Olivia’s mind was reeling.
I need to tell you who I’m considering defending.
As long as it’s not Richard Wheatley, I’m good.
The fact that one of her best friends could defend a man who had almost killed her and who was responsible for the murder of her former partner’s wife was unfathomable to her. The only explanation she could think of was that Wheatley had threatened and blackmailed Barba. At first, she thought he didn’t know what Wheatley had done to her and was defending him because he didn’t trust Elliot, knowing he’d left her and the raw emotions she’d felt afterward. She hoped he’d change his mind after she told him she’d been targeted. Surely, he wouldn’t willingly defend someone who’d hurt her, regardless of his feelings about Elliot.
The look she saw on Barba’s face when he entered her office the next day was not the one she’d hoped to see.
“Rafa, please, tell me you’re not-”
“Hear me out.”
“You’re defending him?”
Barba sighed, and she could tell he was conflicted, caught between his emotions and his judgement; he didn’t want to hurt her, but he had a job to do, and she hated it for him. “You know I wouldn’t be, if there wasn’t reasonable doubt.”
“Reasonable doubt!? Are you saying I lied to you?”
“I’m saying that this case is messy. I have reservations about Detective Stabler’s motives, Angela Wheatley’s potential involvement, and-” He hesitated before continuing.
“And what ?”
“Your ability to be objective when it comes to the Stabler family.”
“Detective Stabler was your partner. You two were pretty close back in the day.”
“What the hell does that have to do with anything?”
“You would’ve taken a bullet for each other-”
“Still would.” She spat adamantly. He’d never ask her to, but she’d never ask him to, either. That’s what good partners did.
“Exactly my point. Olivia, he spent more time with you than he did with his deceased wife. Look me in the eye, and tell me you weren’t in love with him.”
“Did he love you back?”
“I don’t appreciate being interrogated in my office, especially by a man who used to have my back.” She felt trapped, confined; she wanted to break out, but she knew that if she ran, it would only serve to confirm every one of his worst reservations.
“I still have your back, but I don’t have Elliot’s.”
“Elliot Stabler is a good man, Rafa.”
“Is that why he left you brokenhearted and ghosted you for a decade?”
“How is that any of your business?”
“Because if there is reason to believe that Elliot is not as faithful to his family or his partner as he claims to be, that creates doubt about his motives for putting Richard Wheatley behind bars, especially when there is reason to believe he and Angela Wheatley may have been in a relationship of some kind.”
She fixed a menacing glare on him, and hoped she could keep her composure until this conversation was over. “He may have kissed her, but he promised me nothing else happened. He promised me it didn’t mean anything, and I believe him.”
“Let’s just hope a jury trusts him as much as you do.”
She shook her head in disbelief. How could she be hearing this right now? “Barba, Richard Wheatley almost killed me. Regardless of how you feel about Elliot, that has to mean something, doesn’t it?”
“We can’t prove that he was the one who had you run off the road, Liv. I’m sorry.”
“Can’t pro-what’s happened to you? Would you have defended William Lewis if the evidence of what he did to me had been less solid?”
“Of course not, but-”
“You claim there’s reasonable doubt because of my loyalty to Elliot. Ok, so, did you have reasonable doubt when Lewis claimed he let himself into my apartment since there was no forced entry? Did you have reasonable doubt when he claimed what he did to me was consensual and that I was obsessed with him because I’m married to the job!?”
“Did you have reasonable doubt when-”
“I never once doubted that he was guilty, but you want to know the one thing that did give me a bit of doubt in your story? When you lied under oath about beating him while he was handcuffed and not telling me about the housekeeper and her daughter. I’m sorry. I know that’s hard to hear, but I worked overtime to win that case for you even when you’d damaged your credibility, because William Lewis deserved to rot in prison. If I thought Richard Wheatley deserved the same fate, I wouldn’t be defending him either, but I’m not sure he does.”
“Wow, you-you need to leave. Now.”
“I did what I had to do to survive. William Lewis was a monster-”
“He was, yes. Richard Wheatley might not be.”
“I don’t care if you doubt my credibility or Elliot’s, but don’t you dare come in to my office and blame me for making a trial hard on you because I’m in love with my former partner, and don’t you dare suggest that injuring William Lewis, the man who kidnapped, tortured, and almost raped and killed me harmed my credibility.”
“Who’s William Lewis?” Their fight was suddenly interrupted when they heard Elliot’s voice in the doorway.
“No one, El.” She shot a death glare at Barba.
“Am I interrupting something? I can come back.”
“No. Barba was just leaving.”
“Liv-” Barba tried to interject.
“Get out of my precinct. Now!” She said in a low growl, turning away from Barba. Right now, she could barely stand to look at him, knowing what he thought of the case, and by extension, her and Elliot.
“You heard her.” Elliot went from confused to protective in an instant, seeing her reaction. “I don’t know who you are, and I don’t care. My partner asked you to leave, so I’d listen, if I were you.”
“Oh, now you’re protecting her?”
Elliot chuckled darkly. “I’m protecting you from her. You’re lucky she hasn’t pulled her gun on you yet. Get out.”
“You’ll care who I am in a few days, Stabler. You better hope ADA Carisi has done his homework.”
“You heard me.” He shot him a glare before leaving. Elliot turned to Olivia, trying to read her expression.
“Close the door, Elliot.” Her voice was empty, devoid of all emotion.
His concern continued to multiply, especially seeing the vacant look on her face. “What did I walk into?”
“I’ll answer all your questions, but I need you to close the door.” She waited until he had done so, before she continued. “That was Wheatley’s defense attorney. Rafael Barba.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Why was Richard Wheatley’s attorney in your office?”
She sighed. “Because he used to be SVU’s ADA and he’s one of my best friends. He was in here trying to explain why he chose to defend Wheatley. He thinks there is reasonable doubt because of how close you and I are, he’s suspicious of your motives, and he doesn’t trust me to be objective or credible.”
She scoffed. “Oh, he had a couple of reasons for that. One was that I’m apparently blinded by my love for you, and the other was that I’ve hurt my credibility in past cases, particularly the one where I was a-” She trailed off, hoping he’d understand.
“A victim.” She pushed the two small words out with a broken whisper.
Elliot’s face paled and he sat down, worried that his knees would buckle beneath him if he didn’t. “Someone hurt you?” He’d been praying that he’d misheard her earlier, that she’d been testifying on behalf of a victim and left out something they’d told her, and that was what Barba claimed had hurt her credibility. But this? Hearing that someone had victimized the love of his life shattered him. “When? Who ?” His voice cracked.
“May 2013, for four days.” She swallowed hard and looked away from him, fearing that if she looked into his eyes, she would break, and she couldn’t allow herself to break. Not now. “And again in March 2014.”
Twice? She’d been hurt by someone twice and no one had bothered to tell him? She’d been terrorized more than once without him to protect her, and he felt the bile rising in his stomach. “William Lewis?” He supplied the unfamiliar name he’d heard her mention earlier. He’d had it engraved in his memory, so he could look him up at Rikers and make him pay for whatever he’d done to Olivia.
He could tell a storm was brewing in her mind, and he quickly hurried to think of something, anything , to say, in order to interrupt her inner demons. “May 2013 was my walkabout in Australia and March 2014 I was undercover in Spain.”
“It was all over the news. Your kids didn’t hear about it?”
“If they did, they never told me. Liv, I swear to God if I had known I would’ve been here, on the first flight home. I don’t care if I would have ruined my undercover job by doing so. I would have come back for you, and found you, and protected you.”
“I know.” She reached across her desk and squeezed his hand. “I know you would have and that’s what got me through those dark days. That’s what helped me survive. Your voice was in my head telling me to keep fighting, telling me it would all be over soon, that help would come, and it did . I wanted you to be there so badly, but I don’t blame you. I blame Lewis. That’s it.”
He brought her hand up to his lips and kissed it, beyond thankful she was sitting across from him, still breathing.
She could have died, and he wouldn’t have known until it was far too late.
He tried not to think about it. He tried to block out the intrusive thoughts in his mind telling him he could have come back to New York and learned that the love of his life had been murdered. This could easily have been a one-way conversation between him and her grave, instead of sitting in her office. He swallowed the lump lodged in his throat.
“Where is he?” He spoke through gritted teeth, looking at the beautiful woman in front of him and tried not to picture her broken, bruised, and terrified. He was going to fucking slaughter William Lewis with his bare hands.
“Did he suffer?” If not, Elliot wasn’t above stomping on his grave. At least the miserable bastard was dead and couldn’t harm anyone else.
“He shot himself in front of me, and tried to make it look like I killed him.”
“Son of a-”
“The charges were dropped, but I almost lost my shield.”
“I-” He tried to think of something to say to comfort her, as the waves of guilt pounded away at his conscience.. “I’m so sorry. I should’ve been there. I’m so sorry, Liv.”
“Just-” He kissed her hand again and sniffled; he didn’t deserve her comfort right now. “I know you said you don’t blame me, but I-I could have prevented it. I would have prevented it.” He stroked her knuckles with his thumb.
Her brain struggled to process the simple intimacy of the gesture. “You know, for a while I was angry, and I-” she trailed off, not wanting to add anything more to his guilt.
“You can tell me anything.” His voice was gentle, supportive, and made it impossibly hard to keep her tears at bay.
She’d missed him so damn much .
“I would lie awake after a nightmare and think-” She sniffled, letting the first tear fall. “Elliot could have prevented this. Elliot wouldn’t have let this happen to me, but the truth is? Knowing what kind of monster Lewis was, we don't know for sure that you could have protected me. If you had taken me home that night and walked me into my apartment, he could have killed you on the spot, and I-I wouldn’t have been able to survive that.” She wiped her eyes, scattering the moisture from her tears on her hand.
He still should have been there for her in the aftermath, to help her pick up the pieces; he didn’t want to upset her further, never again, he knew his actions had inflicted enough harm. But he was here now, and he wanted nothing more than to hold her, take away the pain he could, and show her all the love she deserved to know.
“I would have taken a bullet for you, without hesitation. Still would. No one's ever gonna hurt you again.”
“El, you’ve got kids. You can’t-”
“And you’ve got a son, so let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, for either of us. But, I want you to know that, if it does-”
“Can we please talk about something other than you dying?” Her voice broke when she interrupted him. “I can’t-I don’t want to think about it. I can’t lose you again, Elliot; you can’t leave me again. I won’t survive it. I’m serious.”
“I don’t want to lose you either, Liv. I promise, I will never leave you again. I was a damn coward for leaving in the first place. Leaving you broke me, and ten years without you broke me even further. I love you, Olivia Benson. I’ll spend the rest of my life proving how much.”
“You better.” She sniffled, offering him a watery smile. “You wouldn’t get very far anyway, ‘cause I’d have Jet track your phone.” At the sound of his laugh, her smile became slightly wider. “Can you hold me for a minute? Please?” Her pride, for whatever it was worth, could be forgotten for now; no one else was around and she wanted to be safely held in his arms, and she didn’t care how vulnerable that made her sound.
“I can do that.” They both stood up, and she sank into his embrace when he opened his arms for her. She inhaled his scent and reveled in the sense of safety he surrounded her with.
“So, Captain Benson likes to cuddle?” His gentle teasing tone attempted to lighten the mood, and she receded against him. Maybe it was working.
“If you tell anyone that, I promise , I will shoot your balls off. You know I wouldn’t miss, either. I’m still a better shot than you.”
He chuckled lightly and kissed the crown of her head. “Noted.” They stood in silence for a few minutes, as he stroked her hair and swayed as if they were dancing. He didn’t want to ruin the mood, but there was something eating away at him inside. “Liv, can-can I ask?”
“You get two questions, and then I’m done talking about him.”
“Did he-did he r-”
“No!” She responded forcefully, as if his words had hit her with physical force, before she eased back slightly. “No. He didn’t get that far with me. I promise.”
He breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank God.”
“Elliot, you need to know, in case we-I have scars, and if we do anything about this thing between us, you’re gonna see them, and-”
“Olivia, there is absolutely nothing that was done to you that would change how beautiful you are, how strong you are. All I care about is that you’re breathing. You don’t have to show me anything, not until you’re ready, but when you do, I promise it won’t change anything about how I feel about you. I love you, scars and all.”
She held him tighter, letting the warmth of his words wash over her and realizing how sincere he was with them. “I just-I wouldn’t blame you if they turned you off, or if they were hard to look at. I was with Cassidy at the time, and he-”
“I’m not Cassidy, and if he was turned off by that, then he’s a prick who didn’t deserve you.”
“I’ve loved you for almost a quarter of a century, Liv. A decade apart on different continents didn’t stop that, and whatever scars you have now won’t either. You know what they mean to me? That you survived. That I’m the luckiest son of a bitch in the world, that I didn’t lose my chance to love you the way you deserve to be loved.”
“You don’t have to say it back. It’s ok. I want you to know, and I’ll tell you as often as you need to hear it.” She nodded against his chest, accepting what he said. “Another thing? I don’t care what Barba said to you or what he’ll bring up at trial. You are credible. You were then and you are now. What happened to you was horrible, and none of it was your fault. And if you ask me, he’s a bastard for making you doubt any of that.”
“I don’t think he was blaming me, necessarily, he was just-I mean, there were things I probably should have said or done to make the case more solid-”
“Stop.” He shook his head and tightened his arms around her, as if his arms alone could protect her from the outside world. “Like you told him, you did what you had to do in order to survive. He had no right to question your judgment about any of it. No one does, ok? I don’t care who they think they are, or what their motive is. He can defend his scum client without dragging my girl down in the process.”
“Your girl, huh?”
“Damn right, Benson. Anyone who messes with you can deal with me.”
She smiled against the solid bulk of his chest. Even though his protectiveness could be a little much sometimes, he made her feel safe in a way no one else ever had. “In case I haven’t told you, I missed you and I’m really glad you’re home.”
“I missed you too, and I should have come home sooner.”
“You’re home now. That’s all that matters to me. Whatever happens next, we’ll take it one step at a time.”
Ideally, she would have liked to say the trial happened without a hitch: open and shut, and Wheatley was put away for life like he deserved to be. That she could look Barba in the eyes once it was over, that their friendship hadn’t been severed, that she knew he had been doing his job, and none of it was personal
In a perfect world, or to steal a line from Elliot, in a parallel universe, maybe she could’ve said all that.
But this wasn’t a parallel universe, and nothing in her life had ever gone without a hitch.
Wheatley was found guilty, but he’d managed to finagle a deal that would allow him a chance at parole in ten years. Sure, he’d be put away, for now, but in ten years he could join his family again, as if nothing had happened. Kathy Stabler would never get that chance, and her name and story had been forgotten in the whole hubbub of the trial.
This wasn’t justice.
Then again, the only real justice would be Kathy still being alive, and that was an impossible standard to reach.
Her heart ached for the Stabler kids in their grief, and she hugged each of them tightly as they walked out of the courtroom. Elliot had already gone out in the hall, likely pacing a hole in the parquet, and she wanted to see him before they left; she wanted to make sure he was ok to drive home, and that he didn’t need her for anything.
She took one last glance at the courtroom after Wheatley was escorted out in handcuffs, his sneer prominent as he looked at her. Carisi was still in his seat with his head buried in his hands. Amanda was next to him, rubbing his back; no doubt she was telling him he’d done everything he could, and that she was proud of him.
Maybe she was promising him some soup when they got home, to try to cheer him up. She’d told Olivia he’d given her his mom’s soup recipe and wanted to try making it for him some time. Olivia had smiled knowingly and immediately started working on their disclosure paperwork when she went back into her office. About time .
If only something as simple as a bowl of soup could be remotely enough to soothe the Stabler family’s woes. Not that Olivia could cook, very well, anyway. She’d have to ask the blonde to give her some pointers some time. She’d ask Elliot, but apparently, according to Bernie, anyway, the man couldn’t even boil water to make her a cup of tea. The thought made her chuckle, a much needed moment of lightheartedness after the kind of day she’d had.
The moment was short-lived, when her gaze locked with Barba. She couldn’t bring herself to speak to him right now, even though she knew he was remorseful of how things went down. He’d tried to be gentle with her on the stand, but still, even though she knew he’d been doing his job; she wasn’t sure how to forgive him for bringing up Lewis. When that line of questioning started, she stared at the door, instead of at him, while she answered. And when the anxiety got to be too much, she found Elliot’s eyes in the crowd, and felt anchored. He mouthed that he was here; she’d found herself imagining it was eight years ago, during that trial, and swallowed a bitter lump in her throat remembering how much she’d longed for him then.
She shook her head and walked out of the courtroom without so much as another glance. Right now, all she wanted to do was go home, shower, and open a bottle of her favorite pinot noir, and try to forget.
She saw Elliot jogging towards her, calling out her name. “I thought you left with the kids?” It wasn’t that she didn’t want to see him, but she was mentally exhausted, and not really in the mood for small talk.
He shook his head. “I wanted to walk you out.”
Her demeanor softened. He wasn’t going to push her to talk about anything; he was feeling protective, like he tended to: he wanted to have his partner’s back. “El, I’m ok.” She said, forcing a smile. “Lewis is dead. Wheatley is in custody. Nothing’s gonna happen.”
He sighed. “I know, but can I walk you out like old times? Just in case? Humor an old man?” She laughed, allowing him to wrap his arm around her shoulders and pulling her close. She leaned into him and inhaled his scent; she couldn’t deny how nice it was to feel as safe and warm as he made her feel.
They turned at the sound of Barba’s voice in the corridor. “I have nothing to say to you, Rafa. We can talk later, but not now.” Her words came out clipped, short, as if she didn’t want to put any more energy into saying them than she absolutely had to.
“I want you to know that I’m sorry for what happened in there.”
“Sorry for using the most traumatic thing that ever happened to me to win your case? Sorry for defending the man who almost had me killed? Or sorry for doubting my credibility in the first place?”
“All of the above. Look, it wasn’t that I doubted you-”
“You were doing your job.” She echoed his words from before, and rolled her eyes. “I’m getting real tired of people telling me that.”
“Counselor, all due respect,” Elliot interrupted. “I get that you don’t like me. Hell, I don’t even like myself some days, but you obviously mean a lot to Olivia. Whatever you feel about me shouldn’t get in the way of that. You threw an incredible woman under the bus today, regardless of your reasons for doing so. I know you want to make things right and that you didn’t want to hurt her. I never did either, but you’ve gotta give her time like I had to, ok? It’s not gonna be tonight. Right now, it’s late and she said she doesn’t want to talk right now. She’s tired. Let her rest.” He tucked his arm around her more, as Barba nodded, taking in the other man’s words.
“Are you walking her out?”
“Yeah. I’ve got her.” The words were meant to reassure both Barba and Olivia: Barba, so he knew someone was taking care of her in that moment, and Olivia, so she knew he wasn’t going anywhere.
“Alright. Have a good night, you two.”
Elliot kept his arm around her protectively, as they walked out to the car in a comfortable silence, each of them enjoying the comfort being close to their partner was providing.
“Thanks, El.” She turned to look at him when they got to her car, offering him a gentle smile of gratitude, her voice soft, as if talking would have taken too much energy.
All the words he wanted to say seemed to be caught in his throat as he looked at her, really looked at her. She was so goddamn beautiful, even by the sickly fluorescent lighting, and he was glad that after everything he’d done, she still wanted to be anywhere near him. He cleared his throat, but the only thing he could manage to say was a simple, “drive safe.”
“Liv, I-” He trailed off.
He took a deep breath and moved the hand resting on her shoulder up to cup her face, letting his touch do the talking where his words failed. When she didn’t pull away, his other hand reached around to cradle the back of her neck, holding her tenderly against him. His touch was soft, warm, reverential.
“What is it, El?” Her voice quivered with anticipation.
Kiss me already, you dumbass.
“I-” He shook his head, frustrated at himself, and before she could say anything further, his lips met hers, for a slow, deliberate, yet passionate, kiss. She moaned, as she sank into it, and the delicate sound made his blood rush south. He attempted to control himself, not wanting to push her into anything, not yet. There’d be time enough, later.
Their tongues gently slid over one another, and neither of them wanted to pull back. She closed her eyes and smiled against his lips when they eventually did drift apart, savoring their shared tender moment that much longer.
She finally looked at him again, and the look in his eyes and his grin when she did made her heart flutter with furious beats. “Night.” She kissed him, again, this time, quicker but just as passionate; it was a promise that this wasn’t only for tonight.
“Olivia, I love you.” He blurted out, when she opened her car door.
“You don’t have to say it back. I-I wanted you to know.”
She nodded mutely. Her mind was still reeling from the way he’d kissed her, and she couldn’t quite form words yet. Not the words she wanted to say, anyway.
“Text me when you get home safe.”
“I will. Promise”
He observed as she got into her car. Even though he knew Wheatley was safely in custody, he couldn’t help the basic instinct he had to watch her back, until she was out of his sight. A sudden thought occurred to him as she shut the door, and he ran up to her window.
She had to laugh, watching how flustered he was; this big, strong man, who could intimidate people half his size with a single glare, was nothing more than a lovestruck teenager when it came to her. She couldn’t blame him, though, because the butterflies in her own stomach spoke to that being true for her, as well.
“You and Noah should come over for Christmas dinner.”
“Oh, El, I don’t-I think it would be better for you to spend Christmas with your family.”
“You are my family, Liv.”
She sighed. There was nothing she wanted more than to spend the holidays with the Stablers, but she was nervous too, because she didn’t want his kids to think she was replacing their mom. That would never be the intention. “I’ll think about it, ok?”
“I promise. Are you gonna let me drive away now?”
He chuckled nervously. “Oh, yeah. Sorry.”
She smiled fondly at him as she started her car and began to drive away, and he wondered if it was humanly possible to have fallen even more in love with his former partner, now that he’d finally had a taste of her.
His phone buzzed when he got in the door, and he grinned when he saw her name on his screen. The feeling of her lips on his still delightfully lingered.
Made it home safe. Love you too. I’ll talk to Noah about Christmas.
For the first time since the trial started, he finally felt something other than dread.
Hope, at last.