by Noel Goddard
Original Pub. Date: August 2003
Summary: Sam learns the hard way that there are consequences for his actions.
I sat staring at the now cold cup of coffee in front of me. I had been here for almost six hours now and there was still no sign of Al.
At least the Big Guy had been kind this time and dropped me in a familiar place. I was Dr. Carroll, a doctor in a relatively busy ER. Beyond that, I only knew what I could find in my pockets.
My palm pilot said the date was August 6, 2001. This was the closest that I’d ever gotten to home. I was supposed to be on the graveyard shift tonight, apparently. My calendar said midnight to 8 AM. It had been busy but nothing I couldn’t handle. Some asthma, some ear infections, and the requisite number of drunks.
I glanced at my watch. Speaking of drunks, it was time to go see if one of them had woken up yet, so I could send him home. Where the heck was Al? I really wanted to know what the heck I was supposed to be doing here.
I got up from the table in the little doctor’s room in the back of the ER. As I headed for the curtain of my drunk patient, I heard a commotion coming from down the hall. Overhead, I heard the call for security to triage.
Now, you would think after eight long years of leaping, I would have more sense than to get involved in this. Something pulled me forward, though. Maybe this was what I was supposed to be doing. As I approached triage, I saw security trying to talk to a man who was now standing on top of the triage desk. He was clearly delusional and talked about the purple ostriches on the walls. It seemed like security had a handle on the situation, and I turned to go back to my patients.
As I turned, I was greeted by Al…finally. I hissed under my breath. “Al, where the heck have you been?”
Al looked relieved himself. “God, Sam, it took forever for us to get a lock on you. Sammy Jo has been rattling on and on about space-time warping since you’re so close to our time. Anyway, you’re a Dr. John Carroll and you’re an ER doc in Cleveland, Ohio.”
I groaned. “Cleveland? I’ve been stuck in Cleveland?”
It was then I saw the look of terror in Al’s eyes. Time seemed to slow. I started to turn and look at what Al saw. The delusional man in triage now had a gun. Idly, I wondered how he had gotten it past the metal detectors. My brain registered the loud crack of the gun as it fired. The man was looking straight at Al, and I heard him scream. “You’re the devil. Time for you to die!”
I heard Al’s call to me. “Get down Sam! SAM!”
It was too late. Before I could move, I felt the pain tear through my chest. Next thing I knew I was on the ground. I could see Al hovering above me.
“Sam? Sam, hang on buddy. They’re getting help! Sam??”
Then the world was white.
Next thing I knew, I was sitting on a bar stool, and things looked very familiar. Way too familiar. I knew before he even spoke. This was Al’s place, and the bartender approaching me was Al. Not my Al, but some sort of overseer.
The first time I was here was what? Three years ago? I landed here and thought that he was God. He denied it and had the audacity to tell me this was my fault. Like I chose to be out here all these years. Away from everything and everyone I loved.
And yet, given the choice last time, I had stayed out here with the Swiss cheese brain and no home to speak of. All so I could give Al, the one thing that he wanted. The one thing I was too stupid, too bull-headed to give him when he asked. I gave him Beth.
The bartender approached me with a smile on his face, just like last time. “Hey, Sam. Good to see you again.”
“Wish I could say the same. Why am I here this time?”
“What’s the last thing you remember, Sam?”
I tried to think back to the last leap. I remembered Al hadn’t come in time. I remembered his cry of warning and then pain. That was all.
“I think I was shot?”
He nodded, as he polished the glasses on the counter in front of him. “That’s right, Sam. You took one right through the chest. Nicked the heart. Not good.”
I felt a cold chill run down my spine. “Am I dead? Is it over?”
He shook his head. “No, Sam. You’re not dead. And I told you last time; it’s over when you say it’s over.”
“You’re crazy! All I’ve wanted since this started was for it to be over. I have gone home exactly once in eight years. And then I had to leave again!”
He shook his head, as if talking to a five-year old. The gesture made my blood boil. “What? I couldn’t…” My voice trailed off as tears choked my throat. “I couldn’t leave him out there.”
“That’s right, Sam. You couldn’t leave him. You chose to leap again. Just like when you were here last time. You chose to right that wrong for Al. Each time you change history there’s a price to be paid. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Physics 101.”
“How is three more years of leaping equal and opposite to one conversation with Beth?”
“I don’t know, Sam. I’m just a bartender. You’re the quantum physicist.”
I ran my hand through my hair, what was left of it. I noticed in the mirror above the bar that my hairline had receded significantly in just three short years. Amazing. “So, in this grand scheme of yours, how do I get home now?”
He placed a lite beer on the bar in front of me. “Sam, try to focus. You just have to choose to go home.”
The light was starting to dawn on me. “So, this is some kind of way station. When I’m here, I can make a choice to go home or continue leaping?”
He leaned on the bar before continuing. “That’s right. You get another chance to choose, but you have to remember that there will be consequences.”
“Even if I choose to go home?”
“That’s right. You were just mortally wounded, Sam. If you leap home now, I can’t guarantee that you’ll survive.”
My fragile resolve cracked. It was just too much. “So, let me get this straight. I can go home and die, or I can keep leaping until the next time that I land here?”
“That’s not what I said, Sam. I said you might die. Also, I did not say there would be a next time here.”
Unbelievable. It just kept getting worse. I was trapped in some Twilight Zone episode. Death or no hope of ever going home, which was effectively death. Death or death. I shook my head at the absurdity. “So, my choices are go home and most likely die, or stay out here forever?”
“That’s about the size of it. Don’t look at me. I don’t make the rules.”
“Well, who does? I’m so sick of all of this. I just want to go home.” I felt a tear slide down my cheek. It was all just too much. Eight years. Gone.
“Sam, I told you. It’s your choice. You chose to start this. It’s time for you to chose the ending.”
I swiped furiously at the second tear sneaking its way down my face. “Tell me one thing. Is Al okay? He seemed kind of off for the last few leaps…”
“Sam, he’s had a tough time the last few years. Things didn’t quite work out the way you planned last time.”
I felt the blood drain from my face. It was supposed to be perfect. Al was supposed to be with Beth. He even thanked me the first leap after that. “He never told me anything was wrong. What’s wrong?”
“You know, I’m not surprised. He’s just like you. That’s why you two were perfect for this gig.”
My voice was bordering on hysterical now. “What is wrong with Al? You have to tell me!”
“Sam, Beth was diagnosed with breast cancer about 3 months after your leap to reunite them. She went through everything surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. She died about 3 months ago.”
“Why? Why didn’t he tell me?”
“Sam, he didn’t want to burden you. He’s as much about taking care of you as you are about him.”
“But that’s not fair! They were supposed to grow old together. He wasn’t supposed to be alone. I thought…”
“You thought you fixed that.”
“Could I leap from here and change it? Make sure she gets diagnosed and treated sooner?”
“It’s possible, but there are no guarantees Sam. And if you try, you can never go back.”
I sat pondering my options in silence. I had tried to get Beth back twice now for Al. I would do anything for him, but I was starting to wonder if maybe God, Time, Fate, Whatever didn’t want it fixed.
“Sam, do you know the story, The Gift of the Magi? The husband sells his watch to buy his wife a barrette, and she cuts her hair and sells it to buy him a watch fob.”
“Are you saying that Al and I are like that?”
“Sam, you would each do anything for the other. Don’t you think it’s time that you actually gave each other a chance to do that in person?”
I smiled weakly. “I thought you were supposed to be impartial in this? I thought it was my decision.”
“It is your choice. I’m just giving you your options.”
I got up from the bar, walked over to the door, and watched as the sun set outside. Could I really give up a chance to try again to help Beth? He was so hurt the first time that I couldn’t get her back. And yet, was it really worth all the suffering he went through these last few years?
God, Al, I wish you were here to tell me what you want. I know what I want. I want to come home to you.
The bartender walked up behind me. “For what it’s worth, I think you made the right choice.”
“But I didn’t make a choice.”
“Yes, you did, Sam. You made the choice with your heart.”
Then he was gone. There was searing pain and then nothing.
The alarms rang throughout the complex as I hurried toward the waiting room. I was afraid to believe it. I couldn’t believe it until I saw it with my own eyes.
Nothing could prepare me for what I saw when I got to the waiting room. As I pushed through the crowd of security personnel, I saw Sam. It was really him.
He was lying on the floor of the Imaging Chamber, unconscious. As I went to reach out to him, I saw the blood stain seep across the Fermi suit.
Fuck. No. He couldn’t come home only to die. Goddammit! “Somebody get the medical team in here now!”
I felt someone pulling me away from Sam. It was Beeks. “Admiral, they’re here. You need to give them room to work. Do you know anything about how he was hurt? It could help them.”
I ran a tired hand across the back of my neck as the scene from the hospital ER played itself through my brain again. “Yeah, some crazy nozzle shot him. I think the guy could see me and was shooting at me. I told him to duck. Why didn’t he get the hell outta the way?”
She patted me on the back. She must think that was somehow comforting. “Admiral, then what happened?”
I could see my hands shaking and shoved them in my pockets so no one else would see. “Well, the bullet hit him in the chest and he just went down. He seemed to be conscious for a minute and then he blacked out. Next thing I knew he leaped, and I was back here with every alarm in the place going off.”
“So, Sam’s injury must have somehow triggered the retrieval program.”
“I guess so. Where are they taking him?”
“They’re taking him topside to the ambulance. Judging from what I overheard, he’s going to need emergency surgery.”
“God, I can’t believe this. He can’t…Verbeena, he can’t.”
This time, she just rested her hand on my shoulder as I stared at the ceiling.
“Come with me, Admiral. I’ll drive us to the hospital.”
I was in the middle of my one hundred and twelfth lap around the third floor of the hospital when the surgeon emerged from the OR. “Hello, I’m Dr. Johnson. You are?”
I was shocked by how rough my own voice sounded. “I’m Admiral Calavicci. I’m the acting head of the project where Dr. Beckett was injured. I’m also the closest thing to family he has in these parts.”
“Well, Admiral, Dr. Beckett was gravely injured. The bullet passed through the lung and nicked the pericardium before lodging in the soft tissue near his thoracic spine. On arrival here, he had a pneumothorax and cardiac tamponade from the blood around his heart. His brain was deprived of adequate blood flow for some period of time before we were able to relieve the tamponade. Now, we were able to relieve the problem quickly once he arrived here, and in the OR we were able to stop all the bleeding and remove the bullet without any damage to the spine.”
From listening to Sam over years, I knew what about half of that meant. None of it sounded good. “So, is he gonna make it, Doc?”
I knew before he even spoke. “Well, I can’t make you any promises. I think he will probably survive, but we just don’t know how much of a hit his brain took while he was in tamponade.”
God. Not that. I couldn’t bear it if anything happened to Sam’s mind. He would never want to live like that. “When can I see him?”
“As soon as he’s out of recovery.”
I was terrified as I walked into his room in the ICU. Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw. After the tests showed that her cancer had metastasized, Beth went the hospice route. No hospitals for her. She had gone slowly at home with me and the girls at her bedside.
This was inhuman. I could barely see Sam for all the tubes and wires attached to him. His nurse approached me. “Is this your first time in an ICU?”
“I…um…it’s the first time in a long time, I guess.”
“Well, I know it’s a lot to take in. Let me know if you have any questions. He’s holding his own.”
“Can he hear me?”
“I’m sure that he would like it if you talked to him. Why don’t I just step outside for a moment?”
I settled next to the bed and stared. His eyes were shut and there were tubes in both his nose and mouth. The breathing machine popped and whirred on the other side of the bed. Every so often his monitor would honk and then fall silent again. Carefully, I reached for the hand nearest me. I took in my own, being careful not to dislodge the IV in his arm.
“Sam, I don’t know if you can hear me or not. I just want to say…”
I stopped to choke on the tears. “I just wanna say that I’m glad you’re home. And I really, really want you to stay with me. I don’t know…”
“I don’t know if I could take losing you again. I thought I lost you eight years ago, but hey, at least I got to see you right? I don’t think I could take this. C’mon kid. Throw the old man a bone. Wake up for me.”
Carefully, I brought our hands up to my forehead and began to pray.
With heavy steps, I walked out of the elevator and headed to the ICU. It had been two days since Sam leaped home. Two very long days. Sam still hadn’t spoken since the surgery. He was breathing on his own, and they had extubated him earlier today. The doctor said the tube in his side, the chest tube, might come out tomorrow.
According to the doctors, Sam was doing some good things. He would move away from painful things. He moaned sometimes, but still no sign of my Sam. I wondered for the millionth time how much more of this I could take. For the millionth time, I reminded myself that I would do anything for Sam.
I nodded to the nurses as I entered Sam’s room. He looked peaceful with some of the tubes out. Sure, his hair had thinned some and gotten more grey over the last eight years, but he was still quite handsome.
I sat in my chair next to the bed, took his hand in mine, and thought back over all the years we’d had together. So much pain, and yet, I wouldn’t trade a moment of it. I would do anything for just another chance to tell him.
Suddenly, I felt the hand in mine twitch and then squeeze my hand. I must be imaging things. I slowly dragged my gaze up to Sam’s face and saw his eyes looking back at me.
I managed to croak out a question. “Sam? Sam, can you hear me?”
He moved his head in a small nod. His voice sounded hoarse and painful as he spoke. “Al? Am I alive?”
I felt the smile spread across my face. “Yes, Sam. You are alive, and you’re home. You finally made it.”
I saw the smile in his eyes. “Good. Jeez, Al, it hurts.”
“Hang in there, kid. Let me go tell them you’re awake and get you some pain medicine.”
He squeezed my hand tight again before I could stand. “Al, I need to tell you.”
“Sam, it’s okay. You rest. You can tell me later.”
“No. Need to tell you now.” He paused and coughed, which caused his face to be etched with pain.
After the coughing subsided, he continued. “Al, I love you.”
I stared back at him and knew that everything would be all right. “I love you, too, kid. And before you keep talking, I know what you mean. I am in love with you, too.” I adopted my trademark Calavicci leer and spoke low. “And when you get outta this place, I’ll show you just how much.”
Some of the pain left his face as he smiled at that. “How long have I been here, Al?”
“You’ve been back for two days, Sam. By the way, today is a very special day.”
He just raised an eyebrow in question. His energy was failing fast.
“It’s August 8, 2003. Happy 50th Birthday, Sam. Here’s to many, many happy returns.”