The one person who is noticeably absent is Mike. He did not accept my offer to come to Vegas. For a moment, it seemed like Leighton and I had talked him into it. He grudgingly accepted I might be able to provide him with adequate protection. More than anything, he wanted to be here for Sam. Unfortunately, the fucktard made the mistake of talking to his handler. He felt like he owed the government the courtesy of letting them know he was going to be leaving for Vegas. I had told him that was a bad idea, advising him not to say a damn thing. It was likely he could come for the transplant and return with them being none the wiser. These days, all he had to do was check in via phone with his handler, and they never drop in on him unannounced.

Ultimately, I think Mike was bothered by the amount of information I handed him, and he was pissed he didn’t know about it from his own handler. He wanted to confront him and demand the truth. More importantly, he wanted to know if what I told him was accurate and could be trusted. I found this amusing… that he has a hard time trusting me.

Of course, the handler did confirm my information, after much blustering there should be no way in hell Mike should have that information. According to Leighton, there was a very heated argument whereby Mike was pissed the information was kept from them and the handler insisted he was on a need-to-know basis and didn’t need to know anything unless he was in danger.

Based on that, it seemed like Mike wouldn’t have any issues leaving the program, but that wasn’t the case. His handler talked him into staying by pointing out that should the danger level increase to him, the program would provide him with a new identity and a new place to live.

Ultimately, it was the love of his own life that took priority over wanting to be there for Sam during the transplant.

God, it fucking pissed me off. I don’t understand how there’s any choice. There’s no way any threat would ever keep me away from my kid.

It’s also one of the reasons why I have a deep respect for Leighton despite still being so angry with her for keeping Sam from me. Her own safety simply didn’t matter when she chose to seek me out. She puts Sam first, which is the way it should be.

Sam sees me enter the room. I make my grin extra big and cheesy, causing my eyes to narrow and crinkle at the edges so he knows I’m smiling. “Hey, little man… looking pretty good.”

He attempts a halfhearted smile as I hand the latte to Leighton. She mumbles a low thank you but sets it on the bedside table without even a taste. I’m not going to lie… I’m a little worried about her, though I would never admit it.

I simply say, “You should drink that while it’s hot.”

She only nods before turning her attention to Sam. Her hand goes to his forehead, a move she makes several times an hour to see if he’s running a fever. One of the biggest risks of the chemotherapy he has been getting every day since his admission is an increased risk of infection. So far, he’s been good.

He may have avoided infection, but it doesn’t mean there haven’t been other side effects. Nausea, vomiting, and a proliferation of sores within Sam’s mouth are making him miserable. He has bouts of diarrhea where he’ll just sit on the toilet—if he’s lucky enough to make it into the bathroom—and just sob. It makes me want to fucking cry, too.

Not Leighton, though. She’s always got that soft smile of empathy for Sam, even as she whispers for him to stay tough. I can’t imagine what it costs her to put on such a brave front when I know she is shredded up on the inside.

I move around the bed, to the chair I normally occupy when I visit. After I sit, Sam rolls slightly my way, tucking his hand under his cheek.

“Rough day?” I ask.

Giving me a half smile, he shrugs. “Not so bad.”

Just like his mom. Putting on a brave face.

“Little liar,” I chastise with a grin as I reach out to touch his face. Not to check for a fever but to provide a soft touch. I’ve never had to care for someone who’s sick. While this is new to me, I know there can be healing power in affection. I witness it continually between Leighton and Sam, and while I’ll never have his mother’s touch—she’s just too good at what she does—I want to have a presence.

Sam is trying to be brave for Leighton and me. I admire him for it, but I also want to tell him it’s okay if he wants to cry. I don’t, though, because I’m not sure if it’s contradictory to the way Leighton’s been advising him on how to handle things. Even though I want to be the type of man who can give sound guidance to my son, I want to be the type of parent who would never contradict his son’s mother. I owe that to Leighton at least, since she’s done an incredible job raising him. I make a note to ask her later about the best way to provide him comfort and reassurance.