The Way Home.

By Alia

Disclaimer: Sam and Al do not belong to me, I am only borrowing them and promise to return them as soon as I am finished playing with them. No infringement to copyright or disrespect intended.

Summary: Sam leaps back to Project Quantum Leap in his own time, but only Al can show him the way home.

Warnings: Angst.

Rating: M

Author’s notes: This story refers to events that occurred during ‘Prelude to a Leap.’ You could consider a part of that universe, however no previous knowledge is necessary. Please be aware that this story is unbetaed and contains Australian spelling. It’s also written in the second person narrative, I don’t know why, it just is.

Comments: Are welcome and can be sent to aliajones1999@yahoo.com

 

You’ve been home a week, and although you have been informed on great authority that this busy, yet solitary existence is your life, the one you fought so hard to return to, you can’t help thinking that there is something missing.

It’s not so bad during the day. There are plenty of familiar and not so familiar faces around to fill you in on what has occurred in your absence, but it is pretty obvious that at the end of the day, everyone has lives of their own -- lives that don’t seem to include you.

6:00 o’clock comes and despite the presence of Ziggy wherever you go, the entire complex is empty, devoid of life and the human contact you crave. You step outside, praying the desert air would clear your mind, or at least give you some idea about what you should do now.

It is no use though.

Once outside you realise that while breathing in the clear desert air is certainly better than the alternative, the wide open spaces and setting sun, do not offer any answers. Dismayed, your eyes fall on the covered area to your right, and without thinking about what you are doing you cross the distance in a few easy strides.

Just like every other department the motor pool is deserted at this time of night so you help yourself to the keys for one of the new model jeeps and slip into the driver’s seat as if nothing has changed, as if you’ve been doing this every day for years without pause. You are not fooling anyone though, and certainly not yourself.  The driver’s licence in your wallet expired not days or weeks, but years ago and you know very well that history has been changed time and again since you last drove the through the gates of Project Quantum Leap.

You start the jeep, and then flip the switch to activate the GPS service now installed in all Project vehicles. Entering the information you want from a recently recalled memory, you wait patiently for the search to begin.

Despite all attempts to assure you that the Swiss-cheese effect you experienced during leaping will one day rectify itself, you wonder just how much of your life you have forgotten that you may or may not remember one day.  You can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know it’s a lot more important than temporally forgetting where your best friend lives.

It takes a moment or two before the location you have requested to appear on the screen mounted above the dashboard and without further thought you buckle your seat belt and slide the gear shift into drive.

You are not sure if following Al home is a good idea or not. He seems different somehow. Distance in a way he never was while you were leaping. Still, you know if anyone can answer your questions, explain why you feel so alone in your own life and time, it will be Al. 

The trip seems pretty straight forward to begin with. You don’t remember there being as much traffic as what you encounter along the way, or so many houses dotted along the highway, but you put it down to progress and the apparent population growth in the Stallions Gate and Springs area, and just keep going.

After about twenty minutes, a short drive down one of the lesser used roads brings you to a cul-de-sac. At the end are three neatly kept houses, complete with white picket fences. Pausing in the middle of the road you study each in turn. It is not exactly how you imagined Al living, but the GPS service indicates the house on the far right as your destination and the familiar sight of Al’s sports car parked out front confirms it. A little hesitantly you park behind the now aging Testarrosa and turn off the engine.

Now that you are here you can’t decide if you should actually go in or head back to the Project. Ultimately it’s your need for answers that makes the decision for you and you get out of the jeep, locking it as you move away.

There are lights on inside the house and as you take your first tentative steps up the path you realise that the front door is open, almost as if someone is expected.  For a moment you consider turning away again. If Al was expecting company then perhaps it would be best if you waited until the morning to talk to him. Something, you are not sure what, compels you forward and before you know it you have reached and crossed the threshold.

Calling out, you wait expectantly for a reply. The décor of the house is not at all what you expected. There is none of Al’s flamboyant style evident in the very traditional furnishings. In fact, although there is an obvious absence of a woman’s touch, everything appears much the same way you might decorate a home if you ever decided to leave your quarters at the Project.

It’s all wistful thinking you realise, another of your attempts to reclaim something that resembles a life, to find a place where you belong, and yet, as you step even further into the room you can’t help notice the baby grand-piano in the far corner or the carefully arranged photographs on top of it.

You call out again, only your voice fades to barely a whisper as your growing interest is replaced with a sudden feeling of déjà vu -- of having been here before.  Reaching out you retrieve the one photograph that demands your attention above all others. Staring at the smiling faces of Al and yourself you try to recall the events surrounding what is clearly a very happy occasion for both of you. Try as you might, you can’t bring to mind what it was you were celebrating.

Time stretches immeasurably as you stare the photo in your hands and it is only the sound of Al’s voice that draws you from your reverie. You haven’t heard his approach and you feel suddenly self-conscious. Like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

“Sorry,” you say awkwardly, turning to face him.

Al’s grin broadcasts a dozen different levels of understanding, completely negating your need to apologise.  You can’t help yourself though, despite your friendship you know you are intruding and you move immediately to return the photograph to its resting place.

Pausing in front of the other captured moments in Al’s life you let your eyes search the various images. You appear in many of them. Smiling mostly at whoever is behind the camera, posing occasionally. One thing is clear however, the ones that show you and Al together depict a relationship that is very different to the one you remember. One photo shows his head on your shoulder, another where you are facing one another with barely a hairsbreadth separating you, poised in the seconds before your lips would meet. A fact that you realise would be evident to even a casual observer. You feel yourself colour at the implications and something stirs inside of you. Something that makes your heart clench in your chest, making it hard to breathe or to order your thoughts.

You are not sure why, but you know you are not ready to ask Al about this new information. You feel his presence as he steps closer, one of his shoulders brushing against your own. Clearing his throat he repeats what you had missed earlier, his voice low and gentle. “I said, are you taking a trip down memory lane Sam?”

You wish that was the case; that you were actually remembering something, anything that would fill in the gaps of your memory, but while the photographer’s subjects are familiar, the relationship represented in them is not and you shake your head, very unsure how you feel about your discovery.

“I don’t remember any of these being taken,” you admit, swallowing over the lump forming in your throat.

Al doesn’t respond immediately and you glance sideways at him, trying to gauge his reaction. He appears quiet, thoughtful, as if he already suspected as much. A shadow of nostalgia passes over his well-known features as you watch him, as if information is being absorbed and accepted no matter how unpalatable only to be chased away by something more resolved – something practiced, your conscience supplies. Then finally the curve of his mouth forming a smile completes the façade.

“It’s okay. Beeks’s says it’s going to take time,” he informs you, returning your gaze.

After five long years of leaping you know when Al is trying to keep something from you. You’ve never been overly happy about it, but you also understand that there had been times when it wasn’t Al’s decision to make. You wonder though, if not telling you that you were more than friends was because he was waiting for you to remember on your own or because he thought it would influence the choices you made while leaping.  

You can’t imagine what that must have been like. You saw each other every day. Surely Al would have said something, given some kind of hint to what you shared. Nothing comes to mind though and you are suddenly left with the realisation that perhaps it was because the relationship had changed. You feel a sense of loss at the thought, of losing something you never knew you had, but you can’t associate it with anything you know about Al or the relationship you have now. It also doesn’t explain why he still had the photos, or the fact that he didn’t appear to have a problem with you seeing them.

Your head is practically spinning now. The past and present tilting and folding around you. The last week has been almost overwhelming at times. There has been so much to catch up on, to relearn, and you suddenly feel exhausted. A fact that must be blatantly obvious, if Al’s worried expression is any indication.

“You’re looking kinda pale Sam. Have you eaten yet?

Lunch had come and gone today without you taking the time to eat. It was also after six when you left the Project and while the pantry and refrigerator in your quarters has been restocked you haven’t felt much like cooking lately.

You shake your head, a little embarrassed that at almost fifty years of age you still skip meals in preference to working.

You expect a reprimand, something along the lines of ‘you need to take better care of yourself kid’, but while Al holds your gaze, his eyes narrowing slightly, it doesn’t eventuate.

“Okay,” he replies simply. “Grab a beer out of the fridge and follow me.”

Leaving the living room behind, you follow Al through the well-appointed kitchen, pausing for the aforementioned beer and then outside to a covered entertainment area that runs the length of the house. A large grill is set up at one end, which has obviously been lit earlier, judging from the heat emanating from it when you approach it. Standing to one side you watch as Al dons an apron and takes charge, adding meat and assorted vegetables to cook on the griddle plate, turning each after a few minutes. 

Other than Al asking you to pass an occasional item he seems focused on cooking. You realise that the lack of conversation is partly due to yourself and think back to when you looking at the photographs in the living room. You can’t help it. You know that you are not homophobic or do you find the idea of being intimate with another man distasteful, it’s just that it’s never come up. To the best of your recollections you have never had a homosexual encounter in your life, least of all one involving Al.

The combination of warm night air and condensation on the bottle in your hands makes it slightly slippery. Providing a welcome distraction. Absently peeling the corner of label you search your memory for anything that would suggest that you had shared a more intimate connection as you continue to watch him turn the steaks on the grill. A range of memories come to mind. Things you have always know. You have been friends since the Star-Bright Project, best friends for the better part of twenty years. Throughout the years Al has been your greatest support, in many ways becoming a champion for your theories and dreams.  You know how fortunate you are to have his friendship, to have someone that cares about you as much as he does. None of what you remember could be considered any other than platonic however. It frustrating, exasperating, not just because you can’t remember a great deal of your life before you leaped, but because you are starting to feel uncomfortable around Al. You know you should say something, ask him about the photographs, but you have no idea how to start the conversation. 

You sigh heavily and as expected Al’s head comes up.

“You okay, Sam?”

There is genuine concern showing in his dark eyes and you know this can’t be put off any longer. You shake your head, finding it impossible to maintain eye contact you glance down at the bottle in your hands, turning it slowly for something to do.

"Do I live here?” You manage. You are not sure if that was what you intended to ask exactly, or that on some unconscious level you don’t already know the answer, only it’s what comes out.

There is no reply and only the sounds of the grill catching and the sizzle of meat cooking punctuate the still desert air. You can see him stalled beside you. Not moving and after a moment or two you can’t stand the not knowing a minute longer. You look back up again to find him staring at you, seemingly lost for words.

The unfathomable torment of keeping too many secrets over years of separation is almost too much.  It feels as if you are watching a replay of what happened earlier, only in reverse as you see the various emotions play across his weathered face -- first surprise, then hope and finally uncertainty. It is clear he is trying to say something, to provide an answer. He opens his mouth a couple of times, but closes it again. It is another moment or two before you realise that it just not going to happen. You feel suddenly lightheaded, your heart is pounding so fast that you think you are going to pass out. 

Transferring the beer from your right to your left hand you reach out, partly to steady yourself but also to connect with Al and the turmoil you see behind his eyes. He flinches as you make contact, but you don’t draw your hand away.

“What is it, please tell me Al?”

“I’m sorry Sam. I promised myself that when you came home I’d tell you…”

“Tell me what? Do I live here?”

“Before you leaped we lived here together, we were partners.” The information is delivered plainly and without hesitation. You can see Al swallow hard, as if what he has shared has cost him, though he is clearly unsure of how much.

You can already feel yourself recoiling, your suspicions taking shape. “Partners?”

The fear in Al’s eyes is painful to witness and after so many years apart you don’t want to make this harder than it obviously is for him. Releasing the hold you have on his arm you take half a step back, you know what looks like, that your pulling away, but you also know Al needs the space and you need to find a place to sit down before you fall down.

There is a sun lounge behind you and you sit down on it, hoping the short distance will help Al articulate what you are waiting to hear. Thankfully it appears to be enough.

“Lovers, Sam.”

As far as confirmations go, hearing the truth is not as satisfying as you had hoped. It does not automatically fill in the gaps in your memory as you had hoped and only prompts more questions.

“Why didn’t you tell me,” is the first that comes to mind.

While Al had appeared genuinely fearful a moment ago, he appears almost stricken now.

“I couldn’t. I’m sorry Sam, Ziggy was adamant that if you didn’t remember something then I couldn’t tell. When you came home and it was clear you didn’t remember us, I didn’t know what to do. I figured that if I gave you some time it would come back to you. When you showed up earlier I thought you had.”

You have no idea how to respond. What to say. You feel as if all the air has been knocked from your lungs. Your heart beating so fast that you know that you need to slow it down, to just breathe and try and focus. You also know you are staring at Al. That he must be feeling very unsure right now. No doubt wondering if you are horrified by what he has told you or just dumbstruck by the magnitude of it. You want to reassure him, somehow stop the torment you know he is feeling. Your mouth has gone dry though and you raise the bottle in your hand to your lips. The beer is warm, but you force yourself to swallow of the lump forming in your throat as you drain the last of it.  

Al is still watching you closely as you lower the now empty bottle and place it by your feet.

“I know this is a lot to take in Sam, that it’s probably not what you were expecting to find when you finally leaped home, but I’ve got to tell you kid, I’d give anything for you to remember.”

Al seems to run out of words then. He is clearly upset, but something on the grill behind him catches his attention and he turns away to tend to it.

A minute or two pass while he deal with the steaks, carefully loading everything from the grill on to two plates and then take the few steps past you to where a table has been laid with silverware and various condiments.

“I know you have questions, but we should eat first,” he announces.

You are no closer to being able to verbalize any of the thoughts that come to mind, but you know Al is right, you need to eat something and you stand up when he sits down and then join him at the table.

It occurs to you as you take your seat that there are two places set and you recall what you had thought when you arrived to find the front door open – that it had appeared if someone had been expected. “Were you waiting for me tonight?” you say, indicating the pre-set table.

“Been waiting all week, Sam,” he returns. A little sadly you think. You can understand. If Al had been waiting for you to remember all this time, having you finally come home would have given him a renewed sense of optimism. Discovering that you don’t remember must be beyond disappointing.

You look down at the plate in front of you, wishing you were not the cause of his disappointment. That there was something you could do or say that would erase the sadness from his voice.

The meal passes quietly. Al makes conversation which mostly revolves around his day at the Project and his annoyance with one of Gooshie’s new technicians -- the subject of your relationship is carefully avoided.

Despite the information you have just received the familiarity of hearing him talk is comforting in a way that defies description and you manage to both smile throughout his anecdotes and clean your plate.

The enormity of your situation returns once you are both finished eating and an uncomfortable silence descends between you. Al retrieves one of his cigars from his shirt pocket and lights it. It is obvious that the brief interlude you enjoyed while discussing the Project’s head programmer’s choice in assistants has given way to far more serious topics. You can almost see Al’s repeated attempts to keep the situation light failing as his expression goes from open and inviting to withdrawn and closed off. You wonder at what he is thinking. If it’s about what he’s going to tell you and you find yourself looking away, trying to imagine what it must have been like for him all these years you’ve been gone.

Eventually Al pushes back from the table and stands. “I’m going to load the dishwasher and make some coffee,” he says. That he will answer your questions afterwards is not spoken aloud, but you know instinctively that it is what he intends.

You nod and receive a brief glance of recognition before he begins to gather most of what’s on the table. You follow his movements, the methodical collecting and stacking of various items, but don’t get up when he disappears inside. Neither of you it seems is in a hurry. For a few minutes you simply stay where you are, allowing your meal to settle, enjoying the evening air, considering as you do what you already know and what Al is going to tell you. You skim over thinking about what it must have been like between you – the physical side of your relationship. It too surreal, as if this is part of a leap and you are learning things about your host. Things that are not necessarily apart of yourself, but you can accept because you need to, to keeping leaping, so that you maybe one day leap home again. The fact that there will be no more leaping, no more strangers lives to live and this is your life is taking far more getting used to than you thought. Al has said he would give anything for you to remember, but you don’t get the impression he is going to expect too much. It’s a relief on many levels and yet you can’t imagine why you would ever think of him being any other way. Rationally you know it should make the conversation you are going to have easier, of course knowing something should be easy hasn’t stopped the anxiety slowly building inside of you. How on earth, you wonder, were you going to discuss something you couldn’t even let yourself think about?

---*---

In spite of your trepidation you chide yourself for deliberately delaying the inevitable. Sitting here would not change what you already know and it certainly wouldn’t answer the questions you still have.

Sighing, you push back from the table and stand. It is completely dark now and you can hear voices emanating from the neighbouring house. Snippets of conversation caught on the evening breeze as the unseen residents settle in for the night. Glancing around you note that Al had cleared most of the things you had used for your meal, but there are number of other items remaining and you move to collect them.

Carrying what you can back inside you find Al in the kitchen, bent over the dishwasher. The coffee maker has already been started and there are two cups along with cream and sugar set out on the bench beside him. Clearing your throat you wait for him to turn and then hand over what you have brought from outside. Without making eye contact Al sorts what is to be washed and what needs to be put away. Then apparently satisfied that he has everything you step back to give him space as he bends again to close the dishwasher door and start the wash cycle.

There is tangible feeling of awkwardness now. As if you are both trying to avoid getting too close the other, but know it’s impossible given the dimensions of the kitchen.  You are also trembling you realise, your heart pounding furiously in your chest as he stands up again and turns to face you. For the first time since you arrived tonight you can see the toll that the last five years have taken on him. The stark florescent light overhead is unforgiving to both his age and the obvious strain of keeping his secrets.

“Is there anything I can do?” You say, trying to find something that will lessen the tension circulating between you.

Al shakes his head, evading your eyes again. “Its fine, I’ll finish here, you can take a look around if you want, or maybe wash up. The bathroom is down the hall on the right.” He doesn’t wait to see if you are going to take up either of his suggestion and turns back toward the sink. Adding, almost as an afterthought, “it might help.” To remember, is left unsaid.

You know he has a point; perhaps something in the house will prompt a memory. Help the discussion you going to have. It’s worth a look you decide. Turning away you simply try to breathe through the emotions coiling inside of you.

The house is a one story brick, built in the mid-to-late-nineties you guess from your limited knowledge of modern architecture, nicely decorated, but standard in design.  Passing through the living room again you glance briefly at the piano and the photographs on top of it. Your initial surprise at seeing the ones of you and Al together has subsided to some extent, serving more as an indicator than anything else about what you can expect to find throughout the rest of the house. You are not exactly steeling yourself against it, but you take a deep breath and let it out slowly.

The living room leads on to a short hallway and you locate and then turn on the light switch to aid your exploration.

What you assume is the master bedroom is the first room you encounter. Turning on the interior light for a better view, you pause in the doorway, your eyes scanning the room for anything recognizable. The room is large, complete with a king-size bed and floor-to-ceiling robes.  The brightly coloured jacket you had seen Al wearing during the day is hanging on the back of a chair in the corner, but other than that everything is well organised, but unfamiliar. You don’t let your eyes linger too long on the bed. It is neatly made and while you understand that you must have shared it with Al you still can’t picture it. Closing your eyes briefly to forestall the images that come to mind you turn the light off again and remind yourself to simply breathe before you move on.

The bathroom is next and you take the opportunity to do as Al had suggested and wash up. You take a leak, wash your hands and face. Using the hand towel beside the sink you pat your face dry and then check your reflection in the mirror above the vanity. There are more lines around your eyes than you remember and there is also a little more grey in your hair than you would like.  It’s still you though. Still Sam Beckett. The flash of white across your temple had been startling when you first noticed it but Al had said it appeared after the first leap, relating it to the effects of traveling in time and you have not thought much about it since. Looking at it now you can’t say you are overly thrilled to be prematurely grey but after years of seeing strangers in the mirror you are grateful to at least be able to see your own face again. You offer your mirror image a nod of acknowledgment, wondering as you do exactly what kind of man you are. The kind that has an intimate relationship your best friend and then forgets it, and if so, why? As expected your reflection has no answers for you and you look away, still very unsure about the life you have returned to.

Replacing the towel you straighten it carefully and then continue on your way.

A little further down the hall is another bedroom. This one is smaller and serves as a guest room you imagine. Sparsely decorated and with only a three-quarter bed and dresser. It is completely nondescript compared to the rest of the house and very obviously hasn’t been used for years. Something about it makes you linger however. You are not sure why, but you get the feeling that something happened here.

You had similar experiences while you were leaping. As if fragments of the past stayed behind, trapped while time marched on regardless. They were not images exactly, just impressions of the events that had occurred before you arrived. Mostly they were feelings, strong feelings about your host and the occurrences in their lives that had shaped them into who they were when you leaped in. You recall mentioning the sometimes disconcerting phenomenon to Al once or twice, but he always thought you were talking about ghosts and had disappeared on you, leaving you to deal with the leap on your own and only coming back when he had to.

You don’t have an opinion either way on hauntings or ghosts. Science disputes their existence, but you have also seen too many unexplainable things to discount anything altogether. Stepping into the room the impressions are stronger, unsettling and it is necessary to step back again as the power of them washes over you, forcing you back into the hall.  Leaning against the opposite wall you try to shake off the feeling of almost overwhelming grief. The sting behind your eyes can’t be ignored though and you rub at both to fend off the sensation. Logically you know that there is nothing in the small room, nothing that can cause you pain or do you any harm. It does pique your curiosity though. Whatever it was must have occurred before you leaped, you decide, then immediately reconsider the thought.  Perhaps it was something that happened while you away. Looking back down the hall you think of Al again. You can hear him moving around in the living room, waiting for you to come back and talk to him. You’re not sure you can just yet and you turn back towards the other end of the hall. There is one more room to investigate and push off the wall and head towards it.

The last bedroom isn’t much larger than the second but it has been converted into a home office, your office you realise as you note Ziggy’s original schematic adorning one wall. There is no memory attached to them being placed there, but the sight of your long ago designs is reassuring and you pull out the office-chair and sit down in front of an outdated computer monitor. You resist the urge to turn on the hard drive and let your eyes stray downwards instead. The surface of the desk has been cleaned recently. Manuals and journals are neatly arranged to one side, leaving plenty of room to work on your theories.  There are notes in your own familiar scrawl piled beneath a large glass paperweight to your right and you lift it up to inspect them. The one on the top on the small pile is written on a napkin and is yellowing slightly in places. The ink has spread and faded into the tissue paper, but you can just make out a formula, or at least you think it’s a formula. Turning the napkin over you study the reverse side, it’s less legible than the front and you put it down to look at the other notes.  Mostly they appear to be equations to increase power, for the retrieval program, your mind supplies. The numbers don’t make a lot of sense though and only add to the long list of things that you don’t remember. Forestalling yet another flood of frustration you regather the scapes of paper after a minutes or two of trying to understand them and reposition the paperweight on top of them.

You spend a little more time in the office, comfortable although you can’t rightly say you feel at home before you realise that Al had been waiting for far longer than you intended.  

He is sitting on one of the sofas when you make your way back to the living room. He has removed his apron and you can hear the dishwashing going in the kitchen. The promised coffee set is out on the table in front of him, steam rising from each cup.

“Thanks,” you say, taking a seat on sofa opposite and reaching for the cup closest to you.

Al nods.

Regrettably the unease between you is still evident and you spend a few minutes just sipping your coffee, sparing Al the occasional glance. He appears resigned now, if no less relaxed.

“Did looking around help?” he asks.

“I’m not sure,” you return. “Can you tell me what happened?”

“What do you remember?”

You shake your head; it’s almost an automatic reflex now and you wonder if it might be easier if everyone just told you what happened prior to you stepping into the accelerator chamber. “Not a lot.” You look away then, glancing down at the edge of the coffee table so you don’t have to see the disappointment in Al’s eyes. You have been over this Verbena. Trying, without a great deal of success to recall what led up to your five year journey through time and space. “I’ve read the official reports, but I don’t remember what happened before I leaped or… living here with you.”

Despite the uncertainty facing both of you he seems okay with your question and his voice is clear and steady when he replies. “How far back do you want me to go?”

Taking a deep breath and then letting it out slowly you shift your focus from the coffee table to the sofa where Al is sitting. His legs are crossed at the knee and like you, he is holding his coffee cup in his lap. You know what you want to ask, but even practicing the words within the safety of your own mind doesn’t make it any easier. How do you ask someone about the life you shared when you don’t remember it?

“When did we move in here?” It’s safe you decide, not too personal.

“Six and a half years ago. We got fed up living on site and wanted a little privacy.”

There is no hint of innuendo attached to anything Al has said but it doesn’t stop the heat rising to your face and you glance away again, more than a little self-conscious though you have no reason to be. It’s reminds you of what you had thought before, when you were looking around the house, specifically when you were looking at the bedroom. That you couldn’t picture you and Al together, but you know it is because you’ve been avoiding doing so.

“Do people know?” You ask next, looking back up at him.  “Are we open about our relationship?”

Al grins, not the way he does when he’s telling one of his off-colour jokes, it’s more natural, proud you realise and something about it loosens the last of your anxiety. “Your family know, a few others. The Navy still frowns on same sex relationships, Sam, but we don’t flaunt it, so there’s no problem.”

You find yourself nodding, smiling a little in return. It’s been a long time and although you know homosexuality wasn’t openly discussed while you were growing up, you know your family never made judgements about how others lived their lives. 

“Were we happy here?”

Al doesn’t answer immediately. He grin fades and he appears thoughtful as if he is not sure of the answer himself. “The last few weeks were hard, Sam, but before that we were. Happier than I ever imagined we could be.”

His eyes are bright, full of emotion. You know he has more to say, but you don’t want to force any of it. You stretch out as you wait, letting your long legs fill the space between the sofa and the coffee table. It is not long before Al decides on what he wants to say and then picks where he left off.

“The committee were putting a lot pressure on you in those days. They gave you an ultimatum to either prove you theory or they would withdraw funding. All I wanted to do was take care of you Sam, but you were like a man possessed back then. You worked day and night, hardly slept and wouldn’t eat unless I literally put the food in front of you. We fought…” Al trails off, as if he is remembering something to painful for words and you watch as he leans forward to put his cup on the table separating you. He doesn’t sit back right away and simply stares at some point between where you are both sitting. His arms resting on his knees and his hands clasp together, lost you imagine, in his own memories.

Sitting forward you mirror Al’s movements. His head comes up and his eyes meet yours as you place your cup on the table next to his.  You are not sure what to say. If asking if you had an opportunity to make up before you leaped is the right question to ask or if it will just add to whatever torment he was going through now. 

“What happened?” You chance.

The look in Al’s eyes is distant, haunted in a way that you cannot comprehend and you find yourself fearing the worst.

“You died Sam,” he finally tells you.

It’s not at all what you were expecting to hear and it takes a moment for the words to sink in. You can feel your forehead furrow, as if you don’t understand the implications of what he has said. How could you have died?

“What do you mean?”

Al bows his head briefly, and you watch the slow rise and fall of his shoulders before he looks up again, meeting your eyes. “The night before you leaped we had a fight. It was my fault. Trust me I’ve been over a hundred times with Beeks. If I had just let you do what you needed to everything would have been fine. We were meant to be having dinner together. I managed to get you away from the Project but you kept working while we were out, making notes on anything you could lay your hands and I’d had enough. I left you at Pedro’s. Stormed out and…”

You know Al is still talking. You can see his mouth forming words, but that part of your mind has closed off and you can’t hear what he is saying anymore. Sitting back against the rear of sofa you also know that the room is tilting around you again, time and space colliding as a memory takes shape. 

You know you should wait for Al. He’ll be angry that you haven’t, but he’s not due back until later and you can’t wait any longer. Adrenaline in coursing through your body, adding to your exhilaration. You are ready. You know you are. After weeks of miscalculations the retrieval program is finally operational. The power has been increased and the accelerator chamber altered to compensate for the surge. You tell Gooshie that you are going to carry out some tests and change into the Fermi suit. It’s tight, but it feels good against your skin. Giving the word for the Projects head programmer to run the program you enter the chamber and stand on the dais in the centre. There is a whirl and a rush of air around you as the various components inside the chambers internal mechanisms come on line and you lift your arms.  You can feel it you realise, the power pulsating around you. It’s also loud inside the confined space, deafening almost, drowning out the sound of Gooshie’s voice, but you don’t let it deter you. You stretch out your arms, levelling them with your shoulders, readying yourself to leap. There is a flash of light and a thunderous …

That is where the memory ends and it take you a moment or two to understand that is what it was, what has just happened. After God knows how long you’ve remembered your first leap. The excitement, the satisfaction, but it hadn’t unfolded as you had expected and something had gone wrong.

You feel suddenly disorientated, lost in the strange surroundings. Al is standing over you now, but you can’t recall seeing him get up or crossing the short distance between you.

“Sam?”

“Something happened inside the accelerator chamber, there was a…” You shake your head, unable to complete whatever you were going to say. Your memory doesn’t include anything after the sudden flash of light.  “I’m not sure exactly,” you add looking up at Al.

His expression has gone from grim to cautious. He gestures that you should move over a little, forcing you to the end of the sofa and then he takes a seat beside you, adjusting his posture so that you are facing one another.

You know he is waiting for you to continue. As patient as ever. You read the official reports earlier in the week so you are aware that everything didn’t quite go according to plan the first time you leaped. There was nothing to suggest that there was any damage to the accelerator chamber though, or that you were hurt during the process in anything you had read. 

You are confused, upset, but thankfully Al seems to understand and reaches out when it is clear to both of you that you can’t add anything else. It’s the first time he has initiated physical contact since you leaped home and the effect is both reassuring and moving.  Validating what you know you must have shared before. His hand is warm against your shoulder, solid and connecting in the way you have missed.

“It’s okay Sam.”

You want to say that’s it not okay. That you don’t understand, but you know that Al can already see that.

“There was a fault in one of the internal circuit boards that were installed when you upgraded the insulation,” he explains. The hand on your shoulder squeezes once and is carefully withdrawn as he goes on. “Apparently there was a problem with the whole shipment, and they all had to be recalled, but we didn’t find that out until weeks later. The faulty board blew a hole in the protective covering and then straight through the chamber wall. You were electrocuted Sam. I had to attend a Benefit that night and by the time I got there, your heart had stopped and you weren’t breathing. Verbena resuscitated you.”

---*---

You remember Al telling you very early on that something had gone a little ca ca, but you had no idea that it involved anything like he has just described. You are not sure how to process the information and for a few minutes you simply stare at him. Al’s expression is serious and you know he is waiting for some kind of response, an acknowledgment at least that you understand what he has said.

The best you can offer is a small nod.  

“I thought I had lost you,” he goes on. His voice pitched low now, as if he had never before admitted this particular fear aloud. “After Verbena got you heart started, you were unconscious for almost a week. I didn’t know from one day to the next if you were going to wake up again.”

Al falls quiet then and you watch as he bows his head once more. It is very clear that talking about this is difficult for him. Painful. The strain obvious in the curve of his shoulders and the slight tremor of his hands. Despite your own understandable astonishment at what he has shared, you reach for him, gently laying a hand on his closest arm. “I’m sorry Al.” You don’t know what else to say. How to fix any of this.

“Don’t be,” this added as his head comes up. His eyes are bright again and the anguish in his voice is still evident but, there is also something else.  “You didn’t do anything to apologise for. Your theories were sound. You travelled in time Sam. Not in exactly the way we thought you would, but you did it, you succeed. You don’t need to be sorry for that.”

Al has always been your greatest support and listening to him now you know nothing about his commitment to you has changed in all the years you’ve been gone. It’s curious though. While you were leaping he was always there for you, your buddy and at times your saviour, but this open and very clear adoration is something else entirely.

You have not thought a great deal about the fact that Al truly loves you, or at some time during your long friendship it changed into something more and you must have returned his feelings, loved him also. You haven’t allowed yourself to imagine what that must have involved since he admitted the full nature of your relationship and for the first time you let it happen. Let your mind picture the two of you together, open and affectionate, similar to how you appear in the photographs that are only a few feet away from where you are sitting.

He is looking away again, lost once more in his own memories and you wonder what they include. Did he think about being with you, kissing you? Al had said you were happy before the committee starting putting pressure on you. You can’t quite picture yourself kissing him just yet, but maybe you can help things along if you try something else.

Adjusting your position so that you are facing one another you lean closer, trailing the hand you still have on his arm upwards to where his shoulders are hunched forward, then to the collar of his shirt and the warm skin of his neck. Splaying your fingers as you the register the strong pulse beneath them, your thumb gingerly stroking the slight stubble on his chin. The affect is instantaneous, startling in fact and you feel yourself stir, the beat of your heart suddenly keeping time with Al’s. Your hand trembling and your breathing becoming uneven. You recognise the signs for what they are – arousal. Your breath catching now with the realisation. You close your eyes. There is nothing to associate what you are experiencing, as tentative as it is, with the man you know and you find yourself questioning what you thought you would achieve by any of this. Are you trying to comfort him or recall something you are not even sure you want?

Your experiment is not lost on Al and you can see his focus shift and the tension in his body change as he first leans into your touch, only to straighten and pull back again, eyeing you suspiciously.

Your hand is left hanging in mid-air and you let it drop to your side as you sit back also. Fortunately he doesn’t ask you what you are doing because you really have no idea.  You can see the conflict in his eyes. The wanting overlapped with pain and rejection. While not directly to blame for any of it you can’t help feel responsible. You don’t apologise again, and you don’t think Al expects you to. He does however withdraw to the far end of the sofa.

The air between you isn’t uncomfortable, but it is different now and you know you need to be more attune to Al’s feelings along with your own. He’s the last person you ever want to hurt, intentionally or otherwise. You offer him a small appreciative smile and not surprisingly receive one in return.

There is no denying that everything he has told you is going to take time to absorb.  You know that Al has been paramount in keeping the Project going in your absence and you owe him more than just gratitude. There are other things though and you still have questions. Like how did your family deal you being gone for so long without contact from you, and the fact that the official reports don’t mention anything about being electrocuted or being unconscious for so long. You guess your family is a conversation for another time, Al has confirmed that they knew about the two of you so you can well imagine that he was able to reassure them somehow. You do want to know about the official explanation however, specifically how he managed to convince Senator Weitzman and the others to keep pouring money into a Project that had damaged a multi-million dollar nuclear accelerator and almost killed the resident scientist.

Al is still watching you from the other end of the sofa, idly tracing the patterns in the plush fabric on the armrest closest to him. His scrutiny is blatant compared to what you are used to, but not unreasonable you decide, given the circumstances. You know he is worried about you and you sit up a little, adopting a more confident pose, trying to not give him anything else to worry about.

“How did the committee take the news? They couldn’t have been happy?”

Al’s expression grows dark again and you know you have only just scratched the surface of everything that he has endured while you have been gone.

“We couldn’t tell them, Sam. They would have shut us down and no one was going to let that happen. We didn’t know what caused the accident at that stage, but you needed to be taken care of and it sure as hell wasn’t going to happen in some Government hospital. It wasn’t until Ziggy was able to get a fix on you that we realised you had leaped before your heart stopped.”

It is strange to think about, but leaping the first time had ultimately saved your life.

“You falsified the reports?”

“Not just me. Couldn’t have done it without help.” There is an unmistakable tone of accomplishment in his reply, a cockiness that is purely Al and you are given a rare glimpse of the man who you recall would move heaven and earth to achieve his goal. It’s the Al you remember. The one you had staunchly admired for his tenacity.

You smile, your reaction natural and without pretence, wistful in its own way, only the muscles in your face, drawn taut a moment ago, relax and fade away the instant reality takes hold. 

Given the secretive nature of Project Quantum Leap and the family atmosphere that inevitably developed over years of working and often living in close quarters to one another you have no problem accepting that he had help. The realisation that so many people, not just Al, had literally put their lives on hold to save yours is affirming in a way that you do not have words to describe. 

---*---

You continue to talk after Al explains the details of how the Project was saved and your survival assured. The space between you is closed a number of times as comfort is given, tears shed and a new understanding of the life you left behind is established.

It is indicative of your long friendship and renewed level of ease you have in his company that the rest of the evening passes almost without notice and it is only when you find yourself stifling a yawn that you think to check the time. It’s almost eleven o’clock you realise, and you still have to drive back to the Project.

“I should get going,” you say. You have been sitting in basically the same position for too long and you stretch, working the muscles in your back and shoulders as you prepare to get up. The mood in the room shifting as you rise, turning sombre once more.

Judging by Al’s expression it appears that he has also lost track of time and is noticeably sobered by your announcement. He stands as you do, bending a little to smooth the creases in his slacks.

You don’t need to,” he informs you, then adds. “You can stay here.”

After everything you have discussed tonight you know you shouldn’t be surprised by his invitation. You are not sure how to respond though, what exactly is being offered and you feel yourself falter. Your reaction, while unintentional is clearly perceived as disinterest by Al. He glances away briefly, obviously annoyed with himself before he looks back again and clarifies what he was attempting to convey.

“I meant that there’s no reason for you to leave. You can take the bed and I’ll bunk in the guest room.”

You can’t imagine anyone sleeping that particular room, not restfully anyway and you discount it as an option.

“I’m not going to have you give up your bed Al; you need your sleep just as much as I do.” You haven’t meant anything beyond trying to get him to accept that it’s late and you need to go, but it becomes immediately apparent that you could have chosen your words a little more carefully.

“It’s our bed Sam, and I don’t mind. You shouldn’t be driving at this time of night anyway, not after everything we’ve discussed. It’s a lot to take in and I’d feel more comfortable if you’d stay the night. ”

You know Al is only trying to take care of you. It’s late and you are not familiar with the road back to the Project or the traffic conditions you are likely to encounter at this hour. The thought of returning to your quarters, as comfortable as they are, fills you with the same sense of isolation you had experienced earlier this evening. It had been the reason you came to see Al in the first place, trying to find out where you belonged in this new life of yours. Learning all that you have has left you tired and somewhat confused, not so much about who you are, but how you will fit in with the people around you, Al especially.  Even with so much to consider you know he is right.  It would be safer to stay and go back in the morning. There is the small problem of not having anything to wear though and you wonder if perhaps there might be more than your notes still here.

“My clothes? Is everything at the Project or did you…?”

“Keep some of them here?” he finishes for you. “Yes, there are a few things. Wait here and I’ll find you something to put on.”

Letting go of the breath you didn’t realise you were holding you watch as Al disappears down the hallway to the master bedroom and a light appear from within. Technically you have just agreed to spend the night with him and already your conscience is waring with your decision. One part wanting to know what on earth you are thinking; while another is acknowledging the very real fact that you don’t want to be alone right now. You are not sure if staying equates to you wanting to explore more of your relationship with him or if you just need the company. Whatever your motivation you do know that you have both spent far too many nights on your own while you were leaping and it was definitely something that needed to be remedied. You don’t get a lot of time to think about what that might include though as he reappears again, holding a small bundle of clothing.

Stepping forward to meet Al half way he hands over what he has retrieved from the bedroom.  An old grey T shirt and a pair of cotton boxer shorts; neatly folded and recently laundered, judging from the faint scent of fabric soften. He appears wistful again, and you glance down at the clothing in your hands, wondering what made these items different to the ones he had returned to your quarters, did they hold some unknown significance that only he understood.   Knowing Al, there was probably a story behind them, but it wasn’t the right time to ask you decide looking up again.

“Thank you,” you say.

You are a little unclear about what you should do now. Are you just supposed to change and get into bed? Pretend that you don’t know everything that he has told you tonight. What about Al, is he simply going to make up the guest room and let you sleep in the bed you used to share?

Al on the other hand seems clearer, as if he knows exactly what he’s doing. You wish you had his level of confidence, or even Ziggy’s foresight to know how this is meant to play out. You don’t though, so you are going to have to trust your instincts and hope they are correct.

“Why don’t you take a shower,” he suggests. “There are fresh towels in the bathroom cupboard.”

After a day that has felt far longer than most his offer is very welcome and you don’t waste time accepting.  “That would be great.” You try to smile, act self-assured, but fail miserably you think.

Concerned with own night-time routine Al doesn’t seem to notice straight away. “Like I said, Sam its fine,” he returns, then pauses. “Is anything wrong?”

You are very aware that you don’t want to make him uncomfortable, or risk sending the wrong messages, but you do know you need to continue trying to remember the life you shared.  

“I meant what I said about you giving up your bed,” you tell him.

Al’s eyes narrow and you watch as he raises a hand to rub at one eyebrow as he clearly tries to grasp what you are proposing. It seems to take forever, but finally he lowers his hand and meets your eyes.

“You want us to sleep together?”

“Yes.”

“And you’re sure about that Sam?”

It’s completely involuntary, a response prompted by your subconscious and not something you have planned, but your fingers tighten around the fabric in your hands as you answer.

“Yes.”

Al doesn’t look overly convinced, but he does nod slowly, accepting your decision. “Okay. I’m going to lockup,” he announces, stepping around you.

Following his movements you turn to watch as he collect the cups still on coffee table and then heads towards the kitchen before you make your way down the hall to the bathroom.

As expected the shower washes away the heat of the day and some of the lethargy you feel. Slipping into the items Al has given you to wear, you gather up your discarded clothing and then pad back to the bedroom.

One of the bedside lamps has been switched on and the bed has been turned down. Al is nowhere to be seen however, and you assume he is still securing the house.  Intuition tells you that he would prefer being closest to the door so you deposit your clothes on the chair in the corner and then sit down on the other side of the large bed. The mattress is firm and the linen fresh. Glancing around you glimpse Al as he passes by, taking his turn in the bathroom. It won’t be long until he joins you now and you take a cleansing breath, doing your best to relax.

From your vantage point you endeavour to gain as much knowledge as possible about the man who had once occupied this side of the bed.  Your assumption is correct, it is unmistakably yours. The bedside table offers some insight; some old Time magazines, one featuring you on the cover, a tube of lubricant and yet another collection of handwritten notes. Like the ones in your office they are appear to be calculations to increase power. Regrettably, none of what you find prompts a memory of any kind and you return everything to the single draw then slide it closed.  

You hear the shower shut off soon after and listen as Al makes his way through the house, lights turning off as he gets closer, casting everything around you in a soft glow. The lamp on the other side of the bed is the only source of light by the time he appears behind you, standing motionless in the door way. You can see his reflection in the window; see the resignation from earlier. You know that staying tonight doesn’t mean anything beyond having a place to sleep. Al has not hinted at any expectation, in fact he seems content to simply have you here. You can’t imagine how that could be though. To have your lover so close after so long and not want to reach for them, to want to make love to them. It’s been a long time for you. There had been a few times while you were leaping, but it has literally been years since you’ve been with anyone that cared about you, that loved you. 

You have no trouble believing that Al loves you, or admitting that in many ways the feeling is mutual. Love was a part of friendship after all and you can’t deny that yours has endured more than most, or that there is connection between you that transcends the physical. The last five years are proof of that. No, you can’t remember the more intimate side of you relationship, but you can understand it -- how the boundaries might have been crossed after so long together. Whether or not you desired it remained a mystery however, one you realise, you need to solve.

You know Al can see you watching him and he steps forward to sit on the bed, placing his wallet and watch on the bedside table beside him. For a moment you share an unspoken agreement to try and get some rest before he reaches over and turns off the lamp.

It doesn’t take long for your eyes to adjust and in no time at all you can make out the shape of the window frame in front of you. You can no longer see Al’s reflection and there is a part of you that is grateful for the amenity. Of course if it will make this easier or not is yet to be determined. There has been number of times in the last few hours when you have struggled under his watchful gaze.  Finding the right words to ask for more information about the two of you has been the most difficult.  

You know you a have a choice in all of this. You can just lay down and go to sleep and Al will still be there in the morning and for all the days to follow. There will be other opportunities to ask your questions, to take risks and to find out for sure, but you know even as you note him moving around behind you, preparing to go to sleep, this time will never come again. Life was too short and each moment too precious to waste.

It is not just a leap of faith you need, more like an act of God, time or whatever. You straighten your back and square your shoulders. Somehow though, thought translates into sounds and finally words.

“I don’t remember us together,” you manage. “How we were with one another…what we use to do.”

It all sounds very confused and you close your eyes, imaging how it must be for Al to hear you trying to articulate something that at some time in the past must have been so natural, so easy between you.

“What are you trying to say, Sam?”

You swallow hard. Feeling tongue tided again.  You may not remember a great deal of your life prior to your first leap but you know you have never been particularly good at expressing your feelings. You take a deep breath, let it out slowly and try again. “I know how we are as friends, but I don’t remember how to be your lover.”

The bed dips as Al turns in the space behind you. You’re not sure if you think he’s angry or just surprised. You still have your back to him and you know you should turn around and continue the conversation face-to-face, but you can’t, not yet.  

Perhaps he senses it because you feel him withdraw a little, giving you space.

“You know we really don’t need to be talking about this. It’s late and you should be trying to get some sleep,” he remarks a moment later.

You nod. “I know, but when we were talking earlier, when I touched…” Your words lose their momentum and you scold yourself, rueing your inability to be clear.  “I felt something,” you get out. Forcing yourself to add.  “I don’t want to live my life only remembering parts of it, Al. I want to know what is real, and I need you to help me.”

The area around you shifts again as he steps off the bed and relocate to where you are seated on the other side. Time stretches as you sit shoulder to shoulder, both quiet and you know that Al, like yourself is trying to make sense of everything that has happen tonight.

“Listen to me,” he eventually says.

You’re not sure why he would think you wouldn’t listen, but you nod again, grateful that at least he doesn’t sound angry.

He moves then, drawing away a little, but only an enough for him to twist slightly and bring one of his legs up to rest on the mattress so that his body is angled towards yours. It is a position that is far more conducive to discussions of this nature and you immediately regret thinking you could do this any other way. Relieved that at least one of you has the courage to behave as you know you should you mirror his pose and meet Al eyes through the darkness.

He reaches out once you’re settled, stroking your hair briefly, soothing you, before he cups your cheek and gently thumbs the corner of your mouth. It is the most forthright he has been tonight, but you have no reservations about allowing him to continue. On the contrary, you lean into his touch and part your lips, surprised at how natural it feels to respond to his unspoken request as you attempt to read all that you can from his shadowed expression. Like yourself he appears tired and a little wary. It is understandable you decide. Turning further into the caress you inhale the faint traces of soap and tobacco present on his skin. Letting your eyes drift shut you wait for him to say whatever it is that he wants you to hear.

It is not long as it turns out. The hand supporting your cheek shifts to you shoulder then stokes down your arm to the hand you have resting in your lap. You open your eyes as Al tangles his fingers with your own. 

“Good,” he returns. The single word is a little choked you think, shrouded in emotion and you watch as he extracts his hand from yours. 

It occurs to you that his very open display of affection had been a test of some kind and you wonder if he had been trying to gauge your reaction to it, and if so, why?

You can see him watching you through the darkness, no doubt choosing his words. Plainly not wanting to hurt you or expose too much of himself.

“I want you to remember more than anything,” he says, holding your gaze. “But I guess that’s because I think it will make this easier – for you and for us. In the end remembering isn’t important. New memories can be made. We have time now that you are home, the rest our lives.” Glancing down briefly and back up again, you observe the cautious deliberation behind his dark eyes before he continues. “You wanting us is all that matters to me, Sam.”

The revelation shouldn’t be as shocking as it is, but seeing and hearing Al laid bare is enough to make you want to look away. You can’t though, you know what he has shared could not have been easy and it would be wrong to desert him even for a moment. 

The night is not overly warm but the room seems small all of a sudden, as if all the air is being concentrated in the one small area that you are sharing with Al. The reason for his test is obvious now as you are reminded of the pained look on his face when he had first admitted that you were lovers. He was protecting himself and no other explanation was necessary.

Truthfully you are no closer to an actual answer about what you want than you were a few hours ago. What you do know is that you love him, honestly and without pretence.  He gives order and understanding to a life you don’t remember. When he touches you, you feel grounded, tethered to this time and place in a way you haven’t experienced in many years. As if it’s him holding you here, and you are not going to leap at any moment to end up somewhere else because Al is not going to let it happen. He is going to keep you safe. You just need to let him.

Does any of it equate to wanting? You are not sure, but in act that you can only hope will one day prove to be the beginning of your new life together you take hold of the hem of your T shirt and pull it over your head. Holding the unwanted item of clothing in your lap you straighten your back and watch as Al’s eyes travel over you. His appreciation is obvious, unguarded for the first time in years. It is not so long ago that you has felt self-conscious under his gaze. That you actually find liberating is a little surprising, but under the circumstances, not at all unwelcome. Leaning in, Al reaches out again, his fingers tracing the curve of your lips as he closes the remaining distance between you. You let your eyes drift shut when his fingers are replaced by his mouth, not because you are afraid but so he can finally show you the way home.

The End.

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