The first thing Fin notices when he spots Stabler on a bench is that the man’s pose is all wrong. Elliot is leaning forward, staring at the ground. Nothing alarming about that, but something in the way he sits screams desolation and defeat.
Stabler called Fin earlier today and asked to meet. He had plans for the evening, but Elliot’s voice was off. And so now he is at a park, being late for a nice date with his not-quite-wife.
“You look like shit,” Fin greets his former SVU colleague as he approaches the bench.
Stabler glances up at him briefly and nods. “Feel like it too.”
Fin sits down and waits for the man to tell him what this meet is all about.
“What happened to Liv eight years ago?” Stabler asks finally, and Fin narrows his eyes.
“What do you mean?”
“Bell mentioned something today. 2013-2014? Fin, I need...” His voice is like gravel and it peters out almost completely before he can finish his sentence. Stabler clears his throat. “I need to know. Bell said it was in the news, but I can’t… I need to hear it from someone who was on the inside, not read some media-generated half-truths.”
Fin studies his profile silently.
“Please.” It is as close to begging as he’s ever heard from Stabler.
So he sighs. “I did wonder if you knew. Look, I need you to remember that Liv is doing okay now. Mostly. She survived, Elliot. And she persevered, didn’t let the bastard break her. Also… Liv is my captain and my friend. I am not going to give you all the details. So you are getting a cliffsnotes version of the events.”
Stabler nods solemnly, his eyes still fixed on the ground before him.
“In 2013 we caught a case. A flasher who upon closer inspection turned out to be one of the worst creeps we ever had the pleasure of dealing with. A sadist, without an ounce of mercy or remorse in him. A clever one, too. Trickster. He had a rap sheet a mile long in several states, but was never convicted, because he was good at gaming the system, finding loopholes. We had him and then we lost him over “mishandled evidence”. We should’ve paid more attention to his interest in Liv,” he admits heavily. It still haunts him, how they all failed to prevent the tragedy.
“He broke into Liv’s apartment. Caught her off guard. Cragen had given her some time off, so alarms went off only two days later. By the time we got to her place, neither Liv nor the creep were there. He wasn’t even in a hurry to leave. Had his fun with her in the apartment first, before embarking on a road trip to Long Island. If any of us would’ve checked on her earlier…”
He trails off. It’s a cross they all bear. Particularly Amaro and him. And he knows that Stabler would’ve noticed, would’ve worried, would’ve checked. He also knows it’s why Stabler now looks like he was crushed down by a press. Because he wasn’t there then.
“She freed herself in the end. Four days of torture, and our girl managed to break free and beat the crap out of the fucker with part of the bedframe he’d had her handcuffed to. Lewis survived somehow. Amaro and I should’ve just finished the job when we got there, but we didn’t.” Another failure, another cross he bears.
“So the bastard had his days in court. Nearly gave us all aneurysms by almost succeeding to bend the law to his will again. He did get a prison sentence, but several months later he escaped. Went on a rampage, kidnapped a young girl and forced Liv to come to him. The fucker shot himself in the end.”
Stabler is a statue. He hasn’t moved since Fin began his account of those traumatic events. But he can see Elliot’s facial muscles twitching.
“How badly was she hurt?”
Fin contemplates for a moment how much to tell him.
“Sexually assaulted, force fed tons of vodka and drugs, beat up, burned,” he recounts and watches Stabler close his eyes and hide his face in the palms of his hands, “forced to watch him kill, torture and rape other people. The second time, Lewis had her play Russian Roulette with him.”
They sit in silence for a while after that, before Fin breaks it again.
“Look, I know what you are thinking —”
Stabler laughs harshly. “I doubt it.”
“Elliot, I am not gonna tell you that you couldn’t have prevented all or part of it, because we both know that you most likely would’ve. Probably. At the very least your presence and your support would’ve helped her deal with the aftermath. But what’s done is done, and Liv doesn’t need you to drown in your guilt. That’s not gonna fix anything. In fact, that’s only gonna make things worse.”
Stabler doesn’t agree or disagree, but rubs his face and fixes his gaze on the ground again.
“Fin, is Noah… is her boy…” he can’t seem to finish the sentence, but Fin can guess what the man is asking.
“Noah has no relation to Lewis whatsoever,” he assures Elliot. Stabler closes his eyes, relief plain on his face. Fin gets that. Knowing Liv’s own origins that would’ve been a terrible outcome. “He didn’t get a chance to rape her. Not that it matters all that much when you take into account the bigger picture. But God and small mercies, I guess.”
“It’s good to know you weren’t aware,” Fin tells him. “I strongly suspected that was the case, but wasn’t sure, to be honest.”
“You really thought I could stay away, if I knew?” Stabler looks at him, horrified. “Did Liv think that? Did she think I just ignored the…” his voice peters out again. He looks like he is about to hyperventilate.
Fin shakes his head. “I don’t know, man, but for what it’s worth, I don’t believe she ever thought that.”
Fin’s phone trills and he looks at the screen. Phoebe. “Listen, I gotta go. You gonna be alright?”
Stabler looks at him and nods. “Yeah. Thank you for telling me.” He doesn’t look alright, but Fin supposes the man will have to find his own way out of this particular black hole.
“Don’t mention it. Really, don’t mention it to Liv,” he gets up and makes a couple of steps away from the bench before turning around. “I am going to give you a piece of unsolicited advice before I go. You can’t change the past, Elliot. The future, however, is in your hands. And things can be good. Better, at least. You just gotta stop running in every direction except for the one that is right.”
And with that he walks away, hoping that Stabler will figure his shit out before they all get old enough for a retirement home.