Disclaimers:  These characters and situations belong to Davis/Panzer Productions and to whomever owns the rights to Quantum Leap.  I make no money from this.

This story is expanded somewhat from the story I submitted to the crossover Lyric Wheel.  The lyrics are from "Hurt" by Nine Inch Nails, used without permission, and used out of order.  I mean no harm.

Thank you, DesertRat, for the idea of using Quantum Leap.

See the endnotes for some discussion of Quantum Leap canon.

This is set some time after Archangel.  It is my first crossover story, and is sort of a sequel to another Lyric Wheel story, Desert Mirage.

Empire of Dirt

by Teresa C

-You could have it all
-My empire of dirt
-I will let you down
-I will make you hurt

Sam knew again the curious, almost unpleasant sensation of nothingness mixed with anticipation, as he Leaped. Where was he going, this time?

Like being pulled through a tunnel, his consciousness filled another life. His vision cleared, and he saw ...

A man's kicking foot, aimed directly at his face.

"Oh boy," Sam said, as, unthinking, he blocked and spun, but stumbled on the uneven terrain he hadn't had time to study. His attacker recovered fluidly, and pressed his advantage, feinting a punch, but instead, tackling him around the middle, tumbling them both into piles of what had to be garbage, by the smell. Sam struggled to take in as much of his surroundings as he could, while grappling with a very skilled opponent. The man was big, strong, and had plenty of fighting experience. He was dressed in black and had long, wild, dark hair. They were fighting at night, in something like an alley.  And Sam was losing.

Losing badly, he reflected, as the man threw him against a wall. His side flared in agony with what he distantly recognized as broken ribs. As he struggled to stand, the man was upon him, his hand around Sam's throat.

"Wait," Sam croaked.

"Dammit, Connor," the dark man growled, his eyes shadowed, "I told you to leave me alone. Did you really think a thrashing would help?" Staying clear of the reach of Sam's kick, the man reached into Sam's coat and withdrew - Shit! - a full sized katana. He twirled it back expertly in one hand, to where the edge was against Sam's throat.  "Don't try to save me, kinsman.  There's nothing to save."

Desperate, Sam read the deadly intent in the man. Somewhere he had heard that there was nothing more dangerous than a man who had nothing left to lose, and, this close to his opponent's empty eyes, Sam was certain this was such a man.

"Wait, please!" he tried, "Let's talk!" This can't happen, he thought. If I die ...

He rolled as the man pushed him down, but to no avail. The blade pierced his side, sliding in, in ... The pain was excruciating. Flesh tore, bones were severed, organs ... Sam knew no more.

And then he was back. It was different than a Leap. He had no awareness, and then he did. What he was most aware of was the pain. He was dying - he must be dying. What could he do?

He opened his eyes. In the pre-dawn light he saw four small children - boys - clustered around the sliver of katana blade. Black-skinned, barely clothed, and very skinny, they paid him no attention. "Hey," he gasped.

Startled, they jumped, the largest of them dropping the katana hilt he had been holding. All four children stared at him in horror, before bolting. Sam watched them go, thinking they might have been his last hope for help.

He took three more painful breaths. Then, on the fourth breath, he realized.

The pain was fading. What on earth?! Hope and disbelief surged in him, and he struggled to a sitting position. In utter amazement, he found, beneath his blood-soaked clothes, no trace of a wound.

He was still staring, stunned, when Al found him.

-I wear my crown of shit
-On my liar's chair
-Full of broken thoughts
-I cannot repair

"Sam!" The image of Al appeared.  Sam looked up, but was still too shocked to respond normally.  "What are you doing?  Did you let him get away?"

By the brightening morning light, Sam saw the street and buildings around him.  He was sitting in filth which went beyond mere garbage - it was more like sewage.  People, most of them black and many dressed in a non-Western style, passed by the opening to the alley.  The men wore red-and-white checkered cloth wrapped around their waists which nearly reached their ankles, and the women wore brightly colored saris.  India or Pakistan, Sam guessed.  Maybe Bangladesh. He heard cars, but also animals and tinny-sounding music.  The alley was crowded with people who looked as if they lived there.  Some lay sleeping, or ill, while others cooked over small wood fires.  Had all these people witnessed his fight?  How had they not been stepped on?  And why hadn't anyone helped?

He decided he must be enough of an oddity already that being seen talking to air wouldn't make it any worse.  Besides, he didn't much care.  He couldn't remember a Leap where he had so wanted some answers.

"Al," he demanded as he struggled to his feet, "where am I, and most of all, what am I?  I just healed from a mortal wound!"

"What are you talking about?  You must have been unconscious, because I couldn't find you.  Look, we've lost a lot of time.  This guy is on the move.  You should have Leaped right into his proximity.  Did you meet a guy named Duncan MacLeod?"

"Maybe.  I was sure in someone's proximity."  Sam rubbed his unmarked side.   He glanced at the alley people.  Wrapped in their own concerns, most ignored him, but Sam was getting some curious stares from passersby who leaked into the alley, squeezed in by the crush of humanity on the street beyond.

"I can't believe you let him get away.  Geez, Sam, you've got blood and shit all over you."

"Let him get away!  Al, I'm telling you, that guy killed me!  This is my blood!  And I'm still alive!"

Sam was suddenly aware that he had drawn a crowd.  Men, women, a lot of children, one of them leading a calf on a rope, had paused beside his sewage heap.  A young man in a business suit stepped forward.

"Do you need some help?" he asked politely, in accented, but excellent English.

"No. I'm sorry," he replied, trying not to blush.

Embarrassed, Sam stepped away, scooping up the katana.  The crowd gasped and started to disperse.  Hiding the katana under his long coat, Sam fled into the crowded, alien street, looking for a solitary corner.

He began to despair that such a thing could be found.  Sam had never seen crowds like this, except at athletic fields where the people were only flowing through tunnels to reach the parking lot, not cooking, cleaning, sleeping, selling, fighting, begging, and generally conducting their lives.

After what had to be at least an hour of searching, Sam finally admitted that the streets of this city were never going to afford him any privacy.  He had considered rest rooms, but, judging by the sewage in the alley, he wasn't sure he could find one.  He drew attention wherever he went, so he assumed he had not Leaped into someone who looked like a local.  The katana was an alien weight in his coat - his coat which also was out of place in this sticky climate - but he dared not bring it out to adjust it.

He found himself beside a high wall enclosing some kind of grounds.  Treetops bristled out of the top, speaking to Sam of cover, and, just maybe, isolation.  The wall was very high, intended, no doubt, to keep out the people in the street.  The people like Sam.

Sam removed the coat with the katana still in it.  A second, smaller weight, reminded him that he had, earlier, found a wallet in the pocket, when he had tried to negotiate with a street vendor for one of the ubiquitous Campa-Colas.  The cola had looked and tasted like Coke, a more familiar drink to Sam than the hot tea served in rolled leaves.  The vendor had given him change, though Sam had no way of knowing if it was correct change.  He hadn't felt comfortable studying the wallet then.  He studied it now.

A man's face with close-cropped light hair and narrow, sardonic-looking eyes was on a New York State driver's license labeled "Russell Nash".  Sam sighed.  It was always a relief to learn certain things about his new identity.  Gender, name, nationality, age ... even looks.  All right there on a driver's license.  But wait.  Hadn't that guy called him Connor?

That guy who had killed him.

Despite the increasingly sweltering heat, Sam shivered.  In the urgent search for a quiet corner, he had pushed aside the thoughts of what had happened to him.  He had died.  He was certain of it.  He needed some answers, and he was growing less and less concerned about what the people around him thought.

Tucking the wallet in a pants pocket, Sam then rolled the coat securely around the katana.  He was in full view of dozens of people, but none of them looked like they were guarding the grounds within the wall.  At least, no one on this side was.  Sam tossed the coat and katana over the wall, and listened for any reaction.  Hearing none, he turned to the street and smiled and nodded to the onlookers who had witnessed his strange action.  Most of them had the grace to look away and continue on, though there was much muttering to companions.  He wondered how long he had until someone sounded an alarm.

Sam turned back to the wall, crouched, and jumped, arms outstretched.  He managed to grasp the top of the wall, and tried to walk his feet up to meet his hands.  He slipped, and fell back to the street.  Refusing to look at the people on the street, he leaped again, and, this time, he made it to the top of the wall, and jumped down into the foliage on the other side.  Behind him he heard the murmurs of conversation reach an excited pitch.  He didn't have much time.  He scooped up the coat and sword, and Al popped into existence, Ziggy in hand.

"Al!  Thank God.  My name's Russell Nash.  American.  New York.  Who am I, and what is going on?"

"Nash..."  Al fiddled with the device in his hand.  "Okay!  Got it.  You're an antique dealer."

At least that could explain the katana, Sam thought wearily.

"Duncan MacLeod is your, ah ..."  He frowned at Ziggy, "relative of some kind, and he's running from ... we're not sure exactly what.  But he's going to end up murdered in Bangkok in two days if you don't get him to go ... somewhere else.  I'm not sure I'm understanding ... something about Holy Ground."

This had to be one of the more irritating situations Sam could remember being thrown into.  He was filthy, exhausted, trespassing, and now, with the sun climbing higher, hot.

"Al," he whispered fiercely, "how important is this one?  Could we just let it go?  That guy's a lunatic.  He tried to murder me.  He did murder me!  Are you listening?  I came back from the dead!"

Al looked exasperated, and closer to angry than Sam could remember seeing him.  "I don't care how much you don't like the guy.  Yes, this is important.  Ziggy's data is real fuzzy about the specifics, but it's very clear about one thing.  Keeping this guy alive means saving the whole world."

Sam gaped.  "Saving the whole world?!"

Al squirmed.  "I know how it sounds.  And no, we haven't figured out how or why.  Believe me, we're working on it.  The information on these guys is not just spotty, it's contradictory."

"Saving the whole world?"  Sam was starting to smile, it sounded so ludicrous.  His irritation faded before his amusement at the surreality of this particular Leap.  Al looked so serious.   Okay, okay, he told himself, straighten up.

"I'm sorry, Al.  Tell me some things.  Where am I, and who kills him?"

"Calcutta, and I don't know.  He's found decapitated in Bangkok two days from now.  Not accidental.  Someone cuts his head off with a really sharp instrument."

"Like a katana?" Sam brought it out.

Al looked suitably impressed.  "Wow."

"Maybe Nash kills him."

"Nash is documented as being in Europe when it happens, so whatever reason he had for following MacLeod, he had quit.  Then MacLeod gets killed.  You've got to keep him from going to Bangkok, and then ... well, Ziggy says he's only safe living on Holy Ground.  Don't ask me what that means."

All business, now, Sam proceeded.  "Okay.  I'll try to find one lunatic in all of Calcutta and persuade him to avoid Bangkok and come with me to live somewhere on Holy Ground.  Sure.  In the meantime, Al, you figure out how come Nash can come back from the dead. I mean it.  I'm a physician.  I know what happened to me.  If we're talking about `saving the world' here, is coming back from the dead that far out?"

"I hate these supernatural ones.  It's not right," Al complained.

"You check into it.  Any idea where he would go in Calcutta?"

"No clue.  But Sam ..."


"I don't think he's a lunatic.  The records on this guy ...  Well, he looks like a damn decent person, and somehow, he does save the world."

"I'll keep that in mind, the next time he tries to kill me."

-You are someone else
-I am still right here
-What have I become?

In a way, it did help, though.  Sam considered where a damn decent person would go in Calcutta, and tried the one place he thought of when he thought of Calcutta - Nirmal Hriday, Mother Teresa's Home for the Dying.  The man's name and description, given to a German speaking nun, yielded directions to a small walled courtyard, packed with volunteers.  Pilgrims who had journeyed here to take part in the "Angel of Calcutta's" work among the poorest of the world's poor, milled around, receiving processing instructions.  It was the largest group of Westerners Sam had seen, yet.

Perhaps it was the transition from shadows to bright light, but Sam suffered a painful headache as soon as he stepped into the courtyard.

Sam spotted Duncan MacLeod, to his immense relief.  He was not with the volunteers, but sat, knees up, against a wall, watching the pilgrims receive their orders and go cheerfully off to bathe and feed the dying of Calcutta.  Sam approached cautiously.  MacLeod would not expect to see him alive, and when he did, he might feel inspired to remedy the condition.  He really wished he knew what kind of relationship Russell Nash and MacLeod had.

He stood next to his murderer, the man a dark pool in the bright sunlight.  MacLeod had chosen to sit in the mud - the one spot in the whole courtyard which was not green and lovely.  MacLeod was dirty and unshaven, and his eyes were haunted.  Sam remembered those eyes from the moments just before he had died.  The heartbreak in them was chilling.

Sam tried to think of what to say.  At least MacLeod hadn't attacked him.

"They're all here to do good."  MacLeod's voice was raspy.  Sam joined him in looking at the volunteers.  "Most of them are running from something back home, but they're here because they want to do good.  They can atone.  Be good human beings again. There's still some hope for them."

"Duncan ..." Sam began, looking back at him.  The hopelessness in MacLeod's tone touched Sam's compassionate core, though how he could feel sympathy for a man who had just killed him was a paradox Sam's aching head didn't want to work on.  And a part of him noted with interest that MacLeod showed no surprise at his relative's healthy condition.

"But not for me.  No hope.  Did they give you one of these?"  MacLeod held up a small card.  Sam took it.  "They call it Mother Teresa's business card."

Sam read, in English:  "The fruit of silence is prayer; the fruit of prayer is faith; the fruit of faith is love; the fruit of love is service; the fruit of service is peace."

"What hope do I have?  What peace?  I thought I could be good, but I was lying to myself.  It was all illusion.  I don't deserve to live, but you won't take my head.  So what can I do?"

Whoa!  Some major therapy was needed here, and Sam didn't feel up to the job.  `Take his head?'  Was this some kind of cult ritual, or something?  Obviously someone in Bangkok was willing to do this for him, and Sam needed to prevent that.  He clung to the thread of sympathy he felt for this tormented soul.  It was the only guide he had.

"Why don't you deserve to live?"

MacLeod stood.  "You know why."

No, I don't!  Had Sam ever been this much in the dark during a Leap?

MacLeod grasped Sam's forearm in his own arms, and looked him straight in the eye.  "Connor, I charge you by any love you have ever had for me, by the love you had for your own teacher, by the love of God, kinsman, LEAVE ME BE."  Then he added something in a language Sam didn't know.

The strength of MacLeod's personality was fully behind the plea, and Sam felt the man's power acutely.   His head was pounding. Ah, Nash, he thought, this is where you left him, isn't it.  You couldn't refuse him.

-My sweetest friend
-Everyone I know
-Goes away in the end

Sam broke the other man's gaze momentarily, as Al flickered into being behind MacLeod.  MacLeod frowned slightly, and Sam suddenly glimpsed an observant intelligence in the dark eyes, and a faint trace of suspicion.

Concentrating on his role, Sam managed, "I can't do that."

"Then you do not love me."  MacLeod released him, spat on the ground at Sam's feet, and strode away.  Sam thought feverishly.  He certainly couldn't take the man physically.  He had to stop him!

"Stop him!" Al yelled.  "You can't let him go!"

Biting his tongue, Sam glared at Al.  No kidding.  Desperate, he decided to try the direct method.

"Duncan," he called.  "Don't go to Bangkok!"

"What?!" The apparition of Al nearly screeched, and slapped both palms against his own forehead.  "'Don't go to Bangkok?'  Brilliant, Sam.  Why didn't I think of that?  Oh, that's rich!"

But Duncan MacLeod stopped in his tracks.  He turned slowly, and with open suspicion demanded,  "How did you know?"

Thinking fast, Sam answered, "You bought a plane ticket to Bangkok."

"Not yet, I haven't.  You aren't Connor!" MacLeod stalked toward him, wearing a murderous expression.

Sam backpedaled, but MacLeod was too fast for him. He grabbed Sam in an armlock, ignoring the stares and calls of alarm from the assembly.  "How dare you use Connor against me!" he snarled.  "How dare you use Richie!"  His voice broke on the last word, and he tightened his hold brutally, to punctuate the name.  "I thought I imagined you, but you're real, aren't you."

Unable to help, Al watched in alarm.

But Sam thought he saw hope.  MacLeod guessed he wasn't Nash, or Connor, or whomever, but he seemed to have his own theory about who he really was.  Weird, weird, but Sam had an idea.  He gave MacLeod the best nasty look he could manage under the circumstances, and sneered, "Then stay and fight me."

-If I could start again
-A million miles away
-I would keep myself
-I would find a way

He watched as fury and grief on the man's expression resolved into a frightening determination.  Sam began to worry that he had done the job too well.  He really didn't care to die again.  He might not come back, this time.  Besides, it hurt.  A lot.

"Not on your terms, demon," MacLeod finally replied, in a voice low enough that the gathering crowd couldn't hear it.  His eyes were no longer empty; they burned with the fire of commitment.  "On mine.  I'll make you pay for Richie's murder.  I will make you hurt.  I swear it by Almighty God."  He threw Sam to the ground, forcing the people at the front of the crowd to prance back.  He strode away, the crowd parting to let him pass.   He had reclaimed the business card, Sam realized distantly.

For good measure, Sam called after him, "Bangkok, Duncan!  You should definitely go there!"

"I'm not playing your games!" MacLeod called back, without turning.

In seconds, helpful hands were lifting Sam up, as he gingerly recovered his arms from their twisted position.  The headache was abruptly gone.

"Thank you.  I'm all right," he murmured, in a couple of languages.  Eventually they allowed him to move out of the courtyard, as he refused further assistance.  In a momentarily empty corridor, Al started in.

"What were you doing?"

"I don't know."

"You let him go again.  What were you thinking?"  Al fumbled with Ziggy.

"I don't know."

"You know he's gone straight to ..."  Al shook Ziggy, and stared.  "Malaysia?  Sam ... he apparently goes to Malaysia and lives in a monastery!"

Sam smiled, wearily.  "Holy ground?"

Al looked up from the device in his hand.  "Yeah!  You did it!  How did you do that?"

Thank goodness.  "Great.  Did you find anything about the coming back from the dead thing?"

"No, and, in fact, what few records we had about these guys seem to be missing now.  Some kind of timeline goof, I suppose ..."

"You've got Nash in the imaging chamber.  Have you tried talking to him?"

Al rolled his eyes.  "Oh, we've tried."

"Not very cooperative?"

"You have no idea ..."

Sam lost the rest of what Al said in the whiteness of another Leap.

-Beneath the stain of time
-The feeling disappears

-But I remember everything

The full lyrics are:

      by Nine Inch Nails

      i hurt myself today
      to see if i still feel
      i focus on the pain
      the only thing that's real
      the needle tears a hole
      the old familiar sting
      try to kill it all away
      but i remember everything
      what have i become?
      my sweetest friend
      everyone i know
      goes away in the end
      you could have it all
      my empire of dirt
      i will let you down
      i will make you hurt
      i wear my crown of shit
      on my liar's chair
      full of broken thoughts
      i cannot repair
      beneath the stain of time
      the feeling disappears
      you are someone else
      i am still right here
      what have i become?
      my sweetest friend
      everyone i know
      goes away in the end
      you could have it all
      my empire or dirt
      i will let you down
      i will make you hurt
      if i could start again
      a million miles away
      i would keep myself
      i would find a way

Quantum Leap canon

This story violates what is fairly well established in QL - that Sam Leaps physically with his own body.  I have followed the lead of Ashley McConnell, who writes QL profic, who has Sam take on the physical characteristics of the person into whom he Leaps.  If I didn't do that, I couldn't have the fun of having Sam discover he's immortal! <g>

Also, while it was never said that Sam couldn't Leap into his own future, I believe that fact is accepted in QL fanon.  I have violated that, since Sam started out in 1995, and Archangel took place in 1997.  So sue me.

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