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The Unbosoming

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“And above all else —
I hope whatever you love, loves you back.”
- The Strength in Our Scars by Bianca Sparacino

Where It Happened

They say that there are a handful of moments in life when time just freezes. 

A handful of moments when everyone looks up at the same time with identical expressions etched across their features. Moments when even the people who you’d call in case of an emergency look around at each other with expressions on their faces that quite clearly ask what the hell they’re supposed to do in the emergent situation they are staring at. 

The 10 th of February 2022 was one of those days for the Intelligence Members of the Organized Crime Control Bureau and the Elite Squad from Manhattan’s 16 th Precinct’s Special Victims Unit. 

The 10 th of February was a day when Captain Olivia Benson, normally solid and firm in her foundation, cracked just a bit. She’d formed a hardened exterior that a rare few saw while she had her gun strapped to her hip and her badge hanging from her neck or on the lapel of her jacket. The Captain, she was a warrior; a woman who dared men twice her size to swing on her and then could lay them flat before they even registered what had happened to them. 

Shit really hit the fan on that rainy, cold, seemingly normal Thursday in February before Valentine’s Day. 

No one wanted to talk about it, the moment when she admitted it out loud for the first time, praying that it wouldn’t also be the last. After she’d looked him in the eyes and shouted the truth, as he faded into unconsciousness, his hand on her face, she had to be pulled away by her Sergeant. 

Everyone saw the blood on both Ayanna and Olivia but felt as though the latter was bleeding out in a different way.

As she lunged once more toward the man on the pavement, Fin caught her around the waist and pulled her away. That’s when she did it. The Captain had pulled her gun out of her holster and held it facing her own heart standing there in the rain, yelling in the face of her Sergeant that she would pull the trigger on herself if Elliot didn’t make it. 

It was the scariest moment on earth to the people who knew she had no problem pulling the trigger when it came to herself. She’d done it before. 

Everyone held their breath.

Time stopped. 

The truth was out there, having been witnessed by everyone present. As the EMTs yelled that they had a pulse but had to move quickly, she lowered her weapon. She was numb and broken, but no one wanted to talk about it.

Detective Amanda Rollins

Splashing the water on her face, Amanda looked at her reflection in the mirror in front of her; seeing her red-rimmed blue eyes staring back at her, resting her elbows on the edge of the sink, she shook and then cradling her head in her hands. She felt bad, a moment ago, for running to the bathroom…but she couldn’t bear to sit in the waiting room any longer with her Captain looking like she had. 

Hell, no one should have to see anyone like that. 

The Captain was always a pillar of strength. A cornerstone that held everyone else up in trying times. She was always the last one standing in the dust of whatever cataclysmic event that seemed to intrude upon the peace and quiet of her city. The Captain was every-single-bit the embodiment of Greek Myths speaking of fierce warriors that relied upon themselves only. The warriors that never required men to do their jobs for them. 

The kind of warriors that looked in the face of evil or depravity and spit at it, into the wind without fear of the consequences.

The Captain was a warrior like that. 

That was the Captain, but Liv was just a woman. Like any woman, for every fierce warrior that lives within is a soft being who is capable of cracking and crumbling. The Captain was sharp edges. Liv, she was soft cushioned corners. 

Today, Liv had cracked. She’d seen it before, Liv crumbling like the walls of Jericho. Every time she’d seen Liv break through the Captain’s tough armor, it was a reminder that the woman was a flesh and blood mortal just like she was. That despite the shield that the Captain fastened to her belt or around her neck, she was still Liv underneath.

Liv wasn’t invincible. Hell, the Captain wasn’t invincible. 

Amanda knew it, and she’d seen her crumble when Sheila Porter had kidnapped Noah. She’d seen her talk about terror, in a bone-chilling manner that reminded her of ice-cold water in the creeks during the last week of November when she’d roll up her jeans and wade into it, searching for a few crawdads to throw into her five-gallon bucket for lunch or dinner.

Amanda wanted to hate the man for his innate ability to read the Captain like a book after a decade of nothing, but she couldn’t. 

She just couldn’t.

Not when she saw how the man who barged back into Liv’s life like a bull in a china shop had a quiet ability to calm Liv gently, in ways no one had ever been able to. Even though he was a hot damn mess in all other aspects, he seemed to have Liv’s instruction manual; the manual that no one else had been able to find in all the years she’d known the Captain. 

He had the ability to soothe the Captain a look that would cause her to fold in on herself, deflate and calm down. He could reach out and place his palm on the nape of her neck and Liv would sigh and lean into the touch, as though it was something akin to sinking into a warm bath after a hard workout.  

Amanda just watched, captivated. She knew about the history between the two of them, small little bits that Liv had mentioned through the years about trusting her partner, depending on her partner. Watching them together, she started to wonder how many of the rumors and whispers she’d heard when she first got there were true. But, there was Fin. Fin had just grinned at her when she’d mentioned this back in September and shook his head. Fin, he’d known the two of them. 

“Amanda, you just gotta trust me on this one, if anything had happened between the two of them, he wouldn’t have gone anywhere. Trust me.”

That was the thing about the Sarge. She did trust him. She also trusted Liv when she’d whispered once that nothing had happened. When she whispered it, she had a sad look on her face, one Amanda wasn’t sure how to decipher. 

She wished that the man could comfort Liv right now, but he was the reason she was a mess. 

He was always the reason Liv would stick her neck out on a wooden block, pull her hair out of the way and tell the ax wielder to make sure their weapon was sharp, to swing true.

Hell, since he’d been back, she’d been in front of IAB more times than she’d been in years past combined. 

Yet, there was the time in the beginning of him being back when he’d thrown himself over the Captain in the car, disregarding the fact that his teenage son only had one parent left but protecting Liv, that’d been his priority. 

The Captain had told Amanda on several occasions now that she trusted the man. Liv had screamed that she just knew him. At the time, Amanda had tried to tell the Captain that she might’ve known him at one time but this was ten years and thousands of miles of difference between the man she used to know and the man he was now. 

Funny thing was the Captain did know her old partner…she did trust him, until she couldn’t. He’d ghosted her for three months. Three whole damn months that she’d just sighed and looked sad again, almost like she’d been expecting it. The fact that he’d walked around the corner with a joint task force, that’d been all the confirmation she’d needed to tell her that he hadn’t run back to Italy or wherever the hell else he’d been living the last decade while the Captain was in hell. 

Stabler, he’d had his moments. Good and bad. Hell, he’d taken her out for lunch a few days ago, to make his full intentions known to Amanda. Said she seemed to be like Liv’s guard. He had no idea what the hell Amanda could be, but he’d been glad that she’d been there for Liv. Said that they’d had a conversation, and Liv had disclosed the horrors she’d encountered. 

Thanked Amanda, asked how to contact Nick. 

She had to hand it to the guy, he was making an effort. 

It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows though, one day before they’d gone out to lunch, Amanda came into the precinct to find Liv in her office, pacing and yelling into her phone. He’d gone and done something stupid, from what Amanda could gather just a few weeks ago. Whatever it was, Liv had looked at the man warily for a few weeks, avoided taking his calls, refused to meet with him. Until the second week in January. 

Their disagreement had lasted the whole half of the first month of the year. Amanda hadn’t asked, but eventually, Liv was smiling again, taking his calls, going out for lunches, over the last ten days. Getting small pieces of herself back; it all somehow got resolved when he strolled into the precinct with peony flowers in a makeshift vase made out of a canning jar. One of the glass ones like Granny had used to can green beans in, with a pink ribbon tied around the mouth. 

As soon as Liv saw the small arrangement, she’d softened. It was almost like they couldn’t stay mad at one another. 

“Life is way too short, Amanda. We can’t take a minute for granted.” The Captain had taken the vase and put it on the corner of her desk. Appreciating the little bit of pretty. The vase looked out of place in the precinct, but it was a good reminder that beneath the armor, the Captain was Liv. A woman. A woman who looked to be in love with the man that had brought her the vase. 

Liv was getting pieces back that Amanda hadn’t seen since before she’d brought William Lewis into the precinct. Pieces that Fin had mumbled were good to see. Fin called it ‘The Stabler Effect’. When anyone asked what the hell he was talking about, he’d cited the return of her easy banter, her instant quips that were sharp and succinct.

But today? Today was a nightmare and Liv was just sitting there in the waiting room, with blood all over her, starin’ straight ahead. That’s why Amanda had to run to the bathroom. She couldn’t stand looking at her Captain and seeing the woman fall apart, couldn’t stand to watch her from the corner of her eye, rocking back and forth in the hard chair mumbling to herself the same phrase over and over, almost like a mantra. Manifesting what she knew in the back of her mind was a slim thing. 

No one wanted to talk about it. Especially after what they’d just heard the Captain yell in the middle of the street, hands both slick from the rain and sticky with her former partner’s blood. 

Amanda dried her face, discarded the towel in the trash can, and took a deep breath. Walking back out of the quiet restroom, she’d come face-to-face with the reality of the whole damn situation, she’d be right in the middle of the bedlam of the waiting room and the hesitant stares. People expecting her to do something or say something to the Captain to bring her back. Amanda wasn’t sure there was a way to bring her back. For the first time, she didn’t have a clue where to begin. No one did. Not after the admission had been shouted into the night. 

When she came into the room, she was surprised to find that the Captain was nowhere to be found. Confused, because she’d asked Fin to watch her, she smacked him on the arm. “Where the hell did she go, Fin?” Amanda’s head tilted to the chair the woman had been occupying. Fin’s face snapped over to look at the empty piece of furniture. 

“One of the kids said they were gonna get her cleaned up, I think it was Maureen. Stabler has enough kids, it’s hard to keep track of ‘em all. I think she’s a nurse, like Kathy was.”

Amanda just leaned back. “Any idea if she’s been cognizant enough to message Lucy or decide what she’s gonna do about Noah for the night?”

“I took care of that. Lucy said she’d stay with him, but uh, Phoebe is on stand-by in case she needs to go over if Lucy wants to leave.” Fin hadn’t turned his head to look at Amanda yet, but she knew from his body language that he was just as anxious, just as shook up over the admission. They all suspected it, but hearing it—that was something different. “Amanda, you know–”

“I know.” Amanda swallowed. “Shit, Fin, I think we all know for sure now…and I just hope for the sake of the Cap that he’s got half the fight she does.” Amanda’s head drops as she stares at her fingernails, painted a pale pink color, courtesy of Billie and her sudden interest in making nails pretty. Amanda thinks about how Dominick let Billie paint his nails three nights ago and suddenly realizes just how deep of a bond it was that Liv and Stabler had that ten years and all the pain and anguish between them and they were trying. 

They were trying to build something together from scratch. Something that wasn’t disguised behind a job or a partnership. Something that Liv hadn’t allowed to happen in quite some time.

Amanda Rollins hoped that Elliot Stabler would fight both the angels and demons battling over his soul, for the sake of the Captain. For the sake of her boy, who had taken a liking to the man almost instantly. She was pretty sure Noah loved him in a way that he would’ve had the man been around from day one. The same way her girls loved Dominick. 

“Hey Fin, I have a question.”

“Yeah?”

“Do you think all of her previous relationships were just…” Amanda motioned in a circle with her hand, unsure of how to put it into words what she was thinking. 

“Temporary placeholders and cheap knock-offs? Yeah.” He looked around the room, filling up with people. “I have to go find Sergeant Bell. Also wanna find Liv…You good?”

“Yeah, I’m good. Just gonna rest my eyes a bit.”

Sergeant Ayanna Bell

Ayanna was pacing. 

This was bad. This was really, really, REALLY bad. 

This whole night had gone from bad to worse. 

They were going to have her badge for this shit. It wasn’t even her fault, but they were going to somehow blame her for this.  

Now she was running it over in her mind, how things had gotten so messed up.

She’d heard rumors, prior to accepting the post of Commanding Officer in control of the Organized Crime Control Bureau; rumors about a man who was looking to return to New York after being gone for ten years. 

She’d heard rumors about the man, a good cop, was what they’d said, who had been working in Puglia, Italy.

She’d been handed a file and told not to read too much into the findings. Naturally, Ayanna wasn’t going to believe one damn word inside of the file. Files had a tendency to brush over the bigger pictures, and half the time someone always left something out. She’d been told that the man had left the NYPD abruptly ten years ago, following a shooting that had occurred in the house. She’d been told that the man had been a part of SVU since the early 90s and he had chosen to turn in his paperwork and retire following that shooting. 

Then, someone had dropped the bomb that the man was nothing if not faithful to his partner, and his longest one had been Captain Olivia Benson. She’d been his partner for thirteen years. Ayanna knew Captain Benson. There wasn’t a soul in the NYPD who hadn’t heard of Captain Benson or the things she’d gone through. Not a soul who hadn’t heard about her stellar closure rate, or the attention she garnered on the national scale with the work she was doing trying to get every single state to coordinate with their rape kits. She’d also heard the whispers about how Captain Benson had a partner who had left—and that separation had been almost like a death or divorce. 

Ayanna wasn’t sure how much of that was true, because she’d had multiple run-ins with her through the years and when Captain Benson was just a Lieutenant, Ayanna had been assigned to Olivia as a mentee. 

They’d taught one another a lot of things. It was a mutual relationship that they’d established, one that she was grateful for. 

Then, there was Elliot Stabler. He not only continued to surprise her daily, but he also simultaneously gave her a migraine. Knowing what was in his file, and knowing his former partner, she’d been prepared for a lot of things, but looking back on it all now, in the face of what she’d witnessed earlier—nothing could have prepared for the hurricane that was the dynamic of Benson and Stabler. 

Stabler was a hot damn mess. She’d told him that, several times. 

The first time was when they sat at a restaurant and he’d admitted that he might have PTSD. 

It was amazing that he was willing to admit it to her. He went on to say that his former partner, Captain Benson, had called him out on it. She’d told him that he needed to tell his superior officer, that he needed to get help. Ayanna didn’t want to hear it, but looking at the man, and respecting Captain Benson as much as she did, she knew that if Captain Benson hadn’t reported it to the Brass that there was a reason. So, she gave Olivia the benefit of the doubt and decided to by extension, ignore what was in the folder and give him the benefit of the doubt. 

She wasn’t sure, in the beginning, whether or not he was the type of man who felt like he had to be in charge. She’d called him out on it on a road trip. About how it must be uncomfortable for him to not be in the driver’s seat, how he was shifting his butt around, checking the mirrors. How she thought he probably wished he had a brake pedal on his side. He’d made it a point to tell her that he doesn’t need to be in charge, that she was the boss, but they were partners. They want the same thing. 

Justice. 

She’d tested the waters. Demographics, she’d called them. Asking him what boxes she checked. He’d pegged it, a hole in one. Female, black, gay. How he crossed lines, but if she did, it would be the end of her career. He seemed to understand where she was coming from. They’d reached an agreement. Her career depended upon their partnership. 

Izak Bekher told them it wasn’t Richard Wheatley who had ordered the hit on Kathy, it was Angela Wheatley, and then, Elliot realized he’d locked lips with the woman who was identified as being responsible for his wife’s murder. Ayanna realized just how much of a hot damn mess he was. He’d confided in her, as they sat in his apartment one night after a PTSD flare-up that he’d been making a lot of mistakes. 

That fool offered her Triscuits and water, and as they sat there at his table she asked him what was going on. He’d started telling her the stupid things he’d done and she laughed at his self-deprecation and told him right then that he was a hot damn mess, not for the first time. He kept saying he was making mistakes, that he was confused. But he had to get it off his chest because—there were a lot.

Mistakes he didn’t want to interfere with their taskforce or her career or his life, or his—whatever it was—he had with Olivia. Not Captain Benson, he’d explained, but Olivia. Captain Benson, he explained, was a professional. She would do what she needed to do to work jointly with them, pushing her personal feelings or opinions to the side. He looked resigned as he continued to admit to Ayanna the next part, that it was his friendship that he’d tanked with Olivia when he left. 

He’d explained more than she ever wanted to know about their dynamic, the Hurricane that was Benson-Stabler. Said he felt like it was necessary for her to understand so she knew where he was coming from, so that she trusted him, so that she knew what kind of a mess he was trying to sort out inside his own mind. 

She began to realize why telling him that he needed to find someone else to move on probably wasn’t a smart idea. The conversation kept playing over and over in the back of her mind. There was just something about their dynamic that she couldn’t put her finger on. 

He’d gone undercover. She’d told him only his immediate family could be contacted, but what she hadn’t been counting on was the amount of calls she’d received from Captain Benson in that time. 

She learned that Elliot had ghosted the Captain. For three months. 

Their bickering at the back of the room was like trying to reign in kindergarteners irritable after not having a nap and waiting for lunch—they were ridiculous, the two of them. Yet, it had given her something to think about, watching how they tip-toed around one another. How they had this dance that just worked. How when someone neglected to give her the respect she was due by using her title, Stabler had corrected them gently, by specifying she was a Captain and she was the boss. 

Much like he’d told her all those months ago that she was his Sergeant and she was the boss. 

His respect for their positions was endearing, admirable. 

He’d gotten drugged, and made his way somehow as Benson had said when she called Ayanna, to her place. Ayanna wasn’t going to ask her how he knew where she lived, because she honestly didn’t want to know, but Ayanna had to come get him and toss him on her couch in the middle of the night. 

Grown-ass men should have friends that they could turn to when they needed them in the middle of the night, friends who weren’t single mothers or NYPD Captains that could end their months of undercover work. 

Denise had pointed out that he was a grown-ass man and should have friends. What Ayanna hadn’t been able to explain to her wife was that Elliot had gone to the only friend he’d had ten years ago. The man didn’t have many friends who weren’t cops or former partners. 

No, the only friend she’s seen him have is Captain Benson.

He was still confused as all hell. Confiding in her that he’d slept with Flutura Briscu, and Ayanna had picked up on the fact that Captain Benson had seemed innately aware of this fact. Without even him saying anything about it, she’d picked up on it. It was surreal. 

Then…he’d had some problems with his son and Benson had been there the entire time. Riding shotgun with him, going in search of the boy. She had her own life, her own son, her own squad to run, and she’d dropped it all for Stabler’s youngest child. Ayanna didn’t understand. 

She was pacing with her hands clasped behind her head in front of the large windows overlooking the city when she stopped abruptly. 

The reflection in the glass was enough to break her out of the reverie of the last few months. Away from the partnership she’d been building. She could stand Stabler better than she ever could stand Brewster…but the figure in the reflection? Ayanna had a feeling she was responsible for the best parts of the man who was currently fighting for his life. 

Standing there, in a pair of fresh scrubs, with wet hair was the woman who normally hid behind large blazers and dark clothes. A woman who currently looked skinned raw down to the very core of who she was. A woman who had screamed into the night because the anguish was too much. 

Ayanna swallowed. 

How the hell was she supposed to face this woman? She managed to miss it, somehow. 

The fondness between Stabler and Benson, the connection they shared. The hurt and anguish that wove and twisted through their shared histories all the way up until time froze this evening. Until her hands had been covered in blood and she’d been working on keeping him alive, for the woman who seemed to need no man. No man except the one on the wet pavement. 

She understood, the moment the Captain yelled into the night her truth that she’d been in vehement denial of for the last twenty-something years. 

Everything made sense. The woman’s breathing was somehow deep and shallow at the same time, Ayanna noted, watching her chest rise and fall. Olivia’s jaw was set, clenching and unclenching with every other breath. The woman walked forward and stood right next to Ayanna. 

That’s when it happened. She turned her head to look into the woman’s eyes. What she saw almost took her out. 

“I don’t blame you,” Olivia spoke, her voice cracking, as though it was the first time she’d spoken since screaming on the street. “I really just need you to understand that.”

“Thank you.” 

Olivia shook her head, “I just – I don’t think I can…” She closed her eyes, chin dropping down to her chest. “Ayanna, if—if...”

“Don’t. He’s going to be fine.” Ayanna placed her hand on Olivia’s arm, whether she was trying to reassure herself or Benson more, she didn’t know. “He’s a fighter, he’ll make it. He’s going to be just fine.” They stood next to one another, Benson with her hands in the pockets of the scrubs and Ayanna with her hand on the arm of the fierce Captain. “Besides, if he heard you–he’s got something to hang on for.”

Olivia just turned slightly and inhaled a long breath. “I hope so.” 

“His family—”

“They know. Maureen called after–after she helped me get cleaned up, and they’re on their way.” She looked down at the ground, at the pair of shoes she was wearing. “I figure it’s better if I stay out of the way. I’ll just–it’s not my place.”

The silence was the loudest it had ever been in that moment. 

Ayanna wasn’t sure there was much more she could say. Nothing would ever be good enough, nothing except for– “Seriously? That’s the best you got?” 

“What?”

“Not your place?” Ayanna repeats, almost offended at the choice of words the Captain had chosen, “You can’t be serious right now. Look, I’m going to speak to you as Ayanna talking to Olivia, and not Sergeant Bell speaking to Captain Benson. Olivia, I mean this with the utmost respect…I really do, but what you admitted out there this evening? That means you have a place.”

“Do I? How do I know?” It’s then that Ayanna realizes it. Olivia is insecure. For all the bravado that Captain Benson displays, Olivia Benson, the woman, is insecure. Frightened. Why wouldn’t she be? According to Stabler, he just disappeared and couldn’t speak to her. He’d not gone too deep into the specifics, but Ayanna can read between the lines. 

“Because he calls you when things go south. He relies on your opinion. He listens to you when you talk to him. He wants to include you in family things – that man, whatever idiotic, misguided dumbassery he gets up to – he loves you. He is just an idiot when it comes to expressing it. I think he’s scared; I think you’re scared. I think the both of you are just scared shitless…that if you pursue anything bigger than what you both know, that if it goes a little wonky that you’d be left with nothing.” Ayanna purses her lips for a moment, squeezing Benson’s arm, “I think you both need to be a little braver and just take a chance. I don’t think he knew what to do with it all, his feelings. He says things at inopportune moments, and he tries. He didn’t listen to me when I told him to find someone else to move on. That–the ignoring me to stay away from you, tells me all I need to know about his feelings.”

“You–what?” Olivia’s face suddenly morphs, and Ayanna thinks that this is better than the blank expression she’d seen earlier in the evening. 

“In my defense, it was before I knew about—” she motions in a circle with her hand, “all of this and the depth of your feelings and his feelings for you. To think you don’t have a place in his family? That’s self-sabotage on your behalf.”

“She’s right,” a voice comes from behind them and when she lifts her eyes to look in the glass she sees Fin. “And your feelings aren’t exactly a secret anymore, Cap. Look, I came in search of the Sarge, but I wanted to tell you that they moved the family to the more private waiting room, you know the one.”

Olivia nodded, quietly turning on her heel and making her way to the quiet waiting room, the one where she’d waited on news about her Sergeant a couple of years ago. As she moved through the halls, numbly, she remembered last Friday night. 

Friday, February 4th 

“C’mon, Liv.” Elliot held the spoon with the smooth hazelnut gelato on it up for her to take a bite. “Hazelnut is delicious. Just…try this flavor.” She glared at him as she moved forward and wrapped her lips around the end of the spoon, allowing the silky dessert to slide down her throat. She must’ve gotten some on the side of her lip because before she knew what had happened, Elliot’s finger ghosted over the corner of her lip. “Well?” he asked, his voice failing him miserably, she felt her breath hitch. 

Their proximity was mind-numbing. There was no other way to explain it. There’d always been that delightful buzzing in her brain when he was around, and she’d never been able to dissect it–not until recently. Since before Christmas, when they’d decided to call this thing between them a friendship she’d felt funny about that title. Felt funny about the whole damn thing, honestly. 

“It’s really good, Elliot.” She watches as his shoulders fall slightly and her features soften. She reaches out and rests her hand against his arm, he looks up and they make eye contact. She feels that magnetic pull towards the man, and an overwhelming sense of duty to clarify something she feels has been in the background of their evening, it had originally been meant for the four of them to hang out; but Noah had surprised Olivia by telling her that he and Jesse had planned a movie night slumber party at Rollins’ place and Eli bounced citing his friend, Jessica, had invited him to the movies with her and her little brother and sister. Leaving the evening just to Elliot and Olivia. 

“You know, I–you mean a lot to me, Elliot. I’m just not ready to move past this–thing we have.”

“I know,” he answers quietly. “I just–it’s hard for me, Olivia. I mean, I’ve told you how I feel about you but you haven’t done anything to warrant my word vomit.”

Olivia’s smile is almost shy-looking, as she tucks her hair behind her ear. “I like your word vomit, Stabler. It’s just…you needed to learn to be by yourself for a while, El.” She tilts her head, a small smile playing on her lips. “I’m sorry I can’t blurt out those words like you do. But you have to know.”

He lets a small smile play on his lips for a second before reaching out and stroking her cheek with his thumb, his palm resting against her jaw. “I do. One day, whenever you’re ready, Liv. Whenever you’re ready. And when you do say those words back–because we both know it’ll happen eventually–I’ll be in heaven. For right now, you’re my best friend. I just…I wish I was yours.”

Olivia Benson
February 10 th  

She feels the bile rising from the pit of her stomach at the last four words they’d truly spoken to one another outside of work the last few weeks. 

“I’ll be in heaven.”

She needs a bathroom, fast. Luckily, she knew her way around this hospital, having been here enough times throughout the years. She pushes the bathroom door open and falls to her knees, emptying the contents of her already empty stomach. Bile. She closes her eyes and throws her head back, putting her hands over her mouth as she wants to scream. This night–it has been nothing short of hell for her. 

She remembers the moment it happened. 

The moment that she’d fallen to her knees, hands searching for the wound that was expelling his precious life-force out of his body. She looks at her hands, now devoid of the blood. Even though it was no longer on there, she could swear it’s seeped into her skin and stained it. 

Maureen had helped her clean off the rocks and debris that had dug into her palms when she’d steered her into the staff shower area. Bless that woman. His daughter. She’d just known to come looking for Olivia, and she wasn’t sure how she really felt about it. That she’d been so patient with her, while she was still in shock. That she’d helped her out of her bloody clothes, trying to give her the most privacy that could be afforded, and leaving the stack of scrubs just outside of the shower. The extra socks and the pair of shoes. 

Maureen didn’t know what Olivia had admitted out loud to the universe. She’d just somehow known what the woman would need, her father’s former partner, the Captain. His friend. 

She tilted her head back and rest it against the cold metal of the stall. She had to get herself under control. She was going to make her way to the waiting room, the one where she’d face his children. His family. Ayanna had convinced her that maybe she did have a place in that room. As much as she kept telling herself that she didn’t. 

This was hell. 

Thinking about him, in the Operating Room, fighting for his life. She couldn’t take it if he didn’t make it. How the hell had this happened?

Odafin Tutuola

Fin was terrified this evening. Terrified that if Stabler didn’t pull through, Liv was going to be completely lost. She was already lost. 

The history between Benson and Stabler had been one rife with ups and downs, push and pulls a ten-year pause on their dynamic. Fin knew nothing had happened with them when they were partners, near the end of their time working together, everyone swore that they’d acted even more like a married couple than years prior. It’d been something, all those years ago–watching the magic that was them. 

They worked beautifully together, Liv and Elliot. Yet, for every beautiful confession they’d been able to get, they also fought fiercely, disagreeing about the facts in a case. They understood one another in ways that no one else seemed to be able to do. 

They’d separated a few times, Liv going to work with the Feds, Elliot getting assigned a temporary new partner–Fin hadn’t been Beck’s biggest fan, and knew if Liv were around, she would’ve probably stuffed the woman in a garbage can somewhere. Liv asking for a new partner and being transferred out of the Unit, and even then, Stabler had sought her out, convinced her that she belonged in the Unit by working a case with her. 

They were inseparable. 

There were times when Fin believed that Benson and Stabler probably should’ve been split up permanently. They made a lot of mistakes. They were too close but they were highly effective and the pros outweighed the cons. 

They only fought because of how much they loved one another. 

Despite their denial of this fact, everyone saw it – you’d have to be blind as a bat to miss it. They protected one another fiercely – oftentimes lying to cover for each other. They’d tested Cragen’s patience and sobriety. 

When Elliot left, Liv had been broken. A shell of her former self. Fin had wanted to find the bastard and slug him. 

He thought about what he’d heard on the street, how finally she’d done it. Finally, she’d allowed herself to utter those words that everyone had been waiting on.

The Scene

Olivia Benson rushed for the man as soon as the all-clear was given and the suspect had been eliminated. Immediately, her hands found the wound and she pressed, his Sergeant falling down and pressing her hands to the wound, replacing Benson’s. 

The team moved in as someone called for the Ambulance. It was then that his hand had come to rest on her cheek as tears ran down her face, his palm resting against her warm skin. The rain wasn’t enough to wash away his blood from her face, but his handprint was there as he looked up at her, struggling to breathe, trying to say something but she was the one who shook her head and spoke. 

“Just…” she held her hand over his, choking back on her sobs. “Stay. Do you hear me?” He nodded, eyes locked on hers as he groaned. Ayanna was shouting instructions over her shoulder and the Ambulance was two minutes out. “Please don’t make me say those three stupid words, Elliot.” She plead, and Fin and Amanda stood behind her, looking down at the way she had her attention solely on him. “You stubborn sonofabitch. Do you hear me?” The strangled sound she made was somewhere deep within her chest, her soul. 

“Elliot, do you hear me, this is Ayanna, stay awake. Listen to Captain Benson.” Bell was trying to keep him alert while applying pressure to his wound, her other hand on his pulse. “Keep the blood pumping.”

“This isn’t how the story ends, Elliot,” Olivia bit out, her hand smacking the side of his face, as his eyes began to flutter. “Do you hear me? Goddamnit, Elliot, I never thought I’d love you this much.” She winced. “You made me say those three words, you bastard. I fucking love you. Do you hear me? I love you. I’ve always loved you. You can’t leave now. Elliot!” She smacked his cheek as his hand began to slide down her face. “Fight. Stay with me. I’ve always loved you. It’s always been you. You and Me, El. Stay for me. You promised me you weren’t going to leave again. Fight!”

The EMTs arrived at that time, and that’s when she lost it. No one had said a single word–not after hearing her tell the man she loved him, ignoring the fact that everyone had heard it. 

ICU ROOM 409

The machines beeped as she held onto his hand, his lips were pale–but he was alive. The doctors had said that they’d been able to fix most of the damage but the next twenty-four hours were crucial. She’d wanted to go home to Noah, but knew she was too much of a mess. Elizabeth and Kathleen volunteered to go to her place and keep him company so she could stay with their father at the hospital; they’d told her that she belonged there, next to him, holding his hand. 

They’d heard whispers from other people what had been said. 

They were okay with it all. Kathleen had been the one to give her a hug and pull her off to the side, telling her that, “You’re allowed to fall apart, Olivia. Even if it’s just a little bit when everyone else leaves. No one is going to think you’re weak for it.”

She followed the young woman’s advice, after seeing Elliot hooked up to all the machines. 

As Olivia held his hand, she stroked it, placed a small kiss on his knuckles. “You know, when you first got back and we held that intervention for you–you looked into my eyes and you said those three damn words—and I–I wasn’t sure how to take it at the time.” She swallowed. “Because you always walked away–you always choose someone else–like I wasn’t good enough. I–I tried to hate you. But–I can’t. I’ve been avoiding the inevitable heartbreak. That’s why I said friendship for now. I figured that if I could just avoid falling in love with you again, I’d save myself a whole hell of a lot of heartbreak when you left me again. But Elliot, you really have to wake up. You really have to come back to me.” She shakes her head. “I would’ve waited an eternity, El. If I knew that you were what I was going to get at the end of it all. But you were never mine. But that damn letter–and you told me in a parallel universe–I just want you to come back because this is our place. This is our time. Come back. I love you.”

Come back, I love you. Come back, I love you. Come back. I. Love. You. 

She must have drifted off, whispering those five words. 

There was something tickling the side of her face and when she raised her head, she was surprised to be looking into his blue eyes. Made even more striking by the dark circles underneath his eyes. Her breath caught in her throat as his fingers danced over the skin on her cheek. A tear fell from the corner of her eye and his finger swiped at it. A small, drugged, sleepy smirk tugged at the corner of his lips. 

“We should do this again,” he whispered, his voice hoarse and the oxygen mask muffling it, but she’d still heard it, loud and clear. She let out a small laugh as she shook her head. 

“Are you being serious right now?”

“Tell me again, Liv.”

“What?” She was going to play stupid now, Elliot knew. But he also swore he knew he’d heard her say it multiple times. 

“What you admitted in front of everyone.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Elliot shot her a look from the side of his eyes. A smile played on her lips as she looked up to see the doctor and nurse standing in the doorway, sanitizing their hands. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.” He just smiled at her, squeezing her hand tighter. “I’m gonna kiss you, eventually, Benson.”

“I’m going to hold you to that, Stabler.”

Yes, Olivia Benson had admitted out loud for the first time in twenty-three, almost twenty-four years that she loved Elliot Stabler in front of not only her squad but his as well–in the middle of the street on a rainy night in February.  

Time pressed forward.