The second Chris saw his only reason to live he fell on his knees and opened his arms, the emptiness quickly filled with the warm body of Thalia. She was wearing her red wristband.
"Daddy!" she cried out, wrapping her arms around Chris' neck and squeezing tight. Her legs wrapped around Chris' waist and he held her close to his chest, face buried in her neck. She smelled of dirt and grime and sweat. He held her tighter.
"Sorry I'm late, princess," Chris murmured as he pulled back to see his angel's face.
Thalia laughed, "Is okay, daddy. You back."
"It's, princess," Chris corrected. "And you are back. Or?"
"You're!" Thalia answered. "It's okay. You're back home. Right?"
Chris smiled and nuzzled his nose to hers, "Perfect, princess."
Chris was so relieved to see that Thalia was in perfect condition, or as perfect as could be given their situation, that he had completely forgotten about the officer keeping watch on him.
"Daddy, who'sh behind you?" Thalia asked, looking over Chris' shoulder. Chris froze but quickly forced himself to relax as he got to his feet with Thalia held protectively in his arms.
"Um, he's Jared," Chris said.
Jared nodded. He was staring at Chris and Thalia with a contemplative and slightly confused expression. Chris bit his lip and shifted on his feet, adjusting Thalia in his arms so she was more to his side.
Thalia leaned up to whisper into Chris' ear, "Good?"
Chris swallowed and glanced at Jared before replying just as quietly, "Yes." Chris immediately felt the guilt eat up at him for not being completely honest with Thalia but he didn't want her to be afraid. Truthfully, he didn't know if Jared was 'good'. He was a cop but that didn't hold much merit in his or Thalia's opinion. But Jared let him see Thalia. It was all very complicated.
"We have to get going, Chris," Jared said, finally speaking.
Chris clutched Thalia tighter and nodded stiffly.
"Where go?" Thalia asked frowning.
Chris didn't even bother with correcting her speech as he tried to paste a smile on his face, "Daddy's got to do something, princess. I, I…" Chris felt tears burning in his eyes. He didn't want Thalia to see him as a crook. She'd hate him. He didn't want her possible last memory of him to be of him being in jail. A criminal. He didn't want to leave her, but Jared was a cop and any sane person would know instantly that Chris and Thalia were homeless. Jared would get social services and Thalia would be taken away from him. Dropped into foster care. But Chris was selfish. He had told himself that he would never leave Thalia, promised her as well, unless there was no other option.
"What's your name, sweetheart?"
Chris blinked back his unshed tears and looked up to see Jared had walked over to them. He had a small smile on his face, brown eyes warm and welcoming.
Thalia stared at him, nibbling on her bottom lip. She glanced at Chris who gave her a small, encouraging nod.
"Thalia," she replied. She glanced at Chris again but this time he shook his head. They didn't know how…open-minded Jared was.
"I'm Jared. Jared Hale. It's nice to meet you, Thalia," Jared said.
"Is-It's nice to meet you too, Mishter," Thalia returned, forming the words carefully. Chris smiled when she corrected herself.
"You can call me Jared. Now, why don't you go and pack all your things? I need to speak to your daddy for a second."
Chris frowned, his expression mirrored by Thalia, but after getting a meaningful look from Jared, Chris set Thalia on her feet and gently pushed her towards the pile of flattened cardboard boxes that they had been using as a bed. "Go on, princess."
"Come with me," Jared murmured, leading the way out of the unit. They ducked under the door and Chris wrapped his arms around himself, as if they were the only things that were holding him together.
Chris stared down at his feet. His Converse were old and falling apart. When he got them, they were pitch black and stark white. Now they were dark green and dirty brown.
"How old is she?" Jared questioned.
"Four. She'll be five in September," Chris whispered. His throat felt tight. His eyes burned.
Jared sighed heavily, "I have to call social services, Chris. How long have you two been living in that?"
Chris bit down harshly on his lip. He wasn't going to cry. At least not yet. Especially not when Thalia could catch him in the act. "S-six weeks."
Jared was silent for a moment before asking, "How long have you two been homeless?"
Chris swallowed around the knife in his throat, "Months. Nine months. Please don't take her away from me." His voice cracked. His body shuddered.
It was then that Thalia came out of the unit. She had a ratty backpack that used to be dark blue but was now a chalky, faded blue-grey slung over her shoulder. It was Chris' bag, more than half her size. It held everything they owned and still had plenty of space to spare.
Jared looked past Chris and his somber expression turned soft again, "Is that everything? Both you and your daddy's stuff?"
Chris had his eyes closed, trying to even out his breathing before he could turn around and face Thalia, but he assumed she nodded when Jared said, "Good."
Chris took one last breath before turning around and smiling down at Thalia. He took the bag from her but it was only in his hands for a few seconds before Jared took it and slung it over his shoulder. He had used too much force, overestimating its weight. Chris gave him a puzzled look.
Jared jerked his head to his car, "Let's get going."
Chris held onto Thalia's hand and slipped into the back with her, making sure she was buckled in safely. Jared dumped their bag in the passenger seat as he got in the driver's side.
"Where we go?" Thalia asked looking to Chris.
Chris didn't know. Was it the police station? Was this going to be the last time he saw Thalia?
He gnawed at his lip and turned to look at Jared through the rearview mirror.
A/N: Heyyo! Just lettin ya know that this will be updated again on the 18th or 19th along with all my other WIPs. Also, thanks for reading/liking/faving/commenting.