Taunting him was a dangerous game, but she was fed up with sitting around waiting for Lewis to decide what to do with her. “There’s a lot of talk, but not a lot of action.”
“It’s coming,” he promised.
She took a breath and swallowed down the terror that threatened to choke her. “I wonder if you’re not man enough to get it up for a real woman.”
She’d steeled herself for his reaction, but his fury threw electricity into the air of the room and in seconds he was moving. “Let’s get to the action.” Her goal had been to distract him, and she had her chance. This was it. Her hands grasped the cold metal above her head. If she was lucky, (which she doubted she would be… look at what had happened in the last four days) one hit would render him unconscious. At the very least she could disorient him long enough to grab the gun. For the cleaning lady, for her little girl, for the hell he had inflicted on Olivia, she threw her weight into wrenching the bar free from the headboard.
It didn’t budge.
The adrenaline racing through her blood stopped instantly, ice taking its place as her stomach dropped through to the floor. Before she could think or recover, get her knees up to try to kick Lewis back and try for another attempt, his weight was on her. It wasn’t the first time she’d felt his chest slide against hers, his hands pawing at her body. It was, though, the first time he had pinned her legs down, the first time his breathing was heavy in her ear and his jaw was set in a determined line.
Her brain caught up to what was happening, and her fight response triggered. Her legs thrashed against him and she wrenched at the bar that was supposed to be her salvation, but she’d lost the element of surprise she’d been counting on.
A bloodcurdling scream filled the room and she looked to the door, expecting to see the cleaning lady or the little girl, but there was no one. When she felt the rawness in her throat, she realized the scream had come from her.
Lewis's taunt from earlier came to her mind. “Thinking about someone you’re never gonna see again? Someone who you would give anything to see just one more time.”
She knew it was an exercise in futility to call for him , but she couldn’t stop it. She’d choked back his name for two years, glared at anyone when they spoke it in front of her. There was no way he could hear her in this beach house that was beyond even God’s reach. She called for him anyway.
Rafael Barba sat in a quiet vigil over Olivia’s sleeping form. The entire squad planned on taking turns at her side, no one wanting to leave her alone for very long, and he had volunteered to take the first shift. The others had been awake for over 36 hours searching for her, and they all desperately needed sleep.
The shadows under her closed eyes were stark against her sallow skin. The corner of a white bandage peeked out from below the neckline of her hospital gown, covering one of the many burns he knew she had. Beyond those, she had a concussion, cracked ribs, and a broken wrist. The doctors were also concerned that she didn’t seem to have had food or water in days. That paired with the sleeping-pill-pain killer-alcohol cocktail she’d been given meant she was staying at least one night for observation. She hadn’t put up a fight on that front, and it was just another confirmation that she was far, far from okay, and wouldn’t be close to it again any time soon.
She hadn’t let anyone in the room while the doctor had performed the rape kit (and he wanted to retch at the thought of it even being necessary). Olivia was adamant that she hadn’t been raped, just that the threat was there. Barba had worked with her enough, had prosecuted enough sexual assault cases to know there was something she was holding back. Something she wasn’t telling them about what had happened in that beach house. He doubted she would tell the squad. He doubted she would ever tell anyone at all.
He was pouring over statements from the various witnesses to Lewis’s four-day rampage: his lawyer-turned-girlfriend, Mrs. Mayer, the clerk at the hardware store. Each piece needed to snap together perfectly for him to win. Lewis was in another hospital’s ICU, unfortunately still taking in oxygen. If that continued, there would inevitably be a trial, and Barba was going to make damn sure Lewis remained a guest of the state until the day he died.
From the bed, he heard Liv’s breathing became shallow and labored, and he looked up from his notes to see a crease had formed between her brows. She whimpered softly, mumbling something that might have been “no”, or could just as easily have been a simple noise of despair. Either way, he recognized the nightmare. He sat up straighter and leaned closer to her.
Her head thrashed to the side and another breathy cry passed her cracked lips. He thought it sounded like “help,” and it cracked Barba’s heart clean in two.
“You’re safe, Liv, it’s over. Wake up, come on.” The last thing he wanted to do was grab her, but her breathing was coming faster and the beeping of the heart monitor indicated her pulse was rapidly increasing. She whimpered again, the same sound, and he caved. As gently as possible, Barba wrapped his fingers around her wrist and shook it, calling her name again with more force than before.
Olivia jerked awake, her eyes frantically scanning the room before settling on his. Recognition settled across her face as her breathing slowed. Her head fell back against the pillow.
“Nightmare?” he asked, even though he already knew.
Liv nodded. “Did I…” she trailed off. She wet her lips with her tongue and cleared her throat. “Did I say anything while I was asleep? A name or… or anything else?”
Her wide eyes were pleading, mortified of the answer.
Barba shook his head. “Nothing that I was able to understand,” he answered honestly.
She exhaled deeply, looking relieved.
He wasn’t sure why, but her question unsettled him. “Why, Liv? Did you think you said someone’s name? Did you say anything in the dream?”
“Just curious,” she said to the ceiling.
Barba looked at her questioningly. “Is there someone you want us to call?” In the months since they’d met, he felt he had gotten pretty good at reading Olivia Benson. The set of her shoulders indicated she was fortifying the wall she’d built long before he ever met her. The flare of her nostrils said that soon her eyes would grow shiny with tears.
“Nobody that would take the call.”
Surely anyone she cared about this much would drop what they were doing and come back for her. How someone could resist the gravity of this woman was beyond him. In just seven months he was already acutely aware that he would do anything for her. He opened his mouth to protest.
“Just drop it. Please. They’re gone and not coming back.”
The finality in her tone was enough for him to desist.
“Can I be alone for a bit?” she asked. “I’ve been surrounded by people all day and could use some space to just breathe.”
Barba nodded and pushed himself from the chair. He gathered his things and intended to leave her be, but he couldn’t resist one final touch to her arm, softly at the elbow, just to convince himself that she was alive and in one piece… for the most part. “If you need any of us, all you have to do is call.”
She muttered her thanks and gave him a tight smile. As he turned to close the door behind him, he glanced back at her. She was staring at the ceiling again. A single tear tracked its way down her bruised cheek.
The door closed with a soft click, but he didn’t let go of the handle. His mind raced as he tried to figure out what to do. He would do anything to ease the suffering Liv was enduring. He felt like the answer was just within reach but she didn’t want to reach out and grasp it.
Barba jumped at the sound of Captain Cragen’s voice over his shoulder. SVU’s commanding officer stood with Fin at his side, both with mutual looks of concern. He nodded hesitantly. “Yeah. Yeah she’s resting, I’m just thinking.”
“About how you’d like to wring Lewis’s neck?” Fin didn’t make any effort to disguise the deep, all-consuming hatred he felt toward the man in question.
Barba gave him a wry look. “I didn’t hear that. And no, it was something Liv said just now. She woke up from a nightmare and the first thing she asked was if she had said someone’s name.”
“Did she?” Cragen asked.
“She was saying something, but she was mumbling so I couldn’t quite make anything out.” Barba hesitated and weighed the choices in front of him. On one hand, he wanted to honor Liv’s desire to be left alone in regard to whoever she was thinking about. Clearly their absence was a deep, lingering wound and she had put in a glorious effort hiding how much it affected her still. The mask had cracked and he’d seen the tender vulnerability she wanted so desperately to hide. Exposing it further felt like an invasion of privacy. On the other hand, the two men in front of him knew her better. Maybe they knew this person, or how she would react if they reappeared. If they believed it was better to drop the subject, he trusted that the conversation would remain between the three of them. “But, I asked if there was someone she wanted us to call and she didn’t give me a straight answer.”
“What does that mean?” Fin asked.
“She said ‘nobody that would take the call.’ She seemed pretty upset and asked me to leave. I didn’t want to upset her more so I let it go,” Barba explained.
Fin and Cragen shared a look between the two of them. Cragen took a breath and turned back to Barba. “When she was mumbling, what could you make out?”
“It sounded like… ‘help?’ Or maybe ‘hell?’ Honestly, it just sounded like she was saying the letter L over and over.”
Fin shifted his stance and tilted his head at Cragen expectantly. Cragen, for his part, ignored his detective’s expectant stare that was boring a hole in the side of his head. He stood with his hands in his pockets and fixed his eyes on the floor, as if he watched it long enough he would have the answer to whatever riddle he was puzzling out.
After a minute, he nodded in Fin’s direction.
“Find him,” he said softly. Fin took off down the hallway. “Take John with you, I don’t need anyone showing up with a broken nose!” Cragen called over his shoulder. The detective raised his hand in acknowledgement and kept his pace.
Barba stood with a furrowed brow at Fin’s retreating back before turning back to Cragen, one eyebrow raised questioningly.
“Elliot Stabler, Liv’s old partner. She called him El,” he explained.
“They were close?”
Cragen let out a humorless chuckle and nodded. “Oh yeah. They worked together for thirteen years. If I’d had any hair when they were paired together, the stress of what those two put me through would have made it fall out. They were both stubborn, reckless, with a flagrant disregard for protocol, and probably the best pair of detectives I’ve ever seen. He retired after a shooting at the precinct. IAB cleared him, but he couldn’t forgive himself. He hasn’t spoken to her since that day, two years ago.” He shook his head, his eyes falling on Liv’s door. “Losing him gutted her.”
And it made sense. Liv was so guarded, and he had heard about how slow she’d been to trust Rollins and Amaro. They’d both been with SVU for around two years. If she’d just lost her partner, someone that she’d trusted implicitly for more than a decade, it would make sense that she wouldn’t want two newbies turning up, taking his love. It amazed him that let anyone new in at all.
“You think she’d want to see him after all that?” Barba asked. Liv had put herself back together after that abandonment. It was possible she would still be holding onto some resentment. She’d probably shove Stabler away even if he did come back.
“You asked her if she wanted anyone when she was thinking about him. Did she say anything else?”
Barba shook his head. “Mostly just what I said, ‘not anyone that would take the call’ and then when I tried to ask if she was sure, she said to drop it and that he wasn’t coming back.”
“Sounds to me like she’s afraid that she’ll ask him to come and he’ll refuse,” Cragen sighed.
“And if he does show up? What if she gives him a black eye and tells him to go to hell?”
A flicker of a smile crossed the captain’s face. “That’s about what he deserves. I’d rather give her the option to do that, rather than make the choice for her, though.”
Fin rushed from the hospital as quickly as he could. As he reached his parked car, he pulled out his phone to call Munch. His old partner picked up on the second ring.
“Hey, everything okay?” he asked as a greeting, concern lacing his tone.
Fin cut to the point. “We’re tracking Stabler down, Cragen’s orders.”
A weighted silence hung on the line. “Does Liv know?”
“No, and we’re not telling her we’re looking either. I’ll fill you in later, right now just met me at their house in Queens.” he hung up unceremoniously and tossed the phone into the passenger seat.
The drive from the Staten Island hospital to Queens gave Fin plenty of time to ruminate on everything he wanted to say to Elliot when they found him. Part of him wanted to scream at the man for not showing up on his own. The news coverage on Liv’s disappearance had been wall to wall for the last two days, there was no way he hadn’t seen it. He also knew that if Stabler had walked into the precinct, bull headed and self righteous, and demanded to know what was being done to find her, Fin would have dragged him out by the collar and thrown him into the street himself.
Fin had watched the two of them for eleven years. He’d seen how Liv gave Elliot so many parts of herself without expecting anything in return. He’d seen the clearly defined boundaries that shaped their relationship and how she spread herself thin to fill the corners. He’d seen how, once those boundaries were taken away, she’d been left floundering, trying to hold the shape she once did without anything keeping her steady. He’d watched her grieve when she succumbed to the knowledge that she would never be that version of herself again, and she would have to forge another.
Maybe it was a good thing Cragen sent a chaperone.
He pulled up to the Stabler house to find Munch waiting for him on the sidewalk. “Mail’s been checked, and I saw the car so someone must be around,” he nodded in the direction of the house.
They walked in tandem up the sidewalk. Fin thought it somewhat ironic- two police officers showing up to deliver news to a loved one. That’s what Stabler used to be at least. Munch knocked on the door, but they were met with silence on the other side.
“More radio silence. You think he knows it’s us?” Munch quipped.
Fin rolled his eyes and raised his fist to pound on the door. “Elliot, open the door,” he yelled.
“You keep that racket up and I’ll call the police!”
The two men looked over to see an older woman, probably in her late 70s standing on the porch next door.
“No need for that ma’am, we’re already here,” Munch called, and they both showed her their badges. She relaxed then, and crossed her arms over the kittens printed on her sweater. They stepped off the Stabler’s porch and approached hers. “Maybe you can help us, Miss?”
Her tone changed immediately. “Oh, you’re too kind, officer. What’s going on? Are they in trouble?” she asked, almost gleefully. Fin fought to keep his expression neutral.
“We’re looking for an old colleague of ours, Elliot Stabler. He and Kathy still live here, right?” Munch asked. Batty old ladies were more his area of expertise.
The lady gave a hmph of derision. “Kathy does. They divorced, oh about eight months ago. Should have happened a while ago if you ask me but,” she tsked, “what can you do? I tried to talk to her but she would always say “Edith, I gotta try for my kids.’ When he retired she was so happy for a while but he was so gloomy. Not that he was all that pleasant before, but he just brought her down, you know?”
Munch glanced over his shoulder at Fin before turning back to Edith. “You wouldn’t happen to have a good number for him, would you? The one we have is disconnected.”
She scoffed. “Oh no, he was never fond of me. Thought I was too nosy, but really, when they were yelling so loud half the block could hear them? It’s not my fault. And really, I was just looking out for Kathy and their youngest.” Fin watched a thought flit across her face. “Is she alright?”
Her concern sounded hollow, considering she’d just been broadcasting the downfall of her neighbor’s marriage to complete strangers. “No ma’am, nothing like that. It’s more of a personal reason we need to talk to him,” Fin said.
“What about Kathy?” Munch asked. “Do you have a number for her?”
Edith’s eyes brightened. “Oh yes, she left one. She and the kids went to Florida for a couple weeks to see her parents. The year they’ve all had, they deserve a chance to get away. Now, she appreciates having a watchful eye on their house while they’re out of town, always so sweet. She seems much happier these days. Losing 170 pounds will do that for you, though.” She chuckled at her own joke.
“The number?” Fin asked, raising his eyebrow.
“Right. Just a second, I have it on a note on the fridge,” she said and shuffled back inside.
“Divorced, huh,” Munch hummed after the screen door shut.
Fin glanced over at him. “Not our business. Not why we’re here. Liv, remember?”
Edith re-emerged from her house with a small piece of paper in her grasp. “There you are officers. Do you need anything else?” she asked, passing the paper to Munch.
Fin eyed the paper she handed them, the number written with a purple pen on stationary (more damn kittens), already adding it into his contact list.
“You’ve been very helpful, Edith. We are in your debt,” Munch smiled.
Edith went back inside with a grin. Probably calling her friend Gladys or something two blocks over and tell her all about how the police had been banging on her neighbor’s door , Fin thought. They walked back to Fin’s car, wanting as much distance between them and curious ears as possible.
Once they were far enough away, Fin dialed the number and put the phone on speaker. When the ringing went on, he briefly acknowledged that it was approaching 9 pm and felt a prick of apprehension that nobody would pick up.
The woman’s voice on the other end of the phone came through harried, as if she’d rushed to pick up before it went to voicemail.
“Kathy? It’s Fin and John from SVU,” Fin explained.
“Oh,” she exclaimed softly, “hi. It’s been, well it’s been a while.”
“Your neighbor Edith told us that a lot’s happened recently,” Munch chimed in, his light tone bringing levity to the awkward conversation.
“That woman, why am I not surprised,” Kathy grumbled.
Munch chuckled. Evidently Kathy wasn’t as appreciative of her neighbor’s hovering as Edith would like to believe. “I know under the circumstances it feels weird to ask, but we’re trying to track down Elliot. Do you have his number, or an address?”
“Why can’t Olivia give it to you?” Kathy asked, indignantly.
Munch’s eyebrows shot up as he met Fin’s eyes. “None of us have spoken to him in two years, Kathy. Not since he left the department.”
The silence that followed hung like lead. Fin tapped the screen to check that Kathy hadn’t hung up, but the call time kept counting up.
“He was telling the truth the whole time,” she finally said, more a whisper to herself than anything else. She inhaled deeply and spoke up. “I can give you his new number, but he won’t be able to see it for a while. He works private security now, and he’s in Europe for a couple weeks.”
Fin didn’t want to wait weeks. He may not be the guy’s biggest fan, but if Stabler was able to help Liv get through the hell she was going through, he’d keep his mouth shut for the most part.
Munch seemed to be of the same line of thinking. “You have to have an emergency number though, right? What if something happened to one of the kids, how would you get in touch with him?”
“I mean I do but, it’s really only supposed to be for emergencies,” Kathy said hesitantly.
Fin had enough. “Please, Kathy, we understand we’re asking a lot of you. Edith said you’re out of town so you haven’t seen the news. Liv is hurt. A psychopath kidnapped her and spent four days torturing her and she’s a mess right now. We think Elliot could help.”
“She asked for him?” Kathy’s voice wavered.
“She doesn’t feel like she can, so we’re doing it for her. I get you’ve probably resented her for a while and we’re not asking you to just let all that go. Right now, she’s a victim. She’s a person in need, and you have the ability to help her, just a little,” Fin pleaded. He wanted to add that if she made them wait for Elliot to return, he’d probably be livid at her for keeping him away longer than necessary, but decided against it. Emotional manipulation didn’t seem like the best way to get through to her.
They waited, and then-
Munch hurriedly scribbled the number on the back of the paper Edith had given them. “Thank you. Thank you, Kathy,” he said, sincerity seeping through every word.
“Tell her we’ll be praying for her,” she said simply, and then the screen showed the call ended.
Munch shrugged. “I’m pleasantly surprised that wasn’t worse.”
Fin rolled his eyes and typed in the new number from Kathy.
An ocean away, a phone rang.