Any romantic impulse he might have had to play hero, any primal urge to continue to take care of her himself was now being castigated by his practical, rational side. The side of him that recognized that these medics were going to save her life. That if she lost consciousness again, there was now some chance they'd get her back. That if she had another seizure, they would know what to do.
Most of all, that these people, unlike himself, might be able to do something about her pain.
Not that this meant he wouldn't be by her side throughout. He was already plotting how to ensure he was able to stay with her once they arrived. God help them if they tried to shoe him away. He would play every card he had – bully whomever he had to, pull rank, beg, threaten, lie. Make up any story – tell them it was standard procedure in New York City for loved ones to stay with victims at all times. Emphasize New York City. Hope that this sort of talk intimidated them. And if it didn't, he'd play the NYPD card. The detective card. The SVU card. Tell them she was SVU, that this is what she would want. Tell them their captain was on the way, that he would confirm this policy. This policy in New York City.
He couldn't bear the thought of her opening her eyes to find people – men – standing over her, talking about her, discussing her. Pulling off the blankets. Touching her. Without him there to reassure her they were there to help her. Of her not being lucid enough to understand this on her own.
And he still didn't know who the bastards were who had done this to her. Though they were likely uneducated, unemployed low-lifes,it was not inconceivable they worked in the hospital. An orderly, a maintenance guy.
If he had to, he would use force.
His dad was pulled up next to her, sitting by her head on her left side, holding her hand. She was fully conscious again, though her eyes were still closed. One of the EMT's, Charlie, was fiddling with her right arm, putting it into a more sophisticated splint. Dickie noticed how he raised his eyebrows when he saw how bad the break was. The lead EMT, who had introduced himself as John Tassler, was prepping to start an IV.
Carefully yet purposefully, Tassler grasped her good arm, even as his dad continued to hold her hand. She tried to pull her arm away, struggled.
Tassler, unfazed, tried to calm her down. "Olivia, my name is John. I'm a paramedic. I'm going to start an IV on you. You're just going to feel a slight prick, ok?"
She thrashed her head, whimpering through the oxygen mask. "Mmmph… mmmph… mmmph..."
By the look of terror on her face, Dickie realized she wasn't afraid of a needle; she thought she was being attacked again.
His father now took the lead, spoke straight into her ear. "It's okay, he just wants to start an IV… it's okay… shh… it's over… I'm right here with you, sweetheart."
Dickie was amazed by how easily the injuries could affect her sense of reality.
She moved her good arm again, trying to get it out of Tassler's grasp.
His dad took the lead. "Here, I've got it." Using both hands, he easily overpowered her and firmly held her arm down wrist-to-elbow, flat on the clean white sheet. Tassler seized the opportunity, plunged the syringe. She struggled, gurgling in panic through the mask. A lone tear escaped her eye.
His dad glanced apologetically up at Tassler. "Sorry about that – I don't think she really knows what's going on. She's been drifting in and out all morning."
Tassler completed the injection, nodded sympathetically. "No need to apologize. I've been doing this eighteen years. Before I came here, I was in Philly. So I've handled… cases like this before. If she was totally with it, she wouldn't need us in the first place."
He'd betrayed her. Apologizing to Tassler for her behavior, like she were a petulant child at the pediatrician's office refusing to get a needle.
He certainly didn't blame her for not wanting to have her arm poked and prodded, for being in too much pain, or for feeling too sick, to have the presence of mind to understand they weren't going to hurt her. But he'd been so grateful to have finally gotten her the medical attention she needed, he had suddenly worried – absurdly, in retrospect – that she might sabotage it, as though a paramedical professional might grow annoyed and change his mind about helping her. It had been irrational and impulsive – probably attributable to his own shot nerves and stressed frame of mind.
But it was still no excuse.
Don't you dare humiliate her like that again. She gets the right to hate this. The paramedic shouldn't have to tell you this.
Tassler looked like a nice guy. Seemed like they could trust him. Like he genuinely wanted to help her. Charlie too. Looked like his dad agreed, as he was allowing the two men full access to her – to touch her, prod her, even pull down the blanket to examine her upper chest, though this required a whole new level of coaxing to calm her down, reassure her no one was trying to hurt her. He knew that his dad wouldn't allow anyone he didn't completely trust to get near her.
Which was why he'd refused help from that policeman.
Officer Jackson. That was his name. Dickie hadn't liked the guy. He was nothing like his dad – hadn't shown a lot of concern, seemed to be just doing his job. And at that, not very well. Why had he waited so long to tell them he wasn't able to call the ambulance? It was almost as if he hadn't intended to tell them…
And he also couldn't believe how brazen the guy had been about touching himself. Dickie hadn't realized adults did that too… But that fact notwithstanding, it was certainly not something he ever imagined one would do in a car. Even more puzzling was how the guy could want to do it. Mere yards away had lain a bleeding, beaten woman. How could he…. get himself going? Wouldn't such a sight extinguish those… feelings?
It didn't make sense.
He thought he should tell his father about the policeman, but it didn't seem like now was the time. Also, since he wasn't a hundred percent sure the guy had been about to do that, and since he wasn't sure his dad would approve of his knowing what that was, he decided to keep his mouth shut. His dad had enough going on as it was.
The IV was now implanted in her arm, and she seemed to finally settle down. Tassler was still hovering around – checking her oxygen, adjusting the IV, preparing to listen to her heart. Charlie had finished with her arm and was changing the gauze on her wrists.
His dad held her hand, continued to talk to her in that calm, soothing voice. It was working, he could tell, for she wasn't flinching as much at Tassler's touch.
Suddenly, as if in a trance, she began to move her left hand. Dickie watched as she slowly grasped his father's hand in hers, then guided it over her stomach like a waistbelt. His dad had to quickly jerk his seat closer to her, as he realized what she was trying to do.
He watched his dad close his eyes at this, like he was meditating. Then his father leaned in, gave her a soft kiss on her temple. "It's going to be okay, honey. We'll get through this. I'm here with you. I love you."
Somehow, the words never got tired.
She didn't like being touched by anyone but him. She knew he wouldn't lie to her, that if he told her that these men weren't going to hurt her, that she could trust him. And so far this other person – John? – had a friendly voice.
But it didn't matter. She still didn't like it. And she wished her brain weren't so muddled so she could be sure this wasn't a dream.
Because the vision had upset her terribly. Right before they'd put her in the ambulance, she'd thought she'd seen one of them. But she knew it couldn't be true, that she'd hallucinated, because Elliot wouldn't have let him get near her.
She felt ridiculous and ashamed that she was already letting them win. That she couldn't even make it to the hospital without thinking they were still after her.
It was just another lesson. Another in a long line of brutal lessons the fates seemed to want to teach her today. About what she'd chosen to do with her life. About how wrong she'd been about certain things. About how she hadn't really understood.
All that drinking… It was to make this kind of fear go away…
It helped to have pulled his arm over her, even if it aggravated her bruises. She felt more protected. And though twenty-four hours ago she would have scoffed at the idea, protection was something she desperately craved right now.
She didn't like the mask. The air it was providing was luxurious, and her lungs were grateful. But it exacerbated her sense of helplessness. She felt like a baby, unable to talk, unable to communicate.
And she needed to get that mask off to tell him.
Tell him that she hadn't liked that cop's voice. That it had scared her. Reminded her of the attack, made her feel ashamed, though she didn't know why.
She didn't think the cop had tagged along with them in the ambulance, but her eyes were too heavy to check for herself. She wanted to ask Elliot, but she couldn't with the mask on.
There was a brush of cold air; someone was pulling her covering down. Her upper chest was exposed. Something freezing, something metallic, suddenly touched her there, and she flinched violently.
Startled, Elliot jumped. "It's okay! It's okay, it's okay, he's got a stethoscope. They have to listen to your heart." Elliot leaned closer to her ear. "Hold onto my hand," he whispered, "I've got you."
She held on for dear life.
A stethoscope. Only a stethoscope… He's here… It's not happening again…
"Pulse is stable, airway sounds clear. All right, she's not in shock."
There was whispering around her now. She heard Elliot's voice, talking to John. And then, movement around her feet.
Suddenly, a hand was beneath her knees, raising them.
"Here, help me."
Two of them were touching her now, tugging at her knees. Lifting the blanket.
"Whaddaya know, no panties! Little whore can't wait to be fucked…"
She didn't want to kick them. She had learned her lesson the last time.
Just let it happen… It's better than the wood…
They were opening her legs.
She tried to resist, but they were too strong. She tried to scream, but nothing came out. She was gagged again.
No no no no no no stop, stop please… Please don't let it happen again…
A rough, scratchy hand on her inner thigh. A man's.
Please, this time just kill me.
And then, his voice, telling her it was okay. She thought his voice must be a dream. There were other voices too, telling her it was okay. Nice voices. Not calling her slut, bitch, whore. She wasn't being hit.
But it didn't matter. They were still touching her.
"Tell me how much you liked it. Tell me to fuck you again."
Her right leg flew up into the air.
A voice cried, "Whoa!"
Her heart raced, the blood rushed to her face, as she realized her mistake and lost herself in panic.
"I'm sorry!" she exclaimed through the mask, her voice muffled. "I'm sorry! Please don't use the…. Please…. Please, I'm sorry…"
There were hands grabbing her knees, her right leg, her foot. Pulling it back down.
Please, I'm sorry! Anything but the wood…
"Her pulse is up!"
His voice. "Stop it! Let go of her!"
Her knees being released.
So he was there. Her brain was so jumbled. She didn't know what to believe, what to trust.
"Olivia! It's okay! They're not gonna hurt you! They just need to make sure you're not still bleeding…"
The hand stroking her temple. The soft, hypnotic voice in her ear. "It's okay… it's okay… I'm right here… They're not gonna hurt you. It's over, it's all over now. It's just the medics. They should've asked you first. I'm sorry, honey – that's our fault."
The other voice. "You okay, Charlie?"
"Yeah, fine. She didn't touch me."
She tightened her grip around the hand on her waist.
Medics… It's okay… He's still here.
Through the mask, she began to cry.
The first voice. "Olivia, it's me, it's John. Remember? You're in an ambulance. I'm a paramedic. I need to take a look between your legs, because you're bleeding. All I'm going to do is stop the bleeding. It's all I'm going to do. I won't hurt you."
His voice. "Honey, he just needs to stop the bleeding, okay? Squeeze my hand if you understand. He won't do anything until you squeeze my hand. You're in control now, okay?"
They needed to check. They needed to look. Because of the wood. The piece of wood he'd used on her. To make her bleed.
You have to let them. Squeeze his hand.
She didn't want to. She didn't want anyone to see what they'd done to her.
"They're not gonna hurt you," Elliot whispered. "They just need to check you…"
No, no, no, I don't want this…
She sobbed through the mask, humiliated. "No," she moaned. She shook her head. "No, no, no…."
"Sir, if she's been bleeding this long, we have to do something immediately," she heard Tassler address Elliot. "We can sedate her – "
"Wait, hold on." She felt Elliot's breath against her ear. Gentle, patient. "Liv? It's me. It's Elliot. I know you don't want this, I know, sweetheart. But they have to stop the bleeding. I'm right here." He paused. "Liv? Do you understand?"
Tears streamed down her face. She did understand. But she still didn't want it. "No," she repeated.
"Liv?" Elliot tried again. "Liv, do you trust me?"
Of course she trusted him.
"Liv, I promise, I promise I won't let them hurt you." His soft palm cupped her temple. "It'll be over before you know it. I'll be right here with you."
She knew she didn't have a choice. He would not forgive her if she bled to death.
Resigned, she squeezed his hand.
"Dickie, turn around." And then: "Focus on my voice. I'm right here. It's almost over."
They started to raise her knees, open them. There was a rush of cold air.
And for the second time since she'd been found, she submitted.
The sheer brutality of what had been done to her was brought home to him all over again as Tassler forced her legs opened and she squeezed his hand in a death grip. It broke his heart. She was in agony. Not only mentally, but also physically. He had thought she didn't want this done because she was ashamed. This was surely part of it, but most of her refusal was a product of pain. He had promised her they wouldn't hurt her, but he'd lied. They just weren't hurting her on purpose.
On top of this, he was terribly worried about her. Apparently she was still bleeding – a lot. Tassler had had to replace the towel, and Elliot had caught a glimpse of the old one – a small beach towel now stained a deep, dark crimson, soaked all the way through.
And then there was the inadvertent wince on the EMT's face when he saw.
When Elliot had checked her earlier, he hadn't gotten a good look. She had started choking, and it was all he could do to quickly shove the towel between her legs and tend to her breathing.
Tassler hadn't had to say it aloud. The look on his face had said it all: she'd been raped violently and there was a lot of damage.
Elliot tried not to think about it.
One thing at a time. Let them stop the bleeding first, then we'll reassess. Whatever they can fix, they will. And whatever they can't, you'll work through it with her. She's alive, that's what matters.
Elliot looked down at her. She was lethargic again, wiped out from the forced examination. She turned her head sideways, let it droop lazily on the pillow. Her grip on his hand slackened. He was happy to let her rest.
The rhythm of the siren changed. They were approaching the hospital.
Elliot exhaled in profound relief. "We're here, baby," he whispered. "We're at the hospital. It's gonna be okay. I love you."
Suddenly, the machine started beeping frantically.
"She's crashing!" Tassler cried, just as the ambulance pulled into the bay.