WARNING: This is a slash story (although I suppose you could read it as really smarmy gen if you wanted to -- whatever floats your boat). As such, it portrays a romantic (but not sexual, at least not in *this* story: see above) relationship between two women. If this makes you uncomfortable, please don't read it!
DISCLAIMER: Sam, Angel, and the rest of the "Profiler" characters belong to Sander/Moses Productions and NBC, not to me. By writing this story, I am rather blatantly infringing on their copyright -- a fact I cheerfully acknowledge and about which I, frankly, do not particularly care.
SPOILERS: This story is set immediately after the episode "Breaking Point." I'm not sure how much sense this story will make if you haven't seen the episode first.

Her hand clutched desperately at his even as his grasp slowly weakened, the lifeline slowly fraying, leaving her suspended, weightless, over the pit. No. Not weightless. She had weight, a weight she was all-too-conscious of now -- an inexorable force of physics, gravity exerting its ruthless, soulless, inescapable pull on her inert body mass. Her fingers tightened on a hand that no longer held her, trying to evade that insistent pull, holding stubbornly to life. Her knuckles whitened, and her fingernails bit into the flesh of his palm, drawing blood; she could feel the hot, wet trickle of it slide down her arm. But she knew in her heart it was no use.

She was going to die.

The blood mixed with sweat, making his hand treacherous and slick; her fingers slipped. _No!_ Frantic with fear, she clutched wildly at his hand with all the strength she possessed and managed to halt that insidious downward slide. Temporarily. Her hands, her hands, her traitorous hands...! She knew her hands, used them, depended on them -- but now, now her once supple and lithe artist's hands were clumsy and stiff with shock and cold; she couldn't hold on forever. Her external surroundings slowly faded from her consciousness: the crowds, the sirens, the shouting, the chaos, John rushing toward her with futile, outstretched arms; all of it, gone. Her world narrowed. There was only her hand and his, the terrible strain of overworked muscles, the fatigue, the trembling, the ache in her wrist, and she couldn't...oh,
god, she couldn't...hold...on....

She fell.

Sam woke up screaming.

*****

She sat up in bed, trembling uncontrollably. Her throat hurt. Dimly, she wondered why. "Oh, god, oh god, ohgod...nononono...." She hugged herself with shaking arms and buried her face in her knees, rocking slowly back and forth, trying to regain control of herself. Control. She remembered control, lived with it every day, put it on every morning with her clothes. She had to have control of herself, of her emotions (_of your fear_, an inner voice whispered, and she shuddered), or suffocate under the weight of them. She wore control like a mask to hide her inner insecurities, the emotional wreckage Jack had left her with; it was all that gave her the strength to leave the safety of her house and face the world every day when all she felt like doing was hiding forever. But her mask had shattered, leaving her with a handful of jagged shards.

Distantly, she heard footsteps run into her room and voices exclaiming in fright and dismay, but she couldn't bring herself to look up. Hands, both gentle and worried, touched her. She flinched away. The voices rose louder, distressed. She tightened her arms in their self-embrace and closed her eyes. Eventually the voices stilled and the footsteps receded, and she was left alone again.

Almost.

"Sam?" This voice was quiet, soothing. She opened her eyes. "Oh, Sam, it's O.K. Shhh. Everything will be all right." She felt more than saw the hand reach out and nearly touch her, the heat of it burning through the thin cotton of her nightgown, and then drop uncertainly away. She raised her head. "Angel?" she croaked.

"Yes, Sam?"

"Oh, Angel! I thought...I dreamed...." She didn't want to complete that sentence, didn't want to give the unbearable darkness of that thought any more power by putting it into words. Instead, she launched herself at her friend, grabbing her in a frantic, bonecrushing embrace, holding on for dear life as Angel had held to the hand of her kidnapper earlier that evening. Angel simply returned the embrace, accepting the burden of the pain Sam could no longer shoulder without breaking, carrying it for her.

Sam realized she was crying. She cried for a long time.

Eventually, her tears slowed, then stopped. She took a breath, raised her head from its resting place on the warm, comforting solidity of Angel's chest, and looked at her friend. She sniffled a little. "God, I'm so selfish," she murmured. "Angel, I'm sorry. No, don't go!" Sam grabbed at her as she moved away, unwilling to let go. Angel paused, regarding her with chocolate-dark eyes, then leaned over and grabbed the box of Kleenex from the bedside table, completing the motion that had prompted the protest. She held out a tissue to Sam, who stared at it blankly for a moment before accepting it. She blew her nose. "Thanks," she said.

"No problem." Angel smiled. "Now, what do you possibly have to be sorry for?"

"Well, waking you up in the middle of the night, for one."

"Don't worry about it. I...wasn't asleep."

"Yes, that's the other.... You're the one who was just kidnapped and almost killed, not me. I should be the one comforting you, not the other way around."

Angel didn't respond for a moment; she simply settled herself more comfortably on the bed next to Sam, her hand drifting upward to stroke her hair. "We've been friends a long time, since we were children. In all those years, you've always been there for me when I needed you. Always. When I tripped and skinned my knee, or some girls at school
made fun of me, or I failed a test, or when my boyfriend dumped me. Whatever the problem, you were always the first person I'd turn to. And you made it better. I've always tried to be there for you, too, and, Sam, lately you've really needed a friend. First Tom, then Coop, then the custody battle over Chloe...through it all, through everything Jack
has done to you, everything life has thrown your way, you've faced it, handled it with an amazing strength. Strength, and grace, and dignity.

Alone."

She paused, still gently stroking Sam's hair, trying to work out what she wanted to say next. Sam didn't interrupt, even though she badly wanted to object. "I always knew I needed you. I guess tonight we found out that you need me, too. I don't think you're being selfish at all. You're just being...human. But if you still think you are -- well, if anyone's earned a little selfishness, it's you."

They sat next to each other in silence for a while, then Sam said abruptly, "You have, you know."

"What?"

"Been there for me. You said I handled everything alone, but that's not true. I leaned on you every step of the way. I do need you, Angel. I don't think I'd...if I lost you, too, I'd...." Her grip on her friend tightened convulsively. "Don't ever leave me, Angel, please don't leave me. I love you."

"Sam. Sam, listen to me." Angel waited until Sam looked her in the eyes. Her eyes, bloodshot and red from crying, were still luminous. "I promise. I will never leave you."

Sam looked at her, really seeing her for the first time this night. Her eyes were shadowed with deep circles, her face pinched with the remains of stress and fear; tired, upset, and haunted by her own demons, Angel was still here, holding her in her arms, giving her whatever she needed. And she had thought earlier that self-control gave her the
strength she need to face each day? No, it wasn't control. It was Angel.

It was always Angel.

"Thank you," she said, and meant for more than just tonight.

Angel smiled and touched her cheek. "Let's go to sleep, now."

Sam nodded and shut off the light. The two women slipped under the covers together, each needing the comfort of the other's presence. Sam lay spooned in Angel's embrace, and felt safe.

As she drifted into sleep, she heard a voice say softly, "I love you, too."

No one had any more nightmares that night.

THE END

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