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Olivia felt herself become conscious again but she wasn’t ready to let that be known. She kept her eyes closed and was trying to focus on keeping her breaths deep and even as to not give herself away. Her mouth wasn’t covered which was a relief nor were her eyes. She ever so slightly tested her limbs. Her hands were bound together behind her back and her legs were each tied to whatever was holding her up. She took stock of the rest of her body to see if anything else jumped out at her. Her neck was stiff and sore but other than than she didn’t think she had any other injuries.

She tried to backtrack to the last thing she remembered before the darkness had taken over. She remembered getting into her car and shutting the door and then nothing.

She could hear footsteps echoing around her and she decided it was time to open her eyes and see what and more importantly, who, she was dealing with.

She rolled her eyes in annoyance when she saw Richard Wheatley standing before her.

“Welcome back, Captain Benson.”

Her stomach turned at the words, dragging her back through time to her old apartment. She took a deep breath trying to anchor herself to the present. She wasn’t there. Lewis wasn’t here. This was not the same. Not good, but not as bad as that. She looked around at her surroundings. They seemed to be in some sort of warehouse. She was slightly relieved that it was just the two of them here and that Wheatley hadn’t gotten to anyone else. Yet. The dimness outside told her that the sun was almost gone for the day. This meant she’d been out of it for at least a few hours.

Good. That meant someone would know she was gone by now. That meant she’d missed Noah’s school pickup.

Her heart began to race in panic. Noah. Had Wheatley gotten to him too? Was he safe? Was he worried knowing his mom was missing?

“What do you want, Wheatley?”

“World power. Unlimited wealth. My wife back by my side. I could go on but I won’t bore you with the details.”

“What do you want out of this?“ Olivia repeated, emphasizing her meaning as she moved her head around at their predicament.

“Why don’t we call your boyfriend, Olivia? Invite him to join us.”

Wheatley pulled out his phone and he paced in front of her.

“Detective Stabler,” Wheatley taunted, holding the phone in front of him with the speaker on.

“Where is she?” Elliot growled out.

So, he did know. That meant they were looking for her. They were probably dumping her phone. Tracking her car’s gps system. Where was her gun? She’d been armed.

Olivia analyzed Wheatley but he had on a black, leather trench coat that concealed his figure. She’d have to just assume he was armed.

“She’s somewhere safe with me.”

“Wheatley, I swear to god if you fucking touch her,” Elliot threatened, his voice low and gravely.

“Don’t worry I haven’t harmed a hair on her head.”

“I don’t believe you. I want to speak to her.”

“Why don’t you come see for yourself?”

He shoved the phone towards Olivia.

“Go on, tell him. Tell him to come save you. Before it’s too late.”

“Liv, are you there? I’m coming to get you as soon as I can.”

“Elliot, don’t take the bait. Don’t give him what he wants.”

She’s not sure why she said it. She knew it was futile but she wasn’t giving Wheatley the satisfaction of her begging. So, she at least tried to feign indifference. He wanted to have Elliot unhinged, desperate and Olivia was just a pawn to achieve that.

“Tell me where to meet you, Wheatley.”

“I’ll send you coordinates. Come alone or she’s dead. I’ll have the love of my life pick you up while I wait here with your’s.”

“He’s bluffing, Elliot.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure, Captain.”

She wasn’t sure if she believed her own words. But, Wheatley hadn’t lied. She was so far, unharmed. She’s not sure if that would change if Elliot refused to play along. Would Wheatley kill her here and now? Leave Elliot to come chasing after her body? God, she couldn’t stomach the thought of him finding her lying here. What would happen to Noah if she was dead? She was caught between her own survival instincts and her resistance to giving into Wheatley’s ploy. She needed to keep him talking. She needed to see what his endgame was.

“If he wanted me dead, I would be. You have your chance to get out. Leave the country. You could be in the south of France with a new name and a Swiss bank account. Instead, you’re still here playing games like a hurt child.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, Olivia. I’m a real man. I don’t run away from my problems and disappear on the ones I love. Unlike Elliot here. So, why don’t we let Romeo decide for himself if I’m really bluffing. I’m sure there’s plenty of room in the cemetery next to his wife. Or does the Catholic Church frown upon having your wife and mistress buried next to each other?”

“This is between you and me. Leave her out of it,” Elliot snarled.

“Which ‘her’ are you referring to? It’s so hard to keep track of all the women in your life, Elliot.”

“Send the location, Wheatley.”

“It’s done. I’ll let you get to it while Olivia and I catch up. We’ll be waiting for you.”

And with that, he hung up the phone and turned his attention back towards Olivia.

“You know, you could be a little more grateful, Olivia. I’ve done you a favor.”

“Puh-lease, what could I possibly have to thank you for?” she shot back.

“For clearing the way. For eliminating the only obstacle keeping you from everything you want. The life she stole from you.“

“You have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“I think I do. Elliot is a man of virtue, loyalty. He would never leave his family the way he left you. Not as long as he had a wife he was bound to. Vows to uphold. And here I’ve gone and taken care of her, yet he still hasn’t managed to make a move. Pathetic , honestly. Especially, after all you’ve done for him. Playing mommy-dearest to his children. Running behind him, cleaning up his messes. And what has he done for you? You see, a real man would own up to his  feelings. Take responsibility. But, not Elliot. He hides,” Wheatley mocked, leaning in close, inches away from Olivia’s face.

She spit in his face and he recoiled back, bringing his hand to wipe his face

“You’re not half the man he is, Wheatley.”

“Hit a nerve I see. I knew you were feisty underneath that calm, composed, indifferent exterior. Well, I think you need to rest some more before Elliot arrives and I’m quite tired of talking at the moment.”

Wheatley reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a cloth. Before Olivia knew it, he was grabbing the back of her head roughly and holding the cloth over her nose and mouth. She tried to resist as the panic swept over her, but it was useless. She slowly slipped back into the darkness.

Chapter Text

Elliot was led into the warehouse by Angela. She’d already disarmed him and was currently holding it to his head as they walked in. His eyes immediately scanned the room searching for her. His heart dropped to the floor when he finally found her. Her head was tilted to the side and her long hair had fallen in front of her shoulders, partially obscuring her face. He could tell her eyes were closed but the steady rise and fall of her chest assured him she was breathing. Her legs were secured to the chair and her arms were behind her back. He knew she must be incredibly uncomfortable having been in that position for multiple hours.

It was around 3pm when he’d gotten the call that her car had been dumped and her phone had been turned off. Both the SVU and OC teams had immediately jumped into action. Protective details were ordered for Elliot’s entire family. His kids and his mother were all gathered at his place with multiple squad cars on the block and officers guarding the door. Rollins and Fin had rushed to Noah’s school to verify he was still there. From what Elliot knew, they weren’t telling him that Liv had gone missing. Instead, they’d gotten hold of Olivia’s sitter and had her take Noah to her place with a police escort. They weren’t sure when Wheatley had gotten ahold of Olivia so they’d sent CSU to her apartment just in case.

He’d been in the middle of the chaos at OC headquarters when he got a call from an unknown number. He made an excuse about Eli calling to check in and stepped outside, knowing whose voice would be waiting on the other end. Bell had looked at him suspiciously but didn’t follow. He wondered how far behind they would be in tracking his movements. He’d have to stall until then. He’d do whatever it took to keep her alive.

“Glad you could make it, Elliot. I hope you behaved yourself on the car ride with my wife,” Wheatley jeered.

“Ex-wife. What did you do to her?” Elliot seethed.

“Semantics. I think we both know how flimsy those titles can be. I prefer to say ‘one true love of my life’. Speaking of, your’s is just coming to. You see, I’m a true gentleman. She’s here. Unharmed as promised.”

Elliot watched as Olivia began stirring, her eyes fluttering open. She blinked rapidly as she looked around again and he could see it on her face when she must’ve realized the nightmare was not over. Finally, after a moment, her eyes found his. He wanted to run to her, to tell her it was okay and that he’d get them out of this. He wanted to ask if she was okay, if she was hurt. He wanted to know if the same memories were flashing in her mind as they were in his.

Olivia tied up in the recording studio with Merritt Rook. Her screams echoing off the walls as he stood powerless.

Gitano lunging at her with a knife. Her lying on the floor of the train station holding her bloody neck.

Rojas with his gun against her forehead. Their bodies crumpled to the ground as he ran towards her.

Was she seeing Gitano’s gun to his head right now? Him lying in her arms unconscious after Saul Piccard head-butted him so hard he went blind? Or did she see him tied up in the crime lab with Stuckey waving the gun around? Or was it him lying on the concrete bleeding out from Bushido’s bullets?

His mind races with the questions he knows she can’t answer now. Instead, he mouthes the only thing he can say.

I’m sorry.

He sees her eyes welling up as shakes her head and subsequently turns it away from him.

She’s right.

They don’t have time for this. They might not have much time left at all. But if they want to make it out alive, they need to hold it together.

“You have me now. Let her go. Let’s settle this between us,” Elliot says, trying to not let it sound like the desperate plea it is.

“That’s very heroic of you. But you know what they say: two is company, three is a crowd and four is a party. And I think our’s is just getting started. Would you agree, Angela?”

Elliot was so focused on Olivia and Wheatley’s proximity to her, he’d almost forgotten Angela was also there behind him holding his weapon.

“I think you’re right, my love,” she cooed, sauntering over towards Wheatley and pulling him into a lavish kiss.

They were really laying it on thick.

“You want your revenge, Wheatley? Well, I’m standing right here. Why don’t you stop hiding behind your pawns, hiding behind your wife, and face me. You go after my family, my kid, my mother because you don’t have the balls to take me on yourself,” Elliot goads.

“You just make it so easy, Elliot. You see, I don’t even have to hurt you directly to cause you the kind of pain I want you to feel. You have so much blood on yours hand because of your failures. To protect. To take responsibility. You let your wife die for you. I could have had Olivia join her when I had her car run off the road, but I figured I’d let you squirm a little more. Then, your poor son. Traumatized. His father bedding his mother’s murderer. Driving him to the edge. And that innocent, young girl I had to have killed just to make it all come together. How does it feel, Elliot, knowing they’re dead because of you? And now, knowing Olivia’s blood might soon be on you, literally.”

Elliot’s body physically jerks at the notion, at the images forming in his mind. He pushes through them to find his words again.

“You had them killed, Wheatley. That’s on you, not me.”

“You were too busy running around, trying to chase after my shadow. Chasing after my wife. Leaving Olivia all alone. Neglected. Vulnerable.”

“I have no doubt she could beat the living crap out of you. But you don’t like fighting fair, do you? You like to sit back and pull the strings while you let your minions do the dirty work.”

“I was trying to keep things even. You took something from my Angela. I took your wife. But you just couldn’t let it be. So, you went after her. And I understand the appeal, believe me. You and I are alike in more ways than you think. We both have excellent taste in women,” Wheatley jabbed as he strolled over to Olivia and grazed her cheek with his knuckle.

“Get your fucking hands off of her!” Elliot growled as he moved to step towards them

“Uh uh uh,” Wheatley admonished, pulling a gun from his waist and holding it to Olivia’s head which stopped Elliot dead in his tracks.

“Let’s not do anything too hasty, now, Detective. We both want vengeance. We both value loyalty above all else. And you caused my lovely wife to stray away from me.”

“I didn’t cause anything. She was practically running into my arms. Running away from you. She was so desperate for attention, for someone to love her, she fell for the man she thought killed her son,” Elliot countered.

“And you, Elliot? You were so willingly to give her that? What had it been, weeks after I had your wife blown to pieces and you were so ready to jump into bed with mine? What does that say about you?” Wheatley sneered as he moved towards Elliot.

They were standing inches from each other now, chests puffed out and rage both rolling off their bodies. Elliot briefly looked over Wheatley’s shoulder to Olivia’s terrified gaze. He gave her the slightest nod to reassure her before leaning in to whisper into Wheatley’s ear.

“I don’t know about me. But it says that your wife is a quick fuck. She’ll spread her legs for just about any guy who comes along that isn’t you. I could tell how lonely she was and I knew from the start I could use her to get to you. I just didn’t know how easy she’d make it.”

“You fucking bastard. I was in love with you!” Angela shouted from behind as Elliot felt the cold metal of the gun press against the back of his forehead.

Elliot took one last look at Olivia before whispering, “I’m sorry, Liv. I love you.”

Then, it all happened in a blur. Wheatley was pulling his gun up and Elliot quietly said a prayer in his head, accepting that these were his final moments. A gunshot rang out and Elliot braced himself, waiting to feel the pain before he’d hopefully slip into oblivion.

But, it didn’t come or maybe his brain was protecting him from feeling it. Another gunshot followed almost immediately after and Wheatley crumpled on top of him, sending their bodies crashing down to the floor.

“NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!! ELLLIOTTTTTT!!!!” Olivia screamed. 

Chapter Text

He heard Olivia’s bloodcurdling screams echo against the walls of the warehouse followed by the sounds of footsteps.

“Move in! Move in! Officer down! We need a bus!” he heard a familiar voice call out.

Bell.

Elliot could feel his chest was soaked in blood but so was his back. Wheatley’s limp bleeding body was laying on top of him. Elliot turned his neck back as far as it would allow and he could see Angela lying behind him motionless in a pool of her own blood. Elliot took a deep breath and it registered that he could breathe easily.

Wheatley shot Angela. Not him.

Bell appeared at his side, grasping Wheatley and moving his weight off of Elliot’s chest.

“No!!! Get Elliot!!! Get him first!!!! Oh god!!! NOOOOO!!!!!”

Olivia was still shrieking in the background as the officers moved in. He tried to move his head to see her but there were too many people blocking his view.

“I’m not shot. I’m good. It’s his blood. Their blood,” Elliot cries out.

“Elliot, why don’t you stay still. You could be in shock and not feel your injuries,” Bell warned as she hovered over him.

“I’m fine. I need to see her,” he said, shrugging her off.

He sat up and took Bell’s outstretched hand as she helped him to his feet. Paramedics had moved in around them, swarming to the hopeless bodies that were lying almost side by side now.

He pushed past the uniforms and began recognizing faces as he got closer.

“Take my jacket, man. You look like you just walked out of the movie Carrie,” Fin joked as he pulled his NYPD coat off.

“Thanks,” Elliot replied as he grabbed it and kept moving towards her.

He saw the blonde detective crouched at her side trying to soothe her but the sobs wracking her body were inconsolable. There was a paramedic moving around her as he carefully cut away her restraints as best he could manage with Olivia’s uncontrollable movements.

“Liv, I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m here,” Elliot murmured as he approached her slowly.

Her head lifted up at the sound of his voice and her tear-streaked face met his. Her lip trembled as her dark, tear-soaked eyelashes moved rapidly trying to make sense of him standing before her.

“Oh god, El,” she sobbed bringing her now freed hands to her face.

He crouched down next to her, wrapping one arm around her waist as the other cradled her head into the nook of his shoulder.

“I thought….I thought you were….” She whimpered between gasps.

“I know. We’re okay though. You’re safe. You’re safe,” he hummed repeatedly as his hand drew calming circles along her back.

His nose was buried in her hair as he breathed in her scent, taking in the heat of her body against his. His own words sinking in.

They made it out alive. It was over.

“I’m so sorry, Liv. I’m sorry I got us into this mess.”

She didn’t reply but nuzzled further into his shoulder and squeezed her hands that were at his back.

“We should get you both to the hospital to get checked out. She might need some fluids and a tox screen if he drugged her. The sooner the better. Before the shock and adrenaline wear off,” Bell said softly.

“Liv, do you think you can get on your feet?” Elliot asked gently.

“My legs…I’ve been sitting for hours. I don’t think I can get up,” she mumbled through shaky breaths.

“That’s okay. I’ve got you. Just hold onto my neck. There ya go,” Elliot encouraged as he threaded his arms under her legs and lifted her body to his chest.

He carried her towards the gurney that was waiting for them and gently laid her down. He could feel her arms reluctantly disentangle from his neck. Without breaking their contact even for a moment, his hands trailed down her arms to intertwine with her fingers. They began to load her up into the rig and the paramedic moved to click in the straps across Olivia’s body.

“Can you not…I mean can you just leave those? Please?” Olivia asked barely above a whisper, her voice hoarse from her cries.

“It’s policy—“ the young, paramedic began.

“Screw policy. Leave them be,” Elliot warned sternly.

His eyes glared at the paramedic threateningly and it must’ve worked because the paramedic continued loading Olivia in.

“Elliot you should really get checked out too,” he heard Bell call out behind him as he stepped up into the ambulance, his hands still tightly interlaced with Olivia’s.

“I’m riding with her.”

She heard the indisputable tone in his voice and decided against arguing with him.

As the doors to the ambulance were shut, Elliot watched as the paramedics began assessing her.

“Her pulse is still high. Let’s get her on oxygen and hook her up to the cardiac monitors. Start an IV for fluids.”

Elliot watched Olivia’s eyes go wide in panic as they put the oxygen mask over her face and he heard the monitors beep in protest. 

“Hey, look at me. You’re okay. You’re safe, Liv. No one’s going to hurt you ever again,” he reassured her, bringing her knuckles to his lips.

He watched as the tears leaked from the corner of her eyes and he pulled one of his hands from hers so he could wipe them away. She squeezed his remaining hand tightly in response.

The paramedic moved his hands to Olivia’s blouse as he went to attached the leads to monitor her heart and Elliot saw as she flinched and captured his wrist to stop him. 

“I don’t need those,” she protested, her voice slightly stronger than before.

“They need to make sure you’re okay, Liv. Let them do their job. I’ve got you.”

She brought her hand to his cheek and his followed wrapping around hers reassuringly. She gave a slight nod to the the paramedic before turning back to Elliot. 

“Just stay here , with me,” she muttered.

“I’m not going anywhere.”

The paramedic resumed his efforts, cautiously undoing Olivia’s blouse with slow, careful movements as to not startle her.

“I’m just going to apply these stickers and then I’ll attach the wires to monitor your heart rhythm,” he explained.

Olivia nodded, her eyes firmly planted to the ceiling. He could tell she was exhausted and fighting the urge to let her eyes close and rest. Elliot glanced down to follow the medic’s movements and that’s when he saw them. The raised, jagged circles littered across her chest. There was no pattern to their placement but it was clear they were not accidental. Someone obviously had wanted to make a statement, to leave their mark on her. Elliot took a sharp breath in as he tried to control the rage that was bubbling inside of him. The beeping of the monitors increased in frequency and he felt Olivia’s hand under his chin, tugging his face towards her.

El , not now. I promise. Later,” she pleaded.

Elliot’s hand that was wrapped in hers had frozen and he felt her thumb stroking against his, waiting for his response.

“We have time. I’m not going anywhere,” he croaked out, repeating his statement from earlier before.

His mind was racing in a million different directions.

You haven’t asked me one thing about what’s happened to me since you left.

Guilt, anger, devastation crashed inside him like waves fighting against each other on a rocky coastline. What had happened to her when he was gone? Wheatley’s taunting words played back in his head.

Leaving Olivia all alone. Neglected. Vulnerable.

He’d been right. Elliot had left her once and even though he had come back, he hadn’t been completely present. He thought he was doing the right thing by keeping his distance. He’d thought that if he stayed away from her then maybe so would Wheatley. Of course, he’d been so wrong. Now, this was another thing that’s happened to her. That he let happen. More pain brought to her because of him. Well, she wouldn’t be dealing with it alone. He vowed he was going to be by her side as much as she’d let him. Even if she didn’t let him, he wouldn’t be going far. He knew he had so much to make up for and she might not ever fully trust him with her heart completely. But even so, just being near her light, her gravitational pull, her radiating warmth would be enough for him. He wanted to give her anything and everything she wanted but he would be willing to take whatever she offered. However, unlike the two previous decades, he was going to make it clear what he wanted, dreamed of, and still fervently hoped for.

Hey, I’m okay. We’re okay,” Olivia said, pulling Elliot from his train of thought.

“That’s supposed to be my line,” he joked halfheartedly.

They stayed like that for a moment, eyes locked together, breathing each other’s presence in.

“We’re here. Let’s get her unloaded,” the paramedic interjected, pulling them both from their reverie.

Chapter Text

“Your tox screen is clear, Captain Benson. Whatever he injected you with is out of your system. I just want to get the wounds on your wrists and ankles taken care of and you’ll be free to go.”

“Thank you, Doctor,” Olivia replied.

Elliot had a chair pulled up to Olivia’s bedside, his leg bouncing up and down as he listened to the doctor’s clearance. The adrenaline from the day hadn’t completely subsided. He felt a little better once they’d gotten to the hospital but his eyes kept darting around the room. Olivia seemed to be doing better. They’d given her something to calm her down since her heart rate and breathing were still high when they’d arrived. Elliot, on the other hand, was still on edge.

“Detective Stabler, we’d like to check you out also. Just to be safe. If you’d come with me we can—”

“I’m good right here, Doc,” Elliot interjected, cutting him off.

“Elliot, why don’t you grab a shower, call the kids, your mother. Let them know you’re okay. They must be worried. And you really need to change, this walking blood bank look doesn’t suit you. I’m pretty sure half of NYPD is guarding the door right now. I’ll be fine on my own for a little while,” she said reaching for his hand and giving it an encouraging squeeze.

Elliot’s eyes glanced to the door where sure enough there were multiple officers blocking the entrance. It would be nice to get out of these clothes. He’d been able to shoot a quick text to his family saying he and Olivia were okay and not to worry. The ride here had been intense to say the least. This might be Olivia’s way of asking for space. He knew they had a lot to talk about. He wanted to talk about what he had said in that warehouse, but he didn’t want to overwhelm her. Especially, when her nerves seemed to be shaky.

“Okay. I won’t be gone long. Are you hungry? I can send a uni to grab us something,” he asked.

“Maybe soup or something light. I’m still a little nauseous from the meds,” she answered.

“Got it. I’ll just be outside if you need me,” he replied, giving her hand one last squeeze before making his way towards the door.

He stopped at the doorway for a moment, his eyes still locked on Olivia. It felt like he was ripping himself away from a piece of his own body, from his soul. Every fiber of his being was screaming at him, locking him in place.

“I’m not going anywhere,” she called out.

“Right, okay,” he said as he forced himself to step through the doorframe.

“Elliot?”

“Yeah?”

“Don’t forget the soup.”

“You got it, Captain,” he said smiling.

Elliot turned to the officers outside the door.

“No one, and I mean no one, goes inside that room without being cleared first or I’ll have your badges,” Elliot warned.

“He ain’t bluffing,” Fin added, appearing in the hallway beside Elliot.

“How she holding up?” Fin asked.

“As well as to be expected. They gave her something to calm her down. Almost had a panic attack in the ambulance when the medic was trying to assess her. You know anything about that?”

“That’s for Liv to tell you, Stabler.”

“It was worth a shot. Jesus Christ, Fin. I don’t know what I would’ve done if something happened to her. And obviously, I’m already too late. I just—I can’t imagine if she…and now this happening because of me.“

“Hey, don’t go there man. You can’t beat yourself up over this. You’ve been the one trying to get Wheatley put away. He’s dead. It’s over now. Just focus on making things right with her. You were going through it so I didn’t bust your ass for leaving the way you did. But, don’t think I’ll hesitate if you hurt Liv again. She got me in the divorce and I’ll back her up any day of the week.”

“I’m gonna do everything in my power to not cause her anymore pain, Fin. I’ll spend the rest of my life making it up to her.”

“You better. Now, go get out of those clothes, you’re making me sick looking at you.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

Elliot finally grabbed a nurse who was gave him an all clear. She was able to get him a room with a shower and a spare pair of scrubs to change into. Elliot sent a uni out to get Olivia and him some food while he paced in the hall near her room.

He was dying to be back by her side, but he needed to clear his head first. He wanted to go in there and tell her that he loved her. That he’d been in love with her for 23 years. That he’d make one of the biggest mistakes of his life leaving her the way he did. He needed her to hear it when it didn’t feel like the world was ending. When their lives weren’t in danger. When he wasn’t stuck in a haze of PTSD. He wanted to lay all his cards out on the table. Wheatley was gone and it was as close to justice as he was going to get. It was time to start moving forward and he wanted to do that with Olivia. If she’d let him. He knew he had to earn it. She deserved better than the man he had been for the past few months. He wanted to be the guy she could rely on, the person she could lean on and unload the darkest parts of her heavy days. He’d been that for her once. He knew he needed to gain her trust again before she could open up to him. To tell him the things that led to the scars on her body. Elliot’s greatest fear had been confirmed. Over the past ten years, he’d worried if anyone would have her back like he did. If they’d know when to push her to talk or when to back off. If they’d protect her as fiercely as would. But he was back and he’d do whatever it took to be that person again. To be her partner in every way.

With that, he took a deep breath before heading back to her room.

Chapter Text

Elliot knocked lightly on the door as he made his way back into her room, Chinese takeout bag in hand, courtesy of one of the unis.

“Egg drop soup as promised. I got some other stuff in case you wanted something more hearty later. I wasn’t sure how you’d be feeling,” Elliot said as he placed the bag on the side table.

Olivia seemed to look better overall. There was more color to her face and the greenish hue she’d been sporting earlier had disappeared. She now had bandages on both her wrists and he presumed her ankles had gotten the same treatment. Her breathing was calm and steady as confirmed by the various monitors.

“Thanks. Doing better. Nice to see you cleaned up again. Talk to your kids?”

“Yeah, briefly. Just let them know we’re alright and that they’re gone. I’m sure it’ll be all over the news soon enough. Better they hear it from me. And you? Talk to Noah yet?”

“Yeah. I’m grateful he doesn’t know the specifics about what happened but he’s getting older. He notices things more now and an armed protective detail isn’t exactly discreet. I could tell he’d been worrying which he shouldn’t have to do,” Olivia admitted.

“He’ll always worry about you, you’re his mom. Take it from me.”

“I’m glad you have Bernie around. Life’s too short to not have family nearby.”

“Yeah, it is,” Elliot surmised.

A brief silence fell over them as they both let her words sink in. Life is too short. It was only a few hours ago that it felt like the clock had been ticking against them.

“Liv, I—“

“El, I—“

They both began simultaneously. They chuckled nervously.

Always so in sync.

“Go ahead, Liv,” Elliot encouraged.

He knew what he wanted to say but he was curious to hear her out first. Maybe she’d tell him to back off. That this had become too much being pulled into his drama once again and this time nearly losing her life to it. He’d respect whatever she wanted, but not before he had the chance to lay his cards out.

“I just wanted to say thank you. For coming to the warehouse. You saved me back there pushing Wheatley’s buttons like that.”

“It’s the least I could do since I’m the one who got you kidnapped in the first place. I’m sorry about all of this, Liv. Really.”

“It’s okay. You warned us all about Wheatley’s vendetta against you. It’s not that I didn’t believe you, Elliot. I just wanted you to move forward and be able to heal.”

“I know. That’s what I’m going to do from here on out. Which brings me to what I said in the warehouse—“ Elliot started.

“It’s okay, Elliot,” Olivia interjected, cutting off his sentence.

“It was intense back there. We both thought we might die. We don’t have to make it something it wasn’t,” Olivia concluded, a hint of sadness and disappointment glimmering in her eyes.

This is exactly what Elliot had been afraid of. That he’d only ever shown her how much she meant to him in the most dire of situations. So much so that Olivia couldn’t truly believe that he loved her in the light of day. That it was only when a gun was to one of their heads, when their lives were at stake, or everything was falling apart did his truest emotions begin to show through. He needed to change that. He loved her deeply and in an all consuming way. But he also wanted to love her in all the little ways. Coffees in the morning. Flowers for no particular reason. He wanted quiet nights at home with their kids. To be lucky enough to be the one she feels completely safe with to let her guard down. The “something” that Olivia was referring to was the fact that Elliot had been in love with this woman for 23 years. She was everything.

“Olivia, I meant what I said. I still mean it,” Elliot started.

He saw a flash of hurt in Olivia’s eyes and began to rethink his words.

“Wait, that’s not what I meant! I mean not entirely. I never slept with Angela. I was just bluffing to get under both of their skins. I knew Wheatley couldn’t stand the idea of another man having what he considered his. And I knew Angela would feel betrayed at the idea of being used like that. I needed them to turn on each other to give us an out. I’m not proud of getting involved with her in the slightest. I know I hurt my family and hurt you. But, I swear it was one kiss  and nothing more. She meant nothing,” Elliot stuttered out trying to get his point across.

“I get the picture, El,” Olivia affirmed and Elliot could tell he didn’t need to belabor his point about Angela any further.

“What I’m trying to say and doing a shit job of, is that I love you, Olivia. I’m in love with you. Maybe it’s unfair to say but I’ve loved you for 23 years. I was too much of a coward to do anything about it so I ran away ten years ago but it never changed. It never dulled and neither did the pain of losing you. I made the wrong choice for both us back then for what I thought were the right reasons at the time. I knew I couldn’t give you what you deserved. I thought I was setting you free and I’m not saying that to let myself off the hook. You deserved better than me disappearing on you. Then I came busting back into the life you built in my absence and have only caused you pain ever since. I know I can’t take any of it back and I think about the millions of different decisions I could’ve made back then. But, it doesn’t do either of us any good. So, I’m here. Asking for my who knows what number chance to prove to you everything I just said. That I love you, Liv. And I’m not expecting you to say it back. Not even close. I sure as hell don’t deserve it,” Elliot said, exhaling at the relief of finally getting his words out.

“Is it my turn now?” Olivia said with a small smile despite the tears streaming silently down her face.

“Yeah,” Elliot smirked, sinking into the chair at the side of her bed as she reached for his hand.

Elliot felt the tension dissipate at their physical connection. Since he’d held her, he felt like a dam had been opened and his arms ached with emptiness at not having her nearby.

“I needed to hear you say all of that. I think I’ve been waiting for it ever since you came back. We’ve never been good at actually saying what we feel. It’s refreshing. So with that, I want this too, El. I know I said we could call it a friendship for now because I wanted us to find a place to begin. But, I was your best friend for 13 years. Then I spent the next ten years wondering if any of it had been real.”

Elliot opened his mouth to interrupt but she held up her free hand to stop him.

That god damn letter would haunt him for the rest of his life.

“I know now that it was. Otherwise you wouldn’t have left in the first place. I want more with you and I appreciate you vocalizing how you feel. I just need a little time to get there too. To know that this is all really happening and that it’s here to stay.”

“I’m not going anywhere, Liv.”

“So, you’ve said. I still don’t know how to let myself trust that. But…I think I’ll get there eventually. We just need to keep doing this. Saying what we feel. Calling this what it is.”

“And what are we doing?” Elliot prompted.

“Well, I think I’d like to call it dating. As weird as that is to say at our age.”

“I like the sound of that. So, I’m guessing sharing a meal of Chinese food while you’re in a hospital bed doesn’t count?”

“No, definitely not. In fact, we really need to spend less time together in hospitals. You’re going to have to wine and dine me properly,” Olivia countered.

“I can do that. So, are you free next Friday?”

“Ask me again when I’m not in a paper gown.”

“Fair point.”

He sat there, stroking his thumb across the back of her hand, reflecting on the past 24 hours.   

“I don’t know what I would’ve done if I lost you,” he whispered, the air becoming thick around them once again.

“It’s the same for me, El. I barely made it through that once, I couldn’t do it again. I wouldn’t be able to survive it.”

“And I won’t make you. But you’re so strong, Olivia. I know you’ve been through hell,” he choked out as hot tears leaked from the corners of his eyes.

Olivia pulled him to her, his head resting in her lap as she stroked the side of his face and leaned down to rest her lips against the top of his head.

“Elliot, about what you saw in the ambulance,” Olivia began hesitantly.

“You don’t have to tell me if you’re not ready. We’ll get there,” he assured her.

“Okay,” Olivia concluded.

“I love you, Liv,” he uttered once more.

“I know.”

Chapter Text

Olivia awoke with a startle as her eyes darted around the room trying to gather her bearings. The bare white walls and the slow, steady beeping brought her back to reality. The hospital, right. She fell back against the pillows, exhaling a sign of relief.

“Hey, there,” Elliot murmured softly from the chair that was pulled up next to her bed.

“You just missed him, but the doctor said we can get out of here whenever. I didn’t want to wake you up, you needed to rest.”

“Thanks. I did need that. But, I’m ready to go home. I’m sick of looking at these walls. I just want to be in my own bed,” she mused.

“Well, we can make that happen,” Elliot responded.

Olivia playfully raised her eyebrow and tilted her head slightly at his insinuation.

“A little forward there, Detective?” Olivia jeered.

She watched as Elliot’s face turned pink and he smiled sheepishly.

“You’re the one with your head in the gutter, Captain. I meant I can get you home safely or have Fin take you if you prefer. We can get Noah first if you want to see him too. It’s your call,” Elliot offered while his hand rested hesitantly on the railing of her bed.

She knew what he was doing. He was trying to gauge her reaction to see where she stood. They’d unloaded a lot in the past few hours and this was his way of offering her space. Usually, that’s what she would want after a day like today. She’d go back to her apartment, get Noah into bed and then curl up under her covers while she decompressed and blocked out the rest of the world. But, it was never what she needed .

As awful and draining as the day had been, she needed what they had in those few moments in the warehouse. When everything else had faded to the background and it felt like it was just them two wrapped in each other’s arms. It hadn’t mattered if the Wheatleys were dead on the floor and there was a SWAT team surrounding the premises. When he found his way to her, she’d never felt safer. 

It broke something open inside of her and she’d let it coming rushing out. She’d cried for Elliot and the unimaginable way it could have ended for them. For all the pain inflicted to his family that had lead up to this. For herself and how many traumatic moments she was reliving and how hard it was to separate past and present. And most of all, she had cried because the warm sense of security that had enveloped her was exactly what she had been missing all this time. 23 years worth of longing to be held in his arms had come barreling out of her.

Something had fallen into place in those moments and for once, she wanted to lean into it.

“It’s late so Noah’s going to stay over at Lucy’s. It’s better this way. As much as I want him home, I don’t want him to see me like this and worry. Hopefully, I can ditch these bandages tomorrow too. With the press nightmare this is going to be, I’m sure IAB will want our statements soon. I’d easily bet we’ll be summoned down to 1PP in the morning,” she concluded.

She had wanted to ease his wariness but the complicated reality of their situation was creeping up on her. How much had the SWAT team heard as they’d stealthily moved into the scene? She was sure they’d raised questions from their behavior in the aftermath of it all. Rumors had swirled around them for the entirety of their partnership. Elliot’s sudden departure had fueled and for some people, confirmed them. I mean, if you have nothing to hide, why run so far away and leave so abruptly? Olivia never paid them much attention and just kept her head down. Over time, the gossip has faded and Olivia’s survival against Lewis seemed to take over her legendary history in the NYPD. Of course, Kathy’s trial had stirred up the waters again and Olivia was sure the whispers were already weaving through the grapevine. But, it didn’t matter. Only her and Elliot knew the truth. They knew what they were to each other all those years. Partners . Yes, their feelings had grown past those parameters but they never let themselves physically cross the line. Elliot had even fled across the ocean to keep from doing so. Before, it had been like standing on a cliff and they kept getting pushed closer and closer to the edge by outside forces. Each just as willing to jump in after the other but constantly trying to pull back and prevent it from actually happening. Now, the stretch ahead of them was solid and steady, but still at a crossroads. It was up to them if they’d walk it together.

“Don’t worry about that stuff now. Let’s just focus on getting you home. I’m sure all my old enemies down at IAB will still be waiting for me tomorrow,” he reassured her.  

Olivia winced slightly at the reference. She added that to her running mental list of inevitable discussions she was going to have to have with Elliot. She wondered how long his gentle patience would last before he wanted an explanation. She had seen his face go through the five stages of grief in the ambulance at the sight of her scars. He’d been extremely protective of her since they’d gotten here and had barely wanted to leave her side. His eyes had kept glancing to the door ready to attack anyone who might threaten her safety. She had almost wanted to reassure him that the beast that had harmed her was long gone. He couldn’t hurt her anymore, at least physically. His ghost only haunted her occasional nightmares that creeped in when she was stressed or unsteady. He seemed to sense her concern because his hand that had been uncertainly hovering now found hers eagerly.

“Hey, I’m not going to let you take any of the fallout on this alright. This is my mess with Wheatley and it should’ve stayed that way. I’m the one who went rogue and got him riled up. I knew what I was doing. I wanted him to escalate. I nearly lost you and it got Angela killed. I know she’s not blameless in all of this, but she was a victim too, Liv. I used Wheatley’s possessiveness to my advantage and she died because of it. That’s on me. So, if IAB is looking for someone’s badge to take it’s going to be mine.”

Elliot dropped his head to the floor in an effort to hide away from her. Of course he’d find a way to blame himself. He was still her Elliot. Still the man who would do anything to protect a victim. Anything to protect her or his family, even if it meant putting himself in the line of fire. He was still burdening himself with guilt over things out of his control because he felt like he deserved to be punished. She’d seen the struggle in his eyes over the past year. How he was grappling with the darkness to try and make it through his grief. The defeated look on his face told her everything. He believed he’d sank down to the level of the very people he hated for hurting his family. So here he was, ready to fall on the sword for his penance.

“El, look at me,” she ordered reaching to tilt his face back to her.

His blue eyes were welling with tears and Olivia couldn’t stand to think about how often she had seen this devastated look on him over the past year. Her heart ached to think that it wouldn’t be the last time when she revealed her own dark, heavy truths.

“I know you, Elliot. I know your heart, your soul. I see you. You still have your humanity. You’re not like them. If you were, you wouldn’t be sitting here feeling this way. You have remorse, empathy. I couldn’t say the same for Wheatley. As for Angela, you tried to give her an out and help her walk away. She wasn’t ready. You can only help someone so much, they have to want it for themselves. You may have been lost for a little while there, but you didn’t lose yourself completely. You’re still here with me.”

Elliot’s hand was gripping her forearm as if he was afraid to let go and drift away from her side. She knew there was nothing left to be done or said but just let him feel this. He was gasping heavily almost as if he’d been prevented from breathing. She wondered if this was the first time he’d been able to do so since she first saw him at his wife’s crime scene. He’d been so focused on this odyssey of justice, the reality that it was over was finally hitting him. She waited patiently for the storm to run its course, occasionally using her words to soothe him down until he found his breath again.

“Sorry,” he muttered when he finally settled.

“No need,” she assured him.

“Thanks, Liv. For everything. Now, what do you say we get out of here?”

“Take me home, El.”

Chapter Text

The drive back to her apartment was quiet. There was no need to fill the comfortable silence that had settled between them. Everything that needed to be said had been put out into the open already. The radio was low, neither of them paying much attention to what was playing. Their intertwined hands rested on the console with Elliot’s thumb absentmindedly rubbing along Olivia’s knuckles. She’s not sure who reached for who first but this intense need for a physical connection had not subsided since she’d been in his arms earlier.

Elliot had insisted he drive Olivia home and despite her encouraging him to get back to his family, she was genuinely relieved. She knew she was just putting off the inevitable and she felt a wave of panic rising in her chest as they were closer to arriving at her apartment. As if sensing her anxiety, Elliot’s hand squeezed gently against her’s. 

“We’re almost there,” he said softly, trying to reassure her but obviously not understanding that their impending arrival was the source of her distress.

Olivia’s building came into view and she let out a small sigh of relief when Elliot drove past the front doors and instead, pulled into an empty spot further down the street and parked.

“Is it alright if I walk you up and make sure you get settled in okay?” Elliot asked hesitantly.

“Yeah, that’ll be fine,” Olivia exhaled gratefully.

She felt her breathing steady once more and inwardly she was scolding herself at her neediness.

He’s going to have to leave eventually, you know?

But, what’s a few more minutes.

Her inner monologue bickered back and forth but it was drowned out as Elliot came around to her side and gently guided her out of the car. The icy cold greeted her and she shivered as the sharp breeze travelled up her spine. It was very inconvenient to be taken hostage in the dead of winter without a decent coat but of course she hadn’t planned her attire for the day's events. Elliot, who was still sporting the hospital scrubs, pulled her in, tucking her into his side in a futile attempt to shield her from the wind. Thankfully, the walk to her lobby was short and she was grateful that there were no other residents lingering in the lobby at this hour. She gave a brief, polite nod to the doorman and hurried them to the elevators, eager to finally be in the safety of her own home.

Olivia could sense Elliot’s discomfort as he stood awkwardly, taking in her apartment. The last time he’d been here wasn’t the best of memories for them. But, after the day they had, it felt like a lifetime ago. The bearded, drugged and despondent version of Elliot that had shown up at her door months ago was not the same man standing before her. This Elliot, her Elliot , was steady. His eyes clear of the anguish and torment that had plagued him. She wasn’t the same person that he’d clung to desperately in her doorway either.

“I can make you tea or something. I’m pretty sure I have beer in the fridge too if you want,” Olivia offered as she flicked through a stack of mail she’d left on the counter earlier, tossing aside what was junk.

“I’m good, but thanks. Honestly, if I have anything with even a hint of caffeine past 6pm, I’m up all night tossing and turning,” Elliot mused.

“I’m sorry, you’re exhausted too. I’m sure you need head back. The kids and Bernie must be anxious to see you. Thanks for making sure I got home,” she forced out, finding it difficult to willingly encourage him to go.

“Actually, I talked to Mo before we left. Pretty sure everyone’s asleep already. I’ll see them when they get up in the morning. I really just want to make sure you’re okay.”

“I’m fine, El, really. I’m just going to shower and head to bed. I’ll be alright,” Olivia said quietly, not meeting his eyes for fear of him seeing right through her.

Olivia was trying to put up a good front but truthfully, she was dreading his exit and the emptiness she’d be subsequently faced with. She didn’t even have the sense of security of knowing Noah was soundly asleep and being able to watch over him to calm her nerves. She’d be left to her own thoughts and even worse, to the vicious pull of loathsome memories. Olivia bit her lip at the thought of the overwhelming void she’d soon encounter. She could already feel today’s memories swirling and mixing with old ones to form new horrors that would visit her while she slept. Even when Elliot left tonight, she was almost certain he’d be featured later on in her night terrors. Through the years he was gone, she’d still wake up in a cold sweat reliving Gitano, except it would end with Elliot lying in a pool of his own blood. Olivia shuddered at the thought of all the monsters who were patiently waiting for her in the recesses of her mind. Gitano. Lewis. Harris. Now, Wheatley, too. Sometimes it wasn’t even a singular face, but a dark, mixture of shadows encompassing every single perp she’d ever encountered. Most likely, Olivia wouldn’t sleep at all. She’d toss and turn, fighting against the exhaustion to avoid them .

Olivia startled slightly as she felt Elliot’s fingertips brushing her shoulders. He’d made his way over to her and she could feel the warmth radiating from his body, piercing through the iciness that had taken ahold of her.

“All you have to do is ask, Liv. I can be wherever you need,” he murmured.

Olivia briefly considered his offer. She didn’t know if she could get the words out. If she could actually ask. Instead, she compromised and recycled her commandment from earlier.

“Don’t leave.”

“Okay. I’m not going anywhere,” he confirmed.

Olivia exhaled a sigh of relief and leaned into his chest once more, letting her arms wrap around his waist. Elliot reciprocated her need for proximity as he moved his hands to her back and pulled her against him.

“Why don’t you take a shower so you can get to sleep. I’ll make myself comfortable on the couch,” Elliot proposed.

“C’mon,” Olivia said, rolling her eyes at his chivalrous offer and tugging his hand behind her as they made their way down the hallway.

As she opened the door to her bedroom, she released his hand, moving to her dresser. She fumbled through the drawers till she found what she was looking for, shoved towards the back. She tossed the XL gray NYPD sweats along with a plain black, oversized t-shirt onto the bed.

“You can wear those. I’m pretty sure the pants are yours. Of course, you left me a cleanup job back then so I considered those my ‘finder’s fee’ for having to empty your locker and desk,” she joked darkly.

__________________________________

Olivia hadn’t necessarily rushed out of the shower, but once she found herself under the hot stream of water, the bone deep fatigue finally set in. She skipped her more intricate post-shower routine and just did the bare minimum. She’d put on a loose, flowy pair of pajama pants and basic night shirt, not really caring what she looked like at this point.

Olivia cautiously opened her bathroom door, not sure what to expect on the other side. But there he was casually lounging over her bedspread, relaxed as if him being there was nothing new or exciting. The book that she always swore she’d get around to reading but sat collecting dust on her nightstand was open in his lap. He’d changed into the clothes she’d laid out and the tshirt, which was loose on her, was hugging his muscular figure. It was truly unfair how good he looked at his age.

“Feeling better?” he asked as he closed the cover and returned the book back to its place.

“Much. Do you usually sleep on top of the covers? Is that a European thing?” she inquired back.

“I’m trying not to be presumptuous. Besides, I wasn’t sure if you’d change your mind and want to kick me to the curb. Because you’re welcome to. I’m pretty sure I deserve it.”

“Get over yourself, Stabler. I’m exhausted and I need sleep. I appreciate you checking in but I know what I want. So, get under the covers and stop handling me with kid gloves,” Olivia responded confidently, as she felt the last of her energy draining from her.

“Ordering me around in bed already. I like it,” Elliot smirked.

Olivia took her pillow and lightly smacked him with it before crawling under the covers beside him. While Olivia was talking a big game before, this newly developed intimacy between them was still nerve racking. She knew they’d strictly be going to sleep tonight but going from friends to “I love you” to bed sharing was a lot of change for 24 hours. She settled her head against his chest with her hand following as Elliot’s arm wrapped around her shoulder. It felt completely natural and she could feel her worries float away as she relaxed completely for the first time that day. Truthfully, it was a serenity she hadn’t felt in quite possibly ten years. Elliot’s hand was tracing circles along her bare arm and she could feel herself being lulled into sleep. With Olivia’s head resting on his chest, she could feel and hear Elliot’s heart thumping loudly.

“Should I be worried about how fast and loud your heart is beating right now?” she mumbled jokingly, already half asleep.

“My heart couldn’t be doing any better. Sleep, Liv,” he said, pressing his lips against the top of her head.

“Mhmmmm,” she hummed letting her heavy eyelids close at last.

“El?” she whispered.

“Uh huh?”

“Sometimes, I….I still get nightmares from the stuff that…especially after a hard day,” she muttered out hesitantly.

“That’s alright. If it happens, I’ll be right here with you. We’ll get through it. Just close your eyes and rest. I love you,” he whispered back into the darkness.

Olivia nuzzled against his chest in acknowledgement and let herself be pulled into the abyss of sleep, knowing she was safely in his arms.

The course of the day had shaken the ground beneath them, shifting something in the universe into place. The deep fault lines that had separated them all the times before, had now shuddered together. The jagged edges of exposed earth had collided against each other and now aligned. They were standing on this newly seamed soil, but still bearing the scars they’d earned along the way. The closing of the chasm sealed away the paths not taken. No longer would they be taunted by the gravity of parallel universes, because they would not fault each other at the risk of losing this one.

This one and only universe where they’d found each other the first time years ago and where, reunited once more, they’d remain. Together .