The Little Princess

By Terri

Hands braced against the counter top, Jim watches the last of the water swirl down the drain. Red against white; the evidence of his failure disappearing in a last gurgle of diluted blood.

Eyes still fixed downwards, he reaches for the paper towels, pulls one free and meticulously dries the sink. Cleaning minute spots of blood, invisible to any eyes but his own. Satisfied at last, he throws away the towel, pitching it in the garbage can with a precise shot, then turns, finally acknowledging Blair's presence.

"I know it wasn't my fault, so you can spare me that talk," Jim says, and he leans back against the counter, feeling the sink dig into his back.

"You say that, but do you believe it," Blair questions, and for a moment Jim thinks he's going to come close, but he remains still, staying in his spot next to the restroom door. "If it wasn't for you that girl would be dead…"

"Instead it's her mom that's dead," Jim interrupts, and he clenches his fists, remembering the feel of hot blood against his skin and the screams of a five year old child who's just seen her mom blown away.

"It could have been both of them."

"It should have been neither!" The shout echoes in the small room, and Jim tries to calm down, forget the blood and the screams and his own hesitancy that let the hostage situation worsen so fast. "I'm going to go sit with Kelly."

Jim looks at himself in the mirror, checking he's free of any last blood splatters, and walks to the door, stopping when Blair touches him on his arm.

"You should talk about this." Blair looks concerned and squeezes Jim's arm. "I'm here when you're ready."

Jim nods then walks to the cubicles, appreciating the gesture, even if talking about it is the last thing he wants to do.

Pulling open curtains covered in orange dinosaurs, Jim signals the patrolwoman should leave and sits in her vacated seat. Heart aching when he looks at Kelly, who lies on her side, thumb in mouth, hospital gown dwarfing her small body.

"Hey, sweetheart. I'm going to keep you company until your grandma comes, okay?" Jim says softly, unsurprised when she doesn't reply. Then he picks a book from a pile on the floor. "Do you like stories? I bet you do. I've a friend who loves them, and to tell you a secret so do I."

For a long moment she remains silent, then whispers Yes . Jim smiles then pulls his chair closer; holding the book so the pictures are clearly visible. "That's great. I think you'll like this one." Then starts to read, taking them both to a place where magic happens and the good guy always wins. "Once upon a time there was a little princess…"


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