He Who Fights Against Monsters
Written November 2003
Synopsis: Olivia struggles with her personal demons.
Disclaimer: The characters within are property of Wolf Films, Universal Television, Studios USA, and other corporations. No infringement is intended.
“He who fights against monsters should see to it that he does not become a monster in the process. And when you stare persistently into an abyss, the abyss also stares into you.” (Friedrich Nietzsche)
Raindrops tapped gently against his bedroom window. They should have lulled him to sleep, but he was still awake, plagued by something he couldn’t identify. Maybe the fact that Maureen was moving out of state. Maybe the vic whose death he had investigated earlier in the day. Who knew anymore?
The telephone rang and he reached over to grab the receiver. “Stabler.”
He could hear people talking over a Middle Eastern music track. Then a familiar voice came on the line. “Elliot, it’s me. Did I wake you?”
The glowing numbers on his digital alarm clock read 12:42. “Hardly. Something wrong, Liv?”
“Feel like joining me for a beer at the Fat Black Pussycat?”
The Fat Black Pussycat, with the 10 ounce martinis and antique, Moroccan décor? Olivia was more of a beer and pretzels kind of girl. Something was definitely wrong. “I’ll be there in twenty.” He hung up and searched his closet for dress slacks and a nice button-down shirt, hoping it would pass as acceptable attire.
Olivia Benson was perched on a barstool, fastidiously peeling the label off of her bottle of Budweiser. Elliot wasn’t even there yet, and she was already kicking herself for calling him. Long ago, without ever saying a word, they had made a pact to help each other battle their demons. It had always been effective, but that was about to change.
This time, the demon she was battling was herself.
Elliot slid onto the stool beside her and flagged down the bartender. “I’ll have what she’s having.”
“You’re late,” she said finally, still focused on her task.
“Well, I can’t look this good without some effort.”
“I’ve never seen that shirt before.”
He wasn’t even aware that she had looked at him. “I’ve never seen that dress before.” Olivia was a knockout no matter what she wore, but the little black number she was in now emphasized all the right curves. “Hot date tonight?”
She didn’t say anything. Giving up – but only for a moment – Elliot tipped back his drink and took a sip. Neither of them spoke. When she finally finished removing the label on her bottle, she ordered another beer and began the same infantile task.
“Elliot,” she mocked.
He was tempted to take the beer away from her. “Talk to me.”
She finally looked at him, squinting in thought. “Do you ever just want to … quit?”
“Quit what, Special Victims?” At her nod, he laughed and took another swig. “Every damn day.”
“I’m serious, Elliot.”
“So am I. If I had quit last week, I wouldn’t have had to interview that fifteen year old girl about her rape. If I had quit last month, I never would’ve watched that baby die in my arms. If I had quit a year ago … who knows?”
“Then why do you come back day after day?”
“Because no one else wants to work with you.” She gave him her patented cut-the-crap glare, and he sighed. “Okay, Liv, I’ll bite. I keep working for Special Victims because I can’t imagine doing anything else. I’m good at what I do, and I get the job done. At the end of the day, it’s worth it.”
“Was it worth your divorce?”
His self-control weakened. Bringing up his divorce made him edgy and defensive. If it had been anyone but Olivia… “If it wasn’t, I would’ve quit a long time ago.”
“Because Kathy never understood,” she said. “No one ever does.” She looked toward the bartender and picked up her near-empty bottle. He nodded and returned with another one.
“Come on, Liv, you know you’ll be half-sick if you drink any more.” He avoided her gaze, but he could feel her eyes on him.
“You know me well.”
“So why all the questions? Couldn’t think of anything better to do at–” He checked his watch. “–one forty-five in the morning than drink too much and get all philosophical?”
One corner of her mouth rose. “Let’s take a walk.”
“I have an umbrella.”
Olivia could tell when Elliot’s mind was elsewhere, and she had a pretty good idea where it was – back in the past, with his ex-wife. Happier times, no doubt, at least until he moved over to Special Victims. His head was lowered, and he said very little. She sighed inwardly. “I bought this dress about two months ago, one of those impulse buys. I didn’t need it; it’s not like I have a really great social life.”
“What, hanging out with me and Fin and Munch doesn’t count?”
“Anyway,” she continued, giving him a playful glare, “tonight I finally had a reason to wear it. See, it’s not really a first date kind of dress, but I’d been seeing this guy off and on for the last couple of weeks, so I thought it might be time.”
He grinned. “You holding out on me, Benson?”
“Well, you don’t need to know every detail of my down time, however uneventful it is.”
“Oh, and here I thought there were no secrets between us.”
“I figured I’d wait until I had something good to tell you – or, as Munch would probably say, something juicy. Obviously, I don’t have anything good to tell you, but at least this time I got to avoid the whole ‘I told you so’ lecture that you are so fond of giving me when I get caught with my guard down.”
“I’ll have you know I resent that. I’ve only lectured you twice.”
“Whatever.” He nudged her. “Well, I promise no lectures this time.”
“Somehow I doubt that.”
“I know you’re tough and that you could kick my ass with both hands tied behind your back. But I also know men, and I know that they can do some really stupid things. I just want to make sure you’re all right.”
“You know, you’ve been all mushy since your divorce. What happened to my big, tough, macho partner?”
“Well, at the moment, he’s hiding all his big, tough macho-ness until he gets the address of the guy who stood you up.”
“Oh, he didn’t stand me up.” She paused. “I stood him up.”
His brow creased. “Why?”
“Remember last April, when we cracked down on that middle school teacher who was molesting his students?”
“Yeah. The vics just seem to keep getting younger and younger.”
“The guy I was dating taught kindergarten. Elliot, I couldn’t spend more than fifteen minutes with him before I started wondering if he had abused his students, if he himself had been abused, if–” She bit down on her bottom lip. “I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t control my own thoughts, couldn’t trust him. Being with him felt more like interrogating a suspect than having dinner.”
“Do you want to quit, Olivia?”
His question didn’t exactly surprise her. She lifted her head, meeting his gaze. “I typed up a resignation letter, but I couldn’t give it to Cragen, not without talking to you first.”
“What do you think, that by quitting the memories will just go away? You’ll get some kind of reprieve?” His eyes glowered for a moment, then almost immediately he wore an expression of sympathy, like that of a man who had wrestled with the same exact thing. “No, Olivia. You will see the faces of the victims every single day for the rest of your life. Nothing can change that.”
“I’m tired, Elliot, tired of seeing monsters.”
“If you think that leaving Special Victims is going to make the monsters disappear, Olivia … then you’re not the woman I thought you were. Go ahead, quit, if you think that’ll make a difference – but remember the reason you came to Special Victims in the first place.”
Her voice was hollow when she answered. “My mother.”
“And all the people like her. The people who never would have had a chance to start over if you hadn’t help put their rapist behind bars. They never gave up, Olivia. Why did you?”
Her emotions betrayed her, and even her best efforts to fight off the tears weren’t enough. One stray drop slid from the corner of her eye, and she blinked it away. Elliot caught it with his finger, brushing it aside and cupping her face in his hand.
“Come on, let me take you home.”
Olivia rolled over in bed and opened her eyes. It was only 5:30; she’d had less than four hours of sleep, but it was the first time she had actually slept.
She climbed out of bed, still in her black dress. She couldn’t remember how she got home, just that Elliot had been with her. Peering out of her doorway, Olivia spotted her partner asleep on the couch, sitting up, a sheet of paper in his hand. She picked up the quilt that she kept folded at the foot of her bed and carried it into the living room.
Elliot had been reading her letter of resignation. A sigh escaped her lips, and she carefully took the paper from him. It read more like a diary entry than anything else. ‘Though joining the Special Victims Unit had been my dream seven years ago, I now wish that I could forget everything I have seen and return to being blissfully ignorant of the sexual perversions in our society.’ Stifling a chuckle, she crumpled it up and tossed it at the waste basket.
“Poetry, Liv. You should’ve written poetry.”
Elliot’s voice startled her. How long had he been awake? “You don’t think it was too over the top?”
“Are you kidding? It brought tears to my eyes.”
“From laughter, no doubt.” She looked away as she sat beside him. “Elliot, about last night–”
“I was completely out of line and I’m sorry.”
“Why? You’re the only person I trust to be completely straight with me. And as usual, you were right. If I quit, not only would I have nowhere to go, but I’d feel like I was betraying my mother and all of the victims.”
“And yourself.” He straightened, moving closer to her as he adjusted his position. “Olivia, you’re a good cop, and even good cops have bad days.”
“How about bad months?”
“Bad everything. But you’ve got to remember, you’re part of a team. You do not have to fight your demons alone.”
Olivia unfolded the blanket and, with his help, draped it over the both of them. He wrapped his arms around her, and she nestled her head into his shoulder. They sat together in silence, eventually drifting back to sleep. This time, the monsters were defeated.