by Noel Goddard
Original Pub. Date: April 2002
Summary: A Quantum Leap/Sentinel crossover. Sam leaps into Cascade with unexpected results.
I sighed as I stared at the unfinished paperwork littering my desk. The numbers on the terminal in front of me were all starting to blur together. Usually I spent my time in between Sam's leaps trying to catch up on my sleep. This time I had instead spent the last three days cooped up in this office doing budget paperwork.
For the umpteenth time, I glanced at the memo rather unceremoniously tacked to the wall next to the computer terminal. After all the usual bureaucratic bullshit was the bottom line:
Due to government spending cutbacks, the budget for your facility will be reduced by 10% for the upcoming 2000-2001 fiscal year. Please submit your revised operating budget, reflecting this change, to the Department of Energy budget office by April 15, 2000.
I turned back to the figures facing me on the computer screen. Things were really going to get tight around here if I was going to make the project work on that kind of budget. Some things - like round-the-clock power for Ziggy, round-the-clock medical staff for the waiting room, key personnel - were simply non-negotiable. Sam needed those things. The things that had to go were the things that made life comfortable for all those people effectively held hostage in the New Mexico desert. For example, from now on, only MRE's and the various vending machines would be available in the cafeteria. The kitchen staff had to be let go. The various recreation facilities would have to be shutdown. No more expense accounts, off-site housing allowances...
I started violently as Ziggy's on-site alarm went off, signaling Sam's arrival in a new host. Silently, I cursed God, Time, Fate, or Whatever for depositing Sam in a leap when I had only four more days to complete this budget.
My thoughts were interrupted by Ziggy's voice. Her sultry alto cooed, "Admiral, we have a code 4 leap-in. Dr. Beeks requests your presence in the waiting room immediately."
*Shit*, I swore to myself silently. Code 4 was the project code for Sam leaping in during a sexual encounter. The only more serious code was the code red for life-and-death leap-ins. We had learned early on that leaping in during a sexual encounter was not only traumatic for Sam, but it also tended to make the leapees much less cooperative.
I pushed back from my desk and left my office. I covered the short distance to the waiting room in only minutes and walked into the waiting room to meet Beeks.
Judging from the way that the leapee was writhing and moaning on the table, I could tell that he hadn't quite realized he wasn't with his partner any more. Seeing through the aura always made me a little dizzy. I could see both Sam's aura and the body of the visitor. Our latest visitor appeared to be a smaller man, near my size, with long curly hair and two earrings in one ear. I turned to Beeks, asking simply, "Do we have anything yet to help us get a fix on Sam?"
Before Beeks could answer, the visitor called out in a scared voice, "Jim? Shit, where the hell am I?"
The realization slammed into me hard, and I heard Beeks take a sharp intake of breath. Sam had leaped into a man having a sexual encounter with another man. I exhaled, "Shit."
The visitor heard my obscenity and turned to look at me and Beeks. He seemed to be gaining coherence more rapidly than most of the leapees. "What the hell is going on here?! Where's Jim?"
I collected my shattered emotions and began to do my job. "You are at a top secret government project. We'll be happy to notify your, uh, partner of your safety if you can give us the necessary information - your name and address as well as that of your partner."
The younger man looked at suspiciously, "If you don't know who I am, why am I here? For that matter, how long have I been here?"
I ran my hand over my face in exasperation. Just what I needed, a kid who wants to play twenty questions. Somewhere inside of me, my instinct told me not to bullshit this kid. He was no fool, and I needed to get to Sam soon. "Look, you've been here about 7 or 8 minutes now. You're friend is probably getting pretty worried by now. I'll be happy to explain everything once I make contact with your friend."
The leapee seemed to think about things for a moment and then a decision registered on his face. "Jim's probably going ballistic by now - putting out APBs and such..."
I nodded along, even though I knew better, hoping that my actions would encourage him to continue.
After one last appraisal of me, "My name is Blair." There was a pause and a moment of confusion flashed across his face before he continued, "Blair...um...Sandburg. My partner's name is Jim...um...Ellison."
Judging from Blair's hair and earrings, I would guess the time frame was sometime in the late 80's up to the present. I verbally nudged him, "And where do you live?"
Sandburg hesitated as he struggled to remember. The young man was actually doing better than most of the leapees. "We live in Washington, I think. What the hell is wrong with me?"
I tried to press for more information, "Don't worry about that right now. DC or State?"
He answered reflexively, "State. Um, not Seattle. ... Damn it! What's the name of the city?"
I tried to help by naming some cities, "Tacoma, Spokane..."
He shook his head, negating both of those possibilities.
I tried again, "Cascade?"
A smile flashed across Blair's face, "Yes, that's it!"
I called out, seemingly to thin air, "Ziggy, can we get a lock?"
Ziggy answered, "Negative, Admiral. Blair Sandburg and Jim Ellison lived together in Cascade, WA from early 1996 to October 2, 1997. Without an exact date, it will take two hours, twenty-seven minutes, and thirty-two seconds for me to scan that time interval for Dr. Beckett's brain waves."
Blair's voice sounded almost excited as he asked, "Dr. Beckett? Dr. Samuel Beckett? This is Project Quantum Leap isn't it?"
"Shit. How do you know that? Hell, never mind. What date is it, Blair? I need to know what date it is for you, Blair. I'll explain everything else later." Blair looked skeptical. "I promise, Blair. On my honor as a Navy admiral, I promise."
Blair voice dropped to whisper, "Oh, man. You're Admiral Calavicci."
I was losing my patience. God only knows what state Sam was in after that leap-in. It had been almost twenty minutes now. I bellowed, "The date, Blair!"
That seemed to get Blair back into a functioning mode. He responded automatically, "September 30, 1997."
I nodded my thanks and turned on my heel to head out of the waiting room. Once I was in the hall, I called out to Ziggy, "Ziggy, get me a lock on Sam now and have Gooshie get the Imaging Chamber online. I'm on my way."
I headed down the hall and into the elevator that would carry me to the deepest level of the project, the level that housed Main Control, the Accelerator, and the Imaging Chamber. My mind was riddled with what-ifs. What if Sam totally freaked out when he leaped in? What if he didn't and he enjoyed it? Most importantly, what if it triggered his memories of us?
Before I could have a full-blown anxiety attack, the doors of the elevator slid open into the main control area. I hurried out the door and over to Gooshie. "Do we have a lock on Sam, Ziggy?"
The computer answered, "Affirmative, Admiral."
I turned to the little man sweating profusely next to me, "Is the Imaging Chamber online?"
Gooshie nodded and handed me the oft-abused handlink. "We're all ready for you."
I took the handlink and started towards the door to the Imaging Chamber. I stopped halfway there just to gather my wits before I had to face Sam.
In a surprising show of empathy, Gooshie just said, "I'm sure he's fine Admiral, but you really ought to get in there. He's going to worry about you if you don't show up soon. "
I nodded my agreement and walked through the Imaging Chamber door to meet my fate.
I was totally unprepared for what I found when I stepped into the Imaging Chamber. I had expected to either find Sam in throws of sex with this Ellison or else in the bathroom having an anxiety attack. Neither of those scenarios was what I found.
As I walked through the door, I heard an almost primal growl from across the room.
"For the last time, what ... have...you...done...with...Blair?"
I turned quickly towards the growl, and my jaw dropped at the scene. This very large, muscular man had Sam pinned to the bed and looked ready to tear him limb from limb.
I approached Sam quickly, "Jesus, Sam. What's wrong with this, this neanderthal?"
The look on the larger man's face suddenly changed from rage to confusion, "Who said that?"
I looked at Sam stunned, "Can he hear me?"
Sam exhaled through clenched teeth, "Apparently, Al."
The larger man stared at Sam, still looking confused, "Who is Al?" Slowly the larger man released his grip on Sam and moved to the end of the bed, where he started to rock back and forth. He was muttering softly under his breath. I strained to hear, "Damn it Sandburg. Where are you? I need you! I'm going crazy here."
The words and look made my heart want to break. The relationship that this Ellison and Sandburg had was so much like what Sam and I had before he leaped. I remember feeling much like Ellison after that first leap. I was completely lost without Sam.
Sam's voice broke through my memories, "AL! Earth to Al!"
I shrugged off the heavy weight of the memories, " Sam, are you okay?"
Sam looked first at the man at the end of the bed, and I followed his gaze. The man seemed too completely wrapped up in his own worries and now was oblivious to Sam and me. Looking back at me, Sam smiled weakly, "Yeah. I guess I'm okay. There is something very, very strange going on here. He knew as soon as I leaped in that I wasn't this Blair. I assume she's his girlfriend or wife or something?"
I laughed. I couldn't help it. "Sam, I guess with Conan over there threatening to crush you, you didn't take time to check out your host too well. Blair is a HE."
Sam blushed all the way from his toes up to his hairline. Yep, I could see it all, given his state when he leaped in. * Down Calavicci. Now is not the time for that. * Sam stammered, "You mean I leaped in while two guys were...um...you know?"
I snorted again as I tried to regain some control, "Yes, Sam. You are Blair Sandburg, a graduate student in anthropology at Rainier University. That, " gesturing towards the now silent man at the foot of the bed, " is Detective James Ellison of the Cascade Police Department. This is interesting. According to Ziggy, you started working with Detective Ellison a year and a half ago as a Police Observer, and the two of you moved in together in about a year ago. " I paused to take a much needed drag off my cigar.
Sam shook his head, "There's still something really strange going on here Al. He sees me, not Blair, and he heard you."
I snorted, "Tell me about it. The kid in the waiting room knows about Project Quantum Leap and knows who we are."
Sam's jaw dropped, "Oh boy. Something tells me that this isn't going to be an easy leap." Sam paused for a quick glance towards Ellison, "Al, he hasn't said anything for a while now. Is he okay?"
I punched at Ziggy to see if she had any information. All I got for my trouble was an annoyed squawk and a totally meaningless message. I groaned, "I don't know, kid. All your bucket of bolts will tell me is 'Father should know'. What the hell does that mean?"
Sam shrugged and moved closer to the man at the end of the bed, "Detective Ellison? Are you okay?" There was no response. Tentatively, Sam reached out to touch Ellison's shoulder. As he touched the larger man, Sam's eyes grew round, and he quickly moved his hand up to Ellison's throat to check his pulse. I watched as some sort of realization passed across Sam's face.
Curious, I asked, "Sam, what is it?"
Sam responded in full doctor mode, "Al, you gotta get the leapee into the imaging chamber FAST. Ellison's got almost no pulse and is freezing. I've seen this before. Get Sandburg in here NOW!"
Sam's tone of voice meant business, and I knew it. I pounded on the handlink and called out as I stepped through the door, "Gooshie crank up the power! We've got to get the leapee into the Imaging Chamber NOW! That's an order!"
I hurried back into the Waiting Room to meet a much calmer Blair. *Shame he couldn't stay that way* I tried to be calm about it, "Blair, I need you to come into the Imaging Chamber with me. Sam, um Dr. Beckett, needs your help with your partner, Jim."
Immediately, the small anthropologist became very agitated, "Damn, did Jim zone out? Of course he did or you wouldn't need my help. So, if I remember right, this Imaging Chamber links your brain waves with Dr. Beckett's, right? So, will he be able to see and hear me or will you have to translate?"
By this time, we were in the elevator and headed to the main control level. I had to know how this colossal security breach had happened. There was no way this kid should know so much. "Blair, I need to know how you know so much about the Project. This project is top secret; only the highest ranking government officials know anything about what goes on here."
Blair looked very pleased with himself suddenly, "Well, I read all of Dr. Beckett's papers while I was in college. Obviously, since I wound up in Anthropology, I've always been interested in past cultures. Well, what better way to learn about past cultures than by traveling to them."
I had to admit the kid was right, "That's true, but you still don't have security clearance to know the rest of it."
Blair just looked guilty now, "Admiral, did Dr. Beckett ever mention an e-mail consultant?"
Confused, I thought back to the days when we were building the project. I remembered that Sam would sometimes stay up half the night online while running simulations on Ziggy. When I would ask him what he was doing, he said he was comparing notes with a colleague. Now I remembered, a colleague at Rainier University! "You.... you were the colleague at Rainier?" I sputtered.
The doors of the elevator opened to the Control Room as Blair nodded. I just shook my head in disbelief. Here I thought that Sam was discussing the finer points of artificial intelligence, computer programming, holography, and theoretical physics with other colleagues. Instead he was discussing flights of fancy with this, this pipsqueak. I couldn't help but mutter, "Someday, Sam. Someday, you will pay for this, too."
I heard Blair snicker ever so slightly from behind me. Ignoring him, I turned to Gooshie, "Is the Imaging Chamber ready?"
Gooshie started to launch into a complicated discussion of the parameters that needed to be optimized and how the power outlay could lead to a partial system failure in other parts of the complex.
Exasperated, I snapped, "In English, Gooshie. Yes or no?"
Gooshie sighed, "Yes, Admiral."
I asked my next question to the room in general, "Ziggy, how long since I left Sam and what is the current condition of Detective Ellison?"
The computer's sultry voice echoed back from the very walls, "You left the Imaging Chamber 13 minutes and 42 seconds ago. There is insufficient data to answer your other query. You must make contact with Dr. Beckett before I can predict with any certainty the fate of Detective Ellison."
I turned to the kid fidgeting by my side, "Are you ready, Blair?"
He nodded energetically, "Yeah, man, we gotta help Jim. Let's go."
As we stepped through the doorway into the hologram of the past, Blair lurched a bit. I grabbed his arm to keep him steady and so that Sam could see him.
Blair looked at me, looking a bit green around the gills, "Is it always that disorienting?"
Sam looked up from his patient to exchange a confused look with me. I asked, "Is what so disorienting?"
Blair looked at me like I was the crazy one, "You know, the switch to the holographic image." He looked around him, "Wow! The loft looks so real." His eyes settled on Jim almost immediately, "Shit! He's totally zoned out. How long has he been like that?"
Now both Sam and I were shocked. Sam at least had the presence of mind to answer Blair's question, "About twenty minutes I think. I managed to get him laid back on the bed and covered, so he wouldn't be so cold."
Blair pulled away from me and moved across the room to where his partner was lying. He reached out to try to touch Ellison, cursing softly when his hand passed through the still figure. The anthropologist was a quick study though, and switched to using just his voice. He began talking to the detective slowly, in a soothing voice.
Sam moved away from the bed, motioning for me to join him downstairs in the loft. After punching the necessary codes into the handlink, I met Sam at the bottom of the stairs.
In full frustrated-scientist mode, Sam attacked me with questions, "What the hell is going on with this leap, Al? We've got Ellison, who can see me and hear you. Then we've got Blair who can somehow see the hologram that only you should be able to see and hear, and I can still see him when you let go of him! To top it all off, I've got this creepy, crawly feeling of deja vu that I just can't shake! I want answers, and I want them now. What does Ziggy have to say about this?"
I punched the handlink furiously, swearing under my breath. Finally, the necessary information scrolled across the screen, "Sam, according to Ziggy, Blair was the center of some controversy in 1999 when an unfinished draft of his doctoral thesis was leaked to the press. According to the press releases at the time, Ellison had been Blair's sole research subject. Ziggy says that Blair never completed his thesis, and he is now a high school history teacher in San Francisco."
There was a glint of understanding in Sam's eyes, "Al, there has to be something else about Sandburg and Ellison. I remember something...Damn! I hate my swiss-cheesed brain." Sam struck the stair rail in frustration.
Hoping to provide the trigger to his brain, I continued, "Based on what was in the press, the thesis was supposedly on the existence of primitive Sentinels in modern cultures. Ziggy says Ellison was some kind of genetic throwback to precivilized cultures with..."
Sam finished my sentence for me, "all five senses being hyperactive." Realization was spreading across Sam's face, "That's how he could tell I wasn't Blair and why he could hear you. Ellison experienced something called a zone-out up there - where he becomes totally unaware of the world around him. I can only guess that Blair can see the hologram and I can see him because of the psychic connection between a Guide and a Sentinel. Al, how do I know this? I don't have a degree in Anthropology, do I?"
I shook my head at him, "Nope, kid. Actually, this might account for that deja vu that you've been having." I knew that wasn't the only thing that Sam was remembering, but I still hoped that I could distract him for awhile until I could figure out how to explain us to him. I told him Blair's story, "According to our hippie friend, he says that you and he were e-mail penpals while we were building the project. Apparently, security wasn't a great concern of yours because that kid knows as much about the Project as Weitzman!"
Sam fairly jumped with excitement, "That's it! That's why this is all so familiar. Blair and I discussed our respective projects all the time." Looking guilty, he turned to me, "Don't be mad, Al. I didn't think it would really hurt anything, and I did have Ziggy run a full check on Blair before I told him anything vital."
I smiled at Sam to let him know that I wasn't really mad. Whenever he remembered something, it seemed like I almost had my Sam back. Just for a minute.
Now that he knew he wasn't in the doghouse anymore, Sam returned to the business at hand, "So, Al, why am I here?"
I shrugged, "Things have been so crazy since you leaped in, that I haven't even had time to ask Ziggy yet." I started to punch the handlink yet again and stopped short as the information scrolled across the screen. I swore, "Damn. According to Ziggy, Detective Ellison is killed by a deranged militia-type in two days. According to the police report, Ellison just stood there as a sniper in an abandoned warehouse took him out with a single rifle shot."
Sam whistled low, "He must have zoned out. Where was Blair?"
The handlink whistled as Ziggy spewed forth the necessary information, "Blair was being held captive at gunpoint by the other members of the militia. He watched Ellison die."
Ellison's rough voice sounded from the stairs above, where Sam and I now saw the other two men standing together, "So, what are we going to do about it?"
After telling Sam, Blair, and Jim that I would work on various scenarios with Ziggy, Blair and I left the Imaging Chamber. As we exited into the Main Control room, Blair's eyes widened at the array before him. When we had come through here before, I had hustled Blair so fast that he hadn't had time to really see anything. Now he looked like a kid in a candy store. I asked, "So are you a computer junkie, too?"
Blair took another look around before answering, "Hmm, oh yeah. If I hadn't done anthropology, I probably would have gone with computer science. That was part of the reason I always enjoyed my conversations with Dr. Beckett. He seemed to really understand the connection between the past, present and future. Not many people do, you know?"
I nodded, "I've always said that Sam, um Dr. Beckett, is a visionary ahead of his time." The kid in front of me was really starting to remind me of Sam - before the leaping. So young, so naïve. I wondered if he would ever look like that again, or if he would be permanently scarred by his experiences leaping.
I was startled out my reverie by Blair, who asked, "So, what can I do to help?"
Shaking my head, I spoke, " I really don't think there's anything you can do to help on this end Blair. I know you want to help, but Ziggy and I just have to run the various scenarios to see what's going to give us the best chance of saving Jim."
Blair sighed and ran a hand through his unruly hair, "Alright, man. So, should I just hang here or do I need to go back to that room where I arrived."
I called over to Tina and motioned for her to come over, "Tina, would you show Blair back to the Waiting Room and maybe set him up with some movies or books pre-1997?"
Blair visibly pouted, "Aw, man, can't I just surf the web or something? Speaking of which, what year is it?"
I snorted, "No way, hairboy. If you really appreciate that whole 'past, present, and future' concept, you should know that I can't let you see anything from the last three years."
With a twinkle in his eye, Blair smiled, "You're right. Can't blame a guy for trying. What made you call me hairboy? Only one other person calls me that."
I shrugged, "I dunno. It just seemed to fit."
Blair turned and followed Tina towards the elevator as I sat down in front of Ziggy's main console and set about trying to save Detective Jim Ellison's life and get Sam out of his present mess of a leap.
Night came and went as Ziggy and I ran the various scenarios. No matter how we played it, the problem remained the same. Sam couldn't bring Jim out of a zone out. We had Blair on our side, but while Jim could see and hear Blair, Blair couldn't touch Jim. Without that element of touch, it had taken Blair a good five minutes to rouse Jim from the zone out after Sam's arrival. That simply wasn't going to be fast enough to prevent Jim from being shot. Somehow, someway, Sam was going to have to either avoid being taken captive or escape from his captors long enough to save Ellison.
I was not looking forward to being the bearer of bad news to either Blair or Sam. Blair would have an anxiety attack over Jim, and Sam would just demand the impossible. I decided that I needed to handle this discussion without Blair tagging along. I sighed and headed for the Imaging Chamber. This just was not going to be fun.
As I stepped through the Imaging Chamber door into the loft, I spied Sam hard at work in the kitchen. I walked up behind him and peered over his shoulder to see what he was cooking. As Sam turned to grab something from the other counter, he started at my presence, "Damn it, Al! Don't sneak up on me like that!"
I did my best to act innocent and hurt, "Aw, Sam. I was just trying to see what you were making." I peered over into the pot on the stove, "Ooo, your famous Beckett stew. Yummola!"
Sam swatted at the empty air where I 'stood', "Down, Al. This is for Jim, not you."
I watched as a confused look passed across Sam's face. He spoke slowly, "There it is again, Al. That feeling of deja vu. Did we used to cook together a lot?"
I hemmed and hawed, trying to answer without obviously lying, "Yeah, Sam, sure. We used to have dinner together a lot after late nights at the Project."
Sam nodded, mildly satisfied, "That makes sense. It just seems like there was maybe something more."
Cautiously, I asked, "Like what, Sam?"
He just shook his head and smiled weakly, "I don't know, Al. Whatever I was remembering is gone now. So, what do you have for me?"
Pushing all the obscene answers to that question out of my head, I looked around the loft surreptitiously, "Where is the good detective?"
Sam smiled, "He muttered something about it being too weird having me around the loft and he went to work on his day off."
Not really wanting to know the answer, I asked with a forced Calavicci sneer, "And how weird were things around here last night?"
Sam groaned, saying "Al!! Jim knows perfectly well that I'm not Blair. He took the bed upstairs, and I slept in Blair's old room down here."
Relieved, I slipped and made a more typical Calavicci comment, "Well, depending on your point of view, you might not have gotten the best end of that deal. Detective Ellison is a pretty built man."
Sam sputtered, "Al, that's... that's..."
I tried to rescue the moment with some righteous indignation, "Well, you're the one who got me to understand that gays are okay, even in the military."
An uncomfortable silence fell between Sam and me as we each tried to figure out where to go with this conversation.
Sam broke the silence first by changing the subject, "So, Al, what did you and Ziggy come up with on this leap?"
I sighed and told him the bad news, "Nothing good. Blair can't bring Ellison out of the zone-out quick enough with just his voice. Ziggy says your only two options are to either avoid being captured or to escape your captors in time to save Ellison."
Sam dumped the pile of vegetables he had been chopping into the stew and covered the pot. I could hear the pained acceptance in his voice, as he asked, "So, where are the odds on those two scenarios?"
I acknowledged the bad situation by giving him just the facts, "If you avoid being captured, then Ziggy predicts that there's a 60% chance that Ellison lives. However, if you are captured and have to escape, Ziggy only puts the odds at 30%. "
Sam turned around, running his hand over his face, "Oh boy."
At just that moment, Sam and I heard a key turning in the lock of the door. Detective Ellison came in, and his face seemed to fall just a bit as he realized that it was still Sam, and not Blair, in the kitchen.
Bless his heart, Sam tried, "Hey, Jim. How was work?"
Ellison just shrugged as he turned to hang his coat. After securing his coat neatly on its hook by the door, he turned toward Sam and skipped over any pleasantries, "So, do we have a plan to stop the shooting tomorrow?"
Sam hedged, "Well, Al and Ziggy have been working on our options. Tell you what. I'll have Al bring Blair into the Imaging Chamber, and we can all put our heads together on the plan."
In unison, Jim and I answered, "Sounds like a plan."
With a last glance at Sam, I punched the handlink and stepped back through the door.
As the door closed, I knew I had to break the bad news to Blair that Ziggy had no good scenarios for this leap. Somehow, I knew that Sam was doing the same thing in his own way with Ellison right now. I wasn't sure which one of us had the worse job - telling a man he might die or telling another man that we didn't know how to save the man he loved. Sometimes this job really stinks.
As I approached the Waiting Room, I decided to stop in the Observation Room. We had installed this room early on in the project, as a way to watch the leapees without making them any more uncomfortable and also without risking giving away any information about the project. The room was small and dark except for one wall, which seemed to open into the Waiting Room. As part of the holographic advances designed at Project Starbright and Project Quantum Leap, we had been able to create a holographic wall between the two rooms. In the Waiting Room, there were simply four walls; none appeared any different. However, the east wall was actually covered with millions of microscopic sensors, which projected everything that happened in the Waiting Room onto the west wall of the Observation Room as a frighteningly realistic image.
On this wall, I saw the young, long-haired man that was presently inhabiting Sam's body. He was lying on the cot in the room staring at the ceiling, a book laying open on the floor next to the cot. From the look on his face, it was easy to tell that his mind was in the same place as mine. How do we get ourselves out of this mess? For just a moment, I refocused my eyes, so that I could see more of Sam's aura and less of Blair's. I rarely did this because it was too disturbing to watch the leapees doing things in Sam's body that were decidedly un-Sam-like. However, in this instance, Sam's aura looked very much like himself. I was stuck with a pain in my heart as I thought, for the one-millionth time, how much I missed Sam. At least in some small part of my heart, I still had hope that Sam would eventually return home to me. If we couldn't figure out this leap, then Blair would lose Ellison forever. Damn.
I left the Observation Room and headed into the Waiting Room with no warning. Refocusing on Blair instead of Sam's aura, I was blunt, probably needlessly blunt, "We're stuck. Ziggy and I can't figure any way for Sam to prevent Jim being shot unless Sam can avoid being kidnapped in the first place."
Blair sat up on one elbow and questioned, "Well, why can't we just do that?"
I pulled a cigar out of my inner coat pocket and lit it without waiting for permission, "Because Ziggy doesn't know how or when Sam gets taken. In the original history, Ellison went to meet you for lunch and you never showed. When he went to the loft to look for you, there were no signs of forced entry and only a message on the answering machine telling him to come to the warehouse district alone if he ever wanted to see you alive again."
With an obviously pained look on his face, Blair asked the question that he had to have answered, "What exactly happened in the warehouse district?"
I sighed, "According to the police report, Ellison called all this in to his commanding officer, a Captain Simon Banks. He then headed for the warehouse district. Banks sent backup, full lights and sirens. When they arrived, Banks saw Ellison standing about 20 feet away and he called out to him. Ellison didn't respond and just as Banks was about to call again, a shot was fired and Ellison went down. The police stormed the warehouse where the shot came from, and they found you bound and gagged near the window where the sniper had been."
As I finished, I looked up and saw that Blair looked decidedly paler than when I started. He took a moment to collect himself, and then seemed to settle back into his task, "So, what could have caused Jim to zone out? The sirens should have broken his concentration. If only we knew that, then he might be able to avoid it this time."
Nodding, I decided to move things along, "C'mon hairboy, let's go to the cafeteria and get you some food before we go to the Imaging Chamber to put our heads together with Sam and Ellison, um, Jim."
Blair responded with surprise, "I thought I wasn't allowed to see any more of the project."
With a half-hearted smile, I replied, "What can I say? I have a soft spot for excitable young geniuses who put up with us cranky older military types."
With that, Blair gave me a genuine smile, and we went out the Imaging Chamber door. Walking down the hall and into the cafeteria, I feel Blair's eyes on me. Finally, as we sat at a remote table to eat, I ask, "What's going through that brain of yours?" Blair raised an eyebrow before wondering out loud; "You and Dr. Beckett were a couple weren't you? He never said so, but I just always got the feeling that you two were more than just co-workers."
I debated the answer to that question. What was the harm in telling this kid? I'd kept that secret for so many years and yet, it somehow felt right to tell Blair. If he made it back to his time, his brain would be Swiss-cheesed again on his trip back. Even if it wasn't, there would be little to gain by outing Sam and me, given the kid's own precarious living situation. And if this leap failed and he got stuck here, I would be out of job anyway and could probably use a friend who knew exactly what I had lost besides my job. I spoke the words carefully and quietly, words that I had never spoken out loud, "Yes, Sam and I were very much in love before he leaped. Before you ask, it was Sam's love of his work that drove him to leap, even knowing the risks. I had to give up my anger at him for leaving me a long time ago. If I hadn't, I couldn't be here now trying to bring him home." With that Blair only nodded and went back to eating, seemingly lost in his own thoughts.
As the door of the Imaging Chamber opened, I was somewhat surprised by the calm scene that greeted us on entering the loft. Sam and Jim were sipping beers in the living room, watching a college basketball game while the dishwasher rumbled in the background.
Sam looked up as he heard the Imaging Chamber door close, and Jim followed Sam's gaze. I saw the look that passed between Jim and Blair and was immediately overcome with jealousy. Sam seemed to catch a glimpse of that and questioned, "What's wrong, Al?" He could read me so well. I shook off my moment of self-pity and focused on the issue at hand, "Nothing. Just thinking about how we're going to solve this leap."
Jim looked in my direction and asked, "Any new ideas?"
I've got to tell you, after 5 years of having the Imaging Chamber as my private time with Sam, it was downright spooky to have someone else be able to hear everything I had to say. I couldn't resist asking the question, "What exactly do you see and hear when you look at Sam and me?"
Jim cleared his throat, obviously embarrassed to have to talk about his gifts, "Is that really important here?"
I shrugged, "Who knows? Maybe it will be important tomorrow, maybe not."
Jim nodded understanding, "When I look at Sam, I see almost two images - one of Blair and one of Sam. I don't understand how, but I can tell that the one of Blair isn't real."
I nodded, understanding since that was exactly what I saw in the Waiting Room when guests inhabited Sam's body.
Jim continued, "When I look at Blair, I can see him, but he's sort of hazy, and you're just sort of a disembodied voice." With the last comment, Jim smiled sheepishly.
To break the tension, I wisecracked, "Nice to know that I'm at least important enough to be heard." That brought a smile to Sam's face, something I hadn't seen much of in our recent leaps.
Sam's face moved from that smile into a look I knew all too well, "Sam, what's going on in that brain of yours?"
Sam turned towards me and the smile returned, "I think I figured it out Al. I go through tomorrow doing Blair's normal routine. You can keep an eye on me to make sure that I don't get hurt in the kidnapping. Then once they take me, you can come back to Jim and tell him exactly where I am and how many captors there are. Then he doesn't have to zone out while searching for me!"
Somewhat skeptical, I punched that scenario into Ziggy and the handlink spewed and sputtered in response. After a few minutes, the readout came back, "Ziggy gives that a 70% chance of working. I suppose that's better than any other plan we have. But what if those goons hurt you in the process?"
Sam looked at me with trust in his eyes, "Well, that's why I have you to be the eyes in the back of my head."
Jim spoke up, "If something happens to Sam while he's in Blair's place, what happens to Blair?"
Sam and I were both quiet, not knowing how to really answer that question with both Blair and Jim staring at us. Finally, Sam cleared his throat and said, "We don't really know. I've never been seriously injured on a leap. If I were to be killed, our previous data suggests that Blair would then be stuck in the future. However, if I were just seriously injured, I don't know whether I would still leap and if Blair would be injured when he returns. That's why it is so important that Al serve as my backup and that we do this exactly right."
Everyone was silent for a few moments before Blair spoke, "Can you guys give us a minute to talk this over?"
I spoke up, "There's not really a choice to be made here Blair."
He sighed and nodded, "I understand that, but if there's a chance this might not turn out right, then I want to spend a little time alone with Jim first." Nodding in understanding, Sam and I moved out of the living room and into the kitchen.
Once in the kitchen, I tried to distract Sam by asking more about Blair, "So how did you meet Blair and why didn't I ever hear about him?"
Sam thought for a minute and then gave up, muttering, "Damn swiss-cheese for brains..."
Okay, not a good topic for now. I tried a slight different bent, "He seems like a good kid. Reminds me of you when you were younger."
Sam smiled, "Yeah I think that's why I wound up telling him so much about the project. Even though he's not a physicist, he really seemed to understand what I was trying to do with Project Quantum Leap." After another glance at Blair and Jim, Sam looked at me sheepishly, "You know, Jim kind of reminds me of you."
"That neanderthal reminds you of me?" I sputtered. Shaking my head, I quizzed, "Am I really all that bad?"
Sam laughed, "Of course not, Al. Jim's ex-military and very committed to his work and to Blair. I really think that he would do anything for Blair." Sam paused before continuing, "Even though I can't remember everything we had before I leaped, I get the feeling...I know that it's the same for us." With a pained look on his face, Sam moved to go into Blair's old room, "Good night, Al. I'll see you in the morning."
Staring after him, I called a warning to Blair, "Are you done Blair? We should go get some rest before the morning." Blair cast one last look at Jim, then I opened the Imaging Chamber door, and we vanished from the loft.
After returning to the project, I tucked Blair into the Waiting Room for the night and then headed back to my office, stopping for a large coffee from the vending machine. For the first time in the day and a half since Sam had landed, I sat down at my desk and was accosted by the budget proposal. My head reeled as I stared again at the figures. Even if Sam and I could pull off yet another miracle in this leap, there was still the very real day to day miracle that would be necessary on my part. God, why couldn't Sam ever leap into a wealthy philanthropist and solve all of our money problems at once?
Taking a large gulp of my coffee, I set to work on the figures before me. There would no rest tonight, as had been the case on so many nights since Sam left. If Sam was ever to get home, then there would time for sleeping, but not now.
After what seemed like an eternity of numbers and curses, I was roused from my work by Ziggy. "Admiral, Detective Ellison is about to leave for work. It is time for you to go be with Dr. Beckett."
Slowly, I rose from my desk chair as my joints voiced their protest. I stepped into the small washroom off my office and cleaned up for the day ahead. I left my office, headed for the Waiting Room. I walked in and nearly collided with Blair as he paced across the room.
Looking sheepish, he apologized, "Sorry about that. I didn't sleep a wink last night. Guess I'm just too wired about today."
I smiled back warmly, "I know the feeling, kid. I stayed up last night in budget hell."
Blair looked back quizzically, "The project is having funding problems? You've got to be kidding me! With all the private funds out there, you should be rolling in dough for this project!"
I sighed, "Well, that's the problem Blair. We're not privately funded. We are a U.S. military installation. Sam was too worried that someone in the private sector would exploit his work for financial gain."
Blair snorted, "Like the government is any better!"
I nodded, knowing all too well the evils of some parties in the government, "Yeah, but that's where I could help Sam get the money. Sam was always the brains, and I was the money guy. My military ranking with my past as a POW and an astronaut carries more weight with governmental funding agencies than with the private sector."
Blair looked thoughtful, "Is there any reason that the project couldn't be both? Obviously the government wouldn't want you giving away military secrets, but maybe you could patent and sell something innocuous, like some of the holographic technology, to the private sector for some extra dough?"
Shaking my head, I laughed, "You really are a genius like Sam." Blair blushed at the compliment. I continued, "You may have just single-handedly saved many jobs for the next year!"
As I finished, I realized we had reached the control room where Gooshie looked at Blair disapprovingly. I glared back, "Just don't even start, Gooshie. Sam and I need the kid on this one. Don't worry, I'll find a way to pay the extra power bill next month." With that Gooshie backed down and started pushing the buttons to prep the imaging chamber. Silently, I reached past him and picked up the handlink, steeling myself to begin today's adventure. I reached out to Sam mentally, swearing for the 100th time that these leaps were giving me ulcers and making me lose what was left of my hair.
Blair and I stepped into the Imaging Chamber and landed in the loft without incident. Sam waved from the computer where he was hard at work on some equations. I approached and looked over his shoulder, already knowing what I would find. "Working on the retrieval program again Sammy?"
He answered without turning around, "Yeah, Al. It occurred to me that I could e-mail the equations to you at the project in the present time. Maybe this would help you eventually to get me home."
I smiled sadly, "Sam, you know that won't work. In 1997, I won't know about this leap yet and receiving data like that might make me think that there's a security breach. The government might shut us down for something like that."
Sam nodded, "Well maybe I could set up a time delay to e-mail the equations to you where you are now."
Blair interrupted now, "Sorry man. That laptop is on its last legs. I can assure you that it will be in a junk heap long before it could send that e-mail."
Sam pounded his hand on the desk in frustration as he tried to come up with an answer. His thoughts were interrupted by the intercom's buzzer. Sam looked at me quizzically as he rose to answer the intercom. I punched Ziggy to find out if now was the time.
Sam pushed the button and a static-filled voice crackled, "Delivery for Blair Sandburg." Sam tried to answer, "Could you bring it up to the apartment?" The speaker crackled back, "Afraid not. The insurance on this thing specifies delivery to the building door only. Once it's inside, it's your responsibility."
Sam questioned, "What is it?" The other person was now becoming annoyed, "It says it's from UCLA. How am I supposed to know what it is? I just know that it's insured to the hilt. Are you coming to get this thing or not?"
Sam looked at Blair, "Are you expecting anything?" Blair fought his swiss-cheesed memory for a moment and then remembered, "I think I am expecting some artifacts from UCLA."
Sam pushed the intercom button once more, "I'll be down in just a moment." Sam opened the door to the loft, "Okay, Al. You're on. I'm headed down. You've got my back."
Sam headed down the hallway to the stairwell. Just as he opened the door, someone on the other side pulled hard, sending Sam sprawling off balance.
I called my warning too late, "Sam look out!"
These were professionals. They had Sam against the wall before he could fight and plunged the syringe into his neck. Sam slid to the floor, staring at me, until his eyes closed as his slid into unconsciousness.
Blair and I stayed with Sam as the kidnappers drove him to the remote warehouse where in this timeline, Ellison would die. Blair was surprisingly quiet, as he seemed to take in every detail about the kidnappers and their location. The kidnappers pulled up to the warehouse and piled out of their van. One particularly burly man pulled Sam out and slung him across his shoulder to carry him into the dark warehouse. They unceremoniously dumped Sam into a chair near an upstairs window and tied him tightly, hands and legs to the chair.
I listened as the one who was apparently the leader spoke, "Now we've got Ellison dead to rights. We've got his little boy-toy. He'll do whatever we tell him to. Go make the call."
I nodded to Blair and punched the buttons on the handlink to send us to Ellison. It was time to change history, I hoped.
Ellison immediately stiffened as we popped into the bullpen at the precinct. Before Blair or I said a word, he grabbed his jacket and headed for the elevator. As he waited for the elevator, he hissed under his breath, "They've got him?"
Blair, standing between Jim and the elevator, nodded, "Yes, they grabbed Sam at the loft and took him to the warehouse. He's drugged and out of it. He's not going to be much help to us. You're going to have to bring Simon in now, Jim. You can't wait to call him from the warehouse as backup. These guys mean business."
Jim looked around for anyone to notice him talking to thin air and finding no one, hissed, "Sandburg, what do you propose that I tell Simon? Oh, by the way, someone who looks likes Blair but isn't has been kidnapped and if you don't come with me to rescue him, I'm going to die?"
Blair, looking exasperated, answered, " I don't care what you tell him, but you're not leaving here without him. I'm responsible for you, whether I'm here or in the future. Tell him it's a sentinel thing! Just get him!"
With a look that I knew I had given Sam many times over, Jim relented and headed back into the bullpen. When I moved to follow Jim into the captain's office, Blair put a hand on my arm. I looked at the younger man questioningly and he just said, "It'll be easier for Jim to get this done if I'm not there to distract him." So, we watched from outside as Jim had what looked to be a heated conversation with his captain. As I watched, my thoughts kept straying back to Sam. I knew intellectually that Ziggy would let me know if Sam was in imminent danger, but my heart just dreaded the thought of Sam waking up tied to that chair alone. Whether he liked to admit it or not, Sam still had a tendency to panic when I wasn't around in times of crisis. I often wondered what God, Time, Fate or Whatever had been thinking when they chose a sensitive soul like Sam for this job.
My thoughts were interrupted as Jim and his captain, Simon Banks, came out of the office together. Neither looked too happy, but Blair seemed comforted by the captain's presence. He leaned over to confide in me, "Simon's the only person besides me who's ever had any luck in reaching Jim as he's about to zone out."
I couldn't stand it any longer. I punched buttons on the handlink and had Ziggy center us back on Sam while Jim and Simon were in route. As we popped back in, Sam moaned in his chair. Good, he's just waking up.
"Sammy, are you okay?"
Sam groaned again, a little too loudly, "Al? Al, is that you?"
Before I could shush Sam, one of the militia goons appeared through the doorway, "Hey look who's up? Just in time to see your sugar daddy go down. He should be here anytime to try to save your sorry ass." I cringed as the goon struck Sam hard across the face. "Hey, I'm talking to you, pretty boy. How did a little fag like you trap someone like Ellison, huh? "
Sam was still too groggy to do anything to fight back and just groaned in response. I watched in horror as the man punched Sam in the stomach and again in the face.
"Blair you can see all of the hologram, right?" Blair nodded sympathetically. I spoke in clipped words, "Go find Jim and Simon now." Hoping the kid could lead them back here safely, I stayed by Sam's side as this beast continued to pummel him both verbally and physically. I was helpless. No way I could help, other than to pray for the cavalry to come. God, I hate this job. What did Sam ever do to deserve this?
Just then, the goon was distracted from Sam by the sound of gunshots on the bottom level of the warehouse. He pulled his gun and ran from the room. Quickly I moved towards Sam, "Sam, are you awake? Can you get your wrists free? Jim's on his way. We really need to get you out of here. Okay?"
Sam groaned in response, "Al, is it really you this time?"
"Yes, Sammy, it's me. I need you to move and move now."
Sam shook his head, as if to clear it, and started trying to work his wrists free from the chair. As the gunplay continued downstairs, Sam finally got his wrists free and started to free his ankles, "Al, did you get Jim here with backup this time?"
I was about to answer as he freed his ankles and stood from the chair, but suddenly the door to the room burst open causing Sam and me to stop in our tracks. Mr. Sunshine himself came bursting back into the room and grabbed Sam in a chokehold, using him as a human shield. Not far behind was Jim, weapon trained on the man. I could see Blair over Jim's shoulder.
Calmly, Jim spoke, "Let him go. All of your comrades are dead or ran away. You're alone now."
The goon sneered, "You'd like your boy toy back wouldn't you? I'd rather go down fighting than have you continue to smear the reputation of the Special Forces and the police department with your sickness."
It hurt me to the core as Jim answered coldly, "I hardly know this man. He means nothing to me. You grabbed the wrong guy. You might as well let him go because you're going down either way."
The goon hesitated for just a moment, long for Sam to seize the moment. It was like a movie scene in slow motion. Sam brought his foot down hard on his captor's foot and then spun away from him. The goon fired and I saw Sam jolt as the bullet hit his side. Sam fell to the ground, and Jim took the guy out with three clean shots to the center of the chest.
As Jim stepped forward to kick the weapon from the dead man's hand, I knelt on the ground by Sam. Sam was holding his side with his hand as he bled, "Al, did we do it? Do Jim and Blair make it?"
Urging him to be quiet, I punched the buttons of the handlink, "Yes, Sam. They both survive today. Blair walks out from the warehouse without a scratch. Like they say in fairy tales, they live happily ever after. Ziggy says you're gonna leap soon."
Sam coughed and laid his head back on the concrete, "Al, we did a good thing you know. " Completely ignoring the two men in the background, I reached out to almost touch Sam. "I know, Sammy. I know. You should rest up now. You're gonna leap soon."
Sam nodded, "Al, I just want to tell you. I remember us. I remembered while I was waiting for you here in the warehouse. You're the reason this leap felt so familiar. I love you, Al." With that, the image faded in a flash of blue as Sam leaped. I was left sitting on the floor of the Imaging Chamber, alone. I spoke to the empty room, "I love you too, Sammy."
Several months passed after the leap with Blair and Jim. Sam had landed in his next leap unscathed and with only a vague memory of his last leap. I didn't push his memory, and he seemed content to go back to just being best friends. We went through leap after leap, all of which seemed routine after Jim and Blair's invasion into our lives.
I had followed Blair's suggestion and had sold the rights to the tiles of the Waiting Room wall, which allowed for the holographic projection in the Observation Room. That alone had stabilized the project's funding for the next 9 months. Every little bit helped. I hoped that Sam wouldn't be too angry when he finally came home.
Late one night as I toiled away on my computer, I was greeted by an Instant Message window from none other than Blair.
"Hey, Admiral. By my rough calculation, you should know who I am by now right?"
Shaking my head and laughing, I answered, "Yeah, kid. How could I forget? How are you and Jim?" Of course I already knew the answer. One of the first things I did after that leap was check their timeline.
The computer binged its reply, "Oh, we're doing great man. You probably heard, my thesis still didn't fly. I'm now Jim's partner on the force full time. Who would've thought, huh?"
I typed back, "Well, you never know where love will take you."
There was a pause and then Ziggy announced, "Admiral I am uploading the incoming file."
I questioned, "Blair, what did you just send me?"
My head reeled as the text scrolled across my screen, "Remember those equations that Sam was working on before he was grabbed? Well, I saved them until now. I hope they'll help you bring him home."
Tears streamed down my face as I typed back, "Thanks so much Blair. I'll let you know. Good night."
I spoke to the open air of my office, afraid to hope, "Ziggy, is there anything useful there?"
I heard Ziggy humming away as she processed the data. Suddenly the lights dimmed and went out for nearly a full minute, leaving me cursing, "Ziggy, damn it! What have you done now? Get the power back on now!"
Ziggy finally hummed, "Admiral, I think you should go to the Waiting Room now."
Afraid to think what I was thinking, I rushed through the halls and burst into the Waiting Room full tilt. The figure on the table sat up and stared back at me with Sam's eyes. Not a leapee's eyes in Sam's body, but Sam's eyes.
"Al, I'm home."
We grabbed each other in a crushing hug. Unable to hold in what I had wanted to say for the last 5 years, I whispered, "I love you Sammy."
Sam just squeezed back, "I love you too Al."