Chapter 1: Prologue
Greg Parker looked up from the table scratches he’d been tracing with his eyes to watch his protégé as she shook some of the excess rainwater that clung to her jacket. They weren’t at the station. None of the guys were likely to come in and see them. He wished she’d make the small concession of an umbrella instead of daring Mother Nature to inflict her with so much as a sniffle. He didn’t reprimand her, though. Only smiled at her as she approached. “Morning, Jules. Hey, thanks for meeting me.”
“No problem,” she dismissed any suggestion that meeting her oddly secretive boss before the pre-shift work out could even remotely be considered an inconvenience. “Did you eat yet?”
“I figured I’d wait for you.”
They both ordered, then made small talk about this and that until their food arrived. Their topics were casual. Jules was thinking about selling her house and buying another fixer-upper. Greg told her about the boat he was thinking about buying himself. Nothing consequential.
Finally, when the server had them all taken care of, Jules asked, “What’s this all about, Sarge? Huh? Why’d you want to talk here?”
“Like I said on the phone, I wanted to talk to you alone.”
“But you could’ve just…”
“I didn’t know if Sam was there...and I didn’t really wanna ask.”
“Oh.” She could see how that might be a little awkward for the both of them. Might’ve even put a monkey wrench into the conversation he wanted to have. “So, what’s up?” she prompted, grasping her coffee mug by the handle and lifting it to her lips.
“This has to stay just between us for now, okay? You can’t tell anybody. Especially anybody on the team. Not yet.”
She nodded her acceptance of his caveat, and then continued sipping her coffee while she waited for him to continue.
“I’m gonna retire.”
The silverware clattered against the plates when the mug suddenly slammed against the tabletop. Coffee sloshed unnoticed over the hand still clutching the handle with a death grip. Unnoticed by the hand’s owner, at least. Greg pulled a couple of napkins out of the dispenser and reached across the table to pat her hand dry.
He kept patting, looking down.
“Greg. Look at me.”
He slowly, hesitantly raised his eyes to glance briefly into hers. He could only maintain the contact briefly and that scared her.
“You chose this team,” Jules reminded him.
Her voice was quiet, and he knew she was trying to sound neutral, nonjudgmental, but he knew the meaning hidden beneath those four simple words. The reproach. The accusation of abandonment. The concern. The fear.
“You let Ed rip up those papers. You love this team.”
You love me. He could hear what she wasn’t saying, his Jules. He knew he was too much to his team sometimes. In Jules’ case, he was too much of a father-figure. He’d seen that flaw in their relationship as an acceptable one more often than not because it didn’t interfere with the job. In fact, it enhanced their working relationship. He had so much faith in her, so much trust, so much pride…he believed she could do anything he needed her to. Even this. That was still true, but he hated seeing so much hurt in her eyes. He knew it would be reflected in the rest of the team’s eyes as well.
“Please talk to me.” Small hands grasped larger ones. “Tell me what’s wrong. We can work through it. We’ve got all the time in the world to sit here and work through it. If you’re having a bad day. I’m here. I’m right here. I—”
“It’s just today, Jules,” Greg finally broke in, unable to let her continue her futile attempt to talk him down. He worked his hands free of hers in order to switch positions with them. Grasping her hands, he tried to explain, “I’m not doing so good—”
“What are you talking about? You’ve been amazing lately. Just the other day when you had to talk down that—”
“I don’t mean about work.” He held up a hand with a faint, begging smile when she was about to interrupt again. If she wanted him to get to the point, she was going to have to let him speak. “I’m sick, Jules.”
She started to shake her head.
He nodded his.
“Yeah. It’s cancer.”
“Uh-uh. No.” Her voice held a faint whine. Jules never whined. It was a clear sign to him that he had to back off if she was going to be able to hold on to her valued composure. He couldn’t think about her dignity right now, though. Now he had to be her boss. Her sergeant. Maybe even her mentor. He couldn’t be her father.
“It’s bad, Jules. Real bad. I need you to listen to me, here. The, uh, the team needs you to be strong. It needs you to…”
She suddenly got up and, for a split second and maybe with a flash of fear, he thought she was going to walk away from him. Stalk off into the rain with no umbrella, no backward glance. But then she was on his side of the table, standing right by his side, hugging him tight. “I’m here, Sarge. I’m right here. Just tell me what you need me to do.”
She was shaky, unsteady, far from composed, but she was there and that was good enough for him.
“I need you to take care of our team.” His voice was muffled by her arm, but he could feel her nod against his head. “Good girl,” he murmured, awkwardly patting her arm as she tightened her grip on him.
Chapter 2: Secret Keeping
Greg and Jules try to keep their secret, but the team isn't blind, as Sam and Spike make plain.
"Sierra One has been compromised. Sierra Two is now Sierra One," Raf reported. "Repeat, Sierra Two is now Sierra One.
"Copy that," Jules responded before switching channels. "Sierra One, status."
"I have the solution," Sam promptly responded.
Jules checked her watch. Two minutes left. She looked up at Spike, who had a gun being held to his head. There was no time. "Scorpio."
"Constable Julianna Callaghan…" Sergeant Parker read from the file that was sitting open before him.
"Sergeant Gregory Parker…" She couldn't help herself. After all the interviews and evaluations, at that point the team had made their decision. Either she was in or she wasn't. She'd always imagined that her stomach would be all tied up in knots when the moment came that she would await that fateful verdict, but she wasn't. Instead, she was almost buoyant. She was about to find out whether all her hard work had paid off. The sacrifices…the strain between her and her father…the self-imposed pressure to be better than the five-hundred other police offices lining up for a shot to join the SRU... It all came down to that moment.
Even if she didn't get the spot, she couldn't regret the road she'd taken. She was a good cop. A great cop. The SRU would be lucky to have her. And if they didn't want her? It would suck, but it wouldn't be the end of the world. She'd work harder, be better, and get in next time there was an opening.
The corners of the older man's eyes crinkled as they rose to focus on her. "You realize I haven't hired you, yet, right?"
"Yeah...but I also realize the tests are all over with and you, the team, have already made a decision. So…?" she prompted with a hopeful smile.
He leveled her with a steady stare. "Everybody's a constable here, no moving up in the ranks. You won't get rich doing this job, even though you'll be putting your life on the line on a daily basis. Your team mates will be putting their lives in your hands just as often."
"I would never let any of them down," she swore vehemently.
He nodded slowly. "So…my guys usually call me Sarge or Boss. You don't gotta be all formal with the Sergeant Parker stuff."
She hesitantly grinned. "I'm your girl?"
He nodded, making a beckoning gesture toward the men waiting outside the briefing room. "You're our girl. Julianna Callaghan, allow me to properly introduce you to the rest of the team. Ed Lane, recently appointed team leader, Kevin Wordsworth, Roland Cray, John Tolman, and Thomas Jolley. Welcome to the team."
"I've just got one question for ya, Callaghan…" Ed said, stepping forward to lay the target from one of her evaluations on the table. "Perfect shots except for…" he pointed at the hole located in the crotch area of the man-shaped silhouette. "What happened there?"
Her grin turned sheepish as she confessed, "One of the other candidates made a…uh… comment …I made a point ."
"Oh…" the men gathered around the table chorused, laughing.
"Julianna Callaghan, from this moment on, I dub thee…Jules," Greg proclaimed.
"Jules, what's going on?" Sam asked, holding a steaming mug of coffee out to her as he used his back to hold the screen door open.
Roused from her reverie, Jules turned her head to smile slightly. "What? I can't watch the sun come up every once in a while?" She accepted the mug and blew gently to cool the steaming liquid.
"Sunrise was about half an hour ago, but that's not what I was talking about. What's going on with the boss?"
"What about him?" she asked cautiously. Her eyelashes lowered, shielding her eyes somewhat.
"What do you mean 'what about him'? He's been deferring to you a lot lately."
"What? You're doubting my abilities, now? I'm hurt, Sam. Really." She scoffed as she brushed past him and re-entered the house with him right on her heels.
"Stop deflecting, you know what I mean. The way he keeps asking your opinion…if I didn't know better, I'd think you were back to being a rookie in training or something."
She drummed her fingertips against the mug in her hands. She hated having to keep this secret from the team. From Sam in particular. She'd never felt the need to keep secrets from him. Really, if their roles were reversed, she'd want to kick his ass for not telling her what was happening. It wouldn't matter to her that he'd promised Greg. It was such a huge deal and she would resent not being allowed to do anything. With a loud, weary sigh, she turned around and looped one arm around his neck, hugging him.
"I'm sorry. I'm really sorry, but I can't talk about it. Not right now. Not yet."
"Okay, all right," he backed off, hugging her back.
"I'm so sorry, Sam."
"You said that."
"I know I did, I just…am." She pulled away, clearly lost in troubling thoughts, and headed upstairs to get ready for work.
Sam stood where he was for a long moment, replaying the scene that had just occurred in his mind. He wasn't sure what to think. Something was obviously going on, was obviously wrong, and what bothered him the most about it was that Jules wasn't okay. He just couldn't figure out what kind of secret she'd be keeping with Parker. If it weren't Jules, he'd think they were…but it was Jules.
He frowned as he kept reminding himself that Jules wouldn't cheat on him. It wasn't so much that he didn't trust her, as he couldn't figure out what was going on between Jules and their boss. He walked into the kitchen and found his gaze drawn to the pair of cell phones sitting on the counter, charging. It wouldn't take long to pick hers up, scan the history… No. He wouldn't invade her privacy. Whatever was going on, neither Jules nor their boss were like that. He would wait for her to open up to him. In the meantime, he'd just be there. Even though he would've liked to be able to do more, he knew that was enough for her.
Whenever he thought he'd processed and come to terms with his condition, it became surreal all over again. It was easier to cope with when he dealt with everything but that. Things affected by it were okay. Getting his affairs in order. Getting his team in order. It was when he actually tried to deal with the cancer itself that he faltered. Small tasks he needed to accomplish, such as reading about treatment options or even about the disease itself, seemed to require a monumental amount of energy that it never seemed the right moment to exert. There were always things to do, or so he told himself. He had to focus on getting Jules ready for the review board. He had to do his job. He had to make sure Marina ate when he got home because she had a tendency to work through meals. He always had an excuse to focus on everything but the cancer his doctor had insisted needed to be dealt with immediately.
Right now, his excuse was that he was on duty and that personal matters should be left to personal time. Right now, he had paperwork from the previous day that exhaustion had forced him to abandon the night before. Later, there would be another excuse.
Greg looked up at Spike, who was leaning against the doorframe of the briefing room, which he had commandeered for his work. "Morning, Spike." He returned his gaze to the file that was sitting open in front of him after delivering the perfunctory greeting. Feeling the younger man's continued presence, he raised his gaze once more. "What's up?" he asked, taking in Spike's unusually unreadable expression. Normally, the kid was an open book. His thoughts were clearly reflected by his expressive eyes. And what you couldn't read on his face, he usually told you without being asked. Today his face was blank and he didn't seem to be in that much of a hurry to speak. That made Greg wary.
That was a good question. Spike only wished Greg had answered the question instead of asking it. He had his suspicions, borne of his experience with his father, but he didn't want to risk confirming them. He wanted to think he was just being paranoid. Making mountains out of molehills. Smelling phosgene instead of hay and grass. Reading too much into the obvious changes in Jules' role on the team and the stubborn bug that had had Greg dragging his feet for a while now. As long as he didn't ask, he could keep telling himself nothing was wrong. He could keep telling himself everything was fine. Fine. Not great, but acceptable. If nothing was wrong with his boss, then something was wrong with him. He'd take that. As intelligent as he was, he wanted to be wrong. But if he wasn't…
"I don't know…you won't tell me," Spike finally said. Ignorance wasn't bliss. It was hell. Especially when you knew you were in the dark. "When I joined Team One, you told me that you were placing your faith in me. You remember what I told you?" He answered his own question when Greg remained silent. "I told you it was going to be a two-way street. That I was going to put my faith in you as well. That I was going to trust you with my life, because, if I was going to be your demolitions expert, I needed to trust that you'd have my back. That you'd watch out for me. That's why this team works. We all have that kind of faith in each other.
"Now, I don't know what's going on with you. I'm scared to ask because I'm pretty sure asking would precipitate one of two possible outcomes. A, you lie and that faith is lost. B, you tell the truth and I don't like what I hear. However, you sitting on whatever's going on isn't helping either, because it's like you're throwing it in our faces on a daily basis, daring us to ask… It's not fair."
"Spike." Greg didn't know what to say. Didn't know what he could say. This was another one of those things he kept trying to put off. Telling his team. He'd told Jules because he had to. He couldn't let just anyone take over his team. He needed her to be ready to take his place now rather than sometime in the distant future as, he was sure, he wasn't the only one who had envisaged. Ed might have had experience over her, but he was also on the verge of retirement. Besides, he was already cutting back trying to spend more time at home with the family he'd had to nearly lose in order to fully appreciate. Jules was well-versed in tactical maneuvers, a gifted profiler and negotiator, an exceptional sniper…She was so comfortable slipping into different roles that selecting her as his successor was a no-brainer.
Other members of the team started arriving and Spike straightened up, knowing whether Greg decided to spill or not, he wouldn't do it right at that moment. "I'm gonna go get ready for the pre-shift workout," he said before turning around and heading to the men's locker room to do just that while simultaneously giving Greg an opportunity to think about what he'd said.
"Let me guess…you're staying late again?" Sam asked wearily when he emerged from the locker room to find Jules waiting for him still in uniform. He wasn't even sure why he asked. She'd been staying late every night for the last few weeks. He'd caught a ride from his teammates so many times they all thought he was in the doghouse. He didn't mind that part. Ignored the locker room ribbings because that just what the guys did. What he did mind was the fact that Jules was shutting him out. She was staying late with Parker, then heading home too tired to do much more than sleep. At least, that was what happened the nights he waited up for her at her place. Sometimes she just told him to go back to his place and she'd see him in the morning. Like she was doing him some kind of favor. Only she wasn't because he missed her.
"Yeah…" she said with a rueful smile. "If you want to take my jeep, I think I'm going to get a ride home from Sarge," she offered, holding out the keys.
This was a new development. Parker was driving her home, now? He considered refusing the keys, telling her he had a ride. He didn't, yet, but all he had to do was say the word and he was good. He felt as though he was reverting to high school tendencies. Grasping for ways to foil the hot girl's date with the popular guy on the football team. The problem with that scenario was, he had been the popular guy on the football team. He wasn't feeling the role-reversal at all. Oh yeah, and it was Sarge. He dragged a hand over his face. "Jules…"
"Sam. Take the keys. Unless you'd rather spend the night at your place tonight?"
"It's not that. What's going on with you and Sarge?" he asked bluntly.
"Sam we went over this…"
"No, what happened was, I asked and you shot me down. Why won't you let me in Jules? What's going on between you two?" He didn't care how the question sounded, nor was he put off by the incredulous look she was now giving him for questioning her. He needed her to talk to him. He needed her to get that the way she was dealing with whatever she was dealing with wasn't good for them. He was starting to feel resentful of her and their sergeant, and he didn't like it.
Jules stared at him for a long moment, giving him a chance to clarify his question. To take back the thinly veiled accusation that was echoed in his eyes. How could he even think for one minute…? After what it took them to get to where they were… She shook her head, too irritated to reassure him. Too frustrated. Too tired. Too sad. Too everything. "Look, I can't deal with this right now. I can't even believe you…" she stopped herself. Not right now. Later. "Take the keys. Meet me at my place."
"I think maybe I'd rather sleep at my apartment tonight after all."
"Damn it, Sam!" She paused and took a deep breath before saying in a tightly controlled voice, "Take. The. Keys. Please."
He took them and she promptly turned around and walked away without as much as a goodbye. He was tempted to call her back and apologize for pushing her, but why should he when she neverdid? She could be frustratingly persistent when she wanted to be. When the outcome mattered to her. This outcome mattered to him. He didn't make a sound.
Jules was obviously flustered when she dropped into the seat cattycorner to Greg's on the right-hand side of the briefing room table and pulled a file closer to herself.
"I'm good, Boss. What am I looking at, here?"
"That can wait, where are today's reports? We should look those over before it gets late."
"Okay." He let her have her way for a while as they went over reports and forms generated by the day's hot calls. After a few hours, he set down his pen. "You hungry? I know you haven't eaten dinner, yet."
"I'll eat later."
"I said dinner, not breakfast." He chuckled when the corner of her mouth tilted upward. "So she does still have a sense of humor. For a while there, I thought it was dead and withered away."
The faint smile faded. The corner of her mouth tilted downward instead of upward. "How are you doing, Boss?" she asked softly.
"I'm doing okay." He kept his response deliberately brief, not wanting to divulge too much about what was going on in his head, beyond the walls around them, in his personal life… It was silly, he knew, considering what he'd already shared with her, but he wasn't that great at opening up to people. Not the people who mattered. The people he had to look in the eye and know theyknew all about the things that made him imperfect. Know that the way they looked at him, good or bad, was defined by those intimate things they knew. Fear a change for the worst in the way they looked at him. It was easier to keep people at arm's length where they could still see him and view him with respect than it was to let them get close enough to break him.
"How does the doctor say you're doing?"
He sighed, ready to turn the topic away from himself. His original intention had been to talk about her anyway. "Jules…"
"You remember when you told me that you keeping quiet about me and Sam gave you the right to keep an eye on us? Same rule applies, here, Sarge." Her stern voice brooked no argument, despite the fact that she had clearly not forgotten who was who's superior.
"He wants to start me on chemotherapy," he finally confessed.
"Okay, when do you start?" Jules asked. She wondered if he was going to do it on the weekend or if he was finally going to take some time off. Or if he was ready to hand in his papers. The last option scared her a little. She wasn't sure if she was ready for him to resign. Not because she was worried about taking on his role in the team, which she was admittedly apprehensive about, but because she'd miss his presence. He was a good cop. One of the best. But he was also a great leader, and there was a certain degree of comfort in being led. Instead of being expected to be the best, you were encouraged to be the best. The idea of not being perfect was a little easier to stomach when you were accountable for your own actions as opposed to yours and the rest of the team's.
Greg cleared his throat nervously. He wished he had something to occupy his hands. They were simply clasped together, sitting on the tabletop. His eyes landed on the pen and he picked it up, fidgeting with it for no reason other than to satisfy some inane desire to occupy his hands. "I'm not…I mean, I haven't… made an appointment to deal with that yet. I will," he hurriedly assured her so she'd drop it. No such luck.
Jules' eyes narrowed. "What do you mean you haven't…? Sarge, what the hell are you doing?"
"I'm getting you ready for the review board," he muttered the weak excuse to the pen in his hands.
She stared at him incredulously. "Seriously? Seriously?" Her voice rose an octave.
"You don't get to do this, Sarge. Whatever you're doing, whether you're giving up or just plain not taking care of yourself, it needs to stop. Now. You are sick. I can deal with that. The team can deal with that. You just letting it beat you without putting up a fight? I can't deal with that."
"Jules, I'm not some subject you can…"
"You're right," she interrupted, big brown eyes swimming with tears he knew he wasn't about to see fall because she wouldn't let them. "You're so much more than that. Don't you know we love you, Sarge? You're the head of the family. That won't change because you're stepping down from a job. If you won't get your ass in for treatment for your own sake, do it for ours. Do it for the same reason you do most of the things you do. Because it's best for this team."
His chest and throat felt tight. His eyes burned. All he could manage was a nod.
Jules accepted his mute agreement and relaxed somewhat. "Okay then. I think I have something in my eyes." She rubs both so that not a single tear falls. It was nice to see he still got some things right. "How, uh, how's Marina doing with all this? She hasn't been by with cupcakes or anything lately."
He shrugged. "She's fine. So, I think we're almost done here…Where'd you put that inventory—"
"Now what aren't you telling me?" She was starting to get frustrated. She'd agreed to keep his secret so he could what? Just suffer in silence? She was treating Sam shamefully (a fact she knew, but, for the most part, ignored out of perceived necessity) for him, and he was shutting her out. Any other time, she wouldn't push so hard, wouldn't pry, but there was no time for him to drag his feet. Not when he had liver cancer.
"Jules, damn it, would you please just lay off? Please. Just…let me be," he pleaded with her.
Jules didn't bat an eye. "You don't have any support at all, do you? That's why you haven't been to the doctor. Nobody's made you."
"I haven't been because I have—"
"More important things to do? No, Sarge, you don't. What you do have is me, and I expect you to have made an appointment with an oncologist by the time I see you at work tomorrow. And if you're going to keep using this job as an excuse, I swear to God. I will go to the commander myself." His mouth was an ominously thin line by the end of her tirade, but she didn't care. She was too pissed off to care. This was his life they were talking about and she would be damned if she was going to tread carefully because he didn't seem to want her to care. He signed up for that when he told her. With a huff, she placed both of her hands palm-down on the table and pushed herself up to her feet. "If you're almost done, I think I'm going to head home. It's been a long day."
At his curt nod, she turned away from him. He watched her walk away.
"I can't be what you need me to be anymore, Marina. I'm sorry." And he was. He liked having her in his life. Dinner for two was always better than dinner for one, whether she was in the mood to laugh or whether she was near tears because she'd yet to figure out how to fully cope with the fact that what she'd experienced the day they met would stick with her forever. He loved her best when she was in those light-hearted moods, though. When her generous lips were curved in a contagious smile as she talked about something funny that had happened over the course of the day. When she reminded him that, contrary to what he'd seen at work that day, the whole world wasn't going to hell in a hand basket.
Marina smiled hesitantly as though she was awaiting the punch line to a joke she didn't really find funny, but that she was determined to pretend to find amusing. He knew she'd understand that he meant what he'd said when he didn't—couldn't return her smile. "Greg…I don't…I don't understand. What are you saying?"
He watched the way the flickering candlelight painted her hair with different hues. Her skin. Her bracelet. Everything but her eyes, because he didn't want to see the moment understanding flickered to life there, battling the candlelight for dominance.
"Greg?" Her voice was uncertain. So was the hand that reached across the table to grasp his. Her hand flinched back to her side of the table when he disengaged his. "You're breaking up with me.?"
He determinedly avoided meeting her gaze as he gave a quick nod.
"Why? I mean, I thought…. I thought we were doing pretty well. I don't… Did I do something wrong? Did I…?"
"No, Marina, no. It's not you, it's me." He didn't want to be something else that happened to her. She'd been through enough. She shouldn't have to deal with him, too.
"Wow. I haven't heard that one in—"
"It's true," Greg insisted, still not risking meeting her eyes. Still protecting himself.
"Did you meet someone else? Is that it?"
He made a face that could only be described as a grimace. He couldn't help himself. "What? No. Look, don't do this to yourself. Just move on."
"Greg what's going on? I really don't understand this at all, because we were fine. We—"
"You don't get it because all you see is what's going with you. You can't see anything past your own pain. You're too busy obsessing about some poor schmuck who got his brains blown out because you couldn't give him the time of day when it really mattered."
He didn't have to look into her eyes to know what she was feeling. He watched her hands curl into fists, inadvertently wrinkling the tablecloth. Her throat worked almost convulsively. Her mouth formed a thin, quivering line. Tears ran faint tracks down both cheeks. No, he didn't have to look into her eyes to know his words had hurt her, as intended. That wasn't why he refused to let their eyes meet. He didn't let their eyes meet because he was afraid of what his eyes would tell her. He was afraid they would take back every word that it hurt him to say as much as it hurt her to hear. Every word he didn't mean.
The legs of her chair scraped ceramic tile as she pushed it back from the table so she could stand. He watched her walk away.
He looked up and saw Jules leaning in the doorway much the same as Spike had done not too long ago. She'd changed out of her uniform into her street clothes and her purse was draped across her body. "Yeah, Jules?"
"I'm sorry I got mad."
"No, you were right. I'm sorry. I'm not any good at this."
"Yeah, well, who's good at having cancer?" she asked rhetorically.
"I broke up with Marina."
She shook her head. "Sarge, you don't have to…."
"I don't want to go in alone," he admitted. It was as close to the sin of admitting his fear that he could manage. Even so, he had to look back down at the papers he hadn't touched since she hit the locker room in order to get the words out. The muttered, barely audible words.
"Just let me know when, okay?"
"Yeah. Hey, you need a ride home?" he offered. "The rest of this can wait until morning."
"Sure," she agreed. Especially when the alternative was calling Sam to come get her. She knew it was on her to fix things with him, but she'd rather avoid an awkward car ride and just see him at home. If he was even there. She wasn't one hundred percent sure she would be if she were him.
She moved to start straightening up while Greg headed to the locker room to change. As she flipped through the papers, trying to filter out forms she could fill out on her own at home, she paused, catching sight of something that probably shouldn't have been in that particular stack of papers. Her letter of recommendation. It was buried beneath everything else. As she read it, she thought to herself, 'I wouldn't mind having this person lead me into battle one bit.' Then she wondered, 'Did he really write this about me?' It sounded like her. She remembered the events he described in the letter. It was just hard to feel like Wonder Woman when she couldn't talk down cancer.
"I was waiting for your approval before I signed it," Greg revealed upon his return. "I think it does you some justice. I couldn't—"
"It's fine. Thanks." She flashed a grin before scooping up the sorted papers. "Let's get out of here." They did just that after filing away completed paperwork.
When they pulled up in front of her house, and Jules noted her jeep parked in the driveway and a light on in the living room, she sighed. He was there. Waiting for her.
Having caught the sound, Greg asked perceptively, "Trouble in paradise?"
"You could say that," Jules muttered as she unfastened her seat belt. "We had an argument earlier." If one could even call it that. It was just the best description she could come up with without going into details.
"Don't worry about it, Sarge. Really. We're fine."
He looked at her dubiously, before saying, "It was never my intention to cause trouble between the two of you, so if this is…"
"Sarge, I'm not backing out," Jules stated unequivocally.
"I'm just saying, protect what you have. Don't end up like me. A legend at work, but…"
She bit back the reminder that he was alone because he chose to be, and said, "Good night, Sarge," instead and got out of the car. She walked up to the house and climbed the front steps. The front door opened before she reached it and Sam stood silhouetted in the doorway. "Hey," she said softly. She could see he'd been sleeping. His eyes were hooded and his hair was matted on one side as though he'd been resting his head against the armrest while watching T.V. It was endearing how he always tried to stay up for her, even when he was mad at her. Even when he was just as tired as she was.
"Hey," he responded huskily as he stood aside so she could enter the house. His voice was another clue that he'd been asleep. She decided the car door must have woken him up. "I saved you some pizza. Wasn't sure how late you'd be out."
She let out a bark of mirthless laughter. "I wouldn't have blamed you if you'd decided not to come over tonight, and you go the extra mile to feed me? Why are you even here, Sam?"
He looked at her as though he thought the answer to her question should have been obvious. "Because you asked me to be here, Jules."
Such a simple reason, so simply given, was all it took. She told him everything. She told him about Greg's illness. She told him about the plan for her to step up as sergeant of Team One. She told him about the evening's confrontation between her and Greg. She let him hold her while she cried.
He didn't get mad at her for not telling him sooner. There was no yelling. No recriminations. Just comfort and understanding and an unspoken reminder of why he had been worth risking her career for. And pizza forced down her throat because he refused to hear her when she said she wasn't hungry.
When he was satisfied that she'd eaten enough, they ended up spooning on the couch watching Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Normally, they would poke fun at plot holes and stupid tactical errors, but they were both drained and on the verge of sleep within ten minutes.
"I love you, Sam. Even if I suck at showing it sometimes."
"I know you do. I'm glad you told me what was going on. You're going to be an amazing sergeant."
She smiled as he kissed the back of her head. "Even though I'd be your boss?"
"My sexy-sniper-chick-turned-sexy-boss…yeah, I think I can deal with that." He gave her a squeeze. "I'd follow you anywhere. This just makes it official. Now go to sleep."
Chapter 4: ...(Not) Set You Free
We now have Sam supporting Jules while Jules supports Greg as Greg begins taking necessary steps in taking control of his life.
Jules did most of the talking. Greg let her because he trusted her to do what he couldn't. She knew how to ask all the right questions. And while she discussed his options with the doctor, he listened. It wasn't as though he was disinterested in the topic. Mentally, he was right there, even though he didn't want to be. He was simply mute. Every part of him was there except for his voice. He could hear them discussing methods of preventing the cancer from spreading beyond the liver. He could feel Jules squeezing his fisted hand. He could nod or shake his head when appropriate. He just couldn't seem to engage his voice.
Jules felt sick inside. Cancer's been around for how long? And they still didn't have anything equivalent to aspirin or antacid to treat it and actually cure it? What the hell were scientists and doctors doing with all their research funding? Buying scalpel sharpeners? Trying to come up with the next universally recognizable antiseptic scent? She thought they should have at least come up with some course of treatment with a guaranteed one-hundred percent success rate. Was that really so much to ask for?
She kept her feelings to herself the way she often had to do at work and focused on the task at hand, if only because at least one of them had to. The discussion of his mortality seemed to be having an unusually potent effect on Greg. To someone who didn't know him the way she did, his response to the situation would seem ironic considering his occupation. But she did know him, and she knew what made this different. Whether he'd written the book on hostage negotiation or not, he couldn't talk down cancer. He couldn't save himself with words, bullets, or any other tools he had at his disposal. He had no control over what was happening in his own body.
It was just as well that she couldn't help herself from profiling him. Her concentrated effort to understand him and why he acted the way he did helped her to anticipate his needs, even if it made her feel like crap. But then she had Sam there in her corner, being supportive of her and, by extension, Greg. He didn't, and wouldn't, let on to Greg that he knew what was going on because if Greg wanted Sam to know, Greg would've told him, himself. Sam and Jules had both agreed to give Greg the illusion of control as far as knowledge of his condition went. As long as he was functioning at the level necessary to act as their sergeant, they could give him that.
And so she sat holding Greg's hand and she conversed with the oncologist about 'generally effective' treatment options that had a fifty-fifty (give or take 10-ish percent in either direction) chance of providing the benefits that made them better than other options. Finally, she tightened her grip on Greg's hand and asked the question she knew would be a deal-breaker for him as far as decisions went. "What kind of treatment plan could he safely get started on while on active duty as the sergeant of a Strategic Response Unit team?"
The doctor hesitated before saying, "It really depends on the patient. People respond to treatment in any variety of ways. That being said, based on the size and location of the tumor, I feel confident that, after a few rounds of targeted drug therapy, we can perform a partial hepatectomy with minimal chance of recurrence..."
"And he'd still be able to function normally?" Jules pressed. "I mean, he is a cop…"
"With all due respect, he is also sick and his health needs to be the priority here."
"I'm sorry, you're right," Jules conceded.
"I wouldn't recommend it due to the stress, but theoretically, yes, he could continue performing his duties. He'd need time off to recover after surgery, though."
"He'll be retired by then anyway," Jules assured him. "What do you think?" she asked Greg.
She smiled slightly, encouraged by his finally managing to speak, even if it was only one two-syllable word. "Can we hear more about the targeted drug therapy? It just affects the liver?"
"It's intended to block new blood vessel growth in tumors and growth-stimulating molecules in cancer cells," the doctor corrected, handing them each a pamphlet. "The goal is to slow the spread of the cancer while breaking the tumor down enough to safely remove it. Now, I'm going to give you some more information about the other options we've discussed so you can think it all over. I'd really like to start treatment as soon as possible, so…"
"He will make an appointment with your secretary on our way out," Jules volunteered on Greg's behalf, rising to shake the doctor's hand. "Thank you."
Once they were outside the building and seated in Jules' jeep, Greg asked, "Did he say…?"
"Hinted at it," Jules confirmed with a grin. "They just might be able to kick that cancer's ass." She paused for a minute before asking, "So, when are you going to tell the rest of the team what's going on?"
"After we know what's going on with your application."
In other words, on his way out the door. "Sarge…"
"Jules, come on. I love Eddy, but you know how he'll be about this. You and I both know the doctor said I was okay to work, but—"
"Yeah, yeah, I remember what he did to Wordy," Jules cut in.
"He acted in the manner he thought was best for the team. Right or wrong, he always does."
Jules let out an inelegant snort. "Come on, let's get you home so you can look those booklets over."
"I already know what I want to do."
"If it doesn't work, you at least need to know what else is out there," Jules argued.
"Okay, fine, have it your way," he capitulated.
Jules was sparring with Raf when she got distracted by Greg following the commander into the briefing room. The next thing she knew, she was on her back. "Oomph!"
"Where'd you go?" Raf asked disbelievingly. That takedown had been way too easy. Not that he doubted his own abilities, but Jules tended to be about as easy to get ahold of as Ed's hair was to braid.
"Sorry, I just…never mind. Go again?"
Raf raised an eyebrow. "Right after I finally regained my dignity?"
Jules scoffed as Ed called her over to him. "Jules! A minute?"
"Great. I go down one time today…" she muttered under her breath for Raf's ears only. "Coming, Ed!" She jogged lightly over to him. "What's up?"
"I was hoping you'd tell me. What's going on with Greg?"
"Ask him," she hedged, surprised by the outright question. She knew the team wasn't stupid, but everyone had been playing dumb, except for a few odd looks, for weeks now.
Ed fixed her with a steely-eyed stare for a moment before declaring, "You're on less lethal today."
Jules blinked. "Excuse me?"
"You heard me. Less lethal."
"I'm team leader. I make the tactical calls." His whole demeanor dared her to challenge him, and she had half a mind to do so. He was just being petty because Greg had confided in her rather than him.
Deciding not to give him the satisfaction, she thrust her chin up a little and said, "Fine."
"All right then." He walked away and left Jules seething at his high-handedness. She didn't appreciate him tossing around his power as team leader as though she were some rookie who needed to be put in her place. She didn't have much time to think about it, though, because a hot call came in and the team rolled out minutes later.
By the end of the day, Jules was sure she would need to go in for dental repair work. It was as though Ed spent every car ride thinking of chores to keep her, for lack of a better term, out of play for all but one hot call when he couldn't justify preventing her from talking down a suicidal teenager. She was undeniably gifted with interventions in particular and kids tended to respond well to her. She felt good about that save. She was still pissed at Ed.
Sam slipped into the locker room as she was blow-drying her hair after her post-shift shower and, skipping the pleasantries, asked, "What'd you do to earn scut duty?"
"Not a damn thing," she huffed, switching off the hair-dryer and adjusting her towel to make doubly sure it was secure. The action wasn't out of a sense of modesty (it was Sam, after all), but because they were still at work, even if they weren't on the clock. "Was he really being as obvious about it as I thought he was?"
"Isn't he always?" Sam retorted. He remembered well what it was like to be on the T.O.'s bad side. It wasn't anything he'd struggled with as much after his elbowing his way onto the team was forgiven and he learned the ropes.
Jules grimaced. "I wouldn't tell him about Sarge when he asked. Sam…" she added warningly when his expression suddenly darkened with anger on her behalf.
"Are you seriously telling me this is because…?" He shook his head. "This isn't right."
"No, it's not," she agreed, "but, Sam, you can't say anything."
"He's being a jackass, Jules."
"It'll be over, soon, Sam. He'll really feel like an ass when he knows what's going on," she pointed out.
"You should tell Sarge. Get this sorted out now."
"He wants to wait until we get word on my application."
"You mean until you get the green light," Sam corrected. His expression didn't change, so she knew he wasn't done yet. "You realize that by waiting, you're the one who gets left holding the bag, right? The boss drops the bomb and walks away while you deal with the fallout…i.e. more of Ed's crap when he's supposed to be the T.O. of your team."
Admittedly, she hadn't thought of it that way. She'd just figured she'd suffer in silence until the turnover and things would sort themselves out after as though the truth was all that was needed to restore the peace. The bigger issue to her way of thinking had been Greg thumbing his nose at the team's support the way he had Marina's by not letting them support him.
She started to respond only to be interrupted by a loud rapping on the door. "Not decent!" she announced, almost laughing when Sam's expression finally relaxed into a smirk. "Get your mind out of the gutter, Braddock," she murmured.
"Team's going to the Goose," Spike informed her from the other side of the locker room door. "Boss says it's mandatory."
"Okay, meet you there!"
"Sam, you riding with Jules?"
"Duh," Jules answered for him with a signature roll of her eyes.
"'Kay, see you guys when you're done being indecent."
"Think about what I said," Sam suggested before kissing the side of her head and leaving her to finish getting dressed.
She didn't have to think about it, she knew he was right. Ed's behavior was a problem that needed to be dealt with sooner rather than later. Team One's sergeant and team leader simply couldn't be at odds. She resolved to talk to Greg that night before they parted ways, then proceeded to dress in double-time, spurred by Spike's teasing to be the first to show at the bar.
After the team was gathered around its usual table at The Goose and had engaged in some of the usual small talk and good-natured teasing, Greg requested everyone's attention. "Hey, you guys? I summoned you all here for a reason. A couple of them, actually," he cleared his throat.
Sam and Jules exchanged a glance, both clearly wondering if he was finally coming clean about his condition.
"You should all congratulate Jules. The commander informed me today that she is being fast-tracked for sergeant."
A stunned silence fell over the table as everyone turned to look at Jules, whose startled eyes went just as wide as theirs did at the announcement.
Sam was the first to speak in the interest of showing solidarity in the face of the shitstorm he knew was about to break. "Way to go, Jules!" he slid an arm around her shoulders in a one-armed hug.
"Wow, yeah, congrats," Spike chimed in, sincere despite his confusion.
"You know, I'm happy for you," Raf started, "but does that mean you're leaving the team?"
Frowning, Ed turned to Greg. "I haven't heard anything about openings on other SRU teams." He didn't see Jules leaving SRU when she'd been willing to dump the (former) rookie to reclaim her spot on the team from Donna and the passing years had seemingly strengthened her position.
"She's not leaving the team," Greg clarified. "I am."