"Jesus!" Hondo barked as he sat up in the front passenger seat of the Suburban that Jim was driving.
"MOVE!" Jim barked at the people in vehicles that surrounded him, though they couldn't hear him. His jaw was set tightly as he sped through the busy LA streets, his police lights flashing.
The normally 20 minute drive from SWAT Headquarters to Chris' home took seven minutes. To Jim, though, the dangerously fast ride seemed to take forever.
As he turned on to the street, he slowed drastically, due to fire rescue and police vehicles that littered the narrow roadway. And of course, the onlookers.
His heart was beating wildly in his throat, so loud that that was all he could hear.
He thrust his foot on the brake, the large SUV lurching to a stop. His door was open before he had even finished throwing the gear shift into the park position.
When he neared the barricade that had been set up around the perimeter of the house, a large fire fighter grabbed his shoulder, preventing him from going any further.
"I'm SWAT," Jim told him, shrugging the mans arm away.
"No individual other than those battling flames are allowed any closer," the gruff voice told him. "Not even SWAT."
Jim turned to give the man a steely glare, but as he turned around, he saw them sitting in an ambulance on the stretcher inside.
"Oh, thank God," he whispered. He didn't even give the man a second thought as he quickly headed towards the EMT vehicle.
Chris was hugging Eliza to her side as the girl was being checked out. She kissed her daughters temple a few times, slowly rocking them back and forth, a move Jim suspected she didn't even realize she was doing.
"Hey," he greeted them softly, not really sure of what else to say.
Both brunette heads turned to look at him. He noted their tired eyes, and small smiles that lit their faces when they saw it was him.
"Are you both OK?" Jim asked.
"We'll be fine, won't we munchkin?" Chris tried to sound a little more upbeat than she felt.
"Yeah," Eliza whispered as she leaned her head against Chris' side.
Jim nodded his head and shared a brief look with the EMT. He looked at the man for confirmation that they were fine.
"Eliza, you are a brave girl," he spoke. He pulled out some alcohol swabs to clean a small cut on her forehead. "This is going to sting for a second, OK?"
Eliza nodded her head slightly, closed her eyes, and held on to her mothers hand tightly. She visibly flinched, and cried out in pain when the alcohol swab touched the open wound.
It broke Jim's heart to hear Eliza in pain, and it hurt him to see Chris hurting for her daughter as well.
"Does she need stitches?" Chris asked him quietly.
"No," the girl protested tiredly. "No stitches."
The EMT shook his head no. "It's just a small cut. It should heal itself in a couple of days." He took off the gloves he wore while working on Eliza, and then pulled out a second pair. "We really need to make sure you're OK, Ms. Sanchez," he told her honestly.
"I'm fine," she dismissed him.
"Chris –" Jim started.
"I said I'm fine."
The EMT was frustrated. "You were unconscious. You could have a concussion." He motioned to the bump that was forming on her forehead.
"I'm refusing treatment," she told him, standing up and stepping down from the ambulance quickly, despite the headache that assaulted her temples. She reached out for Eliza to grab her hand and come out of the ambulance, but the EMT stopped her. "What now?"
The man sighed. "I get it. You're stubborn and you don't need anyone's help. Understood. But I know how these things work," he motioned to the burning house. "You are going to have to give your statement to the Police, and my partner and I have to stay here in case of any of the firefighters inhale too much smoke or something and they need medical treatment."
"Your daughter is sick and has been through a lot tonight, and unless you have someone here that you trust and can take her home with them, you two are going to be here for a little while yet. She needs to rest. Just let her stay in the back of the ambulance while you get your statement out of the way."
She sized the guy up and realized that he wasn't trying to irritate her. "I'm sorry for being a bitch. It's just been a long night."
"I understand." He stepped out of the ambulance himself and sat down on the tailgate of the vehicle. "I'll stay here and keep an eye on her if you would like to go find someone to take your statement."
"Thanks," she whispered, taking a peak over at Eliza who had already laid down on the bed and was resting comfortably. Well, as comfortably as a kid could considering their house was on fire.
Jim gave the man a thankful nod and then put his hand on the small of Chris' back, guiding her towards a parked cruiser. "How you holding up?"
"Honestly?" she sighed. "Not so good." She furiously wiped a stray tear that trailed down from her eye. "God, Jim. I'm her mother. I'm supposed to protect her."
"Did I?" She shook her head, not believing it.
"Hey," he said firmly, grabbing her arm and turning her to face him. When they made eye contact, he could see the fear in her eyes. The glistening, unshed tears. Chris never cried, and she was fighting it so hard. "You are both alive and safe. How can you think that haven't protected her?"
"She could have died tonight!"
"You just about died tonight, too!"
Chris looked at the ground and brought her hands up to her face, shielding the world from seeing her tears fall. Her shoulders shook and all he could do was pull her into an embrace. He kissed the top of her head, much like she had done with Eliza in the back of the ambulance.
A few minutes later, she had recomposed herself and Jim had to ask. So, softly, he asked the question that he'd been needing to know the answer to. "What happened?"
She shrugged. The two leaned against the car casually, as if being careful to not allow their co-workers to see how close they'd become – as if the hug hadn't spoke volumes. "I remember talking to you, and then smelling the gas. I heard a clicking noise coming from the kitchen. I had lit the burner on the stove to boil some water. I just reacted. I got us out the front door and after that, all I remember is being woken up by Mary."
Jim looked over at the middle aged woman who was talking to the police, giving her account of the nights events. Chris continued.
"She said she was sitting on her front porch having a cigarette when we came out the front door, and the next thing she heard was a loud explosion and a ball of flames. Apparently, the two of us were thrown off of the porch."
"Do you think this was deliberate? That someone was trying to hurt you or Eliza?"
Neither of them saw the man in the crowd of onlookers that was staring at them. A man wearing a baseball hat in the dark of the night, standing in front of a burning house in a crowd just did not arouse suspicion. It was normal. It was human nature. But this man was anything but normal . . .
"I don't know," she sighed. "Look at what we do, Jim. I'm sure we're not exactly popular with the people we help put in jail, or with their families."
Jim nodded his head. He understood. "We'll figure it out." He glanced over at Eliza, and the EMT who was still standing guard. There is no way he wouldn't figure it out.
Jim Street was a man who'd prided himself on being a bachelor his entire life. Never being tied down. But something had changed when he met Chris. And her daughter. They were a package deal, and he wouldn't have it any other way. It wasn't until he feared that he'd lost them that he'd truly realize just how much he needed them.
TBC . . .