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With My Bare Hands

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Elliot is finally getting into a routine. It’s been an astonishing period of time since he first stepped back onto New York City streets. Since then, he has lost his wife, the mother of his children, drifted apart from his kids, started a new job, works in a new unit, and committed some horrendous acts undercover that he wishes upon the sun, moon, and all of the stars that he could take back.

On top of all of that, he has been reunited with Olivia. She has once again, scooped up all the broken parts of him and has been trying to piece him back together since the day he shouted her moniker across the street. He looks at her and can’t breathe sometimes. He spent so much time over his ten-year absence begging to the sky for answers. God, why did you put her in my life? Why did you bring Liv to me when I couldn’t have her? Why did you allow us to tear each other apart then put one another back together over and over and over? God why did you allow me to fall for her? Why did you allow me to abandon her? God, please keep her safe. God, please provide Liv the love and joy and stability that she deserves.
God, please bring us back together.

God did bring them back together and now Elliot is a mess. He knows he keeps hurting her. He keeps making decisions that make her brows crease in concern and her hands shake with hurt. It had been ten years, but he still knows her face and her heart. He has done nothing but worry her since his homecoming.

Kathy’s a fighter, you know that.
Elliot, we don’t have to do this.
You have PTSD.
Take our hand, grab onto us.
I’m begging you to slow all this down.
You have to take care of yourself, for your kids.
Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it.
So I wouldn’t think that you ghosted me? Again?
Elliot, what the hell happened?
We have to get you to a hospital.
I want you to come home.

Before Eddie Wagner takes over, and Elliot Stabler is nowhere to be found.

She was right. She has bent over backwards for him time and time again and he has been his own worst enemy, destroying everything in his path. But he’s done being a category five hurricane and ready to be Elliot Stabler. A father, a friend, a detective, a widow, a man in-love. He feels he’s reached the acceptance stage of grief, thanks to his therapist who he has finally been seeing on a regular basis. He knows he needed the help. If he wanted to be the father his children deserve, he needed to get help.

Liv had asked for time and space after the Wheatley trial and he was going to show her that he was working on himself, that he was doing better. Elliot and Eli have been talking and Eli has been laughing more often. A sound that makes Elliot feel fifty pounds lighter every single time he hears it. He and Dickie have been boxing together once a week. Throwing punches and kicks at each other and punching bags- a routine part of his schedule he has begun to rely on for stress relief and the joy he feels after spending time with his oldest boy. His daughters continue to show up at his home unannounced with cooked meals and plants, as if he doesn’t have the ability to cook for him and Eli, himself. He acts exasperated but he adores it. His kids are keeping him afloat and for the first time in a long time, he feels like he is being their father.

Work keeps him busy as it always has. He and Bell have grown into a great partnership, not like his partnership with Olivia Benson, but a good one, nonetheless. Their unit of misfits is starting to feel more and more like work family. It is this thought that is running through his mind as he sits mundanely at a meeting for the Organized Crime Control Bureau. There’s a large group of people in the meeting room from Narcotics, Vice, Auto Crime, Gang Division, Firearms Suppression, IAB, and his unit. All five boroughs sit in this room. The chief of police has just called for a brief break, so Elliot stands up, stretches, returns the, I know this sucks look, Jet is giving him, and heads to the coffee stand in the back room.

He sees a group of uniformed officers adjacent to the area standing in a half-circle and gossiping like high schoolers.

“Lieutenant Welch from Cyber Crime- he’s scary to look at but damn his closing rate is impressive-“ one UNI states.

“OH! Sergeant Nicks from Brooklyn Hostage Negotiation-“ The whole groups agrees with yeses and hums.

“Captain Benson…” he hears a female voice say and he stills. Continues getting his coffee in slow motion while he eavesdrops.

One of the male officers dramatically states “ohhh… good pick. I forgot about Special Victims.”

“How do you forget about Special Victims? How do you forget about Benson she’s an NYPD legend” another young man in the group states and Elliot smirks. They are gossiping about their NYPD idols and his heart swells with pride.

“I don’t know I guess I’m a dumbass” the kid adds. “Talk about a high closing rate.”

“Yeah, and how she started as a green detective in the same unit and has stayed ever since, it is unheard of. Especially in Special Victims, nobody lasts long there. I know a guy who worked SVU in Staten Island and only lasted two months. Said he couldn’t take seeing one more beaten and brutalized kid.”

“I heard she’s intimidating to work under.” Another one adds.
“Oh come on. The detectives that work for her stay for years and years, she has to be a good leader.” The one who name dropped Liv in the first place, adds.

“Were y’all in the force when the Lewis trial was goin’ down?” One of the guys asks.

“Nah, I was still in college, but I heard rumors…”

“I was- yeah I worked in traffic at the time. The whole state of New York was searching for her.”

Elliot is still stirring his coffee but he’s not paying attention anymore. “See? Benson is a legend” the woman adds, and Elliot spins himself and brings his coffee with him.

“You guys talkin’ about Captain Benson at Manhattan SVU?” he inserts himself into the conversation. “Who is Lewis?” he asks. Elliot knows he isn’t going to like this story and can already feel panic and rage building in his muscles. He acts relaxed so these kids will share with him.

They eye each other briefly before the young man who brought Lewis’s trial up states, “Just another sadistic dirtbag rapist.” And Elliot’s heart has stopped beating.

“Anyone who lived near New York City at the time heard about him. He was a sadist. Burned his own finger tips off on a stove so the police couldn’t find his records. Sicko was flashing people in Central Park. Loved leaving a trail of bloodied bodies for the police to find and tricking the system. He was somehow able to escape so many charges, just knew how to charm people.” Another young man added,

“Anyway, he took a liking to Captain Benson.”

“Well, she was still a detective back then,” a woman cuts in.

“Yeah. He broke into her apartment, had her for four days man. That footage of her partner guiding her out of that beach house, my god…”

The group goes back to gossiping together, forgetting Elliot is even there.

“Remember her boyfriend at the time, that Cassidy guy- he was supposed to go to her apartment the night Lewis got there but ended up having to work a double.”

One of the UNIs turns to Elliot, “you aren’t from New York?” he looks at him confused, “pretty much every cop in the state was looking for them. The trial was on national news for a while.” He adds, “what like 2014 or something? The sick fuck represented himself”

Elliot’s tongue isn’t working as he actively tries to swallow back bile that wants to come up his throat. The group is eyeing him, and he knows he has to say something.

“I was living overseas.” He chokes out simply before desperately exiting the group and stepping outside for air.

His hands are shaking, and he feels like millions of needles are piercing his palms. He practices some of the self-soothing techniques he has learned in therapy. Breathe in for four seconds… hold it for seven… exhale for eight seconds.

5 things I can see,
4 thing I can hear,
3 things I can touch,
2 things I can smell,
1 thing I can taste…

His mind is flashing with horrific images of Liv held hostage by an antisocial psychopath who enjoys inflicting pain and suffering. Where the fuck was he when this happened? Why hadn’t anyone called him? Would he has shown up anyways? God- he hates himself.

Every single moment Olivia has been by his side during his darkest moments flash through his mind. He doesn’t deserve this woman- not as a partner, not as a friend, not as a lover.

He is trying to recall 2013 and 2014. He, Kathy, and Eli were living a comfortable and mundane life in Italy. He had a boring security job. He and Kathy visited the Colosseum, the Cinque Terre, the Pantheon. They watched little Eli throw coins into the Trevi Fountain and toured the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. He feels nausea grow when he realizes that while he was forcing a fake life for his family, missing her, and thinking of her beautiful face in the freezing early morning Manhattan sun, she was living in terror.

The disgust grows further when he thinks about how he has treated her since his return. He has been so broken that he hasn’t been able to talk about her. Hasn’t been able to inquire on how their ten years apart was for her. He had assumed that she thrived. Look at her- she’s more lovely than she has ever been, more formidable, more successful. She has a son. His leaving was good for her.

His mind flashes to the moment in the car when she told him he had PTSD. He had laughed in fear and indignation. He knows now that she wasn’t just speaking from her experience with victims, but from her own experience with trauma. Elliot’s arms and legs feel like bricks as he tries to peel his body off of the glass door he’s leaning all of his weight on. He cannot finish this meeting.

Kathleen is working when her dad’s name pops up on her phone.

“Dad- is everything okay?”

“Kathleen I’m outside your office- I need to talk to you.”

“Dad… what’s wro-“ he cuts her off.

“Kathleen please just come outside”

Now she is worried as she puts some files away and informs her colleagues that she is stepping out. When she sees her dad, her concern skyrockets. He has his palms braced on the door of his SUV. He has been doing well, eating, sleeping, exercising, going to therapy. He has been laughing and he has been present. Right now, he looks devastated with blood shot eyes and tense muscles. When he sees her, he is pushing off the vehicle and meeting her halfway in the middle of the sidewalk.

“Dad- are you okay?” Kathleen questions with wide eyes, reach for his shoulders.

“Kathleen why didn’t anyone tell me about what happened to Olivia?” he voice cracks and she can’t tell if he is about to cry or punch the brick wall next to them.

“Dad what are you talking about? Olivia?” She hasn’t seen her dad like his since they stupidly planned that intervention. He is talking too fast and looks like he may crawl out of his skin. She wants to understand, she wants to ease his obvious distress, but she wonders if he is going crazy.

“Years ago when your mom and Eli and I were just settling into Italy… Olivia was abducted. The case was on the news… she was held for four days before they found her. Nobody told me Kathleen.” He breathes out heavily. Kathleen’s heart stops. Maureen had called the day the news broke, Kathleen remembers it clearly. Olivia had done a lot for their dad, for their family. They were distraught when they heard, even Bernie had called Kathleen to see if she had any more information than the news was letting out. Maureen and Kathleen had called on speakerphone and their mother answered. She will never forget how jubilant she had sounded when she answered the phone.

Maureen had told her everything. That Liv was taken from her apartment and has been missing for over 48 hours. That the man who took her had already raped and killed other people. That there was a massive man search going on all over the state.

“My god…” their mother had said. “I’ll tell your dad,” she had said.

When they called back days later to tell them that Olivia was found, her mother had told them that their dad was taking it very hard. She had told them not to talk about it around him, that he didn’t feel his showing up would be helpful to Liv after the way he left. The explanation made sense to Maureen and Kathleen. They knew Olivia and their dad were partners but also best friends. It made sense that after the way their dad had left SVU and Olivia, that his appearance during this tragic time might just be more triggering for her. It had made sense, so they didn’t push and they didn’t talk about it again.

She hadn’t told him. The realization crushes Kathleen’s chest.

“Dad… we did call. Maureen and I, as soon as the news broke. Mom told us that she would tell you. That you were taking it really hard. She said that you felt your presence would just hurt Olivia more… She asked Maureen and I to drop it…” the words leave her mouth like water flows through a river. “Dad, I’m so sorry. We would never have kept it from you. We knew how important Olivia was to you.” Kathleen adds and runs a hand through her hair. She cannot believe her mother never told him. She tries not to be angry. Her mom is not here to explain herself. She must’ve had good reasons.

Her dad turns away from her. He runs a hand over the back of his head. He says nothing.

“Dad…” Kathleen reaches out and gently grabs his other forearm.

“Olivia is okay now.” She says so quietly she isn’t sure he has heard her.

“I left her alone, Leen… I wasn’t there for her.” His voice breaks once again and now she knows he is crying. His back is still facing her, and she walks around him so they are face to face. Her dad looks hysterical, and she puts her hands on his cheeks to meet his eyes.

“You are here now. You can be here for her now.” She knows it deep in her bones that Olivia loves her dad as much as he loves her. Kathleen knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that Olivia Benson will forgive her dad over and over again until he takes his last breath because that’s what you do when you love someone unconditionally. She watches her dad collect himself, taking deep calculated breaths.

“Your mother never told me.” He says. He’s looking at her still and he looks more in control of himself, now.

Kathleen is speechless and doesn’t know what to say. She searches her brain for the right words, but she is equally baffled and stunned by the choice her mother had made.

Her dad grabs her hand and squeezes. “I’m sorry for showing up at your work like this, Leen. I’m okay now.” He doesn’t want her to worry about him, but she still will.

“You should talk to her, dad. I’m going to stop by later today, okay? Eli and I are going to watch a movie.” She smiles kindly up at the man who has scared away all of her monsters and he gives her a small one in return.

“Okay sweetheart, I’ll see you later then.” And he is walking back to his SUV.
She has a feeling that she knows where he is going.

He needs to see her but he is a selfish son of a bitch and before he can talk himself out of it, he is going through old evidence and casefiles. He can’t explain why he needs to do this. But he will not show up at her home without some semblance of preparation for this conversation and in order to prepare, he needs to know how severe it was.

He doesn’t have to search long. He finds the file he is looking for and for a moment, time feels frozen. He doesn’t want to do this but he deserves this pain. After two deep breaths in and out, he is opening the file on the surface of a nearby table. He decides to go straight to the gut punch he deserves: the photos. He closes his eyes and tries to maintain steady breathing and he looks down at the first photo. It’s a close up of her face.

A deep gash blending in with a dark bruise on the left side of her forehead catches his eye first. It looks like the damage only the butt of a pistol could do and rage sparks in his gut. She has smaller yet matching damage on the other side of her forehead, a black and blue eye, an ugly bruise on her right cheek bone, and a cut on her lip. Breath isn’t reaching his lungs as he looks at her beautiful face, her beautiful brown eyes that look lifeless in this photo. He doesn’t yet know what Lewis looks like, but he pictures a man with no face, because Elliot will beat his face in similarly to how this monster did to Olivia’s but until he is no longer recognizable as a human being.

With his skin on fire, he flips to the next photo. Her wrists are bloody, scraped, and torn apart from handcuffs carelessly drawn too tight mixed with rope burns and he simultaneously feels his rage and his pride grow at seeing how hard she fought this monster. One of her wrists is broken. He will rip Lewis’s arms from his body and smile.

The next photo of her midsection states multiple broken ribs and he tries to close the image of this bastard kicking her out of his mind. He will stomp the last breath out of this piece of garbage. The next photo is his last straw as the rage quietly brewing in his gut suddenly explodes. He slams the photos back down onto the table and throws a chair across the room. If there are other people in the evidence room he wouldn’t know, he is deaf and blinded by homicidal fury. Burn marks. Some clearly etched on her soft skin with cigarettes and others in shapes that make his stomach roll. He knows how to light a body on fire and he will burn Lewis alive. He will enjoy it.

Breathe in… breathe out… breathe in… breathe out. He forces himself to continue, picking up the chair and sitting back down. He can’t look at the pictures anymore and skims through the physician’s notes.

Traces of various sedatives and ethanol in the patient’s system, severely dehydrated, malnourished, patient’s clothes are burned and cut open, displaying signs of post traumatic stress disorder- dissociation, heightened startle response, difficulty concentrating.

Elliot forces his hands to flip to the victim’s statement and the investigator’s notes.

Perp already armed in victim’s home, vic states she froze… pistol whipped and lost consciousness… awoke strapped to a chair… pistol whipped again with vic’s own weapon… forced pills and alcohol… perp destroyed victim’s apartment, vic kept restrained the entire duration, duct tape over vic’s mouth… thrown in trunk of vehicle… forced to watch rape and murder… threatened other victims if vic looked away… passes out on multiple occasions… handcuffed to a bedframe… gun forced in vic’s mouth…

Elliot feels outside of his body. This can’t be real. There is no way any God he believes in would allow this to happen to Olivia and he knows he will blow every chance he has left of going to heaven if he ever lays eyes on this monster. There is a lot of information left in this evidence file including court documents and what looks to be an extra, entirely separate investigation and an evidence box with collected items. He can’t look at anymore

He is suddenly angry at everyone. Angry at Olivia for not telling him, angry at Finn for not calling all those years ago, angry at Cassidy for allowing this to happen, angry at Olivia’s partner for not having her back, angry at Munch and Cragen for their incompetence, angry at the system for letting this sick fuck free, and angry at his religion for allowing him to exist at all. Then the realization hits him like boiling hot water to his face, that he’s angry at Kathy. He’s so angry that his wife took it upon herself to hide this from him. How could she do this? How could she do this and not be here to explain herself?

As he stews in his hatred, he realizes the person he is most angry at is himself. He cannot believe he wasn’t there for her. He wasn’t there when they found her to protect her from prying eyes. He wasn’t there in the hospital when she was poked and prodded. He wasn’t there though the flashbacks, or nightmares. Elliot knows that if he would have been there, this wouldn’t have happened to her. He never would have allowed her to go home alone knowing this evil was out walking free with a fixation on her.

He would have sheltered her. But he wasn’t there, and this is Olivia’s reality, Olivia’s story.

Not for the first time and not for the last, he thinks of the woman who has saved him from himself on countless occasions and who she has become despite the hell life keeps raining down on her. Olivia, who has worked her way up the ranks in a male dominated field. Olivia, who has overcome generational trauma and put an end to it. Olivia, who has the respect of every officer, lawyer, and victim he has ever come across. Olivia, who carries the grace of forgiveness in her heart and hands it out so freely to anyone who needs it. Olivia, who is a mother. She overcame this terror, learned to live with what happened to her and has found a way to thrive. She is holy, unwavering, and unbelievable. He is struck with the need to tell her that he didn’t know.

That he would have never, never, not shown up for her. He couldn’t have stayed away if he knew. He would’ve showed up, guns blazing, ready to tear apart every obstacle in his way to her. He reminds himself that it doesn’t matter to anyone what he would have done, because he was nowhere to be found. Olivia had to pick herself up off of the floor all alone, without the single most important person in her life there to support her. He is certain that he will carry the burden of this sin for the rest of his life.

It’s 9pm on a Friday and Liv has just finished dinner with Noah, bedtime, an incredibly needed and relaxing shower, and is pouring herself a glass of red. She is going to relax. For the first time in what feels like forever, she will not bring work home tonight. Instead, she dropped lavender oil on her inner wrists, dressed in warm black leggings and an old Siena College sweatshirt, lit a candle, and curled up on the couch to watch whatever romcom E! had on. Tonight, it’s How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days. She is about to take her first sip of wine when her phone dings. She almost doesn’t look at it but has a feeling she should. It’s Elliot and the text reads Liv, I’m downstairs… Can I come up? Please?

She is exhausted and trying to unwind and really doesn’t think she can handle Elliot tonight. As much as she wants to be there for him, she is trying to re-charge herself right now. As Lindstrom recently reminded her, “You can’t poor from an empty cup, Olivia.” But she has never been able to say no to this man.

Not three minutes later, she’s opening her home up, once again, to Elliot Stabler. He looks exhausted too, but better than she has gotten used to seeing him. She appreciates the shape of his arms and the strength in his back as she can see that he has been exercising still. She welcomes the slight stubble on his face that has replaced his Eddie Wagner look. He is handsome and he smells good.

She offers him a small smile, “Hey, I hope you’re not here with bad news because I’m trying to relax for once, Elliot. And Noah is asleep.” She motions toward her hallway and hopes Elliot can hear her not say that they have to be quiet, no arguing. “Would you like a glass? Or a beer?” She motions toward her glass of wine.

“Um… yeah but not yet Liv. I-”

She quietly closes her door behind him as he moves in and suddenly, he is hugging her. His stalky arms pull her into him, and she slowly reciprocates. They don’t speak as they embrace one another, and he is breathing deeply into the alcove between her neck and shoulder. She is worried now, closes her eyes, and gently rubs her hands up and down his back. He is seeking comfort, but he is also giving it. They are taking from one another.

“Elliot, what happened?” She whispers.

He hates that she associates his hugs and affection with trauma and pain. He vows to change that. Slowly he pulls away, not letting go of her. He moves his hands to cup her face and studies the areas that the photos proved her injured. He looks over her head, down to her cheek bones and rubs a thumb across the apple of her right cheek. His eyes travel to her lips where he no longer sees a cut. His palms slide down to her shoulders, down past her elbows, and gently raise her wrists up between them. He analyzes them, flips them over.

“Elliot…” She whispers again but he doesn’t respond. Just keeps studying her like he is looking for something. She feels exceptionally vulnerable allowing him to hold her wrists this way. Elliot Stabler is the only man alive who is allowed. He is rubbing his thumbs softly across her inner wrists, causing goosebumps to form all over her arms and legs. Seemingly satisfied, his hands move to her waist and up her sides where her ribs rest and he rubs. He’s not meeting her eyes as he studies her, so she takes his face in her hands and forces him to look at her. When she looks into his eyes, she sees they are swimming with tears, and one falls down his cheek. She wipes it away.

“Elliot what happened?” She quietly repeats her question.

He takes a deep breath and quivers as they are still holding each other.

“We had a bureau meeting today and I overheard a few young UNIs talking about Captain Benson. How incredible and admirable she is.” He pauses to slightly lift one corner of his mouth at her and she rolls her eyes. He takes another deep breath.

“They were admiring your time spent at Special Victims and your strength. How you overcame everything that happened with Lewis.” He drops the bomb and Liv feels her insides recoil and freeze as they always do now when she hears that name. They lose eye contact, and she tries to turn her body, but he won’t let go of her ribcage.

“I didn’t know, Liv.” He whispers as a couple more tears roll quietly down his face. Now her eyes are also swimming. She was not prepared for this conversation tonight. She has always known this was going to come up at some point but has been avoiding it like the plague. Olivia has already put in the excruciatingly difficult work and time into healing from the trauma inflicted upon her by Lewis. Of course, it still disrupts her life sometimes in the form of a dream or a memory. Her PTSD will never completely dissipate but she has learned to cope with it. She has already spent enough time heartbroken over Elliot’s absence. She is not sure if she thought he knew or not. She thinks that she tried not to ponder it too much. He wasn’t there so why put herself through the agony of wondering where he was and if he knew? Olivia ached for her partner, her other half, her best friend when she was going through the worst experience of her life, but he wasn’t there. She has gone through many stages of grief over Elliot, and she is long past denial, isolation, bargaining, and depression. She reached acceptance a long time ago.

She can’t ignore the little burst of relief she feels, though, now knowing that he didn’t hear about what happened to her and choose to stay away.

Her heartbeat normalizes and she meets his eyes again. He is still looking at her with sorrow and shame written all over his face.

“Elliot we can’t change what has already happened,” she murmurs.

“I’m so sorry” he whispers as more silent tears make their way over his face.

“I will spend the rest of my life making up for this, Liv. I should have been there for you, like you have been for me over and over again. I will never forgive myself,” his voice cracks in agony at the end of his sentence and she cannot allow him to hurt like this. Her hands return to his face and thumb away the wetness on his cheeks.

“I won’t lie and say that I didn’t wish for you to show up, El, because of course I did. But I had people. I wasn’t alone.” She aches to grant him forgiveness, but she knows Elliot and she knows nothing she says will release him from this. Only time will.

He lets out a few more shattered breaths and squeezes his eyes shut, giving his head a small shake. “You’re the most resilient person I know, Olivia Benson.” His hands move from her ribcage to her shoulders to her neck as he gently slides her hair to rest on her back.

“Liv- is he… is Lewis…” he stutters.

“He’s dead. He shot himself…” she gets a far-away look in her eyes before continuing, “right in front of my face.” Elliot’s hands shake with vehemence, of course this disgusting animal took the cowardly way out.

“Olivia, I swear to God I would have killed him with my bare hands.” She shivers because he is referring to the same hands that are tenderly cradling her neck. The same hands that have brushed across her face, that have grasped her own hands. The same hands that held his babies and brought comfort to survivors. Elliot has the safest hands of any man she has ever known, and yet, she knows he is telling her the truth.

He doesn’t know it but he has just given her validation by confirming that she was right all those years ago when she told Lewis, with traumatized certainty, that her old partner would have known what to do. It is with utter liberation that one solo tear descents down her face.

They stand quietly in her home, holding each other and it feels like deliverance. Like two puzzle pieces finally clicking together. He rests his forehead against hers.

“I’m okay now Elliot.” She states simply, like that is supposed to make up for his absence. “You’re here now,” she adds.

Heads still pressed together he agrees, “I’m here now and I’m here to stay. I’m not going to leave you again, Liv. I wouldn’t survive it.” His honestly stuns her silent.

“I won’t allow anyone to ever put their hands on you again, Liv. Not while I’m still breathing.” He declares and she believes him. He presses a soft kiss to the side of her head and there has been a cosmological shift in their relationship. He will kiss her, soon, and she will allow him. They will heal together. She gently pulls out of his embrace, taking one of his hands with her into her kitchen.

“Come on, we’re watching How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days.” She smirks at him.

“Ugh, my daughters love that one,” he follows her lead. She is pushing a bag of popcorn into her microwave before turning to the fridge. She turns to him with a cold beer and a chocolate bar.

He is noticing for the first time tonight how comfortable she looks in her alma mater gear and her tussled hair and her bare feet with the knowledge that her son sleeps peacefully in his bed. He watches her break off a piece of sea salt dark chocolate and pop it into her mouth before she’s raising a piece up to him. His heart surges with an overwhelming amount of love. He lets her place the sweet in his mouth and stands in awe as she goes back into the living room with a bowl of popcorn.

He follows the love of his life to her couch and sits as close to her as he possibly can. She puts a throw blanket over their bodies, and he opens up his right side for her to fit, as she does, effortlessly.

It is Friday evening and Elliot is off tomorrow. He sends Kathleen a text. He can’t believe that he is here, that Olivia finds something worthy in him. He knows that they still have a long way to go and so much to talk about. But he will crawl over broken glass to prove to the woman next to him that he is here to stay, that he loves her more than life itself. And when they succumb to sleep wrapped in each other’s arms with the TV humming quietly, he gets the most serene slumber he has ever had.