The idea that Sam is in control of his own fate is ludicrous.
Except, things are different now. Aren’t they.
“Sam, you’ll only do this as long as you want to.”
“Are you saying I can leap home any time I want?”
“What’s the catch?”
“The catch is that you have to accept that you control your own destiny.”
Sam hasn’t been in control of his destiny since he chose to step into the Quantum Leap accelerator and he vanished into the wilds of time and space. Sam is so used to being out of control that the idea that he could slam on the breaks and get himself off this crazy ride sounds about as likely as pigs growing wings and taking flight.
But there is a truth to the words Al the Bartender spoke. A truth that Sam can feel in his bones, flowing through him like blood runs through his veins. He hasn’t been in control but that doesn’t mean that he couldn’t take it back.
He could choose to go home. He could. If what Al the Bartender said is true, then he could choose to leap home and see his loved ones and his friends and find out just how much the world has changed because of the work he’s done.
But there is a thought, a teeny tiny niggling thought in the back of his mind that tells him that it isn’t time to go home yet. He hasn’t done everything he supposed to do.
His kneejerk reaction is to argue. He’s done everything he’s been asked to do. Everything.
Not everything, you selfish jerk.
Al’s voice- Sam’s Al, the real Al- snaps out a reply in his brain. Sam had done what Ziggy told him he had to do and Sam had done what HE wanted to do, those few times when he really thought it would matter. But there was one thing he had been asked to do by Al that he had refused to change. A request that, now that he had all of his memories back, he can’t believe he didn’t think to do on his own.
Al had wanted Sam to tell Beth that he was alive. That he was coming home and that all she needed to do was to wait and she’d see his shadow darken her doorstep once more. But Sam wouldn’t do it.
They couldn’t change their own lives, he had said. And it was easy to say it at the time. He didn’t understand the immense heartache that Al lived with, the sorrow and betrayal that Beth’s leaving him had caused. And if Al had a chance to fix that, to change it, he was going to jump on that chance the second he noticed it was there.
But Sam wouldn’t play ball and Al couldn’t tell her himself. So, Sam leaped out of that time and that place and Beth still believed that Al was dead. And she had him declared dead officially and married another man, only to find out that she was wrong.
And Al was all alone, with his war wounds and his PTSD and his drinking and his cigars.
Sam did that.
Not the first time but he let it happen a second time. Actively chose to let it happen again. Sam hates himself for that. He can’t believe that he would be capable of making a choice like that and yet he knows that he did. He’s ashamed. After all Al has done for him and he couldn’t do that one thing, just that ONE request.
Sam loves Al. Loves him like he loved Tom, like he loved Katie and his mother and his father. Al is like a brother and a father and a best friend all rolled into one and Sam allowed Al to keep getting hurt in a way that he knows Al would never have done to him.
“Where would you like to go, Sam?”
“Home. I’d like to go home. But I can’t, can I? I’ve got a wrong to put right, for Al. You knew that, didn’t you?”
If he’s in control of his destiny, then he’s got something he has to do before he goes home. Something that is more important than anything else that Sam has ever done for anyone else in the world.
He needs to save Al’s life. The life he would have had (should have had) with Beth. If Sam has so much control, then he’ll be able to use it now to go back and let Beth know that she needs to wait.
In his brain, that big cavern of knowledge and invention that got him into this mess in the first place, he yells out to God or fate or destiny or whatever the address of where he needs to go.
Take me to Beth. You know when.
He leaps into her living room and the sounds of Ray Charles singing hits his ears and breaks his heart in that first instant. Beth is a vision, dancing alone in the middle of the living room, clearly pretending to be dancing with someone else.
Sam knows that she’s thinking of Al, that it’s his friend that she’s wishing were in her living room at that exact moment. She looks so young but with a burden that no one should bear and Sam kicks himself internally, knowing that he could have fixed this before but didn’t.
This, he realizes, is something that someone wanted him to learn. Sometimes, the rules are not nearly as important as the big picture. And a part of the big picture is that a guy like Al, who has been kicked around since he was a tiny kid, deserves a break every now and then. He deserves to get the girl for once, to ride off into the sunset and have a Happily Ever After.
It didn’t happen that way the first time but that’s what Sam’s job is. To make it right on the second try. Or, in this case, the third.
He says her name, clearly startling her. She jumps back a step, fear in her eyes and he knows that he has to turn this around and quick. Al loves this woman. He hasn’t been able to love anyone else as strongly or as deeply since. Sam knows that if Beth came to him now, in Sam’s time, and told him that she wanted him back, he would drop everything and everyone and go with her. He might not admit it, but Sam knows it to be true.
So he knows that he needs to take care of Beth. Be kind and gentle and as honest as he can be so that she’ll believe him. He's learned a lot about women since he's spent some time literally walking in their shoes and he tries some of what he's learned on Beth, with as much respect as he can muster. This is Al's wife. No matter how many other women Al has married, Beth would always be his wife, if only in his head. Sam has to fix this. It is the very least he can do.
“Al? You’re a friend of Al’s?”
“Yeah. I’m a friend of Al’s.”
And he lays it out there. His story about Al. That he’s alive and that he’s coming back to her.
Her desperate need to believe him is clear as day on her face and the hope that pours off of her is almost tangible. He wants to reach out and test the air, to see if he can touch it.
She starts to cry, deep and heaving sobs that are less about sorrow and more about relief. Sam has just given her the answer to her prayers and the release of all that tension and worry is almost more than Sam can bear. He stands while she cries, knowing that it isn’t his place to comfort her, not after the way he’s come in to her home. He’s given her what she needs to stay the course and that is all that matters.
She’ll wait, for as long as it takes now. His work here is done. Time to get going.
He steps away from her and closes his eyes.
Take me home. Even if it’s just for a little while, I want to go home.
He doesn’t hear any voices, doesn’t feel the presence of any entity near him but he gets the strangest sensation of being watched. It’s strong on the back of his neck and he fights the urge to turn around and look behind him.
Home. Take me home.
He thinks it with more force, with surety. He knows where he wants to go and damn it, he wants to go there now. He doesn’t know what he’s really supposed to do or say, this whole being in charge thing being so new, but he tries with every part of his being to convey that all he wants is to be home.
After a second more, the feeling goes away and Sam’s shoulders slump forward, dejected that he can’t seem to make himself do what Al the Bartender seemed so certain that he could.
And then, suddenly, it’s there. That sensation of getting yanked off the dock because you’ve gotten the ski rope tied around your ankle. Sam’s hands turn blue all of a sudden, his whole body covered in that strange light and then Beth’s house disappears like it hadn’t even been there at all.
He’s traveling, his memories telling him that he’s done this many, many times before but it feels like the first time. It’s making him a bit nauseous to be honest but he fights it, hoping and praying that he’s actually headed to his own time and his own space.
And then it all stops and there is solid ground beneath his feet. The smell of recycled air around him, the hum of electronics and air conditioners. He doesn’t want to open his eyes, worried that this will be some kind of a joke, that he’s in a lab but it’s not HIS lab.
Ha, ha, ha. That would be hilarious. Oh wait, no it wouldn’t.
He can hear people talking but he can’t really understand what they’re saying. He doesn’t recognize the voices but it doesn’t matter. He knows where he is.
It’s with that thought that his eyes snap open and he’s looking for everything and anything that has changed. Or that has stayed the same.
He’s in a hallway, one that he sort of knows. He looks up, tries to find anything that will tell him where he is in the maze that is Project Quantum Leap. A sign tells him that he’s on the fourth level. Four stories under ground.
Al’s office is down on seven. He has to get there. It’s imperative. It’s in his bones, this aching need to see Al. No, not just see but touch. Hug. Smell. Sam has missed Al more than he has the words to express and now that he’s home, he needs to find Al and let him know, in whatever way he can.
People are staring. Stopping, mouths open.
Dr. Beckett? Is that you?
Sam ignores them. He is on a mission. He pushes past people, knowing that he’s making a scene, that if he isn’t fast enough security is going to stop him before he can get to Al.
His brain is working overtime. Avoid the elevator- they can trap you in it. He needs a security pass to get to a different floor. He sees a young scientist out of the corner of his eye and he snags the badge hanging off her lab coat with nimble fingers that long ago learned how to grab just what he needs to survive whatever the current situation.
Badge in hand, he heads for the stairwell that he knows is just around the corner.
People are yelling. There’s a siren now, lights are flashing. He keeps going. His chest is tight.
What if Al isn’t there? What if telling Beth to wait means that Al never joined the Star Bright project? What if he and Sam never actually met in this new time line. Sam feels the urge to puke but he’s felt this way before and he’s always worked through it. Well, except for that time he was pregnant but that was different.
Slide the badge in front of the scanner. Open the door. Pound down the stairs like someone’s trying to kill you. Hit the seventh floor and slap that badge against the scanner. The door pops. Sam is closer to Al than he has been in over five years. He can’t breathe.
His body drives itself, knowing that he isn’t thinking clearly. It knows where it needs to go and it takes Sam there.
He turns the corner, Al’s office at the end of the hall and then it happens. The sirens are still screaming out. Al’s office door swings open and Al steps out, cigar in hand, his face dark and stormy with concern.
Sam stops dead in his tracks and just stares.
Al doesn’t see him at first, looking the other way down the hall, reaching for the phone hanging from his belt.
Sam can barely get the word out, his throat is so dry. His whole body feels as if all the liquid has been drained out of him. His bones feel too heavy for his frame to carry. He needs Al to fix him. If Al can’t, he isn’t sure what will happen to him.
Al’s head turns in what feels like slow motion until he catches sight of Sam. Al drops his phone and his cigar, leaving it to burn itself out on the tile floor. Like a switch has been flipped, Al is sprinting down the hallway, a shouted “Sam!” the only sound he’s made so far.
Sam wants to move but he can’t. His feet feel like they’re trapped in concrete. Al reaches him in what seems like a single heartbeat. He stops just in front of Sam, eyes scanning up and down Sam’s body, trying to determine if it really is him.
Apparently Al’s satisfied with the look because before Sam knows it, Al’s got his arms wrapped around him, the hug one of the tightest Sam has ever received. Sam’s arms raise up and wrap around Al, too, pulling him close.
Al still smells like cigars and ivory soap. He’s still strong as an ox, his grip so tight as to be almost painful. He’s still Al and Sam starts to cry when he realizes that he did the right thing. Al is Al. Still his friend. Still the guy that helped a scared kid find his footing in the terrifying world of military research. The guy who kept Sam sane while he was leaping all over God's green earth. The guy who saved Sam's life more than one occasion.
He’s home for sure, no doubts and no worries. Whatever else has changed, Al is here and Sam knows that it’s going to be just fine. Just fine.