“I would have gotten that for you, you know.”
Sam tries not to let the frustration crawl into his voice. Tries not to be annoyed that Jules is already hobbling down her walkway before he even had a chance to open her door for her. Little miss independent strikes again. Doesn't matter that she is injured. Doesn't matter that he was raised to hold open doors and she is the first woman he has ever really wanted to play that part for. To be the gentleman his mother tried so hard to instill in him, as if please and thank you and knowing to rise whenever someone left the table made up for the fact that The General was training him to be deadly with a firearm.
“It's just a sprain, Sam.”
That's how many times she has said that. Not that he has been counting. No, that could cause an argument that he is desperately trying to avoid. He is just sick to death of her downplaying everything.
Like that changes how his heart practically exploded in his chest when he saw her take that fall. A different angle and she wouldn't be fumbling with her crutches while trying to open her door. If she hadn't rolled into it, she wouldn't be wearing a plastic hospital ID on her wrist but a tag on her toe. It wouldn't be just anything. It would have been a broken neck. For one gut wrenching moment he got to see it all play out in his head. Her gone. Her broken body resting at a sickening unnatural angle. It flashed in his mind's eye, a sadistic horror show- a world without Jules.
Sam had never moved so fast. Raf tazing the son of a bitch playing out in the corner of his vision as he rushed down the stairs. Boots on metal, clunking and loud. His heart not daring to beat until he felt her pulse beneath his gloved hand, thick and fumbling and desperate. As it was, there were a few tense moments where she could not breathe. Could not move. Could not even muster a groan. The wind thoroughly knocked from her chest. That helpless feeling coursing through his veins. Making him remember another moment with labored breathing and eyes that were fixed on him.
Made him think of that room.
Leaving her in that room.
If this job doesn't kill him then watching her do it will. He is seriously contemplating wrapping her in bubble wrap for the foreseeable future or possibly padlocking her at home with enough sandpaper and paint rollers to keep from killing him.
It's not just anything.
“You don't know that, Jules.” Sam counters, as she finally gets her door open, a huff of frustration causing her bangs to flutter across her forehead. “They said it was 'most likely a sprain'. You wouldn't stick around for x-rays to check.” It feels important to remind her of that. He still is having trouble with the idea that her softball sized ankle is merely a sprain and nothing more sinister.
“It's just a sprain, Sam.”
Obviously she doesn't share his fears.
She is oddly quick and adapt at the crutches and, not for the first time, he finds himself wondering about her life before SRU. About her life in The Hat, of growing up on a farm. He doesn't even know what they grew or raised. Doesn't know much. Just that she had a horse named Napoleon that she loved. Knows she has four brothers that never bother to visit. Knows she has a father who did not rush to her side when she took an armor piercing bullet to the chest. That he didn't even seemed phased when Sam called to tell him that his only daughter had Anthrax in her lungs and a new scar on her arm. There is something more there but Sam has learned not to ask. Some subjects are best left alone.
Still there is something about how she moves so easily with her crutches, the way she is never without a bag of frozen peas in her icebox, how she doesn't know how to back down that makes him think that she spent every summer growing up with something in a cast.
He bets Steve knows why she is so damn good at crutches. He has a lifetime of info on Jules that Sam would kill to know. Got to know her before all of her walls went up. He probably even got to open a door for her.
And it's back. That itch to want to punch something, preferably that dopey farmboy’s face.
Sam had finally gotten the urge under control on the drive home, focusing instead on how Jules was ranting about the uniforms not being able to hold the damn perimeter. The animation in her voice and the flush of her cheeks diverted his attention. She was frighteningly beautiful when her temper was up, all fire and flame, and it was a rare occasion that Sam got to witness it directed to someone other than himself. He found himself stealing sideways glances at her on the ride back to her place, unable to resist. A moth to her flame.
But thinking on The Hat, of all he still doesn't know about her, all Steve does, brought it back. A train with a one way track.
Who the hell did Steve think he was anyway? Lingering fingers and those stupid inside comments, like all she wanted to do was take a stroll down memory lane.
“Maybe I should have had Steve tell you to get x-rays.” It's the worst possible thing to say and Sam knows it. The only way he could top himself is if he suggests she quit and take up quilting. If he did, Sam highly doubts he would escape with his life. He could pretend it was a joke but part of him is seething. Wants to pick a fight. Wants her to feel as frustrated as he does. Did she have to be so agreeable with the guy?
Her eyes narrow, pinning him in their cross-hairs. “What's that suppose to mean?”
It is clearly anything but nothing.
If he wants to smooth this over this is his one chance. If he plays his cards right, he can get her back on the uniforms not doing their job. All he has to do is say that he didn't mean anything by it. Tell her that he is just worried about her.
Which he is.
Especially when the paramedic tending to her can't seem to stop from caressing her leg. She hurt her ankle. Ankle. The thing just above her foot that was swelling up like Macy's Day balloon. There was no reason at all for his fingers to be rubbing small circles on her calf.
“Just interesting how when I tell you you need to get checked out you argue but when he said it...”
Strike two. So much for smoothing things over.
There is no back peddling now and to be honest Sam isn't even sure he wants to. He is just so sick of it all. He is sick of the it's just, of ex boyfriends, who she dated for all of five minutes, knowing more about her then he does, of her not letting him even get the door for her.
“You have got to be kidding me.” Her eyes are full of annoyance and disbelief. “You are the one that insisted I needed EMS!”
He can't stand that. How she is faulting him for being worried about her. Basically tossing it in his face.
Twice. Twice he has watched her almost slip away, felt her blood on his hands, watched as her breath slowed. Twice he sat in hard hospital waiting room chairs and stared at the linoleum and prayed. Head bowed as he bargained away everything if she would just be okay.
Sam is not sure he will survive if it happens a third time. He already is plagued by nightmares. They come crawling in on nights when she isn't beside him and he wakes trapped in tangled sheets with a cold sweat coating his body. Not that he can tell her that. He can already predict her response- it's just a dream, Sam. For now it is, but what happens when it's not? When he isn't fast enough, when they can't get the ventilation on in time, when she doesn't roll into the fall? She is his everything and yet he watches her rush daily headlong into danger.
Doesn't she realize that it's slowly killing him?
“You couldn't walk. You could barely breathe.” She cannot blame any of this on him.
“I just needed a moment!”
Does she really believe that? Just an armor piercing bullet, just some artery injuring shrapnel, just Anthrax. Obviously insignificant, practically an everyday occurrence; he is clearly the one overreacting. “You had just been shoved down a flight of stairs.”
There is a barely perceivable twitch of her jaw. “Seven stairs,” she counters.
It's a lie. Sam can still hear the clunk of his boots as he chased after her tumbling form. Fifteen metal steps to the harsh concrete below. He wants to tell her to be honest for once, that she isn't some sort of superwoman. Wants to tell her to admit just once that she is human and that today was terrifying and that her ribs are killing her.
But he doesn't say any of that. Doesn't say anything. Just holds her gaze, blue eyes boring into brown until she finally lets out a sigh. “Fine, maybe it was more.” It's a concession but it doesn't last long before she is back to her old familiar tune. “Sam, It doesn't matter. I just had the wind knocked out of me. That's all.”
Ten. How many more times until that word loses all meaning?
It's back, that real anger that burns in his stomach and makes him want to force her to sit down and stop lying for a moment and just listen. It's a white hot coal threatening to turn their relationship into a towering inferno if he lets it out. He is not sure he can stand watching her get hurt anymore and if he tells her that? They are doomed. Jules will not be relegated to a desk job, not for him, not for anyone.
So Sam takes a breath and focuses on the less lethal option. “Steve didn't think that was all it was.”
“So we are back to him again?”
Yes, they are. It's better than the alternative. “I'm just saying you didn't put up much of a fight when Steve said you needed to go to the hospital.”
Not like she did with him. It's the unspoken epilogue trailing behind.
Sam moves just past where she has planted herself at the bottom of the stairs, around her cream sofa to the kitchen. The layout is really so much more open since they took sledgehammers to the dividing wall. Tore it down together with heavy swings and smiles and blind faith that they were creating something good despite the wreckage around them. He just can't touch that other wall. The one she erects every time she feels weak, all defenses rising on high alert. He can't help but feel that if she would just let it down that they could build something good here, something lasting.
“What was I supposed to do, Sam? You wanted me to go to the hospital. He wanted me to go to the hospital. I was sick of fighting so I went.“
His fingers are rummaging through her freezer, pushing past the frozen pizza she hates and his favorite ice cream to the peas hidden in the back. His hand wraps around the bag, cold and damp, allowing the freezer door to close with a muffled thud. He doesn't know what to say to that, doesn't know what to say to her.
He loves her. He is in love with her but he is growing tired of tilting at windmills.
It's clear she is hurting, her subtle slouch, her weight resting forward and the the left, the way her nails are biting into the spongy gray handles of her crutches, and something else he can't define. A look in her eyes that reminds of him of the smell of disinfectant and night terrors and those long terrible nights after she was shot.
“What did you want me to do?”
It's an honest question but the answer will only make this all a little worse. He wants to put her some place safe. Some place away from paramedics with longing gazes and away from Anthrax, and armor shredding bullets, and thugs who don't care that they just shoved a woman down a flight of stairs. But he can't tell her that.
“I don't know, Jules.” And he doesn't.
To Be Continued... Next Part: Jules