"It's okay. Everyone's survival looks a little bit like death sometimes." - Andrea Gibson
The night is cold.
The air bites at his hands and his face. He knows she has moved away, she isn't at his side by the way the wind shifts and changes. He doesn't watch her walk across the street toward the car because he is distracted.
A single instant and then-
The explosion nearly knocks him off his feet. The heat, the blazing flash of light, the inferno of the burning car. He can't see. He is blind in the dark and he stumbles. His knees collide with the hard ground beneath him, but he can't stop moving.
He has to get to her.
He crawls, pulling his weight across the cold wet cement. He feels his palms scrape against the jagged surface of the road with each move he makes.
He has to find her.
The rain is picking up again. It doesn't start as a drizzle. It's a sudden downpour and it's soaking him. His coat is heavy against his back and try as he might, he can't seem to stand.
He squints through the rain, toward the garish red and blue and white lights of the ambulance.
It's here. Someone must've called, but he needs someone to call the police.
He needs someone to call - -
The voices are loud now, the emergency medical personnel. They are shouting and shoving and in their arms they hold the shape of a body.
They lift her onto a stretcher, wheel her quickly toward the waiting bus.
Calls out for her.
He braces his hands against the pavement, pushes himself up from his knees to stand, to stand.
He thinks he has seen this film before [and he didn't like the ending].
But he's wrong. She isn't here.
The hospital is packed and he can't find her. There are countless, nameless, faceless people in masks and head to toe personal protective equipment that make him feel like he has stepped into a horror film.
But it's real.
There are hands grabbing at him, his arms, his shoulders, his chest. Pulling him, pushing him, holding him back.
He tries to explain who he is, who he is looking for, but he can't. He opens his mouth to tell, to yell, but he can't make a sound.
He can't seem to speak.
He doubles back toward the crowded waiting room, but now it's empty.
She isn't here. She isn't anywhere. He can't do this without her.
The call light is flashing, an alarm is sounding from somewhere inside his head. Doctors are running toward a room at the end of the hall.
He tries to follow, he tries to move, but he can't. He is frozen in place, trapped in this spot on the white tile under the garish hospital lights.
He hears voices now, but he can't still can't find his own.
"We're so sorry for your loss. We did everything we could."
He doesn't understand. He tries to let his eyes adjust into the shadows of the chapel. He can barely make out the crucifix in the dark.
The candles remain unlit. No votives, no pleas, no prayers have been offered.
He hears the door open behind him and his children rush in. He wants to catch his breath in relief because any moment now, she will appear.
"Daddy..." His daughter gasps his name, burying her face into his neck before he can get a good look at her expression. He can feel her wet cheek against his skin.
"Kathleen." He tries, whispers, rasps, but makes no sound.
"Daddy, I'm so sorry."
He wants to ask, he needs to know. His child is apologizing when her mother is dead.
He leans back, pushing her away so that he can reach for her again. He wants to hold her face in his hands and look at her, beseech her to tell him...
He looks up at the sound of a knock on the door and then he is alone. His children are nowhere to be found. He strains his eyes to see through the stained glass window for a glimpse.
The door opens once more and Kathy steps inside.
"Elliot," he hears her say. One word. His name, dripping with sympathy...
Then, he is running.
The morning is freezing and crisp and he can see the way his own breath is searing from his chest. His feet pound against the hard pavement and he can feel himself shaking, but he knows it isn't from the cold.
She has to be here.
There is a lone figure standing huddled in the middle of the cemetery. The place is grass is dusted with snow and the trees are blowing in the harsh. The woman at the new grave turns to adjust her coat, and he recognizes her.
He calls out and for the first time, he thinks his voice is heard. She looks up at him with bloodshot blue eyes and shakes her head. He reaches for her, grasps her slight shoulders in his numb hands.
She reaches for his face with her gloved palms.
"I'm so sorry, honey. I'm just so sorry your beautiful bride."
Behind her, he sees it.
The mahogany casket waiting to be lowered into the solid earth.
His mother repeats herself.
"I'm so sorry, honey. I'm just so sorry your beautiful bride."
Over and over.
He steps past her and moves closer toward the hole in the ground and the box with the pending eternal internment.
He reaches for it, with hands shaking so violently he can barely grip the side of the coffin.
"I'm just so sorry, honey. I'm just so sorry your beautiful bride."
He wrenches the lid open and...
He gasps her name into the dark. He pulls himself to the side of the thin mattress just in time for his stomach to roll so forcefully, he vomits into the wastebasket beside his bed.
He coughs and coughs until he feels like he can't breathe. He has to breathe. He has to.
He lowers himself shakily down onto his knees on the threadbare carpet and lets his body heave and vomit again.
It was a dream. A nightmare so vivid, so lucid, that he is physically sick.
He wonders what it means that his body hadn't reacted so viscerally when his wife died. The reality of losing Kathy is nothing compared to the thought of losing Olivia.
His skin is soaked with perspiration. His gray tank and sweatpants are melded to his body. He closes his eyes and tries to catch his breath, but he sees it all over again, seven months removed.
The explosion. The heat. The rain. The precinct. The hospital.
The way it felt to hold her in his arms after ten brutal years apart only minutes after his wife took her last breath.
He remembers the way it felt to feel her breathe against his chest and he had buried into her, her shoulder, her neck as if he could crawl inside of her and stay there forever.
She wants to know why don't you tell her how you feel.
The person you love.
He tries to swallow, but he can't. His stomach rolls again and he needs air. He pushes himself up from the floor, clutches the countertop to stay upright before he stumbles down the steps and out the door.
The late evening air is stale out here, but it's cold and it fills his lungs even as he doubles over and retches for the third time.
There isn't anything left to purge.
His stomach is empty and his throat is burning. His chest is aching and his head pounds. He presses his palms hard into his knees, but he can't seem to stop the way they are shaking no matter how hard he tries.
He closes his eyes and he can hear it; his mother's innocent inquiry.
How was Olivia's funeral?
It's innocuous enough.
His mother is past eighty. Between her illness and her meds, her sanity is questionable on the best of days.
The thought has permeated his subconscious, awakened in him an unceasing ferocious fear.
He can't live without her.
This he knows because he has tried.
Missing her is merciless.
Only now, she isn't thousands of miles across the Atlantic. She is minutes away, across the city that belonged to them in another lifetime.
He struggles for another breath before forcing himself to stand up straight and tall. He rolls his head back on his shoulders and looks up into the darkness. The light pollution isn't so bad out here and in the lateness of the hour he can make out one, two, three stars.
He wonders if she can see them from her window, too.
He can't go back inside. Not yet.
The Winnebago is dark and cramped and there isn't enough air.
He fights for it.
But what he wants is inside, what he needs. He finds it easily on the countertop just inside the door. He leaves it open as he settles onto the hard surface of the step and plants his feet firmly on the ground.
The illuminated screen in his palm tells him it's nearly two o'clock, but he can't help himself. He needs...
Benson, he expects.
"El?" He receives.
"Are you okay?"
Her voice is rushed and breathy and laced with sleep. He can hear the quiet rustling of blankets as if she is sitting up in bed.
He sees her in his head: running her fingers through her hair, reaching over to turn on her lamp, bracing herself for...
"I just needed to hear your voice."
He closes his eyes at the sound of the truth and he listens to her breathe. He knows she can sense something is wrong, but she stays quiet for long moments.
"Where are you?" She asks quietly and he shakes his head before he realizes she can't see him.
"I'm at my place," he tells her and when he hears her disapproving hum in his ear, he can tell she understands.
He isn't home, at least not physically.
"Do you need me?" She whispers and he can't help the way he has to clench his knee with his free hand to keep himself from imagining reaching for her.
"I always need you."
He rasps his reply before he can stop himself, before he can temper, before he can think. He hears the sharpness of her inhale and the way she must be holding her breath because her exhale never comes.
"I heard about your Mom," she says slowly, delicately because she knows him and she knows why the last handful of hours has shaken him so.
News travels fast when your octogenarian mother winds up in jail.
He nods. "She's all right," he says, but he isn't sure he means it. His mother isn't and he knows Olivia can tell.
"She stopped takin' her meds and seeing her doctor, so..." He bites down hard on his bottom lip and shakes his head again. "She's gonna stay with us for a while till we can get her sorted out."
He can almost feel her nod in the palm of his hand. She knows better than anyone.
"I'm here if you need, if she needs..." she starts and he makes a non-committal sound low in his throat because this isn't her burden to bear, her cross to carry, her mother to worry about.
He sees Reggie's mother in his head. He hears his own.
How was Olivia's funeral?
His inhale is choppy and he knows he has to tell her what's bothering him because if he doesn't he'll wake up with his favorite NYPD Captain staking out his Winnebago.
"She got a little lost," he tells her. "She got confused."
He wonders if he has just lied to her. Maybe he is the one who has been confused all along.
"I'm sure that's normal, Elliot," she supplies helpfully and he tries to ignore the way his heartrate has increased once more.
He can't shake the feeling that she needs to know.
"She asked me 'bout the funeral."
He hears the quiet sound of sadness she makes in his ear. "She was going to try to make it?"
"She thought it was yours."
He thinks silence has a volume.
"She what?" Olivia breathes.
Now that he has begun, he can't stop. He needs to explain. She needs to know. "She thinks you're my wife."
The ache in his sore chest intensifies as he listens to the softest joyless laugh. He doesn't think it's funny.
In another life, she could be. In a parallel universe, she is.
"Can't lose you, Liv."
His voice grates against the rawness of his throat and he hopes she knows. He prays she understands that when he can [if she wants him, if she'll have him] he will.
"You won't," she whispers, vows, promises. All at once he feels as though he can breathe, but she isn't finished...
"I can't lose you either."
He stands up at the sound of her voice and forces himself back inside.
He needs her. She needs him.
He locks the door behind him and carries his Glock to his bedside, just in case.
She has given him a reason.
He perches on the edge of the mattress and listens to her particular brand of quiet.
"Liv?" He whispers her name and he thinks if he didn't know the cadence of her voice better than his own he would have missed her reply.
"I'm right here."
He settles himself back against the tangled mess of his blankets, the cotton of his pillowcase, and he lulls himself back to sleep to listening to her breathe.
When he wakes, his phone in the slack grip of his hand registers a call four hours and thirty-seven minutes long and counting...
Their connection hasn't been lost.