Knight In Armor

"When people go to work, they shouldn't have to leave their hearts at home." - Betty Bender

Her name is Allison and she's just turned four. Blonde whispy hair, big blue eyes. The kind of child people stop on the street and tell her parents how pretty she is.

But there's bruises marring that pretty face, livid purple stark against the porcelian skin. He can see the finger marks dug into the fragile arms covering her face as she huddles in the kitchen corner.

In the next room he can see Reed's fists clench as he fights to keep control, his jaw work as he reads the parents their rights and handcuffs them.

He kneels in front of Allison, slowly. He speaks her name gently, holds out a hand, palm upward, low as to not threaten. Her face lifts, bangs dancing across her forehead.

He watches with a faint sense of awe as her tiny hand curls around his fingers, so frail and injured. Awe because a child who has known more pain in four years than some people know in a lifetime still has the capacity to trust.

He doesn't reach for her so he's caught off balance when she throws herself against his chest, face buried into his shirt right below his badge.

He lifts her with the lightest of touches, standing up as her arms clamp around his neck like a boa constrictor, head turning into the hollow beneath his chin.

He rocks her like a newborn infant, holds her in that instant as if time has stilled and the world ended without his knowledge. He holds her as if he can erase those four years and give them back to her, as if he can assure her that the four and more ahead will be better, and as if he can give her the love and kindness she's never known.

He hears footsteps behind him and his head tilts toward the sound. It's the officer they requested, the one who will find her a foster home, someplace he prays where there won't be belts and fists but enough hugs to spare.

Her face is nestled into his neck, puffs of breath warm against his skin. She's crying, silently. The officer holds out her arms to take the child, face lined with sadness.

Pete wants to hold on, to take her away from all this and keep her safe. But he can't. Because there's a hundred Allisons out there right now and a hundred more tomorrow. And it's his job to try to save them all. He can't let it get to him, eat away at his insides.

So he does the hardest thing he can imagine. Before he walks away he tugs the little arms free of his neck and hands her over to the officer. He doesn't look back when she starts crying out loud.

In the morning he's back on patrol, handling call after call.

And when it gets to him, he never shows it.