Today, seeing her vulnerable in a way he'd never seen her before, seeing her need help in a way he'd never considered before, made him realize 'Holy shit! Olivia's a GIRL.'

He finally understood, if still didn't agree with, the attitude a lot of the guys had given him when they found out she was his partner, finally understood why Kathy had been uncomfortable with Olivia at first. She needed to get better quickly and go back to busting some balls because this soft and vulnerable Olivia was something he was not prepared to deal with.

Chapter 7

An hour later, Elliot sat in an uncomfortable plastic chair in the waiting room of the Mercy General ER. He shifted trying to get comfortable and looked down the hall towards where Olivia was on a gurney behind the curtain. They gotten through the line-up at the front of the ER pretty quickly, being a cop helped and luckily one of the nurses recognized them. At the front when they had taken her vital signs, the nurse had said her blood pressure was really low and her heart rate was high, which was probably why she kept almost passing out. She didn't have a fever though, not like before, just a slight temperature. They moved her back to one of the gurneys quickly and he'd been sent to sit on the plastic chairs. Finally, after what seemed like ages, a young nurse came to find him, saying Olivia was asking to talk with him. He stuck his head behind the curtain and found his partner laying on the gurney, her eyes closed while the same young nurse took her blood pressure.

"Hey," he said. "How're you feeling?" he asked.

"Meh," she shrugged. "Better, I guess, but still lousy. I don't know...I mean. I have no idea what happened today." She grimaced. "Sorry to put you through all this, you should go home, I'll be fine here."

He frowned at her. "No, I'll stay." He looked at the nurse. "How is she?"

"Well," she replied, "her heart rate's a lot better after the fluid we gave her, blood pressure's getting better too. She was really orthostatic."

Elliot looked at her with a blank look. That didn't mean anything to him and the nurse picked up on that. "It means that she was probably really dehydrated, every time she stood up there wasn't enough fluid in her so her blood pressure would go down and her heart rate would go up and 'whoop'" she made a gesture to indicate a fall. Elliot nodded, understanding. She went on "The doctor thinks it's probably a combination of the antibiotics giving her a lot of nausea, and pushing herself too hard, and not taking care of herself. It was like the perfect storm to make her a bounce-back." She gave Olivia a little smile. "But, she's young and healthy, so we'll keep her here for a while and tune her up, and hopefully get her on some drugs that will actually work. She'll be okay." She gave Olivia's hand a little pat and moved on to the next patient.

"See, I'll be fine," Olivia piped up. "Go."

Elliot looked at her like she was crazy. "What? And find you crumpled into a heap on the floor again? No, I'm staying." She gave him a dirty look, but didn't say anything right away.

Eventually, the silence got to her. "Look, El, I feel really bad about making you stay here, I don't need you to take care of me."

He didn't reply, just raised one eyebrow and looked at her smugly. She sighed again and crossed her arms, hugging herself for warmth; she was cold, the fluid they were giving her was giving her a chill.

A doctor came and pulled back the curtain. If possible, he looked even younger than the nurse. He asked her a few more questions and then said "Well, we were discussing your case and we are hypothesizing that the type of drugs we gave you last time were the wrong ones. There's a bad strain of this atypical pneumonia going around; it hits healthy, young women mostly and it's not usually life-threatening, but it certainly feels like it. Am I right?" He smiled at her eagerly. Olivia tried to crack a smile for him; he was trying so hard. " Your body was doing a half-way decent job of trying to heal itself, but it sounds like you weren't helping it out any with poor food intake and trying to go to work and all." He gave her a LOOK that she figured was meant to chastise her.

"So this pneumonia is pretty atypical, so we'll have to give you some different drugs. The ones before were making you nauseous, you said?" Olivia nodded.

"I haven't really been able to eat anything because it just came right back up," Olivia said, slightly embarrassed again. She did NOT like feeling so exposed and vulnerable.

"Yeah, that's an unfortunate side effect, especially because in your case, they weren't working anyway. No wonder you were so orthostatic when you got here. Feeling a little bit better now?" He looked up at the bag of fluid leaking briskly into her arm. She nodded at him.

"Okay, sit up for me, let me listen to you." The young doctor moved over and stuck his stethoscope in his ears. Olivia sat up and leaned forward.

Elliot couldn't help but noticed her bare back, bra strap and the top of her pink lace underwear showing as she leaned forward wearing only the hospital gown, the open back showing each vertebrae of her sinewy back. A little surprised, he tried not to change expressions. He never figured his tough as nails partner to wear pink lace lingerie. Embarrassed again, more at the direction of his thoughts than the rather chaste situation, he took a couple steps towards her feet to get that out of his line of sight. He cleared his throat awkwardly. Luckily, Olivia was too preoccupied to notice. The deep breaths that the doctor made her take caused her to cough again. The doctor nodded, but didn't say anything. He wrinkled his brow a little as he tapped on her back several times.

"Are you having a trouble breathing? Be honest. I can tell you're breathing fast." He gestured toward the computer monitor that showed her heart rate and breathing rate.

She sighed, "Yeah, a little, when I move or talk a lot." She flopped back

"Does it hurt when you take a deep breath or cough?" he asked.

"Yeah, mostly on the right side," she answered, obviously unhappy about it.

The young doctor looked at her, but didn't smile. "We'll get another X-ray and see how you're feeling." He hurried away, leaving the two detectives alone.

The two detectives sat in silence, waiting for the doctor to come back. The nurse came back a few times and fiddled with the monitors, adjusted the tubing and hurried away again. Finally the nurse and one other person came to pull her away to get her X-ray. Elliot squeezed her hand as they wheeled her away.

He watched her go and headed downstairs to grab a cup of coffee.

The coffee shop downstairs in the hospital had closed, so he'd gone across the street to grab a coffee, by the time he'd talked his way past the security guards at the front of the ER and made his way back to where he had left Olivia, 30 minutes had past. He walked into the area where he expected to find her and instead found a crowd of people, hospital staff, doctors, nurses crowded around her curtained area. In a panic, he ran towards it. Trying desperately to see behind the curtain at what was going on, a nurse yelled at him to get out of the way. Another nurse, the young one who'd talked with him earlier, pulled him by the arm out of the way of the commotion as she exited the curtained area and swung it closed again with a swish. He'd seen inside and had seen just the top of Olivia's head in the crowded space, which seemed eerily calm compared to the hallway.

"Come with me," the nurse said, pulling him. "I'll explain what's going on."

He followed her down the hallway about 20 feet, where they had a little space. He'd never felt so powerless. She had an iron grip on his upper arm; she probably knew he'd bolt back to Olivia's side if she let go.

"What's happening? Is she okay? She was just fine? Tell me!" he demanded, trying to sound important and not panicked.

"They saw something on the xray. She had a lot of fluid on her lungs, it was keeping her from breathing properly. Her oxygen levels were dropping. Down at xray she started really struggling to breath and once they saw all that fluid, they figured they should take it out." As she was explaining what had happened, Elliot saw the commotion down the hall dissipate and a few seconds later it was as if nothing had happened. "They put a needle and probably a tube into her lung to drain the fluid. It looks like they're done; you should be able to see her in a second. Wait here and I'll go check; I'll send the Doc to come talk with you." She guided him back to the uncomfortable plastic chair he'd been waiting in earlier. He sat, not taking his eyes off the curtain, his coffee completely forgotten in his hand.

The doctor came over a few seconds later and sat next to him, explained basically the same thing that the nurse had just said. He said that she had a lot of fluid sitting on her one lung and that it was no surprise she was feeling so badly. In fact, he'd been surprised how good she'd been for so long – she'd been tough.

Elliot smiled at that. "Sounds about right," he said.

"Yeah, she strikes me as the type who thinks she is too tough for her own good. I do have a question for you though, she wasn't really in a spot to answer but you might know, you work with her, right? NYPD?" the doctor asked.

Elliot nodded. "Yeah, what is it?"

"Has she ever had any rib fractures, particularly on the right side?" the doctor asked.

Elliot thought back. He shook his head no. "Well, wait, a year or two ago she got kicked. There was this perp who was running and she was closing in on him, he spun around and kicked her once right in the side, must've knocked her 6 feet. He had on these giant work boots. Knocked the wind out of her. She limped around for weeks with sore ribs. I don't think she ever went in to the doctor. She refused, said they wouldn't do anything for broken ribs." Elliot remembered the nasty bruise Olivia had refused to show him but that he'd caught a glimpse of in the locker room once.

The doctor was nodding at Elliot as he told that story. "Makes sense," the doctor said. "It looks on xray that she had some old, healed rib fractures on the right side. Most likely when she broke them it also caused a very small part of her lung to collapse. Not big enough that we would do anything about, she's right about that, but having a previous collapsed lung puts you at higher risk, so it's not as surprising that she came in like this. Good call bringing her in. She would've been in big trouble at home." He patted the detective on the shoulder and stood to hurry off, telling him he could go see her now.

He stuck his head past the curtain and breathed a sigh of relief when he saw her whole, completely intact. There were no bloody bandages, no chaos, just his partner lying on the bed, eyes closed, breathing slowly, but looking pale. "Hey," he said as he stepped forward. He grabbed her hand. She turned her head towards him when she heard his voice and opened her eyes slowly.

"Heyyy," she said slowly, her voice a little slurred. "You came back? They gave me some stuff..." She picked up her hand and gestured vaguely.

"Liv.." he said quietly, sounding concerned. "What happened?"

She closed her eyes again. "I dunno. I couldn't breathe again and it hurt so bad every time I coughed. They said there was fluid in my lung and they had to take it out. They stuck in a needle to pull it out." Her words were slightly slurred, he thought she seemed doped up from whatever the doctor had given her. She made a face and turned to try and look at the tubing that was still sticking out of her skin around her lower ribs. She grimaced and hissed at the pain with all the movement. She stopped trying to look at her side where it went inside through her skin, but glanced at the small bag slowly collecting with fluid. She grimaced again and lay back, breath catching with the pain. She looked at him with bewilderment in her wide brown eyes.

"What the hell, Elliot? What the hell is happening?" she asked him.

"I dunno, Liv. You got dealt some bad luck." He patted her hand awkwardly. They usually didn't touch. Physical intimacy wasn't on the agenda as partners, much less than physical familiarity. "You'll pull through, too stubborn not too according to the teenaged doctor over there."

She smiled at him briefly. "As long as one of us thinks so." Her words drifted off as her eyes closed despite her best efforts.