Author’s Note: Thanks to Ed for the title.
She was shaking, trembling with an intensity that he hadn’t seen since she’d wept openly in that ambulance while Coop bled to death in her arms. Something had happened, and whether or not it was something involving Jack, it had shaken her to the core. For one moment he panicked, picturing the only thing he could imagine having that effect on her, considering the events of the past few days.
Please, don’t let it be that, anything but that, Bailey pleaded silently with a God he rarely spoke to. The next moment, a little girl with blonde hair climbed out of the car after her mother and the older agent breathed a deep sigh of relief.
He watched as Sam gathered her daughter into her arms and clasped her tightly, tears streaming from her eyes into the golden hair she had given Chloe. Suddenly, Bailey knew. The knowledge hit him like a wrecking ball and he had to struggle to catch his breath. As if Frances was on the run again, his own heart shook with the earthquake of emotion that flooded him.
“Sam’s mother-in-law wants custody,” a quiet voice spoke beside him.
Bailey looked up, startled, into the eyes of Cliff Harmon, one of the VCTF members who had been guarding Sam and Chloe since the scare with the pictures. The words only confirmed the certainty that had come to him a moment ago, but still it hurt. He didn’t even want to imagine the possibility of life without that little spot of eight-year-old sunshine.
But Sam…without Chloe, she would lose the only thing that kept her from being caught in the whirlpool of death and destruction that her gift poised her above, and with it her grasp on sanity. And to come now, when she had started to pull away from the edge…
A swell of fury rose up in him and he nodded curtly for Harmon to leave, so he wouldn’t give in to the impulse to slug the nearest thing within reach.
Still clasping Chloe’s hand, Sam approached her friend, her beautiful eyes haunted with too many years of unrelenting grief.
“Bailey…” she whispered, her voice beginning to show stress fractures.
At that moment, he wanted nothing more than to take her in his arms and protect her from the horrors of the world. He cursed himself for asking her to come back, for exposing her again to everything he wanted to shield her from…
They had needed her, sure. But more than that, he suspected he had selfishly wanted her to be a part of his life again, to be able to see and speak with her every day as they once had…instead of only on rare occasions…
Well he had gotten his wish, but she had paid an awful price for it.
“I heard,” he finally spoke, his voice low and quiet with compassion.
She nodded, numbly.
“Do you need to talk about it?” was the next, quiet question. It was the least he could do, considering all the times she had been willing to listen to and advise his grievances with Frances. It was one of the things he reveled in about their friendship–she felt she could confide in him, and was in turn the only one for whom he felt safe in completely dropping the tough-guy facade. They had been each other’s strength so many times…
Once again, Sam nodded, reluctantly releasing her daughter’s hand. “Honey, go on inside and find Angel.”
With a somber smile, Chloe obeyed, throwing one departing glance over her shoulder at her mother before disappearing inside the fire house that had become their home.
The moment she was out of sight, Sam’s resistance broke, and she began to shake almost violently. “Oh, God…”
Reaching for her, Bailey pulled her into a tight embrace, not caring for once if anyone saw. “I’m sorry, Sam.”
She sobbed: the dam she’d built broke as if it had the force of Niagara Falls behind it and spilled out of her eyes to soak his shoulder. Bailey only tightened his grip and buried his own face in her hair.
“I can’t lose her, Bailey,” Sam whispered quietly into his shoulder. “I just can’t.”
“You won’t; I promise.”
She laughed then, a curt laugh very unlike her usual one. “How can you stop it?” was the bitter response.
Reluctantly he pulled back and placed a hand under her chin to force her to look at him. “By testifying to whatever court they try to drag you in front of that you are an excellent mother. That you’ve taken every precaution humanly possible to ensure Chloe’s safety and peace of mind. And that you’re probably the only reason I haven’t given up in despair on my own daughter when she seems determined to break my heart…I will give all of that, more than willingly–you just have to ask.”
She answered him with a weak smile. “All I need is to know you’ll be there, Bailey, whether you say anything to the judge or not. I can’t face this by myself.”
“You have my word, Sam.”
With that promise, a lot of the weight she’d been carrying seemed to slip off her shoulders and fade into the night. It wasn’t gone–the fear and the sorrow that even the thought of losing Chloe inspired wouldn’t go away until the danger was past–but she was able to stand up a little straighter, a little less likely to collapse.
With that, she buried herself in his arms again, taking comfort not only in his embrace, but in the unswerving constancy of his friendship.
Closing his eyes, Bailey nodded again, still holding her tightly, as if by doing so he could erase the fight that loomed ahead. Always, Sam. I’ll always be there for you, was his silent promise.