Title: "Take Two"
Author: monimala
Fandom: Suzanne Brockmann's Troubleshooters/SEAL Team Sixteen.
Rating/Classification: language, Jules/Robin-ish, angst.
Disclaimer: I do not own these characters. They belong to Suzanne Brockmann. No infringement intended.
Summary: Set after Hot Target. Jules Cassidy has had enough of showbiz...hasn't he?

He doesn't go to the premiere, even though there are two tickets in his name. They come in an embossed envelope and sit in his 'In' basket, crisp and tempting. Janey went all out, sending an extra for Alyssa...or, God forbid, Max Bhagat himself. She leaves messages on his voicemail, having probably gotten the number from Tom Paoletti, and she stops after the third or fourth so he doesn't have to beg Laronda to take a break from The Gina Watch and run interference for him. Not that Laronda would *do* that anyway.

At least it's Jane, he tells himself, while Robert Redford praises "American Hero" at Sundance on a clip on E! as he flips past. At least it's Jane whose calls he's callously ignoring, because she understands and she'll try, but she won't push.

And he pretends he's not disappointed that Robin hasn't called at all. Adam calls him every day for a week or two. It's easy to pick up the phone and drop it back in its cradle, hit 'End' on his cell, instead of answering and saying "fuck you" and "good-bye means good-bye."

He's not going to see the movie. Not even at the little arthouse place he drags Alyssa to because she loves him enough to suffer subtitles, stale popcorn, and lukewarm Evian. He tells himself its because the version of Omaha Beach is still too fresh. That the dream sequence can't measure up to the real-life on-set nightmare. That he doesn't want to see Adam's traitorous face in all its Technicolor glory. That, okay, seeing Robin Chadwick is just too hard because he still wants him, still wants sunlight *with* him.

And maybe that *is* it, but not *all* of it.

Jules has never been one for self-delusion, has only excelled at fooling others, because even when he was lying to himself about all those third and fourth and fifteenth chances with Adam, he knew it. He saw through the bullshit but swallowed it anyway. So, he knows exactly why he can't watch "Hal Lord" and "Jack Shelton" up on that shiny silver screen.

Because their story belongs to him now.

It shouldn't, but, oh God, it does.

*I guess I was more afraid of dying without ever having lived. I am who I am. There's a peace that comes with acknowledging that.*

Peace? Has he really had a moment of it since...?

*I'd gladly die for that. For a chance to really live, even just for a day or two.*

It will never be Hal and Jack on that screen. Not even Robin and Adam. No. It's him and Robin in that hotel room in L.A. Only, this time, they don't stop. Take two. There is no uncertainty, no fear. They keep kissing. Harder. Heat. Hands sliding up the back of his shirt, Robin chanting "JulesJulesJules" like it means "I love you" and maybe it does, so he whispers "Baby" and slides down, his cheek rasping along the crisp line of Robin's pants...

So, no. He's not going to see "American Hero."

He sees more than enough of it every time he closes his eyes.

The phone rings. His land line. He just had it changed again so he knows it isn't Adam, but he lets the machine pick up first just in case. "Jules, it's Sam. Just checkin' up on you and reminding you that the lovely subscription to Playgirl you so kindly sent me for Christmas has about run out and Haley likes the articles--"

"Sam, I'm here." He's too tired to call him "Cowboy" or "SpongeBob" or pick up the Costello end of the Playgirl routine, but never too tired to check in.

"Course you are. Where else would you be?" Sam sounds downright cheerful considering that Alyssa is OUTCONUS without him again. Maybe *because* of it. Maybe the cheer in his voice is just the tiniest bit forced.

"On a beach sipping cocktails with a Tahitian cabana boy?" he suggests, making his own lame effort to play.

But Sam can tell he's forcing it, too, and the over-the-top drawl fades into the grim tone of a concerned friend. "Jules, you really okay? Lys has been pretty worried about you. She thinks you're in bad shape and I'm inclined to agree. You sound like shit."

"And you just called to dish the latest episode of Queer As Folk? Sam, sweetie, how are *you*?" he counters, sinking into the plush sofa cushions.

There's a pause, glass clinking; it could be soda, could be whiskey, depending on whether or not he has Haley this weekend. And then..."I hate it," Sam whispers, low and vicious. "I hate it when she's out there and I can't watch her back...but she chose this mission, this whole gig, and I respect her for that. You know that."

Yes, he does. Sam's respect and his adoration totally outweigh his fear. "You're lucky, SpongeBob," he sighs, quietly. Robin chose a bottle and the darkest, deepest, corner of the closet he could find. And that's something Jules can't respect. Not when Robin chose those things...over him.

"Some day, you'll be lucky, too, and Lys'll make me buy you monogrammed His&His towels."

No. No, he won't.

He is who he is.

There's a peace that comes with acknowledging that.

***

He flies out of Boise, the fat file on Tim Ebersole weighing down his briefcase like a load of bricks. The Freedom Network is still going strong, singing songs of hate around the campfire, and he thinks "Monkey Fuck, Idaho" and laughs so sharply that the security guy signing off on his sidearm almost refuses to give it back to him.

Tim and his buddies were on their best behavior as the movie about their idol's gay son did the film festival circuit. Not a peep from the Chester Lord Fan Club. But no peeping from a hate group is not necessarily something of the "no news is good news" variety. Still, Jules leaves for DC with nothing except a heavier briefcase and two days worth of dirty laundry.

It's only when he's buckled in, fiddling with the package of pretzels they hand out now instead of peanuts, that he realizes the FAA must hate him. Months of carefully avoiding any news coverage, any press, even the mere *mention*, and...

Instead of the umpteenth "Blade" sequel or some crass comedy starring Ben Stiller...the airline has a critically-acclaimed and controversial indie flick for their in-flight movie.

He doesn't pay the $2 for the ear phones.

He doesn't need to. He all ready knows most of the script by heart. When he closes his eyes and tries to sleep, it plays in Surround Sound.

***

"Alyssa...I don't know why I'm calling you when you're clearly out saving the world again. At least tell me that this time your big hunk of cowboy went with you, because the last time...? Honey, he was a twenty car pile-up on the 5. Not that I'm not an overturned 18 wheeler myself and can you TELL I've been awake for three days straight? Jules Cassidy does not use driving metaphors to make a point. Jules Cassidy also doesn't talk about himself in the third person. Oh...oh, Alyssa...I am royally fucking up my life. Again. Call me when you're back from wherever you are. Maybe by then I'll have recovered my brain. Doubtful. Love you."

Frantic calls to Alyssa, the rain, and stupid decisions seem to go hand in hand.

He flips his phone closed, sliding it back into the inner pocket of his jacket, slouching under his umbrella like it won't just protect him from the unseasonable drizzle but from the inevitability of this place, of walking through that door.

Rancho Mirage, California.

It certainly feels like a mirage. Only there's nothing imaginary about this at all. This is not a dream sequence.

"I'm so glad you could make it." Janey clasps his hands, not caring that they're ice cold. "This...this is really important, Jules."

Cosmo's grip is firm, as if he senses that Jules is two seconds away from bolting and he needs to hold on. "Cassidy."

"Cos'," he greets, faintly, even though he's not sure anyone outside of Troubleshooters, Inc is allowed to call the man that.

And then his gaze moves beyond them.

It's a rainy day. Gloomy.

No sign of the sun at all.

Robin has been part of a residential alcohol treatment program for ninety days...and today is the day he gets out.

"Hello, Jules," he whispers, dark-haired and bright-eyed and sober. "JulesJulesJules."

"Baby," he gasps before he can stop himself.

Take two.

 

--end--

January 25, 2005.



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