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corporeal ghosts

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corporeal ghosts

There’s something to be said about the types of people who see the massive amounts of depravity day in and day out but can go home at night and hug their loved ones close, taking comfort in the fact that they are capable of compartmentalizing the two halves of their lives.

It was strange, that she once could talk about serial killers and then go on dates, telling jokes and laughing merrily.

It wasn’t easy, training herself to shut it off when she got home after her precious boy came into her life. It made her think of her former partner, about how he was the ghost that haunted the dark corners of her mind.

To be perfectly honest, she was surprised that he occupied an even larger room than all the trauma she’d experienced. Dr. Lindstrom seemed to think this was because he signified everything that she looked for in life; stability, honor, family, unconditional love. When he had spoken the last one, she wanted to laugh. Closing her dark eyes, she traced her finger over the envelope. In it, contained the important documents she finally felt like she should share.

The things that she’d been holding closer to her vest the last eight years since her son had come into her life. Taking a deep breath in, she stared down at the packet of paperwork in front of her. It just so happened that on days like today, she began to question why she ever thought she could do this whole damn thing alone.

In the grand scheme of things, she was a killer. So was her former partner, despite the fact that she had refuted that he could ever murder anyone what felt like a million times. Licking her bottom lip, she reached for the wine glass on the table in front of her, swirling the liquid around before bringing it to her lips.

She and Elliot not only haunted one another for the ten years they were separated, but they sunk even further into one another’s bones. They both found themselves finding one another on the breeze, in a laugh, or a beautiful sight that they had seen. It hadn’t mattered the distance between them, whether a city block or a damn ocean, they had only grown closer together during their decade break.

There’s a comfort in their old silences, and she’s found that it hasn’t dissipated at all.

God, she was so tired of running from this.

She remembered sitting in the bar, the phone to her ear, the dial tone piercing her heart with every ring. Every time the voicemail answered she remembered thinking that eventually it would tell her that the inbox was full and she would lose that last bit of connection to the man who had changed her heart gradually over the thirteen years of their partnership. He never came when she called him, not after that fateful day. Not like he had during their thirteen years as partners.

Their bond had been so strong that the department psychologists had all agreed that even though they had a degree of mutual reliance, and an emotional dependence that compromised their effectiveness as police officers, - they couldn’t be separated or else they would’ve been somehow less.

When he walked away, after the smoke had cleared from the 16th Precinct, after the blood had been mopped up, - she struggled to connect with people. She struggled to connect to her new partner. She kept waking up in the middle of the night, falling to the floor – feeling like her heart had been ripped out and left bleeding next to her lifeless mound of flesh. She’d tried to move on. Operative word being tried. It was hell, moving on.

Brian had called her out on it.

Point. Fucking. Blank.  

As she had stood there in the middle of the sidewalk that night outside of the bar, he spewed some hopeless romantic babbling bullshit to her saying they had a lot of fun (she would be remiss to admit that he was completely correct with that statement alone…they did have a lot of fun, before Lewis). That they had a lot of mutual love and respect for one another. (True, otherwise she wouldn’t have been too concerned when he had gotten shot while working undercover and she wouldn’t have kissed him – telling him she was different than she had been back when they had first slept together her second year in the unit).

Then, Brian had said to her that she was the love of his life.

What the hell, Brian Cassidy? Are you drunk? Go see a therapist.

Brian should see a therapist. For more reasons than the fact he seemed to think it was okay to tell her these things years after they’d gone their separate directions.

Staring at her glass of wine, she spins the stem slowly between her thumb and index finger. The dark red liquid barely moving in the bowl of the glass. Her eyes widen as she plays the five words over in the back of her mind.

The love of his life.

This is where Brian had gone for the kill.

She was never going to bare her soul to him. He called her out on this. A strangled laugh escapes as she shakes her head.

Could she honestly say that about anyone? Could she bare her soul to any one person?

She’d always prided herself on being fiercely independent. Reliant upon no one. This was partially because her mother had programmed her to believe that “The men always leave, Olivia.” Serena Benson had been a lot of things in her life, but her astute observation about the characters of most men was probably the most on-point thing she had ever imparted to her bastard child.

The lump that sticks in Olivia’s throat as she mulls over those two words is enough to drive a sane person crazy.

Bastard child.

God, she was such a mess. Rubbing the back of her neck with the hand that wasn’t playing with the wine glass, she took another deep breath, putting the glass to her lips and taking a generous swig of the cabernet sauvignon within it.

It was ironic, that lately everything from her past seemed to be floating through her hallways, surrounding her in the darkness, seeping into her very bones. The chill was unbearable.

It felt like the darkest night of winter had taken up residence inside of her soul. Every person who had vaporized into thin air had suddenly just manifested into corporeal form over the last few months. If you love something let it go…but why the hell did they all have to come back at the same damn time? When she was comfortable with her life. With her small family she’d built for herself.

Maybe she’d manifested all her ghosts herself.

The knock on the door brought her out of the darkness in the back of her mind. Standing, she made her way to the entrance of her comfortable safe space and opened the door, allowing him to come in.

Closing the door, she rested her head against her hand for a minute. The one person she could wholly bare her soul to was the one person she’d never been able to call her own. The one person that everyone had been a shade of. Even though he’d never been hers, she had already given her heart and soul to this insufferable pain in the ass. Without ever acknowledging it out loud. Because, god forbid if she had mentioned this out loud to the universe – and yet…Brian had seen it. Ed had known deep down that it was never going to be him and her. It was always going to be them.

Fuck you and your damn parallel universes, Elliot Stabler. It’s always us. You’ve always had me. I just haven’t always had you.

They’d been through hell in the short time that he’d been back. Already she’d had to go before IAB twice. It was, in her mind, them making up for lost time.

Luckily, IAB had a bit of a respect for her now, even if it was just a little.

She’d learned to shut up and listen to what people were saying. Ever since he’d been back though, she found herself finding the sass that had gradually faded into the background of her personality. She was always quick-witted, but with Elliot back, she felt it was time to bring that back forward – she’d need it to deal with him.

He always had problems saying things at the right time – even when they were younger. He’d get passionate about something and the word vomit would happen, and he’d have to go through multiple psych evals. He’d make a comment to her without thinking about it first and then apologize profusely by bringing her favorite Strawberry Breakfast Danish from the bakery across town that she loved for a week.

It seemed some things never changed.  He’d had problems with keeping those three words to himself. I love you. When the hell did he get the balls to say those three words to her? Had he practiced it in the mirror daily while he had been gone for ten years?

Every time his eyes had met hers lately, he could see this flame behind, flickering to life, growing. It was curious, because he knew her temper. He’d known her temper. He was waiting on it to flicker to a full blown wildfire when she would look at him after he’d said something stupid. Watching her move about her space, he took note of the way she was dressed. Dark gray leggings and an oversized navy sweater with bare feet. Her hair back in a messy ponytail, tendrils from her bangs falling in front of her face, which was free from makeup allowing him to see her freckles a little more clearly.

“You good?” He asked, breaking the silence between them, and she eyed him suspiciously, as though he just knew she was turning things over in her mind to the point of an endless spiral straight to the rock bottom.

Scratching her brow with her thumb, she took a deep breath, falling back into the chair at the dining room table. “Have a seat, Elliot.” She was avoiding his question of whether she was good because he knew she wasn’t. She deflected. It’s what they always did.

“You asked me to come over, Olivia. We haven’t really talked – sober – since I got back.”

“I know.” She nodded quietly, thinking about the afternoon she’d just had – about the conversation with a corporeal form of the ADA who she thought she wanted to squabble with when she was 87. “Elliot, I have to level with you – this isn’t easy. I, I got used to feeling the weight of your ghost for ten years.”

“I’ve said it a million times, Olivia – “

“And it’s losing meaning, so don’t. I can’t. I can’t hear it again, Elliot. I don’t want to hear it.” She shakes her head, her voice that scratchy, low tone that he’s noticed is her voice now. What happened to her that made her voice change so much in ten years. It carried within it a tiredness that he couldn’t quite pin-point.

“Alright.” He nods, sitting in the chair next to her, his eyes falling onto the envelope in front of her. “So, what’s up?”

“I called you because I was talking to an old friend this afternoon and he informed me that he’s going to be representing Richard Wheatley. Elliot, he’s going to get off.” She nods, because she knows what a great attorney Rafael is. She knows he can poke holes in things, that he knows the anatomy of the law so well that when he wants to win, he knows how to excise the facts with a precision she’s never witnessed. He goes in with the skill of a plastic surgeon. And he wins. The Cuban equivalent of Alex Cabot in her younger years before she realized the justice system didn’t work for everyone.

“I thought you said you trusted Carisi.”

“I do, but Rafael…he’s – brutal.” She shakes her head, fingertips lightly brushing the manila envelope. “That’s not why you’re here though.”

“So, why am I here, Olivia?”

“I wanted to let you know that as a single mother, I’ve built a family for myself, Elliot. I can’t keep doing all the same reckless shit I used to. You’re back, and I keep finding things out that are…quite frankly, troubling.” She traces the lip of her glass now with her finger, avoiding his eyes.

He bites down on the inside of his cheek, trying to get a read on this woman that he once knew he could read like a book. Knew her like the bedtime story he used to read to the twins. Knew her better than he ever knew himself. All the parts of her that she wanted to forget, he knew, and he had held them close to his chest. Beneath the vests they would have to wear. Felt like he’d lost a limb when he walked away.

“But I also wanted to let you know that even though you were gone, and I had no idea where the hell you were – that when I became a mother…” she swallows, looking up finally, meeting his blue eyes.

She was suddenly stuck. How does she approach this? How does she explain what she has wanted to tell him for eight years? How does she finally voice the decision she made eight years ago that no one knew. No one but herself, Trevor, and Judge Linden. She looks away, closing her eyes tightly, pushing the words she has been holding inside for eight years to the surface.

“You have to stop doing stupid shit, Elliot. If something happens to me, Noah goes to you.” She rushes out. Finally looking up, her vision blurry. He feels it. His heart stopping in that moment. His lips part, as he reaches forward, without hesitation putting his hand beneath her chin. Thumb tracing her bottom lip.

“What?” He asks, elbow resting on the table, turning and eying her wine glass and the bottle next to it. “Olivia?”

“When you adopt a child, as a single parent, they ask you to choose a custodian.” She begins, eyes still locked onto Elliot’s. “This person, is the one who will take care of your child if something happens to you, if you…if you die.”

He feels the hair on his arms stand up, the goosebumps rising to the surface. The floor has fallen out from under him, and the entire universe has come crashing down on top of him. “Why?”

“Because the honest to God answer, Elliot, is that when Trevor asked me to pick the custodian in my adoption, even though you’d been gone for three years at that point, there wasn’t a question of the person who I knew would take my son and love him, provide for him, be there for him…even if they hadn’t been there for me. I knew, someone would be able to find you if…if the worse comes to worst.”

He’s blinking now, his eyes watering, trying to comprehend what she’s saying. “What does…what does that mean?”

“It means…” she began, staring at him in the face, “I need you to not play with any more fire. Not to be so fucking irresponsible. I need you to be the man I knew ten years ago. I need you to be Elliot Stabler.” She takes a drink of her wine, “It means that I want you to go to therapy so that you’re on solid ground so I can introduce the two of you…just in case. It means that I’m sick of this chase, that I’m depending on you to pull the fucking plug if I do get critically injured. I’m depending on you to make those decisions because you are my family. You’ve always been my family. You weren’t there, and yet, you were always my family. You were always Noah’s family, even though you never met.”

She slides the paperwork across toward him, watching as his places his hand on the top of the envelope. “This is all the information you need. A copy of my will, a copy of Noah’s paperwork, a copy of – everything.” She closes her eyes.

“Liv, why are you doing this?”

“Because I want you to see why it’s thrown me. I should’ve selected someone, anyone else to be Noah’s custodian…but I didn’t. I should’ve selected someone that’s been around the entire time, someone that’s familiar with everything…but the truth is that you know everything about me, my past, my family. I trust no one more than I trusted you. Even when you gave me every reason not to.”

“No, I mean, why are you bringing this up?”

She bites down on the inside of her cheek, running her hand over her face, leaning back in the chair and observing the man in front of her. “Because you’ve told me a million times since you’ve gotten back how you felt, and when you gave me that stupid letter, I read the words.”

“I didn’t write the letter, Liv, I told you – “

“I know. Which is why I’m trying to explain this to you.” She swallows, crossing her arms. “What we were was never real. We got in the way of each other being who and where we were supposed to be.” She bites her bottom lip, “Obviously, I know it’s not true. But now you know why I distanced myself from you. Because that.” She pointed to the manila envelope. “Is the most real feeling I’ve ever had. I wouldn’t have done that if I didn’t think any of it wasn’t real.”

He studies her silently. He used to know this woman. She was a stranger to him after ten years and 4,517 miles. Then again, some things just weren’t capable of changing after ten years and 4,517 miles.

This was the sound of being forgiven. They sat there, in companionable silence, tired of the chase. Tired of the push and pull. Facing their ghosts.

But, the simple truth was that they’d face them together, mend the broken bridges, and look forward to a brighter tomorrow.

It was always them.