"Don?" Huang nudged the door open gently. He stood inside the doorway for a moment as if unsure how to proceed.
Cragen returned his hesitant stare. He sighed. "Just tell me. How bad is it?"
George allowed the door to fall closed behind him. "Are you sure you really want to know?"
Cragen shook his head. "No, I don't." He drew in a shaky breath. "But it's about time we stop running from the truth. Nothing is going to magically change overnight, and we have to start accepting that."
Huang nodded. "Well, none of you are dealing with what's happened. Fin is just plain angry, and you're never going to be able to heal until you stop blaming yourself for what happened. But I've got to tell you, I'm more concerned with John." Huang hesitated. "Don, I don't need to tell you that numerous studies have shown a genetic predisposition to depression."
The words sank in slowly. "You're talking about what happened with his father," Cragen acknowledged quietly. As soon as the words slipped from his lips, Cragen closed his eyes. When he opened them again, he studied Huang's face carefully. "George, mild depression is something that I expect most of this squad to experience after what happened, but are you telling me that this could be more serious than that? Do you really think that John might hurt himself?"
"I think that John realizes how much his father's suicide affected those that survived, and I think that he's fully aware of how what happened to Olivia is affecting him. He's afraid that this case may push him too far, and that's the reason he went back to Gwen. He was afraid to be alone."
"If you've got a suggestion, Doc, I'm all ears."
George nodded. "John is willing to talk about it, and I think I can help him through it, but it's going to take time. It's going to take time for all of you." George hesitated "And I can't do it alone. Don, this unit is like a family to one another, and that family is in pieces right now. They're all looking at you to help put those pieces back together."
"Olivia, we all need you to come back." Elliot drew in his breath sharply, searching her face for a response--not that he deserved one. Nothing he had said warranted a response from her. God, he was being selfish. He couldn't heal on his own, so once again he was asking her to do it for him, to help ease his own pain. "Damn it, Liv." He closed his eyes. "I'm sorry. That came out wrong." Even as the words slipped out, he felt the betrayal behind them. He was asking her to choose between something he couldn't even begin to understand.
"Elliot," Olivia began slowly, forcing him to look back at her. "I'm not doing this for myself. I'm doing it for you. How the hell am I supposed to watch your back if I can't hold myself together?"
"Liv, I trust you. No matter what happens, I'll always trust you."
"Elliot, I don't deserve that trust right now." She took a deep breath. "When we were in that house, I dropped my guard."
"What are you talking about, Liv?" Elliot stopped, the confusion on his face evident. "You're the one who got a confession out of Bradley. You're the one who found out the truth."
"Elliot, when Tucker shot you…" Her voice broke, replaced by the image that refused to fade from her memory.
She saw Elliot fall to the ground through a daze, and in a split second she knew what she had to do. Tucker's hand drew back slightly from the impact of the explosion. Every instinct, every bit of her training told her to fire her weapon and end it all. But in that moment, she knew with absolute clarity what she needed to do. Suddenly, she found herself staring at Eric Plummer. His words, not Tucker's filled her head. She could see Plummer's eyes, not Jamison's begging her to end it all.
She had let Eric Plummer win. She had lived with the guilt of that moment for the last four years. She couldn't give Tucker or Jamison the same satisfaction. She couldn't let either of them die knowing that they had destroyed her life, destroyed her partnership. As she heard the second shot ring out, she let her hand fall to her side and braced herself for what was to come.
"Olivia?" Elliot's words were quiet. She tore herself away from the memory of that moment. "You didn't know, did you?"
Olivia shook her head, wordlessly. "The minute I thought I lost you is the minute I stopped fighting back, Elliot."
"Can I help you with something?" Fin shifted slightly in his seat, examining the man who stood nervously next to his desk.
"Probably not. I don't know why the hell I came in here. I just thought…never mind." The man turned away quickly, taking a step toward the door.
"Whoa, hold on just a second." Fin motioned to the seat next to his desk. He surveyed the relatively empty bullpen. "Why don't you sit down and tell me why you're here."
The man dropped into the chair, finally allowing himself to look at the detective in front of him. "What's your name?" he asked cautiously.
Fin sighed. "Detective Odafin Tutuola. Call me Fin. And you are?"
"My name is Andrew Stephens. I'm…"
Stephens. Fin closed his eyes as the pieces fell into place. He quickly scanned his memory for the details of the case he and Munch were supposed to be working on. "You're Sarah's brother?"
Andrew nodded. "Yeah, listen. I should go. I'm sure you're really busy."
Fin met his eyes. "I know that what happened to your sister is really hard to deal with, and I'm sorry." He took a deep breath. "Sometimes we don't realize that it's not just the victim who is affected by what happened. It's pretty rough on the family too."
Andrew blew out the breath he had been holding. "I want to be there to help her, but I'm just so angry about what happened. And when I get angry, sometimes I say or do things that I don't mean. And…it just ends up hurting her more," he finished miserably.
Fin nodded. "It's easier to say the wrong thing than to try to make sense of what happened. And it's easier to push everyone away than to accept that you're each hurting in your own way."
"Yeah, I guess so." Andrew pulled himself up to his feet.
Fin reached out for his arm. "Just talk to her, Andrew. Tell her how you feel. Tell her that you're there for her." He took a deep breath. "And tell her that you understand if she's not ready to accept your help just yet. But make sure she understands that when she does, you'll be there for her."
"Can I come in?"
Munch shrugged his shoulders, moving aside to let Cragen pass through the doorway. "A house call. What did I do now?"
Don allowed a small smile to pull at the corner of his lips. "What makes you think you did anything wrong?" He surveyed Munch's house and realized for the first time that he had never been inside of it.
"Expecting something a little different, Captain?" Munch observed, his eyebrows raised as he watched his eyes scan over the living room.
"Maybe," Cragen answered hesitantly.
"Don't worry, Cap. I hid the razor blade and pill bottles before you came in," Munch cracked with a small smile.
Cragen sighed. "Am I that transparent?"
"You know men are statistically far more likely to choose more lethal methods of suicide."
Cragen rolled his eyes. "Maybe I just expected to see black helicopters parked in your living room?"
"Sorry to disappoint you. I must have scared them all away." Without missing a beat, Munch motioned toward the couch. Cragen eased himself down onto it. "So, you talked to Huang?"
Cragen hesitated. "I never said that."
"You didn't have to. It's written all over your face." Munch sighed. "I'm fine, Captain. I'll keep going in to see someone until I get through this."
Cragen nodded. "I know you'll be fine," he agreed softly. "But when you're not, you know where to find me."
"You know, Olivia, you don't have to fight this alone. I'm not going anywhere."
Olivia studied his face carefully. "And you don't have to fight your past alone, El." She drew in a shaky breath. "Why didn't you tell me about your father?"
He turned away from her, avoiding her gaze. "I don't know, Liv. My father and I never really saw eye to eye. The only thing that I ever really shared with him was this job. And even then, we've never been alike."
Olivia remained silent, waiting until he finally raised his eyes to meet her own. "El, is what happened with Jamison the reason you joined SVU?" she asked quietly.
Elliot nodded silently. "You know my entire life, nothing I ever did was good enough for him. And that case…it was the one time he screwed up. I thought that maybe I could finally make him proud of me for something."
"Elliot, I know that he never knew how to say it, but I'm sure your father was proud of you." Olivia tilted her head up, searching his eyes.
He let his shoulders fall forward. "Maybe, but I'll never really know for sure, Liv. I never really knew my father, and in a way, what happened in that house is the closest I've ever coming to understanding him."
Olivia nodded in agreement. There was a sadness behind his words that she understood all too well--words tinged in uncertainty and regret. "I never understood my mother until these past couple of weeks. How screwed up is that?"
"Speaking of your mother…" Elliot's voice softened. He passed an envelope over to her. "Melinda dropped this off and asked me to give it to you."
Olivia stared at the envelope in her hands. "That was fast," she commented quietly.
Elliot turned toward her inquisitively. "What is it, Liv?"
"I couldn't bring myself up to going back to the hospital for my follow-up so I had Melinda run some tests for me while she was testing for trace amounts of GHB in my hair." Olivia tore the envelope open carefully and lifted the single sheet of paper out, scanning it quickly.
"And…" Elliot prompted.
"Everything came back normal." Olivia sighed in relief. "And I'm not pregnant."
Elliot expelled the breath he had been holding. He turned back toward her hesitantly. "I just feel like what happened to you is somehow my fault. If it weren't for my father, none of this would have ever happened."
"El, you can't control what your father did any more than I can control what happened to my mother. And until you understand that, you're never going to be able to move forward."
"I just don't want you to ever regret me."
"El, I just need a little time to get through this. That's all." Olivia broke off as her phone vibrated against her hip. She pulled it out, fumbling with the buttons. "Damn new phone. I don't suppose CSU is ready to give me my old one back yet?"
Elliot grinned, reaching for her phone and pulling up the text message. "This may be your lucky day," he added, sliding the phone over in front of her.
"It's from Casey. Jamison's pleading guilty." Olivia stared at the message on her phone in disbelief. "How the hell did that happen?"
Elliot laughed. "Maybe Casey's working her magic over at Rikers."
Olivia rolled her eyes. "No offense to Casey, but something tells me that she's not the one behind it. I'd guess Tucker probably had more to do with it."
Elliot groaned. "Don't remind me. I'm having problems adjusting to the fact that Tucker's not quite as bad as we've always made him out to be."
Olivia grinned. "Well, if it makes you feel better, he did shoot you."
Elliot cracked a smile. "Exactly. So are you up for lunch?"
Olivia hesitated. "That depends. Last time you took me out to lunch, it was to a hot dog stand on the corner, and we didn't even have a chance to eat because we got called in on a case."
"That was not the last time I took you to lunch," Elliot insisted.
Olivia laughed. "Okay, so not quite, but that doesn't mean I'm going to let you forget it. I want a real lunch this time."
Elliot turned toward her. "If you want a real lunch, you have to actually put your shoes on," he added, nodding to her bare feet.
Olivia wiggled her toes in the water one last time. "Okay, I'll put my shoes on, and you can treat me to a real lunch," she agreed with a smile.
Elliot nodded and watched as she slid her feet back into her shoes and drew herself up to her feet. He fought back a smile. "So what do you think about Chinese?"
Olivia nodded in agreement as she followed him toward the car. "I guess that's an improvement over a hot dog stand."
"Good," Elliot responded, finally letting his lips curve upward in a smile. He glanced at his watch. "Because if my timing is right, Munch, Fin, and Cragen should be waiting for us back at the House. We've got Chinese and three weeks worth of cases to sort through when we get there."
Olivia arched her eyebrows. "You seem pretty confident I'm coming back to work," she noted as she slid into the passenger seat of the squad car.
"You know you can't stay away," Elliot argued smugly.
Olivia laughed. "So how bad did you guys screw up while I was gone?"
"You don't even want to know," Elliot groaned. "Let's just say, we're glad to have you back, Liv."
Author's Note: Thank you to everyone for sticking with me through this. It was my first fanfic, and I really appreciate all of the wonderful reviews. You've really inspired me and kept me going throughout this entire process.
A special thanks to my loyal reviewers--I will miss you guys. And as to those who have been reading, but haven't had a chance to review yet (I know, I'm guilty of that too, but really trying to be better about it), please let me know your final thoughts!