He reached out, his hands especially gentle against the bruised flesh on her shoulders.
Her sharp, terrified cry scared him. Hearing her voice, warped by fear into a high pitched shriek, stabbed him through the heart. It wasn't just that she was frightened; it was that she was frightened of him. She didn't know his touch. She didn't trust it.
He lifted his hands before she could shrink out from below them. He didn't want the image of her recoiling from him in his head with the sound of her scream. "Shhh, Liv, it's just me."
But she'd already fled, spinning to press her back against the wall. She was out of breath from the exertion, but she was hyperventilating from the fear. Her eyes were wide and unseeing as tears filled them.
In all their years together, he'd seen his partner cry. She'd seen him cry as well. But she'd never cried because he'd touched her. She'd never cried because she'd been afraid of him. It took his breath away to see her, his strong, proud, unbreakable partner, scared and trembling and crying.
He felt his own tears welling up, his emotions, as always, mirroring hers. "Liv?"
She met his eyes then, seeming to recognize him and come back to herself from wherever she'd been in that moment. "El?" Her knees folded under her and he could only watch as she slipped to the ground; he was too afraid to scare her again by reaching for her. She looked down as she curled her legs into her chest and buried her face in her knees. "Oh, god."
As though he hadn't already seen and heard enough to break him just then, her despair finished him off. He sank down beside her, hovering as close as he dared. "Talk to me, Liv. Tell me what happened."
She shook her head without looking up. "I can't." Her voice sounded broken, pained, unsure.
"He can't hurt you anymore, Liv. You're safe." He hadn't consciously done it, but he'd changed his voice. He was using the soft, soothing tone he reserved for rape victims and abused children. He hated having to use it on her.
She looked up then, unashamed of her tear-stained face. "He doesn't need to hurt me anymore." Her chin trembled and she glanced away. "He already did enough."
Biting his lip, he fought a silent war inside himself, unable to give into the desperate urge to wrap his arms around her. He forced himself to speak, realizing his words were the only way he had to give her comfort since his touch would hurt her. "Tell me, Liv. Tell me what he did to you." Forgetting entirely for a moment, he reached for her, his hand sliding over hers, his fingers slipping between hers.
Her eyes found his, maybe keeping her grounded enough to not jerk away from his touch. She sniffled, her face suddenly appearing young and innocent and terribly hurt, yet somehow still hopeful. It was the way his kids had always looked at him when they were hurt or sick, expecting him to fix it and make it all better.
It was the first time he'd ever seen the utter faith she had in him.
It was devastating to know he had to let her down. He couldn't fix what had happened to her; he couldn't give her back what Harris had stolen.
But he could listen and Fin had been right about her needing to talk. So he squeezed her hand, trying to reassure her. "It's ok, Liv. I've never had any doubt that you could do your job. You're the strongest person I know and nothing you tell me is going to change that."
She shook her head and it nearly broke his heart to see her trying to brush it aside. "I can't, El. I don't want to think about it." Her hand was returning the pressure of his gentle squeeze and then some.
"You're thinking about it anyway, Liv." His hand was aching from the way she was crushing it, but he said nothing, refused to give anything away in his face.
She squeezed her eyes closed, probably unaware of the way her body tried to fold further in on itself. "He's in my head. It's like I can't think of anything else." She pulled her hand free, wrapping both arms around her stomach and resting her forehead on her knees. She spoke again, her quiet, defeated voice lost against her skin.
He leaned toward her, unable to stop himself from touching her hair, letting his hand brush across the short strands ever so lightly. "I can't hear you, Liv."
Raising her head seemed to be quite a task for her, taking a long time and a deep sigh before it finally came to rest leaning back against the wall. "I don't want to talk about it. I don't want to think about it."
"Maybe if you talk about it you'll be able to stop thinking about it." He could barely keep a straight face as he said the words, knowing that he'd spent his entire life trying to avoid discussing his feelings.
His partner found the same humor in his words, a grin tugging at her face. She glanced at him, remaining silent for a long time. "I always thought my head was messed up, that I was messed up. I figured with my mother's drinking and my father's –" She shook her head. "I thought I had enough shit in my head, from work too, all those victims." One of her red, swollen hands moved over her face, swiping at her tears. "Now I'd give anything just to have my head the way it was. It was already too crowded. I don't have room for him too."
He thought about her words, understanding her desire to return to where she'd been. All victims wanted to go back to the way they were, but Olivia herself had told countless victims that would never happen. Elliot couldn't bring himself to tell her that same thing. "Maybe if you tell me, it'll help get rid of him."
Her face, which had relaxed into a tired, blank stare, immediately twisted back into a scowl as her eyes found his. "What the hell? Do you want the gory details? Why do you want to know so bad?"
It sent a chill through him to hear her say that, to accuse him of being eager, to imply she expected him to enjoy hearing about her attack. He shook his head, pride telling him to look away while he fought back tears.
But he realized quickly they were probably exactly what she needed to see. So he turned back to face her, watching her face soften the slightest bit at the sight of him crying.
"No, I don't want to hear it." His voice cracked and he took a long time to gather himself together. "I don't want to think about it either. I don't want to think about someone hurting you like that. But you can't keep it inside. You can't let him make you feel ashamed." His hand moved again, of its own accord, tracing lightly over her jaw. "You don't have to be ashamed in front of me, Liv. Not over this. Not over anything."
Her eyes turned away, her stare drifting off to some unseen corner of the room. But she hadn't gotten up and walked away, which was how Olivia communicated that she was done discussing something with him. So he waited, offering her his presence, hoping it gave her some comfort, knowing that simply sitting beside her was always soothing to him.
When she finally spoke, her voice was soft and hesitant. "I missed you."
He didn't need to speak; his confusion was spelled out across his face.
She only barely glanced at him, her cheeks reddening. "I'm so used to you being there. You're always beside me." She gulped, clearing her throat, failing to keep her voice from choking anyway. "When I knew I couldn't get away from him, when he had me cuffed to the door, I just kept screaming." The tears were streaming freely and she didn't bother to wipe at them. "And I wanted you there so badly."
A stabbing pain shot through him as he processed what she was saying, what she was admitting. When she was hurt and helpless and terrified, he was the person she wanted to see. He was the person she thought would rescue her. And he hadn't been there.
She turned to look at him again. "That's pretty sad, isn't it? I knew the place was locked down. I knew you couldn't get in, even if you knew what was happening, but I just-" She bit her lip, lowering her eyes. "I guess I'm not as independent as I thought, huh?"
He touched her again, his fingers grazing her chin, guiding her gaze back at him. "You were scared, Liv. It's not sad or weak. You expected your partner to be there. I wish I had been."
She nodded. "Me too. It might have made me feel better to watch you tear him limb from limb." She hazarded a small smile.
He grinned back. "And I would have too." The idea that he'd lose control protecting her wasn't new to either of them, but the spoken acknowledgement was. He was glad for it, for the fact that she wasn't insulted by his loyalty to her.
But her mind was elsewhere, suddenly sending the conversation spiraling somewhere Elliot hadn't been expecting.
"He said he'd kill me if I bit him."
Because it was unexpected, Elliot took a minute to comprehend what she was telling him. As it clicked, as he understood what she was reveling, he thought he might vomit. The idea, an idea he worked with so often that it had long since stopped having any meaning, was so abhorrent, so filthy, that his stomach clenched. He was shaking as he realized he finally had the piece that had been missing from the puzzle, the piece that explained how Olivia had known what would prompt Ashley to remember, the piece that revealed how terribly close the brush had been, the piece that told him Olivia would never been the same again.
His hand cupped her cheek, leaning toward her, seeing her tears, showing his to her. "Olivia, did he-"
Her chin, her lips, her whole face, twisted and shook as she fought to find words. "He had my face in his hands and I couldn't stop screaming even tough I knew shutting my mouth was the only defense I had left." She stopped for a moment, needing a breath to struggle through her words.
"I don't even remember when Fin came in. He was just there all of a sudden." She reached out for the first time, her fingers gripping his shirt. "I'm so glad he got there. He was there when he needed to be, but-"
Elliot choked on his own words, needing to know, yet not sure he'd be able to stand the answer. "But Harris didn't-"
She shook her head, lowering her gaze even as her fist stayed locked around his shirt. "Fin was there."
He nodded, wondering for a moment if Fin would object to Elliot laying a big, sloppy, wet kiss on him in the bullpen. Elliot had never been so willing to proclaim his love for a man in his entire life. "Fin was there." His hand moved to cover her fist, promising her that he wasn't going anywhere.
She repeated herself and him, as though trying to get the words to sink in. "Fin was there."
"Good. That's good." Elliot might start a petition to canonize St. Fin of the Holy Timing.
Her next words nearly stopped his heart.
"But I wanted you."
He tried to process it. He tried to understand. Fin had done what he needed to do. Fin had protected her. So that couldn't be what her problem was. Elliot knew that Olivia wouldn't be embarrassed to be upset in front of Fin, so that couldn't have been the problem either.
He could only think of one other thing, one thing that ventured too close to that line they never dared acknowledge, let alone approach. But it was the only thing he could come up with. So he went out on a limb.
"I'm here now."
She took a deep breath, realizing Elliot had understood what she was trying to say, realizing Elliot was accepting it, realizing that Elliot was responding in kind. She nodded, the pain and fear beginning to pale in comparison to the rapid, nervous beat of her heart. "You're here now."
Her hand was still holding his shirt. His hand was still wrapped around hers. And then, so gently she barely felt it, his thumb stroked across the back of her hand. Her eyes moved from his hand to his eyes and back again. Too much and too little at the same time. The tingle from that sweet touch was so overwhelming she felt it crushing the gross, dirty way Harris had touched her.
His other hand moved toward her, his fingers brushing her hair back from her face. She met his gaze again and he smiled, inclining his head. "Come here."
She'd wanted to hear those words from him so much and for so long that she wouldn't let herself second guess them. She wouldn't let herself think about it. She shifted over, stretching her sore, battered arms around his neck, melding her body against his, dropping her face into his neck, allowing herself to draw from his strength. She couldn't think about it or its ramifications. She needed to heal first and she needed him to do that.
His hands moved around her, cradling her as gently as he could, knowing every part of her body hurt. One hand cupped the back of her head, the other held her waist, keeping her close to him. He turned his face, pressing a kiss against her temple. "I'm here now."
She nodded, suddenly too tired, too worn out both physically and emotionally, to talk anymore. Summoning all of her strength, she put everything in one more statement. "I love you."
"I know." And apparently he did, because the words hadn't caused him to jump up and run away. "I love you too, Liv."
Her head lifted, surprise at his words giving her the strength to move. Although she was in his arms, practically in his lap, and had just pulled her face out of his neck, she wasn't quite prepared for how close their faces were. The intimacy of their position struck her and had it been anyone else, she would have felt uncomfortable in light of her encounter with Harris. But it wasn't anyone else. It was Elliot. And her trust in him was so complete that the fear was draining away.
For a long moment, she stared at him, questioning why she'd been so surprised to hear, to say, something that seemed so obvious in retrospect. Eventually it dawned on her that she'd only been shocked that they'd so easily vocalized something that they'd always known. And it helped her understand why she'd wanted him there so badly when she'd been facing Harris.
Because she'd been scared.
Because he loved her.
Because she'd known it all along.
One side of his mouth twitched up in a smile, his voice light and teasing as he dared to break the silence. "If you really want to get stronger, bulk up some, I can help you, but this-" He reached behind himself, gently pulling one of her arms between them and lifting up her hand. "This is not the way to go. Trust me."
Embarrassed at her attempt to beat the pain out of herself, she ducked down. "Yeah, my hands really fucking hurt."
He chuckled, keeping the I told you so from spilling out. "Want me to get you some ice?"
She shook her head, curling her head down, tucking her forehead into his neck again. "I just want to stay here for a while."
His arms tightened around her as his chin came to rest on top of her head. "Anything you want."
An hour or so later, curiosity got the best of him. Fin had watched two of his coworkers disappear up the steps and there was no way out of the building besides back past him. He followed their path, quietly checking everywhere they might have been.
He peered through the door to the gym, recognizing the two figures who'd snuggled so close they appeared to only be one. He had to smile as he saw Elliot move to press his mouth against hers. He carefully let the door close, preserving their privacy, trusting Elliot to help Olivia regain her strength and belief in herself. Fin had done what he needed to and it had worked out for everyone. He had every intention of closing his walls back around himself and staying out of everything he possibly could.
But not before he taunted his former partner with a secret he would never, ever reveal.