Author's Note: Okay, so this is just a quick one shot that's been bugging me ever since Neal's comment on Twitter that Elliot supposedly already knew about Sealview in Smut. Hopefully, it will explain why he's being so insensitive, but I'm still clinging to the fact that even if he knows, they haven't actually talked about it. The characters and all but one line of dialogue aren't mine--wish they were, but they actually belong to Dick Wolf and his writers. Enjoy and let me know what you think...
"I don't know what's worse—not being able to remember your attack or not being able to forget it."
Elliot turned away from Olivia before the expression on his face registered in response to her words. He squeezed his eyes shut for a brief moment before turning back toward her. He didn't have the heart to tell her that he knew the answer to her question. He didn't have the heart to tell her the truth—that it was the unknown that frightened him far more than every case they'd ever worked.
He'd spent nine months trying to figure it out, trying to mold the images in his head into something that resembled the bits and pieces of the truth he did know. But no matter what happened, his mind managed to conjure up images that haunted him every time his eyes closed, that kept him awake every night—tossing and turning in a never-ending battle to overcome the unknown.
Because damn Harris for hurting her. Damn him for hurting her so much that she had withdrawn, isolated herself. Damn him for hurting her so much that she couldn't even look at him, couldn't sleep at night, couldn't eat during the day. Damn him for causing the inevitable flinch he'd begun to notice every time she slammed her cuffs on a perp.
Elliot turned his gaze straight in front of him before she noticed the far off expression on his face—before she noticed the desperation, the fear, the sorrow. Before she noticed that he'd lost his ability to function the moment he hadn't been able to protect her from hurting.
"All right, well, look…maybe she'll tell you more one on one," he answered quietly.
He watched her nod in determination, watched her disappear into Kelly's hospital room, and he swallowed hard. The only thing left for him to do was to allow her to keep her secret, to let her maintain her silence. All that was left was for him to pretend that nothing had ever changed. Because as hard as it was for him to watch her go through it all alone, he couldn't bear for her to realize that she couldn't handle it on her own. Because he knew that the only thing still holding her together was her belief that she didn't need to rely on anyone else. He didn't want to have to be the one to break that final piece. Anything had to be easier to handle than what that would do to her.
Because all along he'd known. He wasn't sure how. He wasn't sure when. But he'd known.
Nothing…I'm fine, El.
The words had shaken him to his very core because he knew she wasn't fine. Her eyes had stared straight ahead, an open pillar into a soul once filled with fire and determination. But now, they were empty. At first, he'd attributed it to the time undercover—time spent locked away in a jail cell, deprived of her civil liberties, forced to take on a persona that was at its heart the polar opposite of Olivia Benson. But little by little, nothing had changed. Little by little, the line between Olivia Benson and Katrina Rae Lewis became more obsolete until one flowed seamlessly into the other. Little by little, words thrown out in an interrogation with Lowell Harris took on new meaning.
But not the right to try and rape me.
He hadn't thought anything of the words at first. He had long since adjusted to the fact that dangling Olivia in front of a perp was common practice. He'd accepted it as a part of his job—being there to stop things from getting out of hand. But he hadn't been there. And suddenly, he had no idea what had happened in that basement. Suddenly, the same words that had been uttered over and over again scared the hell out of him.
It was the tired, drawn out eyes that got to him first—he'd known she wasn't sleeping, known that she'd spent far too many nights in the crib not wanting to be alone. He'd waited outside the door one night long after she thought he'd left, and he heard her restless cries. A fear of being alone, nightmares, depression…all were reactions associated with being a victim. They were reactions associated with rape trauma syndrome. They were not reactions associated with Olivia Benson.
He pretended he hadn't noticed a change as he sat beside her and listened to her tell him that things just hadn't worked out with Kurt Moss. He hated the fact that she hadn't told him about Kurt, but he hated the fact that she'd broken it off with him even more. Because he had no idea why. He had been afraid to ask for the truth—afraid to know why the longest relationship she'd ever had with someone else had dissipated in the aftermath of Sealview. He was afraid to challenge her, afraid to pry. He hadn't wanted to be next—hadn't wanted her to retreat into a solitude where she held him at a distance even more excruciating than the one between them now. Self medicating with alcohol, social isolation…he pretended not to notice.
As he stood next to her in the elevator outside of Christopher Ryan's hospital room, it took every ounce of restraint not to show any recognition when she told him that she'd cancelled yet another blind date. Lack of sexual desire…he pretended not to notice some more.
Later that same day he stared at a file at his desk when Cragen sent her home. He'd stared harder when she hadn't come back. But he never said a word.
He had been in court when he found out a rape crisis counselor had sought Olivia's help with a case. His heart dropped a little further when he realized he didn't recognize her name. Most others wouldn't have noticed. She knew he would. And he hadn't been ready to see the panic in her eyes as she tried to conceal the truth…or worse yet, the denial. He pretended not to notice.
He'd desperately wanted to be there for her, but he'd wanted someone to be there for her more. He'd swallowed his pride and called to ask Cragen for a couple of extra days of vacation when the trial wrapped up. And he'd said a silent prayer that she'd let Fin in. Because with Fin, there was no pretending that something hadn't happened. With Fin, there was no way she could deny the truth.
When his vacation time was up, he had come back. She had been there, but a stack of files piled up on her desk told him that Cragen had sent her home once again. Wordlessly, he'd grabbed half the stack and set to work at his own desk, burying his head in paperwork. It was easier that way.
Her voice shattered his reverie and pulled him back to the present time.
"Come on," she announced quietly, slipping in step behind him. "Riley Slade—he's a former colleague with a grudge."
It had been a long, drawn out case. It was hard on him. It was harder on her. And as soon as the door behind him flew open, he knew she had found out the truth.
"What the hell were you thinking?"
Elliot turned his head to meet her furious gaze, and he hesitated. His voice was perfectly calm, rational when he spoke. "I was thinking about getting a serial rapist off the street."
"I want to catch the guy as much as you do, but what about Laurel Andrews?" Olivia's voice rang out with a new sense of desperation. He struggled to identify it. All rationale was gone—it was a voice that knew injury, a voice that knew pain. It was a voice reverberating with uncertainty and truth all mixed into one. It wasn't the voice of his partner; it was the voice of a victim.
He drew himself to his feet to meet her at eye level. "How many times have you said confronting the attack is the only way to move on?" he demanded quietly.
He wasn't sure who the words were meant for as they escaped his lips. Apparently neither did she. He saw the terror that swept over her—a terror that he might find out the truth. He pretended not to notice. He saw the determination in her eyes, and he'd known. Known that she needed to hide it, known that she needed to pretend it had never happened, known that she needed to somehow prevent it from happening to others.
"Laurel doesn't have to move on. In her mind, she wasn't even raped." Olivia's voice was rising quickly, feverishly as she felt her control over the situation dwindling. And he watched her begin to slip. He watched the emotions swirling around her trap her in a dangerous race toward the truth. He hesitated. Suddenly he felt paralyzed with fear because he knew that the truth coming out now like this would destroy her—would leave her feeling completely vulnerable, completely exposed.
She needed to have that one little piece to herself. And he was the only one who could give it to her.
"Lutz will learn from his mistakes. He'll improve his m.o.—then we'll never get him." Elliot swallowed hard, forcing his voice to remain even. "You can't change what happened to Laurel."
He wanted to take back the words as soon as they left his lips, but he knew he couldn't. Because the only way to keep her secrets was to pretend he didn't know. It was the way they worked. She pushed—he pushed back harder. And no matter what he said, no matter how it sounded, she knew how to handle it. And she needed it—needed him to be pre-occupied with his credit card, needed him to ignore the changes in her behavior. She needed him not to know—not to know that she was suffering. Not to know when she faltered, or when she finally discovered that the victim across the room from her was nothing more than a mirror image of herself—a victim with the same fears and insecurities that kept her awake every night.
"I can protect her from the damage."
Elliot stared back at her. He couldn't let her know because he had failed her before. He hadn't been able to protect her from Harris, but he did have the responsibility to protect her now. Not from Harris—he'd managed to thrown the smug bastard behind bars nine months ago. But now, his responsibility was to protect her from herself. Because that was where the real damage started. That was where the line between Olivia Benson and victim began. There wasn't a damn thing Harris or anyone else could ever do that could come anywhere close to the damage Olivia Benson could do to herself.
It was his fault for letting it happen in the first place. And he'd be damned if he was going to let her suffer more now. He needed to know as much as he needed to breathe, but he knew he could never ask…could never let on that he knew the truth.
He watched her watch him out of the corner of her eye. He watched as she hesitated, watched as she waited for the moment when he would admit the truth. And he knew he had to make her believe her own truth was still buried. He swallowed hard. "No, you can't. You should know that better than anyone."
He watched the words wrap around her, crushing her with their weight. He watched them hurt her, watched them tear her apart. And somehow it was easier that way. Because she could bounce back from those words. It was easier for her to believe he didn't care than to realize that he cared too much to let her fight alone. And because she was nowhere near ready to admit she couldn't handle it herself. She wasn't prepared to admit she needed anyone. And he'd be damned if he was going to be the person to tell her that she did.
He turned away from her—away from the eyes that still haunted him, and he prayed silently—prayed that one of these days—somehow, sometime, somewhere, she'd eventually realize it was okay to ask for help. It was okay to tell the truth. But until then, he couldn't be the one to break her. He wouldn't be the one to break her. He'd never forgive himself if he did.