For Amanda Rollins, it happens in a sequence of events that scare the shit out of her.
Liv strolls into the precinct early on a Sunday morning. Sonny has the girls, and herself and Fin sit shamefully behind on paperwork.
Liv has big sunglasses on when she forces her way in, all power and instrumental music as she meanders her way through some silent monochrome battle. Which was scary enough, thought Amanda, given the gravity of her name.
Yet Liv was still here with them, Amanda thought, and not off fighting the battle alone. Liv ambled through in jeans and an old sweatshirt that smelled faintly of pine and expensive cologne. Amanda wonders where Stabler is. If her weapon needed to pay him a quick visit.
“Don’t.” Liv warns, shushing Fin’s attempts to send her home. “I’m not here to work. I just need somewhere to relax.”
She had a fire in her gaze that reminded them so easily of the old Liv, so jarring it was almost comforting to see. They let her go, watched as she strolled off into her own private sanctuary.
On their lunch break, Amanda makes an executive decision to nose her way through the office. It’s dark in there when she enters. Liv was asleep on the grey couch, or at least pretending to sleep. Amanda places a cup of camomile tea at her bedside, a packet of pretzels, and tiptoes her way out –
Everything goes quiet again. Liv swings her feet off the sofa and pats the space next to her.
“Sorry to wake you. I just thought you might like something to eat.” Amanda breathes.
“Yea, thank you.”
“So, how you been?”
Liv sips her tea, offers a forced smile. “I’ve been better. Listen, I have Langan coming in with another lawyer soon. Can I ask you to man the fort? Make sure nobody interrupts. It’s kinda important.”
Amanda doesn’t hesitate. “Of course, but why…”
“It’s personal. Nothing to worry about.”
She nods, face tangled in worry, and moves to stand.
Something quakes around them, the ground or the room, she isn’t quite sure, but then Liv marches forward and wraps Amanda into her arms. Its sudden and she stumbles a little. Liv rubs her shoulder in soothing motions, Amanda goes lithe to the bones.
“I just wanna say; you're a good detective, and an even better friend. I’m proud to know you.”
“Liv.. what’s this about?”
She laughs, fluid in her eyes too. “Nothing, nothing. I’m just being sentimental. Get back to work.”
When Liv’s appointment steps through her office, Amanda makes a comment to Fin about calling Elliot.
Fin tells her to stay out of it. They can sort shit out on their own time, he says. Amanda doesn’t have enough evidence to believe him, really. But then Trevor Langan steps out of the office, the other lawyer too, and Langan looks as though he might throw up.
“I wish you all the best, Olivia.”
They watch him leave. A moment later she’s in Liv’s office again, helping Liv organise inventory. Amanda pretends not to notice the new papers on her desk.
Olivia is revising her will.
Alone and out in the cold, Amanda calls Elliot right away.
His voice is hoarse on the other line and he sounds kind of empty inside. There’s so much background noise she can barely get a word in. There's the shrill voice of his mother - she’s probably gone for a damn walk, leave her be! and Katie shouting but Noah’s bags are gone!
And then Elliot telling them all to shut up.
It occurs then that Liv has made a run for it. She’s packed her bags and filled the tank and probably on her way to the airport. Something red and encompassing crawls along Amanda’s throat and into her face, for not only was she a traitor today, she worried there was no exit out of here. Fin was right. She should’ve kept her mouth shut.
“Hello!?” Stabler bellows again.
But it’s too late now.
“Uh.. Elliot hey. It’s me, Rollins.”
“Amanda.” Everything goes quiet and he isn’t breathing, anymore. She wonders if he ever did.
“What is it?” Elliot yells, “What happened? Is she okay?”
“Yes, yes. She’s… that’s why I…”
‘Where is she? Have you seen her?”
“Calm down. Let me get a word out, would you?”
Is it her? Is she okay? His mother panics as his shadow, and Amanda scrubs her face.
“She’s gonna kill me for this.”
“Listen to me.” Elliot rushes, “I didn’t do a thing. I woke up and she was gone and she’s not answering my calls. Her phone is turned off. Just tell me...”
“She’s okay." Amanda breathes. " Look, I don’t know what’s going on for you, I don’t want to know. But she’s not herself.”
“Giving me hugs, telling Fin she loves him.” And what was anyone to think of that? she thought. It was positively bizarre.
“Did you know she’s revising her will? Noah’s old lawyer was here. Another lawyer too.”
The world turns grey. The sky no longer blue. Nothing can be heard except for the snatch of metal across hard surface, followed by an immense stomping ground of footsteps.
“Don’t move. Don’t take your eyes off her. Don’t do anything. I won’t be long.”
Amanda is fucked.
She senses his presence before he gets to her.
The force of her brain injury meant that she felt things ten times their intensity, and this was no different with Elliot. He had a way about him that could absorb every atom of life if he wanted it to. And if he was an unkind man, he might let that get to his head a little, but he was good.
He was the best man Olivia had ever known, would ever know.
“I don’t know what’s going on with you, but if you want me to leave, I’ll leave.” Elliot steps into her office. Already his hands were in the air.
He’s not angry and that’s the problem. He’s something else entirely, and the look on his face reminds her of that night in the elevator.
When he’s sad and disappointed, it’s reminiscent of a kicked puppy. Yet even dogs have their moments when they snap, tear something whole apart and make bloody paw prints. Even if it’s not always their intention, the fact that she’s just ripped his heart out should warrant a mad bloodbath. Packed her bags and left him, again. Close enough to leaving him, again.
But Elliot stands completely still, so motionless she must deliver a command.
“Close the door.”
He does as told but the blinds stay open. She wonders if the glass will shatter when they yell at one another.
“What’s going on Liv?”
Oddly, she felt very calm just looking at him. There was a wreckage inside of him, yes, but there was hope there too, and her eyes feasted on that hope, for she wanted it to take her away, some place where time was bottomless and memories everlasting.
And she thought she would like to stand and look at him forever, and that would be enough.
When he charges toward her, she realises, quickly, that he’s been talking this whole time, and she wasn't listening at all. Olivia backs away, overwhelmed by the nature of him. The power of him. Elliot halts, face turning sick.
“Did I do something?”
She shakes her head.
“Is this about last night? Did I…” he swallows, disgusted in himself. “Did I hurt you?”
Olivia lets out a breath, his hurt grinding the skin of her throat.
“No… Just, com here.” She opens her arms, he doesn’t move.
Her eyebrows raise.
“We’re falling into old habits. Fucking and not talking. Running away and hiding things. I’m this close to calling Louise and booking her for the entire week!”
“Calm down would you! You don’t always have to make a damn scene, you know?”
Elliot’s breathing slows and he wipes his face.
“You didn’t hurt me; this has nothing to do with us.” She promises.
“Well then, what is it?”
Her gaze crosses behind his shoulder, and she stops there. From outside the window, Fin turns on his chair and Rollin’s pretends not to exist.
“Not here. We can’t talk here.”
He would break down, she’s sure of it.
“Can you just give me two hours? I need to finish up a few things.”
He searches the space of her office, her desk, strolling over and flipping through places she doesn’t want him to see. She moves to stand in between the two, close enough to block his view. When she finds him again, his eyes are glistening, and when her heart breaks it is a quiet, glass shattering thing.
Elliot frames her face, fluid in his gaze. He’s seen enough.
“Are you dying?”
His vulnerability moves her, breaks her.
Olivia has to close her eyes and think of ways to tell him that shall not involve a river of tears, here in this office. Their younger selves would never forgive them. Yet a moment later she realises she is too late.
A single tear scrolls down Elliot’s cheek, splatters onto her wrist. She wonders why men don’t cry. Why don’t men cry? She wants to ask. He makes crying a beautiful thing. So normal, and so whole. There is no shame in it, Elliot tells her in his own little way. No shame.
“I’m not not dying.”
They were all dying when she thought about it. Her clock suddenly dependent on a metal tray in Belview.
“I’m gonna live a long life, El.”
“Well then what the fuck is going on?”
She stared up at him, calmly, and thought about the night before, of how he took her to other places in bed; of how she walked away, intolerant to the sight of him in the morning. All happy and beautiful and unknowing, he was. Dotting her face with precious fucking kisses. Reminding her of how bad it would hurt to watch him walk away. She raced him to it, she supposed. And won. Though nothing about this felt like a victory.
“I need to get a few things in order. I just need two hours and I’m yours.” Olivia said.
“You want to meet at your place?”
“Yeah, yea. That would be great.”
“I’m going there now. I’ll wait for you.”
“You don’t have to..”
“You’re gonna be there, right?”
She reached out for him instantly, and when his hand found hers, she pulled him into her space. “Yes, I will. I’m sorry for this morning. It’ll make sense soon.”
His arms wound around her back as he reeled her in.
“Two hours.” He rasped into her shoulder, “And then that’s it. No more hiding things, Liv. No more.”
She blew air between her teeth as she watched him walk backwards, like a rewinding film. “Okay?”
She nodded, taking in every inch of him, as if it were their last.
Elliot halted at the door, unwilling to let go, except he promised that he would when she asked him to. And so she watched him disappear, and willed herself to believe that she could do this again.
They would be better off without each other, she told herself. She’d have no memories of Elliot and Olivia together, and the pain of going their separate ways would be less painful than revisiting the year of his return.
She re-laid the speech over and over again like a bad song, in her head, trying to convince herself it was the right one.
True to his word, he’s ready when she gets home. Sat on the sofa with his jacket and tie torn off. His knee bouncing to the ticking timebomb that she’s so desperate to avoid. She wonders if he’s eaten today, he looks so pale.
“There’s no food in the fridge but I can order something…”
“Are you hungry?”
“No, but you look…”
“Olivia,” he warns, dark voice. “Com’on, sit down. Tell me what’s going on.”
She drops her things and moves to stand against the kitchen counter, needing the support, the escape from his heavy gaze. She just finished telling her closest friends about the surgery. She spent an hour reassuring Amanda she didn’t think her a traitor, reassuring Fin that he wouldn’t have to manage the place on his own for much longer. She realised then that she was so exhausted from the repetition of it all. She only wanted to pick her son up and take him far far away.
Like a quick band aid, Olivia rips it fast and tells Elliot the truth.
Her words moved like the wind, came from the wind, surprisingly easy to just… spit them out. She was scared, yes, but something powerful in her had taken hold, something to do with the greater strength she so naturally possessed.
Elliot was quiet. Unmoving. His eyes darted all around her face but everything else stayed.
“They say I’ll forget all the new memories I’ve made. Return to square one, this time without any horrible symptoms.”
“And if you don’t have the surgery?”
She clears her throat, looks away.
“I’ll die. It means I’ll die. Have a seizure, or somethin like that.”
Her head burned a little inside, just thinking about it, but she was master of the pain, master of strength. She waited and waited for him to break down so she could sooth him. And she wondered how other Olivia did it. How she nursed a dying man in grief while burying her own. Of course, she loved him, their bond went beyond oceans and graves, but all empaths had their limits, she supposed.
She blinked only once, and suddenly Elliot was out of sight, out of mind. Storming off into the other room in a quick silver flash.
She followed him in a haste, adrenaline, and anger mobilizing her every stride. He wasn’t allowed to break down, but he wasn’t allowed to be angry with her, either.
“What are you doing!” She blew up, watching Elliot rummage through her wardrobe like a robber. He pulled out random piles of clothes, throwing them on the bed.
Next came her suitcase. He was moving so fast she didn’t know who he was, or who she was, or what they were doing. Next came her robe, and then a random sweater, his hands shaking as he folded things in delicate layers.
“What are you doing?!”
“What does it look like?!” he roared. “We’re going to the damn hospital. Now!”
Her knees buckled and she sat down, very slowly, on the edge of her bed, body still sore from the night before. Elliot was in the bathroom now, collecting all her toiletries in his big arms.
“We’ll pick Noah up from school. Tell him in the car..” he squashed her things into a smaller bag.
“Or we can stop, tell him somewhere safe, somewhere he can cry if he wants...”
“He’ll take it hard, but you’ll explain everything to him the way you do, and he’ll understand. He’s brave, I’ll take him home and talk to the kids. It’ll be ok.” His voice was shaking.
Everything was shaking.
“What shoes do you wanna take to the hospital?”
“Shoes. remember last time you complained about the boots and your ankle. Y’know what, nemind, we’ll take the slippers.”
“You’re not listening to me.” She declared, voice fixed, “I wasn’t done talking.”
He froze on the spot, “There’s more?”
“The surgery isn’t scheduled until a few days away. Even if you wanted to, you couldn’t make it happen. We have to wait.”
His shoulders slumped, arms hanging like its strings were cut, no longer in control of… anything.
“I want to talk about afterward. You and I…” she continued. “I don’t want to go through that shit again. I saw what it did to you and the kids. They had to relive Kathy’s death. Your road to revenge. Everything else that came afterward. They lost you, again, and they will lose you for a third time.”
“Come on, Liv. You know the kids love you.”
“Just let me finish.” She held up her finger, “I love you, I do. But when I woke up to you that day, Elliot. I felt like I was in a different realm; a world I did not want to be in. Not only did I have to process the car accident, I had to process my anger. Your return. Kathy… Our relationship, that letter. Noah knowing who you are. It was… a lot.”
“And I’ve been thinking about it. Really thinking about it. If I lose my memories a second time, I don’t think you should be there this time. I should go on this journey apart from you. I’ve talked to Fin, Amanda, the others. They’ll be there for me and you..” she cleared her throat.
“You and I can go our separate ways. We won’t have to relieve the last year. Maybe we’ll bump into one another on the street, and you’ll force a kind smile. Hopefully I do the same, and we can move on from the last year.”
That was her speech done for the day, and she’d done pretty well for herself, she thought, considering the dry river at their feet.
“Are you done?” said Elliot.
She nodded, hands folding inward as he charged forward and enveloped all five senses. Olivia inhaled him deeply, You don’t need him, she reminded herself. Don’t need him.
But then Elliot got on one crackling knee and his palms filled with her waist as he pulled her to the edge of the bed. Goddess divine, she thought, looking into his eyes. That’s how he made her feel.
“Look at me.” He was shaking so hard, “Do you not want me here?”
Tell him the truth – the voices said. The truth.
“Of course I want you.”
“I just don’t wanna put you through it again.”
“Olivia.” He dragged, “I will do this a thousand more times if it means having you. Do you not get that?”
She clipped her eyes close and allowed the words to sink into her pores, her skin; an engravement on her chest. A thousand more times repeated in her head. She liked the sound of it, the ring of it, and the fact that she kind of expected it.
“If you die, I die.”
And her breath parted.
Suddenly his hands were diving into her hair, body pressed against hers, like he was trying to pull her inside of him.
“I know that’s a fucked-up thing to say, but it’s true. I’m sorry if it scares you. Thas not my intention.”
It was a fucked-up thing to say, she thought, but it did not scare her, for she understood completely what he was saying. She’d been living in denial about this for far too long, too.
Deep within the charred confines of her heart she knows he is hers, she is his, and they would die split in half if either left this world without the other.
“I’m scared, El, but I’m more scared of being scared, cause I’m not a scared person.”
He smiles, thoughtfully. “Heroes can weep too. But you know this.”
“You’re feeling very poetic today.” She wiped a stray tear.
“Yeah,” he grimaced, “I guess I am.”
“Com here.” He croaked, pulling her into his shoulder. Him kneeling on one knee, she on the edge of the bed, and he was so tall and so big their foreheads still found a way to knock into one another. Always made to feel like equals.
“Don’t ever run away from me again. Please.”
Mouth pressed against his skin; she wonders if he hears her immediate intake of air. If he hears how desperate she is to tell him how much he means to her, without feeling at all dependent on him.
Instead, Olivia settles for –
“I love you.” And it is enough, for him.
Will always be enough.
He strokes her cheek. “I love you.”
She sighs, burying her nose further into his shirt. He could say that a million more times and it would still feel otherworldly. Unreal, for they were words only ever unspoken, until now.
Liv felt somehow that her amnesia had gifted their love a voice. A second chance to vocalize the labyrinthine of unsaids. And to think they would have to do this all over again – she shook her head.
“This is gonna be hard, El. Really hard.”
“I got you. I got you. Just let me carry you Liv, I won’t drop you. I promise.”
She smiles a little at the cliché, hugging him, trusting him.
She shifted her cheek away from his, wanting Elliot not to worry, not to panic, not to go around beating things, but he must have read her thoughts too, for he pulled her down and onto his lips. Stopping Liv from putting his needs first.
The kiss was sensual, longtime kissing, soft kissing, a rippling river of kissing, the kind she could never get enough of. They’re both breathless when they part, and he gives her a knowing look. The type to make her feel paper thin; completely seen.
“Come away with me.”
“Let’s go to the beach.”
She blinks some more.
“Just until your surgery. Let’s pack some bags and just… go.” He shrugs, as if it’s just that easy.
“You lost your mind? What about work? The boys?”
“They will come with us, obviously. I’ll call my boss, she’ll understand.”
“Your boss is a real saint. You know that?” she jokes, a deflection.
“She says the same about you.”
Elliot studies her, an incline to his head.
“Com’on Liv. I’ll book a small vacation home out East. Just the four of us. Say yes.”
When he looks at her like this, she doesn’t quite know how to reject him, anymore. He can be so absorbed in her sometimes. So consumed. It makes her a little flustered inside, makes her want to look the other way so that she might hide, so that he cannot know how much she loves being consumed, by him.
Olivia chooses not to hide, this time.
Instead, her thumb caresses the strong outline of his jaw. Already, she could see some grains of sand whistling against his 5 o’clock shadow. White waves crashing against his fine calves. The cool wind billowing through his perfect plain shirt. Barefoot on golden sand while his hand sifted through hers. Olivia has never walked barefoot on the beach with Elliot before. Olivia has never done anything, like this before. They have such little time left.
Giving in, Liv keeps her hand steady as she leans in; a lover’s kiss.
“Ok. Let’s go to the beach.”
Elliot’s face brightens up.
She holds on.