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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. 

Chapter Text

A wave of doctors kept asking her questions in voices that were too loud, too aggressive, as if she was asleep, even though she was looking straight through them. Did she remember anything of the car accident? Did she remember the ambulance? Did she know what day of the week it was? Did she know who she was? Ridiculous. Of course she fucking did. 

“April twenty-twenty. Shouldn’t you be wearing a mask or something?”

A frazzled looking doctor who seemed to be fresh out of kindergarten peered down at her through glasses, and he looked at her as if she were the child. For the first time in a very long time, Olivia felt lost and small. “Are you sure about that?” he had asked.

“The date or the mask?”

The doctor seemed royally dismayed at this point, and it shut her up for good. He had to ask her again just to get an answer.

“It’s April twenty-twenty. My name is Olivia Margaret Benson. I was born 7th of February 1968. New York is currently in a state of emergency, and unless I went to sleep and woke up in a better universe than the last, Trump is president here. Did I miss anything?”

The doctor shook his head, looked up at his superior who took over from there.

The rest of it became a blur, between the fireball of questions, the influx of physicians, a brain surgeon, and the boy who lurked in the shadows, all were there to poke and prod like she was a rare, delicate little organism in a lab. The last thing she remembered was falling back asleep, sensing the quiet lull of the ocean behind.

***

When she wakes again, she feels like she’s stepped into a completely different world. The room is dimly lit and warm from the remnants of a soft sunset. Nobody was waiting at her bedside this time, but she could hear the voices outside the hospital room, and they weren’t very nice.

“What do you mean she can’t remember anything?”

“Detective...”

“It’s just temporary right? How bad is it?”

“Two years.” The doctor announced, convinced. “Her last memory was driving to pick her son up from school.”

“Yeah. And what?”

“In April, two years ago”

No, she thought, no no no.

The other man, with a voice too familiar for the good of her ears, stayed eerily quiet.

“When is she gonna get out of it? Please doc, this doesn’t make any fucking sense. I need her back. All of her.”

“I’m sorry. I’m afraid I just don’t have any definitive answers for you, detective Stabler.”

Detective Stabler.

Her eyes shot up to the sky, and without thought, she jumped up from the hospital bed in search of something real, a cellphone, a call button, a bottle of wine, anything that might make this noise less traumatic. Instead, a plastic jug of water went tumbling to the ground, making a whole lotta racket that warranted her unfit for that, too.

The voices outside the room stopped moving at once, and then a tall hulking shadow appeared at the doorway, and she felt her breath catch in her throat.

If she had any ounce of fear left in her bones, she might’ve jumped for real this time, she might’ve screamed for help, or yelped for the nurse, someone less surreal, but she had experienced all there was to name in the dark. She felt brave just staring at him, Elliot, because he was here, in her doorway, with a honey look of love in his aged eyes as they met hers, for the first time in eternity.

She just sat there frozen in time, fearless and bold, absorbing every crevice and cavity in his carved-out body, his ferric shoulders, chest made of hot iron gold, and a face like none other, it was shocking to see him, breathe him, hate him and love him even, after spending too long a time in exile. Yet it wasn’t terrifying, like how she expected it to be, needed it to be. Instead, every cell in her living body relaxed at his mere presence, and for the life of her, she couldn’t figure out why.

“Liv.” He said, inching closer.  

She blinked once and tensed as he stopped at her bedside, looking down at her like she held the moon and all the stars. Jesus, she thought, where were they?

“Baby how are you feeling?”

Her eyes widened at the pet-name. His plummeted.

“Liv… answer me.”

She thought of nothing else but –

“What are you doing here Elliot?”

“You know my name.” he expelled, relieved.

“Am I not supposed to?”

He reached his hand out to her, and she just stared at it. What was she to do with it? Hold him?

“What year is it Liv?”

“I already..”

“What year is it?” he demanded, voice hoarse and face pale, he looked like he was about to pass out.

“2020.” She repeated, agitated, so tired of this game.

“Jesus.” He collapsed on the chair.

She studied him closely. With eight years between them and nothing in common but two matching heartbeats, she felt a natural right to examine the changes, and admittedly, she sort of liked what she saw.

A long eerie minute passed between them when he looked up from his hands, hunched over his knees and ready to puke – “You remember nothing, do you?”

“Nothing?”

“Us.”

“Huh?”

“The past few months. The life we have together.”

The life they – “What?”

He reached out to stroke her hand, and she flinched, like his touch physically repulsed her, disgusted her. Elliot shuddered and let go. He looked like he wanted to scream.  

“You must feel so overwhelmed right now. I’m so sorry.”

“Elliot,” she breathed, mouth narrowing into a thin line. “Why are you here?”

He shook his head, numb. She wasn’t the only one, then.

“Answer me.” She demanded. “Where have you been? What is going on?”

“I’ll explain it all in a minute, okay? I just need to make a few phone-calls. I need you to trust me.”

She felt her nails crawl into the bedsheets. “Trust you? Why the fuck would I trust you?” None of this was making any sense. “I need to see my son. Where’s Fin, Amanda?”

Where were her people when she needed them? She thought.

“Noah’s safe. He’s with Maureen.” He was watching her closely, petrified to death.

This was all a sick fucking joke.

“Maureen? What is he doing with Maureen?” She had nothing against his kids, but she hadn’t heard from any of them in a solid decade, and she would remember if she ever came across the girl – woman – who’s hair she used to plat. She’d remember if she ever let Elliot Stabler’s firstborn meet her own. Yes, she thought, that would be a day to bookmark.

“Liv please.” Elliot begged. “Just relax. I’ll go get the doctor. He’ll explain everything.”

“I don’t need the doctor. I need my son. I need Fin, somebody..” Anybody but him.

“Okay okay.” He held his hands up like she had him at gunpoint, and eventually pulled his phone out when she freed him.

“Look here. I’m calling Fin now, Amanda too, alright? They’ll explain everything. I promise. It’s gonna be okay Liv.”

She looked at him incredulously.

Nothing about this was okay. Nothing at all. 

Elliot pressed his phone against his ear, his other raised to wipe the agony off his forehead. She felt like she had hurt him, somehow, by not being the woman he wanted her to be, but he was forgetting, she thought, he was forgetting everything.

Including that little flame burning in the corner of the room; he was the one to hurt her first.

***

Fin has less hair than the last time she saw him, which in Olivia’s world, was only two days ago, but according to the doctors and according to Fin himself; it’s been two years.

This is her life now. Memories and feelings captured lost in filaments of eight forgotten seasons. She feels paralyzed. Missing.

Fin helps her stand and move to sit in a different corner of the room. Her ankle feels stiff, but that’s the least of her concerns. Elliot hovers, desperate to touch her, to sooth her, but knowing his limits.

“How are you feeling, Liv?” Elliot asks. She just wants him to shut up.

“Well,” Fin clears his throat, her silence too unbearable. “You look good, Liv. Moving fast. Talking, all that jaz. I’m glad.” Fin releases her hand and lets her stand alone at the window. The freedom he gives eases her anxiety, just a little. The image of Elliot standing mere feet away from her is still blanketed by utter confusion and paralleling disbelief.

“I’m fine.” She waves her hand, but her head is pounding.

“Remember anything now?”

“It’s only been a few minutes, Fin. Nothing’s changed.” 

He offers a weak smile, Elliot in the corner, simply sinks.

“Can I get you anything? Water? Something to eat?” Fin asked.

She studied him, her most loyal guard; longest living friend.

“A new brain?”

Fin chuckled.

“Nothin wrong with the brain you have. It’s just missing a few pieces s’all.” Elliot said softly, he sounded so sure of himself.

“Yea. You’ll find em.” Fin agreed.

That was her life now. Missing pieces.

“And what if I don’t?”

The men in the room were quiet again.

“It’s been a rough year Liv.” Fin shared, eventually. “You’ll get through it. You always do.”

What the fuck was that supposed to mean?

She closed her eyes and tried to recollect the last fractured pieces she did remember. Covid. Simon. Ed, not in that order. It was all terribly foggy, but still there, nonetheless. Shit, she thought, was any of it real? Or was it all a rotten dream?

“Fin..” Olivia whispered cautiously. El was in the room, but El had been a ghost up until tonight, so it didn’t matter.

“Simon. Did he really… or was that a nightmare?”

“It was real Liv. I’m sorry.”

She blinked back her tears and scrunched her fists. “And Ed? Is he..” she couldn’t even say it.  

Fin shifted on his feet. The room suddenly fell cold and dreary, like she had initiated a tidal wave and failed to warn Elliot, the only other man who really mattered, like Tucker did, like Tucker didn’t.

Everything was a great blur except for Fin who held her fate now, her opportunity for second chances. Ed was her second chance at love again. If Elliot had Kathy, and Elliot had his kids, and he was somehow in her life again, this meant she not only let him inside, but she’d supposedly welcomed his family back into her arms too. This meant she had to watch him live out a life with a woman who wasn’t herself. And fuck that, she thought. Fuck that.

But Fin let her heart down, gradually. “That was real. I’m sorry.”

She gulped loudly and ignored the way Elliot dropped his head to the ground, like her reaction pained him. She didn’t want to think about what that meant, or what led him here in the first place, back in the territory of quiet jealousy, different from the arrogant son of a bitch she used to love. There, nonetheless.

He was here, and she wasn’t, and what a change that was, she thought.

Shifting to face the windowsill, she felt a tear scroll down her cheek as she imagined all the different ways to turn away, to run from this room, this forgotten key they called hers. It was easier to ignore destruction rather than live in it. She felt that now.

“What happened to me?” she heard herself say.

Nothing, she thought, because she couldn’t remember a damn thing.

“It’s gunna be okay, Liv.” Elliot told her softly, so that she couldn’t lose him.

She wanted to believe him, she did, she just didn’t know how.

***

The nurse with pink scrubs offers to help her shower, and she politely declines. Olivia might’ve had a head concussion, but she wasn’t completely useless. Elliot protested of course, but he needn’t any say. When she closed the door, she heard the muffled sound of his rough voice mingling with the nurse just outside, and then a knock came, and the nurse announced that she’d be right there, just in case Olivia needed anything.

It was sweet and kind and had Elliot’s fingerprints all over it.

The jeans she slips into are comfy, too comfy. She’s supposedly lost weight, of course she has. Nobody has eaten anything save for their own damn nails, and she can’t even remember the taste of food anymore. That’s new.

There are cuts on her elbows from the crash, some of which helped shield her face when her body dove straight through the glass windshield. It’s a lot to process, but she’s so used to bandages these days.

Her hair is longer, softer, this is new too. Tiny lines of wisdom have made a home in a few different dips on her face. Though, she looks remarkably the same, beautiful, people would tell her, but she doesn’t care. All she sees is a soul who has to face the loss of a few seasons.

When she steps back inside, Elliot stops pacing the floor, and the nurse visibly calms. “Let’s get you back into bed, love.”

The woman is maternal and lovely and reminds her of all that is good in this world. Olivia smiles gratefully, thinking of her own kid. Her own world. She crosses her legs on the bed like a child, leaning against the folded bedframe.

“I really needa see Noah.” She doesn’t know how Elliot knows her kid, but she hasn’t the luxury of mind anymore.

From across the room Elliot nods, “They’re already on their way.”

He moves again, inching closer to the bed, stopping when he isn’t sure.

“I’m not going to bite Elliot. It’s fine. You can sit.”

She can’t explain it, barely understands it in the least, but her entire body soothes like lavender when he chooses to sit on the bed. His palms stay on his knees, but she can tell from the itch in her own traitorous fingers, that he longs to touch her. And she aches to feel him. 

“Before they get here, there’s a few things we need to discuss. About me. Things that have happened to me – to us.”

She blinks.

“Do you think you’re ready for that?” he’s prods, gently.

Their eyes meet, more intimately than ever before. Too much time had passed since he last looked at her, it took her absolute breath away.

“Are you real?” Olivia said.

Without conscience, she raised her hand to touch his rough stubble, defined jaw, hard skin. He was scorchingly hot and she intricately cold. His warmth harnessed itself around her fingers and travelled all the way through her veins, melting her cold spine. She’d never felt more safe than now, back in his hold, in the arms of a paramnesia she oddly craved.

“What?” he whispered, but he heard her, and he closed his eyes, leaning further into the palm of her hand like his very life depended on it.

She’s never noticed his eyelashes this way before, she never had a chance to, but they were so thick, so light, like the color of the sun, and so pretty, she thought, they tangled a bit with their neighbors.

“You are real.”

She felt amazed. Maybe it was the drugs, maybe it was Olivia the second, but the urge to spit honesty felt frightfully normal here. 

“Yea Liv.” He expelled a breath. “And you’re real too, and I know the rest of you is still in there, somewhere, fighting to come back to me.”

She smiled tenderly, fragility whispering the tenderness away. It sounded so romantic and full of false hope. 

“You keep saying that as if I am yours, Elliot. But I’m not. I’ve never been yours and I never will be.”

He curses quietly, closing his eyes. He shifts to hold his face in his hands like she’s burned his eyes, and she focuses on the movement of his long rugged back hunching over in pain. She hates herself for hurting him, she really fucking does, but it’s all so true.

Isn’t it? 

“Olivia..” he started.

“Mommy?”

At the doorway stood her precious little boy who wasn’t so little anymore. Her heart felt like it was genuinely going to explode just looking at him, just seeing him again. A pretty blonde woman and a dark-haired teen stood blurrily behind him, but all she could see was Noah's face. The need to hold him, to latch onto him felt overpowering. Like she might just scream if he lingers too long away from her.

“My love.” she opened her arms.

He didn’t move.

She realized then that he was holding the hand of the blonde woman she didn’t know, and he looked up at the stranger for comfort, and she squeezed his shoulder lovingly, the same shoulder Olivia herself had raised, gently nudging him forward. It was a new feeling, but Olivia felt possessively jealous, and overwhelmingly concerned.

“It’s okay.” The woman told her son, in a voice that felt hauntingly familiar.

“Maureen?” Liv gaped.

The woman stepped forward timidly, her eyes meeting her fathers for a long, knowing second.

“Hey Liv.”

Olivia blinked; this was all so disorienting. Why was her son joined to the hip of a woman he didn’t even know? Why was he with them at all?

Suddenly with one knee to the ground, it took all her attention as Elliot began to speak in a voice so soft, so gentle, like he and Noah were the best of friends, the only two in the room.

“Hey buddy. You okay?”

Noah nodded, blue eyes darting over his shoulder.

“Did she forget me too?” his lip quivered.

Olivia felt her chest sink.  

“No way.” Elliot brushed his curls, fixing him. “She’ll never forget you. Go and give her a hug. She really missed you, you know.”

“What if I hurt her?”

“You won’t. Just be gentle, like how we talked about. Remember?”

Noah nodded, bravely stepping around Elliot to face his mother. Speechless, Olivia just stared. The way he talked to her son, loved him even, threw her off balance. If it weren’t for damaged fences, she would’ve been convinced that Elliot had been here, in her life, all along.

“Baby come here.” She heard herself begging.

He didn’t have to be told twice. Noah sprinted toward her, scrambling onto the bed and took her straight into his arms. Elliot laughed, and she felt the perish of a dozen different anxieties tumble away. She breathed Noah in like renewed oxygen, filling her fingers with his curls and her lungs with his sheer existence. He smelled like homemade baking and shampoo that she's never used before. More importantly he smelled like love, like he was loved, and it wasn’t her perfume.  

“I missed you momma.”

He was heavier than she last remembered, and he’d grown two new feet, but he still called her momma, which was something.

God, what else had she missed?

“Let me look at you.” She blinked away her tears, cradling his kind face. The loss of chubby cheeks to squish knocked the rest of her power away.   

“When did you get so big huh? You look like the incredible hulk.”

“I do not.” He giggled.

“That’s true. You’re much better looking.”

“Come on guys.” Elliot said, the other two stood awkwardly in the corner. “Let’s give em a little privacy.”

“Wait,” Olivia interrupted, eyes landing on the blurry teen in the back and his sister. She’d only enough gas in the tank to acknowledge the more familiar one.

“Maureen sweetie, how are you? It’s been so long.”

With Noah cradled against her chest, she felt her spirits climb as his fingers tangled with the ends of her hair. For once, she felt like Olivia again.

“Sit.” She patted the edge of the bed. Maureen shuffled closer.

“Better now. You had us all a little worried.”

“Oh.” She didn’t realize how important her life was to them.

“I don’t know what’s going on yet but thank you for bringing Noah by. I appreciate it. He seems to really like you.”

Maureen was silent for a moment, then smiled gently down at him. “He’s a real good kid. Makes mine look like little devils.” She teased.   

Liv’s mouth widened. “You have kids?”

Elliot cleared his throat, Maureen just stared. “Hm-hmm. Twin boys.”

She didn’t seem so enthused, Olivia thought, and one could only guess why.

“I’ve met them already, haven’t I?”

“Yea you have.” Maureen giggled. “They really like you.” She seemed so sad, Olivia thought, and so different from the young girl she remembered.

“You’re so beautiful. You look exactly like your mother.”

Maureen’s smile slowly faded.

Before Olivia could foresee a taped reckoning, she asked aloud - “How is she?”

Silence.

Noah shifted in her arms, glancing up at Olivia with eyes sent down by Serena Benson herself.

Mom. That’s not very nice.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Liv..” she heard Elliot caution, but she couldn’t escape the look on her son’s face.

“Their mommy went to heaven, remember?”  

No, she thought.

She did not remember that.

Chapter Text

“Their mommy went to heaven remember?”

It was so quiet here she could only hear the light tremor of her own breathing.

Heaven.

Dead.

Kathy Stabler was Dead.

She glanced up at Elliot then, mouth aghast, eyes welling with crystalized confusion, he shuffled in the corner of the room and stepped forward so that she could experience for herself a glimpse of memory.

Nothing. She saw nothing in view except for his pain, and that was worse somehow, than actually remembering any of it.

“What?” The noise in her throat sounded like a broken child.

She caught sight of the ball drop in his throat, and he glanced at his adult daughter, whom Olivia had nearly forgotten too. He and Maureen shared an unspoken truth, and then she was standing on two feet.

“Noah, do you wanna get some ice cream?”

Noah glanced between her and his mother, and Liv felt herself nodding.

“Don’t go anywhere, mom.” He instructed, like she had much of a choice, but her attention was already elsewhere.

The boy from the car accident leaned against the rim of the door, hands in his pocket, his name was Eli, and the last living memory she ever had of Eli turned out to be a three-year-old in diapers. The teens face came into sharp view, and she felt sad all over again. Just like his father, he stared at her like she had killed his puppy, and he still loved her for it, and she really didn’t know what to do about that.

“Mom?”

She snapped her head back toward Noah, remembering – “Not going anywhere.” She promised.

Olivia practically gawked at the sight of her newer child dashing out of the room, Maureen and Eli in toe. It was all so bizarre, and so blurry, and she hadn’t any pictures to answer for except this one blurry truth. She was in a car accident, she’s lost two years of her brain cells, and Kathy Stabler is dead.

The hospital bed shifted as Elliot sat down, he still wasn’t looking at her.

“I wanted to tell you. But you just woke up, you’ve been through enough already. I didn’t want to spring it on you.”

“Elliot. I am so sorry.” She blurted out,n“I had no idea…”

She reached out to grab his hand and tried to ignore the buzz of electricity that hummed between them.

“It’s okay.” He was looking at their fingers now, and unexpectedly dragged them to rest on his thigh. Given the circumstances, she let him.

“How.. When… Why?”

“Jesus Liv. I don’t even know where to start. So much has happened since, and if I’m being honest, Kathy’s death was the last thing on my mind when you woke up.”

He felt a little guilty for this, she could see from the vibration of his voice, and she squeezed his hand tight, reassuringly.  

“Tell me. I wanna know.”

“I don’t want to make this about me. I need you to get better…”

“Tell me, Elliot.”

He sighed, dramatically. “She was murdered. Just over a year ago.”

“Jesus.”

“In a targeted car explosion.” He relaid, simply, like he was delivering a dull description of the weather. “We were living in Italy. I needed to come back home for a few seminars, and you… you were getting this award and it was a big deal. Kathy insisted we come. So we did, she took the keys, I was distracted by the phone, and the car exploded. We never made it to the award ceremony.”

“El..”

“Neither did you. I requested you there, and of course you came and.. you stayed. She died a few nights later. The rest of it was a total blur. I guess I took a lot for granted then, including that maybe you’d remember the details for me, so I wouldn’t have to. You were always.. are always good at that.”

She smiled a little, but her head felt so sore. She was only trying to be brave.

“I’m so sorry.”

This was the only meaningful thing she could say.

He stayed quiet. Eventually she had to untangle her fingers from his and move away, the silence simply too awkward and too unbearable. For him however, it appeared to be normal, peaceful even, and he released a shuddering sigh when she disappeared, like she had stabbed him in the back after 12 years of absolute loyalty. Like dejavu. One half of her wanted to comfort Elliot, the man who carved a home along her bedside for days, but a bigger half wanted to run, for the stone house he’d abandoned long ago had begun to erode the confines of an unhealed heart. She wasn’t ready or willing to clean its ashes.

“I can’t imagine how overwhelming this all must be for you.” He sympathized. She had only just sent him to exile, and yet he was being kind to her, still.

“I know it’s in your nature to care… but no more apologies, okay? It’s not your fault she’s gone. It’s not your fault you can’t remember any of it.”

“Yeah. Then who’s fault, is it?”

Elliot snapped his head, “Nobody’s at fault here. Certainly not you.” It wasn’t something he would normally say, given the blood of rage that normally hummed inside Elliot Stabler’s veins.

Then again, she hardly knew him anymore.

“Eli was in the car, it could’ve been him in this bed, not me.”

Elliot sighed, then he did a double take. “Wait – you remember that?”  

“No. I only remember the pain.” Elliot cursed as she said this, she carried on. “But I do remember, sort of, his voice in the ambulance, and his face when I woke up. I had no idea who he was.”

“Yeah.”

“Is… is he okay?”

“He had a few cuts and scrapes. Nothing vital.” It was her who received the worst of it, then.  

“But your mind is connecting the dots, effortlessly. That’s a good thing.”

“Is it? Because everything else is blank. Including you.”

Elliot hung his head backwards, like someone had pulled his neck by a thick rope in will of facing an ugly night sky, and he closed his eyes, the darkness too overwhelming. “Please… make this all go away.” She heard him say.

She realized in the hollow pause that soon followed, he wasn’t asking her, he was asking God.

***

The last time she saw Amanda Rollins, the two of them were huddled in the precinct kitchen; Amanda detailing the difficulties of trying to ween her 7-month-old off breastmilk. Liv remembered listening intently, because mothers liked to be heard when they were having a rough time, especially friends, and Amanda was her friend, best friend even.

Today none of that had changed, and this was… a relief she didn’t know she needed.

“Hey ya’ll.” The detective knocks on the door, with no intention of waiting, she breezes through like she’s been here before. She has a blonde little girl on her hip that looks a lot like Jessie Rollins, but not quite Jessie Rollins. Maureen and the kids are back and Amanda’s arrival has distilled the awkward ambience rotating the air.

“Amanda.” Liv, sighs, thankful.

“Hey.” She says, softly. “You gotta stop scaring the living daylights out of us.”

She’s stood at the foot of the bed. The toddler on her hip has her arms outstretched for Olivia, and she knows in her heart that this is Billie Rollins, but she can’t exactly remember how it is she normally behaves around Billie Rollins. Does she reach out to hold? Perhaps they don’t have that kind of connection, just yet?

“Lib lib lib.” The toddler squeezes her little fists.

“That’s right, Billie. It’s Liv.” Amanda says. Even the baby has great memory.

“Sonny’s downstairs parking the car. How are you feeling?”

There’s an intimacy in the way she speaks Carisi’s name, and Liv bookmarks this page for another time. She’s had enough surprises for one day.

“Oh, you know. Like I went to sleep and woke up in a parallel universe.”

Nobody laughs, but Amanda manages a grin, so that’s something.

Billie wiggles on her mother’s hip, and Amanda sighs. “She wants you.”

“She likes me.” Liv says, surprised.

Amanda pauses. “You’re her godmother.”

“Oh.”

The toddler tumbles onto the bed, and crawls between Liv’s folded legs to play with her long wavy hair. “Hello.” Liv smiles at Billie like she would a stranger.

“You don’t remember her either, do you mom?” Noah says, watching her carefully. They are all watching her carefully. She's a rare animal trapped inside a zoo. 

And she gives her son a look, “Noah, of course, I remember Billy. She was just… a lot tinier the last time I saw her.”

The toddler wraps her small arms around Liv’s neck, and Liv awkwardly pats her back, a faceless wave of love running down her throat.  

Amanda and Maureen pipe up a friendly conversation in the corner. Liv is too distracted by the baby to pay them any attention. She bumps Billy’s nose with her own, the toddler laughs, Liv does it again, and it’s the loveliest she’s felt all day. Over the baby’s shoulder, Elliot stares at the two of them with a wistful expression, like he’s just caught her do something terribly adorable, and he’s a little overwhelmed by the image.

Just then Carisi appears at the door. He’s wearing a tailored dark suit, and his hair is smoother than it has ever been. Admittedly, it was a lot of visitors for a person who’d just lost herself to the road, but none of it mattered, somehow, when she caught Elliot and Carisi shake hands, like old pals, and Carisi had that glint in his eye, one of earned respect and honest dignity. It takes the breath out of her.

“Hey man.”

Then he says, “Hey captain.” And his grin hits as big as the moon with blinding optimism, it lightens her up a little, and before she can stop herself –

“Who are you?”

His smile fades, Amanda and Maureen stop talking, Elliot pushes himself off the wall.

“I’m joking! Geez.” Couldn’t they take a joke? She covered her face, laughing.

“You still got your sense of humor, I see.”

“Not that I had much to begin with.”

“Wow. There’s nothing wrong with your memory then.” He teases, and it’s not true of course, but it makes her feel normal.

“How are you feeling?”

She really hates that question, and it shows on her face.

“Well, you look good.” he sits on the edge of the bed.

“And you’ve aged.” She claims, concerningly, taking in the new lines on his forehead, the crisp tuck of his tie. “DA’s office?”

“They send their love.”

“Yeah right.”

“Uncle Sonny, do you still have uncle Rafa’s old job?” Noah sits tucked against her side as he crayons his way through a blank sheet, but his question sparks awkward silence in the room, and she doesn’t quite know why it takes so long for Carisi to answer.  

 “Yea, buddy. But I’m so much better at it.” Carisi eventually teased, his smile seemed lonely.  

“Really?” Noah cocks his head at his mother, like he knows she has the final say.

“No one’s as good as uncle Rafa but don’t tell him I said that.” she winked, knowing that Carisi should agree.

It doesn’t occur to her when Eli shifts in his seat, plunging into his earphones, and Maureen looks outside the window-frame, and Elliot shifts across the room with his arms folded like a scrunched-up piece of paper, that she’s made anyone sad. Least of all them.

“We haven’t seen uncle Rafa in…”

“Actually Liv. I wanted to ask you something.” Amanda interrupts. “I made plans with Stabler to steal Noah this weekend. We’re taking the girls to cony island and…”

The rest of Amanda’s sentence is muffled in the corner of her brain as she tries to process never-ending news. It’s been a day for the brain, and to be fair, time hasn’t allowed for details regarding Noah’s bedtime routine. But learning that Elliot has practically adopted her son trumps Kathy’s death, and it’s all really just a lot.

“So, what do ya say?” Amanda grins. Noah appears torn at the mere of idea of leaving his mother so early, and it kills her, because her son has had to grow up way too fast.

“If you don’t go, I will.” She muses. Eventually he follows along.

Noah leaves with Amanda and Sonny, his arms tight around her shoulders as he kisses her goodbye. Maureen and Eli file out of the room at the exact same time. Elliot walks them out and Amanda stays behind while Carisi and the kids fish for the car. It’s just the two of them now, and this time Amanda takes the bedside, relaxing instantly, like she’s just shed an apron after spending an awkward ten minutes with chaotic family. This, Olivia thinks, is somehow a familiar experience to her body. 

“Ok. On a scale of one to ten, how confused do you feel?” her southern drawl lips out slightly, reminding Olivia that some things do stay the same.

“A solid twelve.”

“Fair enough. I’m here you know, if you need.”

Liv brings her knees up to her chest, wrapping herself in easy confinement. “I don’t even know where to begin. But Noah and Elliot… when did that happen? And how?”

“I don’t know if it’s my place to say anything, Liv.”

“Amanda.” Everyone treats her like fragile glass in an open museum, it’s a wonder nobody seems to see that she is broken already.

“You and Stabler have been dating... for the last few months.”

She felt her jaw collapse.

“I don’t know how serious it was, if it was serious at all. You hardly talked about it. You kept him pretty private, you know. Before and after his return. You’ve always been that way but.. it felt like you were hiding something.”

“Was I?”

“No, I don’t know, maybe? I think you were trying to protect him from others. He’s not the most easygoing person.”

Well.

“And I’ll be the first to admit I wasn’t a fan, but he’s kind grown on me these past few weeks.”

“How do you mean?”

Amanda rubbed her chin, sheepishly, like she was embarrassed. “He hasn’t left your side. Literally, he’s been glued to the chair. It’s kind of frustrating; he doesn’t listen to anyone.”

Olivia fidgets with the lint on her knee.

“But with Noah… he’s uh, I don’t know, calm, focused, dedicated. All the things he hasn’t been this last year.”

She doesn’t know what Amanda means by that, either. But some of the cracks are beginning to fill, and the brush seems to be mixing colors, notwithstanding the still blank canvas that awaits total nothingness. She really doesn’t know where to start, the distrust feels like an impossible void.

“I can’t. I don’t even know what to say to any of that.”

Elliot? Dating? Not even in her wildest nightmares could she imagine such a thing. Kathy had only been gone for what, a year? And already, they were in bed together. No wonder, she thought, they were hiding things.

“It’s complicated, but I guess what I’m trying to say is you can trust him with Noah.”

“Yeah.” She was beyond grateful for that.

“And me?”

Amanda looked to her feet. “Just give it time. It’ll come back to you.”

***

“Can I get you anything?” From where Elliot is pictured at her bedside, his feet shuffle underneath the chair.

No, she wanted to say. But she also wanted him to leave, and then she wanted him to crawl on his knees and cradle her from behind. It was mind-numbing and emotionally confusing, like she was blindfolded in love with a villain of some kind, and the villain had his hand guiding her toward the light, but he was kind and loving and not cruel and careless, which was still somehow an issue, thought Olivia.

“Liv?” He murmurs.

“Just tired.”

“I bet.” He scratched his head. “It must be so overwhelming.”

 “How?”

“Huh?”

“How is it that you and I are… a thing, now?”

 “You caught onto that one pretty fast.” He smiled very softly.

“Amanda helped a little.”

It was all beginning to make sense now; the use of her stomach as a pillow. His rock-solid relationship with Noah. The homes he had built all about her life, the friends he had pocketed in good graces. And of course, him calling her baby, like a token from bed put on display for the world to see, for everyone to know that she was his and he was hers. It was admittedly sweet and likeable, but it felt wrong nonetheless, like she’d stolen flowers from Kathy Stabler's grave. Parading them around with her arms held high.

“What do you think about that?”

“I don’t know Elliot. It… this is a lot to process.”

“You say this as if it’s a dirty word.” He looked away.

“What’d you expect? I’m blind here. You disappeared for eight…. ten years and now..” she stopped herself. Now, he was a widow and a single father and a Catholic man who never knew what it meant to sleep on his own. Now he was sleeping in her bed and carrying her son and having mini panic attacks whenever she cried pain.

“I don’t wanna have an argument with you. I just want you to get better.”

“You want me to remember, you mean?”

“Yea, Olivia. I want you to remember. Why is that such a fucking bad thing?” he cried.

She folded her arms, shook her head. She didn’t like him cursing at her, so she looked to the ceiling instead

“I’m sorry.” He took it back immediately, face in hand.

She couldn’t explain it. But she felt strangely numb to his emotions, like she could throw cold water into his face and wouldn’t batter an eyelid. She might feel guilty about it later on, she would definitely feel guilty about it, later on. But it was the primitive urge that concerned her the most, and her anaesthetised emotional state that should have been a relief but was only emotionally disturbing. Where had this ugliness come from? Was I always this way, or did the accident make me this way? She thought.

“Maybe you should get some sleep. We can talk about this another day.”

“Are you going to leave?” It came out raw and agitated. Neither one of them expected this.

“Do you want me to?”

“I think… I’d just like to be alone for a while.” She bit her lower lip, unsure of what else to say. “I’m sorry.”

“Hey, don’t be. I get it. I’ll come back in the morning.”

He stood up and for a moment she feared he was going to lean down and kiss her on the forehead, but then he shied away. She breathed with relief.

“I’m here, if you need anything. My number is in your phone.”

“Elliot?”

“Yea?”

She cleared her throat, offering a deserted kind of smile. “Thank you.”

He needn’t any help in figuring out what that meant. He had done so much for her, they had done so much for one another, but trauma was trauma.

Elliot nodded, and from where he stood at the door, eyes anchored in stay, he looked as though he was about to set up camp just outside the room.

“I’ll call you if I need anything, kay?” 

“Will you, though?” he held her stare. “Cause you know, I’m here for you. I want to be here for you.”

“I appreciate that.”

“Your memories are gonna come back, Liv.”

She let out a shaky breath, the fishhook of twelve long years swimming inescapably beneath them. This was a nice time to lie and agree, but the water underneath felt cold and so did she. If she were to read this year backwards it wouldn’t make a difference.

They’d always be strangers in the end.

“Yeah.” She thought, "And maybe they won’t.”  

Chapter Text

She’s forgotten him.

Forgotten them.

Forgotten his entire family.

She’s a blind woman with a gun pointed at his head every time he walks into the room. She doesn’t want him anymore; doesn’t even like him, anymore.

“You must be looking forward to getting home, captain Benson.”

He has his back turned against her as he faces the window of the hospital room. Outside screams a hollow picture of the city that never sleeps. Its late afternoon and traffic has just peaked, he can see the miserable little orbs of vehicles moving ever so slowly, slower than the last two weeks, slower than Olivia’s memory.

“Dr Petall, you’ve seen inside my head, literally. You can call me Olivia.”

From behind, he can hear her pack the rest of her belongings into a small suitcase, the heels of her boots lining the marble floors as she sails the room, drifting from one side to the other, eager to dock back home.

He won’t move.

He can hear her zip the last of her days here in the hospital, and then she stops, and like a victim to the road, he can feel her eyes bore into his back as they wait out a green light, and maybe she might say something, or maybe she will just ignore him, like she has been, and wait for him to initiate the move.

The doctor flips through the last of her discharge papers.

“Thank you doctor.”

“My pleasure. If you ever need anything, Olivia… You know where to find us.”

“Of course. I must admit, I hope to never be here again.”

She could say that again.

“Fair enough. You’ve had a rough time, but your recovery has been excellent.”

“You think so?”

“Absolutely. Your physical therapist thinks you’re on the road to running a marathon. That’s high praise.”

Elliot can almost hear her grin.

“Of course, your neurologist would disagree. I understand you’re scheduled for regular appointments?”

“Yes. She wants to keep an eye on the headaches.”

“That’s good. I understand that it’s been difficult, with all that you lost in the car accident.” The doctor skirts around the topic like it’s a disease, he’s noticed.

“You mean the loss of all her memories?” Elliot snaps, facing the two.

The doctor hates him, everybody here, hates him. Elliot doesn’t give a shit.

“Not all of my memories, Elliot.” Olivia bites back, eyes aflame. “Just the last two..”

“Two years of them. I know.” He shifts on his feet, looking outside again.

“Don’t mind him. He’s in a mood.” Says Olivia.

Elliot rolls his eyes.

“No worries. I’ve been around a lot of spouses in my time, and your husband is actually rather patient.”

Elliot’s eyebrows perk up at that.

“He’s not my husband.”

***

He gives Olivia a moment with Lucy as he carries bags to the bedroom. Noah had swimming followed by ballet in the afternoon, and he seemed to tumble straight into his mother’s pillow as soon as the moon showed face. Elliot can hear Lucy and Olivia’s muffled voices in the other room, and then the front door closes, and silence.

He plants her toilet bag in the bathroom, shoes in the closet, bag on the corner side chair, and he’s tucking the blanket over Noah’s shoulder when the heavy breeze of another presence enters the room.

Having done this with her child 30 something nights in a row, he’s so used to being alone; it takes his breath away to see her here, eyes open.

She was leaning against the door frame, gaze flickering with the barest hint of love before it snowballed into detachment.  

“You know, it still surprises me how often he wants to sleep in my bed. Even at that age.”

Mothers and sons.

“Eli was the same. Didn’t stop until a few years ago, but don’t tell him I said that.”

She offered a polite smile as he neared the door, but she looked away as soon as his gaze met hers, like he had bruised a perfectly intimate moment with his closeness, which of course wasn’t true, for no matter how far he retracted in the name of love, she would still hate him.  

“Elliot, I know things have been… difficult lately but I do really appreciate you looking after Noah.”

She was speaking from her core, he could see it in the way her palm touched her chest, as if she was about to gift him with a little piece of her heart. And yet her face was emotionally detached but still so precious to him, her aloofness unable to overshadow the beauty of the soul he knew lurked beneath.

“Liv. Don’t worry about it.” he touched her shoulder, squeezed past and left her alone in the dimly lit hallway. He would never admit it out loud, not to her of all people, her who was somewhat fragile and unknowing for the moment, but it sort of offended him whenever she thanked him using Noah’s name, or for these simple things that made absolute sense to him. He loved that kid like he loved his own, more than his own, sometimes, because Maureen was right. Noah was perfect and easy, and he never brought much trouble, and even when he did his fists were the same shape as his mothers, which made Elliot love the kid even more.

It takes Olivia longer to follow him through the rabit hole. He’s fishing through the refrigerator in search of something real for her to eat, when he realizes what she’s doing.

Olivia stands in the middle of her apartment, hugging her arms like a cold child stranded in a desolate paddock, her gaze is searching and terrified, and brilliant. For a humble moment, fear eats away at the back of his throat and he has to force it back down in lieu of shedding a single tear. Everything is new to her, even the forcefield to which she calls home.

“Hey…” he whispers softly as to not startle her. “You okay?”

Her eyes met his and for a brief slow moment, he felt known again, but then she broke his gaze and with it his heart.

“Yea.. just a little overwhelming ‘s all.”

He felt himself sigh. “Anything I can do to help?”

She rubbed her eyes, shook her head and then trailed her finger absentmindedly along the wall. “At some point the old me had the whole apartment re-painted but I don’t remember doing that. It’s almost like I’m in a different house.”

Huh.

“It’s just a lot of changes. And I’m really trying to remember, I am, but it’s all very blank.”

She’s in a coma, Detective. She may never wake up.

“I feel like somebody has come along and wiped all my memories away.”

Dad, I’m worried about Liv. She doesn’t know who I am.

“I feel like I’m drowning, like a weight is pushing me down.” She adds.

I love you.

“And there’s people all around trying to pull me up, but they all want me to be somebody I’m not. Sometimes when I think about it, I just want to stay in the water.”

Elliot drops his head, closes his eyes. It’s all too much.

“Elliot. I think we need space.”

His pulse climbs and his vision gets a little dizzy, he feels his feet move across the room. “Space. What does that look like?”

She drifts away from him again, and suddenly they’re standing on opposite ends of the apartment, with his back to the door. “Distance. Time, you know, to figure out who I am on my own. I need to do that before you and I… talk.”

“Talk? What do you want to talk about?” and why couldn’t they do it now?

“About where you’ve been for the last eight years, Elliot.” She spews.

Ten. He aims to correct. Eleven now. But she’s still living in 2020.

“Ask me anything Liv, and I’ll tell you.”

“I know you want us to piece the puzzle back together, but I’m not ready.”

Patient, El. You have to be patient. Mama said to him just last week. Like a child on steroids, he doesn’t quite know what that means.  

“My whole life has been a puzzle. I think I just need a break. I’m sorry.”

His life, he thought, was a never-ending road of I’m sorry’s. Not once did he imagine that he’d be on the receiving end of hers.

Space. Distance.

He grabbed his keys, coat.

“Elliot?”

“Yea?”

“Can I hug you? Before you go I mean.”

Elliot spins, she makes his head swim.

“What?”  

“This is gonna sound strange but my neurologist, she’s a good doctor.”

“I’d hope so.”

“I can’t go back to work until she signs me off. She said I could start by doing things one would normally do. Like taking Noah to the ballet, he likes that now, apparently. And going for walks in central park, Rollins said I do that too.”

“Yeah, you do.” But he could’ve told her that himself.

“She thinks it might help jog back my memory. And I thought about you, given that we were... whatever we were. Maybe I could hug you, that’s what couples do, right?”

Elliot smiles.

“I… wow. That’s a lot. That’s great, Liv.” He scratches the back of his head. He was proud of her for making such bold steps into recovery, and she was showing effort in getting back to who they were, but he didn’t want to begin this road predicated on lies.

“Look if I’m being honest, and I know how this sounds, but we didn’t do a lot of hugging.”

“Oh.” She seemed surprised by this. And maybe, he thought, hugging was something she did with her ex-boyfriends, the ones who made it to bed and not to her heart. Maybe that was the etiquette of the woman from two years ago, the same who supposedly stood before him now, but that wasn’t exactly true when she was with him. They weren’t a couple, they were partners.

“What did we do then?”

Her long legs were crossed over the other as she stood with the weight of her right shoulder to the kitchen wall, and her arms were folded like a woman on a mission, and she was staring at him as if he were the keeper to all her secrets.

Elliot looked away nervously; his eyes landed involuntarily on the sofa. He felt his cheeks grow flush.

“Seriously?” she yelped a moment later, jaw hanging to the floor.

“What? I didn’t even say anything.”

“You didn’t have to. Geez.” She palmed her face and shook her head, mortified. He watched as she pushed herself off the wall, raided the fridge for juice and began to poor herself a glass.

She still wasn’t looking at him when she said, “Is that all we did? What about eat, drink, a movie, work? Normal stuff?”

The judgmental huff in her throat made her sound like a disgruntled mother learning of her teenage daughter’s wrongdoings.

He barked out a laugh.

“Yes, no?” she was desperate for an answer.

“We didn’t have a lot of time on our hands Liv. You know, between work, the kids, life, work. We were rarerly ever alone, but when we were..” he shrugged, and finished it there.

Her cheeks went tomato red. He grinned to himself and began to pace the floor comfortably, pretending to take interest in the photo wall of people he hadn’t yet met, but knew the names of.

“And what else?” he heard her ask.

“Kids.” He said, simply, like she would know what this meant, and then he remembered that she had no memory, and his feet drifted to a slow halt.

“We spent a lot of time with the kids. You and Noah would come by for dinner. We’d go for walks in the park, the four of us.”

“Right. Sex and kids. That seems like a great start to new relationship.” Amnesia had made her honest, lately, and noticeably funny, he thought. Like the accident had activated a comic switch in her head and made a grand debut of Olivia Benson in stand-up comedy. Dark comedy, obviously.

“If I recall, you didn’t have many complaints about it at the time.” He muttered.

“Isn’t that relieving.”

Definitely dark comedy.

They took it slow in the first few months of dating. Though they never called it dating, but it was so slow, so boringly slow, that when the clock stroke ten and mouths began to collide like two horny teenagers on their first ride, there was no end in sight. When they had privacy, sex was all they wanted, sex was all they needed, and the weeks leading up to the car accident were no small exception.

But now, now she could barely look at him.

“Well, this is embarrassing.” Olivia muttered, tackling a chug of juice, her cheeks weren’t so much red as they were pink now, like she’d been standing under the sun for far too long. He’d do anything, he thought, to hold onto this image of her embarrassed and fucking perfect under a pile of scarlet colors.

“Look, I know you just said you wanted space, but the twins have their fifth birthday this weekend at the apartment. It’s a little thing; we’re trying to shield mama from covid. Anyway, you don’t have to come if you don’t want to. But if you could bring Noah that would be… great. Or I could pick him up.”

“Yeah.” She smiled, a genuine one this time. “I’ll bring him, no worries.”

Elliot did a double take.

“Really?” he added, quickly. “Ok, cool. One of the kids will drop him off, afterwards. And don’t worry about getting any presents.”

“What’s their names?”

His head shot up. “Huh? Who?”

“The twins.”

“Oh right.” He relaxed. “Kieran and Seamus.”

“And should I stay?”

Of course she should stay. “Only if you want to.”

“Maybe for like five minutes? Just to see if any rain falls.” She tapped the knuckle of her head like it was a bucket, and he felt overwhelmed with love because even though she seemed to be burning bridges, he could see that she was only trying to swim toward one.

Olivia followed him to the exit, a great yard away but tailing him nonetheless. He stopped at the door, she with him.

“So, any plans for the next few days?” he breathed aloud.

Olivia’s face was intimidatingly motionless. “You mean aside from regaining my identity? The apartment is a bit dusty; I might give it a clean out.”

“Good idea. Let me know if you need anything?”

The corners of her lips lifted slightly. “Distance, El.”

He nodded, forgetting already. “Right, of course. Of course.”

***

When Liv and Noah arrive, the first observation he makes is the oppressive tension that ropes her body like a demonic month in 2013. She hides it well from his kids, and his mother, who do their absolute best to greet her with gentle hands. There was an Oscar worthy rehearsal before her arrival, what to say and what not to say described in laymen terms, but all of their strategizing got tossed out of the window when one of the twin boys knocked into her legs. Kieran looked up at her like so many others had before.

“Hi Livia! Thank you for our gift.”

She looked down at the boy with her mouth parted in an open smile, but her hands were up in the air like she’d just been touched by a complete stranger. 

“You’re welcome.” She said, awkwardly. Kieran scrambled off into the living room, leaving them alone.

Olivia’s gaze filed through familiar faces, stopping only at one.

“Uh, Liv. This is my husband, Carl.”

She shook his hand, “Hi. Olivia Benson.”

“I know.” He smiled warmly and grimaced when Maureen elbowed his rib.

A loud roar erupted in the corner of the room, Eli had just won a game of cards, Noah reached up to give him a hi-five, seemingly the only happy individual out of a very disgruntled audience. “You cheated!” Lizzie screeched.  

The apartment was crowded and loud and pretty much like this all the time. He snuck a glance in Olivia’s direction, she looked overwhelmed, not by the tension but by the noise. He only wanted to wrap her in his arms and carry her to bed.

“Can I take your coat?” he asked.

The timer on the stove made a noise, his mother and Kathleen scampered off.

“Actually, I was wondering if we could talk, outside? Gotta go.”

“You’re not staying?” asked Maureen. Liv offered a smile that faded around her eyes.

“I’m afraid not. I have a work thing. I’m really sorry.”

It’s a lie, Elliot knows from a conversation with Fin earlier that she’s been exiled entirely from the precinct until doc returns her with the key. But this is the least of his concerns.

“That’s okay. Leave Noah here, Kathleen’s already agreed to take him home. She lives in Manhattan anyway.” Elliot assures.

“Ok great.” She sighs, relieved, but her mind is still outside. “Can we talk?”

The crease in Elliot’s brows thicken, he nods.

She bids goodbye to his mother, his kids, blows a kiss in Noah’s direction, all while moving obscenely fast. Brushing past Carl, she says absentmindedly. “Nice to meet you.”

The kitchen goes quiet, even his mother perks up at that, but Olivia is already out the back exit. He sighs.

The door closes behind him, and a great condensation bleads inside the windows, creating a gated blur between his fortress and her, and suddenly only he can see the woman in front of him. For the first time in forever it is through a lens of binary terms, as if she is either an enemy or a lover and nothing in between. When did they become those people? He thought.

“Is everything okay?”

She huffs out a loud breath that is unmistakably hostile.

“I know this is the wrong time to do this, but I feel like I’m going mad.”

Elliot panics internally, images of hospital beds and psych wards and a boy in a carrot suit flashing like a lightning bolt in his head. Everything he touches turns mad, somehow someway.

“Liv…”

“I’m really trying to understand you here Elliot, I am. But at this point my eyes feel like they’re going to bleed out.”

“What are you talking about?”

“This!” she pulls out a piece of paper from her back pocket, shoves it into his chest. He recognizes the manila lining like old scar tissue. His chest begins to constrict in a muted but distinct panic. Fuck.

“I was cleaning out my closet this afternoon, and this came out. What the fuck is it?”

He pictured his therapist sitting in a cream-coloured chair. Breathe, said the ghost doctor.

“Forget the bullshit about the sweet, devoted man you wish I had, cause I know a lie when I see one, but – what we were to each other was never real? That felt like a real punch in the gut, Elliot.”

“Liv..”

“No. I’m not done. Tell me, was any of it real? Our partnership – real or not real? The lies – real or not real? Your abandonment. The car accident. The amnesia – real or not fucking real? Tell me. Am I losing my mind?”

“You’re not losing your mind. And yes, everything good about us was real. You were my partner, the only person on earth who understood a single vessel about me..”

“Oh, what an honour! Do I get a gold badge?”

“It’s true, Olivia.”

“Save the monologue, please. Did you practice that one in Italy with the great cathedral staring down at you?”

Threaded with bitterness, he actually laughs at that.

“You’re unbelievable! Unbelievable.” She shook her head, started to pace the concrete.

This is the argument to which she deserved a year ago, but trauma was fucking trauma.

“Can I speak now?” he asked, calmly.

She threw her hands up in the air, go ahead, she said. And it was hopeless, mostly due to his abandonment of God until recently, but he held his hands up in a prayer, like she was his holy shrine, and he told her who wrote the letter, and why it was written, and which line he wrote, and why he gave it to her, in the end.

Olivia was blandly motionless, a lion statue.

“Tell me what you’re thinking, feeling, anything.”

“I feel pain.” Her voice finally broke but her gaze remained cold. “I feel pain for the old me. The woman who put your needs before her own. Who kept this letter in her closet even after it hurt her.”

“Christ..” he felt sick. “I’m sorry.”

She folded her arms across her chest. “I imagine you know about Lewis, now.” He flinches at the name, like she’s taken a match and thrown it to his face and the parallel makes absolute sense to him, for he’s thought of this cold gruesome act more than he can account for.

“Right. You do. When did you find out?” she dug her hands into the pockets of her coat, chin lifted with pride and steel. “Was it last year? Or last decade? Tell me.”

“Two months ago.”

Her eyebrows shot up in surprise with tiny little dots making solid connections in her eyes.

“Before we slept together.” She concluded.

“You say that as if you remember it.”

“Trust me, I don’t.”

“Right.” He paced away from her a little.

“Tell me how to fix this Liv, and I will. I’ll do anything.”

She looked at him, sometimes, like she was looking through a window shade from the outside-in, but never actually wanting to see inside. This was one of those moments. A defining moment to which he thought, would never leave him.

“I don’t know where to begin.” She says, it feels like dejavu. “But all I know is that I can’t do this anymore.”

You need counselling, Elliot.

“What?” he heard his voice from a distorted mile away, it sounded like somebody had mangled his throat.

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

Bullshit.

Her eyes go wide. He realizes then that he’s said it out loud.

“Okay.” Were her last words, scratching the bridge of her nose and walking away, already.

She’s breaking up with him, he realizes. The sky is falling down and flowers are dying at their feet and she’s leaving him. Really leaving him.  

“I’ll always be your friend.” Olivia says, “I’m not cutting ties, I could never.... I just need time. We both need time, El.”

He doesn’t say anything, he can’t even move. Time feels irrelevant in conjunction with the elaborate war that has been their partnership. There was 23 years and now there is this, and this feels like annihilation at its finest. Feels like déjà vu and payback.

Olivia simply shuts the gate, walks away.

***

He’s still dazed when he stumbles back into the house. Music is playing, children are laughing, candles are burning and small dots of light dance between his eyes.

“Oh wow, those are so cool. Did you say thank you?” he hears Maureen say. The twins are opening their presents. One gives Noah a hug while the other rattles the box in his ear.

“Can we open it now, mommy?”

“What is it?” he hears his mother say.

“A thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle. Kids edition.”

“Mom got it.” Noah says, chewing on one of Bernie’s pastries.

“Fancy. We love puzzles don’t we dad?” Maureen says.

My whole life has been a puzzle.

He meets Bernie’s eyes from across the room, she’s always been buckets of colour in a white empty room, but her blue eyes darken into pity and she knows, knows.  

Mothers and sons, he thinks. The forgotten ones.

Chapter Text

The sky was soft like cloth and birds ran over it in long loose threads. However breathtaking and cloudless and pretty, it made her feel lonely.

Sat in central park, Olivia watched as Noah darted around the concrete playground on his scooter, shouldering a sense of independency that has ostensibly, come from nowhere.  

She’s learning a lot about herself, lately.

She’s learned that memories define a human being almost as hard as the badge which defined hers.

She’s learned that she spent a lot of time away from her son these last two years. She left him with Amanda’s parents on Christmas and Elliot on her own goddamn birthday. She reserved Saturdays for the theatre but didn’t always follow through. She had him shuffled from one after-school activity to another, in lieu of being an inconsistent mother. Lastly, she forgot to attend a parent teacher conference or two and hired a school-tutor to replace a seat at the dining room table. The clues are hidden in Noah’s timetable because apparently, he has a timetable now.

Noah takes her hand as they walk through the park, blissfully unaware of her new journey to self-deprecation, he lacks an ability to shoulder a grudge. Already he was spouting off on subjects she knew no origin of.

“but it was so fun, also Connor’s mom is gonna let us play the game this weekend; its PG and she said she will supervise.”

“Who’s Connor again? And have I met his mom?”

Noah released a dramatic sigh while forced to repeat himself, again. “He’s my best friend, I told you that. And his mom is a cop too, that’s the only reason you let me hang out at his place. ‘s reason you let me hang at anyone’s place.”

Great. She was an absentee as well as a control freak. It was nice to know at least one thing hadn’t changed.

“So, can I go? To Connors place?”

“You don’t wanna hang out with your ol mom?”

Noah looked up at her, eyes squinting just a little at the protruding sunlight in view, and then his face fell, and she wondered if she was becoming Serena Benson.

“Baby I’m joking! Of course, you can go to your friend’s house. I’ll give his mom a call when we get back.”

He squeezed her hand tightly, “And you won’t forget right mom?”

She sighed loudly, “No. I won’t forget.”

***

Her head aches a little on the drive to Connor’s apartment. She hasn’t eaten anything since breakfast and there’s a displeased tune humming in the back of her neck. She’s failed at something as simple as doctor’s orders, eat something, drink plenty of water. In her mind she can see Elliot and his disappointment, laden underneath a pair of thinly detailed eyelashes.

She parks the new rental, Noah dashes outside to Connor’s place, and she slams her eyes shut at the last memory she has of a man in the garden.

I can’t do this anymore.

I need time.

Was any of it real?

The seven stages of grief have warped around her neck a great deal since then. She’s surpassed the stage of disbelief, her whole life was a disbelief, and a house of denial, and now she’s camped out in a state of anger, negotiation, and sorrow. Does she continue this path of destruction? Following a cold and bitter road that leads to nowhere but madness? Should she negotiate the contractual agreement concerning space and time, that of which she herself mapped and forged both of their signatures? Or perhaps her sorrow might be better prioritized with the litany of Lindstrom’s questions followed by the bottle of wine that always follows.

The door swings open to a tall man in a tailored looking suit and before she can get a word in, Noah introduces the two. “Hi Mr Taylor. You remember my mom, Olivia? You’ve met before but she was in a car accident and has no memories from the last two years. So, she doesn’t know who you are or who Connor is, or who she is, sometimes.”

Olivia barks out a laugh and so does Mr Taylor.

“Hi Noah. Connor’s upstairs. Would you like to come in, captain Benson?”

Noah brushes past, she steps through with her hands in her pockets, idly she can hear light footsteps clapping down a nearby staircase.

“Call me Olivia, please.”

“Peter, you said you knew Olivia, right?”

“Yes. We know each other well.” The stranger pulls up just as Olivia pivots toward the familiar voice.

“Stone?” she all but gaped.

“Hey Liv.” He flashed a wide grin.

Now this, she does remember.

***

It turns out that Connor’s father is a decent defence attorney, and his best friend is her former ADA, Peter Stone. When the introductions are made, and brief stories are told, and Olivia can’t stop staring at Peter’s face, which hasn’t changed at all, despite the ticking clock in her head, she feels at once relieved for finally having stumbled into someone familiar. Someone who barely knows what’s happened to her, someone who isn’t remotely fascinated by it.

“Do you wanna get something to eat?” his question slips out later in the dark. They’re standing outside his best friend’s apartment; he has his briefcase in hand and she her car keys. It’s been 2 and a half years since she last saw this man, she’s sure of it.

“You look like you could do with something to eat.” He adds.

I’m here for you. I want to be here for you.

She slams her eyes closed, desperate to override the noise she’s been unable to shake since Elliot’s apartment.

“Okay, sure.” She breathes.

***

The food does very little to quell the aching fix of a migraine looming in her shadows, but the company does.

Peter doesn’t ask about the accident, or before the accident, or what any of it means for her now, but he knows something went down, and he’s gentle about it in a way that doesn’t feel like hovering

“Do you wanna talk about it?” he asks, when she mentions she’s on paid suspension until life improves.

“Not really.”

The waiter arrives with her first and last glass of wine for the night. Peter’s third bottle of beer parks into his hands. Their glasses clink, fingers brush, his gaze locks with hers for a beat too long and the noise in her head dampens, only briefly. It was like this, sometimes. Her emotions were so heightened that she felt everything ten times their intensity. Physical sensations reintroduced themselves to her with a feeling of genuine novelty. Breezes felt new, the sound of birds in Central Park, food tasted good, as did wine, though she wasn’t eating a lot, and alcohol was just another enemy according to the neurologist, so there was that.  

Really, all she wanted to do was run, but whenever she stepped foot on a treadmill her head and her ankle pounded with unrelenting pain, so running on figurative clouds seemed the greater alternative.   

“Tell me, Peter. When was the last time we saw each other?”

He blinks, doesn’t even have to think about it. “The courthouse.”

“Great. I’d hoped so.” She relaxed.

“How do you mean?”

From this corner of the booth, she can see the dim light in the bar complimenting his hazelnut hair. “Ever since I woke up, people around me have been wonderful, truly, but they walk on eggshells. Every time I look into anyone’s eyes, it’s like they know something that I don’t, and they won’t tell me anything.”

“In fear of hurting you.” Peter adds.

“I’m not one to wallow in self-pity, but I know what it means to hurt, I mean really hurt. I’d appreciate it if people consulted with me first, before making any rash decisions upon my own protection.” 

“Yeah.” Peter knows.

She smiles. “That was not a dig at you, by the way.”

“No, but I’ll take it.”

Olivia plucks her chin into the palm of her hand, circling the rim of her glass and sensing his stoic gaze on her face the entire time.

“Will you forgive me?” his voice is teasing, but there’s an earnestness to it which crawls up her spine and eases the ache in her skull.

I’m sorry. Elliot is begging.

Go away, her head screams.  

She grips Peter’s hand, loosens it in fear of causing harm. “You’re forgiven.”

Their hands stay entwined; her lashes flutter to meet his gaze just as his thumb caresses her knuckles. The never-ending noise in her ears only a docile little hum at this point. Peter’s gaze drops to her bottom lip, stays there until she speaks again.

“I’m trying to get past something – somebody.”

“Like a breakup?”

Olivia fights a sigh, greedy for the version of herself that once found it easy to dislike Elliot Stabler. “Maybe. I don’t know. He… he meant a lot to me. Still means a lot to me. But a lot has happened since then, and I can’t remember any of the important pieces. I don’t even know if I want to. I just can’t look at him without thinking about the past, you know?”

“Yeah. I do, a little. I’m in the middle of a split, myself. It’s messy. You just want the best for them, but you know they aren’t doing any good for you, yet you still love em.”

“Yeah.” For once, someone understood and at last, someone wasn’t hiding things from her, or from themselves.

“God, this is the most thrilling conversation I’ve had in weeks. Years, really.”

“Really?”

“Really. Noah’s great to talk to but he has his own life now. My old self made sure of that.”

“You’re a great mom, Liv. Don’t let your mind convince you otherwise. You’re a great mom.” Her hand was still in his, his thumb rattling nervously at the intimacy. She sucked in a quiet breath, savouring the power she still managed to sway over men courageous enough to make a move. Even one as bare as a handhold.

“Can I ask you something?” she downs the rest of her wine.

“Of course.”

“It’s a game I like to play, real or not real. It helps with the memory thing.”

“Alright.”

“You enjoyed working at SVU, real or not real?”

“I-“ he laughed. “Not all that real. Sorry. I enjoyed working with you, though.”

She swallowed. “You had feelings for me. Real or not real?”

“I-“ His cheeks grow a soft pink colour and he grins, doesn’t look away. “Real.”

Her breath hitches in her throat. He had nothing to hide, and it felt as exhilarating as the first time. Like coming up for air after a long drawn-out bath, she felt like somebody she knew to be; an identity who just made more sense.

“I know who I am when I’m around you.” She tells him, “Do you wanna get outta here?”

“My hotel is a couple blocks ahead.”

“Perfect.”

***

The noise in her head gets worse as they stumble into his place, like a bee buzzing in her ear, it won’t fucking go away. Peter pours her coffee; she downs the cup in one go in the hope of duct taping the voices. It doesn’t work. But sex might. Peter moves away, and the buzzing bee gets louder, and she pulls him by the elbow. His sheepish smile makes her stomach do flip-flops; when was the last time a man looked at her like that? Like she was the most whole human-being on planet earth, and nothing, not even a neurologist, could convince him otherwise.

“I’m not looking for anything long term.” Peter whispers. Her shoulders lift with relief just as he stumbles into her mouth.

“Good.” she mumbles, “Cause I don’t do long term.”

His hands find her waist, hers in at the nape of his neck, and his lips taste good, like cotton candy on a fine afternoon but hen her fingers lace through the short follicles of his soft hair, her body jolts at the blow, like it knows something that she doesn’t, and it’s protesting on her behalf. Peter presses her between the kitchen counter. The kiss ignites, and the buzzing sound is still rather ripe in her left ear. His blazer lands on the floor just as she is shifted onto the bench, legs wrapped around his torso, her scarf goes flying across the room, coat sliding down lithe shoulders; she grips his neck harder to quell the pain in hers. They make out straight for 5 minutes, its easy and painless and she relishes in the sensation of being wanted without all her memories. Peter gives zero fucks about her torched car, only sees her alive and wanting.

He grinds his torso against the heat of her crotch, and she moans at the throb it sends between her thighs, his stiff erection, and the callousness of her actions. Even in memory she will find this moment unbearably impulsive, and she’s aware of this now, while it’s happening. His breath finds the skin of her shoulder, pressing a soft kiss there, and she glides her tongue along the vein in his neck, her mouth brushing his white collar. He smells good, foreign but good, and her nostrils flare in protest of that, too. Her arms hug his shoulders, and they’re not as big as her body remembers.

You’ve never done this with him before. A distant voice growls in the back of her mind, shame bubbling upon the surface for confusing him with another man.  

What the fuck are you doing Olivia? The voice grows louder.

“Olivia..” Peter breathes, pulling back his lips are smudged with her lipstick.

Wow, she thinks, this is really happening.  

“Hey,” he whispers, “I feel like you’re not here with me.”

Bzzzzz. Bzzz. Bzz. She slams the palm of her hand to her forehead, a futile attempt to defuse the ache, and the noise, it’s so loud in here.

“Liv?”  

“I’m sorry it’s my head, the migraines. Do you have any Nyquil?” Olivia keeps her eyes closed as he fishes through the kitchen cupboard. A crisp cold water bottle lands into her hand, followed by two pills, and she pops them back.

Peter’s arms rest languidly at her sides. “I don’t want to do this if you don’t.”

In all honesty, she wanted sex but not with him, and none of it makes much sense when she thinks about it, for the heat between her thighs is telling her otherwise, and the Olivia of yesteryear would be calling her a fool. She is hoisted at the crotch between a perfectly capable man, a man who she trusted with her naked body, a man who shared a history never too bold to abandon, if need be, and he had the decency to say goodbye once, Peter. He may not own a garden or have five children or dribble 23 years between them, and Jesus where was he 23 years ago? In law school? Kindergarten? She slammed her eyes shut at the visual.

“I’m sorry.” She murmured. “If you saw the inside of my head right now, you’d run for the hills.”

“I doubt that.”

She unclenched her fists and bowed her head against his chest. She felt his breaths even and their mutual rise glide down a mountain slope of what was sure to be a mistake. Head trauma or not.

“It was good while it lasted.” She hears him say, a shit eating grin on his lips that makes her want to laugh.  She hasn’t wanted to laugh in a while. They stand there for a while, an awkward hug turned into one friend comforting the other, until her phone rings in the pocket of her coat, loud enough to drown out the echoing folly. Peter steps away while she answers. It’s Fin on speaker as she frees her hands to find her heels. There’s a case that demands her touch, a wide fishing net cast between their department and a few other borrows across the city. Thankfully, the squad stand huddled in the safe confines of her second home, so she doesn’t have to go very far to find her badge again.

“I’m sorry.” She apologizes, Peter gives her a dismissive wave, his gaze knowing. She drops her phone next to his, lets him point her to the nearest bathroom. The door closes behind and she looks into a mirror that seems to surface all her secrets. Her hair tossed through shame and her mouth smudged with regret and she looks like a woman who’s just been fucked against the counter, even though she hasn’t. As she fixes herself up, she wonders if this is just the body wanting somebody else.

Her hands scout absentmindedly for her phone and clothes. This doesn’t have to be awkward; Peter explains, he values their friendship even after 3 years of mutual silence and a horny moment in his kitchen. It’s about the strangest encounter they’ve ever had, and he laughs at that. She brushes his hand on her way out and that is all.

With her forehead pressed to the steering wheel, Olivia laughs hysterically and then she sobs.

What a mess.

This is a mess.

She is a mess.

***

The clock droops an hour away from Saturday. Activity in the SVU squad room seems so loud it’s a total blur.

Fin finds her at the foyer, ushering her through a room that falls silent whenever she enters. She hates it there.

The place is drowning in a sea of detectives she doesn’t know and a face which overrides them all. Elliot stands at the centre of the squad room with an army behind him, his rugged arms folded for war, or to protect himself, either way she’d want to protect herself from her own callous hands too, if she had the chance.

“Captain, meet the team from organized crime, sergeant Bell is on leave, so Stabler’s filling in.”

She nods, looking to all of his students except him.

“Sorry to call you in so late,” Elliot treads in her direction, “But Fin insisted. Apparently, you’re pretty important around here.” He jokes.

She bristles an awkward smile.

There are files strewn across the main table and empty coffee cups in odd places. She wants to ask how often Elliot spends his time here when he envelops himself into her direct line of sight. His long athletic legs are complimented by casual jeans and a thin blue Henley shirt that brings out his beautiful eyes. It isn’t the first time she’s noticed, but he looks like a religious piece of art. So unused to seeing him at all, Olivia has to turn her body away just to save herself.

“You okay?” he whispers, a moment later when they catch a break. It’s been two weeks since the night she called it quits, but it feels like yesterday. His face as she exiled him into an early grave, the way she understood, implicitly, why he left her all alone in the shadows years ago. Some goodbyes weren’t meant to be said. Some letters weren’t meant to be written.

“Elliot..” she shakes her head, eyes cast downward.

He takes the hit, steps back. She’s doing this all wrong.

“I just – I’m sorry.” She says.

The space between his eyebrows crumple, “You got nothing to be sorry for. We’re just in a rut right now.”

Is that where they were, in a rut?

She swallows thickly. Unable to shake the memory of Peter Stone as she considered taking both their clothes off just an hour ago. She feels… as Noah would put it, not very nice. And that’s where she is.

“You were right, you know.” He whispers, just the two of them. “It’s been two weeks and I miss you like crazy but-”

“El..”

“No. You were right; we needed the space. We’ve been so wrapped up in each for weeks, I didn’t realize how suffocating it must’ve been for you, for me too.”

She blinked back the vale of tears that threatened to spill. God, she thought, who was this patient man and what had he done with her old partner?  

“You weren’t suffocating me, Elliot. You were breathing for me.”

Its gentle and true and his eyes pillow. For a moment she wants to lie there prolonging the intensity of this moment, for which she is sure that she will always remember, no matter how many more car accidents she gets herself into. She’d never forget the sensory quality of being here in this office, with this man, after a decade of forlorn silence, totally wrapped up in with one another.  

The moment slips delicately, and in slow motion, when Amanda knocks on her office door, interrupting the scene. Another detective much younger with straight black hair and pale-pale skin shuffles awkwardly beside her.

“What do we got?” Liv inspects.

“Jet found an address. I know its late, but I wouldn’t mind taking backup.”

“We got you.” Elliot assures her.

“Great. Hey Liv, I forgot to ask, is your phone off? I was tryna reach you.”

Confusion shrouds her face as her hand reaches for the back pocket of her jeans. Several missed calls from names she doesn’t recognise and a pretty wallpaper of London bridge stare right back at her.

The bee starts buzzing in her ear again.

Another knock at the door hurls, and then Peter Stone – “Sorry to interrupt.”  

Her head whips fast like gunfire.

“Stone?” Amanda’s mouth falls open.

“Rollins, hey.” His face is pink again, like he’s just run up ten flights of stairs and can’t wait to run back down.

“What are you doing here?” Amanda says.

“Dude, I didn’t know you were back!” Fin approaches, patting him on the back.

This is a mess. An absolute fucking mess. The sky is pitch black and Peter has a smidge of her lipstick on his collar and she can feel Elliot’s gaze drilling into the back of her skull.

“Uh.. I’m not back – “

“Where have you been?”

“Europe.” He was looking at her now. “Just came back for personal business.”

The European continent has taken so much from her and everybody in this room knows it, save for Peter himself.

Clearing her throat, Olivia absently rubs the itch at the back of her neck. She’s not a coward, so she steps forward and without a single word, they exchange devices with knowing eyes crawling over the glass just shattered. The silence afterward reminds her of the silence in every room she hates.

“Thanks Peter.” Liv mumbles

“Hm-hm.”

“Didn’t realize you two were still so chummy.” Fin observes, and she gives him a look.

“Chummy? What are you, British?” she’s being evasive, and they all know it.

Peter looks to their audience. “We were just..”

“Catching up -”

“Bumped into one another -”

They answer at the same time, caught dead in a lie.

“Over dinner –“

“Noah – “

She shakes her head, decidedly giving up. “It’s a long story.”

The heat of familiar body towers next to her shoulder.

“Hi there. Elliot Stabler.”

“Peter Stone. Former ADA.”

“Ah.”

They shake hands, tension leaves her and ropes itself around Elliot’s fists. Elliot inspects him closely this time, and Olivia hastily decides she must put an end to it.

“Thanks again.” she repeats, non-discrete. Peter’s gaze falls onto the liminal space between herself and Elliot, he takes the hint.

“No worries. Nice to see you all.” He nods in her direction, “Take care, Liv. No more car accidents, okay?”

“I’ll try my best.” She chuckles, tensely. “Bye.”

They watch him leave.

Her office empties quickly, leaving the two of them alone. Elliot’s face is absent from any of the 7 stages belonging to grief, save for disappointment. It swells through him like a dangerous riptide, and it is worse, somehow. She’d expected him to ripple disbelief, or anger, but instead his arms were folded to block the tide from pulling him out to sea and he was looking at her, this time, like she was the stranger.  

“Wow.” Is all he says.

***

Elliot ambles down the corridor leading to the elevator, he slams the button once, twice, again and again until it opens, two rookies pass by and then it’s just the two of them.

“Nothing happened.” Her voice sounds cold and detached but her heart was thumping in dire panic. It seemed to be that she had dug her own grave and lay down in it and she’d never been more aware of this, until now.

“Don’t.” he growls.

“Where are you going?”

Elliot’s face is motionless as he stares at her, and then his eyes darken and he laughs, really laughs, but it’s filled with blackness. “You think I’m gonna go out and what, hurt him?”

“What – No? I know who you are, Elliot.” And he’s not a fool, or a murderer.  

“And who am I?”

A man who left.

A man who stayed.

She’s unsure as to whether there's a beginning or an end to either.

He rubs his temple when he realizes she has no words, no memories, just a man with a (dead) wife and children and a heart the same exact shape hers, its tender mate thrashing her insides.

Elliot pushes for ground zero, slipping away. Steps into the lift, she aims to slip away with him.

“Space, Olivia.”

“You’re hurt, I can see that but..”

“Don’t.” he warns.

“..nothing happened.”

He’s as still as a sculpture, and his eyes strip her down with ages on the job and 2 years ahead and really, she thinks, she might as well be the sculpture if this interrogation speaks for anything.

Elliot moves toward her, and her back hits the metal doors. She gives him an expression of caution, red stop signs thrashing in her eyes as his thumbs cradle her cheekbones gently, softly; an indication of his vast ecstatic depth to comfort her continuously, without any real gain in it all.

He won’t look her in the eye though, instead he looks to places somewhat irrelevant until now; her forehead, her lips, sensitive skin on her neck, her cleavage, the pristine cut of her denim jeans, it felt like he was undressing her all in the absence of touch.

Even under his total invasion, which would normally entice Olivia into slapping him crisscross and convincing them both to get their fucking shit together, for she wasn’t for anyone to undress, a greater part of herself knew this to be untrue and kept still. Her internal dilemma unable to make up for the good he could bring her, if she let him hold her just this once.

In that moment, Olivia’s headache had vanished completely, the buzzing bee wandered away and she felt whole, really fucking whole for the first time in years... no, weeks really. Did he make her feel this when they were together, or did he drive her crazy like he always had? Was this the reason they supposedly had so much sex? Fucking the tension into oblivion seemed like an easy prophecy for them to fulfil if given the chance. They were never so great with words, anyway.

Elliot’s lips find her forehead in that moment, and she closes her eyes at the intimacy, her body revealing something to which her stubborn head refuses to see. This is the safest place to be, and she loves it, there.

Elliot’s nose combs deep into the ashes of her hair and she thinks, with swelling music playing in the background, that maybe he’s about to kiss –

“I can smell him on you, Olivia.”

The growl in his throat makes her head swim.

He yanks himself away, hands screaming when she sees them.

The elevator swings open, Elliot plucks her to the side like a gentle ornament on timeout.

“We’ll talk another time.” He rumbles, “I jusss can’t look at you right now.”

And then he walks away, again, leaving her alone and speechless.  

Chapter Text

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.  

Chapter Text

It’s quite possibly the best sleep she’s ever had, until of course, she wakes up.

Alone.

Drenched in her own sweat.

Free of pain.

With one eye open, she rolls over to cuddle thin air. Consciously she is aware that last night happened, that Elliot wasn’t just another phantom thread of the forgotten. He was real, and he slept here and, she let him. But still, it throws her off when she rouses alone.

The hoodie she wore was hot and breathy on her skin, and what on earth possessed her to wear leggings to bed? They were nearing yet another tortuous summer in the city, and she can’t quite remember the weather ever being this bad.

She stretched out onto the space that rippled from his weight, stuffed her nose into the pillow. Sometimes when she’s lucid enough and the migraines are dormant, she can feel the scent of his body in the nape of her own neck, lingering there day and night.

Something in the room shifts, another presence enters, and she snaps her neck in time to find him again.

“Hey.” Elliot murmurs softly, standing at the door. He shifts closer and there’s that scent again, wharfing all around her like a faint shower in the rain. She could do with a shower right about now. She stinks of sweat and underarm odour and her hair is matted. She’s pretty sure he’s had a spa of his own, for he’s wearing a clean set of clothes, stepped out of something like a fucking television commercial.

“Hey.” She smiles sleepily, then digs her nose back into the pillow.

“You still tired?” she hears him ask.

She nods yes, but that’s not why she’s hiding.

“Liv. Talk to me.”

She pulls her face away from the cushion, feels like a damn fool. She’s known this man for twenty something years. He’s seen her in blood, sweat and tears, and she can remember, distinctly, the days when gazes were fleeting, touches easy, and he’d casually tell her she needed to hit a new deodorant. Not once did she care, nor did she ever feel as shy around him until now. The knowledge that he’s seen her unravel in the nude makes her want to crawl beneath the sheets and never come out again. Why couldn’t she remember that? And what did he care about her maimed hair anyway? She thought. It wasn’t like he had any to compete with.

“What time is it?” she croaks, Jesus, she even sounds like a mangled cat.

Elliot’s gaze trails her face, breaking away to glance at his watch “Almost school time.”

Christ, Noah! She’d almost forgotten about her own damn child –

“That’s actually why I came in here.” He reads her thoughts, “He’s been up since 6. Has the energy of an athlete… wants to know if he can go back to school?”

There’s not enough time though – “I can take him.” Elliot adds.

She scans him carefully, identifying the crisp white shirt and deep blue jeans found amidst the chaos of her wardrobe.

“Don’t you have a job or something?”

Elliot stifles a grin, “I’m sure they can do without me for a day, captain.”

Before she can protest, he interrupts. “So, may I take your lovely son to school now, or are you going to put up a fight?”

Olivia swallows thickly, the ease for which he clings to her sweet boy was still so new, and beautiful, and made her feel a lot of things once quelled by a rage that did not belong to her.

“Sure. But no private tutor at three. That’s my job, and I’ll be picking him up.” That was her job too, she reminded herself.

Elliot frowns, “Okay...? Uh look, I’ll be back soon. Try and get back to sleep, all right?”

There was no chance he was ever going to see her like this again, but she nodded anyway, smiling uncomfortably, and ignoring the perplexed look on his face as he closed the door. 

Her nose stuffs itself back into the pillow once he’s gone, fisting at the disembodied woman she’s become. She can’t believe that just happened, or that she genuinely cares.

***

The shower was cool as it rained onto heated skin. She brushed her teeth, splashed bodywash everywhere and deliberately chose not to think about Elliot Stabler in her bathroom, naked and free while she slept so sloppily in the other room. She tied her hair into a bun afterward, jumped into a pair of linen pyjamas, touched her face up with skincare; and managed to look like a decent human being again.

She felt tired and groggy, and knew it had something to do with the opioids; or the euphoric absence of pain crushing the insides of her skull, or both. Whenever Elliot came near, there was a great silence that suffocated all the voices in her head, and this could be a little disconcerting, for he did have a decent reputation in abandonment, but who was she to mistrust when apparently he already had his own basket of clothes in her wardrobe?

As she fought off an uncommon urge to fall asleep again, she began to wonder if his closet looked the same, when she heard the door to her apartment open, and close, and he was in her room again.

“You’re supposed to be asleep. You're intolerable, you know that?” he grinned, leaning gracefully against the doorframe.

“Shut up. Get back in before I stay awake.”

His brows perk up, but he doesn’t make a thing of it.

“Aren’t you hungry?” Elliot questions, back perched against the headboard.

“Hmm? Oh, no. Not really. I guess I should be, shouldn’t I?” Her stomach has been rather silent since the accident. Sometimes she forgets to eat until Noah is bolting into the car mid-afternoon with an appetite of a grown ass man.

“Com’on, I’ll make you something.”

“No, don’t. Just.. another minute.” She longed for the peaceful lull he brought her. Reluctantly he shuffles back against her pillow, worry carved into every working muscle. His fingers find her hair, soothingly there.

“Thought you’d kick me out, y’know. The moment you woke up and all.”

“Oh?” she frowns. “Did the old Olivia ever kick you out?”

“No, not really. I just – you confuse me, woman.”

“I confuse me too.”

He chuckles. She isn’t sure what her face is doing, but Elliot can’t stop staring at it. She’s so glad she had that shower.

“How’d you sleep?”

“Like a drugged out maniac.”

“Olivia…”

“No. It was good. I haven’t slept that well in… a long time. I don’t think it had anything to do with the pills, either.”

“Good.” he inhaled, unevenly. “Cause ah… I have a favour to ask of you.”

“Oh?”

He claws at the skin of his throat; memorising the ceiling. She hoists her elbow onto the pillow, jawline cradled, staring at him as he breathes too long.

“You want my drugs? They’re worth quite a lot of money, I hear.”

 Elliot throws her a cold look that only makes her laugh again.  “What – do you want my child now?”

He swallows loudly. She sits up straight, threatened. “You want my child.”

He is the one that laughs, this time.

“Move in with me.” Elliot whispers, softly. It knocks the wind out of her.

Whatever she expected of him, it wasn’t this. She looks to his chest and hurls herself into the abyss of memories from last night. She remembers every word spoken then, the unspoken too; every stolen glance and fleeting touch. The bee disappearing and the blind trust her body bestowed upon his care. What she doesn’t remember is playing cards of domesticity, or even remotely suggesting it.

“See before you say no, just listen alright? Move in with me, just until you get back on your feet. It doesn’t have to be for long, a week or two. For as long as you want.”

“Are you forgetting that you have a family?”

He groans. “Olivia, you are my family.”

“That’s nice, El. Really but I’m not sure. And I can look out for myself just fine.”

“S’ not about that. S’ not about nursing you, or controlling you, or whatever it is exploding in your head right now. I know you’re good at being alone; you prefer it most times. But this is about making sure you eat three meals a day, that you manage the pain instead of counting your steps. That you sleep through the night, and Noah doesn’t have to worry anymore.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

He sighed, his hands looking for hers. “Just think about it. We could give it a trial. Start off slow. You’ll be alone most days. Eli’s off at school, my mother is here and there, all over the place, really.”

“Yea, maybe you should talk to Bernie before you invite a stranger into living with her.”

“It was her who suggested it.”

Olivia rubbed her forehead, how strange it was to be vacant of headaches, when now seemed most ideal. How strange it was also, to be loved by faces one hadn’t seen in a decade.

“How close am I exactly, to Bernie or the kids?”

His face drains of colour, a white dove dropping into ponds of blackness. She’s seen it so many times now. Everyone has that look; baby lambs trapped inside a lion’s cage.

“I’ve hurt you again.” she decides, flatly.

“No no no.” his head shakes. He pulls her legs onto his lap so that her ankles knock into either side of his ribs, long legs spread out, mirroring one another. It’s intimate and non-sexual, and for a moment it felt like they were the only living two in a world at war, braving the weather ahead with jaded acceptance.

“It’s just staggering sometimes – to remember that you have no recollection on being there for us, for the kids. You saved me.”

“You saved yourself, Elliot.”

He blinks, startled.

“You’re stronger than you think. All of you.”

His shoulders sag just a little, pride dropping into the ground like the night before.

“Move in with me.” Elliot mouthed, silent, no noise whatsoever. He could’ve been talking to thin air.

“You’re never gunna drop this are you?”

An invisible tent shrouded over their heads as he inched closer, and she let him, their voices reduced to secrecy.

“Move in with me.” He mouthed again.

“No.” her smile betrayed her, terribly.

His fingers curled underneath her chin, and she searched and searched the pit of her stomach for fear, or panic, but found only harmony. She searched deeper, harmony again.

“Move in with me, Liv.”

She scouted hungrily for the barest hint of a migraine; nothing.

“We haven’t even gotten to first base and yet you’re asking me to move in with you, Elliot.”

“Oh trust me. We’ve done all the bases.”

“Stop it.” she groaned, then laughed, and blushed so violently she hid her face in her hands.

“You’re cute when you have amnesia. Have I ever told you that?”

“I thought I was intolerable.”

“That too.”

She let out a strange chuckle, breath had somehow escaped her. “Okay; hypothetically, if Noah and I moved in temporarily, where would I sleep?”

His gaze roamed over her body greedily, as though it feasted right through her clothes, and then he snapped out of it, and she glared at him so strongly it would put lesser men in place.

“Elliot… stop being so smug.”

“Auff, I’ll sleep on the sofa. It’s no problem. And Eli will be happy to share a room with Noah.”

“You can’t guarantee that.”

Elliot found a lock of her hair in his fingers, “Liv, it worries me how little you think we all care for that kid. Trust me, Eli is good with it.”

“Alright.”

“Alright?”

The sudden speck of light in his eyes made her feel better about herself. His blatant pleasure seemed so infectious, and so out of the blue. Once again, Olivia found herself wondering how it could be that she’d awoken to this life, on a fine evening in April, with no fucking recollection of the last year.

“Hey..” Elliot tugged conservatively on her thigh, where his hand lay, “Where’d you go just then?”

“Sorry.” She mumbled, shaking her thoughts. “If it doesn’t work, then what?”

“I bring you back home, and we figure out a different plan. Together.”

She inhaled again, he was saying all the right things, doing all the right things, it felt so right she had no choice but to toss fear outside their billowing hut. She imagined a former Olivia waving out, goodbye pain, previous Liv would say. Goodbye sanity; hello crazy.

“Okay. Yes.” How bad could it be?

Elliot lifted her chin, “You trust me, real or not real?”

Olivia blinks, once, twice.

“Real. Except, why do you keep asking me that?”

Elliot’s fallen expression reminded her of the collapsing dove again. It’s wings sinking deep-deep down with all her feathers still in place. He holds back, but Olivia’s hardened stare forces a jump. His landing reminds her of glass shattering

“Because the other Olivia didn’t.”

Silence.

“Oh.”

This is where it gets hard; watching the forgotten drain out of everyone except her has become an ever-chronic, ever-unpleasant experience. She feels deeply for that woman they all adore.

“Don’t run.”

“Don’t leave.” She bites.

There’s that dove again; disintegrating.

“She’s said that to you once before, hasn’t she?” Olivia says.

“I love how we’re talking about you in third person.” He tries to tease, but her eyes flash.

“Yes she – you did. Not so blatantly, but yes.”

“Well..” she squeezed his knee. “I trust you.”

And that must count for something, it has to. He’s been so wonderful and patient and taking care of her son. She doesn’t quite know what happened to that woman who loathed him; who awoke from 10 years of solitude simply repulsed by his reappearance. She’d love to find her one day, ask where it is she got off to.

“That means a lot to me, Liv.” Elliot tells her. 

The lids of her eyes close. His mouth soft against her forehead.

***

A day later

His fingers weave through hers as they key the front door. The place is eerily quiet, save for a neglected television droning on in the background. Elliot’s phone rings for the second time in less than a minute, and he fights a sigh as he answers, leading her down a moonlit hallway.

“Stabler.”

She’s been here before, once or twice, maybe even longer if she had could remember. It was currently mid-afternoon, Noah stuck in dance, Eli at soccer practice, Bernie…

“Yea just hold on a second – Mama?” Elliot shouted into the void; hand still tight in hers.

They passed the bathroom where she took a quick glance. Clean and orchestral with black and grey tiled walls. Nice.

Industrial-like designs exploded in sight as they moved further into the apartment. Raw brick walls grew some more with exposed beams and pipes. Shiny hardwood floors lauded the ricochet of her heels.

She heard Elliot sigh into his phone. “Yea I can maybe reschedule for tomorrow. I’ll need to speak with my sergeant.”

Across the room, Bernie Stabler bolted from outside the garden patio, stomping violently on a wasted cigarette; a failed attempt to hide her truth. In this flattering hazy light, the dimpled pink and white face beneath the short silver hair was almost cherubic, a crowned halo bobbing just over her head. Elliot seemed to relax beneath Olivia’s fingers at the sight of his mother, the feeling mutual.

“Just give me a moment.” An apologetic frown tightened his face.

“Ima take your bags to my room just over there and then I needa take this call. I’ll be like 2 minutes, tops.” He gestured with his fingers.

“Go.” She waved him away, watching him saunter off into the room that would now be hers, she turned loosely to find Bernie with her arms wide open, skipping in her direction. Run, a voice yelled in her ear. Fucking run now.

“Olivia!” she exclaimed. Bernie’s arms suffocated Liv by the waist. It felt oddly comforting.

“Bernie… Hey.” She smelled faintly of cigarette smoke and fresh top notes of patchouli oil; warm and fixed to earth.

“Thanks for… taking us in.” she shrugged, unable to think of anything else. She had a perfectly fine apartment back in the city, yet it was rooted in memories rendered redundant; and she’d been searching aimlessly for the ones that weren’t, coming up empty every-time.

“Don’t be silly. You’re welcome here anytime. This place misses you, terribly.”  

Olivia flashed a weary smile.

“Come on. Let me make you some tea, I just needa find the drainer. I had some matcha ordered in from overseas, Katie says it’s more effective if you get it from the proper place, though I’m not even sure what the difference is. Tis all the same to me, those young ones think they know it all. Are you okay, sweetheart?”

She had dozed off into the other direction mid Bernie-rambling. Absorbing all the curves and wrinkles and pulses of Elliot’s new home. She’d forgotten that it was often expected of her to sit still and listen, and not run around the place like an impolite idiot. The other Olivia was apparently far better off at table manners.

“Yes, sorry. Just taking it all in.”

Her arms folded themselves as she skimmed through the walls, stopping at photos.

“Ah yes. My apologies.” She heard Bernie say, “Elliot did mention more than once that you were new to a lot of things."

She fetched a photo of a much younger Elliot, alone and holding two small dumplings only known as his twins. The next stop was a recent one of all five tribal members, the two grandkids, the husband. Elliot and his mother absent. The last stop was Kathy, Elliot and Eli in Rome. The three of them seemed so content, giving Olivia a window into some sort of happiness pre-amnesia, a window she felt unable to open herself or ever climb through.

Heavy melancholy misted inside her head, not her eyes, but she could taste its raw metallic flavour nonetheless. Kathy’s death was so beyond her, so gruesome and recent. Practically yesterday. A contributing factor to calling it off weeks ago, why she refused to accept the illusion of Elliot being anything more than what Elliot was always supposed to be.

But Kathy dead was like a word read so many times it made no sense anymore. Sometimes she’d look into each of her children’s faces, or the barrenness on Elliot’s fingers, and feel totally empty inside. Unwilling to swallow death’s last act, a heroic gesture to gift Olivia the only thing she’s ever, truly wanted.

“My son is crazy about you.”

Bernie comes out of nowhere, and startles Olivia so abruptly that her feet practically leap into the air.

“I’ve never seen him this way before, around anyone. Certainly not her.” 

Bernie had that same sad look in her eye, another dove falling to dust.

“I loved my daughter in-law. We had a lot in common, sadly, but I always knew.. I always knew that he – my boy – would go on married to her while loving another.”

Olivia fought to keep the frame in hand as it leapt out of her quaking fingers, making loud clatter against the shelf. She breathed a sigh of relief when it landed in one piece. Bernie’s heated stare made her neck feel hot and blotchy.

“Did you two ever – you know – when Kathy was alive..?” 

“Never.”  

It’s supposed to be gentle, yet it comes out like snap of the head, a lion testing out the first of her prey. Olivia feels horrible all at once.

“I’m sorry. I meant, no. no, Never, ever. I loved Kathy.” Her voice chokes. God, this is only day one.

“I know, dear. I know.” Bernie’s hand is gentle on her shoulder. “She loved you too. Even though she was threatened, had so many insecurities. She did love you in her own way. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have asked, specially cause I already knew the answer. I just wanted to make sure it was the real you.”

Bernie smiled, Olivia blinked, then wiped something under her eye. She was crying. Nobody had ever checked to see if she was real before.

Bernie whipped out a tissue, glancing behind her shoulder to make sure her son wasn't a witness to this latest crime scene.

“Quickly! Before he comes out and rips my head off.”

Olivia chuckled, dabbing. “He wouldn’t..”

“Oh trust me, he would. The man goes all looney when you’re hurt. Com’n dear, forget the tea. You need food, and you need it now!” She motioned toward the kitchen. 

“Food!” Elliot reappeared very loudly, making a thundering clap with his hands. “What are we eating?”

His mother makes a comment about ordering takeout, and he motions towards the menu pamphlets on the dining table. Next sits the puzzle Olivia had brought the twin boys for their birthday, hopelessly unfinished, even traces of adult fingerprints cannot see an end.

“You feel like Italian?” she hears Elliot say.

Her gaze filters back to Kathy’s photo in the background, unable to escape the debris of fear and guilt raining upon her.

She looked back at him, and with one glance he hurried in her direction.

“What’s wrong?” he whispered, though she could still feel his mother staring from afar. It was going to be like this, wasn’t? The staring, the questions, the topic of death, of loss and living, war and famine.

So much fucking loss.

“Com’n, les get some air.” He pulled her in the direction of the garden. “Mama, order whatever!”

“How about Tacos?”

“Perfect!” they both yelled in unison. Elliot closed the door, and she stopped like they were in the middle of a worn-out road, bowled over by the memory of her last time here. The breakup, the letter, the nights after.

“Liv, you look like you’re about to pass out.”

She opened her eyes to find him sitting on the edge of an outdoor table, one leg hoisted above the nearby chair. He had an aura of confidence that belied the truth of the moment.

So much loss.  

“Talk to me.” He said.

“Have you ever asked yourself, do people make war, or does war make people? Isn’t it an endless cycle?”

Elliot just stares.

“Sometimes we’re just collateral damage in someone else’s war against themselves.”

It sounded like a line she’d read somewhere, before. “That’s… wise.”

He smirked, “You told me that, once before. I never forget it. It’s my mantra.”

She swallowed. Unable to silence another trembling epiphany, maybe she had come not to bring peace but a sword. Maybe his family were her next collateral damage.

So much loss.

Elliot’s hand reached out amid thin air. “Stop catastrophizing. Stop thinking. Just breathe.”

In and out.

Her feet inched on their own accord, hands tangling with his, traitorous limbs unwilling to obey the voices inside her head. He pulled her between his legs, palms full of her hips, nose drifting into the ends of her hair. So confident within himself.

Her slim arms journeyed the dips of his broad shoulders, she clutched.

“I don’t wanna hurt you, El.”

“You’re not a hurtful person.” He rumbled into her shoulder. “Where is this even coming from?”

“I hurt you last week.”  

“Let’s not talk about that.”

Long green vines erupted from out of the Stabler garden. Creeping across the concrete like some dark magic. Coiling around her ankles. Fighting for every inch of skin they could possess. You should’ve run, a voice told her.

“I hurt you more.” He tried to sympathise.

She closed her eyes, “Let’s not talk about that.”

Chapter Text

Day had turned to night by the time she had her opportunity to talk to him, alone.

The others had gone to bed. It had been a long night filled with stolen glances and choreographed conversations. Bernie and Kathleen kept asking questions, and she was so accustomed to the never-ending curiosity belonging to her current state of mind that it didn’t bother her, not really.

Not much could be said for Elliot. His futile need to protect her sensitivities was a little obsessive, if not annoying.

Yet here she was, back in the Stabler garden on a cool spring night, the moon hanging small and yellow and gibbous in the sky, reminding of weaker nights survived. She can do this. She must.

Staring at the near stranger, her heart pumped with familiar fondness she’d never before directed towards the boy in front of her. For a strange moment, it felt like she was staring at an older version of Noah, a beloved son she didn’t quite know.

“Hey Eli, mind if I join you?”

He had an iPad in hand, its bright lit screen illuminating the dark circles underneath his eyes.

“Uh, sure.” He replied, cautiously, as though he hadn't any choice.

Olivia could hear the constant ebb and flow of the city behind, like the breathing of some great, slumbering creature at rest, and she knew that everyone bar the two of them were at rest now, too.

She crawled onto the seat across from him, placed two cups of heated non-dairy milk, cared less of what he had to say about the peace-offering, and more of what she should say.

I’m sorry for what I put you through.

I’m sorry for your mother.

I’m sorry for everything.

This was uncharted territory of the greatest kind, another slice of stolen property added to her collection. She hopes wherever Kathy Stabler is, the woman hasn’t anymore pens.

“Can’t sleep either?”

“We don’t need..”

They spoke at the same time.

“What was that?”

“Sorry.”

She sighed, scrubbing her face. “You go.”

“I was just gonna say we don’t need to do this.”

She took a sip of milk, an attempt to mask the blow. “Do what exactly?”

“You know, have a heart to heart over anything.”

“Well, that’s sad. I’m quite good at heart to hearts, actually.” she teased, mildly, and blinked when Eli merely looked away, quiet and withdrawn like his father was, or could be.  

“I noticed earlier at dinner; you were a little distant. I just wanted you to know that you can talk to be about anything; anything at all that might be bothering you. I can take it.”

The city sighed, slumped in darkness.

“You’re really great with Noah. He talks about you a lot when we’re at home.”

Silence again.

“Your dad insisted that you were fine with sharing a room, but I don’t mind converting Noah to the bed with me. He pretends not to know me, but he’ll take any opportunity to drape my arm around him at night.”

A timid smile tugged at the corners of Eli’s mouth. A win for her.

“I don’t mind Noah. He’s good company. The room is big enough. Unfortunately for him, it has no door. Dad took off the hinges last year so...”

Her brows perk up at that, she doesn’t ask.

“I appreciate it. The hospitality that is, not the lack of privacy. You want me to have a word with your dad?”

Eli grinned, just a fraction. “Nah, that’s alright. It won’t work.”

“But thanks anyway.” He added.

“Eli..” she heard herself saying, closed her eyes and saw only wounded animals, orphaned children, a sinking casket flanked by waterfalls of dirt.

“I’m about to say something terrible. Only because I – the new Olivia, haven’t said it yet and it’s been a year. I am so sorry for what happened to your mom.”

Eli slackened in his bones, as though she’s placed a flower at his feet and not a sword. A door opening just a fraction, in his unyielding gaze. He reminds her so much of his father in ways that clearly surpass looks.

“That’s not terrible.”

“No?”

“No. It’s uh.. thanks. I get it.”

“I don’t expect any of this to be easy for you, taking over your home like this. Just know that its only temporary, okay? I’m really not tryna replace Kath.. your mom.”

“I didn’t think you were.”

His words hang in the air.

“You were always good at that. Setting boundaries, making sure none of us felt uncomfortable talking about her when you were around. I mean yeah, it was awkward when you started seeing my dad and all – but that had nothing to do with mom gone.”

Olivia nodded. More new information that she didn’t ask for but welcomed, only because it was him. She tried to find the app in her brain to log it, to memorize it, become it, failing every time.  

“May I ask what exactly made things awkward?”.

“Ah. I don’t know, just the way you were with each other, I guess.” He blushed, as though he were trying to suppress a terrible memory.

“We didn’t uhh.. do pda in front of you, did we?” she felt mortified even having to ask.

“No.” Eli laughed, grimacing at the same time. “You just uh.. you argued a lot when you thought none of us were paying attention. You’d either come out here or you took it somewhere else. Like the night of the twin’s birthday. I could tell you were fighting cause you were doing that thing with your hands, and dad was pacing, and then you just left and we never saw you again.”

“Oh, Eli.”

He moved his body so that it angled in the direction of the patio doors, away from her. She felt at once connected and detached from him all the same.

“I don’t mean to make you feel bad. I just know what it’s like to be treated with kid gloves s’ all. Sometimes learning the truth is better than being concealed from it.”

“Yeah.” She agreed, looking off unto the doors as well, where the blur of one lonely lamp provided a dull golden glow to the home inside. Though it didn’t feel like her home, she was convinced that Eli had once felt a similar disconnection. She stared at him intently and dug deep inside herself to find what they had been looking for.

Nothing, not a single thing.

“What’s it like?” asked Eli, longing in his voice.

“Hmm?”

“Not remembering a thing about last year.”

She felt the quicksand open at his feet and she saw it, his desire to switch places, to take her car keys, to plunge right into that power poll without ever really considering the consequences. She had almost welcomed the oncoming oblivion too, the promise of nothing, of no feeling, until she realized she was living in it.

“It’s like waking up one day and finding out your house was burgled while you were sleeping in the next room. All your favourite things stolen from you. Violated in a way that not a lot of people can understand.”

“Do you want your memories back?”

She shared a strange desire to swing nothing more than the raw truth. This kid had been through hell and back, with and without her, and she owed him that much.

“Not really.”

Eli let out a sigh that she failed to understand, selcouths of emotions she could not see growing between them. “But why not?”

“What happens when your house gets burgled?” It was a terrible analogy, she knew this, but she didn’t feel the need to impress him. His protective nature inherited from a certain someone seemed to indicate that the old Olivia had impressed him enough.

“I don’t know. You call the cops and try get your stuff back?”

She chuckled, the first in a while. “You get to start over.”

Silence, again.

His gaze shifted past her, back towards the insides of his home, expression distant in a way that made her worry, reminded her of green traffic lights and meeting in-laws and breaking hearts.  

“I’m sorry. Was that too much?” she asked.

“No. Just thinking.”

“Tell me.” she pressed, softly.

“I just think uh..” his voice was hoarse, drained. “It’s been a hard year for all of us and I’m just really glad you’re alive.”

Her throat made a mournful noise.

“Cause if you weren’t..” his tone travelled off and so did his gaze, back to the dim gold glow of the apartment, the big corner-side sofa at the heart of it all, where his father lay dormant to the world.

***

Elliot wakes with a thud.

He rummaged for a moment to collect his gatherings, remembered where he was, who he was, and why they were here. He kept counting everyone compulsively, even as they were far from sight. Mama, Eli, Noah, himself, and Liv. All five of them, as if he were afraid one or two might disappear.

His gaze landed on the clock, it was just after midnight, the time in which today becomes tomorrow. Mere hours away from seeing each of their faces again.

They were safer in bed, he told himself, though that did very little to tear his gaze away from his bedroom door. The wooden panel creaked ajar, even though he distinctly remembers Olivia shutting it after she bid goodnight.

He imagined her getting up in the middle of the night, tiptoeing the invisible paper arrows that led to the bathroom, pausing to catch sight of him asleep, and he felt a wistful smile take shape. She was safe, and home, and within arm’s reach.

There was a loud clatter that came from outside, then muffled voices. It was instinct for his hands to fly to his hip, where his gun might usually sit if he were on duty. Steadily he stood on two legs, stopping carefully when he realized the glass doors were unlocked.

Danger.

No, Peace.

“Has nobody really given this a go yet?” he heard Liv first, her deep raspy voice reverberating the empty night.

“Nobody. Maureen thought it might give us all something to do together, but everyone pretends to be busy these days.” Eli’s voice.

“Hmm.”

He stepped out into the garden; his presence already known by the scraping door. He stopped dead in sight at the picture of Olivia and his son, stringing a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle together, all in the name of dawn.

“Hey you.” Liv rasped, brown eyes melting into blue, reminding him of how little it took for her to frustrate him.

“You two starting a book club as well?” he teased.

“Lost track of time. Sorry.” Eli yawned, face a little droopy.

“How long have you two..”

“A couple hours.” Answered Olivia, fixing another piece.

“I should get to bed.” Eli took one last gulp of his milk and rubbed his eyes again.

“Yeah.” His father agreed, a soothing hand on his back. “Goodnight. I love you.”

“You too. Goodnight, Olivia.”

“Night honey.”

The door closed, leaving the two of them alone amongst the stars. There was a cold chill that grazed the curvature of his spine, and he wondered if it was the wind or her stare.

“Ever heard of a t-shirt?”

He spun around and peered down at the rock of his broad breastbone. Elliot laughed.

“Sorry. Habits die hard.”

“Here.” She threw him his own zip-up hoodie that lined the back of her chair. It was bathed in Olivia’s scent and reminded Elliot of those few weeks they spent tangled in one another.

He won’t give himself the pain of thinking beyond.

As he sat, and threw on the zip-up hoodie, her gaze flickered over his bare abs for just a fleeting second, though he needn’t embarrass her by mentioning it. He’d done enough of that already.

It felt nice having her attention.

“You two get to talking?” 

“Hm-hm.” Her fingers hover above the line. He hates puzzles. He hates this puzzle. Its birthdate is as fresh as the image of her wanting another man.

Danger.  

“He’s a good kid, El.”

Peace.

“He’s been through a lot.”

When it’s not the nightmares, or the flashbacks, it’s the look on his sons face as his father stormed down the hospital, Olivia’s blood soaked through his shirt like blackberry cloth. He hates it there.

“Elliot.”

“Yeah.”

“The other night, you mentioned you were in therapy.”

He nodded; brows furrowed. “Is it working?”

“It doesn’t not work.”

“Right.”

“What’s on your mind, Liv?”

“There’s obviously a lot we have to work through, you and me. And I have no idea what happened last year.”

“I wanna tell you, I do. I’m not tryna hide things from you. I just think you needa be in a better headspace s’ all.”

“A part of me just wants to get it over with, like ripping off a band-aid. I wanna know, I wanna breathe. I wanna sleep it off while I have the time.”

He reaches out for her hand, feels pleasurably crushed under the weight of her power over him, his colossal need to touch her at all times, to own her, to climb into her mind and figure out the orient of the sun so he can adjust.

Olivia’s hand is so small in his own.

“My therapist wants to meet you.”

Her mouth parts, eyes wide like the black above. The night is clear but suffused with sloth and sullen expectation. He can see it now, feel it, is responsible for it.

“You talk about me in your sessions?”

Her cluelessness to the enormity of his feelings for her are absolute body blows.

“For the last couple months, you are all I talk about.”

He’s jealous of the air her lungs so desperately cling to in that moment, the way it pokes a hole into their bubble, invading space, taking her away from him.  

“Right, wow, ok.” She looks away.

The problem is that he’s scared her. The problem is that he’s probably more terrified than she is. There’s an ugliness to him that would like to lock her in and throw away the key.

“Don’t worry. I told her no. You have Lindstrom, and that neurologist, and whoever else to deal with as it is. This doesn’t have to be a thing, Liv.”

“Well, what exactly does she think I can do?”

He pauses, retreats, moves in again, he feels like he’s rocking, floating to the tide of the moon above.

“Elliot,” she levels him. “What does she want?”

“She wants to have a couple’s session.”

Olivia repeats the last two words under her breath, as though she can’t quite believe it herself.

“Wants to go over some things. To understand our dynamic, impossible I know. I don’t even understand our dynamic.”

“Well, maybe that’s why she suggested it. Maybe she wants to help us.”

He wonders if she’s playing games with him.

“You agree with her?”

“What’s the harm in us trying?”

Her eyes give him the claustrophobic sense of being stuck at the bottom of a very deep well. Even if he wanted to deny her of anything, even if it was for the greater good, he simply could not.

And he shakes inside. Shakes. A disbelieving breath escaping him. Does she not realize what her hope does for him? How different of woman she is to the soul who struggled to forgive him, who he loved anyway, despite the claw marks drawn across his entire back.

“Tell me why.” She pleaded. “Why not?”

Jesus. She was out for the kill tonight.

“Because I can’t risk it. Because she’s my shrink and running into that room will make shit about me. I don’t want that. This has to be about you and your healing journey, Liv.”

“Elliot stop. Just stop.”

She stood on two feet, blanket pooling to the ground like silk saffron in slow motion. He waited for her feet to disappear like they often did when she fought, but instead she zoomed around and to his side, her hands trembling as they picked his jaw off the floor.

He felt like a god as he stared up at her, the faint glow from inside iluminating her holy face. Sublime against the dark sky that she had made.

“You’re good Elliot, you may even be noble, but I need you to stop treating me like some delicate little wallflower. I’m fragile, not weak.”

Danger. All he sees is danger.

“Don’t you dare put words into my mouth Liv. I never said that..”

“I know just… let me finish. Will you let me finish?”

 He can never say no to her.

“Soon enough I’m gunna have to stand on my own two feet. I’ve gotta walk into that hospital and learn the fate of my future, my badge, my everything. And you’re not gonna be there to hold my hand.”

Well, no, because there isn’t a world in which she will let him.

“Exactly.” Said Olivia, “You wanted this, you wanted me to move in with you. You wanted me to get better. But I can’t do that if you’re constantly doing everything for me. I want this to work, our friendship, the other thing. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

His mind is still stuck on the other thing.

“You want us to work?” he’s dying by mere inches.

Her hands feel as light as feathers on his shoulders, like they weren’t even there to begin with.

He wonders if she is a ghost.

Come back to haunt him.

“I wanna be able to look at you and not feel the urge to run.”

Elliot drops his head so low the ground is all he sees. Golden hands frame the back of his head, and he pushes his forehead into her belly.

It’s impossible to lock away a ghost.

The pressure of her fingers against his scalp heals the burns she put there, weeks, months, days ago. Her fingers line his jaw, her eyes find his again and they are – sweet jesus – they are open. Not dead, not loathsome, not even hesitant. But open and all for him.  

He is hers and she is his and he could get lost there and stay lost all night.

“Can I tell you something, something I’m not proud of?” Elliot says.

Olivia’s breathy sigh is her surrender.

“I like this version of you. The you who wants to try and fix what I broke. I don’t take any of it for granted, Liv.”

“Can I tell you something?” she whispers back.

He nods.

“I like me better this way too.”

Chapter Text

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.”

“Only sometimes?”

“Stop teasing my brain!” 

“Your cheeks are red.”

“Exactly.”

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.

With him.

“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?”

“My childhood?”

“I know some of Elliot’s. I’d like to get a decent picture of yours, too. Would that be okay?”

“Uh, sure.”

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...”

“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?”

He stiffened.

“Eli and I have been talking.” She explained.

“Jesus christ I’ve screwed my kid up for good.”

“El..”

“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.

“I know.”

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?”

“Yes.”

“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.”

Chapter Text

They’re standing next to the Hudson River when she kisses him.

The sky is coal with occasional silks of shooting stars fighting the ether. They’ve just won a marathon in joint therapy and Elliot can’t quite believe the success of it. She opened herself up tonight, she let him hold her, she didn’t yell or scream or tell him to fuck off or fuck him and then ask him to leave –

No. She exposed herself. She bled right through the carpet and then let her tears erase the dye, laughter filling the cracks. She was so brave tonight, so strong, so Liv.

And then she kissed him. Strolling along the tide that she controlled. He turned back to see a look of desire in her starry-eyed features. A look that he had seen many times in those lost few weeks of their reckoning. He held onto this face like it was a lost token, hoping it would one day return to him.  

“El..” she had whispered, eyes whole and undeniable. She wanted him.

“Liv?”

Carefully, very carefully, she moved forward and took his face in her hands, shaking like leaves.

“I’m gonna kiss you.” She declared, which she had never done before. it had always been take take take – and now everything was a wonderful declaration. They were walking the moon.

“Then do it.”

She does. 

He forgot what it was to kiss her, to have her tied to him and nobody else. The journey here had been so blurred, so tender, he’d almost lost her and lost himself. But this felt fond in a way that none of their kisses had before, soft like the silk of her blouse fisted in his hands. With their mouths parroting a pantomime of second chances, it was hard not to lose himself to the memory of moving inside her, of having her thighs wrapped around his waist as their tongues grooved in absolute synch and jesus – he needed to stop.

They both parted at the same time, and she let out a little breath, her hooded lip sunk over its bottom. 

I love you, he thought. And he needed to tell her this. It was the last on his list.

I love you.

Her eyes went wide and holy shit he had said it out loud. Finally. 

Her hands were still shaking as he took them in his own. “You don’t needa say it back. It’s just.. I’ve told you that before. And I want you to know it again.”

“Did the other Oli..”

No. The other Olivia never said it back, and he tells her this. But none of that matters for him, because deep down he knows the truth. He knows that she would never agree to move in and steal his therapist or sleep in his bed or wear his hoodies if she didn’t feel at least an ounce of love. For him.

“Elliot.” Her voice is so low. “I don’t wanna go back to your place tonight.”

Don’t run, he thinks, please don’t –

“Let’s go back to mine.”

Her breath catches in her throat before his does. And he knows that look so well but still, he must ask –

“You sure?”

Noah is at home – his place. Safe and tucked away with two other adults to watch him sleep. It’s the perfect night to escape reality, to dive into one another and reciprocate all that want sated in her precious face.

“I’m sure.” She adds, and them draws him in again. She doesn’t kiss him but the thought is there.

“Please.”

And that’s all she has to do, to say. Because the sound of Olivia begging with eyes asleep is too much for him. That and the fact she wants to take him home. So, he nods once, hauls her by the hand and off they go.

**

They’re moving fast but she doesn’t care.

It’s been 23 years and they’ve had nothing but shit luck and shit timing. For weeks she’s had him to the knees, practically begging to take her to bed again, and she’s been fighting her own desire since the day they first locked eyes on one another. In hospital. Nothing but hatred in her veins for him.

Everything is different now.

The moment they sweep through the door he scoops her up and pins her against the wall. Its rushed and heady and her hands race to rip his layers off until he is in nothing but his shirt and pants. No wedding ring here, she reminds herself. He is hers now. He was always hers. But he has this look in his expression that tells her he is completely wrecked. They haven’t even started.

“Olivia.” He draws her name out, weak. His orbs dull like faint diamonds against the fractured light she can’t see.

“I know.” She breathes, pulling him back in. “I won’t run this time.”

And No. She tells herself she won’t. She won’t. He loves her. Isn’t going to hurt her.

“Good. Cause I won’t have any fight left in me after this.” Elliot says.

She shudders inside, loops her arms around his shoulders and hugs him close. Closer than before. She lets herself fall, throwing herself off the ship. Only he could get this. Only he could understand the effort it was to shed that pretty proud cape of hers, to let him have her with no strings attached. They shared the same loose cloth. Only him.

Somehow, they reach the bedroom, crashing into her dresser, she clears the space behind and yelps when he hoists her up with a great gust of air, wrapping her legs around his waist. He grinds his erection into scorching heat and she feels him everywhere. Tingly sensations riding up her spine.

“Take your shirt off.” He swings his arms behind and suddenly the shirt is on her bedroom floor. She takes in every inch of him and it’s like she’s seen him before, which she has, but not like this, not with so much passion overspilling. His body holds an image from long ago, kings and castles she’s only ever read about. Something holy and divine, the way his chest tides in and tides out, his eyes a deep blue and of the ocean today.

They both showered before therapy. When he stepped out with his cuffs still undone and Noah jumping up and down like a stray puppy at the sight of him, the salt of his body lotion wharfed through his entire apartment. Made her dizzy.

She’s surprised she’s lasted this long.

She moaned again, deep and guttural when his tongue licked behind her earlobe, the noise positively burned and he drove his hips straight into hers. No modesty required. He was so hard she couldn’t think properly. Desperate to peel back the layers, she fumbled for his belt.

“Here?” he rasped.

The belt was a nightmare. She shook her head and looped her arms back around his shoulders, “Bed.”

“God yes.” He roared, yanked her off the dresser, filling his palms with her ass, he carried her the short distance and then threw her onto the bed, proceeded to tattoo her skin in delicate kisses. From her neck to her breasts his hands groped greedily at the immensity of them. He sucked the swells there like he’d been on detox.  

“El.. pants.”

“Uh huh.”

Kneeling like a man dosed on drugs, his eyes were overwhelmed with pleasure in a way she’d never seen in Elliot before. She watched as her jeans flew across the room. He’s done that with her before, apparently. Then his pants were off too; their underwear still on. When he kneeled again his cock stared her right in the face and her eyes bulged at the sheer size of him. He hardly noticed her dismal gulp for he was too preoccupied with removing her underwear. So accustomed to Olivia already knowing, he’d lost the fact that she’d been a blind woman on steroids.

All he wanted was the woman right in front of him, broken or not broken he’d make love to her any day, and that made her feel whole and normal and enough. 

“Come here.” She cried, reaching for his face, his mouth found hers again.

“Tell me what you want.” He rumbled. "I’ll give it to you.”

He’s being a gentleman, or at least trying to. Because this is all still so new for her. He’s had her before, whereas she hasn’t. For the first time in their partnership it makes her feel unequal to him. She doesn’t like it. The dripping urge to make him groan and writhe and come first overwhelms her. A control thing or maybe an alpha to alpha thing.

“On your back.”

He rolled over, she rolled with, wasting no time. She found his waistband and set him free. “What are you...” Elliot stuttered. .

Her fists clenched the bedsheets as her eyes roamed his length. Holy mother of...

“Liv,” he slammed his eyes shut when she took him in her mouth, “Jesus fu..”

She moaned just as she felt the tip of him at her throat, and pulled out again, only to dive in for more. His trembles and sighs were muffled by three of her fingers as she reached up to fold them into his mouth, he licked and sucked and tasted there.

Show off.

The sensations sent throbbing ache between her thighs, and she pulled her mouth away, licking him up and down like he was candy, eyes hooded in ecstasy, she found him again and proceeded to suck dry. She’s done this before, with others, but it’s the way he grips the sheets, massages her hair, curses the air, makes her realize that past Olivia never did this with him, and she smiles inside, smugly. Bobbing her head up and down. The power she feels gives her a one up against a ghost she’s been running from for weeks.

He thrusts a little into her mouth, and she moans because he tastes so good, she almost loses herself to the vibration, but she can feel him coming undone. It surprises her moments later when he yanks his hips away and then comes into his hand. Next time she’ll swallow. She’ll force him down if she has to.

“You…” he rasps breathlessly as she towers over him, wrapping both legs over his torso, her wetness grinds over his stomach she rides his hot skin. Vaguely she can hear Elliot grab for tissues to wipe his hand, but then she feels the vicious tug of his palms filling her hips, pulling her wetness further into his skin. Hungry to drown in the pride of what he does for her.

“Perfect. You’re fucking perfect.” He finishes.

She’s been told that she’s good at this, but it hits different in his mouth.

She finds his lips again, and their fingers lace like familial lovers above his dizzying head. She kisses him softly, groans at the tenderness between her thighs, the feel of his burning skin pressed to her pulsing clit, it’s not enough, but then he’s right there with her, slipping two fingers and finding the heartbeat. Together they moan as she rides his fingers slowly. She can feel her orgasm flourishing, and he’s extremely good at this, but somehow, it’s just not enough. Her body knows there’s more to have.  

“Really needa be inside you.” Elliot groans. And there it is, she thinks. Reading her mind. 

She nods against his nose, and flips onto her back, biting her lower lip as he peers down at her. He drags her hand to feel his aching cock.

“How are you so hard again?” she hears herself saying.

“s’been a while Liv.” Almost two months. Her body knows.

The length of him was so full in her hand that her eyes slam closed at the overwhelming notion of him driving it into her. This is what you do to me he whispers into her ear, nose nibbling at her jaw.

“El..” she whines, “I need you.”

He nods slowly, gaze sealed with hers.

“You want lube?” he rasps, kisses her once, twice.

She’s never talked so fucking much during sex, and she huffs aloud, impatient. “I don’t think I have lube..”

“Hidden in bottom drawer. Left side.”

She swallows thickly. He knows her house better than she does. Doesn’t have to ask again. His biceps strain as he reaches over to grab the small bottle, his face so awash with arousal she can’t take her eyes off him.

“El,” she shakes her head a little, “I don’t need it.”

She is wet and burning, but the truth of the matter is, she just wants him raw. Whole. Wants him at the boundary between agony and untrammeled bliss. Wants to walk around for days feeling so fucking sore he can never leave again. And the fruit in his throat bobs up and down like he can see right through her damn mind.

He’s on top of her again, crowding, shielding, not even the moon above can see her anymore. He’s her shield from the darkness that constantly threatens to overwhelm. His hand finds his cock and she feels the tip of him brush her clit, slowly, delicately, enveloping her all at once as he sinks a little into her opening, and she gasps aloud, not even there yet, it’s been a while, she remembers, and she’s tight for him. Elliot pauses halfway inside, his brows crinkled, but she nods okay and –

“Liv.”

God.“Elliot.” She cries.

He nods against her forehead, and carefully sinks all the way inside. Someone groans and someone cries and then they stop. Completely stop. Nothing but their heavy panting can be heard. She looks into his eyes, and she is reminded of only holy things. He makes the sea look like a raindrop.

And then he moves, thrusting gently into her, his gaze never loses contact and his arms quake like shattered things above her head. It is the most intimate she has ever felt with him. With anyone.

“I love you.” He spills into her mouth, hips thrusting in slow slow beats.

And she closes her eyes, because it’s all just too much but she doesn’t want him to stop. She will cry if he stops. So her head drives back into recline and she shifts her ankles to lock him in, small little whimpers escaping from the change in position. He is so impossibly deep she doesn't know where she begins and his ends. Having adjusted to his length, her palms urge him to thrusts harder, he does, gulping for breath –  

“Fuck I missed this, missed you.” he tells her.

And now that she has him buried deep inside, she can understand why.

His thumb gropes her hard nipple greedily, expertly, like he’s done a dozen different times before. His hands cross the steps between her breasts to the bones of her ribcage, wandering to her thigh, he holds her down as he fucks into her slowly.

“Feels even better than the last time.” He growls into her neck.

Her head spins at even better because how –

“Show me.” She whimpers, eyes rolling back into her skull. “Show me how we did it.”

“Don’t wanna hurt you.”

He thrusts.

“El..”

He hears it in her tone. The begging, the certainty, it’s never been this way before, with anyone ever. There’s an innate trust there that was never forgotten. Elliot grunts, pulling it out of her expertly. And then driving back in so hard his hand braces for impact, holding her head the moment it slams the headboard. It doesn’t hurt. But her thighs positively burn. It feels fucking amazing. He hisses something incoherent, an apology or a groan quickly drowned out by her mouth over his. More, she wants more, she tells him, and he does. 

She pushes his chest away, rising to plant her elbows into the bedsheets, she wraps a single arm to unite their foreheads again, changing the angle and putting more pressure on her clit.

“Like this?” he pants, his hands palming the bedspread from where her shoulders once plunged into.

“Uh-huh.”

Sweaty foreheads pressed together. His knees dig deep into the bed as he quickens his pace, her breath hitches, the bed is rocking, and she can barely fucking think. Maybe the idea was for her to remember something, but this was mind-numbing in the best possible way. None of it mattered anymore. She’d gladly go around forgetting the sun and the sky and all the people underneath if it meant more of this.

“Elliot..” she whimpered as she felt her walls closing in, quaking around him. His back flexes when her touch leaves the shoulder blade there, and he swats her hand away as she starts to touch herself.

Mine, his eyes growl.

She grins, deliriously.

And then his fingers are massaging vertically at her clit, expertly, she jerks up and into his hand like she’s possessed, and the added pressure has her neck angling backwards in a way that makes her feel deranged. Fuck Elliot, she whimpers, laughs, cries at the same time. his pace quickens and.. and almost there, right there.

Her scream is muffled into his shoulder, thighs trembling, she convulses harshly around his cock, falls back onto her pillow. His gaze is there, all over her. Deep and purple and trying to fight the urge to rut. His palms press on both sides of her head, and his hips slam into her. His brow concentrated in that way that tells her he’s close.

Mine he growled, suddenly. She wiped his mouth with a kiss, soft whimpers escaping, god he felt good.

“Mine.” He rasped again, dropping his forehead to hers. One final thrust and then – he came. Long and hard and still rocking gently against the remnants of his seed, his mouth dropped into the crook of her shoulder, nipped there for the sake of territory.

Never again, she thought.  

Never again would she forget this.

She was sure of it.

* * * * * * * * * *

One day later

From inside the examination room Olivia can see faint traces of a blood red sky. The window is closed but the blinds are open, and a great slanting afternoon light has flooded the room. It made everything appear immensely brighter, like someone had fished the sun out of the sky and threw it into her head.

Liv blinked very harshly and then rubbed her thighs.

Her body felt incredibly achy and she cannot stop smiling about it. Everything hurts except for her face, which feels like diamonds to the memory of Elliot peppering it with kisses all night.

She is on cloud nine.

Still, her head hurts and it has nothing to do with the sex.

The doctor arrives with another white coat in toe. Shutting the door, she gestures for Olivia to sit. There’s an expression on her face that makes Liv suddenly grateful to be alone.

Nobody knows about this appointment.

Noah’s at Connor’s, Eli at a party. Bernie in love, and Elliot tracking the city with his new squad. If he were here she could already see his hands sifting through the doctor's anxiety; demanding more of what he doesn’t need to know.

Doesn’t need to know.

“Olivia, how have you been feeling? Headaches, nausea, memory lapses?”

She’s been getting all of those and more, tells them so. 

“What about signs of confusion?” 

Last night during therapy she called Elliot Lewis. It was a catastrophic mistake that made her want to throw up, and she wouldn’t have noticed if Elliot himself hadn’t pointed it out.

“I thought you said the headaches were normal, and as for mild confusion, that’s normal too, right?” she asked.

The doctor nods, then shakes her head no. It’s all so disorientating and makes her want to scream. “We assumed that as the weeks went by the side effects of your head trauma would eventually subside. But each one of your checkups have shown an additional issue. Occasionally dizzy spells, random migraines, your appetite hasn’t returned, you’re losing weight, and your memories..”

“I know all of that. Can you just tell me the issue here?”

The doctor pulls up a head-x-ray. Valleys of fuzzy grey against the stark and skeletal debris of her own brain. She doesn’t know what she sees. 

“Now I don’t want you to panic,” The doctor tells her. “But results from your last appointment have shown that you’ve developed a small aneurysm in the rear of your temporal lobe.”

The floor dropped out from beneath her and she felt the tide come in and splash around her feet. Ready to take her out to sea.

“Is it curable?” she panicked.

“Yes, yes of course! The location of the artery makes for an easy procedure.”

But there’s more they’re not telling her. The second coat finally speaks, and his voice reminds her of dark grave things.

So much loss.

“I’m afraid the surgery will erase the new memories you’ve made.”

She laughed, she didn’t mean to, not really, but it just came out. “Is this a joke?”

He shakes his head, unfortunately no, he says. Proceeds to explain by using an analogy. Imagine the brain as a puzzle, he says. The accident caused a massive disruption to the anterior wall resulting in her aneurysm. The procedure will help shift the puzzle back in place, he says, but not without additional loss. 

"It’s a lot to take in, we know. But the surgery will remove the pain, which was a result of the aneurysm. You’ll have your taste buds back, a clear head, no more painkillers. Return to work.”

She wondered if this were all a nightmare and pinched herself, but the room was still the same, spinning and out of her control. She was suddenly a very small boat on very high seas. Doctors were talking again, but she felt parted from them long ago. It seemed like they were detailing more about the knot in her brain. The wreckage. The terror of war and horror of peace and what it all meant for her.

“But it can’t be that serious, right? Surely I don’t really need this surgery?”

“This is very serious Olivia. This is life threatening.” Doctor who says, a frantic look about her.  

Life threatening.

So, she must choose between the love of her life and… her life?

The spinning slows right then and there. Inside her fear Elliot is standing at the foot of a hospital door, waiting for the next revival only so she can hate him once more. In her panic he isn’t there at all. And Noah is slipping out of her fingers like the gossamer dust that is her wreckage. She’s picking apart that letter and spitting it in Elliot’s face. She’s finding Kathy dead all over again. She’s hurting Elliot for leaving; forgetting that he stayed. Forgetting that he cradled her crying son to sleep for all the nights she slept away. That he made love to her and she made love with him. That he brought soup nights ago and then held her hair as the nausea hit.

Suddenly it all made sense. The universe had been sending signs and her attention had become so fractured, world become so loud, garden vines so tight; she wasn’t paying any attention to what she was paying attention to. And all those happy things she foolishly believed were hers a mere 24 hours ago were now threatened. Lost.

It would all be gone, or rather she would be gone from it all.

So much loss.

Chapter Text

Thunder strikes in a scary drum-roll right after midnight.

From beside the window inside the steel headquarters, Elliot could see bits of lightning activate the stygian sky above. The air outside was still humid even at night, the season manic and unpleasantly warm. It was enough to know that this was simply temporary. Temporary.

He wondered if she was okay out there. If she had eaten. If the food had managed to stay down. Most days she could eat just fine, he reminded himself. Most days she swiped at Noah’s leftovers and rarely ever got into bed on an empty stomach.

Most days, however, weren’t every day.

“Go home.” Bell says.

He wants to, he does. But he likes it here. Likes working himself into the ground while knowing that he gets to go home to a woman he’s been in love with for twenty years. Absolved of a certain amount of guilt thanks to sitting on someone else’s couch. And it makes Elliot feel good just thinking about Olivia in his bed, like this is more than what it actually is.

A text message chimes his phone.

Liv: The bed is cold.

It isn’t. It can’t be. Summer is charging ahead like a bad smell and his aircon unit is down. But he loves her for trying, and he can’t resist the smile.  

3.16. El: Be home in a couple. You ok?

3.16. Liv: I miss you.

3.17. Want you.

3.17. Can’t stop thinking about you.

His arms ache and his glutes still sting from the labor of pumping into her all night long. It’s been less than 24 hours since they started… stopped… and started again.

Still, he takes one swing in Bell’s direction, decides she can do just fine without him, and jumps out the window.

3.18. El: Be home soon.

He finds her glowing under that dim golden lamp in his kitchen. The stool she sits on is tall, and her bare legs swing back and forth like a weightless child on a cliff ledge. He can hear somber like music coming from one of Eli’s abandoned earpods, she likes to listen to music alone these days. He calls out her name and feels a tank of relief when she doesn’t jump at the bullet of it. She is safe here, knows it too.

He doesn’t think much about the way she slams the notebook closed. How she ties a ribbon there with a lock and key and then tucks it into her bag. He doesn’t even notice the bag.

All he sees is her in pink cotton shorts and an old nypd shirt belonging to his drawer. He takes it as a message that she is here to stay, that she has finally found refuge in their falling, no longer feeling an abrasive need to wear a body suit of armor.

Long golden legs stretch out as her feet touch the ground, breasts bouncing a little at the change in movement.

Olivia isn’t wearing a bra underneath.

But her stance is strung tight tonight, hands clenched into fists at her sides, face completely bare of makeup and hair still damp from the shower. She looks about twenty something with the weight of the world on her shoulders. She looks like Olivia Benson.

Instantly, he scoops her up and into his arms so hard that her toes barely graze the floor. Her arms snake around his broad shoulders and little puffs of breath kiss the back of his neck. She completely dissolves into him - making them one in the same.

“Whas wrong?” he whispers, palms skimming all along her back, up and down they go.

“Nothing.” She lies, “Just had a bad dream s’all.”

When she parts, he takes one look into her eyes and knows that the dream was horrible. It’s there choking the life out of her, still.

“You wanna talk about it?”

She shakes her head a little, and her eyes move around in a circle like she is memorizing him, scribbling down little notes in her head, finding a bible to lay down with, hold onto the lines and words that bound them together and forever.

His thumbs find her cheekbones, carrying her face and swaying there a little. Together they rock alone to the swell of an invisible ocean underneath. Her gaze digs deeper and deeper into his soul, pulling him out from whatever hesitancy he had just a moment ago. Her eyes are still cloudy, yes, but there is passion there too, longing.

And then she says something, something that makes him crumble inside.

“I love you, Elliot.”

It’s the first time she’s said it out loud.

He see’s something akin to colour for the first time tonight, it is beautiful here.

***

Things move pretty quickly from there.

Of course he would love to sit down and drink tea and talk about just how much she loves him. Elliot has so many fucking questions. At what year of their partnership did she realize it? Did she love-love him the day Eli was born, or before that? More importantly, what made her want to say it right now? So many questions.

But then she is pulling him toward the bedroom. Taking her clothes off as she goes. All wet and burning and so damn horny he rubs his dick over his pants. Olivia rips his garments apart like the night before, her eyes moving over his body in a frantic motion, as if he might just disappear if she blinks. He lays her down upon the bedsheets, legs caging either side of her hips and pinning her down. His arm comes to cradle around the crown of her head, making sure he doesn’t crush any bits of her pretty hair. His fingers stroke her jaw, softly. Adoringly.

“We have nothing but time, Liv.”

Her eyes slam closed, and she bites her bottom lip like she doesn’t believe him.

“We don’t have to make love to prove anything. I’m staying. I’m here. Never leaving you.”

“I know,” she sniffs, fingers drawing lazy circles on the nape of his neck. Her eyes open and she isn’t crying, isn’t sad, she looks overwhelmingly happy to be here, but there is still something dark over there. So dark it pulls him in, and swimming to the bottom of the ocean, he tries his best to take it all away from her, to replace the foliage of fear with the little light that he has left.

“Talk to me baby.” He breathes, smoothing out her hair.

Her breath parts.

Her eyes glisten under the half-light, so open they take his breath away.

And then those long arms lock him in so tight that his chest heaves against her hard nipples, his mouth losing control as she forces it down and upon her own. She kisses him forcefully. Lovingly. Tongues sloppy and hormones greedy. Her palms travel to cup his ribs, heavy in her hands.

“I don’t wanna talk” she croaks, “I just wanna feel you moving inside me.”

He breathes, in and out.

“Please, El.” She begs.  

And then her hand moves lower and lower, right there, underneath his boxer briefs it goes, wrapping him fully as he starts to grow inside of her fist. He groans and his forehead crushes with hers.

“I wanna forget.”

Forget what though? He thinks.

But Olivia distracts by setting him free, hips thrusting forward to his erection, she whines a little into his mouth as she feels the tip of him brush her clit. The noise makes him savage inside. Makes him want to pick her up and hang her amongst the stars and tell the world that it was him. It was him who made her whine and him who made her come. Only him.

So he does what he knows best. Yanks himself away from her, head in between her big breasts, kissing and sucking there. Immediately, he slips two fingers into her folds, groaning at the heat that melts and the little gasps she makes. He gets to work while his mouth follows a trail down her stomach. Breasts spilling in one hand that will never leave, he holds them down and her down with him.

His lips float above where she craved him, keeping his gaze upon her own, letting his eyes say what he couldn’t quite match with words. Sometimes he felt boyish just looking up at her, all wide eyed and all for her approval. She had her head tipped back into the pillow and her eyes rolling away, waiting, and he couldn’t make her beg –

Not this time. She’d already given over her heart, her love, and that was all he ever wanted, really.

So, he put his face back where it properly belonged, inhaled like a starved man for air and wrapped his mouth around her clit, tongue taking long deliberate strokes. His hands massaged possessive circles around her breasts. She groaned and cried and writhed against him, placed a daring hand to the back of his head and rocked her hips right into his face, her ass almost off the sheets.

He felt so empowered in that moment. So impressive and more worthy than anyone had ever made him feel. He cradled her thighs against his face, holding them hostage with his long arms. Everything was rhythmic and persistent in the way he kept thrusting his head and his tongue back and forth, so hungry and so so empty he treated her core like a delicious meal.

The sounds she made could’ve made him come right there. He was suddenly grateful that nobody was home, for when she clenched around him minutes later, not only did he feel more impressive, more smug, he had to throw a hand over her mouth to cower the cry that shook the walls and the floors and everything beneath. There’s so much pride he feels right there.

As Liv slowed down and past her climax, a trace of herself inside of him now, he crawled back up and wiped his mouth all over her heaving breasts, licking and sucking the mountains he loved most. He heard her laugh, a breathy and dumbfounded kind of laugh.

“Jesus… that was… I.. oh..”

He chuckled, smugly.

Her hand fisted for his shirt where she pulled him to her mouth, kissed him with all the fire and passion that he put into her just a moment ago. Olivia nudged his chest away and flipped onto her knees, ass in the air. She looked up at him from behind her shoulder, bottom lip trapped in between her white teeth. He felt like a god just staring at her down there. And it was the fastest reaction he’d ever gotten after giving her his tongue.

“We don’t have to, y’know. I just wanna make you feel good.” He breathed unevenly, body towering over hers, he planted undemanding kisses along her shoulder blades.

Olivia’s expression softens, pulling him in like a tide at sea, his nose crashes into hers, pecking those pink lips once and twice and over again. And then –

“Inside me, now.”

He laughed.

Then wrapped a hand around his throbbing cock, watched carefully as her eyes travelled there with it, and she licked her lips very slowly. He was desert. He was a feast. She makes him wild inside when she gets like this. Wild.

“No lube.” She commanded again.

“So damn bossy.”

He swatted her ass, the sound of slapped skin hitting the walls. She gasped lightly, a smug smile in her expression. She was bossy in bed. She was allowed to be anything with him. Olivia’s head dips lower into the pillow as he positions himself. From this angle behind he can see her inner thighs glistening like diamonds, and he swallowed back a satisfied growl. Olivia was always wet and warm and ready for him. Olivia was unreal most times anyway, but this jarring fact made him feel equivalent to being a king, a great crown on his head.

Elliot enters in slowly. Doesn’t have to press down to know that her jaw is whole for him tonight. He gives her time to adjust, to gasp, to cry, as he squeezes his eyes to embrace the dark net of pleasure destroying his vision.

“El..”

Wait, he thinks. Just wait.. please.

But she pants, impatiently. “I want you to fuck me… so hard… that I can’t think anymore, ok?”

Elliot swallows thickly, something unruly snapping inside. “Yeah.. ok.”

He knew she trusted him enough to do this. That he would never hurt her. Never try to hurt her for as long as he lived. So he gave every piece of himself into the pressure of his glutes, taking one hard thrust that made her gasp out loud.  

She felt so hot, so wet, and stretching for him all the way until he was so deep inside he didn’t know his own name. Elliot let out a long throaty groan, pushed her spine further down so he could have all of her. He pulled her by the hips like she was made of thin air, and proceeded to drive in and out, again and again, her loud moans echoing the thunderous crash of his headboard.

It was animalistic, the way they fucked. An animal within them. An animal set free. An animal gone crazy. All the weeks of pent-up rage and bloody romance coming to the fore.

It was Olivia wanting him to fuck her so hard that he almost forgot it wasn’t a new thing. Back then it was about avoiding the pain of what he had done to her. Back when she pressed the control buttons and he just followed, desperate to have any part of her that wasn’t about being friends.

But now it was this. Whatever this was.

They don’t talk about it here. They don’t talk at all. He keeps his tongue still and his thighs wide open. Giving her what she wanted. The cries of the storm ricocheted Olivia’s moans and Elliot’s occasional shouts. Loud slaps of sweaty skin rattle along the pitter patter of heavy rainfall.  She finds his hand amid the volatility, lies flat on her belly and slides his fingers so low they slip into the place he calls home. Her panting turns into low groans from the thrill of his fingerprint soothing her clit.

As he rolled his hips over her, one arm supporting his weight, he looked at the back of her head. Followed it down the long line of her spine, back to those arms splayed out like a starfish on its face. He searched for a sign that maybe this was too much, too loud, too heavy, but then she slipped a hand underneath and guided him deeper, fuller, so that he swallowed her front and back, so that his finger deliberately felt the drive of his dick from behind.

And she just kept moaning into her pillow, vicious throaty moans that made him question his mere existence.

He was so aroused he lost a little piece of himself, right there. He could never have sex again if it wasn’t with her. Not even if he tried. All the tools to please would not be functional. Olivia Benson was it for him, this was his dying hymn.

Her body tensed and convulsed as he pumped into her, and he felt her walls clamming down onto his hand, felt the call of her dreams match the things that lured them here. And he was right with her, eyes squeezed tight as he tried to concentrate. Tried not to come before she.

But white hot stars was all Elliot could see, the type he’d never known before, the type to make him blink very sharply, he couldn’t see anything real, really. Only stars.

The moment her climax drew onto his fingers he quickly withdrew so that both of his hands palmed either side of her body. He pumped into her with such an urgency that would make him blush afterward, just thinking about it.

“Kiss me.” She panted; the right of her face bobbing up and down against the pillow.

He found her lips again, or at least tried to, but he couldn’t do it properly. Couldn’t fashion the skill to multitask. There was only enough energy for his hips. Suddenly she was calling him baby – come baby – she said. Inside me baby.

And that did it for him. That fucking did it for him.

His forehead burrowed into her shoulder as he drilled into her once, twice and then, and then… Everything went dark.

Such different stars now.

Fucking hell.” He cursed, panting rapidly into her hair. He rubbed his nose there a little, trying to savor the scent of her sweet shampoo, finding himself again. Olivia moaned in response, tilting her head back to kiss some semblance of his skin.

He was crushing her back, he realized, and cursed again. Pulling himself out of her, Elliot shivered at the emptiness that crippled his bones, he was sweaty and hot, yet cold from the abandon.

He collapsed beside her, and before he could even fucking think, Olivia was on top of him again, legs lining with his, her joints making alarming noises, her hair curtained their faces as she leaned down to smack her lips with his.

The kiss was soft and sensual. A sweet golden warmth filling his veins at the intimacy of it. The last 24 hours wasn’t just some crazy fuck fest for Elliot to catastrophize come the break of day, he thought. It was a set of soft kisses amid the dawn of light. It was Olivia telling him she loves him the moment he returns. It was going wild in bed and then smiling down at him, like right now, with all the love in the world he wanted to bottle and store away in his cupboard.

Olivia kissed him.

“That was.” kiss. “Amazing.” kiss. “You’re very” kiss. “Good” kiss. “at that.”

He pushed her hair away, and smiled outrageously, yet her eyes were still off in a faraway world, he thought.

“I wasn’t too rough?”

“No.” One more kiss, then she soothed the lines in his forehead with her thumb.

“I’d tell you if you were.”

“Good.” he knew that already, but it was nice to hear this Liv say so.

She dropped her face into the crook of his shoulder, laying sprawled on top of him with her legs down straight. His own hands travelled down the length of her back, stopping at her ass, he squeezed the swell there for good measure, making sure that she was real, and that she was his. She shuddered a little, smiling into his neck. It was easy and peaceful here, he thought. Nothing rocking them back and forth despite the raging storm outside.

He thinks its intimate, and it is. But she is still hiding her face in his neck.

“Elliot?”

He yawns out loud and his fingers dance across her sweaty back, dreaming. “Hmm?”

“If something ever happened to me. You and Noah would be the last people on my mind.”

The words are odd to him, killing something inside.

“Whas this all about hmm? Tell me.” he kisses her hair, softly.

She shakes her head under his jaw, and then her whole body jolts as a bout of lighting scratches the sky above, its scream loud enough to startle even her. Olivia isn’t scared of much. Except lightning, she’s a little scared of lightning, tonight. Elliot squeezes her tight in his embrace, wishing the storm away. Fuck off. He wants to tell the bitter old sky, fuck off and leave her alone. 

“Was it the nightmare?”

“Yeah.” She mumbles, “Yeah.”

“Was it… was it him?”

Olivia is quiet for a moment, doesn’t have to ask – but then she sighs and shakes her head.

“No.. no. I just… don’t wanna talk about it, alright? Another day maybe. I just wanna lie here with you.”

Always, he thinks.

Forever.

“I got you.” He whispers, a moment later.

She lifts her head, and, and.. god she looks happy, not quite present, but happy enough for him to settle.

“I love you.” Elliot says. “You are everything to me.”

Everything.

Olivia inhales a shaky breath, “I love you too. I mean it.”

She shifts from his arms, wiping something under her eye.  

“Just don’t forget it, okay?”

Again, another odd statement.

“Why on earth would I forget that?”

She shrugs her shoulders and rolls off his body, sweaty limbs relishing the cool change of air. Her feet swing onto the floor and then she is across the room, his shirt diving over her body and shimmering past her bare ass. She still won’t look at him.  

“Olivia..” he started.

“Toilet,” she explains, sensing his gaze as she gambles her way out of the room, disappearing. She is always disappearing, but she is trying too, he thinks.

She is trying.

***

Olivia waits for him to fall asleep before she leaves.

He was so tired he could barely keep his eyes open the moment she crawled back inside, shushing his attempts to learn more of her secrets.  

“I’m just tired, baby.” She told him, deliberate with the pet name. Soothing the fears away.

She doesn’t want to tell him at this very moment. He looked so happy over there in her arms. She wasn’t ready for the look of horror that would surface as she sent his life into yet another tailspin. Elliot had lost so much already; he couldn’t lose her too.

But she’d been trying her best to keep herself together. Don’t cry, she told herself, as he declared lyrics of love in bed.

Forever. He had shared, aloud.

Don’t tell him. Don’t fucking tell him. The voices said.

His head is on her lap when he falls for her lullaby. She put it there, told him she wanted to massage his neck and watch him float away. Another lie uttered to savor the moment before it would all be gone again. He fell into her palms almost as quickly as he fell into her spell for that night. Resting his ear against her thigh, he dozed off to the patterns of 4 0 1 5 drawn across his cheek and the faint inscription of forever.

Already, she missed the sound of his gentle voice and the way he seemed to have mastered it in the presence of peace, even if they were so bold to assume it was everlasting. Already she missed the growing friendship her ghost had garnered with Eli. Missed the taste of Bernie’s blueberry pancakes and the heavy scent of that wet herb garden in the mornings.

Most of all she missed the fears of the past few weeks, rendered small by the fears of now.

Olivia kissed his forehead goodnight, untangled herself under the net of his strong arms, and closed the door behind.

Chapter Text

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 –

“Rollins?”

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.

“Amanda?”

“Yea?”

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.

“Stabler.”

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.”

“How?”

“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.

“Talk, Olivia.”

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.

“Okay.”

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.

“Olivia?”

“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.

“Elliot!”

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.

“Elliot..”

“Or we can stop, tell him somewhere safe, somewhere he can cry if he wants...”

“El..”

“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.

“Ok but..”

“What shoes do you wanna take to the hospital?”

“What?”

“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. 

And then. 

“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.”

Olivia blinks.

“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.  

Chapter Text

They’re on the road again when he knows what he wants.

He wants her. Of course, he wants her.

He has never wanted anything more, and he’s never been so scared in his goddamn life at the same time. His father’s fists. Yea. The birth of his children, sure. Kathy’s death, maybe. But never this. Never this all-consuming fear that has grown in unshakeable size and shifted things so profoundly, so tenderly, that he can’t seem to see anything else except for what he wants.

And he wants her.

It was a little too much, he knew this. It was when she repacked her bags an hour ago. When she straightened the apartment and made coffee for the road. When her chin tilted on Eli’s shoulder as they greeted one another in awkward arms. When she met Connor’s father on his front doorstep and laughed to a joke that wasn’t even funny. When she swapped places with Eli and snuggled in with her son on the backseat. When she chanced a glance in the rearview mirror, caught Elliot staring, and darted her tongue out to make fun of him.

He was staring a lot, and he was worried a lot, and she was… well, the happiest he had ever seen her.

He doesn’t quite know what to make of that, either.

The sea was loud upon their arrival.

Elliot could hear the cracks of the waves bashing against the shore as he stepped out of the car. The air pregnant with the smell of salt and a distinct earthy must that made things pretty clear. They weren’t in the city anymore.

Eli met him at the boot of the SUV, his young face contorted with worry as he helped with the bags. “Dad, why are we here?”

He means the beach house, but he also means everything else. And Elliot doesn’t quite know how to tell Eli about any of it, either. Instead, he ruffles his short black hair with a doting hand, grateful for the son that doesn’t hate, doesn't despise the prodigal son’s true heart.

“Soon. We’ll tell you soon.”

It’s a miracle that Eli seems to understand by way of nodding. That he seems to enjoy Olivia’s company even as she wears his dad’s sweatshirts and drinks his grandmother’s tea and wonders too long if Eli is okay with it all.

Noah makes a comment about the huge holiday home. While Olivia is quiet beside him, he knows she is thinking intently. Planning some witty joke to a never-ending endeavor of Elliot Stabler trying to impress her. It’s an old dance of theirs and Elliot knows all the steps, knows a moment later that it’s worked some magic in her footing.

The boys are out of sight when she crawls up from behind, arms enveloping his torso as she leans into the length of his back. Her warm breaths were wonderfully soft and even against his shoulder. Steady to the pace of those birds swinging in white kites above the torrential sea. He counted her breaths like he counted the navigation of the tide, knew it would be gone very soon.

“Thank you.” Olivia whispers into his ear.

Goosebumps break out over his skin despite the perpetual furnace of his body heat. Ever since they started doing this thing again, his body was unable to retain any semblance of control at any moment she touched him. Breathed on him, fucked him, or called his name and made him want to hyphenate her own to his.

“I love it here.” she whispers again.

“Yeah? It’s not too much?”

“It is too much.” She muses, smiling into his shoulder blade. “How many rooms does this place have anyway, Stabler?”

“Five I think.”

“You shouldn’t have, El.”

“Would you at least let me spoil you just this once, woman?” he teased.

She untangled her arms from his waist and stepped around so they stood face to face. The muscles on his breastbone spasming as she rested her hand there. Her touch soothing and lacking in plight, her thumb rubbing soft crescent moons into the fabric of his Henley shirt. His gaze plummeted to where her fingers pressed right into his heart. He thought he would like to take a picture, just to preserve the memory of it.

“Don’t do that.” Olivia whispered, her breath suddenly thin and right there. “Don’t think of this as our last time together.”

He couldn’t help himself. Everything was beginning to feel as though they were standing at the edge of a freight train, waiting to be ripped apart from one another again. Never to see or hold or touch her anymore. She was off to the cold-cold war and why could she go and he not follow? Why why why?

“I’m sorry.” He said, reaching out. “But when are we gonna tell the kids, Liv?” he asked, softly.

She blinked, surprised.

“I mean, if you wanna tell Noah on your own, I understand..”

“No. No.” she shook her head, “I want you there.”

He breathed deeply. Tension leaving him like the tide that dried outside. For as long as Olivia knew that Olivia did not have to do this alone, the sea seemed to behave, and he behaved with it.

They tell the kids after dinner.

Olivia centers the conversation around both, for this was going to flip Eli’s life southside too, and Elliot could see that she felt a little guilty about that. But Eli sat perched on the arm of the sofa, watching her intently, unfiltered.

Her voice was steady. Unwavering, even as the tears rolled down Noah’s cheeks.

Noah was so smart and so raised that Elliot had to remember he was only just a child, after all. A child who’d been taught the seeds of good men flowered only in the shedding of a boy’s brave tears. Unlike others, whose pain had been dried by shame, Noah’s face would never know of what it meant to go without water.

“You’re gonna forget some of me again?” his lips quivered.

“I could do.” She answered, softly.

“But that’s not fair!”.

“That’s right. It’s not fair.” She agreed, nodding.

“I’m gonna be all alone again.” Noah sobbed.

Someone sniffed and someone cleared their throat. Eli spoke first, “No you won’t. It’ll be okay. You can come live with us, permanently.”

Elliot ran a hand over his face, unsure as to whether he should agree without consulting her first. Olivia’s breath hitched, and she was staring at his son as though he hung the moon and all the stars around it.

Elliot still doesn’t understand the lessons he is supposed to be learning, but this, he understands. All of his children were selfless in their own way, Eli the most selfless of them all, he thought, and they all seemed to love Olivia not because she was Olivia, but because she made their father a better human being.

Liv reached out to kiss Noah’s wet face. Wiping at his nose, she said, “Eli is right. You’re going to stay with El until mom gets better. And I promise, you will never be alone. Okay? Is that okay?”

“Are you going to stop talking to Elliot like you did before?”

“No.”

“But how do you know?”

“Because I wrote myself letters. The letters will make me understand.”

It is the first time Elliot has heard of this, these letters.

No longer the pillar of strength he had silently promised to be in the wings of her bedroom as the walls and clothes piled down on him, Elliot looked her over as if she had grown two heads. He felt his knees want to give out, yet by some grace of god they remained intact.

Olivia had gone out of her way to make sure he remained the only man in her heart. And she may wake up hating him again, but at least she would hate knowing that he loved her.

Holy fucking hell, he thought. She wrote him love letters.

“Elliot is my best friend in the entire world. I trust him with your life more than I trust anybody else, and you know how big a deal that is to me, don’t you baby?”

“Yea.” Noah nodded, wiping his eyelids with the back of his sleeve. “I do.”  

Behind Olivia and through the window, clouds had moved up in the center dome of the sky, splitting the sun into rays that splayed in different directions across the living room floor. The shimmers of late sunlight danced across her entire body and made strange prisms from his unshed tears.

Elliot blinked once. Twice. Salt spilling free.  

He felt profoundly humble that she’d dove that deep, for him. That she’d given him her child and with it the key to her mind and body and soul.

Elliot moved closer, noting how Noah’s shoulders straightened like a veteran as he neared. Noah was only trying to put up a brave face, yet Elliot could see it wasn’t the same valor to which spurred the salt on his cheeks. This bravery was inherited, he thought. This need to put up a false front was a carbon copy of the person who’d raised him up on her own.

“Hey,” Elliot’s big hand came to the nape of Noah’s neck. He relaxed at the familiarity of the touch, melting right into Elliot’s big warmth.

“You remember that day in the hospital? After the incident at the park?”

Noah nodded. It was their secret, their story.

“What did I promise you that day?” he asked.

Noah shrugged.

“Buddy, I really need you to remember.”

“You..” he sniffed. “You promised you’d never let anyone hurt me. That you’d always have my back.”

“Hey, look at me.” He heard himself saying, softly. Noah was still memorizing the floor.

His blue orbs climbed along the wet sheen of Elliot’s cheeks, and Noah’s eyes widened at the vulnerability placed there.

“Do you have any idea how strong you are?” Elliot whispered.

Noah kept his gaze trained on his, unblinking. A small lion’s cub held steady by Olivia Benson’s touch. Elliot could relate, could see the way her thumb rubbed the palm of her little cubs skin.

“How important you are to us? To me.” He added. Every bit of it true.

Noah rubbed his eye, glanced over at Olivia.

“What is it?” she whispered, faintly. Her voice was ghostly to him.

Noah sucked in sucked in all the breath his little lungs could take, and said, nervously.

“I’m tired of you always leaving Elliot, mom.”

“Noah.” Liv shuddered.

“It’s not fair on me. S’not fair on anyone.”

She covered her face. “I know baby, I know. I’m sorry.”

It was more complicated than this, Elliot knew. Yet he couldn’t tell the boy the truth. Couldn’t unfurl their past like a pillaged city whilst casually detailing the complexities of his legendary abandonment, to a nine year old of all. He’s pretty sure that Noah would slam the door in his face, throwing away the key, anyway.

He wanted to reach out and grab Liv’s hand just to feel her closer. Connected. To know that she felt safe having him here, an intruder interfering on the two-part Benson duo. Yet as soon as the thought arrived, he felt her warmth gravitate to his knee, her fingers sifting through his so seamlessly the spirit of it felt almost bridal.

Elliot moved, then.

“I’m gonna tell you what I told Eli when he was little. What I told Katie and the others.” He said.

“Okay.”

“No matter what happens, you gotta have your moms back. Even when you think you should disagree with her. You respect her move, look out for her, have her back. She is always right, you know.”

“Always?”

“Com’on,” Elliot teased, lightly. “You already know this.”

Noah blushed; head bowed down introvertedly, which was a first. Elliot always felt that Noah had a level up on him. That he was the most confident man to ever walk around Olivia, aside from Elliot himself. Elliot found himself smiling, pressing his lips to the crown of Noah’s head, kissing him with all the love he felt for five children bottled in one. It was an unconscious kiss, a kiss that demanded no kiss back, but as he pulled apart, instantly he felt the hot coals of Olivia’s attention raking him over. When he looked her over, he sat frozen in time.

Her almond-colored eyes were wide and watered and petrified from all these different changes but jesus – he thought.

Jesus fucking christ.

She was in love with him.

She hid it well of course, up until now.

Elliot knew the signs. Knew what it was to ruin oneself with fear. To love a soul who felt out of a reach at the best of days. He knew that she loved him, for she admitted this under the storm that raged against them. Yet now. Now the orange sun had come out of hiding, its voyage of earth dead and lonely until it rotated to her place again. Elliot knew the feeling.

It was so quiet in here that he could hear the rainwater in the gutters tapping just off the rooftop, spilling onto the panels of the outdoor balcony, and making the silence here more prominent.

But he was still drawn to her more than usual. Even when she looked away to escape the pull of wanting him, in front of his kid. He was drawn to her then too. Glancing up at Eli, Olivia offered his son a wary but warm smile.

Eli smiled back.

And just like that, they were okay. The world hadn’t tipped and its people did not fall through the sky like he thought they would and they were okay.

“I love you mom.” Noah whispered.

Olivia’s eyes welled. She took Noah’s face in her hands, kissed his wet cheeks. “I love you baby. So much.”

***

It was long after twilight when she suggested they go for a walk.

Olivia yelled out for Noah to stay clear of the sea as she laced up her shoes. The boy pretended to listen, and yet even Elliot knew this was hopeless as he watched him chase after Eli.

The beach was calm and steady, different from their arrival earlier that day. He didn’t realize until now how far the tide had travelled out to sea, leaving fields of space to inhabit in the dark night.

Across the shoreline, the surf tumbled about with such peaceful ripples that its solitude could’ve been mistaken for a lake. Its gown of sleepy black water glistening from a raw power only the full moon could bestow.

He’d booked the house through one of Bell’s realty friends. He had never visited this side of the city before, but the reviews said the neighbors were polite, minus the retired democrats yapping after their dogs at ungodly hours of the day. It was something different and something new.

He spotted her figure 30 feet away from the gate and treaded carefully in its direction. She stood watching the boys pick out seashells across the shoreline, using the torch on their phones as if looking for diamonds in the rough.

Minutes away from the brooding sea with the moon kissing Olivia’s face, the world was quiet, and if the sea held much emotion, tonight it would be calm.

Elliot Stabler was a marine guy. Growing up, he often looked to the steadiness of sky and its reflection of the sea to make up for what stability he lacked here, inland.

He was of course, on the run from feelings that had put too many hunters in the field against him. He swam to the marines one decade, and then swam for Europe in the next.

He felt that now. He felt it more because he’d never been so at ease, so at peace in his entire lifetime than here on mainland, with her.

Elliot wrapped a thin blanket around her shoulders and together they sat down, letting the dry sand soften between his toes as he felt her adjust next to him. Her elbow knocked his just lightly as he raised his knees to his chest. An electric current coursing through Elliot just by the sheer contact of her skin against his. He thought about what it would taste like, feel like, to breach over and kiss her on the beach. To kiss her beneath a belt of glossy stars and a low seated moon.

He let the thought slide for now.

Off in the distance, Noah’s foot tangled harmlessly through a wave that rose barely above the ankle. Olivia twitched and fought against her natural urge to run off and grab him.

“He’s okay.” Elliot assured. “The kid can swim better than all three of us. Eli won’t let anything happen to him, either.”

She breathed aloud.

Then averted her gaze to find his in the stillness of the night. Her dimples climbed slightly, hovering there as she pulled him in with a soft smile on her face. For a moment they lingered, just staring at one another, quieting the ghosts of recent months as they worked to enjoy the peace that this beach had brought them. He looked into her face a little more deeper, a little more fuller, drinking in the way her hair billowed behind to the tune of springs late breeze. The way the dark waves of her hair kindled beneath the electric light was enthralling, and if she shook it with her head tilted toward the moon, he thought it would probably shimmer and roil like something half silver, half river.

Gods he needs to stop staring.

But the pupils in her eyes melted in pure unadulterated lust as they continued drowning in his. He has seen this look several times, mostly when buried deep inside of her. And he tried to think of literally anything else, but not even the crash of the sea at their bedside could distract Elliot from her centered wanting of him. It felt as though a mountain were trying to rise up and separate them, giving him no choice but to reel her into his arms.

He doesn’t pull. He will never force her into something that she is not ready for.

He leaned in quietly, softly, so that their noses brushed in time with the broken surf, waiting, he always waited. Olivia tilted her head, eyes open and confident despite the novelty of this.

They have never kissed in front of any living soul before, let alone their children, who were fields apart but still right there.  

He lingered over her mouth to make sure she wanted him, not quite touching her lips just yet, not quite sure he could muster the strength to stop if she asked him to. The surf kept in time to her light breathing in an almost perfect synch, he thought, it was all he could focus on as his gaze finally fell to the curve in her lips. She was smiling.

“Hey you.” She whispered, nose chafing. The pad of her finger slipped over his cheek, thumb touching his thin lips.

“Hi.” He whispered back, mesmerized.

She tilted her head a little further as her eyes sought his. Elliot’s skin was aching all over just by the sheer way she drank him in, hungrily. Not for the first time did he think she looked completely famished, and it had nothing to do with her lack of apetite.

She was right in front of him. Wrapped snug in his hoodie and less than two seconds away from touching his lips on the beach in the beat of midnight. He has wanted this for so long and he wishes to tell her so, but Olivia suddenly dragged some of his breath away as she braced herself for the sensation, as she leaned in with no sense of restraint except to devour him whole. Elliot closed his eyes and felt her breath right inside of his throat like she was living inside of him. His lips hovered over hers as they each embraced the falling, the – the -

“MOM!” Noah’s voice howled by in rebellion. He stood with at least a football field of distance between them, yet he cried as if he and Eli had been forced into watching. “That’s gross!” he yelled.

Elliot laughed.

The moment was spoiled, but Elliot did not care. He would risk losing a dozen different kisses if it meant fighting over Olivia with her nine year old son.

“Sorry,” she muttered, more disappointed than he was. “S’all a little new to him. He loves you, but he doesn’t like watching other men kiss or fondle his mom.”

“Has he seen other men kiss or fondle his mom?”

Olivia rolled her eyes, swatting him playfully. “I jumped right into that one didn’t I?”

Grinning, Elliot wiped his brow and shifted closer so that his shoulder brushed with hers. “I love him too, you know.” He answered, earnestly.

“I can see that.” she spoke in a breathless manner that made his own skip in beats. He kept his gaze on the steady ocean ahead, on the boys who moved as shadows inside the ring of a diamond colored moon. He could feel her heavy lidded eyes raking him over, willing Elliot to try at luck and kiss her again, but he kept his gaze ahead. Thinking of the tide, of what should come next and whether she was ready for it.

“I meant what I said back there, Liv. I’ll have his back forever.”

Olivia inhaled. He knew this was scary for her, even if she had practically signed Noah over to him legally. But he needed to tell her.

“You could leave me tomorrow, but I’d still have him, if you let me.”

“I know.” She said softly. “But I won’t leave you, not voluntarily anyway.”

Elliot inhaled sharply. He made the monumental effort of looking Olivia directly in the eye, allowing her to finally see the last fragments of a soul gone unbared.

“Do you see forever with me?”

Olivia didn’t move, didn’t even blink. The surf was suddenly so loud in his ears that it was almost as though their feet were swimming in its brine. But they weren’t drowning yet, he remembered. They were safe and she was warm and despite her silence, this was what mattered most.

“Elliot…” she started, then stopped.

“Nah. I need to know Liv. I need to know if you see forever.”

“Yes, I do.” She admitted, inaudibly.

“But I know you, Elliot. You move so fast. So fast sometimes I look at you and I get scared, just by the way you look at me.”

His body sunk.

“Scared?”

“Not in a bad way.” She rushed, “It’s not uncomfortable. It’s the opposite of that, actually. I love feeling your eyes on me. I love everything about you. But it can be overwhelming you know. For a long time I buried that yearning, we both buried it. But now it’s there and you’re very unapologetic about it. It’s scary for me because… well, s’so intense sometimes. Like you might just drop to the ground and ask me to marry you.”

Well.

“And I’m not asking you to stop. I’m just telling you that we are forever, but forever on my pace. Because forever for you means buying me a house and putting some outrageous rock on my finger and telling the whole damn world about it.”

His smile builds slowly, languidly. He is amazed most times how well she truly knows him, it was almost as though she had pulled out a magnifying glass and looked straight into his skull.

In the background he could hear the voices of crickets and beetles singing in the grass behind, telling him that this was his fucking moment. The moment of truth. The calm before the storm. The moment of his life. Perhaps it was the beginning of the end too, but he didn’t care. Olivia Benson could wake with his ring on her finger and no recollection of how it got there but this. This he would love to see.

He’s wanted her for half his age and he’s not afraid to admit it, anymore. He wanted her before he even knew who Olivia Benson was. He wanted her in the life before life, in the breathless womb of his mother and the darkness before light and the light of her arrival. He wanted her.

“And what if I did?” Elliot heard himself saying, his throat suddenly sore.

“What?” she whispered.

His hand reached out below his thigh and grabbed a fistful of white sand. He held on tight as he raised bits of earth and grit higher for them to see. Held safe in this clutch of awareness that he thought he’d like to keep forever, and yet he could never hold something or someone against their will. Never.

His fist loosened until the palm of it lay flat for the stars to see.

Together, they watched as the sand slipped through his fingers into a shower of dust that kissed back its earth. His palm was empty now, but small specks of sand danced into the creases there, a reminder of what he’d let go.

He knew this woman was more than a match for him. He knew that everything had to be on her terms, and that was okay with him. That was more than okay, really. But he would never forgive himself if he allowed this moment to slip through his fingers, too.

“What if I asked you to marry me?” He braved. “What would you say?”

“Don’t,” she warned, but she was smiling so wide and so full and it did nothing to stop him from shaking.

This was all so surreal.

“Don’t you dare fucking make me cry right now, Stabler.”

He laughed, holding his chest in so tight it forgot to expand.

He lifted the curtain of hair behind her shoulder so that his hand buried itself into the nape of her neck. His thumb traced the shell of her ear. His head swam, muddled with the heat of her skin and a lifetime of desire coming to the full.

“I mean it.” He said, “You know I’d marry you tomorrow if you’d just let me.”

“It’s been only two days since I let you into my bed, Elliot.” She argued.

“It’s been twenty-three years, Olivia Benson.”

She tilted her head to the side. Hair spilling as the breeze of twilight billowed its waves behind her ear. Those big brown eyes so dark and unearthly in the moonlit night that he could almost see himself in them. Could see the crash of briny waves reflected in her irises. Could see the silhouette of his body as it shifted to align with her own. Could see the deep blue of his own staring back at her, timeless as anything, he saw it all play out like a slow-motioned movie.

And he saw her realize the truth of it. Right there in between the subtitles and the flashbacks and the end credits. He saw it in her eyes as they widened, as her smile faded just in time for his thumb to catch it, and some of its color drained right out of her face.

Elliot searched her properly. He would have backed off, he’d have pulled away if he sensed at least an ounce of fear in her breathing, except all he saw was Olivia standing in white at the end of an aisle, her big smile breathtaking and beautiful and knowing

He reached for her hand, pressed his thumb against her wrist, and felt the blood pulsing through her veins as he kissed the beat. His breath was jagged as he whispered, very carefully –

“Will you marry me?”

Chapter Text

She thinks she misheard him the first time.

The second one too. But he was actually shaking, and she realised too quickly that it was real.

It was all real.

His hand was trembling with the force of his words as he took hers in his own. Elliot pressed his lips to the veins inside of her wrist, and spoke the words very carefully into her pulse, which was drumming very loudly in her ears.

“Will you marry me?”

Oh my fucking god, she thought, cursing all the stars that had sent them here. Fuck!!!!

“What?” she stammered. Marry him. He wanted her to marry him.

“I said..”

“I know what you said.” She bit back, unintentionally. Adrenaline in her body betraying her heart.

Elliot recoiled, as if she’d slapped him across the face. That surprised her too, the juxtaposition of hurt mixed with what was previously a very happy man. Gods, she thought, what was she to do now?

Breathe.

Breathe Olivia.

She found herself closing her eyes and walking the busy streets of New York instead, with Elliot back at her side. It was easier to imagine this man proposing to her in a place more familiar to them, instead of out here in the middle of nowhere.

Olivia forced her lungs to take in huge gulps of air, and with her eyes closed, her hand moved across the sand and to his lap, forcing his big fist into her own, their fingers entwined as she raised them to her chest. She needed to be anchored by some force of his body, needed his knuckles to feel the ramming of her heart inside of her chest, robbing her of words and time and focus..

“Breathe baby.” He whispered.

Fuck. She thought. Fuck.

She loves him and she wants him and there will never ever be anyone else that measures up to him. Still, he cannot know this. She cannot tell him vocally, even though he’s seen the different shades of her very soul and knows where it rests when he isn’t looking. There is still this unexplained part of her that is scared.

Scared of Elliot knowing that it was always going to be yes. Scared of surrendering every known comfort to her. Scared of making any rash decisions based on the unnerving atrocity that this could be their last day together.

Scared if it is not.

Scared of losing him, of something happening to him, the world of blue taking him down, too. It is the kaleidoscope of her life story isn’t? Everybody leaves even when they don’t wish to.

“Liv.” He murmured carefully. She could feel his heavy gaze sinking into her body as she listened for a shroud of familiarity. She’s sitting next to him on the beach, in the middle of the night, and this is the strangest most defining moment of their life, together.

“Let me ask you something.” She says, suddenly. “Why do you call me baby?”

“What?” His eyebrows pulled in tightly. Just give me an answer woman, his features screamed and Olivia straightened her back.

“Ever since I woke up that day, sometimes you call me baby and I can’t imagine the other Liv..”

“You’re still the same Liv.” He interrupts.

“Why do you call me that?” she demands.

He sighs a small smile. Frustrated and annoyed and entirely transfixed by the motions with which her head works.

“It started off in the bedroom.” He said, so casual she had to blink twice just to reread.

Olivia cleared her throat, cheeks growing red. “In the…”

“Yea. It was a fucking thing.”

“Wow.” She shakes her head, covering her eyes. She isn’t embarrassed, not at all. She’s a grown woman and he’s a grown man and there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. But still. This is Elliot, her best friend, her partner, and despite everything they’d ever been through, she can’t help going red every time she’s faced with another forgotten thing in the bedroom.

“It started off that way, but then I just kept going with it cuz I knew how much it pissed you off.”

Olivia rubbed her brow, thinking of ways to make light of the situation without revealing how truly embarrassing this was. 

“You ever think about things you’ve said in bed and think.. wow  I’m just so sorry to the entire feminist movement?”

“No.” he answered gruffly, annoyed with her. “I don’t actually.”

Olivia couldn’t resist the laugh. “Of course, you don’t.”

Elliot scrubbed his face. “Now you’re deflecting by using politics. That’s just great.”

“I am not.

“If you don’t wanna marry me, just say no, woman.”

“Woman?”

Elliot sighed very loudly, somehow patient and impatient at the same time. He watched her intently, so quiet that she could almost hear the seashells at their feet whistling with the winds. The blue of his eyes kindled a little under moon that shone above, and one slither of light seemed like just enough to illuminate all the good that he held inside. All the good that he had for her, even as darkness surrounded them at the edge of the sea. He was good.

“Would you still ask me to marry you if I wasn’t sick?”

“You’re not sick.” He denied, his voice low again. “And yes I would. I fucking would.”

“How do I know you’re not just scared?” Her eyes bore into his face, like she was willing it to melt.

Elliot blinked, unchallenged. “Have I done something to make you question my love for you?”

She sighed, blowing air that ticked her hair. She looked to the ocean and inhaled the nightly brine that foamed onto shore. It wasn’t that she was annoyed with him, on the contrary really, he was making it fucking difficult to think of anything except I love him I love him and just say yes. The more he confessed, the more she came to understand the sheer reality of their relationship.

He wouldn’t die for her. He would die with her.

He’s made this pretty clear.

Looking out to sea, she envied the ocean and how it had mastered the power to hide all that it contained. Herself and Elliot could never do that with one another, never hide behind the tide without the other already knowing where and when they would land. How he could adjust the dance so that her landing was soft.

Olivia looked back into his cool blue eyes, made more soft by the way he stared at her. “No you haven’t. I’m just thinking.”

“You need time?” he smiled, gently. He lifted his hand from hers to trace the shell of her ear, rubbing reassuring circles into her skin.

Save for his kids, she knew he had never felt more protective of anything and of anyone in his entire life, then in this moment. If she decided to walk right into the deep dark sea over there, he would follow her without pursuit. It seemed that he was unattached to life on this earth that way, except for maybe the one that hammered inside of her. She could pass the faceless bodies of her two sons and walk straight into the void, never to look back again, and Ellliot would follow her. Because that was them.

This is why she can’t say yes.

It’s also why she can’t say no.

So she settles for nothing, instead.

A moment later, Elliot shifted in the sand. “Alright.” He said, clearing his throat. “I love you. I want what’s best for you. If you’re not ready, say no and we can move on, together. Okay? Just say no baby, it’s alright.”

Her jaw grinded again at the pet name, but not even this could grant him some semblance of a response. For the first time in their partnership, she fell quiet, and the stillness of her silence felt just as commanding, just as merciless as her power of speech. She couldn’t help but watch him, drinking in his stoic profile, the way the thick cords of his neck pulsated and strained as he waited, waited. He was always waiting.

“Liv?”

There was a life brimming inside of her, even as she was rendered silent. Elliot was as still as Elliot could ever be, so still she could probably hear the rhythm of that life inside changing course.

“Say no, Olivia.” His was voice low again, guttural, originating again from deep inside and vibrating into the wind.

God help her, she thought.

“Don’t tell me what to say.” She ordered.

“There you are.” He whispered, his voice reminding her of sandpaper. His dimples formed into a half-lit smug grin, and maybe they would be fine even if she said no. Maybe.

Except, she didn’t know how to. She wanted love and she wanted her memories back and she wanted her kid to be happy. But in the end she would always want Elliot.

“I’ll wait for you.” He told her, “Answer me tomorrow. Answer me in a years’ time I don’t care. I’ll wait for you.” 

“You could be waiting a long time, El.” She looked back out to the dark sea and resisted the urge to let her voice break with the tide. She didn’t want to think about the burdens set upon them in the days to come, but it was hard not to when faced with total darkness.

It felt like they were trapped in this disociative limbo that seemed infinite, and yet somehow theirs. 

“Hey.” She heard Elliot whisper, loud enough that not even the wind could hide him. He slid an arm around her shoulder and pulled her against the hard plains of his side.

“Tell me what you’re thinking.”

“I think you’re nuts.” She answered.

His laughter rippled over her in soft, vibrating sensations. They were sitting face to face, but in some quiet sensation it felt as though they were lying down on the soft carpet of white sand, and he was on top of her. Not in any explicit, sexual manner, but that was the power they each had over one another when she allowed herself to admit it.

“I meant tell me something new.”

She needed to know a few things.

She needed to know that he would stay if the unthinkable ever happened.

She needed to know if he would live a thousand more times without her? Would he choose to raise her son, without her. Would he love her breathlessly and apart. Or would he jump the bridge like she feared he would.

Olivia’s breathing is even now. She rests her cheek on her knees, staring up at him through her thick lashes as she hugs her legs to the chest. Days and hours could rush by where the company of him could just make her smile for no reason. Where time could feel so irrelevant.

And there is something both powerful and humbling in the way he manages to hold her gaze, the way he treads so carefully upon her walls, despite the sheer amount of desperation that fills his pupils as he wishes for his dreams to be fulfilled. He is always waiting, always eager, and watching a man like Elliot wait eagerly for anything is... humbling. 

She wonders why she feels helpless about it.

“We’re partners.” She begins. “That will never change for us. We’d die for one another, right?”

“Yea.” He answers, as if this is obvious.

But would he live for her? She wants to ask him, but she’s scared of finding out and she doesn’t know what to do if his answer is no.

“I think I just need time.” In a way it is the truth. Her truth.

Elliot releases a heavy sigh. It’s not empty and it’s not exasperated. Just the right kind of relief that might come out of a man masquerading himself as a patient one when he is anything but. Elliot lifts a hand to cup her cheek and she closes her eyes. In this moment she chooses to love unafraid. In this love she is devoted to making it work in a way that must go beyond yes or no, because for now yes or no doesn’t exist; only him. Only he exists.

Elliot’s thumb brushes across her cheek, sweeping slowly back and forth. Her eyes close subtly, and she can hear the worn rhythm of his thumb rubbing soothing circles to the skin closest to her ear. She can hear the sea rising invisibly beneath them and the whales migrating a hundred miles at sea. She can hear the tide surging through the marsh and each wave hitting across the shoreline in light strokes. For some strange reason, she can even hear the repaired anecdotes of their history whispering softly back at them like the winds that ceased to overwhelm.

I’m your partner, for better or worse.

Better or worse.

She doesn’t realize until after that she has said it aloud. She feels Elliot’s thumb stop moving across her face and opens her eyes.

For a moment everything else is forgotten.

Most times the way he looks at her is jarring. Unfathomable to others fortunate enough bear witness. The way he stares at her is consuming, sometimes.

And all she sees is him, exactly as how he must see her. He looks into her, not at her. He sees all the parts inside of her that she refuses to even see for herself.

He is endlessly her equal.

He sees her.

Elliot smiles a tentative smile. And his next words come out stern and steady. “For better or worse.”

She exhales and knows she feels too much. Loves too much. Knows too much. 

“I want you to read my letters.”   

It’s not the answer he was looking for but this is nothing new. Elliot laughs, shaking his head as if she has muddled it with lifetimes of insanity.

“You’re trying to kill me, woman.”

Against him, Olivia laughs quietly, nudging her nose into his neck and letting the only scent known to her fill the small space in her lungs. There are not enough beaches in this world to dismantle the unique feel of him. His was a smell that had never faded, only dimmed down by the fierce absence of it. Now it was more intense and completely inescapable since that night they sought courage to do what their younger selves could not.

“I’m not trying to kill you.” Olivia answers, smiling a little. “I just want to remember saying yes to you, when the time comes.”

It’s not the sole-reason, but it is the truth.

Elliot shatters completely, his face contorting in a violent but quiet way, and she can do nothing but stare. 

“You’re scared of losing me again, aren’t you?”

Olivia shakes her head. She’s scared of losing herself but she’s more scared of Elliot losing it with her. Still, she doesn’t want to tell him this, in fear of learning the truth.

“I just want you to read my letters.”

“Of course I’ll read your letters.” 

“Tonight.” she demands, eyebrow raised.

“If that’s what you want.”  

Olivia nods, releasing a heavy sigh. Looking back out to the dark ocean, and to Noah who had stumbled upon a nest of sea turtles in the distance, and Eli who had already started building a protective shield around them. It’s quiet here for endless minutes despite the world that turns around her, and it is safe too, because she feels no pressure in having to live up to the expectations it had set out for her since birth. Elliot has very little expectation of her in the same sense that this beach does. She can feel it in the way he pulls her impossibly closer, tighter against the hard plains of his chest, attempting to shield her too from the growing swells that threatened the shore.

Even as she is quiet, even as she dangled his proposal in her hand like it meant nothing, he would always protect her. Elliot was her protector first before he was ever her lover.

“Liv?” her name is gravel on his lips. She tilts her head to face him, only it is his mouth that steals her attention first.

“You’re my priority now.” he says, “My life. You gotta know that.”

Olivia closes her eyes.

He is the man she ran away from, who proposed to her on a carpet of sand that bore no footprints and whispered my lifeeven after I need time.

And she knows, god does she know how much of a mistake her silence is.

“I know.” Olivia tells him.

Elliot relaxes into the dry sand, the weight of his arm slung around her shoulder bearing no force into her body other than a heady desire to mold himself around her. Olivia presses her ear against Elliot’s shoulder, peering up at him. His entire face seemed illuminated against the dark sky that they had made, and it shone a torch on the dented expression he was failing to hide.

His wasn’t an ache to be known, it wasn’t an ache to be seen, he would always be found by her in the end. His was an ache to be remain here on the beach with her in his arms, an ache to keep her safe despite the growing battlefield. To stop the clock and spend the rest of the night in bed… An ache to be inside of her.

She blinks once and it’s like the seconds linger over them, the arms of the clock taking pause and time standing completely still. The world forgotten, empty of life except for that which pounds between them so fiercely. She recognizes the expression in Elliot’s face, the emotion in his defiant features. He really needn’t the power of speech for her to see him so fully.

He would always find a way back to her, she thinks.

Now it was up to her to do the same.

Elliot moves in, features darkening as he dipped his nose to kiss her face, fingers pushing into her scalp, he gathered her hair in his hands possessively while winding her curls beneath his fingers. His dark pupils told her that she belonged to him. She wonders when it was she stopped fighting him on it.  

She knows what she wants and she’s not afraid to let herself have it anymore. His lips hover above hers and all she can truly feel is him breathing life into her.

It hits her there how close he is to having his world implode again. He’s been her rock lately, and he’s made everything and everyone around adjust accordingly to her needs. If it were up to Elliot, he would move heaven and hell to make sure she found neither.

Olivia reached for his face in her hands and closed the remaining distance between them. She made room for his tongue to plunge into her mouth. Their children were still off in the far distance, yet she refused to break away from him anymore.

Elliot moaned into her mouth, and she moved closer to him, tilting her face and the alignment of her body so that she could lean into him a little deeper, possess him as she feared he possessed her.

If anybody else was to ever kiss her again, all they would taste is his name.

Elliot exhaled into her mouth and inched his lips away from hers, his hands still hanging onto her.

His forehead slid languidly against her own, nose brushing with hers in gentle strokes. She wonders if he stopped on accord of their kids, but then his face contorts in a stabbing ache of pain that instantly upsets her. Elliot’s breathing seemed to match the slam of the ocean ahead and looking into his eyes now, she thinks he has sucked it all dry.

“What is it?” she rasps

His breath is ragged against her lips as he rumbles quietly into her.

“I just miss you already.” 

It is a quiet haunting truth, and the agony lodged inside of his throat suggests that he doesn’t quite trust his own voice. He doesn’t trust that whatever he says won’t automatically make shit real.

He’ll miss the way she laughs when it’s just the two of them. The way she sips her coffee before sunrise and doesn’t protest when he steals her kisses. He’ll miss the simple things because it was the simple things that she forgot.

Olivia inhales deeply and allows the breeze of the ocean to carry her cheek as she kisses his own. She thinks about what his skin tone would look like pressed against her hand with a ring on her finger. His ring. She thinks about wanting that, and nothing else comes easier.

“I’ll find my way back to you.” Olivia tells him, and it is the one thing she believes in, the one thing. “I will.”

Chapter Text

He knows where her letters are.

He isn’t afraid to go chasing after them the moment they reach the house.

At the back of his shoulder, Elliot can hear Olivia’s soft voice coaxing Noah into his pajamas. The kids are downstairs tonight, and Elliot has picked the room furthest from them all, the room on the top floor with thick walls and the most incredible view of the beach below.

He looks at Olivia now, at the way she fusses over her kid, the way she makes sure his own has enough food to last until it leaves for college, and it’s the small moments that are the most surreal these days. He loves her and he wants her and he longs to understand the whole of Olivia. He longs for all the sum of her parts that she herself cannot even find. More than anything, he just longs for her.

Every moment of every day.

Olivia’s gaze crosses the room to meet his and it’s like time stops around them. She sees the desire simmering outside of him, of course she does, Elliot’s will for her is nothing more than second skin at this point. But it’s the letters that he wants and that is what she sees, his wanting, and she shakes her head. No. Not now.

Yes now. He challenges, one eyebrow quirked up.

No.

Yes, he mouths back, and somehow it’s like they’re back to fighting again, only this time there’s a playful warmth that washes through and splashes at their feet. Olivia’s eyes lighten up for a slither of a second until then they darken into something that nobody else should ever get to see. In that same moment her gaze rakes over his chest as if it was bare and she could see all of his scars. His chest thrusted out with each breath he stole from the lingering air that divided them and Elliot just watched. He watched carefully as her gaze journeyed downward. She stopped at the crotch of his jeans, and he felt the throb of his cock respond to her as if it had a mind of its own, as if it was loyal only to her and nobody else, which was true in the more quiet, shameful periods chafed to his marriage. He’ll never not want to fuck Olivia and that is the greater truth of it all.

But still, he thinks, flashing a smug grin that only she could elicit, there’s no way he’s getting his hands on those letters tonight.

He has never known a love like theirs before, this utter relinquishing of control that both excited and scared the shit out of him. If the world was pretty and Olivia told him to ruin it all, he would burn cities to ashes just to make her happy.

**

If she’s being honest with herself, she wanted to jump him on the beach before. She wanted him the second he cupped Noah’s tears and wrapped her little boy into his chest. When he poured his heart out underneath each star that lit up the eastern sky, when he kissed her with all the passion a man could find, as if his woman had said yes and not no.

Elliot asked her to marry him, tonight.

Just the sheer frenetic truth of it still makes her feel so light-headed she hardly knows herself anymore. There was Olivia before, and then there was of Olivia now, and even though she still said no. One is somehow more in love than the other ever was before.

Olivia wonders if her old self ever knew just how much more space there was to fill. It seems cliché of her to think she was ever half empty inside, and yet here they are, and there he is, and regardless of those battles she fired his way on the voyage here, Olivia feels stuffed with love in ways she never allowed herself to feel before.

She will never tell him this, but she wonders if he knew about the empty spaces when she allowed him to fill them.

**

They bid each kid goodnight and Elliot knows Noah enough to see him passing out the moment his mother kisses him goodnight. Eli seems preoccupied by the large headphones on his ears matching the game at bay and Elliot has no idea, no idea how he’s supposed to get past this.

He wants every last moment to linger on like a song that never ends. He wants this, every night for the rest of his life.

Elliot leads the way to the bedroom and feels her eyes scoring his ass the entire way. Given the long journey it takes to get here, they barely reach the bathroom door before he’s being pushed against the wall, his back close to shattering as she dives into him, her tongue placing its stake against his own.

Her hands roam around the crevices of his chest until they find a way to his jaw, and she kisses him hard and fast with a gnawing, relentless fucking want that makes his dick twitch against his jeans.

Elliot keeps his eyes open and notes how hungry she looks in her wanting.

Regardless of the pervasive, intense need for sleep that permeates his bones and is sure to do the same for her, there is no escaping this thing between them. It is a raw and ragged and deep animalistic need that is difficult to avoid, now that they have had one another.

He wonders if the smoldering sexual arousal that lives between them will ever truly die down at some point. When they first started fucking it was all about the release, for her. It was about making Elliot hers while not really giving much of herself in the process. It was fucking each other senseless and then arguing at the door. Rinse and repeat.

Elliot pulls her in to the bedroom and Olivia stumbles into him, she nudges him away gently to put a little distance between them. At the click of the door he hears it lock behind her. Eyes half-hooded with dark lidded ecstasy and fuck they will never change. She will never change. And he’ll stay this way because he's never known anything else, with her.

Olivia swallows, throat emitting a movement that happens in slow motion, suspended like the breath in his throat, the thoughts in his head. There’s two, maybe three minutes of nothing but silence filled between them.

An eternity passes where it is just her painted in a darkened room.

Outside, waves swell and crash and the balcony view does nothing to steal his attention from the globes living inside of her dark orbs. She looked as though she had been made for this moment with the added help of the moon. She looked like Olivia.

At some point, she blinks several times amidst the stretch of silence that follows the falling of her clothes. She strips for him as a silhouette to the moon and its a self-confidence that boulders on arrogance. He sees himself in her eyes so much these days. Being distinctly humble has no place here, no place inside of her. She is incredibly beautiful but she knows this, and the elegant shape of her body has very little to do with it.

Olivia tilts her head to the side, a slow smirk curling the corners of her mouth as she unleashes the strap of her bra. It kills him inside to watch her do it alone, and yet there's a playful light in her eye that stops him dead. Her arrogance turns him on.

He wants to drown inside of her. Wants to be dragged under, hauled into the dark and the light never to come back home again. She is where he lives now, where the oxygen coloring his lungs resides infinitely. Olivia raises an index finger and signals for his touch.

Elliot sways on his feet. Towards her, drawn in again like the tide was to the moon. He brushes a lofty strand of hair behind her face.

“So fucking beautiful.” He mutters.

Against him, Olivia laughs and shifts her head to the side, letting Elliot press his lips to her cheek. He finds her gaping up at the full moon above with her mouth ajar, in awe and they might as well be staring at the same thing.

“I had no idea.” she whispers.

He nuzzles her neck, fingers sifting into her unbound hair. He suspects this woman is lying to him. “That your perfect?” He shakes his head at the sheer fucking insanity of it.

Olivia scoffs. “No, you fool.”

He grins.

“No idea..” she croaks, and his smile fades. “No idea that loving you this way could be so easy.”

Elliot blinks.

“I don’t like belonging to anybody, Elliot.” she carries on, “But sometimes I do think I was made for you.”

Elliot is distantly aware of who they are and what they are and where they belong, in one another’s arms. Yet in a way he completely loses his sense of self to her and he doesn’t know how to be human anymore. Olivia’s words needle their way through his scarred skin, searing into his bones like all the ink that never really did.

He can tell by the way her affection lingers that she knows where he belongs, too. Where he always belonged.

**

Moments later, Olivia moans his name as he moves inside of her, stretching her walls to accommodate the sheer, visceral size of him. He’s big inside of her, she come to learn and her body is still ye tot adjust to the fact. She looks down with bated breath trapped into her lungs as he moves deeper, fuller. Need blossoms in her even as she feels torn apart by the sharp size of him that requires all the space she cannot possibly give but gives to him anyway.

When he pulls out to adjust, Olivia whines like a crazed feral animal, thrashing her head with begging sounds so foreign even to her own ears.

Splayed across the bed, Olivia pulls him in with her knees wrapped around his hips and there’s no warning, no warning at all when Elliot uses that moment to surge into her, her mouth falling unhinged as she cries and he shifts her hips off the bedsheets, filling her in wildly, completely, so feral he could probably break her back if he wanted to.

He is inside of her, moving and thrusting and it feels like he is trying to make them one whole body.

The palms of his hands hold her hips and she keeps her heels clutching his back, tightly, bandaged around him. He fucks her like this, fighting the pull of gravity as he holds on through sheer will just to anchor Olivia against him. Her arms tangle around his neck, clutching for dear life. She trusts that he won’t drop her against the bedsheets beneath them, she trusts.

“So good,” she pants into his mouth, burrowing her face into his neck. His hips slam into hers, so hard and fast that her ass slams into the bedspread each moment before he chooses to defy gravity again, arching her back up and into him.

She doesn’t know who he is anymore. He is an animal inside of her, untamed at the best of times. Wild and debauched and free and yes, she thinks, fucking yes. She’s found her match.

“Fuck...”

“I know.” He pants.

Elliot groans as he thrusts and thrusts and the sheer visceral pleasure of it all ripples through her like a tornado. The man was a liability. A problem, her problem, because never ever could she put an end to this.

Olivia had to forget about it just to walk away from him, the first time.

**

His sense of belonging is deeply rooted in the breathy moans she makes as he brands her hips, brands her body and soul until all men ever see when they gawk at her inordinate beauty is his name. His fucking name.

You are mine.

Elliot lays her back down onto the bedspread.

It doesn’t stop him from pressing himself further into her, sinking them both into the bedspread so deep its bones might as well crack from the pressure. The forced weight of him on top of her must be painful but she doesn’t seem to care.

“Don’t you dare hold back on me.” She demands.

"Slow baby.."

“I’m not gonna break, please..” her eyes remind him of wild animals as she hauls him deeper inside of her, urging him on.

She is impatient and she wants more and he’s going to fucking break her if he crosses another boundary. Elliot begins to grind his hips against hers. Olivia’s breathy moans turn into needy whines and he hisses out loud at the way her fingernails stab red holes into his back.

She gives as much as he takes, and he has taken a lot.

Her fingers dance along the scars of his allegiance as he makes love to her. Elliot makes love like she is gospel, like the monsters are at their door and everything is burning, and the only real truth is in this, the way they fuck.

“I wanna live inside of you.” He rumbles.

“Yea.” She whispers into his ear.

**

Elliot flips them onto his back and Olivia drags his body so that he is pressed against the headboard. Her eyes are molten black holes against the half-light of dusk and all he sees in her dark orbs are places he doesn’t know the name of anymore.

Moon and sun. Stars and sky. Olivia, Olivia.

Elliot palms her breasts as she begins to ride him. Mine he thinks, as her breasts bounce and she holds onto the headboard, moaning incoherent translations of his name. Mine.

“Baby” she moans

“Don’t come” she orders

“I love you.” She says.

She’s never said the last one before, not in bed, not while he buries himself into her core and starts out a devastating rhythm that has them both panting for air beyond reach. He feels himself thicken even more inside of her and wonders if he is hurting her.

She cries and he has his answer and she cries, but Olivia refuses to stop on top of him.

It’s a blissful agony ridden out by the way Olivia’s expert hips rise and grind. She is holding him so close that he can almost hear the racing pulse of life surmount the erotic sound of their wild thrusts.

His own hips drive and there’s nowhere for him to go but upwards, surging into her, pounding into her, stretching through the tight heat of her until his cock burns and even then, he finds a way to fill the open space left behind, inside of her.

Olivia’s neck tilts backwards unto the ceiling, holding onto his head as her breasts heaved before him. A portrait of pleasure ripples through her face and he holds onto the image, and the uncontrollable whimpers echoing the roof of her mouth.

Olivia grinds her clit against him in an agonizing rhythm and he presses his mouth to her breast, tasting sweet salt of his and hers. Olivia’s skin is a grounding current, and she urges his face in between her breasts, a crush of elastic wielding flesh scraping against his bared teeth.

“Mark me.” She demands, breathily.

He does. 

**

The climax is a shock to her skin; assuredly warm and sending tingling sensations all the way to her curling feet. It resonates across the surface of the atmosphere as she collapses onto her back. She collapses and it resonates, and she collapses. Suddenly he is there with her, following her, pumping into, the muscles along his thighs jerking violently as he empties himself inside again and again and -- his eyes swallow her whole sometimes. Lost in the growing crescendo of white hot heat and he can’t stop staring at her, even as the winds of orgasm threaten to blunder them both. He can’t stop staring at her.

She wonders amidst the rich warmth of his seed rippling through her if he will ever stop being this way, if she will ever know of anything other than Elliot losing complete restraint as he fucks her senseless. He’ll apologize later, he always does, even when he clearly doesn’t need to.

His stamina has always been impressive but at times it feels overpowering, she comes and he comes and she watches awestruck at the madness they both share, at the way his hips pound into her and her nails drag along his back. His entire being is wrapped in utter servitude to her body and maybe, she thinks, as he releases into her and his arms quake above her head.

They were made for one another after all.

Elliot crawls along to bury his face inside the pocket of her neck. “I love you.” He breathes.

She can tell by the way he nudges his nose into her skin that he doesn’t expect anything back from her. Just her arms tangled around his.

“I love you.” She tells him.

Chapter Text

Olivia talks in her sleep sometimes.

It’s one of the most enthralling things about her. He likes to roll over in the dark and watch the shadows of her chest rise and fall as she conversates with herself. He never understands a word of it. And he doesn’t understand how one person, one heart that he loves so goddamn hard, can have so much to say and yet still too much to hide.

But she longs for him now, he reminds himself of this in every breath she draws. She is committed to him completely and wholely and even as she stirs about unprepared for more, it is in this love, with him, with Elliot, that Olivia chooses to be fearless. With him.

Courage is second nature to her but choosing Elliot is not. Just the sheer reality of it is profound to him.

He stares at the journal she pressed into his hands moments ago, the one she wrote her own letters to and made it known to the kids, to the world, that these things belonged to him. Nowhere here does it mention there isn’t a world in which she would write him out of it.

Just the fact that she’d gone so deep humbles him into a fierce new beginning.

Next to him, Olivia mumbles quietly in her sleep, words so incoherent that even if he pressed his ear to her mouth, he wouldn’t understand a word of gibberish she speaks into the night.

He shifts from the bed and slips into his boxer briefs. She seemed fast asleep underneath the bedsheets; planted on her stomach with her arms sprawled on either side of the pillow like a child. The dim shadows of the lunar bath spilled into the room from the balcony door, revealing the soft outline of her figure, the muscles in her upper back as they contracted with each breath she took.

He wanted desperately to memorize this moment, this feeling inside of them both. That odd flicker in his gut was back with a vengeance, practically permanent now, and he still had no idea how to broach the topic without putting a whole in the wall. What if she woke up from her surgery wanting nothing more of him? What if she didn’t wake up at all? What would he do then? He shook his head and decided that he already knew the answer to both.

Elliot made his way into one of the adjoining rooms of the master’s bedroom. The house had modern refurbishings with an old-style layout to it, and the room he’d entered into was a study. There was a large modern sofa fixed in the middle, a big floor to ceiling window across from him, and the same moon that had been staring at them all night.

Elliot sat on the sofa, reached for the journal and opened the first entry.

I

The day is slipping by so fast I could blink and forget it all.. Outside I can hear the birds nesting amongst the trees above Bernie’s garden and it’s very easy, somehow, to get used to it all. Used to the peace that being in Elliot’s home provides me with. Where the looming presence of a lab coat doesn’t expel the air in our throats or bring doom upon us all before the light has any real chance to shine. Today, the nurse asked me, quietly, ‘If you could write a love letter to your future self, what would it be about?

Him. It was always going to be about him. We’re brave enough to admit this now.

Her letters are short and more like journal entries, he realizes. Despite the fact that she had brought him here, Elliot feels strange about it all. As though he was interrupting something very intimate, like he was peering into her bedroom window, watching her undress, watching her examine the scars on her body like they were only fascinating tissue, and not horrific zebra prints to the past. She’s the strongest person he knows, and even though he wishes certain things hadn’t happened to her, he admires this about her, deeply.

Returning to the second entry, he sucked in a deeper breath, clinging for life. 

II

No matter what the future brings, he will always be the one I feel closest to, the one I want to talk to at random hours of the day and share all the parts of me that aren’t just about Noah. It’s still a strange feeling, but I know my life is better with him in it.

I used to pride myself on how Elliot and I could fight tooth and nail, never giving up to leave well enough alone. Never giving up. He’s still this way and I’m still that way and I realize now, since Gitano, that our wrath at one another was only an echo of something much larger. It was passion riddled with this incapacity to live if the other wasn’t living too and.. I realized there that he was profound for me. That he had probably felt this way too, perhaps longer than I did.

It’s late at night, and I sit inside of this home alone, waiting for Elliot to back to me.  

He’s back in the city again and no matter how much of it I can’t seem to remember, the reality of his return still stuns me. It was never meant to happen this way, we were never meant to fall so madly, so deeply, at least that’s what I thought, because it seemed so impossible over a year ago. Now he is here and I love him, and I can’t seem to imagine a life where wanting Elliot isn’t a part of it.

He deserves to be forgiven for the bullets left in his wake. Not because he is perfect, but because deep in his heart I know he is a good man. The best man. I know this more than I know that his eyes are blue and they shine a different light when he is vulnerable.  

III

Sometimes it feels like I’m either here due to the gravity of his pull or the sheer strength that this universe has designed for just the two of us. All I really know is that I went to sleep at the first verse of spring, opting to forget, and resenting him for what I never could. But then I woke up and he was here, in my life, desperate for us in a way I’d never imagined before. Haunted by the prospect of losing him, I don’t think I wanted to imagine that. I used to think I’d rather him never leave me than ever love me. I have little to fear anymore.  

As much as I adore the affection, Elliot’s love can be ruling. It is a profoundly powerful thing even in its dutifully colored rage, which was never really rage to begin with, only the two of us together again. I think I’d always known that if I let this love touch me, there would be no going back for any of us. Elliot puts his clothes on in the morning like he is readying himself for war, for the winds to sweep me away and for all the oceans he’d map just to find me again.

I wonder if he knows that after today, I want him to stay. For the kids. For Noah.

He puts the penultimate entry down and swallows.

He can’t imagine a world without her, but she’ll force him to. He wonders how it is she expects him to be rational in a time like this. If anything were to happen to her, he..

I’ll never leave you. Elliot once told her. Never. And he meant it. But that’s not rational to her. That’s choosing Olivia over every impossible scenario and forgetting that they have kids to look after, responsibilities to tend to. Noah. They have a child named Noah.

And of course, this is about Noah, Elliot thinks, finding the last letter. When has Olivia ever done anything for herself?

IV

Behind me ticks a grandfather clock that once belonged to Jo Stabler. Bernie says it used to drive her mad, more mad somehow, back when Elliot was just a little boy. The sheer reality of this still haunts me in a way, our childhoods were always a sour subject between the two of us. I know the father he sends to exile and the father he is are two very different men. I know that Bernie gets overwhelmed by loud noises and the notion of time. I know that Elliot still loves his parents like I loved my mother because we were never born to feel anything else. I know that his mother is a part of me now, because she sees time in nonlinear terms too. Time was our biggest enemy, certainly. Elliot and I never had enough of it. Even as partners, time moved too fast and too hard against us. He’d plant his cup of coffee in my hand under the crust of early morning, and I’d blink once just to feel his gaze following me as the dawn of night sent us both back home. Maybe time was against us back then. It was never meant to be against us now.

I can feel him close by now. It's the middle of the night and he is coming home to me. I can almost hear him marching along the path that led us to the door, that first day. These are the things we could anticipate in the beginning but never really chose to admit, back then. That was the thing about time, it healed old wounds and gave this thing of ours a voice. Time could house Elliot’s love inside a home that I didn’t have to live in. His was infinite, timeless, but mine, I think, is really just behind that door.

Elliot places the last letter down, and with a shuddering sigh, he buries his face in both hands.

There’s loving a person and then there’s the way Olivia loves. There’s withholding all the deepest, sacred parts of herself but then there’s Olivia. There’s the uncertainty that lingers when he can’t read her, and then there’s Olivia.

In this moment and all moments to come, Elliot feels profoundly humble.

Ever since his return, Olivia often ran hot and cold on him. Even now it could be that way. Her aloofness gave off the steady impression that he had done something wrong, or that he hadn’t done enough right. He feared the sins of the past would always find a way to seep into the cracks and threaten the very foundations he had tried to build since he found his way back to her. Really found his way back.

But now he has the final puzzle piece. The last brick to throw against the wall and watch its fortress break down. Watch her leave the palace she had built around that multidimensional mind of hers, watch Olivia make a home out of his.

Behind Elliot a hand touches his shoulder, and he knows that touch. Her scent was always stronger in the silence and often embedded itself into his sinuses. Her perfume had walked into the room several moments before she did anyway, and he was too lost in translation to pull himself out of it.

He looked up at her in that minute and saw his future as plain as anything. Olivia’s hair was tussled from the pillow and her face was sleepy, agitated, affectionate.

“Whata you..” she stopped mid-sentenced as she came to full, and her gaze settled on the journal in his hands.

“You read them..” she whispered

Elliot nodded, his heart still in his throat. “You said I could.”

He felt her fingers brush against the back of his head in a soft, dancelike rhythm. She was beautiful to him but there was something about the night and the darkness that made her his.

Opening his arms, Elliot drew her in close and let her step in between his legs. Slowly, Olivia cupped his face and he raised his eyes to hers.

“Jesus..” falls from his lips.

Seeing her up close is visceral and strangely different to the woman whose letters now roamed every vital vessel moving inside of his body. Her thoughts, her words were caged birds flowing inward, controlling every breath he took. Every life he lived. It was her who wrote those things about him.

It was her.

It’s different this time, this thing between them. He feels it.

In her eyes he can see the fortress slowly but surely disintegrating. Leaving no wreckage and no wake. Elliot knows what needs to be said in the moment, she’s still a prisoner in his flesh. She’s still the woman who didn’t say yes.

“I’ll never leave him.” There’s no entreaty in his voice, no tears, no restraint, it’s a fact and nothing more. This is what she wants.

Olivia takes a deep, bracing breath. “But you said..”

“If you die, I die. Yea I know.”

“And you meant it, I know you did.”

“I did.” He nodded, “But Noah means more than that.”

Olivia sighs, a small smile gracing her lips.

“I’m still not gonna marry you, you know.”

“Liar.”

“Dreamer.”

His hands trailed over the feminine flare of her hips and down her thighs, her body warm and soft and gravitational in his pull. Her fingers grazed along his bare shoulders, stopping at the nape of his neck. She put down a little pressure and anchored herself to him as she parted her knees on either side of his hips, caging him with her body. Olivia’s hair tumbled forward slightly with the shift, and then she was pressed against him once more, her arms weaving around his broad shoulders like they belonged there, like they owned him.

Elliot lifted his head to steal her lips again, warm, eager palms sliding under her thin t-shirt, filling possessively with every inch of Olivia’s warm skin that he could find.

He kissed her once, twice, and then shifted back to admire the look of desire dented into her pretty face. Others would call it affection, but to Elliot he would always choose to see his own sense of self mirrored back into her. 

He saw himself in her. He saw his lover, his other half. 

He was smug about his possessions, and he cared deeply for the confirmation that she desired him too. Not just loved him, wanted him, but desired everything he longed to give back to her.

Everything.

“I’m still so sore.” Olivia muttered, and then pushed his shoulders against the back of the couch, leaning forth to lick the corner of his jaw. He’d be damned if she was relying on him to push her off his lap. Fucking damn to hell and sun and --

“Liv..” he moaned as she rocked her hips against his groin, he could feel the heat of her through the fabric of those cotton shorts he despised. Her long legs journeyed for days in these things and just the thought of those tan legs walking around in broad daylight made Elliot want to scream until his lungs were torn.

His fingers bit into her thighs and pulled her closer to his growing erection. He grazed his teeth across her jawline, and without warning thrust his erection completely against her, still separated by cloth, yet close enough for him to relish the moan that ghosted the roof of her mouth.

The noise alone was enough to destroy him.

In a voice that normally belongs to the bed, Olivia moaned breathily into his ear. “I need you, now.”

“Again?” He just had her a few hours ago, and he bucks his hips once more, showing off and trying to concentrate at the same time.

“You complainin?”

“Don’t insult me, Olivia.” He growls.  

It comes out in a throaty groan that seems to vibrate in his very bones.

“You ready?” he rasps, there’s these things inside of him that are burning.

“Now look who’s being insulting.” She rebuts.

He laughs against her lips.

Olivia gave him a slow nod of assent before stepping out of his clutch. She stood up again, and he watched with bated breath as her shorts dropped to the floor. Enough moonlight spilled into the room through the window that he could see shadows of lust dancing across her pretty face. Bathed in milky light with eyes that echoed the sound of a calming ocean.

Tonight they had reached a new understanding with the sea. 

Weeks, maybe even days ago, his thoughts would have been filled with panic, wondering if she was avoiding a decent discussion in trade for a particularly sweaty session beneath the bedsheets. Not that he could really rally against her body then or now. But he knew that wasn’t this.

She didn’t have to talk about the letters she’d written, she didn’t have to wear a ring, or wake up knowing his face. She didn’t have to do anything except be herself, with him.

On his aid Olivia yanked his briefs off, and then proceeded to sink down onto his thighs.

“Slow..” he ordered.

“No.” she argued.

“Liv..” the surgery, he thought. The surgery. “Com’on.”

“Don’t make me fucking beg.”

He was barely hanging by a loose thread.

“Fine.” He rumbled, asserting a firm order. “Stay on top.”

He could make demands too. 

He took her lip and trapped it between his teeth, and before she could argue any further, he slipped two fingers into her folds, moaning painfully at how perfectly damp and silky and tight she was beneath his fingers.

“Jesus christ..” he groaned, feeling her heat clothe his skin. A deep guttural groan spilled from her throat as she rode his hand, guiding his thumb to massage her clit exactly as she wanted.

Her little puffs of air were brushing across the skin of his face, breasts heaving onto his chest, soft moans echoing the small dark study that surrounded them. It was taking every spasm of his self-control not to drag her down a little further, sink himself fully into her, deep enough just to pound and pound until it fucking hurt and god–

Olivia snatched his jaw with her hand possessively, as if to shudder the thoughts trapped inside of his mind, and latched her mouth down upon his. Her tongue made sincere love to his own while her hips rocked into Elliot’s hand, moans growing louder and heavier and –

“Liv.. shhhh.. its okay.”

She nodded unconvincingly; her forehead creased in absolute concentration. They could be loud, for the nature of the house allowed them that freedom, but neither could risk relinquishing to the power building inside of their throats, the power that festered after years of built in restraint, despite the recent months of giving in. Of fucking each other mindlessly. Of making love on so many surfaces he’d almost lost count in that first week alone. That was giving in. Back then. But now they must learn each other’s bodies in the silence, they must, for they have promised to be together forever, she has given that promise to him tonight, and he wants to fuck her whenever he pleases from hereon, but he can’t have the children knowing about it. So he shushes her, and she nods with her eyebrows furrowed and her gaze drowsy in the heat of his own, trying to concentrate on nothing but their bodies smashing, colliding, breaking. 

“Close,” she whined into his lip, grinding against his wrist as his fingers fucked into her, applying pressure against her clit.  

His arousal throbbed and throbbed against her moving thigh, and he wasn’t even inside of her yet. God help him, he thought. Her moans turned into little breathy whines against his face. She was so close underneath his fingers. So close.

And he was so hard it hurt.

Elliot immediately withdrew his fingers and grabbed at her thighs. He made no warning as he surged up and thrust himself deep into the slick warmth of her, the tight heat of her, instantly pulling Olivia’s body so far and so intensely that there was no possible space left behind inside of her.

So much for going slow.

A cry split the walls of Olivia’s throat and he caught it in his mouth, groaning as she rocked into him, returning the battle. 

Just the full length of him, filling her completely, owning her, making her tilt her little head to the ceiling, eliciting reactions that none other from this moment on, would ever see, it turned him on.

“Yes, god..” she rasped, pushing her thighs further apart to engulf him more fully. Elliot bucked into her like it was the last good thing he would ever do in this realm. His ass practically bounced off the sofa as he thrust into her, again and again like it was a race. The rhythm agonizing. Blind lust. Frantic and frenzied. The most trusting kind.

Olivia was tugging at his arms, neck and shoulders, as if she was scared he would disappear, doing anything she could to mold himself into her skin. Her long legs were hooked possessively around his bare, muscled hips. And she did nothing but hold onto him as their bodies invented a blinding rhythm upon their own accord. It was like they weren’t thinking human beings anymore, really, only two bodies drawn together, drawn to be feral in their utmost holy, intimate moments of mating.

Her thighs hooked possessively around his bare muscled hips as Elliot continued soaring into her. She owned him. Drained him of any pure sense of self other than to be modicum of Olivia. 

The sounds of smacking skin and the thuds of hips and clawing hands filled his senses, all wrapped up in the humid steam rising above their skin, their echoing whimpers. Elliot was alive and Olivia was already living and --

A strangled sound tumbled out of her mouth when he began to grind against the spot that burned her core, that made her soul quake and fucked his one up in its entirety.  

Olivia burned her face into the curve of his shoulder as she came down hard on him, muscles clenching in spasmodic jolts.

Her teeth bit into his flesh just enough to make it bleed.

This time she was the one to mark him.

Returning the madness, Elliot gripped her thighs even harder, enough to leave bruises. He drove himself into her again, finding the last millimeter of space to claim, space to pull, space to claim again. Over and over. It was then that Elliot stole two more thrusts and joined her in their release.

He hissed and smothered a choked groan into her shoulder, breathless like she, each panting so hard their lungs threatened to rupture. His vision blurred into stars and he was still moving, just a little bit, inside of her, riding out the remaining crescent wave. Letting her have him.

As a man the sea was useless to him. Had nothing on Olivia.

Elliot slid down and against the bed of the sofa, stretching his limbs out and wincing slightly as he took her with him. They liked to act against their age in their trembling intimacy, and he knew it would bite them both come the dawn of day. It always did.

Olivia stayed on top, still trying to find her way back home, her landing, the place they called limbo. The everything and anything. She slipped out just a moment later, and they both hissed at the loss, the brash coldness that hit their bones despite the sweat that lingered on the in between.

“Jesus fucking christ.” She muttered, then crumbled half on top of him in a graceful mess.

Elliot laughed, fisting for the sofa throw, he washed it over their waists and made sure she was covered in its warmth. The ghosts of their past deserved at least some form of respect, some coverage and modesty, he thought.

Elliot’s fingers snaked up against the curve of her spine. Staring up at the ceiling, with a naked Olivia in his arms, he relished proudly the sated sigh that left her mouth and shattered the lazy silence.

“Every time I think we’ll take it slow this time, we never do.” She announced.

“God knows I try.” He answered with a cocky tone.

“It’s not meant to be that good.”

Elliot shook his head in agreeance, and kept his mouth shut, because it was true, and because there was no use speaking ill of the dead.

“It’s never been that way for me.”

She squeezed his torso in response.

“I think… it has for me,” she said, and that made him flinch, made the blood in his veins turn liquid ice and by god, just the images in his head were enough to cause world war three.

“Only a few times,” Olivia rushed to continue, as if that would make it better. He did not want to imagine her wild in bed with with other.. with another.. No.

“But not like this. With you its… its..” she shook her head, and there were no words. “You know, I can’t explain it.”

“I know.”

“No. It’s not just the blind trust, or the connection or the fact that you’re..” she stopped, and he knew she was blushing in that moment. “Very good at it..”

Elliot laughed quietly.

“But it’s like we see into each other and suddenly everything makes sense. Suddenly I can’t think of anything else except for you and me and it’s like.. its..” she struggled.

“It’s like nothing is against us anymore. Not even time.” he repeated her own words back to her, and she nodded in ascent. Tumbling back into his neck, she hummed lazy kisses across his skin.

It wasn’t exactly true, not tomorrow or the day after, maybe. Time still ruled them all. But it was the feeling that mattered.

Reality was all a muffled memory in here. With her.

The rest would come later.

Chapter Text

It was mid-afternoon the next day when it was time again, time to return to the hospital.

Maureen had come to the beach house to collect Eli and Noah, just like she had done once before, and Olivia had squeezed the life out of her son, praying, silently, that it wouldn’t be their last.

Elliot packed their bags into the car and found her standing alone on the balcony of their bedroom. The sky was beginning to soften into a lighter shade of blue and the highlights of her hair danced underneath the rays of the sun.

She looked resilient and prepared. He felt petrified and shaken.

Still, it was important to him that she needn’t feel his anxiety, that she not carry that burden too. He hadn’t slept much, not after the letters, not after the press of her body against his, and certainly not after as she rode him with abandon. He’d carried her to the bedroom after they each sought release, and it felt stupid, but he watched her sleep for too long a time, watched her breathe, watched her move in the night, so petrified and afraid that it could be their last.

It could be their last.

But they still had today, he reminded himself, and he had her letters, and no matter what happened she was going to find her way back to him.

She was.

***

Olivia felt Elliot step up from behind her, sinking his arms around her waist as she held onto the railing. He was her anchor amongst the wreckage, bound by unbreakable chains. He was always something solid for Olivia to hold onto whenever she longed to slip, the one to keep her here. Her heart was leaping against her ribs like a frantic bird, and shaking like a leaf at what was to come. But when he leaned into her skin, her heart began to calm down again, perhaps it knew something she didn't, perhaps it was determined to fulfil a lifetime of beats with him, before the end. 

His stubble brushed against the pocket in her shoulder, breath warm against her ear. “It’s time to go now, my love.”

Olivia inhaled deeply and scuffed the knotted veins in hands until they made sense in her own.

“Are you scared?” 

She was. But being with him always managed to silence the voices in her head. “Maybe not as much as I should be.”

He pulled her closer against his chest so that the back of her head tumbled into the crook of his shoulder, and he was tall enough to lean down and plant a possessive kiss to the corner of her lips. She felt his hands roam her hips, and sighed underneath his touch. They swayed just a little on the spot, but the move wasn’t sexual, or driven with motive. It was just them.

“I’m so proud of you.” Elliot rumbled aloud, his heavy arms now holding her firmly around the neck, her back pressed against his chest. His hold would never be a prison, only ever a safe home. 

She pressed a gentle kiss to the skin on his arm. “I’m really glad you came back.”

He sighed, “It should’ve been sooner.”

“You’re here now.”

“And not going anywhere, Liv.”

She nodded absentmindedly, and felt a little foggy, like she was floating and he was holding her up for air. The surgery was a few hours away, but it felt like she was already there.

Olivia looked over the shining sea in that moment and felt closer to it all, closer than ever before, closer to the heart of it all.

***

The general anesthetic feels like a thin sheet blanketing her entire body as it rests, and the last person she sees is Elliot standing above her. The surgeon allowed him inside for just this part of the night, because Olivia demanded so, and because Elliot’s fists would’ve stumbled into a drywall had he been anywhere else.

“I’m right here.”

He’s close, face covered in a surgical mask that fails to conceal the silent fear in his eyes.

“I got you Liv.”

I love you. She thought, looking up at him through flickering eyelashes.

I love you so much.

She closed her eyes, allowing the winds to take her back again.

***

She’s floating at sea when she wakes again, the sun is bright in the corner of her eye, the sky filled with a soft laminated blue.

Olivia doesn’t know why she is here. Everything is blurry until everything isn’t anymore, until the rolling rug beneath her has suddenly disappeared and she’s plunged into a forest of ruin.

She’s come to collect her things.

The sky is unbelievably dark and the night is cold, there are two Olivia’s in this universe. She can see herself walking towards the flutelike ashes of a broken crime scene, but only from a distance. She’s invisible to the moving Olivia, the other Olivia, and there’s a part of her that knows innately -- this isn’t real.

This is the past.

She watches from a silent distance as the other half of her soul calls out for her. Its the first time in ten long years she recognizes the sound of her own voice again.

He says too much and too little in that moment. Olivia doesn’t say enough.

When the damage is done and Kathy is wheeled away, Olivia turns to speak to a uni. Elliot cannot take his eyes off her.

She’s mad as fuck at him for the rest of the week, those brown eyes she barely recognises speak not of lost longing but of hurt, she is hurting, but his? They seem trapped in a warped world view where Olivia is at the center of everything, and neither of them seem to know it. Olivia is justice, freedom, belonging.

Olivia is the reason he chooses to see another day.

But Olivia is proud with the boldness of a thousand lions, she knows this, and Elliot is a grieving widow out of touch with reality, and even in the snow she still chooses to keep her son, her entire world, hidden from him.

It’s another week or two when she begins to hear the words, begins to feel them smeared across the cracks of her windscreen.

Awkwardness gradually climbs as Elliot and Olivia sit across from one another, inside an unmoving vehicle different from their history. Daylight is forming outside, light rain falls.

Liv, you mean the world to me. Elliot croaks. 

It isn’t supposed to feel as meaningful as it does, but all she knows is that it is. It is very meaningful. 

Despite this, he seems to be slipping out of his own fingers and she can do nothing but observe, in either side of the scene. She doesn’t quite know who he is anymore, does she?

The scene dissolves into a hotel room that smells of ground coffee and grieving children. Kathleen is shaking and Elliot has so many fresh scars on his face, it tears her heart apart.

Elliot, tell us what you need. The other Liv says.

I love you.

The room changes again; spins and spins in the cobweb of her brain until Olivia is alone with him on new ground.

He takes light sips from the smallest glass of water she has ever seen, and he looks like a baby, a stranded shell of the man she’d once known. He has a scratchy looking beard and no wedding ring.

His eyes stare without seeing.

I didn’t write the letter. The other Olivia drops into the chair, knees giving out.

In a parallel universe it will always be you and I

The seven stages of grief consume more fully once Elliot jumps back into the underworld. 

The scene dissolved for a third time. Suddenly she was dropping out from underneath the sky and landing straight into her shiny black office chair. Nick Amaro has a beard and when he smiles over the desk, it reminds Olivia of an easier era. She smiles so brightly, like he has taken her there. Taken her home. It is easily the happiest she has been in weeks.

But then Burton Lowe walks through their door, and the room spins again. Nick Amaro is walking out of their city and Amanda offers to burn the cassette tape. The pain of it ends when she lands at the edge of a jittering old precipice, listening to the cicadas sing and the river move. Her mother was a good woman, after all. 

Present Olivia sheds a tear for herself, feeling deeply proud, somehow. 

The scene changes again, reforming around her so that she dived and landed straight into a pit of sunlight, feet touching warm ground. I wanna know, Elliot is saying.

In his great blue eyes she can see the two of them standing in a different setting, a different song. It is dark and sombre over there in his gaze, You have not asked me one question about what has happened to me since you left.

Yet, over here trapped in a thing of natural light, Elliot makes his true self known. But how many? He wishes to know. How many? How many, Liv?

Present Olivia smiles at the two of them, so adolescent and yet timeless in their love for one another.

Elliot’s apartment is the most crowded she has ever seen, light snow falling on the windows and Christmas carols playing in the background. Eli offers other Olivia a cup of hot milk, their special milk, observant Olivia remembers, and then he plops himself onto the sofa next to her, his knee bouncing nervously.

“You okay?”

“Yea.” He smiles, sheepishly, still not looking at her. “Thanks for… y’know, being there the other day. It really meant a lot. Dad said you didn’t think I… I killed that girl.”

“Of course, I didn’t.”

The other Olivia’s hand twitches, fighting a natural urge to reach out and pull Eli into her arms. Instead, she swallows hard and watches him maternally. “Things will get better, may not seem like it right now, but they will.”

“Yea. I know.” He clears his throat. “Thanks though, y’know, for everything. Kathleen said you saved us, that you saved me, the day I was born.”

“You saved yourself. I was only… there to help bring you into the world. I’m just sorry the world is so hurtful.”

Elliot studies the two from across the room. Other Olivia’s sandy highlights shimmer nicely under all those Christmas decorations, and she wonders if he finds this just as mesmerizing. She is quite pretty, isn’t she? Olivia thinks, but she's not a vain person, she remembers.

Eli shifts his entire body to face Liv on the sofa, listening intently for the first time in…. well, months.

“He likes her.” Bernie says.

Elliot sighs, a hint of a smile. “Everybody likes her.”

***

By some grace of God, things are steady between the two of them until it isn’t. They’re friends for now and then Elliot beats someone up in an elevator. His knuckles are the colour of plums when she sees them.

Elliot’s expression seems painfully crushed as he reaches out for her when she fights to leave, to abandon them. Olivia has tried and tried to help, but Elliot seems awfully keen on digging out old graves and laying down in one and oh. She won’t stand here any longer.

“I can’t do this anymore. I can’t watch you destroy yourself over this. He’s not worth it.”

“Don’t give up, Liv. I need you to believe…”

“You’re giving up on yourself.”

“Tell me what to do.”

“You wouldn’t listen, anyway. No!” she shakes his hand off her skin, burned, completely burned.

“I can’t help you anymore, it’s killing me inside... Just let me go.” Together, the new and the old watch their own shadow disappear along the road.

The scene dissolves and the air catches in her lungs as she watches her frantic old self run amongst a sea of dark uniforms. She flashes her badge and screams his name but he is nowhere to be found. The sky is fleecy like dark black cloth. Remnants of ash from a burning power plant scurry in the air as she spins on her feet, looking for him..

She panics internally, really panics, to the point where she can’t quite breathe properly, and it has nothing to do with the smoke. She’s filled with a fear of possibly having to acknowledge her love to a dead man.

But suddenly a thunderous noise rings from across the carpark, and her name is on his lips. As Olivia spins, her heart bursts open and splatters on the ground that he treads on so carefully.

Elliot stops a few steps ahead, together they halt with the night, taking in each other’s wounds. Hers are invisible but he wears his like medallions.

“I thought you were…”

“We got him.” Elliot says, breathless. It occurs to the separate, observing Olivia that he is totally in awe of her, in this moment. “We got Wheatley. We got him Liv. God, we got…”

His voice breaks and oh, oh it is a gut-wrenching sound – rendered small by the way Olivia throws her arms around him and buries her tears into the back of his neck.

He stumbles slightly on his feet, but then she is in his arms and suddenly they are rolling around in bed together.

Their clothes lay piled on the floor, and the silver apple of the moon kisses their bodies as they make love for the first time. Sweaty skin glistening like diamonds under the half-light.

From this vantage point, observing Olivia can see her small hands come to rest on the back of his wide shoulders as he moves inside of her, Olivia’s name on his lips.

She does everything in her power not to avert her gaze. It shouldn’t feel weird watching herself make love like this, like she was standing in the middle of her very own film. It felt like she was intruding on something infinitely private, but she was trapped here for the moment, and seeing them in this way felt so so intimate it made her want to cry. It wasn’t just two bodies moving as one, it was like they dissolved into one another, like they had become one whole soul, bound to each other till the end of time.

She doesn’t have to look anymore to remember, the images were inscribed in her mind so vividly that they might as well be photographs of his he had forgotten to share. She remembered every single moment then and every moment later, how he held himself just above and moved his chest so slow against her belly, so slow across her breasts, quaking above as if he feared he might break her too.

Elliot kissed her brow and then each of her eyelids, he kissed her nose and all four corners of her mouth, and then he kissed her ears. From over his shoulder, observant Olivia watched as the other Olivia smiled into his skin.

“You’re so beautiful.” He murmured.

The scene dissolved.

As the days flash forward and the movie unfolds, Olivia learns of something that makes her stomach churn. Makes her love him increasingly if that were ever possible.

Elliot lied to her.

He lied when he said that they were volatile, together.

Because he was never actually volatile to begin with. It was her who deserved to be angry and her who needed him to feel at least half of what she did in exile. It was her who fulfilled this role.

And he lied because he didn’t want her to carry the weight of this on her own.

Watching the fights stretch across her apartment for days on end, she threw cold water into his face at every moment he got too close. And not once did he yell at her, like she did. Not once did he lose his temper or cry back in an act of defiance. He would always recruit to silence; allowing her the win no matter what was said. Elliot was always there to pick up the shattered pieces of their reckoning. Sometimes, she would let him.

The scene dissolved.

They’re in the park with the two boys when Noah is almost run over by a speeding bike. Noah screams as he goes flying off his scooter, skidding across the concrete. Olivia gasps at the scene but Elliot… Elliot’s coffee crashes to the ground and the world tips upside down as he fights the crowd to reach her son. When she lands on the scene, Elliot is trying his best to reign in a flaring temper.

“Did you not.. did you not see him?” he yelled at the passerby.

He’s fighting the urge to strangle the man on the bike, and Eli is looking to her like the world might just end if she doesn’t do something. Before Liv can interfere, Noah is in Elliot’s arms bridal style, and he’s walking away from the scene.

“Let’s get you to the hospital buddy.” He says.

Noah doesn’t actually need the hospital, other Olivia tells him, the fallout was minimal with only a few minor cuts. But Elliot is persistent, and Noah loves the attention. It occurs to observant Olivia then that Elliot hasn’t stopped shaking, while Olivia never started.

Later on, when Noah is high off pain meds and tucked away in bed, Olivia straddles Elliot by the hips and kisses him, softly, lovingly, her hair curtaining his face as she inches backwards, peering down at him.

“Thank you.” She whispers.

“I love you.” He tells her.

She doesn’t say it back.

Instead, they make love on the sofa.

***

It’s April 2022 and Eli Stabler is sliding into the passenger seat of her car.

“Hey!” he sings.

“Hi.” She smiles softly. “Ready?”

He nods. “Ready.”

Moments later they pull up to a red light, and Eli’s window is halfway down when a yellow bee travels into the car, flying straight past him. Too focused on the road ahead, she barely notices.

“Liv”

“Yea?”

“Hold on, don’t move, there’s a bee on your seatbelt.”

She panics.

She realizes later on that it was out of character, for her to panic, but she couldn’t help it. The bee was buzzing painfully close to her ear. She undid her seatbelt, quickly let the window down and let it fly away.

“That was close.”

“I didn’t know you were scared of bees?”

“Don’t be silly. I’m not scared of anything.” She lied, a teasing grin on her face.

The light had been green for some time when she looked ahead again, and quickly pressed the accelerator. She didn’t check the rearview mirror, she didn’t know there was a speeding vehicle approaching from behind.

“Liv your seatbelt.”

“Just one second sweetie.”

In the same moment she pulled for the strap, she looked into the mirror, and it was too late.

The drunk driver was behind her. She felt the crash almost before it even happened, and she didn’t have her seatbelt strapped in on time, and the last thought she had before she dove headfirst was of Eli.

The world goes black afterward.

Even in her hyper-frenzied, dreamlike state that is somehow real and not real, she’s back in the hospital room, except this time she’s watching herself on the bed, in a comatose state.

Elliot walks in, he’s a ghost of man he once was. Olivia watches him from the corner of the room as he kneels at the foot of her bed, and takes her hand in his own, and prays.

He prays to a god he hasn’t spoken to in months.

All of this just feels like a film reel to the story of her life, which is somehow now their life.

“Don’t leave me.” He tells her. “Don’t fucking leave me. Please, I won’t survive.”

She doesn’t leave him. But she does.

The room twists and time webs around her like a cobweb without a home, and suddenly they have nothing but thoughts and memories trapped between them.

The missing Olivia wants to think of it as a fresh start. A clean slate. Little does she know that man, over there, watching her back as it walks away from him, he's hopelessly in love with her. 

The scene dissolves into a different night and Olivia remembers, she remembers.

They’re standing alone in her office and Elliot has fallen deep. He doesn’t know that mere hours before she considered sleeping with another man.

“You weren’t suffocating me Elliot, you were breathing for me.”

Everything fast forwards and she remembers, distinctly, the rest of the puzzle.

She remembers it all.

***

Olivia wakes up as herself again.

The pain has gone. She doesn’t realize until now how painful it was until she fell freed from it all, and she feels liberated too, whole.

But she wakes up alone, to a room empty of life, Elliot’s name beating inside of her heart again.

There’s no sense of gravity pulling her away from the world because Olivia has found her anchor again, the love of her life, the man who came back for her, who stayed even when she couldn’t stay for herself.  

She grasps for the memory of Elliot taking her hand in the sand, wanting her name inked onto his chest like he doesn’t fucking love her with all of it anyway. God, just thinking about it now, she would marry him in a heartbeat knowing that hers still lived on.

The relief of memory is muffled only slightly by the knowledge that he isn’t here. Where are you? She thinks, where are you? 


Elliot hesitated in the doorway as the agony threatened to overwhelm him, but he shoved it aside, knowing damn well that his premonition of fear deserved no company here, only her.

She was sitting on the bed, looking down at a sheet of papers as if she was back in the office. He started to panic internally, how long had she fucking been awake before he got here? How long was she on her own?

Olivia’s discharge papers held all of her attention, she looked so deep into the pages they might as well have pulled her inside, and his fingers trembled a little on the door, his heavy body weighing him down into the ground, he wonders what it is that makes her think she’s going anywhere.

Her hair curtained her face, and she wore one of those warm sweaters that always felt nice to touch, and she looked so much like his woman, and so un-like his woman, that he didn’t know which version of herself she was again, only that she was fucking beautiful, and she was Olivia, and just the sheer reality of her being alive meant too much to him.

But he’s an impatient bastard, and he’s not gonna wait around for her to give him the green light, so he calmly stalks his way toward her, steps slow and deliberate, and watches as the fringe of her hair falls back to reveal her face as she looks up to meet him.

She swallows him in the way she stares, not at him, but through him, which such a blank face that it almost cracked his ribs open.

This time, its him that has no idea who she is.

“Liv?” he whispered.

Her brown eyes came unafraid to his, and in an instant he knew that both of them had cheated death too many times, because nobody alive was ever meant to feel so much for another human being, not like this, not in the way his heart beat fiercely for an almost stranger.

The connection was intense that it threatened to drain his sense of self. He felt that he had always known her, that she had always been a part of him, her needs were his needs. I am here to help you, he said in his mind. He meant it more than any thought he’d ever had before. 

With confident steps he moved closer, sitting on the edge of her bed like it belonged to nobody but him.

He wants to grab her, he wants to take her neck in his hands and drag her lips onto his, he just wants to fucking hold her, but he loves her so much he cannot think of forcing her to be something she might not be.

“My love,” he breathed out softly, sweeping her hair across her face with his thumb. “Please just put me out of my misery.”

Olivia’s lips curled into a half-smile.

She lifted her hand to stroke his face and tilted her head to the side. His chest filled with an ache he couldn’t describe as he tried to look past the clouds in her eyes, tried to find the stars again, watched them spill down her cheeks. He fought off a common urge to sooth her.

“I remember now.” she told him, voice threaded. “I remember all of it.”

Elliot dropped his head down, relief flooding him. She cradled his neck and whispered in his ear.

“You were breathing for me baby.”

Chapter Text

She wakes up under the soft lull of a quiet afternoon nap, and for the first time, in a very long time, her thoughts aren't filled with worries of the mind, of destroying somebody in her wake, of writing letters addressed to the fire and walking off into the ocean.

Her first thought rests for Elliot, for their growing home, the future they will weave together.

Olivia can feel the need in her building, can feel a longing that yearned to be anchored by him for life. More than anything, she just needed to feel him close again.

And so, she wakes to the sound of his deep gravelly voice dancing with Noah’s lithe tone in the near distance, and that was even better than being anchored, she thought, they were the entire sea to her.

“Elliot?” Noah whispers. Olivia’s eyes are closed so she cannot see them, but she can sense their warm vibration huddled on the sofa together, like an energy that could never be tainted. Noah had his ear pressed into Elliot’s chest, and even for the afternoon he sounded tired, overwhelmed, like he hadn’t slept all night.

“Yeah bud?”

“I love you.” Noah just yawns, and they’ve said it to each other before, she realizes.

Of course they have.

“Love you too buddy.” Elliot murmurs, voice roiled with bits of emotion. His heart beats outside of his body and it isn’t Olivia who holds it, anymore. Noah is his everything, Olivia can see it more clearly now, could physically feel it in a way that made her own heart swell.

“I’m sorry I made you miss mom waking up.” Noah whispered.

“Don’t be.” Elliot soothed, “Maureen said you had a bad dream, you wanted to see your mom.”

“Yea.” He sniffed.

“You come first for me, remember?” Elliot reminded him, Noah nodded.

“Are you gonna marry my mom?”

“What makes you ask that?”

“She was talking in her sleep, before.”

She heard Elliot release a little laugh and slowly opened her eyes again.  

The hospital room flooded with silks of honeyed light from closest window, and the smell of Elliot’s faint cologne filled her nostrils, bringing her back home. He was everywhere. His scent was on her clothes, on the oversized hoodie she wore that would now solely belong to her. His scent was masculine, strong, demanding. All around her face she could still taste the words he peppered into her skin mere hours ago, could feel his tentative lips brushing her forehead in between syllables, could carry the strong arms that caged around her like a shield.

He was all around her and yet he stood at a distance, in the corner of the room he waited, let Noah bolt onto the bed, let Noah have all of her for all the moments that mattered most. He knew exactly how to love her.

Minutes later she reached her hand out for him and adored the way the morning light spilled into the room as he gravitated to her side, his big hand combing its way through her scalp, drawing her up and closer into his chest, into his lips.

She let him kiss her, wanted him just as much, if not more, somehow forgetting that lip locking wasn’t a common thing around the kid.

“That’s enough now.” Noah scolded; arms folded over his little chest.

“Sorry.” Laughed Elliot, wiping his lips.

“Y’know when I marry Elliot, you’re ganna have to get used to that.”

Noah rested his weight against her, his fingers drawing lazy patterns on her arm. “So you’re gonna get married for real?”

“Would that be okay?”

“I’m not the boss of you, mom.”

“Well thank you for that, Einstein.”

Noah chuckled, and shifted his gaze below, closer to where her hand lay tangled inside Elliot’s steady one.

“Will I get your name?” Noah said, peering up at him through his long eyelashes.

“Is that what you want?”

“Yea, I… I guess I would like that.”

Elliot softly fisted some of the boy’s curls as he leaned over to kiss him on the forehead.

“Good kid, cuz you and I got big plans, just you and I and… the seven others of us.”

“Seven.” Noah’s eyes widened just a fraction. He was counting all of his new siblings, and Bernie, and his mother – and the sheer gravity of what this would mean for him going forward. He held so much excitement, Olivia noticed, and so little fear.

What had she been afraid of for so long, when her son had never feared anything at all?

“What about mommy’s name?”

“I haven’t decided yet..” Olivia started.

“Yes, she will.” Elliot finished, grinning wildly. “She will have my name.”

Slapping him onto the shoulder, Olivia just rolled her eyes.

They don’t talk about the fact that she just said yes, or that Noah said yes for her. But it’s still there, lingering in between the air that fuses them tightly, between the stolen glances that win, and the time they never seem to lose, not anymore.

The adult kids lay claim to her bedroom with their things strewn all over the place and Bernie brings her some flowers and Eli finishes the jigsaw puzzle in the corner of the room.

She signs the discharge papers two days later.

Olivia and Elliot don’t talk about marriage, because as far as anything goes, there is nothing much to talk about. They’re getting married and that’s just that.

****

The accident months ago left a stinging elephant in the rooms belonging to his family, now her family, because she’d essentially forgotten everything. She forgot their aging faces, expanded voices. The way their father loved her fiercely even in their presence. More than anything, she forgot that their mother was dead, and they’d all served her some decency, for some reason, by not bringing it up, because bringing it up would only cause a riot inside of Elliot’s already raging chest, and bringing it up would hurt her and… they loved her. They never wanted to hurt her.

They were her family now.

“Whata you thinking about?” Elliot urged.

They were standing in the middle of his empty apartment. The boys were in bed and everybody else had gone home. Elliot stood leaning against the countertop, a bottle of beer nestled in his granite hand. This is the first night of their life together, the first night without any more elephants in the room.

It is purely muscle memory that pulls her forward, that helps her up and urges her arms to encircle his middle until he is jammed between her and the counter.

Elliot takes a sip of his beer and licks his lips, studying her coolly underneath the dim light. His face softens and fills at the same time and it’s because they’ve been deprived of one another all day that this feels like coming home. She’s seen herself from an outsider’s perspective before, and maybe she believes his eyes when they tell her she is beautiful each and every time.

“Whata you thinking baby?” he repeats, his bottom lip shiny with beverage.

She doesn’t even blink pass the petname anymore.

“You’re mine, real or not real?”

“Was never anything less, Olivia.”

She believes it now, but she would never forget the version of herself who needed to deny this for too long. It was easier to love Elliot in the dark then in the light, at least that’s what she used tell herself. Leaning into the light meant risking herself to be flayed, meant knowing that at any moment he could just walk off with her skin.

Except, he never did. He gave her back parts of herself that she didn’t even know existed and forced the world to stop screaming so she could sleep. So here they were.

He presses soft possessive kisses against her jawline, and she can smell the malty caramel notes of his beer rubbing a light trail across her skin. His kisses stop at the pulse of her neck, they feel warmer than the sun.

It isn’t until seconds later when he drops the beer bottle onto the nearby stool that she realizes they’re having a moment. He takes her into his arms so completely that her toes dangle above the floor beneath her, and her curls are in his face, and her arms hang around his shoulders like a ragdoll.

It all comes back to her in pieces now.

How truly terrified he was to almost lose her, to lose this, lose any opportunity of making things right again and again and –

“I’m so fucking glad you’re here baby.”

She closes her eyes, steadies her breathing so that his will do the same. Fingers pressed at the back of his neck, she pulls his forehead against her own and floats.

“Me too. So much.”

“Live with me.”

His grip tightens on her and it takes everything out of Olivia not to break out into a smile. She reaches for his beer bottle and tilts her neck back a little higher as a generous sip escapes her mouth, exposing her bare throat, eyes never leaving his own. Its seductive in a forgotten sort of way, it’s Olivia being Olivia again.

He’s missed this person, he missed her, her who moved without headaches and took possession of all things Elliot. His children, they’re hers now, his mother, hers. She can tell by the way he smiles softly, admirably, and folds his arms around his chest that he knows he has more to give her.

“Live with me, fuck my life up, I don’t care, just be mine.”.

“You sure know how to win a woman over.”  Noting the lines that filled his forehead, she half groaned, half laughed.

Fine. But only if you build me more closet space.”

The lines softened.

“I didn’t realize our relationship was dependent on an army of coats that consume half my life already.”

“Leave my coats out of this.” She wiggled her finger in his direction, “They did nothing to you.”

He shook his head, smiling.

“Noah needs a bedroom too. He can’t just bunk out with Eli, you know.”

“About Noah..”

His voice had lowered significantly just in that moment alone, and she knew that voice, loved that voice. “Elliot. I know.”

“I just wanna start talking about it one day.”

“Adoption is a big decision.”

“I’m ready Liv. I was ready before I even met him.”

 “I know..” her voice lowered too, and her heart swelled for the way he was, the way he would always be. “We’ll talk about it.” she promised.

He nodded absentmindedly thumbing her jaw softly. He held it like she was something to break, but he would never break her again, and she knew this now, just like she knew that all things in Elliot Stabler’s hands somehow appeared breakable. But he’d proven to be a man who only wanted to fix, to heal, he’d known longer than herself the nature of it, of promising to shield others, to protect, be honorable.

“I want you to take me back to the beach every year, for the summer.” She swung another sip of beer and laughed at the way the dim light illuminated his dimples.

“Is that a yes?” she asked.

“Yea,” He said, then shook his head carefully, still smiling. “I ask you for the absolute world and yet all you ask in return is that I build two rooms and take you to the beach.”

“What can I say? I’m an easy woman.”

“Now there’s a lie I don’t hear often.” He took a swig beer, smirking. “My turn?

“Go on.” She nodded.

“You hyphenate your name.”

She rolled her eyes, “Dear lord.”

“Nah Liv. This can’t even be up for debate. I want you as my wife, I want my name inside of you.”

She smirked. “It’s not enough that you’re inside of me every night?”

“Olivia com’on.”

“Chill out. You just want the whole fucking world to know I’m yours, Elliot.”

“Damn right I do. What’s wrong with that?”

He folded his arms tightly around his chest and his biceps bulged out involuntarily in front of her. Damn him, she thought, even in playful banter it was distracting.

She looked back up into his eyes. The irony was that he’d never asked her for anything until now, never expected her to lose her name in favor of his pride. Only wanted her to carve his initials around her own.

Olivia closed the distance between them and untangled the heavy ropes of his arms so that they corralled her in his embrace. He was like home, just the thought coming back to him was warm.

“Fine.” She murmured, “I’ll hyphenate your name to my office door so that everybody knows who I sleep with at night.”

He sighs a little smile, like she has cracked him open, exposed his bare broken truth just by uttering those few simple truths. He’s been waiting for any other soul to murmur those words aloud. This was the parallel universe he could only imagine on a broken balcony in Rome, and now it was real.

“Thanks.”

He masked the moment off with a quick peck to her lips, but the orbs inside of his eyes were still a little heavy, vulnerable.

“You got it.” she answered, distracted only by the way his hands filled her ass, pulling her closer.

“Second thing, you gotta tell me when shit is happenin for you.”

“Oh?”

“Yea. Like keeping that stuff from me even after we sought counselling, you can’t do that anymore Liv. You gotta talk to me.”

“I’m trying.”

“I know baby.”

She swallowed. “Anything else?”

“Yeah.” He licked his lips, fighting back a growing grin. “Sex at least once a week. No negotiation.”

Her eyebrows lifted.

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep, Stabler.”

“Have I let you down before?”

She thought about it for a second, thought about them in bed, or in the shower, on the sofa, or even on the floor in her bedroom, Olivia’s cheeks flushed a little.

“I guess not.”

He hummed in agreement, softly breathing over her lips. “You really do remember everything.”

“Yea I do.” She placed the palms of her hands on his biceps and rubbed them up and down, aching for more.  

She could feel his hands filling under the bulge of her ass more firmly now, his fingertips digging into the fabric of her jeans like a possession. They haven’t really touched at all since the beach house, which was only two days ago, which was an eternity ago, for them.

He breathed into her cheek, and she could almost hear his heartbeat underneath the silence, thrashing like a drum inside of her hand. “I didn’t expect the amnesia to bring out any good, but it did. It gave me you again..”

She sighed breathily. Gently moving the crown of her head just underneath his chin, she kissed the warm stone that guarded his heart, the one that wasn’t her own.

“All of you.” He muttered, “Even the parts you wished I couldn’t know.”

“You saved me more than once, you know.” She told him, “I wouldn’t be here without you.”

“Thas not true.”

“But it is. You make me eternally happy. You’re eternal to me.”

It isn’t the easiest thing for her to admit, not out loud, not with so much hope and unknown decorating parts of the sky that still belonged to the night. There’s so much to lose now, but so much more to gain, she remembers.

And she feels so at peace here. Her fears were his fears, and he wouldn’t let anything hurt her, she has to remind herself of this sometimes, he will kill before anything touches you. Kill.  She’s still so used to walking on the sidewalk alone that when he takes her hand, some days, it’s a shock to the system, but she’s rewiring her brain enough to be present with him, to have him.

“God, I love you.” He rasped, fingers coursing through her hair so that he frames the back of her skull, her forehead drifts into his lips. She is constantly floating.

He smells like home.

* * * 

6 months later

On their way to the beach house, she glances at his profile illuminated by the artificial glow of highway lights and passing cars. Light and shadows travel across his face like fleeting thoughts. They’re on the crest of spring and her body longs for a night alone with her husband.

They got married today, at the courthouse. They got married.

He catches her gaze from across the console and together they find strength in not having to utter a single word. They read each other’s thoughts, they always have, but it’s solidified since the days he built an extra closet and carved a loving home and made sure her son had everything a boy could ever want.

There’s solace in the silence these days; their life together radiates a sense of peace that they never managed to find at work. Nothing’s buzzing, or dizzy, or blaring out in the backload of an existence neither seem fond of. It’s all smooth and warm at home, rocking a quiet kind of clarity that neither were ever used to until now.

Elliot raises her hand to meet his lips.

The diamond ring on her finger flashes briefly under the indulging light. Its big and bold and says loud things about her when studied by others in passing. Fin laughs every time the evening sun pools into her office at sunset, leading the ring to dot perfect rainbow colors across her pretty face.

“Stabler’s shrine.” Fin called it once.

She calls it foolish, yet loves the way it narrates for a man who is never quiet about anything these days, much less to do with her.

“Okay?” he murmurs, interrupting her train of thought, his eyes lace between Olivia’s and the long road ahead. Her hand looks so small in his own, so equal, so safe. This is the beginning.

“Okay.” Liv nods, leaning over the console, she places a soft kiss to the corner of his lips.   The small sigh that escapes his mouth makes her ache everywhere, makes her think of ways to hear it again. Their sex life is… intense, its constant, and maddening, and deeply deeply passionate. Everything is slower now with age, and it takes longer to warm up, to come, to feel, but his body is a bottled furnace next to her own, she comes alive underneath him, and he likes that, he likes taking his time with her, likes watching her writhe below and above and against him. He doesn’t need to know half the things she does, doesn’t need to know that she’s never been more thrilled in bed than in this point in time, never felt more seen, and satisfied, whole, full.

“I can’t believe your somebody’s wife.” Elliot says, reaching a slight gap in the evening traffic. Even as he drives, he has the most satisfied grin on his lips, “You’re my wife.”

“Nobody else’s wife that’s for sure.”

“You’re my wife.”

“You said that.”

“All mine.”

“Would you quit it?”

Elliot laughs

And she grins, her heart opening and then softening at the sight of him. When you stumble into the love of your life, when you remember that you even have one, they don’t tell you that it’s the little things that fill your lungs with so much joy you almost forget who you are. Sometimes it’s when he drives, when they’re alone together in a car and the only home he must return to is hers.  

Despite the quiet clarity of this moment, there’s about a million little things she could say to him, still, where his voice would never bore her and their conversations would fill the gaps upon every road in this damn city.

Let’s get married again. Let’s get dinner. Let’s go to the beach. Let’s make love. Let’s never, ever forget, she thinks.

Instead, she settles for - “You’d do this with me a thousand more times, real or not real?”

Her hand slides further in just as he squeezes tightly, Elliot barely batters an eyelid.

“Real, very real.”

 

The End

* * *