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We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.
— Kurt Vonnegut

 

"Satisfied?" Robin Chadwick steps out from behind the wardrobe department's folding screen, spreading his arms wide and smirking at his companions for the night. "You got my ass into leather pants."

"Not in the least, but the night is young," Harve mutters, circling Robin with the keen eye of a designer done good. "Technically, you got your ass into leather pants. But if you need someone to get it back out again, I'm sure there'll be no shortage of volunteers."

"Watch out, now, or you go to the end of the line."

"We get the picture. Your ass is fabulous." Ricco rolls his eyes, shrugging into a tank made of mesh. "Quit fishing for compliments and pony up the details on your secret agent man."

"Since I'm not the one getting crazy hick hate mail, he's not my anything," Robin counters, conjuring up a visual of Jules Cassidy, FBI, all bright smile and big gun, no pun intended. "But imagine special agent by way of central casting — cute, clever, and chiseled all over. You know, somebody the damsel in distress can totally trust with her life but maaaybe not the key to her chastity belt. Like every good guy in every bad porn. 'Welcome to witness protection. Care to test drive my nightstick? '" 

The two of them snicker in tandem, and for a moment Robin thinks back to the agent's easy laughter, sees Jules' smiling face slipping free of sunglasses to hit him with the full impact of those deep dark eyes.

Damn, but he's got to get that face in front of a camera.

Then Harve shoves something slinky and vaguely shirt-shaped into his hands, and he blinks down at the thing and shoves the thought away.

"I let the leather slide," he says, "but now you're just fucking with me."

He sticks a hand inside the shirt and snorts at the view, so clear someone could probably lift prints.

"Buck up, baby." Ricco turns to squint at his reflection, slicking his hands through the sides of his hair. "It's dress code."

"It's chain mail. And unless you've got a broadsword in your back pocket and we're slaying dragons over Cosmos, I call bullshit."

Harve crosses his arms and raises an eyebrow. "You wanted to taste the rainbow, Mr. Method. What's a little leather in the name of research?"

Robin drops his head back and steps toward the screen. "Yeah, I'm sure it's just what the doctor ordered for that pre-D-Day fetish bar scene," he grumbles. "They don't pay me enough for this."

"Look on the bright side," Ricco calls. "He almost gave you the assless chaps."

 

 

All men should strive to learn before they die, what they are running from, and to, and why.
— James Thurber

 

"Well that was a joke."

Robin drops into the director's chair bearing his name, pinching the bridge of his nose between two fingers, and beside him, Jack clucks his tongue.

"Don't be petty, Harold," he says, his voice dry and droll and too damn knowing for his own good, "it doesn't become you. Young Mr. Wyndham is not without his charm."

"The best snakes never are." Robin scowls and looks over, thinking of the disastrous table read and their dwindling shooting schedule. "If he'd chill with the charm and learn his damn lines, maybe we could actually film this thing."

The old man reaches out a slim, surprisingly-steady hand to sagely pat his knee. "You, of course, were a revelation."

Robin shakes his head, but smiles in spite of himself. "I'd muster up some flattered, but it's only eleven a.m. and you've already said the same thing to Janey, Bob the bike messenger, and all of craft services."

"It's the spinach quiche. You know what it does to me." Jack takes his hand back, lacing his fingers over his crossed legs. "Lines notwithstanding, we've managed to find someone with charisma to spare and more than a modicum of talent. Even down to the wire as we were, I'm not sure there was a better choice to be made."

"Our better choice saddled us with the snake," Robin snaps, and hot damn, dial it down a notch, Sparky. He shoots Jack an apologetic glance and is met with mild amusement in return. "I'm telling you, Jack, every bone in my body says that Jules is right for this. And you're too damn smart not to have picked up on it, too."

One corner of Jack's mouth ticks upward. "Nothing so dramatic as that, my dear, but I suppose it's to be expected of a thespian." He sighs, almost dismissively, flicking at a nonexistent ball of lint on his cuff — which only tells Robin that his instinctive insistence is dead on. "I may have had a twinge. There's a certain energy about him that is… intriguing. And who am I to argue with whomever your bones have set their sights on?"

The mirth in his eyes makes Robin chuckle and scowl all at once. "Give me a break and lay off the peanut gallery, alright?"

Jack holds up his hands. "I'm simply curious as to whether you've mentioned it to our gallant man with a badge. Preferably with that delicious choice of words."

"Mind out of the gutter, old man. There was no boning involved." Robin swipes a hand down his face. "Though there may have been a sweeping chorus of angels. I think that was the hangover talking."

"Of course."

He manages to make two words sound like twenty, laced with amusement and a whole lot of understanding, and though Robin is anything but amused and doesn't understand a damn thing, it all reminds him of Jules.

Across the aisle, Adam gives Jack a two-fingered salute, grinning like an idiot, and Robin groans, props his elbows on his knees, and drops his head into his hands.

Holy flying fuck, I need a drink.

"Jesus," he mutters, "I hate him so much I'm trying to talk my sister's government-appointed bodyguard into taking this part. What the hell does that say?"

Jack's hand moves back to Robin's knee, patting once, twice, again.

"Darling, there are bones and angels and heaven knows what else pointing you to the perfect man," he says, and sighs. "I don't think you want to know what that says to me."

 

 

Wrong life cannot be lived rightly.
— Theodor Adorno

 

When Jane arrives for the daily doting, it's the first time she's come without Cosmo.

"Don't sweat it," he says, before she can say anything. "I'm kinda sick of me, too." 

She sinks into a chair, mouth twisting into something like a smile. "You know he'd be here —"

"If I weren't an invalid with twelve public access channels and the attention span of a fruit fly?" Truth be told, Cosmo isn't much of a TV guy. And by much, he means not at all. But they'd been bonding — mostly in silence, of course, because hello, Cosmo — over Judge Judy and afternoon Jello. Or so he'd thought. "I get it. It's not him, it's me."

"God, were you always this needy, or is this just the meds talking?"

The words are like a slap, sudden and sharp, sting in a way only older siblings can wield. It takes every ounce of training he's had to keep the hurt from his eyes.

"Could be both," he says flatly. "I'm a double threat." When she winces, it's the baby brother in him that shoves the ache away long enough to look at her, really look, at the tension in her shoulders and her jaw and her eyes. "You wanna tell me what that was about?"

"Sorry, dammit, I…" She stops, sighs, smears her palms over her knees. "It's the funeral. Today."

For a split second, just the space of half a heartbeat, who died? hangs on the tip of his tongue. The answer comes to him before he actually asks, but Jane's patent-pending Stare of Sisterly Judgement — equal parts weary, withering, and really, Robin, what-the-fuck — says she's caught the confusion on his face.

"Oh, shit. Um…" For fuck's sake, he remembers the panic and the chaos and retching in the bushes at the sheer sight of her blood. One would think he could manage to remember her name. "…Angelina."

"Nice save," she says. "Still a dick move."

"Noted," he replies. "So why are you here?"

"Because monitoring the morphine drip is what big sisters do," she says flatly, and they stare in silent argument until she blinks first. "Nobody wants me there, Robbie."

"There's a giant SEAL somewhere who'd say otherwise. Which is impressive, since he doesn't tend to say much in general."

She blows out a breath, tugging a stray thread on his blanket. "Yeah, Cosmo doesn't count on this one."

"Cosmo killed the nutjob who killed Angelina," Robin says. "Call me crazy, but that just might get him a vote."

"What if I killed Angelina?" His mouth drops open, and she holds up a hand. "Relax, it's rhetorical," she says, and starts ticking off truths on her fingers. "Bordette was batshit, he didn't mistake her for me, he shot her to send a message. Logically, I know that. We all know. The world knows. But this is her family, Robin. This is her funeral. And grief… grief isn't logical."

Her voice is calm and even, but tears are slowly streaming down her cheeks. Robin can't remember the last time he'd seen her cry.

Fresh pain flares to life at the sight, new but already familiar — not the sting in his shoulder or the burn in his leg or the itch in every one of his stitches, but the ache in his chest that had split wide open when he'd watched Jules walk out the door.

"So no," she says, sniffling in spite of herself, "Cos doesn't get a say. My say goes. That way, he gets to support his friend without the baggage I'd bring, everyone who loved her gets to say goodbye without putting a face to that what if, and I get to spend the day without dozens of devastated people staring at the back of my head and wondering why it's still in one piece."

"Jesus, Janey." He reaches up with his good arm to swipe a hand down his face, and his fingers come back wet. "When Adam left here the other day I thought, 'Gee, at least these visits can't get any worse.' The one-two punch of Patty and Jules proved me spectacularly fucking wrong on that front, but you just might take the cake."

She springs from her seat and picks up the pitcher by his bed.

"That's not water," he points out.

"Tell me something I don't know," she mutters, and drinks.

Relax, it's rhetorical. He knows, logically, that he's on heavy meds, that he's always been with women, that Adam had been Hal Lord's mistake. But the ache in his chest is throbbing, and there's an echo between his ears begging Jules not to go, and grief isn't fucking logical, so he shrugs and swallows and makes himself say the words.

"I think I'm gay."

She pauses, then polishes off what's left in the plastic cup. After a moment, she pours another.

He'd technically told her something similar once, winding down the PCH in a car full of shock. Which, in hindsight, might not have been the best time to test those particular waters. Not for him, with a stomach he'd heaved empty and refilled with cheap whiskey, and certainly not for Jane, fresh from the aftermath of a shooting she still feels responsible for.

Yeah. As drunken declarations and kneejerk reactions go, it had not been their finest moment.

Today's whiskey is better — Harve doesn't do cheap booze — and Jane leans back to the wall and crosses one ankle over the other.

"Jules was here?"

Robin nods. "This morning."

"Good," she says, nodding back. "When I talked to him before, he… wasn't sure he could make it."

He pushes at the mattress to sit up straighter. Too fast, as it turns out — pain pulses through his arm, and for a second he sees spots. "Wait, you… asked him to come?  Why the hell would you do that?"

"You told me to," she says. "The whole ride here! Every minute in that ambulance was 'is Jules okay?' and 'Janey please, I need Jules' and if 'I die, tell Jules I'm sorry.' That last one was the kicker, by the way. Literally bleeding to death before my eyes, but your flair for the dramatic is bulletproof."

It's all a bit of a blur — the stretch of time from the set to the ambulance to the hospital — but he remembers the beach. And Jules, always Jules, his face streaked with red, the sun a halo of heavenly light behind him.

Robin had apologized then, when he'd been shot and exposed and dangled like bait on a hook, when he'd been sure his sandy death scene wouldn't actually involve much acting.  When his whole world had narrowed to bullets and blood, and the fear that the shooter would take Jules, too.

He must look as floored as he feels, since Jane shoves the cup of whiskey into his hands.

"I mean, I get it," she says. "Gorgeous, great sense of humor, literally saves the world for a living. I'm a little bit in love with him, myself."  She searches his face with sympathetic eyes. "Maybe it's not men, Robbie. Maybe it's just this one."

"The thing is," he says, "I don't think they're mutually exclusive." He drifts back to that ugly conversation in the car, to his desperation and her disgust and the lifeline Cosmo had thrown into the fray to keep them both from drowning.

Today I'm in love with Jules Cassidy.

"Okay." She hasn't forgotten, either, because she reaches out to lay her hand over his. "Then what's my line? Gay, straight, or bi, you're my brother, and I love you," she recites, and squeezes. "As guys go, you could do a hell of a lot worse than Jules."

He laughs without humor and takes a healthy swig from the cup. "Pretty sure that ship has sailed."

"But I thought … " She pulls her brows together in confusion. "What happened?"

It's tempting to do what he'd done when he was little, what he's done his whole life — to tell her what's wrong and wait for her to fix it. But this time, the wrong is him. His ambition, his insecurity, his fear and doubt and shame.

I'm so sorry, he'd told Jules, with his mouth barely a breath away. I was too much of a coward.

The last thing he'd seen in those warm brown eyes was disappointment. Robin's seen enough of that from Jane to last a lifetime, and at the moment, she's all that he has left.

"Don't sweat it." He flashes her a smile, full wattage, and hopes it doesn't look as tragic as it feels. "It's not him, it's me."

 

 

We accept the love we think we deserve.
— Stephen Chbosky

 

The champagne is flowing free and the celebration's just getting started, so Robin snags a glass in each hand as the tray goes by and toasts his left with his right.

Across the stretch of rooftop terrace, Jane spins her new mother-in-law in circles to a peppy track from Jersey Boys. She's barefoot and grinning, practically glowing, and every bead on her little white dress gleams in the golden light of sunset.

Oh what a night, indeed.

He doesn't hear Cos come up until there's a big hand clapped on his shoulder.

"Thanks for this."

"No problem, bro," Robin replies. "Like I'd let you two settle for quickie vows at some cheesetastic chapel and dinner at the closest questionable buffet. Every half-decent wedding needs a little fanfare. Even if the guest list is all of four people long." He cringes over the rim of his glass. "Also, I don't think I can make 'bro' happen."

Cosmo nods, completely straight-faced. "I'll try to contain my disappointment."

For a moment, they stand in comfortable silence — Cosmo's favorite pastime — just watching the two women twirl.

"She looks so happy," Robin murmurs.

"She is," Cosmo says, with the easy confidence of the person responsible. "How 'bout you?"

Robin nearly chokes on his champagne, then knocks back the second glass just to cover. Fucking Cosmo. Forever going from zero to direct hit in five words flat.

"I'm on every hot list in Hollywood, I got to dance on Ellen last week, and I just watched my sister marry the love of her life," Robin says. "If I weren't happy after all that, I'd probably need some serious psychiatric attention."

Cos doesn't say a word, but those freakishly pale eyes are boring holes in Robin's skull. As if they can cut through the buzz and the bullshit and straight into the deepest recesses of his brain, where he's buried everything he doesn't want to face, and read the fine print on every single one of those statements — that the names on those lists are a dime a dozen and tend to change faster than the seasons, that he'd popped a double dose of pain meds post-Ellen because his leg still fucking kills.

That he's living vicariously as hell through his sister, because marrying the love of his life isn't an option. In more ways than one.

It's almost a shame the man's a SEAL, really. He'd make one hell of a poker player.

Robin clears his throat, and the tray comes back just in time. He swaps both his empties for fresh flutes and strategically shoves one at Cosmo. "Cheers."

Cosmo's smile is closer to a grimace. "I'm good."

"C'mon, Cos, you just got hitched." Robin nudges the man's massive arm. "We're celebrating, right?"

"I'm celebrating," Cosmo says. "You're drowning."

Robin's mouth twists bitterly. "Well, what happens in Vegas."

Cos steps around in front of him, those quicksilver eyes suddenly, unmistakably serious. "Look, I know Jules —"

"Is gone," Robin cuts in, wishing his chest would stop contracting at the mere mention of Jules Cassidy. "Which doesn’t matter, anyway. That was… nothing. Acting. And I'm over it."

"Right," Cosmo deadpans. "Nothing says moving on with my life like hooking up with his ex."

There's a laugh in his lungs — in defense, in dismissal — that dies in his throat with one look at Cosmo's face. Because he's not talking about Hal's AWOL night with Adam, the one that's still a blur of bad decisions. He means the handful of Hal-less nights since, when Adam's shown up at his door with a bottle and a slick smile and the sly promise of physical therapy.

"Wow. A full sentence, complete with bonus sarcasm." Robin whistles low. "Careful there, Chief. We Chadwicks are rubbing off on you."

"I find words for the people I care about," Cosmo says, unfazed. And even as wrong-footed as Robin is right now, the unexpected sentiment from this big tough SEAL is enough to make his throat work and his eyes water. "Save the spin for your sister, if that makes you feel better. You can even keep lying to yourself. But I've seen you with Jules, remember? And whatever that was, Rob, it wasn't nothing."

For one dizzying moment, he isn't on a rooftop in Las Vegas. He's back in LA, in Jane's crumbling conference room — lost in Jules' eyes, locked in Jules' arms, trying to reason away what he felt. Back when he swore he was straight and his skin held no scars, when everything and nothing made sense.

It's only been a few months, but it feels like forever ago.

The soundtrack has shifted around them, and fake Frankie Valli is taunting him in song.

Soon you'll be cryin' on account of all your lyin'…

Cosmo takes a step closer. Between the sheer size of him and the shadowed planes of his grave face, it should be intimidating, but Robin feels a rush of warmth at the proximity. His brand new badass of a brother, stepping up to shield him from the world… or maybe just himself.

"You don't always have to watch," Cos says. "And you sure as hell don’t have to settle."

"Hey!" Jane calls out, closer than she'd been at last look. "You can quit hogging my husband anytime now."

Cosmo steps back just in time to catch her arms around his neck. The eagerness etched in his eyes just a second ago has softened, and the two of them sway to a beat all their own, looking blindingly, blissfully happy.

The tray comes back around, and Robin waves the waiter away.

He's gonna need something a hell of a lot stronger than champagne.

 

 

To be deprived of the person we love is happiness in comparison to living with one we hate.
— Jean de La Bruyere

 

The tiny slice of time between Robin opening the door and Adam opening his mouth is all it takes to kill his hope of a clean break.

"You are looking at the second lead in Scorsese's new passion project. I just signed the paperwork." Adam slips inside, practically vibrating with excitement. "Fucking Scorsese, Robin. Did I really think I could pass this up?"

Robin leaves that last part alone, since this still won't end the way Adam wants. "That's amazing," he says instead, leaning into the hallway wall and crossing his arms across his chest. "I'm really happy for you."

"Us," Adam counters. "This is gonna be great for both of us. Starting with where we're celebrating tonight. Gary says there's a big blowout at The Key Club, and it got me thinking… we could do the public thing just his once, right? Take two cars, stagger our arrivals —"

"I think I'm gonna pass," Robin says, as if that were ever an option," but seriously, congrats."

Adam eyes him curiously, but his smile doesn't slip. "Fine. We'll stay in. I could go for some Chinese, anyway."

"No, you should go. Out. " Robin clears his throat, having overshot his mark by a mile. This is the actual recipe for disaster — take one great actor, add a couple drinks and a dash of confrontation, and watch him fucking crash and burn.

Adam looks from Robin's face to his arms to the box at his feet, half-full of the random crap that's been left behind like breadcrumbs, and that grin goes from wide to wary in the blink of a calculated eye.

The man is many, many things. Stupid isn't one of them, but he plays it oh so well.

"What's… happening right now?"

"I figured it'd be better this way," Robin says. "You know, no hard feelings."

"But I took the part," Adam says, grin completely gone and replaced by incredulity. "I thought that's what you wanted."

Robin holds up his hands. "Hey, I wanted that for you. Or… wanted you to want it for you. But it's got nothing to do with me, not anymore. It never really did."

Adam scoffs. "So you're, what… breaking up with me? Just like that."

The affected anguish in Adam's eyes makes Robin wants to laugh — as ill-timed and irrational as the thought may be — but he suspects that it might not end well. Instead, he sort of shrugs and screws up his face and says, "'Breaking up' is a bit of a stretch, don't you think?"

Yeah, the laughter might've landed better.

Plenty of people lash out when they're hurt — or cornered, or embarrassed, or some super shitty combination of the three — and Adam is no different. He just tends to do it with sharper claws than most. Robin's seen it before, both the act and the aftermath. But he's never been on the receiving end, and he's not especially eager for that to change.

"C'mon," he says, shooting for reason. "You knew what this was when it started."

And just like that, for lack of a better term, the anguish turns to ash, then flame, then full-on fury.

Fuuuck, this is gonna be bad.

"Which start are we talking," Adam spits, "the time you followed me home because you couldn't have Jules, or the time you came crawling back because he wouldn't have you?"

Robin's blood runs cold. Jules is, by some unspoken agreement, the subject they steer clear of in conversation, the name they don't dare say sober. Which is probably part of the problem, come to think of it, given how little they actually talk and how much they regularly drink.

"Easy, now," he says, as evenly as he can manage. "Between the two of us, I'm not sure that second one was me."

But Adam isn't done. Not by a long shot.

"Does he know?" he asks, "That we kept this up? Because if you really plan on beating that dead horse, I've got some great pointers I could share. What makes you squirm. What makes you beg. I mean, I am the only man who knows." He shifts closer, his eyes shooting fire but his smile back in place. "Or we could just swap stories. He could tell me all about how he walked out of that hospital and hasn't thought of you since, and I could tell him how, the night you found out he was with someone, you fucked me so hard I couldn't sit right for a week."

Robin shudders, then shoves the box towards the door with the toe of one shoe. He can't remember ever mentioning the Marine.

To hell with reason. This ends now.

"Your shit's all there," he says. "Get the fuck out."

Adam leaves the box exactly where it is and swings the door open with a laugh. "J's not coming back, baby. I've fucked all the forgiveness out of him."

Of all the ugly shit that's been said tonight, it's the 'baby' that makes his skin crawl most.

Then again, it always has.

Jules could say sweetie in a million different ways. And even when it meant you're such an asshole or sure, you're straight or fuck you, Robin, and the horse you rode in on, it had still sounded like music.

"Great," Robin says, as the door swings closed. "Then at least he hates us both."

 

 

That which does not destroy us makes us stronger.
— Friedrich Nietzsche

 

At some point — post painful phone call, and after the sun's gone down — Annie creeps in to check on him.

"Hey," she calls softly, hovering in the doorway. "I'd hoped you'd be getting some sleep."

"That was the plan," he sighs. "That was definitely the plan. But I've just been laying here in the dark, craving a drink and contemplating my life choices."

"Yeah?" She crosses the room and climbs onto the bed, curling up on the covers next to him. "How's that working out for you?"

"Pretty shitty, to tell you the truth." He makes a face, at which she tries valiantly not to laugh and mostly manages to succeed. "There's my viral Viagra fail to consider, but that's just stating the obvious. I looked way too hard at my mouthwash for a while there, when I promised Jules, I promised him. So that got flushed about an hour ago. But I think the real low point was when I realized that I'm a closeted gay man who just made arrangements to shoot a skin flick with my very new, very female friend, and that's not even the most fucked-up thing I've done today.

He expects her to lose her tenuous hold on laughter at that — because it's pitiful as all hell and he'd be laughing himself, if he didn't feel so much like crying — but her face morphs into a small, sad smile.

"You'll figure it out," she says. "You will. Because the way the two of you look at each other, Robin, the way you fit together it's a miracle you both made it this long apart."

Robin snorts. "You say that now, after a week of witnessing my special brand of destruction. But this isn't an anomaly, Annie. I've been fucking up his life for the last two years. And I wasn't even there for most of it. I mean, God, Jules is hands down the most incredible person I've ever met. But everybody has their limits."

For a moment, he thinks Annie actually agrees with him. Then she takes a deep, shaky breath, and says the last thing he could ever have expected.

"My best friend asked me to help her kill herself." Robin can feel the horror on his face, even before he sees it reflected in her eyes. "She was sick, and suffering, and she just… wanted it to end. On her terms."

"Jesus," he breathes. "Annie, holy shit, I'm so sorry."

"No, it's…" She shakes her head, one cheek smashed flat against the pillow. "God, it's not fine. It's been a year and I've never really talked about it, not until recently. And I'm still so angry with her, you know? I've been so angry. And I thought it was because she gave up, when she still had time, when we weren't ready, but… now I can't figure out if I'm angry that she asked me at all, or… or that my answer was no."

He doesn't know what the hell to say to that, so he reaches between them to cover her hand with his own.

"But here's the thing. As brutal as it was, and as angry as I've been … it hurts so badly because I loved her." She flexes her fingers in his and holds tight, tears pooling on the pillow beneath her head. "And that hasn't changed. Won't ever change. No matter how fucked up it all is."

Any answer he could come up with would fall woefully short of adequate. Even the vast uncertainty of his future with Jules, so all-important, so all-consuming, seems to pale in comparison at the moment. So he slides his hand around her back and she presses her face into his shoulder, and they stay that way, in an awkward, horizontal half-hug, for longer than they probably should.

She pulls back after a while, wiping at her cheeks.

"So I just shared my deepest darkest secret with a movie star I didn't even know a week ago, and then slobbered all over his shirt," she groans. "Guess it's just a fucked-up kinda night. And since we're clearly not going to get any sleep, I think it's your turn to pick the pay-per-view."

"I'm good with whatever," Robin says, rolling out of bed, "long as nobody's drinking, dying, or doing any porn."

 

 

It is not true that love makes all things easy; it makes us choose what is difficult.
— George Eliot

 

Detox is definitely better in rehab, with meds, than it had been fighting for his life on a friggin' boat, but the process is still no picnic. But with every day that goes by, Robin gets a little more grateful that Annie had talked some sense into him before the real fun had set in, with all the burning and blurred vision and there are bugs beneath my skin.

And hadn't that just been a blast?

But on the other side of the sweating and shaking and sacrifices to the porcelain god, there's a brave new world, one where he's formerly straight and freshly sober and finally seeing things with eyes that have never quite been clear before.

He's been talking to Dr. Everly one-on-one, every day, but for some reason, this feels like square one.

Well. Circle one.

"These group sessions will give you a chance to connect with others in recovery," Dr. Everly says, addressing the room as a whole. "But more importantly, they'll show you the power in a network of support, and motivate you to build a support system of your own. Which actually brings us to today's topic of discussion. What motivated you to get sober? What will motivate you to stay sober?"

She does a visual sweep, past all the averted eyes and downturned faces, and finally settles on him.

"Robin, let's start with you," she says. "What's your motivation?"

He barks out a laugh before he can stop himself, and watches her left eyebrow lift in controlled confusion. "Sorry," he says, hands up in contrition, "it's just the first time anybody's ever asked me that. Which is ironic, 'cause I'm an actor." It gets neither recognition nor reaction from any member of the group, and he presses his palms together. "Anyway, uh, I'm Robin, and I'm an alcoholic."

Directly across from him, she smiles kindly. "You don't have to do that here."

"Shit, I'm sorry," he says quickly, and she shakes her head.

"Consider it a head start on the future."

Right. The future. Because rehab is temporary, but recovery is forever, and he has a lifetime of meetings and milestones and one-day-at-a-time to look forward to.

And Jules. Always Jules.

Who's been a frequent topic of conversation in his solo sessions.

It'd be so easy to name him as the reason Robin's here. The reason he'd blown the door off his closet, blown a hole in his career, and spent six days curled up in a ball on a twin sized bed, trying to reason with his central nervous system. The reason he will never touch a drop of alcohol again.

But nothing about this is easy.

"I guess I'd have to say," he starts, "my motivation is need."

Dr. Everly tilts her head — it obviously isn’t the answer she'd been expecting.

"How so?"

Robin shifts in his seat, leaning forward to prop his elbows on his knees. "For as long as I can remember, my default reaction, like, to anything, has been I need a drink. Great audition? I need a drink! Didn't land that life-changing that part? I need a drink. Nearly died because some psycho with delusions of grandeur and serious daddy issues decided I'd look better with a few bullet holes? Fuck, I need a drink."

There's a rolling chuckle through the room. Robin doesn't take it personally.

"I got it from my mother, you know? Not just the nifty alcoholism — though, thanks for that — but the coping mechanism. She never actually said hers out loud. But she… answered everything with a drink. Everything she did, everything she felt, everything that ever happened to her, ended at the bottom of a bottle. And I think I thought, if I said the words, that it made me different. Better. Look, ma, I'm not you. It's not like I live with a drink in my hand. I just… really need this one."

Someone to his right sucks in a breath, so at last he's not alone there.

"I know what rock bottom was for me. And hey, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, so do all of you." This time he laughs with them, but there's a lump in his throat that's beginning to burn. "I've done things drunk that I can't begin to explain. Hell, I've done things drunk that I can't even remember. And the worst part is what happened after I took that fall — metaphorically-speaking — when I was balls deep in bargaining, begging my partner not to leave. See, I swore that if I had to stop drinking to keep him, I would. And I absolutely meant it at the time. Because I know what it's like not to be with him, and that isn't a life I want to live.

"But I keep coming back to the way I said it. 'If I have to.' I've said that for years, to my family, to my friends. I could totally stop, if I had to. Stop the meetings during happy hour, or the whiskey with dinner, or that beer or five we all have when we're bored. And when I really need a drink, well." He spreads his arms. "That doesn't count."

Robin stops, swipes a hand across his mouth, and makes himself meet the eyes of everyone in the circle.

"That's what I promised him. That's what I swore. The same shit I'd been telling people forever. Because in my head, even subconsciously, that need trumped everything else. And all this time, what I really needed? Was to dry out before I died. Like my mother."

He sits back, sliding down the slats in the plastic chair. Across the arc, Dr. Everly's face is carefully neutral. But she nods, just a bit, so he figures he's doing okay.

"I know it's not gone. I mean, this is rehab, not a lobotomy. There'll be times, even years from now, when I think, out of nowhere, man, I need a drink. So maybe my real motivation is, I dunno, prioritizing need. Because however strong that thought might be… in the end, I need him more."

 

 

The heart has its reasons that reason knows nothing of.
— Blaise Pascal

 

"I'll be back," Robin says over his shoulder, heading out the bathroom door, "just gonna call down for extra —"

There's a Sam-and-Alyssa-shaped wall on the other side, clearly waiting for him, and it makes him stop short. The door swings closed at his back, trapping him in the tiny space between it and two slightly terrifying Troubleshooters operatives who may or may not be armed. "— towels."

"Got a sec?" Alyssa says. Then she and Sam turn — in fucking unison, no less — and head out the sliding door, as if they expect him to follow.

In the interest of full disclosure, there's a tiny part of him that's tempted to run like hell in the other direction. Or at least back into the bathroom, where the world still makes sense.

Instead, he takes a deep breath and steps out on the balcony, leading with a sheepish smile.

"I swear we'll be out of your hair soon," he says. "I managed to score a ridiculously overpriced suite at the Four Seasons. Jules just wanted to shower, and I quote, 'until I feel human again.'"

"It's fine," Alyssa says. "Have a seat."

The two of them are sitting shoulder-to-shoulder on one side of the table, and she motions to the empty chair opposite. Four star hotel notwithstanding, all that's missing is a bare light bulb and a length of rope and the tape to hold his eyelids open for hours.

He slides into the seat, wiping his suddenly-sweaty palms on his jeans. "Okay," he says, looking back and forth between them, "is this the part where you demand to know my intentions? Because I think that's supposed to happen before the proposal of marriage."

Neither of them comes anywhere close to laughing, or even cracks a smile. "Wow," he says, "tough crowd."

"It's been brought to my attention," Alyssa says, glancing at Sam, "that there are some… unresolved issues here. We're gonna get those resolved now."

"Oh," Robin says, since, reading the room, 'sir, yes sir' isn't really the right answer.

She folds her hands on the table, the very picture of patience. "When Sam and I first got together, he and Jules weren't exactly bosom buddies. I mean, Jules and I were partners in just about every sense of the word. We were a set, you know? Two halves of a whole. You get one of us, you get the other. And then here comes Sam, and he's… well —"

"A 'homophobic Neanderthal,'" Sam says flatly. But one corner of his mouth ticks upward, and it makes Robin release the breath he hadn't realized that he'd been holding.

Alyssa blinks over at her husband, perplexed. "Oddly specific," she mutters, "but sure, let's go with that." Then she stops, shakes her head. "Actually, no. I mean, yes, that's… pretty much true, it's just not the point. When all is said and done, Jules' biggest issue was never that Sam was some close-minded hick —"

"Hey."

"— it was that Sam was someone who could hurt me. Had hurt me. And as my partner, as my other half, standing by and letting that happen just isn't something Jules is capable of."

Ah, that's what this is. 'I will rip out your lungs,' the remix.

Robin doesn't want to drag this out, and he sure as hell doesn't want a replay of last night, so he holds his hands up in surrender. "So Sam's the new Jules," he says. "I get it."

"You don't," Alyssa answers. "By that logic, you're the new me."

Well this is going downhill quickly. "I would never —"

"Please," she cuts in, "that's not even on my radar." She leans over, her eyes finding his. "Look, spec ops, the teams, the intelligence community… we work separately and together, we want the same things. At the end of the day, we're a united front. And that's amazing. It's how we all found each other. There's power in that. But this? The people you choose to make up your every day? That's family. Those are your people. And they don't replace each other. Nobody's the new anybody. Sam is Sam, Jules is Jules. I chose them both, and eventually, they chose each other. Your two halves become thirds, and fourths, and sixteenths and thirty-seconds. You make room. And your life is all the better for it."

Robin thinks of the image saved somewhere in Jules' email. Of Sam and Alyssa's wedding day, and a beaming Jules right by their side.

"You are the person he chose," she says. "It's up to the rest of us to make room."

Sam smirks across the table with a nod.

"Not to worry, Boy Wonder," he drawls, "I don't do threesomes, either."

 

 

Love is what you make it and who you make it with.
— Mae West

 

Sometimes being a celebrity has its perks.

Penny is healthy and happy and resting comfortably in a private room down the hall. But in true LA fashion, the hospital had closed down half the floor — per celebrity birth protocol — and now he and Jules had a suite all to themselves.

"He's so little," Robin says, the tip of his pinkie wrapped in one tiny pink hand.

"And so male." Jules laughs, and the blanket-wrapped bundle across his bare chest shakes slightly with the movement. "Eight months of preparation with a team of spec ops superheroes and half of Hollywood behind us, all foiled by a bad sonogram."

Curled around Jules on the hospital bed, Robin pulls back to get a better look at his expression.

"You're not disappointed, are you?"

"Oh sweetie, no. No. We have a healthy, beautiful baby, and I will forever be grateful for that." Jules presses his lips together. "What we also have is a page and a half of names like 'Amelia.'"

Robin drops his head and snickers into Jules' shoulder. "Oh God," he says, "this really shouldn't be funny."

"And yet." Jules sighs, but the sound is mostly content. "We left 'Danielle' on the list, didn't we? That could work. With some obvious alterations."

The baby yawns and coos and cracks open one eye, and it's the same deep dark brown Robin's loved for years.

"Or," he says, "we could name him after your father."

Jules shivers, takes a deep breath, and looks up with so much love that it hurts.

"Robin," he says, "I know this might sound bad, but bear with me, okay?" He waits for Robin to nod before he continues. "We used my sperm. I cut the cord. And when it came time to do this bare skin bonding thing, you stripped me faster than is reasonably appropriate in a public place, certainly not one with nurses present. So as tempting as it is to pass on that piece of my dad, and as much as I love that you want to do that for me, that's not a call I can make. Because he's not my son. He's ours."

Robin blows out a shaky breath, and Jules slides slowly off the mattress and tucks the baby against Robin's collarbone.

"Now," he says, slipping his fingers into Robin's hair, "how 'bout you tell me what his name is."

A million thoughts run through Robin's mind, and most of them mean what the fuck.

"Seriously?"

"Hey, the only reason I ever started that ridiculous list was so we could come to a decision that we both made together. But this is all you. I tapped out with the surprise penis."

Robin snorts. "Well, there's a first time for everything."

Jules raises an eyebrow. "You're stalling."

"I'm panicking. Have you ever had to name a human being? This could literally scar him for life. Take it from the boy named Robin."

He looks down into his son's sleeping face, bends his head to breathe in the sweet baby smell of him. This tiny little person, still so brand new, who already occupies so much of his heart. It makes him remember what Alyssa tried to explain, once upon a time — the way that love multiplies and divides within the same space, to make room for everyone to fit.

Robin's had so much love in his life, even after everything he's done. Annie and Martell, Sam and Alyssa, Cosmo and Jane.

Jules. Always, always Jules.

There's all the love that he's lost that's stayed with him. His mother, who'd loved him the only way she knew how. Scotty, gone out of the blue just last month. And —

His head jerks up, his eyes land on the dry erase board mounted across the room, and, like magic, today is the 23rd.

"What?" Jules asks softly, and Robin smiles through the tears he hadn't tasted.

"Jackson," he says. "His name is Jackson."

 

 

And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love
— Lin-Manuel Miranda

 

Robin really thought that he'd be cooler than this.

It's not like he's never been nominated. But he's never won. He's never walked a red carpet with Jules on his arm, looking like a fucking god in Tom Ford. And he's never been an openly gay actor nominated for a decidedly straight role.

No one has, in fact. If he wins, he makes history.

Which might be why he's shaking.

The band plays off the Best Actress — his costar, who'd been brilliant — and next to him, Jules takes his sweaty, clammy hand.

"Breathe."

"I'm fine," Robin hisses.

"Really," Jules says flatly, "because they're picking up that tremor in Vegas. Breathe. It'll either happen or it won't, but it will not define you."

He threads their fingers together and holds on until both their hands are steady, until Robin's smiled for the post-clip camera and the nominee comp shot, and the envelope is about to read.

"And the Oscar goes to… Robin Cassidy, for Between the Lines."

"Holy shit," Robin breathes.

Jules jumps to his feet and pulls Robin up after, and somewhere beneath the haze he can feel warm hands on his face, welcome lips on his, before Jules shoves him toward the stage. He manages to make it up the steps and to the mic without a major malfunction, and then it's in his hands. The statue, the statue. The one every actor dreams of, even if they claim otherwise. Especially then.

"Um," he says eloquently, "you're kidding, right?"

And it's then he realizes that he's forgotten his speech.

He can see Jules clearly from here, laughing and crying, clutching the telltale piece of paper without a clue. Which is fine. It couldn't have hurt, but he doesn't need a cheat sheet to tell the world what he's thankful for.

"This is unreal," he begins instead. "Obviously, thank you to the Academy. To everyone at Heartbeat who not only made this movie happen, but fought for it to happen with me. Nat, Tessa, our incredible cast and crew who made it a blast to come to work every day. Susan, Vicki, my team at OAI, I just… there are so many talented people who worked their asses off so I could stand on this stage tonight. And I wish I could thank all of you by name, but there's a countdown up there that I'm trying like hell to ignore, and I just can't get to everybody.

"So I need to thank my family. My sister Jane, my brother Cosmo, Annie, Alyssa, Sam, Dolph, Martell… I don't know where I'd be without any one of you, lifting me up, calling me out, holding me accountable. Lois Richter and Linda Cassidy, thank you both for being the mothers I never had. Art Urban, thank you for sculpting my career from scratch. You have no idea how much I owe you.

"And Jules… thank you for never giving up on me, even when I gave you every reason to. Thank you for making a home with me, wherever we are. Thank you for loving me so much I had a reason to love myself. I have spent so much of my life pretending to be other people. But I'm yours every second of every day, and that is the best role I've ever been given."