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Tear The World Down

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Thursday, June 6th 2013

“Mr. Lewis, where were you on the night of Tuesday, May 21st?” Barba asks.

“I was out walking,” Lewis replies. “I had been wrongly incarcerated and simply wanted some fresh air.”

Barba purses his lips, nods. “And on the following day, the 22nd? Where were you then?”

“I took my girlfriend,” Lewis points to Vanessa Mayer, sitting at the defence table. “For a drive. I borrowed a car from a friend, we went to Long Island, then had dinner with her parents in Bellport. After that, I took her to the train station as she had to be back in the city the following morning, and I drove down to the beach, to watch the sunset.” He smiles wistfully. “It was a beautiful sunset.”

“What were you doing between the evening of May 22nd, and the following afternoon when you were arrested near the George Washington Bridge, heading towards New Jersey?”

“I erm…” He looks down at his lap, slightly bashful. “I slept in the car. I should have taken it back that night, I promised that I would only use it that day but I stayed too long watching the sunset and then it was getting late. I'm not too much of a fan of driving in the dark, you see,” he offers the jury a small shrug. “I drove back to my halfway house as soon as it was light, gave the car back and borrowed another. I enjoyed the drive so much the day before… the windows down, the music… I decided to make another day of it.”

Barba nods along, consults his folder. “Both residents at your halfway house testified that you didn’t borrow their cars, you stole them.”

Lewis frowns. “I don’t know why they’d say that,” he answers. “I asked permission, I had the keys. I even offered to fill up the gas tank before I brought the cars back.” He shrugs. “Maybe there was a misunderstanding?”

Barba raises his eyebrows. “So, just to be clear Mr. Lewis… you insist now, as you did when you were first arrested two weeks ago, that you were no-where near Detective Benson’s apartment the night she disappeared.”

“I was not.”

“Yet, her apartment was found in a similar, destroyed, condition to that of other crimes that you have been linked to. Can you explain that?”

“I was subject to a vendetta by the NYPD,” Lewis says calmly. “Much as I am right now. My lawyer found evidence of poor conduct by the NYPD crime lab, and I was freed. Why would I go anywhere near any of the police officers that were trying to have me locked up?” He asks. “It makes no sense. I wanted to be as far away from them as possible, which is why I went out to Long Island.”

“You do realise that you are on trial for the murder of Detective Benson?” Barba reminds him coldly.

Lewis nods. “I do realise that, yes.” He grimaces. “I have to admit, the fact that NYPD and the DA’s office charged me with the murder of a police officer, less than two weeks after her disappearance, without even finding her body is alarming, to say the least.”

“All evidence points directly to you, Mr. Lewis.”

“What evidence?” Lewis asks. “Her apartment being trashed in the same manner as other crimes… which I was cleared of? Me being anywhere near her apartment when I wasn’t, I have multiple eye-witnesses to confirm that I was miles away?” He shakes his head, looking aghast. “I did not kill Detective Benson,” he reiterates. “I have not seen her in weeks, and the first I knew that she was even reported missing was when I was stopped, dragged from my car and violently thrown to the ground, exacerbating a back injury that I have been struggling with for years, by four NYPD officers.” He puts his hand to his chest, over his heart. “I feel for Detective Benson, I do, NYPD seem to have written her off, charging me with her murder and calling off the search for her. She could still be out there, but they aren’t even looking for her. They’re so focused on making me their scapegoat, for all they know they could have missed their chance.”

Barba glances at the jury, who seem to be lapping it all up. Glancing behind him, he sees her squad, sitting in the front row of seats, a sea of blue uniforms surrounding them.

***

Friday, June 7th 2013

“How the HELL can they find him not guilty?” Nick rages. “They saw her apartment, they saw the state of it…” He punches the wall, yelping in pain a moment later.

“He did what he always does,” Barba tells them. “He charmed the jury.” He pauses. “To be honest… it’s been two weeks. They shouldn’t have charged him, they should have kept looking for her.” He shakes his head. “Is the search going to resume?” He asks Cragen.

Cragen shakes his head. “No,” he says. “I tried,” he tells them, emotional. “But 1PP have it in their heads that he killed her out on Long Island, probably when he was ‘watching the sunset’, and threw her in the ocean.” He rubs his hand across his eyes. “They said she’ll wash up eventually.”

"They actually said that?” Fin asks, a sickened look on his face.

“Not quite like that, no,” Cragen replies. “But it was what they meant.”

“So what now?” Amanda asks. “What do we do now?”

“We do our jobs,” Cragen tells her. “Which is what Liv would want.”

“We keep tabs on Lewis though, right?” Nick asks.

Cragen shakes his head. “We can’t,” he says, regretful. “As much as I want to, we’re already on thin ice. We start tailing him it really will look like a vendetta.” He sighs. “He’ll slip up. They always do, then we’ll get him.”

***

Saturday, June 8th 2013

“Rise and shine!” Lewis sing-songs, opening the basement door. Closing it behind him, he makes his way down the steps. It really was a lucky find, this place; a cabin in the middle of no-where, which has a basement complete with bathroom facilities.

Saved him so much work, really.

He rounds the corner at the bottom of the stairs, a bright smile on his face as he observes the scene. “I did leave you enough food and water then,” he observes. “I have to admit, it was a bit of a gamble. I couldn’t have been sure that they would try my case so fast. Still, you survived, and I’m back, so no need to worry yourself now.”

Olivia looks up at him from where she sits on the mattress, knees to her chest, arms wrapped around her bare legs. The thick chain wrapped around her right ankle snakes away into the darkness, to where he’d bolted it to the wall. The only light in the room comes from a single, low wattage bulb on the ceiling. Enough for him to see her, but not enough to attract attention should they get an unforeseen visitor.

The bed and a dresser are the only things in the basement room; he took the door to the bathroom area off, and the chain has enough slack to let her have access to both that, and almost, but not quite, reach the bottom of the stairs but that’s all.

It’s chilly down here, he realises; the warmth of the June air outside doesn’t reach down here. I’ll have to do something about that, he thinks. Can’t have her catching a chill, that would put an end to things far too quickly. The only thing she’s wearing is a large t-shirt, one of his own. He’d burned the remnants of her clothing two weeks ago. Talking about burning… her wounds are healing over. Can’t have that… I’ll have to get my cigarettes.

“They tried me for your murder you know,” he says conversationally, moving to lean against the dresser. He’d left bottled water and some food supplies for her on there, but it’s almost all gone now. “Bit stupid of them really, without a body and all. It barely took any effort to get the jury to see my point of view.”

She watches him quietly, nervously as he moves closer.

“They aren’t even looking for you anymore, you know that?” He continues. “They decided that I threw you in the ocean, so they aren’t even going to try.” He fakes concern. “I can’t even imagine that… them just giving up on you like that? Ouch.” He whistles through his teeth. “That’s gotta hurt, I mean… all those years, all that hard work… and they barely even bother about you?” He shrugs. “Oh well.”

“Why,” she whispers, voice hoarse. She must have done a lot of screaming while I wasn’t here, he muses. Pity. I’d been hoping to see how much noise I could get out of her. Ah well. “Why are you doing this?”

“Why?” He tilts his head. “Because I can, Olivia.” He crosses one leg over the other, a casual stance. It's making her more nervous of him, he notices. Good. “They all think you’re dead Olivia… so imagine… when I kill you, be it weeks, months… hell, maybe years from now, and I dump your body somewhere they can find it, and they realise that they had a chance, a chance to save you, and they didn’t even try?” He grins toothily. “That is why I’m doing this.” He shrugs one shoulder. “Plus… it’s fun.”

She flinches unwillingly at his words, a high pitched whimper escaping her throat. He tilts his head. It’s not a scream, but I’ll take it.

“Now then,” he approaches her, undoing his belt as she shuffles back on the mattress, shaking her head rapidly, trying, trying to get away from him. “That quickie we had before I took myself off to get arrested wasn’t near enough. I’ve been locked up for weeks, and dreaming about this the whole time sweetheart.” He climbs onto the mattress, grabs her unchained ankle and yanks, dragging her under him as she struggles to get away. Pinning her down easily, he smirks at her panicked gaze.

“The NYPD should have left me well alone, Olivia.”

Chapter Text

Saturday, July 6th 2013

Elliot Stabler makes his way through JFK, dodging other passengers left, right and centre. I forgot how busy this place gets, he thinks to himself. 

The flight from Berlin had been long; over eleven hours counting the stop in London. He's been working private security in Germany since around six months after his marriage imploded; which in turn was four months after the shooting at the 1-6 that ended his career in the NYPD. He’d drank, drank, drank some more and ultimately Kathy had chosen to leave him. He doesn’t blame her; he doesn’t think he’ll ever be able to forgive himself for Jenna’s death.

Kathy lives in California now; Eli probably doesn’t remember who he is, and his older kids… the only one he talks to on a regular basis (every few months, really) is Kathleen. Maureen, Dickie and Lizzie send him birthday cards and Christmas cards and he returns the gestures, a short letter inside telling them that he’s okay, that he’s staying sober.

Maybe one day he’ll earn back their trust.

The call from Fin had come as a surprise; so much so that he hadn’t answered the first three times. The fourth was more to make Fin stop, more than anything else. He didn’t understand why the man would be calling him now, over two years since they last spoke to one another. Yet that nagging little feeling in the back of his mind, why would he be calling unless…

Unless something had happened to Liv.

It’s part of the reason he hadn’t picked up those first few times. Part of him is, simply put, terrified to know. Four calls later and he realised that Fin wasn’t going to stop.

He still doesn’t know why the other man was even calling. All Fin had said was that Elliot needed to come to New York, that he couldn’t tell him why, wouldn’t tell him why over the phone, and not to look at the news articles as they weren’t true.

Of course, hanging up… the first thing he’d wanted to do was look at whatever the articles were.

But something… something in Fin’s voice that he can honestly say he’s never heard before from the other man, stopped him from doing exactly that.

So instead, he’d booked himself on the earliest flight he could get, paid through the nose for the privilege and now…

Now he’s in the city he honestly wasn’t sure he’d ever return to.

Her city.

Finally making it through the terminal doors and outside, he looks around, trying to spot Fin. It takes him a minute, but he finally spots him among the crowds, leaning against a dark sedan a little ways away. Weaving his way through people, narrowly avoiding being hit with those infuriating pull along cases no less than four times, Elliot manages to reach Fin, unscathed. “Fin?”

Fin, who had been looking at the tarmac beneath his feet, looks up. A grim smile crosses his face as he nods once. “Elliot.” He clears his throat. “In the car, come on.”

This is bad, Elliot thinks. This is very very bad. “You gonna tell me what you got me all the way over here for?” He asks once they’re both inside the vehicle, going for the direct, slightly angry approach in the hope it’ll get him answers.

“Not here,” Fin tells him. “It’s gonna take a while. I’ll park up, just give me a few.”

Elliot leans back in his seat, his leg jerking up and down as Fin steers the car through traffic, eventually stopping in a free lot on the outskirts of the airport. Turning off the engine, Fin sighs heavily, and Elliot knows. In that moment, everything he knows is teetering on a knife-edge and Fin has the power to send it all crashing down. 

“She’s dead, isn’t she?” He puts the question bluntly. He doesn’t even need to say Liv’s name; there’s only one she that he could be talking about and they both know it. Please say no Fin, don’t make my world end right now… please please please please ple-

“Officially… yeah.” Fin’s words permeate his brain, interrupting his non-verbal mantra, tearing his world apart and sending his mind spiralling off into a litany of no no no no no NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONOOOOOOOOOO-

“Elliot!” Fin shoves at him. “Breathe.”

“When?” Is his first, spluttered word. She’s not dead… she can’t be. I'd know… wouldn’t I? Hang on… you said- “And what the hell do you mean by ‘officially’?”

Fin sighs. “She disappeared six weeks ago,” he tells him. “As far as NYPD, the brass, have decided… she was murdered by a perp we were chasing. A real nasty guy, the worst I’ve ever seen. But-”

“No body?” Elliot guesses, realising what Fin is getting at and clinging onto the tiny shred of hope that that gives him. At this point, with devastation coating every cell of his body… he’ll take anything.

“No body.” Fin confirms. “They never found her.”

Okay, he thinks. This… this I can deal with. She might not be dead. He clings onto that. But she might not have long… “Start from the beginning, tell me everything.” He blows out a breath. There’s no time to waste. “Now.”

***

Fin looks at Elliot, sitting in the passenger side of his car, and if he’d ever doubted that he was in love with Liv, then he sure as hell ain’t doubting it now.

The look of sheer terror and devastation on the other man’s face when he’d realised why Fin had wanted him here, wanted to tell him this in person said it all. This is more than old co-workers, more than even best friends… he loves her.

It also proves, now even moreso, as Elliot’s cop instincts start to kick in in front of Fin’s very eyes, that making that phone call yesterday, calling in help from the one person he knows couldn’t really give up on Liv, was the right thing to do.

Elliot might have walked away two years ago, and Fin can’t argue with why he did that, but he’s here now. He's stepping up when it matters, and it’s never mattered more.

***

“It started one Sunday,” Fin begins. “A week and a half before Liv went missing. We all had the day off, then my partner, Amanda, she calls us all in, Cragen, our DA, everyone. She’d arrested this guy in Central Park for flashing tourists.”

Elliot frowns. “I'm guessing she had a reason for dragging everyone in?”

“Oh yeah,” Fin nods. “The guy said his name was William Lewis, and he freaked my partner out. She couldn’t run his prints as he’d burned them off. Called it an accident, but no-one bought it.” He shifts in his seat, turns to face Elliot more. “My partner wanted to run his DNA so we tried to get him on a mis-d but he wouldn’t play ball. There was a lady who saw him in the park, even took photos of him running from the screaming tourists. He uh… he broke into her apartment, took her prisoner, raped and tortured her for eighteen hours straight.”

Elliot blinks. Jesus. “That’s his thing? Rape and torture?”

Fin nods. “The lady was in her sixties. She died a few days later… it was horrific. We managed to track him down, multiple states, multiple, similar, aliases, but all the same MO. Kidnap, torture, rape. For days on end. Some of the vics lived, but not all of ‘em, and he’d gotten away with all of it, time after time, trial after trial. Our DA was determined the buck stopped here, so he put Lewis on trial."

“I'm guessing that didn’t go so well?”

“Damn crime lab fucked up the DNA and he walked.” Fin shakes his head. “We all took it hard, but Liv… she was so upset about it, you know?” He looks down at his lap. “We got the call saying they’d declared it a mistrial, I offered to take Liv out for a drink but she said no, said she had barely been home for a week.”

“Sounds like her.” Elliot says, wistful.

Fin’s lips quirk at the corners. “Oh yeah,” he agrees. “Cragen told her to take two days off, no arguments, when he heard her say that.” He pauses, bites his lip. “I remember she was sitting at her desk in the squadroom… it was the last time any of us saw her.”

“How did you figure out she was gone?” Elliot asks. He’s forcing himself to keep his cool, to keep his cop brain at the forefront, because hearing this, knowing what this Lewis bastard is capable of… knowing that he took Olivia 

“She’d been seeing Brian Cassidy,” Fin tells him. Elliot raises his eyebrows, but knows that this is not the time to comment on that. “He came into the precinct on the Thursday morning looking for her. She wasn’t supposed to be back until the Friday but when Cassidy came in… Cap sent me and my partner to check on Liv.” He closes his eyes. “We couldn’t get an answer at her door, so I kicked it in… the place… I'll never forget it.”

“Tell me.”

“It was destroyed, the way he always left them. Furniture overturned, everything smashed that could be… cigarettes everywhere, blood all over the floor, the walls… she put up one hell of a fight.”

Elliot allows himself a small smile, proud of her for fighting like hell even though she ultimately lost. “Keep going.” He prompts.

“He likes to burn his victims, brand them with keys, wire hangers,” Fin explains. “The smell of burnt flesh in that apartment… I can still smell it even now.” He shudders at the memory. “We knew it was Lewis, and it was all hands on deck from there on out. The whole NYPD were looking for her, for him… we found him that afternoon, heading out towards New Jersey via the George Washington Bridge. Arrested him, but he denied everything.”

“You kept looking for her though?”

“Oh yeah,” Fin says. “A full week before the brass started getting antsy. They pressed the DA’s office, and between them and Lewis’s MO they decided that he must have killed her, and threw her in the Atlantic. So they, in their infinite wisdom, charged Lewis with Liv's murder and scaled the search back slowly, then stopped.”

Elliot’s jaw drops. “They just stopped looking?” He can't believe what he’s hearing.

“Mmhmm,” Fin nods. “Bastards decided they were wasting manpower on a fruitless search, or so the rumour mill went.”

Elliot feels sick. Swallowing bile, he forces words to come from his mouth. “They find him guilty?” He asks.

“Nope,” Fin tells him. “He did what he always does, talked the jury around, had them eating out of the palm of his hand. Not guilty, and he walked.”

“You guys didn’t give up though… did you?” Elliot asks. They won’t have… 

“When he took Liv… he tore the heart out of SVU,” Fin says quietly. “Lewis had this whole spiel about NYPD having a vendetta against him, so we couldn’t chase him. We were officially ordered to leave him alone.” He pauses. “But it broke us, all of us.”

“What happened?” Elliot asks, entirely certain he’s not going to like what he’s about to hear.

“Liv’s partner, Nick… he was the first one to fall,” Fin tells him. “He couldn’t deal with the guilt, felt that he’d failed her, so he quit a week after the trial ended. Moved to DC… haven’t heard from him since. Munch was next… he retired, couldn’t deal with what the brass did, writing her off like that.”

Elliot, eyes closed, nods.

“Our ADA went after that, moved to be an advocate for victims that court failed. Trying to right the wrongs he insists are his fault, even though we all told him it wasn’t. Then it was Cragen.” Fin trails off.

“Don’t tell me he fell off the wagon…” Elliot whispers.

“Nah, that would be Cassidy,” Fin replies. “He's been doing the tour of the NYPD drunk tanks since a week after Liv vanished. No, Cragen… I'm not gonna lie, he almost did. Found him in a bar one night, bottle of whiskey next to him, drink in a glass. He hadn’t touched it, but I dragged him straight to a meeting. He goes to three a week, from what he tells me.” Fin swallows. “He retired the next day. Calls me once a week to check in, but that’s all he can deal with. It wasn’t losing Liv as such, he’s lost people before, but not finding her? He just couldn’t deal.”

“Liv was important to him,” Elliot points out. “I always wondered if he was looking at her to take over from him one day.”

Fin shrugs. “At that point it was just me and Amanda left. We got a new Captain, then Amanda… she’d been struggling, blaming herself for bringing Lewis in in the first place. I’d been trying to help her, but at the same time I was juggling everyone else… so she decided to make things easier, asked for a transfer. She works homicide in Brooklyn now.”

“And you?” Elliot asks. “What about you?”

“The last one standing?” Fin scoffs. “I’m currently using up every single vacation day I’ve got left, and when they’re gone I’m putting my papers in. I'm done.”

“Why didn’t you call me sooner?” Elliot asks, irrationally angry at Fin all of a sudden. “It’s been six weeks.”

“Honestly?” Fin replies. “I didn’t know what the hell to say to you, man.” He shakes his head. “Not a goddamn clue.”

Elliot purses his lips, conceding Fin's point. “You think she’s alive?” He asks. Please say yes.

“I don't know,” Fin says. “But until we find out otherwise I’m going with yes.”

“She's strong,” Elliot points out. “Resilient, a survivor.” She’s gonna need to be, if what little I know of this guy is anything to go by…

“Six weeks with him…” Fin grimaces. “She’s not going to be in good shape.”

“That doesn’t matter,” Elliot states. “I’m gonna find her, one way or the other.” He vows. “You with me?”

Fin nods. “It's the whole reason I called.”

Chapter Text

Saturday, July 6th 2013

Fin drives them back to his apartment; Elliot staring out of the window the entire time, watching the city he’d left behind over a year ago pass by. They cross over into Manhattan, and the views that pass the car windows turn to places he had been over the years with Liv. A coffee shop, a diner… a corner where they’d had a fight with a suspect they were trying to arrest…

Everywhere he looks, there she is; a ghost haunting him.

Please Liv… please don’t be dead. You can’t be dead… please…

Swallowing, he blinks away the tears that prick his eyes, continuing his moving vigil of the places she once frequented as Fin drives past, refusing to look back at the other man until he’s sure he’s got his emotions under control.

“You really think she’s alive?” He asks, not looking at Fin.

“I think she could be, yeah.” Fin answers. “I know this guy… if she was dead, we’d have her.”

“So what do you think he did with her? I mean… he was locked up for what, two weeks? Does he work with a partner?” Jesus… two of them with her? He feels sick at the thought.

“He’s always worked alone as far as we know,” Fin tells him, and Elliot feels a small amount of relief at that, at least. “He’s too set in his ways to bring in someone else. Honestly? I think he squirrelled her away somewhere, then deliberately got himself arrested.”

Elliot frowns. “Deliberately? Why the hell would he do that?” He turns to Fin.

“This guy… he’s a risk taker. He likes to push his luck, see how far he can go. I've been thinking about this a hell of a lot, and my theory is he took her, put her somewhere then came back, knowing we’d be looking for him to see how his luck panned out.”

“He ended up on trial for murder Fin… that’s a hell of a risk.” How bad is this sick freak?

“Yeah, it is,” Fin agrees. “But the way I see it, and the way he’d have played it is he would either get away with it, like he has, then he can go back to where he stashed her, or he goes down, and-”

“He's got leverage,” Elliot finishes. “He can hold her location over NYPD’s head, make you guys dance to his tune to get her back.”

“Exactly.” Fin looks at him grimly. “He's a sick bastard Elliot.”

“No kidding.” Elliot shakes his head. “So… where did he take her?”

“That, is the million dollar question.” Fin pulls the car in. “Come on, let’s go inside.”

Elliot looks out of the window, realising they’re parked outside Fin’s building. He hadn’t even noticed they were in his neighbourhood. “Okay.”

***

Following Fin into his apartment, he’s oddly surprised by how tidy it is. He's not sure what he was expecting; considering what Fin has told him about the rest of the squad falling apart, he was guessing maybe Fin was too, but the other man seems to be keeping it together. “Hey man, you… you doing okay?” He asks, feeling the need to all of a sudden.

Fin turns to him, shrugging his jacket off and hanging it on a hook near the door. “You asking me since the rest of the squad imploded, if I'm gonna be next?” He gives him a knowing look. “I'm okay,” he tells him. “I made a decision that I wasn’t gonna give up on her, and that… that’s driving me.”

Elliot nods, biting his bottom lip. “I get that.” He says. It’s the only thing keeping him from curling up in a corner right now too.

Adding his own jacket to a hook next to Fin’s, he drops the bag he’d brought with him to the floor. He doesn’t have much stuff; his apartment in Berlin was a fully furnished rental so all he’d needed to pack was his clothes; Kathy kept the family photos when they sold the house in Queens, him giving her everything she wanted as the best apology for the way things had ended that he could muster at the time. All he has is his clothes, his phone and a wallet with a few photos inside. 

It’s all he needs, really.

Photos of his children, a few years old but they’re the most up to date ones he has, and one of him and Liv, from some NYPD function about six years ago. Her hair was long then; in it’s last few months before Kathy got pregnant with Eli and she’d come back from suspension with her hair chopped off. She's laughing at something he’s said in the picture, some dumb joke of his probably, he can’t quite remember but they’d been on such rocky ground for so long he’d been happy just to see her smile at something he’d done.

He’d looked at the photo for hours on the flight over, before tucking it securely back into his wallet so he doesn’t lose it.

Moving further into Fin's apartment, he notices a sports bag on the floor by the couch, a shoebox sitting on top of it. “Were you going somewhere?” He asks, pointing.

Fin looks over. “That’s… Liv's stuff,” he says quietly. “I cleared her apartment. It’s all that was salvageable.”

Elliot tilts his head. “That's it?” He says, incredulous.

“Yeah… like I said, it was mostly destroyed. All I could get were a few clothes, which I washed, they’re in the bag. Some of her photos were okay… sorta. There’s a few ripped ones but I put them in anyway. Her jewellery was gone, we think he stole it to sell, but I found a necklace under the bed. Semper Fi medallion?” Fin gives him a look. “You give her that?”

Elliot finds himself beside the shoebox before his brain fully processes that he’s moved. Opening it, he sees the gold chain sitting on top, the medallion lying amongst the links. Picking it up, he lets it dangle from his fingers. “Yeah,” he whispers. “I gave her this.”

An overwhelming urge makes him fasten the necklace around his own neck. I’ll keep it safe Liv, he promises silently. Give it back to you when we find you.

Thumbing through the small pile of photos, he notes that not one of them is in a frame. Liv and her mom, an old SVU squad photo from not long after Fin joined them, another couple of her with her mom… Liv and Eli, the day he was born… then at the bottom of the pile, two of Liv with him. The first is ancient; she’s pressing a kiss to his cheek for reasons he can’t remember, but it must have been very early on in their partnership judging by her hair. He finds himself smiling at that; it was a long running joke between them that he could date any photograph of her by her hairstyle. Choking back tears, he looks at the last photo in the pile. Himself and Liv, goofing around in the squadroom. The new one, not the old one with the blue walls and the leaking pipework. The newer, modern one that he’d spent less than a year in. He’s got his arms around her waist, holding her from behind as he tickles her, her mouth open in a silent screech of laughter. He doesn’t remember the photo being taken, let alone who took it, but she’d kept it, and that makes him feel… he doesn’t even know. He’s a mess of emotions, unable to pinpoint even one. My therapist would love me right now, he thinks. If I was still seeing him. But still. 

Swallowing thickly, he carefully tucks the seven photos back into the shoebox, tucking the whole thing inside the sports bag which is, on inspection, filled with a meagre amount of clothing. Jesus… there’s nothing left.

Turning to Fin, he clears his throat. “We getting any help on this?” He asks. “Or is it just us.”

Fin grimaces. “Just us,” he tells him. “Cassidy’s useless, I haven't heard from Nick since he quit. Cragen… he’s getting into a better place, I can’t risk that. I’ve spoken to Amanda exactly once since she transferred, and Barba, our ADA, took off down to Florida last week, chasing some court thing.”

“What about John?” Elliot asks. Munch is hardly muscle, but he was a damn good cop, they could use his brain.

“LA,” Fin tells him. “Taking some time out. I’m not gonna bother him. He… didn’t deal with what happened to Liv well at all.” He says, cryptic. “I’ll call him when we find her and he’ll come back in a heartbeat, that I know for sure.”

Elliot nods. “Any other cops?” He asks. “Anyone we can rely on for backup, if nothing else?”

“Backup in the city, yeah,” Fin tells him. “Every single cop on the streets hates what happened to Liv. Not just that she got grabbed, it’s what the brass did that really pissed them off. Anything we need in the city, we just gotta ask.”

Elliot nods once. “Her jewellery… did he pawn it?”

“Not in the city,” Fin reports. “That jewellery’s so hot you’ll get a third-degree burn by glancing at it, but no pawn shop has come across it in New York, or New Jersey.”

Elliot frowns. “Further afield?”

“We've got notices out, nothing yet. He either sold it before we had the info out, or he’s realised that he can’t get rid of it now so he’s ditched it. Either way… it’s not a lead, not right now.”

“Okay,” Elliot continues. “Do we have anything, any leads at all?”

“We wouldn’t be standing here if we did, Elliot.” Fin says darkly.

“Sorry,” Elliot apologises. “I just…”

“It's fine,” Fin tells him. “It’s a lot to deal with, and you found out less than an hour ago.”

Is that all? Elliot asks himself. Feels like so much longer, and yet… like it was five minutes ago. “So what do we have, what do we know?” He asks instead.

Fin smiles grimly. “I have this,” he says, turning a portable cork board around, showing Elliot. “Take a look.”

“That him?” Elliot asks, approaching. He points at the photo, a dark haired man in his mid thirties, with cold eyes.

“Yeah.”

Elliot nods, closing in on the crime board. He stares at the photo of Liv's rapist - he’s not stupid, he knows that she’s gonna have been raped God only knows how many times by now - and makes a silent vow that this won’t get to trial. No. This guy is going to die, slowly and painfully.

“Officially, the search for Liv is closed,” Fin tells him, stepping up to stand next to Elliot as he looks at the board.

“And unofficially?” Elliot asks, looking over the photos on the board. Past victims, Lewis’s MO, it’s all there. Seeing a photo of Liv’s ransacked apartment, he pulls it down, looks at it closely.

“Unofficially… every cop in the city is on the look out for Lewis, have been since the day he walked free.” Fin says, while Elliot stares at the photo. The overturned furniture, the blood up the walls… it’s one thing being told about it, but a whole other nightmare to see it immortalised in ink on paper. 

“Has he been spotted?” Elliot asks, forcing his gaze away from the print in his hands.

“Once, the day after the trial.” Fin purses his lips. “A beat cop saw him in Chinatown, just walking down the street. Tried to tail him but lost him in the crowds.”

“When was that exactly?” Elliot tilts his head with interest.

“June 7th,” Fin says. “A Saturday, a month ago today.”

“What was he doing down there?” Elliot mutters. “Did he buy anything?”

Fin shakes his head. “I went down there, asked around. No-one saw him go into any stores, any takeaway joints, nothing. He just walked down the street, no-one seemed to know where he even came from, and then vanished.”

Just like Liv, Elliot thinks. Who is this guy, Houdini with a side-dose of kidnap? No matter how you chain him up, he just slips away.

“We should go back,” Elliot suggests. “Maybe someone’s remembered something, or maybe Lewis has been back there since without being seen.”

Fin nods slowly. “Yeah,” he agrees. “No harm in trying, not like we’ve got any other leads right now.”

Elliot follows Fin to the apartment door, grabbing his jacket and pulling it on, tucking the Semper Fi necklace safely inside his shirt.

Wherever you are Liv… just keep holding on. I’m coming for you.

Chapter Text

Monday, July 8th 2013

A door clashes somewhere above her head, and she groans. He’s back.

He’d left her a little while ago - or was it longer? She can’t keep track of time anymore - to get ‘supplies’, which could mean anything from food, to something new to torment her with.

She prays it’s the former. I’m so hungry…

She’s lying half on her side, mostly in a heap on the mattress where he’d left her. Trying to shift position, pain slices through her and she gives up.

Whistling sounds from upstairs and she closes her eyes, tears forming on her lashes. Whistling means he’s happy, and happy means bad things for me.

It’s never-ending, relentless, what he does to her; what he makes her do. His intensive curiosity as he experiments with different ways to hurt her is making her feel like she’s a warped science experiment.

When he took her, when she saw him in her apartment that night… she thought she’d known what to expect at least, knowing his MO.

She was wrong.

Thinking he’d stick to known patterns when usually he has a time limit was a bad idea. His past victims - is that what I am now? His victim? - he’d only had a day or two with them before it became too risky, too much of a chance of a search commencing, of someone finding him.

But… as he keeps helpfully reminding her… no-one’s looking for her. As far as the NYPD, the world even, is concerned… Olivia Benson is dead.

So, Lewis can do whatever the hell he wants to her.

No-one’s coming.

She’s always felt sorry for those they would sometimes come across, the people who weren’t even reported missing, the ones seen as free to be exploited by the evils of the world as ‘no-one will notice’.

Now… I’m one of them.

Hopefully not for much longer, she thinks. She doesn’t feel right, hasn’t felt right for what she thinks are the last couple of days. The pain between her legs is constant, but deeper inside…

Something is wrong.

She hopes it’ll be over soon; that whatever it is that he’s done, whatever he’s caused will kill her quickly.

She doesn’t know how much more she can take.

Blinking, she’s suddenly faced with his blinding grin. Too exhausted, too weak to even flinch, her only reaction is her eyes widening.

She hadn’t even heard him come down the stairs.

“Morning gorgeous,” he greets her, grin widening. His eyes travel down her naked, battered body - where did he put my blanket? I had that… didn’t I? - and he licks his lips. “How are we feeling today?” He asks brightly. 

His fingers trace over her throat, where she’s sure there must be a necklace of bruises. His latest fascination is strangulation; his hands around her throat, depriving her of air while he rapes her. His mouth is moving, but the words aren’t making any kind of sense to her. She frowns.

Roughly pushing her over onto her back, he climbs on top of her, as naked as she is. When did he take off his clothes? She asks herself. She hadn’t noticed him taking them off, and she thinks he was wearing them when he first came downstairs… wasn’t he? She can’t be sure of anything anymore.

He settles himself between her legs, his hands around the base of her throat. Please… please… not again, she begs him silently.

Fruitlessly.

Even if she had the strength to raise her arms, she wouldn’t try to fight him; there’s no point. She learned that a long time ago.

The pressure of his hands on her neck increases as he forces his way inside her, and she lets her mind drift, sliding into her favourite fever dream; Elliot crashing into the room and blowing Lewis’s head off with a shotgun.

***

Elliot twists the necklace chain around his fingers absently, the medallion lying on the back of his hand as he stares at the crime board in Fin’s apartment. 

Chinatown had been a bust; they’d spent half of Saturday and all of Sunday going up and down Canal Street where Lewis had been seen that day, and the surrounding area but to no avail. They’d tracked down the uni who spotted Lewis that day, and while he’d been able to help them retrace Lewis’s steps, it hadn’t helped much.

They’d spoken to store owners, restaurant owners, street vendors… anyone and everyone who they could grab the attention of had Lewis’s photo stuck in their faces. Their customers hadn’t escaped Fin or Elliot’s attentions either; everyone they could grab had been asked if they’d seen him either that day or since.

They all recognised him; considering what happened, what he went on trial for, it was all over the news for weeks. Elliot suspects they’d be hard-pressed to find even one person in the entire city who hadn’t heard the name William Lewis, or seen his face. 

None of the customers had seen him, but the head chef at one of the restaurants remembers seeing him just wandering aimlessly in the street, smiling to himself like he had some private secret or a joke, something only he was privy to.

The chef agrees with them; it’s weird as all hell, but he wasn’t actually doing anything other than walking down the street. Annoying though it is… it seems innocent enough. 

For all intents and purposes, it seems as though Lewis was simply out for a stroll. He didn’t buy anything, he didn’t eat anything, and the only signs of recognition from anyone in the area were from seeing Lewis’s face plastered all over the news for weeks after Liv vanished.

It’s a dead end.

“You think he just went for a walk in Chinatown to prove that he could?” He thinks out loud, letting the chain fall from his hands, the pendant landing with a soft thump on his chest as he gets to his feet.

“What, like a ‘ha ha I got away with it’ sort of thing?” Fin asks as he comes over from the kitchen, handing Elliot a mug of coffee. “Knowing Lewis… probably.” He goes to sit down, but his cell phone ringing stops him halfway. Glancing at it, he frowns. “Hang on,” he says, handing his coffee to Elliot. “I gotta take this.”

Fin heads into his bedroom to answer the call, and Elliot returns his attention to the board, looking for something, anything that stands out, any possible lead.

Turns out that staring at it for another five minutes doesn’t make anything jump out at him, same as the last three hours did. Come on Stabler, he berates himself. There must be something that we’re missing here… 

Sighing, he rubs his hand down his face as Fin comes back. “What?” He asks to Fin’s expression. It’s not quite hope, on the other man’s face but he’s certainly smiling slightly. Have we got a lead? Elliot asks himself. Is that little, tiny hope from a few minutes ago going to turn into something more?

“That was a State Trooper that I know,” Fin tells him. “Said he’s got some info for us, but he’s on duty so… we need to go up to Montrose.”

***

The drive out to Montrose takes them a good hour, even on the highway. There’s a State Trooper waiting by his car when they get there, an older guy, thinning grey hair, on the short side, but well built and Fin greets him like an old friend. Is there anyone Fin doesn’t know, Elliot asks himself.

“Elliot Stabler, this is John Watts,” Fin introduces them. “John’s got some information for us.”

Watts nods. “There was a gas station robbery a little way away from here,” he tells them. “There’s been a spate of them up and down the highway so I got called in, checked it out. Gave the owner a ride to the local station to give his statement and he saw the flyer I keep in my car.”

“The one with Lewis on it?” Fin checks, as Elliot frowns. He didn’t know that there were flyers. Flyers with Lewis’s, possibly even Liv’s, faces on them. He asks himself, not for the first time or even the twentieth, how the hell he’d managed to miss the news in Germany and not have a clue about any of this until Fin called. 

“That’s the one,” Watts confirms. “He says he saw him, about a month ago.”

“Can he be more specific?” Elliot asks, heart beating faster. “Can he remember the exact date?”

“Saturday,” Watts says. “June 8th.”

“The same day he was in Chinatown…” Elliot mutters. “What was he driving?”

“Owner can’t remember that,” Watts tells them, and Elliot’s heart drops into his stomach. “He only remembers Lewis ‘cause he was all over the news at the time. He is looking through his old security cam system, he had it all replaced the week after Lewis was there but he hadn’t gotten around to getting rid of the old system yet, so he thinks there should be footage still on it.”

Fin and Elliot trade hopeful glances, as the Trooper’s phone rings. “That’s him,” Watts says. “Give me a minute.” He walks a few steps away, answering the phone.

“It might have been a month ago, but it’s a direction,” Elliot says to Fin quietly. “Liv had been on her own for two weeks right? He’s gonna want to check on her, see if she’s still alive, right?”

Fin nods. “Yeah. He would’ve left it overnight, checking to see if he was being watched and when he realised he wasn’t… it might not pan out Elliot, we gotta remember that.”

Elliot nods. “I know, I know.” He sighs. “I just… she needs us Fin. We gotta find her.”

“We will.”

Watts comes back then. “Buick Skylark,” he reports. “Dark blue or black, it’s hard to tell on his cameras. New York plates ending in E-X-Y. Reckons it’s a late eighties or early nineties model so that narrows it down a bit.”

Fin is writing it all down. “When was it there?” He asks.

“June 8th, like he thought,” Watts tells them. “6:18pm. He filled the tank, paid and left. Took less than ten minutes.”

“Which way did he go?” Fin asks, switching his notebook for his cell phone. 

“South, towards the highway but that doesn’t mean anything. He did say that the guy seemed to be in a rush, very impatient. The cashier who served him said that she was scared, after seeing everything on the news.”

Fin nods. “Let me make a call,” he says, putting his cell to his ear. “Hey, this is Detective Tutuola, NYPD,” he says to whoever is on the other end. “I need info from traffic cams.” A pause. “June 8th, from 6:18pm onwards, Route 9 near Montrose, either direction and anything you’ve got in the vicinity at around that time and later.” A beat. “I know it’s a lot.” He sighs heavily.

Elliot closes his eyes. They’re not gonna check, he thinks.

“It’s for Liv.” Fin’s words cut through his reverie, jolting his head up and his attention solely on the other man, pacing with his cell to his ear. “Alright, thank you. Let me know ASAP.”

Watts’s radio crackles to life then and he excuses himself, climbing into his car and driving away, leaving only Fin and Elliot at the roadside.

“You just…” Elliot starts, faltering, words failing him. “You said ‘it’s for Liv’…” Fin nods. “But… they don’t know her.”

“They know her name,” Fin says quietly. “They know what happened to her.” He chuckles sadly. “It’s all they need. All we have to do is say that it’s for Liv and any cop in the tri-state, hell, probably further out than that, will jump as high as we need ‘em to.”

Not trusting his voice, Elliot nods. Tears blur his vision and he turns away, feigning the need to walk back to Fin’s car.

You’ve got so many people looking for you, keeping an eye out, an ear out, ready to back us up Liv… and you don’t even know it.

“We’re coming Liv,” Elliot whispers, keeping his back to Fin so the other man doesn’t see him talking to, essentially, himself. “Keep holding on.”

***

Miles away, a strangled scream of pain escapes Olivia’s lips. 

Chapter Text

Tuesday, July 9th 2013

They’d stayed in Montrose overnight; there might be twenty officers with the State Police trawling through traffic cam footage, but it’s not a quick job by any means.

Some of them have even come in on their day off to help out once they’d heard what it was for, a fact that makes Elliot’s heart swell. So many people, from multiple agencies willing to give their time to find her, yet NYPD brass declare her a lost cause? He shakes his head in disgust.

Wandering out through the door of the double motel room he’s sharing with Fin, he breathes in the cool morning air as the sun begins to rise in the distance. It’s a little after 5:30AM, and he closes his eyes, praying to God that they’ll get a lead today, that they’ll find her, get her to safety. 

At some point, the possibility of Liv being dead has stopped being an option in his head, he realises. She’s alive, she has to be and he won’t accept anything less than that.

But, regardless of his adamancy, he has a feeling of urgency in his heart. He doesn’t know how, or even why… but he’s got a feeling that wherever she is… 

She doesn’t have long.

***

He finds himself leaning against the wall outside their room, nursing two vending machine coffees, passing the time until a little after seven, when Fin surfaces. “Heard anything?” Fin asks him, rubbing his eyes as he wakes himself up.

Elliot shakes his head. “Not yet.” Fin grimaces, before wandering down to the vending machine himself, pressing the buttons for coffee while yawning widely.

He doesn’t say no; doesn’t say that they haven’t found anything, even though it wouldn’t be a lie to say that right now. Not yet means that they will find something, they just haven’t gotten there. To say no would open the door to the idea that they might not find her in time, or worse still, might not find her at all, a failure of the mission.

He can’t, won’t accept failure.

Not this time.

Failure is not an option, not even a card on the table.

***

He rolls off her, flopping onto his back on the mattress with a huff. “No offence sweetheart, but you’re getting boring.” He comments.

If she had any energy left, she’d roll her eyes. Instead, she stares at the ceiling as it slowly spins above her head. At least he hadn’t choked her this time; he seems to have gotten bored with that too.

Small mercies to the dying, she supposes.

Because she is; dying, that is. 

She can feel it. The pain that had become all encompassing through the night seems to have reached a crescendo, and numbness is creeping into her extremities.

It’s a relief, the realisation; she won’t have to suffer for much longer, and the thought gives her peace. 

Once she’s dead, he can’t get to her.

She’s both absolutely freezing cold, yet her skin is coated in sweat. She can’t catch her breath either… it makes no sense. Nothing makes much sense anymore.

Lewis props himself up on his elbow on the mattress, tilting his head as he considers her dispassionately. “I think you’re done for, baby,” he observes. “I gotta admit, I thought you’d have lasted longer than this. Hmm, maybe I should’ve been more gentle?” He grimaces, feigning concern. “Oh well. Too late now.” The way he says it, like she’s nothing more than a broken toy destined for the scrapheap is unnerving.

But true, she supposes. She has been his unwilling plaything for the last… however long it’s been, and now she’s a broken mess, her destiny to be dumped somewhere for NYPD to find.

If he sticks to his word, of course. It’s not like she’s going to know either way.

She eyes him. He’s got that contemplative look on his face, the one he uses when he can’t quite decide what to do to her first.

The look terrifies her, even moreso when it settles into a smug smile. Licking his lips, Lewis’s weight rolls, crushes her once again. Oh, please no. Please… 

“Might as well make use of you while you’re still breathing.”

***

Elliot is about to head down there and start looking at the traffic cams himself when Fin’s phone finally, finally rings at nine thirty. “Hey,” Fin says as he answers. “Yeah. Yeah… okay.” A pause. “Let me know.”

“Well?” Elliot asks as soon as Fin has hung up. “Anything?”

“They finally spotted the car,” Fin tells him, getting to his feet. “Took them a while, he didn’t go back onto Route 9 like we thought he had. They eventually spotted him, he was on the interstate, the 684. They kept following him until he turned off near Lake Carmel, then they lost him.”

“Okay,” Elliot looks to Fin. “We heading over there then?”

“Yeah,” Fin nods, getting his keys out of his pocket as they approach his car. “It doesn’t make sense though,” he continues. “He doubles back on himself pretty much… why do that? Why come all the way out here then all the way back that direction?”

“To throw us off?” Elliot suggests.

“By taking the interstate?” Fin counters. “It’s hardly travelling unseen is it? Cameras everywhere.”

“But we do know that he went that way,” Elliot argues. They don’t have time for this, don’t have time to argue when Liv’s life is hanging in the balance. “So let’s go that way too and see where we end up.”

***

“He wouldn’t make it so obvious,” Elliot says as Fin drives at high speed towards Lake Carmel. “It’s too obvious for them to be right there, but I don’t think they could be far away.”

Fin glances over to him, attention split between the interstate and Elliot’s face. “Okay, where do you think?” He nods at the map.

Elliot’s eyes scan over the map he’s got awkwardly spread over both his knees and the dashboard. “There,” he says, pointing to a name on the map. “Holmes. Opposite side of the interstate and north of Lake Carmel, but not too far away, and…” He squints. “You can get there on smaller roads, no cameras.”

“You think he went there?” Fin asks, hands gripping the steering wheel. “‘Cause I gotta make a turn soon and I need to know where.”

“He’d want somewhere out of the way, but secure to hold her, right?” Elliot looks to Fin.

“Yeah.”

“Lake Carmel… it’s bigger, it’s busy,” Elliot notes. “Too noticeable.” He gets his cell phone out, dialling and pressing it to his ear. “Cabin, remote but accessible… with a basement,” he nods as the ringing tone sounds in his ear. “Gotta be.”

***

She’s alone, finally.

Struggling for breath, she manages to turn herself onto her side. She’s shaking; the pain has somehow gotten worse, in a way she didn’t think possible. She can feel herself slipping, the darkness beckoning, and she’s both terrified and calm at the prospect.

She can’t take anymore; this she knows for sure.

She wants it to be over before he returns; if he gets on top of her again she’ll die under him, she knows she will. If she can have any sort of control at all about how her life ends, any dignity… it’s not gonna happen like that.

She hopes she’s gone before he returns, or at least unaware. She doesn’t want the last thing she sees to be his cold, hard eyes, his twisted grin.

No. She might be locked in a basement, chained up and in more pain than she thought possible, but she’s going to do this as much on her own terms as possible, and she’s not going to take this lying down.

Literally. Gathering every ounce of strength she can find - not much, but still - she presses her numb hands into the mattress, forcing her torso to rise with a strangled yelp deep in her throat. Sucking air into abused lungs, she eventually manages to get herself into a semi-sitting position. 

Slumping to her right, landing against the wall in exhaustion, she decides that’ll have to do; she has no energy left.

The shift in position has, strangely, made the pain a little more bearable, and she sends up a silent prayer of thanks for that at least.

But she knows it’s the end; black spots swirling in her vision. Letting her mind wander, she thinks of him, of how she’d do anything to see him one more time.

His blue eyes are what she thinks about, what she sees in her minds eye as her eyes slip closed, the ghost of a smile at the corners of her lips.

***

“This the place?” Fin asks, getting out of the car.

Elliot already has the map spread out on the hood. “There’s twenty-four cabins with basements listed on property records within a ten mile radius of Lake Carmel,” he tells him. “Eighteen of them are in the direct vicinity of the lake…” He murmurs. “They’re too close, too risky to hold someone long term so they’re out.” He traces his finger over the map, posting out the six cross marks that he placed when the State Trooper was giving him the info. “These six are potentials, but we need to search them.” He looks to Fin. “We got backup comin’?”

“Yeah,” Fin tells him. He’d made a few calls after pulling the car over while Elliot was still on the phone himself. “State Troopers are on their way, fifteen to twenty minutes ETA. We got NYPD backup coming too, but they’re over an hour out.”

“We’re not waiting.” Elliot declares.

“We aren’t armed,” Fin reasons. “Neither of us is. Lewis is known to use a weapon, and he’s likely got Liv’s gun too since we never found that either… you sure you wanna do this?” He’s not arguing with him, he’s not refusing. Just pointing out the facts, checking that Elliot is aware of the risks. He trusts Fin, trusts his judgement, and also trusts that he has his back no matter what. 

Elliot nods firmly. Points at one of the crosses on the map. It’s not the closest to them, but he’s got a feeling and he’s decided to trust his gut. “I’m not waiting Fin,” he says quietly. “I got a…” How the hell does he explain the feeling of panic, of urgency that he’s had since he woke up that has been slowly increasing as the day goes on? “I got a bad feeling, a real bad one,” he tries. “I don’t think she’s got time, I don’t think she can afford for us to wait.”

“We’re no good to Liv if we’re dead.” Fin rightfully points out. “We gotta be smart about this. Lewis is a slippery son-of-a-bitch, he likely knows the area pretty well if he’s been holed up here for weeks, and there’s only two of us. Surrounding him isn’t gonna be easy to do.”

“If we wait Fin… she won’t make it.” Elliot catches the other man’s gaze. Fin makes good points, he knows and agrees with all of them, but… “Don’t ask me how I know, because honestly? I don’t but… we’re running out of time. Fast.”

Fin gives him an appraising look before nodding once, quickly. “Alright,” he agrees. “Cell signal is patchy in these parts, the troopers told me that, so we’ll leave a note on the car, then they know where we’re headed when they get to here.”

Elliot folds up the map while Fin writes on a sheet of paper which cabin they’re going to try first, tucking it firmly under the wiper before making his way around to Elliot’s side of the car.

Shoulder to shoulder, they head onto the trail, into the woods…

Hopefully towards Liv.

Please God, Elliot prays as they walk, the ground soft under their feet from the rain. Please don’t let her die. Please.

Chapter Text

Tuesday, July 9th 2013

They’ve been walking for almost ten minutes; twigs snapping under their feet, dappled sunlight through the leaves lighting their route as they follow the map to the cabin carefully. Neither one of them is familiar with the area, and while there is a road, of sorts, anyway, leading up to the cabin, they don’t want to use it in case Lewis sees them coming.

They left the car back on the main road for that exact reason; if Lewis were to spot them, he could kill Liv before they can stop him.

“Almost there,” Elliot says quietly, folding the map up and shoving it into his jacket pocket as they pick their way amongst the trees. “A minute or two and we’ll be able to see the place.”

Fin nods. “When we get there,” he says quietly. “If Lewis is here… I’ll deal with him. You get Liv, okay?” Elliot gives him a look. “Don’t look at me like that,” Fin tells him. “You’re retired. I might be on leave, but I’m still a cop. It looks better.”

Elliot can’t argue with that, but… “You just gonna arrest him?” He asks. “Take him in, put Liv through a trial?”

Fin stops in his tracks, gives Elliot a look. “I’m a cop,” he says. “That’s what I’m supposed to do.”

A look of quiet understanding is reached between the two men, and Elliot gives a slow nod. “Yep,” he says. “That’s what you’re supposed to do. Guess you should do that then.”

“Yep.” Fin nods. “That’s what I’ll do.”

Blowing out a breath, Elliot turns, leading the way as the two of them fall into single file, peering through the trees ahead. “I think I see the cabin,” he whispers. “Up there. You see?”

Fin peers around him. “Unless they’re planting trees sideways these days, I’d say you’re right.”

They creep forward quickly and quietly until they’re standing side by side at the edge of the trees. The log cabin lies ahead of them in the middle of the small clearing, the black Buick sitting innocently out front. “That’s the car,” Elliot whispers. “He’s here.”

Fin nods. “I don’t see any movement.”

“Me neither.” Elliot bites his lip. “We just walking up to the front?” He asks. “I don’t know if there’s a back door on this place.”

Fin nods. “Stay low. We don’t know exactly where he is.”

Wordlessly, they decide to move a little further along the tree line before coming out into the open; enough so they are roughly in line with the cabin’s side wall, giving them the option of cover if they need it.

They’re only halfway between the trees and the cabin when the front door opens.

In plain sight, they have nowhere to hide as William Lewis wanders out onto the front porch, barefoot, wearing only jeans and an unbuttoned dark grey shirt. They watch, frozen in place as the man stretches his arms, shoulders audibly cracking.

Elliot has the sudden, almost uncontrollable urge to put his hands around the bastard’s neck.

As if he heard Elliot’s silent thought, Lewis turns his head, looking straight at them.

Time seems to stop; the three men staring each other down before Lewis swears and takes off, down the two steps to the ground and off, into the trees at the other side of the clearing.

“I got him!” Fin yells, breaking into a sprint. “Find Liv!” He yells over his shoulder at Elliot.

Elliot breaks into a run, skipping the steps entirely and hopping straight from ground to porch, entering the log cabin at speed.

***

Fin chases Lewis through the trees, the thick forest slowing both of them down as they dodge from side to side, avoiding tree trunk after tree trunk.

“NYPD Lewis!” Fin shouts. “Stop!”

Lewis ignores him; increases his speed.

Fin tilts his head in an improvised shrug; barrels on.

***

The cabin is quite smart, Elliot notes when he enters. Not abandoned by any means, the place is fully furnished with a nice kitchen and living area, plus three open doors along one wall.

He checks the open doors out, despite knowing it’s unlikely that Liv is behind them. Two bedrooms and a bathroom; all empty. “Fuck,” he swears. “Where are you Liv?” He asks himself. “Basement, basement… where’s the basement…” He mutters.

Then he spots it; the kitchen walls are panelled, and one of them has both a doorknob and a padlocked latch attached to it. Basement. 

Running to the door, he sees that the padlock is locked. Glancing around for the key, he can’t immediately see it.

She doesn’t have time, a voice whispers in his head. Break the fucking door down.

Nodding to himself, he takes two large steps away from the door, braces himself.

Shoulder charges it.

***

They’ve been sprinting flat out for a few minutes and Fin is starting to think he needs to take a look at his fitness regime when finally, finally they hit a clearing.

Only, it’s not a clearing.

Lewis skids to a stop where the ground drops away, coming to a halt on the edge of the ravine that Fin had no idea was even there.

Stopping a few feet away himself, he scans Lewis’s frame quickly, realising that he is unarmed. Thank God for that, he thinks. “Lewis, come on!” He shouts. “Hands up, turn around. You’re under arrest.”

Lewis does turn, but his hands are at his sides. “Under arrest?” He says, quizzically. “For what?”

“You and I both know what.” Fin replies darkly, approaching Lewis. He stops, standing less than two feet from the monster. “Hands up, now.”

Lewis tilts his head, considering. “Nah,” he says instead. “You know… it was a good plan.” He starts, conversational.

“What was?” Fin asks. A confession? Okay, let’s go with this.

“You know… I didn’t think it’d be so easy,” Lewis continues. “I grab her, get her up here, lock her up… go get myself arrested… see how the dice roll, you know?” He chuckles, teeth flashing in a twisted grin. “I left her food and water, enough to last her a while. I’m not a total monster.” He nods firmly.

Fin raises his eyebrows.

“I get away with it, like I knew I would,” Lewis continues. “Then NYPD go and do half of the hard part for me!” He laughs. “I did not think you guys would give up on her so fast. Guess I did a better job than even I anticipated.” He smirks. “You should’ve seen her face when I told her…” He closes his eyes, licking his lips as he remembers. “Being betrayed like that?” He lets out a low whistle. “It was almost as good to watch as it was doing her.” He chuckles.

Fin’s heard enough. “Turn around Lewis,” he tells him again. “You’re under arrest for kidnap and rape.”

Lewis ignores him. “You know, she used to beg?” He continues. “Not for me to stop, you gotta understand. She stopped doing that pretty quick when she realised absolutely nothing was gonna make that happen. No, she used to plead with me… let her up, let her have just a minute, let her breathe…” He pauses. “I didn’t, of course. Why would I? But it sure was fun to hear her try and talk me out of things.”

Fin reaches forward, grabs Lewis’s arm and turns him roughly.

“You know…” Lewis just keeps talking. Fin sighs. “She used to scream out a name,” he confides. “Begging him to help her, to come for her…” He turns his head, looking at Fin directly. “You know someone called Elliot?”

Fin blinks.

Roughly grabbing Lewis’s other arm, he wrestles them both behind his back, before pushing Lewis forward a step and just… letting go.

On the edge as they are, it takes very little weight for the ground to give way beneath Lewis’s feet.

A shocked cry echoes, before a series of thuds as Lewis hits the rocks some forty feet below.

Fin looks over the edge, seeing the blood trail as it leads down to the heap at the bottom.

His upper lip curls in a grimace. “Whoops.”

***

Finally breaking the door down on his fourth attempt, Elliot almost ends up going head first down the stone steps on the other side.

Catching himself with his hands on the doorframe just in time, he races down to the bottom, his eyes squinting in the dull light.

Turning the corner, his eyes adjust, taking in the scene in front of him.

“Liv…” He whispers. “Oh my God.”

Chapter Text

Tuesday, July 9th 2013

“Oh my God.” He repeats, his right hand flying up to his mouth as he sucks in a sharp breath at the sight of Liv.

She looks… dead.

Sitting slumped against the stone wall, naked, eyes closed, her body pale and slack… he honestly thinks she is for a few, terrifying seconds. Panic and fear choke him, his blood turns to ice and he feels like he’s going to puke. The feeling of grief, of anger, of sadness is all encompassing, that everyone, that he failed her, that he was too damn late…

Until he sees her chest rise and fall. Just a tiny bit.

“Liv?” He gasps, at her side in three long strides. Crouching down, he peers at her face.

No reaction. She’s unconscious.

His hands hover in midair; he’s inexplicably scared to touch her, but he knows that he has to.

Before he can, footsteps thunder down the stairs. He doesn’t know who it is, and on sheer reflex borne of thirteen years at her side, he puts his own body between Liv and the newcomer.

As Fin rounds the corner at the bottom of the stairs, Elliot breathes a sigh of relief, returning to his crouching position.

“Fuck,” Fin gasps, eyes fixed on Liv. “Is she…?” He can’t say the word.

It gives Elliot enough courage to actually check, his fingers touching the pulse point on her neck. “She’s alive,” he breathes a moment later, feeling the blood pumping under his fingertips. “Pulse is weak. She needs an ambulance. Now.

Fin pulls his cell from his pocket, checks it as he moves to Elliot’s side. “No signal,” he tells him. “We’re gonna have to get her to the road, there was a signal there.”

“Should we even move her?” Elliot asks as Fin starts checking Liv over, less hesitant about it than he had been himself.

“She’s burning up,” Fin says, the back of his hand pressed against Liv’s forehead. “We have to Elliot. If we don’t…” He swallows. “If we don’t, she won’t make it.”

He says the words so bluntly, so matter of fact that it makes Elliot flinch. “She…” He stutters. Swallows thickly. “How bad?” He asks.

“Weak pulse, shallow breathing… her skin’s on fire,” Fin tells him, shaking his head. “Elliot, she’s really not good.” He glances around the room quickly. “I’m gonna lay her down,” he decides. “Go back upstairs, find something thin to wrap around her, a bedsheet or somethin’, and we need to get this damn chain off her ankle, so unless you can find the key to this padlock, we’re gonna need bolt cutters.”

Elliot hadn’t even noticed the thick, heavy chain padlocked around her right leg. Looking at it now, he feels the bile rising in his throat. “Elliot!” Fin snaps. “We haven’t got time. Freak out later,” he tells him sharply, almost an order. “Help her now.”

Swallowing, Elliot nods, not trusting himself should he open his mouth. Sparing one more glance at Liv’s pale face, he darts past Fin and up the stairs.

***

Fin slides his hands around Liv’s shoulders, gently easing her away from the wall and down, laying her on the heavily stained mattress in the recovery position. There’s a tiny, high pitched whine deep in her throat as he does it, and her face contorts into a frown. “Liv?” He asks. “Liv… baby girl, open your eyes for me?” He encourages.

Another whimper.

He strokes her hair, peering at her face in the dim light. “Come on Liv,” he tries. “Wake up for me, that’s it.”

He can hear Elliot upstairs, his heavy footsteps charging around on the floor above them as he looks for something to get this damn chain off of her. Looking at the offending item now makes him want to puke. The whole situation does; if he’s honest.

She’s spent seven weeks down here, he thinks to himself. Jesus.

Slowly, he watches as she regains consciousness, her eyes blinking open, staring at him like she can’t quite believe he’s in front of her. “Hey Liv,” he says, trying to give her an encouraging smile. “You’re okay,” he tells her. “He’s dead,” he tells her as he hears Elliot coming back. “He’s dead, I promise. He can’t hurt ya anymore, you’re safe now.”

“Is she awake?” Elliot asks as he comes back into the room.

Fin nods. “Barely,” he replies. “You get what I asked for?”

Elliot nods. There’s a sheet roughly folded over his arm, and he’s got bolt cutters in his hands. “Here,” he hands Fin the sheet. “I’m gonna get this chain off her.”

Fin drapes the sheet over Liv carefully, in such a way that it’ll be easy to wrap the rest around her once they have her free and one of them picks her up.

She’s awake, but not really aware, he notes; her slow blinking, eyes glassy with fever. Her skin is coated in sweat and traces of blood, her body littered with old wounds. That surprises him; from what he knows about Lewis, he’d expected worse somehow, more burns, more cuts but while there are both of those present on her skin… they look at least a week old at minimum, most of them older than even that.

The dark, dark, mottled bruising around her neck tells a different story however. Bastard has been strangling her, Fin realises. Obviously got bored with burning so decided to try something else.

He’s never been happier that a perp was dead before. Sure, he looks at things in black and white even in SVU, the home of shades of grey, and he’s never felt bad when a perp ends up dead, either at his own hand, that of another cop or otherwise… but he’s never felt it quite this strongly before. 

His only regret, his only annoyance is that Lewis didn’t suffer much first; that few seconds of free fall down into the ravine all too brief.

A series of clattering noises sound from by Liv’s feet, and Elliot is back beside him at her head moments later. “Chain is off,” he tells him quickly. “How’s she doing?”

“Still with us,” Fin tells him. “Awake, but I’m not sure if she understands what’s happening.” He squints. “You with us Liv?” He asks her.

She doesn’t answer; whether it’s because she can’t, she doesn’t want to or she hasn’t heard him he’s not sure, but her gaze is fixed on Elliot now, and she’s frowning just a little.

“Hey Liv,” Elliot smiles at her, his eyes wet. “We’re gonna get you outta here, okay?” He tells her.

It’s in that moment that it Fin sees her start to shut down on them; not falling back into unconsciousness, but her eyes lose focus. Frowning, he gently shakes her shoulder. “Liv?”

That gets her to look at him, at least, but when she looks to Elliot, she…

Oh.

Realisation hits.

Elliot hasn’t been on the squad for two years. She hasn’t seen him in all that time… and Lewis said she would scream out for him, begging him to come for her…

Fin closes his eyes. She thinks she’s hallucinating him.

“Liv, baby girl?” He tries to get her attention. “I know you’re not feeling so great right now,” he says. That’s likely the understatement of the millennium, he thinks privately. “But Elliot really is here, I swear to you. I dragged his ass back up here and he’s helped me find you.”

Her gaze shifts slowly from Elliot, to Fin, then back to Elliot again. We need to move, fast, Fin thinks. But I need her as calm as possible too. If she panics and tries to fight she’s gonna make herself worse without meaning to.

“I’m real,” Elliot reiterates, catching on to Fin’s thought. “Promise.” He lifts his hand up into the air, wiggles his fingers. “See?”

Liv’s eyes narrow slightly, her feverish gaze locked onto Elliot now. There’s a shift under the sheet covering her, and Fin watches as her hand, wrist dark with bruises, slowly, and very, very shakily, appears from under the material.

Her fingertips meet Elliot’s; peace taking over her expression as her fingers slide between his larger ones.

Tightening her grip, she relaxes.

Chapter Text

Tuesday, July 9th 2013

Fin holds the cabin door open for Elliot to step out, twisted sideways so he doesn’t catch Liv’s feet as he carries her through the doorway. The white sheet he’d stolen from the linen cupboard is wrapped around her almost like a shroud.

He wants it off; doesn’t like the connotation. She’s wavering on the line as it is, he doesn’t want to tempt fate.

But he can’t; they need to protect her wounds from the elements as best they can, and her modesty for when they meet other cops, paramedics… there’s a whole lot of people going to have their hands on her body soon, and he doesn’t like that either.

He wants to protect her, wants to heal her with his own hands so no-one ever has to touch her without her consent ever again.

But he’s not a doctor, and he’s not a miracle worker either, and it really does feel like she’s going to need one.

She lost consciousness again shortly after wrapping her fingers around his own, and he knows she’s not going to wake up again without getting medical attention. “You’re sure he’s dead?” Elliot asks Fin as they start to jog across the clearing, heading for the dirt track that will lead them back to the road this time.

“Definitely,” Fin tells him. “He’s at the bottom of a ravine Elliot.”

“Did you…?” He glances sideways at the other man.

“I did what I had to do.” Is all Fin will say.

They run on.

***

There are three State Police squad cars next to Fin’s car when they reach the road; Liv limp, but securely held in Elliot’s arms. Three troopers and the Sergeant with them run over when they see the two of them emerging from the trees. “Detective Tutuola,” Fin announces for the both of them. “This is Elliot Stabler,” he points to Elliot. “And this is-”

“Liv,” the Sergeant guesses. “Jesus,” he mutters. “She alive?” He asks, clearly unsure.

Fin nods. “Barely,” he tells him. “She needs medical, now.”

The sergeant nods. “I called ahead,” he says. “There’s a MEDEVAC chopper waiting in a field about a mile away, it’s the closest they could get. We’ll have to get her in the car and drive out to meet them, okay?”

Elliot nods. “She’s running out of time,” he says. “She’s burning up.”

The sergeant nods. “Keys!” He commands the trooper closest to him. “I’ll drive you,” he says as he leads them at a fast pace towards the closest marked car. “What about the perp, Lewis?” He asks.

“Dead,” Fin tells him, opening the back door of the car for Elliot. “There’s a ravine somewhere beyond the cabin, he fell when I was chasing him.”

The sergeant nods. “You three,” he commands, pointing at the three troopers. “Go find this ravine. More backup is a few minutes out.”

Elliot slides carefully into the backseat of the squad car, Liv in his lap, her legs lying across the seat. Fin closes the door, running around to the passenger side and getting in as the sergeant starts the engine.

Fin turns in his seat, presses his fingers to Liv’s neck. “Still good,” he says. “Weak, but she’s holding on.”

“Stay with me Liv,” Elliot says into her hair, as tyres screech when the sergeant puts his foot to the floor. “Stay with me.”

***

Fin sighs, walking down the corridor at Mercy. Elliot is in the bathroom; either cleaning himself up or having a breakdown. He’s not sure which, but he gets that Elliot wants a few minutes to himself so he’s not going to go and check.

Not for five minutes at least. He’ll give him that long before he goes and makes sure.

Footsteps sound from behind him, and he turns, seeing Cragen approaching. “Hey Cap.” He greets, with an exhausted look.

“I got a call,” Cragen says. “Said you found Liv?”

Fin nods. “I was gonna call you Cap, I swear, I just…”

“It’s fine,” Cragen tells him. “It doesn’t matter who called, is she… is she alive?”

Fin nods. “Barely,” he replies, knowing that Cragen wouldn’t want him to sugar-coat it. “She’s hanging on.”

Cragen breathes a sigh of relief, but it’s the look of self-hatred and devastation that follows that concerns Fin the most. “Tell me,” his old Captain says. “Tell me everything.”

“I called Elliot on Friday,” Fin tells him. Cragen’s eyes widen. “He’s here, he just needed a minute.” He swallows. “To cut a long story short, we managed to track Lewis to a cabin a bit over an hour away from here. We found Liv, he had her chained up in the basement like an animal.” Fin shakes his head, fighting tears at the memory. “We got her the hell out of there, and got her brought here by chopper.”

“Lewis?” Cragen asks.

“Dead,” Fin tells him. “I chased him while Elliot looked for Liv, and uh… he fell down into a ravine.”

“He fell?” Cragen asks, one eyebrow raised.

“Yep,” Fin says. “Fell.”

Cragen nods, with a knowing look. “Okay then.” He changes the subject. “Liv’s injuries?” He asks.

Fin twists his face, blows out a heavy breath. “We both thought she was dead when we found her,” he says bluntly. “She’s got a lotta bruises, around her wrists… around her neck.” He swallows thickly. “He’d been strangling her, uh…” He sighs. I’ve never had an issue listing injuries before but… this is Liv. “Injuries consistent with sexual assault,” he adds, as if Cragen hadn’t already known that that was inevitable. “The thing they’re worried about is she’s feverish, and I mean bad. There didn’t seem to be all that many fresh wounds on her, so if she’s got an infection and that’s what they seem to think…” He shrugs. “I don’t know. She’s not good, Cap.” He sniffs. “I don’t know if she’ll make it. Even the doctors couldn’t hide it and you know what they’re like.”

Elliot appears then, giving Fin a chance to calm himself.

“Elliot,” Cragen breathes. “Come here.” He pulls Elliot into a brief, but warm hug. “Come with me a minute, you two,” he tells them. “Something I need you to see.”

Fin glances at Elliot, the other man’s frown a match to his own, but follows his former Captain anyway.

***

The gasp that escapes Fin’s mouth when he and Elliot follow Cragen into the hospital entrance lobby is unintentional, but the scene that greets him…

Blue.

Everywhere.

There are so many NYPD cops in the lobby it’s almost impossible to move. Scanning the crowd, Fin sees blue shirt officers, detectives and sergeants, more than a few white shirted lieutenants and captains too and they aren’t all NYPD, he notes. State Troopers, Jersey PD, Port Authority cops… they’re all there.

All for Liv.

Overcome with emotion, he doesn’t initially register the new arrival until he hears the murmurs of disgust.

Chief Harold Carney walks through the hospital doors, into the middle of the crowd. The looks of hatred and distaste aimed at the man are coming from every angle, every cop in the room.

“That the guy?” Elliot asks quietly. “The one who called the search off?”

Fin nods. “Yep.” He says, popping the p. “Why the hell he thinks it’s a good idea to show up here…” He trails off.

Elliot’s eyes harden. “He shouldn’t have come.” He says angrily.

“Nope.” Fin agrees.

Carney stops, looks around at the crowd. “I’d like to thank you all for coming,” he starts, his voice loud.

“Pompous prick.” Fin murmurs.

“I just wish to express-“

“You just what?” Elliot cuts the guy off. When he’d moved from Fin’s side to right in front of Carney Fin doesn’t know, and neither does Cragen by a quick look at the older man’s face.

This is not going to end well, Fin thinks. I need to grab him before he does something and gets himself in hot water.

Carney looks at Elliot. “I don’t know who you are, sir,” he continues. “I’m just here to express my-”

“I got something to ‘express’ to you.” Elliot cuts him off a second time.

He punches Carney in the face.

Chapter Text

Tuesday, July 9th 2013

Carney staggers back, his hands flying up to his nose which is bleeding profusely. “How dare you!” He manages after a few moments. “Who the hell do you think you are?”

Elliot stands, stares the prick down, thumbs hooked in his belt loops. “Elliot Stabler,” he introduces himself. “Detective Benson’s partner.” Old partner, he thinks. Technically she is, officially she is, but in reality?

Partners for life. 

For better or worse… he’d told her that once. It sounds like a marriage vow. In some ways… he guesses it was one.

Till death… no. Not yet. I haven’t had time, and she’s too young, and she doesn’t deserve this. She deserves to live, to survive… please God… please let her.

“And you’re the bastard who threw her away.” He continues out loud, raising an eyebrow at Carney. Anger is all he can feel; all encompassing rage but it helps.

When he’s angry, he’s not sobbing on the floor in the bathroom like he was five minutes ago.

“There was evidence-”

“Evidence?” Elliot scoffs. “You barely let NYPD look for her. It was what, a week before you started scaling back, and two before you called it off entirely?” He shakes his head, disgusted. “I got back into the country on Saturday,” he tells him. “Me and Detective Tutuola found her in four days. Probably would have taken less than that if there’d been a proper search going, but because of you, she was left out there for seven weeks with a psycho, and everyone in this room knows what that bastard was capable of, and what he wanted her for.” He won’t say the words, can’t do it to Liv. Even though the entire room knows what happened, saying the word out loud feels too close to a betrayal.

For his part, Carney does look a little saddened.

Only a little. “You punched me in the face.” He says. “You could be in serious trouble over this.”

Elliot raises an eyebrow. “Find one witness in this room,” he dares him. “Just one.”

Carney looks around, sees nothing but contempt aimed at him. “I-”

“Every cop in this room hates your guts,” Elliot tells him. “They can’t stand you, and I think I can safely speak for the ones who can’t be here, that they feel the same. A detective, who has put in twenty years to this job, is upstairs, fighting for her life. That didn’t have to happen. If you’d bothered trying to find her, if you’d let people do their jobs instead of pulling the plug, if you’d thought beyond budgets or whatever ridiculous reason you had for doing that? We wouldn’t be here right now. That’s on you.”

He turns on his heel, nodding to the cops he passes as he walks back to Fin and Cragen, the three of them walking away.

They have more important places to be.

***

Wednesday, July 10th 2013

It’s a little after midnight; the only update they’d had from the doctors up to now being that they’d had to rush her into surgery.

That was five hours ago, and no update since.

Elliot paces off and on; unable to sit still for more than five minutes at a time. The medallion, Liv’s medallion, has been clutched in his fist for the last hour, the edges digging into his palm as he prays to anyone who can hear him.

“You try Amanda again?” He hears Cragen asking Fin.

“Still no answer,” Fin replies. “Same with Amaro, no answer. No point trying Cassidy.” He sighs. “Barba’s flight should be in the air right now, so that’s somethin’. Just waitin’ to hear from Munch for a flight time.”

Cragen nods. “You heard if they recovered Lewis’s body yet?” He asks next.

“Uh,” Fin looks at his phone. “I got a text about that, I think. Hang on.” He taps and swipes at his iPhone screen. “Huh,” he says a moment later, piquing Elliot’s interest. “They pulled his body out, but apparently he wasn’t dead when the troopers found the ravine.” He snorts, reading on. “They listened to him moaning in pain while they waited for assistance that took over an hour to arrive, at which point he was beyond saving.” He shrugs. “Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.”

Elliot nods. Good. He deserved to suffer.

***

It’s another hour before the doctor comes, and the grim look on his face makes Elliot’s heart skip. “Is she…?” He can’t get the words out, either option.

“Are you Elliot Stabler?” The doctor asks. “I have an Elliot Stabler listed as Detective Benson’s emergency contact.” Elliot nods, surprised that she hasn’t changed it in the last two years, then saddened when he realises she doesn’t exactly have anyone else to change it to. “Can we talk in private?”

He swallows. That doesn’t sound good… the look on his face… “Can they come?” He asks, pointing to Cragen and Fin.

“That is your decision,” the doctor nods. “Follow me please.”

He leads them into an office a few doors down the corridor, sitting down behind the desk and indicating that the three of them should take seats opposite. Fin drags a chair over from the wall to join the two already there, and soon the three of them are facing the doctor expectantly. “Is she alive?” Elliot blurts.

The doctor nods. “She is,” he confirms. A rush of relief spreads through Elliot’s body, and he sags slightly in his chair. “She is sedated and on life support, but she is holding her own for now. The next twenty-four hours are critical.”

Cragen takes over when words fail Elliot. “What can you tell us about her injuries?” He asks. “All we know is that she was rushed into surgery.”

“She has sepsis,” the doctor tells them. Elliot sucks in a sharp breath. Sepsis… that’s bad. Very very bad. “We believe that we caught it early enough that it’s treatable, but as ever, time will tell.” He takes a breath. “She presented with severe injuries, she was very weak and her temperature became so high that she ended up having a seizure.”

“A seizure?” Elliot blurts. “How bad? Did it cause brain damage?”

“We won’t know that until she wakes up,” the doctor tells him. “But we treated her quickly, so we’re cautiously optimistic that it did not cause any damage. As I said, we won’t know for certain until she’s awake, which will likely be a few days, all going well.”

“Okay,” Cragen nods. “Was it her wounds, the burns, did they get infected?”

“We can’t be certain of how the infection came about,” the doctor tells them. “We don’t believe it was from any burn or cut on her skin.” He purses his lips.

Fin catches on to the fact that there’s something that the doctor is holding back. “It was internal?” He asks. “You took her into surgery.”

“We had to remove the source of the infection, once we identified it, in order to save her life,” the doctor says. “Her uterus was infected, and so we had to perform an emergency hysterectomy to save her life.” He pauses. “Does she have children?”

There are tears in Elliot’s eyes. “No,” he finds himself saying. “But she’s always wanted them.” And that dream just shattered, he thinks. Like Lewis didn’t take enough from her already, now he’s taken this from her too.

He feels as though he’s mourning on her behalf, listening to the doctor say those words. Oh God… someone’s gonna have to tell her when she wakes up, he realises.

The doctor nods, his lips a thin line. “I’m sorry,” he says. Why he’s saying it to them and not to Liv Elliot has no clue. “We didn’t make the decision lightly,” he adds. “It was our only option to give her a chance to survive.”

Elliot scrubs his hand over his face. “What else?” He asks, wanting to get this part one with so they all know what they’re dealing with.

“She has injuries consistent with repetitive sexual assault,” the doctor continues with a nod. “Vaginally, anally and orally over a period of weeks.”

It’s what they’d expected, but it still hurts like hell to hear it.

“Do you have the perpetrator in custody?” The doctor asks.

“He’s dead.” Fin tells him.

The doctor blows out a breath. “I shouldn’t be saying this, but I’m glad,” he tells them. “Our examinations,” he elaborates at the confused looks. “Show that Olivia had been raped only a few hours before she was brought in here.” He pauses. “The pain, considering her infection… it would have been excruciating.”

As if Elliot didn’t hate Lewis enough already, he now wants to bring the bastard back to life just so he can kill him again, slower.

“She has multiple superficial cuts,” the doctor continues on with the litany of injuries. “All of which we have treated and expect to heal completely. She has numerous burns, mostly second degree but some are third. We’ve started treatment on those but they will likely leave scars.”

Something else, Elliot says silently. Will the damage ever end?

“Which leads me to her throat.” The doctor concludes.

“What about her throat?” Elliot asks, voice raspy.

“She has extensive bruising around her neck, consistent with repeated attempts at strangulation,” the doctor explains. “As a result of this, there is significant swelling to her larynx. She is currently intubated, so we can’t estimate the full extent of the damage until that is removed and the swelling subsides.”

“What do you mean, damage?” Cragen asks, an out of character nervous tone in his voice.

“It could be anything from healing completely to damage to her vocal cords severe enough she is left unable to speak entirely,” the doctor tells them. “At this point, I don’t want to speculate, so it’s a waiting game.”

It’s too much to take, almost; the only thing keeping Elliot from running out of that room and screaming in a dark corner is the fact that Liv lived through this. The least he can damn well do is listen to someone tell him about it in the aftermath.

***

They aren’t allowed to go down and see her straight away; she was still in post-op when the doctor had come to see them and she needs to be settled into her room in the ICU.

So, they return to their claimed waiting room and wait.

Not so patiently.

For all he knows that she’s still alive, that she’s holding on… it doesn’t help much. He just wants to see her, to see with his own two eyes that she’s still breathing, still alive.

So he counts down the minutes instead.

Barba turns up a little after four in the morning; in what was probably once a very smart, but is now a very rumpled, suit. He greets Cragen and Fin warmly, before turning to Elliot. “What did you do to your hand?” He asks, nodding at Elliot’s right hand.

Looking at it, he notices for the first time that he’s acquired some bruising to his knuckles since punching Carney. “Punched Carney in the face.” He says. No point trying to hide it now.

Barba chuckles. “You need a lawyer?” He asks.

“You offering?” Elliot replies. He doesn’t think he’ll need one, the likelihood of Carney trying anything is pretty slim, but it’s always worth having a backup plan. “You only just met me.” He points out.

“You punched that bastard in the face,” Barba replies smoothly. “That’s good enough for me.”

***

Liv is finally cleared for visitors a little before six. Though they’re all desperate to see her, it’s decided unanimously that Elliot should be the first one to go in. He’s not sure what made the other three come to that conclusion but he’s grateful nonetheless.

Stepping quietly into the room the ICU nurse had shown him to, he’s briefly taken aback by the state of Olivia.

Lying in the hospital bed, a tube down her throat and over a dozen others leading to various places on her battered body, she looks tiny, and broken.

Stepping closer to the bed, he sits down in the chair next to it, picking up Liv’s right hand and interlacing their fingers; noticing for the first time that the thin, sparkly ring that she’s worn for years is somehow, somehow still on her finger. The only thing she’s got left, he thinks. Other than those few bits that Fin salvaged. She’s barely got a thing in the world anymore… he shakes his head. She survived, he tells himself. That’s all that matters.

Tightening his grip on her hand ever so slightly, he settles in to watch over her.

Chapter Text

Wednesday, July 10th 2013

“They fired Carney,” he tells her. “No pension, no severance package, no benefits, nothing.” A pause. “Oh, and I broke his nose,” he adds with a snort. “I know, I know, but he pissed me off and I was worried about you, and he’s the cause of all of this,” he waves his free hand at her body. “He’s the reason you’re here… if he’d just…” He trails off, sighs.

The hiss of the ventilator, the steady beeping of the heart monitor are the only sounds in the room. Liv’s unconscious body, tubes and wires sticking out in all directions, lies in the bed, her hand enclasped in Elliot’s.

The doctors had all said to talk to her, that it’s highly possible that she can hear them, but…

What the hell do you say to the woman you abandoned over two years ago, only to come back and rescue her from a seven week kidnapping ordeal?

She’d only been conscious in his presence for a minute, and he wouldn’t be surprised if she has no memory of that, considering how sick she’d been.

That is one saving grace; the doctors say that the emergency operation - the removal of her womb, and final nail in the coffin of any chance she’d had of becoming pregnant, that long held dream - did save her life. Her temperature is still high, but not dangerously so.

In other words, they think she’ll live.

But it was close. Too close.

“You know…” He says aloud, hoping that maybe, just maybe she can hear him. “The doctors said that if we’d gotten to you even half an hour later you wouldn’t be here,” he tells her, the words sticking in his throat. He coughs slightly to clear it. “So… laugh at me all you like, I know you will, but I’m thanking whatever made me pick that cabin first. There were six to choose from Liv, so, divine intervention or whatever it was… I’m just so glad me and Fin picked that one.”

***

“I’m no good at this talking shit, you know that baby girl,” Fin tells her. “But the doctor thinks it might help, so I’m gonna try, for you.”

Silence falls. What the fuck do I say? He asks himself. “So uh…” He starts. “Munch is on his way,” he lets her know. “His flight is in the air now. He’s worried about you… but he’s glad you’re still with us.”

Suddenly overcome with emotion, he swipes at his eyes. “I’m so sorry Liv,” he tells her, voice wavering. “I should’ve got to you sooner.” If I hadn’t been trying to keep everyone else together, if I’d ignored them and focused on you… “I’m so damn sorry.”

Taking a deep breath, he widens his eyes; blinking rapidly to clear them. “You tell anyone I cried, I’ll deny everything.” He says to her.

Resting his hand on her arm, his thumb rubs over her skin absently. How about a story? He thinks. I can do that… “So I was in Times Square a few weeks ago…”

***

“So I met Elliot.” Barba says, eyes wide, eyebrows raised. “He’s uh… he’s something.” He chuckles. “He broke Chief Carney’s nose,” he tells her. “I didn’t see it… wish I had, that guy deserved it, but according to Fin there was blood everywhere.” He shakes his head. “He did it in front of a whole lot of cops too,” he adds. “Not one of them saw anything, apparently.” He snorts. “I offered to be Elliot’s lawyer anyway, just in case.”

The only answer he gets is the rhythmic hiss of the ventilator.

“I figured you’d want me to,” he adds. “Elliot seems like the type to act before he thinks… even if it does come from his heart.” He sighs, rests his hands on the bed next to Liv’s, unsure whether or not to take hold

“I’m so sorry,” he whispers. “I know you wouldn’t want me to blame myself, you’d be telling me right now that it’s not my fault, that I tried my best, that I couldn’t have predicted what happened next but… if I’d just gotten him put away Liv…” He looks down, shaking his head, eyes wet. “I’m so sorry.”

***

“I’ve never told you this, but you’re like a daughter to me,” Cragen tells her. “You know I haven’t got kids, but if I had, if me and Marge had had children… I’d have wanted them to be just like you.” He swallows, a tiny smile on his face. “Strong… independent… confident… with a warm heart.”

He glances around the room, at the myriad of machines that surround the bed, keeping the occupant alive, breathing, supplying her with much needed fluids, antibiotics… the doctor had explained everything but the list is seemingly endless.

He lays his hand over hers. “You gotta hold on Liv,” he tells her quietly. “You gotta keep fighting this.”

The guilt he feels over the part he had to play in all of this - sending her home alone, not getting anyone to check on her, giving in so damn easily when the search was called off - is strong.

“I always saw you as taking over SVU from me,” he confides. “But you’ve got to wake up, you’ve got to get better if that’s going to happen. So you just get better, okay? You hold on. Promise me…”

Thursday, July 11th 2013

“I caught two planes, then a ferry and finally a cab to get here, and you’re sleeping!” Munch jokes. “Olivia, I must say I’m feeling very unloved right now.” He chuckles. 

“I saw Elliot,” he mentions. “Pacing the floor in that waiting room, waiting for his turn to visit. He hasn’t gained any patience in the last two years, that’s for sure.”

He falls silent for a few minutes, contemplating. “You know…” He begins. “I watched you grow from a brand new, freshly minted detective to the formidable investigator you are now…” He reaches for her hand, strokes the back of it gently. “Don’t let him win…” he whispers.

“Don’t let him win.”

***

“The doctor says you’re improving,” Elliot tells her. “It’s late now, but they’re gonna reduce the medication, the sedation, in the morning and let you wake up…” He picks up her hand, holds it between both of his own. “So you’ve gotta wake up, okay Liv?” He asks her.

“You’ve gotta.”

Friday, July 12th 2013

“Finally managed to chase Elliot off to have a shower,” Fin chuckles. “Only because the doctors swore that it would take longer than fifteen minutes for you to start to come around.”

A pause.

“You’d better be waking up in there…” He sucks in a breath. “Please Liv.”

***

Elliot stares at her face.

It’s a little after lunch; five hours since the sedation was reduced, and she’s still asleep.

The doctors don’t seem worried, but Elliot can’t help but worry anyway. The anxiety he’s felt ever since they announced the plan has been building, to the point he’s almost vibrating with it.

If it wasn’t for a promise he’d made to both himself, and AA, he’d have had a drink by now to help calm himself down.

But he promised. So he won’t.

Liv deserves better, he tells himself. So I’m gonna be that. For myself, to prove that I can be that, that I won’t fall apart like I did two years ago, and for her most of all.

He has her hand between both of his once again, his head bowed down, his lips resting gently against her knuckles as he quietly prays.

Above him, just out of his line of sight…

Her eyelid twitches.

Chapter Text

Friday, July 12th 2013

The softness over her body is what registers first. Fabric… a gentle feeling of weight on her, but it’s not hurting.

She doesn’t understand. 

Where did the pain go?

Everything had hurt, everything was spinning, everything was fuzzy, too hot, too much… but now?

She’s confused.

She tries to speak, but there’s something down her-

There’s something down her throat.

Her throat.

Something down her-

No.

No no no no no no no nonononononononono NO-

She panics.

Get off me get off me getoffmegetoffmegetoffmeLewisPLEASE-

Hands grab her wrists as she struggles, holding her down, pinning her down.

She tries to scream.

Can’t.

Something takes over. Darkness beckons.

He drugged me. No… please…

Nothing.

***

“How long you gonna keep her under?” Elliot asks, lips pursed as he looks at Liv, lying in the bed, sedated once again.

“The amount we gave her should keep her under for around an hour,” the doctor tells him. “Considering her reaction,” he continues. “I think it would be best if we restrain her hands before she regains consciousness.” A beat, while Elliot’s eyebrows hit his almost non-existent hairline. “Its for her own safety, you understand.”

No.” Elliot speaks the word in a low, dangerous tone. “No way in hell are you tying her down. She’s a rape victim, you aren’t doing that to her.”

“Mr. Stabler…” The doctor pauses, choosing his words carefully. “I understand your hesitance, and ultimately it is up to you, but we don’t know how she’ll react when she wakes up. She had a seizure, there could be brain damage we weren’t aware of… she’s been through something very traumatic…”

Very traumatic.

Those words… it clicks together in Elliot’s brain as he looks back to Liv in the bed. “The tube,” he murmurs. “The tube,” he repeats, louder. “Does the tube have to be down her throat or can you take it out now?”

“We were going to leave it in situ until she was conscious…”

“She’s been raped in every way possible,” Elliot says. “I don't think she remembers being rescued, and she wakes up with something down her throat?” He gives the doctor a look. “No wonder she freaked.”

The doctor’s eyes widen, and he grimaces in understanding. “I’ll get it removed immediately,” he says. “We’ll just have to monitor her breathing more closely, that’s all.”

“Thank you.” Elliot nods.

***

Fin is sitting in the second chair in the room when she starts to stir for the second time; the pair of them had figured that if she freaked out again, at least two people who were trained, and who know Liv would be in the room to stop her from injuring herself further, hopefully without traumatising her further in the process.

The ventilator is gone; she’s breathing on her own now, assisted by a tube running under her nose, tucked behind her ears.

Waking this time is, to Elliot’s immense relief, a lot calmer than the first attempt. She blinks her eyes open slowly, a tiny moan sounding as she squints in the bright lights of her hospital room. Remembering how dull, how dark her prison had been, Elliot is quick to react, dimming the lights.

It has the desired effect; she makes a happy noise, and the squinting stops as she opens her eyes fully. “Hey,” he says to her quietly. “Good to see you awake.”

Fin gets to his feet, moving into Liv’s line of sight and greeting her himself. “Hey baby girl,” he smiles at her. “Don’t try to talk, okay?” He tells her. “Your throat is hurt, okay? So no talking just yet, doctors orders.”

Elliot isn’t sure she’s listening to Fin; her eyes are darting between him and Elliot himself, then to around the room, then back to Elliot and then Fin, eyes widening as he breathing speeds up. “Liv?” He queries, stepping closer to the bed.

Bad idea.

She leans back, away from him as he approaches, tries to scramble out of the opposite side of the bed. Fin has to grab her, and she whimpers, a horrible, pained noise escaping her throat. “Elliot, get out,” Fin orders, manoeuvring Liv back into her bed. “Now.”

“Uh… why?” Elliot asks, moving in to help.

“You’re freaking her out,” Fin snaps, adjusting his grip on Liv so she doesn’t hurt herself. “I got her,” he tells him. “Just go.”

Elliot hesitates.

“Go!” Fin snaps.

Elliot goes.

***

“Hey, hey,” Fin says quickly, quietly to her as the door closes behind Elliot. “He’s gone, okay?” He peers at her, catches her gaze. “Just you and me, okay?”

She eyes him warily.

“He’s really here, Liv,” Fin tells her. “I know you don’t think he is, I know you thought the same in… where we found you but I swear to you, he’s really here.”

She looks at him, unsure.

“I called him,” Fin starts, realising an explanation, however quick, is necessary here. “He was in Germany. He flew all the way over here, got here as fast as he could and he helped me find you.” He explains.

She tilts her head, as if asking Fin if he’s lying.

“I’m not lying,” he answers. “And I’m not a hallucination either. Feel this?” He points at his arm. She gingerly pokes at it with her finger. “Solid, see?” He gives her a watery smile. “I’m just so sorry we, I, didn’t get to you quicker Liv.” He shakes his head, devastated. “I’m sorry it took so long.”

She gives him a half shrug. Doesn’t matter, it says.

His heart breaks.

“You want Elliot to come back in?” He asks, hoping that it might distract her, at least a little. “You don’t have to if you don’t want to. He can wait.”

She nods.

“That a yes?” He double checks. She nods again. “Okay, I’ll get him,” he tells her. “I’m gonna have to tell your doctor that you’re awake too, but I guess that can wait a few minutes.” He winks.

Opening the door, he lets Elliot back into the room. “See?” He says to her. “Don’t think a hallucination needs a door to come in, right?”

She watches, tense where she is in her bed, half lying, half sitting, as Elliot approaches her carefully.

When he’s within reach, she reaches her hand out slowly and, much like she had to Fin, pokes Elliot in the arm. 

Hard.

He yelps. “What was that for?” He asks her, not unkindly.

But Fin is watching her eyes, watching the confusion fade into realisation.

Realisation that Elliot is standing right in front of her, in the same room as her for the first time, in her awareness anyway, in over two years.

Fin watches as emotion overcomes her, tears welling up in her eyes and pouring down her cheeks in silence as Elliot moves closer, gently takes her in his arms.

Chapter Text

Friday, July 12th 2013

She forces herself not to flinch as the doctor whose name she can’t remember despite him telling her when he first came in, gently presses his fingers against her throat as he examines her. He’s being very gentle, very careful with her but it makes no difference; the flashback forces it’s way in regardless.

The pressure on her throat increases, her eyes widening as she struggles to catch her breath. Above her, Lewis’s eyes gleam with delight, his fingers tight on her neck as he thrusts himself inside her.

He’s killing her. Strangling her… and if she’s honest…

She doesn’t care.

Not anymore.

The doctor touches a particularly tender bruise, and she flinches, pulling away. She’s had enough, but she can’t tell the doctor that.

Luckily for her, this doctor is very astute, pulling his hands away and showing them to her, palms out in surrender. “I’m sorry Olivia,” he says kindly. “Is it okay if I call you that?” He asks.

She nods.

He smiles. “Okay, we’ll leave the examination of your neck for now. The swelling has gone down considerably, I’m pleased to note but there is a lot of bruising there.” He frowns. “Can you recall how many times pressure was applied to your neck, at all?”

Pressure applied, that’s what we’re calling it? Okay… She shrugs. She doesn’t know; everything started to blur into one never-ending nightmare by the end.

“Okay,” the doctor nods. “That’s perfectly alright, Olivia. Do you mind if I take another look?” He asks. “I’m not going to touch you,” he adds. “I promise. I just want to have a look at those bruises. It’s a little difficult to see them with the lights turned down in here, but I understand your eyes are a little sensitive to bright lights right now?”

“There wasn’t much light where she was.” Fin tells the doctor.

“Okay, that’s understandable,” the doctor nods. “What we’ll do is we’ll slowly turn the lights up in here, gradually letting your eyes adjust over the next few days, and I’ll speak to one of our specialists, see if they have any advice to help. Does that sound alright to you Olivia?”

She nods, lips pressed tightly together.

The doctor produces a narrow torch from his pocket. “I’m going to use this so I can see sufficiently,” he tells her. “If you could close your eyes so the light doesn’t hurt, I’ll get this done as quickly as I can.”

She eyes him, takes a shaky breath and tightens her grip on Fin and Elliot’s hands.

She’s got Fin to her left, Elliot to her right, one of each of their hands clasped tightly by her own. Fin gently squeezes her left hand, Elliot following quickly with her right, an encouraging gesture. You can do this, she tells herself. It’s just a torch. He’s not going to touch you.

She’s been holding onto both Fin and Elliot the entire time the doctor has been in the room; partly to stop herself from lashing out at the guy on sheer instinct, but mostly to ground herself.

Every touch for such a long time was unwanted, disgusting and only meant pain, degradation, suffering.

Now… 

Now it’s just nice to feel kindness again, to feel skin on hers that she wants there. Contact that she wants, not contact that she’s forced to endure.

Closing her eyes, she makes a silent promise to herself that if she even feels the doctor’s breath on her skin - breath… cloyingheatedbreathblowingonmeno - then, injuries be damned, she’s getting off this bed.

But, the doctor is true to his word and she feels nothing. “Alright Olivia,” he says a few moments later. “All done.”

She opens her eyes to find the doctor smiling at her kindly. “So the bruising is quite extensive,” he tells her. “With your permission, I’d like to schedule a scan for tomorrow, then we can just check inside there properly, see that there’s no permanent damage. Would that be alright?”

She nods, quick, jerkily.

“Okay, I’ll have that arranged,” the doctor says. “Now, I need to discuss your other injuries with you.”

She frowns. Yeah, the pain is gone from her abdomen but she’s not stupid; she can tell she’s doped up on painkillers. 

The doctor looks at her, a hint of sadness in his eyes. Oh god… what?

“When you were brought in,” the doctor explains. “Your temperature was very high. So high that you had a seizure.”

I had a what? A seizure? Her eyes widen, her breathing quickening.

“Don’t worry,” the doctor is quick to tell her. “We got it under control quickly, and as far as we know there is no lasting damage. However… on investigation we discovered that it was your uterus that was infected, and the infection had led to early stage sepsis.”

He trails off, and her anxiety rises tenfold. Just tell me, will you?

“There’s no easy way to say this,” he continues. “We had to operate, and in order to save your life, we had to perform an emergency hysterectomy to remove the source of the infection. I’m so very sorry Olivia.”

She blinks dumbly at him.

Hysterectomy? You… you took my…

Words can’t compute what she’s feeling right now.

I wasn’t torn to pieces enough, so you thought you’d just go and make it worse?

“We will discuss aftercare, and arrange for medication to minimise the effects on you of course…”

The doctor is talking, but she’s not listening.

You took my… you took my womb. My chance at having my dream, a child… and you just took it.

You should’ve let me die.

Yanking her hands from Elliot and Fin’s grips, she presses her hands to her face as the tears start; they stream down her face steadily as she sobs in silence.

She hears the door to her room open and shut, assumes it’s the doctor leaving as two hands start to rub her shaking shoulders gently, one on either side of her.

She… she can’t process this.

All she’s wanted for years now is a child, and it’s gone. Shattered. Destroyed.

Just like the rest of her. 

I died in that basement, she thinks. What the hell is the point now? I… I can’t.

Fin is saying something to her, and she forces herself to listen. 

“Cragen, Munch and Barba are all here,” he’s telling her. “They’d all love to see you, but I can tell them to go if it’s too much?”

Considering I’m sitting here in tears, I’d have thought that would be obvious, she wants to snap. She’s being a little irrational, she knows. I think I’m allowed to be, she decides. Looking at Fin, she half shrugs. Up to you, she says. If you wanna bring someone else in to gawk at me, then do what the hell you like. I don’t care.

Fin glances over her head, presumably at Elliot before leaving the room.

Now it’s just her and him. The man who abandoned her for over two years then came back to rescue her from a psychopath.

You shouldn’t have bothered, Elliot.

“I got something for you,” he says, voice thick, wavering. “I was keeping it safe.”

She looks at him, confusion on her features. He pulls a gold chain out from under his shirt, shows her what’s on the end of it.

The medallion he’d sent her. She doesn’t know how Elliot suddenly has it, but watches anyway as he undoes the clasp, holding it out towards her. “May I?” He asks.

She shrugs one shoulder, tips her head forward as his fingers slide the chain around her neck. His skin brushes against the sensitive bruises on her neck but, unlike that of the doctor, his touch doesn’t pain her. 

It feels right; safe. She doesn’t fear him.

Some things never change, she surmises. Even two years down the line.

Necklace securely fastened, he removes his hands, letting the pendant fall.

It lands on her chest.

Over her heart.

Chapter Text

Saturday, July 13th 2013

They moved her out of ICU and into a regular room the night before, so she wakes up to a view outside her window.

It’s only the top of a tree, but it means a lot.

She’s alone, too; both Elliot and Fin have stepped out for a minute, to go and update Cragen, Barba and Munch, she assumes.

She hasn’t seen the three men yet; she’d thought Fin had gone to get them the night before but it had turned out he’d thought it was a bad idea, and had gone to both explain that to them and get them to go home.

She hasn’t got a clue if they actually went, but she knows neither Fin nor Elliot did; the both of them had taken up residence in her new room overnight, sleeping in chairs, guarding her.

Protecting her.

She won’t - can’t - say it to them, but she’s thankful; she doubts she’d have slept if they hadn’t been close by.

They told her that Lewis was dead, fallen to a slow and painful death in a ravine, but… how does that help her?

He might be dead in reality, but he lives in my head. She shudders, the thought prompting a prickling over her skin, Lewis’s phantom touch plaguing her.

She needs a shower.

She’s not sure if she’s allowed one, but she needs one.

Sitting up in bed, she winces, lets her hand trail down her front to her abdomen, where bandages cover the wound left behind from her emergency surgery.

Emergency butchering, she corrects. The urgent need for a shower fades away as suddenly as it had appeared. What’s the point? She asks herself. I shouldn’t even be here. I should be dead. She takes a breath, rubs her hands up her arms, eyes her dark wrists with disgust. I can’t get pregnant anymore, my voice doesn’t work, and the chances of being allowed back to work, if I even want to are below zero…

What’s the point of me now?

She shakes her head lightly, shakes the thoughts away. No, she tells herself. Don’t let anyone see how bad you are.

It’s not that she wants to die, not that she’s suicidal… she’s just not particularly bothered either way.

But if the doctors find out, if Elliot or Fin find out…

They’ll lock her in the psych ward, and she can’t be locked up. She can’t.

Not again.

***

“Morning Olivia,” the doctor whose name she still doesn’t know says brightly as he enters her hospital room. She nods in greeting, a tight smile on her face.

She knows why he’s here, and she’s wishing she was anywhere else.

“So,” the doctor starts, after a quick nod to Elliot and Fin, both back in the room and in full protective support mode, hovering close by. “As I told you yesterday, we’d like to do a scan on your neck to see what’s going on in there, okay? We’d also like to do what’s called an endoscopy, which involves us putting a tube with a camera on it down your throat so we can have a look that way too.” He gives her a kind smile. “Now, you don’t have to be, but I think it would be easier and less stressful for you if we were to sedate you for both procedures. Is that something you’d be comfortable with?” He asks.

Unsure, she glances between Elliot and Fin, hoping one of them will help her answer. Or just answer for her; because this is a decision she doesn’t want to have to make.

To allow herself to be knocked unconscious so she can be poked and prodded while not knowing what’s happening, or to stay conscious and have to deal with said poking and prodding in real time, while forcing herself not to flinch?

It’s lose lose either way.

It’s Elliot that comes to her rescue; as if he knows the exact thought going through her head. “I think the sedation would probably be best Liv,” he suggests. “But,” he adds, turning to the doctor. “Would either me or Fin be allowed to accompany her to the exam rooms? So she’s got someone she trusts there?” So that I can know for certain that no-one did anything they weren’t supposed to, she explains silently.

The doctor eyes them, a slight hesitation before nodding. “I’m sure something can be arranged, given the circumstances,” he agrees. “Just give me a few minutes and I’ll sort that out.”

He leaves, and Elliot looks at Liv. “So, which of us do you want going down with you?” He asks.

***

She picks Fin. It’s not that she doesn’t trust Elliot, she does, weirdly, even after all this time, but she knows that Fin can handle a situation much more calmly than Elliot would, should the doctors have to do something unexpected. 

Plus Elliot looks like he’s about to fall asleep standing up, which wouldn’t be much help either.

She watches with amusement as Fin corrals Elliot into sleeping on the cot that the hospital have added to her room, then she and her own bed are wheeled down to the MRI scanner, Fin walking alongside.

Before they can sedate her, she takes her necklace off, knowing she can’t keep it on for the scan. Despite only having it back since yesterday, she feels the loss as she pools the chain into Fin’s palm, looking at him carefully.

“Don’t worry baby girl,” he tells her. “I’ll look after it, and as soon as you’re allowed to have it back on I’ll put it on myself, okay? It’ll be back on before you wake up.”

She nods, turning her attention to her doctor, armed with a syringe and her IV port. He waits for her nod of permission before injecting her, and Fin strokes her arm gently as the darkness takes over.

***

Liv is sleeping peacefully inside her room, necklace back in place, the medallion somehow having found it’s way into her hand where it lies on her chest a couple of hours later, the sedatives slowly wearing off, while Elliot and Fin speak to her doctor just outside.

“So?” Elliot asks, giving the doctor an expectant look.

“The test results were quite positive,” the doctor tells them. “There is some damage to her throat, but it’s not as severe as we’d feared and should help completely in time.”

“So that’s why she hasn’t spoken?” Fin interjects. 

The doctor purses his lips. “That is a separate issue,” he says carefully. “The damage to Olivia’s throat is there, but it’s not severe enough to cause her to be unable to speak.”

“So… what has?” Elliot questions.

“We can’t be certain,” the doctor tells them honestly. “There is no medical reason for this, I have heard her make small noises which shows us that she can when she wants to.”

“So she just… doesn’t?” Elliot asks. “Should we be worried?”

“It is concerning,” the doctor agrees. “But one theory we have that could have weight is that it’s been caused by the trauma of what she’s been through.” A beat. “Selective muteness is unusual in adults, but not unheard of.”

“Is there treatment?” Fin asks.

“We usually recommend psychiatric help and also of a speech therapist.” The doctor tells them. “It tends to come down to trust. She may never speak again, or she may only speak to those she trusts implicitly, or she may recover completely in time. We simply don’t know.”

Elliot nods, filing the information away as the doctor’s pager beeps. “I’m sorry, I’m needed elsewhere,” the doctor says as he checks it. “I will be back later on to discuss this further, and there are nurses and other doctors here to monitor Olivia before she wakes up.”

He strides away with purpose, and Fin turns to Elliot. “This is all my fault,” he says quietly, shaking his head. “If I’d have found her quicker…”

Elliot shakes his head. “Fin, she’s alive because of you,” he says firmly. “You didn’t give up on her, and she’s here and she’s safe.” He takes a breath. “Everything else… we can deal with.”

He turns, walks over to the window of Liv’s room, seeing her still sleeping.

When I left, he thinks to himself. When I… when I abandoned you without a word… it was because I knew that if I’d heard your voice… I couldn’t have left, I couldn’t have done it. But now… even knowing that I might never hear your voice again… I couldn’t do it. I’m not leaving you again Liv.

Not now, not ever.

Chapter Text

Saturday, July 13th 2013

“You know, we did tell her not to talk,” Elliot reminds Fin as the other man joins him at the window. “Maybe the doctors have got it wrong?” The tiny sliver of hope inside rears it’s head. She can’t be mute, surely? On top of everything else… hasn’t she got enough to cope with?

Fin half-shrugs. “Maybe,” he agrees. “But… she didn’t say anything when we found her,” he reminds him. “She opened her mouth a couple times while you were upstairs, but she didn’t say anything.” Elliot opens his mouth to speak, and Fin raises a hand, stopping him. “I know she was bad off,” he adds. That’s an understatement. She was half-dead Fin. “But she didn’t even try. I’m not sayin’ the doctors are right, they might be, they might not, but let’s just put it to Liv when she wakes up and see what happens, yeah?”

Elliot looks through the window at the sleeping figure in the bed, nods. “Okay.”

***

She blinks her eyes open, hearing a snort from somewhere in her room as she wrinkles her nose. Squinting, she tries to work out which of the men it came from.

She suspects Elliot, but she can’t prove it.

The man in question is quick to tilt the blinds at her window, directing the bright sunlight away from her eyes. She smiles at him in thanks, seeing by the clock on the wall that it’s mid-afternoon. Wow, doesn’t time fly when you’re sedated, she thinks.

She goes to say as much to Elliot and Fin, only to remember at the last second that she might not be allowed to talk yet. Instead, she looks between the pair of them, expectant.

“Hey you,” Elliot smiles, moving back to his seat at her bedside. “You feeling okay?” He asks.

She nods.

“Good,” Fin continues. “Doc will be back soon, he’s going to explain the test results to you.” She nods again, and he smiles. “You hungry?” He asks.

They’ve been feeding her through a tube since… whatever day it was she was rescued, partly because she was in a coma, partly due to concerns over her throat, but to be offered actual food? That has to be a good sign… right?

She nods eagerly, and Fin grins. “I’ll go see what I can bribe the nurses for you.” He winks, leaving the room.

***

Food turns out to be soft foods only, at least at first. Yogurt, ice cream and a smoothie are what she picks, pointing at the words on the list Fin returns with, and soon enough she’s got a spoon in one hand and a yogurt pot in the other. It’s only vanilla, but it tastes so ridiculously good, despite it being hospital food, she doesn’t care.

She had been fed, while she was… where she’d been, but it hadn’t been a pleasant experience. Survival at first, hoping that she’d been lied to, that they were looking for her. Slowly though, that hope had slipped away, fading into hopelessness.

She realises that she still doesn’t know what actually happened, how she was found or even how long she’d been missing. She wants to know, so opens her mouth to ask. What’s a few words? She thinks to herself. They’re letting me have yogurt… 

Opening her mouth, she goes to speak.

Only to find… she can’t.

A crippling fear, an inexplicable, overwhelming anxiety swallows her up, stealing her voice, and try as she might… the words simply won’t come.

Glancing wide-eyed between Elliot and Fin, the understanding, unsurprised looks on their faces only serve to upset her more. What’s wrong with me? She asks herself. Why can’t I…

Elliot moves, silently asking if he can sit on the bed next to her. She nods at him, and he sits down, his arm around her shoulders, gently tugging her against his side. “The doctor was going to talk to you about this,” he says quietly. “When he comes back. Unless you want us to tell you what he told us?”

She looks up at him, eyes fierce. Tell me, she’s saying. Tell me NOW.

“Okay,” he answers. “So the doctor said that there is some damage to your throat, but it’s not serious and it’ll heal, it just needs some time,” he starts. “He thinks that maybe you can’t speak because of what you went through, like a traumatic response that you can’t control?”

She blinks at him. That’s ridiculous, she thinks. Of course I can speak… she pauses her own thought. Well… I thought I could. Seems like my body and my brain aren’t on the same wavelength anymore. But why? She asks herself. Why can’t I… oh.

She remembers; closes her eyes and breathes.

He got bored when I stopped talking back, it made him less interested. For a while, anyway. Until it stopped bothering him… but that doesn’t make sense either… I’m away from him. He’s dead…

So why can’t I speak now?

***

The realisation that crosses Liv’s face breaks Elliot’s heart. She doesn’t seem to have realised until now that there’s an issue, and, frankly, neither had he, not really. The damage to her throat, the lack of words when she’d been rescued, the oddly cooperative way she’d reacted when told to lay off the speaking because of her throat… he’d honestly put it all down to the trauma.

Until now, obviously.

“Hey, it’s okay,” he whispers, running his hand up and down her arm, trying to soothe her. “Doc said there’s some people who might be able to help you, it might not be permanent, and Fin’s gonna pick up a dry erase board for ya.” He winks as she glares at him. “See?” He laughs. “Maybe we should hold off on the board Fin,” he adds. “Liv’s doing plenty yelling at me with a look.”

The glare intensifies, punctuated with a hard poke to the ribs.

“Ow!”

***

Fin is so busy looking down at his cell when walking down the hospital corridor he almost collides with her. “Whoa!” He exclaims, side-stepping. “Sorry,” he says automatically, before looking up and seeing a mess of blonde hair. “Amanda?”

Eyes bloodshot, stinking of a mixture of alcohol and cigarette smoke, hair a mess and clothes that scream that she’s been out all night, Amanda Rollins stands in front of Fin, shifting from foot to foot uncomfortably. “Hi Fin,” she says quietly. “Sorry it took me so long to get here.”

Fin blinks. “Are you kidding me?” He snaps. “Get in there.” He grabs her arm, shoving his ex-partner unceremoniously into a conveniently empty waiting room to his left. “What the hell Amanda?” He rounds on her, closing the door behind them with a clatter.

“I…”

“You show up here, four days after we found her, reeking of the casino you clearly spent the night at and think you’re gonna go see Liv?” He raises his eyebrows. “Go home,” he tells her, words harsh, shaking his head. “Sober up, get a shower, go to a meeting and then come back here. You ain’t seeing her like this.”

***

Elliot comes out of Liv’s room, spying Fin a little way down the corridor. “Did you get the board?” He calls out.

Fin turns to him, shaking his head. “Not yet,” he tells him. “My old partner showed up here.”

Elliot tilts his head. “…Amanda, right?” He tries, pretty sure that’s what Fin had told him.

“Yeah,” Fin nods.

“So… where is she?” Elliot asks, seeing no-one else in the vicinity. “She not want to see Liv?”

Fin purses his lips. “She uh…” He seems unsure of what to say, and Elliot frowns. “She has her own issues,” Fin tells him carefully. “Uh… she wasn’t in the best state to see Liv so I told her to go home and come back later.”

Elliot nods slowly. “Right…” He says, thinning his lips. Obviously something big, and personal if Fin is being this cagey, he thinks.

A door opens further down the corridor, footsteps sounding and both he and Fin turn to look, to see Cragen on his way towards them, with Barba and Munch alongside him. “Hey Cap,” Fin greets as they reach them. “Munch, Barba.”

“How’s she doing today?” Cragen asks, skipping the pleasantries and getting straight to the point, something Elliot had always appreciated about the man.

Elliot exchanges glances with Fin. “Uh…”

“There’s a ton of reporters hanging around downstairs,” Munch cuts in. “All looking for their pound of flesh.” He pulls a face. “They don’t seem to get that they aren’t gonna get an interview with her, or any of us.” He shrugs. “There’s still a lot of cops standing vigil, they’re keeping them out so don’t worry.”

This is news to both Elliot and Fin. Neither of them have left the hospital since riding in with Liv on the chopper, and they haven’t been back down to the lobby since Elliot punched Carney either. The thought that even now, four days later, cops are still standing guard makes Elliot’s heart swell.

“Talking about interviews…” Cragen interjects. “Our replacements at SVU are gonna want Liv’s statement. They’re keeping their distance out of respect up to now but there’s only so long they can hold off, they’re gonna want to talk to her.”

“Well that’s gonna be interesting,” Fin says wryly.

Cragen frowns. “How do you mean?”

“She doesn’t talk,” Fin puts it bluntly. “Bastard left her mute.”

Cragen blinks, speechless. Munch looks like he’s about to puke, and Barba… Barba simply closes his eyes, shaking his head. “Is it from the damage to her throat?” He asks after a moment.

Elliot takes over the explanation, shakes his head. “No,” he tells them. “There’s damage, but it’s not bad enough to do that. This… it’s from the trauma of whatever he put her through.” He feels positively sick at the thought, of what could be so bad, so goddamn awful that it stole her ability to form words.

“They’re still gonna want to know what happened.” Cragen says, grimacing.

“Well they can go whistle,” Fin replies. “She can’t say it, and even if her wrists weren’t one giant bruise, I’m not gonna ask her to write it down. Are you?” He stares Cragen down, as if challenging his former Captain to argue with him.

“No,” Cragen shakes his head. “We can’t ask that of her. I’ll speak to my replacement, see if I can get them to form a report based on the evidence alone. Lewis is dead so it doesn’t need to hold up in court, just needs to be good enough for us.”

Elliot nods. “Thanks, Cap.”

***

“Hey,” Elliot says quietly as he enters Liv’s room. “Barba, Cragen and Munch are outside. Feel up to seeing them today?” He asks.

Liv, sitting up in her bed, pulls a face.

“Not right now, huh?” Elliot smiles. “Maybe later?”

She nods.

“They know,” he tells her. “About your voice,” he elaborates. “Cragen mentioned a statement and we had to tell him. Don’t worry!” He’s quick to tell her as her eyes widen in panic. “He’s gonna talk to whoever runs SVU now, get them to sort a case file with just the evidence. You shouldn’t need to give a statement, okay?”

She relaxes minutely, and he smiles. “There’s a lot of cops still downstairs,” he tells her. “Not as many as what were here on Tuesday, but still a lot.”

She frowns at his words, brows furrowing in disbelief.

“Hey, people care about you,” he tells her, moving to sit on the edge of her bed. “I don’t know what he told you, but no-one forgot about you. Every cop in this city, every cop in this state and a few states besides were keeping a lookout for any sign of you. It just couldn’t be official, that’s all. Hundreds of them camped out in the lobby when you were brought in, and they stayed there until you woke up, keeping vigil.” He smiles at her gently. “You’re loved Liv, and you weren’t forgotten.”

Her chin wobbles, and he watches as her eyes fill up with tears. Unable to stop himself, he’s shuffled up the bed, close enough for her to reach him.

She reacts to his proximity in the way that has become customary in the last twenty-four hours.

She pokes him in the ribs. Hard.

It’s not always his ribs; it can be his arm, his leg… one time she poked him in the cheek. But it’s always her right index finger, and it’s always a hard jab.

It’s as if she’s checking that he’s real, and if Fin’s theory that she thought she was hallucinating him at first was correct… then he can’t blame her.

She’s been through utter hell, and Fin had alluded to something Lewis apparently told him; that she’d screamed for him, begged for him to help her, and…

That thought shattered his heart into a million pieces.

I came for you Liv, he says to himself. Too damn late, but I came.

It’s mostly his ribs though; close to his shattered heart as if she knows that he needs putting back together again. Not as badly as she does, but still.

He’s resigned himself to having permanent bruising on his ribcage; she’s anything but gentle, that’s for sure.

It’s weirdly easy between us, he notes as he enfolds her in his arms. I just know on instinct what she’s trying to tell me. Despite being apart for so long… she can’t talk, I’ve never been one for longwinded speeches but… we’ve never needed words, have we?

Chapter Text

Sunday, July 14th 2013

He grabs her jaw, digging his fingers in hard, painfully. “I didn’t tell you not to talk!” He screams in her face. “Speak!” His grip tightens, forcing her mouth open. “SPEAK!”

She stares up at him, defiant. No, she thinks. You won’t make me. You’ve taken everything else… you’re not getting this.

He yells in frustration, slamming her sideways on the bed, her head and shoulder hitting the wall. She might be able to force herself not to speak, but she can’t swallow the yelp that escapes her as he storms away.

Reprieve, she thinks. For now, anyway…

She blinks, the darkened hospital room coming into soft focus as her eyes adjust.

Elliot is in the chair at the head of her bed, his neck contorted into an angle that’s going to cause him some serious issues when he wakes up, she thinks. Grimacing, she turns her attention to Fin, over in the other chair in the corner of her room near the door, whose sleeping position isn’t much better. Rolling her eyes, she shuffles, settling herself back down and closing her eyes.

***

Footsteps thunder down the stairs, and she flinches involuntarily. He’s angry, very very angry. She can tell; after all this time she can tell what mood he’s in before he’s even within fifteen feet of her, before she even sees him.

Curling into a ball on the mattress, she tries to conceal herself from his gaze. She knows it’s futile, the most pointless of tasks considering she’s chained up, with literally nowhere to hide… but it makes her feel better.

For a minute, anyway.

The footsteps get closer, and his hand grabs her bare shoulder roughly, dragging her off the bed and throwing her on the floor. She doesn’t yelp; doesn’t cry out, doesn’t tell him to stop, doesn’t beg for mercy.

Her voice is under her control now; he can’t make her use it, no matter what he does.

Sometimes she wonders if she should’ve just given in; spoken to him when he wanted her to.

The pain that cuts through her every limb is testament to his attempts to make her, after all.

But she’d stuck to her guns, and eventually, eventually he’d gotten bored.

For a little while.

Now… he seems to have accepted it.

She’s not sure if that’s better or worse.

Neither; she decides as he drags her up, forcing her onto her knees, grabbing her jaw, forcing her mouth open.

“Might as well use it for something, eh?” He tells her.

She closes her eyes, giving in to the inevitable.

***

She wakes with a gasp; jolting upright before a whimper of pain doubles her over. Sucking in a sharp breath, she tries to ride it out.

Always gotta ride it out… it’ll pass, it’ll pass. Just ride it out.

Forcing herself to breathe slowly, she counts in her head, staving off the panic attack she can feel as it starts to bubble up in her belly, the latest nightmare fresh in her mind.

Lewis. Threatening to slit her throat if she doesn’t speak. Like that would work. He told me I wasn’t going to survive, so why would I drag it out?

Hitting her. Throwing her around. Promising that he’ll stop raping her if she tells him to. Like I’d believe that, come on… pull the other one.

Taking her food away, saying she’ll only get it back if she asks for it… again, why would I want to delay the inevitable? Idiot. 

Nothing worked, nothing made her talk. She locked her voice up tight; well out of Lewis’s reach.

Unfortunately… she’d locked it up so tight, even she doesn’t know where she left the key.

How the hell is a therapist going to understand that? She asks herself. They think it’s the trauma, why I can’t speak… how do I get them to realise that I did this to myself… and now I can’t undo it?

Breathing now moderately under control, she sighs heavily, accidentally waking Elliot. “Liv?” He asks in the darkness. “You okay?”

She nods, unsure if he can make her out in the shadows. His hand touches her arm, stroking gently as she lies back, settling herself back down. It’s too early to stay awake, she knows. May as well try and get some more sleep. 

***

“Okay Olivia,” her doctor says, pulling his gloves off and putting them in the bin. “Everything seems to be healing nicely, just as we expected. Now, are you in pain?” He asks her. “If you can use your hands, your fingers to indicate from one to ten, one being no pain, ten being the worst pain you’ve ever felt, can you let me know?”

She considers it for a moment. Holds up one hand, five fingers spread wide.

“Five?” The doctor double checks.

She nods.

“Okay,” he nods in return. “We’ll take a look at your pain management and see if we can make some adjustments to make you more comfortable, Olivia.” A beat, while he shuffles paperwork in the folder at the end of her bed. “Now,” he continues. “I’ve put a referral through to our psychiatric department, and they’re going to make arrangements for someone to see you, assess where you are and make a treatment plan going forward. Does that sound alright, Olivia?”

She nods, and he smiles. “In the meantime,” he continues. “I don’t see any reason for you to stay here, so I’m happy to discharge you, as long as you have someone to help you, you can’t lift or do anything strenuous for at least six weeks post-surgery, and you need to rest as much as you can.”

She blinks; not expecting to be let out of hospital so soon. Glancing from Elliot to Fin then back to Elliot, she hopes that one of them will speak up, say something to answer the doctor since she sure as hell can’t.

Luckily, the doctor is spared from the three sets of blank gazes that are looking at him when his pager bleeps. “I’m sorry,” he says, looking at it. “I have to go check something. I’ll be back shortly.”

He gives them an apologetic smile before leaving the room, the door closing with a click behind him.

“Well you can come back to my place Liv,” Fin turns to her. “If you want. I’m pretty sure the department will pay for a swanky hotel if you don’t, given the amount of damage control they’re turning themselves inside out over right now.”

She smiles at him, nods. Your place, she writes on the dry erase board that he’d gotten her the night before. She doesn’t use it much, only for the odd word that she can’t manage to effectively communicate otherwise, but it’s there.

Elliot is a very good translator for her, they’ve discovered. “You sure Liv?” Elliot asks her, a teasing lilt to his voice. “I’ve been staying at his place and while it’s okay, it’s no swanky hotel.”

She narrows her eyes at him. It’s fine, she tells him silently.

He raises his hands in surrender. “Okay, okay,” he tells her. “We’re gonna need another bed,” he tells Fin. “‘Cause I draw the line at sharing with you.”

Fin gives him a blank stare. “Trust me, you ain’t my first choice of bed partner either Stabler,” he retaliates as Liv snorts. “I’ll make some calls.” He gets up, pulling his cell from his pocket as he leaves the room.

***

Cragen successfully managed to persuade the new SVU Captain against making Liv give her statement; but as a compromise, both he and Fin have to give one based on what they saw instead.

Anything to lessen Liv’s stress, Elliot thinks. Even though I’d rather not think about what I saw that day ever again. 

Fin goes first; he’s gone for almost an hour. “They’re alright,” he tells Elliot just outside Liv’s room on his return. “They know the job, they know what to ask.”

“But?” Elliot raises an eyebrow.

“They aren’t us,” Fin says, a melancholy look on his face. “They just aren’t us.”

“You wanna go back?” Elliot asks him, tilting his head. “After your ‘vacation’ is over?”

“Nah,” Fin shakes his head. “I’m done, with SVU, with NYPD. The way Liv was treated… I can’t. Liv… she’ll never pass a psych eval ever again, so she’s done too. Something else Lewis took from her.” Fin shakes his head, lip curling in disgust.

“What’s gonna happen with Liv?” Elliot asks. “Her pension… everything?”

Fin snorts. “Barba is negotiating with NYPD about that,” he tells him with a grin. “He’s enjoying himself a little too much if you ask me, but he’ll get her a good deal, I know he will.”

“You’ve got a lot of faith in the guy,” Elliot points out. “Was he ADA for SVU for long?”

“Less than a year in the end,” Fin says. “But he’s dedicated, and a damn good lawyer. He’ll do whatever he needs to do to get the result. First case with us he got the perp to tighten a belt he wrapped around his own neck, in the middle of court, to prove that the perp couldn’t control himself.”

Elliot blinks. “He willingly put himself in that situation… to prove his case?” He asks, incredulous.

“Like I said, he’ll do whatever he needs to do.” Fin nods. “They’re waiting for you.” He indicates further down the corridor. “Fourth door on the left.”

“Thanks.” Elliot pats Fin on the shoulder, heads down towards the room.

***

“CSU found Liv’s gun at the cabin,” Fin tells him later, entering the room quietly, conscious of the fact that Liv is sleeping. “This was on the butt.” He hands Elliot a small, gold item. “They took it off, figured she might want it back.”

Turning the item over in his palm, Elliot smiles sadly at his courtesy badge. He’d sent it to her alongside the Semper Fi medal that, as he turns his head, he can see glinting where it lies on her chest as she sleeps. To know that she’d had it on the butt of her gun, carrying it wherever she went…

He reaches his hand over, rests it lightly over hers. “They find anything else?” He asks Fin, voice barely above a whisper.

“Nope,” Fin shakes his head. “Everything else she had is long gone. God knows what he did with the jewellery he stole. Her bank cards were cancelled back in May, we’ll have to sort replacements.”

Elliot nods, turning his attention back to Liv as sadness permeates his heart. All she has left in the world is a ring, that necklace, my courtesy badge, seven photographs, five shirts, two pairs of jeans and a pair of sneakers, he thinks, running through what he saw in the sports bag at Fin’s apartment.

And me, he adds to his mental list. She’s owned my heart for the last fifteen years, and I’m done denying it.

He squeezes her hand gently, as she sleeps on.

Chapter Text

Sunday, July 14th 2013

It’s late evening, and Olivia has almost given up hope of getting discharged when finally, finally her doctor shows up with a smile on his face, her discharge papers in one hand and a whole sheaf of paperwork in the other.

Wound care, he calls it. Apparently the nurses and pharmacy are preparing a bag to take home, medications, dressings… you name it, it’s in there it seems.

She stares at the paperwork with wide eyes, a tiny part of her regretting her eagerness to get the hell out of here.

How am I going to deal with this on my own? She wonders. I can’t expect Elliot or Fin to help me.

Apparently though, she can; Elliot stepping forward, taking the paperwork from her doctor and turning to her. “Do we need to make arrangements for a nurse to come in and help you Liv, or would you be okay with me, or Fin, helping you instead?” He asks.

Her heart swells at his words, how he knows just what she wants, just what she needs him to do without her even saying it. She points at him, the silent you crossing the space between them, a silent plea. Please don’t let any more strangers anywhere near me, I can’t take it.

It’s not that she’s not grateful for the doctor, the nurses, the hospital staff in general and all their help…

It’s just that she’s had enough control over her own body taken away from her lately.

It’s time to take it back.

To let Elliot touch her, help her when she needs it… that’s her choice, and she knows, deep down in her very soul that he’d never, ever hurt her.

Not that way.

Hurt her in other ways, yes. He’s hurt her with his words in the past, with his actions… leaving her without so much as a word.

But she can see the apology, the regret in his eyes whenever she looks at him, and she knows, she knows that if he could, he’d take it all back.

She only wishes she could find the words to tell him that, to get him to understand that she forgives him.

You found me, she wants to tell him. You came when I needed you more than I ever have, and that’s all that matters.

Maybe, in a parallel universe he was there, she muses. Maybe in a parallel universe it was me and him. Together in the way I’d always dreamed of, but knew I could never have.

Shaking herself free of her thoughts, she watches as Elliot flips through the paperwork, asking her doctor questions about some of the pages. Making sure he knows exactly what he’s got to do, she thinks, her heart skipping a beat.

She loves him. Has done for as long as she can remember knowing him. Would he want me now though? She asks herself.

Something inside her tells her that he would, that the state she’s in now wouldn’t bother him at all. She knows that he’s not the kind of man who would take one look at her and run away screaming, she knows that.

The problem is… would she ever be able to reciprocate?

***

Fin tries to hold back his grin as he and Elliot push Liv down towards the side exit. Her glare, seemingly intensified since she lost the ability to speak, has been steadily getting darker and darker the further they push her in the wheelchair.

If looks could kill, he thinks. This wheelchair would be on fire long before now.

She didn’t want to have to ride down to the car in the chair. Hospital policy or not, she didn’t want to do it, and she wanted to get down there as much on her own two feet as she could.

Honestly, he’d never thought someone could be so argumentative in total silence.

She’d given in in the end, but it had taken her doctor a full half hour to persuade her that the wheelchair was the best option to get her out of the hospital in one piece. ‘You don’t want to end up right back in here, do you?’ The guy had asked her.

How he hadn’t flinched at the glare she’d given him over that one Fin will never know.

The side exit, now only a few yards away, is, Fin has been reliably told, guarded by uniforms to keep reporters and cameras well back, well out of the way of catching even a glimpse of Liv. “Almost there,” he tells her. “Don’t worry, there’s a whole load of cops making sure no-one gets near you, and we’ve got squad cars to escort us outta here. Nothin’s gonna happen baby girl.”

Pushing the wheelchair as he is, he can’t see the reaction on her face but her shoulders lose some of the tension, and he breathes a silent sigh of relief, trading nods with Elliot, walking alongside them.

***

The transfer from wheelchair to car, the drive away from the hospital and then to Fin’s apartment had gone as smoothly as it could; a few reporters had tried to break through the blue wall that had assembled, but the sheer number of cops of all ranks who had turned up to shield Liv from prying eyes had meant they didn’t get more than a few feet before they were unceremoniously shoved back into line.

The four car escort had stayed with them all the way to Fin’s building; parking up and checking the street - thankfully free of the press - before watching on as Liv is helped out of the car by the both of them. Elliot gives them a thankful smile as they hang back, all clearly wanting to help but somehow knowing that it wouldn’t be appreciated. 

Elliot wishes he could thank each and every officer that had helped them personally, but since he strongly suspects the percentage of NYPD cops that would cover is in the high nineties…

It would take him a hell of a long while. So instead he sends a general, silent thank you to God, to the NYPD and anyone else who is listening, and mouths a thank you to their escorts just before they pass through the doors of Fin’s building and into the lobby.

Getting her through the door and into the privacy, the safety of Fin’s apartment five minutes later leaves him feeling more relieved than he’d expected; he guesses he’d been more wound up, more stressed and tense over what had transpired in the course of the nine days (only nine? It feels like so many more) it has been since he landed back on US soil.

Liv, walking unaided - albeit a little wobbly - makes a beeline straight for Fin’s couch, while the man in question grimaces at the musty smell of his apartment, apologising to Liv as he opens the windows, letting in the city sounds alongside the city air.

“That’s better,” he says, plonking himself down in the armchair opposite his couch. “Right, so I got my buddy to come in and now there’s two beds in one room and one in the other,” Fin tells Liv. “So, which one do you want? You wanna sleep on your own or you want one of us in there?” He asks her. “Up to you, doesn’t bother us either way, does it Elliot?”

Elliot shakes his head. “No skin off my nose.” He gives Liv a reassuring smile.

She bites her lip, contemplating before lifting her right hand, two fingers raised. “You wanna share?” Fin asks, checking.

She nods.

“Okay, second question,” Fin grins. “Which one of us you wanna share with?”

No hesitation this time; her hand, index finger outstretched, points straight in Elliot’s direction.

Fin laughs. “Shoulda known,” he grins. “You heard the lady,” he turns to Elliot. “Move her stuff in there. You want a shower, Liv?” He offers. “I got fresh towels and a rain head shower.”

Liv snorts, getting to her feet to accept the invitation. “Bathroom’s that door,” Fin points. “I’ll get those towels.”

Liv nods, pausing by Elliot and giving him a strange glance. It’s a look he’s become familiar with in the last few days; a look like she can’t quite believe her own eyes, like she can’t quite believe he’s standing right there, right in front of her. She does it to Fin too, though not quite as much.

It took a few instances before he realised why she does it; remembered what Fin had told him that Lewis had said, that he’d told her, taken pleasure in telling her that no-one was coming, no-one was looking.

He knows that when she looks at him like that; when she prods him in the arm, in the ribs, wherever is closest… it’s when she needs to remind herself that yes, he’s really there, and yes, she was rescued.

He can’t imagine how hopeless she must have felt, to have to constantly reassure herself like that days later. The way she looks at him; like she’s afraid that he’s not real, that he’s going to melt away in front of her very eyes.

She reaches out as he watches, strokes his arm lightly, and heads for the bathroom.

***

For all she had clothes; both what Fin had rescued from her old apartment and more that Barba had picked up for her, she bypassed all of those options, instead exchanging the hospital scrubs she’d been sent home in for a pair of Elliot’s own jeans, hem rolled up multiple times, and one of his shirts that hangs on her like a sack, but she seems entirely content wearing. She even steals a pair of Elliot’s own socks, sliding them onto her feet and padding around the room.

Elliot and Fin watch from the doorway, amused as she tugs the jeans back up onto her hips for the fifth time in as many minutes. “Here,” Elliot says, reaching for his belt buckle. “Take this.”

The buckle clinks as he undoes it, sliding the leather through his belt loops smoothly, freeing it. He hears, but doesn’t fully register Fin’s sharp intake of breath beside him as he does it; only noticing that something is very wrong when, belt coiled in his hand, he looks up, back at Liv.

Who is standing stock still at the opposite side of the room, face pale, staring at him, at his hands, at the belt with fear, trepidation… outright terror in her gaze. 

He doesn’t get it, not at first, not for a few seconds. Then it clicks; he’s undone his belt buckle. Taken it off…

Likely something Lewis did on a regular basis before…

He lets the belt drop to the bed with a soft thud, the apologies bubbling up in his throat. “I’m sorry Liv,” he says quickly, stepping towards her on instinct and having to stop himself as she flinches. “Are you…” He trails off. Are you okay? Is what he was going to ask, but in hindsight that question was idiotic; of course she’s not okay, anyone can see that.

She lowers herself gently, perching on the edge of her bed, seemingly more aware of her surroundings now than she was ten seconds ago as she pats the bed next to her, a silent invitation to sit down.

Fin watches silently from the door, unable or unwilling to break the spell, the silent understanding that connects Elliot and Olivia together in this moment. Elliot obeys Liv’s request, sitting down on the mattress a few feet from the portion she’s laid claim to.

Close enough to reach, to touch; not close enough to be able to make a move without her seeing him do it. 

“I’m sorry.” He repeats, whispering this time.

She looks at him; meets his gaze with a small, sad smile.

Moves her hand across the expanse of mattress between them, towards where his hand rests a little way away from his leg.

Winds her own fingers around his pinky finger.

Holds on tight.

Chapter Text

Monday, August 5th 2013

“So,” Dr. Lindstrom begins, leaning forwards slightly in his chair and looking at her contemplatively. “I must tell you Olivia, I’m not well-versed in assisting those with…” He chooses his words carefully. “Speech difficulties… but I see that you’ve tried three therapists before myself, all professionals in this field and none of them have worked out?” He looks down at the notes in his hands, before meeting Liv’s gaze.

She nods tightly, perched on the edge of the large leather couch that takes up half the floor space in Lindstrom’s office. Painted in calming colours, lined with overflowing bookshelves, it’s the nicest office she’s been in up to now. One plus point, she supposes. I like the office. But do I like the therapist…

Time will tell.

He’s right in what he says; she has been to three therapists in as many weeks since being discharged from hospital, and she hasn’t liked a single one of them. All of them have had their faults; the first one talked at her instead of to her, then spoke to Elliot about her like she wasn’t even in the room, like she was stupid. The other two… they both spoke about coping mechanisms and working out ways to communicate, sign language, that damn dry erase board, texting, text to speech apps…

She doesn’t have anything against any of those things, and for those who need them then she’s sure they’re a great help… but they’re not for her.

She wants to use her goddamn voice again, thank you very much. 

A message that she’s pretty certain was received loud and clear when she threw said dry erase board at Fin’s apartment wall. Neither of the men had said anything, Fin simply picking up the damaged board and throwing it in the trash, and Elliot silently patching the hole it had left behind (she’s still got one hell of a throwing arm, she’s happy to report).

So, three weeks after being released from the hospital, wounds scarring over, the surgery site from where she was mutilated in order to save her life tender, but slowly healing over too… she finds herself in front of a standard therapist, one she’s sent… people to numerous times herself over the years, in the hope that he might actually help her, instead of voicing coping mechanisms.

Honestly, if she hears those blasted words one more time she’s going to show someone what a coping mechanism actually is, and it won’t be pretty.

“However,” Lindstrom’s voice breaks through her musings, and she returns her attention to the man. “I’m willing to see if I can help you in any way, if you’re willing to try?”

He seems earnest enough, and he’s got a nice office, and her skin doesn’t crawl when he looks at her - unlike therapist attempt number two - so… why not, she decides.

She likes him even more with his next sentence. “I see you have two friends outside,” he says. “Would you like one or both of them to come in? Would that make you feel more comfortable?” He asks.

She nods quickly, holding up two fingers to indicate both Elliot and Fin, and Lindstrom smiles, getting up and opening the door, speaking quietly to the two men in his small waiting area.

Elliot plunks himself down on her left, Fin to her right a few moments later and she instantly feels more at ease; securely cushioned between the bulk of the two men even though neither one of them is actually touching her. It’s the safety that she’s always felt in Elliot’s vicinity but two-fold; Fin giving her that same ‘I will kill anyone who looks at you the wrong way’ feeling that Elliot always emanated. He’s my best friend, she muses. She’d always thought of Elliot that way too, but it hits different now. Her and Elliot… they’ve always been more, more than simply friends, more than simply best friends even. It’s cosmic, the two of them.

Fin is her best friend, but Elliot… 

Elliot is her everything. Her North Star. Her anchor. She’d been set adrift when he left her, left to navigate stormy seas, wild oceans on her own, left to face terror beyond all comprehension but now he’s back… she feels secure. Grounded.

He’s explained why he did what he did; how he felt that leaving her the way he did was the only option he had, having fallen into despair after the shooting, falling into the bottle and taking a long, long time to climb back out of it. How he’d known that if he’d heard her voice, he’d never have been able to leave.

Ironic, she’d said to herself. Considering.

He’s proving now that her voice was never the thing that would have kept him here; he hasn’t heard it and he’s still here.

She knows that she loves him; thinks that maybe, just maybe he might feel the same way but she has no way of asking him, and it’s not something she’s ever going to write down, on a dry erase board or on her new iPhone, a gift from Elliot, or on a piece of paper sent by carrier pigeon.

No. If he loves her, he’s got to tell her of his own accord, not by being asked.

It’s the only way she’ll know he’s telling the truth.

“So, Olivia,” Lindstrom snaps her out of her reverie. “How do you normally communicate, day to day?” He asks. “Just so I can understand and we can work out a way that you’re comfortable with here.”

Unsure how to answer, she looks to Fin pointedly. “We usually use a mixture of yes and no questions, pointing at things, body language,” Fin tells him. “Sometimes process of elimination. We’ve got a system, it works well.”

Lindstrom nods, noting it down on his pad. “Have you tried a dry erase board?” He asks.

Elliot jerks slightly. “We don’t talk about that,” he says quickly. “We tried,” he elaborates. “Liv wasn’t keen, were you?” He turns to her, and she nods, a tiny smile on her face.

Lindstrom nods. “Text to speech, or texting?” He enquires.

“Sometimes,” Fin tells him. “If Liv wants to, she’ll do that. It’s up to her. Like I said, we got a system.”

Lindstrom writes that down too. “Okay Olivia,” he says, putting the pad to one side. “I’m going to try and stick to yes and no answers, but if I mess up and you aren’t sure, just shrug and I’ll try and rephrase. That sound like a plan?”

She nods.

“Okay,” he smiles kindly. “So, have you seen anyone else since you were released from hospital, any friends? I see from your notes that you have old colleagues who were at the hospital day and night?”

She shakes her head no.

“Okay,” the pad comes back up into his hand, and he scribbles on it. “Do you know why that is, is it… fear, maybe?”

She ponders for a moment, before nodding slowly.

“Okay,” Lindstrom nods. “Let’s go a little deeper into that, if we can.”

***

That night, she has a fork in one hand, twirling spaghetti around it while flipping through the short questionnaire that Lindstrom had given her - only to be answered if she felt able to, no pressure - with the other. Elliot and Fin watch her eat while trying not to make it too obvious, a trait that both men have acquired in the last few weeks.

She knows she lost a fair amount of weight while she was… away… chained up in a goddamn basement, why is it always basements? But she’s putting it back on steadily, and she’s never skipped a meal since, so she’s not quite sure why they’re so attentive.

Lindstrom wants her to try and meet with someone from her squad. She’s not against it… she’s not… but it scares her a little. Her world, apart from fleeting visits from medical personnel, has become Fin and Elliot and this apartment, and while she knows that it’s not a good idea to let that continue long term… the anxiety of widening her social circle, as it is, is real and she’s not sure she’s ready to do that quite yet. Maybe next week, she bargains.

She does however feel okay enough answering the questions on the sheets of paper, but she needs a pen. Looking up, she barely has the chance to look around the room to spot one before Elliot, using what Fin has started calling their ‘mind-meld’ of anticipating her every need before she even figures out how to ask, drops a ballpoint into her palm.

Smiling at him in thanks, she turns the page back to the first question, tapping the pen beside it as she decides how to answer.

***

“You don’t get to say no anymore.” Lewis reminds her, labouring over her. 

She can’t breathe, crushed as she is under his weight as he forces himself inside her.

“You’re all alone, Olivia,” he continues. “No-one’s coming, no-one cares, no-one knows where you are. You’re all mine now, I can do whatever I want, however I want, whenever I want.”

His fingers tighten around her wrists to a point beyond pain as he thrusts harder. The chain around her ankle clanks as her legs jerk involuntarily, the automatic response of trying to kick him off kicking in, and she forces it away.

The last time she’d tried that had ended very badly for her, and she has no desire to be put through that again.

“You belong to me,” he pants, collapsing on her, forcing what little air she’d managed to drag into her lungs out again. “All mine.” He moves one hand from her wrist to her face, touching her cheek almost tenderly.

Somehow, that’s worse than the rape.

She gasps awake, sitting up in her bed.

Her face is wet; terrified tears pouring waterfalls down her cheeks, washing away Lewis’s phantom touch.

It’s not enough; she needs more.

Looking to her left, she sees Elliot, sleeping in the other bed. An indescribable urge beyond conscious thought grabs hold of her, and she’s out of her own bed, making it the two short strides between her bed and his and on the mattress beside him within seconds.

Reaching for him, she shoves at him, shaking his shoulder, frantic.

***

He’s already half awake from the noise she’d made clambering into his bed, but the violent pawing at his shoulder wakes him fully. Blinking in the darkness, his eyes adjust, focusing on her tear coated face. “Hey, hey,” he says quickly, soothingly. “What’s happened?”

She hasn’t been having nightmares; not that he and Fin are aware of anyway. As far as they both know, she’s been sleeping through the night since she got out of hospital.

Not that she can, or would, tell them if she wasn’t, of course.

But even the few that they know she had while still in hospital… she hadn’t reacted like this.

The panic, the unbridled terror on her face, the tears flowing uncontrollably…

No. This was something new, something worse, somehow.

Realising that he’s awake, she switches tactics, wrapping herself around him like a limpet; her fingertips digging painfully into his back through his t-shirt, her arms tight around his ribs. Her right leg comes up and over his hip, pulling him as tightly to her as she can manage while she sobs into him.

She’s holding on so tight, it feels like she’s trying to burrow her way inside him. “Shh,” he murmurs gently, his lips in her hair, his arms enclosing her as she shakes against him. “You’re alright,” he tells her. “You’re safe, I promise… you’re okay.”

Distantly, he hears the doorknob click, and a sound close by. Looking up, he sees Fin sitting down on the edge of Liv’s abandoned bed, gun loosely held in one hand, clearly woken up by the commotion and wondering what the hell was going on.

They trade confused glances, Fin laying the weapon carefully next to him on Liv’s bed, while Elliot starts to rock himself gently, hoping that will soothe the ever increasing fear that radiates from the woman in his arms.

“Shh,” he murmurs again, rocking her as she continues to sob.

Chapter Text

Tuesday, August 6th 2013

She cries herself to sleep eventually; silent sobs against Elliot’s chest wracking her body as he traces his fingers over her back in what he hopes is a soothing pattern.

The only sounds in the room are her random gasps for air; how she can cry so much, so violently, in almost total silence is beyond both Elliot and Fin, and as they trade glances, Elliot looking at Fin, still sitting on the edge of Liv’s bed, barely visible in the darkened room, they wonder how the hell she can do it; how she survived at all.

If he’d been through even half of what she had, Elliot knows he’d be screaming, a wailing mess on the floor, probably locked in the psych ward for good measure.

She can make noises; grunts, of affirmation or disgust, a yelp of pain when her dressings catch on healing wounds, a hum of agreement, but it’s occasional, and, now he thinks about it, clearly forced on her part.

Noise, something that once came so naturally to her, is now alien, and Elliot hates to think of how she ended up this way. How much pain Lewis must have inflicted, how much terror she must have felt to lose her voice entirely.

He closes his eyes, shaking his head in despair as he lies on his back, Liv on top of him, clinging to him not unlike a koala.

A shuffling sounds from his right, and he glances over to see Fin flopping down to lie on Liv’s bed, a silent sentry protecting her, unwilling to leave her even in Elliot’s safe hands.

He’s not offended; she’s coming to him for comfort, for reassurance amid whatever is going on inside her head. If she wants him to be her reassurance, Fin to be her protection, then so be it.

Whatever she wants, she’s got it.

***

By some small miracle they all sleep until gone eleven; Fin being the first to wake. Rubbing at his eyes, he sits up, seeing that the two occupants of the other bed are exactly how they had been when he’d fallen asleep; Elliot on his back, Liv on top of him, wrapped around him like a limpet. Her grip seems to have loosened a little in sleep, but she’s still holding onto him firmly.

Hope you don’t wake up bursting for a pee, he silently says to Elliot. You’ve got no chance. 

Picking up the gun he’d grabbed before he came in here earlier, the commotion that was clearly Liv getting out of her own bed and into Elliot’s making him think they had an intruder for a few frantic moments, he tiptoes out of the bedroom, returning the gun to the safe in his own room before heading to the kitchen and the coffee maker.

A few minutes later and he’s letting out a quiet groan of delight as the caffeine hits. He might have gotten back to sleep on Liv’s bed after the 2AM wake up, but it wasn’t truly restful; he’d been on alert, the figurative one eye open, just in case.

Ten minutes pass, sitting there with his eyes closed nursing his coffee, before a noise from the bedroom disturbs him. Opening one eye, he watches as first Elliot, then Liv emerge, bleary eyed. “Morning,” he greets. Only just, he spares a glance at the clock, showing 11:45AM, but it still counts.

“Morning,” Elliot responds, Liv offering a small nod with a tiny smile. “Is there any for us?” He asks, nodding at the coffee maker.

“Sure,” Fin turns, getting more cups from the cabinet. “Gimme a minute. You want some Liv?” He asks, turning halfway so he can see her face for her answer.

She nods, setting herself down on the barstool next to the one Elliot has taken over, the one that Fin himself had been sitting at moments earlier. He can’t and won’t say anything to her though, instead busying himself by pressing buttons until the machine activates itself with a reassuring hiss, coffee spurting into the first of the two new cups.

Liv reacts to the first sip of hers with a grateful smile, Elliot reacts with a grunt. Go figure.

His cell rings, saving him from making a comment to Stabler about manners and he glances at the screen.

Amanda Rollins, it reads. He groans internally. “I gotta take this,” he says. “Be back in a few.”

Closing his bedroom door, he puts the phone to his ear. “Hey Amanda.”

“Hi,” her hesitant voice sounds through the speaker. “Is this a bad time?”

“Nah,” he says, trying to sound unbothered. “What’s up? You doing okay?” For all she’d pissed him off, turning up at the hospital in the way she had, she’d still been his partner for two years and he still cared about her wellbeing.

“Better,” she tells him. “I’d… I was just wondering if it’s okay to see Liv yet? I’ve been going to every meeting I can find, I haven’t drank in weeks, I swear.”

Her eagerness, bordering on desperation, twists in his chest, and it makes his next words all the more painful to say. “I’m sorry, Liv’s not really up for visitors,” he tells her. “It’s not you,” he’s quick to add, to clarify. “She’s literally sticking to me, Stabler and medical people that she’s gotta see. She hasn’t even seen Cragen yet, or anyone else from the squad.”

“Oh.” A pause. “How… how’s she doing? Stupid question. Uh…” She sighs heavily.

“She’s doing as well as she can,” Fin says carefully. He doesn’t want to break Liv’s privacy, so it’s a difficult dance he has to execute. “I’ll tell her you called?” He offers. “Say you’d like to see her when she’s ready?”

“I’d like that,” Amanda replies, slightly chirpier. “Thanks, Fin.”

“No problem. Bye, Amanda.” He hits end, slipping the phone back into his pocket and rubbing at his chin before heading back into the living room.

***

They end up spending the day watching a mixture of daytime TV shows; Liv commandeering the remote and spending over half an hour flipping from channel to channel, from court shows to soap operas to talk shows and then back again, unable to settle on one for more than a few minutes at a time, before finally tossing the remote into Elliot’s lap during Judge Judy and settling against him; his arm draped across the seat back while she rests her shoulder against his ribs.

She dozes off and on; recovery is taking a lot out of her even three weeks in, but the doctors weren’t concerned when they questioned it, simply saying that considering her ordeal, the lack of proper nutrition, the emergency major surgery when she was incredibly weak… it’s going to take her a little while to regain her strength. Which means a lot of sleep, and making sure she eats properly.

Talking about that… Elliot nudges Liv gently. “Liv?”

Her nose scrunches and, still asleep, she shuffles tighter into his side.

Suppressing a chuckle, he glances up at Fin, who is more openly amused. “Liv?” He tries again. “You need to eat something,” he says, glancing at the clock. “Remember what the hospital said?” He reminds her.

She opens one eye, fixing him with a piercing stare that tells him yes, she remembers exactly what the hospital said and she’s not impressed.

He doesn’t back down; raises one eyebrow at her instead in silent challenge. “I know what the hospital said… but I’m pretty sure a pizza won’t hurt,” he reasons. “Fin’s buying.” Compromise, Elliot thinks to himself.

“Am I?” The man in question comments, before raising his hands, giving in and reaching for his phone when met with twin eager looks. “Guess I am.” He mutters, tapping on the phone screen.

Liv’s tiny smile as she snuggles back into his side is worth every bit of Fin’s muttering.

***

The clock slowly rolls around to ten, and, full of even more pizza (she’d ate the lunch delivery with more gusto than anything else she’s been presented with in the last few weeks, so Fin had given in to temptation and ordered more for dinner), Liv decides that her bed is a more appealing option than tucked in the crook of Elliot’s arm, where she’s spent the majority of her day.

Extracting herself from Elliot’s warm embrace, she pats him on the head absently as she makes her way past, taking a brief detour to the bathroom before heading to her bed. Stripping Elliot’s shirt and jeans from her body (she is well aware that she has a variety of clothes that are actually hers, but there’s something comforting about wearing Elliot’s that she can’t deny), she steals one of his t-shirts, tugging it over her healing body before climbing under the blankets.

Somehow, despite having slept half of the day away, she’s asleep in minutes.

***

He’s not sure what it is that wakes him; not a noise, not a light coming on… he just… wakes up. 

Inexplicably. 

In the middle of the night.

Frowning, he rolls over, changing his angle of view from the wall beside his bed to that of the opposite wall, and Liv’s bed. Squinting through the darkness, he decides to take the opportunity to check and make sure she’s asleep and not in the midst of another nightmare.

She’s not.

She’s not even asleep.

He can see her shape, her shadow; she’s sitting up on her bed, her back against the wall, seemingly watching him as he sleeps. “Liv?” He whispers, unsure if maybe she’s fallen asleep sitting up; he can’t tell.

Her head moves, tilts slightly in what has become her silent ‘What?’ signal.

“C’mere,” he says, shuffling himself closer to the wall, letting his right arm lay across the mattress and using his left to lift the blankets, an offering.

Mentally crossing his fingers, he hopes he’s got it right; knows what it is she wants.

Watching in silence, he sees her unfold herself, sliding forwards and off her own bed, climbing into his moments later and settling against him. He lets the blankets drop down, covering them both as his arms gather her up; his right hand grasping the back of her right shoulder, his left arm enclosing her waist as he tugs her tightly against him.

Her own arms snake around him, capturing him in a similar manner and closing the gap between their bodies even tighter, until, secure in his arms, she sighs with contentment, dozing off almost instantly.

He’s not far behind.

Chapter Text

Thursday, August 15th 2013

Another week passes; she’s feeling stronger now, less tired. Sleep is now - save for the odd afternoon nap, and doesn’t that make her feel weak and old and useless, needing naps - saved for nighttime, curled up against Elliot in his bed.

It makes her feel safe, secure and keeps the worst of the nightmares at bay. Fin is well aware of the new sleeping arrangements, has made noises about whether or not they want him to switch the two beds back to one but she’s not ready for that yet. The twin mattress she currently shares with Elliot enforces the need for her to be right up against him, where she feels safest, at minimum to stop her falling to the floor. Switching back to the queen bed that used to occupy the room would mean she’s got no excuse, would mean she would have to let Elliot know - somehow - that she needs him to hold her.

She’s just not quite sure how to do that.

Glancing at the calendar pinned to the wall in Fin’s kitchen, she frowns at the date, counting back in her head before the realisation hits, and she bolts for the bathroom. Closing the door behind her, she mentally crosses her fingers that neither Fin nor Elliot noticed her quick exit from the living room, engrossed as they both are in whatever sport they’ve tuned into on the TV, and moves towards the sink, grabbing onto the edge, her knuckles soon as white as the porcelain itself.

Her period was due.

Well.

Technically it was due several days ago, but the days have been morphing into each other lately and she hadn’t realised the actual date until right now. Only… she thinks as the tears prick her eyes. It won’t happen. It’s never going to happen again.

As annoying and inconvenient as the damn thing was… it was proof, evidence that as far as she knew, the potential for her to become pregnant, to carry the child she’s wanted for so many years now… wasn’t impossible.

Only now it’ll never happen. He stole that from me.

Looking up, she stares down her reflection in the mirror. The bruising around her neck is long gone; the visible cuts and scrapes too. The deeper wounds, the burns… they hide underneath her stolen too-big shirt. All healed, the pain long since gone but the ghosts of them will be with her forever, scarred for life, that she knows. A whole variety of scar treatment creams and oils are hidden away in Fin’s bathroom cabinet; she’s not sure if any are making a difference, but it gives her something to do for an hour each morning and night, so why not.

The deepest ache lies inside; deep in her belly, an empty space where her womb used to be; a black hole where her dreams died.

Sometimes she still wishes she’d died along with them.

Shaking her head slightly, she pushes the thoughts away. No, she tells herself. You’re still here. Don’t give him the satisfaction, whatever hell he’s residing in, of winning.

But it’s so hard. The ache of lost dreams spills over onto her face, her cheeks glistening in the harsh artificial light as she sinks to the floor, knees bent up, pressed against her chest as she sobs.

***

Hitting send on his latest text to Kathleen, a reply to his daughter’s question about how Liv is getting on, Elliot heads towards the kitchen and the fridge, intent on another beer. He has to pass the bathroom door on his way however, and the sobbing he can hear from within, partly muffled by the TV, makes his eyes widen. “Liv?” He asks, knocking on the door gently. He, predictably, doesn’t get a reply but he’s not expecting a verbal one; normally she would knock three times on the opposite side of the door to say she’s okay, or, if she’s in the shower, rattle the curtain the same amount.

She does neither of those things, and that sparks his concern. “Liv?” He says again. “I’m coming in, okay?”

Opening the door, he finds her huddled on the floor, back against the bathtub, sobbing into her knees. “Liv?” He says a third time, closing the door behind himself with a click before crouching down next to her. It’s awkward; the bathroom barely fits the bath, sink and toilet inside, never mind floor space, but he manages, touching her arm gently so as to not frighten her.

She doesn’t tell him what’s wrong; can’t tell him what’s wrong but what she does do is turn herself into him, lets him catch her as she falls sideways into his arms, lets him hold her in his arms as she cries out whatever it is that’s sent her spiralling.

He can’t even begin to guess; the list of options is hardly short. So he does what he seems to do best, at least of late; holding her close, murmuring into her hair that she’s okay, she’s safe, she survived, he’s there, she’s not alone, she’s okay, she’s safe, she survived, he’s there, she’s not alone, she’s okay, she’s safe, she survived, he’s there, she’s not alone…

He repeats his chant, the mantra for as long as it takes; until she eventually calms, settling tiredly against him, exhausted. She rests her hand on his arm, squeezes lightly, her way of thanking him. He’d tell her he doesn’t need thanked; he just wants to help her however he can but it’s Olivia, and she’s never been good at allowing anyone to help her, even when she needs it the most, so if letting her squeeze his arm lets her allow him to help her, then he’ll roll with that.

She looks up at him a moment later, eyes red-rimmed but brighter, more alert and he can’t help himself. “I love you,” he whispers, her eyes widening as he leans forward, pressing a soft kiss to her forehead. “So much.”

She answers him by sliding her arms around his waist, pulling him close and tucking her head under his chin, her nose pressed against his shirt as she nods. I heard you, she’s saying, and he smiles.

Hopes that maybe it means she loves him back, maybe he’ll hear her say it one day.

***

They’re back on the couch, watching Judge Judy when there’s a knock at the door. “I’ll get it,” Fin says, getting up. “Not expecting anyone, are we?”

His words are casual, nonchalant, but they have the unintended consequence of making Liv flinch, tense up where she’s positioned against Elliot’s side. “It’s okay,” Elliot whispers. “Fin’s checking the peep hole, see?” He nods in the direction of the door, where they can both see Fin doing just that, and she relaxes a fraction.

“It’s Barba,” Fin reports. “Want me to let him in, or speak to him in the hall?” He asks.

Elliot glances at Liv. Your choice, he says silently.

She frowns, pulling her bottom lip into her mouth before nodding, to Elliot’s relief. Her abject refusal to see anyone other than him, Fin, Lindstrom and other essential medical personnel up to this point had been starting to seriously worry him.

“Hey man,” he hears Fin say as he opens the door. “Come in.”

“You sure?” Barba asks, peeking around the door. “Hey Liv,” he greets, seeing her watching him from the couch. “You okay with me coming in?” She nods, and he smiles. “I know you don’t talk much,” he says, sitting down in the armchair Fin has just vacated, leaving the other man hovering in the kitchen area. “But past experience tells me I can speak enough for the both of us.” He winks, and Liv snorts.

“What’s happened?” Elliot asks, getting straight to the point. For all Liv allowed Barba to come in, allowed him to see her, he can feel the anxiety coming off her in waves and he wants to keep this, this first, small step, as brief and painless as possible.

“I come bearing news,” Barba says, a smile on his face. “Good news,” he elaborates. “I don’t know if Fin or Elliot told you, I’m sure they probably did, but I’ve been… negotiating with NYPD for the last several weeks over compensation and retirement for you.” He speaks to Liv directly, which Elliot appreciates; too many people have spoken like she wasn’t even in the room lately, which pisses him off to no end.

“She knows as much as we do,” he answers, glancing at Liv. “Which is basically what you’ve just said there.”

Barba nods. “I didn’t want to bombard you with too much while I was negotiating,” he says. “So… retirement is mandatory for Liv, as I’m sure you’ve worked out for yourself,” he says, to which Liv nods. “Now normally disability retirement is three-quarters pay, tax-free, and full benefits, but I’ve persuaded them that full pay would be in their best interests in this case, tax-free of course, full benefits and your pension is safe too. I’ll let you know re: compensation in the next few days, we’re in the final stages of getting a number to offer you, but I will say that it is seven figures.”

Liv’s eyes widen, and she clears her throat, surprised. Elliot is too; seven figures?

“Yes, seven figures,” Barba confirms. “You went through a hell you shouldn’t ever have had to, Liv,” he tells her. “NYPD are trying to fix their public image, so it’s fairly easy to persuade them right now. The only reason it took this long is that half of the top brass were fired after you were found, and I thought I should at least give them a little time to find replacements before I went in there with a lawsuit.”

Fin snorts, handing Barba a beer. “I’ll get my papers sorted, ready to put in,” he comments, leaning against the wall beside the TV, muted now but still showing Judge Judy. “My vacation days are almost up, and I only stuck around in case you needed someone on the inside.”

Barba nods. “I don’t blame you,” he remarks. “I’m glad I got out of there when I did, the DA’s office is trying to cover it’s own ass right now too.”

Liv pokes Elliot in the side, and he yelps, turning to her. “What?” He asks.

She bites her lip, scans around the room quickly, before grabbing a takeout menu from the coffee table. Waves it in Elliot’s face, then points at Barba.

“You… want Barba to stay for dinner?” Elliot tries, hoping he’s got it right because if he hasn’t, the next few minutes are going to be incredibly awkward.

But once again, he has, and she nods vehemently.

“I would love to,” Barba accepts the invitation. “What take out are we ordering?” He asks, knowing full well that no-one in the room could be accused of being a good cook.

“Either this,” Elliot takes the menu from Liv’s fingers, turning it over. “Which is pizza, or we’ve got a whole bunch of menus in a drawer in the kitchen, so take your pick.”

Satisfied, Liv tucks herself back into Elliot’s side with a smile.

Chapter Text

Monday, August 26th, 2013

She was cleared by the doctors a week ago; fully healed, according to them. To you, maybe… but I’m never gonna be whole again, she’d thought privately to herself. Able to lift things, no need for strictly enforced rest and her weight was almost where it should be, so the diet they’d advised had worked too.

No-one told them that said diet hadn’t really been stuck to, as such, but what they didn’t know and all that…

They’d also cleared her for sex. Sex, she’d thought to herself. Like I’m gonna want to do that anytime soon, if ever.

What Lewis had done, what he’d made her do… no. Not going there. Bad idea…

Too late.

The flashbacks hit thick and fast, and she finds herself reaching out blindly, her palm hitting the closest wall, fingers outstretched, nails digging in to gain purchase, to ground herself as the memories become overwhelming.

He sits on the bed, feet flat on the floor. She’s straddling him, forcing herself up and down in his lap, forcing him inside herself.

He removes the cigarette from his mouth, blowing smoke in her face. It makes her splutter and cough and she stops, her hands sliding on reflex from where he’d put them on his shoulders to cover her mouth.

The slap knocks the breath from her, the stinging pain across her face causing her to gasp, looking back at him in fear.

“Remember what I told you,” he reminds her, the darkness glinting in his eyes. He raises the cigarette meaningfully. “You stop riding me, you know the consequences.”

She does; the fresh burns on her inner thighs the only reminder she needs. Ride me or I burn you, he’d told her. She shouldn’t have doubted that he’d keep that promise.

She’d tried and failed to argue, to talk him out of the latest in a long line of sick ideas he’d had for her, so she stays quiet now, nodding meekly as she moves her hands back to his shoulders, moving her hips the way he likes.

Anything to keep him from hurting me more, she decides as he groans, grabbing the back of her head and crushing her lips under his own.

She blinks, shaking her head violently to clear it as her whole body shivers. Come on, she tells herself. It’s over. It’s over. You’re okay… 

She’s going to have to be; both Elliot and Fin have gone out. Elliot for groceries, Fin to finalise his retirement paperwork with NYPD. They’d been reluctant to go out at the same time; neither willing to leave her unnecessarily but she’d insisted, in her own wordless way these days, that she’d be fine.

Apparently that was a stretch.

She sighs, grabbing a blanket from the back of the couch and wrapping it around herself to combat the shivering. It’s August, she tells herself. They’re gonna know something’s up, coming in to see me wearing a blanket like a goddamn cape.

Pulling said blanket tighter around herself, she lies down on the couch, curls up on her side and sighs.

The memory, the flashback… it was from early on, from a time where she’d still held out a small, vague hope that he’d lied to her, that he’d got it wrong, that there was a search ongoing, that someone was looking for her…

So she’d done what he’d wanted; anything to avoid hurt, anything to try and save her strength for her rescue. He had some twisted ideas, she remembers. But I went along with it. Saved me from those cigarettes at least. Sort of.

But as time passed… the longer the torture, the rape, the degradation went on, the harder it got to fight, to believe that someone was coming.

At some point in amongst all of that, Lewis had gotten bored with playing puppeteer, making her do his bidding via threats and had switched back to brute force instead, pinning her down, hitting her, hurting her for the sake of it…

Trying to talk him out of things, pleas, begging… none of it worked, and silence became her control. The only thing she could do, the one thing he couldn’t force her to do was speak. So she stopped. Holding steadfast to that decision, no matter how hard he tried to make her - and he really really tried, she remembers with a shudder - helped keep her sane, she thinks. God only knows where she’d be if she’d let him take all of her.

How the tables have turned, she muses. Now he’s dead, I can do whatever I want, whenever I want, he can’t play puppeteer, can’t hold me… but I can’t speak, can I?

Still. She’ll take never speaking a word ever again over spending even one more second in that goddamn basement.

But he still took, didn’t he? She realises. I can’t speak, and sure that part is more me than anything else, but the rest? I have my freedom back but… I’m still a prisoner. Too scared to leave this apartment unless I have to, and even then I have Elliot and Fin with me. It took me weeks to even accept seeing Barba, and he comes around all the time now but he’s not the only one I’m missing. Cragen, Munch, Nick, Amanda… even Brian, wherever he is. I’m holding myself back, refusing to open myself up and that… isn’t that just letting Lewis win? 

Sitting up, she bites her lip in thought. He’s dead, she tells herself. I’m alive.

I’m alive.

The sound of keys in the door pull her from her thoughts, and she watches warily as the door opens, admitting Elliot to the apartment. “Hey Liv,” he greets her with a grin, setting several bags of groceries down. “Fin’s downstairs,” he tells her, answering the unspoken question. They’d told her before they left that they’d likely be back around the same time, so the lack of Fin now was making her curious. “Barba got here at the same time as we did, they were arguing - discussing…” He corrects himself. “What takeout to get for dinner, since Barba has invited himself.” He pauses, turning away from the fridge. “That is okay, isn’t it?” He asks, wide eyed. “If it’s not, if you don’t want him here then I’ll text Fin and he can get rid of him.”

She finds herself smiling; Elliot’s concern, his caring and love for her never fails to make her heart warm even weeks later. I love you, she thinks. The thought, the feeling… it doesn’t frighten her, she finds. I wish I could-

“Liv?” Elliot prompts, pulling her from her own mind for the second time in as many minutes. “Sorry, but I kinda need an answer, or they’re gonna be back here with food and then we’ll never get rid of Barba.”

She shakes her head in response, still smiling. 

“Is that a no, don’t get rid of him?” Elliot tries, always so good at guessing what she wants on the first attempt.

She nods, confirming his assumption and he breathes a sigh of relief. “Barba’s remembered he has a wallet for once,” he confides with a snort. “So Fin’s gonna be taking full advantage of that one.”

She snorts, pushing herself up to her feet. She still feels cold, so the blanket stays around her shoulders. Elliot clocks it, she sees it in the slight frown, the furrowing of his eyebrows as he looks at her approaching him but he doesn’t say a word about it; no quip about it being August and how she shouldn’t need a blanket, nothing.

Take the plunge, a voice sounds in her head. Don’t let him win, don’t let him own your life for one more second.

Steeling herself, she walks right up to Elliot, stopping in front of him. “Hi,” he whispers, a half grin on his face. “You okay?” He asks, concern leaking into his voice.

She bites her lip, hesitation taking over now she’s actually here, actually standing in front of- no, she reminds herself. Don’t let him win, remember?

Standing on her tiptoes before she can change her mind again, she presses a brief, light, chaste kiss to Elliot’s lips.

It lasts less than a second before she’s got her feet flat on the floor, taking a step back, eyeing him worriedly, waiting for his reaction, whatever it may be.

She needn’t have worried; his half grin turns slowly into a full one as he watches her. “What was that for?” He asks, but there’s no heat in it, no anger. Only wonder, and a not inconsiderable amount of awe.

I wanted to, her gaze tells him, his nod of understanding making her smile as she shrugs, letting the blanket slip from her shoulders to the floor.

She’s not cold anymore.

Chapter Text

Tuesday, September 10th 2013

Two weeks after her self-imposed decision to stop letting Lewis win, and… she hasn’t made much progress.

It’s not that she doesn’t want to; she wants to see Cragen, Munch, Amanda… even Nick - though she knows that, apart from a bunch of flowers that turned up a few weeks after she was found, he hasn’t contacted anyone in New York at all - and Cassidy… if he can stay sober for long enough. She worries about him; for all their relationship ended… in a fashion, badly… she did care about him. She doesn’t want him to drink himself to death, but from what Fin has told her… Brian didn’t really try to look for her either, he just gave up. Like everyone else did barring Fin, and Elliot once he knew, she thinks.

She doesn’t, can’t blame the rest of them, not really. She’s been told the whole story, she knows that Lewis did a damn good job of making it look like she was dead… but it doesn’t change the fact that they gave up on her.

It’s hard to take. 

Fin didn’t, she tells herself again. Elliot didn’t, not once he knew. He came back and he would have torn the city, the state apart looking for me like I always knew he would.

Fin holds a lot of guilt; that she knows too. He hates himself for not contacting Elliot sooner, for trying to hold SVU together in those first weeks instead of devoting his every waking hour to finding her. 

She doesn’t blame him, she doesn’t hate him.

She wishes she could tell him that, but the words, the I don’t hate you written on a scrap of paper pressed firmly into his hand late one evening… she hopes they’re enough.

You got to me, she wants to tell him. You came, and you brought Elliot back to me and for that I’ll always be grateful.

Yes, she wants to see people beyond Elliot, Fin and Barba. Beyond her therapist, beyond her doctor who she still has checkups with every other week for long term burn care…

She wants to see Cragen and Munch more than anything.

She just doesn’t know how to face them.

***

The walls seem to be closing in on her.

They aren’t; but it feels like they are. She’s going stir-crazy; she needs to get out.

Only problem with that is, the only times she’s left the apartment in the last couple of months is for appointments. Straight down in the elevator, into the car, out, into her appointment and then the reverse.

It’s… safe, is what it is.

She’s not upset about it; she’d needed it, the feeling of being safe, after everything. Safe and secure in an environment where no-one could get at her.

But now… it’s starting to grate a little.

Nodding to herself firmly, she walks out of the bedroom she and Elliot share - she needs to write Fin a note about swapping the two beds back for one, Elliot almost fell out this morning - past the couch where the two men are stationed, eyes glued to whatever sport they’ve decided to watch this time, and to the coat rack.

Glancing at the window, she selects a coat for herself, then one for Elliot, then Fin. Pulling her own over her shoulders, she takes the latter two, one in each hand and moves to behind the couch, pausing for a second before dropping a coat unceremoniously on each man’s head.

She watches on amused as the two of them bat their hands at the coats, pulling them down from their faces and into their laps, before turning in unison to look at her questioningly.

Fin is first to speak. “Did we forget an appointment, baby girl?” He asks, picking up his phone and scrolling through the calendar to check.

She shakes her head, despite Fin not even looking at her.

Luckily Elliot is. “Okay,” he says. “What’s with the coats Liv?” He tilts his head.

She shrugs.

“You wanna get out of here?” He tries.

She nods.

“A walk, or you got somewhere specific in mind?”

She nods, raises her hand with one finger showing. First one.

Fin turns his head, looks at her then at the window. “It’s raining.” He pulls a face, his top lip curling. “You sure about this?” He asks. “Don’t wanna wait until later, maybe?”

She nods firmly, stares at him. I don’t give a damn if it’s raining, I just need to get out of here.

Elliot snorts. “You got an umbrella somewhere in this place, Fin?”

***

Fifteen minutes and a borrowed umbrella from one of Fin’s neighbours later, they’re on the street outside. It’s busy; it’s Manhattan, so she shouldn’t be surprised by that but it’s busier than she’d expected it to be.

Or maybe she’s just gotten so used to being around only two (sometimes three) people at a time that being surrounded by a few extras on a city street has become alien to her, despite having lived in Manhattan pretty much her entire life.

Swallowing, she takes a deep breath. No backing out, she tells herself. If you back out now, two minutes in then he’s won. Don’t let him win.

Elliot, borrowed umbrella up and held in his left hand, offers the same arm to her. Smiling at him softly, she links arms with him and picks a direction; starts walking. Fin, muttering under his breath about the rain, takes up residence on her left side, sandwiching her between himself and Elliot as they make their way down the sidewalk.

***

Being outside isn’t so bad, she decides after five or ten minutes.

There’s a small park opposite a church near Fin’s building, and despite her not realising it was there, she’d somehow steered the three of them to it. It’s not much; a few trees, some grass and some playground equipment to one side, occupied by several small children being watched over by parents and nannies, but it’s green. Something she hasn’t seen for so long now, something that, at more than one point, she thought she’d never see again.

She’s so busy gazing at the oak tree that’s closest to them that she doesn’t hear the footsteps approaching. 

“Olivia?” The unexpected voice makes her jump, and she whirls around, Elliot getting dragged around with her when she forgets that her arm is still linked with his.

Cragen, standing a few feet away. His eyes widen, then soften with sadness as he looks at her, making her skin prickle.

She doesn’t like people looking at her with pity.

“Hey Cap,” Fin speaks, Elliot saying the same just after him. “Didn’t expect to see you here.” The almost accusation is very thinly veiled as a question.

Cragen shrugs, a brief chuckle escaping his mouth. “I was at the church,” he nods behind him. “AA meeting.”

Oh.

She finds herself shuffling from foot to foot awkwardly, unsure how to act, how to react to what her former Captain has just said.

Elliot and Fin seem to be having the same issue, but, luckily for all three of them, Cragen has a suggestion.

“Can I buy you all a coffee?” He asks, looking at each of them in turn.

Fin and Elliot turn their heads to look at her in unison, and she shrugs one shoulder before nodding.

What harm can it do? You did say you wanted to see them…

Hopefully this won’t go badly, she thinks.

***

“I am so sorry, Olivia.” Cragen tells her a little while later, ensconced in a semi-secluded corner of the diner he’d taken them to. She’s next to the window in the booth they’ve picked; Elliot next to her, a solid barrier between her and the rest of the diner’s patrons. Fin sits against the window too, straight opposite her with the table in between them, and Cragen next to him, on the end, ready for a quick exit if need be, she supposes.

She hums an acknowledgement to Cragen’s statement; goes back to looking in her now empty coffee cup.

“I should have fought harder, when they called the search off,” Cragen continues. “I won’t ask for your forgiveness Olivia, because I’ll never be able to forgive myself.”

She pulls her bottom lip into her mouth, worrying it with her teeth. Reaches out; a small burst of confidence allowing her to lay her own hand over Cragen’s closed fist where it lies on the table top.

It’s not forgiveness, she says to herself. I’m not sure I could give you that even if you did ask for it…

But it’s a start, she finishes, squeezing Cragen’s hand lightly.

***

The walk did a lot of good, she decides later on that evening. She’s in hers and Elliot’s bedroom - still need to give that note to Fin about swapping the beds back around, she reminds herself - alone, the only noises coming from the apartment are the sounds of the TV, volume down low as Fin watches some action flick he’s found, and the clattering of dishes in the sink as Elliot takes on dishwashing duties.

It feels nice; more domestic, more settled than it’s been ever since she moved in here. She likes it, she finds.

What she doesn’t like is the fact that she’s having to do all the work when it comes to herself and Elliot.

They’ve kissed, quite a few times since that first time, that day two weeks ago in the kitchen. They’re nice, chaste kisses, nothing too much, nothing with too much pressure.

She doesn’t have a problem with the kisses themselves, but what she does have a problem with?

It’s always her initiating. 

She knows, she knows that it’s nothing other than simply Elliot wanting to let her take the lead, wanting to let her drive whatever it is between them. It’s nice, it’s thoughtful, mindful of her and she loves him all the more for it but at the same time…

Is it going to be like this when we have- oh. Ohhhh… that’s new.

The thought of sex, of having sex, as fleeting as it might have been… didn’t immediately fill her with the dread, the feet, the utter terror that has accompanied all similar thoughts recently…

Until right now, it would seem.

Huh, she thinks to herself.

Maybe I’m not completely broken after all.

Chapter Text

Sunday, September 15th 2013

He drags her from the car trunk roughly, putting her on her feet before letting go. She crumples to the ground; being curled up in the dark confines of the trunk for so long has left her legs unable to immediately bear her weight.

She doesn’t know how long it’s been; the blindfold over her eyes prevents her from seeing if it’s day or night, the tape over her mouth prevents her from asking, and the cuffs on her wrists stop her from being able to push herself into a sitting position.

She’s almost thankful he’d cut the tape binding her legs before pulling her out of the trunk.

Almost.

She hears a loud thud, assumes it’s the trunk lid being closed and then his hand is around her upper arm again, pulling her up, walking her blindly forwards.

She feels like a scared animal; cloth over her eyes to force her to trust her guide, to trust that he won’t lead her somewhere dangerous, that whatever he’s preventing her from seeing will keep her calm.

Only problem is, she doesn’t trust him, he could be about to shove her off a cliff edge for all she knows, and she’s ninety-nine percent certain that whatever he’s preventing her from seeing is to stop her from running, from knowing where she is, as opposed to keeping her calm.

But, bound, blinded and gagged as she is, she has no choice but to let him lead her… wherever they’re going.

Relying on the senses she does have, she makes some mental notes. The ground feels uneven beneath her feet, and straining her ears she can hear birds, nature sounds. Not in the city, nowhere near it. She swallows thickly, knowing full well wherever they are, wherever he’s taken her is only going to make it more difficult for her squad to find her.

They go up some steps - he walks up them, she trips when he doesn’t warn her - and she hears a door open. He leads her through it, and she flinches when he whispers in her ear. “Home sweet home.”

She’s led forwards once more, then they stop again as he opens another door, leading her through that before pausing. “We’re going down,” he tells her. “Watch it.”

Watch it? She thinks. Are you freaking kidding me?

He grips her arm tighter, holding her firmly as he leads her down the flight of stairs. They reach the bottom, turn left sharply and he stops. “Here we are,” he says brightly. She feels his fingers at the side of her head, and the cloth covering her eyes is stripped away, leaving her blinking even in the dimly lit room. “Isn’t this just perfect?” He grins.

If she had the use of her mouth, she’d scream.

If she had the use of her hands, she’d strangle Lewis.

If her legs would move from where they currently seem to be superglued to the concrete floor, she’d run.

In the absence of all of those things, she stares at the room, at the stone walls, the concrete floor. The mattress to one side, the dresser to the other, loaded with food. Her breath stutters in her chest as she looks at it all.

What the hell is he planning to do with me? She asks herself.

“We don’t have much time,” he says to her, shuffling her forwards, towards the mattress. She tries to stall, to resist, to fight but it’s fruitless. She’s shoved down, face down on the bed and she screams into the tape as he climbs on top of her, sitting on the middle of her back as she tries to struggle. “Stop fighting me…” he tells her, not even raising his voice. He sounds almost bored, which terrifies her all the more.

Blinded again with her face pressed into the mattress, she hears a clanking noise, like a chain. She doesn’t know what the noise means, what he’s doing when he shifts position, turning around on top of her so he’s facing her feet. He takes hold of her right leg, pushing her trouser leg up. She frowns, unsure what he’s doing until she feels the cold steel of the chain as he wraps it around her ankle, just above the boot she’s still wearing.

A fresh bout of terror courses through her and she tries to kick, to fight but he simply laughs at her struggles, fastening the chain and letting her sit up. She looks at her leg in horror; the thick heavy chain wrapped around it, the end snaking off into the shadows. She looks from it to Lewis with wide eyes, fear only growing at the look he’s giving her.

“Right,” he says. “Now we’ve established you’re not going anywhere without me…” He grins toothily, white teeth the brightest thing in this dark, hollow place he’s chained her. “I really do have to go,” he continues, checking his watch. “Got enough time for a quickie though,” he grins, grabbing hold of her as she shakes her head frantically, tears in her eyes as she tries to back away from him, but there’s no escape. “You can’t run Olivia,” he reminds her. “I’ve made sure of that.” He unbuckles his belt. “Fight all you want though,” he adds. “You know how much I love a girl that fights.”

She sucks in a sharp breath as her eyes snap open; heart pounding fast in her chest as her brain whirrs, trying to remember where she is.

Home. Well… Fin’s spare room, anyway.

In bed. The larger bed that Fin had put back in after Elliot finally fell out in the middle of the night.

With Elliot.

Somehow she’s moved away from him in her sleep, she realises. There’s a small gap between them that isn’t usually there; usually she’s pressed tightly against him, tucked against his side with his arm around her back.

It’s where she feels safest, and what seems to keep most of the nightmares away.

Probably why I had one just now, she thinks.

As if on cue, Elliot shuffles in his sleep, murmuring, his arm shifting around, searching for her. He frowns, and she melts, a small smile crossing her lips as she shifts closer. His fingers brush against her - his - t-shirt, pressing against her back through the fabric. Having found what he was looking for, he rolls onto his side, pulling her firmly against his chest and huffing a contented sigh into the top of her head.

Now firmly ensconced in his arms, she chuckles silently, shaking her head a little before settling down and letting herself drift back to sleep.

***

Thursday, September 19th 2013

A few days later and Fin is out… somewhere. He had said, but she’d been so excited at the thought of finally finally getting the apartment to just herself and Elliot that she hadn’t really been listening.

As soon as she gets her settlement, she’s going to start looking for a new place. Fin has been incredibly accommodating but it’s been months. He needs his life back, and she… well. She needs her independence.

With Elliot too though. Hopefully. She hasn’t quite figured out how to ask him.

Right now though, that’s not her top priority. That would be getting Fin out of the door and Elliot to follow her into their bedroom.

Not for sex. She’s not ready for that yet.

She is ready for some heavy making out though, and she wants to do it lying on their bed so at least if Fin comes back earlier than he said…

Well, there’s a limit to even Fin’s hospitality, she suspects.

It seems to take forever, but finally, finally the front door closes behind Fin, and she’s alone with Elliot. 

No time to waste, she decides; grabbing Elliot by the hand and leading him towards their bedroom. He follows her without question, only raising his eyebrows when she lets go of his hand and flops down onto their bed, lying on her side, looking at him expectantly.

“You want me to join you?” He asks, always checking with her before he does anything. It’s sweet, it is, and she loves him for it but more and more lately she’s been wishing he’d just take charge, just a little.

She raises her own eyebrows back, patting the covers next to her and smirking as he complies, joining her on the bed, lying on his side facing her.

“So what do you wan-” His sentence is swallowed up by her lips pressing firmly against his, his words turning into a pleased groan as she scrapes her teeth gently across his bottom lip, his mouth opening as she teases it with her tongue.

She whines low in her throat as his tongue tangles with her own, the kiss deepening as she rolls him onto his back, landing on top of him. Her eyes open, matching his as their gazes lock, a silent confirmation that yes, everything is fine before she kisses him again.

His hands come up, tracing over her waist before pausing. She gives a hum of consent, deepening the kiss further as her own hands start to wander, and she feels his fingers exploring her back. Breaking for air, she smiles against his lips before pulling the bottom one into her mouth. This feels so good, she decides, nibbling on Elliot’s lips as he chuckles.

Shifting position slightly, she goes to kiss him again when her leg brushes against-

She freezes.

He’s hard.

The spell broken, she pushes away from Elliot with a whimper, disentangling herself and scrambling off him, off the bed.

He’s apologising profusely, but it falls on deaf ears as she flees.

***

She ends up in the living room. Sitting on the back of the couch, her arms wrapped around herself as she looks out of the window, watching the city streets several floors below. Almost ten minutes have passed since she fled the bedroom, but Elliot still hasn’t made an appearance.

She’s not sure whether that’s a good or a bad thing.

Trying not to think too hard about it, she returns her attention to the window, to the view for a few more minutes, until the bedroom door finally opens and Elliot appears, hovering in the doorway as if unsure whether or not to approach her.

She looks at him; sees he isn’t hard, not any longer. Whether it took him this long to calm down, or whether he was just giving her space to calm down she doesn’t know. She thinks the latter is more likely; she knows Elliot too well to think he could stay hyped up when she’d frozen and dived away like she had.

“I’m sorry.” He says quietly.

She shrugs; shakes her head. Not your fault, she wants to say. You didn’t do anything wrong, it’s my stupid broken self.

“You’re not broken,” he says, as if he’d heard her very thought inside her mind. “Can I sit?” He asks, nodding to the couch back.

She looks at it, then at him.

Nods once.

The couch groans as he sits down; not designed for one person to be perched on the back of it let alone two. She hopes it’ll hold; she doesn’t want to have to try and explain to Fin just why he needs a new one.

“I’m sorry,” Elliot says again, shaking his head when she sighs heavily. “Don’t think it was on you Liv,” he adds. “It wasn’t intentional… just a little hard to control myself when I’ve got a beautiful woman kissing me.”

She snorts. Beautiful?

“Yes you are,” he tells her, as if reading her mind for the second time in as many minutes. “I never wanted to upset you, or scare you,” he says. “That’s the absolute last thing I wanted.”

She nods. I know that El. I know

She pushes off the couch, shuffling awkwardly along in the small gap between the back of the couch and the window, the medallion hanging from her neck swinging as she leans over slightly to make herself fit. Sitting down next to Elliot, she nudges him lightly with her shoulder and he brings his arm up, the comforting weight settling around her a moment later.

A small, contented sigh escapes her lips and she leans up, pressing a soft kiss to his lips.

Chapter Text

Monday, September 23rd 2013

She stares herself down in the mirror. Swallowing, she breathes in, releases it sharply, grips the edge of the sink with firm hands.

I’m going to do this, she decides.

Opens her mouth.

Nothing comes out.

A low growl sounds from her throat as she looks down into the sink, frustrated. For the love of… the words are RIGHT THERE, she yells at herself. Why won’t they come out of my mouth for fucks sake?

Taking a deep breath, she forces herself to calm down. Letting go of the sink, she runs her fingers through her hair, which she notes is getting really rather long. It’s the longest it’s ever been. If she could bear it, she’d visit a salon but she’s not so sure about a stranger touching her hair, and doing it herself… no. That would be a bad idea. It’ll be fine, she decides, peering at it. Few split ends never killed anyone.

She’s got more pressing issues after all. Like why her voice, despite the efforts of herself, her therapist… various therapists… still won’t work. 

Maybe I’m trying too hard, she wonders. Maybe if I just stop pushing myself then it’ll come naturally? 

She sighs. Or maybe it won’t. Maybe this is it.

She’s been managing up to now, the last just over two months living with Elliot and Fin, they’ve established a system, a way of communicating that works really well, but…

She can’t rely on them forever. She’s going to have to go out into the big wide world and go shopping, order a coffee…

Get a haircut.

She sighs. Maybe I should just cut my losses and give in, learn sign language.

Looking at her reflection in the mirror again, she raises an eyebrow at herself. Come on Olivia, she tells herself. Since when did you give up that easy?

She tilts her head, shrugs at herself. Good point.

Start simple, she thinks. Maybe instead of a word, I’ll say a letter? Like… A.

Staring herself down, she opens her mouth.

Nothing comes out. It’s like the command gets lost somewhere between her brain and her vocal cords. 

For the love of… tears prick her eyes. Blinking rapidly, she can’t completely prevent them from trailing down her cheeks. I can make noises! She berates herself. Why can’t I form freaking words?

***

The afternoon rolls around, and she finds herself walking into the waiting area at Lindstrom’s office for her therapy appointment. They’re right on time - Fin had somewhere he had to go, an old friend he wanted to meet up with while in town so it’s just her and Elliot - but Lindstrom is waiting with the door to his office open nevertheless. “Hello Olivia,” he greets her. “Just Elliot with you today?”

Putting her hastily thought out plan into action, she turns, pressing her right hand into Elliot’s chest. He stops in his tracks, frowning at her. She pushes him back slightly, then nods at the couch to the side. “I think I’m waiting out here today,” Elliot says to Lindstrom. “If that’s what Liv wants?”

She nods firmly. I do.

“Okay,” he shrugs. “You change your mind, I’m right here.” He moves to sit down. “Hope your magazines aren’t too ancient, doc.”

Lindstrom chuckles. “My receptionist changed them all just last week.” He steps back, allowing Liv into his office. “I’m sure you’ll find something that appeals.”

Closing his office door with a soft click, he moves to his usual leather chair, Liv taking up her usual spot in the middle of the soft couch. “This is progress,” he comments. “How have you been since we last met, Olivia?”

She’s not really sure how to answer that. It’s been four months and two days since her life changed irrevocably, and she… she sighs, frustrated. Even my own thoughts are failing me, she thinks.

Lindstrom tilts his head, frowning at her. “Why don’t we try something a little different today?” He suggests, picking up a large notepad from the side and placing it on the coffee table in front of her, along with a pen. “I know this isn’t how we usually go about your sessions,” he says, sitting back down. “But why don’t you write down what it is that you’re thinking, don’t edit it, just write it down as you think it, and we’ll work from there?”

She looks from Lindstrom, to the notepad, then back again. Why not? She thinks. Can’t be any worse than anything else I’ve tried up to now.

Nodding slowly, she reaches forward, settling the notepad on her knees. A sudden desire to not let Lindstrom see any of it until she’s done comes over her, and she kicks off her sneakers, planting her feet on the edge of the couch, the notepad now resting against her bent up knees. Uncapping the pen, she starts to write.

I’ve been trying to speak, she writes. Trying and trying so damn hard, even just a single letter but it just won’t come? It’s like there’s something missing, like my brain has forgotten how to make my voice work or something and I just want to speak. I want to tell Elliot things, I want to be able to ask for things, I want to be able to answer the phone, be able to go into a store or a diner and ask for what I want and I just CAN’T. You said it was a trust thing, right? A safety thing? I TRUST him. I trust Elliot. Completely. I feel safe with him so WHY CAN’T I JUST SPEAK???????

Her pen stabs the dot at the bottom of the last question mark so hard it almost goes right through the paper, and she huffs, dropping the pen onto the couch next to her, holding the pad out for Lindstrom to take.

It’s both terrifying and freeing to write it all down like that, instead of having to rely on nods and hand signals. However, it only makes her want to be able to actually speak all the more.

Lindstrom reads her words, his lips thinning in thought as he nods along with her sentences, her truth spilled out in those few ruled lines on a cheap notepad. 

He hands the pad back to her after a few minutes. “Have you considered that maybe you’re putting too much pressure on yourself?” He asks gently. “It is far from my specialty, as you know, and I have done some research-” He raises a hand when she flinches. “I know, I know, you’ve been there with your previous therapists, and you didn’t appreciate the way they treated you. I understand that. I wish you would reconsider and perhaps try again with a speech therapist.”

She shakes her head vehemently. I did this to myself, she thinks. I can undo it myself too.

“Okay,” he acquiesces. “Okay. We’ll leave that there for now. Going back to what I said, have you considered that you’re trying too hard?”

She shrugs. Probably, she thinks. I just want to get back to who I used to be. Why does that have to be so damn hard?

He tilts his head, gives her an appraising look. “Don’t put so much pressure on yourself Olivia,” he suggests. “This will take time, and you can’t force it. It was a conscious choice by yourself not to speak, which has turned into an unconscious decision by your own brain. I believe you will speak again, but I don’t believe trying to force it is going to help. Everything takes time, please remember that.”

She huffs; pulls a face. Deciding to change the subject, she retrieves her pen from where it’s rolled into one of the dips in the couch, resting the pad against her knees once more and starts to scribble.

A few days ago, me and Elliot had the apartment to ourselves and we were on the bed making out - my idea - and it was good, and it was going further than we’ve gone before and then-

She pauses, lifting the pen from the page, chewing on the end of it in thought. 

I was on top of him, she continues. I felt that he was… aroused and I freaked out. Couldn’t get away fast enough and then he was apologising to me like it’s his fault when it’s NOT it’s mine. I should’ve thought about that before.

Sighing, she tosses the pad down on the coffee table, Lindstrom leaning forward to collect it. Reading, he purses his lips. “Had you considered that it was a likely outcome to the act, when you decided that that’s what you wanted to do?” He asks, choosing his words carefully.

She shrugs. Wordlessly, he offers her the notepad.

Yes and no, she writes. I guess part of me knew it was likely to happen. I just I guess I didn’t think it would be a problem. We haven’t tried again since.

Turning the pad, she shows Lindstrom, expecting him to take it.

He doesn’t; instead leaning forwards, squinting slightly to read her words. “You say you haven’t tried again,” he notes. “Is there a specific reasoning for that?”

She turns the pad back. I wanted to. I think Elliot thinks I’m scared.

“Are you?” He asks once she shows him. “Scared?”

She shakes her head.

“Have you let Elliot know that?”

She bites her bottom lip, shaking her head again.

Lindstrom raises his eyebrows. “From what I know of Elliot,” he says. “He’ll do anything to avoid hurting you. If you’re comfortable trying to take things further then do, but you’ll need to find a way of letting him know that.”

She nods. I got my settlement sorted, she decides to tell him next. It’ll be in my account by the end of the week. More than enough to buy a two bed Manhattan apartment with a view.

“Is that what you’re planning to use some of the money for?” Lindstrom asks once she shows him.

She nods. I’ve imposed on Fin enough, we both have. She writes. I want Elliot to move with me, she adds. I just don’t know how to ask him.

She turns the pad around, about to show it to him when she changes her mind, a flood of words bubbling up inside her. Turning the page back, she puts the pen back to the paper. 

I don’t know what to do with myself anymore, she scribbles. I worked my last shift as a cop and I didn’t even know it. They made me retire, I got all this money from them but I just… I feel lost. Being a cop, working SVU, it was all I’d ever wanted. That little apartment… it was all I knew for years and now that’s gone. I just… I’m sorry. We’ve brought this stuff up before I know but it just seems to be hitting me now.

Handing him the pad before she can change her mind and tear the page out, she watches anxiously as he reads.

He reads, his expression pensive. “We have brought up these topics before,” he comments, handing the pages back. “Albeit without much progress, but this method of communication is working well today.” He pauses. “So I’ll ask you now; what do you want, Olivia?”

He’s right; this writing thing is working well. She’s a little annoyed with herself over her own stubbornness in refusing to comply until now, until today. Better late than never, she surmises.

Chewing on her lip, she decides to just write. What do I want? I want my life back, she puts. He took everything away from me, my freedom, my consent, my ability to control my own actions, my voice, my career, my ability to carry a child… I want it back.

***

She watches the Manhattan streets roll by as Elliot drives them back, before spotting a deli she used to frequent with him back when they were partners on the job. Reaching across, she pokes his arm to get his attention - the most reliable way, she’s discovered - then points at the store front.

He chuckles, pulling the car over. “Usual?” He asks.

She nods, grinning at him as he gets out of the car. “I’ll be back in a few.” He tells her, leaning back in through the open drivers door before turning jogging the few steps over to the door and inside, out of sight.

The brief solitude gives her time to think; to go over what had been touched on in her therapy session. Obviously not everything can be fixed; she can’t go back to her life as it was before… everything. She’ll never be able to conceive a child, that is irreversible. But… as Lindstrom pointed out, there are other ways. Not that any of those have served her well in the past, but still. Worth a try, maybe. Her circumstances are sure as hell different now.

Her career is something else that she doesn’t hold out much hope for. Even if she got a clear psych report and NYPD took her back, would she even want to? Her sole focus, her entire reasoning for becoming a cop in the first place was to get to SVU. She’s not stupid; even with a clear psych eval they’d never, ever allow her to go back to that department. That ship sailed months ago, no departure warning, nothing.

Maybe it’s time to move on, she wonders. But to what?

Everything else though… her freedom, her consent, she has that. She can control her own actions, she can decide what she wants to do, no-one tells her, not anymore. She’s had that from the moment she was carried away from that cabin. 

But my voice… she sighs in frustration, before it clicks in her head. 

Maybe it’s time for something more… drastic.

***

Elliot watches fondly as Liv scarfs down the deli sandwich. He’d put in their old order, and once back at Fin’s apartment he’d watched amused as she’d seamlessly copied their old routine, splitting the two sandwiches and switching half of hers for half of his.

She’s polishing off the last few bites of what was originally his sandwich, clearly aware that he’s staring at her but also seemingly unbothered by the attention. It’s a hard line he has to toe; striking a difficult balance between babying her and pushing her too far too soon. For all he’s proven just how well he can read her, especially these last few months, it’s also been somewhat of a downfall; making him acutely aware that his holding back, his own fear of hurting her is actually starting to annoy her. Maybe I should try being honest, he ponders. This tiptoeing around isn’t good for either of us.

Before he can think on that further, she’s reaching for her newly acquired notepad and pen, the nib scratching over the paper as she writes something down before tearing the scrap of paper off, handing it to him.

The words make his eyes widen, looking up at her with a heavy mix of worry and confusion.

The cabin, it says on the paper. I want to go see it.

Chapter Text

Tuesday, September 24th 2013

She watches the trees pass by; the window down letting the warm, early fall air into the car, her hair moving with the wind.

To her left, Elliot keeps a firm grip on the steering wheel; his usual relaxed driving position, one she’s intimately familiar with after so many years of him driving their sedan around the city, not present today.

A flash of guilt bubbles in her belly. She knows this is going to be hard for Elliot too; his memories of finding her, the state she was in, can’t be good. She can’t remember it, but she knows how bad she felt before everything went dark and the next thing she knew she was in a hospital bed, so what he’d come across couldn’t have been pretty.

He’d said it was fine, said he would drive her up here but she still can’t help but worry. She’d have come by herself, driven herself even though she hasn’t been behind the wheel of a car since before, but she doesn’t know exactly where the cabin is.

There’s also a not so small part of her that, despite having the firm belief that this will ultimately aid her recovery, doesn’t want to do it alone.

She’s not sure what to expect. When she was taken to the cabin she was blindfolded, bound and gagged; when she left, she was carried out by Elliot, unconscious.

She doesn’t know what the place looks like, where it is, anything. All she knows is that one room.

She’s nervous; but something is telling her that to move on, she needs to see it, see where it all happened.

Elliot’s muscles are tensing more and more the further along the tree-lined road they travel; they must be close. Swallowing, she wants nothing more than to tell him that it’ll be okay, that she needs to do this, but as ever, the words won’t come.

Slowing the car, he turns the wheel to the right, guiding the vehicle through a narrow gap in the trees, so narrow that Liv realises if you didn’t know it was there, you’d likely not even notice it. Lewis really knew how to pick a place, she thinks darkly.

“It’s just up here,” Elliot says, as the car bounces slightly on the rough track. “Just a little further.” He glances at her. “You okay?”

She sees nothing but concern in his eyes, and she nods firmly, even as the fear bubbles up anew.

The road curves around to the left and Elliot steers to suit, slowing the car a little more, the suspension absorbing most of the rough terrain as they pull up in a small clearing.

The log cabin sits innocently in the middle, and she stares at it through the windshield. It looks… idyllic, she thinks to herself.

“You don’t have to get out of the car Liv,” Elliot says to her. “Not if you don’t want to. We can sit here for a bit, we can leave right now, whatever you want.”

She won’t lie; she does consider just signalling to Elliot that she needs to go and she needs to go now, but that would defeat the object of this whole thing. She knows in her heart that this is the one and only time she will ever come back here, so if she doesn’t go closer, doesn’t go inside now… then she never will.

She needs to do this. Steeling herself, she shakes her head at Elliot, reaches for the door handle and is out of the car, standing on uneven terrain before she realises what she’s done.

It’s both familiar and not, standing here. The ground under her feet as she takes a few, experimental, steps forward feels familiar, but the view the last time had been obscured by the dark material blocking her vision.

She takes a few more steps, hearing Elliot close the drivers door of the car behind her with a clunk. She doesn’t, can’t ask him to hang back but, as ever, he seems to know that that’s what she needs, staying close but not too close, a few paces behind her as she approaches the cabin slowly.

It really does look like a nice place for a vacation, she muses as she lets her eyes run over the structure. Typical log cabin, with two steps up to the front porch and a door in the middle, window either side. It’s not large, but then neither is the clearing. It’s peaceful; the birds in the trees chirping away, the wind gently moving the branches of the trees. She can hear water; not that she can see it. Whoever owns this place probably makes a decent amount renting it.

“It’s scheduled for demolition,” Elliot says quietly, his voice cutting through the nature sounds. “The owners say they couldn’t in any good conscience let anyone stay here… after.” He clears his throat. “When I was checking up to make sure it was okay to bring you up here, the owner told me it’s getting pulled down next week.” A pause. “He also said that if you need to come back, if that’ll help somehow, then to let him know. He can cancel the demolition, rearrange it if need be.” 

He won’t need to, she thinks to herself, having reached the bottom of the steps up onto the porch. I only need today. 

She’s up the steps and across the porch in a few seconds, Elliot a lot closer to her now than he had been. She hadn’t made any indication that she needs him close by for this part, but something is telling her that it’s not him sensing that that’s made him stick closer to her.

She can almost feel him vibrating with tension as he stands just behind her, and she realises that it’s him that needs the closeness, the awareness that she’s okay, that she survived. Okay, she thinks. We need each other then.

Making the decision before she can change her mind, she reaches forward, grasping the doorknob and twisting, the cabin door swinging open with ease under her hands. Closing her eyes for a brief moment, she steps over the threshold. 

She’s not sure what she’d expected, if she’s honest; but this… isn’t it.

The cabin is modern; nice, fairly new kitchen, fully furnished living space, decorated simply but brightly.

She guesses that she’s always imagined it as a hovel, abandoned, dank and disgusting. 

Considering what went on in the dark depths of the place, it would’ve been more fitting.

Three doors stand open on the wall to her right; through them she can see that two are bedrooms and the third, the middle one, leads to a bathroom. Not what I’m looking for, she thinks.

Stepping further into the cabin, she reaches out; lets her fingers trail along the back of the couch. The soft, plush velvet of it lets her fingers glide across it with ease, and she finally spots what she’s been looking for.

Across the room, semi-disguised as part of the panels that make up the kitchen walls, lies a doorknob, with a broken latch above.

How she hadn’t noticed it until now she’s not sure; there’s what she suspects is an Elliot shaped dent in the panel itself, at what would be roughly his shoulder height.

Knowing where she needs to be, she heads straight for it, not even hesitating as she reaches the door, pushing it open with her hand.

Part of her knows if she thinks about it too much, she’ll run and not look back. Now that… that she can’t let herself do.

She needs to do this. Every instinct is both screaming at her to get out, to run, and also to face it head on all at the same time.

It’s exhausting.

But necessary, she tells herself as she faces the stone steps that lead down into the abyss.

Her first step is tentative, unsure. The twelve after that, thirteen steps in total, are easy. Once you get past that first hurdle… 

Turning the corner at the bottom is easier than she’d thought it would be.

Maybe because the room looks different; the dresser that had once been home to her sustenance, what kept her alive for those weeks she’d spent totally alone, is missing. The bed, the main scene of her personal hell on earth is also absent entirely. 

Or maybe it’s Elliot’s solid, silent presence at her back, having followed her down here, that makes the difference.

Either way, she’s not as scared, as unsettled as she thought she’d be. 

That’s not to say the flashbacks don’t come; memories of her frantic, frenzied attempts to break the chain that bound her, before the pain became too much, the exhaustion too overwhelming once he returned and started in on her. 

Screaming at the top of her lungs, over and over until her throat hurt, until her voice broke, disintegrating into a pathetic squeak, all in a valiant, yet unknowingly pointless attempt to get someone’s attention.

Phantom pain in her knees as she looks at the hard floor, remembering being forced down onto them over and over again. 

In the middle of the room now, she reaches out, a tremor in her fingers as she touches the rough stone wall. It doesn’t feel as hard, as cold now under her fingers as it had when he’d had her back pressed against it, sandwiched between it and him as he forced himself on her for the umpteenth time. 

It had scratched at her back then, her skin rubbing against it painfully under his thrusts, but it feels smooth under her palm now as she runs her hand over it. 

Letting her hand fall back to her side, she blows out a soft breath, turning back to Elliot, who’s standing at the bottom of the steps where she’d left him, watching her carefully. 

She’s not really sure what she’d hoped to accomplish by coming here; maybe the minor miracle that her voice would return to her if she revisited the place where she’d lost it, but that’s clearly not to be. 

The disappointment must show on her face, as he takes a few steps towards her, stopping just in front of her. “You survived Liv,” he tells her quietly. “It doesn’t matter how you did it, you did. You made it through, and you’re sane, and that’s all that matters.”

A tiny smile catches the corners of her lips, and she’s done; she doesn’t want to stay in this room a moment longer.

Interlacing their fingers, she takes the lead; back up the thirteen stone steps, across the cabin, through the door, across the porch, down two more steps and across the grass to the car.

She doesn’t spare the cabin a backward glance until she’s settled back into the passenger seat, Elliot starting the engine. Then, and only then does she decide to give it one last look.

It’s just a cabin, she realises, as she looks at it one last time. It’s not what hurt me. Lewis was, and he’s dead. I’m not his prisoner anymore, and I’ll never be that again.

She feels lighter. Maybe she didn’t get what she’d hoped to from this, but something has removed itself; an unknown weight lifted, a horror in her mind neutered, the poison removed before it leeched further into her being.

It’s just a cabin. Nothing to be frightened of. Not really. The devil that resided there is dead, and with him went the curse.

As Elliot reverses the car, turning the wheel to point it in the other direction, she watches the cabin until it’s out of sight.

Chapter Text

Tuesday, September 24th 2013

Liv makes a beeline straight for the bathroom the minute they get back to Fin’s place, and Elliot can’t blame her; he feels like he’s covered in a layer of grime himself.

Unable to fix that feeling for the moment, he settles for shrugging his jacket off, washing his hands and arms right up to his elbows twice, before setting about making Liv something to eat as he hears the shower start.

A frozen pizza - they desperately need to go grocery shopping - is all Fin’s refrigerator has to offer him, so he shrugs one shoulder, opening it up and giving the cooking instructions a cursory glance before popping it in the oven.

The pepperoni smell is permeating the entire living area by the time the bathroom door opens, Liv emerging wrapped up in the fluffy bathrobe of hers that is usually found hanging on the back of the door. She sniffs the air, giving Elliot a fond smile before padding barefoot through to their bedroom. She seems okay, he thinks to himself as he watches her.

She really does; her gait is lighter, more free than it had been. More like it used to be the last time he saw her, that last day in the one-six before everything got literally shot to hell. I never should’ve left you, he tells himself. Never in a million years. Maybe in a parallel universe I didn’t. Maybe I stuck it out, jumped through the hoops instead of finding myself in the bottom of a bottle. 

Maybe in that universe you didn’t end up chained in a basement, a sick psychos plaything.

She wouldn’t have; that he knows for a fact for two precise reasons. The first being Lewis would’ve had a hell of a hard time getting near her in the first place. He’d have taken her home, checked her apartment.

Shot Lewis on the spot.

The second being that even if by some small, minute chance Lewis had gotten her anyway… he’d never have stopped looking. 

Never.

He’d have burned the city down, razed it to the ground to track her down, to find her. Nothing would have stopped him. 

Nothing.

You came back to the country and got to her within four days, he reminds himself. You would’ve found her had you been here from the start. It didn’t have to go this way. If you’d have just stayed.

The regret, the self-hatred hits him like a ton of bricks, and not for the first time. It’s been a little while since he’s felt it this badly, he won’t deny that but it hits and it hurts all the same. The worst of it had been in those early days, when she was in the hospital, when they got her back here, when the nightmares woke her up near constantly, when she, for all her attempts to hide it, was so damn terrified of her own shadow. 

The memories broke his heart then, and they damn near break it again now, even knowing how far she’s come.

The bedroom door opening shakes him from his thoughts, and he smiles at her as she emerges. She’d slowly started wearing her own clothes again, but his own wardrobe is still shared between the two of them, as proven now with her wearing one of his shirts loosely buttoned over a high-necked t-shirt and a pair of her own jeans. She’s still barefoot, red painted toes (something else that’s a recent development) curling into the rug on Fin’s living room floor as she plays with the medallion around her neck. She’s never seen with it off; he suspects she even wears it in the shower. 

“Pizza’s almost done,” he tells her. “Pepperoni. Literally the only thing in this whole place… someone’s gonna have to go grocery shopping or we’re all gonna starve.”

She snorts, heads into the kitchen to peer at the timer.

“I’m gonna grab a shower,” he tells her, heading for the bathroom. “Leave some for me!” He teases her, and she sticks her tongue out at him in response.

***

“Right, I’m heading out.” Fin announces, grabbing his jacket from the hook by the door and shrugging it on. He’s dressed smartly, in a dark shirt and black jeans, fancier leather shoes replacing his usual trainers and his jewellery on full display.

“You got a date?” Elliot asks, raising his eyebrows. “You should’ve said, we could’ve warned her off.” He grins.

Fin glowers at him, and Liv turns her face into Elliot’s arm to hide her smirk. “It’s a bachelor party,” he tells them. “An old buddy of mine. Don’t expect me back, if the last one’s anything to go by.” He chuckles. “That was a good night.” He reminisces. “You kids be okay without me?”

It’s Elliot’s turn to level Fin with a glare. “We’re not seven, Fin.”

Fin grins. “Never said you were. See ya later.”

The door clicks shut behind him, and Elliot shakes his head, turning to face Liv. “He’s unbelievable.” He tells her.

She bites her lip, shaking her head and shrugging.

“Still…” Elliot muses. “Means we’ve got the place to ourselves… which means we’ve got control of the TV without him complaining about our show choices!”

He looks positively gleeful at the prospect, and Liv finds herself shaking her head at him once more. A spark of mischief takes over, and she grabs the TV remote before he can reach for it, hitting the power button and holding it out of Elliot’s reach.

She knows full well that the only reason she wins that fight, despite his best effort to reach over her to grab the thing is because he won’t fight dirty; won’t just climb on top of her.

It’s both sweet, and incredibly frustrating all at once.

“Liv!” He whines. Whines. Seriously El? Whining? “Gimme.”

She shakes her head at him with a grin, before tossing it across the room, out of both of their reach. Instead, she picks up the other remote from the coffee table, turning on Fin’s expensive music system instead. It’s tuned to some popular music station, and a song she doesn’t recognise fills the room.

His pout - yes, he resorted to pouting - turns into a slow, slightly wicked grin and she finds herself nervous. She’d been expecting him to cross his arms like a petulant child after she turned the TV off, not get excited at the radio being on instead. What are you planning Elliot?

Still smirking, he gets to his feet, starts moving his body in what she assumes is supposed to be dancing (but in reality it looks more like he’s having some sort of episode), before holding his hand out to her. “C’mon Liv,” he says, still moving his body in some sort of weird jerking fashion. “Dance with me.”

She stares at him blankly. You have GOT to be kidding me Stabler, she thinks to herself. Me? Dancing? With you? Dancing like that? HELL NO. 

She shakes her head slowly at him, but he’s got the idea in his head now and she knows he’s not gonna let it go. “C’mon… you’re not chicken… are ya?” He teases, a twinkle in his eye that she finds that she can’t refuse. Okay El, you want me to dance… just don’t blame me when we end up in a heap on the floor. You brought this on yourself.

Taking his proffered hand, she allows him to pull her up to her feet, into his arms. The jerky ‘dancing’ stops then and there, and he switches to a gentle swaying instead, cocooning her in his arms. The beat of the music is completely wrong for this type of dancing, but she can’t bring herself to care.

This, here, right here, is the safest she’s felt since…

Well.

Since before Elliot left.

She liked Nick - not that he can bring himself to talk to her now, but still - and he was a good partner but…

No-one could ever match up to this, to Elliot.

No-one ever looked out for her the way he did, the way he does and for all she’s always been independent, always been the first to say she can look after herself, and would never admit it out loud even now, even if she could

She likes the way it feels with him at her side, the way it feels to be in his arms.

Like nothing can touch her.

She rests her forehead against his shoulder, letting him rock them gently, soothingly in the middle of Fin’s living room, and just breathes.

Of course, it doesn’t last; neither one of them can dance and even in the supposed ‘safe’ act of simply swaying, they end up with their feet tangled together, tilting alarmingly sideways as they start to fall.

Of course though, of course Elliot manages to turn them, to break their fall with his own body. He ends up sitting on the floor, back against the couch with her sitting straddling his lap. They stare at each other, eyes locked for a long moment before Elliot bursts out laughing. “Probably not the best idea, huh?” He grins, chuckling away and she can’t help it; she finds herself chuckling along with him. It’s mostly air and the odd small noise that escapes her throat but it feels good, it feels right and she stops, looks at him and reaches for the coffee table behind her, feeling around for what she wants without looking, unable to look away from the man she’s currently sitting on.

Finding it, the notepad, the pen that she knew was there, she uses his chest as a surface to rest on, ignoring his raised eyebrow as she scribbles on the first page before tearing it out and handing it to him.

“I’m going to use my settlement to buy an apartment,” he reads from the page. “Move in with me…” He looks from the paper, to her, back to the paper again then back to her. “You serious?” He asks her, wide eyed and emotional.

She nods. More serious than I’ve been about anything in my life ever before, she wants to say.

Hopes she can somehow convey it in a simple look.

His smile grows, tears welling up in his eyes and she’s pretty sure he understands what she meant. “Yes,” he whispers. “I’d love to.”

Her own eyes are wet now. Kiss me, she wants to tell him, to scream at him. Make the first move, please El…

He does; pressing his lips lightly to hers, tentative, pulling back, a question in his eyes - was this okay? - and she surges forwards, swallowing his lips with her own, the paper, the question fluttering to the ground beside them as she wraps her arms around him, his hands coming up to clutch at her back in return.

***

The lack of Elliot next to her is what wakes her; she’s gotten so used to having him as her own personal body pillow that the absence of him is unsettling.

She doesn’t have to look far; he’s sitting on the end of their bed, his outline framed in the moonlight that slips through a gap in the curtains. Frowning, she sits up, crawling down the bed and tucking herself into his side, his arm settling around her shoulders in a move that’s almost reflex now for him, and her burrowing slightly closer when he does.

There’s something wrong; she knows it, can tell from the tense line of his shoulders, his whole body screaming upset but she can’t ask him, she can’t say the words so instead she resorts to option two; nudging him with her elbow until he gives in.

After a few minutes of elbow contact with his ribs, he gives in. “I was just thinkin’ Liv, that’s all.” He says quietly. “The cabin… earlier… it just brought up a few things. Nothing you need to worry about. I’ll be alright.”

She raises her eyebrows in the dark, nudges him again; this time harder.

He sighs. “You’re not gonna give in are you?” He says fondly. “It just reminded me of when I found you,” he tells her. “It was the worst day of my life and the best all in one, you know? The best because you were alive, but the worst because… well… you know.”

I wasn’t in a good way, she fills in the gap.

“I’m just so glad you’re alive.” He whispers, his voice breaking as emotion takes over, tension leaving his shoulders as he slumps slightly, leaning some of his weight onto her.

She takes it gladly. 

I’m here, she wants to say.

Can’t.

Deciding to show him instead, she leans up, brushes her lips over his.

He responds, their tongues tangling together, the kiss deepening fast, like they’ve thrown themselves over the edge together, hanging onto each other for dear life as they fall.

There’s nowhere I’d rather be, she thinks to herself as she takes control, moving and pushing Elliot back so he’s lying flat on the mattress, nudging him to shuffle himself up until his head is on the pillows and his feet are on the bed too.

She’s not sure where it comes from, this rush of heat between her legs. She hasn’t planned it; hasn’t expected to feel like this this fast but it feels… right, somehow and she decides to roll with it.

Swinging her leg over him, she finds herself straddling his waist, the t-shirt of Elliot’s that she’d worn to bed riding up, pulling on her thighs, her underwear the only barrier between herself and Elliot’s bare chest.

She’s wet, and he very likely knows that but he doesn’t say a word about it as she deepens the kiss, only moaning in appreciation as she twists her tongue just like that, her fingers digging into his shoulders.

He’s hard; she can feel him against her, just behind her. If she looks, she’ll probably find his boxers tented. 

She doesn’t want to look. 

She does however, want to feel.

Breaking the kiss, she gently takes his hands from where they’d been at her waist, holding him at the wrists as she manoeuvres his arms down to the mattress, pressing down lightly, briefly.

Keep them there, the unspoken words between them.

Watching her in silent awe, he does as she wants, gripping the bedsheets in his fists as she slides herself back, feeling the thick length of him against her core. 

It doesn’t frighten her; not like it had that first time, what feels like a lifetime ago now.

He groans, two layers of fabric between them but he hardens even more, and she finds herself smirking with glee, with pleasure. I did that, she thinks.

Resting her hands on his chest for balance, she rocks herself against him, biting her lip as the friction sparks pleasure deep inside. It works for a little while, but it’s not enough. The pleasure has built to a crescendo, Elliot’s blue eyes, blown wide with desire, watching her in the moonlight like she’s some sort of goddess, his to worship, but it’s not enough.

Biting her lip, she takes a risk, moving one hand from Elliot’s chest and sliding it under the t-shirt she still wears, hiding everything from him as her fingers make their way inside her underwear, inside herself.

The light press of fingers on her clit is all it takes and she comes; a silent gasp escaping her mouth, her body shuddering with release as she tips forward, Elliot finally relinquishing his hold on the bedsheets to catch her.

“You okay?” He asks her, his mouth against the top of her head as she settles in the crook of his arm, breathing hard, coming down from the high.

She smiles against his skin, her hand snaking down.

He traces his fingers over her arm lightly, stopping her. “You don’t have to.” He tells her.

She lets her fingers trace down his hip anyway, into his boxers. She doesn’t grip him; she elects to trace her fingers up the considerable length of him instead.

He comes; fast. “Well that was embarrassing,” he mutters. “For the record, I usually have more stamina.”

She grins lazily, happily as she withdraws her hand, patting him on the chest with sticky fingers before snuggling in tighter.

Chapter Text

Wednesday, September 25th 2013

A new day dawns, and Fin is still not back. She’d be worried if she hadn’t found a text from him on her phone, saying it was a great night and he’ll be back once his head doesn’t feel like it’s going to explode.

God only knows where he ended up, she thinks as she sips her morning coffee, settled in her favourite spot on the back of Fin’s couch, watching the morning rush of people heading to work on the street below.

Just a few months ago she’d have been one of them; not on this particular street of course, but fighting her way through to get to the subway, or dealing with rush hour traffic on the roads.

She used to hate it; now she’d give almost anything to be back there.

Almost.

She wouldn’t give Elliot up for the world, not now. Even though after their… escapades last night she can’t even let him touch her. Not that he knows that; she’d left him in bed, still asleep.

She doesn’t get it; she’d been fine. She’d fallen asleep after, feeling fine, feeling good even. But now? Now… her skin feels prickly. 

It makes no sense, and it’s not like she can ask Elliot, tell Elliot. Sure, she could write it down but she doesn’t want to hurt him, and doubly, doesn’t want him to think he hurt her. 

Because he didn’t. She wanted everything, drove it all on her own, but she knows Elliot, knows he’ll blame himself in a split second, think that he somehow forced her to move faster than she was comfortable with and it’s simply not true.

She does need to speak to someone though, before the thoughts fester and whatever is wrong turns into a bigger problem.

Reaching for her iPhone, she taps out a text. 

Need to talk. Can you fit me in today, or soon?

Taps send.

Her phone vibrates a few minutes later. I can fit you in at eleven, Olivia. I have a half hour free then. Is that doable?

Smiling in relief, she texts Lindstrom back. I’ll be there. Thank you.

Now to let Elliot know that she’s now got a therapy appointment today.

***

“Good morning Olivia,” Lindstrom greets her warmly as she sits down on the couch in his office. Once again she’s left Elliot in the waiting room, but this time Lindstrom doesn’t comment. “How are you doing today?”

Reaching for the pad and pen, all ready for her on the table, she lets her thoughts flow through the ink.

I went back to the cabin yesterday, she writes. Elliot took me. My idea. I thought it might help, might shake something loose.

Lindstrom nods slowly as he reads it, concern in his eyes as he looks back at her. “And… did it?” He asks cautiously, carefully.

Not in the way I’d hoped.

“What was it you were hoping to achieve?” He asks.

I thought… she sighs, lifts the pen from the page, chews on the end of it as she considers how to put it. I thought it might- I thought if I went back to where I was when I lost my voice, it might somehow bring it back? I guess.

“I can see why you might have thought that Olivia,” Lindstrom tells her kindly. “I’m sorry it didn’t work out that way for you. You said it helped, but not in the way you wanted. What did it help with?” He asks.

I… I got some closure, I guess? She writes. I saw it. Saw the rest of it. Saw where it was, cause I didn’t know. I was blindfolded when I was taken in there, and I was unconscious when Elliot carried me out. I’d never seen anything beyond the room he kept me in. That… helped. It’s just a cabin, somewhere where families have been to stay… bad luck that he picked there I guess. They’re gonna pull the whole thing down, the owners. Demolish it.

“How does that make you feel?” Lindstrom asks, looking up at her. “Knowing that the cabin won’t be around for much longer?”

Better? I think? I don’t know if anyone knows where it is, but at least this way if they find out, they can’t go stare at it, can’t… do whatever it is that people who go look at those kind of places do. I got my closure, I don’t think there’s any point it being there now.

Lindstrom nods as he reads; she watches him silently. “Closure is good, Olivia,” he comments eventually, passing the notepad back to her. “It’s a good step as part of your recovery. Beyond that, did the visit help in other ways?”

She bites her lip; rubs her hand over the paper as she wonders whether to tell him. She should, she knows that. She needs to be open and honest if she’s going to get the desired results from therapy, but…

It feels a little bit like admitting to a teacher that you had sex. Or worse, a parent. She’s got zero experience with the former, and not a whole lot of experience with the latter either; the only time she’d opened up to her mother about having sex was when she announced that she was engaged to Burton and that… well. Let’s not go there.

Shaking her head lightly to clear it, she chews on her lip some more. A small part of her wishes that she could just use text-to-speech on her phone, but she’d tried it once, early on; it had both sounded and felt weird, hearing her own words repeated back in someone else’s voice. 

She’s sure it works for a lot of people; it’s just not for her.

Steeling herself, she decides to bite the bullet; puts pen to paper and starts writing fast.

Me and Elliot - we sort of had sex last night, she begins. My idea - well. I instigated. He was a more than willing participant, but he didn’t push me, he let me do what I was happy with, comfortable with. Which turned out to be a lot of kissing, then- she pauses. Takes a breath. A lot of grinding, she continues. But we both… we both got something out of it, and it was good. I felt happy, I felt normal. I enjoyed it.

She hands the pad to Lindstrom before she can change her mind, and still almost snatches it back before he can read it. Linking her fingers together, she forces herself not to, instead twisting her hands together in her lap. 

“Okay,” Lindstrom says once he’s read it. “You say here you ‘felt’ happy, you ‘felt’ normal.” He picks up on it, like she knew he would. “Past tense. You don’t feel that way now?”

Settling the pad back on her lap, she adds more. I did… last night. I slept in his arms all night like I always do but then this morning? This morning I woke up and it was like my skin was… prickly? It wasn’t crawling, I didn’t feel dirty or disgusting like I used to… after, it felt more… oversensitive? Like him touching me would be too much? I don’t know if I’m explaining this very well, sorry. I just don’t understand why I felt FINE after but not a few hours later.

Lindstrom takes the paper; scans the words, a look of understanding crossing his face as he does. “It’s part of the healing process,” he tells her, handing the pad back. “Your mind, your body… they’re still processing what happened to you. After a major trauma like yours, it can take a while for your body to realign itself, especially in more extreme cases.” He pauses in thought. “Your trauma was prolonged, Olivia,” he continues. “You were forced, repeatedly. It wasn’t on one occasion, it was over time, which makes it more difficult for your senses to reconfigure, if you like, back to expecting pleasure when what you went through was pain. Does that make sense?” He asks.

She nods; it does, now he’s said it. So many years in SVU and I never thought of it like that, she writes down, shows it to him.

He nods. “Everyone processes trauma differently Olivia,” he tells her. “There is no right or wrong way to deal with it. You’re doing things now of your own volition, but at first it can send confusing messages. The trick is to take things slowly, try again when you’re comfortable doing so. I’m not going to say that these feelings you had this morning won’t reoccur, they may, but they also may be a once time incidence. Over time, your brain, your body, they will relearn to react the way they should. Try not to worry about it too much.”

She smiles, thankful. Suddenly feels the need to admit something else, something that she’s never told a soul until now. If he knows, maybe it’ll help make sense of everything this morning, she thinks to herself.

Tearing the top page of the notepad away - not wanting to sully the page she just used to write about the consensual sex she had with Elliot with what she’s about to admit - she lays it down on the couch, to one side. 

Lewis, she puts, making herself write his name. He um. He didn’t always hold me down, she admits. He would threaten me, make me comply. Make me do anything he wanted. Get on my knees… ride him… pretend that I wanted it… he would burn me with cigarettes, cut me, threaten to break my arm if I didn’t… I didn’t want it, I didn’t want any of it. I just didn’t want it to hurt anymore. Then he got bored with playing puppeteer and went back to brute force anyway, and part of me… part of me would’ve given anything to flip it back. What kind of person does that make me? I would rather have done whatever he wanted, without him holding me… than that?

“You were making the best out of an impossible situation, Olivia.” He says, voice soft, kind.

Understanding.

“It’s an instinct; to want to survive, to not want to be hurt. You did what you had to do. Don’t be ashamed of that.”

***

Later that afternoon, she’s sitting at the breakfast bar in Fin’s kitchen, about to write a letter to Elliot.

Lindstrom’s suggestion; a way to tell Elliot what’s going on, where her head’s at with everything.

The only problem is, she’s not sure where to start. Just write, she tells herself. You can always scrunch it up and put it in the trash if you have to. 

Eyeing the trash can at the other side of the room, she shrugs. Good point. 

I know you’re wondering why I’ve been a little weird today, she writes. And why I suddenly had an appointment with Lindstrom today - this is his idea by the way, a way of telling you what’s up - when I didn’t have one booked in. It was about yesterday, and about last night. Mainly last night, to be honest. Before you start thinking things, before you start blaming yourself - I wanted it. I wanted all of it and it was great. At the time. I fell asleep feeling fine and this morning I woke up and I felt… odd. Off. I needed the appointment to try and figure out why and it helped, it really did. I get it now. Lindstrom has a theory and it makes sense. Basically my brain is rewiring itself and I need to be patient and I need to try again - when I feel able to. Which, again with the honesty… isn’t right now. Might not be for a few days, or even weeks. Gotta admit, it threw me, this morning. I need some time, and I’m sorry I can’t say this out loud - I was really hoping the trip yesterday might have fixed that but no dice - but I hope you understand.

I’d also really like a hug. If there’s one going.

Folding the page in half, she walks up to Elliot, standing by the stove cooking… something. She can’t figure out what. Some sort of stir fry - he’d made Fin go to the grocery store - she thinks.

Tapping him on the shoulder, she hands him the letter when he turns around, standing a few steps away, shifting her weight from foot to foot, chewing on a fingernail while he reads it.

His face falls as he reads certain parts, then turns to understanding, then a soft smile as he finishes. “Oh Liv,” he whispers. “C’mere.”

He opens his arms and she steps into his embrace, tucking her face into the crook of his neck as he presses his lips to her forehead.

Chapter Text

Sunday, October 20th 2013

It’s been almost a month since the visit to the cabin and Olivia’s recovery has been on a steady road upwards. Her confidence has been growing day by day, her insistence on going for a walk at least once a day - even in a torrential downpour, which had been an interesting experience for them both, huddling in a store doorway cause neither one of them had a hood on their coat or an umbrella - being the main reason for her happier mood, Elliot is sure.

She still hasn’t said a word, but she writes things down more these days, little notes for him, what she wants for lunch, things like that.

Oh, and the lists.

She’s become a list fiend; both to his amusement and his detriment, since the vast majority of the lists involve him in some way.

Groceries. Odd jobs. Appointments. Anything that can be turned into a list, has been turned into one.

He loves it really, but he’s not planning on telling her that; he’s inundated with lists as it is, he’s not sure she needs an excuse to write more.

Right now she’s stationed at the breakfast bar in Fin’s kitchen, new MacBook open straight in front of her, her phone to the left of it, and her ever present notebook to the right as she alternates between writing on the page and tracing her fingers over the laptop touchpad. This list, he’d discovered while peering over her shoulder, is for furniture for their new apartment.

He privately thinks maybe they should actually find said new apartment before sorting furniture, but up to now all she seems to be doing is writing a list of what they’ll need.

Probably a good idea, since neither of them has a single piece of furniture to their name. Clothing and a few personal items is all either of them has. They could probably share a large suitcase, come to think of it.

He’s never been one for stuff, so it doesn’t bother him but Liv? Liv’s apartment had had a good helping of little touches, photos in frames, a plant that lived on her bedroom windowsill that she’d been so proud of keeping alive despite her sometimes crazy work schedule, little trinkets that she’d picked up here and there, most of them with a story behind them.

Things she’d acquired from her mother’s apartment after she passed away.

It’s all gone now; save for those few photos Fin had salvaged. Everything else was too broken, too damaged to save.

He wonders if she thinks about them; those material things that she lost, or if she’s just glad she’s alive, that she survived against all the odds.

He knows that he is, glad that she’s alive that is, but he sometimes wonders about Olivia. 

She cries; when she thinks he’s not looking, when she thinks he doesn’t see. She hides it, and he knows that it’s not caused by what Lewis put her through. She can and does seek comfort when she has a flashback, when she’s had a nightmare. But when she’s hiding her tears…

That he’s not sure how to deal with.

He can’t, and doesn’t want to, confront her about it; she’s hiding it for a reason and she knows that she can come to him for anything. He knows she knows that because she does come to him. Nine times out of ten, anyway.

The problem is that he doesn’t know what’s wrong and he doesn’t know how to help her, and that hurts him even more. 

Just gonna have to be there, he tells himself. Be available, and if she wants to let me know what’s wrong… she will.

***

Tuesday, October 22nd 2013

Two days later they find themselves in a coffee shop a few blocks away from Fin’s apartment, waiting for their newly hired real estate agent to meet them. Liv had finally made enough furniture lists to decide that they really did need to get an apartment to actually put some of it in, and so the next list was formed; a shortlist of recommended agents.

Elliot had been given the job of whittling it down and picking one, and after speaking to several on the phone, had picked Alicia Vere, someone who - according to her website - had extensive experience in finding the right apartment in Manhattan and closing quickly.

He has to admit that almost all of the shortlisted agents had said that on their various listings online, but Alicia had seemed genuine and nice on the phone, and hadn’t batted an eye when he’d explained about Liv’s situation.

That’s what they’re calling it these days, her muteness; the situation. 

They’re supposed to meet her at eleven, but they’re a little over half an hour early. Time for a coffee, Elliot thinks. “You want a coffee Liv?” He asks, looking at her sitting opposite him in the small booth.

She’d been staring at the counter, a pensive look on her face. Hearing his words jolt her from her reverie and she turns her head to look at him, her long hair, down and lightly curled for a change (she usually has it in a ponytail, but wanted to look good for the real estate agent) flies through the air with the force of it. 

Sitting there opposite him, the mid morning sun on her face, hair lying messily around her shoulders with a wide eyed look on her face waiting for him to repeat what he just said…

She’s never looked more beautiful.

“I said, do you want a coffee?” He asks again with a chuckle.

She nods, and as he reaches for the menu in the middle of their table to find out what she wants, she beats him to it. Picking it up, she chews absently on her lip as she reads down, turning it over and doing the same on the opposite side. A small smile catches the corners of her lips as she reads the back of the menu, and she fishes the pocket-sized notebook out of one jacket pocket, her pen from another and starts to write. 

He waits; hand on the table expecting her to hand him her order when she’s done but she surprises him again. Getting to her feet, torn off sheet of paper in hand, she squares her shoulders and heads up to the counter on her own.

He watches; a wonky grin on his face as she, taking advantage of the fact there is no queue at that precise moment, steps straight up to the counter, hands her slip of paper to the barista and waits expectant.

He listens; waiting for something to go wrong. He hates to even think it, but it is an unusual way of ordering. He’s just got to hope that the barista isn’t going to be awkward.

Luckily for all involved, the barista doesn’t even ask, simply taking the order and preparing it without so much as a question about why it’s on a piece of notepaper and not spoken out loud.

A few minutes later and Liv has paid, got their drinks and is setting Elliot’s Americano down in front of him, before settling back in her seat, her own iced coffee in hand.

“That feel good?” He asks her, even though the grin on her face is speaking a thousand words.

Lips wrapped firmly around the straw, she nods quickly. 

Taking a sip of his coffee, Elliot finds himself grinning right back.

***

Eight long hours (and a lot of apartment buildings later), they’re back at Fin’s. Walking in, the apartment feels positively tiny compared to some of the units they’ve wandered around in today.

Liv unceremoniously dumps most of the brochures in the trash as she walks by, only holding onto one.

“At least we’ve settled on one building, huh?” Elliot jokes.

Liv snorts, heading towards then flopping down on the couch.

The building they’ve picked is newly built; the last few available units not quite finished internally yet, but there’s a completion date of mid-December; just in time for Christmas, their real estate agent had been very excited to tell them. They’ve just got to decide whether they want a two or a three-bed apartment. It’s not a massive difference (apart from the price, but again, both are within budget), both have stunning views, access to the gym, the pool, the concierge…

It’s just a case of deciding if they need the third bedroom or not.

“So which one do you think?” He asks, nodding at the brochure on her lap as he sits down next to her. “Two bed or three?” 

Do we need three? Liv scribbles on her trusty notepad, showing him.

“Be good for kids…” Elliot muses.

He doesn’t realise he said that out loud until Liv turns her head violently, looking at him, eyes wide as saucers. She’s holding her breath, he realises; as if she doesn’t quite believe what she’s just heard.

“You’ve always wanted them,” Elliot continues, explaining. “I know I’ve got five already but I’d love to have some more with you, and we could adopt… if you want?” The certainty he’d felt when starting his sentence is wavering by the time he’s finished, at the tears that have filled Liv’s eyes. “Liv?”

The water spills over, running down her cheeks freely as she launches herself at him. Happy tears, he realises as her arms fly around him, holding him as tightly as she can, him doing the same in return, catching her as he always does, holding on.

She leans back, still holding on as she looks into his face, nothing but love and sheer happiness in her eyes as she kisses him deeply.

Chapter Text

Saturday, October 26th 2013

The first time she sees Amanda since, is completely unplanned. She’s alone; well, sort of. Elliot is in a convenience store grabbing some stuff for dinner, and she’s waiting for him in the street outside. It’s not too busy, but there are a number of people in the street. Still, she lives in New York, so it’s something she needs to get used to again.

It’s part of a long term plan; she can’t be superglued to Elliot’s side forever (as much as she’d like to be, it’s not practical and if she’s honest, it’s not helpful to her healing process if she relies on him to be within ten feet of her at all times), so they’re taking it slowly. 

One step at a time.

They’d started small; he’d settle himself down on a park bench and she’d wander off, knowing exactly where he would be when the anxiety became too much and she needed to be able to see him again. At first she could barely manage a few minutes, but now…

The last time they’d done it she’d been so engrossed in watching the wildlife on one of the ponds, he’d come looking for her.

So now they’ve graduated to her waiting outside stores while he pops in for random items (or in this case, their dinner for tonight). At first she’d found it odd; she’s waited outside stores for him before in the car and had no issues, but standing out in the open is a whole different matter. Until she’d realised why.

No doors she can lock.

Amanda looks well, she muses as the blonde approaches her. At first she’s not sure if she’s been seen, then the unsure, almost shy smile crosses Amanda’s lips and she gets her answer.

“Hey Liv,” she greets her, coming to a halt a few feet away.

Does she know I don’t talk these days? Liv asks herself. Cause if she doesn’t, this is gonna get really fucking awkward really fucking fast.

“It’s uh… it’s good to see you.” She continues. She’s stumbling over the words, clearly unsure what the hell to say.

Maybe you should’ve tried talking to me sooner, instead of turning up at the hospital drunk, then disappearing for three months, she thinks to herself bitterly. She’s never been all that close with Amanda. As work colleagues they got on… most of the time but beyond that? She’s never called her a friend, isn’t sure they’d have ever gotten to that point. We’ll never know now, she says to herself.

Completely ignoring the fact that Liv is staring at her silently, eyes wide, she rambles on. “I don’t know if Fin told you,” she continues. “But I went to the hospital… after. Uh… I wasn’t in a good way. I’d relapsed, after you… after you went missing. Fin told me to get my shit together before I came back. I was so angry with him for that but he was right… it wasn’t fair on you if I’d turned up like that. So I did what he said and it’s been two and a half months now and I’m doing really well now and… you don’t really need to hear all this, do you?” She looks up at her, meeting Liv’s gaze finally. “I’m sorry. I just don’t know what to say and well… I spoke to Cragen and he told me that you well… you don’t talk right now so you’re probably standing there mentally screaming for me to just shut up aren’t you? I’m rambling. I’m sorry. I’m gonna shut up now.” She does; snapping her jaw shut with an audible clack, before shuffling from foot to foot awkwardly.

Shaking her head, Liv snorts, making Amanda look at her with a slightly tilted head, a confused expression on her face. Stepping forward, Liv closes the gap, giving Amanda a brief, firm hug before stepping back, offering her a kind smile.

“You… don’t hate me?” Amanda asks, still unsure.

Liv shakes her head no.

“But… I… I brought him in.” She says, voice wavering.

Liv rolls her eyes. Gets her notepad out, and writes. NOT YOUR FAULT is on the piece of paper she tears out, handing it to the other woman.

Amanda holds the page in two hands, the paper fluttering slightly as her hands quake. “But…” She trails off. “I blamed myself,” she says quietly. “It’s why I left. Couldn’t stay there knowing what I’d done, what I caused.”

Liv sighs, taps the top of the paper three times with her finger, reaffirming the message.

“You really mean that?” Amanda asks, voice small.

Liv nods. 

The blonde finally appeased, Liv watches as the piece of paper is folded up very carefully and tucked into Amanda’s coat pocket for safekeeping. She has a feeling that it’s going to become a keepsake of some sort.

“I uh… I got a meeting,” Amanda says next, checking her watch. “So I can’t stay. But… maybe we could grab a coffee sometime?”

Liv nods, presses her right hand flat over her heart. I’d like that.

Amanda smiles back. “You aren’t here by yourself, are you?” She asks, glancing around as she finally realises Liv is the only person she recognises in the immediate vicinity. “I’ve probably got time to wait with you or walk with you somewhere if you need…?”

Liv shakes her head, pointing at the convenience store doorway, where Elliot has, with his usual impeccable timing, just emerged with two bulging grocery bags. What the hell did you buy? You only went in for food for us, not half the apartment building.

Amanda follows Liv’s finger, nodding as she spots Elliot. “He’s cute,” she comments with a grin. “I’ll see you around Liv.”

She reaches out, pats Liv once on the shoulder then walks away, quickly lost in the crowd. 

***

Late that night, she finds herself alone in Fin’s apartment.

Well, not quite alone. Fin has gone out with some retired cop buddies - getting some tips for a life of leisure, he’d called it - and Elliot is asleep.

She should be asleep herself, but she’s wide awake; wired, and it can’t be from too much coffee as she hasn’t had any since just after lunch. She feels… restless, is the only word she can think of using to describe it. 

I need a job, she realises. I can’t do this ‘life of leisure’ thing.

She’s got her new apartment - the three bed, with hopefully a kid or two (or more, as Elliot had put it) to fill those spare rooms - and for all there’s still enough money left over from her settlement, plus her full pay and benefits from the retirement, and Elliot’s on top… they could literally live a life of luxury and never have to work again, either of them. 

But.

That’s not her. She’s never been able to just sit around, never could. Neither can Elliot; even when he’s hurt he can’t stay still, it’s not in his nature. Another reason we get along so well, she muses. 

She needs something to occupy her; something to do. Something to make her feel useful, instead of the feeling of worthlessness that, despite everything, she can’t quite shake. The only problem is what, especially when she hasn’t got a clue when or even if her voice is going to come back.

Maybe I just need to find peace with that.

***

Monday, October 28th 2013

Monday rolls around, and Fin announces that he’s invited Munch over for dinner. Apparently it’s ‘about time you saw him, he’s getting all dejected, you know what he’s like’ and something about Munch starting to think it’s a conspiracy keeping him away from her or something.

Knowing Munch… it wouldn’t be far off the truth. She agrees really just to shut Fin up, but it has been something she’s been considering for a while. Munch had been there at the hospital, she knows that but he’s the only one who she hasn’t seen since. 

When he arrives at the door, 7pm prompt, she doesn’t know why she was so nervous. He takes one look at her, says her name and gives her that kind, gentle smile that only he can manage, and she’s in his arms before either of them can blink.

Munch gives good hugs, she remembers as she buries her nose in his shoulder.

He squeezes her tighter for a few seconds before placing his hands on her shoulders, holding her at arms length and looking her up and down. “Well, you look a whole lot better than when I last saw you.” He comments, and just like that the tension is gone. 

She nods, her eyes feeling as wet as Munch’s look, and leads him into the apartment, where Elliot is trying to cook something under Fin’s watchful gaze.

“Hey man,” Fin greets his old partner, giving him a quick one armed hug, complete with back slapping. “Give Stabler another ten minutes then we’ll get the takeout menus, yeah?”

Elliot turns at that, glowering at Fin as Liv snorts, taking a seat at the breakfast bar. “I’d like to see you cook.” He retorts.

Fin raises an eyebrow, not taking the bait. “Can’t be any worse than you.”

Munch slides onto the next stool, nudging her gently with his shoulder. “Now I know you and Elliot finally got your acts together,” he whispers conspiratorially. “But are you sure he’s not two-timing you with Fin? They’re like an old married couple.”

Liv coughs, covering her mouth to hide her grin as the two of them watch Elliot and Fin argue over what she thinks might be supposed to be a stir fry in the pan.

***

Of all the ways she’d thought of trying to find herself a job, talking to Munch was not one of them. “Y’know Liv, I’ve got a friend who works a program, aimed at schools and college students, how to spot the signs of grooming, sexual assault recovery, education on consent, that sort of thing. She’s always looking for new people to join her team… you know, if you didn’t want to be a lady of leisure forever.”

It sounds… perfect. Only one problem though. She gives Munch a pointed look, indicating her throat with her finger.

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Munch hand waves. “She’s inventive. Meet her, I’m sure she’ll be able to find something that doesn’t require talking. She does advice leaflets, they have talks given at schools… you could write those, someone else can do the actual presenting part.”

She thinks it over, a slow smile creeping across her face. I can’t do my old job anymore, but maybe… I can still help people. People… like me.

“Hey, what about me?” Elliot cuts in. “I could do with a job too, you think she’ll have room for me?”

“That’s perfect!” Munch exclaims. “Liv can write the speeches and you can give them. Partners, like you used to be, right down to you telling him what to do eh Liv?” He grins, laughing at his own joke.

“Give me her number,” Elliot asks, ignoring Fin’s chuckling. “We can call her, see what she’s got to say, yeah?” He aims the last part of his sentence at Liv.

She nods, even more interested in the idea now Elliot’s involved. Partners… like we used to be, she thinks. Only better this time, because we’ll be partners in every sense of the word. I… I like that.

***

Friday, November 1st 2013

It’s all sorted by the end of the week; they’d met with Carmen, Munch’s friend (and possible ex-wife, but they’re afraid to ask) on Wednesday, and she’d loved the two of them so much - a package deal, she’d called them - she had a joint job offer and work contracts written up by Friday.

They sign on the dotted line, jobs to start in the new year, just how Munch had sold it to them; Liv writes the stuff, Elliot gets up on stage and talks it out with the students.

It’s perfect.

Smiling in the early November sun, she leaves Carmen’s office building with a bright smile, her hand clasped in Elliot’s as they walk up the street, a renewed purpose in her footsteps.

She doesn’t feel worthless anymore.

Chapter Text

Tuesday, November 12th 2013

She all but shoves Fin out the door of his own apartment, feeling a tiny flash of guilt as she does so. He likes going out with his buddies, she reasons. It’s for a good cause.

She’s not sure what Fin would think if he knew just why she was so determined to get him to go out and stay out all night, but he’s been incredibly supportive of her in her recovery up to now, so she thinks he’d understand.

She’s not going to let him know though. That is a step too far.

The reason she wants him out of the apartment though, and all night? She’s planning, to sound very much like a teenage girl, to go all the way with Elliot.

They’ve been slowly taking things further in the bedroom for the last couple of months, grinding, touching, sometimes Elliot even touches her under her clothes.

It’s going too slowly though; she’s getting frustrated, and not in that way.

So, she made the decision earlier to just bite the bullet, to just take Elliot inside her.

Is she terrified?

Yes; the last time she’d had a man inside her it was Lewis, it was rape, and she was so ill, so close to death that all she can remember is the pain, which was excruciating.

Not the best thing to be thinking about when planning to have sex with the love of her life, her soulmate… but this is where she is. Don’t expect perfection, Olivia, her mother had once told her. It’s a fairytale. Men want whatever they can talk you into and even then they’ll never be satisfied.

She closes her eyes, shaking her head lightly in an attempt to free herself from her mother’s voice. Elliot isn’t like that, she argues with her own memory. He’s good, and he’s kind, and he’d never take anything I wasn’t willing to give. For hell’s sake, it’s probably going to take a fair amount of persuading to get him to do this for me, he’s so scared of hurting me.

Which is the other problem; how the fuck is she supposed to persuade Elliot to well… fuck her, for want of a better description, when she’s still mute?

This is going to take some thought, some planning, and if all else fails…

She’s always been inventive.

***

She leaves it for a good hour; both to make sure Fin isn’t going to randomly reappear having forgotten something, and to get her confidence up enough to be bold, and to let Elliot know that she does want this. 

Or at least fake it; she’s having doubts, if she’s honest with herself. It’s Elliot, she reminds herself. He won’t hurt you, and if you change your mind he’ll stop. You know this.

With that thought in her head, she pushes up from where she’d been on the couch, tucked into Elliot’s side. Once on her feet she turns, offering her hand.

He frowns, but takes it, linking their fingers together as he clicks off the TV with his free hand, letting her tug him gently to his feet and lead him into their bedroom.

***

They’ve been kissing for what feels like forever; he’s lying half on top of her, his shirt on the floor, her t-shirt bunched up under her breasts. Her hands grip at the muscles on his back, his tracing over the soft skin near her bra clasp as they grind their lower bodies together slowly.

For all she’s been trying to send signals that she wants to go further, he doesn’t seem to be getting the message so she takes matters into her own hands, pulling first her t-shirt up and over her head before leaning up from the mattress, undoing her bra and letting that drop over the side of the bed too. 

He looks, eyes wide - he is a man, and she has breasts, and she knows he’s going to look - before raising an eyebrow at her. “You sure?” He whispers.

She smirks in response, dragging his lips back to hers, pressing her bare breasts against the hard planes of his chest. Her nipples catch on his own, and she groans into his mouth.

He chuckles, his kisses drifting from her lips to her cheek, then to her jaw, pressing his open mouth down from there to her neck, her collarbone and finally, finally he reaches her breasts. 

He pays special attention to each one; kissing the soft mounds, circling her nipples with his tongue as her back arches, a whimper passing her lips as her hand grabs the back of his head, steering him exactly where she wants him.

The whines that escape her grow ever higher in pitch as his mouth closes around her left nipple, sucking gently.

She has scars on her breasts; cigarette burns, the key to her old apartment, but it doesn’t stop him; he traces his mouth over the scars, paying no extra attention to the raised, darkened skin than he does to any other part of her breast.

She loves him even more for it.

He moves on, much to her brief irritation; his mouth travelling to the valley of her breasts, tracing a line straight down from there to her belly button before reaching the waistband of her jeans.

He stops there; looks up at her through dark eyes, his pupils blown wide with desire. His hands are planted on the mattress either side of her hips, and she meets his gaze, her heaving chest between them.

Nods.

Reaches for the button on her jeans herself, popping it and pushing the zipper down; an invitation.

He takes the hint, tugs the jeans slowly down her hips, their eyes locked the entire time. Soon, the dark blue material is on the floor at the foot of the bed, and the only thing she wears is some plain white underwear.

I wish I’d put on something nicer, she thinks to herself. 

That said, the way Elliot is looking at her… she doesn’t think it would have mattered.

“You’re beautiful,” he murmurs. “So beautiful Liv.”

He sounds like he’s crying, but the lighting in the room is casting a faint shadow over his face and she can’t tell.

She wants to push the underwear off too, kick the white cotton off and get his mouth, that talented tongue of his to her aching core but he’s got other ideas; any trace of tears gone as he shifts position, a twinkle in his eyes as he shifts down the bed, sliding off the end until he’s on his knees at the foot, her own feet level with his face. He’s not…

He is; his mouth, his lips tracing up the inside of her right foot. What he’s about to learn though, is that the soles of her feet are very ticklish.

His lips touch an especially ticklish part of her foot a moment later, and he’s laughing as she almost kicks him in the face. “Don’t touch the bottoms of your feet,” he murmurs. “Noted.”

She’s too turned on to get too annoyed at him, especially when he bypasses her feet altogether, choosing instead to mark a path up from her left ankle to her knee, his mouth following the trail around to the soft flesh behind the joint, somewhere she didn’t think was so sensitive but apparently is as she groans, reaching down and pulling on the only bit of him she can reach; his ear.

She wants him higher up, she wants him at the ache between her thighs and she wants him there right now.

Snickering against her skin, he obliges; possibly only to save his ear, but right now she doesn’t care as she shoves her underwear down her hips, grateful as he takes over, sliding the fabric past her knees, down to her feet where she kicks her feet, sending the flimsy, soaked fabric god knows where.

It’s all worth it; so damn worth it as his lips touch right where she needs them to, his nose pressed against her folds as his tongue darts out, licking and sucking and oh god that’s so good and she’s groaning, whimpering and whining as her thighs clamp tightly around his head, keeping him right there but soon, all too soon it’s not enough, it’s not what she wants, not what she’d planned for and she’s dragging him up and over the top of her, tasting herself on his lips as she slots their mouths back together, fumbling with his jeans, opening them and pushing them off, boxers too and she’s using her feet to push them down his legs, his length springing free, touching her right there and god, she needs him inside her.

Right the hell now.

She whimpers as he tears his mouth from hers, looking down at her, searching her eyes with his own. “You okay?” He asks.

She nods. Better than okay.

“You sure?” He tilts his head, watching her intently.

She nods again. More than I’ve ever been about anything, she wants to tell him.

But she can’t tell him, so she has to speak with actions instead; tilting her hips, using her hands to guide him to where she wants him, him letting her take control despite being the one on top, keeping his hands planted either side of her shoulders as she touches his tip to her soaked folds, sliding him inside her. She tenses; her body conditioned for so long to expect pain but it doesn’t come; only pleasure sparking as he gets ever deeper, her arms coming up around his shoulders, tugging him down to rest his weight on her how she wants, her right leg winding high on his waist, her left around his thighs where they lie between her legs.

He bottoms out with a low groan, their mouths so close, breaths intermingling. “You good?” He breathes against her lips.

Hell yes, she thinks, covering his mouth with her own, his arms drawing her close as he starts to move.

Who said fairytales don’t exist?

Chapter Text

Saturday, December 7th 2013

The sun warms her face gently as she admires the view. The 15th century palazzo that Elliot had told her she’d love… well.

He wasn’t wrong, and the view of it from here, this hotel balcony… 

It’s perfect.

They’re mid-way through the second week of a three-week jaunt around Europe; an indulgence before their new joint job starts in January. This time last week they’d been in Paris; Elliot’s arm around her as they stood in the middle of a throng of tourists like themselves, staring up at the Eiffel Tower. This week it’s Italy; exploring first Rome, then further afield. Next week it’s Germany; Elliot wants to show her around the country he lived in for so many months. 

She can’t wait; for all she loved Paris and she loves Italy, the thought of Elliot showing her around the Germany he knows… it’s even more special.

Their new apartment is scheduled to be ready to move into the moment they land back on US soil; it’s currently being overseen by Fin and a designer who had offered her services for free, having read all about her case on the news. It’s being done to their own style, but god knows neither of them know how to furnish an entire three-bed place from scratch, so they’d jumped at the help.

It’s all so fast, so busy, so mad… but she wouldn’t have it any other way.

She twists the golden chain of her - Elliot’s - medallion around her fingers absently as she watches the world pass by a few stories below her, a soft, content smile on her face, her muscles aching deliciously with the memory of last night, and this morning.

After that first time, that fairytale occurrence in their bedroom at Fin’s place… it’s proven pretty damn difficult to keep their hands off each other.

Elliot had made love - because that’s what it is, love - to her twice last night, and again in the very large hotel shower this morning.

If she’s totally honest with herself, they might have a lunch reservation but she’s seriously contemplating skipping it so she can drag him back to bed.

She doubts he’d take much persuasion; she’d seen him eyeing her up as she’d gotten dressed after that shower.

Hearing footsteps behind her, she lets the chain go, the medallion landing back on her chest with a soft thud, glinting in the warm December sunlight as she smiles, turning her head to see Elliot come up beside her, his arms resting on the balcony railing, a mirror of her own position.

“Hey,” he greets her, smiling before he turns his attention to the view. “Great view, isn’t it?” He comments. “You like it?”

She turns, her side resting on the railing now as she faces him. I love it. Her smile grows ever wider as he bites his lip, watching her with soft eyes.

She closes the gap between them with two small steps forward, her arms coming up around his waist, his own once again mirroring hers, his hands clasped at her back.

“I love you.” He whispers.

She smiles at him; leans up to kiss him, her own way of saying it back but as she does, she feels something shift inside her, in her head, in her heart.

A clearing, of sorts.

Changing target, she leans up higher, her lips brushing his ear instead.

“Love you too.”