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The Forgotten

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2 days later.

“Elliot, I am worried about you.”

“I’m fine.”

“Our first session this year was after Olivia’s car accident.”

“Yeah?”

“You said that you were afraid.”

“I was terrified.” He corrected her, “My son was in the car, she was trapped inside a coma, and both our squads were out to murder the drunk who did it. My sergeant who – who’s not even an aggressive person, she ripped him to shreds.”

“And what did you do?”

“Just stood there.”

“Did you want him to die?”

“I didn’t really care, at that point.”

“Because you thought she was going to die.”

He doesn’t answer.

“During that first session, you shared with me something very personal. Do you remember what that was?”

His ears feel hot, unable to shake the insecurity of somebody other than Olivia knowing shit about him he doesn’t.

“May I share with you my notes from that session?”

Elliot gives her a pointed look. She pulls out her notebook, his thigh bounces as she flips through his life story, reciting lines like they were weather reports.

“I’ve realized two things about myself: Kathy’s death ignited justice and revenge, but I’ve never been able to tolerate the idea of Liv, dead.” Louise recounts.

There’s a water cooler in the corner of her office, it’s what he chooses to focus on in the dread of the moment. The faces of his children visiting an additional tombstone or two visit his mind, not for the first time. They deserve better than a father who preferred earth’s soil rather than the absence of Olivia Benson.

“I don’t want to be here if she’s no longer walking this world. What does that say about me?” Louise recites at last, before placing the notebook down. He wonders if he had any idea as to what he was saying when he said it, and how it could be that he would lose all thread the moment Olivia opened her eyes.

The accident and the coma were moments caught between emptiness and adrenaline. He didn’t sleep for days, and when he did her body was his only preferred pillow, and when he spoke to anyone possessing authority the words came out in a blasphemy of yelling, for he hadn’t really learned the art of anything else. Whenever he made himself think about the doctor pulling her plug, and the floor underneath with it, he’d experience bouts of emptiness; of walking out onto a stray platform and meeting her in another atlas, of finding her in a safer outline and cradling her face in his hands and whispering I love you, you’re alive, I love you and never leave me again. But even so, he thought, how was it that he’d forgotten ever having spoken them aloud, to his shrink of all people?

Louise is staring quietly from a far, looking for a way out of this, he imagines.

“Look doc, if you’re worried that I might do something... There’s not, I’m not. I was vulnerable. But I’m okay now.”  

“I am not worried about that, Elliot.” She circles his invisible scars carefully, for which he is thankful for.  

“Are you?” she adds. 

He thinks of where his mind has been as of late and shakes his head. The arsenal he’s assembled around his sickened heart resulted in nothing more than a crazed desire to live, even if it meant carrying added armour. She’s left him, she’s possibly fucking somebody else and good for her, he thinks. Good. For. Her.

“Alright.” The shrink sighs. “However, I’d like to know what you think you meant when you said – what does it say about you?”

“I loved my wife.” He tries to say; his knee bouncing again. “She gave me five children. A home. A comfort.”

“But?” Louise cocks her head.

It’s been a year now; he can hide no longer. “Everything was different with Oliv.. it was like she drew breath and I exhaled it. We think the same, we have our own language. Sometimes, we can even read each other’s minds. That’s our partnership. I don’t have that with anyone else.”

Louise scribbles on her notepad.

“I’ve come to notice that we’re halfway through our session, and you’ve been struggling to say her name aloud. What do you think that’s about?”

He had been trying to keep the image of Olivia wrapped around another man at bay, but it had been 2 days since the night she’d practically lit fire to their bed, and he refused to see or hear or even speak her name. Had no idea what exactly she had done with Peter Stone in the end; if it was just a quick fuck with an old buddy of hers, or perhaps she had sought him out upon learning that he wasn’t in her life anymore, and he came back running all the way from Europe, in the hope that she’d take him back, and they could sail off into the sunset together. He was getting carried away, Elliot, he knew this too, but raw rage and suspicion enveloped him entirely, nesting in his brain like diseased things and infecting his memories of the woman he loved and wanted and idolised.

“Elliot?” she calls, “Where did you go, just then?”

His fists unclenched themselves, “It’s uh – it’s been difficult for both of us since she got outta hospital. Like I said before, she doesn’t remember getting together, or Kathy dying, or any of the shit I put her through, afterward.”

“Are you angry at Olivia for forgetting?”

“Of course not.”

“For ending your relationship, then?”

“I’m trying to honour her wishes.”

Her eyes narrow intensely, she doesn’t believe him.

“I think – I think she wants to see other people.”

There are a dozen different ways for a shrink to react but remaining stoically still isn’t one of them, for him anyway. Louise blinks, like she’s staring at a wall, does she not see him either?

“What makes you think that?”

I’ve never been yours and I never will be.

“I don’t. I just – you had to be there.” In his mind Peter Stone is all doe eyed while she stammers to hide the secrets behind their swollen lips. In his mind she has her mouth wrapped around another’s man’s throat while he takes her up against the wall.

Elliot slams his eyes closed, his fists hidden.

“Elliot, do you remember the first time you talked about Olivia?”

When did he not?

“You described her as terrifying.”

He stifles a grim laugh.

“This was months before the accident. When I asked for more, you said that she – quote – possessed all that was good in this world. She’s been there for you and your family; despite whatever pain you think you caused her. And you were afraid of burning her with your touch.”

“If you met her, you’d be afraid too.”

Louise blinks, unscathed. Elliot almost feels the primal need to drag Olivia inside and show her up like a winning lottery ticket; Look at her! he would roar. Tell me who wouldn’t go batshit fucking crazy!

He feels positively insane.

“I think,” Louise starts, interrupting his thoughts. “Rather than Olivia going up in flames, subconsciously you were afraid of Olivia burning you.”

In his mind she is standing over him with gasoline and fire; counting down the seconds until the decision to accept failure triumphs defeat.

“She’s seems like a good person.” Louise acknowledges, for no reason but to bring him back to the room.

“The best.” He croaks.

 “But maybe just like you, just like all of us Elliot, she’s flawed. Perhaps that’s something for you both to talk about.”

He frowns. “Our flaws?”

For a moment, it sounds implausible. They don’t exactly have another 40 years on their hands and amid the mixed messages he’s been receiving, and the pressing concern of her current state of health, he wonders if she should even care.

“Not your flaws. I believe you when you describe her as near perfect.” She smiles, coyly. “But I want you to discuss your relationship. Your impulses. Why you believe you do the things you do.”

“I’m not telling her about the suicide thoughts or whatever..” He shakes his head like she’d just filled it with dirt.

“Never. It was momentary and pixelated. She feels shity enough for not being the person she was months ago. I won’t do that to her.”

“And I won’t ask you to. I only ask that you remain honest with yourself.”

He grunts a quiet “hmm.”

“And that you don’t use sex to alleviate the tension in your relationship.”

The floor shakes underneath them, the tap of his foot a familial comfort. “Do you understand why that might be important, Elliot?”

I think the space will do us some good, don’t you?

“I don’t think that’ll be a problem. She can barely look at me, let alone…” He claws at his throat. “s’ not a problem.”

“And if it becomes a problem?”

The shrink is asking if he has any self-restraint, and he wants to bellow a great laugh, for when has he ever been able to deny Olivia Benson of anything, much less with her clothes torn off? He shakes his head free of the visual.

“What you have to understand with the type of head trauma that Olivia has; time isn’t the same for her. It’s non-linear.”

“What does that even mean?” he snaps.

“Among many things, you cannot revert to old habits which failed to serve you. In those four weeks you were physically intimate, sex was a form of escapism for you both. You said that it was easier than talking. Perhaps this is a chance at a new beginning.”

He could disagree with that one; he liked the beginning fashioned before the end came hurling towards them with his son in the car, but the shrink is his only ticket out of here, so he nods. “No sex whatsoever. Got it.”

Louise sighs.

“Let’s begin with the pros and cons, shall we? In trusting the process, hopefully we can move on from this conversation.”

Elliot rubs his brow, unwilling to mask the disappointment of this very moment. “Copy that doc.”

***

It’s half ten on a school night and she’s not answering her door. He waits, then calls her phone and his head spins at the familiar hum of her voicemail.

She’s not home.

She’s with Peter Stone.

She’s probably asleep, you fool.  

Still, it’s not like her to be in bed this early, given the circumstances. And he’d be a coward if he claimed that he wasn’t relishing the extra space manifested these last two days, or the calls and messages that he’d heedlessly ignored in the act of protecting his already unsafe heart. 

He’s on his way out and typing a message when the doors to the elevator ding open, and he hears his name in the candescent tune of her child’s voice.

“Elliot!” Noah cries happily. His head swivels between him and his mother. Noah has a messy ice cream cone in hand, white vanilla sundae tickling his nose. Olivia’s mouth parts open. He can’t tell whether it’s the disbelief at his presence, or the sheer exhaustion in her face, but it overwhelms him, and not in a good way.

“Hey?” she sings, surprised. Her voice is raspy, and her hair is tied up in a messy ponytail. She’s wearing jeans again and he wonders if she knows that she has his hoodie underneath her coat.

He peers down at Noah. “Hey buddy. Late night treat?”

Noah looks physically drained, happy of course, but drained, nonetheless. “Mom and I went on an adventure.”

“Oh?” He can feel Olivia staring at him.

“We went for a walk along central park and then stopped at the all-night Gelato for dessert.”

He loses colour in his vision; the red-hot panic of Olivia and her child adventuring around New York in the dead of midnight makes his skin crawl.

“I had two rookies walk with us the entire time. It was fine.” Olivia assures.

“They asked mom questions about her career.” Noah explains, ice-cream dripping down his arm. Elliot falls into step, wiping away the mess with a clean handkerchief.  

“Did you tell them you wanna be a detective, one day bud?”

“Yea. But they kept giving me weird looks.”

“Did they?” Olivia seems surprised.

“Yea. You too, mom.”

Elliot throws her a look, unable to cloak his disappointment for a second time that week. “I can’t imagine why.” He mumbles.

“Come in.” Olivia announces, not looking at him. The door unlocks, she tells Noah to clean up for bed while Elliot slips out of his shoes. When he turns, the state of it knocks the wind out of him.

The place is turned upside down. The entryway littered in shoes and heels and some of Noah’s old toys. The living room floor swallowing empty boxes and stacks of old case files and bubble wrap. Half her closet lay parcelled onto the sofa, and he feels a distinct sense of panic cripple his bones.

“Liv, what the? –”

“Hmm?” she untangles her coat, lets it pool onto the floor and makes her way to the kitchen. He plucks the coat off the ground, watching her tiptoe around the house.

“Wanna drink?” she hails, her voice distant.

“No.”

Don’t ask. Don’t ask.

“Olivia what the hell is going on?” his fingers dangle old newspaper articles off the floor. “Are you moving? Or did an apocalypse strike?”

“I’m trying to reorganize my life.” She waves her hand dismissively.

Not moving then.

“It looks like you’re trying to flip it upside down, to me.”

From where he stands, he can see the vein popping in the side of her neck, and the half empty water bottle shake in her hand, and he remembers this feeling more acutely than he remembers her lipstick on another man’s collar; the overwhelming need to pick her up and shake her until she realizes how un-Olivia she is becoming. It’s her mother’s death and its Oregon, its Simon in jail, and Cragen at the end of his rope, its two days ago and two weeks before that.

“Are you okay?” he tries to mask his concern with a look of false pride.

Eyes slammed shut, she doesn’t move, “Yea just... migraines. I take it you’re finally here to talk?”

“Are you taking the pain meds?”

“Because if you are, let me tell you, you’ve picked a great time for it.”

“Don’t start.”

“I called you and tried to explain, but you wouldn’t answer.” She threw daggers in his direction. Even the whites in her eyes were jaded.

“I wasn’t ready. Olivia, my fists were burning. What’d you expect?”

“I never slept with him, El.” This conversation is disturbing, he thinks.  

“Lets not do this..” he spun around to ensure Noah wasn’t within earshot. Returning to find her staring at him, again, not quite like the other times where the nature of his presence seemed to physically repulse her, but like she was seeing him clearly for the first time.

“How about you put Noah to sleep first, and then we talk?”

“If you keep being a better parent than I am I will lose my shit. You understand?” she huffed.

“I didn’t know it was a competition.”

“Do you at least believe me, about Stone?”

From where he stood, he saw so clearly the green vein screaming loudly in the middle of her forehead. Enough to re-anchor him back to a reality worth living in.

“I believe that you believe you.” He flexed his fingers. “From one to ten, how bad are the migraines Liv?”

“God, you sound like a shrink.”

Ten, he thinks. Definitely a ten.

“Yea well, months of therapy will do that to a person.”

Rummaging through the kitchen cabinet, she’s relocated the basket of medical supplies to a new home. What was it with her and change? He thought. A new brain. New outlook. New routine. Potential new lover. What the fuck else?

“You’re seeing a therapist?” Liv echoes out loud, voice empty of breath.

“Com’n, pain meds Liv. Where are they?”

“I don’t remember you being in therapy. I wish you’d told me that.”

“What difference does it make?”

“It’s a big fucking difference, Elliot.”

He sighs out loud, his body searching mindlessly for memories that aren’t tainted and destined to be nothing more than forgotten ruins, lost in the sands of time. There’s 12 years belonging to stolen glances and untrammelled connection and a gold badge. And then there’s sandcastles crafted by two pair of delirious, juvenile hands, two best friends playing in the pit together, only to be demolished by one foul slash of the other’s mighty sword. She still demos the scars when they fight. Used to fight.

“I’m not taking them.” She looks down, “I won’t do opioids, not with my genetic history. Most of em make me sick up anyway. Advil is enough.”

Of course, she can’t trust herself to duck below addiction unlike her mother, or her brother, or maybe even the father. 

“But you have them on you, yea?”

She nods, still watching him.

Noah hasn’t reappeared, and his side of the apartment is unusually quiet. Elliot saunters down the passage, unsurprised when he hears Liv’s quiet footsteps from behind. They find Noah teetered just on the edge of his bed; body flung over like a blanketed throw, and asleep like the dead, he’s all washed up in his dirty day clothes.

Elliot carries him into the sheets like many times before, and barely notices the intensity of Liv’s gaze from a far, too enticed by the exhaustion written on her child’s face. Elliot isn’t exactly father of the century, but he knows chaos when he sees it.  

“He’s exhausted, Liv.”

He hears her sigh. “We had a big day.”

“Yeah?”

“We’re having a Noah and mom week. He’s off school, I’m off work, and it’s been a party.”

Shifting to steal another picture; she’s exhausted to the bones but still the same Liv he’s known all along; the same woman he made love to just shy of two months ago, who carried him out of hospital one night in March, who took his son’s hand when they were drowning and showed face on a cosy night in December.

“Are you okay?” he worried.

“I don’t know.”

“Are you sleeping?”

She goes completely still, and it occurs to him then that his concern might be unexpected. But her face brightens as quickly as it closes off, and he’s left wondering what he did, this time. Did he worry too hard? Worry too less? She’s splitting him in half.

“I’d just like to get this fight out of the way.” She breathes, then walks away again, leaving him alone this time.

*

The teaspoon stirred in the mug and the clattering noise seemed to echo the full apartment. She made her tea slow, he noticed, and she hid her face with tilted waves of her hair to one side. She was avoiding eye contact, and they’d barely said another two words to one another, and he felt it like the glare of a bare lightbulb that was too intense to think about, she was hiding things from him.

“You said nothing happened, but that wasn’t exactly true. You’ve never lied to me before.” 

She stiffens, turns very slowly. “Anything outside of taking clothes off and making love is nothing to me Elliot. Never used to be, but now it is. I have little control over head or my body anymore, so I need to define for myself the vocabulary behind what it does with others.”

Not hiding from him then, he thought. Perhaps hiding from herself.

“I didn’t see it that way.”

She smiled fondly and far away. “Why would you? I don’t expect you to agree or understand. I’m just sorry I hurt you. Trust me, that wasn’t my intention.”

He nods, grateful for the change in tune. He thinks of her vocabulary again. Everything is quiet when he loses complete control over his mouth.

“Did he go down on you?”

Something happens to her face, and she slams her cup down. “JESUS Elliot!”

“Yep. That’s normally what you say when I do.”  

Both hands cover her scarlet face. “Oh my god.”

“Him too.” 

“That’s enough!” she shrieks.

“Nope, not that one.”

Olivia’s fists clench and she storms out of the room. He only laughs when she’s out of sight.

A moment later she returns with her face washed cold, holding a pen and paper. “Ok. Let’s establish some ground rules. We don’t talk about s-e-x until I’m ready and..”

“S-e-x? what are we, in preschool?”

“And you respect my boundaries, or you find the door. Got it?”

His shrink would love her. “Got it.”

She starts scribbling. “What are you doing?” he says.

“Writing the names of all the men I’ve slept with in the last ten years.”

Elliot repels from the table; running. 

“What – cat got your tongue now, baby?” she glares, then smirks. He stumbles at her cockiness, the use of a forgotten slip. He hardly recognizes her, sometimes.

Twenty seconds turn into thirty. Another minute passes by. He’s repulsed and blames it entirely on the sick smoke rising from her pen.

“Are you writing a fucking novel Olivia?” he barks.

She giggles quietly, tucking silks of hair behind her ear. “Just about done… Oh no wait..”

He starts to pace the floor.

“Does it count if… I mean, I guess it doesn’t.” She shrugs.

His blood runs so hot that if there were a faucet, he’d drain himself just to rid the fever rage. He doesn’t like this side of himself, he really doesn’t. He also detests the fact that she seems to remember her body count and not one season with him.

“All done. These are the ones I remember, as you can imagine, there’s been a lot.” She winks.

“You’re enjoying this aren’t you?” Elliot inhales deeply, flipping the paper over and… he’s had darker nightmares, if he’s being honest.

David

Brian

Hank

Ed

2020 blank

Elliot = also blank

Olivia pushes a mug of tea in his direction. “If you notice, Peter’s name is absent.”

“I can read just fine, thank you.”

She pauses, then says. “We kissed. Made out, however you wanna call it, but it became too much; I knew it was wrong. My head was screaming to stop. So, I did.”

“But you wanted… more with him?”

She swallowed, watching him from behind a deep dark sea he couldn’t quite reach. “Yea. I did.”

He thinks of Angela and Flutura and bites his tongue. He thinks of the breakup and remembers, vividly - I’m not yours and I never will be.

“Look, if you wanna move on someday, I get it, but I’d appreciate a warning y’know. Consider it a public service or somethin.” Elliot squares his shoulders.

Olivia looks away, and then raises her thumb to massage the space between her eyebrows. His gaze lands on the pain-meds which play between them now, and the idea of Liv searching for the unopened box only after his barrage of questions isn’t lost on him either. They both stare, as though it might jump out and bite.

“How about half?” he pokes gently.

She’s still reading the packet when she winces, slamming one palm against her ear like an invisible bug has just attacked it.

Jesus. “How painful is this, Liv?”

“Sometimes it’s so bad I wanna pull my eyeballs out.”

His knuckles crunch, making a loud noise. “You still seeing that brain doctor?”

“Once a week.” Nodded Olivia. “She runs the scans and I spend most of the appointment underneath a white machine. It dampens when I’m around people I love, like Noah, but I can’t rely on him to be my pain relief; that’s sick. So, I’m tryna work on it. Walking helps. Work when Fin lets me in. I’m just tryna stay busy, y’know.”

“Please,” he clears his throat. “Even if you just try half a pill. I’ll hold them for you. I’ll do anything. I can’t bear to see you like this.”

Her breath parts, eyes widen, that memory maiming brain already losing some semblance of control.

Olivia sighs, it feels final. “Okay.”

He takes the small win, busies himself at the counter, feels her eyes on his heavy back the entire time. Elliot crushes half a pill into shards of silt, its remnants sliding into a glass of water that turns a murky cream colour when he stirs. It’s hot cocoa with his adult-kids. It’s Olivia pouring her attention into Eli and their laughter filling his lungs. It’s his gaze following her whenever she runs from his living room to answer a phone call. It’s crushing a white pill for Olivia Benson and wishing things weren’t so terrifying.

“This should digest better into your system.”

The glass lands into her hands, her eyes fathomless as she stares up at him. She hesitates too long.

“Do you trust me?” he shakes a little, towering over her. She has so much power over him.

Olivia doesn’t even blink. “With my life.”

And then chugs back the water.  

***

A great blur of photo albums lay blanketed on the coffee table like pockets of memories, waiting for someone to jump into. The apartment is completely dark, save for the colours forwarded by a random sci-fic film Arrival. Despite his protests about one of them getting to bed, Olivia in her modestly drugged out state insisted that he catch the tail end of it. So now Amy Adam’s is talking to aliens, the child is dying, power is cruel, and the movie is depressing as hell, another saviour trope.

“Liv, I’m falling asleep here.” He complains.

“Shhh! I like this movie.” From where she lay curled up on the sofa, her eyes narrow until the television screen is just a green oblong inside her irises, yawning light at the edges. She’s not even watching the damn thing.

Looking back at the photos, he thinks Serena Benson may have been a crappy mother, but she made sure her daughter wouldn’t forget her pretty little face. Hundreds of photos belonging to child Liv littered the space before him. Many of which were blurry and seldom managed to capture Olivia smiling into the camera. The photos seemed to fade as the years went by; a mother and daughter’s volatile relationship collapsing behind the camera.

Looking over at the woman that lay before him; reformed into a pair of comfy leggings, still tucked inside his favourite hoodie. Shiny gold medals decorated all around her, and scars to forfeit the sacrifice of her victory, he wrapped his hands around her feet, massaging the wearied ankle that lay there in his lap.  

“That feels so good.” she hums, blinking heavily.

As much as he’d like to savour this moment, the sofa isn’t exactly a cloud to sleep on. He’d rather one sore muscle at a time, and there’s a preference in not having to explain to Olivia why it is her back might be sore in the morning.

“Liv bab... You gotta get to bed.”

He stands, thinks she’s a gonner, her hand reaches out – “Don’t go.”

“I wasn’t…”

“Sleep here with me.” She sounds more lucid than she has in weeks. Opens her eyes and shadows of fear flicker there. Brave in all rooms except his.

“You want me to sleep with you?” It comes out wrong, but he hasn’t the luxury of a thesaurus to guide him through tonight.

Olivia nods, “Just stay.”

“Okay.” It feels like a trap or a test, and if it is he has failed miserably. Two days ago, he was angry at her, two hours ago he was dressed in armour, two seconds agone he’s changing strategy and draping her arm around his torso and laying her down in bed. Time is non-linear now, he tells himself.

Her room smells faintly of that lilac body scrub lingering outside the bathroom door. The light there supplies a candle-like hymn to the room. She’s on her edge of the bed and there’s a distance between them that has never been before. Elliot blinks up at the ceiling, splashes of nights he spent here alone while she lay in hospital, thinking that she would never wake, that he’d never see her eyes again, or feel her warmth, or hear his name on her lips. Many nights spent trying to steady himself, trying to regain control. Talking himself out of an early death. He had no idea what was to come.

“Hey you.” Olivia says pointedly. She lay on her side with hands folded prayer-like underneath a soft ear. He turns to mirror her.

“Hey you. How you feeling?”

She’s quiet, lashes flapping like feathers, staring. “Liv?”

“Hmm? Better. I’m better.”

He reached out to thumb her jawline absentmindedly, and relaxed when she sighed underneath his touch, like that night in the elevator, and her heavy lashes fluttered closed, before finding him again, like that night, too. He moves his hand away a minute or two later, afraid of what else he might do with it, but Olivia doesn’t like this and she adjusts her lining.

“Scoot closer.” she murmurs.

He does, giving in too easily. Seldom were there enough intimate moments like this one before the accident, and after the accident, well, that was all a brutal war wasn’t it? Still is a brutal war, and when he thinks about it, this is the longest few hours they’ve stormed together with the absence of sex or sleep or tension weighing them down. The violent waves that had once tossed them against ragged rocks seemed to have lost their purpose, just like some of her memories.

“It’s really strange.” Olivia whispers, “My body feels complete when I’m with you. Like she knows who she is.”

He knows the feeling.

Liv’s head pillows against his shoulder, limbs morphing into one. They both sigh with their entire bodies this time, crumbling to the ground.

“s’ gone.” She observes, half-sleepy.

“What’s gone?”

“The bee. You sent it away.”

He waits for more, but Olivia closes her eyes, and he doesn’t bother. One day when she’s herself again, he’ll tease her about this very moment, about how much of a lightweight she is and how adorable she can be when affected by forbidden substances. For now, his nose drifts back into her hair.  

“Go to sleep baby.”

And so, she does.