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Rock into sand

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They are in the car again when Bell reiterates her earlier… not quite an order, but definitely a firm suggestion to find someone other than Liv to move on. It’s a week past the end of his UC stint effectively cut short by their joint sex trafficking bust. He and Bell are currently waiting for their informant for another case.

Elliot is not sure what prompted Bell’s admonishment (might have been the way he couldn’t take his eyes off of Liv earlier today during their debrief), but it irks him. He is tired of this. Of circumstances (often of his own making) and people (including him) trying to separate him and his former partner.

It’s not like he believes he has more than a snowball’s chance in hell to “move on” with Liv. In fact, Elliot is quite certain, if that boat ever existed, it sailed when he got Kathy pregnant with Eli. But Bell’s “suggestion” still annoys him.

“With all due respect, Serg, my private life is my personal business. Why does my relationship with Olivia concern you so much anyway?” He frowns. “You worried about my allegiance or something?”

The woman raises her eyebrow sardonically at him. “Well, I can’t say your split allegiance thrills me.”

“But that's not it,” she adds after a moment. “Look, despite our occasional turf wars and difference in opinion, I respect the hell out of Liv. Frankly, she could do better than you.”

He snorts. In agreement. Because who could argue with that.

“You are a mess, Stabler. I don’t know what you were like before, but judging by the contents of your jacket, you were always a handful. And Captain Benson has been through a lot. To be honest, I am in awe of her resilience, her strength. The woman is a powerhouse. But that kind of experience that she had to endure, it leaves more than just physical scars. And I am sure, however silently and discreetly, she is still dealing with her own demons. She doesn’t need you to pile your shit on top of that, Stabler.”

He is thoroughly confused. And unsettled.

“What are you talking about? What is she dealing with?”

Bell throws a glance at him, incredulous, before she returns to her task of scanning the street.

“I don’t know much about working at SVU, Stabler, but I am pretty sure four days of torture by a serial psycho rapist murderer, subsequent hell in court, his escape from prison, second encounter with him, that resulted in additional torture… I am sure all of that would leave a lasting impression on anyone. You disagree? Or do you consider it par for the course for SVU?”

When she looks back at Elliot, he must be a sight, because Bell’s face immediately assumes a worried expression. “You okay there, Stabler?”

He is not okay. His years at SVU provide him with enough imagery to mentally illustrate “torture by a serial psycho rapist murderer” and add Olivia to the pictures. He scrambles out of the car. Just in time to spill his guts on the sidewalk a couple of feet away from the vehicle. Elliot sways and feels someone grab onto him, steady him. Ayanna.

“You didn’t know,” she states softly. “Jesus, Elliot, breathe. In and out. In and out.”

He is struggling to follow her instructions, but her voice is firm and soothing, and eventually he gets his breathing and equilibrium more or less under control. Bell gives him a bottle of water and some mints, before helping him back to the car.

Elliot sits with his eyes tightly closed and his hands balled into fists. “When?” is the only thing he manages to force out.

“Several years ago. 2013-2014, if I am not mistaken. I overheard Liv accuse you of ghosting her. So what, you didn’t talk to her for all those years?”

Elliot leans forward, bracing his elbows on his thighs and squeezing his fists into his eye sockets. He realizes his face is wet from tears.

“Regardless,” Bell continues, “I don’t know how your family missed it. The abduction and all that followed, the hearing, the prison break — it was all over national news for days. Weren’t most of your five hundred kids in the States all this time?”

He still doesn’t know what to say. What can he say? He wonders, though, if his children, Kathy even, kept it from him. The thought makes him sick. Sicker. Elliot swallows reflexively several times in a row, to force down the bile.

“You are in love with her.” Another softly uttered statement from Ayanna. “How long?” she asks.

He straightens up, opens his eyes. The colors of the world around him are different. Everything seems greyer, darker suddenly.

“Twenty three years,” he admits hoarsely, because he has no energy to lie or evade.

Elliot can see Bell nod from the corner of his eye.

“Have you ever?..”

“No.”

“So, you had to run away from temptation all the way to Italy, huh?”

He stares straight ahead. Knows it’s a rhetorical question at this point.

“I take my words back,” Bell says after a few moments of silence. “Maybe she is exactly the person you need to move on with. I am starting to think you two might just find healing in each other.”

Broken sharp laughter breaks free from his chest. Knowing what he knows now, Elliot is floored by the fact that Liv deigns to even talk to him, let alone help him. It’s a testament to the sheer magnitude of her grace, he thinks.

Ayanna interrupts his musings. “He is here.” She nods in the direction of their informant who’s making his way towards their car. “Are you gonna be able to pull yourself together for this meeting?”

Elliot wipes his face with his hands and clears his throat. He knows he is not nearly done falling apart. But that will have to wait. He’s failed enough women. He does not need to add the one sitting beside him to that list.