Chapter 1: Part One: Sam
“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
Chapter 2: Part Two: Jules
Jules side of things.
Part Two: Jules
Jules is exhausted. Exhausted and annoyed. She did exactly what Sam wanted; she went to the hospital. Went even though she hates the place, she practically could choke on the smell of disinfectant and sterile air. It regurgitates memories. Makes her think of weeks spent trapped in that bed, recovering from one wrong step, one careless move that put it all in jeopardy- the life she had so painstakingly crafted for herself. Makes her think of her Aunt Marie and watching the cancer strip everything from the woman that was the closest thing to a mother she had ever known. Makes her recount the ways she has failed, continues to fail.
She should have seen that he was about the charge. Should have been prepared. Should have been quicker, better. The fall today should have never happened.
A few years ago it wouldn't have.
Part of her is worried that her reactions are slowing. It used to be blood and instinct, lightening fast. Now she second guesses herself. More and more these days. Her emotions won't ever clear, not like they used to, and her fingers are not as deft as they were before. Before that room. She couldn't get it under control, couldn't talk him down but couldn't put him down either. Just kept wanting time, wanting to give him a moment. He had a three year old waiting at home for her daddy. Never used to think about those things, never used to let it get to her.
It was a a stupid mistake. Nearly cost her her life.
She figures she is lucky; if she hadn't gotten out... If they hadn't been able to talk him down... She knows Sam would have never forgiven her. Would have hated her and himself and everyone. She is lucky; Sam never mentions that room. Never talks about any of it.
But she knows he thinks about it.
So she went to the hospital. Went for him. Went so he wouldn't have to worry. Went so he could see that she wouldn't put him in that place again. Never again- not if she could help it. And yet here he is- worrying.
So it was all for nothing. Just a sprain, like she thought. See if she even bothers next time.
It's not just about the actual hospital, about being poked and prodded in a place that always makes her worst memories swell to the surface. It's about all that comes after. It's about the report that accompanies a trip to the hospital, the one that goes into her file. It's about the concern.
They are always so concerned. It multiplies and spreads like a virus every time that another hospital report is slipped into her file, padding it with her mistakes.
They won't say anything, not directly, but she knows how they are. Sarge will pull her aside to ask once again if she is okay, how she is holding up, to remind her for the fourth time that if she needs to take it easy just to let him know. She is a watched pot, never allowed to boil. Placed under a microscope, searched for cracks.
Ed won't repeatedly ask her how she is doing but she will end up relegated to collecting intel, profiling, put in the truck or left to interview family. Left to check the suspect's home, place of work, the bench where he blew his nose last week- anything to keep her busy and out of the way. She won't even be on negotiation because he still is treating her with kid gloves after Xavier. The worst part is she can't even call him out on it, can't say a thing because she was the one that screwed up.
It's too much to hope for that they will let a hospital visit, even one that didn't find anything significant, slide. She has all that to look forward to; all over just a sprain.
"What did you want me to do?" It sounds more desperate than she intended. She is just exhausted and there is a twang of pain in her ribs whenever she breathes too hard and a constant throbbing in her ankle.
She watches as he rakes a hand through his hair."I don't know, Jules. I just don't know..."
Well, that makes two of them. She doesn't know what to say. Doesn't even know why they are fighting.
"Come on, Jules." He moves closer to her and she can see the peas perspiring in his hand. "We should get you in bed."
Jules wants to protest. To tell him she can do it on her own and he can let himself out. Her first instinct is always to push back, to pull away. It's grinding to fight against it. Goes against her grain, but she doesn't immediately tell him to just go. She doesn't say anything because she doesn't trust herself, just lets out a soft sigh, angling the air upward causing her bangs to dance across her forehead.
"Your ankle is giving a pretty good impression of a grapefruit." She rolls her eyes at him but she knows its a bridge, a way to hopefully crossover all of this mess. He smiles as he says it, that too-charming-for-his-own-good boyish grin and she is torn between wanting to kick him and kiss him. He moves closer to her, close enough that she feels the need to turn slightly, head tucked away under hair that falls in front of her face. "Jules..."
He is always doing that. Saying her name in a way that makes it sound sacred, like it's a secret, like it's precious. Like she is precious. The anger is ebbing, receding slowly, inch by inch. He doesn't move to help carry her upstairs for which she is unexpectedly grateful. Just waits patiently while she fumbles with her crutches, struggling to balance before she finds a rhythm.
There was a time when he carried her up those stairs. Jules hated that time. Still hates to think back to when her home still had walls that divided and separated all the space.
It was after the shooting. She had finally been released from the hospital, finally mastering enough PT to shuffle along the hospital corridors with her panda slippers on her feet and Sam on her arm. She had been so overjoyed at the prospect of coming home, of her bed and a room that did not constantly smell of sanitizer, that she had forgotten those monstrous steps. Jules had struggled so much on the three porch steps leading to her door. Leaning and clutching to Sam as she swore under her breath. Once finally inside she had to lay down on her sofa, beads of perspiration dotting her forehead. She had to stop and rest, stop and sit to even catch her breath. She, who had once not even batted an eyelash at hoofing it up twelve story buildings fully loaded down with gear, laid to waste by three steps.
Sam had to carry her up to her bedroom, something she could tell made him just as uneasy. He had spent twenty minutes bringing her pillows and blankets to the couch before finally acknowledging there was no way she was going to be able to sleep there. Might as well be the hospital bed all over again. She could tell he was afraid her incision. Still leery over sutures that had already dissolved, becoming one with her body. Sam had a ringside seat the night she tore them open. Angry red blood spilling out, drenching cotton dressing and soaking her hospital gown. Made her look like an extra in a horror movie, dead body number four. Something to give children nightmares; scary enough to make Sam Braddock fumble and sweat and go over and over how best to carry her.
He had never been like that. Never was fumbling and awkward with her. His hands always instinctively moved over her body; confident, assured, purposed driven digits. That trip up her stairs, he was so tense Jules could feel his chest hammering against her own. So much for sniper breathing.
"I'm sorry." She had to say it, hated to say it. Hated to be so damn helpless.
"Don't worry about it. You are going to be racing up and down those stairs in no time."
It was the right thing to say. Perfect. Utterly and annoyingly perfect even back then.
Tonight he makes sure to stand two steps behind her. He doesn't rush her. Doesn't offer to help. Doesn't say a word until she is on the bed and he is adjusting pillows under her balloon of an ankle. "Here."
Jules wants to tell him she can do it herself. That she can take of herself. She has been doing it since she was nine and her brothers were too busy to be bothered. They tossed her old magazines and ice packs on their way out the door. "Told you not to follow us, Squirt. Next time just stay put, would ya?" Trees too high, make shift bike paths that banked too sharply, a request to stay put- all of them challenges she could never resist meant a broken bone at least once a year. She knows how to do this. She has been taking care of herself for as long as she can remember. She doesn't need him fussing.
She doesn't want to need him at all.
She is about to tell him this, to mention that the pillows are stacked too high and it's going to bother her hip, anything to tarnish that halo he wears so well, when she notices the peas. He is wrapping them in a pillow case, the one with faded yellow flowers. The ones she doesn't care about, doesn't even like. The ones she never even bothers with unless her sister in-law comes to visit, if she ever comes to visit. She keeps them buried in the back of the linen closet. She knows Sam must have dug for them, careful to stay away from the blue ones she loves.
"Does it hurt?" He asks, oh-so-carefully placing the peas on the softball above her foot.
"A little." A lot.
He sits next to her but not close, not now, and she can tell his is gearing up to say something she doesn't want to hear. He must be on a streak. She has hated practically every other word out of his mouth since she took that tumble. "Any chance you will let me get you an Advil?"
Absolutely not. Doesn't even keep the stuff in the house. Keeps flushing the bottles that Sam brings like they are baggies filled with white powder. "It's not that bad." Nothing is that bad.
He sighs, that you're-impossible sigh. It makes her want to hurl things at his head. "I just don't like to see you hurt."
Annoyingly perfect and she finds herself squirming slightly, the way she always does when someone touches that part of her she has tried so hard to wall up.
He leans back, skull thumping against the headboard she whitewashed herself. His voice is low when he speaks, confessing to her ceiling. "I hate Steve."
"I just don't like that he knows all this stuff about you that I don't."
It is so ludicrous that she doesn't even know where to start. Thinks for a second that she must have misheard, it's all gibberish to her, scribbles on a piece of paper. What does Steve know? Nothing. That she used to play in an all girl group; used to rock out and wore a leather mini skirt whenever she could sneak out without one of her brothers trying to force her to change? Knows glimpses of the girl she used to be.
Sam knows who she is. Knows so much about her it actually frightens her. Probably knows too damn much. In fact she is sure he know too damn much.
She doesn't want to play twenty questions, doesn't want anyone prodding at those skeletons that have long since been dead and buried. Doesn't want to fight anymore. She never wanted to fight to start to with, it's the whole reason she went to the damn hospital in the first place.
"You know you are kinda cute when you're jealous."
His reply is a grumble of a response. "Not jealous."
She holds back an 'are so' because it's clear that he is. Jules has to admit it is totally adorable, frustrating as all hell, but adorable. She lifts a single eyebrow and wonders if he is really going to try to stick with that. He can't lie for shit; it's what got them in trouble in the first place.
He pouts, arms folding over his chest. "I just didn't like how he kept joking around. 'Good to see at least one of you will listen to medical advice.' What sort of crack was that?"
"Because you and Sarge were so willing to get checked out?" She thinks the paramedics have a running bet, a challenge to actually get a member of SRU to the hospital. They are a stubborn lot. Wonders if Steve's coworkers will buy him a round of drinks tonight for finally getting a check in the team one column.
"That was completely different."
No, not different. Had to listen to that excruciating silence on the comm link. Had to sit by and pray that they would get him out, get them all out before the next bomb went off. The one that would have taken down an entire building and him with it. Only difference is she couldn't show it, couldn't be the panicked girlfriend. Couldn't react because of Sarge and Toth and the ax hanging over all of their heads. Couldn't because if she really thought about losing Sam she would have been useless, a shell of a person, just someone else in the way, the type of person the uniforms have to ask politely to stay back so SRU can do their job.
Watching him in danger is not different but it's part of the job. Part of the life they have chosen and bringing it up- that fear, that terror, it just leads to arguments. And Jules is sick to death of fighting. She can't fix the fact that their jobs are riddled with dangers but as far as Steve and that mess? That she can do something about.
"You don't have to worry, you know." Her eyes find his. "About Steve? You don't have to worry about him."
"Is that so?"
He is leaning closer and the gap of space is swallowed up. She turns her head slightly and studies her lap. She is not good at this, never was taught how to do any of this, her father and brothers didn't shower her with hugs and kind words. She takes a deep breath. "I'm not going to leave you."
It's like he has been waiting for that, starving for some sort of declaration, because the words are barely out of her mouth when his lips are covering her own. Not tender feathered kisses but hungry, bruising. He draws her lower lip into his mouth and she can't help the sharp gasp of air. His teeth nibbling and his hands on her face, fingertips threading through her hair. Possessive. Like he wants her to forget everything before this moment, and if he keeps it up she just might.
She arches her neck up to meet his attack. One hand through his hair that tickles against her palm and another on his shoulder blade pulling him closer. There is something nice about how he doesn't pull away, doesn't treat her like a china doll about to break. Just pours himself into her, pulling away when they both need air.
"I am beginning to see that." He is smirking at her and she can't resist rolling her eyes at his sudden bravado.
This time when they kiss it is softer, calmer; a blissful sense of belonging.
When they finally part, Jules can't erase the lazy smile from her face. "I can't believe you were so worried about Steve."
"Hey, you're the one who dated him."
"Yeah, well that's over. I'm with you now and besides," she says with a grin, "if I left you for anyone it wouldn't be Steve. It would be Scott McGillivray."
He stands so quickly that she starts. "That's it." He stalks towards her door.
"Where are you going? It was a joke."
"I am going downstairs to block HGTV. You want to watch some home improvement show you are going to have to settle for This Old House."
"You are kidding, right?"
"Not at all." And she can tell he isn't. Jules is about to say how completely ridiculous he is being when he adds on, "I finally got you and I'm not about to risk losing you. Especially to that pretty boy, Scott McGillivary. You are mine, Callaghan."
She tosses a pillow at him but doesn't reach for another when he ducks it. After all, how can she argue with that? She is his.