Elliot was frustrated. Hell, it was a lot more than that. He was annoyed, incensed, disappointed beyond expression, let down by his hunches and his instinct, crushed, angry with the world, numb. He was all these things at once and they seemed to combine into a molten ball of feeling inside his chest. He gave voice to it with his fists, his straining muscles, his blood. But now that the suspects were gone, locked up or breathing their shaky relief in arm chairs at home, Elliot was left with the roiling mass of emotion becoming stagnant and sour inside his rib cage. It was like the earth so many billions of years ago, a sphere of burning metal that held the shape from its very energy, its being. That slowly was compressed and covered with rock and sand that felt cold to touch. The heat within remaining but contained, confined in the frozen casing. Forged from the lonely air in the squad room, the washed out desk lamp and the pale light that lay itself placidly down on the tacky floor from the hall. The greyness and chill of the night.
He picked up a couple of papers and looked over them, not registering the words or the official print. Meaning wasn't something he was looking for here. The light from the desk lamp made the pages glow a stale yellow and he stared at them with little inclination to read what horror they communicate though he felt no urge to put them down, either. He just stood next to his desk, allowing himself to be cold. To not feel. Until he heard the uneven beat of footsteps coming down the corridor. He looked up at the doors and sure enough, the base light was soon eclipsed by the shape of their ADA, Casey Novak.
She looked unhuman. Elliot swore he'd never seen someone so … emaciated by the job. They'd all had it rough. Olivia hadn't slept a full eight hours in months, Elliot knew. Fin alternated between depression and anger about his relationship with his son and their erratic meetings. Munch hardly spoke anymore, not even to warn them against the dangers of drinking coffee that had most likely been tampered with by the Government. He himself spent every night staring into space or sitting in his children's empty rooms. With a bottle to keep him company. But Casey looked like complete hell.
"Oh … Elliot. I didn't expect you here so late." Her voice was tired, clipped, barely a voice at all. A dull imitation of human expression. Elliot watched as she pushed her hair behind her ear in a robotic gesture and he almost shuddered at the bones that announced themselves in her wrist. His eyes travelled over her body, well covered by the wrinkled power suit but still displaying all the evidence of her late nights, visits to crime scenes, days without food. His gaze stopped at her eyes. Blue met blue and they acknowledged one another. She wasn't really surprised to see him there. He wasn't surprised to see her either. He couldn't help be horrified at what they, she, had become but it was a dull thought, like everything else. They were waiting for Armageddon.
"I have some forms for you, Counselor." Elliot replied, indicating the paper in his hand with his mind and no movement. He heard her sigh a little but move forward immediately, mechanically. He watched the light sink into her now blonde hair and thought that he had no idea why she changed it. Probably Alex's ghost haunting her. As she did them all. He still heard Olivia cry when they were in the Crib together, trying to get some sleep to keep their bodies working through their current tragedy. Every gunshot wound made her wince and he no longer touched her arm to comfort her anymore. They were all too far gone.
"Hand them over, Detective." Elliot gave her the papers and watched her eyes lose focus several times before she forced them to recognise the characters on the page. The dark circles beneath her eyes made Elliot think of death and drink. His eyes had nothing on hers for fatigue. And yet she scanned the page with speed.
"I don't want these." She handed them back with a smile that had no happiness to it, no mirth. It was just an empty gesture, a nod to times when they did smile freely. All those years of corpses, victims, blood, bruises and scars … they had finally caught up to everyone. And, although Casey had only been with the squad for three years and not seven like Elliot and Fin and John and Olivia, she seemed to be suffering the most. She turned and moved towards the door, skirting the desk carefully. He imagined if she caught her hip on the edge that she'd just collapse. She looked like she was made of matchsticks.
"When was the last time you ate, Casey?" Elliot's voice was hollow and Casey turned to it with a blank look on her face. As their eyes locked again, Elliot understood just how much she didn't care anymore. The thing that kept the group alive and kicking as they endured being involved with situations no human being should be subjected to once in their life, let alone every day, was the passion they held. Elliot's father had been an officer and so he entered the family business. Quickly, his reason for staying changed. He wanted to protect people that had no one else. Olivia's drive was misguided, fathered by hate, but it made her a damned good cop. Now the reasons they did what they did were blurred, melted, reduced to nothing but a stain on a wall by the things they saw each day. Babies raped, children used as drug mules and then butchered as the goods were retrieved, women who were beaten every single day of their married lives until they couldn't take it anymore. Failing that, a quick end to the cruelty with a bullet, every member of the Special Victims Unit kept going. Pushing. Lost souls now with nowhere to go.
"When was the last time you fell asleep without a little help from Jack?" Casey answered the question with her own and it contained the challenge of an attorney. But again her eyes gave her away. She didn't care what his answer would be. She was just deflecting. She wouldn't let him try his fatherly routine on her. It interfered with work.
"How do you …" Elliot was cut off by a silent wave of the hand. Casey's pale skin seemed better suited to a morgue than the squadroom.
"Scotch is the universal antidote, Elliot." She watched him watching her. Breathing was difficult, as usual, but she didn't care if he saw her chest rise and fall erratically. Damn it, they knew each others secrets, problems, safety nets. He probably didn't know she'd started sliding her fingers over her tongue every night when she got home, purging herself of feeling. Well, every night … it had changed to every spare moment she had. In the courthouse, at the office. She would just retch and cough until she couldn't feel anything anymore. It never lasted. But she could do it more often when she drank water. Even that escaped her now and she felt lighter than air when she cared to notice herself. For a while she had replaced the water with alcohol but it clouded her nutrition starved mind in the courtroom and burned even more when she indulged her addiction again. She'd had to ease up on her self medicating in the last month as she hardly ever had anything to rid herself of. So she worked harder.
"Do you think it'll end?" Elliot's question was grey and formless. Casey knew what he meant. And she didn't have an answer. All the nights spent crying her heart out when she first transferred to SVU had not yielded that answer, though the question was slightly different then. And all the days of eating air and seeing names, faces, letters, numbers and nothing else didn't help her either. She had survived but only just. And there was still no answer apparent.
"I don't know, El…" Her voice cracked and she looked almost surprised at the sound. There was a moments pause and Casey tried to breathe deeply, re-establish her control but she couldn't find it. She couldn't find the lead that she would always pick up, always held close by her side, that connected her to the mainframe of coldness, influence and immovable strength that was the DAs office, the Law, her world.
Confused, scrabbling for a new connection and breathing even more erratically than before, her gaze dropped to Olivia's desk. Almost right by Elliot, on her friend's desk … once her friend, before they became ghosts … was a small plush toy. A bear. Pink. Casey took a few careful steps closer, momentarily transfixed by this object. She'd seen them before; they were given to newborn babies in the Infants Ward at Mercy, tied to the railings of their tiny beds. Pink for a girl, blue for a boy. The newest case they'd been handed … Oh no. Casey tried to breathe … a baby girl … it wasn't working … only 5 months old … she felt dizzy, sick … raped and cut … Oh Jesus, she was gasping for air … left by a dumpster … she choked on a sob that hurt her chest … found in a muddy puddle four days later … she could feel the tears burning her eyes, gracing her skin … she'd bled to death … tears like acid, sobs like punches … after two days of living in agony.
Casey shuddered as it all began to hit her. She looked up at the detective in front of her, the small spark of emotion in his eyes, and begged.
"Elliot…" It was almost a whisper, a gasp, a plea. A second later, he reacted, moving forward in two short steps to catch Casey as she fell. As soon as his arms were wrapped around her, she broke. Crying so hard, breath hardly entering her body, she felt as if she was flying and falling at once. Sobs wracked her body and she was in so much pain … but the screams and the cries, half muffled by Elliot's strong chest and shoulders, had nothing to do with that. She couldn't take it. None of them could. How the fuck were they meant to carry on? In a world so full of hatred and pain and sadistic unfeeling BASTARDS who could harm a BABY, Elliot? An innocent child…
As she dropped from the utter exhaustion of her actions, Elliot went with her. They slid down the side of the desk and he cradled her like one of his children after a nightmare. But it hasn't ended. They were living the nightmare and nothing could make it stop.
"Oh god …" Casey cried, her arms around Elliot's neck, her cheek pressed to his chest. She felt him kiss the crown of her head, felt his arms around her. How tightly he was holding onto her, as if he could cure all the problems in the world just by keeping her close. But every thought lead to a dead end. Pain. Fear. Sorrow. Blood. Violence. Drugs. Alcohol. Rape. Rape. Hurting… And she cried harder and harder until she had nothing left. Was nothing more. A last strangled sob and she was quiet.
Elliot felt the slight change in Casey, heard her cease sound and movement. He reached down and gathered her legs up so her was holding all of her close to him. She'd passed out but she could be dead, for all it was worth. At least she would be free that way, Elliot thought. He shifted her head upwards a little, so she would be more comfortable. He rested his cheek on her auburn hair and adjusted his hold on her, pulling her limp form closer.
He couldn't change a thing. They were stuck. There was nothing any one of them could do to stop the wheel turning. The only way to get off this ride was death. And he wasn't sure that they all weren't headed to an early grave. He ran his fingers over Casey's knuckles and felt the texture of scar tissue. Lucky she's pale, he thought, otherwise Olivia would have noticed earlier and tried to pull her motherly act on their young ADA. He understood her coping mechanisms as she understood his. While the others did too, they hadn't reached the place he and Casey had. Though he certainly wasn't sure if that was a good thing.
So Elliot stayed, supported against his desk, with Casey in his arms. The lights stayed pale, dim against the darkness they could not ward off. The voices called and Elliot tried to dismiss them. But, of course, he couldn't. All he could do, in his small fight against a world of terror and hate, was to hold this woman as damaged as he in the moment. Until something broke. Until the phone rang, hailing another soul's arrival in Hades.
Another poetic ideal. Hell wasn't the afterlife. Hell was what they lived every single day. Simply being alive made them envy the dead.
No redemption for the Angels of Death.