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Growing Up Too Fast

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“Jack, someone’s here to see you.” Barbara led the uniformed officer into the living room where Jack Callaghan was sitting just staring out into space.

He blinked a couple of times before looking at the visitor. It had been two days since he’d arrived home to find his wife had been murdered and his daughter traumatized almost to the point of catatonia. Somehow just his presence had broken through whatever barrier that had seemed to trap her and she’d broken down in his arms . Things had improved just slightly after that, at least enough that he didn’t worry that they should have taken the teenager to the hospital but not so much that he didn’t worry at all. He felt almost like he’d aged ten years for every minute that had passed in those two days and he couldn’t help but wonder if his partner’s sudden appearance was a good or bad sign of what was to come.

“Bard, tell me you found her.” He all but pleaded with his friend.

“Still no sign of a cat, I’m afraid. We were in and out of your house so much the other night it could have slipped out at any time and none of us would have noticed. We’ve been putting food out and keeping our eyes open but nothing yet.“

Jack frowned. So far Jules hadn’t asked about her kitten but he figured it was only a matter of time. After everything else that had happened, how could he explain the loss of her pet at the same time. He could only hope the kitten would come home soon; hopefully before Jules snapped back enough to herself to ask about Boxer. If Bard wasn’t there to report the kitten had been found, then why had he come? There was still so much about what happened that night was still unknown. There were still way too many questions Jack still had that so far no one had been able to offer any answers for. “Anything new in the investigation?”

Bard Jenkins had worked alongside Jack Callaghan for many years and felt like he knew the family as well as he knew his own. He, like everyone at the station, had been horrified and sickened at the murder affecting one of their own. “We still don’t know much more. We think the initial struggle happened in the kitchen; there were broken dishes and blood there. How she and the suspect ended up upstairs and how Jules got involved is still a mystery. One we aren‘t going to solve until we are able to get statements from someone who was there.”

Jack swore. For the last two days he, Bard, and even the station psychologist had tried to get Jules to open up about what had happened the night of the murder. Each attempt had met with failure to the point that the psychologist had finally determined it would probably be better for the distraught teen if they put off questioning her any further at least until Jules seemed more receptive to talking about it on her own. “Johnny still not saying anything?”

Bard shrugged and sat down on the couch. Barbara had slipped out after announcing his presence but returned long enough to bring the officer a mug of coffee and then to replenish Jack’s before disappearing into the kitchen once again. Jack didn’t know what he would have done without the mother of his daughter’s best friend. She’d taken them into her home without a complaint and had gone out of her way to be there for them both and for the Callaghan brothers as they dealt with the aftermath of Margaret‘s murder. “Johnny is being transferred from the hospital to a jail cell this morning. Your daughter is one bad-ass shot with your gun, let me tell you. The bullet she put in him went clean through, incapacitating him without doing any permanent damage. We‘ve got guys on the force who wouldn‘t have been able to make that shot under perfect circumstances.” Ordinarily the compliment would have had Jack beaming with pride but the situation had been too scary for him to take much pride in the way his daughter had taken down his wife’s killer. Bard continued. “He finally told us this morning he’d give us a statement on one condition.”

“Like the asshole has a right to any conditions.” Jack growled. “I haven’t wrapped my hands around his measly little neck and chocked the life out of him; isn’t that concession enough?”

“He wants five minutes to talk to Julianna.” Bard braced himself for the explosion that he knew was coming and wasn’t disappointed.

“Hell no, that bastard isn’t getting anywhere near my little girl. How can you even sit there and present it as an idea? Have you forgotten how fragile she looked yesterday when you tried to question her? The way she hyperventilated and almost collapsed into hysterics? There’s no way I’m going to let him hurt her any more.”

“He wouldn’t be able to hurt her, Jack. You know that. Even if we couldn’t hear what he said to her, we’d be right there on the other side of the two way keeping an eye on her. He didn’t hurt her two nights ago so there’s no reason to think he’d even try anything.”

“Didn’t hurt her? Maybe not physically, Bard, but you’ve seen her. She’s just a shell of her usual self. She can’t talk about that night at all and barely says anything else any other time. She’s barely eaten enough in the last two days to even count as eating. I wasn’t there to protect her or Margaret when it mattered but I’m sure as hell going to protect Jules now. Just in case you have any doubt as to what my answer in this is, let me spell it out for you. N-O.”

Bard did a slow count to ten before answering. He hated being here asking so much from a family who’d suffered so much already, but at the same time, he wouldn’t want to put off the responsibility to anyone else. “Even if it means he goes free?”

Jack’s eyes narrowed and became dangerously dark. “That can’t happen. You told me his prints were on the knife that was used to kill Margaret. How can there be any question that he’s responsible?”

“Because you know as well as I do that the DA is going to want more than just prints on a knife before he carries the case forward. He’s after all of us at the station for a statement from Julianna. I don’t want to pressure her to talk before she’s ready. Don’t forget I was the one who carried her out of the house that night and the expression on her face will haunt my dreams for the foreseeable future. But Johnny Dawson has promised his full cooperation just as long as he gets to see Jules for five minutes. I don’t like it any more than you do but I don’t see where we have much choice.”

Neither man realized they had a audience to their conversation. Jules had been on her way from the bedroom she’d been sharing with Beth since the tragedy to the kitchen for a drink of water when she’d heard her father and his partner talking. She was shaking at the mere thought of being in a room alone with her uncle. How she’d managed to keep anyone from figuring out exactly what Johnny had done to her, she’d never understand but was forever grateful.

The first thing she’d noticed after her father’s arrival brought her out of the stupor she’d entered after pulling the trigger was that someone -- she presumed Barbara -- had removed the clothes she’d been wearing that had become drenched in her mother’s blood. It had unnerved her a little to think of someone undressing her but she’d at least been grateful to discover she’d still been wearing the same underwear she’d had on during Johnny’s attack. Because of that, no one had noticed the blood that lightly stained the undergarments, blood that had been drawn as her uncle’s fingers had repeatedly worked their way in and out of her sensitive private area. It had scared her when she saw it the first time she’d gone to the bathroom but was glad she hadn’t had to explain it.

If anyone had noticed the blood there, they must have associated it either with her mother’s blood or possibly attributed it to her menstrual cycle. Either way, what had happened both nights was a secret only she and Johnny currently knew. She didn’t think she could stand it if everyone was privy to her degradation. Couldn’t live with the shame that would come if people knew she’d been too weak to fight against his advances at the same time her mother had been crawling up the stairs bleeding from what was probably an already fatal wound in order to protect her.

“I can’t ask it of her, Bard. She’s been through too much. I can make her face her mother’s murderer when she’s clearly not up to it. Hell, call me selfish but I couldn’t watch her do it without wanting to kill the bastard for what he did. The only thing that kept me from going down to that hospital and putting a bullet between his eyes was the knowledge that he hadn’t laid a hand on Jules.”

Bard shook his head. “Careful with that kind of talk. Even though we can all sympathize with the sentiment and secretly applaud you for doing so, such actions would only land you in a jail cell yourself.”

“If that asshole had done anything to my baby girl a jail cell for me would be a small price to pay for making him suffer.”

With a strangled cry, Jules pushed off from the wall she’d been leaning against and practically raced to her father’s arms. Both men seemed surprised at her entrance as Jack sought to comfort her. The look he shot his partner over his daughter’s head spoke volumes. See why she can’t do what you are asking? Just hearing about it upsets her this much. He rubbed her back gently and whispered soothing words in her ear.

After a couple of minutes, Jules pulled back and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. She never wanted to see Johnny again much less be alone in a room with him. But perhaps if she agreed to see him, she could convince him that nobody needed to know exactly what had transpired between them either night. She had to protect her father in a way she hadn’t been able to protect her mother. “Daddy, I heard what the two of you were talking about. If it’ll help, I’ll see him.”

“Are you sure, Jules?” Bard probed gently. “Your dad and I would be just outside the room the entire time. And if you discover it’s too hard, you can put a stop to it immediately.”

“She’s not doing it, Bard. I’m not putting her through whatever the hell Johnny is trying to pull.” Jack’s tone was even but it was clear he expected no argument.

Before she could talk herself out of it, Jules protested. “I can do it, Daddy. I know I’ve let you down the last couple of days but I promise you I’m strong enough to do this.”

Jack cupped her face in his hands and thumbed away the tears that had lingered after her swipe. “What’s this about letting me down? If anything I let you and your mother down. If I’d been here instead of out of town at that stupid training that I could have done without, I would have been there to stop Johnny.”

“Please, Daddy. Let me do this for Mom. I want to do it.” Then she decided want wasn’t the right word so she amended her statement quickly. “No, I need to do this.”

“You sure?“ Jack carefully schooled his features so his worry didn’t show. Everything in him said it was a bad idea; that putting Jules in a room alone with the monster who’d killed her mother was just asking for trouble. But the look she was giving him cut him straight the core. Did she really think this was something she had to do in order to prove something to him or even to herself? Could he really justify not allowing her to try if she was this adamant about it? “All right, but I’m going to be right on the other side of the mirror and he tries anything or it looks like it’s too difficult for you I’m pulling you out of there before you can say ‘dang skippy.’ Understand?”

She nodded and hugged him again. With her head on her father’s shoulder, she peeked over at Bard. “When are we going to do this?” Part of her hoped he said right away, before she had time to think about what she agreed to do and chicken out. The other part of her was hoping it would never happen.

Bard really hated what he was asking of the family but understanding that the alternative could be worse. He hadn’t been lying when he told Jack earlier there was a chance that Johnny could go free but he hadn’t explained the full extent of the problem. The circumstantial evidence aside, they were also having to fight against the rampant speculation running around the station, even among those who considered Jack a good friend. The commander was keeping some aspects of the case closely under raps in order not to fuel the rumors going around that maybe the Callaghan family wasn’t so innocent in everything. The biggest secret being kept, so far even from Jack himself, was the coroner’s report that showed that Margaret’s blood alcohol level was well above the norm. “How about after lunch? In fact, let me treat you both to lunch before we head to the station.”

Jack held his breath waiting for Jules to reply. Bard’s invitation would call for Jules to do two of the things she’d been most reluctant to do for the last two days: leave Barbara‘s house and eat a full meal. Yesterday, after he’d received word that their home was no longer a closed crime scene, he’d convinced her to at least go to the house to pack a bag of things she would need here at Barbara’s. Everything seemed fine until she crossed the threshold into her childhood home. That’s when she began to shake uncontrollable until she at last turned and fled the house without so much as a word. He chased after her but didn’t catch up with her until she was already halfway back to Barbara’s. As far as food, he didn’t think she’d eaten more than a few bites at a time.

“I don’t think I’d be able to keep anything down.” Jules admitted quietly. “Would you be upset if we just did this meeting and call it a day?”

Bard nodded. He hoped Johnny would do the honorable thing and confess to his crime without making things any worse for the Callaghan family. They needed to be able to put the nastiness of the tragedy behind them so they could properly honor the memory of the wife and mother they had all lost. They hadn’t even been able to hold the funeral yet. He stood up and offered both father and daughter a sad smile. “I hope you both realize that I really do wish there was some other way to get the information we need.”

Jack reached out and shook his partner’s hand. “I know, Bard. I know. Jules and I’ll be in to the station around one. That okay?”

Bard agreed and let himself out of the house. Once alone in the living room, Jack shifted slightly so that Jules was still snuggled to him but he could see her face. “Sweetheart, are you really sure about this? I know you think you have to do this for your mama but I have to worry about what’s best for you. If you think this is going to be too difficult, tell me and I’ll call Bard and tell him to find a different way to get Johnny to talk. Hell, I’ll go in your place and let my fists do the talking before I let him cause you a moment of pain.”

Jules closed her eyes so he wouldn’t be able to read any of the emotions that might be reflected there. From the moment Johnny had left her little choice but to allow him to do what he wanted to with her, she had felt like her life had spiraled so out of control she didn’t know if she’d ever get it back to normal. No matter how bad things seemed on the inside, she owed it to her father and to her mother’s memory not to let it show on the outside. She couldn’t force even the hint of a smile as she cracked her eyes open once again. “I’m okay. I can do it.”

Jack nodded, not really believing her but not wanting to make things any more difficult on her than they already were. “Okay.”

-- FP --
“Will you be able to hear what he says?” Jules asked several hours later as she stood outside the interrogation room where in just moments she would once more be face to face with the man who had taken over her nightmares.

Bard shook his head. “No but your dad and I will be right here the whole time and we’ll be able to see everything. He’s handcuffed to his chair so he won’t be able to hurt you. If at any time you want to stop the meeting, just go to the door and knocked. There will be an officer just on the other side and he’ll let you out. I’m proud of you for doing this, Jules.”

He gave her shoulder a reassuring squeeze to which Jules carefully controlled her reactions not to jerk away. With shaky legs, she stepped inside the room and got her first good look of the man who had hurt her and killed her mother. With the exception of the padded sling that covered his left arm, immobilizing the shoulder she’d effectively put a bullet through, he didn’t look any different than he had the last time she’d seen him. His eyes were on her from the minute she walked in and she could almost imagine him mentally undressing her. It took everything in her not to tug at her shirt uncomfortably, pulling it closer to make sure she was completely covered despite the fact that she was wearing a long sleeve turtleneck that showed no skin at all.

“JAC, I’m glad you came. I’d stand up to greet you but I’m a little attached to my chair at the moment.” He raised his right hand just slightly so that she could see the handcuff that assured he wouldn’t be leaving his seat. A further glance showed that two more handcuffs were working together to secure his sling-encased left hand to the same side of the chair that his right hand was attached to as well. It should have made her feel better to know he was completely incapacitated but even at that, her feet felt like they were encased in cement with every step she took into the room to the chair on the far side of the table. His smirk turned her stomach and she was glad she‘d resisted Barbara‘s attempts to get her to eat before she left. “You look as beautiful as ever.”

She couldn’t meet his gaze; couldn’t stand to see the wolfish way he stared at her, like he was some sort of starved man and she was the first morsel of food he’d seen in weeks. “Bard said you wouldn’t give them a statement unless you saw me.”

“I wanted to tell you I was sorry.” His words sounded sincere but his tone and expression said otherwise. Jules remembered her mother apologizing to her the day after Johnny had killed Boxer and wanted to burst into tears. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction though. She forced her head up, meeting him eye to eye for the first time.

“What are you sorry for? Murdering my mother? Your own sister? Or for the sick and twisted things you did to me before that?”

He looked shocked. “Sick? Twisted? I don’t seem to remember you fighting me. No, I’m sorry because we didn’t get a chance to finish what we started. I’m also sorry that I got so upset our first night together when you did that very naughty thing that I didn’t warn you of the consequences of telling anybody about what was going on between us.”

“Naughty?” Jules shook her head. “You mean throwing up because you were practically choking me with your….with your…”

Johnny laughed. “So innocent that you can’t even say the word. That’s one of the things I love most about you JAC. I should have told you what would happen if you talked but I didn’t. You told your mom what happened and I had to kill her. Don’t you see, I didn’t have a choice. You told your mom and she didn’t understand. She would have stopped us from being together so I had to kill her. If you had only kept your mouth shut, your mother would still be alive right now.”

Logically Jules didn’t believe a word he said about it being her fault. He was the one who had repeated stabbed her mother and the blame lay directly with him. Still, his words cut to the very core of her guilt and grief. “I didn’t tell her…”

“Don’t lie to me, Little Girl. She told me you told her. Not to mention, she knew things about us that she couldn’t have known unless you spilled your guts.”

Jules shook her head. “She knew something had happened after she cleaned up the mess you left in my bedroom. I only confirmed what she believed happened.”

“Still you talked and your mother paid the price. Do you know how horrible it was for me to have to do that to my own flesh and blood? I’ve got to live with that for the rest of my life but I didn’t ask to see you just in order to make sure you knew your responsibility in this. I wanted to tell you that I’m willing to make a full confession. Plead guilty and save you from having to testify against me in court.”

It was almost too much for Jules to hope for. She couldn’t bring herself to even think about those last minutes of her mother’s life, of how she’d watched her uncle plunge the that knife in her mother’s chest -- she had to break off her thoughts before she made herself sick. If she couldn’t think about what happened how could she testify in a court full of strangers? Still, she was learning that things were never that simple with her uncle.

“What would I have to do in return? Quid pro quo, after all.” She knew he was handcuffed to the chair and that her father and his partner were on the other side of the two-way mirror. Knew that her uncle couldn’t expect the same type of return for his so-called generosity that he’d asked from her when he’d offered to help her save Boxer. But what if it were something worse? Could anything be worse than what she’d already suffered?

Johnny laughed. “You’re learning, Little Girl. Don’t look so squeamish. All I want in return from you is your silence. I’m thinking you haven’t made the mistake of telling your daddy or any of his police buddies what we shared. All the questions that have been bandied about me since I woke up in the hospital with the nice little hole in my shoulder you provided me with, none of them concerned our special relationship. All I want from you is for it to stay that way. As long as no one else finds about you and me, I’ll take the full blame for your mother’s death.”

Her heart skipped a beat. The sole reason she agreed to meet with Johnny was to beg him not to tell anyone what he’d done to her. Now he was handing her that on a plate with a full confession. It was almost too much to ask for but could it really be that easy? “Why would you do that?”

“I love you, JAC and I don’t want you to get hurt. What we shared was special and nobody else would understand it like we would. You daddy sure wouldn’t. He’d come in here and put his career and freedom on the line just to put his fist in my face for doing things to his daughter he’s not ready for any man to experience with you. The courts wouldn’t understand; they’d start wanting to add other charges that would make what we shared seem dirty and wrong. They might also think you were complicit with your mother’s death. You could go to jail as well.”

Her eyes narrowed. Complicit? How could they think she had anything to do with her mother’s death? Despite her feelings of guilt that maybe her mother would still be alive if she’d somehow handled what her uncle did to her differently, she didn’t see how the court would hold her criminally responsible. “What do you mean?”

“I’m willing to make a full confession that I was solely responsible for what happened to Margaret. I’ll serve my time without complaint. So long as there’s no talk about the sexual nature of our relationship. You tell anyone what we shared and I’ll retract my confession. I’ll make them give me a full trial and I’ll offer any kind of defense that could either get me off or a reduced sentence. I’ll tell them that you begged me to kill Margaret. That you were sick of her drinking and her abuse and couldn’t handle it anymore. I’ll tell them you seduced me in order to get me to do what you wanted. I’ll tell them I was paid to kill her, paid not with money but with your sexual favors.”

A chill ran right through her and she was pretty sure if someone took an x-ray of her insides right then, they would discover that all of her internal organs were now in different positions thanks to the round of musical chairs it felt like they had just played in her body. It was hard for her to catch her breath but still she did her best not to show any distress. The last thing she needed right then was for her father to come rushing in to see what was wrong. “That’s not what happened at all and you know it. Nobody would believe it.”

He shrugged, looking more like he was debating whether to get pepperoni or sausage on a pizza rather than her mother‘s death. “Maybe not everyone but some would. The rest of your life people-- your own father-- would look at you and wonder just how much of it was true. Is that what you want? Can you handle people smirking behind your back and pointing accusatory fingers in your directions? Your father would be shamed out of town; your brothers would be disgusted; every guy you met for the rest of your life would question your sexual advances, wondering what you wanted in return for the pleasure they were giving you. Is that what you want?”

She shook her head. Her choice was simple really. She didn’t want anyone to know about her humiliation anyway. She’d never imagined that it could get even worse. “I won’t say anything.”

Johnny smiled and leaned forward in his chair as far as his restraints would allow. “I knew I could count on you. You’ll see; it’ll be much better this way. I’m just sorry that I’m going to have to go away and not see you again for a long time. I won’t get to see you grow more and more beautiful; won’t get to enjoy your kisses or the feel of your body against mine. I wish I could at least kiss you goodbye but I don’t think we should risk it with people watching. But don’t worry, JAC; I doubt I’ll be in prison forever. I’ll get out one day and then we can be together forever. It’ll be perfect.”

Jules slowly rose, her legs even more shaky than before. At her simple knock, the door opened immediately and a couple seconds later, her father was crushing her against his chest. She wanted a hole to open up in the floor beneath her and just swallow her whole. She’d gotten what she’d wanted when she entered the room but she almost felt that it came with a price too heavy for her to pay. But she kept those feelings buried deep inside her. There was no way she could allow her father or anyone else to see the shattered girl she felt like she was on the inside.

Jack Callaghan pulled back a little to study her carefully. “It was killing me to see you sitting in there with that monster. How are you, Sweetheart?”

“I’m okay.” Jules tried to convince herself that it wasn’t a complete lie even though she knew she was far from okay at that moment. She looked back over at Bard. “He’s ready to give his statement.”

Bard nodded and stopped just before patting her back. Despite her words, she looked ready to fall apart at any moment. Instead, he stepped into the interrogation room and closed the door behind him. Jules looked up at her father, her eyes slightly pleading.

“Can we go home now?”

“Anything you want, Darling. Anything you want.”

-- FP -- FP -- FP --
Present Day

Sam Braddock had taken maybe the fastest shower of his life and had changed into civilian clothes before the rest of the guys had barely stepped into their own shower. He didn’t know why Jules’s father had shown up at work but he couldn’t help but think it couldn’t be for a good reason. In the time he’d been with the SRU, he hadn’t known Jack Callaghan to show up announced let alone for a surprise visit. If something was wrong, he wanted to be there for Jules, even if she didn’t want to tell him what was wrong.

It was one of the hardest things about his relationship with the beautiful but tough female member of the team, one of the things he still had to constantly work on. Jules was a private person and didn’t like to share her feelings with anyone -- even those she cared about. At times he really had to put aside his own hurt feelings at being kept at a distance as she dealt with something that was bothering her and remind himself that it wasn’t that she didn’t trust him enough to include him but preferred to sort out her problems in her own head first. So long as he could do that, she would accept his presence and support without feeling like she had to share the feelings she was more comfortable keeping inside. As a person who wanted to step in and fix things, Sam found it a constant battle.

Stepping out of the locker room, Sam slowly approached the briefing room. Mr. Callaghan was still sitting there looking worried and upset but there was no sign of Jules anywhere. Sam stopped and looked from the briefing room back toward Jules’s locker room, debating what his next move should be. He wasn’t sure how long he stood there in indecision before an unfamiliar voice called out to him.

“You might as well come on in, Son. Jules needed a moment to herself. She’ll be back in a minute.”

At Jack’s invitation, Sam came all the way into the briefing room. Jules’s father rose and held out his hand in greeting. “Jack Callaghan. I’m going out on a limb and presume you must be Sam.”

Surprised, Sam accepted the gesture, shaking the older man’s hand firmly. How had Jack known his name? He was pretty sure Jules wasn’t the type to talk about her relationships with her family. Not because she was embarrassed about him or even that she wanted to keep their relationship that much of a secret but because that was just another part of herself that she kept private. Two months earlier, the two of them had gone out to dinner and run into one of Jules’s brothers. It had bothered him that she’d introduced him as a co-worker. When he asked her about it later, she’d laughed off his concern asking him if he had really wanted to endure the “what are your intentions and just what makes you think you are good enough to date my little sister” third degree that would have followed if she’d introduced him as her boyfriend? “Yes sir. Sam Braddock.”

“Figured you must be. You were hovering more like a worried boyfriend instead of a concerned coworker.” Sam’s surprise must have been evident because Jack forced a little chuckle. “Yeah, I know about you and your relationship with my little girl. Not that Jules ever tells me about her boyfriends. Her brother ratted the two of you out after he ran into the two of you at dinner. Peter told me she’d pulled the old innocent ‘he’s a coworker’ line but that it was pretty obvious that you were head over heels in love with Jules and that it looked like you made her happy. I’m glad she has someone, especially right now.”

Sam looked around the room, his worry about Jules growing. “Is everything okay, Sir?”

Jack sighed. “Not really. I had to give my little girl some news I have dreaded having to deliver but knew was coming eventually. I probably shouldn’t have done it here at work but thought maybe it would be easier for her to deal with here than somewhere more private. Should have known it wouldn’t make much of a difference where she found out; that it was going to come as a blow no matter what. She ran off toward the locker room after I told her. I thought she’d be back by now though.”

Sam wanted to ask what the news was but didn’t want to pry. He glanced back over at the locker room. “Want me to check on her?”

Jack nodded and returned to his seat. “Yeah, if you don’t mind.”

Without a second thought, Sam turned on his heel and plunged straight into the female locker room with barely a rap on the door. It wouldn’t be his first journey into the room meant for the females only. He used to be a lot more tentative in his venturing but that had lessened after their relationship had become public knowledge. But even at that, he didn‘t make a habit of pushing his luck by entering just on some whim. “Jules? Everything okay?”

The room was empty. Just to be sure, he checked out every possible hiding spot but there was no sign of Jules anywhere. A quick look in her locker showed that the keys to her jeep were gone. Had she left completely? They had rode into work together. She wouldn’t have left without him even if she were upset, would she? He leaned against a counter for a moment. What news had Jack given his daughter? What could possibly have upset her that much? After a moment of reflection he stepped out of the locker room to see that Greg was once more entering the briefing room. He joined the two older men. “She wasn’t in there.”

“I saw Jules leaving the building a few minutes ago.” Greg reported. “I could tell she was upset and tried to get her to talk to me. She just ignored me and kept going in typical Jules fashion. I’m sorry Jack.”

The former cop shook his head. “Don’t be. Jules has resisted talking about this subject for twenty years now. Shouldn’t have expected anything different now. I knew she wasn’t going to take it well. But I couldn’t let her find out some other way; it would have been the coward’s way.”

Greg frowned. He cared about everyone on the team; felt like a father figure to them all -- including Ed who wasn’t much younger than he was at all. However, there was no denying that Jules held a special place in his heart that no one else he’d ever worked with could ever hope to share. She was the daughter he’d never had. He felt protective toward her in a way that had very little to do with the promise he’d once made the man sitting before him now that he’d watch over her. “Has he served his full sentence? Seems like it’s a little soon for him to be released.”

“He was sentenced to twenty-five years but he’s being released early due to good behavior. I knew at his sentencing that we’d be lucky if he served much more than half his term so I guess I should be glad he’s stayed in jail this long.” Seeing Sam’s confused look, Jack explained. “The man who killed Jules’s mother is being released from jail by the end of the week.”

Sam was shocked. Jules had talked about her family a little, enough for him to know that her father had been a cop and that she had four older brothers and that her mother had died when she was teenager. But she’d never given any indication that her mother’s death had been as a result of a murder. “I had no idea. Jules never told me.”

“I’m the only one here that knew, Sam.” Greg explained gently. “I doubt even I would have known if I hadn’t once worked with Jack in my younger days on the force. She and I dance around the issue every year when it gets to be time for the psych evals. We’ll pretend there’s some other reason she hates them so much but we both know she’s worried some question will come up about how she feels about her mother’s death. I’ve gone out of my way to keep the information quiet, especially with the last evals. I’d hate to think what would have happened if Toth had had that nugget of ammunition against her.”

Sam shuddered at the thought. Toth had turned out to be a decent guy but there was no denying that the older man had a way of picking at scabs until they once more became gaping wounds to the soul. He didn’t want to picture what that would have done to Jules. “Would have been worse than his questions about our secret relationship.”

Greg nodded. “Jules is tough, we all know that. But we also know she’s not as tough as she believes herself to be. She might fight it with all she’s worth but this news is going to bring all kinds of memories to the surface that she doesn’t want to face. Whether she wants to admit it or not, she’s going to need someone to pick up the pieces. Sam, where do you think she’d go after leaving here?”

“Home.” Sam didn’t hesitate with his answer. “If she’s upset and doesn’t want to admit it then she’s going to go home and throw herself into whatever do-it-yourself project she’s currently working on.”

“And if by some strange quirk of fate, she isn’t currently working on a project, she’ll create one just to throw herself into.” Jack added, making it clear that Sam was right in his assessment of Jules.

“She’s turning one of the downstairs rooms into some sort of grand dining room. She’s already painted the room a couple of different times and has been talking about some sort of decorative thing-a-mi-jig she wants to put on the lower half of the walls.”

“That’s where she’ll be.” Jack agreed. He looked up at Sam. “You’ll go with me and tell me how to get to her house? She might need the both of us. I’ll even fill you in on the details while I drive. Might be the only way you hear them.”

“Yes, Sir.” Sam agreed. Before they could leave, Greg made them promise to call him if there was anything he could do to help. The two men promised and then left the headquarters.

During the drive, Jack supplied the details that they knew about his wife’s murder. Sam’s gut twisted at the idea that Jules had been forced to watch her mother die at the hands of her uncle. Once Jack finished, Sam shook his head. “Did he ever say why he snapped?”

Jack shrugged. “Johnny apparently had some mental issues we didn’t know about. From the story he gave, he had apparently had an argument with Margret earlier in the day and she’d kicked him out of the house. He got mad and came back later intent on getting revenge. He stabbed her and thought he’d killed her and went upstairs intent on killing Jules as well. Somehow Margret found the strength to get my shot gun and followed him. Jules got my gun and shot him before he could hurt her as well.”

Sam whistled lowly. He guessed he couldn’t really blame Jules for not wanting to relive such a horrible memory. “Must have been some argument.”

Jack nodded. “Like I said, Johnny had problems we didn’t know about. One of those problems apparently centered on the fact that he had penchant for hurting animals. I had brought home a kitten someone had dumped at the station. Jules loved that little kitten more than anything else I could have given her.”

Suddenly things made sense to Sam. The hurt in her eyes when Jules had talked to Samantha Harper during that hot call and her later reluctance to talk to him about the pet she’d lost and her reticence about accepting the kitten he’d gotten from Wordy, it was all so obvious to him now. He inwardly cursed himself for the memories he must have inadvertently brought up for the woman he loved. “He killed the cat didn’t he?”

Jack nodded. “I didn’t even know he killed Boxer until I read the statement. I thought the kitten had gotten out of the house the night of the murder and had been lost. I was avoiding telling her that we couldn’t find her pet and all along she’d been grieving the loss of her mother and Boxer. It kills me that she had to go through all that but at the same time her strength blows me away. How could I complain if she was just a little more withdrawn with her emotions after everything she’d seen that night?”

Sam understood Jules better after that conversation with her father than he had after spending a couple of years getting to know her. He wanted nothing more than to take her in his arms and never let her go. He knew that it couldn’t change what she’d been through but at least he could let her know that he would stop at nothing to make sure she was okay now.

Jack pulled into the driveway that Sam directed him to and the younger man was relived to see Jules’s jeep already parked there. She was home just as he had predicted. The two men left the car and Sam bypassed his girlfriend’s father as he ran up the walkway to the front door, his keys already out. Unlocking the front door that he knew would be locked even if she was inside, he threw open the door and listened for any sound that would identify Jules’s current location. The silence unnerved him more than any silence ever had in his entire life, even more so after he’d been caught almost too close to a mortar attack while in Afghanistan and had woken up in the infirmary temporarily deafened by the noise of the blast.

“Jules?” He called out desperate to break the silence. Once Jack had stepped inside as well, he closed the front door and automatically locked it once again. Now he wondered if the obsession Jules had about it stemmed from the night her mother had been killed. So many things about her that he’d just chalked up to being an odd but lovable quirk he now questioned in light of this new information.

“Dining room you said?” Jack’s voice was quiet in contrast to his own almost frantic shout. Sam nodded and led the way through the house toward the room he’d found Jules painting in the middle of the night not that long ago.

Sure enough, she was sitting cross-legged on the floor attaching two inch wide wooden stakes that were pointed at the top to the lower half of the wall. Without waiting to see if she’d noticed their presence, Sam crossed the room and knelt beside her. She looked up at him, her face pale but eyes surprisingly dry and not red. Just a hint of a blush crept into her cheeks as she realized both Sam and her father were in the room with her. Sam leaned down and kissed her softly, not caring that her father was standing there watching him.

“Your dad filled me in on what was going on.” Sam supplied, hoping she heard in his voice that he understood why she had never said anything. “I’m sorry.”

She shook her head. “I’m sorry I left like I did. I didn’t intend to run out like that but suddenly I felt like I couldn’t breathe and I had to get some fresh air. Once I was outside, I was in my jeep and driving away before I realized what I was doing.”

“Sweetheart, I’m sorry I had to drop that bombshell on you like I did.” Her father offered from where he was standing in the middle of the room.

“It’s okay.” Jules assured him, but the slight shake in her hand on Sam’s arm suggested a different story. “It came as a shock but I’m okay.”

For a moment, Sam was transported back to his early days at the SRU. They had worked a hot call in the mall where Jules had been forced to save a teenage girl who had threatened to jump to her certain death. In the course of rescuing her, Jules had been slammed against the wall pretty brutally. Later, after they’d arrived back at the barn, he’d made his first venture into the locker room to check on her. Then, Jules had insisted she was okay and had continued to insist that she was okay with every attempt he made to fully ascertain her true condition. At the time, he thought she was just putting him off. It was only later when she was recovering from the bullet wound that had almost ended her life, that he realized that okay was her standard answer even if it was going to take a while before she really was fine.

“I made a few calls after I got the news.” Jack continued. “Johnny may be released but he’ll still be on probation for at least the next year. He’ll go from the prison to a halfway house so he’ll have a short leash still. If he’s smart he won’t even try to make contact with any of us.”

“Right.” Jules agreed but it didn’t sound to Sam like she had much confidence in her answer. He brushed away a smudge of paint from her cheek, wondering how she’d gotten it when she wasn’t even painting at the moment.

“I think you and your dad probably need to talk through some things. Why don’t I go pick something up for supper and give the two of you some time alone. Chinese sound good to everyone?”

Father and daughter agreed and Sam gave Jules another kiss before leaving the room. For a moment, neither Jack nor Jules said anything. Jules returned to the project at hand and after a few moments of uncomfortable silence, Jack joined her on the floor and started to help. He nodded around the room appreciatively. “You’re doing a great job in here. The whole house actually. I can tell you’ve put a lot of love and time in restoring it.”

“I had a good teacher.” Jules admitted. She’d always enjoyed working side by side with her father on the different home improvement projects but never had it been so important to her as it had in the weeks and months that had followed her mother’s death. Returning home had felt like returning to the scene of the crime and would send her into panic attacks with every attempt no matter how much she wanted to be strong enough not to let it bother her. Finally Jack had realized that he had two choices, either move or completely renovate the house to remove all reminders of what had happened. He’d worked by himself until Jules had felt comfortable helping him and then the two had worked side by side until her childhood home felt like a brand new place.

Despite the fact that Sam had left in order to give them time to talk, their conversation centered more the renovation project than the impending release of Johnny Dawson. Still, by the time Sam returned with the Chinese take-out, Jules looked more composed and more herself. The three ate dinner but no talk centered around the event that was clearly on each of their minds. Once dinner was over Jack had said his goodbyes. The young couple invited him to stay the night but he had declined, saying he needed to get back home.

Jules returned to her project and Sam didn’t protest, recognizing she needed the activity to keep her mind off what was going on. He had started off watching her in case she felt the need to talk but then heading off to the living room to watch television when it became clear that she wasn’t going to. When midnight approached and Jules still didn’t seem to be showing signs of slowing down, he did step in.

“Jules, we have to work in the morning. Come on to bed. All of this will still be here tomorrow.” Reluctantly, she had put aside her work and allowed him to lead her up the stairs. She even gave in to his suggestion that they conserve water by taking a shower together. He slowly undressed her and himself and led her to the bathroom where the steamed mirrors were a by product of more than just the hot water filling the room.

Once they were in bed together, Sam lazily ran his fingers up and down her arm. Jules looked up at him, her expression pensive. “Sam, are you mad that I never told you how my mom died?”

Sam shook his head and kissed her lightly on the forehead. “No, I pretty much get it. After all, it’s not like I go out of my way to talk about my sister’s death. I’m just sorry you had to go through that and I’m sorry the SOB responsible didn’t rot in jail like he should have.”

“I knew he’d be released some time.” Jules admitted softly, snuggling closer into Sam’s embrace. “I guess it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that it’s happening now. Doesn’t make it any easier though.”

For a moment they were quiet, each lost in thoughts neither was willing to voice at the moment. Finally Sam cleared his throat. “Jules, your dad told me what happened to the kitten you had. I feel like a heel insisting on getting you a pet when I didn’t know what happened to your old one. It was clear you didn’t want to talk about it and now I get why. If having Patches reminds you too much of what happened twenty years ago….”

“No, it’s okay. I won’t lie; it was really hard at first but I’ve kind of gotten attached to him now.”

Sam nodded, relieved that she wasn’t mad at him about it. He tucked her in as close to his body as he could and kissed her again. “I know him getting out of jail is a tough blow but I bet your dad is right. I bet he’ll be smart enough to keep his distance.”

“Yeah, I’m sure you’re right.” Jules agreed, her tone carefully neutral. She waited until Sam had drifted off to sleep before slipping out of bed and retrieving her pants that had been discarded earlier. She slipped the envelope out that she’d shoved away unopened upon checking the mail when she got home. The causally scrawled writing on the address was all too familiar to her even in the dark of the bedroom. At least once a year for the past twenty years she’d received a similarly addressed letter from the same location. Before she’d always burned them without even reading the contents. When she’d found this envelope waiting for her in the mailbox after learning about her uncle’s upcoming release, she hadn’t been able to destroy it but hadn’t been able to read it either.

But its presence told her the bitter truth even if she never opened it and read the contents. Johnny Dawson was being released and he hadn’t forgotten the promise he’d made to her twenty years before.