Disclaimer: I do not, never have, and never will own the rights to anything associated with "Quantum Leap," and I do not profit from the publishing of this fan fiction.
Author's notes: Hello, faithful readers. I'm back with another Quantum Leap story, another stand-alone focusing on Al. This just sort of came to me the other night so I went ahead and wrote it down. I'm not sure whether to classify it as sad or introspective or what. But the title is literal, so you can sort of predict where it's going if you've seen the entire series. I hope the ending makes sense the way I intend it to, but I had a hard time making it sound good. If you haven't seen the series and the final episode especially, good luck understanding this.
The date mentioned in the story is based on the original air-date of the final episode, since the various canon dates don't always line up. I decided I was justified in making one up with some tie to reality.
The "T" rating is for mild profanity. I hated to write any, but I had to keep Al in character, so there you go... Enjoy!
"Admiral?" Dr. Beeks said as the uniformed man stalked out of the Imaging Chamber.
He slapped the handlink onto the control table and crossed the dark, sterile room purposefully, ignoring the psychiatrist's query. He had his head down and his jaw set, and his dark eyes were filled with anger.
"Admiral?" Gooshie the computer programmer called to the man who was rapidly heading for the exit.
"Ziggy, open this damn door!" he growled when he halted at the security gateway to the Control Room, only accessible by a handful people at the Project.
"That seems unwise in your current mental state, Admiral," the computer replied.
"Open this door or I'll rip out your fuzzy logic circuits!"
"My aren't we touchy," the computer said, but complied. The door slid open and the two Marine guards outside stood at attention as the two-star Navy officer passed by.
"Admiral, did something happen to Doctor Beckett?" Gooshie asked as he, Dr. Beeks, and the admiral's girlfriend Tina hurried after him.
There was no reply from the man as he turned the corner, and to all of their surprise he went not into the Waiting Room, but hit the 'up' button on the adjacent elevator.
"Oh! I'll go talk to him," Tina said, wringing her hands and running down the hall as fast as her flashing stilettos would carry her.
She caught up to him in a few moments and tried to look at him, but the shadows of the dimly lit hall hid his face. "Babe, what's the matter?"
"Not now, Tina," he said, eyes focused on the closed elevator door.
She took his arm in both her hands. "But honey, you—"
"I said not now!" he turned on her and pushed her arms down.
She gasped, not only from the force used but the fury in his eyes. She wasn't hurt, but he had never been rough with her before, and she had never seen him look like that. Not even during the Kennedy Leap.
Her fear apparent, his eyes softened a bit. "Sorry, sweetheart." The elevator doors slid open and he stepped inside, straightening his uniform as his eyes narrowed once more.
She let him go this time. She knew he was sorry, but she also knew that he wasn't going to open up about what had him in such a rage. He rarely did.
The admiral keyed in the code to exit the Project Floor and the elevator began its ascent. He twisted his cigar in his fingers until he realized it was falling to pieces on the elevator floor. He shook his head a moment to try to calm down, but it didn't help much.
He didn't know what to do, or where to go. No option he thought of presented any hope of help, except getting away. There was no help to be found at the Project at times like this.
He rode the elevator to the top floor of the complex where his office was located, his wristlink and car keys his objective. A drive as far as he could get into the middle of the desert was the distraction he needed. He didn't want to think about anything, see anything, or talk to anyone. He just wanted to shut his brain off and escape.
"Open this door, Ziggy!" he ordered as he reached his office a few minutes later. This time the computer complied without argument, not even a response, and the admiral stalked inside.
He pulled on his white coat, knowing it was late and not knowing how long he would stay out in the middle of nowhere. Probably till he was done being angry, if that were possible. He put on the annoying wristlink even though the last thing he wanted was contact with the Project, and settled his car keys into his pocket. He turned to go, but then his eyes fell on the locked lower drawer of his desk.
That drawer held things he never wanted anyone else to see. One of those things was a bottle of bourbon he hadn't touched in months. A familiar pull in his head told him it might help, or at least distract him. He sat down slowly and put the key in the lock.
He drew it open, the sound of wood against wood filling the silent office, and he looked at the prize inside. The depressant would take away his anger easily. But the reasoning center of his brain was annoyingly active. He still wanted to get away from the Project, and drinking and driving was something he had promised never to do again.
He sighed and was about to close the drawer, when something else private caught his eye. He stared at the item for a few moments, then grabbed it and stuffed it in his coat before locking the drawer again and heading out.
As he walked back down the carpeted corridor toward the elevator, he couldn't help but look out the window at the desert that beckoned him. The view from the top floor of the PQL facility was breathtaking, day or night. From that particular spot he could see beyond the mesas that kept the Project hidden from the eyes of the rest of New Mexico, to the long stretch of road that led toward civilization in one direction, and a former nuclear test site in the other.
He sighed. That cold road to nowhere was calling to him, to take away his feelings as it had so many times in the last five years. But he wasn't even sure the drive could help this time.
He took the elevator down to the garage and strode over to his private section where a number of red Ferraris were parked. His dark eyes studied each of them until he finally chose the Berlinetta. He wanted it for two reasons: one, because he wanted to feel the wind racing by his ears and hitting his face as he drove, and two, because that car had been made especially for him—the only convertible Berlinetta in existence—and he needed to feel special for a while.
The engine roared with a power he loved to feel, that almost surged into his soul and gave him new strength every time he stepped on the gas. He sped away from Stallion's Gate at speeds that would have him locked away without bail if he were caught. Thankfully no police were ever around in the middle of nowhere, and those that were got a military escort back to where they had come from.
He drove until he lost track of time, ignoring everything except staying on the road at the insane speeds he was travelling. The faster he went, the harder he had to focus, and the less he had to think about what had happened on this last Leap. But when he noticed he'd used almost half a tank of gas, he slowed the car to a stop.
Stepping out of the car ironically felt like stepping into a different time, the feeling of moving dangerously fast and then suddenly not moving at all having a strong effect on his body. But years of training and experience kept him steady on his feet as he took a few steps out into the sand and looked up at the stars.
The sky over the New Mexico desert was dazzling with lights and colors stretching from one end of the black velvet sky to the other, the stars too many to count and humbling a man to his small place within the cosmos. He remembered the first time he and Sam had stared at that sky together, when Project Quantum Leap was a mere glimmer in their eyes.
The memory of that long-ago night suddenly brought all of the rage back, and with all the energy his sixty-four year-old smoke-damaged lungs could muster he screamed up at the sky.
"It's not fair!"
Only the crickets answered him, and after several moments of clenching his fists he buried his cold hands in his pockets and continued walking out into the nothingness. He knew he would never forget this Leap for as long as he lived...
"What am I doing here Al?"
Familiar words from a familiar voice. They put him at ease every time the Imaging Chamber focused in on a new time.
"You are...Captain Raymond Livingston, you're in charge of a scouting patrol, and you're based outside of Hanoi."
"Vietnam?" Sam asked, as if the rifle and equipment-laden uniform didn't make it obvious.
"Uh-huh. Ziggy predicts an...eighty-four point two percent probability that you're here to prevent one of your team members, a Sergeant John..." he slapped the eternally unreliable handlink, "Wakefield, from being captured."
It had started as all Leaps do. And he hated to admit it, but he had come to depend on those beginning moments, when he knew Sam still remembered him and the Project. And that someday, perhaps with a little prayer, putting right what once went wrong would bring his friend home.
"How does it happen?"
"Uh, in...just a few hours. You're going to lead a scouting mission and Wakefield gets separated from you and walks into a Cong ambush."
"What happens to him?"
"He ends up a prisoner of war for five years," the admiral replied evenly, his eyes barely betraying how personal the Leap was already becoming.
Al stopped and started digging a hole in the dirt with the toe of his white wingtip. It wasn't fair. His eyes turned to the sky again.
"Why do You keep letting this happen, huh!? How long does he have to keep doing this? How much of himself does he have to lose!?"
Even in the middle of nowhere with no one listening but the stars, he hid behind a mask. But it had started to crumble back in the Imaging Chamber, and it wouldn't stay in place much longer.
"Doctor Beeks, do you think he'll be okay?" Tina asked the psychiatrist, her heels clicking as she paced around the control table.
"The admiral is as steady a man as I've ever met," Verbena replied with professional calm.
"How would you know, he practically never talks to you!" the woman cried.
Verbena stepped to the distraught woman's side, and put a hand on her shoulder. "He'll be back, and he'll be fine. I'm sure of it."
"How do you know?" Tina asked again, this time searching for hope.
"Because he won't let Doctor Beckett down."
"Ah, Ziggy, where is Admiral Calavicci?" Gooshie the whiz programmer asked on impulse. He had spent the time keeping track of Sam, hoping that nothing would go wrong that couldn't be righted in the absence of the Project Observer.
"Admiral Calavicci is forty-seven miles Northeast of Stallion's Gate," the computer replied.
"What's he doing way out there?" Tina cried again.
"Probably taking out his anger on the lizards," Verbena replied, rubbing the girl's shoulder soothingly.
"But why's he acting like this? I've never seen him so upset before!"
The psychiatrist's eyes lowered in sympathy, then rose again with the light of an idea.
"Gooshie?" she said, turning to the programmer.
"Yes, Doctor Beeks?"
"Do you think Ziggy would know what's wrong?"
Tucking his coat beneath him Al sat down in the sand and clenched his fists, shouting toward the sky once more. "It's not fair, damn it. It's not fair! Just bring him home already. Please. No one else understands! Not even Donna. No one can understand except me. Just make it stop already... I'm begging You, and You know how I feel about even talking to You. Just bring him home. It isn't fair!"
His buried his face in his hands as the recent memories came unbidden. And he knew that these prayers, like the rest, would evaporate into the dry desert air.
"Hurry, Sam! If you can't find Wakefield, he's going to be trapped in this living hell for five years!"
Sam rushed through the jungle, rifle at the ready as he tried to find the Sergeant. "I am hurrying Al!"
Quantum Leap's head programmer read through the text transcript from the Imaging Chamber which Ziggy had prepared in less than a minute. They all wanted to know what had occurred so far during the Leap, hopefully to ascertain what had upset the admiral and especially to make sure Dr. Beckett was all right. The Nobel Prize-winning genius could usually handle himself, but Ziggy predicted the odds at forty percent that he would need the admiral's help to finish the Leap.
"You've got to make it Sam, you've got to!" the hologram said, floating alongside Sam as he darted through the brush in pitch blackness, getting cut and scraped every few feet.
"I've been looking for him for almost half an hour! I'm not...going to find him," Sam said, stopping and leaning breathless against a tree trunk.
"Sam, you can't give up now. That kid needs you!" Al argued, his tone desperate and his eyes hard as steel.
"Why...is this so important to you?" Sam asked, peering back at him tiredly.
"Oh...dear, oh dear..." Gooshie said quietly.
"What is it?" Tina asked. Dr. Beeks's expression remained even, but her eyes belied her concern.
"It seems Doctor Beckett's memory is...even more 'Swiss-cheesed' than usual..."
"I just don't want that kid to go through what I had to go through. Now get a move on Sam!"
"...You were in Vietnam?"
Al looked up at the stars, their light reflecting against the tears he had allowed into his eyes.
"Why did You pick me for this?"
He wiped his eyes and dropped his hands to his lap, wondering if he would ever get an answer. He knew it wouldn't come tonight. So he would continue coping in the only way he knew how, the way he had been for the last five years.
From inside his jacket he pulled out a thick, leather-bound journal. He undid the bindings and flipped through the filled pages until he found a blank one, almost at the very end.
He was shivering from the night air, but he didn't feel like moving back to the car. And the starlight was almost as bright as daylight anyway, so he uncapped his pen and with a shaking hand wrote the date on top of the blank page.
May 4, 1999
Hi Sam. Would you look at that? It's almost five years to the day since you first leaped. Maybe that's why your brain is so Swiss-cheesed this time...
It's the middle of a Leap. You're in Vietnam, saving a kid named John Wakefield from becoming a POW. You're Raymond Livingston. In the original history, Wakefield is a POW for five years. And when he finally gets home, he's traumatized by the war and spends the rest of his life in a VA hospital. I don't know what'll happen when you change history because it hasn't happened yet.
I know I don't usually write you in the middle of a Leap, but this time I had to make an exception. I had to get out of there before I said something I would regret. I guess I'm going to say it all here, but I've cooled down a bit. So maybe you can forgive me later.
You forgot I was in Vietnam, Sam. You forgot that I was MIA for five years. You forgot that my entire life was ruined because of that damn war! Hell, you probably even forgot I gave up a chance to be rescued so you could save your brother's life. If we weren't holograms to each other I swear I would have hit you if I hadn't remembered it's not your fault.
But I guess that's something to be said for all that hell—it taught me to keep my head in tough situations. So I could keep calm and look at you like nothing was wrong just long enough to get the hell out of there and drive out here to the desert to cool off.
I know you probably don't remember any of this by now. I didn't fill in the gaps for you when you asked if I was in Vietnam. Just said yes, and that you had to save Wakefield, and then I left before I said something I'd regret. So now I'm in the middle of the desert freezing my ass off 'cause I didn't know where else to go. Usually I go to you when I have a problem, but right now...you're my problem Sam. And damn it, it isn't fair!
You may think I'm the most selfish bastard on the planet, but it just...isn't fair. It's not fair that I have to practically re-introduce myself to my best friend every few days, and that he may not remember anything about me. I still can't believe you didn't even know me that one time. Remember the Leap where you were in a mental institution? Probably not. It was right before we simo-leaped. I already wrote you all about both of those. That was a scary time I don't want to remember.
It's not fair watching you slip further and further away every time you leap. It scares me how much of the other person's mind leeches into yours now. Ever since the Simo-Leap, it's been happening. You'll be there one moment, and gone the next. Sometimes you come out of it on your own, and sometimes I have to coax you back with your name and facts about your life. Sometimes I have to try to get you to recite equations and theories to bring you back, and sometimes nothing works. Sometimes you disappear into the minds of these other people, and we have no way of knowing if you'll ever come out of it.
We're no closer to finding a way to bring you home, Sam. Sammy Jo's idea didn't work. In fact, we think it made the Swiss-cheese effect worse. But don't blame her, you were plenty Swiss-cheesed before she came along.
And that's the other thing, Sam. Do you have any idea how hard it is being the only person in the universe to have two sets of memories? You have them too, somewhere, but your mind is so magnafoozled that who knows if you'll keep them when you get back.
Gooshie, Verbena, everyone all act like Donna and Sammy Jo were always here, always a part of the Project. I'm the only one who remembers that they weren't. It's always the big joke on me when I walk out of the Imaging Chamber and find that some history concerning the Project has changed, and I have to pretend like everything has always been that way. Sure, Ziggy knows everything I know, but he's just a computer.
Do you know how weird it is having one set of memories that are real, and then another set just as real suddenly competing with the first set? If my brain doesn't end up in a mess from this whole thing I'll be pretty surprised. The memories of alternate histories, always at war in my head...it's not an easy burden to bear, Sam. Sometimes I can't tell which ones are "real" and which ones aren't...I mean, which ones I actually lived through and which ones I just got because you changed history. I remember it one way, then I remember it another. I can swear I lived through one, but then I'm not sure. It's really hard, Sam.
There are times I wish I'd never agreed to that...Mickey Mouse procedure you had us go through to keep our minds isolated from any changes to history. But only when my head really hurts.
I'm sorry Sam. You know I wanted this as much as you. I believed in this project as much as you. To see history...to live it, it's incredible. It was more tempting than those triplets I dated back when I was an Ensign. Do you remember me telling you about them? Probably not. After I told you, you said I was the most immoral man you'd ever met, and I said thanks, ha!
I just wish everything had worked out like we'd planned. This is hell, Sam. Don't get me wrong, I still have the same life I did before. Everyone does. Except Donna and Sammy Jo, of course. I'm still trying to figure that one out. They'll remember something that never happened in the original history, and then it'll just come to me as if I lived it too, only I know I didn't, but it feels like I did...hell, it makes my head hurt. I wish you were here to explain all this temporal paradox mumbo-jumbo, it's driving me nuts.
But you're not here, Sam. You may never be here again. And my life just...isn't the same without my best buddy in it. Who am I supposed to dream with now? What am I supposed to dream about? We reached that unreachable star Sam, but you tripped over it and I'm still trying to pick up the pieces. And I have to start all over every new Leap.
Why'd you do it Sam? Why didn't you wait for me? We got the damn funding, if you had just waited maybe everything would have worked and we'd actually be enjoying time travel instead of trying to stop it. Instead of watching you deteriorate more and more with each Leap. Plus, now I feel like I'm responsible for maintaining two sets of memories. I'm the only person in the world who remembers history as it used to be, and how it is now. Ain't that a kick in the butt...
I wasn't sure if I should tell you this Sam, but it's getting harder and harder to maintain our brainwave link. Every time your mind gets mixed up with someone else's, it gets a little harder. I don't know how much longer we can keep it up. Last time I asked Gooshie, he said it may only be another couple of months. And then you'll be on your own Sam. And we get to worry about you for the rest of our lives.
Damn, this is hell. I hate it. I hate you for doing this. I regret every minute of this crazy project.
Well...okay. Not really. Only at times when you forget really big things, like Vietnam or the Project. And when it seems like you'll never come home...that's when I ask myself if it's all worth it. Other than that, it's really kind of fun. Seeing history, watching you be a hero in a way I never was. I saved lives, but not the way you do Sam. I've got to admit, it's pretty incredible. If I could go back in time and change my past, if only I hadn't been MIA, or if Beth had known... Well, we've already crossed that bridge. Maybe heroes have to give up something in order to do good. And none of us are really living now, are we Sam.
I just wish there was some concrete answer to it all. If God...fate, time or whatever would just give us an answer, or some glimmer of hope.
I guess...maybe the hope is that you're still helping people. Maybe this really was destiny. It's not the destiny I would have chosen, but hey, life is never dull. And if I ever forget anything, it's all written down in here. You'll see it when you get back. Two complete sets of histories, Ziggy approved, and all the good you did for complete strangers.
I just hope...I keep praying that you will be back, Sam. It almost doesn't seem possible anymore. Ziggy predicts the odds of you getting back before we lose contact at...well, you don't need to know the odds on that one. But if he's right, then...you'll never read this.
I'm not mad at you anymore Sam, you can relax. I guess I'm still a bit sore, but it's not really your fault that you forget everything. Gosh I hope you saved that kid...
But you know, that may be the worst part about all this? In the end, is it you or me? Could you do all these Leaps without me and Ziggy helping you? Would you even be alive without me around? What would happen to the Project if I weren't here? That's another responsibility I don't like, Sam. It's too...too serious for someone like me. When I leapt—no pun intended—into this dream with you, I didn't want to be responsible for all of history going right or wrong. And I didn't want to have to be responsible for your life. I don't mean I don't care, I mean...that I care too much. I can't have you die on my watch, Sam. I just can't.
Well...I guess I'm going to drive back now and see if you saved Wakefield. You probably did. Or you didn't and you got yourself killed. Guess I'll find out.
Damn it, it's not fair.
He capped the pen and pocketed it, and looked at the pages thickly covered in his messy scrawl. There was only blank page left after all he had just written. He would go out and buy a new one as soon as a more peaceful Leap came up.
He bound the leather journal again and stood up carefully, either the cold or his age making the task a bit difficult. He was so tired.
That was one thing he couldn't tell Sam, though. The proverbial Boy Scout would tell him to take some time off, that he could handle things on his own for a while.
Al thought about that as he walked back to his car. Time off? No chance in hell.
He didn't care that waking up every day was harder, that pretending he was fine wasn't as easy as it used to be. He didn't care that everyone looked at him like he was just a walking shell of a man and that some days he actually felt like it. None of that mattered.
What mattered was a promise to his friend lost in time. He'd find a way to get him home, no matter how long it took, no matter what it cost him.
What else could he lose now anyway?
He got back in the car and felt a sense of calm when the engine roared to life. He may be getting tired, but his car would stand the test of time.
"Admiral Calavicci," the voice of the computer spoke out of the wristlink, startling him.
"Don't sneak up on me like that Ziggy. What's up?"
"Doctor Beckett has leaped out of Captain Raymond Livingston."
Al smacked the steering wheel in frustration. "Great, just great Ziggy. Did he save Wakefield?"
"Affirmative. Doctor Beckett changed history. Sergeant Wakefield returns home after the war, gets married, and has three children."
The admiral breathed a sigh of relief. "That's swell. Where is Sam now?"
"There is a slight problem with that, Admiral."
"Problem, what do you mean problem?" he asked as he started to turn the car around.
"I am unable to locate him."
He slammed on the brakes. "What!?"
"I am unable to locate him," the computer repeated more slowly.
"Why the hell not!? You've always located him on every other Leap!" Al said angrily, his temper rising. "Damn it I should have been there!"
"No need to blow a fuse, Admiral. Not yet, anyway."
"What do you mean, 'not yet'?" he said through clenched teeth.
"You will have far more reason to be upset when you have all the facts."
"All the facts...? Nevermind, let's figure this out. What about the guy in the Waiting Room, who is he?"
"I'm afraid I have some...disconcerting news on that subject."
Adrenaline surged through Al and he felt his heart go to his throat. "How disconcerting?"
"There isn't anyone in the Waiting Room."
Al's eyes widened and his jaw dropped. "What...what do you mean there's no one in the Waiting Room!? Did they get out somehow?"
"No, Admiral. There is simply no one there. After Captain Livingston leaped out, no one new took his place."
"Oh...oh, God," Al said, running a hand over his face.
"Not quite, but I'm a close second."
He slowly stepped on the gas and began the drive back to Stallion's Gate, hands shaking as they gripped the steering wheel. "Oh, shut up. I've got to get back and talk to Gooshie about this..."
"He knows as little as I do about the situation."
"I told you to shut up!"
"Admiral, I find it very upsetting that after all these years you don't trust me. Are you seeing another parallel hybrid computer?"
"You've made mistakes before, you dusty pile of circuits!"
"Perhaps because I was distracted by some of the lascivious thoughts I absorb from your brainwaves."
"Why don't you start trying to figure out a way to find Sam, huh Ziggy?"
"I am already doing so Admiral, but you won't like the statistics."
"I don't care about statistics!"
"I was designed to give statistics, Admiral."
He wiped the sweat that had formed on his brow and tried to think productively despite the egotistical computer. "All right... All right, listen. My brainwaves...are synced up with Sam's right?"
"So if I get back in the Imaging Chamber, then...you can use the link between our minds to find him, right?"
"That theory is scientifically sound, however the probability that he could be located before he leaps again is only four point six percent."
"Four point six!?"
"I told you you wouldn't like it."
"Damn it, Ziggy! Do you got a better idea!?"
"Not at the moment."
"All right, then we'll try that," he said, trying to calm down as he pushed the gas pedal all the way to the floor.
"Whatever you say, Admiral."
"Hang on Sam, I'm comin'..."
It's not fair! Damn it, and I didn't even say goodbye, I just left him in that God-forsaken jungle with all those booby traps and those VC devils... Oh...God, don't let that be the last time I see him. I don't care if it kills me. I'm going to bring him home, no matter what it takes. Do You hear me! You won't do anything, so I will! No matter what it takes, I'm going to get him out of this.
The Ferrari sped back through the desert toward the PQL complex, its path illuminated by the stars. Al's hands gripped the steering wheel until his knuckles were white as he worried about how to save the best man he knew. Sam was a veritable angel, and if Ziggy was right then no one would even know what he'd done.
It wasn't fair. He would spend the rest of his life trying to get that angel out of hell if he had to. It just wasn't fair! One man was not meant to save the world.
He sighed. "I'm so...tired..."
"Don't fall asleep at the wheel, Admiral. Would you like me to sing to keep you awake?"
"No, no, be quiet Ziggy. Just find Sam."
As the desert blurred past him, something deep inside told him he was wrong. Somehow, for reasons he didn't understand...one man was meant to save the world. But he didn't care. It wasn't fair, and he would fight it till he died if he had to.
He ignored the nagging feeling in the pit of his stomach that this was fate and kept driving, worrying, focusing on his mission. Somehow he had to find him, to tell him he was sorry for leaving him back there, to tell him he never meant any of the things he said when he was angry. And more importantly that he would keep his promise, no matter what it took. That he had no regrets.
But what he hadn't counted on when he made that promise was that Destiny cannot be fought. And now Destiny had other plans.
"Oh...God, please... Just let me talk to him..."
It was time for things to become fair. Destiny is also kind, so this time his last prayer was answered. And then Destiny took away his burden and finally gave him his rest.
An angel changed history, and sent Al into heaven.