That's what her mother said, the day Achlys settled on his final shape. Olivia was twelve, and scared out of her mind, and she had done what any child would do and turned to her mother for comfort, but Serena had given no comfort at all. Monstrous, she said, her blue eyes flat and filled with something that almost looked like loathing. Olivia was only twelve, but she knew what that meant. Her father had been a monster, and that was the day Olivia realized that maybe she was a monster, too.
The fuck is that?
That's what his father said, the day Alina settled. Elliot was twelve, and proud, shit he was so proud, but his mother wept and his father swore and he led Alina away because his parents frightened him, and he did not want them to hurt her. He was small for his age and she was the one with teeth long and sharp as knives but he wanted, still, to protect her. To keep her safe, because she was good, and soft, and warm, and he loved her. He would always, always, protect the ones he loved.
As long as men had walked the earth, daemons had walked beside them. Daemons, the heart made flesh, a living soul to guide and comfort their charges. Daemons, sacred and inviolable, animals that did not hunger or thirst or hunt but lived so long as their humans lived, side by side, separate in body but one in spirit. Every child entered the world hand in hand with a daemon, a small, changeable creature that shifted in shape even as the child shifted, their purposes not yet settled, their paths not yet chosen. A child's daemon was a wild thing, a field mouse one moment, a parakeet the next, stretching, reaching, trying, until the day came when the daemon settled, and changed no more.
And as long as men had walked the earth they had sought to understand it, and so for every daemon there was a story, a legend, knowledge passed down from one generation to another. If a boy's daemon became a dog, he was said to be loyal, steadfast, a friend to the end. If a girl's daemon became a bird, she was said to be vain, flighty, unpredictable. A cat was a harbinger of an aloof spirit, a mouse a timid one, a rabbit a coward but gentle. Snakes were wily and not to be trusted, lizards were playful, stoats vicious. Most daemons were small enough to be carried by their person, to rest upon a shoulder; the largest daemon most folk ever saw was only the size of a smallish dog. And so there were whispers, too, about what it meant should a man walk with a large daemon by his side. A wolf, a panther, a lion, such things were only rumors, for most folk never saw anything so grand, and when they did they knew calamity must surely follow in its wake. Nothing good can come from a soul so big, that's what people said. A soul too big to hold was a soul too big to be trusted, a purpose too great to be understood, pride and folly both. The world was not meant for such creatures, nor for the men who walked beside them.
The day Don Cragen met Olivia Benson, he knew.
He took himself down to the 5-5 to meet her in person; he didn't want her walking into his station house until he was certain that she was the one he wanted. She'd risen through the ranks and passed her exams with flying colors, ready and willing to take her first post as a detective, and he needed someone young, someone hungry. Someone who'd volunteer for the post, because SVU was a place for believers. To survive in that job a cop had to have a fire in their belly, and her Lieutenant had told Cragen that she was the one.
He was sitting in the back of an interrogation room when the door opened, and the prettiest girl he'd seen in years came walking in. Tall and slim but strong, with her dark hair and her dark eyes, her face more suited to magazines than a police station, she would have been remarkable all on her own, but when he saw the beast that walked beside her, he knew.
It was a fucking wolf. Three feet tall at the shoulders, his head taller still, six feet long from the tip of his snout to the tip of his tail, the thing must have weighed at least two hundred pounds. Two hundred pounds of muscle, of teeth, of claws, his thick, silken fur was black as night, and he was the biggest fucking daemon Don had ever seen. Wolves, folk said, are ill omens. A wolf without a pack is a danger. A wolf alone serves his own interests. A wolf will kill, and take, and take, and take, and feel no remorse. Folks had a lot to say, about wolves, but most had never seen one.
Don had, though, and Don knew better.
"Detective Benson," he said, standing up from the table and approaching her with his hand outstretched. Her daemon moved, silently, gracefully, put himself between his woman and a stranger, looked up at Don with eyes huge and dark and watchful. Eyes just like hers. Don's own daemon was resting on his shoulder, her soft fur warming his neck, and he felt her tense when that beast's eyes caught on hers.
"Captain Cragen," Benson said, taking his hand and offering a firm shake. "It's nice to meet you."
"Is it?" he asked, smiling, glancing down at her daemon.
"He means no harm," she said. "Achlys," she called the wolf's name, and he stepped back a pace, gave Don some room but watched him, still, warily.
"A wolf is a protector," Don said, glancing down at Achlys, and when he looked up he saw Benson's eyes had widened in surprise. Probably, he thought, she was used to people assuming her wolf was something to fear, unaccustomed to anyone speaking of the beast warmly. "Is that what you are, Detective Benson?"
Or is that what you need? He wondered. Was she a protector of the weak, was she strong and fierce, or had she been wounded, afraid? Was the daemon there to serve her purpose, or to keep her safe from it?
"It's what I want to be," she told him.
"Good," he said.
The day had come; Elliot's new partner was starting today, and he was kinda looking forward to it. They'd brought in a woman to replace Alfonse, and that was ok by him; he'd worked well enough with Jo, and he didn't mind having a woman riding shotgun beside him. That was all he knew about her, though, just that she was a woman and that she was young, that this was her first gig as a detective. Most cops, taking a post like that for the first time, would set out with something to prove, but he kinda hoped she wouldn't be like that. He needed someone who was ready to do the job, not someone who was looking out for themselves and their career. SVU wasn't the place for a cop to make their stripes. SVU was a fucking calling.
You'll know her when you see her, that's all Cragen had told him. Not what time she was coming, or what she looked like, just that vague prophecy, delivered with a knowing look at him, and Elliot had been wondering, ever since, just what the fuck that was supposed to mean. How, he wondered, how was he supposed to know her? What was gonna give her away? He leaned back in his chair, caught his arms behind his head and watched the door, wondering what she'd be like, the woman who would become his other half. Young, and scuttlebutt was she was a looker, but that could have meant anything. She could have been willowy and blonde or tall and dark, could have been curvy or rail thin, hair short or long, could have been anything.
"Wonder what she'll think of you," he murmured to Alina.
His daemon was resting on the floor beside his chair, and when he spoke to her she raised her head, looked up at him with golden eyes that sparkled with mirth.
"You think she'll be afraid?" Alina asked him.
Most folks were, the first time they saw his daemon, not that he could blame them. His own father swore, the day he saw what Alina had become. Munch's tawny owl had screeched and flown back to his desk, and Alfonse's cat had crouched between her person's feet, all her hair standing on end and her back arched like she was ready for a fight. Cragen's ferret hadn't seemed scared, too, but then she was always hard to read.
Elliot had his mouth open to say something else, to crack some joke, but then a woman walked through the open doors and into the squadroom, and the breath vanished from his lungs so fast it was like someone had vacuumed it straight out of him.
"Jesus," Alina said, very softly.
The other cops were right; Benson was a looker. Turn-around-to-get-a-second-look pretty, but that fucking daemon of hers…Jesus, Elliot thought.
He rose slowly to his feet, and Alina did, too, and Benson took one look at them and froze in her tracks, staring at them, her eyes wide with the same surprise, the same recognition, the same fear that Elliot felt stirring in his own gut.
She had herself a wolf. A giant beast, midnight black, scary as all shit; there was a wolf, standing beside her.
You'll know her when you see her, Cragen had said. He'd been right about that.
For a second all she could do was stand there, and stare.
You'll know him when you see him, Cragen had told her, and that had irritated the shit out of her, that cryptic promise, but she'd accepted it with good grace because she wanted this job, wanted it so bad she ached with it. SVU was where she was meant to be; giving to others the aid, the comfort, the justice her mother had never received, doing what she could to make sure that no other child had to grow up as she had, afraid and unloved. This is your calling, she'd told herself. This is what you were put on this earth to do. To make up for the crime of her birth by caring for others, to pay penance for the sin that had made her. It was everything she wanted, to be here, to belong here, and she hadn't been sure, before now, what they'd make of her, if her new squadmates would let her in, but Jesus.
She hadn't been expecting this.
It must have been him. That tall, broad-shouldered man, with his dark hair, his blue eyes, his kind face, that must have been Stabler. Had to have been, because Cragen had told her she'd know him when she saw him, and she saw him, now. Saw him, and saw the daemon standing beside him.
Not quite so tall or so long or so heavy as Achlys, she was still huge, compared to all the other daemons Olivia had encountered in her life. Massive, and fierce, she stood silently beside her man, guarding him. Where Achlys was black as night this wolf was all silver-grey, and her eyes were golden, not black like his. Olivia felt it, the moment those golden eyes locked on Achlys; she felt it, down to her bones, the recognition. Like looking at an old friend; no, she thought, like looking into a mirror. Like seeing herself, reflected back, different, but the same. And Achlys, Achlys must have felt it, too, because he stepped forward, then, all on his own.
Daemons were bound to their men by bonds broken only in death; a daemon could not, would not, stray beyond his person's line of sight. Close, always, man and spirit, sustaining one another. But daemons were not men; daemons were something holy, something other, and to touch one was an act of intimacy so profound it was never undertaken in public. A man might stroke his lover's daemon, in private, and a mother's daemon might comfort a child's, but only in moments when two people's hearts were wound close together. No lover Olivia had taken had ever touched Achlys, and no other daemon had ever approached him. It was not done; it was one of those immutable laws of the universe, as unchanging as the pull of gravity. To touch a daemon was to touch a person's soul, and the collision of two souls had the power to change the very course of fate.
While Olivia stood still as a stone, staring, Achlys took another slow step forward, and so, too, did Stabler's wolf. Olivia looked up sharply then and found Stabler watching the pair as intently as she, but he seemed to feel her gaze upon him, lifted his eyes to look at her with something like wonder in his face. It was too much, the questions she carried in her own heart, the questions his eyes reflected back at her. What does it mean, she asked herself; what does it mean, that they're the same? She'd never seen a daemon bigger than a beagle and here stood another wolf, same as hers. The same. It was too much, looking at Stabler and wondering, and so she dropped her eyes back to the wolves, and he did, as well. Watched, as she watched, watched them begin to circle one another, sniffing at one another. Would they fight? She wondered as they moved slowly, slowly, tails swishing back and forth, ears alert, eyeing each other. Achlys had been in his fair share of scraps before, some perp's daemon coming after him or Olivia and all Achlys had to do was snap his great jaws and the thing, whatever it was, would cower in fear and relent. He had never met his match before, and though Stabler's wolf was smaller she looked every bit as fierce as he. If they fought…shit, if they fought, it would get ugly, fast.
Tension coiled at the base of her spine, her hands ready to reach for her daemon, to take hold of him, to tug him back and away if he snapped, but the wolves slowed in their circling, slowed, and then came to a stop without carnage. Came to a stop, so close they were almost touching, their eyes unblinking, a silence thick and unbreakable falling over all of them. It was the middle of the morning but there was no one else loitering around the desks, no one there to bear witness to this momentous convergence, and for a moment, just for a second, it felt as if the four of them were the only living creatures in the world.
"Well," Stabler started to say, but then his words failed him, for as they looked on Achlys bowed his head, and Stabler's wolf stepped closer, and licked a stripe across his snout.
Olivia felt it, felt it like a lightning strike, like sticking a fork in a plug, electricity sparking through her veins and leaving her trembling. Never, never before had anything like this happened to her, to Achlys. The man before her was a stranger, unknown to her, and she didn't trust him, hadn't even shaken his hand, and yet his daemon had touched hers. Reached out to him, and touched him, in a gesture so familiar, so intimate, it left Olivia feeling embarrassed at having borne witness to it. What the fuck kind of daemon would do something like that? And why? And why did Achlys let her; why did he bow his head, and submit, when he had never allowed anyone else to take such liberties with him?
"Shit," Stabler said, softly. Apparently he didn't know, either.
"Achlys," Olivia called in an unsteady voice, and her wolf heard her, and relented, stepped away from Stabler's and padded softly back to her side. She looked down at him, at the familiar blackness of his eyes, but there were no answers for her there; he just stared back at her, knowingly.
"Alina," Stabler said, and the grey wolf likewise backed away, and they were left with nothing to do but look at one another, separated by five feet of empty space and yet bound, suddenly, in a manner so profound and terrifying that neither of them seemed to know what to do about it.
"You Benson?" Stabler asked her softly.
"You Stabler?" she answered.
"Elliot," he told her.
"Olivia," she said.
And then the thing was done. There would be no going back now, not for either of them. They were partners, and their souls had touched, and in the touching changed both their lives forever.