Choices
by Noel Goddard
Original Pub. Date: October 2001
Summary: Sam and Al face tough choices about their lives and careers after Sam returns home.

It's still hard to believe that it had finally happened. One week ago tonight, Sam finally leaped home. The timing was perfect. After we lost contact with Sam two months ago, the government cut off our funding, and the project was due to be shutdown this week. Ain't that a kick in the butt?

Sam landed in the Waiting Room and walked out into the Control Room like nothing had ever happened. Because of the shutdown, only a skeleton crew was on at the time. Hell, I wasn't even there. I was out in California trying to drum up some private funding from some eccentric billionaire. Only Gushie and Tina were in the Control Room at the time, and it took Sam a good half-hour to convince them that it was really him.

Now, after all of the debriefings, the press conferences, and the champagne, tomorrow is the day that certain government officials like that putz Weitzman have been waiting for. Project Quantum Leap will close its doors forever. In all honesty, I'm not sure how I feel about it. I know Sam is devastated. While he doesn't think anyone else should leap just yet, I know that he hoped to work out the problems and make time travel useful. As for me, I just don't know.

I know that Sam did a lot of good out there - saved plenty of lives including mine. That effort on my part cost him his marriage to Donna. She left him soon after he leaped again to save me. So, he stepped out of the Waiting Room not into the arms of a loving wife, but into the arms of a daughter he never knew. Me, I'm lying here with my wife, Beth. Yeah, that's right, right after we lost touch with the kid, Beth reappeared in my life. As usual, no one else was bothered by this. Just me. Over the past two months, I've learned to share my space with someone again, just not the someone that I hoped for. I've even learned to share my bed again, but sex? No way. Beth's so worried about me, she's made an appointment with a shrink for me next week. Not even with Beeks. She says that Beeks is too close to me to be objective. I snorted when she said that, and she was not pleased.

So here I am in my picture perfect life. My wife of 39 years by my side, my best friend back from the greatest adventure that mankind has ever known, and my career primed for retirement with full military honors. Why am I lying here awake at 3:00 AM again?

*****

After tossing and turning for another hour, I finally drifted off into a fitful nap. When the alarm went off, all I wanted to do was fling it across the room. Instead, I was greeted by Beth's arm reaching across me to turn it off. She then shook me gently, "Al, honey, time to get up. Today, you definitely don't want to be late." She smiled as she pecked my cheek before getting out of bed and heading for the shower.

Ah, Sam, why did you do this to me? With each passing day, I grew more and more sure that I wasn't going to be able to go gracefully into retirement with Beth at my side. She loved me; there was no doubt of that. Did I love her? Now that's the $64,000 question. I know that I do love her, but in an over and done sort of way. Like the way you think about your first love. God, what am I going to do?

I went through my morning routine of stretching, trying not to think about the day ahead. As I headed out for my morning run, I stopped in the kitchen, planting the obligatory peck on Beth's cheek. I started off on my jog and without even thinking about it, I headed out the way that I've jogged every morning for the past 5 years - towards Sam's house. The house that we used to share. Used to being the operative phrase. That was one of the first things that Sam had changed in his leaping. On only his third leap, he got Donna back and the house went from being Sam's and mine to being Sam and Donna's. Then, it sat empty after Donna left. When the universe twisted again and Sammy Jo appeared at the project, I rented the house to her. It was just too painful for me to go there. As I went by this morning, I noticed that lights were on in the office. No doubt, Sam was already up working on some new brainstorm that he was sure would save the world. Always the dreamer. I headed on up the hill before looping around to return home. I jogged in autopilot trying to imagine what my life would be like after today. I would be fully retired. No more bureaucratic wrangling, endless fundraisers, or appropriations committee meetings. No more Sam.

Sam had offers from a dozen American universities and several universities abroad. All of them were away from the godforsaken desert of New Mexico. Me, I had a few opportunities for endowed lectures and the like. There were also rumblings about a possible emeritus professorship at Annapolis. None of these would take me anywhere near Sam. Nope, after today, that chapter of my life would be closed forever. I really wasn't sure if I wanted it to be. Five years ago, I would have given anything to have a certain Dr. Beckett out of my life. After he left me to go bungling around in time, I was angry and bitter - both about being left and about being tied to the project in such a way that I couldn't leave. I spent many nights back in the bottle asking the age-old question, why me? Then Sam won back Donna, and I had my answer; he'd never really loved me. Apparently, while wooing me, he was still mooning over Donna. As I came back down the hill to my house with Beth, I shut the door on those thoughts. Too much pain there. Sighing, I entered through the garage and headed for the shower. Gotta look good today. This is it. The end of one chapter of my life and the beginning of a new one. I don't have a clue what's going to be in the new chapter, but it's gotta be better than this.

*****

The sun was hot on the back of my neck as I sat on the makeshift grandstand in front of the elevator shaft down to Project Quantum Leap. All the necessary military brass, government officials, and reporters were there. Thank God, I wouldn't be speaking today. A generic military spokesperson spoke about the military implications. Then, Weitzman made his long-winded speech about the goals and accomplishments of the project. Now was the time that all the press was waiting for. I watched as Sam approached the podium and microphones. I couldn't help but notice that he was shaking. He always hated these things.

Sam placed both hands on the podium and began, "Ladies and gentleman and esteemed guests, I am extremely lucky to stand before you today. I will keep my remarks brief. Five years ago, in a fit of anger over insignificant funding issues, I made a rash and foolish decision that resulted in this so-called great scientific adventure. While the scientific advances brought about by my decision will have implications far into the future, I want to go on record as saying that this is not how science should be practiced. Were it not for the herculean efforts of my colleagues, especially those of Admiral Calavicci, I would not be with you today. Thus, as a result of my own unethical and self-centered actions, I feel that I no longer deserve to participate in the scientific community. As Project Quantum Leap closes today, so too does my career. I will not be accepting any of the posts offered to me. Thank you again to all the fabulous staff members of Project Quantum Leap. You were the real heroes here."

Sam turned and went back to his chair quietly, never looking at me. I, like everyone else, was stunned. I know it's corny to say it, but you literally could have heard a pin drop when Sam was done with his statement. Weitzman scurried back to the podium and tried to undo what Sam had done, commenting on the incredible and obvious strain that Dr. Beckett had been under or some such thing. Me, I had passed from stunned to angry. Really, really angry. What gave him the right to take everything we had accomplished with this project and throw it away?

As soon as Weitzman finished talking, the press attacked. Sam was spirited away to his car by MPs before I could even get close to him. I was left alone in a sea of press, all wanting a comment from me. I could see Weitzman sweating across the grandstand, shaking his head violently at me. What the hell, I was a private citizen now. I was going to make a statement.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the press. I'd like to make a statement." With that the crowd quieted down. "As I am now retired from the military and this project, I would like to respond to Dr. Beckett's comments. Yes, what he said is in fact true; his first leap was not a planned event. However, it was not driven as he said by insignificant funding problems. Congressman Weitzman over there cut off our funding completely and was going to shut down the project. Dr. Beckett made that first leap in a desperate attempt to prove his theories before that man destroyed his life's work. Now, Dr. Beckett has proven that time travel is indeed possible and the man nearly responsible for Dr. Beckett's death is now trying to take credit for his success. I, for one, find that reprehensible. I have nothing more to say at this time. Thank you." The look on Weitzman's face as the press turned on him was unforgettable. I think I can safely assume that I won't be lecturing at Annapolis in the fall. With a little smile on my face, I headed to my car and back to the house that was anything but home.

*****

To say that Beth was not pleased with me would be a HUGE understatement. All I got was cold shoulder from the time we left the project to the time we arrived home. Once we walked through the door of the house, she let it fly. The look she gave me was positively frigid. "Al, how could you? How could you jeopardize our retirement with this, this misguided loyalty for Sam? I know he's your best friend, but this is ridiculous, honey!"

I couldn't take it. Something within me broke, "Damnit, Beth! Without Sam, WE would have no retirement. Without Sam, I would be a washed up drunk somewhere and you would be living in the golden sunset with a lawyer named Dirk!" Time seemed to stop around me. In the past two months since she reappeared in my life, I never discussed the alternate timeline with her. To be honest, I wasn't sure what would happen if I did. Would she think I was insane or would something more cataclysmic happen to the universe and all its timelines?

I never considered that she just wouldn't get it. "What on earth are you talking about Al? You're just not making sense now. Who is Dirk?" Running a hand through her hair, she just looked exasperated. "Al, honey, I'm begging you to make some calls tomorrow and try to smooth things over." Then with an expression like ice, "Oh, and Al. If you don't keep that appointment next week with that doctor, you can start looking for a good divorce lawyer." That hung in the air as she stomped through the house, slammed the door to our bedroom, and locked herself in for the night.

With that I decided it was time to break out the emergency stash of Scotch that I had for old time's sake. I poured myself a double shot and slammed it back without thinking twice. Feeling particularly moody, I turned out the lights and lit the gas fireplace in the den. I sat down in my old comfortable recliner and watched the flames in silence and nursed another Scotch. Guess you fixed that one Calavicci. Fixed it up real good. Destroyed one relationship for the sake of another one that was long since dead. Something I'd been doing all my life. Something I was apparently very good at. Hell, this time I'd managed to take my career down the tubes too. I'd be lucky to still get my military pension after this.

Tired of the silence, I picked up the remote from the side table and turned on the radio. After flipping through station after station of crap, I settled on the oldies station that Sam used to listen to when working late nights in the lab. A familiar tune drifted through the house, sung in a pain-filled voice,

I know you need a friend

Someone you can talk to

Who will understand what you're going through

When it comes to love

There's no easy answer

Only you can say what you're gonna do I heard you on the phone

You took his number

Said you weren't alone, but you'd call him soon

Isn't he the guy

The guy who left you cryin'

Isn't he the one who made you blue

When you remember those nights in his arms

You know you've gotta make up your mind

This was not helping. Part of me knew that what had happened today was because I still loved Sam. God help me, but even after everything he had done, I still loved him. I put my head in my hands and let the tears flow.

I was shaken from my self-pity by the phone ringing. With a vicious swipe of my eyes, I got up and answered gruffly, "Calavicci here."

I was greeted by Sam's voice, sounding even more shaky than it had earlier today at the press conference, "Al, it's me, Sam." As if I could have forgotten his voice if I tried.

Sam continued, "I saw your statement on the evening news. I really appreciate you standing up for me."

Trying to hold it together, I tried to sound casual. "It was nothing, Sam. All I did was tell the truth."

There was a moment of silence from the other end of the phone. "Al, I need to tell you something. Um, a few days after I leaped home, something started to happen. Something really important. I didn't say anything because I needed some time to think things through." More silence came through the phone. I wasn't sure I wanted to hear this. I wasn't sure that I could stand to hear this. "Yes, Sam. What is it?"

"Al, I remember all the other timelines. I remember us, and well, I think I would like another chance at that if you can forgive me."

I tried to hold it together, "Sam, you know that can't happen now. I'm married. You're the one who got Beth back for me." The chorus of the earlier song played through my head:

Are you gonna stay with the one who loves you

Or are you going back to the one you love

Someone's gonna cry when they learn they've lost you

Someone's gonna thank the stars above

From the other end of the phone, Sam's voice cracked, "Oh. I guess I just thought after today, that well, maybe there was something left. I'm sorry Al, I never should have called." The phone clicked in my hand and I was greeted with a dial tone. I put the phone down and poured myself another drink.

*****

I woke up in my recliner in the morning with a blanket tucked neatly around me. My head was pounding. On the end table next to me, I found a cup of coffee in a thermal mug, the bottle of aspirin, and a note from Beth.

Dear Al,

I hope you are feeling better this morning or that the coffee and aspirin at least help. I want to tell you how sorry I am. I had no right to attack you for defending Sam. I hope that you can forgive me. I had to run to the store for groceries. I'll be back soon.

Love always,

Beth

It didn't seem possible but my head hurt even worse. I stumbled from the recliner across the house and into the shower. With the cold water of the shower hitting me in the face, I knew one thing was true. I couldn't just leave things that way with Sam. I needed to know if the love was really still there, if we could work past the past 5 years. When you got right down to it, I was in love with Sam, not Beth. I only hoped it wasn't too late.

Showered and dressed, I headed the few blocks over to Sam's house. I knocked on the door, not knowing what to expect. The door swung open to reveal Sammy Jo, Sam's daughter. She grinned from ear to ear, "Hey there! Way to kick some government ass yesterday!"

What can I say, her smile was just as infectious as her father's. I grinned back, "Yes, I'd say your old man and I did a fine job of that yesterday. Speaking of which, where is he?"

Sammy Jo thought for a minute before answering, "He told me that he wanted to be alone to think. I'm not sure that I should..."

That night flashed back to me at once. Sam said that he wanted to be alone to think that night, so I left him in his lab and went to that pompous, idiotic fundraiser. When I got back he was gone, leaped, without even a note goodbye. Gone to think, my ass. That pompous, self-centered idiot was going to try it again. I couldn't believe it. Still believing that he could fix everything in the world with that damn accelerator of his.

I bolted from the door, leaving Sammy Jo gaping after me. I pealed out of the driveway and covered the 15 miles out of town to the project in record time. As I pulled up outside the boarded-up entrance to the project, I saw Sam's car, and was greeted by the MPs guarding the entrance. "What can we do for you, Admiral?"

Feeling sheepish now, I asked, "Did you see where Dr. Beckett went? I see his car over there."

The MP's looked at each other before stating, "He really didn't want to be disturbed, sir."

Exasperated, I snapped, "I don't care what he wanted. Now tell me where he is! That's an order!"

Recognizing the tone in my voice, the MP made his decision, "He hiked off towards that mesa in the distance sir."

I turned off my car and got out to follow suit, "Now, let me make myself perfectly clear. Dr. Beckett and I do NOT want to be disturbed. That is another order."

The MPs just nodded, "Yes, sir!"

I set off to hike through the desert, feeling quite foolish. Of course Sam hadn't come out here to leap. The accelerator and Ziggy had been disabled and the place was well guarded. He obviously had just wanted to come out here to think and maybe consider his future. What business did I have to interrupt that? As I neared the mesa, I thought of turning back, but then I remembered my earlier decision. Sam and I had to work this out before either of us could get on with our lives. We just had to.

As I finished my climb up the mesa, I saw Sam sitting on the edge looking off in the distance. I approached, careful not to startle him, "Sam, I think we need to talk."

Sam shrugged his shoulders. "I think you said everything that needed to be said last night, Al."

Five years of anger, pent-up frustration, and bitterness just spilled out before I could stop it, "Welcome to my world, Sam. This is how I've felt for the last 5 years! I loved you and I trusted you. I let you into my life after everyone else had let me down. You swore to me that you would never do that! Then lo and behold, when the going got tough, the tough got going. You left me, Sam! You leaped into the past and left me. If that weren't enough, you forgot me and one of the very first things you did was to bring Donna back into your life! How was I supposed to feel? And to top it all off, you go gallivanting away from the nutcase's bar and fix me back up with Beth! How the HELL was I supposed to know that you even still cared about us, about our relationship??"

Sam turned to look at me in stunned silence. The pain that settled in his face was almost too much to take. "Al, I'm sorry. I know that doesn't even begin to cover it, but I am. My leaping was never about you. That was the point I was trying to make at the press conference yesterday. It wasn't about the science, and it wasn't about us. It was one hundred percent selfishness. I wanted to know if it would work. I honestly didn't think I could go on with my life without knowing if it worked."

I went and sat next to Sam on the edge of the mesa and stared out across the desert. "I know that Sam. I know that in my head, but I think it may take me a little while to know that in my heart. I have to tell you that I rushed out here today because I was afraid that you were going to do it again."

Sam reached out and touched my hand, "Al, I'm not running away this time. I know that everything that I've done can't be fixed with a time machine. The only way to fix this is to stay and work on it. That is, if you'll let me."

I turned to look into his eyes and knew it. I was lost. Sam had my heart just like he always had. "I would really like to work on it. It's going to take time, Sammy. I can't just go right back to where we were. Even if I was ready, there's Beth to consider. I'm not going to just walk out. It'll take some time to arrange things for her, get the divorce and such."

Sam smiled shyly, "You mean you would leave her for us?"

I shook my head. "No, Sam, I'm going to leave her for me. I already planned on ending it before your memory returned. My love for Beth will always be there, but in the past, where it belongs. I'm leaving her for me. Whatever happens between us, that's separate."

Sam nodded. Without words, he moved from touching to holding my hand. We sat in silence and watched as life moved on in the desert. After some time, Sam squeezed my hand and asked, "Do you think we can ever work through this?"

I looked at him and my heart just overflowed with love for this incredible man, "Yeah Sam, I think we can." With that I leaned in for a chaste kiss, our first in 5 long years, and then snuggled into his shoulder, "I really think we can."




End

 

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