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Every Waking Moment
by Kietsie Louw


Title: Every Waking Moment
Author: Kietsie Louw
Author's Website: none
Fandom: Profiler
Pairing: Sam Waters & Bailey Malone
Rating: R (non-explicit m/f sex; violence)
Author's Disclaimer: All Profiler characters belong to Cynthia Saunders, Sanders/Moss production, Steven Kornish and NBC. There is no money made with this and no copyright infringement intended.
Author's Notes: Spoilers: Second season up to "Shoot to kill".



I.



Bailey Malone sat staring into space when Dr. Sam Waters walked into his office. "Hi", she greeted.

"Sam." His eyes jumped to meet hers.

"Aren't you going home, Bailey?" She sat on the corner of his desk.

"Yes, sure. I was just thinking of this past week."

"What a week," she agreed. "At least it's the weekend now."

Bailey stood up and picked up his jacket. "Hmm. I hope the DA can grant us a weekend to recover", he grunted sarcastically.

"How about a drink?" Sam was surprised by her own impulsiveness, but she sensed that Bailey needed to get his mind off work.

"Uh? Sure. Why not?" He realised that he had sounded abrupt and added: "Thanks, Sam that will be nice."

He followed her out of the building and waved the escorting agents away. "I'll take Dr. Waters home. Thanks, guys." Her held the door of his car open for her. "Where to?"

"Oh, anywhere. What about that small place you took me once?"

Bailey was silent on the way. Sam studied his face edgeways, wondering what he was thinking. It frustrated her sometimes that she could not read him. He had taught her her skills as profiler, he had taught her how to probe the minds of others, yet she was never sure of his mind. She was sure of one thing though, their friendship. They had known each other for very long and she caught herself for a moment dreading the thought of Bailey not being around.

He must have become aware of her gaze, for he suddenly glanced at her. "Sam?" His eyes were intense and she though her heart had skipped a beat.

"I was just working out how long we have been friends." She felt embarrassed, puzzled at this emotion.

He did not reply; turned his eyes to the road. They soon reached the small pub and he escorted her inside with his hand gently at her back. The pub was dimly lit and music was playing softly. She made for a small table in a corner.

"What would you like to drink?" She settled for a glass of wine, while Bailey chose whiskey. "You know, why don't we have something to eat too. I'm quite hungry," he added as an afterthought: "Their food is quite good."

"Good idea."

After ordering he seemed edgy. "Bailey?" She leaned towards him, placed her hand lightly on his hand holding the glass. "Time to switch off work-mode!" She smiled.

"Yes, I'm sorry, Sam. Here's a toast then…" His eyes met hers. She felt a stab run through her body again and almost shivered. Something was different, many emotions ran through her mind as she stared at her friend. The word danced through her head, and she wondered again what she would do without his support. Somehow she felt she had to put it into words.

"Thanks, Bailey. You're the best friend." He looked startled for a moment, but she could actually see him take control of his thoughts. He glanced down at her hand on his, and then took it up in his.

"Sam. You're a best friend too." His voice was soft, almost hoarse, He brought her hand up to his face and lightly brushed the back of it with his lips. He was looking at her intently, as if searching for something, and she found herself drowning in his eyes. Strange sensations were running through her body, yet she could not turn her eyes away.

He let go of her hand abruptly and looked away. She wanted to ask him his thoughts, she thought she read fear in his eyes. Something was changing, and as they sat in silence she tried to analyse her thoughts.

Here was the man sitting opposite her. Her mentor, her friend, her boss. Head of the VCTF. Her protector and the man who gave her her life back after Tom died. He was there when Tom was killed, he had held her and comforted her. He was there when Coop was killed, yet he knew she needed time. He was there when she almost lost Chloe. The thought suddenly washed over her, making her shiver. 'I want him to be there always. I need him.'

"Sam? Are you cold?" She shook her head, barely managing to keep tears from coming in her eyes. Her eyes locked onto his again. "What's wrong?"

She had no words. She realised that the many thoughts running through her mind had been there for a long time. She had never analysed them, yet now they were jumping at her, forcing her to admit that she had been consciously looking him up at the office, wanting to see him, wanting to talk with him. She could not say when it had happened, but she knew suddenly, and with complete clarity, that her feelings for him had progressed far beyond friendship.

He was still looking at her, the question in his eyes. She knew she had to say something. She wanted to say only one thing, yet fear made her silent. Fear that she might lose his friendship, fear of Jack.

"I was wondering what you were thinking," she managed to blurt out, trying not to avert his gaze.

Bailey was taken aback by her question. He was trying to probe the strange look in her eyes, struggling to control his own mixed thoughts and emotions. He wanted to reach out and touch her, fold her into his arms, and protect her from whatever was causing her turmoil. Yet he knew he had to fight himself. He had been a selfish man, and he knew it. He had realised it when she had started dating Coop, when he was consumed at times with immense jealousy. It was then that he had realised that his feelings for Sam had long since crossed the line of friendship. He had brought her onto the team to have her near for his own selfish reasons, and it had increased the turmoil inside him. His emotions swayed between guilt for what he had put her through, and trying to justify himself by reasoning that with her near, he could protect her.

The waitress bringing the food interrupted his thoughts. He was suddenly not hungry anymore. He wanted to get out and go home, bury himself in music and restless sleep. Sleep could help him forget, but it didn't come easily nowadays.

"Bailey." Sam's voice made him jump. He felt bad. He was certainly not good company for her tonight. His eyes met hers, and he saw something there that made his heart leap. Was it a mirror of his emotions?

Sam wanted to tell him that she loved him. She thought that at times she had seen passion in his eyes when he looked at her, but she had put it down to imagination. Tonight something was eating him up, and she wished she had the words to comfort him.

She held his gaze. "I sometimes wish I could fathom your mind, Bailey Malone. But you're a profiler's nightmare!" She giggled nervously; that was as close as she felt she could get.

He shifted uncomfortably in his chair. Under the table his leg brushed hers momentarily, and he was unprepared for the jolt it sent through his body. He was out of control, tense as a wire, and he knew it. Sam was probing where she should not, and his emotions felt naked to her gaze.

"Sam, I'm sorry", he managed to stutter. She had a faint smile on her lips, yet it was in no way mocking. He wished he could spill it all out to her, but he felt the guilt rise up inside him again. He couldn't lose her friendship, so he tried to get a grip on his emotions.

She put down her glass and glanced over to the small dance floor. "Come, Bailey, let's relax. Let's dance."

He almost sighed audibly. That was the last thing he needed. But she had already stood up, the food forgotten. She held her hand out to him, and after a moment's hesitation, he took it. He steered her in front of him, shaking his head to try and clear his mind and get a grip on himself.

She came naturally to him, expecting nothing to be different. They had always danced well, secure with each other. But as she put her hand on his shoulder, she felt the tension there. He was trying to keep her at a distance. She looked up at him. "Bailey, what on earth is wrong?" There was an edge to her voice. "I'm not leaving you tonight until you tell me…"

She felt his body tense up. "Nothing, Sam. It's just me. Don't worry so much."

"When we danced at that presentation, it was so good, Bailey. You held me and it felt good." She was poised on the edge, but she knew she had to continue. "I felt safe with you, but now you're pushing me away."

She felt more than heard him gasp. Suddenly her mind was filled with thoughts that both scared and exited her. He was afraid. He didn't know how she felt, and he was fighting to protect her against himself. What if he had realised too that there were new feelings hovering between them? And if he didn't know that she felt them too, he would fight to keep her from knowing. That much she knew of Bailey -- he would always do the best for her.

She ran her hand up his neck and into his hair, at the same time resting her head on his shoulder. He did not draw back this time, but his body was still tense. She was intensely aware of his hand on her back; it was trembling.

"Bailey", she whispered at his ear. "Just hold me, please. I need you to hold me." She closed her eyes. She knew he couldn't refuse her, and she felt him drawing her closer. The music sounded far away, but she followed his rhythm. It felt to her as if every part of her body was on fire where his body touched hers. His breath was warm in her neck. And he was shaking.

She tilted her head to look up at him. He was looking at her, and she knew then what she saw in his eyes. Emotion flooded her, tears sprung to her eyes. "Bailey loves me," she thought, and her heart leaped. "He loves me but he is too scared to show it. He thinks it will drive me away."

His eyes were soft, sad. She held his gaze and ran her fingers through his hair. It felt so good to hold him. He felt strong and hard, yet his way was gentle. While stroking his hair, she pushed his head forward ever so slightly to bring his face closer to hers. She felt his breath on her face, and it exited her. She didn't look away, but willed him to respond.

His lips brushed her forehead and she tilted her head up more. They brushed the top of her nose, then ever so gently, he brushed his lips over hers. The effect was electric. His whole body shuddered; she grabbed onto him as if she was afraid to fall. Her legs felt weak. She leaned her full weight against him, suddenly aware of what was causing his tension. He was aroused, but trying to keep her from knowing. It felt as if a million butterflies had been let loose in her stomach.

She placed both hands on his shoulders, pushing his shoulders back slightly. Their eyes met again. He was still uncertain, she could both see and sense it. She parted her lips slightly and kept looking at him. He was hesitant, but his lips brushed hers again, very tentatively. She pulled him closer to stop him from breaking free, and returned his kiss.

He pulled away for a brief moment, searched her face, found no hesitation there. His lips met hers in their first real kiss, and it felt as if the world stood still. His lips parted, his tongue brushed hers, and as emotion overwhelmed them, it lingered on until they could stand no more.

"Take me home, Bailey." Her voice was raw with emotion, barely a whisper. She was reluctant to break free from his tight embrace, but she forced herself to. She wanted to get him home before the mood was broken, because she wanted him now, urgently, more than anything else.

During the drive home she kept her hand on his knee as if to keep the mood alive. He said nothing, stared straight ahead. She wanted to speak, to tell him what she wanted, but somehow she sensed that he was still fighting. It was better if he came to his own conclusions. She would not force him.

They seemed awkward in the elevator, but once inside her lounge she stood opposite him, took his hand. "Bailey. I know you're afraid. Afraid of yourself. Don't be."

He was still tense, but had regained some control. "What is happening, Sam?"

"I realised something tonight, Bailey, and I think you had the same realisation. We were both fighting it before, unsure of what the other felt. Your kiss told me all I wanted to know, and now I can confess to you without fear…

I love you, Bailey."

The shock on his face almost made her laugh, but she kept her composure. He gathered her into his arms, and his voice was husky by her ear. "Sam. Oh, Sam, I love you too."

There was no hesitation now as he kissed her. Gently, but with such incredible passion that it was her turn to shudder. His hand was on her back, the other one cradling her head. She ran her hands up his back, under his jacket. He was still tense, and she felt his sharp intake of breath as she ran her nails up his spine, along his shoulders. She slid his jacket off, not breaking away from his kiss. She pulled him to her again. He felt so good.

When he finally broke away, he turned away from her, burying his head in his hands. Doubt and fear was getting the better of him again. She was alarmed by this sudden change; she couldn't lose this moment. She pulled him towards the couch, touched by the tears in his eyes.

He sat down and she nestled close to him, her head on his shoulder. She leaned back to look at him, but he was staring ahead, his face a mask. She slipped open his shirt button and ran her hand across his chest. He swallowed hard and closed his eyes, as if he could shut out the sensation.

The shrill of the phone jerked them both upright. "Chloe!" Sam jumped up. "I forgot, she was going to call."

She picked up the phone, listened. Then she put her hand over the receiver, and said towards Bailey: "It's Chloe."

"Tell her I say hi," he said.

She returned her attention to the phone. "How are you sweetie? Bailey says hi." Sam laughed at the reply, then back to Bailey: "She says hi and a hug for Uncle Bailey."

Bailey stood up and wandered to the kitchen. He put the kettle on and started making coffee… anything to get his composure back. He knew he had to leave, go home, but he wanted to stay. He could not believe that Sam had admitted to loving him too. It was like a dream. He had often hoped, thought that he had read love in her eyes when she looked at him, but he had never trusted that observation. He knew that she regarded him as a great friend, but he never imagined she would really love him in a romantic sense. He shook his head to try and clear the fog.

She suddenly spoke behind him. "She's having a great time on the farm! She rode a pony today."

"I'm glad, Sam. She's a great little kid."

"She likes you, Bailey. She's always asking why you don't come and visit more."

He handed her her coffee. "Thanks, Bailey." She smiled at him. He looked ruffled and confused, and she wanted to reach out and hold him again. But somehow she sensed that he needed the distance now.

They returned to the couch.

"Bailey… what are you afraid of? Please tell me."

He looked at her with sad eyes again. "I'm not sure, Sam. I feel I've not been honest with you. I've loved you for a very long time, and I've enjoyed having you on the team, not only because of your skills, but because I wanted you near. To see you, talk with you, be with you…"

"I know that, Bailey. I'm glad you did. I would not have made it without you."

He stared into his cup while he digested her words. His head was clearing slightly. He wondered what to say next. He thought of their embrace a moment ago, and how much she exited him. He wished that things were not so complicated, that he could just take her in his arms and forget about the VCTF, appearances, Jack and his own guilt.

"I just wish sometimes you want to be more vulnerable."

To this he had nothing to say. Her words puzzled him.

She took his cup out of his hand and put it down. "Oh, Bailey, just come here. I just want to hold you. We've discovered something tonight, something we should have discovered long ago. It doesn't need to haunt us anymore."

He wrapped his arms around her with a deep sigh. The fog was beginning again.

"I want you to stay tonight. I don't want you to go." She smiled up at him. "Even if you sleep here on the couch, but tomorrow morning when I wake up, the first thing I want to see is you."

"Sam…"

"Please, Bailey. Promise me you'll stay." She knew he couldn't refuse her, that she was, in a way, using his feelings for her.

"Okay Sam. I'll stay." But she felt the tension returning to his body. She wondered if she should have pushed him. He was a complicated man, and she loved him even more for it. She smiled inwardly. A less complicated man would long ago have pounced. She knew that even in his torment, he was trying to protect her. She knew then that his love for her was sincere and true, and an overwhelming sense of security flooded over her. "I want to be with him always", she thought, "I want him to hold me like this forever."


* * * * * * * * * * * * *



II.



Bailey awoke rather disoriented, aware of someone standing over him.

"Morning." Sam held out a cup of coffee.

"Morning, Sam." He pushed up on one elbow to take the cup from her. He put it down on the coffee table and pulled her closer by the hand. "Did you sleep well?" He kissed her lightly, and then looked at her with the question in his eyes.

"I missed you," she smiled, and sat down next to him. He moved up slightly, to make space.

"But I was right here…"

"You know what I mean, Bailey." She ruffled his hair.

"So last night was real," he said. "I was afraid it might have been a dream."

"I love you, Bailey Malone. It's not a dream. It has become a wonderful reality and I want us to work. It was all I thought about all night… well, almost all!"

Bailey laughed, relaxed for the first time since the previous night. "Thanks, Sam." He wanted to sit up, so he reached for his shirt, hanging over the back of the couch. She stopped his hand.

"Let me look at you, Bailey." She couldn't stop the giggle when she saw the shy look that crept over his face. "Bailey Malone," she teased, "don't tell me you have a weakness!"

She slid the blanket from his shoulders as he sat up, so that his chest was exposed. And she was quite unprepared for what she saw. "Bailey! What a secret you've been hiding!"

He looked quite embarrassed, but she feasted her eyes on his muscular form, his well-defined muscles, his hard stomach. He looked like a sculpture, perfect. "You've been hiding this behind suits and ties, what a waste!"

Her words lightened the moment and he laughed again. Then he reached over her and grabbed his shirt. "I enjoy working out," he said, as if it would explain everything.

Before he could put his shirt on, she pushed him back and ran her hand over his smooth skin. He took a deep breath as her fingers fluttered over his chest and down to his stomach, where it came to rest on the small scar where Frances had shot him. "Just one flaw!" she lightened the mood again.

But his eyes were dark for a moment as he remembered that day. "I'm sorry, Bailey. But I think the scar is sexy."

"It's okay, Sam. Franny is doing well at college and we've put all that behind us. It just somehow reminds me of my shortcomings as father."

"You were good to her, Bailey. It wasn't your fault."

He looked at her. "No parent is perfect, Sam, but I do know that I made some serious mistakes. I'm just glad she could forgive me, and that it is not bothering her."

"Bailey, you're so kind to others always. Allow yourself some forgiveness too."

She held his face between her hands as she saw his eyes turn cloudy. "You're too hard on yourself, Bailey. I know, you set yourself high standards, and that's why you've reached where you are in life, but you need to lighten up on yourself sometimes. Just be Bailey, the man."

He knew she was right. He tried to bury his shortcomings in hard work, in dedication, in the things he knew he was good at. It was easier to control life that way. Even his job had reinforced the idea of never taking chances.

She lay her head on his shoulder, and wondered again at how good it felt. Her hand was absentmindedly playing over his skin as the emotions and images of the previous evening ran through her mind. It was only after a while that she realised how he had tensed up. He had put his head back against the couch, and his eyes were closed, but it exited her to feel how fast he was breathing. His arm was around her, but apart from that, he was sitting very still.

"Don't you want me, Bailey?"

His head jerked forward and his eyes flew open. He looked taken aback for a moment, but then reached forward to kiss her gently, whispered by her ear. "I want you, Sam, but I can wait. There are so many things, I think, that should come first."

"Friends make the best lovers," she whispered back, kissing his neck. "We've got the best foundation to build on. Just be Bailey, the man."

He groaned. "Oh, Sam." But his lips met hers, and his desire was plain to her. Her arms reached for him and she pulled him close. He did not pull away, but folded her in his arms. "I love you so very much…"

"Now, Bailey," she said. "I need you now."

"Not here," he said and stood up. He picked her up in his arms and carried her to the bedroom. He put her down gently and lay down beside her. "You're so beautiful, my Sam." His kiss was more passionate now, and she responded hungrily. She felt her body respond too and held onto him, afraid he would stop.

His mouth moved to her neck and she grabbed his one hand to kiss his palm. His weight on her exited her beyond belief, and she called his name. His hand was on her stomach, pulling at the cord of her gown. For a moment he seemed to hesitate, but she pulled him close as her gown fell open. As their bodies touched for the first time, it was as if the floodgates had opened. They laughed and cried as they discovered the joy of each other, as they discovered in amazement that here too, they were perfect for each other.

Afterwards, as they lay in each other's arms, she felt that his tension was gone. Her body was tingling with sensation as she remembered how gentle he had been. Nobody had ever loved her like that before, and she knew that his body had told her how sincere he was.

Neither of them spoke. Words were not needed. It felt good just to lay there, together. She knew there were many things to work out, he knew too, and that he was responsible for helping her work them out. It would not be easy, but they were secure with each other.

Bailey's thoughts were on a rollercoaster ride. He felt elated. Here, finally, was his dream. Yet now he felt totally out of control. He did not know how to take the dream further, yet he knew what he wanted to say. He knew she needed time to process everything that had happened in such a short time. He needed it too, maybe even more than she did. But he had to know that it would not be just a relationship. He had to know if she had meant forever.

He rolled onto his side to face her, not breaking their embrace. "Sam. I have to say something. You need not answer, no, I don't want you to answer now. But put these words somewhere and think about them."

"I want us to be a future together." He was startled as her eyes filled with tears suddenly. She lifted her head and looked so scared for a moment that it almost made him cry. How could he know that he had said the words that she most wanted to hear, and yet feared most of all.

"I'm too scared, Bailey. I want it too but I'm too scared." And he understood silently, suddenly the many reasons why she had unconsciously kept him at a distance, until she could do so no more. She was his protector too, and she was trying to protect him from a force much more sinister than lost friendship or separation. He understood her tears and cursed himself for putting her through this.

She whispered just one word before she broke down. "Jack." He could only fold her in his arms to comfort her, as the hurt of so many years spilled over. Her tears were wet on his skin, but he found no words. He held her silently, until, her emotions spent, she relaxed in his arms. "I can't loose you, Bailey. I want to be with you forever, but I can't loose you."

The emotion in her voice almost killed him. He remembered her brokenness after Tom had died, how helpless he had felt when Coop too was taken from her by that cruel man. He had vowed then to catch Jack at all costs, but their efforts had been in vain. This monster had eluded them every time, but he had not given up. Yet he could not reassure her, because he did not know when, or how, he could eliminate this adversary.

She felt ashamed at her outburst. But lying here in Bailey's arms had made her so happy for the first time in years. His words had been like music, she wanted them to have a future together more than anything else. But she knew that Jack would try to take him too, the minute he knew. And she could not face that. She knew Jack would never hurt her. But somehow she sensed that Jack had been waiting for this, perhaps he had known even before they did. It made her shiver, and Bailey pulled her closer. She felt so safe in his arms, he felt so strong, but she could not bare the thought of living without him anymore.

"I'm sorry, Bailey. But Jack will hurt you. I couldn't face that."

"I'll never leave you, Sam. I promise", was all he managed to say.


* * * * * * * * * * * * *



III.



He didn't know how long they had slept, but when he woke, it was mid-morning. He rolled out of bed softly, so as not to wake Sam, but the movement alerted her and she opened her eyes.

"I'm just going home quickly, Sam. I need to get some clothes, shave, you know…"

"Will you come back, Bailey? Promise me you'll come back."

He kissed her. "I promise."

Bailey drove home reflecting on everything that had happened during the last few hours. He still couldn't believe that it was really true. Sam loved him. It was all that mattered, but there were so many things that had to be worked out, for which he didn't have any answers right now.

As the garage door closed behind him, he suddenly sensed that something was wrong. There was nothing definite, just a gut feeling. He drew his gun as Sam's words came back to him: "Jack will hurt you."

He didn't think so. Jack wouldn't know about them yet. Jack was currently occupied with the problem of Sharon behind bars, and what she might say. He got out of the car. It must be something else.

"Franny?" he called as he pushed open the door. 'Yes,' he reassured himself, 'the alarm would surely have gone if there was someone strange in the house.' Still, he took no chances. He swept the lounge with his back to the wall, then the kitchen. He listened. The house was silent.

He moved down the passage, sweeping one room at a time. There was nothing. 'Maybe I'm just paranoid,' he thought.

The bedroom door was just slightly ajar. He knew then, definitely, that something was wrong. He had left it open. Standing away from it, he pushed it open a bit more, took in the room in a single glance of his eyes, gun held extended.

There was no one in the room. But there was something on the bed, something on his pillow. He moved around to the other side of the bed to look at it, and that was probably part of what saved his life.

It was a rose, a single red rose. And a card. And as he reached out to pick it up, he saw something at the edge of his vision. Something fixed to the back of the door. In a split second he had registered the small flashing red five, and knew he had to get out of the house. In the same split second he knew he would never make it, so he held his arms over his face and dived headlong at the big bedroom window.

He hit it with his shoulder first, and glass shattered. He pulled himself into a ball to roll and land safely, but then the room exploded behind him. The blast sent him flying like a rag, and he landed heavily several yards further. White-hot pain shot through his body and he saw flames and smoke pour out where seconds ago the bedroom had been.

He tried to pull himself up, but managed to get only as far as kneeling. There was blood all over, he tasted it in his mouth. He was still holding something in his hand, and looked at it. The card! He willed himself not to pass out, and tried to focus on the words.


"Malone. I knew one day it would come to this. You were the only man who could really take my Samantha away. I should have killed you long ago."


His throbbing head tried to make sense of everything, but the card needed no name. He tried desperately to cling to consciousness, but waves of blackness washed over him. He was aware of noises, of shouting, someone bending over him, and he wanted to say something. And all he managed to get out before the darkness overtook him, was "Tell Sam…"


* * * * * * * * * * * * *



IV.



Sam was fiddling around in the kitchen when the phone rang. She rushed to answer, eager to hear Bailey's voice.

"Sam?" It was John. "Sam, don't leave the fire house. I'm coming to get you now." There was an edge to his voice, and she felt cold fear grip her.

"John! What's wrong, what happened?"

"There was an accident Sam. Stay there, I'm coming right now!"

She wanted to ask him more, but the line went dead. She was shaking and sat down. 'Bailey,' she thought. 'Something has happened to him. Why did John call?'

With trembling hands she punched Bailey's cell number. But she was greeted by nothing- no message, no tone. His phone was dead.

"No," she whispered to herself, trying to push the fear from her mind. "No, not Bailey, not so soon…" But she couldn't stop the fear, the tears springing to her eyes.

John was at the door and she let him up. She could see there was something seriously wrong.

"John, please, what happened?"

"The police called as soon as they found out he's FBI. There's been an explosion… at Bailey's house."

She sank back onto the couch as her legs gave in under her.

John continued: "Bailey's hurt, but somehow he wasn't in the house when it blew. Marcus is there and he said Bailey was taken in the ambulance even before he arrived. We don't know how bad he was hurt, but they'll let us know. Come, let's go."

She stood up shakily and followed John. "Where to?"

"Bailey's house. Marcus needs help, they're trying to figure out what happened."

"John, please take me to the hospital." He glanced at her sideways, puzzled for a moment by the panic in her voice. "I have to see Bailey. Please."

"Sure." He spun the car to turn. When he looked at her again she was crying.

He had barely stopped at the hospital before she was out of the car. "Thanks, John. Go help Marcus. I'll be OK."

He drove off puzzled. 'Why did Sam act so strange?' he wondered. He could have done with her at the house, she had a way of noticing things crucial to the investigation. But he shook his head. Nothing made sense. When the police called him at home with the news, he wouldn't believe it at first: "Explosion at Agent Malone's house." He had called Marcus, who rushed there immediately. Then he called Sam, hoping she'd go to the house to help them.

Marcus was standing in front of what was left of Bailey's house. John stared in amazement. "My God, what happened here?"

Marcus shook his head. "I've spoken to the neighbours. They heard this terrific bang and thought the world had come to an end. When they rushed out they saw the fire and called the cops. Fire Brigade was here in minutes. That man there found Bailey outside, unconscious. They called an ambulance because they thought he looked pretty bad." Marcus pointed to where Bailey had been found. "There's a lot of blood, glass. It looks as if he went out through a window."

John bent down. He saw Bailey's gun lying a few yards off. "He had his gun out. Something must have spooked him before the blast. Hey, what's this?" John found the card, upside down. He picked it up with his handkerchief, turned it over. "Hey, Marcus, take a look at this!"

The two agents read silently the words Bailey had struggled to read.

"Jack!" they both exclaimed, and looked at each other. "What does this mean?" Why would Jack go after Bailey now? I thought he was occupied by Sharon…"

"Unless it's a smokescreen," Marcus pointed out. "To get our focus away from her."

"But then the message doesn't make sense. God, I wish Sam was here. She would have made sense from this."

***

Sam had rushed to reception, trying to take control of her emotions. Too many things had happened too soon, and she felt as if she was being torn apart.

"Can I help?" The girl smiled at her.

"Yes," she whispered. "A man was brought here. Malone. From an accident."

The girl looked sympathetic. "Try emergencies, down the passage."

Everything around her was a blur. She held onto the railing in the passage to stop from falling over. She saw people running in the distance, voices crying out. "Bailey," she cried.

An arm suddenly supported her. She looked at the woman holding her up. "Are you hurt, miss?" It was a young nurse.

"No, no," she managed to say. "I'm looking for someone who was brought here. A friend. I'm with the FBI," she added as an afterthought.

The nurse helped her to the emergency desk. "This lady is with the FBI," she said. "She's looking for someone; a friend."

"A colleague," she managed to say.

"Her name?" the receptionist asked.

"His name. His name is Malone. Bailey Malone." She fished for her FBI card and held it out. "I need to speak to someone, now."

The receptionist fiddled nervously then fixed her eyes on someone behind Sam. "Ah, doctor. This lady is from the FBI. She needs to speak to someone about a patient." She seemed relieved to pass Sam onto someone else.

Sam turned to the doctor, getting some of her composure back. After all, this could be important. Bailey was hurt by some sort of explosion, and Marcus and John were investigating.

"A man was brought here just now," she said. "One of our agents." She flashed her card. "His name is Bailey Malone and I need to know how badly he is hurt."

The doctor looked at the papers in his hand. "Malone. Yes, he was brought in about ten minutes ago. My colleagues are checking him right now. If you wait a moment, lady…" he paused, waiting for her name.

"Waters. Dr. Sam Waters."

He raised his eyebrows. "If you wait a moment, Dr. Waters, we'll tell you as soon as we know."

He guided Sam to a small reception area. She sunk into a chair and watched him walk off. She wished she could see Bailey, but wasn't quite sure she could handle it. She closed her eyes and tried to piece everything together. 'Explosion. Bailey outside. At his house.' Her breath caught. 'Surely it could not have been Jack. He could not know so soon,' she thought.

Her cellphone rang. It was John.

"Sam. We're still at Bailey's house. The bomb squad is here, they believe it was a very powerful bomb. How's Bailey?"

"I don't know," she said. "I'm still waiting for news."

"Sam, there's something you should see. We can't understand it. Can I bring it over?"

"What is it, John?"

"It looks as if Jack went for Bailey," he said. "I found a card. Bailey must have dropped it, it was outside."

"Bring it John, as soon as you can get away. I'll be here." She rung off. Her mouth was dry. John's words were ringing in her ears. "Jack went for Bailey…"

"Dr. Waters?" The young doctor was back.

"Yes?" She gripped the edge of the chair.

"We don't know what exactly happened. Maybe you can help us there. But it looks as if he went through a window, his arms and shoulders were full of cuts and glass. Then he must have taken a terrific fall. Broken ribs, some of which punctured a lung, he took quite a bang on the head so we suspect concussion. Some internal bleeding, but our main concern was shock. He'd lost a lot of blood from the cuts, but he's stable now. They've taken him to the theatre."

She was shaking, fighting back tears. "There was an explosion at his house," she said to remain focussed.

"There are no burns," the doctor said. "Whatever happened to him, he was not in the explosion itself."

"Sam!" John was calling her name, rushing towards her with Marcus in tow. "What's happened?" and then sideways to the doctor: "Sorry, we're FBI."

"Bailey's okay, I think," she said. She was glad her colleagues were here. She could speak with them to take her mind off things. "They say he was cut up from glass. Took a bad fall. No burns, so he could not have been in the explosion. What have you got?"

"Well, we figured it like this. Most of the one side of the house was a ruin. Bailey was found outside, about 15 metres from the house. His gun was lying there, too. We reckon something spooked him into drawing his gun. Then he must have gone out to investigate. Then the house blew."

She listened intently, seeing it as if before her eyes. "No. No, John. He was inside." She saw it clearly suddenly. "The window. He jumped through the window. He must have seen the bomb and he jumped out. That would explain the glass. Which part of the house blew up?"

"It looks like the bedroom. Sam, we found this." Marcus handed her the card, in a bag. "We need to get it over to mainframe so George and Grace can look at it."

She took the bag, stared at the bloodstained card. Then her legs would hold her no more, and John had to grab her.

"What does it mean, Sam?"

"Oh, no!" Her voice was a whimper. " How could he know, so soon," she whispered. She broke free from John. "Get it back to the VCTF. I'll stay here."

"Kay." John looked at Marcus and shrugged. "What the hell is going on?" he grunted as they walked away. "What is wrong with Sam?"

Sam sunk back onto a chair. "Oh, Bailey, what have I done? Why am I putting you through this?" she muttered to herself. She cried now, relieved to be alone for a while. She wanted to feel Bailey's arms around her now. She needed him.

Her phone rang again. "Sam?" It was Angel. "I called home. Where are you?"

Just hearing her friend's voice made her cry all over again. "Angel…"

"What's wrong, Sam?" Angel heard the panic in Sam's voice. "Is it Chloe?"

"No. No, it's Bailey. I'm at the hospital. Bailey's been hurt."

"Sam. I'm coming home right now. Which hospital?"

"Atlanta Central."

Angel also did not understand her friend's panic. Sure, she and Bailey were good friends, had been for a long time, but the raw panic and pain in Sam's voice startled her.

Sam sat with the phone in her hand, staring ahead. "Dr. Waters?" She jumped. It was the same young nurse who'd helped her in the passage. "Here, some tea."

She took the foam container. "Thanks." She smiled at the eager young face. "I really appreciate it." She took a sip, and realised that the nurse had loaded it with sugar. Yet she drank it down. It helped her gather her thoughts yet again. She leaned back in the chair and closed her eyes, seeing again the house, Bailey moving around inside, the window shattering, the explosion. What did he see? What made him jump through a solid pane of glass? Had he read the note, knew then? She just did not have all the answers now.

"Dr. Waters…" The doctor again. "You can see agent Malone now." She was surprised at how much time had passed. It was dark outside. Did she sleep? Did the nurse give her something else in the tea? She felt much better, and followed the doctor down the passage.

"Here." He pushed open the door for her.

She walked slowly to the bed. Tears sprung to her eyes as she saw Bailey looking so pale. His arms and hands were heavily bandaged.

The doctor spoke behind her. "His condition is stable now. We expect him to be out for perhaps a couple of days from the concussion, but there should be no lasting damage. I expect he'll be pretty sore, but the cuts should heal cleanly, and so should the ribs."

"Can I stay a while?" she asked.

"Sure." He pulled the door closed behind him.

She drew a chair up to the bed. She did not know whether she was crying from relief to hear that he would be all right, or from seeing him like this. She rested her head forward on the bed, afraid of touching him, afraid of hurting him more. "I'm sorry, Bailey. I should have known better. I should have waited until we caught Jack."


* * * * * * * * * * * * *



V.



Angel went with her a few days later to see Bailey in hospital. She had been surprised at her friend's agony at first. But they had been friends since childhood, and Sam confessed everything to her, after Angel promised not to tell. Angel did not quite know what to think; she had often urged Sam to become involved again, but Bailey? She did not think he was good for her. And after all, he really was her boss. But she had supported Sam.

Now they stood in the passage. "You go, Sam, I'll have coffee so long. You can find me in the cafeteria."

"Come to us when you've finished, Angel. Bailey would like to see you. He knows I've told you. He also guessed that you don't quite approve…"

"That's not true, Sam. It's just difficult to get used to the thought. Maybe if I knew him better." Bailey had always been nice to her, there really was no reason for her to dislike him. She just found him a bit too intense for Sam.

Sam walked to Bailey's room. He had regained consciousness two days after the explosion. She remembered the joy of seeing him again, the terror as he told her what had happened. How he had seen the rose, the card, and finally the bomb. He had constantly refused medication for pain, so that he could tell his team clearly what had happened. They had been working around the clock sifting clues and trying to build a picture of what had happened, and why. They had not told the team the meaning of the card. And Sam felt that she held the clue somewhere as to how Jack knew so quickly; she just couldn't find it yet.

"Hi." She kissed him. He smiled up at her.

"Am I going home?"

"Not yet. Maybe tomorrow." She pulled up a chair. "How are you feeling?" He was still pale, and she could see, in much pain.

"Fine. Any news?"

"No. Or, yes. The bomb squad figured that the bomb was triggered as you pushed open the door. A wire or something. It must have started the timer."

"I wonder how much time Jack gave me?"

"You saw a five, you must have seen the timer flash five seconds before it went off."

"I think he wanted me to see it, Sam. He wanted me to read the card and see the bomb. It could have gone off as I pushed open the door."

"But why, Bailey? I mean, that's the one thing I cannot work out. He said you were taking me away from him…"

"The pub, Sam! He must have been in the pub," he suddenly exclaimed. "Remember, we have Sharon, and he could have been watching the VCTF headquarters to try and work out our next move. When he saw us leave, especially when I sent the agents away, he must have followed us there."

"Bailey, you're right! And he watched us there, and saw…"

"He must have been shocked, maybe furious. And then he went to his lair and planned his little surprise."

"There's one problem, Bailey. We didn't take notice of anything in the pub; we only had eyes for each other!" They both laughed, and it brought some relief.

Then he was serious again. "Okay, Sam, lets take it from there. Send someone around to that pub, talk to the staff, any regulars. Try and get a description if possible, of everyone who was in there that night. Tip them, bribe them, but get something. We'll nail that son of a bitch." There was pure venom in his voice.

"And Sam, please, I know what you've been thinking. It's not your fault. We both made a choice, and I don't regret it. Just don't draw away from me now. I love you." Despite the burning pain in his chest, he hugged her to him with his bandaged arms. "I'll deal with Jack. You just stand by me. Okay?"

Tears sprung to her eyes. "Okay, Bailey." It felt good to hear him needing her.

"Hi." Angel spoke behind her. It made her jump.

"Hi, Angel," Bailey said. "Thanks for coming."

Angel stood behind Sam, not quite knowing what to say.

"Sam says I'm going home tomorrow, Angel. Is that true?"

"Yes. I believe so. But don't worry, we'll take good care of you."

Sam looked back at Angel, startled, and then giggled nervously.

"You mean you haven't told him, Sam?" Bailey looked puzzled as Sam shook her head.

"Told me what? What are you girls up to?"

"I was going to tell you, Bailey." She tucked her hair behind her ear nervously. "There's not much left of your house. John and Marcus had salvaged whatever there was, and oh, yes, your bike and your car is OK. That part of the house was not damaged. But the team decided that as you had nowhere to live, and Jack must know by now that you escaped his trap, you're moving into the safe house."

"With us," Angel added.

"We don't have the manpower to spread to another safe house, and the fire station is already a fortress. We'd all feel better if you stayed there." She spoke fast because she was nervous. She knew he would not approve.

But he surprised her by just smiling resignedly. He didn't have much choice, after all.

"When can I go back to work?" he asked.

"You should stay in bed for about another week," she said, and added: "And then take it easy."

"Chloe is very exited about your stay," Angel said.

"Just one thing bothers me," he said. "If Jack is after me, how could the team be happy with me in the safe house? It would put you all in danger. I don't think that's wise."

"Bailey!" She sighed. "We've got so many agents watching that place. Bullet-proof glass. He can't get us there. You know that."


* * * * * * * * * * * * *



VI.



They'd had a hard day at work. Sharon Lescher had thrown a chair at Sam and refused to co-operate. They had had no luck with leads at the pub. George had had problems with the computers, and suspected that Jack was back with a vengeance. And then at home she was confronted with Bailey and Chloe on the carpet.

"What are you doing? You should be in bed."

"Mommy!" Chloe ran to hug her mother.

"Hi, Sam." Bailey grinned up at her.

"Uncle Bailey was helping me with a puzzle. One of the pieces fell on the ground." Chloe stood up for him. Sam could not help but smile. She loved the way the two got on.

"Where's Angel?"

"She went to a movie or something." He still hurt as he got up, and she could see it in his face briefly. She wanted to reach for him, but caught Chloe looking at her with wide eyes.

"And what else did you two get up to today that you shouldn't have been doing?" She tried to change the subject.

"Uncle Bailey helped me with my homework," Chloe bubbled. "And then we drew ponies." Sam remembered vaguely that he enjoyed riding.

"I didn't know Bailey could draw," she laughed.

"He can't," Chloe offered innocently. "I drew the ponies and he coloured them in."

They were both laughing at her serious little face. Sam thought how perfect this was. She hadn't spoken to her daughter yet. She had hardly spoken to Bailey again, so much had happened. She was just so relieved to have Bailey safe again.

"Well, back to bed with you," she scolded.

"Sam, I'm so sick of lying in bed. Let me stay here. Tell me what happened at work today." He sat down on the couch, and Chloe crawled onto his lap.

"Don't do that, Chloe! Uncle Bailey still hurts."

The little girl jumped off, but Bailey pulled her back again. "It's okay, Sam. She's not hurting me. We'll, what happened?"

"Nothing, really. Sharon refuses to co-operate, no new leads, that's it."

His eyes on her were intense. He knew there was something wrong, something she was not saying. But he did not ask further; he knew she disliked talking shop in front of Chloe.

"So, who's for supper," she said.

"Let me help mommy!" Chloe ran to the kitchen. Sam tossed some files for Bailey to read. It contained the few leads that they had followed to find Jack.

There was not much from the pub. The waitress who had served them remembered them because they had left their food uneaten. Nobody had seen a suspicious looking man. Yes, there had been some single men, but the descriptions were vague and could fit anybody. Nobody noticed in particular when anyone left, nobody had ordered strange drinks or tipped huge amounts. A dead-end.

Of the bomb not much had remained. In reconstructing the scene, it was pretty obvious that his pushing open of the door had triggered a timer. How long it took to explode, they deducted from his explanation, must have been about two minutes. He would have been dead had he been inside that room. If he had gone to his side of the bed, he would not have seen the bomb or have made it through the windows. The neighbours had seen or heard nothing suspicious before the blast. The fact that the alarm had not been triggered while Jack was in the house, remained a mystery. The only prints on the card were his own.

Jack had disappeared into thin air again.

Sharon had been unco-operative in all her interviews. She had cursed and threatened everyone, and kept boasting that Jack would get her out. He was angry as he read of the incident with Sam. He should be out there, protecting her, not sitting here weak and powerless. He looked at the cuts on his arms and hands. The stitches had been taken out. His chest still hurt when he moved suddenly, and he would sometimes wake up with a throbbing headache. He knew they had told him that rest would speed up the healing, but he wanted to get going with his life again. And most of all he wanted to hold Sam, but she treated him as if he was about to break.

He thought of his house. Most of his things were destroyed in the explosion, or damaged by the water from the firemen. Oh, well, at least he wasn't sentimental. He was glad his bike was spared. It wasn't easy to replace a Harley. He had spoken to Frances, but told her not to worry. She too was upset about the house, and her things, but he would send her some extra money to replace her clothes, books and music. He would have the house rebuilt.

John had had his gun cleaned and checked, and returned it to him. Sam had bought him some clothes to wear around the house. He groaned at the thought of having to go shopping again for suits, shirts, ties, and shoes. But he decided he would go the next day, and then he could return to the VCTF the day after. It made him feel better.

He got up and went to the kitchen. Sam and Chloe were hunched over a bowl in hushed conversation, and jumped when they saw him. Chloe giggled behind her hand. Sam looked guilty, and he just couldn't stop himself as love for her overwhelmed him. He held out his hand and pulled her close. "Thanks for everything, Sam." He whispered the next part by her ear. "I love you." He saw Chloe looking at them with wide eyes, and winked at her. She smiled sweetly at him and climbed onto a chair.

"Is Uncle Bailey gonna stay here forever, mommy?" she asked. They both stared at her in surprise, speechless.

"Why do you ask that, sweetie?" Sam looked into her daughter's eyes.

"Well, mommy, you told me once when I had a bad dream that you would take care of me. And when you have a bad dream, Uncle Bailey can take care of you."

Sam looked up at Bailey, who shrugged. She turned back to Chloe. "Uncle Bailey lost his house when he was hurt, Chloe. He has nowhere else to go. Someone tried to hurt him when they blew up his house, and we know he'll be safe here with us." Chloe nodded, satisfied with that simple explanation. Then she turned to Bailey.

"I don't mind if you stay here forever, Uncle Bailey." This time it was his turn to glance at Sam.

"Thanks, Chloe. I appreciate that." Despite the fact that it hurt, he picked her up in a bear hug.

Sam had turned away. She wondered at her daughter's words. Bailey had been with them for four days, and tonight was the first time he had held Sam. She shook her head and smiled. She shouldn't worry about it. Chloe liked him and it was all that mattered.


* * * * * * * * * * * * *



VII.



They had not been called out for the first murder, although it had made headlines all over Atlanta. A cop-killing always made a big story, and angered everybody involved with law enforcement. Political leaders promised retribution, and a large-scale manhunt was organised. For days everyone was talking about the bizarre circumstances surrounding the brutal shooting of the young cop on his off-duty day while out on a fishing trip. Speculation was that he could have been involved with all sorts of illegal dealings, but the young man's name was soon cleared as colleagues, friends and even enemies had nothing but praise for him. He was one of the rising young stars in the Atlanta PD and was buried with full police honour.

The crime scene had been clean as a whistle. The young man had been out fishing, his favourite pastime, when he had been shot once with a high powered rifle straight through the heart. Death had been instantaneous. But the bizarre thing was that after his death, as determined by forensics, someone had come and cut of his left hand. No trace had been found of the hand.

The VCTF had only been called out after the second murder. The Atlanta PD had realised that they could be dealing with a serial killer when this victim was also found with a missing left hand.

Bailey, Sam and the team had been called out to a gym where one of the employees had been found early one morning in the parking lot. He had been shot once through the heart with a rifle, after which his left hand had been cleanly cut off.

George had images of the two victims up on the big screen.

"Victim number one, " Bailey was summarising for his team, "Gino Belafonte, Atlanta PD. Graduated from the police academy with top honours. Extremely popular with colleagues. As good a young cop as you can get. Shot while on a fishing trip. The Atlanta PD investigated this as a normal, yet bizarre murder, especially for the missing left hand. Except for the forensic evidence about the rifle used, there were no other clues."

"After initial speculation that the young man could have been a crooked cop, his name was cleared." John added. "His past cases were reviewed but as yet the motive for the murder remains a mystery. The conclusion they came to was that it was a random shooting, as the young man was not on duty."

"Which didn't explain the missing hand," Bailey continued. "This morning we were called out when victim number two was found. Tony Norman, gym instructor. He was found this morning in the parking lot behind the gym. Same MO, shot from a distance and left hand removed. Same calibre rifle, forensics are working on the bullet matches now."

"George has run a background check on this man. He had been working at the gym for five months. Unmarried, and from New York. His employers were happy with him, and he was popular with clients, especially the ladies. He had a criminal record: busted with marijuana as teenager, but his girlfriend swears he has come clean."

"Any connection with the first victim?" Marcus asked.

"Nothing we could find," George said. "They moved in different circles. Lived in different parts of Atlanta. Attended different schools. As far as our enquiries show thus far, they had never met each other."

"So the only link is the MO, and the missing hands?" Sam summed up. "Two totally unrelated men killed to have their hands amputated? So this killer wanders around, sees a young man in a deserted area, shoots him, and cuts of his hand."

"Revenge, perhaps?" John interjected.

What do we know about the killer?" Sam asked.

"He, or she, is a good marksman. Both shots were clean. Prefers to kill from a distance," Bailey continued. "What about the cuts, Grace?"

"One clean cut, probably using a surgical instrument. No trace of the missing hand at each scene. Most probably the hand was put in a bag and removed from the scene."

"To be used in a ritual?" Sam asked.

"George, find any references to ritual killings involving hands, any previous unsolved cases involving the cutting of hands and other limbs. John, Marcus, get over to Tony Norman's house and see what you can learn. Grace, see if forensics have matched the bullets. Sam?" Bailey saw that Sam had come upon an idea.

"Maybe the killer has a problem with his own hands… remember the case of Sagittarius, who tried to compensate for his disability by shooting from an ever greater distance? That would explain the random victims- it's not the victim that is important, but the hand."

"George, add that to your list. Records of amputees."

"A shooting accident, perhaps," Sam added.

"Okay, people, I'm going to see Sharon Lescher myself this time. Remember, we have Jack to think about too. Let's be alert, carry your weapons at all times, report anything suspicious in and around your homes, don't take chances." Bailey turned away and walked to his office.

George was punching at his keyboard. "Jack won't be obvious if he goes for one of us again," he muttered to John. "There won't even be time to pull a gun."

John laughed. "Come, Marcus, lets go to that gym. Let's see which ladies were interested in Tony Norman."

Sam sat deep in thought for a moment. Grace sat next to her. "You got anything to solve these mysteries, Sam?"

"No," Sam replied. "We were not at the first scene. There might have been something there. Grace, how would the killer know that these young men were going to be alone? Or did he just pass by? It is clear that he is after the hands. But I can't imagine someone wandering around with a rifle until he finds a victim. I think he must have stalked his victims. Thus he would know when to strike."

Sam looked up as Bailey walked past. "See you," she said. "And Bailey, be careful."

"I will. Sam… Grace…"

Grace waited until Bailey had left and then turned to Sam. "Sam, may I ask you something."

"Sure." Sam tucked her hair behind her ear.

"The card Jack left at Bailey's house… Do you know what it means? Why, with Sharon and the possibility of her talking, has he shifted his attention to Bailey now?"

Sam looked away. She knew that sooner or later the team would have to be told the real reason for Jack's attack on Bailey. But she didn't think that it would help them catch Jack. Not yet. She had been surprised that Jack had not yet tried again, things had been pretty quiet for the week Bailey had been back at work. But she felt sure Jack was planning something, and they would soon know.

She smiled at Grace. "Maybe he thinks with Bailey out of the way, it will be easier to get at me?"

Grace laughed. "Well, then he has made life much more difficult for himself. Because he has driven Bailey right into your home!"

"But he didn't expect his trap to fail, Grace. He wanted Bailey dead."

"I still don't understand what he meant though: ‘I knew that one day it would come to this.' What did he know? And the line: ‘You were the only man who could really take my Samantha away.' It's quite un-Jack. He's never given his reason for killing."

Sam trusted the older woman, and wondered if now was the time to tell her. But George was calling urgently.

"There's been a third one, Sam!"

They rushed over. "I've called Bailey, he's on his way here now. A man was found murdered at his house, with his hand cut off! The police called as soon as they discovered this."

"Sam! Let's go." It was Bailey. He had barely left when George had called him.

They arrived at the scene some 15 minutes later. The area had been roped off. The officer in charge came over to escort them.

"Male, Caucasian," he told them as they walked around the house. "Shot in his backyard. My men are with neighbours now to see if anyone heard or saw something. We called you as soon as we saw the missing hand."

The body was lying next to a swimming pool. Photographers were busy at the scene.

"One shot," Bailey said from where he knelt next to the victim. "Looks clean. Who was he?"

"Frank Mulder. He lived here alone," the officer replied.

Sam looked up at the house. "Wealthy neighbourhood. He lived comfortably."

Bailey was on his cellphone. "Grace, can you come over?" He gave the address. Then back to Sam. "Maybe some first hand forensics can help us here."

They looked around the yard. "Not many places the killer could have hidden."

"Bailey, I was telling Grace earlier that I'm sure the killer stalks his victims first. I don't think it's a random shooting. This setting reinforces that, look, the yard is fenced off. The killer was waiting for his victim. He was not just passing by."

"Do you think it's a ritual killing then?"

"I think we need to find a link. Maybe the victims went to the same church, belonged to the same religion. There must be something. No killing can be this random and at the same time have such clear similarities."

Bailey was on the phone again. "George, our victim is Frank Mulder." He gave the address. "Find everything about him that you can, family, school, church, hobbies, where he went to, what he did. We'll talk after Grace has had a look."

They wandered to the house. It was a comfortable double storey, luxuriously furnished, clean and comfortable. Some family pictures, modern paintings, sculptures. "Do you think he was involved in any sort of crime?" Bailey asked.

"Maybe he was just successful in his job." Sam had stopped in front of the family pictures: the murdered man on a boat, smiling; the murdered man in front of a cabin with two girls, smiling. "Bailey, look here. These girls feature in many of the pictures. They must be his kids. But there is no mother."

"Widow? Divorced?" Bailey offered. They went upstairs. The rooms were spacious and neat. "A man of tidy habits," Bailey observed. "But if he was living alone he must have had a housekeeper."

"Here, Bailey." Sam had pushed open one of the doors. "Looks like one of the kid's bedrooms, but it doesn't look lived in." There were some more pictures of the victim with the two girls.

"Sam!" Bailey had opened a cupboard. "There are no clothes here. The kids don't live here."

"Hi." Grace appeared in the door. "Bailey, I'd bet my life it's the same gun. Sharp, clean cut again, but no trace of the hand. The police think they've found where the killer was hiding, behind a tree."

They followed her outside. "Look, there's some prints here. We've taken impressions. From here there is a clear line of sight to the pool, but the victim would not have seen the killer unless he was intentionally looking here. The shadows make it difficult to see."

Sam saw the image in her mind, the victim coming out to his pool, the killer taking aim, the swift strike that removed the hand.

"The victim had no dogs?" she asked.

"No. Maybe that was why he was chosen. Most homes in this neighbourhood have dogs."

"That means you were right, Sam," Bailey said. "The killer must have watched his victim first to learn this."

"There is no sign that the killer went into the house," Grace continued. Nothing looks disturbed."

One of the police officers came over. "Agent Malone! We've established that the victim had a housekeeper. My men have contacted her and she will be right over."

"Who discovered the body?" Sam asked.

"One of the neighbours came around to borrow something. Mr. Mulder was quite popular. She found the door open and walked right through the house. When she came out here, she found the body and called 911."

"Okay. Sam, please talk to the housekeeper for us. Grace, can she drive back to the VCTF with you? I've got to keep my appointment with Sharon Lescher. I'll meet you all at headquarters at sixteenhundred hours. Call if something urgent comes up."

Grace could not help but notice the way Sam looked at Bailey as he left. She smiled and thought that she should ask Sam straight out.

"Sam. What is going on between you and Bailey?"

Sam blushed. Grace had wonderful powers of observation, and that was why she was one of the best forensic scientists around. "Why do you ask, Grace?"

"Well, we were all more worried about you when Bailey was in hospital. And when he returned to work, you came back to life."

"Oh, Grace. Is it that obvious?"

"Sam, nothing is obvious. But John and Marcus, even George thought your behaviour strange. John told us that you nearly fainted when you read Jack's card."

Sam turned to Grace. "I should have confided in you before, Grace. Women tend to understand these things better. The night before the explosion, I asked Bailey out for a drink. Chloe had gone to her grandparents for the weekend and Angel was away visiting friends. It had been such a difficult week with the interviews with Sharon, and the DA putting pressure on Bailey about catching Jack, and not wanting to co-operate in giving us more time with her before going to court. I felt quite drained. Bailey was still at the office when I left, it was quite an impulsive thing to ask him. I just needed a friend."

"Bailey was totally distracted. It looked as if something was bothering him. He hardly said a word to me. I was trying to make sense of his mood when I realised how much I cared for him. I realised that I had been leaning on him for a very long time, and that I couldn't imagine him not being there."

Sam looked at Grace, and saw the understanding in the older woman's eyes. She continued: "I think that I've had these feelings for a long time, but I've never stopped to think about them. Bailey was just always there, I took it for granted. And then I wondered why I did."

"Because you knew Bailey cares for you very much," Grace filled in. "I've seen the way he looks at you. I wondered when you would see it, Sam. But you had subconsciously hidden away all thoughts of ever getting involved with someone again, because Jack had you in his clutches. You chose not to see."

Sam was so glad that Grace understood. "Anyway, Bailey would not talk. He was very tense all evening, and acted quite out of character. I thought we could dance to relax a bit, but he nearly refused. I think that is when I saw what you had seen, Grace."

"Well, did you dance?"

"Yes, for a while. Then he took me home, and when we got there, I realised that I had to tell him how I felt. I had to know if what I had seen in his eyes was true." She laughed at the memory of his face when she had told him she loved him. "I told him that I loved him."

Grace laughed too. "I can imagine his face. He's loved you for a long time, Sam. I thought it would have eventually killed him, not being able to do anything about it."

"I asked him to stay the night, and he agreed, but he slept on the couch! Can you imagine, Grace!" The two women were giggling now.

"I can," Grace laughed. "That's just Bailey. But did he at least kiss you?"

Sam blushed like a little girl. "Yes."

"And?" Grace was curious.

"And we spoke about many things. What you would say at work, if you found out, Angel's reaction, I told him how much Chloe liked him, just, things. He knew that I was scared to let him near because of Tom, and Coop, and what Jack had done to them."

Grace saw that the memories were upsetting her friend. "Well, Sam, I've noticed a chemistry between you two for a long time. The way you've always turned to Bailey first for comfort. The way he's always been looking out for you, protecting you. Quite frankly, I thought it was beautiful, and I've often wondered when the two of you would realise what you really mean to each other. I'm glad for you. I think you two have something beautiful together; the most precious friendship two people could wish for. A relationship is just a natural extension of that. You belong together."

The two women hugged. "Thanks, Grace. And now you understand the card. I think Jack was watching us at the pub, saw us dancing, saw Bailey kiss me, because he kissed me there for the first time. Bailey agrees. Jack must have been really upset to forget about Sharon and go for Bailey then. He said in his card he saw it coming. How could he? Who is this man, Jack? How could he know so much about us?"

An officer came to call Sam. The housekeeper had arrived. "I'll wait for you here," Grace said.

Bailey found Sharon Lescher to be her defiant self. "Malone," she sneered at him. "Jack hates you. He says he's just waiting for the right day, then he's going to kill you."

"Well, he's tried and failed," Bailey answered back. "And it looks as if he's forgotten about you."

"Jack will never forget me," she sneered. "You people are just amateurs to him."

"Sharon, we've been protecting you in here. We know that as soon as he gets a chance, Jack will kill you. You've outlived your purpose. Jack never leaves loose ends."

"You think you scare me," she said, but he knew there was fear in her eyes. "You don't know him. You don't even have a clue!" She laughed.

"You will never be safe again. Not as long as Jack is out there. If you help us, we can protect you."

"Never!" she shouted. "I'll never help you. Go to hell, Malone." She folded her arms defiantly and dropped her eyes.

He didn't leave. After a while she sneered: "What do you want? Get out of here."

"Tell us who Jack is."

She stood up with such force that the chair fell back, and spat at him. Then she swore at him and turned to bang on the door. The guard opened up, and she pushed right past him to walk away.

Bailey wiped his face and shook his head. They had to think of another way. Then he left the prison.


* * * * * * * * * * * * *



VIII.



Back at the VCTF, George had done his homework. There was a wealth of information, and Bailey was sharing with the team what he thought to be most relevant.

"The Italian cop was Catholic. Tony Norman's girlfriend thought he was into Zen. Mulder's housekeeper said he was not religious."

"Gino's hobbies were fishing and motorracing. Tony Norman's job was his hobby. His girlfriend said he lived for working out. Mulder was an accountant, partner in a growing consultancy firm. Divorced, kids living with the mother. He put in many hours of overtime. He drew a sizeable salary, led a comfortable life. The kids visited regularly once a month."

"I like this, George," Bailey said. "They had never been admitted to the same hospital, grew up in different parts of the country, had different doctors, drove different cars, went to different schools. Not even a pattern in their ages: the cop was 24, Mulder was 46 and Norman 23."

"Bailey." Sam touched his arm. She was looking at the pictures of the three victims on the big screen. "Look at the victims. I think there is a pattern…"

They all looked at the victims, but could not see what she was seeing. Three unrelated faces stared out at them.

"What is it, Sam?"

"George," she said with urgency in her voice. "Can you find out whether they were right or left handed?"

"I don't think so, but their friends should know."

"The press has already dubbed the killer the ‘Southpaw'," John interjected. "Because he had been cutting off the left hand."

"These are all figures of authority in some way," Sam continued. "The cop represents the law, the gym instructor taught fitness, the company executive controlled the destiny of workers. Maybe the killer subconsciously has a problem with authority. Something like being forced to change from being left handed at school."

They looked at her. "You could be right," Bailey said.

"I think the left hand is significant. We thought at first it was just the hand, but it is the left hand that's the key. Maybe he has a crippled or even amputated left hand."

"George, did you find any link with the amputees?" Bailey asked.

"A couple of thousand," George smiled. "The computer is still working to link amputees with ex-shooters. Nothing so far."

"Okay people. Let's stay on top of this. And refer the press to me. We don't want a city-wide panic on this. We must catch this shooter soon. Keep looking for a link between the victims."

Sam caught up with him in his office. "Any luck with Sharon?"

He grunted. "She's still convinced her Jack will get her out. A defiant little tiger, that. We've got to come up with something else to make her talk."

"How much time have we got?"

"The DA was at it again. They are ready to prosecute, after all, she killed an FBI agent. They don't like this stalling."

"Do you think she'll co-operate on the stand."

He shook his head. "But once she is out there, it becomes so much more difficult to protect her. Jack's waiting for that, but the DA doesn't buy that. And when it all backfires in our faces, they'll just throw the blame back at us. They've already told me in so many words that we are making a real mess of the Jack case."

"Bailey, I've told Grace. I mean, she knew already."

"What now?"

"She won't tell, but I feel glad that she knows." Sam laughed. "She said she was waiting for it to happen."

"How about dinner tonight?" he asked.

"Great. I'll phone Angel and warn her we'll be late."


* * * * * * * * * * * * *



IX.



The fourth victim was found three days later on a deserted stretch of road outside Atlanta. Just like the others, he had been killed by a single shot through the heart, and his left hand cleanly severed. He was dressed in black leather and found next to his motorbike. Nothing had been stolen. They had returned from the scene frustrated. Except for the MO and the missing hand, there were no links. The team had gone over all the information every morning, discussing and hoping that someone would make a connection.

Bailey felt frustrated. The DA had called to say Sharon Lescher would go to court in two days. She still refused to talk. Her attorney had been threatening them with a harassment charge. The DA had agreed that Sharon would be tried for her own crimes. Jack would not be brought into this.

"Bailey." Sam stood in the door of his office. He could see she was very upset by something.

"What is it, honey?" He had to resist the urge to take her into his arms right there.

"I think I've found the link."

"Shall I call everyone together?"

"No! I need to talk to you first."

"But Sam, everyone has been working so hard on this. They have a right to know."

She shook her head, and looked so vulnerable that he did pull her to him for a brief moment. "Sit down. Now, tell me."

"The victims were very carefully chosen, Bailey. Very carefully, to send a message. To us."

He frowned. "I don't understand. What do you mean, to us? We've been working around the clock and there has been no link between the victims."

"There is no link between them, Bailey. They are random victims, but chosen for a very specific reason. Look…" She held up one finger. "Victim one, an Italian-American cop, and a very smart one. Victim two, a gym instructor who lives for his job. Victim three, an ordinary man, but a divorced father with two daughters and victim four, the biker, found next to his bike. His bike was his passion."

He still looked at her puzzled. "You should see, Bailey." She sounded almost desperate. "Your bike is a passion. Then I asked George to show me the pictures again, and I saw it."

"Please, Sam, I'm not with you…"

"Bailey, it's Jack. Jack is the killer."

"Jack?! How do you get that, Sam?"

"The victims represent something, Bailey. They are types." She swallowed. "Types of you. And he cuts off the left hand because you are left-handed. He's killing types of you and leaving them powerless. The hand represents the power you have to catch him. Without your hands you are helpless."

His mouth dropped open. "Oh, no. It can't be, Sam."

"An Italian-American -- your parents were Italian. A Gym instructor -- you spend a lot of time working out. A divorced father with two daughters -- well, that's quite obvious, and now the biker. I saw you look at the bike when we were at the scene. You liked it."

His voice was a whisper as he saw, suddenly. "It was a Harley-Davidson. Almost like mine."

"If you look at the victims separately, the killings make no sense. But then I looked at them all together, and what they represented, the pattern became so clear. The last one, the biker, gave me certainty. Your reaction when you saw the bike triggered my line of thought."

"But Sam, if you are right, why doesn't he just try to kill me again? Why these, these types?"

"He's playing a game, Bailey. He knows sooner or later we'll work it out. He knows that as soon as there are enough victims, we'll discover the pattern."

"And then he'll stop killing these types?"

She shook her head. "He won't know when we've worked it out, unless he makes it very obvious."

"Then what does he want?"

"He wants to torment you, Bailey. He wants to break you."

"How do we stop him, Sam?"

She wanted to say, because she had already worked out the answer, but she could not get herself to. Instead she said: "I don't know."

"We'll have to tell the others now, Sam. How do we explain why Jack is so interested in killing me all of a sudden?"

She shook her head. "I don't know, Bailey. Maybe we should just tell them everything."

"And the press will have a field day," he sighed. "Jack of all Trades kills innocent victims because they are types of an agent he sees to be his rival."

"Don't punish yourself, Bailey. Jack is the monster, not you. You've done nothing wrong."

"Give me a moment, Sam. I'll talk to everyone now. Just find out if everyone is here, then call me. I don't want to explain this twice."

She came back moments later. "They're all here, Bailey."

The VCTF team had taken their usual seats around the familiar table. Bailey didn't sit down though. He went and stood behind Sam's chair.

"You've been working very hard on this case, and I want to thank you all," Bailey began. "It has been a difficult case because a pattern has eluded us. Random victims, no apparent connection, same MO. But now Sam believes she has found the connection." He put his hands on her shoulders.

"She came to me first, not because we wanted to exclude you, but because what I have to tell you now concerns both of us. Because the pattern she saw is one of the most evil and twisted acts of the criminal mind I have ever witnessed." He caught Grace's eyes across the table, read the support there. He thanked her silently with his eyes.

"The day before the explosion at my house, Sam and I went to that pub where you made your enquiries. We realised that evening that we had, umm, certain feelings for each other that we have been denying for a long time." He looked down at Sam, took a deep breath. "We were rather close when we danced, and showed some of our feelings."

"We have reason to believe that Jack had followed us there somehow, and saw us. I hope the card makes sense to you now. I think that it made Jack furious and that he pushed his problems with Sharon to the background to deal with what he thought to be an even greater threat. As long as Sam was on her own, he "had" her in his mind. Jack must have come to some conclusions about Sam and me, and as soon as he saw us act out these conclusions, it pushed him over the edge. I became the target of his fury."

"I hope too, that you can now understand why Sam was quite upset after the attack. We all know the background, and that she had lost two people close to her because of Jack." He looked at his team.

"We were not quite sure whether we should tell you yet. We had hardly had time to spend time together after I returned to work. We thought Jack would now return his attention to Sharon, but we were so wrong. Sam believes that the killer dubbed the ‘Southpaw' is none other than Jack. Sam?" He hoped that she would continue, he felt drained after that speech, and sat down.

Sam looked at him for a moment, then took the cue. "Today, when we were called out to the fourth victim, I saw Bailey admiring the murdered man's bike, and I wondered why it had been left so deliberately. It was a valuable bike…" She looked at Bailey for confirmation, and he nodded, "and yet it had been left. I thought for a moment how much Bailey enjoyed his bike, and then the connection became clear to me. I could see the other victims before me, all with dark hair, brown eyes, and I saw Bailey."

"When I came here I asked George to go over the victims' particulars with me, and I realised that I had been wrong in looking for a connection between them. There was no connection. The victims were random, but had been chosen carefully for what they represent."

"God!" John was shaking his head. "I can't make the connection yet. I don't understand any of this."

"Wait, John. Let her explain." Bailey made a point of holding the younger man's gaze. He understood John's reaction only too well.

"The first victim was a cop -- but that was not the true type. He was an Italian-American. Bailey's parents were Italians. The second victim pointed to Bailey's love for working out at the gym, the third victim suddenly became quite obvious -- the divorced father with two daughters, and the biker, with even the same kind of bike, was confirmation: Bailey the Italian, Bailey at the gym, Bailey the father and Bailey and his bike. Each of these victims represent a type of Bailey."

"What about the hand?" asked Marcus.

"Bailey is left-handed. By cutting of the left hand of each type, he is rendering them helpless. I think the hand represents power. He wants to make us all feel helpless, because he knows that we will get the pattern at some stage, but that there is no way we could ever predict the next victim. We are powerless to stop him, our hands are literally "cut off"."

There was a long silence as everyone took all of this in. Bailey spoke again, after a while. "I think we all realise now that Jack is a very evil man. We can all imagine how far his fantasy might take him, and you are all in serious danger. His killings might become more typical, and then anyone connected to us could become a victim."

"I'm sorry, people, that I have not been honest with you from the start. We had hoped to catch Jack through Sharon, and then tell you everything. We had not imagined this mess, this nightmare. Now I am open to your comments, whatever they may be."

It was Grace who spoke. "Bailey, I understand. I've realised how you feel about Sam for a long time, and I know it has not been easy for you. I've hoped for a long time that Sam would realise too, because I think you are good for each other." She looked at John. "What happens between the two of you has nothing to do with us, except that our acceptance would make it easier for you. We are all professionals and when we come here in the mornings, we work as a team. We all look out for each other, we have to." Her eyes met Sam's. "Just remember that we are dealing with a twisted mind in Jack. You and Sam have done nothing wrong. You are not at fault. Remember that. Jack doesn't want you together, because he is obsessed with Sam, but it is an evil obsession. It is an obsession that wants to deprive her of all happiness, all security, because he believes he can own her. You cannot let him control you like that. You have to live your lives, be there for each other. If you withdraw from each other, Jack wins. We cannot let him win." She turned back to Bailey.

"Don't go on a guilt trip, Bailey. He kills types of you because he wants you to feel guilty and back off. But you are not guilty. He is the guilty one. Don't back off. Take care of Sam, she needs you. Together we will catch Jack."

Bailey swallowed hard. "Thanks, Grace." He looked at the others. John was looking down at the table, Marcus was grinning sardonically at no one in particular, and George was fiddling with a pen. Sam was smiling gratefully at Grace as she tucked her hair behind her ear. Nobody offered anything else.

"Well then, we've had a difficult day. I suggest we all go home and take a break. I'll deal with logistics in the morning. And please, be alert. If anything bothers you, call for backup. I suggest you drive home in pairs, Marcus, you follow Grace home and make sure she's safe. John can follow George. And Marcus, John, be careful when you get home. I'll see you all in the morning."

Everyone left in silence, and Sam was left with Bailey. He saw relief in her eyes and got up to hug her. Over her shoulder he saw John and Marcus return. John stood at the door. "Grace was right," he said stiffly, "Don't let Jack own you. Goodnight Sam, Goodnight Bailey."


* * * * * * * * * * * * *



X.



Back at the fire station, they tried to be as relaxed as possible. Angel and Sam were busy in the kitchen, while Bailey was teaching Chloe how to play dominoes. Sam laughed at the noise the two were making, banging the dominoes on the table.

Angel could see her friend was somewhat upset. "Bad day at work?"

"Hmm." She sighed "We told the team about us."

"What did they say?"

"Grace thinks it is the best thing that could have happened. John is upset, I have no idea what Marcus thinks, and George, well, I think he kind of enjoyed the news." Sam smiled. "He loves romantic stories."

"How do you feel now, Sam?" Angel asked.

"I'm glad we told them. We, Bailey and I, have not had much time to really spend together, but I know I can't bear the thought of him not being around ever again. I know it's been hard on you Angel, but I hope he forgets to ever move out!"

"It's not been hard, Sam. Now that I know him better, I like Bailey. And he's very considerate. I enjoy having him around."

"You're such a good friend, Angel."

Sam walked to the door. "Chloe, Bailey! Supper's ready."

Chloe came rushing in, tugging Bailey behind her. "Who won?" Angel asked.

"I did," Chloe laughed.

After supper Bailey did the dishes. Chloe had brought the dominoes and was now engaged in playing Angel. Sam made coffee. Eventually they had several games of dominoes together, until Sam looked at her watch.

"Chloe! It's past your bedtime already. Come on, there's school tomorrow."

Just one more game, mommy!"

"Young lady, off to bed with you." Sam hugged her daughter. Chloe hugged Angel, and then Bailey.

Sam went to tuck Chloe in. "Mommy," she said, as Sam was about to leave. "Can Uncle Bailey stay forever? I don't have bad dreams when he's here."

Sam bent down next to Chloe. "Why not, sweetie?"

"It's like having a daddy again." The honest words of her daughter nearly made Sam cry, and she stroked Chloe's hair.

"Maybe, sweetie. We'll see. Sleep well." Chloe closed her eyes. Sam looked down at her for a moment before she turned off the light. She tiptoed out of the room.

Bailey was alone in the kitchen. "Where did Angel go?" she asked.

"She said she was going to turn in too. She had an early appointment about an exhibition."

"Oh, yes," I remember. I'm so glad for her, it looks as if they are going to take many of her paintings."

"I think I'm going to crash too, Sam. I feel quite drained."

"I know today was hard for you, Bailey. But you did well. Thanks."

He came round the table to kiss her. "Goodnight, Sam. Sleep well." She followed him out of the kitchen and turned off the light. The first few nights he had slept in Sam's room, while she moved in with Chloe, but they had since bought a sleeper couch for the lounge. He pulled it open. While he was sharing with the ladies, he had changed to the habit of sleeping in sweat pants, so he slipped into that and gratefully settled under the covers. His ribs still throbbed slightly sometimes, but the cuts had healed and left only a few scars. He turned off the light and closed his eyes.

He must have drifted off, but he was woken by a soft voice. "Bailey?" It was Sam.

"Could you just hold me. For a while?" He lifted the covers and she crawled in beside him. "I know you think about Angel and Chloe, but only for a while."

He pulled her to him, stroked her hair. "I needed you tonight too," he whispered. "I'm glad you came." He kissed her gently, and then she just lay in his arms, enjoying his closeness. Her last thought was that she would go back to bed in a few minutes.

Chloe woke first and found them like that the next morning. The little girl was staring at them when Bailey opened his eyes. The only thing he could think of was to wink at her. She smiled and then crawled into bed with them.

Sam startled awake and turned round to see Chloe behind her, grinning from ear to ear. Bailey was laughing too, and she realised that he had somehow salvaged a very embarrassing situation. "Sweetie!" She hugged Chloe. She was glad that she had joined Bailey dressed in a tracksuit the previous night. She didn't want to make it hard for him.

Bailey moved up and Chloe snuggled in between them. "Did you have a bad dream, mommy?" Chloe asked. Sam suppressed a laugh.

"No, sweetie. Mommy came to talk to Bailey and must have fallen asleep."

"Sure," Chloe drawled.

Bailey propped himself up on his elbow. "Chloe, you're a smart girl. I think its time you knew that I care very much for your mommy."

"I know," Chloe said.

"Your mommy has been working very hard lately, and she just needed someone to hold her, like you do after a bad day at school. So she came here. And then I hugged her, but we did fall asleep."

Angel walked in on this amazing scene: Bailey, Sam and Chloe snuggled together enjoying a good laugh.

"Morning," she greeted, trying to hide her surprise. "Anyone for coffee?"


* * * * * * * * * * * * *



XI.



Bailey spent most of the day at the FBI headquarters. At the VCTF centre the mood was subdued. Sam thought that John was avoiding her. She eventually had lunch with Grace.

Bailey picked her up after work and she could see that he'd had a hard time.

"Want to talk about it?" she offered.

"You know how it is, Sam. These bureaucrats think we are an embarrassment to the FBI because Jack is running rings around us. They forget all the successes we've had because we are not making progress in catching Jack."

"There is the normal talk of closing down the unit, and all the old accusations came up: improper conduct by me, the Frances affair. It makes me sick. If only they knew how much time we were spending to catch this son-of-a-bitch."

She seldom heard Bailey swear, and she knew when he did, he was really upset. "I need a drink, Sam."

"You've been doing so well lately, Bailey." He knew she thought he drank too much. But since that night in the pub, he had hardly thought of drink.

"Okay," he conceded. "Anyway, they don't like this latest affair. They made me feel like an accessory to murder. How do we stop him, Sam?"

She had nothing to offer, instead reached over to touch him. "We'll think of something."

They were called out the next evening when the fifth victim was found in a city park. George offered to stay overtime and they soon found the connection.

The victim had been a member of the American Riflery team: a marksman. Sam looked at Bailey, but he was sitting with his head in his hands. Bailey was one of the top FBI snipers.

That night he came to her bed. He was trembling and sweating, helpless as a child, and now it was her turn to comfort him. "Please make it go away, Sam," he begged. She held him, caressed him and finally found him relaxing. They eventually made love quietly and tenderly, his only desire being to banish all the tormenting thoughts from his mind and drowning himself in her soothing arms. But when he finally tiptoed back to the lounge, he couldn't sleep. He was overwhelmed with guilt for all the victims that died on his behalf, and he knew that only he could make an end to this.


* * * * * * * * * * * * *



XII.



Sam was surprised to find Bailey gone when she woke up, but he had arranged for an agent to pick her up. He was already at the VCTF when she arrived, in deep conversation with George, John and Marcus. He looked up at her briefly and she was shocked to see how pale and tired he looked.

She walked over, but he was almost abrupt to her. "I'll see you now, Sam." She was not invited. John and Marcus looked away guiltily. She walked to his office and watched them through the window. Bailey was gesticulating at the computer, George would nod and John would violently shake his head. Eventually it seemed as if the two men exchanged harsh words. John slouched away. Marcus too shook his head. Bailey turned back to George and the two continued an earnest conversation.

She followed John. "What's going on, John?"

John looked down. "Bailey doesn't want you to know. He wants to protect you." He shrugged, then his voice softened. "Sam, I'm not upset or anything. Everyone around here thinks I'm the villain since we found out about you, because at one stage…" he paused, "… I had quite a crush on you. But I'm happy for you. Besides, there was never really something and I… might have other interests now."

He looked at her. "I think its better if you don't know right now what Bailey is planning."

She smiled at John. "Thanks, John." But inside she knew, with growing dread, what Bailey was planning.

That same afternoon their world fell apart. They had just received news of a sixth victim, but before they could get going, VCTF headquarters was swarming with FBI agents and big shots. They were collecting all evidence of the previous five cases while the team looked on helplessly. When Bailey tried to protest, a big shot flung a remark at him that hit all of them like a bucket of ice water.

"We're taking over, Malone. You're not competent. Go home until further notice."

Sam saw the hurt in Bailey's face. Eventually the agents left and they huddled together, not knowing what to say. John broke the silence: "Why this drama? What's happened now?"

Bailey's voice was hoarse when he answered. "Jack has just killed the current head of the Quantico Training centre. A position I held at one stage."

"God, no!" Marcus said for all of them.

"And they blame you," Grace said, and shook her head.

"Yes, they do," Bailey said softly. "And so do I." He looked up at them. "Well, you heard them. Go home, people. Forget about everything. We're not breaking up before I've put up a fight, but maybe if they see that they don't get anywhere, there won't have to be a fight. Emotions always run high when an agent is killed, and it's easy to find a scapegoat."

"I'm not going anywhere," John said. "I'm standing by you, Bailey." Bailey was so overwhelmed by these simple words that he spontaneously hugged the younger man. "Thanks, John."

"Neither am I," Marcus added and soon there were slight smiles as they all agreed that this was their case, and that they were not giving up.

It was right then that George shouted: "Bailey! There's a reply!"

They gathered around the computer and watched the eerie puppet Jack had sent them. The words were few, but Sam understood immediately what they meant. "I accept your offer."

Bailey turned to Sam. "Sam, Grace, you have not been told about our plan yet. This morning George and I tried to work on a way of reaching Jack with an offer. George suggested that we post a message for Jack on several bulletin boards, and it seems he was successful."

"What was the offer?" Sam asked, even though she knew.

Bailey looked at her and begged forgiveness through his eyes. "I've offered to meet Jack. In exchange for him stopping the killings. There was no other way. We could never predict his next victim, and we have to stop these senseless killings.'

"But we can also use this to get Jack. We'll outsmart him." John threw in. "Unfortunately Bailey has to be the bait," he saw the pain in Sam's eyes, "but we'll hook the fish before he hurts Bailey."

"There's more," George interjected.

The rest of the message came up on the screen. "I accept you offer if I may make the arrangements. And because I doubt that there will be any objections to this, I'll contact you soon with instructions. Goodbye Samantha. I miss you."


* * * * * * * * * * * * *



XIII.



They waited several days before Jack contacted them again through the computer with his instructions. But by then they too had covered all eventualities they could think of, and could fit in their own traps into Jack's plans. Except that Jack did not give them much to go on.

"Agent Malone will go to Lakewood Park at 14:00 tomorrow. Alone, although I suspect you'll be watching," Jack had added sarcastically. "He will be contacted there."

They made their plans. Because of the VCTF being on ice at that moment, they could not call on backup from the FBI, so they had only themselves to rely on. Bailey would go to the park as instructed. He would be wired, but they were sure Jack would discover that. Jack was brilliant at electronics. Bailey would wear a bulletproof vest. He would be armed. And John and Marcus would be there too, blending into the crowd. George would monitor the situation and be in contact with Bailey through a tiny microphone and headset. Sam and Grace would remain at VCTF too.

George had come up with their trumpcard. They were pretty sure that Jack would know that they would do their best to track Bailey and give him backup at all times. They knew Jack would actively seek out to remove all possibilty of Bailey being traceable. They knew that Jack probably had some technology to match theirs. So George pulled a few strings and managed to get hold of a tiny tracing bug. Bailey consented to have the tiny chip injected into his earlobe. Because they realized that Jack might use electronics on Bailey to detect any electronic signals, they were overjoyed when George told them that the bug could be time delayed before it activated. They could decide on a timeframe to elapse, giving Jack a period to finish his checks, before the bug would kick in.

They decided to give Jack eight hours. They reasoned that Jack would spend some time to ensure that he could get hold of Bailey without interference. After eight hours the bug would activate, allowing George to trace Bailey. And even if Jack stripped Bailey, he would not find the tiny implant.

The evening before Jack's day, Sam was sad. She was not cross at Bailey about his plan, because she too had realized that it was the only way. He tried his best to lift her spirits, assuring her that he had complete confidence in his team. Even if Jack had some aces up his sleeve, they would be there to block him. She still could not shake the feeling of dread, of horror. Jack had become an awful reality suddenly, and it didn't help to know what his main objective was.


* * * * * * * * * * * * *



XIV.



Bailey wandered through the park, alert. His team was there to back him up. He felt confident. This was their chance to rid the world forever from Jack, to show everyone that they could and would stop this monster.

He was stopped by a young girl on rollerblades. She was looking at a picture of him, then up at him. Then she handed him a small parcel. "This is it," he thought, wondering if Jack was watching him. He thought of the bomb for a moment, but they knew enough of Jack to know that he killed only specific victims. He would not set off a bomb here in the crowded park, killing many. He opened the box.

Inside was a small cellphone. "Smart," he thought. "Without the particulars of this phone it would take time to trace calls," he relayed to George. He spotted John in the crowd and held the phone up for him to see.

He kept wandering through the park. Twenty minutes later the small phone rang. "He's started, George," Bailey relayed back and then answered the phone.

"Malone."

"Ah, my dear Malone." Jack's voice was malicious. "You received my little present." His next words made Bailey turn cold. "Now call Samantha. Tell her to join you. Wait there until you hear from me. And Malone, just in case you think not to obey, I've got three lovely young ladies here that should encourage you a bit. They will die if you refuse. And get rid of your headset."

Bailey did not doubt Jack's words for a moment. He called the VCTF.

Grace answered the phone. "Jack has made contact," he said. "But there's a little snag. He wants Sam to join me. Ask George to get a bug on her. Now put her on the line, please Grace."

"Bailey!" Sam was relieved to hear his voice.

"Sam, Jack wants you to join me here in the park. He says he has some hostages and they will die if you don't come."

"I'll be there, Bailey."

Sam was with him in ten minutes. George had managed to slip a bug into her clothes. She too had come armed, although she knew that Jack would let them get rid of their weapons somehow. They strolled through the park, wondering if Jack was watching. Bailey held her hand to give strength and to draw strength at the same time.

After some time the cellphone rang again. Bailey answered.

"On the Hartsfield Airport side of the park you will find a blue Mustang," Jack said. "The key is on the driver's side under the chassis. You will head to route 20 and take the Augusta road. You will stop at the first motel along the route." Bailey heard whimpering and sobbing. He guessed that Jack must have held his phone to his hostages.

"Okay," Bailey said. "Jack, the offer was me. Let Sam go."

"Oh no, Malone. Samantha is part of the deal. But don't worry, she will come to no harm." Jack rung off with a shrill laugh.

While they walked to the park entrance, Bailey phoned the VCTF. "First trace immobilized," he said. "Jack's making us change cars. Blue Ford Mustang, Hartsfield side of the park. We're going to Augusta." He knew John and Marcus would get the message and follow them.

They found the car. Bailey headed out to join route 20. "Look out for the first motel."

The cellphone rang. "Lose your backup, Malone. Your breaking the deal. There was a shot and horrible screaming and whimpering over the line."

"Bastard!" Bailey shouted out, then to Sam, "He's shot one of the hostages."

"Do you think he is watching us?" Sam asked.

"I don't think so, but he's got a time schedule. He knows how long it should take us to complete each instruction. You see, he gave you time to join me in the park, but there was a delay in the phone call. If he had been watching, he would have called as soon as you were there."

"Or he might not have."

"Sam, call the VCTF and tell George to call John and Marcus in. Jack could have a microphone in the car, so we'd better obey."

The phone rang minutes later.

"Samantha!" Jack exclaimed when Sam answered. "I hope you enjoy the little ride I have planned for you. Now, give me Malone."

"You will stop at the motel and go to reception. You have a reservation, Malone. For two!" Jack laughed again. "But you will go into the room first. You will not spend more than five minutes in the room, or another young lady will pay for your sins. You will take off all your clothes and put on the outfit I have planned for you. Oh, and in case you're wondering, I do have a camera installed in that room. You won't find it. You will also get rid of your watch and chains, weapons and armour."

"Then Samantha will enter the room. She will do the same. I will give her 10 minutes, and I'll be watching." Jack laughed and Bailey closed his eyes for a moment to gain control of his anger.

"You will then leave the room and start walking back towards city centre."

"No!" Bailey's voice was a groan. "He's making us change clothes, Sam." He explained to her the next part of Jack's plan.

They found the motel and the room. Before he went inside, Bailey hugged Sam. "We must be strong," he encouraged her. "This won't be easy, but our turn will come."

He changed quickly into the sweat pants and T-shirt, even underwear, that Jack had placed there for him, and slipped on the sneakers. He was not even surprised that the sizes were correct. He was thinking about the two remaining hostages. Jack must have a third major shift in plans for which he needed three hostages, one for each time they disobeyed. As he put down his watch, he noted that it had been nearly four hours since he had left the VCTF with the tracing bug. It would be another four before it activated.

He held the door open for Sam, but he knew he could not protect her now. Jack was momentarily in control.

Sam looked at the clothes. She felt sick at the thought of changing, knowing that Jack would be watching her perversely. But then she thought of Bailey, and the hostages, and quickly got it over with. Jack had selected a tracksuit for her, also with sneakers.

They left the room and started walking. "I've called George and told him what we had to do. John and Marcus will get over to the room to find the camera, although I doubt it will help us by then. But they'll also pick up our things."

"He's made sure now that we don't carry any bugs in our clothes. He's also gotten rid of our weapons. Bailey, he's really stripping us down. When do you think he'll eventually take us?"

Bailey shrugged. "I don't know." He stopped to answer the cellphone.

"I love this next part," Jack said. You will find a supermarket on the right, not far from where you should be now. In the parking lot behind it is your transport. The key is in the exhaust pipe." This time Jack's laugh was long, and very evil.

"Behind the supermarket," Bailey said. "But he didn't say what the car was."

When they came round the corner, they saw that he hadn't needed to. It could only be one vehicle. Parked to one side was a shape Bailey knew only too well: a Harley Davidson. They looked at each other. Sam saw the trouble in his eyes. She hated the way Jack was toying with Bailey.

They stood by the bike after they had found the key, not knowing where to go. The phone rang.

"Nice touch, don't you think, Malone!" Jack sneered. "A dying man's last wish, a ride on his favourite bike. Now, no more games. You'll take the bike and head out on route 75 towards Macon. There's a camping site and picnic area about 30 miles outside Atlanta. You will stop there. You will not call the VCTF again. I'm tired of your meddlesome agents. You have 20 minutes to reach your destination, or a hostage will die. Enjoy the ride!"

Bailey tucked the phone into his pants. "Aren't you going to call George?" Sam asked.

"He said not to. He might be watching now, or have a microphone on the bike. Come, we're going to Macon."

Bailey could almost forget for a moment of the horrible situation they were in. He felt the power of the machine under him. Sam was hugging him from behind, her head on his back. The ride was a thrill. He had to do at least 90 miles per hour to make it on time. He promised himself that as soon as this was over, he would take her out on his own bike. He was cold from the wind, but at least he knew his body shielded Sam partly. They reached the picnic area just about on time. It was deserted.

He took off the helmet and helped Sam with hers. He could see that she had enjoyed it too, despite the circumstances. He wondered if Jack was watching now, but still gave her a quick kiss. "We'll go for a real ride as soon as this is over," he promised.

They sat on the bike, waiting for the small phone to ring.

When it did, Jack gave his next instructions. "You'll continue traveling to the next picnic spot, about 10 miles from here. There you will park the bike and put the key back in the exhaust. There will be a white van. They keys will be where you found that of the Mustang. You've had your ride now, Malone. This time Samantha will drive. Did you hear that, my Samantha will drive. You'll continue towards Macon and then take route 16 to Savannah."

"Now, Malone, tell Samantha to stand at least 50 feet away from you. Do it!"

Bailey took a deep breath. "This is it," he thought. "Sam, walk away from me please."

"No," she protested, and took a step towards him.

"Go, Sam, GO!" he shouted, and then flung the phone away from them as hard as he could. Before it even touched ground, it blew up. It was a small charge, not enough to kill, but just enough to destroy the phone.

He breathed a sigh of relief and held her briefly. "Come, Sam. He's told us where to go, but not where it will end. And he's cut us off from everything."

They found the white van. "He said you must drive, Sam." Before she got in, he checked the driver's side. The van was spotless and safe, the back empty. He hardly felt the prick of the tiny needle embedded in the door handle of the passenger side of the van. It made just the tinyest of punctures in his hand as he opened the door, but it injected him with a powerful drug.

"He said to drive through Macon and take route 16 to Savannah. But he didn't say where to stop." Bailey explained. Sam set off. They were both convinced that there was a microphone or maybe even a camera in the van, so they said nothing. Bailey suddenly felt his body go numb.

"Sam…" Even his speech was slurred. He shook his head, but it did not help.

She looked at him with alarm. "I think I've been drugged," he managed to slur, pushing against the dashboard to keep himself upright.

"What do I do?" she asked.

"Keep driving, Sam," was the last thing he could manage before he slumped sideways against the door.

Sam pulled over and bent over him. He was still breathing, and his pulse was strong. She clenched her hands in an effort to relax. Then she continued driving. Through Macon she watched out for any clock. There was one on what looked like a library. "Two hours before Bailey's bug will activate," she thought.

She took route 16. Every now and then she glanced over to Bailey and put her hand on his chest to feel if he was still breathing. She was relieved to realize that it must be a strong sedative that he had been drugged with, and nothing more serious. She wondered how Jack had done it.

It was getting dark now. The road was quiet. She wondered how she would know how far to go, or where to stop.

She had been driving for over an hour, when something in the headlights drew her attention. She slowed down, her heart in her throat. It was a man, waving at her to stop. But it was not Jack. It was an old man.

"Miss," he looked jubilant. "I've been waiting for you for a long time, but by God, I would have waited all night! A white van. Do you have a man with you?"

"Yes," she said.

"I've been offered five thousand dollars just to give you this. He gave her a folded sheet of paper."

"Who gave this to you," she asked.

"I never saw him, but he said he would be watching and if I did well, the money would be waiting for me at home. Then he gave me five hundred." "Poor man", Sam thought. "He would probably die."

She unfolded the paper. "Drive to the route 23 intersection. Park the van and get out."

The intersection was not far. She did as she was told, terrified to leave Bailey in the van. The night was cold. She looked around. Then, suddenly, she felt a sharp sting in her neck, and put her hand up. She felt the small dart in her skin, but even before she could pull it out, she collapsed on the ground. Jack had sprung his trap, now he had them, and as far as he was concerned, they could never be traced by anyone.


* * * * * * * * * * * * *



XV.



Back at the VCTF the team had been waiting for any news. John and Marcus had returned there after their visit to the motel. They had found the camera and Sam and Bailey's clothes, but could get no information from the manager. George had informed them that they still had some friends in the FBI, and that he had managed to get a chopper on standby for when the implanted bug that Bailey was carrying activated. As it grew dark, their hearts sank. Even with the trace, it would be difficult to operate at night.

At 21:50 the small alarm that George had fixed to his monitor bleeped. George clapped his hands. "It's activated, guys!" There was always the chance that the bug would malfunction.

Within seconds they had stirred into activity, and it didn't take them long to fix a general position on their fellow agents.

"They're somewhere between Macon and Savannah!" John exclaimed. George brought up some maps. "The chopper won't fly at night, but if we set off at dawn, we could be there in a couple of hours." It took hard work and concentration, but they managed to pinpoint the location somewhere on route 23 to Augusta. George printed out a map, and John marked the position. It was after midnight.

"Let's get some rest, people," John said. "We've an early morning." They did not even bother to go home. There was enough places for them to sleep at the VCTF centre.

George woke up first and monitored the trace. The others joined him one by one, rubbing sleep from their eyes. "I think they've moved," George said. They studied the map again.

"There's a huge stretch of open woodland wilderness between Atlanta, Macon and Augusta," Marcus said, pointing at the map. "They are somewhere there!" John, let's go. George can get us closer while we are in the air."

"Guys, be careful. And good luck." It was Grace. Then they ran out to join up with the chopper.


* * * * * * * * * * * * *



XVI.



Bailey woke up lying on the ground. His body was wet with early morning dew. He looked around him, trying to make sense of his surroundings. The sun was coming up. He was lying on an open stretch of land, and beyond, there were trees. He pushed himself from the ground and stood up.

He assessed his situation. He was dressed in only the sweat pants and was barefoot. Around his left ankle was a metal cuff attached to a chain. The chain was attached to a thick dowel cemented into the ground. A few meters away there was a strange looking canvas shelter. There was no sign of Sam, or Jack. He stretched to get some warmth into his aching body.

He moved towards the canvas shelter as far as the chain would allow, and called softly: "Sam!"

He heard a movement. Then, from behind the shelter stepped a figure as if from an old movie. Clad in black from head to foot, and wearing a black mask and wide brimmed hat. If the situation had not been so serious, he would have laughed.

"Malone! I trust that you are well rested. I want a worthy adversary."

"Where's Sam?"

"Don't worry. My Samantha is never very far from my side. She'll join the proceedings shortly."

"Where are we?"

"That's irrelevant. The only thing that is relevant is that we are alone, and that we are going to have an interesting tournament. Today, Malone, I am going to enjoy killing you. But I will give you a fair chance to show my Samantha that you were never worthy of her."

Bailey seldom swore, but he did so now. "You are a sick man, Jack. Sam will never love you. You will destroy her."

It did not go down well with Jack. He stepped forward, but stayed well out of Bailey's reach.

"I regret actually having to end your miserable existence, Malone. I'm enjoying this. I want to draw this out for as long as possible, but then, I have plans for Samantha and myself. So, if you are ready, we may start." With that Jack turned and disappeared into the canvas tent.


* * * * * * * * * * * * *



XVII.



Sam opened her eyes. She couldn't move. Her arms were taped to a chair. She looked around as far as she could. She seemed to be inside some sort of canvas shelter. It smelled mouldy and stuffy. Behind her she could see part of a treetrunk, the chair seemed to be fixed to the tree.

The canvas flap was pushed aside, and for a moment she was blinded by the sun. Then she made out a black-clad figure. "Ah, Samantha. I trust you feel refreshed."

Realisation flooded back. "Jack," she remembered. She recalled everything that had happened during the past few hours, the swapping of cars, an endless journey and then nothing.

"Bailey?" she asked.

"Ah, Samantha. You have not yet learned your lesson. Do you not ask me how I am?" He bent over her, and she turned her face away. But not before she saw that he was wearing a black mask.

"But since you ask, Agent Malone is getting ready outside. We have some entertainment for you." He laughed cruelly, and then continued to roll the canvas flap away. "I have taken pains to ensure your comfort during the little tournament, my dear Samantha, but just to make sure you don't get in the way, I've had to restrain you. It won't be for long."

As her eyes adjusted to the sharp sunlight, she realized that she was sitting in a canvas booth. Jack rolled the front flaps away so that she could have an unrestricted view in front. She blinked. Outside was grass and in the distance, more trees.

Then she saw Bailey. He was standing several meters away, the sun behind his back. "Bailey," she called, relieved to see him alive. He turned towards her, and took a few steps. Then she saw that he could come no further. Around his leg was a chain, and the chain was attached to a sturdy dowel in the ground.

Jack laughed as he stepped towards the imprisoned man. "Samantha, I'm sure you are going to enjoy my little surprise for you. I am a fair man, and a little old fashioned too." Sam realised that this man was completely insane and very, very dangerous. Whatever he had planned, she had to stop it.

"Jack, let Bailey go. You keep me here, but let him go."

"Oh, no, Samantha. We're going to decide today. The best man gets to keep you!"

He rolled open a canvas onto the ground, just out of her reach, and well away from Bailey, and started packing out some equipment slowly and deliberately. A rifle. Sam guessed that it was the same rifle he had used to kill the six victims. Then a shotgun, a crossbow, two swords, a dagger and a strange looking cord. She realised suddenly that it was a whip, and she could see bits of metal woven into the strands. Her heart sank.

"An old fashioned duel to the death," Jack grinned. "It's so romantic, don't you think. Just the right entertainment for my dear Samantha. You will know afterwards who really deserves you."

"The rules are simple," he continued, while strapping on a bullet-proof vest, "we will fight each other for you. I have made some arrangements to level the odds, after all, Malone is a trained fighter." He strapped on a motorcycle helmet, and as a final flourish, threw a black cape around his shoulders. The last item he brought out was a small pistol, which he tucked inside his belt.

Sam looked over at Bailey. He had not moved, but she knew he had carefully watched Jack's every move. But she shook her head to stop herself from crying in desperation. Bailey was dressed only in the sweat pants. He was barefoot. He had no weapon. And he was chained.

Then Jack bent down and picked up one of the swords. He flung it at Bailey's feet. "Let the fight begin!" he laughed, and picked up the other.

Bailey looked down at the sword, but he did not pick it up. "Jack," he shouted. "Let Sam go. Then I'll fight you."

"Oh, no!" Jack circled round, just out of Bailey's reach. "Samantha has to be here! This is for her, especially for her. Pick up you sword, Malone."

Bailey did not move. He kept looking down, assessing his hopeless situation. He guessed that the chain was about two meters long. The arsenal that Jack had so carefully arranged, was well out of his reach.

"Well, then I'll have to encourage you a bit," Jack sneered when Bailey did not move. He pulled out the small pistol and shot Bailey high in the left shoulder.

Sam screamed. Bailey staggered back, but remained on his feet. "Pick up the sword, Bailey!" Sam shouted.

Bailey took a deep breath. He knew he had not yet fully recovered since the explosion, and he felt shaky and very thirsty. He did not know how long Jack had kept them sedated, but judging from the way he felt, he guessed it was the next day. He was grateful for this. The trace he was carrying would have activated. Help would be on the way. He saw from the corner of his eye that Jack had stepped back and selected something from his little arsenal. Bailey bent forward to pick up the sword.

The long whip bit into his back as Jack brought it down hard. He clenched his teeth and grabbed the sword. His hand did not respond well. He realised that the small bullet must have hit some nerves. He clenched his fingers around the sword and stood up.

Jack was laughing like a maniac. "Finally!" he screamed. "Let the games begin!"

He lunged at Bailey again with the whip. Bailey took a step backwards, but it still caught him across the ribs. He looked down to see whether he was next to the dowel. He had to get Jack within his reach. He lifted the sword with effort, as if to fight.

Jack kept laughing, and readied himself to hit again. As the whip lashed out, Bailey put out his other hand. The whip sliced across his arm, but his hand locked around the cords and he jerked forward with all his might.

It caught Jack completely by surprise. Before he could let go of the whip, he had stumbled forward and landed on all fours in front of Bailey. Bailey lashed out with his foot and kicked Jack in the side. He wanted to lift the sword, but his arm would not respond this time. He dropped it and stepped towards Jack, gripping the whip properly.

But Jack had recovered enough to pluck out the pistol. He had time to fire one shot before Bailey kicked it out of his hand. Then Bailey's legs gave way under him and he went down on his knees. Blood was running from a small hole where Jack had hit him in the upper leg.

Jack was trying to get up and make his way towards his weapons. Bailey swung the whip and the cords caught around Jack's ankles. Jack looked down at his feet, at what was holding him, and tried to pull at the strands trapping him. Bailey tugged with what little strength he had left. If he could keep the cords tight, he could drag Jack backwards. He struggled to his feet, trying to see where the gun had fallen. But the only thing within his reach was the sword.

Jack was trying to crawl forward, and Bailey felt the whip beginning to slip from his hand. He bent down and willed his numb fingers around the sword. Then he pulled the whip tight, took a shaky step forward, dropped the whip and transferred the sword to his right hand.

Jack realised that he was free and pushed himself from the ground. But Bailey was right behind him, and brought the sword straight down with as much force as he could muster. It caught Jack through the small of his back, pinning him to the ground on his stomach.

Jack screamed and went limp. Bailey looked down at what he had done, and then he remembered Sam.

She was struggling against her bonds, calling his name. He had to get free. Jack would have the key to his chain. He knelt next to the still figure. He was shaking as he put out his hand to find the key, fighting to keep blackness from overtaking him. Jack stirred.

Bailey heard the most horrifying sound as Jack tried to push himself from the ground, and the sword cut deeper through his gut. Jack was laughing, but it came out as a gurgle. He swung his elbow into Bailey's face, and then in a last desperate move, pulled a stiletto from under his clothes. He lashed out at his enemy who was right beside him.

Bailey had his hand to his face, but saw the sudden flash of sunlight on the blade. He tried to fall backwards, away from the strike, but the blade caught him across the midriff, leaving a long red gash.

Jack was finally spent. As the knife completed its arch, he gave a long groan and then collapsed, his lower body still pinned to the ground. Bailey knelt next to Jack for a moment, but the other man was not moving. Then he put his hand out again.

The key was on a chain around Jack's neck. Bailey struggled with shaky fingers to get the lock from his ankle. As soon as he was free, he picked up the stiletto and dragged himself towards Sam. She was a blur in the distance, his ears were roaring. Finally he managed to pull himself half-upright and staggered the last few steps towards her.

He managed to stand by holding onto her chair, and had to focus hard to cut free her hand. He felt her take the knife from him, and then she had cut herself completely free, and was holding him.

"Bailey, oh, Bailey," she cried by his ear. "I love you."

He didn't want to pass out. He wanted to tell her that he loved her too. The roaring was in his head now, there was a strong wind blowing.

Sam was laughing. "They're here, Bailey. They've found us." She was looking over his shoulder at the FBI chopper landing, at John and Marcus jumping out.

"You got Jack, Bailey," she said. He managed to lift his head slightly. "You beat him. Now we can have that future you spoke about."

He managed a weak smile before his eyes clouded over. "I love you, Sam." As he collapsed in her arms, John was there to take him.


* * * * * * * * * * * * *



Epilogue



Despite the fact that the official press releases were brief and to the point: "Serial killer Jack-of-all-Trades finally caught," the media somehow got hold of snippets of information and turned the case into a major blockbuster with headlines like: "FBI agent's duel in the Wilderness!" and "Agent triumphs in deadly battle." Bailey Malone became somewhat of a national hero for a while.

Bailey had himself stitched up and gave himself just one day to recover from his ordeal before he went to the FBI headquarters armed this time with facts and statistics to fight for his team. Without emotion and quite brilliantly he put his case before them, and by the time he left, the authorities were quite convinced that no-one would have cracked the Jack case sooner. The VCTF was fully reinstated and his suspension lifted immediately.

Sharon Lescher was tried and convicted for the murder of Agent Nick Cooper. The judge did not hesitate to pass down a sentence of life imprisonment. When she learnt about Jack's death, she turned into a lamb and gave the VCTF all the information to find Jack's lair, and to finally piece together the story of his obsession and reign of terror.

John finally got the courage to ask Angel out to dinner again. Bailey promoted him to official 2IC at the VCTF.

Bailey had taken 14 days leave on the insistence of his team. He was at the fire station one afternoon when Sam rushed in. She hugged him carefully, as he was still quite sore. "Congratulations! They are going to give you some sort of presentation."

He shrugged. "The biggest reward that I could ever get is to know that you are safe and that this nightmare is finally behind us."

"You deserve it, Bailey."

He put his hands on her shoulders. "Thank you, Sam. But the only thing I want is for you is to be happy."

"I am, Bailey. Still shell-shocked, but very happy. You have kept your promise, you didn't leave me."

He pulled her close and thought with relief and joy about their future together. Nothing would separate them, nothing would disturb his Sam again. Chloe would be safe, there would be no more bad dreams. Memories would heal with time. They would be a family and grow strong together, even through hard times. Frances would have a real friend in Sam, someone who could help her through the process of becoming a young woman. Ariana liked Sam too. He knew there would be ups and downs, but together they could face them. He felt secure.

Four months later Sharon Lescher killed a guard and escaped from the maximum security prison.


~ The End ~


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