Characters: Alex Cabot/Olivia Benson, George Huang/Original Male Character
Warning: Violence, disability
Disclaimer: I don't own them.
Summary: After witnessing a shooting, Alex is overwhelmed with guilt and traumatic stress. Olivia reaches out to her, but will it be enough?
A/N: You guys, I am so sorry it took me this long to update. I have had quite a year, some of it good, some of it bad, and I've also had writer's block like you would not believe. But I have an update now, and hopefully it won't take me nearly as long to get the next chapter up. Thanks so much for being patient with me! Feedback is always welcomed.
It was minutes later before Alex could comprehend anything.
When the shock faded and she was aware again, Olivia was murmuring to her gently. Elliot was talking to Adam, while the rest of the team was leaving the room to give them some privacy.
"Alex?" Olivia asked. "Are you okay?"
"…" Alex blinked. "I… yeah… I'm just shocked…" she muttered.
It was incomprehensible. Paralyzed- permanently paralyzed?
She'd gotten George paralyzed.
She swallowed hard, looking downwards, trying to make sense of it all. She set one hand on her temple and looked up at the surgeon, who was respectfully waiting for them to get their bearings.
"He's lucky to be alive," Doctor Masterson said quietly, getting their attention. "Given where the bullet hit, he should have died instantaneously. Even if he didn't, it still should have damaged a vital organ and caused him to bleed out before the ambulance even arrived. It may be hard to see it like this, but he is actually very lucky. That the paralysis will be the only lasting damage is nothing short of miraculous."
Adam swallowed hard and whispered, "What do we do now? And, and what do we do after he leaves the hospital?-"
"We have specialists who will help. Neurologists who will assess the injury, physical therapists who will show him how to use a wheelchair in addition to showing him how to keep his muscles from atrophying, social workers- anyone who can help will be made available. We'll make sure both of you know what you need to know before he's discharged," Doctor Masterson said gently. "We wouldn't just toss you out on the street with none of the information you'll need."
Adam smiled weakly, though he still looked devastated. "Thank you. One more thing- when can I see him, and when will he wake up?"
"As I said, he will still be in surgery for another hour or so," the surgeon said. "Repairing the damaged blood vessels took a lot of time, and then we had to repair his spine as best we could, too. This, as well as the initial injury and the medications we've given him, have taken quite a toll on his body, and it could be quite a while before he regains consciousness. I can't say when for sure, but it will be at least a few hours and I wouldn't be at all surprised if he doesn't wake up until tomorrow. When you're allowed to see him will be up to his doctors, but most likely, you'll be able to see him once he's moved out of the recovery room and into the ICU. Do you have any other questions about his surgery?"
Everyone shook their heads, so he said, "Then I'm going to go finish things up in the operating room. If you have any other questions, feel free to ask a nurse. I'm so sorry this happened, and I hope everything goes well from here on out."
"Thank you," Adam murmured. Doctor Masterson nodded at the group before walking out the way he'd entered.
Alex looked down, feeling like she was about to cry. She may not have gotten George killed, but she'd still ruined his life and Adam's. And not only that, but now Adam and George would blame her for sure, and they would hate her for it.
"Adam," Alex said helplessly, looking over at him. Olivia and Elliot moved ten or so chairs over, giving them some space and privacy. "Adam, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I didn't- if I-"
"Alex," Adam said tensely. "Please don't. Blaming yourself isn't going to change anything, and it's not your fault anyway."
Alex bit her lip, looking away. She tried to think of something to say, but no words would come.
"I'm going on a walk- I want to be alone. Call me if anything changes," Adam said, standing up. He didn't look numb, exactly, but he didn't seem to be "all there"; he seemed dazed, overwhelmed. Alex could only imagine what he must be thinking and feeling at that moment. In a few short hours, his entire life had been turned upside down. Everything about his day-to-day life with George would be different from now on, no matter how well they adjusted.
Alex watched him walk away, wishing she could do something, anything to help. She would give anything to fix what had happened. If she had been more attentive, it might have turned out that no one at all had been injured. She and George would have been afraid and shaken, but once the scene had been secured, they still could have continued like any other normal day. They would have gone out to eat and talked about their plans for the weekend and other everyday things, and then they'd have gone back to work. By now, she would probably have returned home and turned her TV on to a medical drama she watched as her guilty pleasure, and George and Adam would have been at their apartment, cooking together and relaxing.
Hot tears stung in her eyes. This wasn't how things were supposed to happen. George was an FBI agent, but he was a doctor first and foremost, and he wasn't supposed to get injured like other FBI agents did. He always tried to help people- there was no reason for him to end up shot, paralyzed. This wasn't right, wasn't fair.
Biting her lip, she stood as well, ignoring the looks from the team, and walked outside. The temperature had gotten cooler, but it was still pleasantly warm. She leaned against the wall, looking downwards, trying to stop herself from crying and not entirely succeeding.
"God, George, I'm so, so sorry," she whispered into the still air.
Adam decided, as he walked through the halls in what felt like slow motion, that he hadn't truly understood the definition of shock until today. He had thought shock meant surprise, but what it really meant was feeling like his entire body had been plunged into ice water. Blood turning cold in his veins and his entire body going numb, feeling hyperalert and yet unable to truly comprehend anything- he processed the new information, sure, but it didn't truly register- and his body was on autopilot. He didn't think he would notice if a bus were to start hurtling towards him. His body would just dodge as best it could without any input from his conscious self.
That was what shock meant. Being shut down mentally and emotionally.
He found himself at the chapel, which was mercifully empty, and he entered as quietly as he could. He sat down in the back and looked up at the ceiling.
The truth refused to sink in. Some part of him didn't want it to. Didn't want to face that fact that George would never walk again. All the little things that would never happen again suddenly felt vital. Going on walks, cooking together, even just moving through their apartment. He wasn't ready to face the fact that all of that was over. Even the things that they would still be able to do would be drastically different. Sure, George would still be able to talk with him as he cooked, and George might be able to cook with him if they got some modified equipment, but they wouldn't be standing together, wouldn't be leaning against each other as they worked. It wouldn't be the same no matter what they did.
No, he decided, zoning out was better than trying to come to terms with that.
Adam lost track of how much time he stayed there, gazing up at the ceiling thoughtlessly. He was only brought back to reality by his phone vibrating as a text message from Alex appeared on the screen. A doctor had told them that George was out of surgery, and there had been no further complications. They would be able to see him soon, though only two of them could stay since he would be in the ICU for a while.
"Thank God," he whispered, standing up. He returned to the waiting room, hurrying as the need to see George became overwhelming. He needed to see him, needed to see that he was alive. Needed to hold his hand and stroke his face.
He came back to where Alex was, avoiding the expression of sympathy on Olivia's face. He stood next to Alex and the nurse- one he had seen earlier, though he didn't remember her name- who had seemingly been waiting for him, and gave them a quizzical look.
"This way," the nurse said, turning towards a different hallway. They followed her to a small room in the intensive care unit.
From what Adam knew, single ICU rooms usually would have been hard to come by, but that was one of the advantages of being an FBI agent. Doctors wanted to take care of the people who helped keep the streets safe, so rather than put him in a room with many different patients, they bent the rules to make him a bit more comfortable. Adam gave a small smile at the thought. If anyone deserved that, it was George. Even if he shouldn't have been here in the first place... But Adam shook the thought away quickly, still unwilling to go there.
Adam could barely stop himself from bursting right in the room. The need to see George burned like fire inside him, and his muscles were begging him to do something, anything to work off the nervous energy that had accumulated over the hours he'd been waiting.
"Two at a time," the nurse reminded them as they came to a stop outside the door. Adam walked forward, not caring who chose to go in with him, but not willing to wait.
She opened the door for them and Adam rushed in, coming to a stop as he took in the figure on the bed. George looked awful; pale and smaller than usual with how the bed seemed to engulf him, and even though the doctor had said that George would recover and would even wake up in a few hours, George didn't seem to be anywhere near it. There was an oxygen mask covering his face and other machines attached to different parts of his body, his breathing and heart rate were slow, and he was lying almost completely motionlessness- he didn't seem to be any farther from death than he would have been right after being shot. It certainly seemed like he belonged in the ICU at this point, Adam thought.
Swallowing hard, Adam sat next to the bed and grabbed George's hand, and he shivered when he felt how cold George was. He turned to the doorway, catching the nurse's eye, and said, "He's freezing. Is he... is something wrong?"
"Don't worry," she reassured him. "It's just the anesthesia and the aftereffects of shock- nothing serious. I'll grab another blanket for him to warm him up faster."
"Thank you," Adam said, turning his attention back to George. He took George's right hand between his and rubbed it gently, slowly warming it up, and then repeated the process on his left.
He looked at George's face again, watching him sleeping deeply and peacefully. Even with the oxygen mask obscuring George's face, Adam could tell when he took a breath, could hear the soft sounds that escaped him, even if no one else could have, because he knew what to listen for.
Adam found himself wondering what it must have felt like for George in those few minutes on the courthouse steps, bleeding profusely, in so much pain, not knowing if he was going to survive- or maybe even thinking he wouldn't. And when he woke up, he would have to face so much more...
"Oh, baby, I'm so sorry," Adam whispered, eyes growing wet. He leaned forward and kissed George's temple, moving one hand up to tenderly stroke George's cheek, squeezing George's left hand with his other. "I'm so sorry," he repeated, leaning his forehead against George's. "I can't take it away, I can't make it better, but I can take care of you. And I will, I swear- I- I don't know if I'll be any good at it, but I'll learn, I'll try my best to keep you happy and comfortable. I'm never going to give up on you or anything, I promise. I love you so, so much, baby." He kissed George's face again, pulling back so he could stroke George's forehead, moving over his eyebrow ridge and then out to his temples, up to his scalp, touching as much of George's head as he could reach.
Suddenly, he heard a knock on the door and looked over to see Alex standing in the door frame, holding the blanket the nurse had retrieved. "Can I come in?" Alex asked. "I wanted to give you a few minutes alone first, and if you want more time, that's fine, but Lindsey- the nurse- just gave me this to give to him, so..."
"Come in," Adam said, clearing his throat.
Alex entered the room and handed him the blanket, which was surprisingly warm. Adam smiled softly, thinking about how George always loved lying in a blanket fresh out the dryer. He pulled the cold blanket off of George and gently set the warm one over him, smoothing it around him so he got as much warmth from it as he could. Then he set the cold blanket on top.
After a minute, Alex sat down on the chair across the bed from Adam. "Are you okay?" she asked him.
Adam saw the guilt in her eyes, and his shoulders slumped in weariness. "I don't know," he said honestly. He rubbed at his eyes, realizing how tired he was, and decided that he would get more coffee as soon as he could. "Are you okay?"
"I don't know either," she said, after a pause.
"That must've been terrible to see. I'm sorry that happened," Adam said softly. "Especially considering what happened... before." He winced as he finished the sentence, not wanting to upset Alex any more than she already was.
But if he had upset her, she didn't say anything about it, just continued talking. "It was. No one's as worse off as him, though. Don't worry about me."
Something in her expression seemed off, but Adam couldn't place it. After a moment of trying to figure it out, he looked downwards at George and shook his head. "If there's one thing George has taught me about psychology, it's that mental injuries can hurt every bit as bad as physical ones," he said. "Maybe George is doing worse than you, but you know that if it was someone else lying there-" he gestured towards George- "He would be telling you to take care of yourself."
"Well, it is him lying there," Alex retorted. "So I don't think he's going to be telling me."
Adam's patience wore out. Ordinarily he would have pressed the issue, but he was too tired. "Fine. Punish yourself for having feelings and then fall apart in a few weeks. See how much good that does you," he said.
"If he hadn't have gotten shot while protecting me-" Alex began, but Adam cut her off.
"I don't want to hear it, Alex," he snapped. "He did that because he wanted to. Because you're like his sister and he didn't want you hurt again. It's no one's fault except the shooter's. There was nothing you could have done, and blaming yourself for this-"
"Is the right thing to do," Alex interrupted. "It was my fault. We don't even know if the bullet would have hit me if he hadn't been hit."
"We're never going to find out. So don't drive yourself crazy trying to find a way it could have been different," Adam said. "All we know is that the bullet almost killed George and as it is..." he trailed off, not wanting to say the words aloud, "He's hurt. So I think it's safe to say you probably would have been just as bad, if not worse."
"It's not that easy. It doesn't work like that," Alex insisted.
Adam scowled. "Okay, so I'll say it was your fault. Happy now?"
"Thrilled. Absolutely over the moon, Adam," Alex said dryly.
Adam felt the agitation flare within him and he curled his fist, digging his nails into his palm. He took a few deep breaths to calm himself and said, "Alex."
"Adam," Alex replied.
"Do you really think George would have took the bullet if he thought you wouldn't get hurt?" Adam demanded.
"He thought I was going to be. But he was wrong," Alex said. "Or even if I would have been..." She trailed off.
"Don't do that, Alex," Adam said pleadingly. "You know better than that."
"Better than what?" Alex asked, almost accusingly.
Adam opened his mouth to reply, but then he closed it. He was too tired for this, too tired to try to assuage Alex's guilt when he not only had his own issues to work through, but he had George to worry about as well. He didn't want Alex to suffer because of this, but he could only do so much. And trying to change the mind of the most stubborn person he knew wasn't one of those things. George might be able to later, but Adam couldn't on his own.
"Never mind," he said lowly. He rubbed at his eyes again and turned his attention back to George.
Alex watched Adam silently over the next hour. Watched him switching George's blankets with warm ones when they got cold, rubbing his face and holding his hand. Watched him tenderly stroke George's forehead, love, worry, sympathy, and pain clear on his face.
Adam loved George more than anything. That much had been obvious to her for quite a long time, and was more evident than ever now.
And it made her feel even worse about what had happened. Her self blame wasn't something she could turn off, unlike what Adam seemed to think. It was a fact to her, even if it wasn't to Adam or George or Olivia. But as a prosecutor, she knew that people often had different interpretations of the same event. Her job had always been to convince people that hers was the right one.
As far as she was concerned, her interpretation of the shooting was the real one, no matter how many people disagreed. Of course Olivia, who had cared about her so much over these last few years, and Adam and George, who adored her, would see it as just another senseless crime that she had been victim to. Only Alex saw that there were more people than the shooter who had contributed. Sure, only the shooter had pulled the trigger, but she had let George take the bullet meant for her.
She could talk to Adam and George until she lost her voice, and then talk to every psychologist on the planet once it came back. It wouldn't change a thing.
She had gotten her best friend paralyzed. Ruined both his life and his lover's. She wasn't about to let anyone talk her into forgiving herself.
Not Adam, not George, not Olivia, not anyone.