrupt your kids, or something. I don’t know. Elope with Cindy, maybe."

Tommy snorted. "I should hope my wife knows better than to steal my brother’s lover from under his nose. Particularly since it’s a Beckett nose. Hey," he defended, at the look this elicited, "Kate called last night. She warned Cindy. I wasn’t entirely sure ..."

That Al was my lover? Or that he was a tomcat?

"Kate called? And you didn’t tell me?"

"It was girl talk. She said she’ll call again tomorrow."

"I may not be here tomorrow. Like I said - Dad wanted Al to leave, and nothing I said changed his mind. But if he goes ..."

"You go, huh?" Tommy leaned forward to stare at him intently. "It’s that serious, Sam? You and the Commodore, I mean? Serious enough for you to walk out on your family on the first Thanksgiving you’ve managed to get home for in five years?"

"It’s that serious."

Tommy let out a low whistle. "So that was what Kate meant. Sam - " He leaned back again, studied the floor with interest. "What did Dad say to you?"

"I told you. He wants Al to leave."

"Yeah. But did he tell you why?"

He’s nothing but a pimp ...

Sam’s mouth narrowed in unconscious anger, and Tommy echoed it, reading the message it sent him.

"I see," he remarked. "I could strangle the old man sometimes, I really could. Listen up, big brother. Our beloved father? He’s jealous. Pure green, straight through."


"Yeah," Tommy went on, flicking non-existent dust from his knee. "See - back when you first started talking about this old college friend you’d met up with again - Dad found out he was older than you. So he started to think, maybe he’s got this need for someone to talk to, and why isn’t it me? And you so rarely came home, that - well, I guess it became more of a maybe. And then there was that business with you and Kate and the accident. And we thought perhaps Kate had set her cap at a senior officer for a while. So that made him suspicious, too. You know how Dad is with Kate and dating ..."

Yeah. Ever since Chuck ... Wait a minute. Dad really thought Al was taking his place? Oh, boy ...

"And then, of course, you started to take all these trips away, and I guess Dad resented it a little. He’s getting old, Sam. He doesn’t understand how important you are these days. And he’d never met the guy, so - look, I don’t know what he said, but he said it because he didn’t understand the situation. Maybe he will, now you’ve told him. I think I’m gonna like the guy. Cindy likes him. I know Kate does. And you know what Thelma said to me just now?"


Tommy grinned. "Make Uncle Al stay with us forever, Dad. That’s four to one in favour so far, Sam. Five, if you include yourself. This family is a democracy, not a dictatorship. And on that reckoning he at least gets to stay for dinner tomorrow, don’t you think?"

If only it were that easy ...

"Think about it, huh?" Tommy slid to his feet and rested his hand on his brother’s shoulder. "It’s been a long time since you’ve been home like this. Don’t let Dad drive you away. He’ll come round. I’m sure he will. Sam - " The tone of his voice lifted Sam’s eyes to meet his. "Al’s - a little overwhelming on first impression, don’t you think? Fast car, smooth talker, dressed to kill; handing out White House notepaper without a second thought and casually dismissing having to pay a thousand dollars for a shirt ..."

Sam’s eyes narrowed. His father had made that accusation too.

"It wasn’t the shirt that cost a thousand dollars," he corrected sharply. "It was the square mile of rainforest that he secured for the conservation trust."

"Oh." Tommy took that on board, thought about it carefully. "I didn’t realise that."

No, Sam considered. There’s a lot of things about Al people don’t realise on first impression. He doesn’t boast about the environmental work. He just does it. It’s too important to him. And Dad accused him of trying to hitchhike on my glory? He hides too much of his own ...

The door to the milking shed was open; inside, John Beckett was energetically scrubbing at the floor with a long-handled stiff broom. His action was heavy-handed and probably wasn’t doing a lot for the concrete surface, but he didn’t seem to care all that much. Al paused in the doorway, taking in the clutter of the shed’s interior; the scent of hay overlaid with the stronger scent of cows; and the image of the old man at its centre, his broad shoulders laden with anger and frustration.

Solid as the earth he’s worked with all his life, the ex-pilot noted thoughtfully. Weathered by hard work and struggle ...

It was said that farmers like John Beckett were a breed unto themselves, but Al didn’t see it that way. He’d known other men who’d carried that mark of labour and sweat, men who had worked construction on city blocks, or shifted packing cases and sacks on dockside piers. It was the mark of endurance, of determination, and it was the same mark his own father had earned, taking work where he found it, trying to do the best he could in circumstances that had conspired against him.

If Mamma had stayed with us ...

But she hadn’t, and Nicola Calavicci had had to put his beautiful daughter in an institution and send his tenement-toughened son into the twilight world of orphanages and foster homes, where he had learned to survive the hard way.

You tried so hard to take care of us, Babbo. But I didn’t understand that until it was too late to tell you so. I wanted you to be so proud of me ...

Wanted it so bad that he’d fought all the way from the impoverishment of the streets to the very edges of the newest frontier. Sam had never had to fight like that. Achievement came to him easily, something that happened to him rather than he made happen; his genius had been nurtured, given full rein and let loose by those around him who’d seen his potential at an early age. And one of those people was the man his lover was watching now, the indignation and outrage working its way through the handle of the broom to be vented against the straw-strewn floor.

What are you thinking, John Beckett? Of all the sacrifices you made? Or are you just wondering how come your brilliant child has feet of clay? Did he fall from his pedestal with a crash, or is he still up there, forever beyond your reach ...?

Broad shoulders, a slight stoop to the back; white hair, thinning and wispy; heavyset features weathered into a patina of lines; the man had aged the way an apple ages - toughened and wrinkled on the outside, but with a concentrated savour underneath. He’d been sculpted by the impact of his chosen life; browned by the sun, strengthened by work, worn down by care.

You would have looked like Sam, once. Open heart, goofy smile, puppy-dog eyes and all ... Wrought from gold, and worth your weight in it. Thelma must have thought herself a lucky woman to catch you. Sam’ll age better, I suspect; more aware of his diet, keeping himself in shape the way he does ...

Al allowed himself a small smile.

Don’t suppose I’ll be around to care by then ...

The thought brought him back to the reason he was standing there; the hurt in Sam’s eyes, and the choices that had put it there.

It was him or you, he’d said. And I chose you.

Time to start building bridges. Before the gulf grew too wide to cross.

"You never get rid of the taint, do you?"

He dropped the question lightly, leaning his weight against the doorframe, knowing better than to invade the man’s territory any more than he had to. John Beckett’s head jerked up in startlement; he turned and glared at the speaker with outright hostility. Alonzo let the impact of it wash past him. He had been glared at with far more animosity in his time; by fanatics whose eyes had burned with hatred and whose ability to hurt him had been a lot more immediate, even if the pain they’d inflicted had been less personally directed.

"Doesn’t matter how hard you scrub, the place will always smell of cows." He dipped his hand into his pocket as he continued, lifting out the length of a fresh cigar and using the ceremonious act of unwrapping it to convey the sense of nonchalance he wanted to impart. In reality he was at full alert, every sense employed to monitor event, a level of adrenaline triggered to heighten his situation awareness.

This could go several ways here.

He was banking to assess the situation, keeping his profile low and his options open. If anyone else had taken his lover down with such a damaging strafing run he’d have gone in with missiles locked and all guns blazing, but Sam was nursing wounds delivered by friendly fire and there shouldn’t even be a war.

"The thing is," Al went on conversationally, lighting the cigar and drawing in a lungful of scented smoke, "it’s a cowshed, right? You expect it to smell of cows. It - sort of - goes with the territory."

John Beckett was still staring at him with narrowed eyes and a drawn frown. He folded his arms and leaned on the broomhandle, studying his unwelcome visitor with directed sourness. "You got a point?" he growled.

Al shrugged. "Depends." He took a second puff at the cigar, breathing out a slow wreath of smoke. "On whether you like cows enough to get used to the smell."

The farmer straightened angrily, one hand clenching around the broom with undirected force. "I don’t need you telling me my business," he said tightly. "And I want you to leave. We have nothing else to discuss."

"Don’t we?" The question was gentle; this wasn’t going to be easy, and it wasn’t helped by the closeness with which the man’s voice echoed more familiar tones. The green eyes that fixed him so intently were unnerving, too; they held a challenge he knew only too well.

You gave him your eyes. Did you know that? You - and Sam, and Kate ... Eyes that speak volumes, and all without a word.

"Nope." John Beckett went back to his scrubbing, turning his back with finality. End of story. So long and may we never meet again.

"You know that Sam’s packing to leave right now? If you let him go like this, you’ll have a hell of a job ever persuading him to come back."

The savage brushing halted for a moment, then resumed with undiminished fervour.

"Sam’s made his choices. He can live with them. Seems he wants to live with them."

Al winced. The remark was barbed and meant to sink home.

That’s not the point, damn it. He shouldn’t have to make this choice at all.

He took a careful breath and straightened up, unconsciously adopting a stance similar to one that he might have once adopted in uniform; balanced, seemingly at ease, yet ready to move into action with only the barest warning.

"You got it all figured out, haven’t you?" he growled softly. "A world in black and white, heads or tails. You - or me. You know," he observed sarcastically, "Sam always gave me the impression that you and he were close. But - I guess you don’t think he’s worth fighting for, huh?"

That swung the older man back in his direction, an angry reaction creasing his features. The broom clattered to the ground as the farmer took a reactive step forward. Their eyes locked, and for a moment there was nothing between them but raw intimidation, one old and canny wolf confronted by another as they disputed the right to lead the pack -

- then Alonzo broke the contact, not a submission so much as a courtesy; he wasn’t about to fight for Sam, goddamn it, and certainly not with the man’s father ...

"That’s not going to get us anywhere, is it?" he declared, returning his attentions to the cigar since he could use it to diffuse the tension between them, a means of declaring he had no intentions of escalating the conflict. "God, I can just hear what Sam would say."

Actually, Sam wouldn’t say anything. He’d just look, and Al would probably want the ground to open up and swallow him.

"Look," he offered, glancing back at the tense figure that watched him with suspicion. "This isn’t about you and me. The last thing I ever wanted to do was come between you and your son. It’s the last thing he wants. You want me to go, I’ll go. Today - right now, if you insist. But don’t push Sam after me. Hold on to him. Listen to him. Unless - unless you really can’t face what he told you today." He met the man’s eyes a second time, hoping to convey nothing more than honesty - and conviction. "I don’t know what I’ve done to offend you, John Beckett. Whether it’s your morals or your sensibilities, or both of those things. But - Sam’s important to me, and you’re important to him, so ... I guess - there oughta to be some way to work this out."

The farmer was still staring at him - although now it was as much in confusion as with hostility.

"You two - been friends for a while now, haven’t you?" he noted warily. Al leaned his weight back against the doorjamb and thought about the question.

"Friends since MIT, I guess," he admitted. "But - " The bare smile became a quirk of self-consciousness, "we’ve got a lot - closer - in the past three years."

The confusion became a suspicious frown. "It gives you a hold over him, doesn’t it? You’re persuasive enough. Persuade him to that and you can persuade him to anything."

Persuade Sam? The kid only ever does the things he believes in. The most I can ever do is make him think about it first ...

The suggestion twisted his expression with ironic amusement. "I think you underestimate your son’s integrity," he remarked, considering the older man beside him as he did so. "Sam knows his own mind, and he acts accordingly. I just - keep the bandits off his tail, that’s all. Fly a recon sortie now and then, take a little flak, navigate for clearer air space ... but he sets the flight plan. As for the - persuasion?" He paused to take another slow pull at the cigar, staring at nothing at all. "That’s a long story, and I don’t think this is the time for it." He sighed, glancing back at his company. "Read it how you like, but - I’d never use your son. I happen to love him. And because of that, I won’t let you make him choose between you and me."

He lifted himself back to his feet, half-turned to go.

"I can be off your property within the hour," he decided. "If - "

"Commodore." His title pulled him back, the word delivered with patient pain. John Beckett was considering him with conflict and doubt written deep into his features. "You’re not entirely what you seem, are you?"

"I sure hope not," Al acknowledged, the airy wave of the cigar an emphasis to his intended self-irony.

What are you thinking, John? What did you think? Snake-oil salesman, wasn’t it? That’s a compliment compared to some things I’ve been accused of in my time. You should have heard how my last wife’s divorce lawyer described me ... Or maybe not, now I think about it.

"If I’d known - " The farmer struggled to formulate what he wanted to say, wrestling with matters that had disturbed his entire view of the universe. "When Sam said - " He paused a second time before emitting a deep and heartfelt sigh. "I’m not one to cope with this," he admitted gruffly. "Floods and fires and sour milk - that’s my kind of disaster. But what are you supposed to do when your son turns around and tells you - that? Thelma would have known," he muttered, turning away to pick up the discarded broom. "But then - Sam always was the apple of her eye ..." He sighed again, looking down at the bristles as if he could find his answers in them.

"You’re right," he decided abruptly. "You can’t get rid of the taint, no matter what you do. There are some things in life you just have to live with ..."

He walked across the shed and carefully placed the broom back onto a suitable peg; Al watched him do it, wondering why the man had called him back, waiting for the punchline and not entirely sure there was going to be one.

"You get ideas," the farmer continued, talking more to himself than to his audience, "you figure things - and then they turn out not to be the way you thought at all ..." He turned, studying the man in the doorway with circumspect assessment. "If you leave," he said slowly, "Sam will go, whatever I say. He’s my son. Hot-headed and stubborn. Determined."

Yeah, I know. The description raised an inner smile, followed by a sinking feeling in Al’s stomach. The man was right. Sam wouldn’t back down unless his father did, and his father was just as likely to stick to his guns - because they were both Becketts and, when it came to some things, a Beckett didn’t give way that easily.

"So - " John Beckett set his shoulders and fixed his company with challenging eyes. You’re going to have to prove yourself, they said. "Cindy likes to serve dinner dead on six, Commodore. Don’t be late, will you?"

Al blinked at the statement, not expecting that tack; his disconcertion gave the older man time to harumph and turn away. John Beckett stalked out of his milking shed through the far door, leaving the Commodore - for once in his life - totally at a loss for words.

Does that mean - ? I guess it means I’m staying. Not welcome, but staying. But is he going to tell Sam that, or do I?

He crossed the floor of the shed cautiously, wondering where the farmer had been heading; he was in time to see the man climb onto the porch and vanish into the house. There was a goat tethered close by, munching through the last few wisps of a pile of hay. It looked over at him and bleated a little plaintively.

"Don’t look at me," he growled at it. "I ain’t part of this family."

Yet, a small voice suggested somewhere at the back of his mind. He ignored it.

"If anyone wants me," he told the goat, glancing at the house again, "tell ’em I’ve gone for a walk."

It was a good walk, as walks go. It took him past rows of standing seedcorn and down to the edge of the Beckett property. He paralleled the road for a while, then turned back across the fields, imagining a young and eager Sam Beckett running home from school that way, eyes bright with anticipation and heart full of enthusiasm.

Running home to tackle his chores and tease his younger brother. Anticipating Mom’s fried chicken and peach cobbler ...

He sighed, leaning up against a fencepost and comparing the rolling landscape with the grimy tenements that had shaped his early life.

Time was, all I ever wanted was to see more sky.

He grinned at the thought, recognising the irony that lay behind it.

Guess I’ve seen enough of that over the years.

He tilted his head to study the ocean of blue that swept overhead. It was a clear day, brilliant with autumn sunshine; a mutter of clouds hugged the horizon, precursor to more stormy weather, but above him was nothing but miles of clear air, filled with a tug of wind that ruffled his hair and his heart with equal insistence. He didn’t need to close his eyes to span the distance; gravity might have anchored his feet, but his soul was forever in freefall.

The curve of the Earth sliding overhead, blue and white and ocean green ...

It had looked so fragile, so impossibly delicate, a crystal globe spun from glass and sugar; he could have stared at it for hours. Did stare at it for hours, savouring every moment of its beauty, the first time from sheer wonder and the second time knowing that the chance to do so might never come again.

Looking up.

It had been a long way to fall.

He shivered, but not from cold. Once you had reached out and touched the sky, where did you go? What was left to dream of when your dreams were of things you’d done rather than things yet to do? A part of him would always be tumbling among the stars, just as a piece of his soul would be forever locked inside a tiger cage ...

There’d been no more dreams once he’d hit the deck; only old nightmares and bitter regrets. And he needed dreams - places to go, things to achieve, something to be.

Something to believe in.

Or somebody ...

He turned, sensing the man’s presence with some inner certainty that had nothing to do with peripheral vision or subconscious registration of sound. Sam was standing among the golden stalks, watching him with a haunted smile.

‘O, what can ail thee, knight at arms, alone and palely loitering ...?’

The image was irresistible: Galahad, the perfect knight, pursuing his quest in tight jeans and a faded denim shirt. Or was he a young Merlin, born out of time and gifted with magic beyond the comprehension of the common man? And if that was the case, what did that make his friend and lover, who’d defend him to his last breath and beyond?

Crazy as a snake, probably.

The problem with being in love with Sam Beckett was finding a way to express it without feeling like a total putz. Alonzo Calavicci was a romantic at heart - an Italian romantic, what was more, with a habit of showering his women with roses as well as compliments, and arranging schmaltzy music to go with equally schmaltzy moments. But with Sam it was serious - and serious meant mushy, and that was damned hard to cope with sometimes.

Like now, spurred by his lover’s inner pain to want to wrap him up in his arms and keep him there; to leap to his defense with the kind of macho arrogance that most women would be offended by, let alone a man just as capable as he was. Not that he’d ever succumb to such an impulse of course - but it was there, all the same.

"Hi, kid," he offered softly instead. "Nice place you got here."

The remark had the effect he was hoping for - a collapse of that anxious smile into the goofy grin that was so specifically Sam ...

"Yeah," the scientist agreed, walking across to join him by the fence. "It always was kinda special."

Al lifted his weight from the fencepost and studied the younger man with sympathy. "So," he breathed thoughtfully. "Am I leaving, or not?"

Sam thought about it.

"Not," he said after a moment or two. "For the moment, anyway." His lips curled in a grimace that spoke eloquently of inner dilemmas. "He said he wanted me here for Thanksgiving, and if the only way to make sure of that was to have you here too, then that’s the way it would have to be."

Oh, that’s wonderful, John Beckett. Tell the kid you love him, why don’t ya ...?

"Tommy wants you to stay," Sam went on, perching his weight against the abandoned post and staring moodily at the horizon.

"Yeah? Well, I guess that’s one vote in my favour, anyway."

"He’d already accounted for five." The scientist found him a twisted smile. "Maybe Dad’s right. You spend one morning with those kids and they think you’re Mr Wonderful."

Al let himself relax a little. Sam wasn’t happy, but he wasn’t hurting quite so badly any more. "Hey," he growled, "I am Mr Wonderful. Hadn’t you noticed?"

The man laughed, reaching to punch the speaker lightly on the shoulder. "Get outta here," he said, then turned the reach into a grab instead. "I didn’t mean that," he said hastily, and Alonzo chuckled at his expression.

I wouldn’t leave you, even if you did, kid.

The rest of the day passed without incident, even if the time spent around the dinner table held a certain undercurrent of strain. Fortunately most of the conversation revolved around what the older Beckett children had done at school that day; Abbie had come home beaming, her precious piece of paper having been given pride of place in her class all day, and Littlejohn had managed an ‘A’ in a pop test in his history class. Billybob was more interested in the fact that the following day was a holiday, and got his father to promise to fix the tear in his kite so that he could take it flying; Cindy told him very firmly that he could only do that if Littlejohn was with him.

That evoked a discussion of the ‘aw, Mom, do I have to?’ kind, at the end of which it was agreed that both boys would take the kite out in the morning, and then Littlejohn could help his father with the hogs in the afternoon. John Beckett’s only contribution to this was a series of harumphs and grunts; he was quiet right through dinner, pausing occasionally to look warily up at his elder son, or to frown briefly whenever their guest was brought into the conversation. Sam frowned back every time this happened; Al was on his best behaviour and was so obviously making an effort not to be too intrusive that John Beckett’s continued hostility was downright uncivil of him. Samwise hadn’t seen his lover quite like this before - in an ‘on duty’ mode, politeness incarnate and only speaking when spoken to - and it unnerved him a little. He had a tendency to forget that his Tomcat had earned his rank the hard way, and that the laid-back picture he generally presented was only one aspect of a man whose career had encompassed combat pilot, commanding officer, astronaut, and respected scientist.

There’s so much Dad doesn’t know about you, he thought, tackling Cindy’s pot roast almost absently. So much that I still want to learn.

Like exactly what the man had said to his father that afternoon that had - if not triggered a change of heart - at least given them all a second chance.

After dinner it was easy to retreat into the excuse of work; they tackled a number of planning issues surrounding the project’s initial stages, agreed a schedule whereby Sam would start to recruit his science team while Al dealt with the construction crew, and then set about prioritising the development areas. Partway through this process Sam realised what he was doing and put part of his mind toward enjoying it. After all, he hadn’t seen his lover for two whole months, and while passion snatched in a hayloft was something to relish, there was a certain sheer pleasure in just being in the man’s company.

I missed you, Tomcat ...

Missed the scent, the sight, the sound of him; the gravel touch in his voice, and the light in the depths of his eyes. They were never more than a memory away, but the reality was so much better. And it was always good to work with him, even to disagree with him over minor matters, to see that fire and determination spring to life and make its presence felt.

Tommy brought them coffee and said goodnight; they worked on for another hour or two, absorbed in the intricacies of what lay ahead. Eventually they called a halt, agreeing where to pick up again in the morning. Sam powered down the computer, and the awkward moment insinuated its way between them with inescapable inevitability.

This isn’t fair ...

Two months apart, and emotional need tearing at him - and his father’s shadow hanging over the situation like the sword of Damocles. He wouldn’t - couldn’t ...

Al’s smile was an understanding one. Privacy was something they cherished, its lack a circumstance they had learned to live with. Normally neither of them would have given a second thought to the situation; discretion and restraint were matters they agreed with unspoken communality. It wasn’t even that they were deliberately secretive - a sure and certain way of being found out, as Al had put it once - just circumspect and undemonstrative in potentially public places. And just as likely to sleep in separate rooms in the normal course of events. It was just - just -

Two months had been too long a time to be apart.

It wasn’t even that Sam desired the man with any more than the usual kind of desperation; they’d been lovers long enough not to mistake want for need. It was only that - after all that he’d been through that day - he wanted to be with him.

And there was just a hint of rebellion brewing in his heart - to want to share that treasured intimacy with the man he loved, just to show his father that he didn’t care what he thought about it.

Which was precisely why he wouldn’t take the risk.

But - oh, god ...

"Goodnight, Sam," Al announced softly, already way ahead of him in the measure of things. Sam had let him take several steps away before he found himself in pursuit. He caught up with him at the foot of the stairs, the house in semi-darkness and filled with the quiet that comes late at night when everyone else is asleep.

His Tomcat turned back questioningly at the touch to his arm; Sam knew his face was burning, but he wanted this much at least.

"Something on account," he whispered, catching his lover’s shoulders and planting the kiss before he could change his mind. The response was fervent; he was wrapped in arms that threatened to hold him forever -

- but pushed him away with determined comprehension.

"Save it, kid," Al advised a little hoarsely. "Okay?"

"Okay," Sam breathed, letting him go, watching as he climbed the stairs, savouring the taste of him, the impact of his warmth. Somewhere outside, thunder rumbled in the distance, a harbinger of stormy weather yet to come ...

Continued in Part Three ...
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Disclaimer:This story has been written for love rather than profit and is not intended to violate any copyrights held by Donald P Bellasario, Bellasarius Productions, or any other holders of Quantum Leap trademarks or copyrights.
© 1997 by AAA Press. Written and reproduced by Penelope Hill. Artwork by Joan Jobson