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Reality

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For what seemed like such a simple leap at the beginning, Al reflected, this had turned into one the most complicated leaps he could remember. Sam had leaped into Kenny Douglas, aged 16. Ziggy had given high odds that the reason Sam had leaped into Kenny was to prevent Kenny's death two days from the time Sam had leaped in.

The one real flaw that Al had seen in Ziggy's theory was that Kenny had died by his own hand. He'd overdosed on drugs that he'd gotten…who knew where. Al had reasoned that the probability of Sam committing suicide were about as great as the probability of him murdering someone so once he'd leaped into Kenny then history would have changed. Only it hadn't – well, not exactly. The only thing that changed in Kenny's life was how he killed himself and when. The worst, though, was that Sam was starting to doubt himself and why he was even in Kenny's life if he didn't seem to be making any difference.

The leap had started 3 days ago and even though they had gone past the original deadline when Kenny killed himself Ziggy was reporting that it would still happen and Sam still hadn't leaped. To complicate things even more, over the last 24 hours Ziggy hadn't been able to pin down exactly when and how Kenny committed suicide and she'd started having trouble locking on Sam's brainwaves.

Five minutes ago she'd urgently demanded that Al go to the Imaging Chamber – that something was wrong with Sam. Now he stood there waiting while she tried to lock onto Sam. Al could only imagine what he'd find when she finally did lock onto him.

Finally, after a wait that seemed like a lifetime, the world that Sam was in began to coalesce around Al. He had trouble making out much of anything at first, though, because of how dark the room was. Eventually his eyes adjusted to the dimness enough that he was able to make out that he was in Kenny's bedroom. He saw Sam sitting on the floor with his legs crossed and leaning back against the bed.

Sam didn't look in Al's direction nor did he acknowledge him in any way. He kept staring intently down at whatever he was holding in his lap.

Al circled around until he was in front of Sam and when he saw what it was that Sam was holding he audibly gasped.

"Sam, where did you get that?" he asked indicating the gun in Sam's hand.

Sam shrugged by way of an answer. "Found it."

Sam still didn't look in Al's direction and his voice had a strange quality to it. It was if he'd disconnected himself for reality.

"What are you planning on doing with it?" Al asked warily. He was afraid of what Sam's answer would be and knew he'd have to tread very carefully. The thought crossed his mind that he should probably have Verbeena Beeks brought in but something deep inside told him that she wouldn't be able to help.

Again Sam answered Al's question with a shrug but this time he did look up to meet Al's eyes. When Al saw the expression on Sam's face and saw his eyes he had to forcibly stop himself from reacting. In all the time he'd know Sam he'd never seen such a hurt and lost look in his eyes.

"Do you ever wonder, Al, "Sam asked in a soft monotone, "what's real and what isn't? What is reality? Is all this real?" he asked gesturing around himself to indicate not only the room but everything beyond it. "Are you real? Maybe, maybe none of this is real. Maybe when I got in the Accelerator it didn't work at all. Maybe I fried my brain or something and the reality is that I'm really in a coma or something and this is all just a dream – you're just a dream."

For a moment Al didn't know what to say to Sam. In the past Sam had questioned why he was leaping and even if it did any good but never had he questioned what was real in his life – if Al was real. "I don't know what I can say to make you believe that this is all real, Sam, except to ask you to trust me." Al had knelt down to be on eye level with Sam hoping that it would somehow make it easier to get through to him.

Sam reached out his hand and passed it through Al's form causing Al to flinch back ever so slightly. Up until now they'd made it point to treat the other as a flesh and blood person always respecting each other's personal spaces. This was one of the few times Al could remember Sam deliberately putting his hand through him.

A strange, almost wistful smile appeared briefly on Sam's face. "See, Al, you're not real. I think…I think you're just up here," he said pointing to his forehead. He brought his hand down and cradled the gun in his lap with both hands looking down at it in silence. Before Al had a chanced to break that silence Sam continued on as if he'd never paused. "I know how to prove what's real, Al. I know what I have to do but…I think…I think I'm scared. You see, Al, all I need to do is use this to prove what's real," he said holding up the gun for Al to see.

"Saaaam, what are gonna do with that thing?" Al knew full well what Sam wanted to do with the gun but hoped that maybe if he forced Sam to say it, it would jar him enough to see what he was saying and doing was crazy.

"You know what I'm gonna do, Al." Sam's gaze had quickly turned from the hurt and lost look to something harder, more determined. "If it's just a dream, I'll wake up before anything happens."

"And if it's not a dream, Sam, you'll be dead. Is that what you want?" Al knew he had to pick his words carefully and if he didn't he'd most likely lose Sam. How, though, could he break through to him when there was no way he could prove that the life that Sam was living was real.

"If it's not a dream – well, then it will all be over, finally. I can't do this anymore, Al. What's the point? No one cares. No one would miss me and if this is all real you could back to living a normal life not being stuck waiting for me." The hard look had faded from Sam's eyes replaced once more by the hurt, lost look.

"I care Sam or don't I matter anymore. I care about you, your family cares about you, your friends. I know you're probably tired as hell of all this. Believe me; I know I am so I can only imagine how much worse it is for you. I know you probably don't think what you're doing – what you've done - means anything to anyone, Sam, but it does – probably more than any of us will ever know. Each person you've helped, each life you've touched, they're all like ripples in a pond and they spread out further and further and further. You just gotta hang on right now, Sam. Please."

"How long?"

"How long? How long what? How long do you gotta hang on?" Sam's question had completely confused Al. It sounded like Sam wanted to know how long it would be until he could go home and that was something Al couldn't answer for him.

"How long have I been gone? How many years? Do you really think it would make any difference to people now if I did this," he said showing the gun to Al, "or if I just went on dreaming? It's time, Al. It's time for it all to end."

Sam raised the gun up holding the muzzle so that it just barely brushed his right temple.

"Sam, no," Al shouted. He forgot for a moment that Sam was just a hologram to him as he reached out to push the gun away from Sam's head but his hand simply passed through Sam's.

It was as if time held still for a moment and the two men were frozen in time – Al on his knees leaning slightly in Sam's direction and Sam sitting holding the gun to his head both with their eyes locked on the other.

Al remembered a time on another leap when he thought he'd lost Sam. A gun had been involved then too. He'd prayed then, asking God to spare the life of a good man and his prayer had been answered. Lost as to what else he could do, he again turned to prayer – a prayer almost identical to the one he'd said on that previous leap.

As had happened in that previous leap Al's prayer was once again answered as the door to the bedroom banged open and light flooded the room.

"Kenny," said a feminine voice, "what are you doing sitting here in the dark. Oh my God!" she exclaimed as she circled around the bed and saw Sam holding the gun. "What are you doing?"

Sam looked up at the sudden light and voice and saw Kenny's mother standing over him. For a moment though, it wasn't Elizabeth Douglas he saw standing there but it was his own mother, Thelma Beckett.

"Mom?" he asked in tremulous voice before dropping the gun and running to envelope Elizabeth Douglas in an embrace, sobbing into her shoulder.

At that moment the handlink that Al had nearly forgotten he'd been holding on to started to squeal. He looked down to it and was greeted with what appeared to be good news. Apparently Mrs. Douglas finding Kenny in his room with the gun finally alerted her to the problems her son was having. She got him into therapy and there were no more suicide attempts. Today he had a successful job and loving wife and children.

Al stood up and circled around Sam and Mrs. Douglas until he could see Sam's face. "Sam, I don't know what you did or how but you did it. Kenny's gonna be fine now, Buddy."

Sam reached out a hand to Al whispering, "I'm sorry" just before the blue light of the leap engulfed him.

Al stood in the Imaging Chamber as the world that Sam had inhabited faded away to be replaced by the walls of the Imaging Chamber. With any luck, it had just been a bleed over from Kenny that had affected Sam so much and pushed him to such extremes. It wouldn't be the first time that Sam had pscyosynergized with the person he'd leapt into and had experienced their emotions.

Al couldn't shake off the feeling, though, that the demons that had nearly pushed Sam to the brink weren't just residuals from Kenny but were the same demons Sam fought leap after leap. He only hoped that Sam could continue to be strong and continue to fight them and hold on to his sanity. If he ever reached the point, as he had today, where he lost the will to fight, Al didn't know if he'd be able to stop Sam from doing something so reckless and so permanent. He knew that if it hadn't been for the entrance of Kenny's mother he very well might have lost that battle today.

"Ziggy," he called out before leaving the Imaging Chamber.

"Yes, Admiral," respond the sultry, disembodied voice.

"I want you to lock all the data from this leap. No one needs to know what happened…what almost happened. That stays between you and me. Do you understand?"

For a change there was no argument coming from the often recalcitrant computer. "I understand Admiral. All data from this leap has been marked private and you are the only one with access to it."

"Thanks, Ziggy," Al said before turning to walk out of the Imaging Chamber. With any luck, Sam wouldn't ever remember anything that happened on this leap. Al knew, though, that he would never shake the image of Sam holding the gun to his own head ready to pull the trigger.