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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.

Chapter Text

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.”

Elliot nods.

“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.

Chapter Text

“...and then Eli told Grandma… Dad, are you even listening to me? Daddy? Dad, you okay?”

Her father finally reacts, focuses on her, keen gaze replacing the faraway look in his eyes. “I am sorry, sweetheart. Long day.”

“Do you wanna talk about it, dad? I know you never do, but I am here to listen. I really am a good listener.”

Kathleen knows that’s not gonna happen, but she keeps trying. Him bottling things up like that is going to end in disaster.

Her father smiles at her gently. “I am okay. But I will keep it in mind.”

He looks down at his dinner and plays with his food a bit, without bringing anything to his mouth. Kathleen is worried. He looks awful today. He is barely eating. He is spacing out.

“Katie, can I ask you a question?”

“Sure, dad.”

“Several years ago something happened to Liv. The story was big enough to be in the news. She was…” He seems to be looking for the right words. “She was taken by a very dangerous man, who hurt her badly. It happened about eight years ago. Do you know anything about it?”

“Do you mean… what was his name?” She is struggling to remember. “Lewis, right? Is that what you mean?”

He just nods. Kathleen wonders why he is suddenly bringing it up. She assumes something happened today that reminded him of that particular horror. It strikes her as weird, though, that he asks if she knows anything about it.

“Of course I know about it. I was the one who called you guys that first time, remember? Although I talked to mom, so I suppose you might not remember it was me who was the bearer of bad news.” Kathleen starts cleaning the table and loading the washer.

“I also wanted to reach out to Olivia several times back then,” she tries to jog his memory. “And you guys stopped me. You recall that, right? Mom said that Olivia didn’t need that, because she wanted to just forget and move on, and that it was enough that you reached out to her. I still feel bad about that, by the way. I feel like I should’ve just ignored you two and at least called Olivia or sent flowers or something. I don’t get why you were so adamant about it.”

To this day she doesn’t understand how her reaching out to Olivia with words of support and an offer of help could’ve hurt.

When she looks at her dad again, she catches him studying her with a tender look in his eyes. Eyes that seem to be suspiciously wet.

“Dad, what’s wrong?”

“A lot of things, Katie. A lot of things. But one thing is definitely right — you. I am very proud of you.” He stands up, comes up to her, pulls her into a tight hug and kisses her forehead. “Don’t ever change. And trust your intuition,” he whispers and leaves her alone in the kitchen.

Kathleen furrows her brows, wondering what the hell just happened. She has a queasy feeling in her stomach.

She gets her answers the next morning when her older sister calls. Kathleen is on her way to a job interview when that happens. She mentions dad’s strange question about Olivia and Lewis in passing and inadvertently opens a can of worms. As a result, she is nearly late for her meeting because she spends twenty minutes yelling at Maureen in the middle of a busy NYC street.

Kathleen is sure she tanked the interview. She is in quite a state after her conversation with her sister. It just doesn’t compute, it’s crazy — how could her siblings and her mom do something like that? Keep something like this from daddy, create such an elaborate lie for her benefit.

She remembers Maureen telling her that mom asked them all not to bring up the whole situation with Lewis during chats with dad, because daddy was too upset about it and they had to be mindful of his mental state. She remembers mom telling her (several times during those awful months) that both she and daddy were in touch with Olivia and that Liv was doing okay. She remembers Dickie reminding her not to contact Olivia, because mom and dad declared it a bad idea for the kids to approach his former partner about the assaults.

Kathleen’s head feels like it’s going to explode. The scheming, the deceit involved just stupefy her. She understands the reasons, of course, on some level. But she cannot condone it, doesn’t think the end justifies the means in this case. It feels like a black blemish on the consciousness of the whole family. And why did they not think of how devastatingly hard it would hit daddy if and when he found out, Kathleen wonders.

When she comes home, she finds her father in their little backyard (if it can be called that). He is hunched over, looking at his mobile. He must’ve found out about Lewis yesterday, realizes Kathleen, because he looks like he’s aged several years in a day.

When she opens the door to the backyard, her dad notices her and smiles softly. It doesn’t reach his eyes. “Hey, sweetheart. How did it go?”

He is asking about the job interview but that’s the last thing that Kathleen cares about at the moment.

“Daddy, I am so sorry. I didn’t know they decided not to tell you about Olivia.” The words rush out of her mouth. “Please, believe me. I would’ve told you. I absolutely would’ve told you.”

He stands up and crosses the short distance between them, pulling her into a hug. “Not your fault,” he assures her quietly. “Not your fault.”

“Don’t be mad at mom,” Kathleen asks, because although she is mad at mom herself, it’s her mother, who loved her completely and unconditionally, and she is gone now. “She was just afraid to lose her safety net.”

It’s a strange way to phrase things, she knows. Not “afraid to lose you, daddy”, not “afraid for her family”, but “afraid to lose her safety net”. Only that’s how Kathleen sees their marriage now that she is an adult herself: as a duty for both of them, but also as their safety net. Both were afraid to truly consider other options, afraid to take a leap, to risk hitting the ground. So they kept clinging to what clearly wasn’t working but was familiar and safe in all the wrong ways.

Her dad doesn’t respond but hugs her tighter and buries his nose in her hair. They stand like this for a while. Secure in her father’s embrace, Kathleen thinks about the butterfly effect, about small decisions having massive impacts on one’s life, wonders if in some parallel timeline her mother is still alive today because she chose to tell daddy the truth eight years ago.

Chapter Text

Elliot moves through New York streets without any destination in mind. It’s dark outside already, the sun surrendered its post in the sky to the moon about half an hour ago. He is not sure what he hoped to accomplish when he started this promenade, but he feels unmoored and it fits his mental state to be drifting aimlessly through the city.

He must have been walking for quite a while because his legs are starting to feel the distance he’s covered. So when Elliot comes across a bench in front of a small church, he decides to rest his weary limbs there. It’s a relatively quiet little corner of the perpetually bustling city. As he sits and looks around, he decides the place is peaceful. Not that it has the power to give him peace of mind, though.

Elliot fixes his gaze on the steeple of the church and thinks it’s ironic that in all his years at SVU, with all the horrors he witnessed, he never once faltered in his belief in God, but now — now he is not sure what he believes anymore. Religion has always provided him with a roadmap to life. Occasionally he strayed of course. But he trusted this roadmap, relied on it for directions whenever he found himself at a crossroads. Elliot doesn’t trust that roadmap anymore. Or maybe it’s his interpretation of the roadmap that is wrong, he thinks.

Elliot’s musings are interrupted when someone plonks on the bench next to him. When he looks, he finds an elderly kind-faced priest sitting to his right.

“I hope you don’t mind if I join you, son,” the man says.

“Of course, father.”

The priest furrows his bushy brows a little. “You alright, son?”

“No. I don’t think I am,” Elliot admits. It’s not his church, it’s not his priest, but something about the man makes Elliot want to talk. “You got time, father?”

“Can spare some, if you need help, son.”

Elliot is not sure where to begin.

“I need guidance for I have lost my way.” Elliot confesses eventually. “Or, perhaps, I’ve never even found it. My mother certainly thinks so.” He laughs a little, morosely. “I don’t know what to do. How do I fix things, how do I make the right choices, the right decisions? A old friend told me yesterday that I should stop running in every direction except for the right one. But the truth is, I don’t know which one is right.”

His thoughts are so jumbled, that it’s hard to structure a coherent narrative. He looks at the church again.

“Everything in my life is falling apart. It feels this way, at least. Like every major decision I’ve ever made brought me here, to this point where my world is crumbling to pieces. I acted irresponsibly, I did what I wanted to do — it ended in disaster. I acted responsibly, I did what I had to do — it ended in disaster.”

Elliot falls silent. Asks himself what it is that he is trying to achieve with this confession. But before he can continue, an upbeat tune breaks the silence. Elliot looks at the priest, because that’s where the sound is coming from. The old man is trying to fish something — a mobile, Elliot guesses — from somewhere under his black robe. It is indeed a phone.

“Sorry, son. That’s my wife. Gotta answer real quick. Can’t worry her.” He answers the call. “Sweetheart… Yes, dear I am... Yes, I will be home soon... Wine?.. What do you need wine for?.. Ah, I completely forgot. Yes, we should celebrate… Alright, I love you. See you in a few minutes.”

Elliot continues to stare at him. “You are not a priest,” he states finally.

“A priest?” The man seems genuinely surprised. Elliot raises his eyebrow and looks at his attire pointedly. “Ah, the robe, of course. I am sorry, my boy. That’s just a costume. I am an amateur actor. We were rehearsing a play earlier and I… Never mind. Didn't mean to confuse you, lad. I can’t speak on God’s behalf, I am afraid, but there is something I want to share with you, if you’ll allow me. Maybe it will help you as it helped me a long time ago.”

Elliot stares at him, half-annoyed, half-amused, finally deciding he has nothing to lose. “Sure. I apologize for unloading my problems on you.”

“Oh, no worries, no worries. You see, I can relate. I spent most of my life making one bad decision after another. Got married too young because I was an idiot and got a girl pregnant. Then I decided to be responsible and make that marriage work. For the children, I used to tell myself.” The man chuckles self-deprecatingly, while Elliot struggles to keep his poker face in place. “Trapped myself and my first wife in a toxic loveless union for ages. Got stuck in a job I hated because it would’ve been irresponsible to give it up and chase my dream. At some point I started drinking more than I should’ve because my life was suffocating me. Almost lost my son to drugs because I was so lost myself.

“Then I fell in love with this amazing lady.” The man activates the screen of his smartphone showing Elliot a picture of an elderly woman. She appears to be in her 80s, like the not-priest sitting next to him, but her age doesn’t diminish her elegance and beauty. “I spent years being afraid to pursue her. See, I wasn’t sure she could love me back, so I chose to keep my feelings to myself and be her friend. Turned out she did love me, and I kept hurting her over and over again by choosing every other woman and their mother instead of her. My cowardice cost us 20 years of happiness.”

Elliot looks at the church, at the dark sky above and back at the man. Although there are notable differences, the parallels in their life stories are uncanny, and he begins to suspect there is some sort of divine intervention at work here.

“I could go on and on, recounting all the ways I screwed up,” the man continues. “But I’d rather share with you a piece of wisdom that allowed me to find happiness. Years ago, when I was at my lowest, my very old, very devout but very unorthodox aunt told me that I was allowing the wrong organs dictate my life. God is love, God is honesty and God is courage, she told me. And of all the organs in a man’s body it’s the heart that is responsible for those, my aunt said. Not the brain, not the stomach, not the instrument between one’s legs, she stressed. The heart. When you are making a decision, listen to your heart, my aunt urged me. You are a good man and it will not lead you astray, she promised. If you are living a lie, your heart will ache. If you are being a coward, your heart will let you know. If you love something or someone, don’t run from it and don’t hide it, for it’s a gift from God and it is in your heart for a reason.”

The old man smiles warmly at Elliot and he can’t help but smile back a little. “I don’t know if any of this is useful to you, son, but for me… well, I turned my life around when I started listening to my heart and allowed it to guide me. Perhaps my aunt’s unorthodox interpretation of God will help you too. Well, I have to run, buy some nice wine for my missus. May love, honesty and courage show you the right path.”

The not-priest gets up and Elliot does too.

“Who are you?” he asks. Then catches himself, because that sounds rude. He offers his hand.
“Elliot Stabler.”

The man shakes his hand with a grin. “John Stanton Sr.”

Elliot fishes out a card from his jacket and holds it out. “I am a detective with the NYPD. I hope you never need my help, sir, but if you do, feel free to give me a call.”

“A detective!” John Stanton Sr. exclaims as he takes the card. “Then at least one of the three should not be a problem for you, should it? Courage — I am certain you have that one in abundance.” The old man winks at him and scurries away, leaving Elliot feeling lighter and more hopeful than he’s felt in a very long time.

Chapter Text

They are brought together by yet another case. Or cases in this instance. Two separate but, as it turns out, overlapping cases.

The amount of close contact SVU has with OC this year amazes her. And Olivia can’t even blame (or thank — the jury is still out on that) Elliot for this, because it’s not like he is the one creating these situations. It’s more like some invisible forces are conspiring to pull the two of them into each other’s field of view every so often — lest they drift too far apart without divine supervision. Olivia supposes, with Elliot’s track record that’s not a far fetched possibility.

She hasn’t seen her former partner in about a week and a half. They last occupied the same space during one of the debriefings that followed their joint sex-trafficking bust and the subsequent end of his undercover gig. Olivia is privately grateful that his time with the Albanians had to be cut short soon after they’d crashed the ‘party’. She would’ve preferred for the bust not to up the stakes for Elliot and put him in even more danger, but at least he was finally out. Amen to that, she thinks. Olivia was truly afraid he was either going to get killed or end up losing himself.

Since then, Elliot texted her a couple of times about the possibility of meeting and talking. And they should, she recognizes that, but the last several days were brutal from an emotional standpoint for her. So after ensuring he wasn’t in need of help, Olivia asked for a raincheck.

Of course, she did not take into account the new habit of this (very real, not parallel) universe to snap them together like magnets when she least expects it. Olivia and Fin arrive at the shady apartment building, where a potential victim of theirs resides, to find Bell and Stabler exiting their own vehicle at the site. As it happens, they are looking for the same girl, and she is a possible witness in an ongoing OC investigation.

Olivia doesn’t like the way Elliot looks. It’s nothing specific, but something is off. She notices and she can’t help but worry. Concern for his psychological well-being takes precedence over her own. Not to mention the fact that he is basically gravitating towards her the moment their eyes meet, and as per usual Olivia can’t really fight the pull.

She is prepared to do a little maneuvering to give herself and Elliot a few moments to chat. Surprisingly, Ayanna does it for her. Bell suggests Elliot and Olivia visit the girl, pointing out that two cops are more than enough for what is undoubtedly going to be a tiny apartment with a potential victim of sexual assault. And the two of them are the most logical choices, apparently. Fin stares at Bell with narrowed eyes and obvious suspicion. Olivia, however, does not intend to look the gift horse in the mouth. Elliot appears happy with the arrangement too. So off they go.

She really should know better than to step into a dingy elevator with a broken bottle on the floor and the smell of vodka and cigarettes saturating every particle of air floating around the metal box. At that moment, however, Olivia ignores the sick feeling in her stomach and the increasing tempo of her heartbeat and steps inside with Elliot in tow.

They make it to floor number 6 out of 9 before the elevator shudders and stops, all lights going out. Elliot has just finished answering her ‘How are you doing? How is Eli?’ with the perfunctory ‘I am fine’ and ‘Eli is going to be okay’. He starts saying something else but before he can get further than ‘Liv, I wanted —’ the elevator malfunctions and cuts him off dramatically.

Olivia would’ve been grateful for the interruption (she suddenly wasn’t sure she wanted to know what words were about to accompany that intense look in his eyes), except she is already on edge, barely tolerating the odor. Getting stuck in the dark in a metal box that smells like her worst nightmare spells disaster.

Elliot curses and immediately turns on his phone. He uses what little light the screen provides to press the “door open” button and try different floor numbers. The elevator doesn’t budge.

“No signal,” he announces checking his mobile. “Yours?”

Her phone is useless too. No surprise there. She sends it to sleep without thinking.

“Okay, let’s try this.” He presses the alarm button on the elevator panel, allowing the screen of his mobile to go dark.

And that’s when Olivia loses her grip on the thread that holds parts of her together and starts to unravel.

It happens in stages but the unraveling is fast. First, the smell of vodka and cigarettes grows stronger, overwhelming her senses. Then the sound of Elliot explaining their situation to the person on the other end of the alarm button is being drowned out but the pounding of her heart in her head. Olivia leans against the wall of the elevator and clutches the metal railing that spans three fourths of the perimeter with both hands in an attempt to ground herself and hold herself upright as her stomach and leg muscles start to contract.

Olivia is painfully aware that she is in a downward spiral into a dark and horrible place. She is still clinging to sanity enough to try her go to emergency exercise for panic attacks. Except it fails her spectacularly in this case.

The ‘Five things you can see’ part is useless because it’s pitch black all around. The ‘Four things you can touch’ is only marginally better. She can concentrate on the feeling of the metal rod in her hands, but Olivia can’t touch anything else — she simply cannot unclasp her fingers, it’s like they are locked in a grip. ‘Three things you can hear’ is not helpful either. Her heartbeat pounding against the walls of her skull and the faint sound of male voice are the opposite of comforting. ‘Two things you can smell’ — she would laugh at this one if she could. ‘One thing you can taste’... Fear. She never knew before Lewis that fear has such a distinct taste.

Then suddenly the darkness is pierced by muted light… and she is in the trunk of a car, bound, gagged, drugged, hurting all over, with occasional brights of the passing vehicles making it through the tiny cracks. And all Olivia knows is that she is going to die and that her death is going to be slow and torturous.

The voice though. The voice is wrong. It shouldn’t be here. Someone is saying something, but she knows that she shouldn’t be hearing it. Not in the trunk of a moving car. So Olivia clings to it, concentrating on the words she can’t quite make out. There is also a new pleasant smell. And it’s familiar. ‘Elliot’, her mind supplies. The words gain contours...

“Liv, breathe, sweetheart. Deep slow breaths. Focus on me. Try to focus on me. That’s it, you can do it. That’s it.”

Her vision starts to clear and she finds herself looking into his oh so familiar and oh so worried blue eyes.

“That’s it. That’s my girl. Stay with me. Breathe with me. In… Out… In… Out…”

She tries to. It doesn’t quite work. He swears.

“Liv, I am going to touch you, hold you, okay? You are safe. I promise you, you are safe.” And then he is impossibly close, gently drawing her into his embrace as much as her stiff frame allows him. “Just you and me here. No-one's gonna hurt you. You are safe.”

Chapter Text

It’s a feeling in his heart before his brain catches on. Unexplainable dread followed by realization that she is too quiet and something is wrong. Elliot ends his frustrating conversation with the elevator emergency guy, brings his phone to life and looks at Olivia.

In that moment, he thinks he is getting a glimpse of what his personal experience in hell is going to be like. If God wants to punish him for all his transgressions, he can just make him endlessly relive these few seconds — when the light of his screen chases away some of the darkness and Elliot is left staring into the abyss of pure terror in her unfocused eyes.

In that moment, he is absolutely paralyzed with terror himself, his heart diving all the way through the floor and to the ground under this blasted building. Thankfully, his training and years at SVU allow him to recognize what is happening to her relatively quickly. Also thankfully, he is able to pull himself together enough to focus on getting her out of whatever personal horror she’s disappeared into. And of course, he has some idea of what it might be now.

Elliot calls out to her again and again as he moves closer, but Olivia doesn’t seem to hear him. He brings his eyes level with hers, trying to catch her attention.

“Liv, look at me. Focus on me.”

She is barely breathing.

“Liv, breathe, sweetheart. Deep slow breaths. Focus on me. Try to focus on me.”

Something shifts in her eyes.

“That’s it, you can do it. That’s it,” he continues to encourage her. Elliot can barely control his voice, but manages to keep it steady somehow.

Olivia seems to respond, her gaze slowly focusing on him. She blinks a couple of times.

“That’s it. That’s my girl.”

He thinks she is going to kill him later, if she remembers the ‘sweetheart’ and ‘my girl’, but he is only human and he doesn’t have the mental resources to censure himself at the moment.

“Stay with me. Breathe with me. In… Out…” he demonstrates, “In… Out…”

Elliot can see that she is trying, but it doesn’t quite work. He swears.

“Liv, I am going to touch you, hold you, okay? You are safe. I promise you, you are safe.” He gently, slowly embraces her stiff frame. “Just you and me here. No-one's gonna hurt you. You are safe.”

He tries to slow his own racing heart as he carefully checks her pulse. It’s through the roof. But she seems to be present in the here and now at least, so that’s progress, he reassures himself.

“You gotta try to calm down, okay?”

The screen of his phone goes dark and she jerks in his arms. Elliot immediately turns it on again.

“Shh. It’s okay. We got light. It’s okay.”

He runs one hand up and down her arm, trying to coax Olivia into relaxing her death grip on the railing, all the while telling her that she is safe. Eventually she lets go of the metal bar and clutches his jacket instead. Her breathing is still shallow and fast, though.

“Liv, slow deep breaths.”

This time she manages to fill her chest with air and let it out slowly.

“That’s it. Again,” he instructs. Olivia does as she is told a couple more times and then buries her nose in his shirt. In turn, Elliot buries his in her sweet-smelling hair as he draws her closer still.

Her stiffness gives way to trembling. He draws his hand up and down her back while the other holds the phone, making sure it doesn’t go to sleep, plunging them into darkness again.

“Maintenance crew is on the way. Everything is gonna be okay,” Elliot tells her. “You are safe. I am not gonna let anyone hurt you like that ever again,” he wows.

All of a sudden Olivia stiffens again.

“You know,” she whispers. “You know about Lewis.”

Chapter Text

She may be nowhere close to her normal capacity for processing information, but she is so focused on Elliot — clinging to his voice like it’s a life ring in the murky viscous depths of her panic — that the meaning of his words registers immediately.

He knows about Lewis. Olivia’s body seizes up again.

“Yeah. I… yeah,” Elliot confirms quietly. Voice laced with discomfort and remorse.

She is overcome with a new kind of terror. One she’s never before allowed to even begin to take root in her. Now she is petrified because Elliot knows and there is a very real possibility that he’s known all these years and just didn’t… Olivia can’t even think that thought to its completion.

She wants to unhand his jacket, distance herself from the man, from his face pressed to the side of her head, from the gentle slide of his hand up and down her back, from the scent of him in her nose. But she can’t seem to move.

“Found out several days ago,” Elliot says while she struggles to regain control over her limbs. His lips are almost touching her ear, and as the little blast waves created by these five words hit her hair and skin, Olivia feels some of the tension drain from her body. If she was a believer, she would be thanking a deity right now for sparing her more pain. Pain she is not sure she would be able to deal with.

As she relaxes a bit, he grows tense, stops the movement of his hand on her back.

“Liv, I didn’t know before. I swear to you,” Elliot says emphatically. Olivia realizes he must’ve identified her reaction for what it was. “I… I know you don’t trust me,” he utters dejectedly, “but, please, trust me when I say I only just found out.”

It’s funny, she thinks, because the reality is so much more complicated than her not trusting him.

“If I’d known, I would’ve been on the first plane home —”

“Stop,” she interrupts him firmly. “Just… stop.”

Olivia can’t listen to him spouting hypotheticals. She did enough of imagining alternative scenarios (with him in the picture) back in the day. It didn’t help her any. She is not about to go down that road again.

Elliot is impossibly still. Holding his breath, she thinks.

“It’s in the past,” Olivia tells him. Softer now. She is still shaky, and her voice is barely above a whisper, but she is able to string full sentences together. “I don’t want to talk about ‘what ifs’. I am fine, Elliot.”

He huffs at that, his hand resuming its soothing motions across her back.

“Of course you are,” the man mutters. His tone a mix of fondness and disbelief.

Olivia wants to hit him. Or hit something at least. She really was doing fine. Mostly. It’s just her luck to have this happen in front of him.

“I am fine,” she asserts. Although, Olivia supposes, the fact that she is still clinging to Elliot, nose buried in his shirt, fingers clutching his jacket, contradicts her statement somewhat. “This doesn’t really happen anymore. It’s just…” she doesn’t really want to explain what combination of factors led her to this moment.

“Something here triggered you.”

It’s not even a question. Just an observation. And he is not pressuring her, but Olivia decides she can give him something. Elliot hasn’t figured it out, so it’s clear he doesn’t know the details.

“Yes. The smell. Vodka and cigarettes.” She breathes in the comforting scent of his shirt. “Dark enclosed space. I… Let’s just say I don’t recommend taking a trip in the trunk of a car,” Olivia tries for levity but fails.

Elliot pulls her in closer. They just stand like this in the dim light of his phone for a few moments before he breaks the silence again.

“Let’s play a game,” her former partner proposes suddenly.

“A game?” Olivia asks incredulously.

“Yep. A game. I believe it is called ‘Twenty questions’. You ask me anything you want, and I ask you anything I want. You can choose not to answer, of course. But if you do answer, you have to tell the truth.”

“Are you serious?” Olivia is just flabbergasted.

“I am. I’ll go first. Tell me something about Noah.”

“That’s not a question,” she points out.

Elliot huffs out a little laugh. “Okay, you’re right. How about this then — what’s Noah’s favorite subject in school?”

“Social studies. At the moment,” she adds, because Noah’s preferences can be fleeting these days.

“Oh, really? I bet he is a smart boy.” Olivia can hear pride in his voice and it does things to her. “Your turn.”

She can ask him anything but she takes the simplest route first. “What’s Eli’s favorite subject?”

“He likes to read. Practically inhales books. And lemme tell you, he didn’t get that from me or Kathy. So I would say, Literature is his favorite. PE is a close second.”

Olivia smiles a little. She doesn’t really know Eli, but she can easily picture the boy with his nose in a good book.

“Does Noah like sports?”

“He used to like baseball when Pet—” Olivia catches herself. No need for extra details. “He used to like baseball, but now he likes dancing. He’s into ballet these days.”

She can feel Elliot grinning. “Is he any good?”

“I believe it’s my turn,” Olivia reminds him.

There are so many questions swirling around her brain. She is not ready to ask any of them, though. In fact, Olivia is not sure she will ever be ready. Articulating some of them would mean exposing her feelings, her pain. And she can’t do that. Asking the rest would mean hearing answers she is, frankly, afraid to hear. Olivia is half sure they will either reopen old wounds or create new ones.

She realizes she’s been quiet for far too long when Elliot’s voice jolts her out of her dark thoughts.

“You do know that this being ‘your turn’ means you actually have to ask the question out loud?” he jokes softly.

“How do you like Bell as a partner?” Olivia thinks it’s a safe enough topic. She hopes. Plus she is genuinely curious.

“She is not you,” Elliot tells her, his delivery steady and serious. Such a simple statement, yet it carries so much weight for Olivia. “But she’s got good instincts. I think I can trust her to have my back. And I don’t dislike working with her.”

She snorts. “What a glowing endorsement, Stabler.”

“Well, Benson, after over twelve years with the best partner in the world everyone else pales in comparison.”

“Yeah,” Olivia whispers because isn’t that just fucking true.

Elliot’s hand is no longer traversing the length of her back. Now his thumb is caressing the spot between her shoulder blades and Olivia feels those small tender movements echo in the bottom of her stomach.

“So… Is Noah any good?”

“Hmm?”

“At ballet?”

“You can ask me any question, and you keep asking about an eight year old boy?” she teases him. Olivia understands what Elliot is doing though. And it’s working. Thinking about her son grounds her like nothing else. “Yeah, he actually is quite good. I am told, if he sticks with it, he might go far. We’ll see, though. Might be just a phase.”

Before Olivia can think of another innocuous question for him, the lights in the elevator flicker back on. They slowly, reluctantly, move a bit further away from each other. He is still close, though, gently holding her upper arm.

“Liv. How about we go down and you let Fin take over?”

The elevator is not moving and it occurs to Olivia that they need to press the appropriate button again. Go up or go down — that’s the choice she has to make.

She finally looks at him. Elliot’s face is solemn, eyes concerned.

“No,” she shakes her head. “I am alright.”

Elliot looks like he wants to argue, but she stops him with her hand on his arm. “I really am okay,” Olivia assures her former partner. “Thank you,” she adds.

“Always,” he tells her and there is something in his gaze that makes her want to stay here in this moment forever.

But then the awful smell of alcohol and cigarettes hits her again. The sooner they get out of here, the better. Olivia squeezes his arm and let’s go.

“Press 9, will you,” she urges him.

Elliot just stares at her for a couple more seconds, before he reluctantly nods and turns around to do as she asked. Olivia thinks that he is her paradox. Even though he is the last person she wants to show her weaknesses to, he is, ironically, the only person in this universe in whose presence she can fall apart and not feel like she was weak afterwards.

Chapter Text

She and Liv are standing in the corridor outside the squad room, having a quick chat about their latest case and their next moves. The location is accidental. Amanda has just come back from interviewing a potential witness, and Liv was on her way... somewhere. As they stand there, four things happen in quick succession. Stabler materializes in their space, their main suspect is set free due to lack of evidence, the creep makes a mistake, and Amanda has an epiphany.

She has her back to the elevator so she doesn’t notice Stabler until he is standing next to them. He apparently hand delivered some file Liv needed from OC. Amanda is not sure what this is about, but she uses the opportunity to study the man. She hasn’t had the chance to interact with him before, or even observe him properly.

Carisi doesn’t like him. At all. Doesn’t trust Liv’s former partner one bit. Carisi is protective of Liv. Amanda is too, and she trusts Carisi. But she is fascinated by the man who obviously means a helluva lot to Liv.

As he and Liv chat about the file and some other case that she is not aware of (seeing her confusion, Liv quickly tells her ‘I’ll explain later’), Amanda profiles Stabler. He’s got an intensity to him. Like a coiled wire, Amanda thinks. He is also someone she would categorize as a prime example of an alpha male. It’s in his stature, in the way he talks. Assertive, confident. She would bet he often comes across as arrogant. Amanda can’t really fault him for the way he speaks to Liv though. There is no disrespect there.

Their current interaction doesn’t really give her a chance to get a read on their normal dynamic, but Amanda sees enough to wonder how two clearly dominant but in many ways very different (she suspects) people managed to remain partners for so many years without killing each other.

Her character study takes a different turn when their main suspect walks by with his lawyer, Fin and Carisi following close behind. Liv did tell her earlier, that they will have to release the bastard for now, so that’s not a surprise. But the way the perp looks at her captain and smirks as he passes them makes Amanda’s hair stand up on the back of her neck. She glances at Stabler (intuitively) and finds herself spellbound. His eyes are narrowed, murder lurking in their depths, his jaw locked, facial muscles contracting ever so slightly. The man reminds Amanda of a predator ready to pounce at the slightest provocation.

And pounce he does.

What happens next, happens so quickly that Amanda doesn’t even have a chance to blink.

She glances at the perp who stops a few steps past their little group, bends down, seemingly to fix his shoe lace, gets something long and pointy out of his boot, pivots and charges right at Liv. Amanda’s hand flies to her gun, but before she can get it out, Stabler, who had his back to the man, snatches the bastard mid-flight and propels him face first into the wall (right next to Amanda) with such speed and force, that Amanda thinks she hears the wall crack. She definitely hears the perp scream as Stabler holds him with one hand pressing on the attacker’s head and the other holding the man’s right arm in a death grip. ‘Murderous look’ doesn’t really begin to describe the play of dark emotions in Liv’s former partner’s eyes, Amanda notes.

As Liv peels Stabler away from the man, as Fin and officer Bartlet cuff the psycho and take him away, several things click into place for Amanda.

First of all, she realizes that Lewis wouldn’t have happened, if Stabler was around. At the very least, there certainly would not have been a second encounter because by that time William Lewis would have been removed from this plane of existence twice over.

Secondly, Stabler and Benson were a dream team and stuck together for so long not just because they were compatible as colleagues and not just because they became friends, but because they were in-fucking-love with each other. And Amanda suspected for a long while that Liv might be harboring some strong feelings for her former partner, but she thought, if there was something, it was unrequited. Now, though, as she observes Stabler, it is clear as day that the man is gone on Liv (whether her captain realizes or not). In that moment when Stabler relinquishes his hold on the psycho, when he turns to look at Liv, his gaze is a goddamn open book. Hers is too. The chemistry is off the charts.

Thirdly, all the rumors and tales about the shooting that ended Stabler’s career at SVU missed one important detail. This man killed a kid not because he was trigger happy, or violent, or even a good cop effectively taking out a shooter and protecting his colleagues. Amanda is willing to bet all her savings that Stabler killed a kid out of pure instinct to protect the woman he loved. And she is also willing to wager that this unconscious choice of his can explain, partially at least, why he essentially ran away.

She looks at him and decides that she might just grow to really like Stabler.

Liv is currently saying something to Carisi, so Amanda uses this opportunity. She touches Stabler’s arm, bringing his attention to her.

“Thanks,” she says simply. Throws a glance at Liv, who is still occupied, looks back at Stabler, nods her acceptance and adds quickly and quietly, “But don’t you dare leave her again.” With that she walks away, satisfied for now.

Chapter Text

Time keeps running away from him. Nowadays, Elliot acutely feels the weight of years already behind him. Life and chances are slipping through his fingers with every passing second. Regrets, on the other hand, mount up. Some are new, others are old but getting heavier, stronger. Regrets related to her nearly suffocate Elliot these days. It’s hard not to agonize over his mistakes, over roads not taken.

As more and more time goes by, Elliot becomes more and more desperate to talk to her. Properly. Without work interfering, without drugs messing him up, without exigent circumstances, without having to settle for just a few minutes here and there, without his grief… or, if he is entirely honest with himself, without his thirst for revenge overshadowing everything else.

The need to explain himself, to tell her how much she means to him is burning. Elliot is not counting on absolution, but he needs something. Maybe simply to avoid adding another regret to his rich collection. He let ten years go by. Now, every moment that passes feels like another mile covered by a train speeding towards the “Too Late” station.

That’s why when two of his daughters — Kathleen and Lizzie — conspire and expertly talk both him and Liv into attending some posh art show together, Elliot is actually grateful to his girls.

He is not sure why they did it. The official version is that their very good friend Mark (who is apparently a curator) needs a serious type of crowd (whatever that means) for this exhibition (the theme of which is apparently Justice) and the girls absolutely have to help because he is a very good friend. And having a beautiful NYPD captain in attendance would help a lot. And ‘it’s short notice, dad, and we can’t put Olivia into the awkward position of having to worry about finding a date in such a short period of time (by tomorrow evening!), so you have to be her plus one!’

Elliot agreed, of course (how could he say no to that?), but he did point out that it had not gone unnoticed how his own daughters considered him worthy of attending the event only as an escort and not as a valuable guest in his own right. In response, his daughters rolled their eyes in perfect synchronicity.

He doesn’t know how they talked Liv into this, but she accepted the invitation. Although, maybe that’s not surprising. Olivia has always put everything aside to help him and his kids.

Elliot picks Liv up outside her apartment building. Olivia is a vision in her curve-hugging tan dress, black blazer with golden buttons and black stilettos with golden straps. Jewelry and a clutch purse completing the ensemble. The outfit is classy and sexy. Elliot struggles to will his private parts to behave, wondering if his almost unbearable desire for this woman will ever ebb. Unlikely, he thinks. How Olivia gets more and more beautiful with time he will never know. Although, truth be told, he loved and wanted each and every iteration of her.

The drive to the exhibit is short, and the conversation is light and easy. The art show itself is… interesting. Not his usual cup of tea, but Elliot can’t complain, because Liv seems to be enjoying herself and that means he is enjoying it too. The exhibits represent an eclectic mix of styles: from classic paintings to weird as hell modern installations. The latter are the most fun to discuss, though. He loves how effortlessly they banter and joke, still, after all those years.

Apart from Fin’s non-wedding, every other time he and Liv saw each other was heavy with some sort of angst. Their last two encounters were positively nerve-wrecking. Elliot still can’t forget the episode in the elevator. The look in Olivia’s eyes haunts him — a glimpse into how terrified she must have been back when that psychopath had her. And then another fine representative of the human race nearly stabbed her right in front of his eyes in her own precinct. Elliot almost killed the man then and there.

So he appreciates the levity of this current interaction with her. His cheeky comments about some of the artworks make her smile a few times, and Elliot is very proud of himself.

He is greedy, however. He wants time with her away from the crowd. When they finish their tour of the venue, Elliot suggests a stroll in The Battery. The park is close by and it’s a nice place for the conversation he needs to have with her. Olivia agrees without hesitation.

When they reach the waterfront, she leans sideways against the fence, looking at the bay. The night is soft and warm, and the breeze lightly plays with Olivia’s hair. She is mesmerizing in the glow of the street lamps.

There are so many things Elliot needs to say to her, but he is too intoxicated by the woman to think clearly. He feels like a man on the brink of something, and he is so very tired of constantly fighting the pull. So when Olivia turns her head to look at him, Elliot lets his instincts win the battle with common sense and kisses her.

She lets out a sound of surprise when his hand weaves through her hair and his lips touch hers. It’s almost innocuous, the gentle contact, but it’s enough to make Elliot almost tremble with want for more. However, he has the presence of mind to pull back before going any further. As Elliot retreats, Olivia sways towards him, eyes hooded and trained on his lips. And he is lost. With a groan Elliot reconnects their lips and pulls Olivia closer by the waist, gathering her against him in the circle of his arms.

Chapter Text

It feels strange to be with him like this. If Olivia didn’t know better, she’d think they were on a date. But they are not. Just two… something (she is not quite sure what they are these days) enjoying a pleasant evening unencumbered by the special kind of darkness that comes with their job. Enjoying it in each other’s company.

As they stroll through the park towards the waterfront, their light banter about the exhibition slides into comfortable silence. It’s easy to be with him. But it’s hard too.

This man, who mortgaged his house to get her out of jail, who’d jump in front of a bullet for her without a second thought. This man, who cut her out of his life for ten long years and destroyed her in ways he will never comprehend; who came back into her world like a tornado, making her dizzy from all the emotions and conflicting impulses he stirred up inside of her.

They reach the edge of the island and Olivia leans against the safety railing, staring at the water, thinking about the borough it surrounds. Manhattan is as full of the familiar, as it is full of the aberrant and unforeseeable. Kind of like Elliot these days.

Olivia knows him so well. And not at all. In so many ways he is still predictable. But in others — Elliot is a wild card. Half the time now she doesn’t know what to expect from him.

As if reading her thoughts, the man decides to throw her world off kilter once again.

Olivia turns to look at him and barely gets a chance to register the intensity in Elliot’s eyes, before his mouth descends on hers. The kiss is gentle… and over all too soon. As he pulls away, she is left light-headed and ravenous for more. Olivia’s brain short-circuits, fixating on her tingling lower lip, moist from the brief attention he lavished on it, the feeling of his fingers tangled in her hair and the sight of his mouth.

But then Elliot groans and kisses her again, drawing Olivia fully into his arms. And this time she gets a chance to respond. Their lips caress each other one, two, three times, before his tongue slips into her mouth. And Olivia feels so dazed, she has to grab onto his shoulder for support.

Elliot kisses like he does everything else: with passion, confidence and skill. But there is an undercurrent of something else in the way his fingers flex against her shoulder, in the way his arm tightens around her waist, in the way his tongue explores her mouth. Surrender? Desperation? She is not sure, but it positively wrecks her.

Eventually Elliot breaks off the kiss to let them get some air in their lungs. But in that moment of respite, the level of intimacy impossibly intensifies. Elliot keeps Olivia in the circle of his arms, leaning his forehead against hers. As he breathes through his mouth and she feels his every exhale wash over her wet lips, the already almost unbearable throbbing between her legs goes up a notch. Olivia can feel the hard length of him against her lower stomach and it’s all she can do not to climb the man like a tree.

It occurs to her that she should maybe put some distance between them before she comes right here, standing in a public park, from a kiss, an embrace and the sheer significance of it all. However, Olivia doesn’t get the opportunity, because after a few breaths Elliot claims her mouth again. And, Jesus, she’s never felt such feverish need to have a man inside of her.

This time when Elliot’s lips disconnect from hers, they trail a wet line of kisses along her jaw to the side of her neck. Olivia can’t contain a moan when he sucks lightly on a sensitive spot there. But then Elliot just freezes, and after a couple of seconds he lifts his head, pressing his nose into her hair.

“I met this old man a short while ago.”

Her eyes fly open upon hearing the softly uttered words. So out of place considering everything that’s just happened between them.

“Lately, my relationship with God has been…” he lets out a short humorless laugh, “complicated... to say the least. That night I was sitting in front of a church, trying to understand God and God’s plan… and how to stop screwing up. And while I am thinking about all that, this old man, dressed like a priest, sits down next to me. So I told him some things about me, about how confused I was. Turned out he was just a regular old man, and his robe was a stage costume. He apparently forgot he was wearing it and didn’t realize I was confessing because I mistook him for a priest.”

Olivia’s lips twitch. She can just picture Elliot realizing his mistake after baring his soul to some stranger.

“But he told me something. And I keep thinking about it. He said, ‘God is love, God is truth and God is courage’.”

That sounds rather poetic, Olivia thinks.

“According to him, it essentially means trusting the love in your heart, not living a lie and being brave. So, I’ve decided that I am gonna try to live by those rules.”

She is not sure what that means in his situation, but Olivia remains quiet, because she can feel him struggling to continue. They are still locked in an embrace, the side of his head pressed into hers.

“I love you,” Elliot says finally. “I’ve been in love with you for twenty three years, Olivia.”

His words wash over her like a heat wave, and Olivia closes her eyes, completely overwhelmed. To hear them come out of his mouth… it feels surreal. Her forehead drops into the crook of his neck.

“That’s my truth. And this is me being brave.”

Elliot falls silent, but somehow Olivia knows he is not done talking yet, so she keeps quiet too, letting him gather his thoughts. She can feel both of their bodies nearly vibrate, as their hearts pound against the confines of their chests.

“Liv,” he continues after a short pause, “I know I have nothing to offer you except my love and my loyalty. Not even a proper apology because I’m well aware that no amount of sorry’s will fix a damn thing. I know I hurt you.”

He swallows, and she feels his neck jump with the motion.

“And I know I wasn’t there when you needed me. I will never forgive myself for that. But if you let me, I will spend the rest of my life trying to make it up to you and showing you just how much you mean to me.”

Elliot tightens his hold on her, as if afraid Olivia might push him away. She wants to laugh, because there is zero probability of that happening. It’s like offering a meal to someone who’s starving and expecting them to push the plate away. It’s not even a choice for her. The desire, the need for him coursing through her veins are simply too much.

“Let me take you out on a date. We could go out for dinner tomorrow. Or any other day. Or I could take you and Noah somewhere,” he offers almost timidly.

Olivia bites her lip. She is not ready to introduce Elliot to her son. Not quite yet. And truthfully, a date is not what she wants at the moment. What she does want… That would be a huge step for them. Boundaries demolished.

“Liv? Say something.”

He is barely breathing — waiting for a verdict, she thinks. And Olivia decides that she simply can’t fight it. Come what may, but she needs it.

“Elliot, when are you expected home tonight?”

It’s funny how she can feel the man furrow his bushy brows in confusion against her hair.

“At no particular time. Katie and Lizzie are both going to my place after the show, so Eli will have more than enough chaperones. You want to go somewhere now?” Elliot briefly lets go of her waist. To check the time, she guesses. “A bit late but I am sure we can still find a nice place.”

“Elliot, I don’t want dinner.”

Olivia can feel him tense a bit, so she lifts her head and leans back to look him in the eyes. The blue windows of his soul betray his anxiety.

“What I want is for you to take me home. And then I want you to take me to bed and finish what you’ve just started.” His eyes darken. “How does that sound?”

It sounds good, apparently, because with a soft growl his lips are on hers again and his tongue is in her mouth. And it’s like Elliot is trying to quench an age old thirst right here and now. And maybe Olivia is too, because she is more than a willing participant. But she would really prefer not to give a show to other late-night visitors of the park.

“Home, bed, Elliot,” she reminds him, when she manages the will to detach her mouth from his.

“Jesus Christ, Liv.” He closes his eyes and nods. “Just give me a second.”

Elliot is rock hard against her, and Olivia doesn’t really know what possesses her, but she slides her hand from his shoulder, down into the negative space between their bodies… and trails her fingers against his rigid length. His eyes fly open, as he hisses and swears under his breath.

“Christ, Olivia. Not helping,” Elliot says raggedly, catching her wrist and moving her hand away from his private parts. His expression is equal parts aroused, shocked and amused.

Olivia entangles their fingers and leans her head on his shoulder, turning her face away from him to look at the water again. She smiles, deciding that some unpredictability is not so bad after all.

Chapter Text

It takes Elliot a few moments to get back some semblance of control over his urges. It’s a challenge. The words ‘take me to bed’ — her words — keep reverberating through his mind. Along with images of what taking Olivia to bed would entail. So, yeah, it takes a few moments and a few deliberately unsexy thoughts.

Elliot wishes there was a way to transport them both instantaneously to her apartment — like in those fantasy and sci-fi stories Eli enjoys. Olivia is pressed so sweetly into him, with her cheek resting on his shoulder, that Elliot is loath to break this delicious bubble they found themselves in. But he has to sacrifice this current bliss for bliss of a different kind in their immediate future.

He kisses the back of her head, before taking a step away, and lightly squeezes her hand, their fingers still entwined. When Olivia looks at him, her gaze and her lips are soft and sensual, and Elliot has to fight the urge to kiss her again. God, the way she tastes, the way she kisses, the way she feels in his arms... He has no idea how he is going to survive making love to this woman, without combusting a few short minutes into the act. What Elliot does know is that he needs her spread out on a bed, writhing and moaning underneath him, as soon as humanly possible.

“Come on,” he tugs on her hand resolutely and leads them through the park to his car, thanking God that it’s parked not too far away.

Elliot loses a bit of his control once they reach the vehicle and he opens the front passenger door for Olivia. Before she can get inside, he tugs her back to him and kisses her again. She is a drug, and it seems, now that he’s had a taste, he can’t go long without a fix. Olivia slips into the seat as soon as their lips part and fixes him with a look that very obviously says ‘get your ass in the car and drive, now’. And although he gets the message loud and clear, Elliot can’t resist leaning over with a grin and giving her another quick kiss before following her silent order.

As he maneuvers the car through the streets of New York, something occurs to him.

“Liv, where is Noah?” Elliot hopes the kiddo is not at home and they won’t have to be quiet and careful. Not that he can’t be if he has to, but after that one little moan elicited by a wet kiss pressed to her neck, Elliot is obsessed with the idea of drawing out a whole range of similar sounds from Olivia.

“At a sleepover. My son is turning into quite the social butterfly. It’s one sleepover after another these last couple of months.”

He smiles wistfully, thinking about her little boy. The little boy he’s seen only twice in passing and knows so very little about. The little boy whose birth and first eight years of life he missed entirely. The little boy Olivia is not eager to introduce him to. All heartbreaking facts.

Elliot is afraid to ask about the father. Half a year ago, when Fin informed him that Liv had a son, Elliot couldn’t help but instantly hate the lucky bastard who shared a child with Olivia. Naturally, he wanted to know who the guy was, but he didn’t dare ask.

Now, Elliot is afraid to ask. After finding out about her ordeal with Lewis, he’s been replaying all their interactions in his head, analyzing all the little glimpses into Olivia’s life. And he doesn’t like the vague picture that is emerging. Elliot has a sense that, if he digs, he will find at least a dozen more reasons to feel like absolute scum of the earth for leaving her.

For instance, Elliot is starting to suspect that Olivia has been raising Noah on her own. And ‘on her own’ in Liv’s case would mean completely alone. No parents to help and support her, no siblings (Simon certainly didn’t count). No Elliot or his family around. And that thought is killing him.

However, now is not the time to dwell on his failures as a man and as a human being. Elliot throws a glance at Olivia to find her looking out the window pensively, her lower lip caught between her teeth. They are close to her place, so at the next traffic stop, he gently brushes his knuckles against her cheek, drawing her attention to him.

“If you changed you mind —”

She shakes her head before he can complete the thought. “No, not at all.”

Elliot is not fully convinced, however, and when they get out of the car in the parking lot under her building, he draws Olivia to him.

“Liv, are you sure about this?”

She regards him contemplatively for a moment.

“Elliot, do you want me?”

He has never wanted any other woman the way he wants the one who spent nearly thirteen years walking alongside him as his partner. The desire is almost debilitating now that the possibility of actually having her is on the table.

“You know I do. Can barely think about anything else. But I also want you to not regret it later. We can takes things slow, if —”

Olivia doesn’t let him finish. “Twenty three years is slow enough, don’t you think?” She cradles his cheek in the palm of her hand. “Stop worrying.”

“I love you,” he tells her again, needing Olivia to understand that this is serious for him, that this can’t be a one time thing.

She grabs the lapels of his suit jacket, bringing their lips to less than an inch from each other. “Then show me,” she commands breathily.

Elliot bridges the distance, kissing her deeply, letting his hands roam her back. He is only human after all.

He is forced to behave as they make their way to Olivia’s apartment. She points at the cameras, saying ‘let’s not give too much of a show to the security guy’. So Elliot keeps his tongue and hands to himself. Mostly. He still manages to steal a kiss or two in the elevator and in the hall outside her door.

When they finally get inside the apartment, Elliot barely allows Olivia to turn on the light and enter the code to disable her security system before he is on her.

The first thing Elliot does, as he plunders her mouth, is divest her of her blazer, carelessly dropping it on the floor. He runs his hands over the expanse of skin left exposed by the sleeveless dress, before bringing her arms up to wrap around his neck. The fabric is almost silky smooth beneath his palms, as they find their way to the small of her back. Loosening the reins on his hands, Elliot allows one to slide further down over the swell of her ass, while the other travels up to stop above the clasp of her bra.

“Where is the bedroom?” he asks, letting go of her lips to plant a series of soft kisses on her jaw. Moving down, Elliot experimentally sucks on the spot right near the faint line of the scar from the wound inflicted by Gitano.

“The second door to...” the rest of Olivia’s instruction is lost to her moan, as his tongue flickers against the soft skin of her neck, making goosebumps break out. Elliot groans in response. Between this erotic sound, the heady scent of her perfume, the curves of her body pressed into him and her fingernails lightly scratching the back of his head, Elliot is feeling increasingly drunk.

He really needs to get them horizontal. On a bed. Before he loses what’s left of his control and takes her right here on the floor.

Elliot drags his lips back to hers, peppering them with gentle kisses, as he begins to move them in the direction of what he surmises should be the bedroom. A few feet from their supposed destination, Olivia’s tongue slips inside his mouth and he spins them to pin her to a wall with his body. Elliot has just enough presence of mind to cushion her head with his hand.

His tongue chases hers back inside her mouth, as his leg slips between Olivia’s. They both moan when she rocks against his thigh. Before this can escalate, Elliot spins them around again, softening the kiss and resuming their trek towards the bedroom.

When they finally cross the threshold to the room, their lips disconnect with a faint pop. Olivia reaches out and flickers on the light. His eyes immediately land on the bed, and Elliot is beyond grateful to discover that this is indeed where this piece of furniture is located. The lamp she turned on is standing on the vanity table across from the bed. The light it casts is muted and warm. Just enough to see each other, but not enough to disturb the intimacy of the moment.

Elliot looks at the woman in his arms, overcome with utter disbelief at being allowed here, in her home, her bedroom, her sanctuary. At being allowed to hold her, kiss her, love her. Olivia is looking back at him. Indescribably beautiful — full lips parted and glistening, skin flushed — and heart-meltingly vulnerable. He thinks it must’ve hit her too — the enormity of the step they are about to take.

He is also suddenly very aware of the fact that he knows next to nothing about what that son of a bitch did to her. The words ‘torture’ and ‘sexual assault’ are specific enough to turn Elliot’s soul inside out, but too vague to ascertain what actions of his might inadvertently cause her distress. His fingers are still tangled in Olivia’s
hair at the back of her head, and he lightly caresses her scalp. Elliot doesn’t want to bring forth traumatic memories, but he needs her to know that she is in control.

“Liv, if at any time you want to stop, you just need to say the word. If something feels wrong or uncomfortable, just let me know.”

There is a stubborn glint in her eyes, before Olivia’s lips are on his again. She walks backward, pulling Elliot towards the bed with her, simultaneously removing his suit jacket. When they reach their destination, Olivia pivots them, and gives him a light push, forcing Elliot to sit on the mattress.

For a moment they regard each other: Olivia looking down at him, and Elliot gazing up at her, in supplication. He thinks it’s fitting — she is as close to the divine as he will ever get. Elliot is reminded of the time he came to Olivia high as a kite and fell to his knees before her after spilling the truth about that blasted letter. It was fitting back then as well.

The moment doesn’t last long, and soon he has a lap full of the woman, as Olivia straddles him and reattaches her mouth to his. Elliot’s left hand lands on her thigh and he nearly chokes when his fingers discover the lacy edge of the stocking, exposed by the skirt riding up, and what he thinks is a strap of a garter belt. Deciding that he needs to get Liv out of her dress ASAP, Elliot trails his palms up her back to the top of the garment, finds the metal tab of the zipper and slowly pulls it down. And then he toes off his shoes and finally lowers them to the bed, flipping her under him.

Olivia’s head falls back with a gasp when Elliot lands between her legs, and he can’t resist the mouthwatering column of her neck. She is delicious and he can’t get enough. At a certain point the neckline of the dress impedes his progress to her collarbones, so Elliot begins to tug it down. Something clearly goes wrong, however, because Liv tenses and covers his hand with her own, halting the downward slide of the fabric.

Elliot is instantly on alert. When he looks at her, she is clearly apprehensive.

“Liv?”

“I…”, she swallows roughly, “You should know that I have scars.”

It takes him a few seconds to tame down the wave of rage that this tentative admission incited in him.

“Lewis?” he asks, although he knows, just knows, it’s him.

“Yes.”

Olivia looks away, as if afraid of what she might find in his eyes. He wonders what exactly she thinks his reaction is going to be. Disgust? Disappointment? Both options are ridiculous.

Elliot caresses her cheek with the backs of his fingers.

“Look at me.” She complies. “You think a few scars will make me want you less?”

Liv swallows roughly again and breaks eye contact.

“Maybe not. But…” she trails off.

It’s heart-rendering this insecurity of hers.

“Olivia, you are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known, the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”

That gets him an eye-roll in response.

“Let’s not get crazy,” she tells him with a little self-deprecating smirk.

“You accusing me of lying, captain?”

“Severely embellishing the truth, detective.” There is a little spark of merriment in Olivia’s brown orbs now.

“Well, clearly your truth radar is malfunctioning. Must be the side effect of a command position,” Elliot teases her gently. “I am serious, though.” He rocks his hips into her, and Olivia’s eyes slip close as she moans. The skirt of her dress is bunched up, but it is still in the way; even so, she can obviously feel how impossibly hard he is for her. “I have never wanted any woman the way I want you. You drive me wild, Olivia.” His voice is raspy. “No amount of scars can change that. Should I be worried about mine, though?” he adds with mock seriousness.

That elicits a soft chuckle from her and she looks at him fondly. “Haven’t you heard? Scars adorn men.”

“‘That your way of saying I am dashingly handsome?”

“You wish,” she scoffs but tugs his head down and kisses him tenderly. The weight of her hand disappears from his — an unspoken permission to drag her dress down.

When their lips part, Elliot contemplates how he wants to do this. He lets go of her dress and sits up between her legs. And, good God, she really is wearing a garter. He can see the edge of the sheer stockings and beige straps holding them. Elliot can’t help the growl that escapes his throat. He runs his hands up and down her inner thighs, feeling nylon and lace transition into silky smooth skin. This woman is going to be the death of him.

Elliot longs to pull the skirt of the dress up, to see what the straps are attached to and everything in between, but first things first. He looks back at her sweet face to find Olivia watching him.

“Show me,” he asks her. ‘Trust me’, he tries to communicate with his eyes.

She pulls the dress down to her waist, but he has yet to break eye contact with her. Elliot leans over to kiss her deeply one more time before sitting back up and looking down at her torso.

From an aesthetic point of view, she has nothing to worry about, he observes almost clinically. Whatever the wounds and the scars looked like years ago, they have since faded. Whoever was in charge of treatment did a good job. There is still skin discoloration and uneven surface, but in no way does it detract from her beauty. She is fucking gorgeous.

Aesthetics aside, it takes all the restraint he’s got, to not let the full force of his rage and grief show. Elliot is certain some of it is bleeding through, but he is trying, he is really trying for her sake. He recognizes cigarette burns, of course. Years in SVU made sure he can identify those at first glance. Elliot remembers Fin mentioning that she was “burned”. He didn’t quite understand it back then. But now he does as he looks at the handiwork of that psycho pyrographer.

Olivia must see him trying to decipher the origins of the longest scar in her stomach, because she says quietly, “Wire hanger. He heated it up on my stove…”

Elliot forces himself to remain outwardly calm. His eyes dart to the weirdly shaped scar beneath her right breast.

“Key to my old apartment.”

He looks at another scar.

“Blowtorch,” she offers.

Elliot definitely knows what he is going to be doing if he ends up in hell. He will be persuading the demons to let him have a go (or several hundred) at one fucker called Lewis. Elliot thinks he’ll need to find the bastard’s first name — might come in handy in case there is any confusion as to whom he wants to tear limb from limb.

He leans down and fastens his lips to the key-shaped scar. His tongue caresses the healed wound, and Liv’s hands fly to his shoulder and back. He moves to another scar on her stomach, giving it the same loving treatment. And another. Olivia’s fingers fasten onto his shirt. When Elliot switches his attention to the remnants of a wire hanger burn, painting its length with wet kisses, she is squirming and panting and moaning. And, Christ, he adores how responsive she is.

Olivia is still wearing a bra — beige with black lace, which complements her skin tone perfectly — and, when he is done with the scars on her stomach, he moves to the ones between and above the cups of her lingerie. After infusing all of them with his love, Elliot spies a round damaged tissue peeking from below the fabric near the side of her chest and, without thinking, he drags the bra strap and the cup down to kiss it.

But then, of course, he is presented with the view of her uncovered breast and with a groan his mouth closes over the tight bud of her nipple. Olivia arches off the bed with a long moan. Her hands move restlessly over his back, while her thighs and calves slide against his sides, high heels (that she still has on) lightly digging into his legs. Elliot is weirdly thankful for the imitation of a cold shower that the introduction to Liv’s scars provided, because otherwise he would’ve come from these sensations alone.

He slips his hand under her back and unfastens the bra for easier access. Olivia’s other nipple receives equal attention, before Elliot replaces his mouth on her breast with his hand and moves up to her collarbones, her arching neck and finally her lips.

“Most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen,” he tells her between sensual kisses, and Olivia, honest to God, whimpers into his mouth. At this rate she is going to be the death of him, Elliot is certain.

Olivia’s hands worm their way between their bodies to finish unbuttoning his shirt. He helps her and together they remove it quickly without breaking the erotic dance of their lips and tongues. But then her hands move to the belt buckle of his pants, and Elliot remembers that there is something he absolutely must do, before Liv’s fingers end up on his erection, speeding up the culmination of this encounter.

He sits up again, takes her hands off his pants and kisses them reverently, before moving them to lie on the bed cover at her sides. As Elliot grabs her dress to remove it, Olivia helpfully lifts up her bottom and then raises and folds her legs, so that he can drag the garment down. She removes her bra, which he left below her breasts with straps loosely looped around her elbows, while Elliot kisses her knees and rearranges her legs into their previous position. As a result he is perched between her thighs, eyes feasting on the delectable sight before him.

How this woman can doubt her otherworldly beauty and desirability is beyond him. The lingerie is a set, all beige with delicate black lace. Elliot knows it probably makes him, as Lizzie likes to say, “such a guy”, but he wants to keep the garter belt, the stockings and the stilettos on Olivia for a while.

Kathy never once wore a garter belt. In fact, he’s never seen one on any woman up close and personal. And it’s so fucking sexy, he is having trouble breathing. The high heels complete the picture. Kathy very rarely wore those. Only for special — public — events. She always grumbled about the pain, which took all the fun away, and quickly kicked them off at home. With Olivia, though, high heeled shoes were part of his fantasies for God knows how long.

So Elliot makes a split second decision and tears her pretty little panties in two places, which allows him to remove the strip of fabric (the very wet strip of fabric, he smugly notices) from under the garter belt without unhooking the straps. It also earns him a squeak, some spluttering, an indignant “Elliot!” and a slap on his forearm.

“They were in the way,” he informs her, not feeling even a little remorseful.

Before Liv can say anything else (and judging by the expression on her face, there is quite a bit she wants to say in response to that explanation), Elliot promptly silences her with his tongue in her mouth and a promise to buy her a hundred more panties.

He kisses his way down her neck, the center of her chest (with slight detour to her nipples), down her stomach, dipping his tongue into her navel, before finally arriving at his destination. The scent of her arousal makes him feel like he is high on drugs again. Elliot lifts and spreads her legs, and, Christ, Olivia is soaking wet. And absolutely fucking perfect.

When he takes her clit in his mouth, he thinks he might have found a new religion. This is heaven. Her taste, her scent, her grunts and moans, the feel of her garter belt beneath his arm as he pins her stomach to the mattress to limit her writhing movements, the nylon on her thigh as he holds her open, her hands fisting the bedspread, her heels digging into it... His tongue dips into her opening, and Olivia is whimpering again.

Elliot would love to make her come like this, but he desperately needs to be inside this woman. So with a few final flicks of his tongue to the left of her clit and a satisfied hum that have Olivia nearly flying off the bed, he lets go and quickly kisses his way back up to her mouth, letting her taste herself. Olivia releases the bed cover to run her hands over his back and arms, before sliding down and to the front of his body, finding his semi-unbuckled belt, finishing the job and opening the zipper of his pants.

“Off,” she murmurs between kisses as she pushes both his pants and his boxers down as far as she can. Leaving the cradle of her body seems like the worst punishment at the moment, so Elliot removes all his remaining clothes in record time before falling back into her intimate embrace. It will never get old — the feeling of the liquid heat between her legs, the brush of her erect nipples against his chest, the softness of her skin...

Olivia moves to take off her shoes but he stops her and asks, “Leave them on.” She regards Elliot for a couple of seconds before evidently deciding to humor him.

When Olivia’s hand slides between their bodies again and closes over his cock, he thinks he is gonna lose it.

“Jesus,” he grunts and closes her eyes. Elliot catches her wrist, tugging it away. When Olivia lets go and he opens his eyes, he realizes she is confused by his reaction. “Liv, I’m not gonna last. Not this first time with you. I want to be inside you when I come.”

Her eyes soften. “So come inside me,” she tells him, pulling Elliot’s head down for another kiss, lifting and spreading her legs in invitation.

He moves his hand to the apex of her thighs. Olivia is ready, Elliot knows that, but he lets his fingers run through her trimmed hair, over her folds and dips two digits into her channel. Olivia closes her eyes and gasps and moans, clutching at his back and shoulders. She feels amazing. Wet, hot, and so fucking tight. Elliot works his fingers in and out of her for a little while longer, to prepare her a bit more. He is not a small man, and the last thing he wants is to hurt her.

When Elliot finally lines up the tip of his cock with her opening, he quickly sends a silent prayer to God, for giving him this incredible gift of being with her like this. And then he pushes inside.

The feeling is indescribable and all he wants is to pull out and slam all the way in, but Olivia tenses a bit, her hand on the side of his stomach — a wordless appeal to wait. And so Elliot stills, lets her adjust to the intrusion. He kisses her cheeks and jaw as she gradually relaxes. When Olivia opens her eyes and looks at him, he smiles softly.

“Hi.”

“Hey.” It’s quiet and almost shy, as if she suddenly can’t believe what she is doing and with whom. He gets the feeling.

“I love you,” he tells her again. It’s so easy now to say those words that he truly doesn’t understand why it was ever hard.

Olivia moves her hand from his stomach to his ass, pressing slightly, encouraging him to move, as she herself rocks forward. Elliot withdraws and pushes back in. She gasps, arching her back and closing her eyes. He can’t take his eyes off Olivia, as he moves inside of her. She is so very beautiful like this, chasing the most intimate kind of pleasure. Soon her gasps turn into moans, and he covers her mouth with his to catch them. Their kisses are sloppy in a decidedly erotic way.

In an embarrassingly short period of time Elliot is teetering on the brink. But he can feel that Liv is too. He hooks his right arm under her knee drawing her thigh closer to her chest, opening her up even more. This changes the angle and makes him slide even deeper. Elliot grunts at the sensation, barely able to delay his climax. But he doesn’t have to wait long, because it takes just a couple more jerks of his hips and Olivia is falling apart. Elliot has just a few seconds to enjoy the way she looks in the throes of an orgasm, before the contractions of her muscles around his cock push him over the edge and he lets his forehead fall onto the bedspread beside her head.

Elliot can barely move after he spills inside her. He doesn’t think he’s ever come this hard. He lets go of her leg and just lies on top of her, trying to catch his breath. Olivia is breathing heavily too, and Elliot knows he is probably (definitely) too heavy for her. As he prepares to move off, her chest starts to shake beneath him. Immediately concerned, he slips out of her and rises up, holding himself above Olivia on his elbows... only to realize that she is laughing.

“What’s funny?”

Her eyes are dancing as she looks at him.

“You know, there is one problem with sex in high heels.”

“Yeah? What’s that?”

“I might accidentally poke a hole in your perfect butt,” she raises her leg and lightly presses the heel into the part of his body in question.

“Perfect butt, huh?”

“Would be a pain in the ass to explain the injury at Mercy.”

“Totally worth it. Occasionally.”

“Occasionally?”

He can see that she is barely holding back laughter now.

“Yep. Every now and then.”

She looks at him for a few moments as her lips stretch into a smile that’s about forty percent wicked and sixty percent tender. “Okay.”

“Okay?”

Olivia palms his cheeks. “Yeah, Elliot. Okay. To high heels and garter belts and every now and then.”

She kisses him, and Elliot thinks that for the first time he feels like he has finally started living his life.