“Would you have continued the relationship secretly if you could?”
The question caught him off guard. What the?
His first instinct was to open his eyes wide and meet Dr. Toth’s gaze, but he remembered Jules’ warning and careful instructions, drilled into him for the past few weeks: Look down. Veil your eyes.
So he did just that, shuttering the one clear path to his soul – and his true feelings – all the while struggling to give an answer. The correct answer. No, scratch that. The answer he was supposed to give.
In that precious few seconds, he fought to regulate his breathing, made every effort to control his heartbeat. He was a sniper, wasn’t he? That should be easy stuff to him. It was so ingrained in him that it was almost second nature.
Breathe in, breathe out.
Faintly, he heard scratching sounds. The polygraph. The damned instrument, ancient as it looked, was meticulously recording everything he tried to hide. He heard, rather than saw, the pen register the spike in his sweat glands, and he resisted the urge to wipe his sweaty palms on his pants.
Damn psychological response. You couldn’t control all of them.
But who was he kidding? He’d never been able to control himself – any part of himself – wherever Jules was concerned.
He hadn’t controlled himself when he gave in to his urges and kissed her in front of the Royal York, potentially risking exposure by any member of their team. He hadn’t controlled himself when he ran to her side as she fell after taking a sniper’s bullet.
And he most certainly hadn’t been in control of himself as he sobbed over her unconscious body in the hospital while she fought for her life.
He thought they’d managed to keep things quiet. Succeed where their first attempt had failed.
Almost immediately after that first night after the Royal York incident, Sarge and Ed had been onto them. He guessed that it was in the unconscious glances he shot Jules’ way when she wasn’t looking, or in the secret smiles she gave him throughout the day. They were too damned happy, and they hadn’t been able to hide it.
Then there was her uncharacteristic ripping of his judgment after the case with the two fighting women that resulted in the accidental stabbing of the wife. While Jules never failed to speak her mind, and she gave as good as she got, she never verbally tore through a teammate’s actions like she did that night. She was usually more composed, more objective.
But because it’d been him, she’d taken it personally. Because he was the rookie, she felt responsible for him and she wanted his judgments and actions exemplary before the rest of the team. And it hadn’t ended in the briefing room.
They’d gone home, she’d destroyed a few more walls in her frustration, and that night they’d had their first session of angry sex. It had been deeply satisfying, but he had felt every punishing stroke, and he still had faint scars on his back to prove it.
Two weeks later, she got shot. And that had been the start of all the unraveling.
After sending Jules off in the ambulance, holding her hands for as long as he could so she would know he was there for her and he would never leave her, he’d taken up his Sierra spot. As he held his rifle, his bloodstained hands came into view, and that had been enough to to fuel his already pent-up rage over his failure to protect Jules.
It was a good shot – you shoot when a member of your team is in imminent danger. But even Sam couldn’t deny that it was the first time that he truly glorified in pulling the trigger. He hadn’t even stopped to regulate his breathing, control his heartbeat. His hands were trembling and he could barely see straight in his fury. He had let adrenaline take over him, let his body react naturally.
He had merely been lucky that his aim was true and it was Tomasic who died and not Ed who took a bullet to the head.
Jules’ road to recovery was long and hard, and he would never admit it, but it was even more difficult on him. Every time he saw her struggle, even with something as simple as pulling her shirt over her head, guilt would eat at him.
In the early days, he had taken to beating the crap out of a few of Jules’ drywalls just to relieve his helplessness. He never really told her why she constantly woke up to the smells of fresh paint in her house.
As she slowly got back on her feet, the ugly notion that it was the team or them fixated in her mind. He should have seen it coming; no, he had seen it coming, but just didn’t want to admit it.
She asked for the break-up, and he was willing to go ahead with it because he knew by then that the entire team was already on to them. It was no secret to them where he rushed off to every day when Jules was on medical leave, and more than once, they’d nearly been caught in the hospital together doing more than just colleague things.
That was before she confessed to being in love with him.
Those three little words changed everything, and they gave him courage and strength for everything that came after that.
He gave Jules her way for a while, figuring that she would eventually head back to him when the time was right. But a week, then two, passed, and he realized that Jules was a woman whose mental fortitude was stronger than her emotions.
And she fought him all the way after that, night after night, as he went to her instead, determined to pull down her defenses and her lame excuses. It was grueling, it was long-drawn, it sure as hell took a lot of patience, and once or twice he’d been on the verge of giving up, scheduling dates with other women in his frustration just to prove himself that he could still draw the ladies even if the only woman he wanted didn’t want him back.
But all her walls had come crumbling down the night they saved Laura and Evan from themselves. That night had marked the start of a new beginning; that night he had shared something with Jules that he’d never before shared with anyone. That night had sealed their fate, entwined their destiny so tightly together that neither of them could give up even if they wanted to.
From that moment on, they had resolved to be smarter. They learnt from their past mistakes, and at work, it took every effort to be Constable Braddock and Constable Callaghan. He couldn’t lie and say that Jules’ safety was not on his mind every moment of the day, but at least by then, he had learnt to trust her – and learnt to trust the team – enough to let her do her job without him hovering over her.
They chose their audience well, always opting to act out their jealous spats in full view of the team, with Jules mastering the perfect acting skills to look like an ex-lover who still had feelings for him. She had confessed later, laughing all while, that it had taken too much effort to scoff at his fantasy of having a blonde, redhead and brunette in the same night. He’d shown her clearly that day, just which one he truly preferred.
There were moments when he worried that they would be discovered. Like when she silently unpacked his bag and replaced everything in his locker after he questioned his ability and his place on the team; when her voice went a pitch higher as she yelled for him to take cover before the white supremacist’s bomb went off.
He constantly fretted that even their bantering would be taken in the wrong context, and the team would watch them even more closely, so he tried to limit those. It was hard, not being able to joke with her on the job, but it was a small sacrifice to make.
And now, he was again apprehensive of what the psych evaluation would reveal. Being blindsided with the knowledge that Sarge wasn’t conducting the evaluations like Jules and everyone else had expected didn’t help at all.
He was terrified that Dr. Toth’s objective, third-party view of him would break through all the walls he’d built up to protect Jules, and that they’d be exposed.
In the end, he chose simply to go with the truth, hoping it would help to cover what he was really trying to conceal.
Yes, he would continue the relationship secretly if he could.
Because he was already doing that, and because he could not give it up now. Not ever.
Not this second time around.