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Growing Up Too Fast

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Author’s Notes: This is my first Flashpoint story. The idea came from a dream I had one night. I’m not sure how old Jules is supposed to be on the show. I know Amy Jo Johnson was born in 1970 so she’ll be 42 this year but the character seems a little younger to me. For the purpose of this story, I’m making Jules 36. I hope you enjoy the story. Feedback is always appreciated.
Disclaimer: The show Flashpoint and its characters were created by Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern and belong to them and its respective networks. I am making no money off this story and it is for entertainment purposes only. However, this particular story is my creation and should not be used without my express written permission.

Chapter 1

 

1992

The day had been made especially for being outside. Or at least it seemed that way to sixteen year old Julianna Callaghan as she jogged down the two lane street toward her driveway. Though she’d already been running for almost two hours straight, the cool fall breeze had ensured that she’d barely broken a sweat when normally she’d be positively drenched by this point. She hadn’t intended to run for so long; when she’d first left her house two hours earlier the plan had been to run to her usual stopping spot of the old tree stump a mile and a half down the road and then back again. However, when Jules had reached her destination she’d felt the urge to keep going forward rather than to make her way home. She wasn’t sure if it had been the almost perfect day that had kept her moving or the dread of returning home.

It wasn’t that Julianna didn’t like her home. She really did, usually at least. But just that morning her father, a police officer, had left to attend a training seminar out of town. He’d be gone for the rest of the week. Jules knew the problems that would cause for her being left alone with her mother during that time. She loved her mother but didn’t always know the best way to handle her mother’s hidden problem. When her father was home, Margaret Callaghan hid her addiction well, but whenever Jack Callaghan pulled a late shift or had to go out of town, her mother quickly found solace in the arms of her other love Jack Daniels. Jules was pretty sure that her mother had probably already downed a full bottle of the whiskey and was well on her way to getting and then staying drunk for the duration of Jack Callaghan’s absence. Jules had learned at a young age that while her mother was normally a sweet and loving woman, she was a mean and vicious drunk.

The only thing keeping the sixteen year old from jogging straight on past the driveway and figuring out somewhere else to stay while her father was out of town was the knowledge that her favorite, if only, uncle, was coming to stay with them for the week. Her mother’s younger brother, barely even five years older than Jules herself, was perhaps her favorite person in the entire world outside her own father. She was pretty sure he knew about his sister’s addiction and while he didn’t know how to handle it any more than Julianna did, would act as a buffer between mother and daughter if things got too bad.

With the promise of the coming presence of her uncle, Jules didn’t hesitate to turn down her driveway when she finally reached it and continued to jog down the long path that led to the small house she called home. It wasn’t much by most people’s standards but she loved it, mostly because of the renovations that had been lovingly carried out by her father. During his days off, Jack Callaghan had spent hours on project after project making the house a place they could all be proud of. Whenever she could, Jules had eagerly pitched in to help, enjoying the work itself as well as the chance to spend the quality time with her father.

Once at the front porch, Jules sank to the steps to catch her breath. No car was in the driveway except her mother’s and she was afraid that meant that her uncle Johnny, or UJ as she had always called him, hadn’t arrived yet. She didn’t want to go in and face her probably already inebriated mother without him there.

A small gray cat rubbed against her leg and meowed softly. Jules smiled and reached down to pet the small animal before picking her up for a more thorough cuddle. “Hey Boxer. What are you doing outside? Did you decide the day was too nice to be cooped up indoors or were you escaping Mom as well?”

The cat meowed again as if to answer her before curling up against the teenager’s body purring. Jules’s smile widened even more at the creature. She’d only had Boxer for a couple of months but it had been love at first sight.

Behind her, the front door opened and a small but imposing woman stepped out. “Where the hell have you been? Your uncle will be here any minute and this place is a disaster. Get your ass in here and start cleaning.” Jules’s prediction had been correct; her mother had been drinking. It was always easy for her to tell. Normally her mother would never use foul language in front of her. It was only after a few drinks that her control on the English language slipped.

With a sigh and feeling like a convict about to enter the prison gates for the last time, Jules pushed up from the steps to obey her mother’s wishes. While the house wasn’t magazine cover immaculate, it wasn’t a pig sty either. However she didn’t want to cause any more problems than was necessary. She stepped inside and started to put Boxer on the floor when her mother stopped her.

“That beast stays outside.”

Beast? What was her mother talking about? Boxer was barely more than a kitten and the best behaved cat Jules had ever seen. With the exception of a few excursions out of doors, the kitten had been primarily an indoor cat from the day Jules had gotten her. Why the big protest now?

“But Boxer always stays in the house.” Jules protested before realizing it probably was a bad idea. The palm of her mother’s hand collided with the side of her face in a stinging slap. A few tears immediately sprang to the young girl’s eyes. It wasn’t that the slap was that painful but the idea that her mother could hit her that hurt the most.

“Do not talk back to me like that. Your father lets you get away with entirely too much. I don’t know what he was thinking bringing that animal home. I say he stays outside.”

“She.” Jules corrected automatically and then flinched at the anticipation of another slap. But this time her mother didn’t hit her. Instead she reached out and snatched the kitten out of Jules’s hands. The normally docile feline was so surprised and frightened by the sudden grab that she latched out with her claws to try to keep from falling and hissed.

Jules let out her own hiss of pain and grabbed her arm as her mother unceremoniously dumped the kitten back out the door before closing it solidly. She looked at Jules’s arm which was starting to bleed.

“Told you it was a nasty creature. You better go clean it carefully so it doesn’t get infected. I certainly don’t want to have to take you to the doctor if it does. Then clean this place up.”

Knowing it was useless to protest, Julianna retreated to the bathroom. Closing and locking the door behind her, she inspected the wound. The scratch wasn’t deep but it was already stinging worse than the slap had even thought about hurting. She turned on the faucet and held her arm underneath the warm stream. The clear liquid was tinged in red but she held her arm there until it was no longer bleeding. Though she was pretty sure it would at least momentarily hurt more, she poured some peroxide over the scratch and then dried it off so the bandage would stick to it.

With the wound taken care of, Jules opened the door and stepped out of the bathroom. She didn’t hear her mother rambling around the house and she took that as a good sign. The downstairs was completely deserted but then she heard a door slam upstairs. Jules wasn’t going to complain; the more she was able to avoid being alone with her mother for the duration of her father’s training, the better for her.

Jules wasn’t sure exactly what she was supposed to be cleaning; nothing seemed out of place. She headed into the kitchen thinking she could at least make sure the breakfast dishes drying in the drain board were put away. Stacking the glasses one on top of the other, she then opened the cabinet to place them inside. Staring back at her defiantly were three bottles of the amber liquid that so altered her mother’s personality. Jules set the cups aside and removed one of the bottles. How could something so innocent looking cause so much trouble?

Jules put the bottle back, resisting the urge to open the bottle and pour its contents out into the sink. Pour it out so her mother couldn’t drink it. Her best friend Beth once told her that every time she found a pack of her own mother’s cigarettes lying around she would tear them to pieces so her mother couldn’t smoke them. It had eventually worked and Mrs. Connors had quit smoking but Jules knew that Beth’s attempts had caused quite a few problems for the mother and daughter before it worked. She somehow didn’t think it was a smart choice on the first day her father was out of town.

Instead she finished putting the dishes away and hoped her uncle would arrive soon. Not seeing anything else that seemed so out of place that her mother would complain, Jules returned to the front porch where Boxer was curled up next to the door. The kitten picked her head up as the teenager stepped outside and meowed. Jules picked her feline friend up and nuzzled her gray fur. She hoped the kitten knew she didn’t hold her responsible for the scratch on her arm.

“I’m sorry, Boxer. I don’t know why Mom’s decided to turn against you today. I’d sneak you up to my room and hide you but if she found you there we’d both be in trouble. Maybe once UJ gets here, he can help convince her to let you come back inside.”

As she spoke, she heard a car turn into the drive. She looked up and recognized her uncle’s car as it kicked up dust on the path. Giving the kitten one more loving pat, she set the kitten on the porch and ran down the steps to greet him as soon as he parked his vehicle. She barely let him get out of the car before throwing her arms around him in a welcoming hug. He returned the embrace just as enthusiastically then pulled back to give her a good once over.

“JAC, you just get more and more beautiful every time I see you.” He pulled her back in for another hug, kissing her cheek in the process. Jules’s worries began to fade. It’d been several months since she’d seen him but he always made her feel special every time he came around.

“I’m glad you’re here.” Julianna admitted.

Johnny eyed her carefully. “She’s already hitting the bottle isn’t she?” He gently touched her cheek where her mother had slapped her earlier. “As well as hitting other things, right? I see faint outlines of fingers there. I’m sorry, Kiddo. Wish there was something I could do to make things better.”

Jules helped him retrieve his bags from the car and walked with him up the walk to the front door. “You do just by being here.”

He threw an arm around her shoulder and pulled her closer. “I’m glad to be here. You don’t have anything to worry about as long as I’m around.”

It wouldn’t take long before Jules found out that not every promise could be kept.

-- FP -- FP -- FP --

Present Day

Connect. Respect. Protect. It was the mantra of the skilled negotiator. People who resorted to holding others hostage to get what they want or to prove a point or to just salvage what they believed to be threatened were usually a big danger to everyone involved.. It wasn’t always effective to just burst in with guns blazing and hope for the best. That was how lives, both innocent and not so innocent, were lost.

The first thing the negotiator had to do was connect with the hostage taker. If the person charged with bringing a safe resolution to the situation didn’t connect with the person with a gun, he or she had no chance of getting the person on the figurative or literal ledge to listen to reason. That always meant that the negotiator went in without a weapon. Hard to engender trust when you are pointing a gun at someone. That didn’t mean the negotiator was unprotected. Others were charged with that protection detail. It also usually meant the negotiator had to put a likable and personal face on the whole of the police department.

The respect aspect was sometimes harder. The negotiator had to find some way to respect the feelings and beliefs of the person who was threatening to turn other lives upside down. Generally speaking, a person didn’t just up and decide to hold someone hostage on a whim. There was usually a trigger that at least in the eyes of the hostage taker was worth the risk of killing someone. It was the negotiator’s job to uncover that reason and offer an alternative method of handling the problem while validating the reason behind it. Sometimes that was easy, such as the case of the father who was holding an organ transplant team hostage in an attempt to save his daughter’s life. Other times it was almost impossible to muster up any sympathy for the person holding a gun, such as when a cult leader was determine to avoid capture by killing himself and the whole assembly of willing followers who believed they were doing God’s will. And the worst was when despite being able to find that respect, the hostage taker was mentally unable to distinguish reality with the fantasy the mind had produced, such as the unstable man who’d been led to believe terrorists were trying to destroy the world and believed that a helpless waitress was really a suicide bomber.

Sometimes no matter how much respect went in to connecting with the hostage taker, it was impossible to protect everyone. A negotiator went into a hot call hoping to resolve the issue peacefully without anyone, hostages, officers, or even the hostage taker getting injured. Sometimes calls worked out just that perfectly but not always. Sometimes people got hurt but no negotiator wanted to make a Scorpio call that would take the life of the hostage taker unless it was completely unavoidable. The loss of even the life of the hostage taker didn’t seem much like a victory to the skilled and caring negotiator.

Jules Callaghan took a deep breath as she carefully entered the nicely decorated suburban home that was the current scene of the hot call Team One had been dispatched to. All they currently knew was that a young woman was holding her father at gunpoint and threatening to kill him. The girl’s mother had made the 911 call before sneaking out the back of the house. Currently she was giving Greg Parker, leader and sergeant of Team One, information on what was happening inside. He’d assigned Jules the task of being the negotiator for this call, thinking the desperate young woman might respond better to another female. So Jules was entering the house in her Kevlar and flanked by her co-worker and boyfriend Sam Braddock on one side and newest member of the team Raf Rousseau on the other. Greg and Spike were both at the truck monitoring the situation and Ed was making his way to an elevated area to try to get a good line of a shot in case negotiations failed and Scorpio had to be called.

“Jules, our suspect is Samantha Harper and her victim is her father Spencer. Mother reports that Samantha is recovering from a brain injury she suffered five months ago in a car accident. She’s suffering from retrograde amnesia of the first fifteen years of her life as well as erratic behavior. She’s being treated by a psychiatrist. Spike’s getting him en-route now.”

“Copy that.” Jules spoke softly into her comlink. The ability of the others to feed her information on the fly was indispensable in the field. She made her way cautiously toward the living room where it had been reported the action was taking place. As she rounded the corner, she could see the twenty-something year old brandishing a gun on an older, obviously terrified man. “I have a visual.”

“In position on the roof next door.” Ed Lane reported. “I have the solution.”

Again Jules copied the information, hoping it wouldn’t be necessary for Ed to use the solution he’d found. As she came into the younger woman’s sight, Samantha turned, the gun wavering between her father and this newest possible threat.

“Samantha, my name is Jules and I’m with the Strategic Response Unit. I just want to talk to you. See if we can resolve whatever is going on here. Can we do that?”

“He’s a murderer.” The distraught young woman insisted, the gun now back on her father. “He should go to jail for what he did.”

“What are you talking about Sam? I never killed anyone. Come on Sweetheart. Put the gun away and let us help you. We’ll take you to see Dr. Peters.”

“SHUT UP!” Samantha screamed at her father.

Jules knew she had to get the woman’s attention back on her and not on the man she seemed intent on killing. “Samantha? Look at me. If your father committed a crime, we can make sure he answers for it. But before we can do that, I need some more information. Do you think you could tell me about the murder you say he committed?”

“Good, Jules.” There was no mistaking the tone in Greg Parker’s voice. It was a mixture of both professional and almost paternal pride. Jules knew he had every confidence in her ability to do her job; he’d never assign her as lead negotiator if he didn’t but she also knew he was aware that she wasn’t always as confident about her ability as he was. She was grateful the reassurances.

“I was just six years old and she was my friend. He killed her.”

Apparently, Samantha had recovered a missing memory but how accurate was it? “Killed who? Samantha, what was your friend’s name?” If they had a name, Spike could feed the information into his computer to help verify the story.

Samantha sniffled a little. “Snowball.”

Jules frowned. She somehow doubted any parent would name a human child Snowball, even if said parents had lived during the height of the hippie crazy of naming children wildly unusual names. Still it was obviously a painful memory that was haunting the gun wielding woman. She gentled her voice even more while shooting Spencer a look to stay quiet. “Who was Snowball, Samantha?”

“My puppy. He was solid white and he was my best friend. I loved him but Dad killed him. Will you arrest him now or should I just kill him the way he killed Snowball?”

For just a moment, Jules flashed back in time to a different animal. The sight of an impossibly still gray kitten lying in a pool of blood on her bed filled her mind and she felt her stomach twist and turn. It took a sick individual to murder a helpless animal and the part of her that would forever be that teenage girl who’d experienced a similar pain wanted to urge Ed to switch his line of fire so she could call Scorpio on the father instead. Instead, the adult who knew there could be more to the story and wanted to resolve the situation peacefully took a deep breath and pushed the troubling images out of her mind.

“Samantha, let’s talk about this.” Never lie to a suspect. Another rule of being a good negotiator, but Jules wasn’t sure the truth would be reassuring to the younger woman. “I can’t arrest him for murder if the victim is an animal but if you could give me more information he might could be charged with animal cruelty. Why don’t you give me the gun and we can sit down. You can tell me what you remember. I’ll take your statement.”

Samantha shook her head. “I don’t remember what happened. I just remember standing right here where I am now. I had just found out Snowball was dead and that Dad was responsible. I can see myself standing here screaming at him calling him a murderer and he doesn’t deny it. He just hung his head and told me he was sorry. How can you kill an innocent animal? How could you, Daddy?”

It was a question Jules never had gotten a satisfactory answer to either, not that she’d really been able to voice the question to someone who might could have answered it. She took another step closer to the suspect and ignored Sam’s voice in her ear telling her not to. This girl wasn’t going to hurt her. She was locked in a memory of pain and needed answers. Her brain injury might have made her reaction unstable but Jules could understand her need all the same.

“Samantha, I get that you are upset. I understand all too well how hard it is to lose a pet you love so much, especially if you didn’t have to. I’m sure your dad can explain what happened but it’s going to be hard for him to do so if you are holding that gun on him. So how about you give me the gun and I’ll sit down with you and your father and listen as he tells us what happened. I promise you that if he broke any laws I will arrest him when he’s finished. Okay?”

The gun wavered just a little but Samantha didn’t hand it over. Instead she shook her head. “He’ll lie if he thinks he‘s not in danger.”

“I know your memory is fuzzy because of your car accident but is your dad the type of person to lie to you?” Jules was steadily moving closer, not wanting to panic the girl but wanting to be close to possibly disarm her if she escalated. Sam was still protesting in her ear that she was taking too big a risk but she ignored him, especially when Greg assured him over the comlink that she was doing fine and to let her be.

After another couple of minutes, Samantha slowly lowered the gun completely and handed it to Jules who held it behind her for Sam to take. Jules then put an arm around the younger woman and led her to the couch. She knew the rest of the team wouldn’t stand down just because the gun was out of play but they would relax just a little. She motioned for Spencer Harper to join them.

“Mr. Harper, do you remember the incident your daughter is concerned about?” Jules asked delicately, her voice still an oasis of calm meant to keep reassuring Samantha that everything was okay.

He nodded as he joined them, sitting in a chair opposite the couch they were sitting on. He looked upset. “Unfortunately I do. I wish I could say Samantha remembered the incident incorrectly but her memory of screaming at me and calling me a murderer happened just the way she remembered it. I didn’t think you’d ever forgive me for Snowball’s death.”

Samantha stiffened next to Jules and the officer was grateful she’d managed to get the gun away from her before Mr. Harper’s admission. “So you admit you killed him? Why Daddy, what did my puppy ever do to you?”

“Nothing.” Spencer Harper ran his hands over his face struggling to find the words to explain what happened. “I didn’t kill Snowball, Sweetheart but I was responsible for his death. You were so young when it happened that you didn’t understand the difference.”

“When what happened?” Jules asked hoping to keep the conversation going without Samantha escalating back into a danger.

“Snowball was sick. Somehow he got into some chemicals in the garage that I thought were stored properly. I took him to the vet. Do you remember Doc Bob, Samantha? He took care of Snowball off of his life. But there was nothing he could do for Snowball this time. Rather than let Snowball die a painful death from the poisons he ingested, Doc Bob recommend that we put him to sleep. I knew how upsetting it would be to watch your best friend die and I didn’t want you to see it. Samantha, I hated to let Doc Bob euthanize Snowball but I didn’t want the little fellow to suffer either. I promise you I held him all through the procedure and reminded him how much you loved him and were going to miss him. When you got home from school that night I told you what happened but in your little eyes you saw what I had done as murder. I don’t know which hurt more. Watching Snowball’s last few minutes of life or seeing you stand in this living room accusing me of murder. I think I did a better job of comforting the puppy than I did you.”

A lump formed in Jules’s throat as she listened to the story. Again her mind replayed the last time she’d seen her own furry best friend and swallowed back the bile that threatened to push past the lump. She was glad that this current story had a better ending than her own. She glanced over at Samantha who had tears streaking her face.

“Samantha? Do you believe what he’s telling you?”

The younger girl shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t remember any of the rest of it.”

“Don‘t take my word for it.” Spencer urged her gently. “As Doc Bob yourself. He’ll tell you the truth. I felt so guilty that day. Guilty that the puppy had gotten into the chemicals in the first place. Guilty because there was nothing the doctor could do to save him. Guilty that you didn’t get a chance to say goodbye before we put him to sleep. Guilty about having to tell you.”

He left his seat and knelt on the floor in front of his daughter, gathering her gently in his arms as she began to sob. “I’m so sorry, Sam. I want you to get your memory back but I guess I was hoping you could just regain the pleasant memories and keep the painful ones locked away so they wouldn’t hurt you.”

He glanced over his daughter’s head to look at Jules. “She’s been through so much. Please tell me she’s not going to be in trouble because of this. I know what she did was wrong but I don’t think she’d really have hurt me.”

Jules waited until Greg confirmed the answer she wanted to give him over the comlink before reaching out to squeeze his arm. “If you don’t want to press charges, then nothing more is going to come of this. Dr. Peters is outside, would you like for him and your wife to come in?”

He nodded and returned his attention back to his distraught daughter. “Thank you.”

Jules nodded and rose from the couch. She followed Sam and Raf out of the living room, passing the doctor and Mrs. Harper as they made their way to Spencer and Samantha. She missed the exchange of looks between Sam and Raf. The newest member of the team continued on out of the house, but Sam put his hand on Jules’s arm, stopping her. He turned off his comlink and motioned for her to do the same.

“Damn it, Jules, what were you thinking in there? When I was in Afghanistan I saw buddies with brain injuries similar to hers do crazy things they would never ordinarily do. She could have turned on you in an instant. She could have shot you.”

“But she didn’t. She was upset and wanted to find the missing pieces to the puzzle of her memory. Don’t make this worse than it was, Sam.” Without giving him a chance to say anything else, she turned her comlink back on and left the house.

At the truck Greg congratulated her on a job well done. If he wondered why the two had turned off their comlinks in the house he didn’t say so. Every since Sam and Jules had been allowed to make their relationship official the team had done their best not to make it a bid deal. It was if they all knew if it became a work problem, one or both would have to be transferred off the team and nobody wanted that. So as long as it didn’t interfere with their work, Greg didn’t question their need to sometimes go offline . He could however tell something was bothering the young woman, especially when she chose to ride back to the barn with Ed instead of Sam as she usually would. Again, he didn’t press the issue.

Once back at the headquarters, they debriefed from the call quickly before returning to the more mundane duties they had been engaged in before the call came in. The rest of the afternoon was quiet and Sam said nothing more to Jules about the call until just before the end of the shift when the young couple found themselves working out in the gym side by side. He sat down next to her on one of the workout benches and offered her a bottle of water.

“Cat or dog?” He gently teased as she downed half the bottle in one long swallow. She recapped the bottle and raised an eyebrow in his direction.

“What are you talking about?”

“At the Harpers earlier, you said you knew all too well what it was like to lose a pet. You’ve never mentioned having one before. It made me curious. Are you a cat person or a dog person?”

Almost immediately he could feel her tense up. She stood from the bench and stepped on the treadmill, turning it up to an almost ridiculous speed. “Neither.”

Sam frowned, wondering about her sudden frosty behavior. “So what kind of pet did you have? Come on Jules, I’m just curious.”

Instead of answering him, Jules turned up the treadmill even more. Concentrating on the speed and incline she’d selected, Jules effectively shut Sam out and ending the conversation. She knew he didn’t mean anything bad by his question but she also couldn’t stop the images that his innocent question brought back to the forefront of her mind. Images she’d been trying vainly to ignore since the call earlier.

Sam sighed and dropped the subject, going back to his own workout. Once Jules finally shut off the machine and stepped off the treadmill, he followed her out of the gym and then pulled her into a deserted hallway. He wrapped his arms around her small waist and pulled her close. She remained stiff but didn’t pull away. He pressed a warm kiss on her cheek. “I’m sorry, Jules. I didn’t mean to upset you earlier. It’s just sometimes I feel like you know everything there is to know about me and I know so little about you.”

“Some things you are better off not knowing.”

Chapter Text

1992

“Remind me again why I don’t come to visit more often.” Johnny pleaded with his sister and niece as he pushed his plate away. “I don’t think I ever eat better than when I stay here. That was delicious.”

Jules rolled her eyes but inwardly felt pleased by the comment. She didn’t cook much but knowing that her mother was more interested in drinking her meals for the week, she knew someone would have to step up to the task of preparing the meals. Tonight’s supper had only been spaghetti and a canned meat sauce but hearing her uncle rave on about it still made her feel good.

“Glad you liked it.”

His chair was pulled up close to hers and he reached under the table to give her knee an affectionate squeeze. “Some guy is going to be lucky to snatch you up for marriage.”

Margaret Callaghan set her cup down. Jules had noticed that her mother had chosen an opaque glass, probably to hide the fact that her Jack and Coke was heavy on the Jack and almost nonexistent with the Coke. Her mother snorted slightly. “Don’t let Jack hear you make that prediction. I don’t think he plans on his little girl ever dating. “

Johnny cocked his head to one side. “That true, Little JAC? Daddy keeping you all safe and protected against those nasty ole boys who only want one thing from you? Can’t say I blame him. If I had a gorgeous daughter like you I wouldn’t trust any guy around her.”

Jules slapped at his arm, embarrassed by the compliments. “Stop it and don’t give Dad any encouragement. It’s not like guys are beating down my door even trying to get a date with me. And even if they were, Dad would probably scare them away by showing them his gun collection.”

Shaking his head, her uncle shot her a wink. “Guys around here must be blind, stupid, or both. You’re worth facing a gun toting constable any day. Hey, JAC, that bowling alley still open in town?”

“Sure is. Why, you aren’t thinking you actually have a chance of beating me this time do you, UJ?” There was a mischievous gleam in her eyes as she all but issued a challenge.

Johnny laughed out loud. “Cheeky little brat. What makes you think I was going to invite you along? ‘Course now I guess I don’t have much choice. Someone’s got to put you in your place, Little Girl. How about you and I take care of these dishes so we can get to our little challenge.”

“You’re on, UJ.” This was what she truly missed when her uncle wasn’t around. That competitive spirit that made him more of another older brother than a doting uncle. She could almost sense her mother’s disproval radiating off the older woman in waves but she ignored it. This week was going to be hard enough; she had to have fun some way. Her uncle would ensure that.

So uncle and niece made an almost game out of cleaning the kitchen and neither noticed when Margaret left the room. Soon the kitchen was clean and Johnny snapped his dish towel at Jules, catching her on her rear end. She shook her head.

“Are you sure you’re supposed to be the adult here? Give me five minutes to get changed and then I’m taking you to school, UJ.”

He snorted derisively. “See that’s why you are going to lose, Little Girl. You don’t even know where we’re going.”

Still laughing at the exchange, Jules ran lightly up the stairs to her bedroom. She was in the process of changing her shirt when her door opened and her mother stepped inside. Margaret’s eyes were accusing as she regarded her daughter critically.

“Guess you and Johnny are still planning on going out and leaving me here all by myself.”

Jules sighed and sat on the edge of her bed. “Mom, do you really want us here? I figured it would be easier for you to get rip roaring drunk without any interference from us. That’s what you really care about isn’t it?”

“No one loves me.” Margaret accused. “I’ve spent my life making this house a home and what thanks do I get? My husband runs off for a week at a time. My sons have abandoned me and my only little girl would prefer to go off and throw silly little balls down a slick floor than spend time with me. Why shouldn‘t I enjoy a drink now and then? At least the alcohol doesn‘t act like it hates me.”

For a moment, Jules felt sorry for her mother. Was that really how she saw her life? “Mom, we all love you. Dad doesn’t have any choice when he’s sent to some sort of training seminar. His job is important and he has to keep up with the newest techniques. And the boys didn’t abandon you; they are living their lives. Going to college, getting jobs, getting married; the things you and Dad raised them to know was right.” She took a deep breath. When her mother was sober, Jules had no trouble confiding her fears and thoughts to her mother. Like her mother was now, Jules couldn’t be sure how her mother would take anything she had to say but felt she owed it to her to try. “I do love you, Mom. Nothing will change that. But yeah, when you get drunk I do prefer doing anything else to spending time with you. You slapped me earlier. Do you have any idea how that made me feel? Do you even care? Or are you so wrapped up in your addiction that nothing else matters but the next drink you get?”

Her mother’s eyes hardened. “I don’t have a problem except that I have an ungrateful little brat for a daughter. Go on and get out of here and go spend time with your precious uncle. I don’t need you or him.”

Realizing there would be no reasoning with her mother in her current condition, Jules finished buttoning her shirt and left the bedroom without another word or a backward glance. Tears pricked her eyes as she made her way back downstairs to where Johnny was waiting, his usual grin on his face until he saw her watery eyes. He motioned her closer and hugged.

“Everything okay?”

She nodded and sniffled slightly. She didn’t want to cry. Didn’t want anyone to see how badly her mother’s words and actions hurt her. Johnny held her close against him for a few minutes more, rubbing circles against her back with the held that held her there. Then he kissed the top of head and pulled back.

“Let’s blow this popsicle stand. I believe someone challenged me to a battle royal at bowling.”

Jules nodded and wiped the remnants of the tears she refused to shed from her eyes. At the door, she couldn’t help but look back at the stairs. Johnny sensed her hesitation and looked at her, his eyebrow raised in an unspoken question. She chewed on her bottom lip. “You think she’s going to be okay here alone?”

Once again he pulled her close, this time toying gently with her ponytail as he kissed the side of her face near her ear. His breath tickled her ear as he sought to reassure her. “She’ll be fine. Everything is going to be fine. Trust me to take care of everything.”

If only promises were that simple to keep.

-- FP -- FP -- FP --

Present Day

“I’m stuffed.” Jules admitted as she pushed her plate away from her.

Sam laughed. “You should be. You are the only girl I’ve ever met that could give me a run for my money when it comes to polishing off tacos.”

Narrowing her eyes, Jules wadded up her paper napkin and threw it at him. “Are you calling me a pig, Braddock?

“Not at all.” Sam assured her, holding up his hands in mock surrender. “I think I’m just used to dating women who are more worried about what I think about them than how much they eat so they barely touch a carrot stick around me. I love that you are comfortable being yourself around me. And trust me, I love every beautiful inch of your small excellently toned body.”

He reached over and caught her wrist in his hand. Giving it a slight tug he urged her from her seat to pull her over into his own lap. She didn’t resist and a second later she was nestled comfortably in his arms. Their lips met in a sizzling kiss and for the moment the dueling of tongues and each other’s touches were the only things that mattered in the world.

It had been two days since the call at the Harper household. Two days since he’d tried to glean from her what had happened to the pet she’d alluded to losing during the negotiation. She had made it perfectly clear that she hadn’t wanted to talk about it and he hadn’t pressed her any more. Still, the questions had been tucked in the back of his mind and he’d dwelt on them in his free moments, mulling over the reasons why it could have bothered her so much she refused to talk about it now. If she was still thinking about it as well, she hadn’t given him any indication.

The kiss grew more heated and Sam knew he wanted more. He pulled back slightly and tucked a stray strand of her long caramel hair behind her ear. “Let’s go upstairs.”

Breathing hard, Jules glanced back at the table. “I should get the kitchen cleaned up. There’s a ton of laundry that needs to be done…”

“Later.” Sam protested. He stood, wrapping her legs around his waist as he did so. He blazed a trail of kisses from her mouth across her jaw line to her right ear. There he nipped lightly at her earlobe. His breath hot in her ear, he began to whisper exactly what he had in mind for her, not that she needed the detailed information to know his intentions. She gave in to his and her own desires and allowed him to carry her out of the kitchen toward the stairs. She moaned in pleasure as his mouth moved from her ear down to the nape of the neck where his kisses both tickled and sent a thrill of emotion surging down to her deepest core.

Since he was doing the work of getting them to the bedroom, she took the initiative to begin unbuttoning his shirt -- one less obstacle for them to deal with once they reached their destination and it gave her a chance to run her fingers over his hard warm chest. Once they reached the bedroom, Sam laid her gently across the king sized bed and shrugged out of the shirt she’d so obligingly unfastened for him. She was wearing an oversized long sleeve t-shirt and he gathered the hem of the garment in his fists and eased it up and over her head. He eased down on the bed next to her, his hands skimming up her now bare sides and around to her back so he could unfasten her bra while his mouth once more claimed hers. As he completely laid bare her upper body, he was careful to keep his hands from touching her breasts even though he wanted nothing more than to cup their supple firmness in his hands and kneed the soft flesh as his thumbs flicked and teased her nipples into hard peaks.

Her body was now as familiar to him as his own was. They had danced this dance enough by now that he knew all the places to touch and kiss that would garner moans of pleasure and shivers of delight. He’d also learned the hard way the actions that would bring their bedroom exploits to a screeching halt. He loved making love to the woman lying almost underneath him but he’d be lying if he said it wasn’t without its difficulties. There had been many women in his life before Jules; he wasn’t sure he ever wanted to really admit just how many. With all of those other women he could have them arching off the bed and begging for more as he lavished their breasts with attention from both his hands and his mouth. Not so with Jules.

She was a willing and giving lover, he couldn’t deny that. Their couplings were always hot and sensual and left them both sated and more than mutually satisfied. Still, he’d never met a woman who didn’t enjoy the arousing foreplay that usually came before the actual sexual act until Jules came into his life.

Her fingers fumbled with his belt buckled and he raised his hips slightly to give her better access. Once the belt was undone and she’d deftly popped the button on his jeans and slipped the zipper down, he shimmied out of the confining material leaving only his boxers in place. He knew they would soon join the rest of his clothes in a heap on the floor but first he wanted, no needed, to help her out of her own jeans. Once she’d been divested of her pants, his fingers skimmed the waistband of her boy shorts underwear. He loved that her bra and panties were as no-nonsense and comfortable as she herself was. He had a hard time imagining her in some frilly little lacy number. Without a second thought he helped her out of the panties so that she was completely naked beneath him.

His breath caught in his throat at the sight of her beautiful body laid bare before him. He said a silent prayer of thanks that they’d been given a second chance at this happiness. The time they’d spent apart as a couple had been hard on him. Working side by side of the woman he loved, knowing what was beneath her cool pants and uniform shirt and not being able to touch or hold her had been hell on him. When she’d started dating Steve during their break from each other, he wanted to be happy for her. Wanted her to be happy even if it wasn’t with him but it had been difficult. He never wanted to admit how jealous he’d been of the paramedic or how many nights he’d lain awake wondering if Steve was holding her the way he was currently holding her and if the other man was as solicitous of Jules’s needs and dislikes in the bedroom.

His hand drifted back up her legs and skimmed over her womanly curves. They almost ached with a need to explore further, to touch her in those intimate places she only allowed one part of him to touch. Instead, he rolled slightly so that he was hovering directly over her, careful to keep most of his weight on his arms and not on top of her. A moment later, his boxers were gone and he was poised at her warm wet entrance, his eyes seeking hers to ensure that she was ready to take him inside her. She nodded and he gently thrust inside her, both of them moaning their immediate pleasure at the sensation of him filling her.

Later, when they’d both had risen to the peaks of perfect sexual heights and come back down, Sam nestled her close to his body. His fingers ran lightly up and down her arm, wanting the close contact to continue. She apparently felt the same way because she was lazily drawing imaginary circles and other shapes lightly with her finger. He could sense, not for the first time after they’d made love, her thoughts were going to some deep place and he couldn’t help but wonder where they took her. He never asked not about her thoughts in those moments or her reasons for pulling away from sexual acts, not wanting to pry into something she obviously wanted to keep private.

He twisted slightly so that he could kiss her once more. “I love you.”

She closed her eyes but not before he saw hazel swimming in a pool of unshed liquid. Worried that he’d done something to hurt or upset her, he sat up, braced on his elbow. He gently caressed her cheek. “Jules? Babe, what’s wrong?’

She shook her head, not opening her eyes. He could feel the slight trembling in her body now and knew she was really upset. His heart hammered in his chest. He wanted to draw her even closer to him until he could completely envelope her in his embrace so that she couldn’t help but feel safe and loved and protected. But even deeper than that want was the need to know what he’d done wrong so he could make it better. So instead of pulling her closer, he released his hold on her so that he could sit up enough to cup her face in his hands and press a couple of kisses just below her tightly shut eyes.

“Jules, babe, please. Look at me.” His tone was pleading and he knew it but he was almost frantic with worry. “Did I hurt you? What’s wrong. Don’t tell me nothing; I can tell it’s something.”

For a moment he thought she was not going to listen to himi but finally she opened her eyes, a single tear making a solitary track down her cheek. Without hesitation, he kissed the tear away before lifting back up to lock his gaze on her. She took a shaky deep breath and whispered a single word on the exhale. “Why?’

Sam frowned and shook his head, confused by the question. “Why what?”

“Why do you love me? I don’t make things easy for you. I know you’ve had better lovers in the past, women who aren’t as frigid…”

He silenced her with a kiss. It was different from the ones he‘d plied her with during their lovemaking. He tried to pour all the love he had into the lip lock, wanting to drive all the doubts she might have from her mind. When breathing became a necessity for them both, he pulled back, his normally bright blue eyes dark and serious. “Don’t. Don’t you ever doubt yourself with me, Jules. Hell, Babe, I think one of the things I love most about you is that you don’t make it easy for me. You keep me honest and you keep me real. This between us is the real thing, no pretense or role-playing.”

She opened her mouth to protest but he silenced her this time with a single finger laid across her lips. “Yeah, I may have had other lovers in the past that wanted or needed more from me during sex than you do and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t just as pleasurable for me as it was them. But, Jules, I’m here in this bed with you not them. They are my past and you are my present and hopefully my future. I don’t think you’re frigid, Baby. If certain acts of lovemaking aren’t your thing and they make you uncomfortable or don’t give you pleasure, then I don’t have to have them. I wouldn’t get pleasure from knowing I was doing something you didn’t like. Do you enjoy making love to me as much as I love making love to you? Are you happy with the way things are between us?” Jules nodded mutely, not trusting herself to speak. Sam smiled. “Then I’m happy too. So no more worrying about it, okay?”

Again she nodded and pulled him down beside her again. This time, she initiated the kiss. For a few minutes it was once more the lighthearted snuggling that was usual between them after lovemaking until the drowsiness that always came over him after sex pulled him into a light sleep. Just as he was drifting off, he heard her speak faintly.

“I don’t deserve you.”

He pulled her tightly against him, his own reply muffled in her hair. “You’re right. You deserve much better but I’m not about to complain that you’re mine, Julianna Callaghan.”

Chapter Text

1992

Jules lined up her shot, her pink bowling ball held steadily at face level, took two steps forward as her arm lowered behind her as she prepared to release it. She blocked out the teasing calls behind her trying to ruin her shot and slowly exhaled as she sent the ball spiraling down the alley toward the ten pins waiting on the other end. She smiled as it quickly became clear that the rolling projectile would make a perfect connection on the pins sending all ten of them scattering.

She turned to face her uncle. “I do believe they call that a strike.” She then pointed toward the screen above their lane. “Do my eyes deceive me or does that scoreboard confirm the fact that I’m beating the pants off you?”

Johnny picked up his soda and took a long draw through the straw before setting it down again. Standing, he shook his head as he made his way to the ball return. As he passed Jules, he reached out and swatted her backside. “Nobody likes a sour winner, JAC. You should know that. Besides, this is all a part of my master plan to lull you into a false sense of security and then WHAM, unleash my magic.”

Jules laughed, all her earlier anxieties forgotten as her uncle had made it his mission to show her a good time. “Whatever. It’s your shot.”

Johnny also managed to get a strike and the look he shot her as he returned to his seat was pure smugness. “Told you. Watch out, Little Girl. I’m about to show you who’s king.”

The easy banter continued throughout the game. Jules took the game easily, beating her uncle by almost fifty points. He challenged her to a rematch which to he beat her by ten points. Before they started the tie-breaker game, Johnny gave Jules a ten to get them more sodas and some nachos at the concession stand.

It took her a few minutes of waiting in line before it was her turn. She flashed a smile at the man behind the counter. Geoff Wilson had been a constable with her father until a bullet wound had ended his career early. He shook his head as he set two large drinks in front of her. “Julianna I’m surprised your father is letting you date at all, let alone someone so much older than you. I guarantee you if he were here and could see the way that clown is checking out your backside every time you take your turn, he‘d string him up by his toenails ”

Jules was confused until she realized he’d misread what was going on. She laughed and shook her head. “You mean Johnny? He’s not my date. He’s my uncle. Mom’s younger brother. There’s no way he’s been checking out my backside. If anything he’s trying to put some bad mojo on my mad bowling skills.”

Geoff glanced over Jules’s shoulder where sure enough Johnny was watching her every move almost as if he were staking a claim. It didn’t seem to him like he was acting like an uncle but a guy trying to get into a girl’s pants but it was possible like Jules had insisted that he’d misread the situation. “Alright then, here are your nachos. That’ll be five dollars.”

She paid him and as she was trying to figure out how she was going to carry both drinks and the nachos back to the lane, Johnny was suddenly there to lend a hand. As they carried their snacks back, she laughingly told him about Geoff’s mistake. Once she finished she rolled her eyes. “Totally crazy, huh?”

“Totally.” Johnny agreed. “And he used to work with your dad? No wonder he’s no longer a constable. Old man’s off his game. Speaking of games, I think it’s about time I put you in your rightful place. Your ball.”

Ten frames later, the right to a smug look belong strictly to Jules as she once more beat her uncle, this time by thirty points. He shrugged off the defeat as they made their way to his car. “I let you win.”

Jules’s jaw dropped and she lightly slapped his arm. “You so didn’t let me win. I won fair and square because I’m the better bowler. Admit it UJ, admit that I beat you all on my own.”

He laughed and shook his head. “Not going to happen.”

As she got in the passenger side of the car, Jules folded her arms across her chest like she was angry but they both knew it was just for show. Most of the ride home was spent talking about the Callaghan brothers and what they were up too. As Johnny turned up the driveway he cast a serious glance over to his niece. “I didn’t press the issue earlier but I know Margaret hit you. What was up with that? I know she gets a mouth on her when she drinks but she’s usually not violent, is she?”

Jules shrugged. “Not usually but it has happened. Usually because I can’t keep my big mouth shut.”

He reached a hand over and rubbed the back of her neck soothingly. “Don’t do that, JAC. Don’t defend her. Tell me what happened and I’ll decide if she deserves defending.”

Jules looked out the window toward the house. “Dad brought home a kitten a couple of months ago. Someone had dumped a litter of kittens at the precinct and he claimed one for me. Put her in a little box and brought her home to surprise me. I even named her Boxer because of the way he presented her to me. There hasn’t been any problems with her in the whole two months she’s been here but suddenly today, Mom took a dislike to her. Kicked her out of the house. I don’t understand it and I certainly didn’t like it. I knew better but I mouthed off a little about it. It was just a slap. Hurt my feelings more than it caused real pain. What bothers me most is the idea that Boxer will have to spend the night outside; she’s never had to do that since I got her.”

Parking the car, Johnny pulled Jules closer in a one-armed hug. “That stinks JAC. And no, she doesn’t deserve your defense in this. Tell you what. I doubt even if she’s drunk she’ll cause a ruckus for me. Let’s find Boxer and bring her inside. I’ll hide her in my room until everything blows over. How does that sound?”

Jules brightened. “Are you sure? I didn’t even ask if you liked cats.”

Johnny shrugged. “Not my absolute favorite animal but I do like you and I hate to see you upset. I can live with keeping a cat in my room for a few days if it’ll put a smile back on that beautiful face.”

Jules threw her arms around her uncle and gave him a tight squeeze before kissing his cheek. “Thanks UJ. Boxer won’t be any trouble I promise you. You probably won’t even know she’s there.”

“I’m sure she won’t be.” He opened the door. “Let’s find your kitten.”

The plan seemed so simple but the kitten was no longer curled up by the door where she’d been when Jules had left earlier. She and Johnny circled the house a couple of times quietly calling the cat’s name but there was still no sign of the gray haired kitten.

Jules shook her head. “I don’t understand. She wouldn’t run away, even if she didn’t like being outside. Where could she be?”

Johnny pulled her close to him once more. “I’m sure she’s fine, JAC. Cats are pretty resilient creatures. Maybe she found a warm, safe spot to curl up in and go to sleep. Come morning I bet she’ll be right back on the front porch begging to get in. Or maybe your mom had a change of heart and let her back in. If she hasn’t shown up by morning, I’ll help turn the property upside down looking for her. Okay?”

Jules nodded, not really having much choice in the matter. It was too dark to really search for her anyway. She led the way up the front porch and opened the front door. The house was quiet and Jules wondered if that meant her mother was passed out in her own bedroom upstairs. To her disappointment, Boxer didn’t rush up to greet her as she entered the house and there was no other sign that the cat had been back inside.

Knowing she was still upset, Johnny drew her close to his side and planted a light kiss on the tip of her nose. “She’ll be fine JAC. They got nine lives don’t they?”

She nodded once more, this time a little more glumly. She knew he was right. Her father had told her that Boxer’s mother was probably more of a wild cat than domesticated so surely that meant the small kitten had inherited some of her mother’s natural survival instincts. “I’m going to turn in. You coming up now?”

Johnny shook his head. “I think I’m going to watch a little boob tube before I head up. Sleep well; I promise things will look better in the morning.”

Almost wearily, Jules made her way upstairs. Part of her wanted to run into her mother so she could find out if she’d seen Boxer during the evening but part of her really did hope her mother was sound asleep already. Once in her bedroom, she stepped out of her clothes and went to her bathroom. It was probably one of her favorite of the renovations her father had completed. He had decided it was one thing to ask four boys to share one upstairs bathroom but that his little girl needed her own space that she didn’t have to share.

The shower felt good; the hot water working its magic on her tense muscles. Trying to be considerate of anyone else wanting a hot shower with the small tank the family shared, Jules ended her shower before she was really ready. She toweled off and changed into her softies shorts and a tank top to sleep in. Stepping back into the bedroom, she was surprised to see her mother sitting on her bed, looking angry.

“Have fun?” Even her mother’s tone was bitter.

Jules nodded, wondering if the conversation was about to pick up where they had left it before she left to go bowling with Johnny. “Sure, UJ’s always fun to be around.”

“Did you tell him what you did? Did the two of you have a laugh at my expense?”

Not sure what her mother was talking about and not really want to get closer in case her mother decided to re-enact the slap from earlier, Jules chose to sit in the chair at her desk rather than get near her bed. “What do you mean? What did I do? Why would we laugh at you?”

Her mother snorted derisively. “It’s not nice to take things that don’t belong to you. You know that don’t you, Julianna? Not nice at all. What did you do with them?”

Her mother really had completely lost it, Jules decided. “Mom, I didn’t take anything. What are you talking about?”

Her mother rose from the bed and before Jules knew what was happening, her mother slapped her once again. “Don’t play innocent with me, you little brat. I know it was you. It had to be you. You took them and you’d better not have gotten rid of them if you know what’s good for you.”

Jules brought a shaky hand up to cup her stinging cheek. This slap had hurt much more than the one earlier had. Whatever her mother was missing it must have been important. “I promise I didn’t take anything. Tell me what’s missing and I’ll help you look for it. You don’t have to get upset about it.”

Margaret’s hand snapped back out and Jules flinched. But this time her mother grabbed hold of Jules’s ponytail and gave it a quick yank. Jules’s head bent backward with the pull as her mother put her face right close to her own. Jules could smell the alcohol on the older woman’s breath. “I had three bottles in the kitchen cabinet and now they are gone. I know you took them and I want them back right now.”

Jules knew the bottles she was talking about having discovered them earlier that afternoon as she was putting away dishes. She’d even had her hand on one of them while contemplating pouring it out into the sink just so her mother would have to go without. But in the end, she’d put the bottle back untouched not wanting to cause friction with her mother if she could help it. “I didn’t. Mom, I promise you.”

“You…lying…little….brat.” Each word was punctuated with a painful pull on Jules’s ponytail and the teenager wondered if it was possible for her mother to pull her bald headed. “Fine, you don’t want to be honest, then you’ll suffer the consequences. You took what was important to me and I took what was important to you.”

Tears filled Jules’s eyes. What could her mother have taken and how could she convince her that she was innocent of what she was being accused of. “Mom, please, this isn’t like you. Let go of me and we can talk this out. What do you mean, you took…” her voice trailed off as she realized all of a sudden why she hadn’t been able to find her kitten earlier. “Boxer. What did you do to Boxer?”

“I put the filthy little beast someplace you won’t find her. Just like you did with my bottles. You give me back my bottles and I’ll let you have your cat back. Don’t and I’ll make sure you never see the beast again.”

A sob threatened to choke Jules at the fear of what the innocent little kitten might be going through. “Please Mom, you can’t do this. I didn’t take your damn bottles. Give me Boxer back.”

This time she barely felt the slap although she was reasonably sure this one would leave a bruise. Margaret shook her head. “You will not curse at me, you ungrateful little bitch. If I don’t have my bottles back by tomorrow afternoon, your cat is gone forever. You think about that tonight.”

Releasing her grip on her daughter’s hair, Margret turned on her heel and stormed out of the bedroom. As soon as she was sure she was alone, Jules threw herself on her bed and began to sob. She didn’t know what had happened to the alcohol her mother had accused her of taking. Was it possible that her mother had moved them herself and forgotten what she’d done due to the alcohol clouding her brain? It didn’t really matter what happened to them, the outcome was still the same. If she couldn’t replace them by tomorrow, Boxer would be gone. She was pretty sure her mother hadn’t just making an idle threat.

Jules wanted to give in fully to the sobs that were still building in the pit of her stomach but the practical side of her knew crying wouldn’t solve anything. Sitting up she wiped her eyes with the back of her arm. Perhaps she could search the whole house and either find the cat, the alcohol, or both. She swore to herself that if she could be lucky enough to find both, she’d re-hide Boxer someplace safe and then almost gleefully pour out every single drop of the Jack Daniels her mother was so desperate for.

With a plan in mind, she stood. She wasn’t sure the best place to start looking but she’d scour every inch of the house and property if she had to. Even if it meant she stayed up all night doing so.

There was a slight knock on her door and then it opened. She braced herself for another verbal and possibly physical assault but was relieved to see that it was only Johnny. He took one look at her red swollen face and stepped into the room, closing and locking the door behind him. He held his arms out and she eagerly collapsed into his embrace, the tears flowing once more.

He simply held her as she cried, once again rubbing circles in her back. Then when the emotional onslaught slacked slightly, he leaned back to look at her. “I heard her yelling from downstairs. What happened?”

It was hard for Jules to catch her breath enough to haltingly tell the story. Just the retelling was enough to cause the sobs to threaten to overwhelm her all over again. After telling about her mother’s threat to give Boxer away if she didn’t produce the missing alcohol, she added pitifully. “I promise you UJ, I saw the bottles in the cabinet before you arrived and I did think about pouring it out so she couldn’t drink them but I didn’t. I put it back where I found it. I don’t know what happened to them but I can’t let her give Boxer away.”

Once again Johnny pulled her close and with his head resting on the top of her head, she wasn’t able to see a slight smile fighting to emerge on his face. He managed to suppress it before he released her. He cupped the sides of her face in his hands and gently brushed away the tears with the pads of his thumb. “Shh, JAC. I know you wouldn’t do that. I bet you anything your mom hid them herself so neither one of us would know how much she’s drinking; plus it gives her a chance to hurt you by getting rid of your kitten. But how they disappeared doesn’t change the fact that you’re going to have to do something if you want to save Boxer.”

“Save? But she said she was going to give her away. Besides, what can I do? I don’t know where her stash of liquor is and it’s not like I can go out and buy her more to replace them. Nobody would sell it to me and they’d tell my dad that I was trying to buy.”

“She’s not going to give Boxer away, JAC.” If Johnny’s words were meant to reassure her, his next words sent her heart hammering in her chest. “She can’t. She can’t take the chance of your dad finding out about it or the cat finding its way home again. If she gets rid of her, it’ll be permanently. She’ll put Boxer in a bag and toss her off a bridge or feed her some poison or find someone to kill the cat and dispose of the body so no one finds it. You don’t want that to happen do you?”

Jules paled at the thought of her cat dying because of her mother’s addiction. She shook her head. She wanted to say her mother wasn‘t capable of something so heinous but then her mother‘s words came to her. She hadn‘t told Jules that she‘d give the cat away if she didn‘t give back the bottles. She‘d promised the cat would be gone forever. Her lower lip trembled with the realization. “I can’t let her kill Boxer. I just can’t but what can I do? Like I said, I can’t buy her more. If I could, I would. There‘s nothing I wouldn‘t do for Boxer.”

“I know you would do anything to save Boxer, JAC. Relax. You do what I tell you and I’m going to make sure you get your kitten back. Don’t worry, UJ’s going to take care of everything.” With that promise, he lowered his head until his lips met hers in what was first just a brushing kiss but then deepened into more.

-- FP -- FP -- FP --

Present Day

Kevlar was a wonderful creation. The idea that the not-that-thick material could stop most projectiles from fully penetrating every layer and making its deadly mark in the wearer’s chest was nothing short of a scientific miracle. Jules wasn’t sure if the person who had created Kevlar had ever won the Nobel prize for his or her creation but was positive the prize was well deserved. There was just one problem as far as Jules could see. Though the Kevlar vest could save the wearer’s life, it did little to protect against the bruising force that still came from a high velocity bullet ripping through material before crashing to a halt millimeters from your chest.

“Jules? Are you okay? Talk to me, Sweetheart.”

Talk? Hell, she wasn’t sure she could even breathe, Jules thought painfully from where she’d fallen after the negotiations had gone horribly wrong. Any call to a school had the potential for being a worst nightmare but at least this call had come in at the end of the day once school had been let out. They had arrived at the classroom to see that a single male student was holding his young female teacher at gunpoint. Greg Parker had started out as lead negotiator with Jules backing him up. But the boy had refused to connect with Greg and the SRU sergeant had had no choice but to turn over negotiations to Jules.

Jules had felt her heart constrict as she slowly pried the story from the teenaged boy. His illicit love affair with the first year teacher had been discovered and instead of being the big man on campus he’d thought he’d be for scoring with the teacher, he’d become the laughing stock of the school. Humiliated by the accusations of his classmates and family members and hearing that she’d been fired from her position at the school effective immediately, he’d shown up after school ready to end both of their suffering. If the world couldn’t understand their love for each other then it would be better if they left the word together.

His teacher-turned-lover didn’t seem to be trying to talk him out of his plan and instead if anything seemed to be encouraging him to follow through quickly. It didn’t really surprise Jules; the educator had betrayed a trust and overstepped her bounds as a professional. Losing this teaching position was just the tip of her problems; she would undoubtedly forever lose her teaching credentials and face jail time for her actions. She would forever be listed as a sex offender. Her life as she knew it was over but if she cared for the young man before her, shouldn’t she want his life to continue? Jules gently tried to point that out to the young man and for a moment his gun hand wavered. Then he shook his head, insisting that it was true love and that no one was going to keep them apart.

Jules had wanted the young man in front of her to realize that he’d been a victim. Someone he should have been able to trust had violated him and made him feel like it was his choice. She looked him in the eye and knew the argument would fall on deaf ears. The teacher had him totally convinced that what they had between them was real and right. Outside of convincing him not to kill himself, would insisting on the truth be better for him than his delusion? But she knew, as painful as the truth was, he had to realize he’d been taken advantage of but that it wasn’t his fault.

She wasn’t even sure exactly what it was she said that seemed to sink in to him but he had slowly lowered the gun. It might have ended right then but the teacher, realizing she was about to have to pay for her crimes warned the boy that if he surrendered his gun the two of them would never be able to be together again. Once more the gun wavered. Suddenly things unexpectedly went south. Ed started to shout a warning in her comlink but before he could finish, two shots rang out.

The recoil of the bullet piercing through the top layers of her vest knocked Jules off her feet and sent careening into the wall behind her. She slumped down, her ears ringing, her chest burning for air and what seemed like a thousand voices screaming her name both in the room and through her comlink.

And every since, all she’d been able to do was sit there and try to encourage her lungs to suck in the air her body desperately wanted. Dimly she heard Greg call for medics and she managed to shake her head. She didn’t want the fuss. She’d have a bruise from hell, but she didn’t need paramedic assistance, at least she wouldn’t once her body agreed to cease and desist the mutiny it’d decided to wage against her.

Suddenly Sam’s handsome face filled her field of vision, his eyes reflecting the fear they’d probably all felt from the moment the shot was fired. “Jules? Babe? I know it hurts like hell. Relax and your breathing will even out.”

The calm in spite of his frantic worry helped and she soon found she could breath again. Being able to breath helped her to be able to talk enough so that when Steve and his paramedic partner pushed Sam to one side so they could examine Jules, she could protest. “I’m okay. Wind knocked out of me.”

Steve unfastened the vest to get a good look. There was no blood staining the material to suggest the vest has failed to protect her from being shot but he couldn’t take chances. “I’m sure you are, but let me earn my pay and make it official, okay?”

Resisting her ex-boyfriend‘s effects to examine her, Jules looked past him to where Sam was still standing. “I didn’t expect him to shoot at me. Did Ed have to Scoprio?”

Sam glanced back to the other side of the classroom where other officers were handling the situation. “The kid didn’t shoot you, Jules. The teacher did. Ed noticed her gun just before she shot and fired as well. She’s dead, but the kid dropped his gun as soon as the shots were fired. He’s okay. Now, let Steve check you out.”

She nodded dumbly and this time didn’t fight as Steve pushed the material aside. A moment later, Jules heard Sam’s sudden sharp intake of breath and glanced at him. He’d paled considerable and she knew he’d seen something to upset him. She couldn’t figure out what; she’d been shot before and the soreness she was currently feeling didn’t hold a candle to that intense fiery pain. That must mean he was seeing what could have been instead of what had really happened.

“Where’d she hit me?” Her whole chest felt like an elephant had stepped on it so she couldn’t pinpoint where the bullet had actually made contact.

Sam looked like he wanted to shove Steve away and squeeze her close, that or toss his cookies on the classroom floor. Jules wasn’t sure which would win out. “Sam? Sarge? Steve? Where?”

“If the vest hadn’t stopped its trajectory, it would have hit you in the heart.”

“Oh.” That would have been a sucky way to end the day, Jules couldn’t help but think and giggled slightly at the sheer stupidity of the understatement. Steve frowned at her.

“I think we should get you to the hospital to be checked out. Hold still and we’ll move you to the gurney.”

She shook her head. The last thing she wanted was to be carried out of the school on a stretcher. “I can walk. I’m not hurt. Vest saved me.” Again she couldn’t help but hope that the creator of Kevlar had received more than just a pat on the back for his creation. Perhaps she should Google the information so she could send him or his family a thank you card.

Greg knelt beside her, his expression grim. “You know protocol says you have to get checked out, Jules. You might not have been shot but it still packs quite a wallop.”

“I will, just let me walk out on my own power. Please, Sarge. I won’t fight going to the ER but I don’t want to go out on a stretcher. Please don’t make me.”

Greg eyed her carefully and then looked back at Steve. “Let her try.”

Both the paramedic and Greg helped her to her feet. She wobbled slightly and Sam was instantly at her side to help her. Jules was sure he’d been looking for an excuse to have his hands on her ever since the shots ran out. Normally they were very careful to keep their relationship out of their work even though everyone knew they were together. At the moment though, she was sure no one would begrudge them the contact.

Her body was trembling from the left over adrenaline as they made their way to the door. Jules couldn’t help but look over to where the body of the teacher was still lying on the floor where she’d fallen after Ed had shot her. Jules was sure that the sniper had already been taken to the station for the mandatory questioning after a shooting. She hoped someone had assured him that she was okay before he’d been led away; she wouldn’t want him worrying about her during the questioning.

She stopped when she realized the boy was still sitting on the floor near where the teacher was lying. His expression was vacant as if he couldn’t believe everything that had happened. Raf was kneeling next to him trying to talk to him but it didn’t look like he was getting through. Sam nudged her forward but she shook her head. She looked up at Sam, her eyes pleading for understanding.

“Give me a minute.”

Sam shook his head. “You promised you’d get checked out…”

“I will.” Jules promised once more. “I was close to getting him to see reason. I need to make sure he’s okay. Please.”

He nodded and released his hold on her waist. She took a couple of steps toward the boy and used Raf’s shoulder to lower herself down to his level. Quietly she asked Raf for a moment alone and though it was obviously against his better judgment, he acquiesced. Jules made sure her comlink was turned off before reaching out and touching the teenager’s shoulder. He looked at her, unshed tears filling his eyes.

“You’re okay?”

Jules nodded. “Yeah. What about you? You gonna be okay?”

He shrugged, his eyes traveling back to where the body of his lover lay. “She’s dead. I can’t believe she’s gone. It’s my fault she’s dead.”

Jules shook her head. “No, it’s not. She made her own choices and you aren’t responsible for anything that happened after she decided to pull her own weapon.”

“She loved me.” There was just a hint of doubt in his voice that made Jules wonder if he was trying to convince her or himself.

“Maybe. But if she loved you like she really should have, she wouldn’t have put you in this position in the first place. I think she probably loved the control your relationship gave her most of all. I do believe you loved her. I think you trusted her and when the truth came out and everyone started to tell you it was wrong, it scared you because it conflicted with everything she’d told you. If you could be hurt by someone you loved and trusted, then who else could hurt you? It’s a scary place to be and I totally get why you feel so confused right now. However, suicide isn‘t the answer.”

He swiped at his eyes as if embarrassed to be caught crying. “My life is ruined now. My friends think I’m a joke. My parents are disappointed and the one person I thought knew me better than I knew myself is dead. What do I do now?”

Jules could feel many pairs of eyes on her and knew her teammates were anxious for her to be checked out. She ignored them, however, in favor of reaching out to the person who needed her more. “You realize that as bad as things may seem, your life isn’t ruined unless you choose to let it be. I won’t lie to you; it won’t be easy. Regardless of how she felt or what she called it, she crossed a line that shouldn’t have been crossed. She knew better but she did it anyway. Realize that, even if you don’t want to see it that way, you are the victim here. You’ve got to figure out a way to trust yourself again before you can ever start to trust anyone else. Your parents might be disappointed but I’m sure they love you and they want to help you through this.”

He chewed on his bottom lip, his eyes never leaving the body of the teacher. “She told me that she was attracted to me because I was more mature than my classmates. She said our relationship, our love made me an adult. If this is what being an adult feels like, I think I’d rather remain a kid. Adulthood sucks.” With that, he broke down into the tears he’d been trying to hold back. After all he’d been through, Jules didn’t think it was right to hug him even in an attempt to comfort him so she settled for ruffling his hair instead, must like she’d seen her father do for her brothers when they were little and upset.

His words were so pain filled, but Jules didn’t necessarily disagree with him. “Then be okay being a kid for a little longer. Being an adult isn’t always easy but it’s not usually this hard either. Don’t be afraid to be an adult when the time comes but you don’t have to rush into it.”

After a few minutes, he managed to get his tears once more under control. He looked at her, for a moment his eyes looking much younger than his teenaged years. “I’m sorry you got shot.”

“Don’t worry about it. My friend Raf is going to come back now. He’ll stay with you until you get to the station. Your parents will be waiting there for you. I have to go now; my other friends are getting pretty antsy about me being checked out.”

He nodded. “Thanks.”

She smiled at him. “You’re welcomed.”

She gave his shoulder a pat before rising unsteadily to her feet. Her chest was hurting worse but she knew that had more to do with the shock of what happened wearing off than any real injury. Before she could take three steps, Sam was once more by her side with a comforting and protective hand around her waist.

Almost as if he could tell her mind was still on the young man, Sam pressed a quick kiss to the top of her head. Despite the possible look of impropriety, Jules didn‘t protest the affectionate gesture. Sam spoke as if hoping to reassure her. “Sarge says he thinks the kid’ll be released into his parents custody until there’s a hearing. Given the circumstances he probably won’t serve any time. Although I bet the judge insists on pretty intensive counseling.”

Jules leaned heavily against him, allowing him to take the bulk of her modest weight. She was sore and she was tired. As much as she’d protested being wheeled out, she wouldn’t mind sinking into a stretcher and closing her eyes. “He’s already served time. She took his innocence and trust away all in the name of love. It’s not fair.”

Sam glanced back to where Raf was once more kneeling by the shell-shocked young man. “I don’t get it. He’s just a kid. How can an adult take advantage of a kid like that and call it love?”

Inwardly, Jules shuddered but fortunately it didn‘t show outwardly. “I don’t know.”

Chapter Text

1992

As soon as Johnny pulled back from the kiss, Jules took a step back, confused and more than a little repulsed to think she’d been kissed by her own uncle. She brought the tips of her fingers up to her lips as if their touch could wipe away the feel of his lips pressed against hers. She didn’t know what to say or how to react. A lot of her relatives were affectionate people, given to planting kisses on cheeks and other innocent places on the sides or top of the head but never on the lips and never in the less than uncle-y way he’d just kissed her. Her heart, which was already beating more quickly than it should, sped up even faster. She shook her head.

Johnny, on the other hand, appeared singularly at ease, as if nothing unusual had happened. He smiled at her. “You don’t know how long I’ve wanted to do that.”

He leaned in to kiss her once more but Jules twisted her head, not allowing him easy access to her mouth. The hands on the side of her head tightened so that she couldn’t move. She was the daughter of a constable and had grown up following rough and tumble after four older brothers. There was no question in her mind that what was happening was completely wrong. Had this been a stranger plying unwanted attention to her, she wouldn’t have hesitated to put into practice every move she’d ever learned from her father and brothers, but this was her uncle and she felt a little more at a loss to know how to react.

Johnny looked her straight in the eye. “Easy there, JAC. I thought you wanted to save that kitten of yours.”

“What do you mean?” Jules whispered. She didn’t know why she was whispering. She should be screaming at the top of her lungs to bring her mother on the run. But while deep inside her she knew she should be scared and that she should fight him, her heart kept reminding her that this was her beloved uncle whom she could trust.

“Your mother is going to kill your kitten if she doesn’t get her booze back. You yourself said you can’t waltz into a liquor store and buy her more. You need me to help you. You want me to do that, right?” Jules nodded, still not understanding what any of this had to do with him kissing her. Johnny winked at her. “Quid pro quo, JAC. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. Give and take. I know you know the concept. I’ll make sure you get Boxer back and you’ll give me something in exchange.”

“What?” How was it that she seemed to have lost the ability to think in the last few minutes, she couldn’t help but wonder.

In answer, he placed a feather-light kiss on her cheek right where she was sure she was going to have a bruise from her mother’s earlier slap. He then pulled her flush against his body. All at once, Jules was only too aware of the fact that she was wearing only super short shorts and a tank top. She felt exposed, normally she only wore such skimpy attire in the privacy of her own room; she’d put on a robe to run down to the kitchen for a drink even if she were alone in the house. The fact that she was in what should be the privacy of her own bedroom didn’t matter at the moment. He chuckled, drawing her back to the moment. “Look at you. You’re looking at me like I’m the big bad wolf. No need to be scared. You know I’d never hurt you, don’t you?”

Despite her increasing unease, Jules couldn’t see him hurting her. Though her common sense told her all of this was incredibly wrong, she couldn’t bring herself to believe he would do anything criminal. He wasn’t the bad guy. She nodded reluctantly, and his grin widened.

“See I knew you were a smart girl.” His fingers ran lightly down her back and slipped under the hem of her tank top. As he lightly caressed the bare skin on her back, Jules flinched much like she had earlier when her mother had slapped her. A new fat tear ran down her cheek and her lower lip trembled. Johnny shook his head. “Don’t. Don’t cry, JAC. It’s all okay. You don’t even have to do anything but enjoy the attention I want to give you. It’s a win-win for you. You’ll get your kitten returned to you AND enjoy the greatest night of pleasure you’ve ever had. At least I’ve never heard any complaints before.”

One of his hands edged lower, creeping between her shorts and buttocks holding her tightly against his body. The other hand came around to her front underneath her tank top so he could cup and squeeze one of her small breasts in his large meaty hand. A thumb flicked across the nipple and his eyes closed in lusty glee.

Any doubts she’d been willing to give him the benefit of flew from her mind and she struggled against his grasp. She shook her head wildly. “UJ, please. This is wrong…”

“Shh.” Johnny brushed his lips once more against hers in an attempt to silence her. Then he rested his head on her forehead, breathing hard. “There’s nothing wrong with a man showing a beautiful woman a little pleasure. That’s all I’m asking you for, JAC. Nothing wrong with that at all. Right now at this very minute there’s probably a million different men and women ready to do exactly what I want to do with you. How can that be wrong?”

Did he seriously not understand what he was asking from her? How could he not see just how wrong it really was? The feel of his hands on her bare skin, touching her in places he shouldn't be touching, made her stomach twist and turn. “I’m not a woman, I’m just a kid. Besides, you are my uncle; you aren’t supposed to think about me that way or touch me this way. Please, UJ, I don’t want the memory of my first time to be about the night I was raped by my uncle.”

His eyes opened wide and he shook his head. “Rape? Such an ugly word. Is that what you think I’m talking about? God, no, JAC. I’m not some pervert who’s planning on deflowering a virgin’s innocence against her will. I’m not even talking about sex here. Touches and kisses, that’s all I’m asking you for. Not much considering I’m giving you the opportunity to save a life, is it?”

“Please, no.” Jules begged, almost unable to make the words work their way past the lump that had grown in her throat threatening to choke her.

Johnny sighed and shook his head. “I’m disappointed in you Jules. In one breath you tell me you’d do anything to save Boxer and as soon as you are given a way, you balk. I thought you considered yourself Daddy’s little girl. He goes to work every shift he works prepared to sacrifice his life to save that of a stranger but you aren’t even willing to do the simplest thing to save a creature you claim to love. “

As he spoke, he was busy squeezing and kneading whatever flesh his hands were in contact with. Jules’s stomach churned with revulsion. She didn’t want anything bad to happen to Boxer but there was no way she could allow him to carry out whatever vile acts he was thinking of. She could only hope that in the light of a new day, her mother would have a lucid moment enough to rethink her actions. If not, Jules would just have to find a way to forgive herself for being even in a small way responsible for the feline’s death. Would anyone really blame her for not being willing to sacrifice her body in this manner? “I won’t do it. Let go of me or I’ll scream.”

He laughed. “Go ahead. Who’s going to hear you? My sister is probably passed out and there is no one else close enough to hear you.”

It was at that moment that Jules realized the full seriousness of her situation. This man who stood before her who should be such a comforting, reliable fixture in her life was now a complete stranger determined to do her harm. Though he seemed to be offering her a choice: her innocence for the life of her cat, she knew it wasn’t going to be that simple-- not that it was all that simple at that. She realized in that split second that she could tell him no, cat be damned she wasn’t going to be his victim and it wouldn’t change the outcome. He’s still take what he wanted and possibly hurt her in the process and THEN make sure Boxer met an untimely end. And if she was going to lose her innocence no matter what, the very least she could do is try to protect her cat in the process.

Almost immediately he sensed the change in her and knew she’d surrendered to his wants. A wolfish grin filled his face as he walked her backward to the edge of her bed. A little push and she had no choice but to sit down heavily on the side. She didn’t complain though because the downward movement caused him to dislodge his hands from her breast and buttocks in the process.

“Take your top off, JAC.” The soft tone of voice belied the intent behind the words.

Her hands were shaking as she slowly lifted the hem of the garment up and over her head. She said a silent prayer that any minute now she’d either wake up from this nightmare or something would intervene on her behalf. Once she was naked from the waist up, Johnny let out a low whistle of appreciation.

“Damn,” he drew out the word so it seemed like it was a multiple syllabic word. “Clothes don’t do you justice, JAC. Shame you have to cover up that beautiful body.”

The respite from the touch of his hands was over as his fingers grazed her sides as they made their way to the hem of her shorts. With a fluid motion that he must have practiced a thousand times, her shorts were gone as well and she was lying flat on her back on the bed, her legs still dangling over the edge. His body was almost on top of her and the only positive thing Jules could find in the experience was that, at least for the moment, he was still fully clothed.

His hands gripped her upper arms holding her in place as his mouth seemed to roam all over her torso before settling on her right breast. He alternated between licking, biting, and then sucking on as much of the flesh he could get his mouth around. His right hand left her arm and began to play with her left breast at the same time, kneading and pinching the flesh.

Jules bit back the loud sobs that she wanted to cry at the humiliation and pain, but allowed the tears to run freely. She knew she was naïve when it came to sexual matters with no real experience but that didn’t mean she and her friends hadn’t talked about the subject at length. Some of her friends, especially the ones who were a year or two older, even made claims of some pretty wild experimentation with their boyfriends. The way those friends had described some of their make-out sessions made the experience seem exciting and wonderful, especially when they spoke of how their boyfriends have lavished attention to their breasts. But she couldn’t see anything pleasing or wonderful about what was currently happening to her. Some of his nips on her nipple really hurt, enough to make her want to cry out in protest.

When she didn’t think she could take it another minute, his mouth released her breast with an audible pop. But he immediately switched the attention to the left one and she was forced to relive his slow torture there as well. As if what he was doing to her wasn’t bad enough, his grunts and moans of pleasures turned her stomach and made her want to throw up all over him. The weight of his lower body was pressed against hers and she could feel a growing bulge under his pants where his groin was flushed against her legs. She was pretty sure she knew what that meant and prayed he hadn’t been lying when he’d said earlier he didn’t plan to rape her. What she was already suffering at his hands were bad enough, she didn’t think she could mentally or physically handle anything more.

In an attempt to protect her mind from what was happening, she tried to image she was anywhere else doing anything else. The detachment helped and she almost couldn’t feel the painful bites and pinches on her increasingly sensitive nipples. How long he continued to switch his attention from one breast to the other she wasn’t sure. Her mind detached enough that it was like she wasn’t even there. However, she was brought back to the present though when his body slid completely off hers. Thinking everything was over, she breathed a sigh of relief that turned immediately into a his of pain as his hands gripped her upper thighs and roughly pushed them as far apart as he could, exposing her most intimate parts for him to see.

She didn’t have to look at his face to imagine the twisted, wolfish gleam of anticipation that would fill his features. She didn’t want to know what he was about to do now and wanted to return to the happy place in her mind she’d discovered earlier but found it was impossible as he began kissing the inside of her thighs, moving steadily higher. She didn’t even try to suppress the cry of surprise and protest as his fingers touched her inner folds, separating them enough so that his tongue could take a quick lick. Her body protested as well, bucking off the bed trying to get away.

He didn’t say a word but his hands kept her in place as the attentions he’d earlier showed her breasts he now bestowed on her most private areas. Her pleas fell on deaf ears and her cries threatened to choke her as he seemed relentless in his pursuits. Regardless of the consequences she prayed that something or someone would intervene and stop this vile attack. Prayed that her mother would walk in, that her dad would have come home early and stopped in to surprise her, that lightning would suddenly strike her uncle dead, that aliens would suddenly beam him to their mother ship, anything that save her from his attention. But none of that happened and his continued his oral assault to her sensitive private region.

When she thought her heart was beating so wildly that she’d surely have a heart attack and die, he pulled his head back and pulled her to a sitting position, kissing her mouth almost crushingly, his tongue pushing past her teeth to plunge into her mouth, sweeping from side to side. He was breathing just as hard as he crushed her to his chest. When he ended the kiss, he almost panted in her ear.

“I’m sorry, JAC, I thought I could be satisfied with just showing you pleasure but I need more. I need you to touch me.”

Her stomach once more did flip flops and threatened to expel its contents. She didn’t want to touch him any more than she wanted him touching her. However, she was afraid not to follow his orders, afraid of what he might do to her if she refused. Her hand was shaking as she reached out to let her fingertips lightly brush against his shirt covered chest.

“You’re not stupid, Little Girl. You know what I mean.” He reached down and swiftly pushed his pants to the ground and took her hands in his own guiding her down to his bulging manhood. As her fingers scraped against the engorged member, he hissed in pleasure. “That’s it. Grip it in your hands and gently squeeze it.”

This was just as humiliating to Jules as his earlier actions had been painful. She kept her eyes firmly shut, not wanting to see what she was being forced to do to him or the sick look of perverse pleasure on his face as she did so. For a moment he was satisfied with what her hands were doing to him but then he stopped her again. “Not enough. Get off the bed and kneel by the bed.”

Frightened by what he intended, Jules opened her eyes and stared at him blankly. She shook her head, not outright refusing but not knowing what it was he wanted her to do. His eyes were dark and seemed almost evil as one hand wrapped itself in her hair, giving it a hard tug.

“I need my cock inside you. Now you can either get on the side of the bed and take me in your mouth or I can lay you back down and shove it inside you here.” So there was no mistaking where he meant, the hand that wasn’t gripping her hair traveled south and lightly caressed her private area. Her body instinctively jerked backward at his touch. He chuckled but it lacked any sign of humor. “The choice is yours. Decide quick or I’ll decide for you.”

At least a couple of her friends had once talked about giving their boyfriends blow jobs but the idea of it grossed Jules out. Why would you willing take the organ that a guy used for urinating into your mouth? It was repulsive. Her friends had laughed at her and told her she’d feel differently once she had a little more experience with boys under her belt.

“Please, UJ, don’t make me do this.” She protested quietly, her voice almost inaudible from the crying she’d been doing. She’d hoped that by using her pet name for him, he’d remember that he was supposed to be her loving uncle not this cruel stranger he’d become.

“If that’s the way you want it.”

A smile of relief tugged at her mouth thinking he was finally listening to her. He might carry through with his threat to not prevent her mother from hurting the cat but she couldn’t think of that right now. But the relief was short lived as he pushed her back against the bed. With horror, she realized that he’d taken her protest to mean he should rape her.

“NO! Please, UJ, don’t. I’ll do what you want.”

He sat back up pulling her with him. He kissed her cheek and whispered a quick good girl before helping her down to the side of the bed. He switched his position so that he was sitting at the edge of the bed, he guided her head closer to his red throbbing member. She cast one more look up to his face, hoping to see some sign of the man she’d once cared for.

“I don’t know what to do.” She admitted quietly.

He smiled and gave the top of her head a little pat as if patronizing her. “That’s okay, I’ll talk you through it. It’ll be okay, and just think, when you finally realize that boys find you just as desirable as I do, you’ll know what to do to please them. Start out by licking it, like you would an ice cream cone. Don’t be scared.”

She did as he told her, scared of the consequences if she didn’t do exactly what he wanted. She felt sick, repulsed by what he was making her do. True to his word, he gave her careful instructions on exactly what he expected her to do and she had a ridiculous flashback to the first time he’d taken her bowling and had carefully walked her through each step on how to successfully get the ball down the lane and knock over the pins instead of the ball ending up in the gutter. She wished now that she’d listened to what Geoff Wilson had tried to tell her at the bowling alley just hours earlier. The older man had certainly seen Johnny for his true colors but she’d been too naïve to see it.

The instruction phase came to a halt though as soon as she’d done as he requested and taken him in her mouth. Then his body took over and he was no longer interested in telling her what to do. His hips began thrusting driving himself deeper and deeper into her mouth. She began to gag every time his tip rammed further and further down the back of her throat. His hand was still entwined in her hair, forcing her head to stay in position.

One particular thrust went dangerously deep, choking her and proving more than her gag reflex could handle. She hadn’t even been able to warn him before she threw up all over him. He cursed and pulled out of her mouth and pushed her away. Now that her stomach had started to unleash its contents as if it could also expel the taste and feel of him in the attempt, she couldn’t stop and continued to throw up all over her floor.

He used the sheet on her bed to clean himself up as he glared at her. “You did that on purpose.”

She shook her head, unable to talk as she stayed on her hands and knees heaving. She couldn’t even pay attention as he stood and pulled his pants back up. If he wanted to do more to her, she was powerless -- even more powerless than she had been -- to do anything to stop him. But all he did was stride to the door and stop before unlocking and opening it.

“You’ll regret that.”

She regretted everything about this whole evening but couldn’t tell him that as she struggled just to get her breath back. It took her a few minutes to realize she was alone in the room. Part of her screamed to throw clothes back on and get out before he came back for round two. But instead, she dragged herself into her bathroom, taking the time to lock the door as she did. Rationally she knew the flimsy lock wouldn’t keep anyone out who really wanted in but it still gave her more of a piece of mind. She pulled herself into the shower, not trusting her wobbly legs to hold her up if she tried to stand. She turned on the hot water and allowed the spray to cascade over her.

She grabbed the wash cloth she’d used with her earlier shower and began to scrub her body as if it could scrub the feel of his mouth and hands off her body. The hot water ran out after awhile but she remained under the pelting water as it turned colder. The only concession to the cold was to reach up and turn on the cold spray all the way and turn off the hot water tap so that the tank could fill up and get hot again. Though her shaking body was just shaking harder from the cold water, she didn’t want to crawl out of the shower. As long as the water was rushing over she could imagine that it was washing away any trace of him. If she stopped the water, she’d have to admit what he’d done to her and she couldn’t face that yet.

She went through the process of allowing the hot water to heat up and then depleting it once again several times during the night. She couldn’t allow her exhausted body to give in to sleep. He could come back in and do who knows what else to her if she did. Several time during the switches from hot to cold shower, her stomach would once again revolt at the though of what she’d been forced to endure and threatened to upend itself once more. When it did, she allowed her vomit to wash down the drain and she’d just scrub all the harder. After awhile there was nothing left to throw up and all she could do was dry heave.

By the time the sun started to peek in the tiny bathroom window, Jules was still shaking under the spray of water, shaking from a combination of fear, cold, exhaustion, and who knew what else. Her skin was red from the continual onslaught of hot water mixed with hard furious scrubbing on her part. But at last she shut off both faucets completely. It took her longer to pull herself out onto the cold floor and for her to grab the thick towel she’d discarded the night before.

During the long night of showering, Jules had put together a plan of action. She couldn’t stay in the house, couldn’t take the chance that her mother wouldn’t be sympathetic or that her uncle wouldn’t do worse. She had to leave. She’d dress and slip out of the house, hopefully before anyone else was awake. She’d go to her friend Beth’s house. Beth would let her stay there, would listen to her if she decided to tell her exactly what had happened, and would help her figure out what her next steps should be. Beth only lived half a mile down the road; Jules had walked the distance many times over the course of their friendship. If today, her legs wouldn’t support her enough to walk or run that far, then she’d crawl it if she had to. Anything to get away from here.

Tentatively she pulled herself up to a standing position for the first time since what had happened in the bedroom. Her legs were indeed wobbly but supported her weight. She made her way to the bathroom door and unlocked the door. She didn’t open it immediately, listening instead for any hint of danger on the other side. It seemed quiet and she eased it open, prepared to dress fast and get the hell out of the house before anything else could happen.

She stifled a scream at the sight of what awaited her as she emerged from the bedroom.

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

The doorbell woke Jules from the uneasy slumber she’d been attempted to get. After the hot call at the school had gone bad and her Kevlar had stopped the bullet that would have killed her, the men in her life-- her teammates and Steve -- had insisted on a trip to the ER to rule out any broken ribs or internal bleeding from failed shooting attempt. She hadn’t protested; she’d known it would have been a lost battle from the start. After the doctor had determined that she’d probably be supporting a nasty bruise for a couple of weeks but nothing worse, Sam had been allowed to take her home. He’d been caring and gentle but hadn’t smothered her with attention that she wouldn’t have liked. Once at home, he’d followed her upstairs to the bedroom, where they’d been content to just relax in each others arms until sleep had overtaken Jules. Glancing over, she saw she was now alone in the bed and figured Sam had gone downstairs to give her a chance to sleep peacefully.

She rolled out of bed, wincing a little at the pain in her chest at the movement. The doorbell probably meant that the team had arrived in full force to check on her. She frowned at he scrub top she’d been given at the ER. Her uniform that she’d been wearing had been sacrificed to the medical personnel trying to make sure she was okay. She didn’t mourn the loss of the shirt, it wouldn’t be the first she’d lost to the job and wouldn’t be the last, another would be issued to her when she returned to work. But she didn’t like the scrub top that had taken its place. She pushed it up over her head and was about to grab a t-shirt to replace it when she caught sight of herself in the full length mirror on the back of the bathroom door.

The bruising had already started. It was ugly and dark and promised to get uglier before it got better. Her fingers lightly traced the edges of the bruise as it hit her once again how differently the whole situation could have ended. She was so focused on the mark on her body that she didn’t hear the bedroom door open and Sam enter. She did see his reflection in the mirror moments before he wrapped her in his arms and turned her toward him.

“I’d rather see a bruise that blood any day.” He commented, which more or less echoed where her thoughts had been going. She nodded.

“Not too pretty to look at though.”

“You’re beautiful even if you’re bruised to hell and back.” Sam assured her. As if to punctuate that point, he leaned down and placed a gentle kiss over the gentle swell of her left breast where the center of the bruise lay. She tensed immediately and he pulled back, afraid that he’d hurt her. “Sorry. We’ve got visitors downstairs. You up for it?”

She nodded, and placed a kiss on his lips in an attempt to make up for her tensing up. “Hand me that shirt, will you? I guess the team wanted to make sure for themselves that I’m really okay, huh?”

Sam grabbed the shirt she’d requested and even helped her slip it over her head and shoulders. He as excited about the surprise that waited downstairs but was still just a little nervous that it would go over the way he’d intended. “Not exactly. It’s Wordy and Lilly.”

Jules gave him a surprised look. Every since Wordy had been forced to give up his position on Team One due to his Parkinson’s diagnosis, she hadn’t seen much of him. He still stopped by to visit every once in awhile and came to have drinks with them from time to time when their schedules allowed it. But things hadn’t been the same since he left so she hadn’t been prepared for him to come by and check on him. She wasn’t going to complain; she loved Wordy and all of his family, especially his little girls.

She followed Sam down the stairs and saw her former teammate and his daughter sitting on the couch, a large cardboard box sitting on the coffee table. When the little girl saw them coming down the stairs she started to rush over to enthusiastically greet the female SRU officer. However, Wordy caught her up in his arms before she could make it two feet.

“Miss Jules was hurt at work today, remember? Be gentle.”

Lilly rolled her eyes as if to say she didn’t need to be reminded and Wordy chuckled as he released her. The little girl met Jules at the base of the stairs and threw her arms around her. “Miss Jules. I’ve missed you so much. When are you going to babysit again?”

Jules smiled, gently running her fingers through Lilly’s dark long hair. “I don’t know, Munchkin, convince Mommy and Daddy they need a date and we’ll see.”

The answer seemed to appease the little girl who took Jules by the hand and started to lead her into the living room, where Wordy and the cardboard box were waiting. “Come see what we brought.”

Jules allowed herself to be led into the room, stopping at the couch where Wordy gave her a gentle hug and a kiss on the cheek. “Sorry we dropped by like this. I heard about the call. Glad you are okay. I tried to tell Sam that it would be better if we waited until another day but he thought you could use a surprise after what happened. Lilly’s been excited since I first told her and she didn’t want to wait either.”

Jules looked confused and glanced back at Sam for an explanation. He just gave her a mysterious, innocent smile. She turned back to Wordy. “What surprise?”

Then she heard the soft sounds coming from the box on the table. The little mewls of protest cut her deeply and hurt worse than the force of the bullet stopping just before piercing her skin had earlier. A glance in the box confirmed her fears. Four kittens, barely old enough to leave their mother were crawling over each other trying to escape the box.

“Queenie had kittens six weeks ago.” Wordy explained. Queenie was the cat the Wordsworth family had rescued about three years ago from the pound just hours before the shelter would have put her down. The pet had quickly became another valued and loved member of the family. “Her first litter. Only four but we told the girls we couldn’t keep them. They were devastated, especially Lilly, but when Sam told her he wanted to give you one of the kittens, she was okay with that idea. Said she knew you would take extra special care of the kitten and would love it as much as she did. Sam was going to bring you by the house to pick out the one you wanted but after what happened today, I figured it be easier to just bring them all here.”

“Come look at them, Miss Jules.” Lilly insisted.

Jules glanced back at Sam, not believing he’d done this. She wanted to shake her head and protest that she didn’t want the gift. But doing so would mean having to explain what had happened all those years ago and she wasn’t ready to do that, not even with Sam. She knew he’d had the best intentions behind his gift and wanted to love him for it but it was hard considering her heart was thudding heavily. Instead, she allowed Lilly to lead her to the couch.

Three of the four kittens were a smoky gray and reminded her of a similar kitten she’d once loved. Apparently their father had been a gray tabby because Queenie was a calico. The fourth kitten more resembled it’s mother, not quite a calico but a lighter gray with patches of brown and black in various spots along its body. Lilly picked it up first. “You can pick whichever once you want but this one is my favorite. It’s a little boy and we’ve been calling him Patches. He’s very friendly and adventurous. Just like you.”

Jules took the kitten in her hands and cradle it protectively close to her body. It meowed slightly and tried to climb up her arm to investigate. Her chuckle was a little strained; it felt so right and yet so wrong at the same time. She’d sworn after Boxer that she’d never allow herself to become attached to another animal but this little bit of fur had the potential of stealing her heart as quickly as Boxer had twenty years earlier.

“I think he likes you.” Lilly announced excitedly. Jules smiled at her, trying not to tear up.

“I think you’re right. Would you really want me to have your favorite?” Jules asked. If she was going to do this, Patches could be the only one she chose; the idea of even looking at the gray kittens was too painful.

Wordy’s daughter nodded seriously. “I’d especially like it if you took him. That way I could still see him every now and then and I’d know he was okay. You like him?”

Jules wanted to hand the kitten back to the little girl and vehemently protest even the smallest degree of like but she couldn’t. The soft fur already felt familiar against her arm. She forced a smile for Lilly’s sake. “I think I do. I’m glad you trust me to give Patches a good home.”

Wordy gave Jules’s shoulder a slight squeeze. “Okay, well, if Patches is your pick that’s great. I’m sure you want to get some rest; I know how painful those bruises can be . Lilly and I’ll take the rest of the litter back home to Queenie. He nodded toward a small bag Jules hadn’t noticed peeking out from under the coffee table. “There’s some of the kitty chow we’ve been feeding them since they started weaning. I know Sam told me he’d already picked up the essentials so you can just mix it in with the food he bought to get Patches used to it.” He gave Jules another hug and kiss and picked up the box. Sam followed the former SRU officer and his little girl to the door and said his goodbyes before joining Jules on the couch. He reached over and affectionately gave the kitten a good scratch behind the ears. Jules looked at him.

“Why did you do this?”

Sam shrugged. “Every since the Harper call I’ve been thinking about it. I remember you telling Samantha about losing a pet and I could see the pain in your eyes and hear it in your voice. I don’t know how long it’s been but I could tell it was still bothering you. Made me think of all the years I waned and begged for a pet to call my own. The General didn’t think animals were appropriate for a military trained house so he would never let us have one. Living in an apartment didn’t make getting one easy once I got out on my own. Now that I’m here with you most days it seemed like the right time to restore what you lost and what I never had. I thought about getting a dog but figured a cat would be a little more independent and easier to care for with our busy schedules. You aren’t mad are you? I know I should have talked to you about it first but somehow it seemed better to surprise you.”

She sighed. She could have been happy going to the rest of her life without ever having another pet but what could she do now? She was pretty sure if she put up a real fuss, Sam would figure out alternate accommodations for the kitten but how would she ever explain it to Lilly the next time she asked how Patches was doing? Like it or not, Patches was now hers. She only hoped her heart could handle it.

Chapter Text

1992

Had there been anything left in Jules’s stomach, she would have thrown up again at the sight that awaited her as she stepped back into her bedroom. As it was, her stomach twisted painfully into the dry heaves she’d been reduced to in the shower. She leaned against the wall that separated the bedroom from the bathroom and wondered how her legs were sturdy enough to support her. She would have thought her tear ducts were as dry as her stomach but more tears spilled down her cheeks.

Told you you’d regret it!

The red dripping words spelled out on her headboard left her no doubt as to whose handiwork she was looking at and sickened her at the same time. She hadn’t fought back as hard as she could have when her uncle had forced his sick ideas of pleasure on her for two reasons. One, she’d been afraid of how much worse he would have hurt her if she’d tried and two, in a last ditch effort to garner his help in saving her kitten from her mother’s threats. Because she’d been unsuccessful in giving Johnny what he’d wanted, he’d made sure to show her how serious he was in the cruelest way possible.

Lying on her pillow at the head of the bed she’d just been forced to play out her uncle’s humiliating sick fantasy was her kitten. There was not a chance of pretending that small ball of feline fur had been returned to her owner as a reward for doing what she was told. The blood drenched pillow case told the horrible death the kitten had suffered before its blood had been used to scrawl a message on the headboard.

Her mother couldn’t have been responsible for such a cruel act, not even if she’d spent all night drinking herself into a blind stupor. She just wasn’t capable of such violence. Before his actions during the night, she wouldn’t have believed that Johnny would have been capable either but she was sure he was behind both the violent death and it’s shocking display on her bed.

“I’m sorry, Boxer.” Jules whispered. A part of her wanted to gathered the small creature in her arms, to offer some of the comfort the kitten had been denied in her violent death. But she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Though Jules knew she herself had been just as helpless a victim in all of this as Boxer had been, she couldn’t help but feel more than a little guilty of the role she’d played in getting the creature who’d offered her nothing but love killed.

The shaking in her body increased dramatically and Jules knew she had to get out of there. She quickly threw on a pair of jeans and a thick sweatshirt that she shouldn’t have needed for a few more months at least. She grabbed her socks and shoes but didn’t bother to put them on there. Without another look back, she left her bedroom and everything it currently held -- the bloody remains of her feline friend, the vomit that had ultimately brought an end to the attack the night before, and hopefully the memory of all that happened -- behind.

The house was quiet for which Jules was immensely grateful. She didn’t think she could handle running into her mother just then and just the idea of seeing Johnny again was enough to make her heart skip a few beats. The clock in the living room was just chiming the hour of six when she passed through on her way out the front door. She was pretty sure it had been close to midnight when Johnny had first come into her room. Six hours, how much of that time had been spent with her enduring Johnny’s vile expressions of what he called love and pleasure and how much of it had she spent under the shower trying to wash it all away?

Letting herself out of the house, she sat on the front porch long enough to don her socks and shoes. Just yesterday she’d looked at the modest home with pride and love but now it just felt like a scary foreign place to her. She had to get away. Six in the morning was way too early to arrive on anyone’s doorstep unannounced but she knew Beth’s mom would be awake and wouldn’t mind.

Years ago, when the girls first became friends they had established each other’s house as their sanctuary, their oasis in a storm. Many times Beth had shown up at Jules’s door upset after a fight with her mom, sometimes because she’d been attempting to get her mother to quit smoking in her usual dramatic cigarette destroying way. Then later, it would be to escape the fights she hadn’t wanted to hear between her parents before they’d decided to end their marriage or fights she‘d had with her mother over the impending divorce. So far, Jules had never needed to retreat to her safe place. Today would be a first.

Later, Jules couldn’t had described how she’d managed to walk the distance to Beth’s house. It seemed to her like she started down her driveway one second and the next was at the kitchen door knocking lightly. She felt numb, worn out, and not apart of herself at all. The kitchen light was on and Jules knew from experience that at the very least Mrs. Connors would be there, either fixing breakfast or reading the paper with a steaming mug of coffee. Sure enough, the door opened less than a minute after her tentative knock.

“Jules?” Barbara Connors took one look at the younger girl and drew her into the house and into her arms. As the familiar, safe arms encircled her body, Jules felt safe for the first time since the whole nightmare began. This was her second mother and she would protect her even if her own mother couldn’t. “Sweetheart, what’s wrong? Your skin is like ice. Come in and warm up.”

Barbara walked her completely through the kitchen without stopping and led her to the living room where she sat down with her on the couch. She grabbed a throw blanket that rested decoratively on the top and back of the sofa and wrapped it around the younger girl’s shaking body. For a moment, nothing was said even though a thousand different questions had to be racing through the older woman’s mind.

Finally Jules broke the silence. “I know Beth’s probably still asleep but I didn’t know where else to go.”

“Beth spent the night at her father’s apartment. She won’t be back until tomorrow. But if you needed a place to go to, you came to the right place, no matter what the time. Sweetheart, do you want to tell me what happened? I’ve never seen you so upset. Has something happened to one of your parents or to your brothers?”

Jules shook her head. She knew she should tell Barbara exactly what happened. Knew that Barbara would know exactly what to do to fix everything but the words wouldn’t come out of her mouth. Voicing what happened would be too much like reliving it and Jules didn’t think she could handle that or the shame that would go along with admitting that she had just let him do those things to her even if she didn’t think she had a choice in the matter. “Do I have to talk about it?”

Barbara hugged her tightly. She’d noticed the start of a bruise forming on Jules’s face, the color standing out on the girl’s otherwise shocky pale features. She couldn’t imagine anyone in the Callaghan family striking another member but she knew from her own experiences that sometimes arguments could escalate into situations that weren’t typical. She wouldn’t make any judgments until she knew the facts but she certainly wouldn’t push for those facts until Jules was ready to give them. “Of course not, not if you don’t want to. But at least answer me this, are you hurt? There doesn’t look to be a drop of color in your skin and I’ve never seen you shake this hard, not even last winter when you and Beth walked home from school in that surprise winter storm that stranded the buses.”

Jules was glad Barbara hadn’t asked if she was okay because there was no way she could lie and say that she was anywhere close to being alright. Despite his cruel and humiliating acts and despite the initial pain that she’d felt as he’d nipped at various parts of her body that even the thought of wanted to send her stomach into clenching fits once more, he’d kept his word that he hadn’t hurt her, at least not physically. Therefore she could truthfully shake her head no in answer to the question about being hurt.

Barbara nodded, not entirely convinced but not seeing any obvious signs of injury either. “Okay, does your mother know you’re here?”

Again Jules shook her head but her eyes pleaded with Barbara not to tell. The older woman sighed. “Jules, you know you can stay here as long as you need to. Even if Beth isn’t here, this is still your safe place. But I have to call your mother and let her know you are okay. Her worrying about you isn’t going to help the situation at all. I’ll wait just a little bit if you want me to but I will call her. You don’t have to talk to her if you aren’t ready and I’ll ask her to let you stay until you feel comfortable going home but you don’t want her calling your father at his training and getting him worried, do you?”

Jules shook her head for the third time. As much as she wanted her father to come home and protect her, she didn’t want to see the disappointment in his eyes as he realized what she’d allowed to happen. “You’ll wait just a little bit though? Mom was asleep when I left; if you call and wake her up, it won‘t help things either.”

Barbara nodded. Sometimes she wondered if the fact that Beth and Jules were so different made it easier for them to be friends or harder. Without giving any details about what had sent Jules fleeing her home in the early morning hours, she’d admitted that the probably hadn’t started with dawn’s early light. Barbara could almost see Jules pacing her room all night smarting over whatever the argument had been over until she could stand it no longer. Beth would never have lasted that long. She would have blown up and then blown out, heading for the Callaghan property before the echoes had even died out in the Connors’s home.

“I’ll give it an hour or so. In the meantime, how about something to eat? I didn’t fix my usual breakfast spread since it was just me but it wouldn’t take me a second to cook up some bacon and eggs. Something warm to eat and drink might warm you up as well.”

The idea of putting anything else in her stomach just to have it come back up everything her mind flashed back to the way Johnny had kissed and touched her in all those places that nobody should be touching or to the sight of Boxer laying on her blood covered pillow was too much for her. “I’m not hungry.”

Another difference between Beth and Jules. Her own daughter was a comfort eater, the bigger the problem, the more she ate but Jules tended to pick at food like a bird until either she worked the problem out in her own mind or someone forced the issue. Whatever had upset the teenager, now wasn’t the time to force anything. Barbara held her comfortingly close to her. She could tell the girl was exhausted; she probably hadn’t slept a wink as she stewed about the fight she’d had with her mother. Now, here in the comfort and sanctuary of her safe place, she was finally starting to give in to that exhaustion. It was only a few minutes later that she’d drifted off into an uneasy sleep.

Barbara continued to hold her until she was sure Jules was sound asleep and then eased the sleeping teen into a more comfortable position on the couch. She returned to the kitchen and replenished her coffee cup. Over the past few years, she’d lost count of the number of arguments she’d had with her own daughter. Sometimes it had felt like she and Beth would never reconcile their differences. It had been during the worst of those times she’d envied the easy relationship her daughter’s best friend had with both of her parents. It had seemed like the Callaghans were immune to such disagreements. Logically she should have known even then that it wasn’t the case but it hurt her to see Jules’s so hurt by the knowledge.

Thirty minutes later the phone rang and Barbara answered it before it could wake Jules. She hadn’t needed to glance at Caller ID to know that it was Margaret on the other end of the line. The matriarch of the Callaghan family didn’t sound much better off than Jules had when the teenager had first arrived at her door when Margaret begged Barbara to say that Jules was there.

“She’s here, Margaret. God, honey, I hope Beth never showed up at your door as upset as Jules was when she got here.”

“Is she okay?”

“Not really.” Barbara wasn’t one to beat around the bush and somehow she didn’t think Margaret really wanted her to. She didn‘t have enough information to judge who was at fault for the condition the teen had found herself in but she couldn‘t keep all the recrimination out of her voice either. “She’s asleep right now but barely. She’s been tossing and turning on my couch for the last half hour. Whatever happened must be weighing heavily on her.”

“Did she tell you what happened?”

“Not a word. You want to tell me?”

“Not til I talk to Jules. Barbara, I think I’ve messed up big time. I don’t know if she’ll ever be able to forgive me.”

Barbara’s heart went out to both women. She wished there was some way she could make things easier for them. “Margaret, Jules has the biggest heart of any girl I know; I have a hard time seeing her not forgiving you.”

Margaret expressed her doubt and then sighed. “Some things might be too big for even a sweet natured person like Jules to forgive. Do you mind if she stays there for a little while longer? I need to make things right here before I see her. At least if she’s with you, I don’t have to worry about her.”

“She’s fine here as long as she wants to stay.” Barbara assured her. She hung up the phone, thinking about the best way to help both mother and daughter through this first fight without too many scars.

“Was that Mom?” Jules stood in the doorway to the kitchen still wrapped in the throw blanket. It didn’t look to Barbara that the nap had done much to help erase the pain and tension from Jules’s eyes. The older woman nodded.

“She sounded pretty upset herself. She doesn’t think you’ll be able to forgive her.”

Forgive her? Jules thought. Her mother’s own role in the private hell Jules had endured the night before had been minimal yet pivotal in allowing Johnny to hurt her. Jules wasn’t even sure where forgiveness would come into play; currently she was too scared, too humiliated, too numb to think about anything outside of reliving every sick touch and kiss Johnny had given her. Besides, how much did her mother know about what really happened? What was she wanting forgiveness for. She shuffled on into the kitchen and sat down in a chair at the table, wrapping the throw closer around her. “Is she on her way to get me?”

Had the question seemed hopeful, Barbara was prepared to lie and say yes and then slip away to call Margaret to come right away. But Jules’s voice didn’t betray any emotion at all. The only clue that the older woman had to what the teenager was thinking was the way she was slightly biting her lower lip, a sure sign that Jules felt uneasy. Barbara shook her head. “Not for a little while at least. What can I fix you to eat -- and don’t even start with the ’I’m not hungry’ route?”

Jules shrugged, not wanting to put anything in her stomach that might expel itself at every vile memory that assaulted her just as viciously as the attack itself. But the look on Barbara’s face told her she was serious about not taking nothing as an answer. “Some toast maybe?”

Barbara nodded and got up to prepare the simple breakfast. She personally felt like the teen needed something more substantial but was willing to take whatever concession she could get. However, when she placed the plate of four slices of wheat toast in front of the teen, she’d added a small bowl of fruit. Once she sat down opposite Jules once again, the mother in her took in the girl’s almost haunted expression and a fear slowly grew in her. She had a sinking feeling that whatever had caused Jules to flee her childhood home, it didn’t have much to do with a simple argument.

“Jules, sweetheart, are you okay? I hope you know you can tell me anything.”

The single bite of toast Jules had taken seemed to swell in her throat, threatening to choke her. The compassion and understanding tinged with just a hint of fear in the older woman’s voice tried to break past all the defenses Jules had tried to envelop herself in. For a moment, Jules wanted to throw off the blanket and launch herself into Barbara’s arms and tell the older woman the whole sordid tale. Wanted to confide every dirty, humiliating detail and ask the painful, scary questions that were warring in her mind. But she stayed quiet, silenced by the one nagging voice that was louder than all the others that reminded her that she hadn’t fought back, that she’d allowed Johnny to do everything he did, that it was ultimately her fault that Boxer was lying dead on her pillow. The single bite set off the heaves once more and Jules did throw off the blanket to race down the hall to the Connors’s downstairs bathroom.

When she emerged ten minutes later, her body trembling, Barbara simply hugged her gently. This time she didn’t press the teen to continue eating or to talk. Jules could still see the worry in the woman’s eyes but knew that Barbara wouldn’t ask further questions but would be there if Jules did decide to talk. Jules had never been more grateful.

Jules spent the rest of the morning curled up on the couch in the living room huddled under the blanket, just staring off into space. She hated what she was allowing herself to do, allowing herself to remain locked into what had happened, reliving it over and over again in full Technicolor, but didn’t know how to break out of it. Barbara went about her normal activities, ready to listen if Jules decided to talk but not wanting to put pressure on the teen she didn’t think she could handle.

By the time Margaret Callaghan appeared at the back door, Barbara had run through the gambit of possible scenarios of what could have happened. From her own experiences with fights with Beth, it didn’t seem like typical mother/daughter teenage angst. She had believed that the Callaghan’s marriage was sound but could Jack’s hours at work have sent Margaret into the arms of another lover? A lover that Jules had suddenly found out about? Barbara couldn’t say anything if she had; she’d made a similar mistake when she and her husband had first started having problems and at times she’d wondered if Beth would ever forgive her.

As she opened the door for her friend, Beth studied Margaret carefully. The mother of her daughter’s best friend seemed ashen and almost as upset as Jules had looked only hours earlier. Barbara offered the other woman a comforting hug as well.

“She’s in the living room; she still hasn’t told me anything.”

Margaret nodded. She wasn’t surprised. She could only hope Jules would at least listen to what she had to say even if she wouldn’t talk to her either. “Thanks for being here for her.”

“Any time.” Barbara assured her. “You two obviously need to talk and a neutral location might make it easier. I have a few errands to run so the two of you take all the time you need to talk. Make yourselves at home and if you leave before I get back, just lock up on your way out. If you need me to come back earlier, call me on the car phone.”

Margaret thanked her again and waited until Barbara left the house before making her way to the living room. It broke her heart to see Jules lying on the couch looking so lost and bereft. Tears filled her eyes as she sank into the chair closest to the couch, wanting to be even closer to her daughter but afraid such a move would be rejected. If Jules was aware of her presence, she didn’t show it. Margaret cleared her throat, trying to speak past the lump that had grown in her throat.

“Jules, I’m so sorry.”

Jules didn’t move from her position and for a moment it looked like she was totally going to ignore her mother. Then she sighed. “What are you sorry about?”

There was no accusation in her voice; in fact, there was no emotion at all in her words. Silence followed for a few minutes as Margaret Callaghan garnered her thoughts. Once she started listing the things she was sorry for, would there be an end? Where should she even start? Once the quiet started to border on the uncomfortable for the both of them, Margret found her words.

“How about with being a screw up as a human being for starters?”

Jules forced herself to sit up on the couch. She looked at her mother, not sure what to make of her statement. It didn’t sound like the alcohol talking even if her mother did look more than a little worse for wear. How much did her mother know about what happened?

Margret continued. “I have a drinking problem. We both know it. I’ve tried to convince myself it wasn’t a problem, that I didn’t need the alcohol but I was just fooling myself. Whenever I’d start to worry that maybe something really was wrong, I’d console myself that it wasn’t that bad by reading articles about people who could admit they really did have a problem. I’d tell myself that I wasn’t like them. My life was still in control. So many times I read where people admitted it took hitting rock bottom to make them realize they had a problem. I never thought it would come down to my daughter having to hit the bottom for me to see myself for what I am.”

“Mom.”

Shaking her head, Margaret couldn’t let Jules interrupt her or she’d lose all of her nerve. “I woke up with a headache and wanted a drink. I couldn’t get one because my supply had disappeared. I came into your bedroom ready to lay into you once again. I was going to scream and fuss and demand that you give me my booze back. What I saw when I opened your door both sobered me up and made me want a drink in the worst way at the same time.” The older woman’s lower lip trembled. “Can my apology now be about Boxer? I know how much you loved that kitten.”

A tear ran down Jules’s cheek and she brushed it away impatiently. She didn’t want to cry any more. Didn’t want to waste any more emotion on what Johnny did to her or to Boxer. Perhaps if she could keep her fear and revulsion at bay and allow anger to take over, she could be okay with all this. She shrugged. “Why apologize when you were planning to do the same damn thing later today because you believed I stole your stupid bottles of Jack Daniels?”

Margaret looked horrified at Jules’s accusation; her curse word going almost unnoticed. “Julianna, I would never.” Now she looked like she needed to throw up just as much as Jules had earlier. “I must be worse off than I thought if you could believe even for a second that I would be capable of being so vicious and cruel. I don’t remember what all I said or did last night when you got back from the bowling alley but I couldn’t kill a defenseless animal. I promise you that.”

Again Jules shrugged noncommittally. She still didn’t know exactly how much her mother knew or thought she knew. And even though she needed her mother to wrap her arms around her and convince her that none of it had been Jules’s fault and that everything would somehow be okay, she wasn’t ready to completely let her mother off the hook.

“Jules, I was standing there in your bedroom, horrified by what I was seeing and terrified wondering where you were when Johnny came up behind me. He told me it was all my fault; that I was responsible for what happened to Boxer. I turned around to look at him and the look on his face made me sick.” Margaret shuddered. “He wasn’t the brother I thought I knew. He was some stranger I didn’t recognize. Suddenly I realized he must have taken those ‘stupid bottles of Jack Daniels’ that I’d accused you of taking and I knew he was responsible for the carnage I was seeing in your bedroom. I didn’t know why; I knew he’d been accused of doing some bad things to animals in his teenage years but I hadn’t really believed it could be true. I guess it was.”

Margaret slipped off her perch on the chair to kneel beside the couch where Jules was sitting, Reaching up she pushed a stray strand of hair out of her daughter’s face. “I told him to get out of my house and to never come back. He laughed like it was all some sort of joke but he left. That’s when I called Barbara to make sure you were here and okay. I wanted to come down immediately but I thought I should clean up in your room first. I didn’t want you to come home and have to deal with it.” She paused as if unsure how to continue. Without waiting to see how Jules would react, Margaret joined her on the couch. “As he was leaving he asked me to tell you thanks for the great time the two of you had last night. It didn’t sound like he was talking about bowling either. I didn’t know what he was talking about until I saw the condition of the rest of your bed and the way your clothes were flung about the room. Then his words took on a sickening meaning. Johnny didn’t just kill Boxer, did he?”

Jules stiffened at the question but she didn’t answer. She couldn’t admit what she’d been forced to endure or do at her uncle’s hands. At Jules’s lack of answer, Margaret began to cry and she pulled her daughter into her arms. “Damn him, Jules. Damn him all to hell and back. How dare he? I’m so sorry, Jules. Sorry I didn’t protect you.” Then she pulled back. “Tell me. I need to know how bad it was so I can protect you now. Get you treatment, whatever you need.”

Jules shook her head. “It’s over. He’s gone and he can’t do anything more to me. Living through it was bad enough, please don’t make me go through it again by talking about it. I can’t.”

As much as she wanted to be the tough Daddy’s girl everyone was so accustomed to, she really felt like a scared little girl facing the boogieman she believed lived in the closet of her bedroom. Margaret sighed. She wanted to give in to her daughter’s wishes but she knew what was right.

“Sweetheart, I know it’s difficult but we’ve got to let Dr. Peters examine you to make sure Johnny didn’t hurt you when he r..r..” she stumbled over the word rape unable to say it.

Jules shuddered even at the thought of the word and her pale features once more turned a little green. “It was bad but not that bad. He didn’t…” she couldn’t say the word either. “I’m still a virgin.”

Margret nodded, looking a little relieved. She still needed to hear what happened and was pretty sure Jules needed to talk it out but didn’t want to push her daughter any further. Her hands were shaking with the need to have a drink to wash away the horror of the day but she knew she couldn’t take that cop out. She had to be strong for Jules. “Part of me wants to call your father right now and get him to come home. Have him arrest Johnny and put him under the jail for what he did to you. But the bigger part of me is scared for him to know. As much as he loves you, the idea of any man putting his hands on you in a way he shouldn’t would send him over the edge. I’m scared of what he’d do, not for Johnny’s sake but for you dad’s. There’s no way he’d consider what it would mean to his own life or freedom before he went after Johnny.”

“I don’t want him to know.” Jules insisted. She couldn’t stand to see the disappointment she was sure would be in her father’s eyes if he ever found out about what she’d allowed to happen to her. “I just want to forget it. Please.”

Margaret knew Jules needed to talk about it to someone; it was the only way she’d truly be able to get past what happened. But there would be time to press the matter later. “How about we just call him and tell him he needs to come home because I‘m sick.“ Seeing she was about to protest, Margaret continued. “You needed me and I was too drunk to even know it. I need help, Jules. I’m willing to get it, willing to check into a rehab or whatever I need but I’m not strong enough to do it on my own. I want your father to check me in so I can’t check myself out as soon as it gets hard.”

In light of everything that had happened, Jules didn’t want to get her hopes up that her mom actually wanted to get better but hearing that she was willing to give rehab a try made her feel marginally better. “Okay.”

Margaret smiled. “It’ll probably be tomorrow night before he could get home. I have no right to ask but will you come home with me in the meantime? There’s no alcohol in the house. But I don’t trust myself to not go for more if I’m alone. I have your room all cleaned up but I can understand if you don’t feel comfortable sleeping in your room. You can sleep in my room with me tonight or we can fix up one of the boys’ rooms for you if you’d prefer that.”

The idea of going back into that house at all after what had happened terrified Jules but she had to admit that her mother was at least trying and at least Johnny wasn’t going to be there. “Okay, let’s go home.”

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

Sam couldn’t identify exactly who or what the culprit was, but something roused him from a sound sleep. As his eyes opened, he instinctively moved to pull Jules tighter into his embrace. It took him a moment to realize she wasn’t there. He sat up, expecting to see a little bit of light slipping from under a closed bathroom door that would tell him she was simply answering a call of nature. But the door was open and the light was out. Her side of the bed was cool, indicating she’d been gone long enough for all of her warmth to disappear. He glanced at the clock; it was 3:18 in the morning. Way too early for her to have already woken up and gotten ready for the day.

Throwing back the covers, he grabbed the sweat pants he’d discarded earlier and got out of bed. He hoped she had just slipped downstairs to check on the kitten but wasn’t very convinced of that scenario. He knew for some reason she wasn’t completely happy having the kitten in the house but she’d agreed to keeping it. She had insisted that the kitten would be much happier and feel safer if they confined it to the small laundry room for the night. She’d said the smaller space would make him fee more secure.

Something scraped beneath him and he shook his head. That was probably what had awoken him and was probably where his girlfriend had disappeared to. He quietly padded down the stairs to the extra room Jules was currently trying to renovate. Sure enough the light was on and he could hear her moving around inside. As he stood in the doorway watching her, the smell of paint fumes filled his nostrils.

Even though this was the second coat of the same color on the walls, he could tell by the wetness of the paint that she’d already painted three-fourths of the room. How long had she been down here working? They’d both fallen asleep together after a round of lovemaking they’d both been desperate for after such a near miss earlier in the day. He’d been careful not only to keep from giving in to his own urges of showing her in ways he knew she didn’t like in their lovemaking just how grateful he was that she was alive but also that he hadn’t hurt her given the ugly bruise that was forming on her chest where the bullet had been stopped. He was pretty sure wielding the paint roller the way she was couldn’t be doing the pain in her chest any good.

“Babe, do you know what time it is?” She paused mid-roll at his question and turned to face him.

“I woke you up, didn’t I? The ladder slipped as I was moving it and I had hoped it hadn’t been loud enough to wake you. I’m sorry.”

Sam left his position at the doorway and crossed the room to where she was standing wearing her ridiculous paint overalls. He took the roller from her and eased it down to the paint tray before pulling her close. “It’s almost three thirty in the morning. You should be in bed with me instead of down here painting this room. Didn’t the ER doc tell you to take it easy for a day or two? I don’t think this is what he had in mind.”

Jules didn’t pull away but shrugged. “I couldn’t sleep so this seemed more productive than lying there trying to find patterns in the bedroom ceiling. Besides, working through the pain is a good thing. I just have this one wall left and then I’ll be through with this coat. Go on back to bed. I’ll try to be quiet.”

“You should have woken me up if you couldn’t sleep. Were you hurting that much or was it because you napped earlier when we came home from the ER?” Sam kissed her nose and pulled back allowing her to retrieve her paint roller. He had no intention of going back to bed and leaving her to finish up alone but he also didn’t look for an extra roller. When they’d first started dating the first time, he had tried to pitch in and help with her renovations. It had been a fun and new experience for him and though she hadn’t complained, he’d later discovered his attempts just caused more work for her in the long run. So he gave up trying to help and contented himself with just keeping her company.

Jules was glad her back was too him; didn’t trust that he wouldn’t see something in her eyes that would give away the reason she’d fled their bed earlier. The dreams of the past didn’t come often any more; she’d successfully banished most of those demons from surfacing but sometimes, when a call hit a little too close to home and probably tonight with the arrival of the kitten she hadn’t wanted, they’d returned in full force. She was just glad she’d hadn’t woke up while dreaming. She’d never have been able to put off his questions.

“Too wound up I guess. Nothing to worry about.” She resumed her painting and hoped he’d leave it at that.

“It was a cat wasn’t it?” The question seemed random but Jules chewed on her bottom lip a few seconds before answering.

“What was a cat?”

“The pet you lost. There was something in your eyes earlier when you first held Patches. I wasn’t trying to bring back bad memories by asking Wordy for one. I really wanted to do something nice. Tell me what happened.” Sam sat down in the middle of the floor, checking first to make sure he wouldn’t be sitting in some glop of paint.

Jules felt her jaw tightened as she plunged ahead with the painting. “What does it matter? It happened a long time ago.”

“Because it obviously made a big impact on you. Anything that was or is important to you is important to me. I love you Jules, more than I ever thought was possible for me when it came to loving someone. You know so much about me but I know very little about you or your life before I met you.”

Jules turned to look at him, her brown eyes hard and steely. “So, what are you suggesting? Quid pro quo, I know a few things about your life before SRU and so I have to spill my guts in return? To hell if it’s something I don’t like to talk about as long as it satisfies your curiosity?”

Sam wanted to growl in frustration but instead held her gaze. He recognized this side of his girlfriend. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d picked a fight in order to avoid talking about something else. He wasn’t going to rise to the bait this time. “If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s fine. We won’t talk about it.”

The fire extinguished just as quickly as it started with his calm demeanor. Jules turned back to her task and Sam figured the conversation was over. Still he stayed in his spot on the floor as she finished the last of the wall. Once she’d cleaned up her mess, he rose and took her in his arms once more. He tucked a strand of her dark hair behind her ear.

“I really do, you know. Love you that is.” He lowered his lips to brush lightly against hers. “If talking about your lost pet is too painful, I don’t have to know about it. I’m sorry I upset you.”

Jules felt bad for the way she’d treated him. She knew he wasn’t trying to be noisy and was only trying to empathize with her situation. Still, she couldn’t tell him the truth because it was too close to other secrets that she wanted to keep hidden, but if she didn’t tell him something, the conversation would keep coming up. Feeling bad knowing she was about to lie to the man she loved, she rose up on her tiptoes to kiss him.

“It’s okay. It’s nothing that major really. I had a kitten that got out while my uncle was visiting. It somehow climbed up in the engine of his car and was accidentally killed when my uncle started his car. I really loved her though and was devastated when she died.”

Sam hugged her tightly. “I’m sorry, Babe. Your uncle must have felt bad about what happened even if he couldn’t help it. Don’t worry, we’ll make sure Patches stays inside so nothing happens to him.”

Jules nodded but didn’t answer. Even twenty years later, just mentioning the word uncle in relation to the death of her cat made her skin crawl even if she had lied about his involvement. “Let’s go back to bed. At least since we’re off tomorrow we can sleep in.”

“You, me, bed, I like the sound of that.” Sam admitted. He played with the zipper on her overalls. “We should leave your overalls down here so we don’t smell paint fumes the rest of the night. So what are you wearing under this thing?”

Jules recognized the look in his eyes and blushed a little. “What I had on when we went to sleep.”

Sam’s grin broadened, knowing very well exactly what she hadn’t been wearing in bed. He lowered the zipper revealing her state of undress. He pushed the material from her shoulders allowing the overalls to fall to the floor. She stepped out of them before Sam picked her up in his arms and cradled her against his chest. He lowered his head to kiss her once again. “You did say we could sleep in tomorrow, didn’t you? Cause I plan on giving you something better to do than try to make patterns in the ceiling.”

Chapter Text

1992

“Julianna?”

The sound of her mother’s voice didn’t even penetrate the fog of memories Jules was currently lost in. All afternoon, she’d avoided coming into to her bedroom hoping to escape thinking about what had happened to her. It hadn’t worked so when her mother had offered to grab what the teenager would need for the night out of the room so she wouldn’t have to go in, Jules had declined. However, as soon as she crossed the threshold the memories had attacked full force, as vividly as the moment they had happened. She felt locked in place, unable to move, unable to breath, unable to do anything but stand there shaking as her mind replayed every minute of the night before as if it were a video stuck on a perpetual loop.

“Jules?” Margaret tried again, this time putting a tentative hand on Jules’s shoulder. Now the teenager did jump, turning to face her mother with a wild look in her eyes.

“He’s still here. I want him gone. I want the memory of what he did to me gone but every time I close my eyes, every place I look in this room he’s still here. How can I make it go away? It’s over and I don’t want it to have this power over me. I want to be stronger than this but I’m not.”

“Then tell me what happened. Jules, as long as you keep it bottled up inside you, he’s going to have that power over you. Let me help you deal with the pain and the fear.”

The afternoon after returning from Barbara’s hadn’t been easy. Every time she’d broached the subject with Jules, she’d been met with resistance. Battling the overwhelming need she felt for a drink didn’t marry well with trying to help a teenaged daughter with a problem she didn’t fully understand and Margaret was quickly losing the war with both. Only her stronger desire to make sure Jules was really okay was keeping her even a little sane at the moment. If Jules self-destructed now, she would lose all hope.

Jules shook her head, backing out of the room and sliding down to the floor to wrap her arms around her legs drawing them close. “I can’t. You’ll hate me.”

Margaret sank to the floor beside Jules and gently lifting the younger girl’s chin with her fingers. “Julianna Callaghan, listen to me and listen to me good. I’m pretty sure I haven’t been the easiest person to live with when I’m drinking and I’m sure at times today I’ve been a real bitch to you.” She paused as her word choice for her behavior during the day brought just the slightest of a hint of a smile to Jules’s face. She continued. “But even at my lowest, even at your lowest, there is no way I could ever hate you. Hate myself, yes; but you, never in a million years.”

Jules shook her head. “You don’t understand. It’s my fault it happened. I let him do those things to me. I should have stopped him but I didn’t even fight back.”

“Johnny is about two full feet taller and probably about twice your weight. Try as hard as you could to stop him or to fight back and it wouldn’t have made a difference. He still would have taken what he wanted. You were his victim and it wasn’t your fault.”

As much as Jules had wanted to hear her mother tell her it wasn’t her fault, now that she was hearing the words she couldn’t believe them. She was a Callaghan and she wasn’t anyone’s victim. No matter what, she should have found some way to stop him or even if she couldn’t, at least made it extremely difficult for him. Instead, she’d given in to his every demand, or at least she had until her body had turned against her making her throw up on him as he forced himself into her mouth. “I should have done more.”

Margaret released Jules’s chin and wrapped her arms around her daughter. “Jules, you aren’t going to want to hear what I have to say. All of your life, you’ve chased after those brothers like you were one of the boys and you’ve followed after your daddy like a number five son instead of the frilly little daughter I thought I was getting when the doctor said I was having a girl. As much as I might have wanted to dress you up in ruffles and bows I didn’t complain because you were growing up to be a strong and independent woman. But sweetheart, at the end of the day you are my little girl and tough as you are, there are things that are beyond your control. You said earlier that he didn’t…” she started to struggle over the word again but then plunged on. “didn’t rape you. Do you think that would have been a different story if you had fought him?”

Jules remembered his threat when she’d balked at his last request and shuddered. Reluctantly she nodded. Even though she still didn’t know what exactly he’d done to her little girl, Margaret said a little prayer of thanks that it hadn’t been worse. “Then I’m glad you didn’t fight him. Baby, please tell me the full story. I know my brother. What I used to see in him as a charming personality I can now see was him being a master manipulator. He tried to do it to me this morning when I came in and saw that Boxer was dead. I can only imagine the things he told you last night to make it seem like what he was doing was either okay or your fault. And you probably believed every word he told you because that’s how deceitful he really is. Let’s sort through his lies together so you can see the truth for what it really is. It’s the only way you’re going to get past what happened.”

Jules still didn’t want to admit out loud what had happened. Wanted to keep it locked away so that no one would know her shame. But her mother made a good point. Keeping it in was just making things worse for her. Maybe she should trust her mother just a little. Still reluctant, she nodded. “Can I take a shower first?”

She didn’t feel the need to spend the entire night under the spray of the water going through cycle after cycle of hot and cold water but she could still feel his hands and mouth touching her and she wanted to wash away that feel if only for a few minutes. Margaret nodded. “You can take one before and after we talk if it’ll make you feel better. How about I go in there and get what you need and you use my bathroom? Then maybe tomorrow while we wait for you dad to get home, we can rearrange your room so it doesn’t hold so many bad memories for you.”

Jules agreed and thirty minutes later, after at least a twenty minute shower, she was curled up in her parents bed telling her mother the whole nightmarish story. Telling it was just as hard as living it and she could feel herself tensing up and her breathing becoming harder as the parts got too difficult. After the whole story was out, she hugged a pillow close to her body, unable to take even her mother’s comforting arms around her. “I don’t understand, he seemed to think I would enjoy what he was doing, that he was giving me pleasure but I don’t see how anyone could find that pleasurable.”

The tears fell freely down Margaret’s cheeks as she took in the horrible pain her daughter had experienced. The things her brother had done so vile in the way he’d forced her to participate should have been so different when the time and the person had been right for her daughter. But how could she convince Jules of that in the moment? At least Jules was still young enough that they had time to help her come to terms with what happened before Jules was ready to be in a loving and pleasurable sexual relationship. Despite her own demons she needed to face, Margaret wanted to help her daughter exorcise her own demons first. But to do that she would need help.

“I know I’m beginning to sound like a broken record and it doesn’t make up for how I failed you but I’m so sorry, Julianna. I should have been there for you and I wasn’t. And once your dad comes home and I tell him about my problems I’m going to be locked away for a few weeks in rehab and I still won’t be there to help you. Maybe I should call your father back and tell him I’m okay and for him to stay at the training after all. I can wait for rehab for a little while.”

Jules shook her head, not completely sure if her mother was just being altruistic or simply using what happened as an excuse not to get help for herself. “You promised me you wanted to get help. If you wait about going to rehab you are just going to lapse back into drinking no matter how much you promise me or yourself that you won’t. Maybe I’m selfish but I need my mother back not the person the booze has turned you into.”

The words hurt just a little but Margret knew she was right. She’d have Jack check her into rehab and get her life back on track. However, she promised herself that as soon as she was released, she’d move heaven and earth to make sure that her daughter also got the help she needed.

“For you I will.” At the look of protest on Jules’s face, Margaret quickly amended. “For my sake as well. I just want this to all be okay for you. I hate that I sank so low that I couldn’t protect you. You look pretty exhausted, ready to turn in?”

Jules shook her head. “I think I want to take another shower first. I know its all in my head but I can still feel him on me. I think I’m also scared to go to sleep, afraid of what my dreams will be like.”

Margaret played with her daughter’s bangs for just a moment. “Then take your shower. When you come out, take a couple of Benedryl. They’ll knock you out and pretty much ensure that you’ll sleep hard enough not to notice any dreams.”

“I don’t want to get used to taking something.” Jules protested.

“You won’t. I know you well enough to know that you won’t allow yourself to get addicted to something. At least not the same way I did. Take them for tonight so you can get a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow night your daddy will be home and I know that will make you feel better, feel safer.”

Jules relented and after taking another shower and allowing the almost totally hot water temporarily to wash away the nasty feelings still remaining on her, she took the small pink pills her mother offered her and climbed into the bed. Even without the pills, she was already exhausted, her brief attempts at naps during the day not fully replacing the full night of no sleep the night before. She blinked up at her mother who was tucking her in for what had to be the first time in at least a decade. “Are you turning in now?”

Margaret shook her head. “I’m still a little too wired yet to go to sleep. Don’t worry, I can’t get anything to drink. There’s nothing in the house and you hid my keys for me, remember?” Earlier, Margret had expressed a fear that she’d get so desperate for a drink that she would drive to town to buy more so Jules had offered to make sure she couldn’t find her keys if that were to be the case. Margaret had willingly surrendered the keys knowing that Jules had a way of hiding things almost in plain sight in such a way that nobody could find them.

She remained in the bedroom until Jules fell asleep and then made her way downstairs. Her hands were shaking almost uncontrollably now. Never in her life had she felt the need to lose herself in the bottom of a bottle of whiskey as she did now. Wanted to drink the pain and the guilt away. Her baby had been hurt by a man Margret had thought she should have been able to trust implicitly. How had she missed the signs? How had she allowed it to happen? And that didn’t even include the added guilt that came from hearing that Johnny had used her own words and accusations to manipulate Jules into giving in to his demands.

Had there been any alcohol in the house at all, Margaret would have said to hell with her good intentions of remaining sober until Jack got home. But there wasn’t anything in the house to drink and short of walking to town and back, she couldn’t go about getting more. So since she couldn’t drink, she had to find something else to do to assuage her guilt and try to get over the shakes that came from not having something to drink.

When she called Jack earlier to request that he come home, he’d expressed his concern and tried to get her to tell him exactly what was wrong. She couldn’t explain over the phone but urged him to get there as soon as he could. Part of her wanted to confide in him exactly what had happened to their daughter, wanted to ensure that he would take care of her while Margret was in rehab but at the same time was too afraid of the consequences if he did find out the truth. She didn’t care a whit about Johnny if Jack decided to tear him from limb to limb for what he’d done. Her younger brother deserved it and more for hurting the teenager the way he had. But what would the family do if Jack lost his job and his freedom in the attempt?

Needing to do something with her hands, she opened a cabinet in the kitchen and removed a stack of plates and put them in the sink. If it took washing every dish in the house five times to get her through the night without hunting down a drink she would do so.

After washing and rinsing every plate in the cabinet, she grabbed a dish cloth to start drying them to return them to the cabinet. Her hands were shaking so badly now that she dropped the second plate she picked up. As the plate broke into what had to be a thousand pieces on the hard floor, it all became too much for Margaret. She picked up a third dripping dish and flung it to the floor, taking out her anger and out rage on the innocent dishes. Five more plates joined the broken pieces on the floor before a familiar if unwanted voice caused her to freeze.

“I have something I think you are missing.”

She whirled around, her eyes narrowing as her little brother stared back at her, holding a full bottle of Jack Daniels in his hands. “You have some nerve showing up back here. I told you this morning to get out of here and to never come back.”

He laughed. “If you were serious about that, you really should have asked me to return your house key. But I guess your mind was elsewhere, maybe on this little friend of yours maybe? Go ahead, I know you want it.”

She did; God help her but she wanted what he was offering more than anything. What would one small drink hurt? It would probably settle her nerves enough to help her think about what she should do to get rid of him before he could hurt Jules again. Though her shaking hands wanted to reach out and snatch the bottle from him, she knew she couldn’t take the first swallow. If she did, she wouldn’t be able to stop until the whole bottle was gone and Jules deserved better than that from her.

“Go to hell, Johnny. Jules told me what you did to her. You are a sick man to do that to an innocent girl. A slow and painful death is too good for you.”

“JAC loved every minute of pleasure I gave her last night. If she’s saying otherwise today it’s just because she’s feeling guilty. She certainly wasn’t protesting last night. She was practically begging me for more.”

“You bastard.” Margaret spat out careful to keep her eyes off the bottle in his hand. She wasn’t sure she was strong enough to resist its siren’s call but she knew she had to try for Jules’s sake. “I don’t know which is sicker, that you could do those things to your niece or that you actually think she wanted or enjoyed it.”

Johnny ignored her rant and slowly stood walking toward her, offering her the bottle. “Is that any way to act toward your little brother? I came all the way back here to return your missing property and this is the thanks I get? Go ahead, take a drink, take the whole damn bottle.”

Margaret shook her head, stepping backward away from his approach until her back rested against the edge of the sink. The way he slightly swung the bottle was almost hypnotizing her. It would be so easy to do so; she could almost taste the amber liquid as it burned her throat going down. Still, giving in now would be letting Jules down and she couldn’t do that. “No, I don’t want it.”

“Your body says differently.” He pinned her against the sink and opened the bottle, holding it under her nose so that she could smell the alcohol inside. “One little drink, the one you’ve been wanting all day.” He tipped the bottle to her mouth trying to pour some of the liquid into her mouth but she clamped her lips shut, not allowing even a drop to pass her lips. Then she heard a sharp click and a sharp edge pressed against her throat. With a sickening thud in her stomach, she realized he was holding a knife to her throat. With his next words, there was not even a hint of the nice guy everyone had believed him to be. “I said drink it.”

She kept her mouth shut but couldn’t shake her head for fear of the knife against her jugular. He could kill her if he wanted to but she wasn’t going to go back on her word to her daughter. Not this time. He lowered the knife away from her throat and a tear of relief slipped down her cheek. The relief was short-lived however as a fiery pain ignited in her stomach. She gasped in pain and as soon as her mouth opened, he pressed the rim of the bottle into her mouth pouring a little of the liquid down her throat.

“See that’s what you wanted wasn’t it?”

-- FP --
As her mother promised, the antihistamine knocked Jules out completely. Any noises going on in the house went unnoticed but not even the drugs were enough to block out the dreams that assaulted her as soon as she was under. What the drugs did do was make it almost impossible for her to wake up as soon as she recognized that she was starting to dream. So her drugged mind was forced to replay the events over and over again, each time feeling more and more real than the last one.

Currently it was as if she could actually feel his weight once more on top of her and the hem of her t-shirt being pushed upward. She whimpered at the realistic feel of his mouth once more on her breast. How could the dream feel so real? At one particularly painful nip at her nipple, she forced her heavy eyes open to discover her nightmare wasn’t just in her dreams.

Johnny was lying on top of her in her mother’s bed, his mouth attacking her exposed breast with reckless abandon. She screamed in protest and wiggled beneath him trying to dislodge him from his position on top of her. How had he gotten back into the house and where was her mother?

He ignored her audible protests and seemed to enjoy the movement of her body beneath him. She increased her efforts to stop him, brining her hands up to try to physically push him away, to hit him, to do anything to stop her nightmare from occurring once more. He released her breast from his mouth and chuckled. “Feisty tonight are we? Makes it much more pleasurable for me. Feeling you writhe against me turns me on. Can you feel how much?”

She could feel something bulging against her thigh and it only increased her struggles. Screaming for all she was worth, she reached her right hand up, digging her short nails into his cheek. She knew her nails weren’t long enough to cause physical damage but hoped the pain would deter him from his actions long enough for her to get away from him. He howled in protest but pressed his body further against hers. He caught both of her wrists in one of his own and held them both painfully above her head. “Not nice, JAC. If you want it rough, I can do that but I don’t think you’d like it as much.”

He lowered his mouth to hers, pushing his tongue into her mouth, roughly exploring. She bit down sharply and tasted something coppery before he pulled away. Her mother had left the light on in the room so Jules had no trouble seeing the drops of blood leaking from the side of his mouth. His already dark eyes got darker and the hand that wasn’t holding her wrists tightly backhanded her. She screamed once again, hoping to draw her mother’s attention.

He laughed again. “Scream all you want, JAC. No one’s gong to come help you any more than they did last night.”

“Mom will.” Jules warned but he only laughed again.

“She’s downstairs passed out. She couldn’t turn down the bottle I brought her.”

Jules shook her head. “She promised me she wouldn’t drink. Besides there’s not alcohol in the house.”

His free hand roughly played with first one breast then the other. “Remember, Little Girl, UJ promised if you were good last night, he’d help you with your problem. And you were very good with the exception of throwing up on me like you did. So, quid pro quo, I returned what your mother lost and even made sure she got the full benefit of one of the bottles before I came upstairs to see you. Maybe she didn’t even feel it when I killed her.”

“MOM!” Jules screamed as loud as she could. He had to be lying. Her mother couldn’t be dead. He laughed again and his hand left her breast to retrieve what should have been a shiny object from his back pocket. Or at least it would have been shiny if it hadn’t been dulled by a bright red thick liquid. Jules’s stomach turned as she realized it was fresh blood. She shook her head. “No.”

“Gutted her just like I did your cat last night. Amazing how much more blood there is in a human body. I don’t think either suffered for long. Now there’s no one to stop me from really enjoying what you have to offer. And trust me, last night was nothing compared to what we‘ll enjoy this time.”

Hearing him claim to have killed her mother in the same horrific way he’d killed Boxer zapped the fight right out of Jules and left her numb. She didn’t fight back as his grip on her wrists tightened and he returned the knife to his back pocket out of her reach even if she had been able to move. His now free hand found its way to the waistbands of her shorts and panties and pulled them down enough to give him easy access. She screamed when his fingers suddenly plunged into her painfully. He grunted in pleasure as he worked his fingers in and out of her with painful disregard to her feelings.

All Jules could do was lay beneath him and cry as the nightmare that had been so bad the night before suddenly got worse. If what he was doing now hurt this much, how much worse would it hurt if he replaced his fingers with the bulging, throbbing appendage currently pressing against her thigh? His mouth came down on the side of her face, licking and biting at her ear.

“Don’t cry JAC, just relax and enjoy it. I’ve been told I’m just about as talented with my hand as I am with my cock. You can tell me later if it’s true. You’re so tight and it feels so good. I can’t wait to plunge into you so deep.”

“GET OFF MY DAUGHTER!”

Shocked but relived to hear her mother’s voice and know that her mother wasn’t dead gave Jules the strength to renew her fight against her uncle’s advances once more. Her attempts and her mother’s presence didn’t seem to deter him from his assault against her. He glanced back at his sister, a wicked grin on his face.

“Didn’t I kill you downstairs? Oh well, you’ll be dead soon enough. No one can survive your wounds for long. Maybe long enough for you to see me make love to your daughter. Kind of kinky but I don’t mind an audience.”

The sound of a shot gun going off filled the air and temporarily deafened Jules. The younger girl realized her mother had grabbed her father’s shot gun from downstairs before coming to her rescue. She couldn’t see her mother to know her actual condition but she did see the pieces of sheetrock dance off the wall where the blast landed.

“I said get off her or the next shot won’t be aimed so high.”

The one hand pulled out of her and the other released its grip on her wrists. A second later he slid off her and turned to face her mother. “No need to get testy Margaret. JAC and I were just having a little fun, right?”

Jules couldn’t answer as she lay there trying to get her breath back. She wanted to curl into a ball against the pain and humiliation she’d once more felt at her uncle’s hands. As he moved closer to her mother and away from the bed, Jules managed to put her clothes right and slip out of the bed to the floor. Her hand reached into the nightstand drawer and pulled out the hand gun her father kept there. There was no way she was gong to let him get a third try at her.

It was only then that she got a good look at her mother and she was horrified at what she saw. Johnny hadn’t lied about cutting her and the wound looked serious by the amount of blood soaking her mother’s clothes. Only sheer willpower could be responsible for her being able to climb the stairs to come to Jules’s rescue.

“Put the gun away Margaret. Let me call an ambulance for you and then I’ll leave. I promise you I won’t come back again. You can’t survive much longer if you don’t get help.”

He stepped closer and closer and Jules tried to shout out a warning to her mother as she saw him reach into his back pocket once more. A second shot fired harmlessly into the ceiling as he suddenly lunched at his sister, stabbing her once more. He held the knife there until her struggles ended. Leaving the knife embedded in her chest, he rose and turned back toward Jules. “Where were we?”

Jules fired without thinking. Johnny clutched at his shoulder and hit the floor screaming in pain. She didn’t release her hold on the gun in case Johnny tried anything else but she scooted across the floor and pulled her mother’s now lifeless body to her. She could feel her mother’s blood soaking through her own clothes but it didn’t matter. Tears flooded her cheeks as she begged her mother to be okay even as she knew it wasn’t possible. She blocked out everything but her mother from her mind, not even hearing the curses and screams her uncle was making from where he’d landed after she shot him. She wasn’t sure how long she sat there holding her mother when she heard sirens approaching. How they had known to come escaped her until it finally made sense to her that even if the neighbors weren’t close enough to hear her screams, they had heard the gunshots and called the police.

A few minutes later she could hear footsteps running up the stairs and then three officers burst into the room, their guns drawn. It was if she wasn’t even in the room with them as one went to check on Johnny, one called for EMS and the third knelt beside her calling her name. Dimly she felt the gun being removed from her grasp and she allowed it without protest. Wanted to but couldn’t protest as the officer who’d called for an ambulance gently extracted her mother’s body from her mom. She was aware they were talking to her but she couldn’t answer couldn’t move as the officer who had removed her gun, bodily picked her up and removed her from the room.

Pieces that followed managed to penetrate her brain. Barbara Connors arriving and holding her close. Paramedics wanting to take her to the hospital to be checked out and her managing to find her voice enough to protest against it. Barbara promising to take responsibility and getting permission to take Jules to her house. Sympathetic hands patting her back and promising to check on her later. A brief walk to Barbara’s car and a quick ride to her best friend’s house. Then nothing else registered until hours later when the one voice she needed to hear cleared the fog from her brain.

“Jules, baby, I’m here.”

As her father pulled her into the safety of his arms, the floodgates opened and she gave into the sobs she’d unconsciously been holding back since the moment her uncle killed her mother in front of her.

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

“Raf, get it in gear, Jules is making your sorry ass look puny in comparison.” Ed Lane called out during the training exercise. Currently it was a foot race on the obstacle course and Jules was flying through it as if she’d been born on it. From Sam’s position further down the course, his girlfriend’s movements seemed like pure poetry in motion. To give him credit, Raf wasn’t doing badly but his movements weren’t as fluid or as practiced as his female counterpart.

As the two SRU officers disappeared from Sam’s view behind the four foot wall, he waited to see which would be the first over the wall and then under the cargo net maze that came directly after. Whichever of the two reached Sam first would have to then drag him fifty feet over the finish line. The loser would have to drag the bulkier and heavier practice dummy. He could only hope that it was Jules who had the honor, not only because he wanted to pull for his girlfriend and wanted it to be her hands that pulled him the distance but because he knew if she lost, he’d be spending a couple of hours after work still sitting on the field as she practiced the course over and over again until she felt she’d made up for what she would consider her failure.

As two figures reached the top of the wall, it was clear that Raf had indeed made up some of the distance he’d lost to Jules at the start of the course. It wasn’t surprising, his longer legs had the advantage on the wall. Then Jules nimbly dropped from the wall as if it were merely a step instead of a four foot drop, intent on not allowing Raf to pull ahead of him. She was at Sam’s side before Raf had barely made entry under the cargo net. Her arms circled his chest under his arms and she lifted him up with a slight grunt as she began to pull him the rest of the way across the field.

Ed announced her time as she crossed the line and unceremoniously dumped Sam at her feet. She shook her head. “You putting on weight, Samtastic?”

He shook his head. “You’d smack me if I asked you that question.” Then he admitted that Ed had placed several extra weights in the normally thirty pound gear he was wearing. Raf dropped his dummy over the line and put his hands to his knees breathing hard. The newest member to the team shook his head. “Damn, girl. Next time, I want to go up against Spike or anyone else. I don’t guess that bruise last week did you much damage.”

“Not necessarily. She was actually slower by fifteen seconds off her last time.” Ed admitted almost reluctantly. Jules whipped her head around, a frown creasing her features.

“Seriously? Let me see the chart.” Jules compared the two times. “That can’t be right; let me run it again.”

Sam groaned; why had Ed said anything. No one else would have been upset about a fifteen second difference after a win but Jules competed against herself first and foremost and couldn’t stand coming up lacking no matter what. Ed shook his head.

“Not today. We have time for Spike and Sam to make their run this afternoon before shift ends. Chalk the extra time up to Sam’s extra flab if it makes you feel better. I was trying to challenge you. You did it so don‘t feel bad.”

Sam shook his head as he removed the extra “flab” as Ed called it and handed it to Raf who would be the human target for his run against Spike. Leaning over he whispered in Jules’s ear so no one else could hear him. “If it makes you feel better, I’ll let you carry me up the stairs to the bedroom tonight.”

She lowered her head so that none of the others could see her blush. Sam chuckled warmly as he made his way to the start of the course with Spike. Raf took his position at fifty feet away leaving Jules alone with Ed. The older officer looked down at her.

“Everything okay, Jules?”

She nodded. “Yeah, fine, why?”

Ed shrugged. “You just haven’t quite been yourself since the call at the school a couple of weeks ago. You know you handled yourself well; there was no way any of us could have known the teacher would have a gun herself. I’m just glad you weren’t seriously hurt.”

The truth was the call had been weighing on her heavily but not because of the shooting. The kid’s situation had hit a little too close to home but Jules couldn’t admit that to Ed without answering questions she’d rather were never asked. She forced a smile. “Nothing I can’t handle. Where’d Sarge go by the way? He was here when Raf and I got ready to start the course.”

Ed signaled Sam and Spike to begin before shrugging. “Winnie called him back to the barn. Something about a visitor or something.”

“As long as Larry Toth hasn’t come back for more evals I guess it’ll be okay.“ Jules admitted dryly. She knew he had been instrumental in convincing Commander Holleran to allow Sam and Jules to remain on the team together but she couldn’t completely forget how his evaluations had shaken her and the entire team.

Ed chuckled and agreed. Then his voice gentled out in a way that she’d only really heard him use before with the baby. The voice that told her that no matter how much he tried to come across as hard and stoic that he was really a big softie at heart. “I know whatever it is you can handle it but remember you don’t have to do it alone. We’re all here for you.”

Jules didn’t answer but reached over and gave the man’s arm a gentle squeeze of thanks before turning her attention back to the race. Sam had left Spike far behind, it wouldn’t even be a contest between the two. She’d often wondered why Ed never pitted the two of them against each other when he was in charge of picking the rotations. She didn’t think it had as much to do with the feelings Ed had always seemed to know the two had for each other but more to do with fear of how competitive they both were in such competitions.

When the race was over, Ed shook his head and shot Jules a quick wink. “Will it make you feel better about your own time to know that Sam was almost thirty seconds slower than his last time?”

“Marginally but not really.” Jules admitted. Sam shook his head.

“Thirty seconds? No way, you must have started the stopwatch before we started or something.”

“You two really were made for each other.” Spike commented dryly as he regained his breath.

The team put away the gear and headed up to the barn, joking with each other the entire way. They were about to head to the locker rooms to shower and change for the end of shift when Raf stopped suddenly. “Who’s that with Sarge?”

Sitting in the debriefing room with Greg was a man none of them recognized except for Jules. She chewed on her bottom lip as she contemplated what could have brought him there. Sam saw the change in her and touched her arm. “You okay? You know him?”

“It’s my father.” She admitted softly. Sam was surprised because she never talked about her family all that much even though he was pretty sure father and daughter had a much warmer relationship than he had with his own father. She took a couple of wooden steps toward the debriefing room but Sam stopped her again.

“Want me to come with you?” He offered quietly. He didn’t really expect her to agree; she’d always kept her family life private even from him. Even though it was what he’d expected, her refusal still hurt. Glancing around to make sure no one was watching he pressed a quick kiss to her head before turning to join the others in the locker room.

Jules entered the briefing room. “Dad?”

Jack Callaghan didn’t stand as she came in. Jules felt herself starting to shake as she took in his physical appearance and sickly expression. Greg, looking pensive and worried, gave her shoulder as squeeze before stepping out of the room. Sinking into a chair, she reached out and took her father’s hand in her own. She could feel the slight tremble and it scared her even more to think her normally strong father could seem so weak.

“Daddy, what’s wrong? Are you sick?”

He sighed and looked at her. The rims of his eyes were red and she could tell he’d been crying recently. “Yeah, Jules, I’m sick but not in the way you’re thinking. I got a call this morning from the prison.” Despite the fact that there were several correctional facilities in the area, he didn’t have to elaborate to know which one he was referring to. Her stomach did flip flops as she waited for him to continue. There were only two paths this conversation could take and only one of them could explain her father’s sick expression. She wanted to stick her fingers in her ears and run from the room where she couldn’t hear what he had to say. She lowered her head, unable to meet his eyes. He reached out and lifted her chin, not allowing her to look away. “Jules, there’s no easy way to say this. At the end of the week, your uncle will be released. Your mother’s killer is about to be a free man and there‘s not a damn thing we can do about it.”

Chapter Text

1992

“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.

Chapter Text

“I couldn’t really picture what you were trying to do in here from your description. Now I get it. It looks good.”

He’d carefully kept his voice low as he stood in the doorway leading into the soon to be dining room where he’d been watching Jules work unnoticed for the last ten minutes. The last thing he wanted to do was startle her. His good intentions aside, she still jumped about a foot before turning to face him. He was leaning against the doorframe, his arms crossed at his chest.

“Damn, Sam, don’t do that.”

“Sorry; Jules, I’m almost scared to ask how long you’ve been down here working. From the amount of work you’ve gotten done, I’d guess most of the night.”

Wiping her hands on a towel near where she was sitting, Jules shrugged. “Don’t know. I don’t have a clock in here. I didn‘t wake you up again, did I? I was trying to be so careful to not make any noise.”

Sam sighed and left his perch on the wall. Once he was at her side, he squatted down beside her. “I’m up because the alarm went off about thirty minutes ago. Seriously Jules, how much sleep did you get?”

Jules chewed on her bottom lip. She didn’t want to lie but she also didn’t want to listen to the lecture she was sure would come if she admitted to Sam that she hadn’t slept at all. She’d sat at the edge of the bed for almost an hour staring at the unopened letter she’d received from her uncle. For the past twenty years every similarly mailed letter she’d received had met the same ending without even the temptation to open it and read its contents. For the first time, she didn’t know how to handle this letter. She still had no desire to read anything Johnny had to say to her but at the same time debated whether it was smart to destroy it either.

The cop in her that wanted to preserve any potential evidence warred with the woman who couldn’t forget the easy way her uncle could manipulate the simplest conversation. In the end, she’d hid the letter, still sealed and unread, in the bottom of a drawer that she was pretty positive Sam wouldn’t be looking in. After taking care of the letter, she knew she should once again return to bed and slip into Sam’s comforting arms. Standing in the darkened bedroom staring at the man she loved, Jules had weighed her options. She could return to bed and Sam’s arms where she’d fall asleep only to be awakened and then wake him up shortly after due to nightmares or she could forego sleep completely so that Sam at least would be rested.

“Jules?” Sam pressed gently when she didn’t answer. She shrugged.

“You know me when I get a project started. I get a one track mind until it’s finished. Give me ten minutes to shower and get dressed and we can go to work.” She gave him a quick kiss before using his arm to push herself up. Sam watched her leave the room with a worried expression on his face.

He did know her and knew this wouldn’t be the first time she’d spent an entire night working on some renovation project and then worked the next day. She did have a one track mind once she made a decision about something but he was pretty sure her working through the night on the dining room had less to do with the need to complete the project she’d started and everything to do with the news her father had delivered the night before. He silently cursed himself for sleeping so deeply that he hadn’t realized he was sleeping alone until the alarm went off.

True to her word, she was ready within ten minutes and Sam insisted on driving. It had crossed his mind to suggest that she call in sick and take the day to catch up on the sleep she’d missed. Crossed his mind and met with the immediate realization that not only would Jules balk at the idea but that the mere suggestion would probably start a disagreement neither of them would really want to have. So instead he made one crucial pit stop on their way to the headquarters.

Moments later he returned balancing a small bag with two hot beverage containers and handed one to Jules before getting back in the driver’s seat. She looked at the oversized insulated container in her hand and raised an eyebrow. “What’s this?”

Sam put his own cup in the console holder and fastened his seatbelt before answering her. “If you can’t recognize a double double from Timmy’s, you are worse off than I thought.”

“That much I figured. But seriously Sam, look at how big it is. Am I supposed to drink it or take a bath in it?”

Honestly Sam thought she’d be better served if they could attach an IV to her arm and feed it to her intravenously. He shrugged as he pulled out of the coffee shop’s parking lot. “It’s the largest they had. I figured you could use all the caffeine you could get today. There’s also a bagel B.E.L.T. in the bag for you as well. My mom always used to say you could go without sleep or you could without food but not both at the same time. Better eat it up on the ride. I wasn’t quite feeling generous enough to buy for everyone today.”

Jules didn’t protest, recognizing that while Sam was concerned about her, he was trying hard not to smother her with unwanted attention. Instead she reached into the bag and pulled first a wrapped treat that looked like it was bacon egg biscuit and handed it to Sam before pulling her own breakfast from the bag. She nibbled at it obediently but for once couldn’t even find pleasure in her favorite treat from Tim Hortons. The coffee on the other hand definitely was hitting the spot it needed to fill. Therefore, by the time Sam had pulled into a parking space at headquarters, only a quarter of the sandwich but half of the enormous coffee was gone.

“Another day for keeping the peace.” Jules announced, returning what was left of her sandwich to the bag. Sam reached out and took her hand in his and gave it a gentle squeeze. She looked over at him, noting that his expression was serious. “What? I’ll eat it later.”

“Not that, Jules. Look, I understand this has got to be incredibly difficult for you. There’s no way I can know the full extent of what you are feeling and I won’t even pretend to say I do. But I’m here for you all the same. I won’t pressure you to talk if you don’t want to talk about it and I’ll do my damndest to squelch my natural instinct to be all overprotective. But please, don’t ask me not to worry about you. Cause that’s like asking me not to breathe.”

Jules took the hand that was wrapped around hers and pulled it to her lips for a kiss. He knew her so well. Knew she didn’t like to talk about her feelings and didn’t really like the idea that he or anyone was worrying about her. Most people attributed it to the fact that she’d worked too hard to make a place for herself in a man’s world for anyone to act like she couldn’t handle it when things got tough. But for Jules, it went much deeper, back to an overarching fear that any sign of weakness could give someone another chance to hurt her, a chance she wasn’t willing to grant anyone. But as much as it went against her nature, hearing Sam express his worry in light of the news that her mother’s killer was being released was strangely comforting. She found herself being as honest and vocal about her feelings as she could for the first time in twenty years.

“It’s not that I don’t want to talk about it, Sam. I can’t do it. I’m not trying to keep you in the dark but trying to keep myself in the light. You have no idea how hard it was just to live through it originally. The night my mom was killed, I lost myself. It took me a long time to find my way back and there were moments I didn’t think I would. Maybe I’m weak but I can’t take the chance of slipping back into that hole again.”

Without waiting for Sam’s reply, she gentle extracted her hand and climbed out of the jeep. She leaned against the vehicle, determined to regain her composure before entering the building. Sam joined her a moment later and carefully enfolded her in his arms, pulling her flush against him. His chin rested on the top of her head while one hand rubbed her back lightly and the thumb of his other hand gently traced her jaw line.

“Weak? Not a chance in hell. The last thing I want to do is cause you any more pain than you’ve already been through. I hope you know that I’m here for you, however you need me to be. Like I said, I won’t pressure you to talk but I’m here if you decide you want to. And Jules, I promise you with everything that’s in me that I won’t let you get lost again. If you find yourself slipping into some dark hole, say the word and I’ll hold you so tight that there’s no way you’ll fall.”

Jules looked up into his eyes and believed every word he said. She knew they needed to get inside before they were late but stayed right where she was for just a few minutes more, taking some of the strength Sam seemed to be offering to share with her in his embrace. In that moment she felt safer than she’d ever felt before, safer even than she had felt the night her father’s hug had brought her back from the abyss she’d been dangling in following her mother’s death.

“Hey, you two, you going to stand there making out all day or are you going to actually report to duty?” Ed’s almost sarcastic deep voice broke the magic of the morning.

Sam tensed and Jules slightly shook her head, staving off whatever crude retort he was just before making. Rising up on her tip toes, she brushed a quick, chaste kiss to his cheek before pulling away from his embrace. “We’re coming. Don’t get your panties in a wad.” She told Ed then leaned close so that only Sam could hear her next words. “I love you, Sam. Even if I don’t always show it, I’m grateful that I have you.”

Even in the elevator ride up, Sam kept a discreet hand on the small of her back. Small talk filled the short ride as Jules asked about Izzy to keep the conversation from turning toward why her father had shown up the day before. Once they arrived at their destination, they greeted Winnie before heading toward the locker rooms. Greg stepped out the briefing room and called Jules over. Sam raised an eyebrow toward her as if to ask if she wanted him to come with her but she gave him a wink to let him know it was okay. As she joined Greg, he hit the button closing the door to give them some privacy. He motioned for her to sit down.

“I almost called you last night to check on you. You had me worried the way you left yesterday.” Greg admitted, the worry evident on his kind face.

“I’m okay.” Jules assured him, hoping that he would accept her word. She was pretty sure the dark circles under her eyes from no sleep suggested a different story.

He nodded. “I’m sure you are. But I know it couldn’t have been easy hearing that the man who destroyed your family is being released.”

She shrugged. “I knew it was coming eventually. We’re cops, Sarge, we know how the system works. Yeah, it caught me off guard but life goes on Don’t worry about me.”

“What about Johnny, do I need to worry about him?” Seeing her frown of confusion, he continued. “I know the whole story, Jules; your dad told me when we first worked together. I know you were his next intended target that night. Any reason to think he’s going to try to finish what he started once he’s released?”

Jules counted to ten slowly, trying to compose her answer before speaking. “He’d be crazy to even think about it. He’s spent twenty years in jail; why would he jeopardize his new found freedom by coming after me? Don’t worry about me.”

He realized it was the second time she’d told him not to worry about her. He wondered if she thought that if she said it enough she’d actually convince him it would be true. “I think we still have to consider the possibility. If he tries to make any contact with you at all, I need to know about it.”

She nodded. She didn’t mention the letters; if she did, Greg would insist on reading the one she’d kept and that was something she couldn’t allow. Part of the reason she’d never read any of them was some innate fear that he’d referenced what he’d done to her, what he had believed to be a loving sexual relationship and there was no way she wanted anyone, especially the men she worked so closely with to know anything about what had really happened to her that night and the night before. “Sure. Is that all? I still have to get changed and I’m pretty sure everyone is wondering what’s going on.”

Greg sighed. “Just one more thing. So far Sam is the only one not in this room that knows about what’s going on. You’re right, I bet everyone IS wondering what’s going on. What do we tell them?”

“Nothing.” No counting before answering this time.

“There is a possible threat against you and I have to tell them something. Besides, they’re your friends, Jules. They care about you and they’d want to know. You don’t have to say a word. I can tell them and let them know you don’t want to discuss it.”

She shook her head. “I don’t want them feeling sorry for me. I can’t handle that. Besides, there’s nothing to indicate that Johnny wants anything to do with me. I don’t want everyone treating me with kid gloves for no reason.”

Greg frowned, obviously not liking the idea. “Okay, we’ll play it your way for now.” As her expression turned hopeful he held up a hand. “BUT, if he makes any contact with you at all -- even if it’s just to cross the same street you are on, I’m going to consider it a threat. Our job is too important not to take even the slightest possibility of danger seriously. If that happens and you still don’t want them to know, we’ll leave it that someone you once helped put away has been released and could be looking for retribution. Pretty much the truth without any personal details. Okay?”

Jules shrugged; she knew there was no way she’d change his mind. If she tried, it would probably just bring more questions that she wasn’t prepared to answer. “Fine. Can I go now?”

Greg nodded and Jules made her way to the door. As she waited for it to lift all the way open, Greg spoke once more, concern evident in his voice. “Jules, if you want or need to talk about any of this, I’m here for you.”

She didn’t turn around to face him but he could see her shoulders stiffen. “I haven’t wanted to talk about it for twenty years. I don’t see that changing just because the judicial system is granting the bastard a change of address.“

Greg watched as she left the room without waiting to see if he had a reply. He was concerned about her, more so after their conversation than before. Seeing Sam come out of the locker room, Greg motioned the younger man to join him. Once again he closed the door and motioned for Sam to sit down. As for himself, he perched on the edge of the table.

“Be honest with me, Sam. How is Jules really handling things?”

Sam kept his expression carefully neutral. “Why are you asking me? You were just talking to her.”

For a moment Greg was transported back to a time when Sam and Jules had been dating but determined to keep their relationship secret. He sighed. “Yeah and I got the famous Jules’s patented ‘I’m okay’ for my troubles. I want to believe her and just let the matter drop but I can’t. Not when she shows up looking like hell. Now I’m in a bind. Do I let her stay at work cause she says everything is fine or do I trust what my eyes are telling me and send her home? You know Jules better than any of us. Which is the right decision?”

Shoving the seat back, Sam stood up and paced the length of the room before stopping to look at Greg. “With all due respect, Sarge, you don’t get to ask me that question. To be honest, it pisses me off that you would try to put me in that situation. Even after Jules and I proved we could date and still hold to the priority of life code, the commander still wasn’t sure about letting us stay together. He was worried we wouldn’t be able to leave the relationship at the door; that we’d let our personal lives interfere with work. It hasn’t always been easy but for the most part, we’ve done everything he wanted of us. Here at work, we have to be just teammates. So much so that I worry that if I express more than a passing concern at a call for her well-being, we’re going to be called on the carpet for not being professional. How professional is it for you to sit there and try to use our relationship to help you make the difficult decisions?”

“Sam.” Greg protested but Sam continued.

“No, I’m serious about this. If, and that’s just an if, I had concerns about Jules being here today, I would voice them to her not you. I would do so before we entered the building while we were still allowed to be more than just teammates. But I am in the building now and as a couple of minutes ago, officially just a teammate. So if YOU have concerns, you’re going to have make the decision about whether she works today on your own. But as her teammate, let me warn you that if you tell her she can’t work today, be prepared for a fight. And answer me this, how long are you going to make her stay at home? The SOB that killed her mom hasn’t even been released from jail yet; you think this is going to be any easier on her then?”

“Copy that, Sam. I shouldn’t have put you on the spot like that. The only excuse I’ll offer is that I’m worried about her. If this was happening to anyone else on the team, I wouldn’t be as concerned. And before you accuse me of being sexist, let me assure you it has nothing to do with Jules being the only female on the team. When it comes to the rest of you, I can generally trust that you know your limits. Jules doesn’t know the word quit. No matter how much a situation is bothering her, she doesn’t show it until it gets the best of her.”

Sam wondered if Greg was thinking about the call they had in the aftermath of Lew’s death where Jules admitted to the suspect that she knew what it felt like to lose someone who shouldn’t have died. Sam rubbed his hand over his face, realizing now that Jules probably wasn’t just talking about their fallen comrade but her mother as well. No wonder she’d taken Lew’s unexpected death so hard. And he’d still been so embittered over Jules’s ending their relationship that he hadn’t paid much attention to just how much she’d been hurting.

“I’m not going to send her home.” Greg admitted a moment later. “I can suggest that she take a day but we both know she won’t agree to it. If I push the issue, I’d have to put something in her personnel folder and I don’t think I’m ready to do that. So for now, she stays. I hope I can count on your, as her teammate, to help me keep an eye on her on scene. Not just today but in the weeks to come as well.”

Sam nodded. “Without you even asking. Sorry for busting your chops earlier.”

“Sorry for putting you on the spot.” Greg apologized as well. Sam was about to leave when he realized that the older man looked worried in a way that went beyond just concerned over how Jules was taking the news. He sat down again.

“What’s wrong?”

“I hope I’m borrowing trouble here but I’ve had a bad feeling about all this every since Jack showed up yesterday with the news that Johnny Dawson was being released. Jules doesn’t think he’s going to cause any trouble; thinks he’ll be so glad to be out of jail that he’s not going to rock the boat. I hope she’s right…”

Sam frowned. “You don’t think so? Is this just a gut feeling or do you have further reason for thinking so?”

“Somewhere between professional experience and gut feeling. The first five years Dawson was in prison, he sent ten different guys to the prison infirmary; one even had permanent brain damage from the beating he sustained at Dawson’s hands. The prison psychiatrist determined that he had a psychotic disorder and put him on meds to control his outbursts. The medication worked and the last fifteen years he’s been a model prisoner.”

“And you think once he’s out of jail, he’ll quit taking the pills and revert back to his old ways.” Sam finished for Greg, who nodded.

“We’ve seen it all too often unfortunately. Damn it, Sam; I want to be wrong. I want to trust that he’s served his time and he’s going to be a reformed citizen when he’s released. I want to but I can’t afford to; not where Jules is concerned. She’s too important to all of us to take a chance that she won’t be hurt by all this, either physically or emotionally. If I have to come across as the overprotective hard ass, then I’ll live with her getting mad at me.”

Despite his earlier tirade at his boss, Sam could now feel sympathy for the position the older man now found himself in. “Jules and I might leave the relationship at the door, but there are times when work does come home with us. If she starts to feel too put out by your attempts to keep her safe, I’ll try to put in a good word for you.”

Greg forced a smile. “Thanks, that’s probably more than I deserve after earlier. Now, what do you say we get this day underway before the others practice their entry techniques on that door to find out what’s going on.”

-- FP -- FP --

“Jules, it’s going to be hard to keep the peace out here today if you and I can’t make peace between ourselves.” Greg commented casually an hour later as he and the lone female of the team rode around in the SUV.

Jules glanced over at her boss, her jaw set in a hard line. She’d barely said a word since Sarge opened the door to the briefing room after his tête-à-tête with Sam. She couldn’t be for sure what they’d been talking about but either man would be hard pressed to convince her she hadn’t been the main subject of their conversation. They hadn’t offered any explanation to anyone on the team about their mysterious meeting but the guilty look Sam had shot her as they took their seats seemed to confirm her suspicions.

During the briefing Greg had announced that they had several warrants to carry out during the day and would be split into three groups to make the duty more efficient. While none of them really liked that aspect of their job, they all recognized it as necessary. While most of the time, it was a mundane choir that filled the time between calls; they had, at times, had subjects get a little crazy at the thought of being served. It was one of the reasons why it was one of their assigned duties.

Jules had hoped to be paired with Ed for the day even though things were still sometimes strained between them after Ed had made it clear that he thought Donna should remain on Team One even after Jules was cleared to return to duty. Their relationship had improved after Ed’s own injury-enforced absence and she knew with him she wouldn’t be forced to talk about how she felt about Johnny Dawson being released from prison. Instead, Greg had paired Ed with Raf, Sam with Spike, and himself with Jules. So here she was riding shotgun through the city with Greg behind the wheel.

“I don’t know what you mean.” Jules muttered, mindful that the team, while separated by different vehicles and miles of city streets, were still connected via the comlinks. Then it hit her that while Greg’s baritone voice had filled the cab of the vehicle, it hadn’t reverberated in her ear over the team’s communication’s device. He must have shut off the transmitter.

Taking one hand off the wheel, he reached over and turned off her audio link as well. Now they could speak freely but still hear the other members of the team if something occurred. “Jules, Sam didn’t betray your trust. I’ll admit, I pressed him to because I was worried you weren’t telling me what I needed to know but he jumped down my throat about it.”

“I told you I was okay.” Jules reminded him, but her tone was gentler.

Greg sighed. “Yeah, you did. However I remember sitting in your room long after I’d made everyone else go home, even Sam. It was probably about two in the morning when you woke up enough from the anesthesia to be aware of your surroundings. Seems to me the first words out of your mouth even then were ‘I’m okay.’”

“And look at me now. I was right.”

“Now, yes, then, not so much. I know you’ll be okay, Jules; I could never doubt that but until you get to that point, you don’t have to pretend.”

“Coming up on our address, Sarge. How about we just do our job?” She hadn’t said she’d forgiven his attempt to check on her but her body language and tone suggested that she was closer to it than she’d been when they’d first left headquarters.

He pulled up in front of the house next door to their location with a patrol unit behind them. Both Greg and Jules turned their microphones back on as they got out of the vehicle. Greg spoke to the officers providing support and requested they go around to the back of the house in case their subject tried to run. The uniformed officers did as requested and Greg and Jules cautiously approached the front door. Greg banged on it sharply.

“John Stanley, open up. This is Greg Parker with the Strategic Response Unit. I need to talk to you. Come out peacefully.”

Jules, standing far enough back to provide support, looked through a side window. What she saw inside alarmed her. “Sarge, looks like they’ve got a set up big enough to cook enough meth to supply the whole country.

“Greg, we’re ten minutes away. Back down until we get there.” Ed supplied in their ears.

A shot rang out on the other side of the house before Greg could acknowledge Ed’s request. Both SRU officers automatically reached for their weapons as Greg reported the development to the rest of the team. He turned his back to the door, ready to leave the front steps so that he and Jules could check on the units that went to the rear of the house. The front door suddenly swung open and a burly man plowed out of the house carrying a large shotgun in his hand. As Greg turned back at the sound, the man swung the weapon like a club, catching the officer in the chest with the barrel of the weapon. Greg dropped to the ground with the wind knocked out of him as the man dropped the shotgun and took off running down the street.

Jules took a half second to make sure that Greg was okay before taking off in pursuit of the suspect. She could hear through the comlink the status of all her teammates. Sam and Spike would be at the house in mere moments and Ed and Raf were coming from the opposite direction, the direction she was now running toward. The suspect was fast but so was Jules, even with her lack of sleep the night before. Though he had a head start, he wasn’t able to increase his lead and she was quickly closing into him. Up ahead she could see the flashing lights of the SUV blocking his path.

The suspect stopped when he saw his way was blocked and turned to flee the way he’d come. Jules took advantage of this and launched herself at him in a flying tackle worthy of a Super Bowl moment instant playback. Caught by surprise, the suspect found himself on the ground with Jules on top of him. In no time, she’d flipped him over on to his stomach and was handcuffing his hands behind his back. She looked up to see Ed watching her with a smirk on his face.

“Guess she didn’t need us after all Raf.”

Jules chuckled as she let Raf pull the suspect to his feet. “Shut up. Let’s get back and check on the Sarge. He got clocked pretty hard.”

They turned their prisoner over to a black and white unit that pulled up and Jules rode the back to the house with Raf and Ed. They found Sarge sitting in his own SUV with Sam and Spike standing nearby watching him in concern. Greg insisted that he was more embarrassed at being caught by surprise than hurt. Spike had already checked out the back of the house to discover that the shot they had heard had apparently been a diversionary tactic by Stanley to aid in his escape. No one had been hurt.

The rest of the afternoon was spent on the scene, waiting for Hazmat to clear the house from the danger of the makeshift meth lab equipment. By the end of the shift they were all exhausted. Neither Sam or Jules wanted to take the time to shower and change at work and left the headquarters hand in hand.

Sam stopped and picked up supper on the way home, knowing they were both too tired to have to worry about cooking. He pulled into the driveway and carried the bag of the food into the house. Jules followed slowly up the walk behind him, stopping first at the mailbox. She didn’t even bother sorting the small stack until she got inside the house, locking the door behind her.

She placed the bills in one stack to be paid later and tossed the junk mail in the garbage. Her hands started to shake as she got to the last envelope and recognized the familiar scrawl of the addressed letter. For the second day in a row, she’d received mail from Johnny Dawson.

Chapter Text

By the day Johnny Dawson was due to be released from prison, Sam had bypassed worried when it came to Jules and was somewhere closer to panic stricken. Sure, outwardly she seemed to be handling things just fine. No one else on the team, including Greg - who was watching her like a hawk, sensed anything was wrong with her, but Sam saw what they didn’t.

Each night she would go to bed with him; he’d fall asleep with her tucked securely in his arms. But each morning he’d wake up to find himself alone in the bed and Jules somewhere in the house working on some sort of project. The dining room was pretty much complete, just waiting on the delivery of the table and chairs she’d found at a really good price online. She’d moved on to redoing the counters in the kitchen to repainting the spare bedroom upstairs. No matter how much he pressed her for an answer, she would never reveal just how much -- or as he suspected, little -- sleep she was actually getting each night.

If the lack of sleep wasn’t concerning enough, he was also pretty sure she wasn’t eating right either. If they were having a meal together, she didn’t protest saying she wasn’t hungry but the way she picked at her food, he doubted she ever ate even half of what she put on her plate. He was also pretty sure that if he wasn’t around at a meal time, then she didn’t even make the attempt to eat that much.

But what had him the most concerned was their lovemaking over the past week. It wasn’t something he could really pinpoint or even find fault with but there was something different in her reactions to him and his touch. It almost seemed to him that she was holding something back or was perhaps a little more guarded in her reactions to him. There had even been a couple of times as he lowered her gently to the bed that he almost caught just a hint of something in her eyes that resembled fear. It was so fleeting that before he could even question whether he’d actually seen it, it was gone.

He’d tried to broach his concerns with her on several occasions, had even been prepared for an angry backlash from her for his attempts. Instead, she’d risen to her tiptoes and kissed him softly before reassuring him that she had everything under control and was okay. Sam never thought he’d prefer an angry Jules to what he was currently seeing.

Their shift today had ended early and he’d suggested that they go running together but Jules had declined saying she’d get dinner ready while he was out running. Again it wasn’t like the Jules he fell in love with but he didn’t press the issue. Despite what he feared was an unhealthy lack of sleep in the last five days, Jules went strong all day long at work. He couldn’t blame her if she lacked the energy to tackle a run on top of a full day of work. Besides, it gave him time to think about how he could best help her through this difficult time. Running usually gave him that chance to allow his body to move on automatic pilot while his brain contemplated the troubles that had to take a back seat during the rest of his day. Unfortunately, this was so big he didn’t think he could figure out a solution if he ran a full marathon and back again.

He let himself in the back door and was surprised to see the kitchen empty and the house completely quiet. Concerned, Sam made his way to the living room wondering where Jules had disappeared to. He drew up short at the sight that awaited him, a soft smile creeping into his features.

It looked to him like Jules had sat down on the couch to play with the kitten for a few minutes. After hearing about the loss of her pet at the hands of her mother’s killer, Sam had questioned his decision of bringing another kitten into the house but slowly it seemed like Jules was warming up to the newest addition. The kitten was curled up in a ball on her chest sound asleep but it wasn’t the only one. The woman he loved was lying back against the cushion of the couch her eyes closed and the even rise and fall of her chest said that she’d succumbed to the exhaustion that had to be plaguing her.

Supper was completely forgotten seeing her sleeping so peacefully. He was tempted to leave her just as she was, not wanting to disturb what might be the first real rest she’d gotten in a week. But he could tell from the position she was sleeping in that she’d have aching muscles when she finally woke up.

Carefully he slipped his hand between the kitten’s warm body and Jules’s chest, lifting the tiny feline away from its current napping place. It’s little eyes opened and he mewed just slightly in protest to having his rest disturbed. With a warm chuckle, Sam cupped the kitten to his own body, rubbing its fur with his thumb. “Easy there fellow. You can go back to sleep in a moment. I need to put your pillow in her bed so she can hopefully get some much needed sleep.” Sam carried the kitten to the laundry room that they were still using to house the little fellow at night and when they weren’t home. He placed the kitten in the small pet bed he’d purchased before even meeting the cat for the first time and then closed the door behind him. He was glad to see upon returning to the living room that Jules hadn’t moved a muscle. He only hoped she was so soundly asleep that she didn’t wake up as he moved her.

Even more gently than he had with the kitten, Sam eased one arm under her knees and the other behind her shoulders and lifted her into his arms. She sighed in her sleep and snuggled into his embrace but didn’t waken. Sam grinned and pressed a light fluttery kiss to her lips before heading for the stairs and their bedroom. Once there, he placed her gently in the bed and debated whether to risk undressing her. The jeans and button down shirt she was wearing couldn’t be that comfortable for sleeping so he took the chance of easing the constricting garments off her body. He eyed her almost-bare body appreciatively before covering her with a light blanket from the end of the bed.

The sun hadn’t even sank below the horizon but Sam didn’t care. He almost wanted to undress as well and climb into the bed with her and hold her close as she finally gave in to the rest she so desperately needed. He would have if the phone hadn’t chosen that moment to interrupt the silence of the bedroom. Jules’s face wrinkled as the sound must have punctured her dreams and Sam scooped up the cordless to answer it before a second ring could actually awaken her.

“Hello?” He kept his voice quiet so as not to disturb her further, ready to carry the phone to another room if this was going to be a long conversation.

Click. Whoever was on the other end had apparently decided not to speak. With a frown, Sam checked the Caller ID to see if he recognized the number but found that it was blocked. He returned the phone to its base. Almost immediately it rang again and once again as soon as Sam tersely answered the person on the other end disconnected the call. He had half a mind to just turn off the ringer in case the person called back a third time but his sense of duty wouldn’t let him. Team One was on call to back up Team Three if needed and they couldn’t afford to miss a call out because some idiot had decided that he could have fun making prank calls.

Instead, he carried the cordless out of the bedroom and back downstairs. As much as he wanted to lie down beside Jules and hold her while she slept, he didn’t want to risk the phone waking her up if it wasn’t necessary. He hadn’t even made it to the stairs when the phone rang once again; this time he let it ring the second time so he could see the read out on the Caller ID. Once again it was a blocked number. Since there was no worry that the ringing would wake Jules, he chose not to answer, allowing it to go the machine; hoping that whoever was calling would be brazen enough to leave a message.

By the time he got downstairs he saw the message light blinking and hit the play button but all he could hear was silence followed by the audible click of the phone being hung up. He was starting to lose his patience especially as the phone rang once more. Again he let the machine pick up.

As the machine came own, Jules friendly but no-nonsense voice filled the room. “Hi, we can’t come to the phone right now but at the beep leave your name, number and brief message and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.”

He could remember the first time he had heard this message which Jules had recorded long before he’d ever moved in. When he questioned her about it, she’d shrugged and explained in a tone that suggested she didn’t seem to understand his confusion. “I’m not going to give my name and number in the message because I’m not going to give some random person who accidentally reached my number any personal information. By using the plural pronoun it makes potential thieves think there’s more than one person living in the house.”

He’d chuckled and had asked if she’d learned that information in Safe Voicemail 101. She’d just rolled her eyes and ignored the question. Now that he’d moved in, he liked the message more and more. Liked hearing her say “we” and knowing he was the other half of that pronoun.

Again, the caller hung up as soon as the beep sounded. This was just ridiculous. Someone was playing a game and it was time he ended it. When the phone rang a fifth time, he punched the button immediately. “This is Sam Braddock with the Strategic Response Unit. Identify yourself or I will have this call traced and units dispatched to question you. Don’t think I can’t just because your number is blocked.”

“Sam?” The deep male voice seemed uncertain. He recognized the voice and a glance at the Caller ID confirmed that this was not the same caller as before.

“Mr. Callaghan, sorry. Thought you were someone else.”

“Apparently not a nice someone either. Everything okay?”

The tips of Sam’s ears turned red with embarrassment that he’d been caught in a moment of less than stellar cool by his girlfriend’s father. “Yes sir, just someone thinking they’re funny by calling and hanging up. Nothing to worry about.”

“Is Jules there?” Sam was torn. Jack Callaghan wasn’t prone to calling for just idle chitchat but at the same time he really didn’t want to wake Jules up when she was finally sleeping so well. That was the very reason the crank caller was bothering him so much. His hesitation to answer didn’t go unnoticed. “What’s wrong, Son?”

“Nothing.” Sam quickly reassured him. “It’s just that Jules hasn’t been sleeping that great the last couple of days and well…”

“Her body finally forced her to listen to it. You don’t have to explain, Sam. I know my daughter. I was just calling to check on her. I know she’d never admit that it could get to her that her mother’s killer was being released today but I also know it’s been eating away at her all week. Don’t wake her up. Just have her give me a call later.”

Sam could hear the worry in the older man’s voice and realized that Jules’s father probably knew her better than anyone. While Sam had been watching her slowly self destruct while stubbornly denying any hardship, Jack had known from a distance what she was going through. “I will.”

“Sam, I hate that my baby girl is going through this hell right now and I hate it even more than I’m not there with her while she is. However, I’m damn glad she’s got you there watching out for her.”

Jack’s approval meant more to Sam than he would have ever expected it to. Sam muttered something about promising to take good care of her and that he’d have her call her father as soon as she was awake. After a couple more minutes of talking, Sam said his goodbyes and hung up the phone.

That’s when the screams started.

-- FP --
“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.”

Twenty years hadn’t changed him at all, at least not in Jules’s subconscious. The last taunting words he’d said to her had come back to haunt her dreams many times in intervening years since his arrest and promise to confess to killing her mother. Sometimes they came in the form of just the direct memory of him sitting handcuffed to a chair in the interrogation room seemingly believing in some sick, demented way that she truly wanted a relationship with him. Other times, such as now, he was facing a now adult Jules, ready to make good on his promise.

In the physical world, her underwear-clad body tossed and turned, bucking like a bull trying to dislodge its rider. She whimpered pitifully as the grip of the dream pulled her further and further under. The Dream Jules was standing in the same bedroom she was currently sleeping in backing slowly up against the wall as her uncle steadily advanced on her, his expression lustful and leering. Dream Jules wasn’t carrying her weapon; if she were, she’d use it in a heartbeat to end his pathetic life.

“We’ll be together forever. It’ll be perfect. I’ve waited so long to see you again. I trust you got my letters.”

How many she’d destroyed over the years she had no idea but the five unopened envelopes hidden away in her drawer had been taunting her just as powerfully with each one she added to the collection. They ate away at her soul making her feel guilty with each passing minute. She knew she should turn them over to Greg as proof that Johnny had been trying to contact her; after all she’d promised him she would. But she wanted nothing more than to rip them to tiny shreds to show that they didn’t hold any power over her.

“Letters? What letters? Jules, what’s he talking about? What is he doing here?” Of course Dream Sam would have to come in at that moment and she couldn’t stand the look of betrayal looking at her.

“She didn’t tell you about us? No, I guess she wouldn’t have. Telling what we shared already cost her her mother. She wouldn’t dare chance losing someone else. I’m the one you should be thanking. I taught her everything she knows about pleasing a man. Well, not everything I guess. My darling dead sister interrupted us before I could give her the ultimate lesson in lovemaking. She’s good isn’t she? I bet she’s only gotten better with experience. You realize you’ll have to leave don’t you? I don’t plan on sharing JAC with anyone.”

Tears spilled down Dream Jules’s face. She wrapped her arms protectively around her body, trying to shield herself from his penetrating eyes. Although to be honest the horrible expression of understanding and revulsion growing in Sam’s eyes was way worse than the predatory, undressing look reflecting in Johnny’s. Dream Sam shook his head. “Jules, what he’s saying… You and him? Tell me you didn’t.”

“Oh, she did. She willingly let me do things to her and she to me that would make you blush. I had to teach her what to do, of course, but she was a eager pupil.”

“Bastard.” Dream Jules muttered under her breath. To her horror, Sam turned his back on her and started to leave the bedroom, obviously repulsed by her and the situation. “Sam, don’t!”

He paused at the door and turned back to look at her, shaking his head. “You hid evidence that he was coming for you after you promised Sarge you’d come to him if Johnny contacted you. You lied to the team and worse you lied to me. I can’t be here.”

He left without another word. Johnny started to laugh as he approached her. Jules pressed her body further against the wall, trying to melt into it, anything to prevent what appeared to be coming. As his hands cupped her shoulders, she began to scream. Somehow he maneuvered her from the wall to the bed she’d only shared with Sam. She struggled against him, screaming the entire time. She wanted to plead with him not to hurt her but her brain refused to form the words. His hands were warm against her skin as she struggled against him. He was practically lying on top of her and she felt as helpless as she’d been twenty years earlier. In one last attempt to protect herself she brought her knee sharply up connecting straight to his groin.

-- FP --
At her first scream, Sam took the steps two at a time to reach her side. He flung open the bedroom door and saw her twisting and turning on the bed as if under attack. He called her name hoping to shake her from the nightmare as he crawled on the bed beside her. He wanted to gather her in his arms and soothe away her fears but she struggled against him, still locked into whatever hell her dream had placed her in. He was so intent on helping her that he wasn’t aware of much else until her knee made solid contact with his groin.

Sam fell off the bed with a grunt of pain. Her aim had been perfect and he could almost see stars on top of the pain she’d inflicted on him. Before he could recover, she’d flung herself off the other side of the bed and scrambled to the safety of the nearest corner, her legs pulled up protectively in front of her.. Even through the involuntary tears that had sprung to his eyes, he could see that her eyes were opened but he wasn’t sure if she was really awake. The absolute terror on her face was enough to temporarily forget his own discomfort.

“Jules, wake up, Baby. It’s okay. You’re safe. Everything’s fine.” His voice was strained from the pain he was trying to push aside for the sake of his girlfriend. He used the covers on the bed to pull himself back up to the bed so that he could cross the queen-sized barrier to get to Jules’s side. He kept a safe distance from her just in case she still felt frightened, turning sideways so that if she kicked out again, she would catch his thigh instead of aching manhood. Reaching out, he touched her knee, the same knee that had caught him unawares.

She jumped slightly, blinked a few times and then looked around. “Wha…Who…I mean.. Sam?” A single tear ran down her cheek.

He forced what he hoped was a reassuring smile as he reached out to brush the lone drop from her face. “Just a dream. You’re okay.”

She glanced around trying to reconcile her current location with what she remembered before falling asleep. Then she looked down and realized her state of undress. She frowned. “How did I get up here and where are my clothes?”

“You fell asleep on the couch while I was out running. I figured you’d be more comfortable up here.”

Her body was trembling and he wasn’t sure if it was from fright or a chill in the air so he reached down and picked up the light blanket he’d covered her with earlier and offered it to her. She all but snatched it away and wrapped herself in it, concealing herself from him. “And my clothes? I guess they just decided to fall off on the way up? God, Sam, I fall asleep and you decide to take advantage of me?”

Stunned by her accusation, Sam sat back using the bed for support. He was hurt she could think so badly of him but hoped it was more of just a reaction to the dream than her real feelings about what he was capable of. “I just wanted you to be comfortable. I’m sorry, Jules; I’d never take advantage of you.”

She paled, realizing what she’d accused him of. She scrambled out of her protective corner and hugged him. He pulled her close, tucking the blanket closer around her. He’d never seen her look so vulnerable as she did right then. She hiccupped softly. “I’m sorry, Sam. I know you wouldn’t. I just… I’m sorry.”

Sam held her as closely as he felt she would be comfortable with, his hand lightly running up and down her bare arm beneath the blanket. Her head was against his chest. “Shh, it’s okay. It must have been some dream. I heard you all the way downstairs. Want to talk about it?”

He’d promised her that he wouldn’t force her to talk and if she balked he didn’t know what he’d do. He didn’t want to hurt her but at the same time felt it was better for her to voice her fears so they couldn’t hurt her any more. He held his breath as he waited to see if she’d answer him. She stiffened and he thought she was going to stay silent. To his surprised she started to talk, her voice haunted and quiet.

“It was Johnny. He was here and he wanted to finish what he started twenty years ago.” She didn’t elaborate any further hoping Sam would take the unfinished task to be killing her not the real horrific truth. No matter how much she trusted Sam’s feelings for her, she couldn’t summarily dismiss Dream’s Sam’s reaction. She shuddered at the memory and Sam tightened his hold.

“Jules, you aren’t the kid you were twenty years ago. If Johnny is stupid enough to come after you, he’s going to think the bullet you put in him twenty years ago was nothing more than a bb pellet. He doesn’t stand a chance against you. But even if you don’t feel like you are strong enough, you’ve got to know that I’ll never let him hurt you. I’ve got your back all the way, Baby.”

“Promise?” She needed to hear his reassurances even at the same time that she knew that her omission of the truth was nothing more than a lie. The nightmare kept playing over and over again in her mind. Johnny’s taunts and Sam turning his back on her giving Johnny the chance to try to hurt her once again. She could see herself struggling against him on the bed even going so far as to knee him. Her knee was even sore as if she’d actually made contact with something solid.

She paled even more when she realized what must have actually happened. She lifted her head to look up at him and saw the pain in his eyes that he was trying desperately to hide. “Oh my God, Sam. I…I hurt you. What have I done?”

He hated to see her this way and could only hold her closer in an attempt to let her know that everything was okay. “Jules, don’t worry about it. It’s my fault, I should have realized you’d react violently to your dream. It’s okay; I’m okay.”

Almost as if she recognized her own usual response of words being thrown back at her, Jules offered him a wan smile. “Still, it had to have hurt. I’m sorry. There’s no excuse…”

“Really?” Sam interjected before she could finish. “You find out the man who killed your mother is being released from prison. You haven’t gotten a full night’s sleep in about a week, and you wasting away to skin and bones by not eating. All of that is enough to set yourself up for extreme reactions.”

“I hate these kind of dreams.” Jules admitted. “They make me feel weak and helpless.”

Sam cupped her face lovingly in his hands, forcing her to look at him. “Listen to me and listen good. There is no way in hell that anyone who knows you could ever use the words weak and helpless to describe you. I know you want to always come across as Super Jules; the person who doesn’t let anything get to her at any time or in any way. But Baby, it’s not a sign of weakness to have nightmares. God knows I’ve had some doozies in my life. I know you’ve been slipping out of bed every night. Be honest with me. Are you having nightmares like this and I’ve been sleeping through them?”

Jules shook her head. “I didn’t want to take the chance of having them so I wouldn’t let myself fall asleep.”

“Your body can’t function on no sleep; you know that. You’re going to make yourself sick if you keep this up. Tonight, promise me you’ll sleep, even if you have nightmares. If you promise me that, I’ll promise to be right there beside you all night and if the dreams get to be too much I swear I’ll wake you.”

Jules mulled over his request for several minutes. She trusted that Sam would be there for her if she needed him but she didn’t trust herself not to reveal information that was best kept hidden, even from the man she loved. Still, she knew he was right; she couldn’t go much longer on no sleep. It would start affecting her job and Sarge had put too much trust in her for her to let him down. “This dream was pretty mild compared to the way some of them go. They can get rather nasty, especially when I’m really tired. I’ve had a few over the years that were so severe I felt like I was going to fall so deep into it that I wouldn’t be able to climb out again.”

Sam sighed deeply, hurting for the woman sitting beside him. The ache in his groin from her knee connecting with his manhood was nothing compared to the breaking of his heart at her admission. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do to help her through this difficult time, yet there was nothing he could do. “Sweetheart, there’s no chance in hell that I would ever let you fall -- not if you were standing on the roof of the tallest building in Toronto and not in your subconscious. I’ll stand on that ledge with you tonight and if you start to fall, I’ll catch you before you do.” He sealed his promise with a kiss. Jules was hesitant in her response at first but then her lips relaxed against his and opened willing as his tongue begged entrance.

They were both panting hard by the time Sam broke off the kiss. “So tonight, you’ll sleep but you also need to eat.”

Jules frowned and at first Sam thought she was about to protest again but then she sheepishly admitted, “I fell asleep before I could even think about putting anything on for supper.”

Sam laughed. “I’ll run pick up some takeout from that Thai place you like so much. While I’m gone, you can get dressed again and give your dad a call. He called earlier; I think he’s as worried about you as I am.”

-- FP --
Johnny Dawson sat down across the desk from a man wearing khaki pants and a blue button down shirt. He smiled his most disarming smile. “I appreciate you agreeing to hold the interview tonight. I know they told me I had a few days to get settled into the house before I had to get a job, but I didn‘t want to waste any time. The sooner I can get a job and start making my own money, the sooner I can get my own place.”

The other man returned the smile with one of his own. “Not a problem. I must say I was surprised to get your call. We’ve had an agreement with Kennington House for years now to offer custodial jobs to their residents but not many want to work for us.”

Johnny perfected his surprised look. “Really, why’s that? It is just a standard custodial job, right?”

The job interviewer laughed. “Yeah, of course it is. Nothing more or worse than mopping the floors and taking out the garbage and the like. It’s more the company you’d be keeping that turns most people off.”

“I’ve spent the last twenty years in a maximum security prison. I’ve served my time and now I’m anxious to be able to live a normal life again. I’m pretty sure that nobody who works for you could be any worse than the worst of humanity that I’ve lived with in prison.” Johnny put enough sincerity in his voice to sound convincing. “After all, I’ll be working for Metro Police. How bad could that be?”

The man closed his folder and placed it on the side of his desk. “Oh, there’s nothing bad about it. Most people in your position just don’t want to spend their new found freedom surrounded by officers who remind them of their incarceration.”

“I made a mistake. I won’t deny that. Now that I’m out; I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that I don’t make any more mistakes. At least if I’m working for Metro Police, I’ll have to tow the line. If you hire me, I can promise you won’t regret it.”

“The job is yours if you want it. You’ll start tomorrow.”

Johnny nodded, then tried to look concerned. “I don’t have any right to ask this, I know, but will everyone know about my past? It’s kind of hard to get a fresh start when people are holding your past against you.”

The interviewer waved off Johnny’s concerns. “I understand completely. No one has to know how you came about getting this job. Keep your nose clean and there’s no reason why your past should plague your present or your future.”

Johnny stood and shook the man’s hand. “I appreciate that, Sir. I promise I won’t let you down. I’ll be here on time tomorrow, you can count on it. Earlier if at all possible.” He started to leave and then paused at the door. “I heard that that elite force, you know, the one that always responds to those dangerous, high profile calls, works out of this building.”

The man nodded. “Strategic Response Unit. Yes, you won’t be working on that floor though. There’s no way to get clearance for Kennington residents to work that department. Don’t worry; you’ll have plenty to do without having to worry about that level.”

Johnny nodded. “Sure, I heard enough stories about those guys while in prison. I certainly wouldn’t want to mess with them. I’ll see you tomorrow.” He waited until he was out of the building completely and waiting at the bus stop before pulling out the disposable cell phone he’d made as his first purchase upon being released. He’d only used it to call two different numbers. One was to arrange for the job interview with the head of the custodial staff for Metro Police and the other number which he was currently dialing again. He smiled in anticipation of hearing her voice once again. He only hoped that it wouldn’t be answered by the guy who’d answered the first three times he’d called. He needed to hear her voice like some people needed a drink at the end of the day. He’d settle for the Memorex version but he hoped the fates would smile on him and he’d get to hear her live and in real time. On the phone for now but soon in person.

Chapter Text

“Jules? Come on, Sweetheart. I hate to wake you up but we’re going to be late if we don‘t get moving soon.” Sam had put this off for as long as he possibly could. He’d turned off the alarm twenty minutes earlier, just seconds before it’s blaring claxon could shatter the quiet of the early morning. His rationale had been that he could slip out of bed and get his shower while Jules enjoyed a little more sleep. But he hadn’t been able to pull himself away from her and had instead continued to lie there staring at her. She looked so peaceful lying in his arms, more relaxed and rested than he’d seen her look since her father had shown up at the barn to tell her about Dawson’s impending release.

The night hadn’t been completely without its moments. He’d lost count of the number of times he’d jolted awake to feel her body stiffen and soft moans of fear and pain emit from her tightly clenched jaw. Each time, he’d pulled her protectively closer, almost wrapping his body completely around hers and whispering soft reassurances in her ear. It seemed to do the trick each time; after about ten minutes her body would once more relax and her breathing would even out again without her either waking up or screaming out in fear.

It hadn’t been much of a restful night for him but it didn’t matter. A night of wasted sleep was a small price to pay to ensure that Jules finally got the rest that she needed. In fact, he hated waking her up now; would have been content to leave her sleeping in bed and making a call to Sarge putting in for a day off for her. But he knew that would meet with questions from their boss that he was pretty sure Jules didn’t want asked and with resistance and ire from Jules herself.

Jules burrowed deeper into Sam’s arms and mumbled sleepily, “Not time yet. Alarm hasn’t gone off.”

Sam grinned. “Sorry Babe, I turned if off earlier. Wanted to let you sleep a little longer.”

Jules bolted up and peered over his shoulder at the clock on the nightstand. She swore softly. “Sam, we’re going to be late. We both have to get showers and get dressed. We won’t have time to stop and get coffee and…”

Sam pulled her back down and kissed her into silence. At first she stayed stiff but then relaxed in his arms. After a couple of minutes, he pulled back. “How do you feel?”

She opened her mouth to give her standard “okay” but then stopped. A smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. “I slept all night long didn’t I? I know I had some dreams but I didn’t wake up.”

She looked so amazed and relieved that Sam kissed her again. “I promised you I wouldn’t let you fall.”

Her eyes were a little watery but from happy tears. For twenty years she’d dreaded and feared the nightmares that plagued her dreams at certain times of the year -- her mother’s birthday, the anniversary of her mother’s death, the night after the arrival of a letter she would destroy rather than open -- to the point she wouldn’t even try to sleep so they couldn’t hurt her. Yet, without asking her to divulge the worst that her dreams had to offer, Sam had kept her grounded and protected. She’d known she loved him for awhile now but until this moment she hadn’t realized just how much she needed him. Needed him without it making her feel weak and incapable. It was a feeling she didn’t want to end. “I love you.”

Showers were forgotten. Who would know or complain if they didn’t take one that morning? After all, the night before Sam had run a hot bath and filled it with the lavender bubble bath Jules kept stashed under a cabinet for special indulgences. They soaked in the tub until the bubbles all dissipated and the water had grown cold. Sam had hoped the scent of the lavender would help relax Jules enough to fall asleep. It had worked its magic the night before and could now serve to buy them just a little more time this morning to, if not fully express their love to one another, at least allow them to satisfy a little of the desire they felt toward each other.

Their displays of affection didn’t go beyond kisses but their expressions of love were deep and sensual and full of promises that would have to keep until later when they were both off work. Finally, Sam pulled back, breathing hard. “Sweetheart, if we don’t stop now, there’s no way we’re going to make it to work anywhere near anything but way late.

Jules nodded, her lips kiss-swollen and her cheeks rosy. Sam started to slide out of the bed but Jules reached out and snagged his arm, forcing him to look back at her. “Sam…” The thanks she wants to give him dies on her lips. Admitting weakness was almost impossible for her; accepting help for those perceived weaknesses even more so.

Sam watched her for a moment and then as if sensing what was going on in her head nodded his understanding of her unspoken gratitude. He knew her well enough to know the inner struggle she was battling. He didn’t need her to say the words to know what was in her heart.

They dressed quickly and rushed down the stairs; the hope was that they’d at least be able to run through the drive-thru at Timmy’s on the way to work without being late. At the base of the stairs, Jules paused as she saw the blinking light of the answering machine. “Sam? How could we have 38 messages on the machine? I never heard the phone ring.”

Sam frowned. He hadn’t mentioned the prank calls to her the night before. During supper, he’d answered two more just to be hung up on. While getting her bath ready there had been three more. So, while she was in the bathroom undressing for her soaking lavender bubble bath, he’d turned off the ringer on the upstairs phone and alerted dispatch to call his cell phone in case of a call out. Before he could answer her question, she hit the play button. It only took her listening to four hang-ups before she reached for the phone to check the Caller ID.

“It’s all the same blocked number.” She paled as she replaced the receiver. She looked back at Sam. “You don’t think it could be…”

He wrapped his arms around her. “Probably not. You’re the one who’s been saying he’d be crazy to contact you and risk his probation. It’s probably some kid that got this number by accident and decided to see how aggravating he could be. But if it’ll make you feel better, I can get Spike to do his computer magic on the phone company and see if he can trace the calls to the actual number.”

Jules shook her head. She didn’t doubt that Spike could probably get the information in no time at all but he’d want to know exactly why they wanted it. That would mean telling him what was going on and she didn’t want anyone else on the team to know about the situation. “Nah, like you said it’s probably nothing. Besides, how could Johnny have gotten my number in the first place? It’s unlisted. If we ignore it, whoever’s doing it will get bored and move on. Come on, we’d better get to work.”

-- FP --
For the first time in a really long time, Michaelangelo "Spike" Scarlatti was really enjoying his life. His father’s illness and subsequent death had been hard and occasionally he still had his moments of almost overwhelming sadness. His mother returning to Italy had also been a hard loss to take but as much as he missed her, it felt good to finally be the adult and take care of his own needs. It wasn’t who was missing from his life that had him smiling a lot more lately but by who was there.

“It’s no good.” Spike whispered in the blonde’s ear as he slipped up behind her in the small bathroom. Even though his reflection had been visible in the mirror for the last five minutes, she’d been too caught up in her morning rituals of fixing her hair and make-up to notice him. He planted a quick kiss at the nape of her neck before finishing his statement, “You can’t top perfection.”

Natalie Braddock smiled as she turned into his embrace and kissed him softly. “You’re sweet; bias and blind but sweet. This is an important interview for me. I want this job more than I’ve wanted anything in a long time… except you.”

He smiled broadly. “Good save. Nat, they’d have to be stupid not to hire you. You look perfect and you would be perfect for this job. If they don’t agree, have them call me and I’ll tell them that myself.”

He’d thought his relationship with the sister of his co-worker had been a thing of the past. He valued his friendship and working relationship with Sam too much to risk it by dating his friend’s little sister. Though breaking off the relationship hadn’t been what either of them had wanted, they had both agreed it was better to keep the peace and end things as friends than to risk everything turning ugly later. He probably wouldn’t have given a relationship with the beautiful blonde another thought had Sam not asked him to have a drink with him about a month after Jules had been injured in the anthrax lab.

Sam played with his drink, unsure of how to begin the conversation. Finally he downed his beer in one long swallow and set the glass down. He turned to his co-worker. “My sister has always had lousy taste in guys. Sometimes I think she goes out of her way to pick guys that are the complete opposite of both the General and me. They never end well.”

Spike had been on the verge of reassuring his friend once again that things were over between him and Natalie. He would even apologize again for keeping it all a secret; even though it seemed a little ridiculous considering Sam had been involved with his own secret relationship with Jules at the exact time. Before he could say anything though, Sam continued. “Nat’s always picked the worst losers to date and then she finally chooses a guy who would treat her right. Chooses the kind of guy I would approve of, and I blow things for her. I was a complete jackass. I had no right to interfere with the two of you dating.”

Spike took his own long swallow of his beer, unable to believe what he was hearing. “What are you saying, Sam?”

“I’m saying after everything I went through to be able to be with Jules, I’d be a world class jerk to stand in the way of anyone’s happiness. I can’t say it doesn’t weird me out to think of my best friend dating my little sister. I certainly don’t want to hear any locker room talk about how your dating life is going but I don’t want to be the reason neither of you is happy right now. My sister likes you and I think you like her as well. I know you wouldn’t intentionally do anything to hurt her. If you two want to make a second chance of dating, I won’t stand in your way.”

It had meant a lot to Spike to know that Sam thought so highly of him. He hadn’t acted on Sam’s suggested at first, wanting to take the time to make sure it was what was best for both him and Natalie. He’d run into her at a club about two weeks later; she’d hooked up with another of what Sam would have called a loser who was giving her a rough time. He’d stepped in and they’d been a couple ever since.

Now, most nights he spent with her in the apartment Sam had all but vacated once his relationship with Jules have been allowed to be public. In deference to his friend’s feelings, he didn’t make his relationship locker room talk material but kissing and telling -- when it was a really special relationship -- wasn’t his style anyway. In return, they were all glad that Sam was the same way about his relationship with Jules. They all considered her to be their own little sister and they didn’t want to hear about any bedroom activities that she might be involved in.

Satisfied that she looked okay, Natalie allowed Spike to lead her out of the bathroom. They had a quick breakfast and left the apartment. She drove, dropping him off at work with a kiss and a promise to call him later and let him know how the interview went. Spike watched her until her car was completely out of sight before turning and entering the building.

He took the stairs, walking up the flights with ease. He realized he wasn’t alone on the stairs; someone, a custodian from the uniform he was wearing, was about a flight and a half ahead of him. He was a little surprised, not many people outside the team chose the stairs in lieu of the elevator and especially not the custodial staff who were usually loaded down with their cleaning cart and other supplies that made stairs awkward. What further surprised him as he closed the gap was that the custodian was bypassing the other floors and heading toward the floor that was reserved for SRU. Only two custodians were cleared to work that floor and this guy wasn’t either of them.

Spike waited until the other man’s hand was on the door that would open into the barn. “Hey buddy, wait up.”

He put on the extra speed and caught up with the man. He carefully noted the man’s dark hair and the badge on his uniform. Both the uniform and the badge appeared to be brand new. The name on the badge read Johnny Dawson. Spike frowned. “Where are you going?”

The custodian smiled, and Spike got the feeling the man was used to getting what he wanted with that smile. “Hi, I’m Johnny and today’s my first day. I was told to report to Henri when I arrived today but I can’t seem to find him. Figured this was the last place to check.”

Henri Blatston had been the head custodian in the building for as long as Spike could remember. The slightly overweight, balding man who had to be approaching eighty was a favorite of everyone in the building; he was quiet and did his job thoroughly and with pride but always seemed to have a kind word or a piece of friendly, sage advice for anyone who needed it. Henri was one of the only two custodians that had the clearance to work on the SRU floor. Spike frowned. “Yeah, he usually starts his day up here but you can’t go in. New or not, I’m sure they told you this floor was off limits to anyone without clearance.”

Johnny hung his head sheepishly. “Yeah, they told me that in my interview. But I didn’t think it would hurt if I just went in to find Henri. I don’t want to be considered late on my first day and if I don’t find him soon I will be. I’m sure you can appreciate wanting to look good on your first day.”

Spike shrugged. “Still can’t let you cross that threshold. Protocol. Tell you what I’ll do. I’ll find Henri and let him know you are looking for him. You head back downstairs and wait for him in the custodial locker room. I’ll send him down there to find you.”

Johnny brightened again. “I appreciate that. Like I said, don’t want to make a bad impression on my first day.” He glanced at Spike’s nameplate. “Scarlatti, that’s Italian right?”

“Something like that.” Spike responded. He nodded down the stairs. “You’d better head down. I’ll send Henri to find you.”

“Thanks again, Constable Scarlatti.” He took three steps down the stairs before pausing and turning to look back at Spike. “Hey, you’re one of those SRU guys aren’t you? The ones that do all that cool sniper work and hostage negotiations? You must be pretty badass to be able to do that job.”

Spike shrugged. “It’s a great job but it’s not all fun and games. Look, let me give you some advice. Stay away from this floor if you know what’s good for you.” His eyes were dark but then lightened a little. “We take clearance pretty seriously here. You get caught being someplace you aren’t supposed to be; you’ll lose your job before you can learn to like it here.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

Spike waited until the new custodian was completely out of sight before entering the barn. He went straight to where Winnie was already sitting at her place at dispatch. She smiled at him in greeting. “Morning, Spike. You are unusually early this morning. Everything okay?”

Spike blushed. He wasn’t by any means habitually late to work but he was usually skirting in at the last possible second. “Can‘t a guy run early once in his life without it being a big deal? Have you seen Henri this morning?”

“I think he’s finishing up in the gym.”

Thanking her, Spike continued down the hall to the gym. Sure enough the head custodian was just putting his mop back in the bucket after cleaning the gym floor. The older man smiled at Spike.

“Michaelangelo, good to see you. I’d give the floor a few minutes to dry before going in. I’d hate to see you slip and fall.”

“Henri, you got a new custodian starting today?” Spike leaned against the wall. The older man nodded.

“Dawson I believe. He was just hired yesterday. I’m glad to have him. We’ve been short a man for three weeks now.”

“I just caught him trying to enter this floor. He said he was looking for you. I sent him back down to the locker room with a reminder he’s not supposed to be up here.”

The older man shook his head. “They are supposed to tell the new hires in the interview about where they are cleared to go but some of these guys can get a little gung ho. I’ll make sure he doesn’t do it again. You have my word.” He started to push his bucket toward the elevator but stopped when his eye caught something on his cart. He picked up a medium sized bulging tan envelope and turned back to Spike. “I almost forgot. I found this on the floor in the girl’s locker room when I was cleaning up. I was going to leave it at the desk but I’ll give it to you instead.”

Spike took the envelope, surprised by its lack of weight despite the bulky nature. It was sealed and had two words scrawled on the front. Julianna Callaghan. He nodded. “I’ll give it to her when she gets in.”

He stood there long after Henri had pushed his equipment into the elevator and the door had closed behind him. He couldn’t help but wonder about the envelope and how it came to be in the locker room. It hadn’t been delivered by mail; there was no address or postage mark. He didn’t recognize the handwriting and didn’t know anyone who would actually call Jules by her given name.

“What’s that, Spike?” The computer expert jumped at Sarge’s sudden appearance at his side. He’d been so caught up in his own thoughts that he hadn’t heard Greg approach.

Spike shrugged. “Something of Jules’s. Must have fallen out of her locker when she left yesterday. Henri found it on the floor. Hey Sarge, I don’t want to bust someone’s chops on their first day but I think we need to watch the new custodian. He was trying to access the barn this morning. Said he was looking for Henri to report in and its probably nothing but better safe than sorry, right?”

Greg nodded. “Yeah, we go through this about every five hires Custodial makes. Did you get his name? I’ll make sure the brass enforces the issues.”

“Dawson. Johnny Dawson.”

Greg frowned but tried not to appear overly concerned. “I’ll make that call now. How about you give me that package and I’ll make sure Jules gets it when she gets here.”

Spike shrugged and handed it over. Raf was just coming down the hall and Spike followed him into the locker room, curious how the newest member of the team’s blind date had gone the night before. Greg frowned at the envelope in his hands, a bad feeling coming over him. He turned back toward the dispatch desk.

“Winnie, get Myers from Custodial on the phone. I don’t want his secretary or any of his subordinates. I want to speak to Myers directly. Patch him through to the briefing room when you get him.”

“Copy that. Anything else?” Winnie was already dialing the number.

Greg nodded. “As soon as Jules gets here, I need to see her.”

-- FP --
In danger of being late, Jules let Sam out at the door before driving around to the parking lot. After finding her usual spot and pocketing the keys to the jeep, Jules jogged toward the building. She was surprised to see Sam waiting for her by the stairwell. She frowned. “I thought you were going to go on up so both of us wouldn’t be late.”

He shrugged. “We got a couple of minutes. So we’re not Jules punctual today. I don’t think Sarge is going to say anything.”

Jules punctual was what he called her steadfast believe that you weren’t on time unless you were at least ten minutes early. She was about to punch his arm good-naturedly when a sudden chill ran down her spine. She couldn’t help but feel like she was being watched. She twisted and looked around the lobby of the building. Aside from a custodian with his back to her mopping the floor, there was no one around. Still, her body shuddered at the uncomfortable feeling the experience left her with. She decided it must be a hold over reaction to finding all the hang up calls on the answering machine earlier.

Sam held the door open, knowing they both liked the exercise the stairs provided over the elevator and knowing that it would be quicker than waiting for the slow moving elevator. He touched her arm, worried by the sudden change in her body language. “You okay?”

She forced a smile. “Yeah, sure. Let’s get upstairs before Sarge sends out a search party. Race ya.” Without waiting for his response, she took off up the stairs at a dead run. Sam shook his head and followed her. She loved competing against him because she never had to wonder after a victory if he let her win. He was just as competitive as she was and would never throw even a good natured challenge just to make her feel good.

They reached the door at a dead tie; neither really even breathing hard from the exertion. Sam paused with his hand on the door. He leaned down and kissed her. It had started to be his habit before they started a shift. One last kiss away from cameras and prying eyes before he had to leave his personal relationships at the door. He opened the door. “Let’s go keep the peace.”

Winnie greeted them almost immediately. “Morning. Jules, Sarge wants to see you. He’s in the briefing room.”

The couple exchanged a look of worry. Jules shrugged. “He’s probably just doing that overprotective papa bear check that everything’s okay. Go on and catch up with the guys in the locker room. I’ll see you in a few.”

Sam nodded reluctantly and watched as she slowly made her way to the large room. The garage style door did not come down behind her and he took that as a good sign. He made his way to the locker room.

For her part, Jules felt like her legs were encased with cement. Lately meetings with Greg hadn’t been the most pleasant experiences no matter how easy he’d tried to make them. He was just hanging up the phone when she came in and he didn’t look happy. He nodded toward the chair. She shakily pulled the seat out and sat down.

“Something wrong, Sarge?”

He sighed. “I don’t know yet.” He nodded toward the envelope in front of him. “Henri found that on the floor of your locker room this morning. Could it have fallen out when you left yesterday?”

She looked at the envelope and immediately recognized the scrawl. Her heart rate quickened. “Never saw it before.”

He pushed it toward her. “Open it.”

She didn’t want to open it at all let alone in front of Sarge. Who knew what Johnny had put inside. “It’s probably nothing. Besides, it’s almost briefing time. I’ll do it later.”

“Open it, Jules.” This time his tone brooked no argument.

Chewing on her bottom lip, Jules sulkily reached for the offensive package and slit the seal. She glanced in the envelope first, not sure she’d hide its contents if they were too revealing. She paled and dumped out the single piece of paper folded beneath the lone object. It was an innocent stuffed animal but she recognized the message immediately. It was a plush gray kitten; not a one hundred percent match to Boxer but close enough to not be a coincidence. She unfolded the piece of paper.

I’m sorry for the pain I’ve caused you. Please forgive me.

“Dawson?” Greg quietly probed.

She nodded. She wanted to sling the toy across the room, wanted to get it completely out of her sight and mind. As innocent as it appeared, and she was glad it was so innocuous looking, she knew Johnny had meant to awaken every ounce of pain she’d felt at seeing Boxer’s dead body on her pillow that morning. “How did it get in the locker room? It didn’t come through the mail. It had to be placed there.”

Greg wanted to wrap his arms around the young woman in a comforting hug. He could tell how upset she was but how tightly she was trying to keep those emotions from being seen. He kept his seat, trying to preserve her sense of control in the matter. “The halfway house he was assigned to, Kennington House, has a job placement program for their residents. Companies that agree to offer positions to help released inmates in their return to society. Metro Police is one of their participants. I found out this morning that Johnny took a position with our custodial staff yesterday.”

“Awesome.” Jules drawled out in the tone that said that it was anything but. Now she understood the feeling she’d had in the lobby. The custodian she’d seen the back of must have been Johnny. Her stomach turned. “Still, only Henri and Betty have access to our floor.”

Greg nodded. “I know but Spike already caught him trying to enter the barn this morning.” Seeing her look of panic he waved his hand. “Don’t worry. He didn’t know Johnny’s history with you. He just saw someone without clearance trying to gain access and put a stop to it. He reported it to me more as a mere formality. That might not have been Dawson’s first try. I put in a call to Myers in Custodial care but there’s nothing he’s willing to do. He said that he’d put a report in Dawson’s file about not following clearance protocol but that unless your uncle does something that warrants termination, he’s not willing to fire him. I‘m going to try to go over Myer‘s head.”

Jules felt cold in the otherwise warm room. “So far all we have on him is an apology attempt. They won’t fire him for that. Now that I know he’s working in the building, I’ll watch out for him. He wouldn’t try anything with a building full of cops.”

“Jules, you shouldn’t have to feel uncomfortable here. I don’t like this.” Greg admitted softly. The young woman shrugged.

“I don’t either but I’m not going to give him the satisfaction of thinking he’s getting to me. I can take care of myself and I know you and Sam will have my back.”

“And the rest of the team will as well.” He was sure she was about to protest once again that she didn’t want anyone to know about what happened. “I’ll tell them in the briefing that someone you helped put away has been released and is now working in the building. I want every eye possible keeping tabs on him. If he so much as rides this elevator to this floor, I want to know about it and I WILL have his job. This is nonnegotiable, Jules.”

An alarm buzzed and Winnie’s voice came over the intercom. “Team One, Hot Call. We have a report of a man threatening his business partner with a gun.” She gave the address as the team sprang into action. Thoughts of Johnny working in the building would have to wait until later.

-- FP --
Sam was lying on the roof of the building across the street from the office where James Reynolds was currently holding Max Ledbetter at gunpoint. He was Sierra One and he had the solution if it were needed. Greg was handling the negotiations which weren’t going well. All they had learned so far was that Reynolds was upset about something that had supposedly happened a few weeks ago but so far neither man wanted to talk about what that was.

“Sarge, Reynolds’s daughter just arrived on scene. She’s upset and claiming this is all her fault.” Jules’s voice filled his ear through the comlink.

“Copy that. Talk to her; see if you can find out what precipitated all this.” Greg’s reply was quiet so as not to alarm the gun man.

Sam was sure she could. Jules had a way of connecting to teenage girls that Sam had never seen before. She truly seemed to understand their angst; maybe because she’d once been a teenager herself. He returned his full concentration to his sniper position, hoping it wouldn’t be necessary to pull the trigger.

At the street level entrance, Jules led the distraught teenager into the command truck. Spike barely glanced at her as he continued his work at the computer. The girl looked at Spike nervously. “Does he have to be here?”

Jules smiled reassuringly. “Yeah, he does. He’s just going to sit there and do what he has to do and he’s not even going to pay us any attention. What’s your name?”

“Lara.” The teenager plucked at an imaginary piece of lint on her jeans and looked at the door as if she wanted to bolt. “Please don’t hurt my dad.”

Jules reached over and gave the younger girl’s hand a reassuring squeeze. “We’re doing everything we can to make sure everyone comes out of this safely. It would help if we knew why your dad is so upset.”

The teenager locked eyes with Jules and the SRU officer could see the pain in the younger girl’s eyes. Her stomach turned as she recognized that look of pain from the number of times she’d seen in it in her own eyes reflected back at her in the mirror. A single tear ran down the girl’s cheek and her lower lip quivered. “I never should have told him. I should have known he’d go ballistic. It’s all my fault.”

“Lara; listen to me.” Jules made sure that while her tone was firm, it was non threatening. “What’s happening in that office right now is not your fault. If your dad made a choice to react this way to something you told him then that was his decision and not yours. I doubt he’d want you blaming yourself. Anything you could tell us will help up do everything possible to make sure nobody gets hurt today.”

Lara took a deep shaky breath. “Two weeks ago I was home alone while Mom and Dad went out to celebrate their anniversary. Twenty five years. Anyway, Max came by the house. He said he had some important papers for Dad to sign and wanted to wait for him to get home. I didn’t think much about it; he was forever bringing things for Dad to sign. While he was waiting he suddenly started telling me how beautiful I was. It made me uncomfortable but I didn’t think much of it. Then he tried to kiss me and started trying to put his hand under my shirt.”

Again Jules felt her stomach doing somersaults and she wished that anyone else was doing this interview right then. But the she chided herself inwardly. The girl was upset and needed a friendly, female ear to talk to. She had to be that person. “Then what happened?”

Lara wiped away the tears that ran down her cheek. “I told him that what he was doing was wrong. I told him to leave. He apologized and said he must have misread my signals. He cautioned me not to tell my parents what happened because my parents would get the wrong idea. That they would think I was coming on to him. I wasn’t going to say anything. I thought maybe I had said or done something that gave him the wrong idea. But still every time Dad mentioned Max I would get upset. Last night Max came for supper and I tried to act like nothing happened. I got so sick to my stomach after he left that Mom and Dad insisted that I tell them what was upsetting me. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Dad so upset.”

Jules left her seat and retrieved a small bottle of water from the cooler they kept stock for long call outs. She handed it to the teenager as she reported back her discoveries. “Guys, Reynolds is in full Papa bear mode protecting his cub. Ledbetter attempted to molest Reynolds’s daughter.”

“Copy that.”

From his perch on the roof, Sam swore inwardly. He, along with everyone else, had heard the full conversation via Jules’s comlink. What made some men think they had a right to take advantage of young girls and then manipulate them into not telling anyone? Personally, he wanted to let Reynolds take the shot; it’s what he’d want to do if he ever had a daughter and someone tried to hurt her. Hell, he’d want to do the same thing if someone pulled that crap with either Natalie or Jules. Of course, Jules would be just as capable of putting a bullet into any asshole who pressed an unwanted advantage on her.

“I was so stupid for telling Dad. I know how he is. I should have known he’d react violently. If I’d been stronger…” Lara’s voice was almost hysterical as it filled his ears almost in stereo as it was picked up by both Jules’s and Spike’s comlinks.

“Don’t.” Jules interrupted her. “Don’t for a minute think you were stupid or weak. Lara, you didn’t let him hurt you. Do you know how much strength it takes to prevent a bad situation from getting infinitely worse? I don’t have to tell you what he might have done to you if you hadn’t made him leave. As for telling your parents, that took more strength than keeping it inside. You didn’t fall for his manipulation. No matter what happens in that office today, you didn’t do anything wrong. You did everything right. You were so much stronger than most girls in your situation would be.”

Sure, she didn’t do anything wrong, Sam silently agreed with Jules. But she would be the one to have to live with the consequences. If, God forbid, someone else hurt her, would she have the guts to admit to it after witnessing her father’s reaction today? And how long would it take her to trust another guy to shower attention on her without doubting his motives or being reminded about what Ledbetter had done to her? How long would Ledbetter’s actions haunt her dreams or affect her reactions to future boyfriends?

“Situation contained. Sierra One stand down.”

Sam lowered his weapon, glad that he hadn’t been needed. He was sure that both Reynolds and Ledbetter would be taken into custody but he imagined the courts would go easy on the father in light of the situation. At least he hoped so for Lara’s sake.

“Lara, don’t regret telling what happened to you.” Jules was apparently still trying to reassure the distraught teen. “This isn’t something you have to keep secret. You can get help and you don’t have to live with this pain for the rest of your life. As bad as things seem now, you will recover from this.”

There was such an air of authority in Jules’s voice. It almost seemed to Sam that she was talking from personal experience. If he didn’t know better…

He paused halfway down the stairs from the building he’d been perched on. Did he know better? He’d always wondered why Jules was so insistent about certain actions in the bedroom. Was there a reason why she wouldn’t let him kiss her breasts or touch her in intimate places? He was a cop trained to recognize the signs but could he have been so close to Jules that he hadn’t wanted to see them in her? He closed his eyes and leaned against the wall for a moment as the sheer enormity of his thoughts hit him. Jules had been so empathic with the teenage boy at the school the day the teacher’s bullet had struck her bullet proof vest and again today with Lara. It wasn’t because she’d been trained to do so but because she’d lived it first hand.

Her reactions this last week suddenly made sense to him. He’d wondered slightly at her reactions to Dawson being released from prison. She hadn’t been angry that the man who had killed her mother was being released but her reactions had been much more drastic, almost frightened. Had Jules’s mother been killed because she’d walked in and caught her brother in the act of hurting Jules? He could just imagine what that guilt and pain could do to a distraught teenager.

He ran the rest of the way out of the building and practically threw his gun at Raf asking him to store it in the truck for him. He saw Jules standing in the lobby of the building where Lara was now in the embrace of a tall slender woman that he assumed was the girl’s mother. He turned off his mike as he plowed into the building and pulled Jules to the side. He reached down and turned her mike off.

“Be honest with me Jules. Your uncle wasn’t just intent on killing you and your mother that night was he?” His tone was quiet but full of anger he was trying to repress against anyone who would dare hurt the woman he loved.

“Sam.” Her tone was low and held more than a hint for him to back off. But he was too upset to leave the matter alone.

“It all makes sense to me now. The certain ways you don’t like to be touched. The reason why your job was more important than our relationship. The fears you’ve been trying to hide since your uncle was released. I understand it all now. You never told anyone what he did to you, did you? Never told anyone that the sonofabitch raped you.”

“Damn you to hell, Sam.” Her face was pale and she pushed past him just as he realized that he’d heard her response and every word he’d said reverberating in his ear as they were being said. He turned as she stormed from the building and saw the entire team standing there in a semi-circle, similar looks of horror filling their faces.

Chapter Text

As Jules stormed past the semi-circle of their co-workers without stopping, all Sam could do was stand there and watch her. The color drained from his face and he closed his eyes as the knowledge sank in that he had just made the single worst mistake of his entire life. He couldn’t help but wonder what the hell he had been thinking.

He should have been thinking that there was no way Jules would appreciate him expressing where his thoughts had taken him at all. If he was right about what Johnny Dawson had done to her -- and he couldn’t imagine he’d figured it wrong -- then Jules had been keeping that pain a secret for twenty years; it was obviously something she didn’t want anyone, not even him, to know about.

But to press her about it not only while they were at work but finishing up a crime scene? That hadn’t been his brightest idea. Had he even been thinking at all or just reacting to the stunning realization that someone had dared to hurt the woman he loved, even if the event had happened before he knew her in order to love her? Or had he subconsciously known she’d fight him over it and thought that, here at least, she’d have to temper her reactions to avoid attracting the attention of the others?

But his single biggest mistake had been the radios. He’d made sure to turn off his so his words wouldn’t carry over the mike. He didn’t want to reveal her secrets to everyone; that had never been his intention. He’d even reached over and turned hers off as well. He just hadn’t paid attention to the fact that she’d been talking to Lara and her mother and those words of probably comfort and help hadn’t been transmitted. Her radio had already been off and in his attempt to keep the conversation private, had opened it up for everyone to hear. She would never forgive him for that. It wasn’t just that he’d blurted out for the team to hear what he believed could have been the worst moment in her life and in the revealing told the rest of the team about her mother’s death at the same time. That would have been bad; that would have put him in the doghouse for quite a while but that she’d probably ultimately forgive. His greatest sin was that by turning on her mike, his words had become part of the transcript of the call. His accusation was now a part of the official record and subject to Commander Holleran and any other outside source like Larry Toth to see and report on at any time.

It only took a few seconds of inner reflection to know how thoroughly he’d screwed up and then he opened his eyes to see the team alternating between looking at him and following Jules’s retreating figure as she made her way to the SUVs. All Sam knew for sure at that moment was that he had to try to make things right -- even if it was impossible. His feet were propelling him forward even before his brain made the conscious decision to follow her. As he passed the rest of the team, Greg tried to stop him.

“Sam, leave her alone.” There was an air of authority and just a touch of parental protectiveness in the older man’s tone that almost made Sam reconsider. Almost but not enough to actually stop him.

“Sorry, Boss; can’t do that.” He flung the door of the office building open and paused just long enough for his eyes to readjust to the bright light so he could locate her.

She was at the back of the SUV they driven to the call in, tearing at the straps of her Kevlar vest as if it had personally offended her. Sam sighed; her jerky movements were telling him exactly the extent of her anger. Squaring his shoulders, he made his way to her, leaning against the side of the vehicle once he reached it. He motioned toward her radio, silently asking this time whether it was off or on. He didn’t want to risk another syllable being uttered. She rolled her eyes.

“Great, now you ask. Too bad you couldn’t have thought of that five minutes ago.”

It was on the tip of his tongue to protest. He hadn’t meant for anything he said to be transmitted; he had tried to do the right thing. But he said nothing because she was right. If he had been thinking instead of reacting to his sudden insight, he would have done just that. Instead, he started to apologize, “Jules, I never meant…”

But Jules clearly wasn’t ready to hear it. “Never meant to what, Sam? Make unfounded accusations based on some sort of ridiculous notion you got into your head? Discuss our personal relationship so that now all the guys on the team think I have bedroom issues? Or was it you didn’t mean to tell the team what happened to my mom -- a subject you knew damn well I didn’t want becoming public fodder?”

As she ticked off his sins one by one, Sam could almost feel the ground sinking beneath him. He’d been prepared for the anger he heard as she lashed out at him but the hurt underneath that anger cut him to the very core. “All of it. Jules, I’m sorry. You’ve got to know the last thing I’d ever want to do is hurt you. Babe, we’ve got to talk about this.”

Jules finished putting her vest away in the back of the SUV before swirling on him. “No, we don’t. I’m not going to discuss any of this with you. Not here and certainly not on the job.”

Sam could feel his own anger starting to eclipse his guilt over how he’d handled things. He loved her more than he could express in words and his heart was torn to shreds with just the thought that someone had mistreated her. But if she was too stubborn to admit it had even happened, how could they get beyond it? “If not here and now, then when? You’ve spent twenty years not facing the truth.”

Jules looked ready to slam him against the vehicle. “Bastard. Who says I’ve spent twenty years not facing the truth? Just because you’ve concocted some sort of twisted version of what you think might have happened, doesn’t mean that it really did. You don’t know anything.”

“Then tell me.’ Sam’s tone softened and if there was even the slightest hint of a plea in his voice, he didn’t care.

“Sam. Jules.” Greg’s announcement of his approach before he caught them unaware was the mark of a true negotiator. His expression was completely neutral; if he had an opinion concerning what had happened -- and there was no question he did, there was no indication as to what it would be. “We’re finished here. Obviously there is discussion needed on all this but now is not the time. The shift is just beginning. Maybe the two of you should take the rest of the day off. I can call in someone from Team Four to cover.”

“Not necessary for me, Sarge.” Jules assured him.

Greg shook his head. “You sure, Jules? I can’t use you if you’re too upset to handle any call we might get.”

“Copy that. Sniper hands; see?” She held out her arms, palms down, to show that they were perfectly steady. Not even a hint of a tremble was visible. “Not sure about Sam though. He’s the one who doesn’t seem to have his head in the game today.”

“She’s got a point, Sam. I have to know if you can put this aside and do your job.”

How could anyone expect him to put aside his fears that the woman he loved had been assaulted? But still, it appeared that Jules was doing just that. If he was right, she’d dealt with the knowledge for twenty years. If he was wrong, then his relationship was probably over and work would be all he had left. It might still be regardless. “I can handle it.” Sam assured him.

“Good, you’re with me.” It essentially went against his better judgment to let them work but at the very least he could make sure they weren’t in a vehicle together. He’d debated who to pair with Jules. Ed’s no-nonsense demeanor could be good but Greg worried it would just escalate an already potentially volatile state. Raf always meant well but hadn’t learned that sometimes it was better not to try to tackle problems head on, especially when dealing with Jules. Spike’s easy going nature might be exactly what Jules needed. “Spike, you’re with Jules. We’ll patrol for a couple of hours before heading back to the barn.”

Spike ambled over, a laptop tucked under his arm. Without any discussion he climbed into the passenger side and fastened his seatbelt. Jules shook her head. “You aren’t even going to put up a token of a fight over who drives?”

Spike shook his head. “I’m listening to Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. You never let me drive so why should we even pretend I have a chance of it today? Besides I have something to take care of while we patrol.”

Jules took her place behind the wheel and jammed the key into the ignition. Despite her steady hands, she was far from the picture of calm she wanted people to believe she was. For twenty years she’d managed to keep the full details of what had happened to her a secret from everybody. As far as she knew, no one connected with the case had even suspected there might have been more to it. She’d allowed Johnny to manipulate her into silence not just out of fear of what kind of trouble her father could get into but mostly to hide her guilt and shame over what she’d allowed to happen. Now, for the first time, her secret torment was open for public scrutiny.

Well, not exactly for the first time, she reluctantly reminded herself. There was that one time in college. Her first serious boyfriend with whom she’d let down her guard enough to become intimate. However as their first attempt at lovemaking began to get heated, her discomfort started to overshadow her desires, especially as his roaming hands brought back painful memories. When his mouth had closed over her right breast and his hand sought out her most intimate places, discomfort had turned to outright terror. She’d shoved him away and threatened him with bodily harm if he came close to her again.

He hadn’t gotten mad and called her a freak like she’d feared he would. Instead he’d apologized for upsetting her and asked how long it had been since she’d been attacked. Horrified that he’d picked up on what had happened to her, she’d broken off the relationship without any explanation. She’d been careful after that; learned how to avoid the pitfalls of intimacy that would result in a bad reaction.

Now as she silently maneuvered the SUV through the streets, she was glad Spike was absorbed in whatever he was doing with the computer. She needed the time alone with her thoughts. Even though she was furious with Sam, perhaps angrier then she’d ever been with him, she did love him. They had fought too hard to get to where they currently were and she wasn’t ready to see their relationship come to an end. She trusted him with her life and her heart but she wasn’t sure she trusted anyone enough with her secrets.

“It’s no longer a part of the transcript.” Spike’s sudden interruption of the silence made her jump.

She looked over at him. He couldn’t be talking about the bomb Sam had dropped on her after turning on her radio instead of off like she knew he thought he had been doing. Probation for Team One might be over but still such a breech of protocol could be disastrous for them all. “What are you talking about?” The look he returned her said her suspicions were accurate. She groaned. “Spike…”

“Just following orders. It’s okay, the call was over -- no reason for what was said to be a matter of record. Now it’s not. I wouldn’t even have said anything but I didn’t want you worrying about the fallout.”

“Thanks.” Jules acknowledged softly then continued, “Got some sort of computer majo that’ll erase his words from everyone’s memory?”

“You’re our friend and we care about you; nothing Sam said will change that. No matter what happened…” he saw the glare she immediately pointed his way and amended his statement. “Or didn’t happen, it’s not gonna change the way we treat you.”

“Right.” Jules dragged out the word to show her disbelief.

“I already knew about your mother.” Spike admitted. Jules looked at him sharply and he shrugged. “What can I say, I got computer mojo, remember? I probably know things about every member of the team that not even the person himself knows. I read the transcript of the trial our first year working together.”

For a moment, Jules didn’t respond; letting the knowledge sink in. She glanced over toward him. “You never said anything.”

“I did my research because I could, not because I needed the information.” He explained. “You obviously didn’t want anyone to know and didn’t want to talk about it so I didn’t see any reason to bring it up. We’re friends and co-workers but there’s no reason why we can’t have our private issues.”

“And you’re confessing to knowing now to try to get Sam out of trouble?” It wasn’t that she was trying to pick a fight. She should have realized that it wouldn’t have been impossible for the computer expert to come across the transcript and she was grateful he’d never used the information.

Spike shook his head. “No, but I would appreciate it if you didn’t send him completely packing tonight. Nat and I have big plans and frankly, we’ve gotten pretty used to having his apartment to ourselves. I just don’t want you worrying that I’m going to start treating you differently. I guess now would also be a good time to admit that I know that the SOB responsible was released and is working in the building.”

“Sarge said you caught him trying to access our floor. He made it seem like you were just following protocol.” Jules wasn’t sure why she was finding it so easy to talk to Spike; maybe it was because he wasn’t pressing her for details she wasn’t ready to divulge.

“I didn’t know who all was aware of the situation. I told Dawson this morning he’d better keep his distance and I meant it; he’s not going to get another chance to hurt you, physically or mentally.” Spike didn’t add that he was now wishing he’d given in to his gut instinct to toss the scumbag over the stair railing while he had the chance. He couldn’t be sure if Sam’s assumptions were right and he was absolutely sure Jules wouldn’t confirm it if he was. Still he’d gotten a vibe from the guy in the few minutes he spent with Dawson that he hadn’t liked.

“You notice how quiet the coms are? I bet they’re all talking about what Sam said.” Jules mused as she pulled into the drive-thru at Timmy’s. Perhaps another double double could make the day more manageable.

“If they are, you gotta know its because they want to be supportive. They aren‘t going to judge you any more than I will.” He didn’t try to deny that they were talking about her which pretty much confirmed that he believed they were as well.

“Awesome.’ Jules muttered.

-- FP --
“You think its true?” Raf broached the subject he was sure was on both their minds after Ed had been driving for about ten minutes. Before that both men had been lost in their own respective thoughts.

Ed checked both the rearview and side mirror before turning on his blinker and changing lanes. His expression, had it been visible through his dark shades, would have been unreadable. “That Jules’s mother was murdered? Can’t see why Sam would make that up.”

Raf shook his head. “Not that; the other. That she was raped.”

It was an ugly word; Ed had always thought so. Still, in his profession it was one of those inexcusable atrocities he was confronted with almost on a daily basis. It was never easy trying to comfort a woman who’d just suffered the most humiliating moment of her life and remain stoic enough to ask the difficult questions that would hopefully bring the attacker to justice. Trying not to imagine what it would be like if God forbid it ever happened to Sophie. It had only gotten harder after Izzy had been born, knowing the job be dammed if anybody ever laid a finger on his precious baby girl. But trying to picture Jules in that situation? It seemed unfathomable. “I don’t know. I mean this is Jules we’re talking about. I have a hard time picturing anybody getting the better of her that way.”

“We’ve both worked this job long enough to know the worst can happen even to the strongest person. Even tough-as-nail Jules Callaghan.” Raf reminded him. “Although from the way Sam talked, this happened twenty years ago. Jules would have just been a kid. I know better than most that its not that difficult for an adult to take advantage of a kid. Even tough-as-nails Jules Callaghan.”

Ed didn’t answer. Raf frowned; even though he’d known Jules the least amount of time, he’d immediately come to think of her as a little sister. It sickened him to think that any man had hurt her so brutally, especially as he’d known that level of pain and humiliation first hand. He could only imagine it must be worse for the others who had worked with and known her for years rather than months. Yet Ed seemed almost unfazed. Raf narrowed his eyes.

“Do you even care that someone might have raped an innocent kid and then murdered her mother?” He almost growled the words, content to take his emotions out on Ed if he couldn’t do so on the man who had really hurt his friend.

Ed half turned so that he could watch the road and look at the man in the passenger seat. “You think I don’t care? Why? Because I’m not going off half-cocked based on a feeling Sam had? A feeling he didn’t even mean to share with the rest of us? If Jules was raped -- and I hope like hell she wasn’t -- there’s nothing I can do about it until or if Jules decides to let us. She won’t appreciate us butting in uninvited, and if we push the issue, we’ll only hurt her worse. So don’t sit over there all sanctimonious and insinuate I don’t care.”

Ed returned his attention to the road. He supposed he had made it easy for the rest of the team and especially Jules to think he might not care. He’d never been one to wear his emotions for everyone to see; it was a trait he usually shared the most with Jules, but that ability had cracked a little after Jules had been shot. He hadn’t really made it a secret that he would rather have Donna Sabine on Team One even after Jules passed her tests requalifying her to return to duty. He’d heard the whisperings that had made their way through all the teams as his preferences became public knowledge.

Some had associated his choice with the assumption that he didn’t think Jules was really capable of handling the job after her injury. Others thought he was trying to separate Jules and Sam because of their secret relationship that had come to light in the aftermath of the shooting. There were even those who went so far as to suggest that Ed had chosen Donna because he had romantic feelings for former Vice officer. The last suggestion had bothered him the most and he prayed that Sophie never caught wind of that ridiculous insinuation. He never tried to correct any of the reasons nor had he put forth one of his own when Jules herself had cornered him and asked for one, even though he’d known she’d been hurt by his rejection.

He allowed people, and Jules, to think what they wanted because no matter how horrible their beliefs were, they were still better than the real reason. He would never admit it but his desire to not have Jules return to Team one had been purely a selfish one. Even after all this time, every time he saw her, thought about the pain she’d endured, witnessed the hard work she’d put into rehabilitation just to earn her shop back and had gone through a similar stint in rehab after his own gunshot wound, he felt guilty. It was because of him that she’d been shot in the first place. She’d almost lost her life because someone was out for revenge on Ed because he’d taken a Scorpio shot on the boy’s father.

His guilt was made worse by the knowledge that Jules didn’t hold him to blame. Instead, she’d taken the energy that would have been wasted on feeling sorry for herself and seeking a scapegoat and channeled it into what it would take to come back stronger than ever. She might not ever have considered blaming him but Ed still accepted the blame he knew in his heart was his. Though he had and still did believe Donna made a great SRU team member, his main desire to see her remain on Team One in Jules’s place had been an attempt to save himself from being face to face with his guilt on a daily basis.

He softened his tone as the silence got uncomfortable. “Jules is strong. If someone did hurt her, she’s not going to let what happened get the better of her. She wouldn’t give anybody that satisfaction.”

“I don’t care how strong someone is; you don’t get past something like rape on sheer willpower and nerve. If she never told anybody, then she never got that kind of help.”

Ed shook his head. “You know as well as I do that you can’t give someone help until they ask for it. From what I saw today, Jules isn’t there yet. Knowing Jules, she may never be.”

-- FP --
“Tell me I’m wrong.” Sam pleaded as soon his back hit the driver’s seat in the truck he’d be sharing with Greg.

“Wrong to have handled things the way you did? I don’t think you need me to tell you that. As for anything else, I hope you are. I’ve heard Jack tell the story of that night so many times I feel like I was there. He’d left a seminar early because Margaret had called and asked him to come home. From the way he talked, Jules was almost catatonic when he arrived but he never gave any indication that Dawson had hurt her in any way. The first responders didn’t report anything that would indicate that Jules had been assaulted.”

Sam wanted to take solace in that news. He would give anything to be wrong even if it meant he’d ruined his relationship for nothing. As much as he wanted to, he couldn’t ignore the growing certainty that he’d been right in his musing. “What if it happened before that night? According to what Mr. Callaghan told me, Johnny admitted that he’d had a fight with Jules’s mom earlier in the day that he killed her. Maybe she confronted him with the knowledge that she knew what he’d done to Jules and he decided to kill her to shut her up.”

Greg stared out the window. He knew Sam was making suppositions here and there was no way of knowing if there was any truth in it unless Jules would agree to talk about that night. Still, part of their job was taking the pieces of information they did have and make it make sense. He had to admit that Sam’s theory seemed plausible and answered all those questions that had haunted Greg over the years when he thought about the case. “Let’s assume for just a moment you’re right. Johnny raped Jules and she confided in her mother. Margret confronts Johnny and kicks him out of the house; then she calls Jack and tells him to come home. She doesn’t tell him the whole story because she doesn’t want him driving upset. Before Jack can get there, Johnny returns and stabs Margaret to death and then plans on killing Jules as well, presumable with your theory to keep his secret. Jules manages to get her father’s gun and shoots Johnny before he can finish the job.”

It would have made Sam feel better if Greg had totally dismissed his idea as not possible. Instead, the older man was outlining a scenario that seemed all too scarily realistic. Despite his promise that he could handle the job, Sam wanted nothing more than to find Jules and take her in his protective arms and shield her from everything that they were supposing had happened. “We can sit here and run scenarios all day but all they’ll be are theories if we can’t convince Jules to open up.”

Greg tried to picture a sixteen year old Jules facing the situation he’d postulated. A rape in itself to an innocent teen would have been bad enough. He’d seen young girls in similar situations who couldn’t get past the hurt and humiliation to admit the truth. Girls who were too afraid no one would believe them if they told or worse accuse them of getting what they had wanted. “If we’re right, Jules saw the one person she’d confided in murdered because of that secret. We’re talking guilt on top of the pain of the attack. I remember Jack once saying he sometimes felt like it wasn’t that Jules wouldn’t talk about the murder but that she couldn’t. Maybe she couldn’t.”

Sam felt a chill run down his spine. “Maybe she still can’t. She’s scared, Sarge. She’s trying hard to hide it but I can tell. She had a nightmare yesterday that he was coming back to finish the job.” He remembered the hang up calls and groaned. “I think he was calling her yesterday. Someone would hang up immediately if I answered but if the machine picked up, he’d listen to the message -- Jules’s voice -- before hanging up. The number was blocked but I bet you it was him. Seems like too much of a coincidence that we get a prank caller the same day he’s released. Damn him. If this guy is ballsy enough to start calling only hours after being released, who knows what else he might try?”

Getting a job in the same building as SRU and leaving packages in the locker room for Jules, apparently. Greg didn’t think it was wise to tell Sam about either of those. Sam was barely holding it together as it was; he’d completely flip out if he knew the man he believed had hurt Jules was so close. “We’re going to make sure he doesn’t get close to Jules. And if he did hurt her all those years ago, he’ll pay.”

-- FP --
“I can’t believe we spent practically the whole day in that vehicle.” Spike complained once Jules pulled into her space back at headquarters. The couple of hours of patrol Greg had suggested after the call had stretched into practically the whole shift. They now had just an hour left of their shift; time enough to return to the barn for their workout and debriefing.

Jules hadn’t minded the time away from everyone else. Spike hadn’t pushed her to talk and she hadn’t had to face any concerned faces or field any questions she’d rather not answer. If she could just get through the next hour, she’d count the day a partial success. It wouldn’t keep Sam from picking up the conversation once they got home but at least there, she didn’t have to feel like she was in a fishbowl.

“Come on, I hear a treadmill calling my name.”

Spike’s phone buzzed and he recognized Natalie’s number on the display. “Go on up; I’ve got to take this.”

Jules nodded and entered the building. She’d almost managed to forget that Johnny was working in the building but as she walked through the lobby toward the stairwell she was reminded of the feeling of being watched she’d experienced that morning. Her hand rested on the butt of her service revolver; something she never thought about doing in the building. The stairwell door closed behind her and she started up the stairs to the barn. At the first landing the door opened and a custodian stepped out.

Thought it had been twenty years since she’d last seen him, she recognized him immediately. Her breath caught in her chest and her heart began to pound. Her hand tightened reflexively on her gun but she didn’t pull it. She was transported back in time to when she was sixteen and once more felt helpless and trapped.

Johnny smiled as he recognized who he was sharing the stairwell with. He hadn’t expected or even planned on her seeing him today but he wouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. “Hello JAC.”

Chapter Text

Jules’s grip tightened on her gun but she didn’t remove it from her holster. Dimly the thought crossed her mind that she could flip her radio on and simple say Spike’s name and he would hear in her voice the need to come on the run. But she left the radio on silent not wanting to chance Johnny saying something she didn’t want the whole team to hear. Besides, while she trusted the team to always have her back and there had been times there had been no way out of a situation without their assist, this wasn’t one of them.

“What are you doing here?” Her eyes narrowed to bare slits and her jaw clenched tightly.

Johnny shrugged looking not in anyway bothered by the situation. “I could say the same about you. You work in this building too? Talk about coincidence. I guess we’ll be bumping into each other all the time. Which department are you working for?”

Though he made no overt move to get closer to her, Jules still felt crowded. She took a step backward, shaking her head. “Bullshit. Don’t hand me some line about coincidences and act all surprised to see me. You knew I worked here. God knows how you found out, but you knew. This is all some sort of twisted attempt on your part to cause me misery. You even left a package for me in the locker room.”

Johnny neither confirmed or denied her accusation. He smiled at her, the expression reminding Jules of a wolf about to devour its prey. She took another step backward not even noticing how close she was getting to the steps behind her. Her skin tingled as if she could still feel his hands touching her body. The knot her stomach had been twisted in since she’d gotten the news about his release tightened and the club sandwich Spike had insisted she eat for lunch sat heavily on her stomach. “Isn’t it enough you ruined my life twenty years ago? Do you have to do the same thing now?”

“Ruined your life? JAC, what about my life? I’ve spent the last twenty years in a six by ten cell, sharing showers and an exercise yard with the worst mankind has to offer. I sacrificed my freedom to protect you. Nobody came to visit me. I had nothing. But look at you; you grew up with your family supporting you. You’ve got a respectable career following in your daddy’s footsteps. I bet you even have a handsome boyfriend warming your bed every night. Doesn’t seem like a ruined life, in fact it seems pretty damn near perfect to me.” He gave her a careful once over and Jules immediately felt dirty just from having him look at her. “My God, I thought you were a beautiful woman back then but look at you know. Even in a uniform and with your hair all pulled back like that, you’re a knockout. You must drive the guys wild around here.”

She took one more step backward and it proved to be one step too many. Expecting the surface to remain flat instead of a step being there, Jules’s foot met air and she started to flail. Johnny moved toward her and caught her before she could fall. He pulled her back to the safety of the landing, his arms wrapped around her to steady her.

The feel of him holding her was too much for her. Without conscious thought as to what she was doing, Jules broke free of his grasp in one clean side step. The training she’d received at the academy and especially for her role in SRU kicked in on autopilot. Before Johnny had time to react at all, Jules grabbed his right arm with her left and spun him around so that she could shove him face first against the wall, his arm twisted uselessly up his back. At almost the same time, she pulled her revolver from its holster with her right hand and pressed the barrel to the back of his head.

“Don’t. Don’t even think about it. I’m not that same helpless kid I was twenty years ago. Back then there wasn’t much I could do to stop what was happening but I have grown up. I’m smarter; I’m stronger; and I’m a hell of a better shot than I was the last time you messed with me. You think you can intimidate me by getting a job in my building? By making prank calls to my house? By leaving me thinly veiled threats in my locker room? I’m not scared of you. Mess with me now and I’ll make that scar I bet you still sport on your shoulder from the last bullet I put in you seem like a paper cut.”

If the presence of a gun to the back of his head worried him, Johnny didn’t show it. Instead he actually twisted as much as his limited mobility allowed to look at her through the corner of his eye. “Is such hostility really necessary, JAC? After all, I just saved your life. That would have been a nasty fall if I hadn’t caught you. That’s the way it is with you, though, isn’t it? Pity, it seems like all my attempts to save you cause me pain and hardship. One might think you’re ungrateful.”

“Ungrateful?” Jules pressed the barrel deeper into the back of his head. “Are you even freaking serious? What should I have been grateful for twenty years ago? You disemboweled a kitten and left it’s bloody body on my pillow for me to find. You murdered my mother and even made the final stab that took her life right in front of me. And you think I should be grateful?” She didn’t mention the other atrocities; the memory of what he’d done to her personally had been replaying in her mind intermittingly for twenty years and with increasing regularity since the news of his release. They’d been practically nonstop since Sam had confronted her with his fears at the call that morning.

She heard a door below her close with a loud bang and the clang of boots reverberating through the stairwell mixed with the off pitch sound of someone whistling. She knew it was Spike; he must have completed his phone call and was coming up to join her in what he’d expect to be the gym. She knew she should re-holster her weapon and release Johnny. There’d be too many questions otherwise. But she was locked in her current position, unable to let go but unable to cross that line and pull the trigger.

The whistling stopped as Spike realized he wasn’t alone in the stairwell. “You getting slow or just waiting on me?” As he got close enough to see the situation, he immediately reached for his own weapon.

“Jules, sit-rep.” He swore to himself that if Johnny Dawson had managed to hurt his friend in the time it took Spike to hold a brief conversation with Natalie, he’d never forgive himself.

“Constable Scarlatti, so nice to see you again.” Johnny drawled as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening instead of like a man whose face was smushed against the wall with a gun pointed at the back of his head. “Hopefully you can help me out here. Constable Callaghan here is bordering on police brutality despite my better intentions. Perhaps you will have better luck getting her to put her weapon away.”

“Police brutality my foot. Noble intentions? You sick piece of pond scum. Jules, sit-rep. You okay?” He hoped by repeating his request for a situation report, it would jolt her back into a little more of a professional outlook.

“How disappointing; I’d been assured my past incarceration wouldn’t be public knowledge. I assure you Constable Scarlatti, I did nothing except for preventing my niece here from suffering a terrible fall.”

Jules’s continued silence worried Spike more than anything. Her trigger finger was steady; she wasn’t preparing to fire, but he wasn’t comfortable with the situation regardless. “Yeah? What part did you play in her being about to fall in the first place? Jules, I have him covered. Stand down.” Still not getting a reaction, he tried one more tactic. “Jules, stand down or I’ll have to call the rest of the team to assist with the situation.”

His not-entirely-empty threat seemed to do the trick. The barrel came back and then the gun was returned to her holster. She released her grip on his arm and backed away, this time away from the steps and toward the wall. Wisely Johnny didn’t move at all until there was a good five feet of distance between him and Jules. When he did move it was simply to interlock his fingers together behind his head; a position he’d probably gotten all too familiar with while in prison.

Spike climbed the last few steps to join them on the landing. He did a quick check for any potential weapons before risking a glance at Jules. “You okay? What happened?”

“I’m fine. He told the truth; I started to fall and he grabbed me. It caught me by surprise and I overreacted. It’s fine, you can put your weapon away as well. There‘s no problem.” Now that there was once more distance between them, Jules could think and act rationally again.

Almost reluctantly Spike holstered his own revolver. He looked from Jules to Johnny and back again to Jules. He had a feeling there was more to the story than what he’d been told but he was also pretty sure neither Johnny nor Jules would be forthcoming with the truth. He wasn’t completely ready to let the matter drop, however. He glared at Dawson who by now had turned around to lean against the wall.

“I don’t know what kind of game you’re playing here but you’d be wise to watch your step. You mess with Jules and she’ll wipe the floor with your ass. And then for good measure the rest of the team will take a turn with whatever’s left of you -- that is, if there IS anything left of your worthless carcass when she’s through.”

“I never realized the Strategic Response Unit was staffed by constables so short-tempered and violent. I can’t imagine that makes for good public relations.” Dawson pushed off from the wall. “Now, if the two of you are quite finished harassing me, I’d like to get back to work. I’d hate for someone to start asking questions about what’s taking me so long. I think it would cause more trouble for you than it would me if I had to explain my tardiness.”

The sheer oiliness in the man’s tone made Spike once again want to show him the express way down the stairwell -- without the benefit of rappelling gear. Making sure to keep himself as a human barrier between Johnny and Jules, he nodded toward the stairs. “Get out of here before I decide it might be worth it to teach you the real definition of police brutality.”

Just as he had that morning, Spike waited until the new custodian had completely disappeared down the stairs before moving. Once he was sure he was alone with Jules, he turned to face his friend. “You okay? Really okay, not the standard ain’t-no-frigging-way-but-I’ll-say-I-am-reagardless okay you’re famous for.”

Despite her anger, and - though she was loathe to call it that - fear, Jules couldn’t help but smile a little. Apparently she didn’t fool anyone with her standard reply. Had anyone else asked the same question, she probably would have bristled at the insinuation she wouldn’t be. But Spike was different and she wasn’t exactly sure why. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that the scenario he’d laid out for her uncle had given her first crack at hurting him instead of waiting for someone else to take care of her.

“Embarrassed more than anything. I haven’t seen him in twenty years and I guess all that repressed pain and anger over my mom’s death just overwhelmed me. I’d like to think I was professional enough not to have crossed that line but I don’t think I was really thinking clearly.”

Together they continued up the stairs. Spike was weighing the questions and concerns he had against the probability of further upsetting Jules. He was sure almost every member of the team had experienced moments when they had either lost or almost lost control when dealing with a suspect. Hell, if he could have had five minutes alone with the person who planted that land mine that cost Lew his life, what he’d just witnessed here would have resembled a Sunday afternoon picnic. Still, it was seeing Jules lose control inside their own HQ that troubled Spike the most.

After greeting Winnie, Jules pulled Spike into the lady’s locker room so they could talk without being interrupted. She pulled herself up to sit on the counter by the sinks while Spike leaned against the wall waiting. It took her a few moments to work up the courage to ask the question weighing on her mind. “I appreciate the assist back there but I appreciate the fact that you didn’t make it seem like I needed you to step in the most.”

Spike shrugged. “You didn’t need me. Still, I feel bad you had to face him alone to start with. I should have had your back instead of stopping to talk to Natalie.”

Jules frowned. “You did have my back, Spike. I never doubted it for a second. I don’t suppose I could talk you into not mentioning what happened in the stairwell to Sarge?” Jules pleaded but then added. “or Sam for that matter.”

Spike shoved his hands in his pockets. It seemed like a simple request really. “Sam won’t hear a thing from me.“ That part was easy to agree to. “Sarge is a different story.” While she’d danced a tango on the line, she hadn’t completely crossed it and he had a feeling Johnny was savvy enough not to go running to anyone with what happened unless it could benefit him to an extent more than just getting Jules in potential trouble. Would it really hurt not to say anything?

At the same time, however, Spike was worried the consequences would be worse if the incident went undisclosed. Something had set Jules into attack mode and he wouldn’t be able to live with himself if something happened because he didn’t speak up. Even if it seemed like he was doing her a favor by not doing so.

“Depends; you wanna tell me what happened so I have a better idea if Sarge should know about it?”

Jules sighed deeply. The trouble with keeping secrets was that you then had to walk a balance beam when it came to not divulging certain pieces of information. “I overreacted -- just like I said. After everything that happened this morning and I wasn’t expecting to run into him even if I did know he was working here. All of a sudden, I was sixteen again, back to that night he killed Mom and would have killed me. I tried to back away and lost my footing. He did save me from falling but I lost control.”

Spike considered her words carefully. They sounded plausible but at the same time he couldn’t get Sam’s words from that morning out of his head. If Dawson had hurt her all those years ago, it made even more sense that she’d want to get away and that him touching her would send her spiraling out of control. “Nobody got hurt and nothing official was reported. I don’t guess I have to inform Sarge about anything. There’s no reason you won’t tell him about it yourself.”

Jules started to protest but Spike held up his hand before she could utter a single word. “No, Jules, I’m sorry. I get this is a difficult situation for you and I also know there are things you don’t want to discuss. For the most part, I can even respect that. I’m not going to push you to talk about anything that makes you uncomfortable but I hope you know that I’m ready to be a compassionate ear if you decide you do. But when it comes to any kind of contact with Dawson right now I gotta draw a line. All my training with this job tells me he’s a dangerous man, maybe even more so now that he’s spent twenty years in prison. Sarge needs to know everything he does so that Dawson doesn’t slip through the cracks and tries something. I know you can take care of yourself-- knew that without seeing you go all Supercop on his ass a few minutes ago. Still, there’s no sense taking chances.”

Jules allowed his words to sink in, grateful once again that he wasn’t dismissing her ability to protect herself while still watching out for her. It would have been so much easier for her to agree to what he was asking of her if Sam hadn’t said anything earlier. Now she was afraid every reaction she had was going to be scrutinized under a microscope for any signs that Sam might have been right. Still, if she protested too much, that would only make things worse as well. She sighed. “I’ll think about it.” She promised softly.

Spike nodded. It was good enough for him for the moment at least. “Good, let’s get changed and get to the gym before we lose the lead we had on the others.”

-- FP --
“Sarge, can we talk a moment?” Jules inquired softly an hour later as the team started to file out of the gym to end their shift.

Greg wiped his face with a small towel and nodded. He was only slightly surprised by her request. He could tell something was weighing on her from the moment he and Sam had arrived back at the barn. Jules and Spike had already been in the gym; the latter using the weight machines and casting worried glances at the former who was running on the treadmill as if being chased by the devil himself. “Sure, my office or yours?”

It was a running joke between the two of them; as big as their floor was, there was no office space for any of them. Greg used the briefing room whenever he needed to talk to one of them and as the only female member of the team, the women’s locker room was considered to be Jules’s private domain.

“I had a run in with Johnny this afternoon.” Jules blurted out before she could lose her nerve. She’d given what Spike had said serious consideration as she’d cranked the treadmill up to its highest setting and tried to outrun her thoughts and problems. She hadn’t succeeded but she at least knew she owed it to Spike not to put him in an awkward position.

Taking her lightly by the elbow, Greg led her down the hall to the briefing room and hit the button, closing them off from the rest of the team. He motioned for her to sit at the table while he half leaned, half sat on the edge of the table. Despite the fact that she’d started the conversation, the way her head was downcast it was clear to Greg that she wasn’t really comfortable continuing it. “Did he do something, hurt you?”

Slowly she shook her head and her head dipped even lower so that her chin was almost to her chest. “He didn’t, but I did.”

Extending one finger, Greg reached out and lifted her chin so that she had no choice but to look at him. Inwardly, he was seething -- not at her because he couldn’t hold her at fault for anything that might have happened but at her uncle who seemed to be bringing trouble without even trying. “What happened?”

Faltering over her words, Jules slowly told him about the incident in the stairwell. She was as honest as she could be, only leaving out parts that would indicate there had been some truth to Sam’s earlier speculation. When she finished, she offered the only explanation she could. “I don’t think I would have pulled the trigger but I definitely wasn’t thinking clearly either. To be honest with you from the moment he grabbed my arms to the moment Spike made me stand down is a bit foggy, like it was happening to someone else.”

Greg could tell she was expecting him to scold her, to fault her professionalism. She was waiting for him to pronounce verdict on her performance as an officer so that she could accept whatever consequences he had to inflict on her. He wasn’t going to do it. The truth was he couldn’t blame her and was fairly certain Dawson had taken the job there not only to keep tabs on Jules but to put her in that very position. One thing had been bothering him every since learning Dawson was working there. “How did he know?”

Jules’s brown eyes widened at the question. “That I’d be in the stairwell right then? I don’t think he did. For him I think it was serendipity and for me just plain bad luck. We all take the stairwell, everyone knows it. He must have figured the more he took the stairs himself the better chance he had of running into me.”

Greg shook his head. “Not the stairwell; how did he know you worked here? You said yourself no one in the family talked to him; we don’t publicize the names of SRU officers to try to prevent retaliation attempts. I’m like you; I don’t believe in coincidences but how did he get his information?”

Jules thought about it for a moment and then shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t know how he got my phone number either; it’s unlisted. Only family and a handful of friends know it.” Then she blushed, realizing she hadn’t told him about the prank calls. Greg winked at her.

“Sam told me. I’m sure you would have this morning during our talk if we hadn’t gotten the call out first. I have to be honest with you Jules; I don’t like the idea of Dawson having this much information about you. He’s only been out twenty four hours and he hasn’t wasted any time creating emotional havoc for you. I’m going to call Myers again and insist something be done.”

Jules shook her head. She better than anyone knew how manipulative her uncle was. “You can’t; other than leaving that envelope in the locker room, he hasn’t broken any rules. You already told Myers about that and he wouldn’t do anything. He’s not going to fire him without cause; it would open the city up to a wrongful termination suit. I’ll be extra careful from now on and make sure even if I run into him I don’t give him the opportunity to talk to me. What happened today won’t happen again; I give you my word.”

“This is where you work, Jules; you shouldn’t have to worry about who you are going to run into. I’m not going to let Dawson’s working here make you uneasy about going in and out of the building every day. Maybe Myers can’t fire him yet but he sure as hell can change his schedule. Put him on nights where you won’t have to worry about running into him on a daily basis. Myers does his job but he’s got a heart as well. He’ll agree to my request.”

Jules smiled slightly. She’d always considered the team more like family than just co-workers and times like this just proved it. “Thanks, Sarge.”

He nodded. He leveled his gaze on her, watching her intently. “Jules, you are one of the best officers I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with; you’ve never given me cause to doubt your ability to do your job and today hasn’t changed that. Anything that might have happened in your past doesn’t seem to have affected your ability to do your job and as your boss I wouldn’t pry if Dawson wasn’t in the picture now. But just his nerve at getting hired to work in the same building with you worries me. You don’t have to give me details if you don’t want to but I have to know if there was more to what Dawson did all those years ago. I have to have an accurate profile in order to do my job.”

He wasn’t asking her to bare her soul and Jules appreciated that more than she could ever express in words. But still, what he was asking her for was more than she could offer him. She knew he was looking out for her, wanting to protect her from whatever Johnny might be planning. She rubbed her arms to ward off the sudden chill. She looked up at him, her jaw set.

“Whatever Johnny might have intended to do that night, he didn’t get to accomplish it. My mom lost her life and I used my dad’s gun to keep Johnny from doing anything worse. That’s all I can give you. I will promise you this just like I promised him. I’m not a kid anymore and if Johnny thinks he can intimidate me or threaten me now he’s not going to take anything else from me.”

Greg was still sure there was more that she wasn’t saying but he couldn’t force her. As her boss, he had no right and as her friend he didn’t want to hurt her. She was tough and he knew she could take care of herself; he just had to trust that she could handle this as well. “Copy that. Go on and get changed. I’m sure Sam is out there pacing as it is.”

Jules nodded and stood. Before turning to leave the room, she leaned over to give her boss and friend a hug. The move surprised Greg who then wrapped his own arms around her. Even if she wouldn’t or couldn’t open up about that night, he was going to be there for her no matter what. She pulled away from the embrace a moment later and turned to leave. Greg’s voice stopped her at the door.

“Jules, this is coming from your friend not your boss. I know Sam handled things wrong today but his heart’s in the right place. Don’t be too mad at him.”

Her hand hovered over the button that would raise the door. She glanced back to where Sarge was still half perched on the conference table. “I’ll try.”

-- FP --
Sam opened the door to the stairwell and was surprised to see Jules hanging back. Was she so furious at him that she didn’t even want to share the walk down to the car with him? She hadn’t said anything to him since he and Greg had returned to the barn but the way she’d been attacking that treadmill told him that she was running off some major emotions. At the very least he was probably looking at a night on the couch if not bunking back at his old apartment. He had to make things right with her; make her understand that his actions earlier had been because he was worried about her and loved her not because he had wanted to hurt her. “Jules?”

“Let’s take the elevator today.” Her request was strange; he’d never known her to take an elevator unless it was the only way to ensure getting into position at a call quicker. But at least she was including him in the suggestion. He let the stairwell door close and reached for her hand, not sure if she would even take it. She did and they crossed the few steps to the elevator door.

After a brief wait, the door opened and they stepped into the empty car. Sam pushed the button for the first floor and the door obediently closed again. Just as the elevator began its decent, Jules reached out and hit the stop button. Sam looked at her, surprised once again. He reached out and lightly touched her cheek. “Jules?”

“I’m still mad at you.” Jules warned him. He dropped his hand and hung his head, waiting for her to lay into him. “You promised me you wouldn’t pressure me to talk if I didn’t want to and then today its like you went back on that promise and worse you got the whole team involved even if it wasn’t your intention.”

Sam knew he deserved whatever hell she wanted to give him. She was absolutely right; he had promised that he wouldn’t force her to talk about that night and he hadn’t planned on going back on his word but that had been when he thought a murder had been as bad as it had gotten. He opened his mouth to try to apologize once again but just as she had earlier, she didn’t plan on giving him the chance.

She glanced up at him, her eyes brimming with tears she’d probably never shed. “You promised me that same day that if I felt myself slipping down a dark hole all I had to do was say the word and you’d hold me tight.” Sam nodded indicating he remembered that promise as well. Jules took a shaky breath. “I’m saying the word.”

Without hesitation, Sam engulfed her in a hug, holding her trembling body as tightly as he could without hurting her. She practically melted into his arms. He hoped his earlier mistakes hadn’t hurt her this much but at the same time he hoped something worse hadn’t happened. He didn’t press her to explain why she felt like she was slipping even though it was practically killing him inside. Instead he was content to just be there for her as long as she needed him to be. If someone questioned why the elevator wasn’t moving, to hell with them.

At long last, her shaking subsided and she was able to once more regain her usual calm composure. Without saying anything else, she leaned over and restarted the car. Once on the ground floor, Sam held tightly to her hand as they made their way to her jeep. Her steps slowed as got closer to the vehicle, a frown deepening around her mouth as something didn’t seem right. Sensing her hesitation, Sam stopped and looked at her. “What’s wrong?”

“I think I have a flat tire.” They went to the car and saw that sure enough the front driver’s side tire was completely deflated. “Damn, can this day get any worse?”

Sam started toward the rear of the vehicle to get the spare out as Jules knelt down to examine the flat better. He hadn’t even had a chance to release the spare when Jules suddenly swore loudly. He looked around in time to see Jules drive her fist painfully into the side of the vehicle. Returning to her side, he wanted to reassure her that it wasn’t the end of the world. Tires could be fixed or replaced and it wasn’t worth hurting herself over. Then she pointed out what had upset her.

The cause of the flat was suddenly clear as he caught sight of the shiny metal object lying beside the tire. The tire’s current state hadn’t been an accident; someone had slashed the tire and left the pocket knife behind so there was no doubt as to what had caused the tire to go flat.

He wrapped his arms once more around Jules who was carefully cradling her now sore hand. She was once more shaking but this time he had a feeling it was more from anger than anything else. She shook her head. “Johnny. Johnny did this.”

Chapter Text

Her jeep, the first vehicle she’d ever own that made her understand how people could love their cars, was now a crime scene. There was no yellow tape sectioning it off but yet three uniformed officers were huddled around it taking pictures and collecting evidence while she’d be regulated to the background, still a cop herself but unable to do anything but watch. Unconsciously she clenched and unclenched her fist that was still cradled close to her body. Each tiny movement the little bones in her hand made when flexed hurt and a purplish bruise was already creeping to the surface promising to be a bright ugly sight in no time.

An arm wrapped itself around her waist and she involuntarily jumped until she realized it was Sam. He leaned down and kissed her forehead before pressing something cold against her injured hand. She looked down to see that he’d somehow gotten a bag of ice that he then wrapped in a small towel to help prevent her hand from swelling. She smiled her thanks and leaned back comfortably against his broad chest.

“Those tires were practically brand new.” She groaned.

“At least it’s only the one. I talked to Constable Simmins before I went in to get the ice. He said they get at least one or two calls like this a month. Somebody gets mad about a ticket or something else he got in trouble for, comes to one of the lots next to a precinct and takes out their frustration on a random personal vehicle of an officer, doesn‘t even have to belong to the cop he‘s mad at. Today was apparently your turn for it. He said he’d recommended the city put up surveillance cameras in the lots but so far no one has taken his suggestion seriously.”

Jules shook her head, her body stiffening once more as she thought about the knife lying at the base of the tire. “This wasn’t some random attack. This was personal. Johnny did it.”

Sam didn’t want to argue with her; he knew there was a fight still waiting to be had once they got home about what had happened at the crime scene and he wasn’t in a hurry to add to her anger. Still, he couldn’t understand why she was so quick to jump to conclusions here. “There’s nothing to indicate Johnny would even know your vehicle let alone where it would be parked. What makes you so sure it was him?”

“The knife. It’s not a one of a kind by any means but it’s not some cheap brand you can buy at any store either. It’s the exact same type and style that Johnny used when he killed my mother. He left it there so I would know it’s him but not be able to prove it. He’s playing freaking mind games with me, Sam. He’s trying to get under my skin while being very careful not to do anything overt enough that would get him in trouble.”

Sam released his hold on her long enough to turn her so that she was facing him. He didn’t want to sound like he was doubting her; didn’t want her to think he thought she was being paranoid, but at the same time he couldn’t understand how she could be so sure just because the knife was the same. “Jules, what mind games? Is this about the phone calls last night or has something else happened?”

Jules sighed. “Johnny got a job.”

Sam nodded. He knew it was pretty much mandatory for released inmates who went into the transition houses to get a job within 72 hours of being released. Johnny had only been out for 24 but him getting a job even that fast didn’t seem that extremely unusual or threatening. “Okay.”

“Here, Sam. He got a job as a custodian in our building. I don’t know how he knows all these things about me and my life now but he does. He was just released from jail yesterday and suddenly I get a prank caller on my unlisted phone number; he lands a job in the same building I work; and my car gets targeted for vandalism in a lot full of cars to chose from with a knife that is exactly like the one used to kill my mom. I don’t believe in coincidences at all but this is bordering on coincidence hell.”

Sam pulled her to his chest once more, the ice bag cold through his shirt. No wonder she’d been so upset in the elevator on their way down. How much could one person take, even a tough, strong person like Jules, before breaking down completely? “Did you tell Sarge about it? He can talk to the custodial supervisor and get him moved to a different precinct or something. You shouldn’t have to worry about running in to him every time you come to work.”

Jules felt safe in Sam’s arms, maybe safer than she had in a long time. For the moment, she didn’t even care if her acknowledgment of that fact made her seem clingy or dependent even if it were only to herself. “I first found out about his job from Sarge this morning. Spike caught Johnny trying to find Henri on our floor. He didn’t let him in that time but it apparently hadn’t been Johnny’s first visit. He left me a stuffed cat as an apology for what he did to Boxer.”

Sam tried to reign in his anger. He’d spent most of the day riding around with Sarge but Greg hadn’t said anything about Dawson working in the building. He knew but hadn’t shared the information. To say he felt betrayed by the older man was an understatement. “Is that all that happened? Not that it’s not enough but I’m sensing there’s more to the story.”

Sensing that an explosion was imminent, Jules sucked in air and then blew it out of her mouth. “I ran into him in the stairwell when Spike and I got back. It wasn’t pretty but that was my fault not his. I pulled my gun on him and who knows I might have even shot him if Spike had come up when he did.” She pointed toward her car with her sore hand. “This was probably retaliation for that.”

Sam lowered his head to rest it against her forehead. So that was what the pow wow at the end of shift must have been about. It also explained her reluctance to take the stairs on their way down. “Jules, don’t blame yourself. Anything that asshole gets, he deserves. He’s playing this situation for all he can and he’s not going to get away with it. He can pull all the stunts he wants to pull but it’s not going to work. You are stronger than he can possibly realize. Not only that but you’ve got me and the rest of the team behind you all the way.”

“Stop it.” Jules warned him stepping back as one of the officers handling the report started to approach them. “I still want to be mad at you but it’s hard when your standing there reminding me why I love you.”

Sam smiled, glad to see a little bit of her usual spunk shining through. “Copy that. I’ll try to be less lovable.”

The constable handed Jules a copy of his report. “That’ll help you with your insurance if you decide to file. Although if your insurance is like most people’s the cost of a new tire won’t even put a dent in the deductible. As I told Constable Braddock, it looks like a random attack but if we turn up something when we process the knife for prints, we’ll let you know. Sorry the end of your day had to be ruined like this.”

“Thanks.” Jules waited until he had walked away. “Guess all that’s left is changing the tire and getting out of here.”

“I’ll take care of the tire. You keep that bag of ice on your hand.”

Jules frowned, slightly annoyed. “I’m quite capable of changing a tire you know?”

Sam shook his head, not sure if he should be happy that he was so easily fitting back into her request to help her stay mad at him. “I know you are capable but let me do this. Who knows what damage you did to your hand earlier and I’ve been pretty damn useless in all this. The least I can do is change the tire. You can supervise the whole task and tell me everything I’m doing wrong.”

Jules didn’t really have an argument for him so she simply shrugged. Sam wanted to smirk but figured it would only put him further in the doghouse and despite her plea to let her stay mad at him; he didn’t really want her upset. It didn’t take him long at all to get the tire changed out with the spare. Fortunately the jeep had a real spare instead of the small substitute some vehicles offer. A new tire would still need to be purchased as soon as possible but at least he’d feel safe with them driving on it until it could.

As he replaced the jack and put the damaged tire in the back of the vehicle he looked over to where Jules was standing still holding her hand protectively against her chest. He frowned once again. “Jules, be honest; how bad are you hurt? Anything feel broken? Should we swing by the hospital and get it x-rayed?”

Jules shook her head. “It’ll heal on its own. It hurts but I can move it so I don’t think anything’s broken. I’d rather just go home and try to forget today ever happened. Of course I have to take care of getting a new tire before we can do anything.”

“Jules, sweetheart, let me take care of that for you. Your hand is hurting; I’ve hit my fair share of unforgiving objects and I know the pain associated with it. I trust your judgment if you don’t think it’s broken but you can’t convince me you aren’t in agony. If you won’t have it x-rayed, at least let me take you home so you can take something for the pain.”

Jules couldn’t argue with him. She wanted to protest that she didn’t want anyone, even Sam, to have to take care of things for her. But she was tired of fighting. Like he’d said about changing the tire, he was offering not because he didn’t think she was capable but because it made him feel less helpless in the situation. It had nothing to do with what she couldn’t do but everything to do with wanting to make things easier for her. “Take it to Oscar’s garage. I trust him to give me a fair price and he has all my billing information already on file.”

Sam nodded, glad that she was giving in to him even if it did slightly worry him that she hadn’t protested at all. The emotional toil of the day must have been harder than he’d realized. Keeping one hand on the wheel, he reached over and gently massaged the back of her neck with the other. He smiled when the movement elicited a light moan of approval. “I’ll pick up supper on the way back. Anything in particular you want?”

Jules felt herself relaxing under his ministrations. “Not really. Surprise me.” It wasn’t that neither of them were capable or willing to actually cook dinner; in fact they both enjoyed getting into the kitchen together when their schedules allowed. But they had, individually first and then as a couple, realized that picking up take out wasn’t any more expensive and certainly more convenient when they were working than having to come home and cook.

As soon as they arrived back at the house, Sam made sure she was comfortably ensconced on the couch with her injured hand resting on a pillow. Without appearing to be fussing over her too much, Sam made a side trip to the kitchen and then returned with a fresh ice pack, a bottle of water, and a couple of Aleve. After getting her assurance that she had everything she needed or wanted, he gave her a quick kiss and left to run his errands.

Oscar’s garage wasn’t his first stop, however. He used the jeep’s GPS to find Kennington House and parked outside the residence. Once inside, he flashed his badge to the man on duty and demanded to see Johnny Dawson. He was directed to a small office and was soon joined by the man Sam was coming to hate.

Johnny hadn’t been surprised to hear that he had an official visitor. He’d known it was only a matter of time before someone showed up asking questions. He was actually looking forward to the visit; to seeing just how much he could jerk their chains while they were powerless to do anything about it or even aware he was doing it. He leaned against the wall as Sam introduced himself. He smiled, the younger man was practically foaming at the mouth with anger and Johnny knew exactly who was dealing with. He’d suspected earlier that Scarlatti might be the one currently warming his niece’s bed but there was no mistaking the territorial attitude of the man standing in front of him. Johnny held out his hand in greeting but the gesture was ignored by the SRU officer.

“What can I do for SRU, Constable Braddock?”

What Sam really wanted to say never left his lips nor did he give in to the violent urges he so wanted to indulge himself in. “There was a jeep vandalized in the parking lot of SRU today.”

“How horrible. I guess so place is safe or sacred anymore. Let me guess, you wanted to know if I saw anything? Sorry. I don’t have a car so didn’t even look at the parking lot when I left work. I hope the damage wasn’t too bad.”

“Save the innocent act for someone who might actually buy it.” Sam warned, his blue eyes flashing with undisclosed hostility. “I’m more interested in what you did than what you saw. Jules’s tire was slashed with a knife exactly like the one you used to kill her mother.”

“Is that an accusation? If so, I would hope you have some sort of proof to back it up.” Johnny shrugged, looking unconcerned. “The knife that was used to kill my sister is, as far as I know, still in Evidence Lockup where it’s been for twenty years. As I’m guessing you already know, I was just released from prison yesterday and today I’ve been at work all day. That doesn’t leave much time for shopping for knives.”

“I don’t think lack of time is problem for you. After all, you found the time to leave a package for Jules in the SRU locker room -- someplace I’m sure you were aware was off limits to you. It wouldn’t have taken you much time to buy a knife.”

“Still sounds more like speculation than evidence to me.”

“If I had the evidence, we wouldn’t be having this conversation here.” Sam warned, struggling to keep the bulk of his feelings hidden. “I’d have already cuffed your sorry ass and hauled you down to the station. Consider this a friendly warning. Stay away from Jules.”

Johnny was completely relaxed in the chair he’d sank into. He seemed completely disinterred in the whole conversation but was really taking in every change in Sam’s expression and body language. “Funny, I’m not feeling the friendly in your warning, Constable. During my stint I heard a lot about Toronto’s elite squad. I guess standards have lowered considerable if you’ve been reduced to handling simple vandalism calls.”

Sam recognized that Dawson was goading him, trying to provoke him, and didn’t rise to the bait. “We take care of our own. Mess with one of us and you get us all.”

Sam really wanted to wipe the smile off Dawson’s face. Either the man was a great actor or he was truly amused by all that was going on. “I’m starting to see that. Had guns pulled on me today by two SRU officers, a personal warning - I mean visit- by you, and just before you arrived I got a call from my supervisor saying my schedule was being changed to nights. Apparently a higher-up at SRU insisted on the change. I’m really starting to get annoyed by this harassment. I bet the press would have a field day with the story. I can see the headlines now. ‘Released inmate who served his time and paid his debt to society harassed by Toronto’s Strategic Response Unit as he tries to rebuild his life.’ Of course, they’d go back and dig up all the dirt on my sister’s death. I bet JAC will love all that attention.”

“Leave Mr. Callaghan out of this. He wouldn’t want you anywhere near his daughter.”

Now Johnny actually laughed out loud. “I don’t mean my former brother-in-law. Little JAC’s my pet name for my niece. She calls me UJ. We’re real close. Close enough for me to know she wouldn’t want people poking into her mother’s death.”

His words were like individual daggers stabbing into Sam’s heart playing into his fears about what had really happened. Johnny’s eyes widened as he saw the way Sam almost flinched at his insistence that he and Jules were close. After his two run-ins with Scarlatti that day, Johnny had believed that he was the co-worker Jules was dating but there was no mistaking Sam’s reaction. He was a lover protecting what was his. Johnny wondered how far he could push this situation while still keeping his hands clean. He tilted the chair back.

“Yeah, people start looking too deeply; someone’s going to start asking the questions nobody wanted to ask twenty years ago. Questions my confession rendered meaningless at the time but today could ruin a life and career worked so hard for.”

Sam’s eyes narrowed. “Sounds to me like you are making a threat.”

“Sounds to me like you don’t know your girlfriend as well as you thought you did.” Johnny was enjoying the anger radiating off the SRU officer. “My niece isn’t as innocent as she wants people to think. Everything I did twenty years ago was for her, to protect her. If she doesn’t want to be grateful for all I did for her, for the way I saved her, then maybe I should let the truth come out. Seems everyone now is convinced she can take care of herself but the truth is she has to have someone else handle her problems for her. I had to do it years ago and you’re doing it now. If you aren’t available then it looks to me like Scarlatti does a pretty good job. Does he fill in for you in the bedroom as well?”

Sam’s stomach clenched and a red haze overshadowed his vision. He toyed with the notion of how easy it would be to stick his foot out and upend the chair Johnny was leaning back in. He didn’t believe for second that Jules did anything wrong; if her innocence was in question, it was because the sick piece of dirt in front of him had stolen it.

He wanted to know the truth about what happened but he wanted it to come from Jules herself. He didn’t want to hear any twisted perverted explanation Dawson might have. “Leave Jules alone. No more calls, no more running into her at work, no more packages left in the locker room. I mean it. No one will be able to protect your worthless ass if you don’t.”

Johnny was a little disappointed that he hadn’t provoked Sam into using a bit of force on him. It wasn’t that he wanted to get hurt but it would be oh so rich to have just one more piece of ammunition in his arsenal. He waited until Sam was halfway out the door before responding. He called out after him in a voice that lacked any concern or remorse. “What about letters? Are they still okay to send?”

Sam stiffened but didn’t reply. He left the house and sat in the jeep for several minutes trying to calm down before attempting to drive. Johnny knew too much about Jules to have been completely cut off for the last twenty years like he claimed. Someone had to have fed him his information somehow. He knew the prison kept records of all outside contact their inmates received. Normally he would call Spike to get the information but didn’t want to involve the team just yet. He reached for his cell phone and scrolled through his contacts until he found the one he was looking for.

“Hey, it’s Sam. I need a favor. I need information about a prisoner who was just released. Can you pull a few strings and get me a list of who contacted him while he was in prison?” When his old army buddy said it shouldn’t be a problem, Sam gave him all the information he had on Dawson. His friend promised to look up the information right away and email him the information as soon as possible. Sam thanked him and terminated the call.

Getting the tire replaced took no time at all. Although the original tire’s warranty shouldn’t have covered the damage, Oscar refused to charge Jules the full price on the replacement. The elderly mechanic had been Jules’s go-to person for repairs for years and he had a soft spot for the tough yet sweet officer.

The awaited for email came in while Sam was picking up a couple of sub sandwiches for supper. Though he was anxious for the information the email from his friend would contain, he waited until his order was ready and he was back in the jeep before pulling up the message. There was only one contact from the outside during the entire length of his stay. A letter that came in every six months for twenty years from a Mildred Dawson. Apparently not everyone in the family had cut off Dawson. Whoever Mildred was, she must have leaked Jules’s information although Sam couldn’t think of a good reason for doing so. Scrolling down the to the outgoing mail, Sam’s heart skipped a beat. Just as Dawson had only received letters from one person, he’d only sent out letters to one person as well, but not Mildred. All of the letters, one a year until the last week of his stay when the frequency became daily, were addressed to Julianna Callaghan.

-- FP --

Jules wasn’t one for sitting around doing nothing. She could remember her mother affectionately complaining once that even in the womb, Jules had stayed in perpetual motion. In the days following being shot, she’d badgered the doctors and nurses until they finally lifted the restrictions of keeping her confined to the hospital bed. She’d only been allowed brief trips up and down the hall but it had kept Jules from going stark raving mad.

She’d tried to lie down after Sam left but the inactivity gave her too much time to think. And right then, thinking wasn’t a pleasant diversion for her. So as soon as the ice had numbed the pain in her hand that hadn’t quite been dulled enough by the Aleve, she set the cold pack aside and left the couch.

She’d washed and dried a load of clothes a couple of days earlier but hadn’t had time to fold them or put them away. Now seemed like as good a time as any. Besides, she knew from experience that the more she moved the bruised bones in her hand, the better it would be for preventing swelling and keep the pain from getting worse.

Opening the door to the laundry room, she was immediately greeted by a loud meow and felt the soft fur brushing against her legs. She bent down and scratched behind the kitten’s ears quickly transforming the meows to a soft purr. “I know, you get tired of looking at the same four walls, don’t you? Maybe its time to give you a little more freedom. What do you think?”

Patches must have liked the idea because he walked away from her attentions toward the open door. Jules chuckled. “Go on, have fun exploring a little. Just don’t forget where your litter box is.”

Straightening back up, she grabbed a basket of clean clothes to carry out to the living room to fold. Once the chore was completed, she contemplated whether she should play the injured card and leave the now folded clothes for Sam to put away when he got back. The idea sounded appealing until she remembered what she had hidden in one of the drawers Sam would have to open to put away at least a portion of the clothing in the basket. A chill ran through her.

She never should have kept those final letters. She had no intention of ever reading them and she sure as hell didn’t plan on letting anyone else know of their existence, especially not given Sam’s newly discovered worries about what had happened to her. Jules rose form the couch and took the steps two at a time. Just knowing that whatever filth he might have written her was still in the house bothered her. She couldn’t be for sure but she had a feeling knowing they were there was one of the things fueling her fears about nightmares each night. If they were never going to be read or shown to anyone, she might was well destroy them now rather than risk them being seen.

She slid open the drawer and withdrew the unopened envelopes from where she’d hidden them. She sat back, leaning against her bed contemplating what she was about to do. Part of her was convinced that the contents of those letters had no power over her; part of the reason she’d always destroyed the letters rather than merely throwing them out was to show herself that he had no power to hurt her any more. But the cop in her argued that the this was evidence and should be catalogued and preserved. It was the same argument she’d wrestled with upon getting the first of the most recent string of letters. The cop had one the first round but the woman in her was quickly over powering the logic.

She’d promised Sarge that she would tell him if Dawson had contacted her but she’d remained quiet about the letters. If Sarge knew of their existence, he’d insist on them being read for any sign of a threat. While Jules didn’t think Johnny would say anything overtly suggestive of what he’d done to her for fear that his mail would be read by the guards, she couldn’t put it past him to say something that would further raise suspicions that he’d hurt her.

Sam was going to broach what he feared happened again; he was too protective not to. Somehow she had to convince him nothing had happened and she couldn’t do that with the fear of him discovering the letters hanging over her. By the time Sam returned, the letters would have to be nothing but a pile of ashes. She could take them out to the backyard and burn them in the ash bucket from the fireplace. Maybe in destroying his words, she could destroy just a little of the fear and shame hanging over her like a dark cloud.

Her plan decided, she pushed off from the wall, the envelopes clutched in her left hand, She turned and froze. Sam was standing in the doorway, his eyes dark and unreadable. Almost stiffly he nodded his head in the direction of the envelopes.

“Are those the letters Johnny sent you? What are you trying to hide, Jules?”

Chapter Text

“Jeeze, Sam, what’s with sneaking up on me?”

For a moment all Jules could do was stare at Sam, shocked to see him there. How had she not heard him when he came in? Then, as if she was trying to avoid being caught with her hand in the cookie jar, she tried to surreptitiously hide the incriminating evidence behind her back. As surprised as she was to see him standing in the doorway, she was even more bewildered about how he knew about the existence of the letters in the first place. He’d given no indications of knowing about them when he had left to get her tire replaced. Had something more happened while he was gone?

Sam leaned against the doorway. The entire ride home he’d been mulling over what to do with the information his old army buddy had sent him. He’d wafted between the anger and disgust he’d felt after actually meeting Johnny Dawson, to the confusion over why Jules hadn’t said anything about the letters she’d received especially in the light of Dawson being released from jail, to finally the desire to give the woman he loved the chance to explain herself before he went off half cocked. The last consideration had gone out the window when he’d entered the house and tracked her upstairs to find her holding a small stack of envelopes every instinct in his body said were from her uncle.

“Sorry, I guess it kind of gets in the way of you hiding things from me, doesn’t it? Well, Jules, are those the letters Johnny sent you? Why didn’t you tell me about them? What’s in them that you don’t want me to know? Were you going to destroy them so I wouldn’t find out about them?”

He knew he was probably being unfair but something about his conversation with Dawson at Kennington House had rubbed him the wrong way. He trusted Jules but he’d be lying if Johnny’s insinuation that he was protecting Jules hadn’t concerned him. The murderer was a manipulator. Sam had seen first hand how the man had tried to provoke him into attacking him; would have succeeded if Sam had stayed even a moment longer. No matter how innocent Jules might be in the whole matter, it wouldn’t take much for Johnny to spin things to make it look like she was culpable in her mother’s death. Little things like receiving letters from the man while he was in prison, especially without reporting them as harassment could be used against her.

Jules stuffed the letters in the back of her pants out of his easy reach. She could feel her temper rising at his harsh words. Her eyes narrowed. “Screw you, Sam. You don’t know anything about anything so don’t stand there acting all high and mighty thinking you do. We might share a bed but that doesn’t mean you have to be privy to everything in my life. Isn’t it enough that you felt the need to share with everyone that my mother had been murdered and that you suspected her killer also did horrible things to me? No, I guess not.”

Sam shook his head and took a step closer to her. Early in their relationship he’d fallen for this tactic when she wanted to deflect a conversation or argument. But he wasn’t going to be distracted this time. “No, you don’t get to do this, not this time. Okay, I get it; I screwed up royally this morning but we both know it wasn’t my intention. I’m worried about you; worried that as much as you want to be okay and handle this all yourself, you can’t and you’re only going to end up hurt worse. So you can be mad at me all you want about the radio mistake but later. Right now, we’re going to discuss those letters. And you’re right, I don’t have to know everything but if Johnny Dawson is threatening you I should know about it. Not just because I’m your boyfriend but because as your co-worker it’s the right thing to do. More importantly Sarge should know about them. You haven’t said anything to him about them, have you? After you told him you’d tell him about any contact attempts. Why? What’s in them that has you so scared? You don’t have to do this by yourself. We’re here for you -- I’M here for you. Let me help you.”

As he took another step closer to her, she took a step backward. When she bought the house, one of the things she’d fallen in love with first was the massive master bedroom. But right now it suddenly felt way too small. Her anger wasn’t defusing the situation, maybe another tactic would. “What makes you so sure there are even letters to be worried about? You walk in and see me with envelopes in my hand and assume I’m hiding something from you. They could have been anything.”

He dropped his voice to barely above a whisper as he matched her every step backward with one moving toward her. “Then you shouldn’t have a problem letting me see them instead of hiding them behind you like you are doing. I know Johnny has sent you letters, five or more just in the last week. About the same number I saw in your hand when I came in. Please Jules, I’m not trying to pry; I’m just worried. I spent maybe ten minutes in a room with him this afternoon and I wanted to take a shower when I left. I get the feeling this is all a game for him and you are the prize.”

Jules could feel the wall almost at her back and knew she was trapped between Sam and the wall. That shouldn’t be a frightening thing; she trusted him with everything but her worst secrets but she couldn’t help the goose bumps forming on her arms and the way her heart was now racing almost out of control. This was Sam and she shouldn’t be afraid but it was as if just by mentioning his name Johnny was right there in the room with them. “You saw Johnny? How?”

“I went to see him. Maybe you think I’m going all caveman on you but I couldn’t stand by and do nothing while the bastard made your life a living hell. I wanted to warn him off -- probably the same thing you and Spike and maybe even Sarge have already done -- but I had to do my part. Jules, this is all funny to him. He’s getting off on pushing our buttons. He’s sick but now he’s a sick bastard who’s been around hardened criminals for the past twenty years. That’s a dangerous combination. He’s got plans and I don’t think they are about how to get his life back on track.”

Jules could feel her heart quicken at the news that Sam had paid Johnny a visit. She wouldn’t be surprised if Sam could hear it as well as close as he was standing to her. Johnny wouldn’t have told him about what else happened that night; he wouldn’t take that chance. Still there was something different in Sam’s eyes, something that suggested that he knew more than he had when he had left earlier. Then there had been a fear of what could have happened to her and now mixed with that was a hint of revulsion at what he knew had happened. She closed her eyes, unable to stand what she was seeing in his. “You shouldn’t have done that.”

“Why not? Because you’re afraid he might have told me what you can’t or won’t admit to? Damn it, Jules. Be honest with me.” He closed the last little bit of gap between them reaching behind her for the envelopes he’d seen her shove in the back of her pants. With her eyes closed she didn’t see him coming until he was touching her. Frightened, her hands connected with his chest, first pushing him away and when that wasn’t successful, balling them up to hit him in the chest. Sam wasn’t fazed by her attempts; instead, he lightly grabbed hold of her wrists in one of his hands and pushed them above her head, effectively trapping her against the wall with his body.

It wasn’t the first time he’d had her in this position but this was the first time he’d held her like this in any seriousness. Ordinarily he’d trapped her in a similar position in a moment of lighthearted play, maybe because she was keeping the remote control away from him or something else ridiculous like that. It always ended the same way, with Jules sweeping her foot out to trip him. He’d wind up flat on his back on the floor but not without pulling her down with him. They’d lay there tangled in each other’s arms laughing and then kissing, the object they’d been fighting for control over forgotten.

He waited for her to do the same now. Perhaps without the kissing at the end considering they were both upset but there was no way she’d allow herself to stay trapped the way he had her now. The leg sweep didn’t come, however. In fact her struggles ceased completely. He looked down and was horrified to see how pale she’d gotten in just the few seconds he’d been holding her. Every drop of color even down to her lips had drained from her face. Her eyes were closed and her whole body language screamed of her discomfort.

Immediately he released her hands and took a step backward. Still Jules didn’t move. He’d never seen her look so vulnerable and frightened; that in turn scared him more than anything. Immediately his anger over the situation left him and his voice softened as he tried to break through whatever hell he’d forced her into. “Jules? Sweetheart? Baby, I’m sorry. It’s okay.”

For a moment, he wasn’t sure she‘d even heard him. He wanted to reach out and touch her, take her in his arms but he was worried it might do more harm than good. Inwardly, he kicked himself. If he was even close in his speculation that Dawson had hurt her, and he was now more sure than ever that he was, he should have known better than to put her in any sort of position that would take away her control and possibly remind her of what had happened.

She sank to the floor and buried her head against her legs, her body trembling. Sam knelt beside her and finally did reach out and lightly touched her head. She jumped slightly and then looked up but wouldn’t meet his concerned gaze. “Get out. Just get out.”

Sam sighed. “Get out of what, Jules? The room, your house, your life? How far do you want me to go? I can leave the damn country but it’s not going to fix any of this. I don’t want to hurt you but it’s obvious this is slowly killing you. You’re scared and that’s just not you. In all the time I’ve known you, you’ve been completely fearless. You rappel off tall buildings without a second thought; you face down armed men without batting an eye; hell, I bet if I suggested we sky dive without parachutes you’d be the first in line for the plane. But look at you know; you’re scared shitless and that in turn scares me. I know how to act around fearless Jules but I don’t know what to do with you like this. I don’t think you know what to do either.”

“Why are you doing this to me?” There was none of her usual confidence in her low voice. Sam almost choked up at her question.

“Because I love you and I can’t stand to see you allow anyone have this much power over you. Please Jules, let me in. Let me help you. Tell me what he did to you. Take his power away.”

Jules shook her head. “I can’t.”

“Can’t or won’t?” There was no malice in his voice, only resignation. He could continue to press her and maybe he could even finally wear down her resolve enough to get her to open up. But at what cost? He lowered his head. “Okay, I won’t push the issue. If you are that much against me knowing what he did to you, I won’t force you to talk about it. But as a cop, I can’t ignore the current potential threat to you. You have to turn over the letters he sent you so we can protect you.”

Jules rested her head on the top of her knees and Sam was glad to see the color had returned to her lips even if she was still incredibly pale. “How did you know about them in the first place?”

“You made a good point earlier about Dawson. How did he know all this personal information about you? I know you said as far as you knew your whole family had cut him off after he went to jail but yet he knew things he shouldn’t have known. I have a buddy who’s a closet hacker who also works for the prison system. I gave him a call and he was able to get me a log of visits and letters in and out of the prison for Johnny. The records showed about twenty five letters mailed out, all to one person, and approximately forty that were received, again all from one person but not the same person as the outgoing mail was addressed to. The outgoing letters, with the exception of those mailed the week he was released were sent in late September. The incoming letters were received in both late December and June. Any idea who sent them?”

Jules lightly hit her head on the back of the wall. “It had to be Aunt Millie. I should have known.”

Sam twisted so he was leaning against the wall next to her. He wanted to reach out and hold her but not sure how she would take the gesture, especially after what had just happened. Her posture was stiff and it was clear she was uncomfortable even talking about the matter. He did, however, reach out and push a stray strand of her caramel colored hair from her eyes. “If Aunt Millie is short for Mildred Dawson then yes it was.”

She nodded. “Aunt Millie is my mom’s aunt, my granddad’s sister. She just turned 97 back in June and she never got married or had kids of her own. You’ve heard of the town crier? Well, she’s the family crier. Twice a year she sends out these family updates that I swear are longer than some books I’ve read. Who’s gotten married, who’s had a baby, who’s gotten divorced, anything she’s heard since the last update that she thinks might even remotely be news worthy. Hell, half the things I learn about my brothers comes from her instead of them.”

Sam really wanted to talk more about Dawson’s outgoing letters than the ones he had received. However, if Jules was willing to discuss the latter, maybe he could lull her into a sense of comfort enough to open up about the former. He grinned slightly. “No such thing as a secret with her, huh?”

Jules shook her head. “You should have read some of the letters while I was with the RCMP. I think Aunt Millie knew more about the arrests I made during that time than my supervisor did. She really had a field day about me receiving the Law Enforcement Person of the Year. Until she died, Mom was always Aunt Millie’s favorite. I guess I sort of took over that spot afterward. I think she worried about me being the only girl in the family. For the last twenty years there hasn’t been word one about Johnny in the letters; I guess I thought she’d cut him off the recipient list as well.”

“Any idea why she sent him the letters? Why give him all that ammunition?”

Jules blew out her breath heavily. “She wouldn’t have considered it ammunition for him to use against me but as her rubbing salt in a wound. She always thought jail was too good for him as punishment. If she continued to send him the family updates it was her way of sticking her tongue out at him and saying ‘look how well the family is doing despite and without you.’” Then she groaned. “She always included an updated address and phone number list for every family member at the end of every Christmas letter. That would explain how he knew my unlisted phone number”

Now Sam did put an arm around her shoulders and pull her close to him. Glad that she didn’t protest, he kissed the top of her head. “Johnny knew you were dating a co-worker. Did he get that information from one of her letters as well?”

Jules shook her head. “No, there was never any mention. The last time I saw her was the beginning of June for her birthday. We’d just gotten back together and were having to keep things quiet. She realized I was dating someone and I can’t lie to her. I warned her though that I could get into big trouble if she said anything.”

Sam wondered if Millie had suspected what Johnny had done to Jules as well and just hadn’t said anything. If so, perhaps she handwrote a note in the one she mailed Johnny as a way of showing him he hadn’t completely ruined Jules’s life.

“I never opened any of the letters he sent me.” Jules admitted softly. “They always came right around the anniversary of my mom’s death. No return address but I recognized his handwriting and knew the letter was from him without opening it. I didn’t even destroy the first one on purpose. I was so startled to see it, I dropped the envelope. I was outside at the time and the breeze picked it up and blew it into the fire pile where we’d been burning limbs. I watched the envelope burn and for the first time in a long time felt like I had some sort of control over what had happened.”

Sam could imagine a teenage Jules trying to cope with the knowledge that her mother was dead and trying to hide the fact that she’d been brutalized at the same time. He could easily see how powerless it would have made her feel. And now, twenty years later it appeared that Dawson was once more trying to wrench that control away from her. “And after that you destroyed each one you got?”

Jules nodded. “Except these last ones. I wanted to; God knows I did, but the cop in me wouldn’t let me. So I was caught in the middle. I couldn’t destroy them but I couldn’t report them either. But now that you know about them, you’re going to either make me turn them over or you’ll tell Sarge and he’ll make me turn them over. Fine, I’ll turn them over to him. Give me the phone and I’ll call him.”

Sam hated putting her through this but knew it was the right thing to do. Rising to his feet, he crossed the room and picked up the cordless phone. Jules had pushed up from her spot on the floor and had followed him. She took the phone from him and almost seemed to have to think about what she was doing before she dialed the number. Sam tried to wrap his arm around her shoulder but she shrugged out of his grasp and stepped away.

“Sarge, it’s Jules. Don’t be mad but I’ve been keeping something from you. Johnny sent me several letters this week. I want to turn them over to you. Can you come over?”

Sam knew how hard this was for her and once she hung up the phone he took it from her and replaced it on the base. “I’m sorry, Jules. I really am.”

“Awesome, you’re sorry, I’m sorry, too bad sorry doesn’t fix anything.” Her tone sounded so rejected that once again Sam wanted to take her in his arms. He refrained, knowing right then she was too upset with him to accept the affection. He frowned.

“Hey, maybe Sarge can hold on to the letters without reading them. The main thing is they are reported; I don’t see why we have to read them unless Dawson tries something. After all, he mailed these letters from prison; he couldn’t take the chance of saying anything too revealing in a letter that could be read by guards.” Sam offered hopefully, trying to restore at least some of that fighting spirit Jules was so famous for.

Jules nodded. She’d thought the same thing but didn‘t put much hope in it. “Yeah, sure. Come on, let’s go downstairs.”

Sam followed her down the stairs and into the living room. “I might as well put the sandwiches I bought in the fridge for later.”

Jules only shrugged. As soon as Sam was out of the room, she pulled the envelopes out of her pocket. She glanced back toward the kitchen as she walked over to the fireplace and picked up one of the long matches she had for starting a fire. “I’m sorry, Sam. I just can’t take the chance.”

Without another thought she struck the match and held the lit end to one corner of the stack. Once the envelopes were burning she dropped them into the fireplace and watched as the flames turned the white envelopes black before consuming the paper. A single tear ran down her cheek.

“Babe, do you smell something burning?” Sam came back into the living room. He stared at the burning pile of letters in horror. “Jules, what have you done?”

“I couldn’t take the chance that Sarge would insist on reading them. You met Johnny; you said yourself he’s a sick bastard. I wouldn’t put it past him to intentionally put things in those letters just to cause me pain. I didn’t want to read them and I sure as hell didn’t want anyone else to read them either. He can’t hurt me any more cause I’m not going to let him.”

Sam didn’t know what to say; on the one hand he could understand how she felt and didn’t blame her but on the other hand… “Jules, when Sarge gets here…”

“I never called him.” Jules admitted softly. “I just pretended that I did. I don’t expect you to understand and if you want to tell Sarge what happened then I can’t stop you. Maybe what I did was wrong but I don’t regret it. You don’t understand; you can’t understand.”

Sam stared at the fireplace as the last of the flames consumed its fuel and burnt itself out. His shoulders slumped and his blue eyes expressionless as shook his head. “You’re right, I can’t understand because you won’t trust me enough to give me the chance to. I want to support you in this Jules, really I do. I don’t want to push you to talk to me but every time you do something like this it scares me a little more. You destroyed potential evidence and while I get this is a painful memory for you; eventually you are going to have to trust us to have your back. Otherwise Dawson is going to win.”

“Maybe he already has.” Jules mumbled as she made her way to the front door. Before Sam could say anything else, she left the house, slamming the door behind her.

Sam sank into the couch and buried his head in his hands. Something sharp sank into his legs and as he winced he looked down to see the kitten using his leg as a scratching post. He carefully extracted the kitten’s claws from his pants and picked the feline up. He absently ruffled the soft fur along the kitten’s back. “Damn it, Jules. Why won’t you trust me?”

-- FP -- FP -- FP --

It was almost midnight before the front door opened again and Jules stepped back into the house. It was dark and she assumed Sam had gone to bed, at least she hoped so. She’d spent the last few hours driving around aimlessly wondering what the hell had gotten into her. As much as she hadn’t wanted whatever was in those letters to get out, she never should have destroyed them. Doing so would only fuel Sam’s belief that something had happened. Worse than destroying potential evidence, she’d lied to him. Why would he ever trust her again?

Without turning on a light, she locked the front door behind her and made her way upstairs to the bedroom. There was a light coming from under the closed bedroom door but when she opened it, she saw that Sam was sprawled out on his side apparently asleep. He must have left the light on for her. She pulled a t-shirt and pair of shorts from her drawer and started toward the bathroom to change. Though she desperately wanted a shower -- she always felt the need for one whenever she was forced to remember what Johnny had done to her, she forgo the urge so as not to wake Sam up. With any luck, she could slip into bed without disturbing him and they wouldn’t have to talk about what happened until morning. She changed clothes and left the bathroom.

“At the risk of being accused of sneaking up on you again, I’m awake.” Sam warned her. He was now sitting up with his back against the headboard. He watched as her shoulders slumped. “I was starting to get worried. Are you okay? How’s your hand?”

Automatically, Jules flexed the bones in her hand; it still hurt but not as badly as it had when she first hit the side of her jeep. “I’ll live.”

“Do you really believe that?” Sam probed gently.

Jules looked uncomfortable like she wasn’t sure if she should stay where she was standing, cross to the bed and join him, or leave the bedroom all together. “That I’ll live? Yeah, sure.”

Sam shook his head. “That Dawson won. You are a competitive person, Jules; we both are. We push ourselves beyond our limits because we don’t know how to stop.” He threw the covers back and left the bed, crossing the room to join her. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her gently to him. This time she didn’t fight him. “I didn’t think anything would scare me like seeing you look so frightened this afternoon did. Then you lied to me and destroyed those letters and that was so unlike you that I worried even more. But to hear you admit defeat? I want to support you, Jules; I really do. I want to respect your privacy and your right not to include me in every aspect of your life. But I can’t stand here and hear you give up.”

“It’s not about giving up, Sam. It’s about admitting the truth. He’s taken so much from me already and I thought now I didn’t have to worry about him any more; didn’t think he could take anything else from me. But he’s only been out of jail a day and already I feel like I’ve got so much more to lose to him. My sanity, my job, you. To be honest, I don‘t know if I have it in me to fight him again.”

Sam pulled back just enough to bring his hands up to cup her face. His thumbs lightly caressed her cheeks and his blue eyes were deep pools of emotion. “Listen to me, Jules. I wish like hell I could go back in time and prevent him from taking so much as a crust of bread from you but I can’t. But I promise you with every fiber in my being that there’s no way in hell he’s going to take anything else from you. You especially don’t have to worry about losing me. I’m here for the long haul. And if you don’t think you have it in you to fight then say the word; I’ll fight for you or with you, whichever you need.”

Jules shook her head. “You say that but you don’t know..”

“I don’t have to know.” Sam was quick to reassure her. “Don’t get me wrong. I want you to tell me the full story because I think the secret is eating you up. But even if you never feel comfortable sharing it with me, I’ll still love you. Nothing, not anything that happened to you in your past, anything you do now, or anything that could happen in your future, can change that.”

She tried to lower her head, unable to look him in the eye, but Sam’s hands on either side of her face prevented her from doing so. Instead, she averted her gaze, feeling ashamed of her earlier behavior. “I don’t deserve you.”

“So you’ve said before. But sweetheart, the thing about love is that it’s not about someone deserving or earning it; it‘s just being willing to receive it.” Sam leaned down and captured her lips in a quick kiss. At the first brush of his lips on hers, Jules didn’t returned the kiss but didn’t pull away from it either. As Sam deepened the kiss, sliding one of his hands to the back of her head, her lips parted allowing his tongue entrance. Her throaty moan of pleasure signaled her surrender to his ministrations. He continued to kiss her and be kissed by her until he begin to feel the worst of the tension easing her body.

They were both breathing hard by the time Sam pulled back, still holding her close to his body. “Jules, I called Sarge after you left.”

With his words, Jules stiffened once again. She stepped out of his hold and went to sit on the bed. She played with the edge of the bedspread and chewed on her bottom lip. “I can’t say I’m surprised. I didn’t give you much choice.”

Sam joined her on the bed and slowly began massaging her tight shoulders. “No you didn’t.” He agreed quietly. “I thought about waiting to tell you until morning but I didn’t want you worrying about it all night.”

“He was pretty furious wasn’t he?” Jules’s tone was completely neutral but Sam could tell from her body language that she was nervous.

“Not at all. Actually, I think he was more relieved than anything.”

Jules twisted on the bed, breaking Sam’s hold on her shoulders. Her puzzlement at his words more than obvious. “Relieved? That I not only withheld evidence but destroyed it as well? That doesn’t sound like Sarge to me.”

“I didn’t tell him about the letters.” Sam admitted. “I might not agree with what you did but I sort of get why you felt you had to do it. You felt threatened and I can’t fault you for kicking into self-preservation mode.”

Jules frowned and shook her head. “I don’t understand. If you didn’t tell him about the letters, then why did you call Sarge?”

“To request a couple of days off for us. Add that to the three days the whole team is already scheduled off shift, that gives us five days to get out of town. We’ve been talking about getting a weekend up at Halton but just haven’t made the time. I’ve already booked us a campsite and got our gear together while you were gone. We can pack our bags in the morning and stop for supplies on our way out. I‘ve already talked to Wordy as well and Lilly is more than happy to kitten-sit so we‘ll drop Patches off at the Wordsworths before we leave.”

For a moment Jules just stared at Sam. Halton was their favorite getaway; had been since their first attempt at dating. The idea of hiking and rock climbing and simply being out in nature sounded appealing but it also sound suspiciously like running away. “As great as that sounds, I don’t want Johnny to think I’m running from him.”

“You aren’t running, Jules. Whether I like it or not, Dawson will still be here when we get back. At least this way, you can get a little distance and regain your perspective. Hopefully by the time we get back, you’ll be ready to face whatever he has planned with your usual confidence back in place. Since I’m pretty sure Aunt Millie didn’t have my cell phone number to give out, we’ll leave your phone here and rely on mine if Sarge has to contact us.”

“Sounds like you thought of everything.” Jules admitted, her tone still not revealing what she thought about the situation.

Sam shrugged. “I tried but I can cancel all the plans if you just really don’t want to.”

Jules gave it serious consideration for several minutes, then smiled. “Did you pack the air mattress and pump? There’s no way I’m going to listen to you complain about the hard ground for the next few days.”

Chapter Text

“Did I ever tell you about the first time I went camping?”

Sam glanced over at Jules at her revelation. It occurred to him to remind her that she never talked about hardly any of her firsts or about her life before he met her at all. But he withheld the comment, not wanting to dampen the mood. He’d been pleased to see that she seemed excited about the trip he’d planned, more excited than he’d seen her about anything since she’d gotten the news about Dawson’s release. Even though it had been close to one in the morning before they’d gone to bed, she’d been up before five, packing and double checking the gear he’d gathered the night before. She’d been ready to leave not long after that and only the reminder that they couldn’t drop off Patches at that time of morning to Wordy held her at bay until almost seven.

Once they had dropped off the cat and made a stop at the grocery store for the food they would need for the trip, she’d relinquished the keys to him allowing him to do the driving. She’d fiddled with the radio until she found a song she liked and had ridden in silence until her question interrupted the music-filled silence. Still, as he drove out of Toronto toward Milton it was almost as if he could see the tension that had been omnipresent in Jules for the last week almost visibly leave her body.

“How old were you?”

“Ten or eleven. Money was never exactly what you would call tight in my family but there wasn’t a lot of extra cash floating around for just fun stuff like vacations or stuff like that either. Still, there was a camp grounds right in the Hat and for as long as I could remember Dad would take the boys for weekend camping whenever he had a chance. It was cheap recreation and the boys always had fun. As the baby and the only girl, I wasn’t invited. I always had to stay home with Mom.”

There was something in her voice that made Sam reach over and squeeze her hand. “Didn’t you and your mom get along?” He regretted the question as soon as the words left his mouth. She was finally opening up to him and he didn’t want to take a chance at her shutting back down. For a moment she was quiet and he was afraid he’d done just that. She seemed to be studying the passing scenery.

“Yeah, sure we did. It wasn’t that I didn’t like spending time with my mom but more that I was being left out of something I knew my brothers found a lot of fun. They made a point of telling me just how much every Sunday night when they got home.” It was the truth. Her mother hadn’t started her closet drinking until Jules had been almost fourteen. “She tried to make the weekends the guys were gone fun for me as well but let’s face it, I was never the Ruffles-and-Bows child she thought she was getting when the doctor told her I was a girl.”

Sam laughed out loud just trying to imagine the woman he loved as a little girl wearing frilly dresses and a big bow in her hair. He couldn’t picture it. Not that he couldn’t appreciate all her womanly assets. Though it didn’t happen often, he’d seen her get all dressed up a few times and it never failed to take his breath away. A dress had a way of hugging all her curves in just the right places that regular clothes just couldn’t hold a candle to. But no matter how hot she looked all dressed up, he knew she was always more comfortable and more herself once she was home and could change back into jeans or sweats again. “So if you were never invited along on the camping trips, what changed?”

“I threw a fit the likes nobody in the whole province of Alberta or maybe the whole of Canada has ever seen. Seriously I was a world class brat about it; it’s a wonder Dad didn’t tear the hide off my backside and lock me in my room for that whole weekend but instead he agreed to let me come along. The boys didn’t like the idea; they tried to talk me out of it. Told me about all the bugs and snakes and lack of bathroom facilities.”

Sam lifted the hand that was holding hers to his lips and brushed a quick kiss over her knuckles. “Let me guess, the more they tried to convince you it was icky, the more in love with the idea you became.”

Jules smiled broadly. “You know me so well.”

“I’m trying.” Sam admitted softly. He would take any glimpse she offered him into her past as a gift and treasure it as such. “I take it you had a good time.”

“The best. After the first time there was never a question again about whether I should get to go. We even talked Mom into going once or twice; she enjoyed it but didn’t just love it the way we did so she didn’t come often but when she did, it was nice to have the whole family together.”

She fell quiet after that and returned to just watching the scenery pass. She had a contented smile on her face and Sam was glad that she had pleasant memories from her childhood that seemed to, at least for the moment, overshadowed the tragic ones that had consumed her recently.

The rest of the forty minute drive was made in an easy silence. He stopped at the park entrance and got their necessary permits. With their early start, he figured they’d have to hold off setting up their actual camp until late in the afternoon once the site became available but they were fortunate enough that the furthest available site was already clear and available. Sam pulled up beside their assigned site and they unloaded the jeep. Once everything was out, Jules drove around to the official parking spaces and after putting the top up on the jeep and locking it up, hiked back to Sam.

“Kelso doesn’t look too busy at the moment.” She reported. “I only noticed four or five camps set up right now. I would have figured the place would be packed.”

“The heat’s probably keeping most people away from actually camping. I bet the cabins at KAO are full of people wanting to enjoy what the different parks have to offer but with an air conditioned alternative.” Sam mused as he laid out the different pieces of their tent for assembly.

“Wimps.” Jules added as she knelt down to help him. Sam reached out and pulled her in for a quick kiss. He loved her unconditionally but this was the Jules he’d first fallen hard for and he was glad to see her back. He only hoped it would last beyond their time away. She smiled at him. “What was that for?”

“Just because I can. Come on, let’s get the tent up and then we can figure out what we want to do first.”

Jules grinned and then kissed him again. “Oh, I know exactly what I want to do first.”

The tent was momentarily forgotten as was the reality that they were in a public, albeit not crowded, place. Sam pulled her into his arms holding her close. “Oh, yeah? What’s that?”

She ran her hands lightly over his t-shirt clad torso and bit down slightly on her lower lip. “It’s been ages since we put those mountain bikes we lugged up here to good use. Think you’re up to some of the diamond and double diamond trails?”

Realizing she’d set him up Sam laughed and nodded. “Oh, I’m up to anything you have to offer me. Just don’t expect me to take it easy on you once we hit the trails.”

Jules rolled her eyes. “Please, like I’ll give you the chance to take it easy on me. Just try to keep up with me, Braddock.”

-- FP -- FP -- FP --

“The fish just aren’t biting.” Seventeen year old Ridge Callaghan grumbled as he surveyed the bait on the end of his hook.

“It’s too hot even for them.” Agreed his just slightly older brother Mark. “I say we give up trying to catch the fish and just go swimming with them. Hey, Squirt, want to head back to the campsite and see if the others want to go swimming?”

Fifteen year old Jules pulled her line from the water and carefully secured the hook. She rolled her eyes at her brothers. “I suppose you want me to lug all the fishing gear back with me as well? I swear you two treat me like I‘m your personal slave.”

The two brothers grinned and exchanged knowing looks. “Hey Mark, how many years have we been letting her tag alone and she’s just now realizing why we let her?”

“Jerk.” Jules accused gathering up the poles and tackle. “You’re just glad that with me along, you’re no longer the youngest that has to do all the grunge work. Just for the record, I’m only doing this because I need to get my swim suit anyway. I can’t just swim in my shorts like you boys can.”

“Sucks to be a girl.” Mark countered as she made her way away from the lake.

She could hear the splashes of her brothers jumping into the water before she even reached the path. She shook her head. Five years of these camping trips and they never lost their appeal. Adjusting the rods to get a better grip on them without risking getting a hook in her hand, Jules made her way toward the four tent campsite. About halfway there, she was met by a familiar tall figure with dark hair and an easy smile. That easy smile got bigger when he saw her.

“Hey there Little JAC, I thought you and the brats were catching supper.”

She stopped to talk to her uncle. Usually their camping trips consisted just of her, her dad, and her brothers, even now that her brothers had gotten older and were primarily on their own. James however, had begged out of this trip, preferring to spend the weekend with his girlfriend -soon-to-be-fiancée’s family instead. So in his place, Peter had invited Johnny along instead.

“They aren’t biting, UJ. The boys decided a swim would be more productive. I was heading to the campsite to drop this stuff off, grab my suit and see if the rest of you wanted to join us.”

“Peter and your father decided to take a hike; I think your brother’s finally worked up the nerve to tell your dad about wanting to do that independent study in France. But a swim sounds good to me. Want me to help you get this stuff back?”

Jules shook her head. “Nah, you go on up to the lake. You know you can’t leave Ridge and Mark alone for too long without them trying to outdo each other. I’m sure by now they are trying to see who can hold their breath longer under water or something like that.”

“Okay, if you’re sure.” Johnny watched as she continued down the path toward the tents. When she was out of sight he started walking again following her instead of heading to the lake.

Jules set the fishing gear beside her father’s tent and grabbed her suit off the line they’d set up for drying things. She slipped into her single man pup tent to change. Jules shed her t-shirt and then shimmied out of her shorts. A cold chill ran down her spine as she similarly slipped out of her bra and panties and reached for her slightly damp swimsuit. She stopped what she was doing, self consciously covering her small breasts with her arms. She had a sudden sense of being watched. It didn’t make sense. No one was in the campsite and even if they were, the most they could see through the tent material would just be shadows.

She shook her hand and laughed at herself. Her brothers would have a field day laughing at her if they knew she’d gotten spooked during the middle of the day. Dismissing the bad feeling, she donned her swimsuit and reached for shirt she’d stolen from her father to use as a cover-up. Once outside her tent, she leaned down to re-zip it, not wanting to come back later and find she was sharing her living space with any of nature’s wildlife. Straightening up and turning around, she jumped to realize she wasn’t alone in the area.

“Jeeze, UJ, I thought you’d gone on to the lake.”

“Came back for my sunscreen. I doubt a sunburn would make the rest of the weekend much fun. You ready?”

She remembered the feeling of being watched she’d felt as she was dressing and then shook the feeling away. Why would he be trying to watch her change clothes through the tent? That was ridiculous. He was her uncle and her brother’s best friend, not some sort of voyeur. “Yeah, let’s grab the towels off the line and head back to the lake. A swim will feel great in this heat.”

-- FP --

Sam woke with a start somewhere in the middle of the night. Rubbing his hand over his face he wondered what it was that had startled him awake. He looked to one side to gauge the time but there was no red numbers on a clock looking back at him. Had the power gone off? Was that what woke him up? Slowly he was once more aware of his surroundings as sleep fully left him. There were no red numbers shining back at him because there was no clock, no nightstand, no bedroom. He was sleeping on the air mattress in a tent with the woman of his dreams nestled into his side. He looked down. Scratch that, air mattress and tent were there but Jules wasn’t curled up in the double sleeping bag with him.

He frowned, all day long he hadn’t seen any sign of the stressed out Jules who had filled his entire being with worry for the past week. In fact, here in this sanctuary, it was almost as if Johnny Dawson no longer existed. By the time they had returned to the campsite from their bike ride, the sun had been just before setting and they were both exhausted. They’d purposely chosen the trails marked for the most experienced riders and even with that added challenge, their natural competitive natures had increased the vigor of their ride even more. Jules had gotten their campfire started while he secured their bikes to the lockable bike rack on the back of the jeep. When he returned, the fire was going and he suddenly felt himself being pelted with marshmallows. He’d laughed and tried to steal the bag away from her, warning her that they’d want those later to roast on the fire for smores. Their grumbling stomachs had prevented their playfulness from going too far and they had put the marshmallows back in the cooler for later and worked together to prepare supper. He’d even been pleased to see that her appetite which had been almost nonexistent since she’d gotten the news seemed to have returned as she put him to shame demolishing their dinner. Even their lovemaking before retiring for the night hadn’t had a hint of the hesitancy he’d felt in her during the last week. As he’d drifted off to sleep, completely sated and content, he’d silently congratulated himself on his idea of getting her away from town for a few days.

He unzipped the sleeping bag, wondering how Jules had managed to leave without waking him up. He pulled on a pair of sweat pants and a t-shirt and left the tent. He grabbed a flashlight but his eyes quickly acclimated to the night and with the stars overhead, found he didn’t need it. He looked around with a frown, not seeing Jules. Trusting his gut, started up the path away from the other camp sites into the woods. After a ten minute walk he caught a glimpse of her form sitting on a large boulder about ten meters off the path. Her knees were pulled up close to her body but he couldn’t tell much else. He wanted to go to her but didn’t want to scare her by sneaking up on her.

“It’s okay; I know you’re there.” Her soft voice filtered across the night and urged him toward her. He climbed up on the boulder beside her and gently pulled her against him. She didn’t fight him and rested her head against his broad chest. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“I don’t think you did. The chill in your body tells me you’ve been out here awhile. Those wimps who prefer the air conditioned cabins at KAO don’t realize that as hot as it gets in the day, the nights can be pretty cool. You okay?” He promised himself he wasn’t going to pry even though he wanted to. Over and over he’d told her that he wouldn’t force her to tell him anything she didn’t want to talk about and then as soon as something new came to light, he went right back to pressing. He wasn’t going to make that mistake again.

Jules pulled his arms tighter against her body. Sam wasn’t sure if the movement was for warmth or comfort but was willing to give either or both. For a moment she didn’t say anything but he didn’t break the silence either. Finally she spoke, her voice sounding almost far away.

“Memories are funny things, you know?” Sam didn’t respond, correctly assuming it was a rhetorical question. Jules continued. “I hadn’t really thought about any of those camping trips I used to take with my dad and brothers in years, except for those moments that always get brought up when the family gets together. Stories about how James nearly broke his neck the time he was the first one to try out the old rope swing one summer and didn’t realize the lake was way down because of a drought. Or the time Ridge burned his foot when the other guys hid outside his tent and made him think a bear was abut to attack. As he ran out, he didn’t pay attention to where he was going and ran through the fire pit that while the fire was out was still full of hot embers.”

Sam winced at the thought of both injuries thinking if her brothers were anything like she was about throwing her whole self into things, those were probably just the beginning of the injuries they’d sustained. The tips of his fingers lightly grazed her arms as he waited for her to continue.

“I had totally forgotten about the one camping trip Johnny went with us on, about a year and a half before Mom died. It was one of our last simply because the boys were all pretty much grown at that point and Mom insisted that it wouldn’t be proper for just Dad and I to go camping. Obviously I didn‘t see it then and for some reason I haven‘t thought about that trip in the years after but I think he was a little bit sick even then.”

Sam closed his eyes and his jaw tightened. He’d thought this trip was what Jules needed and it had seemed to be working but it seemed Johnny had to show up even for it without even being physically present. “Jules…”

He felt rather than saw the shake of her head, silencing him. “I feel safe here.”

“You are safe. Johnny can’t leave Toronto without violating the terms of his release. I don’t think he’s stupid enough to jeopardize his freedom.” Sam assured her softly, glad that no matter where her thoughts had taken her, she still felt secure.

Jules drew in a shaky breath. “I don’t mean here as in Halton. I mean here in your arms. You make me feel safe.”

“You are, always.” Sam assured her, drawing her even closer to him as proof. “I may screw up at times. Hell, I may screw up a lot but the last thing I ever want to do is make you feel anything but safe and secure.”

“You’ve been so patient with me, Sam and I’ve treated you like dirt. I haven’t been fair to you at all.”

His heart was beating a little rapidly and he twisted on the boulder just a little so he could look her in the eye. He could see the pools of water filling her brown eyes even with the dim light of the stars. “None of this has been fair to you. You don’t have to feel bad about anything.”

“Yeah I do. I’m selfish, have been since our first attempt at dating. I’m always putting my own needs and wants above yours. You should have walked away a long time ago but you haven’t. You even arranged this trip just to make me feel better.”

Sam leaned down, resting his forehead against hers. “I don’t think you are selfish. Far from it. Jules, one of the first things I learned about you is that you are one of the most independent people I’ve ever met. Yeah sometimes it drives me absolutely crazy cause my nature is to swoop in and fix things. Like when you were recovering in the hospital after you were shot. I’d see you struggling with your physical therapy and I wanted to do things for you to make it easier for you. You wouldn’t let me and it was as frustrating as hell but eventually I saw you had to do it even if hurt you like hell. I love the fact that you don’t need me but choose to be with me anyway.”

His words hung in the night air for several minutes as Jules mulled them over. At last she shook her head. “I’m not that independent. Not really. It’s more like I’m scared to need anyone. Scared that if I let anyone get too close someone’s going to get hurt and I’m afraid that someone will be me. That’s the reason I ended things between us the first time. I was feeling vulnerable, afraid that everything I had worked for was about to be lost so I did the one thing I felt like I had control over.”

Sam felt like she was being too hard on herself but knew his words to the contrary would fall on deaf ears. Something was weighing heavily on her and the best he could do was just hold her and listen as she rationalized it to herself and to him. She twisted around so that her back was once more flush against his chest and his arms protectively wrapped around her. He resumed his light strokes of his fingertips against her arms waiting for her to continue. The time stretched on without her saying anything and he glanced down, thinking maybe she’d fallen asleep on him. Her eyes were open though and she looked like she was struggling with something.

“Jules?”

“I’m a wimp.”

The comment was so absurd that Sam couldn’t help but laugh. “Not hardly. The wimps are down the road in the air conditioned KOA cabins, remember? Jules, it’s okay to feel vulnerable at times. It doesn’t make you weak or a wimp. If you feel like you have to have control over things, can anyone really blame you? Dawson didn’t just kill your mother that night. He made you question everything you thought you knew about love and trust. Hell, I think Aunt Millie is right -- jail was too good a punishment for him.” Sam carefully left out any hint to anything else Dawson might have done.

“He made me question a lot more than that.” Jules admitted softly. Almost so softly that Sam had to strain to hear her. When her words registered with him, he sucked in his breath. This was the closest she’d come to admitting that more had happened and as much as he wanted to hear what she had to say, he was scared to think what the cost might be for her. Still, he didn’t want to say anything; not wanting to risk shutting down anything she might be opening up to say.

Again she fell silent and Sam was afraid it was all he was going to get. Finally she wiggled out of his arms. As much as he wanted to hold her, he released her immediately. She stood and walked a couple of feet further into the woods where the stars didn’t quite penetrate the canopy of trees the way they were at the boulder. He could still make out her outline but not her individual features.

“When I was really little I kept getting strep throat.” Jules admission seemed so random that it caught Sam by surprised. “Finally, the year I turned seven, the doctor told my parents that if I got sick once more in a year’s time I would have to have my tonsils out. I didn’t understand much of what they were talking about except for the fact that if I had the surgery I would get to eat all the ice cream I wanted when it was over. I thought that sounded great and even asked if we had to wait to see if I got sick again. I was ready to sign up for surgery that day.”

Sam smiled even though he wasn’t sure where she was going with her story. Childhood stories from Jules were so rare that he was willing to listen whenever she was willing to share one. He’d never had problems with his tonsils but Natalie had. She’d been excited about eating ice cream as well until she tried to the first bite and felt the pain swallowing even the soft cold food caused.

“Then my brothers shared with me their version of what would happen.” Jules continued. “I was seven so they were between nine and fourteen and had me convinced they were foremost experts on everything. I don’t even remember all the horror stories they told me about what surgery would be like. Needless to say by the time they were through I was terrified, convinced that if I had my tonsils taken out life as I knew it would never be the same.”

Other than Peter, Sam hadn’t met any of her brothers but as a brother himself, he was pretty sure he could imagine the horror stories they filled their little sister’s head with. Despite his intention to not interrupt her, he couldn’t help but ask, “Then what happened?”

“I got a sore throat. It wasn’t bad at first so I didn’t think twice about not saying anything about it. Then I started getting sicker and sicker but even though I knew I needed to tell Mom and Dad so they could take me to the doctor, I stayed quiet, afraid they would force me to have surgery. For a solid week I was horribly ill -- sore throat, high fever, the whole nine yards.” Knowing how well Jules could pretend everything was fine when it wasn’t, it didn’t surprise Sam to hear she’d been able to fool her parents. Jules continued. “After that, I started to get better so I thought I had dodged the bullet. Until I woke up one morning with a horrible red rash all over and a fever so high I couldn’t even lift my head off the pillow.”

“Scarlet fever?”

Jules nodded. “I had to be hospitalized. The doctor was surprised by the diagnosis since I hadn’t been sick. I still didn’t tell them because I was afraid of the surgery. About two months later I got sick again and despite how bad the scarlet fever had been I still wasn’t going to tell them I was sick. James ratted me out; I don’t know if he felt guilty about how much they had scared me or just wanted to get me in trouble. They told me my brothers had just been pulling my leg and that surgery wouldn’t be any problem. I had built that fear up so much I couldn’t believe them. The doctor said he’d never seen someone so frightened about a simple surgery.”

Sam was sure there was more to her story than her sudden desire to share another childhood memory and he wanted to wait for her to state the connection herself. Still, it was killing him to have her standing so far away. In the dim light, he could see her hugging her arms across her chest. “Jules.”

He stood up, wanting to cross the distance and once more take her in his arms. If she felt more comfortable in the increased darkness of the trees then he could handle that. She shook her head. “Sam, please. Just stay over there, okay? This is hard enough as it is.”

Obediently he sat back down, drawing one knee up close to him. Seeing that he wasn’t going to come closer, Jules began to pace. “I need to tell you what happened. I need to but I can’t. I have it in my mind what will happen if I do and it scares me worse than anything. And before you sit there and tell me your reaction or the consequences could never be as bad as what I’m afraid they’ll be, save your breath. My heart knows that but it can’t convince my head.”

Now Sam understood the point of her earlier story. She wanted him to understand that it wasn’t about keeping secrets from him for the sake of keeping secrets. He could only imagine what lies Dawson had fed a humiliated and violated innocent girl. Lies that had seemed as convincing as the tales her mischievous brothers had told an unsuspecting seven year old. He wanted to hear what had happened to her as much as she probably needed to finally voice it but it wouldn’t be that easy.

“Jules, come here.” His tone was even and soft, almost pleading. She shook her head, turning away from him to stare into the dark woods. “Jules, please. If my arms are where you feel safe then let me hold you. At least let me offer you that.”

He wasn’t sure if she was going to take him up on his offer but slowly, taking only half a step at a time, she made her way back to his arms. He folded her against his body, rubbing his arms briskly up and down her chilled arms. Once he felt a little warmth return to her arms, he stopped and raised his hand to her chin lifting it so she had to look at him. “Jules, I understand. Whatever happened, you’ve lived with the fear and pain of it for twenty years. I nor anyone else can expect you to let go of that all at once. There’s no timetable in this. The fact that you are willing to open up to me is a huge step. Details can wait.”

She didn’t look convinced. He brushed his thumb lightly over her cheekbone. “Jules, remember in the hospital when you were so discouraged that as much as you wanted to run laps around your hospital floor you could barely put one foot in front of the other? The doctor told you to start slow, to take baby steps. This is the same way. Want to try? If it’s too much, say the word and we’ll stop.”

A soft smile touched her lips remembering he’d said pretty much the same thing those first few attempts to walk after her surgery. “Okay.”

“There are certain ways you don’t like to be touched when we make love, there’s a reason for that isn’t there?”

Slowly Jules nodded, a hard shudder wracking her body.

“Is Dawson responsible for that reason?” Again another nod. Even though the dark should conceal all but the most obvious expressions, Sam was careful not to let his disgust at the man show. He didn’t want Jules to misinterpret any reaction he might unwittingly show. “How badly did he hurt you?”

He felt her tense and knew he’d gone too far with that question. Immediately, he backtracked. “Okay, forget that question. I’m sorry.” He remembered the insinuations Dawson had made to him of how close he and Jules were and his stomach churned. “Let me guess, Dawson threatened you into not telling, didn’t he? Maybe told you he’d hurt you or someone else if you told? Maybe told you no one would believe you or that they would think you wanted it? Am I right?”

“All of it.” She admitted softly. He felt her tears roll over his fingers on the side of her face and leaned down and kissed them away.

“Damn him, Jules. He’s a lying bastard.”

I can only imagine the things he told you last night to make it seem like what he was doing was either okay or your fault. And you probably believed every word he told you because that’s how deceitful he really is. Let’s sort through his lies together so you can see the truth for what it really is.

Her mother’s words from the day she died came back to Jules. The young woman hiccupped softly. “My mom basically said the same thing.”

Sam frowned, it was sounding more and more like Greg’s theory the day before could possible be true. Margaret knew what her brother had done to Jules. No matter what reason Johnny had for killing her, he’d probably led Jules to believe it was because Jules had told her mother what had happened. No wonder Jules couldn’t talk about what had happened. “Jules, your mom’s death wasn’t your fault. You know that don’t you? No matter what shit he fed you to make you think otherwise, it’s his fault and his fault alone.”

He felt her stiffen again. Then she shrugged. “Yeah, sure. Of course. Can we not do this anymore tonight? I’m really tired.”

Sam had to remind himself what he’d told her earlier. There was no timetable in this; nothing was going to be solved tonight and pushing her any further would just cause her more pain. He stood, lifting her into his strong arms. “Whatever you need. You and me, are we okay here?”

She rested her head on his shoulder, too tired to even protest the fact that he shouldn’t be carrying her. “I sure hope so. I don’t think I could handle it if we aren’t.”

Chapter Text

The light illuminating the interior of the tent roused Sam from his disturbed slumber. He blinked back the sleep from his eyes and then looked down at the woman sleeping in his arms. He smiled, glad to see that though her eyes were still puffy from her late night tears, her expression seemed relaxed. In the earlier morning hours as he carried her back to their tent, she’d fallen asleep against his chest, apparently worn out from her emotional release of at least some of her demons.

His own sleep hadn’t been as easy to come by as he had lain in their sleeping bags mulling over what she had revealed to him and worrying over what she hadn’t. As a cop, he’d been through the training on how to sensitively and professionally respond to an assault victim. Objectively, he was confident in his abilities but nothing in the training touched on how to handle the same situation when it hit you personally. Jules wasn’t some victim that he would question to get a report and then never see again. She was so much more and he didn’t want to do anything to screw it up.

As grateful as he was that she’d finally let him in at least a little, the most he’d gotten from her was basically just a confirmation of his suspicions and nothing more. He knew even that admission was a huge step for her but seeing the emotional drain it cost her, wondered if she could handle the rest. He’d always thought Jules could handle anything and it was more than a little sobering to find there was something that she struggled with.

Jules squirmed slightly in his arms and he recognized the slight intake of breath that signaled she was waking up as well. Her eyes fluttered several times before opening halfway. She yawned and smiled slightly. “What time is it?”

Sam shrugged, leaning down to kiss her good morning. “I don’t know; my watch is in here somewhere. From the amount of light in the tent I’d say late morning.”

She sat up, all trace of sleepiness gone, and glanced down at her ever-present watch. She was the only person Sam knew that was almost never without a way of telling time. “It’s almost ten. Damn, why didn’t you wake me up? We’re wasting daylight here, Braddock.”

Sam pulled her back down to him and kissed her once again. “Relax, Jules; this is a vacation, remember? We don’t have to go nonstop every minute. I think we’re entitled to a late morning now and then. Besides, we didn’t exactly get a lot of sleep last night.”

There was a hint of something in her eyes and then Sam realized what she would never say. The secrets of her past that were revealed in the dark of the night would remain there. To press her further until she was ready to once again let him in would prove fruitless and frustrating. And because he loved her, he would go along with her wishes.

Suppressing the sigh he was feeling, Sam sat up pulling her up alongside him. “Okay, you win. This is your vacation after all.”

He reached to unzip the sleeping bag but she stilled his hand and gazed into his blue eyes. “No, it’s our vacation and in case I didn’t say it yesterday, thanks for doing this for me. Even though I was being a complete bitch to you, you still managed to not only know exactly what I needed but pull it off seamlessly. I don’t know how I ever got so lucky but you are beyond a doubt the absolute best boyfriend in the entire universe. I love you so much and I don’t know what I would do without you.”

Sam had had his fair share of girlfriends, women who could turn on the verbal mush without blinking an eye and say the most flattering things that while the words were sweet and he appreciated them, had never meant as much as what Jules had just said. Sure, she expressed her love for him in many ways that meant the world to him, but she wasn’t the most verbally expressive person he’d ever dated. But when she so chose to do so -- like now, she could turn him into putty. He also knew she was thanking him for more than just the trip and he’d take that acknowledgement without making a big deal out of it. He cupped her face in his hands and kissed her gently.

“I love you just as much and you don’t have to even think about what you would do without me because you are stuck with me. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you.”

“I’ll remember that the next time Patches’s litter box needs changing.”

Sam chuckled realizing he’d walked right into that one. “Okay, before you start busting my chops again about the day that’s wasting, how do you want to spend the day?”

“Head over to Rattlesnake for rock climbing?” Jules suggested. She made it a question but she knew Sam would go along with her idea easily enough. She slid out of the sleeping bag and reached for her duffle bag for a fresh change of clothes. Her hands were slightly shaking as she waited to see if Sam would watch her as she shed her clothes and changed in front of him. It wasn’t the first time she’d allowed herself to be naked in front of him even when they weren’t about to make love and though neither had ever said anything about it, it gave her a boost to know that he liked to look at her. Still, this was the first time she’d undressed in front of him since her admission of her past and she was worried it would change the way he reacted toward her.

“I pretty much knew you were going to say that.” Sam briefly wondered if he should busy himself with his own dressing. He didn’t want to make her uncomfortable but he couldn’t help but let his eyes travel appreciatively up and down her bare body. He loved looking at her and felt himself harden at the sight of her gorgeous body displayed just for him. No question that she was a very beautiful and desirable woman; her work and her recreational activities keeping her body firmly tone and supple. He wondered if she even knew just how breathtaking she really was or if he even came close to telling her enough. “You’re beautiful.”

Her back was to him as she reached for her shirt and she closed her eyes to ward off the sudden wetness that filled them. Only two words but the ones she most needed to hear in that moment. She slid the shirt over her head and when she was sure her expression wouldn’t betray the sudden emotion turned back to face him. “You’re pretty hot yourself. I’ll get us some coffee and breakfast started while you get dressed.”

She leaned over and kissed him before leaving the tent.

-- FP -- FP -- FP --
“So much better than the wall at the gym.” Sam commented after he and Jules had both reached the summit of the rock they’d chosen to climb first. Jules just grinned as she reached for the water bottle she had fastened to her side pack. She took a long swallow and offered it to Sam. He shook his head, pulling out his own bottle. “What do you think, should we suggest this as a possible means of entry on calls?”

Jules laughed. “What makes you think I haven’t already suggested it? Lew and I once even worked up a whole demonstration at the training house. Sarge wouldn’t go for it; said most buildings didn’t have enough jugs to hold onto and that building owners wouldn’t want us putting pitons in all up and down a building. So I guess I’ll have to be happy when the situation calls for a rappelling MOE.”

Sam heard the slight hitch in her voice when she mentioned their fallen friend and knew that she still keenly felt the death of the young SRU officer. Hell, they all did but he suspected that she and Spike missed Lew more than the rest of the team. “He would have liked Rattlesnake Point, wouldn’t he?”

“Who do you think bought my first annual pass? He discovered the place on the internet and suggested that we come up some Saturday and practice. We did; loved it and new it would be in our best interest to go ahead and get an annual membership. The next time we did an obstacle course training at work, we set up a bet with each other. The one of us with the lower time had to buy the other’s annual pass. We talked about Rattlesnake so much we even got Spike coming up with us on free Saturdays to climb. It didn’t stop us from getting some practice runs in at work rappelling down the side of the building but at least here, we didn’t have Sarge busting our chops about messing up the windows or scaring little old ladies on other floors.” She would have willingly agreed to wash every window of headquarters if it meant she could have just one more escapade with Lewis Young. She returned her water bottle to her pack and blew out the air in her lungs through her mouth as if by doing so she could also dislodge the sad turn the conversation had taken. “So how about we descend so we can get one more climb in before lunch? Race ya?”

Sam nodded and leaned over to give her a quick kiss. “How come you never talk about racing on the way up? Is it because you believe your light weight beautiful ass drops much more quickly than mine does?” He knew the real answer but wanted to put a smile on her face again. Ascending up the rock face took concentration and skill, one wrong hand grab or foot placement could spell disaster. It wasn’t the time to put speed ahead of caution. The descent however relied more on the trust you had with your equipment. Neither was a practice someone untrained should attempt but Sam and Jules both were skilled enough that a little competition wouldn’t hurt.

Jules rolled her eyes. “You are such a romantic, you know that right? Catch ya on the flip side.” With her parting words, she stepped off the side getting a quick head start on him.

Sam chuckled as he dropped off the side behind her. There was something thrilling about stepping off into thin air and trusting that your rigging would keep gravity from pulling you down too quickly. He didn’t push the speed, enjoying instead being able to look down and watch Jules in her own descent. She made it look effortless, lightly bouncing her feet off the side of the rock face in random spots on her way down.

She was already unhooking her rigging when he reached the ground. She shook her head. “Getting slow there, Braddock.”

“Just admiring the view. It keeps distracting me.”

Jules took a deep breath and looked around at the scenery laid out before them. She smiled, looking relaxed and content. “Yeah, this place is so amazing. Who would believe all this existed just a short drive out of the city.”

Sam wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close to him. He lowered his head to hers, making sure she realized his eyes were solely on her. “Yeah, it’s great but not the view I was into.”

Jules giggled but then lightly pushed him away. “That’s great, Sam. Blame me for your loss. Fine, if it makes you feel better, go right ahead. So, which one do you want to tackle next -- and if you know what’s best for you, your answer will not be me.”

At work, Sam didn’t get the chance to so openly flirt with the woman he loved, so he was enjoying this opportunity to do so now. But at the same time, he was also glad to see the clouds of sadness that had settled over her with their talk about Lew had lifted. He turned her to where they were both looking at the easiest of the three climbs offered at Rattlesnake. They had climbed all three designated sites the park offered several times in the past but could still be challenged by most of their climbs. That particular climb however, they could both make in their sleep. “How about that one? It wouldn’t take us long so we can get an early lunch before we tackle some of the more difficult ones later. We could even make that one a competition to see who really is the best. I promise not to take it easy on you.”

“I’d never expect you to.” Jules promised. “Yeah, sounds like a plan. And I promise you that when I leave you in the dust, I won’t brag about it at work when we get back -- at least not too much.”

Sam gave her butt a playful slap urging her forward. “I make no such promises when I show you how it’s done.”

-- FP -- FP -- FP --
Sam pulled the Jeep into a slot in the parking area closet to their campsite at Kelso. The sun was low in the sky but it would still be several hours before it sank completely. He glanced over at Jules sitting beside him and reached over to give her hand a warm squeeze. “You look tired.”

He couldn’t blame her. They’d climbed all three designated sites Rattlesnake offered at least three different times each from a different angle so it was like a different climb every time. His own muscles were sore from the workout they’d received but it was a good type of sore, the kind that let him know that he’d exercised well.

Keeping her head against the head rest of the her seat, she turned it slightly so she could look at Sam. She smiled. “Not so much tired as relaxed to the consistency of a wet noodle. I can’t remember the last time I was able to cram so much fun into one day. Have I thanked you for this?”

Sam smiled. “You have and you don’t have to keep doing so. Truth is, I needed this trip just as much as you did and I wouldn’t want to spend a vacation with anyone else. So, I’m forgiven for letting us sleep late this morning?”

“Yeah, sorry about giving you grief about it.” Jules blushed slightly and then as if making a decision, pulled her hand from his grasp and unstrapped her watch. Then she held out her hand. “Give me your watch.”

Sam raised an eyebrow. For as long as he had known her, Jules always wore her watch. Anytime she’d had to go without it, she’d complained about feeling naked. Confused, he unfastened it and handed it over. “What are you doing?”

She opened the glove box and placed the two watches inside before closing it. “You were right this morning. This is a vacation and we’re not on a timetable. No more worrying about time for the rest of the trip. We’ll go to sleep when we’re too exhausted to stay awake any longer and wake up when our bodies decide we’ve slept enough. We’ll eat when we get hungry and not when the clock says it’s time.”

“Sounds like a plan to me. What’s your body telling you it wants right now?”

Jules considered the question carefully. “How about a swim? The water will help work out the kinks in our muscles and cool us off.”

“Swimming it is. We’ll change into our suits and head to the lake.”

In almost no time at all, they were walking hand in hand down to the lake. It was still pretty crowded for early evening but probably no where near as full as it would have been even a couple of hours earlier during the full heat of the day. They passed several families making their way back toward their cars ready to end their day of fun. One woman passed them carrying a crying toddler. As they came abreast of each other the child dropped a well-worn pink bunny but the little girl’s mother didn’t seem to notice. Releasing Sam’s hand, Jules stopped and scooped it up.

“Ma’am?”

The woman stopped but didn’t turn around. Jules jogged back toward her and handed her the bunny. “Your little girl dropped this. Probably would have made the tears worse if she lost it.”

The woman thanked her and then continued on. Jules rejoined Sam and they finished the short trek down to the water. They were just sinking their toes into the wet sand when they noticed a commotion around the lifeguard stand. One lifeguard was trying to talk to an obviously distraught woman who had two small children clamoring around her legs while another was on the radio. Two more were already running toward the water, their rescue buoys in hand. Sam frowned. “Something’s wrong.”

They both scanned the lake for any sign of someone in distress but saw nothing. The cops in each of them couldn’t contain their curiosity any more than the other onlookers seemed to be able to. A man standing near them explained what he knew. “I think there’s a kid missing. I’ve seen the family all day; they’ve got about five kids. The dad took the oldest two out into the water about an hour ago and the mom was entertaining the youngest three on the beach. Suddenly the mom was screaming and when I looked over there were only two kids with her. You don’t think one went into the water by himself do you?”

Jules frowned and scanned the beach. “Seems like with this many people around someone would have noticed a small child going into the water unattended and intervened. Sam, let’s see if we can help.”

The two made their way closer to the lifeguard stand. The mother of the missing child was hysterical, insisting she’d only turned her back on her little girl for a moment to put more sunscreen on the other two and when she turned back to put some on her, the little girl was gone. Sam identified himself and Jules to the lifeguard and volunteered their assistance. Jules looked from the mother to the other two children and her heart thudded suddenly.

“Did your daughter have a pink bunny?”

Sam gave her an odd look but the mother nodded. “Yes, Sara carries it everywhere. Have you seen her?”

Jules nodded. “She’s not in the lake; she was taken.” She turned to the lifeguard with the radio. “Radio the gate entrance. Tell them not to let anyone leave the park. Sam, the woman we passed on the hike down has her; I’m sure of it.”

She took off running back up the path, knowing she and Sam were the best trained to handle this particular situation. Kelso Park was expansive and she had no way of knowing what direction the woman would have headed to after they had parted ways on the path but Jules had to hope that she would have headed straight to the parking lot. Sam kept pace with her clutching the radio the lifeguard had thrust in his hands as he started to follow Jules. The radio crackled to life.

“We got five cars waiting to exit the park. We’ve got the gate closed and authorities on the way. How do you want us to respond?”

Sam keyed the radio. “We don’t want to spook her if we can avoid it. Can you check each vehicle for signs of the missing toddler? Maybe inform each car that there’s a park emergency and you’ll let them leave as soon as it is safe? Don’t mention the missing child. If you get a visual, do NOT engage the suspect; I repeat DO NOT engage.”

“Copy that.”

Sam looked at Jules who seemed hell-bent on getting to the entrance as quickly as possible. No sign of sore muscles or wet-noodle relaxation in her body at all now. “Jules, think about this. We aren’t on duty and we aren’t armed.”

“We don’t know that she is either. Sam, we’ve got to try; at least start negotiating until the authorities arrive.”

He’d known it was useless to argue with her; he didn’t even really want to dissuade her. Even unarmed, they were better equipped to handle the negotiation part of a potential hot call than the park officials would be and probably even better than the local authorities could. He simply wanted her to think things through so she didn’t get hurt.

“We got a visual. Suspect, a woman in her early thirties, is alone with a child matching the missing toddler’s description. The child appears upset but uninjured. No sign of weapons in the car but the woman is agitated.”

Sam and Jules weren’t far from the park entrance and he grabbed her arm and stopped her. He keyed the radio once again. “Copy that. Observation only. See if you can get the license plate number without being too obvious and get the responding units to run the tag, see who we’re dealing with.” He unkeyed the mike and stared down at Jules who looked furious that he’d stopped her. “Okay, we’re doing this but we gotta have a plan. We’re flying blind here and that’s not good. Suggestions?”

Jules nodded. “You go to the jeep, get the crowbar. I’ll distract the woman, try to get her out of the vehicle if possible. If I can, then you can use the crowbar to pop the door closest to the child and get her to safety.”

Sam nodded; it wasn’t the best plan but it was as good as they could probably hope to get at this point. They could hear the sirens of the responding units getting closer and knew it was only a matter of time before the woman realized they were after her. They parted company where Sam could retrieve the needed tool from the jeep and Jules could take her position near the car. The radio crackled to life again.

“She’s bolting. The arrival of the police spooked her. She’s got the toddler in her arms and it looks like she has a revolver as well.”

Knowing that Jules wouldn’t have heard the report since she didn’t have her own radio, Sam frowned and took off running in her direction. He thudded to a stop when he saw the woman they’d passed on the path standing at the edge of the road holding the screaming child against her shoulder with one hand and extending the gun toward Jules with the other.

“Ma’am, let’s all calm down here. You’re scaring the little girl.”

“They aren’t going to take her away from me again. I won’t let them. I won’t let you. I just got my baby back and I have to protect her.”

Never had Jules so missed the ability to have the rest of the team backing her on a call. At this point she should have Spike feeding her information about their suspect in her ear so she would know exactly what they were dealing with. Was this a birth mother trying to reclaim a child she’d either given up or lost? She also missed having Sarge to coordinate the efforts of the other officers. Out of the corner of her eye she could see them drawing down on the armed suspect with their own weapons. She hoped that Sam could convince them to let her attempt to resolve the situation without the need for violence.

“Ma’am, I hear you and I know you want to protect your little girl but it’s hard to do that with so many guns around. How about you put yours down and we can all talk about this? We wouldn’t want the baby to get hit by accident would we?”

The woman shook her head but didn’t lower her weapon. “I just want to keep her safe. She was going to go into the water again and I couldn’t let her get hurt. She just doesn’t understand that if you go into the water, you don’t come back out and then the police and your husband and everyone else tells you there is nothing you can do. Your little girl isn’t coming back but she did. And now I’ve got to keep her safe.”

Jules took a deep breath, trying to slow her own breathing so she could slow things down with the situation, just like Sarge had always told her on calls like this. Connect, Respect, Protect. She could do this. “She’s a beautiful little girl. What’s her name?”

“Beth.”

Jules schooled her features not to react to that name. Now was not the time for her own painful memories to surface. “I had a best friend named Beth when I was younger. It’s a pretty name. Did she have fun here today?”

“I thought she was too little to come to the beach but my husband said I was worrying so much. I never took my eyes off of her, especially when we were in the water. She loves the water so much. I was letting her swim to me but it was so crowded. I told the big kids who were splashing near us to be careful because she was so little. But they didn’t listen and then one of them wasn’t watching and jumped back and landed on her. I tried to get to her but I couldn’t get to her in time. They told me she was gone forever but they were wrong. I got her back and I’m never going to let her get hurt again.”

Jules nodded. She wondered where Sam was but couldn’t break her concentration of the task at hand to actively look for him. She had to trust that he was containing the situation as best he could and would back her up if needed. “I can’t imagine how terrible that was for you. You must have been so scared. As scared as this little girl is right now. Look at her. She doesn’t understand what’s going on and she’s frightened. She just wants someone to hold her tightly and tell her it’s going to be okay. Can you do that for her? Can you put the gun away and just tell her it’s going to be okay?”

The gun in the woman’s hand wavered just a little but didn’t lower. However, as Jules notice the woman turned her attention briefly to the child, she took a couple of steps closer. She could almost feel Sam’s disapproval as she did so but didn’t feel like the woman wanted to hurt anyone. If Jules was reading her right, the woman was simply mourning the loss of her daughter when a substitute suddenly appeared in her life. She stopped her forward movement just as the woman turned her attention back to Jules, the gun no longer wavering but fixed directly on her.

“What are you doing?” The woman accused seeing that Jules had gotten closer.

A splash of pink on the ground next to the car caught Jules’s attention and gave her an idea. “Her bunny. She dropped her bunny again. I was just going to pick it for her again. Is that okay? Can I get it for her? Looks like it’s pretty important to her. I’ll just get it, give it to her and then back away again. Okay? Can I do that for her?”

The woman pulled the hammer back on the gun, cocking it and Jules took a step backward. “Stay back. I’m not going to let anyone take her away from me again. You don’t know what its like to be told that the child you created and love so completely is gone forever. I couldn’t breath without her. My heart hurt from the pain of not being able to hold her and comfort her. I can’t live without her. I came to the beach today to say goodbye to my Bethie one more time and then I was going to end my pain. But she saved me by coming back to me.”

Jules nodded. The woman was suicidal as well as delusional. Not a good combination by any stretch of the imagination. “You’re right. I’ve never had a child but I do know what it’s like to lose someone you love. I’ve felt the kind of pain you’re talking about. It hurts like hell and you think nobody could ever understand just how much. You just want the pain to end but you don’t know how to do that. You know what, though, I bet your husband understands the loss you felt. I bet he misses your little girl as much as you do. We could get someone to call him for you, let him know about what happened here. Would you like for us to do that?”

The woman shook her head. “I just want to get back in my car with Beth and go home. Can you make them do that? Make them open the gate and move all those police cars so I can go home with my little girl? She needs a nap; she’s played hard today.”

Once again, Jules wished she had her earbud in so that she had an idea of what was going on around her. She didn’t dare take her attention away from the woman, child, and gun. “I don’t think they’ll do that. The police aren’t going to let you go anywhere as long as you have that gun. I know you would never do anything to hurt Beth but they can’t take that chance. So how about you put that gun down and then we can talk to them about it together?” Patience was a must in this job. Jules knew that. You couldn’t rush someone into doing what you wanted them to do but had to keep gently trying to encourage them to do what was right. This woman wasn’t a bad person; she was simply protecting the child she believed to be her own, the child she’d lost.

“SARA! Oh my god. My baby, give me back my baby!”

Jules groaned inwardly. The last thing this situation needed was the child’s real mother making an already volatile situation even more dangerous. She hoped someone was close enough to grab the distraught real mother of the toddler before she put herself in danger. The woman with the gun looked confused. “Who is that? What is she talking about?”

Jules once again took in a calming breath. She couldn’t change the fact that the woman was on scene but maybe she could use her situation to reach the woman she was trying to talk down. “Her baby is missing. She was at the beach and just turned away for a moment and her daughter disappeared. Right now she’s going through the hell you did when you thought you lost Beth. She’s in agony thinking she may never see her little girl again, just you were. I can’t understand your pain but she can. Maybe you could help her. Maybe you could put down the gun and let me hold Beth and you could tell her you understand her pain. Maybe you could help her hold on to hope that she’ll get her little girl back. Do you think you could do that?”

The gun lowered ever so slightly as the woman turned her head to look at the mother who was straining against the lifeguard trying to hold her back. “She wants my little girl.”

“No,” Jules assured her. “She just wants her little girl back. Just like you did. Please, let me hold Beth; I promise she’ll be safe.” Jules started walking closer and closer and this time the woman lowered the gun. Jules took the weapon away from her and threw it behind her out of harms way and took the little girl from the woman’s arms. She slowly took several steps back, turning slightly so she could still watch the woman but shield the child with her body.

Almost immediately everyone else reacted. Uniformed police officers swarmed the former gun toting mother. Jules went to Sara’s real mother and gently placed the screaming toddler back her mother’s welcoming arms. Before she could even appreciate the mother-daughter reunion, strong arms wrapped around her and whirled her around. Sam crushed her against his chest and as the adrenaline that had been fueling her rescue attempts started to leave her, she welcomingly melted into his embrace.

“I’m not even going to fuss at you for those chances you took.” Sam promised. “You scared the hell out of me but you were amazing.” He lowered his head to hers and kissed her. He broke off the embrace only once he realized the park officials and local officers were waiting to get their statements. They were led to the park entrance office. Jules could hear the woman she’d been negotiating with screaming for her baby as she was led handcuffed to the waiting police car. She was sympathetic to the woman who had to be feeling like she’d lost her beloved daughter for a second time.

“You think she’ll be okay?” Jules softly asked Sam as they filed into the office. “I know what she did was wrong but I also get why she did it.”

Sam squeezed her arm gently. “I think she’d probably be put on a psych hold and will hopefully get the psychological help she needs.”

It took awhile for them to give their statements but nowhere near the time a usual debriefing took. The sun was now much lower in the sky from when they first set off to the lake for their swim but still at least an hour before actual sunset. As they made their way out of the office Sam once more wrapped his arm around her slender waist and pulled her closer to him. “What do you say? You still want to go swimming? We left our towels down at the beach.”

“Yeah, sounds good. You upset that work sort of got in the middle of our vacation?”

Sam smiled down at her. “Would I have rather you not gone up against a delusional gun-wielding woman unarmed? Hell yeah. But at the same time if you hadn’t realized the woman we passed on the path was carrying the missing kid, we probably would have been in the lake right now hurting for a body that wasn’t there instead of swimming. We’re cops and you might take the cop out of the city but you’re not going to take the cop out of the person. We’re good.”

Chapter Text

The sun had now sunk below the horizon and dusk had settled over the campgrounds. Serenading crickets battled with the crackling of the sticks burning in the small fire pit. Occasionally, the croak of bull frogs in the surrounding woods added their own notes to the melody settling over the camp grounds. The peacefulness of the encroaching night settled over the area like a comfortable blanket.

Sam sat in the low slung camping chair next to the fire, staring almost sightlessly at the flames. He wished his mind was as at peace as the rest of the world seemed to currently be. He couldn’t quite put his finger on what was bothering him but he’d sensed Jules slightly pulling back into the depression he’d felt her slipping into before they’d left on the trip. It had started the day before after she’d successfully negotiated the release of little Sara from the tormented woman who had mistaken the toddler for her own daughter who had died tragically.

No, he had to correct himself. Right after the event Jules was her normal self. They’d returned to the lake and had a great time swimming and splashing until the sun was just above the horizon and the lifeguards prepared to close the beach to visitors. They’d dried off and made their way back to their campsite. They’d stayed at the campsite that night, cooking supper over the campfire and even making smores afterward. It wasn’t until they’d gone to bed that Sam got the sense that something was bothering her. He’d waited to see if she was preparing to once more confide some of her past to him but she’d stayed silent on the subject and had soon fallen asleep. All night long, she’d tossed and turned in her sleep, occasionally mumbling incoherently about someone named Beth and how it was her fault. At first he’d thought she was dreaming of what could have happened during the attempted kidnapping earlier in the day but he’d never known Jules to second guess herself that way after a call. He wondered if the event had sparked some other memory.

During the light of the day, Jules had acted like nothing was wrong but even though she seemed to enjoy the day hiking at Hilton Falls and the beautiful waterfall there, he’d still sensed the subtle change in her. It had been so slight, he couldn’t help but wonder if there was something bothering her or if he had just imagined it because she hadn’t opened up any more since that first night.

“Hey, sorry it took so long. I thought by going to the showers early I’d beat the crowd but it seems like everyone else had the same idea. The men’s side didn’t seem too busy when I was coming out though if you wanted to get your shower.” Jules returned to the campsite, her long hair down and still damp from her shower. She lowered herself to his lap, wrapping her arms around his neck.

He smiled at her and held her closer. “Maybe in a bit. Suddenly I’m quite comfortable where I am.”

“Me too. Is it just me or is this the most perfect place in the world?” Jules mused as she snuggled more comfortably in his embrace. “It’s like even the weather is cooperating to make this the best vacation ever. I may not ever want to go back home. Think I could sell the house and you and I just permanently move in here? The commute wouldn’t be that bad.”

“The commute might not be but the cold temperatures once winter hits might change your mind. But let’s not worry about having to go home just yet. We still have two days before we leave. Let’s just enjoy them for what they are.”

Jules nodded ever so slightly as she lazily drew shapes with her finger on his broad chest. “Yeah, I guess I just don’t want to think about going back. It’s been nice not having to worry about what’s going on there.”

Was this what had been bothering her? Worrying what Johnny might be pulling in Toronto with them not there? He could only hope it was that easy. “Sarge told me he’d call if anything major happened. I checked the phone earlier when we got back from the falls and there had been no call.”

“Doesn’t mean Johnny isn’t up to something.” Jules murmured so softly that Sam had to strain to hear her. She sighed. “I’m sorry, Sam. I’m trying to just enjoy the trip and not think about him. I’ve done pretty well with that for twenty years but he’s like the elephant in the room. I just can’t pretend he isn’t back.”

“I know.” Sam assured her. “I don’t expect you to either. You had it right the first time; I planned this trip so you could get away and not worry about what’s going on back home. Not forever but at least long enough to get your footing back. Whatever he has planned isn’t going to happen. You’re not going to let it and you’ve got me and the rest of the team to support you.”

“I just don’t want anyone else to get hurt because of me.”

Sam set his jaw and looked up toward the sky. Anything he said would just come across sounding like a platitude and she didn’t need or want that. So he settled for lightly stroking her arm while she drew shapes with her finger on his chest. They sat there in silence as the twilight faded into complete darkness. Her tracings on him grew slower and then stopped completely and Sam looked down. “You falling asleep on me already?”

She lifted her head to look up at him. “Nah, not yet. Just trying to decide if the lure of another smore is worth the effort it’ll take to move from this very comfortable position.”

Sam chuckled. “Another smore, huh? I never realized you had such a sweet tooth.”

“Only when I’ve burned as many calories as I have the last few days. I know I’ve burned off any calories I’ve consumed. Besides if I remember correctly you were the one who put the marshmallows in the basket.”

He kissed the side of her head and shifted so she was sitting in the chair alone. Before she could protest losing her comfortable pillow, he reached into the cooler and retrieved the marshmallows, a bar of chocolate, and a sleeve of graham crackers. He handed her the ingredients and then reached for the metal stick they used for roasting the marshmallows. As he handed the final piece of equipment, he gave her another kiss. “You fix your snack and I’ll hike the five miles down to the showers. Maybe when we get back, we can take a little walk in the dark and you can make sure you burn off those calories.”

She smiled at him. “Five miles? Exaggerate much? Being on the far side of the showers is a small price to pay for the privacy we get at this site. And a walk in the moonlight with you always sounds great. I love you, Sam Braddock.”

“Love you too. I’ll be back soon.” He went into the tent long enough to retrieve a clean set of clothes and his toiletries bag. Zipping up the tent once more, he grabbed a towel off the top of the tent where they spread them out to dry. As he started down the pathway to the public showers, Jules already had a marshmallow on the end of the stick and sticking it into the fire.

-- FP -- FP -- FP --

“Sam, I don’t get it, why are you carrying one of the chairs with us on our walk? And why are we going toward the lake?” Jules persisted as they walked hand in hand down the same path they had taken the day before.

“You’ll see. Trust me, it’ll make sense when we get there.” Sam answered cryptically. Once on the beach, she could see several other families that were currently camping at Kelso also setting up chairs in various spots along the shore. Still without an explanation, Sam led her over to a remote area and set the low slung chair up. He sat down and pulled her down with him. Once they were settled comfortably with Sam’s arms lightly around her, Jules twisted her head to look up at him.

“Okay, I’m assuming we’re here but it still doesn’t make sense to me. Sorry. Not that I mind sitting on the beach at night with you.”

Sam nuzzled her ear for a moment before whispering. “Look at the moon.”

Obediently, Jules looked up. The moon was hanging prominently over the lake, large and full and completely beautiful. It was a sight one didn’t have much opportunity to fully appreciate in the bright lights of the city. ‘Gorgeous. Okay, I approve.”

Sam’s warm chuckle tickled her ear. “It’s going to get better. While I was at the shower earlier, I heard some folks talking about a lunar eclipse that’s happening tonight. I thought it would be nice to come down here and watch it with you. Should be pretty spectacular with it being a full moon.”

Jules leaned up to kiss him. “I haven’t been able to just sit and watch a lunar eclipse in years. Too bright in the city and it’s not like I usually have the time to just sit and stare at the sky. Nice call, Sam.”

She settled back comfortably in his arms as they stared up at the sky. It wasn’t long before a shadow started creeping over the lower portion of the moon, signaling the beginning of the eclipse. Across the beach you could hear the collective ooh’s and ahh’s of the spectators gathered to watch the celestial event.

“Can you imagine what the people thought the very first time they saw an eclipse?” Sam mused as they watched as moon slowly disappeared as the Earth passed between the moon and the sun, blocking the reflection. “They must have thought the world was going to come to an end.”

“Probably so.” Jules spoke softly as if even the sound of her voice could ruin the effect of what was taking place in the night’s sky. “The moon has a pretty powerful impact on people. Look how crazy the job gets every time there’s a full moon. I think we have more bizarre calls then than the rest of the month combined.”

Sam had to admit she had a point and once again the couple fell into a comfortable silence. They weren’t aware of how much time passed as the moon slowly disappeared from their view. The passing of the time didn’t matter as much as the fact that they were spending the time with each other. Finally the entire moon was shadowed by the Earth fully blocking it. The lake was completely dark now save for the stars that twinkled overhead.

“Wow.” Jules breathed out. “Awesome.”

Sam tightened his hold around her body, emboldened by the darkness surrounding them. “Jules, you don’t have to answer this but it’s been bothering me since you admitted something had happened.”

He could feel her stiffen but she didn’t pull away. He took that as a positive sign that it was okay to continue. He took a deep breath and plunged on. “You are without a doubt one of the strongest people I’ve ever known -- and I include the General in that. You’ve got to know that. As strong as you are, I can see how badly this is still affecting you even after all those years. I just don’t get how at sixteen you kept this all in without telling anyone. I know you were scared of someone else getting hurt or thinking the worst but still. How did you survive what happened without talking about it to anyone, without getting help?”

Jules sighed deeply. “I don’t know. In some ways I guess you could say I didn’t really. I was a mess. Everyone just assumed it was because I witnessed Mom’s death and had to shoot her killer. Dad even had me go see a grief counselor in the first couple of months. I was so scared she’d somehow figure out what really happened that I’d go into panic attacks just at the thought. Not your run of the mill panic attacks, mind you. I would just shut down completely like I did the night of the murder. The attacks scared Dad more than anything so he ultimately gave up trying to send me. Finally, the more I pretended it never happened, the easier it became to believe it.”

It killed Sam to think about her having to go through such a trauma without anyone to support her. Since he had her willing to share some information, he continued on with what was really bothering him. “Who’s Beth and what happened to her?”

A chill ran down her spine and she shuddered despite the long sleeve t-shirt she’d donned after her shower earlier. Her dreams the night before, probably triggered by the mention of the name earlier in the day, had been filled with a different set of bad memories and she realized she must have talked in her sleep. She twisted in Sam’s arm, turning away from the view of the eclipse to bury her head in the comfort of Sam’s broad chest. She couldn’t see any reason for keeping the information from him. “She was my best friend when I was a teenager.”

Sam nodded and pressed another kiss to the top of her head. Though she’d never personally talked about it to him, he knew about her best friend’s suicide. From what he could remember from the transcript where she’d revealed the information in an attempt to convince a man not to commit suicide himself, her friend had taken her life in an attempt to deal with the pain of her own mother’s suicide. Now thinking about it, he wondered just how Jules could have dealt with so much death in her life in such a short span of time. “I’m sorry.”

Jules wrinkled her nose and turned her attention back to the eclipse. “Sorry she was my best friend?”

“No, sorry you lost your best friend. It couldn’t have been easy on top of losing your mom.”

Jules didn’t know what it was about the complete darkness and the open air that made it easier for her to talk about things she’d vowed never to discuss with anyone. “Two more deaths that were my fault.”

Sam knew it was useless to immediately assure her she couldn’t be to blame for their deaths. He didn’t think anything she could say would change his mind about that but felt she needed to voice her thoughts to help exorcise those demons that plagued her dreams. “How so?”

“Barbara, that’s Beth’s mom, was so supportive after the murder. She took me in until Dad could get home and when I couldn’t face going back in that house and remembering everything that happened, she let both Dad and I stay with her as long as we needed. She became sort of a surrogate mom. Dad would turn to her for advice on how to deal with me, especially when I sort of went off the deep end. They got closer; I don’t really know how close they got. I think she was starting to fall in love with my dad and he might have been able to fall in love with her once he fully grieved Mom’s death.” She drew in a ragged breath. “Or at least I was afraid he could.”

Sam began stroking her arms through the sleeves, having realized the gesture seemed to bring her some comfort. He knew it wasn’t easy for her to talk about her past and appreciated the fact that she was letting him in. “I take it you didn’t like the idea.”

“I was an absolute brat about it. Went out of my way to come between them any time I saw them together. Then one day I got in trouble at school; wasn’t the first time but it was bad enough the principal was suspending me. There I was sitting in the office expecting my dad to come pick me up. I figured he’d be furious with me but I was hurting so much I didn’t really care. I was surprised when it was Barbara who came to get me. I didn’t even know that Dad had made her an emergency contact.”

The moon once more started to show itself but it would still be awhile before it once more reached it’s full bright status. Jules chewed her lip a little before continuing. “The whole ride home, Barbara tried to talk to me. Tried telling me how much I was hurting my dad with my behavior. I mostly tuned her out because she wasn’t saying anything I didn’t know. I just didn’t know any other way to deal with everything that was bottled up inside me. She pulled into the driveway and turned off her car. I was all set to get out, glad that the ride and the lecture was over. She stopped me before I could even get the door opened. Said she knew I was hurting too and asked me if I was trying to punish myself for something. Told me I could tell her anything. There was something in her voice that suggested that maybe she suspected there was something I hadn’t shared. I don’t know, maybe part of me kind of hoped someone would figure it out even though I couldn’t tell anyone about it. Her invitation to talk about it was so genuine and heartfelt, for a moment I almost did. I don’t know if I was thinking it would make me feel better or if I thought it would forever change the way she looked at me. I opened my mouth ready to tell her how mom’s death was all my fault.”

“Did you?” Sam probed gently, his voice barely over a whisper. He knew she’d had a troubled teenaged past but it was hard to picture her as a rule breaker.

Jules shook her head, her hair tickling his chin with the movement. “No, instead I accused her of dancing on my mother’s grave trying to get into my father’s pants. I don’t remember exactly what I said but it was completely horrible. The expression on her face as I spewed out such filth should have stopped me in my tracks but once I got started I couldn’t stop. When I couldn’t think of anything else to say I screamed at her to leave me and my dad alone and go take care of her own family.”

He could tell by the hitch in her voice that she was close to tears. He kept one hand stroking her arm but used the other to lift her chin so he could look into her face. “Jules, sweetheart, I’m sure she understood you didn’t mean half or even any of what you said. She knew you were lashing out in pain. Her death wasn’t your fault.”

Jules shook her head. “You don’t understand, Dad came home the next night saying Barbara was acting all weird and then the next day after that Beth came home and found her dead of an overdose. It devastated Beth. Not just the sudden loss of her mother but being the one to find her. She needed a friend but how could I be that friend when it was my fault her mother was dead in the first place? After everything Beth and her mother did for me after my mom died and in Beth’s moment of need, I let her down. I don’t think I was even surprised when my dad gave me the news she was gone as well.”

Sam thought back to the days and weeks and even months after his sister’s death. He’d only been nine but the guilt he felt went well beyond his years. No matter how many people tried to convince him he wasn’t at fault, he couldn’t shake the believe that there could have been something he could have done differently that would have saved his sister. Even after all these years, he couldn’t squelch the feeling of being responsible for keeping the women in his life, especially Natalie and Jules, safe. He could argue until he was blue in the face that she wasn’t responsible for their deaths but it wouldn’t do any good until she was ready to believe it for herself. Still, he had to try or else she might think he blamed her as well. “Jules…”

“It’s okay, Sam. I know you don’t think I’m responsible and I love you for your faith in me. And even though I know my blame in all this, believe me it means everything to know you believe the best of me.”

Sam sighed, cupping the side her head and holding it close to his chest so that she could hear his heart beating steadily beneath her ear. “Jules, I know nothing I say is going to change the way you think. I’m not that stupid or that conceited. I know your guilt isn’t based on logic but emotion. If it were logical you would know that when someone chooses suicide it’s a choice that the person makes and it’s an extreme reaction to whatever the person is going through. But in the end it’s still a choice. You went through something nobody should ever have to go through. Hell, you went through a lot of somethings that no one should go through and yet it wasn’t a choice you made. I thank God you were strong enough to not go down that path. Honestly, if you really think Barbara decided to commit suicide because of the things you said to her, then let’s put the blame where it really belongs. Johnny is the one who caused your pain and he’s the reason you were lashing out.”

Jules didn’t reply and Sam didn’t push her. Instead they once again turned their attention to the eclipse that was slowly returning the moon to its normal brightness. It would still be awhile before it was completely over but along the beach several spectators who had walked down to observe the celestial event grew tired of watching and slowly packed up their belongings and returned to their respective campsites. Pretty soon, Jules and Sam were the only ones left. Sam was pretty sure Jules was dozing in his arms. He felt when her body weight against him shifted and knew she’d drifted off. He couldn’t blame her; she hadn’t slept well the night before and they’d gone nonstop all day long. He didn’t disturb her until the last of the shadows disappeared from the edge of the moon leaving no trace of the event that had taken place.

“Wake up, sleepyhead.” He murmured softly so as not to startle her. Jules stretched and then looked around as if trying to get her bearings.

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to fall asleep like that.”

“It’s okay; just figured you’d sleep better back at the tent.” Sam assured her. He helped her up and then folded their chair. Instead of walking up the path hand in hand as they had on the way down to the lake, Sam kept his arm firmly around her waist as he led her up the path. He was pretty sure she was still half asleep and didn’t want her to stumble on the rough patches in the path.

Back at their site, he leaned the chair up against the tent and unzipped the tent. He led her inside and Jules climbed sleepily into the sleeping bag. Sam secured the tent and laid down beside her, pulling her comfortably into his arms. He kissed her, not sure if she was even still awake. But she snuggled down into his embrace, a slight pout on her face.

“Might have been Johnny that caused the pain but it was my fault he had the chance. Mom would have still been alive if it hadn’t been for me.”

Chapter Text

“You know what I’ve missed the most during our trip here?”

Sam rubbed his face wearily. The night before had been his night to toss and turn. Jules’s words as she fell asleep mingled with Johnny’s words from several days before about him killing Margaret Callaghan to protect Jules. All night long dreams of different scenarios haunted him. He would never for an instant believe that Jules was anything more than a helpless victim in the events that surrounded Dawson attacking her and killing her mother. Not even his dreams wavered in that aspect. But what kind of mind trip did the man play on an innocent teenager to make her believe otherwise. “I know it’s not the AC. We’ve established that we don’t need it. Long hot soaking bath?”

“A double double from Timmies.”

Sam laughed. “Is that all? Jules, Babe, if that’s all we can stop and pick one up on our way to Mount Nemo today. Even Milton has their fair share of Tim Hortons on every corner. Wouldn’t want you going through withdrawal there.”

Jules shook her head, putting the last of the breakfast foods back in the cooler and securing it against any woodland creatures who might want to help themselves while they were away. “Nope, we’re roughing it. I can live without one until we get back. I’m just going to enjoy every drop of it once I do.” She looked around the campsite and was satisfied that everything was put away securely. “I still can’t believe I fell asleep during the eclipse last night. I don’t even remember walking back up here.”

“Well, we’ve certainly played harder these last few days than I think we’ve ever worked in the same amount of time. We might look forward to getting back to work just to get caught up on our rest.”

The couple met eyes and held the gaze for a split second before they shook their hands and answered at the same time. “Nah.”

They laughed. The hesitancy Sam had noticed in Jules the day before seemed to have disappeared in the night and he hoped that by her talking about the deaths of her two friends and expressing the guilt she felt in their choice to take their own lives had allowed her to once again banish those thoughts to whatever compartment she’d set up to deal with them.

He caught her hand and drew her in close for a hug and a kiss. “Ready to head to Mount Nemo?” Conservation Halton was made up of several different parks that spread across the area offering different trails for hiking and biking as well as rock climbing. Mount Nemo, like Rattlesnake Point, was known for its rock climbing.

“Ready.”

They made their way to the jeep, this time Jules taking the driver’s seat. As she stuck the key into the ignition, she noticed Sam checking his phone for messages. She chewed on her lip as he listened to his voicemail. She was out of the park heading toward Mount Nemo when he finally closed the phone and returned it to the glove box. She glanced his way, almost scared to ask what was on her mind.

“Everything okay?”

He could hear the worry in her voice and reached over and rubbed her shoulder before responding. “Mostly. Had a message from the General wanting to have lunch with me soon. That’s never a good thing. There was a message from Sarge but before you panic, it had nothing to do with Dawson. He was congratulating you on a job well done and reminding both of us that vacations usually mean not bringing work along.”

Jules rolled her eyes. “How did he hear about it? Even if the press carried the story, they wouldn’t have released our names or pictures.”

Sam shrugged. “Milton doesn’t apparently get too many kidnapping or hostage calls so the police chief responded the other day when the call went out. He was impressed with what he saw -- who wouldn’t be? -- and called the boss to sing your praises. I have a feeling if you really did decide to move to Kelso permanently, he’d hire you in an instant.”

“Might be worth keeping in mind.” Jules mused but they both knew she’d never willingly leave the SRU. She’d worked too hard to gain her spot in the first place and worked even harder to regain her spot after being shot.

At the entrance to Mount Nemo, Jules showed the guard their passes and permits and then parked in the first available space. After turning off the car, she reached over and brushed her fingertips against the stubble that was becoming noticeable on Sam’s face. As a part of “roughing it,” he’d foregone the use of a razor each morning as he would have at home. She liked the rugged look on him.

“You okay? You’ve been so supportive of all my junk and I don’t think I’ve really even considered your feelings. Lunch with the General? Something going on there?”

He trapped her hand with his own against his cheek. “Just the General being the General. I’m sure someone’s told him about this great new position that he thinks will ensure that I’ll come running back to the military. He’d slacked off on it some until I asked him about possible job openings when it looked like we might get split up at work. Now I’m right back at square one with him. I’ll call him once we get back and set up something.”

Once again Jules chewed on her lip. Sam didn’t know if she was even aware of when she was doing it but it never failed to draw his eye when she did. Sometimes, he wondered how she didn’t chew a noticeable hole it when she was really contemplating something. Finally she voiced what had her chewing on her lip like she hadn’t eaten in days. “You thinking about leaving SRU?”

Sam leaned against middle console and kissed her, running his tongue soothingly over her bottom lip in the process. When he pulled back, he made sure she was looking him in the eye. “No I’m not. Whatever job the General wants to offer he can keep. I’m not going to lunch because I’m interested in anything he has to offer. I’ll go for two main reasons and two reasons only. One, because if I don’t, I’ll have my mom calling all worried and I hate to see her upset. Two, the General always arranges these lunches at some of the best restaurants in town and always pays for them. Can’t blame a guy for not passing up on a free fancy meal, can you?”

Jules smiled and once again caressed his rough stubble. “I guess you’ll have to shave before you have lunch with him. Can’t imagine the General would like the unkempt look as much as I do.”

Sam’s grin could only be described as boyish. “You like it, huh? I’ll have to keep that in mind next time we have several days off shift. However, you know I’m going to shave it completely before we go back to work.”

Jules kissed him again. “I know. I’ll just enjoy it while it lasts. Come on, we won’t get any climbing in if we sit in the car all day.”

-- FP -- FP -- FP --
They spent the morning making several climbs, enjoying the scenery here even more than they had at Rattlesnake Point. As the sun neared its apex, they stored their equipment back in the jeep until they needed it for a few afternoon climbs. Knowing that Mount Nemo didn’t have the same refreshment offered, Jules had put together a simple lunch for them to bring with them. She grabbed the cooler while Sam grabbed an all purpose blanket. They carried their offerings down one of the hiking trails until they found a nice place to stop and eat. Sam spread out the blanket and then Jules laid out the food. It was peaceful and quiet; although the park was full of visitors, it was still easy to lose yourself in the solitude the park seemed to offer.

After the sandwiches had been polished off, Sam turned to lay on his back with his head resting on Jules’s lap. He smiled up at her. “I don’t suppose I could convince you of just lying here the rest of the afternoon could I?”

Jules laughed and leaned down to kiss him. “Not a chance, not that I think you would even want to. However, after a few more climbs this afternoon, we could always head back to the campsite.”

“Yeah? What did you have in mind to do there?” Sam asked, stroking her hair. In response, she leaned down and whispered in his ear exactly what she had in mind. Worried that he wouldn’t be able to hide the effect her words were having on him, he pulled her whispering mouth back to his and kissed her warmly. They were both breathing hard when he pulled back. “I think that would be the absolute best part of our vacation. Course you realize I’m going to need a moment or two before I’m going to be able to do any climbing, or was that your plan all along?”

Jules grinned but didn’t answer. They gathered up their things, making sure not to leave anything behind. Switching out their lunch gear for the climbing gear, they made their way back to the next rock face they planned to climb. They took their time, enjoying the challenge of finding the right hand holds until at least they pulled themselves to the top ledge. Even at the top, they didn’t immediately make their descent. Instead, their attention was captured by some of the natural wildlife that lived there. After quietly observing the animals until they could stand the silence no longer, they made their descent, once again taking it slowly, enjoying the time instead of making it a competition. It was as if they recognized that their time in this beautiful place was coming to an end and were determined to savor every moment.

Jules touched the ground first and started to unhook her gear. Her eyes were on Sam as he finished his descent. She was totally oblivious to her surroundings until a hand grasped her shoulder and a familiar voice called her name.

“I‘ve been looking everywhere for you. I was beginning to think I‘d never find you.”

Chapter Text

Jules reacted without thinking. Before the voice even registered in her mind, her leg swept out catching the newcomer in the ankles and sending him flat on his ass. She followed him down, her fist cocked back to finish him off. Her vision tunneled down to a pinprick.

“Jules, stop. Shit, I’m sorry. JULES!”

Suddenly Sam’s hands gripped her arms and pulled her off her quarry. He stepped back a couple of steps with her recognizing she was firmly in fight mode but wasn’t fighting him at the moment. “It’s okay, Babe. It’s Spike. It’s just Spike.”

A crowd was gathering to watch and a couple of park officials were pushing past the visitors ready to lend aid. Sam shook his head, hoping they would realize that everything was fine and disperse the crowd. He alternated his attention between anxiously checking on Jules who was breathing hard and straining against his hold and to where Spike was slowly picking his way off the ground.

“Damn, I know who I’m picking first for my team the next time we play football at the department picnic. Jules, I’m sorry; I shouldn’t have surprised you like that. I wasn’t thinking.”

Jules quit straining against Sam but looked at Spike, still breathing hard. She shook her head. “Spike? What are you doing here? How did you find us?”

Seeing that she was aware of what was going on and wouldn’t attack their friend and co-worker again, Sam released his grip on her arm and then helped Spike to rise to his feet. Scarlatti frowned. “It wasn’t easy. Sam didn’t exactly file a flight plan with the Sarge when the two of you left. Still Sarge knew you were in Milton and the only place I could think of here that would draw the two of you was Halton. Once I got here, it was trickier narrowing it down even further. We tried to use the GPS on your phone but it was turned off. I had to go to each park until I got here and saw your name on the permit list.”

Sensing that her legs were shaking so much he wasn’t sure they would hold her, Sam put his arm back around her waist and helped her to sit on the ground near their climbing gear. He looked at Spike, frowning. There was a reason he hadn’t told anyone where he’d planned to take Jules. “Okay, so that explains the how, but why Spike? What are you doing here?”

Spike knelt in front of them, his expression grim. “Sarge has been trying to call you all morning but it keeps going to your voice mail. We couldn’t be sure how long it would take you to check your phone and call in so he sent me to find you.”

Sam’s eyes narrowed. He’d hoped they would be able to finish out their vacation without any incidents from Dawson. If it was bad enough that Sarge was sending someone after them, it must be worse than bad. “Johnny?”

“Damn him” Jules growled lowly. “It’s bad enough that he ruined my life twenty years ago. Does it have to keep doing so now?”

Spike reached out and touched her knee. “It’s not about your uncle, Jules. One of your brothers got in touch with Sarge this morning looking for you. Jules, there’s no easy way to tell you so I’ll just say it. Your dad’s had a pretty serious heart attack. He was rushed to the hospital last night. I don’t know his exact condition but your brother said it was pretty important for you to get there quickly.”

Jules paled and she probably would have fallen if she wasn’t already sitting down. She reached out and gripped Sam’s arm. “Dad? Oh my God. I’ve got to get to him.” She struggled to her feet, pulling Sam up with her. Then she looked at him wildly, her expression almost pleading with him to make things better. “We’ve got to break camp, pack everything up. Damn, that’s going to take time and I don’t know if we have time.”

She was as close to panic-stricken as either man had ever seen her. It scared them to see her so out of control. Sam turned her towards him and cupped her face in his hands. He wanted to be there for her, wanted to hold her as she faced whatever waited for her at the hospital her father had been transported to. But he knew how to solve part of her dilemma for her. “Jules, calm down, Sweetheart. Don’t worry about the camp. Go with Spike. He’ll get you to the hospital and I’ll stay behind and pack everything up. I’ll get there as soon as I can.”

He looked over at Spike, begging his friend with his eyes to take care of her. Spike nodded. He thought about offering to pack up their stuff for them and allow them to go together. However, he knew the camping permits were in their names and it would only cause trouble if he tried to check out of the park for them. “Come on, Jules. I’ll get you there as quick as humanly possible, faster if I can. You can even call your brother on the way for an update. Maybe there’s been a change for the better since I left the station.”

Sam surrendered Jules into Spike’s waiting arms. “I promise you, Jules, I’ll be right behind you. I won’t even take the stuff home before I meet you at the hospital.”

Jules nodded mutely and Sam couldn’t help but wonder if he was getting a glimpse of how she reacted to the news of her mom’s death. He shook his head. Jack Callaghan wasn’t dead, just sick; he had to hold on the belief the man who had fathered the woman he loved was strong enough to survive this. Before Spike lead Jules away, he gave Sam the name of the hospital and promised to call Sam as soon as they got there with an update.

Sam watched as they left, frowning. It went against every grain of fiber in him to let Spike lead her away from him. He should be there with her every step of the way. He had half a mind to say to hell with the their climbing gear and their camping stuff back at Kelso and chase Spike down. But he knew once he was with Jules at the hospital, she would need him by her side for the duration and there was no way of guaranteeing how long that would take.

His jaw set, he gathered up their climbing gear and stuffed it in the bag. He didn’t care if it would take forever and a day to sort it out properly later. The quicker he could get things packed up, the quicker he could join Jules.

-- FP -- FP -- FP --

Once in his car, Spike made sure Jules was buckled in since it didn’t seem like she was aware enough of her surroundings to do it for herself. It scared him to see her so frightened. In all the time he’d known her, he couldn’t remember anything fazing her like this. Sure, he’d seen practically every other emotion in her over the years: happiness, pain, anger, grief, but never fear. He didn’t think she knew the meaning of the word. But there was no mistaking the fear that rolled off her in waves as she huddled in the passenger seat. He pulled out of the park and reached for his cell phone. He dialed Greg’s cell phone. The older man answered within two rings.

“Bout damn time. Did you find them?”

“Yeah, Jules is with me now. I’m going to take her straight to the hospital. Sam’s going to follow as soon as he gets their stuff together.”

“How is she?”

“Pretty shaken up. I think it would help if she knew how her dad was doing. Think you could get her brother to call my cell?”

“Copy that. Let me speak to her first.”

Spike handed the phone over to Jules. She stared at it dumbly for a second before taking it from him. Her hello was barely audible and then she grew silent as she listened to what Sarge had to say. Spike didn’t know what Greg was saying to her but at least it seemed to be drawing her out the fugue she’d retreated into when she heard the news of her father’s illness. Two large tears made tracks down her cheeks and she drew in a shaky breath. After listening for a moment, she closed the phone but held on to it. She leaned her head against the window and stared out the windshield.

“My dad is in the cardiac ICU. This can’t be real. All my life, my dad has been the picture of perfect health. I can’t remember even seeing him with a cold my whole life.”

Spike turned his blinker on and waited until it was safe to change lanes. Then he glanced back at her. He was glad to hear her talking. He could handle a talking Jules much easier than the shell of a person he’d lead to his car. “Sounds like someone else I know. Injuries aside, I can’t remember you ever being sick. Not even two winters ago when everyone else was hit with that flu epidemic. Some of us worked despite being sick just because we just didn’t have a choice; there was no one else available to come shifts. There you wee though, perfectly well and perky as hell. I shouldn’t admit this but I so wanted to sneeze on you just with the hope of you catching the flu.”

He’d hoped to at least get the barest hint of a smile out of her but was rewarded with nothing. He frowned. “Maybe the ICU is just a precaution. You know how doctors can be.”

Jules shook her head. “I’ve got a bad feeling. I should have been there. I‘m sorry I knocked you down back there.”

“Don’t worry about it. I should have known better than to surprise you like.“ Before Spike could offer any further reassurances, his cell phone rang again.

Jules took in a shaky breath and flipped it open. “Hello?” She pinched the bridge of her nose as she listened. “How is he? What’s the doctor saying?”

He could feel the tension growing once more in her and increased his speed just a little, anything that would get her where she wanted and needed to be even faster. He knew what she was going through; knew what it was like to face a serious illness in one of your parents. He’d had time to prepare himself for his father’s death but no amount of time really helped when the call came that you were needed because a condition was dire. He hoped Jules’s father would be okay.

She sniffled beside him. “Damn it James, don’t you think I realize that? I’m on my way now and I’ll be there as soon as I can. Just…” Spike sneaked another glance her way to see her squeezing her eyes shut against the tears. He wanted to reach over and touch her, offer her some sort of support. But he held back. She was barely holding it together and the slightest movement on his part could cause her to lose control completely. His heart was breaking for her especially as she continued. “If you get in to see him before I get there, just tell him I love him and I’m coming.”

She didn’t say the words but he could hear what she wasn’t saying and hoped her brother knew it as well. She was begging her brother to convince her father to hold on until she could get there. She closed the phone and handed it back to Spike. She took a deep breath. “He collapsed yesterday around five. He was at his favorite diner and he just collapsed. James said the paramedics had to shock him on scene. By the time James got the call and reached the hospital they’d had to shock Dad three more times but at least they got him back. It’s been touch and go since then and the doctors don’t know how severe the attack was because he’s not strong enough for them to do a catheterization.”

She buried her head in her hands and took several deep breaths. “Sam and I went down to the lake last night to watch the eclipse. It was so freakin’ beautiful and my dad is lying in a hospital bed fighting for his life. James called my cell all night long trying to reach me. Damn it. I should have taken my cell phone as well. If I had, I would have least gotten his messages this morning.”

“Hey, you couldn’t have known something like this would happen. You couldn’t have suspected that your dad would get sick. I‘m not going to sit here and let you beat yourself up for something you couldn‘t have changed. Can’t let you do that any more than you could let me when my dad died.”

His guilt after his father’s death had been so great he hadn’t been sure if he could even show up for the funeral. Jules had stopped by his house early the morning the service was scheduled. She’d given him the kick in the butt he’d needed to get through not only the funeral but the days that followed. If she needed a return of the favor now, he was more than willing to give it.

Jules sat back and wiped at her eyes with the crook of her arm. She blew out her breath forcibly. “Yeah, well James didn’t have a problem with it. He made it pretty clear what he thought about the fact that I was unreachable all this time. I can’t blame him. He’s the oldest and all this falls on his shoulders.”

“Your other brothers there?”

Jules shrugged. “James and Peter have been there all night. Ridge was just getting there and Mark’s on his way. Still they at least have a good excuse. Mark’s not even in the country and Ridge still lives in the Hat. James was at least able to get in touch with them last night.”

Spike’s phone rang again and he glanced at the caller ID before handing the phone to her. “Sam. I imagine he’s pretty freaked out worrying about you. Talk as long as you need to. I got call waiting if they need to reach you from the hospital.”

He had a feeling that Sam might be the only one who stood a chance of getting through to her.

-- FP -- FP -- FP --

The ride back into Toronto seemed to take forever. When Spike finally pulled up in front of the hospital entrance, Jules ended her conversation with Sam and practically jumped out of the car before he’d even properly stopped. Vaguely she heard him say he’d be up as soon as he parked but then she took off. She’d been in this hospital often enough over the years to know the general location of the ICU.

She took the stairs two at a time up to the fifth floor. As soon as she stepped out of the stairwell and turned toward the ICU waiting room, she could see Peter leaning against the wall, his hands thrust deep in his pockets. She drew up short, unable to read his expression. “Pete?”

He looked relieved to see her. He pulled his hands from his pockets and held his arms open for a hug. “Come here, Squirt.”

Jules flew into his arms which then wrapped around her in a warm embrace. She could feel his heart hammering beneath her ear and that scared her. She pulled back. “How is he?”

“I’m not going to lie to you, Jules. The doctors are doing everything they can but it’s all wait and see at this point. I just don’t know. They’ve let us in to see him a few times now and I’ve never seen Dad look so fragile.”

“Is he conscious?” Jules tried to get her emotions under control.

“In and out. Mostly out.” Peter answered.

“Except the times he’s been awake he’s been asking for you. Kind of hard to explain why you aren’t here.” James’s voice behind her was bitter and Jules stiffened.

“James, that doesn’t help.” Peter warned.

“Since when have we ever coddled Jules? I’m going downstairs for a moment. I need some air. Call me if there’s any word. I can be reached on my cell.”

After James stormed off, Peter once again hugged her tightly. “Don’t mind him, Squirt. He’s just worried and tired, not his best combination. How about you? You okay? Your boss said you were out of town. You didn’t drive back yourself did you? Where’s that boyfriend of yours?”

Jules wiggled out of his embrace and leaned against the wall next to him, leaning her head against the glass window behind her. “No, I didn’t drive. Sam and I were camping at Halton and his cell was in the jeep. The co-worker my boss sent to find us drove me back while Sam took care of packing up our gear. Where’s Ridge?”

“Crashed out in the waiting room. He drove all night and was just wiped after he got here. They let him see Dad for a few minutes after he got here and then he half laid down on one of the couches in the waiting room and hasn’t moved since.”

Jules nodded. Of course Ridge drove all night because they’d been able to get in touch with him when they needed to. “Did you fuss at him for driving?”

Peter smiled; recognizing the almost belligerent tone in her voice. It was the same one she’d always used whenever she felt like she was being treated differently from one of the brothers. “As a matter of fact I did. So you didn’t answer my question. Are you okay? Okay-okay, not Jules-okay?”

Now Jules couldn’t help but smile a little. Apparently she couldn’t fool her brother any more than she could her teammates. “Wait and see I guess. Think they’ll let me see Dad for a few minutes even if it’s not visiting hours?”

He dropped his arm around her shoulders and tugged her forward. “Let’s go see.”

The volunteer at the desk, after hearing the situation, called back to the nurse’s desk and secured permission for Jules to see her father for a few minutes. Her legs felt almost wooden as she made her way down the corridor toward the units. A nurse directed her toward the small cubicle that held her father. She paused in the doorway and drew in a shaky breath.

Like Peter had said, fragile was the best word to describe Jack Callaghan. In her eyes, her father had always seemed like a giant of a man, capable of doing anything but for the first in her life, he looked almost dwarfed by the equipment. An oxygen mask covered his nose and mouth but she’d rather see that than a breathing tube that would indicate he was incapable of breathing on his own. Various wires ran from different areas of his body to the different machines surrounding his bed. She didn’t understand what all the squiggly lines meant but she at least knew that they meant he was, for the moment, still alive.

Jules took a couple of stumbling steps toward him and sank into the chair sitting next to his bed. She reached out and took his hand in both of her own and gave it a slight squeeze. “Dad, can you hear me? I’m here. I’m sorry I wasn’t here earlier. I should have called you before Sam and I left and given you his number. I guess it wouldn’t have helped James in getting in touch with me but I still should have called you.”

He didn’t move. She glanced up at the monitors trying to get some feel for what the machines had to say but it meant nothing. The tears made silent tracks down her face but she didn’t try to wipe them away. Didn’t want to release her father’s hand to do so. “Please, Daddy, you’ve got to keep fighting. I know I don’t always show it but I need you. I’ve always needed you. I’m so sorry for all the hell I put you through after Mom died. I know I probably caused more of your gray hairs than the boys put together. Just please, Daddy, be okay and I promise I’ll be a better daughter. I’ll make up for all those times I let you down. Just please be okay now.”

The monitors started beeping and Jules looked up in horror. A nurse came rushing into the room checking on Jack Callaghan. Jules released her father’s hand and backed out of the chair toward the door not wanting to get in the way of the nurse’s efforts to take care of her father. She wiped at her face with shaky hands. She wanted to ask how he was but was afraid. Afraid to hear the news and afraid to draw attention to her presence lest she be kicked out.

Despite her efforts to go unnoticed the nurse looked over at him after a couple of minutes. “I’m sorry, I’m going to have to ask you to leave for now. I’ll call the waiting room with an update after we get him stabilized.”

Jules didn’t want to leave, afraid that if she walked out of the room, she’d never see her father alive again. Her feet felt rooted to the ground as her father suddenly turned his head and opened his eyes looking at her. He lifted his hand ever so slightly crooking his finger back and forth motioning her toward him. The nurse saw the movement and nodded, giving Jules permission to not only stay but to come back to her father’s side.

Her legs were shaking more than ever as she took the faltering steps back to her father’s side. “Daddy?”

She could see his lips moving beneath the oxygen mask and knew he was trying to say something. Not wanting to move the mask, she leaned her head down so her ear was as close to his mouth as she could get it. Still, it was difficult to make out his words at first. Her heart skipped a beat as she made out a few of his words.

“Johnny … called….told….happened…..night….Mom…” Jules let out a strangled sob at his words but her father had one more word and there was no mistaking the question mark at the end. “True?”

Chapter Text

Sam stepped off the elevator and turned toward the waiting room. It had seemed to take forever for him to break down camp and pack everything into the jeep. He was probably more than a little short with the park official who had to do the check out process. He would have to send an apology later. Once on the road, things seemed to speed up until he got the call from Spike fifteen minutes ago. Then, it seemed like everything was conspiring to keep him from the woman he loved.

Spike was standing outside the waiting room door and nodded when he saw Sam approaching. He looked worried and that scared Sam even more. Spike was usually so carefree that when he did show concern, you knew it was serious. “Spike, how is she?”

Spike let out a long breath. “Sam, I’ve never seen her like this. I thought Angry Jules was scary but this, this is beyond scary. She’s there but she’s not there, you know? Her brothers are with her and trying to get her to respond to them. They said they’ve seen it before but I can tell they’re worried as well.”

A cold chill ran down Sam’s spine as he frowned. He knew he should have left their stuff behind and came with Jules to the hospital. “What happened? Did her dad take a turn for the worse?”

Shaking his head, Spike explained what he knew. “She went in to see her dad. His nurse said his vitals went crazy all of a sudden and she tried to get Jules to leave. Mr. Callaghan woke up and motioned for Jules to come closer. She did and the nurse said he said something to Jules but couldn’t hear what it was. Whatever it was had a big effect on Jules. The nurse said Jules went as white as the walls in this place, backed up to the corner of the room and sank to the floor. She wouldn’t move or react at all. The nurse called the waiting room, her brother Peter went in and carried her out. I suggested we take her down to the ER but her brothers said she’d be okay.”

“Panic attack Jules style.” Sam explained. “I’ve never really seen it myself but I’ve heard a little about it. I need to see her.”

Spike nodded. “Okay if I stick around? I don’t want to intrude but I’m worried.”

Sam smiled slightly. “I don’t think Jules would want it any other way.” He opened the door to the waiting room and stepped inside.

The Callaghan clan wasn’t the only family sitting around waiting for news of the fate of loved one but he was able to easily pick the Callaghans out even without first catching sight of Jules. Peter, the one brother he’d met before briefly, was standing in front of a couch. A slightly older man who closely resembled him was standing next to him, his expression grim. Peter glanced back and recognizing Sam took a step to the side so that he could see Jules seated on the couch, another brother sitting beside her rubbing her back briskly. Jules was rocking slightly on the couch, her eyes open but not set on any one object in particular.

“Jules?” He took a step closer to her but the brother he didn’t know that was standing turned to block his path.

“Who are you?”

Peter reached a hand out to his brother’s arm. “Relax James. This is Sam Braddock. He works with our sis here among other things.”

James frowned, obviously not impressed by the introduction. “You make it a habit of taking girls off to the woods where no one can reach you?”

Sam took an instant dislike to Jules’s oldest brother. He tried to remind himself that the guy was worried about his father and now his sister and deserved a little slack but only very little. “Only when she’s at her wits end being harassed by the guy who killed your mother.”

James frowned. “Johnny? That bastard’s rotting in jail. He shouldn’t be allowed to breathe the same air we breathe let alone harass anyone.”

Sam was glad to see there was at least one thing they could agree on.

“He was released from jail a few days ago.” Peter explained. “Dad didn’t want to tell you because he was afraid of what you might try. Harassing her how, Sam?”

The last thing Sam wanted to do was stand there discussing Johnny Dawson when what he really wanted to do was take Jules in his arms and make sure he was okay. But he could recognize the over protectiveness in her brothers and knew he’d have to earn his way past them to get to Jules. He couldn’t help but wonder if Spike had felt this way with dating Natalie. He owed his friend an apology if so. He added Spike to the growing mental list of people to apologize to later.

“Phone calls mostly, hang ups. He got a job in our building and slashed one of her tires. Nothing overt that we can bust him for but it was weighing on her and I figured she needed a getaway. Trust me, if I had thought for an instant that something like this would happen, I would have done things differently. Is she okay?”

He took a step closer, his patience wearing thin. James didn’t move but Peter stepped further out of his way so that he could sit beside her on the couch. The brother that was sitting on the other side -- Sam wished he could think of his name -- answered the question.

“This attack is pretty bad. When she gets like this, Dad’s usually the only one who can breath through to her.”

“Jules, Sweetheart?” Sam pulled her close to his chest, kissing the side of her head hoping that the sound of his heart beating rapidly against her ear would show her just how worried he really was. Automatically, his fingertips started their soothing caress of her arm. “I’m here and I’m not going to let you go. Whatever happened, whatever upset you, you are so much stronger than it. Just come back to me.”

There was no response but Sam wasn’t about to be deterred. He just had to get inside her head and figure out what might have triggered this panic attack and how to convince her it was okay. During their trip, he’d finally gotten her to start opening up about what Johnny had done to her. He still didn’t know any details but getting to admit that something had occurred had been huge on her part, especially considering Dawson had convinced a traumatized sixteen year old that revealing that information would result in someone getting hurt. But now, just days after she’d confided even a portion of her trauma in him, she gets word that her father is fighting for his life. That kind of guilt wouldn’t be rational but then none of the guilt that she was experiencing about what happened was rational.

Whether she was blaming herself or not, trying to assure her it wasn’t her fault would be futile. He took a deep breath. What he was about to try might get him punched by one or more of her brothers but it was the only way he could think of to jar Jules back to reality.

“Fine, you want to stay locked in your own private hell, who are we to stop you? I gotta say I’m disappointed though. Strong, tough Constable Jules Callaghan chickening out of dealing with a situation just because it gets too much for you to handle. What, you so scared that someone might think you are weak if show a little emotion that you just check out completely? I expected better from you. Your dad deserves better. He’s in there fighting for his life and you are out here feeling sorry for yourself. That’s just great.”

He could see both Peter and James stiffen and prepared himself for one or both of them to hit him. Instead the third brother gave him a wink of understanding and stood. “Come on guys, sounds like he knows Jules pretty well. Give him a chance.”

As the youngest brother led the other two a few steps away, Sam sighed in relief. Suddenly the dam burst and Jules began to sob in his arms. He wrapped his arms around her and held her close, feeling like a heel. He’d rather have all three brothers beat him senseless than to hear the woman he loved sound so heartbroken. Tears pricked his own eyes. “Aw Jules, I’m sorry Sweetheart. I didn’t mean it. I’m sorry.”

“My fault. All my fault.” Jules choked out between sobs.

Sam had only wanted to snap her back to reality not send her in such a tailspin of emotion. “No, Jules, it’s not your fault. You didn’t do anything wrong. Calm down, Sweetheart. Breathe. Just breathe.”

James started back to her; Peter tried to grab his arm but the older brother shook it free. He knelt in front of the baby of the family and squeezed her knee. “Don’t Squirt. Don’t beat yourself up like this. It’s going to be okay. I’m sorry I was such an asshole earlier. I didn’t mean it. You know me, I don’t think half the time before I go shooting off my mouth. I’m just scared.”

Jules continued to cling to Sam but slowly her sobs slowed to just tears. Sam wished he had a handkerchief to offer her but hadn’t bothered to pack any for the trip. Instead, he reached beside him on the small table next to the couch and pulled out several tissues from the box sitting there. He used a couple to swipe at her face and then pressed the rest in her hand so she could blow her nose. She hiccupped slightly.

“Better?” Sam probed gently.

She shook her head then shrugged. Her father’s mumbled words bounced around in her head like an accusation. Johnny had called him? What had he told him? Even if it was the exact truth it would be bad enough but she knew from painful experience was a manipulator Johnny could be.

“You don’t need to go in there.” Spike’s agitated voice filtered through the door. Sam looked up sharply wondering who his friend was trying to keep out. The door opened and Johnny Dawson stepped in.

Instantly it was as if the temperature dropped a good ten degrees in the room. For a moment Sam was oddly reminded of the old westerns he used to watch with his grandfather. If this was one of those old movies, the other families in the room would have fled the room, instinctively knowing things were about to get dangerous. But this wasn’t a western and the oblivious families didn’t move. But James did.

He stood and was about to launch himself at the newcomer but both the other brothers grabbed his arms before he could. He strained against them, the veins in his neck popping out in his neck. “What the hell do you think you’re doing here?”

“Heard Jack was in pretty bad shape.” Johnny answered glibly. “Wanted to make sure he was okay. I still consider all of you family, you know.”

Peter narrowed his eyes. “You quit being family the day you killed our mama. Get out of here, Johnny before we let James do what he wants to you. Hell, I might even help him.”

The murderer had the audacity to look surprised and hurt. “Peter, is that any way to talk to your best friend? Come on, can’t we let bygones be bygones? I’m worried about Jack, just like you are.”

Sam could barely follow the drama in the room; his concern was more for Jules who was now trembling in his arms. Her short fingernails were digging into his arm and he was pretty sure he’d have indentions there when she finally let go. “Jules?”

Peter’s voice rose. “Oh, sorry Johnny; I guess I missed that chapter in the Best Friend Handbook. Was that in the chapter ‘What To Do When You Discover Your Best Friend’s a Homicidal Psychopath‘? You make me sick. How dare you come here acting like you never did anything wrong?”

Johnny’s smile was as oily as the rest of his demeanor. “I’m hurt Peter. I expected better from you. Little JAC’s glad to see me though, aren’t you? You okay over there? Haven’t had a chance to see you since they changed my schedule. They got me working nights now thanks to your boss. How’s your daddy? Can’t believe he’d have a heart attack like that. He always seemed so strong and healthy.”

“Bastard.” Jules shot off the couch before Sam realized she was gone. She also barreled past her brothers before they could stop her. She threw herself against Johnny, pushing him back against the wall of the waiting room. Spike’s eyes widened at watching her but he didn’t step in, possibly because he was afraid he‘d be the one to end up on the ground. “Dad told me you called him. Your lies are probably what put him here in the first place. Haven’t you taken enough from me? Damn you.”

Just like the day in the stairwell, Johnny didn’t fight against her hold. If anything he pressed up against her, making sure there was no space between them. He lowered his head close to her ear. “Taken enough from you? I can think of a few more things I’d love to take from you JAC. Things I’d like to finish with you as well. Things that would make you forget all about Golden Boy over there.”

Taken aback by his words, Jules released him and took several steps back, her skin crawling. Strong hands lightly touched her arms and she would have jumped if her body wasn’t so in tune with those familiar hands to recognize the safety of Sam‘s touch.

“This is a hospital, not a free-for-all.” A man with one of the families insisted from one corner. “If you’re going to fight, take it outside.”

James turned to him ready to tell him what he could do with his advice but Peter stopped him. Johnny however shrugged. “It’s okay. I see where I’m not wanted. I hope Jack gets better. I really do. See you around, Little JAC.”

He swept past Spike who glared at him. Johnny was whistling as he made his way to the elevator. Sam rubbed Jules’s arm. “You okay, Babe?”

She shook her head and started to follow Johnny out of the waiting room. She paused for just a moment when she reached Spike’s side. “Don’t let them follow me, please.”

Spike nodded. As she continued, Sam followed her anyway. Spike didn’t stop him, choosing instead to interpret her them to mean her brothers not Sam. She’d have to forgive him if she was being all inclusive because there was no way in hell he was going to let her follow that psychopath completely alone.

Jules caught up with Johnny at the elevator. Anger coursing through her had replaced any of the fear and guilt she’d been feeling before his arrival. “What did you tell him, Johnny? Answer me that, you Bastard.”

He leaned against the wall next to the elevator and smiled at her. “The truth, Little JAC. Just the truth.”

“The real truth or your twisted version of it?”

“Worried I told him how close the two of us were?” He nodded toward Sam who had stopped far enough away not to be intrusive but close enough to step in if needed. “Does he know about us? Does he know who taught you how to please him in bed?”

“Screw you, Johnny…”

“Love to, Little Girl. Tell me when and where.”

Sam took a step forward, his eyes narrowed and his hands balled into fists. He couldn’t help but remember what Greg had said about the pills Johnny had been taking in jail. He had to have gone off the meds; there was no trace of the cool, calculating manipulator Sam had seen before. It was like he wasn’t even trying to be cryptic anymore.

“What did you tell him?” Jules insisted.

Johnny pushed off the wall and took a step or two closer to the young woman. Jules wanted to take a step back for everyone he made closer to her but she held her ground, refusing to cower in front of him. “What’s the matter JAC? Afraid Daddy will realize that his sweet little angel isn’t so innocent? I told him how my lush of a sister was treating you. She really was a mean drunk wasn’t she, JAC. How many times did she hit you when she was too drunk to hardly stand?”

Sam closed his eyes. His heart was breaking for Jules. How much more could she take?

“I told him how you begged me to come stay with the two of you when he had to go out of town. Begged me not to leave you alone with her.” Johnny continued to close the gap between them until he was close enough to reach out and lightly caress her cheek.

Sam could see that it was taking everything in her not to flinch and step away. He took a step closer. If he had to beat the man’s head in, he would to get him to take his filthy hands off her. His stomach twisted as Johnny used his other hand to reach back and release the holder that kept her hair pulled back into a ponytail. As her brown hair cascaded over his fingers he leaned in as if he were going to kiss her but instead he whispered in her ear.

The elevator door slid open with a ding. Johnny pulled back and was once more whistling as he entered the elevator. Before the door closed, he looked over at Sam and gave a little wave. Jules continued to stand there, shaking as Sam approached and gently took her in his arms. He was worried that whatever Johnny had said to her was going to send her right back into that dark place she’d been in when Sam first arrived. Instead, she struggled in his arms.

Even though the rejection hurt, he released her immediately, not wanting to cause her any more pain. She looked around wildly. “I’m going to be sick.”

She spied the public bathroom and took off running for it. Sam followed, stopping short of going into the women’s restroom with her. Instead he leaned against the door listening to the sounds of Jules vomiting inside. Whatever Johnny had told her must have upset her badly.

Inside the bathroom, Jules knelt in front of the toilet as her stomach expelled it’s contents and then continued to heave. When there was absolutely nothing left to throw up, she leaned her head against the cool metal of the stall wall. Her skin tingled as if bugs were crawling over her and she wished she could step into a shower and scrub away the feel of him. Memories of what he did to her always left her feeling this way but his actual touch took her straight back to that night.

There was a knock on the door and Sam’s gentle voice filtered through the wood. “Jules, sweetheart, can I come in? I promise I won’t come too close; I’ll stay by the door. I just gotta know you’re okay.”

“’K.” She didn’t have the energy to argue with him or to even make a full word.

The door opened and Sam slipped inside. He closed the door behind him and discretely locked the door. He didn’t want her to feel trapped but didn’t want someone coming in on them. She looked so broken sprawled on the floor in front of the toilet.

“What if my dad dies, Sam?” Her voice sounded dull, defeated.

Sam sighed and knelt down, still staying by the door as he promised. “Jules. You can’t think like that. Didn’t you once tell me everyone used to tell you how much you took after your dad? Well, if that’s true, he must be tough cause I’ve already told you I think you’re so strong yourself. You’re SuperJules so he’s got be alright if he could give you that sort of strength.”

Jules sniffled and shook her head. “I don’t feel that strong. Johnny makes me feel like I’m still that helpless little girl I was back then. Sweet sixteen and never been kissed. That was me. Everything I knew about sex either came from trashy novels we’d sneak to sleepovers to read or from brag sessions girls who didn’t have cop fathers or overprotective brothers could share of their firsthand experiences.”

Sam leaned against the door, his eyes never leaving her. He had wanted her to open up to him, knew she needed to tell her story to someone after so long. But he didn’t want it to be like this. He’d give anything to be able to scoop her up in his arms and take her back to the protection the darkness at Kelso seemed to offer her. “Jules…”

She laughed but it was a dry, hollow sound that lacked humor. “I’d never seen a guy’s penis before. Well, that’s not true, I’d seen pictures in the bathroom of the doctor’s office on diagrams of how to do a urine sample but not in real life. You’d think with a father and four brothers there would have been an accidental sighting or two but we were all careful about that. I think it might have been one of the reasons Dad put in my own bathroom in my bedroom.”

“Jules…” Sam tried once again to break through her reverie. It was killing him to listen to her, knowing it was whatever Johnny had said to her that was forcing her to reveal her dark secrets not a real want.

“I was so naïve, Sam. Sex was the last thing on my mind. I was a kid and he took that from me. The things he did to me, the things he forced me to do to him; no kid should have to go through that. It wasn’t what I wanted.” Once again she turned to the toilet as inexplicably her stomach found something else inside to once more to rid itself of.

Forgetting his promise to stay back, Sam scooted forward and pulled her hair back, holding it out of the way as she vomited. Once the urge to regurgitate passed, she slumped against the wall of the stall, breathing hard. Sam went to the sink and wet several paper towels with cold water and handed them to her. She wiped first her mouth and then pressed the cool wet paper to her face. Before Sam could decide if he should stay where he was or move back to the door to give her space, she shuffled on the floor to use him as a prop instead of the wall.

Slowly, so as not to spook her, he closed his arms around her, encapsulating her in his embrace. He lowered his head and brushed his lips through her hair. “You’re right Jules. No kid should go through what he made you go through. But Sweetheart, you aren’t that helpless kid anymore. You are that strong person I see every day and your father is strong as well.”

Jules shook her head. “The things Johnny told him; it’s what caused Dad’s heart attack in the first place. If he dies, he’s going to die believing what Johnny said. He’ll die thinking I willingly gave my body to Johnny, that I wanted him to do those things to me.”

Sam remembered the other night when she finally started opening up to him. One of the things she’d told him was that Johnny had convinced her at sixteen that if she told anyone they would think the worst of her. Apparently twenty years later, that fear was still strong in her. “I can’t see your dad ever believing Johnny’s lies. You’ll see. Your dad will recover and you’ll finally tell him what really happened.”

She could still remember her dad struggling to form his words in ICU. The last word he’d mumbled before falling back into unconsciousness was the word true. He might not be completely convinced of what he’d been told but he wasn’t dismissing it outright either.

She shuddered hard in Sam’s arms as her ear felt hot with Johnny’s breath. His words cutting her soul like the sharpest knife. She pulled away from Sam to hang over the toilet once again as her stomach heaved, too empty to do anything else.

I told him how you invited me into your bedroom the night before I killed Margaret. Told him how you cried about how your mother had hit you and threatened to do worse. Told him how you slowly started to undress in front of me. How you led me to your bed and invited me to make a woman out of you. How you promised me all of you in any way I wanted you so long as I killed your mother in return. He was horrified to know his sweet little girl seduced me as payment for murder.

Chapter Text

Knock. Knock.

“Guys, I hate to interrupt.” Spike’s voice came through the door, sounding tentative and unsure.

Sam frowned as he guided Jules back against his chest when it was obvious she didn’t have anything left in her to throw up. He wanted to scream back at his friend the words that automatically came to mind but knew it would be rude to say “then don‘t.” Besides he trusted Spike’s judgment; if he was finding it necessary to intrude, there must be a good reason. He sighed. “What is it, Spike?”

“A doctor just came in the waiting room for Jules’s family. Figured she’d want to be there.”

Jules used Sam’s shoulder and the toilet paper holder to hold to as she pushed herself to a standing position. Her legs were shaky but they seemed to support her weight. She didn’t move toward the door but seemed to be waiting. Sam realized she was waiting for him to join her. He stood, wrapping his arm around her waist as he led her to the door. He kissed the side of her head. “The doctor coming in doesn’t mean bad news, Jules. He could be just giving an update.”

She nodded as she reached out to unlock the door with a shaky hand. “Yeah, sure, of course. After all everything else has been going so freaking happily-ever-after perfect.”

Spike stepped back as the door opened and the two emerged. He didn’t say anything about the two of them being in the bathroom together. He’d seen enough from his self-imposed post outside the waiting room to know Jules was barely holding it together. Now as Jules drew even with him, he reached out and tapped her arm, stopping her. She barely glanced at him.

“Jules, you know I’ve been in and out of these places with my dad and I got pretty good at reading doctors. He didn’t have a doom-and-gloom look about him. I don’t think it’s bad news.”

Sam could have hugged Spike right there and then. Jules did. Spike held her for a split second and Sam released that their friend was hoping to offer as much comfort as he could. As Spike released Jules so they could go to the waiting room, Sam slapped Spike’s back in a gesture to say thanks. Spike nodded. Spike had just reinforced what Sam had said but at least Jules seemed more accepting of it coming from someone who’d been in a similar spot.

The waiting room door was opening as they reached it and the three Callaghan brothers stepped out behind a doctor in a white coat. Jules stopped, looking at them in wild panic. Ridge reached out and tweaked her nose. “Doc’s taking us to the consultation room. He just wants to fill us in on what he plans to do for Dad.”

Sam allowed Ridge to lead her down the hall. He wanted to go with her, to be there to support her if the news was bad. However, this was a family matter and he wasn’t family. He knew her brothers, even James who had seemed so negative at first, would take care of her and he’d be there for her when the doctor was through. After the four Callaghans disappeared around the corner, Sam turned to Spike.

“I hated that asshole from the moment I knew what he did to Jules’s mom. Now, I want the bastard dead for what he’s done and is still doing to her.”

“Copy that.” Spike agreed. Without him going into any details, Spike was suddenly sure Sam had gotten confirmation of his earlier suspicions. He didn’t press for more; he didn’t need to know unless Jules herself wanted him to. It was painful enough to see her unravel the way she was without knowing the full story. “I can’t believe the guy had the balls to just show up here like he did. He’s a real piece of work. Assuming we’re still the good guys here and won’t actually resort to murder even if he does deserve it, what’s our move?”

Sam shook his head. “I don’t know. He’s cocky but he’s careful. As offensive as we may think his actions have been, he hasn’t broken any laws that we can prove. I’ll be damned if I let him get near Jules again. She’s tough but nobody can withstand that much emotional upheaval intact.”

Spike nodded. “I’ll go down and talk to hospital security. Borrow one of their computers and get a photo of Dawson. He doesn’t have blood relation in the hospital so we should be able to ban him if not from the whole hospital then at least this floor. Then I’ll call the boss and fill him in on what’s going on; I know Dawson’s not really done anything to warrant one, but maybe Sarge can pull some favors and get a restraining order or something. I know someone like Dawson’s not going to let a court order stop him but at least it’ll give us grounds to arrest his sorry ass if he violates it.”

Sam nodded, glad that Spike at least was able to think clearly. “Yeah, sounds great.”

Spike knew that Sam’s main focus at that moment was watching the hallway where Jules had disappeared. Jules might be the emotional mess but Sam wasn’t far behind her as he worried about her. Spike frowned. “She’s gonna be okay, Sam. She might be a mess right now but she’s Jules. As soon as she knows her father is gonna be alright, she’ll bounce back.”

Sam frowned. Despite his reassurances to Jules that her father would recover, he couldn’t help but fear the worst. “And if he’s not okay? If he doesn’t survive?”

Spike shrugged, “Then you’ll be there for her and there’s no one I’d trust to take care of her through this than you. You’ll take care of Jules and the rest of us will be there for you both. That’s the way it works. Just like you were all there for me. You okay here until she gets back? I can wait about heading down to security.”

Sam shook his head. “No, your idea is solid and we shouldn’t wait. I’ll be fine.”

Spike nodded and walked off to the elevators. Sam leaned against the wall wearily. He knew he could go inside the waiting room and sink into one of the chairs until Jules returned but couldn’t bring himself to leave the corridor. He wanted to be where he could get to her in a heartbeat if needed.

As he waited his mind went back to the information Jules poured out to him in the bathroom. He wondered just what Dawson had whispered to her in that last exchange. Whatever it was had had a profound effect on her and only served to prove what a complete bastard the man truly was. Suddenly his mind drifted back to the threat/warning Dawson had given him that day when Sam had shown up at Kennington House to confront the man about Jules’s tire.

My niece isn’t as innocent as she wants people to think. Everything I did twenty years ago was for her, to protect her. If she doesn’t want to be grateful for all I did for her, for the way I saved her, then maybe I should let the truth come out.

Now it was Sam’s stomach doing flip flops. He hadn’t believed Dawson’s insinuation that Jules had played a part in her mother’s death then and he still didn’t. But had the bastard carried out this threat to start sharing his demented twisted version of what had happened?

“Excuse me.” A male voice broke through Sam’s thoughts. Sam blinked and looked at the newcomer standing in the open doorway of the waiting room looking inward. How had someone approached without Sam realizing it? “I was told the Callaghan family was in the waiting room. I don’t see them. You know who I could ask?”

The resemblance to the rest of the family was unmistakable. This had to be the fourth brother who Sam hadn’t seen earlier. This was either Ridge or Mark and Sam‘s brain was now working better, he realized this was more than likely Mark who now lived in California. The bag at the man‘s feet seemed to indicate a long trip. “The doctor’s giving them an update. Mark right? I‘m Sam Braddock; I …” he faltered over how to finish the statement. To say he worked with Jules was accurate and had proven to be the way she finished the introduction in the past. Yet it pained him to limit his relationship that way, especially since they didn’t have to for work anymore.

The man nodded wearily. “I’ve heard about you. The boyfriend Jules doesn’t want her big brothers ganging up on and interrogating. She’s got a right to worry. You treat her right and make her happy, none of us will have a problem with you. You hurt her and I don’t care if you’re a cop or not, there won’t be enough left of you when the four of us finish with you to even worry about hiding the body.”

Sam smiled. It was nice to know where he stood although he could imagine that kind of introduction was the exact reason why Jules was reluctant to introduce a boyfriend into the family. If they were that protective as adults, how had it been when Jules had just begun to date? “If I ever hurt Jules, I’d want you the four of you to tear me from limb to limb.”

With that understanding out of the way, Mark rubbed his face wearily and looked down the corridor in the direction of the ICU unit. “How’s my dad?”

“Touch and go from the way it sounds. But the doc might have better news. How was your flight? I think I remember Jules telling me you live in California now.”

Mark nodded. “Yeah, my wife’s family is from there so when we got married, we decided to move there. As for the flight, the first flight I wanted to take that would have been nonstop was overbooked and I couldn’t even get emergency standby. I panicked and instead of settling for the next available flight that would have had me here by lunch I opted for taking the first available flight AirCanada had for any destination that I could get a connecting flight to Toronto. Weather was bad in Chicago so all flights out of O’Hare were delayed almost an hour. I was starting to think I could get here quicker if I walked.”

“Mark!” The Callaghan siblings came around the corner and Jules cried out jubilantly at the sight of her brother. She closed the distance between them in no time and hugged him tightly. He returned the hug tightly and easily looked over her head at the brothers who all wore similar grim expressions. He raised an eyebrow in question. James sighed.

“Let’s go back in the waiting room and we’ll fill you in. You looked wiped.”

Sam wasn’t sure what he should do but as Jules passed him, still holding tightly to her brother, she reached out and squeezed his hand. “I need you in here with me.” Sam nodded his assent and was about to follow her inside when James stopped him.

“Sam, I’m sorry for snapping earlier. It’s obvious how much you care about my sister and equally obvious how much she trusts you. So I’m going to trust you as well. We were all close to Johnny; he was more like a brother than an uncle. His betrayal hurt us all beyond the obvious devastation of losing our mother but it was especially hard for Peter and Jules who were closer to Johnny than the rest of us. I’m the oldest and I’m not going to let that waste of living matter hurt my family any more. When he was here earlier Jules said something about him calling our dad. She insinuated he was responsible for Dad’s attack. You followed her out of here when she chased him down. We tried but you buddy wouldn’t let us so you’ve got more information than the rest of us. Be honest with me, did Johnny contribute to Dad’s attack?”

Sam sighed. He wouldn’t betray Jules’s trust but he wouldn’t lie to her brother either. “I think so. I’ve dealt with his type too many times in my line of work. He gets power by manipulating others to do or think what he wants. From what I gathered, he called your father and told him lies about what really happened the night he killed your mother. I don’t know what those lies were, he told Jules and I couldn’t hear. She was too upset to really tell me much and I wasn’t going to push her; she’s got too much on her plate.”

James’s expression was grim. “The world would be so much better off if someone just put us all out of his misery and killed the sonofabitch. He shows his face around here again and I might just be the one to do it, consequences be damned.”

Sam understood the sentiment and felt the same way. He explained the steps that Spike was currently taking to make sure that didn’t happen. The two men entered the waiting room and Sam made a beeline to sit next to Jules on the couch. He put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her in close so that she was tucked in to the safety of his side. On the other side of her, Mark was sitting on the edge of the couch, his knee bouncing with probably a mixture of exhaustion and worry.

“What’s the latest?”

James pulled another chair into the semi-circle they’d formed around the couch and sighed. “Blood tests confirm that Dad had a pretty major attack. They won’t know the extent until they do the heart catheterization. Right now he runs a good chance of having another attack if they try the procedure but if they don’t do the cath, they won’t know if there’s blockage they need to fix to prevent further damage.”

“Damn.” Mark muttered. “So if we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t, which direction do we go in?”

“The doctor has scheduled the catheterization for first thing in the morning.” James paused for a moment and Sam was pretty sure the doctor had added in a caveat of “if he survives the night” that Jams couldn’t bring himself to voice. “If they find something they’ll call us in and discuss options while they still have Dad under sedation.”

Peter continued. “The doctor also recommended that we all go home after the eight o’clock visitation time and get a good night’s sleep. Dad’s getting constant care and there’s nothing we can do sitting around here. If there’s any change the nurse will call us and we can get back here. I don’t like it, but I think he has a point. Tomorrow is going to be a long day no matter what they find. We’ll be able to better handle it if we’re rested.”

All at once the families who’d been inconspicuously sitting around the different areas of the waiting room got to their feet and started toward the door almost as if they were being compelled to do so. Peter glanced at the clock above the door. “It’s almost five; visiting time in the unit. I guess the clock rules everyone’s actions in this place.”

Jules automatically glanced down at her bare wrist, frowning as she remembered that her watch was probably still in the glove box of her jeep. Sam squeezed her shoulder. “I’ll get it for you later if you want.”

“Thanks.” She murmured softly. Then she looked at James and Peter who had been there for the most visiting times since her father had been admitted. “How does this work? I can’t imagine they’ll let the whole herd of us see him at once.”

Peter shook his head. “Only two at a time but they don’t care how you share the thirty minutes. James and I have gotten to spend the most time with him so the three of you should get the bulk of the time with this visit.”

Remembering her father’s reaction the last time she saw him, Jules wasn’t sure she wanted to go back at all. That wasn’t completely true, she wanted to see him; needed to reassure her overworked brain that he really was okay. But at the same time, she didn’t want to make things worse if he woke up and saw her there. If Johnny had told the truth about what he’d told Jack on the phone, then Jules couldn’t see how her father would ever want to see her again, let alone be in the same room with her.

“Jules?”

She jumped, even though Sam’s gentle use of her name had been low and soothing. She looked around to see that her brothers were moving toward the door while she was still sitting there. She buried her head in Sam’s chest for just a moment. “I don’t think I can do this. What if he wakes up while I’m there and it just causes him to take a turn for the worse? You didn’t hear those monitors going off like I did.”

Sam glanced over at her brothers who were watching her in concern. He nodded to indicate it was okay for them to go on and he’d bring Jules in a moment. The brothers seemed reluctant but Peter finally urged them on suggesting that Mark and Ridge take the first turn. Once Sam was alone in the room with her, he twisted so that he could look her in the eye.

“Jules, you can do this. I know you’re scared about what Johnny told your father but I can’t believe your dad would believe anything he had to say. I know I haven’t spent that much time around your father but what time I did is enough to convince me he thinks the world of you and he’s not going to just accept the word of a convicted murderer as truth just because Johnny said it was so. And I really believe if you weren’t so worried about your dad, you’d come to that same conclusion yourself.”

Jules’s eyes were dry but the toil of the day was weighing heavy in them. Her bottom lip looked swollen and bruised and Sam was pretty sure it was because she’d been chewing the hell out of it. “You don’t know how convincing Johnny can be. I wouldn’t be surprised if he could pass a polygraph while spewing nothing but lies. Even if it seems too incredible to believe, he’s so sure of it that you can’t help but trust him.”

Sam frowned. “You’re right, I don’t know how convincing Johnny is but I do know you. You need to see your dad during this visiting time and every visiting time after that. You’ll regret it later if you don’t take every opportunity you get to see him. Your regret will eat at you even after he’s fully recovered and this is all a distant memory.

Jules appreciated the way he anticipated her father’s full recovery even as they didn’t know for sure if they could hope for it. She hiccupped softly. “Will you come back there with me? After my brothers finish their visits?”

Sam nodded and pulled her up with him as he stood. “Yeah, if that’s what you want, I’ll do it.”

Twenty minutes later, after Mark and Ridge had spent ten minutes and then James and Peter had spent their time, Sam led Jules down the hall to the cubicles. She paused at the door to the room that held her father and found her legs suddenly felt like dead weights. All four brothers had warned that Jack Callaghan had slept all through the visit but that at least he looked stable. Sam nudged her forward toward the chair that still set next to the bed. She eased down into the seat holding tightly to Sam’s hand as if it were a lifeline.

She didn’t speak this time though so many thoughts were bursting in her mind wanting to come out. Instead she reached out with the hand that wasn’t gripping Sam’s and rested it over her father’s hand, being mindful of the IV and other monitors. All too soon a nurse was at the door telling them that visiting time was over. Sam wanted to send her a glare that suggested what the nurse could do with her visiting times. He knew they had to have rules but also couldn’t see the harm of letting family members stay if they weren’t causing harm. Sometimes, wasn’t the love of a family member just as potent a medicine as any the pharmacy dispensed?

Jules nodded and was about to stand when her father’s hand twisted beneath her hand so that it was now palm side up. Slowly his fingers curved so that he was now grasping her hand in his own. It held nowhere near the strength she had on her death grip on Sam but Jules stared at those curled fingers as if a miracle had happened. She gave the hand that now held hers an affectionate squeeze and stood. She leaned over the bed and gave her father a quick kiss on the cheek. “I love you Daddy. I’ll be back as soon as they’ll let me. Just please get better.”

Silent, fresh tears slipped down Jules’s cheeks as the fingers curled around her hand tightened ever so slightly as if her father was squeezing her hand. Her eyes were glued to the entwined hands and her mouth opened slightly.

Behind them, the nurse cleared her throat, once again trying to get their attention that visiting time was over. This time Sam did cut a glare in her direction. It was one he usually reserved for suspects he didn’t have to try to connect to and respect. The one he’d stared down the General with the first time he’d suggested that Sam was wasting his time with the SRU. It was usually as effective as any weapon he could brandish.

Usually. “I’m sorry, sir. Ordinarily I’d allow a little slack on the rules but x-ray is waiting. You’ll be able to come back at 8.”

With a frown, Sam nodded. He leaned over and kissed Jules just below her temple. “Come on Jules. We gotta go now.”

Jules slipped her fingers out of her father’s weak grasp and allowed Sam to lead her out of the ICU. Nobody was standing in the corridor as they handed off their passes to the volunteer at the information window. Jules blew out her breath. Sam frowned at her.

“You okay?”

She nodded. “I think I’m going to go to the ladies room before going back in the waiting room.”

Sam raised an eyebrow, remembering her last visit to the restroom. “You okay?”

“Yeah, I just need a minute. You know, wash my face and get myself together. I love that you’ve been here for me but I need a few minutes alone to decompress a moment. Is that okay?”

Sam leaned down and kissed her forehead. “Take the time you need. I’ll let your brothers now everything is fine.”

Jules started to walk off but Sam reached out and caught her hand before she was too far away. He smiled at her. “I love you and everything really is going to be okay.”

She smiled back at him loving him more in that moment than she’d ever thought possible. “I love you too. Thanks for being here. I really don’t think I could cope with all this without you.”

He winked at her, glad to see just a spark of the woman he loved shining through this fragile shell of a woman standing before him. “You could, but I wouldn’t want you to have to try.”

He watched until she disappeared into the same restroom from earlier and the door closed behind her. With a sigh, he pushed open the door to the waiting room and stepped inside. Immediately five pairs of eyes were looking back at him. Spike stood to greet him. “You okay, man?”

Sam nodded as he sank into a seat near the family. “Yeah, Jules is fine; she had to visit the ladies. Spike, is security cooperating?”

Spike nodded. “They are distributing his picture to all their guards. Johnny Dawson won’t even make it into the parking lot without being stopped. Sarge is going to see what he can do about the other. Meanwhile, I volunteered to go pick up burgers for everyone. I know how cafeteria food can be and everyone’s probably starving. You and Jules want your usual?”

Sam nodded although he had a feeling the only way Jules would eat anything at all was by force. He reached in his back pocket for his wallet but Spike waved him off. “Don’t worry about it. Peter and James already took care of it. I’ll be back.”

Leaving Sam alone with the four brothers, Spike left the waiting room. As he waited for the elevator to open, he glanced over at the ladies’ restroom and wondered if he should check on Jules. He decided against it, knowing if they hovered too much, Jules would continue to doubt herself. The elevator door opened and he stepped inside and pressed the button for the ground floor.

Just as the doors closed on that cart, a second cart opened next to it. A single figure stepped out of the elevator just as the door to the ladies’ restroom opened and Jules emerged. The two figures stared at each other for two minutes before the newcomer spoke.

“Hello, Jules.”

Jules’s shoulders slumped, “Why do I get the feeling this isn’t an accidental meeting?”

The other person shrugged. “Because I didn’t seem surprised to see you and you’re good at what you do? Sgt. Parker called me and suggested you might need someone to talk to.”

“Awesome. Can this day get any worse?”

Chapter Text

Dr. Amanda Luria watched the young woman standing before her, sizing her up without appearing to do so. Still, she was pretty confident no matter how casual she seemed to be acting, Jules would know exactly what she was doing. It wasn’t that she was that obvious but that the younger woman had always been that observant. While she hadn’t been that surprised when her secretary had told her that Greg Parker was on the line but that had quickly changed when he filled her in on what was going on with the female SRU constable. “I’m sorry to hear your father is ill. How’s he doing?”

Jules drew in a shaky breath, trying to control her breathing much the way she did when taking up position on a rooftop as either Sierra One or Sierra Two. Any show of emotion would just further fuel Dr. Luria’s belief that she was needed. “They’re doing the cath tomorrow to check the damage. I guess we’ll know more then. How’s your practice going?”

That’s right, Jules, she told herself, throw the subject you most want to avoid out there like you aren’t scared of it. Dr. Luria had left SRU several years earlier to concentrate on her private practice as a psychologist.

“It’s good, busy. It’s definitely different from handling hot calls with SRU. But we both know the team didn’t really need me. Most calls didn’t require any of my skills that the rest of you couldn’t do just as well. When I made the decision to leave, I promised to be available if I was truly needed. Fortunately that hasn’t happened but once.”

Jules carefully schooled her features not to flinch at the memory of that one time Dr. Luria was talking about. After Lew’s death, the psychologist had been called in to meet with each member of the team for grief counseling. Jules lost count of the number of one hour sessions she’d sat opposite the woman trying to make her think everything was okay without revealing just how much Lew’s death had affected her. Over the years she’d gotten quite good at building walls around herself so that no one knew what was really going on with her. Walls that seemed to have crumbled completely in light of the news that her uncle was being released from prison. She’d give anything to be able to hide herself away behind those protective walls once again.

Dr. Luria nodded toward some couches in the lobby area near the elevators. “How about we sit for a few minutes. We’d both probably be more comfortable than just standing here.”

Jules snorted. “Like sitting down’s gonna make me any more comfortable. I appreciate you coming down to check on me but I’m okay. I should get back into the waiting room with my brothers.”

“Just for a few minutes.” Dr. Luria urged. She knew the whole team or at least the team as it had consisted when she worked with them. The one trait they all shared was they kept their feelings close to the vest. Getting any one of them to open up to her was never easy but Jules was by far the worst. Learning the demons from the girl’s past helped explain it a little more but didn’t make it any easier to talk to her now. “We’re close enough they can find you if they need you. I know how it is when a loved one is in one of these units. As much as you need your family close; it’s not always easy to show them how worried you are. It helps to have someone outside the family that you can vent to from time to time.”

Jules nodded. “That’s why Sam and Spike are here.”

Dr. Luria believed in the gentle approach but was slowly realizing that gentle wouldn’t work with Jules. Neither would overt heavy-handedness either so it was a very tricky line she was currently walking. “Jules, Greg’s worried about you. He’s unofficially asked me to talk to you and right now that’s all it is. Nothing that’s going to be written down or filed away in some folder somewhere. Just two former coworkers having a conversation -- a conversation that I would feel compelled to keep private even if it is unofficial.”

Jules frowned. “That sounds suspiciously like a threat, Amanda.”

Dr. Luria’s eyes widened just slightly and one corner of her mouth turned upward, a sign Jules recognized as confidence of a victory. “Not a threat at all. Just an explanation. A threat would be me adding that if Sgt. Parker continues to be worried he could make this official and that would go in your file, Constable Callaghan. I don’t think any of us want it going to that. Please, come sit down.”

The shift from first times to last names with titles had been done with obvious intent. Intent that Jules fully recognized just as she had when she’d purposely called the doctor by her given name. Realizing that she was being offered a choice that wasn’t really a choice, Jules followed her over the couches and sat down heavily, her whole body language screaming her discomfort. Dr. Luria sat down on the opposite couch, wanting to give the younger woman enough space to not feel trapped. She shook her head.

“Honestly you’re looking at me like I’m the big bad wolf.”

Jules stiffened before she could control it. Johnny had said something so similar that night he first stole her innocence when he was trying to convince her that he wasn’t going to hurt her when that was his plan all along. It wasn’t that unusual of a phrase but still it threatened to pull her back to that night, especially given where she feared this conversation would go. It wasn’t a path she wanted to travel and was about to shut down any attempt at conversation.

As if sensing she’d said something wrong, Dr. Luria pursed her lips. “I‘m sorry; I get the feeling I said something that upset you. That certainly wasn‘t my intention.”

Jules rolled her eyes. “Yeah because this whole conversation is so on the other side of upsetting. Don’t worry about it.” She was silent for several minutes as she regained her composure. Perhaps if she sat there without talking, Dr. Luria would give you and leave.

The silence seemed to stretch into an eternity. Finally realizing she would get nowhere if she waited for Jules to start, Dr. Luria probed gently, trying to sound conversational. “You know, as many pysch evals as I did for SRU, I don’t think I ever did one of yours. Greg always insisted on doing them himself. I always wondered why. He knew about your mother’s death didn’t he? Knew you didn’t like to talk about it?”

“Still don’t.” Close yourself off, answer the questions succinctly at possible and get it over with. Just like with Lew. Doesn’t matter if you need to talk about it or should talk about it in more detail. It’s safer that way.

“Nobody can blame you for that. Still, the ostrich who sticks her head in the sand to avoid danger just puts her ass on the line, right?” It was almost as if Dr. Luria could read her mind.

“And I’m the ostrich?” There was no anger in Jules’s voice, no emotion whatsoever.

Dr. Luria shrugged. “Just calling them like I see them. If the feather fits….”

Jules wondered how much Sarge had told the psychologist about the situation. Did he stick with the facts or did he add their suppositions as well? She took a deep breath and plunged in to the deep. Dr. Luria wanted her to talk about it? Well then she would but only on her own terms. “I was sixteen years old and my mom basically died in my arms because a man I thought I could trust stabbed her, came after me, and then stabbed her in the heart when she tried to save me. Is it really being an ostrich not to like to relive that memory?”

“It is if it keeps you from healing from the pain. Jules, no one should have to go through what you did. But you know that. You’ve probably told countless other victims of violence that. But that doesn’t change the fact that you did go through it. Did you ever talk to anyone about what you saw? I mean really talk to someone, not sit there and feed someone what you thought they wanted to hear.”

Jules frowned. “My dad tried to get me to see someone but I kept having panic attacks that scared him more than the idea of me not getting help. I don’t think I suffered too badly by not talking about it. I’ve got a good life, good career, good relationship…” She trailed off regretting using the word relationship. She didn’t want to open that topic of discussion with the doctor.

Dr. Luria smiled. “I had a feeling it was only a matter of time before you and Sam became a couple.” Jules’s eyes widened in surprise and Dr. Luria laughed. “Relax, you’re the one who told me about Sam. Earlier you said that Sam and Spike were here for you. I’m all for co-worker support but sitting up at a hospital waiting room suggests something more. You and Spike have always been close but close in a way that a romantic relationship would have been just too weird. Spike I’m sure is here because he knows all too well about the fear of losing a parent in this place. That leaves Sam. Besides, I had him pegged as being lovestruck by you from day one. It was only a matter of time before he made his move. I’m happy for both of you.”

Two orderlies pushing a stretcher between them rushed down the hall toward ICU. Dr. Luria waited until they passed to continue. “And you’re right, despite all you went through as a teenager, you’ve made a remarkable life for yourself. I don’t know too many who could have done what you’ve done, chosen the career you chose after living through such a traumatic time. But what about now? The bastard who almost destroyed your life is out of jail and from what Greg told me on the phone is making your life hell.”

Jules laughed. She couldn’t help it; something about hearing the doctor refer to her uncle in such a derogatory manner struck her as funny. “I didn’t think psychologists called people bastards.”

Again Dr. Luria shrugged. “Just calling them like I see them.” She smiled slightly, glad to see that it looked like Jules was relaxing ever so slightly. “Look Jules, I know you. You’re good at your job because you push yourself to be better than everyone else. You’ve had to in order to make it in a man’s world. And you aren’t going to admit defeat for any reason or anyone. I’ve seen you bust ribs on the training course and keep going back for more until you finally collapsed from the pain and couldn’t move, protesting the whole time you were okay and just needed a second to catch your breath. That kind of grit and determination is one thing when it comes to your job but you’ve got to have an outlet when your personal live gets overwhelming.”

“And let me guess, me sitting in your office an hour a week for who knows how long should be that outlet.”

“For some people, yes it‘s exactly what they need, for at least a session or two. But I think we both know that traditional therapy wouldn’t work with you. It may not even be what you need. What if you and I just got together for drinks after work and we just talk about what’s going on? Again, nothing official but purely confidential. We could talk about your mom’s death, how you feel about her killer being turned loose, other issues surrounding that time and now and that might be weighing on you.”

With the last line, Jules was almost definite that Greg had told Dr. Luria about Sam’s guess that Johnny had hurt her. She felt her hackles rising and was ready to tell the psychologist what she could do with her idea but then backed down. Maybe if she acted like she was buying the idea, she’d get the doctor off her back for at least a little while. She shrugged nonchalantly. “Maybe that wouldn’t be so bad. It would have to be after my dad gets better; while he’s here I’m not going to have time for much else.”

Dr. Luria smiled. “I wouldn’t expect otherwise. Let me give you my card and I’ll write my personal cell number on it. You can call me when your dad recovers or if you just need to talk before then.” She reached into her purse to get the card and a pen. As she was scribbling her number on the back, the elevator door opened again and Spike stepped out carrying several white bags. He stopped short when he saw the two women talking.

“Dr. Luria, good to see you. What brings you down from the eighth floor?”

“Just wandering through and ran into Jules. I heard her father was sick and wanted to see if everything was okay. How are you Mike?”

“Good, good. Jules, I picked up burgers for everyone. Yours will be waiting for you in the waiting room when your through catching up. Dr. Luria, great to see you.”

Spike hurried on and Jules looked from him to Dr. Luria and then back again. Dr. Luria had promised her that anything she said would stay private and Jules had a feeling she suddenly had the proof she needed that Dr. Luria would keep her word. The grief counseling they’d had after Lew’s death had taken place at headquarters. The only way Spike would have known where Dr. Luria’s office was would be if he’d been there. Was Dr. Luria the reason Spike had suddenly gained peace after his father’s death? She’d never pry with Spike and if she was right about Dr. Luria, the doctor would never admit it either.

“Here you go, Jules. My card. Please call me soon. I’ll keep a check on how your father’s doing as well.”

Jules narrowed her eyes at the outstretched hand. “How did you know about Spike? Earlier you said he was probably here because of what he went through with losing his dad. How did you know his father had died?”

“I read the obituary in the paper.”

The answer came easily and smoothly. Nothing to indicate it was a lie but also nothing to indicate there was more to the story. Jules had her answer. She reached out and took the card. Maybe she would call her after all. “Thanks.”

-- FP -- FP -- FP --

“You sure Wordy doesn’t mind keeping Patches a little longer?” Jules practically slurred her words as Sam guided her into the house around nine thirty that night. She was already half asleep, more so than she’d been on the walk back up from the lake the night of the eclipse -- had that only been the night before? Sam thought with a groan. He was tired as well but was at least more coherent than Jules was.

“Positive. He wasn’t expecting us home until late tomorrow anyway. Come on, let’s get you up to bed before you aren’t able to climb the stairs.” Sam urged leading her toward the staircase. She was leaning quite heavily on him and it was obvious she was completely done in. He put a hand under her knees and lifted her effortlessly into his arms. She sighed into his neck.

“Should have stayed at the hospital in case Dad needs me.” It was the same argument she and Mark had continued to make at the hospital after the 8 o’clock visit was over. Both James and Peter had argued that the doctor had said it was better for them to get the rest and that they should all go home for the night. Ridge had remained neutral, stating he understood both sentiments. It had looked like it was going to become a full out Callaghan battle to beat all battles but James and Peter finally won out. Ridge would spend the night with Peter and Mark would stay with James and Sam was finally free to take Jules home.

“They’ll call if there’s any change. Besides, you saw him at the 8 o’clock visit. He was sleeping peacefully. The nurse who’s going to be with him tonight said he was much more stable now than he’d been since they brought him in. He’ll be fine and you need to be well rested before sitting up at the hospital tomorrow.”

She was silent the rest of the way up the stairs to the bedroom and Sam figured she’d drifted off to sleep in his arms but as he laid her down on the bed, he saw that her eyes were still half open and she was once again chewing her bottom lip. “Dr. Luria came to see me.”

Sam kissed her, as much to save her lip from more damage from her teeth as for the affection he felt for her. “I know. Jules, we can talk about it in the morning. Now you need to sleep.”

“How did you know? I didn’t say anything; didn’t want my brothers asking questions.” Jules sat up in the bed leaning against the headboard because she really was too exhausted to hold her own weight. Sam kissed her forehead and stood, going to the dresser and pulling one of her oversized night shirts from the drawer.

“I got worried because you’d been gone so long. I went to check on you and saw the two of you talking. I didn’t want to intrude so I went back to the waiting room.” He handed her the shirt but she left it lying in her lap.

Sam shook his head; he didn’t often see her this tired, not even after she’d gone several nights without any sleep at all. The times that he had usually followed tough hot calls where she’d either been Sierra One and forced to make the kill shot or worse when she’d been lead negotiator and had to make the difficult choice to call Scorpio. Of course those times had usually involved the team having a few drinks after going off shift to decompress.

It hit Sam now that although the team often went for drinks, he’d never seen Jules drunk. Most times, she limited herself to one or two alcoholic drinks -- usually beer -- and then switched to soft drinks. Nights after those particularly hard calls she might go for the third and on the very rare occasion a fourth. Now he thought about Johnny’s words in the corridor of the hospital, the ones he’d actually heard the man taunt her with.

I told him how my lush of a sister was treating you. She really was a mean drunk wasn’t she, JAC. How many times did she hit you when she was too drunk to hardly stand?

He didn’t trust anything Johnny had to say, knowing the man was a skilled liar and manipulator. Still, usually within the best of lies there was some nugget of truth. Could Jules’s mom have had a drinking problem? Being a cop was a demanding job and was sometimes probably even harder on a cop’s spouse. Did Jules now limit her own drinking for fear that she might carry some gene she got from her mother?

He knew he shouldn’t try to second guess or read into her actions and words this way but it was difficult when she had such a hard time opening up and allowing him to be privy to such information. He looked down at her from where he was standing next to the bed. She was leaning against the headboard, her eyes now fully closed, her mouth parted slightly as she dozed. He reached out and touched her cheek lightly but she didn’t move. No wonder she was so tired now. Though they had slept on their trip, the energy they’d burned during each day had far exceeded any rest they could have gotten sleeping on the air mattress. Add that to the emotional stress of this particular day -- learning of her father’s heart attack, worrying about his condition, her panic attack, the horrific and stressful confrontation with Johnny and the vomiting jag that encounter caused her, talking to Dr. Luria, to the final argument with her brothers about whether they should stay or leave the hospital for the night -- it was a wonder she’d hadn’t collapsed earlier.

“Jules, you’ll sleep better if you change into something more comfortable.” Actually she seemed to be sleeping pretty well even in such an uncomfortable position but Sam knew it wouldn’t last. She shrugged, showing she wasn’t deeply asleep yet, but didn’t move. Sam reached for the hem of her t-shirt to help her but stopped. The last time he’d undressed her while she slept, it had caused a bad reaction, one he didn’t want to repeat, especially now that she‘d confirmed that she‘d been sexually assaulted as a teenager. He wouldn’t remove her clothes and help her into her nightshirt without her permission. “Jules, want me to help you?”

She nodded and lifted the night shirt ever so slightly in his direction. He grinned and sat on the bed next to her, gathering her gently in his arms. He removed her t-shirt and shorts, tossing them to the floor. As he reached behind her to unfasten her bra, she lifted her head and began kissing his neck, blazing a trail up and over to his mouth. He returned the kiss eagerly enough, the hand that wasn’t removing her bra cupping the back of her head.

“Make love to me, Sam.” She whispered between kisses.

He felt himself harden at the neediness he could hear in her request. It would be so easy for him to lay her down and proceed to do just as she begged. He kissed her once more but then stopped. “Not tonight Jules. God knows I never want to pass up an opportunity to show you how much I love you but tonight’s not the night for it. You’re exhausted.”

To emphasis his point, he gently pulled the nightshirt over her head and helped her to put her arms through the holes. He swept a hand underneath her to pull the covers back on the bed and help her slip beneath them. He kissed her again, this time noticing her lower lip was poked out in a pout.

“Because you think I’m tired or because of what Johnny said at the hospital?”

Sam sighed; he should have realized his refusal might sound like a rejection to her wounded psyche. “Because I know you passed tired about five hours ago. Nothing Johnny Dawson could ever say or do will ever change the way I feel about you. I love you and I desire you but because of that I’m saying no tonight, just tonight.”

She nodded her understanding and slipped into sleep, clutching his shirt much the way she had earlier at the hospital after coming out of the panic attack. He nestled her close to his body and gently caressed her arm until her grip on him slackened and he knew she was deep asleep. He gave her one more kiss and slipped off the bed. He was tired enough to go on the bed right then himself but there were things he should do before retiring for the night. He retrieved Jules’s phone from the night stand where they’d left it for the trip. He turned it on and plugged it into the charger so it would have a full charge for the next day. As soon as the device powered up the voice mail symbol appeared in the top left corner. He didn’t listen to the messages; wouldn’t invade her privacy like that. Besides, he figured most of the messages were probably from her brother trying to reach her with the initial news about her father. They’d given the hospital and her brothers Sam’s cell number before leaving the hospital so he wasn’t worried about it being a brand new message.

Then he made his way downstairs and began to unload the jeep. He didn’t bother to put things in their proper places -- that could wait until they both had the time and energy but didn’t want their camping things sitting in the hospital parking lot all day tomorrow like they had today after he’d arrived. He did unload the cooler, putting the food that needed to be kept cold away in either the fridge or freezer. He doubled checked the locks on the door and turned out the lights.

After that, he returned upstairs to the bedroom. He stood in the doorway for a moment, watching Jules. She hadn’t moved in the time he’d been gone, a testament to how tired she really was. Usually she was in almost constant motion; something that had taken him a while to get used to when they’d first began sleeping together. He could have stood there watching her sleep for hours but his own exhaustion was creeping up on him.

Grabbing a change of clothes from the drawer, he quietly made his way to the bathroom. If he got his shower now, it would save time in the morning as they were getting ready. No matter how tired she was now, he was sure she’d be up with the dawn, ready to get back to the hospital as soon as they could, even thought her father wasn’t scheduled for the catheterization until nine in the morning. He turned the shower on as hot as he could stand it and undressed as he waited for the temperature to get where he wanted it. He loved camping but didn’t love the public showers that most campgrounds offered. The pressure was never strong enough or the water hot enough. It worked for getting clean but that was it. He stepped in to the shower and immediately the cascading water worked to massage his muscles which were tight and a little sore. He was physically fit and worked out every day but even he wasn’t used to all the rock climbing and hiking he’d put them through in the last few days. The only thing that would have been better than the shower he was currently enjoying would be a massage under Jules’s more than capable and skilled hands.

Finally he turned off the water and grabbed the towel waiting for him on the outside of the shower. He dried off and dressed before the vastly different temperature in the bathroom could cool him too much. He looked in the mirror at the four day growth of stubble on his normally boyish face. Quickly lathering his jaw with shaving cream, he reached for his razor. Just as he was about to put the blade to the top of his jaw under his right ear, he paused. Had it been just that morning that Jules had admitted to liking the rugged look on him and how she planned to enjoy it while it lasted? He’d warned her he’d have to shave before going to work but he still had one day left of his vacation. He replaced the razor and washed off the shaving cream. There wasn’t much he could do for Jules in this current situation but perhaps this small gesture would help. He had wiped his hands and was about to return to the bedroom to crawl into bed and pull Jules to him when his cell phone sitting on the countertop began to buzz and vibrate.

He picked it up, frowning when he saw James’s name on the caller ID. He flipped the phone open with a silent prayer that it wasn’t bad news about Jules’s father. If something happened during the night after she’d wanted to stay, he didn’t think she’d ever forgive her brothers or him for insisting that they all leave. “Hello?”

“What the hell did that bastard do to my little sister?”

Chapter Text

Sam closed his eyes and inwardly cursed. Wasn’t this day finally supposed to be coming to a close? “James…”

There must have a warning in his one word because James didn’t let him continue. “Listen to me, Sam. I know he did something and I’m betting you know what. Either you’re going to tell me everything you know or I swear I’m going to come over there and hound my sister until she tells me.”

Sam pinched the bridge of his nose. “Okay, James, Just let me call you back in a couple of minutes. Jules is sleeping and I don’t want to risk waking her up. You saw how worn out she was when we left. I’ll go downstairs and call you right back.”

“Two minutes, Braddock or I’m heading over.”

Sam closed the phone and stepped out of the bathroom. He glanced at Jules who this time was in a new position. She had curled up almost in a ball hugging his pillow to her. He smiled at her, wanting nothing more than to replace that pillow with his own body. Again he felt a tightening in his lower region as he stared mesmerized by her beauty and innocence as she slept. But he couldn’t linger and watch the even rise and fall of her chest. If he did, there would soon be someone loudly banging on the door.

Once downstairs, Sam settled into the couch for what he expected to be a long conversation. He opened his phone and was pulling up James’s number where there was a light tapping at the door. With a frown, he rose and went to the door, only half surprised to see both James and Mark standing there. He flipped on the light and opened the door, stepping aside to let them in. He gratefully accepted the red insulated cup from Tim Hortons that Mark offered him, noticing that both brothers also had one of their own as well.

“I thought I had two minutes to call you back.” He took a long sip of the coffee, not minding that the scalding liquid that momentarily burned his mouth.

James set his coffee on a side table and began to pace the living room, obviously upset. After several passes, he paused mid-pace and fixed Sam in his stare. “They called from the hospital.”

Sam sucked in his breath. “I’ll get Jules.” He was halfway to the stairs when Mark called him.

“Relax Sam, that’s not necessary. What my not so eloquent brother is trying to say is they called from the hospital an hour ago. Dad woke up and was pretty agitated. The nurses tried to calm him down and finally realized he wanted to talk to someone. He drew the letter J on the bed so the nurse called James.”

Sam returned to the couch and sat down. Mark, nursing his own coffee, sat in the chair next to the couch and James resumed pacing. Sam frowned. “Let me guess, he really wanted to see Jules.”

James snorted. “Should have seen the look Dad shot toward the nurses station when I came in instead of Jules. First time since I heard that Dad had been taken to the hospital that I began to believe he was going to be okay. I offered to call her; told Dad she’d be there as quick as she could but he shook his head. I think he realized he still didn’t have much strength to stay awake that long. Dad tried to pull the oxygen mask off but I wouldn’t let him. I knew he was trying to tell me something and he couldn’t because of the mask but I still didn’t want to take him off the oxygen long enough for him to say what he had to say. Stubborn old man was pretty insistent.”

Mark picked up the story. “His nurse brought us a pad and a large pen. Dad’s hand was shaky but at least it gave him a way to communicate without him losing the oxygen mask.”

James suddenly threw himself down on the other end of the couch. “Two words. It took him almost five minutes to write nine letters. Hurt Jules. I thought maybe he’d realized Jules had gone into a panic attack when she was with him that first time and felt responsible. I started assuring him that yeah, it was rough but she was okay. I even sang your damn praises about how you coaxed her out of the attack like a pro.”

While Sam was glad to hear that he’d apparently won the approval of Jules’s brother, it was clear that James was a tightly wound person. It was a scary, unpredictable kind of mood; one that would have Sam, if this were a hot call and he was Sierra One, anticipating a Scorpio call any second.

Again Mark picked up the story, apparently used to his brother’s volatile moods and knowing when to step in. “Jules ever give that look of hers that screams ’don’t be thick’?” Sam laughed and nodded, although he’d always called it her “don’t make me come over there and kick your sorry ass” look. It was a look he’d be happy never to see directed toward him ever again. “It’s nothing compared to the one Dad can give. He was clearly agitated. The heart monitor was going off like crazy and the nurse was trying to kick us out. Dad started writing again. Ten minutes this time to get one word. Johnny.”

James buried his head in his hands, the tension evident in shoulder muscles. “The damn nurse kept telling us that they needed to get Dad calmed down or we’d risk him having another heart attack or maybe even a stroke. I didn’t want that to happen but at the same time I knew he was trying to tell us something important; something he didn’t think he had to the time to wait to get off his chest. Concern over his health won out and she sedated him. While we were waiting for the drugs to take effect, I leaned down and told him not to worry. Told him there was no way Johnny would ever be able to hurt Jules. Reminded him that she was too tough. Once again he reached up and lifted the oxygen mask and this time we couldn’t stop him. It was barely a whisper but his words made me sick to my stomach. Told me I’d better not let that pervert hurt his baby again. Then the sedative kicked in and he was out.”

James sat up and stared at Sam with his expression hard. “’Don’t let that pervert hurt my baby again.’ Again as in already happened at least once. Dad was a cop; he’d only use the word pervert to mean one thing. So again, I ask you, Sam, what did that bastard do to Jules?”

Sam finished off the coffee Mark had brought him and set the empty cup on the coffee table. Jules had been so convinced that her father had believed whatever lies Johnny had told him, that her father would believe she’d asked for whatever had happened. He was glad to hear that apparently his attempts to assure her that her father would see through the lies had been on target. Still he knew she wouldn’t fully be convinced until her father could tell her for himself.

“I can’t tell you.”

James shot up off the couch, knocking the coffee table sideways in the process. He looked down at Sam and at that moment Sam could hear the word Scorpio running through his head. Subject escalating and possibly violent.

“Can’t or won’t? Damn it, Sam; I get it; you’re a good guy and you don’t want to betray whatever trust my sister has put in you. Ordinarily I’d applaud that and slap you on the back for being such an upstanding guy. I can’t, not with this. I’ve been going out of my mind with worry since we left the hospital again. I’m the oldest and, until Dad’s on his feet again, responsible for the rest of the family. You don’t want to share something my sister confided in you. Bravo, just great. Fine, I guess I can respect that but it’s not going to stop me. You want me to go upstairs and wake her up and grill her myself? I will.”

“What good do you think that will do, James?” Mark inserted calmly. Sam glanced his way. Mark had obviously heard the same story James had but he didn’t seem as upset. The more he looked at the next to the youngest brother of the Callaghan family, Sam could see that the same anger really was there, deep down but just better controlled. If the situation called for it, Mark wouldn’t hesitate to make any person responsible for hurting someone he cared about pay for that pain. But at the same time, he wasn’t going to fly off half cocked. “The one trait all five of us got from Dad was stubbornness. I don’t know if it has something to do with being the oldest and the youngest but you and Jules got the lion’s share of it, at least a double or triple dose to what the other three of us got. You go up there and start badgering her for answers she apparently hasn’t wanted to give us and what’s going to happen? Rock meets hard place. You think that’s going to help her? You think that’s going to help Dad?”

Sam was impressed; Mark was a calm mediator. Probably a role he’d often found himself in while being caught in the middle of family squabbles growing up. “Mark’s right, James. Yeah, Johnny hurt her twenty years ago but you’ve known that since the moment you got the call about your mother. You think a sixteen year old could go through what she went through unscathed? Of course she was hurt.”

James shook his head. “It was more than that. Dad wouldn’t have been so adamant about it otherwise. I asked you earlier today what Johnny had done to my father. You told me he called dad and told lies about that night. I’d love to believe that the idea Dad got that that ass wipe had done something perverted to my baby sister was just a lie but what would be the purpose? He grew up with us. He knows how overprotective we all are where Jules is concerned. Hell, until that night twenty years ago he was just as protective. I don’t care how much time he spent in jail he would have to know if we ever thought he’d done what Dad’s thinking he did we’d kill him. Why risk our wrath over a lie?”

“For the same reason he’d tell the truth about it if it was. To hurt the family one more time. You asked me earlier if my refusal was a matter of can’t or won’t. The answer is both. I can’t tell you what happened because Jules can’t even tell me the details of that night just like she hasn’t been able to tell anyone else. I won’t tell you what she has confided in me because you were also right earlier. I won’t betray her trust. Let’s just say for the sake of argument just for a moment that the worst fears running through your head right now are true. What would that worst fear be?”

“That that bastard --that little snot of an uncle who’s two years younger than me ….” he broke off with an almost pained growl. “Damn it, Sam, you know what I fear happened to her.”

Sam nodded. “Yeah, I do. And if you can’t bring yourself to say the word, twenty years removed from the night in question and it’s not even your body, imagine what it would be like for her. If Dawson is sadistic enough to rape his own teenage niece and murder his sister, don’t you think he would have filled her head with all kinds of lies about how people would react if they knew the truth? How people would blame her or think she asked for it? Or worse, threatened to hurt her or someone else if she told? Hypothetically of course, if what you are think is true.”

James hung his head. “Which you can’t and won’t say is or isn’t. Damn him, Sam. She was just a kid; he should have been one of the ones protecting her from that kind of pain, not causing it. What do I do? I can’t forget what Dad told me. I have to protect her. If there’s even a possibility she would think I or any of us would blame her or anything ludicrous like that then I’ve got to let her know she’s wrong.”

Mark’s eyes were red and tears threatened. “James is right. She might have been the pain-in-the-neck little sister who was always running after us wanting to be one of the guys but she’s our baby sister.”

Sam rubbed his face wearily. He wasn’t the one who needed to hear their affirmations of support and love. “Then tell her.” Before they could misinterpret what he was saying he continued. “Not tonight. Tomorrow. After the catheterization is over and you know what’s going on with your dad. Tell her about the conversation you had with your dad tonight, ask your questions without pushing and let her know that whether she wants to confide in you or not you have her back. But you’ve got to prepare yourself for the fact that even with your unwavering support, she might not tell you anything and you’ve got to be prepared to back off and give her space. If you don’t you’ll only end up hurting her worse than anything Dawson might have done to her.”

“He’s right.” Mark told James who nodded. “We’ve got to fill Peter and Ridge in on what’s going on. First thing in the morning when we meet for breakfast. We’ve got to all be on the same page with this but we can’t seem like we’re ganging up on her. For now, we need to go back to your place and get some sleep. Tomorrow is going to be a hell of an emotional day for all of us and I don‘t mean just worrying about Dad.”

“Sleep like that’s going to happen. Okay, yeah, let’s get out of here and let Braddock get some sleep as well. He looks like he could use it.”

Sam stood and walked them to the door. At the doorway, James stopped and shook Sam’s hand. “I have to be honest with you. I didn’t want to like you. Jules may be an adult in her thirties but to me she’s always going to be that gangly little girl who we could and would talk into carrying out whatever devious scheme we’d come up with mostly because we knew she’d be less likely to get in trouble if Dad caught us. I’m not keen on liking any guy dating my sister, less likely one who’s sharing her house and God forbid her bed. Then you show up at the hospital looking all scruffy and bad boy like and I’m doublely convinced you aren’t right for anybody’s sister let alone Jules.”

“James, come on, don’t do this, man.” Mark pleaded but James shook his head.

“No, he deserves to know where I stand. Sam, my opinion of you changed watching the way you treated my sister. Like she’s fine china disguised as a Teflon coated cast iron skillet. You gave her space to be her own person but were ready to catch at the first stumble. I’m still not too keen about thinking of the two of you sharing a bed but I’m glad she has you.”

If James had said he didn’t want him dating Jules, it wouldn’t have changed the way Sam felt toward the beautiful woman sleeping upstairs. If they had to keep their relationship on the down low to keep the peace with her family, then it wouldn’t be the first time. But still, he was glad to have the seal of approval from the oldest brother. Jules meant too much to him for her to be forced in the middle of an awkward situation between him and her brothers.

After saying goodnight, he locked up once more and turned out the lights. He made his way to the bedroom and slid into bed, turning off the lamp as he did so, plunging the bedroom into darkness. Gently, he extracted his pillow from Jules’s grasp, wrapping her arms around her tenderly as she instinctively turned to him in exchange for the pillow.

“Was beginning to think you weren’t coming to bed.” She complained, still more asleep than awake. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah, everything’s going to be just fine. Go back to sleep,” he punctuated his assurances with light kisses until he felt her relax in his arms once again. Despite his own exhaustion, he continued to lie there in the dark for several long minutes longer feeling the beat of her heart against his chest and praying that perhaps soon Jules would be able to get the closure on what happened to her that she’d needed for twenty years.

-- FP -- FP -- FP --

“Sam, wake up.”

His eyes flew open almost immediately at the command because the tone Jules used was clear that it wasn’t a request. He picked his head up slightly, blinking back the sleep. Jules had obviously been up for a while, her side of the bed was cool to the touch, nothing to indicate that someone had been sleeping there recently. She was dressed and standing by the side of the bed her arms crossed at her chest and her expression was one of uncertainty and anger.

All trace of sleepiness left him and he bolted up in the bed. “What’s wrong?”

“Someone’s been in the house since we left. Either we had company while we gone or you did last night. Three cups from Timmies in the living room that weren’t there when we left prove it.”

Sam groaned. He’d meant to throw them out last night before coming to bed but had completely forgot. He’d wanted to leave it to her brothers to explain everything because he felt she really needed the information and promise of support to come from them. But there was no way he could wait about it now. “Jules, come here.” He reached out and tugged her hand gently, pulling her down on the bed with him. She sat there, her body rigid expecting the worst and he held her hands securely in his own. He told her about the visit from her two brothers and the information they’d demanded. Before he could assure her that he hadn’t broken her confidence and that even if he had, her brothers were on her side, Jules pulled away from him and began to pace the bedroom angrily. He couldn’t help but wonder if she knew how much like her oldest brother she really was.

“Damn him. Why now? Twenty years ago he agreed to confess with the stipulation that I not say anything about what he did to me. I didn’t want anyone to know my shame so I agreed without question. Why is he the one going around and telling everyone now?”

“He didn’t want you saying anything twenty years ago because he didn’t want to take any chances of being charged with sexual assault. Murderers get respect while sex offenders become easy targets in prison. At sixteen you would have been considered over the age of consent that would have taken any pedophile charges away but probably not in the eyes of his fellow inmates. He was protecting himself not you. Everything he’s done since being released has been directed toward causing you pain. Letters, calls, showing up at work, slashing your tire, all meant to knock you off your game and torment you. You aren’t a kid anymore and he probably realizes he can’t hurt you the same way he did then, not and hope to survive the attempt. So he’s taking your worst memory, your greatest pain and forcing your to relive it. He’s sadistic and there’s a special place in hell waiting for him.”

“He can’t get there too quickly for my taste.” Jules warned darkly. She turned to face him, suddenly looking very small and much more like that fine china analogy James had used the night before. “Sam, I’m tired of him having that power over me. I want to be free of him and not let him hurt me either with his words or his actions. I just don’t know how to do that.”

Sam threw the covers back and stepped out of bed, crossing to her and holding her tightly. “I don’t have all the answers, Babe. I wish I did. I think you’ve already started taking the first steps. You’re opening up and letting me see your pain instead of you hiding behind it. Do the same for your brothers, give them the chance to show you they love you and support you. Eventually, I think you’re going to have to let someone all the way into your pain. It’s a matter of trusting enough.”

She clung to him tightly, grateful for his love and support. As she’d told him during their trip, his arms were where she felt the safest. Still, she couldn’t deny the clenching in her stomach at the mere thought of telling him -- because if she did this he would be the someone she let in -- the whole story. “I do trust you.”

He silenced her with a kiss. A long slow kiss that sent a warmth through her all the way down to her toes. Then he looked her in the eyes, his voice low and husky. “I know you do. It’s not about trusting me though. It’s about trusting yourself. Once you’re ready, I’m right here for you all the way. We’ll get through this crisis with your dad and then we’ll break Dawson’s hold on you.”

Chapter Text

Jules pulled her uniform shirt on and buttoned it slowly, keeping her back to the large mirror in the locker room. She didn’t need to see her reflection to know that she looked like seven kinds of hell. She knew as soon as she walked out of the solitary sanctuary the locker room afforded her and she had to face the rest of the team, especially Sarge, they were going to see through any tough façade she tried to put on. All the effort Sam had put into the first part of their vacation to help her relax and regain her normal focus had been for naught from the moment Spike had shown up to give her the news about her father’s heart attack.

There was a light tapping on the door and Jules took a deep breath before inviting who ever it was in. Sarge stepped just inside the locker room and leaned against the wall. He regarded her closely.

“You sure about being here today, Kiddo? I totally get it if you need a little more time…”

“I know Sam and I only really missed two days of work out of the five we were gone but it was short notice for you and you were great about making it work. It’s not fair for me to keep inconveniencing you by taking off additional days.”

Greg shook his head. “Don’t worry about me or the schedule. Rodney from Team 5 already volunteered to cover your shift if you needed another day or two. Your dad had bypass surgery yesterday and nobody could or would fault you for wanting to be at the hospital with him.”

Part of her did want to be at the hospital; she couldn’t deny that. The catheterization hadn’t taken long. The doctor met the family and Sam in the waiting room to explain while the damage the initial heart attack had done couldn’t be repaired, he had discovered a couple more arteries that were also blocked enough that a second, probably fatal heart attack, would be possible if they didn’t operate. The surgery had taken longer and after it was over, they’d only gotten to spend about thirty minutes watching Jack Callaghan sleeping off the effects of the anesthesia in ICU before the nurses shooed them out.

“All I could do today is sit around the ICU waiting room staring at my brothers waiting for those ridiculously short visiting hours the hospital has. I don’t even know why they call them hours because each visit only last thirty minutes. I’ll be off shift for the last two visits and I’ll see him then. At least then he’ll probably be more awake anyway. It’ll give my brothers more time with him during the day.”

She didn’t add that sitting at the hospital all day with her brothers would just give them more time to drill her for information about what had happened twenty years ago. The day before, their concern had been centered around their mutual worry for their father. Once they’d been assured that, with a few changes to his diet and lifestyle, medication, and a few weeks of rest, Jack Callaghan should be able to resume a normal life, the brothers concern had turned to their little sister and the horrible secret they were afraid she’d been keeping from them.

Jules had promised Sam that morning that she didn’t want to be Johnny’s victim anymore but putting those words into practice were easier said than done. Even though they had tried their best to pose their questions in an non-threatening manner, Jules had felt trapped in the waiting room. Sam’s comforting hands on her arms had kept her grounded in the moment and prevented her from falling into that dark pit that opened beneath her feet whenever she felt confronted by her past. Though they had been persistent in their attempts to get the story from her, they hadn’t been demanding. Her inability to confide in them anything more than yes, something had happen to her had only fueled their desire to know more.

It had been Ridge that finally had reacted in anger. Not at her but at the other brothers. Seeing Ridge, the most even tempered member of the family, explode had surprised them all.

“Damn it, leave her the hell alone. Can’t you see she doesn’t want to talk about it? Can you blame her? Do we really have to know every single disgusting detail of what that bastard did to her? Will it make any of us feel better if we force her to relive it? Wasn’t it bad enough just thinking about her having to witness Mom’s death? How many times in the last twenty years have I woken up in a cold sweat imagining what that must have been like? Now I find out it was much worse than that? I should have been there and prevented all of this from happening. But I wasn’t cause I was too wrapped up in my own life and problems. Well, I’m not going to make that mistake again. She wants to talk about it, fine I’ll listen but I’m not going to stand here and let anyone put her through hell again. You got a problem with it, you come through me.”

His ultimatum had diffused the situation the night before but Jules didn’t hold out hope that it would totally stop her brothers from questioning her further. Perhaps she was hiding behind returning to work as an attempt to put off their questions for as long as she could.

“Okay, if you’re sure. The offer’s there if you need. For what it’s worth though, I’m glad to have you back. Rodney’s good but he’s not you.”

Jules smiled and awkwardly hugged him. When she pulled back, she chewed on her bottom lip for a moment, coming to a decision. “Sarge, while you are here in my office, there’s something I’ve got to tell you. You asked me when Johnny was released to tell you if he contacted me.” She sucked in her breath through her mouth, her eyes begging for understanding. “I wasn’t exactly honest with you.”

Greg lowered his chin so that he could look at her, his expression completely neutral. “This about the letters Dawson sent you from prison?” When her eyes widened in surprise, he shook his head. “I had Spike do some checking on your uncle’s time in prison, trying to figure out how he seemed to know so much about your life now. Spike saw your name on the outgoing mail list and told me about it. I wish you had told me, yeah, but I trust you would have come to me if there had been anything in those letters that would suggest you were in danger from him.”

“I never read any of them. Sarge, I destroyed them without opening them. Every single one of them. I didn’t want to know what he had to say and I didn’t want to answer questions about them. I’m sorry I let you down.”

Greg sighed and reached out to cup the back of her head affectionately. “Jules, you didn’t let me down. But I am worried about you. I know what its like to try to deal with your demons all on your own. It didn’t work out too well for me; I lost my wife, my son, could have lost my job as well if I hadn’t gotten my drinking under control. I know you’re a hell of a lot stronger than I am but I think your demons are much larger than mine were as well. I just don’t want to see you make the mistakes I made. Just remember we’re all on your side in all of this.”

Jules smiled, blinking back the tears she refused to shed. “I know. And I appreciate it, even you calling Dr. Luria. I don’t know if I’ll talk to her or not but I know you were looking out for me. I told Sam yesterday that I’m not going to let Johnny hurt me any more. I’m still struggling with how to do that but you know me once I get my mind set on something.”

Greg returned her smile with a sad one of his own. “Yeah, that I do. Come on Constable Callaghan, let’s go keep the peace.”

-- FP -- FP -- FP --

“Are you sure?” Sam asked from his spot sitting on the weight bench where he’d been doing arm curls with a dumbbell.

Jules lowered the treadmill reducing her speed slowly until it came to a stop. “Yeah, Sam. Positive. I don’t know if I could have gotten through the last couple of weeks without you being my mainstay but I know it’s got to be wearing you down as well. Join the guys for drinks tonight. Hell, I might even join all of you after I visit with my dad for a little while. The last text message I got from James said they were getting ready to move Dad to a regular room once one was available. I’m not going to be locked into their visiting times.”

The truth was he really could use the time to unwind. He loved her and didn’t regret a moment of the time he’d spend by her side through all of this. But she was right, it was wearing him down more than he’d care to admit. Taking this opportunity to unwind with the guys would be good for him, help him to recharge his own batteries so he could better support her when she needed it.

He set the dumbbell down and as she passed the bench he was sitting on, reached out and snagged her arm, pulling her down onto the bench with him. The others had already finished their workout and the two were alone in the gym. Glancing around to make sure no one was looking their way, he leaned over and kissed her gently. “Promise me you’ll eat something for supper. I get that you don’t tend to eat much when you’re stressed but if you’re going to have a couple of beers with us later, you need something on your stomach.”

She loved that he worried about her but hated that she was making him do so much of it lately. “I will, even if I have to force it down. Now, let’s go. I know I want to grab a shower before heading to the hospital.”

About twenty minutes later she was ready to leave the headquarters. Even knowing that Johnny wouldn’t be working the same shift, she couldn’t help but be hyperaware of every movement as she made her way to the parking lot. Considering the last time she’d worked, she’d come out to find a slashed tire, she checked all around her vehicle before getting in. Before cranking the jeep, she leaned her head against the headrest and took a deep breath. It had felt good, almost normal, being back at work. Now as she was heading to the hospital where her father and her brothers would be waiting, she felt like she was slipping once more into the drama that had taken over her life.

A short drive later, she was pulling into a space at the hospital. She locked up and headed inside, checking her phone for the message James had sent giving her the room number. She almost missed hearing someone call her name as she strode toward the entrance. It took several attempts to get her attention but she finally looked over and saw Ridge sitting on a bench on the other side of the entrance.

She joined him, sitting down beside him and leaning against him. He put an arm around her shoulders. She could tell something was bothering him. “Dad driving you crazy all ready?”

He shrugged. “I guess I just needed some fresh air. Or maybe I just needed a break from James. He’s been on my case all day about getting a better mood before Dad picked up on it. He doesn’t want Dad stressed out about anything while he’s healing.”

She nudged him with her shoulder. “Thanks for sticking up for me last night. I know you are all concerned about me. Talking about what happened though, I just can’t do that. Not yet. Who knows, maybe never.”

“You must have spent the last twenty years hating me.” Ridge admitted softly. Surprised, Jules looked at him and quickly denied the claim. He shook his head. “No, if I hadn’t been such a chicken shit I could have prevented all this from happening. The guilt was bad enough when I just had to feel responsible for Mom’s death. Now that I know he hurt you… Maybe I should go up there and tell the others what I did; maybe I’ll feel better if they beat the crap out of me.”

Jules closed her eyes. “Ridge, You can’t blame yourself…”

“Can’t I? Damn it, Jules, you called me the day that Dad announced the training seminar was coming up. You and I, we knew how bad Mom’s drinking could get when he was gone and all you wanted was someone there with you as a buffer when it got bad. I told you I couldn’t do it because I had stuff already planned for that week. It was a lie. I just didn’t want the headache. I’d broken free of the drama and I didn’t want to be dragged back into it. Not even for you. If I hadn’t been so selfish, I would have been there instead of Johnny and none of it would have happened.”

“I don’t blame you, Ridge. Didn’t then and I don’t now. I could have just sucked it up and dealt with mom’s problems on my own. But I didn’t. I called Johnny and begged him to come stay. That’s my fault. No one else to blame for that but me. I gave him the means and opportunity to do what he did. I can’t blame you because I know it’s really my fault.”

Ridge twisted on the bench to stare at her. “I knew I was going to regret dropping you on your head when you were a baby. Seriously? You went through seven kinds of hell and still blame yourself? No, way, Squirt. Not going to let you do that.”

Jules forced a smile. “Well, I’m not going to let you blame yourself either so I guess we’re a pair aren’t we? Come on, I promised Sam and the rest of the team that I’d join them after I visit with Dad some.”

-- FP -- FP -- FP --
“Do I need to set the tent up out here?”

Sam asked as he let the back door close behind him. He’d been mildly worried when he’d gotten a text from Jules an hour ago that she was too tired to join the team for drinks. He’d sent a text back asking if he should leave but she’d told him to stay and enjoy himself. Even at that, Sam had almost left anyway had Greg not suggested that maybe she needed the time alone to think through everything that was going on. So Sam had stayed and enjoyed a couple more rounds of beer. Greg, who as always acted as designated driver or at least the procurer of safe rides after the team’s nights out, had given him a ride home. The only light in the house as he let himself in had been one downstairs so he’d assumed Jules had already turned in. Her jeep was in the driveway so he knew she was home. He’d locked up and headed straight upstairs only to find the bed empty. A further look around the house had also proven fruitless. He’d been just before going for his phone to call in reinforcements to look for her when something had told him to check the back yard. It had taken several moments for his eyes to adjust to the darkness before he made out her small figure lying in a lounge chair on the back patio.

She didn’t jump at the sound of his voice but turned on her side and scooted to the side of the chair, giving him room to join her in the lounge chair. He sat down, pulling her into his arms and kissing her. She could taste the beer on his breath. “I’d forgotten how much I love staring up at the night sky. Amazing how different it looks in the city than it did out in the woods. Did you have fun with the guys?”

“Yeah, it was good. How’s your dad?”

“Stubborn as hell. In other words, almost back to normal. Getting him to take it easy is going to be like convincing Spike to go a day without playing with Babycakes. I feel sorry for the nurses who have to take care of him. You thought I was a bad when I was stuck in the hospital; that‘s nothing compared to what Dad‘ll be like.”

Sam winced. “That bad, huh?” Jules punched him lightly in the arm before snuggling back comfortably in his arms. With a smile, Sam kissed the top of her head. “So seriously, why are you out here? Just a desire to do some night watching or were things rough with your dad?”

She didn’t want to have to explain that was something about being in the open night air that kept her from feeling trapped. He was worried enough about her. “It wasn’t too bad. I think, even as stubborn as he is, he knows that he’s too weak to get into any serious discussions. He did kick my brothers out while I was there. Directed me over to his bed to sit beside him so he didn’t have to strain himself so much talking. Said he knew we’d have to really talk about it once he was better but that there were two things he needed to know.”

“Jules, you listen and listen to me good. I don’t know what that little twerp is trying to pull. I know half of what he was spewing was nothing but lies but some of it had to be the truth. Two things about what he said concern me and I have to know if they are true or not.”

She’d held her breath waiting for him to question her about Johnny’s claim that she’d seduced him.

“The day after your mother’s murder I went to the morgue. I had to see her for myself. The ME had finished the autopsy and was reading over the toxicology report. He told me that her blood showed high levels of alcohol. I knew she liked to drink but I never wanted to admit to myself or anyone else that she might have a drinking problem. I was a cop and I thought I’d know if she was in trouble. I also knew the two of you were going through some difficulties but I chalked that up to teenage angst. Was Johnny right? Did Margaret hit you?”

Tears had filled Jules’s eyes as she reluctantly admitted that her mother had hit her twice but quickly stressed that it had only been twice and really nothing more than a slaps. Jack closed his eyes. He got pale and Jules was afraid the conversation had been too much. Then he opened them again and once more fixed his gaze on his youngest child and only daughter. “What about what Johnny did to you? That was more than slaps, wasn’t it? All these years I’ve wondered what had caused Margaret to call me home early. Did she know Johnny had raped you?”

Sam had already figured based on his conversation with James and Mark two nights earlier that Jack hadn’t believed the worst of Johnny’s lies but was glad that now Jules had the proof as well. “What did you tell him?”

“Nothing. The nurse came in then with Dad’s medication and then the boys came back in. He didn’t get another chance to talk to me about it. I know it’s only a matter of time but at least I got a little reprieve.

They sat in silence for several minutes. Sam was pretty sure there was something more bothering Jules, something that had brought her out to the all encompassing darkness. Still, he wouldn’t press, allowing her to decide how much she wanted to share and when she was ready to do so.

“We went bowling the night before he killed my mom. Johnny and me. One of the guys who worked there, one who’d worked with my father, accused Johnny of checking out my backside; he thought the two of us were on a date and didn’t think my dad would approve. I’ve thought about that a lot over the years. Geoff hadn’t met my uncle before but he recognized what he was doing. How did I miss it? Now as a cop, I can look back and see other things he did that should have screamed how wrong it was but I missed it. Maybe if I’d picked up on something, said something to someone, he wouldn’t have been able to do what he did, to me or to Mom.”

Sam closed his eyes taking in any morsel of information that she was comfortable slowly doling out like a shipwreck survivor rationing the last remaining available food. “Why would you suspect him of being capable of hurting you or your mom the way he did? He’s your uncle. You should have been able to trust him.”

Again she was silent for a while. “I didn’t fight him. I should have. I could have. God knows I learned how to fight hard and dirty growing up with four older brothers. I just let him do all these horrible things to me and I didn’t fight back. What does that say about me?”

Sam used one hand to lift her chin so she had to look at him. “It doesn’t say anything, Jules. You were a kid, he was an adult. And if the size difference between the two of you now is anything like it was twenty years ago, he had the advantage there as well. Not fighting back wasn’t a way of saying you wanted or liked what he did to you but that you didn’t want to risk getting hurt worse. Sometimes it’s safer not to fight back. You know that.”

“Yeah, I guess.” Jules agreed reluctantly. Sam released her chin and she tucked her head into the space between his head and shoulder. “I’m tired of being his victim. It’s not just because he’s out of jail and suddenly everything is being thrown in my face like it just happened. The truth is I never stopped being his victim. I tried to convince myself that I had because it doesn’t run my life but it does. Maybe not in everything I do but it certainly has control over my love life. What he did to me; what he made me do to him has stayed with me for twenty years. Affected how I’m intimate with men. Every since he hurt me, I’ve been afraid to let any guy get too close because I didn’t want to get hurt again.”

“You haven’t pushed me away.” Sam reminded her.

“Yeah I did. I realized how invested you were in us when you stuck by me after I was shot. It scared me, maybe even more than any other relationship I’d had, and the only way I could deal with that fear is to push you away. That’s why I broke things off; I just used fear of losing my spot on the team as an excuse. I just didn’t count on being so hopelessly in love with you that I couldn’t stay away.”

“Okay, I’ll give you that one but you aren’t pushing me away this time. You’re letting me in and that’s a huge step to not being his victim any more. Like I told you before, there’s no timetable in all of this. I know things have been crazy the last couple of weeks with the idea that he was released and that‘s made it more prominent in your life but we‘re okay. Our relationship is solid and I‘m not going anywhere. You push me away now and I‘m pulling you along with me.”

Jules lightly ran her fingers over his broad chest, allowing the feel of his tight solid muscles beneath the tips of her fingers to relax her and make her feel secure. “I just want to be normal.”

Sam picked up the hand that was caressing his chest and kissed her knuckles. “What’s normal, anyway? In my book you are so far above normal that it’s crazy.”

“You know what I mean.” Jules accused. “I want a normal sex life. I want you to be able to touch me where you want to touch me and kiss me where you want to kiss me. I don’t want to freeze up if something happens that reminds me of what of what he did to me.”

He shifted in the lounge chair so that she was lying completely in the lounger with him hovering just above her. His arms rested on either side of her, keeping his weight from crushing her. “Have I ever complained about our sex life?” She shook her head. He could feel her heart beating wildly even with the little bit of distance between his body and hers. He didn’t want to frighten her but sensed she needed this, needed to unequivocally know where he stood on the subject. “I told you the last time you worried about what you wouldn’t let me do-- and that was before I ever had an inkling about what happened to you-- that it’s only pleasurable for me if it’s pleasurable for you. Okay? Nothing’s going to change that.”

“But I want it to be pleasurable to me.” Jules insisted. “I know what we have isn’t normal; I see the movies and I’ve heard girls talk in high school and college. I know there’s supposed to be more to sex than what I allow you and it’s wrong that I can’t give you that, that I can’t accept it back from you. He stole that from me before I could ever experience it in a good way and I want it back.”

Sam lowered his head to kiss her, his tongue darting over her lips until she parted them and allowed him entrance. As he kissed her, he shifted his position on the chair once more so that he was the one lying on his back and Jules was on top of him crushed against him with his arms tightly holding her to him. He kissed her until they were both out of breath.

She rested her head on his chest and he could feel something wet on his t-shirt. He sighed. “Jules, what happened to you was so far opposite of what is fair it kills me. Your introduction to sex should have either been with a guy equally inexperienced so that the two of you fumble about awkwardly and figure out what goes where and who does what together. Barring that you should have had an experienced lover who patiently and lovingly helped you to discover how beautiful and special sex could be. You’re right, he took that from you and that might have been the worst part of the hurt he caused you. I’d give anything to be able to give that back to you.”

He continued to hold her saddened to feel his shirt getting wetter and wetter with her silent tears. He knew she was hurting from all the constant dredging up of painful memories. He also could recognize her frustration at not being able to dismiss all that pain just because she’d decided she’d had enough of being his victim. She was an impatient and demanding person, more so on herself than anyone else. Logical or not, she expected immediate results when she set her mind to something. He’d give anything if he could magically make this all better for her. But all he could really do is be there when she needed to vent and offer his support.

“Which did you have?” Jules murmured into his shirt several minutes later.

It took Sam a moment to work out what she was asking; he smiled, almost grimacing with the memory. “Definitely the first one. We were both sixteen and had the teenage hormones flowing enough to be head over heals in lust. It was definitely awkward and clumsy and a wonder we ever figured out how to get tab a into slot b. We broke about four condoms before we ever got one to work right. We were together for three months before the lust wore off and I don‘t think the two of us ever figured out exactly what we should be doing but we were too inexperienced to even know it.”

Jules tried to picture Sam as ever being awkward or clumsy in bed. She couldn’t do it. She lifted her head and wiped her eyes. “I have an easier time picturing you as the experienced lover.”

Sam smirked and kissed her. “In later years, yeah, sure there were times I was a girl‘s first lover, especially in college. Probably strained the definition of patient a time or two. But definitely not the first time out of the gate.”

Jules took a deep breath, grateful for the darkness that would hide the blush that she was sure had colored her cheeks and ears a deep red. “Could you teach me?”

Sam ran his fingers through her brown hair that was hanging loosely around her face. He wished there was more light so he could really gauge the look in her eyes. “Jules, what are you asking?”

“I told you I don’t want to be his victim any more. I’ve spent too many years avoiding certain aspects of enjoying intimacy. I know I can’t change what happened to me but maybe I can start over. Other women who’ve been hurt manage it; why not me? I want you to teach me how to do that.”

Sam sucked in his breath realizing the enormity of what she was asking of him. “Are you sure? I don’t want to hurt you.”

She nodded, her eyes drying but twinkling with the moisture still left in them. “I’ve never been as sure of anything. I trust you completely. You won’t hurt me.”

“Okay, but on three conditions. One, we’re going to take it slow; we’re not going to conquer all your fears in one night or even in a couple of nights and we aren‘t even going to try. Two, we don’t use our bed; this isn’t going to be as easy as I think you think it will be and I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable in our bed. And third, if you feel uncomfortable, if it’s ever too much for any reason, you say the word and we stop immediately. Not forever but until another night when you feel comfortable enough to try again.”

She edged off the lounger and stood, holding her hand out to him. He took it and let her tug him to a standing position. He wrapped his arms around her waist. “We going somewhere?”

Jules nodded. “The bed in the spare bedroom should do nicely for a classroom, don’t you think? Gotta suggestion for a code word?”

He turned her so she was facing him. “Now? You want to do this now?”

Jules nodded emphatically. “You know me when it comes to projects. I throw myself into it whole-heartedly. Just consider this Project Fix Jules.”

She turned to lead him into the house but Sam refused to budge. He pulled her back to him. “Jules, you aren’t some project. Not to me not ever.”

Even in the dark, there was no mistaking the love radiating his eyes. Jules swallowed hard and nodded. She stood on her tiptoes and kissed his softly. “Take me upstairs. Please..”

This time when she tried to lead him back inside, he willingly followed.

-- FP -- FP -- FP --

Silently the couple made their way upstairs, bypassing the bedroom they shared together and continuing down the hall to the guest bedroom. Sam closed the door behind them as Jules turned on the bedside lamp, bathing the room in soft light. She toed off her shoes and turned to look at him. He could feel the nervousness rolling off her like waves and he stepped closer holding her lightly in his arms.

“Jules, are you sure you want to do this tonight? There’s no rush, we have all the time in the world.”

“I’ve already wasted twenty years of my life being afraid. I’m sure.”

Sam nodded, letting his arm drop down to caress her arm. “I’d love for this to be a complete start over for you. Pretend you’re still a virgin and nothing bad had ever happened to you. But I can’t because you’re not and it did. We can’t ignore what he did to you. You’ve got to be prepared that you might have to be honest with me about the details of how he hurt you. Not all at once; I wouldn’t put you through that. Can you handle that?”

Jules took in a shaky breath. “I’ll try.”

“You’ll say the word if you need me to stop?” Sam knew he was procrastinating but he wanted to make sure she was okay with what they were doing.

“As soon as you tell me what the word is.” Jules promised.

With a frown Sam shook his head, “I was thinking of the word stop. Kind of makes sense doesn’t it?”

She shook her head. “You’re condition said that if I said the word you’d stop completely. What if I just need a moment not a complete ending? What about the world walrus. If I say walrus you’ll know I’m not okay and we’ve got to stop immediately and I won’t get upset. Anything else, we can talk about. Sound fair?”

Sam nodded but raised an eyebrow. “Why walrus?”

She shrugged. “I can’t think of a single reason that world would naturally come up while we’re making love, can you?”

“Walrus it is then.” He lowered her gently to a sitting position on the side of the bed and sat beside her. He could still feel her nervous energy and knew he needed to do something to relax her. “Whenever we do this, I won’t do anything without telling you what I’m planning and giving you a chance to say no. Don’t feel like you have to try anything that makes you too uncomfortable. This is all about making you feel better about being intimate, not scared. The control of what happens in here is yours. I’m just going to start of kissing you. Nothing we haven’t done a million times since we’ve been together. I won’t go any further until I think you’re ready. Okay?”

She nodded and almost immediately Sam’s lips met hers. She loved kissing Sam; he had a way of making her not care if she ever took another breath so long as his lips stayed on hers. Their tongues met and danced around each other. As he started to feel her relax, his lips left her and blazed a trail along her jaw line and down to the nape of her neck. She couldn’t help but moan in pleasure at the talent of his lips. His hands stayed almost completely stationary, one hand on the small of her back and the other cupping the back of her head guiding it into the positions he wanted her in to grant him easy access to places to kiss. He left the nape of her neck and slid forward to kiss the little dip in her throat between her clavicles. Then he pulled back.

“You want to take your shirt off?” He asked huskily.

She stiffened and he recognized her discomfort immediately. “He made you undress yourself didn’t he?” She nodded and he kissed her again., his hand that had been at the back of her head trailing down to the top button. “It’s okay. I’ll do it for you. Just relax.”

He expertly made short work of each button using only the one hand. Then he used both hands to push the material off her shoulders, leaving her in just her bra from the waist up. She shivered and bit her bottom lip. Seeing it, he kissed her again, working the lip away from her punishing teeth. “You are so absolutely perfectly beautiful.” He assured her once he released her mouth again. “I’m going to take your bra off as well, okay?”

She nodded and soon the cotton material joined her shirt on the bed. He moved them away and lowered her gently back until she was laying on the bed on top of the covers. He kicked his shoes off, the only apparel he planned to shed for this. He stared at her breasts, feeling himself growing hard at the sight of the them. Her eyes were closed tightly against his penetrating gaze. Her bare chest allowed for nothing to hide the fact that her heart was racing and her breathing uneven.

Again he paused, waiting to see if it was going to be too much. She said nothing but slowly opened her eyes when he wasn’t touching her in any way. He reached up and brushed her hair from her eyes. “Jules, what is it you’re scared of when it comes to your breasts? Tell me what he did to you here?”

“It hurt. A lot. He squeezed them like he was juicing a lemon. I had finger sized bruises all over them when he was finished. I thought he was going to tear off my nipples with his fingers the way he twisted and pulled on them.” She broke off, obviously needing to say more but unable to voice it at the moment.

It was okay with Sam, it at least gave him enough to work with. He reached down and took one of her hands in his own. “Jules, your breasts are so beautiful. They deserve to be touched and showered with attention but it shouldn’t be painful. I only know what I’ve been told and what I’ve witnessed but most women find it arousing to be touched there. I want you to know that feeling. I going to guide your hand and tell you what to do but your going to do it. That way you control how comfortable you are.”

Jules frowned. “You aren’t going to touch me?”

Sam leaned forward and kissed the nape of her neck again. “I will but only after you get used to your own touch. Are you okay with this?”

She nodded, finding she had to concentrate on breathing as she could feel herself on the verge of hyperventilating. He brought her hand up and placed it over her breast. He lightly squeezed her hand so that it slightly closed around her breast to slightly knead the soft flesh without it hurting. He continued moving his hand over hers so that she was gently stimulating her breast. Once again her eyes were tightly closed but her breathing had settled slightly, He nudged her thumb moving it so that it flicked across her nipple, causing it to harden into a small peak. Her eyes flew open at the sensation As he worked her hand over the soft mound, alternating between using it to knead the soft flesh and circling her thumb around the nipple, he leaned down trailing kisses along her bare shoulder blade. He positioned her forefinger and thumb on either side of her nipped and gently pressed them towards each other creating just the slightest pinch on the nipple.

She arched suddenly off the bed, her mouth and eyes opening wide. Immediately Sam released her fingers watching her carefully. “Bad?”

She shook her head, not trusting herself to speak. Sam smiled. “You liked that didn’t you?”

She nodded, whimpering just a little. He returned his fingers to hers, manipulating them around her nipple in ways he knew from experienced were pleasurable. Always, he left the control of how hard her fingers came together on the sensitive nub with her. He continued his ministrations with her hand on the one breast for several more minutes before stilling his actions.

“I’m going to switch breasts now. This time I want your hand to guide mine. Only you know what you really liked that we did to your other breast. Use your hand or tell me what you want me to do. You still have the control here.”

Her movements were awkward and choppy but it was okay. It was enough to let him know what it was she wanted and he reciprocated. Again when he first pinched the nipple between his finger and thumb, she arched off the bed. Her hand that had been on his flew to the bedspread beside her and she dug in drawing the material into her fist.

He was tempted to use his other hand to slip beneath her shorts to touch the crotch of her panties. He had a feeling she was getting wet there with arousal. But he refrained. They were taking this slow and intimate touches there would have to wait until some other night.

“Jules, I’d like to kiss you here.” He emphasized the word here by flicking his thumb over her nipple.

She lifted her head off the pillow to look at him, her fright evident. A tear ran down her cheek and he quickly reached up to wipe it away.

“Jules, what scares you about that idea? We can talk about it.”

“Please don’t bite me.” Her voice was small, almost childlike as she pleaded. She closed her eyes once again and several more tears slipped past her lids.

Sam rested his head on her forehead and thumbed away the tears. “Jules, look at me.”

She shook her head, refusing to look at him, not wanting to see the disappointment she was sure in his eyes. This had been her idea and here she was wigging out at just the suggestion of what he wanted to do. She’d told him she trusted him but how could he believe her given her reactions?

“Jules, open your eyes.” His tone was firm but without anger. He trailed one hand down to lightly press his thumb into her nipple hoping the gentle pressure would coax her into looking at him. When she still didn’t open her eyes he sighed. “Okay, it’s okay, Sweetheart. I’m not going to bite. I’m just going to kiss you all over your breasts, much like I was kissing your neck earlier. Eventually I’ll tease your nipple much like I was just doing only this time I’ll use my tongue instead of my fingers. You’re still in control. If you don’t want to try this, tell me and I’ll just keep touching you. There’s no hurry in this. It’s all okay.”

He waited to see how she would react and slowly she opened her eyes and eyed him carefully. She drew in a shaky breath. “No biting?”

He knew it wasn’t that she didn’t trust him but that she couldn’t completely shake the memory of what he did to her. If it took constant reassurances to help her past that fear, then he would do it. “No biting. Promise.”

Eventually, she nodded. Sam began his kisses with her neck, something he knew she liked. Slowly he made his way down lower, planting first pecks of kisses all over both breasts. As she seemed to relax into his kisses, he changed from pecks to open mouth kisses swirling his tongue over skin.

He was encouraged by how well she was accepting his ministrations. Perhaps this wasn’t going to be as difficult as he feared. At least not where this was concerned. Feeling emboldened by his successes, he lowered his mouth over her left nipple.

The change was immediate, her body grew rigid beneath him. Her hands grabbed his arms and her fingernails dug into his skin.

“No. Stop. Walrus. Walrus. Walrus.”

It didn’t even take him to hear the word stop before he pulled back and stepped completely away from the bed. Immediately she rolled over on the bed, burying her bare chest into the covers. Her shoulders were shaking but he didn’t think she was crying.

It was then that Sam realized they had never discussed what should happen next if she had to use the watch word. He stopped, no questions asked, just like he promised but what did he do now? Did he try to comfort her or leave her alone completely. He stood there, uncertain what he should do.

“I’m sorry. Sam, I’m sorry.” Jules sat up, pulling the pillow from beneath the covers and hugging it to her bare chest.

He returned to the bed, sitting near her but careful to keep a little distance. He reached out and touched her cheek. “It’s okay, Sweetheart. It’s really okay. It’s not like we didn’t know going into this that there would be difficulties. For our first time to try this, you did great.”

“Hold me?”

She didn’t have to ask twice. He slid closer to her and took her in his arms, lightly kissing her temple. Slowly she relaxed in his arms, her early fears subsiding. “We’ll try again, right?”

“Yeah, Sweetheart. We’ll try again. Just not tonight. But yeah, we’ll keep trying for as long as you want or need.”

Chapter Text

“I think this is the first time we’ve been alone since the day after my surgery.” Jack Callaghan commented as he tried without success to get his bed adjusted to the position he really wanted. “You haven’t been hiding behind your brothers and that fellow of yours to avoid talking to me, have you?”

Jules rolled her eyes as she grabbed an extra pillow from the closet and motioned her father to lean forward as she placed it behind his back and pushed him back against it. He smiled as he realized it was the comfortable position he was looking for. Jules pulled the stand holding his supper tray in front of him; the whole reason he’d been adjusting the bed in the first place. She sat down on the bed with the tray between her and her father as he removed the warming lid from the plate. He wrinkled his nose at the bland looking piece of baked fish, the mixture of peas and carrots, and barely there dinner roll that waited there for him. He looked away from the unappetizing dinner to look at his youngest.

“So, have you been?”

“No, Dad. It’s just been the way our schedules have worked out that I’ve been getting here to visit about the same time as James and Peter. No great conspiracy going on except that we’re all worried about you and want to visit after work. A little thing like a major heart attack and a double bypass surgery a week ago tends to bring trait out in us. Are you going to eat that or do I have to force feed you?”

He wagged his finger at her in warning. “Watch it, Julianna. I may not be at the top of my game right now but I can still take you over my knee. I think they saved my life just to slowly kill me with the food. I’ll make you a deal, you run out and pick me up a big thick juicy cheeseburger and a large helping of fries and I promise you I’ll eat every bite. Hell, you do that and I’ll even promise to eat that stupid cup of jell-o for dessert.”

Jules smiled, glad to see that her father was well down the road to recovery compared to what he’d been just a week earlier. “I think greasy cheeseburgers and fries are off your menu for a while. I know its not the fish and chips you’re more accustomed to eating but it can’t be that bad.”

He raised his eyebrow and picked up his fork. He used the side of the utensil to break off a small bite of the fish before he speared it with the tines of the works and held it out to Jules insisting she try it. She took the bite and immediately wondered if there was a way to keep from having to actually swallow it. Instead, she forced it down and took a long drink from his water pitcher. “Okay, seriously? I’ve heard of chefs getting their arms bumped while cooking and adding too much seasoning but did they even put any in that fish?”

He shook his head. “Apparently certain really good seasonings aren’t on the heart healthy diet. They give me that substitute in a little packet but it doesn’t really help.”

Jules frowned and reached for her cell phone and chose a number from her most recent contacts. She waited as it rang twice and then a voice picked up. “James? Jules. Mark get off okay?” Now that Jack was doing so much better Mark had decided it was safe to return home. James had volunteered to drive him to the airport. Ridge had left two days ago, unable to take off any more time from his own job. “Great, you think you can run an errand on your way back to the hospital?” She shot her father a quick wink as her eldest brother answered in the affirmative. “Awesome. Dad needs something to eat that has flavor but won’t undo all the hard work the doctor’s have done putting Humpty Dumpty back together again. Doesn’t that take-out place we’ve eaten from a few times have a heart-healthy menu?” She listened for a few minutes, thanked him and ended the call. “James will call once he knows what they offer to see what you want.”

Jack frowned, “Told you what I want. I want a cheeseburger and fries, stubborn daughter of mine.”

“Well, I want to have you around for many more years, stubborn father of mine. So, we’re going to go with what the doctor recommends, got it?” Jules indicated the tray between them. “You want to snack on any of that until James gets here? I know the ‘stupid cup of jell-o’ isn’t a favorite but that angle food cake doesn’t look too bad.”

Jack shook his head and pushed the stand out of the way. “I’ll wait. You do realize I’m going to be released from this hellhole in a few days and it’s going to be a lot harder for you to bully me into eating rabbit food or whatever else is on that idiotic list that doctor gave you.”

Jules leaned forward and planted a kiss on her father’s cheek. “Yeah, well, don’t underestimate my ability to bully. I have my ways. Your idea of cooking is bellying up to the counter of a restaurant. I’m a cop and if I have to, I’ll post your picture in every restaurant in the surrounding area and make sure they don’t allow you to order anything that’s not on that idiotic list. Don’t think I won’t do it either.”

“Cheeky little brat.” Her father groused good-naturedly. “Back to the fact that this is the first time we’ve been alone. We need to talk.”

She’d known this was a good possibility after a round of text messages that afternoon had shown that she was going to be the only stopping by for the early evening. Ridge was back in the Hat, Mark was flying out with James dropping him off at the airport before heading to the hospital, and Peter was tied up at his office working to finish a big proposal he’d been putting off to the last minute by spending so much time at the hospital. Even Sam had plans for the night, finally setting up a dinner meeting with the General since their work schedule had been so crazy lately to set up something for lunch. Had this been earlier in the week, the thought of her father saying they needed to talk would have sent her into a tailspin of emotion. Now, a full week into her pledge to herself that she was going to stop being Johnny Dawson’s victim, she could hear those words with only a slight fluttering of her heart.

“Johnny’s trying to cause trouble. I guess I’m not surprised. Not like I expected anything better from the little chicken shit. I swear if I wasn’t stuck in this damn hospital bed, I’d teach him a lesson or two.”

Jules frowned. She’d expected the conversation to revolve around Johnny’s past misdeeds, not current ones. After he’d shown up in at the hospital the day before her father’s surgery, he hadn’t tried to make any other contact. Sarge hadn’t been able to swing a restraining order; there wasn’t enough proof that one was needed to warrant a judge issuing one. Instead, Greg had been keeping a close check on Johnny when it came to work. Johnny hadn’t made any further attempts to see her or harass her and as far as they knew hadn’t come close to the floor SRU was housed on since being moved to the night shift. “Has he been here? Spike set it up with hospital security to ensure he wasn’t supposed to be able to come inside.”

Jack shook his head. “He hasn’t been here, the fact that he’s still alive should attest to that. No, the trouble he’s trying has been a little more long distance. I got Peter to go by my place to check on things, yesterday. While he was there, he picked up my charger for the cell. Damn thing’s been dead since I got in this room. I know the paramedics were a little preoccupied trying to save my life but you’d think someone would have thought to turn it off so the battery wouldn’t drain.” Jules sat back patiently until he finished his venting and continued with the story. “Anyway, the phone charged back up over night and I saw that I had several calls from Bard.”

Bard Jenkins had worked with her father until the Callaghan patriarch had left the Hat to move to Toronto. The two men had remained close friends in the years that have followed and had even made a few deep sea fishing trips together to enjoy their retirement.

“How’s he doing?” Jules asked. She liked Bard, had appreciated in ways she couldn’t have voiced with how gentle he’d treated her in the weeks that had followed her mother’s death.

“Worried. He was calling me because he’d gotten a call from the prosecutor. It happens from time to time even though he’s retired if something comes up from one of his old cases, usually the cold cases but sometimes a question comes up about a closed one as well.”

Suddenly Jules knew where the conversation was going. “Let me guess, Johnny is trying to change his story about what happened the night he killed Mom.”

Jack nodded, watching her carefully. “Yeah, he is. Prosecutors get calls all the time from convicted murders trying to finagle a way out of the conviction. Usually the prosecutor takes the information, compares it to the evidence in the case file, and as it usually proves fruitless, dismisses the call as a desperate attempt. This prosecutor is new and gung-ho and probably dug a little more into the case than a more seasoned prosecutor would. “

Jules slipped off the bed and moved to the couch so she could stare blindly out of the window. “I guess the accusation that involves the person chosen as Lawperson of the Year raises some attention. Especially when the accusation alleges that at sixteen she seduced her uncle into killing her mother.”

Her words were said so dispassionately that it scared Jack more than if she’d gotten upset. Jack threw back the covers and raised the top of the bed while lowering the foot so that he could easier swing his legs over the side and stand. He moved to the couch and sat down next to this daughter. Worry was evident in the lines around his eyes. “Jules, how did you know what he’s saying?”

She turned her head so that she was looking at her father. “It wasn’t much of a stretch. After all, it’s the same story he told you, isn’t it?”

Jack nodded. He’d never wanted to tell her the full extent of the conversation he’d had with Johnny Dawson the day of his heart attack. “I didn’t believe him, Jules. Hell, no one who knew you would. You might have given me more than a few of these gray hairs during your teenage years, especially at the height of your rebellious faze, but even at your worst I couldn’t see you using your body in the way he was suggesting. It never occurred to me that what he was suggesting was anything but another attempt on his part to cause pain, especially to you.”

Hearing her father’s unwavering support meant everything to Jules. Still, she couldn’t dismiss all of her concerns outright. She puffed up her cheeks with frustrated air and blew it out, as if it could dismiss all the bad feelings with it. “So should I start making plans to have to stay with Ridge in the Hat in order to answer to charges?”

Jack shook his head. “Originally, it sounded like the prosecutor was planning to do just that. But I told you no one who knew you would believe it. Bard told him there was no way it happened the way Johnny claimed it did. He told the prosecutor that if he’d seen how traumatized you’d been when the police arrived that night he would know you had nothing to do with it. Bard said eventually the prosecutor agreed to let the matter drop, the case was closed and it would do no good to dredge up bad memories based only on a claim by a desperate convicted murderer. The only reason why Bard even called to tell me about it was because he’s afraid that Johnny might try something worse. The only reason I’m telling you about it now is that I’m worried about it as well.”

Jules’s cell phone rang and she glanced down at the caller ID. “James,” she explained as she flipped the phone open. “Hey.” She listened and then covered the mouthpiece. “Grilled chicken or baked fish?”

“Grilled cheeseburger.” Jack tried once more to get his way but Jules just continued to stare at him waiting for a real answer. He sighed. “Chicken I guess. Although I’d prefer that breaded and fried or at least bar-b-qued. Maybe buffalo wings.”

Jules rolled her eyes and moved her hand away from the receiver. “Go with the chicken. See you soon.” She closed the phone again. “You are incorrigible.”

“You’re a hard ass but I love you anyway.”

Jules shifted so that she leaning against him, his arms wrapped around her. ‘Dad, I’m sorry for all those gray hairs I gave you.”

He shrugged. “I’d have had them anyway eventually. Besides you didn’t cause them all. Your brothers contributed their fair share as well. I’m just sorry I didn’t see your acting out back then as a cry for help. I mean I knew it was but just not the way I was thinking. Maybe if I had, things would have been easier for you. Couldn’t have been easy growing up with that kind of secret eating away at you, not having another female around that you could talk to. Maybe if Barbara had lived you would have eventually confided in her.”

Jules chewed on her bottom lip thoughtfully. “We’ll never know thanks to me.”

His brow furrowed, Jack shook his head. “What the hell is that supposed to mean? Barbara committed suicide, how would that be thanks to you?”

One of the things Jules had come to realize in the last couple of weeks was that it was better to speak out her fears rather than try to keep it bottled up inside. Some things she still found too difficult to open up about but she was at least trying. “I was so ugly to her about how close the two of you were getting. It’s my fault she killed herself.”

Jack snorted derisively. “Someone’s got a mighty high opinion of herself. Is that what you really think? Have you blamed yourself for her death all these years? You couldn’t be further from the truth. Yeah, your words upset her but she understood where you coming from. It upset her because we’d given you the idea that something romantic was building between us when it wasn’t. She was just a good friend; someone I could confide in when I was missing your mama so much. She suggested that we shouldn’t see each other so much, even if it was innocent, if it upset you so much.”

Jules shook her head. “But then why?”

“You remember how sick Beth’s grandmother was a couple of years before your mom died?

Jules nodded. She couldn’t remember what the diagnosis was but she remembered how caring for the older woman had been extremely difficult for both Barbara and Beth. She also remembered Barbara commenting once that as much as it hurt to lose her mother, her death was in some ways a blessing as it enable the woman to escape the pain and misery her life had become. She remembered going to the funeral with her parents and overhearing Barbara tell her mother that she’d rather have a fast painless death rather than put Beth through having to take care of her the way they’d had to take care of her mother.

“Was Barbara sick?”

Jack nodded. “She got the diagnosis the day before she killed herself. I’m sure she didn’t expect Beth to follow so quickly in her footsteps. She was just trying to spare herself and her daughter the pain and misery of a long, protracted illness. But no, Jules, you weren’t to blame, not in the slightest.”

Once again Jules was starting to see that fears that had weighed her down for some many years could be based on false believes and feelings that she’d convinced herself were true.

The hospital door opened and James stepped inside carrying a large bag from the take-out restaurant. “I’m not interrupting anything, am I?”

“Not if you brought me food.” Jack assured him. Jules eyed the three containers in the bag James carried in.

“How much food did you get?”

James shrugged. “I had a feeling you probably hadn’t eaten so I picked us both up a meal as well.”

Jack frowned. “If either of you is eating something better than me, I will take it from you and don’t think I’m not strong enough to do so.”

-- FP -- FP -- FP --

After eating their suppers, all of which were the grilled chicken plates, the three Callaghans sat around the hospital room. There was a game on the TV and they thought the nurses were going to come in and complain about the noise level. All of the Callaghans were vocal in their support of their teams but when, as was the case with this game, they were divided in their support, they could get obnoxiously loud. Since the team Jules and Jack supported was playing very well, much better than the other team whom James supported., they were enjoying rubbing in their victory to James. He took it good naturedly though, grateful to know that his father was recovering and happy to see his sister looking relaxed and unbothered by recent events.

Before the game was over however, it became obvious that Jack was getting over tired. James and Jules said goodnight and left the hospital room. Once in the elevator, which Jules only took because she couldn’t convince her brother to take the stairs, James looked at his sister. “Are you putting on an Oscar worthy performance or you really doing okay?”

Jules leaned against the wall of the elevator. “All my problems haven’t disappeared if that’s what your asking. But I’m not putting on some sort of brave face either. I won’t lie, Johnny’s release from prison and the things that happened directly after threw me for a loop. I lost my footing and I was spiraling into some sort of dark place and becoming someone I didn’t like. But Sam’s been amazing and knowing I have you and the rest of the family on my side helped. I feel like I’m back on solid ground and maybe even starting to regain some of what I lost before. “

James reached out and tweaked her nose as the door opened. “I’m glad. Come on, I’ll walk you to your car.”

Jules snorted. “Seriously? Whatever. I’m the cop remember? I should be walking you to your car.”

“That’ll be the day.” James protested. “Come on, Jules, let me be the big brother and walk you to your car.”

Jules stopped just inside the hospital door. “Where are you parked?”

“South lot.”

Jules shook her head. “I’m in the north lot and there’s no reason for you to go so far out of your way to walk me to mine when I’m perfectly capable of taking care of my self. Seriously, I’ll be fine.”

It wouldn’t be the first time that Rock met Hard Place when it came to a test of stubborn wills between Jules and James. It was never a sure bet who was going to win whatever war they locked horns over. But this was one battle Jules was determined to win. She would have taken offense at the notion she needed someone to walk her across a well-lit parking lot to her car as if she were helpless even if she wasn’t a cop trained to protect herself and others. After a stare down that threatened to last for forever, James finally shrugged. “Fine, suit yourself.”

To show there were no hard feelings, he leaned down and kissed her cheek. “Love you, Squirt, even if you are the most hard-headed person I’ve ever seen.”

She grinned back up at him. “Hadn’t been looking in the mirror lately, huh?”

He swatted her ass as she walked out of the hospital. She laughed as she made her way away from the building. Her keys were in her hand but as she walked across the parking lot, her thoughts were several miles away. She was looking forward to getting home. She was sure it had been a difficult evening for Sam; it was never easy for him to spend extended time with the General. She wanted to be able to spend some quality time with the man that she loved, be able to return some of the attention he’d given her by listening to his night.

She’d be lying if she said she wasn’t also hoping they could spend a little time in the spare bedroom before retiring to their own bed. They’d only made two attempts to work past her insecurities in the week since she’d first asked him to help her. The first had obviously not ended well, her crying out their code word as his mouth had closed around her nipple. Their second attempt still had Sam concentrating on helping her enjoy attention being paid to her breasts. While she was starting to find pleasure in his hands touching her, she’d still tensed up when he’d moved from touching to kissing the small mounds. She hadn’t called out the code word but Sam had still brought their time to a close saying he’d rather not push her to the point of being uncomfortable. She’d tried to protest but he’d silenced her with a kiss, telling her not to worry.

To prove his point, he’d stood and undressed before helping her out of the rest of her clothes. They’d made love in that bed, Sam not pressing any attentions on her that she’d hadn’t always demonstrated comfort with. But somehow it had felt different, better than it ever had before. Almost as if some weight was being lifted off her. Afterward, he’d carried her to their bed where they had fallen asleep in each other’s arms.

Jules felt flushed just thinking about it now as she put her key in the driver’s side of the jeep. From the time she’d finally allowed a guy to take her across that final sexual step, sex was something she could enjoy in the moment so long as it was on her terms but not really something she thought about outside of the bedroom. Sam had been the first guy to really awaken a desire in her she hadn’t known existed inside her. But that was still nothing compared to how she was starting to feel now that he was helping to take down the barriers preventing her from truly finding the woman she could have been all along if it hadn’t been for Johnny Dawson.

Before she could get into her jeep, a figure emerged from the shadows, sauntering closer without seemingly a care in the world. She couldn’t help the sudden flash of fear as he stepped into the light.

“Hey there, Little JAC. How’s your daddy doing?”

Chapter Text

Jules’s eyes narrowed as Johnny Dawson approached. Her hand tightened in reflex against the frame of the open car door. “What are you doing here?”

He shrugged. “Had a little time before I had to report to work. Thought I’d stop by and check on Jack. Didn’t get too far with that idea. Seems I’m person non-grata in the hospital.”

Jules shrugged, nonchalantly. “Not really my problem. If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get home.”

He stepped closer to her, closing the gap so that it was possible for her to smell his aftershave although not so close as he was touching her. “Of course the great Julianna Callaghan doesn’t have any problems at all, does she? She just gets someone to take care of them for her. Mommy can’t handle her liquor and gests a little mean. No problem, just get ole UJ to run interference. Sweet little innocent kitten is threatened. No problem, UJ will save her. Dirty little secrets are in danger of being exposed. No problem, UJ will sacrifice his freedom. Mean ole UJ gets a job in the same building. No problem, the great and powerful Parker will get his schedule changed. Somebody slashes your tire. No problem, boyfriend will grunt and make a few threats without any proof of who was really responsible. Mean old uncle tries to set the record straight. No problem, security will keep him at bay. Look around JAC, nobody around to take care of your problems for you this time. Whatever will you do?”

Jules snorted but didn’t turn her head. “I don’t see any problems around here.”

“Really? I can imagine you might find several problems once everyone knows how easy you spread your legs for me so I’d save you from what your mother was doing to you. Maybe if you spread them again I can be convinced to make this all go away.”

Did he really believe what he was saying? Was he that sick that he thought she’d offer him her body in order to silence him? Jules set her jaw, inwardly her stomach was clenching and turning at his words but outwardly her revulsion didn‘t show. “Not necessary. Nobody believes your lies, Johnny. You’ve peddled them without success to too many people. Dad didn’t believe you. The prosecutor in Alberta didn’t believe you. My dad, my brothers, Sam, they all know the truth and they still love me. Nobody believes you.”

“I wouldn’t be so quick to say nobody. There are always those willing to believe the worst about anybody. You’ll see.“ With those words, he stepped even closer so that he was almost flush against her. The jeep was against her back but she didn’t cower at his close proximity. He reached forward and brushed against the side of her face with the back of his hand. Though she wanted to, she didn’t flinch and instead took calm cleansing breaths to calm her heart rate.

“So beautiful. Time’s been good to you, JAC. I think I told you before that while I might have thought you were beautiful at sixteen, you’re nothing but gorgeous now. Your skin is so soft. At least the skin on your face is. What about the rest of you? Is the rest of your body this soft? I bet you rub some sort of good smelling lotion all over your body every day before you get dressed. Maybe you even let Golden Boy help you with it. I’d bet he’d do anything you wanted. He had that look about him. Looking at you like he could eat you up right there. Can’t say I blame him. I know just how good you taste.”

“You’ve got a choice, Johnny. You can either step back on your own free will or I’ll make you.”

He took two steps backward and put his hands in his pockets, making the bulge in the front of his pants seem more pronounced. Everything about his stance, his voice, his closeness was supposed to frighten her, send her cowering into his control. He smiled, the expression predatory. “Still so feisty. Tell me, do you still like it rough? If Golden Boy doesn’t do it right for you, I can give him a few pointers. Maybe even let him watch where I can show him how it should be done. Might be a little rusty though. Twenty years without the pleasure of a woman is a long time. You can’t imagine how hard prison can be. No female contact. I had to rely on my memories of our time together for any relief and release. You have no idea how many times thinking about the way you felt and tasted got me through those long, lonely night. Why, I’m feeling a little hard just thinking about it right now. Want to see?”

Jules didn’t rise to his bait. She recognized what he was trying to do and wasn’t going to let him. “I’m sure if you’d asked, some of your friends in prison could have shown you a little of the pleasure you like so much, maybe given you some of that release you were seeking. If you think you can show up here and frighten me into submission the way you did twenty years ago, you’re sadly mistaken. I’m not that little kid anymore. I grew up, faster than I should have had to thanks to what you did to me, but still grew up. I’m no longer that scared little girl who didn’t know what to do or how to protect myself.”

“You going to shoot me again? I don’t see any sign of a gun.”

“You’d better be glad I don’t have a gun. My aim is much more deadly now than it was twenty years ago. But I don’t need a gun to take care of the likes of you. I’m not going to be paralyzed by fear of you any more. You don’t have any power over me. You take one step back toward me and you won’t be able to able to enjoy the pleasure of any woman for a while longer.”

Without another word, Jules got into the jeep and slammed the door shut as she did. She jammed the key into the ignition and, without looking to see what Johnny was doing, started the jeep and pulled out of the parking space with a squeal of tires. Fortunately there was no traffic as she turned onto the street without even looking to see if it was safe.

She drove about two blocks and then pulled into the parking lot of the restaurant James had stopped at earlier. She put the jeep in park but left the engine running. Now that she was away from him, she could feel the shaking begin to start. She lowered her head into her hands and for just a moment allowed her fears at what did and could have happen wash over her.

He’d touched her, pressed his body up against her, reminded her of the horrible things he’d done to her, and insinuated what he would like to do to her now. Just a few short days ago, any one of those would have reduced her to a quivering mess. All of them together would have put her into a panic attack to end all panic attacks.

She leaned her head back on the head rest and smiled. A moment later she was laughing almost hysterically. She had come face to face with her worst nightmare and not only survived it but did so with the poise and bravado she used every day at work. For the first time in twenty years she didn’t feel like she was Johnny Dawson’s victim. It was an amazing feeling.

Her shaking subsided and she felt like it was safe enough for her to drive. She barely paid attention to her surroundings as she steered the jeep toward home. Pulling into the driveway, she was glad to see that Sam was already home. She locked the jeep and ran up the walkway to the front door. It opened just before she reached it and she realized that Sam must have been watching for her. He drew her into his arms, kissing her without restraint. She melted against him, kicking out with her foot to close the door.

Lifting her gently so that her feet were no longer touching the ground, Sam walked with her over to the couch where he laid her down following her all the way without ever breaking his kiss. His kisses were almost desperate and she recognized a need in him unlike any she’d seen in a while. Without any hesitation on her part, she surrendered herself to his need, trusting that he wouldn’t take more than he knew she could give.

Kisses were as far as it went but she couldn’t remember a time when his kisses had ever felt so desperate and hungry. But true to her belief, he didn’t make any move that frightened her or went beyond anything she was comfortable with. His hands stayed buried into the couch beneath her holding his weight just off of her. She wasn’t sure how long they lay there, Sam keeping possession of her mouth as if it were necessary for him to stay alive. She could tell when his sense of desperation eased off because his kisses became less demanding, less hungry. Finally, he pulled back panting. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t…”

“Shh.” Jules urged him, sitting up and caressing his cheek. “It’s okay. You didn’t do anything wrong. You didn’t hear me protest or complain, did you? Do I look upset?”

Sam shook his head, not trusting himself to speak. He leaned back against the couch, no longer looking upset but obviously still bothered by something. Her own encounter with Johnny was momentarily forgotten in favor of taking care of the man she loved, the man who had been unselfishly caring for her throughout the nightmare her life had become at the discovery of Johnny’s release. Her triumph over her fears could take a backseat to Sam’s needs.

“I’m guessing dinner with the General didn’t go so well.” She probed gently.

He laughed without humor. “Do they ever? I was partly right in my guess as to what he wanted. Through the appetizer and the soup and salad, he was singing the virtues of this new open position he heard about with Special Services. I don’t know who he thought he was talking to because it wasn’t even a job I would be remotely interested in. That wasn’t anything I wasn’t used to though. Like every other time, I listened to his spiel and he didn’t listen as I explained why I wasn’t interested. Nothing new in the Braddock family saga.”

Jules curled her legs underneath her and she reached out with one hand and rubbed the back of his neck. “So if the job offer wasn’t the only reason for him wanting to meet with you, what was the other?”

She could feel his muscles tightening just with the memory. “We were sitting there, the General concentrating on his lobster and me on my steak. I was thinking how glad I was we’d gotten through with the shop talk early so I could enjoy the meal without worrying about indigestion. Suddenly the General put down his fork and looked at me with a disapproval unlike I’ve seen in years. Then he asked me what kind of big brother I thought I was being to Natalie.”

Jules shook her head. “Natalie? What does Nat have to do with this? What’s he thinking? Cause trust me, with four older brothers I think I know what I’m talking about when I say you’re a great brother to Natalie.”

Sam frowned and sighed deeply. “Apparently Nat took Spike to meet Mom and the General.”

“Nice.” Jules shook her head. She tried to imagine Spike, sweet, easygoing, likable, loveable Spike, meeting the General for the first time. She couldn’t do it. Hell, she couldn’t even picture meeting Sam’s father herself but picturing Spike with the man Sam had always described was like picturing throwing a kitten into a pen with a pack of snarling pit bulls. “What was she thinking?”

Sam shrugged. “She’s always had this fairy tale idea of what the family should be and you know I love her but she’s never realized that no matter how much she wishes we were that idea family, the General can’t change who he is.”

Jules scooted closer to Sam, digging her fingers into his tense muscles, hoping to relax him even slightly. “So what’s wrong with Spike? He’s a great guy and it’s obvious he and Nat are crazy about each other. I’d vote for them for best couple of the century if I didn’t believe so strongly that that title belongs to us.”

Sam smiled and leaned over and kissed her again, this time more tenderly than the desperate kisses from before. “Honestly, I don’t know what excuses he gave because I didn’t listen to half of what he said. It doesn’t matter what excuse he gave, what it boils down to is that no guy would ever be good enough. He kept insisting that if I loved Natalie, if I wanted to be the good big brother, I should be looking out for her and protecting her.”

“Sam,” Jules’s voice was firm. “Listen to me. You are, you do, and it’s ridiculous to think she needs protecting. Don’t let the General make you doubt yourself. “

Sam nodded. He reached back and removed her hands from his neck and pulled her against him. “I know. He just gets under my skin at times. I don’t know why I let him get to me.”

“Because even though he gets under your skin, he’s your father. You might not expect that fairy tale family that you say Nat does but deep inside you know you want something close to it.”

“Maybe,” Sam admitted reluctantly. “I think part of me regrets trying to keep Spike and Nat apart when they first got together. Spike’s my friend and Nat’s my little sister. I should have been happy for them from the beginning but I came between them. Meeting your brothers I found myself in Spike’s shoes wondering what I would do if they didn’t think I was good enough for their little sister.”

Jules chewed on her bottom lip, “They didn’t give you a hard time, did they? Cause I know how they can be, all talk and no bite. I can handle them, believe me. Besides, as much as I love them and respect their judgment, even if they didn’t want me to date you, it would be my choice not theirs. Nat’s a big girl and she can make that same choice for herself. Even if you hadn’t relented and given them your blessing to date, if it was meant to be between them and right now it seems to be, they would have found their way back to each other. We did.”

He hugged her to him, grateful for her support. He wanted to let her love and attempts to soothe him wash over him like the balm she was trying to be. But the rest of his conversation with the General was still haunting him like a punch in the gut. The fact that she was so amazingly and intuitively telling him exactly what he needed to hear made the rest of his conversation with the General hurt so much more.

Jules could sense he was still holding something back and leaned back to look at him. “There’s more though, isn’t there? You were obviously watching for me to come in and you weren’t kissing me like you were before I was barely in the door because of Spike and Natalie. Something else happened. Something that I’m guessing had to do with me. Let me guess, the General doesn’t approve of me any more than he approves of Spike.”

Sam leaned his head back against the back of the couch. How in the hell could he tell her the someone -- and he had no doubt who that someone was -- had sent the General an anonymous letter warning him about the kind of girl his son was dating? Now he understood just why Johnny’s parting words at the hospital a week ago had sent her running to the bathroom to vomit uncontrollably. He’d felt the same way just hearing the accusations from the General that he knew were totally false. He couldn’t tell her what the General had been told and he certainly couldn’t tell her that the General had apparently believed every word of it. She was doing so much better dealing with everything, he didn’t want to send her spiraling back to the deep pit again. He lifted his head back up and looked at her almost pleadingly. “It doesn’t matter. I’m the one dating you, not him. All that matters is what I think and what I know to be true. I really don’t want to talk about it tonight, is that okay?”

“Are you seriously asking me that? As many times as I’ve put off talking about what’s bothering me? Tell me we’re okay and that’s all I have to know.”

Sam put a hand to the back of her head and pulled her in for another kiss. “We’re better than okay, Sweetheart. We’re perfect.”

Jules moaned softly as he kissed her again, sending a tingling all the way down to her toes. She pulled back although what she really wanted to do was beg him to take her upstairs and love her. But she had to be honest with him, owed it to him not to keep anything new from him. “Almost perfect at least but I’m getting there. Sam, something happened tonight.”

Immediately he tensed, the reaction different from his earlier tension. He looked her over for any signs of injury or trauma and finding none remembered the almost giddy way she’d been running up the walk toward the house earlier. “What?”

“Johnny was waiting for me when I went out to my jeep.”

The anger reflecting back in Sam’s eyes would have scared her if she hadn’t known it wasn’t directed at her. “If he hurt you, I’ll kill him. Damn it, Jules, he’s stalking you.” He shifted slightly so he could reach his cell phone. Before he could flip it open, Jules took it from him.

“Sam, what are you doing?”

“Calling Sarge. Maybe now he can convince a judge to issue a restraining order against that bastard.”

Jules shook her head, setting the phone aside. “No Sam, not tonight. You heard him at work today, he has a date tonight and Sarge deserves to be able to enjoy it. I promise you I will tell him about it as soon as we get to work tomorrow. Besides, I’m okay. He didn’t hurt me.”

Sam was breathing hard, his nostrils flaring with each breath he took. “I know I don’t see any signs of injuries but we both know he has ways of causing pain that aren’t physical. Despite that old adage, we both know that words can hurt very much, maybe even more than any damage caused by sticks and stones.”

Jules nodded, her eyes almost dancing. “You’re right. I know the pain he causes, both physically and mentally. And tonight if he’d been successful with knocking me down mentally, I probably would have felt the physical pain he’s capable of as well. But he wasn’t, Sam. I stood up to him. No matter how much he tried to intimidate me and turn me back into that teenager he had control of, I didn’t let him.”

She told him everything about the encounter, for once not hedging or holding back anything. Though Sam’s stomach churned hearing the words he’d used against her, his skin crawled to think that the man who had hurt her so terribly once more had put his hands on her even if it was just a touch on the face, and he wanted to kick himself for his own thoughtless actions of kissing her the way he had when she’d first entered the house without any thought to how she might take the attention, he couldn’t miss the way Jules’s body was fairly shaking as she told the story, not with fear but with a headiness he couldn’t quite explain.

When she finished relating the encounter, she added. “Sam, you know that feeling you get when you successfully reach the top of a really difficult rock face? That feeling like you just conquered the world and can do anything you want?” Sam nodded and now understood the headiness he‘d sensed in her. “I feel that way right now. For so long just the thought of him made me feel like that sixteen year old who was powerless to prevent him from hurting me. I didn’t tonight. I faced him like he was just another subject I was confronting on a call. I don’t know who was more surprised, him or me.”

Sam pulled her to him, holding her tightly against his body. “I’m so proud of you Jules. I know that couldn’t have been easy for you but I’m not surprised you finally realized you had the strength to stand up to him. You are so amazing. But still, Jules, Johnny’s getting bolder. I know you can take care of yourself, you’ve proven that so many times and did so again tonight but he’s dangerous. It scares me to think what he might try next.”

“I don’t think he will.” Jules admitted, her words muffled against Sam’s shirt. He released her and she sat back to further explain. “Johnny’s a bully. And we all know that the way to stop a bully is to stand up to him. I did that, Sam. He knows now that I’m not scared of him. And if I’m not scared of him, there’s nothing to stop me from kicking his ass if he tries something else. If he can’t intimidate me then he has no power and he, being the bully he is, won’t take the chance of losing.”

Sam wasn’t sure as Jules appeared to be on the issue but he wasn’t going to push the issue tonight; they’d both had enough of fighting others to now fight each other. “Okay, but still, you’re going to tell the boss first thing in the morning, right?”

Jules nodded. “Promise. As soon as we get to the barn in the morning, before I even change into my uniform. If not, you have my permission to call me out on it right there in front of everyone.”

“I’m going to hold you to that.” Sam promised her. She smiled, moving in for another kiss, the look in her eye full of desire and want.

“I’d rather you just hold me to you.” She licked her lower lip, almost tentative. “Sam, remember earlier that I mentioned that feeling of conquering the world and being able to do anything? I really want to put that to the test. I want you to take me upstairs and show me what I’ve been missing out on.”

Still feeling a little guilty about his actions when she first came in the house, Sam reached out to touch her face but stopped just before actually coming into contact with her skin. He didn’t want to remind her of Dawson. Jules reached up and covered his hand with her own keeping it still as she leaned her cheek against it. Sam brushed his finger across her cheekbone. “You sure? I know you were faced him down like the SuperJules you are but I know it hadn’t have still affected you. I don’t want to make it worse by triggering other bad memories.”

“I’m sure.”

Sam stood from the couch and lifted Jules in his arms, cradling her to him, kissing her tenderly as he made his way up the stairs, carefully stepping around the kitten who had decided it’s favorite spot in the whole house when not curled up on one of them was the third step from the bottom. He set her down outside the guest bedroom so he could open the door and lead her inside. Just like both times before he turned on the lamp next to the bed before turning his attention to her.

He still didn’t know the full story of what Johnny had done to her but he used the pieces he did know to try to avoid triggering in her any bad associations. The first time they’d tried this, he’d asked her to take off her shirt, wanting her to have all the control she needed. After discovering that he’d been repeating what had happened to her, he wouldn’t make that mistake twice. Leaning his head down, he kissed her, his tongue sweeping almost possessively in her mouth. At the same time, he tugged her shirt out of her jeans and slowly pushed the material up, breaking the kiss only to divest her of the garment. She shivered slightly as the coolness of the air conditioned room hit her exposed skin.

He returned to kissing her as his hands moved lower to pop open the button on her jeans. At the sound, she toed off her shoes and socks as he slid the zipper down, his hands warm on her hips. Soon she was standing in a puddle of clothes, left with just her panties and bra covering her. Still kissing her, he lifted her in his arms once more and placed her gently on the bed before covering her body with his.

“Jules?” He asked between kisses. “Do you trust me?”

Jules nodded, losing herself in his kisses. “You know I do.”

He stopped kissing her, needing to know she was focused on what he had to say. “Jules, if this is going to work, I’ve got to be able to trust you’ll be honest with me. This is all supposed to be about pleasure not pain. You were hurt and no matter how much you want to put the assault behind you, it’s not going to go away in a flash. Like I told you when you first asked me to teach you to enjoy the full range of what sex can be, there’s no timetable. We don’t have to exorcise the pain with the first, second, or hell, even the tenth attempt.”

“I promised you that I’d use the word and I did that first night.“ Jules reminded him.

“Yeah, you did but your body was screaming it long before you walrued me. I should have stopped when I first felt how your body was reacting but I’d promise to wait for the word. The second time I couldn’t wait for you to say the word but I still let it go longer than I think I should have. Tonight, the only way I’m going to continue this is if you promise to stop me as soon as it stops being pleasurable for you.”

She did trust him and knew he’d never hurt her but she couldn’t control the involuntary reactions her body and mind had. Her fears were easing at his expert touch but they weren’t totally gone and may never be. Yet she knew Sam cared too much about her and was too much of a gentleman to risk upsetting her at all. “Sam, please. It’s okay. I know you won’t hurt me. I trust you know what you’re doing.” “Sam, what you’re asking me isn’t fair. I want to put this behind me but you’re right I can’t just turn off or control my reactions. How do I know if it’s going to be pleasurable if I stop you at the first sign that I’m tensing up about it?”

He sighed, needing to make her understand. “Jules, I’ve been thinking about that and I think I know a way that might help those reactions. It’s going to require a lot more trust on your part though.”

Jules reached a hand up and ran the tips of her fingers down his cheek. “Sam, I trust you. I asked for this and I wouldn’t have if I didn’t think I could trust you to protect me and make it okay for me.”

Sam nodded. “I’ve been making it a point to tell you what I plan to do before I do it; give you a chance to say no if you are against it. I’ve been thinking about the way you tense up just by me saying what I want to do to you. Tense up until it reaches a point where I know you are uncomfortable even if you don’t walrus me. I think it’s because me telling you what’s coming gives you time to think about how you think it’s going to make you feel rather than just experience it for what it is. I think the anticipation is exacerbating your reactions. Tonight I’d like to just touch and kiss you without telling its coming. I won’t hurt you; I know you trust me not to do that. But I don’t care how much you trust me, it can’t erase what he did to you and how it causes your body to react.”

Jules closed her eyes to prevent him from seeing even a hint of fear in her eyes.

Sam lightly brushed fingertips over her closed eyelids, asking without words for her to open them. She did and saw the seriousness in his own eyes. “This is non-negotiable Jules. This stops now if you can’t promise me you’ll stop me immediately if it bothers you.”

“Okay.” Her answer was barely there and full of pain. The tears that filled her eyes broke his heart but he wouldn’t give in on this point.

He sighed. “Okay is not a promise Jules. I’m serious about not negotiating on your promise but if this is upsetting you this much we need to talk about why.”

A single tear fell down her cheek, but this time he didn’t wipe it away. “If I say the word, you’ll stop, no questions asked and it’ll be over. You might hold me and kiss me but it won’t go any further. At least when you stopped on your own, you still made love to me. I don‘t want to feel punished because I have a bad reaction.”

Sam rolled to the side of the bed, staring up at the ceiling, feeling like he’d been punched in the gut. His intention had never been to make her feel that way and it tore him up inside to hear that he had. He’d realized at the end of their first attempt at him showing her the pleasure that should come with sex that they’d jumped in to it entirely too quickly without working out the important logistics. He’d fumbled with how he should have responded after it had gone badly and that should have been his clue to work things out before they tried again but once again he hadn’t thought about it.

He cursed himself. “Jules, I never meant for you to feel punished. I’m sorry, so sorry, Sweetheart. I’m an asshole.” He rolled over so he was facing her direction and then pulled her closer to him so he was looking her in the eye. “We can make this work. You promise to say the word at the first sign of discomfort and I’ll promise you that it won’t be the end of our lovemaking. I won’t continue to push something new on you but I’ll make love to you the way we usually do. If that’s still too much, we can talk about what you need from me. Okay? Will that work for you?”

Jules nodded. “Yeah, I think I can live with that.”

Sam ran his fingers through her hair pulling her into him for a kiss. “So I have your promise?”

“Promise.”

With practiced ease, Sam lowered one of his hands from her hair down her back to unclip her bra. He removed the garment and tossed it behind him so that it joined the pile of the rest of her clothes. They remained side by side on the bed as he moved his head towards hers. Once more he started to kiss her, those kisses heating up in intensity and desire. His hands which usually felt useless when they made love now enjoyed roaming gently over her body. Still he avoided her breasts for the moment, not wanting to push her comfort level too quickly.

Even without touching her there, he could see the effects his kisses and touches were having on her as her nipples became prominent peaks. Her body felt almost like putty in his hands as she relaxed beneath his skillful hands and mouth. He tore himself away from her mouth, moving down her slender throat to concentrate on kissing the crook of her neck. Ever so slowly he slid down her body, blazing a trail of kisses wherever he moved. Just as he had with his hands, he avoided her sensitive breasts and concentrated on making a trail down the valley between both mounds.

As he continued to kiss her, one hand gently nudged her onto her back. Her breaths were coming in small hitches but it was a sound he knew wasn’t of distress. He stopped at her bellybutton, letting his tongue fill the small space. She arched off the bed, pushing her navel further against his tongue. He continued his oral ministrations on her bellybutton for several minutes. Her sudden cry of pleasure shattered the silence of the room and her whole body shuddered.

Sam sat up enjoying seeing the way her body was reacting to his kisses and touched. It took her a moment for her to realize he was no longer kissing her. Her eyes opened and she lifted her head looking for him. “Sam?”

“Shh. It’s okay, Sweetheart. I’m not stopping. Just lay back and close your eyes. You’re trusting me, remember?”

She nodded and did as he requested. Sam moved down the bed and settled beside her legs. He knew he was taking a big chance with what he had in mind. Before he ever touched her breasts he’d gotten her to open up about what Dawson had done to her there the night he attacked her. He knew going into it what would probably trigger a bad reaction. He still didn’t know what she’d experienced in her more intimate areas but he didn’t want to stop to ask, afraid if he did, he would be setting her up for a bad reaction. Instead, he had to trust his instincts to tell him how to proceed.

He lifted one of her toned, bare legs and pressed his lips against the side of her leg to the side of her knee. Slowly he moved upward blazing a trail of kisses up her leg until he reached the crease of where her leg met the crotch of her panties. He could smell her arousal as he neared her covered sex and was sure her panties were probably wet. Knowing she was just a moment away from tensing, he pulled his head back and lowered her leg.

Shifting back down he picked up her other leg and just as he had with the first one, began to kiss her. This time he held her leg with just one hand and reached up with the other to gently knead her breast and put equally gentle pressure on her rock hard nipple with his thumb. This time when he reached the spot where her panties lay against her, she was almost keening in pleasure. He released his hold on her leg but not her breast.

Probably without her even being aware of doing so, her legs were open enough to allow him easy access to her sex. Without touching her skin, he took hold of the crotch of her panties and pulled it to one side so she was fully exposed. Now there was no question that she was wet with desire. His tongue darted out lapping at her juices before she knew what was happening.

“Walrus, walrus, walrus. Stop, please don’t.”

Immediately he stopped, he‘d known it was probably going to cause a bad reaction but knew it was a necessary step. He just hadn‘t expected such a strong reaction. He moved back up the bed laying beside her, scared to see how much she was shaking and having trouble catching her breath. He pulled her into his arms, ready to release her at the first sign of discomfort.

“Shh, it’s okay, Sweetheart. It’s okay. I’ve got you. It’s okay. You’re safe. I’m sorry.”

Jules clenched his shirt tightly. “I’m sorry, Sam. I didn’t break my promise. I was okay right up to that moment. I just. I couldn’t… I…”

Sam cupped her face, making her look at him. “It’s okay Jules, really. You did great and there’s nothing for you to apologize for. It’s okay.”

He kissed her and wasn’t surprised when she pulled away in surprise. “Your kiss tastes different.”

He smiled at her not surprised by her statement, it had been the main reason why he’d kissed her. “That’s what you taste like when you are enjoying what sex can be like. That’s what my kisses and touches did to you. It’s just a small taste of what it’s going to be like eventually. Jules, I promised you we’d make love even if we had to stop. Do you still want to? It’s okay if you don’t, but I don’t want to break my promise.”

She nodded. Sam lowered her back to the bed and used the time it took him to remove her panties and his own clothes to allow her to regain some control over her reactions. He covered her body with his, supporting his weight with his arms. His manhood was poised at her still wet entrance. “You ready?”

Again she nodded and he entered her. Her eyes widened in surprise at the ease in which he slid into her. He doubted she’d ever been lubricated enough with her own juices to make the entry so smooth and slick. He knew for sure it had never happened in all the times they’d made love before. He slowly moved above her, making his thrusts slow and gentle. He could feel her climax building and sure enough it was only a few minutes later that her insides clenched around him, squeezing him tightly.

Her whole body shook as her body rose out the orgasm. Though she’d usually reacted strongly to their lovemaking he was pretty sure this was the first time she’d experienced an orgasm with him and he wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t the first one she’d ever had. He let her ride out the waves of pleasure remaining inside her but not moving. He wasn’t as close to his own climax but it wouldn’t take much, especially the way the sounds she was currently making beneath him.

Her hips bucked forward just slightly encouraging him to start moving again. He covered her mouth with his as he once more thrust within her. Just as he figured it wasn’t any time before he found his own release and spilled his seed inside her. He glanced down and realized she was already drifting off to sleep. He pulled out of her and pulled her sleeping body close to him. Leaving their clothes in the pile on the floor where they’d been discarded, he carried her to their bed and settled her beneath the covers before climbing in beside her. He drifted off to sleep without even turning off the lights.

Chapter Text

“You’re humming again.” Sam warned.

“No.” She protested slowly then added. “Was I?” A warm embarrassed blush crept into her cheeks. She looked around furtively, making sure they were alone in the stairwell. They were and as they reached the landing a floor below headquarters, Sam gently pushed her against the wall, effectively trapping her with his body. He kissed her. He meant for it to be just a slight peck but as soon as her lips parted, he found himself deepening the kiss, letting his tongue sweep sensually in her mouth.

He ran his hands through her hair that was still hanging loosely to her shoulders. Her fingers hooked into two of the belt loops on his pants and pulled her closer to him. If someone else came into the stairwell and saw them in their current position, they’d have a lot of explaining to do. But he didn’t really care at the moment. Staring into her dark eyes, he couldn’t help but be drawn back to the night before and earlier this morning.

He’d woken up around two in the morning, at first confused why the lights were still on. Looking down at Jules, her dark hair fanning out over the pillow and her face more relaxed than he’d seen it in far too long, he felt a familiar tightening in his groin made much sweeter by what they‘d shared earlier. There was no trace of any of the dreams that had been haunting her sleep for so long. He thought about their slow lovemaking and the effect that it had had on Jules. He couldn’t deny that it had been a powerful experience for him as well.

Even before he’d known about the terror of Jules’s past, he’d accepted the limitations she’d put on their lovemaking and hadn’t had a moment’s complaint about it. She might not have been the most experienced of lovers he’d had but the intensity of their feelings for each other had more than made up for lack of creative positions or little bedroom tricks she wasn’t interested in. He knew he’d taken her to peaks of excitement over the years and that neither of them had complaints in that department. But still, anything they had experienced before could compare to the explosion of pleasure he’d been able to create for her this time. He been completely truthful that he didn’t want or need the experiences she wanted to avoid but now that he was helping her work past her fears, he couldn’t deny that awakening her ability to find pleasure in his touch was having just as amazing and powerful effect on him.

He had turned off the light and repositioned the sheet that had slipped during their sleep back up in order to cover her bare body. He placed the gentlest of kisses against her lips, not wanting to wake her but unable to resist himself. A slow smile filled her face and she’d snuggled even closer into his embrace. Just before he was slipping back to sleep again, he felt her hand encircled his wrist. His breath caught and he watched to see what she was going to do. She moved his hand up so that it cupped her right breast. She sighed deeply and continued to sleep. He left his hand where she’d put it and stared at it for the longest time. It was a bold move for her and it made him smile to think that maybe things really were going to be okay.

When he’d woken up the second time to find the sun starting to creep in through the blinds, he looked down at Jules to see her already awake, staring up at him, the smile on her face more than making up for all the nights he’d spent worrying about her in the last couple of weeks. He leaned down and kissed her. He was glad to see that the light of day hadn’t altered the way she’d felt the night before.

Now standing in the stairwell, pressed against her, he was still glad to see she was apparently still riding the high from the night before, more than likely a mixture of confidence at having stood up to Johnny mixed with the pleasure she and Sam had shared in bed. Still it could prove problematic once they entered the barn.

“Jules, Babe, you realize you go in there with that secretive smile on your face that you’ve been wearing all morning, humming under your breath, and positively glowing like you are, then the guys are going to know what we did last night and they are going to rag me about it all day.”

“We live together so I’m pretty sure they probably expect us to be doing what we did last night. But I guess they might pick up on something being different and question you about it. I can always stage a mock fight with you as soon as we step inside. Would that help?”

Sam chuckled and shook his head. “No, it wouldn’t because then they’d ride my ass all day about upsetting you. Just try not to look so extra damned adorably sexy. I know I’m asking a lot but do you think you can do that?”

“Not if you keep talking and looking at me like that. Don’t worry, Sam, I’m sure as soon as I start telling Sarge about my run in with Johnny last night the creep-out feeling of having him that close to me will dampen my good mood enough to keep the guys off your case.”

There was something in Sam’s expression that made Jules narrow her eyes and give his arm a light slap. “You thought I was going to weasel out of telling him, didn’t you?”

“No, not at all. I just didn’t want to bring it up and pull you down from your good mood. I’m glad you’re talking to him about it. I’m proud of you for standing your ground with Johnny and I know you think he’s going to back down but he still scares me. Don’t underestimate him. I’m not going to stand here and pull some primeval caveman stunt and make unreasonable demands or try to shut you up in some tower like you’re a damsel in distress. It would just piss you off and it wouldn’t be fair to you. I know you can take care of yourself. And as much as I might want to, I’m not going to play bodyguard and glue myself to your side or demand you let someone else do it if I’m not around. All I’m asking is that you don’t take any unnecessary chances.”

Jules bit her bottom lip and looked up at him coyly through half lowered lids. “Well, I can’t say the idea of having you glued to my side is all bad. Tonight when I get home, you can guard my body all you want.“ A door below them closed noisily and the warning was enough to make Sam take a step back and for Jules to adjust her clothing even though it was all perfectly in place. Then she reached out and placed the palm of her hand flat against his chest. “Sam, I promise you I’ll be careful. You don’t have to worry. But I do appreciate you trusting that I can take care of myself.”

Since no one had appeared coming up the stairs and there were no footsteps to indicate they were sharing the space with anyone, Sam leaned down to steal one more kiss before they continued up the last flight of steps.

Greg was standing at Winnie’s desk reading over a report from the prior shift. He looked up as Sam and Jules came down the hall. He greeted them warmly but expected them to continue on to the locker rooms to change. To Greg’s surprise, Jules stopped at the desk while Sam gave her arm a quick squeeze before continuing on. He could tell something was up by her sudden intake of breath, a sure signal she was concerned about something. She chewed on her lip.

“Can we talk?”

He nodded and led the way into the briefing room. He leaned against the table and folded his arms across his chest. “What’s up?”

“Johnny approached me last night as I was leaving the hospital.”

Greg straightened, his normally affable expression turning to a frown. “You okay? Did he hurt you?”

She smiled, the over protectiveness being displayed by first Sam and now Greg not bothering her like she figured it would. “I’m great. He only tried to intimidate me. He wasn’t successful.”

She filled him on the basics of the encounter, not sharing the full extent of the story the way she had with Sam. Even though she hadn’t out and out admitted the truth of what Johnny had done to her twenty years ago, she was sure he’d figured out that Sam’s fears had been correct. And though it had gotten easier for her to admit the truth to her brothers and father and to Sam, she still found it difficult to be open about it to others.

“I guess I would be wasting my breath suggesting you let me put you in protective custody.“ Greg fixed his gaze on the floor, his jaw rocking slightly. “Okay, I’m calling the judge and trying again to the get the restraining order. Whether he grants it or not, I think we have to assume you could be in danger. I’ll arrange to have a patrol car make regular passes by your house when you’re not on shift. I’d like for you to consider making sure you have someone with you if you are out in public. It’s not that you can’t take care of yourself but that it just makes sense to play it safe. I’d be making these same recommendations to anyone on the team with a stalker, especially a stalker who’s proven he’s capable of cold blooded murder.”

Jules knew better to protest; it would fall on deaf ears and she couldn’t really fault anything he said. “Okay, I don’t think I’m in any immediate danger but I’ll do what you want. He knows now that I’m not scared. The only way he’s going to attack is if he thinks I’m too scared to fight back. If anything I think he’s going to try more subtle attempts to break me down again. If he does, he‘s in for a surprise because try as he might I‘m not going to fall for it.”

Greg considered her words. “Maybe, but we’ve worked too many calls and have seen too many subjects escalate without any warning. You’re too important to me, to Sam, to this team to take any chances. I’ll be damned if I’m going to let him hurt you because we underestimated him.”

“Copy that Sarge.” She smiled up at him and started to leave. He reached out and grabbed her arm and tugged her back toward him.

“Jules, for the record. I’ve made no secret that I’ve been concerned about you since Jack showed up to tell you Johnny was being released. For awhile I wasn’t sure if you were going to be okay or not. Especially after your dad had his heart attack. But this last week you’ve been slowly bouncing back to your usual self, slowly but surely. Now today, I look at you to and I realized I shouldn’t have worried so much. You’re strong, you’re confident, you’re the Jules we’re used to seeing maybe even better. I’m proud of you.”

Hearing his praise meant the world to her. She smiled, willing back any tears of happiness his words threatened to bring out of her. “The credit goes to Sam. He’s been absolutely amazing in all this. I don’t think I could have gotten through the last two weeks without him and I know I wouldn’t be standing here feeling this confident and sure of myself right now without his support.”

Greg nodded; if he’d ever had any doubts about the young couple those doubts were now forever banished from his thoughts. “I’m sure Sam has something to do with it but ultimately it’s you who made the decision to get past this. Don’t underestimate your own part, nothing Sam said or did would make a difference if you didn’t allow it to. Go on, get changed so we can keep the peace. I have some calls to make.”

By the time Jules had changed into her uniform and stepped back into the briefing room, the guys had already gathered around the table. She noticed that Sam looked a little preoccupied. She sat down next to him and leaned over to whisper in his ear. “Don’t tell me they’re already giving you a hard time. The rest of the team has barely seen me and I don’t think I’ve hummed once since we came in.”

Sam grinned wryly and shook his head. “George from Team Four was getting ready to leave when I went in to change. He asked if I could cover his shift for a few hours tonight. He and his wife have their first childbirth class and he’ll be in the doghouse if he misses it.”

Jules knew George was the one who’d covered Sam’s shifts while they were gone, wanting the overtime to make extra money for the new baby. “So what’s the problem? You told him you’d do it, right? I’ll be going to the hospital after work anyway. How long can a childbirth class last? You’ll probably beat me home.”

Sam nodded. “Of course I told him I’d do it. Never a question about it. I just wish it hadn’t come up now. I’m trying not to be overprotective here but I just can’t shake the feeling you’re in danger. Johnny’s already approached you in the hospital parking lot once, what’s to stop him from doing it again?”

“Guys, mind if we get started here?” Greg interjected, interrupting their whispered conversation. Greg tried to hide a slight smirk as the two apologized and concentrated on the morning briefing. There were no warrants or other major items on their agenda for the day so Greg suggested they start with patrol. He divided up the teams pairing Sam and Spike, Ed and Raf and Jules with him. Jules wasn’t surprised. He hadn’t mentioned the potential danger she was in -- for which she was grateful, but in lieu of that, he wouldn’t have felt safe putting her with anyone but either himself or Sam. After the meeting was over, Jules put her hand on Sam’s arm.

“Sam, I promise I’m not going to take unnecessary risks. I don’t want you worrying about me if you’re going to be working with Team 4 tonight. If it’ll make you feel better, I’ll call Peter or James and get one of them to come by this afternoon after I get off shift and pick me up. I’ll leave you the jeep so you can get home after George gets back. That way you can either pick me up at the hospital tonight or I’ll have whoever picks me up bring me home. I’ll even let him walk me to the door.”

Covering the hand on his arm with his other hand, Sam gave it a squeeze and smiled up at her. “Yeah, it does make me feel better. Thanks.”

-- FP -- FP -- FP --

“Well that changes things.” Jules remarked dryly putting away her cell phone.

Greg glanced over at her from behind the wheel of the SUV. “Something wrong?”

She shook her head. “No, just a change of plans. I was going to go by the hospital after shift but several of the guys dad used to work with back in the Hat are driving up to check on him. He’s excited; he hasn’t seen many of these guys since he moved to Toronto. It’ll be good for him to get to see people other than his children. If I’m there, I’ll have to listen to all those embarrassing stories about when I was a little kid, and to be honest, having an evening free that I can spend at home sounds great. I don’t regret a moment of the time I’ve spent at the hospital with Dad but it hasn’t actually left me much time to get things done around the house. Sam and I have been back from camping for a full week and the dirty clothes from the trip are still sitting in the laundry room and still dirty.”

“And Sam’s working for George for a few hours tonight and you think he’s going to worry about you being home alone with the potential threat out there.” Greg surmised. Jules nodded. Greg continued. “Looks like the restraining order will still be a no go. Not that a piece of paper would prevent him from trying something. I did however get the go ahead on the extra patrols. A unit will be driving by your house at least once an hour all night long. How about I give you a ride home when our shift ends. I can assure Sam that I will see you safely inside the house and will stand outside the door until I hear you bolt the lock. I think Sam will be okay with that.”

“Thanks Boss.”

“Team One, hot call…” Winnie gave out the location. Greg acknowledged the page out and Jules reached over and turned on the lights and siren. Winnie went on to explain that a 9-1-1 call had come in for a possible domestic abuse situation in an upscale condominium. The first responders had arrived at the apartment of Alexi and Anna Dimitries only to be warned back by the man inside who claimed that he had the whole apartment wired with enough explosives to bring down the whole complex and the surrounding buildings.

“Sarge,” Spike’s voice came over the radio system. “Good news, I’m showing that the building is connected to the Simplex service. It’s a new security system that has cameras installed throughout each condo so that families can monitor activity inside the apartment via computer when away. Simplex has given me the codes for the condo in question and I’m pulling up the feed now. We’ll be able to know see who’s in the condo and more importantly check out those potential bombs.”

“Good work Spike. I’ll expect an update as soon as we’re on scene.” Greg praised him and then continued. “Ed Sierra One, Sam Sierra two. Jules I want you finding alternate entry points. Spike’ll work the explosives angle and Raf, you’ll be with me when we start negotiations. Winnie, have the units on scene start evacuating the building and the surrounding ones as well.”

Jules had already pulled out a lap top and was pulling up the schematics for the building. She frowned. “Sarge, the Dimitries live on the tenth floor of a fifteen floor high rise. Looks like only one door.”

“Copy that.”

The different units all pulled up about the same time and gathered in the command truck to get a report about what was going on in the apartment. Spike had the cameras pulled up on several computers. “Got two people in the Dimitries’ apartment. The woman, Anna Dimitries, appears to be tied up in the bedroom here. Her husband, Alexi, is in the living room. Looks like he’s holding some sort of switch in one hand and a gun in the other. The switch is a possible detonator. Looks like the bomb threat is real. I’m seeing what looks like explosive devices on the door and throughout the apartment. I’m thinking the computer in the bedroom with Anna looks like it might be the master controller. If I can get to that I think I could shut down the whole system he has rigged. It would eliminate the explosive threat.”

Sam frowned. “That’s a pretty big if, Spike. How do you plan on getting in there without him seeing you? We can’t get a good enough picture of that switch to know if it’s a dead man switch or not. Ed and I could set up Sierra positions on that building over there and get a good line on him but if we take the shot, we risk triggering the explosion.”

Greg nodded. “Jules, alternate entry ideas?”

Her eyes flicked over the computer screens and then she nodded. “We could attempt a window entry into the bedroom. I see a wire running along the frame but the panes itself don’t look wired. Rappel down, cut the pane free from the rest of the window and we’re in.”

Raf shook his head. “How’s someone going to get in through that pane without touching the frame? It’ll be a pretty small opening.”

“I could fit especially with someone on the outside to help me.” Jules assured them. She looked at Spike. “If the wire on the frame was cut, what would it do?”

“It would render the window safe. Shouldn’t alert him or set off the master controller. I doubt he’d expect what your suggesting. You go in, cut the wire, and then I could come in without worrying about touching the frame. I could disable the bomb”

Greg nodded. “Jules, could you get Anna out while Spike disabled the bomb? I don’t want to take any chances risking her life if we can avoid it.”

Jules nodded. “Copy that. I can buddy her into my line and rappel the rest of the way down. Might not be her ideal way of getting out but it‘ll be safer than leaving her in the apartment.”

“Okay team, Ed, Sam set up Sierra positions so that you can get a shot into the living room. Even if Spike disables the bomb we’ve got the gun to deal with as well. Spike, Jules get the rappelling gear and go to the roof. Let me know when you are ready to rappel down and Raf and I’ll will keep Alexi distracted with negotiations.

“Sarge, we got a problem with the evacuations. Everyone’s been evacuated except for the building directly next door. It’s a private medical clinic with patients on life support. We’re coordinating with local hospitals but it’s going to take time to get everyone evacuated safely.”

“We can’t afford to wait, Boss. He looks real antsy. He hits that switch they all die anyway. I think we have to proceed and hope for the best.” Spike insisted.

“Copy that. Everyone let’s get into position.”

Jules and Spike each grabbed a large black bag full of climbing gear and headed into the building ahead while at the same time Ed and Sam grabbed their Remingtons and headed toward their positions. Raf and Greg would wait until both the other teams were in position before heading to the condo to begin negotiations and hopefully keep Alexi distracted while Jules rescued Anna and Spike disabled the bomb.

The elevator was making its way up to the roof access with only Spike and Jules inside. About five floors up, Spike glanced over at Jules, an amused smile on his face. Jules saw the look and frowned. “What?”

Spike chuckled. “Nothing, I just didn’t realize it had been that long for you. You didn’t get enough last week camping with Sam?”

It was then that she realized she’d been humming again. Remembering what Sam had warned her about in the stairwell that morning, she turned bright red not believing Spike was questioning her about her sex life on a call out even if his radio feed was turned off. “Spike!? Seriously? You‘re asking me about that here?”

“What? What’s wrong with talking about rappelling?” Slowly realization hit him and he turned bright red and began to stammer. “So, um, you sure you won’t have any trouble getting through that opening once we remove the glass? I know you’re small enough but it’s still going to be awkward as hell making sure you avoid touching any part of that frame.”

Sure that she was pretty flushed herself Jules nodded. “Shouldn’t be too difficult. Those gymnastic lessons Mom insisted on enrolling me in as a little girl will come in handy. I haven’t had to contort my body in some of those positions in years but it’s like riding a bicycle, right?”

The elevator door opened and they filed out and up to the roof without further conversation. Time was always a factor on calls such as these so the climbing gear was stored to ensure quick and easy set up. In a matter of a couple of minutes, both were strapped in and the lines secured to the edge of the building. Jules turned her feed back on.

“Sarge, Spike and I are in position. Ready to deploy entry at your word.”

“Copy that, stand by. Sierra One, Sierra Two, status report?”

“I have the solution.” Ed’s voice was clear and controlled, the way a sniper’s voice should be. “He’s pacing but trackable.”

“He’s clearly agitated.” Sam added to the report from his own position. “I get the feeling he’ll push that button if he feels the least bit threatened.”

“Sarge, I was able to find out more about Alexi Dimitries.” Winnie supplied next. Without someone available to stay in the truck, information gathering had fallen to their reliable and capable dispatcher. “He and his wife own a demolition company”

“Explains access to explosives and the knowledge to use them. Gives me more of an idea what to expect about the system he’s using.” Spike muttered. “Winnie, any indication what started this?”

“Financials show the company is tapped out. Looks like someone’s been siphoning money out of the company account into a private foreign account. Guys, Anna Dimitries is the bookkeeper for the company.”

“Looks like we know what started this. His company is going belly up and it looks like his wife is responsible. Be careful, team. This is an emotional response and Alexi probably feels like he has nothing to do. Not the best combination. Raf and I are in position. Jules and Spike, go for entry.”

“Copy that.” Jules replied as she and Spike stepped off the edge of the building and began their descent to the tenth floor. When they reached the correct window, they were careful not to let their feet touch the window frames. Spike was reasonably sure contact from the outside only wouldn’t trigger an explosion but they didn’t want to take any chances.

Locking the gear in place outside the lowest window into the bedroom, Jules pulled out a glass cutting tool and began cutting out the pane, leaving enough of the glass around the edges to further protect against triggering the explosion. She pulled out the pane and glanced down to make sure the area below was cleared of pedestrians and officers before letting it drop. It wasn’t an ideal way of disposing of the glass but they couldn’t risk leaning it against another window.

“Okay, Spike, I’m going to release tension on my line to give me enough clearance. You help guide my legs in and make sure that line doesn’t touch anything it shouldn’t.”

“Copy that. Be careful.”

She laid back so her body was perpendicular to the hole. The space was much smaller than they had originally thought she’d have because of the glass that had to remain. She was still small enough to fit but there was a greater chance of her cutting herself on the edges that remained as she passed through. The back bend she was forced to put her body into in order to lower her legs to the ground was far from comfortable but soon she was inside the bedroom, straightening up, and unhooking her line.

Anna was gagged as well as tied but Jules still signaled her to remain still and quiet. Then she turned to survey the window. Spikes was the explosives expert but she’d had to face disabling wires a time or two herself and she silently and quickly determined what she needed to do. She pulled a pair of cutters from her supply belt and cut the wire, holding her breath as she did to in case they were wrong about it being safe.

She smiled when the wires fell away harmlessly and Spike broke out the rest of the glass leaving a couple of ragged edges but making it easier for him as he entered the bedroom as well. Jules moved to the bed and untied the hostage. She kept her voice down as she reassured Anna. “It’s okay. We’re with the Police Strategic Response Unit. We’re going to get you out of here.”

The woman nodded, tears streaming down her face. “You have to stop my husband. He thinks I stole all our money but I didn’t. His brother stole my passwords and used my login to make the transfers. I didn’t realize what was going on until it was too late. I tried to tell him but he wouldn’t listen. The company is his life; he loves it more than maybe he loves even me. He thinks he’s lost everything.”

“You copy that, Boss?” Jules asked knowing that he had.

“Copy that. Get her out of there. Spike, how long until you can disable the explosives?”

Spike was already poring over the computer. “Five ten minutes max; it’s a complex system. The guy knows what he’s doing.”

“Okay, Anna, we’re going to get you out of here.” Jules promised the woman once again.

Anna shook her head. “How? There’s only one way out of here and if you go in the living room, Alexi will blow this whole place up.”

“We’re going out the way my friend and I came in.” Jules explained.

The woman paled. “I’m scared of heights.”

“It’ll be okay.” Jules assured her. “You’ll be secured to my line and I will not let you fall. You’ll be perfectly safe. But right now, we have to hurry. Spike?”

Spike joined her at the window and removed his harness. Between them both, they helped Anna into the discarded gear and Jules attached a safety line between Anna’s harness and her own. Next Jules reached out the window to retrieve her rappelling line to hook back into. About the same time, Alexi’s voice in the next room rose in a frightening yell. Scared, Anna grabbed at Jules’s other arm. The movement threw off Jules’s attempt to get her cord and made her arm slid against one of the remaining jagged edges of the glass. She hissed softly.

Spike frowned. “You okay?”

Jules nodded. “Just a scratch. Anna, it’s okay, just close your eyes. Spike’s going to help you through the window once I’m out.”

It took several precious moments to get Anna calmed enough for Spike to get her out of the window without her cutting herself. The added weight on Jules’s line caused a slight drop that made Anna cling desperately to Jules. “Hostage clear.”

Spike returned to the computer as Jules carefully made the descent for the last ten floors until her feet touched the ground. She quickly unhooked the gear and guided Anna away from the building into the command truck. Anna gasped when she saw the blood on Jules’s uniform. “You’re cut.”

Jules flashed her a smile. The cut stung but she didn’t think it was serious, probably not even deep enough to require stitches although it would mean that each of the guys, but especially Sam, would take turns fussing over it later.

Once Spike was able to disable the system, they were able to take Alexi down without incident. Jules let out a sigh of relief when Greg announced the subject was in custody. After they could stand down from their positions, Sam was the first one back to the truck. Without a word, he took Jules’s injured arm in his hands and carefully peeled away the ripped uniform.

“Looks painful.”

“I’ve had worse. I’ll even let the medics clean and bandage it if it’ll make you happy.”

“It’ll make me happy and follow protocol..” Greg inserted as he joined them in the truck. “Good work, Jules but you know you aren’t getting away without letting the medics check you out. They say you don’t need stitches, you might get out of a ride to the hospital.”

Jules allowed Sam to lead her to the back of an ambulance that had been on site to help with the evacuation of the patients at the clinic. Though it cost her the rest of the sleeve of her uniform which the medic had to cut off to get a good look at the wound, it didn’t take long for the medic to determine that it was indeed just a minor cut that didn’t need stitches. He cleaned the wound and then wrapped a gauze bandage tightly around it.

By the time she was cleared by the medic to return to work, the scene had been turned over to the explosives retrieval team and they were ready to return to service. Jules once more had to reassure the rest of the team that she was okay but knew she’d take a ribbing later at the debriefing.

The rest of the shift was quiet but no one complained. After their workout, which Ed insisted that Jules take it easy on with her injured arm, she made her way to the locker room to change. She wasn’t surprised when Sam followed.

“How bad does it hurt?” He knew it was useless asking if she was okay because even if her arm had been completely severed, she’d say she was fine.

“On a scale of one to ten, a two. Seriously, I think you’ve got a couple of scratches that look much worse from Patches trying to climb Mount Samtastic.”

Sam chuckled but grimaced at the reminder of the kitten’s sharp claws. “Yeah, well, this weekend he goes to the groomer to get those knives trimmed. George should be back by eight at the latest and then I’ll be home.”

Jules nodded. “Should give me plenty of time to get the laundry done.”

“Take it easy. A two on your pain scale has got to translate to a five or six on most other people’s scales.”

Rising on her tip toes, Jules placed a chaste kiss on his lips. “I don’t plan on letting it stop us from enjoying an early night in. Even if it does mean I’m humming again tomorrow. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get ready to get out of here. I don’t want to keep Sarge waiting.”

Sam pulled her close to him. “You need help with a shower? I seem to remember the medic telling you not to get that bandage wet.”

“Tonight I‘ll definitely take you up on that. For now, I‘ll simply change clothes and no, I don‘t need your help for that. Get out of here or you really will have the guys giving you a hard time.”

As she turned to her locker to do just that, Sam pulled her close for one more hug and kiss. After he left, she wasn’t surprised to find herself once more humming to herself as she changed out of her second uniform of the day back into her civilian clothes. Five minutes later she met Greg at Winnie’s desk. She was a little disappointed to see that Sam was already around the table in the briefing room with the rest of Team Four.

The ride to her house was quiet and Greg pulled up in front and parked. He turned to face her. “Like I said, a patrol car will be passing by at least once an hour. You hear anything suspicious, you call 9-1-1 immediately and a unit will come by sooner.”

“I’ll be fine. Promise.”

“I know you will.” They both got out of the car and she knew he wouldn’t be satisfied until he walked her safely to the door. As she unlocked and opened the front door, Greg indicated the empty garbage cans at the end of the driveway. “Want me to bring those up for you?”

Jules shook her head. “Nah, Sam will get them when he gets home. He opens the tailgate of the jeep and sets them on that so he doesn’t have to carry them. He puts them in the back and comes in through the back door. He says the extra work gives him an excuse for raiding the fridge for a beer as soon as he walks in. Thanks for the lift home. I promise, I’m bolting the door and no one’s getting in until Sam gets home. Even if Brad Pitt shows up wanting to woo me away from all this.”

Greg gave her an awkward hug and said goodbye. He didn’t step off the porch as Jules closed the front door and she knew he wouldn’t until he heard the bolt being drawn. Once he heard that, he turned and made his way back to his own vehicle, satisfied that she was safely tucked away for the night.

Little did either of them know that the danger wasn’t on the outside of the house but already waiting inside.

Chapter Text

“You hold still, I’m not going to hurt you.”

Jules held Patches tucked securely but gently under one arm so that she could extend one of his paws with one hand and hold the pet clippers with the other. The kitten didn’t like the idea of having his claws trimmed but relented when he realized Jules wasn’t going to let him go. He protested loudly with is meows as if she were torturing him terrible.

“Really, it’s not that bad. I know Sam tried to do this to you the other night and it didn’t go so well. That’s why he wants to let the groomers do it but that’s just silly. See, one paw clipped and no blood drawn by either of us. Let me do the other front paw and I’ll give you a break on the back ones until I switch the load in the washer to the dryer and get the next load started.”

She made quick but careful work out of the second paw and set the clippers on the coffee table. She took a quick drink from her glass of Sprite she’d poured earlier. She gave the kitten cuddles as praise for him letting her cut his nails and then carried him into the kitchen with her. Before setting him down to change the laundry over, she further rewarded him with a cat treat. He ate the morsel and then took off as if afraid he was about to be tortured again.

Jules laughed. “You can run but I know all your hiding spots.” She opened the dryer and moved the wet clothes from the washer over to the dryer. Once it was full, she turned the knob to let it dry for an hour and then tossed more clothes into the washer. As she reached for the soap to add to the mix, something fell in the other room. She paused. “What did you knock over now?”

She set the soap to one side and made her way back to the living room. A framed photograph of Sam and her that usually sat near the edge of a table near the stairs was now lying face down on the floor. Patches was sitting on his favorite spot on the third step staring at her innocently. She bent down and picked it up, glad to see the glass hadn’t broken. She gave the kitten a mock glare as she returned the picture to its spot on the table. “Watch it, Buddy. What have we told you about jumping up on tables? Behave and I’ll be right back.”

She returned to the laundry room, stopping first by the coffee table to retrieve her glass. She drained the remaining liquid as she returned to the kitchen. She placed the glass in the sink and finished putting the washing powders in the machine. Closing the lid on the machine she gripped the edges as the world suddenly tilted 360 degrees. She shook her head which suddenly felt cottony and sluggish.

Was she getting sick? She’d been spending a lot of time at the hospital and knew that place was a veritable germ pool. As the spinning subsided, she turned the machine on and turned to go back to the living room. Maybe Patches could wait about his back claws after all. A nap was probably all she needed. She stumbled out of the laundry room finding her legs were suddenly heavy and clumsy. Nothing on her body seemed to want to cooperate with her. The feeling reminded her of the last time she’d had to have a cavity filled and the way the nitrous oxide had made her feel. A sudden dread settled in her stomach. Had she been drugged somehow? She couldn’t imagine how. Lunch had been hours ago and the only thing she’d had since she got home was the Sprite.

Her cell phone was sitting on the coffee table and as she tried to stumble her way over to retrieve it and call for help, her eye fell once again to the framed picture of Sam and her. It was no longer standing where she put it but lying face down instead.

Her heart was pounding and she wasn’t sure if it was a result of her increasing fear or whatever was turning her body against her. Her phone was only a couple more steps away but as she came between the couch and coffee table, her legs quit working completely. She fell hard and was grateful for the soft carpet that cushioned her fall. She tried to lift her hand up to pull the cell phone down to her but her arms wouldn’t work. Nothing seemed to be working.

No, that wasn’t true she told herself. She could see even though even her eyelids seemed to have joined the strike the rest of her body was taking and all they could see was the beige of the carpet beneath her. She could breath even if it did seem like her lungs were struggling for each breath it took in. Her heart was racing fiercely threatening to burst out of her chest with its heavy pounding. Her mind, though cottony and sluggish was still processing her thoughts. And she realized her ears were still working as the sound of a door opening and closing somewhere close to her reached them.

She couldn’t lift her head but she could hear the footsteps as someone approached her. Something soft was slipped around her head, taking away one of the few senses that seemed to be working. She reasoned that whoever was in the room with her had tied a scarf around her eyes, blindfolding her. Slick hands rolled her over and Jules realized the intruder was wearing what felt like latex gloves.

She tried to scream but her vocal cords refused to utter so much as a squeak. It was as if her whole body was suddenly paralyzed. A mouth covered hers and her stomach would have twisted in revulsion but she wasn’t sure it was even working like it should. She couldn’t bite down on the tongue that was suddenly plunging into her threatening to gag her.

Her attacker said nothing and she could see nothing through the cloth that covered her eyes. There was nothing to confirm his identity but she knew it was Johnny. The smell of aftershave that drifted down her nostrils was the same as the night before. Sam and Greg had both warned her not to underestimate her uncle. They had both sensed the danger that she hadn’t wanted to admit could exist. She’d promised not to take unnecessary risks and she hadn’t. She was locked inside her own house. She should have been safe.

Small buttons flew all over the place as her shirt was roughly ripped open. Almost tenderly the garment was pushed down her arms in such a stark difference to the manner in which it had been torn open. The clasp of her bra was popped open next and it fell away presumable to join her top.

Jules was finding it hard to breathe. Her lungs didn’t feel like they were pumping as they should which was just made worse by the fact that her attacker’s tongue was still plunging in and out of her mouth, threatening to choke her. A hand gripped the back of her head and suddenly jerked it back. It felt like he was trying to pull her hair out by it’s roots. But at least it removed his tongue from her mouth.

He pushed her back down to the carpet face down. He gripped her hands behind her back. Another piece of materials slipped around her wrists and then tightened. She couldn’t understand why he was tying her wrists together since she couldn’t move them at all. It had to be just an intimidation attempt.

Her heart skipped a beat. Of course this was Johnny even if she couldn’t see him. She’d bragged to him the night before about how she could stand up to him and defend herself against him if he tried anything. Told him that she wouldn’t be paralyzed or intimidated by him any more. Now, less than twenty four hours later, she was finding herself being both by an unknown assailant. It couldn’t be coincidence.

Hands flipped her back over and her head was lifted. A wet rag was pushed into her mouth and swirled around. Again she felt herself starting to choke and the breath that was coming at such a difficulty for her was taken away by the taste and smell of the alcohol that the rag was soaked in. She recognized the taste even if she didn‘t drink it very often. Rum, kept in the house for the occasional get-togethers with the team or for the occasional baking she did. Darkness nibbled the edges of her consciousness and for a moment she longed for it to consume her. She was helpless to defend herself and Sam wasn’t due home for several more hours. There was nothing to stop him from carrying out all the vile acts that had happened to her twenty years ago and probably worse from happening to her again. Unconsciousness would be preferable to having to live through it.

The rag was removed and it was suddenly easier for her to breath. He apparently wasn’t going to let her lose consciousness. It was as if he wanted her powerless but aware of everything that was happening to her. Gloved hands gripped her waist and lifted her, tossing her on the couch. Her shoes and socks were removed and then her jeans and underwear quickly followed them.

She was very much aware of the fact that she was lying on the couch, naked, blindfolded and her useless arms tied behind her back. Nothing was going to be able to save her now and as she felt the weight of her attacker join her on the couch, she longed for the ability to scream and bite and kick. One word kept running through her brain like a mantra.

Walrus. Walrus. Walrus. Walrus. Walrus. Walrus. Walrus. Walrus. Walrus. Walrus.

His hands closed over her breasts. There was no trace of the gentleness and love she was beginning not only to become used to but to almost crave from Sam. His hands squeezed and groped her breasts in bruising force. She wanted to cry out in pain and rage against the fact that she was being denied even that comfort. Then his mouth closed over her right breast, alternating between biting and licking the nipple to trying to take as much of her breast into his mouth as possible and biting and sucking the skin it found. Soon he switched over to the left breast and did the same thing to it.

As he switched back and forth from one breast to the other, a hand drifted down to her private area. Screams she was denied expressing out loud filled her head and deafened her as several fingers roughly intruded into her sex at one time. Even still she could make out her attacker’s grunts around her breasts. The pain in her lower area was unlike anything she’d ever experienced, even worse than the last time a man had shoved his fingers in that same place twenty years ago. It felt like he was ripping her open.

When she didn’t think she could take the pain any longer, his hand suddenly pulled out of her and those same fingers touched her cheek. They were wet but it didn’t feel like the same kind of wetness she’d felt on her panties the night before. When a finder slid into her mouth she could taste something coppery. She was bleeding. The bastard had hurt her enough to make her bleed. His mouth left her breasts only to turn its attention to her core.

The night before the one tentative lick Sam had made beneath her panties had sent her immediately going for the code word. The action as well as her reaction to it had taken her completely by surprise . It had both scared and thrilled her at the same time. Enough so that it had sparked the most incredible night of sex she’d ever had. Though she knew Sam would have to be convinced after her strong reaction the night before, she’d planned to ask him to try again tonight. With Sam it was so perfect and so right and something she wanted to explore.

This however wasn‘t. Her assailants licks and bites on the area that was already hurting so much from the intrusion of his fingers inside her was the complete opposite of anything she had or would ever experience with Sam. She tried to distance herself from what was happening but the pain kept her all too aware of what was going on. Tears, a luxury that whatever drug she’d been given had at least afforded her, coursed down her cheeks soaking the material covering her opened eyes.

He pulled away completely and she would have sobbed in relief if she’d been able to. She heard the sound of metal against metal and realized he was unbuckling his belt buckle. If she were able she would be shaking uncontrollably. Twenty years ago she’d been spared that final humiliation by her mother’s timely arrival. Jules couldn’t imagine anything saving her this time. His gloved hands brutally gripped her legs pushing them as far apart as they would go. Far enough that she was afraid he was going to put her hips out of place. Something poked at her entrance and she knew it was just a matter of seconds before he plunged his condom-covered manhood in the same channel that his fingers had already so savagely assaulted.

The phone rang. After the fourth ring, the machine picked up. Jules had never been so glad to hear Sam’s voice. Even if it didn’t stop what was about to happen and she had to endure worse than her worst nightmare, she could hold on to whatever words the man she loved had to offer her.

“Jules, you there, Babe? The childbirth class George was supposed to attend got cancelled at the last minute so he came on in. I’m pulling into the driveway now; just didn’t want to scare you if you heard me banging around. Love ya.”

Her assailant cursed. The one word neither confirmed or eliminated her suspicions of who her attacker was. For a moment she didn’t think Sam’s message was going to deter her attacker. The already impossible strong grip he had on her legs tightened and she wondered if it was possible for his thumbs to pierce right through the skin. Wasn’t he scared that he was going to get caught? Jules couldn’t be sure if Sam had called before or after he’d placed the garbage cans in the back of the jeep but it still shouldn’t be but a matter of a couple of minutes before he came into the house. Certainly not time for her assailant to finish was he seemed so desperate to do AND get away. If she could talk she’d warn him of that. Anything that would prevent him from continuing.

After what seemed like an impossibly long time of indecision, he pulled away from her. The rustle of his pants being pulled back up was as welcoming a sound as the scrape of his belt buckle had been terrifying. It would be over now; he would leave before he could be caught.

The back door opened, the sound loud in the otherwise silent house. “Hey Babe, did you get my message?”

She figured her assailant would leave her lying there and make a run for it. Instead he pulled her up with him and started to drag her in the direction of what she could only assume would be the front door. Her heart continued to pound; if he took her with him then there would be no end to her nightmare. Wouldn’t her naked, unwieldy body just slow him down?

A door closed and she realized she was alone with her attacker in the coat closet by the front door. What was he doing? She could hear Sam moving about the living room. Had he not noticed her discarded clothes on the living room floor? Something wet touched her breast and she realized it was the rag he’d stuffed in her mouth earlier, the one soaked in rum. He wiped the rag roughly around each breast and then moved it lower. The alcohol burned her sore sensitive area as he roughly scrubbed that area as well.

She heard Sam lightly running up the stairs and then the sound of the bedroom door opening and closing. He was looking for her, wondering where she was. Yet she was powerless to let him know how to find her. Her assailant dropped her to the floor of the coat closet. Something hard and almost sharp was poking into her hip and it took her a moment to realize it was one of the ice skates that stayed in the closet until winter made ice skating a regular activity. She heard the door open and the close again and knew she was closed up in the coat closet all alone. She could only hope that Sam would be okay.

-- FP -- FP -- FP --


Sam was confused. Jules had promised she was coming straight home and staying there. But where was she? He’d heard the washing machine and dryer running when he’d passed through the kitchen so he knew she’d been there even though the room was currently empty. Not seeing her or getting a response from her downstairs, he’d gone upstairs to their bedroom to check for her there. Still no luck. He left the bedroom they shared together and went down the hall to the guest bedroom. Maybe she was straightening up in there. After all, they’d both been too tired after their experience the night before to straighten the bed or pick up their clothes and they hadn’t had a chance to do so that morning either. It was empty as well.

She’d promised not to take unnecessary risks and he trusted her not to go back on that promise. She also knew how worried he was. Even though she wasn’t expecting him home for several more hours, if something had come up, some emergency with her father or just her brothers or a friend stopping by to take her to dinner or something, she would have called and let him know or sent him a text message at least. Not because she thought she had to report all her comings and goings, but because she was that considerate of his feelings.

He headed back downstairs and stopped halfway down. The front door, which had been closed when he’d gone upstairs was now half open. He ran down the stairs and looked out the door, seeing nothing to indicate who had opened it. He stepped back inside and closed the door. He reached for his cell phone and dialed her cell. He heard her distinctive ring tone coming from the same room. He located the sound easily enough on the top of the coffee table. She wouldn’t have left the house without her phone. He wasn’t sure where else to look and wondered if he should call her brothers to see if they had talked to her. Something cracked beneath his shoe and squatting down saw that it was a button.

He frowned, wondering how it had gotten there. A look around showed several more and he felt his heart rate quicken with worry. It was then that he noticed the discarded pile of clothes between the couch and coffee table. Clothes discarded haphazardly the way he might discard them as he undressed Jules for a night of lovemaking.

His stomach tight with worry, he reached for his cell phone again. He quickly dialed Greg’s number. It seemed to take forever for the SRU sergeant to answer, but he finally heard the hello. “Boss, Sam. Jules is missing.”

He quickly filled him in on what he knew. He wanted to panic, wanted to throw something, anything, everything he could get his hands on. If Johnny had hurt Jules even a little bit, nothing would be able to protect him once Sam got his hands on him. He picked up Jules’s discarded shirt even though as a cop he knew he shouldn’t disturb anything. He buried his face in it and prayed that wherever she was, she was safe.

Greg promised he’d be there as soon as possible. Sam ended the call and continued to sit on the floor clutching her shirt to him, suddenly overcome with emotion Minutes ticked by and still he sat there. He felt useless. He should be doing something to find her but it was as if he couldn’t even think of anything except what might be happening to her. The only damn thing he could do was sit there in tears when who knows what could be happening to the woman he loved.

Small paws pressed against his jeans covered leg. He looked down to see the kitten looking up at him plaintively. Patches meowed and then arched his back in a stretch before climbing up onto Sam’s leg. Not satisfied, the kitten then put his paws against Sam’s shirt, preparing to climb even higher. Sam immediately recognized the difference in his claws. He shook his head, chuckling through his tears. Jules had been teasing him about the concept of paying someone else to trim the kitten’s claws. She must have started the job when she got home. Absently he rubbed the kitten’s fur and then pulled the kitten back to look at him carefully.

“I guess you witnessed everything that happened here, didn’t you. Too bad you can’t talk; maybe you could tell me what happened to Jules. Maybe even help me find her couldn‘t you?”

There was a sharp knock at the door and Greg let himself in. He crossed the room and knelt down beside the distraught man giving his shoulder a squeeze. Sam set the kitten back on the floor and turned toward his boss. “She’s gone, Boss. He’s taken her.”

“We don’t know that, Sam. Not for sure. I know you are worried but there could still be a reasonable explanation.”

“Look around Sarge, those are the clothes she wore to and from work today including her bra and panties. Trust me when I say Jules isn’t in the habit of getting naked in the living room and then walking upstairs to change clothes. And she definitely isn’t in the habit of ripping the buttons off her favorite blouse. He’s taken her, you know it and I know it. So don’t sit there and try to pretend there’s some fucking reasonable explanation.”

Greg sighed. “I hear you, Buddy. On the way over, I called the station. Team 4 is going to go over to Kennington House and see if Johnny is there. If he has her, we’ll find her.”

There was a sound of claws scratching wood and Sam whirled around, to see the kitten scratching at the coat closet door. He picked up a cat toy that had been abandoned near the chair and chunked it at the door scaring the kitten away from it. “Damn it, Patches. You know better.”

Greg had never seen Sam that out of control, not even after Jules had been shot. Much like he would a subject who was escalating at a scene, he had to redirect Sam’s attention. “Sam, have you checked everywhere in the house?”

“I called out to her and she didn’t answer. She’d answer if she was here.” Sam explained.

“Not if she’s unconscious or gagged. Whatever happened might have started in here and then he could have dragged her elsewhere.” Greg offered. It was obvious Sam was too blinded by his fear to think logically; it would be up to him to do so. “Now, where all have you looked?”

“Kitchen, laundry room, both bedrooms, here.”

“Okay, let’s check the rest of the house just to make sure. We check everywhere, under the beds, closets, bathrooms, anywhere he could have hidden her.”

They started upstairs leaving no place unchecked. There was no sign that she’d even been there since coming home. Coming back downstairs, Sam was annoyed to see that Patches was once again clawing at the coat closet door. He stopped, his breath coming in shallow gasps. Just before Greg’s arrival he’d been wishing the cat could help him find Jules. What if Patches really was?

He almost fell down the rest of the stairs in his haste to get to the closet. He swung the door open calling Jules’s name. He was both relieved and horrified to see her lying on the floor of the closet. “Jules? Oh God, Baby. It’s okay I’ve got you now. Boss, she’s here. I found her.”

He dropped to his knees and lifted her carefully in his arms. She made no reaction to his touch or call. He figured she must be unconscious. Keeping one arm firmly around her back, crushing her to his chest, he reached behind her and loosened the bindings around her wrists. He recognized the tie that had been used as one of his own. He ran a gentle finger across her wrists knowing the tightness of the bindings had to have hurt her delicate skin but grateful to feel her pulse strongly present under his touch. Next, he reached up and untied the scarf that was serving as a blindfold. The scarf he also recognized as a gift Jules had received from Natalie on her last birthday.

“EMS is on the way. I asked that they send a female medic if all possible. I also have police units on the way. How is she?” Greg eased down beside him.

“I don’t know, I can’t tell. It’s too dark in here.”

“Let’s get her out in the living room then so we can check her.” Greg’s voice was calm. He hoped it would help to calm Sam down as well. He moved out of the way giving Sam to ease out of the closet with his precious cargo. Greg didn’t want to disturb anything else in the living room until a crew could come in and process any potential evidence but didn’t want Jules lying there exposed to every eye that came in. He ran back upstairs and returned just as quickly with a light blanket from the end of their bed.

Sam had was sitting on the floor with Jules cradled in his lap. He was whispering comforting words to her. Greg covered her naked body with the blanket and reached out to push her hair back. Her eyes were opened but she gave no sign of being aware of anything, with the exception of the tears that were running down her cheeks. Though he had never seen one for himself, Greg knew about her panic attacks in the past and this had all the signs of a bad one. He couldn’t blame her given what she’d already been through and what she might have been through here.

As Sam continued to whisper in her ear, Greg gave her a clinical once-over. Her pulse was strong but her breathing was shallow as if she were having trouble breathing. There was a slight bluish twinge to her lips that concerned him. He hadn’t seen anything that looked like life threatening injuries in the brief moments before covering her with the blanket. He also caught a whiff of rum that seemed to be coming from her but he couldn’t understand it. Jules might drink a beer or two, maybe a mixed drink when out with the team but he didn’t think she drank anything harder than a beer when she was alone. He frowned realizing he hadn’t seen her blink once since he’d been checking her. Even if she had slipped into a sort of panic-induced catatonia, she should still be blinking at least occasionally.

Sirens came closer and then stopped in front of the house. Giving Sam’s arm a comforting squeeze, Greg went to let the medics in. One of the medics was Steve and the other a female medic that Greg had seen on calls but couldn’t remember her name. They pushed a stretcher inside as Greg filled them in on what they knew. Steve knelt beside Sam.

“Sam, let us take a look at her.”

For a moment it didn’t look like Sam was going to release his hold on her enough to let the medics examine her. Greg was about to intervene but Sam finally laid her gently on the floor. He couldn’t bring himself to move completely out of the way, and instead continued to sit near her head, running his hands soothingly through her hair. Steve took a pen light and shined it in her eyes.

“Pupils are equal and reactive to light.” He took her hand in his. “Jules, if you can hear me, squeeze my hand.”

There was no response. The female medic pulled the blanket away so she could perform an exam. Sam wanted to protest and say that Jules wouldn’t want to be exposed like that for everyone to see. Actually what he really wanted was for Jules herself to protest. The female medic attached three leads to the heart monitor to Jules’s chest and a meter on her finger. She slipped the blood pressure cuff on Jules’s arm and pumped it up. She frowned.

“Heart rhythms okay. BP a little high - 140 over 87. Pulse ox’s what’s bad. 90 on room air. She’s not getting enough oxygen. We need to bag her.”

She pulled a oxygen mask that was connected to a big blue bulb on the end. She placed it over Jules’s mouth and nose and looked at Sam. “You can help us by squeezing that blue bag once every five seconds.”

Sam nodded. In between squeezing the bag, he continued to offer reassuring words to Jules. He didn’t know if she could hear him or not but wanted her to know she was safe if she could. Steve looked across to his partner. “You thinking what I’m thinking?”

The female medic nodded curtly. Greg frowned. He’d been standing back talking to the uniformed officers that had responded to the call, trying to respect Jules’s dignity as much as he could. “What are you thinking?”

“Won’t know for sure until we get her to the hospital and they run a blood test but I’d say she’s been drugged.”

Sam blew out air from his own lungs with every squeeze of the bag as if it would help Jules breathe better. “What kind of drug? Will she be okay?”

Steve looked at the bruises already starting to form on Jules’s breast. It killed him to think someone had so brutally hurt the young women he’d once dated. They had never reached a state of intimacy in their brief relationship that included sex, not that he hadn’t been interested. Somehow it seemed completely wrong that this was the way he was seeing her undressed body for the first time. He recovered her with the blanket. “There’s a new rape drug making the rounds right now. Possibly more sadistic than either GHP or Rohypnol. One comprised mostly of a neuromuscular agent. It effectively paralyzes the victim making her incapable of fighting back or even moving at all but leaves her completely aware of everything that’s going on.”

“Let’s get her on the stretcher.” The female medic suggested. They carefully moved her to the stretcher and Steve gave her hand the squeeze he couldn’t get from her. “Jules, I know this is probably way scarier than anything you’ve experienced before but we’re going to take care of you. I know you want to respond but you can’t. The effects of the drug you were given will start to wear off but it’s going to take awhile. We’re going to transport you to the hospital but Sam’s going to be right here with you the whole time.”

Greg was glad to hear that Steve recognized the fact that there was no way Sam was going to let them transport Jules without him. “Sam, I’ll finish up where with the officers and then meet you at the hospital. I’ll call her brothers and the rest of the team and let them know what’s going on. She’s going to be okay.”

Sam barely heard him. Still maintaining the rhythm he’d been told to keep with the ambu-bag, he leaned down so the could whisper in Jules’s ear so that only she could hear him. “Jules, Sweetheart. It’s going to be okay. I’m going to find who did this to you and then I’m going to fucking kill him.”

Chapter Text

There were twenty-eight steps from one wall of the ER waiting room to the wall on the other side. Sam knew how many steps there were because he had counted them in one of his many treks across the path. Now he was working on counting how many times he could make those twenty-eight steps in a five minute span of time. At a minute fifteen, he was on pass fifteen. He ignored the annoyed looks he was getting from other people sitting in the waiting room waiting for word about their loved ones. They could pass the interminable amount of time the way they wanted to, this was the way he was choosing to spend his.

How long had it been since Steve and the female medic -- did she say her name was Molly or Mary? -- had wheeled Jules into a curtained off cubicle and a nurse had redirected him to the waiting room to fill out way too many forms and to wait? It felt like an eternity. Didn’t they realize that he should be back there with Jules? That she needed him? That he needed her?

“Sam?” Steve approached him quietly, much the way someone would approach a rabid dog.

Sam didn’t stop his pacing. 26, 27, 28. Turn start back for pass 16. 1, 2, 3... He didn’t want to stop or be stopped unless it meant getting to change direction and walking however the hell many steps it took to reach Jules’s side. With a sigh Steve motioned for Sam to take a seat in one of the hard plastic chairs that hospitals seemed to insist on for waiting rooms. Sam shot him a lot and kept pacing. So Steve paced with him.

“She’s doing better.” That got Sam’s attention but didn’t make him stop. “The doctor is still examining her but I thought you’d like an update before Mindy and I head out.”

Mindy, well, he’d at least gotten the first initial right.

Steve continued. “She’s slowly regaining the ability to blink and her breathing is evening out on its own. Means her involuntary muscles are starting to work again.”

Great, she can blink. Must make things a helluva less scary for her. 26, 27, 28. Turn start pass 17. 1, 2, 3 … “How long until the drug wears completely off?”

Steve shrugged, encouraged that Sam was actually speaking. “Depends on how much she was given. From what I understand, it wears off in stages. Involuntary muscles return first followed by gross motor skills. The fine motor skills take the longest. If I had to guess, and this is only a guess, she’ll be pretty well back to normal by tomorrow morning.”

Normal? Was that possible? Sam didn’t know what the animal had done to Jules but just seeing her naked bruised body told him she’d been forced to relive at least some of her worst memories and was possibly subjected to worse. What could be normal about that? “When can I see her?”

“Soon, I’m sure. Once the doctor finishes his initial exam…”

Sam stopped on step 20 and turned to face Steve, his expression dark and dangerous. “He? What do you mean he? You saw her Steve, you’ve got an idea of what that bastard did to her. The last thing she needs is for another strange man to be poking and prodding her especially in her current state.”

He pushed past Steve heading the opposite direction across the waiting room toward the information desk. A young blonde nurse smiled helpfully at him as he approached. “Can I help you, Sir?”

“Yeah, get me someone who actually has a brain in their head and a damn ounce of compassion that can change what doctor is treating Julianna Callaghan.”

The nurse blinked several times, looking at Sam owlishly. “Sir? I don’t understand.”

Sam gripped the edge of the counter, not caring if he was making a scene or taking his frustration out on someone who didn’t deserve it. “Let me see if I can make it easier on you. What kind of asshole sends a male doctor in to treat a female assault victim? Get him out of there and get a female doctor in his place. You do understand the difference between male and female don’t you? That’s Julianna Callaghan, the patient in Curtain 7. Do it now or so help me God, I’ll go back there and pull him out myself.”

“Sam!” Steve stepped between Sam and the desk. He flashed the nurse an apologetic look before pushing Sam back toward the chairs. “Listen to me. Trust me, I know both ER doctors on call today. You want Dr. Victors treating Jules. He may be a guy but you’ll never meet a more compassionate man. I’ve seen him treat assault victims before and he’s the best. Much better at it than Dr. Seagrove and she’s a female. Believe me, if Jules was still my girlfriend, Dr. Victors would be whom I would request to treat her.”

“But she’s not your girlfriend anymore is she?” Sam glowered.

“No, no she’s not and I didn’t mean anything about what I said. Damn it, Sam. I know you’re scared and hurting but you can’t go off half-cocked in here. Security would remove you and then you wouldn’t get to see Jules when the time comes. She needs you but she needs you with your head in the game.”

Sam slumped into a chair and buried his head in his hands. “You’re right. I’m just going crazy thinking about what that bastard might have done to her, how scared she must be right now, how scared I am. When I got home and couldn’t find her I thought I was going to go out of my mind with worry. When I found her clothes laying there I think I did. I was sitting there knowing I should do something but unable to move. The whole time she was less than ten feet away and I couldn’t find her.”

“You did find her and she’s safe now. But listen to me on this because I’m not trying to piss you off or get myself punched in the process. You think you are going crazy out here? It’s probably a thousand times worse in there for her. She knows what that bastard did to her AND she’s trapped in her body unable to fight back or react in any way. We both know Jules and feeling helpless don’t go together. When you get back there she needs you to be the strong one until she gets that control back and you can’t do that if you are too busy feeling helpless and sorry for yourself.”

“Screw you. You don’t know what I’m feeling or what she’s feeling or what she’s already been through and what this is going to do to her or to me.” Sam’s words were low and dangerous but Steve was sensing a little more control coming back into him. He nodded and stood.

“You’re right, I don’t know. She never allowed me to get that close to her when we were dating. But she does you. You are going to do whatever it takes to get her through this because you love her. She’s going to let you because she loves you. Now I’ve got to get back on duty; I’ve left Mindy to restock the ambulance by herself. I don’t want to leave you alone though.”

“It’s okay, I’ll stay with him.” The female voice caught them both off guard. Dr. Luria smiled her thanks at Steve and then sat down on the other side of Sam touching his arm lightly. “Greg called me and told me what happened. Luckily I was still in my office finishing up paper work. He’ll be here as soon as he can. He told me to tell you that he got in touch with one of Jules’s brothers who’s on his way. The team knows but he asked them to stay away for the moment. They’re all concerned and want to be here but Greg told them, and I agree, that Jules probably doesn’t need a bunch of guys hovering over her tonight.”

“Sam, I’ll check on Jules later.” Steve promised and left.

The blonde man lowered his head into his hands. “I’m okay, Jules needs someone more than I do. Can you check on her? Don’t those credentials after you name get you some sort of easy access around here?”

“Where do you think I’ve been since Greg called me? I’d be back there with her still but they are doing the sexual assault exam and protocol won’t allow anyone back there with her except the forensic nurse collecting the evidence and the doctor treating her.”

Sam stood and resumed his twenty eight step pace. The idea that she needed a sexual assault exam sickened him. He was pretty sure she’d never had one after Johnny’s assault twenty years earlier. Hard to be tested when you’re too scared to admit it evem happened. His police training made him very familiar with the procedure and it sounded like it could be, while very necessary both to treating wounds and collecting evidence, just as painful and upsetting as the attack itself.

He stopped at the end of one pass and looked at Dr. Luria. “How could you let them give her a male doctor? I know Steve said he’s good but he’s still a man. How can it be good for her to have a male doctor doing such intrusive tests after what’s she’s been through?”

Without waiting for her to answer, he started another pass. She didn’t get up and join him on his pace but stayed in her seat. Her eyes followed his every movement. It didn’t take any of her training to recognized that Sam was tightly wound. If pacing helped him expend that built up energy then at least it wasn’t hurting anyone or causing a scene.

“Sam, Dr. Victors is the best. No, she’s probably not comfortable with him but she’s not comfortable with the female forensic nurse who’s actually doing those intrusive tests either. The doctor should be out to give you an update soon and once they’ve finished the exam, they’ll let you back to see her. I know that will make her feel better.”

Sam stopped his pacing and returned to the seat next to Dr. Luria. Had she realized she’d touched on his fear? “Will it? Dr. Luria, you know this isn’t the first time she was attacked, don’t you? That something similar happened to her as a teenager probably by the same animal who did it this time?”

“Not officially but I knew it had probably happened from what Greg told me last week. Jules really didn’t tell me much the day we talked and despite me giving her my cell number and encouraging her to call me, she hasn’t yet.”

Sam’s expression was grim. “Yeah, well, we both know Jules doesn’t like to ask for help on anything. She nearly broke her damn neck trying to get off the roof one day. She’d been up there fixing a shingle that had come loose during a storm. The ladder fell just as she was trying to get down. I was in the driveway changing the oil in the jeep and could have put it back in place without any problem but she never said a word. I didn’t know anything was wrong until I heard her cussing cause she landed wrong.”

To someone who didn’t know Jules, Sam’s story could sound like a gross exaggeration of the facts but Dr. Luria could see the event happening exactly the way Sam described it. She smiled softly. “Yeah, don’t think I have any work stories that top that one but I’ve definitely seen her independent streak shine through. More than a few uniformed officers have had their heads bitten off for trying to be gentlemanly and take a gear bag away from her to carry for her. But you didn’t start off worrying about her not asking for help. You were asking if your presence will make her feel better. You can’t seriously doubt that it wouldn’t.”

Sam sighed. “Can’t I? I don’t doubt that she’d want me there but will I make her feel better? What if I just make it worse?”

“What if I told you that she’s practically begging to see you?”

Her words hit him like a punch in the gut. He shook his head, the entire ambulance ride he’d tried to get her to say something, anything but she didn’t even release a simple grunt or moan, not even when Mindy put in the IV line. Mindy had told him not to worry because if she had been drugged with what they thought she’d been drugged with her vocal cords were paralyzed preventing her from talking. “She can talk again?”

“No, not yet. But since her eyelids are once more working we got her to communicate with us through blinking. You know, ask her yes/no questions. One blink is no, two is yes. Dr. Victors had already used the system to ask question he needed in order to treat her and I was standing near the head of the bed, out of the way of the doctor doing his job but where I know she could see me. They have her hooked to a heart monitor and her rhythms were all over the place. Not surprising considering how upset she probably is. I started noticing that every so often they would even out like she was calming down. But then would go erratic again a moment later. I couldn’t figure out what was causing it, but then realized her patterns seemed to level out every time something brushed against her curtain like someone was about to step in. Her cubicle is right across from the nurses’ station so it happened quite frequently. When no one came in, she’d get upset again.”

His hand clenched and unclenched in a fist, his heart breaking for what she must be going through. She was probably scared of every sound she heard knowing she couldn’t defend herself. Dr. Luria continued.

“I asked her if she was scared someone was going to come in. It didn’t seem likely considering her rhythms seemed to improve but I figured it could be the equivalent of her holding her breath. She blinked once. So I asked if she was waiting for someone to come in. She blinked twice. You were the first name I asked her about and she didn’t blink twice she blinked like twenty times. Jules version of exclamation marks if you ask me.”

If Jules wanted him back there then he’d damn well do what she wanted. Sam stood, ready to burst back into the emergency department and to hell with whoever tried to stop him. Dr. Luria stood, putting her hand on his arm, sensing what he was thinking. Physically she knew she couldn’t stop him if he was determined to get to Jules but she had to tried to talk him out of it. “She’s okay, Sam. She knows you are here and that you would be back there if you could. I promised her you were close and that you’d be back there as soon as the doctor gave the word. Dr. Victors even offered to hold off the exam to give you a moment to see her first if that would make her feel better. She considered it, I know she did even though it’s hard to read her thoughts in her eyes even when she’s not drugged. But she blinked once. I think she knew if she said yes, she’d only get a few minutes with you and then you’d be sent out here again when they did the exam. She wants it done and over with, partly because she wants it past her but mostly because she needs you back there long term. Just please, for now be patient. Shouldn’t be but another five or ten minutes max.”

“SAM” Peter came practically running into the waiting room. “Where is she? How is she? Was it Johnny? Did he hurt my little sister again? Did someone put his ass below the ground?”

After introducing Dr. Luria to Jules’s brother, Sam sat back down and Peter and Dr. Luria joined him. Slowly, breaking down occasionally, he told them what he knew, still chaffing at the fact that what he did know was so little. When he finished, Peter shook his head, looking scared and angry all at the same time.

“It had to be Johnny. It would be too big a coincidence for it to be some random attack. Damn it. I think we were all looking forward to a night off from sitting up at the hospital with Dad, a chance to relax and do something normal. When I talked to her this afternoon she actually sounded happy about doing laundry. Actually she just sounded happy period. I couldn’t believe it when your boss called me and told me she was being transported to the hospital. I’ve tried to get hold of James but his phone is turned off. He had a date with his girlfriend and wanted to make it up to her for having to neglect her while Dad’s been sick. I didn’t want to call Mark or Ridge until I knew more and I sure as hell wasn’t going to call Dad and upset him.”

An older doctor with graying temples and a gentle face stopped at the information desk. Recognizing him, Dr. Luria touched Sam’s arm again. “There’s Dr. Victors.”

The doctor approached them as the three stood once again. Dr. Luria made the introductions. “Dr. Victors, this is Peter Callaghan, one of Jules’s brothers and this is Sam Braddock, her boyfriend.”

The doctor shook hands with both men and then fixed Peter with a concerned look. “Can we step into the consultation room and I’ll give you an update on your sister’s condition?”

“Anything you have to tell me, you can say to Sam as well. He’s as much Jules’s family as I am.”

The doctor nodded. He hadn’t really wanted to leave Sam out because he had gleaned from the almost one sided conversation that the psychologist had had with his patient that Sam was important to her. Still, he had to follow hospital procedures and speak to family only unless they waived that stipulation. “Okay, how about both of you follow me to the consultation room then?”

“Sam,” Dr. Luria intercepted. “I don’t think there’s much more I can do here tonight. I’ll check on Jules tomorrow when the drug has had a chance to wear off completely.”

He nodded and offered the woman a hug, thanking her for being there for both him and Jules. Then he followed after Peter and the doctor. The truth was he wanted to hear what the doctor had to say about Jules’s condition but what he wanted more than anything was to be by her side. He wanted to gather her gently in his arms and hold her so that she knew no matter what had happened or how scared she might be, he was there and they would work through it together. He just hoped that no matter how much Jules might want that as well, her reactions to what happened didn’t prevent her from accepting his touch and his love.

The doctor led them past the information desk into the emergency room proper and to a small room that contained one small couch and a couple of chairs that looked much more inviting than the ones in the waiting room. They sat and the doctor touched the tips of his fingers together with both hands at his chin. “I’m not going to keep you long. I know you both are probably anxious to see Jules and I know she wants to see you as well. However I know you need to hear about how she’s doing.”

Jules, he called her Jules, not Julianna nor Constable Callaghan nor the one she hated the most Ms. Callaghan. He called her Jules, the name she preferred and felt most comfortable with even if she couldn’t feel comfortable about anything else. That and the doctor’s acknowledgement that he realized what they would rather do were both causing the man to rise in Sam’s estimation. Sam leaned forward. “In the ambulance she was having a lot of trouble breathing. Steve told me that was better. Is it?”

The doctor nodded. “One of the nastier side effects of the drug I’m sure she was given. We’re still waiting for the tox report to confirm it but we’ve seen the effects enough we’re reasonable sure of what we’re dealing with. We actually use a variation of it here in the hospital when we need to temporarily paralyze the muscles for simple surgeries. However when we used it clinically, it’s almost always on an unconscious patient in conjunction with an anesthesia. It paralyzes all of the muscles but doesn’t mask pain. In Jules’s case, it didn’t totally paralyze the diaphragm but it seriously compromised it’s ability to do its job. That’s why she was having trouble breathing. And yes, it is better. We have her on oxygen but we’re no longer assisting her breathing. Over the next few hours she’ll slowly start to regain use of all her muscles.”

“Is it painful?” Peter interjected, not liking the idea of his sister suffering. “You know, when her muscles wake up? Will it be that pins and needles sensation you get if your foot falls asleep and then starts to wake up?”

The doctor shook his head. “Thankfully no. But it’s not going to be a picnic for her. I can tell she’s already frustrated not being able to do the slightest thing. She can’t move her arms or legs, speak, or even turn her head on the pillow. She’s literally trapped inside her body. The drug isn’t posing a danger to her any more but I am going to admit her to the hospital until it works completely out of her system.”

Peter opened his mouth to ask the question weighing heaviest on his mind but closed it again just as quickly. He tried again but still couldn’t make the words come out. Finally he just blurted out his question before he could lose his nerve. “Was my sister raped, Dr. Victors?”

Dr. Victors waited a long painful minute before answering the question. “We don’t like to use the term rape anymore. The definition is too varied for it to be practical. I will confirm that an assault of a sexual nature took place but that’s as far as I will discuss it with you.”

Peter frowned. “I’m her brother.”

“Good for you. I’ve unfortunately haven’t gotten to meet her at her best but I from what I can gather she’s a remarkably strong young woman. However I don’t care if you are her Siamese twin, I’m not going to discuss the full nature of what happened to her with either of you. I will make a copy of my report available to the police -- and yes, Sam, thanks to Dr. Luria, I’m aware that both you and Jules are constables with the Strategic Response Unit -- investigating her attack. But other than that report that I am required to file, it will be up to Jules with whom she chooses to share the intimate details of what happened to her. She deserves to have control of that if nothing else.”

Peter looked like he wanted to protest. It had taken him twenty years to find out that his sister had even been assaulted when she was sixteen and he still didn’t know all the details of what happened to her then. What if she couldn’t talk about this attack either?

Sam wanted to know the full story as well, more so to save Jules the agony of having to discuss it later, but appreciated the fact that the doctor was putting Jules’s feelings ahead of their need to hear the gritty details. He now understood why Steve and Dr. Luria thought so highly of the man. Still he couldn’t dismiss the memory of the bloody smudge on her cheek or the quick glimpse of a twinge of red on the inside of her leg he’d gotten when he pulled her from the front closet what seemed to be so many hours ago. “Can you just answer me one question? Please, you don’t have to go into details. How badly did that bastard hurt her physically?”

He couldn’t ask about emotionally because he knew there was no way of knowing the extent of the emotional damage until Jules was able to communicate with them with much more than just blinks and changes in heart rhythms. His eyes pleaded with the doctor to grant them that one mercy.

Dr. Victors frowned. “She has some minor injuries but nothing that won’t heal on their own. In fact, if it weren’t for the drug she was given, I probably wouldn’t keep her. Would the two of you like to see her now?”

Sam and Peter followed the doctor down the hall toward the nurses’ station. Dr. Luria hadn’t been exaggerating when she said that Jules’s cubicle was directly across from the desk. The doctor pulled the curtain back and stepped aside so that the other two men could step inside. A young redheaded nurse in light blue scrubs turned to look at them briefly before returning to her task of checking the IV and monitors. But Sam barely noticed that there was anything or anyone in the room except for the woman in the bed.

Someone had raised the bed so she wasn’t lying flat and could see who was coming and going without trouble. The pale green hospital gown someone had dressed her in made her already small frame seem even more dwarfed but at least it covered the bruises he was sure covered some of her most beautiful and delicate features. With the exception of the clear plastic mask covering her mouth and nose giving her oxygen and fact that the woman who didn’t know how to be still wasn’t so much as drumming a finger against the bed she was lying on, there was no outward sign that anything was wrong with her. Unless you looked deep into her chocolate brown eyes.

He’d always heard the old saying that the eyes were the window to the soul but he’d never fully understood it until the night Jules had shown up at his apartment after the disastrous day of undergoing psych evals by Dr. Toth. He couldn’t be sure but he thought he might be the only one she’d ever allowed to see deep down into her soul. For everyone else she was so careful to hide behind whatever barriers she’d long erected to protect herself. She was so good at hiding the slightest hint her emotions from everyone else that the rest of the team refused to play poker with her saying her ability to bluff bordered on cheating.

Sam couldn’t help but wonder if the fear, frustration, and pain he was seeing reflected in those deep pools were visible just to him or if the drug that had paralyzed everything else about her had stripped those protective barriers so that everyone could see what she was feeling. As their eyes locked on each other, he thought he caught a glimpse of something else appearing in her eyes. Was he really seeing relief or was he thinking he saw it because he was so relived himself to finally be back here with her?

Dr. Victors cleared his throat. “We’ll leave the three of you alone. We’ll move her upstairs as soon as we get the room. If you need us, either push the button on the bed or call for us.”

Push the button, call, two things she wouldn’t be able to do on her own until the drug released her from captivity. The doctor and nurse stepped out the cubicle and pulled the curtain shut behind them. Peter shuffled inside and tentatively reached out to brush a hand lightly over her hair, just barely touching her as if he were scared he might hurt her.

“Hey Squirt. Don’t worry, it’s okay.”

Slowly as if she were having to concentrate really hard to make them, her eyeballs moved from Peter back to the edge of the cubicle where Sam was still standing frozen in place. Something in her eyes seemed to be pleading with him and his breath caught in his throat. He wanted to give her what she seemed to silently be asking for but felt rooted to his spot. He shook his head.

“Sweetheart, I don’t want to hurt you or crowd you.”

One blink. Sam took a deep breath and took a step closer and then another until he was at the foot of her bed. “Close enough for now, Babe.”

One blink. Sam swallowed hard. “Do you want me to hold you?”

One blink. His heart started to fall and he started to lower his head until he realized she hadn’t stopped at one blink. A second blink, then a third, fourth, fifth, so many times he lost count. Jules’s version of exclamation points as Dr. Luria had called them. Without hesitation, he sat on the bed beside her and gently scooped her into his arms and crushed her to his chest. For the first time since he’d arrived home to find her missing, everything felt right.

Chapter Text

“Close your eyes and rest a little while.” Sam urged Jules, brushing a strand of hair away from her face. Though he could have held her snug against his body for the rest of the night and probably for the rest of their lives, he’d lowered her gently back to the bed after about five minutes. Her eyes were currently the only way they had of communicating with her and neither he nor Peter could see her eyes with her head crushed to his chest. He continued to sit on the bed facing her, his hands making constant little touches to her hair, her cheek, her hand, always watching for the slightest hint of fear in her eyes that would tell him his touches weren’t welcomed. And more than a little relieved when it didn’t appear forthcoming.

Blink.

“Sam’s right, Squirt. The sleep would probably do you good. I’m here and I don’t think there’s been a crowbar made that’s big enough to pry Sam away from your side.” Peter had pulled a chair up to the head of the bed and was leaning his head on the railing watching her as if he was afraid she’d disappear if he turned away for too long.

Blink.

“Jeeze Squirt, stubborn much?” Peter groused, only half joking. He hated seeing her so helpless. It just made sense to him that if she’d sleep, by the time she woke up maybe the worst of the effects would be gone.

Blink. Blink.

Sam laughed out loud, the sudden outburst sounding almost out of place. He shook his head and glanced over at Peter. “At least she’s honest.” He turned his attention back to Jules. “Okay, well, if we can’t get you to nap, think you can answer a few questions for me?”

One eye went down while the other stayed wide open.

Sam cocked an eyebrow. “Is that your idea of maybe or depends?”

Blink. Blink.

Sam immediately knew why she was hedging her answer. It was only a matter of time before the painful questions began. Questions that as cops they’d been trained to ask victims who had been in her position. Questions that had to be asked if there was any hope of putting someone away for such a heinous crime. Yet knowing as necessary as the questions were and no matter how sensitive or compassionate you tried to phrase them, in the end they were still intrusive, personal, and in some cases even accusatory. He couldn’t lie and say some of those questions, at least ones she could answer with a straight yes or no, weren’t on the tip of his tongue. Questions that had been killing him since he’d found her. Was Johnny Dawson responsible for her current state? Had the attack still been taking place while Sam had been searching the house for her? Would she ever be able to forgive him for not getting there sooner and preventing every single bruise she now sported? Those were the questions he wanted to ask but he held his tongue, not wanting to pressure her if she could avoid it. “Are you hurting anywhere? Do you need something for pain?”

Blink.

Peter snorted. “You wouldn’t be lying to us, would you, Squirt?”

Blink.

Sam realized his mistake. He’d asked her two questions at the same time which could have had two different answers. It wasn’t a lie if she was answering one of the two questions truthfully, or at least that’s the way she would see it. He should have remembered that she was the queen of being evasive and been more careful about his phrasing. “Are you hurting but not bad enough to want something for pain?”

Blink. Blink.

Sam nodded. “Okay, I won’t push it then. Understand that I’m going to keep asking you every so often because I don’t want you to lie there suffering because you can’t ask for something you need. I’m not going to ask you if you are comfortable because I know there’s no way in hell you could possibly be anywhere close to comfortable. Instead I’ll ask if you need me to try to move you into something somewhat close to being closer to comfortable than you are right now?”

Blink.

Her eyes looked suspiciously wet and he realized she was holding back tears. The tears hadn’t been there before he’d asked his question so there was something about it that had caused them. It was on the edge of his tongue to beg him to tell him but he stopped himself just in time. How he wished it was that simple. He frowned. If she needed something, he wanted to be able to get it for her; he simply had to figure out what it was. “You do want to be in a different position but you don’t want me sitting here playing twenty questions to figure out what it is. Am I right?”

Blink. Blink.

Peter pushed his chair back with a scrape. Sam turned his head to look at him, not missing the way Jules’s eyes tracked his movement. The older Callaghan ran his hand through his hair in frustration. Frustration he knew couldn’t be but just a fraction of what his sister was feeling. “Damn it. This is just freaking great. This is a hospital for Pete’s sake. You would think there would be something in their bag of tricks that would counter this drug. Are you seriously telling me that the best they can do is just let her lay there like a freaking blinking vegetable until the drug wears off?”

“Peter.” Sam’s tone held just enough of a threat to make the man stop.

Peter looked back at his sister. Her eyes were no longer just filled with unshed puddles of tears that were content to be held back. Fat droplets had slipped past the lower lid to run down the side of her face. He swore again realizing for the first time what he’d actually said and how she might interpret it. He leaned over her, brushing the fallen tears away. “Jules, I’m sorry, Squirt. I shouldn’t have…I didn’t think…I just…Damn it, Jules, you know me. I can’t stand to see you hurting, especially if there’s nothing I can do to make it better. I just feel so damn helpless which I know is nothing compared to how you feel. And then what do I damn well do but go and make you feel even worse. I probably shouldn’t be here. You probably want me to leave you the hell alone, don’t you?”

Blink.

Peter hung his head. “Thanks, Squirt.”

Sam looked back at Jules, giving her a slow wink. “Are all your brothers this out of control when it comes to protecting you?”

Blink. Blink. Blink. Blink. Blink.

“Good to know.” Sam quipped. In truth, he understood exactly where Peter was coming from even if he wished her older brother had voiced his frustration in a different way. It was killing him watching her lie there so helplessly. He could remember sitting by her bedside, not on the bed as he currently was but beside it because they were trying -- more unsuccessfully than successfully at that point -- to keep their relationship from the rest of the team, after she’d been shot. He could picture her so perfectly lying there in a hospital bed not that unsimilar to the one she was currently lying in, slowly coming out from the anesthesia from surgery. Long before she ever opened her eyes or made a single groan, her body was in motion. Her head had moved from one side to the other, her hands had clenched and unclenched around the stark white sheets, and her legs had rustled the sheet that covered her. He’d been mesmerized by every move she had made, worried that she would pull stitches or otherwise cause herself pain but at the same time taking comfort in those small inconsequential movements that said she was still alive, that he hadn’t lost her just as he was finding her.

“Glad I can be such a source of entertainment.” Peter grumbled but it was obvious he wasn’t upset. The situation was temporarily defused and he returned to his seat, pulling it back up to the bed. “Jules, I don’t want to make things any more difficult for you than they already are. Still, you know I have to let the rest of the family know what happened…”

Blink.

Peter sighed. “Yes, you do. I have to tell them what I know, which isn’t all that much. We should have been there to support you twenty years ago but we weren’t. Now, I know for whatever reason you felt like you couldn’t tell anyone about what happened and I’m not blaming you. But it’s not going to happen again. I’m not going to let it. If all we get to know this time is that you’ve been hurt then at least we’re all going to be there for you however you need us. You know it’s the right thing to do even if you don’t want to admit it. Answer me this, would you want one of us keeping something this big from you? Wouldn’t you want to know? Even if there was nothing you could do to help other than just by being there?”

Blink. Blink. Another tear crept out with the second closing of her eyes.

“Okay then, you see why I have to tell them. It’s not like I’m about to run upstairs to tell Dad. We’ll have to tell him eventually but we can work with the doctor to figure out the best way to tell him without risking his recovery. But our brothers need to know, tonight. I know as crazy as I’ve probably made you since they let me in here to see you, you might not want the whole clan descending on you but you don’t have to worry about that. Mark’s not going to be able to fly back out so soon after the last trip. Ridge probably won’t be able to get out of work to come back until the weekend either. So that just leaves James. He’s going to know something is wrong when he sees all the missed calls. If it’ll make you feel better, I can tell him you can’t have visitors tonight. You want me to do that?”

Blink. Blink.

Sam tapped her on her shoulder turning her gaze back onto him. “We still have a little matter of discussing how I can make you feel more comfortable. I know it’s frustrating not being able to just tell me what you want and it’s going to get better soon but until then, we’ll figure this out, Baby.” He lowered his head to Jules’s forehead wracking his brain for some sort of solution. Then he lifted his head, an idea coming to him. “Do you think you can come up with one short word that would clue me in on what you want.”

She thought for a long minute. Then, blink. Blink.

Sam smiled at her. “Okay, let’s Morse code it then. How many letters is it?”

Blink. Blink. Blink. Blink.

“Four letters?”

Blink. Blink.

Peter watched the exchange in fascination. He wondered if Sam realized he was effectively distracting her without making her feel so helpless.

“Okay then, hit me with the first letter.”

Three rapid blinks.

“S?”

Blink. Blink.

Sam nodded. “Okay, second letter?”

A fast blink followed by a long drawn out one.

“A?”

Blink. Blink.

Realization clicked with Sam. “Safe? Is the word safe?”

Blink. Blink.

“Hey Squirt. Don’t worry about that. You are safe. Nobody’s going to get anywhere close to you while you are here or even once you go home. We’re all going to make sure of that.”

Blink.

“That’s not what she’s wanting.” Had it only been two weeks since she’d first started confiding in her the briefest hints of what she’d gone through? Confessed to him that even if the rest of her world seemed to be falling apart, she felt safe in his arms? If she wanted to be held, if she felt secure enough with his close proximity to request that he take her in his arms, could he really refuse her? Especially when it was what he wanted more than anything?

Still he didn’t want to miss being able to see anything her eyes needed to tell him. He looked around and came to a decision. He twisted on the bed so that he was sitting beside her, his back against the raised head of the bed. He snaked one hand under her back and turned her toward him so that her head rested at his shoulder tilted toward his head. He wrapped his other arm over her body almost cocooning her in his embrace. He leaned down so that he could brush a tentative kiss to her temple. “Better?”

Blink. Blink. And then, just in case there were any doubts. Blink. Blink.

“Think you can close your eyes and rest for a little bit? Just til they come to move you to a room upstairs.”

Blink. Blink.

He had so expected to see just one blink that the fact that she’d agreed caught him by surprise. Feeling like he just won a major victory, Sam gave her another quick kiss. With the hand that was over her body, he began to slowly caress her arm up and down the way he’d discovered seemed to soothe her when she was upset. Slowly her eyes began to drift shut. For a few minutes there was no sound in the cubicle but plenty of hustle and bustle out in the hallway. He watched her as she lay there with closed yes, taking in every minute detail of her face. The way the oxygen mask on her face clouded over and then cleared with each breath she took. Then he noticed that beneath her closed eyelids, her eyes were twitching. He couldn’t help but smile. That was his Jules, still in constant motion even if it was only with the one part of her body she could control.

Seeing Sam’s smile but unable to see her face from her new position in Sam’s arms, Peter raised a questioning eyebrow, made a sleeping like motion with his hands and head, and then pointed to his sister. Sam realized he was trying to ask if Jules was actually asleep. Sam shook his head. Even if her body wasn’t cooperating with her, he could still tell enough about the way she felt in his arms to know that she hadn’t given into sleep and was merely doing as he’d asked and was closing her to rest. He wasn’t sure he blamed her. What kind of hell would be waiting for her once she actually succumbed to sleep? He’d only gotten bare glimpses of the nightmares he knew still haunted her sleep twenty years after being attacked. How much worse would they be with the images fresh in her mind mixed with the memories of old? But at least she was feeling secure enough at least temporarily shut one of the few senses she still had control of.

The curtain eased to one side without the person opening it causing the rings at the top to slide across the metal pole holding it up. Both Sam and Peter looked to the opening as Greg stepped quietly inside, a small gym bag slung over his shoulder. He was being extremely quiet, much more so than the nurses at the desk on the other side of the curtain but when he saw that Jules’s eyes were closed he stopped walking closer, not wanting to risk making the slightest sound that would wake her. He needn’t have bothered because Jules’s eyes instantly few open, sweeping the room with a look of panic that eased only slightly when she discovered that the new presence she’d sensed was her friend and boss.

Seeing she was indeed awake, Greg continued closer, stopping at the foot of the bed so she could easily see him without intruding into her personal space. “Hey, Kiddo. Didn’t mean to wake you up. I just wanted to make sure you were doing okay. The rest of the team would be right here as well but I pretty much ordered them not to come by tonight. Gotta warn you though, they all sounded like they were feeling a little insubordinate about it, especially Spike. So don’t be surprised if they figure out a way to drop in before the night’s up. How are you doing? You hanging in there okay?”

Blink. Blink.

Sam explained the blink system to Greg who nodded approvingly. Everything about Greg screamed trustworthiness and safety. It was a demeanor that came easy for him and made him a good negotiator. It wasn’t an act but a way he had that could defuse a hostile subject, calm a frightened child, and win the trust of the most fragile victim. Sam had witnessed this side of the Boss a million times in the field and he knew Jules would recognize it as well. He only hoped Jules would also recognize that Greg was trying to make her feel at ease and not trying to put her in the role of that fragile witness. Greg smiled and nodded. “That’s good. Make sure you mind what the doctor tells you; he’s got those letters in front of his name for a reason. I just came from your house. The officers have finished processing it. I even brought you a change of clothes. I know how much you dislike those drafty hospital gowns.” He indicated the gym bag on his shoulder which he set on the foot of the bed.

Change of clothes, a kind way of saying he realized she hadn’t been wearing any clothes at all when she’d been wheeled away in the ambulance. Still, Sam was glad Greg had thought about it. Surely wasn’t something that had even crossed his own mind at all until Greg had said something.

Greg continued. “The officers at the scene need to get a statement from you of course but I convinced them it would be better for them to wait until morning. They weren’t happy about it but agreed to wait when I told them the medics suspected you’d been drugged.”

“They arrest the bastard who did this to her yet?” Peter practically growled from his seat at the head of the bed. “Was it Johnny?”

Greg sighed. “No arrests have been made as of yet. To be honest we don’t know who was responsible. There was no evidence at the house to indicate who the attacker was. Jules, I know this isn’t the right time but did you see who did this to you? Can you positively identify him?

Blink. A new tear fell down her cheek.

Sam wanted to put a stop to this. As much as he wanted and needed someone to pay for their actions, it wasn’t worth the cost of putting Jules through the wringer asking her questions. He whispered reassuring words in her ear and looked at Greg, silently asking him to back off.

Greg nodded, but it was in response to Jules’s answer not Sam’s request, even though he wished he could. He’d brought her a reprieve from the officers working the case but there were too many things he needed to know and say. But like Sam, he didn’t want to cause her any more pain than she’d already been through. No matter how strong she was, even Julianna Callaghan had a breaking point and she had to be on the fine line of reaching it. “Jules, can I pull Sam away for just a few minutes? There are some things I need him to clarify for me.”

Blink. Several fat tears rolling down before a very hesitant second blink. A yes but the most reluctant yes Sam had seen all night. She would allow it but it wasn’t what she wanted. And at least for tonight, what Jules wanted trumped anything else every time.

Sam set his jaw, tightening his hold on Jules ever so slightly. “I’m not leaving her. You can ask me here or it’ll have to wait.”

Greg’s eyes flicked from Jules to Sam and back to Jules. “Is that okay, Jules? Would you rather I talk to Sam here? I’d wait but another way I was able to get the officers to hold off coming down here tonight was that I promised to get a few questions answered that can’t wait. You already answered the biggie about not being able to recognize your attacker. For the others, I figured Sam could answer them just as well as you could. I want to make this as least painful for you as possible.”

Blink. Blink.

Peter stood up, leaning over the bed so that he could touch his sister’s cheek affectionately. As much as he wanted to know everything about what happened to her, he was slowly coming to grips with the idea that it had to be on her terms. If Greg Parker was going to ask painful, possibly embarrassing questions, he didn’t think Jules needed any more of an audience than was absolutely necessary. “Hey Squirt, I’m going to step outside and make those calls. I also need to call Dad. I’m not going to tell him what’s going on but he’ll be suspicious if I don’t call. Okay?”

Blink. Blink.

He leaned down like he was going to kiss her cheek but at the last minute affectionately rubbed the top of her head instead. As soon as he left the cubicle, Greg moved the chair the older Callaghan had vacated to the other side of the bed so he could sit but still see her eyes and still preserve her personal space. He was encouraged by the fact that she was allowing Sam such close proximity but didn’t want to push things.

“There was no sign of forced entry anywhere in the house. Now I’m presuming since Jules can’t identify her attacker, she didn’t let someone in. Am I correct, Jules?”

Blink. Blink.

“Okay so he had to have found some other way inside. Sam, do the two of you have a spare key that’s hidden outside the house?”

“No, we each have our own key and that’s it.”

Greg nodded, frowning. He was hoping there was some easy explanation for how the assailant had gained entrance. He really didn’t want to ask the next question in front of Jules but couldn’t see any other way. The officers would be processing the evidence collected at the scene probably all night and he wanted to spare the couple as much embarrassment as he could. “Sam, while bagging Jules’s clothes, an officer found an open foil condom wrapper discarded on the floor under the coffee table. Any chance it could have already been there and has nothing to do with the attack today?”

Jules’s eyes shut tightly and the oxygen mask around her mouth and nose collapsed inward before expanding out indicating she was breathing in hard sharp breaths before exhaling. Sam could feel the slight quiver in her body that indicated that her muscle responses were starting to return a little, at least enough to indicate distress. He took a few minutes to reassure her and to try to calm her before he could even think about answering. His own thoughts were racing. A condom? There could only be one reason for her attacker to use a condom. He searched Jules’s eyes for some hint that would tell him if this news meant that her attacker had used the missing condom for its intended purpose but she wasn’t even letting him be privy to that piece of information. He wasn’t sure if the fact that it was jus the empty packet and not an actual discarded used condom was better or worse.

Greg hated seeing what his question was doing to the couple. There was no doubt the last few hours had been a living hell for both of them. Even though Jules was the one who’d physically suffered through the ordeal, he couldn’t deny the devastating toil it was having on Sam as well. He wished he could withdraw the question but he couldn’t. Questions, some much more personal and embarrassing, would have to be asked; it not by him, then by the officers working the scene. At least Sam and Jules knew he was there friend; the other officers might be familiar faces at scenes but were still at the heart of things, virtual strangers. Instead of backing off, he pushed a little more. “Sam?”

“No, it’s not…we don’t…I mean, I don’t…Jules takes…Condom? Shit.”

Seeing Sam stammering over trying to explain their sex life was almost more painful than knowing that Jules was lying there incapable of smacking Sam on the arm over his embarrassment while dryly telling Greg that it was none of his business what form of contraception they chose to use.

Greg eased Sam’s suffering. “Okay, I get the idea. It wasn’t yours. Sorry but I had to ask. Can I assume the scarf and the tie used to blindfold and restrain Jules…”

“They came from the house. I think both were sitting on top of the dresser in the bedroom last time I remember seeing them.”

“Sam, how much time do you think passed between you coming home and calling me?”

The question caught Sam off guard and he had to think hard for the answer. Figuring out what time he called Greg wouldn’t be a problem, a glance at his cell phone would tell him that. But the truth was he’d lost all concept of time from the moment he’d realized she was missing. It could have been two minutes or two hours for all he knew. He leaned his head against the bed knowing it was an important question or Greg wouldn’t ask it. Phone call, a memory jolted him suddenly.

“I don’t know. But there may be a way to find out. I called Jules to let her know I was coming home early. She wasn’t expecting me that early and I didn’t want to take a chance on her going all SuperJules on me thinking I could be someone else. I was pulling into the driveway when I made the call. I guess you could check the difference between the time I called her and the time I called you and get a pretty good idea. You trying to figure out how much time he had to get away?”

“Yeah, something like that. You said the front door was closed at one point but then opened when you came back downstairs. The units patrolling the area didn’t report any suspicious activity but maybe they saw something during that time not realizing it was important.” Greg explained hoping it would ease the sting of his next statement. “Sam, you know we’re going to have to get a DNA sample from you to compare with any biologicals we find…”

Sam paled, pulling away from Jules completely as the implication of Greg’s statement hit in with sudden clarity. “Sarge, are you suggesting….how could you….you think I drugged and raped Jules?”

The look of betrayal on Sam’s face cut Greg to the quick. “No, you know I don’t. But we still have to…Jules!” The sudden change from complete calm to sudden fear startled Sam enough to forget his disgust at what he felt to be an accusation. It took him a moment to recognize what had scared Greg so much. Had he still had his arms around Jules, he would have been the first to notice the sudden convulsive jerking in her shoulders. Sam’s initial fear was that it was some horrific side effect of the drug that her doctor hadn’t warned them about. When the first drops of a brown almost watery substance appeared on her lips, he realized she was throwing up.

Immediately he leaned her forward and held her so that the vomit had no place to go but out over her sheet covered legs. Messing up her gown, the bed, and floor was a much better alternative than risking her aspirating any of the vomit into her lungs. Her current condition made the risk of asphyxiation much greater than normal. His heart was hammering so much he could hear the actual beats in his ears.

Greg knocked the chair over as he jumped up and tore the curtain away, loudly calling for help. Fortunately Dr. Victors was standing at the desk making notations on a chart. At Greg’s call, he and what seemed like all the nurses milling around came rushing into the cubicle. Barking out orders, the doctor pushed Sam out of the way so he could get to his patient. One nurse blocked Sam as he tried to get back to Jules.

“You’re going to have to step out. If you go to the waiting room, one of us will come get you once we have her stabilized.”

Sam towered over the nurse trying to keep him away and there was no way he was going to let her keep him from where he needed to be. “Like hell I will. I’m not going anywhere until I know she’s okay.”

Smaller she might be but she was used to dealing with difficult family members. She put a hand on his chest keeping him from stepping closer to the bed. “You’ve got to give us room. Please, if you won’t go to the waiting room, step out in the hall. You won’t be doing her any good if we’re too busy fighting you to help her.”

Greg gripped Sam’s arm tightly and pulled him back, but Sam planted his feet firmly to the ground making the movement difficult. It was as if the nurse’s words had fallen on deaf ears. They probably had because Sam’s only focus at the moment was the sight of Jules vomiting out of control. Seeing someone in the process of throwing up was never a pleasant sight but this was even more scary given Jules’s inability to hold herself upright as her body reacted so violently. “Sam, Buddy, we can’t get in their way. We won’t do Jules any good if we keep the doctor from treating her. We’re just going into the hallway. We’ll be right here if she needs us. And while I’d never say she doesn’t need you, right now she needs the doctor more.”

Slowly, reluctantly, Sam allowed Greg to guide him out. The nurse who’d been blocking his path followed them to the edge of the cubicle and closed the curtain again as soon as they crossed the threshold, blocking his ability to see in. Sam was shaking with both fear and rage. Greg released his hold on Sam’s arm and the younger man had to fight back the urge to draw his fist back and send his boss sprawling to the ground. Instead of punching his boss, he unleashed his anger on the closet object he could find. He swiped his hand across the desk, sending the charts lined up on the top clattering to the floor. His eyes were wet as he stopped himself just before kicking the desk as well. Instead, he turned and slid down the desk to a sitting position on the floor, the desk hard against his back. He looked up at Greg.

“Seriously, you think I did that to her? That I drugged her with a substance so heinous that she’s trapped in her own body unable to throw up without assistance? That I ripped the clothes from her beautiful body and then brutalized that same amazing perfect body leaving her bruised and bleeding? Do you honestly think I’m capable of being that kind of monster? I thought you were her friend. Our friend.”

Greg waved off the security guard who was coming closer after witnessing Sam’s rage against the desk. Giving himself time to form his words in a way that might actually penetrate Sam’s hurt and anger, he picked up the charts that littered the floor. He set them on the counter and then knelt beside Sam.

“You know I care about both of you, Sam. I never said I thought you were responsible. You know how this works…”

“Yeah, I know exactly how this works. You didn’t have to say it. You come in here questioning about there being no signs of forced entry, asking about the fact that materials from inside the house were used in the attack, questioning my timing of calling you, demanding samples of my DNA to compare. What about any of that doesn’t say you suspect I was responsible? I’ve seen how this works all to often. The boyfriend or husband is automatically a suspect. I don’t care about myself; you want to think the worst about me, fine I can take it. But Jules deserves better. And while you all are wasting time suspecting me, the real monster is getting away. He gets away and Jules remains in danger.”

Greg sighed. “Yeah, we can’t just rule out the boyfriend or husband in home attacks like this. And I won’t lie and say your name as a suspect didn’t come up but only as quickly as it took to cross it off. The officers on the scene saw how you were reacting to Jules’s condition. That kind of love and concern can’t be faked. We aren’t going to let the person who hurt Jules get away and we aren’t wasting time pursuing a lead that isn’t humanly possible to believe.”

“Then why the samples?” Sam pushed.

“Because given the fact that both you and Jules are in a loving committed relationship, I’m pretty sure the two of you have had sex in that house before, more than likely within the last 48 hours. And while what goes on between boyfriend and girlfriend isn’t any of our business, we’re going to find your biologicals and we need a sample so we can eliminate what should be in the house with any foreign contributions that could belong to Jules’s assailant. It’s all routine and you would get that if you were thinking like a cop right now instead of the concerned boyfriend.”

Sam scrambled to this feet as several nurses filed out of the cubicle keeping the curtain firmly closed. He started back toward Jules but Greg stopped him. The doctor and at least one nurse was still inside. None of the nurses paid either man any attention. Sam wanted to demand they tell him something, but the words died in his throat.

A couple minutes later, Dr. Victors stepped out. Sam’s agitation was clearly evident and he knew it would be futile to request they go back to the consultation room. “She’s okay. I’m not sure what brought on the vomiting but it seems to have subsided for now. I’ve given her a shot of Phenergan to try to prevent a repeat.”

Sam knew what had caused the vomiting and felt responsible. He should have been expecting her to throw up instead of letting it catch him by surprise the way it had. It didn’t happen often because Jules was usually unflappable enough not to let things get to her that severely. But when situations or her emotions did manage to get the better of her, her body reacted to the negative effect by making her throw up. It seemed to Sam that her body felt it could expel the problem by getting rid of the contents of her stomach. The bigger the upset, the more violent the vomiting. Would it be any wonder if she experienced the mother of all vomiting jags with this?

“Can I go back in?” Sam was already two steps closer to the cubicle without waiting for an answer.

“Give us a couple more minutes. Brandy is cleaning her up and getting her changed. The last thing Jules needs right now is an audience watching her get a sponge bath, no matter how much she trusts that audience. It shouldn’t be much longer; I know you are anxious. We have a room ready for her; I was just about to come talk to you when you called out. We’ll move her once Brandy finishes. You can go up with her and stay with her as long as you and she wants.”

Sam nodded, not liking the continued wait but understanding and appreciating the fact that the doctor was protecting Jules’s dignity by letting the female nurse handle changing her gown in privacy. He couldn’t erase his worry completely however. “She’s okay though? The only thing I could think about when I saw she was throwing up was trying to keep her lungs clear.”

Dr. Victors smiled reassuringly. “It could have been very serious if she aspirated foreign matter into her lungs. But you did great preventing that from happening. I listened to both lobes carefully and they sound clear. It couldn’t have been easy seeing her like that but you reacted quickly and didn’t panic. Because of that, she’s okay.”

Sam nodded, still not looking completely convinced. The doctor walked off and Sam noticed that Greg was on his cell phone. He hadn’t heard the phone ring but it made sense that Greg would have turned his phone on vibrate while in the hospital.

“Thanks for letting me know. Keep me informed.” Greg closed his phone and looked at Sam. “That was Sgt. Fletcher with Team 4. As soon as I called them to tell them that Jules was missing, they went to Kennington House to talk to Johnny.”

Sam’s eyes darkened. “Please tell me they have the asshole under a jail cell somewhere. Evidence or not, we both know he’s more than likely responsible.”

“He wasn’t there. Kennington House is a transition house but the residents there aren’t prisoners. They have to check in daily but they don’t have to chronicle their every coming and going with the case manager. According to what Fletcher found out, Johnny left the house around lunch time and they haven’t seen him since. Whether he goes back to the house or straight to work, the team will bring him in for questioning immediately.”

Sam shook his head in frustration. “And if he doesn’t show up at either place? If he decides to go into the wind to avoid arrest? Damn it. He’s running around out there free to do whatever the hell he wants while Jules is a prisoner in her own body. That’s just freaking great.”

“He won’t be for long. If he doesn’t show up for work or back at the house, we’ll have an APB out on him. Someone will find him and he will be brought in. That’s my promise to you.”

“I need a hand in here.” The nurse still inside Jules’s cubicle called out, her voice sounding a little strained. Sam took off running but before he could reach the curtain, something metal collided with the floor followed by what sounded suspiciously like a body hitting the ground.

Chapter Text

There were many words that Jules would use to describe herself, some positive and some negative. Needy however was not one of those words she’d ever thought would end up on that list. She was too independent, too stubborn, maybe more than a little too proud to give even the appearance of needing anything or anyone. Having wants was one thing but needing was totally different. Yet as she lay there listening to the distracting banter between Sam and her brother and participating in her own limited way, she found herself needing the feel of Sam’s arms to be back around her. From the moment he’d walked into the cubicle and taken her in his arms, the pain, fear, and frustration had dimmed dramatically. When he returned her to the bed, even though he was close enough that she could feel the heat from his body through the sheet that covered her useless legs, she’d felt all three emotions threatening to drown her.

Nobody would have faulted her if she’d shunned all human touch after what she’d been through. And the truth was she wasn’t sure how much contact she could take from anyone else but she felt bereft without Sam holding her. It was taking everything in her not to let the memory of the attack consume her, paralyze her mentally just as surely as the drug was holding her body captive. Though both Sam and Peter were doing their best to try to make her feel more at ease, the frustration of not being able to express her thoughts was growing with every attempt to coax some sort of sound past her vocal cords. Though he’d instantly apologized, she couldn’t help but feel like Peter had pegged the situation correct when he’d called her a freaking blinking vegetable.

She should have known Sam wouldn’t give up. From the time she’d broken up with him to the time she’d finally given him the green light to resume their relationship, consequences be damned, he’d made no secret, at least to her, that he was still head over heels in love with her. He hadn’t given up on her then and he wasn’t going to give up now without figuring out what she was needing. When he finally pulled her into his protective embrace once more, she’d been so grateful she’d willing capitulated about closing her eyes and resting.

She didn’t trust sleep, not sure that even Sam’s arms would be enough to protect her from the nightmares she knew would be waiting for her when she finally gave in to exhaustion. But at least with her eyes closed, she could pretend for just a moment that everything was okay. Pretend she wasn’t lying on a hospital gurney trapped in her own body still hurting from the viciousness of the attack.

Sam’s fingers grazing up and down her arm helped to lull her into a sense of normalcy, of comfort. She wasn’t asleep but she was about as close as she could get. Then she sensed rather than heard the arrival of someone new. Instantly, panic undid all the relaxing benefit she’d gotten from Sam’s embrace. Despite knowing she was safe and despite trusting that Sam and Peter would take on the devil himself if he threatened her, her eyes flew open. Her body might not be obeying her commands but she was determined to be prepared for anything that might happen. Seeing that it was Greg who’d come in only partially eased the panic.

Sam and Peter had been careful about not asking the questions she knew were coming eventually. She’d been grateful for that even though she knew it was only a matter of time before she had to face what happened. Greg’s arrival signaled the end of that reprieve.

She knew he didn’t have any choice but to poise the questions he was having to ask and the truth was she’d much rather that he was the one doing the gentle digging instead of people she knew by face but maybe not by name. When Greg had asked to speak to Sam privately, she’d reluctantly agreed to let Sam step out even though every fiber in her body screamed in protest. In most instances she trusted her ability to handle any situation that came up without the help of anyone. But she’d gone that route twenty years ago and was only now realizing how limited her recovery had been. Sam had opened up feelings in her that she didn’t think even existed. Right now, she trusted Sam more than she trusted anyone else including herself.

Therefore she had been grateful that Sam had sensed she’d needed him to stay even if it meant listening to some of the more painful aspects of the attack come up. The idea that there’d been no forced entry scared her. How had her attacker gotten inside? She’d locked the door as soon as she’d entered the house after Greg dropped her off and she hadn’t opened it again. How long had her attacker been in the house with her before he struck?

“Sam, while bagging Jules’s clothes, an officer found an open foil condom wrapper discarded on the floor under the coffee table. Any chance it could have already been there and has nothing to do with the attack today?”

Jules’s eyes shut tightly and the oxygen mask around her mouth and nose collapsed inward before expanding out indicating she was breathing in hard sharp breaths before exhaling. She could feel her body begin to quiver, the first sign other than her eyes that her body was starting to regain control. But the knowledge that the drug’s hold on her was starting to slip couldn’t overshadow the memory Greg’s question had unleashed on her. Couldn’t stop her from remembering the fear that she’d had that the pain her attacker had caused her already was about to increase ten fold. The fear that nothing and nobody would prevent him from fully raping her. The feel of the latex nudging against her knowing it was only a matter of time before it ripped her unwilling body open more than she already felt torn. And then Sam had called, his voice on the answering machine saving her, mentally at first but then the knowledge that time was short saved her physically as well.

He was saving her now as well. With every stumbled word, every inclination of his voice as he answered question after question, offered explanation after explanation, his arm wrapped protectively around her was keeping her grounded in the moment instead of letting her slip back into the memory of what had been. Would she ever be able to explain to him how he continued to save her over and over again. How much she owed him? Not just for the fact that his call had stopped the attack against her but for everything else. For supporting her the last couple of weeks without judging or pressuring her. For being confident enough in their love to not be tentative with her now and avoiding contact with her.

“Sarge, are you suggesting….how could you….you think I drugged and raped Jules?”

NO! The word tore at her throat begging for her vocal cords to cooperate and allow the scream that was so loud in her ears to be heard by both Greg and Sam. What she experienced at Sam’s skilled and compassionate hands and body when they made love was such the antithesis of rape. The mouth and hands that had viciously pinched, licked, bit and ravaged her body this evening had been demanding and harsh. She’d never known Sam to be anything but giving and tender. It killed her to hear him voice out loud the idea that he feared anyone would suspect him. She suddenly felt like the safety line that was protecting her against falling into the pit of darkness that had opened below her feet snap as he pulled away from her. And as she dropped, her body rejected the notion that Sam could hurt her as readily as her mind had. Her body jerked convulsively as her stomach turned upside down.

Though Greg’s voice was the one who shouted, it was again Sam’s hands that tried to draw her back. He leaned her forward as she began to vomit into the oxygen mask covering her mouth and nose. As her body reacted violently, she tried to concentrate on Sam’s touch, willing it to help her find a handhold that would stop her fall. She didn’t get much time as Sam was pulled away and the oxygen mask that was rapidly filling with vomit was jerked away. It was almost impossible for her to catch her breath between expulsions of vomit that was now covering the sides of her mouth, her lap, the bed around her and the floor. It seemed to take forever before the violent onslaught came to an end but she knew her body well enough to know that it was only a matter of time before it started again whether there was anything left to throw up or not.

Strong, unfamiliar hands eased her back on the bed. Her chest was heaving and her head lightheaded. She wanted Sam but didn’t hear his voice among the cacophony of voices talking to her, offering her soothing words she didn’t even try to listen to. No, change that, she didn’t want Sam, she needed him. Needed to make sure there wasn’t a serious accusation against him in the works. Needed him to know she didn’t have to have seen her attacker to positively identify that Sam had NOT been him. Her stomach clenched again but she had no way of warning the doctors and nurses around her until her body jerked again with the upending of itself once more.

She heard a muttered curse as she was once more pulled forward. This time there wasn’t much left in her stomach to vomit. The bed behind her was raised as far as it could go this time before she was allowed to rest against it. If she vomited again, at least she was sitting almost straight up and wouldn’t have to worry about drowning in it.

“Jules? Can you hear me? Blink twice if you can hear me.”

She glanced over at the doctor who had treated her earlier. He’d been compassionate in his treatment of her, telling her everything he was going to do before he did it and why he had to do it. Once she was able to blink, he’d asked permission before he did anything. She would have preferred not to have him or the nurse who’d performed the sexual assault exam to have touched her at all, especially when it came to the gynecological part of the exam but had consented if for no other reason because the need for justice and the aches in her body were worse than her fear of being touched. That didn’t mean she had to like or be comfortable with anything they did to her.

Now, he turned her head toward him and as she saw his concerned frown realized she hadn’t responded to his question. Her eyelids felt tired from the workout they’d been getting during the day. She wondered if it was possible to build eyelid muscles the way you could build up the muscles in your arms and legs with exercise. Blink. Blink. Yeah, sure she could hear him. So what?

“Okay, good. You need to catch your breath. Just breath regularly. I’m going to listen to your chest and make sure your lungs sound clear.”

The stethoscope felt cool even through the hospital gown. She tried to do as he requested about breathing but when he moved the stethoscope under her left breast to listen to her lower lungs, her breath caught in her throat and her eyes shut firmly. She knew it wasn’t a rational fear but she waited for the pain that would come with having her breast squeezed and pinched once more even while the still sane part of her mind told her the doctor wasn’t going to hurt her. Her stomach heaved a third time but there was nothing left for her to vomit. The doctor immediately removed the stethoscope and apologized.

“Brandy, let’s do 25 mg of Phenergan IV push. Jules, Brandy is going to put something in your IV that will hopefully help with the nausea. It might make you a little sleepy as well. Don’t try to fight it.”

Once the nurse administered the drug, Dr. Victors nodded encouragingly. Her skin, which had been extremely pale when he’d first been called back in, was now pinking up appropriately and her breathing slowly regulating out. “That’s better. I know a young man who’s probably out his mind with worry about you. I’m going to go let him know everything’s okay. Brandy will get you all cleaned up and then Sam will be back in here. Is that okay?”

Which part? Letting Brandy clean her up or letting Sam back in the room with her? Why did they insist on asking two completely different questions at one time? Didn’t they know she could only blink an answer to one question at a time? That they were forcing her to choose which question to answer and which one to ignore as being the less important.

She wanted to give him a resounding single blink to the first question. She’d rather spend the rest of her life covered in her own vomit than have a stranger -- even a female stranger -- performing such an intimate act of washing her body. But she wanted Sam back in the room with her, needed him to once more take her in his arms and reassure her that everything was okay. That the one person she trusted in the whole world wasn’t going to disappear. A no to the former question would be a no to the latter. A yes to the latter would be giving consent to the first. She’d have to choose if her fear of being touched outweighed the need of having Sam back in the room. There was no question as to the answer.

Blink. Blink.

“Okay, then. I probably won’t see you again. As soon as Brandy is done, we’ll be moving you upstairs to a room. I’m truly sorry for what you’ve had to endure and wish you the best in your recovery. I won’t diminish what you’ve been through by suggesting it’s going to be an easy road but I can’t imagine Sam is going to let you walk one step of it alone. Having treated too many assault victims I know that having that kind of support system can make all the difference.” Dr. Victors tapped the railing of the bed before leaving out of the cubicle.

It wasn’t Jules’s first time to be forced down that road of trying to reclaim her life after being viciously attacked. The days, weeks, months, even years after those two nights when she was sixteen had been a living hell for Jules, made worse because she suffered in silence, too afraid to share her pain and humiliation with anyone. She’d believed that time had finally healed the wounds left by Johnny’s attack but all it had really done was mask the problem. There would be no hiding what happened this time; everyone she knew and loved would be privy to the horrors she’d suffered. She wasn’t sure if she believed it was going to make it easier or harder for her emotionally.

Jules could hear water running behind her and wished she could turn her head to see what was going on. A moment later the nurse from earlier came into view pushing a small rolling tray table with her. There was a small pink plastic basin on the table and beside it several thin white towels and wash cloths.

The nurse smiled at her. “I don’t know about you but I hate throwing up. I have a five month old at home and the worst thing about my pregnancy with him wasn’t the fourteen hour labor but the morning sickness that didn’t confine itself to the morning or to the first trimester.”

Brandy picked up a wash cloth and dipped it into the pink tub before wringing out the excess water. At first Jules followed the redheaded nurse’s every movement but as she approached the bed all Jules could concentrated on was the wash cloth in the woman’s hands.

Though she knew it wasn’t possible, the smell of rum filled Jules’s nostrils and she retched again, having nothing left in her stomach to cause anything more than that. She was no longer in the hospital room but back in her house on the floor at the start of the attack as a rum soaked wash cloth was shoved into her mouth. Though less intrusive and repulsive than her assailant’s tongue forcing itself down her throat, the material and the taste of the alcohol choking her just the same.

“It always seemed like no matter how many times I rinsed my mouth or how many mints I let dissolve in my mouth, the taste of vomit was still there.” Brandy’s perky voice barely registered. “Until we can be sure you can swallow correctly, we can’t let you eat or drink anything. But we do have some swabs that I can moisten with some mouth wash and swirl around your mouth if you’d like to try that. It won’t completely clean your mouth out but it should help a little until you can properly rinse. Want to try it?”

A swab, like the one the forensic nurse had used during her exam to collect any DNA evidence that might have been left behind. Necessary Jules knew but just yet another unwanted intrusion on her body. She gave a slow blink as she felt her body begin to shake, a subtle sign that her body was once again coming back under her control.

“Okay, it was just a suggestion.” Either the shaking was all in Jules’s head or it was too subtle to be noticed, or Brandy was too focused on the task at hand to pick up on her patient’s distress because she gave no indication that she was even aware of the shaking. Brandy’s touch was gentle as she wiped the wash cloth over Jules’s face, removing the traces of vomit that was starting to dry there. The material was warm without being hot and there was nothing even remotely threatening or intimidating with what Brandy was doing. Yet fear bubbled up from the bottom of Jules’s stomach much the way the vomit that was being cleaned from her face had earlier.

Brandy put the wash cloth back in the basin of water. She bundled up the soiled sheet and tossed it into a hamper across the room. “I need to take that gown off as well. I’ve got another one to put on you after I get you cleaned up. I’m sorry. I’ll try to be as quick as I can. No one’s going to come in while you are exposed.”

She eased the gown off Jules’s shoulders and balled it up to contain the soiled material and turned to dispose of it like she had the sheet. Goosebumps rose on Jules’s flesh as she lay there on the raised bed once more completely naked to the world. Tears of shame and helplessness filled her eyes but she willed them back, not wanting to appear weak. Brandy turned back around and reached into the basin and once again wringed out the excess water.

“Sorry, it’s always cold in here. I’ll get you covered back up as quickly as I can.”

Jules felt her breath catch in her throat as her mind once more transported her back to her house, this time the closet she’d been dragged to. Her mind relieved every tortuous second of the movements of the rum soaked wash cloth rough against her bruised and sensitive breasts and then her equally injured and sensitive private area. Though Brandy never got near either of those two regions, Jules’s shaking increased enough for the nurse to notice.

“I’m almost through.” The nurse promised, giving Jules’s arm a sympathetic pat on the arm with her latex covered hand before turning back to once more immerse the wash cloth in the warm water.

With the exception of her assailant’s mouth, every unwanted human touch forced upon her had been made through the barrier of latex. His hands had been covered with latex gloves and the other appendage he’d been prepared to assault her with had been covered with a latex condom. Latex a synthetic material made to provide a barrier of protection against disease and contamination.

Though she understood the reasoning behind it, she felt like her life had been reduced to being touched by impersonal latex covered hands. With the exception of Sam and Peter, she hadn’t felt human touch without the barrier of latex between their hands and her own skin. The feel of latex against her repulsed her and she’d wanted, especially during the sexual assault exam, to shrink away from the touch. Her body ached with the need to pull away from the feel of the latex on her skin but the doctor and the nurses had been oblivious to her distress due to her body’s inability to move.

Brandy gently lifted Jules’s left leg off the bed, turning it ever so slightly in order to clean the area. As soon as the latex touched her skin, Jules flashed back to latex covered hands painfully gripping her legs splaying them wide apart giving her assailant better access to her most intimate regions. Just as when the forensic nurse had placed her legs in the stirrups for the gynecological part of the sexual assault exam, Jules’s brain commanded her legs to move, to fight back against the intrusion. This time, her body obeyed her brain.

Before Brandy knew what was happening, Jules kicked out with her leg, her knee connecting solidly with the nurse’s stomach. Brandy reacted immediately.

“I need a hand in here.” She called out.

Jules threw her body to the right, away from the danger of the latex covered hand. Her body was clumsy but at least it was moving. Her attempts to get away sent the IV pole crashing to the ground with a clatter. Fortunately, the IV line was long enough that it didn‘t dislodge the catheter in her arm. The flight part of her fight or flight reflex kicked in and she only knew she had to get away. The bed railing had been lowered as Dr. Victors treated her vomiting and hadn’t been raised again. There was nothing that stopped her movement to the right until her body was no longer supported by the bed and she fell to the floor with a thump.

She winced as she landed heavily on the arm she’d cut during the call earlier in the day. Instinct told her to keep moving but she wasn’t sure if her body would continue to cooperate with her. The curtain scraped open and Jules remembered that she was completely exposed for the world to see. She curled in on herself trying to cover herself as much as possible, hidden by the bed.

Sam ripped the curtain back, not caring if he ripped the damn thing completely off its rings. His eyes swept the room alarmed to see the bed Jules had been lying on was empty, the only thing left was the vomit soaked bottom spread. The nurse who’d been taking care of her was clutching her stomach painfully. He frowned.

“What the hell happened? Jules? Where is she?”

Nobody had gone in the cubicle; he would have seen them if they tried. There was no reason why Jules shouldn’t be in that bed. He stepped inside and further scanned the room, his heart skipping a beat when he saw her curled in a ball next to the bed.

“She panicked and attacked me. I wasn’t expecting it; I thought she was still paralyzed from the drug.” Brandy explained.

Sam barely listened to the nurse, his sole thought was getting to Jules. He rushed to her side, skidding to a stop as he reached her side. He dropped down beside her, wanting to gather her gently in his arms and protect her from whatever real or imagined demons were currently threatening her. He hesitated though, not wanting to frighten her any more than she’d already been frightened. “Jules? Sweetheart?”

Though his voice was full of panic, Jules had never heard a more welcoming and reassuring sound. She uncurled slightly enough to look at him. Her body was cooperating, could she make her voice do the same? Tell him that she needed him to touch her, to hold her? Tell him that she needed his strong, warm, blessedly bare hands to soothe away her fears. The words formed and she tried to push them past her vocal cords but all that came out was a whimper.

Still it was enough to get Sam’s attention. If she showed any signs of discomfort, he’d stop but he couldn’t stand to see her so upset and not offer her comfort. Sliding one hand under her knees and the other around her back, he rolled her gently into his arms trying to shield her bare body from anybody who might be in the room. She didn’t tense or fight him. Instead she seemed to almost welcome the embrace. He lowered his head, burying his face in her hair.

From the moment he’d met her, he’d been mesmerized by her, even when she’d drawn down on him thinking he was some sort of threat. She fascinated him in a way no other woman before ever had. The more he’d gotten to know her the more he’d wanted her, wanted to know what it would be like to kiss her, to hold her in his arms, to make slow passionate love to her. It had taken him awhile but he’d finally got to experience all of those things, only to then almost lose her to a bullet. When she’d broken things off with him before returning to the SRU after being shot, he’d thought his world was going to end. Seeing her every day at work but knowing she only wanted them to be friends and co-workers and nothing else had been a slow form of torture, unlike any he’d ever experienced. Now that they were back together he’d realized that all his earlier feelings for her had been nothing compared to how he currently felt.

She might believe everything he’d been doing for her the last couple of weeks had been all for her. She was partly right; he hated to see her in pain and wanted to do whatever it took to make things better for her. But the truth was it was as much for his own sake as it was hers. If she was upset or suffering in any way, then he suffered right along with her. He couldn’t be okay unless she was as well.

He lifted his head from her hair and kissed her gently. “Jules, Sweetheart, let’s get you back in bed so the doctor can make sure you didn’t hurt yourself.”

She blinked several times, trying to keep the tears from falling. She knew what would happen if he did that. Sam would be kicked out of the room again and she’d once more be at the mercy of the latex wearing medical personnel. She once more tried to summon up the words to tell him what she needed. She concentrated much the way she would if she were standing in front of a target with her gun in her hand. Her vocal cords swallowed the don’t she wanted to utter but the second word squeaked out.

“Go.”

Tears filled Sam’s eyes. Her body wasn’t protesting his touch but if she wanted him to leave, then he would. “Yeah, sure, Babe, I’ll go if that’s what you need.”

He tried to keep the hurt from his voice. After everything she’d gone through, he didn’t need to add to her suffering by making her feel even the slightest bit guilty. He lifted her in his arms, planning on transferring her to the bed and then stepping back out. He wouldn’t leave the hospital; couldn’t leave her completely alone but he’d remain outside her door all night if he had to. The gurney had been lowered most of the way and the soiled bottom sheet had been replaced. He eased her onto the cot and moved his hands away. Almost immediately Brandy draped a clean sheet over her bare body.

Realizing he’d mistaken her attempts to make sure he didn’t leave, Jules released a heart breaking sob inwardly cursing her inability to make herself be understood. Sam looked back down at her, scared to see how upset she appeared. “Jules, I’m sorry. I know you’re trying to tell me what you want and I’m sorry if I’m bungling it all up. Do you want me to leave?”

Blink. “No.” The word was a bare whisper but the most welcome word Sam had heard.

“Then I’m not going anywhere. It’s okay sweetheart.”

After righting the IV pole and making sure the bag of fluids hadn’t been damaged, Dr. Victors touched his arm. “Sam, we still need to get her cleaned up and changed.”

“No.” If two letter words were the best she was going to be able to get her vocal cords to project, then she’d used them for all she was worth. She couldn’t stand the idea of strangers, even strangers she knew meant her no harm, seeing her bruised and naked body or touching her with those cold, clinical, latex hands.

Sam sat down on the gurney beside her and pushed her hair away from her face. He didn’t know what about the idea of letting the nurse change her scared her but it was clear she was frightened. Not breaking off his eye contact, he addressed the others in the room. “Can you all just please step out for a few minutes. Give her a moment to catch her breath and calm down? Please. Hasn’t she suffered enough today that we should honor what she wants?”

Dr. Victors motioned for the nurses to leave the cubicle. “We’ll be out in the hall if you need us.”

As soon as she was alone in the cubicle with Sam, she began to relax. The shaking subsided and the fear that had been so stark when he had first knelt beside her wasn’t quite so pronounced. He smiled at her.

“Better?”

She nodded, the movement barely there but still as sign that things were improving. He reached out rubbing his thumb along her jaw line. “So the drug is wearing off. That’s a good thing. I know you though, don’t get frustrated if it still takes a little while before you’re ready to go running the obstacle course on your best time. From what I’ve been told about this drug, it takes a while to completely come out of the effects of it. I can’t pretend to know what you need and I know it’s not always going to be easy for you to talk about this even after you get full use of your voice back. Just promise me you’ll stop me if I do anything, anything at all, that makes you uncomfortable.”

“W’rus?” Sound was coming past her vocal cords but selectively, her tongue felt cottony and incapable of coherently forming all her words properly. But Sam knew what she was saying and nodded.

“Yeah, walrus me.” Sam thought about where the conversation had gone just before she’d thrown up earlier. Greg had eased the worst of his fears that he was going to be the main suspect but it meant nothing unless Jules was convinced he wouldn’t hurt her. “I want to be here, I hope you know that. I think I’ve changed my mind about what I told you this morning, I do want to glue myself to your side. Maybe if I had, you wouldn’t be lying here right now. But what I want can go to hell if it’s different from what you need. If you have any doubts…”

She lifted her arm, it feeling like the single appendage weighed twenty pounds. She reached toward Sam’s face and realizing what she was trying to do, he took her hand in his own and leaned his face against it. Just the edges of her lips turned upward in the hint of a smile and her eyes were bright. “Trust you. Only you.”

Sam let out the breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding. “Want me to help you get cleaned up and changed?”

She shuddered slightly at the thought of a wash cloth touching her skin. Still, there was only so much she could do with a bath loofa. She couldn’t shun washcloths for the rest of her life. Wouldn’t it be better to face her fears before they got too big? If it bothered her too much, Sam would stop as soon as she asked. “’kay”

Sam got up and checked the water in the basin. It had gotten tepid so he carried it over to the sink and poured it out before refilling it with fresh hot water. He carried it back over to the tray and rolled it right up to the bed. He reached for the wash cloth that Brandy had been using and glanced back at Jules. The fear was back although she was making a valiant effort not to show it. He glanced back at the washcloth wondering what it was about the rough cloth that bothered her. He set it down and reached in his pocket for his handkerchief. It was still as neatly folded as it had been that morning when he put it in his pocket. He soaked it in the warm water and then wrung it out. Sitting back down beside Jules on the bed, he touched the much softer material to her arm.

“Temperature okay?”

She nodded and a tear slipped down her cheek, touched but not surprised at how he intuitively seemed to know what she needed. He brushed the tear away with one hand and slipped the hand holding the wet handkerchief under the sheet. Even though they were alone in the cubicle, there was no reason to subject her to lying there fully exposed if it wasn’t necessary. His eyes never left her as he gently ran the square of thin, soft material up and down her leg. He was very careful to make sure his hand stayed on the top of her leg, not wanting to give her any reason to have a flashback to what happened to her. Before switching to the other leg, he returned the handkerchief to the hot water. Again, his hand went under the sheet again. Once he finished, he set the handkerchief on the table and picked up a fresh gown. He offered it to her.

“Want to try to do it yourself? I’ll help you.”

She nodded, her top teeth worrying her bottom lip. “Thanks.”

He smiled and nodded.

-- FP -- FP -- FP --

The tenth month old baby girl lay sleeping on her back in her crib. Innocence personified as her baby fine hair stuck up all over and her mouth made sucking motions despite the fact that her outstretched thumb had long since quit its job of pacifier. The light blanket Sophie had covered her with when she first put her to bed had been kicked off.

Ed Lane stood above the crib watching his daughter as she slept. Warm arms wrapped around his waist and he turned to face his wife. He pulled her to him and kissed her.

“You going to stand there and watch her all night?” Sophie asked quietly, her voice both concerned and curious.

Ed shrugged. “I look at her and I look at you and I can’t help but wonder what I would do if someone ever hurt either of you the way Jules was hurt this evening. It makes me sick to think of someone sexually assaulting my girls.”

Sophie led Ed from the nursery across the hall to their bedroom. Not releasing her hold on him she pushed him down to a seated position on the bed. Sitting behind him, she started to massage his tight shoulder muscles. “Ed, you don’t know for sure Jules was raped. All Greg said when he called was that she’d been attacked in her home and was being taken to the hospital. Don’t assume the worst.”

Ed shook his head. “I’m not assuming anything. Greg said we all needed to stay away from the hospital tonight. That Jules didn’t need us hovering over her tonight. If she was simply hurt, even just minor injuries, he wouldn’t have told us not to come. We’d all be there for her because that’s what we do. There’s only one reason he’d be this secretive and protective. If Sam was right before, this isn’t the first time it’s happened to her. No woman should ever have to endure that kind of abuse even once in her life let alone twice.”

“It’s killing you not to rush down there and check on her, isn’t it? Even though Greg said not to.”

Ed shrugged. “Greg’s right. I’ve worked assault calls before. Some sadistic pervert hurts a woman in the worst way possible and then her life is on display for everyone to see and make judgments about. I don’t want to add to her trauma. I just feel so helpless.”

“I could go. Jules might appreciate having a familiar female face in a sea of all you men she works with. I know you’ll feel better if you know for sure she’s okay.”

Ed smiled and leaned back to kiss her tenderly. “I love you, you know that don’t you?”

She smiled back at him and cupped his cheek lovingly. “I know. I love you too. I love that you are protective of not only me and Izzie but of Jules as well. She’s one of your girls just as much as me and Izzie. You are a good man, Ed Lane. Now, I’m going to go let Clark know he needs to keep an ear out in case Izzie wakes up.”

Ed looked surprised. “You think I should go with you?”

Sophie shook her head. “No, Greg’s probably right about Jules not needing so many guys hovering about. I’m sure he’s there and I know there’s no way Sam’s not there. But I also know you aren’t going to stop feeling helpless unless you are doing something. Go into headquarters and check in on the investigation. I know your team isn’t going to be able to have anything to do with the case but I also know there’s no way Team One will be kept out of the loop.”

He kissed her again. So many times in the past, Sophie had been resentful of the time he spent at work. He was grateful she understood that he had to do this. “I won’t do anything stupid. Eyes only; I won’t do anything to jeopardize a conviction.”

“I know. I’ll call you once I’ve seen Jules.”

Ed didn’t waste any time getting to his vehicle and driving to the headquarters. As he drove, he gave Fletcher a call, asking what was going on. The team leader for Team 4 was reluctant to give him information but knew he couldn’t blame any member of Team 1 for wanting to make sure the man responsible for hurting one of their own paid for that crime. His own team would be the same way if the roles were reversed.

“The man Parker suspects is responsible just checked in at work. We’re taking him in for questioning now. If you want, you can watch from the observation room. But Lane, that’s watch only. You try to make any contact at all and I’ll write your ass up. This isn’t going to turn into a vigilante moment.”

“Never crossed my mind. By the books the whole way. I’ll be there in ten.”

He ended the call and concentrated on his driving. Once at the station, he went straight to the interrogations rooms on the third floor. He found Fletcher outside room 6. Fletcher once more reminded Ed that he was only to watch and led him into the observation room before going in to question Johnny Dawson.

Ed studied the man suspected of hurting Jules. He had the look of someone sick enough to inflict pain on someone else. Dawson didn’t seem intimidated at all, despite the fact that he was currently sitting in an interrogation room, facing down two angry officers. Jules might not be their teammate but she was still family.

“Is there a reason why I’m here?” Dawson asked casually seemingly unbothered by his current location. “Did I use too much bleach last night when I cleaned the toilets?”

“One of our constables was attacked in her home tonight.”

Johnny shrugged. “I’m sorry to hear that. Still doesn’t explain why I’m here?”

“The constable was your niece Julianna Callaghan.”

Johnny looked shocked. “Is she okay? I may be on the outs with the family but she is my niece. I care about what happens to her. Do you have any idea who might be responsible?”

Fletcher frowned. “Funny thing is, your name is the first one that came up as a suspect.”

“Why? Because I’m a convicted felon? I’ve paid for my crime and I’ve done nothing wrong since I’ve been released.”

With a shrug, Fletcher leaned toward him. “From what I’ve been told, you were convicted of killing Julianna’s mother and trying to kill her. There may have even been a rape involved then. I’ve also been told you’ve been harassing her since you were released.”

“No charges of rape were ever mentioned at my conviction. There was no rape. I’m not guilty of anything now either. If anything I’m the one who’s been harassed by both Jules and her co-workers. And now I guess by you. ”

From his spot in the interrogation room, Ed felt his blood running cold. There was nothing at all about the man’s words or the way he carried himself that suggested that he felt guilty of anything. At the same time, he had no doubts that this man was capable of doing the vilest acts.

Fletcher continued. “No harrassment, only a legitimate investigation. We’d like to take a DNA sample to compare against samples that were collected both at Constable Callaghan’s house and from her sexual assault exam.”

Johnny leaned back in his seat, his hands folded behind his head. “Sure, I’ll be glad to help Metro Police in any way I can. Show me your court order and you can have all the samples you want.”

This guy was as cool as a cucumber, Ed realized. Cocky as hell with a gleam in his eyes that said he was enjoying this immensely. Johnny laughed. “You don’t have a court order, though do you? Because you don’t have any reason to suspect that I’m guilty of anything. No evidence at all except for the fact that my niece has been telling falsehoods about me. I guess I can’t blame her, losing her mother the way she did wasn’t easy for her. Still, if you had anything substantial you would have had a court order in hand before you ever brought me in for questioning.”

“We can get a court order.”

Johnny laughed. “I doubt it but go ahead and try. Just remember to tell the judge that your main suspect, the person you want the court order for, has an airtight alibi for his whereabouts from 3 this afternoon until 7 tonight.”

Fletcher frowned. “Alibi? Yeah, right. Let’s hear this alibi then.”

“One of the terms of my release from prison is that I attend these monthly anger management seminars. Tonight was my first one. My attendance is all a matter of record sent to the courts. So you see, there’s no way I could have done what you are accusing me of. I can’t be in two places at one time, can I?”

Chapter Text

“You’re letting him go? Just like that? He’s walking out of here a free man?”

Ed shook his head; he’d witnessed the interview between Fletcher and Dawson but he still couldn’t believe it. It had taken all he had in him not to leave the observation room and burst into the interrogation room to take over the questioning. The shear cockiness of the bastard rubbed him the wrong way. Still, he’d refrained, knowing he wouldn’t do the investigation or Jules any good by flying off the handle. That restraint just about reached the end when he heard Fletcher tell Dawson he was free to leave.

Sgt. Fletcher sighed and shook his head. “What would you have me do, Ed? We have no reason to hold him. Not yet at least. He’s not going to go anywhere. He’s still on probation so he can’t leave town; if he does he’ll be arrested and thrown back in jail. You heard him, he has an alibi for the time Jules was attacked.”

“We don’t even know if that alibi checks out. Look, Fletcher, all I’m asking is that you hold him a little longer, at least until forensics gets a chance to compare his DNA to the samples they took from Jules. I know he wouldn‘t consent to give a sample but he‘s a convicted felon, his DNA will be in the system.”

The team leader for Team 4 fixed Ed in a hard stare. “Ed, I let you observe the interrogation out of respect for your whole team. But that courtesy only extends so far. You’ve got to back down and let us do our jobs. He came in voluntarily for questioning; without anything substantial to hold him on, we’ve got to let him go if he chooses to leave. You heard him. He’s so choosing.”

Ed had heard Dawson. Heard him deny claims that he’d raped Jules twenty years ago. Heard him deny that he’d been harassing her since he got out of jail. Heard insinuate he was the one being harassed. Heard him claim to have an airtight alibi for the time Jules was hurt. He’d heard it all and believed absolutely none of it. “Look, Fletcher, I don’t claim to know the whole story. But I do know that something has been bothering Jules the last couple of weeks. And when I say bothering I mean bothering with a capital B. Now, we both know that Julianna Callaghan is as unflappable as they come. Things don’t bother her unless it’s really big. Two weeks, the same amount of time he’s been released from prison. Hell of a coincidence don’t you think?”

“I’m not arguing with you, Ed. The little bit of time I just spent in the room with him has my skin crawling. Do I think he’s capable of sexual assault? No doubt in my mind. But what I think and what I can prove are two different things. Until the evidence catches up with our theories, we can’t charge him with anything. He might walk out of that room a free man tonight but we aren’t going to stop investigating him. If he’s guilty, he won’t stay a free man for long.”

Ed nodded; he didn’t like it but he understood. “Okay, Okay, I get it. But what’s this ’if he’s guilty’ crap; you just said you thought he did it.”

“Ed, we’ve got to cover all our bases. Johnny Dawson is our main suspect given his history with Jules; that’s not going to change. But what if we put all our focus on this guy and it turns out he didn’t do it? It would be a hell of coincidence as you say but sometimes coincidences do happen. We’re working hand in hand with the Sex Crimes Unit to make sure we cover every angle. SRU will focus on Dawson and SCU will look for connections to recent sexual assaults in the area, especially home invasions where drugs were used.”

Closing his eyes, Ed shook his head, realizing just how little he actually knew about what had happened to Jules. “She was drugged? GHB? Rohypnol? What?”

Drugs made sense to Ed, satisfied what had been nagging in the back of his mind since Greg had called. Everyone on the team was skilled at hand to hand combat. They had to be because they never knew what the situation might call for while in the field. Just like with all their training, sometimes they practiced form over force. Walking through different scenarios without fully following through. Other times they went full out, not pulling punches. He’d seen Jules fight and knew she was good. Would put his money on her in any match up, no matter how big her opponent was. The idea that a guy had gotten the upper hand on her in order to hurt her in the first place just didn’t seem right. But if she’d been incapacitated by a drug known for its sedation properties, then she wouldn’t have been able to fight back. He also knew both of those drugs had a tendency of inducing short term memory loss in the victim. Was it right or wrong to hope that Jules wouldn’t remember what had happened to her?

“Neither. New drug out. Similar in nature to Ketamine but without the hallucinogenic properties. Nasty stuff. Victim is completely incapacitated but the mind is full aware of every thing that is happening. They haven’t even been able to get a statement from Jules because of the effects of the drugs. It’ll be sometime tomorrow before we know the full story. The results of the SAE only tell us so much.”

Ed nodded again, sickened by what his friend and co-worker must be going through right then. Only a truly sadistic bastard could treat another person with such callousness and disregard for human compassion. He was torn between wanting to ask to read the report and respecting Jules’s privacy. Would it make a difference if he did know the gory details? Knowing or not knowing wouldn’t change the fact that Jules would need their support, their friendship, their compassion more than ever. “Okay, so what happens now? Greg hasn’t told me everything that’s going on because Jules has wanted it kept quiet but I do know he’s been harassing her.”

A knock from inside the interrogation room interrupted their conversation. Fletcher cracked the door to see Dawson standing just inside the threshold. “What?”

“If you’re through unlawfully detaining me I’d like to leave. See if I still have a job or if my niece has cost me that as well.”

Fletcher narrowed his eyes. “You can go, for now. Let me offer you some friendly advice, stay away from Julianna Callaghan until we complete our investigation.”

Johnny smiled. “Not a problem. Like I said, I’m on the outs with the family. They proved that when I tried to check on my brother-in-law after his heart attack. Haven’t seen them since.”

Ed tilted his head. “Then what do you call paying her a visit in the hospital parking lot last night?”

The confusion on the suspect’s face seemed genuine as he shook his head. “Don’t know what you’re talking about. I wasn’t there.” He laughed dryly. “She’s just really determined to get me in trouble, isn’t she? She was such a sweet innocent little girl before I went to jail; I never would have thought she’d grow up to be such a vengeful little liar. I guess giving up twenty years of my life wasn’t enough for her; she’s determined to completely ruin my life. Hopefully she’ll realize she’s not going to be successful no matter how hard she tries.”

Johnny gave the two men a mock wave as he set off down the hall whistling. Ed glared at his retreating body. Once he’d disappeared around the corner, the Team One leader looked over at his Team Four counterpart. “Someone’s lying but I don’t think it’s Jules.”

“Team Four, gear up…”

Fletcher slapped Ed’s arm sympathetically. “Duty calls. Go home, Ed, we’ll make sure Jules gets justice.”

Standing in the hallway alone, Ed reached for his phone. Scrolling through his frequent contacts, he selected the one he wanted and waited as it rang. “Spike, it’s Ed. Where are you?” He shook his head, only slightly surprised when Spike sheepishly admitted that he was sitting in the hospital parking lot working up the courage to actively disobey Greg’s order to stay away. “Yeah, I understand, Soph went to check on her so I wasn‘t going against the Boss‘s wishes. But listen, I need you to come down to headquarters. I need your help in catching a spider in his own web of lies.”

-- FP -- FP -- FP --
In the end, Sam had to do most of the work when it came to helping Jules into the hospital gown. Try as she might, she just couldn’t get her fingers to cooperate to grasp the edges of the gown. Not wanting her to get frustrated, he’d eased the fabric over her outstretched arms, making sure the sheet stayed in place over her body until she was completely covered in the front by the gown. Helping her to lean forward so that her head rested against his chest while he reached behind her and tied the straps together at the neck of the gown and then the ties halfway down. He eased her back against the bed and tugged the sheet out from under the gown.

“Would you feel more comfortable if I found another gown to use as sort of a robe? You know so your back is fully covered as well.”

She nodded. Sam had seen his fair share of emergency departments over the years so he was able to quickly find a second gown from the drawer where they were kept. He helped her into it before settling her back against the bed. He looked toward the curtain.

“I guess I should let them know you’re dressed. I think they’re ready to move you upstairs.”

“No.”

Sam sighed, eyeing her carefully. “Okay, we can wait a few more minutes.”

It was clear from her expression that it wasn’t exactly the answer she was hoping for. Sam reached out rubbing his thumb across her cheekbone, glad that at least her beautiful face had been spared from being marred by the attack. “Jules, I would give anything to be able to gather you up and take you out of here. Take you anywhere in the world you’d feel safe and secure, and if that place doesn‘t exist, then I’d be willing to just hide you away from the rest of the world and hold you for as long as you needed me to. That’s what you want isn’t it?”

She nodded, her eyes turning hopeful. Sam hated to erase it even just a little. “Fine, tomorrow when you are released, I’ll do just that. But for now, this is where you need to be, at least until the drug wears off the rest of the way. If something happened to you because I let you check out of the hospital, I would never forgive myself. So please, just for tonight, don’t fight me on this. Okay? You know I would normally do anything for you but I can’t ignore what the doctor thinks is best. I promise I’ll stay with you the whole time. If that’s what you want.”

“Want” Jules agreed immediately, not wanting him to think about not staying for even a second. Sam smiled at her. He knew there was more. Could read the dark emotions swirling just behind her eyes, eyes that while looking in his direction were cast more to the side and down from actually meeting his eyes.

He sighed, not really frustrated but getting close. “What? Please Jules, let me in. Let me know what you need. I’m here for you but I don’t want to risk hurting you by flying blind.”

Her lower lip trembled ever so slightly and she tried to hide it by biting down on it. Finally she put voice to what she was thinking, though she hated to admit it to herself or to Sam. “Scared.”

Sam drew her gently into his arms. His fingers of one hand gently wrapped themselves in the strands of her hair holding her head against his chest, just above his heart. His other hand rubbed gentle circles in her back. He rested his head on the top of hers praying he said the words she needed to hear and that it brought her just a little comfort. He knew what that admission cost her and he once more decided there was no punishment harsh enough for the person who had hurt her. “Ah Babe, I know. I know. Who can blame you? After everything you’ve been through, all the pain and fear. I’d be more worried if you weren’t feeling a little scared right now. Hell, I don’t know any of the details of what that bastard did to you and I’m scared for you, for us. But you’re going to get through this and you’re going to be okay.”

Jules was confused. The forensic nurse had performed the sexual assault exam. She had documented every bruise, bite mark, tear, and abrasion. The evidence describing what had and what hadn‘t taken place telling the story even though her voice couldn’t. Dr. Victors had explained the extent of her injuries, how she would heal, the follow-up she’d need with her regular doctor. All of it written down in a report for the world to know her shame, nothing kept secret this time around. Yet Sam claimed not to know any of it. He wouldn’t lie, not to her, so for some reason he hadn’t been told the gruesome, embarrassing truth. “How…” Damn her vocal cords for selectively deciding what sounds it would produce and which ones it wouldn’t.

Sam eased her back just a little to cup her head in his hands, his thumbs brushing against her temples. Once again taking her question at face value without knowing it’s real meaning. “How? By being the badass I fell in love with. The might get knocked down but not defeated Jules who doesn’t blink an eye no matter what’s asked of her at work or in life. You are going to fight your way back from this just like you fought your way back after you were shot. It’s who you are. Yeah, you might need to crawl into a corner somewhere to lick your wounds for a little while. No one’s going to think you’re weak for that. If you need someone to lean on until you feel strong enough to stand on your own two feet again -- both physically and emotionally -- then I’m here for you. Your family will be here for you. The team will be here for you. This time you’re not alone.”

Jules sniffled, and didn’t bother to explain what she was really trying to ask. It didn’t really matter at the moment. He might not have answered the question she was trying to ask but his answer was the one she needed to hear for the question her heart was too scared to ask. She didn’t feel as sure of her own coping skills at the moment so it was reassuring to hear that Sam had his own confidence in her.

“Jules, Sam? Everything okay in there?” Greg’s voice filtered through the curtain, obviously concerned.

“Everything’s fine Sarge.” Sam assured him but didn’t invite him in. He looked at Jules. “You ready to let them in? If not, it’s okay. We’ll do this on your timetable, not anyone else’s.”

She nodded just slightly to let him know she was okay. If she didn’t have the confidence to trust in herself at the moment then perhaps she could hold on the trust Sam had in her until she could believe it for herself. After all, he was right, she was the badass, never let anything get her down type person. She couldn’t control what the drug she was given was doing to her body but she’d be damned if she was going to let fear have control over the rest of her. She trusted Greg and Peter who was probably back from making his calls by now. She might not be comfortable with having them in the same kind of close proximity that she wanted with Sam right now but she trusted that they wouldn’t hurt her.

Sam watched her for a moment trying to gauge how she was really feeling about the situation. The window into her soul her eyes afforded him and him alone was open enough that he saw the truth. No, she wasn’t really okay with letting them in but she wanted to be and that was enough for him. He settled her back against the bed, one hand lightly cupping her cheek. “It’s okay to come in.”

The curtain slid back and Greg and Peter both stepped inside. Peter crossed the room quickly, stopping only at the side of the bed where he took Jules’s hand in his own. “Kind of scared me Squirt when I came back and they said I couldn’t come back in. You okay?”

She nodded again, taking comfort in the way the movement caused Sam’s hand to brush against her cheek in the process. “’Kay.”

Peter released a relieved breath, glad to see the improvement in the time he’d stepped out of the room to make his calls. “Yeah, I guess you are. I’ll spare you the details from my conversations with our brothers. Just know they all love you and send their support until they can be here in person to give it. Which, before that flicker of dread I see in your eyes gets any bigger, won’t be tonight. It took some convincing but I got James to hold off rushing over.”

Jules nodded again, the movement becoming easier with each successive attempt. She glanced over at Greg who had once again stopped at the foot of the bed. He’d been a cop long enough and had worked enough assault cases to be sensitive to the personal space of the victim. She appreciated that in a way she couldn’t talk about for fear of opening herself up to acknowledging that yes she was a victim. She knew him well enough, had worked with him enough calls, to know if not the thoughts themselves then at least the direction of his thoughts from his expression and his posture. Currently, everything about Greg screamed that he was holding back something that he didn’t want to say or do.

“Boss? Wrong?”

Greg shook his head, almost chuckling. Leave it to Jules to be able to profile him while lying injured and drugged on a hospital gurney after being viciously attacked. “We’re the ones supposed to be worrying about you, not the other way around. But I guess I should have realized I couldn’t hide anything from you.”

Sam didn’t move from his spot on the bed or move his hand from Jules’s face. He did however turn his head to look at Greg. His jaw rocked. “Has something happened? Did that bastard manage to get away?”

Greg shook his head. “No, no, it’s not that. It’s just… Jules, what do you need? What can I do to help?” It was obvious he was deflecting the question, which could only mean the answer was bad.

“Tell me…wrong.” Jules might not be able to coax every sound past her awakening vocal cords but there was no mistaking the intensity behind her words.

“There are a couple of SCU officers out in the hallway.”

Jules’s face went slack. She’d known it was only a matter of time before they showed up. The doctor’s report of the exam aside, they had to have her statement before they could really do much in the way of finding her assailant. Greg had told her earlier that he’d convinced them to hold off until morning but it wasn’t surprising they’d see for themselves if she were capable of answering their questions.

“Sam stay?” She’d endure their questions if she had to. She didn’t want Johnny to once again get away with assaulting her a second time. She was stronger than she had been at sixteen, wasn’t going to let fear and intimidation silence her. But as much as she wanted to be strong, she knew she couldn’t do it without Sam’s reassuring presence.

Greg had noticed earlier before he began his questions that it had seemed like Jules was close to her breaking point. Regaining some control of her body had helped and he was encouraged to see a little of that determined spunk returning to her eyes that said she was determined to be okay. But he didn’t delude himself. The vomiting, her reaction to the nurse trying to change her, the fear still so evident in her eyes telling that she was far from okay in the moment. It was as if she was hanging off the side of the building and Sam’s presence was the only thing she was holding on to keeping her from falling. Greg couldn’t help but feel like he was holding the knife that was about to snap her safety line.

“Actual, Kiddo, they’re here to see Sam. For those elimination samples I mentioned earlier.” Hoping to prevent a similar incident as earlier, he hurried on with his assurances. “Sam’s not in trouble and he’s not a suspect. It’s all a matter of protocol. Nothing to worry about; he’ll be back in five minutes tops.”

“Can’t it wait?” Sam asked, turning his back on Greg completely. He wasn’t worried about giving the samples they wanted but he was worried about leaving Jules. He’d just promised her that he would stay by her side for as long as she needed him to and didn’t want to go back on that word.

Jules closed her eyes and tried to remove herself from the situation. From the moment she’d fallen between the couch and the coffee table, she’d been thinking like the victim her assailant had made her, the victim she didn‘t want to be. She needed to think like a cop. Greg was assuring them that Sam wasn’t a suspect but she knew how quickly that could change if it appeared he wasn’t being cooperative. “Sam, go. It’s ‘kay.”

“Jules, look at me.” Sam demanded gently. Jules tried to force any hint of fear from her eyes knowing Sam wouldn’t leave her side if she showed signs of distress. Once she was reasonably sure her emotions wouldn’t betray her, she opened her eyes. “Are you sure? Protocol or not I don’t give a rat’s ass about what they want. If you feel more secure having me here, then that’s where I’m going to be. If SCU can’t understand that and cut us some slack then they can go screw themselves and take samples of that.”

“Sam,” Greg stated gently. “They’re ready to move Jules upstairs now anyway. You know when they get her on the floor, the nurse on duty there will run us all out while they get her settled in her room. Now’s a good time to take care of this and then I promise you, Buddy, no one’s going to run you out again tonight.”

Jules blinked a couple of times, trying to keep tears from forming once more. “Please. No trouble.”

Sam still didn’t look too sure. He glanced from Peter to Greg. “You’ll stay with her? Won’t let the nurses do anything to make her uncomfortable?”

Both men promised even though it was obvious Sam’s presence did more to calm her than anything. Sam leaned in and brushed his lips almost chastely over her lips. He was proud of her for putting aside her fears but he was selfish enough to wish she’d insisted that he stayed. He could argue all day long that he wanted to stay close to her side for her own peace of mind but the truth was that it was just as much for his. He was just as scared as she’d admitted to being. Scared that if he let her out of his sight for too long something else might happen; that he might lose her for good.

“I’ll be right back. I love you Jules.”

As he headed out of the cubicle he almost ran straight into Sophie Lane. The wife of their team leader gave him a warm hug. “Ed was going crazy worrying about Jules but didn’t want to crowd her. I figured if I came down, it would make him feel better and that Jules might appreciate having a female who wasn’t a stranger around for a little bit.”

Sam shrugged. “I don’t know. She’ll be glad to see you. I’m glad to see you. I’ve got to talk to the officers from the Sex Crime Unit for a few minutes and they’re getting ready to move Jules to a room. I know her brother and Sarge will take care of her but you might can get away with staying with her when the nurse upstairs gets her settled. I don’t know what it is that’s bothering her about them, but I think the medical personnel are freaking her out a lot more than she wants us to know. Can you make sure she’s okay?”

Sophie promised and gave his arm a squeeze before continuing on in. Sam stared back into Jules’s cubicle wanting to rush back in but knowing that he needed to do this. He turned to face the two people standing at the nurses’ station, recognizing them as the officers by the badges on their waists.

The male officer stepped forward. “Constable Braddock, let’s step down to the conference room where we can talk in private.”

Sam nodded, his face a mask against his emotions. “Let’s just get this over with.”

He followed the officers down the hall and stood in the same room he’d listened to Dr. Victors explain about Jules’s condition. Only the male officer followed him into the room and closed the door. Sam turned to him, suddenly angry. Angrier than he’d been after being kicked out of Jules’s cubicle after she began throwing up. Angry that these officers, no matter how well intentioned they might be or no matter that they were just doing their job, were taking him away from the woman he loved when she needed him the most. Angry that they were wasting their time with him instead of putting Johnny Dawson back in jail where he deserved to be.

“So what all do you want? Blood sample? Cheek swab? Sperm sample? I gotta be honest with you that last one might be a little hard to get. In case you didn’t hear, my girlfriend was assaulted earlier; doesn’t quite put me in an arousing kind of state.”

If the officer took offense at Sam’s cutting remarks and menacing glare he didn’t show it. He pulled out a wrapped buccal swab and pealed off the sterile wrapping. “All I have to do is swab the inside of your cheek.”

Sam held himself rigid as he opened his mouth wide. The officer ran the swab on the inside of Sam’s cheek. He sealed the swab in its protective sheath and used a pen to write Sam’s name on the outside. Sam glared at him.

“Is that all? Can I go now?”

“It would help if you could answer a few questions for me. Help us to get an accurate picture of what happened.”

Sam sighed. “Fine. What do you want to know?”

At first the questions revolved around whether or not Sam had noticed anyone paying Jules any undue attention lately. Sam told him about Johnny and the fact that the man had assaulted Jules twenty years ago as well as the things that had happened upon his release. The officer took notes and then started asking questions about Sam’s relationship with Jules. As the questions grew more personal, Sam felt himself getting more and more defensive. He was also chaffing at the fact that the process was taking way too long; he should have been back with Jules by now. He only hoped she was okay.

“When was the last time you and Constable Callaghan had sex?”

It turned Sam’s stomach to have to talk about his sex life with a complete stranger. “Last night. So yes, you’ll probably find evidence of my bodily fluids in the samples the doctor took earlier.”

“I need you to describe the exact nature of that sexual contact.” The officer had the grace to look apologetic but Sam blew up anyway.

“Go to hell. If you need some sort of cheap thrill, find a magazine or something. My love life with my girlfriend is none of your business. I‘m not about to let you get your jollies at the expense of our privacy.”

The officer frowned. “I can assure you Constable Braddock that I take no pleasure in asking these questions. Ordinarily I’d agree with you. It’s none of my business how either of you choose to express your feelings for each other. However, I have a crime to solve and I’ve got to be able to differentiate whether the findings of the forensic nurse were a product of the assault or something that occur during a previous consensual act.”

Sam narrowed his eyes at the man. “Then why don’t you ask about the findings instead of demanding a play by play? I can’t imagine you’d want to discuss the more intimate details with whomever you choose to sleep with.”

The officer nodded. “Fine then. The nurse recorded numerous bite marks around Constable Callaghan’s breasts and genitals.”

Sam’s stomach turned even more. Enough so that he reached for the small garbage can next to the couch as he began to retch. He’d gathered from the little Jules had opened up to him about the original attack that Dawson’s painful bites in those areas were a big reason she shunned any sort of intimacy there. Now she was going through the same pain again? He was going to kill the son of a bitch as soon as he could get his hands on him. “No, I never. I wouldn’t.”

“Okay, I’m sorry I’ve had to put you through this. I know this isn’t easy for you. In my job I’ve seen the effects an assault can have on both the victim and her significant other. Recovering from such an attack doesn’t happen over night. It’s a long, difficult emotional road not just for her but for you as well. It would probably be a good idea for Constable Callaghan to talk to a counselor to help her cope with the emotions she’s going to experience. It’s obvious to me how much you care about her and I know you want the best for her. I would recommend you talk with one yourself. A counselor can give you tips for helping your girlfriend and give you an outlet for handling your own fears and emotions.”

Sam shrugged but didn’t comment. He knew getting Jules to talk to anyone was going to be difficult and even knowing how important it was, wasn’t sure he could pressure her to do so if she was against it. “Can I go now?”

The officer nodded. After getting Jules’s room number from the nurses’ desk, he practically raced up the stairs. He knocked gently and then let himself in. He was alarmed to see that Jules looked upset even though Sophie seemed to be doing her best to comfort her. A glance around the room showed no sign of either Peter or Greg.

“What happened?”

Sophie looked at him from her spot near Jules’s bed where she’d been trying to comfort the distraught woman. “I promised to stay until you got here. Ed called Greg from headquarters. Apparently the guy you all believe is responsible for hurting Jules was assaulted while at work. Greg and Peter had to go down the station to bail out the person responsible.”

It was on the tip of Sam’s tongue to express his gratitude that someone had done what he wasn’t able to do. But seeing how much this was upsetting Jules was enough to refrain. “Who was it?”

Jules sobbed heavily. “James.”

Chapter Text

“This isn’t happening. I refused to believe this is happening. Seriously? I’m sitting here under arrest and that no good waste of breath unmitigated bastard is walking around free? What kind of justice are we living under?” James paced the interrogation room like an animal stuck in a cage. He picked up a chair and threw it across the room against the two way mirror. The window was made of material strong enough to withstand the assault and didn’t so much as crack. “Damn it. I know you’re out there. This isn’t fair. Somebody come in here and talk to me.”

James was right, he was under observation; had been since the moment he’d been left in the interrogation room with the cuffs removed. Currently four men were standing on the other side of the mirror watching the eldest brother of the Callaghan family self destruct. Wordy shook his head, as he looked back at Greg, Ed, and the man he’d been introduced to as another one of Jules’s brothers.

“Several of us were waiting in the lobby for the rest of the team to come down; we had a blitz planned on several local gangs tonight. It was quiet, the only other person in the lobby was the new night custodian who was mopping the floor. Suddenly this guy storms into the building. We could tell he was upset and at first he looked like he was going to approach us for help. Then he caught sight of the custodian and just went ballistic. Accused the guy of raping his sister and as he starts punching the guy, he’s telling him that he wasn’t going to get away with it a second time. Took four of us to pull him off the guy. I saw the Callaghan name when I checked his ID but I never would have connected him to Jules. If Spike hadn’t come in and recognized him…”

Greg frowned. He hadn’t seen Spike since he and Peter had arrived. “Spike’s here? Why?”

Ed supplied the answer. “I‘ve got him checking a few things for me. Putting his computer skills to use.”

Wordy turned back to the look at the man he’d been forced to arrest. He hadn’t had a choice considering the guy had attacked another person in front of witnesses, especially witnesses that were also cops. Once Spike had identified the agitated man as Jules’s brother, and knowing that Jules didn’t have any sisters, Wordy had felt awful about putting the cuffs on the man and bringing him down to the interrogation room. “Is it true? About Jules?”

He couldn’t bring himself to use the word rape anywhere in the same sentence as Jules’s name. He might have had to leave SRU after his diagnosis but as close as he might have gotten with his new co-workers, he would forever in his heart be a member of Team One. They weren’t just friends, they were family. And he couldn’t stomach the idea of anyone putting their unfriendly hands on any of his family.

“We don’t know exactly what happened but yes, she was attacked this evening. She’s going to be okay though. The doctor only admitted her because of the effects of the drug she was given. Sam is with her now and you know he’s going to take care of her.” Greg explained and then looked at Ed. “Why is it that Dawson was at work? Fletcher assured me he would be taken in for questioning as soon as he showed up.”

Ed explained about the alibi and Dawson’s further claim that he hadn’t approached Jules the night before. “That’s why I called in Spike. I figured if anyone could find a flaw in his story, it would be Spike. I gotta tell ya Boss, I know James was wrong but I understand where he’s coming from. It took everything in me not to lay his ass out earlier myself. Jules’s brother doesn’t have that cop training of staying cool in a crisis to fall back on. It doesn’t seem right that he’s being detained and Dawson is running free.”

Wordy leaned against the wall, his arms crossed before him. “Fortunately we pulled him off Dawson before he could seriously hurt him. Black eye, bloody nose. We’re still waiting to see if Dawson is even going to file assault charges. I figured if we stuck him in here, it’ll at least keep him out of further trouble. As it is, the most he could be charged with is simple assault.”

Peter sank into the a chair. “James has been building up to something like this every since we found out that Johnny hurt Jules all those years ago. Only worry about Dad’s health has kept him from acting on his rage. I guess hearing that our baby sister was hurt again was just too much for him. I should have known he was going to go after Johnny when I was able to convince him not to come to the hospital. Damn it. My brother is an idiot. Does he really think Jules needs this on top of everything else she’s going through?”

Greg looked to Wordy. “Where’s Dawson now?”

“We had medics check him out. Once they determined he didn’t need to go to the hospital, another officer took him down the hall to get his statement, room 5 I believe. As far as I know he’s still there. I’ve obviously missed out a lot. What’s this about Jules being hurt before? I don’t get it.”

“Eddie, why don’t you fill Wordy in. Peter do you think you can calm your brother down?”

Peter shrugged. “I don’t know. I can try.”

“Do it. I’m going to talk to Dawson, see where his mind is about pressing charges.” Greg left the room and strode down the hall to the room Wordy had directed him to. He knocked and waited for the officer to let him in. He asked permission to talk to Dawson alone and the officer agreed. He sat down opposite Dawson who sat back in his chair, looking unfazed despite the dribble of blood that still spurted occasionally from his nose behind the wrapped ice pack the medics had given him for his eye and nose.

“Great, can this day get any better? Bad enough that I get pulled in for questioning as soon as I get to work but then I get beaten up by my own nephew and now this, a visit from the illustrious sergeant of SRU’s Team 1. So what’s it going to be? Whips and chains? Some medieval torture technique? Maybe just boring me with your moral superiority? Tell you what, just spare me. I already told that other sergeant that unless you are planning on charging me then I have nothing to say. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll ask my boss to let me just go home for the night. Under the circumstances, I don’t think he’d have a problem with it. I’m not feeling motivated to work right now. It’s been a hard night.”

“Yeah, I can see that. Of course, it’s nothing compared to the kind of night your niece is having.” Greg’s voice was carefully neutral.

Johnny shook his head. “I had nothing to do with any of that. I spent the better part of the afternoon and evening at an anger management seminar. Good thing I did apparently otherwise I might not be handling all these accusations and attacks as calmly as I am. Look, I’m sorry that my niece was hurt. I really am. But no matter how intimidating you and your other officers try to be or how much her brothers beat me up, it’s not going to make me confess. You’re wasting your time.”

Greg nodded. “I can see that. I’m not here investigating what happened to Jules. Conflict of interest and all says I have to stay out of that. I don’t even know where the investigation stands right now. I’m here strictly as Jules’s friend to ask you a favor.”

Johnny snorted. “Favor? That’s rich. Okay, Mr. Serve and Protect, what kind of favor do you want?”

“Don’t press charges against James Callaghan.”

Johnny lowered the ice pack. “Why shouldn’t I press charges? Do you see what he did to me? I don’t even want to think about what he would have done if those officers hadn’t been there to pull him off me. He‘s the one who should be in anger management classes.”

“Yeah, I can see he did quite a number on you. But can you blame him? The guy just found out someone assaulted his baby sister. He’s lashing out at who he thinks is responsible, probably because he feels guilty that he wasn’t able to prevent her from getting hurt in the first place. I’m not saying he’s right; violence is never the answer. But does he deserve to go to jail because he was trying to protect his sister’s honor? I don’t know. More importantly though, does Jules deserve to suffer because he lost control? She’s your niece; do you really want to see her hurt worse than she’s already been?”

Johnny narrowed his eyes, although only one was really cooperating. “Why should I care? It’s because of her lies that I’m even a suspect.”

It galled Greg to hear Johnny accuse Jules of lying but he had to maintain his objectivity. “So show her, show all of us, that you’re not the monster she thinks you are. Don’t press charges against James. Show a little compassion. What could it hurt? If for some reason he tried to hurt you again, you could always change your mind and press charges later.”

Johnny appeared to be mulling over the idea. Finally he nodded. “Maybe it would help JAC to know I’m not the monster she’s built me up to be. The truth is I miss the close relationship I used to have with my sister’s family. I know there’s not going to be a magical solution for fixing that but I guess pressing charges against my nephew wouldn’t help. Okay, I’ll let it go for now. But if he comes near me again, all bets are off.”

Greg nodded. “I totally get that. Thank you. Thank you for putting Jules’s feelings first. I’ll let the officers know you’ve made a decision.”

Johnny watched as the man made his way out of the room. He picked up the ice pack and brought it up to his nose, hiding his mouth just in case someone was watching in the observation room. He smiled, the expression almost sinister. “Quid pro quo, Little JAC. Quid pro quo.”

-- FP -- FP -- FP --

“Sam.” One word so much emotion.

It killed him to think there could be something Jules wanted in this moment that he would say no to. Had she asked for just about anything else he’d have given in in an instant. But he couldn’t say yes to what she wanted. More importantly, he didn’t want to say yes. “No. Not going to happen. You are staying right where you are. Just because your brother has lost his mind, doesn’t mean you’ve got to lose yours as well.”

As soon as he’d arrived at the room and found out that James had been arrested for assault, Jules had pressed him in her improving but still faltering speech to take her to the station to check on her brother. He was still on edge after his encounter with SCU and all he really wanted to do was spend the rest of the night holding Jules in his protective embrace and reassuring himself with every breath he heard her take and with every beat of her heart that he felt as he pressed her to him that she was okay. Instead, he found himself having to argue with her instead of holding her close.

Sophie tried to help. “Jules, Greg and Eddie are both there. They’ll make sure your brother is fine. Trust them to take care of this for you.”

“Need…be there. My fault.”

Sophie shook her head. “Jules, none of this is your fault. You can’t blame yourself for anything that’s happened today.”

Jules frowned. “Don’t know anything ’bout it.”

Sophie looked over to Sam. She didn’t take any offense to Jules’s antagonism. She could tell the poor woman was at the end of her rope and Sam didn’t look far from his own either. She’d hadn’t spent a lot of time around her husband’s teammates but the time she had spent was enough to let her know they more Jules felt ganged up on, the more determined she would be to go. Perhaps if she left, Sam could convince Jules to remain where she was and get some much needed sleep.

“It’s been a hard day for you and you need your rest. I’m going to go home and check on Clark and the baby. I’ll come by tomorrow to see how you‘re doing. Jules, please listen to Sam. He’s got your best interests at heart.” She gave Sam’s arm a squeeze as he stood to give her a hug. “Call me if you need anything.”

He nodded and walked her to the door. Almost on automatic pilot he encouraged her to make sure someone walked her to the car. She promised and left. Sam turned to look at Jules, his nerves on edge. “She came because she cares. We all care about you and we’re worried about you.”

“Doesn’t help.”

Sam counted to ten. He knew she was upset and frustrated and taking it out on anyone who was close enough. “Neither will going to the station tonight.”

“Going.” Her chin jutted out in defiance.

He shook his head, his patience snapping. His blues eyes were dark with anger as he started opening drawers and then the closet looking for something. He found was he was looking for in the closet and scooped up the bag Greg had brought earlier. He dropped it angrily on the end of her bed. “Fine, if you’re so determined to go against what we all know is best for you then I’m not going to stop you. There’s your bag, get dressed and I’ll take you.”

Surprised that he was giving in so quickly, Jules pulled herself up and reached for the bag. Her movements were jerky and uncoordinated but she finally had her hand on the bag but couldn’t make the zipper work the fine motor skills needed to make her fingers work still paralyzed. She looked at him, her eyes pleading. “Help.”

Sam shook his head, standing with his back to her. “No. I’m not going to stop you and I will drive you once you get dressed but I’m not going to help you.”

The darkness outside caused the window to act more like a mirror than the see-through pane that it was. He could see the glare she shot him and then her fumbling attempts to get the bag open. It was killing him to see her struggle but he knew the last thing she would want is for someone feeling sorry for her and coddling her.

Her frustration got the better of her and she used her legs, which seemed to have more strength to them than any other part of her body, to kick the bag off the bed. Her low growl stating her emotional state better than anything else. Sam turned and crossed to the bed, squatting slightly so that he was at eye level with her.

“I’m sorry, Jules. You know I’m right about this.”

“You don’t care.”

Sam tried not to feel hurt or frustrated but it was hard. He knew her emotions were on edge with everything that had happened and that she didn’t mean half the things she said. Still, whether she was aware of the power she possessed or not, she’d always had the ability to crush him with her words even when it wasn’t what she intended. All the pent up anger he’d been feeling since his meeting with SCU came to a head and he stood, his jaw rocking. “Yeah, right. I fucking don’t care. That’s exactly why I’ve been going out of my mind since the moment I got home and realized something had happened to you. Why am I even here since you don‘t seem to want me around anymore. But I can see where you would think my concern means I just don’t fucking give a damn. You know what, maybe I should just leave.”

He rose and headed for the door. He had no intentions of leaving, wouldn’t leave her completely defenseless with her attacker still on the loose. But he needed to put just a little distance between them, just long enough that he could regain his own focus and be there for her without taking everything so personally, so he could be the person she needed him to be.

Her heartbreaking sobs stopped him dead in his tracks and he rested his head on the door. Feeling like a heel for not being more understanding, he’d returned to her side, prepared to sit on the bed and gather her gently in his arms. When she’d involuntarily flinched as he loomed over her, he’d changed direction and threw himself in the chair Sophie had vacated when she left. If anything, her sobs grew in intensity as she stammered over herself, apologizing and then begging him to hold her. Her cries hurt just as much as her barbs.

“No, Jules, I’m not going to hold you right now, not because I don‘t care and not because I don’t want to. We’re both upset and your body is obviously reacting negatively to it. I’m not going to risk hurting you. I can’t do that.”

She turned her back to him at his rejection and continued to cry. He continued to try to assure her that everything was okay, that he wasn’t mad, and that he understood she was just upset. Though he almost ached to do so, he didn’t give in and take her in his arms not wanting to upset her further but also not sure he could handle the rejection if she spurned his touch again even without meaning to. But he couldn’t stand to see her so upset and do nothing. Therefore, he scooted the chair close enough that he could reach out and touch her. With one hand he ran his fingers through her dark hair and the other he trail up and down her arm. After what seemed like an eternity, his soothing words and touches finally settled her down and she drifted off to sleep.

He continued to sit there slowly stroking her soft skin until her breathing fully evened out and her body went slack as her body surrendered to the sleep she needed. He’d lost count of the times he’d watched her succumb to sleep in the course of their relationship. It was like watching a wind up toy slowly winding down. She was the type of person who went full tilt all day long so much so that her body had to ease into sleep. But once she finally surrendered, it was a complete and total shutdown. Her eyes were red and puffy and her face flushed from being upset. He had no doubt that even though she was out for the count for now, it was only a matter of time before her sleep became troubled and dreams unleashed their fury on her.

Until that happened and she needed him more than she’d possibly needed him all night, he needed to find answers to the questions he had, to the questions he knew she’d ask as soon as she was awake. He stood and stepped to the bathroom so he could make a phone call without waking her. As he waited for the person on the other end of the line to answer, he kept his eye on her sleeping body, watching for any sign of distress. After several rings, Greg finally answered.

“Hey, it’s Sam. What the hell is going on down there?”

“Johnny decided not to press charges. James will be released as soon as the paper work is finished. Peter’s going to take him home and stay with him tonight to make sure he doesn’t cause any more trouble. How’s Jules?”