Disclaimer: I don't own `Liv, El, George, Donnie, Munch, Fin…I have nothing! Nothing, I tell you! cries
Olivia rubbed her hands up and down her arms once, trying to ward away the slight chill that brushed over her skin. She looked around anxiously. There was no one else on the cold cement steps where she sat, nor in the corridor above. There was no sound, either, save for the hum of the light above her and her own frosty breath.
She wondered, not for the first time, what exactly she was doing here. She needed comfort after the evening's events; that was true, and with no family, lovers, or close friends, her partner was the natural choice. It was why had driven here to Elliot's apartment building, fingers trembling on the cold steering wheel. Why she had flashed her badge to the doorman and jogged up the stairs to knock on No. 303. Why she had sat down on the first step when there was no answer, resigned to wait.
She'd done this before. She remembered being so conflicted and restless once that she drove out to Queens and spent several hours sitting in the dark in front of the other detective's house. He'd finally come home, arms full with grocery bags, despite the fact Kathy and the kids were away. Olivia still didn't know why, but the first thing out of her mouth had been an insult. Elliot had taken it in stride and attempted to console his partner. She'd refused his comfort and left. She couldn't explain her actions then, and she wasn't sure they weren't going to repeat themselves now.
Though at the rate things were going, she might now get the opportunity to find out. She had no idea where Elliot was. They hadn't discussed their plans for the weekend. He could be out for a run, or spending some much-needed quality time with his kids, or even out with the mysterious lover whose existence he refused to verify.
Olivia fervently wished it wasn't the latter. The last thing she needed was the added guilt of ruining her partner's romantic night. Especially since the clandestine relationship had done Elliot so much good. It had mellowed him out, given him the relief from the harsh reality of their work that he'd been missing since Kathy left him. He'd never actually *admitted* to seeing anyone, but he hadn't *denied* it, either. Olivia had long since stopped making inquiries. If Elliot was determined to keep it quiet, then that was fine with her. She was just grateful that he wasn't stressed out to the point of exploding anymore. The months immediately following his separation were painfully tense. Elliot withdrew into himself, coming out only to snap at a co-worker or rage at a suspect. There were a few times when the other detectives had to rush in and pull him off a perp, fearful he wouldn't stop choking until the offender wad dead at his feet. Olivia had honestly expected Elliot's career to end in disgrace or bloodshed, or perhaps both.
If their commanding officer had been anyone but Don Cragen, that probably *would* have been the case. But he believed enough in Elliot to weather the crisis. He continued guiding the wayward detective in his stern yet paternal manner, giving him sympathy and discipline in equal measure. The others had followed his lead and lent their own individual brands of support. Olivia had stayed fastly by her partner's side. She listened when he felt like talking, kept him safe on the streets, and told him in frank words when he was being an ass. Fin had offered his strong-yet-silent presence, been someone Elliot could count on when he wanted to get the job done and not think of anything else. Munch had simply resisted the urge to make sarcastic comments or launch into elaborate tangents when it seemed Elliot was running short on patience.
As for Huang...Well, Olivia knew that Cragen forced Elliot to make regular appointments with the doctor. At first, she secretly questioned the wisdom of this. There had always been a certain tension between the two men. Elliot wasn't fond of psychiatrists in general, especially after he and Jeffries were brought under review by one. Even after he got to know Huang and grudgingly began to like him, Elliot still frequently goaded the doctor, testing the limits of his seemingly limitless patience. Still, the mandatory sessions seemed to do Elliot good, and he and Huang were getting along better than ever in the squad room. Olivia was mildly surprised, but glad.
So between the SVU's unwavering support and Kathy Stabler's efforts to remain friendly with Elliot and keep him steadily involved in their childrens' lives, Elliot slowly returned to his cool, collected, dependable self. He picked up where he left off, trying to balance being a dedicated cop with being a devoted father.
Then, nearly a year after his divorce was finalized, Olivia began to notice subtle changes in her partner. He began acting more relaxed, more peaceful. He was far more tolerant than he used to be, especially of psychiatrists. He rarely used *excessive* excessive force on perps anymore. He seemed like he was sleeping better and had more energy during the day. He would even occasionally start whistling while doing paperwork or driving somewhere. Also, Olivia overheard him once or twice making reservations at restaurants and telling someone that work was running a little late, but he'd, "be home soon." It didn't take a detective to figure out what was going on. Olivia casually inquired about this new romance, but Elliot always deflected her with an, "I have no clue what you're talking about, 'Liv" or a, "There's nothing to tell." This just made her curiosity even stronger, but Olivia respected her partner's wishes and stopped asking.
As grateful as Olivia was to this mystery woman for making Elliot easier to work with, and sane enough to be able to give her comfort now, she was beginning to wish he'd get home from the damn date already, and that he'd be alone. She just wanted to talk to her friend without feeling guilty at disturbing his evening and awkward at meeting the person he seemed so determined to keep anonymous.
Finally, after what seemed like ages, Olivia heard footsteps and voices two flights below. She strained her ears and breathed a sigh of relief when one of the voices was Elliot's. The other belonged to a familiar-sounding man...He was too soft-spoken for her to immediately identify him, but as they drew closer...
"...-'mon, you know you liked that place."
"I liked the tiramisu. The chicken marsala wasn't all that great."
"Yeah, well, it was still better than having Chinese take-out again"
"That, I agree with."
Olivia was able to make out the second voice, and her eyes widened slightly. That didn't make sense...Yet a second later, Elliot appeared on the staircase before her, George Huang at his side.
"So what do you wanna...?" Elliot's voice trailed off as he looked up and saw Olivia. He stopped. "'Liv," he said, surprise evident in his voice and his face. Next to him, Huang looked concerned.
Olivia stood. "Um, hey," she said, trying to regain her composure. She nodded at Huang. "Hey George." She glanced back and forth between them. "I didn't know you two hung out outside of work." She knew they were getting along better, but she didn't think they got along that well. She wouldn't have been surprised if Elliot came home with his myserty woman, but she was quite surprised to see the doctor.
The look of concern deepened. "Sometimes."
"So what's going on? Is everything Ok?" asked Elliot carefully. He walked up a few more steps.
"...Yeah. I just, um..." she looked down and rubbed her forehead lightly, suddenly embarrassed. She looked up again. "It's nothing. It can wait." She forced a smile. "You guys have a good evening. See you Monday." She started to walk down the stairs.
Elliot gently grabbed her elbow. "Whoa, Olivia. What's going on?" he asked softly, his eyes boring into hers.
Huang slid past them. "You two talk. I'll...go make some coffee." He gave Olivia a smile and walked the rest of the way to No. 303. He removed a key from his jacket pocket, unlocked the door, and went inside the apartment.
Elliot watched until the door was closed, then turned his attention back to Olivia. "So...?"
Olivia sighed and sat back down on the step. Elliot crouched in front of her. Olivia waited a few seconds before saying, "Michelle called me today."
Elliot furrowed his brow. "Michelle...Dandridge? From that case last month?"
Olivia nodded. Michelle Dandridge was a young, pretty marketing executive. She'd been grabbed outside her apartment by a man in a ski mask, forced inside, and brutally raped on her own bed. When he'd finished, the man bashed her over the head with the telephone on the bedside table. The next morning, the next-door neighbor was walking by on his way out when he heard a loud moan from Michelle's apartment. He knocked, and found the door was unlocked. He stuck his head in and asked Michelle if she was alright. When he got no answer, he went in. He found her on her bed, her skirt up around her waist and her head bleeding profusely.
The DNA they found inside Michelle matched that of Mark D'Amico, whose rap sheet included breaking and entering and aggravated assault. After a frustratingly long search, they found him hiding out at his grandmother's. His interrogation was short, as he proudly admitted to, "doin' the stuck-up bitch" and offering to do the same to Olivia.
Needless to say, he "fell down" a few times on the way to Central Booking.
Michelle was kept in the hospital for a few days for observation. Physically, she healed quickly. But she was unable to set foot in her apartment ever again. She ended up moving back in with her parents, too scared to live alone. Olivia gave her one of her business cards, telling her to call if she ever needed anything.
"She took me up on my offer earlier this evening," Olivia told Elliot. "She called, and we arranged to meet at some restaurant down the street from her house. She looked like she hadn't slept in days." Olivia looked down. "Michelle told me she had just found out...she was pregnant. Asked me what she should do." She let out a dry, mirthless laugh. "She asked if I thought the baby would be a monster, like its father. If it would grow up just as evil. If she'd be better off just getting rid of it..."
Elliot's face was carefully blank, though in his eyes Olivia could see his concern and sympathy. He knew how hard this was for her. "What did you tell her?"
Olivia shook her head. "I told her I wasn't the best person to ask that question. That it was her choice, and only she could decide." She met her partner's eyes. "What else could I say?"
"You did the right thing, 'Liv. It's a decision she's gotta make on her own. There wasn't anything else you could have done."
Olivia nodded, not looking at all convinced. "I know. It's just..."
Elliot understood. "A little too close to home?"
With a small sigh, Elliot brought a hand down to Olivia's knee. "Look, I know it's a sore subject for you, with your own history and all. But good and evil and whatever depend on the choices we make. Michelle has to *choose* whether to keep her baby or not, and if she does have it, that baby will have to *choose* whether to be good or evil or...whatever. Nobody's *born* evil, 'Liv." He squeezed her knee. "*You're* a child of rape, and you turned out OK. You *help* people. You're proof that we're more than just our parents."
Olivia nodded, not trusting her voice to remain steady. After a minute she swallowed and said, "Yeah." She looked up at Elliot's worried blue eyes and gave a smile, small enough not to force the tears from her eyes. "Thanks Elliot."
Elliot stood, offering her a hand. "S'what partners are for." They stood for a few moments, not quite knowing what else to say.
Elliot cleared his throat, looking a little uncomfortable. "Listen, do you wanna come in? Huang's probably got the coffee done by now..." He gestured to his apartment.
Olivia smiled. "No, thanks. I'd better get going." She paused. "Why exactly are you hanging out with George, anyway? I would have thought you'd be busy with...someone else."
"Who else is there?" he said innocently.
Olivia studied her partner. He was trying to keep his face blank, but there was a hint of something in his eyes...was it nervousness? "Elliot...Is something going on with you?"
"Yeah. I'm gonna go get some coffee," he replied, not meeting her gaze. "That's what's going on. Sure you don't wanna come?"
Olivia nodded slowly. "Yeah. Thanks anyway. I'll see you Monday."
"See ya then. And call if you need to, alright?"
"I will. Thanks." She turned and walked quickly down the stairs, shivering as she felt the draft anew. One flight up, she heard Elliot's door shut.
She felt better. Not completely, because that could never happen. That dark stain was always there inside, the stain left by her father all those years ago. It was something she'd long learned to live with. Just, sometimes, certain cases brought it out with a vengeance. This time, it was Michelle, impregnated against her will by a vicious rapist. Luckily, she had Elliot to talk to. Just like last time, when it had been Darrell Guan that brought out this black self-doubt, and she had looked to Huang for guidance. He had said pretty much the same thing as Elliot, actually.
Huang. Why did he have a key to Elliot's apartment? And why were they having dinner together at a restaurant on the weekend? And going back to his place afterward?
Olivia stopped. Her detective's brain was rapidly arranging and re- arranging every clue, every conversation, every look into a bigger picture...Suddenly, it all made sense. Elliot's absolute refusal to talk about his love life. His happiness and relief. His and Huang's newfound civility. The dinner reservations. Huang having a key to Elliot's apartment. They were...
"*Who else is there*?"
Olivia's brain presented the facts clearly and precisely to her, but she still couldn't quite comprehend it. Elliot was...but he was practically the poster boy for heterosexuality! He was married for over twenty years, and there was no doubt whatsoever that he loved Kathy deeply. He was the *last* person Olivia would ever think...
'Well,' she said to herself. 'He probably thought that, too.' Realization dawned on her. 'It wasn't just Kathy leaving that drove him so far over the edge. It was finding out...he had feelings for a man. A lifetime of thinking you're straight, and then finding out in your early forties you're not...God, that had to be hell! Especially being a cop...' She felt a sudden rush of compassion for her partner. 'I had no idea...'
She wondered just how long he and Huang had been together. They'd done a remarkable job of keeping it secret. Of course, that was to be expected from a detective and an FBI agent. Still...she'd never suspected. Even if she'd known about Elliot, she'd never had thought he'd end up with Huang. They were so different...But then again, maybe that was the point. The psychiatrist had obviously had a wonderfully calming effect on Elliot so far. She had him to thank for her partner's agreeability more than she had previously thought...
Well, she'd definitely be watching the two of them more closely at the station house for a while, just until she was sure it wasn't horribly obvious the whole time. She didn't want to have to doubt her skills as a detective. But she'd never let anyone else *know* she was watching...It could be dangerous for both of them if the affair became public knowledge. And she would *never* endanger either George or her partner. Because...well...because she *chose* not to. Because they believed she was a good person, and for them, and for the Michelle Dandridge's and Serena Bensons of the world, and for herself, she would continue to be.
Olivia stepped out the front door of Elliot's apartment building, giving the doorman a friendly smile. She paused for a moment, taking a deep breath of air. For some reason, the New York winter night seemed warmer than it had a few hours earlier.