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Devil In Me

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{I’m ready to suffer and I’m ready to hope}

"So this moving thing, it's official?"

Elliot is smirking like he's never been quite so amused, but you tilt your chin stubbornly in his direction and refuse to be baited. "It is."

"Should I be watching the mailbox for a wedding invite next?"

"You automatically assume you would be invited," you counter, sipping at your coffee and pushing your sunglasses back down over your eyes to block out the harsh late afternoon glare.

"Well, yeah," he says, as if there was never any doubt.

"Why would I do that when I know you'd only be there to drink all my liquor and make an ass of yourself?"

"I dunno, I just figured I'd be the one walking you down the aisle."

"Oh, you'd like that, wouldn't you?" It pains you slightly just imagining it. "No one is walking me down the aisle. I don't need to feel like I'm being handed off from one man to another, and- why are we even talking about this? There's no wedding. Sorry to disappoint."

"You're sure? Shit, I never even thought I'd live to see the day...you're positive you want to do this? Sharing space with someone like that, it's a whole new ballgame. Things get tense."

"El, I lived in a sorority house for three years. You name it, I've seen it. I know drama."

He shakes his head in that way he always does when he feels like he has some sort of superior knowledge. "That's different. You've never lived with someone you're dating. It changes everything."

You think back to the summer between your junior and senior year of college, when you had it out with your mother ten days into the break and made the decision that you couldn't put up with that shit every day until August. Off you went to crash at your boyfriend's apartment, and all was well- until the wife you didn't know he had showed up six weeks later. You came back to the city heartbroken, because you were young and stupid and had been so sure you were going to prove Mom wrong with this guy, and now you were trapped listening to 'I told you so, you little slut, you never learn' for the next month.

You decide against sharing this story, which is maybe not the best showcase of your ability to have a functional relationship. "Fine, I'll consider myself warned. Now I need to get going- I’m back at work tomorrow."

He turns from you and tosses an empty plastic cup toward a rusty trash can a few yards away, watching as it bounces off the rim and into the tiny hole at the top. "Back saving the world," he says, voice barely audible. "What's Junior think about all this? You talk to him about it yet?"

Elliot hadn't seemed to want to know too much about the goings-on of the squad in his absence, but he was willing to hear about Junior- aka Nick- once you had proved to his satisfaction that Nick had never made a move on you and vice versa (although hearing that he wasn't a Brian fan was probably what truly won Elliot over). Privately you wondered if he knew much more about your new partner than he let on. He had a way of working his connections to get whatever info he wanted, and you couldn't believe that he wouldn't at least try to get Nick's address so he could show up at his door in the middle of the night and warn him about touching things that didn't belong to him.

"Nick came over the other day and we talked for a while. He said if I feel like I’m ready, then he’ll support me." He was the first person from the squad that you had seen since the day you left the hospital, and you were thankful to have marked that milestone in private rather than in the house for the entire precinct to witness. You hadn't expected it to be such an emotional reunion, but when you opened the door to him you were overcome by the memory of him crouching down in front of you in that awful house, voice soft and hand extended until you decided it was safe to reach out and take it. He was going to take you home, he promised when you asked him, and his eyes were shining then just like they were when you let him into the apartment and pulled him into a tight hug. "Thank you, thank you," you had whispered, repeating the words you had been too overcome to say to him that day.

"And you trust him," Elliot says, looking at you for confirmation.

"Absolutely." Any doubts you may have had about how it might affect your future relationship as partners vanished when you finally let go of him and he pressed a wad of kleenex into your hand, jokingly asking you not to cry because then he would have to join in and you might start to doubt his masculinity. He knew that you hated making yourself that vulnerable, especially after he had already seen you at your worst, and gave you the chance to save face by not letting things get overly sentimental. “He’s good people. He’s not you, but it’s...it’s. Yeah. Never mind, I really need to go. Really."

He just nods, arms folded and staring at the toes of his shoes.

“El,” you say, emboldened by the way he was avoiding eye contact. “Remember, uh. What you said when I first got here. What you told me to swear I’d do.”

The discomfort in your voice gets his attention. “Hmm?”

“I’ll do it. But after I go…”

“Yeah, yeah. Drinks on me.”

{every demon wants his pound of flesh
but I like to keep some things to myself}

You're lying on your side on the couch, hugging your knees to your chest to make yourself as small as possible, when Brian walks in. "Hey- I thought you were working."

"Does it look like I am?"

He ignores your prickly reply and sits down near your feet. "So what happened?"

"Nothing, that's what happened! I go in, I'm there long enough for everyone to get a look, and then I get sent home because apparently that's all anyone thinks I'm capable of." You realized as soon as you walked through the doors that you are the one-six's very own minor celebrity. For all you had worried about how the people closest to you would react, you hadn't given much thought to everyone else. You knew your little adventure had garnered some amount of media attention, but you had been too busy being nearly catatonic to notice when the frenzy was at its peak. Once you had (unfortunately) rejoined the land of the living, the 24 hour news cycle had mostly exhausted itself and went on to milk all it could from someone else's suffering, and Brian had been careful to shield you from whatever press scrutiny remained.

But now you were back in the world, back on public display. It was the same feeling that led you to quit running, the sense that everyone you passed could see through to the ugliest parts of you, only this time you were dealing with people who you encountered every day and who knew exactly who you were.

"What, did someone say something?" he asks, confused.

"They don't need to! Do you know what it's like to look at someone you've barely met and know what they're thinking about you? No, you don't."

He rubbed at the back of his neck, buying time to come up with a reply. "What are they thinking?"

"They're thinking I was raped. That's all everyone's wondering, you know?"

"Why would that be the only thing they're thinking about?"

Christ, this man. Maybe he really is as much of an idiot as Elliot always says he is. You try to explain that you know how people are. You know how this works, and you know what you saw, and all he’s doing is biting his lip and nodding continuously like one of those bobblehead things and it only makes you step your diatribe up a notch. It is sickening enough that you let that monster get to you, that he carved out a place for himself on your skin and in your head. It is worse yet that you undoubtedly live on in his mind, that he gets to keep a part of you and no matter how much you may think you've moved on, there will always be that one piece that you are helpless to recover. He shouldn't get to keep that. He has no right. But the worst thing of all is that it goes beyond you and him. He's left you exposed and vulnerable, and he's left the door open so that everyone around you can get a little piece of their own. A regular fucking free for all.

You could try to explain all of this to Brian. You could tell him about going to a plastic surgeon yesterday and giving another stranger the grand tour of your injuries, only for the doctor to tell you that there's really nothing to be done surgically that wouldn't risk making the scars look even worse, but he'd be happy to inject you full of shit that may or may not change anything. You could tell him about your conversation with Barba and how he said he can't in good conscience keep pushing for a closed courtroom when this goes to trial, not when it would be like handing that bastard the ideal grounds for an appeal in a neatly wrapped package.

You could try and explain any of these things- but you've already had too many pieces of yourself taken from you today, and it feels safer to rant and swear about people who may as well be raping you with their eyes.

Once again, you’ll take the safer route.

He gives you the look the waiter gives you when they come over to your table to say I'm sorry, but we're actually out of the shrimp today. "Liv. I get what you're saying." No, he does not. "And I get that people always want the gory details, but I don't know that the only thing they're thinking- or even the first thing- is that you were raped."

"I wasn't," you snap, abruptly sitting up and backing away from him as far as you can. "I was not, and if you ever fucking say that again, I swear to God I’ll-"

"Okay. Okay. I believe you," he says, hands up in surrender.

"That's generous of you, thanks.” Your tone is drenched with sarcasm in case he thought you truly appreciated the vote of confidence. "So all this time, you're thinking that-"

He just will not let you finish a sentence today. "I'm thinking that you'll tell me when you're ready to tell me. And I'm thinking...if you were, if you weren't. It doesn't make what you did go through any better or worse, so as far as all that, I guess it's not really important to me."

You stand up and go over to the other side of the room, slapping your palms against the wall in indignation. "It's not important to you! That's fucking great. I'm so glad you feel that way."

"Now what the hell did I say?" he asks, clearly feeling like he is the aggrieved party here.

"Whether or not...it's important to me, okay, and honestly, I don't expect you to get it."

"You're right, I don't get it. But how the fuck would I? You shut me out completely and then get pissed when I can't read your mind. You're too stubborn to talk to me, and what does that accomplish? You let these things build up and then you have this whole irrational explosion where I have no idea what the hell you're on about and we end up screaming at each other. What is it that you're getting out of this?"

You didn't hear a word of his question. "You think I'm being irrational," you say, and you're about to either laugh or cry or slap him or do all three simultaneously.

"Right now, yeah. A little. I really don't think that anyone's lying awake at night wondering what happened to you. I feel like you're getting yourself worked up over something that's only in your head."

"Don't you dare psychoanalyze me. Don't you dare."

"No, you know what else? I think you like being angry. I think it's an easy way to avoid having to actually deal with what's bothering you," and shit, he's obviously been saving these gems of wisdom up for a while, "like whatever this is, it's not about what other people are thinking, it's about you needing a reason to get pissed off to distract yourself from whatever the hell is really going on."

"Have you been rehearsing this? Just waiting for the perfect moment to show me how insightful you are?"

"I don't need to wait! We do this same thing every goddamn day!"

You are turned away from him, forehead resting against the wall, and you're briefly tempted to start headbutting it in the hope that it would shake everything in your mind loose. It would all disintegrate, break down like rocks becoming little grains of sand, able to be easily swept out into the ocean's abyss. "What do you want from me," you mumble.

"I want us to be able to talk to each other."

You think back to early summer, with him accusing you of pushing him away and you wanting so desperately to have the courage to let yourself break in front of him. In retrospect you wonder if you had let your best opportunity pass by. Reopening a fresh wound can be as simple and mindless as picking off a scab. It bleeds a little, but only on the surface layer, and in a few days a new one has formed in place of the old. But if you've left the wound alone for a while, reopening it will be a deliberate and painful process. You'll have to work harder, cut deeper. It'll get ugly. No tiny beads of blood that you can slap a bandaid over this time. If anything, it will be harder to heal than the original because of what you've exposed it to while opening it back up.

It is a disgusting metaphor, but it's a disgusting situation. "What if we can't?" you ask, voice still soft.

"We used to, didn't we?" He pauses for so long that you almost look behind yourself to see if he's still there. "I used to think...I thought I had finally figured you out, you know, and then you come back a completely different person. And I don't know what to do anymore."

Now you really do move to face him, eyes stinging with tears that you force not to fall. "And what, you want an apology for that? I mean, I'm not arguing with you- but if all you're doing is waiting around for the old me to come back, I'm sorry, but I think you're fucked."

"I'm not." He shifts his weight from one foot to another uncomfortably. "Look, if this is about the whole 'it's not important' thing, you have to know I didn't mean it like that, like I don't care what happens to you."

"Oh for Christ's sake, you think I don't know that?”

"When it comes to you? No, I never know what the hell to think," he says. "But I'm glad, I mean, for what you told me, don’t get me wrong.”

"That I wasn't raped? Wow. Thanks."

He throws his hands up in frustration and very nearly misses hitting himself in the head. "See? I give up. You're not even trying."

"Do you seriously want to know?" you ask. "Because no, I wasn't raped. But that...goddamnit. It's not just because of luck or chance or anything like that, okay? You have no idea what happened or what I did, and you say you want to know but- you don't. Trust me. You really don't." He wouldn't understand that you literally made a deal with the devil, and for what? To be able to say you're not your mother and you won't be and her story will never be yours?

"Liv." He takes a single step toward you, cautiously, and then another. "You can tell me, I swear to God."

You've said too much already. "No. Stop asking." You don't know why you ever thought it would make it easier somehow. Congratulations, history didn't repeat itself, you can sleep soundly tonight- but you don't. And you won't, not as long as you can still hear «you beg for it like a whore, jesus, does that boyfriend of yours not get you off?» in your dreams.

He's telling you that he means it, that he wants to help if you'd give him the chance, and you’re tempted to scream that he has no fucking idea what he wants and neither do you.

"You want to help? Then leave me the fuck alone. Please." You push your way past him into the bathroom, locking the door behind you and leaning against it to steady yourself.

"Glad we talked!" he shouts, but it's not sarcasm in his voice, it's hurt.

{it’s a fine romance but it’s left me so undone}

You don't know how long you stay shut in your hideout before you hear him knock. "C'mon," he calls out quietly, "I'm gonna get some sleep for a few hours before I have to head back."

"Be there in a second," you say, getting up from where you had been sitting on the edge of the tub.

To the outside observer it would seem like something was missing, like reading a book with pages torn out, but this was just how the two of you operated. You raged at each other, stormed off to nurse your wounded pride alone, and then carried on as if nothing had happened, never to speak of it again. As for right now- he's still angry at you, there's no doubt about it, but he also knows you are exhausted and you won't be able to sleep without him. Not that you would admit as much as you crawl into bed, careful not to look in his direction, unsure if you want to thank him for the gesture or hate him for making you need him that much.

When you reach out toward him, he takes your hand in his without hesitation. You wonder about this thing between you, if it's love or pity or codependence, and you decide you don't want to think about it any more for today.

{regrets collect like old friends
here to relive your darkest moments}

"I'm tired of being treated like I'm about to break."

You think Dr. Lindstrom is a bit surprised to see you show up in his office again after you'd been given your psychiatric clearance. He probably figured that you had played along just enough to get what you wanted, and now that you were cleared to go back to work, you would decide that this whole therapy thing wasn't getting you anywhere. (If he had that idea, it was because of what you had told him at the end of your last visit- ‘I don’t think I’m getting anywhere.’)

"What made you decide to come back?" he had asked.

"Someone told me I needed to trust the process," you said, remembering conversations in the dark and «what a pair we make» and falling asleep at dawn with a comforting familiar hand tangled in your hair.

He scribbles something down on his notepad as you talk about how the rest of the squad seems to be intent on shielding you from anything they deem too upsetting. You're stuck dealing with the leftovers, spending your days on winners like a guy who felt that masturbating in a bakery was covered by his First Amendment rights and was threatening to sic the ACLU on you at any minute now.

"'You're too raw'. That's the kind of shit I keep hearing, like they're waiting for me to grow a thicker skin, and I think," you say, getting louder with every word, "that I'm the one who's seen someone murdered in front of me. I've seen a man murdered and his wife raped and there was no one there to protect me then, you know, so don't fucking tell me now that I need a thicker skin."

He considers this. "You said there was no one there to protect you. Do you think that's weighing on their minds? Like they feel that they failed and so they need to overcompensate now because of the guilt?"

"Why should that be my problem?" you ask, standing up and walking over to the window, gazing at the grey clouds covering the sky. "I've got my own guilt. I've got people I let down too, but you don't see me dumping my issues on them, do you?”

"Who did you let down?"

You twist the ring on your finger anxiously, sidestepping the question. "I had blacked out. When I woke up, the car had stopped, and he opened the trunk and was looking down at me. I could see a house, and he tells me we're here. It...I thought he had found the place where he was going to kill me and. And," you stammer, voice breaking.

"Stay with it," he says, quiet and steady. "Then what happens?"

You tell him about your knees not being able to support your weight once you were on solid ground and how he had grabbed you and carried you the rest of the way inside when he decided you weren't moving fast enough for his liking. You talk about staring at the green grass, at tiny yellow flowers, wondering if that would be your last memory of the world outside this unfamiliar house.

"And then we're inside, and he locks the door behind us. He's pointing the gun at my head and he. He says if I try anything, if I even blink wrong, that he'll make me regret it. That I'll be begging him to just kill me. And I believed him."

"Of course you did. You knew what he was capable of," Dr. Lindstrom says, giving you a reassuring nod.

"Once we were in the house...he. We went to. Fuck, I'm sorry. I can't anymore, I need to stop." You cover your mouth with your hand, shuddering as you try to speak. "I saw it all. I saw and I didn't do anything."

"You did what you had to do to stay alive," he suggests. "You survived until you had the chance to save yourself, and it's because of what you did that he's not still out there."

"No. I should have. I didn't..."

"Olivia," he says gently. "You were tied up, you had been injured. You were barely conscious. So realistically, what do you think you could have done to change the situation?"

With your back still turned away from him, your shoulders shake as you rub at your watery eyes. "I didn't do anything. I didn't even try. I couldn't move. It was like I was watching from outside my body, like none of it was real."

"You were in shock- that's a normal reaction."

"Do you know what I was thinking?!" you ask, turning around abruptly. "The whole time. All I could think of was how tired I was, and how much everything hurt, and. And. T-that I was so goddamn relieved that he was finally leaving me alone for a few fucking minutes!" You can't stop crying now, but there's a sick sort of relief in it, like you've rid yourself of a poison flowing through your veins. "You can't write that. Don't write that down. Don’t."

"It stays between you and me," he promises, looking thoughtful, and he’s quiet for a moment. "This is what I’m thinking, Olivia. All your life, you've been the one who saves everybody else, haven't you? Even at your own expense. That's a huge part of how you define yourself. So when something like that happens- it throws everything you think you know about yourself into question. But...there’s something else I’m wondering."

“Yeah?”

"Do you think that you are worth saving?"

You don’t answer.

{I’m damned if I do and I’m damned if I don’t
so here’s to drinks in the dark at the end of my road}

An hour later, you brush one last stray tear off your cheek and take a final glance in the mirror to check your freshly reapplied eyeliner. Once you fish your phone out of your new bag- you're so happy you chose the blue one after all- you send a quick text and wait.

«I went, el, so I guess drinks are on you today»

«then get your ass over here before I change my mind»