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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.

Chapter Text

There hadn't been on thing about this leap that had been easy or clear to me. I just didn't understand what it was I was supposed to do. I'd leaped into the life of 16 year old Kenny Douglas and, according to Ziggy, my mission was to prevent Kenny from committing suicide. How I was supposed to do that, I didn't know. There was no way that I, Sam Beckett, would commit suicide so as long as I inhabited Kenny's life he was safe. As soon as I leapt out, though, what was to keep him from doing it anyway?

Three days. It had been three days that I'd been living Kenny's life. Sometimes I had a hard time remembering what my own life was like when I was 16. Hell, sometimes I couldn't remember the most basic things like my parents. Over the time I've been leaping I've sort of developed a bit of a mantra – a series of thoughts that I run through as soon as the leap-in has finished and I can think straight. I remind myself of my name and who my parents are; where I’m from. Sometimes it all comes easily to me but sometimes it's a struggle to force those memories to the surface.

One thing I did know, memories or not, my life at 16 had been a hell of a lot easier than Kenny's was. It was no wonder the kid was given to bouts of depression and suicide.

Since I'd leaped in something strange had been happening to me as well. I think Kenny's emotions started bleeding over to me, but I wasn’t sure. Maybe I was just tired of it all and wanted it all to end.

Sometimes it gets to a point that don’t know what’s real or everything around me is a dream - dream that just keeps going on and on and on. A dream that I just wish I could wake up from. This had become one of those leaps. I started to think that if I just tried hard enough I could will myself awake and back into my own life.

I was sitting at the desk in Kenny’s bedroom looking at the night-darkened sky and started to repeat over and over to myself, "this is all just a dream, it's all just a dream and I'm going to wake up." I didn’t wake up, though. I was still sitting at that desk and I knew if I got up and looked in a mirror it would be Kenny’s face that I’d see, not mine. I wasn’t even sure if I would have remembered what my own face looked like. I wanted it all to end and I wanted it to end now

I remembered reading once that you'll never dream of your own death because if you do, the shock of it would kill you. I wanted this dream my life had become to end. I wanted to know what reality was.

It felt like I was moving in slow motion as I rose from the desk and walked out of Kenny’s bedroom. I walked down the hall to his mother’s room and over to the closet in it. I stood in front of it for several minutes just staring at the closed door. It felt like something was calling me here, leading me to something in this room – in this closet – but I didn’t know what that something was. I felt as if I was no longer in my own body but that I’d stepped outside of it and was just an observer.

I reached out for the door of the closet and pulled it open and looked up to the shelf. In a back corner of the shelf I spied a box, a locked strong box. I reached up for it and pulled it down closing the closet door and heading back to Kenny’s room.

I sat at the desk staring at the box unsure what it was about it that compelled me to bring it in here. With a quick move of my arm I knocked the box off of the desk and onto the floor. The lock on the box wasn’t very strong and it popped open as soon as it hit the hardwood floor and the contents of the box spilled out of it. I knelt down next to it on the floor and reached down to pick up what had fallen out with a trembling hand.

I wrapped my hand around the object that had fallen out of the box – a gun. As soon as I touched it I saw with clarity what it was that I had to do to end the dream. I reached out and grabbed the bullets that had fallen to the floor as well and quickly loaded the gun.

"You won't see yourself die in a dream," I whispered to myself. It was all so clear to me now. I knew how to end it – to end the dream or to just end everything. I wasn’t sure what it was that I wanted to end.

I moved back until I was sitting with my back leaning against the bed and crossed my legs in front of me with the gun cradled in my lap. I knew what I had to do but I didn’t know if I could. Something inside begged me to wait but I didn’t know what – or who – I was waiting for.

I lost all track of time and I wasn’t sure how long I had sat there cradling the gun before I heard the noise and saw the reflection of light from the Imaging Chamber. With a flash of clarity I knew that’s what I had been waiting for – Al. He had to know that I was going to make it end – that I was going to end this hell that we’d both been living in for I don’t even know how long.

I knew that whether this was a dream or not there was no way he was going to agree with me and steeled myself for the argument I knew was going to happen. I couldn’t let him sway me from what I had to do or it never would end – for either of us. I had to do this and if it wasn’t for me that I did this, I had to do it for him.

I heard him gasp and knew he must have seen the gun. How could he not see it? It wasn’t like I'd been trying to hide it.

"Sam, where did you get that," he asked me. He was trying to keep his voice neutral – trying not spook me, I guess. He didn’t realize I was long past getting spooked – or so I thought.

I didn’t look at him – I just shrugged. "Found it," I said and for just a moment I couldn’t remember how or where it was I found it. That's what happens in dreams, though, you disconnect from what's happening and things just appear or happen for no rhyme or reason.

"What are you planning on doing with it?" Hew was getting nervous now. He knew what I was planning to do. I shrugged again but this time I looked up and met his eyes. I was right, Al was getting nervous. There was something else there, though. I could see the concern he was feeling. Al always seemed to worry about me and I had a vague recollection of something from before I started leaping. I’d told Al not to worry about and he’d told me that he had to – it was his job to worry about me. For a moment I began to question what I was doing, wondering if I was wrong and everything around me was real. I wondered what my planned actions would do to this man who thought it was his job to worry about me.

I dismissed my second thoughts from my mind. I knew what I needed to do; I just had to explain it to him and make him understand that it would all be for the best.

"Do you ever wonder, Al, what's real and what isn't? What is reality? Is all this real?" I asked gesturing to not only include the room I was in but everything else including him and me. "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."

It had to be a dream because if it wasn’t…I couldn’t complete the thought.

He didn’t say anything to me for a minute. I knew he was weighing his words carefully. He'd knelt down in front of me making it easier to look him in the eyes. When he finally did speak he asked me to give him the same thing he’d asked for so many times before "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."

I did trust him – with my life but I knew that if it wasn’t real then he was just a part of me. I didn’t know if I could trust myself anymore.

I reached out to him and deliberately passed my hand through him. I've always tried to respect Al's personal space. I think it's because as long as I do I can go on believing he's real. There was no substance there, though, just a trick of light and shadows. It was just my mind providing what it thought I needed.

I wondered if the real Al had missed me or if he even remembered me. I could feel the slight smile on my face as I tried to explain to him again. "See, Al, you're not real. I think…I think you're just up here," I said while pointing to my forehead. I brought my hand back down to my lap cradling the gun in both hands. He didn’t believe me. I had to prove it to him. It was time.

"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." I held up the gun for him to see. I was scared, I’d realized. Scared of what would happen when this all ended. I wondered what my life must be like that I've spent so long escaping from it here in a place where it didn't exist for me?

"Saa-aam, what are gonna do with that thing?" Al has the singular ability to make my name sound like it has so many more syllables than it does. I know when he says my name that way it means he's upset or scared. I guess I didn’t blame him this time. He knew what I'm going to do and, if I was right, I was going to effectively end his existence.

For a second, just a second I doubted what it was that I had to do. I didn’t want to hurt any more, though – I didn’t want to hurt him any more. I had to harden myself. This was for him just as much as it was for me. "You know what I'm gonna do, Al. 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?"

Was it what I wanted? I didn’t know. If it was then it would go against everything my parents had ever taught me – everything that I believed. I didn’t think it would make much difference, though. It had been so long I doubted anyone would care.

"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 go back to living a normal life not being stuck waiting for me." I owed him that if this was reality. He shouldn't have had to keep living his life waiting for the next time I leaped.

"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?" I asked him. I had to know how long I'd been away. If I’d been gone so long would my family even care anymore or had they already given up hope that I'd come back? I didn’t even know if my mother was still alive. Sometimes I couldn't remember her face but other times I could remember every detail about her: the smell of her perfume, the way it felt when she hugged me, the feel of her lips kissing the top of my head. I needed that – I needed to feel that.

"How long? How long what? How long do you gotta hang on?" My question had confused him. He didn't know how to answer me or maybe he just couldn't. If I didn't know how long it had been, I asked my self, how could I expect this conjuration of my mind to know?

"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," I 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."

I raised the gun up and felt the muzzle of it brush up against my temple. I wondered if I'd feel any pain or if I’d just wake up. I had to believe that the dream would end and I'd wake up otherwise I'd be betraying everything my parents ever taught me.

As soon as I raised the gun to my head Al tried to push it away screaming out, "Sam, no." His hand went right through me, though. He didn’t exist so there was no way he could touch me.

I could feel my finger tense on the trigger it was suddenly as if someone had frozen time. I could see Al's lips moving as he faced me but I couldn’t hear anything and wondered if he was praying.

Suddenly the room flooded with light and there was another person in the room with us – a woman. "Kenny," I heard the feminine voice say, "what are you doing sitting here in the dark. Oh my God!" she exclaimed when she saw me with the gun. "What are you doing?"

The suddenness of the light seemed to blind me momentarily and when I looked in the direction of the voice it looked just like…

"Mom?" I asked and I could feel my voice breaking. I didn’t want my mother to see this. She’d be so disappointed in me. I threw the gun down and ran to her hugging her and crying into her shoulder. I couldn’t do it anymore. Even if it was just a dream I couldn’t let it end.

I felt her arms go around me; one of her hands running up and down my back and the other brushing through my hair. I cried into her shoulder and clung to her.

I knew this wasn’t my mother but she offered me the comfort and assurances that only a mother can.

I vaguely saw Al come around so that he was in front of me. He said something about Kenny being ok now and that I'd done what I had to do.

I could feel the leap starting to take hold of me but there was something I had to say before it did. I held out my hand to Al and said, "I'm sorry" just before the leap carried me away. I wasn’t sure if I was sorry that I wasn't able to end it and set him free; if I was sorry for stepping into the accelerator to begin with; or if I was sorry that he had had to witness this. I knew the chances were pretty high that I'd probably forget everything that had happened here but I knew Al would have to carry the memory with him now. For that I was truly sorry.