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Skyfall

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“You’ve got to meet him!” Amanda insisted, her eyes bright with enthusiasm as she sat across from Oliva who was seated at her desk. Olivia rolled her eyes, removing her glasses and leaning back in her seat, “Amanda... I can’t just bring people into my life these days. I have Noah to worry about,” she replied, her brows furrowed and her tone serious. It was true, she’d hardly dated since ending things with Tucker and she didn’t really anticipate wanting to again. Amanda’s lips tugged downward into a frown, “come on, I met him through an old friend... he’s successful, driven, and he’s a family man! I ran his history for you, he’s never been arrested... man doesn’t even seem to have a parking ticket!”

Olivia arched a brow, tilting her head and flashing the ‘you’ve got to be kidding me’ expression. Amanda continued, “I get trying to protect Noah, but you can’t avoid your own happiness forever,” her tone serious, but laced with concern. It was the tone of a friend who was desperate to look out for someone they care about. Olivia sighed, shaking her head, “Amanda, I’m not sure that... that is in the cards for me,” she said finally, her voice warm but laced with a certain sadness that only those close to her could pick up. In truth, there had never been a man in her life who filled the void left within her, she wasn’t sure such a man existed. Or, rather, she wasn’t sure she could have such a man.

“You can’t give up, Liv,” Amanda retorted, scolding her slightly, “if there isn’t hope for you, then I’m truly screwed...” At that, Olivia laughed and shot an appreciative smile at her colleague...her friend. They hadn’t always been close, but it had been nearly ten years of working side by side now and with each year they’d grown closer. Olivia was still unsure about accepting the date, blind dates didn’t often pan out well... but what was the worst that could happen? They don’t hit it off... she gets out of there... and they never speak again. Harmless, right? The silence between them was tense, she could tell Amanda was hopeful and she hadn’t given much thought to her own needs... she was so focused on the job, on Noah... perhaps she deserved a night for herself. “Alright, I’ll do it,” she agreed, smiling nervously. “I’ll text you the time and place... you go get dressed, Fin and I will hold down the fort here,” Amanda replied with a wry grin, standing from her seat and rushing from the office before Olivia had time to second guess her choice... before she had time to say no.

Some time later, she found herself staring at her closet and wishing she had something suitable for the occasion... dresses were strewn across her bed and she found herself completely unsure of what to wear. She chewed at her lower lip, suddenly aware of why choosing and outfit was so difficult... she was actually *nervous*. She frowned at the realization, feeling annoyed at herself for agreeing to the date... suddenly wishing she could call the whole thing off. She ended up settling on a little black dress... after all, it was the sort of dress that never went out of style. It was form fitting, hugging at her curves, and had a high neckline as well as Long sleeves... as did most of her current outfit choices, a way to conceal the scars that had been left on her body by her encounter with William Lewis.

She examined herself in the mirror once she’d slipped into the dress, smoothing the material and checking that the length was acceptable. It fell to just above her knees, a length that was both tasteful and sexy. The slight slit at the back wasn’t too revealing, but allowed for more ease as she walked. She paired the black dress with silver heels and a matching clutch, ditching her bulky work purse and bringing only essentials. When she turned back to the mirror, she took in her reflection and found herself staring at a woman she hardly recognized without her sensible jackets and boots... she couldn’t recall the last time she’d had an occasion to dress up this way, but she hoped that it would be worth the time she’d taken getting ready.

As she stood there, her phone emitted a small -ding- signifying a text. She retrieved it, glancing at the screen, Amanda’s text gave her the name of a high end Italian restaurant and a time - 19:30. She pressed her lips together and took one last glance in the mirror, breathing out sharply and steeling her nerves... it was just a date, she could always leave if she didn’t enjoy herself. Brushing a hand through her loosely curled brown hair she sighed and turned from the mirror, walking down the short hallway then past her kitchen and living room. She felt as though she might bail if she lingered, so she decided that showing up to the date early couldn’t hurt... worst case she could have a glass of wine to ease her nerves.

When she arrived to the restaurant, she pulled a mask over her face. It was black and matched her dress, one of the fancier masks she had acquired for occasions that required a certain elegance... this date qualified. She felt butterflies in her stomach, a sign of her nerves. She swept the room with her mahogany gaze and found that the restaurant was nearly empty, meaning she would have an easy time spotting her date most likely. So far, her gaze had settled upon couples... with the exception of a single man seated at one of the bar stools. Even from here, she could tell he had money. He was dressed to the nines, an elegant suit that looked designer and was so well fitted she knew it had to be custom. His hair was dark, nearly jet black and looked as though every hair was in place. It had to be him, so she approached tentatively, her heels clicking across the floor.

“Richard?” she inquired, though her voice was somewhat muffled by the mask over her lips. The man turned, his mask was already off, and flashed a debonair smile. Olivia was taken aback by his looks, feeling somewhat flustered and caught off guard. He was handsome, devilishly so. “You must be...Olivia,” Richard Wheatley spoke, enunciating every syllable of her name with care. He offered a hand but hesitated, remembering his new COVID manners, “you should know I was tested today, I’m negative. As soon as the vaccine is available I’ll be getting that. Can’t wait for life to get back to some semblance of normalcy,” he said, his tone cool and practiced. He was hard to read and Olivia found it unsettling, but she tried not to give in to her cop instincts so soon.

She flashed a practiced smile, but quickly realized her mask blocked the majority of it. “I am tested for work quite a bit,” she replied, pausing before adding, “I’m already vaccinated.” Wheatley’s charismatic smile broadened somehow, showing off his perfect teeth and enhancing his good looks, “Ah, yes... your job. Amanda tells me you’re the Captain of Manhattan Special Victims. I have so much respect for your unit and what you do,” he replied, glancing to a waiter and nodding almost imperceptibly. He extended his arm towards the waiter he’d just signaled and added, “come, our table is already prepared... let’s get more comfortable.” She nodded, smiling, though her mask concealed it. She wasn’t sure about him yet, but he certainly played the role of the perfect gentleman well.

She followed the waiter hoping for a table near the windows, but instead found their table was tucked in a corner. She noted, as she sat, that from this corner you could see every single entrance and exit. She glanced at her companion, narrowing her eyes imperceptibly as she considered him... something still had her wondering about him, but time would tell. She reached up and removed her mask, using her blackened phone screen to ensure that her lipstick hadn’t smudged horribly. She had opted for a nude shaded to minimize complications from the mask... but she still didn’t want to have a rogue smudge marring her face. Satisfied that she looked fine, she placed her phone and mask into her clutch and tucked it on the seat beside her.

When her gaze rose to Richard’s she found him watching her with a fascinated expression. “I must admit, when I was told you were beautiful, I didn’t expect you to be as magnificent as you are, Olivia... I’m practically speechless,” he said after a moment, the hint of a smile tugging at his lips. She felt a slight heat rise in her cheeks and a coy smile took hold of elegant features, “you flatter me,” she mused, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. She couldn’t recall the last time she’d been complimented like that... and with that simple action one of her lines of defense lowered its guard. “So...” she added, chewing her lower lip for a second as she phrased her question, “what exactly do you do for work?” she inquired, her voice calm and laced with subtle intrigue. At this Richard chuckled slightly and grasped a glass of water, raising it to his lips and taking a long sip. “I dabble in a little of everything... I’m a bit of a Jack of all trades that way, though currently I’m the head of an online pharmaceutical company called Contrapos,” he replied, his tone confident and cool. He wasn’t bragging, she noted... and he also wasn’t lying, though something about him still had her slightly on edge.

“Good evening, my name is Sal and I will be serving you this evening,” the waiter said as he approached, placing their conversation about professions on hold, “What would you like to drink?” Olivia noticed that the waiter, while talking to them both was looking to Richard... clearly he was a regular here and the staff knew him. Richard, however, was looking at her with admiration in his gaze. “Tell me, Olivia,” he spoke, using her full name and letting his tone caress each syllable, “do you enjoy wine?” He flashed her that devilishly handsome smile and, for the second time, she felt the hint of butterflies in her stomach. She matched his smile and nodded, “I prefer reds, generally Cabernets,” she replied, her tone gracious and laced with a hint of warmth. She was, in spite of her initial misgivings, enjoying herself... Richard was proving to be the gentleman she’d been led to believe he was.

Richard smiled at her, his sharp gaze flicking to the waiter and he simply nodded, an unspoken request. Without a word, the waiter bowed his head slightly and departed. Olivia’s brows were furrowed and when Richard’s gaze returned to her, there was a brief flicker of another smile, “If you can’t tell... I’m a regular here. My father’s friend owns the restaurant... I’m particularly fond of their pasta - made in house,” he offered, his tone calm and warmer than it had been. Clearly, he was growing more comfortable as well. She half-smiled and nodded, “you’re a well connected man, Richard,” she replied, her tone more casual than even she expected. She was surprisingly relaxed and was well aware that this was one of the more pleasant dates she’d been on in years. “So, tell me more about you,” she said, leaning forward onto her elbow and placing her chin in her palm, “Do you have a big family?”

Richard chuckled, fiddling with his silverware idly, “in all honesty, my family is quite large... and complex,” he admitted, pausing briefly before adding, “You should know I was married once before... and we had three kids together. She’s still quite involved in my day to day life, as I have custody of two of our children: Richie and Dana.” She smiled warmly, relief flooding through her... he had kids and a complex family life, meaning he may be more understanding of her own complex life and Noah. “Three kids, wow,” she replied, shaking her head slightly which caused her loose curls to bounce against one another, “that’s wonderful. I have a son, his name is Noah.” Anyone in the room would’ve seen it, the way her entire being lit up at the mention of her son. It was something that was not lost on Richard Wheatley, he leaned forward ever so slightly and smiled warmly, “how old is he?” he inquired, engaging her on a topic she clearly cared about.

Normally, she would avoid discussing her son with a stranger... a habit for a police officer who had already dealt with one abduction and several threats against her son, but her defenses were already disarmed by his charm and the fact that he came with such glowing recommendations. She jumped at the chance to discuss her son... to brag about him and tell someone how proud she was, “He’s eight,” she replied, pride oozing from her as she spoke, “he’s so bright, so sweet... and he’s a dancer. I’m so proud of the boy he’s growing up to be.” Her pride and joy was infectious, Richard found himself smiling warmly at her. He’d been about to reply when the waiter returned with the restaurant’s finest Cabernet Sauvignon, from Italy. The waiter extended the bottle to Richard, holding it by its neck and supporting it with the palm of his hand to that Richard could examine the bottle. Richard flashed a confirmatory smile and nodded, “Perfect, Sal, thank you.”

Sal inclined his head, carefully uncorking the wine in the most elegant of ways... popping it from the bottle with the ease of a practiced hand. He poured a sample into each of their glasses, Olivia’s first and then Richard’s, allowing them each to taste it before he poured a full glass. Olivia smelled the wine, the way she had seen wine connoisseurs do on the food network, swirled it around her glass and took a small sip, savoring it’s flavour. It was perfect, though the intricacies of fine wine were lost on her...less expensive pallet. Richard nodded again, demonstrating his approval of the wine and Sal took each of their glasses, pouring a hefty portion. He left the bottle on the table, then inquired, “Are you both ready to order?” That’s when Olivia realized that she hadn’t even taken a glance at the menu, she’d been to enthralled with their conversation. She gaped, hesitating, but Richard answered for her, “you know, Sal, we have both been so engrossed in our conversation that we hadn’t even looked at the menu. Give us a minute?” She nodded, looking from Richard to Sal and smiling somewhat nervously. Olivia chuckled as he walked away, picking up her menu which had been laid before her when they’d arrived at the table, but they’d both neglected it, “I rarely eat at new places these days,” she admitted aloud, perusing the menu as she spoke, “any recommendations?”

She glanced at him over the menu and noticed that he hadn’t picked up his, he was instead observing her with intrigue and a hint of... desire. She felt heat rise in her cheeks at the thought, her heart racing dangerously. There was a long pause before he spoke, “I’m partial to the eggplant parmigiana,” he replied, his tone more casual than she’d expect given the look she’d received, “but since they make their pasta and ravioli in house, you can really never go wrong...” She mulled over his words and found that her eyes looked but didn’t see the menu... she was focused on him, the scent of his expensive cologne that she could smell from this distance. She swallowed dryly and reached for her water, taking a sip as she closed her menu and flashed a nervous smile. Richard either didn’t notice or he pitied her and chose not to mention her nerves. Instead, he reached for his glass and held it delicately, raising it in her direction, “a toast,” he proposed, and she picked up her glass extending it towards him, “to getting to know one another on a deeper level... you see, Olivia, I feel like I know you. We share a love of our children, a devotion to our jobs, and... a lack of someone with which to share it. I know you, because we are so very alike... so, a toast to us and whatever the future may hold.”

Their glasses made a delicate -clink- as they collided and she smiled more naturally before bringing her glass to her lips and taking another, longer, sip of the garnet liquid. It was the sort of wine that held only subtle fruity undertones and nearly no sweetness. Olivia had taken his words to heart and she found herself feeling similarly... she did feel in some ways as though she knew him. She knew what it was to hold yourself back from love... to put everyone else in your life ahead of you, to guard your heart against even the possibility of hurt by avoiding love altogether. Her misgivings about Richard Wheatley were vanishing faster than the wine in her glass... she considered him, her deep brown gaze focused on his bright blue eyes. He was an enigma, a mystery, and yet he was so familiar. There was an easy chemistry between them and she found herself lost in his gaze for a moment. “Yes,” she agreed, a bit later than intended for her foray into the depths of his vibrant blue gaze, “I agree with what you said, somehow despite having just met you I feel as though there is an ease between us. It’s a welcomed change to my usual...encounters.”

He smiled, a knowing smile, “I’ll admit, I’ve had my fair share of bad experiences with dating,” he concurred, taking a sip of his wine, “then again, I have a bad habit of dating beautiful women whose intentions aren’t always aligned with my own... the last time I dated a woman anywhere near as impressive as you, I ended up married to her.” That was a direct compliment and Olivia felt her cheeks flush slightly, feeling instantly flustered by the ease with which he said those words. She bit at her lip, glancing down at the menu once again and trying to keep her composure. After a few moments, she shut the menu and lifted her gaze to him, “I think I’ll get the mushroom ravioli, sounds delicious,” she said, avoiding the compliment he had paid her, avoiding the second half of his statement... she hadn’t yet explained that she had never been married, that Noah was adopted... In truth, there was still quite a bit that he didn’t know about her.

Sal returned to the table once her menu had been shut and placed on the table before her. She ordered her meal quickly, making sure to flash a practiced smile at the waiter after she ordered. She found her gaze drawn to him as he ordered his meal, observing his face and each of the micro-movements of his expression. Their conversation slowed for a few moments, but Richard decided to break it in a substantial way, “So, you’re the Captain of Manhattan Special Victims,” he began, flashing a charismatic smile before continuing, “you must be very proud... I can only imagine how much work has gone into you gaining that title. I’ll admit, I have lived in New York for a long time and even I was aware of your case against William Lewis... I’m surprised that you chose to remain in the unit after a run in like that...” It was abundantly clear from the way in which he brought it up that he had no experience with survivors... it was also clear that he may not understand the extent of her ordeals with William Lewis.

Initially, she tensed at the mention of Lewis, but she also knew that Richard was likely trying to learn more about her... and, unfortunately, what had happened between her and William Lewis had been a foundational shift in her character, her life. She hesitated briefly, considering her response, “I actually had several encounters with William Lewis,” she began, her words tentative as she fiddled with the hem of her sleeve, “it was difficult to come back, but in some ways I feel like I was born to be a part of this unit, to run it. My mother... my mother was the victim of a rape and that led to my conception. Instead of taking after the monster who had fathered me, I overcorrected and became a cop.” Her honesty surprised ever herself, but Richard Wheatley took it in stride.

He reached across the table and laid his hand over hers, “I’m sorry, I can see I’ve brought up a difficult subject... I didn’t mean to cross a line. My father isn’t the best of men either, I’ve done everything I can to distance myself from that legacy... I even took my ex’s last name when we married and kept it.” Her jaw dropped, slightly, her lips pursed. Her eyes dropped to their hands, still touching, then rose to meet his unwavering gaze. She swallowed, nervously, but fought the urge to jerk her hand back... something kept her frozen in that moment, her stomach doing a nervous backflip. “It’s alright,” she said finally, finding her voice, “it’s natural for you - for anyone - who was aware of the case to inquire... it was a difficult time in my life, thankfully before Noah.” Richard nodded, his face a solemn mask of understanding, and he stroked the back of her hand with his thumb. The butterflies returned to her stomach and she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear with her other hand before taking another sip of wine.

They were silent for a while, but over time the conversation returned to a normal pace. The remainder of their conversation consisted of idle topics... his work, her work, and even his children. The dinner was delicious and she found herself enjoying the evening far more than she had expected. She was still aware of something in the back of her mind that nagged at her, something that kept her just slightly on edge... unable to fully relax and let her guard down. Then again, she couldn’t recall a time in which she had let her guard down fully in well over a decade. When the check arrived Wheatley snatched it and held up a hand, “I can already hear the potential offer to split it, but I’m old fashioned this way... beautiful women deserve to be treated for dinner,” he said, retrieving his wallet and paying for the meal. Olivia shook her head, smiling, and took a sip of water. She’d had enough to drink that she was questioning her desire to drive home, despite her decision to drive herself to the date.

As if she had said it out loud, Richard spoke, “We’ve had quite a bit to drink... let my driver take you home, will you? I couldn’t stand the thought of you getting into an accident. My other associate can drive your car to your apartment if you’d like, so you have it for work tomorrow?” They were so in sync somehow, it was eerie, but she nodded, “That’s a good plan, I’ll admit... I did drive here with the intention of having a clear escape plan if things went poorly,” she replied, smirking slightly at the truth of her statement. Amusement tugged at his handsome features and he chuckled, “well, I’m glad to see I wasn’t too much of a disaster for our first date,” he replied, pausing before adding, “because I’m certainly hoping for a second.” Olivia smiled coyly tilting her head down and looking at him through her long eyelashes, “we shall see...” she replied, keeping her options open. She needed to think before a second date... she needed to think seriously before becoming serious with anyone, because it wasn’t just about her anymore.

Richard’s credit card was returned and they both stood, in sync once again. Richard offered his arm to her and she took it, after only a brief hesitation. All of the eyes in the restaurant were on them as they departed and she couldn’t say that she blamed them... for the first time in a while she was focused on herself as a woman, rather than a cop or mother, and she was beautiful... walking alongside a handsome man who was so well dressed that it was hard not to stare. They made quite the pair. Her heels clicked along the sidewalk as they approached the large, black SUV with tinted windows... before they arrived, a man emerged from the passenger side and opened the rear door for them. “Your keys,” Richard stated, extending his other hand to her. She retracted her arm from his and opened her clutch, retrieving the keys and handing them to him, “it’s the SUV parked over there to the right,” she said, clicking the lock button so the lights would flash. “Follow us,” he instructed his man, tossing him the keys.

Wordlessly, his man nodded and jogged off toward her vehicle. Richard gestured for her to get in first and held his hand at her lower back as she climbed into the vehicle and settled herself into the seat. He slid in beside her and shut the door with a solid -thud-. The drive to her apartment building was relatively uneventful, their conversation was idle and quiet... she wasn’t as at ease around his driver as she had been at the restaurant with just him. When they arrived at her building, Wheatley slid out of the SUV first and extended his hand to her, helping her out of the car after him. She smiled warmly at him and, as she was looking at him, his man walked up with her keys. “Here you go, Miss,” he said, handing them to her and she uttered a small, “Thanks...” When her gaze shifted back to Richard, his hand was extended to her and she took it. They walked hand-in-hand to her building’s door and she could feel the smile tugging at her lips involuntarily.

He turned to her at her building door, offering her a look that could only be described as bedroom eyes... the charisma was turned up to the maximum level. “Olivia Benson, I haven’t had such a pleasant evening or more enticing first date in a very...very long time. I do so hope that I will have the privilege of sharing a second date with you,” he spoke, his tone genuine and gravely. The tone in his voice sent a chill down her spine and she faltered, nervously. “I—,” she began, pausing to swallow, “I had a wonderful time... I was hesitant to agree to a blind date, but you were a pleasant surprise,” she admitted, smiling slightly as she did. He leaned in, pressing a long, warm kiss to her cheek... then another to her other cheek. When he did so, she could feel the slight stubble from the day against her soft skin and she felt her body react in spite of herself. “Goodnight, Olivia,” he said, holding her hand as he backed away, until he could no longer reach her fingers. He released her hand and retreated, turning back to his SUV and his awaiting drivers.

She stared after him, watching his retesting form and waving when he glanced over his shoulder at her. She didn’t linger in the brisk air, however, and retreated into her building. She barely registered the indicator noise of the elevator that alerted her to the arrival at her floor, her mind still lingered on the kisses to her cheeks... on the buzz she felt about the whole evening. She ran a hand through her hair and made her way into her apartment, brushing through the empty apartment to her bedroom and kicking her heels off immediately. Her apartment seemed to be deathly silent, seeing as Noah was at a friend’s house for a last minute sleepover... She managed to get her dress unzipped and slipped out of it, finding pijamas and slipping into them. She grabbed a makeup wipe from her bathroom and began removing the makeup that she wore for the date, wandering to Noah’s bedroom door and leaning against the frame. She stood there for a long time, staring at the empty room... missing her sweet boy and wishing she could tell him how her evening went. She sighed, turning away, and making her way to bed. She tossed her makeup wipe away and flopped down in bed, thankful for the cloud-like comfort it provided... thankful for sleep which came quickly.

Meanwhile, at the restaurant, Sal dialed a number on the landline and held the receiver to his ear. Someone picked up on the other end of the phone, “He was here,” he spoke, pausing briefly to give the person on the other end time to speak. “He was with a woman... one I’ve never seen before, not his usual type. Some lady cop... Captain of a unit. Her first name was Olivia,” he said, giving all the information he had to the individual on the other end of the line. “Yes, if they come back you’ll be my first call. Yes... you’re welcome,” he replied, not bothering with a formal goodbye as he hung up the line. Somewhere in the city, someone was very unhappy with the news they’d just received. Richard Wheatley had introduced another player to the game, an unanticipated player that came in the form of a Captain of the NYPD.

Chapter Text

By the time Richard Wheatley arrived at his home, he instantly recognized that something was amiss. Lights were off that he’d left on... and a chair was turned away from him, one that he’d sat in earlier that day. He froze in the door frame, his icy gaze scouring the room for more clues as to who was in his home. He reached out and clicked a light switch on the nearby wall, the room was set ablaze by the dazzling light emitting from the ceiling. “Welcome home, Richard,” her voice came from across the room, as the chair swiveled to face him, and he found the ever-gorgeous features of his ex-wife. “Angela,” he stated, brow furrowing slightly, and tone laced with mingled intrigue and distaste... he so hated when she overused her welcome in his home. They were a broken home, but he’d never changed the locks to the house after she left... unwilling to cut her off from the two children who had elected to live with him, especially after what happened to Rafiq...

 

“You know I do so love our visits, darling,” he continued after a pause, stepping into the room and closer to her, “but I greatly prefer when you tell me about them first...” He was speaking with a sweetness in his voice, but there was a disgruntled undertone she knew all too well. She pushed herself to her feet and rolled her eyes, “This conversation simply couldn’t wait for such formalities, Richard,” she replied, her voice cool and laced with disapproval, “Care to enlighten me as to what gave you the bright idea to go on a date with an N.Y.P.D. Captain?” she added, tilting her head and giving him a look only a disapproving ex-wife could pull off. He tensed, his jaw clenching slightly... in spite of everything, the people in his life still didn’t respect him the way they respect his father. Telling Angela about his date proved that. “I see someone at the restaurant is no longer loyal to my family,” he retorted, striding towards her as he slipped his hands into his pockets, “A mutual friend set it up... quite happenstance really,” he added, flashing a debonair smile and daring her to question his honesty with his eyes.

 

Angela’s facial expression suggested she was not convinced, “Don’t you think that’s a bit...reckless...Richard?” she retorted, her tone void of concern but laced with that same disapproval, “given your line of work, a woman with her pull could be dangerous if she gets too involved. Tell me this was for information... tell me you’re not going to pursue this further.” There it was... the nagging ex-wife returned, still trying to overstep her boundaries and overstay her welcome. Richard was silent for a moment, turning his back to her and pacing ever so slightly, “I don’t see how this is really any of your business, Angela,” he replied finally, his voice cold and laced with a dangerous undertone. She unfolded her arms, taking a step towards him, “oh, it became my business when you went on a date with the woman whose former partner is directly involved in investigating your company, Richard. A company that currently employs two of my children, a company that got my son killed... You really thought I didn’t check up on this?” she retorted, anger bubbling up in her tone and incredulity etched into every syllable.

 

“This has nothing to do with Rafiq,” Richard replied, annoyance conflating with his dangerous undertones as he rolled his eyes at her, “not everything is about Rafiq.” He could see Angela bristle, but he didn’t let her reply, “Look, Angela, I understand your concern, but you have to realize that I’m learning from past errors… I have always gone for beautiful women, but other than you I have always dated women who were not on the same intellectual level as me… You were a step up for me, I married up… and I won’t ever regret the years we shared, because we got two amazin children out of it. But you need to learn what is mine and what is ours. My business, is mine… you don’t get a say in who I go one dates with.” Angela’s shoulders relaxed slightly, but she still didn’t buy that Richard Wheatley had chosen to date this police Captain by accident… there was a motive involved, with Richard there was always a motive. She gritted her teeth, but she knew he was right on that front, even though jealousy wasn’t anywhere near her motive. “Fine,” she stated curtly, her tone short, “Am I at least allowed to ask that you inform me before this other woman meets our children?”

 

Richard’s lips tugged downward slightly, a visible frown, “I’d appreciate if you don’t call her that, her name is Olivia which you clearly know…since you felt the need to look her up and research her former partner,” he snapped, his tone dangerous. He paused briefly before adding, “If anyone in this situation is ‘the other woman’, Angela, it’s you.” At this she bristled once again and replied angrily, “You don’t seem to understandmy concerns here, Richard. You, the son of a crime boss… and a suspected crime boss yourself, are openly choosing to go on very public dates with a Captain of the N.Y.P.D… not just any Captain, either. Olivia Benson is fairly high profile,” she wasn’t yelling, but the rage was evident in her tone, “You’re losing it, Richard, your behavior is reckless… dangerous. This isn’t only about you!” There was a brief pause before she added, in a softer voice that almost bordered on concern, “Have you lost your senses completely?” It was Richard’s turn to bristle; she was beginning to sound like his father… questioning his skills and his motives… questioning his intelligence… his sanity. “You’re stepping dangerously close to being out of line,” he countered, his tone venomous, “You really think I have no plan in place? You know me better than that, Angela.”

 

She scoffed, turning from him and throwing her arms up in frustration, “That’s exactly what I’m afraid of. There’s nothing you do without a reason or motive… everything is a scheme or a plot. You only ever worry about yourself, your company. It’s that selfishness that got my son killed,” she shot back, matching the venom in his tone, “My son is dead, because you let him get involved in one of your plots and you didn’t keep him safe. Per usual, you only though of yourself.” Richard felt his temper boiling over, a bad habit he’d inherited from his father, but he managed to keep his tone calm…not wanting to follow in his father’s footsteps too closely, “You’re meddling in things that don’t pertain to you, darling… go back to your classes, stick to what you know. Stop trying to tell me how to run my company…and my family.” There was a pained silence, Angela had no words to adequately express her anger and Richard didn’t give her much time to think, “You know where the door is, darling,” he spoke, turning on his heel and departing from the room as he called over his shoulder, “Do us both a favor and use it!”

 

Angela took a deep breath, her gaze lingering on the place where Richard had disappeared from view. After a few long moments, she shook her head slowly and grabbed her bag, departing from the room… and then his home. The home that had once been hers. She frowned, her brows furrowed and glanced back at the house once she reached her car, in the window of the master bedroom she could see him, illuminated against the window by the lights that were once hers… In that moment she realized that he was right, in some ways, she was the other woman. She shook her head again, tearing her dark chocolate-colored eyes from him and sliding easily into the driver’s seat of her car. Richard watched her depart, taking a sip of his scotch as he did, his temper was cooling off with each sip… and with each rotation of Angela’s tires as she drove off into the night.

 

As Angela drove, she pressed the voice command button on her steering wheel and her car’s voice command prompt popped up with a sound. “Call Person A,” she instructed, her voice calm and laced with a dark undertone. She had made these connections during her marriage to Richard, but even she knew better than to keep their names listed in her phone. The phone rang twice, but never made it to its third ring, “Hello?” a gruff voice with a heavy accent on the other end of the phone answered. She didn’t bother with pleasantries, “It’s time,” she stated, her tone icy and certain. “Christ, woman, don’t you sleep? It’s nearly midnight,” the man retorted, annoyance etched into his tone. She scoffed, “Please,” she retorted, annoyance creeping into her voice, “This call doesn’t need to be longer than necessary. It’s time to set our plan in motion. The target will be arriving next week according to our intel… but we won’t strike yet, wait for my call. Everything must be planned to perfection.” She waited for him to acknowledge her words before she hung up and breathed a deep, ragged breath, gripping her steering wheel tighter.

 

She had expected the arrival of her target to take more finesse…more planning. In truth, her plan had been in preparation for some time now, ever since the investigation in Puglia brought to light the cause of Rafiq’s death and demonstrated that her children were no longer safe with Richard. Her children were adults now, but she couldn’t help the fear she held for them… the fear that was now comingled with rage for the death of her eldest. Hot tears stung at her eyes, but she wiped them away before they fell. Now was not the time for her feelings, it was the time for her action. She ran a hand over her hair, smoothing the silky black strands back and shaking her head… she resented that it had come to this, that she had to resort to such drastic measures, but Richard refused to heed her demands that he keep their children out of his company. Instead, he had suggested that they allow the children to decide, which of course led them to pick him… again. She was used to that by now, used to them picking him over her… but in this case, she just couldn’t allow it. Richard’s business dealings were dangerous, and she had already lost one son, she wouldn’t let him put their children at risk as well.

 

When she arrived at her building sometime later, she made her way up to her apartment and closed the door with a heavy -thud-, leaning against it for a moment before striding into her apartment. She retrieved a bottle of wine and poured herself a hefty glass, wishing only to take a bath and relax… She entered her room and strode across to the wall opposite the bed, examining her work carefully. An image of a middle-aged man, with cerulean blue eyes and cropped hair with a slightly receding hairline… he was handsome, ruggedly so, with a strong jaw and rather robust nose. The name beneath the picture read ‘Elliot Stabler’ and she felt the corners of her full lips twitch upwards. A thumb tack beneath his picture connected a red string to the names of two men arrested in Puglia, two men associated with her ex-husband. She raised her wineglass to her lips, taking a long sip of the crimson liquid and swallowing it. As she did so, she let her other finger trace another red thread upwards from one of the two men in Puglia… to a smiling image of Richard, his smile taunted her.

 

She realized she would need to add a new image to her wall… a new person to her plans. “Olivia Benson,” she spoke aloud, her tone laced with intrigue and frustration, “Just another face to complicate things… just another person to add to my own plot,” she mused, stroking her ex-husband’s face with her forefinger as she took another sip. Part of her lamented what she felt she needed to do, but he had left her no choice… she frowned slightly, “I’m sorry it has to be this way, Richard, I really am…” she whispered, turning away from his image and downing the remainder of her wine. She set her empty glass down on her dresser and strode to the bathroom, turning on the water and stoppering the tub, letting it fill with hot water. She retreated to her room, removing her clothes from the day without much ceremony and tossing them into her clothes hamper. She returned to the bathroom, turned off the water as the surface approached the lip of the tub, and slipped herself into the steaming water. Her whole body was tense, the stress of her plans having worked its way into her neck and shoulders.

 

She sank deeper into the water, so just her head was above the surface, and she leaned her head back against the porcelain. She sighed heavily, shutting her eyes and trying to center herself. She had worked on this plan for so long…ever since Richard had let slip that there had been an investigation into his company in Puglia. She had been livid that he’d kept it from her, but when she found out who was heading the investigation it had taken all her will power not to blow up at him and cause a scene. She recalled the evening well… they’d met at his home for a family dinner, something they did once in a while for the children’s sake and Richie had, in passing, mentioned the interrogation. She could picture his face as she recalled the moment…

 

‘So, Dad, how’s the investigation going? Those cops over in Italy leaving our guys alone yet?” he had asked, his tone matter-of-fact and casual. Angela’s gaze, which had rested comfortably on her son’s handsome features, darted to Richard to see if he rebuked what Richie had said. Her gaze had met his and he could likely read the panic in her expression. “It should be open and shut…my guys know what they’re doing,” he replied, his tone wavering slightly as he lied. She had known the lie as soon as he uttered it, that was the one thing he had never managed to master…lying to her. “An investigation, Richard? When were you planning on telling me about this?” she inquired, infuriated by his decision to hide this from her. He had pressed his lips together, discarding his fork on his plate, “This is hardly the time or place for this conversation, Angela,” he spoke, trying to placate her with a gentle tone and fierce look. “Kids, you’ll have to finish dinner without us,” Angela spoke, her gaze shifting to Richie and Dana, “your father and I clearly need to have a chat.”

 

Without waiting to see if Richard would protest, she had stood and departed the dining room, making for the stairs that led to the wine cellar… it was where Richard made most of his important calls… and where they had their worst fights. As soon as they were inside and the door was shut, she was shouting, “AN INVESTIGATION, RICHARD?!” She was struggling to maintain her temper, memories of Rafiq and the trouble he’d run into bombarding her mind, “I swear on Rafi’s grave if you put my other two children in harm’s way…” she added, her voice lower and threatening. She couldn’t stomach the thought of burying another child… her emotions threatened to overpower her, and she felt tears threaten to well up in her eyes as she stared at Richard. “Angela,” Richard spoke, reaching for her with both hands and placing them on her bare shoulders, “relax… it’s all under control. My men are loyal, there is nothing definitive to connect them to me and they won’t turn on me, I have assurances. Call it an insurance policy…” His voice was calm, reassuring… he knew that her anger came from a place of worry, he understood that she had lost more than just her son. They had lost each other.

 

As they stood there, her with fear and anger etched into her features, him with a calm expression that was meant to sooth her, she found herself once again questioning why they hadn’t been able to make things work… “I can’t go through this again, Richard, you need to keep Richie and Dana safe…” she said, her voice hoarse as a knot formed in her throat. Richard pulled her to his chest, hugging her the way he used to, and whispered, “I promise you it’s being handled… the investigation isn’t even being run by the Italians. It’s being run by some second-rate former N.Y.P.D. Detective, Stables? Stabler.” She had pulled away, looking up at him with incredulity in her gaze, “He’s former N.Y.P.D.? That doesn’t concern you? What if they connect the dots?” she countered, concern etched into her tone. “Have I told you lately that you worry too much?” he replied, arching a brown at her, “we have nothing to worry about… this Stabler is a minor player.” He leaned down and pressed a kiss to her forehead, something he often did in moments of weakness since the divorce, “Besides,” he added, his tone confident, “he didn’t even work organized crime when he was in the states. My intel says he worked Manhattan SVU of all things. You know, rapists… the true swine of the earth.”

 

Her eyes snapped open, and she sat bolt upright… suddenly wondering if Richard’s plan was more devious than merely getting close to someone who was linked to Elliot Stabler. Elliot Stabler was, at this moment, still in Rome… what could a Captain of the Manhattan SVU offer Richard. Her stomach turned and she found herself standing, retrieving a towel and wrapping it tightly around her, realizing that she had underestimated Richard before…and she couldn’t risk doing so again. Had he caught wind of her plan? Was he aware that he needed his own leverage against Stabler to keep him under control? Her mind reeled with possibilities and, before long, she had her phone in her hand and dialed a number that wasn’t even saved in her phone at all… The line rang only once, then a younger man on the other end picked up, “What could you possibly want at this hour?” She frowned, not that he could see it, “I need you to look into someone for me,” she stated, her voice wavering with the nerves that her recent thoughts had caused. “Name?” he replied, not bothering with questions… that’s why she worked with him. “Olivia Benson,” she replied, her tone solemn, “She’s the Captain of Manhattan SVU. I need everything on her… and I mean everything.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Olivia arrived at the Squad Room on Monday still reeling from her date, still surprised that when she thought of it, it brought a small smile to her face. She had tried to avoid discussing the date all weekend, ignoring Amanda’s texts about it, but she knew that once she entered the squad, she would be hard-pressed to ignore her much longer. Still, she tried. She sped up her pace as she pushed through the double doors and strode towards her office, but before she could make it halfway across the squad, Amanda was in front of her, concern on her face, “Hey! You okay? You haven’t answered any of my texts… how was the date?” she inquired, her voice somewhat hushed, not wanting to alert the entire squad to Olivia’s personal life. Olivia gave her a look that seemed to say ‘really?’ but she replied, “It was fine, good. He’s a gentleman.” Amanda’s expression shifted into a triumphant smirk and she replied, “I knew it. That explains the flowers.” Olivia ignored the absolute gloating tone she used, tilting her head and arching a brow, “Flowers?” she countered, her voice laced with confusion.

 

Amanda’s smirk grew and she pointed towards Olivia’s office. Olivia’s gaze followed her finger and found a large bouquet of flowers settled onto the center of her desk…even from here she could see the notecard. She glanced back to Amanda who was practically jumping out of her skin with giddy anticipation, mimicking the way butterflies had erupted in Olivia’s stomach at the sight of the flowers… who was she, feeling so excited at the prospect of a man buying her flowers? She turned away from Amanda and strode into her office, dropping her purse onto the floor beside her desk, rather unceremoniously and reaching, immediately for the note. She flipped it open and read the typed message:

 

                        Olivia,

                            Meeting you proved to be the highlight of my week,

                        month, and dare I say year. I wouldn’t presume to hope

                        the feeling was mutual, so now it’s your move… my number

                         is on the other side of this card, call me.

                                                With adoration,

                                                      Richard

 

Olivia reread the small note at least three times, her gaze lingering each time on the signature… ‘with adoration’. No man had ever signed a note to her that way, and, to her recollection, no man had ever let her determine the boundaries of their relationship except for—

 

“So, what does it say?!” Amanda said urgently, cutting through Olivia’s thoughts, her voice still hushed as though the walls might have ears. Olivia jumped, she hadn’t registered Amanda’s footsteps following her into the office, and she felt her cheeks flush slightly… she felt somehow intruded upon in such a vulnerable moment. She bit her lip, looking back to the note, then handed it to Amanda who grabbed it hungrily and read it fast, her eyes pausing for a moment on what Olivia assumed was the signature. “Liv,” she said, her voice laced with her excitement, “you have to admit… that was slick. Giving you the power like that? He must have a really good read on who you are.” Olivia chuckled, snatching back the card from her and moving to sit in her chair behind her desk. For the first time, she examined the flowers. In the center, sat a beautiful purple iris, surrounded by carefully placed flowers of various species… begonias, rhododendrons, snapdragons, and even a smattering of tansies. She had never seen such a unique bouquet and it dawned on her that he must’ve selected each of the flowers himself. She smiled slightly, glancing up at Amanda, “You were right,” she admitted, fiddling with the note card, “it was a surprisingly enjoyable date… we talked about Noah, his kids, what he does.”

 

Amanda shut the door and returned to Liv’s desk, plopping down in the seat across from her and leaning her elbows on her knees, “I knew you’d like him… I haven’t met him, but I have heard only good things,” Amanda replied, smiling warmly. Olivia’s brows furrowed slightly, “How exactly…do you know him?” she inquired, tilting her head slightly, “the only thing you mentioned was that an old friend knew him, what does that mean?” Amanda shifted slightly in her seat, clearly not thrilled that this topic had come up, “I, uhm, remember Al?” she answered, her tone uncertain. Olivia nodded, her eyes narrowing almost imperceptibly, “of course I do, Amanda… he’s Billie’s biological father,” she replied, wondering how Al had anything to do with this. “Well,” Amanda continued, her voice vacillating due to nerves, “he had taken me to some ritzy places when we were together, one of which was the restaurant you ate dinner at last night… I never met Wheatley, but apparently his family owns that restaurant and Al knew him. So, Al mentioned me at some point or another and explained that I worked SVU… and your name came up, because – face it, Liv – you’re kind of a big shot in the department… your name is in the news all the time, usually with a picture of your gorgeous face.”

 

Olivia felt her guard slide back into place, concerned that Wheatley had ulterior motives for asking after her, but she didn’t voice those concerns just yet, “So…Al reached out to you, to get Wheatley a date?” she inquired, sounding as confused as she felt. Amanda shook her head, “No, god no. That would be awkward… apparently Wheatley got my number from him, so I have been talking to him directly for a week or so. I’ll admit, I was suspicious at first…” she retorted, pausing before adding, “I ran a background check on his name ‘Richard Wheatley’ and all I could find is that he runs an online pharmaceutical company and he used to be married to some big-wig professor at Hudson with whom he has two children… there’s nothing else in our records. I wouldn’t have even extended the idea of a date to you if I thought he was anything but sincere, but he was very persuasive and honest with me.” Olivia was quiet for a moment, placing the note card on the desk between them and taking a deep breath. She exhaled slowly before speaking, “Why… why would he reach out to you? Why not contact me directly? Clearly, he knows how to send flowers to my place of work…” she was overthinking, she was sure, but she couldn’t shake that familiar feeling that something might be off with Richard Wheatley.

 

Amanda could see the concern etched into her friend’s face, but she leaned forward and braced her elbows on Liv’s desk, “Liv, look… he was nervous, he told me so himself. Can you blame him? You’re a stunner – not to mention you’re a bad ass. Men are intimidated by you,” she said, confident in the fact that Richard Wheatley had reached out to her as a way to reach out to Olivia in a more comfortable way, “Besides, if you really don’t like him or the way he reached out… you can just choose not to call him,” she added, her tone matter-of-fact. Olivia considered her words, her brow furrowing slightly, but her gaze dropping to the flowers, “I should call him,” she replied, her tone gentle and almost sad, “I should call him because I always do this… I go one a date, with a perfect gentleman, and go out of my way to find something wrong with him. I’ve done this for years… I think…” she trailed off, unwilling to admit the reason behind her hesitance. Amanda smiled sadly, knowing all too well how Olivia felt, “You don’t have to explain yourself, Liv. I did my part… I got you to give Richard a chance, the rest is up to you…” she replied, her voice warm but laced with a sad undertone, “for what it’s worth, these are dark times and…you deserve to be taken out for fancy dinners and sent flowers at work. You deserve to be happy, Olivia.”

 

Olivia smiled at that, feeling hot tears threaten to sting at her eyes… it was wonderful, how her friendship with Amanda had developed over time, how they were now so close that at times Olivia felt she had a sister that she had always wanted. They were chosen family, the best sort of family. “I appreciate that, Amanda. And you deserve to be happy too, you know,” she replied, her voice warm and gentle, her eyes soft as she gazed across at Amanda. Her gaze dropped after a moment to the note card, and she reached for it, retrieving her phone from her pocket. She unlocked her phone and opened the keypad, dialing the number on the card and hitting the call button. She could hear it ringing and she held the phone to her ear, her heart racing. Amanda stood, smiling at her, and departed…making her way out to her desk in the squad room, chatting idly with Kat. The phone rang… once… twice… thrice— she heard the receiver click and the deep, suave voice of Richard Wheatley answered, “Hello?” She was surprised for a moment by the lack of recognition in his tone, but then she recalled that he had given her his number… he stilled didn’t have hers. She felt suddenly flustered, rising from her chair to pace as she spoke, “Richard? It’s Olivia Benson…” her voice trembling with nerves.

 

There was a beat of silence and Olivia suddenly felt paranoid, as if he hadn’t expected… or wanted her to call. “Olivia!” he exclaimed finally, his tone laced with delight, “I must say, I didn’t expect you to call so soon… but I am thrilled that you did. Do you like the flowers?” His voice was warm, as it had been on their date, and the misgivings that Olivia had been having mere minutes earlier began to fade away again. She could imagine him on the other end, dressed to the nines and smiling gently at her. “Oh, they’re lovely and so very unexpected,” she replied, her voice soft and a bit more high-pitched than normal, a sign of her interest in him. The butterflies returned to her stomach with a vengeance, like a wave rushing the shore. “I… I really enjoyed our date,” she said after a momentary pause, taking the opportunity to be honest with him – and herself, “I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that meeting you has put quite the…positive spin on an otherwise long, painful year.” There was a brief beat of silence, but Richard filled it quickly, “Well, in that case… I would be honored if you’d come to dinner at my house this weekend, Sunday? I’ve already told my children about you and they’re eager to make your acquaintance… we do family dinner every week and it may seem fast, but I would be honored if you would come,” he said, his tone laced with genuine excitement. There was the briefest of pauses before he added, “Your son is welcome, but I understand if you’d like to take things a bit slower, given his age.”

 

Olivia was taken aback by the invitation. She was quiet for a long time, running through the options in her head, “Oh…I,” she stammered, her nerves flustering her. Richard began to backtrack, “I feel I overstepped a boundary…” he said, his voice laced with disappointment and concern. Olivia shook her head, though he couldn’t see that motion of course, “No, no… I must admit, I’m… I didn’t have a big family, I still don’t. It’s just me and Noah…” she replied, trying to explain why she felt flustered, “I would love to meet your kids…to attend dinner. For now, I think it’s best not to bring Noah… not that he wouldn’t love to meet you, but he’s young and I…” She trailed off, unsure if she should admit the next statement, “the truth is, I don’t date much… Noah and the job are my whole life. I’m just not sure I’m ready to bring you into his life just yet,” she admitted, her tone uneasy. She was concerned that he might be insulted… that he might think she didn’t want to introduce him to her son because he wasn’t good enough or she didn’t like him enough… the reality was that she was afraid. The last time she had introduced her son to someone was Tucker… and things hadn’t worked out. Explaining to Noah that he wouldn’t see Ed anymore had been hard enough. Then Ed died… it was too much; she wasn’t ready to put Noah through anything like that again. She was about to apologize, but Richard replied, “I understand, Olivia, family is everything. Your son is your world and I have to earn meeting him, I get that. You never have to feel bad about protecting your family when it comes to me.”

 

Relief flooded through her and she couldn’t help but smile a small, but genuine smile. “Thank you for understanding… Noah is the most important person in my life, I hope that someday you do get to meet him,” she replied, her tone warm and saturated in the relief that came with his understanding. She could practically feel his smile on the other end of the phone, “So… Sunday dinner, seven o’clock? I’ll send a car for you,” he said, his voice like velvet as he spoke. She smiled and nodded, chewing at her lower lip, “it’s a date,” she replied, her voice warm. “Wonderful,” he answered, pausing before adding, “I look forward to seeing your beautiful face once again… it feels as though it has been far too long since I saw you already.” She felt a flush rise in her cheeks, and she reached up to tuck her hand behind her ear, “I look forward to seeing you… and meeting your kids. I have to get to work, but I’ll talk to you soon, okay?” she responded, trying to wrap up the conversation, knowing all too well that he was likely the sort of man who could talk on the phone for hours. “Of course, I have some meetings today anyway… until Sunday, beautiful,” he replied and hung up the phone. She placed her phone on the desk and ran both her hands through her hair, knowing it would be a long week with the prospect of a Wheatley family dinner looming in her future.

~Later that Day~

 

He took a deep breath, checking his watch, and entered the office. He knocked against the open door twice to announce his presence and flashed a cursory smile at his old boss. “Stabler,” his boss stated in a neutral tone, moving to his seat and gesturing at the vacant space across from him, “take a seat, good to see you. I trust your flight was uneventful?” Elliot approached the chair and sank into it, his icy gaze settling onto his former boss’s face, “Likewise. Flight was fine, long,” he replied, intentionally vague. This was small talk, he knew there was a real reason for this meeting, and he was, impatiently, awaiting their arrival at that reason. “Look, Stabler, we’re starting a new task force on the ground here in the city… I know I have asked you before to join such a task force, but this time I am not asking – I’m begging. You have already gone after Contrapos in Puglia and now…” he began, a pitch to offer him a job… not the first pitch, “now we want to go after the head of Contrapos himself and he’s here, in NYC.” Elliot was about to reject the offer, to tell him that he couldn’t possibly convince Kathy to move back, but his former boss cut across him, barring him from rejecting the job immediately, “I don’t need your answer today, nor do I want it. Think about it… but before you make your choice, link up with the head of the task force: Sergeant Ayana Bell. She has some information that may make you reconsider your answer.”

 

Elliot nodded curtly, pressing his lips together, and then pushing himself to a standing position, “I suppose that’s all you need from me then, sir?” he inquired, his brow furrowed in annoyance. He wasn’t sure that any information could possibly make him reconsider his current position… he wasn’t sure Kathy would tolerate the suggestion of them returning to NYC. His former boss nodded and waved a hand dismissing him, “Yes, yes. Sergeant Bell should be in her office, if you’d like to check in with her. Next floor down,” he added. Elliot ran his tongue over his teeth, but said nothing, and departed the office. He strode with a purpose through the building to the stairwell and jogged down the flight of stairs, making his way to the next floor down. By process of elimination, he approached the only glass-walled office where a woman sat behind the desk and knocked, “Sergeant Bell?” he inquired, his voice cool and distant. She looked up at him, recognition flashing across her face, “Stabler, right? Nice to meet you,” she replied, standing from her desk and approaching him, “I was told you might be stopping by… glad to see you don’t waste any time.” He flashed a strained smile and nodded, “Yes, well, I was told you might have some information that would make me reconsider joining your organized crime task force here in the city,” he retorted, his tone even and his face stoic.

 

Her face fell slightly, and she nodded, “Follow me,” she instructed, brushing past him and leading the way down the hallway and into a conference room. On the wall, a map of the world hung with images of people and places, with lines connecting them. That’s when he saw her, or rather the image of her… his breath hitched in his throat and he shook his head slowly, “No,” he whispered, his voice hoarse. “You see now why we thought you might change your mind…” Bell replied, her voice calm and serious, “she was seen having dinner with Wheatley last week. Afterwards she got into his car and he drove her home… kissed her on the cheek goodnight.” Elliot was shaking his head, approaching the image of Olivia Benson and staring at her eyes… those eyes he had stared into so many times, “You’re wrong… you’ve got to be. Olivia—she… she’s the best cop I’ve ever worked with, the best cop I’ve ever known. Maybe there’s something you don’t know, a case she’s working?” he spoke, turning to Bell as he did. There was a sort of desperation in his voice, in his eyes. Bell swallowed uncomfortably, pinching the bridge of her nose as she dropped her gaze, “Look, I don’t want to believe she’s involved… as far as we know this was their first date,” she replied, her tone laced with distaste.

 

Date. The word hit him square in the chest, the way it always had. Amazing how a decade passed, and little had changed, he swallowed hard, “Look, Bell, you don’t know her the way I do. Olivia… Olivia isn’t involvedin the way this board,” he spoke, gesturing to the map where her picture hung, “makes it seem. I would stake my career and family on that.” Bell took a deep breath and nodded, “I’ll admit, I know Captain Benson… she seems like a class act,” she replied, her tone shifting to a slight tone of admiration. “Captain?” he replied, his brows raising slightly, he hadn’t kept tabs on Olivia… part of his deal with Kathy. When he left the N.Y.P.D., when he left Olivia, he had promised to leave it all behind. Bell arched a brow, “Yes, Captain. She took over SVU after Cragen left, given you’re her former partner, I’m somewhat surprised you don’t know that,” she retorted, judgement evident in her tone now. Stabler nodded, glancing back to the board, back to Olivia’s image, “has anyone talked to her?” he inquired, his voice uneven as he did so… wavering at the thought of breaching the promise he’d made to Kathy nearly a decade ago.

 

“No,” she replied, her tone indifferent, “we thought it might be best to keep the situation under surveillance for the time being…then have a more friendly face check in.” It was clear she meant him, and he now knew that this – Olivia’s involvement – was what they meant by information that might change his mind. “I understand,” he replied, his voice vacant and distant, his gaze still on the image of Olivia… taking in her visage for the first time in years, “I’ll take the job, I’ll talk to my wife and sort the details out by the end of the week,” he replied, turning his gaze back to her. In those pale blue eyes, a new fire was lit… lit by the desire that had hung within his chest for nearly a quarter of a century, a desire to protect Olivia. “Here’s my card,” he added, reaching into his pocket and extracting his wallet and from within its depths a business card, “keep me posted…any direct surveillance, I want to be involved in.” Bell nodded curtly, taking the card, and watched as Stabler departed the conference room. As he retreated from the conference room, he withdrew his phone from within his jacket and opened his contacts, selecting one he hadn’t used for ten years. The phone began to ring and after four rings, a voice picked up, “Sergeant Tutuola.”

 

“Fin,” Elliot spoke, “this is Elliot Stabler… we need to talk.”

Chapter Text

It had been nearly a week since he saw her picture and he still found himself reeling, his mind returning to her eyes… her lips… her hair. If he shut his eyes, he could practically picture her in front of him. Kathy had been resistant to the idea of remaining in NYC, until he mentioned that Olivia was in trouble… until he mentioned that Olivia had somehow become entangled in his case and he needed to get her out of it. When he’d mentioned her name, he noticed two distinct shifts in Kathy. On the surface, she bristled, becoming agitated at the mention of the woman that she felt had kept Elliot from being the husband she had wanted…the husband she had deserve for well over a decade. But underneath that, buried so deep in her eyes that he might’ve missed it, Elliot saw relief… as though a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. He had reassured her that this was just a case… temporary, but even he hadn’t believed himself. At present he was sitting in a surveillance van, staking out Wheatley’s residence and praying the tip they’d received would turn out to be wrong…

 

“Family dinner is meant to be seven o’clock,” Bell said as she took a sip of her coffee, leaning back in her chair, “which means Captain Benson should be arriving soon.” Elliot tensed at her words, his jaw clenching and the muscles in his temple tightening. He’d fought his emotions all week, fought his desire to reach out to Olivia… to protect her. “You good, Stabler?” Bell added, a brow raising slightly and her head tilting as she looked at him. Elliot sucked in a sharp, deep breath and exhaled, his bright gaze shooting to her face, “I’m fine. Just…” he retorted, but his voice trailed off. He had never been an expert at talking about his feelings, particularly with people he didn’t know well. In truth, the only person he had been halfway decent at talking to was Olivia… and that was a decade of betrayal ago. Now he wasn’t even sure she would speak to him if he saw her, he wasn’t sure she’d ever forgive him… which was just fine, since he couldn’t begin to forgive himself. “Captain Benson…” Bell spoke, filling the silence that hung between them, “she’s important to you, isn’t she?”

 

He could tell by her tone that she didn’t mean she was his former partner… somehow, without him explaining anything, Bell had picked up on grains of the truth. Elliot nodded slowly, turning his gaze back to the house, “We’ve been partners for a lot of years,” he replied, slipping into the habit of mentioning Olivia as his partner in a current sense… for him, ten years had changed nothing. He had aged, he had been a better father and husband, but underneath the surface… he had thought of Olivia every day, imagining a world in which things were different, a world in which he had chosen his own happiness rather than doing the ‘right’ thing. Bell was silent for a long time, her own gaze shifting back to the house, “I haven’t ever had a partner that meant that much to me, but I can see it in your eyes when you talk about her. The only person I’m that passionate about is my wife,” she said finally, her voice not accusatory but rather laced with a sort of sympathy. It was as if she could see him struggling to make the right choices, struggling to be the pillar that everyone in his life had needed him to be… first his mother, then Kathy, then his kids… Olivia had needed him too, but he had been forced to choose, forced to sacrifice one pillar for six. A sacrifice that had come at a higher cost than even he knew…

 

He saw her first and she took his breath away, the way she always had. Her hair was pulled back in a simple ponytail, with a couple shorter pieces hanging loose to frame her elegant features. She wore a deep royal blue dress paired with heels, a rare sight and an indication that she was indeed going on a date. Elliot realized as he stared at her that Bell had been speaking, but he heard nothing that was said. He released the breath he forgot he was holding and felt his chest tighten with comingled fear and jealousy. Fear for Olivia… for the devil’s den she was about to walk into. Jealousy, that familiar beast, that she was once again dressed up beautifully for someone else. “Stabler, did you hear me?” Bell said, touching his shoulder. He jumped slightly and shook his head, “No, sorry, lost in thought,” he replied, not bothering to pretend he’d registered a single word that was said to him. “I said that it looks like our tip has panned out… someone is going to need to talk to Captain Benson about her knowledge of all this. It might be best if I do that, given your… involvement with her,” she repeated, her voice even. She put just enough emphasis on the word involvement to make Stabler’s gaze tear away from Olivia and look at her, “It wasn’t like that. I’m married,” he countered, trying to make it clear that he and Olivia had never crossed that line, even if he’d wanted to.

 

His gaze shifted back to Olivia, who was now at the door and facing away from him. As though she could feel his gaze, she turned and seemed to look right at the van… but clearly, she couldn’t recognize him, because while her gaze had lingered for a moment, it turned back to the door just as it was opened. Elliot’s stomach dropped as Richard Wheatley stood in the door and flashed a smile so charming that even Elliot forgot for a moment that he was a suspect… for a moment all he felt was the raging jealousy that swelled within the pit of his stomach and threatened to boil over. He gripped the steering wheel, trying to place his rage elsewhere and keep himself grounded, keep himself from storming the house and wrecking not only their op, but his opportunity to potentially reconnect with Olivia. He gripped the steering wheel so hard that his knuckles grew white from the way his skin stretched over the bones… when he did this, you could see the outlines of aged scars from his days in SVU, punching metal lockers. He watched, frozen to the spot, as Richard Wheatley leaned in and placed a firm kiss on each of Olivia’s cheeks, holding both of her hands in his. He couldn’t see her face, but he knew… he knew from how she was standing, the way she carried herself, that she had that smile on her face. That cute little nervous smile that set a twinkle alight in her brown eyes, that tugged at his heart strings and made him wish for the millionth time that he was the one making her smile that way.

 

As Richard Wheatley’s hand came into view, pressing against Olivia’s lower back Elliot’s grip on the steering wheel loosened and he practically departed the vehicle. “You can’t,” Bell said, grabbing his sleeve and dragging him back to reality, “I know you’re worried about her… but you can’t go in that house. You need to try to stay objective here. It doesn’t look like Captain Benson is in any immediate danger,” she spoke, her voice stern but laced with understanding. Elliot nodded curtly, his gaze flicking back to the door just in time to see Olivia disappear from view and the door shut behind them. He leaned back in his chair and fought a war within his mind… he knew Bell was right, as things stood, it seemed that Olivia was more useful to Wheatley alive. He, of course, knew that Olivia was only there because she was unaware of who Wheatley was… no amount of time could’ve changed her that much. It dawned on him then, his gaze shifted to Bell, “Have you blocked the files on Wheatley?” he inquired, his brow creased as he looked at her. Bell gave him an dubious look and nodded, “Of course we did, Wheatley can hack systems… he probably has people on the inside. We needed to make sure no one else tried to take him on,” she replied, clearly not recognizing the problem that this realization brought up for him. He scoffed, shaking his head, “Well, now you know why Olivia Benson is in that house, risking her safety…and her career,” he retorted, annoyance laced into his tone, “she likely ran a background check on Wheatley, like she did with several of the guys she dated back in the day… and because of your block she found nothing, literally.”

 

Bell was stunned into silence, but only briefly, “I hope we can prove that,” she replied, her voice genuine. She had been telling the truth when she said that Benson was a class act… she had a level of admiration for any woman who could rise to the status that Benson had within the department and, the few times that they’d interacted, she had gotten the impression that Benson was truly one of the ‘good guys’. She breathed a heavy sigh, rubbing at her forehead and shaking her head slightly, “I wish we had a bug in his house, I’d love to know what’s going on in there,” she said finally, filling the silence between them once again. They hadn’t worked together long enough for the silence to be comfortable… but there was an ease to working with him, unlike many other men from his era – he was open to learning, open to authority coming from a woman. Based purely on his jacket, she might not have hired him… but he had come highly recommended and, ultimately, he was already up to speed on Contrapos. “You and me both,” he replied after a few moments, his voice hollow and his gaze locked on the Wheatley’s home. His bright blue gaze shifted from window to window, hoping to catch a glimpse of his former partner in her royal blue dress.

 

Meanwhile, inside the Wheatley home, introductions were being made. Olivia’s heart raced slightly as she entered the beautiful home, her gaze drawn to the artwork that was tastefully hung and décor of the home appealed to her sensible taste… In her college years, she might’ve classified this home as a dream. “Your home is beautiful,” she spoke aloud, the word beautiful saturated with the awestruck feeling the house had provided. Richard had smiled, glancing at her and extending his arm to her, “It pales in comparison to your beauty, Olivia,” he replied, his tone laced with a smooth sort of charm that was overwhelming and yet left her craving more. She felt a flush in her cheeks and took his arm. She was used to compliments, but even so… hearing them come from him caused the butterflies in her stomach to awaken. She smiled coyly replying, “You flatter me,” whilst simultaneously tipping her chin towards the ground slightly and looking up at him through her long lashes. He chuckled, but before he could reply she heard footsteps approaching and she turned her head in their direction, her heart jumping slightly and her breath hitching in her throat. The last time she had met someone’s family… was Cassidy’s mother and even that was less pressure than she currently felt. Being a mother, she knew what it meant to bring someone new into your world – into your children’s world – even if they were adults. Around the corner strode two beautiful people, a young man and woman.

She wasn’t sure what she had expected, but their splendor stunned her into momentary silence. The daughter – Dana – was stunningly beautiful, with elegant features and dark chocolate-colored eyes and long dark hair that was straightened and slicked back into a high ponytail. The son – Richie, Jr. – was of an average height, somewhat shorter than his father, and had striking green eyes that jumped out from his handsome features. Like their father, both were well-dressed and had smiles that would take your breath away. Dana approached first, smiling warmly at her and extending a hand, “You must be Olivia, Dad has told us so much about you,” she spoke, her voice soft but somehow commanding. Olivia took her hand, smiling warmly. Before she could reply, however, Richie chimed in, “He failed to impress upon us how dazzling you are though,” he mused, smiling broadly and extending his hand to Olivia. When he took it, he didn’t shake it as his sister had, but rather raised it to his lips and brushed a soft kiss across her knuckles. She couldn’t recall the last time someone had kissed her hand, the action made her chuckle slightly, “You are both… dazzling,” she replied, smiling as she spoke, “Your father speaks highly of you both. It’s a privilege to meet you.”

 

 Both smiled back at her and, for a brief moment, they hung there in the foyer of the home chatting idly. “We should make our way to the dining room, don’t want dinner getting cold,” Richard suggested after some time, gesturing for Dana to lead the way. During their introductions, Olivia had slipped her arm away from Richard, so now he pressed his hand gently to her lower back, urging her to follow his children down the hall. She continued to admire the home as they strode through it, her heels clicking against the hard wood floors. She had always, in every one of her wildest dreams, hoped to be a part of a family… preferably a large family, so to be here with a handsome man who treated her well and his children for a family dinner… she was on cloud nine. Truly, she was uncertain that a better second date could even exist. She glanced sideways to Richard and found him watching her, a subtle smile tugging at his lips as he admired her, “You look lost in thought,” he uttered, his voice soft so only she heard him. She smiled slightly and nodded, letting his words hang between them for a moment before speaking, “Growing up it was just me and my mother… she died in 2000. For a while it was just me, until Noah,” she replied, her voice hushed as well…her words only for his ears, “I always longed for a family, so this… is nice.” Richard’s smile grew and they entered the dining room arm-in-arm once more.

 

Outside, a car pulled into the drive and for the first time since Olivia’s figure had vanished from his sight, Elliot sat up and stared avidly at it… Who else would be arriving to a family dinner? His brow creased and he spoke, “Your files only mentioned two kids, adult son and daughter, who could this be?” his voice laced with notes of concern. Bell was silent, her eyes also settled on the car that had pulled in. From the driver’s side, a woman emerged, and Bell took in a sharp breath, “Based on my intel, that is Richard Wheatley’s ex-wife…” she said aloud after a moment, trepidation evident in her tone. “Shit…” he muttered, gripping his cup of coffee and taking a sip. “From what we know, they have a pretty decent relationship – Angela and Richard – but it can get a bit volatile,” Bell added, trying (and failing) to calm his nerves. “Is she involved in his other business?” he inquired, his icy gaze watching the slender form of the woman as she approached the door and…didn’t knock before unlocking it and walking in, “She still has a key? When I was separated, Kathy didn’t have a key to my house…” Bell’s brow was furrowed and there was a brief hesitation, “Not to our knowledge, though it was suspected that his business was somehow relevant to the death of her eldest son, Wheatley’s stepson, Rafiq Wheatley,” she began, pausing before adding, “Could be because of the kids?” Elliot shook his head, “his kids area adults, her having a key is odd… but I digress, you said Rafiq Wheatley, why would his stepson take his last name?” Bell laughed at that, shaking her head, “Stabler, you really need to learn to adapt… Wheatley is Angela’s maiden name, Richard took her name.”

 

Inside the home, Angela strode through the house with purpose, her heeled boots thudding against the hard wood. She practically burst into the dining room and when she did, her gaze locked firmly on the one unfamiliar face present. “Angela,” Richard said dangerously, rising from his seat and eyeing her with annoyance evident on his handsome features. “Richard,” Angela spoke, glancing briefly at him before her gaze returned to Olivia Benson whose expression suggested that she was in a mild state of shock. “You must be Olivia,” Angela said, speaking to only Olivia and ignoring the protests that threatened to rise from her ex-husband, “I’m Angela Wheatley, Richard’s ex-wife and mother of these two.” She placed her hand protectively on Richie’s shoulder as she stepped forward. She needed to size up this N.Y.P.D. Captain herself… get to the bottom of her motives, since Richard wouldn’t hear her out on any theories she had. “You’re out of line, Angela,” Richard stated in an accusatory tone, and Angela’s gaze darted to him again. She had been about to retort when Olivia spoke up, “No, Richard, it’s okay…” she was using the tone that she often did when handling a hostage negotiation… placating and calm, “It’s nice to meet you, Angela… I’m sorry if you feel I have overstepped a boundary of some sort.”

 

Angela smiled, a surprisingly warm smile, “You haven’t… I just felt as though I should meet you, since you’ve made such an impression on Richard. It’s quite rare that he lets his dates meet our children. You’ll have to forgive me for being a bit…overprotective.” Olivia had been concerned at first, but Angela’s words had completely disarmed her… she did forgive her, because she understood. “I have a son, I understand completely,” she replied, pausing before adding, “if… if there’s enough food, you should stay for dinner. As long as that’s okay with you…” she glanced to Richard as she spoke, reaching out and placing a hand over his. Angela’s smile broadened, knowing that her goal had been met… her gaze shifted to Richard, practically daring him to say no. She could tell he was livid, which meant she would definitely hear about this at a later date, but for now he was stuck between the old rock and the new hard place. “There’s plenty of food,” Richard confirmed, pausing before smiling tightly, “and since I intend to keep Olivia around, it would benefit everyone for you two to become acquainted.” He glanced sideways at Olivia as he spoke, shifting his hand to take hers and stroking the back of her hand with his thumb idly.

 

Dana rose from her chair, “I’ll go get another set of dishes,” she said, disappearing from the room a moment later. Angela chose the seat at the head of the table, opposite Richard, subtly defying him…opposing the relationship, no matter the motives. “So,” Olivia spoke, shattering the unspoken tension in the room with her gentle voice, “what do you do for a living, Angela? Richard has told me that you’re very intelligent, but he didn’t mention your line of work.” She did, of course, know the answer thanks to Amanda… but she didn’t wish to divulge the fact that she had run not one, but two background checks on Richard and his family. By this time, Dana returned with a plate, silverware, and a wine glass. Angela smiled, reaching for the bottle of wine on the table and pouring herself a glass as Dana set the plate and silverware in front of her. “I’m a Professor at Hudson,” she replied, pausing before adding, “I teach mathematics.” Olivia’s brows rose, a sign that she was impressed, “wow, impressive. Hudson is a great academic institution, though I’ll admit I have handled far too many cases there,” she replied, unable to contain her distaste for the university. Angela pressed her lips together in a small, knowing smile, “Hudson pays the bills… and funds my projects when I need it, but even I know that Hudson has its dark secrets,” she replied, her tone solemn. Olivia was relieved that Angela didn’t try and contest her point, though she felt Richard’s hand tighten around hers protectively.

 

Dinner was brought out by a small staff, hired each week for the family dinner. “Sorry that I didn’t cook myself,” Richard apologized, flashing yet another charming smile, “but I have been swamped with meetings and they say that the chef never truly enjoys the meal, so I wanted to ensure that I enjoyed my time with you… and my family.” Even Olivia could sense the territorial way in which he had said ‘my’, but she said nothing on the matter, “I understand,” she said warmly, chuckling before admitting, “I’m a dreadful chef… so you don’t have to apologize about that to me.” At this, Dana and Richie chuckled, but Richard only smiled, “Honesty. Such a refreshing trait about you,” he replied, his tone warm. Angela felt her stomach tense, she wasn’t jealous per-say, Richard had dated many women both before and after their marriage… but there was something about Olivia that unsettled her. She knew, of course, that this woman would be part of his undoing… but what she didn’t know, was if Olivia would see through her. Dinner proceeded slowly, but comfortably… Olivia was skilled at her job – getting people to talk, even when they didn’t necessarily want to.

 

 Outside, in the surveillance van, Elliot sat transfixed for what felt like an eternity. About an hour after she had entered the residence, Angela Wheatley retreated from within and seemed to be in decent spirits… somewhat surprising given the situation she had walked into. When she exited, she was on the phone and she glanced back at the house once before sliding into her car and departing. “Liv has been in there for hours,” Elliot said, nearly an hour later, as he rubbed both his eyes with his left hand, then pinched the bridge of his nose. Bell suppressed a chuckle, barely, “Stabler, it’s a date. Even if his kids are there, they’re one a date. Dates don’t end after 30 minutes unless something goes poorly. Calm down, I’m sure Captain Benson can handle herself,” she retorted, amusement evident in her tone. Elliot’s gaze remained on the home and he felt the hurt of it all weighing on him… for ten years had hadn’t seen her… he hadn’t even seen a picture of her in that time. Kathy had requested that the pictures of Olivia and any other memories be put in a box and place into storage with the furniture from their old home, and he had obliged. Now, here he was again, so close to Olivia and yet, so far… watching her go on yet another date with a man other than him. As he sat there, deep in thought, the door to Richard Wheatley’s home opened and both he and Olivia stepped out onto the stoop. Elliot sat up, reaching to tap Bell to ensure she was paying attention. He watched, in slow motion, as the events before him unfurled.  

 

Olivia smiled at Richard, tilting her head slightly and admiring his eyes once again, “I had a wonderful evening… your children are a delight and, while it was unexpected, it was actually kind of nice to get the somewhat awkward ex-wife introduction out of the way. Now there is nothing hanging over us,” she said, her voice soft and airy. She was slightly tipsy, having had several glasses of wine, and was more glad than ever that a driver was on their way to pick her up and take her safely home. Richard smiled warmly, “I’m so glad you came… my family already loves you; I can tell. I feel so very lucky to have met you,” he responded, his voice as warm as Olivia’s cheeks which were flushed, though it was unclear if it was from his compliments or the wine. He hesitated, but only briefly, before reaching up to cup her cheek in his strong hand, pulling her face to his and placing a gentle kiss upon her lips. Her stomach did a backflip and she tensed slightly, surprised by the fact that he had kissed her, but not unpleasantly so… not unpleasantly in the slightest. He didn’t linger there, concerned that he might’ve overstepped his bounds, but before his lips could get even a full inch from hers, she had leaned in and closed the gap. She snaked her arms around his neck and felt him envelop her in his arms, his hands settling on her back pulling her close.

 

Elliot felt his stomach turn, his jaw clenched, but he couldn’t tear his eyes away… the way he had never been able to tear his gaze away when he felt these pangs of jealousy. In Rome, he had imagined a different life… a life in which he had moved to Italy with Olivia, a life in which he was truly happy. Imagining that life had always hurt, but it was the sort of hurt that he brought on himself, a hurt that ensured he could still feel. In this moment… watching Olivia smile at another man, watching him wrap his arms around her, watching them kiss… he felt that same hurt amplified to such a level that he felt his eyes threaten to water. As he watched, a driver pulled into the driveway of the Wheatley residence and their kiss broke, leading to Olivia walking away and stealing a furtive glance back to Richard Wheatley before she slid into the car and vanished from view. “I think that’s enough for tonight,” Bell said, her voice quiet and almost timid. Elliot was silent, but he nodded and shifted the van into drive, pulling away from the curb and driving back to headquarters. The whole time thinking of Olivia Margaret Benson and the life they might’ve had…

Chapter Text

Elliot found himself in a familiar place, a diner that was hardly ten minutes from the 1-6, and he wondered idly if Olivia came here anymore… if she ever shared her food with a new partner. Now, of course, she didn’t have a partner – Captain of Manhattan SVU – the thought brought a wistful smile to his lips as he raised his coffee cup to them, taking a sip. As the brim of the cup was tilted up, obscuring the lower half of his face from onlookers, he made eye contact with Fin and used his free hand to wave. He set his coffee cup down as Fin approached and stood, extending a hand to him. They shook hands and Fin spoke, “Elliot Stabler,” he drew out each syllable in an exaggerated way, “You look good, man, Rome did you well.” Elliot shrugged slightly, but didn’t comment further, “You look good too, Fin, thanks for meeting me,” he replied, his voice serious despite the fact that they were old friends. Elliot gestured for him to sit and resumed his seat across from him, his brow creasing as his gaze swept over Fin’s face, scouring it for information that wasn’t there. “Gotta say, I was surprised to hear from you,” Fin said after a moment, leaning back slightly in his chair, “I thought after a decade, you had surely lost my number.” It hadn’t been intended to, but the comment did sting.

 

Elliot smiled through the sting of the comment, but it didn’t reach his eyes, “I didn’t lose anyone’s numbers, just made some big life changes… including a new phone and number,” he replied, his voice even but laced with the subtlest of undertones indicating the sting of Fin’s words. Fin gestured to Elliot’s coffee as he made eye contact with the waitress who nodded and bustled off to grab another mug and a pot of coffee. There was an extended silence that hung between them as Fin waited for his coffee and Elliot mulled over the mingled feelings of guilt, discomfort, and lingering jealousy that swirled within him. Once Fin had his mug of coffee in his hands, his gaze shifted back to Elliot and his eyes narrowed slightly, almost imperceptibly, as he observed him, “So, after over a decade, what made you reach out?” Fin asked, addressing the elephant in the room. Their conversation a few evenings prior had been cursory, vague, and Elliot had requested that Fin keep their chat to himself… and that they meet to talk in person. The conversation might’ve been doable on the phone, but Elliot couldn’t be sure how safe the phone lines were and, on top of that, there was something to be said for being able to see the emotion on someone’s face when they spoke. Olivia had been hurt the worst by Elliot’s departure, but Elliot needed to make amends to everyone he left behind.

 

Elliot rubbed at his face, sighing heavily at the question. He knew he had so much to explain, and for a few moments he didn’t know where to start, “Fin… you have to know that I didn’t—I didn’t plan to leave the way that I did. I made a choice in that squad room over a decade ago, a choice that cost the life of a teenage girl the same age as my daughter… I made that choice based on only one thing and it wasn’t based on my training. I chose to shoot that girl because Olivia was in the line of fire and I—” he was rambling, as if opening the floodgates of his mind had taken over his ability to hold it together. His voice choked out and he shook his head, fighting to regain jurisdiction over his emotions. Fin nodded, understanding perhaps more than Elliot even knew, “Look, I get it… in fact, after you left, I told Liv that you didn’t want her to talk you out of it,” he replied, his voice calm and laced with a subtle hint of understanding. A brief pause hung between them; a pause filled with so many things unspoken. Elliot wanted to know everything, but he also knew that Fin would likely respect Olivia’s privacy… and he respected that. “I’m sorry, Fin, for how I handled things… I’m sorry that I didn’t reach out, that I didn’t check in. It was just… it was too complicated,” he said finally, remorse saturating his tone.

 

“It’s water under the bridge, Elliot,” Fin replied, shrugging his shoulders and taking a sip of his coffee, “you did what you thought you needed to. Hindsight is 20/20 and while I would like to think I would’ve handled things differently… I know that I wouldn’t have.” Fin smiled sadly, thinking of his fiancée… thinking of how they had drifted apart after being partners. Thinking of how he had messed things up so royally… arguably worse than the way Elliot had messed things up with Olivia. He sighed, shaking his head, “I get where you’re coming from because I cared deeply for my first partner, Phoebe. When she and I were partners… I was young, still going through a rough divorce with Terry, and I made some stupid decisions. I walked away… broke her heart in the process,” he admitted, his voice solemn, “I’m not telling you this to excuse what happened. I’m telling you this, so you wake up. I wasted so much time being hung up on my mistakes that I let so much time go by… Phoebe and I reconciled, which is in the cards for you and Liv too. But only if you make amends.” Elliot was quiet for a long time, processing everything that Fin had just divulged… it was the most honest conversation that they had ever had with one another and in some ways, it stunned Elliot into silence, but he was grateful for the insight. “I didn’t know,” Elliot said, his voice vague as he struggled to find his words, “I wish I knew how to reach out… I owe her an explanation, but I’m not sure there is anything I could say that would make up for the time we’ve missed…I’m not even sure she’d want to listen.”

 

Fin nodded slowly, understanding the doubt looming in Elliot’s mind, “Look, if I know anything about Liv, she may be hesitant at first… but she’ll at least hear you out,” Fin spoke, leaning forward and pressing both forearms to the table as he held his mug in front of him, “But before you try and reach out, let me get you up to speed on some of what you’ve missed… Liv moved forward, it took some time and a bit of work, but she did. She accomplished a lot of what she’d hoped to… she’s Captain now, she has a son…” He trailed off; his gaze locked on Elliot’s face to perceive his reaction. It was worth paying attention, Elliot’s brows shot upwards, and he reached to rub at the back of his neck, leaning forward as he spoke, “A son?” he replied, surprised by the new information. There was a pause… in that brief pause he found himself imagining Olivia pregnant, not for the first time, “Good for her,” he added, the ghost of a sad smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. The pause that hung between them was tense, Elliot was deep in thought and Fin was monitoring him, waiting for his next statement, “Who’s the guy?” he inquired, unable to conceal the jealousy that bubbled within him. In another life, he would’ve been the man that Olivia had a child with… in another life, that would be his son.

 

Fin chuckled, leaning back and shook his head, “You’re gonna have to ask her that,” he replied, pausing before adding, “she had a couple relationships while you were gone… two were pretty solid. She’s been single for a while though.” Elliot’s eyes narrowed and he shook his head, “I guess you don’t know then,” he retorted, annoyance evident in his tone, “she’s been seeing someone recently, someone who has been on my radar for a while… nothing confirmed, but he’s bad business.” Fin’s amusement from a few moments prior vanished and in its stead, concern took hold of his stoic features, “Who?” he inquired, his tone grave. Elliot took a deep breath, “His name is Richard Wheatley… he has ties to the mob and is a suspected crime boss, but Liv wouldn’t know that because my unit decided it wise to conceal his records. For now, I am not even allowed to warn her about him…” Fin was visibly irritated, his brows furrowing and causing a deep crease to form between them, “So she’s a sitting duck? What’s up with that?” he asked, but before Elliot could answer realization dawned on Fin’s face and his annoyance turned to anger, “Oh, I get it… your unit is investigating Liv and her potential involvement.” His tone was venomous, anger laced into each word. As always, Fin was protective of Olivia… someone had to be, after Elliot left.

 

“Fin, it’s not like that,” Elliot insisted, raising his hands as he spoke, “I already told my Sergeant that Olivia isn’t involved, and I also told her that it was their decision to hide his file that got her involved… you know as well as I that Liv does background checks on most people she dates.” Fin made an unconvinced face, but nodded slightly, “so what exactly was the point of telling me, if you’re just gonna tell me that I can’t talk to Liv and tell her to drop Wheatley?” he retorted, still unhappy with the current trajectory of the conversation. Elliot sighed, running a hand over his cropped hair, “I need you to keep an eye on her… as best as you can,” Elliot said, desperation leaking into his tone, “I want to reach out, but she won’t listen to me right now, Fin. I need you to make sure that she doesn’t get too close to Wheatley… that she stays safe.” He was practically pleading with Fin, but he didn’t care how pathetic it may look… nothing mattered except for Olivia’s safety, and her son’s. Fin shook his head, reaching up to rub at his eyes in frustration, “You already know I have her back, Elliot. What we need to do is come up with a plan…” he began, biting at his lips slightly, “You know… she’s got a big award ceremony coming up. That might be a good opportunity for you to see her, public place and all that. She’s also allowed to bring a plus one, so if I can… drop a hint that you may come, then you call her and tell her you’re coming… maybe she’ll come alone.”

 

Elliot’s stomach dropped slightly, his nerves getting the best of him, “Award ceremony, huh? When’s that?” he inquired, his voice wavering from his nerves. Fin could sense Elliot’s nerves, but he persisted, “Yes. She’s getting an award next Friday… as much as it might be tough for her, I’m sure she would appreciate you coming… and maybe that would keep her from bringing Wheatley with her.” His tone had been calm, but when he said Wheatley there was such distaste in his tone that it bordered on anger. Elliot nodded, his gaze drifting away from Fin and settling on the table between them, “You’re right… Kathy and I could come to the ceremony…” he replied, his tone vague and distant. “And you’ll call her,” Fin repeated, leaning forward slightly and raising his brows. Elliot nodded vaguely, his bright blue eyes shifting back to Fin’s face, “Yeah, of course… yes,” he replied, though there was an uncertainty in his answer… so many times he had punched Olivia’s number into a phone, just to stare at the phone for minutes… hours… and delete it. He had never known how to start, what to say… and, of course, there was the issue of Kathy. He sighed and shook his head, rubbing at his temples, there was so much he wanted to know… so much he wanted to say, but he couldn’t figure out where to start. Then it hit him, there was only one question that he truly cared about the answer to, “Is she… is she happy?” he inquired, his tone soft and laced with a subtle undertone of love.

 

Fin’s entire expression shifted and he half-smiled at Elliot, tilting his head slightly, “You know, for a while she wasn’t… and I do think that she is far more happy now than she was for many years,” he replied, his voice laced with the slightest undertone of sadness, “but I would be lying if I said that her life is perfect, Elliot. No matter how much time has passed… I know there are still times when she wishes things had been different.” The truth in his words hit Elliot square in the chest and he had to blink back the emotion that threatened to spill over, a sad smile working its way onto his features, “Don’t we all,” he replied, realizing how much he desperately wished things had been different… realizing how desperately he wished he had been here for the last decade, at Olivia’s side. Wishing he had been there for her pregnancy… wishing he’d been the one to go through that experience at her side. “I have to get back to the squad,” Fin said, interrupting his thoughts, “if I’m gone too long, Liv will be suspicious.” Elliot nodded and watched as Fin stood, moving to leave, but paused, “Elliot,” he said, calling his attention to him. Elliot looked up at him, brow furrowed, “It’s good to see you,” he said, flashing a small smile before turning and heading for the door. Without a look over his shoulder, Fin departed the small diner and made his way back to the 1-6. They had a long day ahead and he knew that at some point he would need to get Liv alone, to drop a hint that someone might show up at her ceremony. After all, if Stabler dropped the ball, again, he couldn’t risk her being completely blindsided…

 

As the day came to a close a few hours later, Olivia sat alone in her office typing up some paperwork that she’d put off for far too long. She didn’t hear Fin approach, so when he said, “Hey, Liv, you got a minute?” she practically jumped out of her skin. Fin held his hands up in an apologetic way, “Woah there, just me,” he said, chuckling slightly, “is your paperwork that interesting that you were so lost in thought?” She flashed a smile, removing her reading glasses, and leaning back in her chair, “Oh, yeah, that’s it,” she mused, her voice laced with sarcasm. “What do you need, Fin?” she added, fiddling with the glasses idly as she assessed him. “Need? Nothing,” he said casually, striding a few steps closer and adding, “I was just wondering if you had any plans of bringing someone to your big award ceremony next week.” She pulled a face, rolling her eyes slightly and using the tip of her thumb to rub at her forehead, “You know, we have been so swamped with cases…I was planning to skip it,” she admitted, her tone uneasy. She had never been a fan of public speaking and she knew that she’d be required to make an acceptance speech of sorts… not to mention, she didn’t really feel that the award was all that important, just another accolade to add to her life.

 

Fin shot he a look of disapproval, “Liv, you can’t skip the ceremony. You’re the guest of honor and you deserve the recognition… this unit wouldn’t run without you.” She smiled, her gaze dropping to the glasses she fiddled with in her hands, “I appreciate that, Fin, I do…” He held up his hand and said, “Look, you’re a role model for so many people in our unit and in the police department… these awards, while they may seem silly to you, recognize that. So, if you won’t go for you, go for me and the rest of the squad,” he said, his voice laced with pride. He paused briefly before adding, “Besides, you never know who might show up,” as he turned and left her office without giving her the opportunity to rebut against him. She watched him go, her eyes narrowing imperceptibly. For a moment, the briefest of moments, she wondered if he had meant Elliot Stabler… but she kicked herself for thinking that way. Elliot had been gone for over a decade and still, more often than she cared to admit, she had moments where she wished he would round a corner in the squad and flash that boyish grin of his… She still had moments where she wished he would come sweeping in the way he did before, with strides that fell in sync with hers and with eyes that calmed every storm in her life. But she knew better… just like the memories and the love she had felt, Elliot Stabler was just water under the bridge.

Chapter Text

Angela nursed a glass of red wine, the same color her lips had been painted for the day. Her dark gaze was lost somewhere in the distance, her body present but her thoughts a world away. She had been reeling since Richard brought in another player… another pawn in their wicked game, a game he wasn’t even aware she was involved in… yet. She took another, long, sip of her wine. Olivia Benson had surprised her Sunday night with her ability to roll with the punches, at her ability to overcome the surprise of a drop-in ex-wife… she had, in truth, handled it better than Richard and certainly better than Angela had expected. A ding from her laptop signaled the arrival of an email and prompted Angela to place her wine glass aside and pull her laptop onto her lap. When she opened her email inbox, a private tab pulled from the minimized tabs, she found the exact email she had been hoping for and opened it. The email was brief, coded, but she didn’t bother with it… she clicked the attachment and typed in the encrypted passcode to open the document. It was a dossier on Olivia Margaret Benson. She let her dark eyes skim over the words, taking in the important pieces of information and trying desperately to connect the dots… she knew, of course, of the link between Olivia and Elliot Stabler, but something was sticking out to Angela. Namely, that Elliot and Olivia hadn’t been partners for over a decade… and, as far as she could tell, there had been very little contact between them.

 

“Come on, Richard,” she whispered to the empty room, “I know you’re up to something. I know there is more to why you picked her.” Her eyes flicked back and forth across the page and she came to relatives… mother, deceased. Father, unknown. Angela frowned slightly, but before she could question that, she saw it… and the blood drained from her face, her heart rate increasing slightly. The name was written just below ‘unknown’ and the word ‘deceased’ was in italics, like the mother. “Simon Marsden…” she breathed, her voice hardly a whisper… it had been years since she said that name and suddenly things were beginning to make sense. She tossed the laptop onto the couch beside her unceremoniously and shoved herself to her feet, running both her hands up into her hair and pacing as she processed this new information. The name Simon Marsden was a name she had known for many years, because he had been a friend of her son… a friend of Rafiq. She could feel the pressure of this news building within her chest, the weight of the truth hitting her like a wrecking ball. Her breathing had become ragged, her heart rate increasing with each moment. She felt the need to speak aloud, needing desperately to process the intelligence she’d received… needing to uncover why Richard would need to gain the favor of a young man her son had been friends with. A young man who was also dead.

 

She realized she needed to update her wall… to update the plot that she thought she had a full grasp on. She grabbed for her laptop and wine, rushing into her bedroom as she took another sip of the wine. She placed the wine on her dresser and tossed her laptop on the bed, standing and staring up at the wall of chaos in her room. Ever since Rafiq’s death, she had dedicated her time to figuring out the truth… to finding out why he was dead. All the police had found was evidence of an overdose, but she had always suspected – no, known – that there was more to the truth. After all, he overdosed on drugs ordered from Richard’s company. She was seething, her dark gaze settling on the smiling photograph of her ex-husband. Beside him, with a red string connecting her, hung a candid photo of Olivia Benson that had been delivered to her by a private investigator she had hired to keep tabs on the woman… she needed to know if Olivia was oblivious or if she was also a player, not just a pawn. “I’ll need a picture of your brother, Captain,” she spoke, as if talking to the image of Olivia, “I need to understand his connection to Rafiq… and to Richard.” She turned back to the laptop suddenly, realization dawning on her as she did, how did he die? She scoured the document but found very little information… in fact, Simon was hardly mentioned, meaning that he and Olivia were not close. Marsden… Benson… she thought, her brow furrowed as she examined the names again.

 

Half-brother. The recognition hit her, and she sighed, shaking her head… the unknown father, that was the connection between Olivia and Simon. She opened another tab in her private browser and googled ‘Simon Marsden Obituary NYC’. There was a promising result hanging in the first slot on Google, and she was pleased to find that Olivia Benson, Manhattan SVU was mentioned… she skimmed the obituary and found it rather unhelpful, though in some ways what wasn’t there said a lot. Rarely did overdoses get expressed in obituaries, the way it hadn’t been expressed in Rafiq’s father’s obituary… instead families simply wrote ‘passed away unexpectedly’, which is exactly what Simon Marsden’s obituary said. She would be sure to double check the facts, but she felt herself settle on the idea that Simon – like Rafiq – had been murdered… She chewed at her lower lip and stood once again, pacing as she wracked her brain. She was desperate to remember everything that Rafiq had said about Simon… they’d been friends, though she wasn’t sure how they met. Perhaps, she thought sadly, they had met when both were actually dabbling in drug use… or in NA. She pinched the bridge of her nose in frustration, how could her memory fail her now.

 

“Simon Marsden… half-brother of Olivia Benson…” she mumbled aloud, rubbing at her forehead… the missing link between them was their father. But what was the link between Richard and Simon… and, arguably more important, why did Richard feel that he needed to keep Olivia close to him? She shook her head, trying to force her thoughts into a logical order through physical force, but to no avail… “If Simon died of an overdose… was it accidental? Or was it… a cover-up?” she spoke aloud, her gaze shifting back to Richard’s face as she whispered the last word… “What were you trying to hide, Richard?” she inquired, her brow furrowed, and her tone laced with accusations unsaid. She had suspected for some time that Rafiq’s death was directly linked to Contrapos… and she had recently received proof that she was right. But now, with the added link of Simon and his death…and the potential that he was also killed in an attempt to cover up the truth, she was more convinced than ever that not only was Richard indirectly responsible… but he was also directly responsible for the death of her eldest son.

 

She returned to her laptop and the dossier on Olivia’s life… she and Elliot Stabler had been partners for well over a decade, with an impressive record of success. “That explains how you rose to Captain,” she muttered, skimming over the details. She was frustrated, unable to find any additional information on Simon by just skimming. Hitting command + F, she opened the find function of the computer and searched the document for ‘Simon’ and found that his name only popped up the one other time… when he was accused of sexual assault. Olivia, who had recently entered his life, was accused of helping him skip town and subsequently cleared, but the important portion of the sentence came after that. She read it aloud, “Although it went undocumented in the reports, it is suspected that Olivia’s birth-father, shared with Marsden, had assaulted her mother… resulting in her conception.” She gaped at the screen slightly. It wasn’t relevant to the plot against Richard… but her mouth had run dry, and she felt her stomach tense uncomfortably. Rafiq had been the product of Angela’s sexual assault, though she had told no one… the only thing his father had given him was bad blood and a genetic predisposition to drug use. A predisposition that was only amplified by Richard’s insistence that Rafiq work with him… an insistence that got him murdered.

 

“If… Simon somehow knew about Rafiq’s murder,” she spoke aloud, her gaze shifting back to the board, “that would be motivation to kill him… to cover it up…” She stood, pushing the laptop aside, “and the only person who would need to kill Simon… the only person who would need to conceal that truth would be the person responsible for Rafiq’s death…” She stood before the image of Richard and pressed her finger against it, an accusatory expression plastered onto her sophisticated features, “…and the only person trying to cover up Simon’s death by wooing his only living relative, who happens to be a N.Y.P.D. Captain… is you.” All the puzzle pieces slid into place and she felt as though she was looking at the completed equation… she had always known Richard was involved in Rafiq’s death, but now as she stood at the wall, she had dedicated to solving this puzzle, she felt vilified in that assumption. Richard was not only involved in the death of her eldest son, but he was also directly responsible… otherwise Simon Marsden would be alive, and Richard would have absolutely no reason to risk bringing an N.Y.P.D. Captain into his life.

 

She didn’t realize that she had lifted the glass of wine from her dresser until she had hurled it at the wall… it collided violently with the picture of Richard Wheatley’s smiling face and erupted in a cascade of shattered glass and crimson liquid. The wine ran down Richard’s face, like blood running down her wall… she hated that she didn’t hate him, which was why she couldn’t simply kill him… no, no. Instead, she would ruin him, she would take him down from his throne and ruin everything that he had worked for. She seethed glaring at his image and whispering in a low voice, “take a look at what you’ve done, Richard… you pushed me to this, you brought this on yourself…” A part of her would always love him, a part of her would reflect upon the memories they had shared and smile, but now there was no going back… there was bad blood between them, and Richard needed to pay. She retreated from her room, going in search of her phone and dialing a number she had memorized. “It’s late,” the gruff voice on the other end of the line hissed through a heavy accent, his tone laced with annoyance. “I pay you to answer whenever I call,” she retorted, annoyance laced into her tone. “Ah, but you don’t pay me to not complain about it,” the man countered, chuckling slightly. She didn’t share in his laughter; she was in no mood.

 

“Have you made progress on the target, on acquiring a plan?” she inquired, skipping the small talk and getting straight down to business. “I have an associate of mine on it, trying to ensure there’s a certain…degree of separation from me and, by extension, you,” he replied, pausing before adding, “I’ve been assured that our plan can be executed within two weeks… they’re waiting on some supplies, but once they have what they need, I will be able to say the word and trigger the plan.” He sounded confident, something she was relieved to hear. She nodded, remaining silent for a long time, “Good. You should know that I demand perfection. The players we are up against are big time, we need the plan to go off without a hitch,” she replied, pausing before adding, “and be sure you only get the wife. I need him alive; he is everything.” The man on the other end replied quickly, “Of course.” She took a deep breath, pausing for a moment before adding, “Keep me posted on the supplies… I’ll let you know if anything changes. To my knowledge, the target shouldn’t be returning home for a couple of weeks… but be ready to move on a moment’s notice and improvise if necessary. Once she’s out of the country, it will be significantly harder, nay impossible, to act.” There was a sound of assent and Angela hung up the phone, returning to her bedroom.

 

Her eyes found the red wine which still dripped slowly down Richard’s image, like the blood she intended to spill. For the first time all evening, she smiled, though it was a devilish grin… a grin full of the evil she intended to perpetrate to ensure that Richard finally felt the brunt of the damage he had caused. She strode to her bed, ignoring the spilled wine, the broken glass, she would clean it in the morning… folding back the covers, she slid between them and laid back, staring up at the ceiling and considering all of the steps of her plan. She had been plotting for months, waiting for Elliot Stabler to return to NYC before putting it into action… she had chosen him specially. His reports from when he was a member of the N.Y.P.D. indicated he was a family man and extremely passionate when it came to those he cared for. Additionally, arguably most importantly, he was already up to speed on her ex-husband… Richard was already in his sights. It would be easy to plant enough circumstantial evidence that would lead him to engage in confirmation bias.

 

She rolled over on her side and reached for the drawer of her bedside table, extracting a small photo frame that held an image of her son and her… she smiled sadly at him, running her fingertip over his face. “I miss you,” she murmured, her eyes welling up with tears, “but I haven’t given up… I will never give up. I will figure out what happened to you… and I will make Richard pay.” She felt a tear roll slowly down her cheek and drop somewhere on her pillow. She brought the frame to her lips and pressed a gentle kiss to the place where her son’s face was pictured. She couldn’t bear to have his image out in her apartment day-to-day, but she kept this picture here for these rare moments… these times when she needed to speak to him, to tell him she was sorry. She blamed herself for his death… if she had never married Richard, if she didn’t work so much, if she hadn’t let Richard allow Rafiq to work for him… if she had been a better mother, maybe Rafiq would still be here. The tears rolled freely down her face and she flopped back, clutching the frame against her chest as silent sobs racked her body.

 

She had spent so much time searching for answers and planning her revenge that she could hardly believe it was all so close… she had no intention of ending Richard’s suffering prematurely. She would make sure that he lost everything, that he felt the pain she felt. He would lose his precious business, their children, everything… even if it was the last thing she did. She had come to grips with the fact that she might not survive this large of a betrayal, but in reality… when she had divorced Richard and their children chose him, she had lost them in some way. Then, to add insult to injury, Rafiq had been killed… so for years, she had been alone. Serving only as a cursory placeholder at family functions. Ironically enough, the family dinner with Olivia had been the most involved she’d been in a family function for a while… Richard had alienated her from her own children, providing them with money, gifts, and even positions in his company. She had spent her time begging them to reconsider… begging them to be careful. The last child that got tied up in his work was now six feet under and the thought of losing Dana or Richie, was simply too much to bear. As much as she wanted justice for Rafiq, she also wanted desperately to protect her two remaining children… to ensure they didn’t suffer the same fate as their half-brother.

 

She was still staring at the ceiling, her eyes unfocused and unseeing. She often struggled to sleep, kept awake by the inner workings of her mind. Tonight, she thought of Rafiq and his friend Simon… two young lives snuffed out by Richard and his circle. She felt a pang of sadness, but this time it was for Olivia who might not even know that Simon’s death was no accident, in fact… she was certain that she didn’t know, otherwise that might’ve been hinted at in the obituary. When someone was killed, you said things like ‘taken too soon’… but Simon’s had read ‘gone too soon’, meaning that his death – likely made to look like an overdose – was ruled accidental. “I’ll get justice for you too, Simon… Rafiq trusted you, called you a close friend more than once,” she whispered aloud, though there was no one to hear her, “I promise you both, I will settle the score once and for all. Richard Wheatley has red in his ledger… and I intend to make him pay up.”

Chapter Text

A text caused Olivia’s phone to emit a small -ding- as she sat in her office, the noise itself brought a small smile to her lips because she knew there was a chance it was Richard. When she picked the phone up and examined the screen, her smile broadened as she found his name upon it. She unlocked the phone with her thumb and read his message, <<Hey there beautiful, I’m sure you’re busy but you were on my mind and I just had to tell you that I hope you have a wonderful day… if you’re free tonight, I’d love to see you.>> She couldn’t help the tinge of pink that rose in her cheeks, but she knew that she simply couldn’t see him tonight… unless. She bit her lower lip, typing back her response, <<You know, I actually have an event tonight… the department decided to give me some big award. I’m allowed a plus one, if you’d like to come. It’s at 7 o’clock.>> She sent the text and felt her stomach do a nervous somersault, knowing that it had been a while since she’d gotten serious in a relationship… the last real relationship she’d been in was with Ed Tucker and that had come to an abrupt end a few years back. She frowned thinking of him, thinking of how she’d ended things. It was the right choice, but a part of her held onto the regret that came with it because… well, she’d never found the one and he had been a good man, despite the early years where they’d butted heads. She wondered, at times, if it was her… if she was simply not cut out for love.

 

Her phone alerted her to a response, and she picked it up, somewhat surprised to see the response, <<I would be honored to attend the award ceremony with you… I know you absolutely deserve the accolade, and it would be nice to meet some of the colleagues you’ve mentioned.>> She smirked slightly and texted him back, mentioning the address and telling him that she looked forward to seeing him there…she would meet him outside. With that she locked her phone and, to her surprise, when she looked up Amanda was hovering in her office door, smirking slightly at her. “So… things are going well I take it?” she inquired, her southern accent evident as she practically gloated. Olivia rolled her eyes and leaned back in her chair, tossing her phone on the pile of files to her left, “It is… and you’re going to meet him… tonight,” she replied, her voice somewhat uneasy as the weight of her invitation to Richard hit her. He would meet everyone in her life… except for Noah, because she wasn’t ready to cross that bridge yet. She wasn’t ready to bring anyone into Noah’s life who wouldn’t stay… between losing Ed and losing Sheila, Noah had struggled enough with loss.

 

Amanda perked up at the comment, her eyes bright with excitement, “Liv! That’s great, I am glad you feel comfortable enough to bring him around… it will be good to get a read on him,” she replied, her voice laced with the same excitement portrayed in her expression. Olivia nodded, “Well, I figure, that at this point in my life… getting approval from all of you is second only to Noah’s approval,” she replied, flashing a small smile. She had learned, over the years, that she had a family… it wasn’t conventional, but the bond between them was stronger than any conventional family she’d ever seen. She couldn’t begin to express how grateful she was for each of them… for the family she had always wanted, but never had. Amanda mimicked her smile and nodded, leaning idly against the wall, “so… have you picked out what you’re going to wear?” Amanda inquired, her tone shifting to casual intrigue. Olivia shrugged, shaking her head, “Honestly, every time I think I have something picked out, I change my mind. I’ll figure something out,” she replied, breathing a small sigh. Amanda knew how that was, especially with the added pressure of needing to stand up in front of a crowd, “Normally, I’d say wear your uniform… but since this award is more about recognizing you as an individual, I say go with a dress that makes you feel like the best version of yourself," Amanda replied, pushing off from the wall and adding, “I’ll see you there, I need to go get some work done before I clock out… send me some pictures of options later if you need help choosing.”

 

The day dragged on. More than once as she answered emails and filled out paperwork her mind wandered back to what Fin had said… you never know who might show up. There was a part of her, somewhere deep below the surface that hadn’t given up all hope that Elliot might return. That part of her was glowing with optimism that hadn’t been killed off despite everything she’d endured. It was where she would always love him, even if the rest of her resented him for leaving. She wished, in some ways, that she could hate him… perhaps then the dull ache in her heart would cease to persist. She thought of him every day, haunted by the ghost of his presence in her life… some days she still felt as though he would walk through those double doors into the squad room. She stood from her chair and walked to the window, staring through the blinds at the squad room which bustled with a sort of organized chaos. Gone were the desks they’d used, in their place new desks she had selected that encouraged a more open floor plan… desks that encouraged her squad to work as a unified team, rather than pairs. She caught sight of Fin grabbing his coat and glanced at the clock, both anxious and relieved to find that it was nearing 5 o’clock.

 

She stood there for a moment longer, watching the workday slow to a close… watching Kat grab her things and wave at her. She waved back, flashing a small smile. In moments such as these, she couldn’t help but be reminded of herself when she joined the unit… young, green, and full of a desire to prove herself. Here she stood, over two decades later, with nothing left to prove… she’d seen the squad from both sides now and all these years later she found herself more understanding of Cragen than ever before. She smiled at the thought of him, a brief thought of him arriving at her ceremony flickering through her mind, but she doubted it… in fact, she hoped he wouldn’t. He had earned every moment of his retirement and she hoped that he was on a sailboat somewhere, reeling in a fish and sipping on a sparkling water. Her smile broadened at that thought and she turned from her office windows, grabbing her coat from the rack and pulling it up over her shoulders. She reached back with both hands and shook her hair loose from the collar of the jacket, shaking her head slightly to toss it back into place. She grabbed her phone and purse, departing her office and locking it behind her as she did every day. “See you Monday, Captain!” a uni shouted at her and she flashed a warm, but practiced smile.

 

When she arrived home, Noah flew down the hallway towards her with arms outstretched, “Mommy!” he shrieked, excited for her arrival home. Suddenly the worries of what to wear, who was coming, and speaking publicly vanished and the only thought she had was how much she loved her sweet boy. She dropped her purse and absorbed his onslaught in warm embrace and kissing the top of his head, “There’s the most important person in my whole life,” she said aloud, squeezing him to her and savoring every chance she got to hug him. “How was school?” she added, leaning back to look down at him. He shrugged and replied, “Fine, I guess. The usual. I got a good grade on my math quiz!” He was already turning around to walk back towards his room as he spoke, and Olivia had one of those moments all mothers have… where tears sting at their eyes and they realize that their baby is growing up before their very eyes and all too fast. “You ready for your big award thing?” he inquired casually, turning to look at her. As he did, Lucy popped her head out from his room and saved her from answering. Lucy smiled warmly at Olivia, “he’s about done with homework… I told him we could watch a movie after that while he eats dinner,” she announced, her tone questioning, “if that’s okay with you?”

 

Olivia smiled and nodded, watching her boy hurry off to his room to finish his homework for the night. Lucy lingered in the doorway, her gaze fixed on Olivia, “You okay?” she inquired, her right eyebrow arching so slightly that Olivia almost didn’t notice. Oliva smiled, a small tightlipped smile, “I’m alright… just thinking,” she replied, intentionally vague. There was a brief pause before she added, “You’re sure you can watch Noah late tonight?” Part of her almost wished Lucy would bail on her, but Lucy rarely ever did… and tonight was no exception, “I am all prepped to stay here late tonight, I even brought a book for when Noah goes to sleep. Can’t have you missing your big award ceremony!” she replied, a broad smile taking hold of her soft features. Olivia chuckled slightly, shaking her head and shedding her coat, hanging it on the rack by the door. Lucy had vanished back into Noah’s room and Olivia could hear them discussing his homework. She smiled warmly, her heart full of love for her sweet boy and the woman who took such good care of him… Lucy had practically become family to her and Noah. Olivia couldn’t help the gratitude that flooded into her as she made her way down the hallway and to her room. She closed the door and leaned against it for a moment, her gaze drifting to the three dresses she had laid out on her bed that morning… she had abandoned her attempts to pick one and already felt annoyed at the prospect of making a selection.

 

Laid to the left was a bright red dress that was tight on the upper body with long sleeves and the skirt hung in an A-line to just above the knee. To the right was a black dress… simple, elegant, and commanding power. But in the center, which drew her eye, was a mauve number. The dress itself seemed to exude strength and reliability, which was exactly the feeling she wished to emulate. She lifted it, holding it up in front of herself and examining her reflection, she nodded to herself… it was the one. She kicked off her shoes and simultaneously undid the button of her pants, pushing them off and letting them crumple in a pile at her ankles. She used one foot and scooped the pants onto it the way one would a soccer ball and kicked them towards the hamper. They landed on the edge, not quite tumbling in amongst her other dirty laundry but she shrugged, counting it as a goal. She removed her shirt and tossed it as well, managing to knock the pants into the basket fully and chuckling at the small victory. A glance at the clock made her realize she needed to get a move on… she would simply touch up her hair and makeup, rather than showering and starting fresh. Her makeup was simple, natural but with enough shimmering gold to bring out the golden flecks that hid in her mahogany eyes. He hair hung in loose, natural looking curls that framed her beautiful face and caught the light, showing off her subtle blonde highlights.

 

When she was pleased with how she looked she stepped into the dress, pulling it up and over her shoulders. It hugged her curves, with a neckline that was modest but not too modest. The dress hung past her knees, but there was a slit that was both aesthetically pleasing and functional, making the dress easier to walk in. The dress had short, capped sleeves made from two pieces of fabric that laid over one another like petals of a flower laying on her shoulders. She pressed the palms of her hands to the dress, sliding them down her stomach, her hips to smooth out any wrinkles in the fabric as she tilted her head and examined her reflection. It was nearly perfect, but she realized that she needed a simple necklace, something to hang in the blank space of her chest above the neckline of the dress. She approached her dresser and opened the jewelry box, sifting through necklaces she had collected over the years… she had given away the necklace that read ‘Fearlessness’ in vertical letters to someone who needed it more than she. She still had the one that said it horizontally, but even that felt out of place with her at the moment. Then she saw it, tucked near the back of the box… like a forgotten relic of times long past. She smiled sadly as she lifted it from the box, her mahogany gaze absorbed by its simple beauty and the meaning it had once held. It was a small medal, a circle, and in the tiniest letters along the edge it read ‘Semper Fidelis’. It was simple, but perfect… she hadn’t worn the necklace in years because it had been too painful, too complicated… but now enough time had passed that for her the necklace took on a new meaning, demonstrating the strength it had taken for her to survive everything she had.

 

Taking one final look in the mirror, she found herself satisfied with the strong woman who looked back at her. She nodded to her own reflection, turning to leave the room and make her way through the apartment. By this time Noah was at the coffee table, sitting cross-legged on a pillow and eating his dinner while a movie played on the TV. Olivia walked out somewhat hesitantly, the heels she selected clicking across the floor as she did. She suddenly couldn’t recall the last time, if there ever had been a time, that Noah saw her dress up. Lucy’s head turned first, and she offered a smile to Olivia, “You look lovely,” she said, her voice genuine and warm. It was her words that drew Noah’s attention from the television and to Olivia. He looked at her and something in his mind was alight, “Mommy, you look so pretty! Like a princess!” he said brightly, popping up from his pillow seat and running over to her to envelop her in another hug. Olivia felt her smile grow so large that it hurt her cheeks and she encircled him in her embrace, kissing the top of his head once again. “Thank you, sweet boy,” she whispered to him, pausing before adding, “you be good for Lucy, okay? I will be back later tonight after you’re in bed, but tomorrow we are going to spend the whole day together. Okay?” Noah looked up at her with his bright eyes and smiled broadly, excited by the prospect of a whole day with her. He nodded vigorously and relinquished his grip on her, hopping over to the place where his dinner remained on the table to finish.

 

Olivia had fiddled with the small necklace around her neck the whole drive over to the venue where the award ceremony was being held, her mind racing as once again she considered what Fin had meant. When she arrived at the venue, she parked her car and exited the vehicle, tugging her jacket more tightly around her for a moment as her breath before her became small clouds of steam. It was a chilly evening, the brisk air bit at her skin and made her wish she had told Richard that she would meet him inside. As she stood there, her nerves built… she was really about to introduce him to her whole squad. This was the most serious she’d been about a relationship in years and even the thought of it concerned her. She was so lost in thought that she didn’t see them approaching her from the West, walking side-by-side but not arm-in-arm. Elliot recognized her immediately, the stature of her body… the way she held her head… her hair. Even in that moment, looking at her from a distance, her body illuminated by a streetlamp he found himself drifting back to the night they met. He didn’t think about it, there was no plan, he simply called out, “Liv!” She heard his voice and immediately knew who it was, her entire body tensed, and she turned to find him, unable to register at first that he was real… that any of this was real. Beside him, a woman stood with her hands in her pockets looking like she didn’t want to be there, but Olivia could only see him. “Elliot…” she breathed, her heart aching as she said it. She was frozen in space and time, rooted to the spot by his sudden reappearance in her life.

 

He closed the gap between them, but even as the physical space vanished the emotional space remained. Kathy stood back, unsure of her place in this reunion… unsure of the reunion entirely, even though she had been the one that insisted they attend the ceremony, something Elliot had debated skipping since Fin had told him about it. Olivia was speechless, her lips parted and her eyes full of every emotion she’d felt over the last decade. “It’s good to see you,” Elliot offered, his voice wavering with uncertainty, “You—” Olivia’s inability to response vanished as annoyance overtook her and she held up a hand to cut him off, unable to listen to more small talk, “You know what, Elliot, I can’t,” she said, taking a step back, “I don’t… it’s been ten years. I haven’t seen you; I haven’t spoken to you… for all I have known you could’ve been dead. You don’t get to just sweep back in and talk to me like nothing has changed. Because everything has changed.” Her voice was laced with comingled hurt and anger, the emotions she had every right to feel and suddenly the icy air was no longer something she could feel. Everything had stopped and, in that moment, there was only her and Elliot. He held up both his hands, as if surrendering to her words, “You’re right… You’re absolutely right. I didn’t really have a plan coming here, I didn’t know where to start,” he replied, his voice placating and laced with remorse. Olivia’s gaze tore away from him to glance at Kathy, as if both gauging her reaction and reminding him that they were not alone. Elliot tensed as her gaze and his were torn apart, reminded that there was still ten years between them despite her being within arm’s reach. But it wasn’t until he heard a deep, gravelly voice call out, “Olivia?” that his blood ran cold, and a knot formed in the pit of his stomach.

 

Olivia turned to find Richard Wheatley approaching them and something in her stomach did a nervous flip. He was so close and, before she could react, his arm was around her waist and pulling her against him, placing a warm kiss to her temple. “Who are your friends, gorgeous?” he inquired, trying to keep his gravelly tone inquisitive without any undertones of concern or knowing… but he already, of course, knew who Elliot Stabler was. He was somewhat surprised to see him here, but it played right into his plot… so he’d need to conceal the celebratory smirk that threatened to tug at his lips. “Hi, I’m Elliot Stabler,” Elliot spoke first, his tone laced with a subtle jealous undertone as he extended his hand to Richard, “I was Olivia’s first partner at SVU. We’ve been friends for over twenty years.” He was grand-standing, but Richard easily unseated his confidence, “That’s funny… she’s never mentioned you,” he replied coolly, squeezing Olivia to him slightly as he took Elliot’s hand and shook it. Then he directed his icy blue gaze to Kathy, who hadn’t spoken a single word yet, “And you are?” Richard inquired, speaking directly to her with all the charm in the world. Kathy glanced to Olivia, then Elliot, but her gaze quickly returned to Richard, “Kathy… Elliot’s w-wife,” she replied, pausing before adding, “Liv’s former friend.” She was honest, the sort of honesty that hit Olivia square in the chest. Richard flashed a warm smile at her, “I’m Richard Wheatley, no one special… just honored to attend this little event as the date of the guest of honor,” he mused, his tone warm but laced with a challenge as his gaze shifted to Elliot.

 

Avoiding a conflict, Olivia glanced up to Richard, “It’s cold out here, let’s get inside…” she suggested, pausing before glancing back to Elliot and Kathy, “I’ll see you both in there,” she added, trying to conceal the emotions that had threatened to bubble over. She couldn’t have this conversation now… there were far too many people and she wasn’t ready for the discussion of her emotions. She wasn’t ready to admit to him how broken she had been, the things she’d survived, and the things she’d accomplished. She turned and Richard turned with her, calling over his shoulder, “Nice to meet you both,” as he walked alongside her and held her firmly to his side. “You alright?” he inquired, shifting his attention to her and his tone to one of warm concern. She flashed a tightlipped smile and nodded, but she said nothing… no words could explain the tumultuous emotions within her. She hardly registered greeting people, her mind and body were on autopilot… the evening wore on and she was still caught on his voice, Elliot’s voice, calling out her name. Her whole soul had been frozen in that moment since it happened and she didn’t really snap out of it until well after dinner, which she barely picked at. A speaker stood, giving an introduction about the award and giving a small speech about what it takes to earn it… but the only words she processed were, “And we are honored to invite up a former member of the Manhattan SVU… former partner to this year’s recipient, Detective Elliot Stabler!”

 

Olivia’s gaze shot to the podium, torn away from where they’d been locked on her glass of water, and landed on Elliot’s face… on his eyes, which quickly found hers. He cleared his throat, withdrawing an envelope from within his jacket and retrieving from within it a letter. “I’ll be the first to admit,” he spoke, his voice wavering slightly, “that I hate public speaking… but when the commissioner himself asked me to speak here tonight, I couldn’t say no. Olivia Benson has been a decorated member of the New York Police Department for nearly thirty years… I have been fortunate enough to know her for the vast majority of those years. Standing here, looking out at the crowd and seeing your face, Liv, takes me back to the night we met.” There was a meaningful pause and Olivia felt the shock on her face, unable to conceal it, as she saw tears welling up in his cerulean eyes. “Back then,” he said, disrupting the silence and continuing his speech on a wavering voice, “we were partners… we shared food, we bought each other coffee, and we knew nearly everything about one another… even the parts we’d rather forget. I owe Olivia a debt that can never be repaid… she was my best friend, my confidant, and my voice of reason. She has been selfless in her life, putting me and the other members of our squad, now her squad, above herself. When I left SVU over ten years ago, I made the decision not to talk to her about my decision… because I had been afraid that if I heard her voice, I wouldn’t have been able to leave.” Olivia’s heart ached and her own eyes welled with tears, her mind reeling as her eyes remained locked on his… anchoring her in the present, reminding her that he really was there, and this was not a dream. “Olivia Benson is now the Captain of Manhattan’s Special Victims Unit… and when I say that there will never be someone better suited for the job, I mean that with everything in me. She fights for survivors; she fights for justice. She is… everything a cop should strive to be, an example for all to follow. It is my honor and privilege to know her… and to help the N.Y.P.D. present her with this award, which is so well deserved. Thank you.”

 

The room erupted in applause, but it seemed muted in Olivia’s mind. Her gaze was still locked on Elliot’s, her mind still raced with the words he’s said… and all that was left unsaid. As their gazes remained interlocked, she realized that he hadn’t even read the paper that was in front of him… he had spoken to her in a room full of others. She was only brought back to reality and the present by Richard’s hand on her arm, “Hey,” he said softly, calling her attention back to him. She reluctantly tore her gaze from Elliot, turning to look at Richard and strikingly aware of the similarities and differences between the two. He smiled warmly and said, “I think you need to go to the stage now… for your speech.” His tone was gentle, and he nudged her, trying to convince her to stand. She nodded slightly and stood, making her way through the small crowd of tables and up to the podium… it felt like she was walking through water, moving in slow motion. She hated public speaking, as did Elliot, but the fact that she was expected to speak… now? She gripped the podium for support, her eyes drifting over the small crowd, over all the familiar faces. She had prepared a speech, but she decided not to use it. “Thank you, Elliot, for your… kind words. Who would’ve thought they would dig up my partner from a decade ago just to present me with this award,” she began, the subtle hint of venom in her voice would be apparent to those who knew her well… even as she spoke she saw both Fin and Amanda shift uncomfortably in their seats.

 

“In the twenty-nine years – and change – that I’ve had the honor and privilege of being a member of the N.Y.P.D., I have learned from many mentors who I now have the privilege of calling friends. I have overcome situations that have made me question my abilities, but ultimately gave me new skills… skills that have allowed me to not only be a good cop but rise to the task of leading the unit that I wanted to be a part of when I joined the force. Becoming Captain of Manhattan SVU is the crowning jewel of my career and is a task, that I do not take lightly… if you had asked me even twenty years ago, when I was a green detective in the SVU, if I thought I would ever be the Captain of this amazing squad, I would’ve laughed in your face and said no,” she continued, her voice even and laced with all the command that she had. She smiled then, a practiced gesture that didn’t quite reach her eyes, “But being the Captain of this unit has truly been the pinnacle of my career… I work alongside an incredibly skilled group of detectives and officers. Together we battle against the most heinous crimes our city sees… but more importantly, we provide support to survivors,” she said, the smile now reaching her eyes, “I am beyond proud to be a member of the Manhattan Special Victims Unit… and on behalf of and in honor of my entire unit, I am honored and humbled to accept this award.”

 

There was more applause, even some cheers from Fin, Amanda, and Carisi. She smiled at each of them, her gaze drifting around the room as she held the award. Her gaze did finally lock with Elliot’s, where he and Kathy sat at the back of the room and her smile faltered, demonstrating that his pretty words weren’t enough to undo the damage he’d caused. As he sat there, beside his wife who was so distant from him that it almost felt as though she stayed in Rome, he realized that things had indeed changed… He’d had all of Olivia when they first met, most of her during their partnership, some of her as he fled from the choices he’d made, and now? None of her. Olivia departed from the podium, heading to her new squad – a comingled group of the old and the new, but it was her squad. She lit up around them and she was at ease in their presence… their fearless leader. He was more in awe of her now than he’d ever been, but his reverie was quickly broken by an approaching figure, “Stabler, got a minute?” Fin inquired; his brows creased slightly. Elliot felt it coming, the reprimand… “Sure, yeah,” he replied, pushing himself from his seat as Fin glanced down to Kathy, “Good to see you, Kathy,” he added, his tone much more friendly and warm. Kathy extended a small, tightlipped smile, nodding at his words and fiddling with the hem of her sleeve. Fin led the way away from their table and towards a corner of the room, lowering his voice to ensure no one – especially not Olivia – would hear them, “You told me you were going to call her,” he spoke, his tone laced with judgement and accusations. Elliot rolled his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose, “I just… I felt like too much time had passed. How was I supposed to start that conversation, Fin? ‘Hey Liv, it’s me El. Just calling to check in ten years too late.’,” he replied, his tone laced with sarcasm, “besides, you told me that you’d make sure she didn’t bring him,” he added, his tone laced with misplaced annoyance. Fin sighed, clearly as annoyed as Elliot felt though in a different way, Elliot was sure.

 

Across the room, Olivia stood beside Richard, his hand laid gently on her lower back, as they spoke to Amanda and Carisi. Olivia’s gaze shifted across the room and she found Kathy sitting alone, her face settled into a slight frown and she excused herself from the conversation with a quick, “I’ll be right back,” before walking across the room in Kathy’s direction. Kathy saw her coming and rose from her seat to greet her, her smile forced and awkward, “Hey, congratulations on your award… and I’m sorry we just… showed up,” she spoke, her voice wavering nervously. Olivia’s expression softened immediately, and she shook her head, “No, Kathy… it’s okay,” she replied, offering a reserved smile, “I don’t… you don’t owe me anything, Kathy. Though, it would’ve been nice to say goodbye to all of you,” she added, tilting her head slightly. Olivia had never blamed Kathy; she knew that Kathy’s number one priority had always been to her family… meaning that she would make whatever choice was best for her and her kids… Olivia had always respected that. Kathy nodded, a sad but genuine smile tugging at her lips, “I know… When Elliot finallycame home,” she paused before adding, “You might not know, but he kind of… went off the reservation for a while. He was gone for about six months… and when he finally came back, he said that he needed to get away from everything. From the force, from NYC. We moved to Europe… we’re still living in Rome, Eli’s still there. He’s almost in high school now.” Olivia smiled more comfortably; they’d moved into a territory they were both comfortable with… the kids. “Wow, Rome. That must’ve been amazing,” she began, pausing before adding, “I’m glad to hear Eli is well… how are the rest of the kids?” Their conversation went on that way for a while, two old friends catching up with one another… the tension between them melted away like ice on a sunny day.

 

Richard had watched as Olivia walked away from him, his eyes drifting from her caramel-colored hair down her back and landing square on her ass… he might not be in things for the long run, but he was happy to enjoy his task while it was happening. A devilish smirk tugged at his lips and he knew, immediately, what he needed to do next… he had seen the way Detective Elliot Stabler had looked at Olivia, the way his nostrils had flared when Richard had introduced himself… it was time to plant a little seed of chaos in his mind. He excused himself easily from the conversation with Olivia’s coworkers and made his way across the room, approaching Elliot and the Sergeant from Olivia’s squad. “What could you two possibly be discussing in such secrecy amidst a room of New York’s finest?” he inquired as he approached, tucking his hands easily into his pockets and smirking slightly. Elliot bristled immediately, but Fin maintained his cool… they were both protective of Olivia, but in this moment, it became readily apparent that their protective instincts came from distinctly different motivations. “Wonderful speech you gave, Stabler,” Richard added, his tone smug, “I particularly liked the romantic undertones that it held… though I’m sure your wife didn’t appreciate your candor and, from her response, I’m fairly certain Olivia didn’t either.” Elliot moved forward a fraction of a step and Fin’s arm shot out to hold him back, “It’s not worth it, Elliot, don’t feed his ego,” he whispered, trying to keep the situation from exploding.

 

Richard chuckled darkly, narrowing his icy eyes slightly, “Careful, Detective,” he said, his voice quieter and laced with venom, “Olivia might’ve been your partner, once upon a time… but she’s taken quite a liking to me. I am slowly but surely learning everything about her, even the bits she’d rather forget… for example, I have seen each scar upon her olive skin, and I know how she got each one. And I don’t just mean the one on her neck that was a courtesy of Gitano, which I’m sure you recall.” He fell silent briefly before adding, “Your ex-partner is quite the lover,” he added in a low whisper, turning to stride off without giving Elliot Stabler even a moment in which to respond. He was lying, of course, he only knew of her scars because he’d had his contact pull Olivia’s files… he’d seen the pictures of the burns left by her encounter with William Lewis, but he hadn’t seen her body with his own eyes… not yet anyway. Elliot was fuming, but Fin’s grip on his arm didn’t falter, “not here, Elliot, not now… you’ll have your chance to get Richard. He’s just trying to get to you,” he said, his tone laced with caution. Elliot watched as Richard approached Olivia and bid her goodnight, donning a gentle but lingering kiss to her cheek… all the while his icy gaze was trained on Elliot. Elliot’s heart was pounding so loudly, he could hear it in his ears. He replied finally, his voice shaking, “it’s working…”

Chapter Text

Elliot pulled his arm from Fin’s grasp as soon as Wheatley vanished through the doors and faded away into the night. “Elliot don’t—” Fin warned him, clearly concerned he was going to go after him, but Elliot ignored him and strode directly to Olivia. She sensed him coming, but she didn’t turn to meet him. “Liv, we need to talk,” he said urgently, touching her arm to spin her toward himself, his voice solemn but his eyes pleading... Olivia had, by the time, returned to speaking with Amanda. She hadn’t wished to overstay her welcome with Kathy, who she now glanced towards. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea, Elliot,” she spoke, her voice laced with unease. It was a new emotion for them... a new feeling to not feel completely comfortable and safe around one another. She was trying to keep him at arm’s length, desperate to save herself from the inevitable pain that would come with him leaving, again. He winced at the tone, but his gaze never left hers, “Look... Olivia, Kathy knows we need to talk. She’s the one who told me we needed to come tonight...” he replied, his voice wavering slightly. Olivia was trying to set boundaries... trying and failing, as she always had when it came to him, “Elliot... she doesn’t believe that we haven’t spoken... or at least she didn’t until I had no answers for her. I mean for fucks sake, Elliot, I didn’t even know you were in NY... I didn’t even know you were back on the force. I told her I’ve been in the dark for a decade and she finally believed it...” she spoke, maintaining their distance and keeping her voice lowered. 

 

He pressed his lips together, warding off the blows she was doling out, “I know. I know she doesn’t believe that... I am well aware,” he replied, his voice laced with distaste, “It’s because when I... after the shooting I was more honest with her than maybe I should’ve been, but she deserved the truth...” He trailed off, his eyes locked on Olivia’s, the hurt in her eyes was palpable and made his chest ache. “I deserved the truth too, Elliot,” she managed to whisper, her voice saturated in all of the hurt she’d harbored for a decade… she wanted to stay mad, she didn’t want to fall back in love with him… she didn’t want to fall into his arms again. He was wounded by her words, struck into silence by their truth, all he wanted was to reach for her, to shatter the imaginary barrier between them... to remove the distance that was still there. “You really want to do this now?” she asked finally, her voice laced with the ache of a decade of heartbreak. He nodded, his eyes still pleading with her... he needed to talk to her, he needed to try... to try to explain why he’d left. She grabbed her coat from the chair and pulled it on, “Fine... but not here,” she replied, glancing at Kathy, “give her the keys to your car if she doesn’t already have them and tell her we are going for a drive, we’ll take my car.” 

 

He nodded, jumping to action. She tightened the belt that held her black coat shut and waved a quick goodbye to her squad, grabbing her award and heading for the door. She would wait for him there, away from the prying eyes of all who knew their complex history. When he approached her a few minutes later, tugging his jacket on, he flashed the ghost of a smile that she didn’t return. She wasn’t ready for casual smiles and small talk... she deserved more than that. There was a tense silence between them, her jaw was clenched, and he stole furtive glances at her whenever he thought she wouldn’t catch him. They walked side by side in silence, but in spite of herself, their steps fell into perfect sync as they always had. When they got into her car, he tried to speak and she cut him off, “Elliot,” her tone was firm, but the anguish in her tone made her voice crack and she shot him a glare, “if we’re going to do this then it needs to be on my terms...” He knew she was right; he knew that there was no way he could ever hope to start the conversation... she needed to be the one who took the lead, she deserved to call the shots on how he re-entered her life. If he re-entered her life. She wanted to speak, but she found that she didn’t know whether to scream or to cry… or to whisper.

 

“Olivia, I’m sorry,” he said, his voice saturated in emotion, breaking the silence the hung between them as she debated how to speak to him. When she glanced sideways at him, she found that he was tearing up and she felt a knot threaten to form in her throat. She swallowed hard, knowing that this was her opening, “You’re sorry that you left? Or... are you sorry that you didn’t give me the courtesy of telling me you were leaving?” she retorted, her heart breaking all over again as she confronted him with the truth of his actions. He nodded slowly, taking the blow of her words as though the wind had been knocked out of him, “...both...” he replied slowly, his gaze on her. She swallowed again, dryly, but pushed on, “Elliot... you were the most... the single most important person in my life... and you just... disappeared...” she trailed off for a moment, but didn’t give him room to add on yet, “you didn’t even give me the courtesy of a text... a letter... you gave me nothing, no indication of where your mind was at. I had to find out from Cragen that you were gone... that you weren’t coming back...” The pain she’d buried beneath the surface threatened to boil over, threatening to take away her strength… she wasn’t ready to break, she wasn’t ready to open up to him again.

 

Her words cut Elliot as though she stabbed him, his mind was reeling... he had never imagined speaking to her like this again and nothing could’ve prepared him for the pain in her tone and how that pain shattered his very soul. “I’m sorry, Liv... when I told Kathy... when I told her...” he was stammering and he knew he needed to just tell her the truth, the way he’d told Kathy, “The truth is that after the shooting, I went off the map for a bit... about six months. I did that because... because I was coming to terms with the real reason that I left...” Olivia was silent, but her silence implied the question of what was the reason. “I left, because... once again I had chosen you over the job, over my family, over everything. I had done so selfishly and with no regard for other options... all I saw was the gun aimed towards the squad room, towards you, and I didn’t think of the consequences... I just thought of you. It was Gitano all over again and I chose you. I will always choose you...” 

 

He was silent for a beat and Olivia almost replied, but he continued, “I knew, like I said all those years ago, that we couldn’t be partners... but it was more than that. I could no longer control how I was feeling for you... So, I took the ‘easy’ way out, I ran.” She was stunned to silence, unable to fully process what he had just said. She let him speak, she needed to hear him... to hear him admit everything. He swallowed so hard that she could hear it, “When I came back to Kathy... I was broken. I didn’t know how to tell her the truth... but I did the only thing I could do; I was brutally honest. After I was done talking, she gave me an ultimatum... either we throw in the towel... or I cut all ties with you and try to salvage what was left of our crumbling marriage. She made me stay away from you,” he said, his voice laced with hurt and distaste. She scoffed, “how did she make you do anything, Elliot? You chose to stay away... you chose to vanish from my life without a trace. YOU did that,” she replied, her tone harsh and critical. She wouldn’t stand for him blaming Kathy... he had chosen to handle things the way he did. He could’ve been honest with himself – with her – and chosen to end things with Kathy when they were both miserable. But he was always Mr. Perfect when it came to the way he tried to handle his homelife… but in reality, he was Mr. Imperfect. He tried to pick the right answer, but always chose the wrong… he was so focused on doing ‘right’ by Kathy and the kids that he didn’t do right by himself, by Olivia. Even now, he was coming to talk to her… to tell her the truth… but he had brought his wife with him.

 

He winced at her words once again, at the hurt and anger within them... but she was right and every emotion she had was fair. If she wanted to scream, he’d let her. If she wanted to hit him, he’d let her. He had done the one thing he never wanted to... he had hurt her. He deserved whatever punishment she had in mind, even if it meant she shut him out forever. “You’re right, Liv, I’m sorry... Kathy set her ultimatum, but ultimately I’m the one who caved... I took the easy way out. I avoided confronting my feelings... I ran away,” he said finally, his voice defeated and laced with profound sadness. There was a pause before he added, “if it’s any consolation... I thought of you every day. I imagined... I imagined this whole other life, a life in which I had made the hard choice and chosen to tell you everything. But I can’t change the past...” She laughed, but it was abrupt laugh of irony, “I wouldn’t expect you to try... nothing can change the past, Elliot,” she replied, her voice still laced with pain, but the pain was different... she wasn’t just talking about him anymore. His brow furrowed, he wanted to ask, but he hadn’t earned that right. “Liv, I know I can’t fix things overnight... but I’m here to prove that I’m not going anywhere this time. I... I made the wrong choice ten years ago. When I left, I didn’t have a plan and I just... kept making bad choices,” he said finally, his voice solid and sincere, “I’ve accepted a job with the N.Y.P.D. again... I’m on an Organized Crime task force based out of the City,” he added, offering a small smile when she glanced his way. 

 

Once again, his smile went unreturned. Part of her was glad he intended to stay, but after ten years of nothing her hopes for their friendship were not high. She swallowed, a frown tugging the corners of her lips downward, and gripped the steering wheel of her car tightly. She wasn’t ready to say anything, so she turned the car on and tugged the gear shift into drive, pulling away from the curb. He didn’t push her; he could tell her mind was racing… that she was considering her next move. As they drove, the silence grew louder with each turn of the wheel. “You really fucked up; you know that?” she said finally, her voice cracking as the first tear tumbled down her cheek. He nodded, swallowed the knot that had formed in his throat, he didn’t know what had happened in the last ten years… but he somehow knew that Fin had left a lot out of his summary. “I know,” he whispered, his voice hoarse with emotion, “I know I did… not a day goes by that I don’t regret how I handled things. I was trying… I was trying to be the best husband and father I could be, but ultimately I failed at that too,” he replied, notes of sadness flooding his tone as he thought of the last decade… of the fights that he and Kathy hadn’t bothered to have, because the romance was gone, and they merely lived together and co-parented Eli. They hadn’t discussed divorce again, but it was clear that while they weren’t miserable, they also weren’t happy. Olivia felt very little sympathy for his marriage troubles, it was the same song covered by a different artist… little did he know that her world had been on fire, that she’d endured more than one person should ever have to, and that all she had needed was for him to be there and he wasn’t.

 

She pulled over somewhere near Columbus Park and shook her head, trying to organize her thoughts, “You know, I have wanted this conversation for so long… and now that I have the opportunity to talk to you, to yell at you… I have no fucking clue what to say to you, Elliot,” she said finally, annoyance evident in her tone. Only this time, the annoyance was directed at herself. She was angry with herself for wanting nothing more than to fling herself into his arms, to have him envelop her and hug her in the way only he could. His hugs had always been able to take all the broken pieces of her and push them back together, he was always able to take away the pain… but now he was the source of the pain. She felt tears sting at her eyes again and she bit her lip, trying to force them back below the surface, “When you… walked out of my life,” she began, her voice wavering, “…something in me broke. Ever since there’s been this void in my life in the shape of you and nothing has fixed it, but Elliot…” She trailed off, turning her gaze to him so he could see her eyes as she said it, “I don’t want to be your second choice again… I don’t… I deserve more than that. So, no matter what your reasons for leaving were… no matter what your intentions are. I… I can’t let you back into my life. I have more than me to consider now…” Her words were like a knife carving into his heart, but he understood… he knew it was about her, but it was also about her son. He nodded slowly, swallowing painfully, “Fin mentioned that you have a son now,” he replied, smiling sadly as once again he was reminded of the things he’d missed.

 

Olivia shot him a surprised look; she had almost forgotten what Fin had told her… you never know who might show up. “Remind me to yell at Fin for not informing me you were showing up,” she stated, her tone laced with bitterness. “No, don’t,” Elliot said, defending Fin, “it was… my fault. He told me to call, I said I would.” She scoffed, typical, she thought. She ran a shaky hand over her forehead and up into her hair, chewing at her lower lip, “I just need time,” she said finally, her voice still hurt and her eyes welling up with tears, “for a decade I have spent each day fighting the small part of me that wanted you to come back… I have spent all this time trying to recover from the damage you caused and now…” she trailed off, shaking her head. She wanted to tell him the truth, but she couldn’t. In truth, it hadn’t only been him… his departure had shattered her heart, but her encounters with William Lewis had shattered her soul. It had taken her so long to rebuild herself, to become a survivor, and she couldn’t begin to tell him that… she had never even told him the truth of what happened in Sealview. How could she ever tell him what happened between her and Lewis? How could she ever tell him that she’d seen the glint of his mini badge on the butt of her gun as it was swung towards her? How could she ever tell him that in the moments she thought she wouldn’t make it, she thought of him? In those moments she wondered if she would ever see him again… if she would ever get to say goodbye. How could she tell him that it had been him that gave her the strength to break an iron bed frame? How could she tell him that even without being there, he had shown her how to save a life… her own life.

 

She was crying silently; her eyelids fell shut to try and shut out the thoughts… she wasn’t ready to have this conversation. She wasn’t ready to tell him the truth. He had to earn her trust again… and that would take time. She had been about to speak when her radio roared to life, “10-13! 10-13! Explosion off of Centre Street. All units respond!” Olivia glanced at Elliot but didn’t wait for him to agree as she turned the car on and shifted into drive, pulling away from the curb and turning on the sirens of her SUV. They flew down the somewhat empty streets, her heart raced… somehow despite the conversation they’d just had it felt for a moment as though it were the old days. As though they were side-by-side once again, partners. She didn’t know, of course, that everything was about to change. When they arrived on the scene, Elliot’s face seemed to lose color as the recognition hit him, “That’s our rental car…” he managed to whisper, practically lurching from the car. Olivia threw the car into park before it had fully stopped and launched herself out of the car after him, her badge in hand, “Captain Benson! That’s Detective Stabler, what happened?!” she shouted at a uni who tried to stop Elliot from crossing the crime-scene tape. “Looks like a car bomb, one vic,” the uni reported.

 

Olivia’s heart raced dangerously, and her gaze swept the crime scene until she saw her… Kathy’s unconscious – or dead – body lay on a stretcher with EMTs swarming her. Olivia’s whole heart sank. If Elliot hadn’t asked to speak to her… that might’ve been him… Her gaze shifted to him, finding him in a sea of chaos and their gazes locked on one another. She could see the pain in his face, a new sort of grief taking over as he faced the possibility of losing the mother of his children… his wife. As he battled the internal guilt of it all… She could practically see him thinking. What if he had been there? What if he was the target and Kathy was collateral damage? Olivia was shell-shocked, hardly able to find words. She could only think of him, of the immeasurable pain he must be experiencing… she was reminded of the day Eli had been born. Reminded of their car accident and her battle to save Kathy… this felt the same, only now she didn’t know how to save a life.

 

Chapter Text

She’d been staring at her bedroom wall, examining all the interconnected strings, when the text came through on the burner phone, <<it is done>>. A wicked grin erupted on her elegant features, morphing her beautiful face into a mask of vengeance. With a sharp motion, Angela bent the burner phone backwards at its hinges and snapped it in half, chucking it casually into the waste basket to her left, where it landed with a satisfying -thud-. She grabbed a red sharpie from the dresser and uncapped it, casually drawing a red ‘X’ across the face of Elliot Stabler’s wife… collateral damage in her larger plot. The red was vibrant and new but didn’t truly mar the beauty of Kathy Stabler. Unlike the red wine stains that marred the look of Richard’s face… foreshadowing once more his demise and the ugliness that lay beneath the handsome façade. Her vengeful smile remained upon her face as the first of many, many steps unfolded… the first step towards her ultimate goal, to unseat Richard from the throne of lies he’d built. She had gone out of her way to select the perfect target… a man so dedicated to his family – and to his job – that her attack and possible death would eventually lead him to obsession. She’d been careful to plant breadcrumbs where she could… hiring a family with loose associations to the iron triangle, but not direct associations with Richard.

 

Her role would need to be played carefully… she would need to lay out careful breadcrumbs that would lead Elliot Stabler to her… to her version of the truth. Richard Wheatley was guilty… not of this, but this is what she would make sure he went down for. Not only would his downfall avenge the wrongful death of her eldest son, but it would ensure the safety of her remaining children… She frowned thinking of them, thinking of how they might resist the reality in which their father falls from grace, but someday they would understand. Someday they would know that she was saving them… Using her personal cellphone, she called her middleman, a friend from the university who taught in the History Department. The phone rang several times before she picked up, “Angela,” she purred, her heavy Russian accent evident in her tone, “I take it your call means good news?” Angela smiled, tearing her eyes from the wall of images, “Yes… the project proposal has been accepted and is under way to guaranteed funding,” she replied, speaking in the code they’d planned weeks prior, “the next stage is to ensure the subjects are made aware of one another, keeping our double-blind design.” Double-blind designs refer to the idea that the confederate and the subject of the study are both blind to the conditions… both unaware of the deception. She would be the foil that turned the interest of Elliot Stabler and his unit towards Richard Wheatley… the first breadcrumbs had already been laid.

 

“Excellent,” the other replied coolly, pausing briefly before adding, “my collaborators tell me the first phase of data collection went well tonight… the rest is up to you. If we are careful, this plan will set us both up for success.” A few more moments of coded, but meaningless small talk ensued. Angela had planned this call to ensure that they were both GPS located at their respective homes, an alibi of sorts. When she hung up the phone, she tossed it on her bed and brushed a hand through her tousled raven hair. Her dark gaze shifting to the image of the woman she’d just ended the phone call with… it had been easy to convince her to help with the plan, after all, when Richard Wheatley fell, someone would need to take over the market he’d cornered… and her associate and her family were all too excited to step in. Angela picked up the replica of Elliot Stabler’s ID card from Puglia, turning it over in her fingers. This was her second copy, the first had already been left in the abandoned warehouse where her son had been murdered… the warehouse she would ensure that Elliot Stabler found. “The first breadcrumb,” she said aloud, tossing the card back onto the dresser, her voice laced with venom. Her gaze shifted to a window, the sound of sirens could be heard in the distance… she thought of the ambulance that would likely be carrying Kathy’s body to the nearest hospital, fighting in vain to save her life. The bomb she’d requested wouldn’t leave much room for her recovery… she had never been intended to survive.

 

Those same sirens could be heard from where Olivia stood, leaning against a cement pilon that supported the overhang at the emergency room entrance for Mercy Hospital. Her gaze was locked somewhere on the ground, but her mind was far away… reflecting on the evening’s events and feeling as though she could hardly focus her thoughts. Elliot had ridden in the ambulance with Kathy, she had driven – relying purely on her muscle memory if driving the city roads – to the hospital by herself, following the ambulance. In route, she’d called Fin and gotten him up to speed… part of her wanted to request that SVU take the case, but the reality was she was too close to things and she couldn’t risk losing perspective. She did request that the Detectives on scene keep her up to speed, so that she could keep Elliot informed and out of their way. At present, her mind replayed the evening’s events… the things Elliot had said, the truths he’d vaguely admitted… and all the things that had been left unsaid. She pressed her forehead into her hand, her elbow propped up by the pilar, and she shut her eyes… she was desperate to make it all stop. She needed things to slow down. She was processing so many emotions… Elliot was back, bringing up everything from relief to anger to happiness to sadness to every emotion in between. But some part of her, a part she wasn’t ready to acknowledge, was blaming herself for Kathy’s current state… if Elliot hadn’t left to talk to her, if he’d been with Kathy. Then he’d be the one in the hospital, she thought to herself, shaking her head.

 

A hand on her shoulder made her jump, it was Fin, “Hey, Liv…” he said, his voice laced with an easy comfort that he’d grown good at through his years at SVU. His brow creased, demonstrating his worry as he examined her expression for signs of how she was feeling, she shook her head, “I’m fine, really,” she said, warding off the question she heard coming. “Like hell you are,” Fin replied, his expression dubious. She took a deep breath and let it out in a prolonged sigh, shaking her head, “I keep… what if they hadn’t come to the ceremony? What if he hadn’t left her alone to talk to me?” she voiced, admitting to herself and to him that a part of herself was taking on the blame for what had happened. Fin shot her a disapproving look, his brow furrowing more severely, “You of all people know that the blame lies with the rat bastard who planted the bomb, not you,” he scolded her, pausing briefly before adding, “Speaking of my contact tells me they have a suspect in custody. Linked to the protests a few streets up. They’ll keep us posted.” Olivia nodded slowly, scratching at her forehead with her thumbnail as her gaze came to rest on the ground somewhere in front of her. Before she could reply to Fin, Elliot’s voice sounded from behind her, “Hey Fin,” he said, his voice calmer than she might’ve expected. Perhaps he was in denial… She spun on the spot, her gaze locking on him with eyes wide and she asked the question that had been pressing on the front of her mind since he’d vanished inside the hospital, “How’s Kathy?” her voice was urgent and her eyes flickered between each of his, gauging him carefully.

 

Elliot almost looked as though he didn’t want to answer, but he did after a pause, “She’s being taken into surgery… the blast was severe and…” he trailed off, unable to voice the truth, but his eyes told her everything she needed to know. It was unlikely that Kathy would pull through. She nodded, swallowing the knot in her throat, but unable to shake the way her stomach sank heavily into her lower abdomen… no matter her feelings towards Elliot, Kathy was still her friend… and the mother of his children. She was forced to blink back her tears; it wasn’t fair for her to be emotional right now… Elliot needed her now. “Let’s go inside… I’ll wait with you,” she said, glancing to Fin and rubbing at her forehead with her thumbnail again, “I want you to go offer your services to the detectives in charge of Kathy’s case… they could use the help and I trust your ability to be impartial. Take Rollins with you… and keep me posted, I’ll have my phone,” she said, her voice shifting into its commanding Captain’s tone for a moment. She watched him walk away before she turned and picked up stride alongside Elliot, walking side-by-side into the hospital… she couldn’t help but thing of all the times they’d entered this very hospital side-by-side for a case. Only now, everything was different, and she wasn’t sure things would ever be okay. They were silent, but there was a comfort to the silence… she didn’t want to make assumptions, but she felt that perhaps he was glad to not be alone, for now.

 

“Have you called the kids?” she inquired when they got to the waiting room, as she got herself a disposable cup of water and sipped it idly, anything to occupy her hands. He was already seated, his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. He shook it and replied, “No, not yet… I wanted to have something more to tell them… I’m not really sure what to even say,” he said, his voice hoarse with emotion. She nodded vaguely but didn’t reply. She felt warm, so she shed her jacket and tossed it over the back of a chair and took a seat in the chair next to it. He looked up at her as she sat, almost directly in front of him. At first his gaze settled on her face, but then his gaze dipped down slightly to her chest and the ghost of a wistful smile danced across his features. The necklace. She had almost forgotten she was wearing it, but his recognition had reminded her. “I’m surprised you kept that,” he said, his voice laced with genuine surprise and maybe even a subtle contentment. She didn’t know what to say, her hand shooting to the necklace and grasping it, fiddling with it the way she had so many times before. “I’ve never gotten rid of anything you’ve given me,” she said finally, admitting the truth. She had kept everything, even the stupid notes he used to leave on her desk… most of those things were safely tucked away in a box that resided in the top left corner of her bedroom closet, along with every picture of him. She let the necklace drop back to her neck and it swung there for a moment before falling still.

 

They were quiet for a few moments after that, this time the silence was full of things unsaid and questions to be asked, but she couldn’t… she didn’t dare expect the conversation they’d been having to continue. “Do you wear it often?” he asked finally, unable to snub the burning curiosity that her response had garnered. She debated being honest, but she decided that there was no point in lying, “Admittedly this is the first time I’ve worn it in about nine years… I needed a necklace for the outfit,” she replied, pausing before adding it, “I might’ve chosen differently had I known you were coming…” It was an honest statement, perhaps too honest, but she didn’t plan on lying to him. He grimaced ever so slightly at the comment, but he understood… she wouldn’t want to seem as though she was still hung up on him all these years later, even if that’s exactly where he was. They fell into another long pause; the silence was deafening and part of her wished for news – any news – just so that they’d have something to talk about other than them and the decade they’d missed. “So… Kathy mentioned you’ve been living in Rome,” she said finally, caving under the pressure of the silence between them, “How’s that?” It was like talking to an ex, she realized, as the question passed her lips and suddenly, she wanted to take it back. “Oh, uh, yeah,” he stammered slightly, rubbing at the back of his neck, “It’s… different. We’re only settled there because of work,” he said finally, intentionally vague… so she didn’t press further.

 

She had been prepping to apologize for asking when a doctor walked into the waiting area and spoke, “Are you with Kathy Stabler?” he asked, looking between the two of them. Elliot stood, moving towards him, “yes, I’m her husband. How is she?” The doctor glanced strangely at Olivia, who fidgeted, “I can give you a minute,” she suggested, moving to stand. Elliot shook his head, “No, no she’s… she’s family, my partner from work,” he said, explaining and gesturing for Olivia to stay seated. His lack of past tense and his inclusion of her in ‘family’ hit her hard and she needed to grip the armrest of the chair to stabilize herself and manage to contain her emotion. “Your wife should be out of surgery shortly,” the doctor said, her voice solemn, “I must warn you… your wife’s injuries are serious and her being out of surgery doesn’t change the initial prognosis. We are hopeful that she will regain consciousness, if you have family who’ll want to see her… I recommend calling them. Now.” Elliot nodded and remained silent. That’s when Olivia saw it coming, the buckle of his knees, and she stood bracing his shoulders firmly and supporting him. His marriage hadn’t always been perfect… in fact it had been far from it, even in this last decade with fewer distractions, but that didn’t change the fact that he had known Kathy for the majority of his life, she was the mother of his children, and, at one point, he loved her. The reality of her barely clinging to life and potentially not making it through the night hit him like a freight train… and he could barely stand.

 

“Sit, Elliot,” Olivia said, her voice soothing and her hands guiding him back to the chair from which he had stood, “do you need water?” Elliot shook his head, his eyes staring off into the distance and his mind racing with thoughts. Was this his fault? Had he been the real target? How could he tell the kids? His heart raced and the tears welled up in his eyes without any resistance from him, a part of him lay dying with his wife… the part of him that still loved her was in mourning. “Elliot…” Olivia was whispering now, her voice uneven and laced with obvious concern, “you need to call your kids…” She was right, but a part of him didn’t even know where to begin, he was reeling... he reached for her hand and grabbed it, enveloping her hand in his, anchoring himself to reality as the first tears ran down his face. She froze, unsure how to respond… unsure if this was what he needed. “Do… you want me to call them?” she suggested, her voice wavering even more. She wanted to be there for him, in spite of everything, but she needed to act… she couldn’t handle these moments, these intimate moments that had once been the very moments she cherished. He shook his head, “No,” he managed, his voice hoarse, “No, I’ll call them…” He trailed off, but finally his gaze rose to meet hers and he spoke again, this time his voice was so quiet it was almost a breath, “Liv, I have… no right to ask anything of you, especially not this, but… will you… stay with me?”

 

He was right, he had no right to ask that of her… or to ask anything of her, and yet, she had no intention of leaving his side. “Of course,” she replied, her voice wavering slightly and a sad, tightlipped smile tugging briefly at her features. He released her hand and she returned to her seat across from him, extracting her phone to dial Lucy… Elliot extracted his own phone, clicking a few things before raising it to his ear. “Maureen,” he answered, his voice wavering and his gaze rose to meet Olivia’s… to anchor himself in reality, “Maureen, listen to me. There’s been an accident… your mother is almost out of surgery, but she isn’t out of the woods. I need you to come to the hospital now, I’ll text you the address, room number, everything.” Olivia nodded, encouraging him. “No, Maureen, I’m fine… I really can’t stay on the phone, I have to call your sisters and brothers,” he said in response to whatever she’d said to him. She watched him hang up and she dialed Lucy, the phone rang once before Lucy picked up, “Hey Olivia!” she answered cheerfully. “Lucy…” Olivia said, remorse already laced into her voice. “Let me guess, work?” Lucy replied, knowingly. Olivia shook her head, replying, “No, actually. A…friend of mine is having a family emergency. I’m at the hospital with him, waiting to see what happens… I probably won’t be back until tomorrow sometime. You can sleep in my room, if you’d like. I have extra sweatpants and stuff in the bottom right drawer, they’ll be big on you… but more comfortable than jeans.” Lucy was quiet as Olivia spoke, but was quick to reply once she’d fallen silent, “You’ve got it. Do what you have to, I’ll have my volume on, call or text if you need anything!” Olivia smiled, more grateful than ever for Lucy, “Thank you, Lucy… I owe you,” she replied.

 

She put her phone back into her coat pocket, her gaze shifting to Elliot as he hung up the phone a second time. “Maureen and Kathleen are on the way. Maureen was going to call Lizzie and Kathleen said she would call Dickie and pick him up… Eli is probably asleep, so I’m not sure if I should call him yet…” he rambled, his voice distant and somewhat uneasy. Olivia nodded, debating on reply, but finally said, “you should call him, Elliot… even if he doesn’t answer, leave a message.” Elliot nodded, but made no move to dial the phone, his gaze was locked on hers… he swallowed, “Tell me she’s going to be okay…” he whispered, desperation laced into every syllable. He knew the doctors were doing all they could, but there was still a part of him that wanted to be able to tell his kids that their mother would be alright… that same part that was harboring guilt for the fact that his care about Kathy’s well-being was almost entirely tied to her being the mother of his kids. In truth, he couldn’t imagine Kathy not being there anymore, not being there to raise Eli and support their other children. For so long he’d taken the co-pilot seat when it came to raising their children and Kathy had been holding their family together… she was like the thread that held a quilt together and he worried that without her they would all drift. Panic set in, his eyes watering, and he pressed the heels of both his hands into his eye sockets so hard that dots of light danced across his closed eyelids. Olivia watched him closely, but didn’t reply right away… her voice wavered dangerously when she did, “Kathy’s a fighter, Elliot…” she replied, thinking of the way both Kathy and Eli had survived their accident, against the odds, “She’ll fight to stay with you, the kids…”

 

She didn’t fully believe what she said, but she also couldn’t bring herself to tear away his hope… it was all he had at this moment. She hesitated briefly before rising from her seat and moving across to the one beside him. He didn’t move when she got closer, his head still rested in his hands and she could see his shoulders shake with silent sobs. She raised her hand, letting it linger above his upper back for a moment as she debated the small act of kindness, but he needed it. For the first time in a decade, she felt that he needed her. She placed her hand on his back, rubbing a small circle between his shoulder blades as if to simply say, ‘I’m here… and it’s going to be okay,’ though she remained silent… she couldn’t bring herself to say those words, to comfort him too overtly. As it was, part of herself felt as though she had overstayed some unknown welcome… but as the silent sobs that had shaken his shoulders slowed to a stop, she knew that he was grateful she was here. They were quiet for a long time, falling into a silence that was permeated by all of the things unsaid… all of the things that only they could hear. She could almost hear his voice say I’m sorry… I should’ve come back sooner. The silence was crushing, but she dared not break it… despite everything she’d been through in the decade since he left, she couldn’t bring herself to make things about her feelings in that moment. In the moment where he struggled to grasp the life-altering events as they unfolded before his very eyes. She knew, in some way, how he was feeling… Kathy, for all the flaws of their marriage, had always been a pillar of his life. She was the mother of his five children, his first love, his wife. And somewhere in this very building, so close she could almost feel her and yet so far away, she lay fighting a battle for her life… a battle that the doctors assumed would be her last.

 

She didn’t know how long they sat there. Her phone made no noise, giving her no reason to check it… she kept her hand on his back, watching him with concern etched into every tired feature of her face. She glanced at the clock from time to time with unseeing eyes, but only as a manner of realizing that time had indeed not frozen. Somewhere around 12:45AM, the first two kids arrived. “Dad!” it was Dickie, his adult voice so similar to and yet so different from that teenage voice he’d had the last time she saw him. He didn’t seem see her, making his way for Elliot who stood to meet him, but Kathleen did, “Olivia?” she inquired, her voice laced with surprised and the slightest undertone of dread, “…you’re…here…” she added, uncertainty and discomfort more evident in her tones. Olivia rose from her seat, side-stepping away from Dickie and flashing a cursory tight-lipped smile towards Kathleen, “I…am,” she said softly, not trying to make her presence the main focus. “What happened?” Kathleen asked, her gaze dancing between Elliot and Olivia, desperation evident in her tone. Elliot began to explain, “We don’t really know much… your mother was involved in an accident, a car bomb. We don’t know the how, the who, or… the why,” he spoke, his voice suddenly stronger and more put together, per usual he was putting his kids before himself… submerging his emotions, his concerns, his fears, somewhere beneath the stoic façade that he had adopted as soon as Dickie had spoken. Olivia could see in their faces that the kids were worried, and Olivia suddenly felt more out of place than she had mere moments before… She reached for her coat, grasping it within a shaky grasp and moving to leave. Kathleen’s hand on her arm stopped her in her tracks, their gazes meeting, “Can…we talk?” she asked, her voice quivering.

 

“Uh, sure…” Olivia replied, her tone uneasy but still laced with a certain warmth it always held when it came to Elliot’s kids. Looking at Kathleen, Olivia was taken aback by how much she resembled her mother. She had grown into a beautiful young woman and Olivia couldn’t help the sting of tears threatening to well up in her eyes. “I was going to go grab coffee,” she added, holding her coat up slightly before pulling it on, “You can walk with me, we’ll bring some back for your father and…Dickie…?” There was a question to the way she said his name, as he’d gone through a phase of preferring not to be called that, but Dickie flashed an approving smile as she checked in with him, “Yeah, thanks, Olivia,” he said quietly, his tone warmer than she might’ve expected. Olivia offered a polite, tightlipped smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes, but nodded. She glanced at Elliot, her gaze softening as it always did, “You want anything?” she asked, her voice softening as well. Elliot nodded, “Yeah, sure… I take my coffee the same,” he replied, though his voice sounded all business. He was overcompensating to avoid showing how hurt he was in front of the kids… he felt that they needed his strength now, little did he realize that they were the ones there to support him. She nodded, turning to lead the way from the waiting room and down the hall, her heels clicking against the tiled flooring. Kathleen was beside her, her steps falling noticeably out of sync with Olivia… she was slowing, dragging out the time they spent together. Olivia slowed, though she felt her nerves spiking as the silence around them seemed to grow in tension with each stride. “It’s good to see you,” Kathleen said finally, her voice quiet and laced with emotion that Olivia hadn’t expected. Olivia glanced sideways at her once they reached the elevators and found the younger woman had tears welling in her vibrant eyes.

 

Olivia placed her hand on Kathleen’s shoulder almost in sync with the sound of the elevator arriving, “Kathleen…” she whispered, her brow furrowing with concern, “Your mom is a fighter… don’t cry, please.” Tears rolled down Kathleen’s cheeks, tumbling past the corners of her lips as she shook her head. She couldn’t explain here, not near her father, “That… that isn’t why I’m crying…” she said, her voice hoarse and hardly audible. She stepped onto the elevator and turned to face Olivia, her tearful eyes pleading Olivia to follow. Olivia was surprised by the statement, but her hesitation only lasted a moment before she embarked upon the elevator and stood beside Kathleen, her gaze still watching her with mounting unease. When the door closed Kathleen remained silent, knowing all too well that this conversation needed privacy and the elevator could open at any time. “Kathleen…?” Olivia inquired, her voice wavering with the unease that built within her… if this wasn’t about Kathy, then what did Kathleen need to say to her. Olivia’s heart raced dramatically, but Kathleen only shook her head and waited for the elevator to open to the parking garage. “My car’s over there,” she said, gesturing to where she had parked near the far stairwell. Kathleen nodded, walking faster now. As soon as they were settled within the vehicle, Kathleen turned to her, urgency in her expression and her voice when she spoke, “I didn’t know you’d be here…” she said, her voice wavering and her eyes full of concern, “I… I don’t really know what to say, but I know I need to tell you the truth. I never expected that I would have to…” Olivia tilted her head, her brow still furrowed with concern, “The truth? What are you talking about, Kathleen?” she questioned, concern laced into an almost motherly tone as she spoke to her. Kathleen chewed at her lip, tears rolling down her cheeks again, “I feel… so much guilt about how I handled this, Olivia… I need you to know how sorry I am,” she began, tears flowing freely now.

 

“You don’t have anything to be sorry about,” Olivia replied, her expression softening as she extended a hand to place it on Kathleen’s shoulder. Kathleen shook her head violently, “No, I do… I knew. I knew what you were going through and I didn’t tell them… it was all over the news and I… I hid it from them,” she said, her tears flowing freely as a sob racked her narrow shoulders. All over the news… the blow hit Olivia square in the face and even without hearing it, Olivia suddenly knew what she was talking about. In spite of herself, she retracted her hand from Kathleen’s shoulder and a singular tear rolled down her cheek. William Lewis. Just thinking the name made her entire body tense and the memories came cascading back… “I’m so sorry, Olivia… I can never take back my choice not to tell them, but you need to know that my dad didn’t know anything! I didn’t tell him, because… my parents were finally really working on things… I didn’t… I was selfish, so selfish. I was more worried about my parents fixing their marriage than I was about you… I hate myself for it…” Olivia felt nausea plague her, but she knew, logically, that Kathleen hadn’t been selfish… she had actually made a tough decision in a horrifically difficult situation… part of Olivia was even relieved that Elliot hadn’t known, it made his absence in that moment make sense and hurt less. “Kathleen…” Olivia whispered, her voice low as she raised a hand to cover the lower half of her face for a moment, fighting through the raw emotions that had just been exposed, “what happened… with Lewis was not your fault,” she said firmly, relying on her training to help her navigate this conversation she hadn’t expected, “and it was not your responsibility to tell your father… you made thebest decision you could when asked to pick between two horrible outcomes. I appreciate your apology, but I—” her voice choked out and she had to swallow the knot of emotion in her throat.

 

She rubbed a hand over her eyes, her stomach still turning from the topic of conversation, “you don’t owe me an apology… or an explanation for not telling your parents, Kathleen,” she said finally, her voice a pained, emotional whisper. She tore her gaze from Kathleen, leaning her head back against the headrest and taking a deep breath, holding the oxygen within her lungs, and releasing it to a slow count of 1…2…3… “I owe you more than an apology, but I’m not sure I can ever fix the decision I made,” Kathleen whispered softly, her voice full of ache, “and… you don’t owe me anything, but… for now, you can’t tell him… I’m begging you. It would break him and… he is already breaking.” Olivia had no intentions of telling Elliot about Lewis at this point, maybe someday… but now was certainly not the time, so while it wasn’t precisely Kathleen’s place to ask her not to, she agreed with Kathleen’s assessment of Elliot’s mental state. She nodded slowly, her eyes staring out the windshield, “I agree that I can’t tell him now, I had no intentions to… he has too much going on right now,” she replied, her voice somewhat numb as she pushed the flood of emotions back within the walls she had built around her heart. She had buried so many emotions over the last ten years in the Elliot-sized hole that had been left in her heart… this was just one of them. She swallowed dryly, wiping the tears from her eyes and extracting her keys from her pocket, “I’d prefer if we don’t discuss this again,” she said, glancing at Kathleen who nodded understandingly. Without another word, Olivia turned the key in the ignition and her SUV roared to life. The trip to grab coffee was brief and quiet… there was a tension between them, but it eased up as time went on. When they finally returned to the hospital, Maureen and Lizzie were there. Both were clearly unsurprised to see Olivia, meaning that her presence had been mentioned to them before she and Kathleen had returned.

 

“Thanks,” Elliot mumbled, grasping his cup of coffee gratefully and taking a long sip. Olivia handed Dickie his cup and then apologized to Maureen and Lizzie, “Sorry, we weren’t sure when you’d arrive… I can run back out,” she said, her voice earnest. They had both shrugged it off and before Olivia could say anything else, the same doctor returned to the waiting room, “Mr. Stabler?” she called. Elliot stood, abandoning his cup of coffee on the table beside his seat, “Doctor, how is she?” he inquired urgently, striding forward. The doctor flashed a perfunctory smile at the kids before directing her attention towards Elliot, “She’s out of surgery and should be waking up soon… I want you to be aware of the gravity of her condition. The blast broke several bones and caused some internal bleeding, most of which we seem to have stopped, but she still isn’t out of the woods. I am clearing her for visitors, but I recommend keeping it to one or two at a time and for brief visits,” she spoke, glancing at each of the kids in the room, “she’s strong, but these sorts of injuries can be insurmountable.” Olivia was both grateful for the honesty and devastated on behalf of the entire stabler family. By this point, Elliot had called Eli and made contact, so he turned to the kids and spoke, “I’m going to go in first and get Eli on the phone to talk with his mother… don’t bicker about the order but decide who will be going in next… Liv,” he said her name in a soft tone, “you should come with me… we need to know what she remembers and… I can’t take her statement…”

 

She felt her lips purse slightly, but she nodded and followed him, leaving her own coffee on the table beside his. They walked side-by-side down the corridor, a few steps behind the doctor that was taking them to Kathy’s room. A nurse emerged from the room as they approached, smiling a practiced smile, “She just woke up…she’s a bit woozy, but coherent. Seems that her head was spared,” she said gently. Elliot nodded and entered Kathy’s room first, Olivia lingered in the doorway… she didn’t want to intrude. Elliot circled to the far side of Kathy’s bed and sat on the stool that normally a doctor might use, gesturing for Olivia to come in. She strode in, her hands clasped in front of her and her eyes softening at the sight of Kathy. The heat from the blast had singed her forehead and some of her hairs, the slight smell of burnt flesh and hair made her flinch, but Elliot hadn’t noticed… his gaze was locked on Kathy. “Hey Kath…” he mused, his voice softer and warmer than she’d ever heard it when he spoke to or about Kathy, a sad smile tugged at her features, “I’m here…so is Olivia,” he added, his gaze flickering to Olivia before refocusing on his wife. Olivia stepped closer, but she didn’t sit… she still felt like an intruder in their space, in their lives. “Hey Kathy,” she whispered, smiling slightly when Kathy’s bleary gaze drifted to her, “I don’t want to make you talk about it… but do you remember anything about what happened?” she inquired, her voice soft and encouraging. She didn’t want to overstay her welcome, she needed to make sure that if there was anything… any piece of information… that she could pass it along to the detectives working the case.

 

She extracted her phone from her coat and opened the voice recording app, pressing record, “Kathy… what’s the last thing you remember?” she pressed, her voice still soft and encouraging. Kathy spoke, her voice hoarse, “I… remember the awards ceremony. Seeing Elliot…give his speech and you give yours…” she began, her tone wavering, “I remember… us talking, Liv,” she said, shutting her eyes and shaking her head, “I don’t know…” Elliot smiled at her, but it didn’t reach his eyes, “What else, Kath, any detail could help…” Kathy shook her head, “I didn’t… I didn’t even get to the car…” she said, her brow furrowed with concentration. Olivia stepped forward, “You didn’t turn the car on?” she inquired, making sure she received that confirmation. Kathy shook her head slowly, “No… I was about to grab the handle,” she said, her voice lucid. Olivia and Elliot shared a glance and Elliot voice what she was thinking, “Either it misfired, or it was set off remotely…” She nodded. Kathy spoke again, glancing between them, “Look at you two… just like the old days… side-by-side, always so in sync.” Olivia felt a knot form in her throat and she stopped the recording, tucking her phone away, “thank you, Kathy… this statement will help the unit that is working your case,” she said, offering a tense smile, “I should go…” she added, gesturing over her shoulder, “so you can talk…” She was already backing away, desperate to escape the strange aura of the room, but Kathy used all her strength to extend her hand towards her, “Wait… Liv…” she said, glancing to Elliot, “give us a moment?” she asked, Olivia felt her stomach drop. Elliot flashed a forced smile and nodded, leaning in to plant a kiss on Kathy’s forehead, “I’ll be right outside… I’ll work on getting Eli on the phone,” he said softly, standing and departing the room.

 

Kathy’s hand was still extended to her, so she stepped towards her and took it, feeling the weak squeeze that Kathy offered, “I… I’m sorry, Olivia,” she whispered, her eyes welling with tears, “I know… I know that Elliot leaving without saying goodbye must’ve been a fate worse than anything I could imagine. And I know that I’m…partially responsible for that.” Olivia felt the knot in her throat grow, her own eyes stinging with the threat of tears, “Kathy, you don’t have to—” but before she could continue, Kathy cut her off, “I do have to, because… the Doctors were honest with me when I woke up, Liv… they really don’t think that I’m going to make it and I can’t – no, I won’t – take this regret to my grave.” Her voice wavered and she took a moment before she continued, “I asked Elliot to leave, I gave him an ultimatum… me or you. It was unfair, but it was the only way he could truly be mine. I don’t regret the ten years he and I got, but I do regret the pain it caused you…and him. You don’t owe me anything… but please… take care of him for me.” Olivia felt a single, burning tear trail down her cheek and she nodded, pressing her lips together and doing her best not to sob, “I promise.” With that, Kathy gave her hand one last squeeze and said a small, “Thank you…” before releasing her hand. Olivia wanted to hug her in that moment, but somehow, she knew that she couldn’t… she knew there wasn’t room for that with what Kathy had just asked of her. So instead, she turned, wiping the tear from her cheek and departed the room. Elliot already had Eli on the phone when she departed, so she said nothing, but heard him move back into the room. She strode away, desperate to get away from him… from them… from the promise she’d just made.

 

She made her way to the roof, needing desperately to breathe fresh air… needing to escape the smell of hospital rooms and alcohol swabs. The sun had started to rise, the New York skyline was backlit by the subtle strands of sunlight that broke forth from the horizon and it was awe-inspiring. She leaned against the railing, putting the entirety of her wait onto the palms of her hands against the cold metal. She stood there and watched the sun rise, the start of a new day… poetic, she thought, as her friendship with Elliot was somehow getting another chance. She hadn’t been sure about letting him back in, based on their conversation… she wasn’t sure he’d really understood what his disappearance had done to her, she still didn’t think he fully grasped it, but after what Kathy had said… she realized that she understood what he meant. Now that she had seen him, spoken to him, she couldn’t just walk away… the same way he wouldn’t have left if he heard her voice, if she asked him to stay. The sunrise was slow, but stunningly beautiful, and she basked in the sunlight… grateful for the fresh air and the subtle sounds of life continuing on around her. A few minutes later, the door behind her opened, shattering the serenity that had come over her in this place of solitude. She turned to find Elliot walking towards her, his face a heavy mask of sorrow and his shoulders hunched ever-so-slightly. “How’d you know where I was?” she asked, her brow furrowed, but almost instantly she regretted the question. “Nurses said you went this way… the roof of the 1-6 was always… our place,” he replied, an ache in his tone that was so painful it took her breath away.

 

“Elliot what…” she began, but the depth of the pain in his eyes silenced her, and she knew, she knew Kathy was gone, “I’m so sorry…” she breathed, unable to find better words… unable to do anything. He closed the gap between them, wrapping his arms around her tightly and releasing a sob that he’d managed to hold back in front of his children. He buried his face in her shoulder, breathing in the familiarity of her… believing for the first time that she was real, and she was back in his life. His only salvation in the depths of the abyss. They stood like that for a long time, her arms resting on his back and their breaths in sync, hers deep and rhythmic… his slowing to match hers. She wouldn’t be the one to break the silence or their embrace; in this moment, in spite of everything, she knew he needed this. When their embrace broke, they shifted to stare out at the morning sky… the colors of the sky a vibrant hue of crimson. Red sky at night, sailor’s delight… red sky in morning, sailors take warning… the old adage returned to her and she couldn’t help but thing that Kathy herself stirred the oceans of time with her departure. She gripped the railing and he did the same, their shoulders brushing casually… the sounds of the city coming back into the forefront of her mind as the silence between them persisted. “It’s ironic,” he said finally, his voice laced with heavy emotion, “I abandoned you over a decade ago… and yet, here you are… savin’ me.” His words blindsided her, she had assumed he was thankful for the company, but she hadn’t expected him to acknowledge that he needed saving.

Chapter Text

Only two days had passed since Kathy had been killed, in 48 hours Elliot’s world had been turned on end. He had lost Kathy, but he had gained Olivia… her friendship breathed life into him, keeping him from tumbling deeper into the chasm of loss. When he arrived in the rudimentary squad room that had been established for Organized Crime, which somehow felt more rustic than the other squad rooms he’d been in, Bell addressed him, “Stabler… I must say, yours is the last face I expected to see today,” a note of concern laced amidst her confident tone. Stabler offered a tightlipped grin, something that demonstrated he understood her concerns… but he also needed to do something. He was the sort of person who couldn’t process guilt in a linear way… he wouldn’t take a month off and cry into a pillow, no. He needed to take action. He had a to do list, things he needed to get done before he could allow himself to fully grieve, and at the top of that list lay his top priority: finding the person or persons responsible for the death of his wife. He clenched his jaw, considering his response, “Frankly, Sergeant, I need to get my mind off things… work has always been the place I go to do that,” he said finally, his voice solemn. He knew that Bell would be well within her rights to order him home… and he would, begrudgingly, accept that if it were her order, but he hoped she would give him a chance to work through the grief… and guilt… in his own way.

 

There was a long pause, Bell’s dark brown eyes assessed him carefully, narrowing almost imperceptibly as she did, “Alright…” she replied slowly, arching a brow as she did, “but if I think you are getting too close to things, I won’t hesitate to send you home,” she added, her tone stern and full of authority. He nodded understandingly, he knew that she was doing him a favor… that this was her first act of trust as his new boss, and partner. “Of course,” he replied finally, his tone even, “I’d expect nothing less.” Bell gestured to the board behind her and Elliot noticed some new connections had been added, his brow furrowed in concentration creating a deep crease between his eyebrows, “Who’s that?” he inquired, indicating a young, disheveled man with a mop of brown hair that had an orange string connected to Richard Wheatley. Bell pointed to the picture, her finger pressed firmly to the young man’s chest, “That is Sacha Lenski… I just got his picture from the unit that’s in charge of your wife’s case…” she said cautiously, her eyes watching him to monitor his reaction, “You were assigned to this unit to investigate Richard Wheatley, for his suspected ties to organized crime… what we hadn’t expected until we took a closer look at your past cases, was the potential link between Richard Wheatley and your wife’s death.” The air had been sucked from Elliot’s lungs and he reached for a nearby chair, to grip the back of it tightly as he processed the information handed to him… “How’d we get a name so fast?” he asked, disregarding the comment about Wheatley for now… he needed to know that Sacha was the first in the list of those responsible before he began jumping to conclusions.

 

Bell felt a subtle smirk tug at her lips, “Turns out that despite your abrupt departure from the N.Y.P.D. ten years ago, you still have friends here… they rushed scene processing and located a cell phone that was believed the be the detonation device. Inside the phone, they found enough DNA for a distant familial match within twenty-four hours… a visit to Yuri Lenski in Green Haven proved fairly useless, but a quick check of his records located his nephew Sacha Lenski who works at the family automotive shop,” she explained, arching a brow triumphantly. Thus far, that was about all they knew… but she hoped that they could bring justice – and closure – to Elliot and his family through their pursuit of Richard Wheatley. Elliot’s eyebrows shot upwards, somehow, he was surprised at the speed with which progress had been made, his gaze shifted away from her and back to Lenski… just looking at him, he could tell that Sacha Lenski was no mastermind. “What connections does he have… Lenski… that’s Polish, right?” he replied, biting at his lower lip in concentration. He had picked up some knowledge of names and their meanings during his time as a liaison in Rome, but Poland wasn’t one of his more knowledgeable geographic areas. Bell nodded slightly, “Yeah, but it sounds like the family – and the automotive shop specifically – may have some loose ties to the Russians,” she replied, making a face that suggested underlying frustration. Everyone in the N.Y.P.D. would want to find Kathy’s killer… but this unit would love to find out that Richard Wheatley might be connected.

 

Elliot rubbed a hand down his face and licked at his lips slightly, trying to take in everything he’d just learned. “So,” he said finally, relinquishing his grip on the chair he’d used to stabilize himself and approaching the board, “Red lines, refer to… direct connections,” he said, noting the red line between Richard and Olivia and frowning, “Orange lines refer to assumed connections… what are the blue?” Bell nodded, tracing the blue line between Richard and another figure that Elliot’s gaze was now focused on, “Familial ties,” she replied, tapping Manfredi Sinatra’s image, “Meet Richard Wheatley’s father, the well-connected and almost impossible to nail, Manfredi Sinatra.” Elliot almost chuckled, what a name… it was as though he had been born to be a potential mobster. Then again, mob families were generally generational, meaning Richard had once been intended to take over the family business. “Why the different last names?” he noted, brow creasing once again, “I know you said he took his ex-wife’s name, but do we know why? With most crime families, family means everything… why would Wheatley be trying to distance himself from his father, whose name and reputation precede him?” Bell shook her head, shrugging slightly, “I’ll be the first to admit, we aren’t one hundred percent sure why Richard Wheatley took the last name of his ex-wife… My guess is that he wanted to distance himself from his father’s… less than stellar reputation,” she replied, pausing before adding, “Wheatley fancies himself an actual businessman… meaning that he doesn’t want to be associated directly with his father.”

 

She gestured to a picture of Angela Wheatley that hadn’t yet made it on the wall and Elliot reached for it, picking the image up at looking down at the face of the sophisticated woman that smiled back up at him. “They have kids, right?” he asked quietly, thinking for a moment of his own kids… thinking for a moment of Olivia’s son, who he’d yet to meet. Bell nodded, “Yes… and both their kids live with Mr. Wheatley,” she replied, her voice even. That surprised him, his gaze tore away from the image of Angela Wheatley and his tilted his head, “Really?” he retorted, pausing before adding, “my kids would’ve lived with my wife had we gotten a divorce… and I’m not a suspected organized crime boss…” There was skepticism laced into every syllable of his tone, but Bell shook her head and shrugged, “we don’t know much about the family dynamic, admittedly… from what we can tell, Angela Wheatley isn’t involved in his work, but there’s very little chance she isn’t at least aware.” His brow creased again, and he handed her the picture, which she took and hung on the wall to Richard’s left, adding a piece of violet string. “Violet… direct connection and family?” he noted, arching a brow. Bell offered a triumphant smirk and nodded, “You catch on quickly, that’s good,” she said, pausing before adding, “I can see why Captain Benson liked working with you.” At this, Elliot’s expression changed, softening slightly, and he tilted his head, “How do you know she liked working with me?” he inquired, curiosity laced into his tone. Bell arched a brow at him, pressing her lips together for a moment, “Captain Benson was my mentor, Stabler. I’ve known her longer than you’ve know her,” she replied, pausing as if she was going to say something, but thinking better of it. Elliot might’ve pressed her, but he knew he was on thin ice… and technically a trial run in this unit, Bell had no loyalties to him.

 

“So, Manfredi, do we think he is involved with Richard’s drug business, or is he strictly old school?” Elliot inquired, pointing back to the face of Manfredi Sinatra who appeared to be the latter, rather than the former… an old school mob boss of the dying tradition, the sort where family came before anything else. Where loyalty eclipsed all other values. “It seems that, with the name change, Wheatley has very little interest in familial ties outside himself and his children, both of whom are old enough to attend corporate functions and such,” Bell replied, sounding a bit unsure, “but you know how it is in organized crime… blood is thick than water and all that,” she added, her own dark gaze shifting to Manfredi’s image. “Where does Sinatra spend most of his time? I’d like to… rattle his cage a bit, see if he sheds any light on the situation. Intentionally or not,” Elliot inquired but it was more of a rhetorical question, pausing before turning to Jet Slootmaekers, “Sloot!” he called. Jet had been examining one of the many monitors on her desk, her dark hair tucked behind each ear, “Yea?!” she shot back, reminding him of how his daughters used to answer when he called them to do a chore. “Get me a contact for Manfredi Sinatra… it’s about time someone met Richard Wheatley’s old man and set some balls in motion,” he requested, his voice laced with the authority it always held when it came to professional business. He shot a tentative look at Bell who pulled a face, but nodded, “Let me know what you find out… consider talking to him specifically about your wife’s murder, as if you’re going a bit… rogue. It might make him more susceptible to a slip up if he thinks you aren’t looking at Richard for drugs, weapons, et cetera,” she suggested, turning to make her way to her office.

 

Forty minutes later, Elliot found himself standing at the water’s edge, both hands on the railing as he looked out over the river. He heard and smelled Manfredi before he saw him, turning to meet him as he approached. The older man reeked of expensive cigars and cologne, as though he had rolled right out of an old mafia film. Manfredi Sinatra’s eyes narrowed immediately, and he reached to offer a handshake, which Elliot accepted despite the COVID restrictions… a sign of respect that he didn’t feel he could refuse in the current situation. “Thank you for meeting me, Mr. Sinatra,” he spoke, his tone solemn but laced with the same reverence he’d expressed by shaking the man’s hand. “Didn’t seem like I had much of a choice, Detective,” Manfredi replied through a heavy accent, his voice unamused but cool, “your message sounded quite urgent. So, what can I do for you?” Elliot tucked both his hands into his pockets, his eyes assessing the older man carefully, “Truthfully, Mr. Sinatra, I’m not sure you can help me, but I hope you can… Earlier this week, a car bomb was set off in a rental car that I was supposed to be driving, but instead of taking me out… it took out my wife,” he replied, his gaze unwavering and his tone even, “Some of our intel suggests that it may be due to a case I worked in Puglia… a case tied closely to Contrapos, an international company run by your son, Richard.” Manfredi’s poker face was good, but Elliot detected the subtlest flicker of concern when Richard’s name was uttered… it was a ghost of an expression, a phantom, gone before it had truly appeared… but it had been there. “I’m sorry for your loss, Detective Stabler… Though I must say, I’m surprised to see you back to work so soon. Such a loss takes time to process,” he replied, deftly avoiding the discussion of his son and his son’s potential involvement.

 

Elliot’s expression was unchanging, a stoic mask, “You, of all people, know the importance of family, Mr. Sinatra… La famiglia è tutto,” he replied, his tone even but laced with the slightest air of danger, “You best believe that I will find the person, or persons, responsible for the death of my wife, the mother of my children, and when I do… there is no guarantee they will not end up in an early grave.” It was a threat, not a promise. Elliot’s gaze was unwavering, and Sinatra knew he meant business… meaning his son, guilty or not, was under investigation. He managed to conceal his concerns, but his eyes narrowed slightly, “Your dedication to your family is admirable, Detective Stabler. Indeed, family is everything,” he replied, his word slow and deliberate, “but you should know that I am as protective of myfamily as you are of yours. I wish you good fortune in finding the person responsible for the death of your wife, but I assure you that my son, while incompetent at times, is not reckless enough to go after the wife of a police officer. I taught him better than that.” Elliot wasn’t sure that he’d get much else, but he had one last piece of information to divulge… something to throw Manfredi Sinatra for a loop, “He may not be,” Elliot spoke, his voice low and deliberate, “…but he is reckless enough to date a police officer… and not just any police officer, but a Captain of the N.Y.P.D. – are you sure you are truly aware of how reckless your son can be?” For the first time, Manfredi’s air of easy confidence slipped, and the face of a panicked father broke through, even if Manfredi felt Richard was innocent of Kathy’s death… his cage had been rattled by this news. Elliot smirked confidently, like a schoolboy who had snubbed his nemesis in a foot race at recess, “I’ll be seeing you and your family, Mr. Sinatra,” he spoke, his tone cool and collected, “that’s a promise.” Without another word he turned on his heel and departed, making his way to his car in satisfied silence.

 

The drive to his son’s home had felt far longer than normal, and Manfredi’s mind had spun the entire way, his conversation with Detective Stabler replaying in his mind… He had recognized the name as soon as it was uttered over the phone, Stabler, quite the unique name… and it had stuck with Manfredi since the investigation in Puglia. Yet another mess of Richard’s that he had to clean up. When he arrived at Richard’s home, he pounded heavily upon the door, his face set in a frustrated scowl. There was a long pause and he’d been about the knock when the door swung open and his grandson stood before him, every bit as handsome as his father, “Richie,” Manfredi said, a broad grin tugging at his venerable features, “you look good, learning to dress more and more sharp each time I see you. I’d love to catch up, but I’m afraid this is about business… is your Father here?” Richie’s smile faded slightly when business, but he nodded and gestured up the stairs, “Yeah, he’s in his home office, top of the stairs to the left,” Richie replied, his tone serious. Manfredi had to admire how he’d grown, how he’d gotten many of the good qualities of his father… and some of the more concerning ones. Manfredi clapped him on the shoulder, offering a smile, and made his way up the stairs laboriously. When he made it to Richard’s office, he didn’t knock, he just walked in. Richard was on a call when their eyes met, and he knew just by looking at his father that there was no time for formality, “I’m so sorry, Mr. Casella, I have to cut this call short. I’ll get back with you tomorrow about our deal,” he said, not bothering to wait before he terminated the call and stood. “To what do I owe this visit?” he inquired, his tone laced with annoyance. He knew that his father didn’t respect the business avenue he chose, but times were changing and Manfredi Sinatra refused to adapt.

 

Manfredi’s face was set in stone, the stern expression of a disappointed father, “You’ve been reckless, Richard,” he spoke, his tone critical and his gaze icy, “I was paid a visit today by one of New York’s finest… Detective Elliot Stabler?” Richard’s jaw clenched, he hadn’t expected Stabler’s case to progress so quickly… going to his father was ballsy, or stupid. “Oh?” Richard replied, a false sense of surprise laced into his tone, “what’d this Detective have to say?” he inquired, doing his best to keep his tone casual and unbothered. Manfredi’s disappointed expression shifted to frustration quickly, “You’re really stupid, you know that? You’re a grown man, with your own family, but you’re still a stupid meatball… nothing changes with you,” he criticized, his tone laced with the frustration he felt, “You killed the wife of a police officer? Did you even think before choosing to take on such a thoughtless endeavor, Richard?” Richard prickled at the use of his childhood nickname… it had been the name his father used when he made poor choices as a child and it had followed him into adulthood. He swallowed dryly, taken aback by the news of the death of a police officer’s wife, but he couldn’t admit his surprise… there were only two rules his father had hammered into him – first and most important, loyalty to the family; second, when it comes to your territory, never admit you’ve lost control… it’s a sign of weakness. “What makes you think that I didn’t have a good reason?” Richard countered, avoiding admitting that he didn’t order a hit on anyone’s wife… yet. Manfredi’s face reddened with mounting frustration, “Your reason is irrelevant, Richard, because whoever actually did this was sloppy… they got caught. You’re lucky that this Stabler character is too close to this, he came to me off the record and told me that you’re under investigation for this,” he retorted, his tone bordering on dangerous. He paused for a moment, but before Richard could answer, “And he informed me of your second brilliant plan… dating a N.Y.P.D. Captain, Richard? Have I taught you nothing?”

 

Richard bristled slightly, frustrated by the fact that this information had been divulged, but also somewhat pleased that Detective Stabler – part of the reason for his pursuit of Olivia Benson’s affections – was aware of their relationship. He brushed off his annoyance, choosing to focus on that, and flashed a charismatic smirk, “I would’ve thought you’d be pleased… after all, she’s precisely the sort of woman you’d want me to be with,” he shot back, his voice laced with arrogance. Manfredi’s nostrils flared, and he slammed a heavy hand down on Richard’s desk, “Your arrogance is exactly the problem, Richard. You think you’re untouchable and you make rash decisions. You fancy yourself some sort of wise guy and assume that Elliot Stabler isn’t smart enough to catch on. You forget that when the family of an N.Y.P.D. Detective gets harmed, it isn’t just the Detective who chases you… You think I value family? The N.Y.P.D. protects its own, meatball,” he roared angrily, his tone saturated in disappointment. Richard rolled his eyes, “Please… when I order a hit on someone, it’s mess-free. Isak is good at his job. One bullet, lights out,” he retorted, his voice laced with arrogance. Manfredi froze, his eyes widening ever so slightly at the admission… Richard’s arrogance truly was his downfall, and, in that moment, he realized that his son was innocent… of killing Detective Stabler’s wife, anyway. He took a deep breath, releasing it slowly, “Do yourself a favor, meatball, break things off with the lady-cop. That’s a bad choice, no matter what reason you truly have for it,” he said finally, his voice calmer but still spiked with disapproval, “The business you’ve chosen may not be her department, but she’s part of the machine that is designed to take out people like you and I… to lock us up in cages like animals. For once, meatball, listen to me. For your family.”

 

Richard’s brow furrowed slightly at the shift in conversation, but he was too distracted by his father’s suggestion to perceive why, “I have my reasons, which is precisely why I didn’t tell you… though I suppose it’s a good sign that Stabler is already aware,” he stated simply, his tone as confident as the way in which he held his shoulders, “the plan if you must know, is to make sure Stabler steers clear of me… this Captain he mentioned? Is his former partner and best friend… who he abandoned and, based on the speech he gave the other day, has some feelings that go past what the job demands.” Manfredi could’ve slapped Richard upside the head, but instead his scowl simply deepened, “You’re meddling in things that ought to be left alone, Richard… this Captain of yours, whoever she is, if she’s important to Elliot Stabler, I’d recommend getting yourself far away from her. He’s already lost someone he cares deeply for and after seeing him today, I can tell you that I recognized that look in his eyes… that tone in his voice. He’s on the edge, any one thing could push him over it… and you don’t want to be on the receiving end of his gun when he decides to go off the rails,” he spoke, his tone even and cold. It would be his final piece of advice, a piece he would leave Richard to stew over… he turned, departing the room and not bothering to look back. As he’d stood there, thinking over the accusations brought against his son and the motive one would have to try and frame him, only one name popped into the foreground of his mind: Angela. Manfredi had never been particularly fond of his former daughter-in-law, for a variety of reasons… the top of the list being that she was, simply, not the sort of woman that Richard should’ve selected. She was beautiful, objectively, and smart… but that intelligence was her downfall. Even now, Manfredi could recall the day he’d first met her and the way he’d felt upon speaking to her.

 

He had always thought of her as a blinding light, so bright and vibrant externally that Richard couldn’t see her for what she really was… a dangerous woman with more power than she ever let on. He extracted his phone from his breast pocket and used his irises to unlock it, opening his contacts and finding ‘A. Wheatley’, he hissed audibly at the name… another reminder of the true Angela, the power she held over Richard then… and now. He punched the contact, the phone began to dial her number and rang only once before she picked up, “Manfredi?” she spoke, her voice a mixture of surprise and distaste… another of her more charming characteristics, a complete lack of respect. Manfredi swallowed and his brow creased heavily with his anger, “Angela,” he addressed her, not bothering with pleasantries, “You and I need to have a chat.” He climbed into the back of his town car, snapping his fingers at his driver to indicate that he should put up the divider and turn up the radio as they drove. Angela’s mind raced dangerously; this hadn’t been a conversation she had anticipated… she wondered why he was calling…what he knew. “Alright,” she replied, doing her best to keep her tone even, rising to cross the room and shut her office door. “I don’t want to say much over the phone,” he said, indicating that this would be a brief call, “but let’s just say that I know about what happened in Puglia… and I know what you did about it. Fireworks involving the N.Y.P.D. is a dangerous game,” he spoke, his voice laced with danger. He paused, but didn’t give her time to deny it, “Say nothing. We need to speak face-to-face, Angela. I don’t know why, but I know it was you… so, meet me at the Wonder Wheel, you know the one, 8:30PM. Don’t be late.” Without a word or even waiting for her reply, he hung up the phone on her and leaned his head back against the headrest and breathing a heavy sigh… it had been a long time since he’d had to clean up after Richard, but Angela was a problem that wasn’t going away.

 

As soon as the line went dead, Angela released a frustrated, “Shit,” clutching her phone in one hand and pressing the other to her forehead. She knew, of course, that she couldn’t go meet Manfredi… but she also couldn’t risk him tipping Richard off. She began to pace… she had worked too hard, sacrificed too much, she couldn’t let it all slip between her fingers this way. She chewed at her cuticles; her dark gaze settled on the floor as she mapped out possibilities in her mind… then it hit her. She crossed to the desk, grabbing her purse and extracting a burner cell. She punched the speed dial and held it to her ear, her free hand rising to smooth back her raven hair. “What’s wrong?” he answered, and she breathed a slight sigh of relief. “We have a problem,” she stated, her voice quivering slightly, “His father has found out about the grant project and wants to meet with the primary investigator tonight at 20:30. The PI can’t go to that meeting without risking the loss of the entire project… of all progress… so PI needs you to call in the primary participant. Tell him that his father intends to turn him in to the Institutional Review Board.” There was silence on the other end as Isak decoded her message, but after a few moments he replied, “Understood… should we call in the secondary participant as well? Perhaps 30 minutes later?” It was brilliant and brought a wicked grin to Angela’s face, “Perfect. I’ll text the coordinates,” she replied coolly and hung up the phone, pressing it to her chest and breathing a sigh of relief. To an outsider, their conversation had made very little sense; but to them, it was a whole other language used to keep their plans secret… they could never know who might truly be listening. The primary investigator was her, the primary participant was Richard, and the secondary participant was Detective Stabler… both of them pawns in her plan, unaware of her true nature, her true goal. She took a moment to look up and text the coordinates of the Wonder Wheel, ensuring that Isak would tell Richard that Manfredi Sinatra was meeting Stabler there to turn him in for the murder of Kathy Stabler… and Stabler would think he was turning up to find out who his wife’s killer was…

 

Isak Bekher received the text with the coordinates mere moments after Angela had hung up, at times he wondered if his alliances were misplaced… but Richard had been pushing him towards this outcome for a long time and even when unexpected issues popped up, Angela didn’t panic. One would’ve thought she was the one raised by the great Manfredi Sinatra. It brought Isak little joy to do what he was about to, but in reality, the downfall of Richard would only work with his father otherwise indisposed. He opened a laptop, typing in an exceedingly long passcode and opening several encrypted computer programs provided by his contacts at Mossad. He used the technology to hack into Manfredi Sinatra’s phone, punching in Detective Stabler’s cell phone number and typing in a vague message, <<If you want to know who killed your wife, meet me at the Wonder Wheel on Coney Island. 2100. Don’t reply. Come or don’t.>>. He didn’t need to have a reply to know that Stabler would show… he was already going off the rails, reaching out to Sinatra of his own accord. Isak waited a few minutes before using his own phone to dial Richard Wheatley who picked up quickly, “Isak… wasn’t expecting a call from you today, everything alright?” he inquired, his tone laced with the subtlest undertone of concern. “No,” Isak said through a heavy accent, “We have a problem… and it’s your Father. He just texted some Detective Stabler saying he knows who killed his wife. They’re meeting at the Wonder Wheel… 8:30.” Richard was quiet for a moment, his blood boiling on the other end of the phone, “I’ll handle it…” he whispered, his tone dangerous. Isak replied, “I’d be happy to take care of it for you,” his voice calm and steady. “No…” Richard whispered, his tone chilling, “I will handle my father… this is a family matter.” The phone went dead and Isak knew he’d managed to do exactly what he needed to… Elliot Stabler wouldn’t find out who killed his wife, instead he would find a body.

 

~Wonder Wheel – 20:30~

 

Manfredi Sinatra had arrived to the Wonder Wheel precisely on time and made his way into the park… the blinding lights of the amusement park made him squint as he strode with his hands in his pockets towards the 150-foot tall Ferris wheel, alight with vibrant red lights. The park was vacant, void of life, and quiet… a sense of foreboding washed over him. He knew, even now, that Angela Wheatley was more than she appeared to be… he knew that he would need to be tactful in their conversation in order to convince her to cease her plans to frame his son. But he would need to get her to agree… no matter the cost, for the good of the family. What he hadn’t expected, as he settled onto the cold seat of the Wonder Wheel cart that hung suspended at the base of the wheel, was that mere moments after he had sat, his son would show up. “Bet you weren’t expecting me,” Richard said, his voice laced with ice as he climbed into the compartment beside his father, boxing him in and smiling the sort of unhinged smile that sent a shiver down Manfredi’s spine. “Hey… Richard,” Manfredi replied, for the first time he was truly caught off guard by his son, unsure of how he’d come to find him… how they’d gotten to this point. Richard’s icy blue gaze was vacant, void of emotion in a way that Manfredi had never seen… and it was unsettling. Richard leaned in, his face mere inches from his father’s and he spoke, “Let’s take a ride… for… old time’s sake,” he whispered in a tone that would send chills down anyone’s spine. The goon Richard had brought with him shut the metal door to the compartment and, with a lurch, the Wonder Wheel creaked to life… carrying them up towards the top of the Ferris wheel. Richard’s gaze was locked on his father, his mouth twisted into a grin that made Manfredi uneasy. “So…” Richard spoke, as the wheel carried them higher and higher, “coming here to sell me out… doesn’t that violate your code?”

 

Manfredi’s blood ran cold… he hadn’t seen it coming. For all his suspicions about Angela and the depths of depravity that her soul was capable of, this was something he hadn’t expected. Angela Wheatley had out maneuvered him, and he knew… he knew that there was nothing he could say to Richard that would change his mind. His gaze dropped from Richard’s eyes to his right hand which was buried deep in the pocket of his black leather jacket… likely gripped around the handle of a pistol. “Ironic place you picked… we used to come here all the time when I was a kid,” Richard spoke, filling the silence as Manfredi Sinatra came to terms with his own impending doom, “Ironic that you chose a place with such fond memories… to take me down.” His voice was cold, removed… his mind was made up and as the Wonder Wheel stopped at the pinnacle of its height, creaking as the compartment swung dangerously, Manfredi’s heart raced dangerously. “Richard…” he said, his voice pleading, “I—” But he didn’t get to finish his sentence, cut off by the feel of cool metal pressed against his forehead. “Goodbye, Father,” Richard whispered, his voice void of emotion and almost lifeless. Manfredi never said another word. The sound of a gunshot split the eerie silence of the park in two and was followed by the -thud- of Manfredi Sinatra’s body slumping to the floor of the compartment. As Richard watched the blood drain from him, taking his life with it, he couldn’t help but admire the way the lights reflected in the pool of blood at his feet. He didn’t linger when they reached the bottom of the wheel, all he did was make sure that the shell casing for Isak’s gun was left in plain sight… so easy to find that even the worst rookie could find it. Despite the weight of killing his father, Richard Wheatley felt a freedom he hadn’t expected… finally, he didn’t have to worry about his father’s approval. His family was just that… his.

 

When Elliot arrived to the Wonder Wheel at 20:59, he instantly felt as though something was horribly wrong… He hadn’t slept in days and the mounting headache from sleep deprivation was aggravated by the blinding lights of the Wonder Wheel and surrounding rides. The park was deathly silent… he wondered if somehow Manfredi Sinatra had changed his mind, but when he saw the open door of the Ferris wheel compartment and the hand dangling out of it, he suddenly knew why the hairs at the nape of his neck stood on end. “Fuck…” he muttered angrily, hoping beyond hope he might find Richard Wheatley’s body… that maybe someone had saved him the trouble. As he approached, however, it became steadily more apparent that the body was not who he hoped, “Manfredi Sinatra… shit,” he whispered, wiping his face with both hands and chewing angrily at his lip. He knew this looked… bad… but he also knew that he couldn’t pretend he hadn’t been here, otherwise his new job was at risk. He extracted his phone from his pocket and dialed 9-1-1, holding it to his ear and pinching the bridge of his nose, “Detective Elliot Stabler, shield number 6313… I’d like to report a murder at the Wonder Wheel on Coney Island. Victim is DOA. Send CSU and the ME.” He answered a few more cursory questions, but his mind was elsewhere…racing through the day’s events. He needed sleep… he needed… he didn’t know what he needed.

 

As he stood there, staring down at the crime scene he had stumbled upon, he thought of everything that had happened… and then it hit him, like a blow to the face… He had told Manfredi Sinatra about her today. He had told Manfredi about Olivia and now Manfredi Sinatra was dead… murdered… and Elliot had to assume with was Wheatley. Panic consumed him and he dialed Olivia’s number with shaky hands, pacing as he waited for her to pick up. The phone rang several times, but ultimately went to voicemail. He hesitated when the tone sounded, but stammered a quick voicemail, “Hey Liv… it’s me. Look, I need to talk to you. There are some things about my case that I haven’t told you and… not telling you was a mistake. I think you might be in danger… please call me back as soon as you get this.” He was sure she would think he sounded crazy, but he also knew that she still didn’t know who she was really dealing with when it came to Richard Wheatley… as he stood there, staring down at Manfredi Sinatra’s lifeless eyes, he could hear the sirens approaching and breaking the silence once more… but he was still there, blinded by the lights and drowning in the night… praying with every ounce of faith that Olivia was alright. That she wasn’t with Richard Wheatley.  

 

 

Chapter Text

Olivia was on her couch, cradling a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon in her hand, her gaze focused somewhere on the far wall… thinking. She was clad in white pajamas, having decided that she would have a comfortable evening alone. Noah was with his friends from dance, having a sleep over, and she smiled at the thought of him having a good time with them… though it tugged at her heart strings, yet again reminding her of how much he had grown. Her thoughts shifted from topic to topic… thoughts of Noah, of Elliot, of work… she had no sense of peace, even in the quiet of her apartment. She had been about to turn the television on, to see what random TV show might start in fifteen minutes – at 9 o’clock – and drown out the deafening silence of her apartment, when her phone buzzed on the coffee table. She reached for it, smiling warmly as the name Richard shone up at her from the otherwise black phone screen. She tapped the green button and raised the phone to her ear, smiling still as she answered, “I wasn’t expecting a call from you,” she mused, her voice warm and laced with a subtle hint of excitement. On the other end of the phone, Richard replied, “You know, I had a long day and I just couldn’t stop thinking about you,” his voice as smooth as the finest bourbon, “I know it’s late… but I would love to see you…” She chewed at her lower lip, torn. She wasn’t sure inviting him to her place was the best idea, as they’d only been on three ‘dates’, one of which was simply a work function and had ended rather abruptly after a brief altercation between Richard and Elliot. She frowned remembering it, recalling how even after a decade of not being there for her… Elliot was still quick to express distaste towards anyone she dated. Annoyance flooded her, irritation directed at Elliot, that made up her mind. “Come over…” she said quietly, her voice more seductive than she’d intended, “I’ll pour you a glass of wine.”

 

Fifteen minutes later she heard it, the sound of Richard’s footfalls could be heard as they approached her door. She had buzzed him in a few minutes earlier, but somehow the sound of his steps still made her nervous… butterflies fluttered in her stomach and she checked her reflection again, running her fingers through her loose waves and desperately trying to get them to lay the way she wanted. She took a deep breath, steeling her nerves, and made her way for the door as he knocked and pulled it open, a coy smile playing upon her lips, “Good evening,” she said, leaning against the door and gesturing for him to come in. He offered her a suave smile, his icy gaze absorbing every bit of her… this was the first time he’d seen her dressed more casually and he had to say, it made her all the more enticing. “Sorry I’m already dressed for bed… I wasn’t expecting company,” she added, shutting and locking the door behind him. He arched a brow, turning his gaze back to her and shook his head, “Don’t ever apologize for the way you look, Olivia, you are a vision… anyone would be lucky to gaze upon you,” he replied, his voice deep and serious, laced with his own tone of seduction. Something stirred within Olivia and she felt a flush rise in her olive-toned cheeks as a small smile lit up the features of her face. She turned from him, making her way to the kitchen with her half-empty glass of wine, to top herself off and pour him a glass. Richard’s mind, however, was far from red wine… the pajamas she wore were shorts, paired with a long sleeve button down shirt, but he couldn’t help that his gaze had lowered to her magnificent legs, showcased perfectly by the shorts. A goddess among women. It was truly a crime that such beauty hadn’t graced magazine covers and instead dealt with the ugliest parts of humanity… When she turned to face him, his icy gaze settled on her face once again, taking in its elegant features and the subtle lines on her skin that indicated the stress of her job as well as her propensity for smiling.

 

“Thank you,” he murmured gently when she handed him a glass of wine, he knew – of course – it wouldn’t be the wine he often drank at home, but he also knew that he wouldn’t have such magnificent company at home… a mansion with a view and no one to share it with. She offered a small smile, gesturing to the couch, “Make yourself at home,” she said gently, her voice soft and warm. Richard placed his glass on the coffee table and shed the jacket he was wearing… he had already disposed of the clothing he’d worn to kill his father merely thirty minutes prior, now he wore a tailored silver suit he kept in his car with a black turtleneck made of cashmere. He tossed the jacket over the back of the chair to his left, not wanting to waste time walking back to the door to hang it… he would have it dry cleaned with the rest anyway, a few wrinkles wouldn’t matter. He settled onto the couch beside her, catty cornering his body so that he faced her and crossing one leg over the other. She admired, once again, his ocean eyes… such a vibrant blue, though today she could see a storm brewing within them. “Where’s your son?” he inquired casually, showing her that he paid attention… that he cared about her son, the most important person in her life. She beamed, instantly smiling at the mention of Noah, “Oh, he’s actually at a friend’s house… they’ve all been tested and will social distance like they do at school and dance class, but he’s been begging to spend time with friends,” she replied, wondering what Noah might be up to now. They’d planned to watch a movie or two before bed, which should be soon. Richard smiled wistfully, recalling the memories of his own children… of the nights when they chose to be with friends rather than family. “Well, I’m sure he misses you,” he replied, his voice genuine and surprisingly warm… despite his initial reasons, it was hard not to admire the woman that sat across from him… hard not to enjoy her company and even feel deeper emotions begin to grow.

 

“So… you said you had a long day,” she said after a moment, her voice cautious but laced with concern, “do you want to talk about it?” He considered her offer for a moment, but only to make his response convincing, “You know… I would much rather talk about you,” he replied, his voice laced with practiced emotionality and genuine interest. She reached up and brushed a strand of hair from her face before taking another sip of her wine. “Well,” she began, her voice laced with its own heaviness, “work has been…complicated,” she admitted, her brow furrowing slightly. “How so?” he inquired, leaning in slightly and connecting his gaze with hers. “My reputation… is all over the map. On one hand I’m winning awards and on the other I am being slammed with lawsuits for racially profiling suspects… the world is changing, and I need to adapt,” she replied, her voice laced with unease, “I’ve got work to do,” she added, her voice firm. Richard nodded, smiling at the irony of her words, “The world is ever-changing… we must all learn to adapt, otherwise we become relics of the past… and become extinct,” he replied, thinking once again about his father’s dead eyes and the pool of crimson blood with vibrant lights reflecting up at him. He put his glass down, his gaze returning to hers. She nodded, thinking for a moment of the cops she’d entered the Academy with… thinking of how things had changed and wondering if they’d adapted. Her brow had furrowed as she thought, her chin dipping as her gaze dropped to look down at the garnet liquid in her cup. Richard took the opportunity, reaching out and tucking a silken strand of her golden-brown hair behind her ear, his hand lingering against her cheek. She hesitated for a moment, her lips falling apart as she looked up at him and her breath hitched in her throat… they’d already kissed, but somehow the way he’d just touched her was all the more intimate.

 

“You know,” he said, cupping her cheek and leaning slightly closer, “I haven’t stopped thinking about you since the night that we met… I haven’t ever felt so drawn to someone…” He was being honest, Olivia Benson had blindsided him in many ways… the feelings that he’d begun to develop were genuine, though he knew that didn’t change the outcome here. To say that they were in love was dangerous… but no matter what was said, he was glad they were acquainted. His honesty took Olivia by surprise and the butterflies in her stomach fluttered furiously, the warmth of his hand on her cheek made it feel as though her skin were catching on fire… this might not be love, but she couldn’t deny the attraction she felt. The desire that she hadn’t felt in years… She reached to place her glass on the coffee table, but she didn’t remove her face from his hand or her gaze from his own. Instead, once the glass was out of the way, she leaned into him and placed a firm, but gentle kiss upon his lips. It was a different kiss from the others they’d shared, it was warm and laced with a passion she hadn’t felt in so long, a passion that she thought might’ve burnt out within her. His hands were quick to explore her, gripping her hips firmly and pulling her towards him. She settled on top of him, his back against the arm of the couch, straddling his lap. They’d opened the gates and they were off to the races… his hands slid up, under her shirt, his smooth hands gliding up the soft skin of her back and sending shivers down her spine. Her hands found his neck, her fingers trailing up into the shorter hair at the base of his neck as she pulled him to her, her heart racing in her chest and her body reacting easily to his practiced touch. She broke the kiss, catching her breath for a moment, but he didn’t give her much of a chance… his mouth found her neck and placed adept kisses along her neck muscle, stopping to bother spots that elicited small moans of pleasure. Her grip on his neck tightened and she could feel him grow hard beneath her, a sign that he was enjoying himself as much as… if not more than she was. His hands slid up her back and pushed the material of her shirt up, exposing her body to him. She relinquished her grasp on his neck as the shirt came to her breasts, allowing him to pull it up and off of her, tossing it aside without bothering to unbutton any of it… that would take too much time.

 

She wore a thin bralette, which she had put on before Richard arrived… sex hadn’t been in her plans, but now? It was hard to un-ring the bell… She didn’t wait for his request, or for the feel of his hands removing the bralette, as a sign that she was as ready as he, she removed it herself. He was captivated by her, his eyes absorbing each detail of her perfect body…scars and all. He pulled her to him, a growl of desire rumbling from within his throat as he kissed her deeply. One hand shifted to locate her breast, cupping it and gently twisting her nipple, eliciting a moan into their kiss and making her grow wet with desire… she wanted him, suddenly craving physical touch in a way that she hadn’t in years. She reached down, finding the hem of his turtleneck and tugging it upwards. The material was soft, and she knew it was delicate… like their relationship, but she wanted to feel him against her… every inch of him. The turtleneck, like her shirt, was tossed aside and their bodies pressed together. She could feel the strength of him, the subtle muscular build of him. He clearly worked out, but also enjoyed the finer things in life… in this moment, he was enjoying the finest thing in life. As she leaned into him, his mouth found her breast and he took her nipple into his mouth, gently clasping it between his teeth and flicking the tip of his tongue back and forth against it. Her back arched and she let her head fall back in pleasure. Beneath her, she could feel him desperate to break free of the confines of his tailored pants. “I want you…” she breathed; her voice weakened by the pleasure that was taking control of her body. He didn’t need to be told twice, he released her nipple from his mouth and placed a firm kiss to her lips, “I’ve wanted you since the moment I saw you… lead the way,” he mused, his tone even despite his rapid heart rate and slightly labored breathing. She slid off his lap easily, extending her right hand to him… he took it with his left and she turned to lead him to the bedroom.

 

In the hallway, however, Richard tugged her back towards him and ensnared her in his arms once again and pressing his body against her. He spun them so her back was to the wall and he slid his hands down her body, exploring her with expert precision, and finding the waistband of her shorts. Her heart raced dangerously; her body ached for him but something in her mind still felt the same sort of unease around him… the unease she couldn’t place. She ignored that part of her, giving in to her desire… to her need for physical touch, her need to be wanted the way she deserved to be. He pushed the shorts down, letting them fall to the ground around her ankles with ease, leaving only one line of defense for her. He deepened the kiss now, his hands exploring her freely, and she let her nails drag against his skin as she reached for his belt. She fumbled with it slightly, her nerves apparent in her shaking hands, but she quickly unfastened it and pulled it from the belt loops, tossing it aside on the floor as his kisses found her neck once again. Her body ached for release, her back arching against the coolness of the wall as he continued to skillfully build up her pleasure… he was an experienced lover, of that much she was certain. “Richard…” she had whispered it, pleading with him… the ache spread from her core and reached every part of her, her legs had even begun to quiver. He stopped, looking up at her with a devilish smirk, and said, “do you want me to stop?” he mused, sliding his hand down her stomach, finding the edge of her panties and stopping, waiting for her permission. She didn’t want him to stop… she didn’t know what she wanted. Her chest rose and fell rapidly as she fought to catch her breath, “…No,” she replied finally, her voice breathy and laced with seduction, “I want you to take me down the hallway, lay me down on that bed, and fuck me.” He licked his lips, amused by her directness and more than willing to oblige, “As you wish…” he replied, extending his hand to her once again and leading the way to the bedroom.

 

She moved past him, slipping her panties over her ass and letting them slide to the floor. Stepping out of them, she glanced over her shoulder at him… he was still half dressed, hardly very fair. He watched her with the eyes of a predator, focused… ready for the hunt. From within a pocket, he produced his wallet and extracted a condom, he always kept a couple with him… he had not intentions of extending the Wheatley family try for the time being. He tossed it on the nightstand easily, so it would be well within reach when they needed it. His eyes found Olivia once again, drinking in her beauty as if it was water from the Fountain of Youth, “You are magnificent…” he whispered, his hand finding her face and pulling her into him. Her hands found his waist, undoing the button and zipper of his pants, releasing the pressure on the bulge she had elicited within his Calvin Klein trunks. She pushed the pants down and they crumpled into a pile at his ankles. There they stood… only one line of defense between them, even through the trunks she could feel the throb of him. It was a concrete sign that he wanted her ask much as she wanted him. He backed her up towards the bed and she fell back against it, pushing the comforter out of the way as she did. Her heart raced, her body aching for the release… aching to touch and be touched… He shed his trunks and she saw him in all his glory, he climbed onto the bed and on top of her, his right hand finding its way between her legs to her entrance which was already dripping with desire. He smirked triumphantly, but he wasn’t ready to give in to his own desire yet. He leaned in and kissed her lips as he pressed two fingers inside of her, his thumb finding her clit with adept precision. She gasped into the kiss, her entire body alight with ecstasy, her back arching and she could feel herself quiver already. It became apparent within a few moments that between his skill and her lack of physical touch, Olivia didn’t stand a chance… the first of her orgasms approached steadily and, just as it was about to hit, he stopped. She felt her whole body react as he ceased his movements, stopping to look at her and watch her squirm.

 

He didn’t make her wait long though, instead he leaned down and took her nipple into his mouth again, his tongue swirling perfect circles around it as his thumb resumed its gentle dance around her clit. Her climax began to build once again, her entire body reacting to his every move… his every touch. Her heart pounded in her chest and she gripped the sheets with one hand, the other entangling in his dark hair. Her moans echoed around the small apartment; her body was alight with the fireworks of her oncoming orgasm. This time, however, he didn’t stop until her legs shook and her toes curled… he didn’t stop until he could feel her quiver around his fingers, until he could feel her grow even wetter with desire. When her climax hit and began to settle, her looked up at her with a smug satisfaction etched into his features… he was the sort of lover that never had to ask if their partner came, only how many times. Olivia’s chest rose and fell rapidly, and she ran her hands up into her hair, brushing it back from her face as she tried to regain control of her body. Richard had stood, wiped his fingers clean, and now had the condom wrapper in his hands. He tore it open and slid the condom down over himself with practiced ease before climbing onto the bed once again. He knelt between Olivia’s glorious legs, pulling her hips to him and rubbing himself against her entrance, feeling her quiver once again with anticipation. He pressed himself into her and felt a shiver of pleasure run down his own spine, she felt as incredible as he’d anticipated, and he knew that he would need to be careful not to get carried away. “Fuck, Olivia,” he groaned, leaning down to kiss her deeply as he thrusted in and out of her, keeping a steady pace and entangling his hands in her hair.

 

When he felt himself growing close, however, he slowed his pace and changed positions. He lifted her right leg up and swung it over himself, so that she was now laying on her left hip. He gripped her ass with one hand and reached between her legs to find her clit. He moved expertly but was careful not to get himself too excited too soon… there was a balance between good sex and great sex, and it was delicate. He was careful with his movements, pushing her towards her climax with each move he made. Her shoulders lay flat on the bed and from this angle he had the distinct privilege of seeing her perfect breasts and ass bounce with each thrust… he could feel her body reacting, her core tensing around him as she grew closer to her climax and he grew closer to his own. Her back arched and, in spite of her best attempts, she couldn’t hold her second climax back… she shut her eyes, her head tilting back against the pillows and her body tensing as electricity shot through her. She breathed in heavy rasps, her whole body twitching in the aftermath of her climax as Richard arrived at his. She could feel him tense, throbbing within her, and she could hear the moan of pleasure escape him in a low growl. As they each came, out of sync, she became aware of what part of her had known since meeting him… he was a skilled lover, but he had something in common with all her past lovers – they were out of sync. When he pulled out and rolled away from her, she stood and made her way to the bathroom. She needed a moment to pull herself together, a moment to think of what she’d tried (and failed) to avoid thinking about since his arrival… leaning against the sink, she stared at her own reflection and heaved a sigh, shaking her head. Elliot Stabler was, not for the first time, at the forefront of her mind… they’d never had sex, he was married… was… but she had a bad habit of using him as a basis for which to compare every lover she had in the past two decades… a habit that hadn’t changed even though the relationship between her and Elliot had. After all this time, he was still the man everyone tried and failed to measure up to.

 

When she emerged from the bathroom a few minutes later, Richard was tucked under the covers and extended a hand to her, smiling warmly. He had managed to guess, likely from the placement of the alarm clock, which side of the bed was hers… and had taken up the empty space on the other side. Olivia smiled at him, despite his inability to measure up to her imaginary standard, he had been good to her… and cuddling after passionate sex was practically the best part. She didn’t bother with putting her pajamas back on. Instead, she climbed into the bed with him and curled into him, resting her head upon his chest and listening to the beat of his heart which sounded distant somehow. She was reminded, again, that no man would ever truly fill the space in her heart that Elliot still occupied… but for now, Richard gave her something she hadn’t had in years, passion and affection. “I know we can’t make any promises,” he mumbled idly, stroking her hair as he shut his eyes and let himself relax, “Because, with Noah, your job… I know that it’s delicate, but… I like you, Olivia Benson… I adore you.” She smiled at his comment, nodding slightly and replying, “I like you too… I appreciate you understanding that it isn’t just about me.” Without another word, they both began to doze, their bodies spent from the throes of their passion and their respective long days. In the living room, Olivia’s phone buzzed against the surface of the coffee table. The screen, lighting up the darkened room, read Stabler; however, like so many of her calls to him in the months after his departure, his call went unanswered. It was nearing ten o’clock and he was at the base of the Wonder Wheel, hoping with every ounce of faith he had that she was okay… and she was not with Richard Wheatley.

Chapter Text

Elliot sipped the coffee Bell had brought to him, wincing slightly at the way it was made – too much cream – but grateful nonetheless for the thought. He’d been up all night by this point, first as the reporting witness… then as a preliminary suspect… and, finally, when Bell had arrived ten minutes ago, around 05:00, with coffee and reinforcements. Elliot took another sip of the coffee and refocused himself to Bell’s words, “You want to explain to me why the hell you were coming all the way out here alone, at night?” she inquired, a hint of annoyance in her tone. He might assume it was because she felt he’d gone behind her back, but in reality, she was more annoyed by the lack of trust such an action portrayed… he could’ve at least texted her, “If something had happened to you, I wouldn’t have known until you didn’t show up for work the next morning. I know you have a lot going on right now, Stabler, but you gotta start trusting someone other than Captain Benson.” Those words stung, especially as Elliot recalled his phone call that went unanswered… more words unsaid. He rubbed a hand across his forehead and nodded slowly, “Copy that, Sergeant,” he replied, still keeping Bell at arm’s length. She pulled a face, as though she were going to retort, but a member of CSU approached them and derailed any further private conversation, “M.E. is putting T.O.D. around 20:35,” she announced, pausing before adding, “and we found this,” holding up an evidence baggy with a shell casing in it. Elliot reached for the baggy and snatched it from her, turning the casing over in his hand, “This wasn’t manufactured… this is handloaded. Could be former military or special ops… or a gun enthusiast,” he spoke, extending the baggy to Bell who glanced at it with an arched brow. “Or both,” she added, her voice unimpressed by the deduction.

 

Elliot frowned slightly but handed the evidence bag with its casing back to the CSU investigator, “Hey… can we get Mr. Sinatra’s cell phone and other personal effects?” he inquired as she took the bag back. She nodded and departed to retrieve what he’d requested, Elliot’s gaze followed her for a moment, the idle swing of her brown ponytail reminded him of a hairstyle Olivia had once had… around the same time that she returned to SVU and discovered her brother Simon. “Why do you want his phone?” Bell inquired, shattering Elliot’s train of thought. He shook his head, as if to clear it of thoughts, “I want to give it directly to Sloot, so she can get everything off it,” he replied simply, his brow furrowed in concentration, “I don’t know what it is… but something doesn’t feel right, Bell,” he added, his gaze settling on her face, “Manfredi was coming to meet me… to tell me who killed my wife. I have to assume he was talking about his son, why else would he have any information? But if that’s the case… he wouldn’t have told his son he was coming here… how did Richard know to send someone kill him?” Bell nodded slowly, her own brow furrowed slightly as she tore her gaze from him to look up at the Wonder Wheel, “I wonder why he picked the Wonder Wheel… don’t these old mob guys have their usual haunts to hold meetings in? This place gives me the creeps in pure daylight,” she replied, shaking her head. She didn’t know what Elliot was onto, but she knew he was right… something didn’t add up. There was at least one other player they didn’t know about. “Have they heard any updates about Sacha Lenski?” Elliot added finally, a thoughtful look on his face. Bell shook her head, “No, some big-wig attorney showed up to defend him despite him having no money… there are big players involved in all this. We just have to figure out who they are,” she replied, a frown tugging at her full lips. There was a tense pause that hung between them, “We’re gonna get them, Elliot… whoever is involved in Kathy’s death? We’ll figure it out. Moennig has the entire task force on it, and he promised to keep us in the loop. Fortunately, Manfredi Sinatra – who may just be a link between the two cases – is ours.”

 

Relief flooded Elliot, despite a distinct lack of evidence… he somehow knew this was Wheatley. He was more certain about that than he’d even been about Wheatley’s involvement with killing Kathy… he had seen it, in Manfredi’s face, that disapproving father look. The sort of look that drives children to act out, to lash out. “Full disclosure?” he said finally, his gaze turning to Bell as he took another sip of the coffee that she had brought him. She nodded, giving him a quizzical look, but remaining silent. He chewed at his lip slightly, glancing to the side and sighing through his nostrils, “When I went to talk to Manfredi yesterday? To rattle his cage?” he began, checking in that they were on the same page about his interaction, “I… might’ve mentioned to him that Richard was seeing Olivia. I didn’t use her name, but I mention him seeing a N.Y.P.D. Captain. Manfredi hadn’t been heated about Kathy’s death – not outwardly – but my comment about Liv… it hit a nerve.” Bell felt her expression falter, the stress of this news settling upon her, “You called Captain Benson yet?” she inquired, concern etched into her tone. She knew that Elliot had played the cards he had, she was quite certain she would’ve done the same in his position, but now there was another factor at play… Olivia Benson’s safety. “I called,” he said, a statement with an undertone of annoyance, “she didn’t answer…I called right after calling 9-1-1…” Ayana Bell felt the nerves cause her stomach to flip uncomfortably, “Call again… it’s early, but maybe she’ll hear it,” she said, an order. She wasn’t sure it was acceptable for her to call this early… Olivia had been her mentor, not her friend. It was a different dynamic and she held immeasurable respect for her. Elliot grabbed his phone from his pocket and dialed Olivia again, but once again his call went unanswered, “Liv, it’s me… call me back, please.”

 

Olivia stirred from her slumber around 06:20, to the signs of daybreak beginning… subtle hints of sunlight peaked in through her bedroom window and she turned, surprised to find that Richard was already gone… he must’ve slipped out of the apartment while she slept. Part of her was relieved, relieved that they didn’t need to have a conversation about their night now… that she didn’t need to tell him, yet, that she was uncertain about their relationship. She ran a hand through her messy brown hair, standing and crossing the room, still unclothed from the night’s escapade, and making her way to the living room. She found her phone discarded on the coffee table and muttered a small, “Shit,” when she saw two missed calls from Elliot. She unlocked her phone and clicked the first message, the longer of the two, listening to it. She could hear the urgency in his tone, so she didn’t bother listening to his second message… she just called him back. The phone only rang once before he answered, “Liv, hey, you alright?” his voice as urgent as it had been the night before. She felt her face contort into a confused expression, but she replied, “Yes…I’m fine. Sorry I missed your call; I left my phone in the living room last night. Is everything okay?” Elliot was silent for a moment, relief flooding through him as fast as his blood pumped through his veins, “Honestly, it’s a bit of a long story… I stumbled across a crime scene last night that might be tied to Kathy’s murder. I’m still here, do you have time to meet me and Sergeant Bell here? We could use your help,” he replied, trying to keep his voice even. In truth, he only wanted her there so he could convince her to end things with Richard Wheatley… he had made a mistake not telling her who Wheatley was sooner, he’d made a mistake mentioning her to Manfredi yesterday.

 

There was a long pause on the other end of the phone, but Olivia knew that she needed to go, Elliot never asked for help… she certainly couldn’t turn him away now. “Where are you?” she replied, her voice even. He rubbed at his nose slightly, glancing up at the Wonder Wheel and replying, “Coney Island… Wonder Wheel.” She arched a brow, but simply replied, “Got it, I’ll be there ASAP.” She hung up her phone and walked to the kitchen, tossing it on a charger while she went to get dressed. As she threw together an outfit, she realized how close she’d been to slipping and saying, ‘Got it, El’, but she still wasn’t ready to go back to how things were… there was still so much left unsaid. She looked at her reflection, taking a moment to run a brush through her hair and pulling the majority of it back into a clip, away from her face and concealing the fact that she hadn’t done much with it. She kept a few strands loose near the front to frame her face. Satisfied, she departed her apartment and made her way to Coney Island. The drive was uneventful and faster than she expected, she had left before rush hour really kicked off. She didn’t bother stopping for coffee, she didn’t want to waste a moment. When she pulled into the parking area for the Wonder Wheel, she was met with controlled chaos… the M.E. was there, CSU, and – of course – organized crime. Her gaze found Elliot immediately, his broad shoulders and tall frame were always easy for her to recognize, when you see someone damn near every single day for over a decade, they become impossible to forget. She secured her shield to her hip, her gun as well, and stepped out of the car, making her way over to Elliot who stood with a cup of coffee in his hand and spoke to Ayana Bell, Olivia’s former mentee.

 

Olivia’s gaze met hers first and perfunctory smiles were exchanged, “Ayana,” Olivia said, glancing to Elliot before adding, “It’s been a few years, you look good.” She knew, of course, that Elliot worked in Ayana’s unit… but only because she knew where Ayana was assigned. Ayana Bell smiled at her, admiration evidence in the way she looked at her, “It’s always good to see you, Captain Benson,” she replied, pausing before adding, “I’m gonna check in with CSU on that phone, Stabler… get Captain Benson up to speed?” Elliot nodded and watched Bell walk off, his jaw clenching as he prepared himself for the conversation he needed to have with Olivia. His cerulean gaze shifted towards her, finding her watching him with an inquisitive gaze, “You gonna tell me what was so important that I had to drive all the way to Coney Island?” she asked finally, puncturing the silence. She looped her thumbs into her pockets, standing in a power pose of sorts as she spoke to him… attempting to keep herself from falling into old, comfortable habits. Elliot nodded slowly, pressing his lips together and glancing at the body bag at the base of the Wonder Wheel, “The man whose body I found… I met with him yesterday, earlier in the day to discuss his son. His son is suspected to have ties to killing Kathy… and last night, Manfredi Sinatra – the man in the body bag – texted me to meet me here… to tell me who killed Kathy,” he stated, his voice even and removed. She nodded, her face contorted in a perplexed expression, “Elliot, I’ll be honest… your voicemails sounded more urgent, like you were worried about me,” she replied, daring to think that he might actually have been worried, despite her mind telling her he wasn’t. Elliot took a sip of his coffee, but by now it had grown cold and left only bitterness in his mouth… foreshadowing of how the conversation was about to go, “Look, Liv… Richard Wheatley is not who you think he is,” he began, his gaze focused on her face, gauging each reaction carefully, “I know you probably didn’t find anything bad on him, but that’s because his file has been blocked by my unit… in fact, when I first joined the NYC branch, one of my first tasks was to stake out Wheatley’s house, the night you went to dinner… in the royal blue dress.”

 

Olivia’s lips parted as she processed this… that dinner was over a week before her award ceremony. She felt her rage begin to boil up under the surface, the frustration and hurt breaking through the surface, “Elliot, you – of all people – have no right to delve into my personal life,” she whispered, her tone dangerous and her eyes narrowing slightly. He tried to speak, but she cut across him, “You know what, Elliot? Fuck you… You really think that you can just barge back into my life, give some bogus speech about the good old days, and we are just going to go back to how things were? You don’t get to tell me how to live my life and until you have proof that Richard Wheatley is who you say he is, you don’t have the right to tell me who to date.” Her tone was sharp, a knife wounding him with each blow. She knew he was mourning, but his jealousy was palpable… even if everything he said was true. “Liv…” he whispered, holding his hand up to try and slow her steamroller of emotion, “I know I don’t have a say in who you date… it isn’t like that. Richard Wheatley is bad news… he is under investigation for illegal trade domestically and internationally. Drugs. Weapons… Liv…” he implored her with his tone, his eyes, reaching for her shoulder, “Liv, he’s playing you… You could have any man in the world, just… get another boyfriend. Get rid of this one, he’s going to bring you down. Think about your son.” That did it, she gave him an incredulous face, rolling her eyes… she felt her temper boil over and she slapped the cup of coffee out of his hand, stepping towards him and pressing her index finger into his chest, “You don’t get to talk about my son,” she hissed, her face mere inches from his.

 

“You keep trying to convince me – and the world – that you’ve changed, Elliot?” she continued, each word a pointed blow at the holes in his armor, “Have you even spoken to your kids about Kathy? Have you even planned her funeral? No? Yet here you are… inserting yourself into my life after a decade of being a phantom… claiming that you’ve changed… I suppose that’s just the wonder of you, Elliot Stabler. The valiant hero, even when your heroics are not needed or wanted,” she continued, her tone laced with venom. She was angry… about this, about his departure from her life, about the fact that the one time she really did need him he wasn’t there. She felt the tears stinging at her eyes and she wiped them away harshly, turning to go, “I don’t know why the fuck you brought me here,” she said over her shoulder. He froze for a moment, watching as Olivia walked away… but he shook his head, shaking away his hesitance and jogged after her, grabbing her by the wrist. She jerked her arm away, an old habit from years of dealing with PTSD, and she could tell the movement had shocked him. “What?!” she snapped, her voice angry and hot tears stinging at her brown eyes. “I just… need to show you something,” he said, his voice softer than she would’ve expected, and an undertone of hurt was woven into it. Her pointed blows had landed effectively… and crushed him. He knew she was hurting, but he knew he still didn’t fully understand the depths of that hurt… “Just… trust me, for a minute,” he said, gesturing towards the body bag that was laid on a gurney and being prepped to be loaded into the M.E.’s transport vehicle. “Guys… hold up a second,” he called out to the techs, who stepped aside and gave them some space. He reached out, pulling the zipper down and exposing Manfredi Sinatra’s death mask of a face.

 

“This is Manfredi Sinatra… Richard Wheatley’s father,” he said quietly, his gaze rising to meet hers, “Yesterday afternoon I spoke with him by the river… I was trying to rattle his cage to see if he would go to Richard, if they’d slip up about something important. I told him we suspected Richard was involved in Kathy’s attack to which he had almost no reaction… I also told him that Richard Wheatley was dating a N.Y.P.D. Captain – you – and that he did react to. Less than 8 hours later, he asked me to meet him here… to tell me who killed my wife… only he never made it to that meeting. He was killed, likely by the same person who ordered the hit on my wife… and the only common denominator, Liv, is his son… Richard Wheatley.” There was a heavy pause, Olivia swallowed dryly… her entire body tense with the realization that she couldn’t say another word to Elliot, because she knew in her heart that if this was true, Richard Wheatley would be planning to use her as an alibi. “Elliot,” she said, her voice distant and wavering, “this is where I stop talking until you have established T.O.D…” she whispered, nerves making her stomach tie in knots. His brow creased and he looked at her with concern, “We already have,” he said, his voice laced with unease. Olivia didn’t hear him because her mind was racing; she took a step back from the body, suddenly feeling as though she would be ill… “Olivia, what’s wrong?” he spoke, stepping towards her. She shook her head, stepping back again, “Elliot… if you ask Richard Wheatley where he was last night… he’s going to say he was at my apartment. He was at my apartment all night.”

Chapter Text

Olivia shifted uncomfortably in the metal chair, grateful at least that it was not the chair with the wobbly leg… The temperature of the room was comfortable, and the lights didn’t flicker. Clearly, despite the fact that all avenues would be explored, they did not feel as though she was a suspect, at least. She glanced to the clock on the wall once again, not bothering to retrieve her phone from within her jacket pocket, noting that the time was nearing 08:00. She had called Fin on her drive here, stating that her services were needed at Organized Crimes, keeping her absence purposefully vague… but she was still anxious about being away from the unit, given everything was going on. As that thought crossed her mind, the door swung open and Ayanna Bell walked in, wearing a mask of stoicism and carrying a file folder in one hand. She placed it on the table and sank into the chair across from Olivia, “So… let’s start from the beginning, shall we?” Bell inquired, her brow raising almost imperceptibly as she spoke, “Tell me how you met Richard Wheatley.” Olivia’s brown gaze had been settled on Ayanna’s face, until she said that… her eyes twitched slightly, a glance to the two-way… to the place she knew Elliot was standing. Her gaze shifted back to Ayanna and she took a deep breath, holding it in her chest for a moment before releasing it in the form of a sigh.

 

She shook her head slightly, placing her hands on the table in front of her and interlacing her fingers… doing everything she could to hold herself together, “I was set up on a ‘blind’ date with Richard Wheatley a couple of weeks back. My friend and coworker – Amanda Rollins – knew him through a previous romantic partner of hers and… Richard knew of me and had expressed direct interest in me,” she said finally, her eyes a storm of chocolate fondue as she did her best not to cry. Ayanna nodded, idly tapping her fingers on the table as she leaned back in her chair, “How would you characterize your relationships with Richard?” Olivia felt her stomach turn and her jaw clench, she hated that Elliot was watching… she hated that his loyalties had shifted. He had chosen his job over her… for the first time in the history of knowing him, he had chosen not to tell her that Richard Wheatley was a suspected crime boss and, in doing so, he had chosen to let Olivia get closer to him… to put Noah in danger. She was livid, but now was not the time. Her gaze dropped to her hands and she reached up, rubbing her thumbnail back and forth across her forehead, “We’ve gone on a couple of ‘dates’… one by ourselves to a restaurant, one – as you know – to his home for family dinner, and one – as Detective Stabler knows – to my award ceremony,” she began, her tone uneasy as she recalled those dates and how easily she had been manipulated by Richard Wheatley, “I would characterize our relationship as romantic, but not serious,” she said finally, admitting the truth. Ayanna nodded, pressing her lips together slightly as she opened the file folder in front of her, “What time did Wheatley arrive at your apartment last night?” she asked, her umber-colored eyes rising to look at Olivia’s face.

 

There was a long pause, Olivia could feel her cheeks heat up with the regret of the evening she shared with Richard… suddenly aware of why there had been moments of hesitation and doubt during each of their encounters. “He… called me around 20:45 last night, saying he’d ‘had a long day’ and wanted to see me…” she began, her voice tense, “My son was at a sleepover, so I told him that he could come by… he arrived at 21:00 and departed sometime before 06:00. I was asleep when he left.” She could feel it… she could feel Elliot’s gaze on her and sense the tension in his jaw, the discomfort that he felt at hearing her talk about yet another man. Part of her was uneasy that he knew, part of her was glad he knew… she hoped he choked on the knowledge. She was still livid at the way he had handled things… the way he really hadn’t handled anything at all. Ayanna Bell felt a small frown tug at her full lips, aware of the discomfort… the tension… between Elliot and Olivia. It was painfully obvious that there was something between them, as it had been for many years… there was a time when Olivia had opened up to her about it, but that was well over 12 years ago and now… everything had changed. She knew she needed to continue, though the guilt she felt about having kept this truth from her was weighing on her mind, “Can you tell me about Wheatley’s demeanor when he arrived at your home? What he was wearing?” she inquired, her tone still removed but underneath her calm demeanor, her discomfort mounted. Olivia brushed one of the strands of hair that framed her face from her eyes, leaning back in the seat and leaving one hand on the table, her fingers idly fidgeting… picking at her nails. “He seemed… tired, but overall…” she began, her voice fading away as she shook her head, “I don’t think my opinion about his state of mind should matter, frankly… he used me, simple as that. I was some form of cover story or… target?”

 

She was frustrated, hurt, and mad at herself… mad at herself for ignoring those moments of doubt, for ignoring that gnawing feeling in the back of her mind that something was off. There was a long pause, her mind racing through possibilities. She knew, of course, that Richard must be using her… what she didn’t know was why. But those were questions for him, for another time. For now, she needed to answer Ayanna’s questions. She reconsidered her question and continued, her voice steadier, “As for what he was wearing… silver tailored suit with a black cashmere turtleneck.” Ayanna nodded, rapping her fingers on the table idly. She garnered no pleasure from this experience… no pleasure from interrogating her mentor, whom she had hardly spoken to in the past seven years. She sat up a bit straighter, tugging a photo from within the open file and pushing it towards Olivia, “This… is Manfredi Sinatra,” she stated, tapping the picture of his face from an undercover surveillance op, “Did you ever meet or discuss him with Wheatley?” she inquired, her voice calm and laced with gravity. Olivia shook her head, “No, first time I saw or heard of him was this morning, when Elliot showed me his body and explained who he was,” she replied, honestly. There was a pause before she added, “I will say, as I’m sure you know, that his gunshot wound suggested he was shot at close range… there was stippling around the entrance wound. If Wheatley is your guy, he must’ve changed before coming to see me… there was no blood spatter on his clothing,” whilst leaning forward urgently. At this Ayanna quirked a brow, nodding as she took note of the suggestion. Part of her wanted to press Olivia, to ask more… but then she saw it, the shine of a tear hanging amidst the lower lashes of Olivia’s eye. It dangled there for a moment, suspended against the forces of gravity before it fell… landing with a small splash upon the metal table.

 

Ayanna froze, unable to forget the moment she’d last seen Olivia tear up like this… the trial of William Lewis. Her heart raced, the memory shattering her heart the same way sitting there at the back of the room had shattered her heart. She hadn’t told Olivia she would come; she hadn’t even spoken to her at the trial… she was just there, in silent support of the woman who had made her the cop she was today. “Do you need a minute?” she asked finally, her voice wavering with unease. Behind the glass, Elliot’s jaw clenched, and he leaned his weight against the frame of the two-way… he hated to see Olivia hurting, no matter the reason. He always had. Olivia didn’t say anything at first, but she shook her head and sucked in a deep breath, breathing out to a count of three. “Truthfully, I’m feeling a lot of things at the moment,” she said, Elliot was surprised by her candor, “Some part of me had known things were off with Richard Wheatley, but I chose to ignore those instincts… a mistake I have made before. Part of me is very upset with myself for ignoring those instincts, but – mostly – I am just ready to get out of here so that I can end things with him as soon as possible.” Relief flooded Elliot at her words, relief for her safety… for the safety of her son… but also relief at the thought that she hadn’t fallen in love with someone else. It was a worry he had always had, against his better judgement. Every time she had discussed a date or shown up to a case dressed up for a date that would never happen, he wondered if that man would be the one that stole his chance… a chance that, until recently, he couldn’t even take. He watched her now, admiring her as he often did when he thought she wasn’t looking… admiring the slope of her brow, her nose that crinkled when she smiled her biggest, her eyes… such a rich brown that could suck you in.

 

On the other side of the glass, the emotion in the room was shifting. Bell put both her elbows on the table, leaning in and speaking more openly, “We know you didn’t have anything to do with Manfredi’s death and we are certain that you didn’t know about Richard Wheatley’s…other dealings. The reality here is that you’ve been caught in a bad romance…” she said, her voice even, “…but I don’t think you should end things with him right this second. In fact, I think we could use your breakup as an opportunity, if you want a chance to beat Richard Wheatley at his own game… you could wear a wire.” Elliot’s self-restraint faltered and he burst into the interrogation room, fuming at the suggestion, “Absolutely not,” he spoke, his voice heavy with emotion. His arrival had stunned Bell into momentary silence, but Olivia rose from the table and scowled at him, “You don’t get to make this call, Elliot. It’s not you in the line of fire,” she retorted, turning her gaze to Ayanna and adding, “I happen to think that’s a great idea... I might be able to get something that will help with your case… with getting justice for Kathy.” Elliot wanted to talk back, but Bell held up her hand and shot him a look, “You’re dismissed, Detective Stabler… I distinctly told you to wait outside. You’re too close to this,” she stated, her voice commanding. Elliot’s jaw clenched, his eyes darting from Bell to Olivia and back before he departed the interrogation room, slamming the door behind him. Bell’s gaze followed him, a look of exasperation on her face, “That’s the first time I’ve doubted my decision to let him come work for me since he got here,” she stated, her brow creased. Olivia chewed at her lower lip slightly, shaking her head, “He’s a good—no, he’s a great detective,” she said, slipping into old habits of defending him, “he’s always been passionate when it comes to those he cares about and, frankly, he’s a bit raw right now, Ayanna… can you blame him?” Ayanna’s expression softened and she shrugged, shaking her head, “I suppose I can’t… what your deal anyway? You and Stabler?” she replied, unable to keep herself from asking about them… their dynamic.

 

Olivia’s brows raised and she turned, starting to pace slightly. She didn’t know, of course, if Elliot was still watching the interview… so she chose to pick her words even more carefully than she might’ve otherwise, “We were partners for a long time, but we were more than that… he was my best friend, the person I always knew had my back – on or off duty,” she replied, taking a furtive glance at the glass… wondering if he was still there. She rubbed at her forehead, shutting her eyes, “We went through a lot together. I watched his kids grow up… I watched his marriage crumble and be rebuilt again… Back then… no one had my back the way he did,” she added, glancing now to Bell and offering a sad, tightlipped smile. Bell knew then, without needing to ask, it was there… hiding in the mahogany irises of her mentor’s eyes… a love that she had never seen there before. Ayanna nodded, remaining quiet for a moment as she debated her response, “I understand,” she said, though she wasn’t thinking of anyone from the job… she was thinking of her wife, Denise, her rock, “I think… that about does it for our questions and – for what it’s worth – I’m sorry we had to drag you in here to talk. I’m sorry that I ordered Detective Stabler not to inform you about Wheatley… he was following my orders. I trust you, but I wanted to make sure our guts were right. By the book,” she said finally, her voice laced with genuine remorse. Olivia offered a taciturn smile, but nodded and offered her hand, “You were doing your job… looking out for your case – and your people. I get that,” she replied, pausing before adding, “and I’ll wear the wire, I want to be sure we nail the son-of-a-bitch.” Ayanna took the hand offered to her and gave a firm handshake, nodded to Olivia, “You tell me when, Captain Benson, and I’ll set up the op. We’ll be in touch.”

 

Without much further discussion, they both departed the interview room. Ayanna hung a right, heading for the center of the squad room, and Olivia hung a left, draping her coat over her arm and making for the exit. She heard his footsteps coming, but she didn’t slow… she wasn’t ready to talk to him, she had said some pretty hard things to her. “Liv!” he called, but she didn’t slow, “Hey, Liv, wait up!” he called, and she heaved a sigh, slowing and turning so her back was against a nearby wall. She stared up at him, her eyes searching his for some emotion… she hadn’t expected the softness she would find there, the remorse, “Liv… I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about Wheatley sooner… I honestly wanted to, but between my orders and my… fear… I couldn’t make myself. The closest I came was the night of your ceremony… before…” he spoke, his voice laced with heavy emotion. He couldn’t shake the feeling of concern for her safety, but he knew it wasn’t his place to try and talk her out of her break-up sting… so instead he chose to do the only thing he could do. “Liv… when you end things with Wheatley, please be careful… I already lost Kathy, I… I can’t lose you too,” he whispered, leaning in slightly as he spoke. She could feel it, the concern… the weight of all the emotions running through him on his shoulders. Without thinking, she reached for his hand, her left hand reaching for his, and squeezed it gently, “You know me, Elliot… I can take care of myself. I don’t know why Wheatley wanted to insert himself into my life, but I can tell you that it’s over… and it’s added to the list of regrets in my life,” she replied. Part of her had expected him to pull his hand away, to be shocked by the sudden act of intimacy… they’d only ever really held hands in undercover ops before this moment. Her heart raced as they stood there, hand-in-hand and face-to-face.

 

They were quiet for a moment, though it felt somehow longer than that, their gazes locked on one another… communicating with words unspoken. Elliot wanted more than anything to pull her to him, to shroud her in a warm embrace and take away the pain he’d caused… the pain he could never erase. He wanted to ask what had happened in the ten years since he left. He wanted to ask about her son, to know his name. He had so many questions, but he didn’t know if it was even his space to ask such things. “How are you holding up?” she asked finally, shattering the tension of the silence between them. He was taken aback, once again, by her unwavering ability to care about how he was feeling… no matter what the context was. “I… I don’t really know how to feel,” he admitted, his voice uneven, “at moments it still doesn’t feel…real.” She nodded, recalling how she’d felt that lack of acceptance when dealing with loss before… she’d felt it about him, every day for a decade. She’d sat in the squad room silently imagining him walking through the doors. “It takes time,” she said softly, her voice warmer than it had been, “but it does get… easier with time.” She knew, of course, like the wounds of his departure… not all wounds heal. The metaphorical wounds left by his departure from her life had taken years just to stop bleeding… but they had never truly healed. His resurgence into her life had ripped them wide open again and she was painfully aware that she had only buried the feelings of pain… They fell into a more comfortable silence, their hands still interlocked. There was so much to be said, but this wasn’t the time or place for the conversations they needed to have.

 

She felt it rising within her, the tidal wave of emotions that she’d struggled to keep under control since seeing him at her award ceremony, the emotion that would make her cry, scream, whisper, and – ultimately – collapse into him like a dam caving under the pressure of an overflowing reservoir. “…I should go,” she said, her voice quivering slightly with the surge of emotion pushing towards the surface, she felt panicked at the thought of being vulnerable now… at the thought of baring to him the invisible scars she bore from his absence. She moved to walk past his left shoulder, their hands still interlaced, and… as she stepped past him, he turned to watch her go and their hands remained in contact until the physical distance between them pulled them apart. Elliot watched with a sinking heart as she walked away, aware of the hurt she was feeling… though not of its depths. He knew, of course, that she felt as though he couldn’t handle her emotion… as if he couldn’t navigate the complexity of everything she’d been through right now. He also knew that for now, she was right. So, as she vanished into one of the elevators that would carry her down to the main floor, he just stood in silence watching her go… feeling the conflicting urge to run after her, to apologize a million times, to wrap his arms around her, to breathe in the subtle scent of her hair… But he knew better. He knew that the best thing he could do, for both of them, was take care of his kids… and get closure for Kathy. He knew that only then could he truly begin to heal from her loss, only then could he open his entire heart to Olivia in a way he never could before. That was what she deserved… otherwise, he would just be – as Bell had put it – another bad romance.

 

Chapter Text

Her phone hardly made it through one ring before she answered it, her voice even and cool, “Hello?” she said, waiting with bated breath for a reply. “Hello, beautiful,” Izak said, his thick accent making the statement somehow more beautiful, “everything is in place for the project. I placed fake data at the old lab… to throw off your participant, to keep up the planned deception in the condition.” Angela breathed relief, knowing that the final pieces of the puzzle were falling into place… she’d doctored a passport for her son, Rafiq, who was all but erased from the world by this point and left it in a safe at the warehouse he had once worked out of. He had been known there as Raffi the Poet and he was, in many ways, a gifted poet… something that had also contributed to his downfall. Her gaze shifted once more to his poem on the wall, skimming its contents for perhaps the millionth time and frowning to herself. I am reminded of a woman in grief… her son divided by land…by triggers and blood. “I’m glad things are going according to the proposal… is he on the trail to the old lab yet?” she replied, her voice laced with interest as she mentioned it… she knew, of course, that their plan was complex and even the slightest hitch could unsettle things. “They’ve already been to the facility… my understanding is that they bagged everything to take back to their own lab for testing and authentication. My contact tells me that any and all information will come back the way we want it to… the data is bulletproof,” he replied, his voice laced with a subtle confidence that only a former Mossad agent could possess… someone who truly feared nothing. “Thank you…” she replied, pausing before adding, “I will feel better when the results are in…” Izak understood, of course, but he knew there was very little he could say to comfort her, “We still on for this evening?” he said in a different, slightly deeper tone. “For now, yes,” she replied, pausing before adding, “I’ll let you know if anything changes.”

 

Without another word she hung up the phone, pressing the corner of it to her lips… lost in a deep thought… thinking of Rafiq and the things he used to say… ‘Mamma mia!’ he would shout when he entered the apartment, announcing his arrival home. It had become a running joke because of the famous ABBA song… something for just them. She found herself spiraling into the abyss of her thoughts… into the place where Rafiq still dwelt, his smile lighting up the darkness that had consumed her heart. She remembered it so clearly, the day he told her about the older woman he’d met… the woman that reminded him of her in all the ways he had always hoped someone would. She was beautiful, intelligent, a mother… Rafiq had only been 29 when he met the woman in the red dress, a fact that Angela had hidden by altering the age on his passport that had been planted at the warehouse… she had altered his birthdate to be 1989, but the reality was that in high school she had made some poor choices in who she spent time with. Rafiq’s father had – in a drug and alcohol-induced rage – attacked her… leaving her pregnant at 15. Now she was 57… and Rafiq should have been 42… and his son – her grandson – was thirteen… and she had never even met him. She swallowed the knot in her throat, forcing the emotion back beneath the surface… now wasn’t the time to lose her cool, not when her goal was so close. She pressed a hand to her mouth, taking a deep breath and shutting her eyes as she released it. A knock on her door jarred her to reality and she jumped slightly, her dark gaze shifting to the door and finding a face she hadn’t expected to see so soon… though it was a face she most certainly recognized. “Dr. Wheatley?” he spoke, his voice gruff… it matched his appearance perfectly. Elliot Stabler stood around 6’ tall, with broad shoulders and a muscular build. She knew his age, of course, and was surprised by his physique.

 

“That’s me,” she replied, pushing herself to her feet and adding, “Please, come in. What can I do for you?” Her voice was unsteady as she recovered from the emotions that coursed through her only moments ago, but she needed to play her cards correctly… Her dark gaze had swept over him, but now settled on his stormy eyes… the grief was etched into every feature of his face. For the first time, a tinge of remorse tugged at her heart… but only for him. “My name is Detective Elliot Stabler… I was hoping to talk to you about your son… Raffi the Poet?” he replied, his voice cool and collected. He didn’t flash his shield; it was displayed at his hip. Despite the hurt she could see in his face; he was doing an incredible job of concealing the emotional storm that raged just below the surface. She felt her jaw clench, an involuntary response when someone spoke of her eldest son, “I’m not sure how much help discussing him will be… you are probably aware that he’s dead,” she replied, her voice void of emotion… if she allowed herself even an inch of emotion, her heart would take a mile. “I’m aware… I wish I didn’t need to bring up the painful subject, but his name came up in an investigation of ours,” he replied, his tone somewhat softer… laced with understanding. Understanding that she had created, she was caught off guard by the guilt she was feeling… she had expected that she would never regret the choices she’d made, but something about him was making her question her resolve for at least a moment. “There isn’t much to tell, sadly… he was murdered and there’s nothing more to it,” she replied, her voice wavering slightly… he was murdered by a hit squad sent by Richard Wheatley and because he had died in a bad place, his murder had all but gone uninvestigated… and unsolved. Elliot pressed his lips together more tightly, clasping his hands behind his back, “Don’t you want to know who killed him?” Elliot inquired; his voice laced with urgency. Angela arched a brow, “Do you know who killed him?” Elliot shook his head slightly, “Not yet, but I’m your best shot at finding out,” he replied, his storm-filled eyes full of determination.

 

The guilt she had felt about his hurt evaporated and was quickly replaced with anger… she was angry that Kathy had this man, a man who would go to the ends of the Earth to get justice for her death, to get closure for his kids, but Kathy had still left him… and, in her time away, had made decisions that had consequences that couldn’t be foreseen. Angela swallowed, hard, speaking after a long pause, “I know why Rafiq was murdered, I don’t know what good it would do to learn who—who did it… I’m fairly certain it was some other woman’s son, which makes two mothers already in pain. Isn’t that enough?” her voice was laced with a subtle pain, a resentment for the truth… the truth she already knew. “Last week, my wife was murdered,” Elliot replied, the unmistakable ache of loss saturating his voice. Angela felt her stomach tense slightly, but she had practiced this exact moment in the mirror… her eyes widened, and her lips parted in false disbelief, on cue, “I am so sorry,” she breathed, her voice laced with empathy… that wasn’t false. He nodded, the cursory nod that all grieving people do… the small ghost of a passing smile tugging at his lips and his cerulean eyes shifting away from her, to the wall. She followed his gaze to Raffi’s poem… he read the lines aloud, the same ones she had gravitated to earlier, “I am reminded of a woman in grief… her son divided by land…by triggers and blood,” he said, his voice laced with a subtle undertone of awe, “he really was a poet.” She smiled at the compliment, grateful that someone else saw the beauty in Rafiq’s talent… that someone else saw more than the man drugs and the family had turned him into. “He was… a gifted poet… he was the love of my life,” she said, honestly… she had her other two children, of course, but Rafiq had been special. There had been years that they spent together… years that she had bonded closer to him than she had ever managed to get to either Richie or Dana. Which was why, when she decided to divorce Richard, Rafiq had been the only child to choose her.

 

“You didn’t come here to talk about my son’s poetry,” she added after a long pause, tearing her dark irises from the frame on the wall and finding his bright blue eyes, “I know the drill… ask your questions.” Elliot nodded, moving to the seat across from her desk and collapsing into it, under the weight of everything that was going on, “We found some documents in the facility where your son used to spend time… where he used to work. Specifically, we found a passport of his and, somewhat more interesting, a work ID of mine…” he said, his voice even, “Any idea where that came from?” Angela considered his question carefully, furrowing her brow as though actually thinking of a potential reason… she knew, of course, that these documents had been forged or copied and planted by Izak at her request… that she had planned all of this. Even meeting Detective Stabler was planned, though he had made it to her even faster than she had expected, a feat which impressed her. “I knew very little of Rafiq’s business dealings,” she admitted, pausing before adding, “he lived with me, but when he left for work, I didn’t interrogate him… he was an adult.” Her tone was matter of fact, it was a partial truth… she didn’t ask him what he did, a habit she had picked up during her relationship with Richard. Plausible deniability is what he had called it… she knew enough to know where he was, who he was with, and the vague underpinnings of it all, but she knew too little to ever be of use to his enemies… or the police. It was designed that way, his business… it was designed so that she could be interrogated for hours and give them nothing past circumstantial evidence at best. In the beginning, Richard had convinced her that this was for her safety, but now… now she knew better. This plausible deniability had been his ultimate insurance plan, the only prenup he had ever needed… because when he made a grave error and took out a hit on a rival company, putting her son in the line of fire and ending his life, she had been unable to provide the police with anything concrete that would allow her to take him down. In other words, the plan he had set in place to ‘protect’ her, had also cost the life of her son… and any sense of peace she would ever have.

 

Elliot had remained silent for a long spell, nodding slowly. Admittedly, he had expected that his visit to Angela Wheatley would be pretty useless… no matter how much the Organized Crime squad had dug into her history, they had come up empty. She quite literally didn’t even have a speeding ticket under her name. “Forgive my intrusion,” Elliot said after a moment, sensing the tension in her shoulders, “I imagine, no matter how forgiving your sentiment, the pain of this loss doesn’t simply vanish overnight.” Angela smiled sadly, knowing that he hadn’t said it for her… it was his way of asking the age-old question of how long it took to mourn the loss of someone you love. “Grief happens in stages,” she began, her voice saturated in understanding and compassion, “and it is far from linear… some days will be easier than others. Over time the wounds will heal, the easy days will be more frequent than the hard days, but it never truly goes away. At least that has been my experience.” Elliot stared at her, his icy blue gaze assessing every movement of her face as she spoke. He hadn’t asked her about the way grief worked overtly, but she had perceived his question nonetheless… immediately he was aware that he was dealing with the sort of intelligence that made one look over their shoulder to ensure their cards weren’t being read by someone else in a poker game. A tense silence hung between them… Angela had tried to align herself with him, but somehow it had only made him feel more alien in the setting.

 

He stood to go, but his gaze met the poem again and he glanced back to her, “One more thing, Dr. Wheatley,” he said, his voice even, “It is my understanding that Richard Wheatley isn’t Rafiq’s biological father… is he around to be spoken with?” Angela tensed slightly, her jaw clenching briefly… it was subtle, but Elliot had seen it. “Rafiq’s father was never in his life,” she answered, her voice tense and frigid, “the only thing he ever gave Rafiq was a genetic predisposition to drug addiction.” There was a bitterness in her tone, a scorn that Elliot knew all too well… he wouldn’t ask, but he didn’t have to. After over a decade of working in the Special Victims Unit, he had picked up a certain skillset in reading people and he would stake his entire career on this theory… the theory that Angela Wheatley had been the victim of a sexual assault and Rafiq had been the product of that assault. He didn’t press her; he knew that would be overstepping and at this point it didn’t seem as though she could provide him with further insight. He glanced at the clock and pressed his lips together, “I need to get going, Dr. Wheatley, I have to pick up my son from the airport in about an hour. He is flying in from Rome for the service for my wife. I may have more questions for you,” he began, reaching into his pocket and extracting a business card, “call me if you think of anything that might be useful.” Angela nodded, flashing a small smile as she took the card, “Of course… and Detective Stabler?” she replied, calling after him as he began to retreat. He turned back to her, his icy gaze finding her dark eyes, “Yes?” he replied, his brow furrowed slightly. “You may call me Angela,” she replied, offering a warm smile and watching as he flashed a cursory smile and departed from the room, shutting her door behind him.

 

She sank into the chair behind her desk, gripping her forehead with her hand and breathing out the heaviest of sighs. She slid her hand down and pinched the bridge of her nose, leaning her head back against her chair and shutting her eyes. There was a conflict within her mind… she was torn between her ruthless decision to kill the mother of five and the knowledge that doing so had damaged a man she hardly knew… possibly beyond repair. She shook her head slightly, as if to clear her thoughts, and steeled her heart against such doubts. She had made the only choice she could… Eli was her grandson and the only living piece of Rafiq left. She couldn’t afford to lose him. When Elliot had mentioned the boy, it had taken every ounce of her self-control not to pursue the matter… she needed to seem minimally interested in the boy, she needed to keep up the appearance that she didn’t know who any of the Stablers were. Then again, Eli wasn’t a Stabler… not by blood anyway. She lowered her hand from her face and rapped her fingernails against the hard wood of her desk, her gaze settling on Rafiq’s poem once again. What Elliot Stabler hadn’t realized as he read it was that this poem had been written in the wake of losing Kathy… in the wake of Rafiq losing his unborn son. She knew that Rafiq would’ve wanted her to know his son, that he had only given up his parental rights for the safety of the boy, to keep him out of Richard’s world – away from the family business.

 

Angela reached to her left, opening a drawer that rarely saw the light of day. It was where she kept more personal items… and, within it, lay two pictures. One of the real Rafiq Wheatley and the other of his son, taken at a soccer game in Rome. Eli didn’t resemble Rafiq, in that he had quite fair skin - fairer than even his adoptive father’s. It had been his eyes that struck Angela, a carbon copy of Rafiq’s umber gaze stared out at her from the photo… with a similar lopsided boyish grin. She held the photos in one hand, spread apart like cards in a poker player’s hand and admired them both… the son she lost and the grandson she hoped to gain. She brushed her fingertip against Rafiq’s face, admiring it as she always had. He had been all the best parts of her, with some of the worst parts of his father… but she had loved him more deeply than anyone else in her life. His lost plagued her every day and she still felt there was no justice for him, garnering her no peace. She felt, at this point as though peace was no longer an option for her, as though her only option was to unleash the depths of her devastation upon the world… upon those who took her son from her. Despite his agreement to help her and the casual relationship they had developed, she knew that Izak had been directly involved in the murder of her son as well… and someday, soon, he would also need to pay… but for now he was still useful, securing his safety and wellbeing for another day.

 

She reached for her phone and unlocked it, pressing the first phone number in the recent calls list. It rang, and as it did, she rapped her fingers upon the edge of the desk, impatiently awaiting Izak’s deep, heavily accented voice. She had begun to think she would receive no response when he picked up, “Surprised to hear from you again so quickly,” he stated, not bothering with formalities, “I need to come over earlier than planned… I’ll be to your place within the hour. Do you need me to bring anything?” There was a quick, “No, I have everything in order… are you alright?” There was a beat of silence, her heart raced as she pictured Elliot’s stormy ocean eyes in her mind’s eye. The silence was longer than she intended, but she replied after a moment, “Data collection is moving on faster than we might’ve anticipated… and there’s been a new development. I will explain when I arrive. Have a glass of wine ready for me,” she said, her voice calm but laced with the knowing excitement of their plan moving forward. She didn’t wait for a reply, she just hung up and immediately collected her belongings. She was desperate to depart, to separate the two versions of herself that had somehow collided today. On one hand she was a calm, collected professor of mathematics… on the other, she was a fierce, vengeful mother. Today the vengeful mother had briefly been spotted in the calm professor’s office… a blunder that couldn’t be repeated, if she hoped to get away with her plot. She first made her way home, though if someone had asked her anything about her drive, she would’ve been unable to mention a single thing that had happened… autopilot had taken over, and she had made it home on muscle memory alone.

 

Once she got home, she shed the jacket she had worn and tossed it back on the hanger from which it had come. She decided to change her outfit entirely, opting for a more comfortable outfit that was more suitable for the evening she had planned. She opted for a pair of black skinny jeans paired with a deep garnet colored top and black jacket. She tidied her hair, still trying to keep up appearances… for now, it was useful for Izak to feel as though she was interested in him, even if her interested was purely a means to an end. The only end that mattered. Her dark eyes in the present lighting were so dark they almost appeared black; her pupils lost to the depths of them… just as her heart was lost to the depths of her despair. She shook her head slightly, mourning – for the briefest of moments – the woman she had been, the woman that was lost. She pressed both hands to her forehead, sliding them back against her hair to slick back the few flyaway hairs that marred an otherwise perfect hairstyle. She needed to remain composed… she needed everything to be in place, every piece of her scheme needed to go off without a hitch. She slipped from her apartment less than 15 minutes after arriving, her dark eyes concealed behind a pair of sunglasses, and made her way to Izak’s apartment. It was markedly less lavish than her own, but she never knew what Richard was up to… if he had bugs in her apartment or someone sitting on her building, so it was easier and safer to meet with Izak at his place, a place that Richard never check in on… after all, Izak was his head of security.

 

The solid drum of knuckles against his door signaled Angela’s timely arrival to his apartment and Izak was to the door within moments, offering her a reserved smile as he stood aside to let her in. She smiled in return, but it was too business-like… perhaps their plans had changed, in spite of the conversation they’d briefly had earlier that day. “You look stunning, as always,” he offered, shutting the door behind her, and fastening his various locks. Despite the relative security he felt no longer working for Mossad, old habits die hard… it would take an expert to crack all of his locks and very few people in the world could break these locks quietly. She strode into the apartment, comfortable with the space as she had already been there several times and found her glass of wine, lifting it easily to her lips and taking a long sip. She made no effort to reply to Izak’s compliment or fill the space of the silence that hung between them, her gaze was focused on the garnet liquid that she now swirled idly in her glass. “So,” Izak began, crossing to the counter where she stood and furrowing his brows slightly, “what was so urgent that you had to come see me right away?” he inquired, his tone less casual. Somehow, he could already tell that tonight would center around their business once again… he lamented the time spent on business, lamented the missed opportunity to let his hands explore the curves of her body and his lips taste her skin. “Detective Stabler came to see me at school today,” she stated, a simple statement, but it carried so much weight. Izak took a step back from her, leaning against the opposite counter slightly, “Already? His team works fast… I hadn’t planned for them to seek you out so soon, what did he want?” he replied, a note of concern marring his normally stoic voice.

 

Angela shrugged idly, “he’s a wreck, it’s written all over his face… anyone who has experienced great loss would see it,” she began, pausing to take another sip of wine before adding, “but that isn’t the most important part of our conversation. In passing, Stabler dropped a detail that I hadn’t expected… Eli will be arriving to the city today.” Izak tensed, this was indeed an important piece of information, central to their overarching plan. He hissed an annoyed, “Mamma mia,” as he turned from her and strode across the apartment to his laptop, “I have his name flagged how did this slip past me?” he uttered, though it was rhetorical. Angela’s shadowy gaze followed him, a perfectly sculpted brow arching as she held her wine glass against her cheek and watched him punch the keys of his laptop in frustration. She remained silent for a long time, her eyes remaining on him as she took intermittent sips of wine. “Izak…” she said after a long time, her voice softer and laced with a practiced dose of warmth. His coffee-colored gaze snapped up from the computer and met hers, “You don’t need to worry about how this slipped past your nearly impenetrable protocols… what we do need to worry about is how we get the boy alone – how we can abduct him without his father being too closely involved,” she said, her voice still laced with warmth. Izak nodded, shoving the laptop aside and moving towards her, attracted as always to the depths of her darkness… there was something about a dangerous woman that was exciting to his soul. “I have a plan, my love… Detective Stabler has to go to work sometime… and Eli will be left alone when he does. I will begin tailing the boy with my associates and track his movements,” he said, slipping his hands onto her waist easily and pulling her hips towards him, “we will plan this to perfection and strike when the time is right… before long you will be united with your grandson…”

 

Angela reached up to stroke his cheek, playing him like an upright bass, “What would I do without you?” she mused, leaning up to press a gentle kiss to his lips… knowing full well that she would soon be without him. A future she did not lament, but rather embraced. She had been alone for so long… abandoned by Richard and their two children… Rafiq stolen from her… for years she had dreamt of being united with her grandson and rebuilding her family. Connecting with the only part of Rafiq that remained within reach. As she and Izak made love, she was far from in the moment… each moan and reaction a practiced line in the script of her play. She was the star, a femme fatale luring men into her bed to use their lust against them… and this was her best performance yet. He was rough in bed, but she didn’t mind… Richard had been rough at times as well, something that had once excited her but now was simply the status quo. At least, with that roughness, came the expedience of it all… within thirty minutes, Izak was snoring on the bed beside her, and she was able to slip away. At the door frame of his room, she glanced back at him, annoyed by how easily she had been able to play him… him! The supposed head of security, the man responsible for spearheading her plan against Kathy… this infallible Mossad agent was indeed flawed – fatally so – and Angela would be his undoing. She shook her head, muttering an annoyed, “Mamma mia…” into the silence of the room, mocking his earlier use of the term, before turning away and leaving him behind.

Chapter Text

His mind raced, blurred images whirring past him… the sound of sirens… chaos. He was running, as hard as he could, and yet he seemed to go nowhere. He could hear the wails of sirens in the distance… but they sounded as though they were underwater, muffled somehow by the density of the air. He tried to call out, continuing to run on legs that refused to carry him forward as his heart hammered in his chest and a cold sweat broke out on his back. He was on a bridge… rain poured around him… and in the distance he could hear it. A loud -B O O M- echoed through his mind… and, somehow, he knew that even if his legs would carry him, he would arrive too late. Kathy. He tried to scream her name… to call out to her as she slipped away from him, as she slipped from this world into the next. Somewhere in the back of his mind he knew this was a bad dream – a night terror, like the ones he’d been having every night since Kathy’s accident – but he couldn’t manage to wake himself up… He tried in vain to scream, his legs moving but still not fast enough. Forward progress was painstakingly slow as his heart pounded at a dangerous speed, desperate for the chance to save her. Desperate to alleviate the guilt that had weighed on him since that night… the guilt of not being there, the guilt of putting her in harm’s way, the guilt of not loving her the way she deserved… Olivia.

 

His dream shifted; he skidded to a halt and looked around him… searching for the woman that should be with him, but she was nowhere to be found. This isn’t right… she was with me. His pounding heart froze, his eyes widening with fear as his gaze shifted to the explosion in the distance… in the place of his rental car, a police issues SUV was ablaze. ‘LIV!!!!’ he managed a shout this time, his legs finally coming to life and carrying him forward. He lurched towards the flaming car and found a sight that tore his heart in two… Olivia lay on the ground several yards from the car, her body bent in directions that made no anatomical sense. He rushed to her, a familiar sense of panic overwhelming him as he shouted, ‘Olivia! Oh my god, no!’ He dropped with a heavy thud to his knees, but he couldn’t feel the pain of them coming into contact with the asphalt… He reached for her, but there was nothing he could do… he couldn’t save her, just like he couldn’t save Kathy. She gasped, blood bubbling at her lips and her eyes struggling to focus on his face… her life slipping from her with each failed breath. ‘El…’ he could see her lips moving, but barely any sound came out, ‘I lo—’ her sentence went unfinished as her hand went limp within his… as her body became still. He felt them, the deep painful sobs of a loss he couldn’t come back from. A hand on his shoulder made him jump and—he sat bolt upright, gasping for air, and staring at the dimly lit living room around him.

 

He was awake. It had been a nightmare as he had logically known, but it had felt so real… too real. He had the urge to know, immediately, if Olivia was okay. He reached for his phone which lay screen down on the coffee table… he turned it to him, squinting at the bright screen that glowed with the 01:38… it was late, or rather early. He doubted Olivia was awake and, even if she was, she didn’t deserve this… she didn’t deserve him calling her at the wee hours of the morning and disturbing her night – taking her away from her son. Elliot swung his legs down off the couch, dropping the phone on the couch beside himself, and rubbing his face with both hands. When he dropped his hands from his face, Eli was standing in the hall, looking at him with concern in his brown eyes. “You okay, Dad?” he inquired quietly, his voice laced with concern and a note of understanding that caught Elliot off guard. Elliot nodded, too quickly, desperate to put up a front for his kids… desperate to be okay for them, to be the strong father that he thought they needed him to be. “I’m fine,” he said, but there was an inflection present in the word fine that clearly dictated that he wasn’t. Eli pressed his lips together, brows furrowing slightly as he said, “You don’t have to talk to me, Dad, but you do need to talk to someone,” his voice laced with concern. Elliot knew, of course, that Eli really didn’t mean anyone in particular, but to Elliot, he might as well have screamed call Olivia, Dad! Elliot nodded, replying, “I know, I’m… okay. Please go to bed, okay?” his voice warmer and laced with a subtle sadness… recalling how he had never really been this parent. The parent that saw their child in the middle of the night and checked in with them… that had almost always been Kathy.

 

Eli nodded back but remained silent… retreating to his room and hoping that his dad would talk to someone. He had never really needed to worry about his dad before, but now… now he was the only parent that Eli had left. Elliot watched him go, his face falling into a mask of pained sadness… the realization that Eli was looking out for him in spite of everything going on hit him square in the chest and hot tears threatened to sting at his eyes. Elihis son… he was reminded of how Eli came into this world, how Olivia had been the only reason that Kathy and Eli had survived. And now… Eli hardly knew who she was. He picked up his phone and unlocked it, his phone hovering over her name in his phone – ‘Liv’ – before he pressed his thumb to her name and the phone began to ring. He sat with his elbows on his knees, his head cradled in the palm of his left hand… the cool metal of his wedding band grazing his skin. He listened to the rings, each one filling the silence of the living room, and assumed that Olivia wouldn’t answer… assuming that she would be asleep. He was braced to hang up when her voicemail picked up, but what he didn’t realize was that at that exact moment Olivia was awake in her room, her arm draped across her forehead as she stared at the ceiling. She heard the buzzing of her phone vibrating against the hard surface of her nightstand, and she propped herself up on her elbow, reaching for the phone and squinting at the bright screen. The name ‘Stabler’ was emblazoned across the top of the screen and as she stared at it, knowing who was on the other end… knowing what time it was… she debated not answering. She debated for a moment giving him a taste of his own medicine, but she couldn’t… She hit the green button and raised the phone to her ear, “Hey…” she said softly, her voice laced with sleep and lowered so she wouldn’t disturb Noah in the other room, “You okay?” she added, her voice full of concern. Elliot’s breath hitched on the other end of the phone, still shaken to the core by just hearing her voice… and grateful for the confirmation that she was alright, that it had truly been just a dream.

 

“Liv… yeah, I’m…” he began, but thought quickly of Eli’s words… that he needed to talk to someone, “actually… I’m not okay…” he admitted, his voice heavy. He had never been good at discussing his feelings, at admitting his weaknesses, but he needed to talk to someone, and he couldn’t imagine trusting anyone else when he felt this way… he couldn’t imagine trusting anyone else at all, truthfully. Olivia was quiet for a moment on the other end, processing what Elliot had just said… the honesty of his words, “Do… you want to talk about it?” she inquired, a slight caution evident in her tone. She didn’t want to press him, to risk having him decide not to open up to her more. Elliot swallowed, hard, but replied, “I’m… not sure, honestly,” his voice wavering with an uncertainty that Olivia had never heard before. Elliot was rarely vulnerable, and she knew that if he asked her to go to him, she needed to go to him. “Well…” she began, her voice also uncertain as she navigated new territory, “…you called me… so, clearly you wanted to talk about something…” She chewed at her lower lip, brushing her free hand through her hair as she waited with bated breath for his reply. Elliot was considering his reply, considering what would be alright, “I’m sorry I called so late,” he said suddenly, blurting out the apology, “I know you were probably asleep, that you have your son to take care of… I just didn’t… I don’t have anyone else to call.” Olivia’s breath hitched in her throat at the admission, at the sudden intimacy of his confession… her voice faltered, and she needed a moment to collect herself before replying.

 

“Elliot…” she began, her voice softer somehow, “you don’t have to apologize for this… you’re going through a lot and I… I want to be here for you, but you have to tell me what you need…” She didn’t want to offer to come over, to overstep the invisible boundary between them. If he wanted her there, he needed to say it. There was silence on the other end of the phone as Elliot processed her words… she had almost said it, he could hear the offer in her tone, in a tone that only he would understand. If he asked her, she would be there… if he asked her, she would come. “Liv?” he said finally, his voice laced with pain and uncertainty. “Yes?” she responded, her voice patient and soft. He pressed his lips together, clenching his jaw as he formulated the words, “I… need you,” he said softly, pausing before adding, “I need to see you, to talk to you… not just talk to you over the phone.” He had done it and Olivia found herself agape on the other end of the phone, her brown eyes widening slightly in the darkness. “I have to call my sitter, but I’ll be there as soon as I can, okay?” she replied, her voice urgent but still laced with warmth and an undertone of the shock she felt. Elliot Stabler had overtly admitted, for the first time, that he needed her… that he needed someone, and he had chosen her to be that someone. She had no intentions of letting him down, regardless of what had transpired in the past decade… she had no intention of letting him down, ever. “Of course, Liv,” he replied, pausing before adding a small, “and thank you…” She smiled, a sad tightlipped smile, and replied with a quick, “I’ll be there soon, I’ll text when I leave,” before hanging up the phone and rising from her bed. She punched in Lucy’s contact and hit the call button, putting the phone between her ear and her shoulder as she approached her dresser and searched for a proper set of clothes.

 

Two rings and a soft, “Hey Liv,” came through the phone, Lucy sounded wide awake. Olivia glanced at the clock, “Hey Lucy, I’m sorry to call you so late… hope I didn’t disturb you,” she said, her voice even despite the nerves that were building within her. Lucy chuckled and most likely shook her head on the other end of the phone, “Not at all, I’m up studying… exams next week, you know,” she replied, her voice steady and calm, “Everything okay?” she added, a hint of concern in her tone. Lucy, of course, knew about Kathy’s death and somewhat understood the toll that Elliot’s resurgence into Olivia’s life had caused, but only at a cursory level. “Uh, well…” Olivia began, uncertainty evident in her tone, “I’m not sure, truthfully, but I need to go check on Elliot… if you wouldn’t mind…” She trailed off, letting Lucy fill in the blanks, “I’ll be over as soon as possible,” she replied with an easy warmth in her tone, “I’ll pack my books now so I can keep studying while there… do you have coffee, or should I bring some?” she added, her voice a subtle question. Olivia laughed slightly at that, “Do I ever not have coffee?” she retorted, a rhetorical question, pausing briefly before adding, “Thanks Lucy… I’ll see you when you get here. I’ll set up a pot of coffee for you.” They exchanged pleasant goodbyes and hung up, Olivia tossed her phone onto her bed casually and tugged off her pajamas. She pulled on a pair of joggers, black with grey stripes down the outside, and a simple t-shirt. She approached her closet and found a simple grey hoodie and slipped it on. At this hour it didn’t really matter what she was wearing… she was almost certain Elliot would be in a simple white tank and sweats, his usual choice of sleepwear… unless Rome had changed his fashion sense even more than she expected.

 

Within a half an hour, Olivia could hear the lock to her apartment turn and Lucy slipped inside offering a small, “hey!” to Olivia who stood in the kitchen area, pouring a cup of coffee for her. “Hey… I owe you big time,” she said, smiling warmly at Lucy and handing her the mug, “made you coffee, but I wasn’t sure how you take it… there’s creamer in the fridge and sugar by the coffee maker. I will Venmo you the money later today… I will be back to take Noah to school no matter what, okay?” she added, her mahogany gaze centering on Lucy’s kind face. Lucy took the mug gratefully and smiled, “Thanks, Liv. Go… don’t stress and text me if anything changes,” she replied, gesturing to the door. Olivia offered her one last grateful smile and made for the door, pulling on her winter coat over the grey hoodie and stuffing her keys and wallet into the pockets. She extracted her phone from the pocket of her joggers and selected her string of texts with Elliot, punching in a quick text, <<On my way to you>>. She locked her phone and made her way downstairs to her car, not bothering to type in the address of Elliot’s building… he had given it to her in the aftermath of everything that had happened, and she knew where to go. When she arrived, sometime later, she texted that she was downstairs, and he buzzed her in. Her knuckles rapped against his apartment door within a few minutes and, as if he had been standing there waiting for her, the door swung open and there they were – face to face once again.

 

“Hey,” she said softly, offering a flicker of a smile as she stepped into the apartment past him and shed her jacket. As she did, a trace of recognition flashed across Elliot’s face… the sweatshirthis sweatshirt, he knew because of the smallest of rips in the seam where the sleeve met the cuff at the wrist on the right arm. He was quiet for too long and she turned to face him, a brow arching as her gaze assessed him, “El?” she said, it had slipped out so easily that she couldn’t recover from it. It took him aback, shattering his focus on the sweatshirt… his bright cerulean eyes found her mahogany ones and a half smile tugged at his lips, “That’s the first time you have called me that,” he whispered, unable to conceal the emotion in his voice. For the briefest of moments, all the grief and guilt vanished and there was just them… for a moment, it was as it had always been. Her lips pursed as the true depths of what she had just said hit her, as the gravity of his nickname passing through her lips sunk in. “I—well, you’re right,” she said, stammering slightly as she tried and failed to conceal the significance of the utterance. “I… I think I really needed to hear you say that,” he admitted, once again astounding Olivia with his newfound ability to express his emotions. She rubbed at her arm, stepping further into the room and, when she looked to the left, her gaze found a murder wall… commemorating Kathy’s death and all potential guilty parties. From the wall, Richard Wheatley’s face smiled out at her, and she felt her stomach turn dangerously. She tore her gaze from it, finding Elliot who was watching her closely. They stared at one another for a long moment, speaking without uttering a single word.

 

It was all too much for Olivia… the way that, despite her best efforts to keep him at arm’s length, she was practically unable to do so. Her gaze tore away from his and she turned from him, walking past the dining room table and his murder wall and into the living room… where Elliot hadn’t even bothered to conceal the fact that he was sleeping on the couch. “No wonder you’re having trouble sleeping… this couch is smaller than that twin bed I used to sleep on back when I joined the squad,” she commented, attempting to use humor to shatter the tension in the air, to remove the undertones of the words unspoken. They’d lasted over two decades without saying it… surely, they could last a little longer. He chuckled, rubbing at the back of his neck, “yeah, well, with Eli staying here… I haven’t had the chance to find a bigger place,” he replied. Olivia’s head snapped to look at him and she glanced down the hall, “Eli’s here?” she repeated, almost sounding nervous. She hadn’t seen him since he was a small child… he probably didn’t remember her at all. He nodded, watching her face with intrigue, “Yeah… he’s… he’s actually the reason I called you,” Elliot admitted, his voice soft and vulnerable. Olivia arched a brow, “Really?” she replied, surprise laced into her tone. Elliot nodded, “He didn’t say to call you directly, but after I… well, I guess he heard me,” he began, stammering slightly as he spoke, “I’ve been having some difficulty sleeping, but more specifically I have been experiencing night terrors… I haven’t slept more than an hour at a time since… since Kathy…” his voice trailed off and suddenly it was falling into place.

 

Olivia understood far more than Elliot could possibly know… she recalled the nights where she could hardly sleep. Some nights she didn’t even bother trying. She frowned as he spoke, nodding, “Nightmares… I have those too,” she said softly, understanding etched into every syllable of her tone, though she didn’t elaborate on them… that she wasn’t ready for. Instead, she filled the silence between them with a question, “so Eli heard you?” Elliot nodded, but shrugged, “I mean, I assume so… he was standing in the hallway when I woke up and suggested that I talk to someone… even if that someone wasn’t him,” he replied, uncertainty saturating his normally confident tone. He didn’t pry about her nightmares, though he assumed they were in part due to whatever had happened in Sealview all those years ago… he remembered, of course, how Olivia had clammed up after that experience… how she refused to tell him what had really happened. Little did he know that her memories of Sealview were as distant as the traumas of her childhood… and in their stead loomed the shadow of William Lewis, haunting her nightmares despite years of working through the ordeal. “Smart kid,” Olivia replied after a long pause had hung between them, pausing before adding, “he must take after Kathy.” The joke had left her lips before she had considered the consequences and almost immediately her whole body tensed, her eyes widening, “I-I’m sorry that was out of line…” she faltered, her voice wavering nervously as she backpedaled. Elliot shook his head, “No, Liv, it’s okay… you’re right… Eli does take after Kathy,” he said softly, offering a tightlipped smile, “he’s got far more emotional range than I do… he even received an award for his poetry last term,” he added, a hint of pride woven into his tone.

 

Olivia was relieved that the joke hadn’t upset Elliot further, relieved that he was not hurt by her words… relieved that he had rolled with it, rather than built up these walls that she had spent nearly a quarter of a century breaking down. “So…” she said, moving to the couch and dropping onto the cushion nearest the foot of his makeshift bed, “what are these night terrors like?” Elliot hesitated briefly but crossed the small apartment and made his way to the other end of the couch, settling beside her as he considered his reply. Their knees brushed and even this small, simple action caused Olivia’s heart to race dangerously, and she felt her cheeks flush slightly, in spite of herself. No one had the privilege that Elliot had… the privilege to invade her space with no request, no warning. It amazed her how even that hadn’t changed after all this time. Elliot’s brow furrowed as he recalled the details of the dream, which were somewhat hazy now that he had been awake, “It… started as a nightmare about the explosion, about how I felt like I couldn’t get to Kathy,” he said softly, his eyes focused on his hands which were clasped in front of him, “but after some time it shifted and… I…” he trailed off, unable to voice his deepest fear… afraid to speak it into existence. “I just needed to call you… to make sure you were alright,” he added, glancing at her, and offering a small, tightlipped but genuine smile. She tilted her head, her eyes examining him as he spoke.

 

She reached for him, placing a hand on his arm and replied, “It’s common for nightmares to shift… they don’t always depict the events as they happened, but rather morph based on additional fears you have.” She knew that better than most… how many times she had dreamt of running from Lewis, when she had never really run from him in a physical way. Even when she had the chance to escape during their first encounter, she hadn’t taken it… but in the aftermath, all she had wanted was to run away from it all. From every aspect of being a survivor… She clenched her jaw, shaking her head slightly to clear it, “Have you… considered talking to someone about the things you’re feeling? I know you don’t like shrinks, but you could talk to Father Hogan?” she suggested, knowing that speaking to Dr. Lindstrom had proven to be exceedingly helpful as she sought to process all of the emotions that swirled within her following her ordeal with Lewis. Elliot was quiet, his mind racing slightly, “I… had considered talking to him, I just haven’t found the time,” he said, his voice vague. He had truly considered talking to someone, but the first person who came to mind was the woman beside him… his best friend despite a decade of no contact.

 

“Liv?” he said after a long pause, his eyes rising to meet hers as she looked at him. There was an uncertainty in what he said, a nervousness that she had never heard was laced into it, “Will you… can you stay with me?” he asked, knowing he shouldn’t put that on her… knowing it was too much to ask of her and yet, knowing that the only way he would get any proper rest was if she stayed with him. She hesitated and he nearly backtracked on his request, but then she nodded and uttered a small, “Yes,” shifting to make herself more comfortable on the couch, “hand me the pillow,” she added, extending her hand for it. He did as she requested and she kicked off her shoes, placing her socked feet on the coffee table and the pillow in her lap. He stared at her, unable to process what she was suggesting. “Come on, lay down,” she said, patting the pillow with her hand. He hesitated briefly, but soon lowered himself so that his head rested on the pillow in her lap, and raised his legs onto the couch, tugging the blanket over himself. He laid on his back, his gaze trailed purposefully away from Olivia so that he wouldn’t simply stare at her, unable to remove his gaze… transfixed by her beauty. He was quiet for a long time, his whole body tense and distinctly aware of how close she was to him… as though her touch was electricity pulsating through him. She could sense him, his wakefulness, even as she shut her own eyes and relaxed herself as best as she could. “Shut your eyes, El,” she encouraged in a warm tone laced with patience and understanding as she placed one hand on his chest and let her head lean back against the back of the couch, “I’m with you.” Elliot shut his eyes and, for the first time since Kathy died, he slept through the rest of the night at peace.

Chapter Text

Olivia had dozed sometime after Elliot, her hand remaining on his chest. The buzz of her phone in her pocket woke her and as she stirred, she saw that the subtle morning rays of sun were trickling into the room. She retrieved her phone from her pocket, careful not to move too quickly…she didn’t want to disturb Elliot who seemed to still be sleeping. She opened the text from Lucy, just checking in to make sure she still planned to be back to take Noah to school. Olivia smiled slightly and typed a quick, <<Yes, I’ll be there.>>, before placing the phone on the arm of the couch. When her gaze rose, she was met with a face she hadn’t seen in over a decade… a face the didn’t recognize, because he had grown up so much in those years, “Eli…” she said, her voice soft and laced with an undertone that suggested sudden discomfort. She imagined it would be odd for him to see her there… did he even know who she was? Eli didn’t look as surprised as she thought he should, instead his gaze shifted to his dad and a small smile tugged at the corners of his mouth, “That’s the most he’s slept since I got here,” he said softly, his gaze shifting back to hers, “You’re… Olivia, right?” he added, his voice quiet to keep from waking his father. Olivia was glad Elliot was sleeping, though she was sad to hear that he had been struggling so much. Eli’s question took her aback, but she didn’t hesitate long, “Yes… I’m a bit surprised you remember me,” she admitted, pausing before adding, “last time I saw you… you were barely out of the toddler phase.” Eli shook his head, “I don’t remember you from when I knew you… I remember you from the photos!” he explained, his voice surprisingly light as a small smile tugged at his lips.

 

“Photos?” Olivia replied, her interest piqued by the comment. Eli nodded and leaned against the frame of the door that led into the hallway towards his room, “Yeah, Dad always had this box of photos that he kept tucked away in the hall closet. He only took it out late at night when mom was in bed and he’d sit on the terrace, looking through the old pictures and talking to… well, it sounds funny out of context, but he always said he was talking to the moon,” he replied, too honest in the way that many young people are… they haven’t yet learned the importance of a filter on their words. Now Olivia was speechless, staring at Eli as though he had dropped a bomb in her lap… she wasn’t sure what to say. “Oh,” she managed, finally, shattering the silence that hung between them, “well—yes, I’m Olivia Benson… I was his partner when he worked with the N.Y.P.D. before you moved abroad. I was friends with your mom too… I was actually the first person other than her to hold you,” she added, her voice wavering with emotion at the memory. Elliot stirred, but a small snore signified that he was still asleep. Eli nodded, pressing his lips together as he considered his next words, “I know… that’s how I learned your name. I told mom about the photos… she wasn’t happy about that, but I learned that your name was Olivia and you’d saved her life when I was born,” he replied, his voice timid somehow as though he wasn’t supposed to know all of that. He paused briefly before adding, “I don’t… know what my dad needs, but I told him he needed to talk to someone. Thank you for answering the phone when he called last night,” he said softly.

 

Olivia couldn’t help the astonishment she felt at the depth of this young man’s understanding… the depth of his emotional maturity. For the second time that morning, she was made certain of the fact that he took after Kathy. She offered a tightlipped smile and nodded, “Of course… he was my best friend for over a decade, I can’t just let him struggle,” she replied, pausing before adding, “I’m sorry, by the way… about your mom. There really isn’t anything I can say… but if you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask.” Eli released a sigh that she didn’t realize he was holding and there she saw it in his face, for the first time since he had come into her frame of view, he let himself feel. It was the first moment that he had reminded her of Elliot… someone so dedicated to the well-being of those he loved that he pushed his own needs and emotions aside. Olivia wanted to rush to him – to hug him the way she would hug Noah – but she knew that she couldn’t stand or risk waking Elliot and even if she could… Eli was not Noah and to him, she was no better than a stranger. Olivia clenched her jaw slightly, forcing back the tears that threatened to creep to the surface, “Just help dad get the guy, okay?” Eli said suddenly, determination laced into his young voice, “he needs that.” What Eli didn’t say out loud was that Elliot needed justice for Kathy… and what Eli needed – what all the Stabler kids needed – was Elliot. Olivia didn’t need him to say it, she knew… she knew because there had been times when that was all she needed too. She nodded, pressing her lips together as she fought back the emotions that threatened to overflow within her.

 

Before she could reply, Elliot stirred again, but this time his blue eyes fluttered open and when Olivia looked down their gaze met. He smiled, an involuntary reaction to waking up to her beautiful face… there was so much behind that smile, but soon enough it faded because Olivia knew she couldn’t smile back, not like that. Her gaze flicked up to glance at Eli and then back, a silent signal to Elliot that they were not alone. When his gaze shifted and he found his son standing there, he sat bolt upright and rubbed the back of his head, “Eli,” he said, an urgent desire to explain in his tone, “I—uh, this is Olivia… my friend—my partner from work…” He was stammering, desperate to cover up the sin he had just committed… desperate to conceal that for just a moment he had forgotten to mourn his wife, he had forgotten that Olivia wasn’t his… for just a moment he had everything he’d ever wanted. A beautiful, fleeting moment. His heart raced dangerously as he shifted on the couch so there was space between him and Olivia… but in his heart he knew it was pointless. Olivia pushed the pillow off her lap and stood from the couch, running a hand through her hair, and Elliot couldn’t help but think how unbelievable it was that with hardly any effort she looked perfect. She pulled her shoes onto her feet and fought the yawn that threatened to escape, “I… should go… I have to take Noah to school,” she said softly, her gaze shifting from Elliot to Eli and back. Eli smiled slightly and replied, “Is that your son?” There was a glimmer of hope, perhaps Eli was hoping to find a new friend in a city he hadn’t lived in since he wore pull-ups.

 

Olivia smiled warmly, an instant glow overtaking her as she spoke of her son, “Yes, he’s a fair bit younger than you… he’s almost eight,” she replied, a note of pride in her voice. Elliot’s heart could’ve exploded from that look on her… the way she beamed when talking about her son, the way he had always known she would… Elliot couldn’t help the smile that tugged at his lips as he realized that she had become the amazing mother he always knew she would be… those adoption agencies who had turned her down nearly fifteen years prior had been wrong. Eli nodded vaguely, a hint of disappointment evident in his face, but replied, “Cool… say hi for me!” before glancing to his dad, “I’m gonna go get ready for school, okay?” Elliot was snapped back to reality, and he nodded vaguely in Eli’s direction, not bothering to reply. “See you around, Olivia,” Eli added before striding back down the hall in that gangly teenage boy way. Olivia watched him go, a sad smile on her face… he had grown up so much, a living timeline of the years they missed. “So… Noah, hm?” Elliot spoke, calling her attention back to him, clearly trying to figure out her name choice… little did he know it hadn’t been her choice – and yet, the name was perfect. Olivia’s smile remained on her face, and she nodded slowly, “Yeah, Noah…” she replied, a hint of warmth still in her tone, but she hesitated… debating on telling him the truth of Noah and how he came into her life. There was a tense silence as images of Olivia pregnant flashed in Elliot’s mind… a sudden pang of jealousy hit him for the man who had the privilege to witness that and the nerve to leave. It was as though he had shouted it, she could see the jealousy in his eyes… the unsaid words of disdain for the man who had ‘left’ her and Noah.

 

She shook her head and sighed exasperatedly, “He’s adopted, Elliot,” she said softly, tilting her head and appraising him as she watched the realization hit him. She chuckled as it dawned on him that there was no one to be mad at or jealous of, it was just her and Noah – and that had been just fine. “I—I didn’t know,” he replied, a hint of remorse in his tone for his assumptions and the misplaced jealousy, “I’m sorry for assuming—but, Liv, that’s great… I always knew you’d be a great mom,” he added, his voice soft but laced with all the warmth in the world. Olivia presented another tightlipped smile and nodded, beginning to turn for the door, but she stopped as her phone buzzed in her pocket. She retrieved it and froze, her face setting into a stone mask. “What is it?” Elliot inquired, urgency etched into his tone as he stood and took a step towards her. Her gaze rose to meet his and she replied in a hollow tone, “It’s Richard Wheatley… he wants to see me – tonight.” Elliot felt his entire body tense, the last glimmer of his relaxing few hours of sleep vanishing from him as his protective instincts kicked in, “How do you want to play it?” he asked, his tone as tense as he felt. He would defer to her judgement, because in this case she knew the man Richard Wheatley better than he did… and he hoped she could push the right buttons. She chewed at her lower lip, re-reading the brief text message, <<Good morning, gorgeous… The sunset this morning was magnificent and made me think of you, and how I haven’t seen you nearly enough this week. Dinner at my place? Just the two of us… maybe I can even show you the wine cellar.>>

 

She was quiet for a long moment, staring at the phone, but when she finally looked up at him, she had a new expression on her face – a sort of determination he had most definitely seen before. “I’m going to accept his invitation… and you’re going to get a wire set up for tonight. You’ll have to have someone discreet swing by my apartment beforehand to hook it up… by discreet, I mean someone who isn’t you. Given who we are dealing with, it wouldn’t surprise me if he has someone sitting on my apartment,” she said, determination and authority etched into every syllable. He didn’t like it, but he also knew that arguing with her would be pointless… her mind was made up and he would do as she instructed, “10-4, Captain,” he replied, a hint of disdain in his tone. She arched a brow, daring him to contradict her and knowing he wouldn’t, “I’ll tell him I will drive myself… and I will plan to leave by 18:30, have your person arrive by 18:00,” she added, turning to go but pausing and adding, “I’ll text you the address.” His brow furrowed and he tilted his head slightly, “Liv, I know where you live… I’ve been there a million times…” he replied, confusion etched into his tone. There was a shift in Olivia’s face as she realized that he didn’t know she had moved… or why, “Oh, I moved… about two years after you left,” she replied, her voice wavering slightly, “I’ll text you the address… you should call Bell and get everything set up. I have to go.” She didn’t wait for his reply, she couldn’t handle the question of why she had moved… she wasn’t ready to discuss that yet, any of it. She retreated from him, from the sudden intimacy of it all; because despite her best efforts to keep him at arm’s length, he was like a river eroding away the stone walls she had carefully constructed around her heart.

 

Elliot had watched her go, despite every part of him wanting to reach for her and pull her back. He stood there watching the door for a few moments, as if she might walk back through it… alas, she did not, and he was left to ready himself for the day. He was still living out of a suitcase, recycling the miniscule amount of clothing he’d brought from Italy… plus the few things Eli had thoughtfully grabbed for him. He hadn’t yet told Eli – or any of the kids – that they would be moving here full time… that now he had no reason to return to Rome. Rome had been Kathy’s place… and here – New York – had always been his… and Olivia’s. Leaning against the bathroom counter, he stared at his face in the mirror, suddenly aware of how tired he looked… how much the years had aged him. He found himself wondering what Olivia thought of him now, wondering if he lit up the room for her the way that she lit up the world for him… doubting that their emotions were remotely on the same page. He turned on the tap, ice cold water poured from it, and he reached down using both hands to scoop a handful and splash it into his face. There was too much riding on today… now wasn’t the time to get sentimental and soft. He reached for a towel and blotted at his face, turning to the door to find Eli there, observing him with those deep brown eyes, “You okay?” Eli inquired, a note of concern in his tone.

 

Elliot nodded vaguely, his brow furrowed, “Uhm, look, Eli… I’m sorry about… about Olivia being here and whatever you saw or might think…” he stammered, biting his lower lip in frustration, aware that his apology wasn’t good enough. Eli needed him, he didn’t need to see him so close to someone else – someone who was practically a stranger to Eli… thanks to Elliot. Eli shrugged, “I’m just glad you slept, Dad… I’ve only been here two nights, but if they are any indication of your self-care… then you needed the rest,” he replied, his tone laced with an understanding past his years. Elliot chuckled, because there was simply no other plausible response to Eli’s statement, “You’re right… I—it’s been really difficult since your mother…” he said softly, shaking his head… unable to put it into words still. Eli pressed his lips together, feeling the sting of tears in his eyes and nodded. There was a tense silence and Eli cleared it with a new topic, “there isn’t much in the fridge, can I walk to a deli and grab breakfast?” he requested, his voice tentative. In Rome this would’ve been an easy topic, in fact he probably would’ve just gone without asking… but everything was different now and both Eli and Elliot were relearning their roles. “Yeah, sure, there’s some cash in my wallet… take what you need and bring your phone. Call me if you need anything today, I will be busy but if you need me, I’ll be there,” Elliot replied. Eli offered a small withdrawn smile, nodding as he departed from the bathroom doorway, leaving Elliot alone again. Elliot took a deep breath in, waiting to hear the door to his apartment close before shedding his clothes and starting the shower. He caught another glimpse of himself in the mirror, his eyes lingering for a moment on each of the scars received during various cases… recalling how almost every incident had been witnessed by Olivia. Recalling how she had always been there for him… how she still was… and how he had left her… for a decade…

 

Across town, Richard Wheatley was settled behind his desk, staring at a photo of Olivia that had been snapped the day before… she had been dressed for work, heading into the 16th precinct with a fresh cup of coffee. Those pretty, brown eyes concealed by aviator sunglasses, her perfect legs concealed by a pair of black pants… he was distinctly aware of the difference between her work attire and the clothing she had chosen to wear on his dates. At work she dressed to try and conceal her beauty… whereas around him she had tried to amplify it. A smirk of satisfaction spread across his features, and he realized that, for the time being, his plan had worked… he had gotten close to Captain Benson and, in doing so, he had found Elliot Stabler’s true weakness. A cocky chuckle escaped him, and he leaned back in his chair, glancing up at Izak who stood before him with a glowering expression on his face, “Your man is good, Izak, these pictures are exactly what I need… is he still following Olivia closely?” he inquired, interlacing his fingers as he laid his hands in his lap casually. “Yes,” Izak replied, pausing for a moment before adding, “It might interest you to know that she has been interviewed by the Organized Crime Bureau and seen at Detective Stabler’s apartment…late last night.” His tone was neutral, unreadable, one of Izak’s many skills; being former Mossad, he was practically an impenetrable fortress… practically. But all men have weaknesses and Richard knew of Izak’s as well. Olivia’s presence at Elliot Stabler’s apartment late at night was an unpleasant surprise for Richard, a direct snag in his plan… and a hit to his ego. He clenched his jaw in frustration and leaned forward, pressing the tip of his finger to Olivia’s photograph, “I want an updated report of her whereabouts every fifteen minutes… if she goes into a building, I want to know the name and profession of every person who goes in or out. If she sneezes, I want to know about it… and, while you’re at it, get someone else to watch the kid – Noah – I need to make sure they don’t sneak something in under the radar.

 

Izak nodded curtly, turning, and departing the office like a soldier with orders. Richard made a frustrated face, turning his chair and pushing himself to his feet. He twisted the ring he wore on his finger, pacing back and forth next to the window of his office that overlooked the cityscape below. How had this slipped by him? He was simmering with a subtle rage, the sort of dangerous rage that made him do bad things. She had already agreed to dinner with him… but now he couldn’t be sure if she was under his control… or if he was under hers. He hissed a sigh, clenching his jaw and punching his right fist into his left palm. Best laid plans often go awry, he would simply need to adjust… Stabler was already hot on his trail, the last thing he needed was to provide him with more ammunition. No, Richard thought, approaching the tank of his beloved octopus and smiling wickedly, no… I won’t give him ammunition against me, instead… I’ll give him motivation to stay away. Stabler was set on him, that much he knew… since his wife had been killed just last week, Stabler had talked to his father, his ex-wife, and now… his current girlfriend – and Stabler’s former partner… the woman he had always loved, according to Richard’s intel. It would appear the intel had been correct… less than a week since his wife’s death and before she was even buried and Stabler was already contacting her… already inviting her over late at night. There was more to it all, Richard was certain, but for now he needed to focus on his primary target… Olivia Benson and how to adjust to her change in pace.

 

When Elliot arrived at the Organized Crime squad room 30 minutes later, Ayanna Bell was waiting for him and gestured for him to enter her office. He suddenly felt as though he were about to be reprimanded, though he was quickly made aware that he was in the clear… because Sloot was already in the office as well. “Morning…” Elliot said, his tone uncertain but Sloot flashed a half smile and Bell replied, “Morning, Stabler,” pausing before adding, “I got a text from Captain Benson this morning, Wheatley has invited her to his place for dinner and we are going to provide her with a wire… and a backup plan. Jet has the details.” Sloot nodded and spoke, “You know what this is,” extending a normal wire to him in one hand, “but this,” she added, extending her other hand to show a small bug in the shape of a ring, “is new… and this will transmit even if Wheatley has an area of the house that is unable to transmit using the normal wire. Captain Benson can wear this and, one click on the gemstone activates it…if we’re lucky she will manage to leave it behind and we can continue to monitor things. Bugging this guy’s house is a massive task, because you don’t get in without a direct invite…” There was a subtle confidence to Sloot’s tone, but that didn’t alleviate the gnawing concern that had been mounting in Elliot’s gut since Olivia had received that text from Wheatley in his apartment that morning… he wouldn’t feel relaxed until she was away from him, permanently. “I would say great,” he replied, his brow furrowed, “but Wheatley is used to looking for bugs and Liv—Captain Benson is flying blind here, she’s in there with no back up… if he sees her plant that bug or somehow finds her wire…” His tone was uneven, at this moment professionalism was the last thing on his mind… “Surely, the plan isn’t to just… send Captain Benson into the fray with no backup plan,” he added, glancing from Sloot to Bell.

 

Bell pulled a face, “This plan was Captain Benson’s idea, Stabler,” she replied, a hint of annoyance and… subtle concern… etched into her tone, “You should know better than most that once she decides something there is very little that can be done to change her mind.” Elliot did know that. Liv’s stubbornness had gotten her in trouble more than once, but it was also the factor that made her the best cop Elliot had ever worked with… once she got on a mission, there was simply no stopping her. He was reminded, once again, of Sealview… of how she had insisted on going undercover, against the advice of Cragen, and ended up in over her head… though Elliot still didn’t know the full depths of that situation. He clenched his jaw, adjusting his stance in that military way of his and clasping his hands behind his back, letting his head fall to rest leaning back ever so slightly, “What do you need from me?” he replied suddenly, his tone even and cool. He knew now that there was nothing to be done except be the supportive roll in this sting… Liv was in charge with Bell backing her play, so he had no choice but to fall in line. Bell nodded, grateful that he’d decided to play along, “We will be on sight, there so that we can burst in within 2 minutes if shit goes down,” she replied, her tone cool and even, “though, I expect Wheatley won’t do anything too drastic… after all, she is a cop and killing one of us paints an immediate target on your back. That’s something Richard doesn’t want.” Elliot nodded, “Understood. We should be prepared for all eventualities… even if we think Wheatley won’t act, it’s best to be ready for it,” he replied, maintaining his cool demeanor.

 

Bell nodded, “Sloot will be meeting Benson at her apartment after she gets off work to fit her with the wire and backup bug… the thought is that we don’t want to set off alarm bells at the 1-6 and, if we send you to her apartment there will be more questions. Keep in mind, all of this is going to IAB,” she replied, her tone solemn. Elliot tensed at the mention of IAB, a rush of memories invading his mind… Tucker… that prick. He was reminded of how they’d tried to take his badge – and Olivia’s – more than once. And, in her case, they’d even tried to send her to jail for a murder she didn’t commit. His face must’ve demonstrated his displeasure at the thought. “Your poker face needs work, Stabler,” Bell commented, placing a hand on her hip, “Captain Benson going to IAB will be a show of good faith. You and I will also be going to back her play, this is going to be fine… it isn’t her first rodeo,” she added, her voice fortified with confidence in her former mentor. Elliot nodded, his brow furrowed slightly, but he decided not to comment… He hadn’t been around in a decade, for all he knew Tucker had retired somewhere in Florida to play golf. “That all, Sergeant?” he said finally, still standing with his hands clasp behind his back. Bell nodded, “For now… I think we need to follow up with Professor Wheatley at some point. Hard to be married to a man like Wheatley and know nothing.” Elliot nodded, “10-4, I can schedule something with her after…” he began, but his voice failed him for a moment. He cleared his throat, “I’ll reach out to her after the service tomorrow,” he said, his voice tense and unsteady. Bell nodded but said nothing… she had never been good at comforting words, that’s why she had never considered a unit like Special Victims. She was more about action, dead bodies and drugs never cried… it was easier to keep an objective view of things without the dynamics involved with living victims.

 

When 17:00 rolled around, Olivia grabbed her things and departed the Captain’s office at SVU, “Fin,” she said, her mahogany gaze finding her friend and sergeant, “I have to go, can’t stay late today… if we get a call tonight, you and Kat take it,” she instructed. He nodded easily, offering a cool smile, and replied, “You got it, Liv. Good luck tonight.” Olivia offered a tightlipped smile and nodded, turning for the double doors that would lead to the elevators. She had told Fin the truth about Richard Wheatley as soon as she found out, that morning that she had been interviewed by Ayanna Bell at the Organized Crime squad. He’d been supportive, asked if he could help in any way and this was his chance to do what he wanted… to cover for her while she did her best to make amends for ending up in a brief relationship with a major crime boss. She sighed as the elevator hit the ground floor and departed quickly, nodding curtly to the unis that were polite enough to wish her a good evening… she doubted, deeply, that her evening would be good. Striding to her car, she felt almost as though she was already late, despite being ahead of schedule. Once she was settled in her car, she typed a quick text to Ayanna, <<I’m heading to my apartment, here’s the address. Send your tech expert there, make sure they arrive within the hour… I need at least thirty minutes to get to Wheatley’s>>. As soon as the text was sent, she turned on her car and began the drive home, operating on autopilot as she went over the vague semblance of a plan that she had in her head.

 

She’d run through the plan three times in the time it took to drive home, stopping to consider factors that might impact her plans. She knew, for instance, that his wine cellar was a sort of dead zone and, since he had mentioned that specifically in their text, she worried that she would need to improvise. Running a nervous hand through her hair, she made her way into the building and up to her apartment. As soon as the door opened, Noah’s giggles could be heard, and she couldn’t help the smile that tugged at her lips. Noah and Lucy were playing a game, and by the looks of it, Noah was winning. “Hi, my sweet boy!” she exclaimed, her face breaking into that proud mom smile that she could never hold back… they’d had their rough patches, but Noah was the most important person in her life, and she loved him more deeply than she had ever imagined possible. “How was school?” she inquired; her voice warm as she tousled his brown curls. Noah giggled again, pulling away from her touch, “Stop it, Mommy!” he retorted, his voice higher pitched and playful. There was a brief pause before he replied, “it was really good! I got a good grade on my math quiz, it’s in my backpack, and a man gave me a candy bar!” Olivia tensed immediately, her blood running cold, she crouched beside Noah, placing a hand on each side of his face, and looking at him with an urgent expression, “What man, Noah?” she inquired, her voice reflecting her urgency. Noah shrugged, clearly non-plussed by the encounter, “I didn’t know him, but he was nice… his accent was funny,” he replied, his tone calm and unbothered. Olivia’s stomach turned. Was it Richard who ordered this man to talk to her son? Was it a rival competitor who found out Richard was seeing her?

 

Her mind raced dangerously, a swirl of horrible thoughts plaguing her mind, and Noah spoke again, “I didn’t eat the candy bar, Mommy… I put it in my sandwich bag from lunch, in case it melted like last time! Do you want to see it?” Olivia’s mind stopped whirring and she froze, her eyes widening, “You… kept it? Did anyone else touch it before you put it in the bag?” she replied, her tone still urgent, perhaps more so. Noah shook his head, “Just me, I had just eaten lunch, we were at recess! I wasn’t hungry, but I didn’t want the candy to melt in my backpack like what happened at Halloween, so I used my sandwich bag,” he replied, re-explaining himself. She could hardly believe her luck… thanks to Noah’s chocolate incident after Halloween, she had a chance to figure out who was watching her son. She nodded, “You did great, Noah. Can I have that chocolate bar and I will get you a new one tomorrow on my way home?” she replied, smiling at him. He nodded and popped up from his seat at the coffee table, vanishing into his room. A moment later he emerged with a Ziplock bag and – nestled within it, amidst a few stray crumbs, was the candy bar. Olivia took it and examined it but saw no outward signs that it was anything other than a candy bar. “Noah,” she added, her voice laced with curiosity, “did the man say anything to you?” Noah’s face crinkled into a look of concentration, but before he could reply there was a knock at the door, jarring Olivia back to the present.

 

She turned from him and approached the door, swinging it open to find a girl who looked like she could still be in high school. “Can I… help you?” she inquired; her voice uncertain. Jet Slootmaekers arched a brow and extended a hand, “Captain Benson? My name is Jet Slootmaekers, I work with Sergeant Bell and Detective Stabler at Organized Crime… I’m their tech person,” she replied, offering a half smile. Realization struck Olivia and she nodded, “Of course, Sloot, come on in,” she replied, recalling the name that Ayanna had texted her, though she would be the first to admit that she hadn’t imagined the tech person would be so young. Jet walked in past her, her bright gaze shifting around the apartment to take it all in, “Where should I set up?” she inquired, turning to face Olivia who had now closed the door. “Kitchen counter works, what do you need from me?” Olivia replied, watching as Jet Slootmaekers assessed her surroundings. Jet nodded and took to the counter, Olivia followed her and waited for further instruction. Outside her apartment building a man in a black SUV pulled out his phone and dialed Izak Bekher, “Izak, my friend, we have an update…one your boss needs to know,” the man said in a heavy accent, his gaze locked firmly on the door of Olivia Benson’s building. Izak replied, “Tell me,” in a tone that suggested it was not a request. “Slootmaekers,” he said, butchering the pronunciation, “she works with that Detective you’re interested… and she just walked into the target’s building. Bold as brass.”

 

Izak’s lips curled into a malicious grin, just what he needed to keep Richard in the dark… to keep the situation under his control. He didn’t bother with formalities, he simply hung up and immediately dialed Richard. The phone had barely hit its second ring when Richard answered, “Izak, you have news?” his tone laced with a sort of nervousness that meant Richard was on edge. Izak smirked, knowing that what he was about to say would earn him some leeway with his boss… some freedoms that had been missing. “Yes. At the target’s apartment, a member of the detective’s team showed up… just before your plans with the target. I assume, given her resume that she is a tech analyst. You might want to check your date for a wire tonight, boss,” he replied, relaying the information in an even tone. Richard’s jaw tensed, his questions answered… he had lost control of the situation and now Olivia Benson was trying to take over his plan. That was something he simply could not allowed. “Thank you, Izak, as always… you have proven your usefulness,” he replied, his tone dark. He hung up the phone and rose from his desk, checking his watch. For now, he would play Olivia’s game… he would let her believe she held the reins, but by the end of tonight… she would certainly learn who was actually in control.

Chapter Text

Olivia hadn’t changed into a fancy dress this time because she wasn’t sure how long she would be there… and dresses didn’t allow for a gun to be strapped to your ankle. She was walking into the devil’s den, and she certainly wasn’t going in without a backup plan, though she hoped it didn’t come to that. When her knuckles rapped against the large front door of Richard Wheatley’s mansion at 18:30 on the dot, she hadn’t expected him to answer the door within a few seconds, as though he was waiting for her appearance. He was dressed sharply, as always, a black dress shirt with a red tie paired with a black suit with subtle white pinstripes. She couldn’t help but feel that the outfit screamed wannabe mobster, despite the tailored fit and expensive material. He didn’t speak when he saw her, though there was a glint to his eyes that she hadn’t seen before. He reached for her, pulling her against him more roughly than she would’ve expected, and his laps crashed against hers… in full view of the street, in full view of Elliot. It was a completely different kiss from the ones they’d shared just last week. There was a dominant sense of aggression within it, as though he felt the need to devour her right there. He held her tightly to him, one arm encircling her, and the other hand entwined in her hair. She couldn’t help the momentary panic she felt…wondering if he possibly knew that she intended to end things with him, wondering if he knew that this was their final hour.

 

Elliot’s stomach tensed uncomfortably at the way Wheatley immediately pulled Olivia to him, some how he felt as though it was like a lion staking his claim to its territory. Whatever the motive, it made his blood boil, and it took a lot of self-restraint to remain in the surveillance vehicle. “She can handle herself,” Bell cautioned, her voice steady though laced with discomfort… clearly, she wasn’t pleased with the plan that Olivia had suggested, but Olivia was stubborn and – in this case – pulled rank. Jet Slootmaekers rolled her eyes, her ear pressed into on half of a pair of headphones, “The audio is unfortunate to listen to, I’ll spare you both,” she commented, her voice laced with distaste. Elliot didn’t need the audio… he could imagine exactly how Wheatley felt – exactly what he felt. He recalled, with a flush of heat rushing over his skin, the way Olivia’s body had felt against him… the scent of her hair, the beat of her heart. He swallowed, clenching his jaw, and narrowing his eyes. Once again, his gaze didn’t leave them… not until they vanished within the mansion. He pressed his lips together, eyes darting from window to window, hoping to see a glimpse of them. Sloot unplugged the headphones and turned up the volume just as Olivia spoke, “You’re certainly happy to see me,” she mused, her voice even. She arched a brow as they strode into the foyer of the home, “How could I not be? Such an exotic flower like yourself,” he replied, his tone suave… but almost over the top, not unlike his outfit. The suit he wore seemed to grow more and more over the top as they spoke and Olivia suddenly realized why – last year, at a Halloween party she had attended with Noah, she had seen a small child wearing the exact same outfit. Richard Wheatley was dressed in a high-end Halloween costume.

 

“Did you come straight from work?” he inquired, fidgeting idly with his cufflinks, “I notice you’re dressed a bit more professionally than you have been on our past dates.” His words were pointed, no matter what he did or didn’t know – Wheatley knew something. Olivia nodded, her eyes narrowing imperceptibly, “I stopped home to see my son, but I didn’t have enough time to change… you know how it is,” she replied, her tone still even though she felt a sense of unease building within him. “Long day…” he mused, not looking at her as he began to pace, “Me too… I learned some unsettling things today, but I imagine all that will be sorted soon enough.” Olivia chewed at the inside of her cheek for a moment before replying, “I’m sorry you got some bad news, perhaps we can talk about that over dinner.” She planned each word, she would use every moment she was able to get information out of him… it was the least she could do for Elliot, for Kathy. At this comment a devilish grin tugged at Wheatley’s features, “Perhaps… but first, I think it’s about time you saw my wine cellar… besides, we could both use a drink,” he replied, and by the tone she knew it wasn’t a question. A practiced, taciturn smile was offered as she replied, “Lead the way,” in a comfortable tone, attempting to maintain her casual nature and avoid setting off alarm bells for him… little did she know, that he knew far more than he was currently letting on. He flashed a dashing smile, extending his arm to her. She was going to hesitate, but for now it behooved her to play into things… even if his existence now made her stomach turn rather than give her butterflies the way he had last week.

 

She was reminded once again of her first night here, a night when she had seen this home – and this man – in a completely different light. Ironically, due to the hour, the house was better lit now than it was the first time, and she was made aware of the aura it gave off… everything about the home, everything about him, screamed wannabe. He looked like a million dollar man… and she knew, better than most, that the best criminals were the ones that flew under the radar. The ones who blended in with ease… the ones who could stand face-to-face with you and set off no signals in your mind. Wheatley had never been that way, despite her tendency to ignore it… she had not wanted to see him that way, so she didn’t. Hindsight was 20/20… and now she knew the type of man he was… and she wasn’t sure how she had fallen into bed with someone as dangerous, tainted, and flawed as Richard Wheatley… He glanced sideways at her, his icy blue gaze assessing her. She was more intimidating today than he’d ever seen her, and in this precise moment he felt as though he had underestimated her… but he also understood, thoroughly, why she was the object of Elliot Stabler’s deepest desires. He smiled at her, admiring the deep brown of her eyes and the curve of her lips, he would miss kissing them he thought suddenly… he knew, of course, that now that she clearly knew who he was, their time together had an expiration date. “So, what was this bad news you got?” Olivia inquired as they reached the door to Wheatley’s wine cellar. She noticed, as soon as they arrived, how fortified this cellar was... the hair on the back of her neck stood up and she was painfully aware of how unprotected she was. He extended his free hand, activating the mechanism built into the glass… even as disgusted as she was with Wheatley, she had to admit that this door was impressive.

 

It prompted him to press his hand against the glass, “Fingerprint reader… and password protected, though I’ll give you a hint… it’s DN’s birthday,” he spoke, glancing at her as he punched in an eight-digit code. “DN?” she replied coolly, though she was intrigued, “Dana… one of my pet names for her,” he replied, the tone of his voice putting her instantly on edge. She had known by this point that Richard was screwed up, but something about his tone made her want to retract her arm and put a million miles in between them. She couldn’t shake the unsettled feeling that had erupted within herself… and it must’ve shown on her face. “Are you alright?” he inquired, though he didn’t sound as though he actually cared… in fact, he almost sounded amused, “you look a bit… nervous.” At this, his face morphed into the sort of smile that made Olivia’s blood run cold… there it was, out in the open, the true nature of Richard Wheatley. He relinquished his hold on her arm, shifting his hand to the small of her back and guiding her into the wine cellar. As soon as the glass door shut behind them, it locked, and his façade fell further, a newfound darkness clouding his icy gaze. “I’m fine,” Olivia lied, but her tone was even and cool. Wheatley chuckled darkly, shaking his head slightly, “You know, Olivia, I don’t understand why you had to go and mess with a good thing,” he said, not bothering to play games… there was no need, no one would hear her down here.

 

Outside, Jet cursed out loud, “Shit,” as the feed of Olivia’s wire filled with static. Elliot leaned forward, brows furrowed with frustration, “What it is?! What happened?!” he exclaimed, a sort of panicked urgency overtaking his tone. “Wheatley must’ve taken her into a room with a signal scrambler… her normal wire won’t work in there… for now, we’re deaf,” she replied, her tone laced with annoyance and concern. Elliot’s gaze flicked to Bell, “We have to go in,” he said, his voice still urgent. Bell shook her head, “Elliot, we can’t… Captain Benson knows what she’s doing, and we can’t just rush into his home if we don’t know she is in trouble,” she replied, her voice laced with caution. She knew that rushing in guns blazing would destroy months – if not years – of work against Wheatley… and they might lose him altogether. “All due respect, Sergeant, but that’s crap and you know it,” Stabler retorted, unclipping his gun, and shifting towards the door. “Don’t,” she said, chewing at her lower lip, checking her watch, “we give her five minutes to activate her backup… if she doesn’t, we go in.” Elliot wasn’t pleased with this order, but he knew that he was still on thin ice… if he got to personally invested, he would be booted from the case – and rightfully so. He bit at his lower lip, shaking his head slightly, and returned his gaze to the house… willing Olivia to turn on her secondary wire… willing her to be smart, rather than acting like the hero.

 

“A good thing?” Olivia retorted, folding her arms across her chest. She knew, based on the way Richard’s entire demeanor had changed that he knew far more than he was letting on, so now was the time to give it to him, “You have a pretty sick sense of what good entails, Wheatley,” she retorted, purposefully using his last name – which wasn’t actually his, “or should I call you Sinatra?” she added, brow furrowed. Now she pressed the gemstone on the ring, hoping that signal would reach the surveillance van, even if her other wire wasn’t working. If looks could kill, the look that Wheatley had shot her would’ve done some damage… there was such darkness in her gaze that for the briefest of moment’s Olivia even felt concerned, but the sensation passed when he began to speak, “So, you know about that… what else did your friends at the Organized Crime Control Bureau tell you?” he replied coolly, trying too hard to sound unbothered. Bell muttered a small, “Well, shit…” as that sentence rang out in the van, “he knows she talked to us… he won’t give us anything at this rate.” It was Elliot’s turn to calm her nerves, “don’t count her out, Bell, you know her… she’s got a knack for making people talk,” he replied, confident in Olivia’s skills, despite his nerves about her safety. Olivia spoke again, “They told me plenty, including the fact that your father – Manfredi Sinatra – a known crime boss was found murdered last week, the same night you came to my apartment. Trying to use me as an alibi, Wheatley?” her tone was harsh, she was pulling no punches. Richard chuckled, suddenly disappointed that Elliot Stabler wouldn’t hear what he said next, “You didn’t seem to mind my company last week… as I recall, it was quite the… pleasurable encounter for us both,” his tone was icy, his words meant to fuel her discomfort, and it was working.

 

Olivia clenched her jaw, backing away from him slightly, “You’re disgusting,” she stated, her tone laced with distaste. At this, Richard laughed… it was the sort of laugh that made a man seem unhinged, in some ways it reminded her of the Joker from comic books. He shook his head, “that’s certainly not how you felt last week,” he mused, a wicked grin taking hold of his features. Elliot’s hands balled into fists so tight that the scarred skin across his knuckles turned white. Jet noticed it, but said nothing, glancing away… she hadn’t known about this Olivia before she came into the squad to be interviewed following the murder of Manfredi Sinatra, but anyone would have to be blind to miss out on the connection between her and Stabler. Olivia’s voice rang out again, more forceful, “Why don’t you just go ahead and admit it, Wheatley? You only asked me out to get at Detective Stabler… and, since that wasn’t good enough, you took out a hit on his wife for good measure.” It was a strong accusation, but there was practically no evidence… so she was desperate to garner a reaction. He didn’t answer her, instead he strode across the room, and she retreated until he back was against the shelves, her chest rising and falling with rapid breaths. “All those years as a detective…as a lieutenant…as a sergeant… and now as a captain,” he spoke, his face mere inches from hers, “and you still haven’t mastered the tact required for a proper interview…” He reached up suddenly, each hand grabbing one side of the collar of her shirt and tugging it, so the material ripped loudly. She nearly shouted out, but she knew that would only make the Organized Crime Squad rush in… and she wasn’t done.

 

“Rule number one… know your opponent,” he hissed, reaching for the wire nestled within her breasts and tapping it, “this won’t work in here… I designed this wine cellar myself. It’s built to scramble the signal of basic devices such as this, because you’re not the first woman to try and take me down. I doubt you’ll be the last.” His gaze had lingered on her chest long enough that she was able to slide the ring Sloot had made special for her off her finger and tuck it onto the shelf behind her. Sure, it might get found within the week… but it was better than nothing. “You might want to be careful, Wheatley,” she replied coolly, her brown eyes narrowed, “you’re certainly not the first wannabe mobster I’ve tangled with… I’ve taken down far worse criminals than you. But you made a big mistake… you see, Detective Stabler puts his family above everything, and you took out a hit on his wife… instead of convincing him to back off your business, you just turned up the heat. We have the biggest family in the city… and every. Single. One of them will help us take you down.” Richard laughed again, shaking his head as he reached up to stroke her face, “You are quite the woman… but I assure you, if I had wanted to ruin Detective Stabler, it wouldn’t have been his wife that I killed,” he replied, his voice a hoarse whisper. He was over-confident, so sure that he was in control of the situation… he laughed again - a dark maniacal chuckle - and stepped away from her, moving towards another shelf and reaching for a bottle of Pinot Noir. Olivia saw her chance, not sure he would provide another one and crouch, reaching to her left ankle and drawing the small gun she had concealed here. She held it aimed at his chest, her left hand braced under her wrist the way she had always been taught to shoot, providing the most accuracy possible.

 

Richard turned to face her, wine bottle in hand, and froze. His eyes shifted from the gun to her face, and he made an exasperated face, “I’m unarmed, Captain,” he said softly, pausing before adding, “and I have no intention of dropping this very expensive bottle of wine… so, why don’t we lower the weapon.” Olivia debated it for a fraction of a second but shook her head, “No, you see… I haven’t underestimated you, Wheatley. I know exactly the type of man you are… the sort that murders his own father and then calls his cop girlfriend to alibi him. The sort of man who has no regard for the impacts of his actions… no regards for consequences… because he hasn’t ever been forced to face them. Not yet, anyway,” she replied, her voice even and laced with distrust. “Girlfriend,” he replied, smirking to himself, “that has a nice ring to it… shame that things are coming to a rather explosive end.” Olivia clenched her jaw, frustrated by his play on words… frustrated by his casual ability to avoid incriminating himself. “You’re right about that, Wheatley,” she replied, her voice even but laced with venom, “if it wasn’t abundantly clear, this,” she pointed between them, “is over… and if you ever come near me again… or god forbid, my son, it will be the last thing you ever do.” Richard’s expression darkened once again and he took a step towards her, unafraid of the weapon she held on him… because he knew her, he knew that she wouldn’t shoot an unarmed man, no matter how evil she thought he was. He stood so close that the end of the barrel pressed against his chest, “Threats are below you, Olivia… we both know that you’re too moral to follow through on them,” he said in a shadowy tone, pausing before adding, “Me on the other hand, well… I’m a man of my word… and trust me, you’re making a huge mistake. One that you will regret, deeply.”

 

That was it, that was her signal to leave as soon as humanly possible. That was as direct a threat as she would receive from him. She pressed the gun more firmly into his chest and whispered her response, “You can try to get to me, but I’ll let you in on a little secret… you don’t scare me, Richard,” she paused briefly before adding, “You got one thing right though, you definitely don’t live up to the Sinatra name… changing your name to Wheatley was the right call.” She backed away from him, keeping her gun trained on him as she went. She could see the way the muscles at his temples moved as he clenched his jaw at her comment… clearly, she had struck a nerve, which was precisely what she intended. She found the handle of the glass door and tugged it open, moving to disappear through it. “Oh, Olivia?” Wheatley called in a tone that would make lava freeze, his icy gaze locked on her. Her gaze didn’t waver as she froze in place and replied, “Yes?” Richard’s face broke into that same wicked grin that made her blood run cold, his hands still clutching the unopened wine, “Say hi to Noah for me,” he said, his voice even and icy. It took all the self-restraint Olivia had not to rush back into the room… all the strength she had not to rush him and hit him over the head with the butt of her gun. It wasn’t a direct threat but etched in between the lines was an unspoken threat to her son. She said nothing, there was nothing she could say that wouldn’t result in him taunting her further. Instead, she slipped from the wine cellar, gun still drawn, and made her way out of the mansion. She didn’t slow once she was outside, she saw the surveillance van, conveniently parked behind her SUV and headed straight for it. Elliot emerged from within, his face set in a stony mask of anger… she could see it even at this distance.

 

His eyes found her ripped shirt and he felt his rage boil, “Did he do that?!” he inquired, his voice saturated with anger, “I’m gonna nail this prick, are you okay?” He reached for her, but she held up a hand, lowering her weapon finally, “I’m fine. He talks a big talk, but he’s not brave enough to go after me… I’m not even convinced he’s responsible for going after Kathy, he had no reaction when I mentioned her and even said that he wouldn’t have gone after Kathy, though he didn’t elaborate further,” she replied, her tone laced with frustration. She felt as though she had failed him, as though she had failed Kathy… but she was almost certain that Richard Wheatley – while guilty of multiple crimes – was not guilty of murdering Kathy Stabler. She ran her left hand through her hair and Elliot noticed the missing ring, “Where’s the bug?” he inquired, willfully ignoring her suspicion that Wheatley wasn’t responsible for Kathy’s death, he wasn’t ready to consider that possibility. Liv glanced to Sloot who was now emerging from the van, “I—I managed to plant it in the wine cellar. From what I can tell, that’s where he handles most of his more… sensitive business deals,” she replied, her tone tentative, “sorry about the bug, but I thought that might be more helpful than taking it with me… since I didn’t get much during this very unfortunate encounter.” To her surprise, Sloot was beaming, “You’re a genius! Not sure how you managed it, but that cellar is signal proofed, so your gut is spot on… fortunately that’s why I gave you the second wire and it came in handy, now we have a direct gateway into Wheatley’s home. I need to get back to the squad room and set up a permanent recorder for the bug,” she said, sounding more excited than even Elliot had seen.

 

Bell piped up, “We will head back to the squad room. Captain, you okay to drive home?” Olivia considered the question, hesitating briefly, “Ye—yes, I need to get home. After what Wheatley just said, I really need to see my son,” she replied. Bell nodded and retreated into the van with Sloot, leaving Elliot and Olivia alone for a moment. “Are you sure that you’re okay? I can go with you if you want,” he said, his voice softer that Olivia would’ve expected. Olivia nodded, wiping a hand over her face, “Yes, I just… I just need to see Noah,” she replied, pausing before adding, “thank you though.” She wasn’t quite ready to bring Elliot into Noah’s world… it had been her and Noah for so long… and every time someone got close, every time they came into her life – their life – and left, it was hard on Noah. She needed to know that Elliot was there to stay before she let him meet Noah, because Noah deserved the stability of knowing the people in his life would stay. She reached out, touching Elliot’s upper arm with her hand for a moment before turning to walk to her SUV. Elliot watched her go, watching as she slid into the driver’s seat and drove off… back to the life she had built without him. He longed to be let back into her orbit, but he knew it would take time… and he also knew that it had to be on her terms, she deserved that. He glanced back at the Wheatley residence one more time before sliding into the driver’s seat of the surveillance vehicle and turning the key in the ignition, starting the van, and driving off.

 

Richard Wheatley stood in his home office, staring out the window at the interaction between Elliot and Olivia… watching the way they interacted. He knew in that moment that his intel had been right, Olivia Benson was the one true love of Elliot Stabler’s life. He chuckled ironically, taking another long sip of Pinot Noir from his glass. He extricated his burner cell from within his jacket and dialed the most recent number in its history. “Hello?” Izak’s gruff tone answered him. “It’s me,” Richard spoke, taking another sip of wine, “we have a situation…” There was a beat of silence on the other end of the phone before Izak answered, “What sort of situation?” he inquired, his tone neutral… as ever. Richard breathed a heavy, annoyed sigh, “It would appear that someone has set off some fireworks involving a certain target’s wife…and is currently leaving breadcrumbs of evidence that point in my direction,” he began, his tone matter of fact, “I didn’t do what I’ve been accused of, but I can’t risk not taking responsibility until I learn who is responsible and why they want to set me up… and once I learn those things, I will need to take care of them… I cannot have people in our line of business knowing that I lost control of someone in my city.” Izak was silent for another moment, processing the fact that Richard was aware of the investigation against him… a fact that he would be sure to mention to Angela when he spoke to her next. “Boss,” Izak began, keeping his tone even with practiced ease, “you know that no one in your circle would do this…” he cautioned, trying to get Richard off the scent.

 

Richard was not convinced, suddenly he felt as though no one could be trusted, “Listen to me… No matter who is responsible, this went down in my city and that makes me responsible for whoever did it. I will be conducting my own research but keep your eyes and ears open… you hear things that no one else does,” he replied, his tone dangerous. This was an order and not open for discussion. Richard took another long sip of wine and shook his head, “Whenever I figure out who has crossed me and why, best believe I intend to deliver the punishment myself,” he added, his voice solemn. He hung up the phone, not bothering to wait for Izak’s response, his response didn’t matter… nothing mattered, except finding who laid this elaborate trap for him. He finished his glass of wine and set it aside, moving to pace the length of his office. The murder of a cop’s wife on his turf without his say-so was a slap in the face… very, very few people had the balls to go against him in such a direct way. He felt his anger build within him at the thought… just as nothing happened in Puglia without his father’s say so, nothing happened in New York City without Richard Wheatley knowing about it… he had worked hard to earn the respect of the people in this city. He had worked hard, and it was clear that he still didn’t have it fully. He resisted the urge to throw something, barely, and instead made his way to his wing backed desk chair, sinking into it with a heavy sigh. He needed to find this rat infestation and remove the source… only then would he be able to move forward.

 

He’d lost a bargaining chip today, in the form of his contrived relationship with Captain Olivia Benson, so now he needed to find a way to make up that lost ground… her picture lay on his desk, and he picked it up, grabbing a lighter from the side drawer. He pressed his thumb to the striker of the lighter and pressed how, igniting it. He watched the flame dance and was, for a moment, reminded of the way the sun danced in Olivia’s hair… but the sentiment soon left him, and he raised the picture to the flame, letting a corner of it catch flame. He watched as the flames devoured her… watched as the picture melted away, until all that was left was the corner where his fingers held it. He had truthfully hoped it wouldn’t come to this, but it was clear that if he was going to get through to Elliot Stabler, he would need to concoct a plan that centered around putting Olivia at risk – or her son – because she – she – was his weakness... If he wanted to derail Elliot Stabler, he would need to finish the job… because whoever wanted Richard Wheatley in jail had only done enough to anger the Detective and motivate him to finish the job. Richard sighed and tossed the remaining scrap of Olivia’s picture into an old glass of water on his desk. He watched it sink to the bottom of the glass like ashes… like ashes falling from the sky.

Chapter Text

She sat in the pristine room alone, fidgeting slightly with the edge of her blazer sleeve, and doing her best not to worry about the outcome of today’s encounter with the Internal Affairs Bureau. She had come here of her own volition, recordings of her conversation with Richard Wheatley in hand, to clear her name and move past the mistakes she’d made in the past several weeks. Across the cold metal table from her sat the camera, turned off but looming before her like a bird of prey…waiting to strike. She had sat here before, more times than she cared to admit. In her mind’s eye, she recalled one of her more poignant interviews with IAB… Ed Tucker had sat across from her, his steely blue eyes trained on her with the subtlest hint of concern surfacing within them. She remembered it so vividly, not because of the interview itself… but what it was concerned with. William Lewis. She recalled that day as though it had been last week… the feel of his breath on her neck, the feel of the revolver pressed against the side of her head. She shut her eyes, tilting her head slightly as she recoiled from the memory, shying away from the memory of it all… a memory she had spent years processing, years trying to move past. Yet there it was, clear as day, ‘Game over…’ he whispered, the gun still in his hand as he stepped closer… too close. She almost wanted it if it meant escaping him, almost. He stood against her, his body pressed to hers and the gun in his left hand – his non-dominant hand – as he held it away from his head. “This will be the last thing you see… the last thing you think about, before you die...”

 

She had been so trapped in her memory that the door opening jolted her back to reality and she felt herself jump slightly, her brown eyes snapping open and finding two IAB investigators in the doorway. The pair approached the table in silence and sank into the seats opposing her, their faces set into stoic masks. The woman reached, pressing the power button of the camera, then hit record before speaking, “My name is Detective Heather Gray and this is Lieutenant David Ross,” she began, her voice steady and determined. Her hazel gaze was unwavering, direct, and made Olivia feel as though she were under complete scrutiny…which, she was. Olivia nodded, vaguely, but remained quiet, she often found that the less you said with IAB, the better. “Please state your name and rank for the record,” Detective Gray instructed, her tone serious. Olivia shifted in her seat, automatically correcting her posture, “Captain Olivia Benson, Manhattan Special Victims Unit,” she replied, her tone solemn and laced with the subtlest undertone of pride. She had always been proud to be a part of SVU, but being the leader was something she could still hardly grasp was reality. “It is our understanding,” Gray continued, “that you are here – of your own free will – to make a statement regarding Richard Wheatley, formerly known as Richard Sinatra, and your personal relationship with him. Is that correct?” Olivia was both distressed by her forwardness and thankful for it, but she didn’t waste time with her response, “Yes, that is correct.” She did her best to keep her voice even and her face guarded… even having briefly dated a former member of the unit – garnering her a deeper understanding of the depths of depravity they were used to seeing – she was still guarded around IAB, rightfully so.

 

The Lieutenant spoke up, his voice deep and business-like, “Captain Benson, what exactly is the nature of your relationship with Mr. Wheatley?” She clenched her jaw slightly, an unconscious response, “The nature of our relationship was,” she began, quick to correct the tense he’d used, “romantic. Due to the nature of their case against Mr. Wheatley, I have learned that they concealed his records from being searched… I was unaware of exactly who I was dealing with when I met him.” Both nodded, though their faces showed no outwards signs of understanding. “I see,” Lieutenant Ross continued, his tone still even, “and, how exactly did you meet Mr. Wheatley?” Olivia licked at her lips slightly, “A colleague of mine was informally introduced to Mr. Wheatley through a former romantic partner of hers… and she set up a blind date for me and Mr. Wheatley,” she replied, unable to conceal the uneasy tone in her voice despite her best efforts. “Who is this colleague? We may need to speak with her to verify your version of events,” Gray piped up, her hazel eyes piercing Olivia’s brown ones. Olivia swallowed and spoke, “Detective Amanda Rollins, Manhattan SVU.” Gray jotted that down in her notes quickly before glancing back to Olivia with stern eyes, “So… you met Mr. Wheatley and were ‘unaware’ of his business dealings. What was it you thought he did?” she inquired; her voice steady but the inflection of doubt hovering around the word unaware was evident. “I was aware of his business – Contrapos – but only of its legal front, as an online pharmacy. It isn’t the first I’ve heard of and, with the way everything is done online these days, I didn’t think to question it further,” she replied, her tone matter-of-fact.

 

More notes jotted down, more unwavering gazes, and Olivia’s patience was waning with each passing moment. She didn’t bother waiting for the next question, “Look, I respect that you have jobs to do… and I respect your time. You clearly don’t completely believe me, so I would like to provide you with some much-needed evidence,” she interrupted, reaching into her blazer pocket to extract the flash drive that Jet Slootmaekers had made for her, “This flash drive contains voice recordings of my last – and hopefully final – conversation with Richard Wheatley. There are a few moments missing between recordings when he took me into a more secure room, and I needed to activate a backup device.” She slid the jump drive across the table and leaned back in her chair, assuming that would be enough. The next question hadn’t been expected and it felt like a sucker punch to the gut, “Should we be concerned about Detective Stabler’s involvement in the case against Richard Wheatley? And the fact that you – his former partner – just so happen to be caught in the crosshairs?” Gray retorted, not bothering to reach for the jump drive, “this wouldn’t be the first time that you and Detective Stabler got yourselves into hot water… and it also wouldn’t be the first time that you two covered for one another.” Olivia’s whole body tensed at the implications, but she knew that she couldn’t risk growing defensive, “With all due respect,” she began, her tone surprisingly even given the insinuations of their accusations, “Elliot Stabler and I have been out of touch for over a decade. In fact, I didn’t even know he was back in New York until I had already been on several dates with Richard Wheatley.” For the first time, one of them broke their stoic masks… Heather Gray’s eyebrow shot up, and she glanced sideways at her partner.

 

As if she had said something, Lt. Ross opened the relatively thick file folder in front of him and consulted it, “it says that you and Detective Stabler were partners for over a decade… and you expect us to believe that you just didn’t speak for a decade?” Olivia shifted uncomfortably in her seat, “Your files should also indicate that Detective Stabler left the NYPD over a decade ago following the shooting of a young girl in the Manhattan SVU squad room… he left and did – God knows what – for a decade. He came back to New York in the last month for a case and I only ran into him the night that he and his wife attended my award’s ceremony,” she replied, trying to remain calm as she felt a cool sweat break out on her forehead and her lower back. Ross consulted his file once again, his brow creasing as his eyes flicked over the page, “Our records indicate that in that time you have been back to IAB for other charges… such as the suspected murder of William Lewis,” he spoke, his tone voice of emotion. It was painfully obvious that he had no idea how much power that one name held, how it possessed the ability to send Olivia back in time and return to that panicked state in which she had lived for four days… and another few hours a few months later. She hadn’t considered the ramifications of this interlude, she hadn’t considered that, when they inevitably spoke to Elliot, they might mention William Lewis to him. She hadn’t considered that possibility… she hadn’t prepared for it. Her stomach turned dangerously, and she swallowed dryly, suddenly wishing she had water.

 

“Captain?” Gray inquired, her voice laced with the subtlest hint of concern. Olivia’s strong façade was faltering, she could feel it. “I—yes,” she replied, stammering slightly in an uneven tone, “yes. I was here following the death of Lewis. I was never even indicted on those charges… and, frankly, I don’t see how that’s relevant here.” She couldn’t help the unease that settled over her, the undertow of panic that lurked beneath the surface of her emotions and threatened to pull her under. She felt the sting of tears in her eyes, but blinked them back before adding, “Detective Stabler… doesn’t know about William Lewis and, while you have jobs to do, I would appreciate you not discussing that topic with him. He’s been through so much, losing his wife...” It was a request, her tone laced with a plea. She couldn’t keep them from asking him, but she could ask… she could hope. They hadn’t focused on her request, however, all they heard was the second comment, “Detective Stabler’s wife died?” Lt. Ross retorted, ignoring her appeal. Olivia nodded slowly, surprised that they didn’t already know this, “Yes, I—I assumed you already knew,” she began, pausing before adding, “she was murdered the night of my awards ceremony and…” She trailed off, suddenly aware of the depths of her guilt…aware that a part of her wondered if she was to blame for Kathy’s death… after all, she had brought Richard Wheatley to the event. “There’s some suspicion that Richard Wheatley might be involved in her death,” she finished, her voice somewhat smaller and hollow. There it was – the truth laid bare. It was the first time she had voiced this concern, the first time she had admitted to anyone but herself the fact that she was thinking this way.

 

There was a pause, the silence around them tense, and she knew that both were thinking, debating on what to ask next. Gray glanced to Ross; Ross glanced to Gray. “Captain Benson, to clarify, your testimony today is that you met Richard Wheatley a few weeks ago… despite your colleague,” Gray spoke, glancing down at her notes, “Detective Rollins, checking on the status of Mr. Wheatley’s business dealings and arrest records, you knew nothing of who he truly was… what his business endeavors entailed. You claim this has nothing to do with Detective Stabler’s cases… or with your connection to Sergeant Ayanna Bell, who oversees the Organized Crime Control Bureau which has been tasked with investigating Richard Wheatley and his business. You also claim that this relationship between yourself and Mr. Wheatley was romantic in nature and has since been terminated, which will be corroborated by the contents of this jump drive. Is that correct?” Olivia was aware of the multitude of problems with everything they’d said… she had let her guard down for the first time in years and she had ignored every red flag, every premonition of concern, and she would suffer the consequences… whatever they might be. “Well, Captain, it would appear that for now we have all of the information we need… we will be in touch if we have further questions or require further clarification,” Lieutenant Ross replied, his voice stern. There was a brief pause before he added, “You should be aware that we will be speaking with both Detective Stabler and Sergeant Bell regarding this situation today. We appreciate your cooperation in this matter.”

 

There was a beat of silence before they both rose from their seats, shutting notepads and file folders as they did. Olivia rose a moment after them, almost reaching to shake their hands, but recalling that with COVID such formalities had slipped to the wayside. Detective Gray turned off the interview camera and, without another word said, they nodded curtly to her and departed from the room. As soon as they left, she breathed out and realized that a part of her had been holding her breath, concerned about this process – as she always was when IAB was involved. Brushing a strand of caramel colored hair from her face and shook her head slightly, moving to follow them out and into the IAB squad. There, standing facing away from her, was Elliot with his hands clasped behind his back. As she approached him, she noted that he fiddled idly with his wedding band, twisting it where it lay on his finger… a new nervous habit of his that she’d never really seen before. “Hey,” she said softly, announcing her approach. He jumped slightly but turned to face her with the hint of a smile playing upon his face, “Hey… how’d it go in there?” he replied, his tone cool and even. She shook her head slightly, offering a shrug, “Honestly, I’m not sure… I told them the truth, but I’m going to need you and Bell to have my six on this,” she replied, her voice laced with the same unease she had felt in the interrogation room mere moments before. Elliot looked down at her, their gazes locked, and replied with a simple, “Standing right here, Captain.” Something about the way in which he said it seemed to imply that he was standing right there – and going nowhere. She felt a small, withdrawn smile tug at her lips and she nodded, her eyes – as always – saying more than her lips.

 

“Detective Stabler!” came a voice Olivia already knew – Lieutenant Ross summoning Elliot for his interview. She pressed her lips together, nodding slightly, and said, “You better go, they already think we are covering for one another,” in a tone that suggested the slightest hint of annoyance with the process. She moved to go, but Elliot reached out, catching her hand, “Hey… it’s going to be okay, I promise,” he said softly, offering a small reassuring smile. She nodded and, hesitantly, he relinquished his hold on her hand and watched her departure. He turned, steeling his resolve, and made his way to the all too familiar interrogation room. Inside, a pair of rats already sat in their seats, ready to speak with him. As soon as he took his seat, the woman reached for the camera and pressed record. “Please state your name and rank for the record,” she directed, her voice cool and her face unreadable. Elliot’s gaze flickered between her face and the camera as he replied, “Detective Elliot Stabler, Man—” he began, pausing after the slip of tongue and shaking his head slightly, “Organized Crime Control Bureau.” It surprised him, after a decade, that being here – a place he’d been more than a few times during his tenure at SVU – brought him right back to those memories… back to Olivia. For the first time, the woman’s stoic mask faltered and a slight quirk upward of her brow suggested surprise at the blunder. “Thank you,” she replied after a moment, pausing briefly before adding, “My name is Detective Heather Gray, and my associate is Lieutenant David Ross.”

 

Elliot didn’t reply, he didn’t need to. As always, less was more with IAB. “Detective Stabler, can you explain to us – to the best of your ability – why you’re here?” Lt. Ross inquired, his voice deep and methodical. Elliot took a breath in, shifting noticeably in his seat, “I’m here because my former partner, Captain Olivia Benson, unwittingly became romantically involved with Richard Wheatley – a man that my unit is responsible for bringing to justice,” he answered coolly, keeping his answer short and to the point. Gray jotted a note, Ross did nothing but watch Elliot, looking – no, searching – for a chink in the armor. “And how did you become aware of the relationship between Captain Benson and Mr. Wheatley?” Ross inquired. Elliot suddenly wanted nothing more than to leave, but he managed to simply clench his jaw slightly before replying, “My superior – Sergeant Ayanna Bell – informed me of their relationship when I returned to New York a few weeks ago. She ordered a stake out of Wheatley’s residence, there we witnessed what I believe was their second ‘date’… a family dinner at Wheatley’s residence.” Gray’s brow arched once more and she cut in, “A family dinner for a second date?” she inquired, her tone laced with incredulity. Elliot took a breath, shaking his head, “Li—Captain Benson might not have known who Wheatley was at the time, but Richard Wheatley knows who she is… his relationship with her was a targeted plan. He sought her out specifically,” he replied, a hint of anger laced into the tone of his voice. “I see,” Gray replied, jotting something in her notes before adding, “and, to your knowledge, did their relationship become… serious?”

 

Elliot clenched his jaw, his nostrils flaring almost imperceptibly at the question. He knew the answer, but it wasn’t his business… nor his place. He wondered what Olivia had told them, wondered if they already knew. He opted for the truth, knowing that lies had rarely served them well, “I became aware that their relationship had progressed to… intercourse… the night of Manfredi Sinatra’s murder… Sinatra was Wheatley’s father. I found the body and, concerned for Captain Benson’s safety, I reached out to her. When I finally made contact and explained who Wheatley was…and how he was likely responsible for the death of his father – and my wife – she was quick to tell me the truth…” He trailed off, almost unwilling to speak the words, but he knew they would ask so he continued, “she informed me that Wheatley had… been in her apartment much of the evening. That he would likely try to use her as an alibi.” Admitting it was like a dagger to the chest, making it all the more real. He wanted to punch something, but he knew that being angry wouldn’t help… in fact, it would only serve to make things much, much worse. He clenched his fists beneath the table, trying to vent his anger elsewhere… he knew that he would need to be careful when he confronted Wheatley again, because there was nothing else in the world that made him as furious as someone hurting Olivia… nothing. “Detective, why didn’t you immediately tell Captain Benson who Richard Wheatley was, once you learned of their relationship?” Ross inquired; his tone so calm that it only fueled Elliot’s anger. It was as though they truly didn’t understand the depths of danger that Olivia had been in, it was just a job to them.

 

He licked his lower lip slightly, trying to contain his frustration, “I was ordered not to… we needed to confirm that Captain Benson was truly uninvolved before letting her in on the case. It was – in some ways – need to know and the higher ups determined that she didn’t need to know,” he replied, his tone uneven. “So,” Gray replied, her tone less cool than her partner’s, “you knew Captain Benson was quite literally in bed with a criminal… and you didn’t tell her she was at risk? Even with all of your… history?” There it was the inevitable question that even Olivia had warned him about… were they covering for one another? “Well, as I am sure Captain Benson – and your hefty file,” he began, gesturing to the thick file folder in front of Lt. Ross, “have explained to you, I left the NYPD a decade ago, after a shooting… in the time since, I haven’t spoken to Captain Benson until her award ceremony – the night my wife was murdered.” There was a pause but, just as Gray was about to reply, Elliot continued, “As for her risk, please don’t pretend as though you understand – or care about – the depths of the danger she’s been in. That precious flash drive she gave you? She had to walk directly into a dangerous situation, alone, to get it… You don’t get to judge the way she has handled this situation – even if it is your job – because you don’t get it.” He was seething, unable to contain his contempt for the present situation… unable to ignore the gnawing guilt within him.

 

Gray shifted uncomfortably in her seat, clearly regretting her decision to ask the question. Ross spoke next, “Captain Benson assured us you haven’t spoken in the last ten years… can you confirm that you really have had no knowledge of the… events of her life during that time?” he inquired in a tone so cool that Elliot’s contempt only grew. Elliot breathed a sigh of frustration, shaking his head slightly, “That is correct,” he replied, his frustration evident though directed at himself, “After I left the NYPD, I decided to make a clean break… I needed a fresh start and—” his voice trailed off. What he would’ve said was and I needed to get away from her before we crossed a line… before we became something else. There was tense silence, the pair of rats waiting for the culmination of his statement, “And I knew that it would be hard for her to accept, we were partners and best friends for over a decade.” It was a partial truth, but this particular truth wouldn’t help or hinder their case. Gray noted his response, allowing for a long pause. “One last thing,” she began, her hazel eyes rising to meet his gaze, “For the record, can you confirm that Captain Benson was uninvolved in building your case against Richard Wheatley when she entered into the relationship with him?” Elliot nodded and replied quickly, “Yes, I can confirm that.” Gray nodded and then responded, “So… you really have no way to know what she did or didn’t know about Wheatley? You have no proof of her ignorance.” The shock of what had been said hit Elliot square in the chest and – before he could hold himself back – he shot up from his seat and extended and index finger towards the pair, “You don’t know her like I do,” he hissed angrily, his tone dangerous, “Captain Olivia Benson has more morality in her pinky finger than you both have in your entire bodies… and if your whole plot here is to dirty her up, I won’t be a part of that. She and I came in voluntarily, of our own volition, to get ahead of this… and you have the gall to act as though she’s some sort of hardened criminal? No, fuck that. I won’t be answering anymore questions.”

 

He didn’t wait to be dismissed, he couldn’t. He needed, desperately, to get away from them before his anger imploded… before all the overwhelming emotions that swirled within him overflowed and poured out in front of them. As the door slammed shut behind him, his gaze found Sergeant Ayanna Bell and she could instantly sense things hadn’t gone to plan. “What happened?” she inquired, a hint of concern in her tone as she tried to slow Elliot down. But he couldn’t… he needed to get away from it all, away from the claustrophobic feeling of the building, away from the pressure. He didn’t slow as he passed Bell, he wouldn’t slow until he reached his car. Bell watched him go… her brow creasing with worry and every instinct in her being urging her to chase him down and figure out what had been said. However, before she could give into her instincts, her name was called from behind her, “Sergeant Bell?” by a cool, deep male voice. She took a deep breath in, straightening her posture, and turning to face the pair of investigators that stood at the door of the interrogation room from which Stabler had just emerged. She swallowed, steeling her nerves, and strode towards them, nodding curtly as she brushed past and into the interrogation room. She was reminded, instantly, of a hospital room… there was something so sterile about the interrogation rooms at IAB. It was uncomfortable and stiff, very appropriate given the usual sorts of interrogations that occurred there.

 

The pair took their seats across from her, the woman to her left and the man to her right. “Please state your name and rank, for the record,” the woman spoke as she pressed record, her tone wavering slightly. She had clearly been shaken by whatever Stabler had said. “Sergeant Ayanna Bell, Organized Crime Control Bureau,” she replied, her tone even. “This is Detective Heather Gray, I’m Lieutenant David Ross. Can you please, in your own words, explain why you’ve come in to speak with us,” Lt. Ross said, his tone even and unbothered. Ayanna didn’t shift uneasily, all she needed to do was tell the truth, “We are here to discuss the relationship between Captain Benson and Richard Wheatley,” she began, her tone even and laced with conviction, “Captain Benson entered – unknowingly – into a consensual relationship with Wheatley. Due to the holds my squad has on Wheatley’s files, she had no way of knowing who he was. We kept an eye on their relationship from afar as we waited to verify what Captain Benson did or didn’t know, then – when Wheatley tried to use her as an alibi for possibly murdering his father – we told her the truth about him. She was instantly resolved to end things with him but was willing to record the breakup and try to get information out of him. She even managed, during the breakup, to plant a bug in the most secure room of Wheatley’s residence… which will provide invaluable evidence against him.” In her mind, the truth had been so straightforward that she never would’ve imagined the question that came next, “You are, no doubt, aware that Captain Benson has been under investigation by IAB before, yes?” Lt. Ross inquired; unable to conceal the subtle undertone of intrigue from his voice. Suddenly Ayanna was distinctly aware of why Stabler had stormed out… IAB was trying, for unclear reasons, to smearOlivia’s reputation.

 

Unease welled within her, but she managed to keep her tone even, “I am vaguely aware of IAB’s attempts to make an example out of Captain Benson in the past, yes,” she replied, her tone unwavering and her eyes full of contempt for this line of questioning. “Good… then you’re aware of the allegations made against her by William Lewis,” Ross replied, his tone so even that it made Ayanna’s blood run cold. She swallowed, but found her throat was suddenly dry, “I’m… not sure what that monster has to do with this,” she replied, unable to conceal the discomfort in her tone, unable to suppress the guilt that welled within her once again. Gray had fallen silent, a look of disquiet on her pretty features. “During his trial, William Lewis expressed his beliefs that Captain Benson might’ve been… obsessed with him. Do you think it’s possible that Captain Benson has gotten too involved with her job? That, perhaps, she has decided to take it upon herself to try and hunt criminals on her own?” Lt. Ross continued, his tone completely serious and his voice so even that Ayanna had to restrain her desire to do exactly what Stabler had done. She was furious, her whole body tensed from the unrelenting rage that welled within her. “You should be ashamed of yourself,” she replied, her tone so even that the bubble on the level would’ve been dead center. She couldn’t risk exploding… she refused to shout or even raise her voice, “Olivia Benson was my mentor… she is one of the most respected police officers in this department,” she began, her tone so steady that it surprised even her, “What that beast Lewis did to her… he’s lucky she didn’t do far worse to him than she did… and, if you’re ability to read is so impaired that you missed it… she was never indicted on the charges brought against her for William Lewis.”

 

Lieutenant Ross was silent for a moment, before replying, “That doesn’t change the fact that she was accused of being obsessed with one killer… and now she’s dating another.” Ayanna had to resist the urge to rise from her seat, the urge to protect Olivia relentlessly. “With all due respect, Lieutenant,” she began, her tone laced with undisguised contempt, “You don’t know her like I do… and you clearly didn’t attend the trial of William Lewis. If you had, you would know the truth. You would know that William Lewis was a sick, sadistic, freak who got his rocks off representing himself at trial so that he could torment Captain Benson again. What your precious file doesn’t tell you is how Olivia Benson suffered… how she broke. I watched one of the strongest women I’ve ever known lose complete faith in herself, in her own instincts. I watched her doubt everything. I watched her retreat into herself and shut out the people who tried to be there for her.” Ayanna felt the tears well in her eyes, but she didn’t stop, she wouldn’t let this piece of shit try to take away even a shred of the dignity that Olivia had worked so hard to earn back. “What your file doesn’t tell you is that she fought for her life for four whole days… while the entire NYPD worked to save her. You know where I was, when I found out?” she spoke, a single tear trailing down her cheek, “I was on a date with my wife… my girlfriend at the time… I got the call and I dropped everything to help find her. I spent days thinking I would never again see the woman who helped me become the cop I am today. And when we found her… she was different. It wasn’t overt, anyone who didn’t know her would’ve overlooked it – but I saw it immediately. Her smile, the sort that lights up an entire room, was guarded and didn’t quite reach her eyes… her laugh, the sort that is so infectious you can’t help but laugh along, was a bit less lively… William Lewis broke a part of her, a part she has struggled for years to earn back… you don’t get to call that into question.”

 

There was silence, the sort of silence that falls after someone lands a particularly hard blow in the boxing ring. It seemed to go on forever, because it was clear that Lt. Ross was not going to get the outcome that he had hoped for… this was no big case, this was no grand conspiracy. Ayanna spoke again, her tone cool, “Now, if you don’t mind,” she began, glancing between the pair, “I have real criminals to catch… like Richard Wheatley.” She didn’t wait to be dismissed, she rose from her seat and moved for the door. They didn’t stop her; they didn’t tell her she wasn’t dismissed… they knew they’d lost. She strode down the hallway of IAB processing everything that had occurred…all that she had said. What she hadn’t said was that she was one of those people that Olivia had fallen out of touch with, though Ayanna somehow knew that she was to blame. She had never been good with living victims… and she didn’t know what to say to her mentor, she didn’t know how to bridge the gap that had formed. She still didn’t. As the elevator doors shut, concealing her from the IAB squad room, she let her strong façade crack. Tears poured down her cheeks easily, her heart aching for the pain Olivia had endured… for the regret she felt at abandoning her in her time of need. She had avoided her for years, avoiding the inevitable ‘where were you?’ conversation, knowing that she had no answer that would assuage her own guilt. When Olivia had faced William Lewis in court, Ayanna had been there… a silent ghost in a full courtroom, seated near the back… silently crying as she watched a woman, she so deeply respected be traumatized, again. So now, whenever she saw Olivia, it was Captain Benson, not Olivia… certainly not, Liv. She didn’t feel that she had earned the use of her nickname, she wasn’t sure that she could ever re-earn her place in Olivia’s life. But now, more than ever, she was determined to try.

Chapter Text

Somber. That was the best way to describe the mood of the day. The car ride to the church had been quiet, as if no one dared disturb the silence that hung like a shroud over them. During the rather brief ceremony, the only person to speak was Father Hogan… it was only right for him to be the one who helped lay Kathy to rest, as he had been the one who married her and Elliot over 30 years prior. Between COVID restrictions and all the ties that had been cut since Elliot’s departure from the NYPD, the actual attendees of the funeral were sparce. His children, all five of them, and Olivia were the only ones seated in the pews of their church. As he thought of her, his gaze shifted to find her standing at a distance… they had opted, against some Catholic traditions, for a closed casket. Elliot wanted to remember his wife as she had been in Rome, beautiful and vibrant – effervescent and full of life. A knot formed in his life as he wrestled with his emotions, the feeling of her slipping away from him… from their children. In truth, the closed casket was more for them than him… he’d IDed the body, per protocol, but his children… he truly wanted only for them to remember Kathy as she had been. The pilar of their family, like the thread holding together the squares on a quilt. He glanced to Olivia again, his pilar… a pilar he had no right to. And yet, despite it all, there she was. Her face was set in stone, unreadable, but her eyes found his and there he found his comfort.

 

As the ceremony drew to a close, Elliot and his children rose, moving towards the casket. Olivia moved to meet him, “Hey… I got some help,” she said softly, gesturing to a masked uniformed officer near the door. At her signal, he opened the door and four others poured in, making their way towards Olivia and Elliot. “If you’d like these officers have agreed to be pallbearers for Kathy… so you can be with your children,” she added, her tone warm and laced with emotion. He felt an ache in his chest, he hadn’t planned for the NYPD to be a part of the funeral because he didn’t think that he’d been back on the force long enough to warrant their assistance. Leave it to Olivia though to make sure, as always, that he and his family were taken care of. “Thanks, Liv…” he mumbled, wanting to reach for her, but knowing he shouldn’t. She nodded, not bothering to reply as she turned to the casket and took one of the six handles herself. “On my count,” she stated, using a tone laced with all the respect in the world, “One…Two…Three…” in unison, all six of them lifted the casket up, shifting it easily to a comfortable position. Elliot and his children led the way, with Olivia and the five pallbearer uniformed cops in tow. Outside, the hearse awaited them with two police motorcycles in front of it and two behind Elliot and Olivia’s SUVs, ready to escort them to the cemetery. Kathy would receive a proper send off, the send-off of a mother and a wife to a NYPD Detective. As the motorcycles came into view, Elliot glanced over his shoulder to catch Olivia’s gaze. A wordless exchange passed between them, a ‘thank you’ from him and a ‘don’t mention it’ from her.

 

Olivia could feel it, his gratitude, but she wasn’t doing it for him. This was her way of honoring the woman Kathy had been, of honoring the children and husband she left behind. Kathy had been a cop’s wife, despite her distaste for the job – rooted in Elliot’s tendencies to use the job to escape his problems, rather than face them – and the time that had passed. Kathy deserved every honor that came along with what she had sacrificed over the past three decades. Olivia felt tears well in her eyes as they approached the hearse, unable to suppress the emotions involved with saying goodbye to yet another person who had once been a central part of her life. On her count, they lowered the casket and slid it carefully into the back of the hearse. She stepped back, watching as the uniforms fell back and into formation. Elliot approached her, placing his hand on her back, and whispering a small, “Thanks, Liv.” She nodded, “I know… I know that this was our world, but Kathy deserves a proper funeral, befitting the woman and mother she was,” she replied, her voice heavy with the weight of the truth. Elliot nodded his assent, unable to find the words. He’d never had to plan a funeral; he’d never expected to need to under the given circumstances. Olivia walked with him until they arrived at his SUV. His children had already piled inside, and she nodded to Kathleen as they made eye contact before moving to her own vehicle. As soon as she was settled into her SUV, the caravan began to move. Sirens wailed, announcing their procession, as cars, buses, motorcycles, and taxis rushed to part and make way. For her last drive through the New York City streets, Kathy was revered the same way a President would be… the entire city came to a halt to watch her pass by, to see her procession make its way to the cemetery.

 

They arrived at the cemetery and, as the hearse entered, the police motorcycles pulled away in formation and departed, their work done. When they arrived at the plot that Elliot had selected for Kathy, Olivia saw the second portion of her plan standing atop the hill. The piper had on his Full Highland Dress; the top half was his NYPD uniform and the bottom was his kilt in his family’s tartan a subtle gray with marks of green and red. A matching tartan was wrapped tightly around his upper body, as is tradition. As soon as Kathy’s casket was lifted from the hearse, the piper began the first agreed upon song, Amazing Grace. Olivia joined the pallbearers once more, carrying Kathy to her final resting place with perfectly timed steps. Once the casket was placed careful upon the mechanism that would lower it into the burial vault below, the pipes fell silent, and Father Hogan stood at the end of the casket to offer a few words. He spoke of meeting Kathy for the first time, of the wonderful mother and wife she had been… he spoke of how her family and friends would miss her. Olivia felt herself struggle to maintain her composure, but she knew that today she needed to be strong because today Elliot and his family needed that. Kathy had been their pilar and now, as Kathy herself had requested, Olivia was to be that pilar. I promise… she remembered saying, a promise she intended to keep. As she recalled Kathy’s request – and her promise – she felt eyes upon her and shifted her gaze from the casket to find Elliot watching her. Once more, unspoken words were passed between them. ‘I never imagined this,’ his eyes seemed to say, his mind finally processing the truth of it all. She felt her lips tug downward into the subtlest of frowns as her eyes replied, ‘Neither did I…

 

As the casket was lowered into the ground the piper played once again, the vibrant tune of the Skye Boat Song floating through the cemetery. Olivia could hear the song in her mind, the lyrics so fitting for the moment. ‘Sing me a song of a lass that is gone, say could that lass be I?’ the song said, and indeed… Kathy was gone, she had simply slipped away. There was a heaviness to her departure, a weight that was returned to Olivia’s shoulders… a weight that Kathy had put there once before, well over a decade before. She recalled what Kathy had said, ‘Elliot needs to be on solid ground.’ The implication being, of course, that it was Olivia who provided him with that solid ground. Olivia watched from a respectful distance as each of the Stabler children said their goodbyes… the worst of which to watch was Eli, who crouched by the side of the hole into which Kathy’s casket had descended and broke down. Elliot rushed forward, gripping him around the shoulders and whispering to him, trying in vain to comfort a young boy who had lost his mother and hadn’t been able to say goodbye. She wanted to hug them all, but she was still navigating the relationships with each of the children… Kathleen had reached out to her a few times via text, but she was still uncertain of her place in relation to the Stabler family. Kathleen was watching her, Olivia could feel it, and as she turned to look at her, Kathleen approached with Maureen in tow. Olivia offered them a sad, reticent smile as they drew near. “Hey Olivia,” Maureen mumbled, unable to quite meet her gaze, but before Olivia could answer, Kathleen spoke, “We were wondering… do you want to come to lunch with us? We were planning to go to a restaurant after the service, to celebrate Mom. She would’ve wanted you there.”

 

Olivia was taken aback by the invitation, despite Elliot being back in her life there were still things she was growing used to again… such as being included in Stabler family occasions. “I—well,” Olivia began, her tone laced with unease, “are you sure that’s a good idea? Shouldn’t that be a family thing?” she said finally, a hint of concern etched into her tone. Kathleen pressed her lips together in a smile that almost seemed sad, “Olivia, you’ve always been family… you’ve done so much for us,” she said softly, and somehow Olivia knew she wasn’t talking about the visits she’d made to Bernie’s beach house on Kathleen’s behalf. It was true, Olivia Benson had gone above and beyond to preserve the Stabler family – even in direct conflict with her own desires – but it was only because she had never known family… and she didn’t want Elliot to lose it. She smiled sadly and nodded, “Alright, text me where to meet you… I have something I need to do,” she replied. Kathleen reached out, squeezing Olivia’s upper arm in a loving way, before both girls moved back towards the cars. Olivia watched them go, her mahogany gaze lingering long after they vanished into the backseat. She could see Lizzie in the passenger seat, her darker hair framing a face and her eyes lowered, likely looking to a cell phone. Elliot and Eli were moving towards the vehicles now, Elliot with his arm around Eli’s shoulder. He slowed, moving to separate from Eli but Olivia shook her head, now was not the time… his children needed him. They would have their time, she hoped. He nodded, his eyes speaking on his behalf once again, a message just for her, ‘Thank you for being here.’ She smiled a taciturn smile and nodded, as if to say, ‘of course.’

 

The Stabler family loaded into the vehicle, the engine roaring to life, and left. Olivia was alone to grieve the loss of her friend, to say one final goodbye to the woman who had once occupied the position she had wanted most of all. Or so she thought. About a hundred yards away, shrouded in the shade from a large mausoleum, stood Richard Wheatley in an onyx black tailored suit. Cartier aviator style sunglasses concealed his icy blue gaze, but his eyes were trained on the woman standing before Kathy Stabler’s grace. “Touching, isn’t it?” Richard commented to the man who stood beside him, though he didn’t wait for an answer, “Olivia Margaret Benson… Captain of Manhattan Special Victims Unit… mother to Noah Porter Benson, adopted. Marital status? Single. Heart? Occupied…” he continued, taking a few steps forward. His companion remained silent, though his interest was piqued. “She’s part of a plan she doesn’t even know about… a pawn in a game she doesn’t understand,” he added after a moment, glancing back to his companion, “I am going to go speak with her shortly, you are to remain here and, preferably, out of sight,” he instructed, his tone solemn. As his gaze returned to Olivia, he watched her crouch down and place a hand on the metal bar surrounding the hole into which Kathy Stabler’s grave had been lowered. Olivia felt her eyes well with tears, but she didn’t brush them away or blink them back, “Kathy…” she whispered, her voice hoarse, “I still… I still don’t know what to say to you. I don’t think I ever knew… after all, how does someone tell a truth such as this?” she began, her voice wavering as she chewed at her lower lip.

 

“Yet, I feel as though I owe you the truth… as though you deserve to hear it, even if you may not hear me right now,” she continued, unable to keep her voice from quivering, “the truth… the truth is that I love Elliot. I have for well over two decades… but—but you also deserve to know that Elliot was never unfaithful and—despite the separation, the divorce, he and I never—” the tears flowed freely, she was rambling… rambling to a ghost. “I… I hope you can hear me,” she said softly, her voice hardly a whisper, “I remember it so clearly… the day you slipped away. Now—now nothing will be the same. I don’t know what the future holds, I don’t know what Elliot has planned… but I swear to you, Kathy… my friend… I will keep the promise I made to you…” Her voice wavered and faltered, she shut her eyes, letting her head fall forward in silent prayer… she wasn’t overly religious, but in moments such as these she found it easier to call upon the powers that existed somewhere, to beg for strength. She found herself praying for strength… praying for the strength required to be Elliot’s anchor once again. I promise… she thought, her brow creasing with the effort with which she mentally uttered these words, I promise that I will care for Elliot… that I will be his anchor so that he can be the pilar your family needs. I promise… that whatever roll I occupy in his life, in your children’s lives, I will ensure that your memory is preserved. I will honor the bond that we shared, I will honor the promise I made. Amen. She was still crouched in reverence when a familiar voice jolted her back to reality, “What a beautiful ceremony,” Richard Wheatley uttered, his tone laced with the subtle arrogance befitting a wannabe mobster.

 

Olivia stood with such force that she saw stars, but she remained standing. Instinctively her hand went for her hip, only to find that her gun wasn’t there… she was off duty, after all. “Come on, Liv…Were you really going to draw your weapon on me?” Richard inquired, his tone laced with a false sense of hurt, “We’re just having a friendly conversation… I’m unarmed.” Oliva took an instinctive step backwards, trying to keep her stature confident, “What do you want, Wheatley?” she replied, not bothering to feed into his commentary and purposefully using his last name to distance herself from him emotionally as well as physically. He tutted at her, shaking his head, as he removed his sunglasses and tucked them into his breast pocket. He hung them by one of the temples, so they hung with the lenses facing her, showing her distorted reflection in their mirrorlike surface. “I wanted to have a bit of a friendly chat,” he admitted, tucking his hands into his pockets idly as he glanced into the vault where Kathy’s coffin lay, “for… old times’ sake.” Olivia was tense, but she didn’t reply, she didn’t have anything to say. She clenched her jaw, her brown eyes narrowing as she assessed him. His icy gaze rose to meet hers and he took a step towards her as he spoke, “I like to believe I am intelligent enough to recognize when a woman truly cares for me, versus when a woman uses me as a part of an undercover operation,” he began, arching a brow as he spoke, “and you, Olivia, were not using me…” He was fishing for information, and he managed to hit a nerve.

 

“For your information, I wasn’t,” she replied sharply, her tone uneven, “but you were using me… tell me, Richard, did you really sleep with me just to try and get intel on Detective Stabler? Or had you already planned to kill his wife when you met me?” Her tone was venomous, and her brown eyes were dark with contempt. It was her contempt that made Richard chuckle and shake his head, “You really think I dated you purely to get at Detective Stabler? Preposterous… have you seen yourself?” he replied, smirking devilishly, “It started off as a… fishing expedition of sorts, but I didn’t expect to develop something real for you. Alas, I knew it was too good to last… you’re entirely too good for me.” His response took her aback and she arched a brow, folding her arms across her chest, an unconscious tendency she had when she tried to distance herself emotionally from a situation. She didn’t reply, there was nothing she wished to say to him on the matter. He wasn’t bothered by her silence, in fact he hadn’t come here to express his true emotions at all, “I was curious, however, if you knew why Elliot was surveilling our… relationship,” he began, his tone even but laced with a sudden caution, “After all, there is no real evidence linking me with Mrs. Stabler’s… untimely demise… and he already knew who I was when we met face-to-face at your award ceremony…” Olivia tensed slightly, aware of just how much risk she’d been in…aware that she had let this man, this criminal, into her home… he knew where her son slept. She was uneasy, but her mind was laser focused; he wanted details… he wanted to know how long Elliot – and the Organized Crime Control Bureau – had been watching him. Why? Her brow furrowed slightly, “I’m well aware of what Detective Stabler knows and doesn’t know,” she replied, her tone laced with agitation.

 

Richard Wheatley’s icy blue eyes narrowed slightly, almost indiscernibly, as he watched her, “You should know, Olivia, that I didn’t kill Kathy Stabler,” he admitted, voicing the truth for the second time since the events of that night, “I had no motive to kill her, if anything her death was… disadvantageous for me.” Olivia was taken aback by the admission, but she was also unsure if she could, or should, trust anything that Richard Wheatley had to say… everything he’d said so far had been a lie. The ends of her eyebrows ticked upwards, her face shifting into a look of consternation, “Then who did?” she inquired, unwilling to provide him with information unless she received something in return. He breathed a sigh, his gaze shifting to the casket below and shook his head, “That’s just it, Olivia, I don’t know… whoever did this certainly wants it to look like me. They’ve gone through an awful lot of trouble to do this sloppily with my fingerprints all over it,” he replied, his voice laced with subtle hints of dismay. She shifted her weight from foot to foot, still unwilling to take him at his word, “You don’t…know,” she repeated, her voice laced with the hesitation she felt, “You’re going to have to do better than that, Wheatley…” She paused, her gaze shifting away from him as she considered the possibility of his innocence, “Let’s…for argument’s sake… say that you’re telling the truth,” she added finally, her pretty brown eyes shifting back to him, “who wants you to go down for murder?”

 

He shook his head, an ironic chuckle escaping parted lips, “Take a number…” he mused, his lips turned upwards in a sardonic smile. Olivia chewed at her lower lip, her brow furrowing, “You know… it’s my understanding that they started surveilling us the night of that family dinner you invited me to,” she said after a moment, her gaze narrowing slightly, “you know, the one that your ex-wife so conveniently barged in on?” At this accusation, Richard Wheatley visibly stiffened and shook his head almost instantly, “No,” he said, his tone firm, “Angie—Angela is a she wolf of sorts, but she would never do this to me… to our children. That’s one of the reasons our divorce has been amicable, we have always agreed that our children needed to be the priority,” he added, and she could hear it in his tone for the first time… the hint of admiration he still held for his wife. For the first time, Richard Wheatley’s perfect mask of charisma faltered, and she knew that he was still very much in love with Angela Wheatley. Olivia nodded, unwilling to press the issue, “I understand, just thought the timing was… interesting,” she replied, her tone even and removed. Richard was silent, his gaze shifting away as he considered this new information carefully. He’d been quick to defend Angela, as he so often had been, but perhaps there was some weight to Olivia’s concerns. He raised a hand, encompassing his entire lower face and rubbing his hand over his mouth slightly as he shook his head to himself. He struggled to believe that Angela had it in her to go after him, after everything he’d done for her… after everything they’d been through. “Well,” he said finally, his enigmatic façade slipping back into place effortlessly, “I think that’s about all we needed to discuss today… I trust you’ll use this information wisely. After all, you know me better than most people,” he added, his tone warmer than she might’ve expected.

 

He stepped forward and, for the first time since he approached her, she didn’t move away. He reached for her hand, raising it to his lips and brushed a kiss across her knuckles, “Until we meet again, Olivia,” he whispered softly, his tone unreadable. Without waiting for her reply, he released her hand and turned away, retrieving his sunglasses from his breast pocket, and placing them over his icy blue eyes. She watched him retreat, his squared shoulders held straight and proud. He moved back in the direction from which he’d come and vanished over a hill, past a large mausoleum. It was almost as though he’d never been there at all… he’d just slipped away, leaving her alone beside Kathy’s grave with her thoughts and the knowledge that Richard Wheatley might not have killed Kathy… She shook her head, running a trembling hand through her caramel-colored hair, and breathed a deep, heavy sigh. Her gaze shifted back to Kathy’s grave, and she frowned, her brow furrowed, “I don’t know who put you here,” she whispered, her tone laced with a newfound determination, “but I promise you that I won’t rest until your case is closed… you will have justice and your kids—and Elliot—will have closure. I promise, Kathy…” Her voice trailed off and she found herself staring at the casket, almost rooted to the spot. She knew she needed to leave, but somehow leaving made Kathy’s death real. Her phone buzzed, a text, and she retrieved it. Stabler. She unlocked the phone and read the brief message, <<You get lost?>>. She didn’t bother replying, instead she locked the phone and looked back to the grave, “Goodbye, Kathy… I’ll keep my promises,” she whispered, turning to go.

 

When she arrived at the restaurant a short while later, the sound of her name erupting from a corner table called her attention, “Liv!” She turned and her gaze found Elliot who had risen from his seat to wave to her. She made for the table directly, shedding her coat as she got to the chair that had been left open for her across from Elliot, at the other head of the table. Somehow, for a moment, she felt as though she might be taking a spot that wasn’t meant for her, but Eli was to her right and he flashed a warm smile at her, as if to say it was alright. She draped her coat over the back of the chair, removing her mask and tucking it into one of the pockets as she settled into her seat. “Sorry I’m late,” she offered casually, not bothering to elaborate. Elliot studied her from across the table, his eyes asking her questions she didn’t want to answer, particularly not in front of his kids. Kathleen replied, “it’s okay, we ordered some appetizers and Dad got you a glass of red wine.” It was lunchtime now, wine was appropriate, and yet it still felt in some ways as though this was unacceptable… as though some invisible boundary was being breached. She reached for the wine glass and took a sip, offering Elliot a tightlipped smile of gratitude. Despite the children inviting her, despite the warmth of most of their gazes, she still felt out of place. She needed to rediscover her place in the Stabler family’s lives… and she knew that place would be different for each child. Maureen hadn’t been outwardly standoffish, but Olivia could sense the discomfort there… as the oldest child, she might’ve had more insight into the dynamic of her parents’ relationship… more insight into the tension surrounding the topic of Olivia Benson withing the Stabler household. It hadn’t been her, however, who directly questioned Olivia’s role in Elliot’s life… her gaze darted to Dickie, who was tracing patterns in the condensation on his water glass with his thumb, unaware of her gaze upon him. Ever sleep with your partner, Detective? She could hear the question as though he’d uttered it yesterday. She hadn’t, of course, but she’d thought about it.

 

The appetizers arrived a few moments after Olivia did and she felt grateful for the food, grateful to be able to start a conversation surrounding something mundane like how delicious the bruschetta was. However, as soon as the waitress departed, Kathleen held up her glass in front of her, proposing a toast. Unease swept through Olivia and her stomach twisted, her gaze darting away from Elliot instinctively…unable to meet his eyes as they undoubtedly toasted his wife, his dead wife, the one obstacle that had always stood between them… the invisible boundary that had kept them separated from one another, gone. “I’d like to propose a toast,” Kathleen uttered, unable to keep the emotion from causing her voice to waver, “a toast to Mom… the woman who raised us – with Dad, of course. The woman who packed our lunches and read us bedtime stories… The woman who taught us what it meant to love.” She paused, her gaze shifting to Olivia, “the woman who sacrificed her own happiness when necessary to make sure that her children were cared for,” she added, offering a small, sad, knowing smile. The last part of the toast had been about Kathy, for Kathy, but it had also been about Olivia. Olivia’s jaw fell slack, her lips pursed. Kathleen knew the truth… or at least part of it. She knew that Olivia had willingly shoved her feelings aside more than once to ensure that the Stabler family was not affected. That was the honest truth, but she hadn’t prepared for the truth to be voiced in such a straightforward way. A long pause hung in the air, a pause fraught with emotion on all sides. It was Elliot that broke the silence, “A toast to Kathy, to the mother of my children… to the woman who fought for this family, even when times were tough,” he added, though the sincerity in his voice was laced with hesitance as well.

 

Olivia hadn’t intended to speak, but she found herself adding to their toast, “To Kathy, a woman who became my friend… a woman who loved her kids more than anything else in the whole world. I was there for so many milestones for each of you, I watched you all grow up, but more importantly I watched your mother support each of you on that journey. She was an incredible person and—” she felt the tears catch her voice in her throat, like a lump that she couldn’t quite swallow, “and, she will be sorely missed,” she managed to finish, her voice strained. “To Mom,” Eli said, raising his glass and nodding to Olivia before looking to the rest of his family. “To Mom,” the kids echoed, their voices burdened with emotion. Olivia brought her glass to her lips and let her gaze drift back to Elliot, only to find his eyes already on her. Somehow it felt wrong to look at him under the circumstances, with his children there. She was not immune to the feelings that had always lingered beneath the surface, the feelings she had spent the better part of two decades fighting. The feelings she had been desperate to forget for the last decade. They had surged to the surface and, even in death, Kathy remained an obstacle… she needed to let him heal. She needed to give him time… in fact, she needed time. She knew he felt it too, she knew what his eyes were saying, but she couldn’t… not yet. She tore her gaze away, letting it settle upon her plate, and shook her head, as if to clear her thoughts. As if to shake off the temptation of crossing the line, the temptation that had always been there and was now, somehow, amplified by the lack of moral turmoil surrounding crossing it. She was reminded of how well they’d both slept, even on a couch, simply because the other was present… she was reminded of all those years, those stolen glances… the things unsaid.

 

She shut her eyes, trying desperately to block out the invasive thoughts that plagued her mind. She took a deep breath, reminding herself of the promises she made to Kathy… and, in silence, she made another promise to herself. She swore, in the sight of only herself and God, that she wouldn’t rush things with Elliot… she would ensure that he was healed, that they both were healed, because they had time. She knew, against all odds, that Elliot had no intentions of walking out of her life again… he had already slipped away once, but he had no plans to do that again, not now. He’d heard her voice… he’d seen her face… he’d smelled her scent… and Elliot Stabler would never be able to leave again. As Olivia centered herself, Elliot’s gaze never left her, his bright blue eyes watching each movement of her fingers, her face… assessing how she was handling things. He knew, of course, that time was needed for them both… time to come to terms with the loss of his wife, time to find closure and convict her killer. Time. That was a commodity they had, certainly the sky would fall to the earth before Elliot ever considered leaving Olivia again. He took a bite of his food, letting his gaze drift around the table, settling on each of his children in turn before returning to Olivia… for the first time since Kathy was attacked, he felt a true sense of peace. For the first time, things felt right.  

Chapter Text

Gina took her normal route on her jog, her blonde hair pulled back into a tight high ponytail with only stray baby hairs framing her face. Even without makeup, she was beautiful… but the real beauty lay within her mind. She had been raised in a crime family but had always kept her nose clean while in school and – as soon as she could manage – she got out, accepting a full scholarship to study forensic psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. From there, she hadn’t looked back. She used her experience observing her family as a foundation for her education and graduated top of her class before joining the NYPD. The crowning jewel of her rebellion against her familial ties… ties she had cut firmly and completely. She was only in touch with her siblings, but even they weren’t close. As she rounded the corner, Ayanna Bell came into view and easily fell in behind Gina. Together, they jogged for about 400 meters before Gina ducked into an alleyway and slowed to stretch. “We have to find a better way to meet,” Ayanna muttered as she slowed beside her and placed her hands on her knees to catch her breath, “I don’t have time to run anymore with the baby on the way,” she added, chuckling, and shaking her head. Gina smiled broadly, laughing lightly, “you better be careful, Ayanna… gotta be able to keep up with the bad guys,” she retorted, a slightly teasing tone etched into her voice. There was an easy pause, their friendship had always been easy. Ayanna’s smile faded slowly and, as her face returned to a more solemn expression, Gina was aware that they needed to get down to business. “Updates?” Gina asked, though her tone expressed that she wondered if Ayanna wanted an update from her.

 

Ayanna shook her head, “No, no more updates… I need you to shift your focus,” she replied, pressing her full lips together, “Have you had any run-ins with the Wheatley family?” she inquired, her tone even but laced with curiosity. Gina’s eyes narrowed slightly, and she nodded, hesitantly, “Yeah, I’ve met Richie Wheatley… he comes to the bar I work at. He likes me,” she replied, her tone casual but lined with caution. She could see him in her mind’s eye… average height and build, but his eyes… his eyes were the color of rainforests at golden hour, a rich hazel with flecks of gold and green. She had always liked talking to him, he was… different somehow from the rest of the company he kept. In fact, he reminded her of herself – a man associated with crime by default, not by choice. “Good,” Ayanna said, her voice steady, “I need you to shift your focus to him… ideally, you need to get yourself an invite into the Wheatley family’s inner circle. We want his father – Richard Wheatley – for drugs, money laundering, weapons trading overseas, and—” she continued, pausing somewhat dramatically before adding, “and… he might be responsible for the death of the wife of a cop in our unit.” Gina hadn’t been surprised by the first three charges, but murder of a cop’s wife? Her face betrayed her surprise and she faltered for a moment, “A cop’s wife? Who?” Gina inquired, her voice wavering dangerously, praying selfishly it was someone she didn’t know them. “Elliot Stabler,” Ayanna replied, her voice uneven, “he’s new to the unit… you haven’t met him yet. In fact, you haven’t met most of the unit. We have some new faces and you’re officially part of the squad, though you’re staying undercover for now.”

 

That last part was news to Gina and a flood of pride rushed through her. Until this moment, she had only been on loan to Organized Crime… a temporary position in a temporary task force. “That’s… great, Ayanna,” she replied, her voice saturated in pride and gratitude. Ayanna smiled a reserved smile, she knew – better than most – how dangerous Wheatley was… how dangerous this assignment could be. “You’re going to be playing things close to the vest… you need to be good about check-ins, when possible, but more than anything you need to keep your cover protected,” Ayanna continued, a sort of warning mixed into her tone. She was commanding officer of the Organized Crime Control Bureau and that came with a lot of responsibility… she was personally responsible for ensuring that her people were good. “I want you to work towards dating Richie Wheatley… he’s the son of our target and will garner you access to a lot of the goings on within the family,” Ayanna continued, her tone laced with comingled authority and concern. Gina nodded, unbothered by the new assignment, things has slowed to an unbearable pace with her previous target who constantly wanted his hands on her… Richie, she knew, would be a good change of pace. “I can do that,” she began, confidence etched into every syllable, “Richie really likes me… and he might even get some points with the crowds he rolls with for ‘stealing’ me.” Ayanna nodded; her brow furrowed slightly. She couldn’t help but worry… Richard Wheatley had purposefully dated a NYPD Captain to try and get ahead of the charges that were coming to him, he had potentially murdered Kathy Stabler, he had most likely murdered his own father… amongst other things.

 

“You should know,” she began, her tone full of caution, “Richard Wheatley is completely reckless… and, like most crime families, he operates on the importance of trust and family. He’s possibly killed his own father over betrayal, and he’s gone as far as dating a NYPD Captain to try and save his own skin. You need to be more careful than you’ve ever been…” Gina’s eyebrows shot upwards, a look of incredulity taking hold of her features, “I’m sure I can handle him, but I appreciate the heads up… I’ll work on making nice with Richie when he comes in next. Today’s Thursday, so there’s a good chance that he will be in tonight with some of his boys. Maybe I can manage to at least get asked on a date,” she replied, her tone still confident. Ayanna nodded, licking at her lips slightly, “Look, just keep me posted… once you have more access, we will adjust the plan as needed. Wheatley will likely have you followed once you start dating his son, so I’ll have to meet you in even more remote locations or send someone who won’t be noticed. Wheatley knows who I am,” she replied, breathing a heavy sigh, and shaking her head. She knew that Wheatley was a whole new animal, a crime boss the likes of which she had never seen before… he was reckless, intelligent, and highly motivated to be his own man, rather than relying on the name provided to him by his late father. Sinatra had been a well-known name, known for his work in Puglia amongst other things. Richard’s decision to adopt a new last name spoke to two main motives… either he wanted to prove he didn’t need to rely on his father’s reputation to be successful or he wanted to fly under the radar by centering his enterprise around a new, unknown name. Gina nodded, her right brow inching upwards as she considered this new information. From how tense Ayanna seemed, she knew this case meant a lot… and she knew it was high risk, but she also knew that she could handle it – better than most.

 

They didn’t linger much longer. Gina had her orders… she knew now that she needed to put some distance between her and the guy she’d been casually ‘seeing’ as part of her undercover work on another mob family. Things would likely get a little ugly, but as long as Richie stood up to him… things would work themselves out. Her mind wandered as she jogged, her mind racing through possibilities… through what she might say to Richie to finally encourage his advances. He had always been flirtatious, so she knew he was interested, but he had also always been respectful of whatever connection she had with the bar’s owner, Paulie, a member of a different crime family. She was on autopilot, her strong legs carrying her easily back towards the small apartment she rented in one of the less than nice areas of town. She’d run track in high school, so running had always been something she kept up. She had been fast, her best event being the 800m run. She smiled vaguely as she recalled the memory of it, how her ponytail had swung in rhythm back and forth across her shoulders that shone with sweat… the sound of her heart hammering in her ears, drowning out the crowd as they cheered. She could still hear the cheering, the pounding of her footfalls… she could feel the burn in her legs and her lungs had been on fire. She leaned as she crossed the line, running full force through it and past it, as her coach had always taught her. As she slowed, her legs wobbled dangerously, feeling like rubber beneath her.

 

As she slowed now, just outside her building, she felt a similar burn in her lungs, but her legs didn’t wobble dangerously, threatening to give way. She brushed a hand over her forehead, smoothing her baby hairs back and away from her face. She took deep, deliberate breaths as she lowered her heart rate with practiced ease and made her way inside, opting for the stairs rather than the sketchy-at-best elevator that creaked and scraped as it rose and fell within the elevator shaft. She jogged the stairs, eager to make it to the solitude of her apartment and the warmth of a shower. Being undercover had been remarkably easy to adjust to… she had no one who missed her. Her family all but disowned her, she had no romantic life outside what it took to do her job, and friends? Few and far between. Her apartment was simple, decorated in a modern and colorful way… she hadn’t designed it; but it was home, and it did the job. She disrobed as soon as the deadbolt and chain were in place, locking her in and everyone else out… the way she lived her life. She was a loner and preferred to keep her own space, she always had. Tossing her spare key into the bowl by the door, she strode towards her bedroom and removed her air pods, placing them into the charging case. She stripped easily, unashamed to wander the small apartment nude. She caught sight of her toned body in the mirror, but didn’t slow, eager to get in the shower and rinse the stickiness of drying sweat from her skin. She turned on the water, starting it as a hot shower – the way she always did – everything was a routine for her, with only subtle deviations to throw off anyone who might follow her movements.

 

Stepping into the hot water, she breathed a contented sigh and shut her eyes. Showers were something she savored, a time where she didn’t have to pretend… a time where she was just Gina. She tilted her head back, letting the water run easily over the pretty contours of her face and through her bleached blonde hair. She kept her eyes shut, pressing her hands to her face and pushing them back, brushing the water back from her forehead and through the roots of her hair. Leaning forward, she let her eyes open, and she glanced to the hair products on the side of the shower. Despite her limited financial resources, haircare was something she never skimped on – with bleached hair, she knew that one wrong haircare move meant frizzy damaged hair. She opted for a brand that her salon had recommended. She first applied the hydrating shampoo that helped keep her blonde illuminated by removing impurities and helped to rehydrate her fragile hair. She had never been blessed with hair that was strong and grew easily, instead her hair broke and damaged easily. She took her time, kneading the shampoo down into her roots and using her nails to scrub at her scalp, ensuring that she got a deep clean. She didn’t have a timer, but she didn’t need to – she did everything by such routine that she never deviated. Three minutes passed and she tilted her head back into the steaming stream of water. She shut her eyes and ran her hands over and through her hair as she washed the shampoo out. Next came conditioner, which she easily lathered into the length of her hair, careful not to put any near the roots to avoid causing a grease build-up.

 

As the conditioner saturated her hair, she retrieved her razor and did a quick go-over of her body to ensure that she would make the perfect impression on her new target… though she doubted she could mess up their interaction. She smiled slightly to herself, thinking of those gorgeous green-hazel eyes… there was a kindness there that was so rare, so beautiful. This was work, of course, but it would be a nice change of pace to spend her days with Richie, a respectful young man with kind eyes, rather than Paulie, an aggressive douche bag with mommy issues. She rolled her eyes at the thought, she knew things would get tense… Paulie had anger problems and he wouldn’t let her walk away with Richie without a fight, of that much she was certain. She replaced the razor in its spot, turning so the water could remove the conditioner from her hair. Every movement was deliberate, every action planned in a careful sequence. Turning off the shower, she sighed lightly, and ran her hands back over her hair to squeeze out the excess water that rained loudly upon the floor of the small shower. Before stepping out, she retrieved the third and final bottle, a cream that helped prep her hair for heat. A truly essential product for days that she worked because she liked to style her hair carefully to ensure she looked her best, and tonight she needed to look better than ever. She let the leave in cream absorb into her hair which dripped slightly down her back as she moved to the counter and wiped a towel across the mirror to remove the steam, to little avail. Through the haze on the mirror, she could see her green-blue eyes… those eyes that held the weight of her life.

 

She selected her outfit carefully for work, a lowcut red top that hugged at all her curves and a black sequined skirt. She donned the outfit and approached the full-length mirror in her room; turning this way and that she examined herself, her head tilting slightly as her still damp hair tried to obscure her vision. Brushing it from her face she sighed and shook her head, it would have to do… she didn’t have enough time to continue rummaging through her closet for other options. She returned to her bathroom, thankful to find that much of the steam had cleared from the mirror and plugged in her hairdryer. She used a rounded brush, brushing each strand straight with the slightest curl at the ends to make the hairstyle look almost natural, almost effortless. Pairing the outfit with natural makeup that accentuated her eyes and lips, she found that she was ready with just enough time to make it to work without running late. She slipped into the black heels she always wore to work at the bar, comfortable and simple, before making her way for the door. She slid on her usual jacket, grabbed her purse, and departed without delay. She hadn’t bothered with dinner, she usually ate granola bars and other snacks at various points during her shift, rather than being weighed down by a full meal as she stayed on her feet. She brushed a strand of bleached hair away from her eyes, crossing the street and making her way to work, taking her usual route.

 

When she arrived to work less than thirty minutes later, she found that she had managed to arrive early for once. She might’ve been pleased, except that Paulie had beaten her there and approached her without hesitation. “What’s up, baby? You’ve been ignoring my texts,” he stated, trying to sound casual and failing… it was clear that there was an undertone of mingled annoyance and jealousy. She shrugged casually, playing along with the façade he’d intended, rather than damaging his ego by being too direct, “You know how it is, Paulie, been busy,” she replied, idly. She brushed past him, shedding her coat, and moving to make her way to the back to clock in. A tight grip on her wrist stopped her, Paulie had her wrist in a vice grip and his casual demeanor faltered completely, revealing the jealous prick beneath the surface, “You’re really gonna talk to me like that?” he questioned, his voice wavering with unmitigated rage. She arched a brow slightly, but maintained a calm demeanor, “Let go of me, Paulie,” she stated firmly, a warning. His grip tightened and he tugged her towards him, but she managed to keep from staggering in his direction. “Let her go,” another voice said, and Gina’s gaze snapped away from Paulie, to the door of the bar where she found Richie Wheatley. He had appeared so suddenly that Paulie was caught off guard and Gina used the moment to yank her arm from his grasp. Paulie let her go, turning his broad shoulders towards Richie and taking a step forward, “Or what, pretty boy? You gonna have Daddy yell at me?” he retorted, distaste etched into every word.

 

Richie ignored him, his beautiful hazel gaze finding hers and holding it, “Are you alright?” he inquired, his voice more gentle and Gina felt a small, genuine smile tug at her lips. She nodded, “Yeah, I’m fine… just trying to clock in,” she replied, trying to downplay the situation, knowing that Paulie would try to instigate an argument. She didn’t look at Paulie, her eyes were locked on those magnificent eyes… eyes that you wanted to drown in. In spite of herself, she felt that small flirtatious smile tug at her lips and a slight flush rise in her cheeks, suddenly she wasn’t acting anymore. For just a moment, her practiced façade slipped away… for the first moment outside of her shower, she was just Gina. Richie saw it, he saw her. She knew he had, because the corner of his mouth twitched upwards in a victorious smirk, as if to say got her. Their moment was violently disturbed by Paulie reaching out with both hands and shoving Richie backwards. Richie managed to keep his footing, though he stumbled briefly, “Woah, now big guy, let’s not do this here,” he stated, surprisingly calm given the seething rage that caused Paulie’s shoulders to rise and fall with each breath. “This is my family’s place, Richie Rich, you don’t get to tell me what the fuck to do,” Paulie spat at him, his heavy Brooklyn accent garbling certain words. Richie didn’t raise his fists, but Gina could tell from his stance that he was ready to dodge and parry if needed. Paulie didn’t wait for Richie’s response, instead he swung a clumsy fist for Richie’s head, opening his chest up.

 

Fatal flaw. Richie used a precise, powerful thrust and connected his knuckles with Paulie’s breastbone. Paulie stumbled slightly, but quickly regained his footing and lunged. However, Richie’s friends – or rather bodyguards – were quicker, stepping between him and Paulie. Paulie froze, sucking at his teeth in frustration, “What’s this Richie Rich?!” he inquired, trying to make light of his loss by default, “you afraid to face me yourself? Had to call in your goons?” Richie laughed the laugh of a man unbothered, though she could tell a part of him was thankful his ‘goons’ had intervened… Richie seemed more like a lover than a fighter. “You called them in by taking a swing at me, you should know better than that, Paulie,” he replied, his voice laced with confidence not earned… confidence paid for by his father’s money, “Now… you’re gonna let Gina clock in without causing more problems, right?” he added, a rhetorical question. Paulie answered anyway, “Or what?” he retorted, annoyance evident in his tone as he moved to reach for Gina who drew away from his grasp. Richie’s friends stepped forward, exuding the power paid for with Richard Wheatley’s money, “Or else you’ll be speaking directly with my father,” he replied, unafraid to throw the weight of his father’s reputation around. Anyone in the business knew that Richard Wheatley was not to be crossed.

 

Paulie made a vague, annoyed grunting noise before turning and stalking off. Richie stepped forward, away from his protectors, and towards Gina, “Hey, you alright? I’m sorry about all that…” he uttered, his voice gentle and lacking all the pretentiousness it had a moment ago. Gina nodded, flashing a small smile, “Yeah, I’m okay… Paulie’s got a bit of a temper,” she replied, each word planned…somehow easier than planned with Paulie’s outburst, “I’ve been meaning to end things with him, but as you can see it hasn’t been the easiest task…” she added, chewing at her lip and glancing in the direction Paulie had stormed off. In her eyes, a practiced look of comingled fear and desperation hung in wading pools of teal irises. When her gaze shifted back to Richie, her eyes were glassy with practiced tears, “we just…have nothing in common. I want out of it, but he’s so possessive,” she added, letting a single tear drift down her porcelain cheek. Richie retrieved a handkerchief from within his breast pocket, reaching to dab the tear from her cheek carefully. The handkerchief had been something his grandfather taught him over the years, a testament to the gentlemen of old… the gentlemen that inspired modern forms of chivalry. Richie pressed his lips together, his brow furrowing with concern, “I’m so sorry he’s treated you that way… he hasn’t hurt you, has he? I mean… other than grabbing your wrist just now,” he inquired, reaching for her hand to examine her wrist carefully. His hands were soft and smelled of expensive hand cream, the hands of a man who’d never worked a day in his life… a man who probably would never have to. The sort of life Gina could’ve led, if she’d only gone along with what her family wanted for her.

 

She shook her head, “No…no,” she replied, her voice wavering slightly, “nothing like that. Just outbursts like today… I think he knows things are ending and he just doesn’t want to see me happy with someone else…” She let her voice trail off, looking into Richie’s eyes and rubbing her thumb across his knuckles as his hand came to rest in hers. Richie’s look shifted from concern to the subtlest hint of hope… it was the first hope she’d given him, and it was clear that he was pleased with this development. “Well, I can take care of him,” Richie said confidently, though just the way he said it signified that he meant his father would handle it, “you’ll be safe, and he won’t be able to retaliate by having you fired.” Gina’s eyebrows furrowed, she had thought about Paulie trying to fire her, but she would use this moment to accelerate her current plans, “You don’t think he’d—” she began, but her voice cut off and she raised a hand to her mouth, her fingertips pressed against her lips, “I can’t afford to lose this job…” she whispered, tearing her gaze away from Richie’s and chewing at her fingernail nervously. Richie touched her arm, gently, “It’s gonna be okay, I promise,” he said softly, offering her a genuine smile. It was the sort of smile that you couldn’t help but return, the smile of a man who’d never had a thing go wrong in his life… a man with a lust for life. His presence calmed her and that was no act, she smiled warmly at him, “Walk with me?” she asked softly, knowing she needed to clock in behind the bar upstairs.

 

He nodded eagerly, gesturing for her to lead the way. She turned, making for the stairs, and led the way up to the second level. She didn’t have to look to know that this moment, the moment where she wasn’t paying close attention to his eyes, was the moment where his eyes raked over her body, taking in each curve and the way her outfit accentuated them. Behind her, Richie admired her, but not in the way she assumed… his eyes did take her in, every curve of her, but he found himself inspired by her. He remembered, in that moment, the story his brother had told him of a woman who was so simply magnetizing… and she couldn’t even see it. He found himself writing a poem in his mind as they walked…You must be the ocean’s daughter, eyes bluer than Caribbean water. Hair of gold with roots of brown, your eyes so deep that I might drown. She glanced over her shoulder then, finding his gaze and breaking his thought process. He knew he’d forget the poem before getting home, “Do you have a pen and paper I can use?” he asked, knowing she’d have a pen. He’d write it on a napkin if he had to. She smiled slightly, but shrugged, “I definitely have a pen…not sure about paper, we do everything paperless when we can these days,” she replied, reaching for a pen on the bar and handing it to him, “Be right back,” she added, moving to go clock in. Richie took the pen and used this moment alone to write his poem out on a napkin. It was only four lines, but it was genuine… heartfelt. “Whatcha writing?” she inquired, appearing at his side sooner than he’d expected. He jumped slightly, “I—well, I wrote this for you,” he replied, extending the napkin to her. His handwriting wasn’t the best, but it was legible.

 

She took the note and her eyes darted back and forth as she read it, but she found that she needed to re-read it a second time to process it. No one had ever written her poetry, the sentiment alone would’ve been enough to make her sentimental, but when her eyes rose to meet his she nearly stumbled. His eyes were, objectively, beautiful… but there was such unadulterated adoration held in them at that moment, as he looked at her, that she felt as though her heart truly skipped a beat. This was the closest they’d ever stood, and she could really see his eyes at this distance, somehow up close they were even more beautiful… like one of those images a teenage girl saves on Pinterest under the category dream guy. If eyes were truly the window to the soul, then Richie’s soul consisted of all the magnificence in the world… the deep blues of the ocean, the vibrant greens of the rainforests, and the glowing golds of the sunshine at golden hour. She was speechless; once again, her practiced façade faltered and, in its place, stood just Gina… feeling as vulnerable before Richie’s eyes as if she’d just stepped out of the shower in front of him. “I’m sorry if it’s weird…” he began, concerned by her silence, but she shook her head. Before she could reply she laughed at his comment, the sort of sharp laughter that punctuated an underlying pain, “No—no,” she began, speaking through the laughter as it faded, “It’s just… I’ve never had someone look at me the way you do,” she admitted, a glimmer of truth amidst the smokescreen. She smiled a taciturn smile, hesitating briefly before leaning in to place a gentle kiss on his cheek. She knew, of course, that she needed to get to work… but she glanced at the clock, “I get off at eleven… walk me home?” she added, offering a small smile.

 

He nodded, smiling broadly like a boy seeing his prom date for the first time… just giddy with the turn of events. Gina tucked the napkin with her poem into one of the concealed pockets on the skirt, one of the only reasons she had purchased the skirt, and turned to walk away, making for the tables in her assigned area. Even though Richie likely had other plans previously, he didn’t leave during her entire shift. She saw him retrieve his phone now and again to send the occasional text or scroll social media, but she often caught him idly observing her in a way that was so different from the way Paulie had looked at her, the way most men did. Richie was observing her with a look of awe, it was subtle… like the look one might wear when observing a swan glide easily through the water, when you observe something beautiful that isn’t yours to possess. Whereas most men observed her with lustful looks of possession, as though she were the antelope and they, the lion. When she caught his eye, she would offer a small, flirtatious smile… part of the plan, but the plan was certainly made easier by the shift in target. It was easier to flirt with someone you actually likedrather than someone you couldn’t stomach. Near the end of her shift, Richie vanished downstairs and, almost as soon as he did, she could hear a scuffle on the first floor that caused a glass to slide from the bar and crash onto the floor. Gina approached the railing, leaning over it to look down on the scene as it unfolded. Richie stood back from the altercation; tense and ready to join the fray if needed. Beside him stood a man who looked vaguely like him but exuded a completely different vibe… a sort of toxic charisma. In front of them, the same two goons from earlier had Paulie slammed face first against the bar, his arms twisted painfully behind his back.

 

“I’m just making sure we understand each other, Paulie,” Richard Wheatley uttered, taking a step forward and tilting his head to look into Paulie’s face which was contorted with pain, “You’re to steer clear of this Gina… she doesn’t want, nor need the likes of you dragging her down. Capeesh?” he added, his tone heavy and ominous, despite the vague threats. Richard Wheatley meant business and suddenly, Gina was made very well aware of just exactly the type of man she was dealing with. “Y—Yes!” Paulie managed through his pain, his body tense as he struggled against those who held him down. Richard grinned, though Gina could instantly tell that this grin was sinister, “Good, good…” he mused, stepping ever closer to the place where Paulie’s face lay pressed to the bar, “because if you don’t… I’ll make sure they never find your body,” he whispered. Gina didn’t have to hear what he said to know it was bad, the blood drained from Paulie’s face. Richard Wheatley nodded, and the goons released Paulie who instantly departed the establishment, with no looks back. Gina was unsure of how to feel in that moment… on one hand, Richard Wheatley had saved her a lot of hassle with getting Paulie to leave her alone… on the other, Richard Wheatley had likely threatened a man’s life over her. She was reminded of the way her brothers had threatened any boy that had dared to date her in high school, a list that wasn’t very long once they realized that dating Gina Cappelletti meant dealing with her older, over-protective brothers. Richie’s gaze shifted to her, as though she had called his name, and he smiled warmly up at her – clearly unaware of the turmoil that hung within her mind. Somehow, despite steering clear of the life her family had led, she found herself in a moment now where she felt as though she’d never truly escaped… the only thing keeping her from feeling completely overwhelmed was the knowledge that in her right pocket, a folded napkin lay nestled against her… a folded napkin with adoring words written for her, about her.

 

Without thinking she pressed her fingers to the spot where the napkin sat in her pocket, as if touching it made it real, as if touching it might ground her in that moment. She knew, of course, that this was all work… but she couldn’t help the uptick in anxiety she felt, seeing Richard Wheatley use brute force against a man who’d never done him wrong… over her. As her gaze remained settled on Richie’s, Richard Wheatley turned to face her. In her peripheral vision she could see him look from her, to Richie, and back before saying, “I assume that’s Gina?” in a curious tone that was laced with something else, an emotion she wasn’t sure of. Richie broke their gaze, turning to his father with a smile, “Yeah… isn’t she gorgeous?” he replied, not bothering to be subtle with his compliments, after all… he’d given her a poem about her beauty. She had to know by now, he assumed, that he believed she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. A beauty so vibrant that it inspired him to write poetry again, something he hadn’t done since Raffi died. He glanced back up to Gina, waving for her to join them. She glanced to the clock and held up a finger as if to say ‘give me a minute’ before walking back to the upstairs bar to clock out. Behind the counter, the bartender glanced at her with a raised eyebrow, “Wheatley Jr., hmm?” he inquired idly, sounding somewhat bored despite him bringing up the subject. Gina shot him a don’t try me look before replying, “Yes, he’s a sweet guy… and have you seen those eyes?”

 

The bartender didn’t even try to hide his annoyance as he rolled his eyes, “Look, Gina, you’re a pretty girl… you could have any guy, but the Wheatley family is bad news. Just be careful, OK?” he replied, a subtle note of concern ebbing into his tone. Gina smirked, “Are you looking out for me?” she teased, reaching to brush her knuckles against his shoulder, “I’m a big girl, I can take care of myself… but thanks for the warning,” she added, hoping that her tone didn’t come off as annoyed as she felt, before grabbing her coat and making for the stairs. Gina had never liked being told what to do… she had never liked warnings, because they often came from a place of trying to control the outcome of her actions. She brushed a hand through her blonde waves, tousling them idly as she descended the stairs and approached Richie with a hesitant smile. Her aquamarine gaze flicked from Richie to his father, who was taller and exuded an almost intoxicating level of charisma that set her on edge. “So, you are the infamous Gina Cappelletti,” Richard mused, his voice gravely and cool, “You must be quite the woman, my son can’t seem to get you out of his mind… forgive me, where are my manners,” he added, extending a hand to her, “Richard Wheatley.” Gina flashed a hesitant smile, her discomfort disguised as the normal nerves that came with meeting the parental figures of someone you might be interested in, “Nice to meet you, Mr. Wheatley,” she replied, reaching for his hand, and shaking it. His skin, like Richie’s, was soft and suggested that he was – more often than not – ordering hits, rather than carrying them out. “I hope that our friend Paulie got the message but do inform me if he crosses the line with you from this point onward,” Richard added, pausing before adding, “and please, call me Richard, Mr. Wheatley is far too formal.”

 

Gina nodded, but didn’t reply, shifting on her feet slightly towards Richie. Richie stepped closer to her instinctively, “You want a ride home or would you rather walk?” he asked, his voice gentle and even. He was worlds apart from the man before her, as if he wasn’t really Richard’s son at all. She smiled warmly, her vibrant gaze finding him and absorbing his soft, boyishly handsome features, “I think it would be nice to walk…maybe we could grab something to eat,” she replied, her voice as kind as her smile. He nodded eagerly, extending his arm to her, as if this were the movies and she was the Hollywood starlet about to hit the town with the handsome main character. Richie exuded such a lust for life that she found to be practically infectious, seeping into her heart and making her job easier… it was easy to be around someone who simply enjoyed the small things. She tugged her jacket, an off-white faux fur monstrosity, over her arms and brushed her hands under her hair, around her neck, to remove the loose curls from her collar. As soon as she had, she slid her arm into the place Richie had made for her, glancing to Richard Wheatley and offering a sweet smile as she said, “Truly a pleasure to meet you, Richard, you’ve raised a wonderful son…” Richard’s lips contorted into a reticent smile that bordered on a smirk, simply nodding in response… his icy blue gaze was narrowed as he watched his son and this Gina depart the bar and vanish into the crisp air of this March evening.

 

As soon as they were outside, Gina spoke, “Sorry about Paulie… he’s got such a bad attitude about things. I really appreciate you looking out for me,” her tone genuine. It was sweet that Richie cared about her, even if letting him care was simply part of the job for her. Richie was beaming, thrilled at the simple opportunity to spend more time with her, “No need to thank me,” he replied quickly, shrugging off her gratitude with ease, “you… you remind me of a story my brother once told me, about a woman he met who simply knocked him off his feet when he least expected it… and when I have the chance to show you what an incredible woman you are, to show you how you deserve to be treated, I will take the opportunity without a moment’s hesitation.” Her lips parted as her jaw dropped almost imperceptibly; she was taken aback by both his honesty as well as his declaration… she hadn’t had serious relationships, so she certainly wasn’t used to being spoken to with such deep reverence and admiration. She was suddenly aware, for the first time, that Richie Wheatley was, indeed, Richard Wheatley’s son… though his brand of charisma was more genuine and altruistic. Her heart raced slightly, the first sign of true nervousness about her latest assignment, “She must’ve been quite the woman if your brother spoke so highly of her… did they end up together?” she replied, unable to quell her curiosity. Richie frowned slightly, “It’s…complicated,” he began, his tone suddenly hesitant, “when they met, she was going through a divorce, but she ended up pregnant and returned to the marriage… Raffi was devastated by the loss of her and their unborn child, so he turned to drugs. Long story short, that led to his death several years later.” Gina’s heart ached for him, for the heaviness of his tone and the profound sadness that emerged within those brilliant hazel eyes.

 

“I’m sorry…” she began, her voice laced with understanding and concern, “I didn’t mean to bring up such a heavy topic.” Richie smiled sadly and shook his head, “No, you don’t have anything to apologize for… Raffi was my best friend and sometimes it’s nice to talk about him, I don’t get to share memories of him often. He was a bit of a black sheep in the family…” he replied, his voice laced with the same melancholy as his smile. Gina nodded, understandingly… she knew what that was like. Her mother had been the black sheep, the woman who didn’t fit into the family, and Gina had followed in her footsteps. “I know what that’s like,” she admitted, smiling hesitantly, “my family is involved with some shady things and I didn’t always go with the program… my father had an arranged marriage picked out for me with the son of a rival family, when that fell through – because of me – he practically told me that if he ever saw me again I wouldn’t survive the encounter,” she continued, surprising herself with her honesty. Arranged marriage was a strong term, but her father had strongly suggested she marry the man he intended… and it was supposed to form some alliance between their families. She shook her head slightly, pressing her lips together, “I was never cut out to be that,” she said finally, her tone vacant. Richie nodded, his brow furrowed as they walked arm in arm, “No,” he replied, his gaze assessing her attentively, “you are so much more than a prize to be won… than a trophy wife,” he added, agreeing with her. She flashed a smile at him, glancing at him through her long lashes, “You’re just full of surprises, Richie… I never expected you to be such a romantic,” she replied, her tone intentionally coy. He grinned, that boyish grin, and replied, “Well, I’m a man of many layers… perhaps you’ll get to see more of them with time.”

 

She considered him, her aqua gaze locked on his vibrant multicolored eyes, “I’d like that,” she replied finally, her tone matter of fact. He smiled, unable to conceal the genuine joy that her response elicited… he was so full of life, so vibrant, in a way that his father simply wasn’t. She found herself wondering about his mother, about his childhood, about the things that made him, him. There was this simple degree of separation between him and his father… Richie had his own charisma of sorts, but there was the innocence to it. Where Richard Wheatley used his charisma as a weapon, Richie simply strode into his charisma naturally with no ulterior motives… his words were genuine, his actions sincere. None of it was an act. “Well… I know it’s kinda soon,” Richie began, a boyish unease to his tone, “but my birthday is in a couple weeks, and I would really like for you to be there…” Gina smirked playfully, nudging his shoulder with hers, “is that your way of saying you don’t want to see me for two weeks?” she inquired, her tone obviously lighthearted. His eyes widened and he shook his head, “No! No… I just would love for you to meet my mom, she’ll be there, and I know she’ll love you,” he replied, still nervous. Gina smiled warmly as they approached the door to her building, “I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” she replied, turning to face him before gesturing to the building behind her, “this is me… you want me to wait with you till your ride gets here?” she added, her tone warm despite the slight shiver that caused her voice to quiver. He shook his head, offering a warm smile, and relinquishing his grip on her arm, “No, you should go inside… can’t have you getting sick now, can we?” he replied softly.

 

She smiled slightly, hesitating briefly before leaning in to place a gentle kiss to his cheek, “Goodnight, Richie,” she said lightly, moving toward her building’s door. “Oh!” he exclaimed, moving after her, “Can you put your number in my phone? I don’t have it yet and I can’t keep showing up at your job to bug you…” he added, chuckling slightly. She turned, extending her hand for his phone, “I thought you’d never ask,” she responded, smirking slightly as he placed the phone in her hand. Her cold fingers struggled slightly, but she managed to get her name and number put into his contacts list. “Be sure to text me your name so I know it’s you,” she added, turning the phone back over to him. He didn’t hesitate, instantly opening a new text conversation and typing in <Hey, it’s Richie Wheatley> before hitting send. A soft -ding- from her pocket indicated the arrival of the text and he smiled triumphantly, “there, now you have my number,” he said, unable to conceal the excitement in his voice. She chuckled, turning to make her way inside her building, only this time Richie Wheatley didn’t stop her. When she made it to her apartment a few moments later, she looked out the window to see Richie standing right where she’d left him with his gaze upturned like a tourist, examining the tall buildings with the awestruck gaze of someone who might’ve been looking upon them for the first time. She shook her head slightly, once again struck by the simple sincerity of him… taken aback by his true lust for life.  

 

Chapter Text

She stood on the stoop of the building for longer than she intended, her hand hovering above the door handle. It was unlocked, as it always was, waiting for her to turn it… to walk inside. Her heart raced in spite of herself, raced as she considered the weight of the conversation that she knew she needed to have. Even as she stood there, trying to hold it together, the burden of it all came crashing down and the tears stung at her eyes with such ferocity that she was reminded of the smell of rubbing alcohol… something her sinuses caused when she fought to contain her emotions and, ultimately, failed. She turned the knob, blinking back the tears and shutting her emotions down, whilst pushing the door open. The waiting area was vacant, though someone had been there earlier… the usually tidy stack of magazines on the table was disheveled. She lingered there, at the edge of the room, at the brink of finally… finally expressing all the emotions that had spiraled within her, like a raging hurricane, since Elliot’s return. The lump in her throat loitered, dwelling comfortably in the hollow of her throat, and threatened to overtake her at any moment. A soft, “Olivia?” tore her from her reverie, her mahogany gaze shifting slower than she intended to the source. Dr. Lindstrom wore a concerned expression, his kind face contorted by worry. She tried to smile, but it faltered almost immediately. He said nothing, just stepped aside and gestured for her to walk into his office.

 

The room exuded its usual cool comforts, but there was always a professional distance in that comfort, for which Olivia was grateful. She tugged at her jacket as she set, determined to get it to lay appropriately against her chest. “So,” Dr. Lindstrom spoke, his tone still concerned but threaded with an undertone of curiosity, “you’ve had quite the couple weeks… tell me about them.” She hated that; despised that casual way in which therapists separated themselves emotionally from everything and left the questions so open-ended. It lacked structure… it didn’t have laws or order. It was meant to be freeing, in a way; to avoid pressuring their clientele into speaking about things they weren’t ready to approach. But for Olivia, that lack of structure left her with this vacant hole… a lack of direction that made approaching her traumas and experiences more complex. She swallowed dryly, her gaze settling on her hands as she idly picked at the skin surrounding her nails, “Elliot’s back,” she said simply, knowing that Dr. Lindstrom already knew this. Lindstrom nodded idly, his face betraying nothing. Olivia hated this neutrality even more than the vague way in which he questioned her… because he gave her nothing, no inkling of how he felt. She valued his opinion; after all, he was one of the very few who knew the whole story… who knew the true depths of her pain. There was a heavy silence between them. He waited for her to speak, settling into the silence as though it were an old friend. “I don’t know how to feel,” Olivia admitted, trying to break the silence… desperate to break it.

 

Lindstrom nodded once again, tilting his head almost imperceptibly as his intelligent gaze assessed her, “It’s alright to not be sure about how you feel, Olivia… tell me more about that…” he said, encouraging her. She chewed at her lower lip, feeling the tears well in her eyes. A single tear pressed out onto her lower lashes, dangling there like dew from morning grass, before plummeting down and landing upon her thigh. “I—” she began, but her voice choked out, failing her momentarily, “I… want to be angry. I deserve that… I was angry for so many years. Too many. I was hurt… and, if I’m honest, I am still hurt,” she added, her voice a hoarse whisper. She fell silent, shaking her head, “and on another front I want to not care at all… I want to act as though it didn’t matter that he left, that it doesn’t matter that he’s back,” she admitted, a hint of defeat in her tone, “but I know that is completely unrealistic… he was the single most important person in my life ten years ago. I have mourned him… and yet, here he is. Standing before me at the lowest moment of his life and reaching out, desperate to rebuild what was broken…” Lindstrom shifted visibly, the first sign of anything other than neutrality… there it was, the ever-so-subtle judgement, because he knew how broken Olivia had been. He knew how desperate she’d been for Elliot to come back… to be there for her when she faced William Lewis, when she adopted Noah (and nearly didn’t get to), when Noah was kidnapped… he knew that even when she had been with Brian… and Tucker… that a small part of her had done it out of spite. As though to prove to the universe that she didn’tneed or want Elliot Stabler.

 

“Well…” he said, using the word and the pause that followed to buy himself time… she could sense that he was struggling to separate his personal opinion from his professional one. After all, they’d developed quite the rapport over the years… she had opened up to him more than any other person. He knew more about her now than Elliot did…something that never would’ve been true before Elliot left. “Have you considered the fact that it is unfair of him to rely so heavily on you? Given everything…” he said finally, his voice shifting back to cool neutrality. She knew, logically, he was right… everyone but Fin had offered quiet words of caution, but then again everyone but Fin hadn’t been there. They hadn’t seen the bond that she and Elliot had developed during their time as partners… most of them had only seen her after he left, when she broke. She chewed at the inside of her cheek, feeling all of the conflicting emotions arguing within her, “I guess…” she began, her voice quivering, “I guess, I’m not sure what his plan was before—you know—he came to see me before Kathy’s…accident… I don’t know what his plan was before she was killed. Did he… plan to stay? Did he intend to leave?” Her voice cracked violently as she contemplated his potential departure yet again. There was such uncertainty in her tone, and she was devastatingly aware that, like ten years ago, her heart was no longer in her chest… it resided in Elliot’s pocket, waiting for him to care for it after all these years. It wasn’t even… an option… in her mind. She knew, somewhere within her, that he wouldn’t… he was here, to stay… but the thought that she could experience losing him again? That him disappearing was not impossible? A silent sob racked her body, her shoulders shaking, and she pressed a hand to her mouth, desperate to hold back those emotions that balanced so precariously on the edge of her soul.

 

Lindstrom was silent, assessing her every move as he often did… noiselessly examining the impact that Elliot’s return was having. She couldn’t tolerate the silence, “When he… left… I couldn’t imagine a world in which he wasn’t a part of my life,” she began, her voice hoarse from emotion, “I couldn’t… I saw him everywhere. Sometimes I even swore I could hear him. I would get to work and look at his desk or an interrogation room or our squad car… or really anything and be reminded of some obscure memory that haunted me. I was so stuck in this memory of him, in the paralyzing fear of change… the fear that if I accepted it, that if I cleared out his desk… or put away his pictures… that he would really be gone. It took months to begin that process, under duress I might add… and when I finally, finally got used to the idea of Elliot Stabler being a spectre of my past, when I irrevocably accepted that he was gone…” her voice trailed off, the tears tumbling freely down her cheeks as her gaze finally shifted to Lindstrom’s face, “he…came back… and here I am, back to that point of being unable to imagine a world in which he isn’t a part of my life again.” Lindstrom’s mask of professionality faltered for a fraction of a second, for a moment she could see his empathy, “I know, probably better than most, how difficult the past decade has been for you, Olivia,” he began, a slightly weighted tone ensconced within his voice, “but I would be remiss as your therapist if I didn’t voice my lingering concerns about the return of Elliot Stabler.” She didn’t speak, she wasn’t sure she could… she had already heard warnings from a few individuals, but she’d ignored them… unable to turn away from her former partner and best friend, from the man she’d pined after for over a decade, the man she’d mourned for the past decade.

 

Lindstrom didn’t wait for her response, “It seems, amidst the chaos of his return, that you have already slipped into a place of forgiveness… that is not what concerns me though,” he continued, a hint of concern entrenched within his cool tones, “what concerns me is that, simply because of the death of his wife, you have regressed back into the relationship you had before his…absence… and I just—I don’t want to see you jump into the ocean with both feet without knowing if there’s an anchor tied to one of them…” It was a somewhat morbid metaphor, but his meaning was made dramatically clear. Olivia brushed a shaking hand through her soft hair and sniffled slightly, nodding, “I understand,” she began, chewing at the inside of her cheek once again, “I did talk to him before everything happened with Kathy, but that was interrupted and, naturally, overshadowed by the events of that evening… so I know there are other conversations to be had…” she responded, her voice wavering but somewhat more calm. He nodded, “I see,” he began, pausing before adding, “have you considered when you might want to address the remaining…conversations?” he inquired, casual interest woven into his voice. Olivia shifted uncomfortably in her seat; she knew by how he’d said it… she knew that he meant the conversation… She swallowed dryly, shaking he head slightly, “I—I can’t imagine bringing that up to him. Not now… he needs to heal from Kathy and find his center again—” she replied, her voice wavering dangerously and her heart racing slightly, “I can’t—he doesn’t deserve to have that added to his plate until he gets justice for Kathy.” Lindstrom didn’t speak, but his eyes narrowed almost indiscernibly as he watched her. “I know—I know I need to tell him,” she added, swallowed again – hard, “but… the truth is that I never even told him the depth of what I experienced at Sealview… I don’t—I have no idea how to start that conversation…” she admitted, her voice weaker somehow.

 

Lindstrom took a deep, patient breath, “There’s no right way to talk to him about this, Olivia,” he began, his tone cool but laced with patient understanding, “but you’re right… you do need to talk to him, maybe not in the depth with which you’ve spoken to me – or even investigators – but you owe it to yourself to express to him the pain that you experienced… and the abandonment you experienced when he wasn’t there.” Olivia nodded, the knot in her throat so large that she found she was unable to respond initially… she had thought of it, of course, the moment in which she would finally open up to Elliot about everything… but now that she was faced with planning that possibility, she found herself locked in a prison of panic. “You know… I’ve been trying to speak for weeks and weeks,” she said finally, her voice so quiet she didn’t know if he would hear her, “and his presence in my life is suffocating… despite how desperate I am for him to stay…” She trailed off, shaking her head, “it was like… when he was gone, his presence had faded into a sort of white noise. Finally, thoughts and memories of him had settled into a sort of comfort, rather than pain, and ever since he’s come back it’s just been so loud.” He was surprised by her statement; she had finally truly admitted the depth of her conflicting emotions. He’d expected her to be conflicted, but he also hadn’t ever imagined Elliot Stabler coming back in such a turbulent way. “So, what I hear you saying is that you’d grown comfortable with the thought of Elliot being a memory… and now that he’s back it’s been overwhelming,” he said, cautiously repeating what she’d said in his own words. She nodded but didn’t speak.

 

He took another deep, grounding breath, “Have you considered that perhaps… you’re asking too much of yourself, by being there for him—his kids—so quickly?” he suggested, his tone tentative. She shrugged sadly, because she knew she was putting a lot of pressure on herself… she knew there was a sort of guilt associated with her time with Richard Wheatley. Irrational guilt that somehow she might’ve been responsible for Kathy’s death… she felt her heart ache dully, “I know… I know that immersing myself in his life again so quickly has been a lot for me,” she began, her voice uneven, “but the truth is, I can’t bring myself to shut him out… maybe it’s because of our history or maybe it’s because I’m afraid that if I shut him out—if I am not there for him—he will disappear again.” Lindstrom openly frowned now, his brow creasing heavily, “That is a lot of pressure to be putting on yourself, Olivia,” he began, in an almost stern tone, “that isn’t very fair to yourself… after all, you can’t control how Elliot will choose to process this loss. What if you put yourself through the wringer only to find out that he’s going to leave again anyway? Have you considered what his presence in your life means for you? For Noah?” he inquired, asking the questions that Olivia had not dared ask herself aloud, despite having them swirl within her mind for the past weeks. She swallowed, wiping a hand across the lower portion of her face, and shook her head, “I have… up to this point… decided against introducing Elliot to Noah,” she began, her voice wavering and her eyes welling with tears, “I know Elliot is happy for me… he knew how much I wanted to be a mother, better than anyone. But I can’t—after Ed, I can’t knowingly bring anyone into Noah’s life unless I am completely certain they will stay…”

 

Lindstrom’s shoulders relaxed slightly, as though her admitting this was something the relieved him, “It’s good that you’re aware of that, Olivia. I know that you and I have discussed the impact that Elliot had on your life prior to his departure… and directly due to his departure. Noah was one of your first big positive steps forward without Elliot in your life, it’s important to consider how Elliot’s presence might impact you and – in doing so – him,” he replied, keeping a cool distance in his tone. He was trying, she knew, to avoid judging her choice… to keep her open to discussing the return of her former partner. “When he left, Elliot was… the single most important person in my life, as I have often admitted to you,” she replied, her gaze lowering to the ring on her right hand that read love which had been gifted to her by her Squad for Mother’s Day, “but now? Noah is the single most important person in my life… and I will make the decision that is best for us – for him – because that is my responsibility as his mother.” She took a deep breath as she said it, her gaze rising once more. There was a sort of fortitude that came with her discussing Noah… everything about his presence in her life was solid. She didn’t have to worry, for now, about him leaving, like Elliot had… she didn’t have to worry about him being taken from her, like Calvin had been. “I’m glad that you are so determined to make the right choices for your son,” Lindstrom replied, but she sensed the hesitance in his tone, “however, I need you to also be making the right decisions for yourself… So far, you’ve expressed feeling that you need to be there for Elliot because of his wife… and the need to make the right choices for your son, because you’re his mother. What I haven’t heard… is what you want, Olivia.”

 

Olivia was shell-shocked, it wasn’t the first time someone had asked her what she wanted… the truth was that she had always known the answer, but it had remained unspoken. She hadn’t even told Lindstrom – a man bound by privilege – the truth of it all, though he likely suspected… just as many others suspected… the truth. The truth. She breathed a ragged sigh, her hands growing clammy with nerves as she struggled to voice the truth, once and for all. “I—” she began, but her voice choked out, failing her like a car engine that fails to turn over, “I want…” she shook her head, chewing at her lower lip. There was a heft pause, Lindstrom was going to wait her out, to force her to speak with his silence. “I have always wanted him to just stay… to choose me over everything else…” she admitted finally, her voice wavering precariously as she did. For the first time in over two decades, Olivia Benson had admitted the truth she’d always buried beneath her morals, beneath her desire to do right by Elliot and his family. As it turned out, her moral dilemma had died with Kathy in that explosion… now they simply needed time. “I feel…” she continued, cutting him off before he could stop her, before she dared not speak again, “I feel like I have been this white noise in his life for so long… ever-present, but somehow settled in the background of it all. I want, I want to be there for him – to help him heal. I think that if we can heal… if we can stand together, through this all, that there is a future where he and I could—” she stopped, unable to actually say it… to speak aloud the dream she’d wished. The dream she’d glimpsed each time they’d gone undercover as a married couple. The dream where he chose her, where they were together, where he helped her raise Noah… it was this whole other life that she’d always imagined, a dream she’d tried desperately to forget for the last decade.

 

Lindstrom considered her with cool indifference masking his true feelings, his eyes didn’t even betray his thoughts. It was infuriating, but Olivia held steady, unwilling to further bare her truth. “Well, I don’t think that you should feel guilty for wanting that, Olivia,” he replied, his voice somewhat tentative, clearly cautious in navigating his response, “you have always cared deeply for Elliot, that much has always been clear… and I am pleased to hear you discussing that you want both of you to heal, to move forward, before pursuing anything past friendship.” She nodded, licking her lips slightly as she looked down at her hands, fiddling with one of her nails idly, “I don’t know what to expect,” she admitted, her voice somewhat smaller, as she laid bare the fear that had always dwelt within her… the question of what if he doesn’t feel the same? had swirled in her mind for over two decades. “I don’t actually know what Elliot wants… past wanting justice for his wife,” she continued, her voice quivering along with her lower lip, the tears welling within her mahogany eyes once again, “we have never once had a truly honest conversation about our feelings… every time we got close… one of us left or something pulled us away. I can read him, generally, but when it comes to this? To ‘us’ – whatever us is? I just… don’t trust my instincts, I don’t know what he’s thinking. I don’t know if my dream… is our dream.” She’d said all too much and could feel her heart pound in her chest, her emotions laid out in front of someone else in earnest for the first time. She hadn’t said the L word, but she hadn’t needed to… it was implied, it always had been. Even as she sat here, she remembered the moment she had first wondered if Elliot loved her too, ‘You and this job are about the only things that I’ve got anymore…I don’t want to wreck that,’ his voice echoed in her mind, his blue eyes swimming before her in her mind’s eye.

 

“Olivia?” Lindstrom questioned and Olivia’s mind came crashing back to reality, “where’d you go?” he inquired, his voice laced with a curiosity too strong to conceal behind cool indifference. She hesitated briefly, unsure if admitting it would help… or if she should, “I told you once about the Gitano case… the serial killer who killed a whole family to kidnap two young kids?” she began, pausing and waiting for him to acknowledge that he remembered. He offered a small nod as if to say he recalled the case. “That case was… particularly difficult for Elliot. There was a moment when we had tracked Gitano to a bus terminal… I ended up finding him, but the room was crowded, and he kept using the little girl – Rebecca – as a shield. I let him get too close and he took a swing, slicing my across the neck,” she began, recounting the case as though it had been yesterday, “I fell backward and Elliot felt that he needed to pick between saving the little boy – Ryan, Rebecca’s brother – and me… he picked me and we found Ryan dead less than ten minutes later…” she trailed off, shaking her head as she recalled the memory, her hand unconsciously rising to her neck, a finger brushing against the small scar that she wore there. “Elliot blamed himself for Ryan’s death?” Lindstrom inferred; a sort of sadness lingered within his tone, sadness that resonated with Olivia… even he understood the depth of the guilt that Elliot must’ve faced. Olivia nodded, “he did… and, because of that, he resented that I’d turned him away. He told me, after the case was over, that we had both chosen each other over the job… that it could never happen again, otherwise we couldn’t be partners…” she replied, her voice uneven and choked by emotion. Dr. Lindstrom considered her once again, his eyes assessing every feature of her face, “And why do you think he said that?” he inquired, his tone regressing to levelheaded neutrality. Olivia had considered this question before, perhaps a million times, but she’d never been able to determine the answer… she’d never been able to pinpoint what the real reason behind his words had been. “I don’t know…” she admitted, her tone saturated in defeat, “I wish… desperately… that I knew why he said it. I tried to trick myself into thinking it was about the job, but his next sentence suggested that it hadn’t been,” she added, her voice uncertain.

 

“And what did he say?” Lindstrom prompted, leaning forward subtly, eager to hear her response… to gain just one more piece to the puzzle that was Olivia and Elliot’s relationship. She quoted Elliot verbatim, “Look, you and this job are about the only things that I have left. I don’t want to wreck that.” Once again, Peter Lindstrom’s face faltered, his surprised evident for a fraction of a second before he slipped back into the casual professionalism with which he normally carried himself, “sounds like he also cared deeply about you… that your presence in his life was important to him, above his family even,” he replied, his voice even and collected. Olivia’s heart raced, Peter Lindstrom was the only person who knew about that day… the only person who knew what Elliot had said to her in the corridor of the hospital that day. She was silent for what felt like an eternity before finally replying, “You know… that was the first time I had ever considered that Elliot Stabler might’ve loved me too,” shocking herself with her own honesty. Lindstrom’s eyebrows shot upwards in surprise, “what did you do?” he replied, trying to keep his tone even. There was a long, heavy pause where Olivia avoided his gaze. Finally, giving in, she looked at him with tears in her eyes and said, “I transferred to Computer Crimes… running away from my feelings and fading back into the white noise of Elliot Stabler’s life.”

Chapter Text

The wall before her had grown chaotic. Angela’s dark gaze shifted from face to face… until finally it fell on the face directly below Elliot Stabler’s. There, a thin pale face stared back at her, unsmiling. She knew, of course, that the odds were against her… that maybe, just maybe she was wrong. But then there were those eyes. Despite the different façade, the pale skin, the straight hair… Eli Stabler’s dark brown eyes were almost identical to the eyes of her late son. She felt a knot form in her throat, her jaw clenching as she forced her emotions back beneath the surface… she didn’t have time for them now, she knew that losing her cool would be her undoing. She reached out, brushing the tip of her index finger across Eli’s face, the strange face of a strange boy… but those eyes were her security, it was there that her certainty lay. Kathy Stabler, during her brief, but fiery relationship with her son had gotten pregnant… and, like any good mother, had done what she thought was best for her child… for all of her children… but she hadn’t realized that her choice would be the trigger that pushed Rafiq over the edge. That thanks to her decision, he would turn to drugs and, eventually, earn himself a bullet between the eyes. Her stomach turned and she frowned, shaking her head as if to clear her thoughts. She hadn’t been allowed to see his body, not even at a viewing… she had been asked to identify Rafiq by an image of his tattoos. Her heart sank, the dull ache within her chest showing her that despite it all she was far from past the trauma of losing her eldest child. She reached both hands up, smoothing her hair back from her face towards the high twist that was clipped to the back of her head.

 

She turned from the wall and left her bedroom, making her way to the kitchen to find an open bottle of Egri Bikavér upon her counter. The Hungarian wine was among her favorites, named for its bold earthy flavor and dark crimson color. She poured herself a hefty glass; immediately taking a sip and savoring the dry burn of the liquid as it ventured down her throat. She shut her eyes, letting her free hand rest against the counter to maintain her sense of balance. Her momentary reverie was disturbed by a calculated knock on the door; even without checking she knew that Izak would be standing on the other side. She heaved a sigh, preparing for yet another academy award winning performance. If anyone had been standing in the room, they would’ve seen a sudden shift in her… her facial expression softening to one of a heartbroken mother meeting her secret lover, rather than the hardened expression of a calculated killer whose every move had motive. She set her glass down on the counter and strutted her way easily across her apartment, swinging the door open casually to find Izak standing stoically on the other side. A practiced, falsely warm smile spread across her face and, to the untrained – or unwilling to see – eye, you would’ve thought she was truly excited to see the man before her. “Come in,” she mused, stepping aside, and offering an inviting gesture. The hint of a timid smile tugged at his features, the sort of smile that suggested a discomfort with emotion… emotion was weakness, love was weakness.

 

Izak Bekher knew this, and yet, he was enamored with the elegant woman before him. The woman who wore silk pajamas and seemed to way up looking more beautiful than when she went to sleep. As soon as he was inside, Angela shut the door behind him and locked it. “I was followed when leaving Contrapos’ office building,” he offered in place of a normal greeting, his tone suggesting discomfort with this turn of events. Angela strode past him casually, ensuring that her strut demonstrated the perfect sway of her hips, “Oh?” she replied, her tone settling somewhere between disinterest and mild curiosity. He shot her a disapproving face, “This isn’t a game, Ange… Richard knows someone set him up for this cop’s wife. My money is that he suspects me,” he retorted, annoyance ebbing into his usually cool tone. She shrugged idly, turning back to the cabinet to retrieve a glass for him, “As far as Richard knows, the worst thing you’re doing is fucking his ex-wife,” she replied coolly, clearly unbothered by this new development. She knew that she wasn’t immune to Richard’s wrath if he found out the truth, but she also knew that if anyone would go down for Kathy Stabler’s murder… it would be Izak, not her. She had ensured that all the actual gory details couldn’t be traced back to her. Of that, she was certain. “Ange, if he suspects me,” he began, approaching the other side of the island counter before continuing, “then it is only a matter of time before he starts connecting the dots… and if he is following me, you can bet that he’ll start following you.” She turned, a second glass clutched in her hand, and offered a calming smile, “Izak, darling, you worry too much… Richard is not as smart as you give him credit for and,” she began to pour wine into his glass as she spoke, her gaze dropping to watch the crimson liquid pour into the rounded glass, “he has quite the blind spot when it comes to me… after all, he still seeks my approval on most of his business dealings despite everything.”

 

Izak wasn’t convinced, but when she offered him a glass of wine, he took it and dropped the subject. Angela was not immune to Richard’s scrutiny, she knew that… but she also knew that she still had time before Richard began to suspect her. Which was why she knew the time to act was approaching… now, while Detective Stabler was distracted by the death of his wife, while he was so desperate to find her killer and get her justice that he wouldn’t be focused on protecting his son. Why would he be? Eli Stabler had only been in the country for a few days… Izak turned from her, making his way to a sofa to settle comfortably onto it. Angela followed him, sitting on the same sofa, but away from him. She needed him to focus on her words, not the feel of her body against his, “Did you manage to slip your detail on the way here?” she inquired, intrigued to see how good Richard’s surveillance might be. Izak scoffed, as though her words insulted him, “Of course I did… I am Richard’s best man, so – when he sends people to follow me, they never manage to keep up,” he replied, a cocky edge finding its way into his tone. She nearly rolled her eyes, but managed to smirk confidently instead, “See? Nothing to worry about… but that skill will come in handy sooner than you think,” she replied, her eyes shining with determination. He arched a brow at her, his practically ebony gaze settling on her face, “How do you mean?” he inquired, hesitance etched into every word. She brushed a hand across his thigh, inching slightly closer, “It’s time to move into the next phase of our plan… before you object,” she began, holding up her hand, “Detective Stabler is at his most unstable… he is so focused on finding out who killed his wife that my intel suggests his adopted son is walking himself to and from school and other activities. Additionally, Richard isn’t yet focused on me… so if we get the boy, I can slip away before Richard even learns the kid is gone.”

 

Izak shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He knew, of course, that she was partially right… there wouldn’t be another moment in which bother Stabler and Richard were this distracted, both thrown off by the first portion of her plan. He took a long sip of his wine, formulating his thoughts as best he could. “You realize,” he began, his tone wavering slightly, “that once we do this, there is no going back, yes?” Angela nodded curtly; she knew what this choice would mean… she had been planning this moment for what felt like an eternity. She wanted, desperately, to unite with her grandson… to take him to a place they would never be found… to start over and – most importantly – fix the mistakes she’d made with Rafiq. She hoped, somehow, that Eli’s presence in her life would eventually let her unburden herself of the trauma that had emerged from Rafiq’s birth – and his death. “You also realize that this boy is a teenager. A teenager who remembers his past 13 years, a teenager who will not easily grow to like you… if he ever does,” Izak added, an argument he had brought up to her nearly every time they had spoken of her plan. She frowned, her brow creasing with annoyance, “You don’t have to explain this to me like I’m a child, Izak,” she retorted, annoyance evident in her voice, “I know this won’t be easy… but I also know that everyone has their price. I will figure out Eli’s. To get him to comply early on, I will simply threaten the family he once knew,” she continued, her tone venomous. A chill went down Izak’s spine… these were the moments when he knew that he truly didn’t have any place in her plans, when he knew despite the positively awe-inspiring act that she had put on for him these past few months, that she didn’t love him the way he loved her. He knew that she was incapable of loving anyone in that way… even this boy – the object of her obsession – was a prize to be won, not a living breathing boy with emotions that wouldn’t be easily swayed. She was Queen Grimhilde, obsessed with power and beauty… obsessed with her vision and plan… and he was the mirror on the wall who simply admired her beauty and did her bidding… unable to ever win her affections despite any amount of time that passed.

 

He frowned but didn’t reply… knowing that his words would fall on deaf ears once again. Angela was so obsessed with the plan she had concocted in her mind that she had never stopped to consider that there were some things that money couldn’t buy… this included a do over with her son Rafiq, a do over she hoped to earn through some bond with a grandson she had never met. Eli Stabler hadn’t even met Rafiq… how could she expect the boy to ever feel any attachment to her outside of Stockholm Syndrome? Then again… perhaps she simply didn’t care. “So,” he began finally, after another sip of wine, “what is it that you need from me, specifically?” he inquired, his tone distant. He knew her plan wouldn’t go the way she wanted… but he also knew that he couldn’t hope to refuse her, just as he hadn’t refused to plan and execute the murder of a police officer’s wife. Just as he hadn’t refused to aid her in setting up her ex-husband – a man who had never wronged him – to take the fall for that murder. She need only say, ‘jump,’ and he would respond, ‘off which bridge?’ Her smile was warmer than it had been all evening, a sign of her gratification caused by his compliance… by the way he so easily gave into her. “Well, first,” she began, leaning in with building excitement, “you’ll need to pick a partner to bring with you… someone who knows Detective Stabler’s schedule might be most useful… tell him that my price offer doubles if he complies.” Izak frowned, but nodded, “As you wish… I’ll have to talk to him because I don’t think kidnapping was on his list. It was hard enough to get him to make the phone call,” he replied. Angela shook her head, “No, no… Not the boss. I want you to get the underling, the one we really haven’t used yet. He’s got more incentive and is younger, more useful. I doubt Eli will go quietly, you’ll need the second set of hands to get him in the van,” she replied, her tone unwavering. Izak arched a brow in surprised but nodded. Angela was pensive for a moment, her brow creased with concentration, “You’ll need to torch the vehicle… I will have a third-party purchase gasoline this week. I don’t want that tied to either of us,” she added, thinking aloud.

 

She downed the rest of her glass of wine, rising to procure more as she continued, “You should have no problem getting ahold of a van that can’t be traced… your friend can help with that as well.” All pretenses she had careful laid in place for the evening had lapsed; her true intentions laid bare. She had never intended this to be a date night, despite the cute text she’d sent and the candles she’d lit before his arrival. She wanted, more than anything, to finalize their plan… to prepare for the departure she so desperately wanted. He watched her, his eyes wandering over her perfect body for, perhaps, the millionth time. “Certainly,” he replied, his tone neutral. The task itself wouldn’t be all that difficult… Eli Stabler probably weighed 115lbs when soaking wet… and Izak would bring a needle with a heavy tranquilizer to the scene, so that they would simply be dealing with dead weight in place of a struggling, noisy teenage boy. “Where should we do it?” he inquired yet again, his voice cool once again… this was business now, just business. Angela shrugged, unsure what the best option would be, “I’ll leave those details to your more expert mind,” she replied, pausing before adding, “I’m aware this is your first true kidnapping… but try not to think of it that way, think of it as… returning a grandchild to his rightful guardian.” There was a sort of righteousness laced into her tone, as though she had truly deluded herself into thinking that she was somehow doing the right thing. Izak didn’t care enough about the Stabler family to protest her motives… or her rationalizations. “You’re going to want to book travel via boat,” he suggested, his voice even and calm, “there are no equivalents to flight manifestos when it comes to travel via private yacht… no faster way out of the country. I’ll also provide enough tranquilizers to get the target to our final destination with ease,” he added, assuming – incorrectly – that they would be making the voyage together. Angela smiled warmly, nodding, “Of course… him being doped up will make him more compliant,” she replied, pausing briefly before adding, “just make sure the dosage isn’t too high… he needs to appear dumb not dead.”

 

Izak nearly laughed, nearly. By this point, Angela had made her way back to his side and settled on the sofa once again, tucking her feet beside her the way a mermaid might tuck her scaly tail beside herself on a rock. “You seem confident in the plan,” Izak commented, his dark gaze observing her, “have you considered what might happen if things don’t go according to plan?” he inquired, a hint of concern ebbing into his cool tone once again. She shrugged, taking a sip of her wine, “I hadn’t really… I assume that, if the boy doesn’t adjust to his new life at some point, I will need to dispose of him, realistically. I can’t simply let him go and blab to his ‘father’…” she retorted, her tone casual. Izak arched a brow at her, remaining silent, and waited for her to explain what she meant. Angela’s cheeks were slightly flushed from the wine she’d had, her mind was abuzz with the familiar, comforting feeling of being tipsy. Izak’s silence went unnoticed, as many of Izak’s idiosyncrasies had over the time in which they’d known one another, “Frankly, I’m not attached to the kid in the way you think I am,” she admitted, her voice unwavering, “I want a do over… Rafiq was taken from me, destroyed before I ever had the chance to make things right. I was then robbed of the chance to know my grandson, Eli, by the same woman that caused Rafiq’s downfall. That was taken from me… and I deserve a chance to see if things can be better.” She was rambling, but Izak remained quiet for now, unwilling to interrupt her stream of consciousness, “if the fucking bastard doesn’t want to be my grandson, then he can join his pathetic excuse for a mother… a woman who chose stability over happiness… a selfish woman who chose an easy life over… over…” her voice wavered as she spoke, her temper flaring.

 

Angela Wheatley had never truly cared about making Elliot Stabler hurt – or even framing Richard, that was a convenient side effect – no… she had wanted to watch Kathy Stabler burn for what she’d done. Kathy had come into Rafiq’s life and shown him the fire that true love ignited… she had given him the gift of love, only to take it away. The poem upon her office wall had been written by him in the months following Kathy’s betrayal… the months following their breakup and Kathy’s return to Elliot Stabler’s side. In the span of a few short months, Kathy had become the most important person in Rafiq’s life… taking him from Angela in life, only to return him a shattered… broken shell of himself. A shell that lost himself to the abyss of drug addiction, desperate to feel something other than the devastating ache in his heart… an addiction that made him reckless, that made him a target for Richard Wheatley. Kathy Stabler was the reason Rafiq Wheatley was dead… and now, Angela Wheatley was the reason Kathy Stabler was dead. An eye for an eye. She had been silent for a while now, but she finally spoke in a voice barely above a whisper, “I suppose that if he doesn’t comply with my plan and learn to love his new life and me… if he can’t accept that this new world isn’t some dream that he can wake up from, then he can simply join the van and go up in flame fueled by gasoline.”

 

Izak hadn’t expected that response and his stomach turned slightly. He was normally very stoic when it came to murder, but there was something about children that made him uneasy… it was one of his only rules. “That seems a bit, harsh,” he replied, his voice wavering with unease that he didn’t bother to conceal. Angela shrugged, idly examining her nails, “I certainly can’t let him go… he’ll tell all our well-kept secrets and we can’t have that,” she retorted, her gaze rising to meet his. She narrowed her eyes at him, examining him, “Don’t tell me you’re having doubts now,” she added, her voice laced with disapproval, “after everything we’ve been through… don’t be afraid of a little boy.” Izak frowned, “I’m not afraid of him,” he retorted, a hint of annoyance evident in his tone. Angela arched a brow at him, a challengeto his statement, “Oh really? Because I could’ve sworn that you were doubting our plan… that there was an uneasiness in your usually stoic tone, Izzy,” she teased, smirking triumphantly. She knew that the only thing stronger than Izak’s moral code of conduct was his absolute inability to handle someone challenging his skills, his resolve. He scowled at her, falling right into her trap, “Don’t call me that,” he responded, his tone heavy with annoyance, “I’m not afraid of the boy… I’m simply more cautious than you when it comes to contingency plans,” he added, his brow furrowed. That’s when her laughter shattered the tension… genuine laughter. His uneasiness crept within him as he realized that she was not only unafraid of their plan… of the ramifications of what she intended to do… but also unafraid of what might happen should their original plan fail. She was laughing the way the villain does right before the climax of their dastardly deeds unfold… right before they arrive at the pinnacle of their malevolence… right before their unforeseen downfall. Angela was on the edge of the chasm of her darkest desires and Izak was more certain than ever that her downfall was coming. And yet, he knew that he would follow her in her freefall, unable to rid himself of the desire to be in her presence… unable to shift himself away from the threshold of disaster.

Chapter Text

Elliot’s mind raced as he strode the familiar corridor of Hudson University’s Mathematics Department, thus far their case against Richard Wheatley had proven fairly hopeless… he’d had a few useful conversations in his wine cellar since Olivia had managed to plant a bug, but these conversations were still coded… and, therefore, useless unless they uncovered something that might corroborate their suspicions. So far, aside from Olivia, their only real lead in connection to Richard Wheatley was his ex-wife. The placard on the door before him read Angela Wheatley, Ph.D. and Elliot raised his knuckles to it, rapping against the door three times to announce his presence. Angela had been deep into grading an assignment when the knocks on her door disturbed her, but now her gaze shifted to find a familiar and welcomed face in the doorway. “Detective Stabler,” she stated, her voice falsely warm and her mask of concentration slipping into a practiced smile, “Come in,” she added, gesturing for him to step into her office. Elliot offered a tight-lipped, curt smile as he entered the room and tugged the door shut behind him. “This is beginning to be a regular thing, these visits,” she commented smoothly, not skipping a beat despite the heaviness of Elliot’s silence. He didn’t laugh, he didn’t even crack a smile. Tough crowd she thought, her smile faltering slightly, “I take it this is business related?” she added, a casual inquiry though there was an undertone of practiced disappointment woven into the comment. Elliot didn’t sit across from her, instead he stood with his hands clasped behind his back, a stance – she noticed – was a sort of defensive pose for the seasoned Detective.

 

“I’m afraid so,” he replied, his tone cool and collected, “your ex-husband has been a busy man… but we are beginning to notice a certain pattern to his business dealings. A pattern that might concern you.” Angela’s perfectly sculpted eyebrow shot upwards in a look of incredulity, “Richard’s business dealings hardly concern me,” she replied, her voice so certain that Elliot almost doubted his next words. “I guess I should rephrase… his business dealings concern your children… Dana in particular,” he replied, his tone vacant, “I would think, as their mother, that might concern you…” he added, narrowing his eyes almost imperceptibly. Angela visibly tensed. She had expected the Wheatley investigation to turn up things she wasn’t proud of… but she hadn’t expected that the Organized Crime Control Bureau would zero in on her children so quickly. “I see,” she replied, her tone wavering slightly. She had said it to buy herself time, to earn herself a chance to defend her children – to defend herself. “Perhaps,” she began, her voice uncertain, “this conversation would be more appropriate elsewhere… you’d be surprised how many prying ears and eyes there are in the Mathematics Department.” It was a half-truth, there were certainly people who didn’t like her… who envied her for the prestige she had earned, who wished to watch her downfall, but this was also another delay tactic. It would buy her time to think of a reasonable explanation, time to figure out what detail she could safely feed Elliot Stabler to throw him off the trail. Elliot didn’t care much about where the conversation took place, as long as it did take place… as long as, somehow, he made progress towards uncovering evidence against Richard Wheatley… as long as he made progress towards finding Kathy’s killer and earning justice for her and closure for his kids. “That’s fine,” he replied, stepping back towards the door as Angela Wheatley stood from her chair and made her way towards him, swinging an onyx-colored trench-style coat over her shoulders.

 

 As they made their way out of the building, a heavy silence hung between them. Their steps were opposite, as out of sync as they could get, and Elliot couldn’t help but feel a sense of distrust towards her. Ex-wife or not, there had been a time when she loved Richard Wheatley enough to give him her last name… to have two children with him. Something about her had him on edge, despite her consistent – charming – attempts to disarm his suspicions. “My children,” she said finally, her voice uneasy as she continued, “have always idolized their father, because he is the sort of father who gives in to their requests all too quickly and provides them with anything they could ever want… that being said, my children are not hardened criminals and going after them will not only bring you no closer to justice, but will also cause Richard to grow defensive and even more careful with his own business dealings…” Elliot could hear it, the familiar resentful undertone in her voice… though it was unclear if she was merely resentful of the situation or resentful that her children had chosen her ex-husband over her. It was only familiar because it was the same tone which Elliot had adopted during his separation from Kathy, a resentfulness for the family he missed… for the memories he missed out on. He frowned, wondering if he had perhaps judged Angela Wheatley too harshly, “I get how that is,” he admitted, his voice a shade warmer than it had been, “the trials of separation, that is… it’s hard on the parents, even harder on the kids.” Angela’s brow furrowed, “You used the term ‘wife’ not ex-wife?” she questioned, her voice masked with false uncertainty. She knew far more about Elliot’s marriage than she let on, though probably not as much as she thought she knew.

 

“That’s right,” Elliot replied, reaching up to rub at his temple unconsciously, “we separated before Eli, our fifth, was born… Kathy’s choice… and after a particularly tough case, there was a moment of weakness and… Eli was conceived. She was pregnant, alone… and she asked me to come home, to make it work with her. Which we did, for over 13 years,” he continued, admitting the truth rather easily given who he was speaking to. Angela’s stomach tensed at the mention of him – her grandson – but she did her best not to let her discomfort rise to the surface, “I see… what a complicated circumstance,” she replied, brushing a strand of hair back into place, “Richard and I have never considered getting back together, though there are certainly moments where we miss each other… though I suppose that is generally true of any divorced couple who doesn’t experience trauma with respect to their split… Richard and I parted because we fell out of love, not because of infidelity or other such dilemmas.” Elliot nodded knowingly as they strode through the grounds of the university. For the first time since meeting her, a sense of understanding was shared between them… he finally garnered a glimpse into her psyche and saw something like himself. He had always loved Kathy, but he hadn’t been in love with Kathy for a long, long time… and he knew, after the past decade of honesty and rebuilding, that the same had been true for her. There was a heavy pause, which Elliot let hang there, he had no desire to share the truth of his marriage… certainly not with Angela Wheatley. “But I’m sure your situation was far different from ours… after all, you got back together and were happy for over thirteen years. Like star-crossed lovers reunited in a romance novel… only to have your happiness dashed by the strokes of fate,” she added, a heaviness in her tone that was laced with sympathy.

 

Elliot nodded slightly, but he didn’t reply right away as he considered the statement. In reality, he and Kathy had not been the star-crossed lovers in some Shakespearean play… no, the love he lost and was working to regain was not Kathy’s. “Something like that,” he mused, though his tone was entirely neutral. Angela sensed him closing off to the conversation, so she made a keen pivot to keep him talking, “How is Eli doing? And your other children? Losing a parent is difficult at any age,” she inquired, her voice laced with a sweetness that was as fake as Splenda sweetener, but so well practiced that it sounded as genuine as though it had come straight from the sugar cane. Elliot took a deep breath and shook his head slightly, “I think, in some ways, they are all more concerned about how I am doing… but they’re doing as well as you could expect. Eli is expecting and, I think, hoping we will return to Italy, but Rome was Kathy’s place… I don’t intend to go back,” he replied, surprisingly honestly. Angela nodded slightly, her brow furrowed with performed concern, “Naturally,” she replied, pausing before adding, “If there’s anything I can do…” Elliot’s mouth twitched upwards with the ghost of a smile, he saw his opening, “Our taskforce is working on uncovering what exactly your ex-husband is up to and how he’s connected to Kathy’s death, though the second objective is mostly speculation at the moment,” he responded, his tone even and cool. Angela had been about to reply when the sound of an SUV accelerating cut across her and, before either of them could figure out why the dark SUV was speeding, the first shot rang out. “GET DOWN!!” Elliot shouted, springing into action as he grabbed Angela by her shoulders and dragged her down to the ground behind a large statue. By this point, bullets were ricocheting off the stone surrounding them at the guns in the vehicle were firing rapidly, but before long their clips were empty.

 

“Stay down!” Elliot instructed as he leapt to his feet and sprinted across the open lawn of the university and towards the vehicle that was now speeding away. He slid across the hood of a cab that was screeching to a halt as he moved to cross the street and skidded to a halt on the other side, his gun drawn and pointed towards the receding vehicle. He might’ve fired, but he would’ve likely missed the vehicle and risked hitting one of the many pedestrians that were in the surrounding vicinity. He was out of breath and his heart was pounding so strongly that the rush of his blood could be heard in his ears. His gun was still held aloft, his eyes watching the spot where the dark SUV had rounded the corner and vanished from sight. “Elliot?” Angela’s wavering voice ripped him back to reality and the pressure of her hand on his wrist made him drop his arms and holster his weapon. This was the first time he’d seen her truly shaken and this was, for the first time, the real Angela. “Are you hurt?” he inquired; his voice shaky as he fought to steady his nerves. Angela shook her head slightly, brushing a quivering hand over her slightly disheveled hair, “No, no… I’m fine. A bit shaken, but fine,” she replied. A heavy pause hung between them before Elliot voiced the obvious, “Richard is clearly displeased that we are speaking,” he stated, his tone laced with evident distaste. Angela frowned slightly, but nodded, her gaze never leaving his face as she spoke, “Richard has quite the temper… I feel it coming. He’s had me followed for years by several of his goons, so I have no doubt they’re aware we have been speaking. Which is part of why I suggested we speak out in the open and away from the potential bugs and such he might’ve planted in my office or department.”

 

Elliot’s gaze shifted to find hers and there was a look in her eyes that he didn’t quite understand, as though Richard had just lit a match within her to set off a fire that he wouldn’t be able to put out. “Would he think you were sharing trade secrets with me?” Elliot responded, his brow furrowed as concern for her safety rose within him. Angela shrugged, “He’s never doubted my loyalty to the family, after all these years. He thinks I care too much for our children to risk their exposure in a case involving him; however, it’s entirely possible he’s merely warning you to steer clear of me and – by extension – our family,” she replied, her dark eyes watching him closely. He nodded, his gaze shifting back to the empty street, “This was pretty reckless, even for him,” he added, his brow furrowed, “and, if he wanted me to stay away from his family, he should’ve stayed away from mine.” There was another pause before Elliot spoke again, “For now, I think it would be best for you to take your leave… though I imagine we will have to speak again. If you have any desire to protect your children, I recommend you try to help us nail Richard.” Angela considered him, but she nodded and replied softly, “I understand… I’m done on campus for today, so I will plan to head home and work from there. As for Richard, I will consider your request and see if there is anything I can offer you to help with your case.” Elliot considered her, but nodded, “I need to stay here… make sure no one is hurt and call it in. I’m fairly certain you didn’t see much, since I covered you, but if you think of anything… please call,” he replied, a small smile briefly tugging at the corners of his lips. Angela’s lips tugged upwards in a warm, tight-lipped smile, “I will,” she responded, with the slightest hint of flirtation evident in her warm tone.

 

Without further conversation, Angela turned on her heel and made her way back to the Mathematics Department, her heels clicking loudly upon the hard floors of the familiar corridors. She’d managed to keep her demeanor relatively calm in front of Elliot Stabler, but her mind was racing and she was livid. Richard had done a lot of reckless things in the years since she’d known him, but this? She extracted her phone from her purse when she returned to her office and unlocked it, quickly finding Richard’s number, and sent an aggravated, but coded text, <Richard, I don’t appreciate you causing a scene at my place of work… particularly when you know I am with a guest. Reckless decision-making is never the answer. I expect an explanation.>. She tucked the phone away and didn’t waste time lingering in the office, she knew that if she wanted to talk, Richard would know where to find her, but here would not constitute an appropriate place for such a chat. Her mind raced with possibility and her paced quickened as she departed her office, making her way back down the stairs and out of the building. She glanced in the direction of the scene where the shooting had occurred, her gaze settling on a series of police vehicles that had since shown up. She was quite certain that Richard had gotten lucky and no one specific was hit, but still… such choices, especially when potentially associated with her children, could not be tolerated. Richard had always been reckless though, that was part of why their relationship had fallen through… he was reckless, and she was controlled, calculated. She was goal-oriented and not easily deterred from her plans. Richard had been a deviation, though he’d given her a new avenue of goals to pursue… but she had very easily overtaken him in power and, much to his father’s chagrin, she had proven to be the child he wished he’d had. Business and family oriented while also calculated and cold when necessary. Richard’s ego got in his way and when it was bruised, he acted out… like an angry toddler throwing a tantrum. That’s what today had been, a temper tantrum with automatic weapons.

 

When Richard received the text from his ex-wife, he might’ve frowned with annoyance… but instead he found himself smirking triumphantly at the success of the day. After all, he hadn’t wanted to shoot Angela, simply fire a few warning shots… warning shots that signaled he was no longer buying her innocent act. She had always been more cunning than she led anyone to believe… she had always had a master plan of sorts, that was what had made them so compatible. Until it hadn’t. His father had always seen right through her… and after his last interaction with Captain Benson, he was wondering if it had been a mistake not to trust his father’s instincts. Tonight’s conversation would serve to elucidate that concern… he needed answers, but more than that he needed an opportunity to plant a bug in Angela’s apartment. He needed to know who she’d been in contact with… and what else she might be planning. After all, he hadn’t planned the death of Elliot Stabler’s wife… but whoever had was doing a damned good job at setting him up to take the fall. He brushed a hand back against his slick, raven hair and turned from his desk, making his way past the octopus enclosure and out of his office at Contrapos. Angela hadn’t said it, but the implication of her communication was that he would go to her apartment and talk things over. She wanted an explanation… and she would get one, though it might not be the explanation she expected. Vincent was in the foyer awaiting him, with a stoic look in place on his hardened face, “Where to?” he inquired as Richard approached. Richard shook his head, “I have somewhere to be, I’ll let the driver handle it… you can have the rest of the day off. Consider it a gift,” he spoke, waving off the younger man who simply uttered his gratitude before departing through a different door. Outside, Richard found his SUV waiting for him with tinted windows made of reinforced glass, “I need to meet with my ex-wife to plan our son’s birthday… take me to her flat,” he instructed, his tone even and cool. With a curt nod, the driver locked the doors and pulled away from the curb and into the chaos of NYC traffic.

 

When he rapped his knuckles against the door to Angela’s flat sometime later, there was no answer. Heaving a sigh, he let himself into the apartment, as he had so many times before. He was surprised, in some ways, that he had beaten her home… after all, she had invited him there… but he wouldn’t bother standing on the landing as he waited. Inside, he found her apartment in its usual organized state… and yet something about it seemed very off. He paced the length of the open floorplan living room and kitchen, running his fingers across the smooth countertop as he passed the island separating the space. He’d been heading for the bedroom when a bottle of red wine, open, caught his eye on the counter. Arching a brow, he shifted his weight towards the counter and, as though he were in his own home, retrieved two glasses and filled them with the crimson liquid. As he took a sip, a key in the deadbolt announced Angela’s arrival and he turned to face the door, lowering his glass to the counter before him as he did. Their eyes met, hers as dark as night and his as blue as a stormy sea, and there was recognition there… she wasn’t surprised to see him, despite this being very much her flat. “Richard,” she spoke, her voice cold and laced with a hint of contempt. He flashed a practiced, boyish grin at her, “Angie,” he said, his own voice laced with the sort of admiration he’d never lost when it came to her… despite going their separate ways, a part of him would always admire her, “You look lovely… I bet Detective Stabler enjoys your little visits,” he added, testing the waters with a subtle accusation. She strode towards him and he reached out, setting the second glass before her as she slid her arms out of her jacket and draped it easily over the chair near the island. She took the stemless glass, arching her brow at him as she did, “And how exactly did you know who I was meeting with today?” she inquired, keeping her tone even. Richard didn’t bother to hide his amusement, “Oh, Angie… I know everything that happens in this city. Pops never let me have Puglia, but here? I have little spies and eyes everywhere…” he replied, his tone easy and almost warm as he spoke of his deceased father.

 

“Everything?” Angela mused, taking a sip of her wine with narrowed eyes. She knew, of course, that he was bluffing… trying to get her to slip and tell him something he didn’t already know. She had so many things she could share with him… her grandson, her relationship with Izak, Elliot’s suspicions about him, her plans for revenge, who killed Kathy Stabler… why… but she gave him nothing, as he’d given her nothing during their marriage. “I’ll admit,” Richard said, his tone cool, “that this whole business surrounding the death of Detective Stabler’s wife is giving me pause… but the truly surprising part is that Olivia – you remember, my stunning dinner date from a few weeks ago – is inextricably linked to Detective Stabler. In fact, it would appear that she’s one of his closest friends… I saw her at the funeral.” This information was news to Angela who hadn’t realized the depth of the connection that the two former partners shared… since it was apparent from her intel that they hadn’t spoken during Elliot’s time in Italy. She let a heavy pause hang between them as she watched Richard’s gaze, searching the depths of the raging oceans of his eyes for answers, but none came to the surface. “I don’t know much about the context of Mrs. Stabler’s death… only that Detective Stabler seems intent on proving that you are involved. He seems to think that somehow Rafiq’s death might be tied into things… which is why he has come to see me a second time,” she replied, her tone even and the malice in her heart masked by a calm expression. This was, in some ways, a lie… though Elliot had mentioned her son’s death during their first visit – since he found the fake passport that she had conveniently planted in the warehouse for him. At this shift in the conversation, Richard tensed visibly. He had never liked discussing the death of Angela’s oldest son… he claimed, of course, that it was because the loss stungfamily and all that being as important as it was… but Angela knew better… she knew that Richard himself had ordered the hit on her son… And he would pay.

 

“I’m not sure what connection Rafiq could possibly have to the death of a cop’s wife…” he began to retort, though when he reached the end of his statement his voice failed him and a sudden realization dawned on him that he did his best to conceal. He had known, after all, that Rafiq had been in love… he’d even known that he had an illegitimate child with an older woman… the wife of a NYPD police officer. Could this be the connection between these situations? To his knowledge, Angela had known about the affair… but she hadn’t known about the child. Rafiq’s last request of Richard before parting ways had been that Richard not tell her… Rafiq had known that Angela wouldn’t have tolerated that truth. Richard’s gaze shifted away from her as he processed this new information… how ironic, that he had sought out the company of a woman in the NYPD to try and find this missing grandchild of Angela’s… only to have the truth of it all tumble into his lap in an unexpected way. “You’ll have to forgive me, Angie,” he said, downing the remainder of his wine and turning to go, “but I have some matters to attend to.” She grabbed his hand in silence, causing him to turn back to her, “You still haven’t explained why you had someone shoot at me and Detective Stabler,” she said, her tone cool. She could see, of course, the way Richard’s mind was whirring… as though smoke were coming from his ears. She knew that he was not an idiot and the dots were finally connecting… though she didn’t know exactly how much he knew. “Angie, darling,” he said, reaching with his free hand to brush a strand of hair away from her elegant features, “He wasn’t shooting at you… he was simply delivering a warning… You know I don’t like any police officers digging around my personal life, which you are still a part of.” She flashed a practiced smile at him that didn’t quite reach her eyes, “How touching, Richard… still protective over me after all these years,” she replied, though there was no warmth in her tone. Richard flashed a cool smile towards her, but it faltered quickly.

 

Richard’s mind was racing… he had only told one other person about Angela’s grandchild… ironically, the one person who would have the skillset to frame him: his father. Had his own father set up the hit on Kathy Stabler? The wife of a detective who had been investigating his corporation’s dealings in Puglia… the woman who had fallen in love with Angela’s oldest son and conceived a child that she hid from them all? Richard couldn’t process it, but somehow, he suddenly felt that his suspicions of Angela had been misplaced… or, at the very least, premature. After all, she didn’t know about the grandchild… she had only been told that Kathy left to return to her family… right? He couldn’t think… he needed time… he withdrew his hand from Angela, but before turning to go, he reached for her cheek and cupped it, leaning in to place a tender kiss on the very corner of her mouth. “I’m sorry for earlier… but you always knew the risk of getting involved with me,” he whispered against her skin, lingering there for a moment before stepping back and departing the apartment as quickly as he had come. Angela watched him go, a smirk spreading across her face as she leaned against the counter. After all this time, she still knew how to play him… to manipulate his emotions to her advantage. The little tidbit of information she had provided had been enough to keep him off of her trail… for now… though she could tell that he had more reasons for sending a hit squad with intentionally bad aim today. It had been a warning for Elliot Stabler, certainly, but it had also been a warning for her. She reached into her bag and extracted a burner cell, punching the number 1 for speed dial she held it up to her ear, sipping her wine as it rang. “Yes?” the gruff phone on the other end answered, not bothering with pleasantries. “Are we still set for tomorrow?” she inquired, not bothering with specifics, “we may have a complicating factor… everything needs to be handled smoothly.”

 

“Sì,” the voice came once again, answering in Italian. “Keep me posted… come straight to the drop point when it’s done. Grazie,” she replied, her voice calm. “Certo,” the voice responded, pausing before adding, “Prego.” She didn’t reply, she just hung up the phone and approached her window, staring down at the SUV with tinted windows that Richard had arrived in as it pulled away from the curb. By tomorrow night, she would have sealed his fate, framing him for the murder of Kathy Stabler and the abduction of her son, Eli… and Angela Wheatley’s murder for good measure. Ironically, his little stunt at the University had aided in her devious plans… her plans to get revenge against the man she once loved and redemption with Rafiq’s son. A dark chuckle escaped parted lips as Angela moved away from the window and went over her plan once again… she had been smarter than most would be. She and her grandchild would be smuggled across international waters by a cargo ship she had paid off… they would slip away and Richard would be framed for two murders and kidnapping. The plan itself was complex, but she had managed to pull it off thus far… In a few days, she would be free and living in a country with no extradition. She was certain that earning her grandchild’s trust would be difficult… but she hoped that the letters would help.

Chapter Text

It was nearing dinner time when Elliot found himself making his way into the church that he and Kathy had been married in. He’d called ahead, asking for Father Hogan to meet him there… it had been a long time since he’d found his way to the confessional, too long. As he slid into the confessional in silence, he glanced sideways through the barricade and found the familiar, poorly lit silhouette opposite him. Once Elliot was settled on the stiff wooden confessional bench, he bowed his head, made the sign of the cross over himself, and spoke, “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned,” he began, his voice a hoarse whisper, “it has been… over ten years since my last confession…” he added, a guilty admission. There was a heavy pause as Elliot contemplated his next statement… where could one begin, when there is a decade of sin to atone for? He ran a hand over his head, “Father… if I’m honest, I don’t know where to begin with the sins I must apologize for. I made a choice all those years ago that created a ripple effect throughout my life and I—I am not sure that a million rosaries could absolve me of the guilt that plagues my heart,” he admitted, his voice weighted with a decade of regret. Father Hogan’s profile shifted, his head turning to look at Elliot, “We can’t always make up for the choices that we make… but we can do things now to try and make those mistakes right,” he said, his tone gentle as always, “I want you to speak freely, Elliot… tell me what exactly is haunting you.” Elliot swallowed the lump that had threatened to form in his throat, his head falling down towards his chest as he breathed out, “When faced with an active shooter in the SVU squad room a decade ago, I didn’t think before pulling the trigger… I saw a gun swinging towards her… towards Olivia… and I just acted… I shot a disturbed teenage girl without a second thought, because there was a chance that she would shoot my partner…” he began, his voice wavering all these years later as he thought of Jenna.

 

There was another beat of silence as Father Hogan gave him space to talk… he was good at that; he always had been. “The truth is, Father, that in that moment I chose her over everything… over my job, over my family, over my morals… and what scared me was that I didn’t regret that choice. Not even a little bit,” he continued, tears welling in his eyes, “but then I went home after the shooting and I saw Kathy… the kids… I had to explain to her what happened. She just…” He trailed off, losing the ability to speak for a moment. He shook his head, “She just kept asking what happened… she wouldn’t leave it alone… and I snapped. I told her… I told her everything,” he said finally, shaking his head again as though trying to rid himself of the guilt. Elliot fell silent and Father Hogan tried to prompt him, “What did you tell her, Elliot?” he inquired softly, his voice laced only with kindness… he had a way of speaking that suggested no hint of judgement, a true gift. Elliot felt hot tears sting at his eyes and one drifted down his cheek as he stared at the floor, “I told her that I had shot a girl who was Lizzie’s age… that I had done it because I was afraid that she would shoot Olivia. I had chosen Olivia over everything, because… because I loved her,” he admitted, his voice hardly above a whisper, “I had fought the feelings for over a decade… but it was the truth. It is the truth, Father.” He fell silent again and shook his head, if he shut his eyes… he could still see the way Kathy’s face had fallen to the ground when he said it, the way her heart had been shattered by the truth he had finally aired openly. Kathy had always been intimidated by Olivia, threatened by the depth of the connection that she and Elliot shared… but she had always trusted Elliot to be a good man, trusted his moral compass. It was in that moment that she knew – that they both knew – his moral compass could no longer be trusted. They knew that if he stayed in NYC, if he stayed anywhere near Olivia, that he would falter… he would choose her.

 

“What did Kathy say?” Father Hogan asked finally, prompting Elliot to continue but still in that judgement-free tone. It surprised Elliot, by now he had admitted to killing someone and to, at the very least, emotional infidelity. He sucked in a breath, the ragged sort of breath that hardly satiated his body’s need for oxygen, but the tightness in his chest would allow for nothing more. He couldn’t speak, all he could do was think of that moment… the depth of the betrayal in his wife’s face, her eyes, her voice… “Elliot?” Father Hogan called to him; his voice was so gentle that Elliot wondered for a moment if he’d imagined it. “You’ve known, for some time, that our marriage wasn’t perfect,” Elliot spoke, his voice almost hollow as he shifted topics slightly, “but Kathy had always relied on my values – our values – to keep things working… even through the divorce I hadn’t deviated all that far from my devotion to be Kathy’s husband. I suppose, if I’m honest with myself, that coming from a broken home I had always been so desperate not to be one for our kids that I… forgot that a broken home can exist even if the parents remain married…” Father Hogan was quiet for a long moment, clearly considering Elliot’s words carefully before crafting a response, “It is true, that a broken home doesn’t always mean one that is fragmented physically… but you didn’t answer my question,” he began, choosing his words with great care… in all the years he'd known Elliot, he’d come to realize that the man opposite him was rarely this open and vulnerable, “when you were finally honest with Kathy, about the shooting… about Olivia… what did she say?” A shaky sigh racked Elliot’s body and he leaned back against the confessional, tilting his head back and looking up at the dimly lit ceiling of the small box, as if some magical answer might be written there… as if the balm for his sinful soul lay etched into its faded wood surface.

 

“She shared a truth of her own,” Elliot admitted, his eyes shutting as tears rolled down his cheeks, “that I… we weren’t the loves of each other’s lives…” The truth of her words hit him square in the chest as they had that night, as though he’d been shot through a bullet proof vest… the sort of impact that leaves a deep soreness. He’d loved Kathy, that had never been a lie, but as the years passed his love for her had shifted from in love to just… love. He had, in some ways, assumed that wasn’t the case for her and the truth, despite its validity, hurt him then… and now. Elliot Stabler hadn’t been the one true love of her life… then again, Kathy Stabler hadn’t been the one true love of his. The silence in the confessional was thick, as though it were filled with liquid rather than air. Father Hogan broke that silence, “I assume that isn’t all she said… otherwise, I doubt you would’ve left New York,” he said, his voice gentle but prodding. Elliot kept his eyes shut, unable to open them… to drink in the reality of admitting these truths aloud before Father Hogan, before God, “You’re right,” he whispered, his voice choked by emotion, “She also explained to me that I had made a choice when Eli was born… that I had chosen to come home. She said it had been the right choice, for her… for me… for the kids, especially Eli…” his voice faded out for a moment, the weight of this truth laid bare once again. “She gave me that choice again, only this time she explained that the choice would be final,” he continued after a long pause, “it wasn’t a choice really, but rather an ultimatum… she needed a fresh start, she needed to get away from New York and all that it had meant for us. I could go with her… I could keep my family and be the man I’d always told her I was, or I could go… I could risk losing everything for Olivia without knowing how she felt… Kathy gave me a choice, but how could I have chosen, Father? How could I give up my family? How could I expect Olivia to… choose me?”

 

Father Hogan’s brow furrowed, though Elliot likely couldn’t tell, “did you ever consider being… honest with Olivia?” he inquired thoughtfully, wondering if Elliot had ever in any moment expressed this truth to her. Elliot had, over the years, mentioned Olivia a fair amount and she had been a source of great comfort to him… but beneath the surface Father Hogan had always been aware that Olivia was more than that to him. “Had you ever considered, Elliot, that she might be your salvation?” he added, his tone laced with a solemn tone. Elliot’s eyes snapped open, and he turned his head to stare wide-eyed at Father Hogan through the screen of the confessional, hardly able to believe what he’d just heard. He shook his head after a moment, “No,” he admitted, his voice wavering, “I mean… you’ve seen her. Father she’s…” his voice trailed off and he found that he was completely unable to put into words what Olivia Benson was to him. He’d spent their whole partnership enamored with her, desperate to keep his feelings in line… desperate not to ruin their friendship and partnership with emotions that were probably unrequited. Kathy had confirmed that suspicion once… she had said once, during a more heated fight they’d had on their terrace in Rome, that Olivia had been so invested in their marriage working out that there was no way she loved Elliot the way he loved her. He shook his head and rubbed at his face with both hands, “I never told her, because I never wanted to ruin the bond that we shared… she was my best friend, one of the most important people in my life,” he said finally, avoiding trying to voice what Olivia meant to him, because words simply fell painfully short.

 

Father Hogan considered what Elliot had said, but decided to press him… just this once, “Elliot, I’m going to offer you some advice… advice that doesn’t come from scripture, but from life,” he began, his voice more stern than it had been, “You, of all people, know how fragile life can be… how anything can change at a moment’s notice. God himself has brought you home… he has brought Olivia back into your life. Have you stopped to consider why he might’ve done that? You already know what the cost of your decision to walk away ten years ago was… So, Elliot, my suggestion to you as a friend is that it’s time to tell Olivia the truth.” Elliot’s heart lurched at the thought, and he found himself afraid… afraid that he lost Kathy and that now he would risk losing Olivia… again. “I can’t…” he whispered, his hushed whisper urgent and laced with fear. “Elliot,” Father Hogan said, his voice laced with a sort of fatherly tone that was intended to calm him, “if you don’t tell her the truth… you might lose her anyway. How else will you explain why you left? Why you vanished for a decade with no contact?” Elliot frowned, knowing that per usual the Father was right. There was a heavy pause as Elliot considered his suggestion, as he wondered how he could ever tell Olivia the truth of it all. “For your penance, Elliot,” Father Hogan said finally, sensing that Elliot’s openness was ending, “I suggest you write a letter and visit your wife… after speaking to her, you can make a choice on whether or not to give the letter to Olivia. I can’t force you to share your truth with her, but I can tell you that being honest will not leave you worse off. John 8:32 tells us, ‘you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free’… so my charge to you, Elliot, is to face your truth. Besides, you may just find what you’re looking for…” Elliot might’ve protested, but before he could, Father Hogan began the prayer of Absolution in a subdued tone, his voice calming and laced with forgiveness. Elliot did not protest as he made the sign of the cross over himself once again and whispered a soft, “Amen.”

 

“I’m proud of you, Elliot,” Father Hogan said as he pushed the confessional door open, “I know it has never been easy for you to be vulnerable in the eyes of anyone, even God… but you’re trying, and I believe God will reward that. Good night.” Elliot watched him go but sat in the confessional for a few moments longer before he exited. To his surprise, Father Hogan stood there awaiting him with a smile on his face and his hands clasped behind him, “I have to turn the lights out on my way out, figured I would let you walk out before I do so,” he said as a sort of explanation. With a wordless nod, Elliot stalked past him. His gait lacked its usual purpose, because ahead lay a task that would not be for the faint of heart… writing a letter that might hope to encompass the depth of his feelings, of his truth, without saying too much and overwhelming her. Elliot wasn’t sure he could effectively tell her everything he needed to… what if she hated him? What if, after all this pain, she wanted him to get out of her life forever? The thought was unbearable and yet it swirled around in his mind… intrusive and overwhelming. Elliot’s gaze stayed locked to the concrete as he walked home, though halfway through his walk he found himself changing directions and making his way towards Green-Wood Cemetery. It was as though he were on autopilot, his legs just moved without any real though behind it and, before he knew it, he found himself standing at the gates of the cemetery, staring off in the direction of Kathy’s grave. He wasn’t sure how long he stood there, contemplating jumping the fence or simply walking back to the small temporary apartment he dwelt in, but eventually he opted for the latter and left. Shoving his hands in his pockets, he made his way home, though that was certainly not the word he would’ve used to describe the small apartment…it had only felt like home once, when Olivia had been there with him.

 

In spite of the concern he felt at telling her the truth, he smiled as he thought of her… as he pictured her beautiful eyes that shone when she spoke of her son and the life, they now shared… a life Elliot would give a kidney to be a part of. When he arrived home, he found that Eli was off in his room working on homework and listening to music, some sort of Italian pop. Elliot smiled at the noise coming from his room, finding comfort in the presence of his youngest son… But he knew what needed to be done. He approached the door of Eli’s room and knocked gently, waiting for a response. “Come in, Dad!” Eli called, not bothering to get up and let him in. As the door swung open, Eli paused the music and spoke, “What’s up? Where have you been?” Elliot rubbed at his temple, unwilling to practice full honesty in that moment, “Out, nothing earth shattering. Look, Eli… I… need to write a letter; do you happen to have any stationary? All I have is a beat-up legal pad…” he responded, his voice uneasy as he admitted needing to write a letter. Eli arched a brow, surprised that his father was writing much of anything… it had never really been his style, “Yeah, sure… top drawer of the desk on the left,” he replied, pausing before adding, “hope it isn’t for work, it’s got a weird border on it that isn’t very professional.” Elliot chuckled at the joke, making his way over to the desk, “It’s personal, but thanks for the concern,” he stated, pulling open the drawer to find a simple white stationary with a weird dashed blue border. It would have to do, but Elliot wouldn’t have felt confident about the letter even if it was written on paper made of magic gold leaf. “Thanks, Eli, I’ll buy you more stationary,” he said, holding up the stack of pages and envelope he had taken as he departed the room. As soon as the door clicked shut behind him, the upbeat pop music began playing once again and a young woman sang ‘Ti amo’.

 

It was several hours, and many… many crumpled sheets of paper later that Elliot finally folded his letter in three and safely tucked it into the single envelope he had chosen. On the outside of it he wrote just her name, Olivia, in his best attempt at neat handwriting… truthfully computers had been a godsend when it came to his report write-ups. Heaving a sigh, he tucked the envelope into the breast coat of his jacket and moved to the couch, picking up his phone to send a text. It was late, nearing 02:00 and he wondered if Olivia was awake… though he doubted it. Surprisingly, that didn’t deter him. He unlocked his phone and opened the texting app; her name was second from the top and he clicked it. He typed out a brief message, <<Hey Liv, sorry to text so late… was wondering if you had time to meet up for coffee tomorrow afternoon? Let me know>>. He set the phone down on the coffee table beside his makeshift bed on the couch and laid back, staring up at the basic white ceiling. He hadn’t expected a response until the morning, if at all, so he was surprised when his phone buzzed against the hard surface of the coffee table. He reached for it and there was a text notification from ‘Liv’ on his screen. He couldn’t help the small smile that tugged at his lips as he opened the notification, it was like old times. Her text read, << Hey, no worries, I happened to be up. Tomorrow after work sound good? Say 17:30??>>. He nodded to himself and typed back a quick, <<Yea. I’ll meet you at the 16 then>>. He set his phone down again and stared back up at the ceiling, curious about why she might be up so late. He figured that perhaps it was luck, but Father Hogan’s words rang in his head, ‘God himself has brought you home… he has brought Olivia back into your life. Have you stopped to consider why he might’ve done that?’ Was fate what had Olivia awake at 02:00?

 

He wasn’t sure when he fell asleep, all he knew was that when he woke the next morning it came as a bit of shock that he’d been asleep. It was the sort of sleep that felt both like a blink and an eternity. His phone sat on the coffee table where he’d left it and, as expected, there was no follow up from Olivia waiting for him. He heaved a sigh and pushed himself up into a sitting position, leaning his elbows on his knees as he ran his hands over his face. It was early, but that was for the best… as there was only one bathroom for both he and Eli to get ready in. He stood and made his way to the bathroom, stopping by the suitcase he currently lived out of to extract some things he needed for a morning shower and shave. By the time that Elliot had showered, shaved, and dressed for the day, it was nearing 06:30 and noise could be heard from within Eli’s room. Elliot was making coffee for himself when he finally emerged, partially ready for his school day. “You want a ride to school?” Elliot inquired; his voice was soft and easy despite the nervousness he felt about the events of the day. Eli shook his head, “No, I’m good. I like walking,” he replied, flashing a taciturn smile to Elliot from the hall before disappearing into the bathroom to brush his teeth. “Alright, in that case,” Elliot called, pulling on the coat that he’d hung over one of the chairs at the table the night before, “I am going to head into work early!” There was some sound of assent from within the bathroom and Elliot smiled at the normalcy of the interaction, the easy rhythm they’d managed to fall into despite the chaos of everything around them. “Don’t forget to lock the door on your way out!” he called over his shoulder, turning to depart the apartment. As he locked the door, his free hand reached to gently stroke the envelope within his breast pocket, as though he doubted for a moment that he’d actually written the letter and tucked it there the night before. He still wasn’t sure that he would give it to Olivia… but he knew that writing it had been a step.

 

Somehow, just admitting between himself, God, and the paper the depth of it all had been liberating… but he had another stop he needed to make before he would finally decide on sharing his truth – or not – with Olivia Benson. The Green-Wood Cemetery didn’t open to the public until 08:00, so Elliot decided to check in at the squad room early so that he could take a purposeful break to go and see his wife… to speak to her, though she wouldn’t be able to reply. When he arrived at the Organized Crime Control Bureau’s squad room it was nearing 07:15. As though he was purposefully buying some time, he had brought Bell her favorite coffee. “You’re early,” he commented, striding into her office without knocking. She looked up from the file she held and arched a brow at him as he placed the coffee on her desk, “That makes two of us… you realize you didn’t have to be here till eight?” she responded, her voice laced with a hint of curiosity. “I actually… have something I need to take care of around eight. Was wondering if I could buy myself a small break then return after the fact?” he responded, his voice laced with unease. He still wasn’t convinced that Bell liked him, so asking for a favor seemed to be a stretch… but he had to. She considered him, her dark brown eyes holding his gaze, “Fine… and I won’t ask questions, just don’t take more than an hour. We have a lot of ground to cover, especially after the shooting at Hudson,” she responded finally, narrowing her eyes slightly. He nodded curtly but flashed a small tightlipped smile of gratitude. They hadn’t worked together long, but he liked Ayanna and, of course, he wasn’t surprised since she’d been mentored by Olivia who he considered to be the best of New York’s finest. The first hour of work was slow, mostly paperwork since no one else was there yet to speak with about the case against Richard Wheatley. As he worked, Elliot found himself glancing at the smiling picture of Kathy that sat upon his desk… it was as though she was watching him, but somehow, he didn’t think she’d be smiling at him like this.

 

When the clock indicated 08:00 he stood from his desk and swung his jacket over his shoulders. On the way out of the squad room he passed Slootmaekers who shot him a quizzical look that he poignantly ignored as he simply muttered, “Morning, Sloot.” He didn’t pass anyone else on his way out and, even if he had, he wasn’t looking for a morning chat… he was a man on a mission. It was cool, crisp morning and the morning sun shone off the blades of grass where the morning dew caught its rays. Elliot couldn’t help but think what a beautiful morning it was… and how much Kathy would’ve hated the weather. She had always been a summer girl, a fan of the warmth. It suited her… her golden hair was like the shine of the sun as it reflected off the ocean at sunset. Olivia was more like autumn, inevitable in her beauty and fiery like the colors of changing leaves. Autumn had always been Elliot’s favorite season… as a child he’d loved it for Halloween and falling leaves that crunched beneath his boots. As he strode the familiar path to Kathy’s grave it dawned on him that he hadn’t been there since the funeral, and he was overwhelmed with yet another pang of guilt. Did Kathy resent him for that? Or did she still understand him? Did she still understand that to come here was to admit the truth… that she was dead? That the mother of his children had been murdered and it was supposed to have been him. He frowned, shoving his hands deep into the pockets of his coat as he approached the granite stone with her name carved into it… a solemn reminder of the truth of it all. “Hey Kath…” he muttered aloud, his voice wavering slightly. He paused, as though he was waiting for her to greet him, but he was met only with silence and the distant sound of the waking city. He took a deep breath, his brow creasing as he forced himself to stare down at the stone, he’d selected for her… a simple stone that read, Beloved Mother and Wife Kathleen Marie Stabler, with the date of her birth and the date of her death. He specifically hadn’t gotten her the sort of stone where there is a blank half slated for your spouse, because he didn’t imagine she would want him to continue their lie into death.

 

He frowned at the thought. Their lie. “Kath… I need to talk to you,” he said finally, crouching so that he was level with her headstone, but off to one side. The grave was so fresh that despite the lovely, vibrant green sod they’d lain over it, he could still see the seams of where the hole had been dug. He carefully avoided stepping within the vague border, to avoid stepping on her grave, but he crouched close enough that if the headstone had been listening it would hear his whisper. “Ten years ago, we both finally admitted the truth to each other… or at least parts of it,” he began, chewing at his lip as he spoke, “and you gave me a choice. I chose to be the man you always thought I was… the man who put his family above himself and, despite the pain, that isn’t a choice I fully regret. However…” he trailed off, struggling to find the words. He shook his head and shut his eyes, trying to find the right thing to say, but nothing would come. “I’m… going to just talk and it might not come out right, but if I don’t just talk it will not come out at all,” he said aloud after a moment, heaving a sigh before continuing, “losing you has made me question if the choice that I made then was worth the cost… if I had just let you go would you still be alive? Would the kids still have their mother? I keep beating myself up over this… wondering if my job caused your death… wondering if I am the reason you’re gone…” A heavy pause hung around him as he fought against the tears that formed a lump in his throat, “but the truth is, Kath, that the main thing I feel is guilt… but not for what you probably think,” he said finally, his voice saturated in remorse, “I feel guilty because when you told me to choose ten years ago, I couldn’t face Olivia… I couldn’t even tell her goodbye. Like everyone else in her life I, someone she chose to trust, just up and walked out of her life. And now?”

 

He laughed, a short bark of a laugh, “Now I’ve come barreling back into her life like a train that has come off the tracks… and I have the audacity to be worried that she’ll tell me to fuck off,” he said, shaking his head at the irony. Olivia would be well within her rights to tell him to leave, and he knew it, but he also couldn’t possibly go back to a life that she wasn’t in. He rubbed a hand over his face, “I feel like I’m on the wrong side of heaven here, Kath… as though there’s no right course of action. I sought counsel from Father Hogan, and he suggested honesty… something I avoided for so many years because the risk far outweighed the reward. After all, you said it best… how could Olivia possibly care for me the same way when all she did was fight for our family to stick together…” His voice trailed off and he was hit with the sadness that always came when he thought that way, when he wondered what Olivia Benson could possibly see in him… and yet his heart longed for the honesty of it. He longed to tell Olivia the truth, to admit to her once and for all that he was in love with her. He took a deep breath, steeling himself to his conviction. “So, Kath… I need to tell her the truth,” he said softly, a hint of an apology in his tone, “I need… to tell her why I left and, in doing so, I need to be fully honest. So, this lie… our lie… has to come to an end.” He frowned as his watery gaze settled on his wife’s head stone yet again, “If you can hear me… I’m sorry… and I promise that I will find whoever did this and I will get closure for the kids, for me… but I can’t live the lie that we told for ten years anymore, not by myself. I hope someday you can forgive me…” He reached out and pressed a palm against the cool stone and traced his thumb along the edge of one of the letters. He stood after a moment and steeled himself to his promise to Kathy… but internally he made another promise, Olivia… I promise I am going to tell you the truth because you deserve to know it. After a decade of no communication and over two decades of omitting the truth, you deserve my honesty… only then can you make your decision. I pray, selfishly, that your choice will be the same as mine… because ten years without you felt like an eternity and I am not ready to face that again.

 

As he walked away from the grave, his phone buzzed and he looked at it, the text notification was from Olivia and it felt as though God himself had sent a sign... Elliot's heart swelled for a moment as he opened the text to read it and Olivia said simply, <<Still on for coffee later?>>. He smiled to himself and replied, <<wouldn't miss it for the world>>. 

Chapter Text

It wasn’t until nearly 17:45 when Elliot Stabler finally strode into the Special Victims Squad room and Olivia couldn’t help but smile to herself thinking, ah, that’s normal. Despite the anger she had felt at his abrupt departure from her life with no goodbye and his sudden return to her life with very, very little explanation and about a decade in between, there was something so natural about his return to her life. As he walked into her office, he offered a small, distant smile and said, “Good afternoon, Captain,” in a tone that was both reverent and slightly teasing. She rolled her eyes at him, standing and swinging her bag over her shoulder, “You’re late, detective,” she retorted, a teasing tone evident in her own voice. He smiled more genuinely at that and shook his head, “I was thinking we could walk?” he suggested, his tone gentle. She nodded and strode towards him, “sounds good to me, I might drop this in the car,” she replied, gesturing to the large black bag she’d swung over her shoulder. As they made way for the elevators, Kat perked up from behind her computer and waved, “See you, Captain!” she called. Olivia waved to her, “Night, Kat! Great work today,” she replied, careful to add in a well-deserved compliment. As soon as the elevator doors closed Elliot spoke, “She one of your detectives?” he inquired, his tone laced with casual curiosity. Olivia shook her head, “Officer, but she’s well on her way to earning her Detective’s shield,” she replied, a hint of pride evident in her tone. Elliot couldn’t help but smile as he thought of the way Cragen once spoke of Olivia, “I see… she reminds me of you, you know. Always working late,” he commented, glancing sideways at his former partner. She rolled her eyes and nudged him with her elbow, “Watch it, Stabler,” she warned, somewhat playfully.

 

After depositing her purse in her SUV, they walked side by side to a coffee shop in relative silence punctured by the occasional small talk topic. Elliot’s hands were shoved into the pockets of his coat, and he glanced at Olivia now and again, working up the courage to give her the letter… to tell her everything. She glanced at him sometimes, but less frequently… she was trying to avoid his eye and the look of mingled sadness and longing that she would find there. His return to her life was natural, but they were still navigating their new dynamic and uncovering what it might become. After they’d gotten their coffees, they made for a nearby park and found a bench to sit on as they chatted idly about the kids and work. It had been over thirty minutes of idle chatter since they met in the squad room and the same question was gnawing at Olivia’s mind. “Why did you ask me for coffee?” she inquired finally, unable to conceal her curiosity any longer. Elliot’s entire demeanor shifted as she asked, and she could practically feel him tense up beside her. With a shaky hand he placed his nearly empty coffee cup on the ground and reached within the breast pocket of his grey jacket to retrieve an envelope. He paused, briefly, before extending it to her, “I, uhm,” he began, his voice wavering nervously, “I know we talked… before Kathy… but I felt that you deserved to hear the whole truth about… everything. I also felt that you deserved to hear it when… or if you were ready, so I wrote it down.” Olivia took the envelope from his hand, her own hand shaking as her fingertips brushed against his. She was speechless and her eyes were wide, locked on the letter as though her gaze had been glued to its off-white surface.

 

“Read it… or don’t,” Elliot continued, filling the space of the silence between them, “I will respect whatever you decide is best for you… for Noah.” She tore her gaze from the envelope and looked at him, her eyes still slightly wide. She wasn’t sure what to say, so she just said a small, “alright.” Elliot leaned down and grabbed his coffee before pushing himself to his feet, he could sense that their idle conversation was over, and he hoped that they would speak again, more freely after she’d read the letter… once she understood. “I’m sorry, Liv,” he said softly, frowning slightly, “I know that nothing I say, not even the truth, can change what the last ten years were for you… and my only wish is that I’d been stronger the first time around.” She nodded, but was quiet once again, still clutching the letter in one shaking hand and her coffee in the other. “Do you want me to walk you back to the 1-6?” he added, wanting to let her set their boundaries. She wanted to say yes, but she also wanted to be alone… she let a pause hang between them and, just as Elliot was readying himself to say that he wouldn’t she replied, “Yes, on one condition.” Elliot’s lips twitched upwards in a smile, “Anything,” he said softly, a whisper. She tucked the letter into the pocket of her own black trench coat and forced a shaken smile, “we don’t talk about the past ten years for the rest of the walk?” she suggested, her voice quivering slightly. Elliot nodded his agreement and extended his hand to her to help her to her feet. Hesitantly, she took it. His skin felt warm against hers and, for a moment, everything was gone. The moment was fleeting however, as an ambulance with sirens blaring wailed past them on the street. Elliot chuckled and shook his head, “there’s no place like home…”

 

The remainder of their walk passed the way the start had, a mixture of comfortable silence and chatter about work. Elliot hadn’t realized how short the walk would be, despite being so familiar with the area and found himself disappointed when Olivia’s SUV came into view. By this point, they had both finished their coffees and disposed of them, leaving their hands free to be shoved deep into their respective pockets. As they approached Olivia’s car, she moved to step away from him but a quick, “Liv?” from Elliot stopped her in her tracks. She turned to face him, a quizzical look evident on her elegant features, “Yes?” she asked, her heart suddenly beating hard. Elliot smiled warmly and said, “Thanks for getting coffee with me… it was nice to just be around you for a bit, it felt… normal.” She offered a small, genuine smile and nodded her agreement, “it was nice… maybe we can do it again sometime,” she replied, her voice quiet but honest. His face lit up with a glimmer of hope and Olivia waved as she turned back to her SUV, trying to make herself leave before she flung herself into his arms. A part of her still hardly believed he was real… and to have him tell her it was nice to just exist in her presence made her entire stomach do a somersault. She still wanted, in some way, to be angry with him… to make him earn his place in her life, but with each passing interaction she could tell that she was losing the will to be mad at him. As she got into her car, she pulled up Lucy’s contact and sent a text using text-to-speech, <<Hey Lucy, can you stay a bit later? I got hung up with something… I’ll text when I have an idea of when I’ll be home.>> She hated asking Lucy to stay, but reading this letter wasn’t something she could do while around Noah… and as much as she wanted to consider what Elliot had said, to think about whether she wanted to read it or not, she knew that she couldn’t wait much longer. She had waited a decade to know the truth about why Elliot left the way he did… and while she had some ideas of why, she had sense (and now knew) that there was more to the story. She needed space to think… space to decide… even if she already knew her own decision.

 

She drove for nearly twenty-five minutes before finding her way to Hunter’s Point Park, a place that Olivia had been with Elliot more than a few times. She used to meet him there when he had the kids sometimes to help him keep them occupied so Kathy could have a break now and again. They’d also gone there to just talk sometimes, and Olivia felt there was no better place to sit and read his letter of truth. She got out of her car and began to wander, looking for a place that called to her… a place that would serve as a safe haven as she reopened wounds that she’d fought for a decade to heal. After a few minutes, Olivia found a bench that she and Elliot used to sit on, near the water but away from where most of the people spent their day in the sun. She stared at the water for a while, her mind racing as she decided what to do with it… the letter. It was in her hands, but she hadn’t decided if she would open it or not… she felt frozen in time as she sat in the cool evening air twisting it between her fingers. She slid the long edge between her thumb and forefinger, pinching at the corner and turning it before sliding the same thumb and forefinger along the short edge. She wasn’t sure how long she sat there, repeating this pattern… it might’ve been ten minutes, or it might’ve been an hour. The lights around her began to illuminate as the sun began to set and she knew, with a pit of nerves in her stomach that it was time to make her decision. She lowered her gaze to the envelope, to her name scrawled in Elliot’s familiar slanted writing on the outside, and she opened it. She unfolded the paper inside slowly, as though it might burst into flames if she moved too quickly… as though she was opening a bomb, because in some ways, she was. All too soon, its message was revealed to her, and she began to read…

 

Olivia Margaret Benson,

 

            I can’t begin to tell you… how many times I’ve tried to write this letter to you. Not just tonight, but over the past decade. Each time I start, I hate the way the words come to me and so I have decided to do the only thing I can do… just write.

 

I’ll start with this, Liv, a promise… I promise that everything within this letter is the truth – mytruth – because of all the things you deserve, the truth is the first and foremost. I don’t know where to start with the truth, so how about I simply start at the beginning… my whole life, I have had very few things that were solid, very few people I could count on no matter what, and because of that I gravitated to the stability of religion, of Catholicism. Being raised in the church, I learned that there was a map of how to be a “good man” and I have spent my entire life following the map that I was showed as a boy… desperate to be the “good man” that my mom, my wife, my family deserved. I thought that if I simply followed that map that I could never be steered wrong, that I would make all the right choices and my moral fiber could never be called into question. For many years, I believed that was the truth and I never questioned my own moral fiber… until I met you.

 

You see, Liv, when I met you, everything began to change. For the first time I found someone who made me call everything I had ever known into question. You made me think and feel things that I had only seen in movies or books… things that I had grown up thinking were unrealistic and unattainable. I had felt glimmers of them once with Kathy, before the marriage… before the kids… before I had followed the map that I’d been given to be the “good man”. But I felt those things every day I was around you and, worse than that, those feelings grew with each passing day… to such a point that I would have done anything to see you smile, I would’ve done anything to be the one making you smile. Just your smile and nothing more was enough to sustain my happiness… even if I couldn’t have any more than that. You see, you were outside the borders of the map. Everything about you contradicted the formula I’d been given and so I knew that I couldn’t, no matter how much I wanted to, have you. I also knew that you deserved more than I could give you… my map had no space for grey areas. Nowhere was I told that it was better to let Kathy be free of me and to seek happiness than to cling to the ruins of the castle that had once been the fortress of our marriage… No one told me that despite divorce being a sin, that it was worse to stay in a loveless marriage that was simply a trap for both parties involved… No one told me until it was far, far to late.

 

I’ve told you the truth, Olivia… that I left SVU because I chose you – because I would alwayschoose you – and that is the absolute truth… but there’s more to the story. After I left SVU, I ran, not just from you but from Kathy and the kids. I avoided everything because I had called so much of what I had been told was true into question that I didn’t know what to do. I was gone for about six months and in that time, I fought to come to terms with the map I had been raised on… but all the maps led to you. When I came back to the city, I went to Kathy first… I wanted to tell her that I had made my choice. I wanted to tell her that I had chosen to follow the maps that led to you, but when I went to her, she shared a truth of her own with me… well, part of a truth. She explained to me that whatever I chose would have a cost… if I chose her and the kids, I would lose you but if I chose you, I would lose her and Eli.

 

You see, Liv, Eli isn’t my biological son… I had once called his paternity into question, as Kathy and I had only slept together once during our separation and the timing seemed a little off given that one moment of weakness… but, when ask, I had followed that map I was raised with… the map that told me to be a “good man”. As it turned out, in the time I had been gone, Kathy had received several threatening messages from a source she wouldn’t name… Specifically, Eli’s biological father was threatening to sue for custody. So, Kathy had made a choice to move to Europe with Eli… and it was my choice to follow her there or lose the son I had raised for over three years as my own. Make no mistake, Liv, Eli is my son… he just isn’t mine by blood. I couldn’t… I just couldn’t lose him. If the choice had been Kathy or you, I would choose you every time… but this time I had to choose between my happiness and my son, and how could I truly be happy if I lost Eli?

 

Things have changed now, Liv… every map that I ever learned growing up has been throw away and I am not going anywhere ever again, unless you tell me to. I don’t have to choose between happiness and family anymore… I don’t have to do anything other than follow the maps that have been in my heart for nearly a quarter of a century. The maps that lead to you… I understand that the last ten years have changed things and that you may not feel the way that I do but know that I will respect whatever decision you make… whatever role you assign to me in your life. If that’s just a friend, so be it… if that’s more, you need only say the word… The power is in your hands to draw the route of this map and I will follow whatever path you lay down.

 

No matter what you decide, just know that…

 in a parallel universe, it will always be you and me.

 

Your partner for life,

Elliot Stabler

6313

 

Olivia read the letter through three, maybe four times… it didn’t matter though because the end result was the same: tears. Olivia finally understood why he’d left… and why he wouldn’t have been able to leave if he’d heard her voice. Elliot had already chosen her when Kathy gave him an ultimatum… and the only thing that Elliot loved more than her were her own kids. As she thought of Noah, she understood… she knew that the only person she had ever loved more than Elliot Stabler was her sweet boy… and she finally understood why Elliot had needed to leave. He’d been right in saying that he ran… he’d been right in saying that it was the wrong choice in the end, but she understood why he’d made it. She thought of how she’d felt when Johnny D resurfaced… when he threatened to take Noah from her. She thought of when Sheila Porter had successfully kidnapped Noah and nearly escaped over the Canadian border with him. She thought of all the times she’d nearly lost Noah… and finally she found some semblance of peace with why Elliot Stabler had left and why he hadn’t tried to explain. She knew that it would take time for her to heal, and she deserved the patience that she somehow knew Elliot would show her, but this had truly been a start. A piece of her had been holding back, unwilling to forgive Elliot for his trespasses… but now? How could she not be at least open to the idea of forgiveness? When she had been at her worst, when all her hope had been gone and she had wondered if she would survive to see the next sunrise, it had been thoughts of Elliot that gave her the strength to overcome. In the moments she thought were her last, she had wished to see him… to say goodbye. In a different way, all the maps in her life had always led to him and there was nothing else she could do but follow the maps that led to him.

 

She reached into her pocket and pulled out her phone. The time on the screen read 19:57 and it was dusky, the sun had set nearly thirty minutes prior. As she moved to call Elliot, her phone rang and the name Stabler was emblazoned across her screen. Furrowing her brows in confusion she answered and made a quick joke, “You just couldn’t wait for me to call you, huh Stabler?” The voice on the other end made her entire body tense and she flew to her feet, “Hey Liv? It’s Ayanna Bell… there’s been an incident,” she stated, her voice cool but there was an undertone of concern evident as she spoke, “I need you to get to Mercy Hospital as soon as possible. Elliot asked me to call you.” Olivia’s blood ran cold, and she could barely take in full breaths of air, “What happened?” she breathed, her voice wavering as she immediately broke into a run heading back to her SUV which was parked a five-minute walk away. “I don’t feel comfortable explaining over the phone, he’s going to be fine, but he has asked for you, specifically, and won’t talk to anyone else,” she said, her tone firm. Olivia swallowed, hard, but replied, “I’ll be there as soon as I can.” Olivia didn’t bother with pleasantries and hung up, her mind racing with possibilities. She was furious that Ayanna hadn’t specified what was going on, but that was only part of how she was feeling… a very minor part. As soon as she got into her SUV, she fired up the sirens and sped off through the park, practically ignoring stop signs. She hadn’t felt this level of panic since she’d nearly lost Noah to kidnapping a few years prior and she was uncertain if she could hold herself together any better now than she had in that moment. When she finally arrived to Mercy Hospital what seemed like an eternity later she brandished her Captain’s shield to every nurse and doctor she passed demanding she be told where Detective Elliot Stabler was. She must’ve looked as distressed as she felt, because they all gave her pitying looks and tried their best to explain. It was Eli’s voice that finally caught her attention, however, “Olivia!” he called from down an empty corridor. Olivia jogged down the hall, appraising Eli as she approached and realizing that he looked as though he’d seen a ghost. “Are you alright?” she asked softly, her mother and cop instincts all kicking in at once, “Yeah, I’m fine,” he said, though his tone was somewhat unconvincing, and he was clearly shaken. Olivia reached out and gripped his shoulder gently as she asked, “How is he?”