Nothing Is What It Seems
by Noel Goddard
Original Pub. Date: August 2003
Summary: Al encounters Sam in an unusual setting.
This was not a plan. This was an impulse.
I hadn't stopped to think; I didn't dare. I simply moved and kept moving until I reached my destination. It was only after I arrived that I realized how hasty and thoughtless I might have been.
I drew back to collect myself and found that I was shaking and damp all over. I glanced around, praying that he wouldn't be there and begging for his presence.
But he was there, just like I knew he would be. And the reality of him far exceeded my expectations. More vibrant in flesh than in fantasy, more vivid than any imaginings, he took my breath away.
I closed my eyes and swallowed.
He was so close. It wouldn't take much to get his attention, just a gesture or a slightly raised voice. The temptation was so great, but the risk was even greater. One poorly chosen word, one misstep, and I could change so much. I could ruin everything.
I exhaled and a shudder ran through me.
It wasn't too late. I hadn't been noticed, I hadn't done anything. I could play it safe, play it sane, and Time would march on like a dutiful soldier.
I told myself to get out of there, but I couldn't move.
The clock was ticking, and I knew this moment was all I had. When would an opportunity like this present itself again? When would we ever be in this time, in this place?
I took another deep breath and swallowed the Scotch in front of me. I looked again at the dance floor. There he was - the All-American farmboy moving among the masses. It had been about two weeks now since I had accidentally overheard Sam on the phone in the lab late one afternoon. He was talking in hushed tones to someone about plans for that night. From his side of the conversation, there was little doubt that this was more than just a platonic night out. I had been proud of the kid. Lord knows he needs to get out of the lab once in awhile. Then I heard him mention their destination for the night - Club Zero. That wasn't a club that I recognized. I had shrugged it off, without another thought.
Then last night, I had invited Sam over for dinner. I was in a cooking mood, and Sam was always up for one of my Italian feasts. Not this time, though. When I invited him, he hemmed and hawed…and blushed. Obviously things were heating up with this mysterious person. I couldn't help it; I ribbed him about it. Now Sam and I had never kept secrets from each other. He looked me in the eye and denied dating anyone. He lied. Now that just pissed me off. I couldn't let Sam know that, though. I let the issue drop as far as he was concerned, but as soon as he left for the evening, I set about my detective work.
Ziggy had been of no use at all. She clammed up tight when I asked her about Sam's recent social life. She even sealed off my access to Sam's computer files. Stupid bucket of bolts. I had other sources, though. I had…a phone book. I looked up Club Zero; it was outside of town, way outside of town. No ad in the yellow pages. Just a one line listing in the business section of the phone book.
So here I am. Spying on my best friend. It was 100% impulse coming here. For all I knew, he had taken his date somewhere else tonight. Yet, my gut told me that this was the place to go. So, I drove out here, and there's Sam out on the dance floor.
The dance floor was throbbing with loud music and was awash in colored disco lights. This place was like a bad throwback to the seventies. Funny, I always thought Sam hated the seventies. Finishing my drink, I turned around to watch him more closely. My eyes scanned the crowd looking for Sam's partner for the evening. As I scanned, my gut twisted itself into knots. I realized that all of the dancers were men. Not a woman in sight. They were all men…dancing with other men.
Shit. This was a gay bar. What the hell was Sam doing in a gay bar? Correction, who was Sam doing in a gay bar? I felt the bile rise up in the back of my throat. I didn't want to know this. I didn't want to feel this. God, why did I ever come here? This had been a supremely bad idea.
I wanted to leave, and yet it was like watching an accident scene. I couldn't look away. One song ended and a slower ballad started. I saw a shorter man reach to grab Sam around the waist. They began to sway in time to the ballad. While I stared - correction, gawked - the shorter man reached up to kiss Sam on the lips. I couldn't watch any longer. I turned away and ordered another Scotch - a double. So much for staying on the wagon. I downed it in one long gulp.
I was filled with self-loathing. I had come here out of jealousy. Sam and I had been best friends for years. I loved him like a brother, and yet, I had been in love with him for as long as I could remember. He hadn't done much dating over the years, but he had shown no interest in anything but friendship where I was concerned. Even the few relationships he had were short-lived. No one was good enough for him. He had impossibly high standards and morals. At least I thought he did. I had come here tonight looking to see who was good enough for Sam. Who could give him what I couldn't? I had fully expected to find some perfect Greek goddess, and instead I found Sam with his arms and lips on another man.
The implications made my head spin. It wasn't that Sam didn't want guys; it was that he didn't want me. Of course not, I was damaged goods. I was a good 16 years older than Sam and had been married five times - none of them good. Why on earth would Sam want me? I was a walking billboard for how NOT to have a relationship.
Somewhere in my self-pity, the bartender had refilled my glass. I stared at the amber liquid in front of me. I should never have come here. This was a distinctly bad idea. I should just go home and forget that I ever had this idea. If I could get out of here without being seen, I could just forget that this ever happened. Sam and I could go on about our business - the best of friends.
I was about to turn to leave when I felt the hand land heavy on my shoulder. Without turning around, I knew who the hand belonged to. It was Sam. I lifted my eyes to the mirror behind the bar. Sam was standing just past me, resting his right hand on my shoulder. His face wore an unreadable expression. I don't know how long we stayed like that. Time seemed to have stopped. This was it. I never should have come.
Sam spoke first, "Al, what are you doing here?"
I shrugged, "Just looking for a place to unwind a little, I guess. Things have been kind of stressful lately at the project. You know that."
Sam sighed, "Al, why are you lying to me? I know better."
I twisted on the barstool so that I could look him directly in the eyes. My Calavicci temper flared, "I'm lying? I'm not the one who's been sneaking out every night to a gay bar."
It lay there between us, naked and ugly. Neither of us knew what to say to fix this. The shorter man who had been dancing with Sam approached us. Funny, from the front, it was clear that he was older than Sam. He reached us and snaked an arm around Sam's waist before turning to me, "So, are you a friend of Sam's?"
I smiled the fake smile usually reserved for certain senators, "I suppose you might say that. We've worked together for many years, but I guess I don't really know Sam that well."
Sam's jaw dropped with that, "Al! How can you say that? We've been best friends for over ten years now!"
I stood to leave and decided that if this was how our friendship was going to end, I might as well go out with a bang. "Well, Sammy, I certainly didn't know about this. If I had things with us might have been different. Very different."
With that, I grabbed his shoulder and pulled him towards me and away from the other man. Without any further warning, I planted a Calavicci special right on his lips. Tongue and all, and it was good. It was beyond good. It was fucking incredible.
After we broke apart, I turned and walked out of the bar. Never looked back. Couldn't have even if I wanted to. It was over. Everything was over. My military career. My career at the project. Most importantly, Sam and I were over. I had destroyed it with my jealousy. All because Sam didn't want to have dinner with me last night. What a fucking idiot I was. I started the car and drove home. I might as well start packing now because there was nothing left for me here.
I had been home for about half an hour when the pounding started. I was propped up in the corner of my couch nursing a half-filled bottle of whatever alcohol I had picked up on the way home. Yep, I left the wagon behind me long ago.
The pounding at my door continued. I glanced at my wall clock - almost midnight. Boy, was he gonna piss off the neighbors. Finally the voice came, "Al, I know you're in there. Let me in. Please?"
I weighed my options carefully, as carefully as one can when they're quite buzzed. I could leave Sam outside and wait for neighbors to call the cops or I could let him in. The only downside to the former was that then I would have to answer to the cops about the "domestic disturbance". Something I definitely did NOT want to do. My other option meant answering to Sam. The cops or Sam. I decided on Sam. When push came to shove, I always chose Sam.
I dragged myself off the couch and over to the door. Without a word, I unlocked the latch and turned the handle to open it. As it swung open, I made my way back to my special corner of the couch.
Just as I settled in, Sam stormed into the apartment, slamming the door behind him. "Where the hell do you get off?"
Damn, he was sexy when he was pissed. Whoa, where did that come from? Oh well, might as well play it up. Didn't matter now. I turned on my best Calavicci leer, "Why, Sammy, I got the distinct impression that you liked boys."
Fury crossed Sam's face. That was not the right thing to say, obviously. And yet, it was exactly right. He growled back, "That's not what this is about, Al. What gives you the right to follow me and interrupt my, my…"
And with that, he wilted right in front of my eyes. He couldn't say it. He couldn't even name what he was doing. "Your what, Sam? Your date, your evening out, your cheap tawdry sex?"
Sam recovered his righteous indignation - something that he was rarely lacking. "My cheap tawdry sex? Look who's talking? I'm not the one with a sex story for all occasions? This one with the melons, that one with the casabas, and the list goes on and on. Now I have to wonder, do you have a whole library of stories involving your guy partners too?"
Nicely done Sam. Touché. Hit me where it hurts. Yep, that's right. Underneath all my stories of conquest, I'm really a fairy. Great. Drive the knife a little deeper. "No, Sammy, I don't. I love women. I fucking love them, and I love fucking them. I was straight as they come until you came into my life. You with your farmboy good looks and Mr. Morals approach to life. You with your kindness and caring. You with your fucking brilliance. You were everything I ever wanted, all wrapped up in a very male package. I'll have you know that it took me two years of therapy to admit that I wanted to fuck your brains out. I quit drinking for you. I quit smoking for you - nearly. Everything you ever wanted, I gave to you. All because I fucking loved you. It was okay that you didn't love me back because you didn't swing that way. Now I find out that you were out doing God knows how many guys." I stopped short, knowing that the next line would be just too pathetic. My anger was spent, and I was teetering dangerously on the edge of plunging into a drunken crying jag.
Sam looked like a deer caught in headlights. "Al, you're in love with me?"
Leave it to the kid to pick up exactly what I didn't want him to hear out of that tirade. "Yeah, Sammy, I've been in love with you for a long time now. I just figured since you didn't seem to be into guys that I should just let that go and enjoy what you could give me."
Sam began to pace, a habit well-known to me. It was a long time before he spoke, "Al, I need to tell you some things. I don't think you're going to like it though."
Here it comes. The I-don't-love-you-back-we-can-just-be-friends talk. Lord knows I had dished it out often enough. Figures that I should be on the receiving end every once in awhile. Who knows? It might be different when a Beckett gives it.
Sam ran his hand through his hair. His thick, brown hair, complete with that magical white forelock. "Al, I've known that I was gay since college. What can I say? It was the seventies - free love and all."
My turn to stare now. But what about the women over the years? Were they all lies?
Sam read my mind, "They weren't all lies, Al. Some of them were friends. Some were real dates. I don't hate women; I just don't have much interest in sleeping with them. And yes, there have been men. More at the beginning than lately."
My mind was spinning out of control. This wasn't new. Sam had been doing guys all along. The whole time I had been carrying my fucking torch for him, he was doing every Tom, Dick, and Harry down at Club Zero. God, Calavicci. You are a real schmuck.
Sam continued, "Before these last few weeks, there hadn't really been anyone since we got deep into the project simulations. All my time was spent on work. Even before that, there hadn't been anyone serious for years."
I sighed. "Is this supposed to make me feel any better, Sam? Cause I gotta tell you, it ain't."
"Al, not everything is about you." He stopped and smirked, "Although, I suppose this is. Do you know who that guy is that I've been seeing? He's about 12 years older than me and is ex-military. He's Italian, drinks too much, and smokes too much. Now who do you think that sounds like?"
My already wounded pride reared its ugly head, "You expect me to believe that you've been fucking that other guy as a substitute for me?"
Sam shrugged, "Believe what you want, Al. I wish I had known the real thing was an option. I think I would have liked that a lot better than where we are now."
It was too much. Too much to process in one night. Too much to process when I was this drunk. "Sam, get out." Knowing the Beckett stubborn streak, I continued, "Don't fight me on this, Sammy. I need some time. Now get out."
Sam, resigned to his fate, turned to go. He stopped at the door to deliver the fatal blow, "I love you too, Al."
I woke up in the morning sprawled across the couch in my clothes. Oh my God. My mouth was filled with cotton, and my head was in impending danger of splitting open. I smelled. More than that, I reeked. What had I done? As I remembered back over the night, I wanted to throw up. How could I have done that? How could I have said those things to Sam? Oh my God.
Despite my psychological hell, my physical senses were being bombarded by my own stench. I couldn't take any more and headed for the shower, leaving a trail of alcohol-stained clothes behind me.
I stood under the hottest shower I could stomach. I let the steamy water pour down over me to wash away everything I did last night. As I stood there, I felt a few tears spill down my cheeks as well. I had destroyed the most precious thing in my worthless life.
I leaned up against the shower wall as the events replayed in my brain for the umpteenth time. This time was different, though. This time I remembered the last thing Sam said before he left. He said that he loved me. Was it possible that he still meant that after everything I had done? I had to know. Maybe there was still a way to save this. Maybe if I could get past Sam's past, he could get past my present and we could have a future…together. Maybe.
I stood now, dressed and clean outside our office. We had given up having separate offices shortly after starting Project Quantum Leap. We just wasted too much time tracking down the other for this or that. The joint office became a place where some of our most harebrained and brilliant ideas were conceived.
I knew Sam would be there. Sam was hopelessly devoted to this project. It was his baby - the thing that had filled his dreams ever since college. We had been working on the project here for slightly more than two years. We were entering the final phases of simulations. It had been going well except for the ever-present funding crunch. Soon, Sam's time travel dreams would be reality. If we didn't tear ourselves apart first. My self-esteem was tenuous at best at the moment, but even I knew that Sam needed me to get this done.
So, time to try to save what was left between us. At worst, maybe I could at least see Sam realize his dream. At best, we might realize mine.
I entered the office only to find Sam asleep at his terminal. He was wearing the same clothes from last night. He must have come here straight from my apartment. He always took comfort in his work. He startled as I cleared my throat.
Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he spoke, "Al, what time is it?"
"Sammy, it's a little after noon. Looks like you slept here last night." *God, even dirty and wrinkled, he looks damn sexy.*
Sam sighed, "What do you want, Al? Do you have some more barbs you'd like to send my way or what?"
That hurt. I deserved it, but it still hurt. "No, Sam. No more insults. No more yelling. I'm sorry I dumped all of my crap on you last night. It's not your fault that I buried my feelings all these years. I shouldn't have followed you last night. Can you forgive me?"
I was rewarded with a Beckett smile, "I think I can manage that. I'm sorry for lying to you all these years. I just thought you wouldn't understand. I couldn't stand to lose your friendship if you didn't. That's totally my fault for not trusting you. I should've known better. You've always been there for me."
The air in the room felt lighter and the world seemed to be slowly coming back into focus. Life was good. Maybe I didn't fuck everything up after all. We both waited for the other to continue.
Finally Sam broke the silence, "You know, Al, I meant what I said. I do love you. "
My heart leapt in my chest, "I love you too, Sammy."
We stared at each other. Under the heat of his gaze, I started to shuffle my feet. "So, where do we go from here, Sammy?"
He got that look on his face. The one where I knew I was in trouble. "I believe the next step would be a date."
I snorted, "A date? Sam, we've known each other for years! Don't you think a date is kind of silly?"
He pretended to be hurt, "Mr. Calavicci, I am offended. A romantic relationship is entirely different from our friendship. I certainly think a date is in order before we proceed." Then the pretense fell, "Please note that I said, a date, as in one. After that I might just have to toss you in the sack and have my way with you."
I laughed out loud. That was my Sammy. "Well, I think I could be convinced to cook dinner for you tonight. How about 7 at my place?" I turned on my trademark Calavicci seductive charm, "Bring your toothbrush."
With that, I pulled him up from his chair and into our second kiss. Even better than the first. Yep, I definitely think things are looking up.