Actions

Work Header

Senseless

Chapter Text

 

If I cannot see what’s in front of me
How will I know?
If I cannot break these chains that bind me
How will I go?

 



 

[ O N E ]

 


Olivia has seen awful things. She’s been in dangerous situations, stared down demons hidden behind human faces, walked into situations that she’s had to accept that she might not walk out of again. 

Yet, she’s never felt a fear like this one.

“Blind?” Olivia repeats, and the word is like tar as it falls from her lips.

“Temporary blindness,” the doctor corrects quickly. “Full vision should likely be restored in a few days, but the trauma to the base of your spine and neck caused some bruising and swelling of the veins around your optic nerve. What did you say happened again?”

“She was tackled by a suspect,” Elliot says from somewhere to her left. 

“I know it’s scary, detective, but you should consider yourself lucky. If you’d hit the ground any harder we’d be having a very different conversation.”

“How long until I can go back to work?” Olivia asks. 

She can’t wrap her head around this. She has to focus on the facts or she’ll panic, because her eyes are open and she can’t see a damn thing. It’s terrifying, actually. She can’t even see shadows: there’s nothing but endless darkness. 

If she keeps thinking about it she’s going to hyperventilate. 

“It’s hard to say with certainty,” the doctor answers. “Your vision won’t return all at once. You’ll probably start to notice pinpoints of light at first, and then shadows, maybe a few blurry images. But you won’t be given the all clear to go back to work until we can determine that everything is back to normal and there’s no residual swelling.”

“How long?” Olivia pushes.

“Liv,” Elliot soothes. 

She heaves out a sigh. Elliot is right, and pushing the doctor isn’t going to get her anywhere. This isn’t a perp she’s trying to break: this is a medical professional. He probably has years worth of experience dealing with people who get angry and demand answers he doesn’t have when he tells them something they don’t want to hear. 

“A lot of the healing time is going to be dependent on you, detective,” the doctor tells her. “You’re going to want to push yourself, but the more you do that the longer it’s going to take. You’ll need to rest and take it easy, because the more active you are the longer it’ll take for the swelling to go down. Your other injuries will need the time to heal, as well. The bruising on your neck and shoulders will be tender for a while, so it might help to sleep on your stomach if you can. Otherwise, try to prop yourself up on some soft pillows. Remember, the less pressure the better.”

Olivia is doing her best not to be a pain in the ass. Really, she is, but everything about this sounds awful. She’s never been great at taking it easy. 

“Well, what about heat? I’d love a hot bath right about now,” Olivia says, and then she tenses as another thought occurs to her. 

She can’t see her partner’s expression but she knows that he understands where her mind has gone because she can feel the sudden tension that seems to radiate off of him. Olivia hears the momentary shuffle of his feet; the air near her arm moves slightly, and she knows that he’s taken a step closer to her. 

Olivia will give the doctor credit, because he picks up on the suddenness of her understanding. 

“I’m sure you’ve realized this, detective, but you’re going to need some help for a while. Do you have someone at home, someone you trust to help you?”

Olivia grips the edges of the hospital bed so hard her knuckles turn white.

“I’ll manage,” she grinds out through gritted teeth.

She can sense the hesitation in the other man’s voice before she hears it. “I don’t mean to be insensitive, Detective Benson, but this isn’t something you can do on your own. Your life is that of a seeing person, and for the next few days, at least, that’s not how you’re going to be living. The disorientation alone is going to be an adjustment.”

“I don’t,” she starts to say.

“I’ll stay with her,” Elliot interrupts. 

“El, I …” But Olivia doesn’t finish her sentence because she doesn’t know what to say. The doctor has made it clear that she’s not going to be able to do this on her own, and who else does she have in her life that can help her?

What can she say? I can’t ask you to do this? Great, because she didn’t. What about Kathy? He’ll just get irritated that he has to remind her - again - that he and Kathy are no longer married and have been divorced for nearly a year. I’ll be fine? Even if she can’t see him she knows exactly what kind of look he’ll give her if she even tries to utter those words. 

The truth settles over Olivia all over again: she can’t fucking see. Temporary blindness, and even though the doctor has given her an idea of a timeline he can’t say for certain how long it’s going to last. Working isn’t the only thing she can’t do for the foreseeable future (and god, what a shitty pun that is!): she can’t drive, can’t text or read a menu - or read at all - or even write with any kind of accuracy. 

Olivia tightens her hands on the edges of the bed until her fingers start to go numb. How the hell is she going to get through this? How long is Elliot going to have to play her nursemaid, and what the hell would she do if he hadn’t volunteered to help her? 

All at once, the bleakness of her life hits her all over again. She’s alone, and while she’s had years and years to get used to and accept that fact, she’s now also helpless in a way that she’s never been. 

“Olivia.”

She blinks at the sharpness in Elliot’s tone, which is useless but reflexive. Olivia’s awareness starts to return to the moment which is the only reason she realizes that it was anywhere else. She takes a deep breath and forces herself to loosen her hands and pull them into her lap. 

The doctor - she’s pretty sure he introduced himself as Dr. Shaefer - clears his throat. 

“Panic attacks are to be expected,” he tells them kindly. “They might start to lessen after the first two or three days, but it really depends on you. They’re most likely to happen after you first wake up, but they can happen at any time. The important thing is to remember that they’re normal, and they’ll pass.”

“I’ll be fine,” Olivia says, because at this moment it’s all she has. She has to focus on the facts, the mechanics of it all, or she’ll lose it. “What else do I need to know? I’m tired and I’d like to go home, doc.”

“Of course. I put in a prescription for some muscle relaxers that will help with the body aches …”

“That’s not necessary,” Olivia interrupts.

“We’ll be sure to pick them up,” Elliot says immediately, and if Olivia could see his face right now she knows that he probably just glared at her. 

“And I’ll send you home with a white cane,” the doctor continues, ignoring the interruption and their exchange. “You’re still going to need help, but the cane will give you a measure of independence.”

A measure of independence. 

The doctor is still talking to Elliot, but Olivia’s thoughts are starting to spiral again. She’s been independent her whole life. She doesn’t know how to be anything else, and now here she is being told that she’s going to be forced to figure it out. 

She’s going to be forced to learn how to be almost entirely dependent on someone else, at least until she can figure out how to adjust to this temporary challenge. 

No, not just someone else: she’s going to be dependent on Elliot. Her partner, the man who trusts her to have his back, who needs her to be at the top of her game and able to hold her own. Now, she’s going to be reduced to a measure of independence because she can’t fucking see

“Detective Benson?”

“What?”

“I said you’re free to go home. I’ll want to see you back in a week, or when your vision starts to return, whatever comes sooner.”

“Great,” Olivia says, but her tone tells them it’s anything but. 

“Let me get you that white stick, and I’ll meet you at the nurse’s station with discharge instructions.”

She blows out a breath and waits for the sound of the door opening. It doesn’t close again, so she knows that the doctor has left it open. This is how she’ll have to navigate the world for now: by sound. 

“Liv,” Elliot begins, and she lets her head hang for just a second. 

“I’m fine,” she repeats. 

Olivia’s feet are solid on the small step of the hospital bed, so she braces one hand on the edge to help with her balance and slides carefully to her feet. Then, she reaches out and down with one foot to gauge the distance to the floor, and steps down. 

She can do this. She’ll be as independent as she can, she’ll use whatever tools she has to make this as easy on Elliot as she can. She may not be able to see, but she refuses to be helpless. Useless. Whatever she can do for herself, she will. 

The fact that Elliot is being quiet concerns her. He must be wondering what the hell he’s signed up for, because god knows Olivia is. Why did he volunteer in the first place? 

Probably because she has no one else to help her, but that thought isn’t worth exploring now. Or ever, actually. 

“How many steps to the door?”

“Liv -.”

“How many steps to the door, El?”

“Step left,” he instructs, and when she does he continues, “Four to the doorway, five to take you out into the hall.”

Olivia nods. 

Next to her, Elliot watches her straighten her shoulders in determination and start toward the door. He’s not sure what will kill him first: Olivia’s independence or her stubbornness. 

Or just her, in general. 

He sends up a silent prayer as he follows his partner into the hall: please, God, let us survive this. 

Chapter Text

[ T W O ]

 

In the car, Olivia fishes her cell phone out of her back pocket on autopilot and then visibly deflates when she remembers that it’s pointless. She can’t dial his number, or even hit the number that corresponds to his speed dial. For the first time in a long time, Olivia misses the way cell phones used to be, with an actual number pad. 

“What are you doing?” Elliot asks from the driver’s seat.

“I was going to call Cragen.” Even she can hear the note of defeat in her voice. 

“And?” Elliot prods. “Would you rather wait until later?”

Olivia shoots a glare at him. She’s never been able to see the faces she makes, of course, but being suddenly robbed of her sight somehow makes her more aware of the way her muscles move. The pull of her eyebrows as they draw together, the way her lips press together … things that she’s never taken the time to actively notice before. 

“I can’t see to dial his number, El,” Olivia shoots back acerbically. 

She thinks he might be smiling a little when he answers. “You don’t have to, Liv. Just ask Siri to do it.”

Elliot watches the way Olivia’s face changes. It’s sweet, how quickly her expression brightens at the realization that there’s something she can do for herself - and he struggles with seeing how much she’s already struggling with this, and how much worse it’s going to get. 

He waits quietly while Olivia uses her voice to instruct her phone to make the call. When she puts the phone to her ear Elliot realizes two things in quick succession: he’s still staring at her … and she doesn’t know because she can’t see him. 

Then, as if she can hear him thinking she angles the phone away from her mouth for a second and whispers, “Stop staring, El.”

He huffs out a laugh just as Liv lines the phone up with her mouth once again and starts talking to their captain. 

Elliot puts the transmission in drive and pulls out into traffic. He can’t hear what Cragen is saying but he can hear the low notes of his voice every so often, and Olivia’s own voice softens and gets less sure the longer she explains what the doctor has told them. Even without being able to hear Cragen’s words he knows what the captain has just asked his partner by the way she hesitates before answering. 

“Uh, yeah … Elliot is …”

And he imagines that Cragen is interrupting her now with some version of, “I don’t want to know, Olivia,” because she doesn’t finish the sentence. The call ends just after that and Elliot watches out of the corner of his eye as Liv fiddles with her phone. She’s tense, and he knows what’s coming before she opens her mouth.

“El, you don’t have to do this. I’ll -.”

“Be fine?” He offers when she hesitates. 

It hasn’t even been that long, but Olivia feels like she can hear something in his tone that she would normally miss. The edge of it is sharp, dry - he’s gearing up for an argument. Nothing new, she knows, but there’s also something … tired? Resigned? 

“I was going to say ‘figure it out’,” she finally finishes. 

“But now you’re not?”

“Now … I feel like I’ve been hit by a semi.” Olivia blows out a heavy breath. She aches in so many places: the back of her neck and shoulders, her chest where she now has several bruised ribs, and she’s developing a headache. 

“That Percocet the doctor prescribed you …”

“El,” she interrupts. 

“I know, Liv. But you’re in pain. You were tackled by a man who could have been a linebacker. You heard the doctor: you need to rest, and that’ll be a lot easier if you can relax a little.”

Olivia doesn’t respond. He has a point, of course, but something in her rebels at the idea of being even a little incapacitated like that. 

Elliot lets out a short, sharp curse and swerves suddenly. Not too far, but without being able to literally see it coming Olivia has no opportunity to brace herself. She flings out her arms in panic. 

At first, the only thing she’s aware of once they’re stopped is the sound of labored breathing. Hers, and Elliot’s. The next thing she’s aware of is pain, and she takes a second to catalog it as she looks for anything new. 

It all seems to be coming from the same places, though, the ones she already knows of. The seat belt is tight against her chest but they weren’t going fast enough to cause injury, just to exacerbate the pain of her already bruised ribs.

“Did we hit something?” she asks. There’s no answer, just that same harsh breathing, and Olivia hones in on it as a surge of panic swells in her chest. “Elliot!” she practically yells, frightened. 

God, he has to be okay because she can’t see, she can’t be of any help to him in this moment or this situation and she can probably pull herself out the window if she has to but …

“No, we’re good. Liv. Breathe, you’re okay.”

Elliot turns in his seat and it’s this movement that alerts Olivia to the fact that while she’s flung her right arm into the door to brace herself, when she flung her left arm the only thing it could connect with is Elliot. 

She must have punched him in the chest, she realizes, at roughly the same time his seat belt locked and maybe knocked the wind out of him. 

“Breathe, Olivia.”

She’s hyperventilating in her seat, both arms still flung out and bracing her, and now that he can take his hands off the wheel Elliot reaches up and clasps one hand carefully around her forearm. She’s shaking and tense and her breathing is only getting harsher as the seconds tick by. They can’t stay where they are - they’re in the middle of the road and even though it’s a side street they’re going to be blocking traffic soon - but Elliot flips on the lights to buy them some time. He unbuckles his seat belt and then leans over to unbuckle hers and release the pressure from her chest. 

“Olivia,” he says again, and he slides his hand down her arm to take her hand in his instead. He squeezes it once, and then again, and then coaxes her into bending her arm. “We’re okay, Liv. Some punk kid jumped out from between the parked cars and then ran off. Probably just a prank. He’s okay, we’re okay. C’mon, Liv, take a deep breath.”

He can see it all on her face, the panic and the struggle and the fight to rein it all in again. It’s awful to watch and know that he can’t just pull her out of this the way he’d pull her out of the line of fire. 

It hurts to watch her blink, over and over again and too quickly as if it’s just a matter of clearing her vision.

Olivia squeezes his hand but the pressure doesn’t relent. She bears down on it until the bones of his fingers are being crushed against the bones of hers and it’s painful but he doesn’t say anything to stop her. 

She focuses on what she can. The way his hand feels in hers: rough and tense and warm; the sound of his breathing, less harsh now and still too quick, but slowing every second; the faint smell of their squad car, a mix of stale coffee and his cologne and her perfume. 

“Are you hurt?” Elliot asks.

Olivia shakes her head, hesitantly and then a little faster. Her heart rate is slowing down now, and she’s forcing deep breathing even though the bigger inhales make her ribs hurt. 

“You didn’t answer,” she finally manages to grind out through a tense jaw. “I thought we hit something and you were injured and I can’t see, Elliot, I couldn’t have …”

“Okay,” he says to cut off her growing diatribe. “I get it, but we’re okay. You’re okay, Liv. Keep taking deep breaths; I have to get us moving again. We’re holding up traffic.”

Olivia is holding his right hand, so she forces herself to let go. Her seat belt is still undone and she reaches behind her to grab it, all of her injuries protesting loudly as she does so. The soft groan of pain that escapes her is involuntary.

“Do we need to go back to the hospital?” Elliot asks as the car begins to move again. 

“I’m fine,” she insists, and knows that her partner is scoffing at her choice of words. “Just take me home, Elliot.”

To his credit, he doesn’t laugh. It’s there in the air between them, though, the unspoken tease that he might toss at her at a different time, if she weren’t in pain. 

The rest of the drive to her apartment is thankfully uneventful. By the time Elliot has found somewhere to park and Olivia is opening her door the panic attack has faded and the lingering tenseness in her body is a result of pain. She’s exhausted: the sharp spikes of adrenaline and resulting crashes of two panic attacks have left her utterly drained. She’s moving slowly as she pushes the door open and sticks her foot out to test where the curb is, and the distance from the car to the ground. 

Belatedly, she remembers the white cane that the doctor gave her. Elliot is there, then, with a murmur and a hand that takes hers to help her to her feet and onto the sidewalk. She keeps her expression as neutral as she can, but the pain pulls the corners of her mouth down in a way she doesn’t realize. Each step she takes is jarring and sends dull shoots of pain in different directions, up her neck and across her shoulders and down her back. Her ribs throb. 

Elliot has released her hand. She can hear his footsteps, which he has just adjusted to match the speed of hers, and the line of his arm and shoulder brush hers as they move. 

He wants to do something, help her in some way, but he knows that she won’t accept even if he does offer. She’s more determined than ever to retain whatever independence she has, whatever she can find or create, and Elliot doesn’t want to take that from her. 

He will fight her over taking the stairs, though, so he barely manages to swallow his relieved sigh when she doesn’t even try to take them. She heads straight for the elevator; the slight jerk that comes with the start of every elevator trip unbalances her and she tips into his side. Elliot catches her as gently as he can manage and holds her carefully against his side. She doesn’t try to pull away and another small sound of pain escapes her when the elevator jerks to a halt. 

Elliot leads her slowly to her door. “Where are your keys, Liv?”

Her movements are sluggish as she pulls them out of her jacket pocket and hands them to him. His concern for her is a brick that sticks in his throat and tries to cut off his air. They weren’t moving fast enough in the car to cause serious injury, but the momentum of their sudden stop threw her against a seat belt that locked over already bruised ribs. 

She’d asked about taking a bath in the hospital but there’s no way she can even entertain that thought now. 

“Let’s get you into bed,” Elliot tells her, like he can read her thoughts on her face. 

He helps her into her room. Olivia winces as he helps her out of her jacket and then kicks off her shoes right there at the end of the bed. Elliot holds onto her as she lowers herself into the bed.

“Blanket or no blanket?” 

“Blanket,” she mumbles. 

Olivia pictures her room as she listens to the rustle of her blanket as Elliot drapes it over her, and the quiet footfalls of his feet on her carpet as he pads out of her room. She focuses on following him through the apartment in her mind instead of on the pain in her body: he’s in the living room hanging up their jackets on her coat rack; crinkling a paper bag that she knows holds her prescriptions; retrieving a glass of water from her fridge. 

She pulls herself up just enough to hold out her hand, palm up, for Elliot to drop the pill into it. She might have argued with him before, but she’s in too much pain now to even consider it. She tosses the pill into the back of her throat and waits for the glass of water she knows that he’ll put in her hand next; when she’s taken a gulp she simply hands it back to him and lays down again. 

Olivia is about five seconds from being completely passed out when she feels what she thinks is his hand passing hesitantly over her hair. 

You’re delusional, she tells herself, and drifts off to sleep. 

The panic hits her immediately when she wakes. Without her vision she has no sense of time, no way of knowing how long she’s been asleep, and that only compounds her disorientation. The effort it takes to focus is more than she expects, but Olivia breathes through her nose and does what she’s learned is the only thing that helps in these moments. 

Olivia chooses one of her remaining senses and focuses on it. 

She can hear traffic outside her window, distant and dull but there all the same. Horns honking; police sirens that are probably streets away; the sound of a door shutting down the hall. 

In the midst of it all, she can hear Elliot. His voice is low, calm - familiar and lilting in the way that belongs to him alone. 

Olivia gets out of bed slowly. She hasn’t been asleep long enough for the effects of the muscle relaxer to wear off entirely because the movement doesn’t bring any pain with it. She takes careful steps into her bathroom and closes the door quietly. This part isn’t terribly hard: she’s woken up in the middle of the night and had to pee with her eyes barely open enough to know this particular routine by heart. When she’s done she returns to her room and, after contemplating for a few seconds, decides to change into something more comfortable.

It’s a slow process. All of her leggings are kept in the same drawer so she just grabs a pair and calls it a day. Her t-shirts are a little more spread out in her dresser; she goes by feel, searching for something soft and loose. When she’s done she picks up her discarded clothes and takes them to her hamper, reaching out with the toes of one foot to search for it before she trips over it. 

Elliot is still on the phone as she makes her way out into the hall. The television is going and the volume is turned down. It’s playing a sitcom if Olivia has to guess. 

“Would you just stop for a second and listen to what I’m saying,” Elliot is saying. He sounds exasperated more than angry. Kathy? Olivia wonders, and then he speaks again. “Dickie … sorry, Richie … I know. Just look at it again, okay? It sounds like you did the multiplication wrong. Read it to me again.”

Olivia pauses. She shouldn’t be eavesdropping, but it absolutely delights her to hear Elliot helping his son do his math homework over the phone. 

“Wait, go back. Twelve times eight is what?” A pause. “Uh, not quite. How about ninety-six?”

Elliot laughs quietly. Olivia wishes she could see him. She can tell from the way the sound travels away from her that his back is to her, but she can picture the way he must be smiling right now. He’s probably hunched over, she thinks, sitting on her couch with an elbow braced on his thigh as he leans forward. 

“Okay, put your mom back on the phone.”

It’s strange, the way she can pick up on the subtle change in his tone. Olivia can identify his voice anywhere: she has heard it more than maybe any other sound save her own voice. She can discern a lot just by that sound: his mood, his stress levels, whether or not he got enough sleep the night before. So, it’s strange to hear it now and realize that there are nuances in it that she feels like she’s hearing for the first time. 

He’s hesitant to talk to Kathy. Not upset or irritated, just … hesitant. Wary, maybe. Have they been fighting, she wonders?

“... yeah,” Elliot is saying. “Thanks, Kath. Look, I’m sorry I was irritated earlier. It’s been a rough day.” A sigh, and another pause. “Well, it’s algebra, can you blame him?”

Olivia starts to walk again. She goes slowly as she tries to remember if there’s anything in her way, anything that she’s left out that she might trip over. 

Elliot hangs up with Kathy and turns in his seat. Olivia has had a hell of a day, but she looks a little better after sleeping several hours. 

Better, and unexpectedly endearing. She’s changed into leggings and a long t-shirt that hangs off of one shoulder. He can see the dark, mottled skin of the bruise that stretches over the back of her neck and, apparently, partly down one shoulder. 

Elliot doesn’t see her dressed this casual often. 

“Hey,” he calls softly. She’s moving slowly, careful but not hesitant. He’s so accustomed to her stride, the confidence and swagger of it, that it’s … disarming to see her like this. 

“Hey,” she answers. His voice has given her a better idea of where he is and she adjusts her trajectory accordingly. 

“Did I wake you?”

“Not at all. How long was I out?”

“About four hours. It’s six twenty-eight. You hungry?”

He watches her stretch out a probing hand. She’s not quite sure of the height of the couch so it flutters a little in front of her before coming to rest on the corner of the couch. She drags it over the back and down the arm as she steps around the couch, but she stubs her toe on the leg of the coffee table and swears in surprise. 

“Fuck!”

Olivia jerks forward, smacks into the couch, and collides into Elliot as he jumps to his feet to catch her. 

“Oh my god,” she practically whines, breathless and irritated. 

“Are you okay?”

“No … I don’t know what hurts worse, my toe or my ribs.”

There are tears in her eyes when she pulls herself away from his chest. She blinks them away and then lets Elliot help her settle on the couch. The pain in her ribs has flared a little thanks to the sudden jostling they just received, but the longer she’s seated the duller it becomes. 

“Yes,” she says finally, returning to the thread of conversation they’d been following before she stubbed her toe. “I’m starving.”

“Chinese?” Elliot offers. 

“Actually, I was thinking pizza sounded good.”

Her partner chuckled from the other end of the couch. “The usual?” 

“Mm, and breadsticks, please.” 

Olivia reaches for the throw blanket that she keeps on the back of her couch as Elliot makes another phone call. She should have brought a pillow with her. She considers going to get one, thinks about the slight pain that is still in her toe, and decides against it. She burrows into the corner of her couch as best as she can instead and drapes the blanket over her lap. 

It occurs to her then that while Elliot has volunteered to stay with her, she’s not actually sure what that entails. Does he intend to spend the night? There’s really no need for that, since there’s arguably nothing she’ll need in the middle of the night that will require help. She’ll either be sleeping or doing what she’s doing now: cuddling up on the couch. She usually watches tv at night when she can’t sleep, but … that’s not really an option at this point. Although she could just turn it on for background noise. 

Out of nowhere, Olivia wonders if the lights are on. Overhead lights? A lamp? It doesn’t matter to her, of course, but it’s kinda funny to realize the different ways that people can inhabit a space. If this were a normal day she’d have the lamp on the end table on and that’s it. She prefers soft lighting in the evenings.

How does Elliot inhabit her space? What does it look like to have him in her home? He’s been here before, but never like this. He’s stopped by for short visits, picked her up, hidden in her bedroom for a setup, but he’s never just … been here. Been in charge of her space the way he is now.

Not for the first time she wishes she could see him. What might she learn if she could watch him now? 

Elliot isn’t on the phone anymore, and in the absence of his voice she can hear the voices coming from the television. What they’re saying sounds familiar, so she holds herself still for a long second and strains her ears to hear it better. 

“Are you watching Moonstruck?” 

“Sure,” Elliot answers noncommittally, and Olivia laughs. “I have no idea what it is, I just turned it on for sound.”

“Where’s the remote?”

“Just in front of you on the coffee table.”

Olivia leans forward and makes that same fluttering motion to locate the table with her fingertips, then sweeps her hand over the top of it in a back and forth motion. When she has her prize she leans back and runs her thumb over the surface of the remote as she tries to picture the buttons and remember where to find the volume. 

She hits a button but nothing happens. At least, it doesn’t do anything to the volume and the program doesn’t sound like it’s changed, so she can’t determine what it’s done. 

“It brought up the menu,” Elliot informs her. He’s behind her in the kitchen - making tea, she thinks. Then, as if it’s just occurred to him to wonder, he asks, “How did you know what movie is playing? You can barely hear it.”

“I love this movie,” Olivia tells him. “I’ve seen it a lot.”

“Apparently,” he deadpans. Then, “That’s the input source button.”

Olivia huffs in frustration and sticks the hand with the remote straight up in the air. She doesn’t say anything, just waits like that. Elliot’s footsteps are familiar as he approaches and even though he’s not laughing, she can hear the thinly veiled humor in his tone even though he only says one word when he speaks. 

“Here.”

His knees bump the back of the couch right behind her. Instead of taking the remote from her Elliot wraps his hand around hers and she doesn’t gasp, doesn’t make an audible sound, but Olivia’s lungs stop mid-inhale. She lowers her arm at the slight application of pressure he applies until his arm is reaching over her shoulder; he puts his thumb over hers and guides it to the far right side of the remote. 

“It’s about three-quarters of the way down,” he tells her, “One button in from the right side of the remote.” He pushes her thumb down first, and then up, so that she can gauge what he’s saying. “The channel button is two to the left of the volume.”

“Thanks,” she finally manages, and she hopes he doesn’t notice that her voice is a little scratchier than normal. 

“I’ll be right back with the tea.”

Elliot goes back to the kitchen, and with the volume turned up more Olivia relaxes back into the corner of her couch to listen. It’s not easy to find a comfortable position - between her ribs and her bruised neck and shoulder her options are limited - so she turns onto her side, her hip digging into the cushions, and tucks a pillow up under her armpit to be trapped between her body and the arm of the couch. 

Olivia has seen Moonstruck enough that she can picture the scene that’s playing. It’s a young Cher and a young Nicolas Cage in their fancy clothes, a tux and formal wear, as they walk down a darkened street. It’s one of her favorite scenes. 

Without being able to see the emotions on the characters’ faces the burden of belief rests only on their words. On the inflection of their voices, the rise and fall of the words that are meaningful on their own, but rendered more so by their delivery. 

Elliot watches Olivia as he brings Olivia’s mug of hot tea and a bottle of water for himself into the room. He knows that she’s aware of him by the way her head tips subconsciously toward him even though her eyes continue staring straight ahead. They both do that, he knows: orient some part of themselves toward each other when they’re together. He doesn’t remember the first time he’d realized that it happens, but he’s known it for years. Shoulders, feet, eyes, heads - some part of them is always directed at the other one, as though they are compass arrows that can’t resist pointing north. 

She pulls her legs a little closer to her body to give him room to sit down. When he’s set her mug on the table and settled back into the cushions he realizes that her lips are moving. He glances from her face to the television as a smile blooms slowly across his face. 

“How many times did you say you’ve seen this movie?”

“A few,” Olivia hedges. 

If he asks her later, Olivia will never have an answer for why she does what she does next. It’s a silly thing she does sometimes when she’s alone, something she’s never done in front of anyone else, but Olivia decides that it doesn’t matter how silly she seems right now. 

It’s just her and Elliot, alone in her apartment after a particularly grueling day, and he has more pieces of her than anyone else can ever hope to - so where’s the harm?

Olivia quotes the next scene. Word for word, without missing a beat: “Loretta, I love you. Not like they told you love is, and I didn’t know this either, but love don’t make things nice. It ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren’t here to make things perfect. Snowflakes are perfect; stars are perfect. Not us. Not us. We are here to ruin ourselves, and to break our hearts, and love the wrong people, and die! I mean, the storybooks are bullshit. Now I want you to come upstairs with me and get in my bed!”

This is the moment he knows: one way or another, everything is about to change. 

“A few times,” Elliot repeats light-heartedly. He’s seen his daughters do this sometimes through the years, although their renditions are usually a little more dramatic and less …

Fitting. 

Olivia will never have an answer to why it’s this movie that’s playing now, or why she decided to be funny or quote it … but years from now when people ask Elliot about it this will be the moment he tells them about. It’s not the when did you know, but the how did you know, and he never, ever forgets it. 

“My mom used to watch this with me,” Olivia explains quietly.

Any reply Elliot might have made is interrupted by the sound of her buzzer. The pizza has arrived, and once she’s eaten he fully intends to coax her into taking another muscle relaxer, and somehow despite it all everything about this feels domestic. 

That feeling sticks with him when Olivia falls asleep a few hours later with her legs thrown over his lap, one hand tucked up under her cheek and her other arm draped over her stomach. Elliot stays there for too long, watching the shadows of the television flicker over her face, until he simply scoots down a little more into the cushions and drops his head back onto the pillows and falls asleep.

The television drones on in the background; neither of them wakes. 

Chapter Text

[ T H R E E ]


Her apartment smells like him.

It’s the first thought that breaks through the panic that grips her when Olivia opens her eyes and forgets for just a second that she can’t see. Her remaining senses overload in an attempt to make up for the loss and it’s jarring enough to pull her focus. 

It’s not pervasive, that smell, but it’s incongruous in her space. Her apartment usually doesn’t have much of a smell, but when it does it’s something feminine. A light perfume maybe, or a scented candle, or the lingering waft of her shampoo. 

Olivia wakes up that morning on the couch, which isn’t strange on its own, but she has forgotten that Elliot is here and she fell asleep first. It’s his aftershave and that nebulous smell that she’s never been able to pinpoint but has always equated with Elliot. 

“El?” It’s strangled because she’s trying to breathe through the tightness in her chest, but she has to know if he’s still here. 

He shifts on the couch and Olivia becomes aware of her legs, which are still thrown over his lap, and the way his hip bone is digging into her ass. 

“Liv? What is it?”

She blows out a breath and drops her head back onto the pillow. The day before unravels in her mind and rushes back at her.

“Liv?”

“I’m fine. Just … confused for a minute.”

Elliot shifts in his spot again and Olivia draws her legs in slowly, careful to avoid inadvertently kneeing him, and then sits up to give him more room. 

Falling asleep on the couch hasn’t done her any favors. The ache in her ribs, shoulders, and neck is ferocious. She makes a noise, something small and pained, and Elliot sees the way she winces as she moves. 

He sits up and rubs his face to clear away the lingering vestiges of sleep. Olivia’s television must have an auto-shutoff feature because it’s not on anymore; the sunshine is warm and bright as it streams in the window and illuminates the space. 

“What time is it?” 

Elliot reaches for his cell phone and wakes the display. “Eight-thirty.”

“Can you check my phone?” Olivia asks after a minute. “I don’t think I missed anything, but just to be sure.”

“Yeah, where is it?”

Olivia has to think about that for a minute before she remembers. She directs Elliot to her bedroom - it should be on her dresser if memory serves - and then moves slowly to her feet as she listens to Elliot’s footsteps head in the direction of her room.

Elliot has seen her bedroom before, but once he’s found her phone where she said it would be he pauses to really take it in. It’s homey and feminine. The colors are soft and muted: cream and purple and gray, but there are more vibrant colors, too, splashes of blues and reds. There’s a porcelain dish on her dresser meant to collect things and at first glance Elliot can see some loose change and a pair of earrings. 

He’s known Olivia for eleven years. It’s strange, in a way, to stand in this private space and realize that he knows her so well … yet, in some ways, not at all. Elliot has never denied that his partner is beautiful - stunning, as so many people like to point out - and womanly and desirable, but he hasn’t spent a lot of time thinking about it. He’s never allowed himself to think about it, because he’s always been married, and because he’s always seen her as his partner first. The person that has his back and chases down perps with him, who’s a hell of a shot and would rather talk down a suspect than shoot them. 

Olivia is so much more than an attractive woman that sometimes Elliot forgets. 

Standing in her room now is a sharp reminder, though. The woman who is comfortable with a pistol in one hand also appears to prefer soft, colorful linens and decorates her home with a quiet sophistication. 

Meanwhile, Olivia has made her way into the kitchen. She can visualize the space with ease and has done the work of filling the carafe of her coffee pot - an interesting endeavor that involved holding her finger on the inside of the bowl so that she could gauge the water level - and a lot of dragging her hand over the counter to make her way back and pour the water into the machine. 

She pauses when she realizes that she hasn’t heard Elliot’s footsteps returning. 

“El?” she calls. “Wasn’t it there?”

There’s a momentary pause and then, “Found it.”

Olivia listens to his feet pad across the carpet. She has learned the sound of his footsteps through the years: she knows the weight and cadence of them. It’s different to listen to them now, though. She can’t turn and watch him approach, match what she sees to what she hears. 

“Let me help you with that,” Elliot says, and Olivia tenses in surprise.

He’s closer than she realized, and she takes a step back to give him room but instead collides with him, back to front. Olivia freezes; Elliot’s hands grab onto her waist reflexively and her phone clatters to the floor near their feet. 

When she can manage it, Olivia says, “Sorry.”

“You good?”

Olivia can only hum in response. They’ve been in close proximity like this so few times over the years that this moment is almost overwhelming. She can smell him around her, and feel him against her, and they’re not in the precinct or a hospital or on a street - they’re alone in the middle of her apartment. 

Alone, and Elliot is still holding her, still has his hands on her hips and his chest pressed against her back and Olivia … sinks. 

She tells herself that’s not what she’s doing, but it is. It is, and Elliot doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t call her out on it or let her go or do anything to interrupt the moment. He just stands there with her and waits. 

“Liv?” His voice is quiet as though he’s afraid to disturb the moment. 

“I’m okay.” 

Seconds later she wonders if she’s lying, if the loss of her vision has translated to a momentary loss of her mind because Olivia reaches down and lays one hand over Elliot’s where it rests on her waist. 

It’s reassuring, and the kitchen is warm, and Olivia’s head is starting to fall back when the sharp trill of her cell phone shatters the quiet. 

Elliot moves away from her to reach for the phone. Olivia immediately regrets the loss but doesn’t have more than a few seconds to do so before he’s speaking. 

“It’s Fin.”

“Can you answer it for me?”

She listens to Elliot greet their friend and exchange a few words and then Elliot puts the phone in her hand. 

“Hey, Fin.”

Olivia moves carefully toward the entrance to her kitchen, but she can hear Elliot behind her putting the finishing touches on the pot of coffee. The smell of the coffee as it brews permeates her apartment, familiar and welcome, and if she lets her mind wander Olivia can picture herself at her desk in the precinct. 

Fin is just calling to check on her which she appreciates, though he does manage to slip in a few complaints about Munch’s latest conspiracy theory, and then right before they hang up he asks her to let Elliot know that Cragen wants him to stop by at some point today to finish the paperwork necessary for a court case that’s coming up. Olivia promises to relay the information and then waits to hear the click that tells her that Fin has disconnected the call before pulling the phone away from her ear.

She doesn’t think she’s moved far. If she’s right about where she is then the couch should be just a few more steps ahead of her and to her right, so Olivia turns herself slightly in that direction and starts moving again. She puts her hand out in front of her to intercept any obstacles. 

The only thing her hand finds is the back of the couch, and she allows herself a small smile. Small victories and all that. 

“Cragen wants you to go in for a bit,” Olivia announces when she’s settled once more on the couch. “Apparently you have some paperwork to finish.”

“Impossible,” Elliot jokes dryly. 

“And now you really can’t pawn it off on me.”

She’s teasing, but Elliot picks up on the faint note of dejection that slips into her tone. Overall, Olivia is handling this situation better than he’s expected but he understands that this must be harder on her than she’s letting on. 

Still, she’s trying to keep things light, so he does the same. 

“Oh, just wait,” he cautions her. “The moment your vision is back I’ll be right back to bribing you.”

“No offense, El, but your bribes suck.”

“How can they suck? Since when don’t you like free food?”

“Since my waistline started liking it a little too much.”

“There’s nothing wrong with your waistline, Olivia.” 

For the next ninety seconds, Elliot decides that it’s a damn good thing Olivia can’t see him. He busies himself with pouring two cups of coffee and telling himself that it’s fine, he didn’t say anything wrong, he’s just not accustomed to commenting on Olivia’s physical attributes. 

Olivia, his partner. His beautiful, single partner, who not long ago was standing in this exact kitchen with her back pressed into him and his hands on said waistline.

Which he accidentally just complimented.

Sort of.
 
Shit. He’s not going to make it through the next few days without making an ass of himself. 

Olivia waits until he’s bringing their coffee cups into the living room to speak. 

“Since when do you notice my waistline, Elliot?”

Oh, they’re in full name territory now. She doesn’t sound angry, just … surprised? How the hell can she find that surprising when she can hardly go a handful of hours without someone hitting on her?

“I notice,” he hedges as he sets both cups on the coffee table. “Here.” 

He takes her lightly by the hand and places her fingers against the handle of the mug so she knows where it is, and only belatedly realizes that the action might have come across as infantilizing. 

“Sorry,” he says quickly. “I just didn’t want you to spill it. Not that you would, but …”

“El,” Olivia finally interrupts, saving him. “It’s okay.”

“I’m not good at this, Liv.”

“That makes two of us.”

“I just don’t want it to seem like I’m babying you. I know how testy you get when you think I’m doubting your abilities.”

“I do not get testy, El.”

Elliot wisely chooses not to reply. Instead, he takes a careful drink of his still steaming coffee and steals a surreptitious glance at Olivia as she does the same. 

“Nice left turn, by the way,” she says after a pause. She’s smiling against the rim of her mug. 

He laughs. He hasn’t thought about that in years. “I was hoping you wouldn’t catch that.”

“No such luck, Stabler. And if you ever tell anyone this I’ll kick your ass, but every once in a while it’s nice to be --.”

“Babied?” Elliot quips.

“Taken care of,” she finishes, firmly ignoring him. 

Elliot’s insides twist at her admission. Olivia has been taken care of probably less than anyone else Elliot has ever known and it hurts him to realize that. That someone with such a warm heart, who spends her days caring for an entire city and its people, should be shown that same care so sparingly is a tragedy. She deserves to be taken care of, today and every other day - not just when she’s injured. 

Elliot has always wanted to take care of her. He’s always longed for the privilege that he’s now been granted, but he’s never wanted it this way. 

“You deserve to be taken care of, Liv.”

He can tell that his words have had more of an effect on Olivia than she wants to let on, and even though she can’t see him he does her the courtesy of looking away. They’ve always been honest with each other to a certain point, and beyond that point they just had things that they chose not to talk about. Things they’d long ago decided were better left unaddressed.

Only, those rules don’t really apply anymore because he’s not married and she had seemed relaxed in his arms earlier, and maybe there’s more for them down that hidden road than he’s allowed himself to hope for. 

Elliot has spent so many years telling himself that he can’t go there that it’s sobering to realize that might no longer be true. 

That’s a thought for another time. 

“Speaking of care,” Elliot says, and he keeps his tone purposefully lighter as he puts his cup on the table and makes his way into the kitchen again. He knows Olivia well enough to know that she won’t take a muscle relaxer this early in the day, but he doles out one of the eight hundred milligram ibuprofens and takes it back to drop it into her hand. “Take this.”

“El.”

“Relax, it’s just an ibuprofen. Did you want to come to the precinct with me? I’m going to swing by my place first and shower, and get a change of clothes.”

“No, I’ll hang out here.” She pops the single pill into her mouth and washes it down with a swig of coffee. “I could use a shower myself. You have your spare key? I might take a nap later.”

“It’s on my keyring. Should I bring something back for dinner? Anything in particular that you want?”

“Not really.” Then, a beat later, “Wait, you know what sounds good? A gyro from that street cart we like.”

“Gyros it is,” Elliot says, only he purposely mispronounces it so it sounds like ‘jy-rows’ because he knows she hates it. 

Olivia rolls her eyes. It’s such a dad joke of a thing to do, something she absolutely knows he does in front of his kids' friends just to embarrass them. 

“You’re ridiculous,” she mutters. 

“Yeah, Maureen says the same thing.”

“I would have guessed Kathleen.”

“She’s not that nice.”

Olivia chuckles. “Yeah, why don’t I find that hard to believe?”

When they’ve finished their coffee Elliot takes both cups and rinses them out in the sink. Olivia is already on her feet and beginning the trek to her bathroom; Elliot gathers up his keys, wallet, and phone before heading for the door. 

It’s easy, and domestic, and neither one of them knows that the other one is doing their best not to think about that. 

Elliot has pulled on his shoes and is retrieving his jacket when a thought occurs to him.

“Liv?”

“Hmm?”

“You need me to set anything out for you? A towel or something?”

Olivia smiles at the sweetness of the offer. “I’ve got it, El.”

“Call me if you need anything?”

“Go away, Elliot.”

Olivia hears the click of her front door as she’s making her way around her room. There’s a towel hanging on the hook on the back of her bathroom door and when she’s waited a few moments and can be certain that Elliot isn’t coming back, she strips out of her clothes and shuffles them over to her laundry basket. 

She should have showered yesterday but by the time they got home she’d been tired and achy. Part of her wants to take the hottest bath she can stand, but the up and down motion is the one that causes the pain in her ribs to flare up the most. The last thing she wants is to somehow get stuck in her tub and have to call Elliot for help. 

Which she realizes she couldn’t do anyway because she’s left her phone in the living room. 

So, no bath. 

In the bathroom, Olivia does what she’s quickly getting used to and navigates half by feel and half by memory. It’s frustrating to be forced into moving so slowly but it’s not like she has anywhere to be, so she blows out an irritated breath and makes herself relax. 

The shower does wonders for her sense of wellbeing. The shampoo situation takes some experimentation to work out - testing a small dollop on her fingers to determine which one is the creamier consistency of her conditioner - but she saves her future self some time by placing the shampoo bottle on the ledge to her left and the conditioner on the one on her right. 

Olivia has used the same bath products for so long that she’s forgotten to notice their smell. She notices it now, though: the scent of her hair products is muted and subtle, something fresh and mildly sweet; her body wash is only a little stronger and floral. It’s one of those mixes, but she can’t remember the exact one. Probably jasmine and something. 

She hates not being able to see, but she’s finding a certain appreciation for her other senses in the interim. She relies so heavily on her ability to see and hear that she’s never realized how much of the rest of it gets pushed aside and forgotten. 

Like how good a freshly brewed pot of coffee smells, or that sharp, clean smell that clings to Elliot that must be some kind of aftershave, or maybe a cologne. 

Olivia is standing in the middle of her bathroom, drying herself off, when the events of the morning hit her all over again. Elliot’s hands had been on her waist and rather than moving she’d simply let herself linger. She honestly has no idea what would have happened if Fin hadn’t called and interrupted the moment. 

Not only that, but Elliot had commented on her body. Sort of. He’d given away the fact that he at least noticed her, anyway, and that’s more than he’s ever said before. In all of their years together, Olivia doesn’t think she can recall a single time before today when he’d said anything about her appearance. A “you look nice” here and there, maybe, but nothing that’s ever given her any real indication that he pays attention to her. 

She’s known that he must, to some extent, because it’s human nature to notice someone you find attractive. God knows she’s been caught staring at him more than once, but Elliot has never called her out on it. Olivia has gotten away with telling herself that maybe he’s never noticed, or he’s chalked it up to something else, but that … might not be the case. 

Maybe he just really does have that much self restraint. 

Maybe it’s that Catholic guilt, Olivia thinks.

Olivia is already ready for a nap but she usually does her best not to go to bed with wet hair, and that’s the only reason she struggles through groping around for her hair dryer. She knocks a few bottles over in the search and they clatter loudly on her floor. It’s probably the hair products she only uses on nights out, hair spray and anti-frizz products, so she picks them up and shoves them unceremoniously back under the sink. 

She spends less time than usual drying her hair - it’s still a little damp in places and will probably end up slightly wavy - but she’s tired and holding her arms up like that has made her ribs and shoulder ache. 

You’re doing too much, Olivia, a voice in her head chides her, and she rolls her eyes because it sounds suspiciously like Elliot. 

She’s mostly dressed when she gives up and crawls into her bed, stretching as much as she can without pain beneath the covers. She’s skipped the bra and leggings, but Elliot has only just left so she has plenty of time to nap and finish getting dressed before he returns. 

Olivia drifts off to the lingering smell of fresh laundry and flowery body wash. 

Chapter Text

[ F O U R ]

Elliot is a professional and gentleman.

Well, no, he’s not exactly a gentleman in the truest sense of the word, but he believes in privacy and being respectful. 

He’s also a man, though, and a single man with an unbelievably beautiful woman for a partner, at that. So it should surprise no one, least of all Elliot, that he finds it such a challenge to look away from her now.

The lack of response when he’d returned to her apartment several hours later with food in hand had worried him. His repeated calls for her had been met with silence and his thoughts had immediately gone down the road of Everything That Could Go Wrong, so he’d gone in search of her.

He finds her sleeping soundly in her bed. She doesn’t look small amongst the pillows and feminine colors of her room, but she does look different. Soft, and inviting, and the part of Elliot that refuses to adhere to the rules of You Can’t Go There imagines divesting himself of his shoes and clothes and slipping into bed beside her and going back to sleep. 

He doesn’t know how long she’s been sleeping but gyros aren’t as good when they’re reheated, so he calls her name once, softly, and approaches her side of the bed to wake her. 

His attempt to wake her only results in her kicking one bare leg out from beneath the blanket and twisting her torso in his direction and murmuring quietly in her sleep. 

Elliot freezes. 

Olivia’s legs are long. That’s a fact even if Elliot has always done his best not to acknowledge it, but that bare leg of hers looks longer now and her skin is perfect, her thick thigh dotted with freckles that he has to force himself to stop looking at … but it backfires and he stops breathing altogether when his eyes accidentally fall on the perfect mound of her breast and the pebbled nipple that is obvious beneath her shirt. 

What the hell are you doing, a voice in his head demands. This is Olivia, your partner. You’re sleeping, vulnerable partner who can’t fucking see, you asshole. 

This is Olivia, a quieter, more tender voice whispers. This is Olivia, the truth of her that he never gets to see, the woman beneath the gun and the badge and the crusader’s spirit. He wonders if she would hate him for the words that float through his mind at that moment, things like sensuous and vulnerable and …

Stop, he commands. 

Elliot forces himself to turn quietly on his heel and leave before he loses his mind. When he’s standing safely outside his door he inhales deeply and holds it, recites the name of every saint and his least favorite football players before releasing it slowly. 

This time, he stays resolutely in her doorway as he calls her name. It takes him three tries before he gets a response.

“El?” Olivia finally mumbles.

“Yeah, I’m back with the food.”

“What time is it?” She labors to pull herself up and rubs her eyes. 

“A little after five.”

“Jesus,” she gasps in surprise. “I didn’t mean to sleep that long.”

“Obviously you needed it. C’mon, come eat before the food gets cold.” He hesitates for a second and then adds, “Do you need help?”

Olivia is running an idle hand through her hair when he asks, the dark tresses slipping through her fingers to fall against her cheek, and she drops her hand and lifts her head to where she guesses he’s standing. 

“No, I’m good, thanks.”

It’s unnerving to see her dark eyes unfixed when he’s accustomed to the way they can find his own eyes in the space of a heartbeat, across a desk or a room or a crime scene. Her face is still expressive, maybe even more so than usual, but their ability to have full conversations with just a look has been suspended and the only way Elliot can describe the feeling of being without it is to call it loneliness.

He knows that he depends on Olivia. He’s known that truth for years, and has been made to confront it by Gitano and Oregon and too many other instances to name, but this isn’t the same. This isn’t just depending on her as his partner, depending on her to have his back and follow his lead and back his play; he depends on Olivia to know him, to be able to communicate with him in a silent, secret language that he’s only now truly appreciating. 

She depends on him, too, he knows she does, and he has done his best to be upbeat and even-keeled, so far, but it’s a frightening thing to realize how tightly they are bound yet again, and in a way they never could have anticipated. 

“El?”

The sound of her voice draws him back and he realizes that he’s still standing in her doorway, though his gaze has fallen to the carpet a few feet in front of him, and he raises his head to fix his eyes on her. 

“Sorry. What?”

“I can practically hear you thinking,” she tells him. 

Her expression is soft, her tone reassuring, and Elliot thinks again about how he wants to crawl into that bed with her and pull her down beneath the blanket and make them both forget that there is a world outside her door. 

He wants, and it’s the wanting that will undo him, if he lets it. 

“Then hurry up and get out here so I can stop thinking and we can start eating,” he teases, and retreats to the living room.

He has the food arranged on the coffee table and sitcom reruns playing in the background, and he doesn’t mean to but he laughs when Olivia finally settles herself in the spot next to him.

“What?”

“Nothing.” 

But the smile is evident in his voice, so Olivia tips her head and narrows her eyes and tries again.

“What?”

“Your pants are lime green,” and he’s trying not to laugh, really he is, but it’s somehow ridiculous to him that Olivia Benson owns a pair of lime green anything.

“They are not,” she protests. 

“I swear, Liv.”

“I don’t own anything lime green, Elliot. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever owned …”

She stops speaking mid-sentence, and it catches his attention. Elliot glances at her over his shoulder and there’s something in his expression that makes him wary, so he sits up straighter and angles himself on the couch to face her. 

“Liv?”

With careful fingers, Olivia raises a hand and reaches across the small space that separates them until the pads of her fingers are resting against the apple of his cheek. 

“El,” she blows out on a hesitant breath. “I think … I think I can see you.”

“What?”

“Not you, you,” she rushes to clarify, “But … I dunno, your silhouette, maybe.”

“Am I blurry?” He remembers what it was like a few years ago when he’d had his own brush with temporary blindness, when their perp had knocked his head back into a car window. 

“No? I don’t know how to explain it. It’s more like an impression than an image.” Her fingers move unconsciously, dragging softly down his cheek until they find his jawline, and that furrow between her eyes that only shows up when she’s concentrating has made an appearance. “Everything is just gray.”

“Can you see anything else?”

That’s right, he thinks, focus on something safe, something that’s not her hand on your face or her bare thigh or --.

“No,” Olivia replies as she casts her eyes around the room. She drops her hand, suddenly aware of what she’s doing, and resists the urge to apologize. “Maybe I’m not close enough?”

“Maybe,” Elliot agrees, but his voice is strained. He doesn’t know why he does it, why he uses his hand instead of hers, but he holds his left hand up, palm open, in the space just in front of her face. “Can you see my hand?”

It’s maybe a foot in front of her face and he doesn’t tell her where to look or give her a hint. Instead, he waits and watches as she angles her head one way, and then the other, and squints.

“I think so.” 

She reaches for it but she’s a little off in her depth perception so her hand bumps into his arm. Olivia doesn’t withdraw. She slides her fingers to the side and then drags the outer edge of her pointer finger over the soft skin on the edge of his forearm, up, up, until she finds the curve of his wrist and spreads her fingers lightly over the palm of his hand. 

Elliot thinks it might be the most intimate touch he’s felt in … a long time. 

His fingers curl reflexively, trapping Olivia’s there on his palm.

“Sorry,” she says and clears her throat uncomfortably.

“It’s okay,” Elliot assures her as he releases her fingers and her hand falls away. 

“It’s just silhouettes,” Olivia tells him. “If the object is close enough, I guess.”

“That’s good, Liv. That’s progress. Wanna try reaching for your gyro, or should I hand it to you?”

“Uh, could you just hand it to me? I’m starving.”

Elliot peels the wax paper back part way and hands it to her, and the quiet settles between them as they try to let the moment before fade away amidst the task of eating and the soft sounds of the television. 

“Liv,” he ventures to say some time later.

“Yeah.”

“I’m not kidding about the pants.”

She laughs and tries to bump him with her shoulder, and then they both laugh because she misses, and it’s a relief until she gasps at the pain in her ribs and the pull in her bruised muscles. She doesn’t protest when Elliot brings her more ibuprofen. 

That moment feels like a dream four days later, though, when Olivia’s vision hasn’t improved at all or even changed and their constant nearness has worn them both down. 

They’re arguing and it’s not an all out fight, yet, but the frustration ping-pongs between them and they’re one biting sentence away from yelling at each other.

Elliot isn’t certain how they’ve gotten to this place. They’ve spent longer than this together countless times over the years, in more stressful situations, on less sleep and less food and less … everything. He doesn’t even remember what started it, what they’re angry about now or were angry about to begin with, and some part of him knows that this tension has to give. 

“I just need a minute to breathe!” Olivia hollers at him.

“What the hell does that mean?” Elliot responds, and their voices are loud enough to carry across an entire building even though they’re standing a mere four feet apart in her kitchen. 

“You’ve been here for days, Elliot! You’re everywhere --.”

“It’s not a huge space, Liv,” he interrupts.

“I can hear you, and my couch practically smells like you, and I just - I need --.”

The ringing of Elliot’s phone cuts off the rest of her sentence. Olivia is secretly thankful for the interruption, because she knows what she needs but doesn’t know how to articulate it, can’t let herself say it, and doesn’t know how to get around it. 

“Hey,” Elliot says into his phone, and it’s clear that he’s trying to keep the anger out of his voice. “I didn’t forget, Kath. I’m leaving now. Is Lizzie there? Yeah, tell her good luck and I’ll see her on stage.”

When he hangs up the tension is still there and his words are careful and cold and how, Olivia wonders, has this turned so sour so quickly?

“Sorry my help is so suffocating,” he grinds out, and Olivia opens her mouth to fire off a retort but he steam rolls right over whatever she wants to say, “You want space, Liv? You got it.”

He’s at the door when something occurs to him, and he’s pissed as hell but her safety is still paramount, so he pauses long enough to say, “Your phone is on the kitchen counter.”

“El --.”

The click of the door closing cuts her off. 

Olivia waits. She listens to the silence Elliot has left behind and when it’s clear he’s not coming back, she exhales a heavy sigh and her mouth pulls down sharply, and she refuses to give in to the sudden urge to cry. There’s no reason to cry, she reminds herself. They don’t fight all the time, but they have fought enough that this is nothing out of the ordinary. They bicker and disagree and, yes, sometimes they yell at each other. 

This is no different than any of those other times. It’s not even one of their worst arguments. 

Except this is different. This is different because it’s been nearly a week since Olivia’s vision deserted her, a week of getting used to what it’s like to have Elliot in her home every day, a week of waking up to his sounds and his smell and his constant presence in a place that Olivia has always been alone. 

This is different because she’s in danger of getting used to this. They’ve fallen asleep on her couch almost every night and woken up almost every day somehow pressed together, her head on his shoulder or their legs tangled or some other part of them too close, and last night Olivia had opened her mouth to tell him to just get the hell in her bed so they could both get a good night’s sleep before realizing that it would only make it worse when he inevitably left, and shut her mouth without saying anything. 

She’s just tired. Her couch isn’t awful but it’s not meant for two people to sleep on, and her injuries are getting better every day but sleeping on that damn couch is starting to hurt and she just wants her fucking vision back. 

None of which she knows how to explain to Elliot, or is even willing to, for that matter. Olivia doesn’t want him to know that she’s getting used to having him in her home, that she enjoys the smell of his aftershave that lingers in her bathroom or waking up to the sound of him making coffee in the kitchen; she doesn’t want him to know that for the first time in her life the space inside these walls feel like home, and it will be empty again when he leaves. 

“Fuck,” Olivia growls into the empty air. 

Elliot is her partner, and her friend, but he’s not her husband or her boyfriend or even her damn roommate. He’s here because some perp had gotten the upper hand and knocked her on her ass, and because she’s so alone in the world that there is no one else to help her. 

“Fuck!” 

Olivia still only sees in silhouettes and she’s too angry and upset to try, so she swipes her hand across the kitchen counter until she finds the edge of her phone and snatches it up. She can’t storm off to her room the way she wants to but she does make it there faster than she’s tried to move, recently, and that makes her feel marginally better. 

She has no idea what time it is but it doesn’t matter, Olivia decides, because she’s going to sleep in her own fucking bed tonight and there’s nothing stopping her from laying down right now, so that’s what she does. 

The silence in her apartment has a different weight to it now, though. Despite how quietly she breathes or how long she lays in her bed, she doesn’t hear the rustle of Elliot as he turns over on the couch, or some sports game on her television, or the shuffle of his feet as he moves around her kitchen.

In less than a week, Elliot has redefined her home, stretched a space she didn’t know had anything more to give until it accepted him into the fold, and his absence now has left it achingly misshapen. 

Stop being morose, Olivia, she thinks, and rolls over, and forces herself to close her eyes. 

She sleeps fitfully. It’s going to be a terrible night, Olivia decides at one point, but she falls asleep again not long after that and then the universe apparently decides to take pity on her because the next time she wakes it’s to a surprise. 

She can see again.

Her room is dark so she doesn’t immediately realize that anything is different. It’s not until she realizes that she can see a shaft of pale light peeking through the curtains of her bedroom window that it occurs to her that she’s seeing something, and it’s not a silhouette. Olivia blinks rapidly, her pulse picking up in excitement, and sits up in the middle of her bed. 

The light is on in her kitchen. She didn’t know to turn it off - or on, for that matter - so the light is still on and she can see again, clearly and in full color, and it’s almost anticlimactic that the thing she has been waiting so impatiently for should just fall into her lap all at once like this. 

The doctor had warned her that there was no way of knowing how her vision would return, in bits and pieces or all at once, or how long it would take. Just wait for the swelling to go down, the doctor had said, and Olivia had entertained the sneaking suspicion that what he’d really wanted to say was “wait and see.”

She looks at the clock on her nightstand and the bright red numbers there tell her that it’s just after two a.m., and then the universe decides that one surprise for the night isn’t enough, and Olivia’s kitchen light turns off. 

This must be what has woken her, she realizes, as she listens to the quiet shuffle of Elliot’s feet in the other room. In her restlessness, she must have heard him come in, and the subsequent discovery of the return of her vision has covered the other sounds of his presence. 

Until now. Until she sees that light turn off and her apartment is plunged into darkness that’s not nearly as complete or as terrifying as the darkness she’s lived in for the last five - six? - days. 

He hasn’t been here long, Olivia surmises when he appears like an apparition in her doorway. His shoes are off but he’s still dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, and she wants to smile because for once she has the benefit of being able to see him without him knowing that she can see him. 

This must be what it’s been like for him, she realizes. Being able to see her, to look at her without being observed in return, and it should scare her more than it does to know that she’s been so … exposed, and vulnerable. It does scare her, a little, but not as much as it would if this were anyone but her partner. 

She knows he sees her then because he speaks.

“Hey.”

“What are you doing here?”

He sighs, tired and contrite, and moves to sit on the edge of her bed near her knees. Olivia watches him and relishes in the sight, and lets the thought cross her mind that it feels like they’re making up after a lovers’ quarrel. They have fought many times, but they’re usual brand of dealing with it after usually involves a shared glance that holds the apologies they don’t say or a peace offering of some kind of food or drink. When they do use their words to apologize it’s soft, yes, but it’s never like this.

It’s never Elliot letting himself into her apartment at two in the morning and sitting on her bed with rounded shoulders and a weary sigh. 

“Couldn’t sleep.”

“Bed too comfortable?” 

He chuckles dryly. His body is angled toward her but his head isn’t, his gaze fixed somewhere on the wall, so he still hasn’t noticed that she’s looking at him. 

“I kept thinking about something happening and you not being able to … I don’t know, call for help or something.”

Normally she would yell at him for that and they both know it, but it’s also sweet that his concern for her has brought him back in the middle of the night. It’s nice knowing that he cares, and maybe sometimes the universe really does just decide to drop everything in your lap every once in a while, things that you’ve told yourself not to wait for, or hope for, or even think about.

Olivia scoots forward on the bed to bring herself closer to him and the motion finally draws Elliot’s attention. He’s still not seeing her, though, and Olivia knows it because he tries to anticipate an argument he hasn’t realized isn’t coming. 

“Before you bite my head off about how you can take care of yourself,” he starts.

Olivia leans forward and reaches for him, both hands on his cheeks, and the words die in his throat. 

“El.”

His eyes are on her, now, searching her face and locking with hers and the realization has finally landed that she’s looking at him, directly at him the way he’s used to, and she has reached for him without faltering. 

“Your vision is back,” he whispers into the quiet of her bedroom.

“El,” she says again.

“Liv?”

“Stop talking.”

The first brush of their lips is tentative, a testing sort of touch that’s so gentle it almost tickles. Someone inhales sharply, or maybe it’s an exhale, and it doesn’t matter who it comes from because the next second their kiss turns crushing. Olivia’s hands tighten on his face and Elliot surges into her so suddenly that Olivia rocks back a little to absorb the movement. 

Olivia parts her lips beneath his and Elliot doesn’t waste time. He slips his tongue into her mouth and the velvet slide of his tongue against hers drags a noise from her throat, a moan and a gasp all at once, and her heart is beating so erratically she’s certain it’s going to claw its way out of her chest. 

She still has her hands on his face and Elliot has one hand pressed into her mattress near her hip and the other pressed into her lower back, and he leans in as Olivia arches in response to the pressure of his hand. She moans into his mouth at the brush of his chest against hers and then she’s pulling him down with her. 

This might be the first time in her life that Olivia has ever liked surprises. 

Chapter Text

His hands roam as he kisses her. They brush up her sides and then back again when Olivia flinches at the contact near her ribs. 

“Are you ticklish?” He stops kissing her long enough to ask, grinning when her muscles tense as he repeats the motion.

“No,” she answers, but he can see the smile she’s trying to hide.

“Liar,” he accuses.

He kisses her again and they’re smiling into each other as their hands drag and brush over bodies that are no longer off limits. They’re not rushed about it, but it doesn’t take long before there’s a pile of clothes next to Olivia’s bed.

Elliot hasn’t dreamed about being with a woman since he was a young man. He’s lusted after women, maybe, though even that is something he’s mostly taught himself not to do in the years he’s been married. He notices beautiful women - he’s been married, not blind or dead - but he’s disciplined enough not to let it go farther than that. 

Olivia is the exception. He’s learned by now that she’s always the exception.

He has dreamed of her like this, naked and responsive beneath him as he tweaks the already hardened bud of one nipple and feels her shiver in response. When he sets his lips against her neck she moans and the sound is so delicious that his cock twitches where it’s nestled against her thigh; he drags his lips over the tender skin of her neck, sucking kisses as he goes.

She hasn’t told him to be careful, to not leave a mark, so he sucks a little harder at a spot near her ear. When she still doesn’t protest Elliot decides that he’s going to mark her, that he’s going to leave a reminder for both of them to see later and know that he’s been here. 

That they’ve crossed that last line. 

He hasn’t given a woman a hickey since … Well, maybe never, but when he’s satisfied with his work he makes his way downward and closes his mouth over her taut nipple. Olivia arches off the bed and presses herself further into his mouth, and when one of Elliot’s hands drift over her stomach and down to run calloused fingers over her clit she cries out.

“Fuck!”

Elliot releases her nipple with a soft, wet pop and then blows a delicate breath over it just to tease her before moving on. Her muscles clench beneath the pleasant scrape of his scruff, so he purposely nuzzles his face into the tender skin over her ribs and grins when she gets goosebumps. He drags his lips further down, brushing over her in light kisses until he’s reached his destination at the apex of her thighs.

“Elli - oh!

She doesn’t get a chance to finish saying his name before his tongue slides over her clit in an experimental flick. Elliot hums at the way her breath catches and then does it again, flattening his tongue against the sensitive nub and licking. 

He stretches his arm up the length of her body until he can pinch and roll one of her nipples between his fingers as he works her over with his tongue, and Olivia isn’t quiet as she moans and gasps and lays a hand on the back of his head to encourage him. 

She must be close, he realizes, because Olivia suddenly decides that she’s had enough.

“Come here,” she demands.

She latches onto his arms and pulls, insistent, and then glares at him when his smiling face is once again even with hers. 

“And they say you’re the patient one,” he teases.

“Smug bastard.” She’s smiling when she says it, but there’s a shadow of something uncertain in her voice. Like she can’t believe that they’re really here and this is really happening, and yeah, Elliot understands that.

There will be time for exploration later, he knows, so he takes himself in hand and lines them up, dragging his tip through her wet folds a few times just to listen to the way she catches her breath at the sensation before pushing slowly into her. 

When he’s buried to the hilt, Elliot pauses to take her in. Olivia is beautiful. She’s always been beautiful to him, but she’s almost ethereal now. Her room is mostly dark, but there’s enough light to see the dark cloud of her hair against her pale pillowcase and the sharp line of her jaw, and the pinpoints of light reflected in eyes that are now so dark they’re almost black. 

“El?” 

“You’re beautiful, Olivia.”

She blinks up at him in surprise which seems ridiculous, at first, until it occurs to him that this is the first time he’s ever said those words out loud. 

“Beautiful,” he repeats, and punctuates the word by withdrawing and then thrusting into her. 

Elliot has half a mind to go slow and savor their first time, but Olivia rocks her hips into him and gasps at the pleasure and he can’t think of anything else but this. He has spent years wanting to do this for her, make her feel this way, and now that he’s here his only goal is to make her fall apart. 

“God, El,” she breathes into the space between them, “Harder.”

He hooks an arm under her leg and drives into her harder. The slap of their naked bodies is sinful. “Like that?” 

“Fuck, yes.”

With one hand supporting himself and the other arm holding her leg he can’t touch her like he wants to, but he promises himself that there will be time for that later. He’s close now, closer than she is, and he absolutely will not orgasm before she does. 

“Touch yourself, Liv,” he says. He groans when she does, when her practiced fingers reach down to rub circles over her clit and she groans at the rush of sensations. 

Her orgasm sweeps over her so suddenly that she doesn’t have time to warn him. Her walls tighten around him and flutter as the rest of her body tenses; her hand falls away from her center to grasp tightly at her sheets, but Elliot maintains his pace and lets her ride it out. 

When she opens her eyes again they lock onto him and there’s almost more connection between them in that instant than there is anywhere else. She can see him again, can recognize his features instead of just imagining them, and the surge of love and affection that she feels for him is choking in its intensity. 

Olivia flexes her leg just enough to let him know to let it go. She bends her knees and plants her feet on the bed and rocks her hips up to meet him, stroke for stroke, and runs her hands up and down the length of his strong arms. 

“Come on, El,” she encourages breathlessly. “Cum for me, baby.”

“Fuck, Liv,” he swears. 

He likes that, she realizes, and it makes her grin. She loops an arm around his neck and pulls him down against her until he’s pinning her to the bed and she can push her cheek into his and whisper in his ear. 

“Come on, baby,” she says again. 

Elliot groans; Olivia feels like she’s won something. Somehow, it never occurred to her that Elliot, her big, intimidating partner, might like to be called by a pet name. 

He cums with another groan that sounds a lot like her name, ‘Olivia’ instead of ‘Liv’, and she holds him to her as he rides out the wave of his pleasure. 

They lay together in the quiet dark of her room for long minutes. Olivia runs her hands up and down his sides and over his back in senseless patterns, reveling in the feel of him under her hands and against her bare skin, and listens to his breathing even out. Eventually, Elliot pushes himself up onto his elbows and brings a hand up to brush her hair away from her face with tender fingers. 

“Baby, huh?” She teases.

“Only when it’s you saying it.” He’s smiling, but the intimacy of the admission nearly brings her to tears anyway. “I’m sorry, Liv.”

“For what?”

“For not understanding why you needed some space.”

“Why’d you come back?”

“I tried not to. I went home, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the lights.”

“The lights?” Olivia repeats.

“Yeah, I left them on, and you know how expensive that gets,” he explains, and then he can’t hide his smile when she furrows her brow in disbelief.

“You ass!” Olivia exclaims and smacks him lightly in the arm. 

“I was being considerate!”

They’re laughing when he kisses her. When Elliot finally pulls out of her Olivia feels like she’s glowing she’s so happy and sated, and once he’s on his back she turns and rolls into his side with a sigh. 

“What are we gonna do about work?” Olivia asks eventually.

“We’ll have to disclose at some point.” Elliot wraps his arm around her waist and drops a kiss onto her forehead. “But it doesn’t have to be right now.”

“The longer we hide it the more trouble we’ll be in, El.”

“We’re not hiding it, Liv. We’re just … getting used to it.”

“Oh yeah?” 

“Yeah,” he says with a smile. 

Olivia hums and kisses the underside of his jaw and then kisses him when he turns his face into her.

“I could get used to this,” she tells him. 

“Me too, Liv.”

They’re quiet for so long that she thinks he’s fallen asleep, but his arm tenses around her when she tries to roll away from him.

“Where you going?”

“I need a shower,” Olivia explains. “I thought you were asleep, but since you aren't, why don’t you come with me.”

The look she gives him makes it clear that getting clean isn’t the only thing on her mind, and Elliot grins as he pulls himself up and out of bed. 

“I might have to call in sick tomorrow,” Elliot muses.

Olivia smirks at him. “Tell Cragen that I must be contagious, and you just can’t see yourself coming in.”

Elliot gapes at her. “Did you … Liv, did you just make a dad joke?”

Her cheeks are pink and he doesn’t know if she’s blushing or the color is leftover from sex, but she’s stunning with her mussed hair and pink cheeks and the almost shy smile she’s giving him - not to mention that she’s still naked and, damn, she has to be the prettiest woman he’s ever seen. 

“Maybe?” 

She squeals - honest to god squeals when he throws his arms around her and lifts her off her feet and smashes his lips to hers. 

Playful, after sex Olivia might just be his new favorite. 

In the shower, Elliot takes his time learning Olivia’s body, tasting and teasing her until the sound of his name bounces off her bathroom walls and she cums against his tongue. 

He only goes to work the next morning because Olivia goes with him.