Disclaimer: I do not own Quantum Leap.
It had been a long week since they had all too briefly reestablished contact with Sam again. By this point, they all knew better than to get their hopes up. Still, after a year of no contact they just hadn't been able to help themselves.
"I wish that the leap had lasted longer," Al said, sighing. "I got to catch up with Sam a little but, really, we didn't have much time to speak. There was only so long he could put off trying to deal with Thor and Loki, after all. Those two were in dire need of an intervention."
"We only had so much time on our side as well," Donna told him. "Odin agreed to give us three days but-"
"Three days? We could have had three days?" Al demanded, groaning. "Maybe he should have been a little less, uh, efficient in his work. And he was complaining that he was no therapist…"
"He did say that, yes," Donna agreed. "But ultimately, we only just managed to talk him down from leaving to go back to Asgard ten years early and staying there."
Al looked shocked. "Did you warn him that he couldn't leap out if he wasn't in the waiting room?"
Sammy Jo nodded. "She did and she even lied about what would happen if Dr. Beckett died and they hadn't switched back, which would eventually happen if Odin wouldn't stay put."
"Still, I don't know if he actually would have been able to wait that long so a quick leap was probably essential in this case," Donna told him.
"It probably would have been difficult if he had stuck around for three days," Al admitted. "I wouldn't have been able to leave him."
"You can't just stay in the imaging chamber for three days," Sammy Jo protested. "Even if you don't care about taking a shower and brought enough food and water in there with you, you'd still need to go to the bathroom and get some sleep."
"I've roughed it before," Al said dismissively. He did have a gift for understatement sometimes. "And you know what happened last time I just left him."
Donna nodded. Al had blamed himself for that for the longest time and she suspected that he still hadn't completely forgiven him despite the fact that he had been freaking out and didn't know what to do and so had wanted to go get some advice. They hadn't expected that once they found him again they'd just lose him so quickly. They couldn't have known.
Donna wasn't quite sure if she'd blamed Al or not for what had happened. She had immediately seen that it wasn't his fault, couldn't have been his fault. He could have stayed the entire time and maybe he would have been able to see more of what was going on but that wouldn't have stopped Sam from leaping again and disappearing. It's not like he could have just told them where he was going or anything; he didn't control that.
She had been feeling a lot of things at the time. Anger, despair, hopelessness, stubbornness…so many warring emotions that she couldn't begin to catalogue all of them. Had blame been one of them? Yes, perhaps it had but only briefly. She knew that Al would rather suffer himself than allow anything to happen to Sam and, if anything, he was taking it harder than she was. She was Sam's wife but Al had been the one to walk away from a ranting and clearly distressed Sam and not be able to find him again.
"Well, I don't," Sammy Jo said after it became clear that nobody was planning on explaining anything. "All I know is that we lost contact with Dr. Beckett, briefly reestablished it on the day that he was born, and then we lost him again."
Donna supposed that it made sense that Al hadn't gone around telling everybody exactly what had happened. It probably wasn't relevant as far as finding Sam went and it was rather demoralizing.
Al cleared his throat. "Right, well…We were working under the assumption that – despite the, what, two trips to times before he was born – that he would still be within his own lifetime. It was taking too long to search through every day of his life and I got a hunch that he would be on his birthday. Gooshie couldn't find him on any of his birthdays until he realized that he hadn't checked his literal date of birth. Well, we were lucky and my hunch paid off so we found him."
Sammy Jo nodded. "So far so good."
"Well, when we did finally locate him and I spoke to him he was…off. I don't know what had happened to him on that leap or if he had just finally had all that he could take of leaping but…It's hard to explain," Al said, shaking his head. "He asked me if he looked all blue and glowed with electrical energy when he leaped and I told him that I had no idea because when he leaped I was usually right there with him and I was sent back to the imaging chamber."
"Oh, he does," Sammy Jo assured him. "Or at least the person in the waiting room does. I have to think that if Dr. Beckett does that then it can't be something that most people can see because if they could then someone somewhere would make a fuss about it and we'd hear conspiracy theories. Not to mention the blue glow when he leaps in…"
Donna looked surprised. "How do you know what people in the waiting room look like when they leap?"
Sammy Jo shrugged. "I've seen it through the door. Not very often but just a handful of times."
"It seems kind of unlikely that you'd just happen to walk past the door when they leap," Al pointed out.
She shrugged again. "I find the whole concept of someone who isn't Dr. Beckett and in their own body but looks just like Dr. Beckett and is forced to wait around for awhile to be fascinating so I kind of walk by there a lot. And it isn't just me, you know. Ask that medical team that had to deal with what's-her-name who was giving birth despite looking decidedly male."
"Well that answers that question then," Al remarked bemusedly. "But that wasn't all. He mentioned that he had seen my dead uncle leap or at least someone who resembled me enough for him to think it was my uncle, had the same kind of arthritis, and the same name. And Sam was not put off at all by the fact that he had been dead before 1953."
"It could happen," Sammy Jo reasoned.
Al rolled his eyes at her. "How, exactly, could it happen? The thirties didn't have anything like Quantum Leap."
"That we know of," Sammy Jo argued.
"In the mid-fifties there was this guy, really eccentric but brilliant and he had a theory about time travel that was very similar to Sam's and may have even been what inspired him…at least in this timeline. It's a long story," Al told them, "but the point is that he had everything right and built his own quantum accelerator in his basement. And he did glow blue if that's what leaping is. He came really close. But ultimately he just didn't have the power and I can't believe they'd have the necessary power in the thirties."
"So what if they didn't?" Sammy Jo asked rhetorically. "If we accept that God or fate or whatever is what keeps leaping Dr. Beckett around and preventing him from being retrieved then why can't one of those forces – the first sounds the most likely – leap someone who didn't get into a quantum leap accelerator? It could happen."
Al remained unconvinced. "It could happen."
"I doubt we're ever going to get any answers on that one," Donna spoke up. "It might have been your uncle, Al, and it might be someone who just coincidentally shared some features and a name with him. I doubt even Sam knows for sure."
"That wasn't all he didn't know," Al murmured. "He claimed that there were people in the bar – there was this bar called 'Al's Place' – and that they all either had the names of people here at the project or looked exactly like people he had met in previous leaps but with different names and who didn't know him. It's impossible."
"Impossible under normal circumstances or at least highly improbable, yes," Donna agreed. "But don't forget what else he said."
Sammy Jo eagerly pounced on that. "What else did he say?"
"There was this bartender, possibly the Al of Al's Place, who I saw through the window laughing and joking with a bunch of the miners, it was a miner town, you see," Al informed her. "He looked pretty ordinary to me, definitely nothing special. Sam thought that he was God or fate or whatever had been leaping him around."
"He thought a bartender was God?" Sammy Jo repeated incredulously.
"I really don't know what to tell you," Al said, spreading his hands out helplessly. "The whole thing…he sounded crazed, he really did. I mentioned my uncle had really bad rheumatoid arthritis and he went into hysterics. He needed help and I…I left him."
"You couldn't have known," Donna said firmly.
"I didn't know and yet it still happened," Al said indifferently. "And there's more. I don't think I ever told you this, Donna, but he had apparently been talking to this mysterious bartender about his leaps or something because the guy told him that he wasn't leaping Sam around but that Sam himself had been."
Donna gasped. "That's impossible!"
"I know," Al agreed. "Of course, assuming that this was just a regular bartender Sam's ramblings probably didn't make much sense to him. He may have even thought that Sam was drunk and told him that he wasn't doing whatever Sam thought he was doing and maybe Sam was doing it. I didn't exactly have a time to get the exact wording down."
"All Sam wants is to come home!" Donna cried out. "Yes, he enjoys helping people and making the world a better place. Yes, if he's managed to make any of our lives better then he'd enjoy that even more."
Al looked a little uncomfortable at that. Was he feeling guilty that Sam very possibly fixed his life in regards to Beth while he was trapped out there and so he had benefited immensely from Sam's ordeal? Probably.
"But you told me how many times he mentioned wanting to go home and have a life and just stop," Donna continued. "And when he came home to me he told me so himself! He might not have been able to remember me while he was leaping and his time leaping might have been blurring together but he said the one thing he never forgot was the desire to finally make it home. And…he promised me that he would be back. No matter what. If he could come back then he would have, a long time ago."
"Not…" Sammy Jo started to say and then trailed off, shaking her head.
"Not what?" Donna demanded.
"It doesn't matter," Sammy Jo said quietly.
"Well I'd like to hear it nonetheless," Donna insisted.
Sammy Jo sighed and looked beseechingly at Al.
"You might as well tell her," he advised. "I don't think she's going to drop it, not when it sounds like you were going to disagree with her."
Sammy Jo winced. "I wasn't exactly going to disagree, really."
"Then what is it?" Donna pressed.
"I was just thinking that if Dr. Beckett was the one who was controlling the leaps then it couldn't have been a conscious thing, right? He and Al must have discussed why it was that he couldn't just go home, right? Especially at the beginning," Sammy Jo said sensibly.
Al nodded. "We talked about it all the time. I never got any indication that Sam believed that he was controlling the leaps."
"And that's because, regardless of what was actually happening, Dr. Beckett never believed that he was the one doing it," Sammy Jo posited. "If he was the one preventing himself from leaping home then it was because deep down his desire to help other people was stronger than his desire to go home."
That rocked Donna for a second. She would never accept that Sam didn't want to come home but if he saw it as a choice to, perhaps selfishly, live his own damn life after so long or continue to save people's lives, what would he choose? She tried to think about it from his perspective. He could go home immediately…or he could spend maybe half a week as someone else and make their life (and perhaps the lives of so many others that the person he helped would help) better forever. How could he justify not doing the one last leap? And then, again, it was just a few days…well, all those just a few days were going to add up eventually, especially if they continued to have time pass hear in 2001 while he was between leaps.
One of the things that she had always loved about Sam was his insistence on doing the right thing, always and without compromise, even when it would really inconvenience or even hurt him to do so. Had that selfless impulse he could never fully ignore been what had been keeping them apart all this time? Would it continue to keep them apart? When would Sam be able to resist making 'just one more' life better? Sacrificing a few days wasn't that much of a price to pay. It was only when it was all added up, when they never did reach the last person, that it began to get problematic.
"Sam never was satisfied to just do what he needed to to leap," Al remarked. "He has to get an aging minor league pitcher back to the big leagues and he helps out the guy's angry friends reach it, too. He needed to make sure that someone got a football scholarship and he set up the guy and his best friend's parents, too. He has to save a small kid from a gruesome death and he brings the family back together. He can never just give a little bit."
"I guess it's not so unlikely after all," Sammy Jo said thoughtfully. "And who knows? Maybe he was only leaping within his own lifetime when we know that he's leapt outside of it on occasion is because that's the limit of what he believed to be possible and so subconsciously he wouldn't allow himself to break that rule. And that would explain why he was able to leap so far into the future no this last one if he now has an awareness of his power to control the leaps."
"But why would he leap to Asgard in 2011?" Al challenged. "He didn't even know that Asgard existed and certainly had no advanced knowledge of the situation when I showed up. He barely knew that they were his sons and named Thor and Loki."
Sammy Jo thought about that for a minute. "If he doesn't really have a target beyond 'somewhere I can help' then perhaps his subconscious keeps taking him to places where he can, even if it's in the future. The fact that he knows that he can control the leaps just means that he's no longer bound to his rather limited lifespan. Of course, there's also the possibility that he's just going to live for at least ten more years and he can travel his entire lifespan, even time that he has yet to live through. We don't have enough data to know for sure."
"Sam didn't remember me before," Donna said slowly. "Say you're right and he can control his leaps and he made the choice to continue leaping. Well, he didn't remember me and he didn't remember Sammy Jo, either."
"Yeah, what about it?" Al asked, confused.
"He remembered you but he knew that you were happy and would be fine without him, even if you missed him terribly," Donna pointed out.
"I am not fine without him," Al said defiantly, albeit untruthfully. He'd been coping just fine this past year despite the guilt and the loss of Sam.
"Well, how was he supposed to make an informed decision if he didn't know what he lost?" Donna asked reasonably. "How much does he know about what he's leaving behind? What does he remember from leap to leap? He remembers leaving you behind and might remember leaving his family that he rarely sees behind but what about anything else? Even if he would have made the exact same decision, he wasn't given the opportunity to."
"And now you think that he knows and might choose to come home," Al realized. He looked sad. "Oh, Donna, I wish it were that simple but you know that he probably won't remember it by the next leap."
"Probably," Donna agreed. "And that's why, it he's ever going to come home, it has to be this leap. If he can remember about me and Sammy Jo and everything and choose to stay out there leaping then what is it going to take to get him to come home?"
Al stilled. "What are you saying, Donna?"
Donna shook her head tiredly. "I don't even know. But he had better come back this time."
"And if he doesn't?" Al asked.
"Then the next time you talk to him you find out if he's really been controlling the leaps and, if he is, if he ever plans on coming home," Donna said, trying very hard to keep her voice steady. "I promised to wait for him and I'll go it, too, but only if he's ever planning on actually returning."
Al sighed heavily. "I'll make sure to talk about it with him. I'll need to remind him about you again and so I hope he doesn't have anybody he needs to romance that leap. But you're right. I wish you weren't but you are. If Sam is refusing to come home then you deserve to know and you deserve somebody who is willing to be in the same year as you. But he's not controlling the leaps. He wouldn't do that to you."
"Not if he remembered me," Donna corrected.
Al just shook his head and slowly walked out.
"Do you…do you think that he would really do that?" Sammy Jo asked uncertainly.
"What, Al?" Donna asked distractedly. "Of course. If he said he'll talk to Sam about it then he'll talk to Sam about it."
Sammy Jo shook her head. "No, I mean about Dr. Beckett being able to return home for…well, at least awhile and choosing not to?"
Donna spread her hands out helplessly. "Honestly, I don't know. We used to joke that he was a saint, you know. And what could be more saint-like then sacrificing everything to spend the rest of your life helping people and making the world a better place non-stop?"
"I…really don't think that's very saint-like at all, actually," Sammy Jo said slowly.
"You don't?" Donna asked, surprised. "How do you figure?"
"You hear about people who were wonderful public figures and helped so many people but when it came to their own family left much to be desired," Sammy Jo explained. "No one's perfect, of course, not even saints but I just think they need to be at a higher standard than that. Is it so 'selfless' to just abandon your family like that all in the service of helping others? I don't think so."
"It's not selfless to stop helping people and come right home again, either," Donna countered.
Sammy Jo shrugged. "So 'selfless' has nothing to do with it. I've always been suspicious of that word anyway. It seems to me that even people who help others because they like helping people are getting something out of it. We don't need to be selfless here. And if Dr. Beckett could really control his leaps and was really planning on staying out there then I think that the least he could do was come back here and get his affairs in order and say his goodbyes before going back out there. The way he left things just wasn't enough. There was no closure for anybody except, I guess, for Dr. Beckett himself. How's that for selfless?"
Donna tried to imagine finding out that Sam had come back only to have him tell her that he needed to walk away again, perhaps insist on divorcing her because he was never going to be a part of her life again. She couldn't. It just hurt too much. Was it worse than never seeing him again and knowing that maybe he had chosen that? She couldn't say.
"Maybe it's too hard for him," Donna suggested softly. "Maybe he knows that if he comes back he'll never be able to leave again."
"He left again once before," Sammy Jo argued.
Donna shook her head. "That was different. Al had literally minutes to live and he's saved Sam's life something like twenty-three times. And he's probably saved it more since then. There was no time to think, only to react. He also knew the consequences very well if he didn't leap back in. This way…well this way he'd just have to walk away from everything he has to go on helping strangers."
"And we don't want that to happen," Sammy Jo pointed out. "What's the problem?"
"The problem is," Donna said, almost not believing that she was even calling it a problem, "that Sam would know full well the kind of temptation to stay he'd face and would probably prefer not to expose himself to that if he's trying to stay away and live a selfless life of helping people."
Sammy Jo nodded sarcastically. " 'Selfless.' I see it now."
"I don't want Sam to stay out there forever, you know I don't," Donna told her earnestly. "It's just that if he does and he spends the rest of forever helping people…I can't hate him for that, Sammy Jo. I can't even judge him."
"It's okay," Sammy Jo assured her. "I can judge him enough for the both of us. For the three of us if Al doesn't think he's up for it, either."
"He won't be," Donna replied. "But like I said, I can't bring myself to believe that he can control it."
"Maybe not today and maybe not tomorrow," Sammy Jo agreed. "Of course not, why would you? But as time continues to pass, even if Al never finds Dr. Beckett again or Dr. Beckett never admits to being able to come home and choosing not to, you'll have to wonder."
"I really wish you wouldn't say these things," Donna said, closing her eyes tightly.
"I'm sorry," Sammy Jo said and she really did look contrite. "It's just…I don't want you to get hurt any more than you have to so I want you to be aware of what might happen."
"I-" Donna started to say when the door burst open.
Verbena beamed at them. "It's Dr. Beckett."
"Sam?" Donna asked, her heart in her throat. "We've found him?"
Verbena's grin widened. "In a way."
"Don't just leave us in suspense," Sammy Jo ordered.
"He's back!" Verbena exclaimed, looking fit to burst. "I'm supposed to tell everyone but I thought I'd start with you two. He's with the Admiral in the waiting room. He wants to see you."
"Back?" Donna repeated dizzily. That word meant something, she knew, something good but she just couldn't…
"He leaped home," Verbena said happily. "After all this time, he's back."
Oh. So that was what it meant.
"I've got to go tell everyone else," Verbena said before rushing away.
Donna couldn't breathe. Sam was back. She'd only gotten the news once before back when he was stuck in the imaging chamber and that news had come via the post office and Gooshie. And now, after they had just been talking about…What if that were why? What if he had remembered about them and decided that the only responsible thing to do was to say goodbye? She didn't know if she could face him.
Sammy Jo was knelling in front of her. "Come on, Donna. We've got to go. I need to meet Dr. Beckett, remember? And you…you're in for the reunion you've always wanted."
"But you said-" Donna began numbly.
Sammy Jo shook her head impatiently. "Forget what I said. Your husband came home."
Later, after they had all gotten their chance to welcome him back and Sam tolerantly endured a party he clearly didn't want to be at, the two of them finally got a moment alone.
They had driven far enough from the base that they couldn't see it anymore and they were unlikely to be bothered by late-night traffic. Then they'd gotten out and sat on the hood of the car, just staring at the stars. She had often started up at the stars like this and wondered where Sam was, when he was. She'd wondered, too, if they were star-crossed lovers. But they couldn't be, could they? Star-crossed lovers didn't get happy endings.
"You're back," Donna said again, still unable to believe it. She knew that when she woke up in the morning she'd be surprised by this turn of events all over again and the next morning, too. She wondered how many mornings it would take before she just woke up expecting her husband to be there. She wondered if she'd get a chance to find out.
Sam chuckled and kissed her neck. "I'm back, Donna."
Donna's breath hitched. "Is it…? I mean…"
Sam pulled back and placed his hand on her knee, looking intently at her. "Is it what?"
"You came back to me once before," Donna reminded him.
Sam nodded. "I remember. And I promised that I would return again and I did."
"Is it for good this time?" Donna asked him, hoping she didn't sound half as insecure as she felt. It didn't even matter if she did or not, though. Sam had always been too damn good at reading her.
"Well, this time no one else is trapped in my place and slowly being murdered by jerks who can't take rejection," Sam said matter-of-factly.
"No, that's true," Donna agreed. "But there are still a lot of people out there that need help."
Sam winced. "I know."
"So…" Donna prompted.
"I've done my part, I think," Sam told her. "I've done more than that. For now, I'm ready to just stay at home and try to see what's left of the life I had six years ago. I'm glad to see that you're still there."
"How could I not be?" Donna asked rhetorically. For all that it had been the hardest thing she had ever had to do, waiting in mostly ignorance for Sam to finally return to her, she knew that as long as there was a chance he'd be back she could never really walk away. "But what do you mean 'for now'?"
Another wince. "Donna, I can't promise you that I'm never going to want to go out there again and help more people. I wish I could but I can't predict the future and I do like helping people."
Donna looked down and Sam reached out a hand and tilted her head back up to look at him.
"But what I can promise you is that I won't just make a unilateral decision without telling you first," he vowed. "If I go again, it's not going to take you by surprise. And I don't think that day is going to come anytime soon."
Donna swallowed hard and nodded. "Okay." It was enough. It had to be enough. And he wasn't just here to say goodbye. She could face down his helping people think later and who knew? She might even win. She certainly wouldn't be alone in her battle not to lose Sam again.
"I still can't believe that you were so accepting of Sammy Jo," Sam said again, shaking his head in amazement. "I always knew you were amazing, Donna, but that's just so much more than I ever thought possible. Accepting her existence is one thing but you two seemed pretty close."
Donna practically glowed as she soaked up the praise. It hadn't been an easy road to get there but now she could say with certainty that it had been absolutely worth it.
"Well, of course I did, Sam," she replied sweetly. "Just what do you take me for, anyway?"