She was drenched, head to toe. Her thin blouse clung to her body and her hair dripped all over his floor.
"You're soaking wet." It was stating the obvious, but for some reason he wasn't confident she knew.
"I didn't know it was raining when I left."
"That's why you check first, before you go outside. So you know to take an umbrella."
She said nothing. She was looking at the floor, her hand clinging nervously to the door handle.
He cocked his head, mildly irritated, looking at her curiously. "It's after midnight, Olivia. Why did you come here?"
"I… I couldn't sleep."
This was no reason to traipse halfway across Manhattan in the middle of the night, in his opinion. "Did something happen?"
"No." She looked up at him and blinked. "I – I'm sorry, Elliot, I should go. I'll – I'll go. I'm sorry I bothered you this late."
In the three seconds it took him to process her abrupt declaration, he realized she was already in the hallway, leaving. "No, Liv, wait. It's okay. Stay. Please."
She stopped in her tracks just outside his doorway, her eyes frozen on the carpet pattern of the hallway.
He watched her carefully. She was haggard looking, like she hadn't slept in days. He wondered how long she'd looked like this; when he'd stopped noticing.
She didn't move a muscle, her fingers now poised around his door handle, her eyes averted. It was like she was a robot, awaiting his instructions. "Please," he directed gently, gesturing towards her palms-up, as he would a traumatized victim. "Please, come back in," he coaxed. "Sit down."
Silently, she obeyed.
When she was safely seated on the couch, he asked her, "Can I get you something to drink? Some water? Tea?"
She nodded, without telling him which she preferred. He made her some tea, using the insta-boil tap his apartment came appointed with. She accepted it.
He took a seat next to her on the couch. "Olivia, what happened tonight?"
"I… um, I-I … realized I never told you something."
"Told me what?"
"About… um…" Her eyes furrowed, and he thought she might start to cry.
He had never seen his partner look so vulnerable.
"Olivia?" he prompted again.
But it seemed he had missed his window. She had clamped up; was clutching the teacup nervously, leaning over the coffee table, her elbows digging into her thighs.
He was starting to become seriously concerned.
"Olivia," he started, more sternly. "Tell me… tell me what happened. Why couldn't you sleep?"
Finally, she looked up at him, her enormous, haunted eyes meeting his for the first time. "I never sleep," she stated softly.
He blinked. "What? What do you mean?"
"I haven't slept since… " she trailed off, her eyes back to her lap. He had lost her again.
Tentatively, he reached for her wrist, just to get her attention. She flinched, but ultimately let him touch her. "Tell me why you don't sleep."
"I see him," she whispered, her eyes afixed straight ahead at the carpet beyond the coffee table, her voice trance-like.
"You see who?"
"Olivia. You know you can trust me, right? You know you can tell me. Who do you see?"
Her voice trembled when she finally spoke. "I-I thought… I thought I could live with it. I thought it was enough th-that-that h-he would go away f-for… "
She never completed her sentence, because she started to cry and trying to stop crying became her mission, the focus of all of her attention.
He was terrified by what was happening before his eyes.
Because if he didn't know better, he would say she looked like a victim.
She was acting like a victim.
But to his knowledge, she was not one.
So what in the world was going on?
He was careful to keep the panic out of his voice. "Olivia, has something happened to you?"
He had never seen her like this. He was almost inclined to call Cragen. Call Huang.
But no. She was his partner. He could take care of her himself.
"Sometimes I think I can't do this job anymore," she finally offered.
"I think we all think that sometimes. You wouldn't be human if you didn't think that sometimes."
"It's different for me," she said.
"I know," he acknowledged. Because he did know. It was different for her.
He waited for her to continue, to finish her thought.
But she didn't.
"What happened?" he asked again, but his tone was not demanding. He would listen to her on her own terms.
"Stuckey… he… he came so close… Y-you had blood all over your shirt. I thought you –"
"I know." He nodded. "You saved my life. You were brilliant."
"I-I… I would do it again. I would, it's just…"
"I kissed him," she whispered.
"I know." He knew. He had been there. He had been forced to witness it.
"I-I… I chose to. I know I did," she added uncertainly.
Again, he waited. Seconds. Tens of seconds. There was something she needed to tell him. He just had to be patient.
"But… it didn't seem like a choice?" he finally offered, when she still didn't fill the silence.
"He was just a dumb-ass kid. I could've taken him any day of the week."
"That's true," he agreed.
"I chose to kiss him," she repeated, as if to convince herself.
"But I… I feel so… "
"So what, Liv?" he prodded.
"So… dirty,"she choked.
His heart broke at the admission. Suddenly it all made sense. How could he have been so cavalier about what she'd done? She'd allowed herself to be touched, used, violated. All to save his life. "Oh, God, Liv, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry I didn't… it never occurred to me the toll it took on you, what you did to save my life. I just thought you were fine. I'm so sorry. Please – please, tell me what I –"
"No," she interrupted, "Elliot, it wasn't… him. It was just that Stuckey reminded me how… how dirty I already was."
"What?" He was not sure what horrified him more – that he knew precisely what her statement implied, or that all this time his partner had been suffering and he had been too preoccupied by his own life to notice.
"I kissed Stuckey and it was… disgusting, but I-I felt so empty already that it didn't matter. It was like I was already tainted, you know, so what did it matter?" Her shoulders slumped, and she was instantly deflated. "And then tonight I started to think, would I have done it if I hadn't already felt that way? But I had to do it, he was going to kill you and so how could I not and –"
She was rambling. He sought to get her back on track. "Olivia, why did you already feel dirty?"
He braced himself, afraid to hear the answer. The answer he already knew.
"I…I…" she wavered.
He sensed she was prepared to tell him. That this was the true reason she had come here tonight. He just had to be patient.
"He kissed me too," she began.
"Who did? Who kissed you?"
"Harris." She rasped out the name, like she was afraid that if she spoke any more audibly, that her voice might somehow summon him.
"Harris kissed you," he repeated, dumbly.
He had known all along.
Of course he had known.
He had just been in denial.
He had chosen to be in denial.
It had been easier that way.
He had used her denial as a convenient excuse to make things easier for himself.
He could have helped her all this time and he had chosen not to.
"Yeah," she said.
"Is he why you don't sleep, Liv?"
"Did he… when he took you down to that basement, did he assault you there?"
"H-he… " her voice squeaked."Yeah, he did."
He swallowed a lump. "How did he assault you?"
"He… he, uh… he had me in a little room, a cell. It... it, uh, had a mattress. My-my wrists…" she paused to swallow. "My wrists were shackled behind my back… "
"What else?" he prodded gently.
"I - I shouldn't feel like this," she suddenly exclaimed, cryptically.
"Feel like what?" he asked patiently.
"I have no right." She shook her head, like she was trying to convince somebody. Herself. "He didn't… he didn't do anything!" she cried.
"But he did. He assaulted you. You have every right to feel… " He paused. He didn't want to use the word she had used, dirty. That would suggest he agreed she was dirty. "… violated," he finally finished.
"I saw the mattress and I just… I had this flash of how it would be. Of lying on the filthy thing, totally helpless, of him on top of me… and I lost it. I started screaming."
He could feel his own heart beating more rapidly, and anger swelled up in his chest. But it was important, for her sake, that he remain calm. The least he owed her was his undivided attention. "Go on…"
"I just kept screaming and screaming. And he just laughed at me, told me no one would hear me. And he was right. Th-there was no one."
"Where was Fin?" He was growing increasingly agitated. He had been under the impression Fin had gotten there. That's what he had been told. Fin had gotten there in time. That was supposed to be the story.
"Fin wasn't there," she said, her voice small. "There was no one," she repeated. "I-I was alone with him. He overpowered me," she added with defeat.
"He didn't overpower you," he told her. "He had you shackled and he was bigger than you. That's not overpowering, Liv."
She shrugged, like this was just semantics. But it wasn't. It was important that she understand this. It hadn't been her fault.
"He didn't rape me," she whispered.
"Okay," he replied. "But that doesn't mean he didn't assault you. He took away your control. He had no right to do that."
"I know," she nodded. She sniffled.
"Is that why you said you had no right to feel this way? Because he didn't rape you?"
"That, and because I'm a hypocrite. Every victim I ever met looked up to me but the truth was they were all braver than me because they had the guts to report it."
"That's not true. You're the bravest person I know."
She met his eyes finally, again, for only the second time since her arrival in his apartment. "I regret it. I regret not reporting it, El. Oh, God, I so regret it!" She broke down in tears again, sobbing this time.
"He got ten years," he said.
She peaked up at him, and her eyes narrowed briefly, like she felt betrayed.
And all at once, he understood. Ten years wasn't the point. Ten was a lot of years, but it could have been a hundred and it wouldn't have mattered. He was doing ten years because of Ashley, not because of her.
She said nothing, and the tears came down in more of a torrent now.
He handed her a tissue, which she accepted.
"I should've… I should've reported it," she sobbed, hiccupping.
"So you could get justice for yourself or because reporting it would have been the most difficult thing you ever had to do and would therefore have represented true bravery in your mind?"
She hesitated. "Both."
"Liv, you're not an impostor," he told her.
This got her attention. "What?"
"I think you feel like you don't deserve to be who you are, to play the role that you play, to be a hero, when you're not brave enough to report your own assault. I think you feel like an impostor in your own skin."
"I am an impostor," she cried, latching on to the term he'd used. "How can I keep telling other women to report it, to testify, when I couldn't handle… and he didn't even rape me!"
"Liv, you had a traumatic thing happen to you. You did what you could to cope at the time. It doesn't negate all the other good you've done, all the heroic things you've done before and since, including with Stuckey. You're an incredibly strong and brave person."
"I just wish it wasn't too late to report it," she wailed. "God, I just wish…"
"It's not too late to forgive yourself," he said quietly.
"What do you mean?"
"Can you forgive yourself, Liv, for not reporting it? Instead of beating yourself up for what you perceive to be an act of weakness over a year ago, can you accept that maybe you're not made of steel, and just… forgive yourself?"
"I-I don't know," she said uncertainly. But it looked like she was considering his words. That was something.
"It may take some time," he acknowledged.
She nodded. Several seconds went by and then she asked, "Did you know that I've been seeing someone?"
He tried not to sound shocked, disappointed, upset, jealous. But he was all of those things. "Yeah? That's great, Liv. Anyone I know?"
She blinked. "No, not a … a therapist, I meant."
He was relieved. And then he was ashamed of himself for being relieved. It was not exactly good news that his partner required counseling. "Really? A therapist?"
"Yeah. I-I thought… I thought I had it under control."
"Th-the, uh, nightmares. But it turns out… it turns out… therapy doesn't really work at all, El."
If she hadn't sounded so devastated, he might have chuckled. He could have told her that. "Olivia, talk to me. I'm here. You can tell me anything," he told her.
She took a breath. "El… I actually came here tonight to tell you I was quitting."
"Liv –" he started to protest.
"No wait, hear me out."
"After everything that happened with Stuckey… you know, O'Halloran's death, that innocent woman at Coney Island, all of them, I started to realize that my whole life is just… I just live from tragedy to tragedy and there's no real… endpoint, goal, you know? And every tragedy takes a little bit out of me and it's just this endless cycle and I can't keep… " She paused. "Last night I came home and I showered for an hour and I still couldn't get the feel of Stuckey off of me and even though I would do it again for you in a heartbeat…. God, El, this is going to sound so selfish of me to say this but I… I'm not sure I'm tough enough to handle another… having another perp put his hands… being touched by… I-I… " She faltered, and he could see the shame in her eyes. Not shame that she had been touched, mind you, but shame that she didn't think she could take it, again.
"Liv, it was never in the job description that you sacrifice yourself like you did," he said quietly. "You used yourself, your body, and you shouldn't have had to do that. And I hope to God you never do that again. Your body is yours, Liv. It doesn't exist to serve the people of Manhattan, or even to save me. It's not selfish of you to not want some creep putting his hands on you. "
"I know," she nodded. "And that was why I decided I just couldn't… that next time I might let you down instead of stepping up and it's better if I quit now th-than… so I decided to come here to tell you. But as I was walking here, I thought about what I was going to do instead, with the rest of my life. And I couldn't think of anything. And I just felt… stuck, you know?"
"You felt stuck because of Stuckey?" he chuckled, hoping the light humor might act as a salve, make her feel a little better.
She smiled. "I guess you could say that." She let out a giant sigh. "Oh, God, El, what am I going to do?"
"It'll be okay," he told her. He pulled her towards him, gathering her in his arms. It was the first time he'd hugged her since that day at the hospital, nearly two years ago, when he'd forced her into that awkward, clumsy embrace.
That day she'd saved his family, and, by extension, him.
She was always saving him.
From now on, he was going to save her.
"It's okay," he whispered into her temple. Her hair was still soaked and he felt her wet, sloppy tears hit the back of his neck. Her body slumped against him, her damp clothes clinging to her. She was shivering. "It's going to take time, that's all. It's just going to take time. Things will get better, okay?"
"Okay," she mumbled, hiccupping against him. She clutched at him desperately.
"Why don't you stay the night?" he suggested. "You can take my bed. I'll sleep on the couch."
She pulled out of the embrace. "No," she started to protest.
"Please, Liv, I want you to stay."
"I can't take your bed. Please. I'll take the couch."
There was an urgency to the way she pleaded with him, and he knew not to insist.
He nodded. "Let me get you some linens and some things to wear." He went to his bedroom and opened his drawer. He selected an oversized NYPD T-shirt for her, and then stood for several seconds in indecision, wondering how she would feel about wearing his boxers, or his sweatpants. At last, he selected a pair of both, figuring he would let her decide. He stopped at the linen closet on his way down the hall, and retrieved a blanket and pillow.
He returned to the living room.
She was lying on her side on the couch, curled into the fetal position. Her eyes were closed, and her expression was mercifully peaceful.
He paused, standing over her, watching her, mesmerized by the sight.
This was his partner. His beautiful, devoted partner. For ten years she had watched over him, kept him safe, kept him alive. She had given herself, tirelessly, to her duties. To him.
Gently, he laid the blanket over her, careful not to wake her.
Tomorrow, he would help her conquer her demons. Tomorrow, he would show her that he could give too.
But as for tonight, he would simply let her sleep.