A/N: This was for the no safety pin challenge on LiveJournal. Just a dark little one shot in a bit of a different style for me. Kind of an experiment. Fear not, I'll be back to happy multi-chapters soon.
Warning: Child death.
She isn't there when he finds the four-year-old girl in the attic. Instead, she's sweeping the lower floor for danger when she is startled by a shot from above, followed by two more. The knowledge that her partner is in the vicinity of those shots propels her to the staircase, and although she reaches them a step behind their boss, she overtakes him quickly and sweeps into the dim, cramped room in the lead.
She's the first to see their suspect dead on the floor with two rounds in his chest, and to hear her partner's panicked voice yell for an ambulance. She feels barely present as she dashes across the room to tend to an injury she's sure is his, and the world only comes back into focus when she realises that the bullet has not torn his flesh, but instead found its way into the small girl that he is cradling in his arms. (Her relief at this makes her sick.) She's there while he tries to staunch the flow of blood with his hand, and to see the too-bright red soak into his sleeves and legs. She's there to see the terrified girl's eyes as she tries to draw puffs of air into her mangled lungs, and she knows the ambulance will never get there in time.
She hears him speak to the girl in a soft, calming tone she is sure she has never heard him use before, and her own throat closes at words that will never help.
"It's okay. Help's coming. We're just going to stay calm, okay?"
The girl's response is to blink and set free tears that she knows they'll both be seeing in their nightmares for the rest of their lives.
"It's okay, sweetheart," he lies. "I'm with you. I'm not going anywhere. Just breathe. You're doing great. I'm with you."
And he is with her, when she dies two minutes later, when the EMTs arrive five minutes after that, and when Ducky arrives in 20 more. He's with her as she's ferried all the way down to Ducky's truck, as her gurney is strapped into the back, and then he watches from the street as she's driven away from him.
She almost wishes she wasn't there to hear what happened. He relates how their suspect stepped out from behind the litter of household artefacts just as he reached the girl, and that he attempted to use his body as a barricade as soon as he saw the gun. But he was either too slow or in the wrong position or had left her too exposed—he doesn't think it matters how it happened. It just matters that he didn't manage to save a four-year-old girl from taking a bullet in her chest that was meant for his head. His return fire had taken the suspect down straight away, but he hadn't realised he'd screwed up until he turned back to the girl to assure her the threat was gone, and saw her bleeding into her Powerpuff Girls t-shirt.
She doesn't make it to his apartment before he starts drinking, but she's there in time for the emotional grenade to go off. She'd try to put the safety pin back in, but a part of her thinks it's better if he explodes. A release of all his pent up energy in a violent outburst should leave him exhausted and quiet, and hopefully clear the foundations enough for him to rebuild himself.
So, she is there when he launches into a self-punishing tirade that shakes the walls with its fury. She's there to yell back to try to make him see sense, that it's not his fault, that he gave the girl peace as she died. She's there when he throws punches that go through the drywall, when he hurls a chair across the kitchen, when he smashes bottles against the fridge door. She's there to be intimidated by his size and anger for the first time, but she refuses to shy away and leave him. She's there when his elbow barely misses the side of her head as he resists her effort to console him, and she's there when the violence stops like a switch has been flicked, and he crumples to his knees to cling to her. She's there as tears wrack his body and he swears he hadn't been aiming for her. It's so obvious that she almost laughs, but she's crying now too, and she just wants to help ease his hurt.
She's there when the police arrive at the door and walk into a messed up apartment with holes in the wall and two amped up occupants. Because she is there, he is questioned about his drinking, his temper, his red and swollen knuckles, and how related they are to the bruise on her chin and her almost-black eye from a case the day before. He doesn't have time to draw breath before she shoves her badge in their faces and menaces them out of the apartment with her fury and offence. When she turns back, he can't meet her eyes and she hates it.
She's there to assure him that she knows he'd never... But she feels almost like she's out of her body when she holds him and kisses him and pulls off his clothes. It's not the first time and it won't be the last, but it's never been so hard and desperate and needed. She's there the whole night and into the morning, assuring him she won't let him drown in this, and that she's got his back. She will always have his back.
He isn't there for the next two days, not until Abby and Ducky can prove his version of events, and she isn't there when the girl's parents approach him at his desk the next day. She finds him shortly afterwards while he sits in his car and cries, and he tells her with guilty eyes that they thanked him for not letting her die alone. It sets off another debilitating bomb within him, and she knows that the aftershocks will keep coming for weeks, months and possibly years. She commits to helping him through every minute of it.
She's there months later when the tremors die down and he finally accepts that he's not to blame. He will always regret, and he will always think of her, but he has stopped punishing himself and dragging his partner through hell with him. He wraps himself around her as he thanks her for staying with him, for keeping him tethered. But she tells him it is unnecessary. She loves him, they are a team, and so she had no choice. When one is falling apart, the other has to gather up the pieces and put them back together.
The whole point of being a team is to shield each other from the bombs that would destroy them if they were alone.