Tears rolled down Taylor's cheeks as she ran from the house. She had just gotten back from camp and had rushed over to see Emma, only for her best friend in the world to tell her that she was weak and that she was an anchor around Emma's neck. That she needed to go away and that they weren't friends anymore.

She didn't understand. Why was Emma so angry at her? Had she hurt her in some way? She had talked to her on the phone earlier that week and everything had been fine, they had even made plans for this weekend.

She walked over to the side of the road and sat on the curb. Maybe Emma was just having a bad day. She couldn't imagine how bad of a day she had to have been having for her to just yell at her like that, unless…

Taylor remembered how she had yelled at the therapist dad took her to after mom's death. And how after she had calmed down Dr. Santiago had explained to her that lashing out was a common response to tragedy.

Taylor gasped. Were Mr and Mrs Barnes okay? Or what about Zoe? The only thing she could imagine that could cause such an extreme reaction would be one of her family members getting seriously hurt, or even killed.

Taylor shut down that line of thought. There was no way any of them had died like her mom. The world couldn't be as cruel to Emma as it had to her, that would just be wrong! There was no way the world was that terrible, she would not accept it.

Taylor stood up and started walking back towards Emma's house. She needed to find out what had happened and help Emma through it, just as Emma had helped her when her mother died. As she turned the corner and the house came back into sight she slowed to a stop.

Emma had just told her to go away. Her just barging back in and demanding to know what had happened wouldn't be helpful. She needed another approach. She needed help.

Taylor suppressed a shudder and then reached into her pockets and pulled out her cellphone. She hated this little device. Just looking at it reminded her that mom was dead, reminded her how she had… How she had killed her. But dad had insisted, saying that it was more dangerous for her not to be able to call for help, and that he wouldn't risk losing her too. It had taken some time but she had finally relented and accepted the phone, but only after making him promise to never answer his while he was driving.

She opened her contacts and selected dad, he answered on the second ring. "Bloob, blubb. Bluub gluble glug?"

"No Dad, I didn't forget anything. But, um, I think something may have happened to the Barneses."

"Blurble?! Blurb blub glorb?"

"I don't know, I only saw Emma. But when I got there Emma-" Taylor's voice hitched, "She told me to leave her alone. Said I was dragging her down. I think something may have happened and she's lashing out."

"Bluub blurgle? Glugg boo glu blurble?"

Taylor smiled, "I'm fine Dad, thank you. I would love it if you came over, I'm worried that going back by myself might make things worse."


"I love you too. Please drive safely." Taylor hung up the phone and went back to the curb to sit down and wait for help to arrive.

Taylor looked up as dad's car pulled up to the curb and a completely normal human man wearing a suit stepped out.

Her father walked over to her and curled his legs into a spiral to sit down in front of her and look her in the eyes. "Glub blub, blurble?"

Taylor rolled her eyes, "Come on dad, I'm thirteen. I am way too old for you to call me 'kiddo' anymore."

Dad snorted "Büo glōbble glib blub, blurble?"

Taylor chuckled at the familiar exchange. "Thanks for coming, Dad. I hope I didn't pull you away from anything important."

"Gŏ gluu blubble." Taylor shook her head slightly. She hoped he wasn't going to get himself in trouble taking time off to help her, but it still made her feel good when he told her that she was more important than his job.

Dad reached out one of his normal human tentacles and wiped something from her cheek with one of his suction cups, "Blõgle glorg blub?"

She reached up and stroked her cheeks, they were still heavy from her previous crying and her fingers were damp as she pulled them away. "I cried for a bit after Emma told me she didn't want to be my friend, but I'm better now. I am more worried about her, something has to be wrong for her to be acting this way." She had also cried about it some more as she had waited for dad to arrive, but he didn't need to know that. Something was wrong and he needed to be focused on that, not how much it had hurt to have her best friend tell her to go away.

Dad nodded and put a hand on her shoulder. "Blurgle blúú glob glō."

Taylor felt her cheeks heat up at the compliment, "I'm not that strong, I had to call you for help."

Taylor smiled as she felt her father's arms wrap around her twice and pull her into a tight hug. She closed her eyes for a moment and enjoyed the comfort of it. Dad had to be the best hugger on any Earth.

After a few moments he released her and said, "Blob blug bluub glub."

Strong people know when to ask for help, huh. She felt her chest puff up slightly, maybe Dad was right. Maybe she was strong.

"Shall we go find out what happened?"

Dad nodded and started walking towards the door, Taylor trailing close behind him. Upon their arrival he reached out and rang the doorbell.

After a moment Anne opened the door. "Uncle Danny! What are you doing here?"

"Blüb bluub blurgle. Gloob bu blooog blub?"

"Dad is out but mom is home. Would you like to talk to her?"

Dad nodded and Anne shouted into the house, "Mom! Uncle Danny is at the door for you!"

After a moment Aunt Zoe stepped out of the kitchen with a wide smile on her face. She came to the door and pulled dad into a short hug which he returned, "Danny! It is wonderful to see you! To what do I owe the pleasure?"

Taylor felt confused. Anne and Aunt Zoe both seemed so normal, but if nothing was wrong then what had happened to Emma. Had she done something to her on accident.

"Gloo bluub blubble globble. Bluub bluuub gluub glurgle blug."

Aunt Zoe turned her attention towards Taylor, a small frown on her face. "How about you both come in, we can speak inside."

They followed Aunt Zoe to the living room and sat down. Aunt Zoe looked at Taylor again, "Danny said that you were worried about us?"

Taylor nodded, "When I came by earlier Emma told me that I was dragging her down and that we weren't friends anymore. That I was an anchor around her life." Taylor felt the tears start to well up again but forced them back down, this wasn't the time to cry.

"I thought something might have happened and she was lashing out." Her voice grew quieter, "But you all seem okay so maybe I just did something wrong…"

Aunt Zoe sat up straight, "Emma did what!" She stood and walked to the stairs, "Emma Chloe Barnes! Get down here right now!"

"Emma Chloe Barnes! Get down here right now!"

Emma almost gasped in her hiding spot around the corner at the top of the stairs. Mom including her middle name was bad news. Tayl… The weakling was going to get her grounded because she had to go get their parents involved. She snuck back towards her room, then as she heard her mother's thumping footsteps start up the staircase she closed the door loudly behind her and called out from the hallway. "Yeah, mom. What is it?"

Her mother turned the corner, her anger plain on her face. "You know what this is. You are coming downstairs with me right now, young lady, and you are going to apologize to Taylor! Then we are going to have a long talk about the way you are treating your friends!"

Emma grimaced, she was definitely getting grounded. Still she had to be strong like Sophia. She couldn't apologize to Taylor, she needed to live up to Sofia's example. To prove that she was as strong as her hero. "No! I didn't do anything to apologize for!"

"Do not lie to me young lady! Now you are going downstairs and apologizing to Taylor!" Emma opened her mouth to protest but Mom cut the words off with a glare. "Now!"

Mom's hand clamped down on her arm, and Emma winced from the tight grip. Then her mother started walking back the ways she came, forcing Emma to follow her down the stairs and into the living room. Taylor and Uncle Danny were sitting on the sofa. Anne was nowhere to be seen, apparently having decided that discretion was the better part of valor when it came to family arguments.

Mom looked Emma in the eyes, "Now apologize to Taylor."

Emma raised her chin, she needed to project strength like Shadow Stalker. "I told you that I won't! That weakling is an anchor dragging me down! Always crying to me about how much she misses her mom! How she blames herself for her mother's death! I can't be strong if I have to drag her around!"


Mom gasped, her eyes so wide that Emma worried that they would fall out of her head, "What the fuck did you just say! Emma you will take that back right now or so help me-"

Mom's threat was interrupted by Taylor speaking up, her voice quiet, "I'm sorry Emma. Dr. Santiago told me that it was good that I had someone to confide in so I kept doing it. I didn't think about whether or not it was bothering you."

Emma felt like she had been struck by her friend's earnest apology. How could she deny that? But Sophia had told her she needed to cut weak things out of her life so she couldn't just accept it. So she looked awkwardly to the side, "Well it did bother me, so you should be sorry…"

A moment later it seemed that Mom had recovered from her shock. "Taylor, honey, you have no reason to apologize." She turned back towards Emma and gave a glare that could wilt flowers. "Emma is the one in the wrong here."

Uncle Danny finally stood from his couch and put a tentacle on Mom's arm. "Blob glob glurble, glue."

Mom looked at him for a moment before letting out a breath and sitting down. "Emma, I'm going to let Danny talk to you for a moment. But we are going to continue this when we are done."

Emma turned her attention back to Uncle Danny. She knew that he would at least understand, if not condone given that she was cutting his daughter out of her life. Uncle Danny was strong. She remembered the time he had dove into the bay to save a family whose car had gone off the pier. He had gone back until he had gotten every member of the family and the dog to safety, not even surfacing for air until he was done.

She looked at him in his completely normal human eyes that took up half of his head. "Blube blub blubble gluw?"

Did she know why Taylor came back? Why would he be asking that? "She obviously came over to get me in trouble."

One of Danny's eyes widened, "Boo dlub glub?"

Obviously, that was the only reason to get parents involved. "Of course she did. Why else would she have brought you?"

"Bluu, glub blub glib." One of his eyes turned to look towards Taylor and his normal human face tentacles twitched into the facsimile of a smile. "Blub glog blug. Glob goo blob."

Taylor came because she was worried that something had happened to her? She wanted to lend Emma her strength to deal with whatever had happened to her?

Emma glanced at her friend, her concern plain on her face. An image of a knife pointed at her eye flashed through her mind. Emma felt her breath start to quicken. "You can't be strong if you need other people to lend you their strength."

Uncle Danny paused for a moment then crouched down to eye level with her. He spoke again in a quiet voice. "Boo blub glub blubble."

Emma felt stunned at the story he had just told her. She had no idea that Uncle Danny had amnesia. That something had happened to him fifteen years ago that destroyed any memories of who he was before that and that to this day he had yet to recover a single one. She couldn't imagine how scary it would be to just show up in a world with no idea of who you were or how you got there. His description of his absolute loneliness before he met her dad and Taylor's mom had been vivid and devastating. And his description of the strength he gained after finding those friends was everything she wanted.

Emma glanced at Taylor and then down at the floor. Was Sophia wrong? She knew Uncle Danny was strong, but he told her about a time when he was weak. Would pushing away Taylor only make her weaker? Uncle Danny's gentle voice interrupted her thoughts. "Glob blu blub glubble."

'The strength of one person can be immense but it will always be brittle. Eventually it will fail and without others you will have no more strength to call on.' Was that right?

Sophia said that people were either strong or weak. That people who wouldn't fight for themselves were weak and didn't deserve to be saved by the strong. But if you needed someone to save you, were you really strong?

She glanced at Taylor. Was Taylor weak or strong? She had run away at the insults so Sophia would say that she was weak. But she came back to try and save me, and only the strong could save people.

'Save me.' The thought echoed in Emma's head. 'Do I need to be saved? Sophia had already done so, right?' The image of the knife flashed through her mind again and she shuddered. She was still so scared, she was still so weak, she still needed to be saved. And Taylor wanted to save her despite seeing how weak she was. Taylor was weak and strong at the same time.

The realization hit her like a ton of bricks. Sophia was wrong. You couldn't classify people as being weak or strong and treat it like an absolute. No matter how strong she got on her own she would still be weak in some way. But Taylor was the kind of friend who would be strong for her when she was weak.

She ran to her friend, tears beginning to well up in her eyes."I'm so sorry Taylor. I was wrong and mean and stupid and scared and-" Taylor hugged her and her voice devolved into wordless sobs.

After a few moments she got herself under control and pulled away. As she did Taylor grabbed her hand and looked her straight in the eyes, "What happened? "

Emma glanced back at her mother nervously, she saw that the earlier anger had left her face and been replaced by concern. She turned her head back to Taylor, gave her hand a light squeeze, then let go so she could sit on the sofa and talk to the room rather than just Taylor.

"Um, Mom, remember how Dad and I got back late from that haircut earlier this week." Mom looked confused but nodded, "Well while we were driving home we got ambushed by the ABB."

Fear flashed across Mom's face and she heard a gasp from where Taylor sat next to her. Uncle Danny's eyes went

"They blocked off the road and forced Dad to stop. One of them pulled out a gun and told dad to unlock the doors. He obeyed and as they were dragging him out one of them opened my door and-" Her words cut off as the damn knife that haunted her dreams once again flashed through her mind. She felt her breathing begin to quicken and she couldn't stop it. She felt like she was once again stuck in that car with the knife at her face.

A warm hand started to gently stroke her back. The comforting sensation of it pulled her from her delusion and back to the real world. She turned to Taylor as her breathing stabilized, if she could she would have given her friend a grateful smile but she was still to shaken to make the expression.

She closed her eyes and took a moment to center herself. Then she continued with a steady voice, "One of them pushed his knife really up close to my face and started talking about how much he wanted to cut out one of my eyes. It was terrifying, I didn't know what to do. So I attacked him. I tried to punch him, kick him, scratch at his eyes. Anything to get him away from me, but it didn't work. He punched me in the gut and put the knife to my throat then whispered in my ear that he was going to enjoy carving me to pieces."

The fear had left Mom's face and now she looked like she was ready to strangle someone, "I thought I was dead or worse… Then she saved me. Shadow Stalker came in and attacked them. They didn't even really fight back, they just ran away. And then it was over."

For a moment she considered telling them that Shadow Stalker had come to talk with her the next day and that she was the one who had convinced Emma to try to cut Taylor out of her life. But she couldn't, doing so might reveal Sophia was Shadow Stalker, and she didn't want them to think badly of the hero who had saved her. Emma decided that she would just have to see if she could show Sophia how she was wrong. Hopefully she would be willing to listen.

"Blug bloob gluggle glug?"

Emma sighed, "I tried to get rid of Taylor because I was weak and scared. I thought doing it would prove I was strong and if I was strong then I wouldn't be scared anymore."

Taylor's arm wrapped around her shoulders pulling her into a light half hug, "You are strong, Emma. Your strength helped me so much after Mom died. Now let me help you."

As she sat there, resting her head on her best friend's shoulder, she thought about how stupid she had been to try and push Taylor out of her life. She wondered how terrible her life would have gone if she had not been given the opportunity to take back the mistake she had just made.

Alan hated driving. Every time he saw a truck pull out he worried it would block him in. Every time he stopped at a light he was scared that someone would pull a gun and tell him to get out of the car.

He took a deep breath, the drive was almost over. He was only a block away from his house. Soon he would be home and with his family, soon he could be out of this damned car. He slowly let out his breath. Everything was fine. He was perfectly fine.

Alan pulled into his driveway. The house was oddly dark, only the living room window was lit. He felt an odd sense of foreboding settle in as he pulled into his garage.

As the door swung open to the dark kitchen Alan felt afraid. Something was wrong. Did those gangsters figure out who he was and where he lived somehow? Did they come back to kill him and his family? He wanted to run away, but he couldn't. They had to be fine, he knew he couldn't do anything to help them if they weren't, so they had to be okay and this had to just be a surprise or something.

Alan flicked on the light and called out, "Zoe, Anna, Emma! I'm home!"

The house was quiet for a long and terrible second then relief flooded him as he heard his wife's voice respond, "Alan, I am in the living room."

Alan quickly walked over to the living room wondering what was going on. As he turned the corner and saw his wife his relief was replaced with worry. Zoe was sitting straight up in a high backed chair. Her eyes shut, her face calm, and her fingers digging into the arm rests. He had only seen his wife like this twice before, but he knew what it meant. She was furious.

"Zoe, what is wrong?" Uncertainty began to turn his worry back into fear. "Where are the girls?"

Zoe answered without opening her eyes, her voice controlled and steady, "Danny took them out for ice cream."

The girls were ok, that was good. He didn't know what he would have done if something had happened to them.

'Probably stood around helplessly, too scared to even move. It was what I did last time after all.'

"Why didn't you tell me about the attack?" His wife's words pulled his mind away from the dark thought. He felt his arm twitch. She found out, that was why she was mad.

"I was going to, but when I got home things just felt normal and safe. Emma ran upstairs acting like nothing had happened and I just followed suit. I was planning to tell you after getting a night's rest, but then the next day came and it was easier not to. I just wanted to leave it in the past, to go on as if it had never happened." Of course there was more. The shame he felt over having chosen to take a shortcut through that part of town, how helpless he had felt as they threatened his daughter. But even now he couldn't bring himself to admit to that.

His wife looked at him with cold eyes, "You didn't tell me because it was easier not to? That is your excuse?"

Alan looked at the floor, shame flooding through him. Fully aware of his own patheticness he answered, "Yes."

Alan felt a hand rest on his cheek. The fingers were cold but the touch was gentle as they stroked his cheek. After a moment the hand started lightly pushing against his face and lifting his gaze until it met Zoe's.

"I understand." Her voice was still tightly controlled, still constraining an anger that threatened to burst out at any moment, but he could also hear an undercurrent of compassion. "I don't think it was the right choice not to talk about it, but I understand just wanting to pretend it never happened."

Alan looked at his wife and saw all the details he had missed earlier. Her cheeks were puffy from crying, he could see the stress of the revelation weighing heavily on her face and shoulders. Her eyes though, they were clear, strong, and just as beautiful as when he first saw them all those years ago. "But, Alan, it wasn't just you in that car, Emma was there as well. She is far too young to try and deal with something like that on her own, and because I didn't know there was nothing I could do to help her."

Alan felt acutely aware of his failures as a partner and as a father. He had known that he was doing the wrong thing, but it was just so easy. He wanted to slap himself, he had done the easy thing instead of the right thing. How many divorces had come through his office because of just such a choice.

"I should have told you." Alan heard his voice crack under the emotion, "I needed your help, Emma needed your strength, but I was a coward. Can you forgive me?"

The moment while he waited for his wife's answer felt like it stretched on for an eternity. Finally he heard her voice, "It is going to take awhile, but I think I can." She pulled him into a tight hug, "I love you, even when you are being an idiot."

In the warmth of his wife's embrace Alan let himself start to cry and felt safe for the first time in days.

A/N: Bit of an odd plot bunny got caught in my head and produced this. It won't be a particularly long fic, and I have already written part of the ending and some of the epilogue so I am hoping I can finish it in a reasonable amount of time.