She couldn’t see the river from the window anymore.
Normally Louise refused to work with the sun so low in the sky, but she’d called Elliot twice already in the span of one week to reschedule his appointment. She’d been so busy lately. Something about the dawn of summer made people anxious. Made them want to down a bottle of bourbon and contemplate the edges of a cliff.
Louise is thankful that Elliot doesn’t drink bourbon.
Down the hall and to the left of the apartment was a living area, converted into a waiting room. Inside the small shell was an encased floor to ceiling library, two sofas, and a single coffee table. Elliot sat there alone, scrolling through his emails, pretending not to pay attention to the creature stood in the far corner.
Louise stopped dead at the door, hit by a truck.
The woman adjacent to the bookshelf had her back turned, a book in hand.
She seemed to be in another world, and yet that did nothing to quell the jarring fact that she was from another world.
Even from behind, the stranger was breath taking. She wore dark blue jeans with a flare cut at the bottom. Her long striking legs complimenting the skinny brown floorboards below. A flattering brown leather jacket rimmed around graceful hips. She had shoulders strong enough to carry wings, but small enough to be held. Her long chestnut hair rippled behind her back, not a string of grey in sight, yet there was a certain force about her that surpassed the tale of youth.
Pictured against a library that stored only dark coloured books, the woman made hardbacks appear somehow miserable.
The back of Elliot’s head rose as he stood and floated in her direction. The right of his chest grazed the back of her left shoulder. He was a head taller and seemed to tower over in a way that still made them complete equals.
“What you reading?” He asked, softly.
Olivia slapped the cover closed, spun around and tied her hands to her back. The book clashed a little with the shelf.
“You hiding something from me captain Benson?” he laughed.
“Can I help you with something?” she grinned.
“Just tryna get your attention, as always.”
“Well, turn around, that normally works.”
There was a thick pause, the air as uncertain as the Hudson outside.
“Olivia Benson, are you flirting with me?”
“What’s it to you if I am?”
He swallowed out loud. “How about we skip the therapy, take this somewhere else?”
There was that laugh again.
“You know I really resent you, sometimes.”
“Stop teasing my brain!”
“Your cheeks are red.”
Louise chose that moment to clear her throat. This was awkward, really awkward. Not for the context, though that was awkward too, but because she knew she was in for it tonight. Stabler was paying her a lot for this shit, and now she could see why.
“Detective. I’m glad to see you’ve finally brought company.”
Elliot spun on his heels, disappointed in the interference. Olivia popped her head out, strode forward on a runway
“Hi there. I’m Olivia... Olivia Benson.”
Louise could see why Elliot liked to think himself clinically mad over this woman. Her face was positively stunning. There wasn’t any rhyme or reason as to why this was the first thing that mattered. Olivia holds many accolades, beauty the least interesting of them all. But Louise has heard Stabler talk about this woman for almost two full moons. Not once did he exploit the fact that she was pretty. Objectify her in any way. Stake out territory by comparing those features to the muse of poets and then declaring oh yea by the way she is mine. No. He never actually detailed her face at all.
Elliot and Olivia sit with their backs to the river-less view. The sound of Elliot’s breathy sigh is long and overdue and resembles the cries of weapons forced to rest. He looked over at his woman, his Liv, and blinked very loudly, as though he couldn’t quite believe she was here.
“Now that we’re past introductions. May I ask what it is the two of you want out of this session?” asked Louise.
Olivia quirked an eyebrow, Elliot’s blue eyes found hers again, so clear and full of uncertainty.
“We..” Liv cleared her throat, “I want to talk about the things I can’t remember.”
“And I want her to feel safe when we do.”
Louise knows enough about Elliot’s Stabler’s misgivings because Elliot Stabler has a guilt complex.
Raised under the cries of a father’s whip and made to feel responsible for the shadows lurking in his mother’s bedroom, he latched himself to the only man around, God. He wedded the girl carrying his baby, the guilt of not having done so would have swallowed him whole. Then he met a woman named Liv, and his guilty conscience traversed into existential terror. He buried it alive like he buried her alive all those years ago, the ghost of a goodbye hanging like lark in the air between them.
Louise and Elliot have done a lot of work to sift through the dirt. But Elliot will always hate himself, blame himself, lose himself to the brutality of Kathy’s death, to Kathleen swinging in a shower curtain and mama smacking that kid and Eli running away and –
Liv crashing all her cars.
Really, Louise thinks, the world was just one childhood trauma after another.
“Olivia. I was wondering if we could discuss your childhood?”
“I know some of Elliot’s. I’d like to get a decent picture of yours, too. Would that be okay?”
It’s a lot for her, Louise can see. Olivia’s coal black eyes remind her of a predator staring at prey, waiting for the jump so she can bite and make a bloody mess. Elliot’s knee starts bouncing again.
“Were you close with your parents?”
“You didn’t tell her?” Olivia said, staring up at him.
He shakes his head a little, slightly offended. “No, Liv. s’not my story to tell.”
Louise listened to the sound of their breathing, the way Olivia released a breath that occupied every last iota of space in the room, how the two of them weren’t able to keep their eyes off one another, how Olivia seemed so fond for him now that not even time could tear them apart. Louise cleared her throat and Olivia looked back at her.
“My mother was raped when she was in college. And then she found out she was pregnant with me. I never met my father. The rest is history.”
Jesus. “Were you close with your mom?”
Olivia’s mouth lifted into a sly grin, her gaze tied to the floor. It was a dark and futile attempt to divert the intensity of this moment. Elliot’s leg won’t stop bouncing.
“She was a professor and an alcoholic. Frequent emotional abuser, as I got older, violent too. She tried her best, but no, we weren’t particularly close.”
“On a scale of one to ten, how chaotic would you say your childhood was, with ten being..”
“Ten. It was all a ten.”
Elliot has ripped his necktie off and his coat lay dumped on the seat.
“Why’d you give me that letter?”
Her expression is haunted, steady. Louise remembers moments ago when the woman walked in, when she stole one quick span of the room, shrugged her jacket off and took possession of all the furniture that stared back at her. Afraid for nothing.
Afraid of paper, apparently.
“I couldn’t write anything. I tried. For hours, days, I tried, but nothing felt good enough. And then Kathy offered… Truth is I travelled the world looking to forget about you, not enough cities made up for the absence I felt. I thought if I came back, gave you that letter and watched you walk away.. it would all be over.”
He scrubbed his face.
“But then the explosion.. and you could barely look at me anyway. Then that day in the snow, I could feel myself reaching out to you. It was like a pull I couldn’t control, but you didn’t want it anymore and I get it. I get it.”
“I thought. This is it. I’m never gonna see her again, she shouldn’t want to see me again. So, I pulled the letter out. I wasn’t thinking straight. Everything was pixelated except for you in all that snow. I could feel you slipping. You had moved on and I was still here, bound to you.”
“Again, I get it.” he added.
“Did I confront you about it? Did I snap??”
“No. You came to me once,” He explained, “You were in the lobby of my hotel and you wanted to talk but I pushed you away. I never gave you the chance. I don’t think I wanted to hear it. I was afraid you’d agree with it all. I was afraid you’d think I lost my mind with that last line.”
“But how..” she couldn’t finish, he took one swing in her direction and read her mind.
“You kept coming around. Showing up, I didn’t get it at first. I didn’t think you’d actually care, but then you brought up the ptsd up and… I knew I was screwed.”
“Tell me about our relationship.” She urged.
“You see, when we were together it was intense...”
“No, I mean it was good, safe. But you bottled up a lot of resentment that neither one of us knew how to handle. Again, I get..”
“That’s why we fought all the time?”
“Eli and I have been talking.” She explained.
“Jesus christ I’ve screwed my kid up for good.”
“Yes, yes. That’s why we fought. s’ like this, when we work a case together, sparks fly. We have our own language, it comes out effortless and all the time, right?”
“Yes.” She agreed.
“Well, s’the same when we fought, except it brought the whole house down. Glass could shatter the moment we raised our voices. It was powerful, it was..”
“I don’t understand where you’re going with this...”
“It was the rhythm of it, Liv. Sometimes... I think when things got good, you’d pick a fight deliberately to – I don’t know, push me away or keep me close. I don’t feel comfortable talking about this since you don’t remember.”
“More. Explain more.” She pressured.
“I cant..” he said, looking at Louise.
“Oh jesus El, I don’t care for your shrink knowing about our sex life. Just say it already, please!”
“Okay yes,” he sighed, rubbing his eyes. “We’d end up fucking each other’s brains out.”
It was confirmation of what she already knew. Of what they all knew. Still, it was a revelation that changed the colour in Olivia’s cheeks.
Everything went quiet again.
“Everyone’s response to abandonment, trauma. All of it is different.” Louise went on to explain, “That includes unresolved feelings. When Elliot first came to me, he explained that the fighting was intense, but it was safe, you were never afraid of it.”
Olivia’s eyes roared in alarm, she reeled back as though Louise had slapped her.
“Lewis would never lay a hand on me, I know this!”
Louise bit back a frown.
“What?” Elliot has been stabbed in the chest. The air was so brittle.
“I said you would never..”
“You just called me Lewis.” He was bleeding now.
“You said Lewis would never hurt me, that’s what she said right?” he spun in the shrink's direction, eyes frantic like a dying bird.
And Louise had no idea. No idea who Lewis was.
“Oh shit. It was a mistake.” Olivia rushed, fisting for him. “El. Look at me. You’re nothing like him, okay? nothing.”
He shifted so that he held her, this time. “Are you feeling okay?”
“Stop it,” She warned, voice suddenly low. “We’re not talking about him right now.”
“Maybe we should, Liv?”
“NO. He doesn’t deserve to enter this room, or any of our rooms. You understand me?”
“I’m sorry.” He panicked, her hair seemed so thin in his big hands. “You just scared me, s’all.”
“I’m not ready for that conversation. I hate him. I hate that you weren’t there. You made me feel needy, empty. I wanted only you and you left!”
“I know baby. I know. I’m sorry.”
They’ve had this conversation before.
They don’t often talk about it in hushed voices.
But he holds her as though she is a gift, in that moment, in all moments. A gift given to him in love. Something still and powerful and complete. Unbearably precious.
Olivia isn’t fighting him, anymore.
Louise wonders if he knows that he is crying.
She scrawls a line or two while Elliot stands to grab water. The swooshing sound of the water cooler fills the silence in the room. The sound of her pen swiftly fills the blanks in her mind.
Who is Lewis?
Does Elliot know she doesn’t want her memories back?
Both share similar childhood...
“I’m sorry for biting your head off before.” interrupted Olivia.
“I don’t know where that came from. That’s not who I am. I have a lot of experience in counselling. I know there was a purpose to your point. I think I was just blinded.”
“You don’t have to explain anything to me.” Louise reassured, softly.
Elliot placed a cup of water in Louise’s direction, though Louise hadn’t actually asked, she appreciated the chivalry nonetheless. Then he gifted Olivia her own, and taking light sips in her cup, the palm of her hand travelled to his knee, resting there.
“I’m sorry.” He whispered, just the two of them, over there in a world of their own.
He pulled her under his arm and pressed his lips to her forehead, cradling her in his embrace. She let him.
“Elliot, wasn’t there something else you wished to discuss?” Louise proposed.
He stiffens at the change of tone, the rise in her eyebrow.
“Tell me.” Olivia smooths, tilting her head.
It starts off with Angela Wheatley. Ends with Flutura Briscu. When it’s over, Elliot truly struggles to meet her eyes. Olivia’s expression is completely unreadable, even for Louise. Elliot’s stance is strung tight, waiting for something, a bomb to go off, a scream to resonate.
And then their orbit fills with melody as waves of Olivia’s laughter ripple ahead.
“You slept with.. with a sex trafficker?!”
Dark music fills the room.
She plants her elbows on her thighs. Face in her hands. Shoulders heaving in fits. Elliot stares down at her with his jaw to the floor.
“You slept with.. oh oh my god.” She laughed some more, one hand tied to her belly.
“I didn’t know she was a sex trafficker at the time!” he cried. “I was undercover!”
“You were running.” Louise clarified.
Olivia sat up, her face spilling as she attempted a straight face. “I’m sorry. You worked at svu for over a decade, and you’re telling me you didn’t know?”
“This is all a double standard, Elliot. Are you forgetting Peter Stone?”
His neck snapped so fast it made a crackling noise.
“That’s different! For me our bedsheets were still warm. Flutura happened..”
“The greater difference here is that I didn’t actually sleep with him, and if I did..”
“Please don’t finish that sentence.”
“If I did, I wouldn’t be laughing so hard right now.”
Louise cannot stop staring at Olivia.
There’s a certain stillness to Olivia’s humour that borderlines on detachment. It’s not that she’s running from her feelings, or her pain. She is choosing to move through the lighter side of it all. Still, she isn’t facing all that dark and Elliot is.
“I’m sorry Louise. That was really inappropriate of me.” Olivia declares, now glaring in his direction. “It is not funny to sleep with a sex-trafficker. And I don’t think for one second the other Olivia would be proud of my reaction.”
“But your mind is blank.” Louise finished, a timid smile on her face.
“Yes..” she sighed, rubbing her forehead. “Thank god for that.”
“Liv… I almost want you to slap me, hit me, anything.”
“You think because I’m not yelling at you this time that I care less?”
A jagged edge swims in his silence, his answer there in the vacancy.
“The anger was a trauma response Elliot, it’s not who I am. These last few weeks have taught me that more than anything. You have been patient and kind, and I’ve been at peace.”
She rubbed her nose, taking a bold breath.
“But sometimes we re-create scenes we were wounded in as children to repair in our adult life that wounded child, and all the other wounds that came after it. I think this is where the other Olivia was, unconsciously. I had a decade old injury, and when the time came for you to finally front up, I got scared, wielded words as weapons, because that’s all I knew. That’s where Serena was. That was the defence mechanism of my life. It was either that or run.”
“Did you ever fight in your other relationships?” Elliot asked.
“No.” she said, unblinking.
This didn't sit well with him. It seemed to be that he looked right into her, and the faces of other men were all he could see.
“But I was never all in with them, I gave only half of myself. Fighting would mean I’d have to give more.”
“Can you give me an example?”
He doesn’t want to know. Not really. But he was so desperate to understand the woman he loved, to climb into her soul and bind them in dreams that had little to do with history.
“I considered having kids with Brian not because he was the love of my life, but because he was there. I trusted him, we were living together, and I wanted to be a mother so bad. And there he was; and maybe having his kid will help me love him the way he loves me.”
“Shit, Liv.” Elliot breathed
Shit, Liv was right, thought Louise. How many years had this woman been in therapy..
“I had no idea. I’m sorry.”
“You sorry for Cassidy, since when?”
“Poor bastard.” Elliot muttered, a ghost of smirk on his face.
Louise wonders if Elliot knows.
Knows that he is the love of her life.
The long arm of the clock is round again. Elliot has excused himself for the rest room and his keys jangle loosely under Olivia’s index finger. She has all the power here.
“I’m glad we came.” Olivia admitted, scratching her forehead once more. “I think we both needed this.”
She makes it sound as if they are done.
“I agree.” Nodded Louise. “May I interest you in some homework?”
“Do you wanna wait for El..”
“He already knows.”
Olivia quirks an eyebrow, a challenge. “Alright then, give it a go.”
She makes it like she’s being held down, forced to swallow a pill.
“I’d like for you both to communicate more with your words. This is really important if you wish to move forward.”
“Talk. You want us to talk.” Olivia repeats, nodding. Not quite present. “We can do that.”
Louise twists the pen in her finger, unconvinced. Olivia moves to stand on two feet –
It happens very fast.
The keys drop to the floor and her hand flies to grip the sofa, the other slamming against her forehead. The gentle sway of a weightless body tells her that the room is spinning but Olivia doesn’t drop, doesn’t cry or weaken. She only holds onto her breath, stumbles a little, and Louise is suddenly reminded of a stranded warrior. Left on the shore with waves washing over her, unable to drown.
“Are you okay?” Louise stands, runs. Stabler is going to fucking kill her –
“I’m fine.” Olivia waves her off. The moment all senses return her shoulders lift and Olivia’s gaze hunts the room, as if panicked by the mere idea of her mate being within earshot, within sight.
She doesn’t want him to know about the pain.
“We haven’t had dinner yet and I get dizzy on an empty stomach.” Olivia winces as she dives for the keys. “I’m fine, truly.”
Elliot returns a moment later. He’s back in his three-piece suit and those great indigo eyes pillow the moment they land on his woman. The same woman he hasn’t touched in two months.
The same woman whose hand leaps out of the void and into the light. There’s a hesitancy to the method of their wrists lacing together, but his fingers are so brute inside of her own that it makes up for the novelty. They remind her of Romeo and Juliet when Romeo and Juliet were not fighting or reciting or… choosing each other over the living.
“Thank you.” Olivia tells Louise, her foot half out the door.
She wants Elliot to herself now, and his attention is only half-here too. He’s completely lost in her. They are completely lost in one another. It appears as though therapy has worked out fine, and everyone except for the shrink herself cannot see the greater tide charging ahead.
Louise sighs, smiles thoughtfully.
“Goodnight you two.”