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{I’m a lucky man to count
on both hands the ones I love}

"Hey. Liv. Come check this out," Nick calls to you, waving a manila envelope from where he's standing outside one of the interrogation rooms. Being the sucker that you are, you go to him, only to sense that this may be a trap as soon as he shuts the door behind you. "Guess what the word on the street is?"

"I have no clue, Nick, I hate guessing games."

"My source tells me Stabler was at Munch's party."

"And what street, exactly, is this where people gossip about Elliot?"

Nick shakes his head doggedly, as if you're a lying perp and he's right on the verge of getting you to crack. "Stabler. In the same place you were."

"That's...nice?"

"You didn't know he was there?"

"I was with you guys the whole time- did you see me with him?"

"I also heard he left early." Nick gives you this encouraging smile like he knows there's something you really want to tell him. "And you did too. Sooo...did I solve the mystery of where you went?"

"We had a few drinks, caught up...it's really nothing exciting."

"So why all the cloak and dagger shit?"

"Who knows? Maybe I didn't want to hear it from everyone about what a mistake I was making." You gesture toward him with one finger. “Maybe because my partner likes to stick his nose in everything.”

"What's Brian think?"

"About Elliot? He thinks he's a dick. You guys actually agree on something there. Great minds and all..."

"I wouldn't go that far," he says with a snicker. "But so now that you 'caught up', what happens next?"

"We all go about our lives and stay out of other people's business."

"Liv," he starts to say, measuring his words carefully. "I'm trying to think of how I want to put this."

"I'm not sleeping with him."

"I didn't say you were. But I'm...you've been working through a lot lately."

"Everybody says that, like this is news to me. Do you have a point to this?" You pivot slightly on one foot to show him that you are fully prepared to walk away if he doesn't, or if he's about to tell you something you don't want to hear.

"The point is, I would hold off on making any big decisions if I were you. Wouldn't get into anything that I might not be able to get myself out of. Just...that's all I'm saying, keep that in the back of your head."

"Gotcha. Now-"

"And Liv? Whatever the hell you do- I'm here, okay?"

You give him a genuine smile of thanks. As much as he's the annoying know it all little brother that you never wanted, it's reassuring to know you have someone like him in your chaotic, slightly mixed up corner. He had worked persistently to win you over, and you certainly hadn’t made it easy on him, but he didn’t give up and now you know you’ve gained a friend for life. "Okay."

"Does anyone ever tell you you're doing a good job?"

"At what?"

He shrugs one shoulder, turning around and walking away so you won't be able to argue. "Surviving."

{hey I don’t wanna hurt
there’s so much in this world to make me bleed}

As you step off the elevator, you feel around in your bag to try and find wherever your keys are hiding amongst the ocean of other shit that seems to multiply on an hourly basis. Letting out a little pleased 'aha' when you find them, you go about unlocking the door while your mind has already moved on to thinking about dinner, wondering if you could convince Brian to go out to that new Japanese place with you since you were both home early. You had been craving those noodles all day and-

Your muscles go rigid before your brain can catch up, paralyzing you as you stand in the doorway and your bag and keys fall forgotten to the floor. It feels like all the oxygen has been abruptly sucked out of your lungs, leaving you light headed and unable to focus on anything beyond the erratic pounding of your heart. No. No.

"Liv, hey!" A familiar voice breaks through the fog, and you quickly identify it as Brian's as you see him walking out into the living room. "Look who finally got his ass over here to come check this place out- you remember Will, right? Liv...?"

You use all the strength you can summon up to nod weakly, recognizing the face of the man sitting on your couch as soon as Brian says his name.

Brian, for his part, sees your wide eyes and vacant stare and knows what he's dealing with. "Liv. I'm right here, babe, you're okay," he says under his breath.

"Yeah. Y-yeah. I'm sorry, I need to go lie down, I don't feel well," you announce to them both, heading toward your bedroom as quickly as your shaking legs will allow.

"Sorry about that, man, she's still...working through some stuff," Brian explains when he thinks you're out of earshot.

Well, that was the second time today you've heard that. What the hell is that all about, anyway? Yeah, you've got problems, but you're sure as shit not the only one 'working through' something. Your 'stuff' just happens to be a little more public than most people's issues.

You know what it really means, that its code for 'she's crazy', always at the ready for whenever someone is trying to rationalize your irrational behavior. It's the politically correct way of saying that you're broken, that everyone else should temper their expectations because something horrible has happened to you, something that puts you and your shit in a category all its own that defies classification. There's no reason to dig deeper, to try and understand, not when it's easier to explain it away as you working through it all.

'Working through'. It implies that there's an end point, that one arbitrary day will come where you'll be expected to have put it all in the past. Yesterday you were sinking in the quicksand, today you're back on solid ground, and that place in between where you're struggling to pull yourself up to safety doesn't exist.

The real irony of the situation, though, is that none of this is new. You've always been damaged, you were apparently just doing a better job of hiding it than you thought you were.

But you you couldn't fool everyone. He had seen right through you. Once again you've been swept away, you're back in your old apartment, in your old bedroom, and there's a gun pressing against the base of your skull. «get undressed», he's ordering you, and you've figured out by now that this is part of the game. Last time he didn't lay so much as a finger on you, just kept you waiting for twenty minutes before coming back and telling you to get dressed again, but you aren't letting yourself hope that maybe it will be the same now, not when he's got your hands cuffed back together and he's shoving you down on the bed and you're closing your eyes and saying please, please don't like it would make one goddamn bit of difference.

«I'm not going to hurt you, sweetheart, don't you trust me?» and he's not lying but you wish he was, because when he's touching you it's too gentle, too sinister in its familiarity, too much like he's claiming you for his own. You're trying to block it out, to think of the last time Brian was here and you sat up all night talking about everything and nothing, when you said there's something about this Lewis guy, he scares me but it's more than that, I can't put my finger on it, and Brian had kissed his way down to the small of your back, sssh, hon, he's not here. just us and you didn't fall asleep until the morning sun was already streaming through the blinds.

«look at me», and there's no more escaping, even in your mind, because that son of a bitch is grabbing your neck, yanking your head toward him, and then he's getting up and cracking open a new can, draining most of it in one gulp. You're wondering if he's more drunk than you are, if he'll get careless and this could be it, this could be your chance as he's sitting down near the foot of the bed. You're waiting for him to turn toward you and then you're kicking him in the face with all the strength you have, struggling to roll yourself out of his grasp but he recovers too quickly. Now he's grabbing your ankles, trying to push your knees toward your chest and your feet are thrashing around wildly. It's the only way you have to defend yourself and you're getting in a few good kicks to his mouth but it's not enough, you're easily overpowered, and he's trying to wrench your legs apart and this is not good, he's mad now and oh god this was not a good plan, this is really bad ohgodohgod. But he's losing his grip on your left leg for a fraction of a second, just enough to try and pull it away, and he's lunging forward to try and grab your ankle, but he misses badly and when the flat of his hand connects with already almost unbearably tender skin it makes a sickening crack. The noise seems to echo, hanging in the air around you, but somehow it's not enough to mask your tiny whimper as your back arches sharply toward him.

He's not making a sound, just sitting back on his heels so your legs are pinned underneath his. «I knew it, I fucking knew it! you got a thing for pain, detective? that's what does it for you?», and you won't look at him and he's reaching over for the gun, jabbing the side of your face with the barrel until you're eye to eye. «I knew from the second I saw you, you were just askin for it, for someone to put you in your place. cause deep down, isn't that what you know you deserve?» and you're shaking your head almost wildly, that's not what it was, you never wanted this, and he's grabbing onto a fistful of hair at the crown of your head and pulling, «you're a goddamn liar, bitch, did you go home that night and try to get your boyfriend to rough you up a little?», and you're mouthing nonono and it's not a lie but you're bracing yourself for what's coming anyway. «course not, what'm I fuckin saying, but it's all you were thinking about while he was doing you. bet he wondered why you couldn't get enough, huh? you wanted to know what it's like to be broken down. humiliated. it's written all over your face».

Every muscle in your body is trembling uncontrollably and it feels like electric shocks over and over and he's laughing, «god you're excited about this», and you can't say anything because he's pushing you over onto your stomach and holding your head down so you can hardly breathe, so the pillow is smothering you. Now he's finally letting go of his grip on your neck, and you're turning your face to the side and gulping for as much air as you can, but it's not enough, not at all. He's sitting on your legs and reaching around to grab you from underneath, and struggling is only making it worse, making the blanket under you feel like sandpaper on already wounded skin, so you go limp and now he's leaning over you and his face is so close to yours and you can smell the vodka all over his breath. «do you really think anyone's gonna believe you let yourself get ambushed? cause they won't, no one's that stupid, except for *you*. tell yourself whatever you want but you know it's true, you know what a dirty slut you are, you know you walked right into it. didn't even *try* to fight back.» He's sitting up and you can feel his dick against your ass through the scratchy denim and you’re going to suffocate lying face down like this, can'tletyourselfcrycan'tletyourselfscream, «good luck convincing a jury you didn't want this, sweetheart, they'll see right through that and I'm gonna walk. again» and ohgodnopleaseno...

"Stop!" you tell yourself firmly, reaching over to your left arm and pinching yourself as hard as you can to try and force yourself back to reality. You wonder what it says about you that pain is the only thing you've found that works, whether it be pinching or slapping your hand or clawing at your skin until you draw blood. But it only goes so far. You've stood in the shower under a torrent of nearly scalding water until your entire body is bright red and you've scrubbed yourself raw, and yet you still feel just as dirty, just as disgusting, as you did back then. There's no getting rid of it.

You hear footsteps coming down the hall and you rub at your eyes hastily, deciding it's worthless to pretend to be asleep. Instead you draw your legs up closer to you, resting your chin on your knees, and you wait.

He doesn't even bother to knock before he comes in, which means he must be feeling either lucky or stupid today. "Liv. Uh."

"I texted you ten minutes before I got home. Was there a reason why you couldn't text me back and say hey FYI, there's gonna be a stranger in your living room when you open the door?"

"Will's not a stranger," Brian argues, because he is the reason that old saying about not seeing the forest for the trees was invented.

"I've only met him what, twice? To me that's a stranger. At least when it comes to showing up here when I'm not expecting anyone."

"Oh, like when I come home and fucking Elliot is chillin' on my couch."

You blink in stunned confusion. "What does that have to do with- that's completely different and you know it."

"Why is it different? Because one bothered you and the other didn't?" He rubs his forehead like he's concentrating. "Oh that's right, because it's always all about you here! How the hell could I forget?"

"Fuck you, Brian. Just leave me alone."

"Hey, I'm sorry, okay? Seriously, if I had thought it would upset you, I would've told you beforehand. I guess I wasn't thinking."

"Now there's a surprise," you snap, and you know it was an honest mistake, but you are angry and embarrassed and still shaking and all you really want to do right now is get drunk enough that you can sleep without dreaming.

"How was I supposed to know, Liv? How? Do you wanna write out a list of all your rules so I can make sure that every single goddamn thing I do is exactly what you want?"

"How were you supposed to know? Oh, I have no idea. Maybe because the last time I came home to a stranger I wasn't expecting, he-" You trail off abruptly, looking down at your feet and shaking your head.

"He what? Let's hear it. Is that the only way I'll ever get you to talk to me about it, making you angry enough?"

"Fuck. You. Get out."

He turns around and locks himself in the bathroom, which wasn't really what you were intending, not when he'll have to pass through the bedroom again when he eventually wants to leave (and you assume that at some point he will). You try to take a few deep breaths, anything to calm yourself down enough to make it into the kitchen and get a drink, but you're distracted by the blinking light on the phone that you had dropped onto the floor some time ago.

«you still want me to come over tomorrow?»

Elliot. You quickly type out «yes. please.» and hit send as your eyes start to water again. It was just a few nights ago that he was sitting with you in this very spot, and you were just as scared and exhausted and emotionally wrecked as you are now, but it was different. There were no shouting matches, no accusations, no barbs intentionally aimed to extract maximum damage. He hadn't tried to make you feel guilty for something outside your control and he hadn't kept pushing for you to confide in him after you had told him again and again to back off. He let you have your space, and he told you stories about Eli until you finally gave him a tiny smile, and when you kissed him it felt like some of the missing pieces inside you were falling into place.

«i miss you», you add on an impulse, cringing self consciously even before it had finished sending. Coming from you, you might as well have just proclaimed your eternal undying love for him, even though it was only a fraction of what you wanted to say: I'm falling apart. and I need you here. come make me forget everything for a while.

The reply came almost instantly: «there's nothing to miss, I'll see you tomorrow. promise. you okay?»

You start trying to formulate a response that doesn't make you sound like a whiny little girl (or a whiny middle aged woman, you’re not sure which is worse), but then you hear the lock on the bathroom door jiggling and you throw the phone aside, purposely turning to face the other direction. "I don't want to talk about it."

"You never do," Brian mutters and okay, that's enough.

"Do you think I enjoy being like this?!" You swing your legs over the side of the bed and onto the floor, pacing back and forth but still not looking at him. "I'm crazy. I get it. But do you think this is all some elaborate plan to piss you off? Because it's not. I can't turn it off, okay, and I'm sorry if you think that makes me paranoid but I can't. I can't let myself be blindsided, not again. I should've known better. I didn't learn."

"Didn't learn what?"

"Anything! It should've been a wake up call. It's like the universe was warning me and I just didn't fucking listen and I let someone get to me. Again. I'm so fucking stupid."

"I...uh. I'm not sure what you're talking about, babe," and you're a bit startled because you had somehow forgotten for a moment that you were actually speaking out loud. "Help me out here? I dunno what your wake up call was supposed to be because...there's no way you could have known what he was going to do and-"

"But I let myself get into that situation. I let my guard down when I already know I can't defend myself and I...just forget it. It doesn't matter. It's not gonna happen again."

"You keep saying 'again' and I don't get it. Was there something else before, um, this happened?"

"No."

Of course that wasn't going to satisfy him. "So then...why do you say you already knew?"

"It was a long time ago." You brush past him as you make your way out of the room, heading for the kitchen and hoping he'd get the hint to stop talking.

No such luck. "Something happened to you a long time ago."

"We really don't have to discuss it," you say, taking a long sip from your wine glass. "I was UC and- it was nothing."

"Liv."

You still won't turn around to face him, but you know he sees your shoulders start to shake anyway. "I t-told you. 'm fine."

"Nothing happened, and you're fine, but it's still upsetting you."

"Are you making fun of me?"

"What? Jesus, no. I'm just trying to put this all together," he says. "Someone hurt you."

"N-no. He didn't get the chance."

"But he, whoever he is, he tried to." You don't answer. "And you think it was. That you should've been able to keep it from happening."

"See, you don't need me to say anything! You figured it all out on your own. Congratulations. Now can you just believe me when I say nothing happened and we can forget this whole conversation?"

"Nothing. Kinda like how nothing happened to you with Lewis."

That finally gets your full attention, your head whipping around to give him an icy glare. "Tell me you did not just say that." When he doesn't respond other than a slight shrug, you clench your hands into fists, your nails leaving crescent shaped indentations on your palms. "What am I supposed to- you've seen more than enough. I told you I wasn't raped. There's really nothing else to talk about."

"Oh, that's such bullshit."

"Excuse me? Were you there? If you think I'm lying to you-"

"I've never said I thought you were lying, but do I think sometimes that you're in denial? Yeah, I do. I think you're- shit, what's the word I'm looking for?" he asks, pausing. "Minimizing. I think you have a way of minimizing things."

"Thank you. So what do you recommend I do, since you seem to know it all?" You finish off the crimson liquid in the bottom of your glass and go in search of another bottle while you wait for his unwanted advice.

"I dunno, Liv, I'm giving up on thinking I'll ever get you to trust me."

"And I'm supposed to...what, exactly? You want me to apologize? Because in case you forgot, I was just fucking fine until I came home and you-"

"I fucked up," he admits, voice suddenly becoming quieter, more even. "I'm sorry about tonight, honest. You were right, I wasn't thinking, and I get that now. So I'm sorry. I'd never do anything like that deliberately."

You bite your lip and nod.

"Liv, what I'm saying is...just don't make me into the enemy here. That's all I'm asking for. I know I fuck things up and shit, I know I'll do it a million more times without even trying but...I would do anything for you, okay? Anything. Just don't shut me out."

Your head is swimming in a daze, in between I'm giving up and I would do anything and don't shut me out, and the only thing you want to do is submerge yourself under a cascade of freezing water until you can't feel anything else but the cold. "I'm gonna shower," is all you say, and you don't even have to look in his direction to know that you've let him down yet again. But he lets you go, lets you walk away, and you make it all the way back to your room before you're overtaken by giant wracking sobs.

Your eyes close and you're back at your old apartment, and he's cornering you in your bathroom, cigarette in one hand and knife in the other just in case you might forget who's in charge here. «you know what's funny?» He's exhaling and the smoke is hitting you right in the face, «all this time and no more calls from the boyfriend, no texts, nothing. know what that tells me?» and you're thinking god please shut up, not again, and your eyes are stinging but you don't move, don't make a sound, «he must be used to you disappearing, huh? you don't want him to get too close. don't want him to know who you really are, the way I do.» He's leaning forward and kissing you, forcing your mouth open and you're coughing and choking and he's laughing, holding up the cigarette butt, «you know what to do» and you're shaking your head, nogodpleaseno, but there's a hand around your neck and «do it. do it or I fuck you. your choice» and he's already reaching for the button on your pants so you're grabbing the cigarette and looking away and twisting it deep into the skin on your inner arm. This time you don't cry, don't scream, barely even flinch and maybe this is what dying is like, maybe it starts when you just can't feel anymore, even when he's poking at it admiringly, «jesus christ, look at that, couldn't have done better myself».

Now he's pushing you back onto the floor, cold white linoleum stained with blotches of red and you're pleading no, no, I did it, you said if I did it you wouldn't like there's any reasoning with him when he's holding you down, «I lied, sweetheart, that was all for you» and he's fumbling with the zipper before yanking your pants off, «I know what you like, remember? God I bet you're so fucking wet right now» and oh god nonono pleasegodpleasejustletmedie...

"Liv? Shit, Liv, what happened?" You open your eyes, startled by the sound of Brian's concerned voice. He comes over to where you're curled up in a fetal position at the foot of the bed, careful not to approach you from behind. "It's okay, hon, it's over. He can't hurt you anymore. It's just us here, sssh. Just us. Can I?" He reaches his hand out toward yours, waiting for your response.

"I d-do trust you," you whisper, much to his surprise. "As much as I trust anyone but...it's not enough. I know." There are a hundred things you want to say to him and a thousand things you never will, but you are all out of words and tired of trying to hold it all inside, so you do the only thing you can. You let him pull you up into a sitting position, and then you collapse against him and finally, finally give in and let yourself fall apart.

{stay with me
let’s just breathe}

"Wha...Bri?" You lift your head up and squint as the light from the lamp hits your puffy eyes, looking around in confusion. "Am I...?"

"You fell asleep," he explains gently, and it's then that you realize that neither of you have moved in- according to the clock by the bed- almost two hours.

"Shit, I'm sorry, why didn't you make me move?" you ask, noticing the uncomfortable-looking position he's been sitting in. "I must be killing your back."

He shrugs as you stretch out, leaning against the headboard. "Didn't wanna wake you up. Are you...how’re you feeling?"

"Okay," you say, unsure if you want to admit just how drained, how vulnerable tonight has left you. How much it took out of you to let go enough to cry yourself to sleep in his arms. "Tired."

"Yeah, I- me too." He reaches his hand back behind his head, rubbing his neck. "Can, uh, can I ask you something? What happened to you before. Did you ever tell anyone about it?"

"I went to a therapist a couple times before I, well. Gave up, I guess."

"But no one other than that."

"Not really. Not- it's been a while." Elliot had tried to broach the subject several times in his not especially subtle way before you had exploded at him, letting him know in no uncertain terms that the next time he mentioned it would be the last, as in the last thing he ever said to you, because you would be gone before he could even finish his sentence and this time you weren't fucking around. This time it would be for good.

He never brought it up again.

"I'm, um, I'm glad you told me," Brian says, a nervous edge to his voice. "Not glad it happened but...I'm glad I know now. Even if you never wanna talk about it anymore."

You think about what you had said to Elliot, how you never actually thought about how it must have hurt him. How you were the one making the threats, but in the end he was the one who followed through, who beat you at your own game. "I just. I know I'm not easy to deal with and I don't want you to end up resenting this, us. Me."

"I don't, babe, and I'm not going to." He leans over, kissing your forehead for a long moment. "Whether it's easy or not...I don't give a damn. Because to me you're worth it."

You wish you could believe him.

{did I say that I need you?
did I say that I want you?
if I didn’t, I’m a fool, you see
no one knows this more than me
as I come clean}