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All of the Broken Pieces

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You crossed this line
Do you find it hard to sit with me tonight?
I've walked these miles but I've walked 'em straight lined
You'll never know what was like to be fine

-London Grammar


                Elliot put his papers in…

                Olivia had already let the tears flow and the hurt come to a head before she left the confines of the interrogation room. Every call and text had been ignored; no word or goodbye to soften the blow. She felt small for the first time in years and let it tear through her psyche until only the shell of herself existed. She passed by his empty desk twice and ran her thumb across some of his belongings as though it would summon him there. It didn’t. If anything, it made Fin and Munch stare at her even more before she wandered to the door to leave for the night.

                At least, they hadn’t tried to pry another question and answer session out of her or push her into going out to ease the pain.

                Olivia just wanted to go home and sink into the space between her sheets with the futile hope of forgetting.

                “Liv…” He knew he startled her as she slid out of the cab.

                Elliot’s voice dashed every yearning to forget in a heartbeat and nearly knocked Olivia’s knees out from under her as she looked up from the bottom of the stairs. He had terrible timing and he knew it before the emotional scale could even bloom on her face; she’d gone stoic and cold out of survival. He shouldn’t have been there. Not tonight. Not with the puffiness still evident around her eyes. He was already second-guessing the decision as the glare carried intent with every step as she moved past him, to the front door of her building.

                She didn’t want this dressed-down version of him. The vision before her was a man that hadn’t been sleeping well; dressed in jeans and an old tee shirt that had seen better days with his ankle boots scuffed at the toes. The contrast was stark between them as her blouse barely peered out from beneath the thin jacket that hid her keys and her shield at her hip. She was all business while he was anything but; the only mutual affectation was the visible exhaustion that plagued them. They’d inflicted it upon each other.

                It wasn’t something they enjoyed.

                They simply wore it as though it were another badge.

                She wanted to scream at him. She wanted to slap him. She wanted to unburden every moment of the day just to make him feel guilty for it. She wanted to make him stay. She wanted to tell him to leave but every instinct kept her mouth shut as she pilfered through a pocket for her keys.

                Olivia wanted everything and nothing at all.

                “Why are you here?” Olivia wasn’t prepared to look at him, let alone hear him, and it took every ounce of energy to stay upright as she kept her distance, eyeing the doorway. “You can’t just pick and choose when you want to be seen. You can’t show up and expect me to—”

                “We need to talk,” Elliot had more suffering written behind those steel blues than Olivia had expected or anticipated as he tried to take a step in her direction. “It’s important that you hear me out, Liv.”

                “Much like those ignored phone calls and text messages that you didn’t think you should reply to, I don’t think I want to give you the time,” Olivia was blunt with him as she shoved the key in the door and felt the warmth radiate from inside as the crisp, night air bit at her neck while the wind shifted. “I think you should just go. You already made up your mind and gave up.”

                “It isn’t that simple,” Elliot scrambled and blocked her from being able to pull the door the rest of the way open or even shut it, stepping into the space between her and the glass. “You know it’s not that simple.”

                “It is that simple,” Olivia yanked the key free and narrowed her stare as she took a step back while he kept his fingers around the edge of the door. “You’re a fucking coward, Elliot Stabler. A coward and a quitter.”

                Elliot gritted his teeth and involuntarily cracked his knuckles as the frustration pulsed while her voice elevated and her eyes burned a hole through him. “You have every right to be angry at me but it was out of my hands and I don’t know how else to say it.”

                “Try the truth,” Olivia shoved her index against his chest, letting it push against twitching pectorals for entirely too long as she tried to remain steadfast in front of him. “There was no reason for you to hide this time. You chose to run away. You did that and didn’t even stop to think about the consequences.”

                “I thought about every consequence, Olivia,” The sound of Elliot’s voice saying her name rather than her nickname had her features softening despite every effort to stay angry as his tone dropped another octave and his eyes searched beyond the flutter of lashes looking back at him. “I couldn’t face you knowing that it couldn’t just be undone. You don’t even understand how much I’ve beaten myself up for it.”

                “The more cryptic you are the less patient I become,” Olivia was already a little raspy and loud as they were attracting the attention of the security guard at his station and a couple of passersby as she crossed her arms. “What are you hiding from me?”


                “I’m not hiding anything,” Elliot lied and felt the change in her demeanor as she pressed her lips together and huffed audibly. “None of it would make sense if I could say it out loud and I know I’m making it worse but that’s why I’m here. I couldn’t just let you think it had anything to do with you. It wasn’t anything you did.”

                Olivia’s spine went rigid and she hugged herself a little more, gripping her elbows while the cold night air moved across her skin. “I thought I’d finally gotten to a place where I didn’t have to wonder when the next time I would lose out but that is what I get for putting my energy into relying on you.”

                “That isn’t fair,” Elliot reeled and glanced at the void on his left hand, at the place that once held a gold band, remembering the last time it was there. “Neither of us have exactly been good at being clear with how we feel and we’ve lost a lot of time because of it.”

                “I already know what it felt like to walk out, Elliot,” Olivia’s voice was softer than intended but she had anger in her as the deep flecks of mahogany and amber glimmered beneath the entry light. “Why couldn’t you tell me that you weren’t coming back?”

                “Knowing that I caused the look on your face was enough to make me lose every bit of my strength,” Elliot furrowed his brow and knew how pathetic it all sounded as she stopped holding his gaze. “…I mean, fuck, if you could see what I see right now. There’s no greater hit to the ego than seeing every bit of the detriment I’ve caused flashing like neon on your face.”

                “I don’t want to do this. I can’t, I won’t. I would’ve given everything…” Olivia didn’t like how easily he could make the fragile pieces of her even weaker and inflict a little more agony with no more than a look as she diverted her stare toward the door. “Just forget about it and forget about me. It’s better this way. I can hold onto the façade of you instead of the ghost that lingers in far too many places. Give me that peace.”

                Olivia was simply faster on the draw than Elliot or he’d lost his touch as she outsmarted him and shifted into the building in a blink. Elliot scrambled, followed, and listened to the audible groan as Olivia failed to get the elevator to close before he could slip between the doors. He’d seen her look like this before. It was his fault more than once. The silence grew and the dinging between floors slowed to a painful crawl with the sheltering of respective corners. The air hovered and every exhale floated like fog, surrounding both until the intoxicating permeation of perfume and cologne clashed with something else.

                Something that neither of them wanted the other to notice as the heat began to rise.

                Olivia couldn’t get out of the elevator fast enough as she caught Elliot’s nostrils flaring.

                Elliot had to sprint to catch up to her, his voice carrying down the corridor like a desperate plea rather than any form of yelling that had ever come from his lungs. “Do you really think I could ever forget you, Olivia Margaret Benson? Do you? Really?”

                You’re supposed to walk away and leave me—as everyone does.

                Olivia’s fingers fanned against the door and her stomach dropped as she let it rip through her, tugging more tears as she processed the inquiry. “Maybe you should…forget. Might be easier than knowing what you’re leaving behind. At least one of us won’t have to suffer. I was made to suffer.”

                “There are things that I can’t forget,” Elliot eclipsed the distance and rested his chin on the curve of her shoulder while his hands moved comfortably around her waist, eliciting a shudder that rippled against his chest. “I will have to spend the rest of my days atoning for every second of damage that I’ve caused. I don’t deserve penance.”

                “What has Catholic guilt ever given you?” Olivia’s knuckles went white as her forehead touched the paint while she consumed too much of Elliot’s breath against her neck. “Where has it led you other than a web of avoidance, pretense, and emptiness? Isn’t it exhausting?”

                “Put the key in the lock and turn it,” Elliot hadn’t heard Olivia sob in ages and the sting only intensified as he collected another moment that her sorrow was squarely on his shoulders, like a lead weight he couldn’t shake. “Your neighbors are going to think someone is out here trying to mug you because you haven’t finished unlocking the door and this looks very wrong.”

                “I’m exhausted, Elliot,” Olivia missed the keyhole a half dozen times before she heard the clicking of the grooves as they shifted into place. “You should go. It doesn’t matter anymore.”

                Don’t do this to me.

                It was a shared thought. A mutual affectation that had been isolating them from one another for far too long. A fleeting, draining urge that had the push and pulls working overtime as Elliot held on while Olivia leaned back. The lock turned and the handle gave, preceding the thump of the door against the stopper. The sigh was audible and resistance crumbled with the squeak of fingertips down the frame; the darkness within ushered them in. As they crossed the threshold, the intoxication climbed and reality seemed further from their grasp.

                The world had tilted on its axis and for a moment, the dull glow creeping in through the open door cast their shadows down the hall, illuminating their silhouettes as they held on tighter.

                “I’ve stopped counting the number of times I thought I was going to lose you, Liv,” Elliot was lost in remembrance while he stroked the space below her collarbone, moving his fingers back and forth while she breathed. “You take a little bit more of me away every time and wonder why I push your buttons.”

                “We both knew that this job would come with risks,” Olivia could feel his breath against her neck as she bit down on her lip to regain a semblance of her composure as she held back a whine. “It doesn’t matter anymore.”

                “Do you want me to go?” Elliot’s mouth was hovering against the spot just below Olivia’s earlobe, lips grazing skin that had only been touched in his fantasies, finagling a low groan from her as the goosebumps crept in. “I don’t want to leave but I will if you tell me to.”

                “I don’t know what I want,” Olivia was used to the scent of Elliot’s cologne but had never let herself be consumed by his warmth, his strength, or his overwhelming presence until his arms were pressed against her middle while her knees went to jelly. “I don’t want you to walk away never knowing what you do to me but I’m terrified of that being out in the open. It’s easier when it’s unsaid…it’s safer that way. Doesn’t get complicated and no one ever gets bruises.”

                “When have we ever chosen the easier option?” Elliot let go of Olivia and pushed the door shut, leaving her breathless and craning her neck while he turned the deadbolt until the sound echoed. “I know you—you run from simple.”

                “Don’t read me like a book if you’re not prepared to turn the pages,” Olivia turned and watched him as he came back to her, studying the lines on his face and the movement in his jaw as he moved closer. “What are you doing?”

                “Cover to cover. Every line. I should have been doing this, just that a lot sooner, and waited for a sign,” Elliot hooked his index around one of her belt loops and brought her closer, back into the diminished personal space where he could stroke her cheek. “I’ll ask you again—do you want me to go? I will.”

                Olivia had every reason to make Elliot leave but her instincts betrayed her as she curled her fingers around the front of his shirt and held him just as tightly while shaking her head slowly. “No…stay.”

                Doubt had been unkind to both of them and hesitation had cost them years of comfort. Solace. Joy. Time had been fleeting and Elliot was staring at the seconds as they slowed to a crawl, letting him have this moment. However ephemeral, it would be a moment that wouldn’t go to waste. One that memory would never allow them to forget so easily. Elliot had certainly gotten at least one observation correct about them as the moon and city lights flickered through the blinds; they didn’t do anything the easy way.

                Elliot had been waiting in the wings and had imagined undressing her layer by layer a thousand times but the result was the same every time. Waking up alone or being nudged; silently reminding Elliot that the woman next to him certainly wasn’t named Olivia. Elliot erased the fantasy with the peeling away of her coat and the unhooking of her shield; he buried it as his hands moved across her bare arms. She let the coat drop while he let her shield land in the middle of it as they stood close enough to feel every beat of their hearts. The tension between them was palpable.

                They only wanted more.

                “I don’t want to lose you,” Elliot’s lips moved across her jaw, imprinting like morse code as her fingers gathered against his sides, gripping his contracting muscles.

                “Then don’t,” Olivia let out a solitary moan and bit down on her lip as he set his teeth against her skin. “Don’t lose me.”

                “God, Liv…” Elliot trailed off while his fingers glided through her hair and tugged just enough to wheedle a soft, melodic whimper.

                Elliot held Olivia’s gaze and the room spun with every exhale. He hadn’t laid claim to what didn’t belong to him but, as he memorized her curves with the tips of his fingers, the line was crossed. They were permanently linked; so much more than partners. Elliot’s lips found Olivia’s as though they’d been seeking one another for eons, setting off the flutter of lashes and the slipping of tongues while swaying in the darkened hallway. They let the dark take control and stole each other’s breaths while staggering toward the open bedroom door.

                There was no turning back as they let the ember become a flame.

                The flame set the room ablaze.

                Elliot lavished Olivia with another kiss as he bowed his head just slightly to push her lips apart and let breaths collide. They’d both imagined a moment like this one more times than they’d care to admit but, as fingers smoothed along defined muscles and soft curvature, expectation ceased to be. They knew no one else; no one came before. Olivia had awakened a hunger in Elliot just as Elliot had brought the unyielding longing from Olivia. The appetite for one another had barely tapped beyond the surface and lust wouldn’t have accurately described the feeling.

                The zeal was unwavering.


                Soaked with affection.

                “Why did you wait?” Olivia struggled with the concept of reality and faith while Elliot’s mouth teetered dangerously close to creating a visible mark along the curve of her neck. “Four years, Elliot, you waited four years. Was it a game?”

                “Nothing involving you could ever be a game. I waited a lot longer than that,” Elliot growled against Olivia’s skin and met the unwavering gaze of a woman that wanted a lot more than answers. “I’m a goddamn coward. It always felt safer to imagine a life where I could have you, where I didn’t have to risk everything.”

                “I waited,” Olivia held onto him and steadied her legs while her lips moved across his jaw, stuttering back and forth with the occasional bite that invited another groan. “I would’ve broken all of my personal rules on you. All of them.”

                “Do the rules apply when you’re so much more than a coworker, Liv? You’re more and I’d like to think I am, also,” Elliot grinned despite himself and tilted to meet another, waiting kiss while drawing her even closer.

                “What are we doing, Elliot?” Olivia’s question was bordering on rhetorical as the snap of Elliot’s belt against the final loop startled them both. “What would it matter if you are more than a coworker? You’ve made a choice and everything is fleeting.”

                “I’d say you know exactly what you’re intending to do,” Elliot couldn’t help but be impressed by the smooth motion but his concentration was already failing as he steadied Olivia against the edge of a dresser. “Let me lead and I’ll show you why it matters.”

                Olivia inhaled a deep breath, let the leather fall to the floor, and studied Elliot’s every move as he took his time dragging the tips of his fingers down the slope of her shoulders. “Oh God, Elliot, you’re going to be the death of me.”

                “What a way to go,” Elliot had determination in his eyes and moved his hands beneath the bend of Olivia’s knees, lifting her off of the floor to prop her against the smooth, bare lacquer. “Wrapped in you.”

                The thought was intoxicating and the sensation only lingered as Elliot’s hands moved over Olivia’s curves with precision, as though he’d touched her a thousand times before. That was the key, though, that it was the first time. Elliot gripped her thighs, nibbled on her bottom lip, and slid his digits toward her heels, relieving her of them. Each one hit the floor with a resounding thud and only served as future obstacles to trip over; easily forgotten with Olivia’s tongue slipping past Elliot’s teeth. Elliot groaned while untucking the satin material of Olivia’s shirt from her slacks before painstakingly tugging the strap of her belt from the buckle.

                Every little move was a prelude and the goosebumps weren’t even the first line of a verse.

                “What do you want from me?” Olivia’s voice had dipped into another key, her lips along his jaw and her knees a little higher on his hips while he teased the first pull of her belt. “What is going on inside of that mind, El?”

                “What I want. Everything I’ve taken for granted,” Elliot nipped at her neck and flung the strap of leather backward while his free hand popped the button free, wheedling a low groan and a melodic hum. “The sound you make when you sigh. The little twitch your mouth does when you stretch. The way you move when you think no one is looking…”

                Olivia redirected Elliot’s motions higher on her hips, covering the tops of his hands with hers as the thin material of her blouse began to gather and bunch as they crept. “I can’t even describe to you what you do to me—what you’ve always done.”

                The fine line that resided between waiting and seduction blurred with Olivia’s not-so-subtle invitation. Elliot had been taking his time in unfurling her, little by little, but the urgency evolved in the wake of a raspy declarative. They’d waited long enough and control was slowly coming apart at the seams. He’d never stopped to look at her or notice the length of her legs, but it was becoming difficult not to as they gathered around him like vines. Elliot raised her arms high above her head and encouraged the shirt off of her torso, leaving her pressed against the wall with his hands desperately tugging at her zipper.

                As Elliot peeled Olivia’s slacks past her backside, there was only one thing unmistakably wrong with the visual.

                Elliot was still wearing far too many clothes.

                “It’s cliché but you need to hear it,” Elliot balanced Olivia’s ass against the edge of the dresser, consuming every inch of her skin with the tips of his fingers, inveigling short, involuntary moans as friction combined with rising heat. “You’re so fucking beautiful.”

                Olivia found his cheek and drew him closer, stroking the back of his neck and his shoulders while he caressed the expanse of her back. “There is a rather large discrepancy between my state of undress and yours. Are you depriving me of doing a lot more than stealing a peak from the doorway of the crib?”

                “So, you were watching me?” Elliot let her equalize at least one element as she removed his shirt and met a waiting, albeit short, kiss that rattled belongings off of the top of the dresser. “How many times?”

                “Admission is self-incrimination,” Olivia smirked and negotiated with Elliot’s zipper before moving his jeans as far down as they’d go without standing upright, her tone softening as she met his gaze. “I want all of you all over me, El…until every part of me aches and all I can recall is how you make me feel.”

                “Put your arms around me, Liv,” Elliot caressed her midback after nudging her arms forward, enfolding her in an embrace that had his budding erection twitching against her inner thighs. “Hold onto me.”

                Olivia wasn’t good at letting go and she was even worse at holding on, but Elliot inspired more than trust. He was the cause of so much of her pain but, equally, had incurred so much of the electricity that excited her with no more than a single touch. She moved her hands across twitching muscles and down the blades of his shoulders and let him direct. She finally let him lead. Her toes touched the floor and the first tease of his pelvis sought her out, grinding against satin and lace. The thumping of fabricated hardwoods banged against the drywall while Elliot teased Olivia with another slow, rhythmic thrust that had her groaning through her teeth.

                “Take them off,” Olivia growled as she moved her toes against the pants stuck around his knees while the pressure of the dresser and his hips only added to the shakiness from her thighs down. “Now.”

                There was something feral in the command and they were both undone, completely. Every shred of softness went away and the whirlwind took hold with the first throttling against the drawer. The moan echoed and limbs bent to unburden Elliot of the denim trapped around his legs. Olivia braced herself and felt the knob of the drawer digging against her lower back just as Elliot gathered his hands across the swell of her backside. The sensation was earth-shattering and Olivia dug her fingers a little further into Elliot’s shoulders as his erection throbbed against her heat.

                If it hadn’t been for the thin layer of undergarments, they would have been no better than freight trains on a dead-end track with failed brakes.

                “Your neighbors are going to hate me,” Elliot hooked his digits along the elastic of her panties and gradually bent to drag them beyond the bend of her knees, staring up at her from the space below her belly button.

                “Wait, wait, wait, why would they—” Olivia didn’t have a lot of time to fully anticipate every move Elliot was about to make but all she could do was hold on as his mouth crisscrossed from her belly button down the bundle of nerves between her thighs. “…oh Jesus Christ, fuck, Elliot!”

                Olivia’s eyes rolled back as Elliot’s tongue slid along hot, wet folds and elicited a circular motion of her hips while she white-knuckled the dresser. His hands weren’t making the overwhelming heat any easier as he gripped her thigh and guided one leg across his shoulder to take her higher. The sound that came from her lips was ragged and incoherent with a hum against her skin, setting off every nerve through her body in a ricocheting twitch. It was nearly her undoing as she managed to grab onto his ear and hold him there while she held back the wave. Olivia’s hips involuntarily bucked against Elliot’s mouth, while every bit of energy rushed through her.

                Olivia wasn’t ready to come; Elliot wanted her to finish.

                Despite every attempt to stave off the rush, Olivia was a roman candle ready to go off.

                “Don’t hold back,” Elliot lifted his chin and slipped his middle finger against the same, tender spot until his name was helplessly moaned in refrain to the ceiling. “Liv, let go…”

                Elliot played each note, plucking at Olivia’s strings with precision and determination. Her body mimicked his motions and the back of her head rested against the painted finish; the contemplation of climbing the walls creeping in. Olivia was winding up like a clock and Elliot was handling the instrument that could send her tumbling over the edge. She wanted it to last but the dizziness was setting in as his teeth teased the spasming muscle along her inner thigh. The shudder overworked Olivia’s hips and she shook against Elliot’s hand as he grazed her clit with his thumb, purposely drawing the moan from her lips.

                “El, please, I’m close!” Olivia directed the ragged cry forward while his fingers continued to move, finally reaching that pinnacle that had been just out of grasp. “I’m coming…I’m coming!”

                Elliot trapped Olivia’s thighs from enfolding around him and pried that last, agonizing cry as she slid forward. Her backside moved so far that she nearly took a tumble off the dresser. He shifted against her, bracing her middle against his chest, and managed to elongate the orgasm with the shifting of his hand against the sweltering heat. The throbbing working through her matched the threaded breaths and slowing vocalizations as she reached for him. Olivia wanted more of Elliot; his touch just wasn’t enough. Elliot knew it as he bit down on the edge of her bra that had begun creeping up her flesh from the excess wiggling.

                He would have given anything to spend eternity listening to the sounds she made.

                Soft, melodic, cresting to the beat of his heart.

                Like a crashing wave against the shore.

                Elliot’s fingers were soaked as he slicked them across her middle, leaving traces of wetness behind while he concentrated on bridging the gap to taste her lips. “Fantasizing about you like this doesn’t do it justice—the feel of you, the sound, the heat. You’re more than I would have known what to do with.”

                “You’re well on your way to knowing what to do with me,” Olivia set her teeth against his bottom lip while popping the clasp of her bra apart, letting his fingers slide beneath the wire with ease as she shivered against his touch. “Ah, fuck, mmm…Elliot, do I have to tell you that all of this is for you? All of me. Every, little spasm. All yours.”

                Sparks flew and the animal instinct took over in the blink of an eye. Elliot had the satin and lace between his digits as he drew them back, spurring the first blush as Olivia’s breasts arched to meet him. They were like two, naked livewires creeping close to a body of water; preparing to electrify every inch of the surface and what lay beneath. With the absence of the final barrier, Elliot gathered Olivia close and fortuitously quavered against her before he could even slip into her. The sensation elicited an anticipatory growl as Olivia met his gaze and guided his palm over a breast as he filled her, inch by inch.

                His wrist flicked and her skin ached; she pushed against him, begging for more. Elliot watched her head tilt back as his thumb circled the tender, hardened flesh of her nipple. Time began to creep and he held that pose, with her thighs against his, until his name was loud and repetitive from her lungs. She was negotiating with him with only the use of his name. It was the first time that he’d heard her say it quite like that and it only made the agonizing erection more intense as he moved against her to the tune of her moans.

                “God, Liv,” Elliot had finely tuned seducing her in his head and still wasn’t fully prepared as the hum echoed once more.

                “Elliot…” Olivia murmured and led him higher, showing him the way.

                Elliot wasn’t seeking an absolution anymore, but instead, was giving up all of himself as he buried himself in Olivia to drown what lay outside the walls of that apartment. The first thrust misaligned and sent a jolt through both of them as Olivia’s back skidded across the drawer knob once more. They were certain of it leaving behind marks but it only fueled them, pushed their hunger, as Elliot held onto her backside and moved her to the smooth, flat finish of the wall, driving into her with intention. Moans became cries and the marks they left on one another, while temporary, sank beneath the surface with every impulse. Every nerve that cried out lingered longer each time; until everything began to split apart and diminished light flickered in their eyes.

                That was the second that everything changed and the boundaries no longer existed.

                Olivia and Elliot had broken every rule they’d made.

                Elliot held the motion of a thrust and watched Olivia’s face as the sound came out in a series of short bursts while she grasped the spot above her head for leverage. He captured her bottom lip and encouraged her arms back to the safety of his shoulders before sliding his palm along her spine. With a firm squeeze of her ass, Elliot gathered Olivia and carried her to the bed, where he let her shoulders meet the comfort of the mattress. He could’ve gotten lost in those eyes for an eternity as she kept her arms extended, reaching higher as her knees surrounded him. Elliot had been just rough enough with Olivia to push the limit but as he held her hips and eased back into her, the elated sigh nearly ended him.

                Elliot had been soaking Olivia in and with the whimper of the springs beneath them, the pace and rhythm of his thrusts deepened until they were both standing at the edge, ready to jump.

                Help me.

                They were begging for it, mentally, and the years of pain, regret, and running from the truth ceased to be as Elliot returned to Olivia’s mouth. She was always meant to fit there, he’d determined. There was something poetic in it, as the frame swayed with them and the moonlight glimmered against their bodies as they became tangled in the sheets and each other. They let it take over and carry them into the night as seconds blended into minutes, into hours—preparing for the inevitable collapse. Neither of them knew exactly what the dawn would bring, but they had to try, for a little while, to put it further from their mind.

                Being lost in each other was enough for now.



Absence will tell you the

Importance of presence



5:45 AM


                Olivia awoke to the jarring, yet distant, chiming of her cellular from the hallway. It tore her from the comfortable, blissfully unaware care of sleep and inflicted confusion as she shifted her face against the pillow. Every muscle cried out as she rolled across the bed and took the sheets with her. Her palm searched the bed while sleep lingered in her eyes, expecting to find Elliot still passed out next to her. She found nothing but an empty, cold space where his figure had been. His scent still lingered even though his presence was markedly gone.

                Everything good about the night before had come crashing down in an instant as Olivia peered around the corner, listening for anything but her phone.

                “Elliot?” Olivia tore the sheet off the bed and wrapped up in it before tiptoeing into the hall, where the quiet was more foreboding than inviting.

                Olivia wiped the sleep from her eyes, dug for the phone in the pile of her coat, and glanced at the folded paper beneath her shield on the counter to the right. Ignoring the missed call was pure instinct as she shifted her shield off of the page, only to discover her name written in Elliot’s terrible handwriting. Her stomach was turning before she could even unfold it; the words were already visible through the thin layer of pressed cellulose pulp with a granular finish. Something wasn’t right and Olivia might’ve been content to pretend if she hadn’t already begun to unfold it; curiosity was winning. The reminders of the night before cried out along her knees, lower back, and down her thighs, as she held onto the counter for balance. For strength.

                Liv…this will never be your fault. I never want you to question whether or not getting lost in you was special because it will be the only thing I hold onto until I get that chance to see your face again. I’d apologize but it seems so flimsy and hollow compared to the look you probably have right now. I’ll never forgive myself; I don’t expect you to do it, either. One day you’ll understand why but…it won’t be today. Always, El

                “Goddamn you, Elliot,” Olivia smacked the counter and gritted her teeth as the imprint of his body was still pulsing through her body while she struggled to stand. “I didn’t care if I was alone and you broke that. You fucking broke me…you fucking bastard. What am I supposed to do now? Pretend that you didn’t matter?”

                Olivia’s eyes moved over the paper again as every word hit her like a tidal wave and the urge to throw the nearest object bit at her before fixating on his name at the bottom. Olivia squeezed her hand around the page and let it crumple to the floor with the coat. The tears refused to fall as she meandered toward the bedroom, intending on ignoring the sadness as it rippled through her. She didn’t even make it inside before her shoulders touched the jamb and her knees crumbled with the first of many waves of uncontrolled tears. She sobbed in the stillness and couldn’t help but recall that she had mumbled that she loved him before succumbing to sleep. Fear took hold and it seared through her, etching another layer of despair as she buried her face in her hands.

                The sobbing only increased as Olivia failed to remember if Elliot had said, somewhere in that darkness, that he loved her back.

Chapter Text





You said you were sorry but I know you had to leave
And maybe that's why I've been fading out
At least that's how I feel

-Sebastian Forslund & Jens Johansson


8:45 AM

16th Precinct


                Walking on eggshells.

                Everyone was doing it, some more blatantly than others, as Olivia sank into her chair and glanced at the mausoleum that Elliot’s former desk had become. She knew better, though. She already had that discussion the second she walked into the office. Play nice with his replacement and pack it up. Quickly. It had stayed there for long enough and Cragen was right; Olivia didn’t need the reminder. Olivia didn’t want the reminder. Seeing his family photo was doing more than enough to shatter her psyche and not having to look at it every day certainly held appeal.

                Even if it was marred by remembering every day of their partnership, eclipsing it with the night before.

                Olivia shuddered and blinked, letting the thought pass once more. The vacant stares from a couple of uniformed officers couldn’t have come at a worse time as she resisted the urge to glare from behind the cup of tea as Munch was shifting around behind her. He squeezed her shoulder, valiantly attempting to soften the blow, and nodded as she lifted her chin to acknowledge the gesture. It felt nice but Olivia was too far gone to fully rationalize the situation as Munch nodded once before making himself scarce, letting her stew in the quiet. It was the moment that Olivia fully understood the empty box that lay in front of her.

                Olivia was grappling with more than his absence. Removing his things made it real; making it real meant she had to convince herself that it meant nothing. She could still hear the words leaving her lips as a confessional, palms pressed, foreheads touching, and the illumination of three words that never felt real until that moment. She wanted to regret it. She wanted to take it back. She wanted to snuff it out and smother it within her memory bank.

                The truth was, though, that Olivia’s heart wasn’t ready to sew up the hole in her heart and the wound was still bleeding despite every notion telling her to let go.

                “Want some help with that?” Fin had chosen the wrong time to saunter in but Olivia would’ve lied if she had said she needed to be alone as she lifted her eyes from holding the family photo. “You look like you need it.”

                “I look like a lot of things, Fin,” Olivia chewed the inside of her cheek and set the photo in the bottom of the box while he picked up the nameplate. “What am I even doing here?”

                “You’re fighting and surviving through a loss,” Fin watched Olivia’s eyes track each item that belonged to Elliot and couldn’t help but take note of her nostrils as they flared. “One day at a time.”

                “He’s not dead and there’s no reason that he shouldn’t be here to do this himself or reclaim his space,” Olivia knew that it was saying too much but there was relief in it as she opened the top drawer and sifted through forgotten things. “You know what? Forget I said anything, I’m rambling. I didn’t sleep well. I’m about to break the no caffeine rule and empty that entire pot of coffee.”

                “No one needs that much coffee. Don’t do that. You’re not rambling, Liv,” Fin wasn’t always good at finding the right combination of words to alleviate stress but he was doing his best as he started taking post-it notes off of the edge of the screen. “Thirteen years is a lot of time and there’s a gap in your life. Expecting you to pretend wouldn’t work.”

                Olivia circled her thumb over Elliot’s mini badge, over the numbers, and the floor shook beneath her as both knees gave. Elliot had robbed her of time, sleep, and left behind a fog swirling in a sensation of guilt and regret. If it weren’t for Fin standing just feet away, Olivia would have thrown the box and the contents across the room. She wrangled the last of her self-control and let the nickel finish slide onto the top of the belongings, letting another piece of him go. It didn’t matter if Olivia’s face was betraying every attempt at maintaining a cool exterior.

                She was simply thanking every ounce of her energy that there weren’t tears falling as she pulled open another drawer.

                “Not looking forward to lugging around another clueless newb, but I welcome the distraction,” Olivia put on a fake smile and shifted into the chair, pulling open the final drawer as she leaned down, taking her eyes off the box for a moment. “I’ve got the rest of this if you want to keep working on something else.”

                “How bout I go find some tape so we can get that sent to Kathy? When I come back, I’ll make you that cup of coffee, partner,” Fin tapped his knuckles across the lacquer and waited long enough to earn the weak nod from her before walking away, leaving her to continue the task.

                Olivia always imagined a day where she’d be cleaning out her desk; either from walking away or being cut loose after the last shred of the captain’s patience had evaporated. Even as she shifted the box to the floor and continued to move the random personal effects into the box, none of it seemed real. She was still expecting to hear his footfalls before his expectant voice interrupted progress. Somewhere between confusion and irritation, perhaps; of seeing an emptied desk where his things once resided. Olivia was slowly moving a little closer to that reality that he wouldn’t be coming, though, as she reached for the last of his things before pushing the drawer closed.

                “You could’ve waited, I would’ve helped you with that,” Amanda Rollins hadn’t been there long but she was trying to be helpful as she came around the corner, her eyes staring at the back of Olivia as she reached across the desk. “You didn’t need to do that alone.”

                “Fin already did half of it,” Olivia leaned down again, pushing the lid over the open box, sheltering everything inside. “It’s really okay. I don’t need my colleagues to parent me.”

                “If you say so…” Amanda was already taking off her jacket as she walked past, spying a fresh, sprawling bruise across Olivia’s lower back that was peeking out from beneath her shirt as it crept up from the waist of her pants. “Jesus, what in the hell did you do last night to earn that?”

                Olivia scrambled to pull the back of her shirt back down, grazing the most tender spot across her spine as she leaned back, shrugging her shoulders. “I must’ve bumped it. I don’t remember.”

                There was a compounded lie from her lips without even a flinch. The reality was, though, that she remembered every moment, down to the second that the drawer handle thumped and throttled her flesh. Bruising was expected but, luckily, not permanent. The wounds that resided beneath her skin, though, in the cracks of her soul, were destined to stay bleeding. Something was always bound to remind Olivia of the night that Elliot slipped so carefully from her grasp, disappearing into the night. Olivia desperately wanted to know if it was a mistake but dialing Elliot’s number was already the furthest thought from her mind.

                Part of her was spiraling over the possibility that it would go straight to voicemail, or worse, it would be disconnected.

                “Are you sure you’re good?” Amanda did mean well but Olivia didn’t need to be cared for by her colleague as though they were a voluntary sibling she never asked for. “I’ve got all of this if you just need a little time.”

                “Rollins, I’m fine,” Olivia pursed her lips together and exhaled hard as she placed the lid onto the box and guided it to the top of the desk with a huff. “What I need is for everyone to stop handling me as though my partner died. He left. He made the choice to leave.”

                “It might’ve been his choice but that doesn’t mean that it was yours,” Amanda was already treading lightly as she mustered a little energy to get to the coffee pot, putting some necessary distance between herself and Olivia. “I don’t have to know him to know that the guy didn’t have to pass away to leave an empty space here. I’ll leave it be but just know that doesn’t mean you have to pretend like it doesn’t piss you off.”

                “Why does it sound like you’re instructing me to use my frustrations as a motivator?” Olivia gathered the box with both hands and hauled it to the top of her desk, casually sinking into the chair where she’d left the cup of tea.

                Amanda had a wisp of a smile hiding behind the lip of her cup as she took a sip of the coffee, her shoulders shrugging just slightly. “If it works, it works…but I don’t think you need anyone telling you how to process; just letting you know not to put the cork back into the bottle.”

                 “Think I’m not capable of controlling emotions right now? You gained ground and then stomped through the flower bed in the next sentence, you realize that, right?” Olivia raised a single brow and chucked the tea bag into the trash after draining the remnants of the cup, squinting at the bitter remains. “That’s not gonna cut it today.”

                “I’m just not underestimating anyone’s capacity for harboring anger long after being burned,” Amanda earned another sideways glance but she didn’t balk at the attitude from Olivia while stirring a straw through her cup once more. “It can come from anywhere, for any reason, but history isn’t erased with a single sentence mantra. I know that.”

                Olivia wanted to lash out at Amanda but it would’ve been for all the wrong reasons. Elliot had occupied the hollowest places of Olivia’s heart and likely, would be the only one allowed to reside there again. It was the risk she had taken; it was the gamble of letting him in. It was the singular problem of allowing herself to do more than think of loving him. Elliot had claimed a lot more than Olivia’s body and she silently was thankful that he was unaware of the new layer of torture that lay in his wake.

                As she stared at the box on the empty desk, she tried to put him a little further from her mind. Even if it was just to soften the blow. Even if it was to ease the ache. Even if it was simply to remember how it felt to be loved, for a fleeting moment in time. It might’ve been the only thing keeping her from losing grip entirely and allowing the emptiness to crawl back in.

                Under her skin.

                “Hey, Liv, you have a secret admirer,” Munch didn’t do subtle and on most days it was appreciated but as he set a dozen, white roses tied together with a red and white ribbon onto her desk, her amusement for his bluntness was gone. “Roses? Hot date last night? The guy is a big spender—long-stemmed and riddled with thorns.”

                “When was the last time that anyone sent me roses other than out of condolences?” Olivia’s patience had nearly disappeared as she glared at the obnoxious, constructed display before her, hesitating to even touch it before glancing over at Munch while he went to get coffee. “If this is you playing a practical joke on me—so help me God.”

                “Contrary to popular belief when it concerns the fairer sex…” Munch was already busy setting up another pot of coffee after emptying the contents of the brewed one that everyone had been siphoning off of all morning. “I know the established limits enough to fully comprehend that playing a trick on women who do not appreciate surprises or gestures that include surprises is like a game of Russian roulette with one’s life. I plan on surviving this day.”

                Olivia studied the arrangement and tugged the small, white envelope from between two stems, angrily opening it while continuing to look over her shoulder at Munch as he kept his eyes on the task at hand. “Did you recognize who brought it in or was it another of those non-descript delivery boys that I have to go chasing after when something pops out at me to bite me?”

                “You’re paranoid,” Amanda rolled her eyes and bent to take a whiff of the roses, smirking just enough to further piss Olivia off. “Some guy you turned down probably thought this was a good idea—just go with it. Those aren’t cheap.”

                “—tracking down tape in this precinct is like dusting for prints after a downpour,” Fin sauntered back in just as Olivia relocated the mass of roses from one edge of the desk to the other, moving them out of her line of sight. “I know I didn’t miss a birthday…what’s with the roses?”

                “It’s someone’s idea of a hilarious joke, I’m sure,” Olivia hadn’t even begun to comprehend that she was pulling the card free and less than delicately waving it around while straightening her spine to slide forward. “Let’s hope they signed the card so I can address the issue.”

                “There’s nothing romantic about white roses,” Munch was still chattering on, needlessly delivering more trivia that no one asked for while Olivia was staring at her name scrawled across the envelope. “You know that those are typically used for funeral shrouds. Death flowers. Someone sent you death roses.”

                “Nobody asked for that morbid piece of information, Munch,” Fin grimaced beneath a glare, fully done with Munch’s mouth as he threw an empty stirring stick at the back of his head.

                Death roses.

                Olivia secretly wanted them to be from Elliot in the form of the weakest apology; some overt-covert gesture that did nothing to settle the swirling ache in her belly. The handwriting was all wrong and she fixated on it for a long moment, forcing a smile while Fin and Munch continued to bicker behind her. Olivia discarded the empty envelope and crossed her legs, pensively watching her hand tremble almost uncontrollably. Olivia swallowed far harder than intended as the angelic, peaceful, loving display on the front did nothing to ease the growing tension as she flipped up a corner, peering at it like a child sneaking a peek at presents during Christmastime. The thought entered her mind to throw up in the wastebasket but the spidery scrawl inside was already sucking her in like a tractor beam.

                Tender messages be damned; words weren’t the only thing trapped inside the fold of the card stock.

                I’ll be watching you.

                Olivia’s stomach dropped to her toes and the Polaroid print slid across her fingertips, spelling out more than doom. It painted a picture that she had already replayed a thousand times in perfect, vivid detail. Elliot staring Olivia down outside of her building only minutes before following her inside like a lost puppy. Olivia blinked and craned her neck, nearly spinning out of the chair as the retched sensation climbed another notch higher. Someone had been watching them, waiting, onlooking, stalking.

                I’ll be watching you.

                Olivia didn’t hear anyone speaking as she held the card and photograph against her shirt, shifted out of her seat, and moved toward the door. She was so consumed by the fear that she hadn’t even noticed Captain Cragen stepping out of his office. She didn’t even understand the sound of her name leaving his mouth. Only the reverberations of her heart beating in her throat and the sinking, irrational level of anxiety that had spread across her skin. Elliot needed to be there. Elliot needed to know.

                Olivia stared at the display of her cell phone and went numb as the ringing began echoing in refrain until the non-descript greeting began; crumbling away another layer of her rationality as reality set in that she was alone again.

                I’ll be watching you.

                “—Clearly, I missed something,” Cragen made eye contact with Fin before Munch, concern and annoyance commingling after hurricane Olivia sprinted into the hall. “Is she okay?”

                “We just got done packing this,” Fin shrugged and smoothed a strip of tape across the top of the box, connecting it to the bottom, tucking away the visual proof of Stabler’s existence. “Maybe just give her a minute.”

                Cragen had his doubts but obligation outweighed the care he’d developed for his team. Olivia needed to get it together and there was no one more acutely aware than her captain as he nodded slowly peering into the hall. Olivia had the phone to her cheek, shielding most of her face away from both ends of the hallway. Cragen knew better, though, he could see the fiery hue creeping through her skin from his office door. Anger or embarrassment, some combination of the two; she was battling the demons. She was battling them without help.

                “Do me a favor, Fin,” Cragen tapped his fingers against the doorframe and lowered his voice. “Don’t let her stand out there by herself for long. Keep an eye on her.”

                Fin nodded, understanding the rock and hard place he was about to crawl between as he made a handoff with the box and address to a uniformed officer. “Heard, captain. I got her back.”

                The box was the first domino to fall but Fin was fixating on the roses. Olivia had already been in a foul mood but this was worse; this was different. The empty envelope stood out and he made a mental note of it, contemplating the missing contents. Olivia wasn’t the type to field questions but she was harboring enough frustration to cloud her judgment tenfold. None of it made a lot of sense even as she came back in with the black cloud hovering over her.

                As she sank into the chair at her desk, the first signs of something bleak crept across her face and Fin was resolute in having her back even if she didn’t want it.

                She certainly needed it.



That was her gift,

She filled you with the words you didn’t know were there.



9:30 AM

The Little Red Lighthouse

Fort Washington Park

Hudson River Greenway, New York, NY


                In the shadow of the George Washington Bridge, on the banks of the Hudson, Elliot stood below the fence line of the muted, painted steel. The cell phone, still poised against his cheek, had gone silent, but the voice that he’d played four times served to haunt him. Soft, shaky, determined, yet muddled with reluctance. Olivia wasn’t good at bluffing and every syllable was a weak attempt to placate the one that might hear. Elliot kicked the dirt and unloaded the voicemail again, letting it sink into his skin, ripping his soul asunder once more as he clicked replay.

                “…I don’t know where you are and I’m sure it’s by design but there’s something we need to talk about before you go disappearing into the darkness,” Olivia’s voice was haunting enough but adding the dimension of agony was more than enough to send Elliot into a tailspin as he leaned against the chain link and gritted his teeth. “Then you can forget about me. That was the plan, right? It doesn’t matter now. Call me back.”

                The absence of his name stung but he knew that he deserved it. Deleting the voicemail felt final; like a goodbye. Elliot knew that he had to do it, though, as he pressed seven and stared off into the distance. Olivia didn’t deserve the pain he had caused but if she knew the reason for his absence, the explanation would become even more complex than it was. There was so much at stake and everything hung, delicately, in the balance. Elliot slid the phone back into his pocket and pressed his lips together while the muddled grays, greens, and blues of the Hudson splashed against the rocks below.

                It ushered in another element of ache as the wind began to change direction.

                All yours.

                Elliot still craved the arch of Olivia’s back and the sound she’d made with her legs around his waist. Remembrance kept the blood pumping through his veins but also reminded him of the agony of quietly making an exit. He’d left her tangled in the sheets; hair a mess, wound around the warm cotton as the sun began to creep along the gaps in the blinds. It was the one sight that nearly made him call it off; tugging at his soul, begging him to stay. One day. One day, she’d know it was all for her.

                One day, she’d hear the story and know that the decision wasn’t selfish; that he’d walk through the fire for her.

                “Wes, we gotta go,” the voice from behind him served to pull Elliot from his thoughts with the snap of their fingers, the gravel tones tugging him back. “You’re supposed to shut that shit off on the way up. Got rules about that shit, remember?”

                “Yeah, I remember,” Elliot made eye contact with his dark-eyed companion with a much stockier build than his own, only shorter in stature, as he flicked a cigarette into the river. “We got time, Mack. Don’t fuckin’ rush me.”

                “It’s my job to rush you, Wes,” Mack had one of those accents that came off as cartoonish, muddled, and thick, as his smile balanced the thick, bushy brows that wiggled above his bloodshot eyes in need of drops. “You’ll have a chance to send that booty call text to your chick after you get the job started—and don’t try to tell me there ain’t a chick. There always is.”


                That word was twisted like a blade, disfiguring the heart that didn’t deserve to heal. There was a woman, alright, and she was the key to his undoing. She’d figured out how to pull away his armor, breaking down his defenses until there was nothing left but guilt and regret. Letting her in was no mistake but walking out without a word would cost more than the sleepless nights. Her every memory would haunt him until he could hear her voice again. If that’s all that he deserved, he’d take every moment and let it enfold him as the time ticked by; as the days began to stack. Elliot wouldn’t have blamed Olivia if she didn’t wait for him.

                Below the surface of the battered flesh, Elliot didn’t know if he was even worth the wait.

                “There’s always a woman,” Elliot corrected the verbiage and reeled in the forlorn look as he shoved the phone into his pocket after turning it off. “One hell of a woman.”

                Mack grinned and opened the passenger side door, ushering Elliot as though it were part of his duty to make sure he got in, letting a chuckle sneak out. “Oh, ho, ho, I know what’s keeping you warm at night, you dog.”

                “Some nights are better than others,” Elliot didn’t need to dish to the man but there were mental images that inspired a lot of heat and he was doing a fair amount of holding on to the sound of Olivia moaning his name subconsciously. “Some nights require no blankets if you know what I mean.”

                “You got it bad, my friend,” Mack hadn’t earned the right to call him anything more than buddy but Elliot said nothing as the engine hummed and the thick-necked man in the driver’s seat craned to back out. “Let’s see this knockout, then. I know you keep a pic of her on you and I want to see what all the fuss is about.”

                “Oh, nah, man, not on business,” Elliot covered his ass with a smirk.

                Even if Elliot had kept a photograph of Olivia on him, it would never leave his possession. For now, she belonged in the recesses of his mind and the narrowed spaces of his heart; where it was safe. Mack groaned and turned the corner, settling for that answer despite how easy it would have been to push. Elliot wasn’t big on small talk with strangers but he had a job to do and was singularly focused on getting to the truth. He was maneuvering this one in the dark, though, and the communication with the top would be thin, minuscule at best. The fewer correspondences with his contact, the better.

                “You ready to get your hands dirty?” Mack was sticking to the side roads but they were moving toward the bridge, in the general direction of the New Jersey turnpike while they stuck to the road that hugged the Hudson. “Danny is gonna be thrilled to have a big body like yours to go after some of these cops that burned his ass—and you’ve got that in spades.”

                “I’m always ready,” Elliot licked his lips and glanced at his driver, at the man already divulging more than he’d anticipated after such a quick meeting. “Is Danny looking to do things as they did in the old days or are we going with a new school approach for the method?”

                “Oh, shit man, you know that’s always going to depend on the mark,” Mack was more excited than necessary as a fork in the road came into view, leading toward the New Jersey side of the river, away from Manhattan. “Some grudges are more deserving of a little mess if you know what I mean.”

                The file on Daniel “Danny” Lugo was thick and Elliot had studied every detail until the sensation was a mixture of anger and nausea. Drugs. Weapons. Assault and battery. Murder. Rape. He’d been charged with every grisly combination; left men and women disfigured, beyond recognition. The street title of “the Demon” was apropos and Elliot had always wondered why he hadn’t come face-to-face with him yet. He’d hit every department from the bottom to the top, worming his way into the reaches of the NYPD that should have had some semblance of honor left.

                As they say, though, money changes everything and the almighty dollar will make the honorable choose dishonor nearly every time.

                “Well, what kind of mess am I going to be making, then?” Elliot utilized the right combination of words, eliciting a brilliant grin from Mack as they finally made the final turn onto the bridge, edging into New Jersey. “Who is the mark? He must have pissed Danny off something fierce if he needed more muscle to carry out the deed.”

                “Oh, see, that’s where you have to think about it below the surface, my friend,” Mack might’ve kept it close to the vest but he was almost salivating as he put another cigarette out and tossed it out the vented window, clicking his tongue against the roof of his mouth to concentrate. “She—is one of those pretentious, code followin’ bitches from the NYPD that tried making charges stick a few years back. Danny has wanted her to pay for that mistake and I’m sure she’s forgotten all about the boss.”

                There it was, plain as day. Mack had said everything but her name and Elliot held back the anger as he seemed all too interested in painting a grim picture right there in the SUV. The reaches of the underground stretched far and it was becoming painfully clear that Elliot was in the right place; to get in front of the blowback. To prevent what would have become inevitable. To put safety for another above his own life; right down to the deep, decaying feeling whirring in his chest.

                “She sounds like a real headcase,” Elliot trod lightly, keeping the interaction light and cute as he shrugged his shoulders almost nonchalantly, giving an air of disinterest over his brewing rage. “I know you got a picture—I don’t do sketches for my targets.”

                “Eager? That’s good news. Means that the boss didn’t waste time and money on you,” Mack smirked and gestured toward the glove box. “Top of the stack in the center. The brunette.”

                The small, department-issued photograph moved between Elliot’s digits and, as prepared as he thought he was to see it, the visage still managed to send a jolt through him. The air went out of his lungs and a buzz crawled into his eardrums, nagging at the hollow places while Mack was prattling on about the job. The face belonged to the woman that he’d known for more than a decade; through every mess and poor decision. She was always there despite every bump in the road. The only one that knew how to bring him back from the brink every time.

                His partner for life.

                Olivia Benson.



And all I loved,

I loved alone.

-Edgar Allan Poe


11:00 PM

Olivia’s Apartment


                Every muscle throbbed. Even after the scalding hot shower, the pain remained. Olivia picked at the boxed takeout, shoving the last of it onto the coffee table as her stomach refused to let her eat more. She wrapped tighter in the hoodie, smelling the remnants of Elliot’s cologne that had lingered in the fibers, and let her head find the armrest while shrinking into the cushions. She was alone again with only the ghostly reminders of him in her presence to make it that much worse. The ambient light from outside mingled with the soft light next to her head, keeping her in the shadows and the growing silence. The sigh left her lips and the phone just feet away taunted her with its lack of notifications.

                Elliot hadn’t called or texted.

                Radio silence.

                It wouldn’t be weighing as heavily if it hadn’t been for that delivery of roses with the note that contained a photograph of the two of them. Writing him off might have been easier if there hadn’t been that thought that someone was stalking both of them and he was MIA. That was the dishonest aspect of reality. Olivia just wanted Elliot present; in her orbit. Not quite so far from her grasp. She wanted to smother the feeling as the bent borders of the photo curved toward the ceiling, their faces contorted as she lifted her head from the rigidity of the armrest to snatch the phone from the lacquer finish.

                The other end didn’t ring.

                The only sounds were the briefest clicks before the non-descript, computerized greeting began, cementing the distance.

                Elliot was truly gone with no sign or indication of returning any time soon.

                “…I don’t know where you are but you should be here. You should be here with me. Don’t leave it like this,” Olivia managed to keep her head held high but her eyes glassed over and her voice went ragged as she let the words pour out while her heart thumped in her chest. “Don’t become nothing more than a memory.”

                The thought passed for a hot second to delete the message before it could fully send but Olivia let the embittered, uncontemplated thoughts sail through the universe with a click. Her hurt began to compound as she stared at the blank screen, at the last flash of Elliot’s name on the screen before it disappeared into the dark. She wanted him to hear it; to know how much pain she was in. It took every ounce of energy not to chuck the phone across the room as she let it leave her fingers, placing it back where it had been. This time, Olivia pushed it just out of reach and leaned back, letting the cushions consume her. The exhale that followed rattled through every inch of her body; leaving the emptiness behind.

                If only, the gnawing within Olivia’s soul had spilled out right along with it.

                Instead, it burgeoned into something else as the cold set in and her cheek found the armrest once more.

                “Blink your lights when you get inside,” Olivia acrimoniously recalled Elliot’s request from twelve years earlier and extended her fingers up, twisting the switch until the room went dark.

                The tears fell, noiseless and restrained, down her cheeks, etching a path over the swell of her bottom lip as she stared at the wall. Another click; she let the light return and flood the corner of the room. Unspoken, the signal was the opposite of its intention and the act elicited a pang of regret as the tick, tick, tick of the mechanism moved beneath her fingers. The gloom matched her disposition; ghastly and woeful while she rolled the notched switch until the brightness was almost too much to bear. Olivia sighed and let it repeat while the defeatist within her gained traction.





                It was somber and Olivia let her weakness take over as the seconds ticked by; as the night continued to take shape.

                She wasn’t ready to let go.