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hell was the journey

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The morning sun peeked through the blinds across Olivia’s face and she fought as it pulled her toward consciousness. If she lingered just below waking, she could convince herself it had all been real, not a fever dream conjured by alcohol, sleep deprivation, and loneliness.

Her head rose, fell, and she blinked awake to find that her pillow was Elliot’s bare chest. One of his arms was wrapped around her shoulders hugging her tight against him, the other raised over his head. Every now and then a breath would catch in the back of his throat and he’d snore, just a little, and she filed that away to hold onto for when she needed to tease him about something. 

The warmth of his bare skin against hers was cloying, tempted her to go back to sleep or at least wake him up again so they could while away the morning wrapped up in each other. After that first time, they’d woken up in the middle of the night and she’d taken him inside her again, straddling his waist and reveling in the way it felt to be so connected to him. He’d watched her move above him like a penitent at the altar, like she was something holy and miraculous. It had never felt like that before, not with anyone. They hadn’t bothered to redress after that, and it would be so easy to wake him up with her hands or her mouth, but she couldn’t. Not today.

Extricating herself from him felt like removing one of her limbs and the air of her bedroom was icy in comparison to the cocoon of sheets that she’d left behind. 

“Come back to bed,” Elliot grumbled. He turned on his side, toward the dip in the mattress she’d just vacated.

“I can’t, El. We have an internet sting operation today and I’ve been prepping for it for weeks. I can’t be late,” Olivia said, disappointed. She leaned across her bed to kiss him and only realized her mistake after he’d tugged her down by her waist, her surprised gasp turning into a laugh as he rolled her underneath him. 

“Isn’t Murphy still in charge? Let him handle it,” Elliot said. It was a good idea, made even more convincing by the kisses he trailed along her collarbone and up the side of her neck.

“This started before Murphy, and he’s having me take point on it.” Elliot’s lips slanted over hers, his hand cupped her cheek, and this was going to be one of those days she hated her job. “I gotta get up and take a shower,” she sighed. 

Elliot sighed and pulled back, tugging on her hand for her to sit up. “I could take a shower with you. Save water, help the environment,” he offered, even as he started picking up his clothes from where they’d scattered across her floor. 

“Something tells me that helping the environment isn’t what you have in mind,” she grinned.

“Yeah, yeah. Go get ready without me,” Elliot said lightly.

Once in the bathroom she turned the shower on to let it warm up and took stock of her appearance while she waited. Her hair was mussed and tangled in a couple places from Elliot’s fingers carding through it. A tinge of red colored her cheeks and kiss-swollen lips seemed to be fixed in a permanent smile. 

She noticed something on her neck, a smudge or a shadow, and her eyes widened when she realized it wasn’t going away. 

“Elliot Joseph Stabler!” she called. 

His heavy footsteps announced his arrival. “Full name, huh.”

She rounded on him in disbelief and he leaned against the doorway to the bathroom, fully dressed with shoes and everything, looking at her expectantly. 

“What the hell is this?” she gestured at her neck, at the mark he’d left behind on her. It was small and not too dark, she could probably hide it with makeup and her hair, but still. 

Elliot had the audacity to grin. “What does it look like?”

“It looks like you gave me a hickey the day I have a major operation to facilitate,” she deadpanned.

He eyed it with faux sincerity, tilted her head to the side with his fingers light on her jaw. The brush of his jeans against the sensitive skin of her bare thighs reminded her of how vulnerable she was at the moment- naked, in her bathroom with no means to escape, and Elliot’s hand close to her neck- but she found that it didn’t terrify her the way it probably should have. 

“It could be worse,” Elliot hummed, oblivious to the thoughts running through her mind. His eyes flickered back to hers with a mischievous glint. “Hey, I have a meeting with David this afternoon. You can give me one, even things out.

Olivia rolled her eyes. “Yeah, so it can be even more obvious that you got laid,” she scoffed. 

More obvious?”

“Yeah. You’ve got this…” she gestured vaguely with her hand around his face, his chest, “glow.”

“Would you like me to not glow?” Elliot asked, jokingly, but with a serious note at the end. 

Olivia inhaled deeply. This was the hard part- trying to find balance between the two of them, the compromise, the serious conversations about what they were and where they wanted to go. It had never worked out for her before, had been the downfall of every single relationship, and she dreaded the idea of it being the end of this one.

None of those others had been Elliot, though. Maybe that was the trouble all along. 

“I want you to talk to Kathy and the kids first, before we get too far in,” she said. 


“I know how close you are with David, and I know he’ll probably figure out that something is up but it would just make me feel better if your family was told about it first,” she said in a rush. 

“Hey,” Elliot said softly, his hand catching hers. “It’s not a problem. I promise.”

Olivia sighed, relieved that it had been that easy. She didn’t expect Kathy or any of the kids to be angry at her or hold any resentment, but she needed the air clear, needed them to all know that she wasn’t trying to sneak in like a thief in the night and steal Elliot away from them. 

“Thank you,” she sighed.

Elliot brushed his thumb over her cheek one more time. “Coffee is started, should be ready when you get done.” He leaned in and kissed her cheek. “Go save the world. Be safe, call me when you can.”

“I will,” she promised.

After he left, before she got in the shower, she took another look at the mark on her neck, traced her fingers over it, and decided that it really could have been worse. And having proof of them on her skin wasn’t the worst idea.

Most days Olivia believed in the overall good of the justice system. Most days she believed in due process and the rights of individuals. When a victim didn’t get the justice they deserved, it rankled her, dug under her skin like a stubborn splinter that she couldn’t grab, but she knew healing was still possible. She’d seen it, lived it, and she would go forward with the knowledge that in time, the universe would right itself. 

This was not one of those days. 

What good was the justice system when it only worked after the fact? Hell, what was the point of the whole damn NYPD if they could only swoop in after someone had become a victim? Why did she even do this damn job if she couldn’t prevent someone from becoming a victim in the first place?

Night was closing in fast and she should go back to her apartment. Another hearing for Baby Boy Doe had shown up on the court docket for the following morning and she thought to ask about visiting the baby, wherever he was being moved to this time. 

She should go back to her apartment, but she didn’t really want to. 

“Hey, Liv,” Elliot answered the phone softly with a smile in his voice. 

“Hey. I know it’s late but can I come see you?” she asked hesitantly. Their relationship being more was so new, she didn’t really know where the lines were, didn’t know if dropping in unannounced was okay, if unexpected late night calls were allowed or if she needed to text first or only if Eli wasn’t over that night. 

“Of course. Wanna come to my place? I’ve got Eli.”

“Even better,” she said. That boy, that precious little boy that Olivia loved so much. Seeing him, being able to hold him, it might knit back together the frayed ends of her nerves after seeing those pictures Simon Wilkes had created. 

The cold concrete of his front stoop wore through her pants to bite at the skin of her thighs. It reminded her of a different time, a different stoop, when she thought there might be a chance to have back then what she had now. A smile tugged at her lips when she thought of it. 

Gravel crunched under tires when Elliot’s car pulled up to the curb and her smile grew. Her two favorite people in the world. 

“He’s exhausted,” Elliot said, nodding to the back of the car when he emerged from the driver’s side. 

And he wasn’t lying. Eli had managed to extricate himself from his car seat and wander toward the door but he was unsteady on his feet, his eyes barely cracked open.

“Wiv,” he mumbled, a happy, surprised sound that went straight to her heart, and he swayed into her arms without hesitation.

“I can get him, Liv,” Elliot offered, but she shook her head. 

“No, let me. Please,” she said, and hoisted Eli up. His arms hung loosely over her shoulders and he hummed softly when he cuddled further into her neck. 

Elliot’s eyes narrowed in concern, and something in her tone must have alerted him this was more than a casual visit. All he did for the moment though was gently press his hand against the small of her back and close the car door, for which she was grateful. Any heavy conversation could wait until Eli was safely tucked in.

She insisted on carrying him, but he was still getting heavy. Not so much that she couldn’t hold him, but enough that she was glad Elliot’s building had an elevator. There was no way she would be able to make it to the fourth floor without running the risk of dropping Eli. The doors slid shut behind them and Elliot leaned around her to press the button for his floor. 

The quiet that closed around them was a solace. Elliot stood behind her and with his hands on her arms encouraged her to rest her weight against his chest. Her eyes fluttered closed when he pressed a kiss to the back of her head. She was surrounded, Eli in front of her and Elliot behind, and the peace and warmth they provided was incomparable. It was broken too soon when the doors slid open, but the trek down the hall was short and they were in Elliot’s apartment soon enough. 

“Does he need to brush his teeth?” she gestured to Eli who hadn’t stirred since the car.

Elliot shook his head. “Nah, one night won’t hurt, and he can barely stand up. Just take his shoes off and lay him down.”

In Eli’s room, she stepped over scattered toys and was grateful for her shoes to protect from stray Legos. He inhaled sharply when she laid him down and Olivia briefly saw confusion in his eyes when he opened them with a pout, but he settled easily on his back when she ran a soothing hand over his cheek. She tugged off his shoes, brought his stuffed dragon from the foot of his bed next to his cheek, and flipped on the nightlight next to his head. 

She needed to let him rest, but she also needed just another moment to sit and watch him. All the years she’d sent Elliot home to his kids after a hard day, she’d longed to be able to do the same. The innocence of a child, of this child, reminded her why she did a job that sometimes felt like she was fighting a wildfire with a water gun. She hoped Elliot and Kathy wouldn’t mind if she borrowed Eli every now and then, just in case she needed it. 

After a minute or two she stood and kissed Eli’s forehead, stole one more look from the door, and softly shut it behind her. 

She met Elliot in the kitchen where he was waiting for her. “Want me to make you some tea, or does this call for something stronger?” he asked. 

Rather than answering, Olivia silently crossed to where he stood and wrapped her arms around his waist. She sighed into the crook of his neck and burrowed as close to him as possible.

Elliot’s arms came around her. “That kinda case, huh?” 

She nodded. One of Elliot’s hands kneaded at the base of her skull, his cheek pressed against her temple, and it was everything she wanted. He didn’t say anything. Just waited for her to talk if she wanted to while he swayed with her, soothed her. 

“This guy built a soundproof torture chamber in his basement and talks in online chat rooms about wanting to torture and kill a little boy,” she mumbled, and Elliot sighed deeply. “But he hasn’t kidnapped or harmed anyone. Just takes pictures at the playground across the street from his house and photoshops tortured kids into that chamber.”

“And you can’t do anything because technically none of it is illegal,” Elliot said, sounding just as defeated as she felt. 

“We just have to wait for a kid to go missing. Or hope he doesn’t buy one from Central America or something.” Wilkes had been all too prepared with that idea and it scared her.

“I’m sorry, Liv.” Elliot pulled away just slightly, enough that he could look in her eyes, his fingers running lightly up and down her arms. “I’m glad to see you though. I missed you.”

She smiled, rolled her eyes. “It’s been like three days.”


“We’ve talked every day for the last week.”

“Not the same and you know it,” Elliot grumbled.

“Yeah, you’re right,” Olivia admitted. His eyebrows shot up in surprise and before he could make some comment about how “she’s never said that to him before” or whatever, she leaned in and kissed him. “I missed you too,” she said when she pulled back.

Elliot didn’t let her get away for very long before he kissed her again. His thumb traced over her cheekbone, his lips soft against hers, and again she wondered when this had become her life- to trade kisses in the kitchen with the man she loved, his son in the other room, content simply to be with him and secure in the knowledge that he wanted her too. The words formed on her tongue and she thought that this seemed like a good moment to say them.

“Have you talked to Kathy and the kids?” she asked instead, internally shaking her head at herself. 

“Kathy and the older four, yes. They were… unsurprised to say the least,” he chuckled, and Olivia wasn’t sure if she wanted to know what Kathleen had said, because out of all of them she was the most likely to have prompted that reaction from her father. “Only kid left to tell is Eli. If you stay we can tell him together tomorrow morning.”

It was a tempting offer, but she wondered if it was too soon. If Eli wasn’t over, or if he was older, she wouldn’t hesitate as much. Still, the thought of waking up next to Elliot again warmed her from the inside out.

“I didn’t bring anything to sleep in,” she said. 

“Who said anything about you sleeping in clothes,” Elliot teased. When he kissed her it was deeper, more heated than the others and it sent a wave of heat straight to her belly. 

“I don’t have anything for tomorrow either,” she said between kisses.

“Change at the precinct, I know you have clean clothes there,” he suggested. 

Olivia shook her head. “There’s a court hearing tomorrow for Baby Boy Doe. Plus I don’t want anyone to see me in the same clothes two days in a row, they’ll know something is up.”

She wasn’t entirely unconvinced Fin hadn’t sussed it out already; she’d left work, grumpy, after he told her to talk to Elliot, and come back the next day no longer snapping at anyone that breathed in her direction. That glow she’d pointed out in Elliot about must have been contagious.

“Would that be a bad thing?” Elliot asked cautiously, dropping their banter. 

“It wouldn’t be bad,” she said. 

He hesitated, his thumbs tapping against her hips. “Are you worried? About me, that I’ll change my mind, or… you changing your mind?”

Her chest ached at his uncertainty, at the fear he was trying so hard to conceal. Elliot had spent months proving that he wasn’t going anywhere, had promised her over and over again that one night they’d been able to spend wrapped up in each other, all with no guarantee from her that she wouldn’t walk away from him .

“No,” she said seriously, her hands coming up to frame his face. His eyes closed at the touch and he turned his head to kiss the palm of her hand. “It’s nothing like that, El, I just… My squad has seen so much of me in the last year. Crime scene photos, PTSD, the trial. They’ve read the reports from my rape kit for God’s sake. You know how much I don’t like being vulnerable and I haven’t had much choice recently.” She wrapped her arms fully around his neck and pressed herself against him as close as possible. “I’ll tell them. Soon. I just want you, this, to stay here for a little while longer,” she promised.

Elliot nudged her nose with his. “Not too much longer though, okay?”

“Nah, I won’t keep you a secret for too long. Waited long enough to have you,” she said and rested her forehead against his.

Olivia hoped he understood what she was saying, since evidently her tongue didn’t want to form the words properly. She’d wanted him for so long, carried that torch in secret through every storm, and now that the sky was clear, she refused to hide it much longer. One of her hands rested against the back of his neck, her fingers tracing lightly over the base of his skull almost the same way he’d done for her earlier.

“Stay,” he whispered, all teasing gone. 

“What about Eli?” she asked. It only felt right to check in about the child that would be in the next room.

“Liv, if I only ever had sex while there were no kids at my house, I’d have one kid,” he said, the lightness back, and she chuckled. “Or you can just stay here to sleep and I’ll keep my hands to myself,” he offered.

Olivia decided that she’d tormented him, both of them enough, and her hands slid down his chest to his belt to tug his hips closer to hers. She kissed him with promise, a heated slide of her tongue against his when he groaned against her mouth.

“I’m stealing some of your clothes to change into after,” she said. Eli probably wouldn’t question much, but if he woke up from a nightmare and she was naked in his father’s bed she would probably die of mortification. “And I’m leaving early enough in the morning to go home and change.”

Elliot smiled and stooped to easily pick her up and her legs wrapped around his waist.

“Works for me.