He wasn’t afraid. Maybe that, more than anything, was what affirmed his conviction that they’d made the right choice. No matter how often they’d willingly risked their lives for their cause, there had always been that kernel of fear. This time…from the moment Frohike looked at him with that unspoken question in his eyes, he’d felt nothing but a calm resolve. Even now, as the fire spread through him, filling every nerve cell with agony, there was still no fear. Only acceptance, and something almost like thankfulness that it would all be over soon. That the pain wouldn’t last.
Feeling himself weaken, John Byers closed his eyes…
The pain stopped.
Blinking in surprise, he opened his eyes again, and stared in bewilderment at his surroundings. A quick look around revealed Langly and Frohike still standing beside him, looking equally puzzled.
The airtight corridor and John Gilnitz had vanished. Instead, they were standing just inside the door of an unfamiliar, deserted bar. Warm, golden brown sunlight filtered through the wide picture windows, seeming like early morning, midday, and dusk all at once.
“Frohike?” Byers almost croaked.
“I see it,” his older friend responded, amazed. “I don’t know what I’m seein’, but I see it.”
Still confused, the bearded Gunman glanced at his other friend.
Langly raised disclaiming hands. “Hey, man, don’t look at me, I didn’t do anything.”
At that moment, a door closed across the room and a pleasant-faced middle-aged man with a brown moustache appeared behind the bar, wiping his hands on a dishtowel.
“What can I get for you boys?”
“J&B, straight up,” Frohike responded immediately, still shaken.
“Actually…I’m not quite sure how we got…here,” Byers amended, “but it might not be a good idea to be in the same room with us right now.”
Right. The virus. Brought back to reality, both Frohike and Langly took an involuntary step back away from the bar.
The bartender smiled. “I brought you here. And don’t worry–you’re now as healthy as a team of thoroughbreds before a race.”
The three men exchanged a wondering glance, then once more surveyed their surroundings with confusion. The bar seemed almost as if it had been snatched out of time, antique but from no discernible point in the past. But it was no cybercafe, which quite frankly was the only kind of restaurant the trio would have expected or wanted to find in…the afterlife.
“Is this…heaven?” Langly choked out.
The bartender laughed. “No, it’s Cokesburg.”
“Cokesburg?” Frohike asked suspiciously.
“Cokesburg, Pennsylvania. Good to finally meet you boys. I’m Fox.”
The trio blinked. “You’re kidding.”
‘Fox’ shook his head, still amused. “‘Fraid not.”
“Poor bastard–you mean there’s two people in the world with that moniker?” Frohike sympathized.
The bartender smiled. “What were some parents thinking, hey Melvin?”
The older man snapped. “Okay, that’s it. What the hell is going on here??”
“If this was some big set-up to silence us–” Langly added, equal anger in his voice.
“–or to punish Yves–” Byers added.
Fox raised both hands in a gesture of innocence. “Settle down, boys. No one’s making light of your grand sacrifice.”
They still regarded him warily.
“It’s not a trick. It’s a second chance. Now, have a seat…” he nodded towards the bar. “…have a drink. You could use the rest.”
“We could use an explanation,” Langly snapped.
“And you’ll get one,” the stranger smiled. “When the time is right.” He set Frohike’s drink down on the bar and looked expectantly at the other two.
After another hesitant look passed between the three, as one unit they moved slowly forward and claimed three bar stools together at the counter. Frohike picked up his glass and stared at it suspiciously, while ‘Fox’ continued to look askance at Byers and Langly.
“I’ll have a glass of water, thanks,” the bearded man finally conceded.
Oh hell. They were already dead anyway, it wasn’t as if it could kill them, Langly reasoned. “Heinekin. Preferably from the bottle.”
The bartender busied himself filling their drink orders, and the three men just looked at each other again. Relax…rest…they’d almost lost the meaning of those words. They couldn’t remember the last time they’d felt free to take a moment just for themselves and not think about the rest of the world. Even as their resources had dwindled and the paper–their life’s work–dried up, there had always been the search for Yves. To find her, save her if need be, or at least apologize for being so quick to assume the worst about her.
“Weird,” Frohike finally voiced the sentiment in his usual concise way.
“Yeah,” Byers agreed softly.
They nursed their drinks for almost an hour, the bartender watching them closely but not speaking. He didn’t approach again until the last drop of Langly’s Heinekin had been tipped down the hacker’s throat.
“So. You want to know why you’re here, do you?”
“It would be appreciated,” the bearded gunman agreed with his usual politeness.
Fox smiled. “John, do me a favor. Take a look at that calendar over there and tell me today’s date.”
Byers looked puzzled, but complied. “It’s November 22, 1963…my birthday.” He looked back at the bartender in confusion.
Frohike snorted. “Byers, buddy, hate to tell you this, but I think you finally need glasses like the rest of us.”
The man behind the counter gave him a knowing look. “So what date do you see, Melvin?”
The shorter man winced at the use of his first name. “If you have to know, it’s my birthday up there, not his.”
Fox looked at Langly. “What about you, Ringo?”
“Same thing. I mean…I see my birthday.”
Frohike looked at the bartender. “How’d you do that, man?”
“Well, as I’ve said, this isn’t heaven,” the man reiterated. “It is, however, something of a way station, so time doesn’t really operate here the way you’re used to.”
“Way station…you mean we are dead?” Byers asked.
“No, John, you’re not,” Fox reassured him. “You might say you’re in limbo. You three are here to make a choice.”
“What kind of choice?”
“Whether you want to rest or go on.”
“You mean live or die.”
He nodded. “In a sense, yes, although you won’t be able to return to your old lives.”
“What is this, some sort of divine witness relocation program?” Langly asked.
The bartender just smiled. “Let’s just say that since the beginning of human history, people who devoted their lives–as you have–to the welfare of others have been given a choice. At the point of their death, if they are willing to die as they lived, they’re brought here.”
“Here? To a bar in Pennsylvania?”
“For this century and the last one, yes. The place is irrelevant, and as I’ve said, time as you understand it doesn’t exist here.”
“You said we were here to make a choice, to rest or go on–go on how?” the bearded Gunman asked.
“To continue changing the world, one life at a time, only not the world as you knew it yesterday, and not always as the people you see in the mirror right now.”
“I…I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
“You’re being offered a chance to go back in time, to change history for the better.”
All three perked up. “You mean…” Byers asked breathlessly. “…we could go back and save JFK?”
The bartender shook his head. “Nope. That one’s already been taken care of–fellow by the name of Sam Beckett…” He chuckled. “Although that’s an interesting story. Only man I ever met who figured out how to get started on this path before his time.”
“You mean…somewhere out there Kennedy’s alive?” Frohike asked, confused.
“No, he died. That was a necessary turning point in history, sad to say. But Jackie’s alive.”
The three men stared at him blankly. Fox smiled. “You don’t remember that. You were still in the normal time stream when it was changed.”
“No,” he continued, “I’m not talking about conspiracies and cover-ups here, gentlemen. At least, not many. I’m talking about individual lives. Going back in time to a moment where one life went wrong and setting it right. Think you three can work on that small a scale?”
“But what about the Truth?” Byers almost lamented.
The bartender just kept smiling. “You’ve left that quest in good hands. Your friends–Jimmy and Yves, Fox and Dana, John and Monica and Walter–they’ll carry on for you. But it was never just about the conspiracies, was it?”
“No,” the unofficial leader of the trio admitted. “It was about justice.”
“Saving lives, making the world a better place,” Frohike added with a slow nod.
“Making our lives count for something,” Langly rounded out.
The man behind the counter nodded. “There’s no quest more noble than that. But there’s also nothing wrong with being ready to lay your arms down and accept the rest you’ve earned. It’s your choice.”
The three men looked at each other again, conversing without words just as they had before Frohike pulled that fatal alarm.
“Will we be able to stay together?”
Fox nodded, the smile broadening. “I think I can arrange a special dispensation.”
“Dispensation?” Frohike frowned.
“Normally, the travelers we send out from here can only move back and forth within their own lifetimes. But rather than limit you all to Ringo’s lifetime here…” He nodded at the blonde man. “…I think we’ll set Melvin’s birthday as the starting point.”
The three men nodded, then Byers asked, “How will we know what to do?”
The bartender smiled. “Follow your hearts, like you always have. You’ll find your way.”
Circling around the bar, he came to stand behind them, placing one hand on Frohike’s shoulder, one hand on Langly’s, and looking Byers straight in the eyes when they turned to face him. “Just remember, whenever you get tired, you can come back here to rest for as long as you need. And when you’re ready to move on, you’ll know. Now…ready to go?”
Looking at his two friends, Byers reached out and laid one hand on the bar. Frohike and Langly covered it with their own, like they had on the window of the fire door. Whatever lay ahead, they would face it together just as they always had.
The bartender smiled. “God bless, boys.”
Then with a ripple of electricity and a bright flash of blue light, they vanished.
End Note: Just for the record, I always hated the final episode of Quantum Leap. But it was more for the final sentence–“Dr. Sam Beckett never returned home”–and the uncharacteristic surreality of the plot, rather than for the content of the episode in and of itself. I actually found the notion that people who had “died” heroically had gone on to become Leapers rather an appealing one, and I was drawn back to it when I was looking for a way to resurrect Byers, Frohike and Langly without cheapening the sacrifice they had made. I also played around a bit with the mythology of that final episode and not all of it is explained in the story. For example, the reason the bartender’s name is “Fox” and not Al is because I imagine he always appears to someone using the name of a friend they had to leave behind. In Sam’s case, Al. In the Gunmen’s…well, it was either Mulder or Jimmy and since Mulder wasn’t able to be there for the funeral, I felt it should be him. Feel free to e-mail me or comment with any questions–I’d be happy to clarify anything that needs it.