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The Forgotten

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April 2022

The burn was pleasurable.

Not pleasant in a dark-twisty way, but nice in the sense that it was a reminder; a reminder that despite the sharp shards of pain that coursed throughout her body, the ringing noise in her left ear, and the shrill pitch of red sirens in the other, she was alive.

Burning but alive.

“Liv… Olivia, can you hear me?” A dull male voice whispered into her good ear.

“We were in a car accident, but you’re gonna be okay.” The voice sounded unsure and juvenile, like he didn’t quite know what he was talking about, but knew it was simply the thing to say, regardless of whether it was true or not. She didn’t want to open her eyes in fear of what, or who might stare her back in the face.

“Dad is on his way to the hospital now. Everything is gunna be okay.” The kid repeated, his grip on her hand oddly soothing.

Dad.

Who was dad?

“Hey kid, it might be best you move out of the way so we can attend to your mother. How about you shift to the front of the ambulance?” Another voice spoke, more aggressive than the first, hardened by age and too much time on the job. She could relate.  

“She’s not...” the kid stuttered, and then she felt his fingers tighten with her own instead of loosening, against advice.

“My.. my dad said I shouldn’t leave her side. I’m not moving. We can share her.”

We can share her.  

She felt herself smile groggily, or grimace really, she wasn’t quite sure. One thing that she was certain of though; whoever this kid was, whoever he belonged to; he wasn’t Noah and he didn’t belong to her.

Noah Benson was a great kid, gentle and warm, bright, and bubbly, humble and kind, he was the type who always had his towers knocked down by other small children. Instead of crafting a grudge, he would always see the softer, brighter side of things. The type to pick up and start again, often with never mind, we can always build a new one, or that was a good hit, or do you wanna help me make something stronger?

That was her little boy, a tiny mirage of herself in bolder shoes, he possessed the key to sturdier foundations than the one she grew up with, and that was enough to convince her every day, that she was a better mother than Serena. And just like Serena, the only room Noah Benson wasn’t good in was the one that required sharing his mother. Noah shared his toys and his infectious smile and sometimes, if others were lucky, his loving heart, but like so many lone wolfs in siblingless habitat, he was possessive over the one thing that everyone wanted more of, his mother.

She tried, struggled really, to open her eyes up in that moment and to see for herself who the kid belonged to, and how much damage she had done to either of them, but everything was a total blur. Tiny dots of light danced before her eyes. Amidst the haze of a wild vision, she could see cords and drip lines rocking above her head. That’s when it hit her; the light.

It was so bright and so painful, it was like looking into the sun, which might’ve explained why she felt like she was burning from the inside out. The light grew uglier with every violent second that passed by. In a daze, she had to force her eyelids closed again, this time with a loud groan. The pain in her head hurt only on one side, and it was unbearably excruciating, as if someone had run her head over with a truck and made sure she live just shy of experiencing the aftermath. The pain was like no other, it hindered any ability for her to figure out where she was, who she was, and how they had gotten here. That’s when she felt something tugging at her left hand, and realized it was the boy with noticeably soft hands, the boy with a fixed voice she couldn’t quite place, who rode with her in the ambulance, who wouldn’t let go even when he was told to.

“Liv, stay awake. You gotta stay awake.”

And that’s when she felt it; everything dimmed into complete nothingness.  

***

The next time she wakes, there’s a dozen different voices drowning Olivia into oblivion, all in a state of rapid panic.

“Pulse is too high.”

“Stabilise the neck.”

“Is she allergic to anything?”

“Captain Benson, blink if you can hear me.”

“She’s unresponsive.”

“Olivia…”

“Sir you can’t be in here.”

“Too much blood.”

“We’re losing her.”

“Liv baby I’m here.”

“Too much blood.”

“For the last time detective, you cannot be in here.”

“Oh, fuck off.”

“Let em do their jobs El, come on.” It was Fin, she could recognize that man’s voice anywhere, she was sure of it. But the name he said, she didn’t recognize that at all, or its relevance to her life today, not unless she really was dead, and heaven had granted her a quick pitstop in hell.

El.

God, she hadn’t heard that name in years.

She missed it, missed him, almost as much as she missed the absence of physical agony coursing through her veins. She just wanted sleep. Peace.

“Liv, baby, please don’t leave me.” Elliot cried, his voice rough and loud, just like his heart, a bull lunging charge at the red cape spread before him.

She just wanted it all to end.

Jesus Christ, she thought, eyes closed with fists burning in pain, Elliot was here and she was in hell. 

***

Its November 2019 and Simon has failed her once more. Noah is tired and groggy, and her brother is left with a voicemail she later regrets.

Its January 2020 and Ed Tucker just killed himself.

Its March 2020 and the world is ending.

These are the last shards of pain from which she remembers, fondly.

The rest of it is fucking glorious because nothing, absolutely nothing can compare to the terrorist going rogue inside of her head. The pain so vivid and so loud, not even Lewis could outrank him.

Lewis had a funny way of sneaking up on her when time ceased to make him important anymore, Lindstrom described it as PTSD, but she described it as fucking nonsense. She thought about Noah in that moment, because he was the strongest memory she had close to home, and he was the blood that pumped in her veins, and the reason she couldn’t couldn’t lose anymore of it.

Her baby boy.

If it weren’t for the pain, she would think herself a terrible mother.

She hadn’t thought about him for however long she’d been here, in hell. The pain is tenfold now, because it mummifies her heart and squeezes whatever life still lives there. Who was going to take care of her son now that she couldn’t? Who was going to give him the news? Who was going to hold him in grief and lull him to sleep? Who was going to make sure that he made it to eighteen and beyond? Nobody, because she married nobody, saw nobody, and wanted nobody except for him.

Just then, she heard his voice again, it was soft and soothing with a velvety hum. “Liv, if you can hear me. Squeeze my hand.”

She wanted to be here, wherever it was the two of them were, she wanted it like she’s never wanted anything before, and she really tried to squeeze his hand tight, like he asked her to, like he begged her to, but in her comatose state, with nothing but numbness feeding into her bones, she couldn’t even lift her eyelids, let alone her fingers.

“Just squeeze my hand baby, please.”

Baby. Who the fuck was he calling baby? Certainly not her. At the very least, she deserved an explanation before granting a pet name she didn’t even like.

“It’s okay.” Elliot’s voice whispered, resigned, his calloused hands sheltered the cuts in her own.

“The doctor said you made it through surgery like a champ. I knew you would. You’re gonna survive this.”

“Wake up, Olivia. Please.”

“I can’t live without you.”

“Come back to me.”

Silence soon followed, for how long she would never know, but she could only feel now, and god did she feel everything. Not just the pain, that was endless, but the weight of Elliot caressing her skin, the delicate sensation of his lips meeting her knuckles for the eleventh time over and over again, and lastly the saddening imprint of his tears rolling onto fresh wounds like sweet elixir. He was trying to save her.

God help him.

Just like that she felt herself falling again, this time with a gentle lullaby tricking her into sleep. Everything was peaceful here, including Elliot’s reassuring voice.

Maybe, she thought, drifting and floating on holy water, this was heaven, and she and Elliot were sent there to stay. Finally.

***

When she wakes for the third time, she opens her eyes.

There’s a blur of unrecognizable colors and shapes, all shifting into sharper focus as she waited it out, patiently. She couldn’t even see the bedside table to reach for her reading glasses. It had only been two weeks since her first visit to the optometrist, but he was right after-all, she realized, her eyesight was terrible.

The dream, the memory, or the nothingness responsible for projecting Elliot Stabler into her mind had vanished like a reflection on water. Instead, sharp fragments of thought began to pierce through her mind, like she was waking from a long, deep sleep on a late Sunday afternoon. 

She wasn’t home; the metallic tang of antiseptic that flooded her nostrils was a sure sign of this. And lastly, her blankets at home weren’t as heavy as the one sprawled on top of her. 

Something full and snoring rested lazily across her stomach, one heavy arm draped around both her thighs like a shield.

Vision clearing, she tilted her head down to confront the intrusion, only to find the back of a bald head staring her straight in the face. Her arm rested painlessly underneath his chest as he splayed himself comfortably over half of her body, a shield disguised in a henley shirt, thick muscles bulging underneath, a man kept vigil at the bedside of his ailing lover.

Sleeping, this stranger was half sleeping on top of her, with his left ear pressed against the navel point of her flat belly, listening for life or perhaps, praying for one. The simple idea, none of which could be true, made her want to weep.

The second hazard she noticed was the drip line tucked into her open hand, and the various cords that followed suit. She was in hospital. She was, undeniably, alive.

The man with the bald head didn’t move, and she hadn’t enough energy to muster the strength to disturb him, or to stay awake, so instead she did what she was good at in this home they called theirs, in this hold that she felt suspiciously safe in, she closed her eyes and allowed herself to drift to sleep. 

The water that laps underneath is gentle and warm, and the stranger floats with her, never weighing them down, he is the life raft and she the survivor.

It’s another two days before she wakes again, this time ashore. The stranger man has gone back out to sea, and she misses him already. Everything is lighter here but somehow incomplete without him. It’s the strangest sensation, the feeling of meeting a twin flame without ever knowing his face. She never had that kind of intimacy with another man, not like Elliot, and unlike so many before, and like only one, he managed to leave a marking.

When she opens her eyes, her vision is less blurry than the first time. It takes a second or two to comprehend the lanky teenage boy with long black hair at her bedside. He has long legs propped up against the bedside corner, a laptop in hand, and he’s been a loyal guard dog. Perhaps, she thought, not the most cognisant one for it has been minutes, and he still hasn’t noticed her awake.

Clearing her throat, she felt another sharp twinge of pain, this time in the back of her tongue, like she had swallowed sand and gone without water for days. 

The noise that rippled was enough to garner the kid’s attention. He practically leapt off his tail when he recognised her.

“Liv? You’re awake. Holy shit you’re awake.”

Unsure of what to do, the kid stood up from his seat and dashed off to the door, then back to the bed, then the door again. He yelled out for the nurse, and she felt a little stupid for just laying there, speechless and wasted, she hadn’t the fondest clue of what to do, or who he belonged to.

Surveying the area, she quickly realized where she was, and that there were fingerprints staring at her from all over the hospital room. A soccer ball on the corner side table, a black backpack hung on the back of a chair, kid’s crayons and coloring papers stacked on the table, a man’s oversized jacket on the corner stool, a sofa with a blanket and pillow to cradle the sleepless, and a sea of flowers in every inch of their space. The room was drowning in them, she felt like a fucking florist.

“Liv. Hey.. can you hear me?” The kid was standing a safe distance apart, but there was something overwhelmingly intimate in the way his shaky palms crossed her hand, like he had done this before, like he belonged there.  

“Can you hear me?” he repeated.

She nodded.

She could’ve lost her hearing, with the head trauma, which the kid must have been told already, because he started flashing his hands in front of her face, asking a multitude of questions, until she made an effort to nod, and that was enough to convince both that neither knew what they were doing.

The kid sat on the edge of his seat, phone stealing most of his attention.

“Dad is gunna be so happy now that you’re awake.”

She wanted to smile for him, and his father, whoever the father was, but there was nagging hole in the back of her skull that told her, maybe, just maybe, he was in the wrong room. Maybe, there was another woman out there just waiting for her boys to return home, where they really belonged.  

She doesn’t want things that don’t belong to her. Not anymore. 

“Excuse me?” Olivia croaked.

The kid snapped his head up, barely able to contain his glee, he inched closer. “You ok Liv?”

She blinked once, twice.

“Who are you?”

The relief on the boy’s face slowly faded. He was, she thought, utterly heartbroken.