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Refuge of Her Weary Soul

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She had no idea if he was home or not, and really, she probably should have called, rather than showing up at his door uninvited. She didn’t know what exactly had led her here, except she’d been sitting at home alone, with Noah was at a sleepover, and her head was spinning with all the thoughts and realizations she’d been grappling with in recent days. Maybe going for a drive would help, hoping the streets she’d spent two decades protecting would help her find the answers she was looking for. 

 

What she really needed, in all honesty, was to stop feeling dirty. She needed to feel safe, and she knew there was only one place she could go where that was remotely possible, though she wasn’t sure she could voice that part out loud. She couldn’t knock on his door and tell him, or his mother, that she came to this place to feel safe. She was a strong NYPD Captain; she didn’t need a refuge.

 

She was the refuge for people like her.

 

Fuck that . She was sick of having to always be the strong one. 

 

She hadn’t felt like a fifty-seven year old NYPD Captain this week. She felt like a sixteen year old girl again: a girl who longed for someone to love her, hold her, and want her, and make her feel like she wasn’t damaged and that she deserved to be in this world. She longed for her mother to care about her the way a mother should, or a man who would sweep her off her feet.

 

It had all been a lie: everything that sixteen year-old Olivia thought she’d had was a cruel lie, a trick of the light. She thought she’d found a soulmate, but instead the person who claimed that title took her fragile, delicate soul and sucked the life right out of it. 

 

She didn’t feel strong anymore. Not now. If anything, she felt the complete opposite, and she came here, to the other man who’d returned to her life: the one she told herself she could still trust, even when others around her doubted him. He wouldn’t think of her as weak, but he wouldn’t make her feel like she had to hide her pain either. That was what she wanted right now: someone to see her.

 

She knocked on the door and heard his mother’s voice call out that she’d be right there. She managed a smile, not wanting the Stabler matriarch to worry. 

 

“Oh, Olivia, dear, come inside. I’m just finishing up dinner. I’ll fix you a bowl.” 

 

Warmth immediately surrounded her when she stepped over the threshold, and she hadn’t even realized it was cold out. “Bernie, you don’t have to-” 

 

“Nonsense. You came over to my house while food was being cooked. What kind of mother would I be if I didn’t feed my family?” 

 

“Bernie-” 

 

“You might as well start calling me mom. I know my boy will get his head together soon.” She smiled, with a warmth Olivia could barely fathom. 

 

She found herself lost for words as she tried to speak. “I-” 

 

Bernie placed a bowl of chicken soup in front of her, and tapped a spoon against the side of the bowl with a playful grin. “Eat as much as you want, dear. It’s just you and me for now. Elliot isn’t home yet, and Eli is off with those friends of his again.” She’d paused before mentioning his friends, as if she didn’t hold them in high regard.

 

“Thank you.” 

 

“There’s no sadness in this world that can’t be fixed with some love and a bowl of soup.” 

 

If only it were that simple. 

 

“Oh, I’m not-” 

 

“I’m eighty-two years old, but I’m not blind yet. You seem lost, Livvie.” Livvie. She couldn’t recall a time she’d been called that with affection. Her mother was never the nurturing type, and she didn’t think Elliot’s mother was either, but the older woman seemed to have softened with age, much like her son had. It made her sigh with longing. The little girl tucked deep in her wanted nothing more than to eat the soup and tell Mrs. Stabler her sorrows, and then for her to be tucked into bed and told a bedtime story, and kissed goodnight. 

 

She had done enough crying in the last week, and so she willed her eyes not to fill with tears, but there was no way to disguise the vulnerability in her response.

 

“I guess I do feel a little lost.” Understatement of the year. 

 

“Oh dear, is anything troubling you?” 

 

“I’m not quite sure how to explain it.” She sighed as she sipped heaping spoonfuls of the warm broth. Maybe there was something to Bernie’s saying.

 

“Well, I hope the soup will help, and my boy will be home soon. He gives the best hugs. Maybe that’s what you need.” 

 

She swallowed a lump in her throat at the thought of being wrapped in Elliot’s strong arms. That was exactly what she needed. Bernie kissed the top of her head in a motherly way and she closed her eyes to keep tears from falling. What was it about this place that was making her so emotional? “The soup is good. Thank you.” 

 

“You’re welcome. I told you it would be.” 

 

Olivia managed to return a smile. “My mom was never much of a cook, and uh, I’m not much of one either.” She’d never been one to be very open about her past, so the ease with which she was confiding in Elliot’s mother took her by surprise. “I try more than she did, now that I have Noah, but when I was by myself it was mostly takeout menus and the occasional frozen meal.” 

 

“Elliot doesn’t cook either. Poor boy can’t even boil water to make my tea.” 

 

It felt good to laugh. So good . “I was hoping he’d picked up some skills in Italy.” 

 

“He says he did, but he hasn’t been home long enough to show them off.” 

 

“He’s trying to come home. It’s just, you know, this case-” 

 

“Yeah, yeah. Work. I raised him to work hard, but that doesn’t mean he has to work himself to death . I don’t want him to lose himself.” 

 

“I don’t either. I worry about him.” More word vomit spilled from her lips. She might as well just say she’s in love with Bernie’s son, though with how perceptive the woman was, she probably already knew. “I miss him.” As if on cue they heard the door knob turn. 

 

“Well, there he is. Tell him that. Maybe he’ll listen to you, ‘cause he sure won’t listen to me.” 

 

“Mama?” Her heart melted at how soft he sounded. 

 

“In here, honey. Your partner joined me for dinner.” 

 

“Hey Liv. Everything ok?” 

 

The Captain in her wanted to reassure him that yes, everything was fine. She thought she’d stop by for a visit, and she appreciated the tasty dinner, but she should be getting home. The little girl in her who longed for warmth, safety, and love wanted to tell him no, that she was scared, and wanted him to hold her until all the fear subsided.

 

It frustrated the hell out of her that the two parts of her couldn’t come to an agreement. 

 

“Yeah, it was,” she paused, “a long week.” She settled with that, hoping it would ease any worry he might have. “Noah’s at a sleepover, and I guess I got bored being home alone.” 

 

“Don’t listen to her, Elliot. She’s putting on a brave face.” 

 

Elliot chuckled at his mother’s words and smiled knowingly. His smile was warm, and his eyes were soft and loving. Olivia felt like tearing up again and internally chastised herself. 

 

“Is she?” 

 

Olivia rolled her eyes. “I’m fine .” 

 

“There it is!” Elliot teased, and Olivia glared at him. 

 

“Being fine doesn’t mean you’re happy, and you’re not happy. I can tell. I’ve lived on this earth long enough.” 

 

Bernie’s words struck a nerve and she sniffled, letting a tear fall. The old woman was apparently pretty good at reading people, and the smile on Elliot’s face fell when he saw the tears streaming down her face.

 

“I’m-I’m happy, ok? Sometimes.” Her voice broke. 

 

“Tonight isn’t one of those times, is it?” 

 

“No.” She wiped at her eyes, trying to compose herself. “But, I’m not really in a job that allows me to be happy, so I’m used to it.” 

 

“You two are peas in a pod when it comes to holding in your emotions. It breaks my heart. Elliot, when I offered to make her soup, she seemed surprised. Did you know her mom never cooked for her? That poor child needs love.” 

 

Normally, Olivia would make a comment about how she wasn’t a child, and how she didn’t appreciate them talking about her in front of her, but she didn’t trust herself to speak right now, not without crying. 

 

“Mama-”

 

“She’s bone-weary. The weight of the world is on her shoulders.” Elliot's eyes locked with hers, and he could see the tears swimming in them. “Take her out to the garden. It can be healing. Sit with her. Give her one of your hugs. Listen to whatever is on her mind.” 

 

“She might not feel comfortable talking about-” 

 

“Then don’t talk. Just hold her. She hasn’t seemed this lost since she was hurt by that man.” The concern on Elliot’s face changed to horror. 

 

“What man?” He knew nothing about him, not even his name, and he already wanted to kill him, knowing that whoever he was, he’d hurt Olivia in some way. Both women looked at him with confusion.  “ What man, mama? ‘Livia, who is she talking about? Who hurt you? Was it Wheatley?” 

 

“No. It wasn’t him, El.” 

 

“Kathy didn’t tell you? She told me she was going to. She told me you’d want to know, and-” 

 

“Mama, slow down. Kathy didn’t tell me what ? And how do you know about it?” 

 

“Elliot-” 

 

“It was a couple years after you left. I saw it on the news and called Olivia to check on her after she was rescued. Then, I called Kathy-” 

 

“Rescued? Rescued from what? What the hell is going on?” 

 

“You’re telling me that Kathy never told you a rapist kidnapped your partner?” 

 

The blood in Elliot’s veins froze; his face was pale as guilt flooded through him. Guilt and rage. 

 

A rapist kidnapped your partner. 

 

He could only shake his head at his mother in disbelief. He thought he was going to be sick: he’d failed the love of his life. His worst nightmare had come true, because he hadn’t been there to protect her. 

 

How could Kathy keep this from him? 

 

No, how could he leave in the first place? If he’d stayed, Olivia never would’ve gone through that.

 

This was all his fault. 

 

All of it. 

 

“El-” 

 

“She never told me.” His voice cracked with all of the emotions overwhelming him. “I didn’t know.” He walked over and knelt in front of Olivia, cupping her face. “I swear to God.” He sniffled. “I didn’t know. I’m so fucking sorry. I didn’t know. I would’ve been here, you know that. I would’ve come home for you.” Every one of his statements was punctuated with a sob wracked from his very depths. “Baby, I didn’t know.” He didn’t know why the ‘baby’ slipped out, but she didn’t comment on it. 

 

“I always figured you must have known. It was all over the news.” Her own tears fell, and he wiped them away gently.

 

“No. No, I was undercover overseas. I would have come home, found you, killed him, and protected you. I swear on my life. I would have done whatever it took to keep you safe.” He stood and pulled her into his arms. “I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry.” They cried together silently, holding onto each other tight, fusing together into a tight embrace. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t know. Oh God, I’m so sorry.” 

 

“Elliot, listen to me. It wasn’t your fault. I don’t blame you. Not even a little.” 

 

“I’m supposed to protect you, Liv. You’re my partner. I failed you.” 

 

“No. You didn’t fail me.” 

 

“Who was he? Where is he?” He wanted to slaughter the sick bastard who had hurt this woman who meant so much to him.

 

“Let’s go talk outside, ok? Maybe your mom is right about the garden.” 

 

He kept an arm wrapped around her shoulders as they walked outside. “Can I hold you, Liv?” He needed to touch her, to reassure himself she was still alive, and because he felt a strong need to protect her: to be her shelter as she recounted any of the horrors she’d faced. He didn’t want to push her though, so if she needed space, he’d give that to her. 

 

“I’d like that.” The thought of sitting in a chair by herself, while thinking about both Burton and Lewis’s hands on her, or talking about what they’d done, made her shudder. She knew part of it for Elliot’s request was his own comfort, but she couldn’t deny that she had the distinct feeling the only way to get through this conversation was to be wrapped in the cocoon of his embrace.  Since he returned, they’d been touching each other more than they ever could have as partners, and she found herself wanting those little touches. 

 

Sitting on the bench she’d bought them as a housewarming present, he cradled her in his lap, while she rested her head on his shoulder. The combination of his scent, his heartbeat, and his hand stroking her hair soothed her in ways she hadn’t felt before. She sighed; she knew they needed to talk, but part of her wanted to rest here in his arms and hide away from the rest of the world. She hadn’t been prepared for this conversation, but she wasn’t sure she ever could be fully prepared for the emotional onslaught it would bring. 

 

“You don’t have to tell me anything you’re not comfortable with, Liv. I’m sorry. I know my mom can be-” 

 

“It’s ok. This was gonna come up at some point.” 

 

“It should be on your terms.” 

 

“It is. Elliot, you have to understand that I need you to know about this. I need to get it off my chest. I’m not the same person I was ten years ago. Hell, after this week I-” She shook her head; she couldn’t talk about everything at once. Pace yourself, Olivia. “El, I can’t go into all the details. Not tonight.” 

 

“You don’t have to.” 

 

“I’m not in a good place right now mentally, and neither are you.” She wasn’t used to this: admitting to anyone that she felt vulnerable, or that she wasn’t anything other than perfectly fine and capable. “I can give you a summary, but I can’t-” 

 

“Ok. It’s alright,” he said in a soothing voice, tightening his arms around her. 

 

She bit her lip, unsure where to start. “I’m alive. I survived.” By having that statement out there, no matter how obvious it was, she hoped that it would temper the rest of her admissions, even a little.

 

“I know.” His voice was filled with emotion, as if the alternative would be too much for him to bear.

 

“William Lewis. That was his name, and you can’t kill him, because he’s already dead.” 

 

“Good. Did he suffer?” 

 

“He shot himself in front of me.” 

 

“Jesus Christ.” Elliot did a quick sign of the cross and then folded his arms back around her tighter than before.

 

“I wasn’t raped.” By Lewis, her mind added, and she hated that she could no longer say she hadn’t been through that, technically; after this week, she’d learned that hadn’t been true since before she was sixteen. She’d said the same thing after Sealview, that it was the closest she’d ever come, but that she’d been spared. Her worst nightmare had come true, and it hadn’t been perpetrated by the monsters who still haunted her nightmares. Instead, it was by someone she once thought of as the man of her dreams. 

 

“Thank God.” 

 

She felt the relief flood through Elliot as he eased against her, and she hated that the relief wouldn’t last. “He was in my apartment when I got home one night. Don’t ask me how, because they never figured it out, and there was no forced entry.” 

 

“That’s why you moved into the nicer building, the one with the doorman.” It was as if she’d answered a question for him that he’d never thought to ask.

 

“Yeah.” She snuggled deeper into his embrace, trying to fold herself in before she started saying the words that would break their hearts. “He took me, and he held me hostage for four days.” She prayed that the flashbacks she knew were coming wouldn’t be able to penetrate the cocoon he had her wrapped in, and she swallowed hard before continuing. “I was tied up, assaulted, tortured, forced to swallow vodka and pills, forced to watch him rape and kill others, all while threatening to do the same to me.” She pushed the words out, and they tumbled out one right after the other. “I still have the burn scars from the cigarettes he put out on me, and when he b-branded me with-” She fought back the sob in her chest. She had a lot she needed to talk about tonight and she would never get through it all if she started crying now. “My keys, and - and a hanger. That was only the first time he had me.” Shuddering, she clutched the hem of his shirt and scrunched it in her hands.

 

“Son of a-” 

 

“I thought I was gonna die there, and all I wanted was you.” She couldn’t hold back the sob this time, as the flashback hit her full force.

 

You’re thinking about someone you’d give anything to see one last time. 

 

“I should’ve been there. God, Liv, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry .” The dam holding back her tears broke then, and he rocked her as sobs wracked through her body; he would give anything to go back in time and protect her like he should’ve. “Let it out. I’ve got you, I swear, I’ve got you. You’re safe now. I’m never gonna let anyone hurt you again.” His own tears fell and he didn’t bother to wipe them away, letting them fall unimpeded.

 

“He went to prison eventually and then-” She trailed off, unsure how much more she could handle talking about Lewis tonight; somehow, she’d already said much more than she thought she could. “He escaped, and came after me again. To make a long story short, he forced me to play Russian Roulette and pulled the trigger on himself, but made it look like I’d done it.” 

 

“Bastard’s lucky he’s already dead.” Elliot’s jaw was clenched hard. 

 

“I had to go to trial, but charges were dropped. The CO that took over saved my career.” 

 

“How the hell could they even put you through that again?” 

 

“I don’t know, but, El, I can’t-I need to be done talking about him tonight. Please.”  

 

“Shh, we don’t have to talk about him anymore, baby. I’m sorry.” He stroked her hair with a tender touch, and she melted into the feeling of his hands; she felt more protected than she had in over a decade. 

 

“I just-I feel like I’m hanging by a thread right now. Your mom was right. I’m not fine. I feel so pathetic saying this, but I came here because I needed to feel safe and-” Loved, her mind helpfully supplied. 

 

His heart broke in two distinct halves when she said those words. “I’m glad you did. You’re always safe here, always loved, always wanted .” His voice was like a warm blanket thawing parts of her she hadn’t realized were frozen, but she was afraid to believe those words. 

 

“You’ve always made me feel safe, Elliot, but the other stuff? You say you want me, but you don’t choose me. You say you love me, but you give me that letter.” She shook her head, closing her eyes to focus her mind on what she had to say next. “I’ve forgiven you for leaving. I’ve forgiven you even when I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to, but you can’t make those promises and then go kiss Angela Wheatley, or sleep with Flutura Briscu, or Dani Beck, or Rebecca Hendrix, or-” 

 

“Olivia-”

 

“It hurts, Elliot.” 

 

“I know. You have no idea how much I regret that. All of it.” 

 

“Did you promise them that too? That they were safe with you, loved, wanted-” 

 

“No. Never.” 

 

“I’ve felt safe with you since the day I met you, and I’ve never questioned that and I never will, but those other things? I’ve wanted to be enough for you for a long time, and to be loved by you, and when you say things like that now? I wonder if you actually mean them or if you’re referring to what you so eloquently called ‘the parallel universe’ in your letter.” 

 

“Liv-” 

 

“Let me get this out, ok? I need to yell at you a bit.” 

 

“I deserve that.” 

 

“You do. I get Rebecca, I mean, she was a rebound-” 

 

“I never slept with her. We never even went on a date. A little flirting, at most.” 

 

“Dani was while you and Kathy were still separated, so did you sleep with her?” 

 

“No.” He could see the relief flood her features. “I-I kissed her, though.” Even as he said it, he cringed. “It meant nothing. We were drunk.” 

 

“I see.” 

 

“Olivia, it meant nothing. I swear. You were in Oregon-” 

 

“I saw you with her when I came back, and you looked close. You were touching her the way we did our first year together.” 

 

“I missed you, and she was filling a void. She-she was easy-” 

 

“Easy to what? To love? Because I was too damaged-” 

 

“No! No, that’s-that came out wrong.” He sighed, and tried to gather his thoughts. “I didn’t love Dani, and I definitely didn’t care about her the way I-she wasn’t you, ok? I’ve loved you since the beginning, but I was so afraid of making the wrong move and scaring you off or ruining our friendship, our partnership. There wasn’t anything at risk with Dani. That’s all I meant by she was easy. I didn’t care if she stayed or not, but I was terrified of losing you. You’re not damaged-” 

 

“I am, though. More so than I realized, after this week.” 

 

“What-” 

 

Shit. “I’ll get to that. So you kissed Dani because there was nothing at risk?” 

 

“Yes.” 

 

“What if I wanted you to kiss me back then? What if I hoped every time we were on a stakeout, that you would’ve leaned over the console and kissed me? What if that night on your steps, the one when you teased me about the flower in my cup, what if I was hoping you’d invite me upstairs and make love to me? Would you have done that if you’d known how I felt?” 

 

He was stunned by her honesty but didn’t want to hesitate too long. “Would you have let me do any of that with you?” 

Would she? He had a good point, because he knew as well as anyone did how difficult accepting love from another person had always been for her.

 

“I don’t know.” 

 

“Would-” He cleared his throat. “Would you let me now?” 

 

“If I did, would you jet off to another continent, and leave me hanging in the wind again? Or find another criminal's wife to kiss for comparison’s sake?” 

 

“I deserve that too.” 

 

“Yeah. Angela Wheatley? Are you fucking kidding me, Elliot?” 

 

“It was stupid-” 

 

“It was incredibly stupid, and reckless, at that. Did you kiss her before or after you told me you loved me at the intervention?” 

 

He gulped, and prayed she didn’t slap him for what he was about to say. “After.” 

 

“See what I mean? You chose the woman who killed your wife over me!” 

 

“Not over you! I didn’t mean to kiss her. I didn’t know she was the one who killed Kathy, not yet-” 

 

“And that makes it better? She was still the ex-wife of your prime suspect!”

 

“I-” 

 

“Before you try telling me you desperately needed to talk to someone who understood what it was like to lose someone who means a lot to them, let me remind you of something. Ten years ago, I walked into the squadroom one day, and learned my partner of over twelve years had turned in his papers, and wasn’t coming back. I grieved for you. For us. I cried myself to sleep for months. Then, I tried to convince myself you weren’t worth any of my tears, but that didn’t work. I tried to hate you too, and that didn’t work either. And then, I was taken captive by the devil himself, and I let myself hold onto hope that my faithful knight with blue eyes, who promised to always protect me, would come and save me, but he didn’t. And you know why? Because my mother was right, Elliot. Fairytales are stupid. Only girls that deserve to be here find their Prince Charming.” She sniffled, fighting back more tears.

 

He grasped onto her tighter again. “I will never forgive myself for making you feel any of that.” He said, choking the words out between the waves of emotion. “I will spend the rest of my life making up for it. I swear to God, I’m never leaving you again, and if I’d known then, I would’ve done anything to protect you.” 

“I know you would have. I’m not telling you this because I want you to feel guilty. That’s not it, at all. I’m telling you this because I need you to realize you’ve still been hurting me since you came back even if it hasn’t been intentional.”

 

“I’m so sorry. I hate seeing you in pain.” 

 

“Why’d you pick Angela, of all people, though? Why did you go to a suspect’s wife, instead of the woman you say you love?” 

 

“Because I don’t deserve you, Olivia Benson. I’m not good enough for you, and you deserve so much better than me-” 

 

“Elliot, you’re a good man. No matter what anyone else says, and even though you’ve hurt me, I know deep down you’re a good man with honorable intentions, and I love you, you idiot.” 

 

“I-” 

 

“Do me a couple of favors, ok?” 

 

“Anything.” 

 

“One, don’t tell me you love me again, not until you’re sure I’m the last woman you will be saying that to. I want to be someone’s destination for once, and not a roadside attraction that’s a fun distraction for a few hours along the way.” 

 

“I’m sure. You could never be a pit stop for me, Olivia.” 

 

“You might want to wait until you hear what happened this week to make that promise.” 

 

“There is nothing you could tell me that would change my mind. What’s the second favor?” 

 

“I want to be your last first kiss, and I want you to be mine. I know that sounds cheesy as hell, but it’s true.” 

 

“You will be.” His honest smile made her melt.

 

“Third, come home from your undercover op in one piece, and then shave that dust bunny off your face.” He laughed out loud. “I don’t want to kiss your dryer lint.” 

 

“Noted, Captain.” 

 

“Ok, fourth, don’t ever give me a letter again. I don’t need to hear your reasons for giving it to me. I need you to communicate with me verbally instead of writing your thoughts down because, and I mean this with love, you’re terrible at it, and I’m not only referring to your grammar.” 

“I do.” He chuckled. “No more letters.” 

 

“Thank you. El, I don’t want to live in a parallel universe: I want to live in this universe. I want to figure out who we are to each other in this universe, because I promise you, it’s the only one we’ve got. I don’t want a charming prince or a chivalrous knight. I’m fifty-seven years old. I don’t want a fairytale. I want a partner I can grow old with, and I want my son to have a man in his life he can look up to. I want-” Her voice began to quaver, but she continued on resolutely. “I want my real soulmate, the one I’ve saved this city with. Not the man I thought was my soulmate at sixteen, nor any of the one night stands, not the US marshal, not the FBI agent, or the newspaper guy who wanted me to move in with him, or the ADA who picked the job over me. I don’t want the guy I lived with for two years, but still couldn’t see having a future with. I don’t want the former head of IAB who wanted me to retire. I want the stubborn son-of-a-bitch former partner of mine who told me to blink my lights and drank all my orange juice. I want the man I fell in love with twenty-three years ago but thought I could never have. I want you. ” 

 

He stroked her cheek tenderly. “I want you too.” 

 

“So come home and prove it.” 

 

“I will. I promise.” He leaned in but she stopped him. 

 

“I meant what I said about shaving before you kiss me, Stabler. I don’t want to kiss Eddie. Eddie took Elliot away from me, and made him doubt himself. I only want to kiss my Elliot.” 

 

“I only wanna kiss you.” 

 

For the first time since he returned, she was letting herself believe him. “If you come home for Christmas I’ve uh-” She trailed off and smirked, smoothing a hand down his chest, imagining what it would feel like to touch his bare skin. “I’ve got some holiday lingerie you might enjoy seeing.” 

 

He groaned, and turned away from her, trying to disguise the sparks of arousal shooting through him. “Damn it, Liv. Are you trying to kill me?” 

 

“I just thought I’d offer you some extra incentive. Did it work?” 

 

“Absolutely. I’m calling Bell in the morning and telling her to pull me out.” 

 

She laughed and continued to tease him. “They’re red and green, and there’s some lace, and a jingle bell right between-”

 

“Fuck.” 

 

“I’ll model them for you when you come home.” 

 

“Can I see them now?” 

 

“Nope. Finish this op and come back to me safely, and then you can see them all you want.” 

 

“Can’t wait.” He said with a grin, and she wrapped her arms around his neck, resting her head on his shoulder and relaxing again in the safety of his embrace. They sat like this for a few minutes in silence, before he remembered what she had told him earlier. 

 

I’m hanging by a thread.

 

Your mom was right. I’m not ok.

 

I came here because I needed to feel safe. 

 

“Liv?” There was no hiding the concern in his voice. “What happened this week? You said you came here tonight because you needed to feel safe.” He felt her tense in his arms. “Did someone hurt you?” He would kill them, because while he might not have been able to protect her eight years ago from that Lewis, he sure as hell could protect her now, from whoever wanted to hurt her.

 

She let out a sigh. “They did. Yeah.” She’d never admit out loud how much she wanted to let him slay her demons for her. “But I handled it. It’s nothing you need to worry about.” 

 

“Too late. I do worry because I love you. Please tell me what happened.” If someone had hurt her, he would make them regret it. 

 

She could see the fire building in his eyes, and she decided to give the flames a name. “Burton Lowe happened.” 

 

“Who’s that prick?” He stopped himself from asking which one of his bones he should break first. She needed Elliot Stabler right now, the man who fought for justice, not Eddie Ashes, whose only motive was revenge. When she didn’t respond, he softened his tone, as much as it broke his heart, to the voice he used when speaking to traumatized victims. “What did he do to you?” 

 

“Please, don’t use that voice on me. Talk to me like normal. Please.” He nodded mutely and only wrapped his arms around her tighter. “Do you remember the Schiller case? The travel writer?” 

 

“Vaguely? Like a hundred years ago.” She rolled her eyes. 

 

“We aren’t that old, Stabler. It was our second year as partners. I told you I dated an older man when I was sixteen, the one I thought was my soulmate.” 

 

“I remember.” Mainly, he remembered realizing that she was his soulmate and that he wanted to go back in time and strangle whoever it was that had exploited her innocence for their own twisted reasons.

 

“That was him. Burton Lowe. He was one of my mother’s students. When she found out we were dating, she threatened to have him kicked out of school, and made me write a letter to him breaking it off. You heard me when I said no more letters, right?” 

 

“Crystal clear, Captain.” 

 

“Good. Anyway, she threw a broken bottle at my head, and told me she’d never let anyone else have me.” 

 

“Jesus-” 

 

“Yeah, well, it turns out she was right about him. He’s a crime writer now and he wanted SVU’s help on a case. Nick Amaro, my partner after you, brought him back.” They both felt a sting at the reminder that Olivia had ever called anyone else her partner. “So, we investigated, and Burton and I talked and-” She shuddered, feeling a wave of nausea creep through her. “I slept with him.” 

 

“Ok.” 

 

She wasn’t sure how to take his reaction, or lack thereof, but she continued. “The next day, we were at the courthouse, when a woman came up to us and said he’d raped her when she worked for him.”

 

“Son of a bitch.”

 

“She was found to be credible, and so were the other eight women who accused him. Elliot he-” Her lip trembled. “They were all young women. So much like I was.” He knew where this was going and it shattered his heart. “He promised them all the same things he promised me. That he loved them, that he would take them away from their problems. He even gave them the same fucking song and-” She didn’t hold back the sob, because she didn’t have to hide, not here; she was at her refuge, where she felt the safest in the world. “It wasn’t violent. It didn’t feel like rape, El. It wasn’t like-like-” 

 

“It still wasn’t right. He took advantage of you when you had no one to protect you.” 

 

“You would’ve protected me.” 

 

Damn right, he would have, and if Burton knew what was good for him, he’d go back to the other side of the country, because if Elliot got his hands on him- 

 

“You would’ve gotten me away from him so he couldn’t hurt me, and you would’ve-you would’ve taken me away from my mother too. You would’ve kept me safe and loved me.” 

 

Her innocent plea, as much a scared teenager as it was a veteran NYPD captain, broke him. “I do love you, and I swear, I will never let anyone hurt you again.” 

 

“I know.” She curled into the safety of his embrace. “I went to his hotel to confront him. I mean, I knew he wouldn’t be charged with anything, because of the statute of limitations, but I needed him to acknowledge me, you know? I needed him to confess; what I really needed was an apology.” She sniffled and buried her face against him.

 

“What did he do?” He could feel her shaking, with her hesitation and anguish. “I’ve got you, Liv. You’re safe. You can tell me anything.” 

 

“Elliot, I’ve never been afraid of you when you were angry, I hope you know that. You’ve never scared me. I knew you’d never hurt me, or Kathy, or your kids.” 

 

“Good.” 

 

“I was scared of him.” She sobbed out of shame, heartbreak. “He was drunk when I went over there. He’d been drinking vodka, and I could s-smell it on his breath, and he was so angry, and he got really close to me when he was yelling, and he-he told me I should be helping him. I had my gun but I-part of me still didn’t want to believe-” 

 

“Of course, you didn’t.” 

 

“I didn’t want to see myself as a victim. You aren’t supposed to be afraid of your soulmate.”

 

“He wasn’t your soulmate; he’s a predator.” 

 

“I know that now, but it hurts, because-” 

 

“I know, baby. I’m so sorry.” 

 

She sniffled again. “He didn’t confess like I wanted him to. He told me I wasn’t a victim because I didn’t put up much of a fight. Much. Elliot, what does that even mean? D-does that mean I tried to get away and he-he-” She couldn’t say the words. “I don’t remember it like that though. I don’t remember it being bad. Did I block out-” She clenched her eyes shut and whimpered. 

 

“Shh, it’s over. It’s over. You’re safe now. You’re safe. I promise. He’s never going to touch you again.” He tried to soothe her as much as he could, stroking her hair and her back, trying to comfort her through his touch. 

 

“Do you remember when I went undercover at Sealview all those years ago?” 

 

“Yeah.” He knew something had happened in the basement there, but he didn’t know what, and he had stopped asking. 

 

“After Harris almost made me-” She shook her head. No . She couldn’t handle talking about three monsters tonight. Four, counting her mother.  “After that, I told Melinda he didn’t rape me, but that it was the closest I’d ever come. Lewis didn’t rape me either, and after I was rescued, I tried to hold on to the fact that even after everything else I’d gone through, I had at least been spared that fate.” 

 

Her voice was devastated, and it gutted him inside, and not for the first time, he wished he could go back in time and erase all her pain. 

 

“But I hadn’t. I hadn’t been spared at all. It’d already happened, but it took me forty years to realize the truth of it.” She ran her fingers through the hairs on his chin absentmindedly. “Now that I have, I feel dirty. I feel like a fraud.” She sobbed and burrowed her face further into his neck, trying to block out the pain. 

 

“You’re not a fraud. You’re not dirty. You’re a survivor.” 

 

“I’m a fraud because I’ve spoken to dozens of young women in the last twenty-three years who had been through what Burton did to me, but I didn’t see what was staring at me all along. I’m a fraud, because I let him get away with it. If I had realized what kind of person he was back then, if I’d reported him, he wouldn’t have been able to do it to those other women.” 

 

“Olivia, he is the only one to blame for this. You had no way of knowing. You were a child and he preyed on that. He manipulated you, so you wouldn’t see it. You did the only thing you could do. You survived, and I’m so proud of you.” 

 

“It feels like the last twenty-three years have been for nothing. I feel like I’ve failed all the victims we’ve met over the years, and as a partner to both you and Nick; I feel like I’ve failed my mother, and my squad, and Noah, and most of all, that I’ve failed myself in all this.”

 

He crooked his finger under her chin and tilted her face to look at him. “Listen to me, ok? You haven’t failed anyone. You’ve saved hundreds, if not thousands, of people over the years with your care and actions. None of it has been for nothing-” 

 

“I should’ve listened to my mother-” 

 

“Olivia, she almost killed you with a vodka bottle. She may have been right about Burton, but that doesn’t negate what she put you through either. She failed you, not the other way around.”

 

“I have heard more than once this year that I should think about retiring, and I’m starting to wonder-” 

 

“You should retire when you’re ready to. Not because some assholes are trying to push you out. You’re still making a difference, Benson; you’re still Wonder Woman.” 

 

She scoffed lightly. “I am not.”

 

“You are, and you know who sees you as a hero? This city. Me. Noah. Those are the people that matter.”

 

“You’re biased.” 

 

“I’m right. You’re strong, beautiful, selfless and-” 

 

“What if I’m tired of being strong sometimes? ‘Cause I don’t feel strong right now. This week I felt like I was sixteen again and hiding from liquor bottles being thrown at me.”

 

“Then, you come to me like you did tonight. You come here, where you feel safe, then you can talk to me and I’ll hold you and I’ll do whatever I can to help you feel better.” 

 

“Promise? I won’t survive you leaving again, El.” 

 

“I promise. I love you so much and I will spend the rest of my life proving it to you.” He kissed her tears. “You still want me to wait ‘till I shave to kiss you?” 

 

She laughed. The fifty-seven year old Captain in her wanted to tell him: yes, come home safe and then he could kiss her, as a reward for a job well-done.

 

The sixteen year-old-girl in her though? She wanted to feel loved, for real this time. She wanted to be kissed by someone who would protect her from the monsters in the world, and who would cherish her and make her feel beautiful and as though she deserved the world and everything in it. 

 

“No. I really don’t.” 

 

He grinned and kissed her slowly, deeply, passionately. Their tongues moved and slipped in sync, exploring each other’s mouths. She moaned contentedly and he wiped the stray tear that slipped down her cheek, as he cradled her head in his hand. His kisses and touches were soothing her, and his love was healing her. He truly was her refuge. 

 

“So, is the beard staying or going?” he asked, laughing as though it was a joke to him. 

 

“Oh, it’s going, but I won’t deny you a second one of those.” She kissed him again and laughed into his mouth, as his goatee tickled her chin. “You’re shaving before the third though.”

 

“Deal. You wanna stay the night?” At the look on her face, he clarified. “To sleep. Nothing more.” 

 

“You don’t have to go back under?” 

 

“Not until morning. I wanna hold onto you for a little longer, if that’s ok.” 

 

“I’d like that.” He kissed the crown of her head, and wrapped his arm around her shoulders as they walked back inside. “I’m gonna talk to my mom for a minute. You go on ahead. There should be some sweats on the bed you can sleep in.” 

 

She inhaled his scent when she got under the covers, and she felt more at peace in the security of his bed than she had in a long time. She didn’t want to sleep, though, until his arms were back around her; a small part of her was afraid if she fell asleep too soon, she’d wake up and this would have all been a delirious, fantastic dream.

 

She heard his voice outside the room, as he talked to his mother in a hushed tone. The softness and evenness of his voice caused her to drift into the waters of slumber despite her valiant attempts to stay awake. Even though she hadn’t exactly planned it like this, she knew being with Elliot was precisely where she needed to be tonight. 

 

X

 

“Kathy told me she told you. I’m so sorry, Elliot. That poor girl,” his mother whispered, casting the occasional glance toward the bedroom door. 

 

“She never did, mama. If she had, I would’ve been on the first plane home, you know that.” 

 

“I know you would have, son. I know, and Olivia knows too. Now, go on to bed. She shouldn’t have to sleep alone tonight.”

 

“She won’t.” She never would again, not if he could help it. 

 

His last thought before he went to sleep was that he needed to come home as soon as he possibly could, and that he wasn’t taking any more undercover assignments that would take him away from her. He wrapped a protective arm around her waist and tugged her against him; he made a silent vow to do everything in his power to protect her from any further pain, and to make sure he never gave her any reasons to doubt his love for her ever again. 

 

“I love you, Olivia.” He hoped she could hear him in her sleep. It was ok if she wasn’t ready to say it back yet, because he knew.

 

He knew, since as much as he was her refuge, she was his refuge as well.