Penelope Hill

Point of change: April, 1970:

"... I didnít know. How could I know?" Samís voice was low-pitched, but filled with distress. His Observer sighed.

"It doesnít matter, Sam. Let it go."

The time traveller looked up at his intangible company, his eyes tight with inner torment. "You could have been free, Al. You could have been free."

"I was always free, kid." The uniformed figure lifted his hand to tap his temple with significance. "In here. Where it counts."

Samwise Beckett stared at him, the words doing little to alleviate the tight twist in his stomach. He had saved his sister; but was it worth the cost? Maggie Dawson had died getting the picture that now stared up at him from the tabletop: the picture of a group of POWs abandoned in a windswept field as the Medevac chopper soared away. Sam had been able to warn them; had proved the presence of the ambush that waited to spray the descending chopper with lethal gunfire. He was beginning to realise he hadnít been there for that at all.

If heíd known - if heíd only known ...

From the depths of the glossy print the face of his best friend stared up at the departing chopper with startled disbelief. Moments later the VC had swarmed out of the jungle and destroyed the last fragile hope those men had had of going home this time. A hope that, for Alonzo Calavicci at least, would not be fulfilled for another three years.

"I didnít know," Sam repeated softly. His eyes went to the slender figure of his elder sister where she stood at the bar. Kate Beckett was laughing with the Lieutenant whoíd commanded the aborted mission; her familiar smile burned into his heart. He had risked so much to save her, but he hadnít known what it might cost ...

"Say," Kate announced, sliding away from the bar to advance on the table her brother currently occupied. "You know what? Itís April 9th. And Iím still alive." She paused to look down at the young man who, to her, was the dark-skinned SEAL who had proved to be his unitís lucky charm yet again. "Thanks to you - little brother."

Sam looked up in astonishment -

- and Leaped ...

Timeline Mark II: May, 1987:

Aloha, Hawaii, Alonzo thought happily as he dropped into the padded seat in the baggage collection area and propped his feet on the edge of the trolley in front of him. You pick up the bags, Sam had requested. Iíll see if I can find Kate. Since Al had not yet met Samís sister, this arrangement had seemed entirely equitable - particularly as it gave him a chance to lean back and take in a little of the local scenery ...

It had taken all his notable powers of persuasion to arrange this trip; to convince Sam he really needed a break from the hassles of StarBright, and then to wangle the generous timeslot out of Commander Walker before the man realised that three weeks without Sam Beckett would also mean three weeksí delay on the next phase of the work ... Al grinned at the recollection, along with the distractive tactics he had employed to make sure he got just what he wanted without anyone catching on to why. The kid needs a break - hell, if he doesnít get one, heís gonna crack wide open. Iíll even tag along with him, if you want; make sure he doesnít do anything he shouldnít, and gets the rest he needs. Yeah, I know. Iím so self-sacrificing. But at least I get some kind of vacation that way - and Iím outta your hair for three weeks ... Walker had bought it like a shot - the prospect of not having the Commodore looking over his shoulder for a while proving to be more temptation than he could resist. Which had been exactly how Al had planned it. He got to spend three glorious weeks with Sam, while Walker thought heíd been landed with a tedious chore ...

He chuckled with decided satisfaction, leaning back into the comfort of the padded seat. He liked Hawaii, although he hadnít been back here for a while. Sun, sea - and superb scenery; he sighed as a young wahine sashayed past, her arms draped with leis for arriving tourists and her hips moving like an ocean wave. Just because he was currently contemplating an entirely new set of personal pleasures in his life didnít mean he had to abandon all of the old ones. Far from it, in fact; Sam had dunked him back into the ocean of life with determination, and he was busy rediscovering just how much he liked to swim ...

It never hurt to look; it never hurt to appreciate what you saw, and he liked what he saw right now. A gaggle of Japanese tourists had been shuffled away by their tour guide, revealing a lone figure hovering in the entranceway. His eyes started at ground level and swept up with speculative pleasure; elegant high-heeled sandals supported a sweep of leg that went all the way up. All the way up; the woman was tall, and stacked to carry it, an athletic curve draped in a smart uniform. Navy medical personnel, he identified, pushing away the brief shiver that rose inside him; he worked with Navy people every day, a constant reminder of the life he had chosen to leave behind him, and had long since learned to ignore any regrets they might stir. If he hovered on the twilight edge between Navy rank and civilian obscurity it was through his own choices and nobody elseís fault. He certainly couldnít hold it against this vision of service efficiency, who made the uniform look as if it had been specifically designed to enhance all her best features ...

She turned, looking along the baggage carousels as if searching for someone. A drape of what looked like soft purple and white flowers dangled from one hand; no doubt she was intending to extend the islandís traditional greeting to her expected company. Beneath her regulation hat was gathered a bob of blonde hair. Not entirely her natural colour, he suspected, but it seemed to suit the curve of her face. Her eyes are probably blue, he thought, his considerations drifting down to mentally slide away the crisp layers of the uniform. Her legs were bare, a concession to the island climate. His imagination added silk and lace to the underside of stark efficiency, and the hand that dipped into his pocket to extract a fat cigar was trembling slightly at the thought.

Whoa, Alonzo, he told himself with an inner laugh. Donít get carried away here ...

He lit the cigar and glanced away, searching for an equally striking figure among the crowd. There was no sign of Sam, so he sighed and returned his attention to his chosen distraction, expecting to find her walking away. She wasnít. She was walking directly toward him.

And boy, could she walk ...

He eased himself in the seat and tried to act as though heíd just caught sight of her, offering her a look of appreciation formulated without threat. Her expression - which had been quietly pensive - curved into an equally confident smile. She drew to a halt beside the trolley, eyeing him up and down with a glitter of amusement in her eyes.

"Well," she said softly, "I hope you like what youíre looking at. Otherwise I might consider myself offended."

Sam would have blushed; Al wasnít fazed for a moment. Her voice held a hint of familiar accent, along with an attractive warmth. "I wouldnít look if it wasnít worth looking at," he responded, matching her confident tone. She laughed.

"Then Iím flattered," she said. She paused to glance around the bustling traffic, sighed, then looked back at him with thoughtful consideration. "Mind if I join you?" she asked, motioning to the free half of the padded seat. He lifted his feet from the trolley and waved an easy hand at the space beside him.

"Feel free," he offered generously. She smiled and walked round to perch herself on the seat, crossing those luscious legs with deliberated action. She was a woman in her late thirties at a guess, although she looked younger; she carried a hint of the mature confidence that comes with experience, and her rank was that of Lieutenant Commander, which would have earned his respect on anyone. On a good-looking blonde it indicated a strength of character that he knew few could match. This was one hell of a lady - and not one to be handled carelessly.

"Youíre waiting for someone," she observed, studying him with a discerning glance. He nodded, shifting the cigar into his other hand so as to spare her the impact of the smoke.

"So are you," he noted easily. Take your time, Sam. Iím not gonna get bored.

"My brother," she explained. "Is this your first visit to the islands?"

His turn to laugh. "Hardly. I used to liberty here occasionally. Been a while, though."

"You used to - oh, I see. Navy man, huh?" Her smile acquired a hint of conspiratorial comradeship. "I should have realised. I donít suppose the islands have changed much. A little more crowded perhaps." The movement of her hand indicated the occupants of the concourse with ironic emphasis, and he grinned.

Sam, he thought to himself with amusement, there are some days you just donít know what youíre missing ...

Elsewhere in the busy airport, Samwise Beckett was busy deciding that this might not be his day. The flight over had been okay, as long flights go; heíd spent time catching up on some of the reading heíd been stockpiling, while Al had flirted with the stewardess. Heíd watched his companion a little anxiously to begin with; he suspected that flying was an uncomfortable experience for his friend, where it had once been a perfect pleasure. But Al had relaxed into the comfort of the Jumbo without too much concern, although his hands had tensed at takeoff - not, Sam knew, for reasons of nervousness, but simply because the memories were still raw. It had not occurred to him until after they were airborne that this may have been the first time that Al had been aloft since the accident without getting blind drunk beforehand. His estimation of the manís strength of determination immediately went up one more notch on the admiration scale.

It had been pretty high already.

The íplane had been early, and had discharged them into the bright Hawaiian sunshine without a sign of his sister being there to meet them. By then, Sam had been both bored and impatient with the whole process. Heíd sent Al to collect their luggage and himself set off in search of Kate, picturing her face when he finally managed to find her. He was inordinately fond of his elder sister, who had encouraged his dreams and never laughed at his ambitions. The opportunity to spend time with her would have been irresistible whenever it arose. That the opportunity came wrapped in an even sweeter one had not escaped his notice; his initial reluctance to leave his work and take a well-earned break had quickly faded once the ramifications of Alís suggestion had begun to take root. Three weeksí vacation - one week with Kate on Oahu and then two more spent touring the islands in a hired boat, just he and his friend alone ... Two whole weeks of perfect privacy. Two whole weeks. It was going to be heaven.

Which was probably why Al had come up with the idea in the first place.

He hoped.

Their friendship was unquestionable; a firm certainty which nothing and nobody could shake. But the rest of their relationship was still a wary quagmire which the two of them walked with delicate steps. Samwise was always conscious that the desires the man stirred within him might not always be reciprocated; that his Tomcat had appetites and pleasures that he could not serve, and that their moments of intimacy were still hesitant ones in many ways. He still could not be certain that Al was certain about the way he felt. The time they had to be alone together was precious and frustratingly sparse; StarBright was a tight-knit community where gossip and rumour were part of the internal politics and only fools made themselves obvious targets. Neither Sam nor Alonzo was a fool, and while nobody questioned their friendship - except perhaps to tease Sam about having landed himself with more trouble than heíd know what to do with - nor did anyone suspect that they occasionally spent their time in more intimate pursuits than simply sharing a pizza over a football game.

Very occasionally. Sam never pushed, always waited until asked; Al, a very forward soul where women were concerned, was still a little uncomfortable with the choices he was making - had made, perhaps, albeit tentatively. The one thing the scientist had never expected of his Tomcat was that he might actually be shy; to begin with heíd read his hesitancy as evidence of reluctance and regret. Since heíd never intended to force the issue, nor did he want the man through a sense of obligation, heíd backed off for a while, giving Alonzo a chance to review his situation.

And Samwiseís heart sang at those precious times when his friend asked to be his lover. Because, however noble-minded he wanted to be, Al drove him crazy. Just the sound of his voice, the warm echo of his laugh, even the scent of him - or of those damned cigars - would inspire moments of trembling need that Sam fought hard to keep under control. Even that cautious hesitancy had its own particular appeal; it was as if they pursued a slow dance together, two veteran solo performers learning a routine of partnership by trial and error. Their styles conflicted; yet each stumble and misstep led to a better pattern, a surer interpretation of the musical theme. Sam knew that to cling too closely might disrupt that careful choreography. The perfect harmony he yearned for would be one based on trust and confidence, where the dance itself would direct the steps and no one performer dictated the style. So they rehearsed with tentative moves, sometimes treading on each otherís toes, sometimes dancing alone instead of together, and sometimes, just sometimes, getting their timing just right ...

Two steps forward, one step back. Cha-cha-cha, as Al might say.

So where the hell was Kate?

Heíd combed the airport buildings for her, running the gauntlet of tourist-hungry tour guides and flower-laden Ďlocal colourí; heíd searched the coffee shop, the souvenir stands, the airline desks, even the taxi ranks, all without success. He paused by the information desk, wondering if he should have her paged. A memory of past occasions popped into his head immediately. Donít panic, little brother. Youíre always so impatient ... He sighed and walked on. Heíd just have to go back to Al and wait for her to find them.

Maybe this had been a mistake. He loved his sister very much, wanted to spend time with her, but - Kate didnít know. At least, he didnít think she did. Heíd never got around to telling his family about his personal life. It wasnít that heíd lied to them so much as never found the right moment to speak openly about something that early experience had taught him to keep both private and discreet. The atmosphere of a small town in Indiana had never been conducive to Ďdifferenceí. His genius had been bad enough, had marked him out. Admitting that he also happened to be gay would probably have got him lynched.

Chelsea had taught him to respect that fear of difference. Not to be ashamed, but to be careful. And he needed to be even more careful now, since it wasnít just his reputation that was at stake. He wasnít sure that Al was ready for any kind of revelation, even to family. Kate didnít need to know, of course; it was just going to mean that this first week was going to be hard going; being so close and having to be on his best behaviour.

Good practice, he told himself determinedly. When the time is right, Iíll tell. I know I love him - maybe when I know he feels that way. When the dance is sure enough, when Iím sure enough - then Iíll want my family to know. But I want them to know him first. To accept him as my friend ...

He made his way back across the bustling spaces, still casting around for a familiar face as he did so. Nobody paid much attention to his casual stroll and he revelled in the sense of his own anonymity. Al had been right. It was good to get away. To relax and not have to worry about meeting schedules or attending interminable committees ...

He hopped the Wikiwiki shuttle back to the designated baggage area, and spent the short journey checking every passing vehicle just in case he caught sight of his sister heading in the other direction.

This could take all day, he sighed, picturing Kate pursuing a similar hunt around the miniature labyrinth that made up Honolulu airport. At least Iíll have company ...

He heard Alonzoís laugh before he actually saw him. A warm, personable laugh, a sound that made Sam feel good all over. It hadnít been that long ago since that kind of laughter had been a long way from the manís mind. A long way. If Sam had been partly instrumental in its return to the manís repertoire, then he had no reason to complain about it. No reason at all. He took two more steps in the right direction, then stopped in his tracks. A womanís laugh echoed that of his quarry; laughing at the same joke ...

Son of a bitch, Samwise thought with amusement, I canít leave him alone for a minute.

He closed the rest of the distance, finally catching sight of his goal. Al had dressed with his usual overstated style, although his rich blue shirt with its purple overprint was somewhat less of a bold statement among the palm-print clad tourists than it had been at the mainland end of their flight. Sam suddenly wondered if bringing Al to Honolulu had been an entirely good idea. He had an overwhelming vision of a whole series of startling Hawaiian shirts, each one more outrageous than the next.

"Oh, boy," he breathed. He generally adored his Tomcatís dramatic sense of dress, but sometimes the man could get a little carried away.

Like now, expansively illustrating some point or another, the inevitable cigar used to emphasise the movement of his hands. Playing to an audience with relish, and the audience lapping it up. An audience of one: a woman in uniform. A woman who was -

"Kate!"

The exclamation startled both of them. Al turned his head, seeing his friendís rangy figure stride out of the crowd, a look of pure delight on his face; then the fascinating woman was on her feet with her own cry of delight, and he was treated to the unlikely sight of Samwise Beckett wrapping his arms around a member of the opposite sex with decided enthusiasm.

"Sam!" the Lieutenant Commander declared delightedly, releasing her hold to clasp the manís shoulders and push him out to armsí length. "Will you look at you, little brother? You look great!"

Sam blushed. Al would have recouped a fortune had he been asked to put money on it. So this luscious specimen of womanhood was Samís sister? No wonder heíd found her so attractive. There had to be something about those Beckett genes ...

Particularly the ones Sam was wearing ...

He leaned back and savoured the interchange, measuring the similarities between brother and sister. He liked to watch Sam at the best of times and the presence of Kate Beckett only added to that pleasure. A year previously heíd probably have been outraged at the idea that he might find a certain appeal in the appreciation of a manís physique, but right now he wasnít entirely sure quite where to look. Sam was an exception, of course, just as he was in a great many things, and the pleasure of observing his athletic frame had a great deal to do with his admiration for the soul that occupied it. But his sister was no slouch when it came to looks either, and her appeal was dictated by a much more basic drive. She was a little shorter than her sibling, although not by much; Al had already concluded that sheíd top his compact height by inches. But then, he liked tall women. He also liked short women, and most of the ones in between. Kate was also curved in all the right places, her height adding a statuesque quality to her build. Her figure was taut and trim, all muscle and attentive fitness. She matched her brother in that, too, and Al found himself wondering if she also possessed his suppleness and control ...

He took a deliberated breath of tobacco smoke and let it out very slowly. This wasnít fair. Damn it, one half of him was getting jealous of Kate, for the easy way she clung to her brotherís arm, and the other half was getting jealous of Sam - and for the same reasons ...

"I donít believe it," Sam was saying, ignoring the scented flowers that his sister belatedly remembered to drape over his shoulders. "I practically quarter the airport looking for you and youíve been sitting here with Al all this time ..."

Kateís head swivelled in his direction and he grinned at her, enjoying the joke. She hadnít known who he was, and that was decidedly flattering in itself. Her mouth opened in astonishment, and then she laughed. "Thatíll teach me," she chuckled, pushing her brother away with dismissive affection and retracing her precipitate steps. Sam followed her, a goofy grin written across his face. How does the kid get away with being so goddamned cute? Al wondered. And still be so much a man ...?

"How do you do, Commodore Calavicci," Kate offered with amused formality, extending her hand. "Iíve been looking forward to meeting you."

He lifted himself to his feet - sure enough, she was that much taller than he was - and captured the hand, raising it to his lips with gallant intent. "The pleasure is all mine, Doctor Beckett," he announced smoothly, and Sam smothered a snort of laughter. His sister dimpled attractively, dipping her head in an unconsciously embarrassed denial of the intended compliment.

Samís trick.

Oh, boy ...

Kate drove them home. Her car was a sturdy station wagon, as much off-road vehicle as it was downtown workhorse. It took them out of the airport and along the coast, the rising scenery of Oahu providing a breathtaking backdrop to the ride. Kate lived in Waipahu, some distance from the Tripler Hospital where she worked as one of the Navyís resident practitioners. Their route took them past Pearl Harbour and, while Sam sat in the front seat and chatted eagerly about the news from Indiana, Al leaned back and remembered ...

It didnít hurt to remember the good times.

Just so long as he avoided the rest of them ...

And there had been good times.

That posting with ĎHotdogí Schneider, for instance. Spending an entire three daysí liberty trying to find him a girl ... And then thereíd been that Japanese teahouse theyíd found with the big Koi carp in the fountain; the one that had ended up in the Captainís bathtub ... Flying training runs across the islands, using the craters as navigation aids ... bodysurfing in wild water ... dancing the hula - and other things - with dark-eyed native girls ...

Oh, yes, there had been good times.

With luck there would be even better ones to remember by the time he took Sam home again ...

"Have you seen the baby?" Kateís question seemed totally out of left field and Al frowned, trying to focus on what the Becketts were talking about.

"I havenít got to see the last one yet," Sam laughed. Oh, yeah. They were discussing Tomís family. Their baby brother, still minding the farm back home. He had - what? Five kids now? John Beckettís pride and pleasure. Never mind that he had a daughter whoíd gone from Navy nurse in íNam to become both qualified doctor and senior officer; never mind that his second child held seven degrees, six doctorates, and was in line to be awarded a Nobel prize ... Oh, no. It was his youngest son whom the elder Beckett adored the most. The one who had stayed on the farm, married early, and produced a whole litter of grandchildren to fill up the family album.

No wonder Sam mourned his mother so much.

Sheíd been the one who had encouraged him to follow his dreams.

Lucky kid. He fought down a sudden desire to lean forward and air-kiss the soft skin at the base of Samís neck; a gesture of intimacy with which Rebecca had used to tease him when he worked late nights at home. The effect this man had on him was still extremely disconcerting, and he tried not to consider it overmuch, just in case it scared him away completely. He was used to casual contact with the women in his life; his Jewish princess had not divorced him with complaints about that, rather because sheíd found a more pliant soul who was prepared to give her the time and devotion heíd never been able to. Always with the dreams, Alonzo. Never with me. I need a man with his feet on the ground. So sheíd gone, and heíd chased his dreams right up to the day they had crashed and burned in the desert and he had had nowhere left to run.

Until Sam Beckett signed him aboard as navigator on his flight of fancy, six months ago.

It was turning out to be one hell of a ride ...

I knew the islands were beautiful, Sam thought as the scenery rolled by with majestic insistence, but I never knew it would be like this ...

He leaned back into the curve of the upholstery and relaxed there with contented pleasure. He couldnít ask for anything better than this; the magic of the islands, three weeks of his own time, and the company of his two favourite people in the whole world.

I should have done this a long time ago.

Except that for the past ten years or so he had been so busy building himself an ivory tower that heíd never paid much attention to the world outside; it had been safe, and quiet, and very lonely up there. Heíd been in decided danger of disappearing as a person altogether, the world impinging only on his intellect, reduced to elementary particles and measured in clinical statistics. Until - until ... He smiled quietly to himself as Kate made some remark and Al leaned forward between them to answer it. There was a pleasure just in the manís closeness, in his warmth and his scent, so vital, and so alive ... In the past six months he had found himself cheering at baseball games, analysing tactics on the football field, dragged out with a bunch of colleagues to eat and dance at late-night club spots, sat in the driverís seat of experimental sports cars, and doing a myriad other things that had previously slipped, one by one, from his repertoire. Al had stacked them back with a vengeance; some more enjoyable than others, but all experiences, and none of them clinical or academic. Heíd had his revenge, of course he had - evenings at the opera, visits to the theatre, trips to museums; his Tomcat had endured - and enjoyed - things heíd probably been avoiding most of his life. But the best things were the ones they both agreed on; like the time Al had dragged him to New York with tickets for a new opening on Broadway and theyíd driven back through the night belting out the score of half a dozen different musicals ... or the day theyíd spent in Washington between committee presentations, when theyíd found themselves in the Air and Space Museum ... Of course, on that occasion theyíd slowly gathered an open-mouthed crowd because theyíd paused to discuss some trivia or other in front of the shuttle exhibit and someone had spotted that the man in some of the photos was also the man in the flesh ...

My friend, the astronaut ... Ex-astronaut of course, just as he was ex-Navy, and for the same reasons, but still enough of a minor celebrity in his own right to distract the public from the presence of Ďthe next Einsteiní, an approbation that still made Sam wince whenever it was raised. He didnít want to be the next anybody, just himself, which was one of the many reasons that he enjoyed the manís company. Al never treated him the way many others did - with discomforted awe and a sense of isolation - in fact he often went out of his way to ensure Sam felt involved. Nor was he afraid to say just when Samís agile mind dragged him beyond his depth - which wasnít as often as some might think. Al Calavicci was no slouch in the brains department - as he might well put it - and his ability to provide a sideways viewpoint to a problem had proved invaluable on more than one occasion.

I hope he and Kate like each other ...

"Here we are," Kate announced with triumph, turning off the road and into a wide driveway. "Home sweet home. Whaddya think?"

Her house was a low-slung bungalow, sprawled on the top of a shallow hill. A modern, no-frills sort of a building, with a narrow veranda along its frontage and a low wooden roof. A double-doored garage stood to one side, and a board fence backed by a high hedge swept around the rest of the property, providing a measure of privacy from the street. Similar buildings were spotted around the area, shaded by a variety of trees. It was a quiet and pleasant suburb, with nothing particular to distinguish it - unless it was the spectacular backdrop of the islandís interior, rising into misted distance beyond.

"Beats the barracks in Pearl," Al remarked with a grin and Kate echoed it, clearly knowing what he might be referring to.

"I moved out when I got my promotion," she explained, sliding from the car as she did so. Sam got out and breathed in the scented air; warmth and sun-stirred greenery, mellow and relaxing. "It was still within easy reach of the hospital and the Navy agreed to pay part of my rent, so I staked my claim and put down a few roots. The neighbours arenít too bad - a lot of them work at the base, one way or the other, and most of those that donít have connections. So youíre still in Navy territory, mister," she added, throwing the remark over her shoulder as she started toward the house. Alís grin widened; he turned to share it with Sam, who let momentary anxiety relax away with relief. Heíd not been entirely sure how well his friend would cope with being reminded of a world he had deliberately put behind him, but he seemed to be taking it in his stride. Strictly speaking, of course, Al might still be considered Navy personnel - heíd been mustered out after his resignation with a courtesy promotion to his current rank and officially attached to the Naval reserve; what the Commodore referred to as the Ďmanoeuvring of bureaucratic leechesí, which was to say that heíd not made the clean break he had hoped for and had been firmly hooked by men who knew his worth and had been loath to let his experience go completely.

A compromise for which, Sam now believed, the man had reason to be grateful. It had brought him to StarBright - brought him to Sam - and left him with the right to a certain amount of dignity and authority which he more than deserved. He was supposed to be a civilian consultant employed by the government, but the service personnel at the project still jumped when he wanted them to. You can take a man out of the Navy, the scientist thought with an inner smile, but you canít take the Navy out of the man.

They staggered in with their cases, Kate pointing out the salient features of the house as they did so. A wide passage led between the reception area and a large living room. Her bedroom lay on one side, next to her study; on the other she opened doors into adjoining rooms. "Guest quarters," she grinned, ushering Al into the second - which really was a guestroom - and pushing her brother into the first, which looked more like a library than anything else. She didnít apologise for landing him with the lesser accommodation, nor did he expect her to. Heíd be comfortable enough on the pull-out sofa for a week, and at least he wasnít going to have to sleep in the living room - which was what heíd half been expecting.

Except -

Oh, boy. Alís going to be right next door ... So near and yet so far. Itís only for a week. Only a week ... Suddenly it felt like forever.

"Bathroomís down the hall," Kate was announcing brightly to the both of them, "kitchen on the far side of the house. I thought Iíd throw a barbecue together this evening - nothing fancy, just a few steaks we can eat round the pool ..."

"Pool?" Sam stuck his head back into the passageway and stared at his sister in surprise. "You never told me you had a pool."

She laughed. "You never asked. Look - you two make yourselves at home. Iíve just come off a seven-hour shift and Iím bushed. Iím going to get changed, get myself a drink, and just crash for the evening. Tomorrow - " She paused to smile warmly at her sibling, "we are gonna hit town ..."

The pool was a short curve of sun-warmed water, partially shaded by the overhang of the lush mango trees that dominated Kateís domain. Between it and the house lay a paved patio, and beyond it a piece of close-cut lawn edged with an attempt at floral borders. Kate was no gardener, as she freely admitted; she had someone come in to water her lawn and clean the pool and that was about as agricultural as she intended to get. Her early days of working on the farm were long behind her, and her livestock consisted of two lazy cats and the occasional visit from a wild bird or two.

For Sam the water had proved an irresistible temptation. Heíd dug his trunks out of the bottom of his case and dived in for a long, lazy swim, easing muscles cramped after long confinement in the aeroplane seat. The late afternoon was just right; mellow warmth and not too much humidity. He ducked and spun and struck out with delight, revelling in the water.

Al had shaken his head with amusement at his friendís enthusiasm for exercise and had appropriated a sun lounger on the patio, where he sat, perfectly content to watch someone else expend their energy. Heíd changed into sand-coloured slacks and topped them with a long-sleeved shirt in an ethnic African print. A pair of Raybans and a broad-brimmed white hat completed the ensemble, so that he felt sufficiently casual without losing all his formality. He was still a guest and wanted to test the water before deciding on how far he was going to be accepted. Kate certainly had no objections to the look when she brought out iced lemon tea; she made some complimentary remark or other, which Al returned in kind. Since she was wearing little more than a tiger-striped bikini and a casual white silk throw this didnít really take much effort.

Sam struck out for the poolís edge when she appeared, lifting himself clean out of the water without bothering with the steps. Al was suddenly glad for the concealment of his sunglasses; the kid looked good and the water glistened across his skin so that each curve of muscle was highlighted to perfection.

He doesnít even know how sensuous that looks. How does he do this to me? His sisterís sitting right next to me with curves in all the right places and legs that go all the way, and heís standing there in a tight pair of trunks that wonít allow anyone to suspect that heís anything but a man ... And Iíve got the hots for both of them. At least - Kate is sending all the red alert messages, and Sam is just - being Sam. I want her, but he ... Oh, god, her mouth and his hands, and I think Iím gonna need a cold shower ...

"Youíre looking good, little brother," Kate called across with laughter in her voice. "Ever thought about giving an interview to Playgirl? You know - famous scientist reveals the secrets of the universe ..."

Sam blushed, and Al choked on the mouthful of iced tea heíd sought to settle his equilibrium.

"Kate ..." Sam protested, advancing on her with wet hands and menace. "You know I donít approve of that sort of thing."

She jumped away as he reached for her, droplets of water scattering from his arms. He pursued and they spent a reckless minute playing tag across the patio, just as they had once done back on the farm. Al watched this interaction with disconcerted longing, quashing the resultant stir of arousal with difficulty and adopting an indulgent grin in self-defence. When Sam finally caught her, he assumed a mock frown.

"Some people," he observed wryly, "just never grow up, do they?"

Kate laughed out loud.

"Sam never did, thatís for certain," she agreed. "Come on, genius. For that you can help me unpack the steaks and stuff. Commodore? Would you mind getting the barbecue started?"

"Sure," Al said, glancing toward the grill by the side of the house. Give me a chance to get my mind back in gear ...

"Great. Charcoalís in the garage, and you - " She pushed Sam with affectionate impatience, "can come with me ..."

Once in the kitchen Kate threw a towel at him, and Sam dried himself off while she began to rummage in the fridge.

"You said you were bringing a friend," she declared thoughtfully. "And you told me who he was, and what sort of work you did together, and how long youíd known him ..."

"Yeah," Sam acknowledged, taking the bowl of potato salad she thrust toward him. "So?"

She looked up from the depths of the icebox and frowned at him with affection.

"You didnít tell me he was gorgeous," she accused, as if this should have been the first item on the list. Samís heart thudded to a halt. Surely she didnít know ...?

"Okay," she went on, hauling packets of steak off a shelf, "heís not exactly Harrison Ford, but - Sam, he is the most charismatic man Iíve met in ages. And thatís saying something, you know? I get all sorts through the hospital - from wet-behind-the-ears Ensigns up to Admirals - and the Commodore is something else."

I know, Kate. I know. But I hadnít expected you to notice ... Oh, boy. How am I supposed to react to that?

"Kate," he responded tentatively, "Iím not sure you should - "

"Sam," she interrupted impatiently. "Donít start on those Indiana principles. Iím a grown woman, and thereís nothing wrong with me finding a man attractive." She glanced out of the window as she said it, perhaps hoping to catch a glimpse of the man in question. "Particularly a man like that."

Nothing wrong, Sis - except that heís mine. Well, I want him to be.

"You donít know what heís like." He settled for brotherly protectiveness, since it seemed appropriate. "Look, Sis - Alís a great guy, and heís my friend, but - heís been married four times, and back at the project he has a - a reputation."

"He does?" She looked up from the cupboard she was halfway into, and her eyes twinkled with mischief.

This is not working, Sam ...

"Yeah. They warn all the new stenographers about him ... Kate, heís dangerous, okay? Pure tomcat. I wouldnít want you to get hurt."

"Samwise Beckett," she announced, taking the salad bowl from his hands and replacing it with a pile of plates, "you are beginning to sound just like Dad. I donít want to marry the guy, for godís sake."

I would. I do. Donít do this to me, Sis, please ...

"The girls back on the base are going to go green, you know? We had this points system we ran a while back - two for a Lieutenant Commander, three for a Commander, four for a full Captain ..." She paused to get her facts straight. "Then we added extras. One point if they commanded a ship, two if it was a carrier, three for a submarine ... A pilot added an automatic two, no matter what rank he was, and then anyone particularly notable was voted a bonus on top of that." She grinned, totally ignoring her brotherís somewhat disconcerted expression. "I wonder how many points a full-fledged Commodore whoís commanded a space shuttle would get me ...?"

"Kate!" Samís indignation was flustered outrage, and none of it assumed. Heíd never dreamed heíd hear his sister talk like that.

"Oh, grow up, Sam," she huffed, smiling a little at his expression. "Learn to live, why donít you? You never get any fun by planning for tomorrow; tomorrow may never come. I found that out in íNam. I bet he understands that," she added, glancing out the window a second time.

Sam took a careful breath, still feeling somewhat shocked. "Kate - Sis. Letís just have a good time this week, okay? Weíre on vacation. Donít make it complicated."

She chuckled, leaning across to plant a sisterly kiss on his cheek.

"Sam, I promise you will have the best time ever, this week. We will do all the sights, go to the beach, hit a luau or two ... Youíre gonna have a great time - so long as you stop playing mother hen and enjoy yourself. And I get to be escorted by two gorgeous guys, which has got to be a bonus, right?"

He nodded reluctantly and she laughed, turning back to add more items to the tray she was assembling. Sam watched her with remnants of anxiety. Maybe he was overreacting a little. This wasnít like the time when - desperate to escape what sheíd seen as the stifling expectations of their small-town community - sheíd eloped with that sweet-talking bastard Chuck. So desperate that sheíd been prepared to keep quiet about the way heíd drink hard, get mad, and take it out on her. Sweet seventeen and learning life the hard way ... Chuck had finally got so drunk heíd half-killed her, and theyíd locked him up for it. Kate had come home, got a tight-lipped divorce, and nobody in the Beckett household had ever mentioned the matter again.

But he remembered; remembered his beloved sister coming home that day with her face a mass of bruises, her ribs broken and her eyes empty of light, like the windows of an abandoned house.

She had wanted to fly so far, so fast ...

Sheíd had to wait a little longer for her real escape; sheíd trained as a nurse, volunteered for the Navy, and finally found her place in life a long way from Indiana. Her early experience had hardened her; her time in íNam had wrought a change in her soul. Her tough-talking tomboy image had been used to conceal an insecure core, however much her brothers had admired her for it; but she had come back from the war with a confidence and a certainty which could not be refuted.

A confidence he was now seeing in action with a vengeance.

Kate Beckett, manhunter ... Mom would turn in her grave. From laughter, Kate, I swear. We raise íem tough in Indiana, sheíd say. Better to be the predator than the prey ...

But, hey, Mom; sheís talking about stalking my Tomcat here - and heís no stranger to the hunt himself ...

Kate had always bounced her girltalk off him, back when they were growing up: giggle-filled conversations about this boy or that, most of which was wild speculation. Of course, back then, Sam had not been aware of why he was always able to be sympathetic about such matters. He guessed they had always had similar tastes, and since he had fallen hook, line and sinker for the man in question, it wasnít so surprising that Kate might find him attractive.

Then again, she might just be winding him up ...

They ate steak, and they talked long into the night. Kate had produced a bottle of wine, most of which she drank. Samwise wasnít a great lover of wine, and Al - well, he just didnít these days. Not that Kate seemed to notice, or wasnít offended if she did. They pawed through tourist brochures, discussed the local pidgin, made plans, and laughed a lot. Sam relaxed considerably, discovering that a certain level of his anxiety had been focused on the possibility that his sister might not like Alonzo, and that was certainly not the case. Then there was a definite pleasure in sitting on the patio, feet up, stomach full, in good company. He liked to listen to Alís voice, and heíd always adored his sister. He let the combination wash over him and decided that - for once in his life - everything was all right in his world ...

It stayed that way for nearly the whole week.

They did hit town, and they did it with a vengeance. Waikiki beach, Diamond Head crater, Hanumauna Bay ... the list seemed endless, and they rushed from one spot to another with wild enthusiasm. Al taught Sam to eat oysters - which Kate obstinately refused to do - and then Sam insisted he had to learn to hula, so they spent an entire afternoon doing just that. It was fun, it was exhausting, and it was the best time Samwise had spent in his entire life. The only imperfection in the situation was the frustrating closeness which still had to be distance. The days were not a problem. He was having such a good time that he could be content with the teasing contact of friendship, could savour the moments when propriety allowed him to lean on the manís shoulder or to watch him without drawing attention to the fact. But the nights - the nights were hard.

He would lie awake, conscious that his sister slept in innocence on one side of him, while the man he wanted slumbered on the other. So near and yet so far ... Not that Sam would have dreamed of pursuing the advantage of that closeness, aware of the fragile nature of his friendís commitment to what they might share. Instead he wrapped himself in memory, perfect recall allowing him to pick each diamond moment from the day and study it with pleasure. And from the day just past, it was easy to slide into other moments, older memories, just as precious, that stirred desire into quiet flame.

Tentative touches that flared into hasty passions, heat and fire and mutual need ... Snatched moments, requested with hesitation, perhaps regretted, but never by him. And the oldest memory, treasured and preserved, of one perfect night ...

God, let it be like that for us again.

It hadnít been, not quite; not yet. There was still an awkwardness between them, and the very sparseness of their encounters gave them a desperate passion that overwhelmed other considerations. Sam longed to just hold the man, as he had held him through those tortured nights of fever and distress; he wanted to be gentle and tender and loving ...

They needed time.

Soon, Sam promised himself, thinking of moonlit nights under the stars when they would be all alone and able to work this out. Soon I will teach him what it is to be savoured ...

And in the meantime he kept himself content with memory, drowning himself in it, stilling need with his own hands while dreaming of what lay just beyond his reach ...

The days slipped by. There were late nights shared on torchlit beaches while grass-skirted maidens did the hula and the food flowed fast and free; there were afternoons spent in sudden rainstorms, high on mountainsides, and mornings visiting every possible tourist trap ...

They spent one afternoon touring Pearl, a sobering experience which Kate insisted they had to do. Sam felt awkward visiting the Arizona monument with the two of them, both veterans of a war that had offered little honour to those who had come home from it. It wasnít quite as bad as the day in Washington when heíd visited the Wall in Alís company, but the sense of it was there, of memories he would never share, never fully comprehend. There were tourists that chatted and laughed ahead of them and Sam wanted to reach out and shake their irreverence away. It didnít feel right, to be in such a place, and ignore what it represented. Al looked down into the water and made some remark about waste, which seemed to sum everything up in one telling word. Kate sighed and then they moved away, respect offered, duty met, and if Al was the one to lay a comforting arm around her shoulders it was only right and proper that he should do so. Sam just wished he could wrap both of them in his arms and keep them safe forever ...

Wednesday came and went, and Thursday, and then Friday dawned and nothing was ever quite the same again ...

Al paid off the cab driver with a generous tip and strolled up the drive toward the bungalow. Kateís car was parked in front of the garage, gleaming in the afternoon sun. He smiled as he walked past it; it meant that he wouldnít have to wait to give Sam the news. Heíd found the sweetest boat he could imagine, and well within their price range. The owner had been more than happy to hire out to a an ex-Navy man with his credentials, and she was moored down by Fishermanís Wharf in Honolulu, being stocked for the next two weeks with every luxury he could think of.

Maui here we come ...

The house was quiet, but there was a soft drift of music coming from outside.

They must be out by the pool, he realised, stepping into the guestroom to shuck his hat. He paused to check the mirror, running a hand through the close cut of his curls, then reached to flip open the top button of his shirt once heíd done so. Just hang loose, he told himself with a grin. A few days in Hawaii had served to remind him just how uptight heíd been acting in recent years, and heíd taken the lesson to heart. Nobody in the Islands wore a tie for anything but serious business - and the Charter Captain had given him a wary look just because heíd arrived in a shirt with long sleeves, rather than the more usual short-sleeved aloha style that went with the climate. Al had his reasons for that, and they were reasons that he had no intention of explaining. Anyway, it was a pretty good shirt - one of the more striking of the collection heíd acquired a couple of days ago. Dark blue, with that wave printed on it in dramatic style; the unmistakable Japanese print had caught his eye among the more common selection of palm trees, surfers and floral explosions on offer.

Of course, heíd bought a few of those too.

He replaced his Raybans, admired the effect, and strolled out to join his company, feeling on top of the world.

Kate was sitting by the pool, a broad-brimmed hat shading her face, her body draped in a printed silk pareo. Al paused in the open French doors to admire the view; she was layering sunlotion on a length of exposed leg. Lots of leg, a slide of smooth skin and shapely calf caressed by long and delicate fingers.

Doctorís fingers. Sure and skilled - like her brotherís ...

"Hi," she greeted him, looking up from the task to flash him a smile. "Successful day?"

"Uh-huh." He moved across to join her, laying claim to the nearest sunbed and looking round in some confusion as he did so. "What have you done with Sam?"

She laughed, carefully replacing the cap on the bottle before putting it to one side. "Left him in the Bishop Museum," she said. "You know how he likes that sort of thing. Bores me to tears. He said heíd get the bus or a taxi back. Heíll be hours," she added, her tone indicating amusement at her brotherís tendency to get absorbed. "Want a drink?"

"Sure." He smiled to himself, thinking about Sam Beckett hungrily acquiring yet another obscure set of facts that could be studied, cross-referenced, and probably brought to mind at the most surprising of times. The smile widened a little as he watched Kate climb to her feet. She did that with decided style.

Does she know what that kind of move can do to a man ...?

She knew. She threw him a teasing glance as she moved to fill a glass from the jug of iced juice she had set by in the shade. She filled two, then brought them both back and handed him one. Their fingers brushed against each other as she made the exchange, and a little red warning light began to blink for attention at the back of Alís mind.

He took a deep swallow of the juice to cover his disconcerted reaction. It was tart, and cold, and very welcome.

"It looked like you needed that," she observed, sipping out of her own glass and eyeing him over its rim.

"I did," he found himself agreeing. She laughed and perched herself on the sunbed beside him, staring at him with speculation.

"Al - " she asked coquettishly, twisting the tumbler between her hands, "do you find me attractive?"

Condensation dripped from the glass, sliding down the line of her throat and into her cleavage. Slow, glistening drops that drew his eyes with fascination. The warning light was blinking much faster now ...

"You make one hell of a woman, Doctor Beckett." He meant it; she was no Vegas chorus girl, but then, that was probably to her advantage ...

She coloured a little, but her look remained bold.

What the hell is she up to?

He didnít really need to ask the question. Sheíd been flirting with him all week, and heíd not exactly discouraged her. He hadnít wanted to discourage her. It amused him to find that Samís sister found him every bit as interesting as Sam did - and it hadnít hurt his male ego one little bit. In fact, if Sam hadnít been - well, Sam - and her brother as well, he might have been doing a lot more than just flirting with her ...

Of course, with Kate in the picture he hadnít exactly had an opportunity to do anything else this week. To be in such close proximity to two such attractive people had not been an entirely comfortable experience for him. It was all right for Sam, who seemed perfectly capable of switching off all the inappropriate responses; Al even wondered occasionally if the kid ever had any in the first place. He knew Sam didnít want to pressurise him into anything he didnít want to do, but - damn it - it still wasnít easy for him to understand all the messages he was sending himself. There were times he wanted the man while a startled part of himself balked totally at the very idea of it. And to have to ask for what his upbringing labelled an unnatural intimacy was never easy, the more so without any kind of direct encouragement ...

Like the kind of encouragement that lay in Kate Beckettís eyes right now ...

"Sam warned me about you, you know?" She leaned down to place her glass on the ground, the movement awarding him a glimpse of curved flesh beneath the drape of fabric.

Sheís not wearing anything else under there ...

"Oh?" God, that was lame, Calavicci. He knew how to handle a woman better than that.

The question was - just how did he want to handle this one ...?

"Mím-hím. ĎHeís all tomcat,í he said. ĎNot to be trusted. Dangerous.í" She laughed, leaning a little closer. "Imagine. You. Dangerous."

The thought excited her. He didnít know how to react. Was that brotherly concern, Sam, or jealousy? "Sam - usually knows what heís talking about."

She shifted subtly, easing toward him; he could almost taste her scent, a mingle of musk and oil ... "I know," she purred, including him in the conspiracy of her smile. "My little brother worries about me. But Iím a grown woman. I can take care of myself."

"Iím sure you can." God, this isnít fair ...

Her smile became speculative.

"Of course," she said softly, "sometimes itís more fun to let someone else do it ... Take care of me, I mean."

Her hand came to rest gently - teasingly - just above his knee. Warning lights came on all over the board ...

Then she laughed and stood up, flouncing away toward the house. The look she threw over her shoulder held nothing but amused invitation.

Sheís Samís sister, Bingo. Donít even think what youíre thinking ...

He found himself on his feet and in pursuit without thinking. Automatic reflexes, inbuilt responses; Sam was right. He was pure tomcat and right now he wanted to howl ...

He caught up with her in the shade of the house, somewhere in the passage between sitting room and master bedroom. Caught up and caught her, turning her shoulders, turning her toward him. Her eyes were laughing, her lips were pure temptation; sense and sensibility went right out the window. He stepped forward, capturing her between his warmth and the wall, holding her there, a perfectly willing captive. Their eyes met - and then their lips did, a searing kiss of desire driven by need alone. His hand slid under the drape of fabric, caressing the smoothness of skin, fingers curving to enfold the softness of breast that lay like hidden treasure for him to find ...

She pulled him closer, her own hand fumbling through buttons in search of flesh beneath.

"You wanna know something?" she murmured, as he mouthed at cheek and chin, tasting her, wanting her ...

"What?" The question was distracted, wrapped with subtle laughter as her fingers added to his fire.

"I was beginning to think I might be losing my touch."

Her softness was sensuous beneath his hands, heat to his desire ...

"Donít be crazy," he growled, drumming fingertips up her ribs, evoking a pleasured squirm and a ripple of giggles. "You could have anyone you wanted."

"You know what I want?" she asked, each word punctuated by the impact of a kiss. "I want to spacewalk with a real live astronaut ..."

Oh, yessss ...

"Yeah?" he managed, lifting her away from the wall, preparing to waltz her down to the waiting bedroom. "Well, youíd better stick with me, sweetheart, because I never hurry on re-entry ..."

She laughed, her head dipping to his throat, her knee sliding up the line of his leg, against his hip ...

And somewhere in the hallway a figure stood watching them, his eyes wide with startled horror, his body tense with rage.

Oh, god - Sammm ...

He was gone before Al could react, a savage turn away, an angry retreat. Kate turned her head at the slam of the door, dismissed it and turned back, her need and passion dragging him past rationality.

He doesnít own me. Nobody owns me.

And right now, he shouldnít exactly care.

But when he took her, when countdown hit zero and they finally reached orbital velocity -

It wasnít Kate Beckett that he was thinking of at all ...

Damn them. Damn them both!

Samwise slammed out of the house and strode away down the road without a backward look. His fury and his frustration were both at boiling point and he gave little thought to where he was headed, just wanting to get out, to get away ... When a bus came he got on it and sat in rigid concentration at the back, trying to focus his mind on irrelevant matters. He didnít want to think about it. To think about it was to recall the moment of comprehension, the heart-twisting instant of understanding ...

My sister. My Tomcat.

Together.

Oh, god, Iíve been such a fool ...

It wasnít a rational reaction. It wasnít even jealousy that spurred it. Who would he be jealous of? Kate, for wanting what he wanted? Al? Hardly. He wanted to hate the manís guts, for seducing his sister, for taking advantage of the situation - except he could never hate him, never ...

The anger still boiled. Maybe it was anger at himself. For not seeing it coming. And maybe it was just sheer emotional overload, where conflicting loyalties had torn him totally apart.

I knew this vacation was going to be a mistake.

I should never have listened to him.

Why did I listen to him?

I should never have let him persuade me to come here. Maybe Iím not what he wants, but I never thought that my sister might be the one to take him away from me.

Kate, how could you? Heís practically a stranger. Just a Tomcat you know nothing about.

My Tomcat.

Damn you, Al ...

His fury warred with outrage; with a sense of betrayal, and not a little wounded pride.

Iíll show them. I donít need either of them.

He hopped another couple of buses, walked a few blocks, and found himself, with predictable inevitability, in a seedier part of Honolulu, where neon competed with the sunset. The hookers on the sidewalk eyed his passing with admiring hunger; their appreciation helped him relax and loosen up a little.

"Hey, good-looking," one called as he paused indecisively on a corner, "want a good time with me?"

He turned to look. She was a bleached blonde in a tight leather skirt, slit almost to her hip. High heels lifted her into a tentative tower, and her blouse was cut with interest in mind. Al would have appreciated her. She just left Sam cold. "Youíre not my type," he apologised. Her lips twisted in contempt.

"You fussy, or just mahu?" she demanded, thrusting out her well-built chest. Sam had to think for a minute. Ma - what? Oh, yeah. Mahu. Gay. He grinned, an expression backed by bitterness.

"Just mahu," he said, emboldened enough by his anger to admit the fact. Her face fell.

"Pity," she decided. "You want Kuhio Avenue, mister. Try Hamburger Maryís, or the Beachcomber. Tell íem Sadie sent you ..."

He walked away, conscious of her eyes, and those of others following him. Yeah, he was a good-looking guy. And he looked good, didnít he? He halted in front of a shop window to study his reflection. Heíd been halfway through changing when heíd heard the voices, and had subsequently stormed out of the house without giving his appearance a second thought. He was still wearing tight jeans in dark denim, but above them sat the sleeveless black teeshirt he usually reserved for exercise; in combination they emphasised the rangy build that his daily workout had given him. Gold watch on one wrist, no other jewellery; his hair tumbled loosely in its practical cut. Yeah. Pretty as a picture, mean as hell. There was a tightness about his eyes, a wildness in them. Cut loose, Sam. You can have anyone you want tonight ...

Time to go cruising. He hadnít done that in a long time ...

Three bars, half a dozen drinks. Heíd loosened up with a vengeance by the time he stalked into the fourth. A discreet place, small and intimate. Man to man couples occupied the quiet corners; a selected clientele draped the rest of it. The atmosphere was smoky. Sultry. He threaded his way to the bar and smiled predatorially at the young man who made a space for him there. The manís companion threw him a hunted look and drew his partner away. Sam wanted to laugh. God, he thought, do I look that dangerous?

Probably not. Just dangerously attractive in that innocent, fresh-faced way that Chelsea had loved so much ...

"Beer," he ordered as the bartender looked in his direction. It brought him an open bottle, and he turned to lean on the bar while he drank it. It was getting late. Most of the crowd were together in some way or another. He looked anyway. A few of them looked back. He took a slow swallow of the cold beer and waited. Sure enough, someone peeled away from the general gathering and headed toward him. Shark on the prowl. Not a bad shark, either. A native, by the looks of him, bronze skin and a tumble of dark hair. Mid-thirties, his age tending to add muscle and weight, but not unattractively. Black leather jacket over a torn teeshirt and black leather jeans. Oh, yeah. I can live with that.

A uninvited memory popped into his head. Al, wearing a jacket that was an outrage of scarlet and purple leather, smiling at him in that way he had ... the electricity of his touch, the taste and the scent of him ...

... and his kisses wasted on my sisterís skin, her voice begging for those subtle attentions ...

Get the hell out of my head, Calavicci. I donít want to think about you being with her.

I just want you ...

The shark loomed close. Dark eyes - damn it, did they have to be? - smiled at him.

"Hi," the manís voice said. Warm and musical. Warm enough to stir the appropriate reactions.

"Hi," Sam offered in return. The manís head tilted toward the doorway.

"Iím heading out to windward tonight," he remarked, assessing the potential of his catch with a slow look of confidence. "Want to go with me?"

Sam didnít answer immediately. He took another swallow of beer instead, returning the look as he did so. There was a sudden tight knot twisted in his stomach and his heart was beating unnaturally fast. Iím no damned good at this, he thought with inner panic. Why the hell am I here ...?

... smothered laughter, the murmur of familiar voices. The two of them pressed together, her hands sliding inside his shirt ...

"Sure," he agreed, before he could change his mind. "Why not?"

The shark encircled its prey, a leather-clad arm laying claim to Samís waist. A hand came to rest - so lightly - on his hip, and the man led him away, out into the night.

"Lono," the shark said once theyíd reached the street. Sam took a moment to realise what he meant.

"Sam," he volunteered. Lono nodded with approval.

"Good," he smiled. "Youíre malihini, right? New around here," he explained at the blank look this generated.

"Ah - yeah. I mean - ae." Lono laughed.

"Shaka," he chuckled. "Well - Sam - " He stepped back to indicate the gleaming shape of a low-slung bike parked against the kerb. "Letís go for a ride ..."

Oh, boy ...

They hit the highway at speed, the night air whipping past them with exhilarating bite. Samís arms were tight around Lonoís waist, the wind whipping through his hair. The biker carried no helmets and Sam was just that little bit too drunk to protest the omission. The warmth of the tropical night blew away some of the fuzz that the beer had settled behind his eyes, and the cooling impact of the air was a sensuous pleasure against his bare arms.

Lono was laughing, reaching back to caress his passengerís thigh with teasing touches as they sped into the night. Once beyond the bustle of Waikiki there was only the roar of the motor and the crystal ceiling of the stars. The headlamp threw a powerful beam of light ahead of them, and they twisted around the curve of the coast beneath the ponderous shadow of Diamond Head, the soft hammer of surf rising above the roar of the engine.

I could ride like this forever, Sam thought, entranced by the powerful machine and the recklessness of its rider. Nothing but the night and the open road.

I wonder if this is what itís like to fly ...?

Bad thought, Beckett. It carried too many reminders of the reality from which he sought escape. The man whose body was pressed so close to his was not the one he wanted it to be. It was the warmth of a stranger, a wild fancy, nothing more than a one-night stand. A shark, looking for excitement, to whom he meant nothing; nothing at all. This copper-skinned stranger - this malihini - saw only his looks, his athletic frame. His mind, his genius, his self were all excluded from this particular equation.

Jeezus, at least Al asks a girl her name before he picks up on the pass ...

Why didnít all that matter, when Kate did? Heíd never dream of putting a leash on his Tomcat, never wanted to restrict his passions or rein back his style. That was part of what Al was, part of his appeal ...

... but my sister ...?

They turned off the highway onto a short and narrow track. Lono parked the bike on a low bluff overlooking an unlit beach.

"My special place," he murmured. His hands lifted Sam to his feet, explored the curve of his waist, the firmness of his back. "Ae," he breathed. "Nani ..."

The place was special. It held a quiet magic, a whispering promise. Samwise bent his head almost involuntarily. Their lips met; for a brief moment nothing mattered but that tentative contact in the night ...

... and then Lonoís tongue was in his mouth, devouring him, his hands tearing at Samís shirt with impatience. Not with tender pressure, but with drunken urgency. Sam felt himself responding, felt the need surge up in him as the man pulled him down toward the waiting sands. They half-stumbled, half-fell down the shallow bluff, the shark mouthing at his throat, at his skin, pressing against him with insistence.

This isnít what I want at all.

It wasnít pleasure. It wasnít even erotic. Lonoís hands fumbled with the fastening of Samís jeans, dragging his partnerís hand to the opening of his own. "Do it to me, haole," he demanded, kneeling over him in the dark, pinning him down, the swollen evidence of the manís arousal pressing hard into his stomach. Sam gasped at the bruising contact, then again as his own need responded to it.

What am I? Some kind of animal ...?

He pushed the man away with an effort, rolled over into the warmth of the sand.

Oh, god ...

"Hey." Lono grabbed for him, fingers clenching in his crotch, stirring conflicting desires even further. "I donít fuck with no malihini, you hear? It ainít safe. Just give me what I want, okay?"

... you know what I want? I want to spacewalk with a real live astronaut ...

... yeah? Well, youíd better stick with me sweetheart, because I never hurry on re-entry ...

"Fuck yourself," Sam spat, sitting up with determination. Lono leaned back in startled surprise.

"You kidding me?" he asked suspiciously.

Sam took a slow breath. "No," he growled. "You just want a hot mouth to go down on you. You donít want me. You donít even care who I am. Thatís not what I want, mister. Not what I want at all."

There. Heíd said it. And he meant it. It takes two to tango, otherwise thereís no point in the dance. The heat of desire drained right out of him, leaving him shivering on the wind-ruffled beach. Heíd wanted revenge, and that was stupid; what the hell did coming here with a total stranger prove? Except that he wasnít thinking straight.

But heís screwing your sister, Sam.

Yeah. And sheís fooling with my Tomcat.

And I donít own either of them ...

"Take me back to town," he ordered, rearranging his clothing. Lono threw up his hands in disgust.

"I donít get you, haole," he complained.

"No," Sam answered firmly. "You donít. Not like that, anyway."

"Okay." The hands stayed up in defensive spread as the Hawaiian got to his feet. Lono muttered as he turned away, fiddling with the leather of his jeans. "Crazy," he decided, shaking his head as he glanced back at his unwilling company. "Jerk."

Maybe. But at least heíd be able to face himself in the mirror come the morning.

He hoped.

Lonoís back was rigid as they powered into the night. Sam didnít blame him for being pissed about the situation.

Iíve been loved, Lono. You ought to try it some time. Chelsea taught me how. Al taught me why. I canít accept anything less any more. Iím sorry I gave you the wrong idea, but I have to live with myself.

He wondered if he ought to explain that. He wondered if the man would listen.

Probably not.

They moved with speed, the rider wanting to be rid of his passenger as soon as he could. The night air had turned cold, and its impact was bitter. They roared around the rocky coast line and thundered down the open highway, tearing up the night as they headed back toward the beckoning lights of Honolulu.

Open road. Total freedom.

Just the inevitability of time unfolding in one direction. A symphony of event and consequences.

If only there were some way to go back and replay the sour notes ...

What am I going to say, Samwise wondered anxiously. Why did this have to happen?

He never had a chance to formulate an answer. The bike leaned into another curve, leaned that little too far as Lono swerved to avoid an oncoming car. The wheels screamed. The momentum took them.

And Sam was no longer on the bike, but rolling across the tarmac and onto dirt and sand, body and lungs screaming as he was tumbled over and over and over ...

Nooo ...

He twisted and fought for control, but to no avail. There was no time. No time at all. The impetus carried him, slamming him hard into something he could not see.

Base of his spine, small of his back; shoulders hitting hardest and his head whipping back without restraint ...

Oh, god ...

Fire flared right through him. He lay and shook with uncontrollable spasms.

I donít want to die. There are just so many things left for me to do ...

Pain answered him. The sort of pain that no man deserved to bear. It consumed him, overwhelmed him, tore him into scattered pieces.

Somebody help me. Please, god, somebody help me.

He wanted to scream, but nothing obeyed him. He didnít exist, but for the white-hot torment that would not let go.

Please ...

Oh, please ...

Oh, Al ...

It was late. It was very late, and Alonzo Calavicci was watching the moon rise with a knot of anxiety fermenting in his guts. He was leaning against the wall of the house at the edge of the patio, and the curl of smoke that drifted from his cigar painted a slow picture of patience as it weaved its way upward from his hand. Heíd been standing there a long time.

He didnít like to wait. He was a man of action, of instant response and positive reactions. Heíd lived most of his life in the fast lane and it was hard to endure the need to simply stand and wait. Not when youíd lost five years of your life having to do nothing but endure ...

Damn it, Sam. Where are you? You should have been home hours ago.

You could have called.

"Al?" Kateís question was hesitant. She slid out onto the paving, her robe tucked closely around her. The wind had a cold edge to it tonight.

"Uh-huh?"

"Heíll be okay, wonít he?"

Oh, god, I hope so ...

"Samís old enough to take care of himself."

"Yeah, I know, but - heís so damned innocent sometimes. You really think he took off in a huff because we - ?"

"Yup." But Iím not about to tell you why, sweetheart. Sam, Iím sorry, okay? Youíve never asked me to be anything I wasnít, never wanted to impose yourself on me, but I know, kid. I know how you feel about me, know the hell I put you through. I never want to hurt you, and I go and do it all the time ...

Kate turned to lean her weight against the wall beside him, folding her arms with angry impatience.

"My little brother can a real dork," she announced. "You know that? Heís so brilliant, and then he gets these stupid fits ... You know what he did once? He insisted I wasnít going to come back from íNam, and made me promise to keep my head down on one particular day. Not that I could, of course, but he was really broken up about it."

"Youíre here now," Al observed, not really paying much attention to what she was saying.

"Yeah. Mind you - it was a pretty close thing that day. And I had the damnedest feeling that he was there ... We had to abandon a pick-up. Three POWs came that close to going home ... I often wonder what happened to them. It canít have been easy, seeing your hope of freedom snatched away in front of you ..."

Alonzo shivered, but not from cold. "No," he agreed, his voice bleak. It had happened to him, once. And after it - three more years of waiting.

Just waiting.

To finally come home to nothing. To no-one.

Goddamn it, kid! Where are you ...?

"You served out there for a while, didnít you? Sam was always asking me what it was like, but I could never tell him. Not really. I guess you didnít see that much, though. Not from the air ..."

Her laugh was meant to reassure herself, the recollection stirring old memories she didnít want to face. She was looking for sympathy, for comradeship, there in the dark, and he wished he didnít have to offer her the truth, but he wouldnít lie to her. Not now.

"I was shot down," he said, his words emerging colourless, although the memories that spawned them were livid; scarlet and raw like open wounds, even after all these years. "Spent the next five years getting booked into places like the Hanoi Hilton." He smiled without humour, a tight rictus of the lips. "I saw a great deal, Doctor Beckett."

Her hand went to her mouth in wordless reaction. She looked away, her whole body shaking with the knowledge of what those few words implied.

"Oh, god," she breathed, a genuine prayer, not mindless blasphemy. "Al - Iím sorry. I didnít know ..."

He paused to draw in another breath of smoke, a lungful of sensation where the world had gone numb. "Itís okay, sweetheart," he offered, gentle absolution. "It was a long time ago."

Only yesterday ...

She lifted her hand to touch his shoulder, then let it fall away, the gesture incomplete. Sheíd been there. She knew how inadequate anything she might say or do would be. "I guess - " She hesitated, "that would explain the scars, right?"

"Right." Now his smile held some amusement. Just a little. She hadnít been the first to notice the marks he carried, souvenirs of abuse heíd never lose. She probably wouldnít be the last, either ... His right hand rubbed distractedly along the line of his left wrist before it lifted the cigar to his lips again. Those scars were more recent, although the reasons for them were not so far removed from the subject on her mind.

The past has a way of sneaking up on you when you least expect it.

A silence fell between them, much as it had done when, physical need satiated, they had found awkwardness in words.

Finally, she found the courage to speak.

"Al," she said softly, "I know this may seem a little out of sequence, but - when you arrived, you were Samís friend, and ... I guess I wasnít thinking much past the week. In my job I get to meet all sorts of strangers; they pass through my life and never reappear, no matter what they promise. But I want - would like - you to be more than that. More than a stranger, I mean."

He froze, wondering what was coming next. Donít misread the situation, Kate.

Her laugh was forced. "I donít think that came out the way I meant it," she realised, sounding embarrassed. "I meant - even after - despite all that - " She took a deep breath and tried again. "Al Calavicci," she requested, "do you think that you and I - might be friends, rather than just acquaintances? I know how highly my brother thinks of you - "

No, you donít, sweetheart. But I know what you mean.

"- and, as much as we had fun today - "

Yeah. Solace in strangers, Kate? Used to be Iíd find it in a bottle or two. You know that sex can be addictive too? Good job you and I are too alike to make that a regular deal ...

" - Iíd rather keep you as a friend than lose you as a lover."

Is that what Sam is afraid of? Of losing both by pushing too hard on one? Where do all these Becketts get to be so noble-minded? I owe the kid my life, damn it ...

No.

The kid is my life.

I just hope I get the chance to tell him that.

"You donít have an older brother, do you, Kate?" he asked lightly. She frowned, thrown by the apparent irrelevance of the question.

"No, of course not. Just Sam - and Tommy. A pair of babies, both of them. Why?"

He smiled in the darkness.

"I had a younger sister once," he told her. "I never got the chance to spoil her the way I wanted. You think you could stand a little spoiling?"

"I might," she answered warily.

"Good." He leaned across to impart conspiratorial closeness. "Then consider yourself adopted."

She stared at him in surprise; then grinned in delight and hugged him. Hard.

He hugged back.

You are learning new ways to behave, arenít you, Bingo? First you let yourself get seduced by Sam, and then you adopt his sister. Never thought youíd be looking for a hug from a lady like this without implications.

Feels kinda good, too.

Just as well we got everything else out of the way first ...

The phone rang, a piercing insistence in the night. Kate smiled apologetically and went to answer it. He heard her voice, warmly efficient, then suddenly drained. A cold hand clenched around his heart.

She came out, looking white and shaken.

"That was the police," she announced, not wanting to believe her own words. "Itís Sam. Heís had an accident ..."

Panicked voices, a spiralling plane and the sudden silence of death. Two young lives wiped out because of his decision, his actions ...

Please, god, not again.

And anyone - anyone - but Sam ...

Continued in Part Two ...
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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