Major Crimes Bullpen
“I’m still here, Al.”
The Observer nodded. “I noticed,” he remarked wryly.
Connor’s voice interrupted before the Leaper could respond. “Well, Sandy, it looks like I owe you one.”
“Re-really?” Sam stammered, blinking upwards from where he was sitting into Megan’s dancing eyes. Behind him, Al let out another low, appreciative whistle and the Leaper fought the temptation to try to slug the hologram. “Uh…one what?”
She shrugged, balancing herself on the edge of a desk. “Oh, just one sandwich errand that takes you out of the path of a bullet.”
The physicist allowed himself a sheepish, self-deprecating smile. “I guess that was pretty good timing, wasn’t it?”
“So that’s all it was, eh? Good timing?” Megan graced him with a mischievous smirk. “I thought maybe that spirit guide of yours warned you.”
Sam quirked an eyebrow at his incorporeal companion. “I guess you could say that,” he conceded with a grin that Al returned.
“Spirit guide, huh? That’s a new one. At least you didn’t call me your dog this time.”
“Sandburg,” Simon barked as he reached them. His face and voice were stern, but his eyes were dancing. “You ever yell at me like that in a non-life-threatening situation and you’ll be doing the paperwork for the entire department, you hear me?”
Sam stifled a grin. “Yes, sir.”
The taller man’s face softened. “How are you doing?”
Sam sighed with a glance over at Jim, who was still watching him thoughtfully. What do you want to bet he’s hearing every word of this conversation? Megan’s and Simon’s eyes both followed his.
“I’m OK…I guess.”
The captain laid a sympathetic hand on his shoulder. “If there’s anything I can do…”
Sam nodded. “I’ll let you know. Look, uh…I’m going to head home, if that’s OK. I’ll…see you guys later, I guess?”
Megan smiled. “Count on it, Sandy.”
With a parting hug from the Inspector, he turned to leave. He was almost to the elevator when a hand fell on his arm.
Sam looked back into Jim’s blue gaze, which was slightly warmer than it had been since he Leaped in.
The detective shrugged, looking a little abashed. He flashed the other man a weak smile. “Thanks.”
“I think they can survive this,” Al’s words came back to him. Sam smiled as well, relieved. Yeah, maybe they can.
“Any time, Jim.”
“…Ellison gets his privacy back, and the Police Department offers Blair a permanent position as a detective to keep him around.”
Dr. Sam Beckett frowned at his Observer. “It sounds to me like Ziggy was right after all–everything turned out all right the first time.”
Al nodded, grimacing. “Yeah, but that’s not the end. This thing is so close, Ziggy forgot to check beyond the events immediately following the press conference. When he went back over the last few months…well, it turns out the kid really wasn’t cut out for police work–at least, not official police work. He learns how to use a gun, but he never picks up the habit of carrying it, and six months down the line…”
Here the Observer paused, his expression deeply shaken by the potential fate of the young Visitor. “He gets killed in a robbery he probably could have prevented if he’d had his weapon on him.”
“I’m sorry, Al,” Sam whispered.
Al nodded but pressed on. “Ellison never gets over his partner’s death. He loses control over his senses and ends up committed to a mental hospital. Major Crimes suffers too, for daring to accept a confessed fraud into their ranks. Simon gets a dishonorable discharge from the force, Taggart and a couple of the other guys get demoted, Connor is recalled to New South Wales, and the division is currently going through a reorganization that is almost guaranteed to make it much less effective.”
The Leaper let out a deep sigh and ran one frustrated hand through his hair. “Ok, but what still I don’t understand is if I’m here to prevent Blair from having to declare himself a fraud to protect his partner, why didn’t I just Leap in before the manuscript got publicized in the first place?”
“Got me, Kid.” Al smacked the handlink, studied it for a moment, then shrugged. “Huh. Ziggy says there’s a seventy-five percent chance you’re supposed to see that the paper does get published, only without putting either Sandburg or Ellison in danger.”
“What?! How is that possible? You said in the original history the reporters only backed off after Blair denounced the paper as fiction–!” The physicist stopped himself suddenly mid-rant, an amazed look coming over his face. “Al, that’s it!”
Back at the Project
“So, what happened?” Blair demanded of the older man as soon as Al stepped through the door into the Waiting Room. “Did Sam stop Zeller from shooting Simon and Megan?”
The Observer looked uncomfortable. “Yeah, yeah he did. They’re going to be fine.”
“That’s great!” Sandburg grinned. The euphoria was momentary, though. His smile faded as he realized what was missing from that success. “But I’m still here. Which means Sam’s still there. Why?”
Al closed his eyes. Aw, hell. After all the assurances I gave him about his dissertation, how am I supposed to tell him that is the problem?
He didn’t need to. Blair heard the answer in his silence.
“So, he is there to fix my mistake,” the young man deduced quietly. He looked devastated.
The Admiral sighed. “Blair…can I tell you a story?”
The anthropologist shrugged. “Sure,” he replied, forcing himself to sound casual. “I don’t have anything better to do.”
The older man took a seat beside the younger one and looked him straight in the eyes. Brown studied blue, assessing the damage Sandburg had inflicted on himself with his guilt.
“We have a rule, here, at Project Quantum Leap. No matter how much we want to, we can’t change our own past. Now, that’s not always a rule we’ve kept, but it exists for a very good reason. A reason that I learned the hard way when I made a very big mistake. You see, Sam had leaped into a cop in San Diego in 1969–the year my first wife left me while I was MIA in Vietnam.”
Blair let out a little gasp of sympathy. “Oh, man, I’m sorry.”
Al nodded, his eyes black with the memory. “I came home to an empty house. It hurt like hell and I never forgot that pain. So, when I found out Sam was in the same city as her, only months before she left me…I told him he was there to keep the wife of a missing soldier from giving him up for dead and remarrying.”
“Your wife,” the young man deduced.
The Admiral nodded again. “Yeah, my wife. Which Sam would have known the minute I said anything if not for the fact that this time travel business pokes holes in his mind like a confetti puncher. A fact I knew and took advantage of.”
“What happened?” Blair asked.
“Sam trusted me. He listened to me, and he did everything he could to keep her from giving up on her missing husband. Then one day he was over at her house and he saw a picture of me on the mantel. And he knew I’d lied to him.”
“He knew that I’d betrayed his trust and tried to break one of our most important rules. He told me he couldn’t do what I wanted him to do, and demanded that I ask Ziggy why he was really there. It turned out he wasn’t there for me at all, but to save this cop’s partner from walking into a trap and getting killed.”
The young anthropologist sucked his breath in sharply.
Al watched him with a knowing eye. He may not be a cop, but he sure as hell knows what it means to have a partner.
“Thankfully, Sam got there in time,” the Observer continued. “But I still felt like hell. I let him down. He’s my best friend; I’m the only way he has of finding out what he’s supposed to do wherever–whenever–he is, and I used that to manipulate him. I betrayed his trust in the worst possible way I could, and almost left him stranded in the past because of it. I wouldn’t have blamed him if he’d ordered me off the Project and replaced me with an Observer he knew could trust.”
“Damn,” Blair murmured, shaken. As Al had hoped, the story was hitting close to home.
“But you know what, Kid?”
Blue eyes rose again to meet his with a trace of hope.
“Sam didn’t do that. Yeah, when he first found out he was pretty angry. He even told me that if I left at that moment, I didn’t need to bother coming back. But after it was over, when we’d both had a chance to calm down and look at the situation rationally…he forgave me. Even though he wasn’t supposed to get Beth back for me, he did give me something I didn’t have thirty years ago–a chance to say goodbye to her.” A chance to touch her…though God only knows how that miracle was pulled off.
“Beth?” Sandburg sounded confused. “But isn’t that the woman–”
Al smiled. “That’s the surprise twist ending. Three years later, Sam gave up the one thing he wanted most–a chance to come home–to go back and do what he couldn’t do then. He held onto Beth for me, until I could come home for her. He gave me the life I always wanted thirty years after it was too late.”
“That’s…wow, that’s incredible.”
“Yeah, it is.” Even though I could kill him for making that choice. “But that’s what friends do, Kid. That’s what you were willing to do for Jim by deep-sixing your dissertation, and believe it or not, he’d do the same for you. No matter how badly you think you’ve screwed up, if you just hold on and fight for it until the hurt is past, the friendship will survive.”
“Thank you,” Blair whispered.
“There’s one other thing–don’t forget you’re both only human. None of us are perfect, not me, not you, not Sam, not even Jim.”
The younger man chuckled. “Don’t I know it.”
“So don’t put him on a pedestal, and don’t hold yourself up to an impossible standard. Let him be human, let yourself be human.” Al smirked. “And if you have any trouble knocking some sense into that partner of yours, give me a call. He may be in the wrong branch of the service, but I can still pull rank.”
Blair grinned brightly. “Thanks, Al.”