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“I wasn’t aware I had so much clutter.” She’s been in this apartment for the past eight, almost nine years and while most of her cabinets are meticulously organized these days, this dresser obviously contains her drawer of shame. The last time she’s taken a proper look at it must have been… probably never, Olivia decides when she can’t recall a single instance. What she does remember is that this drawer is usually only opened to drop some useless item in there.

Matches, a lighter. A miniature notepad. A pair of now rusty nail scissors?

“You wanna throw all of this out?” His arms snake around her body from behind, crossing just below her breasts as he places a chaste kiss into her hair, right above her ear. She leans back and melds into his chest, unable to keep the smile that spreads off her features as she shrugs. Elliot’s warmth seeps into her skin and she allows a small, content sigh to escape at the contact.

She scans the contents of the drawer, deciding she hardly needs any of it. Last time she checked she had a healthy supply of matches in the kitchen, a notepad on the breakfast bar. She’s at the age where she needs grocery lists. From what she can tell there is nothing of importance in there.

“Probably,” she agrees, picking up a light blue pacifier that instantly conjures up a mental image of Noah sucking on it with relish, like this nipple made of silicone was all he needed to be content and peaceful. “Maybe not all of it,” she thinks out loud.

“Ah, the baby keepsakes,” he mumbles knowingly, his thumb swiping upwards against the underside of her left breast. In combination with his body pressed closely to hers and his breath hitting the back of her ear it creates a thrilling excitement that then sends a rush right between her legs. “Kathy had entire boxes of stuff for each of the kids,” he explains innocently while his hand moves further up, lavishly closing around her flesh that produces a puckered nipple. Olivia’s breathing becomes a shallow thing.

“Let me outline this: you want to paint this wall and have the new furniture fixed up by tonight, correct?”

“Sounds about right,” comes his agreement, accompanied by a gentle, teasing squeeze.

“We’re talking about furniture you haven’t even picked up yet, Elliot,” she reminds him before she turns despite the protest of his arms, trying to keep her exactly how she is. “Plus I gotta pick Noah up from Bentley’s in fifteen.”

“So?” He scrunches eyes, his brows knit. “I don’t understand the problem.”

Obviously, neither does his dick, because she can feel it bulge against her. The part of her that is starting to rediscover forgotten facets of her womanhood wants this to happen. Unfortunately there are other parts that momentarily prohibit it.

“Of course you don’t,” she rolls her eyes at him and places a kiss on his lips.

It’s been four months now, and his unfading appetite for her is flattering in a way. They took this slow. There was no dating, not the dance she was used to with other men. There was no need for it because they’ve laid all the groundwork a long time ago. They skipped romantic dinners at overpriced restaurants for accounting for the past and catching up on everything they have missed out on in each others' lives. It’s been countless conversations until they faced up to truths they have tried everything to conceal and deny when they were still partners. Eventually they spoke about feelings. Feelings they had back then. Feelings that lingered. Feelings that were still there. Elliot had said it first.

“I was in love with you, Liv. I was in love with you, and I’d long fallen out of love with Kathy, and I couldn’t do a damned thing about it because telling anyone? I couldn’t walk out on my wife with a new baby.”

“So, you walked out on me the first chance you got.”

“Yeah. It wasn’t as simple as it sounds, but yeah.”

When all of it was out in the open it took weeks until she first kissed him, then months until they took the next step. They haven’t defined what they have. Somehow it doesn’t feel like they need to. Things fall into place and it feels natural. It feels right.

“Move. Let’s tidy out this dresser.”

“I can be quick.” Elliot wiggles his brows in what’s probably a last attempt at changing her mind. “Show this thing a good time before you throw it out.”

Inwardly, Olivia winces. The fifteen minutes may be plenty for him but her menopausal self isn’t ready for quickies. Not that she’s opposed to them in general, she’d happily have a go at it if she didn’t have to deal with dryness and consequent discomfort during sex. Long story short, she’s trying to find the right time to tell him she can’t jump into things without some basic preparation.

“Right,” she gushes, seeing his eyes light up, thinking she’s seriously considering it. “So it can bust right under my ass, I can’t imagine anything better. Now move,” she tells him with amusement twinkling in her eyes, lightly pushing at his chest, wondering when he’ll start questioning her avoidance when it comes to spontaneous sex.

When he lets go of her, he also lets go of the playfulness, instead he looks at her thoughtfully.

“Liv?”

Maybe the time’s up much quicker than she has anticipated.

“Yeah?”

“Is something wrong? I mean, if you don’t want to, that’s totally fine, you know that. You know I’d never question that,” he starts, and they are both acutely aware that he is questioning it. “I mean, I’d never…”

“Elliot, it’s not,” she shakes her head, trying to find the right words, but at this point she has maybe ten minutes left, and her sexual difficulties aren’t something she wants to blurt out. “Nothing is wrong per se,” she assures him. “We’ll talk about this later. Tonight.”

“But there’s something,” he concludes, and something flashes in his eyes, making Olivia wonder if maybe he’s been concerned about her putting him off for a bit. He also sounds like he’s dreading whatever is to come because in his mind something can only be a bad thing. Ultimately she feels a bit more nervous than she originally did.

“There’s something. It’s no biggie, Stabler. Lighten up,” Olivia chuckles, trying to hide her own insecurities. She hopes it will ring true. The conversation in itself will be awkward, she’s afraid. If they had been together for years it would be easier. However, she hopes it won’t be some sort of turn off. She’d hate to lose these small moments that make her feel so desirable and wanted. It’s a hormonal problem she hasn’t yet found an ironclad solution to.

When Elliot visibly tries to shake off his worry she smiles and kisses him. The nervousness is shoved into the backseat because this--he--feels like home.

“I should probably get going. Can you finish this? I don’t think there’s anything in there that’s worth holding on to,” she says but lets the pacifier vanish in the back pocket of her jeans. “Just toss it in the garbage.”

“Copy that,” he agrees.

“I’ll bring dinner,” she says as she saunters off towards the coat rack, grabbing one of the various jackets. “Don’t ruin my wall.”

“How about you paint it, Miss I-dropped-my-coffee?” He challenges and she ducks her head a little, trying to hide her mischievous grin.

“Point taken.”


He joins her in the bedroom as she’s sitting cross-legged in the middle of the bed, laptop on the comforter before her.

“Are you almost finished?”

“Just about,” she looks up at him, casting a smile at him as she notices something in his hand. A black case maybe.

“What’s that?” She hits enter, closes the window and shuts the lid of the macbook as he unzips the find and produces her old camera, the kind you needed to put a film in. In fact, old doesn’t even begin to describe the Canon. It’s ancient. Momentarily she wonders if they still sell those in electronic stores. Polaroid cameras have a bit of a revival with teenagers lately.

“There’s a film in it, I didn't want to toss it out. Four pictures left on it, too.”

“I didn’t know I still had it,” Olivia says, cocking her head, wondering when she’s last seen it. Obviously it survived the move from her old apartment into this new place she first shared with Brian. Probably he had packed it. Or she did, not paying much attention to what she kept and what she got rid of. She hadn’t held on to a lot then. Anything that might have been touched by Lewis never made it past the threshold. Her belongings after had fit into eight boxes, and that included her entire wardrobe. “Does it still work?”

“Well, I didn’t waste a picture but the display lit up once I changed the batteries. Do you know when you last used it or what’s on it?”

She shrugs. “I have no clue. Fifteen years? Might as well be twenty,” she scoffs. “If you’d have it developed, the pictures probably wouldn’t come out anyway.”

“You never know,” he objects gently and turns it on, giving her a brilliant smile as he raises the camera to his eye.

“Smile,” he tells her but she turns her head away, almost coyly so, and holds up a hand.

“El, don’t. Put that away.”

“Come on, what’s the matter,” he coaxes, dropping the camera a bit. “Aren’t you the least bit curious?”

“About what?” She laughs.

“If it still works. Or the photos on it. I wouldn’t want to waste four pictures, Liv. Come on. For me.”

She contemplates this for a moment, cocking her head, her big brown eyes directed at him as he raises the camera again and *click*. She’s startled by how unexpectedly he put his finger on the shutter button. The flash has her seeing stars for a couple of seconds. She raises one brow at him and again *click*.

“Elliot,” she whines as he takes a step closer. She’s never really been fond of having her picture taken, unless it’s silly selfies with Noah. He sticks out his tongue and it’s so immature but it also breaks through the barrier of embarrassment she feels as she chuckles. *Click.*

He smiles cockily and licks his tongue as he walks two steps closer. “See, that’s not too bad, is it?”

“Unnecessary is what it is,” she tells him as he puts one knee onto the bed. Trying to escape another shot she falls backwards the moment she thinks he’s going to take the picture, but she miscalculates and he pushes the button when she’s sprawled out on the mattress with a pout on her face.

“You’re sexy.” His voice is gravel.

Subconsciously she grabs the collar of her shirt, tugging it up an inch as her body stiffens. He drops the camera then, instantly sensing that he’s said something that’s still hard to hear, hard to accept as the full, honest-to-God truth.

“You are,” he reinforces, surprising her. Usually he’d backtrack. Apologize. “You are so fucking sexy to me, Olivia Benson. And I won’t accept any objections on the matter.”

She swallows and her knuckles relax around the fabric of her night shirt. “Okay,” she says. She wants to believe it. She almost does when it comes from him. It takes getting used to. The compliments, the way he looks at her, the way she thinks he sees her.

Elliot’s the first sexual partner she’s ready to open up to after what happened with Lewis, however bumpy the process is. He has seen her naked while Brian and Ed haven't. It took her a lot of emotional effort to get there. To undress in front of him, let him see her. All of her.

She’d expected him to flinch. To look at her differently. Look at her like a victim or like she’s damaged goods. Like she’s something pitiful. And he had looked at her, his eyes moving across her body, taking in every mark, every scar, every pound she’s put on in recent years. With a matter-of-factfulness she’s never mustered before she pointed out the roadmap of her ordeal, stating ‘cigarette’ or ‘my house key.’

He’d paled, struggling to keep his emotions under control, but of course she saw the horror flit over his features, telling her it was much worse than what he had imagined. At some point he simply said ‘okay’, then pulled her into his arms. He didn’t profess how she was still beautiful, or that the scars didn’t matter, because he knows that yes, they matter. They matter to her. She’s learned to live with them but that doesn’t mean they don’t bother her when she looks at herself. They matter and he lets them matter. And yet she understands that he loves her with them as much as he would without them. He doesn’t avoid looking at them, touching them. He’s not paying extra attention to them, either. Between the two of them, he doesn’t allow them to take up any space and she’s grateful for it because it lets her breathe. Maybe she only imagined it but with Cassidy it felt like he tried to reassure her all the time while Tucker avoided looking at the scars even when they were right there in front of him, like just laying his eyes on them could set her off like an unpredictable firecracker. She figured it should have been easier, he’d seen every single mark Lewis had left on her body in her case file. He’d known every sordid detail she'd disclosed of what the bastard had done to her. And yet it didn’t feel like he wanted to be let in, regardless of how wary she’d been about it.

Elliot hadn’t coddled her like Cassidy did, but neither did he act like he didn’t know about every dehumanizing act of cruelty Lewis had done to her physically and emotionally. With him it felt like she was given a safe space, a space where he accepted whatever she had to offer. For the first time she was in a relationship that didn’t make her feel alien.

The camera is next to her now, out of his grasp and she worries her bottom lip for a few seconds while he scrutinizes her, maybe wondering if she really accepts his words as reality so easily. She rolls it around in her mind a little, that she is sexy, and although still hard to believe, she knows he means this. She sees it in the way he looks at her, kisses her, touches her. He’s never been even remotely cautious in the way he learned her, her body. It’s not about just looks either, she thinks, because he mentions such mundane things like how her voice has deepened in recent years, or how her eyes darken when she’s responsive to him. There’s more but she can’t think of it at the top of her head.

“Hey,” he says softly and his pupils get small as he focuses on her lips that tingle from the brief assault of her teeth. Instead of saying anything back she reaches up and cups his cheek, brushing her thumb across his skin that’s covered in a five o’clock shadow.

“You going home tonight?” Her voice is thick with emotion, hoping he’ll stay and instill his declaration.

“Do you want me to?” Her eyes close. He’s leaving it up to her and she’s never entirely sure he doesn’t just stay over for her sake.

“What do you want,” she says quietly.

“What do I want?” He asks and nods his head at her when her eyes flutter open. “Yeah, I’d like to stay.”

She feels needy, and maybe it puts him in a predicament, but she’s relieved that he won’t leave. He won’t prod her or ask if she’s okay, he knows better than that, but she’s learning to communicate with him.

“I’m not trying to be difficult when you say things like that,” she offers quietly, sounding like she’s stifling emotions.

For a moment he seems to hesitate squinting his eyes at her, as if gauging what has triggered this reaction.

“I know that. And I get why you’re hesitant to believe it, Liv.” That’s all. He doesn’t make an effort to convince her further because he knows her. Pushing her will do the exact opposite.

She exhales a little heavier than intended and lets her hand drop to his shoulder. “You might change your mind about that.”

“I don’t see how,” he retorts, but her cheeks heat underneath his gaze. She moves and he makes space for her to sit up, looking at her suspiciously before it dawns on him. “Is this about earlier? The something?”

“Yeah, something,” she agrees candidly, as he gives her some more space for the conversation that makes her worried that once it’s created, her words will only deepen the rift.

“Look, if I come on too strong sometimes, you gotta tell me, Liv. I mean, I thought I was catching on but then I wasn’t so sure because it felt like mixed signals once or twice and…”

“El.” She attaches her fingertips to his mouth, silencing him. “It’s not you. You didn’t do anything wrong.” It's clear that he's been worried about her behavior for a little while. She hates that he thought he might have done something wrong.

“No?” He seems thoroughly surprised by this.

“No,” she states simply. “Actually, mixed signals hits the nail on the head.” She looks at the mattress between them and scratches the side of her neck before she looks back up. “It’s not that I didn’t want to today. It’s just that erm…” She blows out a breath, her heart thumping faster. “I’m in menopause and things are literally dried up. I’m taking something for it and when you’re here I’m prepping accordingly but I just can’t that spontaneously.”

For a moment he just looks at her and she sees the moment it clicks for him. “Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“Okay,” he says and nods a few times. “And you didn’t tell me that because…”

“We’re fresh, El. I don’t know, I thought…” Olivia shrugs, realizing she isn’t sure what exactly she was thinking. A lot of things. “I mean, it’s the opposite of sexy. And I’m only just getting used to it because this hasn’t been an issue for me before. I thought maybe you noticed when we were intimate that I didn’t really…,” She decides not to beat around the bush. “...get wet.”

“Of course I’ve noticed, Liv. But to be honest, I didn’t know any different when it comes to you. I didn’t want to assume it wasn’t normal and risk offending you.”

She nods as she listens, starting to grow pensive. He had no way of knowing that three, four years ago she self-lubricated just fine when aroused, or that now she was using vaseline and special creams to tolerate penetration at all. He’s scooting over then, pulling her against his body and she releases a shaky breath she wasn’t aware of holding.

“First of all? I don’t ever want to hear how it’s less sexy or not sexy. Okay?” He doesn’t wait until she agrees. “And second? This is the stuff we need to talk about, Liv. More than anything else, probably. It obviously made you insecure. I hate to think that you were even a tiny bit uncomfortable ever when we were together because it’s so unnecessary.”

He’s got a point. Who would have thought that he’d ever be the more reasonable out of the two of them.

Then: “Were you? Uncomfortable?”

It never hurt per se, but of course, depending on the time between applying the cream and the sex it was more or less pleasurable. She knows her silence speaks volumes as it drags on but instead of chastising her, Elliot kisses her hair, rubs her back affectionately.

“First thing tomorrow? We’re gonna purchase a ton of lubricant.”

The chuckle that rips from her throat is watery. She feels embarassed and stupid because he’s taking this a lot better than she had expected. It’s weird that they didn’t have a fight yet. In fact she expected this to be their first for sure. How was she to know he wouldn’t start talking about how she obviously has trust issues? Not that he’d be entirely wrong. She’s had them her entire life, although not with him. This was more about feeling humiliation over the changes that come for her with age.

“Sounds good,” she says in agreement, hoping he’s missed how nasal she sounds.

“And we’re gonna have that film developed. There are no ex-boyfriends on there, right?”

“God, I hope not.”

“Good. Then we should be in the clear.”


Liv reaches Amanda’s desk just as she hangs up the phone, informing them the M.E. has finished the report on their latest deceased victim. It’s taken long enough, the bodies seem to be piling up at the morgue lately.

“I’d say it can wait until morning,” the Captain says wearily. They’ve all started early and left late for the past three days. Everyone’s tired. Everyone’s dejected, thinking the very same thing. An eleven year old girl shouldn’t wind up sexually assaulted and dead. “Liza was ten weeks pregnant.”

Fin curses underneath his breath, Amanda covers her mouth with her hand, sighs, shakes her head. It’s four-thirty and it looks like neither of them is going to get home any earlier today than they did yesterday.

“I just got a call from a guy at a photoshop. He developed a film that he finds ‘suspicious’.”

“Wonderful,” Olivia says heavily. “Wanna split?” She rarely has them handle cases individually but it sounds like they can handle it.

“Sure. You take photo guy?” Fin asks, jumping up from his chair like a jack-in-the-box.

“Yeah, at least he didn’t sound so sure if he reported a crime or a couple living out some strange kink. Our luck it’s the latter.”

“Please, let it be. We don’t need another case,” Olivia says exasperatedly. “I know it’s not a great time but I’ll head out for the day. I can’t miss the fourth dinner in a row with Noah. Keep me updated, though.” There’s an air of authority despite the friendship that has formed between them in recent years.

“Got’cha,” Rollins agrees as she, too, rises and gathers her things. “Enjoy dinner.”

“Thanks, Amanda. And whatever it is? The investigation can wait until morning, okay?”

“We’ll see about that,” the blonde mumbles, figuring their chances are fifty-fifty. The instances of unjustified calls are few and far in between. She prays this one will give them a lucky break and allow her too, to be home for dinner with the kids. At the same time she hopes it’s something because driving out there for nothing will annoy the hell out of her, especially after this shitty week.

In the car she blasts the radio at an almost full volume, singing along to Fleetwood Mac. It’s one of the perks of riding without Fin. If she has to work, she might as well make the best of it.

She finds a parking space right around the block, reaching the store in less than two minutes. A bell announces her arrival. The store is empty, bar one customer that’s headed out. Walking towards the counter, Amanda produces her badge, identifying herself as police to the guy behind the counter. If she’d have to guess he’s in his mid-thirties with no fashion sense whatsoever. His vanilla-yellow shirt is about two sizes too big for his slim build, the mauve tie awfully mismatched.

“Detective Amanda Rollins, SVU, I believe we talked earlier?”

“Oh, that was quick. Yes.” He scrambles backwards, grabbing a typical envelope holding photographs. “As I said on the phone, maybe it’s nothing, I mean, people are into all sorts of things, right? Nothing we haven’t seen before,” the guy, his name tag says Ronny, throws in, half laughing, half snorting as he slides the photographs in question over the counter towards her. “All kinds of sexual stuff, you know? Nudes. Feet, bondage. Haven’t seen something like this yet, tho, so I figured, better be safe than sorry, right?” He offers freely.

“That sounds reasonable,” Amanda says politely, picking the envelope up, tearing open the gummy seal.

“Guy said the film was his girlfriend’s. Old camera they’ve found or somethin’. It’s become a rare thing, right? People coming in to develop from film. They all got digital cameras these days, or come with their cell phones. Quick business.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Amanda agrees, retrieving the packet from the envelope. Opening the flap, she pulls out the stack of photographs. It’s exactly three seconds until she realizes what she sees, where she’s seen this before. The layout of the room. The pattern of the injuries inflicted on a female body. The details CSU has secured down to the full ashtray on the nightstand, the grey pillow that’s askew beneath her head. The one thing that stands out as different is the bedding that had been missing from the scene.

Amanda recoils, fights to stay in control as Ronny keeps talking, but not a single word registers as she’s sliding the pictures back into the packet without browsing through them. Her stomach lurches, and there’s only so much she can do to swallow the bile that’s rising in her throat.

She’s seen every single image that was taken during the rape kit, every burn, cut, every bruise, however small, blown up in great detail for the jury during the trial. It was evidence, the kind Amanda was used to after years of being a cop. This is crucially different. This is not the aftermath of her former fellow detective, now her Captain, more so her friend, being kidnapped and tortured. This is Olivia helpless on her own bed, hands tied behind her back, pants and underwear pulled down to her ankles, shirt and bra pushed up, breasts exposed, being tortured. Her battered skin stood out in crass, bright contrast against the darkness the rest of the room was bathed in.

If this was any other person, Amanda would stoically look at the photographs, at the evidence. Now she can’t stomach to flip through them at all, not here and now. The envelope that seemed almost weightless when she first picked it up now feels like dead weight in her trembling hands.

“Thanks. If we have any more questions, we’ll be in touch,” Amanda manages with a curt nod. Her impassive face crumbles before she has fully pivoted, her eyes wide and hazy. She makes it out the door, turns left, keeps moving and moving. Until she reaches the car. Slides in. Tosses the envelope on the passenger seat.

She tries to take a breath, just one, but although her body seems to function mechanically, it doesn’t feel like oxygen is reaching her lungs. Clutching her hand to her face, Amanda expels a staccato exhale as the other clenches into a fist so hard, her nails painfully dig into her palm.

Get a grip, Amanda. Think, she urges her panicky mind. Squeezing her eyes shut she wills herself to think rationally. When she opens them the image she’s just looked at is still the only thing she can see clearly and although she knows what this was, who this was. She’s bargaining like there’s a shred of the possibility she’s wrong.

Maybe I’m mistaken. Maybe this isn’t her. God, please don’t let it be her.

But it is. She’d recognize those distinct burn marks among a hundred, a thousand others, the bed, the room, the black clothes--she didn’t need any of it to corroborate the obvious.

She hadn't needed to see the tear-stained face, the hollowness in those dark brown, only semi-lucid eyes to know it was in fact Olivia.

There’s a slump in her shoulders when she allows the tears to fall, partly in shock, partly from feeling trapped in an impossible situation. What is she supposed to do? She’s seen one picture. One. Most likely there are more and she can't bring herself to check. If she thought she had been heartbroken for Olivia then, she doesn’t know what to call this. It’s completely beyond comparison, beyond what can be put into words. Despite being in the car the smell of burnt hair and flesh taints the air. It’s chilling to the bone, just like it was when they stood in her demolished apartment with evidence for days but no Olivia. All they had were pieces of her. Blood. Saliva. Sweat. Urine.

Just when Amanda thinks the heightened emotions are starting to turn into numbness, her stomach rebels violently. She’s going to be sick, there’s no way around it, so instead of trying to fight her clenching stomach she wrenches open the car door and sticks her torso out.

She vomits in heaps until she’s only dry-heaving, wishing Kat hadn’t insisted on a proper lunch a couple of hours ago. Carelessly she wipes her mouth with the sleeve of her blazer, drawing in a few shaky breaths as she fumbles for the key, jabbing it into the ignition. Warily Amanda glances at the envelope on the passenger seat, like it’s going to come at her any second. She still doesn’t know what to do with this although she itches to toss it in the Hudson or even better, start an impromptu bonfire and burn it to ashes, pretend these pictures never existed.

It’s not her place, though. No matter the damage these photographs are going to do, it’s not her damage to prevent, not her decision to make what Olivia gets or does not get to see. Besides, there’s no way to cover this up anyway. The pictures are gone from the store, picked up by police. This will raise suspicion for everyone involved the moment Elliot wants to pick them up. The way Ronny’s been rambling, he couldn’t appease Stabler to save his life.

Trying to think, Amanda drums her open hands against the steering wheel, the thumping growing more forceful as the minutes tick by. She has no solution, no idea how to go about this. All she knows is that she can’t shoulder this burden on her own, that if she keeps this to herself for much longer, she’s going to go insane. So, she does the one thing she can actually think of and pulls out her phone, closing her eyes as the familiar voice permeates.

“What’s up, Amanda? Kink or case?”

“We got a problem,” she states stoically. “Meet me at my place? Nineish?”

“What is it?” He’s serious now, too, and although she wants to give him something, she can’t get the words out.

“Fin, can you meet me later, yes or no?”

“Course,” he states, like any other answer is out of the question. Before he can ask again she hangs up, swallows, draws in one more shaky breath. She’s going to go home, have dinner with her girls, tuck them in and read to them before pouring herself a stiff drink and re-entering Olivia’s personal hell, only to find out what else they are dealing with. She’ll shower, as if water and soap can give her a sense of cleanliness after bathing in Lewis’ sadistic perversion and Olivia’s sheer terror, before telling Fin about the pictures. She won’t let him see them. He doesn’t have to do it to himself. More than that Amanda feels the fierce urge to protect Olivia, shield her from another set of eyes besides her own.

She just needs to talk. Figure out what to do, what the next step should be. Turning the key in the ignition, the engine roars to life. The entire way home, Amanda is on autopilot, wishing the images that claw at her consciousness away. She is acutely aware of how little she knew or understood of what Olivia meant when she once told her: “You have no idea what utter terror is.”

She’d thought she knew, even when she had apologized. She’d thought…

But seeing Liv’s place in shambles, realizing she’s been kidnapped? That hadn’t been enough. Finding her fragile, her system shot by hard liquor and drugs? Nope. Hearing her detailed recount spanning over four days of her captivity? Amanda shakes her head furiously, angry at herself, at how blind she had been, at the goddamn audacity she had just because what? She’d experienced trauma, too?

Goddamn, Olivia was right. She didn’t know what utter terror was. Not until today, looking at those hopeless, almost jet-black eyes.

Chapter Text

The breath hitting Amanda’s face feels like a little flutter, yet it’s the most comforting thing she can think of. Her arm is wrapped around Billie’s small frame, playing with the hair-ends of her daughter’s blonde locks. The kids don’t usually sleep in her bed but tonight she needs this, her girls, their proximity, the innocence they exude. She had rocked her youngest to sleep earlier, after reading Jesse her favorite bedtime story, sitting up against the headboard, unsure if the monotonic motion was for the little one’s, or her own benefit. 

She should have gotten up by now but every time she attempts to move away from in between her sleeping daughters she delays the next steps. She had told herself she had two hours until nine. Now it’s less than fifty minutes until her partner will inevitably show up at her door.

Reluctantly Rollins moves in between the two small bodies and crawls out of bed and quietly crosses the dark room. The envelope is on the dresser by the front door, looming like a bad omen. Amanda shudders, despite it being warm in the apartment. Crossing her arms above her chest she shuffles her feet towards the dresser, picks up the envelope and drops it on the coffee table. According to her battle plan she grabs a bottle of vodka and a glass. She pours far more than she would under normal circumstances and downs it in one. Preparation and self-preservation is everything, she tells herself. Hopefully it’s going to numb her to some of the lasting effects the pictures will have, make her feel less attacked, more in control of her responses to images she is reluctant to look at. 

For a moment she clenches and unclenches her right hand, physically unable to reach out and get it over with. If she’s being honest with herself, she’d rather not go down this horrific rabbit hole. She needs to know, though. What else there is. To make a conscious decision about the next steps - whatever they will be. 

Drawing in a shaky breath, Amanda decides to just make it quick. She takes the envelope, and fishes for the stack of pictures. She’s tense, sitting on the edge of the sofa, one leg bouncing with nervous energy that needs to be released. This first picture she knows. It’s still as heart wrenching, she still needs to focus really hard on keeping herself in check when her bodily reaction kicks in with its defense mechanisms. She squints her eyes, presses them shut for a moment, trying to block out the horrors Olivia’s maimed body conjures up. Try as she might, she can’t process the cruelty, the bestiality Lewis caught on film. 

Releasing a harsh breath, Amanda puts the pictures down and goes for the bottle, not bothering to fill her glass this time. She takes a swig, then another,  her fist closed around the bottle neck in such a firm grip, she thinks she might break it. Despondency spreads within her like poison. She doesn’t know how to do this, but it needs to be done. Trying to disconnect she drums her fist against her thigh three times, then takes up the stack, telling herself she can’t keep holding off. That first harrowing picture is taken off the stack. Amanda instantly wishes she hadn’t done that. She can hardly swallow the shriek that wants out. Her jaw quivers so violently, Amanda thinks she’s going to chip her teeth. 

“God no,” she winces breathlessly, covering her mouth. The image blurs as she keeps gazing at it, trancelike. That bastard branded Olivia like cattle, using a metal coat hanger he had bent into shape. The part he presses onto her skin glows in deep orange, making her wonder how on earth he got it so smoldering hot, it couldn’t have been on the stove. As if that wasn’t sick enough, he’d captured what looks like all-consuming pain on Olivia’s face on film. There’s silver duct tape across her mouth, almost reaching from ear to ear, preventing her from screaming. But her eyes… God, those eyes. The expression in them is chilling to the bone. Amanda desperately wants to do something, anything, to help Liv 

They should have checked in with her sooner. She should have known something like this was bound to happen. Lewis had had that strange fascination with Olivia from the start. He’d taunted her, played with her. He had looked at her like she was easy prey. In the end they didn’t think he’d be stupid enough to go after a NYPD detective, but God, had they been wrong. Lewis was a sociopath, a man without the slightest of qualms. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t have done. That’s where they have all underestimated him. They should have known. She should have known, should have recognized him for the monster he truly was. Instead she had let Liv walk right into Lewis’ trap. No doubt had he planned this meticulously from the moment he first laid eyes on Olivia in the interrogation room. 

Moving on she shudders. This one is a close up of Olivia’s face. Lewis is holding her chin in a firm grip, his fingers pushing into her resistanceless skin. Liv’s eyes are rolled into the back of her head. There is no doubt in Amanda’s mind that she’s hardly conscious. The duct tape is still in place, although loose on the edges, as if it’s been removed and put back on. There are fluids on her face that Amanda recognizes as semen. Her stomach lurches, and if there was anything left in it, she would probably vomit again. 

It’s sickening but more than that Amanda wonders how. The rape kit showed no traces of semen. If Olivia is aware this happened, she didn’t disclose in either of her statements. But with all the drugs and the alcohol, Amanda wonders how much of what she’s been through is either a blur, or not part of Olivia’s memory at all. She sure as hell doesn’t look like she’s lucid in these pictures. 

Amanda flips through the next three, and it doesn’t get any easier. When her eyes settle on the eighth picture, she’s done. For good. There is no way she can psychologically withstand any more than what she’s seen so far. She’s never been one for therapy, but right now she thinks talking to a professional would do her some good. The lines have blurred way too much. She does not look at these pictures like a SVU detective but through the eyes of a friend, a loved one. Someone who cares deeply about Olivia’s wellbeing. This is not something that’s going to benefit her. At all. 

Tucking the pictures back into the envelope, Amanda goes for another drink. The images are as stuck in her mind as wallpaper to a wall. Her imagination is the glue. Tonight she won’t sleep. It may be nearly a decade in the past but those two days they’d searched frantically for Olivia, losing faith with every passing minute they’d possibly find her alive, are fresh on her mind, just like it was yesterday. She’ll never forget the moment they stood in front of her door, knocking. The very moment it crossed her and Fin’s mind simultaneously, that Liv’s complete radio silence could have something to do with Lewis. Before they busted the door down, Amanda had had an unwholesome moment of premonition, and yet she had been entirely unprepared for the condition Olivia’s apartment was in. Upon first glance it seemed nothing was where it belonged. Furniture was up-ended, cabinets emptied, their contents scattered all over the place. There was a stomach-turning stench in the air, a mixture of cold smoke, alcohol, sweat, urine, and then something she couldn’t quite put her finger on--until Fin pointed out the pan with keys on the stove, and how it smelled of burned hair or flesh. 

She doesn’t know how they kept it together. Fin, Cragen, Amaro. Munch. Her. 

None of them slept between the time they broke down her apartment door until the time they found her a good 48 hours later. None of them truly believed they would find her in time, but it was an unspoken rule not to voice it, no matter how hopeless the situation seemed. 

The aftermath had been disruptive to all of their lives, wrecking each of them in ways no victim has before. Amaro had been on the ambulance with Liv. At the hospital it had been Amanda who sat in on most of the rape kit, only leaving the room for the vaginal exam. It was testimony to Olivia’s state of mind that she let a colleague go in with her, allowing them to talk her through it when she knew what every single step entailed. Amanda thinks Olivia wouldn’t even have asked her to leave the room, if she hadn’t offered it herself. She was released from the hospital the next day, gave her statement at the station. When she left, it seemed she had nothing left to give. She was emotionally drained, her body broken. God knows how she sat through hours and hours of giving her statement, answering the same questions over and over and over when her body was littered with blistering burns. 

In the coming weeks they’d all come to work, go home, go to sleep, come to work, go home, sleep, but things as they knew them before Liv’s abduction had changed. The heart of the 1-6 was suddenly missing and Amanda in particular wasn’t convinced Olivia’d be back after two months had passed with nearly no sign except the occasional update from Cassidy or Cragen. The messages Liv answered were few and impersonal, if always polite. 

Amanda startles at the knock on her door, pulling her out of her thoughts. Fin’s early, she thinks. She opens the door, let’s him in. His normally so cool facade seems to crumble at just one look at her, although an outsider would never know the difference. She offers him a seat, and the edgy energy in the room seems to tell him that the reason he’s here is serious. The envelope on the table catches his attention and Amanda feels his inquisitive gaze on her. She looks back at him, trying to find a starting point for this conversation, but nothing comes out. 

“Amanda?” He sounds tentative, which is nothing like him. 

“Those are the photos from the photo shop,” she finally speaks, shortly glancing at the envelope between them. 

Fin’s gaze settles on it once more and Amanda anticipates his next step. 

“Don’t.” 

His hand hovers to where he managed to lift it before the word stopped him dead. “Amanda, what’s goin’ on?” 

Releasing a shaky breath, she puts her hand on the envelope, sliding it closer to her and away from Fin. 

“It’s Olivia. In these pictures,” she manages, her throat closing up. “And Lewis.” 

Fin’s eyes narrow, as if he needs to verify what she’s saying. “No. Are you sure?” 

“Am I sure?” she huffs. “Yes, I'm sure. It’s her! And he… she…” The terrible images attack her all at once and she shakes her head vehemently for a couple of seconds. He’s still focused on the envelope and she looks at him. “You don’t want to see that,” she warns. “I can’t let you… for her sake,” she stammers. Then, with more conviction: “You really don’t want to see that.” 

Fin’s face is almost impassive, except the muscle in his jaw twitches briefly. 

“You’re positive?” 

“I’m positive.” She waits for a few seconds, draws in a breath. “I don’t know what to do about this, Fin. There’s… She’s…” She sighs, failing miserably to convey just how horrific these pictures are. Fin, giving her the time she needs, leans in a little closer, almost imperceptibly so. 

“It’s one thing to know what he did to her, but, in the photos, he’s… doing them… he’s… doing them to her,” she pants, her body shaking with tension. “Despicable things. Things,” she keeps going after a moment of hesitation, her voice dropping so low, it’s merely a whisper. “she didn’t disclose in her statements.” 

“If Liv didn’t disclose, she had her reasons.” 

Amanda is not surprised. Fin has always had Olivia’s back, always would. If she thought something was best, he trusted her assessment, no questions asked. She believes he knows her better than anyone else, except maybe Stabler. This however is not as simple. 

“That’s besides the point,” she blurts. “He took pictures and they are right here, and I don’t… I don’t know what to do with this. How do I even begin to tell her that this sick fuck has captured her and his perversions on film?” 

Leaning in closer, Fin looks her straight in the eye. “You ask me? Leave Lewis where he belongs--in the past. Liv’s in a good place right now. You don’t know what this is gonna do, the damage it could cause. She’s happy.” 

“You gotta be kidding. How can you even entertain that idea? She needs to know, Fin. If it was me? I’d like to know. I’d need to know. She deserves to make her own decision on what to do with this. If she wants to look at them, ignore them, whatever. I mean… what if she’s been wondering? I don’t think she’s fully lucid in any of those pictures but...what if she knows he took them?” Amanda can’t imagine that’s the case, she's just throwing ideas off the top of her head. She needs time to think this through, to make it make sense. 

“Liv never mentioned a camera.” 

“If that’s your reasoning, I can tell you she never mentioned a lot of what she should’ve. It just makes no sense,” she mutters into her hands. 

“What doesn’t?” Fin nudges. 

“According to the rape kit, there were no fluids,” she points out, taking a couple of seconds. “According to this,” she points at the envelope, telling a different story. “There should’ve been.” 

“What the hell are you saying, Amanda?” Fin demands dispassionately. 

“I think you know,” she breathes, looking him straight in the eyes. It shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise. Four days. Neither of them had quite believed Lewis hadn’t raped her. In fact, Amanda had been stunned when the rape kit came back negative for semen and spermicide. There had been some mild irritation, but no fluids, no vaginal or anal injuries. 

Maybe Fin was right. Olivia might have told them what she wanted them to believe. She herself knows too well what it means not to want to be seen as a victim, not to be defined by trauma. 

“Son-of-a-bitch,” Fin curses underneath his breath, looking at her. “Amanda, once you set that ball rollin’...” 

“I know,” she states feebly. 

“What about Stabler?” 

“What about him?” 

“You gonna give the guy a warning?” 

“I can’t do that. I tell him, I might as well tell the entire squad,” she starts, holding up her hands defensively. “I know he’s her boyfriend, doesn’t mean he has the right to know about this unless she wants him to.” 

“You really sure ‘bout this?” 

“No,” she admits. “But there’s no turning back anyway. If they want to pick up their pictures, they’ll find out NYPD has seized them, they’ll put two and two together.” She shrugs helplessly. “I can’t, in all good consciousness, cover this up, Fin. I just can’t. I respect her too much to fuck with something so profound. I know when you say we should leave it you want to protect her. I get that. But it’s not our place. It’s not for us to decide.” 

He hesitates, shifts. “Damn your integrity, Rollins.” 

“I need you to back me on this, Fin.” 

“This isn’t gonna go over well, I won’t guarantee I’ll keep Stabler out of it. I know you’re not fond of the guy, but if we’re doing shit out of respect for her, then let’s respect that he’s going to be the one to pick up the pieces. Not you. Not me.”

“Fair enough.” 

 “I still think this is a mistake.” 

“That’s because you’ve never been victimized. Not knowing doesn’t make it undone, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. She needs to know this happened. She needs to know these pictures exist and she needs to be the one to decide if she wants to see them, or if she’s better off not looking at them. She never had a choice when it came to anything Lewis did. You let him keep the upper hand by denying her to know. These pictures have belonged in her hands from the start.” 

“I hear ya, Amanda. I just think Liv suffered enough. I’ve known her for twenty-two years. I love her like family. It may not be my place, but I do wanna protect her, especially now that she’s in a good place.” 

“Well, maybe it’s a good thing that she’s in such a good place. She’s not alone, and she’s no longer as vulnerable as she used to be after…” Everything , she wants to say, but it hardly encompasses the torment Olivia’s been through. 

“You know Liv. She doesn’t accept help easily. Her not being alone doesn’t mean anything when she shuts Stabler out.” He’s matter-of-fact, but Amanda doesn’t feel like he’s still trying to convince her. 

“He doesn’t strike me like the type who’ll just be shut out,” sneers Amanda. 

“He can be a pain in the ass, but Liv’s not necessarily less stubborn when it comes to keeping herself guarded. You know her.” 

She does, and Fin’s not wrong. Chances are she’s going to shut down. She did it then, they’ve all heard Cassidy whine about how she never told him anything. At least then she had Lindstrom, but it seems that bridge has been burned. 

“I do. But she got help then and we should try and trust that she’ll either accept or actively seek it this time, as well.” Amanda can tell Fin is not so sure, but he nods at her with a good-natured facial expression. 

“Well, how do you wanna do it?” 

There's only a small window of opportunity. Olivia needs to know before they realize their photographs are missing. “I guess I’ll just talk to her tomorrow and make sure she has time before she’s headed home.” 

“A fucking camera,” Fin mutters, shaking his head. “Lewis ever done that before?” 

“Not that we know of. CSU has combed her apartment left and right, up and down, inside-out, Fin. He didn’t want it to be found, at least not by us, not then.” 

“Then why take the pictures at all?” 

It’s something that has crossed her mind before, but she didn’t have the time to dwell on it with the kids’ bedtime routine. There are two scenarios she can think of off the top of her head. 

“I don’t think the pictures were something he planned. He found that camera and was instantly enamored with the idea. He didn’t want us to find the pictures because he wanted to keep us guessing. They tell a story, he didn’t want us to know what all he’d done to her at that point. It thrilled him to know our imagination was running wild. He kept us guessing.” 

“So who was supposed to find ‘em? She didn’t have anybody.” 

“But he didn’t know that. Maybe he could guess that Cassidy wasn’t that much of a steady fixture in her life but he can’t possibly have known whether she had any immediate family? Close friends? Either he intended to hurt those closest to her, or he had no intention to kill her. Maybe he wanted her to live with the constant reminder of him. It was her camera - it makes sense to assume she’d develop that film sooner or later. How was he supposed to know she hadn’t used it years, maybe a decade?” 

“How do you know she didn’t?” 

“That guy at the shop remembered that the camera was a find and they were curious if the film would develop. It also has Stabler’s name on it, so it’s not a random find of some random person. Lewis took the pictures and put the camera back exactly where he found it. She would’ve never known he even touched it,” she thinks out loud, snapping her fingers. “She got rid of pretty much everything in that apartment, if she had known? She’d never have taken it. She would have destroyed it, Fin. No way would these pictures ever have seen the light of day.” 

“You think she was that far gone that she didn’t notice him taking pictures?” Once more his eyes travel to the envelope, seemingly not sure if he believes this theory. 

“Obviously I can’t say for sure but judging from what I saw, I think it’s possible. You remember her statement, how much he made her drink? The pills? The drugs? That could’ve been a life-threatening cocktail in itself.” 

“Bastard can be glad he’s already dead,” mutters Fin. 

“Or else you would kill him?” 

“Wouldn’t get the chance. Stabler would.” 

“Why does everybody say that?” Amanda is bewildered. So the guy’s a hot head, what does that say about him anyway?

“Coz’ he would have,” Fin says, looking at her with certainty. “It’s not just talk.” 

Raising an eyebrow, Amanda leans back against the cushions and sourly says, “Well then, too bad he wasn’t around when it counted, isn’t it?” 

 


 

It feels like Amanda couldn’t have picked a worse day. Olivia is all smiles and sunshine as quitting time edges nearer. It might have something to do with her having plans with Stabler because she mentioned they were kid-free for the night and anyone with kids knows how rare that is. Liv had inquired about the photo case in the morning. All Amanda managed was that it wasn’t something that needed the unit’s involvement. 

From her periphery she sees Liv is about ready to punch out, gathering her things. It’s now or never, she decides. Fin seems to pick up on the change of the atmosphere in the bullpen, too. His body tenses as their gazes meet. She nods at Fin once, and as if they are both heavily involved in a conspiracy he nods back at her. 

Amanda’s desk drawer rattles as she pulls it out, seizing the envelope. Her throat already closes, her body feels heavy. She stands up and makes her way towards Liv’s office anyway, seeing her sliding her phone into her purse and closing the laptop. 

“Amanda.” Olivia looks at her through thick rimmed glasses. The envelope catches her attention. 

Stepping in, Amanda closes the office door, giving them a moment of privacy. “There’s something I need to talk to you about.” 

Olivia’s eyes narrow, she nearly grimaces. “Can it wait?” 

It can’t. God, she wishes it could. All of a sudden, Amanda feels very nauseous. 

“I’m afraid it can’t,” she shakes her head. 

Olivia does a double-take, putting her purse on the desk. The glasses come off, join the handbag. “Okay.” 

Walking closer, the blonde detective braces herself. “You and Elliot had a roll of film developed.” 

Olivia’s eyebrows almost jump to the ceiling in bewilderment. “Yes. How do you know?” 

As much as she dreads elaborating, she clears her throat and continues on. “The photo shop… they erm… called about your photos.” 

Olivia perks up, her face screwed up in confusion. “The photo… Amanda, I don’t think I understand.” 

“Look Liv, I’m so sorry,” Amanda says, releasing a shuddering breath. The images are right there, in her head, even now as she is looking at Olivia, who swallows hard. 

“I don’t…” 

“Lewis,” Amanda clarifies, fighting against tears, and in an instant the world has changed. Olivia is completely stunned, just staring at her, probably trying to make sense of what she’s saying. As realization sets in, her eyes widen and she takes a couple of steps backwards. She blinks rapidly, shakes her head vigorously. 

“No.” 

“Liv, I’m…” 

“Who’s… has anybody…” 

“Just me,” Amanda assures, stepping around the desk and towards her. Cautiously she reaches out but pauses mid-air, but Olivia pivots, expelling a rickety breath. “Liv.” 

Panting, Olivia rubs her palm across her mouth, then hugs herself tightly, as pale as if she might be sick. 

“Liv,” Amanda tries again. “I thought you needed to know and decide for yourself what to do about it." She puts the envelope on the desk. 

“Elliot?” 

“He doesn’t know but… you should probably talk to him about it. In fact, if you decide to look at them, promise me you’re going to talk to someone. A therapist, Elliot, me, if that helps in any way. Just…” 

“Thanks Amanda,” she sounds detached. “I’d like to… um...  you can go?” 

“Are you sure? If you need--” 

“Please,” she winces. 

“Okay.” She fumbles for something more to say, but nothing seems suitable.She heads to the door when Liv refuses to look at her. After a few more moments she decides to leave, feeling utterly crestfallen. 

Fin stands up the second he spots her. She shakes her head sadly. The hint of a frown flits across his face and he sits back down. 

“Go home,” he says after a few moments, rattling the stillness that’s in the air. 

“I can’t now.” 

“Go, Amanda. Be with your girls. I’ll be here until she leaves. I already told Phoebe not to wait up.” 

“This is just wrong. All of this,” Amanda shakes her head, throwing a look over her shoulder. The blinds to Olivia’s office are now drawn. She stalks towards her desk, packs up, feeling so angry and helpless, she holds her breath. 

“Call me?” 

“Yeah.” He waits a beat. “Amanda?” 

She looks up. 

“You did good.” 

She swallows, her voice quivers. “Doesn’t feel that way.” 

“No, it doesn’t.”

Chapter Text

Within the next hour the bullpen of the 1-6 empties out. It’s past five thirty and Olivia hasn’t left her office once. There’s a crack in the blinds, and when Fin picks up a cup of coffee he catches a glimpse of Olivia sitting at her desk just staring. For a second he considers bringing her something to drink, asking if she’s all right, but thinks better of it. 

Her office phone rings several times within the next hour, telling him she doesn’t pick up. Fin isn’t in the least surprised when his cell goes off and the caller ID shows Elliot Stabler. He picks up, listens. 

“Hey, Fin. Liv meant to come home a couple of hours ago but never showed. I tried her cell and her office, but she didn't pick up. You don’t happen to know where she is?” Stabler tries to sound steady, casual.The guy is worried, that’s for sure.

Liv still hasn’t shown, and he doesn’t think she will anytime soon. Leaning back in his chair, Fin sighs, deciding to make a judgement call. Olivia needs someone. She can’t hole herself up in that office all night, alone with these pictures and her memories. Plus, if it was Phoebe? He’d need to know if she wasn’t well.  

“Actually, I do.” He gets up, solely to get another glimpse at Olivia. It seems she hasn’t moved at all. “She’s at the office and you should be here, Elliot.” 

“What happened?” Not what’s going on. Not is she all right. It’s like Stabler knows something happened.

“Just get here.” 

 


 

He was freshly showered when he got off the phone with Liv earlier, now he arrives in a sweat, almost bursting through the doors of the 16th precinct. The bullpen is deserted except for the one person he expected, and he’s going to fucking throttle him for hanging up without an explanation as to what the hell is going on. 

“Where is she?” He doesn’t expect an answer, he knows she’s in the office and he’s headed for it with determination in his strides. 

“Stabler, wait.” 

“The hell,” he mutters, but the other man is on him.

Fin’s tone is growing much more serious. “Wait.” It seems to do the trick, he stops dead in his tracks, although the worry is radiating off of him in hot waves. 

“What?” 

It takes Fin several seconds and one failed attempt at finding a starting point before he cuts right to the chase. No pussyfooting. “SVU got a call about the film roll you developed. Liv’s in them.” He waits a beat, trying to keep his face impassive. “Lewis took ‘em.” 

For a moment Elliot is still. The last sentence echoes and echoes. He tries to process the revelation, tries to process what it means. 

“What kind of pictures?” he asks, feeling almost numb. When Fin doesn’t answer, his voice cracks upon the second try. “What kind of pictures, Fin?” 

“I haven’t seen ‘em but Amanda’s… it’s not good,” he says apologetically. “Sorry, man.” 

“Fuck.” It comes out ferociously and he can’t think straight all of a sudden. His throat is tight with emotion. “Is she… how… how did she take it?”

“As you’d expect. Look man,” Fin reaches out, tentatively grabbing Elliot by the shoulder. “She needs you now. Just… go and be there for her.” 

He nods, sucking in a deep breath while pressing his thumb and pointer finger against his closed eyes, trying to get a grip. “Okay. Okay,” he mutters to himself. He allows himself the luxury of thirty more seconds to prepare himself for whatever is waiting behind the office doors. 

Fin lets go and returns to his desk. “I’ll give you some privacy. It’s late anyway.” 

“Thanks,” he manages despite the lump in his throat. He makes his way to Liv’s office, taking slow steps to buy time. He knocks twice, gently, hoping he won’t startle her as he opens the door just enough to reveal who it is. “Hey,” he says softly. She doesn’t even look up. Her gaze is fixed on her desk. “I’d like to come in, is that okay?” 

A few moments pass. When Elliot almost doesn’t expect her to answer Liv nods her head just barely. Tentatively he steps in, closes the door, before trying to assess the situation. 

There’s an envelope on the desk, right in front of her. He doesn’t think she has opened it, but he can’t be sure. Her body is rigid as she sits with her hands in her lap. 

“I’m sorry I didn’t pick up,” she says hoarsely. 

“That’s okay.” He walks closer, slowly, giving her time to adjust to the fact he’s here, scared she could change her mind and ask him to leave. 

“You know?” She looks up at him now, and he’s never seen her so fragile, her eyes swimming with unshed tears. All he wants to do is pull her into him, hold her tight and tell her it’s going to be okay. 

“I know.” 

She presses her eyes shut as he whispers his confirmation, tears sliding down her cheeks. 

“Liv,” he winces, taking a few more steps towards her. The envelope looks untouched. Somehow it’s a relief. “Listen, you don’t need to look at them. You don’t have to go back there.” 

“Don’t I?” She takes a ragged breath. “It’s not like I can pretend they don’t exist.” 

“How about we take a break. Get some fresh air, okay? And you take all the time you need to think about what you need to do.” 

She seems to contemplate this, wipes at her tears and nods. “Okay.” 

“Maybe grab a bite? You must be hungry.” 

“I can’t eat.” 

“Fair enough.” He watches her get up and helps her into her jacket. She picks up the envelope, tucks it into her massive purse. She doesn’t seem to feel much like talking, which is okay as long as she tolerates him being there at all. He’d rather have her silence than leave her alone with this. “Let’s go,” he says softly, gently guiding her towards the door with one hand on the small of her back. 

She stops abruptly. “Is anybody still there?” 

“We’re alone,” he assures. 

“Okay,” she says, subdued, but allowing him to usher her out.

They end up going to the roof. Elliot thinks it’s the safest place to take her. There’s nobody there to see them, hear them. The evening chill crawls beneath his skin, despite the leather jacket he’s wearing. The sun starts to vanish behind one of the city’s buildings. 

Olivia is mute next to him, steps towards the railing. He stays right where he is, giving her some space, although even the smallest amount of physical distance worries him. It feels like as long as he can touch her, make contact, he’ll be okay. But this is not about him and his needs. It’s all about Olivia. The biggest mistake he can make is pester her. 

This afternoon they had talked on the phone and she was light then. Playful. He’d made a joke about how he’d managed to get rid of both kids, as if their children were mere things and she had laughed before intrigue got the better of her and she’d asked who they’d be staying with. She’d flirted heavily once he’d heard the office door fall shut and it has almost blown his mind to visualize her, Captain, in tight slacks and that easy-to-discard blazer, in her goddamn office, very effectively working him up by dropping her voice to the point it was sultry, asking him if he had anything specific in mind to spend that time. 

He’d made reservations at a nice restaurant. Olivia cares about good food these days and he’s still getting used to her gusto for wine, Cabernet in particular. He hasn’t seen her sip on a beer once in the past year. Anyway, the place had a decent wine list that he knows she would’ve appreciated, and they’ve never had a proper date night. He’d wanted to surprise her, pamper her, thinking she’d like that. In fact, he had a feeling they both needed it - some time just the two of them, that wouldn’t be spent on the sofa with at least one kid in the next room. 

It all seems so absurd now. 

Elliot hesitates to say something, opens his mouth a few times. Ultimately he decides to leave it up to her to speak, whenever she’s ready. If she’ll even speak. 

It occurs to him that they have never talked about Lewis or anything that happened in particular. His inhibition threshold concerning her abduction and the subsequent hell he knew Liv went through had been skyhigh from the moment he’d first seen her again after all these years. Of course it has been mentioned. By her. By him. Surface stuff. She’d told him it was horrible, he’d apologized for he wasn’t there, avowed he should’ve been. He’d said it with as much conviction he could muster, trying to instill some kind of belief in her that he’d never leave her side again. Silently he’d vowed he’d never let anything happen to her again, nobody would get to her like Lewis did. 

And now here they are and that sick bastard is right here with them--in her purse. In her head. Under her skin. 

Fucking hell. 

He watches as she crosses her arms, wrapping them around herself, tucking her chin. The autumn chill bites when there’s wind gusts but it doesn’t seem to occur to Liv to zip her jacket. The amber sky turns dark and they’ve stood here, quite literally motionless, for an hour as her voice permeates the damped noises of the city by night. 

“For the first couple of years I never felt quite clean.” 

Her body shivers, making him wonder if it’s from cold or from whatever she’s going through right now. He restricts himself to listening, although there’s a profound impulse he feels to speak, to reassure her. Giving her time was right as is staying silent, the proof is here and now. 

“The scars, the-” She shakes her head, her voice cracks. “He marred my body in ways I didn’t think were possible.” 

She’s so quiet, the words a strained whisper, he slowly edges nearer to catch them. 

“You’d think the scars are the worst of it. They must be, right? They must be because they are visible and every day they remind me but what’s worse was-,” she pauses for an impossibly long time to the point Elliot is convinced this is all she can give him. He’s just a step behind her now and stops dead when he sees her shoulders tense. 

“I could still smell his breath, feel it in my face.” The last word comes out harsh. “On my body. His… spit, his sweat. And even when he was dead,” for a moment she sounds almost casual. “I’d feel his blood trickling down my face. His brains in my hair.” The breath she takes rattles the quiet. “It got better eventually. I’d quite literally started to feel I can wash him off--for the most part. Every now and then I’d feel how he stained me. It’s a little bit like you know you smell sweaty and you hope nobody will notice but you don’t have the means to shower, you don’t have a change of clothes. It was uncomfortable but bearable because at the end of the day I knew I had the means to shower, I could help myself to block him out. And for years now I’ve felt ...mostly clean. But now?” 

He’s not quite sure if speaking up is right, but gently he nudges, hoping she won’t close down. “How does it feel?” 

“He’s all over me,” she erupts and sniffles hard. “I don’t know how to… this time…,” she cries openly. 

Her candor surprises him. He’d hoped she’d give him something, but he is unprepared for how much she trusts him with. He doesn’t know what to say, though. How to reassure her, how to not spook her. 

“How does he always come back and get to do this to me? Why am I not good enough at keeping him in that goddamn grave he put himself in?” 

That must be what it feels like to her. That even from the grave he reaches out, grabs her, doesn’t let go.  

Olivia turns her head to look at him now. Her eyes are full to the brim, and it shatters him. Slowly Elliot reaches out, touches her shoulder, expecting her to flinch. She doesn’t. Instead she turns a bit more into him and allows him to pull her close against him. 

“This is not about you not being good enough or failing, Liv,” Elliot says tentatively into her hair. “That’s all him, not you.” In his arms, she bristles. 

“Even then, it’s working. I’m right back… there.” 

“You’re here,” Elliot says, trying to change her perspective. 

“Physically, but not here,” objects Olivia, tapping her pointer finger against her temple. She sounds despairing, like if he still has that power over her after all these years, all hope must be lost. Like he’ll stay forever, taking residence in a fixed corner of her mind, rent-free. 

Elliot takes hold of her hand, finding it cold. 

“You’re freezing. Maybe we should go home.” Hers, his, doesn’t matter. The main point is that Liv can get warm and physically comfortable.

“No. I’m not taking this… I can’t…” 

“You can’t what,” he presses, wrapping his hand around her fingers. 

“I can’t take him home.” 

Elliot swallows. He’s an idiot. It makes sense that she wouldn’t want to be in her apartment while she feels like he’s wrapped around her, like she’d introduce him to the place that’s meant to be a safe space and sanctuary. Over the course of the night things might change but right now she’s in a state of crisis. 

“You’re right. But you are cold, and I think we should go somewhere a little warmer. Can you get down with that?” 

Grabbing her shoulder her torso seesaws as she nods. “The diner, maybe.” 

He’s surprised but he’ll take it. It won’t be too crowded this late, although he doubts she’ll want to talk much more, anyway. Maybe he’ll get her to eat something if he plays it smart, even if it’s just a bite. 

“The diner it is.” 

 


 

“Do you want some coffee? Tea?” 

Olivia’s got her arms on the tabletop, holding her elbows, looking at the corner of their table like in trance. Again. 

“Liv?” 

“No, thanks,” she mutters. “Not hungry.”

Elliot spares her the awkwardness of pointing out that’s not what he asked, deciding he’ll just go with the coffee. You can never go wrong with caffeine. When the waitress stalks over, Olivia doesn’t even look up. He’s extra friendly as he places their order. A burger with a side of fries for him. Coffee, black, for her. 

“What about you, hun?” The waitress asks kindly. 

Olivia blinks rapidly, looks up at Elliot, seemingly lost. 

“She’ll have the coffee,” he clarifies. “Thanks.” 

“All right. Coming right up.” When she’s gone, Olivia relaxes visibly. 

“Thanks.” 

“What for?” 

“Coffee,” she says through thin lips, then clears her throat quietly. “Coffee sounds like a good idea.” 

“I thought so.” 

“I mean because it-,” Liv sighs, worrying her bottom lip. “I don’t think I can sleep. Nightmares,” she clarifies. 

Elliot’s perplexed by how blunt she is about this, how clearly she communicates what she can or can’t do, what she needs. The most he’d expected a couple of hours ago was repeated claims of: "I’m fine." At the same time he’s worried over her reluctance to sleep. 

“You still get ‘em a lot?” he asks casually. 

“Not really. Under normal circumstances.” 

And this, they both know, is as far from normal as it gets. 

“Anniversaries are tough most years.” She snorts then, and it’s a ridiculous sound. “Duct tape, too. Sends me spiraling sometimes. I can’t touch it. Random as hell, I know.” 

“Good to know. Anything else?” 

Olivia looks at him as if asking: “Really?” Elliot nods.

“Vodka can trigger flashbacks, doesn’t always, but…” She shrugs. 

There’s a wistful expression on Olivia's face, like she longs for things to be normal. Elliot can tell she’s trying to detach from the fact she’s carrying pictures Lewis took of her around in her purse. If talking, even about her fears and triggers, helps? He’ll gladly talk the whole night through. A small part of him is hopeful she’ll decide not to view the pictures. 

“I handle all that quite well but--” she takes a deep breath, glances at her purse. “This is different.” 

“It’s gonna be bad,” Elliot presumes. 

“Yeah,” she says hoarsely. 

“Okay. But Liv, you need to sleep eventually.” 

“I know,” she winces. “I’m really just hoping that the more time I have to think about it, and accept I will get the night terrors… maybe they won’t be as bad.” 

“Did that ever work?” 

She glances away, the expression on her face says busted

“I didn’t know.” 

“Didn’t know what,” Elliot prods. 

“That he took pictures. Ever since Amanda told me I’ve been thinking. I’ve gone over it again and again, and I can’t… He knocked me out a few times, I mean… maybe…” 

Elliot concludes, “You don’t know what’s on them.” 

“I mean, it can’t be that bad, right? I’ve been there, what’s to shock me, except the fact he actually took pictures?” Olivia sounds like she’s trying to convince herself more than Elliot. Ultimately she doesn’t believe it, because once more there are tears in her eyes. She unfolds one arm, props her forehead on her hand. Her chin quivers. 

“I don’t know, Liv,” Elliot says honestly. He reaches across the table, takes her hand. “I’m not sure we need to find out.” 

“Not we, but I do.” The message is clear. She doesn’t want him to see them. 

“I don’t think you should do this alone, honey.” 

Liv's next words are a bite. “You think I would want you to see me like that? Or anyone ? You have no idea what-” Abruptly she stops, realizing she’s been raising her voice. 

“I don’t think that. And trust me, I’m not keen to see them, but I’d still rather do that than leave you alone with this. You were there once, and I wasn’t there. I won’t let that happen again, Olivia.” 

“It’s just pictures,” she almost hisses.

“That’s bullshit.” Elliot’s angry now. “That’s bullshit and you know it,” he repeats, calmer. Even if the pictures aren‘t a total nightmare, they both know what they stand for, that whatever‘s on them, it‘s going to drag the past back up. Elliot understands Olivia doesn’t want anyone to see them. Jesus fucking Christ, she’s always been lion-hearted and strong, but this is not the time for her to prove how much more she can take. From his periphery he sees their waitress sauntering over with their food and drinks. She slides the burger and fries towards Elliot, places the steaming cup in front of Olivia. 

“Enjoy.” And off she goes. 

“I can’t do this.” All of a sudden Olivia looks a lot more vulnerable. Her voice is back to small as she slides out of the booth. 

“Liv, no. Wait. Please.” Elliot should have known better than to raise his voice and go head to head with her. His hand shoots for his wallet as she pivots, muttering that she’s gotta go. He tosses a twenty on the table, grabs his jacket and is right behind her just as she opens the door. 

“Elliot, please,” she says defeatedly once they are outside. “I just need…” 

“I can’t leave you alone.” 

“Yes, you can.” Olivia looks up at him, her eyes tear-filled. 

“No,” he says, his voice emotion-filled. “Don’t you understand that I really can’t? I know what this is going to do to you.” He touches her elbow, trying to make contact, see if she will allow him to guide her somewhere that’s not the open street. 

“Please,” she says, sounding frantic. 

“Liv.” 

“I’m going to have...I'm going to have a fucking anxiety attack. Can you just-” she burst out, taking a few steps back. 

She’s shaking like a leaf. Elliot doesn’t dare to close the distance, consumed by guilt that he didn’t consider this. That he thought she was shutting him out. 

“Okay. I’m sorry.” He holds both hands up, showing her he’s backing off. “Just try to breathe, Liv. Okay? Can you do that?” 

It looks like she’d rather walk away from him but she remains right there, standing in her spot. A few seconds and she attempts to take a deep breath, then another. 

“That’s right. Slow, deep breaths.” A few more and Elliot can see the tension seeping from her body. “Better?” 

Olivia nods. He keeps giving her space. Some color returns to her face. 

“I’m sorry,” he offers. She blinks. Tears roll down her cheek, and then she crumbles. 

Olivia cries. Elliot steps into her personal space, thinking she’s going to retreat. Instead her body slumps into his, and Liv sobs into his shoulder. 

“Shhh. I’ve got you,” he murmurs, pulling her impossibly closer. “Let’s go inside, Liv. Let's get you inside.” 

Elliot doesn’t care either way, for all he knows it’s good that she finally cries it out. But she will be embarrassed to have broken down in the middle of the street, right across from the precinct on top of it. 

Olivia nods, sobs still shaking her body. He turns her so she can walk but still be sheltered by him as they cross the street. Before they enter the police department he allows her a moment to gather herself. They take the elevator to the floor of the 1-6, enter through the double doors. The bullpen, unsurprisingly, is still deserted.

“Can I get you anything?” It’s going to be a very long night. 

Olivia belatedly shakes her head no and disentangles herself from Elliot's arm, headed for her office. He feels absolutely terrible. More than that he’s lost, unsure what to do and how to be what she needs. She’s started to open up to him, that’s something. But he’s scared that it’ll stop here and now, that she can’t take his presence anymore, doesn’t want it. 

To his astonishment she leaves the door to her office wide open. He sighs a breath of relief but decides not to follow immediately. Instead he makes his way over to the tea kitchen and starts making coffee. She’d deemed coffee a good idea earlier and for a moment he has something to do that won’t make her feel cornered. He puts the coffee in a thermos and grabs two cups before he walks into the office, finding Liv standing by the window. It looks like her purse was haphazardly tossed on the desk. Her jacket is draped across the back of the chair. 

Although Olivia's back is to him, he knows she’s wiping away tears when she lifts her hand, wondering if his being in the room makes her want to appear extra together. 

“Is there anything I can do?” 

She chokes out a sound and shakes her head once again. “No.” 

“Would it help if I held you?” It’s like he’s crossing off a goddamn list, trying to figure out how he can help her. 

“Not right now,” she weeps, her shoulders sagging, her voice much more raw than a few minutes ago. Elliot can hardly bear how fragile and forlorn she is. Suddenly this small office is much too spacious for his liking. He wants to be closer to her but doesn’t dare take a step towards her when she’s so clearly signaling that she needs space. 

“Okay,” he says and waits a few seconds. “I’ll just sit here then.” There’s a small sofa against the wall that he eyes like it’s the enemy but once he sets the thermos and the cups down, he makes his way over. And he waits, crippled by the all-consuming feeling of futility. 

Elliot wants to believe that as long as he’s here with Liv, nothing can hurt her. But she is hurting, and there’s not a damned thing he can do to stop it. He wants to hold her, envelope her in his arms. He wants to bestow her with love and patience, however much she needs to let him be part of this detrimental process she’s undergoing, because he’s not going to go anywhere. Not tonight. Not ever. 

Liv's body is wrecked by silent sobs now, and somehow that’s even worse than hearing her cry. She’s trying so, so hard to keep them in, he can hardly take it. There’s no getting comfortable on the sofa but he doesn’t dare move away from it. 

For ten or five minutes or maybe forever, she cries and cries, and then he can’t take it anymore. Elliot’s over before he can stop himself and whisks Olivia into his arms, holding her tight. Tension is instantly melting away, and she’s almost going limp against him before she latches on to him. 

“It’s okay. I’m here. I’m here.” He tells her this over and over, until she calms down, only hiccupping every now and then. When it comes to her emotions, he suspects they're all over the place. One minute Liv's talking about her triggers, almost casually so, the next she is crying puddles, crying so hard, it’s utterly heartbreaking. 

“You are so strong.” 

“Right,” she scoffs watery. “I’m a blubbering mess.”

“Crying is not a weakness. Showing emotions is not a weakness.” 

“You made a great catch,” she manages sarcastically, her breathing pattern only just evening out. “First the hideous scars, now all the baggage this shit will drag up.” 

“Hey, hey,” he says, sounding serious. “We’ve talked about this. In fact I recall how you told me that this is not a way we talk about your body. Ever.” With we, he obviously means ‘you’. 

“Oh come on, they are. You can’t possibly think otherwise. I told you that so you wouldn’t be worried about how I see myself.” 

“You can’t do this to yourself, Liv. I know it can’t be easy, the self-love thing, accepting the scars every day anew. You told me you are getting there and you’re…” 

“I am. Was. I… mostly.” 

“And right now you’re not in a good headspace, so this isn’t something you should be talking about. And neither will I, because there’s nothing to gain here. The only thing I’ll tell you is that you are gorgeous. And now we’re going to sit down, and you’ll have something to drink. Some water. Then, if you need, coffee.” 

Olivia doesn’t object, which either means she’s too tired to do this, or she's actually allowing herself to be taken care of. At least for now. He’ll gladly take it. She drinks the glass of water he gets her in tiny sips. Her hands are a little shaky, which he attributes to exhaustion. Her eyes are puffy, and her mascara has left traces all over her face. Still, she’s the most beautiful woman he’s ever laid eyes on.

When she’s finished, he takes the glass from her, and when he sits down next to her, she surprises him by leaning into him, snuggling up to him on the small couch. 

“Tired?” 

“Hm-hm,” Liv agrees. “Can you just… talk to me?” 

“What do you wanna talk about?” 

“Anything.” 

“Anything,” Elliot repeats, trying to think of something light. “Well, Eli seems to have taken a liking to your cooking. He asked if we were gonna be over for dinner again soon…" 

“Long live the cooking channels on YouTube. He starting to get used to this? You and me?” 

It’s been a little tricky when his youngest first, rightly, suspected he and Olivia entered relationship territory. Of course it didn’t come completely unexpected, Eli isn’t the first kid struggling with a parent dating someone else for the first time. 

“I think so, yeah,” Elliot says around a smile, starting to stroke Olivia’s arm. “It actually was his idea to bring Noah along to Maureen's for the night. They wanna go to the movie theatre tomorrow.” 

“Let me guess? Transformers?” 

“Of course. How do you know?” 

“He mentioned it a little while ago. I’m glad he’s coming around.” 

Elliot knows she’s worried about it quite a bit, even though he’d reassured her that all it would take was some time.

“I’ve talked to him about it, and he said it was weird, and came so sudden.” It makes sense. Eli didn’t have half a lifetime to get used to the thought. 

“And I thought we were taking it slow.” 

“We were. But he just noticed that something had changed. All of a sudden we were on the phone more, spent even more time together. I started to stay nights.” It was innocent, he’d stayed over months before they even started having a physical relationship, but his son didn’t know that. And in the end he was spot on, things had changed and progressed from friendship to romance. “Also? He’s, and I quote, like super grossed out at the thought I have a girlfriend at my age.” 

“Bet’cha that’s not the part he’s grossed out about.” She tilts her head up, amusement showing on her face. 

“Bless Noah and his total innocence.” 

“Count your blessings, Eli’s gonna corrupt him sooner or later,” she jokes. “Not too soon, I hope.” Then: “God, do you think Noah knows what sex is?” 

“Probably has a basic idea at this point. If not, give it a year.” 

“Great,” groans Olivia. 

“But nice that you think my son’s gonna corrupt yours,” he smiles. “Doesn’t sound like you’re planning to get rid of me anytime soon.” They didn’t talk about the future yet, just taking it day by day, week by week. 

At this Olivia takes Elliot’s hand, mindlessly starts playing with his fingers. 

“You know I want this, right?” she asks him. “Us? This relationship?” 

“Yeah, I know,” he says softly, placing a kiss in her hair. “Sometimes it’s good to talk about it, though.” 

“Since when are you so big on talking, El?” 

“Since I want to make this work,” he says sincerely. It seems this renders her speechless. For a long moment Liv studies his face, her fingers still. 

“Is that something you want? For us to talk about… us? Where this is going?” 

“To be honest, I think I’d like that, yeah.” 

“Okay.” 

 


 

Try as he might, there is no getting comfortable on this couch, least of all in this awkward position he’s taken, with Olivia entangled in his arms. Her legs are bent and pulled up. She must have dozed off fifteen or so minutes ago. It’s getting harder for Elliot to keep his eyes open, too. Ten more minutes to midnight. His back is starting to kill him and he really needs to use the restroom. It’s impossible for him to get out from under Olivia without waking her, though, so he gently starts to stroke her arm, slow up and down motions. 

“Hey, Liv,” he mumbles, his voice a little rough with fatigue. 

Olivia stirs, mumbles something unintelligible. 

“Come on, we should head home. It’s late.” 

At this she takes a deep breath, exhales and slowly sits up while rubbing her face. 

“Did I fall asleep?” 

“Yeah. Listen, it’s almost midnight. You’re beat. Let’s just go home.” Elliot feels Olivia's hesitancy before he sees it settle on her face. In an attempt to reassure her, he puts a hand on her thigh, rubbing his thumb over her pants. “We have to go home at some point, Liv.” 

“You’re right, you’re right,” she breathes and clears her throat from sleep. 

“I need to use the bathroom, you get ready.” He rubs her thigh before he gets up and vanishes. 

By the time he’s back, Olivia is wearing her jacket, her purse draped over her right shoulder. They take a cab home to her place. Without further ado they head to the bedroom, foregoing the nightly bathroom routine. He’s out of his pants and shirt quickly, whereas Olivia seems to stall. 

“What is it?” 

Olivia shakes her head just barely but turns away from him before she pulls her blouse off over her head. It stands out, because she’s never once done that. 

“Liv.” Elliot steps closer, puts a hand on her shoulder and she inhales sharply. “Don’t do this. Don’t start hiding from me now.” 

“I’m not trying to-,” she starts but her voice almost cracks, and she pauses briefly. “I just don’t feel comfortable right now.” 

“You shouldn’t give him that power, Liv.” Elliot places a single kiss on the nape of her neck. She doesn’t tense. In fact her shoulders drop a little in what he interprets as relaxation. A few seconds later she pivots, looking uneasy. 

“It’s… it’s just hard right now.” 

“I get that, but I don’t want things to be different between us.” Elliot grabs her night shirt from underneath the bedding and holds it out to Olivia. 

“We’ve never talked about what happened, I mean we did but not-,” she shrugs and swallows. “Not really. And now Lewis is like this big elephant in the room, and I'm...I'm back in that place and...insecure.” 

“Okay. Insecure about what, though?” 

“I don’t know. That’s just the thing, I don’t know, it’s not rational. Maybe that you’ll look at me and see something else?” 

“That’s never gonna happen, Liv. I see you . And if you feel you want to talk about what happened, if it’s tonight, tomorrow, next week, in ten years from now? I’ll listen. And even then nothing is going to change how I see you. I look at you, and I see thirteen years of us. And then years in which we’ve been apart and have both changed and grown. Lewis doesn’t get to have that. He’s completely irrelevant to our history, to why I fell in love with you.” 

As she listens to him her face contorts. Elliot thinks she must go through ten different emotions within seconds. 

“Let’s just go to bed,” she says, too quiet for his liking, as she takes off her bra and slips on the shirt. 

This is probably it for tonight, Elliot muses. They talk, grazing God knows how many subjects, but most of what they discuss only scratches the surface. No conversation runs deep. It occurs to him that it’s pretty much every conversation they ever had, and he’d like that to change. She’s opening up in bits and pieces, and he’s so, so grateful for that. At the end of the day he wants more, though. He wants to get this right. 

Olivia slips into bed next to Elliot and wordlessly gravitates towards him, as she always does when they share a bed. She’s warm but shivers, so he pulls her closer and rubs her arm for warmth. 

“Hey,” she whispers after a moment. 

“Hey,” he whispers in return. 

“Can I ask something?” 

“Of course. Anything.” 

“Have you ever wondered about us not working out? In the long haul?” Liv's voice is impossibly small. 

“Where’s this coming from?” 

“Last week I had that dream that… we decided to separate. I don’t even remember more than that, just that… and I… all I could think was how I’ve always… and with you…”

Elliot’s listening, his thumb encouraging her with gentle strokes to keep going. 

“I am so scared to lose you.” 

“You’re not gonna lose me. Not a chance. Why would you even think that?” 

For a few beats, Olivia waits. “I feel like I complicate things. Constantly. Not willingly but like now--I know I’m saying irrational things, I’m doing irrational things, I’m thinking all these irrational thoughts-” 

“And none of that is your fault.” 

“Elliot, let me… let me say this.” 

“Okay. Sorry.” 

“This relationship stuff is so, so hard for me, sometimes. I’m not the most open person, and I’m scared to talk about things, some of them just small things, because I tell myself ‘don’t rock the boat. It’ll work itself out. You might create a problem or you might make it bigger and blow it out of proportion’,” she admits into the dark. “I don’t know myself like that because I was never before so emotionally invested. I have this absolute terror of messing this up again, because I always did. Only, then, it was a price I was willing to pay. It isn’t now.” 

“Can I say something?” Elliot asks his lips moving against Olivia’s forehead. She simply nods in agreement. “You’ve used the word irrational, and this right here is an irrational fear. You say you’re not the most open but you are opening up right now. And if that’s a process, then that’s okay. Liv, we have all the time in the world to figure this out. But I can tell you I am not going anywhere. I’m here and I’m in this two hundred percent. And to answer your question: Of course I thought about this going wrong. But at the end of the day? I don’t think it will. We took our time, and I believe that both of us, individually, have thought this through. If this is really what we want, if it’s where we want to be together. I know for sure that this is it.” He envelopes her in his arms, places a feathery kiss in her hair. “I want to be right here. With you.”

Chapter Text

Olivia can't sleep, and her body begs to move.  To toss. Turn. Her mind runs a hundred miles an hour. They got home well after midnight, and she has no sense of what time it is now. 

Next to her Elliot is perfectly still, his breath even while she can hardly breathe. Trepidation sits underneath her skin, which twitches and crawls. When she closes her eyes, it gets worse, so she keeps them wide open, staring into the dark of the room. Trying not to blink, her corneas dry, and she tears up. Her stomach aches. 

She feels herself slipping away. Again. To a place that’s so hard to come back from, if she ever really escaped. Maybe she’s been fooling herself all along, thinking that was even possible. The quiet starts to border on unbearable and Elliot’s proximity gets harder to tolerate as the seconds tick by, as she’s losing herself. 

Consumed with the first bout of anxiety, she drives herself further away from Elliot, and out of bed. On bare feet she sidles towards the living room. Olivia doesn’t make it to the threshold before she hears Elliot’s familiar voice, drugged with sleep. She feels like a little kid that got caught with her hand in the cookie jar, guilty conscience and all.  

“Liv?” 

Right now she can’t cater to his needs. She needs to move, do something about the torturous queries these pictures raise for her. “Go to sleep, Elliot. I’m fine.” 

The mattress rustles beneath his moving body and she looks up, praying he’s going to stay put. She can almost hear him think. 

After what seems like an impossibly long time he gives, “At least leave the door open? Please?” 

She gives him credit for accepting her boundaries. It’s interesting how they’ve both changed. How life has changed them both.  

Wordlessly she leaves the door and unsteadily crosses the living room, turning on the floor lamp. In the entry area her purse catches her eye, her stomach twists up in knots even more. Full of apprehension she shakes her head, hugs herself while walking. Once she holds the envelope in her hands she really, really wants a drink. Involuntarily she thinks vodka and grimaces. In her mouth sour saliva accumulates and she swallows hard. 

Olivia pours a glass of wine, just one because nerves are about to get the better of her. Meanwhile the offensive envelope lies on the sofa, taunting her, calling to her, threatening her. Her hand shakes as she brings the glass to her lips. She gets more panic-stricken as she walks to her couch, settles, studies the envelope as she holds the wine glass close to her chest, as if it’s a talisman that is somehow going to protect her. She’s clung to alcohol too many times in the aftermath of her abduction, she knows it’s not going to save her. In fact it’s not going to do a damned thing, but denial is the warmest blanket she’s ever known. 

Feeling wholly unprepared Olivia puts the glass down and opens the envelope, ready to push through this, whatever’s to come. Her fingers are so clammy, they slide against the glossy finish of the photo paper. 

She desperately tries to make sense of her hammering heartbeat, telling herself over and over it can’t be that bad. It just can’t. 

Lewis’ face is like a sobering blow across the cheek. She was prepared to see herself, but not him. The corners of her mouth twitch, and as she stares, she can feel him. His hot breath on her face. His mouth, wide open, traversing her own, except it’s covered in silver duct-tape. His tongue, warm and wet, runs along the slope of her cheek. 

Involuntarily, she shivers. She remembers all this in at least three different versions, but she doesn’t remember him licking her face, staring into a camera. As far as she can tell, she’s unconscious in the picture. He looks into the camera smiling ferally. She draws a breath, scrunches her eyes together before she puts the photograph on the coffee table. 

One down, she thinks. 

The next image knocks her breath out of her lungs. It’s not what she expected and she winces, cocking her head. For all the times she stood in front of the bathroom mirror in the days and weeks following her abduction, she’s forgotten how gravely Lewis had mangled her left breast. She wonders if she should feel compassion for herself for being so badly mistreated, yet the only thing that spreads within her is abhorrence. 

While her right breast exhibits exactly two burns, the left maps out an entire journey of horror and degradation. Eleven scars. Two deep bite marks. Blood oozes from where Lewis’ teeth broke skin. The entire left side of her chest is black and blue.

And just like that she’s back. With Lewis. 

She’s woozy. It’s not been long since she has woken up from the second time he’s knocked her out. She’s disoriented. Her head hurts like hell. It takes her a few moments until she realizes she’s still in her living room, tied to a chair. 

Her entire place is trashed. She swallows, but it’s almost impossible. Her mouth, her throat - they are bone-dry. 

Water. She’s so, so thirsty. 

It’s dark outside. Night time probably. Obviously. She turns her head to peek at the clock that once hung on her kitchen wall. It’s gone. 

So is Lewis, Olivia realizes as she turns her head left and right as far as possible. He’s nowhere to be seen. Despite the duct-tape that’s covering her mouth, Olivia tries to speak. Nothing but unintelligible sounds come out and she desperately groans through her nose. Her mind spins. Or maybe it’s the room. Too fast, she thinks, fighting off the surge of nausea that’s rising up from her stomach. 

Oh God. 

She can’t throw up, or else she’s going to choke on her own vomit. Panicked her breathing quickens, yet she doesn’t get enough air in through her nose. 

She can’t breathe. She’s going to die here, tied up in a chair, sick and panicked by the prospect of death by asphyxia.

It doesn’t occur to her that dying might be better than whatever else Lewis is going to do to her. 

Her heart hammers on and on. Until she hears a key in the door, that’s when it stops. Everything stops. The time no longer matters. She no longer tries to suck in air through her nose, she doesn’t dare move. 

“Ah, I had hoped you’d be back up by now,” Lewis sing-songs casually upon closing the door. From her periphery she can see the paper bag he’s carrying across the room. “Time for us to have some fun. It’ll be an early morning, no time to waste.” 

He saunters to the kitchen counter, starts unpacking. Olivia follows his movement with her gaze only. 

A pack of cigarettes. A bottle of vodka. Please, no more of this, she prays silently. She’s not nearly sober, and the thought of him inflicting yet another cigarette burn on her body fills her with horror. She doesn’t think she’s ever been in so much physical pain as when he pressed the smoldering end against the material of her shirt, melting it into her skin. 

Olivia groans. Lewis continues unpacking. A few candy bars. Energy drinks.

God, she’s hungry. Her stomach hurts. But then everything does. 

A single metal coat hanger appears from the bag. She stares in horror. 

No. Shit. Please, no. 

She swallows. Her stomach drops to the floor. This, she knows, is not good. 

Her eyes settle on a knife at the far end of the counter. She wants it badly. Without her gun she feels naked, defenseless. She wants a weapon, any weapon to feel… something other than like she does. Helpless. Hopeless. 

But even if the knife would magically appear in one of her hands, it would make no difference. They are firmly tied behind her back, utterly useless. 

Olivia's gaze shifts back to the candy. Hungrily, she moans. Lewis’ full attention is on her in an instant, making out the source of her desire. 

“This?” Lewis picks up one of the chocolate bars, wagging it at her. “Is not for you.” 

Of course not. She shouldn’t be surprised. He didn’t allow her even a sip of water, food should be the last thing she can expect.   

“Maybe, if you’re being a good girl, you’ll get a bite.” 

Perhaps, Olivia thinks, she shouldn’t spit in his face when he takes off the tape again. Give him a little less attitude. Bargaining for her freedom hasn’t done much, either, not that she really thought he’d let her go. The key element, she reminds herself, is to buy time and survive. 

She can no longer bank on Cassidy to be her knight in shining armor. He’s not gonna come. And neither is anybody else. The thought petrifies her. That nobody is going to come for her. The only way to get out of this is to stay alive until she’s missing work. Nothing else is going to raise a red flag for anyone. 

Now, on top of being deprived of not only food and water, but also the power to change anything about her fate, she also feels alone.

Nobody is going to look for her. Nobody is going to miss her, at least not for two days. Her chances of being found before Lewis relocates her are about… zero, she estimates. 

Jesus. Fuck. 

Lewis is on his way over then, twisting the cap off the vodka bottle. On the chair Olivia jerks, shakes her head with wide, pleading eyes. 

No more alcohol. 

“You can be good, can’t you?” 

Don’t scream. Suck it down. By now she knows the drill. As much as she does not want to play along, she doesn’t think another blow to the head will be beneficial to her. But God, she doesn’t know how to choke down any more alcohol. 

He’s right in front of her now, bending forward so they are face to face. Trying not to let him see just how terrified she is, she nods slowly. Controlled. 

“Good.” 

The tape is torn off in one swift motion, leaving the skin around her mouth even more raw. Her primal instinct is to do something, anything to irk him, draw him out, but that is not going to go over well so she keeps her mouth shut. 

Lewis tips the bottle to her lips and only then does she show resistance by shaking her head, vehemently. 

“No. Please,” Olivia manages before clamping her lips together. 

He grabs her hard by the chin, applies pressure at the juncture of her jaw. Despite every instinct and effort, her mouth opens, and Lewis pours. There’s really no use to disobedience. It's too much liquid, and she swallows once, twice, then chokes and sputters as she coughs up what went down the wrong pipe. 

“You’re really not making this easy on yourself, Olivia. Don’t you understand that you don’t get to say no to me?” Lewis sounds bored and amused alike as she’s still trying to get her breathing under control. “Couple more sips, sweetheart. Trust me, you don’t want to be sober for the next part.” 

She's not sure she wants to know what the next part is. A part of her wonders, the bigger part of her however is panic-stricken. Lewis tips the bottle back to her mouth and she is focused on taking small sips she can actually swallow. The alcohol seems to go straight to her head. 

“There you go,” he commends and she wonders if he’s actually proud of making her obey. She groans and tries catching her breath, looking up at him. He puts the bottle down, but produces two pills from his back pocket in exchange. “Now you can either swallow them yourself, or…” 

Olivia's response is immediate: a full-body shudder as she remembers how he'd shoved his fingers down her throat when she fought him with everything she had the first time around. She doesn’t know what they are but thinks maybe tranquilizers. In any case, she does not want this stuff in her system, especially not with the amount of alcohol he forced down her throat.

“Lewis…” Her voice comes out hoarse. 

“Damn, you really like it rough, don’t you, Detective,” Lewis snarls, and before Olivia can think better of it, tell him she’s changed her mind, he’s shoving the pill into her mouth, far down her throat. It’s so sudden, she never saw it coming and when a stifled cry comes out, he clasps his big hand over her mouth until she swallows. When he lets go, she’s gasping for air, resigning herself to the fact that there's not a damned thing she can do to prevent anything Lewis wants to happen from happening. It nags at her, and she wonders if he’ll respond to her better, if she defers to him, acts more pliable. For one she wants the bite of the candy bar because she’s hungry. But more than that she needs every bit of energy she can get. Lewis starves his victims, deprives them of water. Of sleep. This is going to become a battle of the endurance, and if she wants to have a chance at winning it, she needs to play along. 

He tears off another strip of tape, plasters it over her mouth. 

Not a minute later Lewis holds Olivia up as she awkwardly staggers towards the bedroom. With one shove she lands on the mattress, face-first. She tries to scramble to her knees with her hands still tied behind her back, but before she can find her balance, he yanks at her arm and flips her over like a rag-doll. Her wrist screams as she lands on it with the force of her whole body weight. Her own cry never makes it past the barrier of silver tape. She could swear she heard a crack. 

“If you kick, I’mma tie you up. Understood?” He’s all business as he opens a can of energy drink, knocking it back in one go before flinging it into a corner of the room.

Trying to ignore the biting pain of her wrist Olivia nods. If he ties her up, her chances of escape are rendered void, so she will focus on keeping her legs flush against the mattress. However, she’s so scared, she can hardly breathe or think past that. 

“So pretty,” Lewis mutters as he bends and hovers over her, his face looming. Then his hands are on her, all over her. Olivia grunts with disgust. It takes every ounce of self-control she has in her body not to react physically and boot him.

He pushes up her shirt, uncovers her bra. Grabs her breasts. Squeezes. 

Groaning, she looks at him, shakes her head. Pleads. 

‘Don’t. Stop,' she wants to say. 

The chill of the room envelops her breasts as Lewis pushes her bra up so it sits atop her chest. His hands meet bare skin and Olivia feels physically sick. She shudders with naked fear of what’s next. Lewis catches her nipple between two fingers. Tugs. Pinches. All she can do is try and pace her breathing. Slow, deep breaths through her nose. She needs to stay level- headed. She tries to tell herself that it makes no difference if he touches her through her clothes or without them, but it’s in vain. It makes all the difference in the world. It’s humiliating to lie here, her breasts on display, being fondled. 

The alcohol and pills are thumping through her veins. She feels slightly dizzy and her fingertips are tingling, making her wonder how badly her position is cutting off circulation. Her arms, her shoulders - they hurt, but not quite as much as they did a few moments ago. All of a sudden she’s hot. Too hot. In her chest her heart bashes with the force of a jackhammer. 

This does not feel okay. 

Olivia's eyes widen, she whimpers, fights against her restraints. His hands on her feel different now. Lighter. Almost deadened. It feels like every bit of sensation she has in her body rushes to her brain at once. 

“Ah, you feel it, don’t you?” Lewis' voice is a dull drone in her ears. “It’s amazing what a little meth can do, isn’t it?” 

Meth. It registers very slowly, and, through the euphoria that’s wrapping around her, she clings to what little she has left in terms of logical thought. 

No. No, no, no, no, no. 

Not meth. Anything but not… 

The hit is instantaneous. It’s everything. 

“This is gonna feel so good now. Me first.” Lewis produces a cigarette, lights it with a deep drag that he then blows into the room. Olivia's heart races as she watches him put it out on the inside of his upper arm. Lewis doesn’t even twitch. 

He’s going to do her next. She understands that, but she outruns the fear. She doesn’t even flinch as he lights the cigarette again. 

“Tits or neck?” 

All of a sudden she feels light-headed. A little nauseous, too. 

“Tits, then,” he decides. 

It doesn’t occur to Olivia to squirm away. When the cigarette makes contact with the side of her left breast the pain is explosive. Whatever mind-numbing effect the drug had, Olivia is now acutely aware of nothing but overwhelming anguish. 

She screams. No one is going to hear her. 

“Yeah, that’s it.” 

He does it again. And again. Deep down she is terrified, but she feels like her true self is boxed in. 

It’s a relief when he puts the Marlboro away. Lewis’ hands are on her again, and for some reason she’s back to feeling desensitized. She stares at the ceiling, and he vanishes from her visual field. There’s a flutter against her nipple, then the side of her breast. Left, right, she has no idea. 

And then it’s hell as he bites down, his teeth tearing into the plump flesh like he’s some kind of wild animal going in for the kill. 

It’s all-consuming, bereaving her even of the contradictory mix of euphoria and bluntedness that the meth provides. That pain is so complete, she thinks she’s about to pass out. Or die. Maybe she'll die.

When Lewis lets up, Olivia's body still curls, fighting the brutal assault. Moreover, Olivia is breathing hard, as if that will somehow soothe her violated body. He pops back up then, grinning, openly pleased with what he’s done. 

And then he starts over. Three burns, left breast. He grabs her, squeezes and then twists it so hard, Olivia wonders if he’s trying to tear it off. She can’t handle it, screams into the tape, cries into the pillow. 

She just wants it to stop. She’ll do anything. Anything. 

“Need a break, sweetheart?”

Desperately she moans yes into duct tape, her eyes wide. 

“Okay. Five minutes,” Lewis smirks grotesquely, then claps his palm against her cheek a few times. “You’re holding up better than I thought. You're enjoying this every bit as much much as I am, aren’t you?” Again he fondles her breasts, causes her to twitch. She is in so much pain and absolutely terrified of what she might see when she looks down. 

She closes her eyes just briefly and is instantly overcome by tears when she opens them. He moves away, out of the room, and for a moment she considers getting up, trying to make a run for it. But she can’t move apart from rolling up into a fetal position, praying that he will leave her alone. 

She thinks he said something about giving her a five minute break. Five minutes is much too soon for him to return. But as she’s lying in her bed, her breast throbbing after Lewis’ merciless torment, she realizes five minutes can take forever. What’s worse is not knowing what he’ll come up with next. She knows without a doubt that she can’t physically or mentally take any more. 

Maybe, she thinks, he won’t come back anytime soon. Maybe he needs to go somewhere, get something. Maybe she can just… 

No. She can try and refuse the cold reality, but it’s not going to change. She has mere minutes until Lewis will be back, and she’ll be helpless against whatever his sick and twisted mind comes up with. 

Olivia's nerves are frayed as she shakes herself out of it, quite literally. Her body trembles as she stares at the picture for another moment, then quickly, puts the stack of photographs down. Instead of the next picture, she goes for her glass of wine, downs it all to the last drop. Sweat clings to her forehead. In fact her entire body is sweaty. When she sets down the glass, Olivia is surprised to find herself cradling her breast, realizing it’s not sore to the touch. But if she focuses real hard, she can feel the throb radiating from the inside out still. There are indentations where Lewis burned her that she can easily detect through the material of her night shirt. Absent-mindedly she tugs on her shirt, peeks at her left breast, almost relieved not to find it covered in bite marks and bruises. 

The corners of her mouth twitch with emotion anyway. Before this happened, she had been overly critical of her body. She had hated that her breasts had fallen victim to gravity and age, that her thighs have gotten thicker, her hips wider. 

God, what she wouldn’t give to go back, and be able to look in the mirror without the constant reminder of what was done to her. What was taken from her. 

She wants her body back. Her confidence. A sense of self-worth. 

She wishes Elliot could see her without the two dozen scars that reach from her chest to her thighs just once, wondering if it would make a difference in how he sees her, not as someone he loves, but as a red-blooded woman. She thinks it would. 

Of course it would. If things were different, he wouldn’t be extra careful with her, always on guard, always so damned soft and gentle, so fucking considerate. 

Hell, it’s not a pretty sight. In fact, it’s pretty shocking, even years later. They say most of her scars have healed exceptionally well. She really can’t see it. To her they are as abhorrent as ever, if maybe a little paler than a few years ago. 

Years of therapy didn’t minimize the shame she feels in her bones whenever someone sees them, even Elliot. She worked hard to get to a point where she can show her body to him, and besides medical personnel, he’s going to be the only person to have that privilege. 

For a few days, maybe even weeks, that display of trust and strength had filled her with a sense of pride. It was supposed to be a massive step in terms of her healing process, accepting her body, loving herself, blah, blah, blah. Now she sometimes wonders if she shouldn’t have waited. That all of this might be easier, if Elliot had never seen the full extent of her injuries. 

He makes her feel like a woman. He makes her feel loved. Sometimes even desirable. Not for her body, but for the person she is. The partner she is. 

That’s something, she muses. Not necessarily what she wants, or needs, but still something. 

Idly, she picks the stack of pictures back up. The close-up of her chest joins the first picture on the coffee table. Scrunching her eyebrows, Olivia looks over the picture. It’s an image of her, obviously only semi-conscious. Other than the second picture it doesn’t only show her exposed breasts, but her entire body, covered in burns, cuts and bruises. Her pants and underwear are pulled down. Momentarily, Olivia presses her thighs together. There was no point to photograph her with her panties down, an act only meant to humiliate her. Well, it works. She’s humiliated, all right, wonders what’s next. Probably a close-up of her genitals. That sick son-of-a-bitch would have enjoyed that. 

It’s worse than that. She’d give a hell of a lot to see her private parts instead of the coat hanger pressing into the skin of her thigh. She remembers that. God, she remembers… 

Light. Something bright. She remembers because she thought she’d finally made it, that she was dying, that she’d be in peace. 

But it wasn’t the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, not some entry passage to the beyond. It was the goddamn flash of a camera. She had passed out from terror and all-consuming physical pain, at least for a while. The meth, the alcohol, although still in her system, had done shit for her at that point. Blacking out, she surmises, was a godsend. 

The next picture is all blurred. All she can make out is her body. One of him forcing her mouth open, the duct tape hanging from her cheek. 

Upon seeing the following picture Olivia reflexively recoils. Her stomach contracts so violently, she thinks she’s going to throw up. Her hands turn clammy and no, no, no. This can’t be. This did not happen. 

She’d remember that. If she trembled before, she is now full on shaking, trying to make sense of what sees with her own set of eyes, but what can’t be part of her reality. 

He did not put his penis in her face. He did absolutely not ejaculate on her face. 

They didn’t find traces of semen , it goes through her head. Not inside me. Not on me. Frantically she tosses the picture on the table. Same thing, but without his genitals measuring up against her face. 

Olivia can’t process this. Not any of it, she realizes with a racing heart and burning cheeks. She recoils and flings that picture onto the table, wishing she'd never seen it. 

She gasps into the silence of the room, unable to breathe, think, or endure any more. This is absurd. Insane. 

Between her legs there’s a phantom sensation. It’s not a coherent memory, nothing she can fully grasp, or start to comprehend. But she knows the kind of flashback where she feels something, instead of reliving it in vivid detail. It’s like a wave flooding her, paralyzing her. And it’s right there, if just barely. That sense of something pushing… into her. 

Proving the sensation she'd taken the stand to insist never happened, the final photograph is a close-up of Lewis' penis inside her.





Chapter Text

He’d woken from his restless slumber the moment he felt the mattress dip unnaturally deep towards his right. It hadn’t come completely unexpected, of course. In fact Elliot had firmly counted on Olivia slipping out of bed in the middle of the night, unable to sleep, or at the very least rest. Since then he’d waited with strained ears, taking in every sound, trying to find indications to what she’s doing. 

Elliot heard the quiet switch of the lamp, that illuminated the room warmly. The quiet padding of Liv's bare feet on the floorboards. The clink of a glass, wine he suspects, against the breakfast bar. 

Who’s he kidding, it is wine, Olivia's not doing this casually sipping on water. 

Then the rustle of thick paper. 

The goddamn envelope.

For a long while it’s silent. Eerily so. Then it’s glass against glass. She’s drinking. He doesn’t know if that’s good or bad.

There’s the smallest sound then, although Elliot thinks he might have only imagined it. 

Silence. 

Too much of it. 

There is no way he will find sleep unless Liv returns to the bedroom. 

Fat chance

Again it’s the clink of her glass against the coffee table, more forceful this time. He wonders how Olivia's holding up. 

Elliot knew he couldn’t change her mind and make her come back to bed the moment she uttered the words ‘I’m fine,’ although every fibre of his being wanted to either follow, or drag her back into the comfort of his arms. Of course he knows what her ‘I’m fine’ translates to. She’s not fine at all. But he didn’t get this far with Olivia by crowding her. He’d shown restraint and patience when he stepped back into her life. He isn’t going to blow all the groundwork he’s done now. As long as he doesn’t get the impression she’s in total distress, he’ll trust her to handle it. Even this, as uneasy as he feels about it. 

The rustling of photo paper. It’s a very distinct sound. Once. Twice. It sounds… frenzied? 

A gasp. 

He’s worried, sits up, strains his ears, looking for a sound. Any sound. 

When it comes, he’s not reassured. Quiet, breathless pants filter into the room, and they sound like there’s something like a no mixed in as they continue. 

Suddenly Elliot can’t get out of bed quick enough. Fuck restraint. 

The noises Olivia makes are deeply unsettling. He’s had a queasy feeling over these photographs all night, sensing they weren’t going to be random or pointless shots of Olivia unconscious. Most of what he knows about William Lewis stems from news reports and what he could pull at work. The guy was nothing short of a monster, the marks he left on Liv’s body are proof of that. He wasn’t the type to act indiscriminately, so these pictures are bound to be shocking in the least, completely horrific at worst. He’s terrified it’s the latter. He’s terrified and unprepared, and the unknowns chill him to the bone and turn his blood to ice in his veins.

Liv's huddled on the edge of the sofa, the stack of pictures in her hand. For a split second his eyes flit to the coffee table that’s littered with photographs. Olivia looks frantic, panicked. It seems to him she’s this close to hyperventilating. So far she hasn’t even picked up on his presence in the room, so he decides to make himself known. 

“Liv,” it comes out tentatively, and, God, he is sorry for startling her, as she almost jumps out of her skin. 

“No. Go. Don’t… don’t look.” The words themselves sound as strangled as she does.

Distraught, Elliot thinks. Olivia is completely distraught as she starts shoving the pictures on the table into a messy pile, as he steps closer. Inadvertently she sends the empty wine glass flying. Between them it shatters. She’s in a frenzy. This, he realizes, runs deeper than modesty. It’s like she’s fighting for her life. 

“It’s okay,” he says, ignoring her plea to go, and walks around the table to avoid the shards. “It’s okay,” he repeats and pulls her up. 

Olivia goes into a full-body tremor against him, gasping heavily for air. Her pain is beyond bearing. Elliot is drawn into the gruesome speculation of how much more agonizing it must have been for her then. The inhumanity of it threatens to shatter his sanity. 

“Don’t look. Please, please don’t look. Don’t look, promise me not… don’t look.” 

She’s suffering so much, it’s hard for him to breathe. Gently he tucks her head into his neck. Her hands come against his chest, fingers curling as if she’s trying to grab at a shirt that’s not there before her palms helplessly settle against his skin. It doesn't escape his notice that she's poised to shove him away. Her gasps turn into whimpers, still pleading with him not to look at the photos. 

With her face against him he glances down, seeing the photographs she’s jumbled into a pile. He gets a good glimpse at three of them. The blood drains from his face and he feels lightheaded. 

Jesus. They might as well be stills from some particularly obscene porno. 

“It’s okay, baby. I’m not. I’m not looking. You’re all good. Nobody’s looking.” 

The lie comes easy. Elliot’s voice doesn’t even waver. With his sinking heart he pulls her closer, so she’s flush against him, pressing his lips against her temple. 

His mind is scattered, every thought exploding in all directions. But he’s got to keep his emotions in check. For her. Only Olivia matters now. She gets to fall apart. He doesn’t. 

And she falls. Shatters. 

Her sobs will be etched into his memory forever. It’s the most desperate, the most viscerally hopeless sound he’s ever heard. He murmurs to her, things he hopes are reassuring, soothing. They don’t feel that way, not even to him, but as long as he’s talking he doesn’t feel quite as useless. 

He lowers them down to sit and tries his damndest to figure out how to get these pictures out of Liv’s sight. He doesn’t want to move, but they're not going to magically disappear. She must be aware that they're visible now, or maybe she’s past awareness, because she crumples against him, into him, sobbing out grief beyond comprehension.

It was bad at the office. It’s so much worse now. 

She’s shaking so terribly, so he just holds her and rubs her back in what he hopes are soothing circles. Every time he thinks she’s starting to calm down, she bursts back into tears that wreck her entire body.

Elliot never asked the question he knows everybody else has asked her, possibly too many times. He’d always trusted she’d come to him, if she was ready for him to know. 

Of course he knows what Lewis was charged with. Attempted rape . Implying she wasn’t. 

He’d never taken the charge at face value. He’d never openly questioned it, either. Who was he to do that? To even dare? He had no claim knowing because he hadn’t been there. 

He hadn’t been there, he reflects prosaically. He’s felt constant regret over it ever since he found out about what happened, and he’ll take that to the grave. 

He’d left her alone. She’d gone through all of the horrors and terror alone, so it made sense she needed to be alone for this tonight. He understands her need for privacy, viewing the pictures. 

He still has no right to know, but he does now. He does.

It tears him apart from the inside out. 

As long as he didn’t know, there was hope. It was fickle, but it was warm and comfortable. Now all there is, is the cold and bitter truth. A truth he can’t fully comprehend.

If these photographs came in an evidence bag he’d know how to handle this. If they came without Olivia in them, he’d slip into a role. He’d know what to do, what to say, because it comes in a goddamn manual. It’d be fucking protocol. 

So, he wonders, is there a protocol for this? Because he has no idea what to say or do now that it’s her. Now that it’s him. 

Victim. Victim’s partner.

When did this happen? When did the fucking universe decide to interfere, figuring what? It was a good time to throw a wrench into their tentative happiness? 

Moreover, wasn’t his goddamn curiosity to blame? He found the camera, introduced the idea of developing the film to her. If he had listened and done what she asked, to just clear out that drawer and throw everything out

What the hell did Olivia do to deserve this on top of the shitpile she already had to deal with because of that sick son-of-a-bitch? 

Holy Mother. It's a prayer.

He waits. For some sort of sign, for answers--he doesn’t even know what. But he waits. For anything. Anything that is going to help him make sense of this. 

At least, he thinks, she is tucked into him, not into herself. He can’t even envision how this would have gone down if he wasn’t here. It’s the only consolation in this impossible situation. He’s got her. He gets to be here for her, and she's allowing him. As little as it is, he holds onto that. Silently he thanks God, Jesus, and every saint he can think of for small favors. 

Gradually Olivia’s sobs subside but she seems to be drained of all energy. She makes no attempt to move, doesn’t even lift her head. He keeps brushing random patterns against her back. Judging by the clock they’ve sat like this for fifty-five minutes before she speaks. 

“You saw, didn’t you?” She sounds small. 

“Yeah,” he admits, not daring to lie to her again. “I’m so sorry, Liv.”

Olivia winces, but he thinks she’s not surprised. To his great relief she still doesn’t show the slightest intention to move away.

Instead she takes a deep breath, against him her chest expands, then deflates. “I didn’t know,” she whispers. 

“About the camera. I know,” he responds placidly, lips against her hair. He’s hyper aware of the way she swallows, her body tensing subtly. 

“Not the camera. The… I didn’t know he…” 

He is entirely unprepared for this disclosure. Her complete breakdown makes even more sense now. She means what’s in the pictures.

The rape.  

It renders him speechless, because it’s not what he expected. Rohypnol crosses his mind momentarily, but then he remembers that she was drugged and filled up with Lord-knows-how-much alcohol. A sedative effect makes sense, he muses. He dares another peek at the pictures, and now that it’s not as fleeting a glance, it’s obvious she wasn’t conscious in at least two of them. 

Olivia, however, seems to take his silence for doubt, because she asks: “Do you believe me?” 

Jesus. What kind of question is that? As if he’d ever doubt her. 

“Of course I believe you.” 

“But?” 

“No but,” he assures into her hair. “I’m trying to process.” 

“Oh.” It didn’t seem to have occurred to her that this is how he found out as well, which is okay because he’s not a priority here. Then, after long moments: “Me, too.” 

„Can I get you anything? Some tea maybe? More wine?“ If a situation ever called for alcohol, it‘s this one. 

Surprisingly she shakes her head against his chest. „No.“

„Can I at least put the pictures away? Please?“

„What‘s the point?“

She sounds like she‘s out of energy and out of fucks to give.

„You don‘t need to keep looking at this filth.“ 

„I lived this filth for four days,“ she manages, and, for a moment, he thinks he upset her so much, she‘s going to cry again. „And every day since,“ she adds, whispering. „So really, what‘s the point?“ 

He understands now that she doesn‘t expect an answer. However, he doesn‘t see the point of her being confronted with the images again. He wants them gone. The sooner, the better. 

„I feel so dumb.“ she wipes her runny, red nose with the back of her hand. 

„You are not dumb, Liv.“

„Yes, I am,“ she whispers, then draws a shaky breath. „At the beach house…?“ 

It was the final destination, he remembers. She‘s told him it‘s where she managed to break free and nearly beat the life out of Lewis with a metal bar. 

„Yeah?“ He prods tentatively, wondering what more she‘s willing to share with him. 

Her lips move against his skin as she‘s talking quietly, as if sharing a secret no one else is supposed to hear. „When we arrived, I needed to use the bathroom so bad. I‘d spent… probably an entire day in a trunk and… although he didn‘t give me any water I…“ 

She swallows hard, and he thinks he understands. 

„There‘s only so much time anyone can hold it in,“ he offers casually. 

„Yeah, well.“ The humiliation is radiating off of her in hot waves that heat his skin. „I wasn‘t going to do that again if I could help it. Lewis, he took me to the bathroom. He wouldn‘t take off the cuffs, so he… pulled down my pants.” She starts to struggle, her apprehension palpable. “When I wanted to go he… he pulled me back and pushed me against the wall and… he was all over me and… all I could think was how badly I needed to pee. So, I just… I just let him, thinking, if I don’t give him a fight, it’ll be over sooner. At least then I could go.” 

He senses a but coming from miles away. Instinctively he holds her in an even more protective manner, stroking her hair. 

“He jammed his fingers into me and I just…,” she swallows, and he feels fresh, warm tears wet his fingertips. “I couldn’t even say anything because he’d duct-taped my mouth.” 

That goddamn son-of-a-bitch. Anger simmers red hot in his veins. If it wasn’t for her, he’d get up and punch something now, just to get this burning rage out of his system. He should have been there for her. He’d failed so badly at protecting her. 

“I’m so sorry, baby,” Elliot mutters, hearing his voice thick with emotion. 

For a few moments Olivia just sniffles. 

“You don’t have to tell me, if it’s too hard, Liv. Not anything.” He needs her to know that. That he doesn’t feel like he needs to be privy to any details unless it gives her some sense of relief. 

Against him Liv nods, and just when he thinks she takes his word for it continues, her voice sounding foreign to him.

“He used them like… like a handle, moving me around… and towards… towards the toilet… to pull me onto the seat. And it was horrible but I thought… okay. At least now he’ll let me… but…” 

“He didn’t,” Elliot concludes phlegmatically. 

Shaking her head she holds onto his arm. “He said… I’ll never forget it, he just said… if I needed to take a piss, to go ahead. And I needed to… so, so bad, it hurt. But I… I couldn’t bring myself to…” 

“Of course not.” 

“Not at first,” comes Olivia's humiliated confession. 

All he can think is dear God. What hell has that animal put her through?  

“I didn’t tell anybody. I just… I couldn’t in the statements. They kept asking if he… and I said no. Because as long as it were just his fingers and not… I could compartmentalize it. I held on to… old technicalities. That was assault. But not rape.” 

“Except it was,” Elliot says carefully. 

Olivia tries to stifle a sob with her hand, but it comes out loud and clear. 

“You know, Lewis offered to take a plea, plead guilty on all counts, just as long as he could give a detailed recount of how he raped and sodomized me.” Olivia laughs through tears now, and it doesn’t sound like her. “And I refused because he didn’t do that. Because I was too... too proud, too vain, but also? He didn’t. He didn’t put his penis inside me, he didn’t rape me. He didn’t sodomize me.” 

“Liv.” 

"He did not make me into my mother."

It shatters him, that this is her reasoning. That Olivia diminished the gravity of what she went through with Lewis because she was scared it would somehow turn her into her mother. That it would turn her into a person unable to recover from the trauma she’s gone through. 

“As long as that didn’t happen to me , I wasn’t… broken. This wasn’t going to destroy me like it did her. I wasn’t going to crawl into a bottle and care about nothing but myself, forgetting about everyone around me. And believe me, I wanted to,” she admits. “I stocked up on the wine, I even drank more than I should’ve, especially with all that time alone at home with only my thoughts? But I still knew when to stop.” She whispers, "I stopped. I had Noah, and I stopped."

Elliot hears the message loud and clear. Noah saved her. She’d stopped. She’d stopped for her son, because he gave her a purpose. In his prayer of thanks, he makes a mental note to thank God regularly for bringing that beautiful child into her life. 

Olivia wasn’t Serena’s purpose, she was her downfall. Elliot can’t start to comprehend how it must have felt, knowing she wasn’t enough. But Olivia also needs to understand that what happened to her, does not tie into what happened to her mother. And that she didn’t go down the same rabbit hole only proves that point, doesn’t it?

“Liv, your story and your mother's? They are in no way linked. It was a different time. These things weren’t investigated like they are today. She didn’t have options, probably no support system.” He knows she knows all that, and yet she seems to hold herself to different standards than any other victim she’s ever encountered.

“You don’t know what it was like growing up like that, El,” she whispers. “I couldn’t let that happen to me. It was my one victory, coming out of this. He did not rape me. I froze and let him overpower me. I let him torture me, assault me. But I did not get myself raped.” 

Elliot wonders if she recognized the fault in her logic. 

“How do you think you 'got yourself' raped, Liv? Would you ever ask vics that question? How they 'got' themselves into that situation?” 

“That’s different.” 

He challenges, “How?” 

Elliot doesn’t expect that she has a reply at the ready, but of course, she's had a lot of time to think this through over and over. 

“Because I should’ve protected myself? Because I knew how to protect myself and I failed. Elliot, I… I’m a cop . And I… how could I just stand there and let that happen?” 

“You didn’t just stand there and let that happen.” 

“It feels like I did. I froze. Who… who does that?” She sounds small and ashamed, because she holds herself to a different standard, a much higher standard, than she would anyone else. 

“A human being, Liv. You froze. You were confronted by a sociopath who caught you off guard in your own home.” 

“Yeah, everybody says that. I’ve been over this with my shrink a million times,” Olivia scoffs. 

“Liv, Jesus. Could you have some sympathy with yourself?” 

Elliot hears Olivia swallow but for every quick answer she had ready for this string of conversation, she seems to come up empty with an answer to this question. Instead, she untucks herself slowly, sits up. 

“I need to go to the bathroom.” 

“Liv,” Elliot realizes he sounds slightly agitated, but it’s not with her, it’s with this impossible situation. “Please, I-” 

“I’m not running, I just really need to go to the bathroom,” she says, sounding matter-of-fact. 

“Okay,” he agrees, deciding to trust her to come back. Liv's slow. It’s 3:42 and he’s dead on his feet, he can hardly imagine how exhausted she must be. 

Elliot uses the time to sweep up the shards, and put the pictures back into the envelope. There is no point in having them staring at them for the remaining night. Once they are out of his view, he feels less uneasy. He leaves them on the table for her to decide what to do about them. If he could have it his way, they’d go into the trash right now. But it’s not up to him. 

He hears the quiet hiss of the shower, coming to the conclusion it’ll be a while. Liv had told him earlier on the roof that she felt unclean, that it felt like Lewis was all over her. It’s obvious she wants to wash him off. 

Meanwhile, Elliot makes his way to the kitchen, heating up milk for hot chocolate and setting the coffee machine for later. Neither of them is going to sleep anytime soon. He tops the beverage with some Reddi Wip.

Liv returns sporting a set of pajamas, her hair wet and twisted in what Elliot knows are her natural waves. Some colour has returned to her face. Olivia spots the hot chocolate on the coffee table, and leaves alone the fact he tucked the pictures away as she sits down next to him, cross-legged. 

“Feel better?” 

“Not really,” she states, giving a little shrug. “But there’s always hot chocolate, right?” The corners of her mouth lift, and she offers the smallest of smiles in gratitude. 

Elliot picks up both mugs and places one between her hands. Their fingers brush, and he keeps the contact up for longer than necessary, glancing at her encouragingly. 

“Thanks,” she says quietly. Then she looks at him, a mixture of anxiety and wonderment on her face. “Why are you so good to me?” 

It throws him completely. And then it doesn’t because this is Liv, and she isn’t used to being taken care of. She’s never learned to allow anyone in to do that for her, be there for her. 

“Come again?” 

“I’m just saying… you could be asleep, instead you’re...” She breaks eye contact, fumbles for words.

Jesus. Does she really think that? That he could possibly sleep while she’s reliving her worst nightmares? He knows he’s proved to be an idiot one too many times, but she can’t think he’s that thick, can she? 

“Liv, look at me,” Elliot says softly, giving her a moment to find his eyes again. When she does, all he can see is doubt, insecurity, he thinks even fear. “You deserve kindness. You deserve to be taken care of, not only because you are constantly taking care of others, but because you are a person. Everybody deserves this, and you probably do more than most.” 

Elliot sees her struggling with it.

“That being said?” he continues, treading carefully as he makes sure she’s still with him. It’s not how he planned on doing this, thinking she’d need a little more time. But it wraps up every other reason he could give her nicely because it’s so, so simple. “I love you, Olivia.” He puts extra emphasis on this but his face is soft. “That’s why. I love you, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but right here,” he assures her, reminding her of a promise he once made, a promise he still meant. “For better or worse, remember?” 

He’d told her long before that first kiss that he had been in love with her. That he was still in love with her. And even then he’d known he’d loved her. But at the wrong time, spoken too soon, he had feared declarations of love could scare her off. He doesn’t need to hear it back, not anytime soon, not unless she’s ready. 

Scrutinizing her, he sees she’s not scared, but she looks like she’s astonished, blinking as if she’s doubting she heard right. He wonders how long it has been since she heard those words from a man who meant them. 

“No pressure,” Elliot adds softly, reaching up to brush an unruly strand of damp hair behind Olivia's ear. He needs her to know that. That those three words don’t change anything, that there are no expectations. And then, around a small, hopeful smile, he asks the same question she did earlier. “Do you believe me?” 

With pursed lips, Liv nods just barely. He would have missed it if he'd blinked. In her eyes there’s the sheen of fresh tears but the corners of her mouth lift into a hesitant smile. “I’m processing.” It comes out accompanied by a small chuckle. 

“Good. Processing is good,” he smiles.

For a few moments Olivia just looks at him, then takes a sip of cocoa and puts the mug down. Elliot mimics her actions, and, adorably, takes note of the small cream mustache on Olivia’s upper lip. 

“I’ve processed,” she says, coyly. 

“Yeah?” 

“Hm-hmm,” Olivia nods and reaches for him, brushing her thumb across his cheek before pulling him closer to kiss him softly.

She tastes familiar and sweet. Like comfort. 

As Elliot is breathing out through his nose, Liv gently bumps her forehead to his. Her hand slips to the back of his neck and she whispers with soft conviction: “I love you, too.” 

The words will keep him reeling for days to come. He smiles, slipping his hand to her neck, too, pulling her in once more for another kiss. When they detangle, he pulls her close, so she’s comfortably leaning against him. “Wanna watch TV?” 

“That sounds good,” she agrees.

Elliot reaches for the remote, she goes for the quilt that’s neatly folded and draped across the backrest, tucking them in. 

They settle on reruns of some comedy show, and when he looks over at Olivia, seeing her cradling the cocoa, it’s the most relaxed he’s seen her since the pictures turned up. An hour ticks by before she ends up curled up on the sofa, her head in Elliot’s lap. He watches her as he’s running his fingers through her hair, wondering for how long she’s going to be this peaceful. 

Elliot's slouched, and his back doesn’t tolerate this like it once did, but Liv is comfortable, and that’s all that matters. 

It’s been one hell of a night, and he’d give anything if it meant he could go back in time and never dig up that camera. At the same time he wouldn’t change their first, tentative declarations of love for the world. Tonight has been a nightmare, but he realizes, and he can only speak for himself, there was strength and beauty found despite its horrors. 

He feels closer to her than ever and thinks they’ll make it through this, together, just like they did before. 

 


 

The flavor of freshly brewed coffee is thick in the air, tickling him awake.

Liv can't have slept for long, Elliot realizes groggily as she moves about the kitchen. 

“Hey.” He rubs his hands across his face, half asleep. 

“Morning,” Olivia says, sounding much too chipper for as little sleep as they both got. “Coffee?” 

“Maybe later.” He bends his neck left and right, hearing it crack. Jesus, he’s entirely too old for nights this shitty. Then: “Whatcha doing?” 

“Ah, I still have all these old cups left and I never use them. I thought I could take them to Goodwill or something.” 

Elliot glances at the clock, the hands and digits blurring. It’s too fucking early. “It’s seven. Jesus Christ, Liv.” 

“Once Noah’s here I’ll never get to it. Might as well do it now. I’m already at it, anyway. You sure about the coffee?” 

Rubbing his eyes he leans back into the cushions of the couch, mutters something underneath his breath, and then looks at Liv being way too engrossed in her cabinets. She's tidy, but that’s not Liv. This is not like her. In the pit of his stomach, he has the feeling that this can’t be good. 

There's a crash coming, and all he can do is be there for it.

Chapter Text

By midday Elliot is officially worried. Olivia went through her kitchen cabinets until nine, then took another shower. A long one. There was not a drop of warm water left for him, which was just as well because he'd slept too little. At least after the shower he was somewhat awake. And concerned, because as he stood under the cool spray, she started to scrub the bathroom. Not her usual cleaning routine, no, she’d started compulsively scrubbing the blind spots, every corner, emptying the cabinets and wiping down shelves and contents. He's sure he’d never seen Kathy being this thorough for any annual spring cleaning, but he didn’t dare say anything, thinking fatigue would get the better of her sooner or later. 

It seems it'll be later. After the bathroom she went through Noah’s drawers and closet, tidying out the remaining summer clothing. A stack of t-shirts, a smaller one of shorts, a couple of thin jackets go into a bag for donation. Then, she moves on to her own wardrobe, and he decides, heavy heartedly, that it’s enough. 

Olivia's sitting on her shins, holding up a dress he remembers her wearing from what seems like a lifetime ago. Simpler times, it crosses his mind. Olivia starts folding it neatly, slowly, making him wonder if she has her own memories about it. He settles at the foot of the bed, still close enough to reach out and rub her shoulder. Turning her head she smiles, but he’s wary of it. 

“You might wanna catch a break. How about lunch? You haven’t eaten.” 

She looks back at him, dumbfounded, as if this hasn’t occurred to her. It’s probably been twenty-four hours with no food and too much coffee for her.  

“Uh, yeah. Okay, sure.” The dress goes into the bag and she turns to him once more. “Chinese?” Her hair is up in a bun and a single strand slips out, falls into her face and settles over her left eye and lip. 

He's not prepared for her approval, but he’ll take it. Anything to get her away from the self-imposed chores. Maybe some fresh air will help her realize just how tired she is, that she needs some rest. It used to work miracles for his kids when they were little.

“Chinese it is,” agrees Elliot and extends his arm. She grabs his hand, he helps pull her up. He comes to stand, and when they are face to face he reaches for her cheek, strokes it. “You okay?” 

In her eyes recognition flickers. 

“I’m okay, El,” she says, and for the first time he sees the fatigue in her features when she glances down between them. “Just trying to distract myself. I… it helped me then. Diversion tactics. When the flashbacks were getting to me.“

He‘s floored. Olivia is completely self-aware. She knows what she is doing. He‘s still worried, but a little more at ease now that she's talked to him. She seems to have some kind of handle on it. 

"Can you promise me to get some rest later? Sleep some?“ 

"I can promise you I‘ll try.“ 

"Good enough for me.“ Gingerly he pulls her close, pressing his lips to her forehead. "Wanna get changed?“ She‘s in sweats, and he wouldn‘t complain if she left them on. He loves how comfortable she looks in her homewear, but he doubts she'll go out in them. 

Looking down on herself Olivia tucks some loose hair behind her ear. "That‘s probably a good idea.“

She slips into a beige sweater and jeans that fit her like a glove. Her hair is down in loose, frizzy waves. She‘s put on some blush and mascara, just enough to make her look less pale, a little more fresh. 

It’s a nice day. Late September is treating them well. It hasn’t been raining in weeks and the air is still considerably warm. To Liv's favorite Chinese spot it’s eight blocks. They walk with their arms interlocked. Elliot curbs her pace, slowing the walk down. 

“You wanna hit the park on our way back?

“And let the food get cold?” She sounds distracted. 

“We could just pop it in the microwave. I’m gonna pick the kids up around one, then you could nap.” 

Liv's nothing but predictable as she stops and looks at Elliot with a slight glare he hasn’t seen in a decade, or longer. “El, don’t patronize me.” It’s a warning. 

“I’m not,” he says easily. “I’m worried about you. I want to make sure you’re okay, that you get some rest. That’s not patronizing you, that’s what I’m supposed to do as your partner, Liv.” When she tries to speak he is quick to add: “Don't pretend you wouldn’t do the same if roles were reversed. This is really difficult. I’m not going to apologize for caring about you.” 

Olivia seems to consider how to respond to this, chewing on the inside of her bottom lip. Another thing he hasn’t seen her do in way too long. God, he’s missed all the shades of her. When she speaks again, she’s calm.

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to nap, so no promises.” 

“You said that. I heard you,” assures Elliot, bobbing his head in towards the direction they are headed. They continue on their way. "I know we didn‘t make plans for tonight, but I thought maybe Eli and I could stay over. If that‘s okay with you.“ 

He can’t in all good conscience leave her alone tonight, but he also doesn’t want to tell Eli he has to stay with Maureen for another night, unless that’s what he chooses. It’s important to him that his son feels welcome, that he knows he’s part of what they are building. 

"Well, I don‘t know. Have you asked Eli?“ It doesn‘t seem like she‘s averse to the idea, but she sounds cautious. 

"Not yet, but I‘m sure he won‘t mind. He could stay with Maureen if he wants to, she wouldn’t mind either.“ 

"I‘m just thinking… my place is small, it‘ll be crowded, and I want him to feel comfortable. He has no option to withdraw, no privacy…“

"Liv, it‘s just for the night. He‘ll be fine. Unless it‘s a problem with you…“

"I didn‘t say that. It‘s not a problem, he‘s a good kid, I like having him around.“

"Then what?“ 

"What if he doesn‘t want to come? Maybe this time he‘s okay with it. The next five, six times, too. But he’s a teen, El. He‘s 14 and Noah's 8, he… he‘s going to be fed up with this arrangement soon.“ 

Elliot squints his eyes, wondering where all of this is coming from. 

Liv has been worried from the start. At first how Eli will take it, and when he needed some time it had freaked her out, and she was instantly thinking worst case scenarios to the point she catastrophized how a relationship can never work if the kids aren’t fully on board. 

It hadn’t taken much for Eli to come around. He’d never been against the relationship, either. Some confusion about his dad seeing another woman than his mother was fully expected. Eli liked Olivia, and Elliot is certain it made things a lot easier to accept. There was no anger, no acting out involved. What Elliot had seen however, was the emotional struggle, the quiet clutch of desperation. His mom was gone, and someone else was going to take her place next to his father, for all intents and purposes. 

They'd talked it through. All of it. Even the cliched ‘She’s not trying to take your mother’s place’. Deep down, Eli said, he knew all that. That, and it wasn’t realistic, or fair, to expect his dad to stay alone for the rest of his life. There was an adjustment phase where Eli wasn’t expected to come to Olivia’s or take part in activities with his dad's new girlfriend and son. But adjustment had come quickly, and the four had been spending  more time together. 

"We‘ll figure it out once we cross that bridge, Liv.” Elliot tucks her against him, as if it will help to reassure her. “At fourteen he‘ll be okay alone for a night, or he‘ll stay with one of his friends. I understand you don‘t want to come to the house, and I just really don‘t have the answer here except let‘s do it like this for as long as it works for Eli. For now, as long as he has his Switch, he‘s a happy camper.“ 

Something is bothering her, it‘s not Eli, that‘s where he‘s sure. But he can’t put his finger on what else it could be. What he does know is that the subsequent silence is deafening. 

They reach the restaurant, and order mushroom chicken for him, orange chicken for her, and some spring rolls to share. Olivia hardly says anything on their way back to the apartment. Elliot sets the table as she wearily waits for him. For as enthusiastic as she was about getting food, she’s anything but when it comes to eating it. She’s merely pushing her rice around with the chopsticks, making a small pile. A few bites make it into her stomach before she pushes the plate away. 

“What’s wrong?” 

Olivia's eyes find him briefly, filled with hesitancy. Her shoulders droop with whatever it is that’s weighing her down. “Nothing’s wrong.” 

“Yeah, try again, Liv,” Elliot says, not buying it for one second, and the way she visibly falters at the words tell him everything he needs to know. “Look, if you’re not comfortable with Eli coming over this weekend, I understand. If you need to be alone...” 

“Elliot…” 

“It’s a lot right now. And it’s okay for you to say when it gets too much.” 

“You really think I don’t want him here?” She sounds hurt, her face scrunches up like she bit into a lemon. 

Elliot leans back in his chair, looking at her openly. “That is not what I said, it’s not what I think, either. I said it’s understandable if it’s too much under the circumstances. Something is clearly bothering you, and it has been since I asked if we can stay.” He cocks his head and reaches out, covering Olivia's hand with his. “It sounded like you were trying to find reasons why it’s not a good idea,” adds Elliot cautiously. 

Liv's awfully quiet again, so he thinks he hit the nail on the head on this one. 

“Liv, that’s okay,” he assures. “It’s a lot.” 

The corners of Olivia's mouth drop, and she’s fighting the emotions bubbling up. 

“You’re wrong,” she says, her voice thin and tired. “It’s not… I don’t want to be alone.” This, she struggles with. 

Elliot suppresses a sigh, because that doesn’t get him any further. “Okay.” An impatient, unspoken ‘then what’ hangs in the air between them.  

“I’m really just wondering how long all this is gonna work,” Olivia admits quietly, and she can’t even look Elliot in the eye as she gets up, walking towards the window. Her arms are crossed, and he turns his head, not sure what is happening as she keeps talking. 

“I… it’s just… I need more, Elliot.” Her voice cracks, and so does something within him. 

“I don’t think I understand.” 

Instantly Elliot wonders if he’s pushed too much. The declarations of love, the coddling, asking if he and Eli can stay. He’s astonished. More than that he’s scared out of his mind. He walks over, closer, and when he touches Liv's shoulder and she pivots, there’s a sad, weary smile on her lips. 

“Liv?” 

“This is so stupid,” she says, chuckling sadly. 

“Can you talk to me? You need more. More space? Because I can give you space,” he assures. 

Olivia shakes her head, swallows hard. Elliot's stomach turns.

“More time,” she whispers. “With you. With us . I know that’s selfish.” Elliot can see how nervous she is, when all he can feel is ease. Jesus fucking Christ, for a moment he thought she was going to break up with him. As he breathes a sigh of relief, he pulls her into his embrace. She instantly clings to him. 

“That’s not selfish, Liv.” Elliot mutters against Liv's ear, feeling the tension slipping away from her, from him. He feels the same way. The time they get together never feels like it’s enough. He tries to stay over once a week, they get together when they can given their heavy caseloads and the kids. He’s in Queens, she’s in Manhattan. It’s not easy, and he, too, wants more. More time, more dinners, more bonding time, more quality time. Being a full-time dad doesn’t make things easier. 

“Isn’t it?

“Not at all. I want that, too,” Elliot whispers, and inhales sharply before pulling back enough to look at her. “We’re… we’re gonna figure something out.” He doesn’t yet know how to navigate this, but there has got to be a way. “I’m going to talk to Eli about this, see if spending a little more time here is okay with him. Maybe every Wednesday to Thursday. It’ll be an early morning with getting him to school, but….” That is a drawback that’s acceptable to him. “And maybe we could expand weekends. It is going to be crowded here, but for now it’s the best we can do.” 

Olivia nods at him, as he thinks that it could work--if Eli is on board. They could see each other three days out of seven, dependably, instead of deciding spontaneously whether their schedules allow them to see each other. 

“We’re gonna do this, okay? One way or another, we’re going to figure this out.” Elliot kisses Olivia's head, and subtly, she leans more into him. 

“Okay.” 

“Let’s eat, okay? I know you hate being told but you gotta eat something, Liv. Can’t have you collapse with the kids here,” he teases.

Liv chuckles. “Fine. I’ll eat.”

“That’s what I wanna hear.” 

 


 

She doesn’t sleep. Elliot left half an hour ago to pick up the boys from his eldest daughter, and if her eyes weren‘t still puffy and bloodshot, she would have gone with, but she looks a mess, and another woman wouldn‘t miss it. She‘s not ready for the questions it‘s going to raise, even when they wouldn‘t be asked aloud. She made sure Elliot would tell Maureen she‘s sorry she couldn‘t make it. Under different circumstances she would have loved to catch up. It‘s been a while since they have last seen each other. Three, four months, Olivia thinks, feeling like she should probably get more involved with his other kids. She‘s always liked them, got along with them, if she doesn‘t count Richard‘s outburst of angry suspicion, asking her if she ever slept with his father. 

Olivia had coffee with Kathleen after the funeral once, then saw them all for Elliot‘s birthday in October last year. Since they‘ve been together, she‘s feeling a little wary, unreasonably scared it‘s going to be weird as Elliot keeps telling her. 

Kathleen sends text, memes, well wishes. She always replies, of course, but part of her is waiting for the other shoe to drop. She‘s worried they might suspect they had something when they were still partners, and while they have never crossed any lines, never allowed for things to get physical, she knows she couldn‘t fully deny it at this point. It‘s not without reason that they‘ve gravitated towards each other so easily after Kathy‘s death. Not that it was quick, the road to fixing their friendship and rebuilding trust had taken a lot of time, a lot of heartache. But being around each other, finding each other? It had been effortless. He‘d call late in the evenings, and sometimes they had talked, but sometimes they‘d just listen to each other breathe for an hour of two. She‘d fallen asleep to him more times than she can count. A few months in he‘d started to show up at her door, empty and desperate, lost. She‘d allowed him into her bed. Whenever that happened, they‘d only held hands, sometimes each other. 

Things had progressed slowly. They‘d slipped into a comfortable routine by the time she broke through her barriers and kissed him. After that, nothing much changed, except the level of intimacy. What changed however, was that suddenly she felt very uneasy about the prospect of Elliot telling his kids, of meeting them not as his partner, or friend, but as his girlfriend

That uneasiness hasn‘t gone away in the past eight months. She‘s only just got a handle on it when it comes to Eli. 

Eli. With whom, hopefully, she‘s going to spend more time in the near future, get to know him even better, take tentative steps towards building a life among the four of them. Elliot, Eli, Noah and her. 

The idea is a lot less scary than Elliot‘s upcoming birthday that‘s sure to take place at Maureen‘s New Jersey home, accommodating the entire Stabler clan. 

Olivia sighs heavily into the room, getting bored with staring at the ceiling. Her eyes burn with fatigue, but her mind won‘t shut off. She should nap, rationally she knows that. If Eli comes back with Elliot to stay here, no way is she going to get some shut-eye. The threat of having a nightmare that‘ll leave her fighting and screaming at Lewis‘ ghost is too great. She can‘t scare the kid off by losing her shit; it‘s bad enough Noah had to deal with it occasionally. 

She guesses it'll give her a shot at catching up on paperwork. Normally she steers clear of working from home on weekends, but it gives her the perfect excuse not to sleep. 

Accepting that rest is not in the cards for her, Olivia sits up, and decides to finish what she started before lunch. Time seems to have flown by, because it’s not long before she hears the boys’ voices animatedly talking in the entry area.

“Hey,” she greets the both of them. Noah instantly rushes over to hug her. She kisses his hair, ruffles his curls. “Hi, sweetie.” After a moment Noah peels off of her to get out of his jacket. “Hi, Eli,” she smiles. “Good to see you, I was hoping you’d wanna come.” 

“Hi, Liv,” he greets dutifully, a little distracted with his jacket, shoes and backpack. 

“Did you guys have a good time? You didn’t cause Maureen any trouble, I hope,” she asks, eyeing Noah, who shakes his head, rejecting such accusations. Oddly enough the kid knows to behave around others. 

“No trouble whatsoever,” Elliot confirms. “Carl took them to the movies before they had lunch. Pizza and ice-cream. Maureen strongly suggests they get a proper meal for dinner,” he scoffs and shakes his head. “Can’t believe I’m hearing that out of my kid’s mouth. Same girl that would sneak out at night givin’ her old man parenting advice.” 

“She’s a mom now, Elliot. Not your rebellious teen daughter. She’s probably praying Ella’s not going to give her half as much grief as she did you.”

It is amusing, but it’s also the circle of life. Kids turn into adults, turn into parents, bound to make the same mistakes while trying to somehow get it right. The thought is comforting in a way, given how many times she feels like a total screw-up of a parent. Noah will, should he decide to have children, feel just like she does, he’ll be just as lost, just as insecure. And she’ll leave him to figure it out on his own, because every kid is different, every dynamic is different. 

"Ella‘s already feisty as hell. She sure takes after Maureen,“ grins Elliot with satisfaction. 

"You‘re enjoying that too much, El.“ 

"Hey, I get to enjoy watching the grandmother's curse in action." A bittersweet sadness shadows Elliot's eyes because Ella's grandmother will not get to watch her give Maureen hell. 

Eli walks into the room, quickly glancing around before dropping his backpack by the couch. 

"You remember where everything is, right Eli?“

The boy looks at her but seems to feel a little out of place. "I think so.“

"Good. Just make yourself at home,“ she smiles, inviting. "I was just about to drop a few things off at Goodwill,“ Olivia lets them know. "I shouldn‘t be too long.“

"Eli?“ The teenager looks up at his father, seemingly confused. "Why don‘t you go with? Give Liv a hand.“

"Oh, that‘s not… it‘s fine,“ Olivia brushes off quickly, but Elliot keeps looking at his son, giving a single nod with his head. 

"Sure,“ he shrugs, although he‘s not enthusiastic about it, making Olivia wonder if making him spend time one on one with her is such a good idea. 

"Uh, thanks, Eli. That‘s… I appreciate it. There‘s a box in Noah‘s room, by the bed.“ 

When he goes to grab it, Liv turns to Elliot, giving him a blank stare, sticking her arms out as if asking 'Really? Was that necessary?‘. 

"Relax,“ he whispers. "It‘s gonna be good, he needs a little push sometimes.“ 

"That was shoving. Hard shoving, El,“ she whispers back with attitude, falling silent when Eli returns with the donations. 

"Thanks, Eli. I‘ll get the rest. Maybe think about what you‘d like for dinner, we need to stop by the store real quick on our way back.“ 

Olivia gets the bag of clothes from the bedroom and the sorted out kitchen supplies and mugs, then leads the way to the parking garage. Initially, the drive is quiet. Awkward. 

"So, how‘s school?“ It’s the lamest question in the book, but it‘s also safe. 

"It‘s good. School, you know,“ shrugs Eli. 

"Sorry your dad made you come. I bet you had other things in mind, huh?“ 

"It‘s cool. I don‘t mind.“ 

It sounds like he does mind, but maybe that’s just him being a teenager, Olivia thinks. Hopes. She glances over at the boy in the passenger seat and once again thinks how he’s tall. So tall . She wonders where he gets it from and scolds herself that for a split second it crosses her mind that he might not be Elliot’s. 

“You know Eli, I really am happy that you came with today. But I also want you to know that you’re not obligated to. The apartment’s small and the couch…” Jesus, he hardly fits, she realizes for the first time. She needs a new sofa, preferably a pull-out. 

For the first time she feels Eli’s eyes on her. “I know. That’s what dad said.” 

“Well, good. Okay.” This isn’t going too well. She’s never stumbled through a conversation like this, and Elliot is not there to steer it in a safe direction. Damn him.

Nervously, Olivia purses her lips. “It’s probably weird, seeing me and your dad, huh? Together?” 

“Not really. Maybe at first.” Olivia stops at a red light and their eyes meet. Surprisingly, he doesn’t look as annoyed as he sounds. He’s just being a teenager , Olivia reminds herself. Then he offers freely: “It’s pretty embarrassing, tho. Dad, I mean.” 

“Is it? How so?” 

Next to her Eli straightens in his seat. “Gushes about you to everyone. Liv here, Liv there, my girlfriend this, my girlfriend that,” he rolls his eyes at her. “Sounds like he’s a fu-,” quickly he clears his throat. “-freaking love-struck puppy.” 

“Does he now.” Interesting, Olivia thinks, unable to stop grinning to herself, until it crosses her mind, that Eli probably thinks she’s just as embarrassing of an idiot for it and puts a straight face on. But Elliot Stabler gushing? Now that’s something she’d die to see for herself. “Want me to tell him to tone it down?” It’s impossible to keep the amusement out of her voice.

“Would you?” Eli sounds hopeful and Olivia shrugs. She’s going to enjoy this way too much. In fact, she might not let El live it down. 

“Sure,” Olivia agrees, smiling over at her fellow passenger. 

“You know, you can chill, Liv,” Eli says easily. “I’m okay spending time and coming over and all that. You’re cool.” He waits a few beats as she’s trying to keep herself together and not show how much that means to her, how relieved she feels that he doesn’t hate it. He’d probably deem it embarrassing, too. “I like you.” 

“I… thanks, Eli. That’s really nice to hear, because I like you, too.” The light switches to green and she turns left. 

There’s a brief silence, and then, as if they didn’t just share a somewhat meaningful moment, Eli goes: “So, for dinner, can we have enchiladas?” 

 


 

Olivia's quick stop by the store turns out to be a food haul. She decides to make three different sauces for the enchiladas, in part because Eli, as Elliot told her, liked her cooking, in part to keep herself busy. Three sauces means she‘ll have plenty to do in terms of food preparations and clean up. Busy, she ultimately figures, is good. 

The boys are splayed out on the sofa, totally engrossed in Eli’s Nintendo Switch that’s now hooked up to the TV. Unless their game is paused, they don’t take notice of anything that’s going on around them, and she wonders how kids can get so lost in video games. 

Elliot slides in behind the breakfast bar with her, taking in everything she has purchased as she starts cutting the vegetables for the salsa verde. 

“Bit much, don’t you think?” She picks up on the hint of concern that hides behind the facile tone of amusement. 

“I couldn’t decide if I wanted salsa verde, or the normal kind, and Eli said he didn’t mind, either way, and I really have been looking for an excuse to try out a mole, so…,” she shrugs and lets it hang and quickly lifts the lid on the slow cooking chicken on the stove to give it a quick stir. “I’m making enough for you to take some home tomorrow.” 

Elliot's hands come to rest on her hips as he presses a kiss against the side of her head. It takes every effort within her not to tense when his breath hits her ear. “Thanks. It wouldn’t have been necessary, though.” He brushes past her and goes for the fridge, grabs a beer. 

Releasing a breath, Olivia hasn’t been aware of holding, she tries to shake herself out of it without doing so visibly, and focuses on slicing the green peppers in front of her instead. She hates when this happens. She’d last experienced it when she was still with Cassidy, and everything that went down with Lewis was too fresh. She should be able to muster the necessary detachment to not react negatively to Elliot’s proximity and touch. But then she hasn’t felt this on edge for many years, and she thinks it has a lot to do with being beyond tired and hyper aware of her surroundings at the same time. 

“Would you like some wine?” 

She glances over at him as he twists off the cap and takes a deep pull of his corona. 

“No, thanks, I’m good.” She’d like a drink, but if she starts now, she thinks she is either not going to make it through the night, or she won’t be able to stop. Both scenarios are less than appealing to her. 

“Well, can I help then?” 

Olivia shoots him a quick side glance, finding it endearing but the kitchen is small and he’s even worse at the cooking thing than she is, so she passes. 

“Message received loud and clear,” he chuckles, leaning back against one of the counters. “I’m just gonna… watch then,” he decides. He doesn’t have many options, either, seeing that the TV is completely taken over by the boys, playing Mario Kart. 

For a little while she works in silence, until she puts the minced serranos--intended to be on the side for anyone who wanted them--into the salsa. She tries it and curses under her breath.

“Shit. We can’t eat that.” 

“It’s okay, Liv. Two sauces is more than enough,” Elliot assures her, but she’s upset over ruining it, quickly taking inventory. 

“No, it’s… I can start over, this should be enough for another batch,” she tells him, distractedly. 

“You don’t have to, Liv.” 

Elliot gently grabs her by the elbow, but she rejects it, shakes him off like his touch burns. 

“It’s fine, El,” she retorts sharply. 

Suddenly it’s quiet. 

Looking around, Olivia takes a deep, calming breath as even the kids have turned their heads to look at what the commotion is about. “It’s fine,” she repeats. “Sorry.” 

Elliot looks at her stunned, but there’s also worry reflecting in his eyes. He probably thinks she’s about to lose her mind with her being so touchy over messing up a sauce. The boys go back to their game straightaway. Elliot however, keeps on scrutinizing her, and she thinks the only reason he doesn’t say anything else is that kids are present. 

The intensity of his gaze on her every move is scalding, but she works on the second batch of the salsa verde like she’s got it under control. 

 


 

By the time dinner is on the table, exhaustion is catching up with her. She hits the coffee like it’s water, except this time she’s made it extra strong. There’s a tremble in her hand as she reaches for the bowel of finely chopped red onion, and he catches it instantly, wondering for how much longer she’s going to fight sleep. He doesn’t need to ask to know she didn’t nap. 

“I don’t like the sauce. Can I have ketchup?” 

Elliot had figured today’s cooking would be a little too experimental for Noah. Eli isn’t picky when it comes to food, and even he eyes the green sauce suspiciously. 

Liv's up and headed for the kitchen area before he’s fully voiced the question. “Sure baby. I’ll get it.” 

Eli, who sits next to him, leans in a little closer, his voice dropping to a whisper. “She’s not gonna make that from scratch, too, is she?” 

Elliot can’t really blame him for asking, her behavior is bordering on bizarre. The last thing he needs is for Liv to hear this, though, so he only dignifies it with a pointed glance at his son, who then, with a little shrug, goes back to his food. 

Uncharacteristically, they eat in relative silence, which is quite an accomplishment with a fourteen and eight year old at the table. 

There are leftovers for days. While Eli dug in like this was going to be his last meal, Elliot and Olivia hardly ate. She insists on handling the clean up by herself. For fear he’ll incur Liv’s anger if he keeps watching her, he withdraws and gets some work done, allowing the boys another forty-five minutes on the Switch. 

When Liv is with Noah for his bedtime routine, Elliot sits down on the sofa, next to his son who’s now playing some game he’s addicted to, but that’s not age appropriate for Noah. 

“You liked dinner then?” 

“Uh-huh,” Eli manages distractedly, then after thirty more seconds, looks up. “Is she okay?” 

“Liv? Yeah. She’s just…” He doesn’t know how to explain, so he repeats: “She’s okay.” 

“You sure? Cause she’s been acting weird.”

“She’s just tired. It’s been a long week. It’s nice she made dinner, though, isn’t it?” 

“Yeah, but really, one sauce would have been plenty. Nobody even touched the green stuff.” 

Elliot rubs his forehead and sighs heavily, leaning back into the cushions. “Yeah. You’re right, bud. But… maybe don’t tell her that? She went through a lot of trouble to put a nice meal on the table.” 

“Dad, I’m not an idiot, okay?” 

“I didn’t say you were, Eli.” 

“It was implied,” the kid argues dryly, then, goes back to his game. 

 


 

By nine they are finally in the bedroom, alone, making sure Eli has got some privacy in the living room. They share the same bed but at the same time it feels like they are miles apart emotionally. It reminds him of the time when he came back to New York, shortly after Kathy’s death, when Liv was so detached, he wasn’t sure if she’d ever allow him to make amends.

Elliot isn’t sure if it’s the pictures, the total lack of sleep and the exhaustion to blame, or if she’s pissed at him for saying something earlier. Maybe all of the above. What’s for sure is, she’s sitting up against the headboard, Macbook on her lap, a few files at the ready in the middle of the bed, as if to make sure he’ll stay on his side. 

Liv's got her glasses on, the screen reflecting in the lenses as he looks over at her for a long time. He’s debating if he should even try to start a conversation, or if he’s better advised to keep his mouth shut and let her be. In the end he decides, some things need to be said. Things he said all too rarely in his marriage, but that Kathy had needed to hear, deserved to hear. 

“Liv?” He waits a beat, until she tilts her head and looks at him. “Thank you for dinner.” 

She scrunches her eyebrows, as if in deep confusion before taking off her glasses. 

“I appreciate the effort you went through to make us a nice dinner, and Eli does, too.” 

“Okay,” she says slowly, seemingly thrown. “You’re welcome, I guess. I mean, it was just dinner, Elliot.” 

“That was more than just dinner. You made something Eli wanted, and you went out of your way to make it special. For my son. I’m not taking that for granted, Liv.” 

“I don’t know if I should feel offended or grateful here. Of course I’m doing this for him, why wouldn’t I?”

“It’s just that… he’s not really getting that many family dinners, you know? And even this, it’s… it’s not the same.” 

“It’s not you and him and Kathy,” she declares quietly, and the truth behind her words puts stones in his stomach. Everything has changed for Eli. They didn’t return to Rome, he had to change schools, make new friends, learn to adjust to a life without his mother. He’d uprooted his son’s life completely, and at the end of the day he wasn’t even able to put a proper dinner on the table. So, he appreciates Liv all the more for taking care of it when Eli’s here. 

“Yeah,” he croaks.

"I've been a lonely teen missing her mother." Olivia places a hand on his forearm. “It's the least I could do to try to make him feel welcome." 

Elliot nods at her, and then she’s focused on her work again. His stomach feels even heavier at it. 

“Liv, don’t you think you should at least try and get some sleep?” 

Distractedly, she answers: “I can’t.” 

“You haven’t even tried,” he winces. In return she sighs heavily. 

“I can’t, Elliot. I told you I get nightmares,” she states calmly. “I can’t… I’ll… I’m gonna wake Eli.” 

He’s overcome with love for her, because here she is, terrified to go to sleep because she doesn’t want to scare his son. Eli, who has lost his mother just one and a half years ago. Eli, who she feels so fiercely protective of and whom she wants to like her. But at what cost? She needs to sleep eventually. 

“Look, Liv,” he reaches out, and when he touches her, her fingers still on the keypad. “I get that. But I’m sure it’s going to be okay.” 

“And that’s where you’re wrong,” Olivia tells him. Her eyes are dark when they settle on him.  Her voice drops. “I don’t think you understand how bad it can get.” 

“I can wake you up, Liv.” 

At this she laughs and it sounds edgy and forced before she puts her glasses down once more and scrubs her hand over her face. “Look, I’ve got a good handle on all of this. Well, normally I do,” she corrects and momentarily falls silent, her eyes finding a spot somewhere behind him on the wall. “But when I said I can feel they’re going to be bad? I mean really bad, Elliot,” she whispers hoarsely. “I’m at a point where I’m inwardly flinching when you’re unexpectedly getting too close. I didn’t feel that way in a very long time, not since very shortly after it happened.” Her eyes fill with tears and she releases a small, shaky breath. 

Elliot isn’t prepared. Earlier, in the kitchen, there was a fraction of a second where he thought he felt her reacting to him in a way that was completely unfamiliar, but he’d tried to push that away, telling himself she didn’t tense up because of him. It couldn’t have been something he did. 

Except it was. That new reality wrecks him momentarily, and he does what he can to pull himself together and not show her how it affects him. He’s supposed to be her safe haven, not another thread looming over her, making things harder for her. 

“When Noah was still little? I still woke up screaming now and then. Mostly he slept through it. But one time, I didn’t wake up from the nightmare, but because he was screaming. And I have no idea for how long. He was completely hysterical by the time I got to his room and I… I was shaking and crying and I took him out of bed... and I just... held him. And I rocked him.” Finally, she makes eye contact again and on each side a tear spills over. “I don’t think he remembers it, but I do. And that’s not something I’m going to expose Eli to.”

He swallows hard at it and nods. Of course he should have thought of that, that her fear stems from a very real place of experience. Once again he’s acutely aware of how much he’s missed, how many things he still doesn’t know about a decade of her life. He can’t make her sleep, can’t keep the demons from her dreams, either, but it’s impossible for him to watch her do this to herself. 

“Okay,” he says tentatively, wondering how to find an in. “I understand that. But Liv, you need to sleep eventually. You can’t pull through a second night with no sleep, no rest?”

“I’ll sleep once I’m not going to do this to your son.” 

“Liv-” 

“Elliot, don’t. I can’t do this with you on top of everything else, I can’t sleep, I won’t sleep.” 

Elliot holds out his hand, making sure not to touch her. “Hear me out?” He waits a beat, and she nods once. “What can I do?” 

The question catches her off guard, and she blinks rapidly before shrugging her shoulders. “I don’t know, El. Maybe keep the coffee coming?” 

He’s not happy, but if it’s the only way he can be supportive, he’ll do it. “You got it.” 

“Thanks.” Olivia takes his proffered hand and attaches his knuckles to her lips, a brief, sad smile appearing on her face.

 


 

By the time Elliot wakes dawn is creeping in through the bedroom window. He'd intended to stay awake with Olivia, but had dozed off around midnight, at least that’s when he’d last chanced a glance at the time on the laptop screen. Liv’s side of the bed is deserted. The files, the work laptop--they’re all missing, as well. 

“Shit,” he mutters underneath his breath as he takes in the emptiness of the room. His phone reads 5:13. He gets up, quietly padding across the floor, and finds Liv at the dining table, still working while, seemingly, nursing her umpteenth cup of coffee. The coffee pot is empty, and it’s certainly not from last night. On the couch his son is still sleeping, stretched out on the sofa, hugging the pillow with one arm.  

“Hey,” he says quietly upon walking over. When she raises her eyes at him, he can’t help but shake his head. Behind her thick glasses, they are huge and bloodshot, telling him she didn’t sleep at all. 

“Morning,” Liv says back, sounding fatigued. “You’re up early.” 

“Well, you were gone,” he points out, pulling a chair. 

“It got uncomfortable in the same position for hours.” He can tell that she’s not being truthful. She couldn’t keep herself awake unless she moved, is probably more like it. However, he’s certainly not going to call her out on it.

“You look like hell, Liv.”

“Yeah, well,” she grimaces. 

“How much of that did you have?” Elliot nods at the coffee pot. 

“I honestly don’t even know.” A sheepish half-smile appears, and it disappears just as quickly. 

“Why don’t you go and lie down for a bit. I’m not asking you to sleep, just…” 

“Actually, I need some fresh air. I wanted to go and get bagels for breakfast.” 

“You look like you can hardly stay on your feet, Liv.” 

“I’m okay. I’ve got gallons of coffee in me, I’ll make it three blocks down to the bakery,” she jokes. 

It’s not funny. In fact it worries him more than he cares to admit. 

“You’ve got time, Liv. The boys are going to sleep for a couple more hours.” 

“I really just need some air, Elliot. Okay? I’m fine. Tired but fine.” 

Elliot doesn’t like it. He’s worried, because sleep deprivation is not a joke, but at the same time he knows she’s had so much coffee, she isn’t possibly going to sleep within the next couple of hours. So, he decides, he might as well let her go. 

“All right. Can I come with, though?” While he expects, to some degree, a lack of understanding, Olivia’s face softens. 

“Sure.” she says, reaching out to wrap her hand around his fingers. 

“If I take the boys out later, do you think you could grab a few hours?” The weather is supposed to be nice enough, and he intended to get Eli away from that game console anyway. Like many teenage boys, he’s spending too much time in front of it for Elliot’s liking. 

“Like you said, I gotta sleep sometime,” Olivia gives, lips pursed. “I’ll at least try.”

“Good. Thank you.” He gets up and so does she, and where he is unsure if he can just close in on her, she gets in his personal space and attaches her lips to his in a soft kiss. She tastes like strong coffee and, surprisingly, a hint of brushed teeth. 

“I’ll just hit the bathroom and get ready. The place doesn’t open until six.” Olivia excuses herself. 

The stroll to the bakery, fingers loosely interlaced, is the most relaxed Elliot has seen her--sagging exhaustion and all--since he picked up that godforsaken camera.

By the time they're back, the boys are parked in front of the television again, despite the early hour, shouting instructions for navigating Rainbow Road. Noah turns to greet them and his King-Boo-driven Kart plummets to its doom.

"Aw, man," he whines as the game music signals his loss, then climbs over the back of the sofa. "Fresh bagels! Eli! They got us fresh bagels! Is there strawberry cream cheese?"

“Of course there is, Champ,” Elliot assures. “You gonna help me set the table?” 

“Do I have to?” All of a sudden his abundant enthusiasm is nowhere to be found. Instead Noah frowns. 

“Well, do you want bagels?” 

The boy sighs theatrically as Elliot moves towards the sofa. “You, too, Eli. Disconnect that thing, will ya?” 

Breakfast is a quick affair, and once it's cleaned up and the kids are dressed, Elliot takes them out, so Liv can get some sleep under the premise that he’ll call before they get back.  

Elliot engages the boys for four hours, hitting the park first, then a few stores the boys were interested in. They go for lunch, and he gets something for Liv to go before he calls her like she made him promise. Liv, however, doesn’t pick up. Not even when he hits redial for a fifth time, which leaves him worried and anxious to get home. In a best case scenario she’s asleep and didn’t hear the phone, or maybe she has it on silent, it crosses his mind. 

At home the bedroom door is closed. Elliot tells the boys to get the Nintendo if they want, giving himself and Olivia some time. She’s not in the bedroom, but he hears the hiss of the shower coming from the bathroom. Gently he knocks, but there’s no answer, so he steps in, finding the room in thick, stifling fog. 

“Liv, we’re back,” he says carefully, trying not to startle her. 

“Okay.” The shower is turned off, and she grabs the towel she’s draped over one side of the stall, stepping out as she’s wrapped it snugly around herself. Her hair is wet and dripping. She looks no less tired than before. 

“Couldn’t sleep?” 

“Two hours or so,” Liv smiles, disheartened. “Had a nightmare then and didn’t think it would be smart to try again.” 

“I’m sorry.” 

“Not your fault, El. It’s not a surprise. Did you guys at least have fun?” 

“We did. Eli taught Noah some more soccer moves, we did some shopping, had lunch, that kinda thing. We brought you back some salad.” 

“I don’t think I can eat just yet. Feeling a little queasy," she explains, then adds almost casually, “Threw up earlier.” 

“Shit. Are you all right, Liv?” Elliot walks closer as she rubs her eyes with the pads of her fingers. Liv's trembling and doing that measured breathing he doesn't remember her using, the weight of the dreams hanging about her like a cloak. 

“I don’t know. Yes. And no. I’m just so, so tired.” She steps up to him and nuzzles her face into his neck, her hair wetting his sweatshirt. 

“Of course you are,” he mutters, snaking his arm around her. “We’re gonna go lie down, okay? Just for a bit, so you can get some rest. The boys will be fine with their video games. Come on.” Gently he nudges her towards the bedroom, grabbing a smaller towel for her hair. Luckily, Olivia doesn’t protest. She allows him to guide her towards the bed. She sits down at the foot, looking up at him through dark, fatigued eyes. 

“May I?” He holds up the towel and, depleted, she nods, letting him dry off the excess moisture of her hair. When he removes the terrycloth, her head bumps against his abdomen as she exhales heavily. 

“Can this just be over?” She breathes. “I just want to make the last forty-eight hours undone. Can we do that?” Her arms slip around his waist, holding on to him when there’s nothing else she can hold onto. 

Elliot wishes they could somehow turn back time, wonders if she regrets viewing the pictures. Unfortunately, they both have learned the hard way, that there is no going back. He puts both hands on her shoulders, stroking up and down her arms. 

“I’m sorry, Liv. But it’s gonna get better.” 

“I know.” The words are heavy with exhaustion, yet laced with the vulnerability that’s crept in over the last hours. 

"Let‘s get some rest.“

"Promise to wake me up when I fall asleep?“

"The second you so much as stir, Liv.“

Olivia seems to contemplate this before letting go of him. Looking up she nods in agreement. „Okay. I‘ll get dressed.“ 

Elliot steps away from the bed, giving her a moment of privacy while letting the boys know they’ll be in the other room should they need anything, but not to disturb if not necessary, since Liv is tired. Noah’s only concern is whether they can play with the Switch again, which Elliot, under the circumstances doesn’t mind, but tells Eli in all seriousness to leave that Zelda game in the box, as Noah is too young to play it and watch him play it. He makes a small pot of herbal tea for Liv, to hopefully help her settle down with all that caffeine still pumping through her. By the time he returns to the bedroom, she’s on the bed, dressed comfortably in sweats and a plain white t-shirt. 

Even after having slept he can see the two nights she’s missed out on proper rest in her features, in the way she’s slumped against the headboard, thumbing her iPhone screen. 

“I made you some tea.” He puts the pot and her favorite mug on the nightstand, pouring her some, the aroma of chamomile and fennel scenting the room. 

“Thank you.” Liv looks up and puts the phone down. 

“Work?” 

Olivia shakes her head no. “Rollins. Just wanted to check in.” 

“That’s nice.” 

“Yeah. I’ll… um… I’ll have to thank her for keeping this under wraps. She um… followed up with the clerk at the photo shop, let him know the investigation was closed.” 

“Good,” Elliot sounds non-committal, but deep down he’s relieved Amanda thought one step ahead. The last thing they need is an investigation on a case that was never opened, and worse, evidence evaporating into thin air. 

Elliot walks around the bed and climbs in on his side, so Liv can choose if she wants to be close, or leave some space between them. She instantly scoots into the middle and rolls over, draping her arm over his chest. 

“Eli wants to go to Italy for the summer.” He turns his head, finding Liv tilting her head up inquisitively. 

“Oh? Well, I guess he misses it. It’s… been home for him for a long time.”

“Yeah,” he sighs, drawing patterns on her back. 

“You should go. You were planning to take a couple of weeks off for summer break.” 

He’d said that, knowing that Liv herself always takes some time off to spend with Noah. His intention had been to open a conversation about the possibility of spending that time together. He’d stalled it only because he hadn’t yet got the chance to discuss it with Eli first, which, he realizes, he should have done, because now his son has his hopes up for a vacation in Rome, just the two of them. 

“I don’t think I will, Liv. Rome…,” he shakes his head, trying to find the right words as his heart sinks and soars at the same time. 

“It reminds you of Kathy,” she says matter-of-factly for him. 

“There’s that,” he agrees. 

“What else?” 

“I don’t think it makes any sense to take him back to something that’s never going to be again. I know a part of him held out hope we’d go back eventually and-”

“And you took away that hope when you entered into this relationship with me, El. That hope was crushed for good when he realized you were moving on.” 

“It was never going to happen either way, Liv,” argues Elliot.

“That was your reality. His was that maybe you’d change your mind. When you’d find the person who did this to Kathy. When you’d realize you miss it, too. Anything. You can know something is hopeless and still hold on, telling yourself there’s still that chance, however small, however unlikely.” The tone of her voice tells him there’s something specific she’s thinking about, that she is speaking from personal experience. “Maybe he needs that closure, El.” 

“I took him when I brought all of my affairs in order there,” he points out. 

“Doesn’t mean it was closure, Elliot, come on.” 

Elliot knows she’s right, and yet he isn’t sure he wants to be there, be reminded of what he’s lost. What he has here now? He wouldn’t give it up for anything, and yet, returning to a place where he’d been happiest with Kathy feels... peculiar. Frightening. As if one reality shouldn’t exist with the other. 

Since he’s first seen Olivia again that sense of betrayal clings to him, making him wonder if his feelings and this subsequent new relationship somehow taint the legacy of his wife. 

He worries his bottom lip, shaking his head at the war in his own head. “I don’t think I can go, Liv,” he admits, his voice raspy. “Not with… us .” 

“What do you mean ‘with us’?” 

Elliot swallows, sighs, and tenses, unsure how to explain this to her. “There’s… guilt there,” he reveals. “Because it’s you. I left because of you, and I came back here because of you, when I felt ready to see you again and explain in that letter.” He didn’t want forgiveness or absolution. Not even closure. What he’d needed was for her to understand what drove him to turn his back on her, without giving her the courtesy of saying goodbye. “And Kathy knew. She may have never fully believed we hadn’t talked in ten years, but she knew I needed my moment of truth, a truth she’d known long before I was ready to accept it myself. I thought-,” his voice cracks and he needs a moment. “I thought I was going to see you at the ceremony, get to say my piece, give you that letter, and go home with my wife.” 

He hears Liv swallow and tilts his head enough to be able to see her face, pulling her in even closer, to reassure her. This can’t be easy to hear. 

“I’m sorry,” Olivia says thickly, clearing her voice. “I…” 

“And I am here now, and I’m heartbroken over losing her, a part of me will always be heartbroken. At the same time I’m… I’m lying here with you, and I can no longer see myself in Italy with her. I can’t see what could have been, I don’t think I even want to know what could have been.” He exhales shakily as his emotions threaten to get the better of him. 

“El,” she grasps for his hand, squeezes it, and with her touch he tries to blink away tears. 

“She once said to me that… if anything should ever happen to her? To go and make things right with you. Whatever ‘right’ even means.” He chuckles watery. 

Elliot knows what it means. He could’ve made things right without the addition of something happening to Kathy. 

Olivia’s eyes find his and he shrugs, helplessly. “I can’t go back with us. I can’t take who I am with you there, because I don’t want anything to overshadow who I was with Kathy. In Rome.” 

“You were really happy there,” Olivia whispers softly, offering him a small smile that’s showing him she’s not offended. Olivia, he thinks, has a heart of gold. 

“Yeah,” he breathes. “We really were.” 

“That’s good, El,” Olivia assures him. “I’m… I’m glad you were. You deserved it. You and Kathy both.” 

He nods, but can’t help thinking how their happiness was built on Olivia’s grief. He has many regrets about the way he handled things, but knows at the time, he’d felt like there were no options. He’d quit Olivia cold turkey, feeling it was the only way to move on at all, to eventually escape the ghost of what they couldn’t be. 

“Maybe Eli needs to hear that,” Liv suggests, lazily tugging at his hand to get his full attention. 

“I think you being the reason I won’t go is the very last thing he should hear, Liv,” he says earnestly, looking at her like she’s out of her mind. 

“It doesn’t have to be as on the nose, but if he knows how you feel, it might help him understand why you can’t go. If you just shut him down with no explanation whatsoever, what good’s that gonna do?” 

“I’ll come up with something.” 

Olivia doesn’t miss a beat. “You mean excuses?” Her eyebrow lifts in question, and of course she calls him out, he thinks. “Look, maybe you can figure something out. You said he’s still in touch with friends from school there. Talk to the parents, see if he can come visit for a week. He's flown alone before.” 

“That could work. Kathy was friends with one of his friend’s mothers and he’d been on vacation with them once before.”

“Maybe this way he gets to be close to what was dear to him, and you still can enjoy your downtime together.” 

Elliot looks at her, just looks at her, in complete wonderment for a long time, taking her in. 

“What?” 

“Nothing,” he says distractedly. “Just… you’re amazing, is all.” 

“Why, because I can see through your bullshit?” she teases, her eyes briefly lighting up with her smile. 

“Among other things.” He shifts, moving his body into an angle that allows them to be face to face. “Thanks,” he says, his voice dropping. “For listening.” 

“Thanks for telling me,” she gives back, cupping his cheek. 

Elliot leans in then, kissing Liv with gentleness and urgency alike, feeling her fall into it without a moment’s hesitation. Her hand slips from his cheek to the back of his neck, pulling him closer as her lips part, inviting him to explore her more deeply. Liv presses into him, searching every bit of proximity he can give. His reaction to her is strong and instant and inwardly he groans, knowing he can’t take it further for several reasons. One of them being their boys in the other room. So, when her hand seems to magically appear on his ass, trying to pull him on top, he reminds her that they are not alone, when an even bigger concern is that she can’t possibly be in the right headspace for any of where he thinks this might lead. 

“The kids.” His breath is heavy with need. So is his dick. 

“I know,” she mutters reasonably against his mouth. He shifts his middle away from her, because any more friction will leave him bitterly frustrated with the situation. 

Eventually, it’s Olivia who breaks the kiss. He gazes at her, her breath hitting his face. Her rosy cheeks and plum lips are going to be the death of him. Olivia cuddles up to him, getting comfortable in a position that’s become perfectly natural for them, allowing him to sink his nose in her hair and breathe her in. 

“The second I stir, right?” She reminds him, and he’s glad she’s okay with getting some sleep just as long as he’s by her side and prepared to pull her out of it. 

“I promise,” Elliot whispers, enveloping her with his body, feeling the last bit of tension slipping from hers. 

“Okay,” she breathes out. 

Twenty minutes later her eyes are closed and her chest rises and falls evenly, telling him she’s found sleep. She’s peaceful, and he will honor his promise, settling in to watch her, making sure she’s comfortable and safe. 

 

Chapter Text

Olivia got in one hour before Elliot woke her up as he promised he would. According to him she’d started to moan and jerk, and through the haze of desperately needed sleep, she’d felt the familiar clutches of a nightmare pulling her under. 

There was nothing she remembered at that point, and yet, when her eyes snapped open as Elliot shook her gently, coaxing her awake with calmly spoken words, her chest had felt tight, her heart had hammered. She’d found herself staring into his eyes, reminding her that she was with him and safe. Still a cold sweat broke out, dampening the expanse of her skin head to toe, as she blinked herself to full consciousness. 

It‘s after eight by the time Noah‘s tucked in and asleep, and Oliva stumbles towards her bed, worn-out. She downright drops onto the mattress, hitting the pillow face-first. 

Elliot and Eli left a few hours ago, and her energy levels had been depleted before they were out the door. She‘s not sure how she made it through until now. 

She’d tried not to calculate how many hours of sleep she’s gotten in since Friday, 5:30 in the morning. She’d tried and failed miserably. Five out of sixty-three hours. She can, positively, say it‘s a sad record for her. It also doesn‘t take science for her to know it‘s not just unhealthy, but bordering on dangerous.

Olivia's eyes burn to the point she‘s tearing up when they are open for longer than five seconds, but the moment she closes them, she sees the outline of Lewis‘ grotesque face. There‘s also the remains of caffeine pumping through her system, making her jittery and nauseous. Her stomach hurts from the acid, making her wonder if she shot her stomach lining to hell. 

Pulling her knees up to her chest Olivia exhales shakily. A couple of tears seep into the pillow, and all she can think is how she‘s so, so tired and can‘t sleep. By now she is so overtired, her body can‘t shut off, can‘t switch into rest mode. Trying, it seems, is pointless, even yawning several times a minute doesn’t change that. 

She busies herself with her phone for a couple of hours, mindlessly scrolling through text first, the news, several apps. She even attempts keeping up with the book she’s currently reading, but nothing but a jumbled blur of black letters registers in her brain. 

For the entire weekend she has done what she could to make sure the pictures wouldn’t haunt her, but now, alone in her room, they flood her mind relentlessly. It’s the first time she’s not been busy, or in company, except for the few hours this morning. 

She’d successfully outrun the PTSD that had spent the weekend trying to rough her up, which is an accomplishment in itself, but now she can feel in her bones that it’s going to backfire, terribly so. For as long as Elliot was here, she at least felt a sense of safety from Lewis’ ghost. Now she doesn’t even feel safe from herself, from her own head. From what her brain will conjure up once she does fall asleep. 

Fuck, she wants Elliot. More than that, it crosses her mind, she wants Lindstrom, but they parted on poor terms, so, as much appeal as his emergency number in her contacts holds, calling him is not an option. Neither is calling Elliot. He’d only be worried and haul his ass right back here. While she wants that, maybe even needs that, it wouldn’t be fair to Eli. It’s not El’s job to sit by her side to fend off her night terrors.  

By eleven, still no sleep in sight, Olivia’s head starts to pound viciously. She’d felt the headache coming on for a while, and deems it stupid that she hasn’t taken the precaution of popping a few ibuprofen. As hard as it’s coming on, the analgesic isn't going to do anything for her, so she merely groans and buries her head further into the pillow. She fears she’s going to deal with a full-blown migraine by morning, brought on by lack of sleep and distress. It’s a goddamn catch-22, because she still can’t sleep, can’t destress. 

She needs to use the bathroom, finding herself almost surprised when she makes it there. She flushes, then grips the sides of the lavatory hard, squeezing her eyes shut. Nausea, headaches, stomachache, fatigue and the ever present threat of nightmares looming? Not a good combination. 

Small, bloodshot eyes stare back at her as she looks into the mirror. Then her reflection starts spinning and blinking rapidly, Olivia shakes her head and groans. To hell with washing her hands, she just needs to make it back to the comfort of her blanket and pillows, because she feels like she’s going to pass out any moment. As she staggers back towards the bed in the darkened room, bile comes up and she swallows it back down as she crawls onto the mattress. Her throat burns. Everything just… burns. And then, blessing or curse, she’s out.

It’s the same thing, the same dream she has. She was back in her old bedroom, on the bed, and to her right side Lewis stood, grinning at her. 

The first two times, she pulled herself out of there, woke herself up just in time. It’s not restful sleep, and once she’s awake, she doesn't easily fall back asleep, but eventually she dozes off, slips into a slumber for the third time. 

Third time is the charm. Even when it comes to nightmares. 

 

She feels raw and exposed on this bed. Her shirt and bra are up, her slacks and panties down. Her entire body is littered in bruises. In burns. She oozes pain, and even the stuffy air settling against her wounds hurts. She can literally feel dust particles seep into the open, weeping flesh, and yet it’s not actual dirt that makes her feel so filthy, so soiled. 

As excruciating the pain is, Olivia doesn’t moan, doesn’t make a sound. Lewis stands to her right, grinning. His eyes rake over her body slowly, taking in his handiwork. She breathes in and out, slow, labored breaths. She’s hurting, but she’s also at ease, almost peaceful, even when Lewis’ eyes land on hers. 

A sensation of complete serenity overcomes her here, in Lewis’ makeshift torture chamber. 

Liv senses his presence before she sees him, before it occurs to her to turn her head to the left. 

When she does, there he stands. Tall, broad-shouldered. Rigid. He‘s perfect. 

For the first time since he left, her heart is beating in a rhythm that feels right. A rhythm that belongs to him. A rhythm that is theirs. 

He’s got both hands shoved into the pockets of his denim, and finally, she thinks, finally he came for her. 

He came for her. 

She bathes in the warmth his mere presence provides. It permeates her skin like a soothing salve. For a moment nothing hurts. She’s safe now. She’s going to be okay, because he’s going to make it so. 

“Elliot.” His name drops wistfully from her dry lips. She reaches out for him, wants to show him how she is in dire need for his proximity, his touch. The safety his being here assures. Her fingertips prickle with the vast anticipation of feeling his skin beneath them.    

Elliot exhales, expels a bated breath, but he doesn’t move towards her. He just keeps standing there as he finally speaks. 

“What did you do, Olivia?” 

There is no mistaking the tinge of disappointment in his tone, the scalding accusation of his gaze. His eyes are the shade of muddy waters, instead of familiar deep blues. 

In response Olivia’s stomach plummets into a freefall.

“Look at you.” 

Shame tinges her cheeks, her cleavage a deep, hot red. She feels cold, exposed, humiliated and ashamed. She thinks with him in this room she should feel safe, and the realization that she doesn’t is momentarily paralyzing her body, her mind. 

“How do you manage to get yourself into these situations? You are useless, Olivia. You should know better.” He shakes his head, the space between his eyebrows creasing like crumpled-up paper. “I taught you better.” 

The words sink in but all that reverberates in her head is a conversation from years ago: “I can’t keep looking over my shoulder, making sure you’re okay!” 

She wants to speak, but the chokehold of utter shock, won’t let her. 

“I froze, I froze, I froze,” she wants to tell him but realizes it proves his point, and, with it, her utter incompetence. As a cop. As a woman. 

As his partner. The one thing that has defined her entire existence for so many years.

He told her then, and she had rejected his accusation, but he was right all along. She always had a way of putting herself in harm's way. She’d failed. She’d failed her mother. She’d failed him, herself, the NYPD. 

“I’m sorry,” she chokes out, her eyes pleading for his forgiveness.

A sickening feeling settles in Olivia’s gut when Elliot suddenly refuses to look at her. 

This is not how it’s supposed to go.

She trembles under the weight of the implications of his open disregard to her current state. She wonders if he’s disgusted with the missteps that got her here, or with her body that’s a fresh roadmap of horror. She’s now the epitome of broken, she thinks. Broken skin. Broken bones. Broken spirit…

Olivia swallows, her eyes filled with tears to brim and the tickle in her nose turns into a burn. Already sore and weakened, a cleft splits her chest.

...broken heart.

The wounds his absence left in her life rip open. This sudden feeling of loneliness is overwhelming and complete, even though he’s right here. 

And yet. 

She feels herself lose him all over again. 

Oh God. She’s not going to survive this. 

Elliot is supposed to make her feel whole. Instead he goes on to deepen the rift between them.

“You know this is why I left, right?” 

“What?” Her voice is weak wail. Behind the tears, she can’t see him clearly, his colors bleeding into the semi-dark of the room.  

Elliot’s hands come out of his pockets and he puts them at his side. He now focuses on Lewis, who still stands in the very same spot, no less amused than before. While he isn’t doing a thing, she can sense the threat of him looming. Her body jerks with trepidation. She’s too aware what he is capable of, the things he can do with his hands, his teeth, his torture tools. But it’s not the fear of what else Lewis is going to do to her next that sets her off into a state of  frantic panic. 

“I always knew you’d end up like this, Liv,” he sighs, and he sounds like he’s physically aching. His hands clench, unclench. “I couldn’t let it happen under my watch. I couldn’t take it anymore. Your neediness. You are so much effort.” 

Olivia’s blood rushes to her head and rings in her ears. 

He seizes an envelope from the inside of his jacket and she recognizes it as the one holding the photographs Lewis took. Her teary eyes widen, because nothing makes sense anymore, not time, not space. Her head starts spinning, and the rush she gets from it is more nauseating than the one she got from the meth. 

“You chose this.” His fingers fish for the pictures, and his face contorts as he pulls them out, takes in the image before he shows her. It’s the one depicting her in the very same position she is in now, except there’s duct-tape covering her mouth. 

“No,” she cries out, fresh tears burning as she vehemently shakes her head. It’s not true, she wants to say. He’s got it all wrong. She did not choose this. She did not want this. But nothing more than a few desperate sobs come out. 

Carelessly, he flings the picture at her. It lands next to her head. 

“You wouldn’t stop until you were one of them.” Another picture is tossed at her. “Just as weak.” Another hits her stomach, slides down. “Just as pathetic.” 

Each word cuts like a knife, and she crumples.

He doesn’t throw the next photograph at her, instead he stares at it for a long moment, his face contorting, showing her just how sickened he is. 

“Just another victim.” 

“No,” she wails, her breath staccato. 

“Told you, I can always smell a victim,” Lewis pipes up for the first time, his feral smirk mirroring how highly he’s satisfied with this little display between the former partners. “It’s him, isn’t it? That one person you’d do anything to see just one more time? I can see it in your eyes. That longing. That pain. It’s delicious, Olivia. Or should I call you Liv?” 

Lewis’ hands drop to his belt, starting to undo it. The leather slides noisily through the metal buckle, seals her fate.

Olivia jumps. Her stomach revolts. This can’t be happening. She desperately wants to wake from this nightmare. But it's entirely real; the overwhelming pain tells her that.

“Detective Stabler, would you like to enjoy the show?” 

“Elliot,” she pleads frenzied, and once more his eyes find hers, but instead of doing anything, instead of coming to her rescue like he’s supposed to, like she always knew he would, he just shakes his head sadly. 

“I’m sorry, Liv.” He sounds like broken promises. And suddenly, despite the impossibility of it all, he turns his back on her and walks past Lewis, towards the door, setting fire to the ruins of them. 

“No!” she exclaims, her voice shrill. “No! Elliot!” 

Without looking back Elliot crosses the threshold and disappears from her view. Lewis’ pants drop, and as he walks closer and climbs onto the bed, she is in complete hysterics, screaming for dear life. 

“No! Elliot, don’t do this! Please don't leave me! ELLIOT! ELLIOT!” 

 

Olivia jerks awake, already weeping and shaking. She gasps for air but her chest is so tight, she can‘t breathe. 

She‘s had nightmares for years, terrifying and crippling, but never anything like this. No amount of dreams reliving the torture, the paralyzing fear has ever pulled her apart like Elliot finally coming for her, only to then turn his back on her. Allowing Lewis to have her. To rape her. 

The more it sinks in, the more nauseated Olivia feels, until she starts gagging and eventually dry heaving. Waves of anxiety crash into her, and she can‘t deal with this, can‘t catch her breath, can‘t move. Logically she knows this was just a dream, that there is no way in hell Elliot would have let that happen, left her there, to Lewis. But he had left. He’d left her, as his partner of thirteen years, as her friend, her confidant, as the most important person in her life. 

He’d walked out on her, and she didn’t have anyone, anything left. 

She loves Elliot, but sometimes the cold facts still haunt her. She’s forgiven him. Completely. But the hard part is that as much as she wants to, she can’t forget. 

It’s hard to comprehend that this feeling of betrayal has now intruded into her dreams and, with Lewis, adding up to something that’s more frightening, more harrowing than the physical torment she endured. 

Olivia folds her body, hugs herself, and cries until there are no tears left to cry. She is still beyond tired, but doesn’t dare to close her eyes, instead she stares at the window, watching the early morning sun rise. She’s cold, spent and frozen. Literally frozen, unable to move even when her alarm goes off. She lets it blare for an eternity before forcing an arm to move, grab the phone, and turn it off, but she doesn’t get up.  

She had, of course, been depressed and exhausted after Lewis, but she had never once been unable to get out of bed. Now her body is heavy, gravity exerting such a force that she can barely lift a finger to press the phone display. It’s 7:23 and by now she should be on her way to school with Noah. Her bed, though, is almost soothing, slightly soft, sheet cool against her cheek as her breath shudders jaggedly. She'd be crying again if she had the energy, but instead that energy goes to reminding herself to inhale. Exhale. Breathe.

Noah, it crosses her mind again, through the thicket of exhaustion and anxiety. 

He can’t find her like this. He wouldn’t recognize her. 

It takes a couple of tries to get the phone on, to dial Elliot before she's caught in the desperation of breathing. She nudges the phone so her ear is lying on it and holds on tight to the comforter.

Elliot picks up on the second ring and from the background noises she can tell she’s either on the streets, or in the car. 

“Hey, Liv. I was about to call you myself, how was the night? Did you finally sleep?” 

There are too many questions, and she’s too debilitated to unpack them, so she sticks to the coherent thought she can hold onto. 

“Noah. Can you...he has school?” 

Her voice sounds hollow and raw, she doesn’t recognize it. To Elliot it seems to be a huge red flag as well, because he’s far from calm and back to asking too many questions. 

“What? Noah to… shouldn’t you be…” He lets it hang. “Liv, what’s going on?” 

And under the weight of his worried voice she breaks, bursting into tears, unable to give him an explanation that makes sense because she doesn’t know. She has no idea what the hell is going on, why she is like this. All she can muster is: “I c-can’t. I...just...please, El?” 

“Shit,” he says sharply, then, much more softly: “I’m on my way, okay? Give me thirty.” 

 


 

Elliot doesn’t know what he expected. Maybe that she’d tell him she finally slept through the night, nightmares included. That she didn’t sleep all that much, perhaps. He’d have some sort of response to these scenarios. Her sounding like an open wound, asking him to take Noah to school and sobbing into the phone that she can’t? What is he supposed to do with that? 

He’s driving too fast as he calls his Sergeant, telling her he will be late for an important Task Force meeting; hangs up on her before she can react. There’s no place for whatever the hell Bell thinks about it. For now all he can think of is Olivia and how she is not okay, maybe the furthest from okay he’s ever seen her. 

When he steps into the apartment it’s too damned quiet. He checks the bedroom first, taking long quick strides, finding Olivia on the bed, facing away from him. 

Elliot instantly flashes back to his childhood, his youth. His mother. 

How she’d spend days, sometimes weeks at a time, never leaving her bed, except to use the bathroom or get something to drink. To draw the blinds when it was too bright. 

It was always too bright. 

It’s somewhat familiar even these days, because although Kathleen’s well adjusted to her medication and responding well, she is still prone to depression, especially when she’s under too much stress. The difference is that he usually isn’t witness to it, and he hopes to God that this is not what it seems. 

Noah is not to be seen, not to be heard, so the logical conclusion is that he’s still asleep. 

“Liv,” Elliot breathes and walks around the bed, finding Olivia pale and puffy-eyed from crying. “Hey, it’s okay. I’m here,” he tells her, sitting down, reaching out to gently stroke her hair. Liv’s eyes lock with his and fresh tears spring, making him all the more worried. 

“I’m sorry,” she chokes out, and at least she’s talking to him, which is good.

“No. No, don’t be. It’s okay, honey,” he assures, grasping for her hand. It’s hard to think straight, but he tries to assess the situation anyway. “Is Noah still asleep?” 

Olivia nods, sniffles. “I think so.” 

Elliot nods back, deeming it a blessing under the circumstances. No need for him to see Liv like this. “Okay. Can I leave you alone?” He’s reluctant to do it, but he wants Noah in school and has this one meeting to attend that he shouldn’t even be late to. 

“Yes. I’m just... so tired,” she whispers hoarsely. 

“Did you sleep at all?” 

“A little.” 

“Nightmares?” He inquires, his voice taking on an extra careful tone. The quiver of her chin and the tears the mere word summons, is all the confirmation he needs. 

“Y-yeah,” she weeps, her fingers fisting the pillow harder, her knuckles protruding. 

They must have been horrible, and he feels guilty for ever leaving for his own home. He should have been here. They spend too little time together, they are used to spending a lot of time apart, but for this he was needed right here. He can’t help feeling how he let her down, makes a silent promise that he won’t allow for it again. 

“Okay, Liv, listen. I’m going to wake Noah and get him ready for school. I’ll be back around noon, is that okay?” 

He hates this. Absolutely hates it, but feels out of options. Noon is the very best he can do. When she doesn’t respond he prods gently. “Okay, Liv?” 

Nodding into her pillow, she exhales shakily.

“Okay.” Elliot presses his lips to her temple, pushes some hair out of her face, and whispers declarations of love before he lets go of her. “You call me if there’s anything you need, you hear me? 

Olivia agrees, mumbling her confirmation into the cotton of her pillowcase. It’s past eight and he really needs to move.

Noah sleeps like a stone. Sirens could blare right next to him and the kid wouldn’t even stir. Once Elliot gets him up he’s pressed for time and ushers him along, gives him clothes to dress, fixes his toothbrush and puts it on the dining table. He almost forgets the kid must be fed for breakfast so he grabs the peanut butter and jelly and slaps two slices of bread together for him to eat on the go. 

They are out the door before Noah goes to pee, which backfires in the car, where Elliot also dishes the boy a lie about why his mom isn’t taking him to school. 

His next stop is the 1-6. He bursts through the door like he’s a person with authority here, headed straight for the Sergeant's desk. Fin looks at him, gets up, his face impassive. Elliot puts both his hands on top of his desk and leans in, so their conversation will be private. 

“Hey, Liv’s not coming in today. It’s been a rough couple of days, she needs some time.” He sticks to the mere facts without giving anything away. Hell, he couldn’t if he tried, for now he has no idea what exactly they are dealing with. 

Fin’s facial expression changes just enough for Elliot to pick up on how deeply concerned he is about her. 

The man has known Liv for nearly as long as Elliot himself. What they share goes far beyond a work relationship, possibly beyond what the word friendship encompasses. He’s fairly certain it doesn’t apply just to Fin. Olivia is loved by everyone. Those she’s working closest with genuinely care about her health and happiness.  

Fin’s eyes quickly scan the room and his eyes briefly lock on something. Or someone. 

“I know, Liv texted me ten minutes ago.” 

Elliot nods once, swallows. “Okay. Good.” 

“You tell her to take as much time as she needs.” 

“Will do. Thanks Fin.” With that he retreats, makes his way towards the exit where Rollins catches up with him and gets in his way, reminding him of the second time he met the blonde detective after his return from Rome, just after the tail end of a fight he had with Liv in the Captain’s office. 

 

Maybe it wasn’t a fight. There was yelling from Liv’s side, but he figures he’d pushed too much, too soon. She’d merely put him in his place by pointing out, if not in so many words, he hadn’t yet earned the right to be privy to everything he missed during his ten-year absence from her life, before telling him: “Go, Elliot!” 

He did go, empty-handed, heavy-hearted, once more with nothing to show for his attempts to get to know her again, make things right. 

He never expected easy. He never expected it to be this hard, either, if he were to be honest. 

On his way out Rollins had passed him, almost casually so, lifting her eyes up to meet his en route to the elevator. 

“William Lewis,” she said, like it was supposed to tell him something, as if it would point him towards some huge revelation bound to make it all make sense.

The name didn’t ring a bell. 

“What?”

“William. Lewis.” Rollins put extra emphasis on the both names, blinked once, and then pivoted with what looked like a shrug. 

 

Amanda hadn’t been casual, he realized later. There’d been a heaviness, a seriousness surrounding the letters forming a name that to him was nothing but a big question mark. 

It’s like that now, and Elliot wonders if Amanda, once more, will be the one to give him guidance. Instead she asks the inevitable. 

“Is Liv okay?” 

Elliot swallows. His jaw feels like it’s locked, teeth grinding as he chews on the guilt he sees with her. With him, too. 

He sees the genuine concern behind the blue of Rollin’s eyes, and yet the anger simmers in his veins, reminding him how they are both accomplices to Lewis’ crime. 

If he were to think rationally, logically, he’d see how misplaced that blame is, that none of it is theirs to carry, any more than it's Olivia's.

But you found the camera. You wanted that film developed , whispers the regret that lives within him. 

And she’s been the messenger, the bearer of bad news. 

He sees them both at fault here, and he isn’t ready to forgive her any more than he is ready to forgive himself. 

When Elliot answers, his voice is rough. “No, she’s not.” 

 


 

Olivia is still in bed when he gets back to her place, rolled up in a fetal position, eyes tightly shut. For a moment he just takes her in, lets it sink in. Elliot fully expected a crash, but he couldn’t have imagined this, and quite honestly, it scares the crap out of him. He takes slow, cushioned steps towards Olivia, and the closer he gets, the more worry spreads within him.

"I‘m back,“ Elliot announces, seeing her flinch before she groans. He only realizes now how she‘s cradling her head and rocking herself. He bends over, lowering his voice. Is it a headache?“

"Migraine,“ she whimpers, and the fragility in her voice goes under his skin, makes it crawl. Olivia swallows visibly and audibly. "Think I‘m gonna puke.“ 

"All right,“ he thinks out loud. His first action: he draws the curtains, so minimal daylight filters into the now-darkened room. Next he gets the orange bottle he stores in the small toiletry bag he keeps here at Liv‘s and takes it with him to the bedroom, gets a glass of water, a wet, cold washcloth. Back by her side Elliot tips one of the round, beige pills with the Z emblem into his open palm. He’s been prone to migraines since he can remember, and thank God does he store some Zomig here, because Tylenol or Advil is not going to do anything in terms of pain relief. 

“Liv,” he regards her quietly, gently running his knuckles across her cheek. “Come here, take this. It’s gonna help with your head, I promise.” 

In the semi-dark Elliot can see Liv blink her eyes open and closed. She looks absolutely miserable, and he wishes there was more he could do. 

“Can you sit up?” He grasps her elbow for support as she pushes up on one arm. Olivia grimaces and he can tell how every movement, every sound, is making her head throb more. “There you go. Here, let me help you.” He touches the pill to her lips and Olivia accepts it. “Some water. Try to take at least a few sips,” he whispers, assisting her as her hands shake just holding the glass. 

He takes off his shoes, his jacket, and haphazardly discards it over the backrest of a chair in the corner. The tie comes off, and, rolling the sleeves of his shirt up, he settles in next to Olivia before gently pulling her close. 

“It’s okay, I’m here now,” he whispers and puts the cold washcloth against her forehead. “Try to sleep.” 

It takes probably forty minutes but by then Elliot's sure she’s asleep, because she no longer moans or moves, or shakes. A few times within that short period of time she’d jerked awake before she finally settled down, relaxed. He figures it has a lot to do with the zolmitriptan taking effect. 

Some of his worry eases. Elliot is convinced that sleep is the thing Olivia is in need of first and foremost. Everything else, he hopes, will figure itself out once she’s not completely wiped out from sleep-deprivation and the havoc all the caffeine caused on her system. 

He blames himself for this, thinks he should have seen this coming from miles away. She was in no condition to be left alone, he’d sensed that. He can’t even say what made him think it was okay to leave with Eli while Liv was in a state of crisis. 

He wakes her after an hour, only to make her take another Zomig to get that migraine under control. She’s hardly fully awake as she swallows it, some water dripping from the corner of her mouth. His shirt absorbs the liquid, and her head is back down against his chest. 

Olivia sleeps for a solid three hours until she starts to fuss and he shakes her awake, making sure she’s not going to be exposed to yet another nightmare. Olivia blinks her eyes open, and stroking her hair, he gives her a few moments to come to. 

“How’s the head,” he inquires once she’s fully there. 

“Better.” Her voice is still thick and scratchy with sleep. She rubs her forehead and licks her lips. 

“You need something to drink?” If she’s anything like him, her mouth's as dry as a bone.

“Please.” 

He brings her a bottle of water, and Liv drains half of it within a few minutes, even just taking small sips. She‘s still weak, tired, somewhat out of it. The little sleep she got is a drop in the bucket, so Elliot is still worried, strategizing how to tackle the situation. 

Even with him here now, he doesn‘t think she‘s in the right place to take care of Noah. He wants her to rest, and he wants to be by her side for it, figuring they need a short term solution. However, he can‘t and won‘t make decisions over Olivia‘s head. 

For now he‘s glad that Noah is at dance practice until five, giving them a couple of hours to talk about options, if Liv is open to it. 

Despite the urgency Elliot feels, he wants to ease her into the conversation, not just drop a bomb on her and make it seem like he thinks she can‘t be trusted around her kid. 

He gives Olivia a few more minutes. Watches her head to the bathroom on wobbly feet, helps her settle back into bed and against him. 

"Are you ready to talk about what happened this morning?“ Elliot coaxes. "Was it exhaustion? Fatigue?“ 

"Uh,“ Olivia starts, rubbing the underside of her nose. "I don‘t know, to be honest. I think it was a little bit of everything.“ she swallows, looks at him briefly. "Or is.“ She starts picking the blanket, coming off nervous and insecure. "It kind of came crashing down on me last night and then the nightmares-,“ She purses her lips, the corners of her mouth quivering a little with emotion as she exhales through her nose and shrugs. 

"Wanna tell me about that?“

"Not really,“ she manages thickly. "Not right now at least.“ She draws up her gaze and smiles at him sadly, the drooping of her eyelids not lost on him. She must still be incredibly tired. "My therapist? He made me write a journal kind of thing for them. What they were, if they were recurring, if there were certain patterns as to when I‘d have them, what prompts them,“ she tells him and exhales shakily. "I haven‘t really needed to use it in… God, six years?“ 

It makes sense to him. She probably knew what triggered nightmares and didn’t need to update the journal. 

"You still got it?“ 

"In my drawer.“ She looks up sheepishly. "Somewhere.“ 

Elliot will give her some alone time later, just in case Liv feels the need to put the dreams down on paper. Not to sound sappy, but he’d found pouring his heart out in a letter to Liv therapeutic. He’d felt lighter, despite not knowing at the time if she’d ever read it. 

“I’ve told Eli I won’t be home tonight. Our neighbor is going to check in on him.” 

“El, he’s fourteen, you should… I appreciate it, but you should really be with him.” 

“It’s okay. If he changes his mind about staying alone, Dickie can pick him up. I’m not going to go anywhere tonight. Or tomorrow.” 

Olivia's head snaps around, and she looks at him incredulously. “Elliot-” 

“I’m not going anywhere,” Elliot repeats with extra emphasis. “We’re never really off, I don’t feel an ounce of regret over taking a day or two. And I don’t think you’ll be ready, in any shape or form, to go in tomorrow, either.” He doesn’t want to upset her, but sugarcoating is not the way to navigate this situation. 

“Probably not,” she mumbles into her fist, which is testimony how terrible she must feel. At least, he thinks, they are on the same page about this. 

“Noah,” he opens the further string of the conversation, instantly seeing she’s alarmed by the way her eyes darken. 

“What about him?” she asks hesitantly, rubbing her temples. He’s sure the headache will stay with her for the rest of the day. 

“Obviously it’s up to you, and I’m not going to fight you on whatever you decide, but I really don’t think that being here right now is in his or your best interest, Liv,” he says carefully, seeing her struggle with the mere idea. However, she doesn’t downright refuse. Seeing her mouth twitch with emotion, Elliot rubs her shoulder, which only seems to fuel her reaction. Tears roll down her cheek, and he pulls her in, whispers words he hopes will comfort to her. 

“Just for one night, Liv. Just enough so you can get some rest, hm?” 

“I can’t do that,” she sniffles. “How can I just do that to him?” 

“You’re not doing anything to him, Liv. It’s really no different from him having a sleepover for any other reason,” he assures, squeezing her. 

“I can take care of him,” she argues, wiping at her tears, and he gets it, he does. There’s more parental guilt over feeling unable than there is when you’re working or have other obligations that require a sitter. 

“You can,” he assures her. “This doesn’t make you less able, or a bad mom. It’s just that right now, I think you need to take care of yourself first, Liv.” 

“Where’s he even supposed to go?” 

Elliot knows Noah has stayed with Rollins before, so there’s that. But he introduces a different idea first. “I told Maureen I’d have to discuss it with you first, but if it’s okay with you, I’d take Noah out of school tomorrow, so he can stay with her and Carl.” 

“Did you tell them-” 

“I didn’t tell them anything,” Elliot assures. “Anyway, Maureen said it would be okay, and they could pick him up later.” He holds out his open palm. “Totally up to you, Liv. If you want him here, I understand, and we’ll manage.” 

Olivia bumps her head back to Elliot's chest and cries as he caresses the back of her neck with his thumb, giving her time to make her decision. It can’t be easy, and yet he’s convinced that her only focus should be dealing with what she’s been running from all weekend. She takes her time even after she’s calmed down and only sniffles against his shirt occasionally. 

“Okay,” she whispers eventually. “One night.” 

“One night,” he promises, reaching for his phone to give Maureen the go ahead. 

 


 

There’s not a single doubt in Elliot’s mind that Liv’s nerves are shot, because ever since she agreed to leave Noah with Maureen she’s been either silently crying on and off, or she dozed off only to jerk back to consciousness. She’s admitted a few more times, in tears, that she’s so unbelievably tired, but for the moment it's not enough for her to fully drift off. He’s pretty sure the emotional turmoil surrounding Noah doesn’t help. She wanted to see him off, and he got that it was important to her, so once Lucy dropped him off, Liv spent some time with him after Elliot explained that his mom was having pretty bad headaches. 

Maureen asked what was going on, of course, but he’d told her he couldn’t say, thanking her instead while Noah got his backpack and went to hug Liv goodbye. However, judging by Maureen’s face, she understood it was serious and her help greatly appreciated. 

For lack of anything that seems suitable to eat on a queasy stomach, Elliot orders some Pho Ga for the both of them, then makes her some tea. Surprisingly he finds her asleep, stretched out on her stomach on his side of the bed. 

He leans against the doorframe and watches her for a long time, just taking in the way she breathes, rests. Since Friday he’d felt he should talk to her again about the pictures, but the right moment didn’t seem to present itself. He regrets that now. That, and that he even suggested Eli come over, because otherwise she would have gotten some sleep that night.

The pictures. 

It occurs to him that he has no idea where they are now. By the time he woke up Saturday morning, they no longer were on the coffee table, and he hadn’t dared ask. Certainly somewhere the kids wouldn’t accidently find them. Where he wouldn't, for that matter. 

Elliot kills the time until the food arrives with a quick shower and more comfortable clothes. He opens the window for some fresh air in the room, thinking that’s going to benefit Liv’s headaches. Unsurprisingly Liv’s up with the doorbell. 

“Who was that?” She asks when he returns to the bedroom. She’s smoothing the fingers of both hands across her eyes, and yawning. 

“Delivery service. I ordered pho, thought that would be easy on your stomach. Want some?” 

Sitting up she nods, and Elliot thinks he can hear her stomach growl. 

“In bed or are you good to eat at the table?” 

“Bed,” she replies after a moment’s hesitation. “If that’s okay.” 

“More than okay,” he smiles. “Want to watch something on netflix? I can carry the tv over, make ourselves comfy here. What do you say?” 

By the looks of it she isn’t going to make it through the duration of an entire movie, but she seems to be enticed with the idea, because she smiles back at him feebly as she sits up against the headboard. 

“That sounds wonderful,” she says quietly, her voice still rough with sleep. 

“Kay. I’ll be right back. Maybe get into your PJ’s,” Elliot suggests with a wink. The clothes from yesterday can’t be too comfortable. 

“Maybe I should shower too,” Liv mutters under her breath, looking down at herself. “I feel gross.” 

“You good?” 

“Yeah. I’ll manage.” 

“All right.” 

An hour later they are both sated and overall comfortable, watching a soothing documentary about corals. Elliot had checked in with Eli, who promised he’s doing just fine. 

Olivia nods minutely toward the screen, murmuring, "This is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.”

He thinks how one day he will take her snorkeling, take her to see this beauty in person. Olivia's in his arms, half awake, half asleep as his fingers draw lazy patterns on her arm and back.

“Liv?

“Hm?” 

“I was really worried for you this morning,” he admits, fully letting himself feel it for the first time. When he got here he was on autopilot. It’s only now, so many hours later, that it all sinks in. 

“I’m sorry,” she whispers. “I didn’t mean to scare you.” 

“I’ve been thinking… is there someone you can talk to? I know you have a therapist and maybe-,” he’s cut off. 

“Had.” 

“Huh?” 

“I had a therapist. We’re… I’m no longer seeing him. I can’t see him , it… there was a work thing and everything just-,” Liv sighs heavily. “I can’t go there anymore. But I’ve thought about it, too.” 

“Okay. Is there anyone else you can talk to? Obviously this is a pretty big deal, and I’m… I know it’s not the same as what was going on with my mother, or Kathleen but... “ 

Olivia turns and tilts her head up to look at him. “I should have slept,” she tells him point blank, quietly. “I didn’t want Eli to feel unwelcome, but I wanted you here, and I didn’t deal with anything that happened on Friday, not in a healthy manner. I mean, diversion tactics are helpful, but I should have expected they’d backfire with everything else going on. I’m not… I’m not saying I’m not at all sad, or… depressed, if that’s what you wanna call it. But I’m not… I really think I got caught up in a bad combination of… stupid coping mechanisms and sleep-deprivation,” Olivia explains, sounding like she needs to get it all out before she’ll change her mind about talking to him about it. “And a really… one of the most scary, horrific nightmares,” she adds, her voice trembling as she flinches and closes her eyes. “And I’m still sleep-deprived, and I think I’m going to cry again,” she rambles on.

“Okay, okay,” Elliot mumbles and rubs his palm across her back in big circles.

“I guess what I’m wondering is… how you feel, you know?” 

She shrugs a little and takes a shuddering breath, and he’s acutely aware that ten years ago she would have put on a brave face, telling him she’s fine. 

“Not well,” she admits, and by the way her hand comes back up to her face, Elliot knows she’s wiping at tears. 

As Elliot pulls her even closer, and tucks the blanket more tightly around her, she hides her face in his neck, fists his t-shirt. 

“Wanna sleep?” he asks, his free hand cupping the back of her head, starting to rock her gently. 

Olivia's only response is a small movement of her head, nodding into his shoulder, so he turns down the volume of the TV, and sinks further into the mattress with her. He inhales her deeply. Her body wash. Her cucumber and green tea-scented shampoo. Enveloped by her he braces himself for the hours to come, standing guard to wake her before her dreams do.

“I’ve got you, okay?” Elliot whispers as the TV bathes the room in the bright, waving anemones and tropical fish amidst overwhelmingly beautiful colors of coral-reefs. 

 

Chapter Text

It’s baffling that they are perfectly in sync even in the bathroom, going after their morning routine, and they don’t have all that much practice. Elliot shaves, and Liv's behind him brushing her teeth. He brushes his teeth, as she’s prepping her face before putting on foundation. He starts the coffee, returns when she is almost done. Olivia seizes the eyeliner from the mirror cabinet and he instantly takes a step back, knowing she needs to be front and center, leaning in to brace her elbow against the medicine cabinet as she’s drawing one perfect, thin line. Right eye, then the left. A touch of blush to the cheeks, her favorite go to lipstick, and she’s done. 

Looking at him in the mirror, she can see the concern that’s etched on his face, and it has been there since she told him that she’s going back to work the moment his alarm went off. 

“Elliot,” she chides him with gentleness, because she knows he means well, he’s worried. She can’t say she’d be too happy with him if roles were reversed. 

“Are you sure about this?” he asks, and it sounds like he‘s almost wincing. 

Olivia couldn’t be more sure, though. She had needed the three days, she won’t argue with that, but yesterday, with Elliot back at work and Noah in school she’d about gone berserk. It’s not even that she doesn’t have plenty to do, just that she isn’t in the mood to do any of it. All of Tuesday she had spent in bed, napping on and off with Elliot by her side. Yesterday, with plenty of alone time, she had dug up the journal and jotted down the nightmares in as much factual detail as she remembered, remembering Lindstrom’s advice not to make the recounting dependent on her emotions. Last night she’d come to the conclusion that more therapy is inevitable, so besides work her plan for today is to pick up the phone and call Lindstrom's office to make an appointment, hoping he’ll be able to see her soonish.

This she has to do. She’s sure. She’s ready. She needs to work. Slowly Olivia pivots and nods.“I’m sure. I can’t just sit here all day, El. Not again. I’m doing much better.” 

“You still get the nightmares,” he points out, worriedly. 

“Yeah, I do, and I will for a while. But it’s better and I’m not screaming bloody murder, so I guess that’s progress,” she smiles, trying to make light of it, but it is a lot better. She gets them, but jerks awake, and while it takes her a good while to fall back asleep, it only takes a squeeze of Elliot’s hand, or scooting a little closer to him for her to feel safe. By now she’s got a sense of control over it. “Plus, I’ve done this before,” she assures. “I know the pattern, I’d say it’s a safe bet that I’ll have them less and less frequent in the coming weeks.” 

"And you‘re in the right headspace to go?“ It‘s the second time this morning that he asks this, and while it‘s slightly annoying she loves him for it. So, she‘s being blatantly honest. 

"I‘m not great, but I‘m okay.“ 

"And you slept.“ 

"I did. And well at that.“ 

Elliot expels a heavy breath, as if bracing himself for what he‘s about to say. "All right.“

"Good,“ she smiles, and reaches for her perfume. 

"I trust you,“ he tells her, and Olivia thinks he says it for his benefit instead of hers.

"Good to know,“ she winks, putting her favorite scent on, simultaneously bathing the room in sweet osmanthus. Then she moves in and carefully attaches her lips to his, just barely, so they won‘t be a perfect lipstick copy of her own on his mouth. "I‘ll grab some coffee. Love you,“ she smiles and sashays away from him, knowing she‘s got fifteen minutes max to load up on caffeine and get Noah‘s lunchbox ready, all while telling him about twenty times to go brush his teeth, or else. 

Unfortunately Elliot is no less at ease then earlier when they part ways in front of her building, but he gives it his best effort and doesn’t voice his concern again. They kiss goodbye until tomorrow, because tonight he’ll stay at his own place with Eli. 

After dropping Noah off at school Olivia heads to the 1-6, her arrival almost getting lost in the usual morning buzz. Fin notices of course, greeting her casually, and she smiles at him gratefully around a quick ‘Morning, Fin’, and: “Can you bring me up to speed?” 

She’s filled in within twenty, realizing for the first time how efficient they’ve become at this since she first started out as commanding officer of SVU. When Fin leaves, she sees Amanda arrive and thinks how she needs to thank her about how she handled the photo situation.

She calls Lindstrom at 9:45 sharp, momentarily rendered speechless when he picks up on the first ring. She finds her footing when he asks ‘Hello?’ after the initial introduction of whose office this is, cutting to the chase. From his voice alone she can tell he’s surprised to find who’s on the line, and her discomfort over how she’s left things the last time she saw him grows rapidly. However, Lindstrom fits her in at 12:30. She’s fully aware he doesn’t see patients between twelve and two, remembering it’s not the first time the man has made exceptions for her. She gladly accepts the appointment, of course, thinking it’s better than waiting a few days, possibly weeks until he can make time to see her during office hours. 

For a little while Olivia’s a lot more distracted than she’d like to admit, but once a call comes in, a young woman calling to report she was raped by a bartender the night before, she is back in her usual professional mode. She sends Kat and Fin to talk to the vic, tells Amanda to stay on top of their current cases. 

Before she knows it it‘s pushing noon, and she‘s headed to therapy. Again. Who would have thought.

She‘s nervous upon entering the foyer, blowing out a breath she‘d been unaware of holding. It‘s been three, four years since she last saw Lindstrom for counseling, when the prospect of seeing Tucker for the first time post-breakup gave her anxiety for days. Shortly after their therapist-patient relationship had fractured after she took work-related things too personally. 

Now it‘s time to bite the bullet, because she can‘t dissect her problems on her own, she tried, and it‘s not working. She needs therapy, she has faith in therapy, and Lindstrom knows her entire history. She‘d opened up to him about everything from her childhood trauma, to Lewis, her fears of abandonment, her trust issues, every relationship she‘s ever had. It‘d take a year to get someone else to understand her, and how the most recent events affect her life, her relationship. 

She rocks from foot to foot, trying to gather the confidence to announce she‘s here. A few more conscious breaths and she knocks, hearing muffled footsteps approaching from inside the office. She takes one step back before the door swings open, tucking her long bangs behind her ear. 

"Olivia, come in,“ Lindstrom gestures towards the chair she sat in countless times. Nothing at all seems to have changed, and neither has he. Smiling hesitantly, Olivia steps across the threshold and inside the room that knows more about her life than any person that‘s in it, Elliot included. Every confession she’s ever made lives between these walls. 

“Dr. Lindstrom,” she regards him kindly. “Thank you so much for making time to see me, and on such short notice.” 

“If I have learned one thing, it’s that when you need counseling, it’s urgent,” Lindstrom responds openly, offering a docile smile. “Why don’t you take a seat.” 

She takes a few steps towards the chair, closing her eyes briefly, then points her lips and faces him. “Let me start by saying that I want to apologize for…,” she draws a breath, shaking her head in small, almost imperceptible movements. “...for how I left things when we last saw each other. I let things get personal. I didn’t handle that well.” 

“I appreciate it, but don’t worry about it, Olivia.” 

“Okay,” she breathes, relieved this part is over with. She puts her purse on the floor and sits, knowing she won’t get comfortable today, probably not for a few sessions. 

“Let’s talk about why you’re here, Olivia.” 

And just like that the door is open. Tilting her head up, Olivia prepares herself. She wonders where to start but figures she might as well jump right in. She inhales and exhales consciously, repeats it a few times until she feels anchored and ready. 

“Back at my old apartment, within the first two days Lewis, he…,” she falters, gnaws on her bottom lip as she breaks eye-contact. “...he took pictures of me.” Her voice cracks, and she clears it to get it back to normal. “I know I always said he didn’t rape me but-” Olivia’s face contracts in conflict about what she is about to say. “-he did. And,” she sniffles, squeezing her eyes shut when she feels the burn of oncoming tears. “I don’t know what happened. I know what’s in the pictures but I don’t-,” swallowing roughly she turns her head away and shrugs helplessly. When she opens her eyes, she cries. “I don’t remember.” 

 


 

Olivia leaves Lindstrom’s office feeling emotionally depleted. She had talked for over an hour, about the pictures and how Elliot had seen them, about Elliot in general (she could see just how surprised he was to hear that about that part), and about the nightmares. She expects tonight to be crappy, not necessarily because of nightmares, but because Lindstrom of course couldn’t tell her if she was out cold when Lewis raped her, or if she’d blocked some of it out. She’d been chewing on it for days now, but maybe today’s appointment would shake something loose. 

She makes her way back to the station, but stays in her office, catching up on the mail traffic of the past few days before punching out without speaking to Amanda. She’s not all that sure what to say yet, anyway. It’s one more thing she has got to figure out, because she doesn’t want to leave it undiscussed. She is grateful beyond words for Rollins’ loyalty and discretion. 

Her next appointment is scheduled for Monday, and Lindstrom wants her to think about why the Elliot in her dreams blamed her for the kidnapping and subsequent torture, leaving her with Lewis to be raped. Olivia’s pretty certain why that is, she’s simply hesitant to go there and really let herself feel it all.

He'd left the force without a word, without goodbye, unbeknownst to her moved across the globe and settled in Rome with Kathy and Eli--it’s not hard to make the connection. But goddamn, she hates to dwell on it, because she spent months doing nothing else when Elliot came back. 

If she has to think it over, she’d rather do it when he’s not around, though. She doubts it’s going to benefit their relationship when she’s working through it while he’s sleeping next to her, and she’s nowhere near ready to talk about it to him. She will eventually, at least that’s her honest intention. For that to happen she first wants to get the nightmares under control. No more jerking awake. No more trouble falling asleep. No more waking up and looking at him, wondering how he could let Lewis do that to her. It’ll take some time, but she’ll get there. 

She’ll get there, and she’ll find the courage to confide in him, because she trusts him even with the most fragile and splintered pieces of her. 

At the end of the work day Olivia punches out and heads home, making a quick spaghetti dinner for Noah and herself. Noah asks about Elliot, because apparently it’s weird that after four days he isn’t here, and Noah likes it better when he’s around. Eli, too, and she understands that he just basks in the company of another kid around here, especially being an only child. Sometimes she wonders if she should have tried to adopt again when Noah was still little. Her heart would have been all in, unfortunately her personal circumstances weren’t allowing for it. Financially, things have been challenging with one kid. She didn’t have the time, she didn’t have the space. And quite honestly, she was lacking the energy and patience for two as a single mother pushing fifty. She constantly wonders how Amanda manages, although Carisi has been around to help out a lot. She didn’t have that.  

Noah’s appeased and happy when she tells him they are going to see Elliot, and possibly Eli too tomorrow. Although they’ve just spent nearly five days together, she can’t say she’s had enough, not even for a little while. She’s already looking forward to meeting up at the park tomorrow, too. 

 


 

Elliot comes without Eli, plus things at work had taken an unexpected turn. Half an hour late he apologizes, kissing her briefly on the cheek, then on the mouth. 

“So sorry. I don’t have too long,” he tells her, glancing at his watch. “Maybe twenty. I promised Eli I’d pick him up from practice.” 

Noah comes up to Elliot with his scooter, grinning from ear to ear and hitting the breaks just in time. She’d already seen him knock El down. 

“Hey, Champ,” he greets her son with a high five. “Good day?” 

“Yes, we got ice-cream when you were late.” Noah glances around, his smile faltering a little. “Where’s Eli?” 

“Sorry bud, he’s got soccer practice. Maybe next time?” 

“Okay,” Noah says, sighing almost theatrically, his shoulders dropping, but soon enough he turns his scooter around and drives ahead, giving them the chance to talk. 

They start walking, Elliot with his hands in his coat pockets, Olivia’s arm looped through his. 

“So, long day?” Liv inquires easily. 

“Yeah. Jet found a money trail to one of our guys, you know the drill,” shrugs Elliot as they stroll through the park. It’s noticeably cooler than it was for the past couple of weeks, and she shivers, although she’s not entirely sure if it’s from the temperatures or the tension that she carries in her shoulders. 

“Cold?” 

“A bit.” Olivia waits a few beats. Then: “So,” she blows out a small breath as she’s looking down, shuffling a foot forward with each step. “I went to therapy today.” 

“You did?” His pace slows and, when she raises her gaze, she can see him looking at her from her periphery. “To therapy?” 

She nods and rubs her palm across her chin. “I’ve tried to dissect it all for myself, but that didn’t work, so,” she looks at him, smiling sheepishly. 

“That’s good, Liv. Really. I just thought you said that things were complicated with your therapist.” 

“They were,” she simpers. “I took care of that, too. Should’ve done that a long time ago, actually,” Liv muses.

“Did it help?” He asks softly, sounding hopeful. 

“Does it ever the first few sessions?” asks Olivia, giving an easy shrug. It’s always taken her a few appointments. It’s easier to talk now than it was when she first started seeing Lindstrom, but that’s because she knows and trusts him, and Lindstrom knows her, always asking the questions he knows she’ll feel compelled to answer. 

“I guess not,” gives Elliot. He’s been for the better part of last year to deal with the PTSD he had developed after Kathy’s murder, so it’s funny how normal it has become for them to drop little references to therapy and therapists. “I’m not the best example, though, am I?” he chuckles, and Olivia purses her lips, shaking her head around a small laugh. He had told her when he first went to counseling, and in that same breath admitted he hated it already. Olivia guesses it’s safe to assume it took a good while for Elliot to come around to the benefits of shrinking. 

“So, what about tonight?” Olivia asks carefully, looking around when Elliot looks at her. 

“What about it?” 

“I guess what I’m trying to ask is, did you already talk to Eli about staying weekends? I had hoped you’d come over.” She feels the hold of disappointment, because obviously Elliot has other plans; she’s not bitter though. Truth is, they haven’t yet discussed this weekend.

“I didn’t get the chance to talk to him with everything going on. I wanted to do that tonight,” he explains. “If Eli’s up for it.” He takes a slow, deep breath. “I figured it would be best if we didn’t stay over tonight, seeing how the last time Eli was there you didn’t sleep.” She hears him, and she hears his concern, but that was different. 

“I can sleep now,” she reminds him, looking at him for emphasis. “And I can handle the nightmares, El.” But she gets it. He wants to protect his son, and he wants to protect her. It’s just a little hard not to feel patronized, so before the feeling can start to manifest, Olivia changes the subject. “Do you have any plans then?” she asks, casually. 

Maybe a little too casual, because he’s on her case right away. “You know Liv, if you wanna spend time, why don’t you just say so?” Elliot turns his head and smirks at her cockily and she uses her elbow to poke his side. 

“Smug bastard.” 

Elliot looks proudly at her and she thinks that some things will never change, because this feels beautifully familiar. 

“Really though,” he nudges her gently. “We can spend the weekend. I’ll talk to Eli, we’ll make it a trip. Maybe Rockaway, if the weather holds. Take some food, walk around, unwind. They boys can play soccer.” 

“That sounds lovely.” 

“And maybe tomorrow night we can sneak out for a couple of hours, have dinner, just the two of us, if Eli agrees to watch Noah.” 

“Dinner?” She asks, intrigued with the prospect of having time for just the two of them--at a restaurant. With food. And wine. And no interruptions. “Like a date?” Olivia inquires around a grin, and honestly, she thought he’d never ask.  

“Like a date,” he agrees. The expression on his face changes to sheepish, maybe a little vulnerable. “I should’ve done that a long time ago, Liv, I just…” 

“I get it,” she says quickly, because she doesn’t want him to feel bad over it. Things had been delicate in the beginning. 

“No, I… I would have loved to take you out. You deserved that. To me it felt special and comfortable how we progressed, and a small part of me was scared that us, at a restaurant, doing… doing the entire dating routine… I guess I was worried it wouldn’t feel organic.”

“There was too much history,” Olivia says with a small nod. 

“There’s that,” he agrees. “And then we were still trying to figure everything out between the two of us. My absence, Lewis-,” he exhales heavily. “Wheatley. And then explaining to the kids.” 

“It was a lot,” Olivia agrees. 

“A bit overwhelming at times,” Elliot says, and she can see how he’s trying to make a smile appear. “Just, I’m sorry for that, Liv. I should’ve been more proactive.” 

She leans into him, searching his proximity, and he unhooks her arm from his and slides it around her middle, pulling her close. 

“For what it’s worth, we hardly saw each other, and when we did, I was usually beat. Often enough I was glad when we’d just order in and go to bed,” Liv admits and chuckles, tilting her head up to him. “Guess that means I’m old.” 

“I heard they call it mature these days,” he teases, and when she throws her head back and laughs a full-belly laugh he squeezes her and presses a kiss into her hair. “I should probably head back now, or else I’ll keep Eli waiting. We’ll talk later, okay?” 

“Later,” she agrees.

 


 

“Hey, Eli, come down for a minute?” 

“Right now?” The boys’ muffled voice filters into the living room, and frustratedly Elliot thinks: ‘No, next week works just fine.’ 

“Yes, please!” he yells towards the stairs, and not a minute later his son appears, pushing his bangs out of his face. 

“What?” 

“Come over here for a sec,” Elliot says, nodding towards the couch. “I want to discuss something with you.” 

Eli shuffles towards the other end of the sofa and drops down, his hands in his lap as he looks at his father expectantly. 

“So, I wanted to discuss something with you about Liv.” 

“Okay,” Eli responds tentatively, his brows creasing, and Elliot shifts against the cushion. 

“First off, I want you to know that if you’re not okay with it, we’ll find ways-,” Elliot assures. 

“Okay with what?” he wonders. "Is this about you staying with Liv for the week? Is she okay?“ 

Elliot can hear honest concern for her in Eli‘s tone, realizing that in the past couple of months he‘s come to care about her. He‘s asked last weekend already, and he‘d lied, saying how Olivia had been tired. 

"It‘s not about that,“ Elliot says slowly, but decides to go with honesty. "But I wasn‘t entirely truthful with you last weekend, Liv hasn‘t been doing well this past week, which is why I stayed.“ 

"Is she sick?“ ask Eli, briefly looking down into his lap, swallowing visibly. 

He doesn‘t want to say too much, because it‘s not his story to tell, but he wants Eli to have a basic understanding of the situation. "Remember last year, when I wasn‘t at my best? It‘s… it‘s a little like that. Some pretty dark stuff happened to her, it‘s… it‘s been a long time but some of it has been dragged up lately, so, if Liv‘s… acting a little peculiar, or she comes off more distracted, then she just… needs some time, you know?“

Eli nods, but Elliot can see him struggle to take it in by the way a frown settles on his face. 

"I am sorry I haven‘t been as present these past few days, I just… Liv really needed me.“

"I get that,“ Eli says. "So, um… is this you telling me I have to stay with Dicke for longer or something?“ The words sound somewhat muffled. 

"No, quite the opposite, actually, Eli,“ Elliot says quickly. "See, Liv and I would like you to spend more time with us. At her place, I mean. We see so little of each other, and Liv really likes having you around.“

"Oh.“ He can‘t tell if Eli‘s relieved or disappointed. Maybe it‘s a little bit of both. 

"Eli?“ He coaxes gently, hoping he‘ll share what he thinks. "Look, if this is too much too soon, Liv and I understand that, and we‘ll take a step back and find a solution that works for everyone.“ 

"No, I… um… I was just thinking,“ he swallows, and as always when he‘s uncomfortable his ears turn a hot red. "You really love her, don‘t you?“ 

Elliot is stunned into momentary silence, and although Eli is not really looking at him he deserves to hear the answer. He does love her. He thinks he’s always loved her, but of course he can’t share that. But he’ll tell his son what he can without hurting him, without besmirching his mother’s legacy. Eli must never know what he thinks has been painfully obvious to his other four kids--that he’s loved Olivia long before he was allowed. 

"Yeah, I do. Liv‘s… she‘s very important to me. I do love her.“

Eli nods slowly, and Elliot gets a better understanding of what Liv meant when they were discussing Eli hoping to return to Rome one day, and that their relationship changed everything for him.

"Is that hard for you to hear? Because of mom? Because Eli, your mom? I loved her so, so much…“

"I know,” Eli says, and Elliot can see how much he tries not to be affected, so he scoots closer and puts his arm around his son's shoulder, pulling him in. “Look, I promise you, we’re going to do this at the pace you’re okay with. If this is too much…” 

“No, I just… I like her....” 

“I know that, Eli. I can see that.” 

“Okay, so… what does that mean exactly, spend more time?” 

“Well, for now we were thinking every Tuesday to Wednesday, and the weekends. And if you’re not up for it, I trust you enough to spend a night here.” He waits, gauging Eli’s reaction, who seems to mull it over. He understands if Eli has boundaries, that he’ll come around eventually, even if he isn’t up to this new schedule, but God, he hopes he will agree, even if a selfish need stands behind it. 

“Okay.” 

“Okay as in… we’ll try that?” Elliot asks tentatively, and in his stomach hopes starts to swirl. 

“Yeah,” Eli nods. He can see this isn’t easy for Eli, that, once again, he's asking his kid to adjust to what his relationship with Liv requires. Sometimes he feels like he’s stretched too thin with everything that deserves his attention. Work, Eli. Liv, Noah. There are days where he feels he’s rushing from home to the office, to Liv, back home, and it’s never quite enough. He doesn’t feel home anywhere, always on the run, always trying to be what they need. Trying to ignore what he needs. 

He misses the stability he had once known, and if nothing else, he prays that getting more time with Liv and the kids will provide him with it. He wants to feel like he can breathe, not think several steps, several days ahead each time he kisses her hello, kisses her goodbye. He aches for the emotional comfort of her mattress, of the scent that is all Olivia, that has seeped into the wallpaper of her bedroom. He wants to fall asleep next to her without the uncertainty that comes with not knowing when he gets to share her bed again, if it’ll be two days, or possibly two weeks. 

Slowly Eli disentangles from Elliot’s hand on his shoulder, and gets up. 

“Eli, thanks. It… it means a lot.” 

“Yeah, it’s okay. You wanna go tonight, or…?” Again Elliot has a feeling Eli tries to sound a lot more casual than he normally would, than he suspects his son truly feels.

“Not tonight, no. We figured tomorrow, if that’s okay. We thought about heading out to Rockaway, take the ball.” 

Eli stands by the stairs, looks at him, blinks a couple of times, and Elliot knows he’s just screwed up before he speaks, although he’s not quite sure what he’s missing. 

“I have a game, I mean… you can just pick me up after, I guess.” 

The soccer game. Shit. He forgot Eli’s team is playing tomorrow, and he’d promised weeks ago he’d come and watch. 

He hears the disappointment, sees the silent reproach in his son’s eyes. He has been used to it for thirty plus years of missing out on recitals and games, from promising and breaking promises. 

“Right. Right,” he says quickly. “The game. We’re going. We’ll meet Liv after.” 

“Whatever,” Eli mutters, and before Elliot can do damage control, he vanishes upstairs. 

 


 

They all go to Eli’s game, after Olivia made sure he was okay with it. It was a good game, too, with Eli’s team winning 2:1. He’s a much better player than Olivia expected, going after that ball with a passion, trying to put it in the goal. He swore in Italian, and momentarily Olivia had felt a little stab to her heart, imagining him on the soccer field back in Italy with Kathy and Elliot cheering him on, instead of her. When Eli looked over at them, she wondered if he imagined the same. 

They get pizza for the boys on the way back home because they have a reservation at 8:30. 

It’s a nice Italian place that Olivia loves, but now, sitting here with Elliot, she can only think of Rome, of a life he had there with Kathy, a life he’d run away from her to have. It’s an evening they have to themselves, but ten minutes in and they’re talking work and the kids because it feels like the only other thing that’s relevant besides that is Lewis. He had controlled her life, days and nights alike, for the entire week. Nothing she’d done between last Friday and tonight is disconnected from the photographs, she realizes, dejectedly. Whenever Elliot looks at her, she puts on a smile, though. It’s apparent that he’s trying to keep her engaged with the conversation, but she bets he feels it’s not working. 

She has a little too much wine over the course of the night, in part to make up for barely touching her food. She loves their Carbonara, but it tasted bland tonight. 

They leave without ordering dessert, and normally Olivia is all about the tiramisu they serve. They decide to walk the eleven blocks home, because she desperately needs fresh air. With interlaced fingers they walk the streets, and she feels somewhat responsible for the awkwardness of the date, trying to think of how they can salvage the night. She’s been on plenty of terrible dates, it’s not a note she wants to end on with Elliot. 

Eli is asleep on the sofa by the time they get home, so they quietly pad into the bedroom, closing the door. As soon as they are alone she exhales heavily, and Elliot looks at her with pursed lips. 

“This didn’t go too well, hm?” 

She bites her lip and sits down at the foot of the bed. “I’m sorry.” 

“I didn’t mean for it to sound like an accusation,” he says, sitting down next to her. “Probably should’ve known better. Saved it for another time when things aren’t…” 

“I loved the idea behind it, Elliot, I just…” 

“I know,” he says quickly, taking her hand, and by the way he squeezes she feels his tension melding with hers. “How about this: we forget about all of it and redo the date. Give it a couple of months, make sure it’s really just the two of us.” 

“And if it’s terrible again?” she asks, looking at him disheartened. Right now she can’t see how it’ll be better, although she knows she won’t always feel this way, Lewis won’t always be in the back of her mind, taking away from the beauty that’s right in front of her. For now she’s swimming in the morass of stifling feelings.

“Then there’s always wine,” he smiles and winks at her. 

“That’s funny,” she says dryly, unable to make even a small smile appear. “I’ll go shower.” 

“All right,” he agrees, and presses a kiss to her ear, whispering, “We’re okay, Liv.” 

It hits a nerve, because as far as she can see, he’s right. They are okay. This hasn’t caused them to fight or fall apart, she hasn’t pushed him away, and he has given her all the things she needed when she didn’t even know she needed them. She looks at Elliot closely, finding he means this, that there is no doubt within him at all. They are okay. She inhales and exhales slowly, allowing this reality to settle in. 

“We are okay,” she agrees and leans in to kiss him, her lips brushing across his softly. Her eyes close, and she is reminded that this is what it’s supposed to be like after a good date. The flutter in her stomach. The warmth settling on her cheeks and ears. The tenderness of Elliot’s nose touching hers. 

Olivia smiles a real smile when she breaks apart from him, her voice dropping. “Thank you. For tonight.” 

“Thank me when I date the hell outta you next time,” he grins, and she laughs softly, letting go of his hand as she’s headed for the bathroom. 

“Watch that ego, Stabler.” 

“Or what, you’ll have me arrested, Captain?” He jokes, and she rolls her eyes so hard, she thinks she can see the back of her skull. She’ll never admit how much she enjoys it when he uses her rank, but then, he probably knows. 

“Make yourself useful, warm up the bed or something,” she tells him before she vanishes in the bathroom. 

By the time the spray hits her skin, Olivia feels a little less tense. The hot water helps relax her muscles, eases her mind that has been over occupied for the past couple of hours. She closes her eyes and for a moment sees Lewis’ face flashing, so she shakes her head and blinks him away. For months he’d been the permanent image behind her closed eyelids, and she will not allow for it again. She is not going to go back. She’s moved forward, worked hard, continues to work hard to find her peace with these new revelations, her new realty. A reality that’s always been hers, she just didn’t know it then. 

She draws a deep, steam-filled breath, accepting this for simple fact. She can’t change what happened, and in retrospect she feels she’s done a good job of acknowledging the rape so far. 

She didn’t fall to pieces. 

She didn’t fall into denial, either. 

It still feels like she thinks about the photographs all day every day, she’s trying desperately to remember something more about what happened in that bedroom than what has always been etched into her memory.

The mere idea of sex makes her flinch, and it probably will for a few more weeks, because she can‘t yet compartmentalize between what happened in reality, what happens in her dreams, and what happens in an act of love and trust between her and Elliot. Right now it all falls into the same category, and she shudders at the thought of telling Elliot that. 

The other day she‘d almost fallen back into old patterns when they‘d made out, and she tried to pull Elliot on top of her. She fought for the upper hand, trying to write her own narrative. Maybe she did it because she knew Elliot would have never gone along with it and saved her from herself. 

She‘d like to think she‘s grown and escaped these unhealthy patterns of needing to feel validated. She had sex with Cassidy in the aftermath of Lewis, not because she was ready, but to prove to herself, maybe even to Brian, that she still could. That she was not broken. That she could still persist in her line of work. She knows now it had not benefited her recovery, or her relationship with Brian. Back then her sex life had not been something she was willing to discuss with anyone. Not Brian, not Lindstrom. However, she’s learned that everything she ever kept inside backfires one way or another, so delving into this deeply personal area seems inevitable. 

The tension she’s felt swirls down the drain and after another few minutes Olivia gets out of the shower and ready for bed. She feels better. There’s just something about hot showers that help immensely when Lewis haunts her. 

Elliot’s in bed, hunched against the headboard and there’s a bottle of wine and two glasses on the nightstand. 

“Just in case,” he smiles as her gaze settles on it, and she thinks she can do with one more glass. 

“Good thought,” she says, crawling into bed next to him, cuddling up to him. 

“You smell good,” he compliments, nuzzling his nose into her hair and neck, breathing in. “Do you feel better?” 

“Yes. And no,” she says around an awkward chuckle. “I hate that he gets in the way,” she says quietly. “That this oppressive feeling I get sometimes overshadows all the good things. I was really looking forward to tonight, El. And I’m sorry it didn’t go according to plan because I couldn’t really… let loose.” 

He tilts his head back up and his eyes find hers. Shaking his head he pulls her close, reeling in her warmth, in the smell of her skin, her softness. “Wasn’t just you, Liv,” he admits. “To be honest, I don’t really know how to handle all this. As long as I’m here and feel like I serve some kind of purpose, be here for you? Just be here, really? That’s my saving grace right now, I think.” His voice drops to a raspy whisper. 

“Elliot,” she says, softly, and for the first time it hits her how strongly this affects him. She’s just been so busy battling her own emotions, that she hadn’t thought to check in with how he’s doing. 

“I know this is not about me. I’m sorry.” 

“No, El,” she says softly, shaking her head at him. “It's about you too. Do we need to talk? Do you need to get something off your chest, because we can talk,” she assures him. 

“I shouldn’t have said anything,” he backtracks, and it makes her feel even worse. She reaches up, cups his cheek gently, her face quivering. 

“Yes, you should’ve. What do you need, Elliot?” 

He swallows and exhales heavily. “Right now I just wanna lie here with you.” 

“Okay,” she says hesitantly. “But… we’re going to talk about it?” She thinks they should. At the very least she wants to know how he’s doing with all of this. She knows Elliot. He probably thinks he has no right to say anything since none of it has happened to him, and she wishes it were true. 

“I don’t know, Liv,” he breathes. “I want you to be okay. That’s really all. I’ll manage, you know.” 

“Yeah,” she says seriously but her chest feels too tight. “I know you’ll manage, but do you manage in a healthy way? I mean… how much have you seen, Elliot? Of the pictures,” she asks, because she isn’t entirely sure she remembers through the haze of tears. 

The way his face briefly twitches gives it away. 

“You’re not expected to just ‘manage’, El. I’m not saying we have to talk about it right now, but we should eventually.” If he needs time, she’s ready to give him that. She knows she does to bring certain things up. 

“Okay,” he agrees, locking gazes. “Eventually.” 

“Eventually,” she says and leans in for a kiss. “I love you,” she whispers against his lips.

“I love you,” he says back, sinking his hand in her hair, brushing her ear with his thumb until she drops her head against his chest and sighs with contentment. She can get used to this now that Eli has agreed to coming here on a schedule. They can actually start making real, dependable plans, which is one of the good things she wants to focus on. This is the first weekend of what feels like a new life, a new adventure, and she holds onto that thought, hoping it’ll keep the nightmares away. 

Olivia inhales the heady scent that is Elliot and smiles to herself thinking that yes, they are okay. And everything that’s not yet okay are things they will mend in time. 

“We’re okay,” she whispers against his skin, wanting him to know that she believes it. 

“Yeah, we’re okay,” he breathes. 

She pretends not to hear the slight tremble in his voice or the light shudder of his chest, instead she wraps herself more firmly around him, wondering how she missed that he needed as much comfort as she did. 

Chapter Text

Olivia wakes with a start, her head jumping a couple of inches off the pillow. Elliot’s name is bouncing back and forth in her head, reverberating in her own shrill voice. She falls back into the pillow, expelling a rough, jagged breath into the darkness of the room. Scrubbing her hands across her face, she shivers from cool air meeting her damp pajama top. She can feel beads of perspiration cling to her skin, trickling in between the valley of her breasts. Her heart is beating too fast, so she inhales deeply through her nose. Holds. Breathes out. 

The night terrors should be under control by now, she thinks. From experience she should have a good handle on them, get them only occasionally. As it stands however, she still jerks awake several times a week, sometimes several times a night. She keeps track, of course. There’s a pattern. There’s always been a pattern. The dreams coincide with the nights Elliot stays over.

She turns her head, the pillow rustling noisily against her ear. Making out Elliot’s sleeping form to her right, Olivia worries her lip. He hardly wakes up anymore, probably because she’s less jumpy, more attuned to these nightmares. He tells her every night she can wake him up if she needs him, but she never does. These days it’s a fine line between the desire for comfort and safety and the lingering resentment and acrimony she feels when looking into his eyes upon startling awake.

She'd never known what it was like to feel afraid of or intimidated by Elliot, but now dread sits beneath her skin, if only for the fraction of a second it takes her to distinguish nightmare from reality. It’s furiously working within her, confusing her, corrupting her headspace.

Olivia watches Elliot, thinks about reaching out, scooting closer. She wants the safety, the proximity, but she also doesn’t want to wake him in the early morning hours just because she can’t sleep, so she quietly slips out from under the covers and tiptoes towards the bathroom. She needs a shower anyway, at this point she’s sure Elliot doesn’t appreciate the constant sour odor of cold sweat hanging in the air. 

Olivia gets ready, fixes Noah’s lunchbox and makes coffee all before 5 AM. She sits in the single chair in the corner of her bedroom where she once rocked Noah when he was still a baby, looking at Elliot, who’s still sleeping. She’s nursing her coffee, wondering how to break it to Lindstrom that she hasn’t talked about the nightmares to Elliot like he told her to do. She has never not done her homework, and while Liv is trying to tell herself there are good reasons, the truth is she’s copping out. 

Last weekend she’d intended to say something, then justified her silence with a dinner invitation from Bell and her wife. Her therapist had seen right through it, of course, encouraging her to do it before the next appointment then. Today, however, it’s Elliot’s birthday, and like hell is she going to ruin that. It’s not an early morning conversation between getting ready for work and the car ride to Noah’s school either. She’d do it at the weekend, but with the kids hosting an entire birthday dinner in Elliot’s honor at Maureen’s… well. 

Her fingers wrap more firmly around the warm mug as she’s rationalizing and unpacking this mess for what it is. 

It’s not about timing.

There is no such thing as perfect timing, Olivia is convinced of it. The best thing that has ever happened to her in form of a blue-eyed, chubby cheeked boy came at what was probably the worst time. She had been newly single, recently kidnapped, tortured and sexually assaulted while she still worked a job that required her full attention at all hours. The timing was awful, the road long winded and rocky, but the outcome? It's the epitome of blissful, beautiful, wondrous perfection. So, it’s not the timing worrying her. 

There might be a time and place for everything, yet it’s been weeks, and still she gets tongue-tied the moment she decides to say Elliot’s name and just spit it out. For a second, maybe two she feels ready and prepared, only to find herself physically unable to speak, panic crawling from her brain where it sparks to every part of her, interrupting the transmitted signal that says ‘ Say it now ’ before a single word pushes past her lips. 

Olivia doesn’t know if she’ll ever be ready, if there will come a time where she can just say it. What she does know is that it’s not going to be today. Not on his birthday. Not on the coming weekend, intended for them to celebrate. 

Elliot’s alarm will go off at 5:30, which leaves her with plenty of time to throw together a little breakfast, something they never do on a work day. Breakfast usually consists of cereal for Noah and some fruit or a smoothie for her. Elliot just drinks, as he claims, terrible coffee. She flips a pancake when he comes out of the bathroom, ready except for his tie and jacket. Surprise flits across his face upon seeing her by the stove at six in the morning. 

“Pancakes?” He walks over, placing his hands on her hips as she puts down the spatula. She turns, smiles and drowns in how handsome he is, how good he smells. His taste is much more expensive since he lived in Italy. His cologne is addictive. Something French. Bold, sexy and desire-fueling. 

“Good morning. And happy birthday.” The words are soft falling from her lips, before she leans in and kisses him. A first, she thinks. She’s told him happy birthday many times, but she never got to do it as the woman by his side. It feels peculiar but in a comfortable way. 

“Thank you,” he murmurs, studying her face as he pulls back. “You’ve been up early.” There’s worry now, and she thinks it’s always there these days. 

“Yeah. Wanted to make a little something for breakfast, you know,” she lies with a simple nod towards the pan, which is also her cue to transfer the sweet morning treat over to where she stacks them on a plate. There’s no doubt Elliot picks up on the haunted shadows behind her eyes. 

“Nightmares?” 

Olivia doesn’t want to lie to him when he asks so specifically, so she tries to sound nonchalant, focusing on pouring the last of the batter into the pan. 

“That, too.” 

Elliot gently grips her by the shoulder, gives her a little squeeze. “I told you, you can always wake me up.” 

“I know,” she says and purses her lips. “I’m okay, Elliot.” The lie burns in her lungs, in her stomach. She’s not okay at all, despite her best efforts of trying to get ahead and stay on top of the nightmares. The one thing that will likely help is the one thing she can’t do. Openly talk to Elliot about them. 

“I’m worried about you, Liv.” 

“Hey,” she says and turns once more, putting on a brave face that hopefully won’t betray how she truly feels. “It’s your birthday. How about we don’t talk about me?” She smiles, loosely wrapping her arms around his neck. “Focus on the good?” 

“Me getting older?” 

“Yeah. That. And the dinner with the kids, that’ll be nice,” she tries to distract him. “Also, Kathleen called and asked what you’d like for a present and I may or may not have suggested you’d really like some alone time, so if she could watch the kids for the night…” She drawls lazily, while her eyebrows raise suggestively.

“Watch the kids?” He seems to check in with her, making sure he’s thinking what she’s hinting at. 

“Watch the kids,” Olivia agrees, nodding in what looks like slow-motion, gently biting her bottom lip. It’s been four weeks since she viewed the pictures, six since they’ve last had sex, and she misses him. For weeks she’s been craving a sense of normalcy, and she hopes it will spark through closeness and intimacy. They need to move on. She needs that. And while she didn’t feel ready up until a few days ago, she thinks that picking up where they left off might be a good path to follow. She doesn’t want Lewis to interrupt their lives for much longer, but looking at Elliot she doesn’t see the eagerness she hoped for. 

“Liv, we don’t have to rush anything,” he assures, hesitantly. 

“I wouldn’t call it rushing, it’s been a while, El,” Olivia tells him, chuckling insecurely, feeling the tendrils of rejection tighten. Her arms loosen from around his neck and fall to her sides. 

“I just… I want you to be sure about this. I… it needs to be right.” 

At this she blinks. So now having sex with her is somehow wrong? Is that what Elliot's trying to say? Because she’s still getting the nightmares? Because she’s, in his mind, fragile? Broken? 

“You don’t want to?” she asks point blank, swallowing thickly. Maybe she doesn’t want to know the answer. 

“Liv,” he shakes his head slowly, grasping for her hand, but she pulls away. “That is definitely not what I’m saying.” 

It starts to smell like burnt pancake, so her attention shifts back to the pan, pulling it off the heat. “No? Cause it sounds like it is,” she mutters, turning off the stove. “Probably shouldn’t be surprised after you saw the pictures. Not exactly a turn on, is it?” 

Olivia's chin starts to quiver with disappointment. Whatever she expected, it wasn’t his stinging rejection. 

“Olivia,” Elliot says seriously, and finally she looks at him. 

“What?” She asks quietly, her voice trembling. “I miss you. Is that so hard to believe? I thought you’d… I don’t know,” she shrugs helplessly. It feels like Lewis interferes with everything, takes everything. She never felt quite desirable to begin with, but right now she doubts Elliot even wants to touch her again sexually, and she understands. How could he after seeing her like that? There is no way he’s ever going to see her like before.  

“I want to,” he clarifies. “Of course I want to, but I want you to be sure. And I want to be sure, but I’m not too sure about anything lately. I’m scared to jump the gun. I’m scared of doing something that’s going to backfire or hurt you, and in turn hurt us. You still get nightmares all the time, Liv. I guess I wasn’t prepared for you to be in the right place to even consider it,” Elliot explains slowly. “I want to talk about this, okay? I think now is not the right time. We have to get Noah up and you made breakfast.” His voice is soft as he grips her upper arms and strokes up and down. “I’d like to enjoy that with you. Talk tonight. I’m coming over after work.” 

She’s trying hard not to cry as she nods, but the fact there even is something to talk about is hideous. They were good. Things were going great, and all of a sudden what they’ve built so far has been put on hold, and she’s struggling to feel some sense of normalcy. It’s all about Lewis and nightmares, therapy and how to proceed. It’s all about being so, so careful around the kids, and damn, she still hasn’t said thank you to Amanda. She's avoiding personal conversations like the plague because they feel so volatile.

“I’ll set the table,” announces Elliot and kisses her forehead without hesitation. Then he nudges her towards Noah’s bedroom. “You make sure you guys are ready to eat in ten.”

 


 

“So, did you talk to Elliot yet?” 

Olivia hasn’t been very forthcoming about anything concerning Elliot so far today. Lindstrom knows her well enough to translate that silence as inaction.

“Not yet,” she says carefully, mindlessly rubbing her thumb. 

“And why is that?” 

She waits a beat, shrugs. “I don’t know,” she starts. “I’ve thought about it but it’s his birthday today, so last night didn’t seem like a good time.” 

“Olivia.” She looks up for the first time in a while, feeling like she’s in the hot seat. After all these years Lindstrom knows when he’s being bullshitted. “You told me you have an open and honest relationship.” 

Very adult, was what she had labeled it, but she'd used the words open and honest, too. 

“We do,” she states calmly. This goes beyond just leaving her comfort zone, as Lindstrom had suggested last week. The thought of telling Elliot is downright crippling. In the end it’s just one thing. She should get to keep one very uncomfortable truth to herself, right?

“Do you trust him?” 

The question feels like a whiplash and her eyes widen slightly before her face contorts. “Elliot? A hundred percent.” 

“But not with this.” A statement. Not a question. “Why?” 

The intensity of Lindstrom’s inquisitive gaze burns, so Olivia looks down, swallows, and bargains.  

“It’s not about trust,” she says quietly, swallowing thickly and shaking her head. “Not about me not trusting him. I trust him,” she argues, but there’s the gnawing suspicion that a tiny part of her does not. 

“Okay,” Lindstrom says openly, and allows for a moment of silence. “Do you want my perspective?” 

She raises her head, giving the tiniest nod for him to go on. 

“Everyone you ever cared about abandoned you, Elliot included, and you never thought he could do that to you. That he could hurt you.” 

She told Lindstrom that years ago, and she wonders if he remembered it off the top of the head, or if he went through his notes. It feels like he saw this coming, and she wonders if he fully expected to hear she hadn’t talked to Elliot--again. 

“What do you think is the worst that can happen if you tell him?” 

Not a curveball she saw coming. It takes her a few moments to gather her thoughts but she comes up empty.  “I don’t know.” 

“Olivia-” Lindstrom sounds something in between insulted and disappointed, and Olivia can’t put her finger on which.
“I don’t know,” Liv repeats frustratedly. She runs a hand through her hair, pushing back her bangs. She feels put on the spot and cornered, pressured for answers she can’t give. 

“You know what you’re scared of,” Lindstrom responds resolutely, his eyes fixed on her, and although she has no intention to speak, the words tumble out. 

“He apologized. He’s sorry, and he apologized so many times, and we’ve talked about it, and I understand why he left. So why am I still…” Abruptly she stops, the corners of her mouth drooping. 

“Still what, Olivia?” Lindstrom coaxes.

Helplessly she shrugs her shoulders, shaking her head as she feels like she’s shrinking into the seat. 

“Why do you still feel that abandonment?”

Olivia swallows audibly, despite the lump she feels in her throat. “Yes,” she croaks out. It’s a small but loaded sound. She’s terrified to admit it, to turn her greatest fears from the inside out. “Why can’t I just let it go? I know he’d never...”

“Because him leaving has hurt you in a way that’s much more profound than rational thought can patch up, Olivia. Elliot leaving you shook you to your core. It would be a mistake to write it off as trust issues. You had trust issues with all the other people. I vividly remember you having important conversations with me instead of with your ex-boyfriend. You told me this relationship is honest, healthy and very adult, and from what I've heard, I agree.” 

She’s stunned. The last thing she expected to hear from Lindstrom is that he sees her as someone who’s engaged in something that’s healthy and adult. In the past she had been rather insecure, closed off and chaotic when it came to her relationships. She stalled on and avoided every serious conversation she should have had with Brian and Ed. 

“You didn’t not discuss things with them because you were scared. You were reluctant to open yourself up to them. Do you see how this is different?” 

“I… I don’t know. Not really,” she says, drawing a shaky breath and massing her temple.  

“You do,” he encourages. 

"I want this to last. I can...I--"

"This relationship is one you care about in a way you didn't with the previous ones. Elliot knows more about you than previous partners combined. So why don't you want him to know about your nightmares?"

This entire nightmare business is giving Olivia a headache. She’d prefer to talk about something else, but of course Lindstrom is onto something, or else this would be a lot easier.  “I don’t want to hurt him,” she admits, pursing her lips as she looks away, feeling as if she’s peeling off a layer of herself.

“Exactly. You don’t want to hurt him. You want to protect him. You’d rather expose yourself to these dreams, and hurt yourself in the process, than talk to Elliot about him being in them.” Lindstrom allows for a few seconds to let it sink in. “Why?” 

“Because,” she manages hoarsely. “I don’t know how to fix this.” She looks at Lindstrom, pleading him for answers, for a solution. There has got to be something to steady her. She’s been searching for weeks and it’s exhausting. 

“You can’t fix it. There’s nothing Elliot can do right now to fix it, either, Olivia. Have you ever considered that this particular thing needs time? That you need time to heal.” 

“But I said I forgave him,” she says above a whisper, frowning. How can she tell Elliot and not draw attention to how contradictory the dreams are to her supposed forgiveness? She even wonders if the dreams betray a grudge buried so deep that her forgiveness is a lie. 

“One doesn’t exclude the other. Forgiveness doesn’t equal healing. And keeping quiet is not going to help you move past what causes the nightmares. You deserve peace. You need time, and Elliot can be there for you, but he can’t make it better.” Lindstrom pauses for a brief moment. “You can give yourself some peace by finding a way to let Elliot know, though. You did say yourself you think by telling Elliot the nightmares are almost guaranteed to stop haunting you. If you can’t speak it aloud to him, you could write it. But you should tell him.“

It all sounds reasonable, and yet Olivia is absolutely terrified of Elliot knowing, of facing him once he’s aware it’s him leaving her to Lewis that makes the nightmares so horrible. That it’s some version of him her mind conjures up because there’s some part of her that’s still so broken from losing him, and that she has a lifetime of grief and loss reinforcing the dreams, that she’s not sure she can ever get past that. 

“You are so much effort,” she whispers. 

“What do you mean by that?” asks Lindstrom, prodding gently. 

“In the dreams… that’s what he says. You are so needy. So much effort. And I know it’s a nightmare, I know it’s my brain projecting my worst fears, of the things I always heard from my mother, why I tried so hard not to cling to anyone, so she wouldn’t be proven right. He apologized and he’s deeply sorry, and I know that, but if it’s still not enough? How much effort does he have to show until it is? What if… that Elliot is foreshadowing what he’s going to feel, what’s going to cross his mind? And if it’s too much effort to... “ Tears spring to her eyes as she’s frantically explaining why he can’t know. 

“Olivia…” 

“What if he can’t deal with this--with me--anymore… What if he leaves? What if he leaves me again?” 

“Okay, but Olivia?” Lindstrom says calmly, then waits a few moments to get her full attention. “What if he stays?” 

 


 

Olivia finishes her sentence at the sound of Elliot’s key in the door, closing the leather cased journal. The guys are bickering like they do so often, and it puts an instant smile on her face. Eli steps into the living room first, greeting her much more casually than a month ago, dropping his backpack in the middle of the room. He certainly has gotten comfortable around here. 

“Dad forgot to pick up the cake, we gotta stop at the bakery on our way to Maur’s,” Eli announces to Elliot scratching his head. 

“Seriously?” Olivia asks, half amused, half annoyed. “You had one job,” she teases. 

“He didn’t have soccer practice, messed up my entire schedule,” Elliot explains as she drops a kiss to her cheek, muttering an apology. 

“Exactly. That gave you what? A two-hour head start?” 

“It’s my birthday. Why do I have to bring cake anyway?” 

“I'm bringing cake. You were just supposed to pick it up,” corrects Olivia, a smile of satisfaction plastered on her face. 

“Same difference.” 

“I told Maureen I’d bring dessert, it’s the least I can do.” She gets up, seizing the journal. “I gotta get ready. Can you help Noah pack his backpack? Otherwise he won’t have underwear or a toothbrush.” 

“I’ll do it,” Eli pipes up from the kitchen area. “Can’t trust him, old man’s getting confused with all these schedule changes of late.” 

Olivia chuckles, a little snort coming from her nose as she crosses the room.  

“Watch it,” Elliot warns him. 

“Relax, El. It’s perfectly normal to be a little more forgetful. You are pushing sixty now,” Liv grins, sashaying towards the bedroom. 

“I’m 56,” he complains, following her. 

“Exactly.” 

The journal vanishes in the drawer of her nightstand. It’s not the first time Elliot has seen it, and she isn’t worried. He would never disrespect her privacy, so she doesn’t feel the need to hide it.

There are two different outfits neatly laid out on the bed. A black dress on his side, blue jeans and a burgundy colored top on hers. 

“That’s not pushing sixty.” 

“Close enough, tho,” she grins. “Dress or jeans?” Liv's eyes flit from one outfit to the other and back as she’s bobbing her head in thought. She couldn’t make a final decision earlier, but it came down to these two outfits.

“Dress,” Elliot says like it’s a no-brainer. “Always the dress.” 

“Yeah? Not too formal?” It’s a casual get together and while the dress is perfectly suitable for daily use, it’s still a dress. 

“Trust me. The dress.” She looks at him for a moment, then back towards the outfit choices, shaking her head. 

“I’ll go with the jeans,” Olivia decides and beams at him. “Thanks.” 

“I said the dress.” 

“And that was very helpful,” she assures, grabbing the dress, carefully hanging it back in the closet. She’s fluttery with nervous energy, but she’s also looking forward to seeing the kids again. It’s been a while. In fact it’s been too long, they should have done this a few months ago already, but the truth is, she’s been too scared to set up a meeting with all of them. Now that she’s built a rapport with Eli, spending time with the girls and Dickie seems a lot more doable. 

“You’re in a good mood.” Elliot follows her to the bathroom. 

“Shouldn’t I be?” she asks, turning on the light. He’s right, though. She is looking forward to dinner, and more than that to spending time with just Elliot later tonight, especially after their conversation yesterday, once her emotions weren’t all over the place and he wasn’t caught by surprise. 

“Just thought you’d be more nervous is all,” he assures, watching her put her hair in a messy bun. 

“Oh, I’m nervous,” Liv admits. 

“It’ll be great, Liv,” Elliot tells her, trying to reassure her once more, like he’s doing all the time when it comes to his kids. 

“You’re probably right,” Liv nods. “I had a good talk with Maureen this morning.” It was mainly about dessert, but still it was a good talk. It didn’t feel uncomfortable, and there was no hostility at all. Not that there ever was any, but to say she wasn’t worried after they’ve started a romantic relationship would be a lie. Their history could have made things a lot more complicated. 

“Yeah, I heard. We were on the phone earlier. She also said she’s glad you can make it.” 

He gets Noah’s toothbrush and toothpaste, as well as the small dinosaur toiletry bag Liv keeps in the cabinet under the sink. 

“She did?” Olivia can’t help but smile, relieved to hear she’ll be welcome at Maureen’s home. 

“Absolutely. I told you she mentioned a few times you should’ve come with.”

“You make that sound so easy,” she says around a hesitant smile. “It was a delicate situation when we got involved.” 

“They’re my kids, Liv. You’ve known them since they were little.” 

“That’s my point. They’ve known me, more or less, for their entire lives, El. I was your partner for thirteen years. We can pretend all of this is perfectly normal, but,” she lets it hang, her face showing how she’s always felt very conflicted about it. The fine line that existed when they were friends and partners was one thing. The transition to sleeping with their father quite another. 

“Maybe. But they’ve had time to get used to the thought and neither of them ever said anything resistive or negative. They knew you. They liked you. And it may have been a little strange and new, but at least they knew what to expect from you.” The items go in the toiletry bag and he makes space for Olivia in front of the mirror. “I’m gonna help the munchkin pack, hm.” 

“Thanks. I should be done in twenty. Do you still need to shower?” 

“I’m all good,” Elliot winks and disappears, closing the door behind him. 

Liv's putting on a necklace when there’s a knock on the door. Elliot sticks his head in before she can answer and slips inside as she looks quizzically over her shoulder. “Am I late?” 

“No.” Elliot’s taking her in head to toe, his eyes raking over her body. He seems to be awfully engrossed with her ass, because his gaze lingers and she knows that look. 

Lust. 

“See something you like?” she asks slyly, her eyes twinkling. Her arms are raised at shoulder level, so her top has ridden up, revealing just a sliver of skin where her high waist denims end. Her ass is on full display.

“Let’s just say I’m no longer disappointed you didn’t pick the dress.” He moves closer and once she fastens the tiny clasp of the necklace, Olivia pivots to face him. 

“Oh?” She looks down at herself and shrugs. “Good to know, I guess.” 

Biting her lip Olivia grins, then hugs her arms loosely around Elliot's waist before letting her hands slide down to his ass. Gingerly she pulls him against her, feeling a flutter in her stomach. 

“Are we still on for tonight?” She raises her eyebrow inquisitively, bumping her jeans clad waist into his for extra effect. The more she’s thinking about getting alone time with Elliot, the more she realizes how much she’s missed the closeness, the intimacy of his touch. The way he moves and feels inside her, coaxing her body into sweet submission. The little fireworks that spark deep in her belly, then make her erupt as she’s riding on waves of pleasure. It’s been so long since she had an actual sex life before Elliot that she really knows to appreciate orgasms, and she desperately wants to appreciate tonight. 

“Olivia.” It’s a low, animalistic growl that makes her twitch with excitement. 

“I take that as a yes?” She grins mischievously at him, squeezing his ass as she leans in. Her mouth drops to his ear, whispering, sultry. “It’s been too damned long.” 

The way she can hear him swallowing is highly satisfactory. She doesn’t do flirtatious very often anymore, wondering why she mostly has her foot on the brakes. This feels delightful, and the thought of adding a little more playfulness to their daily dynamic is exhilarating. God knows with their jobs they could do with some levity. 

Elliot’s hands land on her hips, keeping her in place as he exhales roughly. “Now’s when you decide to be a fucking tease, Liv?” 

She’s not sure when she’s last felt so gratified, and this isn’t even foreplay. Then again, maybe it is. 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she whispers innocently, capturing his lips when the disruptive trampling of Noah’s feet makes her pull back. In wise foresight her hands fall away from Elliot’s backside. Three seconds later her son barges in on them. 

“Mo-om, can we go? Eli says it’s time.” 

Clearing her throat, Olivia takes a step away from Elliot, regarding her child. She hopes he isn’t aware of how flushed she is. “In a minute. You got everything you need?” 

“Uh-huh. Elliot helped me.” 

“Good. Let me just finish here and we’ll be on our way,” she winks before checking if she needs to touch up her lipstick, but it’s all good. 

Once Noah is gone she steps back in Elliot’s personal space and wipes his lips with her thumb. “That’s better.” 

“He’s got impeccable timing,” Elliot declares. 

“Obviously,” she smiles. “We really should get going. Still gotta pick up that cake.” 

“Goddamn cake,” he mutters as she struts past him, and even though Olivia’s not looking, she feels Elliot’s eyes glued to her ass with blazing intensity. Those jeans are proving to be worth every single one of the eighty dollars she spent on them. 

 


 

Olivia takes in the neighborhood as Elliot parks the car in the driveway. It reminds her so much of the house in Queens, although it looks smaller. They have a white picket fence, and although it’s cliché, Olivia can’t escape the captivating feeling of it. It’s so different from Manhattan, from her place. From the life she’s always lived. This is family oriented. Olivia always had the peculiar feeling that Maureen would be the child striving to recreate a family life with a semblance to how she’s grown up. 

They get out of the car and Elliot makes Eli take the cake. He does as he’s told, groaning and moaning, leading the way and walking right in, no knocking, no ringing the bell. He’s lived here temporarily, so Olivia assumes he still feels comfortable enough to waltz right in. 

“Mo, we’re here,” Eli announces their arrival.

“In the kitchen. Just come in,” she shouts back. 

While Eli makes his way through the room, Olivia and Elliot stop on the porch, her with hesitation, him with a small smile of awareness.  

“You ready for this?” 

She draws a deep breath through her nose but nods. “Yeah, I think so.” 

“Can we go in now?” Noah, who tagged behind, sounds impatient, making both adults chuckle. 

“Yes, we can go in,” Liv agrees, and makes a gesture for Elliot to lead the way. Instead he grips her hand, his fingers interlocking with hers. With a gentle squeeze of reassurance he makes her follow. There’s the scent of laundry detergent and baby in the air, and then there’s something that’s all Maureen’s little family. Olivia’s heart leaps as they cross the living area. The house is warmly decorated. There are pictures everywhere. It’s neat and cozy. 

In the kitchen they find Eli briefly hugging his oldest sister, balancing the cake box on one hand before he moves to put it on the counter. 

“Dad,” Maureen regards him. Ella is tucked against her hips, chewing on what looks like her closed fist, but is more likely a cookie, if the wet crumbs sticking to her mouth and chin are any indication. Moving over she smiles and pulls her father in gingerly, and Elliot lets go of Olivia’s hand. “Happy Birthday,” she tells him, then pulls back to focus on the other woman, her smile growing bigger. It’s warm and genuine. 

“Liv, I’m so glad you’re here. It’s been forever.” It’s true. She last saw Maureen five months ago, and even then it was a rather brief encounter because she was called into work. 

“It has. Thank you so much for the invitation.” 

“Of course,” she says as Elliot waves and coos at the baby whose big eyes are trained on him as she’s still slobbering all over her little hand. “And thank you for the cake. I would’ve made one, but this one-” she nods at her daughter once. “-doesn’t really let me do anything that doesn’t allow all of my attention to be on her.” She rolls her eyes but glances at Ella lovingly. 

“I remember that.” Olivia is instantly taken by Ella. The nine month old is a leggy and lean baby, has a lot of brown hair and striking light blue eyes. 

“Yeah, it’s exhausting, but the best thing ever, right?” she shrugs and waves at Noah who’s been waiting rather patiently by his mother’s side. “Hey, Noah, good to see you again.” She high-fives Olivia’s child, and it’s obvious they’ve already built a rapport when Noah and Eli stayed over a while ago. 

“Oh, I’m terrible. Your jackets. Uh, why don’t you let me take them-” 

“It’s fine. I’ve got it,” Elliot assures Maureen, collecting everyone’s jacket and coats. 

“The others should be here soon. Carl’s working longer, but he said he should make it for dinner,” Maureen explains, shifting the baby from one hip to the other. “And we should get you cleaned up, little lady. You need a fresh diaper anyway.” 

“Is there anything I can do?” Olivia asks, feeling intrusive without anything to busy herself with. 

“Oh no. No, you just, um… sit down. Make yourself at home, or… um… if you need anything,” Maureen starts, sounding a little scatter-brained. “Eli, could you get Olivia something to drink?”

“I’m fine,” Liv tells Eli quickly, then focuses on Maureen. “You just do whatever you need.” 

It isn’t long until one Stabler kid after another pours into the house. Dickie first, accompanied by his longtime girlfriend. Lizzie, greets everyone quietly and hangs back with Eli, something Olivia witnessed before and after the intervention. Finally Kathleen, who literally flings her arms around Elliot and tells him happy birthday, then Liv and everyone else. It is her arrival that brings life to the house. Conversations instantly change, the entire atmosphere is more relaxed. It seems to be Kathleen holding the family together like glue, making the separate pieces fit together like a puzzle. Characterwise, the five Stabler kids couldn’t be any different, and it seems since they were younger nothing much has changed. 

Maureen takes after Kathy, sharing so many traits with her late mother. Kathleen, bubbly, outgoing, never mincing matters. Elizabeth, withdrawn, a quiet observer. Dickie, trying not to be overshadowed by his sisters, unsure of his place within the family. And Eli. Eli who’s just lovely and funny. Who needs care and someone to listen, although it seems he doesn’t share easily. Eli, whom Olivia already feels wildly protective of. 

Olivia’s mind involuntarily jumps back to a moment in last April, when they were all together in a different room, minus Noah and the baby. They sat together in painful desperation, nervously waiting for Elliot to come home, so they could talk some sense into him, or beg him to get help--whichever would work better. The energy today is different. The kids are talking across each other, three different conversations happening at the same time. Even at the dinner table everyone is engaged and laughing lightheartedly, unburdened. It’s beautiful chaos in a way Olivia has never known. She watches Noah, a big grin on his face as Dickie crumples up his paper napkin and throws it at him, making her boy laugh joyously. Elliot watches, and while he doesn’t look impressed with the display, he doesn’t say anything, either. 

They ordered food from an Italian restaurant and between the nine of them, there are still plenty of leftovers after the last plate has been filled, unsurprisingly by Eli. She doesn’t get how he’s so lean when he seems to eat them out of house and home. When Maureen gets up to clear the table, telling everyone to stay put, Olivia follows with a stack of plates. The least she can do is help with the mountain of dishes. 

“You don’t have to, Liv. Really. Go. Sit down with dad.” Opening the dishwasher, she starts to load it. 

“No, I’ve got it.” She brushes past the open door, puts the plates on the counter, and for the first time in maybe twenty years it is just them. Recognition flickers in Olivia’s eyes and within the fraction of a second the atmosphere shifts to awkward. Maureen’s hand grips the lip of the counter as she takes a breath, her gaze flitting to the doorway, as if making sure nobody is going to interrupt them. 

“Look, Olivia, I… I never said thank you last year when you… when Kathleen-,” she stammers, with a good portion of guilt swimming in her eyes. 

Trying to reassure her, Olivia reaches out, covering the other woman’s hand. “Maureen, it's okay. You had so much going on,” Olivia points out gently, around a fractured smile. “You lost your mom, your father was falling apart right in front of you, and didn’t know how to ask for help, or accept it from any of you. Eli moved in… you must have found out you were pregnant somewhere right around that time.” With Ella born in February, it is easy math. 

“There was a lot going on,” she agrees quietly. “I wanted to reach out a few times, but I was sure you’ve had your hands full with work, and well… with dad once he came around, and then I had Ella, and from then on it’s… it’s been chaos,” she chuckles shakily, gaze dropping on the dirty dishes, and Olivia senses how hard it must be for her to articulate her thoughts. “Anyway, I wanted you to know that I really appreciate everything you’ve done for… for dad, and for us, and… you know… for Eli. We all do. He’s… He’s doing better since you’ve been around. They both are. I am so grateful for that, because with Ella, I… I… don’t get me wrong but I don’t have the emotional capacity, or time, to… to try and fix everything between them, and since you and dad have been… you know… together? I really didn’t have to, so, um…” She blinks quickly a few times, shaking her head, and Olivia isn’t sure if it’s to shake off the past, or if she’s trying to hold back tears. Either way, Liv feels choked up and squeezes Maureen’s hand. 

“Maureen, is everything okay?” Olivia asks tentatively. 

“Yeah,” she says, releasing a heavy breath, eyes meeting Olivia’s again. “Yes. I’m… I wasn’t sure you’d wanna come, to be honest, and I was worried it’s because I made no real effort to contact you in person. It’s all been through dad, so if I gave you the impression you’re not welcome here, or that I have a problem with your relationship-” Maureen lets it hang. 

“You didn’t. I did not get that impression because of anything you did or didn’t do, but I was, for the lack of a better word, hesitant,” Olivia admits. 

“Because you’re with dad,” declares Maureen with a nod. Liv suspects that Elliot has mentioned her being worried to the kids. “You know, it wasn’t as shocking to us as you might think. Maybe a little more sudden than we expected but not unexpected.” 

“Okay.” She doesn’t know what to say, but it’s a relief that nobody seems to take any obvious issues with it. None of the Stabler kids treated her differently tonight. 

“We were relieved to hear it was you, Liv. I think I can speak for all of us. A little more complicated for Eli, but that was guaranteed to be different, he never knew you like we did.” says Maureen, her eyes softening. “At least we didn’t have to worry about him being on some unhealthy rebound, or about your intentions. We knew it was real, and I think that was all we could have asked for.” 

For the first time since getting romantically involved with Elliot, Olivia feels at ease. She doesn’t blame Maureen for not reaching out. How could she if Liv was also too scared to do it herself. 

“It’s actually good to hear that,” Liv concedes. “I’ve been worried how you, all of you, truly feel about it.” For a brief time, before Elliot told them, it caused her restless nights, then quite a bit of anxiety when she was supposed to meet them. 

“I’m sorry for not making that clear sooner. Anyway, I really hope you’ll come over more often. Get to know Carl. And Ella, of course. I mean… if you want… you’ll be the closest to a...” The smile she casts at Olivia is tinged bittersweet, and she understands. Kathy isn’t around to be a grandmother to Ella, and as far as she knows Carl has lost his parents a long time ago. “Not assuming you want that, just…you’re family.” 

“I’d love that,” she assures quickly, stepping around the open dishwasher, rubbing Marueen’s upper arm. “In whatever capacity is okay with you, Maureen.”

“Eli’s waiting for-” Kathleen stops abruptly, as if sensing she just burst into a moment. “Oh. Sorry?” 

“Kathleen,” Olivia states calmly. “It’s fine. We were just about to finish up here.” She can tell by the young woman’s doubtful gaze, settling on the dishes that were only put on the counter, that she doesn’t buy it. “What were you about to say?” 

“Eli’s waiting for the cake and wine’s empty, too” scoffs the second eldest. 

“Okay. I’ll take care of it. Wine and cake,” Maureen nods at her sister as Olivia steps out of her personal space and starts to load the dishwasher. 

Ten minutes later the table is set for dessert. Carl has taken over Ella’s bedtime routine for the night, so Maureen can spend some much needed time with her family. 

When everyone has a piece of cake and coffee in front of them, Kathleen speaks ups. 

“Everyone, it’s dad’s turn to say something, so why don’t we give him the word?” 

Elliot clears his throat, and Olivia finds him feeling mighty uncomfortable as he starts to speak. “Do I have to?” he asks around an askew smile. “Whom can I bribe to get out of it this year?”

“Nu-uh, dad. It’s tradition. We sing, you speak.” Elizabeth reminds him. 

“I know. I know. There are a few things I’d like to say, actually,” he starts, then pauses briefly, seemingly to collect himself. “I remember we sat here together a year ago, and it was-,” he swallows audibly. “Different. I wasn’t in the best place. I think all of us were still struggling. This past year there has been a lot of change. I see you guys being happier, smiling again. We’ve welcomed Ella, who, I can proudly say, is the greatest gift in the world.” He smiles at Maureen, who reaches out to touch his hand, mouthing her thanks. “And I’m happy.” He turns his head to look at Olivia, his eyes a warm shade of blue. Happy, Olivia notes. Not happier. “It’s amazing how much can change in a year, and I know I haven’t been in the best place for a while, but you all helped me, and you made me want to get better. So, thanks for that. I love you,” he says genuinely. 

“All of us, or...?” Eli quips drily. 

Initially, Kathleen splutters, but then coughs and falls silent, covering her mouth with her closed hand for good measure. Suddenly it‘s very quiet in the room. Eyes go from Eli to Olivia, to Elliot, and under the scrutiny Olivia swallows hard, trying to think of what to do. 

"Eli,“ Maureen whispers scoldingly, looking at him as if he‘s out of his mind. 

"No, it‘s… it‘s okay,“ Olivia says quickly, making a placatory movement with her hand. "I mean, looking back, it… it was kind of funny.“ She wants to force a laugh, but nothing comes out. Dinner now feels like lead in her stomach. 

“It wasn’t funny,” says Maureen, albeit softly, and Eli stares at his plate, shamefaced and red-eared. 

“Sorry...” 

“It’s okay, Eli,” Elliot tells him, after checking in with Olivia silently. “Not your fault. Let’s all just have some cake.” 

“That sounds good,” Dickie pipes up, as his girlfriend downs her glass of white wine. 

Dessert is a quiet matter. Conversation doesn’t pick up, but not for the lack of the Stabler children trying. It’s tense and awkward as hell, and Olivia can’t help but feel that it’s her fault. She should have handled Eli’s wisecrack more smoothly. She should have laughed, or at least attempted a chuckle. A crack of the lips, a smile, if not real at least concealed enough to pass as genuine. Now she feels everyone’s eyes on her, always brief, carefully scrutinizing her current mood, looking for hurt feelings, or maybe for cracks in her facade. 

Eli sits across from her, obviously miserable, not daring to look up at either her, or his father. She’s uncomfortable, but Eli, beyond dispute, feels worse. Once more she wants to assure the boy that it’s all right. It’s clearly not his fault. He should never have witnessed the dramatic display in the first place. Olivia isn’t even sure if Eli consciously meant for it to be funny, it might have just slipped out, like a freak accident. She wonders if Elliot has ever sat down with Eli to discuss it.  

They'd never discussed it between the two of them. His blurted out ‘I love you’ during an intervention, surrounded by all five of his kids, all insecure and scared for his well-being. His mourning children, because they’d just recently lost their mother. She didn’t know where to even begin discussing it--not with Elliot and certainly not with his kids. 

It’s not that Elliot didn’t try to have that conversation. Olivia remembers three instances that she shot him down, partially because it didn’t feel like the time and place, but mostly because she wasn’t ready. Not for him to insist that he meant it, even less ready to hear that he didn’t mean it, that he felt cornered and confused and it just… slipped out. It meant too much to lose, so she held off. 

It’s like she comes up for air after pausing to breathe for minutes when the room erupts in busy clatter for a second round of clean up. At least, with everyone busy, nobody is paying too much attention to her, or her state of mind. She is fine , so the last thing she wants is for everyone to worry. 

Liv uses the moment for a brief reprieve outside, since she has to grab Noah’s backpack from the car anyway. The air is crisp, and Olivia shivers as she makes her way over to the vehicle in the driveway. When she hears Elliot say her name as she’s reaching across the backseat, she almost jumps out of her skin. She grabs the backpack and by the time she comes up, he’s already behind her. 

“Jesus, El,” she breathes. “You scared the crap out of me.” 

“Sorry. Just wanted to make sure you’re all right.” Even in the dark she can see the shadows of worry behind his eyes. 

“Because of what Eli said? I’m fine. I didn’t expect it, but I’m fine. Is he?” 

“Eli?” His eyebrows scrunch up. 

“Yes, Eli. I mean, did… did you ever talk to him about it?” 

“About…” Elliot swallows, and she cocks her head, silently asking him not to play dumb. 

“The intervention, Elliot,” Olivia points out impatiently. “Because if this was meant to be a joke--good. There are worse ways to deal than finding humor in tragedy. I’m not sure he intended for it to be funny, though.” 

“So, he meant to be disrespectful then?” Elliot points out, scratching his chin. “Because that’s the alternative.” 

“The alternative is that he’s still hurt. So, did you? Discuss it?” She doesn’t need to hear the answer, his refusal to respond earlier tells her everything there is to know. 

He puts his hands at his side and exhales heavily into the air, a billow of steam going up between them. “I thought it was better left alone. He’s… he’s fourteen, Liv. And it’s way too complicated to compartmentalize and understand fully even between the two of us, or for the older ones,” he explains. 

“I get that, but you should have said something, even if he wouldn’t have understood the full extent of it. Whatever it was, a joke, a… a rash, thoughtless comment, he feels miserable about it, and he shouldn’t,” Liv says sternly. 

“What about you? Do you still feel miserable about it? Because we never-” 

“I said I was fine.” 

“When you say you’re fine, Liv, you’re almost always not fine,” he responds, grasping for her hand to pull her closer. 

“Don’t push it,” Olivia says around a small smile. She’s not upset, but not willing to have this talk, either. Especially not tonight. “I’m fine,” she repeats softly, sincerely, and for a moment he can see him scrutinizing her eyes, attempting to detect a lie. Five seconds and his gaze softens. 

“Okay.” 

“Okay, what?” 

“Okay, I believe you when you say you’re fine, and okay, I should’ve talked to Eli,” he says and his next exhale is a full-blown sigh. “I will talk to him.”

“Good,” she nods. 

“Kids wanna play board games. You up for eight hours of monopoly, or do you wanna say bye, and get the hell outta here?“ Elliot sounds inclined to get home, the way his hands settle above her hips support that theory. She drops the backpack, covers his hands with her own, and smiling knowingly slides them towards her ass, that, admittedly, looks like a million dollars in those jeans. 

Dropping her voice she responds: "I‘d say let‘s go, but we really should stay for a little bit longer. I mean, it‘s your party.“

"I didn‘t ask for a party,“ he says as he squeezes her ass. It sounds like a growl, creating little fires in her belly, and well… elsewhere. Little fires that make her feel hot and desperate to be alone with him. Elliot backing her up against the vehicle, aligning their bodies, doesn‘t help the circumstance. His face is mere inches from hers, lingering as his breath meets her lips. 

"Yet here we are,“ she retorts, sounding strangled with arousal. He‘s hardening against the juncture of her jeans-clad thigh, making her exhale a jagged little breath before his mouth meets her own. 

"Elliot,“ Olivia wants to sound serious but fails, chuckles instead. "We can‘t do this here. We‘re in plain sight.“ He kisses the corner of her mouth, drops his lips to her chin. 

"We‘re not doing anything,“ he interjects, undeterred, and against her better judgement she tilts her head back, so he can access her neck. God, she lives and breathes for how it feels when he kisses her along her pulse point. 

Elliot catches the hint, and momentarily Olivia forgets that the house has windows, or that she‘s fucking freezing. 

He works his mouth over that spot right below her ear, and she physically reacts by pushing her hip into his. Goddamn, it feels good. His lips are warm and wet and she shudders from the little shocks that his darting tongue sends through her body. Covered in goosebumps she swallows a moan that crawls up her throat. 

Olivia comes to her senses when his hand snakes between them, skillfully popping the button of her pants. This she can‘t do, under no circumstances can they take this further, no matter how good it feels, or how much she wishes they could. It‘s already gone too far. 

"Elliot, no,“ she tells him, and the tone stops him dead. "We can‘t,“ she whispers softly. "This is not a good idea… here.“ He can‘t get her off in his daughter‘s driveway, with all six of their kids in the house. 

He deflates, exhales against her shoulder before he raises his head, steps away and straightens. "Right. Sorry.“ His hands drop at his side and he offers an askew, apologetic smile that makes her reach out. She smiles back, and understanding passes between them as Liv rubs her thumb across Elliot‘s cheek. 

"We should get back inside. Save it for later.“ Her voice is still affected by his kiss, his touch, the arousal swirling deep in her abdomen. 

"Yeah. You go ahead. I need a sec,“ he manages, looking at  his groin. He‘s still obviously aroused. 

Olivia stoops and picks up the backpack, and sashaying past Elliot, she grins. "Can‘t wait to take care of that later,“ she suggests over her shoulder. 

"Not helping.“ 

"I know.“ 

Back inside the warmth of the house envelops her, making her realize just how cold she was outside. Kathleen, Dickie, Lizzie and Noah stand in front of an open cabinet, discussing and bickering what to play, while Maureen stands a few feet behind them with crossed arms. 

“What about Battleship?” 

“Battleship and Othello are two-person games. They’re out.” 

“That’s assuming we all wanna play the same game.” 

“Ugh. Then what’s the point, if we’re all playing something different?” Kathleen sounds exasperated. “I’m in the kitchen until you decide, preferably on one game.” 

“Monopoly?” 

“Yes, yes, yes, I wanna play Monopoly,” Noah shouts excitedly. 

“No way.” 

“Not Monopoly,” Dickie backs Lizzie up. 

“You just say that because you never once won that game.” 

“It’s a stupid game,” he drawls as Olivia sees Eli standing by the stairway, shoulders slumped. 

Ignoring the others bickering at each other, she makes her way over to the youngest Stabler, tentatively putting her hand on his shoulder, getting his attention. 

“Hey there,” Olivia smiles carefully, cocking her head. “Why aren’t you over there, picking a game?” 

Eli’s big, inexplicably brown eyes find hers as he shrugs, and the guilt she sees on his face is as clear as day. 

“You know, Eli, there’s a world of things to worry about, but this is not it,” she says softly. 

“I didn’t mean to be insensitive,” he explains, lowering his head, his brown hair falling into his face. 

“I know.” Olivia squeezes his shoulder. “And your dad knows that, too.” 

“I… I thought it would be… funny.” 

“Hmm,” Olivia leans in closer. “Give it a few more years and it will be,” she encourages, and after a brief pause continues lightheartedly: “Kathleen thought it was funny. That’s a start. She’s kinda hard to impress.” 

“That was easy, she likes dry humor.” 

“True,” she smiles. “Think you can do me a favor?” 

Eli tilts his head up again, waiting for what she’s going to ask. 

“Promise me not to worry about this. Your dad’s and my feelings over this? That’s not on you. None of it. We’re sensitive over it, doesn’t mean you have to be, or that you could have expected how it would go. Your job’s to be a kid and have fun.” 

“You’re really not mad?” he asks quietly, as if he can’t quite believe that could be the truth. 

“I’m really not, Eli,” says Olivia sincerely. "I was stunned, but that‘s all.“ There are things worrying her a lot more than Eli‘s attempt at a joke. This is so far down the list, it won‘t even make it into therapy. "Let‘s go over, sounds like they still need help deciding on a game,“ she says around an exaggerated eye roll and a little nudge against his shoulder. 

"They‘re always like this,“ Eli mutters, but betraying his voice a small smile appears, lifting the corners of his mouth.

A stern "I am definitely not playing Candyland " from Kathleen causes everyone to groan. 

"You got a better idea then?“ Dickie asks as Kathleen crosses the room, and pushes a glass of red in Olivia's hand. 

"Here, you‘ll need this. Thank me later.” Then, with crossed arms, she regards her brother. “No, Doofus. What else have you got, Mo?”

“Dude, you got Ticket To Ride ?” Eli asks as he gets a look at the stack of games in the cabinet. 

“Wait, you got Ticket To Ride ?” Kathleen chimes in. “What the hell are we fighting about then? I love Ticket To Ride .” 

It’s Elizabeth who crouches to pull the box from the bottom of the stack.  

Just then, Elliot steps back inside. Across the room their eyes meet, and while Olivia’s are sparkling with amusement, his are dark with lust and intent. 

“Hey dad, we’re playing Ticket To Ride , you in?” 

“I think I’m gonna sit this one out,” he says as the kids start to set up the game. Gingerly he makes his way over to Olivia, who’s sipping on her wine, clearly enjoying herself. “You playing?” 

“Nah, not tonight. I’ve also never played Ticket To Ride .” 

“Really?” 

“My mother wasn’t big on board games,” Olivia shrugs casually, but for a moment her chin quivers with emotion. She cradles the glass against her chest as Elliot suggests the four of them should play sometime, and she agrees she’d like that. 

While Elliot gets a beer from the fridge Kathleen, Maureen, Eli, Carl, Dickie and Hannah sit on the floor around the coffee table. Lizzie was convinced by Noah to grab a stack of cards and play War at the now-deserted dining table. As the kids start their game, Olivia and Elliot settle on the sofa, just watching them. She can’t quite remember when she’s last felt so peaceful in a room full of people, but even with the bickering and fighting, the napkin throwing and teasing, Olivia wants this. All of it. 

She sees Noah totally engrossed as he and Lizzie simultaneously slap a card from their deck onto the table, too certain of victory for his own good. She hopes he wins, because he wants to spare Lizzie the confrontation with her eight-year old who’s a very sore loser. 

Then her eyes settle on Elliot’s older kids, their partners, dividing up gaming pieces between the six of them, falling into easy conversation. This, she realizes, is going to be her new normal. Birthday celebrations with the entire family, dinners, board games. 

Noah has fit in seamlessly from the start, tying himself to Eli like they shared some natural bond. It worried her at first, because of the age difference, and while they both share a profuse love for video games, she figured they wouldn’t have much else in common. Turns out she was wrong. 

Eli’s into legos and pulls instruction manuals from his phone, helping Noah build when he has time, or talks to Noah about Pokémon, which Olivia was surprised to hear is still a thing. Within the past few weeks they’ve had their moments, though, and it’s clearly due to the amount of time they spend together. It’s almost a relief to see Eli getting slightly annoyed with her son. While the ongoing peace between the boys was nice, it was also unsettling, because it was too good to be true. Their relationship has started to feel a lot more organic to Liv.   

Today also marks the first time Olivia has seen Elliot with Ella. She's seen pictures of the two of them before, but it’s nothing close to the adorable displays she witnessed this afternoon. Even after five kids Elliot is overly careful around the nine-month old girl. He adores her, and Olivia thinks she’s never seen Elliot smile as brightly as he did when he made Ella giggle playing Peekaboo. 

She herself held Ella earlier, tentatively. It was brief, just for as long as it took Maureen to warm up Ella’s dinner, but for a moment she was reminded of the fact that Noah was the same age when she got him, and how blissful and dreamy it had been getting to know this tiny human she felt was meant for her. Ella played with her hair, until she caught sight of Olivia’s necklace, which had a hypnotizing effect on her until she grabbed onto it, refusing to let go. The delicate chain broke after one curious twist from Ella. Jewelry, she remembered, is not a great idea around babies. Maureen apologized profusely, but Olivia laughed it off. It’s only a necklace after all. It was well worth holding the baby, and God, even two years deep into menopause, Olivia swore she felt a pinch in her belly at Ella’s smell, and her toothy, sunny smile. 

It’s a mind-blowing thing to imagine she might get to be a grandmother to this beautiful child. 

It's a mind-blowing thing to imagine this whole group including her, accepting her...loving her.

Elliot’s arm snakes around her shoulder and when she turns her head to look at him, it’s like he can read her mind. He smiles, gingerly pulling her against him, placing a single kiss in her hair, right above her ear.

“You good?” It’s just above a whisper, a conversation just between the two of them. 

“Perfect,” she breathes. 

Nobody pays any attention to them, fully engrossed in the game they have just started. There‘s laughter and merciless teasing at the coffee table. 

They watch from the couch for half an hour, but when Elliot’s hand settles on Liv’s thigh, his thumb continuing its lazy patterns, his touch reverberates deep in her belly. She does a quick side glance. She hopes nobody is aware of her current state, of what this innocent, albeit intimate touch is doing to her. Liv’s flustered, looking at Elliot as she presses her thighs together and shifts. Contrary to his unsuspecting kids, Elliot knows exactly how much he affects her, because he moves closer, whispering. 

“Wanna head home?” His voice is gravel, his breath hitting the shell of her ear is electrifying. 

A smirk settles around Olivia’s lips. She looks away from Elliot, her face heating under his intense gaze. She downs what is left of her wine at once, licks her lips. 

Since she left him standing in the driveway, well aware he was hard, his hands between her thighs is all she can think of. 

Olivia nods once. Elliot’s thumb stills, and he shifts his jaw back and forth for a moment.

Elliot announces their departure. Ticket To Ride is paused for a moment, hugs are given. So is another present, an envelope, which Maureen tells Elliot is from all of them. Noah is more concerned with continuing his second game of War with Elizabeth than staying here with Kathleen and Maureen for the night. He gives Olivia a quick kiss and hug before he’s back in his chair. 

The drive home is way too long. The air in the car is thick with stifling need, despite the easy conversation they entertain. Upon entering the apartment, they discard their jackets, but before Elliot can grasp her, Olivia sashays to the kitchen counter, pulling the cork from an already open bottle of red with a noisy plop. 

“You want some, too?” 

He comes up behind her, hands settling on her hips. Her heart leaps, and arousal coils deep in her abdomen. Anticipation makes her feel lightheaded when he presses against her ass.

“Wine?” 

“Yeah,” she breathes. 

Elliot reaches up, pushes the hair on the left side of her head across her right shoulder, exposing her neck to him just as she starts to pour. 

“I want yours,” he says thickly, so she doesn’t miss exactly what he means. His face draws nearer to her head, his breath caressing her ear. “You’ve got the headiest wine I’ve ever tasted.” His left hand skirts her stomach, then drops between her legs. 

Elliot’s words flash through her at once, making Olivia throb beneath his touch, and she pants out an arousal-filled breath. She also happens to spill the Cabernet. She puts the bottle down, her desire for wine replaced by her desire for him, his touch, his tongue. 

“I wanna get fucking drunk on you,” he growls, and then he’s on her, nuzzling her neck, brushing his mouth along the delicate patch of skin above her pulse point. Her blood is pumping through her veins, the vehemence almost making her feel dizzy.

Goddamn. He doesn’t play today. Not once has he been so blunt about his intentions. Then, she never thought he’d be inclined to shove his hands in her pants in the driveway of a suburban street with a prime view from his daughter’s kitchen window, either, so what does she know? 

Olviia lets out a whimper as he suckles her neck. It’s knee-weakening and dazing, so she grips the lip of the counter tightly, her head falling forward. Elliot’s hand between her legs proves to be one more distraction. The other sneaks beneath her top, up to her stomach, the muscles beneath tensing under his touch. She exhales shakily. 

He eases up on her neck, his lips trailing towards her shoulder, scattering silken kisses along the way. Olivia lets go of the counter with her right hand, grasps for his hand, and guides it towards her chest. 

Elliot sighs into her skin, and with trembling hands she pushes his palm into her breast. There was a time when she couldn’t take being touched from behind, much less being touched like this. She takes pride in how far she’s come, especially with the recent discovery of the photographs, the terrible nightmares. And yet here she is, fully immersed in Elliot, in the sensuality of the moment. 

Eagerly his thumb brushes her erect nipple, and more than anything she wants to kiss him, breathe him in, so she turns around. For a long moment they just look at each other, both of them releasing labored breaths. 

“God, you’re so beautiful,” Elliot murmurs, cupping her cheek before his fingers sink into her hair, the urgency momentarily forgotten. His forehead meets hers and she licks her lips as his thumb caresses her jaw. “Are you sure about this?” he says just above a whisper. Her lips tremble and her eyes close with the weight of emotion. Even if she didn’t want it before, she thinks she would now, because she knows she’s going to be safe with him. Whatever she needs, he’s going to put it first, now and always. 

"Do I seem unsure?“ 

Olivia hears him swallow as he shakes his head just barely, his free hand clutching her arm. "No,“ he says. "But humor me?“ He pauses, squeezes her arm. "Say it for me? I need…“

She gets it. Elliot needs vocal, affirmative consent. 

"Yes, I‘m sure,“ she states, cupping his face in both hands, pulling back enough to look at him. "I am so sure, Elliot.“ 

Her lips touch to his, reinforcing the words, before she breathes: “Bedroom.” 

With a gentle nudge she makes him walk backwards, navigating the both of them around the breakfast bar, alongside the sofa and to the desired destination. Her mouth doesn’t leave his until they are enveloped in the darkened room. 

Liv's top comes off, and she blindly fumbles with the tiny buttons of his dress shirt, giggling when she finds it near impossible. 

“Wait,” Elliot chuckles, stepping away, and within seconds they are bathed in the warm light of the bedside lamp. He takes care of his shirt, his arousal-filled eyes not leaving her hands as she undoes her jeans and pushes them past her hips. 

His pants come off. Hers. His undershirt. His boxers. Elliot’s already fully hard, and his obvious need for her mystifies Olivia.

Just when she thinks he’s going to step up to her, he makes a quick detour for the dresser of the bed table, grabbing a bottle of lube. It’s been sitting in that drawer, disregarded since all hell broke loose. 

Well, not anymore, she thinks, and the realization sends a hot flash across her body that makes menopause look like an amateur. 

Elliot drops the bottle near the foot of the bed, then, deliberately, closes the distance to her, pulling her in. One hand spreads across her back, his mouth captures her lips. Edging her towards the bed, Elliot unclasps her bra, and brushes the straps off her shoulders. 

Olivia touches him now, his skin hot against her cool fingers as she skims his sides. His erection points upwards between them, sending a jolt of pleasure down her spine. She has never wanted him more. He peels her bra off, granting just enough space between them to let it drop to the floor. Then his hands are on her breasts, languidly caressing them, feeling the weight of them in his palms as he watches his ministrations. There is nothing but lust she sees on his face, in his eyes, and yet his gaze on her mangled breast is uncomfortable, verging on unbearable. She tries to swallow the insecurity, the budding shame, her eyes closing as Elliot strokes his thumb across her nipple. She dissociates, and she can tell the moment he notices.

“Liv, don’t,” he whispers, brushing her hair back. When she opens her eyes he’s looking back at her. Her eyes burn with unshed tears, and she hates that this always happens. “Please don’t do this,” he pleads.

“Sorry,” she says, quickly shaking her head. “I’m here.” 

“Don’t apologize. Just…,” he exhales, cradling her face. “I can’t not look at you.” 

“I know.” 

“I love your body,” he tells her, his voice thick with emotion and need alike. “Everything about you, and I want to see you. All of you.” 

Olivia doesn’t know how. He keeps saying this. He keeps showing her. The way he touches her, looks at her, worships her. And yet she doesn’t know if she’ll ever understand how he can love anything about what he sees when she takes off her shirt, her bra. The proof of his desire is wedged between their bodies. She doesn’t understand it, but belief flickers within her. 

“I love you so much,” she breathes out, shaky with his affirmations, capturing his lips before he gets the chance to say any more. 

One more step backwards and her calf meets the bed. Elliot lowers them down, and she breaks the tentative fall, bracing her arms against the mattress. He’s on top of her then, his weight pinning her down as he positions himself between her legs. His warm, naked body is heavenly. He’s hard against the juncture of her thigh, his obvious desire wholly intoxicating. She shivers, breathes hard in anticipation as he lowers himself, kisses her cleavage, her breast. Elliot’s hand cascades down her body, to her thigh. His mouth wraps around her nipple, wet and warm, making her moan with delight. 

Moving further south he scatters light kisses along one side of her ribs, down her side that twitches with the ever building, mind-scattering arousal. He’s off the bed then, kneeling at a perfect angle between her open legs. The only piece of clothing that’s left on her body are flimsy black, lace-trimmed panties. 

Elliot takes his time just looking at her from this angle, and his inaction, the thrill of anticipating his next move, is almost too much. He caresses the outside of her thighs then, kisses the inside. Beneath his fingers and mouth she trembles and pants. She bites her lips, completely unable to summon a thought beyond how much she wants his mouth on her. 

“El…” It’s a strangled plea, and as if he’s only been waiting for it, he works his mouth over her, devouring her mound, not even minding her underwear. She gasps with unexpectedness and the eroticism of it. 

“Fuck,” she breathes. 

His hot breath and saliva seep through the thin material, but in mere seconds he hooks his fingers on either side of the waistband and slowly strips it off her legs.

Elliot's lazily coming closer to the most intimate part of her, just breathing on her. She‘s aquiver, awaiting Elliot’s mouth eagerly. Propping herself up, she looks at him, his gaze meeting hers for long seconds. She can see how it fuels him, how hungrily he takes her in. And then he laps at her wetly, his tongue languidly finding its way along her folds. Right side. Left. He‘s everywhere then, his tongue talking to her in the sweetest language. This is not about getting her off quick. Elliot is taking his sweet time, allowing her to fall into it gently. He‘s deliberately avoiding her clit, and it‘s as marvelous as it is frustrating. 

Mainly though, it is effective, because when he touches his fingers to her, intensifying the sensations, her head falls back. He tongues her, exploring the depths of her, moaning and humming his approval. Her face contorts in concentration as she pants into the room. He gets wetter, sloppier, and when he finally wraps his lips around where she needs it, she cries out, clutching his head to keep him right there. 

The pads of his fingers are right there at her gate, slippery with his saliva, not moving. The will he, or won‘t he is going to cost Olivia her mind. He puts some pressure behind his touch, and God, she‘s unable to form the words to encourage him. 

She‘s right there on the edge, and he seems to know, because he‘s done alternating and sticks to what he knows will push her over. He sucks her clit into his mouth, his fingers resting in a V-shape between her slick folds, rubbing up and down in tiny motions. 

Olivia's moans turn into tattered sounds of ‚Ha-haa-ha-hauugh‘, as she pushes her sex up against him for more. 

"Right…. I‘m… El-liot…“ 

She‘s tumbling then, crying out her release, her hands grabbing fistfuls of the sheet. He holds Liv‘s hips down, only letting up when she‘s jerking away from his tongue, paying attention to her stomach and thighs as she‘s coming down. 

By the time he‘s crawling back up to kiss her, she‘s still mind-blown, still unable to form a coherent sentence. 

"You have no idea how fucking incredible you taste,“ he mutters before prying her lips apart with his tongue, exploring her mouth. She tastes beer and him and herself on him, a sensual, perfect composition. 

Elliot's careful not to put too much weight on her, but she wants to feel him, and hooks one leg around his waist, pulling him. He’s hard, teasing her right at her entrance, the most delicate stretch. She wants him inside of her, but knows she can’t like this, groaning with arousal, with frustration. He moves backwards, shifts, finding a different angle and when the underside of his erection slides up against her clit, Liv gasps into his mouth. 

He lets go of her mouth, hoisting himself up to look at her face that she knows must be flushed with her climax and still heightening arousal. He gently combs her hair aside, touches his mouth to her forehead, her nose, her chin. 

In his eyes she sees his ardor, his devotion. 

“Okay?” he asks, his breath thick with his own need that she can feel so blatantly as he’s nestling between her legs. 

“More than okay,” she chuckles, pulling him down for another kiss. “That felt so good,” she murmurs, and nudges herself up against him to make her point, then whispers. “I want you, Elliot.” 

It seems he doesn’t need to hear much more, because after brushing her lips with his once more he sits up between her legs. She props herself up just enough to watch as he lubes up, stroking himself. Their eyes meet over her body and her mouth goes dry, her breath suddenly heavier. She feels her desire for him deep in her belly, right where she wants him. Her gaze falls to his fist as he pumps himself slowly but firmly. 

“Ready?” 

She’s more than that, but wants to play it safe. “Maybe a little more lube.” 

“Okay.” 

Elliot squeezes a hazelnut-sized amount onto two fingers, but instead of him, he reaches for her, sensually putting it where she needs it. She hisses as he rubs in small circles, then pushes ever so slightly inside her, stretching her, getting her ready. She bites her lips and he watches her, groans as he works his fingers deeper, deeper, until his hand stops him and her head falls back.

He moves gently, making sure she’s fully lubricated before he nestles back in between her legs, his hand still between her legs, giving her clit a couple of lazy flicks. 

“Tell me again this is not sexy,” he dares her throatily. The heat between her legs borders on unbearable, so instead of saying anything she digs her heel in his ass, seeks out his mouth. He shifts into position, finds the right angle, waits. 

The suspense is killing her. 

“I want you,” Liv breathes again, and it seems to be all he needs, because finally he pushes forward, painfully slow, gentle, deliberate. Everything comes full circle. He‘s wonderful and perfect, he feels like it too as he‘s burying himself inside of her. He‘s home. The only home she's ever known. 

He watches her, the subtle widening of her eyes, her mouth falling open. In his face she sees he‘s focused on her, on what he‘s doing as their bodies join, his forehead creasing. She can tell he‘s restraining himself for her sake, gives her time to adjust, more to the circumstances than to him, his size, because he fits her like a glove. 

Elliot sets an easy pace, moving leisurely as he intertwines the fingers of his left hand with hers. She pushes her fingertips into the skin on his back, feeling his muscles flexing underneath. 

“God, you’re so beautiful,” he tells her before he kisses her neck, her throat, almost all the way to her cleavage. He’s steady, rocking his hips back and forth, both of them breathing harder as the minutes pass. 

She’s pulling him down, capturing his mouth and he pauses, focused on only that for a moment. He strokes her cheek, her hair, kisses her face until she starts to nudge her hips against him and he starts up again. 

“Good?”

“Deeper,” she breathes. In an instant he pushes himself up on her, his arms at the back of her knees helping to tilt up her pelvis. It’s immediate gratification, and she moans with the new, even more pleasurable angle. 

“Better?” 

Olivia nods eagerly, biting her lip. Elliot picks up the pace. It’s still moderate, still sensual, if a little more purposeful. She moans deeply, moves with him, her breath getting more ragged. The sight of him is exquisite, his jaw setting, his brows knitting as he gets her closer, gets there himself. She can always see it in his face, and she relishes it. 

He makes sure to meet her deeply, accentuating his movements even more, as if he knows it’s going to be what undoes her. 

“Yes,” she cries out quietly, clutching at him, and he braces, pushes her thighs further backwards. When he buries himself inside her to the hilt and holds she gasps, tenses and shatters around him. A few more strokes and Elliot follows with a guttural groan into her neck. 

They stay in this position for a little longer, a minute, maybe two, she can’t tell, because once he’s caught his breath he’s back to kissing her senseless, and she squeezes him for a few extra jolts of pleasure while her climax ebbs off, leaving her tingly. She can hear her heartbeat in her ears, the heat in her face as she closes her eyes, letting Elliot coax her back down with sweet kisses and whispered declarations of love. 

Olivia doesn’t move except for finding a comfortable position in Elliot's arms, under the covers, fending off the chill once she has cooled off. Elliot smells like himself, expensive cologne and sex. If she’d close her eyes, she thinks this intoxicating scent might lull her to sleep right away. Elliot’s drawing lazy patterns on the small of her back, his fingertips soothing her. She’s got one hand on his chest, feeling his heart beating in a perfect rhythm. Tucked in his arms she feels warm, safe. 

“I love you,” he whispers, and her throat gets tight. 

Elliot loves her. She knows he does. She can see it in the way he looks at her, talks to her, trusts her… the way he touches her. His eyes were filled with his total desire when he caressed her breasts, looked at them. Looked at her. Reassured her, asking her not to slip into the dark despairing headspace of self-consciousness and doubt. She can’t comprehend that he can love her like he does, with such ardor, such gentleness. He adores her. She can feel it with every fibre.

It hits Olivia at full speed, taking her breath away. Her stomach clenches into a tight knot, and tears slide down her temple, onto him. Her body shakes violently with the first sobs. She can’t lose him. She can’t. 

“Liv?” Elliot’s alarmed, trying to sit up as much as their position allows. “Olivia, what’s wrong? Honey.” 

It breaks from her lips before she can stop herself, her worst fears tumbling out as she pleads, “Don’t leave me. Please don’t leave me again.” She clutches at him blindly, and his arms go around her. She gasps it out like a mantra between the sobs wracking her entire body.  "Please. Please don't leave me. Don't leave me."

Chapter Text

Olivia’s side of the bed is empty. Elliot wakes to find it like this a lot of times these days. He’s learned it’s a clear-cut sign that she’s had another set of nightmares, robbing her of enough sleep. They are also robbing them of lazy cuddles shared on Saturday and Sunday mornings, when they are not rushed from morning to evening by work and other responsibilities. It used to be their moment of reprieve up until four weeks ago, almost to the day. 

Her breakdown last night creeps back into full consciousness. With it comes the headache that started to build last night, once she’d calmed down, but didn’t speak, couldn’t speak--he doesn’t know which. He had tried to get her to talk, to tell him what happened, but she had just barely shaken her head. She’s not deliberately trying to shut him out, he’s certain of it, because he knows how it feels when you’re obviously not holding it together, and yet you can’t put into words why that is. In the past he would have held it against her, told her she obviously doesn’t trust him. He knows better now, knows that she needs time, that eventually she will tell him. And even if she won’t, that’s her prerogative. 

At first Elliot thought it was too soon. That they should have waited with the sex, that the hesitation he felt when she brought it up Thursday morning should have been a huge red flag. The more he thinks about it however, the less certain he is that was the issue. They discussed it in depth the day before, and when she looked him in the eyes, telling him she was sure, he didn’t see any doubt swimming in hers. She had welcomed his touch, his body. She had told him more than once that she wanted him, had shown him, had been responsive. For God’s sake, she had come twice last night. When they had cuddled afterwards she had told him how wonderful it was for her, and he had believed it. He can’t be that off, can he? Unless…God. 

Unless Olivia meant everything she said in the moment, but felt it was too soon afterwards, when she was no longer high and happy on the post-coital serotonin boost. What if she regretted their lovemaking and got spooked he wouldn't want to be with her if he found out. 

Turning onto his back, Elliot sighs. 

And if it wasn’t the sex, then what was it? What had Olivia so scared he could leave her? 

Did one of his kids say something that had thrown her off kilter? Elliot desperately tries to remember every single interaction he had witnessed between Olivia and his children yesterday, but nothing stands out. There were brief moments of awkwardness, especially within the first hour, but by the time dinner rolled around everyone was well-attuned to each other. Liv had been more than welcomed, and he had talked to each of the kids about her separately before the birthday party, making sure everyone was on board about Elliot and Olivia coming together. He can’t imagine there was any animosity he might have missed. 

Olivia had therapy on Thursday but didn’t seem unusually shaken when he saw her later that day. They don’t discuss what she’s talking about with her therapist, so if something came up that continued to have an effect on her, Elliot wouldn’t know. 

Elliot's spinning in circles, and there won’t be answers unless Olivia tells him what caused her breakdown. Scrubbing his hand over his face, Elliot decides to get up. He expects to find her in the living room, either working, or nursing her third or so cup of coffee. When he walks in however, she’s not there. 

“Liv?” He asks on the off chance she’s in Noah’s room, but there’s no answer. In the pit of his stomach, Elliot has a bad feeling but reminds himself that Olivia not being here could be easily explained. Maybe she got called in, and didn’t want to wake him. His eyes instantly flit to the breakfast bar where she usually leaves him notes. There’s her favorite mug, sitting there abandoned, but nothing else, no note. 

Elliot makes a conscious decision not to worry. He resists the strong urge to call her, deciding to give it some time, give her some time. She likes to take a walk when she needs to think, so he holds onto that, hoping she’s just out to clear her head. 

He takes a shower, gets dressed. He likes to believe he took his time, but a glance at his phone tells him he’s been in and out of the bathroom in less than ten minutes. He should probably shave, but doesn’t trust himself with a razor when he’s this agitated. As much as he tries to keep it together, worry is about to get the better of him. He grabs a cup of coffee and heads to the sofa when Olivia’s journal catches his eye, a note attached beside. That in itself is strange. Liv doesn’t exactly hide it, but he doubts she’d leave it in plain sight because of Noah. But Noah isn’t here. He puts the coffee down, walks over and picks up the note, taking in her neat handwriting.

Elliot, 

I am sorry about my ugly anxiety attack last night. For some time I’ve been meaning to tell you about my nightmares, but I couldn’t find the words. My therapist thinks it’s important that you know, and that it’s important for me to let you know if I want it to get better. I’ve added a couple of markers to my journal that will give you just enough context to understand what happened last night, but you may read as much or as little as you want, or need to get a better understanding of what happened with Lewis, and how it affected me. I trust you with my life, so I trust you with this. 

Liv

Elliot stares at the words, written in black ink, the letters blurring. His gaze then shifts to the journal. His stomach clenches at the mere idea of picking it up, of opening it, acutely aware of all the horror, pain and cruelty that sit between the covers. Elliot never expected to read it. Despite the curiosity the subject of Lewis may have provoked, he doesn’t even want to read it, but if Olivia thinks he should, if only to fill in the blanks about her nightmares, he doesn’t see how he can refuse. She wants him to know things, but she can't say them. She entrusts him with her journal that only exists because of what has happened to her. 

He puts down the note, reaches for the journal, his hand hovering above it for long seconds before he picks it up. It’s surprisingly light for something that’s filled with such horror. He takes in the brown leather binding, and lets his finger run over the edge of the front cover. It’s not some cheap, standard notebook. Olivia chose this journal carefully, picked something that’s worth her story, her honesty, her very self. 

There are three light yellow page markers sticking out. Elliot’s heart starts to beat faster. He’s got a bad feeling, hesitates. All of this is information he has no right being privy to, and yet Olivia wants him to know some of the aspects surrounding Lewis, if only to understand her nightmares, or her breakdown. From the note it sounds like they are connected. 

He lumbers to the sofa and sits down, nervously rubbing his chin. The journal in his hand whispers to him that Olivia has given him permission. 

He bargains for time, trying to prepare for whatever it is that’s going to come alive on these pages. After a long struggle with himself, Elliot carefully opens the journal at the first marked page. He takes in the date first, written neatly in the upper right corner. 

September 27, 2022. 

Liv's handwriting, so familiar to him, lures in him and he starts to read, line by line filled with a detailed recounting of a nightmare that keeps haunting her. He’s sick long before he reaches the last word, the final period. 

He was there . He could have saved her, could have stopped Lewis, could have taken him out like he once swore he would have done if only he had known. Instead he’d berated her, blamed her, and left her. He had left her alone to be tortured and raped, and in the past month of the same nightmare haunting her continuously, Olivia must have somehow manifested that sooner or later it would all come down to one thing: him leaving her again. Just like he had all these years ago.

Liv’s suffering because of him . He’d vowed to never let that happen again, and yet, in her dreams, he’d found a way to break that promise, a way to let her down. 

All the guilt he’d suppressed once they’ve worked things out starts to bubble back up to the surface at once.

Elliot wants to put the journal down, but once he does, he doesn’t think he’ll pick it back up and there are two more markers. He turns a couple of pages, hands shaky. 

 

October 21, 2022

Saw Lindstrom yesterday. Acknowledged I’ve still got deeply-rooted fears of losing Elliot again. Am definitely not over that sense of abandonment I’ve felt when he left. Still didn’t tell him about the nightmares, either. Lindstrom questioned if I trust El. Wish it was that easy. Nightmares aren’t under control at all, and I know telling him is crucial. Lindstrom thinks I could write it down. Might be a good idea seeing I’ve failed at talking for weeks. Lindstrom won’t let this go, either. Thinking of just giving Elliot the journal, still scary to think of letting him know, though. 

Lindstrom asked me to write down the reason it scares me so much, so here goes: 

  • Elliot might question why I didn’t tell him right away, since he’s kind of starring in the nightmares
  • will question if I trust him
  • don’t want him to think I haven’t forgiven him -> Lindstrom says it’s not about forgiveness but healing. Him leaving has caused a lot of hurt -- not sure how to achieve healing... -> if I can’t help it, and he can’t help it, how are we going to fix it? Will he expect I know what to do about it? Lindstrom says to give it time, I find that to be a very unsatisfactory answer. Understand why he says El and I can’t fix it. It’s not something that’s easily fixable. Struggling with that. 
  • I don’t want to hurt him -> obviously Elliot would never act the way he does in the dreams, yet my mind conjures up this version of him + I only get the nightmares when he’s around 
  • Scared it’s going to change our relationship
  • love him more than I can put into words, want to protect him and us from anything that could be a potential threat
  • know it’s going to be upsetting to him, don’t want him to blame himself, or feel like he’s responsible -> keeping it to myself for so long might add to that. Feel so stupid, but CAN’T find it in me to talk to him 

I’d probably find a dozen more reasons if I’d think about it some more, think I’ve listed the obvious ones. Am distracted and a little nervous today. Will meet all of Elliot’s kids later to celebrate his birthday. 

Also have sex planned. First time after seeing the pictures. Think Elliot’s more insecure about it than me. Am really looking forward to tonight. Really want to move forward and not get lost in all that darkness again. Still feel very unsteady because of the nightmares. 

It fills a double page, and before Elliot allows himself to think about any of what he’s just read, he hits the last marker, finding today’s date scribbled in the corner. 

 

October 22, 2022

I had a terrifying anxiety attack last night - the day couldn’t have ended on a worse note. The dinner at Maureen’s went great. Am super relieved about that. Went home shortly after dinner and had amazing sex--even more relieved about that! Was scared of zoning out and flashbacks, but everything was wonderful. Hope Elliot feels the same way about it. 

Afterwards started thinking of Lewis and how he said that no man would ever look at me the same, or love me. I still think he was right about it, and Elliot is the glorious exception. Thought about the way he looked at me and touched me (still the same, even after seeing the pictures), how good he is to me. Realized if he ever leaves me, it’ll prove Lewis right and started sobbing. 

I can’t lose him. It sounds dramatic but I’m honestly not sure I’d survive it this time around. I was in love with him before, but didn’t know what it was like to truly be loved by him (or anyone). I’ve also never loved any other man like I love Elliot. I’m absolutely terrified of losing him. Don’t want to become a burden, or that person who can’t leave the past in the past. Can’t stop thinking that things would be good without the photos. Feel guilty that Elliot had to see them, should’ve been more careful, or kept it together. 

Speaking of the photos: need, need, need to talk to Rollins. Am pretty sure she thinks I don’t like her anymore, avoiding all non-work-related conversations since that night. Am a terrible friend. 

Anyway, couldn’t explain the anxiety attack to Elliot. He was so, so worried and I was too scared to say anything. Still feel awful about it. Am on the fence if I should just let him read all of this. Tempted to flip a coin and let fate decide. 

Flipped a coin. 

Hi, Elliot. 

Elliot closes the journal and puts it beside him on the sofa, tilting his head up, allowing it all to sink in. It feels like he’s losing his grip. Everything he just read seems to pelt down on him at once. He tries to make sense of it, but right now nothing does, so he tries to dissect it. 

Liv didn’t tell him he’s a complete monster in her nightmares to protect him. Because she thought telling him could hurt him or harm their relationship? Elliot shakes his head. It sounds exactly like something Olivia would do. Suffer in silence if it means it won’t hurt someone she cares about. Which pushes the next thought into focus. 

She rather kept it all inside and suffered through the nightmares whenever he was around. He wonders if she ever woke up, scared of him. If she ever jerked away feeling unsafe in his presence. 

Elliot remembers how terrified she was upon shooting upright from the nightmares. It was always too dark for him to see beyond her wide, dark eyes. He can’t tell if that terror was a response to the nightmare, or to him. Of course that was before he started to sleep through it all, leaving her to deal with it alone. No fucking wonder the fear of abandonment is in full effect for her again. 

Liv deserves better. So much better than him. Why she let him back into her life is beyond him. 

She isn’t doing as well as she tries to make him believe, he knows that. He was trying to respect her boundaries, didn’t want to push, but maybe he should have. Maybe all she would have needed was him telling her that he was going to listen if she needed to talk, that she could tell him anything. He did that, but probably not often enough. She sees her therapist once a week, and he found solace in that, took it as reason enough not to pry. 

Goddamn it. 

He feels the burn of oncoming tears, covering his face nose to forehead with his palm. Shaking his head, a sob escapes him. 

He failed. He failed at making her feel safe, failed at giving her the needed support. He failed at trying to make her open up, setting up a space that would have allowed her to talk about the nightmares to him. 

What kind of idiot was he to think that her going to therapy was good enough? There was something Olivia needed to talk to him about, and he missed the signs. And when he tried to have the conversation on Thursday he’d allowed himself to be distracted. She was obvious and deliberate and he’d let it go, because he didn’t want to make her uncomfortable. He made it easy for her to keep this to herself for four weeks. She had suffered through so many nightmares because of him, to protect him, when she had been the one in need of protection. 

At the realization Elliot finally cracks, his body shaking as he silently cries for all that she’s been through. He cries hard, releasing everything he’s kept inside since he saw the pictures, because her pain was so much more important than his own. He had shoved it all down so he could function for Olivia, Noah, and Eli. He couldn’t afford the luxury of breaking down when she was falling apart, and then showed such strength at dealing with it. She opened up to him about so many details, swallowed her pride and went back to therapy, asked him to spend more time at her place when she needed him. The last thing she needed was to see him struggling, or worse. 

It’s the first time he allows for everything he kept buried to rush to the surface, the first time he lets himself cry for Olivia. For himself. For the demons he lives with since he laid eyes on the photos that are now burned into his mind. Just like he can’t unsee the pictures, he can’t unknow about every nuance of her dreams. It all comes together to be a permanent reminder of his biggest regret. Not having been there.

He should have been there. 

 


 

After spending close to two hours in a coffee shop, nervously watching the minutes tick by over two cups of coffee, one tea and an untouched muffin, Olivia had finally decided she had given it enough time. She knows Elliot never wakes up much later than seven, and even with his bathroom routine factored in he should have had ample time to read through her journal. 

Liv leaves the shop, only to walk back in and get a few muffins that will serve as a conversation starter if nothing else. She doesn’t feel much like eating, and doubts Elliot will feel any different. It’s only six blocks to her apartment, and despite the cold she sets a slow pace home, her fingers firmly coiled around the white paper bag. 

By the time she’s at her front door, her heart is in her throat. Key in hand she stalls for a few beats, draws in a deep breath. She’s put this off for so long, everything about this moment makes her feel anxious. Maybe she was wrong to think they could handle it, that they can work through it together. Maybe Lindstrom was wrong for telling her that confiding in Elliot was an essential part in her healing process. What if it only further complicates things between them? Oliva shakes her head, deciding not to jump to conclusions, and inserts the key in the lock. Turns it until she hears the deadbolt click. 

Olivia wasn’t prepared for finding Elliot sitting on the sofa, his eyes glassy and red. He obviously cried. The journal is on the coffee table, and she isn’t sure how much of it he’s read, how deep his pain goes. His gaze instantly locks with hers, the corners of her mouth twitching with emotion as he shakes his head, his voice hoarse when he speaks. “I’m so sorry, Liv. I’m so…” 

Elliot's voice cracks, and it propels her to the couch, to him. She drops the muffins on the sofa, pulling Elliot in. His arms snake around her. "I should‘ve known. I… If I had paid more attention…“

"Elliot, no.“ Liv pulls back just enough to look at him. "That‘s not…it‘s not on you. It‘s not your fault.“ She feels her own tears coming on, her nose tickling and twitching. "I don‘t want you to feel guilty, El. Please,“ she says, taking his face in her hands. 

"You were hurting so badly and I should have realized. I should have done more.“

"But you couldn‘t have done more. And apart from trying to tell you sooner, I‘m not sure I could‘ve done more, El. It‘s just…“ She shrugs, pursing her lips as her thumb caresses his cheek. “It’s… it sucks,” she chuckles sadly, a tear falling. “The nightmares suck, Lewis sucks, but it’s… it’s not your fault.”

“I left and it hurt you so deeply that I’m abandoning you again in your dreams and…” He grips both of her wrists while she’s still cupping his face. She can see the pain in his eyes, feel it in the tension of his rigid grasp. 

“You did, and… El, I forgave you, and I don’t want there to be any doubt about that, because I mean it, but I also think that we need to talk about what happened. I mean we did, but maybe not-,” she exhales shakily. 

“Not enough,” he says matter-of-factly. 

“I think I wasn’t ready to have that conversation any better than how we had it. I mean, I got it, and I heard you, but I didn’t want to feel everything I felt when you first left, or what I felt… when I was with Lewis, and after,” she manages thickly, putting her forehead to his. “And I was scared that if it had gone any deeper than that, that my anger would have destroyed what we’ve rebuilt so tentatively. I thought we could just skip some of it, and that we’d be okay, and… I… not that we’re not okay but…”

Taking a deep breath Olivia waits for a few seconds. His fingers uncurl from her wrists, slide down her forearms. 

“Olivia, what do you need?” He’s still emotional, if a little steadier. 

“Would it be okay, if we talked?” 

“Of course,” he whispers.

“Okay,” she breathes, tilting her head down just enough to meet his lips. “Are you okay?” Pulling back she scrutinizes him. He doesn’t look good. What’s more alarming is that he hesitates. 

“I’m not sure how to answer that. I feel like I missed something, Liv. What kind of detective does that make me? And even if I didn’t, we should have talked. I gave up too easily when it came down to it. I thought if I didn’t push… if I did what I thought you wanted.” He waits a beat, sounding hoarse when he continues. “I really wanted to get it right, and I don’t know what the right thing is anymore. And that scares me.”

“It’s scary,” Olivia nods quickly. “I know what you mean. I think I’ve been there.” She clears her throat, strokes his cheek, feeling a need to stay connected. “How about we make some… some tea, some coffee, and then we’ll sit down and we’ll try to do it right this time.” She’s beyond nervous, because this is a side she hasn’t seen of Elliot. All of this pain, his vulnerability, how obviously he’s shaken and scared, and it’s all because of her, all because of them. He’s grieving for her, for what she’s going through over something he had part in by leaving. He wants to get it right, and so does she. They’ve gone into this willing to put in the effort to make it work, whatever it takes.

“That sounds like a good idea,” he says in agreement. Her hands cascade down to his shoulders, towards his chest, but Elliot doesn’t move. He holds her by the elbows, his gaze falling between them. She can see the muscle in his chin twitch when he looks back up at her.

“What is it?” 

“I just need you to know that no matter what you are going to say, I love you, and nothing’s going to change that. So, if there’s...if there’s things you feel you shouldn’t say, or you don’t want to say, because you don’t want to hurt my feelings? Just go ahead and say them anyway, okay? Total honesty this time.” 

“Total honesty. That goes for the both of us.” Although she means it, Olivia’s afraid it’s much easier said than done. She let him read her journal because she failed at talking after all, but she would damn well try for him, with him. 

Elliot squeezes her elbow lightly before reaching up and tucking her hair behind her ear. “Where were you?” he asks, glancing at the paper bag next to her. 

“Gregorys. I know you like their muffins,” she smiles hopefully. 

“Chocolate chip?”

“And raspberry.” 

“How bizarre would it be if we talked over breakfast?” 

Biting her bottom lip, Olivia glances down, feeling a little lighter. “Well,  it sounds like it’ll give us something to do, make it less awkward,” she says. “Not that talking to you is awkward, just that we’re only having these conversations now and… I’m so scared,” she says softly. 

“Me too,” Elliot admits, taking a deep breath. “You make coffee, I set the table?” 

“Okay.” 

Fifteen minutes later they sit at the table, a cup of coffee and a muffin in front of them. Their eyes meet over their breakfast as Olivia breaks off a piece of the raspberry muffin, slowly putting in her mouth. The pastry seems to expand with every chewing. When she swallows it‘s bone-dry, and it has nothing to do with the muffins. 

“I’m not sure where to start,” Olivia manages, pulling her cup closer. She wraps both hands around it, the warmth of the coffee seeping into her fingers. 

"I‘m not either,“ Elliot grimaces, then nods at the muffin. "Not good?“

"I‘m not particularly hungry.“ She wipes her thumb across the rim of the mug, wetting her lips. "How much did you read?“ Her eyes leave his briefly. "Of the journal,“ she clarifies. 

"Only the pages that had markers,“ he says around a little frown. "I didn‘t even say thank you yet,“ he realizes distractedly. "I understand how deeply personal the journal is to you, and the trust you put in me by allowing me to read it, I'm... I… I couldn‘t do more than what you asked me to read, though. It didn't feel right.“

Olivia bites her bottom lip, nodding. She appreciates his restraint. "If… if you should ever change your mind about that, it‘s… you‘re free to-,“ Olivia starts, her face contorting as she stumbles through. "I‘d just like to know when you-“

"Liv,“ Elliot reaches for her arm. "That‘s never going to happen. You offering that means the world to me, but I don‘t want to do that. I don‘t think I could.“ He taps his fingers on her forearm. "If you ever feel like you want to talk to me about any of it, though? I‘ll be right here.“

"Okay. Thank you,“ Liv manages around a small, crooked smile. She is acutely aware that they are both stalling, deciding it‘ll only get harder the longer they put off the conversation that really matters. "I‘m just going to jump in here. After… after the shooting—what happened?“

Elliot‘s right eye twitches once, his gaze jumping until he meets hers with recognition. Slowly he slides his hand back towards him, expelling a breath. He blinks once, twice. 

“I sat with IAB for what felt like hours, and had them comb over my statement over and over, and I didn’t feel like I defended myself the way I would have if it was someone else.” He swallows, shaking his head in a way that’s more jerky than usual, reminding her of his PTSD. “I felt guilty. Jenna…,” he hisses softly. “she was just a kid. I went home, I didn’t sleep properly for weeks. Moved onto the sofa, so I wouldn’t disturb Kathy.” 

“Why didn’t you call me?” Her voice is small, pained. He looks at her, his gaze softening when their eyes meet. 

“I needed some space. Some time. At that point I didn’t know what was gonna happen, Liv. I swear, I had no idea,” he says sincerely, and she believes him. 

“Okay. Then what happened?” 

Elliot sighs softly, taking several seconds to start talking again. “I started to have doubts if I should come back. All the things we’ve seen, I… I started wondering if it was still worth it. This job, it felt like it was… at first it caused little cracks, and after a few years those cracks turned into fissures, and then it took little pieces of me until I wasn’t sure there was all that much left of who I used to be. This shooting broke me, Liv. I didn’t… I didn’t know how to come back from it, but I went to the department, I had the conversations for a little while, but it didn’t feel right.”

For a moment they let it sink in. 

"I thought about the reasons I should stay and came up empty. I found one reason why I wanted to stay, and that was you, Liv,” he looks up at her, his eyes dark and wet. “You were the only one thing that made me consider sitting down with IAB again, even after it was clear they didn’t even want to keep me on the force. I’d become too much of a liability. They’ve made it clear I wasn’t valued. It wasn’t worth it anymore, so… I decided to quit. And when I made that decision I thought about telling you, calling you and… I couldn’t. I knew if I heard your voice...” Elliot’s voice cracks, tears swimming in his eyes. He blinks and they roll down his cheek. “I sat for hours and I couldn’t put in a simple call, much less come and see you, and I realized… for the first time, that if just hearing your voice was going to make me reconsider everything, that for you I'd go up against IAB and fight for my job just to…” he swallows. “That was not what a partner could make me do. You were no longer just my partner, or my friend, Liv. There was no more gray area once I decided to leave the NYPD.“ 

Olivia hands grab onto her mug more firmly, trying to wrap her head around it. When she speaks her throat is tight, her voice quiet. 

“Elliot, you didn’t even say goodbye. No… there was no call, no text, no nothing,” she breathes the last bit. 

“I get how fucked up that is. I know I made a mistake, but at the time…” 

“Ten years,” she reminds him, and he nods once, controlled. 

“At the time,” Elliot repeats, his voice firm. “If I had talked to you, Olivia, I would have told you everything. And how could I put that on you? Tell you that… I’d fallen in love with you? That for the past few years, even with a new baby at home, I had rather spent my time in a squad car talking to you? That I chose looking at you from across my desk over dinner with my family? That I’d…,” he clears his throat, closing his eyes. “I would have left her, Liv. I would’ve left Kathy if you had given me any sign that it was what you wanted, and I think we both know that you would have never allowed for that to happen,” he whispers. “And I would have left her either way, because if you would have known, there would have been no turning back. My marriage… I’m not sure how it survived me realizing how much I loved you. All I know is that I tried to… I tried to do the right thing, Liv, and I was so scared, then...that I didn’t see the grief and hurt it was causing you.” 

Olivia refuses to look at him as her own tears slide down the slope of her cheeks. The fact that he ghosted her because he loved her only makes it harder, because who does that? Who realizes they have feelings for someone, and decides it’s a good idea to leave them after thirteen years as partners and friends? 

“Liv,” Elliot tries, but she shakes her head, exhales sharply. She needs to say this, or else she’s never going to say it, is forever going to leave it at how he was the single most important person in her life, and he just disappeared. 

“When Cragen told me I thought for sure this must be a joke, because my partner...my best friend...would never leave me without a word. But he wasn’t… he wasn’t laughing so, I figured… I figured you’d come to see me in the evening, or at least call me, because with a lot of imagination I could make up a scenario where you didn’t feel like you could tell me yourself, but once that was done-,” her voice shakes and Olivia wipes at her tears. She can’t stand to sit here with him just looking at her, so she gets up and starts to pace. 

“I am so sorry.” She ignores the apology, presses on to get it all out before his words break her resolve.

“I cried myself to sleep for a week,” she manages, her voice thick with emotion and tears at the memory. God, she cried more for him than she did for her mother, or anyone. “And even then I held out hope that you’d call eventually. But months passed, and when my birthday came and went, still no sign, I realized that you’d made a goddamn pathetic mess of me, that I'd turned into this sad woman just waiting by the phone every night just in case you… called,” she whispers, squeezing her eyes shut, more tears spilling over. 

Olivia hears the stool scrape against the floor, his footsteps, feels his proximity before his arms wrap around her from behind, crossing underneath her chest. At his touch she sobs, clutching at his arms. 

“I was wrong for it all, Liv. I didn’t know what else to do.”

She hears him, and somewhere deep within her, because she knows Elliot so well, she understands his dilemma, but there’s a much bigger part of her that sees this for what it is: cowardice. Among all the things he could have done, he chose to play possum.

“Anything,” she cries. “Anything would have been more dignified than you running away. I called you so many times.” 

“I know,” he whispers roughly, holding her tight, starting to rock them back and forth, and she can‘t take it. The proximity, the confinement of his arms that almost make her feel claustrophobic now, him having nothing much to offer other than being sorry and how he knows. Her clutch loosens and she pushes his arms down, stepping away when his hold unties. 

"I can‘t… I need a moment,“ Olivia mutters. There is too little air for her to breathe. She wipes at her eyes with her fingertips, head tilting up as she tries to get a grip, find safe footing to further navigate this. She had no idea just how painful this was going to be. She thought she had healed, but everything Elliot says is salt in her wounds. 

"Liv…“

"This is not how I wanted to do this, crying and getting angry.“ She paces in small circles, blows out a breath. From her periphery she sees he‘s keeping his distance.

"You have every right to cry and be angry,“ he tries, sounding reassuring. 

"But it‘s not… I don‘t want to be angry anymore ,“ she holds her arms out, bent, palms facing up as she stops pacing, and helplessly fixes her gaze on him. "You have no idea how exhausting it is to be angry with you, Elliot. And I don‘t know how to not be when all you say is that you know. If you knew, how could you do this? You knew I called and you refused to pick up the phone? You couldn‘t even come to say 'goodbye, nice working with ya,‘ and pack up your own damn desk?“ She paces again, but drops down onto the couch after a few seconds of silence. "I did that for you,“ she says calmly, putting her hands together as if she‘s going to pray, covering her nose with the tent she‘s built. "I did that,“ Liv breathes once more, eyelids drooping. 

When she looks up Elliot's still in the same spot, arms at his side, blank stare, looking like a lost little boy that doesn’t know which way to turn. Olivia rubs her nose, then drops her hands in her lap. 

“Say something.” It‘s a quiet plea. 

He stays silent for what feels like minutes pass until he comes over and sits down on the other end of the sofa. His knees are apart, and he looks at the floor in between. 

“There’s nothing I can say that’s going to make it hurt less, or that is going to make it make sense for you, I don’t think. I feel...I felt like I failed. I couldn’t get Jenna outta my head, couldn’t stand to even come to the station house. All that time I knew what I did the job for, and suddenly I... I failed the people I was there to protect. I failed at being your partner.” He looks at her, but only briefly. “I got it all wrong, the way I handled things. I ran away from the job, from those feelings I knew I shouldn’t have, from you. From you because I was scared of what you’d think of me if I told you I couldn’t do it anymore. That it had all become too much. Because I didn’t know how to look at you, or even just talk to you and not tell you just how much you mean to me. I didn’t want to hurt you, and I didn’t want to hurt my family. I felt so out of options,” he says quietly, then adds. “I know I had options, it just didn’t feel like it at the time. I know it made me the most disloyal and cowardly friend and partner, but all I wanted was… I just didn’t want to fuck it all up. I know I did anyway. I’d… I’d hoped you’d thrive without me. I’d hoped you’d achieve more than I thought you ever could’ve with me still there. That you’d find someone and get a real shot at it without me lurking in the shadows, jealous and overzealous and overprotective when I never had any right to be. I’d hoped-” 

“Stop,” she whispers. “Don’t… don’t try and point out how I realized all your hopes, Elliot. That doesn‘t make it hurt any less.“

"I wasn‘t going to say that. I held onto that hope, because it was the only thing I had once I could think beyond my own pain and started to understand how much I screwed things up, Liv. I picked up the phone so many times, but so much time had passed, I… I convinced myself you wouldn‘t want to hear from me anymore. Not after I abandoned you. You deserved so much more than that.“ Elliot pauses, allows her to object if she needs. "I knew you were Captain when I came back, but I wasn‘t prepared for… the life you‘ve built. I wanted that for you so much, but then there I stood, and I realized, for the very first time, actually realized, everything I‘ve missed.“ His brows knit with the memories. "Everything I should have been there for, or at least should have known about.“ His voice shakes, and she hears the beginnings of a crack on the last word. "Noah. You… you had a son, and I found out from Fin. And I drove to the hospital thinking 'How did I not know that? How could I choose not knowing him?‘“

Elliot pauses and swallows and folds his hands. “At the hospital? When we talked? I knew that was not a way to do it, no place to do it, but I needed… I needed you to know-,” he shakes his hand and from her periphery she sees him roughly wiping at his eyes. “Shit.” 

Olivia looks over then, and something about Elliot crying openly is even more painful than having this conversation, than reliving all that agony, the insecurity, the hurt, the abandonment. When he puts his right hand on his thigh she scoots closer, reaches out, until her pinkie finger touches his. It’s a delicate touch for such an emotion-filled moment, but she finds solace in it, in him, in the way he, too, is hurting. 

“W-was I easy to leave?” Astonishment settles on his face before his brows knit in confusion. “Because I think… I think I’m easy to leave,” she says thoughtfully.  

“What? Olivia you’re-” 

“Nobody ever--,” she exhales shakily, her nose crinkling with emotion. “Nobody ever fought for me, and you just… I mean my mother didn’t like me most of the time, which makes sense. I looked nothing like her, I reminded her every single day of the worst moment of her life and she drank and… and I was easier to abandon than the vodka. I had friends in school and in college but none of those friendships lasted although I tried to keep in touch. And in all of my relationships nobody ever fought for me,” she whispers. “Nobody stayed. Nobody even tried to.” 

Olivia always had that innate feeling of otherness, as if there was something about her that was inherently bad and tainted. Her DNA is a foul concoction of loveless alcoholic and ruthless rapist. She’s felt like a victim by default long before Harris and Lewis slapped that label on her. She has never felt deserving of companionship and love, but after Elliot’s silent, unexplained disappearance from her life she questioned it even more. It hasn’t been until a few years ago that she realized the clean and easy breakups she appreciated at the time further fueled her insecurities. Brian never considered having children with her, growing old together. Their separation emotionally and physically was so quick and clean, she’d wondered if in his mind he had dodged one hell of a bullet. He certainly never behaved like someone who just lost "the love of his life."

Ed, expectant of the total opposite as far as commitment went, had accepted her poor cop-out of a reason to break up without hesitation, as well. 

There was no future with either of those men. She was happy with them, loved them, both for different traits, for different reasons. She doesn’t think she was in love with Cassidy, but he was fun. With Tucker she found comfort and contentment. 

Each of them was what she needed at the time she dated them. Brian, the protector who saved her from getting too lost in her own head, a warm body to watch over her at night, who helped her come back after the terrifying, traumatic events surrounding her kidnapping. 

Tucker was unexpected, easy, friendly. He was a cavalier glass of bourbon at a bar, a well-meant professional broad hint, first personal details shared, an innocent squeeze of the arm here, an intense gaze there, a peck on the cheek as he bid her goodbye at the cab, a chaste kiss two weeks later when he walked her home. Ed was a beautiful distraction from her work duties and motherhood, a breath of fresh air when she sometimes felt like she was drowning in responsibilities, always stretching herself too thin.

Olivia had often wondered what that particular relationship said about her. That she dated, slept with, even trusted someone who she'd once felt was determined to end her career, someone who was convinced she committed a murder, possibly two when IAB investigated Lewis’ death. To say Olivia was surprised when she realized there was more to Ed Tucker than his wolfish gaze, thirsting for blood is an understatement. He was a good man. A soft man. She doesn’t think Elliot would believe her if she told him he had his heart in the right place, that at the end of the day he was a hurt man in need of love and gentleness. She’d discovered too late that she couldn’t be that for him; too broken herself to be his savior. Olivia likes to believe she paved the way for the woman who came after her, the woman who became his wife. They had a good run, her and Ed, but his lack to fight for what they had should have told her something much sooner. He was a man in need, but she wasn’t what he needed--unconditional love, stability. God, if there was one thing she couldn’t give him it was stability. 

Yet it still stung to see how quickly, how easily they moved on without her, how everyone else did, too. How ‘everyone’ included Elliot. 

“Y-you left, Elliot, and you didn’t… you never came to see me, you never called and that silence is loud .” Olivia's voice is small, accompanied by audible misery and tears, and tiny jerks around the corners of her mouth. When she looks at him he’s still flabbergasted, almost aghast, eyes wide, brows lifted, and his lips slightly parted. “Was I easy to leave?” she asks again.

“Walking away from you was the hardest, the most painful, the most regrettable thing I’ve ever done, Olivia,” Elliot tells her with searing sincerity. “There was nothing easy about it. It never became easy.” He grips her hand, holds it tight, and her eyes droop, forcing out the tears. “And I know,” he starts throatily, taking a brief pause like he’s collecting himself. “I know just disappearing makes me a terrible person, Liv. But none of it was easy, and there was not a time I didn’t think of you, no matter where I was.” 

Olivia looks at him through tears, finding it hard to accept that this is the answer, that although dark and hard and muddled, it’s simply that. It wasn’t easy. And yet it was so clear-cut, so sudden. It wasn’t easy, it reverberates in her mind, and Elliot did it anyway. 

She doesn’t want to feel angry, not again. She’s felt the fury bubbling in the pit of her stomach for months, felt it sit underneath her skin, trapped. There was no outlet, no valve for her to get rid of it. Her grief was undermined by his and the grief of his children. She’d suffered in silence, unfocused in the day, restless at night, with no one to talk to, no one who could possibly understand what she didn’t understand herself. She doubted that even Lindstrom could have sorted out the cluster of issues that came with Elliot Stabler’s name on it.  

“Liv, you’re angry,” he says, his tone calm and matter-of-fact.

“Don’t tell me that I’m angry,” she snaps, her tone biting, head whipping around. When she realizes what she’s done, the corners of her mouth droop and she shakes her head quickly. “I-I’m sorry. I didn’t… I don’t-” She exhales, shaky and slow. 

“Liv.” Elliot shifts his body so he’s facing her. He reaches out, gently grips both her hands with his when her head falls forward. 

“I don’t wanna be like this, I don’t like myself when I’m like this.” When anger shifts to fury, Olivia's blindsided by it. It reminds her too much of the darkest days of her life. Of losing herself and her hold on reality. Whatever tainted darkness resides in the hidden depths of her, Lewis made it come alive, drew it out of her. And then it was only her and that metal bar, coming down on Lewis’ body over and over again. And it felt good. Liberating. Victorious. Until she realized what she’d done, let go of the metal bar, and crumbled in a corner for however long it took her to stop shaking and crying and call for help. 

She hates snapping at people she loves out of the blue, aware she’s doing it with Elliot more often than she likes to admit. It’s not always this obvious, sometimes just an offhand comment, but the passive aggressiveness reminds her of her mother’s behavior, of the hurt she felt over the little jabs that stung no less than a slap across the cheek. She wonders if it’s like that for Elliot, too. If every time she’s overwhelmed and responds unfavorably, it chips away at him, at his love for her.

“Okay,” Elliot offers, lifting her hands out of her lap. “I can understand that, but you can’t keep it all inside, either.” The irony of Elliot telling her that isn’t lost on her. He lost most of his anger, it’s no longer red hot and simmering, but some of it is still slumbering inside of him, the hole in the wall of his old apartment proved that. “Let me tell you something,” he starts, his voice dropping. “I was on vacation. When Lewis got you. I was on vacation with Kathy and Eli.” 

Liv swallows so hard, it hurts in her throat. They never talked about this, except the time he swore he didn’t know, that if he had known…

“It’s been a long time but I needed to reconstruct where I was, what I was doing,” he explains when he catches her expression of confused horror. “We were in Portugal at the time. We’d come back from dinner, I think, I tucked Eli in for the night, and of course I can’t be sure it was that night, but Kathy got a call from Maureen, and she left the bungalow for a while, and when she came back things felt… off. So, when I did find out and understood how big it was, that it… it must have been all over the local news I wondered how I didn’t know, why my kids didn’t know .” Elliot’s gaze narrows, the lid of his right eye twitching in unison with the muscles in his chin. 

Olivia expels a breath, her eyes closing shut, because she’s got an idea of what’s coming. She’s suspected, but didn’t dare make an open assumption. 

“So, I asked Kathleen. Maureen, she was pregnant, there was no way I could bring it up with her, but Kathleen-,” he sighs, his jaw grinding back and forth, as if he’s still chewing on what’s next. “She didn’t need to say anything, it was all in the way she couldn’t look me in the eye.” 

She feels the betrayal, cold and heavy as stones, in her stomach. After everything she’s done for Kathy, for Elliot, for their marriage. All the times she told him to go home long after dinner time, every time she pushed him from the cribs into his marital bed. For fuck’s sake, she helped deliver her baby, held Eli before either Kathy or Elliot themselves got the chance. She’d cried, her cheek pressed to the baby’s  tiny, blood-and-vernix-smeared head, crying and praying for her partner’s wife, ready to give anything, trade places, if only she wouldn’t be taken from Elliot. She’d considered Kathy her friend. They weren’t close, but still she likes to think they had a bond, that Kathy knew she was always in her corner, fighting battles that weren’t hers to fight. 

And yet, in her one moment of need Kathy Stabler didn’t come through for her. And she gets it. Olivia gets it. Because if Elliot had known, Kathy would have lost her husband one way or another. 

It's a hard choice between what you know is right, and what you love more than anything, what you fought for, what you live for. 

For Olivia it has always been Elliot. He’s the person her world revolved around--then and now. She’d always choose him. So, as much as it hurts, she can’t fault Kathy for making the same choice. 

“Kathy knew,” Olivia says sedately.  

“Of course she did. I don’t know why it surprised me, it…” 

“She did the wrong thing for the right reasons.” 

“I don’t wanna talk about Kathy. I’m… I don’t understand but I can’t-” Elliot clears his throat as it cracks with the weight of his emotions. “The kids, all five of them, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Kathy was the one they talked to. She knew them like the back of her hand, they… they trusted her. They trusted her judgement. It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that I’d never have that privilege with any of them, but this-,” he swallows thickly. “This, I told her, they had no business to contact Kathy about. That call should’ve been me.” 

Olivia nods slowly, feeling him squeeze her hands. “I wish it had been you,” whispers Olivia. 

“I tried to make sense of all that, and… I could. I could make sense of it when Kathleen explained why they thought it was wiser to tell Kathy, and apparently they thought she would tell me--I don’t know if that’s true. But what angered me, truly angered me, was when I asked if they contacted you. I couldn’t believe that after everything you’ve done for them, for our family… for Kathleen specifically…” 

“El-,” she tries but he shakes his head vehemently, his eyes hardening on her with an intensity she can’t place. He needs to say this, and she understands, but she also feels protective of Kathleen, of all of his children. They were younger then. They weren‘t children, but still they were young and the bond between their father and his ex-partner must have been an enigma of sorts. Dickie had made that clear when they were alone in the interrogation room, inquiring about the nature of their partnership. It‘s not hard to imagine his siblings were wondering the same, or what kind of conversations they had about it among the four of them. Or the conversations--possibly fights--about Olivia they‘d overheard their parents have. Elliot‘s mother herself told Olivia she used to "scare the pants off Kathy." 

By the time Lewis got to her she hadn‘t seen the kids for three, maybe even four years. They were off to college, and she had never been a steady figure in their home, so who could blame them for being hesitant to reach out after she was kidnapped and tortured by some sick sociopath. Quite honestly, she didn't think she'd have known how to handle it. With how Elliot had left, it would have been too painful.

“I was angry. I was in disbelief. I was ashamed.” Olivia can see the hurt behind Elliot's eyes, the betrayal of being the last to know. They kept this from him, all of them, maybe to protect him, or maybe to protect the marriage. “And I hate when I’m angry with my children but I needed them to know it, Liv. They knew what happened to you, the hell he put you through, and they didn’t have the decency to reach out. Yet, when I wasn’t doing well, they had no problem getting in touch, asking for your help. That was the first fight I had with Kathleen in… probably twelve years. I’m not sure it was that, it was just me shouting and her listening, which… with Kathleen? Strange enough. But,” he emphasizes, pulling her hands closer towards him. “It needed to be said, or else that anger would have manifested in ways I don’t want to imagine. I did not want to hold resentment towards my daughter, towards my kids,” he leans in closer, his voice firmer now. “I don’t want that for us, either. There can’t be resentment between us, because you’re too afraid to say things, or to feel that anger that I know must be there.” 

He‘s right, of course. There is anger there, and it has been there and shoved elsewhere since the moment she saw him after the hit on Kathy. She‘d thought about what it would be like many times. How she‘d approach him, what she‘d say to him. Under normal circumstances. But added to the shock of seeing your ex-partner of thirteen years who disappeared for ten years, the man you loved, the terrifying fact that there was a bombing, Kathy being pushed into the ambulance on a stretcher, covered in cuts, bruises and burns, all that came out was his name, Elliot, and an incredulous whisper of 'Oh my God.'

Olivia's not sure her anger is still valid, much less if it should be released and added to all of the baggage they already carry. Kathy‘s sudden death, Elliot‘s PTSD, the guilt-fueled crusade to catch the people responsible, their tentative steps to rebuild their friendship, finding the courage to finally face their feelings in the midst of it all. And now her PTSD is flaring up in the ugliest way, interrupting her sleep, her progress, their lives. How can she add to that? How can she trust their relationship is strong enough to take it? 

They don‘t have decades under their belt like Elliot had with Kathy, no license to keep them tied by law, no ring to prove what they have is worth fighting for, no kids between them born and raised, that invisible string of their DNA smiling back at them. There‘s none of that, not anything to make her believe they can shoulder much more than what they already are. If she knows one thing though, it‘s that shit piles up, and she can‘t have this come back to break them. 

There was a time Olivia wouldn‘t have backed down from a fight, wouldn‘t have swallowed the anger. Quite the contrary, she would have gone for it, all in, like a wild animal sinking its teeth in its prey, but that was different, everything used to be different. She didn‘t have anything to lose then. Being mindful is important to her. Communicating smartly, openly, is her priority. She feels the anger, feels it simmer, but she doesn‘t think it‘s going to manifest like Elliot suggested. She wants to talk about it, but she doesn‘t want to lose her head, doesn‘t want to explode, lose control. Not when there‘s so much at stake. 

"I am angry,“ she whispers. Part of her feels ashamed of it, because it‘s been inside her for so long. They‘ve avoided these conversations for a year, because of her mostly. Elliot tried. He did, and it wasn‘t the right time, the right place, the right anything. She wasn‘t ready. She‘s not sure she‘s ready now, but running from it got them here in the first place. "I was angry when you came back, but clearly there was no place for that with what happened, and then Kathy died and you were-,“ she looks at him and he nods once.

"Fucked up.”

"Yeah. That. And then… I don‘t know, El. I was so focused on… on trying to help you, and trying not to fall apart, because I… I had nothing left to give, I think. But you… you needed me, I felt like you were trying to tell me you needed me, even when you pushed me away, and I didn‘t sleep well, and I needed to be okay and take a step back but you-,“ she trembles, her thoughts all over the place, scattered, confused. 

"Take a breath.“ Elliot's strong and steady for her now, the rock he knows she needs, so she follows his advice, breathes in, deep and slow. "You‘re angry,“ prompts Elliot. "Why?“ 

Olivia licks her lower lip, her gaze jumpy. "It‘s not good enough. I understand it must have been hard for you but… I… I don‘t feel any better now that I know. I expected-,“ tears gather in her eyes, thick, blurring her vision, blurring him, until they fall. "-to find some peace.“ She feels like an idiot for entertaining the idea that there was information she considered a key element to finding peace of mind, something that would allow her to put the past, the grip of abandonment in the past. 

"I‘m sorry I can‘t give you that,” he says, sounding serene, but his eyes betray him. “I wish I could, Liv.” She doesn’t doubt it. She knows he carries the regret with him like he carries his glock, his badge. It’s all part of him, except she’s certain he’s never put it down, never escaped the guilt, not like he escaped the NYPD, like he escaped her. 

Olivia pulls her hands from Elliot's grasp, but leaves them in his lap. “I keep thinking, if… if you were there when Lewis… I… I needed you, El. I needed you to be there, because when Cragen sent me home, you would’ve either taken me home, or you would’ve come after me, you would have checked up on me. You would have called. And when I didn’t pick up, you would’ve…” He would’ve known. Elliot would have known that something wasn’t right, that even upset, beyond upset, her not answering at all was a major red flag. He would’ve been there at her door, demanding her to open, and if she didn’t he would have used his key. For God’s sake, if he had been there, there’s no way Lewis would’ve made it past the first night at her place. He wouldn’t have gotten the chance to burn her, torture her. Rape her. She wouldn’t have needed to spend twenty-something hours in trunk of a car, and watch him rape Mrs. Mayer. He wouldn’t have killed that officer, and she wouldn’t have needed to beg for her life with her gun shoved down her throat. 

Olivia certainly wouldn’t remember the exact feel of Lewis’ fingers shoved up inside her. 

“Tell me you would’ve known,” she pleads, the anger melting away as he pulls her into his embrace, his lips pressing against her temple as he shushes her. “Please, tell me you wouldn’t have let that happen to me,” she croaks. 

“I never would’ve let that happen,” he mutters. “I’m so sorry, Liv. If I could change anything, just one thing about the past, this would be it. I never would’ve let him get near you.“ She clings to his words, having no doubt if anyone would have been suspicious of Lewis fascination with her, it would‘ve been Elliot. She clings to it, like she clings to him, holding on as she nuzzles his neck as his fingers tangle in her hair. "I love you. I always have.“ His voice is thick, and she knows he means it, that he always meant it, even the first time he said it in front of his children, so soon after Kathy‘s death. Just one more conversation they didn’t have, a conversation she doesn’t have the energy to engage in today, maybe not even soon. 

“I think I’m done talking for now.” She’s exhausted and tired, last night’s lack of sleep catching up with her now, despite the coffee and anxiety. “I can’t-,” 

“Liv, that’s okay. You set the pace. Whatever you need,” Elliot reminds her softly. “Are we okay, though?” He’s inquiring about the anger, the nightmares, the conversation they just had and the ones they didn’t have. It’s all right there in his voice, the edge, the worry. 

“We are,” she mumbles, sighing into his neck. “Can we stay like this for awhile?” She’s not ready to let go, or to be released from his embrace. She needs him all the more for every moment of insecurity they’ve just lived through, all the fear, all the doubt, the honesty. 

“I’d like that,” he rasps, and so she stays, allowing herself to sink fully against him, exhaling sharply into the quiet of the room. 

“I love you, too.” 

 

Chapter Text

“What time is it?” Olivia’s voice is scratchy with sleep as she stretches, legs and arms hitting the arm of the couch long before she’s fully stretched out. She must have nodded off in front of the television, fatigue catching up with her after the short night. 

“Just past four.” 

“How long have I slept?” groans Liv, groggily. 

“Few hours,” replies Elliot, simple, his footsteps drawing nearer. 

Rubbing Olivia's eyes she sits up, moves her mouth around because she finds it too dry. Past four, and they still have to pick up the kids. “Shit. We gotta get going,” Olivia, mutters, body and mind still heavy with sleep. 

Elliot settles down next to her. He grabs her thigh, rubs gently, lovingly. “Easy.” The word wafts on a soft chuckle. “We have time, if you wanna pick them up.” 

Olivia sinks against the back cushions, eyelids drooping as sleep still claws at them. She’s tired, but if she sleeps any more now, there’s no way she’s going to get rest tonight. It’s a vicious cycle she’s come to know all too well. Normally she avoids naps. Their talk earlier, however, must have wiped her out emotionally. 

“Not exactly a question of ‘if’.” Olivia pulls her legs up, trying to shake off the firm grasp of fatigue. “Are they still at Maureen’s? She’s probably going crazy by now.” It comes with a little wince as she thinks of how stressful it must be with a baby, an eight-year old and a teenage boy. 

“Yeah, they wanted to stay there, otherwise Kathleen would’ve dropped them off. And it’s fine, I already talked to Maureen. They’re all good. Maureen and Carl don’t mind if they stay for another night, so if you wanna spare a trip.” 

“That’s nice, but I really don’t want Noah to overstay his welcome.” 

“If she offers, then it’s okay with her, Liv. She’s good at this, you know? After growing up with four younger siblings.” The smile on his face carries in his voice. “She probably would have two or three of her own by now, but things have been… challenging from what I heard.” 

“Oh.” Liv didn’t know that, but thinking about it, she was surprised that Elliot didn’t have any grandchildren by the time he came back. Olivia fully expected Maureen to have a large family. “That’s tough.” She can relate to wanting children and being denied, although the circumstances must have been very different in Maureen’s case. 

“Yeah. She talked to Kathy about it, I just know that they’ve been trying since shortly after they got married, and that they started to see a doctor after a few years.” Elliot's smile is cautious, and she can only imagine how hard it must have been for him, as a father, to have witnessed his eldest daughter struggle with infertility. No matter what, you wish your kids well, you hope their roads will be easily traveled, that they’ll achieve anything they strive for, that they succeed and achieve their dreams. But that’s not usually how life goes, not for anyone. 

“So, Ella’s a miracle baby,” Olivia says softly, a smile appearing, and once more she relates, because Noah has been exactly that for her. She may not have carried him, her body hasn’t nurtured him. She’s never felt a contraction, she didn’t give birth and welcome him into her arms squishy, puffy and beautifully smudgy, and yet, the moment she went to pick him up, her heart was full of love and devotion. Noah was hers, meant for her. She found him for a reason, felt compelled to follow up by going to every hearing and inquiring about him through Langan. She didn’t fully understand her involvement, what exactly drove her to stay on top of his case, even when SVU was no longer responsible. But it had felt...necessary. Right.

“Yeah, I think she is,” he agrees around a nod, his smile brightening at that take. “Anyway, Mo said to let her know. If you want to go get Noah, we can, but keep in mind this might be the last time we get some alone time for a while,” he cautions, making it clear that he’d rather have her to himself. 

“You’re making a good argument there,” she grins, letting her head fall against his shoulder, yawning. “What about Noah? Does he even want to stay?” 

“You could call, and ask.” 

Olivia could call and ask, indeed, deciding she’ll do so in a few minutes, when she’s fully awake and doesn’t feel like she was hit by a truck. 

“Probably should finally call Amanda as well,” she muses aloud. Olivia put it off for so long now, Amanda probably no longer expects her to bring it up. She needs to express her gratitude, though, to both, Rollins and Fin. They didn’t breathe a word about the call from the photo shop or the pictures to anyone, making sure the investigation was never officially opened. God, she doesn’t even want to imagine if anyone other than Fin or Amanda had taken that call. The photographs would have been traced back to her and the Lewis case in a minute. It would have been more than she could have dealt with, being in the focus again, having people question if she lied in her statements, if she lied on the stand about being raped. Or, alternatively, wondering if she was just one big clusterfuck of a victim between her PTSD and repressed memories. Neither is a good look for someone in her position. 

God, the mere idea of being under the microscope again, the glances everyone thought they hid so well, the whispers when she was supposedly out of earshot--they threaten to turn her stomach. Her skin crawls at the memory of it, an itch she escaped for the longest time now. How did anyone ever think they were subtle about their oppressive curiosity? Or maybe, Olivia figures, they simply didn’t care. 

Lewis is dead, there would have been nothing to gain for her or anyone as far as the discovery of the photos goes. Nothing but more pain and humiliation. It would have been one fine day in hell for Lewis, she thinks, her heart clenching in her chest. It’s infuriating how he can still get underneath her skin, even more so when she thinks that he always will, that this will never change. 

Olivia has good people in her life. People who walk a fine line for her, ready to protect her at a cost. 

She doesn’t want to imagine the trouble this could have brought Amanda, the consequences. For all intents and purposes she tampered with evidence, made it vanish, and her Sergeant, as well she herself as Captain, are aware, have conspired. She hadn’t even considered doing the right thing, too shocked by the discovery, the existence of the photographs. Now, clear-headed, it’s much too late to pick the high road. The damage is done, and she couldn’t come clean if she wanted to. Not without putting all of their careers on the line, and like hell is she going to do that. 

It may be selfish, it may be wrong, but she is grateful, beyond grateful, that Amanda and Fin gave her a choice. They had her back, no matter the outcome. She won’t take that for granted. 

She owes Amanda. She owes Fin. Very few people would have shown such loyalty, such integrity, and here she is, four weeks later, too cowardly to get in touch and express her gratitude. She imagines Rollins must be gravely disappointed by the avoidance of conversations that transcend work-related matters. 

“Liv, if it’s too hard, and you can’t? She understands. This is Rollins, she’s your friend, she was there for it. She knows you’re grateful for how this was handled.” Elliot cups the side of her knee, swiping his thumb across the material of her denim. 

“Does she, though?” asks Olivia doubtfully. “I’ve hardly talked to her lately, and that’s not how things are between us. I just feel like I need to clear the air. It’s not something that I can sweep under the rug, El. I mean, she’s seen the pictures. Maybe… maybe she needs to talk. Maybe I do,” she sighs, eyes closed and pinching her nose. “I don’t know.” 

“Well, whatever you decide, I’ve got you, okay? You need privacy, I’ll take Noah, anything,” he assures with a squeeze of her knee. “I’ll get you some coffee, and you make up your mind about the kids. Then we’ll decide on what’s for dinner.” 

 


 

It turns out Noah wants to stay at Maureen’s for another night, and since it’s just the two of them, they decide to order Indian food from one of Olivia’s favorite places. After dinner she retreats to the bedroom, asking Elliot to give her a few minutes to talk to Amanda in private. Her stomach’s been rumbling with anxiety for the better part of the past few hours. It takes her another five minutes until she finds the courage to place the call, only to be greeted with: “Please don’t tell me we caught a case. I don’t have a sitter tonight.”

“Amanda, hey,” Olivia says softly. She could have anticipated this reaction, their interactions of late have been strictly professional, after all. “it’s not that at all. I’m sorry I’m calling you so late. Do you have a minute?” Absent-mindedly Olivia fumbles with the neckline of her shirt, her thumb leaving an angry reddened spot on her skin in its wake. 

“Of course. What is it?” 

Olivia's fingers still against the fabric of her shirt, her stomach plummeting to the floor. “I wanted to talk to you for a while now, I just didn’t know how to bring it up, and I’m sorry for being distant lately. I was wondering if you had time to talk about-,” she pauses, scraping her teeth across her bottom lip on an exhale. “There are some things I need to say, and I’d like to do that between just the two of us.” 

For a few beats there’s silence, Olivia’s nerves flaring up instantly, questioning if calling was the right decision. Then, unexpectedly, Amanda responds, her voice calm and welcoming. 

“I’d like that, Liv. Absolutely. Maybe we can try and find a good time on Monday? I’m not sure about my sitter’s and Sonny’s schedule, but I can find out until then.” It’s instant relief and Olivia’s hand uncurls from her shirt. At least some of the weight is lifted from her shoulders, although she’s no less anxious about the conversation to be had. 

“Sure, that works. Monday then,” she breathes. “Thank you, Amanda.” 

“Liv, are you okay?” Olivia can hear the genuine concern in Rollins' voice, a concern she feels responsible for. They should’ve talked sooner, Amanda wouldn’t have needed to worry about her then. She’d have known Olivia’s got a good support system between Elliot and her therapist. 

“Yeah, I’m okay. Getting there, you know. But I’m okay, all things considered. Thanks for asking.” Then, as an afterthought: “Are we okay? I know I should’ve talked to you sooner, I just-” 

“Liv, we’re fine. I hoped things wouldn’t be this stiff and awkward forever, but we’re fine. It’s a tough situation. I’m glad you called. I wanna talk, too.” 

Olivia allows the sentiment to settle in her chest, nodding to herself. It’s good she called. It’s good they are going to talk. It’s one more step in terms of moving forward, mending her relationship with Amanda, although it’s not really broken. The easiness, however, has been missing for the past few weeks. She doesn’t want this friendship to be burdened by what Amanda has seen, the things she now knows, a secret she now, inevitably, shares. 

“Yeah, me too. Um, I don’t wanna keep you from whatever you’re doing, Amanda, so have a good weekend, and we’ll talk Monday then.” 

“You too, Liv. Have a good night.” 

Olivia hangs up, feeling the heat seeping away from her cheeks, and the air flowing deeply into her lungs as she inhales. One hurdle down. One step closer to getting back a sense of normalcy. 

 


 

She's up for the first time in days tonight. Elliot knows this because their sleeping patterns have seemingly transposed since he knows about her nightmares. He lays awake a lot, grappling with the new knowledge, the guilt his abandonment causes, the ramifications that remain even now, years later, manifested in Olivia’s nightmares. Ramification he imagines may stay with them for a lifetime.

It‘s a rolling stone, his guilt, tumbling down the slope of her forgiveness. It roils in his stomach like an ulcer, has for years, intergrown with him, but now it’s growing and festering with her night terrors and tacit fears. 

For as long as he can think he’s seen himself as obligated to be strong and solid, for his family, his kids, and Olivia. Now he feels unstable, like he’s floundering. Different from how he felt in the aftermath of Kathy’s death, and yet so damned close. He feels so helpless and beleaguered, so in need of something, someone to grab and hold onto. 

He wants it to be Olivia. 

It can’t be Olivia. 

Part of the entire clusterfuck is him, his abandonment, his goddamn inability to reach out for all these years when really all she needed was him. 

Elliot can’t get those journal entries out of his head, the terror and agony contained in black ink and her neat handwriting. He replays their conversation over and over at night, Olivia’s stifling desperation swelling beneath his skin as she asked him if she was easy to leave, or the torment of what ifs she must have thought about for years.

“Tell me you would’ve known. Tell me you wouldn’t have let that happen to me.”

He’d told her he never would’ve let William Lewis get near her, always quick with his convictions that the son of a bitch wouldn’t have lived to do anything to Olivia, but if he looks at it rationally, he wonders if this would’ve been the case to break their good track record. What were the odds of him walking into the situation, saving the day? Most likely he would’ve ended with a bullet in his head, or worse, tied up, forced to watch. At the mere idea of Olivia being in danger he would’ve been blind with rage and rash with reckless decisions. He wants to think of himself as her savior had he been there, wants to see himself like Olivia sees him, but deep down, he doesn’t believe he could have prevented any of it. In fact Elliot suspects that their close bond would have been their downfall, that Lewis would’ve used it against them. Elliot, undoubtedly, would have either been a dead man, or one more pawn in Lewis’ game. 

Scraping his hands across his face, Elliot groans into the quiet of the dark room, deciding to put an end to the loop of his thoughts--at least for now. He leaves the bed, uses the bathroom, decides to go and see what Liv is doing. Not to check on her, he tells himself. She’s capable, competent. Fuck, she’s navigating her trauma so well despite the few missteps when diversion turned into avoidance and brought about a complete breakdown. That aside, Olivia’s been astonishingly solid. She has her coping strategies, she’s communicating, pulling him in instead of shutting him out, and he couldn’t be prouder, or more grateful. 

Elliot's need to see her isn’t because he’s worried for her, it’s solely for selfish reasons. If he sees her, sees she’s okay, that’s she’s coping, it means he can breathe easy, at least for a little while. Olivia always says that she needs him, that he’s good to her and for her, but the truth is, he needs her so much more. She’s the real rock in this relationship, and among Liv, Eli, Noah, and himself, he feels like the weakest link lately. 

Olivia, it seems, makes strides whereas he’s merely stumbling since they’ve talked. 

Looking in the mirror he sees the circles under his eyes from last year make a reappearance, not as prominent, but noticeable, apparently. Ayanna asked him if he’s not sleeping well. He didn’t know how to answer, so he didn’t. He thinks it’s a hell of a lot better than lying to his Sergeant. She’s more than that, of course. A confidant, a friend, to him and Liv both.

The restlessness makes Elliot's skin crawl. His breath is shallow, his shoulders tense. Hell, everything about him is tightly coiled, aching for an outlet. He wants, needs, a fucking sense of relief to make him no longer crave the catharsis of driving his fist into the reflection of his goddamn face. At home he’d do something about it. Fifty push-ups, fifty chin-ups, hit the speed ball--anything to sweat out the anxiety, the oppressive trepidation twitching in his muscles. Anything to just breathe. 

Breathe . The thought sticks with him, and he holds onto it, grabs the lavatory on either side, feeling the cool, smooth porcelain ceramic in his palms. He lets go of a ragged breath, closes his eyes, focuses before he draws in a slow, deep breath through his nose. 

One-two-three-four. 

And he holds. 

One-two-three-four , Elliot counts in his head, slowly, then breathes out on another four-count. Inhales, counting to four. Holds counting to four, and repeats the technique a few more times.

The tension slips from his shoulders, whereas the threads within him that started to unravel his tapestry tighten and make him feel steady. Or steadier.

One last time and he purses his lips on the final exhale. Who would’ve thought that breathing exercises would one day benefit his relationship, keep him grounded enough to handle Liv’s trauma and his guilt without being destructive. 

He placed a call to Dr. Carpenter-Grey yesterday, ineffectually mentioning that he might need an appointment. He’s not sure if he’ll ever actually schedule one, but it felt good to have that option, to nudge that door open. The woman is a PTSD specialist, and although this has nothing to do with why he started seeing her, he found the coping strategies help in moments when he’s alone and about to crack. Besides, she knows about the importance of Olivia in his life, about their complicated history, if not in detail. The breathing exercises are the patch kit for the fissures in his facade. Elliot’s not altogether confident it's going to hold him together for long though. This proliferating guilt, it feels, is going to eat him alive.  

Who would’ve thought that twenty-four years down the road they’d end up a couple, so scarred by trauma that they needed therapy. He sure as hell didn’t, but then, he figures, they at least have each other, and somehow that’s all that counts. 

Deciding to ground himself, if only for a short moment should Liv want to be alone, Elliot goes to find her. She sits at the dining table, both forearms on the tabletop. The pictures, those goddamn pictures are laid out in front of her. It’s the first time, to his knowledge, that Olivia dug them out from wherever she keeps them. Her dark brown eyes meet him, and beneath her lashes and the tight smile she regards him with, there’s a flicker of guilt. 

“I know I shouldn’t,” she preempts with a forlorn shrug of her shoulders. The corners of her mouth tip downward, sharpening the contour of her chin. She makes no move to withdraw the pictures from his view, not in the least frenzied or insecure. After the journal it seems she trusts him with this, too. 

“Can I sit?” he asks, pointing towards a chair. 

Nodding, Liv uses her foot to nudge the chair opposite her noisily back. Walking around the table Elliot sits down, keeping his gaze from the stomach flipping photographs. 

“Why are you up?” She sounds neutral, which probably means she’s unaware of his fucked up sleep pattern of late. Through his nose Elliot sucks in a breath, shifts his jaw. 

“Trouble sleeping lately. You? Another nightmare?” 

“No,” she breathes. “Haven’t had one since we talked, actually.” 

Fully entrenched in gratitude for small blessings, Elliot smiles crookedly. It didn’t go unnoticed that she sleeps better, that this is the first time in five nights that she woke up and crawled out of bed. Until now, however, Elliot hadn’t been sure that meant the dreams were under control. 

“That’s good.” The breath he expels is filled with relief. It’s a good thing she got some things off her chest, that they talked, however painful and emotionally draining it was. 

“I think I’m just nervous about tomorrow, and then I thought of the pictures and figured maybe, now that I’ve discussed things with Lindstrom and you… that I’d remember something if I looked at them again.” Her face is like stone, hardened, unmoving. 

Nothing got shaken loose for her, it seems. He has no idea if that’s a good or a bad thing, if it’s better to know, to remember , or to wonder. But she doesn’t have to wonder, does she? It’s all there in the pictures, clear as day. It’s where his gaze settles, briefly.

Briefly is enough to chill him to the bone. 

You’d think all the years in SVU should have desensitized him, but this isn’t the job, or a case. This is his life. This is Olivia. 

Not knowing, for him, was without a doubt better. The uncertainty behind it had always given him some sense of relief, however false it was. 

“Do you?”

The frown chisels deeper into Olivia's forehead, putting an ache in his chest. “Nothing that’s tangible.” 

“Want to talk about it?” 

Olivia releases a slow breath through her nose. He can see her mull it over in her head with diligence. “I don’t know, El,” she says after a few long moments. “It’s already so much.” Her eyes fall onto the pictures that are lined up in threes before she raises her gaze back up to meet his. He sees the insecurity, how she’s on the fence. “It’s already so much, I don’t know if I need to put more of it in your head. I don’t want it to be on your mind. I don’t even want it to be on mine, but I can’t really…,” she sighs, rubbing her fingertips across her forehead. “It doesn’t make sense to me.” 

"What doesn’t?” Elliot prods carefully. 

“Having no actual memory of anything. Not knowing if I was out cold for all of it, or if I repressed it. All I-,” she makes a small noise in the back of her throat, and he decides not to push when she shakes her head. He recognizes the silent apology in her eyes, telling him she can’t. Maybe she needs time. Maybe he’s not the right person to talk to about any of this, ever, and he respects her boundaries. 

“You talk to your therapist about it?” 

“Yeah,” she breathes. He watches some of the tension melting away from her face, taking his own with it. It’s all he needs to hear, that she has someone, that she is talking about it, and not letting it fester. 

“Good.” It’s simple. Elliot trusts Lindstrom, even though he doesn’t know the man, and has never met him. He does know, however, that Olivia has seen him for a good portion of the last decade, that they didn’t work solely on her PTSD. “Come to bed with me?” 

“I think I need another moment. Or two,” grimaces Olivia.

“Wanna be alone?”

“If that’s okay?” Olivia's always putting him first, and this is about not wanting him to feel like she shuts him out when she already couldn’t talk to him about what’s on her mind, the things keeping her up tonight. 

“Sure.” Elliot walks around the table, pauses behind her. He trusts her. He trusts that she can handle the photographs, can handle looking at them. He understands it might be imperative in terms of Liv accepting that there are no memories, for whatever reason. Sometimes demons need to be faced head on to be put to rest. And who is he to judge whatever she needs to find some semblance of acceptance and peace. “Maybe try not to be too long, though.” His fingers curl around both of her shoulders, pressing a kiss onto the top of her head as he squeezes gently. 

There’s a small sound of acknowledgement as she tips her head towards him, smiling ponderously. Elliot doesn’t make her promise. He simply retreats to the bedroom. 

Dropping onto the bed Elliot sighs quietly. He attempts to sleep, but ultimately finds himself restless without Olivia next to him and decides to wait for her. He’s in dire need of her warm, soft body next to his. He likes it better that way, with her close. It allows him to breathe. His lungs fill so much easier when her arm curls around him and her head settles in that little nook where it fits just right.

It feels like a long time until Olivia quietly slips into bed. He’s weary with fatigue and all the thoughts rattling through his head, but there’s ease when the mattress dips beneath her weight. His heart leaps with the familiarity of it. 

“Everything okay?” Elliot asks, and with the realization that he’s still awake she drifts closer. 

“Hmm,” she mumbles, nuzzling the side of his chest as she settles in, finding her place around his body. “Tired.” 

"Let‘s sleep then.“ Sleep, he hopes, won‘t be impossible now. Olivia hums her approval, a warm gentle breeze of her breath caressing his skin. And thankfully the carousel in his head slows. 

 


 

A few measured breaths to ground herself is all Olivia gets in before the expected knock on the door resonates. She feels the dread sitting heavy in her stomach as she crosses the room, her pace a tad slower than usual. 

Elliot has taken the kids to the movies so she and Amanda can talk. They‘d agreed on no kids, so Olivia assumes Carisi is with Billie and Jesse, and by extension she wonders if they‘ve moved in together yet. Amanda mentioned something a couple of months ago. She feels terrible, because she can‘t piece together what it was, and that dread she feels deep inside of her starts to multiply. 

Shit.

Liv's chest tightens when she grabs the doorknob, but it eases a bit when she sees her detective, a leisurely insecure smile on her face. Rollins, for some reason, is nervous, too. Olivia, for some reason, didn‘t expect that. 

They didn‘t talk much this entire week. A little more, but not quite enough. Not like what used to be normal for them. There was a time she was okay with minding her own business, being untethered, especially after Elliot first left. Maybe it was self-preservation, maybe outright refusal to play nice with someone else when she was so hurt, so torn and broken. Her relationship with Rollins, personal and professional, was complicated for a long time. Sometimes it surprises her that they are still working together, and working together well. That they‘ve formed a bond, a close friendship on steady pillars of trust and mutual respect when there was a time she didn‘t hold either for Amanda. It was, possibly, her own selfish need to succeed as a CO that was responsible for them getting this far, close enough to have earned the title of friends. Letting Rollins go, losing an otherwise capable detective, would have been interpreted as Olivia failing as leader, unable to keep her staff in line. She‘d given Amanda a chance, and Amanda, in turn, had taken it and turned herself around, making sure Olivia didn‘t regret it. 

"Hey,“ Rollins greets, and it occurs to Olivia that she stood just staring, so with a wave of her hand she invites the blonde in. 

"Amanda, please, come in.“ 

For a moment Olivia holds her breath, watches the blonde enter, then exhales slowly while pushing the door closed. Amanda has been here many times, but it never felt like this. Awkward and tense. It‘s probably what she makes it, so challenging herself she walks past Amanda to lead the way towards the kitchen. 

"Thank you for coming. I have coffee, or tea, would you like-,“ she‘s rambling, inexplicably nervous, and Amanda jumps in, saving her from further babbling. 

"Coffee would be great. Billie‘s been having a few rough nights, and well, so did I. Coffee‘s the only thing I‘m walking on at this point.“ 

It‘s a relief to hear about Billie, and have the option of shifting the focus away from the photos, at least for now. She‘s grateful for it, and falls into that conversation, because this, motherhood, is safe and common ground. 

"Oh no, is she okay?“ Olivia glances at Amanda when she gets two cups from the cabinet, pouring them both a strong one. 

"I think it‘s a growth spurt. Plus Al conveniently remembered he has a daughter, and it was,“ she makes a face, then waves it off. 

It‘s not news that Billie‘s father pops in and out of her life as he sees fit. Olivia assumes it’s the guilt first and foremost making Amanda fold when it comes to Dr. Al’s inability to keep promises and be present. Jesse doesn’t know her father at all, so having Billie’s dad come around and show an interest at least sometimes is a step up from that. 

“I take it it didn't it go well?” Liv makes a couple of trips to the dining table, for the coffee first, cream and sugar second. 

“She hardly knows him, but he expects her to be excited to see him, and wants her to go to the playground with him. Alone.” Amanda snorts disapprovingly and takes a seat when Olivia settles in a chair. “I mean, I get it’s frustrating for him, but he knows what to do to change it. The heart of the matter is that he’s irresponsible with visiting, only remembering he has a daughter when he gets bored. And in the meantime he buys off his guilt with a fat check, and that I can’t complain about. He may be largely absent, but he takes child support very seriously.” 

“So, it’s about the money? You bending over and playing nice?” There’s no judgement there, only genuine concern and curiosity. 

Rollins scoops two spoons of sugar into her coffee, somberly stirring for it to dissolve. “It’s not just about the money, but not carrying the financial burden for daycare on my salary?” She sighs around a shrug. “I kind of hope he’ll turn himself around. At first I figured she was still a baby, right? There wasn’t much he could do with her, but now she’s… that’s stupid right? Hoping he’ll one day wake up and realize he wants a relationship with his daughter?” 

“Not stupid at all,” Olivia assures, one corner of her mouth tipping downwards as she smiles crookedly. “And I say that as a child that grew up without a father. I’m also not sure having someone so unreliable for a father is all that much better, but at least you can honestly say you’ve tried and held that door open for him. Billie will remember that and draw her conclusions.” For a moment she thinks her next words through. “Especially by comparison to Carisi’s role in her life.” 

Rollins’ blue eyes take on a lighter shade, a smile crawling onto her face. They have been a couple for one and a half years now, but the fact of the matter is that Carisi stepped up for Amanda and her girls long before that, if under the guise of ‘uncle Sonny’, Amanda’s friend, Amanda’s partner. 

A moment of understanding passes between both women but with it the silence swells, and Olivia’s chest tightens, remembering the reason they are here. She pulls her coffee closer, allowing the warmth of the ceramic to permeate her skin. It’s heavy, that silence, and around another slow, measured breath Olivia’s stomach flips at the words that tiptoe up her throat. There‘s so much she wants to say and she doesn‘t know how to say it. 

“Thanks for coming, Amanda. We really should’ve… I should’ve done this sooner, but-,” She swallows the excuses, however valid they are. She draws another breath, but it does nothing to clear the chaos of loose thoughts in her head. “I never said thank you for the way you handled everything. 

“Liv-” Amanda shakes her head, reaches out, her fingers settling against Olivia’s forearm. 

“I can’t tell you enough how grateful I am that you honored my privacy above everything else,” Olivia interrupts the blonde detective, the words tumbling out quickly before they get stuck in her throat. “And I know what you risked the moment you surrendered those photographs to me.” Their eyes meet and Olivia’s are filled with the gravity of her gratitude. “I’ll never forget that.” 

Amanda’s eyes are soft, and there’s an expression painted on her face that Olivia can’t quite read, astonishment maybe. 

“There was no risk there, Liv. You would’ve done the same for me, for any of us.” 

Olivia almost winces at that. She wants to believe it’s true, but maybe, since she’s captain now, and lying hasn’t ever worked in her favor--maybe, she thinks again, Rollins is wrong. 

“How are you doing with that?” Amanda follows up. 

It catches Olivia by surprise. Whenever she thought about talking to Rollins, she was never quite sure if they’d talk beyond ‘thank you’ and ‘you’re welcome’. She decides that she owes Amanda some kind of answer. 

“Better now. It was rough at first. Still is sometimes. Bad PTSD flare-up, lots of nightmares..” She’s almost casual with the words, and before she chokes on it, takes a sip of her coffee. Truthfully, she’d prefer something stronger.

“You talking about it with someone?” There’s real concern swimming in Amanda’s eyes, and Olivia’s chest tightens at the realization that she has good friends, good people in her life. 

“To my therapist. To Elliot, about some of it.” She smiles tightly, rubs her thumb across the rim of her cup thoughtfully. 

“Good,” Rollins nods. “So, how’s he doing with that?” 

At this Olivia almost snorts. Almost. Amanda seems to pick up on it, smirks faintly, but knowingly. Rollins doesn’t know Elliot well, but apparently she got a good enough read on him to understand he’s a complicated man who struggles when things are out of his control, and, even more than that, struggles with showing weakness. 

“It’s rough on him. It dragged some stuff up for the both of us. We’re working through it. He feels guilty above anything else, I think.” She’s worried, but not too worried. Elliot’s taking care of it. This afternoon she got a glimpse at his call history, and at the very top she caught the name of his therapist. He’s not talking to her about it, but she doesn’t feel betrayal, or like he doesn’t trust her. Elliot’s trying not to burden her with his feelings, his issues, his guilt. He’s not hiding any of it well, but then she knows him like the back of her hand. When he’s ready, he’ll come to her, in his own time. 

It’s not just about her and Elliot, Olivia realizes. Of course the fallout is greater for them, but Amanda has seen the pictures, too, has seen them first, forced to make decisions that ultimately meant she had to put her career on the line for her captain. And so the question slips from Olivia’s tongue, her gaze lifting. “What about you, though, Amanda? How are you doing with it? I mean… you’ve seen-,” she lets it hang, her fingers tightening around the coffee cup. 

It’s unexpected, she can tell by the beginnings of a frown that forms on her friend’s forehead, the way Amanda almost imperceptibly licks the inside of her lips. There’s a shift in the atmosphere now that the conversation goes deeper. Olivia doesn’t think either of them has seen it coming, but there’s something about Rollins' approach that makes her feel at ease, like she can open up and not lose face. It’s not entirely new, either, Amanda has been there for everything that happened with Lewis, after all. 

The blonde detective remains quiet for a long moment, and Olivia recognizes the same uncertainty in her face and posture she’d shown earlier. 

“You’ve seen them, haven’t you?” Olivia prods carefully, cocking her head. 

Amanda’s gaze dulls, darkens. “I have.” 

“All of them?” She’s asking more out of curiosity than concern. 

“I don’t know.”

So, Olivia infers, she looked at them, but put them away at some point, either out of respect for Olivia’s privacy, or because she couldn’t take to see more. Olivia involuntarily wonders how many she’s seen, and which. She raises the stakes, maybe for the sake of conversation, maybe to find answers. 

“I didn’t know, Amanda,” she says. Quietly. A brief understanding passes and Amanda nods. She sees her mistake then, because this could be about the photographs in general, as well as what’s in them. “What he did. I didn’t…” 

“I get it,” Amanda says quickly. So, she’s seen the worst of them. “It wouldn’t matter if you did.” 

It matters. To Olivia it does. She may have omitted what happened in the bathroom of the beach house, but she knew no more about the pictures than she did about what they depict. It’s important to her that the people she cares about know that. 

“It matters, Amanda. If I had known-” 

Then what? She’s not entirely sure what that would’ve meant for her, if she would’ve disclosed or denied. There was no physical evidence it happened in the rape kit, she would’ve gotten away with covering it up. She couldn‘t even say Lewis forced his fingers inside her body, so how probable is it that she would have talked about being raped? The truth of it is, she doesn‘t know. She‘ll never know, just like she‘ll never remember, most likely. 

“You lived through it. You survived. Whether you’d have come forward or not is nothing but a technicality, Liv. And if you didn’t know, what’s the point?” 

That’s one way of looking at it, she thinks. She exhales with the simplicity behind Rollins’ words and as her chest deflates, some of the pressure leaves her with it. 

They look at each other for what feels like minutes until Rollins breaks eye-contact to nurse her coffee. They can leave it at that, Olivia ponders. Or, and it makes her heart race and that sense of panic click into place, they could talk. Rollins, besides Olivia herself, knows more about William Lewis than anyone. She dove deep into his history, and, even more importantly, she’d seen him for what he was right away, before any of them did. 

Anxiously Olivia rubs her chin, at war with herself, with what she thought she needed from this conversation. There’s a chance this can’t be unpacked, and yet, she knows Amanda must wonder about the ins and outs of the photographs as well. 

And all of a sudden she can’t hold it in, not when there’s the slightest chance that Amanda can somehow help her understand the entanglement of circumstances, what happened in that bedroom besides what she can remember. 

“There was nothing in that rape kit supporting that I was raped. I’ve been over this so many times since the photos surfaced, and I can’t make sense of that,” it tumbles out of her mouth. In Amanda’s face there’s as much astonishment as there is intrigue, her eyes narrowing a bit. What she says about the rape kit isn’t news to Amanda, she probably knows that report by heart. She seems to be surprised Liv is willing to talk about this at all. Soon enough Olivia can see the wheels turn in Amanda’s head, can see she’s mulling this over, probably not for the first time. 

“Is there anything you remember?” 

“Nothing that’s clear. But there’s… ahhh… phantom sensation.” Her face heats, her entire body, and sweat starts to build on the small of her back as Amanda nods at her in acknowledgement. “Phantom—erm… of-,” she stammers, breathing in through her nose. “-penetration.” Averting her gaze she blinks a few times, because for a second or two she can almost feel it. 

“I mean, that is you in the photos in question.” It’s obvious from the burns on her abdomen that are visible on the picture that shows penetration. 

“Yeah,” Olivia breathes. “And I can’t… he was brutal with his victims.” It’s what they know from the various statements, from the rape kits and autopsies of Lewis’ victims. It’s what she witnessed first hand when he forced her to watch what he did to Mrs. Mayer. Yet here she is, with a rape kit that states mild vaginal irritation, and that’s the result from what he did to her at the beach house. “I don’t get it. I taunted him at the beach house that it’s been four days and he still didn’t rape me. That he was not man enough, that he was afraid of me. And that got to him. I got to him, and that just doesn’t make sense .” 

Amanda remains quiet, too damn quiet, obviously thinking. She’s merely nodding, attentive, so Olivia keeps going.  

“As much as I try, I don’t remember anything. There’s that phantom sensation, so clearly that happened, but then it’s… like I can’t breathe, and then nothing. I must have just passed out from pain, or the… the drugs.” 

Amanda’s forehead folds in concentration, her gaze more intense on Olivia now. Something seems to click into place for Rollins then. “Wait, you… you couldn’t breathe?” 

“I don’t know, it’s part of that phantom sensation thing, at least my therapist calls it that. Like there’s something around my neck, but there's no real pressure there, but I can’t breathe and there’s a sense of dizziness, maybe? But that’s it, after that there’s nothing I…” 

“He choked you,” Amanda thinks out loud on a single breath, pushing her cup away with such force that some of the sweetened coffee spills onto the table. “I think he…-” she starts but then redirects. “One of his first victims that we know of,” she goes, snapping her fingers, trying to remember the name. “Marissa Thompson. In one of her statements she mentioned that the first time Lewis raped her, he ejaculated prematurely, which set him off. He started to choke her in a fit of rage.” 

Olivia remembers the name, the case against him that was eventually dropped with both victims too traumatized to testify. Lewis had kidnapped, tortured and raped two college roommates back in Alabama, however, she can’t recall any of what Amanda remembers.

“I didn’t have any marks on my neck.” 

“Neither did Marissa, at least nothing as prominent as you would expect, which means he most likely knew to apply pressure to the carotid artery. He needs to be in control, it wouldn’t be surprising if that was one way he exerted it in relationships, if he ever had any.” Sexual choking. They’ve come across plenty of women who liked to have their air flow restricted, who were aroused by thrill and the risk of the practice. 

“How do you remember all this?” 

“Took another look at it all. I wanted to know if he ever used a camera,” Rollins says distractedly, as hooked as a dog smelling a bone. “He didn’t tell you he already raped you,” she mumbles. “He would’ve boasted if you were wrong when you told him he wasn’t man enough. He lost his cool because you hit a sore spot. He wasn’t man enough to do to you what he did to the others.” 

Olivia can see that she works out the theory on the spot. “In court he made it a point to hear you say he didn’t rape you. He needed to know if you remembered anything. You were probably hardly responsive after drugging and torturing you, but it wasn’t that he couldn’t get it up. He clearly did.” Amanda’s up now, pacing, and Olivia can hardly follow her train of thought. “You were incapable of fighting back, and although that’s the biggest thrill for him, he still-” She smiles now, looking at Olivia. “The photos. Do you still have them? The negatives?” 

Suddenly Olivia’s head is spinning. It’s all too fast. Rollins, and whatever theory’s floating in her head, the information pelting down on her. “The… I… Yes. Why?” 

“Can I see them?”

It doesn’t make sense to her, but Amanda seems to think she’s onto something, and if Olivia has learned one thing, it’s that Rollins is excellent at profiling. Maybe there’s something in the photographs, in the negatives, that Olivia herself has disregarded or overlooked. 

Wordlessly she heads to the bedroom and withdraws the envelope from below a storing box in her underwear drawer, handing it over to Amanda with trembling hands. The detective makes short work of it, ripping it open, retrieving the negatives only. She holds one strip after the other up against the light. Whatever the hell she’s looking for, Olivia surmises she found it when her lips crack and her eyes widen, muttering: “Son of a bitch.” 

“What?” 

Rollins, smiling almost placidly, hands over the negatives in question, but really, Olivia doesn’t know what to look for. If anything she’s more confused than before. “What am I looking at?” 

“The order the pictures were taken in,” clarifies Rollins triumphantly. 

Olivia, squinting at the negatives one by one, still doesn’t pick up on it, not until Amanda points it out to her. Jesus, she’s no longer as sharp as she used to be. 

“Are we to believe he ejaculated, and then raped you?” 

Olivia’s gaze flits to the very last picture taken, the one that shows Lewis’ penis inside her. 

“I’m not sure I understand, Amanda,” Olivia whispers. 

“Maybe I’m off in places, but I think it went something like this: He tried to rape you. Tried, because he got too excited. No vaginal injuries at all, he probably was on the edge right in that moment. But he couldn’t risk you knowing that, he couldn’t have handled that. He choked you, ejaculated--obviously not inside you--which explains the lack of semen in the kit and the semen on your face. He messed it up big time, and maybe that’s when the camera caught his attention again, because he could rewrite history and try to cover up his malfunction. You were right from the get go, Liv. He wasn’t man enough, he was just a little overexcited boy when it came to you.” 

“But why take the photos?” 

“He was grasping at straws, it was probably the one thing he could do to still feel in control. He failed. He was a failure, he couldn’t have that. The humiliation of capturing what he couldn’t do on film was probably all he could think of. And if you happened to find them one day it was another way to torture you or whoever...found them. I think the pictures were more about him than they were about you.” 

Olivia needs to sit. Her knees feel weak, so she makes it to the sofa and leans into the sofa back, thinking it over. For minutes she doesn’t say a thing, unable to speak or move. For the past five weeks she tried to adapt to a new reality, although it has always been her reality, she just… didn’t know about it. And now this. 

This.

Everything about what she saw in the photographs was confusing, especially because it didn’t coincide with what she remembered, how she felt, what the rape kit provided. Lewis supposedly raped her, yet there was nothing that supported it up until the camera surfaced, and with it the pictures. 

She knew the result of every rape kit connected to Lewis, and it didn’t make sense that she was uninjured. She was whole, when every other victim had been quite literally torn apart by the sheer force, the brutality he exercised upon them. 

It gives her an almost perverse sense of satisfaction, even victory. Sure, technically it’s still rape, but to Olivia, when it comes down to it and she scratches the very definition of it, it also isn’t. Lewis didn’t succeed. He may have penetrated her, maybe once, maybe twice, if Amanda is spot on, but the very thing he meant to do--he couldn’t. He didn’t. Even if he legally raped her, he didn't get to do it the way he wanted. 

It’s bordering on comical. 

In fact, she decides, it’s hilarious. 

Olivia doesn’t realize she’s laughing in near hysterics until Amanda sits down next to her, concern lacing her voice as she grabs her shoulder. 

“Liv.” 

“I can’t… I can’t stop laughing,” she manages to get out, as her diaphragm contracts. She’s laughing so hard it hurts. She’s laughing so hard she’s crying.

She’s crying. 

All of the tension of the past weeks just falls off. She’s not entirely convinced this is all true, that Lewis, even with her body and spirit broken, hadn’t had the upper hand when it came to the worst of it. 

The photos had her fooled that she read him wrong, that in the end she’d underestimated him, that he’d outsmarted her and for nearly a decade she hadn’t even known. But he didn’t. 

Maybe he didn’t. 

Olivia wants to believe that. She needs to believe that. All the scenarios she’d made up in her head lately and this one is the first that ties everything together. It’s the first scenario that makes sense. She clings to that. Desperately. 

She’s crying hard now. She’s not sure she’ll be able to stop. Everything is so confusing, and she gasps for air as she bleeds pain and relief alike. Drawing a deep breath she tilts her head up, wipes at the tears. She pulls herself together when she didn’t think she could, throwing out an apology that’s half laugh, half cry. 

“I need a drink,” she announces shakily, because maybe that’ll help her think straight. “You want one?” 

For a moment Amanda hesitates but then she gives in around a nod. “Sure, why not.” 

Olivia’s not one for crying in front of others, Elliot’s become the exception to that, and now, apparently, Amanda, too. It’s just all so overwhelming, and really, she couldn’t have stopped herself if she tried. Lately it’s all a bit much. As she pours a generous amount of Bourbon for each of them she’s still battling another onset of tears, and really, when did she turn into this emotional person anyway? Probably with motherhood, she decides. Noah’s made her softer. She’s heard that many women tend to be more emotional after childbirth, but she wonders if the same applies when you adopt. She can’t imagine loving him more if she carried him or physically birthed him. Maybe she’s not different from all the other moms out there. 

She downs half of her drink on the spot, feeling the welcome burn in her throat before it settles in her stomach, warm as a blanket. With her eyes closed she breathes out slowly, gathering enough courage to face Amanda. She presses the drink into her waiting hands, and much like herself she’s not holding back as she knocks a fair amount back. 

Pensively Olivia sits down next to Amanda, neither of them speaking for a long while. The silence is oddly comfortable as they both quietly nurse their drinks. 

It’s Amanda who speaks first. “Are you all right?”

She looks over, grimaces, and swirls what’s left of the bourbon in its glass. “Ahh… I don’t know. It’s-” she swallows hard, saliva clicking wetly in her throat. “You really think that’s how it went?” 

“I do,” Amanda says. “At least something close to it.” The certainty in her tone knocks the breath out of Olivia’s lungs. If Amanda is sure of it, maybe she can be, too. It seems possible. It certainly makes a lot more sense than anything she thought up so far. 

Olivia thinks back to the beach house, to how she’d taunted Lewis. He could’ve proved her wrong about being afraid of her, but he’d ended up shoving her gun down her throat, and she wonders now if that was the only violation he was capable of, if her Glock was, in the widest sense, used to compensate for his flaccid cock. Beyond the terror this stuck with her as he sat on top of her. Lewis sure as hell had not been hard. Not then, and not at the granary. 

She’d said to Tucker she told Lewis to rape her, that he didn’t because she didn’t offer resistance. Thinking about it now she realizes it was all bullshit. Lewis could’ve made her fight against that goddamn table. He could’ve made her scream, easily. He didn’t though, and she wonders now, after what Amanda suggests happened, if he was no less terrified than she was, if for a different reason. 

If he came prematurely, emptied himself before he got around to hurting her the way he wanted, that must have been a real blow to his ego. The fact he used his fingers at the beach house speaks for itself, too. 

“You ask me, he bit off more than he could chew with you, Liv,” Amanda says, lips attached to the tumbler. 

“I don’t know, Amanda. I mean, maybe. If this is how it went down--,” she shakes her head, scoffs. “He still took… a lot. Things I’m not sure I’ll ever get back, and it affects me, Elliot.” She exhales through her nose and pulls her feet up. “Sometimes I don’t recognize the person I’ve become. It’s like everything about me screams ‘victim’, and I don’t know how to step out of… whatever it is.” 

She feels Amanda’s eyes on her, her gaze probing and hot. 

“I don’t know why I’m telling you that.” 

“No, it’s all right. I mean… I get it. These things change you.” 

“Did it change things for you? I mean…” She thinks about it but shakes her head, decides not to go there. “Never mind.” 

“No, what?” Amanda encourages her. “It’s just me, Liv. Did it change things for me? Patton? I think so. But probably in different ways than it did for you. I think it made me more defiant. Clearly I didn’t cope in the best ways.” She gives Olivia a pointed look. 

“No shit,” Olvia scoffs. Then she looks at Amanda for a long moment, drains her glass before she speaks. “I never had sex like I used to… after.” For a moment she holds her breath, watches for some kind of reaction. It comes in form of an easy shrug. 

“Makes sense,” Amanda offers. “Is it a problem?” 

“Hell if I know. Elliot seems fine, but he’s Elliot. For me… sort of? It’s frustrating, because there’s always that cautiousness, and I think he senses it, so he’s… he’s careful, like I’m breakable or something, and I don’t think I realized any of it before the photographs, because it’s all become so normal.“

“Do you talk about it to him? Because you know you should.” 

“We’ve only begun having sex again recently, and there’s a lot going on at the moment, and quite honestly, how do I even bring that up?” 

“I guess you just have to decide if it’s important enough for you to discuss, and if it is, you just do it. Just talk. What can it hurt?“ 

„Right,“ Olivia says quietly, although she‘s rather reluctant about having that conversation. She‘s not unhappy with what they have. Not at all. The sex is wonderful. Elliot is attentive, he knows what she likes, and it‘s always sensual, always satisfying. While she loves everything about it, and it’s definitely not lacking, it is just…different. She's not completely uninhibited, not like she was... before everything. 

It‘s not Elliot. 

Christ, it’s definitely not him.

Olivia feels his restraint beneath her fingers every single time. 

She's is pretty sure that he‘s so gentle, even cautious because she feels somewhat fragile and broken still. And maybe even generally undesirable compared to other women, unmarred women. She probably mirrors that in the bedroom, and up until a couple of weeks ago it was fine. Well, she thought it was. But the truth of the matter is that she misses sex the way she used to know it, the way she used to engage in it. 

She liked fucking, and she liked being fucked, and Jesus, it‘s just not that, it hasn‘t been that ever since Lewis. 

And she misses that. The woman she used to be. The one who reveled in the fire, the passion, the vigorous, unapologetic, deeply penetrative sex. 

Olivia misses what she considered normal, and maybe it was okay with Brian, and Tucker. Maybe everything happened the way it was supposed to happen, the way it was just right at the time. But with Elliot she wants more. 

She wants it all. For him. For herself. 

For them. 

"It‘s Stabler. He can take it,“ Amanda says, glancing over at Olivia. "Whatever it is.“ 

"Yeah. I know.“ 

She tilts her head back against the cushions, figuring the worst that can happen is for Elliot to take it as criticism. And that? It‘s unlikely to happen. Not when she‘s ready to tell him. For now she needs to work through it for herself. It‘s still a new realization after all. 

Both women take another small sip of their drinks. 

"Rollins?“ 

"Yeah?“

Olivia smiles, genuine. "Thanks for that.“

Instead of answering, the blonde detective only smiles back, holding out her tumbler in acknowledgement before tipping the rest of it back. 

"One more?“ 

"Sure. One more sounds good,“ Amanda agrees, and Olivia thinks that yes, she really should‘ve cleared the air--with Rollins and Elliot--much sooner. 

Olivia gets up, takes Rollins’ glass and gets them a much-needed refill. For a moment they sit in comfortable silence, and Olivia thinks how she never could have imagined that she’d ever be close enough to anyone, least of all Amanda Rollins, to discuss the specifics about Lewis--or her sex life for that matter, even though it was just barely scratching the surface. It feels remarkably good to trust someone that much. Even more than that it feels like she’s finally embarked on a new journey--a journey of new beginnings and healing.



Chapter Text

She’s hit a wall. 

It felt like progress, progress, progress up until the talk with Amanda. She should have more clarity, she should feel more in control, more certain about what happened and what didn’t happen. It should feel like further progress, but it doesn’t. Nothing remotely close to it. 

For every question answered there’s a new one. She puts something ad acta, something else piles up. 

Cyclical, Lindstrom calls it. Like a spiral. 

And Olivia feels that spiral, feels herself spiraling further, further, further into something unknown. Something that scares her. The inescapable vortex makes her head spin like no liquor ever did. 

The nightmares are better. They came back after a couple of weeks, but she handles them, she’s okay in that regard. The triggers, the flashbacks, the spiral--that’s a different matter entirely. 

It’s one step forward, one or two steps back. A few good days. Olivia's strong then. Confident. She feels her own drive, knows she can overcome this. 

But there are bad moments, sometimes an entire bad day, tearing at her progress. She doubts everything then, and wonders if she’ll ever be able to move on from knowing what she sometimes wishes she didn’t know. 

The phantom sensations are by far the worst. Just Saturday she looked at Elliot, fresh out of the shower, towel bound around his hips, the possibility of more in his eyes, and on her mind, too. She’d felt Lewis then, pushing into her, stretching her, and Jesus, she’d almost gagged. 

Needless to say they didn’t have sex. 

Most nights she sleeps okay, but some nights she hardly does. It’s not the nightmares keeping her awake now, not like they did before, anyway. It’s a sense of trepidation residing underneath her skin, mostly well-hidden, sometimes close to paralyzing. 

Once or twice now, Olivia's spaced out at work--behind the closed doors of her office, thankfully. They notice though, that something’s different. That something’s going on. Fin, Amanda, a few others, certainly. Nobody says anything, and she’s tremendously grateful for small favors. 

Lately it’s all a bit much. Too much, if she’s being honest.  

Work is not a refuge but a nuisance these days. Everybody wants something from her, and more and more it feels like she’s lacking the energy, the patience, the nerves to deal with it all. She’s constantly stretching herself thin, and while she’s used to it, it affects her differently now. There’s a pressure building in her chest that makes her feel like she’s going to implode sooner or later, and there’s nothing, nothing at all she can do about it. 

It keeps building and building and erupts at nothing. Unpredictably. 

Talking about it in therapy doesn’t help. Trying to drown it out with sex doesn’t help. She tries taking small breaks during the day, but well…

This helplessness propels her desperation to the surface.

There’s a melancholy within her, wishing for things to be different. Like they were before . She was a victim then, too, had PTSD, fought her demons--but she’d nestled into a place with it that felt like closure. To find it was an illusion, to have all her hard work in getting there seem to be for naught is a hard pill to swallow. She’s restless again, possibly more than ever, looking for a safe place to land. 

Elliot is safe. He feels incredibly safe, surprisingly solid, and there’s a lot she’s entrusting him with, but he’s got his own baggage and battles to fight, so she’s hesitant to lay it all on him. 

It’s the very reason Liv's been holed up in her office, staring at her phone for the past fifteen minutes, indecisive. Asking Elliot to join one of her therapy sessions was Lindstrom’s idea. She’d explained that Elliot might not know how she feels, that she’s struggling now more than ever, and, in her opinion, more than she should. 

It’s fully sinking in now that she will be expected to speak, and while she wants to open up, she’s also very, very scared. 

She doesn’t know how to say that she feels very out of control, very much nearing what feels like breaking point. She’s only experienced something like it once before, and she wasn’t working then--at the time she was doing nothing but battle the terror. Heal. Breathe. Survive. 

It’s been years, nearly a decade, and despite the new revelations, Olivia doesn’t think it’s normal for her to feel like everything’s slipping through her fingers, that she’s losing every last bit of grip. How can it feel like she’s going round and round in circles, overwhelmed by… everything? She dreads work, but the idea of going home is almost worse, constantly making her twitch with resistance. On weekends she’s endlessly tired, depleted of the energy that usually makes her want to do things with the kids. Exhaustion and hypervigilance are a tumor, feasting on guilt and shame. She feels so overwhelmed, so very anemic to the point she just wants… out. 

Lindstrom thinks that’s exactly what she needs. Olivia thinks that the mere idea of it is selfish, and there’s just no way she can take a hiatus. She’s needed at work. She’s needed at home. And where would she go anyway? 

Elliot would go. To see Lindstrom and...somewhere with her. She hasn’t asked him, stalling for almost a week now, but there’s not a doubt in her mind he’d come with her if she did. She’ll see Lindstrom tomorrow, thinking she owes him the courtesy of a heads up that she’s going to come in alone.

She’ll go alone, Olivia decides, and breathes out slowly as she reaches for the telephone receiver. Holding it in mid-air, Olivia closes her eyes, clenches her teeth. 

Elliot and Eli will be spending the night, she could, technically, still ask him in private. Lindstrom’s words start playing in the back of her mind: ‘You have someone. You can allow yourself to be taken care of, Olivia. Tell Elliot.’

Tell Elliot. Slowly, her resolve crumbles, and wiping her mouth with her thumb and index finger, Olivia puts the phone down, deciding she’ll allow herself the option of taking him. 

 


 

Olivia sits on the bed, one leg bent as she’s rubbing body oil into her skin. Elliot, facing away from her, takes off his watch, puts it on the night table. He came over late today, a sudden development in a case. Eli ended up staying with Richard, to save Liv the trip, Elliot said. The shirt comes off, and he turns his head, looks at her over his shoulder, and when their eyes meet she exhales, silently counting to three while smoothing her hands down her shin.

“You’re quiet tonight.” 

“Long day,” she says, as if it explains everything. 

“Sorry,” Elliot grimaces. He gets up, draping his shirt across the back of the chair. “New case?”

For a moment Olivia considers to meet the question with a simple agreement, but she has a rule of not outrightly lying to him. She stretches her leg out, chews on the inside of her lip and eventually answers: “No, no case.” 

She’s got his attention now, and no matter what, he’ll want to know what it’s about. His brows are drawn together in thought as he undoes his belt.

Again she counts to three. This time Elliot doesn’t beat her to it. 

“I have therapy tomorrow.” 

“Yeah. I know.” 

Elliot's eyes are still glued to her. He’s waiting. Listening. Knows she's not bringing it up randomly. 

“Lindstrom thinks I should bring you.” His brows lift while her courage falters. “I know it’s short notice.” 

“Okay.” He waits a few beats, takes off his pants. He’s mulling it over, but she can’t tell what he’s thinking. “What about you? Do you want me there?” 

Hell if she knows. Tucking her thumb into her hand she thinks about it again, like she hasn’t asked herself that very question since last Thursday. 

“I don’t know.” 

Folding his pants he nods, then walks over to sit on the bed, leaving some space between them. 

“There something I should know?” The blue of his eyes is sharp, but the question is cushioned with concern. 

There’s things he should know for sure, but she has no idea what exactly will come up, should he come. Maybe that’s why she’s so unsure if she wants him in that room. There was no time to discuss this with Lindstrom. He’d introduced the idea at the end of her last appointment, and she was too stunned to question him about it. 

“I’m not sure how to answer that question, El.” Her voice is faint, and again he nods, but this time he’s squeezing her thigh. 

“I can’t make this decision for you, but if you want me to come, I’ll be there.” 

Olivia feels foreign and lost, and his hand is the thing she’s hanging on like it’s her lifeline. There’s warmth and comfort in his touch, and she craves both. He doesn’t push, he never does, and maybe there’s a tiny part of her that wishes he did. Just a little. Just this once. 

“I know.” It’s quiet and shaky, and she takes a slow ragged breath in, an even longer ragged breath out, her emotions doubling down on her. 

“Hey,” he’s next to her, pulls her in. “is this about the other night?”

“I’m just tired.” There’s the beginning of a sob that she swallows just in time, drawing another breath. Right now she can’t go into it, she wouldn’t know where to start, which, she realizes, is the root of the problem. Maybe Lindstrom is right. Maybe she should bring Elliot.

“Okay.” He rubs his thumb across her upper arm, presses his lips to her shoulder. 

“You know, you should come.” She says it quickly, before she can change her mind. 

Elliot's steady, and, momentarily, it steadies her. 

“Then I’ll come.” 

And that is that. 

 


 

When the door opens Olivia’s head whips around. It’s just shy of 5 pm, and some of her nervousness fizzles out at the sight of him. Elliot’s slightly out of breath, sweat coating his temples. 

“Am I late?” 

“Just in time.” 

“Sorry, traffic was a nightmare.” He wipes his forehead with the heel of his hand, then pats his hands down the sides of his hip, walking closer, settling into a chair next to her. He leans in, briefly, but merely reaches for her hand, lingering for a few seconds. No PDA at her therapist’s office. 

A smile lifts the corners of her mouth, small, nervous. 

“You still sure about this?” 

She’s not, and if Elliot senses it, he keeps it well hidden, his face perfectly neutral. 

“Yeah.” 

The door to Lindstrom’s office opens. Olivia’s eyes flit to the wall clock: 5 pm sharp. Her palms are sweaty, and the knot in her stomach weighs a few pounds heavier. 

Lindstrom smiles, friendly and unobtrusive. Suddenly she’s nauseous, wondering if it’s too late to call it off. But she can’t. She can’t, she realizes. Elliot is here, for her, and he deserves more than that. This is something she has to stop running from. 

“Olivia, welcome.” Lindstrom’s eyes leave her, land on Elliot. He scrutinizes him, gaze narrowing just a little. There’s no animosity, intrigue, maybe. Stepping towards him, he stretches out his hand. “And this must be Elliot.” 

“Pleasure,” says Elliot, standing up. Olivia can tell by his voice that he’s high strung. Both men shake hands. It’s a quick, respectful affair. 

“Why don’t we go inside.” Lindstrom gestures towards the room he came from, and instantly Olivia clutches the leather strap of her purse. Against the small of her back she feels Elliot’s hand, his touch light but reassuring. Lindstrom leads the way, and once inside closes the door behind the three of them. While her heart erratically pounds against her ribs she sits down like Lindstrom tells her to, feeling off balance when he offers Elliot a chair opposite hers. As if this won’t be hard enough already, she’s now also expected to look at Elliot. She can’t think of anything worse. 

But, dutifully, she does as suggested, deciding to trust Lindstrom. He has yet to fail her, and ultimately the man knows her. He pushes when necessary, but he’d never push her past her limits. 

In a half-hearted attempt to get comfortable, Olivia sets down her purse, crosses her legs, and fumbles with her hands that feel otherwise useless in her lap. Seeing Elliot on the couch that’s usually reserved for her is surreal, and for the first time it feels like she doesn’t belong. He doesn’t look uncomfortable at all, like he’s open for this. Ready. When Lindstrom joins them, Elliot silences his phone, and shoving it back into his pocket his eyes find hers. 

And so it begins. 

“Olivia, I’m glad that you decided to bring Elliot,” Lindstrom acknowledges, then directs Elliot. “and that you, Elliot, could make it. I’d like to start by asking you,” he tips his head slightly towards the detective. “how you feel about being here today.” 

Olivia feels a rush of relief that she’s not expected to talk about herself right away, that she gets a moment’s reprieve to collect herself and breathe. Straightening, Elliot looks at Lindstrom, takes a slow deep breath before responding. 

“Ah… proud. Proud that she asked, because I know that’s not always easy for her.” 

“Tell her,” Lindstrom encourages, pointing the pen he’s holding towards Olivia. 

This, she can tell by the way Elliot grabs the back of his neck, rubbing his muscles, is harder for him, but his eyes settle on her, soften at the sight of her, at the insecurity she knows is a visible imprint on her face. 

“I’m proud you asked me to come,” he repeats back for her benefit and draws another breath while she holds one in. “That you let me in since all of this started,” Elliot adds, subdued. The struggle of the past couple of months tinges the words, and biting her lip her eyes droop for a moment. “I understand that it’s hard for you.” 

“Elliot, could you elaborate on how you felt when, as you put it, it started?”

“Conflicted.” He scratches his shoulder. “Scared.” 

“Conflicted and scared. Can you tell Olivia why?” 

“I wasn’t sure what she needed from me when the photos-,” he lets it hang. “I wasn’t sure what you needed, if I could be that for you. If you even wanted me for any of it. All I could think was that this could really hurt what we had. It scared me to think you could shut me out. I’m beyond relieved and proud that you...” At height of his chest his hand curls into a fist and opens again as he’s searching for words. “...allowed me in and trusted me with… so many things. There’s… so much, and I couldn’t have hoped for more. I’m in awe of your strength to face it anew and to see that you are accepting help, and refuse to stay in that… place and in the shame surrounding… ah….And I think that talking about these… these things…” She can tell that he’s hesitant to bring up Lewis, the photographs, the nightmares. “...I really feel it brought us closer… what I’m trying to say is that I’ve never felt closer and more connected to her--to you,” he corrects. “than I do now.” 

Olivia’s face pulls together, her lips pursed as she nods, swallows. Her mouth sours with emotion when Lindstrom prompts her to speak. Elliot never told her that. In fact she was scared that despite her efforts to let him in, Elliot still felt left out, aware there are things she doesn’t tell him. 

“I didn’t think you’d see it like that,” Olivia admits, quiet. 

“Explain why, Olivia.” 

She rubs her thumb with excessive pressure, one cheek twitching. “I don’t know how,” she admits. 

“Try anyway.” 

“I never felt closer to him, either, but I’m… I’m having a hard time communicating that. I think we both do,” she adds as an afterthought, her nail stilling against her thumb. “So, I didn’t know that, and I think it would have been nice to… to know. Because I thought that maybe he felt… disconnected, sometimes. Like I’m still shutting him out.”

Elliot’s eyes narrow, and as if on cue, Lindstrom nudges: “When?” 

“When I’m not talking about… certain things.” 

“I don’t.” Elliot interjects. “Feel disconnected.” 

“Okay, good. How do you feel then?” Lindstrom nudges. 

“I don’t think I have the right to be privy to everything you think or feel, Liv. I don’t want to push, or overstep. Of course I see when something’s going on, that in these past two, three weeks things have been particularly hard, but I'm comfortable with giving--I want to give-- you the chance to come to me and talk about it on your own time.”

Looking at her therapist Olivia sees the hint of a docile smile on his face as he nods at Elliot. Her gaze goes back and forth between both men as she processes the fact that Elliot picks up on more than she thought, more than she would like, but she doubts he understands just how deep it runs. 

“Olivia, do you think you can tell Elliot why it is so hard for you to talk to him?” 

She thinks of the spiral, of the flashbacks, of the weight that’s on her shoulders and sitting in her head. She exhales, sharp. 

“I’m not sure he’d understand. I don’t understand myself. I just… I don’t want to feel this way.” 

“What way?” 

Looking down she shakes her head, scoffs shakily. 

“Liv, I get it,” Elliot says softly, and at it she swallows back a sob. Unshed tears burn in her eyes, and she’s not sure she can hold them back. 

“I don’t think you do.” She sounds desperate. 

“I think there’s a lot of pressure on you, too much. And I think you might want a break, but you don’t know how to take the necessary steps to make time and space for yourself, because it’s in your nature to put everything and everyone else first.” 

Olivia's lips are a thin line, her chin quivering at the words. He knows, she thinks, and inside of her something erupts as she merely nods, trying like hell not to cry. 

“I think that’s admirable, and I love you for it, Liv. But I really need you to take care of yourself. I don’t want to be patronizing, and I don’t want to pretend I know what exactly you need, but personally I’d be happy if you took a step back, because you’re too caught up in all of this. And I’m here, I want to be here for you and help you to figure out what you need this time.” 

At this she cracks, because one and a half years ago roles were reversed. Elliot had been the one struggling then, and she’d begged him to take a step back, to take the time to heal, to admit he needed... help. Her hypocrisy is blatant, screaming, but her resolve took a strong hit. Into the back of her hand, she nods, swallowing hard. 

In a way, beside the shame and the guilt that comes with feeling like this , she’s relieved, because she didn’t have to say any of it out loud. And maybe she should’ve known that Elliot picked up not only on the blatantly obvious things, but, apparently, on every subtle sign of her impending breakdown. 

“Olivia, tell Elliot what we’ve discussed last week,” Lindstrom heartens. “It doesn’t have to be in depth.” He’s not doing this for Elliot’s benefit, she realizes. Lindstrom wants her to understand that she’s not as helpless, not as alone in this, as she thinks. 

A few labored breaths in and out, and she looks at Elliot timidly as she speaks. “That I feel overwhelmed, and… out of control because of the… I feel like I can’t breathe, and I just… I just want out,” she admits, tucking her bottom lip inside her mouth, showing a downward tilt. “And I can’t.” 

Elliot leans forward, arms on his thighs, looking back at her with affection. “Yes, you can. We’ll figure it out, Liv. I’m here for Noah, and you can take a week or two off work, you’ve got Fin, you have more overtime than is healthy, and if you feel the need to get out, you just book a flight, book a hotel, whatever you need to recharge, and we’ll take it from there. We wanted to take a few days after Thanksgiving anyway, you might as well make it a few more.” 

“I can’t just take time off. You know it’s not that simple,” Olivia argues weakly. 

“You’re in a much better position to take time off than most cops, Liv. And I’d rather you try and get some time off, before it really gets too much. Pull yourself out, just briefly. For Noah. For Eli and me.” 

“Olivia, do you think you can consider it and discuss this with Elliot later? You mentioned last week you wish you could talk about these things, and it seems to me just built the foundation.” 

“But we’re not… it hasn’t been 45 minutes,” Olivia points out, confused. 

“I know. I’d like to invest some time and have you take a look at Elliot’s perspective of the past seven weeks, since you’ve started coming here.” 

It dawns on her that Lindstrom must have gotten a good enough read on Elliot to feel confident he won’t just drop the idea of her taking a break, or else they would go deeper right now. 

The knot in Olivia’s stomach tightens, but she can’t deny she wants to hear what Elliot has to say. And as long as she’s not expected to share truths she isn’t prepared for, she figures this is not the worst that could happen. Her world and perception has tilted, and Lindstrom wants to even it out for her. 

“Is that okay with you, Olivia?” 

Her gaze meets Elliot’s and she nods before she agrees verbally. “Yes, okay.” 

“Elliot?” Lindstrom checks in with him. 

“As long as Liv’s comfortable, sure.” 

And so it continues. 

By the end of the session Olivia is emotionally exhausted. Elliot shared that he thought she handled the past seven weeks with so much strength and grace, that he was awed by how capable she was in terms of dealing with the trauma with a self-awareness he didn’t expect. 

While she thought she had a good handle on things at first, the past three weeks have been a lot harder, and on many days things felt out of her control. The fifty minutes went by fast once Lindstrom helped them to talk about the developments since the photographs surfaced. 

For someone who’s trained to speak about these things, it has been incredibly hard to look at Elliot and communicate on a deeper level about the past couple of months, about the flareup in PTSD, the nightmares, but mostly how it’s all catching up to her now. Elliot cautiously mentioned that he thinks it might have been a long time coming. He re-entered her life under less than stellar circumstances. His wife had died, he’d battled PTSD, refusing everyone’s help for a while, and once he could actually hear what Olivia said and started seeing someone for it, they had to face that they weren’t the same people from ten years ago, that they had to evaluate their situation and take it from there. 

“For a while now I’ve felt like we underestimated how much healing we had to do, and the effects it had on us individually and as a couple, and clearly we’ve got more work to do. Maybe even a lifetime...but I want to do that work together for as long as it takes. Elliot's words bounce in her head. 

They scratched at the surface of his guilt when Lindstrom reminded them that the time was up, and while it wasn’t an organic break, it felt like the first proper breath Olivia took since getting there. 

She’s made it through. They’ve made it through, and although drained, she felt something like pride as they walked out of Lindstrom’s office. 

Here in the car everything spins in her mind, fragmented and overwhelming. Elliot hasn’t bothered to turn on the radio, so Olivia’s dwelling on her thoughts, trying to process. It’s been a lot they’ve put on the table for immediate and future discussion. She’d sensed that if she would agree to bringing Elliot to a session it would hardly suffice. It was a drop in the ocean. Lindstrom may have not suggested it yet, but she knows he’s going to give her the option of bringing Elliot for future appointments. Right now, still raw from the outpouring of her feelings on top of absorbing Elliot’s thoughts, she doesn’t know quite how to feel about it. 

“You okay?” 

Elliot's voice cuts through the quiet in the vehicle, and turning her head she can see his tense face, his iron-like grip on the wheel. He looks at her only briefly, focused on traffic. 

“Think I’m getting a headache.” Slowly she exhales, keeps her eyes on him, sees the effect this session had on him, too. And for all the things he said at Lindstrom’s office, he seems to be keeping whatever he’s working through right now to himself, just like she is. “El?” she breathes. 

“Hm?” 

“Thank you. For… I think this was good.” 

There’s a crack in his facade now as he nods, blindly reaching for her thigh. He finds it, squeezes. 

“Okay. That’s good. Me, too.” He waits a few beats, glances at her. “Are we going to talk about this?” 

About her feeling like she’s being suffocated, her desire to just get out and leave it all behind, if not for long. The spiraling slows, it slows with every passing second Elliot hand melds into the skin of her thigh, and then, for once everything stands still,  and Olivia is able to take it all in, and think clearly. Talking about it was the reason for the joint session to begin with, and the door is open. 

“Yes, we’re going to talk about it,” she agrees, putting her hand on top of his, curling her fingers into his palm. “Not today, though. Tomorrow, maybe. I just need…” 

“I know. I know, it’s… I have to process, too. I just need to know that we’re going to take care of this, you know?” His voice sounds constricted, the conflict palpable. He doesn’t want to patronize, doesn’t want to push, but he needs reassurance that they’ve set something in motion that they'll keep working on. 

“Tomorrow,” she repeats, and by the way his hand grabs hers tightly, she knows he got the message. 

Tomorrow is not a maybe. 

Tomorrow is a promise. 




Chapter Text

Any weekend plans fall through when Noah’s school calls. It’s rare that Olivia gets to pick him up, and while usually a treat for mother and son, these are less than stellar circumstances. Noah threw up twice in class and a third time in the car. Olivia calls Elliot, looking at Noah feeling terrible in the backseat. Whenever work allows Elliot punches out around three on Fridays, giving him and Eli some time to pack for the weekend and be at her place before dinner. 

“Hey,” Elliot greets, his voice mixing with one of Noah’s groans. “I’m on my way home, should we bring dinner?”

“Hey. Not so good news, Noah’s throwing up. We're heading home from school now.” 

“Ah, crap. How’s he doing?” 

“Not so well,” she grimaces, pulling out of the parking space. “You and Eli coming over is probably not a good idea.” 

“Probably not,” he agrees thoughtfully. “Will you be okay?” She figures he asks because of everything they discussed at Lindstrom’s the day before, the concern audible. They meant to talk today, and she knows Elliot would like to get it over with sooner rather than later. It’s important to him, and they shouldn’t put it off for too long. 

“I’ll be fine. Look, I’m going to call you later, is that okay?” She wants to get everything sorted and not get into anything with Elliot on speaker, throwing a quick glance at Noah, who’s holding his stomach, looking miserable, in the rearview. 

“Sure. If you need anything, call.” 

“I will. Love you.” 

And she hangs up. 

 


 

By the time Noah stops vomiting and is finally asleep Olivia’s pretty exhausted herself. After a quick cleaning of her back seat, between cuddles, changing the sheets because another wave of puking came too quickly, ordering some soup for dinner and watching Noah’s fluid intake she gets the first moment in the day all to herself. She hits the shower, allowing herself to soak in the heat for a long time until she gets out, wrapping herself in a bathrobe. Combing her hair she sees the bathroom door open in the mirror, expecting Noah is awake, and probably back to puking his guts out. Instead it’s Elliot appearing in the doorway, and with her hairbrush still tangled in her wet locks she turns around. 

“What are you doing here?” She’s pleasantly surprised as he leans against the frame, dressed casually in a pair of jeans and an old t-shirt. 

“Thought you’d need some help around here. How’s he doing?” He nods his head in the direction of Noah’s room, concern woven into his words. 

“He had it rough. Stopped throwing up around six, hardly ate, didn't keep any fluids down until some sips after seven. I hope we’re over the worst of it.” She offers a weary smile. “Is Eli home?” 

“At a friend’s house, playing video games. Have you eaten? I brought something.” 

“Not really,” Olivia grimaces, her stomach feeling hollow at the mention of food. She had half a banana, a few spoons of chicken noodle soup and a cracker or two, all things she offered to Noah for a makeshift dinner.

“You get ready, food’s waiting in the living room.” 

With that he retreats and Olivia, smiling to herself, puts the hair brush away. While she’s always managed alone, and stood against that goddamn stomach bug alone so far, she appreciates Elliot coming over. She doesn’t feel like she has to do it all on her own. Before Elliot nobody ever checked in how she and Noah were doing, nobody brought food at the end of the day. Maybe she wouldn’t even have accepted it from anyone else, but knowing Elliot is here feels oddly comforting. She likes the mere idea of his presence, of having dinner with him, and cuddling up after, recharging through him and his proximity. The shower was good. A start. But it can’t offer the warmth of a caring person, someone she knows loves her, and loves Noah. 

It feels like it’s been the four of them for a while now, at least part time. They’re building something, finding a rhythm. She’d been scared of it at first, unsure how Noah would take it, and what it would mean for their little family of two. In retrospect it was more of an adjustment for Olivia than for Noah. He’d latched onto Eli in an instant, and while she expected a certain extent of jealousy upon seeing her with a man by her side, a boyfriend as Eli would call it, although at their age the term is hardly fitting, she was surprised to see the opposite was the case. Noah and Elliot got along from the get go, as if her son felt that Elliot wasn’t a threat to what they had, their Team you and me , as she once called it. 

She thinks back to how easily attached Noah had grown to Peter, and maybe he's just in need of a father figure. A male perspective, someone who gets things in a way that she can’t, who plays a little rougher, and takes things at face value. Noah started asking about Elliot pretty early on, signalizing that he was wanted around here. While it made things easier, Olivia had her moments of reminiscing, thinking back to when it was the two of them against the world. 

Sometimes it’s still their little team, but the lines blur a little more with every passing week, and despite that sense of melancholy that sometimes takes over in a moment of quiet, when she watches her little boy who’s no longer so little, it feels right. Just right. 

That sense of belonging is new.

Feeling like part of a family that isn’t just her and Noah anymore manifests in her heart a little more with each passing day. For most, if not all of her life, Olivia felt alienated, but it’s passing, it’s… passed. 

Another quick glance in the mirror and she’s out of the bathroom, changing into a set of white satin pajamas before she joins Elliot. There’s a glass of wine and Lo Mein waiting for her on the coffee table. A lifetime ago she told Elliot after a particularly rough case that Lo Mein’s her comfort food. She remembers how he’d stop at one of their favorite Chinese places after fraught cases, taking care of her in the only way she allowed him when she didn’t feel like talking. 

She was grateful for him in many ways back then. She’s even more grateful for him now. 

“C‘mere,” Elliot says, sliding his torso a little further to the right against the back cushions of the couch, making space for her. Olivia pads over in bare feet, finds the perfect spot nestled against him, legs pulled up. 

The aroma of garlic and soy sauce make Olivia’s stomach growl, and hungrily she reaches for the bowl. Elliot’s arm drapes across the back of the couch, resting against the base of her neck. 

She loads up the chopsticks, shuffling noodles and vegetables into her mouth thinking that stomach bug aside, it’s been a good day.  

She caught up on some paperwork before school called, took a look at her accumulated time off. She can take a week. She could take two, but feels like that’s excessive. The thought of taking a little time doesn’t feel as foreign, as wrong. She’s getting used to the idea, although she’s still a little hesitant. Fin’s not yet aware, it seems… hasty. There’s a conversation that needs to be had with Elliot first. Everything is still up in the air, the logistics killing her spirit just thinking about them. 

“You okay?” 

“Mhhmm,” she manages around a mouthful. “Better now. Thanks for this.” Looking at him a smile shows. “You’re brave to come here.” 

“I’m not worried. Beats sitting home alone when I didn’t want to miss out on the weekend to start with. Just wanted to make sure it’s okay with Eli.” 

“Well, I’m glad you’re here.” Licking her bottom lip she tilts her head towards him. “Gives us the opportunity to talk.” Her heartbeat drums in her ears, nervousness rising. 

“Think you’re still up for that? You’ve had a day.” 

That’s understated, but at the prospect of another restless night she’d rather have the conversation, look at the options. 

“We always do,” she says, her voice dropping a little. “Ah… I’ve looked at my accumulated time off, and I guess I could take maybe four more days after Thanksgiving.” They’re both off Friday to Monday, and she doesn’t want to drop out before the holidays. 

“Sounds good, Liv. Any idea where you wanna go?” 

She sinks the chopsticks into the noodles, stirs absent-mindedly for a moment. 

“Not really. Ah… I just… I just don’t know if I’d benefit from being alone, you know,” she admits, looking at him. “I don’t want to feel like I’m trapped in my head, and the more I think about going somewhere by myself, I’m scared that’s exactly how it’s going to be.” She wants to get out so she can breathe, but she’s afraid that being alone is going to add to her anxiety. It’s one more piece of proof that she’s not solid. It’s not the idea of traveling by herself that has her on edge, it’s the loneliness she’s dodged since Elliot is back in her life. Solitude is ingrained in her bones, and while she always managed, she doesn’t want to sit somewhere, anywhere in this country, in this world, if it means being there without Elliot. 

Olivia knows she anchors Elliot. But where she’s his anchor, he’s the roots she didn’t grow until the moment her lips touched his. 

For a few long moments Elliot looks at her, thoughtful, and she can see that he’s struggling not to assume what she’s saying. She puts down her dinner, momentarily sated, taking a slow, deep breath in after he speaks. 

 “Okay, so let me ask like this: How do you see yourself doing this?” 

He asks questions she doesn’t have answers to, and if she could have it her way it would be easy, but nothing about this is. The circumstances make it complicated. Going alone would only lead to her crawling inside herself, she wouldn’t enjoy a moment, feeling lonely and cold and haunted by Lewis. Elliot has to work. The kids have school. She wouldn’t want to take them, not if she wants this trip to be about healing and letting go of things, but even if Elliot would go with her, then what about Eli and Noah? 

“I’d like for you to be there, too, but I know that’s… probably not gonna happen.”

Elliot shifts, so he can look at her more comfortably, his hand finding the base of her neck, thumb rubbing across her spine. He inhales sharply, nods once, twice. 

“I could talk to Ayanna,” he throws in. “It’s not the best time, but if I’d explain… she’d understand.” 

“Elliot, that’s… I’m a captain, it’s not a good look.” Olivia’s never been one to show weakness, and while she’s friends with Bell, trusts her, too, she’s still cautious. 

“Liv, she’s your friend. She’d never-” 

“I know,” she offers quickly, holding up her hand. “I know that, El. She’s a good one.” Sighing, she cocks her head back. 

“Look, I wouldn’t speak for you anyway, and maybe no explanations are needed. I figure she might have noticed something’s going on lately. I’ll ask.” 

“The boys, though…” If he even gets the time off, there’s still two kids who have school.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” His thumb stills against her neck and his fingers stretch out onto her shoulder. “There’s always a way.” 

Her body gravitates towards him when he pulls her in with the least bit of pressure behind his touch, his arms welcoming her as she curls into him. He smells of traces of aftershave and soap, fresh and clean. 

“You make it sound so easy,” she inhales him, and exhales on a sigh. 

“Sometimes it is that easy.” 

He may be right, but it’s hard to believe that there’s a sliver of light at the end of this dark tunnel. She doesn’t verbally disagree, but purses her lips, settling for the only thing they’ve got: wait and see. Her hand slips into his lap, and she fully relaxes against Elliot, his breath tickling her temple. 

“You staying over?” 

“Yeah, I figured I would. Is that okay?” 

“Yeah, I was just wondering because of Eli. And we’re kind of contaminated here,” scoffs Olivia. 

“He’ll stay at Leo’s. Lord knows how he hasn’t overstayed his welcome yet.” Leo’s mother is a kind woman, late thirties Olivia estimates. She picked Eli up at his house once when Elliot had to work into the night and both women had a brief chat. It seemed she really liked Eli and the boys have become good friends. Leo, too, has lost a parent, so maybe it’s not much of a surprise the boys gravitated towards each other. 

“You gonna finish that?” He nods at the noodles and she nods her agreement. 

“Not right now, though.” 

 


“Wait, wait.” Olivia stops him from pulling out, reaching to grab two tissues from the box on the nightstand. With Noah sick there’s a fair chance he’s going to come into her bed tonight, so she tries to avoid stained sheets. She doesn’t have to say more, they’ve been there and done that when Noah ran a temperature once. It’s a bit of an awkward dance but the bed stays clean.

She sighs into the room, turning her head, smiling at him. She feels relaxed and sated, and for all the thinking about their sex life that she’s done recently, tonight was just what she needed--slow, comfortable sex. After spending all day cleaning up vomit and tending to her sick child, she didn’t have the energy or desire for anything else. The more she thinks on it though, the more prominent is the need to talk to Elliot. Not tonight, though. She’s too tired, too exhausted to get into anything of importance. 

Elliot takes the tissue from her and gets out of bed, headed for the bathroom. He’s still semi-hard by the time he gets back and puts on his boxers, then picks up her pajamas

“About Thanksgiving,” he starts, holding out her nightwear for her to grab. “If it’s too much, Liv, we don’t have to go. I could drive Eli, stay for an hour and get back here, and we make it a small thing, Noah, you and me. 

Slipping into her pajama top, starting to button it, Olivia looks at him puzzled. “No, I wanna do Thanksgiving. It’s the one thing I’ve been looking forward to.” She’s been in touch with Maureen, who asked what traditions she and Noah have and discussed dinner. Holidays were never a big thing when she was growing up, and even when it was just the two of them it was important to her to make it special. Their traditions may be slightly different, but she loves them and is grateful that Maureen wants to include them in their own celebrations. 

He looks back at her, skeptical, but nods, and she is glad he lets it go. Believes her. A few moments later, when she’s fully dressed, he slips into bed and she gravitates towards him and into his arms, feeling the need to be held tonight. She felt it last night, but their schedule prohibited Elliot from staying over. They want it to stay consistent for Eli, and there have been enough exceptions lately. 

She thinks of their appointment with Lindstrom that finally got them talking about the way she’s been feeling lately, but fifty minutes didn’t allow them to cover much. There are steps she needs to take to move on, to get past all of this and find a way to live life like she did before the photographs surfaced, but something within her balks at taking the necessary steps. Maybe a change of scenery would help with that, so Elliot talking to Ayanna might not be the worst idea.   

“You know, after what Amanda said--I thought it would get easier. Knowing that whatever he planned didn’t go as he imagined… There is relief in that, but at the same time I keep thinking how it doesn’t make a difference. I could look at the pictures before and now there’s this oppressive feeling when I’m thinking about them and I think I need to look at them again to process, but all of a sudden I can’t. It doesn’t make sense.” 

Elliot’s thumb drags across her arm in a pattern she always perceives as soothing. 

“I don’t have to tell you there are setbacks sometimes.” 

“That’s just the thing, though. It doesn’t feel like a setback, more like… everything’s come to a halt and I’m not moving forward, not moving back--I’m just not… moving. And I want to move on,” she says, her voice dropping until it’s only a breath. 

“And you will,” he persists. 

“Right now I’m not. I’m not doing anything, I just--I’m so exhausted,” she whispers. “Everything is so, so tiring, and I don’t know myself like that. Work always used to-” 

“Liv,” he tucks her closer to him, his lips finding the top of her head, muttering into her hair. “There’s only so much a person can take. Any person.” 

“But-” 

“Even you.” 

Her chin settles against his still heated skin. Of course she is no super human. She is acutely aware of it, especially now. But still she never thought what Lewis did to her could affect her like this, especially so many years after. 

“And it might feel like standstill, but it’s not. We’re here. Talking. Looking at it from every angle, looking at options. Going into therapy together,” he scoffs, and she chuckles at the irony, humorless. “That’s a hell of a lot of movement if you ask me.” 

He means it, and she knows it, and yet she finds little comfort in the words. “What you said yesterday? That you’re awed by my strength and resilience?” For a moment she pauses, breathes out. “I don’t feel that way right now. And I did a little while ago, I felt there was so much progress and I was strong then, I think. Now it’s like everything’s falling apart, and it’s scaring me.” 

“And that’s why you need to take a step back, Liv. Just for a little while. And if you need me there, I’ll be there, somehow. Okay? We’re gonna take care of it. Ayanna… I know you don’t want her to know anything, but she’s reasonable. She also knows I wouldn’t ask for time off if it wasn’t urgent.”

“I don’t want the NYPD to catch wind of this-,” she says, using one finger to draw a circle in the air. 

“That’s understood.” 

Both of them fall silent for a moment. He tightens his arm around her, pulling her fully against him. 

“El?” 

“Hm?” 

“I’m glad you came over.” 

“Yeah, me too,” he rasps. “Think you can sleep?” 

She’s comfortably tired, but her head’s still spinning with their conversation and questions like what to do if Elliot doesn’t get time off, or what if he does? What about the kids? Where to go? And with Thanksgiving just around the corner, is it smart to miss two weeks worth of therapy? Pressing her eyes closed for a moment she tries to focus on other things. The way she can hear Elliot’s heartbeat steadily thumping against her ear, his smell, his touch, his warmth--the warmth he put deep in her belly as he loved her before, making her come. It took her long tonight, but eventually he got her there with persistent, languide strokes, and she thanks the heavens for Elliot’s stamina. 

She focuses on the sweet and familiar flutter that comes with the thought of having him buried deep inside of her, the remaining comfortable tingle of her climax even now, ten minutes later. 

There is a pinching ache within her when she thinks of what it would be like if he wouldn’t hold back, when she wouldn’t either. How much she craves to feel uninhibited and womanly and… raw. She loves the tingle but wants the burn, the kind she’ll feel between her legs the next day, reminding her just how much he covets her, how unapologetically he fucks. It’s a side of him she desperately wants to know. 

“Yeah,” she breathes out, deciding she is definitely going to have to have the conversation soon. “I think I can sleep.” 

 


 

Elliot talked to Ayanna the next day, coming to her privately. He didn’t give her any specifics but insistently explained the need for a few more days off--personal reasons. From what he tells Olivia, it sounds like she granted him four more days without questions asked, and it makes her wonder how well Ayanna read her when she was over for dinner a month ago. How well she reads Elliot, who’s visibly affected as well, on a daily basis.

It’s one problem down. 

Elliot picked up Eli on his way back from Bell. Noah’s doing better, thankfully. Still a little tired, and he doesn’t have much of an appetite, but he’s not puking or feeling sick. Upon leaving it up to Elliot if he wanted to get Eli and stay, he’d deemed it a no-brainer and decided they’d spend the rest of the weekend. 

They don’t talk about anything of importance until it’s late, not in front of the kids, not when neither of them has any idea what’s next. Elliot suggested asking Kathleen with a single nod at Noah as they made a quick dinner, and all she had to offer then was: “Maybe.” 

When she joins him in the bedroom he’s comfortably parked on the bed, laptop open. 

“What do you think of a log cabin?” He looks up at her expectantly. “Catskills.” 

“A cabin.” Olivia mulls it over. She’s never stayed at one and it sounds… woodsy. She’s not sure if that’s what she’s looking for, but before she decides anything she slides onto the bed, scooting close enough to see. Elliot moves the cursor and opens the pictures and it looks surprisingly cozy. It’s a two bedroom with a full bath, a small, warmly decorated living area and open kitchen. There’s a fireplace, and something about the idea of sitting by the fire with Elliot, a glass of wine in hand, tickles her curiosity, makes her want to see more of the place. 

From the pictures it looks secluded. Peaceful. 

There’s a large, canopied deck in the back with furniture, a barbecue and a fire bowl, and while late November is probably too cold to grill, she likes the option. 

“Reviews are great,” Elliot tells her, and she can tell he likes the place. “There’s a hiking trail, we could hike.” 

“And you could run,” she reads his mind, finding him smirking at her at the notion. 

“I could run,” he says, matter-of-fact. 

“Is it even free?” 

“Thursday to next Saturday. Technically, if we left after dinner…” 

When he closes the tab of pictures she sees the price for the stay, wondering how he’s still even considering it. 

“Bit expensive, don’t you think?” 

“Right now I’m not looking at expenses, we can count ourselves lucky to find something proper at the last minute.” 

Looking at her, she knows Elliot leaves it up to her. It appeals to her, she can’t lie, and Elliot’s right saying that they’re going to have a hard time finding something they like. She doesn’t necessarily want to stay at a hotel, although she wouldn’t have thought of a cabin herself. 

“A cabin,” she says once again as the cursor hovers above the ‘book’ button. “Wait. We need to figure out what to do about the kids.” 

“I sent Kathleen a text, asked if she could technically watch Noah. If Lucy picks him up and she comes over after work they should be fine. It’s just for a week. Eli can stay with Dickie.” 

“Elliot,” she groans. “We wanted to discuss first.” 

“I just wanted to feel her out.” 

Scoffing, she slumps against the headboard. “What does she say?” 

“That ‘technically’ she could do it.” 

Putting her fist against her mouth, she stares at the website. She’s thinking too much, and should just go with her gut. They both get time off. The kids will be taken care of. And her skin crawls with the need to get out of here. 

“Okay.” 

“Yeah?” He double checks, raising both eyebrows. 

Maybe she can dig out her running shoes, too. It’s been years and she’d have to go alone, start slow and really pace herself. For once she might be able to clear her head completely, focus only on her feet hitting the trail as she breathes in fresh air. The goddamn standstill, she wants to outrun it. When she thought of getting away from here, she didn’t think of the woods. She had no idea what she wanted to do, where she wanted to go, but a secluded place, just her and Elliot? No kids, no work, no traffic noises? It sounds… perfect. 

“Yeah. It looks good. Book it.”

And with a nod he books the cabin. 

Chapter Text


She packs on Wednesday night, finding it difficult to pick out clothes for a week in the woods. She consciously decides for comfy items. A hoodie, sweats. A few pairs of jeans, blouses, sweaters. All things that don’t remind her of work, things that make up her wardrobe when she’s at home as Liv, as a mom, as Elliot’s partner. The only thing that deviates from the casual attire is the sinfully expensive nightgown that has somehow made it into her shopping bag for Elliot’s benefit. 

Elliot. 

Olivia desperately wants to talk at the cabin, when it’s just them. About their sex life and then some. Part of it is homework, but it doesn’t feel like an assignment, not when it’s so long overdue.  

A few hours ago she got off the phone with Lindstrom, slightly anxious that she’s not going to see him for therapy. He gave her a few pointers on what she could discuss with Elliot, picking up where they left off on Thursday. Elliot was supposed to tell her about the things he’s struggling with, what’s difficult for him, what he feels the need to discuss or share with her. Probably Lindstrom intentionally brought it up a minute before their time was up. Since she hasn’t yet decided if she wants to bring Elliot for another session, Lindstrom suggested she bring it up in private, possibly on their vacation. 

She told Lindstrom she wants the trip to be about healing. Considering her nightmares there’s a lot of it that comes down to her and Elliot. He made it clear that he wants to work on their relationship, on everything that comes with what was fractured when he abandoned her. There’s no brushing it off, no reproaches. Instead Elliot offers full accountability, which is mending in itself. Olivia’s been hard on herself thinking Elliot would take offense at her pain, at the elusiveness of complete forgiveness. Instead he’s here for her, reassuring her that there’s no feeling toward him, nothing she could possibly say that is going to push him away. Slowly she's starting to believe it. That he’s here for her, here to stay. That it’s safe. 

Olivia finds her running shoes in the back of her storage closet. They were a purchase from many years ago when she first was confronted with the ravages of time gnawing on her physical constitution and stamina as chasing a suspect brought her to her knees. She’d seen a trainer then, for a while, highly motivated until priorities shifted again, her personal fitness taking the backseat when her already poor work-life balance took its toll. 

She’s older now, and has been in better shape. Compared to Elliot, who still works out five days out of seven, she’s in no shape at all. She’s soft where he’s hard muscle, leisurely where he’s fast and driven with head spinning reflexes. Sometimes a little voice in her head whispers that she should do something, make some time in her life to take care of herself, that although rare there are times when she’s in the field, that working out would come in handy. But then she looks back at her failed attempts at establishing a workout routine and it’s demotivating as hell to be confronted with how weak-willed she’s become in this regard. 

She puts the Nikes on, wiggles her toes a bit, decides they still fit nicely. Although she feels conflicted she fits them into her suitcase, her motivation waning at the mere thought of Elliot wanting to tag along should she go for a jog. 

A bag of toiletries follows, the bare necessities this time. Toothbrush and toothpaste, shower cream, shampoo and conditioner. Hairbrush. Mascara. Lip balm. She never traveled this lightly and it feels good, liberating. She can’t imagine when she last went bare faced, looks forward to a week without the pressure of looking presentable, professional. 

This time she’s ready to tear down walls. She told Lindstrom this. That she wants to face her fears, her demons, the pieces of her she’s been struggling with for much longer than when the photographs surfaced. She wants to escape the things that she knows are in her head, all the pieces that have been distorted because she’s been looking at them, at herself through a trauma lens. 

There’s one last thing to do. Even though her heart sends blood curling beats of dread through her body, although her hands are clammy and trembling, despite the nauseating hollowness in her stomach, she reaches for the envelope that’s tucked away at the far bottom of her underwear drawer and slides it into the side pocket of the suitcase, along with her journal. 

This, she decides, is the last time the pictures get to touch her home, her sanctuary. Her heart. The last time she allows herself to be so affected by the gruesome things Lewis captured on film. Whatever his intention was, his extended torture is going to end here and now. 

It’s going to end once and for all. 

 


 

It feels like it’s been months since she last picked up a book, but she sinks into the warm comfort of her bed, sheet wrapped around her waist as she flips through the pages of a novel she started reading ages ago but never finished. There’s a glass of red sitting on her nightstand and tonight, for the first time in a long time, she feels light. She feels right, like whatever had a tight, heart-slowing grip on her starts to ease and the pressure of responsibilities melts under the warm sheets at the prospect of their vacation. 

Olivia nips on her wine as she hears the door, sits up slightly alert, but she relaxes at the familiarity of Elliot’s routine as he closes the door, locks up. She sinks back against the pillow that’s propped against the headboard, smiling to herself at the heavy fall of his footsteps before he takes his shoes off. 

When he appears in the doorway she smiles, not at all surprised. She recognizes a pattern of him coming over even on undesignated days. It’s Wednesday, so normally Eli and Elliot would be here, but with packing and some last minute arrangements for Thanksgiving they’d decided he’d pick them up in the morning before heading to Maureen’s.

“Change of plans?” 

Leaning against the doorframe Elliot looks back at her, eyes taking her in on the bed, glass of wine in her hand, an open book in her lap. 

“Looks like it.” He steps into the room, headed toward the bed, toward her. He takes the glass from her hand, indulges in the Cabernet before capturing her lips in a kiss, indulging in her. When he begins to pull away her hand slips up and around his neck, prolonging the greeting before she allows him to slip away. 

He tells her that Eli’s with Maureen already, that they dropped off some groceries, and Eli figured he’d stay and avoid an early morning and the holiday traffic. Sometimes Liv suspects that it’s not all Eli, and that Elliot is grateful for any excuse that allows him to be here. Not that Olivia minds. She’s gotten so used to Elliot being around that it feels strange when she doesn’t see him, when his body doesn’t occupy the other side of the bed. 

It’s funny how she used to fight for her space in relationships, explaining to her partners that she needed time for herself, for Noah, that their constant presence made her feel boxed in. Now she can't seem to get enough of Elliot occupying every corner of her apartment, every corner of her heart. 

Elliot fits here, belongs here, never once feels out of place. He’s different from everything, everyone she ever knew and every step they take together feels natural. 

She watches him undress and drape his clothes across the back of the chair, following his gaze as it lands on the black suitcase. 

“All packed up?” 

“All packed up,” Olivia agrees when he’s headed for the bathroom, leaving the door open. She hears him brush his teeth and instead of going back to her novel she gets lost in thought, staring at the door, because she’s really, really looking forward to their week away. 

When he’s finished and slips into bed she scoots a little closer, breathes him in like he’s fresh air. 

“You look better today,” he states.  

“I feel better,” she offers in return, a small smile flashing across her face. The book goes on the nightstand. Maybe she'll take it to the cabin, but with Elliot here she's lost interest. “Did I tell you thank you yet?” 

“What for?” Elliot’s arm slips around her as soon as she finds her place, head resting  against the nook his shoulder and chest create, one arm draped across his stomach. 

“For going with me. Telling me to go in the first place. Pushing me, really,” she chuckles lightly, because it was exactly what she needed. A week ago she was barely hanging on, acutely aware that Elliot was the thread she was hanging onto. The one thing that kept her from falling, from hurling down an abyss she used to think she had escaped before the pictures surfaced. 

It was Elliot who agreed with Lindstrom that she needed a break, Elliot who encouraged her to take time off, Elliot who convinced her that the squad would be fine without her for a week. And, of course, it was Elliot who sat down and looked into possible destinations and eventually found the cabin. She wonders if they’d have anywhere to go if it wasn’t for his commitment.

His fingertips dance up and down her upper arm, the tickle familiar and welcome. 

“Wouldn’t wanna miss it. I think we deserve it. You especially.” Elliot’s mouth settles against her hair, places a kiss there, gentle and intimate. He’s been cautious since the flashback, or well, even more cautious. He lets her take the lead when it comes to anything remotely sexual, and all she wants to do is reassure him that it’s okay. That she’s okay. They’ve had sex since then, but it was… not quite the same. 

“I like the idea of it. Just you and me. A cabin…” She hits the notes of seduction, her hand moving south, starting to stroke him atop the sheets. He responds immediately, his breath catching before he exhales slowly. She’s mesmerized at how a simple touch through layers of fabric makes him stiffen beneath her palm. That despite how strongly she sees her shortcomings, she can still have this effect on him. “A full week.” 

She angles her head until her lips brush his, her mouth eager, her hand pulling back the sheets so she can feel more of him, all of him. “Touch me,” she purrs as his arm pulls her closer, embraces her, excites her. And maybe, maybe they’ve overcome this hurdle, because she doesn’t feel anxious that another phantom sensation is going to bring things to a screeching halt and Elliot slips his tongue into her mouth and a hand into her hair as he rolls her onto her back and all she can think is how Lindstrom was right before he hung up the phone today: Things do get better. 

 


 

It’s been a long day. A great day filled with ease and laughter and food--so much food. Maureen and Kathleen were in charge of cooking and delegating, and Olivia and Elliot got a pretty sweet deal taking care of Ella. It was the first time it’s been just the three of them, Liv, Elliot and Ella. 

Elliot suggested they make use of the unseasonably good weather and hit the park, escaping the hum of activity for a couple of hours. Noah decided to tag along, staying unusually close to his mother, and she soaked up his proximity like the autumn sun. She knows he would have liked to join her and Elliot on the trip, kept asking if he really couldn’t come since they first mentioned they’d go on a vacation. It took Kathleen some serious convincing--Olivia would call it bribing--to see the upside of her staying with him at all. Eventually he had accepted that he couldn’t miss school but clung to the promise that next time it’ll be the three of them.

Pretty soon after dinner they bid their goodbyes to the kids, Liv hugging Noah tightly and promising to call the next day before they hit the road. 

They’ve been driving for an hour now, Liv humming along to the radio. The further away they get from the city, the lighter she feels, the more she can breathe. It’s pitch dark, so there’s nothing much to focus on except the occasional road sign, the radio or Elliot’s hand that’s gingerly wrapped around her fingers and resting on her thigh. Her phone lights up, chirps with an incoming message. A picture of Noah who’s sleeping on Maureen’s couch, mouth open, a throw covering him feet to chest. 

“Kathleen. Says Noah’s out as a light now.” She’s kept them updated since they left, reassured Olivia Noah’s okay and that they are going to have a lot of fun, telling her not to worry. 

She does worry of course, feels a little selfish, too. But he’s in good hands, she reminds herself. He’s safe and taken care of and he loves Elliot’s kids, so the worry is not warranted. The guilt however, that’s a different matter and not something she’s going to shake off easily. 

“He’ll be fine,” Elliot assures her, squeezing her hand. 

“I know. I’d just hoped he’d be a little more excited with Kathleen staying over.” 

“He will be.” He glances over at Liv shortly, then changes the subject, maybe to shift the focus away from Noah. “Speaking of the kids… Maureen and Kathleen were worried. Noticed that things were… kinda off lately.” 

Olivia thought she caught them looking at them closely once or twice and the small talk seemed oddly detail oriented, going a little deeper than usual. Or maybe the fact both women abruptly stopped talking when she entered the room to get Ella some tea should’ve been a red flag, but at the moment she didn’t think much of it. Might as well have been them discussing something personal she has no business knowing. Either way, she's troubled that it’s so obvious to them that something’s not quite right.  

“Oh. What did… I mean… did you say anything?”

“Not so much what I said, but what they said. Asked if we were good . Apparently they’ve asked Eli since he’s around more, if he noticed anything, and whatever he said had them worried we’re having problems, and that this trip is some desperate attempt to ‘reconnect’.” He scoffs as she tries to wrap her head around this, wondering what Eli might have said that gave the impression that their relationship was anything but solid. They’ve shuffled the kids around once or twice and there was the one incident where she’d snapped at Elliot in front of the kids, but that certainly isn’t enough to cause any speculation on the state of their relationship, is it? 

“I told them we are fine, we just need a little time to ourselves to recharge because it’s been a rough couple of months. Might have thrown in they'd better mind their own business and leave Eli out of it. Not like a teenager is the most reliable source when it comes to adult relationships. They got all this from ‘They’ve been acting strange.’” 

Nodding, Olivia rubs her chin, sighs softly. “Do you think we should have told them?” 

“Told them what?” 

“About what’s going on? I mean… clearly they noticed enough to worry, they just came to the wrong conclusion.” 

“I don’t think they need to know. We told them we need some time for just us, that it’s been a lot lately. If you ask me that’s plenty, and it isn’t untrue, either.” He glances at her briefly, their eyes meeting in the dark vehicle. “Unless you want to tell them. Then that’s entirely up to you, Liv.” 

Since Olivia hopes to return better than before, wants this trip bring about healing and closure, it might not make sense to make this a big deal. She doesn’t want Maureen and Kathleen to worry, either, and she wonders how to reassure them that she and Elliot are, in fact, all right. 

Exhaling heavily she nods in agreement. “You’re right.”

“Hey, don’t overthink this, okay, Liv? Remember you wanted to relax, not add to the things you’re stressing about.” 

“I know,” she says in thought, around a weak smile he won’t even see. “I know.” 

 


 

Another hour and a quick detour to pick up the keys from the owners and they are finally arriving at the cabin. Gravel crunches underneath the tires as Elliot parks the car. The night is pitch black, the headlights the only source of light illuminating the porch and front door. Olivia knows from the pictures that the cabin is surrounded by trees, a slope leading down to a creek nearby. The night air crawls across her skin as she gets out of the car, hugging herself for warmth and following Elliot up the porch to unlock the front door. Taking a step inside, he gropes his way along the wall until he finds the slight switch, illuminating the living area and open kitchen. 

Stepping around Elliot Olivia takes in her surroundings, recognizing everything from the pictures. It looks warmer and cozier in person. It seems smaller than what she remembers from the various photographs, but it only adds to the charm of the log cabin. The fireplace catches her eyes, and if she weren’t so tired, a fire would be the first thing on her agenda. 

“I’m gonna get the suitcases and groceries, wanna go pick a bedroom in the meantime?” 

“Sure.” She walks further inside, lets her hand run along the smooth wood top of the breakfast bar. The place comes with a full kitchen and Olivia can already see herself whipping up some pancake batter in the mornings, picturing the both of them sitting at the table for breakfast. The sofa is big enough for them to lounge in front of the fireplace, enjoying a glass of wine. 

There’s a built-in bookshelf by the staircase, tempting Olivia to run her fingertips across the backbones of the small library, her gaze landing on a leather bound book on the far right. Her mother used to love this book, Olivia remembers as she runs her finger along the backbone of 100 Years Of Solitude. 

Tearing her eyes off the literary classic she continues her way upstairs, finds the first bedroom furnished with a queen bed, a window to the left, a nightstand on either side and a wardrobe. The room is small but cozy, and for some reason Olivia instantly falls in love with it. She walks inside, inhales the scent of wood and freshly laundered sheets as she sits down at the foot of bed, her hands spreading out on the mattress. 

“This one,” she decides, feeling no need to even see the other bedroom. A minute or two later Elliot finds her, shoes kicked off, looking perfectly content. 

“Nice,” he says as he looks around, parking the suitcases by the door. 

“Isn’t it?” A smile tugs at the corners of her mouth. “You did good, Stabler.” 

“That a compliment? Whatever happened with this looking quite...what did you call it? Woodsy?” 

Grinning, she gets up, walks closer, running her hand up his chest. “Turns out I like secluded cabins in woody areas, I guess. What do you say, should we unpack and turn in? And by turn in, I mean break in the bed?” 

Elliot laughs now, slipping an arm around Liv’s waist. “You are dead on your feet, I don’t think you’re gonna break in anything tonight.” 

He’s got a point, she is dead tired and had dozed off a couple of times on the way here, but she can’t say that she’s not in the mood. 

“How about a raincheck, though,” Elliot suggests. “Let’s just turn in, and tomorrow we can break in every horizontal surface in this place.” 

“Now you sound like you wanna break me, take it easy there, these bones are brittle.” 

“Just the ankle, I thought,” he quips, and her laugh is loud and rousing as his lips find her temple. He sways, his arms wrapped around her middle, moving them towards the bed as her laughter fades and exhaustion makes her feel heavy and aching for the warmth of the duvet. 

“Okay, raincheck,” she mutters, her lips finding his for a single, gentle brush before she steps away. 

Thirty minutes later they are both snuggled in under the warmth of a thick comforter. Elliot had locked up and stocked the fridge while Olivia hit the shower and brushed her teeth. She’s curled into him as he spoons her, his arms wrapped around her middle, a leg hooked around both of hers. His nose in her hair as he’s breathing softly, breathing her in, his thumb caressing the softness of her stomach.

“This is nice,” she whispers, clasping the back of the hand that is holding her. 

“‘t’is.” 

There’s weariness in his voice that slips beneath her skin, sinks into her bones, making her body feel comfortably heavy. 

“El?” 

“Hm?” 

“I love you.” It’s barely there, a whisper so quiet, she thinks he might have missed it when she’s met with a few moments of silence. 

“More than you’ll ever know,” he murmurs in return, placing a simple kiss in her hair. “Now sleep. S’late.” 

Smiling, she slips away to the rhythm of his chest rising and falling against her back. With his thumb drawing lazy circles against her skin, she loses herself in his sweet touch as she drifts into a peaceful sleep. 



Chapter Text

Olivia wakes to the whisper of Elliot’s breath against the base of her neck, his face buried in her hair. There’s the dance of his fingertips as they slide down the slope of her hip, crawling back up lazily. Like he’s got all the time in the world. She’s still in half-slumber, exhaling through her nose as the thought slowly registers through the fog of her brain, through the hold of the tendrils of a dream that… surprisingly wasn’t a nightmare. Olivia wants to groan but before she blinks her eyes open she remembers they’re not in the city, not in New York. That her alarm won’t go off, blaring her to instant consciousness, that this Friday, this week isn’t going to be a rush between fixing Noah’s lunchbox and downing too hot coffee before wrestling another day, responsibility harsh and heavy on her shoulders. 

They actually do. For once they have all the time in the world, and Olivia breathes out slowly, the hint of a smile stretching across her face as Elliot’s lips press against her skin, warm and unhurried. 

The duvet is heavy, cozy. Safe. So is Elliot, his arm slipping around her frame, palm solid against her stomach. He knows, she thinks, before she even opened her eyes or spoke a word or moved a limb that she’s waking up. Olivia’s hand settles against the back of Elliot’s, hugs him to her before she exhales on a hum, his thumb sliding up against the satin of her pajama top, dipping into her navel. 

“Morning.” Elliot’s voice is rough with sleep, sending a shiver through her. There’s nothing quite as intimate as this to her. Waking up next to him, wrapped up in his arms, his scent, his body heat. She’s dreamed of this an embarrassing number of times long before she had the right to and unsurprisingly it didn’t compare to the real thing. 

“Morning.” It’s a small, scratchy sound and she tucks herself back against him, smiling to herself as she feels him hard against her ass. Arousal rumbles down her spine, settles between her legs, her heart beating stronger in an instant. Olivia loves morning sex and hates that it’s almost as rare an occurance as Christmas. Sometimes there’s a hint of it where Elliot will touch her, or she’ll roll around, turn into him, kiss him, tuck down his boxers, but then there’s a small sound from the living room or the fall of Eli’s bare feet in the hallway when he goes to the bathroom and it just… never happens. 

But here there are no distractions, no kids who are up before them, no echo of footsteps that make them freeze and think better of it, and since she’s grown a lot more comfortable with the changes in her body and lube’s become their best friend she’s more than eager to be spontaneous. She fell asleep in the mood and still is now, hardly fully awake. Everything about Elliot makes her ache for the feel of him buried deep inside of her and she wants him to know exactly what’s on her mind, makes sure he knows by guiding his hand underneath the waistband of her pajama pants and lower, lower, lower until she pants out a tiny moan of appreciation when she presses his fingertips to her clit. 

Elliot trembles, his breath a little ragged at the simple touch. He caresses her neck, groans into the heat of Olivia’s skin as she starts to seek friction, riding against his hand as he peels the waistband of her pants off for easier access. 

Everything about Elliot is addictive. He knows exactly how she likes it, that there’s a spot on the left side of her clit that not only gets her going, but gets her there fast. The feeling of his erection pressing into her skin fires her arousal, but so do his nipping lips, his grazing teeth. He works her expertly, only defers for as long as it takes him to get some spit in the game, giving it some slip that‘s doing miracles. It‘s not long until she‘s right there on the edge, whimpering into the pillow with a strong need for release. 

"…gonna come,“ she pants desperation-drenched, clinging to Elliot‘s hand, meeting every swipe of his fingers with a roll or a grind of her hips.

Elliot‘s answer is a rushed, ragged breath against her ear. "Come on then.“ 

And God, she does, the sounds of her release bleeding into the quiet of the room.


Some early morning sex, a restorative nap, and unpacking the suitcases later Olivia has opened a box of pancake mix and started the coffee maker. They brought a few necessities, so a trip to town is among the first things on their agenda for today. She takes her time with making breakfast, a rare treat on a Friday morning. The aroma of the pancakes and fresh coffee wafting through the open kitchen is mouthwatering. Briefly, Olivia’s gaze finds the window, looking outside, absorbing their surroundings. 

After parting the shades in the bedroom she spent a long time just staring, overcome with the incredible sight greeting her: the brilliant nuances of fall, beautiful red, orange and yellow trees bathing in the morning light. It was breathtaking, and Olivia still took it all in, peeking glances outside, as they started to put clothes in the closet. 

Elliot’s footsteps creak on the stairs, drawing nearer, until he wraps himself around her body, placing a single kiss into her open hair. 

“Hey there.”

She slides the spatula underneath the cooked batter and lifts the last pancake onto the stack before turning off the stove and turning around into Elliot. 

“Hey, you” she gives back sweetly. He’s soap and aftershave and a hint of mint. “You smell good.”

“So do you. Although I liked you even better before you took that shower.” His voice is low and deep, and the implications are swirling in her belly as he continues, looking right at her. “When you were all heat and sweat and sex under the covers.” 

This side of Elliot is still new to Olivia, although he let it show on the night of his birthday dinner. It’s intriguing when he’s not cautious, if only with his words. It makes her want to know what it would be like if he threw caution to the wind, when it would be all of him. His intent, his touch, his body, his sex. Luckily, she thinks, she’s poised to find out--soon. But until then she’s more than willing to play along, fuel his mind, his desire for her. 

“You like it dirty, is what you’re saying?” And to make sure he knows he’s not mistaken about her intentions, that she’s not just here to play, she draws closer, her voice dropping as her lips brush his ear. “Cause I can give you dirty.” 

Then, as if she didn’t just put this on his mind, she shifts and steps away, picking up the plate. “Let’s eat while these are still warm. Can you get the coffee?” And with a smirk about his wide eyes and his dumbfounded face she sashays over to the dining table that’s already set. 


Breakfast is a peaceful affair, and it’s hardly ever like that at home. Before the pictures surfaced Elliot and Olivia rarely spent the night together with Noah out of the house, and even now, since they’ve had a schedule, breakfast wasn’t a top priority. But this, pancakes, coffee and just the two of them? Olivia enjoys the quiet, the easiness, the slowness of the morning. She promised Noah to get in touch, but until she and Elliot got ready to drive into town she can’t even be bothered to look at her phone. 

They get their groceries at a Walmart, deciding to visit the village another day. With the kitchen now stocked with enough food to last for the week, they go out to take a look at their surroundings. Even from the porch the view is astonishing, the sun breaking through the trees, foliage covering the ground, all the way down the slope that Olivia knows leads to the creek that runs through the woods. The air is fresher than anything she’s ever breathed. It’s cool, billows of steam rising between the two of them, but the sun is strong enough that Olivia feels cozy in just a hoodie. Hand in hand they make their way down the hillside, careful not to slip on the carpet of damp leaves. Soon Olivia hears the chatter of the stream mixing with the rustling beneath their feet and behind a stand of trees Elliot is the first to spot the creek at a small clearing that allows for sun to fall upon them. They should have brought a mat to sit on, Olivia muses when they reach the waterside, because it’s beautiful here. The owner told them that not even a mile upstream there’s a narrowing, flowing into a cluster of rocks that create two small waterfalls. Olivia hadn't been intending to take a walk, but she now wants to go there and see it for herself. Desperately. As far as she can see they should get there just fine, the waterside isn‘t very steep. 

"Can we head upstream? To see the waterfalls?“ She lifts their intertwined hands in the general direction, her eyes twinkling with excitement. 

"Sure, if that‘s what you want.“

It‘s a slow march and their footgear is a poor choice for this kind of undertaking. Olivia isn‘t equipped for the woods, in fact she wasn‘t quite sure what to expect of vacationing at a secluded cabin, tucked away in the depths of nature to begin with. But she’s taken. In love with the tranquility, the peacefulness, the open landscape. There’s no traffic noise, no matter how much she strains her ears, and wherever she looks, there’s not a single soul except her and Elliot out here. She's flirting with the idea of hiking later in the week, deciding if they should put this plan in action she needs to hit Walmart again and get some proper wear. 

Any doubts concerning her shoes evaporate the moment Olivia spots the clearing with the waterfalls. Her pace changes, picks up as she makes her way past oak trees and through spongy forest grounds. She‘s in awe as they reach their destination, the wet rocks glistening in the midday sun. The water is shallow and clear here, Olivia can see the pebbles and the sand, and everything about this makes her appreciate the trip all the more. 

"Look at how beautiful this is,“ Olivia breathes, mesmerized. 

“It is,” Elliot agrees when Liv walks them even closer. To their right there’s a downed tree, and Olivia leads him to sit on it. For a moment she just takes everything in, but when Elliot slips an arm around her shoulder and kisses her temple she exhales, smiling. 

“Have you done this before? A vacation in the woods?” 

“Took the kids camping a few times. Never in the fall, though. We had this big family tent and Dickie helped me build a fire pit and we’d have sausage and twist bread and Kathleen would eat so many s’mores, she'd get sick,” he remembers, chuckling. “Maureen used to love it until she turned thirteen, then she got squeamish. Too many bugs, she said.” 

“I mean… that’s relatable,” Olivia says, shuddering at the idea of sleeping out here. “I wouldn’t trade the cabin for a tent.”

“It was cheap,” he reasons around a shrug. “I will admit that the cabin comes with a lot of amenities, though.” He bumps his shoulder into her, catching her smile. “We could take the boys in the summer, though. A week or two out here? Think Noah would like that?” 

“Are you kidding? He’d love that. I mean, he’s a city kid through and through, but I’m pretty sure he’d have a blast out here between the grill and the fire pit? Wading in the creek?” Paris has been their only real vacation so far, and Noah was so young then, he doesn’t even remember it. They usually fit in a few day trips during the summer, an actual vacation is long overdue. 

“Then we should do that, see if we find something in the area. Maybe the cabin is free for the summer, we could check with the owners when we bring back the keys, make a reservation.” 

Turning her head to him, Olivia takes Elliot in for a moment, feeling a warm surge of love running through her veins that makes her reach for his cheek. Leaning in, she kisses him, slow and deep. 

“What was that for?” Elliot asks when she pulls back, biting her lip. 

“I love you, is all,” she says comfortably. 

“Well, in that case, love me some more,” he says, grinning, and God, she feels more like herself out here with him than she has in a long time. She feels young. Alive. She craves that sentiment, wants more of it, and looking at the stream she gets an idea, slips off her shoes, then her socks. 

“Liv, what are you doing?” 

“I’m going in,” she says with as much enthusiasm as conviction, rolling up her pants to the middle of her calves. A shiver crawls across the exposed skin, makes her break out in goosebumps. 

“Are you crazy? The water’s ice-cold,” Elliot warns, but she’s already up, her feet sinking into the thicket of foliage as she tiptoes towards the riffle by the rocks. 

“Chicken,” she calls over her shoulder as she makes her way in, one foot, then the other. The water washes around her ankles and her face freezes for a moment before she squeals at the temperature. “Oh my God, oh my… shit, this really is cold.” But she laughs as she wades through the creek, a few steps forward before she turns around, only to find Elliot with the phone pointed at her, either taking pictures or recording her impromptu water treading. 

“Are you filming me?” 

“Maybe?” Laughing, Elliot holds out a hand to help Olivia out, and with chattering teeth she makes a quick return to the tree trunk, pulling up her feet, wiping them with her sleeves before putting her socks and shoes back on. 

“Let’s get you home and warmed up,” Elliot suggests, sliding his hand into hers, leading her back to the cabin, and while it may have been a little foolish to do this without proper warm socks and with now damp shoes it was the most fun thing she’s done in… possibly her life. 

The walk back seems longer, and by the time they reach the clearing on the property and make it up the slope, Olivia is cold and in desperate need of warm, dry socks. Her suede boots are ruined and while the walk was worth it, she’s also a little bummed, because they were her favorite. Next time, she thinks, she won’t be so ill-prepared.

She slips her boots off, leaving them on the porch as they enter the cabin through the back door. Her socks are anything but dry and by now her feet are blocks of ice. 

Elliot closes the door behind them, hands at his sides. “Go change. I’ll make us some tea and get a fire going.” 

A fire sounds wonderful, and she’s up the stairs within seconds, changing into yoga pants and thicker, warm socks. The hoodie comes off, too and by the time she returns downstairs there’s a fire crackling and Elliot’s waiting on the sofa, two steaming cups on the coffee table. She settles next to Elliot, who drapes an arm around her, pulling her in. She sighs, feeling the heat of the fire crawl underneath her skin, warming her cheeks, her hands. Her feet still feel like they’re about to fall off, and she wiggles her toes to get circulation going. A few more minutes and she’s almost through her tea, her body tucked into Elliot’s. She’s comfortably warm now, sleepy, too as Elliot’s caressing her arm, the consistent motions lulling her in. 

This place, the cabin, the creek, it‘s a piece of heaven, so captivating, she didn‘t even think of all the things that have been weighing her down lately, since they arrived. This, here? It‘s healing in itself, even though she has some work to put in, still. But she can breathe and think and escape the oppressing circumstances that brought her down to start with. What she wants is to get some perspective, get back a sense of control and return better and healthier. 

When they booked the vacation Olivia wasn’t so sure it was even feasible, that a trip couldn’t possibly give her a sense of security, healing, maybe even closure. But things shift here, and what she sees, what she feels, makes everything lighter, better. It makes her realize that even with the bad hand Lewis dealt her, she has so much to live for, plenty to be thankful for. She’s lucky to be here, and this break was long overdue. 

It’s so restorative within the first twenty-four hours, she no longer feels an ounce of regret for taking time off. She’s not even as nervous about talking to Elliot about therapy related matters, because it feels that nothing here can hurt them. They have their own safe bubble here, and she is confident, thinking they will be just fine. 

Today Olivia wants to relax. She wants to just be. Tomorrow though, she wants to talk. 

She naps until it’s almost time for dinner, her head resting in Elliot’s lap. All the fresh air, their walk, the impressions have her wiped out. They eat, and Olivia’s back in her pajamas before it strikes eight o’clock, seeking the comfort of Elliot’s proximity. He’s opened a bottle of wine for them and it doesn’t take more than a few sips of Cabernet and Elliot’s fingertips caressing the back of her head until her body and eyes feel heavy. She seeks him out, his hand, lacing her fingers into his, head dropping against his shoulder as she closes her eyes.

“You’re tired,” Elliot declares. 

“A little,” Liv understates around a weak smile. She could sleep, but she really shouldn’t between their lazy morning and her extensive nap. 

“How about we drink up and turn in. Fire’s almost out anyway. It’s been a day.” 

Angling her head so she can look at him she cracks an eye open, but before she can protest Elliot brings her hand up and presses a kiss to her knuckles. 

“You have plenty to catch up on,” he starts and pauses briefly as she sees emotion settle on his face. “So do I, to be honest.”

For a few moments Olivia scrutinizes Elliot, finding nothing but truth in his eyes. She’s seen the shadows, the weariness in the past couple of weeks, but they never actually talked about it. If he admits he could do with some sleep, then so can she.

“All right. Sounds good, “ Olivia gives in, looking out for him as much as he does for her. They stay for another ten, maybe fifteen minutes and while Elliot finishes his drink, Olivia’s sole focus is on not dozing off. 

“Ready?” 

“Hmm,” she agrees, allowing Elliot to lead her upstairs and tuck her in, and he’s so soft, so loving as he tells her he’ll be back in a few, that it makes her feel vulnerable, it makes her want to cry. Elliot’s lips ghost along her temple as he combs her hair back, whispers an affirmation of love that she responds to with whispered words. She hears his hushed footsteps as he leaves the room, but doesn’t stay awake for long enough to notice him settle into bed next to her.

Chapter Text

The next morning starts out just as lazy. Olivia and Elliot stay in bed until after nine, cuddled up under the covers that serve as a shield, the bed a place where they are safe and nothing, nothing at all can touch them. Olivia is a bit tense, has been since she opened her eyes. Today she wants to talk. Not only to get it over with, but because she wants, with all her heart, to focus on moving forward. She’s not dreading the conversations, she’s not afraid. She’s actually curious to get Elliot’s perspective, and knows he won’t put the conversation off like he has before when it comes to how he feels and how he deals with whatever emotions it brings to the surface. She didn’t tell him that Lindstrom’s wishes for a nice trip came with homework, although she thinks he might suspect. 

What worries Olivia is that this is a monumental step in their relationship, and being this open with each other again might not bring about that sense of healing she seeks. That it might complicate things further, although she has no idea what that might look like. Like most people with trauma, Olivia tends to catastrophize, and she hopes this is just that. That the unsettling feeling that rumbles about her stomach is not a bad omen but...nerves.

When Olivia and Elliot talked at Lindstrom’s office it was necessary and cathartic, but this amount of openness is always a bit of a double-edged sword. It makes Olivia feel vulnerable, raw and showing that side of herself to anyone, even Elliot — at the core of the matter it’s still unsettling. 

The weather’s tipped over. She opens the drapes, greeted by a sight that sends a shiver across her skin. The little Olivia can see of the foliage is covered by mist, the sun blocked by fat, impenetrable gray clouds. Hugging herself as she looks outside, she feels Elliot‘s arms slip around her chilled pajama-clad body, chin settling against her shoulder.

Shakily, Liv exhales, closes her eyes, and the conversation to be had slips away from her, giving way to mental images of a fire in the fireplace downstairs, warmth, her, Elliot--maybe just her--burning the photographs, the negatives, the journal--no, no, not the journal-- but burning that bridge to the past. To Lewis, and all the terror, pain and humiliation he inflicted on her that have intruded into her relationship, the ashes marking a new beginning. Her frame tenses in Elliot’s embrace, and he whispers, asking whether everything’s okay. She nods just barely. Elliot trusts her because he lets her off without further questioning. 

"I‘ll get breakfast started,“ he suggests. His voice is deep and scratchy with a few extra hours of sleep neither of them is used to. 

Before Elliot can move away though, Olivia crosses her arms in front of her, each hand grabbing a forearm, holding on, keeping him right where he is. Her grip is urgent, leaving crescent moon shaped indentations. 

“Stay.” 

She’s not ready to start the day just yet, or to part with Elliot and put a room, let alone a floor between them. 

“You’re so needy.” Elliot’s voice, one she knows isn’t real, echoes in her head. She inhales consciously, shakes her head, shakes it off, focusing on concrete things she can actually hear and feel and grasp. Like Elliot’s breath, deep and drawn out. His mouth settled against the juncture of her neck in a simple affectionate kiss. The feel of his strong arms as she presses them more firmly against her ribs for physical warmth and refuge from her innermost fears. 

All this, she knows, is real. This is Elliot. No matter how broken and insecure his abandonment has left her, deep down she understands that he’s not going to leave her again. 

Elliot wants to say something, but she beats him to it, unable to start getting into anything, now. She needs a little more time, a few more minutes, hours, maybe. 

“Come shower with me.” It’s a sweet, innocent request, born from a need for physicality that transcends the sexual. It’s something far more intimate to her to need Elliot in all the small ways, allowing herself to rely on him. What they have is sacred to her.

It took her fifty-four years to find love, twenty-four of them to call this love, even though she knew sooner. He’s someone to hold onto, and she refuses to sabotage them. She won’t let her trepidations or old behavioral patterns ruin them.  

When Elliot agrees, she pulls the curtains closed again, shutting out the world and the day to come. She pivots in his arms, puts her mouth on his to quiet him as he starts to question what she’s doing. 

“Shower,” she mumbles again, using her body to edge him towards the bedroom door as she fingers with the buttons of her pajama top. 

A minute later they step under the warm spray, entangled in each other because Olivia refuses to let go, to detach from Elliot’s body for even a second. He’s the single thread she’s hanging on, this morning and for eternity. She looks up at him, her hands against his chest as his wet fingers slip into her hair, combing it back, looking at her like she’s the most treasured thing he’s ever known. 

“Hey,” Elliot says, the word a soft rumble. Her eyes refocus on his mouth, his lips until his thumb brushes her temple. “Everything okay?” 

“Yeah. I’m… I’m okay. With you I’m okay.” Olivia smiles tightly, watches as Elliot’s brows draw together. “I’m okay,” she whispers again, more conviction in her gaze, before putting her head against his shoulder, tilting her face into his neck. She closes her eyes, focuses on the drum of Elliot’s heartbeat that’s loud against her ear, on how easily her fingers slide across his wet skin, all the way down to his hip bone. How deeply he inhales when she presses herself impossibly closer to him, feeling him stir fully alive against her abdomen by her sheer proximity. 

The water douses the fire of insecurity and doubt in her belly, pressed against Elliot’s body so not even a sheet would fit between them. Lifting her head slightly, Olivia’s lips climb up from Elliot’s chin to his mouth, and as she kisses him she burrows into him, trying to find her sanctuary and maybe a piece of yesterday’s easiness, too. 

“Liv.” 

“Hm.” 

Lips still attached, Elliot pushes a strand of wet hair behind Olivia’s ear, then moves to cup her cheek. 

“What do you need?” 

“Nothing.” She swallows, breathes out, nose to nose with him. “Just…” She creates just enough space to slip her hand between their bodies and around Elliot’s length, dragging her fingers up and down his shaft while holding him against her belly. “Just this.”

Elliot exhales shakily, moving her backward, one and a half steps until Liv’s back hits the tiled wall, and when he seeks her out with his own hand she tips her head back against the wall. Biting her bottom lip she shakes her head. 

“No. Just you.” She looks down between them, unable to see anything past their joined chests, her hand trapped and barely able to move now. “I wanna make you feel good.” 

“You always make me feel good,” he argues lazily. 

“Let me have this,” Olivia breathes. 

The words alone almost make him come undone, she sees it in the way he chuckles, a tense sound as he arches his head back and places both his palms against the moist tiles at either side of her head, allowing her the space she needs. 

Olivia merely smiles, her hand firm as she starts to pleasure Elliot: slow, long strokes that make him moan appreciatively within seconds, reminding her of how their connection is and always will be effortless. 

She pushes backwards until they are both under the spray again, and she takes her time then, hiding her face in his neck, bringing him to the edge as she breathes in the essence of him. 

Olivia only raises her head and smiles at him as his breathing pattern changes to something that’s almost erratic despite the leisurely manipulation she’s kept up for the entire time, ten minutes, maybe. Elliot’s eyes, unfocused, but still the clear blue she loves, close on her when she squeezes him knowingly, familiar with all the signs of his budding climax; the tattered sound of his moans, his now-rigid stance, the way his mouth falls open, his jaw quivering, his mind blank enough to say things he’d never otherwise say. 

“Fuck…Baby…” 

Like that. And while she’s not fond of pet names it’s so very rare that it’s precious to her when it slips out in the throes of passion. 

“Come on,” she encourages, the words a deep whisper. Elliot’s palpable arousal causes a flutter in her stomach, putting an ache between her bare thighs. 

“I’m...faster…” 

Olivia obliges, takes him to the brink and pushes him over with quick up-and-down movements until he spills over her hand and abdomen when she presses him against her skin for the finish. Half a moan gets stuck in his throat, the other half echoing between them. 

Visibly satisfied, Elliot croaks out a sigh, his lips falling against Liv’s forehead as he wraps his hands around her arms, swaying his spent body and hers from side to side. 

“You’re incredible, you know that?” 

“Hmm,” she breathes as his mouth drags in the space between her brows and across her nose, down until it grazes her lips in a kiss; simple at first, but after a few moments he runs his tongue across her teeth, willing her to open up for him and what started as sweet innocence deepens as she cups his cheeks, holds him to her like a talisman, her very own lucky charm. Her thumb caresses the corner of his mouth and she breaks away to suck in a stream of air and steam that engulfs them, and when she breathes out she speaks. 

“I wanna talk today.”

He nods like this isn’t some big revelation. Like he saw it coming, maybe. 

“Talking’s good,” he offers, and chokes out a laugh as he realizes how it sounds.

“What?” Olivia presses curiously. 

“Nothing.” His hand tangles in her wet tresses. “Just realized that’s something our shrinks would say. Bet they’d be proud.” 

“Mine would be. Yours, not so much?” 

“Yeah? Why’s that?” 

“You never go anymore.” It doesn’t come out vile, instead Olivia emphasizes the words with a light smile as she pets his face, feeling his stubble scratching against her soaked fingertips. He’d stopped going because he could handle Kathy, but now, after the photographs and the new knowledge about Lewis and her nightmares, Olivia thinks he might need to talk to someone. Someone that isn’t her. 

Elliot matches her smile with one of his own as he reaches around her, grabbing her shampoo. 

“And you want me to?” He moves her out of the water stream and pumps a fair amount of the creamy substance into his palm before lathering it, then smoothes his hands into Olivia’s hair, gently starting to work the scented product in. It smells exactly like her when she’s just out of the shower, hair still wet and naturally wavy. 

Olivia is slightly confused when his fingers work across her scalp, but the moment she wants to say something a pleasant shudder shoots through her system shutting down any objections. Nobody has ever washed her hair. She wouldn’t have allowed it, but this… this, she has to admit feels nice and comfortable and oddly intimate. A little thrilling, too. Plus it’s Elliot. So, with the precariousness dying somewhere in her throat, she sighs instead and let’s herself fall into his hands, his safety while trying to remember what Elliot had asked. Something about shrinks. If she wants him to go?

“Hmm, maybe…” It’s innocuous enough. She doesn’t want to sound pushy, but she doesn’t want to sound indifferent, either. Liv sighs, the remaining tension slipping away and circling down the drain like the proof of Elliot’s desire had. “I want you to be okay.”

And that’s what it boils down to. Nearly ten years ago what Lewis did happened to her. But the photographs, the trauma they reignited and pushed front and center, the nightmares they evoked--so very different from anything she’s dreamed related to Lewis before... All of it happened to Elliot, too, affecting him, affecting their relationship. 

“I hear you.” 

The lather on her head thickens as Elliot works his fingers through her long tresses, taking his time as he gently massages every inch of her scalp. It feels so good, Olivia allows her eyes to slip closed under the sweet caress. And then she sobers from the almost hypnotizing motions of his fingertips against her skin, the words clear and loud despite the monotone hiss of the shower. 

“I’ve been.” 

Her eyes open, eyebrows drawing as Olivia tries to figure out what he's saying. 

“Been…what?” 

He cocks his head a little, his hands still tangled in her shampooed hair. 

“To therapy. Not much. Two times-” 

“When?” And why didn’t he mention it? Why didn’t she notice? Probably she’s been too self-absorbed, not paying enough attention to the small indicators that should have given it away. Usually these things don’t get past her, and she hates that she’s missed this, that she’s been completely blindsided by Elliot’s admission. 

“Ah, after the journal. You were struggling, and I… anyway, between then and now. I’ve been. I’m going.”  

This is not something Liv expected. Elliot avoids making his feelings — his fears and worries — a priority. It’s no secret that he isn’t fond of therapy, that he only went to see a therapist after Kathy’s death because he was grasping at straws and Olivia pleaded with him to sort out his issues. For himself, for his kids, for… her. She didn’t speak the latter out loud, but it was there between them no less. She’d needed him to get better, to get well, or else they wouldn’t be able to build on whatever it was his return laid the foundation for. There was only so much she could carry, so much she could give, and at the time she carried and gave for the both of them. 

She’s proud of him. Proud that he sought help without being prompted, without being asked. It proves how far he’s come. Weeks ago they briefly talked about the fact he wasn’t feeling great, and she understood even then that he couldn’t, wouldn’t, make his pain a priority over hers. Not when he was part of what caused her grief and the nightmares.

His therapist, it crosses her mind, must be proud of him, indeed.

For a moment Olivia holds Elliot’s eye, but then her body gravitates towards him, her lips searching his, meeting him in a sweet, long lasting kiss that’s hardly movement but a lot of comfortable stillness. She loves the calm between them as much as the excitement. It doesn’t scare her when the butterflies in her stomach settle. Not with Elliot. She doesn’t question if it’s a bad thing, if it means that the attraction, the novelty, the affection is fading, because deep inside of her she knows it’s all still right there, even in the quiet moments. Especially in the quiet moments. 

What fired her insecurities with other men is replaced with a feeling of hope and basic trust in the man in front of her, in the relationship they have. She’s no longer scared. Instead, within her something far greater blossoms, telling her that this life, their future, is full of possibilities. 

She pulls back just as unhurried as she‘d kissed him, the water washing shampoo out of her lengths as Elliot’s hands settle on her hips. 

“What was that for?” 

“Just glad you’re talking to someone,” Liv admits. “I know it might not have seemed that way, but since that night when we were out? I worried about you.” 

“Liv, you don’t have to worry about me. That’s not-” 

“Well, you tend to bottle things up, Elliot, and it’s… it’s been a lot lately.” Since they became a couple there was a rather brief period where it was smooth sailing for them. Elliot had needed time to grieve after Kathy died, they’d needed to find their footing as friends before figuring out what else it was between them and whether they were willing to figure out what they wanted to be to each other, what it would take to make it work. It felt right at all times, but also a little awkward, at first. They’d only just found a rhythm with each other, with Noah and Eli, when the photographs threw a wrench between the first sacred moments of domesticity. It made them grow quickly, as people, and as a couple. But sometimes she wonders what it would’ve been like if their relationship could have progressed more peacefully. 

Then again, Olivia thinks, slipping her arms around Elliot’s nude, slick body, she wouldn’t change anything about this moment. Had Elliot not found the old camera, had Amanda not picked up the pictures at the photo store, had Olivia not lived through the hell of realizing she’d held on to an illusion, maintaining a construct where Lewis may have hurt her, but not raped her… they wouldn’t be here. 

They wouldn’t have come here to this beautiful place, away from work, home and responsibilities for something that’s no less sacred than their tentative beginnings. They are so much more solid and open, so deeply honest with each other beyond what she could have imagined. Sometimes, despite all the pain and heartache and the terror-filled nights she’s thankful even for the hardships. But Elliot? She has no idea how he feels about it all, only that none of it is easy. That he, too, is struggling. So, recognizing that he needs help, that he actively went to talk about what this situation is doing to him? It’s honestly a relief, making her feel comfortable and warm and wonderfully fuzzy, something she’s only ever felt with Elliot. 


After breakfast, Elliot goes on a run: hitting the long winded road that leads up to the property. The air is fresh, cool and humid, a little misty but not enough to narrow his sight. The roadside is a sea of yellows, reds and oranges, his shoes hitting foliage instead of asphalt. He wants to speed up, but there’s too little grip underneath his feet, he’d have to move toward the middle of the road, wondering if it’s deserted enough. He’s covered maybe three miles without a single car passing, and taking Liv’s words to heart not to break his neck he steers towards the visible lane, his pace instantly picking up. 

He would’ve stayed at the cabin, with her, close to her, but he had a hunch that what Liv needed wasn’t his proximity but his absence, if only for an hour. In the shower she’d told him that she wants to talk today, and it wasn’t some big revelation, he’d sensed they’d have the one or other important conversation here long before they left, possibly before they’d decided their trip would take them to a log cabin in the Catskills. Maybe the joint session with Lindstrom was a dead giveaway that more was to come, that they’d only started sharing about their thoughts, needs and fears. However, what exactly she wants to discuss is a mystery to him. 

Elliot has done his share of talking with Dr. Carpenter-Grey when he felt it wouldn’t be beneficial to talk to Olivia about how reading in her journal and finding out about her nightmares made him feel. Not when he could see that she was struggling more and more. He simply couldn’t add to her long list of burdens. 

Olivia had told him about her chat with Amanda, about the theory the blonde detective had, and while at first it seemed that it might give Liv closure, the entire thing quickly turned out to wreak havoc on any progress made. 

Before the appointment with Lindstrom, when she wouldn’t or couldn’t talk to him, he tried to give her what she had given him in the aftermath of Kathy’s death--silent comfort.  

Elliot remembers those nights all too well--when he’d show up at her door when her kid would already be asleep. He was helplessly floundering then, unable to sleep, unable to think, to breathe, especially when his mind conjured up unstoppable memories of the explosion: the sounds, flames, heat and smallest pieces of metal,  feeling all too real in front of his eyes, on his skin, in his ears. And Kathy--oh God, Kathy--lying there, unmoving, unresponsive as he kneeled at her head, begging her to look at him, to listen to him, to please just stay with him. The airbnb he resided in was too empty and quiet with Eli gone, with Kathy gone--everybody was just...gone, and he, a man who’d never truly been alone, was now on his own and expected to function. 

Only he didn’t, and when it hit particularly hard, and not even the physical exertion to the breaking point would help, he’d make his way to Olivia’s, tired and defeated and sorrowful, silently pleading to be let in. And she let him--let him into her home, into her sanctuary, and most nights into her bed. There were times they didn’t even speak, when he slipped onto the mattress, marking a territory that is now known as his side of the bed. It was just as quiet, but his thoughts were too, the oppressive loudness smothered by the even flow of Olivia’s breath. There, with her, he too could breathe, like her proximity made the racing thoughts still, the overwhelming pain receding to what he could only describe as a dull ache. Something endurable. Olivia, somehow, made it all bearable. 

She reached out, grasping for him in the dark, her warm fingers slipping into his cold, barren hand, squeezing the life back into him, resuscitating him. Coming to her was easy. Always. Never guilt-free, but easy enough once he got a taste of the peacefulness she offered him so selflessly, even at times Elliot was certain Olivia felt like she had nothing left to give, even to him. Especially to him. 

What he can give back now is weighted differently, of course. He didn’t deserve her time, her care, her unyielding concern, then. He certainly didn’t deserve all the steps she’s made towards showing him forgiveness. Olivia deserves the entire world and more. She’s his light, his whole universe. When he sits down some nights, watching her sleep, thinking how she’s been his saving grace, it’s not an overstatement. What she’s done for him, for his kids, is immeasurable. 

So now that she is ready to talk, he’s going to give her every bit of honesty and candor that he can, knowing that he’ll get no less in return whenever Liv is ready. And should she only need him to listen, then he‘ll be all ears for her.

Chapter Text

Olivia intended to talk down by the waterfall, even made her way back into town to get some proper boots for the walk there, but as soon as they reached the clearing by the creek it started raining, not just a drizzle, that she would have tolerated--it would have even felt fitting for the occasion--no, it was a proper downpour that soaked their clothes, chilling Olivia to the bone in combination with the cold and the wind. Back in the cabin and changed, Elliot suggested to get a fire going instead, and she certainly needed to get warm, so she agreed, prompting him to open a bottle of wine, because honestly, that feels fitting, too. 

After a quick shower she changes into her favorite sweater, dusky pink, warm and comfy, before slipping on leggings. It’s now that Olivia’s nerves really flare up, and she feels raw and more vulnerable than she has since they talked about him leaving and her nightmares. She can’t let the feeling fester, so before she instinctively starts avoiding she pushes through and gets back downstairs. The wine is ready and alluring, and Olivia is more than ready for a few healthy sips--a few not so healthy glasses, maybe. El’s kneeling in front of the fireplace, carefully moving the wood billets around with a poker, seemingly concentrated until he’s satisfied and moves over to sit next to her. 

Suddenly the pull Olivia feels for the alcohol is unbearable and she reaches out, greedily taking two, three sips at once before cradling the glass against her chest. Elliot’s eyes are on her as she gazes at the dancing flames. She can see it from her periphery,  his scrutiny making her skin flush with heat, like he’s competing with the crackling blaze in the fireplace. 

The wine is making her feel slightly lightheaded after skipping lunch, but it doesn’t give her the confidence she’s hoped for. It’s something that is born with Elliot’s touch when he sneaks his arm around her, pulling her in and tucking her against the solid planes of his chest, his lips settling into her hair. It’s something Olivia adores, something that calms her, grounds her. She shifts her weight fully against him, and on a breath she relaxes, her eyes slipping closed. 

“I have no idea where to start,” she admits, thereby opening the conversation. 

Elliot hums, leans forward to take his own glass before returning to cradle Olivia against his chest, and once more she allows herself to feast on the warmth and comfort he offers. 

“Maybe we give it a bit then. Start whenever and wherever feels right,” Elliot suggests. “I’m right here.” 

The hint of a smile lifts the corners of her mouth as she leans back to look at him. “You’re not gonna let me avoid this, are you?” 

“Nah. I don’t think you would. Postpone it, maybe, but you wouldn’t avoid it.” 

Elliot’s right. She wouldn’t avoid it for much longer than another day or two, the pressure of the assignment feeling like an ever present stone in her stomach. 

From her periphery she sees her phone light up, the vibration a quiet buzz against the coffee table. Olivia takes another sip of wine, then sits the glass down and reaches for the device. 

“Noah,” she announces around a smile, pulling up a leg to fold it underneath her, her knee bumping against Elliot’s thigh as she taps the screen to play the video her son sent her along with the words: I’ve got it!

It’s a clip of him in their living room, dancing, the sofa and coffee table moved aside and Noah succeeding at a part of a new dance routine that he’d been frustrated over for a couple of weeks now. At the end of it he walks over to Kathleen, a smile stretching from ear to ear, meeting her for a high-five as her voice announces: “Awesome!” 

“He’s good,” Elliot says, catching her a little emotional. “And you’re proud.” 

“I am,” Olivia admits, pursing her lips as she types in a reply followed by beaming emojis, before putting the phone down. “I’m also terrified, because he’s getting so big, there’s no longer enough space for him to practice at home,” she chuckles. 

“For how long has he been dancing?” 

“Three years. A little longer. He played baseball until one day he told me it was no longer fun and he wanted to try out dancing,” she remembers, shaking her head. “Fast forward a couple of weeks and he took his first ballet lesson, and here we are.” 

“And ballet it is, hm?” 

“Ballet, interpretive dance,” she nods, realizing that Elliot has never really seen Noah at practice. The most he got were short glimpses like this one, usually caught on video. “He took a few lessons in street dance, hip-hop, but it wasn’t for him.” 

“Well, it’s good he has something he’s passionate about.” 

“It is. I was kind of surprised when he wanted to give up baseball and then decided he wanted to try ballet instead. It came a little out of left field because he never mentioned it before. But apparently he’d caught a glimpse of people dancing at a studio we always walked by for baseball practice, and I didn’t notice until he told me. I’m... I'm so glad he said something, because I was so proud of him playing baseball I didn't even notice he didn’t enjoy it.” 

“You’re a good mom, Liv. He trusts you, so it’s really not surprising he told you.” 

“I’m trying,” she says around a smile that’s part proud mother, and part doubting she deserves the praise. 

“Did you ever consider adopting another?” 

“Wow,” she chuckles, wiggling further into the pillow behind her, her arm dropping onto the back of the couch. “That’s a big question.” Certainly not one she expected. They discussed the circumstances surrounding Noah’s adoption shortly after she told Elliot that there was no father in the picture, but there was never a conversation that went beyond it. 

“Is it?” 

“Hm,” she cocks her head slightly. “When Noah was still little, sure, it crossed my mind.” 

“But you didn’t pursue it.” 

“Obviously.” She wants to be as honest as possible. “I think there was a rather short window of opportunity there and for a little while I considered it, but the more thought I put into it… I don’t know, it felt selfish,” she says thoughtfully. 

Olivia watches Elliot’s brows draw together. “Selfish how?” 

“When I got Noah… I couldn’t have anticipated how hard it would be. Work and motherhood--I mean, you know what it’s like, it’s a balancing act and at the time even more so than it is now. Noah’s fairly independent now and we’ve built a good support system, but that took time. And sometimes there was so little time for us, I didn’t know how it was supposed to work if I was to adopt again,” she explains quietly, not even factoring in the financial aspects. “Then I dated for about a year and realized I hardly had the time and the emotional capacity to fully invest in making that work. I wanted and needed to focus all my attention and affection on Noah. I had the bittersweet realization that it was going to be just us, and that that had to be enough. So, while it would have been nice to do it again, I think it was the right thing not to pursue it.” She smiles tightly when Elliot nods in understanding, his hand settling on her thigh. 

“Do I see regret there?” The question comes out cautiously and Olivia shakes her head after a brief moment of thinking it through. There’s no regret. Sadness, maybe. 

“I wouldn’t say regret. But sometimes I wonder what it would’ve been like, you know? Under different circumstances. It was a precious time when Noah was still little, and then there is that tiny part of me that really would’ve liked to have gotten the chance to be a mom to an infant, and that definitely is selfish, and not a thought I should even entertain because it’s not fair to Noah. I wouldn’t change anything about getting him-” She averts her gaze, thinking how this is something she should’ve rather kept to herself, because spoken out loud it sounds even worse than in her mind. 

“Liv, that’s not selfish,” Elliot interjects. 

“Sure it is,” she argues weakly. 

“Wishing to experience something you’ve missed out on? I don’t think so. Sounds like a fairly natural thing to want. To have had the opportunity to be there from the beginning.” 

Of course Olivia wishes she could’ve had that with Noah. It would have spared him the experience of being shuffled from foster home to foster home. Yet, while Olivia felt a connection to Noah from the start, she couldn’t have acted on that special bond any sooner than when Judge Linden asked her if she wanted to be a foster mother to him. After the pregnancy scare when she was with Brian, she’d thought the ship had sailed on her being a mother. Noah has been her very own miracle baby, something she didn’t see coming, even when she’d already lost her heart to this little boy. 

Olivia wouldn’t dare ask for more, but sometimes, very deep down, there’s an ache that settled within her a very long time ago, mourning the things she never got to experience. Like being pregnant, growing a life. Or giving birth, cradling her own squishy newborn to her chest. Even when she had Noah she’d always felt that pinch when she cradled Amanda’s girls in her arms, envious about all the things she was denied. It’s something she accepted as part of her life story, something that luckily hurts less with menopause, because with it came a surprising relief. It felt like Olivia could finally put this chapter to rest once she lacked the biological requirements. And ultimately what she has is wonderful, and so much more than she could have imagined at that stage in her life. 

“I’m grateful for what I have,” Olivia finally says, taking a slow, deep breath, her eyes finding Elliot’s. She finds him concerned, possibly regretting he asked at all, so she decides to lighten the mood, nudging him with her knee. “What about you, have you ever felt like adding another?” 

It works, because Elliot snorts with a jagged laugh, almost spilling his wine. 

“Yeah, no,” he says, serious but amused. “Another might’ve just put me in an early grave. Never thought I’d end up with five.” 

Olivia’s eyes glisten with hilarity and she decides to savor the moment. “You do know about that thing called birth control, don’t you, Stabler?” 

“Apparently I do not.” 

Looking at the facts this statement seems to be astoundingly accurate, seeing Elliot once mentioned Kathleen was the only kid they actively tried for. 

“No regrets, though, right?” She asks softly, watching him take a rather big gulp of wine before answering. 

“No. No regrets. I wouldn’t wanna miss calling any one of them mine.” There’s a flicker of grief Olivia recognizes in Elliot's eyes, brief but undeniable. She could ask, thinking that she’d probably get an answer, too, but in this case she decides to let it rest, unwilling to drag up something potentially painful.

“They’re great kids,” she says softly, affirming she means it with a squeeze of Elliot’s shoulder before her stomach growls loud enough to be heard. “Think it’s too early for dinner?” 

“I could eat,” Elliot agrees. “What do you want?” 

The place is well equipped in terms of cooking utensils, including a decent selection of spices so they decided to make use of their time and actually cook. 

“Spaghetti?” 

“Spaghetti it is.” 

Taking their glasses along, Elliot and Olivia head towards the kitchen area, getting all the ingredients. Elliot has the unfortunate job of dicing onions and garlic while Olivia heats a few healthy dashes of olive oil. She watches in awe, realizing for the first time how inept he is with a knife. In fact, she’s convinced Noah does a better job of it when he helps her make dinner. 

“You doing okay there?” She asks gingerly. 

When Elliot drags his eyes up, looking playfully insulted, she holds up her hands in surrender. “Just don’t want any fingers in the sauce, by all means, keep going. Unless you’d rather fry the chicken,” she offers innocently. 

“We could trade, if you want,” he says with audible hopefulness, and laughing, Liv gives up her spot at the stove and moves toward the cutting board. 

“How do you survive? And more importantly, how do you keep Eli alive with your cooking skills?” 

“There’s takeout. And I can fix a meal, I’m just not great at it.” 

“Obviously,” Olivia deadpans, finishing what Elliot started. It turns out he’s much better at browning the meat than at cutting vegetables, and in the comfortable way they work together towards making dinner, Olivia finds she’s ready to talk as she sweats the onions and garlic in a casserole. 

“Do you remember what Lindstrom wanted us to talk about in therapy before we ran out of time?” 

Elliot checks in with her with a simple, inquiring look, silently asking if she really wants to do this now, but once he finds reassurance he’s surprisingly straightforward. “He asked how I’ve been feeling about the photographs and your nightmares and I started to discuss feelings of helplessness and guilt.” Elliot may sound matter-of-fact but his eyes betray his apparent detachment, because every bit of the guilt and helplessness he mentioned is reflected in them, shimmering with the weight of these emotions. 

The grief he tries to lock behind a straight face, catches Olivia unprepared. It shakes her to the core when Elliot averts his gaze, the muscle in his chin tightening as he swallows hard. 

“I talked about this with my therapist. Figured it would be easier,” he scoffs with a shake of his head and a long, cleansing exhale. 

“We talked there, you handled that well, I didn’t think-” 

“We talked about you then. How I saw you, how you were having a hard time,” Elliot sighs, and he backtracks headpsinningly fast, gripping the countertop, looking down. “That came out wrong, I’m not trying to say I rather talked about that, just that…” That’s where he gets lost and Olivia steps closer, doing the one thing that makes sense to her: 

She slips her arms around him and presses herself tightly against his body, murmuring. “I get it.” 

She remembers how put on the spot she felt when she was expected to talk about her feelings, how confused and conflicted and tongue-tied she got. She also remembers how much she’d needed every bit of reassurance Elliot had offered her then, professing to her repeatedly that he understood, that he saw her, and that everything she felt was valid. 

Elliot’s hands clutch her back, draw her impossibly closer as he nuzzles her neck, exhaling heavily against her skin. She’s sensitive there, a rug of gooseflesh coating her arms in an instant. 

“Maybe we wait until after dinner. Would that be okay?” 

“Absolutely. That’s fine, El.” She breathes him in, feeling the tension gradually slip away from his body. 

Elliot’s gratitude is palpable. He’s relieved. Steadier. Olivia finds comfort in the fact that she can be the strong pillar that he has been for her, now. More than that she is grateful that Elliot is going to meet her with just as much respect and vulnerability as she did a couple of weeks ago. 


Dinner is a quiet affair. It’s not awkward per se, but ever since they sat down to eat there’s been a build-up in tension that smiles and reassuring touches can’t quite allay, not for lack of either of them trying. Elliot switched from wine to beer, and while his appetite is seemingly healthy, Olivia wonders if the second helping of Spaghetti is a way to buy a little more time, considering he hardly finishes it. 

Getting up and gathering their plates, she decides to give Elliot a moment’s reprieve, rubbing his shoulder as she comes back to pick up her wine glass.

“Go sit down, I’m just going to finish up in the kitchen.” She speaks softly, trying to soothe his growing apprehension. He doesn’t give her a fight, merely reaches up, patting the hand on his shoulder. 

While Olivia loads the small dishwasher, Elliot adds some wood to the fire before he gets comfortable on the sofa. She joins him a few minutes later, another glass of wine for her, a beer for him as he moves to sit up and make space for her. 

“No, stay,” Liv tells him, her voice stopping him mid-movement, allowing her to slide on top, finding a comfortable position as she nestles against Elliot’s body. She hooks one leg around his, settled against his thigh, head comfortably resting on his chest. He’s strong and solid, yet she’s incredibly cozy like this. He’s a warm and safe cocoon as he folds his arms around her smaller frame, holding her to him like she’s something sacred. 

“This okay?” Olivia asks, slipping a hand underneath his shoulder, further burrowing her way into him. 

“Perfect,” he agrees.

Against her ear she feels Elliot’s nervousness rise, his heart beating faster. Liv waits, and seconds stretch into minutes until he finally speaks, his voice quiet. 

"I can‘t get the pictures out of my head.“ 

Whatever Olivia expected, this wasn‘t it, even though Elliot‘s feelings on the photographs are one of the things they are supposed to discuss. However, if it were to come up, she figured it would be later. She allows the words to sink in, lets the moment swell, acutely aware that Elliot is holding his breath. 

“Okay,” Olivia breathes a whisper, sliding her hand further up his chest. “Wanna tell me about it?” She advances cautiously, leaving it up to Elliot. He might not be ready to share more than that, and while it’s important they talk about it, she doesn’t want him to feel pressured.

He neither agrees or disagrees, and for a few moments the silence stretches on, Elliot’s heartbeat reverberating furiously against her ear until he speaks again. 

"I‘d always imagined it must have been horrible, but to… to actually see what he did to you, that-,“ he struggles, his voice tight with hurt. “-that pain, the horror,” he swallows, his fingertips pressing into the small of her back. “The things he did to you? It’s not something I could’ve imagined,” he admits ruefully. “It’s been haunting me since I first saw it, but it only got worse after we talked about your nightmares, because now, sometimes, it’s the pictures I see in my dreams. They’re not fully fleshed-out dreams, more like… flashes of the photos coming alive, and I see you, and I feel so helpless because there’s nothing I can do. I want to do something , help, and prove that I would never let that happen. I’d never let him do that to you, but much like in your dreams, I just…” Elliot exhales so roughly, she can feel the air he expels against her head. “I’m not walking away, but I don’t do a damn thing, either.” His voice is nothing like she knows it, reminding her of the day she found him, eyes red and still wet from crying after reading her journal. It‘s just as thin and breakable, now, causing Olivia‘s stomach to tighten in compassion. 

"El, I… I didn‘t think-,“ she falters. "I‘m sorry that this is happening.“

While Olivia knew that the pictures must have affected Elliot gravely, she had no idea this was how it manifested for him—in nightmares and the unbidden, haunting reappearance of the images. It‘s not something she‘d wish on anyone, least of all on the person she loves--the person who loves her. Momentarily Liv recalls Elliot’s hesitance when she first hinted that she wanted to revive their sex life, how she‘d jumped to conclusion, accusing him of being turned off, thinking he didn’t even want to touch her again. She‘d underestimated just how much the photos must have fucked with Elliot even though he‘d explained his restraint. In hindsight Olivia thinks she was so busy battling the trauma of realizing Lewis had raped her, that she missed the suffering it caused Elliot. That he too, experienced trauma at Lewis’ hand by seeing the explicit, atrocious photographs, the way her body was maimed and broken. The way Lewis had violated her. 

Olivia can relate to the paralyzing feeling of total helplessness, can relate to having abominable nightmares and no tools to influence their outcome. She is familiar with the effort that goes into reasoning that they are just dreams, that none of it is real . That none of it is conceivable, either. Whereas what plays out in her own nightmares may stem from a very real fear of abandonment, Olivia knows there is no way Elliot would’ve ever walked out on her, leaving her to Lewis to be raped. She also knows that at times it can still be hard to differentiate fact from fiction until fully awake to take stock of the situation. There’s still that trepidation, now, after two months, whenever the dreams occur and she startles awake, even though it usually passes within seconds. 

"Did you discuss it with your therapist?“

"Yeah. It‘s… we‘re working through it. It‘s a slow process,“ he admits. 

Since Elliot addressed it in therapy Olivia supposes they discussed coping mechanisms, whatever they are. Still she feels compelled to share what helps her. 

“I know it seems like nothing much, but for me it helps to write it all down--factually, leaving all emotion out. Once I get too emotionally wrapped up, it usually ends in a spiral that’s hard to get out of. I think that’s why I’ve been so affected this time, because I tried to figure out why I keep having them, why they involve this… this absurd portrayal of you, and mostly why it hit me so hard when I knew it in no way corresponds to reality. Back then, although horrid, the nightmares have always been feasible--and now, all of a sudden they weren’t. Not until I sorted out that they are entangled with you leaving and that I’m still struggling with the feelings it evoked. But what truly helped was realizing that I’d have to tell you about them to feel some actual relief. It was a literal weight off my chest once you knew. Although I still get the nightmares sometimes? They’re easier to shake off now. They’re not preying on my mind like they did a few weeks ago,” she tucks her head up, offering Elliot a tight smile. “All that aside, it also helps me to reinforce that they’re just dreams. It doesn’t stop them from occurring, but it makes the impact manageable.“

Olivia feels the gentle whisper of Elliot’s fingertips tracing her lower back, wondering if holding her, touching her, somehow reassures him, their proximity offering the comfort she feels he so desperately seeks. 

"That‘s where I‘m struggling,“ he says quietly." Recognizing them as just dreams. I wake up, and I can‘t shake it off. I‘m upset, and that either has me thinking about the dreams, or the photos. I’m usually going in circles, trying to avoid a panic attack.“

“Does it work?” Olivia asks hopefully. She never noticed anything in the past few weeks, which only proves that despite the occasional nightmare she sleeps much better. 

“Breathing exercises help most of the time.” 

“That’s good,” Olivia says softly, tapping her fingers against Elliot’s clavicle. He inhales, holds his breath and swallows audibly before releasing it on a shudder that makes Olivia raise her head in confusion. She finds his face tight, his gaze focused on the ceiling, his chin set stiffly, lips quivering. He’s barely holding it together, radiating anxiety. She’s quite sure she can count on one hand the times she’s seen him like this, and it’s no less unsettling than the first time.

“El, hey.” Her hand slides up to his neck as she bites her lip, watches as he chokes out a strangled sob, refusing to look at her. 

“Elliot,” she tries again, her unease growing, because this is so unlike him. “Talk to me? Please?”

His mouth opens, moves, but at first no sound comes out. 

“The photos--I got this small glimpse into what that monster did to you, Liv. I’ve never seen you so afraid. I’ve never seen anyone in so much pain, and we’ve seen some dreadful shit on the job,” he manages, angrily using his fist to wipe away a tear. “I knew you suffered… but to… to see it happening? Seeing you like that… to see that kind of hopelessness and anguish? And then seeing what finding out has done? It haunts me. It…” Elliot's voice cracks, and so does he, his body shuddering beneath her. The single sob that makes it past Elliot’s lips chills Olivia to the core. All she can think is how he’s suffered in silence for the past couple of months, putting on a brave face to keep it together for her. She’s ashamed to realize that she didn’t notice, so focused on her own pain to disregard his so completely. Elliot had been her cornerstone, giving her so much security while he himself had been floundering. It makes her sick just thinking about it, seeing what this must have done to him. 

The only thing she can think of doing is holding him, her hand slipping underneath his shoulder, her head dropping back against his chest. Elliot’s pain is so complete, his chest heaving against her, that it steals Olivia’s breath, making her clutch him in despair. His arms tighten around her back, almost crushing her. 

They stay like this for minutes, him calming down, her at a loss for words. Outside it gets dark, the room tinged in flickering orange. 

“I’m sorry I missed all this, El,” Olivia whispers, her thumb caressing his neck.

He stiffens, huffs quietly. “I didn’t aim for an apology, Liv. You not knowing was… kind of… the point. I didn’t want to add my shit to everything else you had going on.”

“Obviously you had a lot going on, too,” she points out. “I don’t want you to feel like there’s no space for your pain.” She tilts her head up, her fist closing around the hood of his sweater. “I’m glad you told me.” 

“Well,” Elliot shifts his jaw, showing his discomfort. “I guess it had to come up eventually.” 

“ I guess,” Liv agrees, sensing he wants to move on from his unwanted breakdown, so in hope of slowing this down, she tries to change the direction of the conversation to a territory that seems safer. “About what you said earlier? In the kitchen? I really do get it. It’s easier to grapple with someone else’s emotions than to reveal your own.“

"There‘s that,“ he agrees.

"Mhhmm. And what else?“ 

"I guess I feel like I don‘t get to…complain. Or even get to feel this way—this guilty.“ His thumb traces her lower spine slowly, soothingly. "Not when I‘m the one who made the decision to leave the way I did.“ 

It‘s a little easier, a little more bearable to hear him talk about the circumstances of his abandonment. 

"Guilty about what exactly?“ 

"All of it,“ he admits on a heavy exhale. “Leaving. Never getting in touch. Blindsiding you by coming back without notice. Then there's everything about Lewis. Not being there for it. Or at least giving you support in the aftermath, if I had known.” Elliot’s voice thickens with emotion. "Which, if I had made just one better decision…“

"El,“ Liv coaxes, lifting her head and settling her chin against his chest so she can look at him. 

"I may not have been able to prevent anything, certainly I couldn‘t have helped with the case, regardless, but not even knowing? Living with myself knowing I chose to be in this position and putting you in a position where you were unable to get in touch when you needed me most? Knowing you wanted me?“ Meeting her gaze Elliot swallows, his eyes shimmering with the grief he caused her, the grief he now carries. "I‘m never going to forgive myself for any of it.“ 

Elliot did hurt her and yes, she wanted him, needed him then, and while Olivia’s learned that her forgiveness might not be complete yet, all she can think is how much she wants to take this burden away from him, however futile it may be. 

“El, I’m… I know you feel guilty, I knew all along that you would, especially when I brought up Lewis, but I’m here, and I forgive you, I’m working on forgiving you for all of it, so I need you to forgive yourself. I don’t want you to feel this way.“ 

"I‘m sorry,“ he professes, his voice breaking again, and the way he hurts for her breaks Olivia‘s heart. 

"I know,“ she says. In fact she‘s going to say it until he believes it, until she‘s blue in the face if necessary. “I know that. And I believe you.”

“How can I ever make up for it? Any of it?“

"You already have, Elliot. You‘re here now,“ Olivia instills, reaching up to cup his cheek, and the more she speaks, the more his eyes fill with tears. 

"I don‘t deserve you, Liv. Honestly-“

“Yes you do. You’re a good man. A good man who’s made a stupid mistake,” she says, grimacing slightly so her nose curls. “A string of stupid mistakes,” she corrects with a watery chuckle. “And while that is upsetting, I know you didn’t do it to hurt me. Believe it or not, but I’m well aware of the complexity of… us . I may not fully understand what drove you away, but there‘s no resentment there. I want us to move forward, not look back. It will affect us and come up at times, but it will hurt less. For me it already does.“ 

Of course Olivia knows that like trauma and PTSD, guilt is not a linear thing, and certainly not something Elliot can simply let go. She knows how deep self-recrimination can cut, even if unwarranted.

"But I know what it feels like. I have my regrets, too,“ she admits. "I wish I stopped you from seeing the pictures, because… no one should have to deal with that. Least of all you, now that we‘re together. They affect you, me, our relationship… our sex life,” she swallows and then sighs softly, gnawing on her lip, not because she’s ashamed, but because it weighs on her a lot these days. It’s as far as she can get into now, even at the slight narrowing of Elliot’s gaze, like he senses there’s more to it than the obvious consequences they experienced in that department.

Once the photographs surfaced that part of their relationship had been put on ice, and Elliot in particular was worried to jump the gun when Liv expressed she was ready. “And I feel—I don‘t know if guilty is the right word— but I feel bad about how my mind places you in the nightmares, because I know that‘s not you. I know that‘s not something you‘d do. And yet…“

"That‘s on me. Don‘t you dare feel like that‘s somehow on you,“ Elliot interjects, his expression pained. 

"It‘s not on anyone,“ Liv says, her tone and face matter-of-fact. "Not on us, anyway. It all comes down to Lewis, he‘s at fault for what he did. He's the reason I have these dreams.“

"But if I hadn‘t-,“

It’s as far as he gets before she pushes ahead.

"I‘m scared to lose you. I know in my head that you won‘t leave again. It‘s not rational. Losing you was painful, it was… traumatic in its own way. And all of it is mixed up and jumbled and haunting me, and I hate it. I absolutely hate that I feel like I don't fully trust you." She traces the outline of Elliot’s upper arm with her thumb, her eyes following the movement. "But since we talked about it, and I talked more in depth with Lindstrom, I at least understand that though I feel uneasy and even guilty for the dreams, for projecting my overall fears of being abandoned… Understanding that this is an old fear helps me feel a little more in control, a little more certain. That‘s important to me, because some of those old fears...I can’t yet steer away from,” Olivia admits, wondering just how much she should tell Elliot. 

"I'm afraid…"

Olivia waits, brushing a thumb against his arm.

Seconds tick by. The silence is brittle, both of them tense.

"Go ahead," Olivia whispers.

"I'm afraid you'll run, that you'll decide living in fear of me abandoning you again will be too much and you'll just...walk away." Elliot can't bring himself to meet her eyes, and his gaze remains where her hand touches him. 

If they keep shying away from laying it all on the table, they will only find themselves in the same predicament, maybe in a few days, maybe in a few weeks from now. The only way for them to work through it, is to be brutally honest. 

“Wanna hear something ironic? One of my rather real fears is that all of this? That it‘ll get too much.“ Olivia waits a beat, then clarifies at the slight scrunch of Elliot’s brows. Her neck starts to hurt from the position she is in, so she puts her head back on Elliot’s chest, her fingers starting to play with the drawstring of his hoodie. “For you. My need for constant reassurance. There‘s this one thing in my dreams that… that you say, and while sometimes things shift and there are some differences, this is a constant thing, and it gives me this awful sense of… it being like a premonition.”

“What is it I say?” 

Mindlessly looping the cord around her fingers a little sigh tumbles from her throat. 

“That I‘m needy and a lot of effort,” Olivia answers quietly, staring into the flames. “And I wonder: Am I? And if I am, for how much longer are you going to tolerate it? What can I-“

“That sounds like your mother talking.” 

While she can’t deny it, she doesn’t want to go down that rabbit hole, not tonight, so neither agreeing or disagreeing, Olivia simply shrugs it off.

“Liv, listen-” 

“No wait. Let me… I just need to know, honestly… do… Do you feel that way? Even just sometimes? Is it… am I too much?” 

“Liv.” Elliot’s hand stills against the small of her back before he drags it up, playing with the hair that’s splayed across her shoulders. “Absolutely not. I don‘t even know how you‘d think that. You‘re not…you‘ll never be too much.“ 

Olivia Exhales shakily, her chest vibrating against Elliot‘s, and he coaxes her. 

"Look at me.“

Gingerly, Olivia tilts her head up. 

"You‘ll never be too much. I‘d never think that. It may be hard right now, but that‘s the circumstances, not you. And none of it affects the way I feel about you, if anything it makes me love you more.“

Elliot‘s eyes are intense as he gazes at her, making her believe it, anchoring her. 

"Okay?“

Slowly, Liv nods her head. 

"Okay.“ 

"Come here, scoot up a little.“ 

Liv awkwardly shifts her body up against Elliot‘s, her breath labored as she sluggishly collapses on top of him, her head now level with his shoulder. One hand is still tucked halfway underneath Elliot, the other, drawstring still loosely looped around her fingers, rests against the juncture of his shoulder. He seeks her out when she’s comfortable, his lips landing on Liv‘s forehead leisurely. Her eyes flutter closed with the intimacy of it, and she breathes out a sigh. 

The flames heat Olivia from the outside in, some perspiration accumulating at the small of her back. When Elliot pulls back she nuzzles his neck for a moment, breathes him in as the birchwood cackles in the fireplace.

“So, you talked about feeling guilty to Dr. Carpenter-Gray then?”

“My guilt, my anger… some other stuff.“

"Anger about what?“

"At myself for digging up that camera, thinking that I shouldn‘t have. At Lewis. At Cragen. Cassidy,“ he admits heavily, and Liv feels his body tighten beneath her with tension. "Your team at the time, because how could they-,“ he shakes his head and pinches his nose. "I get they aren‘t to blame, but I still blame them. And myself.” 

That’s a spiral Olivia knows. There was a time when she’d felt that way, desperately trying to make sense of how it got as far as it did. It was brief, though, because more than anyone else, Olivia had seen herself at fault. 

“I wasn’t as close with any of them then,” Olivia says, thinking back at how rocky her start with Nick and Amanda had been. And while she and Amaro had built a solid partnership, even a friendship at that point, it wasn’t anything like what she and Elliot had. “They couldn’t have known. Hell, I didn’t see it coming, so I can’t blame them when their alarm bells didn’t go off. I always try to remember that placing blame isn’t going to help me move forward, or make me feel any better.”

“And that helps?” 

“Hm,” Olivia shrugs, slipping her hand on top of his. “Sometimes it does. It’s a process,” she grimaces. “I don’t know if there’s anything that’s foolproof, what I do know is that… no matter how I look at it? I can’t go back. It can’t be undone. I came back to it and looked at it from every angle, then and now, but the truth is, it doesn’t matter if I’d find someone else to blame. It's just like all the red flags I feel like I should’ve seen. None of it matters or changes anything.” 

“You’re right,” Elliot says, his voice scratchy. “But I don’t think I’m at the point where it’s that black and white for me. It’s not going to change anything, but I still feel trapped in this place where my head thinks I can negotiate or bargain, somehow fix things. I know the outcome will be the same-” 

“I’m a good ten years ahead of you, El,” she whispers, squeezing his hand. “I’ve been there. And the hardest thing about the photos were the moments where I felt like I might be back in that same place, going back and renegotiating the very same feelings and fears and everything I thought I was done with--as much as anyone can be done with it. Then there are the nightmares, and feeling so out of control although I’ve gone through all of this before.” 

Liv falls silent for a moment, taking a conscious breath as she sits up, legs bent at Elliot’s knees. Suddenly she feels an overwhelming need for a little more space. She reaches for her glass, takes a long sip of wine to talk about the part she dreads.

“I’m still struggling with the rape. With not knowing .” Olivia’s lips are a thin line and when she finds the courage to look at Elliot, she finds his face darkened and tense. “For all this time I thought I knew what happened. I vehemently denied it when Lindstrom asked in therapy. I took the stand to pledge he didn’t do this to me. All the while he was standing there in court, trying to get to the root of what I remembered or didn’t. And the worst of it is that I didn’t get it then,” she chuckles sadly. “That he didn’t just try to make me look unreliable, but played me. That he went out of that courtroom with a guilty verdict only on kidnapping and assault. He always had the upper hand,” she shakes her head. It had been one of the hardest pills to swallow, the realization that all along Lewis had known what she didn’t. Once Olivia had viewed the photos, she‘d tried almost violently to remember, thinking so hard it had given her headaches. 

“It crossed my mind, of course. There were times when I wondered if there were things I didn’t remember because Lewis had knocked me out, or when I lost consciousness from the drugs and the alcohol and all the pain, but since I had no recollection of anything, I pretty much convinced myself that he didn’t rape me. I figured I would’ve known, if not by memory, the rape kit would’ve showed something. I went from living with one truth for nearly a decade, to finding it was never the reality. That I lived in this delusion for all this time, to have it destroyed. Some days it feels like my brain hasn’t caught up. I wasn’t lucid for it, so I’ve got the pictures, I’ve got the nightmares and then there’s Amanda’s theory, but none of it is something I can fully grasp and say: This is what happened. So, I know for sure he raped me, but I‘ll never have the full story.“ Olivia ends her confession with another sip of wine before taking a long, cleansing breath, shuddering as the sticky tension leaves her body. 

“I know there’s nothing I can do here, but I wish I could. Anything to help you feel better… if that is even possible.” Putting the glass down Olivia offers Elliot a genuine smile. 

It is a tough place to be in, to know she’ll never have that clarity, but she doesn’t feel as hopeless as Elliot might think. Not anymore. His unwavering support, his being here with her-- for her--helps immensely. The sudden realization makes her gravitate back into the comfort of his arms.

“Not remembering is tricky. ‘s gonna be for a while, I guess. But generally it helps me to talk about it. To Lindstrom. To you. And well, this,” she nods into the room. “Accepting that it’s okay to take a step back from everything to focus on self-care. Even though I needed a little push,” Olivia says with a genuine smile and gingerly pulls Elliot’s hand up to her mouth, placing a kiss on his knuckles. 

“So no regrets?” Elliot cracks a knowing smile, giving her body a squeeze. 

“No regrets. I’m glad we’re here,” she says softly. “And it finally feels like I’m truly moving forward since this started. Once I stopped running from it, it felt like I could breathe again.”

“You seem lighter. Smile more. It’s nice to see.” Elliot shifts them a little further onto their sides, running his knuckles across Liv’s cheek. 

Biting her bottom lip she catches his hand, smiles, feeling a little coy. 

“I’m happy,” she whispers. “Here. With you.” 

“That’s all I want for you, Liv.” His voice is thick with emotion as he draws closer until their noses touch tenderly. “For us. Here,” he breathes. “Back home.” 

The anticipation of a kiss makes Olivia’s stomach flutter so much that she involuntarily presses herself fully against him. She trembles as Elliot’s lips fall onto hers, sighs against his mouth, her lips parting slightly in invitation. 

She’s happy, and it never felt like this with anyone else. So thrilling and yet so safe, every kiss, every touch a pledge of their devotion to each other. 

Elliot probes her, his hand inching towards the back of her head, tucking her against him. Olivia puffs out a laugh and twitches when Elliot skims the side of her abdomen where she’s particularly ticklish.

She catches him looking at her after they break apart, something like wonderment in his eyes. 

“What?” She murmurs, caressing the back of his head, her thumb tracing the shell of his ear. 

He swallows, shaking his head. 

“Nothing. Just trying to capture this moment.” Under her gaze Elliot flushes, cheeks, ears and neck, and it’s easily the most adorable thing she’s ever seen when it comes to this man.

“Sounds like something to me,” Olivia breathes, unhurriedly settling her lips against the corner of Elliot’s mouth for a single kiss before reaching for her phone on the coffee table, switching on the camera. “It’s definitely worth capturing.” 





Chapter Text

 

--Oh, when their words strike like stones to our bones, I will be with you my dear--

 


Olivia’s been in bed for a couple of hours, but despite fatigue and heavy burning eyes her mind won’t shut off, sleep dangling above her head, taunting but out of reach. Elliot’s arm is draped around her middle, warm but weighted with unconsciousness as he’s snoring with every inhale. She’s glad for his exhaustion, relieved he gets to rest after their conversation, the grueling confessions made between the both of them. She’s glad they’ve made some more headway, talking about their experiences, their fears, their feelings since the photographs turned their lives upside down. She’s glad they’ve found a space of complete trust where they felt ready to confide in each other, putting it all on the table, no holding back this time. She’s proud of that progress; they both were never the most forthcoming people.

Elliot’s asleep and Olivia doesn’t begrudge him for it, finding solace in the fact that at least one of them is able to escape the clutch of trepidation. It’s been sitting beneath her skin, making it prickle ever since they settled in with a last glass of wine for the night and only intensified since they turned in.

Olivia’s accepted that sleep is unlikely to come for her anytime soon, but the oppressive pressure on her chest that lying still creates–she doesn’t want Elliot to wake over her restlessness after all–makes it seem more and more impossible for her to breathe. She’s growing more antsy by the second, needs to move, busy herself and take a few deep breaths of the cool night air, because breathing, she notices, is getting harder, a hint of anxiety taking hold of her body, heating her cheeks, chest and back in familiar yet dreaded waves.

Sucking in a breath Olivia rolls onto her back. Bending her legs she presses herself into the topper, feet flush against the mattress, drawing in a conscious breath. Elliot’s arm feels like deadweight on her stomach, doubling the sensation of being caged in. She pushes his arm away with gentle determination and Elliot stirs, then grunts. She peels the duvet off her body, rolls around. 

“Whatsa matter?” The words are sleep-laced but she knows he’s alert by the way his head lifts slightly off the pillow. She sits up, her feet meeting the cool wooden floor, and twisting her body she takes a look at Elliot’s silhouette, sees him scrubbing one hand across his face.

She doesn’t feel compelled to come up with an excuse, telling him how it is instead. “Can’t sleep. If I keep trying I’m going to go nuts.” 

“Hm.” It’s a small sound of acknowledgement as she climbs out of bed, grabbing her phone from the nightstand, the screen lighting up telling her it’s past three. “Want company?” 

It’s a sweet offer, and generally Olivia isn’t opposed to the idea of his company, but she’s not entirely sure what causes her anxiety. While Elliot’s proximity makes her feel safe and sane, her desire to be alone right now, to get a chance to work through this is greater than her need for togetherness or distraction. If anything it’s almost guaranteed to lead to another sleepless night, so she’d rather get ahead of it now. If she learned one thing it’s that there’s no outrunning trauma. 

“No, it’s all right. I’m gonna make some tea and get some fresh air. You go back to sleep.” 

His head falls back into the pillow with a heavy thud. “You sure?” 

“Yeah. I just need some time.”

She hopes that’s all it takes for the clamminess on her hands and back to go away and for her heart to stop racing so fast that it almost makes her feel lightheaded. Curling her palms into fists she takes a deep breath, then stretches out her fingers, listening to Elliot’s soothing voice, thick and scratchy with weariness. 

“I’m here if you need me.” 

“I know.” A hint of a smile crosses her lips at the realization that it’s true, that she does know, and can count on him to be whatever she needs him to be, and that she won’t shy away from taking him up on the offer when working through it on her own will fail. 

She leaves the door slightly ajar before heading downstairs. Her anxiety induced heatwaves turn into a shiver, and crossing her arms Olivia walks to the kitchen to start the kettle. She feels a little lost, but moving is helping. Setting her mind to do something, to keep busy does too, so she gets a mug, drops a tea bag inside and shuffles some items on the counter back and forth. 

With her freshly brewed tea she walks towards the patio door and unlocks it, cool air wrapping around her in a sobering chill. Standing on the threshold she breathes in deep, her eyes closing against the night. For as long as she’s fumbled for clarity in the past couple of hours, she couldn’t quite put her finger on the cause of her anxiety. Now, however, it hits her at once, her mind conjuring up the memory of this exact feeling, the crippling dread she experienced a couple of weeks ago back at home, when it felt crucial to look at the photos again but found it impossible to do. 

She talked to Elliot, and it was as emotional as it was liberating, and she firmly believes it brought them even closer. But talking it all out wasn’t the only thing on her agenda, and now that it’s done, there is only one more thing left to do, one last step left to take in hope of finding closure. 

The idea of picking up the pictures, looking at the harrowing images once more, is as unsettling as it feels necessary. She feels hollow just thinking of flipping through them again, feels her heart thumping in her ears and a wave of nausea rumbling in her stomach. 

Breathing out, she opens her eyes, her body trembling with the low temperature, her nipples poking at the fabric of her pajamas in protest. Her flushed cheeks welcome the cold, the contrast, the clarity that comes with every fresh breath of air she takes. The anxiety eases slowly as she inhales consciously, upholding a silent mantra of ‘Let it go’, a minute, maybe two, until it doesn’t feel like her skin’s stretched too tight and her head stops swimming, her racing heart no longer echoing through her brain. 

Staring ahead into the total darkness, engulfed by the lullaby of rustling leaves and the whisper of the autumn breeze Olivia finds the comfort of stillness. 

She lifts the mug to her lips, blows softly, taking a careful sip as she ponders what to do about the photos. There’s no way she’s going to bring them back to New York, but she’s not entirely sure she’s ready to risk waking Elliot to get them from the front pocket of her suitcase. Then she tends to have a hard time shifting her focus once she feels compelled to bring something to a close, and she already feels that itch in her bones that spurs her mind into overdrive. The fire bowl on the patio catching her attention doesn’t help, if anything it’s water to the seed that’s been planted when she first thought of burning the pictures, setting fire to the pain, humiliation, and cruelty Lewis inflicted on her. 

Olivia gets the feeling that the act will be empowering, that maybe she’s truly going to leave a part of herself here, a part that Lewis, despite the pathetic piss poor out he chose when he put that bullet through his brain, owned and thereby prohibited her from growing, really growing, because he got inside her head, got under her skin. She could deny it to him all she wanted, but he’d marked her worse than what the physical scars give away, and for almost a decade, despite all the years of therapy and coping mechanisms, she held on to self-blame, to what-ifs and, until a couple of months ago, an illusion that served to shield herself from what she believed to be the worst thing that could’ve happened to her. But here she is–about ten years wiser and two and a half months of knowing the worst thing had always been a reality, no uncertainties, no shields–and she’s still here, and she’s loved. It may not have felt this way in the past few weeks with how it all came crashing down on her but she sees now she’s strong, resilient. Most of all however, she is loved. She is loved, and she loves, she trusts and she’s trusted, and everything around Elliot and her may have been falling apart after the discovery of Lewis’ final gift, but they didn’t. For all the doubts she had at first, wondering if this thing between them could work, if they could build and maintain an actual relationship with their history–or in spite of it–it has all quieted, because if they’ve made it through this and found a closeness Olivia never would have believed to share with anyone, even Elliot, then they’d make it through anything else. And if she could love this much, could be loved this much, the things Lewis had put in her head had no truth to them, no meaning. His slurs and lies, she realizes, will no longer hurt her. 

For so long she’d felt inferior, felt small. Parts of the trauma will always hurt, will always haunt, but she’s not alone, and she never has been, she just failed to see it, gave in to the loneliness and isolation, because it’s what she’s always known. It’s the very thing she’s been fighting since she told Elliot about what happened to her, and despite the years she’d still felt weakened. Now, for the very first time, she realizes her power, her strength. She realizes she’s got the upper hand. She gets to choose. Even in her darkest days there’s been happiness and warmth and a person who’s got her six. 

She gets to choose, and she chooses moving forward and thereby accepting the setbacks. She chooses facing what’s caught on film but missing in memory one last time before destroying them because there’s no benefit in the lingering threat they pose from the bottom of her underwear drawer, a constant reminder of what was done to her, the trauma always looming within the walls of her home. She wants them gone. Desperately. There’s no value in them anyway. She chooses to spend the coming days like yesterday, in sweet comfort and quiet and love, chooses to spend it with a newfound sense of self-love and confidence. 

She chooses to focus on the future, on all the things she suddenly wants, things that are now tangible and not at all scary, and each of them start and end with Elliot. 

There’s determination in her next steps as she slips into her boots near the door and grabs her coat. Stepping outside she sets the tea on the rattan table on the patio and moves the small but surprisingly heavy concrete fire bowl towards the center of the terrace. Biting her lips, Olivia realizes that she’s never built a fire, but she’s not discouraged, deciding that she’s perfectly capable of getting one going. There are a few more logs by the fireplace in the living room she arranges in the bowl. She faintly remembers Elliot using a few smaller pieces of wood, so she adds some of those and lights one with the stick lighter. The wind seems to be her worst enemy in this and Olivia fumbles for a couple of minutes, moving around the bowl, trying to ward it off with her body. When it finally catches and she carefully buries the lit piece of kindling beneath the bigger logs, she watches the dance of the tiny flame eagerly until it flares up, simultaneously making her flush with a surge of warmth and satisfaction. For a few minutes she remains still, waits, sees the cautious kindle grow into furious, all-consuming persistence, something akin to what she feels smoldering in the pit of her stomach, egging her on to her next steps. 

Olivia makes it in and out of the bedroom within a minute although she surmises her presence and quiet rummaging through the suitcase pocket didn’t go completely unnoticed. If Elliot woke from the noise, he didn’t let on. In any case, she’s grateful for it, because this is something she has to do on her own, something between her and Lewis, her and her trauma, her and every nightmarish thing she’s lived through. 

She pulls a chair and for all the determination she felt between her skin and bones, now, journal and the envelope of photos at the ready on her lap, she’s lost. There’s the familiar pinch of dread making her skin slick, a toe-curling shudder bolting down her spine. She presses her eyes shut against the aversion, the nauseating sense of foreboding that is awakened by the images that creep into her mind. There’s a part of her that wants to toss the thing into the fire without looking back, but her hand settles on top of the envelope in inaction. 

Olivia lets the uncertainty sink in, feels its heaviness in her head, in her bones. The night air chills her face, her legs, and she breathes in deep, breathes out. 

In and out. In and out. 

In. 

Until her body knows what to do, her fingers, a little stiff with cold, opening the journal, carefully flipping the first blank page, her eyes settling on black ink written after her first weeks in therapy, when her injuries were not fully healed and her behavior erratic due to constant flashbacks and nightmares. Olivia reads the words she once put on paper, finding that most of it is a distant memory, something she knows happened to her but she can no longer fully grasp. Some paler reflection of herself, a person that feels like a stranger, now. 

Olivia can’t remember when she last had a flashback caused by a distinct noise, or the smell of cigarette smoke made her throat close and gag. She fails to reconstruct the ways and reasons she shut Cassidy out when he tried to be supportive, or the crippling clutches of panic that were suffocating enough for her to slap her own face to feel something , feel herself.

She absorbs page by page, the downs, the progress, the times she found herself in a downward spiral she honestly didn’t remember as vividly as she describes them. Reading about it feels eerily familiar to what she’s been experiencing lately, making it hard to comprehend that she’s been there before.

Olivia grimaces at her own depictions of not wanting to be touched, then switching to basically guilting Brian into sleeping with her a few weeks later when she had something to prove to her trauma ridden self, as if the ability to have sex meant she was still cut out for the job she desperately clung to. That despite the marks and terror she was still fuckable, if not lovable, and Jesus Christ, she must have been really messed up, because there in her own handwriting she gives herself a pat on the back despite confessing to not having enjoyed any part of it. 

Back then she hadn’t recognized it as self-destructive, her need for validation greater than the damage she figured it would do to her, to Brian, to them. Their shaky relationship had to mature beyond what either of them intended for it to be in the aftermath of her abduction.  

Of course she enjoyed physical intimacy, she liked and wanted sex with Brian and Ed, but her confidence has melted into insecurity. Maybe it took time, or maybe it took Elliot telling her that she’s sexy and beautiful, instilling it from the very first time he laid eyes on her, made love to her. Maybe it took her being thrown back into the depths of her trauma to understand a thing or two about how she got to where she is and feel what she misses, growing actual deep desires and reconnecting with the sensual and self-assured version of herself she thought was lost.  

It feels like traveling through time, long forgotten memories being awakened, some good, some bad, some downright awful. She ends with a few lines she’s written the day before coming here stating: ‘All packed up and ready for a week in the woods with Elliot. Have been feeling lighter since we talked and booked the cabin. Feels great to have something to look forward to. Mind’s set on healing.’ 

Tilting her head up Olivia looks at the stars, the crescent moon, taking a deep breath in. 

Her mind’s set on healing and even in the thicket of the deepest emotions during their conversation as she absorbed Elliot’s pain and accepted her own she sees their growth, sees the beauty in their connection and how it makes her strive to get better. 

Looking back she’s come a long way, but for the first time it feels like this was the destination all along, that this moment, this new sense of self and deep-seated empowerment she feels in the heat of the fire was meant to be. 

Tonight she’s going to burn the power Lewis used to have over her to ashes.


Olivia takes in the injuries, bite marks and burns, cuts and bruises. The image is as repellant as before, but for the first time she looks at herself with compassion, running her finger across one of the worse wounds, scars that left indentations in her flesh and a permanent imprint on her self-esteem. 

He stole years from her. Years of not going to a sauna for relaxation, or wearing a low cut bikini or bathing suit on the rare occasion Noah convinced her to go swimming. He stole the confidence she once felt in nudity, how powerful she felt in a lover’s presence, making their heads spin with her curves, something she only took back with Elliot but has been struggling to ease into where it feels fully comfortable. 

In her head Olivia knows they are just scars, She survived being tortured and humiliated, miraculously lived through Lewis’ game of Russian Roulette. They are just scars, and yet they’ve had an impact on her that’s hard to part with. 

Elliot doesn’t mind them. He finds her no less attractive than he would if they didn’t litter her body. It’s in the way he looks at her, the way he touches her, reacts to her. He never shies away, and he doesn’t miss an opportunity to tell her that she’s sexy to him, that she turns him on, and if she’d doubt it his obvious desire and readiness for her would be a dead giveaway. She wishes she could have believed it sooner–not for Elliot’s sake–for her own. 

She shakes her head at the photo, at the vulnerability she sees there, tears sliding down her cheeks before she holds it over the fire bowl, dropping it as she sniffles.

Olivia’s heart clenches at the next image, that goddamn coat hanger being pressed into the flesh of her thigh, the heat forming against the bite of the cold penetrating her thin pajama bottoms. The memory almost steals her breath, because she’ll never forget the distinct pain of metal melting into her skin, the smell of burnt flesh, Lewis’ ferocious laughter, but the moment she flings the picture into the flames and sees it curl up, oxygen fills her lungs. 

Piece by piece she lets it go. Photograph by photograph. One grueling act after another. 

The disgust that bubbles up at the image of his semen on her unconscious face, the phantom sensation that’s a dull reminder of how he penetrated her body, her inability to see that she couldn’t have seen it coming, that she wasn’t at fault. 

For all these years she was focused on what she’d done wrong, but the blame isn’t hers to have, to hold, and so she drops it with the last photo Lewis took of her, his feral face going up in flames.


Olivia can’t remember when she last felt this light, this liberated.

There’s a stack of pictures left in her hand taken on a vacation with a friend, long before Lewis, but it’s neither of those photographs that she’s interested in as she flips through them, it’s the memory of the evening Elliot presented the camera, coaxing her into letting him take pictures of her. She’s eager to see them, now, finding them tucked in the middle between shots at a beach, a younger version of herself that enjoyed some rare time off with a friend she miraculously made outside of work. Judging by her haircut, it's in her fifth year with SVU. 

She’s in the middle of the bed, legs crossed Indian style, wearing a light pink night shirt and bottoms a few shades darker, her wavy hair loose and her face clean and dewy after her skin care routine. Her eyes are big and dark, her head cocked, and the hint of an intrigued smile plays around her lips. The next one has her surprised, eyes wide, one brow raised, and she remembers Elliot’s determination breaking through her reluctance. 

Olivia chuckles at the next one, a close up of her face. She hates to have her picture taken, remembering the discomfort she felt initially, but by the third picture she has to admit it wasn’t too bad. She looks happy there. She felt happy. It’s a clear memory, Elliot’s proximity as he climbed onto the bed, hovering on top of her, his finger pressing down on the shutter button one more time after she fell back into the mattress, pouting that he hadn’t missed his opportunity for a close shot. 

Elliot told her she was sexy in that gravelly voice that’s distinct to when they’re in bed, and it had been hard to hear then, but now, hearing his voice in her head, playing it all back, it makes her want him. She wants to slip on that nightgown she brought just so he can take it off, wants to feel confident and sensual, and if she wasn’t so bone-tired, she’d convince herself not to wait until tomorrow. 

She settles fully into the chair, inhales deeply as she smiles down at the photo of herself, surprised to find she really likes it, likes herself in it. The lightness of the twinkle that’s in her eyes despite the unconvincing little pout on her lips, the way she looks up at Elliot, not for the camera’s sake, love and sweetness and easiness visible in the way he captured her in such a mundane yet intimate moment between them. 

Elliot has never seen them, and she decides she wants him to, wants him to have them, to show him something beautiful came from that roll of film, wants for them to shift their focus to that beauty, wants him to see more in that night than the placement of blame over not throwing the camera out, because it’s not supposed to be about Lewis. These pictures are about them, about their connection, the dynamic that shines from the photos, giving her an exact taste of all the things she felt that evening, which is what she wants Elliot to focus on, too. 

Olivia doesn’t want to hold on to what could have been, no more what ifs, because there’s preciousness in what was, in what is and looking at those photographs Olivia realizes she doesn’t want to change anything about it, doesn’t want Elliot to wish to change it, either. 

She looks through the four pictures a few more times, feeling a little cold bathing in the night air but comfortably warm in her heart. She drops all but the pictures Elliot had taken of her in the fire, then slips the remaining photographs back into the envelope and places them on top of the journal at her feet. It’s nice and peaceful out here and deciding to stay for a bit longer she adds a few more logs to the fire bowl and grabs one of Elliot’s beers from the fridge. She scoots as close to the fire as is safe, tucking her legs under herself and enjoying the stillness of the night, the warmth of the flickering flames against her chilled skin. 

It’s cozy enough for Olivia to doze off a few times, her eyes opening to grays, blues, violets and oranges rising above the trees far behind the creek, the sky a heartstopping spectacle. There’s the clicking of the patio door making Olivia draw her eyes to Elliot’s moving shape in the darkened doorway, a smile stretched across his face as he steps outside, two mugs in his hands that she identifies as coffee with a splash of milk when he presses one into her cool hands. 

“Thanks,” she mumbles, arching her back that’s aching from being in the same position for too long. 

Elliot pulls a chair, positions it right next to her so the arms are touching. 

“S’beautiful,” he says with a nod down the slope, twilight crawling upon the world, sunrise not yet looming on the horizon. 

“Breathtaking.” He slips an arm around her, squeezing her shoulder and she breathes in as he scrutinizes her quietly, watches her take a couple of sips of coffee. The fire’s almost burned out, ash from the photos and wood indistinguishably mixed. 

“You okay?” The question comes out cautiously, and when she looks up at him she sees his gaze catching the journal and envelope next to her chair. 

She takes a moment and mulls it over, thinks it through, and finds that she is, a smile forming on her face that makes his eyes soften when his gaze meets hers. 

“I’m okay.” It sounds light and liberated, but most of all sincere. When Elliot pulls her against him, placing a kiss in her open hair, her heart flutters with delight, and she’d give anything to keep floating on the temporary high of the moment. 

Threading her fingers into Elliot’s Olivia leans her head against his shoulder, sinking into the quiet of the early morning and the comforting stillness between them. 

This is all she needs. The beauty of dawn, a cup of coffee, and Elliot’s arm around her. Just the two of them, keeping each other warm, loving each other, intimate and close, kissing like lovers do with whispered declarations of love she never thought she’d hear, never thought she’d say–never thought she’d mean. 

When the first rays of sun fall across the cabin Olivia lifts her head, and the morning light in Elliot’s face feels like being thrown into cold water and drowning in the sweetest way, his cheeks slightly dimpled, an easy smile making her stumble towards him. Her lips touch to his, slow and delicate, her mind perfectly blank. There’s no urgency, a lingering whisper of a kiss, a simple breath in and out through her nose at the tenderness of Elliot’s palm slipping around the back of her neck, pulling her in, and helping her swim. 

This is everything, and she gives herself away to this moment, to Elliot completely. He’s safe and steady, and when it comes to him she doesn’t have an uncertain bone in her body. When she pulls back she’s in awe of him, in awe of them, together. Nothing has ever felt so right, so complete. It’s this right here making her feel strong and confident enough to defy Lewis’ ghost, confronting even the last of her demons. 

This is for them. 

When he soothes his thumb across her bottom lip she feels like Elliot fills every crack she’s taken to her heart, mending every wound inflicted on her, making her feel complete.

She feels a closeness, an intimacy she never thought possible, and she’s so grateful for it, so relieved she gets to experience it in this lifetime, that a sheen of moisture starts pricking at her eyes. She drops her forehead to his, exhales shakily to quench the oncoming tears, chuckling helplessly as he kisses her nose, her cheek, her chin. She falls into his generous caress, whimpering out a tattered affirmation of needing this, declarations of love falling between them in hushed whispers. 

“You’re cold.” 

With that Olivia can’t argue. She’s shivering from too many hours out in the cold, only embers remaining in the fire bowl, and Elliot’s proximity, however heartwarming, does little to ward off the chill that’s settling in her bones. 

“A bit.” 

Now that he pointed it out her teeth start chattering, evoking a chuckle from Elliot. 

“Let’s get you inside. You look tired.” 

God, she is tired, now that he mentions it, so she doesn’t protest when he stands and tugs at her, leading her inside. It’s much warmer in the cabin and once she’s lost the boots and coat she follows Elliot upstairs. The curtains in the bedroom are still drawn and she slips beneath the covers, a blissful sigh falling from her lips as Elliot joins her. Curling into him she  murmurs something about him being warm and comfy with this thick hoodie against her cheek, the words washed out with fatigue. 

She could stay like this forever, weary and close and wrapped up in the man she loves.

Elliot chuckles at that and it’s rousing, making something rumble to life in her stomach. It makes her nipples perk up and her thighs clench, and she huffs out the tiniest sound of building arousal. 

She's turned on by the sound of his chuckle, the way his torso vibrates against her chest. It’s more than that, of course. It’s his scent, and the lingering taste of his lips since she’s kissed him. It’s the innocence with which they cuddled on the couch last night that’s been building up to this, her palm warm and itching to feel his skin as she smooths it across the cotton of this hoodie that she really, really likes. 

Elliot’s arm slips around her, his entire hand flattening against her back, pulling her close, and she may be tired, but there’s just enough energy for her to tilt her head up and catch his lips, sucking at the bottom one languidly. A hand moves up, palms his cheek, and she sighs with delight when his tongue traces her lip in a wet tickle. The throbbing between her legs is now well past the point of being ignored. Olivia may need sleep, but first she needs Elliot buried inside her to the hilt, needs it like she needs air. 

Olivia slips her tongue into his mouth, slow strokes melting her insides and flushing her cheeks. It’s deep but slow, and Elliot’s hand is thorough as it slips beneath her pajama top and climbs up in search of her breast. He doesn’t question what she’s doing, going along in quiet understanding instead. When he massages her with his full hand, thumb flicking across an attentive nipple she bites out a moan, pressing herself into his touch, wanting. 

Everything about his mouth, his touch, his mere proximity is intoxicating. He’s addictive, and she arches into him, wants more, wants everything he has to offer. 

She tilts her head downwards, fumbling with the buttons of her pajamas. He watches, keeping the sweet manipulation of her breast up, and, God, as much as she loves foreplay, she’s impatient. 

“Need you. Now.” Olivia sounds like she’s run a marathon, out of breath and thirsting. 

She doesn’t need to say more, because a moment later Elliot’s shedding his clothes, all too happy to cater to her. 

 

 

Chapter Text

He drinks the faint traces of coffee left on Olivia’s tongue, kisses her deep, wondering if it’s possible to drown in her–in her mouth, in her belly, her perfect, warm, smooth and scrumptious body. The curtains are drawn but there’s the smallest crack allowing a sliver of light to fall upon them, across Olivia’s glorious, thick thigh that’s leisurely wrapped around his waist as he moves in her, unhurried. The taste of her lip is sweet as he sucks it between his own, drags his mouth down her chin, her vibrating throat as she purrs, encouraging: “Yes. Don’t stop.” 

As if he could ever fucking stop, he thinks, suckling at her collarbone as he sinks himself in between her legs, sinks as far as her body lets him. He’s never going to tire of this, can never get enough of her now that he’s had her. He’d known it the very moment she first put her lips to his, the very first time he loved her fully. Olivia Benson is something wholly euphoriant, a high that once had, you never come down from, and Elliot’s all too happy to float on it, to be with her and take what she’s willing to give, give every little thing she'll take. 

When he looks at her he sees her lips slightly parted, her eyes small and hooded, weariness and affection mixing as she gazes back at him. Her moans scatter between them, hushed, and with the lack of sleep he can see that this is draining the last energy from her. Her legs that hugged his hips fall away at his sides for the second or third time, and there’s less friction now, but that doesn’t stop Olivia from continuing to push her fingers into his muscled arms, murmuring for him to keep going as if her life depends on it. 

“Please…” 

Elliot has no idea if she’s even close, all he knows is that she’s holding on for dear life here, her thighs clenching his hips once more as her legs hug his middle. They’ve been passionate before, but he’s never experienced her like this, pleading and desperation drenched, fingertips leaving indentations and legs clawing at him as if he could suddenly disappear on her. 

“Hey.” He didn’t set a fast pace to begin with but slows further, looking at her as one hand skims her temple and threads through her hair. "I‘m right here.“ A rough breath as his hips still, and he lazily drops his mouth upon Olivia‘s jaw, scattering butterfly kisses there. 

At the stillness of his hips she protests, rocks against him, mewling, her head arching backwards at the slow descent of his lips.

"Shhh. It’s okay. I’m not gonna stop.” Propping his arm up next to her head Elliot lifts his head, looking at her, her eyes glassy and big as he coaxes. “Tell me.” 

When she speaks Olivia’s voice is deep and strangled as she looks back at him. “Just need to feel you, is all.” It’s raw and he wonders if this is about getting off for her at all or if her need is born from something greater, something much more intimate, because she’s not asking to go faster, or deeper, but to not stop, to please keep going, and Jesus, it makes him so fucking hard for her.  

He presses back into her, agonizingly slow and all the way, holding himself there when she gasps. 

“How’s that?” 

She’s breathless, biting her bottom lip, nodding, only speaking when he lets up, moves his hips back just enough to take the pressure away. 

“Elliot-” 

She loves it deep, will shatter easily around him when there’s nowhere left to reach for him, if he keeps this up and takes her breath away by how together they are when they are like this. 

“I know.” And at once he’s burying himself to the hilt again, her thighs tightening around his middle, one heel digging into his left ass cheek. 

“God,” she whimpers, and the sound makes his head spin with desire and love, throbbing for her painfully as she arches her head back, teeth digging into her bottom lip. “Gotta stop, I’mma…” 

“I’ve got you, Liv.” 

“No. I want this to last.” She reaches for his cheek, cups it gently, her thumb brushing the shell of his ear. “If I come now, I’m gonna be out in a minute.” She grimaces slightly. “I’ve wanted you since last night, just to feel you. Please.” Olivia swallows thickly. “You make me feel so special. Make me feel wanted.” And then: “Make me feel sexy.” 

Her voice is so low, he almost questions if he heard right, but it becomes superfluous as she starts touching herself, her hand closing across her plump left breast, squeezing and tucking her nipple between her thumb and palm, tugging. 

There’s a hint of shyness on her face as he scrutinizes her, takes her in, and within his chest his heart swells. All the times he complimented her on her body, told her how sexy she was to him, how much she turned him on, she struggled with it. Often she could hardly stand when he took the time to look at her body. For her to talk about feeling attractive, wanted, and sexy? It’s a milestone in their relationship Elliot didn’t see coming.

He doesn’t take pride in her saying he makes her feel sexy, because Olivia is a fucking dream on legs, a goddess who’s made him weak in the knees and hard in his crotch for twenty-four fucking years. She should feel sexy regardless of his or anyone’s opinion. Elliot wants her to know beyond a doubt what she does to him, how much she affects him. 

Elliot eases, pulls out, dragging his tip through her folds before sliding his length against her clit. 

“You feel this? What you do to me?” 

There’s just enough slip from the lube to help him glide across it easily, and he grins boyishly as her breath hitches. The heat and wanton he sees on Olivia’s face mixes with an inexplicably tender expression of love as he caresses one of her most sensitive spots. 

She sits up just enough to get a glimpse at his sweet manipulation, watching, awed, and it drives him mad enough to bite out a groan. He knows she’s exhausted, she looks the part behind the lust and need, but she told him she wants this to go on, to last, and he’s more than willing to prolong the pleasure for her, the sacred connection she so desperately seeks this morning. Elliot’s gaze sweeps across Olivia’s body, her nipples hard and inviting as she teases herself, tempting him to close his mouth over them and feel them sharp against his tongue when everything else about her is so fucking soft and pliable to his touch. 

“Feel good?” 

Eagerly she nods, sucks in a breath as he doubles the pressure by pushing down on his cock. She almost purrs when he moves all the way back, lingering at her entrance, just barely entering her with the head only to slip back out and run up and down her folds and repeat. 

“I like that,” she admits as he stretches into her for a third time. 

“This?” He wiggles his hips and she nods. 

“Hm. Feeling you there when you’re just about to push in. It’s kind of… my favorite part, that moment before. Makes me excited to feel all of you.” The words are a hushed thing. 

“I never knew that.” There’s a lot she told him in terms of her turn ons but this is new and potentially powerful information he’s definitely going to use to his advantage. 

“Now you do,” she says easily, reaching between them. Slowly her fingers close around the base of his cock, squeezing him a little. “Just right here,” she shows him the exact spot that does it for her as he’s lingering at her warm opening. “Feels so good. Makes me go crazy.” 

“Is that so?” 

“Uh-huh.” She guides him back to her clit, rubbing his engorged glans over it. “This too.” 

Everything about this is disarming–God, the way she talks, the things she does. It makes him want to drop the act and sink back in between her legs, where it’s gloriously warm and tight and blissful, the one place where all feels right. 

Instead he braces on his knees, mesmerized by the way Liv squeezes her breast. Unable to resist, he slips an arm around her back, pulling her torso towards him just enough to reach his destination, sucking the unattended nipple into his mouth. Olivia hisses and Elliot hums his approval, a shiver running up his spine as she arches towards him, simultaneously trying to keep their groins connected, chasing him not to lose contact as he explores her. 

Palm flattened against her back Elliot takes his time, circles his tongue around and around switching between pointing and flattening it. Their positions shift. She’s sitting, now, her fingers pressed to his scalp, cradling his head to her. Moving over he gives the other breast the same attention, reveling in the low, throaty sounds Liv makes. 

When Elliot works his mouth across her ribs and to her navel she squirms and chuckles, ticklish to the feather touch of his hands and lips. He goes lower, nipping and kissing her inner thighs until she gets impatient with it, panting out his name with an edge of frustration. 

“Elliot-” 

It twists in his stomach, making his balls pull up and tighten, and he thinks one of these days he might come just from that.

Succumbing to her plea he smirks against her thigh, buries his face between her legs and catches her outer labia, giving it a languid lick before deliciously suckling on it, the silken texture of her melting against his tongue like crème brûlée.

He’s idle, deliberate, his tongue wandering from where she admitted to enjoying his cock lingering, shy of where her lips disembogue into her clitoris, avoiding touching it directly. 

Olivia moves against him in gentle waves, edging herself closer to him, to where she wants him. She’s a sight as he looks up, her still in his mouth. The way she’s propped up on both elbows, now, craning and watching from above her heaving chest, her breasts full and lush, nipples at their peak. There’s a flush in her cheeks that even the semi-dark of the room doesn’t cover, and Jesus, she’s so much–she’s everything–making him wonder if he’ll ever be satiated, if it’ll ever be enough. 

He thinks he could live between those legs, tasting, teasing, eating her–or buried deep inside her. Sex with Olivia is never just sex. It’s a manifestation of everything that’s good and sacred, shifting everything back into its rightful place, his one saving grace. 

She rocks slowly against his mouth, wanting, and he mutters words of praise against the most intimate part of her body. 

There’s a full body shudder coursing through her as he blows on her saliva-glistening sex, making Olivia cry out as he soothes the chill with his full, wet open mouth, covering as much of her as he can. 

The words almost topple over as she speaks, hoarse and about done for. 

“Please… inside me.”

“Too much?” He speaks quietly, soothing, smoothing his thumb across the trimmed curls between her legs.

“Want you inside me for when I come.” 

Which tells him she’s close–tired and sensitive, and it takes very little to nudge her to the brink. 

Reluctantly Elliot retreats, his lips catching a patch of skin just below Olivia’s belly button, complaining. “Tastes so good.” To prove it he rises, capturing her lips in a kiss, slow and deep, before slipping her his tongue, their bodies squashed together. They move together, hips rolling, searching, his erection wedged in between them. 

“Roll onto your side.” 

There’s a sound of objection, but when he climbs out from in between her legs she shifts and does as he says. She looks beautiful and inviting, making him skim one hand from her thigh over hip, and up her torso as he scoots close to her, his cock straining as it settles along Olivia’s butt crack. She sticks her ass towards him in response, settling her head on a folded arm as he wraps himself around her, nuzzling her neck, cupping her breast, massaging it. They mold to each other until he’s positioned at her entrance. It takes a couple of tries before he slips in and she takes him with some difficulty, making a sound he recognizes as discomfort. 

“Let me lube up again.” 

He pulls out, searching for the small bottle that ended up somewhere in the sheets.

She finds it, hands it over, watching him apply the lubricant generously. 

It’s instant gratification when they give it another try, Olivia sighing into the quiet of the room. “Mmmhh…that’s better.” 

“Thought so.” 

He cuddles up close, her back to his chest, wrapping one leg over Olivia’s hip. She pushes back against him, keen on the new angle, moaning as Elliot slowly rocks into her. Shifting her body forwards she braces her hip against him, allowing him to go just that little bit deeper until he hits the right spot. 

“Right there… just… ugh…” 

It builds quickly from there, for her, for him, too. Holding her hip he goes deep, goes faster with he moans of encouragement. 

“Fuck…there…there…” 

There’s a tingle in his groin area spreading all the way up to his spine, the build-up quick now. He can no longer think, only feel. He spits on his fingers and slips his hand around her, between her legs, touching them to her clit. 

“Guide me.” His breath is rough and jagged, Liv’s hand closing over his, pressing his fingers where she needs them and presses them to her in rhythmical, high-pressure movements. 

There’s a high-pitched sound she makes, and he fucks into her harder now. 

“Come on, baby.”

A moment later she tosses her head, crying her release into the pillow while pushing his fingers against her, hard, her walls gripping his cock like a vice, pulling him deep. 

“There you go.” She’s panting, trembling, and goes limp, like she’s boneless. He breathes her in, kissing the back of her neck, his hand skimming her breast when she lets it go from between her legs. 

“Have you…” 

“Not yet. A little too much slip like this. Can you lay on your stomach?” 

She huffs her agreement, rolling around so he can position himself anew. She’s tighter like this, giving him the needed friction as he rocks into her, and despite having just come she seems intrigued as well with this position. 

“God, you feel good like this.” 

“You too,” he mutters, both hands bracing at the height of Olivia’s shoulders, so she won’t have to bear his weight. “Can I go quick?” 

“Ah-hmm, quick.” She fists the pillow, welcoming his hips driving into her. He moves, chasing his climax, feeling it build, grabbing the back of her hips at the height of it, staccato jerks until he stills and spills in bursts with a deep groan as his orgasm pulses through him. It feels like every synapse fires in his brain simultaneously, until a feeling of total relaxation overcomes him. 

It takes him seconds until realization hits that Olivia’s clenching around him again, too, pushing back against him as he’s buried to the hilt, until she breathes out with a little whimper, relaxing back into the mattress. 

He’s scatter-brained and speechless as he lowers his torso, kisses his way along her spine, hearing her chuckle, out of breath. 

“What?” Elliot’s breath slows, and he skims his fingertips along her arm.

“I just thought about how I wanna fall asleep like this, but I’m guaranteed to get another UTI.” 

He grimaces, remembering all too well that Liv got one after their first night spent together, when cuddling had seemed like a priority and she happened to fall asleep without going to the bathroom. 

“We don’t want that.” He rolls off of her, his full palm caressing her back. “Go.” 

“A minute,” she mumbles. 

“You sound like you’re half asleep already,” teases Elliot. 

“Hm. S’because I am.” Exhaling slowly she adds, “I’m all tingly.” 

“Feel good?” 

She lifts and turns her head, then drops it heavily in the pillow, looking at him with hooded eyes and an impish smile. “Miss the feeling of you.” 

“Well, I’m not gonna put it back in while you’re falling asleep on me.” 

And all of a sudden, sitting up, she’s erupting in loud, dirty laughter that makes him laugh right along with her, and God, he loves this woman, grinning at her like an idiot as she makes her way toward the bathroom, looking over her shoulder. 

“Later though?” she asks, vanishing from his sight, returning a couple of minutes later, lying back down after putting on a shirt and underwear. She gravitates towards him, arm draped over his stomach, head on his chest. 

“You don’t really think there’s a chance in hell I’m gonna say no to that, do you?” Elliot says softly in reply to her question earlier, Olivia’s head tilting up as she smiles softly. 

“Just checking,” she whispers and breathes a content sigh. 

 

Chapter Text

A crack of light falls upon Olivia’s face as she shifts her body closer towards the other side of the bed. Pulling her legs up to her abdomen she sighs deeply, her arm stretching out across the mattress in search of the warm body that’s supposed to be laying next to her. However, Olivia’s met with cool sheets and thin air instead. Cracking one eye open to find his spot empty, indeed. A small sound of protest rolls up her throat, suffocated by a drawn-out yawn.

Elliot’s already up, she realizes, her mind still foggy with sleep.

There’s an immediate huff of disappointment as she lets herself sink deeper into the mattress, contemplating whether she should get up now, or close her eyes for a little while longer. There’s a stickiness from this morning’s activities, fluids between her legs and thighs that should probably make her feel gross–at least a little uncomfortable–but instead a contented smile settles on her face. She embraces the traces of their sensual tryst, her cheeks tinging with heat as she bites her lip, succumbing to a moment of reminiscing.

The sex had been incredible, and with the memory still fresh on her mind and the feeling of Elliot leaving the sweetest sensation inside her, her appetite for him is whetted. There’s still a hint of his kiss, of his touch lingering on her skin, making her stomach tumble and turn with arousal. Thinking about it, she could spend the rest of this trip right here, with Elliot between the sheets. But they’ve already made plans to go into a small town today, so she figures she'll settle for more sex in the evening and decides to get up and start her day. Reluctantly she rubs a hand over her face and rolls onto her back, stretching her legs and taking a deep breath. She should take a shower. Also, she needs her morning coffee and a little something to eat. 

The cabin is quiet as she walks downstairs. The kitchen and living room are deserted, no sign of Elliot anywhere except a lone coffee cup on the island. He’s probably out for a run, given how long she slept, or maybe he wasn’t sure if she’d get up anytime soon and decided to head into town without her for now. 

Olivia makes fresh coffee, because what’s left in the french press hardly passes as lukewarm, and she needs a proper, hot dose of caffeine. It’s almost finished brewing by the time Elliot’s voice filters in from outside, and a moment later the screen door to the porch opens as he keeps talking, holding up his phone, obviously in the middle of a video call. He’s in that dark blue henley she loves so much, and a pair of comfortable sweats and tennis shoes, and getting every single piece of clothing off of him shouldn’t be the first thing that comes to mind when she hears his kid’s voice on the line, but goddamn it, they’ve missed out on plenty lately, so who can blame her–especially after he got her hooked this morning. 

Elliot’s gaze meets hers, and if he can read her mind, he doesn’t let it show. He tells her good morning, his voice hushed as Eli talks about wanting to stay at his friend Leo's for the night, as his father interrupts him. 

“Yeah, that’s all right. Hey, Eli, pass the phone to Noah, tell him his sleepyhead of a mother is finally up.” He crosses the room and steps around the kitchen island, handing her the phone as she swats his arm, gaping at him. Before she can come up with a proper retort her son’s head full of curls pops up on the screen, and she refocuses, just barely catching when Elliot says something about waiting with breakfast on the porch. 

The talk with her kid is sweet. Noah excitedly tells her about his weekend so far, about the movie he’s going to see at the movie theater with Eli and Kathleen later, after pizza for lunch and ice cream for dessert. Olivia’s relieved that he’s having a good time without her after how disappointed he was when she explained to him he couldn’t come with them, her conscience bleeding at the realization of going on a vacation with Elliot when she never did with Noah, save Paris–and he doesn’t even remember that. The guilt sits, a firm knot in her stomach, but maybe it’s not warranted with how Noah’s beaming at her, maybe she puts too much emphasis on what she didn’t do, or should’ve done while her kid’s perfectly fine. Plus, Elliot already suggested they come back to this area with the kids in the summer, do this properly, the three or four of them. Noah’s clearly enjoying himself, so she shouldn’t feel bad for doing the same, not when she feels with every fiber how necessary this reprieve is for her mental health. It’s been years since she truly took time for just herself, to recharge her batteries. A few short hours to treat herself at a spa to momentarily patch things up are far from enough, and like Lindstrom told her: there’s no shame in taking some time to focus on solely herself. 

They talk for a few minutes and hang up after about ten blown kisses and twenty goodbyes, and God, she loves that kid, and she can’t wait to wrap her arms around him and breathe him in with half her face hidden in his curls, but for now she’s got her mind set on being here, in the moment with Elliot. 

She drops Elliot’s phone on the island and idly pushes down the plunger of the french press, smiling about nothing in particular while filling up two cups. 

Outside he’s seated at the round table on the patio that’s set for the two of them, a bag that she supposes holds baked goods in the middle. There’s cream cheese and her favorite jam, nothing fancy, but exactly what she wanted when she didn’t even know she wanted it, making her heart fill with love and warmth as she smiles at him, his comment from earlier forgotten (and she really has been working on a comeback line ever since). 

The day is beautiful, the sun high and warm on her face, but it’s a little crisp without a jacket, so she decides to grab it when the coffee’s on the table. 

“How long have you been waiting for me?” 

Elliot accepts the coffee and smiles, not quite a sly smile, but not an entirely easy one, either. 

“Not too long.” 

And that right there, she thinks as she sees his attempt at not breaking into a grin, is bullshit. 

“You could’ve woken me up,” she offers, but in secret she’s glad that he didn’t, because some sleep was absolutely necessary after exorcizing Lewis last night. Speaking of which, the envelope, now void of the photos Lewis took, sits on the empty chair to her right. Elliot must have picked it up when he cleaned up out here; the fire bowl is back in the corner, and he put away her beer bottle, blanket, and the coffee cups she left behind. 

“Nah, you needed it. Slept like a log.” 

Apparently she did, because as she made the coffee the clock caught her eye and it’s past noon, so she got a solid five hours and then a bit. 

“Figured you’d be hungry. I hope croissants and bagels are okay. They were about sold out; I got there right before they closed up.” 

“Perfect.” Her mouth waters at ‘croissants’ and once she has her jacket draped over her shoulders she sits while Elliot opens the paper bag, allowing her to help herself. The croissants are massive in size, and she takes an unapologetic bite, her eyes slipping closed as the pastry melts on her tongue. 

“Hm… thanks. So you’ve been to town?” Olivia wipes a crumb off her lip and puts the croissant down to open the jam. 

“Just the bakery, for now. You wanted to go today, right?” 

She wants that, but then she can also think of other things to do, and they all have to do with him and their room upstairs–or, as she told him the night they arrived, every other surface in this cabin. She did the talk then, and she knows she has to do the walk, and she’s firmly planned on putting on the 200 dollars worth of lace-trimmed silk that’s neatly hidden in the side pocket of her suitcase today. Tonight , she chastises herself. Because how awkward would it be if she sashayed into the room wearing a nightgown, however short and saucy, in the middle of the day? Something tells her that this one is intended for much later, when they sit by the fire, both of them a little bit drunk on wine and love. Maybe she needs the liquid courage that’ll hopefully help to shut off her mind, that will stop it from spinning too fast so she’ll finally be able to show him or tell him (or both) what she really wants, what she’s been wanting for a while now, and didn’t quite know how to say, not with everything else that made life so goddamn complicated for them. But tonight is good, she’s got her issue worked through and her shit together, and she’s going to leave this place only when she's been properly fucked by Elliot. 

She realizes he’s waiting for an answer, and suddenly there’s heat in her face and ears, making her feel caught , and she wonders if he can read her mind as he cocks his head. She chokes out a reply. “Yeah. If you want.” 

Olivia wants to know if Elliot’s fully aware that she's daydreaming about getting her brains screwed out later, that she wouldn’t mind if he took her right here, right now, on the patio, either, and Jesus fucking Christ, what is happening with her, because she hasn’t been this hungry for sex since… before

The last time she had this kind of sex drive that made spend all weekend in bed was probably when she first started seeing Cassidy, when things between them were easy and casual – mediocre restaurants, great sex and no strings attached. 

This, here? It’s a whole lot better than that, and she’s not going to leave her libido disappointed. 

They’ve still got four days, she reminds herself. She can barely talk behind her smile and those thoughts, so she quickly takes another bite of croissant, the jam all but forgotten. 

When Elliot brings up the kids and their plans for today, she’s grateful, because she’s not sure she could’ve shifted her focus away from the things she wants to do with him. 

They enjoy breakfast, and Elliot’s about to get up to clean up when once again the envelope catches her eye. 

“Wait, I want to show you something.” 

“Okay.” His eyes are on her now, warm and expectant. She stands, picks up the envelope and sinks down on the chair he put them in. Opening the gummy seal, she retrieves the four remaining pictures. 

Elliot’s hesitant to even look at them, his eyes wary as she slides his plate away and places the photographs on the table. Maybe he expects to see her anguished or violated, or possibly even Lewis’ feral face, either way, he’s refusing to lower his gaze until she coaxes him.

“Look at them, El.” 

He’s rigid, now, radiating tension the soothing tone of her voice can’t erase, but he does as she says. When his eyes settle on the images she’s surprised he doesn’t soften, instead a look of quiet desperation settles on his face. And then she remembers their conversation, when Elliot shared that there’s no black and white for him, that everything surrounding the photos was a mess of muddled grays, that he still felt guilty for presenting her with the camera and the idea to have the film developed. For him, he opened Pandora's box, and he’s not yet able to fully accept that with it he brought Olivia closure, however painful it was to get there. 

Maybe she should let this go, just leave Elliot be, but she can’t. It’s not that she wants to torture him, not that she wants to see the anguish and guilt that’s written all over his face, but that she wants him to see what she sees, hoping he’ll find something like solace, maybe even absolution in it. 

Olivia wants to believe that if she found validation in the pictures, then so can he, she just needs him to see it–see her

“What do you see?” 

Elliot takes a few seconds until he answers, his voice low and subdued, guarded. “You.” 

Licking her lips Olivia gives a simple nod, reminding herself that this needs patience, that this is not easy for him. Unlike her he hasn’t fully integrated the trauma, so she reminds herself consciously that she’s years and years ahead of him and has only revisited othe calamity with a few added layers when Elliot has only learned what has happened to her within the past year and was confronted with the entirety of her trauma and fears of abandonment all at once. They’re far from standing on equal sides in this, so she’s not going to push or roll her eyes because he’s not there yet. 

“Me,” she agrees, tapping her finger against the one she likes the most, slowly sliding it further towards Elliot. I never looked at them before last night,” she admits, smiling. “I’m happy in them.” 

His eyes lift, and there’s no hesitance as she continues speaking. 

“I’m happy there. With you. Because of you and everything we are. The person I am with you.” She swallows when his face softens, the frown smoothed over by a hint of intrigue. “I haven't seen this woman since... not in the past ten years. Maybe not ever. And this was before we found out what else was on that film,” she says softly, her chest swelling with a self-confidence that feels new but wonderful. “I was fine then, and I wasn’t aware of it. I was more like my old self when you took the pictures than I knew, and if everything that happened since hadn’t, I’m not so sure I’d have realized it without revisiting the trauma and… and even the fear of abandonment that still lingered. I’m not going to pretend the past couple of months weren’t awful, but this process of going back and taking stock of what happened–what actually happened? Maybe it was necessary. Maybe I needed this catharsis, this opportunity to find myself, and leave everything else behind. So, I can’t say that I regret that you found the camera and took these photos of me. I don’t regret that we had the film developed because, despite all the hurt, it gave me a glimpse of the person I thought was lost, someone who is happier than she’s ever been. Someone who’s starting to feel more confident with you.” Olivia leans in, her hand taking hold of his, her fingertips rolling against Elliot’t palm with a need to touch and reassure him. “Someone who’s free and ready to leave that son of a bitch behind.” Exhaling slowly her lips lift and her eyes blur with gratitude. “What was on that camera gave me closure. You helped me find closure. You helped me find myself, Elliot. And I hope you can see it–someday.” 

Olivia thinks of Lindstrom and the things he said to her about consciously shifting one’s point of view, a piece of advice she first frowned upon and dismissed, but found solace in when she made an effort and tried it. Idly she squeezes him, cocking her head as she sees Elliot’s still absorbing her words, wondering what to think of them, what to do with them, unable to catch up so quickly, unable to process everything at once. His eyes are hazy, and the guilt is still there, if a little more vague. 

“Liv-” 

It’s doubtful, the way he says her name, so she keeps talking, as if it’s only a matter of time until he has to believe the things she says. 

“You know, El, someone once told me that we can’t choose what happens to us but we have a much greater choice–we get to choose what we do about them, if we focus on the negative and keep living in the past and pain, or stand above it all and thrive, because there’s not ever just darkness. Much like… I try not to focus on all the times we’ve missed each other anymore, but the one time that really matters–when we found each other. That it all happened when and how it was always supposed to be.” 

She’s right where she always wanted to be with the person she wanted to be with and he loves her . She’s open to love and joy and life, a life that doesn’t only revolve around work and motherhood. Of course she loves both, and yet she’s never felt the sense of fulfillment that she’s come to know with Elliot as her partner, her lover , her future .

The times of feeling lost and lonely, and truthfully often undeserving of true love, a real connection to someone are gone. With Elliot she feels secure, like she’s finally found that place inside of her that feels whole, feels like home. 

“Elliot, all I want is this , right here for the rest of my life. I want us to be together, open with each other, trusting each other. And I need you to trust me when I say that what happened with that camera is not on you. Okay?” 

Olivia allows him a moment to breathe through this, come to grips with everything she just said. That there’s no blame she places on him, or anyone, and is ready to settle into this contentment and happiness, free of guilt or shame, and free of Lewis.

Elliot can’t fully conceal his hurt, his guilt, but eventually he nods at her. “Okay.”

It’s a relief that he can accept this without argument. 

“I wanna frame this.” She taps her fingers against one of the pictures and cracks into a broader smile. “As a reminder of how far we’ve come together. And because I really, really like it.” 

Elliot’s stoic facial expression changes, too, his eyes finding her more steadily, his shoulders relaxing. Then there’s the whisper of Elliot’s breath against Olivia’s hairline as he drops his face toward her, lips soft and warm against her forehead with a delicate kiss to her skin. She leans into him, into his embrace as he slips his arm around her, and although he’s that solid rock of a man she feels the fragility beneath his muscles, feels that raw essence of the sensitive and caring soul he’s underneath his rough and sometimes angry exterior. 

“How do you always know just the right thing to say?” he mumbles and she grimaces. 

“I don’t, I’m just fumbling most of the time.” Lifting her head just enough to look him in the eye she adds: “But everything I said just now? That’s simply the way I feel. I’ve done a whole lot of thinking last night, and it was… eye opening. So were the pictures. I’m glad you took ‘em.” 

“That’s… I’m glad you can look at it this way. I don’t think I’m quite there yet.” 

“And that’s okay,” she whispers in reassurance, cupping his cheek gently, feeling him melt into her caress. 

“I’ll get there.” It sounds like he’s trying to convince her, quiet urgency swimming in his voice, but it’s not like she needs convincing when she has trust in the inevitable. 

“I know.” 


The town of Winklesville (Olivia had immediately rolled her eyes, snorting: “Winklesville? Really?” only to have Elliot explain to her that Rip Van Winkle is from near here.) is a quaint and idyllic place. 

“First of all, I’m impressed that Rip Van Winkle means anything to you. Secondly, you do know he’s a fictional character, right?” She inquired as they strolled main street’s pedestrians zone hand in hand, taking in the Victorian structures containing small shops. 

Laughing, Elliot explained that he’s been to the Catskills a few too many times to not have heard the legend of Rip Van Winkle. 

Olivia had underestimated how well-frequented main street would be. They'd avoided Black Friday crowds, but Thanksgiving was still the busiest shopping weekend of the year. Most of the shops are looking for a quick sale, and from what Olivia can tell they are drawing in the tourists with no problem. 

They pass a second ice cream shop–it might as well be the third, when Olivia spots a little art gallery exhibiting abstract works of local artists that makes her stop, immediately piquing her curiosity. 

“Wanna go in?” 

“Would you mind?” She asks hopefully. 

“Not at all.” Elliot nods his head towards the entrance. “Let’s go.” 

The gallery, much different from most other establishments on main street, is pretty much unoccupied. There’s one other much younger couple taking a look at the paintings and the few sculptures on display. The space is small and simple, three white walls opening out to the window facade, dark wooden floors and three pedestals centered in the room. 

When Olivia sees it, her response is immediate. It’s unadulterated awe, her eyes incomprehensibly fixing on the artwork that doesn’t allow for her to take them off of the shapes and colors, the supposed haphazardness of paint meeting canvas. 

She’s seen plenty of art in her lifetime, visited her fair share of galleries, and she’d liked what she saw before, thought of the pieces exhibited as moving or beautiful, but this… this goes beyond all that. 

It resonates with her on a deeper level than she could explain. She simply feels it, a connection, the emotions and physical reactions this piece educes from her, having her breath quite literally taken, a pleasant shudder of excitement flashing through her body, and that strange sense of a connection with this work, as if she knows exactly what its artist felt, what they intended to express. 

This painting feels like her very heart beating outside her chest, surviving in this world, protected from any cruelty and acts of God by that special ‘something’, a push and pull between utter beauty and toe-curling threat of underlying terror. 

It’s only when she hears Elliot gently calling her name, his hand pressing into her hip that she quite literally snaps out of it, refocusing. Truth be told, she doesn’t even remember how she got over here from the front of the gallery. Her gaze is now on the small tag, stating the Title– POSE! --and the price, and she knew. Knew that there was some reason this painting spoke to her just as well as she knew she wasn’t going to be able to afford it. Not after the expenses of this trip, even though they split the cost–certainly not with Christmas right around a corner and her family that grew to about a dozen people.

“Liv?” 

“Sorry,” she says quickly, tearing her eyes off of the price tag. “I really like this one. Something about it reminds me of…” She shakes her head slowly, unable to put it into words. “...there’s just something about it.” 

“It’s nice,” Elliot offers, but clearly he doesn’t see what she sees, doesn’t get that same feeling of belonging , that sense of falling fully into the depths of it. 

“You wanna look at the others?” he asks carefully, aware that she’s having some kind of moment

She doesn’t. She really doesn’t, because none of the other artwork can compare to how deeply she’s been touched, to this electrifying tingling deep in her gut, but she can’t very well say that when she was the one who wanted to visit the gallery, so despite her lack of interest she puts on a smile. 

“Sure.” 

The other pieces hold no appeal, none of them remotely as appealing as the one Olivia lost her heart to, and they are back outside within five minutes. All of a sudden she feels… something like sadness, like she’s leaving something vital behind. She never thought a painting could make her feel this way, make her feel any way other than liking or disliking what she saw. Either way, she’ll have to move on and not let this ruin her day because it’s too expensive to treat herself with a piece of art. 

It’s not easy tearing herself away, but she sets her spirit to exploring this town with Elliot, all the other small shops that sell clothes and jewelry, fudge and books or the cozy little cafes with their inviting aroma of freshly ground coffee beans and pastries. They’ve come here to spend some time together, and while it’s a little too crowded to feel very romantic, she’s still glad they came here. 


They’re back after a scrumptious dinner at the one fancy dining place in Winklesville, both quite happy and satiated, but also exhausted. They were in town for much longer than Olivia anticipated. After some coffee they visited the tiny local history museum and most of the shops on main street where they ended up with more kitsch and clutter from the souvenir shops than she likes to admit. Elliot got Eli one of those terrible t-shirts stating: “My Dad went to the Catskills and all I got was this stupid t-shirt.” He wanted to get one for Noah, too, but a t-shirt saying ‘Dad’ seemed a little too assumptive and Olivia decidedly refused to rub salt into the wound, reminding him they went without him. She got him a shirt for Orpheum Dance Theater instead, deciding should they come back here in the summer, she’s definitely going to take Noah there for a show.

Besides a little something for both Maureen and Kathleen as a thank-you for keeping an eye on the boys, some Winklesville Fudge for her squad, two bottles of a rather pricey wine to enjoy between the two of them back here and finally dinner had them spending far more than Olivia intended. She’d clearly underestimated the power and importance of souvenirs within the Stabler family, and when Elliot thought of getting something for Ayanna and Jet, she felt it was only fair to do the same for her people. 

Dropping the bags, Olivia sighs, glad to be back at the cabin after being on her feet for the past five or six hours, something she definitely isn’t used to these days. She craves to put her feet up with a large glass of wine nearby, but the fudge and some of the other local specialities need to be refrigerated, and while she’s at it she might as well stow everything else away in the suitcases. While it’s not much it feels overwhelming. She rather wants to be done with it sooner than later, so when Elliot enters the cabin moments after her and locks up, she’s already unpacking. 

“Want some help with that?” 

“No, that’s okay. I’m almost done.” 

Elliot steps up behind her. Since they left the gallery she tried not to let her disappointment show, but Elliot’s definitely picked up on something. 

“Everything okay? You look tired.” He squeezes her arms gently and she drops her head just slightly as she inhales softly. 

It’s not that she didn’t have a good time. She did. The town with all its shops was lovely, and the food at the restaurant was great, but she can’t deny that this painting has touched something within her that she’s not entirely over, something she lacks the words to explain to Elliot. 

“I’m good,” she says around a weak smile. “A little exhausted.” 

“You sure about that?” 

She tells herself she’s not lying, not really, but it’s not just exhaustion that has her a little too quiet, pensive, and she realizes too late that she didn’t give an answer. 

“You really liked that painting, didn’t you?” 

There’s relief in how well he knows her, that he noticed that she connected to the art, and she thinks she couldn’t possibly love him more. Elliot’s arms slip around her middle as he places a simple kiss on her left shoulder, and she wants nothing more than to assure him that she had a wonderful time with him, that her slightly dampened mood was not because anything was lacking. It makes her want to appreciate him and enjoy the evening even more, because it’s what Elliot deserves–her full attention, not some inexplicable sadness over money she did not have to spend. Taking a breath she pivots, her face softening now that she looks at him, and when she speaks, she almost chokes up, because this, being here with him, is so much more important than anything else. 

“I really like you,” she deflects sweetly. “I’m sorry if I ruined this for you.” 

There’s the slightest twitch in his chin as his eyes narrow and he pulls her into a hug. 

“Didn’t ruin anything, Liv,” he says, voice low and deep. “Couldn’t if you tried.” 

She buzzes with the proximity, with the pressure of his chest against hers, his arms locked around her in a firm hold, and all she can think of is that she wants to kiss him, that she wants to kiss until she’s senseless and boneless and everything in between. His fingertips push against the small of her back, and it sends her tumbling with arousal as she thinks of this morning, when she let her mind wander to all the things she wants to do with him. They are more than set, because there’s the wine on the counter and enough wood to start a fire, and tucked away in her suitcase the ruby-colored nightgown she hopes will be a heartstopper is waiting to be slipped on for this very occasion. She raises her head, lingers in the moment for a little while longer, arousal coiling within her as she anticipates whatever comes next. She waits and waits, maybe for him to push her against the kitchen island with his whole weight, or for his lips on hers, taking and tasting her until she can’t breathe, until she gets dizzy with a lack of oxygen. She waits him out, but instead of doing anything, he merely looks at her face, muttering: “You’re beautiful.” 

Olivia’s speechless and when she doesn’t make a move Elliot releases her and takes a step back, and she’s close to grabbing him by his shirt and yanking him back against her wanting body, but she thinks better of it, chasing his lips in a slow, subdued fashion. The kiss is soft and sensual, and Olivia’s aching for more. Instead she pulls away, voice dropping.

 “How about I take care of this, you get a fire going, and I’ll meet you on the couch with a bottle of wine in five?” 

Now, he’s alert, half grinning, gaze on her as she bites her lip. 

“I’ll be there.” 


“I’ll be back in a few.” She pulls away slowly, awkwardly pushing against his chest. If she doesn’t stop this thing now their kisses and touches are inevitably going to become heated, and she’s not going to be able to tear herself away when that happens, and truthfully, she kind of wants Elliot to think that she’s hitting the brakes, have him wonder if this is as much as they’ll do tonight. 

His hands had lazily started to stroke her thigh and she gathered all her willpower to sit through it for a few minutes trying to come off a lot less affected than she was when all she could think was how she wanted to jump him. 

She prayed he didn’t realize that the wine had little to do with her flushed cheeks when he drew circles with his thumbs, getting dangerously close to where she was throbbing with need, or the way she was biting back a moan when he looked at her, trying to gauge if it was worth making a more bold move. She’d smiled at him sheepishly, licking her lips, and then he was kissing her. It was innocent enough until now, until he pried her lips apart with his tongue and she felt her own restraint slip away, her entire body responding to his hand slipping underneath her top. There was no more space between them. A moan was crawling up her throat when she felt him hard in his pants against her thigh, and so she gently put her hands to his chest and stopped the action, pleased to see a moment’s confusion followed by disappointment flitting across his face when he caught her smiling somewhat coyly, starting to worry her bottom lip. 

“Something wrong?” 

“Just wanna change into something a little more comfortable,” she says, apologetic, suppressing the smirk that desperately wants to spread, simultaneously shifting her body further away from him. His hand materializes from under her sweater, and suddenly he seems uncertain what to do with it, awkwardly dropping it on his thigh.  

Elliot’s looking at her, nodding as she places a single, seemingly final kiss on his lips. 

“You’re not upset, are you?” She asks hopefully, and God, she’s really pushing it here, because his expression falls a little more as she puts the final nail in the coffin. He definitely doesn’t think that anything’s going to happen, now. 

“Of course not.” 

“Okay.” 

“We can go to bed, if you want,” he suggests.

It’s weird now, strangely uncomfortable after she turned Elliot down, and part of her wants to spoil what’s to come, reassure him that she didn’t just lead him on earlier to now act like a cold fish. 

“Maybe not quite yet. Another glass? We might as well finish the bottle.” She’s up now, finally able to think straight again, and if she wouldn’t know what else is in store tonight, she’d feel sorry for Elliot. It’s not how she planned it, she wasn’t aware how much she wanted to be the driving force in this scenario. If she had kept engaging in this little make out session for any longer, there is no way she would have stayed in control, and more importantly, she wouldn’t have made it upstairs to change into something that’s going to be a lot more comfortable and much easier access, something that’ll allow her to feel him in the way she wants to feel him, without the restrictions of her pants. Before she can start to feel too bad about it, she offers him a tight smile, then vanishes–with the best of intentions– upstairs, eager to make it up to him. 

 

Chapter Text

Biting her lip, Olivia peers at her reflection in the mirror, deciding this is not too bad. Silk flatters her body, her curves. The material is soft, lace-trimmed at the cups (they hug her breasts in a perfect fit) and the hem, and she blows out a long, conscious breath. She has several nightshirts, cami and pajama sets, but nothing close to this. She hasn’t put on something sexy to bed in years, not since before Lewis, never quite comfortable enough to present herself like this–mostly because she didn’t feel it. She always told herself there was no reason to wrap damaged goods nicely. Of course she recognizes how utterly destructive this way of thinking is, that she needs to get out of her own head and not overthink what her scars look or feel like to a lover, so here she is, doing something to actively change and overcome it.

This suits her. The nightgown accentuates her breasts, compliments her hips, her olive complexion. She almost opted for something black, figuring it would help conceal that lower belly pooch better until the sales woman brought out the ruby-colored piece, asking her to try it on, and when Olivia did, she was complimented on her curves that were, apparently, ‘to die for’. The black nightie was no less expensive than the ruby, so she took the other woman’s advice. So far she doesn’t regret it. 

To hell with all the nagging insecurities. Scars and trauma be damned, she’s going to do this, and she looks good (really, she looks great ), she feels good and confident and ready–well almost. 

Some tinted lip balm goes on her lips, just to soften them up and give them a little bit of a shimmer, also some mascara to accentuate those lashes. Olivia thinks she should have brought a more proper selection of beauty products for this rather special occasion (if only for that little extra boost of confidence) but at least her face looks fresh after her evening skin care routine.

The scent of monoi oil has soaked into her skin. It lingers in the bathroom and bedroom, so Olivia decides not to layer it with perfume. Taking a deep breath she rakes her fingers through her hair, fluffing it up in places until she’s happy with what she sees. Almost done now, she takes care of one more thing and grabs the bottle of lubricant, making sure she’ll be ready to go without unnecessary interruptions–at least for the start. Truth be told, she’d be disappointed if they don’t extend their activities late into the night. 

There’s a flutter of excitement that makes her feel almost bouncy, flushes her skin in a heat that’s different from that nervous energy she felt when they were together for the first time. She’s a lot more self-assured, a lot more confident about this. It’s been a good while since she’s come up here, and if she doesn’t want to risk Elliot thinking that she’s fallen asleep and follow her upstairs she should really get back to him. She washes her hands, taking off the remnants of lube, and then, with a big breath she nods at her reflection, encouraging herself around the hint of a smile: “Let’s do this.” 

When she descends the stairs, barefooted, her steps light. If anything gives her return from upstairs away it’s the creaking of the wood, but Elliot doesn’t seem to notice. He’s focused on his phone, finger swiftly swiping across the screen. The last step gives a howl of protest, and Olivia almost holds her breath and pauses, her heart thumping with anticipation, but Elliot doesn’t turn his head, never lifting his eyes off whatever he’s looking at. 

“You changed your mind about going to bed?” he asks distractedly. 

Now her nerves flare up, burning a hole in her brain making her forget the words that sat on her tongue, something daring and unequivocally sexual. She just stands there, drawing a blank, a jumble of what she should say causing chaos in her head. 

She steps closer, slow and deliberate, close enough to tell that the app that’s open on his phone is ‘Signal’, that someone, most likely Kathleen or Maureen, sent him pictures, and he raises his head just slightly, his eyes widening, and it feels good, the way he looks at her. Empowering. 

The phone is still in his hand, but he seems to have all but forgotten about it as he’s staring, taking her in slack-jawed. Her nerves settle, and the fog in her head clears. Now Elliot is the one out of words. 

“Sorry I made you wait,” she says, innocent. “But those jeans were so tight, and I wanted something more…comfortable.”

Elliot drops the phone, looks at her like he can’t quite believe her tone and the outfit, like he doesn’t believe any of this is happening for real. 

Biting her lip Olivia straddles him, and he holds his breath, red from ears to neck as she takes his hand and guides it between her legs, exhaling an unsteady breath as she makes him touch her. 

“Jesus, Liv,” he croaks, and she sees the effect this has on him. She’s bare and aching, and he chuckles helplessly as she moves against him, cheeks flushed. 

“Let’s not drag Jesus into this,” she purrs, her fingers finding the button of his denim. “I’d rather we keep this between you and me.”

His brain seems to catch up as he’s seeking her clitoris out, tucking it between two fingers and she moans softly, glad for the slip of excess lubricant. Riding that wave, Olivia tilts her head back. It’s only a moment until she refocuses, because she wants this to be about him–for now. She wants to blow Elliot’s mind (and then some) make him feel good. Show him how much she adores and wants him. 

“What...what is this?” he asks above the sound of his zipper being unzipped, and he still holds that look of surprise and confusion and obviously a hell of a lot of arousal, that makes her think she might have made his brain short-circuit. He touches her above the nightgown with the other hand, fondles her breast, mesmerized. 

“You don’t like it?” she asks sweetly, arching one eyebrow. 

“I do like it. I like it a lot,” he almost stumbles with how quickly he reassures her. “Just surprised.” 

“Good.” 

Whenever Olivia thought about this lately, she thought it would be awkward–that she would be awkward, that maybe she’d have second thoughts about this and chicken out, or that Elliot would look at her like this is crazy (or like she is)–which he does, but in a good way that tells her that he wants her, that this version of her turns him on, too, possibly more than anything–but it’s not. She doesn’t feel awkward or uncomfortable, and she doesn’t feel like stopping this. 

It’s not embarrassing after all this time. It’s good. It’s good, she feels good and her confidence keeps building as Elliot’s hand descends on her body, cups the slope of her ass, his calloused fingers scraping against silk, now, and God, how sad it is to think that she missed out on this until now. She digs deep into her desires as she feels Elliot hard in his pants, the waistband of his jeans opened and inviting. Olivia breathes out and then her mouth is on his in a sudden, bruising kiss, and she’s so fucking turned on, she can feel the heat all over her body and her heartbeat pounding in her ears, fully consumed by the spark Elliot’s searching, pressing hands ignite. He’s slipping one hand fully around the curve of her ass, lifting her up, under the gown with the other, and she’s done thinking straight when he pinches her clit that’s still between the V of two fingers–it’s not painful, but new and definitely not cautious. And she cries out. 

Next thing she knows Elliot’s teeth are scraping against her throat, so she angles her head, gives him access as she presses her throbbing sex against his hand. She moans and swallows hard, sucking in a breath. Elliot’s mouth works across her throat, up her chin, and when he covers her mouth it feels like he’s going to devour her. The control she had slips away, and maybe she should just go with it, she thinks, but she also isn’t entirely ready to let it go, not yet, so she pulls back, albeit reluctantly, her breath a harsh thing on his face. 

“Take your pants off.” 

She lifts her ass and gets up on her feet, finding her legs wobbly. Elliot’s eager, already pushing jeans and boxers down his hips. There’s not a moment that he looks at anything other than her. His eyes and breathing are like a storm as his gaze rakes over her chest and hips while his clothes pool at his ankles. She licks her lips as his arousal greets her, his cock straining. It’s pink with anticipation and need, calling to her. She waits a beat, two. Lets him discard his pants and underwear as her own arousal causes havoc in her belly, and her sex clenches as she grabs a pillow and gets on her knees in front of him, her intention clear to both of them. Then he shakes his head. 

“Liv, that’s not–you don’t have to do this. I mean, clearly you don’t do this, and you shouldn’t on my account.” 

It gives her pause. So now she’s a woman who doesn’t do this (she’s definitely not going to admit that he’s kind of right, because she didn’t with Cassidy or Ed after) , and of course Elliot would think that, because what else was he supposed to conclude when she never… with him . She takes a breath, collects herself, wants to correct his mistake or hers, because it’s not what he thinks. There’s just been a hell of a lot to process for her, but she’s ready and willing. She wants this. What she doesn’t want is to have a conversation about why she hasn’t gone down on him before.

“Now you’re making assumptions,” she smirks, trying to find her balance by wrapping her hand around him, stroking while she holds his gaze, daring Elliot to repeat what he just said. She is going to show him what she does and doesn’t do, set the record straight in the only way she can without offering a proper explanation for the lack of…things. “Hands off.” 

Hands off, because she’s not fully convinced that she’s not going to panic if there’s pressure on her head, when she’s made . This is the only one thing she needs, to be in the driver’s seat. She needs for this to end in a boost in confidence, not disaster, and she sees Elliot’s eyes narrow, but he nods in understanding, silently communicating that he gets how important this part is. 

He swallows hard, puts both his hands at either side of his legs. “Hands off,” he agrees. 

She licks her lips, and she’s not at all nervous, because everything about this feels right, and so she goes for it without hesitation, lowering herself until she’s level with his penis, giving it a playful nudge with her nose before her tongue connects to the tip of it. It makes Elliot shudder and breathe out, and it pleases her when she steals his breath by kissing her way down the underside of his shaft and dragging her flat wetted tongue all the way back up before taking him in her mouth. She could swear she gets a little wet besides the lube, arousal swirling in her stomach and pulsing between her legs, distracting. 

He’s hard and leaks drops of salty from pre-cum that she sucks off and swallows down with a pleasurable hum. It surprises her to find she likes his taste spreading on her tongue. Her fingers spill on his thighs, massaging them as she hooks her thumb around the base of Elliot’s length and slides him a little further into her mouth. 

She fixes him with her gaze, long lashes fluttering open as she brings in her tongue, plays with him, and fuck, she can hardly take the way his quickening breath and swelling cock in her mouth makes her feel–powerful and salacious. 

She takes him slowly, takes her time to get to know him like this, paying attention to the tells of his body, the way he reacts to her as she indulges him. He stiffens and moans as she sets a rhythm, slow movement, moderate suction. For a while she solely focuses on the tip. Elliot balls his hands to fist when Olivia gradually slides him deeper into her mouth, bobbing up and down his shaft, until he’s at the apex of in her throat. It makes her enthusiastic, the blowjob a little more sloppy, now, and when she pushes past that point and almost gags, she releases him to catch her breath, looking at him misty eyed but smiling, her cheeks flushed, thinking how she’s definitely out of practice. She also prefers a different angle when it comes to deep oral, realizing this position never really worked for her in terms of tolerating more. 

Elliot’s eyes are hooded and the look on his face is so soft, she can only see it as pure love. He relaxes slightly, watches as she uses her hand again, his mouth falling open. Then he reaches for her, cups her neck and part of her jaw, and his thumb swipes across her bottom lip where she catches it with her teeth, nudging her tongue against the pad. 

“God, I love you, you know that?” 

“Uh-huh,” she manages around his thumb before releasing it, her hand keeping up with its slow firm strokes. “Want me to keep going? Because I like the way you taste. Like the way you feel in my mouth.” There’s a hint of shyness in her words, and she bites her lip as heat rises to her head. 

At that he sucks in a breath, blows it back out slowly. 

“Liv, Jesus…” And then: “Come back up here.” 

She pouts at that, but her joints welcome the change in position as she does as he says and pushes up to her feet before she’s back in his lap, his erection wedged in between their bodies. 

“You’re incredible,” he whispers. “I’m not quite sure what’s going on, but…” 

“Nothing’s going on,” she assures, brushing her fingers across the back of his neck, nudging her nose against Elliot’s, her lips hovering right in front of his. 

“Feels different.” 

She wraps her arms around his neck, pushing their upper bodies closer together. 

“This is all me. And I want it to be all you.” 

“I don’t think I understand,” he says as she starts to rock herself against him. 

“Don’t hold back.” 

“I’m not hol-” 

“You know what I want, Elliot?” Her voice is thick and sultry, done with talking about who’s been holding back, she just wants to change it. She pulls back just enough to see his face, the way his brows arch curiously. 

“What?” he prods. 

“I want you to fuck me. Really fuck me.” 

His breath catches and his eyes narrow, and he looks at her like he’s not quite sure if she means it, like this can’t possibly be her , but then he swallows and nods and looks between them, and he’s so fucking close when he says, deadpans really: “Fuck you.” 

“Yeah, fuck me,” she breathes, and the air is suddenly thick with tension around them. She seeks his mouth, licks the seal of his lips as she cups his face in her hands. “Been wanting that for a while now.” One, two, three seconds pass. She pulses with need and she thinks she’s going to go sheer crazy if he’s going to make her beg for this. “Hard. And deep. And without restraint.” 

Elliot’s hands are on her thighs, rubbing, and then, as if trying something out, he squeezes, presses his open palm, his fingers into her flesh, kneading it until it heats and reddens slightly underneath. He’s neither gentle nor bruising, and she breathes out a moan at the intensity of his touch seeping into her skin. 

“That’s it,” she encourages. “Make me feel it, baby.” 

She never talks that way ever, using pet names (to be truthful, she finds it ridiculous), but it drives her point home, and she’s not above doing this for him when she knows he likes it. She’ll gladly play the part. It’s like she’s flipped a switch, because now he’s on her, a hand flying up to capture her jaw, his mouth all over hers, prying her lips apart with his tongue and searing kisses. 

Her mouth is suddenly full of him and she pants as he yanks her up, and air meets her heat, and when she wants to lower herself back down, wants to feel his cock prodding where she needs him, he holds her in place, not allowing her to get the ‘just before’ that she confessed to loving this morning, and she growls with frustration. 

Then his hand is right there, palming her, and it’s too much and too little all at once, making her legs quiver as he swipes his tongue against the roof of her mouth, breaking apart to talk as he slides his hand up and down. 

“You’re all lubed up.” 

“Didn’t wanna waste any time.”

Elliot dips a finger into her, just past the knuckle, watching her bite her lip, bite it hard. He adds another, focused on her reaction, teases her, and then pushes them up to the hilt. 

It’s everything , and she wishes he’d not wait her out, that he’d just keep going, pull out and plunge back in until her head spins. 

“Elliot,” she pleads, and as if he knows what she’s about to say he presses deeper, does the things he knows she likes, the things that are familiar to him. 

“I know,” he pushes past clenched teeth. “But Jesus, Liv, let my brain catch up. I need a fucking minute here.” 

And for a second insecurity rears its ugly head, making her reconsider all of this. 

“El, if this… I don’t wanna-” 

“S’fine, I just need a sec, and then you tell me what you need,” he says, his voice gravel, allowing her to settle against his hand. Olivia’s face softens, and she couldn’t love him more. Everything changes, not just for her, but for him, too. He may love every second of this, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t need to find his footing in this new role. It’s not like they talked about it, after all. She figured it would be easier to just… jump right in, talk later. 

“Okay,” she agrees on a breath, cradling his head to her chest. “I’ve got you.” 

 


 

“Okay. I’ve got you.” 

With his face nudged into those glorious breasts of hers he wonders what kind of parallel universe they have entered when Olivia, his Olivia, came back downstairs, wearing that maddening little number. This Olivia who speaks in a sultry voice, teasing him only to sink her head between his legs and suck him off just the way he likes it. Olivia who told him to fuck her hard and deep? Was that what she asked for? Either way, he’s not sure what the hell is going on. He’s not complaining. He’s really not, because that would be stupid, and he’s not a stupid man. Well, not that stupid, at least. It’s just that he needs to think , to get behind all of this, ahead of it, really, understand where she’s coming from all of a sudden. 

Everything he thought he knew about her, the things that she likes? He’s certain she still likes them, but clearly there are things she didn’t yet tell him, things she’s been holding back. Of course he’s not opposed to the idea of fucking her. Of not showing restraint. He loves her, and there’s not a single thing he wouldn’t do for her if she asked him to, but it’s a lot of change all at once, and his head is spinning with this Olivia, who knows exactly what she wants and doesn’t shy away from being quite direct about naming them. 

His fingers are sunken deep in her and she’s warm and slippery, and God, she’s planned this and perched herself onto his lap just waiting to be touched. She threw herself into this sinfully sexy thing made of lace and lubed up, sauntering back into this room with the intention of seducing him. Kind of surprising when she damn near brushed him off earlier, but again: he’s not complaining, he’s just trying to keep… breathing. 

She smells warm and musky, that amazing scent that’s sweet and flowery, yet rich and earthy at the same time, and everything about her is so goddamn soft and intoxicating. 

Again her words penetrate his ear, a promise muttered, and he needs it, needs to hear it again, that she’s got him, because he feels like falling into a place he doesn’t yet know, and it’s a little scary to think that he could somehow get this wrong, that he could misunderstand her. It’s hard to let himself fall into an unknown with her, not when she’s always been so… reserved? Three, four weeks ago she could hardly stand when he was looking at her, and now here she is, and it seems all she wants him to do is look and revel in her beauty, her luscious curves. 

He thought he knew what her encouragement looked like, but this is different, everything is different. Olivia’s newfound confidence, the sexy nightgown, the way that she talks. He needs to know that she really wants this, that he’s not going to push her boundaries and do something she’s not okay with, so he’s more than happy for a little guidance. 

God, he wishes they would have talked about this before, since apparently she’s been thinking about this for longer. 

He has no problem with more enthusiastic sex, with fucking , if that’s what she wants to call it. But he also enjoys sex on the slower side, feeling that deep connection, and it’s defintely there with Liv. Going at her pace, taking her cue, it worked for him, and with all the trauma, especially lately, this was the last thing he expected. 

How was he supposed to foresee that a passionate ‘Fuck!’ would turn into ‘Fuck me.” or that they’d go from handjobs to fellatio and ‘I love how you feel in my mouth’. Long story short: if Olivia plans on putting him in an early grave, she damn near succeeded. 

Elliot thinks of the conversation they had after their late breakfast, when Olivia spoke about conquering her trauma, or something to that effect, that he helped her find the woman she used to be, that she feels like herself again. This morning when they made love she talked about feeling wanted and sexy. Clearly something has changed, something big. He loves that she seems to have found more confidence, in her body, in herself. Loves even more that she’s not shying away from showing him her true colors, that she’s comfortable asking him for things–not that it has ever been a problem. When she liked something, she’d always let him know one way or another, just like she told him when she didn’t. 

That should be his focus, he thinks. What she wants. The things she needs, things that are going to make her feel good and womanly, so if she wants him to fuck her, he’s damn well going to. He’d cater to her, find new ways to move against her, in her, showing her how desperately, how completely he loves her. 

Olivia.  

Eventually he manages to draw a full breath, fill his lungs with oxygen and the essence of her. The arm that’s still wrapped around her waist tightens, pulls her closer, and then he moves, starts to fuck into her with those leisurely strokes she always used to enjoy, his fingers tilted the way she likes because he hits that spot. Her head drops forward and her breathing changes, quickens that little bit more as her thumb strokes the back of his head, so he quickens, too, pulls back further, plunges back in. 

“Tell me.” Because now he’s ready, now he’ll hear her, follow her lead. 

“Hard. And fast.”

Chapter Text

Olivia’s different like this. 

Her voice is deeper, guttural. She’s vocal, a little vulgar. Demanding. 

Moves against him, moans, just that little more responsive as he fucks her with two, then three fingers (“Three,” she’d panted against his lips, sounding hoarse. “Fuck me with three.”), riding his hand whenever he dares to slow, when his wrist nearly spasms with the odd angle and strain. It‘s fast (the build up wasn‘t), but she‘s wholly into this. 

Her hands are placed on his shoulders, nails digging into the material of his shirt, his skin. Olivia’s certainly going to leave marks, and there’s something highly erotic about the idea of crescent moon shaped red indentations on him. 

When she clenches and makes more high-pitched sounds, she grabs his arm, makes him stop, her mouth hanging open, quivering, and he waits for that shudder of her body, for her eyes to roll fully back into her head in a final release of pleasure, but she doesn’t come, fights it and lets it ebb away instead. 

“Fuck. Shit,” she gasps, her eyes slipping closed as she draws in a few breaths and rocks herself against his hand with delicacy, riding out the waves of that almost-but-not-quite climax. “Okay. Keep going,“ she hums. 

Elliot gets it then: she’s edging herself, denies herself the climax, now to make it more powerful when she comes. It makes him go from hard to painful, aching for some relief. It’s getting harder and harder not to just flip her and drive into her in the way he really wants, no matter how much he enjoys the sight of her unraveling in front of him, for him, her skin shimmering golden in the heat of the fire and her face flushed and wanton. 

 


 

By God, she doesn’t remember the last time she felt this kind of rush that wiped her brain clean from anything else in existence other than this very moment. She feels completely boneless, lightheaded from the way she’s panting and gasping for air. Elliot’s hands bite into the flesh of her hip as he’s relentlessly pounding into her, his skin slapping against hers sounding like an angel’s choir to her ears.

They are three rounds deep and she’s four orgasms in (and Lord knows he’s railed them out of her like she wouldn’t have believed) chasing that fifth high when she already can’t think straight. 

She grips the lip of the island for leverage, although it’s pointless, her thighs and hipbone will be pretty banged up by morning, and the thought makes her proud, makes her hornier as she gasps out his name. 

“Elliot.” And: “So good.” 

He fucks her hard and deep, and she’s never been particularly loud, but she is tonight, because there’s not a single reason to keep her voice down in this cabin. There’s no one around to hear the obscenities that leave her mouth, except Elliot, and he’s fully encouraging her to keep the filth coming. Whenever shyness creeps up on her, she defies its clutches, deciding to live in the moment, to celebrate this, because how often do they truly get the opportunity to say whatever they want without worrying about someone overhearing? 

So tonight is liquid heat and orgasms that steal her breath away. It’s ‘Fuck me harder’ and ‘Slap my ass’, and ‘I’ll do anything you want.’(She’s not even going to think about why she said that, what it means.)  

Around him she clenches, close, so so close, and he feels it, or simply knows, slipping his arms around her. He finds her clit, panting into her ear. “C’mon now”, and rolls her between his thumb and finger. Within two seconds her knees buckle and she collapses onto the cool, smooth surface of the kitchen island. Elliot’s not letting up, ramming into her with hard, pointed thrusts and then she’s coming and coming with an intensity that makes her see purple sparkles, and she swears she goes deaf at the height of it, crying out her release in a mantra of: “Oh my god... oh my... fu---cking GOD… oh God!”

When she comes to, she's hardly standing, hot and sweaty, and Elliot’s arm is still wrapped around her, but he’s still now, his lips ghosting over her shoulders as he mutters: “That’s it. Keep coming for me.” and “Just come.” And she realizes she is, moaning through clenched teeth, the noises deep and raw and stripped from human decency. Where they are joined it’s wet and sticky, and she’s not entirely sure, but she thinks she either squirted or peed herself–she’s not nearly lucid enough to care either way–and she giggles hysterically when her face heats and her blood pumps in her veins like a freight train.

Elliot’s gently stroking up her soft belly, down her spine with the other hand before he picks her up (she’s too spent, so she just keeps laying there on the kitchen island, allowing her body to cool off) and gathers her in a tight embrace whilst she’s still catching her breath, scattering kisses anywhere his lips can reach, and she’s so grateful for tonight, this, him , that she gets misty eyed. She’s completely spent and a little emotional, so she hugs him tight. 

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” she breathes. “You have no idea how much I needed that.” 

His hand in her hair, playing with it, and he’s so gentle now, she thinks she’s going to shatter and cry. 

“You okay?”

“Yeah,” she nods, chuckling. “Not gonna be able to walk tomorrow, but otherwise fine.” She definitely feels a pleasant burn between her legs, but that was the point. He reaches for the paper towels, stuffing a couple in her hand, and she wipes herself clean as best as she can. 

After Elliot guides her to the sofa where their clothes are on a haphazard pile on the floor. Olivia plops down, taking a deep breath. She still feels comfortably numb in the head, but buzzing everywhere else. When Elliot offers her her glass she accepts it, smiling, settling against his body, her own humming with pleasure. One arm is wrapped around her, his fingers dancing across the skin of her upper arm, her breast, and she settles against his warm, slick body, placing a kiss on his collarbone. 

“For being in our mid fifties, that wasn’t too bad, was it?” she coaxes, smirking. There’s no question whether Elliot enjoyed it, but she wonders what he thinks, if he thinks anything about it at all. 

“Pretty damn fantastic if you ask me,” he smiles. “Although I’m still not sure what this was.” 

“You need a summary?” Olivia teases, trying to underplay the vulnerability she feels, now, her fingertips drawing circles on his thigh. 

“You don’t wanna talk about it,” he says, sounding matter-of-fact.

She wants to tell him it’s not that, but a part of her really doesn’t want to talk about Cassidy or Tucker while they’re sitting here naked, still sticky and sweaty with sex and all kinds of bodily fluids, bathing in the afterglow. 

“I just missed this,“ she says quietly, slipping her fingers into his. "Sex, where I don‘t think . I know I was… cautious? Insecure? Uncomfortable with the idea of… I don‘t know why, but it was hard for me to let go and be in the moment. After everything that happened… maybe I needed someone I trusted completely. I enjoy everything we do, but it felt safe to… want more? Allow myself to feel everything, to want things I enjoyed before… with you. I didn‘t feel that way with anybody else. Does that make sense?“ She looks up at him, hopeful that he’ll understand the things she doesn’t say. That this was something she didn’t share with the other men she’s been with after Lewis–that something was taken from her, that she is only now getting back with him, because there’s no other person in the world she trusts more with the most intimate aspects of her life, nobody else she trusts more not to hurt her. 

“That makes perfect sense,” His expression is soft. “Thank you.” 

“What for?” 

“Trusting me. It means the world to me, Liv,” he whispers, stunning her. 

“Yeah?” She can’t quite stop the smile that stretches across her lips. 

Instead of answering Elliot cups Olivia’s jaw, tilting up her head to capture her lips in an unhurried kiss, and she closes her eyes, allowing herself to fall into his gratitude and safety. 

He tastes like wine, tastes like her, and the kiss makes her heady with its slowness. She revels in the warmth of his body, in their nakedness that underscores their intimate togetherness, and all she can think as she slips her arms around his neck is how much she loves this man, how much she loves the way he loves her. The heat from before is gone. There’s no urgency in the way they touch and kiss and want each other. She breathes him in and out, their tongues touch and nudge, but it’s tender and sweet and all-consuming in a different, quiet way. Against his lips Olivia smiles, breathes out the only thing that occupies her mind. 

“I’m so in love with you.” 

Elliot is her end, her beginning, her everything in between. 

 


 

After a week at the cabin where it was just them and peaceful quiet it feels unreal to sit in the car, on their way back to the city. 

Olivia’s excited to see Noah, not so excited for work, and she knows all good things come to an end, but she loved it here, their little sanctuary in the woods, a place to love and feel and heal. 

They’ve found something priceless here, something that went past trust and comfort in each other, a closeness she wasn’t quite sure she could have, even with Elliot. She ripped open the scars and let Elliot be there as she bled William Lewis out, letting him go. 

It’s odd to think that they return the same people, yet totally different. Stronger. Better. With each other. Mainly, however, for each other. 

She looks out the window as Elliot steers the car onto the main road, watching the trees passing by, their stomping ground for a week. There’s a melancholy she can’t quite place, because wasn’t it her who thought this place would be a little too woodsy? She smiles, props an elbow against the passenger door, thinking she’s going to miss this. Waking next to Elliot under heavy and warm duvets. Late mornings filled with cuddling and lazy lovemaking. Walks in brisk air, kicking up susurrant leaves. Long nights by the fire, both of them drunk on love and wine. Sex. Lots and lots of sex whenever they wanted, wherever they wanted. It was pretty heavenly, the freedom of just being

“I’m gonna miss it.” 

She’s not aware she said it out loud until Elliot’s hand finds hers resting in her lap, wrapping it in his, offering warm comfort. 

“Me too.” 

She gazes at their joined hands, then looks at his profile and smiles. 

“It’s been pretty domestic, don’t you think? You and me?” 

He smirks, snorts, looking at her briefly. “Domestic isn’t the first thing that comes to mind for me, but I guess so.” 

Rolling her eyes she puts her head against the rest, looking out the passenger window. Of course he thinks of the sex, there’s been too much of it in the past week for his mind not to go there. “You know what I mean.” She waits a beat, contemplating if she should say what she thinks of saying. “Was nice, you know? Waking up next to you every morning. Spending the days together…” 

She feels Elliot’s eyes on her profile now, his gaze hot and drilling, and she almost wants to backtrack when he doesn’t say anything, because she can hear him think , and she doesn’t know if that’s good or bad. It’s not like she’s proposing anything, and she thinks she should tell him that, reassure him that she didn’t mean it like that .  Like she wants that, now, because she doesn’t (It’s just that she can’t get it off her mind, either). 

She wonders what that means. (She knows what it means.) 

He’s too quiet, which is not like him, so she needs to say something, and do it quickly. 

“Elliot, I didn’t-” 

“I think we should move in together,” he blurts out, and Olivia forgets to breathe. From her periphery she sees his head turn, glancing back and forth between the road and her, and he’s waiting her out for a few long moments. There are a million things she wants to say, only she can’t bring her mouth to work, to say anything. 

“If you want. Not right away, not before the end of the school year, and we’d have to discuss it with Eli and Noah first.” She can hear him swallow, his hand in hers turning sweaty. “I’m just saying if that’s something you want… is… is that something you want?” He sounds insecure, rambling, his neck flushed with embarrassment, and then he’s giving her an out. “s’okay if it’s not.” 

It’s not the out that she wants. 

Olivia wants to know what it’s like to build a life, to build a home. One could argue that she already tried that with Cassidy, but moving in with him hadn’t been a next logical step in a blossoming relationship, it was an overreaction. It was utter fear at the idea of living alone, of not having anybody in her life who was going to miss her if she didn’t come home. 

The reasons she has for wanting this with Elliot are decidedly different, free of pretenses and guilt.

She wants it for the feeling of his arm draped around her middle and his face nuzzling her neck, for kisses that taste like sleep and morning breath that somehow taste sweet anyway. She wants it for rushed work days with coffees in to-go cups and drawn out pancake breakfasts on weekends with a teenager and a pre-teen who won’t get out of bed. She wants a closet where it’s more than a backup suit and a couple of spare boxers in her underwear drawer, and a bathroom where it’s Elliot’s main toothbrush and a full sized bottle of his cologne and shaving gel next to her skin care products. 

Biting her bottom lip, she lets her mind wander, wondering what their life could look like together, and it should scare the crap out of her, and if she gives in to what’s lingering just below the surface, she’ll find that there’s a part of her that’s scared shitless that something could go wrong, that it could all blow up in their faces. But that’s not what she says when she finally speaks. 

“You mean it? You want to live with me?” It’s hard to conceal how her heartbeat thumps in her veins with happiness and excitement, how there’s a big fat smile splitting her face, now. 

Elliot Stabler is asking her if she, by any chance, wants to move in together, and he’s as far from keeping his cool about it as she is. 

“Yes, I want to live with you.” He’s trying hard to sound casual, to keep a straight face as he squeezes her hand. 

For a moment she thinks they shouldn’t, that maybe there’s only so much she deserves. That it’s too much too soon, that they shouldn’t consider anything before talking it through with the kids, that maybe he’s not thinking straight because of too much sex and too little of an idea what every day life with her and Noah will be like. Then she remembers that this is Elliot, that they are on the same page, and they’ve been through enough shit since he came back (and well before that) for him to expect it’ll all be smooth sailing. He doesn’t ask because he expects to recreate a dreamy vacation, he asks because he wants to build a life with her, too. 

Elliot. 

Her. 

The kids.

There’s nothing else she can think of that she wants more, and if they weren’t such casual people, she’d tell him that. Instead she takes a breath and shrugs. "Well, in that case–yes. I think we should put some thought into that." 

Their eyes meet, his gaze soft and glassy, hers certain, both of them on the same page, open to everything their future together holds. 

Not too long ago Olivia wasn’t convinced that happiness was meant for her. It’s now when Elliot picks up her hand and kisses her knuckles that she knows she found it. 

Happiness–it’s worth holding on to. 

Worth fighting for. 

Believing in.

Living. 

Chapter Text

Epilogue 


 

“There. Right there. That’s it.” 

“Like this?” 

“Yes. Oh God, that’s perfect. Move. Let me–” 

Elliot steps away from the wall and into her personal space while Olivia stands mesmerized, arms crossed, a satisfied smile on her face. 

She’d stored the painting in a safe place high up on her closet, wrapped in paper, since Elliot gave it to her as a Christmas present, late in the night after they returned back to her place after celebrating at Maureen’s, when it was just the two of them. When she’d carefully peeled off the wrapping paper, Olivia couldn’t quite believe what she saw–couldn’t wrap her head around what Elliot had done for her, that he’d known how much this gift would mean to her.

That night she’d spilled many happy tears, had listened to Elliot tell her how he’d purchased the painting the very next day on the phone, and had it shipped to his place a week later, because he had no means of retrieving it without arousing her suspicion.  

They’d held back on talking with the kids about getting a place together (she’d asked Elliot for some time just to process, give her a chance to hint at the idea to Noah before they made it a big thing), but it had been that same night that she decided to just go for it, that there was no point in holding off when the boys would both have a say. At the end of the day it was okay with Noah, and Eli… he wasn’t overly surprised, more bothered about having to change schools than anything else. 

He slips his arms around her, breathing, “Happy?” into her ear.

A warm shudder rolling down her spine that’s in part due to his proximity and suggestive tone and in part due to her marveling at the painting that is now adorning the wall of her office in their new home. 

She leans back against him, humming in agreement. “Very.” Tilting her head she turns just enough to kiss his jaw. “More than that.” 

He‘s intrigued, now, skimming his knuckles up her arm. "Yeah? What else?“

"Hmmmm, Let‘s start with… grateful,“ she purrs. "For doing my office first.“ 

"You said you have work,“ he reasons, easily. "Work trumps a room to sleep in. Or a bed for that matter.“ 

Swatting his arm she laughs. It‘s not like she told him this office should be his first priority, just that she had, in fact, a lot of paperwork that accumulated in the past week with them painting and moving their stuff over from their respective places.

They have found this four bedroom after five months of searching. It hadn‘t been easy finding something suitable, spacious enough for a family of four, while still accessible (they aren’t getting any younger, and Olivia made it a point that this will be her last move) while close enough to their respective workplaces. There were moments when it seemed impossible they’d ever move, where they figured their budget was too small and their expectations too high, but eventually they found this little fixer-upper of a condo. It's charming with brick walls and a spacious living area and open kitchen, only one bathroom but the little patio leading out back makes up for it (it’s ragged, and Olivia has no idea when it comes to gardening but Bernie already offered her expertise). The place is a work in progress that’ll keep Elliot busy for a while, but it almost fit their budget and felt like home when they first entered it with their keys, and if it will take a couple of years until it’s perfect (she has so many ideas), then that’s absolutely fine with her. 

“Seriously though, you should get to it, and I’ll get changed, get done painting today and have the bed set up by tomorrow night. Everything’s packed up, tomorrow is moving day.” 

It sounds a little too good to be true. Olivia’s not as confident with Elliot’s time management as he is. Eli’s got his mind set on putting his stuff together on his own and helping with Noah’s (they painted their own rooms together yesterday), but even so it’s a pretty tight schedule that has her convinced she’s going to sleep on a mattress, but not in a bed. She doesn’t tell Elliot that, instead she wraps her arms around his neck, her face soft as she sways lightly in his arms, her lips tumbling awfully close to his. 

It feels like this moment has been their intended destination all along. 

“I can’t wait,” she breathes. 

When he pulls her face fully against his in a kiss it’s exhilarating and life-affirming, a moment of perfect, unadulterated bliss. 

It’s theirs to grab, to own. 

She’s finally home. 

They are home. 


THE END