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come home with me

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The call came at 10:47PM. 

Olivia was just about to have the perfect— rare— night to herself, full of soft fabrics, teeth-achingly sweet food, and the nicest wine she had on her at the moment. These nights were few and far in between, Captain duties and a bubbly eight-year-old did not really allow for the serenity of an entire night of self care. But after a day of dealing with McGrath’s wrath, and a forever observant Sergeant (and friend), Fin gave her the gift of peaceful quietness on this Thursday night. She whispered a thank you to her number two, who brushed it off, telling her if she really wanted to thank him she’ll approve that weekend off for him and Phoebe.

And so the festivities began as soon as her door was slammed, locked, and the bra unclasped. 

Step one, soft fabrics. Leggings, sweater— no, baggy t-shirt. She’s pretty sure it might be Cassidy’s, but it looks a little larger, a little longer, and perhaps is a leftover from the now expired, once-a-month visits from Edgar. Who cares whose it was, it’s on her right now and the rumble in her stomach reminds her that lunch was nonexistent today, instead trampled by a wonderful meeting with the boss who ended every meeting asking about his “tone.”

“Better?”

What am I your mother? is what she wanted to say. Instead, she settled for a tight, closed-mouth smile and a nod. 

She needed food in her now. Hungry and impatient, she shuffles through Noah’s essentials, when she remembers she’s a grown woman and the incredible advancements of the human race make food available from the touch of a few buttons on her phone and it can arrive at her door in under an hour. 

Screw meal prepping. Not tonight. She can cook tomorrow. Scrolling through the app, everything looks good (why wait until she was this hungry, it was impossible now), but she is reminded of what she really wants right now. 47 minute delivery. Perfect.

Treating herself to carbs, she places an order for a very expensive pasta dish from the very authentic Italian restaurant Elliot had recommended (well, more like asked her to) and readies the bottle of wine calling to her, taking a second to spoon the secret stash of pecan ice cream into her mouth, humming softly. 

“Mmm,” she moans. 

It’s not even that it tastes good— which it does, oh it does so much— but more so there is no child pleading for his own bite, only to end up claiming another thing of hers. Super secret ice cream is so much better. 

And it pairs just fine with the wine that she almost skipped the glass for, but manages to stop herself, grabbing the largest glass she can to bring it over to the living room and place it (along with the bottle) on the coffee table. Ice cream carton, wine bottle, wine glass (now very full), and a giant dish of pasta heading her way thanks to Jason and his five stars. She was all ready to go. 

It’s too cheesy for just music, although she has half a mind to strip down and drift off in her tub until her fingertips are painfully wrinkly. Let the warm water hug her like a blanket, the aromas of cucumber cleansers and eucalyptus something to soothe her forever aching body. But she settles for TV, absentmindedly scrolling through Netflix, then Hulu, then Disney Plus (Olivia, don’t you dare, not on your night), then back to Netflix where she settles on an Iliza Shlesinger comedy special she’s stopped and started about 11 times. 

When her eyes beg to close she forces them back open, not letting her give this night of self care up to the unconscious lull of sleep. The wine may be soothing, and the ice cream (that has been long put away) so sweet— it isn’t until the doorman calls to ask permission that she realizes the saving grace of tonight is about to be at her doorstep. 

Jason with five stars looks 23 max, but the food is still warm as she unravels it from the many bags it is placed in (c’mon New York, why so much plastic?) and she cannot get it open and in her mouth fast enough. 

And Elliot was right. It is to die for. 

She has half a mind to call or text him, let him know how right he is and thank him for the recommendation. But she hesitates at the keyboard, remembering he is out working and does not need to be bothered by her right now. She’ll put a pin in it, come back to it later, and thank him properly another time.

Locking her phone, she heads back to her throne of choice this evening, taking another large bite before washing it down with an equally heavy sip of wine.

But the night was going far too well and even though she was going to ride it as long as she could, she knew at any second it could be interrupted, forcing the sacred bliss to evaporate. That was her normal, and these long periods of silence always turned into panicked phone calls. These nights were so, so scarce. 

But inevitably it comes. And honestly, she’s surprised at how late it comes, how long she had to enjoy herself. 

And even more off-guard when it’s not someone from her squad on the other line.

Belly full, wine put away, she’s deep into her couch cushions when the buzzing of her phone startled her, the vibrations tight against her hip. She lets out the sigh she had been waiting to, sliding her phone unlocked, voice smooth from relaxation, but a faint twinge of bitterness mixed in at the night’s conclusion. “Benson.”

“Captain?”

Ayanna? She pulls the phone away from her ear to double check, and, sure enough, the Sergeant is on the other end. She sits up with urgency. “Sergeant Bell. Is everything okay?”

There’s a slight pause and it’s just enough time for Olivia’s subconscious to draw up countless fictional scenarios to make her heart race— and he is the lead in all of them. 

“I know it’s your night off and I’m very sorry, but a situation has come up and I was wondering if you would be willing to help. Again.”

And that “situation” has her redressed— bra back on— keys in her hand, and out the door in 4 minutes. 

Ayanna remains on the line through it all, listening as she’s hopping into her car, propping up her phone to focus on it and the road— driving out of her parking lot and towards the location Jet has sent her. She’s keeping calm, although her throat feels far too dry, and she wishes she chugged some water before leaving. “And you’re sure this is the right address?”

“Yes,” Jet reassures. “We lost contact with him before he entered.”

“We think they’re stepping up the precautions, making sure no more conversations are being recorded,” Ayanna sounds level-headed (as always), although she is all too aware of how dangerous tonight can get. 

Olivia huffs as she hits another red light and quickly glances over at the screen to recheck her estimated time of arrival, realizing that the window of opportunity grows tighter and tighter with every stop she has to make. No lights or siren though, not unless she absolutely needs to

“Captain?” Jet’s voice breaks through her trances, and she answers quickly, eyes still flickering back and forth between the road and the directions. “When you get close, park on Grant Street, it’s behind the bar so you’ll have to walk around it, but it’s out of view and will keep you hidden.”

“Copy.”

“We won’t have eyes or ears on you while you’re inside—"

“Sergeant, don’t worry. I will be fine.” 

She says it mostly for her and not the younger woman, as it’s been a little bit since she’s had to face the adrenaline of an undercover stunt, and especially when the character she’s playing happens to be herself. Recusing Elliot from a shady job? She’s done it plenty of times, but recusing Elliot from a gang of dirty officers while sporting a Captain’s title was daunting. But he’s trapped inside, probably drinking away, unaware about a looming hit on him (and their group), with the aim to take them out one by one. His team is working to try and stop it from happening at all, but Ayanna’s call was much more than a courtesy. She believed she could stop the hit, but if anything happened she could risk…

Elliot had to get out of there, out of the thin blue line brigade, and out of harm's way. 

And Olivia wasn’t too sure how she was going to do it herself, either. Again that whole Captain thing is really screwing her over with this one. Walking into that bar could be a death trap for herself if she wasn’t careful, and Ayanna had gently reminded her of that. 

But it was different, her and Elliot, they were a dream team. 

Were. The decade-long separation could have trampled that bond, that rhythm. Maybe they weren’t as in-sync as they used to be. 

She has no time to question that, not when she parks exactly where Jet says to, saying her final goodbyes to the team, leaving her phone behind as she steps out into the night. It’s past 11 now, and yet the bar is lit up, patrons inside. She needs a gameplan. And she’s got about 30 feets to finalize it. 

One she reaches the door, she figures it out. The clock begins. 

He doesn’t see her walk in. Doesn’t see her bite her lip and head towards the bar, eyes on the bottles behind it, fluffing her hair to create some movement. Grab his attention. She feels eyes, but not his yet. 

“Oh boy.”

“What?”

“Trouble— 10 o’clock.”

Then it comes. She feels his gaze now. It’s intense against her skin and she knows he is questioning why she is here right now. 

“Captain Benson? Why is she here?”

“Hey, Stabler, wasn’t she your—"

“Partner, yeah.”

The conversation is far too muffled for her to hear it, but she sees mouths moving, patiently waiting for a sign to move onto the next step. 18 minutes. Elliot, your move. 

“Didn’t she rip you a new one at 1PP a while ago?”

Laughter ensues. 

“Yeah, yeah,” Elliot shuts it down. His mind is wandering, knows no one can reach him. And if she’s here…

“We had to work with SVU for a case,” Stanwood chimes in. “That bitch is wound too tight.”

Elliot’s hand curls into a hidden fist under the table, glancing at his old-partner-now-friend once more, and takes a swig of beer. 

She looks over again. Not yet, Olivia. 

“Yeah, well,” he exhales a heavy sigh and lifts his arms, locking his hands together behind his head. “I’ve…been working her,” It comes out too easily and he feels gross saying it. Doesn’t like that he has to do this right now. Doesn’t like that the woman he lov— likes, very much likes— is now an object of their conversation. It feels slimy. Why is she here?

“Oh, yeah? Working her how?”

He shrugs smugly, and smirks before guiding the bottle back to his lips. “I want my suspension lifted, and she’s…well, she’s a Captain. One hand washes the other, right?”

A hand is slapped on his back and the guys roar with a disgusting display of brotherhood. 

Now, Liv. 

He gives his cue, nodding up at the brown-eyed beauty who shuffles over to their table, drink nowhere to be found, despite her long time waiting at the bar.

“Captain. To what do I owe the pleasure?” He’s got that cocky look that she usually shuts down with an eye roll, but this Olivia Benson can’t do that tonight. No, this one is biting her lip, a light blush creeping up. This Olivia eyes up the crowded table quickly, waiting for that Elliot who slides his chair back slightly, legs spread like he owned the room. 

“I…”

Frank cuts in, “Don’t be shy, Captain. We’re all friends here.” His wink makes her almost shiver, knowing now what this man has dragged her Elliot through. She would give anything to tear him apart right now, put herself between him and Elliot, let him know what the badge they don is really for. But she can’t. Right now she just needs Elliot out of here, so she smiles shyly once more.

Elliot takes the hint, diving deeper into the role. He slams his bottle down with a slight thud, standing up slowly—possessively, eyeing her up like she was his. She can’t tell if she’s just really, really good at acting or if his brash display of masculinity is actually causing her to react this way. 

13 minutes, Olivia. Focus. 

Shaking out the buzz of adrenaline, she steps forward almost into him, one hand reaching out to palm his lower abs before grabbing the soft fabric of his henley, fisting it in her grip. She can see him swallow, but pushes onward with the act. “Frank, so sorry,” she turns her head to smile at the older man again. “Do you mind if I borrow him?”

He chuckles at the same time that Elliot’s hand wraps around her, landing just above her ass— so he does understand the assignment. “Not at all.” 

And with that permission, she tugs her friend forward, forcing his grasp on her to drop as she heads back towards the front of the bar– still plainly in view, but tucked away deep enough for none of them to hear. She maneuvers him so that his back hits the wall of the bar, and a soft grunt is exhaled by him from the impact. 

11 minutes. 

“Liv?”

She pushes into him now, face coming closer and closer, breath hot against his skin. Leaning up, her mouth moves to land next to his ear, and Elliot inhales sharply. Her voice is almost inaudible, but he hears every breathy word that escapes her lips. “Hit in 10 minutes, couldn’t contact you.” And then her feet are back on the ground, hands both rubbing at his chest, face donning a flirty expression. But he can read her eyes. 

He lifts a hand up, entangling one of hers in his and drags it to his mouth to give it a gentle peck. Eyes glued to her, he whispers back, “I can’t just leave.”

Her free hand glides up to his jaw, anchoring her fingers against his throat, freeing her thumb to sweep across his cheek. “I know.” It’s heavy and tense, but he looks at her, then down to where their bodies connect and she realizes she really doesn’t want to lose him. Not that she ever has— always has panicked at him in danger, all his injuries, from the smallest cut to the more serious wounds— she was there, panicking alongside his wife. But that wife was no longer here. There was no more guilt to feel over her worrying, and by the looks he has been giving her (also the countless verbal invitations for dinner, lunch, or even just a drive home) let her know that he is ready for her whenever she is. 

“Do you trust me?” She asks it as her expression shifts again, and those dark brown eyes pull his blue in so deeply. 

“Always.”

And that’s all she needs to hear. 

Fisting his shirt once more, she slams her mouth aggressively into his, letting her hands roam everywhere, encouraging him to do the same. Thankfully, he doesn’t need any more cues, immediately wrapping his arms back around her waist and running his hands up and down her back. It becomes borderline pornographic, the way their tongues start to converge— it’s wet and hot and Olivia is getting a little too distracted. Tiny whimpers and soft moans combine with the sound of them— well, making out. It would be such a great kiss (it still is) but he turns them and slams her against the wall he was previously glued to. She grunts into his mouth when she feels the brick on her back and he pulls away with a wet smack, moving his hand (from very close to her breast) up to wipe away some of the wetness from her bottom lip with his thumb. 

He smirks that damn smirk again and leans back in, using the other hand to tilt her head just enough to expose more of her neck for him. “How long?” he mumbles into the skin between open-mouthed kisses. 

It’s an overwhelming sensation on her extremely sensitive skin and her physiological reactions really aren’t helping her stay on track. “We gotta go,” it’s let out in a breathy whisper and she grabs his face in both her hands to give him a final kiss. Except this one is much softer and too real. “Now.”

He pulls away, nodding and licking his lips. “I’ll grab my coat. You stay here.” It stern, his voice low, and she gives him a nod of assurance, heart pounding from the limited time they had left. And perhaps a little from their graphic display of affection. 

Elliot walks with purpose— internally to avoid a potential massacre, but externally it just looks like he’s on a mission. And that mission happens to be at the front door. 

“You dog,” Parnell says. 

“She’s an easy target, what can I say?” He's back in character (forgive me, Olivia), snagging his coat from the back of the chair and gesturing towards this Elliot’s partner in crime. “You mind if I—"

“Go seal the deal,” Frank laughs. “We want details.”

Elliot fakes another laugh, waving goodbye before he’s practically running back towards Olivia and out the door. “Where’d you park?”

“Over here, c’mon,” she grabs his hand tightly and they walk briskly away from the bar, heads down, hands both clammy as they get closer and closer to her car. He hops in, but takes his time, making sure she’s inside safely first. It’s mere moments before the engine is on and they are speeding away, but Elliot stays on alert, glances all around, craning his body to check around the street. If she gets hit, he doesn’t know what he would do.

Olivia's heartbeat begins to level, relieved they are out. He’s here. Reaching her hand out to squeeze his, she can almost see the panic still freshly coursing through him. “We’re okay, Elliot,” she hopes it’s the truth, but says it with all the confidence she can right now. And he holds her there for a moment, not wanting to let go. 

She realizes this was the hand that had his lips on it tonight.

“Thank you, Liv. But—”

“Ayanna called. Which reminds me…” she quickly taps the Sergeant’s number on her phone, letting her know that she had him and they were at a safe distance. She doesn’t ask for details on how it was done, but Olivia is sure people at 1PP will spread whispers of their little show they had. Tonight, she is letting it go. He’s here, alive. That’s all that matters.

“Elliot, Eli and Bernie are at Maureen’s. Figured we be as precautious as possible.”

“Thank you, Ayanna,” he says, and the rest of the call is a slight debriefing, ending with a ‘see you tomorrow’ and ‘great work, Detective.” 

When the phone is hung up, there is a slight silence and Olivia breaks it. “Eli doesn’t know, Ayanna —”

“That was our first kiss.” 

She jerks her head to look at him, his eyes glancing outside the window. “What?

He turns, and he’s holding back a smile— they just potentially escaped death and he’s sitting here enjoying every minute of it. His tongue glides over his bottom lip, cocking his head slightly (smug bastard), “That was the first time we’ve ever kissed.”

She can’t look at him, not when he does that face anymore. It’s first appearance in December made her fumble over her words like a middle schooler being asked to homecoming, and she had to focus on the road now. “Elliot—”

He concedes, always acutely aware of her slight rejections from the tone of her voice and a simple exhale of his name. But he’s still Elliot, so he lets out a little chuckle, lightly laced with a dash of cockieness as he pretends to be interested in something outside again. “Sorry, just…wasn’t expecting that.”

She huffs, “I had to get you out of there.”

“Hmm, felt like it was maybe more than that.”

“Elliot, I’m not doing this with you right now.”

“I’m just saying, do friends kiss like that?” he prods. 

“I was trying to make sure you didn’t die tonight. My apologies.”

“No, no, it’s fine. Totally fine. We are still just friends,” he sighs. Then pesters, “Just friends who’ve kissed now.”

“Please shut up.”

“Copy that, Cap.”

And then it’s silent in the car that she is driving, but not quite sure where to. It’s quite funny how two grown adults do not say a word, but are both reminiscing on the same thing. Their minds transported back to where the other’s hands explored their bodies as the kisses got hungrier and hungrier. She’s thinking about his tongue on her pulse point, while he’s holding back a toothy grin remembering her hand tracing over his abs. Makes the gym worth it. 

He can’t help it, Olivia Benson kissed him tonight, and for the first time in the 20 plus years of knowing her, he finally knows what her lips taste like. “You know, people are going to talk now—”

“Oh my god, I’m not doing this,” she sighs, knuckles almost white with how hard she’s gripping the wheel. Maybe there were other ways to get Elliot out of there, to get him back to safety without dismantling the sanctity of their precious (slow placing) friendship. I mean, she knew he was ready to move forward— the never-ending asks to take her (and sometimes Noah– actually mostly Noah. He wants to meet her kid and she is still keeping him away. Afraid he’s going to abandon you both this time?) out for lunch or dinner. Or just to be able to drop by the precinct. She is insistent on saying no to that one, and is semi-grateful (maybe disappointed) his new undercover assignment wouldn’t allow him too. 

“Where are we going?” He breaks her out of her looping thoughts, voice much more relaxed, losing its slight frat-boy quality. 

She realizes that she’s driving back to Manhattan, subconsciously on her way back to her own apartment. Only this time with a friend. A friend she has just made out with in front of fellow officers. “Well, Noah’s at a sleepover.” 

His mouth opens slightly– oh, she likes making him nervous. 

“And you can’t go back home.”

He nods slowly, swallowing, the gears in his head turning and creaking. Elliot Stabler is nervous. What a rare sight. “Gotcha,” is all he can muster up, and his eyes don’t dare probe her for more, mouth tightly shut. 

And the car is silent once more.

 


 

“I don’t think he likes me.”

“Who?” she asks absentmindedly, fiddling with her keys to unlock her apartment door. Olivia has opened this house with a baby on her hip and several grocery bags on her other arm, why was this such a challenge now?

Elliot eyes her up, “The doorman.”

The key finally slides in, the door pushed open, and she chuckles, “I doubt it.”

“I feel like I owe him something, but Hallmark doesn’t really make a ‘sorry I was drugged’ card, do they?”

Olivia should hate how easily he is entering her home, should hate that he immediately takes off his shoes and jacket, respecting her unspoken routine. It’s like he never left. Always was here, learning her normal. He grabs her coat, he hangs them both up and she realizes she’s staring. They both stare often, usually stopping once they were caught by the other, but right now she is locked on him. And it. It is staring her back. A blushy-nudish-pinkish blotch, remnants of her lipstick, right on his jaw and it has all of her attention right now. 

She really kissed him. And now he’s in her home. 

In a logical sense, when two people makeout in a bar then go home together, it has a very different connotation to the predicament that she and Elliot are in tonight. They were friends, very good friends who have still yet to properly cross that threshold. Go on a date. Catch up and just enjoy each other’s presence. He was under again. She was a Captain and mom. They needed time. 

His eyes are back on her and he flicks his gaze down to her lips (which he’s been doing far too often and really needs to stop it), tilting his head just so. “Hmm?” he hums. 

Olivia shakes her head, brushing him off, clearing her throat— god, her poker face is really out the window right now. “Nothing, just—" she wets her thumb with her tongue, and instinctively sweeps it across the small smudge on his jaw. He tenses under her and she does everything in her power to stop the smile from forming. “Lipstick,” she smirks, displaying her thumb out to him.

And they’re still only at her front door.

He smiles, “Thank you.” 

Their eyes meet again and honestly time could really have slowed down right now, the way she feels bonded to him. Can friends make out? It’s been a bit since she’s been kissed like that. Trevor treated her well. He kissed great but he was much more tentative with her, much more gentle. Almost like he was scared of her. She took charge for the rest of the night, nudging him to just put his hands on her, but he kept trailing them to back the safe-for-work zones. 

Elliot on the other hand— Liv, cool it

She trudges forward through her dreamy fantasies of his lips back on her, escaping the front area and heading into the living room. Space. She needed space. The blanket is still sprawled across the couch, TV surprisingly still brightly lit, and an empty wine glass for one still on the coffee table. 

Elliot follows, taking inventory of the room that once looked like Wonderland, now more of a showroom in Ikea. It’s cute. How neat everything is. Very different from the woman he left before and her lack of design skills. Noticing the lipstick stained glass, pointing it out, “What were you drinking?”

Swiping the empty glass away, she gestures for him to take a seat on the couch as she heads in the kitchen. “Some old red I found. Do you want anything? I have water, about one-third of the wine left, and Caprisun.” 

“Fancy,” he turns to face her, seated on her very comfortable couch, body arched to watch her as she moves about.

She raises her brows slightly, smirking once more, “I know.” And she’s getting him a glass of water, along with one for herself, which she sips as she makes her way back towards him. Handing the glass over, Elliot can’t help but smile when she takes a seat a little closer than usual— her legs curled under her, elbow on the back of the couch, head resting on her hand. 

He’s gripping the water but hasn’t taken a sip.

“What?” she probes. 

And now he’s the one shaking it off, clearing his throat before taking a swig of water to wash down the fumbling declaration that so desperately wants to escape his throat. He manages to keep it down, instead replying, “Nothing.”

She nods, sipping at her own glass, letting the silence overpower the room. 

“How’s Noah—"

“How’s Eli—"

They interrupt each other and both start laughing softly. 

Olivia nudges his knee with her own, “Noah is good.”

“Just good?”

“He’s eight, Elliot. There’s really not much going on.”

He’s smiling still, “You said he dances. How’s that going?”

“Good.” He tosses her a look. “Really good,” she clarifies and he rolls his eyes. She could keep up the charade, keep brushing him off. But he’s here for the night. At her home. The taste of his mouth still fresh on her lips. “He’s got auditions next week, which means pizza for dinner. Either to celebrate or comfort him. I’m hoping it’s not the latter.” 

Finishing off her glass, she reaches forward to place it on the table in front of her, then scooches back on the couch, just slightly closer to him. He notices the distance shorten  between them, placing his own glass neatly next to hers, before slinging his arm across the back of the couch, not touching her, but so, so close. She swallows, repeating, “How’s Eli?”

And he sighs, it’s a sore spot for him. The teenager he promised to be home was rushed to his sister’s again because Elliot is undercover again. Olivia can tell it’s a sensitive subject by the way his eyes glance down, his hand rubbing at his jaw with the hand farthest from her. She lifts her head just enough to let her hand fall down and grasp his forearm, sweeping her thumb across the thin fabric of his henley. 

It gets him to talk. “He’s pissed. And has a right to be.”

Her sweeps don’t stop and his eyes bounce from her comforting hand on him, back to the brown eyes that rip right through his chest. “I’ve been messing up a lot lately,” he confesses, voice soft, sad. 

“I wouldn’t say that. He’s just…he’s a teenager. And he misses you.”

He hates (loves) how her voice is a fix-all for him at this moment— at any moment. He wishes nothing more than to be able to pull her tight to him right now, kiss her with the same ferocity that she did earlier and paint his lips across her olive skin until he’s covered it all. 

“I’ll be home soon. We’re close.”

Olivia tilts her head, “Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“And then what?”

Elliot grins, pausing just long enough to do his usual dance, let his eyes drift down to her lips, then back up to her eyes. “Then I get to take you and Noah to lunch,” it’s bold. But he has to try. 

She fights the eye roll that creeps up, hand still on his, instead whispering, “Okay.”

It catches him off-guard, his grin widening into a full beam as he adjusts on the couch to face her more directly. “Really?” 

Nodding, she gives him a small smile, “Just don’t die before we get there.”

“I won’t.” 

And suddenly she’s much more aware of his arm in her grasp, how tight his muscles feel. How tense. She could help him. Could start massaging the skin with her fingers, rubbing the knots and tracing the veins. So she does. Slowly at first, firmly kneading, letting her nails scratch lightly across the skin before she continues. 

“Liv…” he whispers. 

But she refocuses on her task at hand, tucking her fingers under the fabric, letting it bunch up past his elbow. “You’re tense.” Olivia scoots closer, sliding her hand up to his bicep, digging in with a graceful firmness. Her thumb pushes in deeper, feeling him slightly flex as she continues. 

“Friends give massages?”

“Mhmm,” it comes out quickly, too quickly, but she really doesn’t want him to stop her. Doesn’t want the conversation to pull them out of this— she’ll quickly remember real life, the responsibilities, the job. Her son. Maybe she can stay in character, be the Olivia Benson that could kiss that Elliot Stabler, let her hands travel further. Hold him. Be held by him.

He halts her movements, snagging her hand off his arm, entangling their fingers. “Can we talk?”

She bites her lip, glancing down, “About?”

“Us,” he takes a note from her earlier, brushing his thumb across the soft skin on the back of her hand. “Are we good?”

It’s right to ask—it makes sense. She crossed a line. Maybe two of them. But the adrenaline of tonight, the risk of losing him right when they were so close to…moving forward? Keeping the friendship? Either way, Olivia doesn’t know where they’re headed, what they’re doing, but she needs him. Wants him. As a friend, as a friend who she can kiss

So, she doesn’t stop herself from tugging him forward, grabbing his shirt once more tonight, and kissing him again. Except this time, it’s much softer, slower, passionate. She’s telling him yes. Telling him they’re good— more than good— and that she’s ready. Finally ready. 

But he isn’t reciprocating, just letting her do the work and her heart sinks when she pulls back. 

Her cheeks are flushed, head tucked down. She can’t look at him. Can’t see his eyes rejecting her, telling her that she was reading into all of this so wrong. 

But he doesn’t say that. Instead, he takes a hand to tilt her chin up so he can see her watery eyes, see her swallow down the lump of regret. Swiping across the heated skin of her cheeks, his voice is deep, sultry, “Do you want this?”

Oh. He thinks she’s doing it for him. 

“What? I— yes.”

And it’s all he needs to hear. His arms reach around her waist, locking behind and pulling her fully onto his lap. She gasps at the suddenness, at the shock. But he pauses. Leans in close, giving her a second to feel his mouth hovering, right there. He then does his signature move, eyes on hers, then lips, then back. Asking her once more, telling her there’s no turning back if they meet. 

She makes the connection. 

Although when they meet again, she’s letting him do all the work at first, and he’s giving her hungry, deep kisses, hands keeping her close— as if she was going to run. His tongue parts her mouth, sliding in seamlessly, chasing her own. 

God they were like randy teenagers doing this for the first time. 

It’s all heated between them, literally. They’re both warm and flush, their hands holding each other as if in peril danger. Lips smacking, tongues dancing— tasting. For once in their lives, there’s no thoughts between them. No tension to fight. They both handed in their badges, their history, their unknown, just to stay right here. Kissing. Touching. Embracing. 

And when his kisses start to feel like more, more than a need to be fulfilled, more than I thought you were going to die tonight kisses and make her feel desired. Make her feel that Elliot has thought about this. About her. Olivia lets out little moans that he chases— he likes that, needs more of them — and he glides his hand up her spine, so teasingly slow that it releases a whine from her. His fingers end up locked in her hair, sprawling out and in against her scalp, pulling her as close as she can possibly be to him. 

He’s exactly as gentle, exactly as passionate as she would dream him to be. Not pulling, not shoving, just needing so desperately to hold her—to care for her. He’s giving her relief, letting his hands say thank you while his mouth says you’re mine. 

And that thought ignites a fire in her. Elliot wants her, wants this. All those glances, all the friend drops and invites have led them here. He wants her. And he can have her. She’s in it now, matching his energy, his intensity for her. Hands skate across his chest, over his shoulders. They wrap around his neck, scratching the skin there delicately as his lips part hers and travel down. 

He’s peppering kisses at her jawline, marking her— claiming her. Possessive bastard. 

She loves it. Leans her head back, exposes more of her neck for him, inviting him to just please— right here. He takes the bait, tongue first, licking up the column of her throat, closing in on her pulse point, sucking softly. Then a kiss. Kiss, suck, lick, bite, kiss. She’s going to lose it. 

He’s marking her, leaving traces of himself on her skin, wanting her and everyone else to know that he was here. His teeth, his lips, tongue. And with every tease, her breathing shallows, hands locking him to her. Don’t run, she prays.

“Not going anywhere,” he says through kisses, sweetening his lips, making his way back to hers. The hand in her hair maneuvers her to look at him, see his promise. Feel his vow. Seal it with a kiss.

And with the reassurance, Olivia wants the control. Wants the claim. Wants there to be no more Kathys or Angelas or Fluturas. Only her. His neck was hers, his chest, his abs — those were especially hers. Her kisses are sultry, slow. Increased pressure for a moment, a swirl of her tongue on his collar bone, then hands. Scratch, glide, pet, rub, claw. He’s a dead man. Completely melted into her touch. 

Claimed

Contented sighs, soft growls escape his mouth and the silence around them becomes far too apparent. It feels exhilarating, like they’re breaking rules, hiding out. But the thrill of knowing there’s nothing stopping them—only themselves— has her rolling her hips, chasing a release. A two decade long one.

“Liv,” he breathes, the hot air right on her ear. His hands are anchored on her sides, holding her in place, fighting her grind against his lap. 

She lets out a breathy laugh on his shoulder, smiling against the wet skln. He joins in, hand back to its rightful home, wrapped in her long locks. “Sorry,” she mumbles. She isn’t. 

“Hey, I didn’t mind,” he chuckles, drawing his free fingers up her back, then down, circling, tracing.  

They don’t say anything more, just hold the other to themselves, both scared for the other to leave, to walk away from the moment. Feeling regret, shame. But his doodles on her spine tell her that he’s standing right here and her face— now turned into his neck, nose nuzzled into him, exhales of airy sighs— tell him she’s home. He would hold her like this forever, have the heat of their embrace blanket his body on the way to the grave. There wasn’t a single part of her he was willing to let go of. 

And if she could, she would crawl inside him, entrapped in his armor, the vintage protector he once was, now renewed. There were times when all she wanted was this. Hands on her, the comfort of knowing there was someone who would die for her. Someone who wouldn’t let anything happen to her. And when that wave came up, she would have to stifle it down and out. Focus on the hands that were there. Brian, Ed. The ones who were there. The ones who held her at night, eyes closed, mind envisioning Elliot. 

She didn’t want to wake from this dream. This dream of lazy kisses in her hair, his arms cocooning her to him. 

“You okay?” He breathes into her waves before a soft smooch is placed where the words landed, warming her. 

Olivia nods, muffles a mhmm into him. More than she wants to say, but it stays on the tip of her tongue, trapped. One day the words she’s tucking away, the collection of confessions, of requests, desires, pleas, will be released. Will be heard by him. Swallowed down, filling him with her. But not tonight. Tonight this was enough. 

Self care be damned. His lips relaxed her more than any glass of wine, more than soft fabrics and sweet desserts. More than—

“Romeo and Juliet’s?” 

“Hmm?” she’s still in a dreamy daze, unfocused on the conversation he’s beginning. 

His chest vibrates under her, a playful laugh as he continues, “You liked the pasta?”

Oh. The pamphlet menu. Olivia lifts her head, eyes glancing behind at the table, then locking to his. He’s got that cocky grin plastered once more and she’s back, ready again, hands smoothing their way up to cup his face. She gently kisses his lips, voice flirty, girly— the Olivia from earlier coming back to play.

“Yes.” 

Kiss. 

“I was going to text you but—”

Kiss.  

“I wanted to properly thank you.” 

Kiss.

He groans, smiling against her lips that keep going, “Yeah, this is much better.” 

They both want to continue, no road map or destination in mind, both still dripping with hunger for the other’s lips, skin still damp— wet — from where their tongues landed, where pecks turned into suctioned pulls, where they planted their flags of passion, owning the other. 

And then—

Buzz, buzz. 

Olivia is startled, the sensation hitting her—well, not quite there, but on the bottom of her thigh. Close enough to ignite that desire. 

Elliot wishes he could capture the gasp she exhaled. Wants to say to hell to whoever is on the other end, but she instinctively lifts her hips, giving him access, to crawl off of him and immediately head down the hall. 

The phone keeps buzzing, his eyes follow her, legs desperate to make sure she isn’t running away, but he digs deep into pocket, sliding the phone open quickly.

“What’s up?”

“Dad?”

Eli. Oh, god. “Hey, Eli, I’m sorry—”

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, bud, I’m all good. Nothing happened. I promise.”

“Okay. Okay.”  There’s a brief pause, and Elliot feels his chest ache thinking about his youngest worrying away while he was here making out with her. He should be there for his kids, his mom, not doing this

“Are you home?”

“No, no, they’ll clear the house for us sometime tomorrow. I’m…I’m staying at a friend’s.” It’s the truth, just maybe not all of it. And that friend happens to come back into view, cheeks still rosy from their rendezvous, but hair neatly brushed to fix the tussled mess he had made of it. She hovers, swiping the empty glasses from the counter, smiling at his little omission, and heads to the kitchen. 

“Are you okay? You good at Mo’s?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m good. Grandma is too. We didn’t know what was happening.”

“It was just a scare, but we were being precautious. Try to get some sleep, okay? We’ll get lunch tomorrow. Wherever you want.”

“Okay…I love you, dad.”

Ouch. God, he feels like an ass. “Love you too, Eli. Goodnight.”

He clicks the phone shut, leaning back against the couch, head up to the ceiling, hands wiping down his face. Eli deserved more than lunch. These little apologies here and there. He can almost hear Kathy’s disappointment. 

“Everything okay?” But it isn’t Kathy’s voice though, it’s lower, richer, palpable. Olivia has taken her place on the couch again, this time giving them both room to breathe, but she keeps her body angled towards him. 

He shakes his head, mind racing. Could he go back to before? When the only thoughts were of her. Cataloging the taste of her, her sweet scent, her soft skin. The way her breath felt on his skin, heating it up, before she cooled it down with her tongue, then lips to soothe. There was no worry, no hesitation, just her.  

“Yeah, just—” It’s Olivia, so deflection doesn’t work. He would tell her everything, wants to. “Eli was worried.” She nods, listening intently, her brows furrowed. He wants to kiss her again. Her lips are puffy, and the way she tucks the free strands of hair behind her ear have him desperate to stop talking, use his mouth for something else. But he shouldn’t

“I’m failing him.”

No, you’re not.”

“I told him no more UC. And then, bam. Right back. He lost his mom and I’m supposed to be his father. Be there for him.”

“El,” she whispers, leaning in to rest her hand on his. Like magnets, they can’t stay away. The simple touch grounds him back down, her words trying to soothe him, as always. “It hasn’t been easy for you either. You lost your wife, and didn’t get much closure. It’s okay to not be okay.”

He shakes his head, attempting to rid his brain from its desire for her, to focus on this conversation. But he’s staring at their converged hands, and he realizes he’s doing it right now. “It’s not that it’s—” The words are jammed, struggling to form, desperate to stay inside

They don’t. 

“I didn’t even think about him tonight. Didn’t make him a priority. I wanted to be here. Don’t you think that's selfish?”

“I think you have never been good at taking care of yourself, Elliot. And you’re a provider, but if you don’t have any gas in the tank, you can’t go very far,” she’s looking back at their hands, thumb running across his scuffed knuckles. “You have to make yourself a priority too, you know. Have a solid foundation first, then be the superdad you want to be.”

She smiles, he exhales a breathy laugh. 

“You just want to keep kissing me,” he jokes. But she’s right. He hasn’t had a person to lean on, lost that forty year old pillar, the stability of his wife. And his balance was already weakened when he ran from New York. From her. Now, he’s free-falling. No more wife for consistency, too afraid to put all this pressure on the woman he fled. Other women held it for a bit, but they weren’t her. Never could come close.

“I want you to be happy. And if me kissing you makes you feel at all better, then I guess…” Elliot didn’t expect that left turn to work. But she’s back next to him, leaning forward to kiss him gently. It’s different from all of the other kisses tonight, one that’s mission was to heal him, to make the circling thoughts evaporate. 

It almost works. 

Leaning back, her eyes stay closed for a second, basking in him. When they open, she’s glowing, and Elliot is far too weak for this. “Better?”

His voice is low, “Yes.” 

“Good.”

“Could be better though,” he grumbles, tugging their hands so she’s leaning against his chest, head tilted up, his down. He kisses her this time, a domestic kiss. A simple kiss that begs her for forever, asks her to let him in. It’s a preview of their future together he’s designing in his mind, one where he doesn’t have to choose her or his family. Those worlds will combine spectacularly, her and Noah, seated with his children, everyone cheery, happy. And when they are alone, these kisses will become their normal, their way of communicating, of healing the other, taking care of each other. He can picture it all right there. Her all over his home, waking up to her, with her— it twinges his heart to think of morning coffee on the patio, her sleepy eyes fluttering open and shut as she cradles the coffee he poured her in her palms, wearing his oversized sweatshirt as the morning sun rises around them. 

He hopes this job is over soon. Wants to start at step one. Wants to get lunch with Olivia, officially meet the son he’s so desperate to love. She has every right to hold him back, even after this night of passionate kisses and warm bodies. Because tomorrow he’ll be called by whoever is still alive (if the hit still happened tonight), and she’ll be beckoned off on her own way, putting a pin in this until he can just be present again. 

She adjusts in his arms, tucking herself into his chest, sprawling out her legs to the side. He’s wrapping his arm around her, letting it hang loosely over her waist as she settles into the embrace. They’re just cuddling now, and it brings a peace to the both of them they didn’t even know was achievable. The never ending headache of the job and life numbed them to the throbbing, the ringing in their ears from restlessness. But it’s gone. It’s almost too good to be true. How could such a simple thing repair all of the damage that cascaded, destroying their serenity? 

Olivia thinks of coming home to this. A hard day being erased merely a hug. No longer leaving work to face the stress of being a single mother, the son with so much love to give and not enough of her left to take it all. He would be on the couch, in between them both, dramatically retelling stories from his school day, hopping up to show them both the new routine he learned. She thinks of Elliot carrying him to bed when he falls asleep mid-movie, her right behind, sliding in to give him goodnight kisses before taking Elliot’s hand to the bed of their own. It’s foolish. How just being held takes her mind there, how it’s him— it’s been him— and they’re still miles away from that. 

“I want to be done,” he confesses and she knows his mind wandered to the same universe as her, only to be dragged back to their reality. 

Her cheek is against his chest, ear over his heartbeat, the heavy thumps flooding her ears. She doesn’t know how to respond, only pushes herself closer (as if it was possible to) and hums against him. “Soon.”

He’ll be out soon, and she’ll be ready soon. Maybe not the perfect mirror image of their desires, but a step forward. A lunch here, a kiss there. Phone calls, texts, secret conversations away from colleagues to make the day a little brighter, a little less dreary. He’ll meet Noah, who will want him to never leave, knowing her son far too well. She’ll get to see the kids herself, meet the two responsible for his granddad status, listen to their 5 year old rambles as they fight for her attention. She can take Katie out to the brunch she promised her, help take things off Maureen’s plate, offering to watch the twins, to let her sleep. Noah will get to meet Lizzie, be enthralled by her collection of pointe shoes and demand she take him to her studio to see her move. Dickie will probably stay back at first, but he’ll come around. And Eli…Eli will need time. But on the days where Elliot can’t be there for the boy, she can. Can keep him fed, keep him safe, and love him like her own. 

They just need time. Need to let tonight be a reminder of where they want to be, where they can be if he doesn’t break his promise. That vow they sealed with a kiss. 

His breathing steadies itself, and she realizes just how late it really is. He’s tired, she’s tired, and they both have to go in tomorrow. Although granted she does get to start later than her typical morning shift. And his job is…probably not beckoning an early arrival. They could stay out here a little longer. His gentle caresses across her skin, lulling her, keeping her to him. 

“We should sleep,” she mumbles, eyes now closed, the beating of his heart still loud in her ear. 

“M‘yeah,” he responds, but neither of them budge. They’re both begging for five more minutes to stay wrapped up on this couch, cuddling. But he eventually tilts his head down, places a kiss in her hair (he really likes doing that) and whispers, “You can’t sleep out here, you need your bed.” 

“I like it here.”

He smiles, “I know, but your body won’t in the morning.” 

He’s right. Damn him. 

“Yours won't either,” she nudges, nuzzling into him deeper, planting lazy kisses where her mouth lands. “Stay with me.”

“If you insist,” he laughs sweetly, hands moving down and down, maneuvering her body— look, she’s tired, so yes, she lets him move her floppy limbs around— to straddle him again (careful of her ankle), pulling her arms around his neck. “Hold on.”

“What?” she murmurs, eyes still closed. 

When he stands, she realizes what he meant, and now she’s awake, holding on tight “Elliot!” She gasps, which makes him smile (god, that smile and he’s carrying her to bed…did he really need to just be a friend? Could she hurry this along?) He’s smug, acting like it’s nothing— which, looking at his physique, it probably wasn’t. 

“Right or left?” he asks when they get to the hall.

“Left,” and he keeps going, landing at the door. She reaches back to open it, twisting the handle, and then he’s pushing inside, keeping her in his arms until they hit her bed. And with all the gusto he lifted her with, he could not be more gentle when he lays her down. She’s smart though, keeping her arms locked around his neck— after that move, she wants him on top of her, now. 

“Liv, you can let go.” His eyes don’t dare roam down her body, don’t dare look at her in her bed, attempting to pull him in for more. 

But she doesn’t let go, instead, she pleads, “Kiss me.” 

He groans. It’s too much. He can’t say no to her, can’t deny that he wants to, wants to cross this threshold. It’s too early for anything beyond heated kisses, so he dips his head down, keeping him anchored to the ground as he presses a tentative kiss to her lips. He can feel her relax a little, hands loosening, and he gives her a second, deeper one. 

She’s pulling him along, wanting him to pick up the momentum, dive into her bed and have those lips travel further and further. Pulling back, she tries to keep their lips together, but he breaks them apart with a smack. 

Her eyes are sleepy when his open, hands on his shoulders now, his still by her hips. She smiles up at him, “Thank you.” 

“Don’t,” he whispers, kissing her quickly again. 

Again, she doesn’t want them to part, but she glances down at the two of them. “We can’t sleep in jeans,” she states and he chuckles. 

“Yeah, you’re right.”

“But I appreciated the ride.”

“Oh?” he cocks a brow. 

She grins, “Mhmm.” Kiss. “Now move, I gotta brush my teeth.” He smiles and obliges, drawing his hands up, tucking them behind her back to pull her up. “I got it from here, El,” she laughs and he flops down on the now abandoned mattress. She glances back to see him on her bed and she can’t believe he’s in her bedroom, unbuckling his belt, right there and she’s not the one doing it. 

“Stop staring, Benson.” 

Rolling her eyes, she brushes him off, keeping the bathroom door open and she pulls her hair up into a loose ponytail to begin her routine. 

She can’t stare, but he can. He likes the show he now has a front row seat to, likes to see the woman who used to have an empty fridge, wash her face with water and a wipe, now navigate through neatly organized products, uncapping and unclasping them as she goes along. They are stored back in their perfect place, her face free of makeup he didn’t even realize she was wearing, and the hair tie is tugged free, letting her hair fall back down over her shoulders. It’s a breathtaking sight, her glowing in the bright lights of the bathroom, and he knows she can feel his eyes on her, because she’s shaking her head with a cheesy grin. 

“Eyes shut,” she teases, shutting off the bathroom light and heading back into the bedroom, towards her dresser. He tucks his head down, sneaking a few peaks as she removes the gray t-shirt she shoved on earlier, unclasping the bra she had to regretfully put back on, sighing at its release. Her back is to him, so he’s not getting much of a view, but she knows Elliot is looking. It’s Elliot.

Digging through her drawers, she reaches in the far back, finding an abandoned pair of men’s pajama pants (well, not really abandoned, more like borrowed and never returned) and tosses them at him, free arm covering her breasts. “Here,” she laughs. 

He clears his throat, “I wasn’t looking.”

“Mhmm, sure,” she snags the t-shirt from earlier, thinking it’ll suffice for now, until Elliot can leave her one of his own. Unbuttoning her jeans, she tosses her discarded clothes in the basket in the corner. It’s a no pants kind of night. Besides, the shirt hangs just below her ass, giving him enough of a preview without showing off. Her high waisted underwear were simple and black, nothing like the expensive sets of lace one drawer up. She’ll save them for a proper date, when she can hide them under her dress, letting him unwrap her like a present on Christmas morning, eager and pulling, anxious to get to the reveal. 

But the old t-shirt and her long legs were enough for the man who sat shirtless in the same spot he’s been sitting in, jeans replaced with black pajama pants that sit low on his hips. 

They both look at each other, a look of what’s next, and he interrupts their gaze, “Where do you want these?”

She reaches out, snagging the folded denim, henley, and belt from him and places them on top of the counter. And then she’s back to him, nudging his legs open to slide in between, hands landing his shoulders, then running down his back. 

He looks up at her, his own hands around her bare legs, keeping her close. “You’re beautiful,” he declares, words he’s been waiting to say, waiting for her to hear. 

Her smile is weak, almost like she can’t handle the compliment from him. From him? It’s almost impossible to believe, impossible to register that Elliot Stabler is here, in her room, calling her beautiful. She can’t respond, only able to lean down and give him another kiss. They can’t even count how many have been exchanged tonight— now that they have permission to, they aren’t sure they would be willing to stop. 

“C’mon, it’s late,” she whispers and he sets her free, so they can crawl under the blankets, cozy up and finally rest. A bit of nerves creeps up as they settle in, as she realizes she’s in bed with him, and once they sleep, the perfect night is over. 

They’re both comically on their backs, staring at the ceiling with the same understanding, the same recognition of where they’re at, what they have done. He hears a shaky breath from next to him and he reaches for her hand beneath the sheets. Not saying a word, he just entangles their hands, squeezing hers lightly. She swallows down the bubbling feeling inching up, getting stuck in her throat. Deep breath, then another. 

“Come here,” he urges, lifting the covers just enough for her to turn, flop onto his chest, pillowing her head on his bicep and hand on his chest, one leg hooked over his. He keeps her close, placing a lazy kiss on the crown of her head, breathing in her shampoo. “You okay?”

She sighs into him, “Please be done soon.”

“I will.” 

“I mean it.”

“So do I.” 

Olivia has to take his word for it, has to trust him, trust that tonight will not be forgotten, that it will stay at the forefront, be there when he walks back into that bar, be there when risks his life, keeps him focused on the life she and him both want. Together. Tonight is just the first of many nights full of warm embraces, sloppy kisses. This would be their every day, kisses of welcome home and let me help leading to roaming hands and passionate releases. Nights would end wrapped in each other’s arms, end with steady breaths and skin on skin. 

She had to believe him. Had to believe this was everything to him too. Had to or else she wouldn’t know what to do. 

“Goodnight, Olivia.”

She smiles at his sleepy voice, slightly weakened with exhaustion, and shakes out the worried thoughts, focusing back on the rhythm of his heartbeat— a reminder that she got him out tonight, brought him here. And he wanted to be here, waited for her to set the pace, and once she did, he was promising her the world with his kisses. 

They were okay, they would be more than okay. Soon.

“Goodnight, El,” she whispers back and drifts off into his embrace. 

 


 

She doesn’t wake up to any alarms or phone calls. It’s rare (and slightly concerning that she might have missed several important calls and will have another day of hellish meetings with her chief about her “behavior”) but she feels well-rested. Feels satiated from a night in the arms of a man— the man she specifically wanted, has wanted. A man whose heat is no longer on her though. He must have rolled back, the temperature from her skin too much for him. When she barely opens her eyes, she can’t even tell what time it is, just briefly sees the soft glow of the morning beyond the closed curtains. Scrunching her eyes back shut, she reaches out for him, a hand searching without sight, but finds an endless amount of empty mattress instead.

She stops. 

He’s gone

It’s an immediate reaction. Heart sinking, eyes fully open to confirm her greatest fear. She’s alone. 

Elliot ran from her, ran from their night the minute it ended, left her once before (twice if we count the Albanian mob rendezvous) and now again. So easily. After she begged him not to. She sits up— his clothes aren’t there either. 

How stupid of her. 

Her mouth opens slightly at the sight, her throat suddenly so dry, and the shakiness returns. He promised. And she’s stuck between wanting to yell or cry, but she won’t let herself do either. She’d been through this before, been strong enough to pull her head up and move on. Olivia got through his first goodbye. This was nothing. 

Although, she thought this time would’ve been different. Thought her lips were enough, were exactly what he’d been waiting for. Those flickered glances, the teasing…it wasn’t real. 

Stupid.

Coffee. She just needs coffee. Coffee will bring her back to Earth. Coffee will tether her back to the reality in front of her. Coffee will get her to search through her phone later, call up Edgar and… check in on him. And coffee will shove Elliot so deep back into the abyss, she will unlearn his name on her tongue. 

Yes, coffee was a constant, so she shakes off the sadness that dared to linger, pretending she doesn’t care, didn’t wish he was there when she first opened her eyes. The real Olivia was back today, a busy day ahead, and a son to pick up from a sleepover. 

She shuffles along, baggy t-shirt and panties only, desperate for the caffeine to jumpstart the day. Men be damned.

But, turning the corner, she’s suddenly startled by his shirtless body in the kitchen, and that ugly tattoo stares her dead in the face. 

He’s here. In her kitchen, muscles out, cooking breakfast. There’s two empty plates and a full cup of coffee on the counter, the matching cup next to him with slightly less.

He must have sensed her presence, and the anxiety she bottled up, tucked away, tried to throw away, is now causing her to laugh— really laugh— when she sees him sucking on a Caprisun. 

“Oh, shit— did I wake you?” 

Every part of her is still trying to wrap her head around the rollercoaster of emotions she just went through, eyes wide and on him, head shaking as the laughter quiets down into relief. 

“Sorry, just went to get dressed because I didn’t know when Noah would be back and then I got distracted because you were still asleep, so I thought I would get breakfast ready but the coffee was too hot and this was the next best thing—”

“Elliot?”

“Yeah?”

“Shut up,” she says, pushing him against the counter.

He smiles, “On it.”

And she kisses him so intensely, tasting the juice he had recently finished off on his lips, on his tongue. He leans as far back as he can, parting their mouths, “As much as I really want to continue this, I don’t want to start the morning with a fire.” He gestures to the burner that is still very much on and she draws away from him, rolling her eyes, but she’s all smiles. Cute, happy, relieved smiles. 

“Have a seat, it’ll be ready soon,” and he refocuses on the pan, back to her once more. She will listen in a minute, sit down and let her pantless self and a shirtless him enjoy the morning together, but she sees it again.

That mark

A mark to say where he belonged, that he was theirs, but they were so, so wrong. She tiptoes behind him, arms shoving their way between his, hands curled up on his shoulders and she kisses the ink. Reclaiming him as hers. 

He sighs into it, knowing exactly what she’s doing. “Soon,” he promises again.

“Soon,” she echoes, holding him here, in her kitchen.

So, so, soon.



 

 

 

Chapter Text

His eyes trace the curves of her body, her shirt riding up as she reaches deep in her fridge. The morning is far too peaceful, far too blissful, he almost forgets how the night began. Clicking his fork on a near-empty plate, he snags the final bite of their breakfast, chewing slowly, methodically, all while focused on her. 

Her hair is long. He can’t remember her hair ever being this long. It’s darker too, but there’s streaks of brighter highlights too. It was so soft last night, trapped in his fingers as their lips met and parted. Locked in the waves as she breathed deeply on his chest. He has her breathing pattern memorized, despite them being awake for quite a while. If it weren’t for having to relieve himself this morning, he would have stayed there. Let her open his eyes to him, slowly awake her by capturing her lips with his own. But he wasn’t sure they were there yet. Wasn’t sure if she would wake up to regret him, regret their night. So, he carefully crawled out of bed, tugging her shirt back down before tossing the blankets back over her, hoping to keep her warm. And when she let out a tiny whine, shifting to cuddle the pillow that he previously laid on, he beamed at the sight, leaning over quickly to brush her hair out of her face and give her the daintiest kiss on her temple. 

He gave her the space he thought she would need. And thank god he was wrong. 

When she turns, her eyes immediately snap to his. He’s been caught red-handed, the bright blue laced to her dark brown. Fighting hard to hide his smirk, his tongue traces across his bottom teeth, mouth tightly closed. She shakes her head, smiling, and refocuses on her task at hand– her second cup of coffee. 

“Almond milk? What happened to you?”

“It’s healthier. I made the switch a couple years ago.” 

God, even the way she stirs is mesmerizing. Eyes down, hair hanging, the slight frizziness echoing their night together. She stirs, and stirs, and stirs. 

“Healthier? No more delivery for dinner?” He continues deflecting, trying to keep the conversation light, not startle her out of the happiness and turn them down a pathway of prolonged distance. Not after they took the leap. 

She smiles, tapping her spoon twice on the edge of the cup, then uses her mouth to wipe it clean. Her order may have changed, but her method of mixing has remained the same. “We’ll have the occasional treat. Can’t really be prime parent material and not learn how to actually use an oven for more than storage.”

Returning to her stool, she tucks her hands close to her chest, desperate to absorb the heat from the still hot coffee. His eyes are glued on her– he’s given up on trying to pretend anymore. “What?”

“Nothing.”

“You’re giving me a look.”

He shrugs, taking a small sip from his mug, “You’re just beautiful.”

Olivia rolls her eyes, echoing his movement, sipping from her own cup, “I regret asking.”

“What? I can’t call you beautiful?”

“You can, but now I know when you look at me like that, you’re thinking it.”

“So?” He brushes her hair off her shoulder, body tilted towards her now. Olivia remains firm on avoiding all eye contact, tilting her head away as she places her mug back down. But Elliot lets his fingers linger on her slightly exposed skin, tracing them along until they brush across to the other shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze. Shifting his body more, he slides his ass forward to give him enough support for him to lean forward and press his lips to her fabric-covered collarbone. 

She chuckles and he gathers that she technically isn’t shutting him down, so he stands, keeping his body low enough to allow his lips to press deeper and further up her neck. Olivia lets out a minute sigh as his lips land on that spot on her neck, remaining there for a few passionate kisses. 

“Is this our normal now? We can just…do this?”

His lips leave her skin with a wet smack, but stay close so she can feel his breath on her, “Your call, Captain. Whatever pace you set, however fast or slow you want. You tell me.”

She turns her head, prompting him to lift his so their mouths are millimeters apart. Out of an unformulated instinct, she closes the distance, pecking him on the lips. Why does this feel habitual? 

“I like kissing you. It’s just— weird.”

Weird? ” He laughs, sitting back on the stool to take another swig from his coffee. 

“Not your technique, El,” she chuckles. “Just the fact that we are kissing at all. It’s different.

“Do you want me to stop?”

“No.” It comes out too quickly. “...but I should.”

“Nah, no shoulds, Liv.” He reaches for her hand, letting his thumb glide across hers. Staring deeply at her, he asks, “What do you want?"

Oh boy, what a loaded question for seven o’clock in the morning.

She isn’t sure what that even means. What she wants. Olivia really hasn’t had time to think about that. Has always had to map out how a decision will affect something else– it's indoctrinated in her from the job. One misstep could throw away the entire case. Procedure is best. Follow the rules, stay in the lines.

But her and Elliot have broken the rules before. Had to follow their moral code over what pen and paper said. 

Ritualistically, they were not at the kissing stage. Not according to the blogs, websites, and guides. There was so much he didn’t know, so much they haven’t talked about. 

They should halt. Slow down. Take a breather.

Instead, Olivia kisses him. Hard. So hard in fact, she slips off the stool and he catches her before she falls. Grunting, he places his hands under her ass, picking her up and planting her onto his lap. 

And her lips don’t leave his– despite knowing they should– just push into him more, like she needs to prove something. Not that she knows what it is. 

This. This is what she wants. Forget ‘should’s and millennial women on Buzzfeed. She wants to kiss Elliot Stabler, and goddammit, she will continue to. 

He’s letting her work up top, but his hands are not idle. They grope her ass, kneading into the flesh– not overly aggressive, but there is a slight possessiveness there. And it excites her. They’re alone in her house, ten years have passed and nothing is stopping this. It makes her moan into his mouth, finally ending the first kiss to give him another tantalizing one. Not quite giving the man fully what he wants. 

But eventually she caves to meet his eager tongue, which tastes of their morning meal.

Is this real life right now? Making out with Elliot after he cooked you breakfast? 

They didn’t even have sex. Do people make breakfast for you just because?

Olivia can count on one hand the amount of people who made breakfast the morning after a heated night together, and she barely wants to count Brian’s toast. Sure, Trevor had woken her with only coffee, but she couldn't fault him, they were at her place and he had to sneak out at an ungodly hour before Noah got up. And Ed made breakfast, but for all three of them. A sweet gesture while she tried to wrangle a three year old who did not want to put on clothes. Not really romantic, but reliable. 

Someone in her past made her a very green smoothie and she’s wrecking her brain to remember what the woman’s name was, but it escapes her.

But the last time she had a full meal in the morning— practically a feast, honestly— was Edgar. Understandable, the man was large, all muscles and height, he ate for a family of four. Well, three. He would plate her a perfect portion of protein and carbs, letting her eat in bed because there was no way her body was ready to bounce back after his work on her the night before.

They didn’t talk while they ate– in fact, she barely looked his way. Just chewed and chewed, mapping out her busy day, marking a day in the future that she’d see him and they would do this all again. 

There was no intimacy to it. No lingering kisses. They stopped as each of them caught their breaths, both post orgasm, and Olivia was shocked her body wasn’t in the morgue after how quickly her heart raced. He would give her a final peck on her cheek, rolling over to head to the restroom before crawling back into the bed to sleep. 

No cuddling, no embraces. 

Maybe she regretted the “friends with benefits” rules she made. Maybe if she opened up for him, maybe if she— 

What are you even talking about? Focus, Olivia. 

Elliot’s hands roam slightly, tucking under the waistband of her shorts, and it snaps her back to him. He’s been doing most of the work, pulling her tight and kissing her like this was his job. Like he knew she had drifted off and needed to come back down to Earth. 

His lips travel down, kissing, teasing, landing on her chest— over her shirt. Thankfully, he isn’t quite at her breasts, just above where the slope deepens, nuzzling her, keeping his hands on her. 

If this was kissing, sex would kill her. 

She’d given up hope on this. On a person with want for her. With need. She had accepted a long time ago that she was replaceable, that while she was appreciated, her romantic endeavors were merely temporary fixes. A jolt to the system. A need to be filled by whomever was trusted and available.

Love and wanting were separate. Plenty of partners wanted her. But to feel it in the morning, to have that want carry over after sleep cradled them, that was a rarity she had lost after Ed. Something like love glistened over Trevor and Edgar, and a sorrowful goodbye was a depressing alternate that she saw from Alex. 

Those who were still around kept in touch. And they would reconvene, part, wait for that empty light to ding, then call each other again. Like clockwork. Olivia was wanted from the final text of On my way until their sweaty bodies divided. 

Then, morning would come and the fairy tale would end. 

But this. But Elliot— 

Elliot who knows, can read her, knows she is trapped in her spiraling thoughts, is using his lips, his hands, to paint the wanting for her like a one-of-a-kind masterpiece Olivia never thought she would see. It’s beyond want. It’s beyond a need. It’s caring. It’s attentiveness. 

One might say love, but she pushes that thought away. 

Too much. Too soon.

She’s terrified of those three words slipping from his mouth again— the work she has done to shred them up when he blurted them in front of his children was thorough. She has forgotten it. Rewritten the narrative to explain that it was not hers to hear, it was his family’s. That he left that night and kissed another woman to prove that it was not for her.

But the oddest sensation washes over her as he continues speaking his desire in slow, passionate kisses— in tongue and teeth, in squeezes and embraces. He wants to say it. She can feel it, the breathiness coating her skin. 

It’s hanging there, teasing her. This man loves her. 

“Penny for your thoughts?” he mumbles, mouth back on her neck, his hot breath burning her skin like fire. 

End it. Tell him to stop. 

No, say it first. I’ll pry it open— that box you sealed years ago, it’s still here. Say it. Say you wanted this. Tell him he’s been here this whole time. Tell him you love him. 

Too soon. Too soon.

Her breath hitches when his hands at the small of her back travel just low enough to set off the alarm. She is torn out of herself at the coolness on her skin, and pulls back suddenly. “Can we keep it slow?”

You’ll wake up soon, Olivia. You’ve had this dream before. 

“Hey, I’m good with kissing,” he smiles, hands slipping out from beneath the fabric of her bottoms, riding up to have his palms land on her bare back. With his hands tucked underneath that baggy shirt, she can tell he's desperately trying to figure out its owner. 

And his fingertips were ice on her heated skin, cooling her down out of this fantasy she was writing. She almost wants to pinch herself, wake in her lonely bed and remember he is home, but not for you. 

An internal self sabotage, reciting the words of the wife he had lost, laying claim to him post-mortem. What we had was never real. 

Even now?

Even as he traced her body with wandering hands, spelling out his desire? Even as his mouth planted its flag on her, leaving marks so she could not forget the feeling of his adoration? Even as his eyes looked up at her, glistened like she was the Saint he worshiped like a God?

He is undercover. Behind the veil, he could not be this man. Not hers. He’s never been hers. 

She hums at his light tracing, his fingers gliding over her sensitive skin, trying so desperately to anchor herself to the present. To the facts. But when his fingers glide over the textured skin of her hip– one of the scars that never quite healed perfectly– she catches his hands in her own, moving them away from her body. 

“We still have a lot to talk about,” she whispers.

“Like what?” He probes, eyes not on hers, but their hands. And he begins to lean forward, wanting to kiss them. 

Elliot.”

It grabs his attention. 

“Sorry,” he smiles, still managing to peck her fingers before he sits back. 

But she remains on his lap, despite it surely being uncomfortable for him. She likes the way he holds her, the way she feels secure to him. It’s baffling. 

Their eyes are locked and Elliot swears if he looks close enough, he can see the memory of her across his desk, chewing on her lip scribbling away at her notes. “Can I kiss you again?”

“You’re never going to stop now, are you?”

“Can you blame me?” Eyes looking back up to her, she is reminded of how he beheld her months ago, on his knees. Hand cupping her cheek, needing to know she was real. Needed to know he had met the sun. 

She wants to laugh, wants to go back in time and tell herself that this would happen. That Elliot would be here, single, and hold her like he would a lover. Kiss her in every way possible. Let his eyes and mouth tell her she’s beautiful. 

That Olivia wouldn’t believe her. 

And this Olivia wants to run, but she can’t. Not when his eyes do that look as he asks to kiss her. So she places a hand on his cheek, leaning in for a gentle, domesticated kiss. An after breakfast kiss that tastes of her sweetened morning drink and peace. It’s too good to be true. 

For him, kissing her last night was fiery, passionate, something that made his hands beg for her. But this morning, the kisses are anew— with all the same passion, they are warm, protective kisses. Kisses that begin the day, tell her to be safe and call me, ask her to come home that night and let him promise her forever. 

It should scare Olivia how quickly this is all happening. A life or death situation should have been the obvious ignition for their transition into romance— it was kind of their thing.  

He tastes like strong coffee, much more intense than her diluted brew and it wakes her up. He’s gentle now, hands not roaming as much as before, but with them out of her grasp, he rests them on her sides. They inch and inch...

He’s trying to hug her. 

And for some reason that feels much odder than a kiss. She— once again— swipes his hands into hers and intertwines them. 

They need to get off this stool. Need to go back to bed for the hour they have before work. Need to hold each other and kiss in the sheets. She needs him on top of her, caging her, kissing her, touching her—  

There’s a firm knock at the door.

They part their mouths like they’ve been caught, each holding their breaths. But he doesn’t look towards the sound, only keeps staring up at her, while her eyes fixate on the knocking. 

“Noah back early?” He whispers, trying to pull her back to him, fingertips tickling her sides, daring to draw small shapes.  

She squirms slightly at his touch, turning to look back down at him. “No, I have to pick him up. I don’t know who it is.” There’s no way it could be her son, that she’s sure of. And very few people would arrive at this hour, unless something was wrong. And if something was wrong, that leaves her squad. And if it’s her squad, that leaves Amanda or Fin—

“Go in the bedroom.” 

She pushes him lightly to get him started, nudging him to slide past her so she can swipe the empty plates and mugs in an attempt to hide all evidence of an overnight guest. This is not how she gets caught. This is not how she will start the workday, with either of her detectives eyeing her up, finding a half-naked Elliot in her home. 

Not happening.

The knocks echo again as she shuffles through the home. She’s about to open it when she sees it. 

His shoes and jacket. Shit. 

Another knock. 

“One moment!” she yells, grabbing Elliot’s heavy coat and boots, running to the bathroom where she tosses them inside. Catching a glimpse of herself in the mirror, she remembers she's braless in a shirt and shorts and quickly grabs her robe. 

She’s tying it, forgoing the peephole preview to keep covered and she opens the door. “So, so sorry Fin—"

Only it isn’t her Sergeant. 

It's Frank Donnelly.

He’s disheveled and— Olivia can’t remember exactly, but — she thinks he’s in the same clothes from the night before. 

“Frank?”

He tosses her a grin, but it is tight. Fake. Worrying. 

“Hey, Captain. Sorry to…” He gestures to her robe, “…intrude.”

A slight blush creeps up her cheeks, as she tugs the robe tighter. Not like she’s hiding much, there’s a whole shirt under it.

“No, no worries.” The last time he saw her she was not particularly herself, masking anxiety of the truth with a lovesick version of herself pining for Elliot. And now he’s here, which can only be for a bad reason. Unless of course, another miracle was coming her way. So, she sweetens her voice, finding that Olivia again, the one that fumbled over her words, desperate to just get her hands on Elliot. “Everything okay?”

“Is Elliot here?” It’s stern, firm. It startles her. She knows about Frank, knows about the brotherhood, knows that he looks to Elliot as a support, as almost family. But his cadence, his intensity of the question— 

“I’m sorry?”

Frank softens his tone slightly, “Well, you and him put on quite the show last night. He might have mentioned a nightcap with you.” Despite the apparent change in his demeanor, she’s glad she’s spent over twenty years on the job because she notices the slight agitation beneath the surface doesn’t evaporate. Everything in her is telling her to keep Elliot away– thinking of that godforsaken tattoo her person now has branded on. 

“…we did leave together last night.”

Good, keep it vague, get him out. Lay your claim. 

“Look, I’m not here to turn you two into 1PP. Scout’s honor,” he holds up his hands in defense and curls his lips back into that artificial grin. To think she was once friendly with him, talked about Elliot to him. Now, she would give anything to smack the smirk off his mouth. 

“He’s not answering his phone and I really, really need to speak with him.”

Oh fuck, the phones. Where the hell did they even put them? 

“Olivia,” he now leans in, voice a hushed whisper. “I know he’s here,” he eyes up her neck, and Olivia’s fingers jump to where his gaze lands, feeling the sensitivity from Elliot’s work this morning. So much for hiding him. “Please, I just need to see him. It’s urgent.”

She swallows, nodding slowly and smiling sheepishly, hand still covering the evidence on her body. Can she wear a turtleneck in March? 

“I’ll go get him.”

And when Olivia tries to close the door, Frank slaps his hand out, keeping the door ajar. The jolt causes her to take in a sharp inhale, but she plays it off, turning and making her way down the hall to the hidden man in her bedroom.

She can feel Frank’s eyes on her as she shuffles away, tucking around the corner to where he was shelled away, where he was safe. For now. 

He’s still shirtless, seated on the edge of her mattress flipping through pages of her Trust Again book. Bastard probably saw where she left off. 

Smiling when he sees her, he lets out a breathy laugh, remarking her spot and dropping it back on her nightstand. “Is Fin finally gonna cash out or— what’s wrong?” 

Her eyes were unfocused, a look she only gave when something was clouding her mind. Lips tight, focused on her breath. “Why is Frank at my door?”

“…Donnelly?”

“Yes.”

It knocks him on his ass. 

He never wanted to drag her into his world, wanted to keep her far, safe and sound, warm. Away. Not here, at her home. Elliot stands immediately, right towards where her body is cemented to the bedroom door. He wants to put his hands on her, but can’t. Sees the worry percolating within her. “Did he say anything?”

“That he’s been trying to reach you all night.”

“Shit.”

“Yeah, shit.” 

He caves in when he sees her eyes threaten to water and he doesn’t know why. Doesn’t know what’s going on inside that head of hers. So he cups her cheek, sweeping his thumb on her jawline, whispering softly, “Hey, I’ll take care of it.”

“Will you?” Her voice breaks him, telling him he still has to prove himself to her— that she will walk away from his abandonment and never look back. That he will lose her before he even gets to have her.

And he moves his hand over her, caging her in between his body and the door. Voice low, body tight to her, his mouth landing on her hairline, grazing her forehead. “Whatever I say out there, isn’t me. Okay?” 

She doesn’t respond. 

He places a graceful kiss on her forehead, trying to crack her open and let his words break in. “I need to know you hear me, Liv. I don’t want you to be confused. I want this,” he kisses her again. “I’ve wanted this.” And again. “And when this is over, it’s over. All of it.”

She gives the tiniest of nods against his mouth, taking deep breaths. 

He’s running

No, no he’s not. He just told you he isn’t, Olivia. 

He left once before. Left you alone. Then ran again when you thought it was better. How can you trust him?

“Liv?”

Fighting it off, she forces herself to kiss him, quickly. Sharply. Give him a warning. Seal the promise with a kiss. Again. 

And with it behind her, she flops her face into him, sighing against his chest, “You gave me a hickey.”

He chuckles, cradling her head to him, drawing his fingers into her hair, massaging it delicately. Tugging her head back slightly to look at her, he lets his eyes gloss down to the bruising skin on her neck, where he plants another small kiss as a cherry on top. “That’ll be fun to explain.”

Olivia huffs, and shoves him off of her, face still neutral, but he can see the minute smile daring to form. “Take care of him. I’ll be here.”

And Elliot smiles as they part, grabbing her hand one last time to pull her close and give it another peck. “Will do.”

He leaves her in the bedroom, still shirtless, and he wishes that this was different— that he would get to return to her, absorb her warmth and drown in her waves. But he spots his “friend,” standing at the door, and he stretches as if he was just awoken by the dark eyed woman who he had just fled. 

“Frank?” he yawns. “What, you stalking me now?”

“You forget how a phone works? Been trying to contact you—"

“Sorry, sorry,” he begins opening several cabinets, finally finding one with glasses, despite him taking the time to memorize their positions this morning. This Elliot was supposed to be an irregular guest of the NYPD Captain. Supposed to think of Olivia as merely someone to use, rather than something to cherish. Flicking up the faucet, he shoves the glass under the water, filling it halfway before chugging it and sloppily wiping his mouth free from the droplets. “I was…a little busy last night,” he winks. 

“How long have you two been sleeping together?” Frank prods, welcoming himself onto the chair that he once sat in, confessing dreams of a parallel universe that was growing more blurred within his reality. 

“That’s a personal question,” he retorts smugly, trying to mask his frustration with cockiness. Get into the character of the Elliot who could bond with this man, who thought of Olivia as a thing. Who used her for sex and his own self desires. It disgusted him. 

“Yeah, well there was a fucking hit last night ten minutes after she shacked you up.”

“What?” he feigns surprise. 

“Santos got shot, he’s in the hospital.”

Elliot shakes his head, “And you think Olivia…?”

“No, I don’t think—" He huffs, agitation bubbling back to the surface, “Look, we didn’t have problems till your little sidepiece showed up. I gotta know, you playing me? Because if you are—”

Elliot stops him, voice stern, low, “Frank, you’re my brother. I would never betray you like that.”

“Not even for her?” And the man eyes him up, trying to crack into his armor, find the truth, expose the detective for his truth. He would never get in. Never get to her. Elliot would die trying. “Oh come on Elliot. Everyone knew about you two. You let a kid die for her, why should I believe you’re scamming her now?”

He debates shooting him then and there. Tries to think of the easiest way to crack his skull open and make him bleed out for bringing up Ryan. Bringing up her on the ground, the blood trickling out of her— how his heart sank and spoke the truth as he ran towards her, praying for her to stay alive. And when that confession was released, it scared him to death. 

It was their own secret. Not for anyone to bring up and abuse. 

“That was well over a decade ago, Frank. It’s not like that anymore.”

“So you’re using her?”

Elliot rubs his face, glancing behind to make sure she’s out of earshot. Make sure his Olivia never hears the lie he’s twisting. Make sure that she remembers his promises and knows he’ll be back to her soon. “I got to get back on my feet. And if I gotta pretend to schmooze up my former partner to make it happen, then it’s what I got to do,” he hums and Frank tries to study him, wanting to believe him. 

So Elliot adds– grossily, smugly, “Plus the sex ain’t too bad either.”

Bingo.

Frank exhales a cheap laugh, cocking his brow and shaking his head. “Well, the bitch might not be worth it. Just watch yourself, she could be scamming you right back. Can’t trust her anymore, not after she flipped on us all.”

He’s perplexed and knows he shouldn’t pry, but he can’t stop the words from spilling out. “What are you talking about?”

“Her little romcom with IAB? She never told you? Tucker had her in his bed for over a year. You don’t think sleeping with Ed changed her loyalty at all?”

Ed

Ed Tucker. 

Whatever reaction he wants to have, he can’t. Partly due to Frank, but largely because he left her. She was right to live her life any which way, be with any person she would like—

But Tucker? That sonofabitch—

“...she didn’t tell me,” he confesses softly. 

“Exactly. Now c’mon, grab your shit. We got to go.”



 

 

Chapter Text

He didn’t say goodbye. 

He really didn’t have an opportunity to, with Frank usering him out of the door as quickly as possible, and their guise of 'casual friends with benefits'. A formal goodbye could be suspicious, even if she was desperate to give him a hug, squeeze him tight, and tell him to be safe. Kiss him one final time to conclude their morning and get them through the day. With Frank’s arrival, there wasn’t really a chance for a continuation of their passionate kisses. A way for them to forego the man at the door and just enjoy each other’s company. It wasn’t feasible. Instead, she only heard the shuffling and slamming of the front door, popping her head out of the bedroom to catch the tail end of the noise. 

Feet shuffling, she feels it in her bones before she gets visual confirmation. 

The apartment was empty. 

And either desperation or genuine curiosity causes her eyes to flick to the still-closed bathroom door, praying for a moment he’s behind it—safe, sound, and still hers. But when she twists the knob and pushes it open, his coat and boots are gone, and she knows. 

He left. 

The shower can’t seem to get hot enough to satisfy her need for his heat again, and she regretfully washes the scent of him off of her. Covers the places where he last touched her with scalding water to ease the need for him again. It feels symbolic to cleanse herself from him, although it shouldn’t. He had promised her that he wanted this—wanted her. His lips and hands caressed her like she was special, a piece of art so delicate, so desired. There was no reason to doubt that. No reason to fear that he was gone. 

It felt unreal. Unreal that less than an hour ago, he held her on his lap, kissed her with such reverence, seemingly reading her deepest desires and echoing them back at her. She had never had a morning as intimate as this. A morning where time stood still and she felt 20 years younger, holding onto the man—the only man—that made her feel completely and utterly protected. He was the pillar of her foundational upbringing, the first time she had a solid male presence in her life. Someone who cared about her, beyond responsibilities. Beyond having to, beyond the parameters of their relationship. He showed up, always. 

Until he didn’t. 

She’ll never forget the feeling of her chest shattering piece by piece as she heard he had done the thing she feared most. Did exactly what her mother always said people would do, and carved her out of his life so quickly. If it weren’t for physical reminders of him, she would’ve thought he was never real. 

When the water cools and her fingers get so tight and ache from wrinkling, she finally shuts the water off, already getting goosebumps from the freezing air that slams against her skin. The mirror is foggy, but the blurred reflection of her displays the aftermath of his reckoning. A visual promise to amplify his words. Purple and reddish hues are stained across her skin, most brightly on her neck. Her fingers trace across it and she wants to laugh. At him, at herself, for making out like teens at an after-prom party. He marked her. Needed to claim her as his own, needed to bite and suck at her flesh like he was never going to see her again. 

No, no. This was not a distinction of goodbye, this was a reminder of what they did and where they were headed next. A marker to remind her of how his lips locked to her, spinning tales of love in the silence of their breaths and wet smacks. God, they really were becoming the secret love affair that whispered through the halls of 1PP. The decades old rumor of their dedication to each other and what that meant, now becoming their reality, piece by piece. 

The bed does not get made. She’ll leave it as evidence for herself when the dreaminess of the morning wears off and Olivia is back to the unbalanced line of wanting and logic. Where the yearning for him fought the facts of their everyday—that goddamn list that scribed every moment of interaction, every word, every thought and worry. 

She’ll look at the bed tonight, face deep in the pillow he laid against, repeating his vow to her over and over until it desecrates every ounce of uncertainty. She’ll feel the echo of his lips on her body, the memory of his hands on her, and keep it locked at the forefront, knowing he will be here again soon. 

And without his phone, which she discovers on the nightstand (for a second it feels like it always belonged there), she will have no word from him for the rest of the day. 

She really isn’t sure what she was hoping for. Why she feels that pang of disappointment when she’s smart enough to know this is the job. This is what she inserted herself into, tossing away all rationale, the instant she heard he needed her. Even if those words did not come from him nor his boss, they were buried underneath the words spoken aloud. And truthfully, she isn’t sure there was another way out of there without kissing him. Whether with a fake first kiss or not, the drive there filled her head with images of him dead and if she saw him on his feet—if she knew his heart was still beating and could feel his breath under her hands—she would’ve caved into desire and slammed her mouth to his anyways. 

He’ll never need to know that. It’ll make him too smug. After yesterday and this morning, she has a good grasp of the amorous side of Elliot she was once forbidden from. The last piece of the long put away puzzle of their bond. Outdated and reshuffled, she’s been slowly trying to get the picture back together, finally having no more boundaries to stop her from interlinking the pieces. 

As she finishes readying herself for work, she makes sure to pack his phone with hers, not wanting it traced back to here midday. She failed at hiding the hickey with makeup, instead opting for a higher-neck blouse and hoping intimidation will keep those away if it fails to stay covered. 

It feels wrong to leave the house alone this morning. No Noah, no Elliot to say goodbye to. Just her, alone, in the silence of the apartment. 

She would give anything for him to kiss her right now. 

Olivia, he had to leave—it’s his job, his current assignment.

But it’s getting lost in translation, twisting, disfiguring itself into a sense of abandonment and Olivia makes sure to pack her Trust Again book in her bag before she leaves. Something in there must be able to click and wash away the fear. 

Besides, if it can’t, surely work will.

 


 

The serenity of the morning evaporates as quickly as it came. Besides the scrubbing of her loofa across her skin, the consistent buzzing from the two phones helps to submerge each kiss he gave deep in the background, locking them away for a later time. 

Saved for an emergency, when she needed to remember. 

“Good morning, everyone.” 

Groans echo through the squadroom and she just knows it was a rough shift last night. Amanda has her head in her palms, face shielded from the world, and she swears she can’t tell where the chair ends and Velsoco begins—his body contorted in such a unique way. She misses the days when she could bend like that without breaking a bone. 

Ignoring their annoyance, she smiles, dropping the paper bag on the counter near the coffee. “I brought food.”

Amanda lifts her head, eyes barely open, “Doughnuts?”

“No, bagels,” she specifies, turning to her number two. “Sorry Fin.”

The man shrugs, yawning and leaning back in his chair, “S’fine.”

God they must’ve been through hell last night. Olivia sighs when she approaches her Sergeant, tapping her hand lightly on his shoulder as if to gently lull him awake. “Well, come catch me up.” And he grumbles in response, following her nod towards her office, her usual beckon for him to fall behind. 

Immediately, she steps into the routine of the morning, even if it is a few hours later than her typical arrival. Coat stripped off, she begins emptying the content of her bag, humming a pleasant, “Thank you for covering last night.”

Fin watches her carefully, taking a comfortable seat in one of the chairs across her desk, relaxing deeply into it. He needs sleep. “I would say it was no problem, but—”

“How bad was it?” she huffs, interrupting him and finally taking a seat of her own. It’s time for work mode, and Olivia feels slight relief to dive back into her job and leave this other thing—this personal thing—behind. Sliding her glasses on, he hands her a file. And then another. And another. 

“Sent on a wild goose chase looking for a missing teenager. Turns out, she snuck out to a party. Like I said she was. Longest night of my life.”

“Fin,” she sighs, shaking her head at the short overview of the evening’s timeline. “We don’t do searches for missing minors unless she was missing for—”

“Tell that to your boss.”

“Wha—McGrath sent you?

“It was McGrath’s daughter.” And the pieces start coming together. Scanning quickly through the next folder, it’s right there in bold—the name of his youngest and the one Olivia’s heard far too much about. Fin shakes his head, crossing his arms, “Swear I thought I was going to have to arrest him last night.” 

She keeps skimming, hoping (and not hoping) to find something more tangible, something real. An actual crime or probable cause to drive her team there. Nothing is really popping out at her. The girl wasn’t even gone for six full hours—that first instance of her disappearance starting when Olivia left her office yesterday to enjoy her night off. “I don’t even know what to say.” 

“I told you before, Liv. I don’t trust the guy. Never have and never will. Whatever you want to do, I got your back. But something’s up with him and I’ve about had it.”

“I’ll…I’ll see what I can do.” 

“Captain—”

“No, this needs to be addressed.” She focuses directly on Fin now, frustrations of her own bubbling up at the ridiculousness and waste of time her workers were put through for a man who has consistently told her to focus on the real cases. “He may be chief, but sending my team all over the city at his own expense? We’re already limited as it is.”

“Just let me know if you want to step in. Give him a piece of my own mind, ya know?” He smiles through the exhaustion, and Olivia knows if it comes down to a screaming match, Fin deserves a few punches of his own.

She smiles back, putting her glasses back on to dive into the rest of the files scattered across the desktop. “Thank you, Fin. You can go.”

But he doesn’t move, instead keeping his cheeky smile plastered on as he eyes her up. It takes no time for her to see right through him, desperate to not have this conversation with him. “So… bagels?”

“Don’t,” she groans.

“Not doughnuts, but still breakfast for the squad?”

“Alright, that’s officially the last time I try to be nice.”

“Hey,” he chuckles, shrugging his shoulders. “I covered for you. You really gonna hold out on me?”

She shakes her head with her lips pursed, focusing her energy on digging through her drawer with absolutely no need to discover anything. Just needing to keep her hands busy and poker face on. “If you really want to know, I spent the night alone with a bottle of wine.” 

“A bottle of wine did that to you?”

Her eyes dart up and she realizes this angle has lowered that oh-so high neckline that was balancing perfectly to cover…it. Now, he’s practically shining a spotlight on the bright bruise with his beaming gaze, threatening to burst into laughter. “Cause I know that wasn’t Langan.”

Fin! ” It comes out as a sharp whisper and she slams the drawer shut to give it an extra emphasis. 

He isn’t scared of her though, having been through this once or a few times with each of her past connections. From Hayden to Cassidy to Tucker, Fin was too smart to not pick up on their more frequent visits to the precinct. “Am I wrong?”

“I’m not answering that,” she mumbles, the anxiety of exposure creeping up. She feels like an embarrassed little sister whose brother found out about the boy she likes. 

“Tell me it’s him.”

Him. Like his name is unnecessary because it’s too known. Like there’s no need to even clear up the question because only one person’s face comes into view. But she plays it off casually, not letting him win this easily. “Who?” 

“Oh come on, Olivia. Don’t make me say it.”

“Then don’t make me either.”

The recognition in his eyes is far too readable as he stays concretely to the chair, not ready to move, still a parasite to her privacy. There, gnawing, needing to get more out of her. “...I gotta know.”

Fin—”

“Okay, okay. Fine. I’ll go,” he surrenders, hands flying up before slapping his legs—the swinging motion giving him the momentum to prop himself up. Olivia’s almost surprised he didn’t probe harder, didn’t keep digging until she caved.

Good.

But it’s him, and she knows this is not finished. That when he reaches for the handle of the door, he’s going to turn and say, “It is Elliot, righ—”

“Goodbye!”

 


 

A few hours later, her hand is almost numb from holding up her head, keeping it from falling down and down when the trickle of her own exhaustion comes through. The files from her one day away were stacked neatly atop her desk, page after page detailing unnecessary work that her wonderful chief sent her team to do. A high school party broken up, not a shred of evidence to indicate a crime, and yet one officer swears he found cocaine on a young teenager. 

Who just happens to be the boyfriend of McGrath’s daughter.

This was not their case. Not in their jurisdiction. So why was it on her desk?

Her eyes skim across, catching a few names, scribbling notes to get a sense of what happened—what calls were made when, who was where at what time. The kids didn’t even have alcohol on them, so why would this boy have cocaine? 

Fin thinks it’s a plant, Amanda too. But neither of them are going to tell her boss. Her boss who is insistent on catching her up even though she has real cases to get to. Not personal affairs. 

She was a professional.

“Am I interrupting?”

Looking up above her glasses, her brown eyes catch his blue and her jaw feels the need to follow gravity, parting her lips, brows furrowed on the sight of him right in front of her. So much for professionality.

“Elliot?” It comes out of pure shock, after this morning, she didn’t even know when the next time she would get to see him. Didn’t think it would be today. Didn’t think it would be mere hours from their parting.

He stands proudly, sliding into her office and clicking the door shut behind him, smiling at her with a genuineness that almost overwhelms her. She removes her glasses from her nose, letting them fall on top of the papers thrown across her desk. She wants to get out of her chair—feeling this need to as if he was pulling her in—wanting to reach out and touch him, but unable to. Instead, she stays still, eyes on him. “What are you doing here?” 

“I believe you have something for me,” he teases and that smile is still plastered across his face. Her eyes quickly catch her squad through the blinds behind him, feeling them practically burning holes through her. Each fake their newly focused stare, going back to whatever they were doing or pretending to do. But Fin is still smiling with his head down and she rolls her eyes, pulling her own concentration back to her unexpected visitor and his reason for coming. 

Digging through her purse, she finds his abandoned phone, holding it out to him with a lax energy. Like it wasn’t the Elliot from this morning, with his hands groping her ass, just an officer coming to do his job. “Right, right. Here.”

But his hand lingers a little too long on hers when he takes it from her, giving her a miniscule wink that she shakes off. Not at work. She’s planted firmly in her seat, a practical throne for the decorated Captain, not going to let herself succumb to him (and honestly herself at this point). Nope. Not happening. 

The reluctance only fuels him, making him hold in youthful laughter at the sight of her trying so hard to stay centered on the job at hand. His meandering gaze gives him a moment to take her in, see how far she’s come from sitting across his desk, how the walls are covered with praises of all that she’s accomplished over the years. Pride rushes through him as he sees the life she created, the life that flourished, but for as sweet as it is, it also stings him to realize she did this all without him. Maybe Kathy was right, he was holding her back. She did more in the ten years you were gone than the over twelve years she was chained to your side. 

Olivia can see through his examining eyes, see them go from adoration back into that well-protected abyss of closed off thoughts. “Did you need something else, Detective?”

His brows raise at the professional use of his title, not hearing it too much from her end unless she was upset or around too many people. ‘Captain’ rolled off his tongue so easily, a mark of her superior status energizing him beyond the office walls. The power dynamics have always been pretty even between them, but she always had a hold over him. Now it was just more official and he liked it. 

A lot. “Nice office you got here, Captain.”

“Thank you,” she leans back into her seat, hands folded and locked over her abdomen, elbows rested on the armrests. “Cragen told me to do something with the place, so I keep up with it.”

He nods slowly, his tongue poking into his cheek, gesturing over to the open door to her right, a room he’s had yet to invade. “What’s over there?”

“Hmm?” Her eyes follow his, noticing where they’ve landed.

There.”

“Oh, it’s just a more private interview room,” she shrugs and he’s beginning to think she’s playing a game, trying to pretend like his mouth wasn’t the first thing she tasted this morning, that her body wasn’t on his lap as their coffee got cold. “I hardly use it. I think Fin naps in there sometimes.”

Cute.” And there’s that word again, the one that is becoming a regular adjective for everything she’s associated with, everything she touches. She’s choosing to ignore his investigation into her space, hoping that he’ll be like a carnivorous animal and if she stays frozen, doesn’t engage, he will just get bored and leave. Not that she wants him to go, but after Fin’s discovery of her hickey and the pairs of eyes she feels on her all day, she just wants to focus on work. And work alone.

He does disappear, but only because he makes his way inside the secondary room, walking in like it was some history museum. “What’s that?” He calls from inside, as if he was a curious child asking his all-knowing parent. 

“What’s what?” She stays seated, pretending to flip through papers like she’s ingesting the content, not whatever he was doing. This was a tug of war match she would not lose. But he’s really getting into that childish role, not expanding his question, leaving her with a short, “That,” to respond to. 

She sighs, tossing off her glasses for the hundredth time today, clambering out of her chair to go see what the hell he wants. This was not him winning, just her needing to get this over with. “Elliot, I don’t know what you’re pointing to.”

And as she’s moving, he’s poking her further, “Come here and look then,” with a goofy smile and a suspicious stare that she’s only become acquainted with recently.

“Fine, what—

In the instant she crosses the threshold of the doorframe, he grabs the handle, slamming it shut quickly and crashing her against it with a soft thud. His lips on hers in perfect unison with the movement, she’s taken aback by how quickly this all changed. It’s so smooth, she has no time to properly react. No time to do anything but accept the kiss and let his mouth capture hers so ferociously, so wildly—she wonders for a moment, if this is how he felt last night, when she first kissed him at the bar. When she shoved him against the wall, claiming him with her lips, after ensuring all his trust was with her. And even though she initiated their first kiss, he took no time to flip the script and take charge of the next one, and next

Covering her body with his own again, she wonders if he does this to shield her body, cocooning her in his embrace, or if it’s an animalistic need to simply have her. Either way, she can tell he likes the control—likes this—getting to press up on her and lead the way.

And lead he does. His hands settle on her hips after sliding down from her biceps, his thumbs brushing across the satin fabric of her blouse, desperate to feel the skin under there, squeezing just so to keep her close. 

She can’t catch her breath. He quite literally almost knocked the wind out of her when he first shoved her against the wooden door, and now he’s stealing her weakened gasps with each kiss, each swipe of his tongue. There is no strength left in her to tell him to stop, push him away, and bring them back to reality. 

Reality? 

This is their reality. This is real—palpable. They can kiss like this, they can touch like this (maybe not at work, but still). And that refreshed thought of no boundaries, no one to stop them, no wedding band to suffocate her wanting, no distance to fade the need for him away, makes her hands begin to roam across his back, letting her nails lightly scratch across his jacket, wishing they were touching skin. 

His finger is bare. His finger is bare. 

And she draws him just that much closer so there’s zero space between them—it’s almost as if they are one. 

He groans at the feel of them pressed into each other like this, letting a content “Mmm,” buzz against their lips as his fingers briefly tighten grip on her hips (she wonders if they’ll leave another mark on her) that keeps her steady. He tastes every part of her, discovering that nearly every inch of her olive skin tastes like honey to him. It’s a sick fixation developing, a desire so intense he doesn’t want to stop. Breath jagged, his exploration causes him to laminate her cheeks with decorous pecks, guiding him to her jaw where his tongue joins his lips, darting out to glide along the sharp edge, leading him to his stomping ground. Her neck. 

And he feels her buck into him when his mouth makes its way home to the sensitive spot it loves to tease, a sensation that activates much more of her. “El, stop,” she breathlessly exhales, right as his lips plant themselves on top of the already bruised skin. 

His shoulders shake lightly against her, the vibrations from his childish laughter buzzing through her own body. Smug bastard. “It’s pretty,” he praises, pressing a brief smooch to the stained skin.

“It’s a hickey, and if you keep kissing it like that it’s never going to go away.”

But he doesn’t move, instead humming a soft, “Hmm,” as he raises his brows, shrugging. “Doesn’t sound too bad to me.” And when his head dips down to meet the sensitive skin again, she forces herself to glide her hands to his chin, pushing his head up to look at her directly. 

She wants to scold him, or make fun of his adolescent behavior, but when her brown eyes meet his blue, words wash away and all she can see is how much he wants her—needs her. 

Like magnets, she’s leaning into him, letting her lips take the place where the words would’ve landed, kissing him softly, delicately, wanting them to not rush through this one. They have time (not really, they were making out in a tucked away room in her office with her very curious squad outside, but in general), there is no need for ‘life or death’ kisses. He smiles against her lips, which now press against his teeth, until he manages to refocus himself and can kiss her back. 

This time it’s her who lets out a quiet moan (almost inaudible—it’s private, just for him) when his hands loosen their grasp on her hips, to instead snake around her waist, hands tilted up to plant his palms on the small of her back. Unlike the others prior, this kiss doesn’t last quite as long, but when they part, they’re both grinning to themselves. 

It’s absurdly romantic—truthfully—and yet, it’s everything they both deserve. 

She feels giddy, a feeling she thought was reserved for only Hallmark movie characters and famous people. But it washes over her, every part of her body losing its tension and she’s just here, with him. “That was nice,” she mumbles, fingers drawing small shapes on him.

He releases a breathy laugh, “Mhmm, it was.” And he quickly captures her lips once again, giving her another short, simple peck. A kiss just because

Holding her in his grasp, he doesn’t want to stop. Even though they aren’t kissing anymore, he stays near, fingers tracing her sides, sneaking under her blazer to get even closer. Head tilted down, he’s avoiding her eyes, paying attention to his own shapes he’s making with his thumbs, and she feels the energy shift.

He’s drifting off to somewhere far away from her. 

“What was all this about?” she asks in a whisper. It was a typically quiet time of day, but still. Olivia didn’t want to be caught. Not by the newbie, who would just be embarrassed to see his boss so intimately. And especially not by her most trusted detectives, both with biases about him, each making it very clear to her where they stand. 

“…I didn't properly say goodbye to you this morning.”

“That all?” She moves her head, trying to find where his stare landed and pull him back to her, but he remains away. She barely hears him say, “…no.”

Grabbing his hands at her side, she intertwines their fingers and tugs them down—his aimless gaze follows where they’re connected—and she tucks her head down to meet his eyes. “Elliot, what’s going on?”

It’s all too much for him, her deep brown glare begging to find the truth, exposing him raw. He swallows, starting to gnaw on his bottom lip for comfort to get through this , get through what he came here to do. “...I don’t know how to say this.”

“Why does it sound like you are breaking up with me?” She laughs, but he doesn’t join. “…Elliot?”

“It’s not like that.”

Pulling her hands out from his, she’s desperate to sneak away from him and the suffocating cage he has her in, “Oh my god, you came here to do all that just to—”

But he doesn’t let her go so easily, not wanting her to think he’s the guy he pretended to be to get out of that bar. 

“Olivia, listen to me.” 

Keeping her close, he gently cups her cheek, making sure that his words are heard by her—loud and clear. “I am not ending things between us. Whatever we are. But, this other thing…” His thumbs swipes across her cheek, needing the softness of her to keep him focused, keep him honest. “Frank showed up at your house. I’ve seen what this guy will do to people and you were right to ask to wait. It’s just not safe now.”

But she doesn’t want to listen, doesn’t want him to go all protective again. She’s an NYPD Captain, she’s gone undercover plenty of times before. Sure, this was different and maybe it was a bit reckless with Noah, but she’s damn good at her job and Elliot’s a father too. There’s no reason for him to doubt her abilities, if that’s what he’s getting on about. “Did he say something to you?”

“Liv—” He’s grasping at the air, trying so hard to avoid this, avoid her voice. This was exactly why he left all those years ago without a goodbye, the softness of her voice snuck its way inside his chest, tugging and pulling, digging itself a permanent home.

“Elliot, please.”

It works. Elliot’s hand glides down to rest on her shoulder, thumb still sweeping where it can, the rhythm keeping him focused, keeping him here. “He was suspicious of last night,” he pauses to gauge her response, but there’s nothing there for him to read. She remains steady, eyes on him, beckoning him to continue. “I gave him a cover and he seems to be buying it, but the hit still happened and it made Frank paranoid.”

She nods slowly, taking her own time to read beyond his stare. He looks lost, despite the directness of his words, he’s cloaking something over the truth. Olivia sees the urge to run deep in the baby blue, his breath steady, but the slightest bit wavered. But she’s digging her heels in, not willing to risk losing him again. “And you think ending things will make him less suspicious?”

“What do you mean?” 

He’s pushing back. 

Please let me do this, Olivia.

She’s not giving up.

I’m not letting you run. 

She cocks a brow, “I show up the night the hit happens and then never again? What’ll he say to that?”

“Olivia—”

“I think we need to be smart. I think we should set up rules and boundaries to keep this out of that. But cutting me out to protect me won’t work.”

He knows she’s right, knows the logic behind the job, knows that she was brought into this world and can’t just evaporate—they saw her. They saw them kissing, his hands roaming her body, hers clawing at his. But he can’t see her there again, doesn’t want to hear her name fall from the brothers’ mouths again, and have to speak of her as something and not his everything. 

He manages to cover up his circling mind, plastering on a playful smile and dropping his voice lower. “I think you just want to be able to keep kissing me, Captain.”

She doesn’t miss his deflection, curtailing him back with the weapon she always can yield.  A simple beckon of her voice, “Elliot.”

“Sorry, sorry,” and his eyes squeeze shut. There’s an uncomfortability between the two, each the other’s protector, unwilling to let the other take care of them, both jumping in front of the other in a sick cyclical game. Each a caretaker, though polar opposites with how they show it. One stubborn, brutish, strong, like stone—a defense like no other. Her, a carefully woven wall of leaves, binded together so tightly, no one could get in. Both equally sturdy, each with cracks from the years, but both still here, unwilling to let go of the fight. For the job, for each other. 

Olivia doesn’t like that he does this, doesn’t like that he feels this unshakeable need to keep her away, to keep using distance as a way to keep her safe. She wishes he knew how much it did not work. How much harder it was for her to glue the piece back together through burning tears and a tight throat. Stay. 

“You said you trust me, so trust me,” she leans forward to seal these words with the familiar vow of a kiss, their version of a promise. But his eyes stay closed, and she sees him swallow down words that are begging to come up. “You don’t have to do this alone.”

The next time he speaks, she is stung by the artificial frustration he was formulating. Defense ploy number three. “Is that what this is about? You thinking I need help?”

“Stop. I know what you’re doing,” she scolds him with her eyes, lips tight and hands gripping at him. He starts to relax at her touch, and she continues blanketing him with her voice, hoping to claw through his barriers. “I see how this is affecting you, Elliot. This isn’t as black and white as other undercover ops. This is people you’ve known, people you—”

“Trusted?” One last punch to her chest. He’s scrambling to get her to back down.  

“It’s different, Elliot. I would hope you understand that.”

There’s a part of her that wants to give in to him, let him go and walk away for a third time and erase him out of her mind completely. But this time is unlike before, unlike the time he had a wife and she had an excuse of losing a good partner to mask her disappointment. And unlike his last undercover job where she had not fully given herself to him, still not knowing what his lips felt like under hers. Not knowing how real his desire for her was. If he walks away this time, she will feel the ghost of his hands constantly touching her. Feel the echo of his kisses across her skin and never be able to find another to satisfy the ache for more. 

And for him, he thinks of his wife. Thinks about how easily she was taken from him, how unlikely but true that one person wanted to make him suffer so badly, they killed her. That was one man. This is a brotherhood of dirty cops. They knew Olivia, some even worked with her. She was an exposed nerve of his that he could not hide. No weaknesses must show as a UC, and the brightest one of all shown through with her, the golden light who walked into the bar and guided him home. To her home. 

“Olivia, if you don’t let me end this now, you will be a pawn in their game. Captain or not, these guys have dirt on everyone to keep them safe. And if they get to you—"

“They won’t.”

If they do, I won’t be able to live with myself.” His hands have landed back on her cheeks, cupping them once more and letting his fingers travel deep into her hair. There is no world without Olivia, and he means that. “I’ve lost too much already, I don’t want to risk that happening again.”

And her hands find his, fingers gripping them, tugging one away enough to give it gentle kisses. Soft, featherlike pecks against calloused skin, it’s almost poetic, a perfect portrait of them. 

“I don’t either. But, I’m not willing to lose you again, Elliot. Even if you are physically here, I need all of you here. If you push me away this time, I’m afraid there won’t be any of you left for us to move on.”

He swallows, eyes down, ingesting the truth he does not want to hear. He will not agree to let her risk her life, but has no more energy in him to keep fighting her. 

She continues, seeing that it’s slightly working, but still not enough for him to take a proper breath and let his shoulders sag. Moving her hands, she snakes them over his shoulders, fingernails down to scratch at his back, palms secure to try and get him closer. As if that were possible. “We’re partners—you have my back, I have yours. That’s all this is, just us working together again. You’ll keep me safe, while I’ll keep you present. We get through this, and then…"

“And then what?”

She smiles, “You tell me.” 

It’s practically a nanosecond before his lips crash to hers for the thousandth time today, finally getting his hands back on her hips, where they first began. Remarkably, it's much more intense, with a fire of passionate pleas underneath each push of him into her, and she’s playing right back this time, understanding once and for all what this is for. This is not the domestic embrace they had this morning, not even the fiery groping from last night. This was fear. This was stubbornness and pain. 

This was the old them—she’s reminded of that lifetime far ago where they held each other's lives in their own hands. Finger on the trigger, gun to his head, unable to focus on job, only seeing him. His call out for her as the blood seeped through her fingers on her throat. The pent up tension through that case, echoing again a year or so later in an interview room, unable to answer what they meant to each other. 

The push and pull of their present embrace, heated, apologetic, hungry kisses and hasty hands—there’s a vicious need for them to never part, a need so all encompassing, she almost forgets she’s at work. 

He’s ravenous, having to place his hands firmly somewhere or they will roam lower and lower—

Her phone buzzes. 

She freezes, halting immediately, scrambling to pull the vibrating object out of her back pocket and up to her ear, “Benson.” Elliot is being reckless, kissing that forbidden spot from earlier, possessively sucking at the skin before soothing it with gentle swipes of his tongue. 

“You guys done in there yet? I can only distract McGrath for so long.”

He laughs against her, phone so close, he can hear Fin loud and clear. Olivia hangs up in embarrassment, as Elliot adjusts her top in an attempt to cover the wonderfully decorated hickey he has somehow expanded. 

“You should get a scarf.”

 


 

Somehow his youth returned to him as he snuck out of her office to avoid McGrath, and he thought of the days he pulled the same maneuvers at Kathy’s house, narrowly avoiding her father and his rifle. It was such a pompous threat, wielding it while he picked her up from homecoming, but he did end up knocking her up not too much later. Maybe the guy had a point. 

Instead of teenage rebellion, now he was sneaking out of his friend’s (he desperately wants to label her as something more special, but they’re not there yet—and girlfriend feels far too juvenile) work after kissing her senselessly in the tucked away corner of her office. And instead of a father, he’s avoiding another man with a gun, one that was much more bothersome than Kathy’s father, one that he wouldn’t last a day working for. 

McGrath loomed over the squadroom, until Fin dragged him over to discuss details of some case, giving Elliot an inconspicuous nod to go! when the chief pointed at a piece of paperwork.

“…Officer Bolton was the one on the scene. Ring him up, I want that teenage punk put away.” It sticks in Elliot’s ear, the name of one of the brothers, as he carefully heads out, jacket and hat on, head down low. He’ll ring her up later, cross reference the cases, work as a team again. A partnership. 

He hears her office door open and can’t seem to fight the urge not to glance over, see how skilled she was at covering up his latest (passionate) destruction. The hickey is out of sight, covered up by a high-neck top she definitely wasn’t wearing before. 

“And there’s the sleeping beauty. What? Forgot you work here?” McGrath’s voice booms through the busselling room, and Elliot turns on his feet, fist already clenched at the disrespect he’s tossing at her. But he doesn’t even need Olivia to confirm for him to stay out of this. Not with her chief, not in her wheelhouse. 

Instinctively, Fin clues her in, guiding the conversation to the cover he created for her while she was…busy. “How’d the phone call go with Rebecca’s parents, Captain?” 

“As well as it can go.” And Elliot is almost jealous of the ease the two have in communicating with each other, their ability to play along, to protect each other through perfected improvisation. Years ago, he could say that Fin had Olivia’s back. But this was different and Elliot knows that Fin helped fill the giant hole he left when he disappeared. The phone calls between them when he was still overseas, the lack of information the detective was willing to share about her as Kathy nudged him to finally make the call. He was grateful for Fin, not quite ready to talk to her—he needed that to be in person, if at all. Needed to see her, needed to update the sketch of her features ingrained in his brain that popped up every so often in his dreams (nightmares?). 

She’s changed, grown up, matured, and so has he. But that last face he saw of her was implanted in his every waking moment. Sometimes it felt suffocating. Torturous. And it came through those days in Europe where he swore he saw her, heard her laughter at a cafe while he held Eli’s hand and squeezed at the sound of it. 

“Ouch, Daddy.” 

Eli would scrunch up his nose and Elliot would loosen the unintended grip he had on the almost three year old’s tiny hand, looking up to see that the laugh belonged to a brunette, but not the one he thought of. It’s funny, but he thinks maybe he did have PTSD sooner than Kathy’s passing. That the fear-like state his body went into over his ex-partner was a precursor to the panic attacks he would have over bright orange glows and Kathy’s screams. 

It was punishment for breaking Olivia’s trust. Punishment for doing the one thing that would hurt her most. Punishment for even having Olivia become Olivia and not remain simply his coworker. But the vague thoughts of her only touched the surface, and he thinks God played a sick joke on him when the bright eyes and curly blonde hair of his youngest slowly darkened and echoed the brown eyes that were etched so deep in his memories. 

The look on Kathy’s face told him everything, how even in Italy, Olivia wasn’t going away. Not when four years later, they both couldn’t look at their baby boy without thinking of the woman who helped him come into the world. 

“I want to see your phone.”

“Kathy—”

“No, give it to me.”

“I haven’t touched it since we first came here. It's somewhere in the closet.”

And when she got her hands on it (a feat for her fueled by the same cycling conversation about the brunette), she played message after message, staring him down, clicking buttons until he heard them be tossed in the virtual trash bin on the device. “If you’re lying to me, I will take him and leave. I’m not doing this again, Elliot.” 

He wasn’t lying. He never spoke to her. Never reached out. Forced himself to disfigure her memory in his head and focus on the life he had now. Focus on what was real, like Kathy would always say. 

“I’m here, Kathy. I chose you. I always chose you.”

That mantra gets him through the next six years. Gets her to take a breath, gets her to relax in his arms at night and he starts to think that Olivia has actually faded from his brain completely. That Eli looks like his sister’s kids, the brown hair and eyes are from his side of the family, and he was a fool for even questioning some symbolic punishment of choosing his family and duty over a coworker. 

And she begins to disappear from Europe, as Elliot dove back into his constant need to work and the job—her face no longer seen, instead filled by the commoners of the towns he temporarily habited. Only once did his brain ever screw him, but that was Paris, and the Olivia he knew wouldn’t be there. He laughs it off, turning away from the clear figment of his imagination, shaking his head at God as he sneaks out of the Notre Dame Cathedral. 

“Nice one.” He whispers to the air, and keeps moving, able to see through the cloudy hallucinations. Not today, not in the city of romance. Not in church.

And now retreating from her office, he falls back into that rhythm of avoidance, keeping a steady pace with his head down, deflecting any wandering eyes. It’s funny how good he got at not being seen. Despite his stature and demeanor, he glides through the hallways masterfully, keeping his face off the cameras and body language calm, as to not alarm any of the working officers. It’s the trick he perfected in the maze-like alleys of Italy, the cobblestone streets that his feet memorized, the way his feet arched at the texture beneath. Nothing like New York. No, it was much quieter. A good volume for him to think, but sometimes too silent for him to relax. 

Now he’s back, the soundtrack of never-ending life around him and he selfishly can sleep more peacefully again. He wonders if it’s the city or if it really is due to the cleared up vision of her back at the forefront. The shapes no longer blurred, no longer left only to abstract pools of chocolate brown eyes, but instead filled by his memorization of each angle of her visage—he could probably paint a portrait if he had the skills. His hands roamed everywhere, but not for his own sick need, instead needing to discover each dip and curve, wanting to fold her body perfectly into his, keep them melded as one like they were always meant to. 

“Elliot—”

“Don’t. Don’t talk like that. You’re going to be fine.”

“I was wrong—”

“Kathy, stop. I love you.”

“I know that. Just promise me you’ll be happy.”

“You should rest.”

One last test for the sinner, the last conversation not even a proper goodbye to his first and longest love. A conversation still centered around another. She wasn’t thinking clearly, not in that hospital bed, the words she spoke for him to transcribe in a letter—that was Kathy. 

Right?

He’s surprised to realize he made it out the front door. Guess muscle memory of the precinct really did kick in. Now would be a really great time for a drink. The taste of her hasn’t left him, and he wasn’t sure if it ever would really vanish from his lips. He was fucked.

Eyes scan the street and he sees his ride ready to go, nodding to him when their eyes eventually and invvidentably meet. Elliot tries to shake her out of his head (as much as he possibly could), climbing into the car to move on with his day.

The driver breaks the ice. “So? How’d it go?”

Still shaking his head, he becomes fully focused on his seatbelt (do bad cops even wear seatbelts?) and clicks it anyway, needing some sense of gravity to keep him grounded right now. Clicking his jaw, he mumbles casually, “Couldn’t do it.”

“Ah, c’mon man—”

“I know, I know—”

And Franks reignites the car, eyes ahead, but huffing like a disappointed parent. “The sex must be real fucking nice, cause you’re being an idiot right now.”

Fists threatening to clench, he stretches his fingers out and back in, distracting them from going through the window. When’s his next therapy appointment? Dr. Robbins is going to have a field day with this one. 

Taking a moment to center himself, he places himself back in the car, back in the moment to register where he is and who is with, managing to translate his anger into a cocky laugh. “Hey, what can I say?” He knows he’s being dramatic, but he swears he tastes bile in his throat. The way he has to play this, talking about Olivia this way, it makes him sick. It doesn’t feel right, the words like acid, and conflicts with the taste of her lips still fresh on his tongue. 

This test is too much, God. He gets it. Understands the sin he’s been hiding, pretending it was never there. Are you happy now? Can this end?

There was no need to keep having the siren come into view, seducing him with promises of long abandoned dreams finally coming to fruition. He would not bite from the apple anymore. 

He thinks. 

Phone buzzing, he makes himself busy, checking it quickly. 

Liv | Rule number one: no more marks.

He keeps his face neutral, expressionless, but feels his chest warm with the reinvigorated thought of her decorated by his desire. 

Elliot | You look good in a turtleneck

Liv | Yeah, well you’re lucky I practically live here. Keep them out of sight.

Elliot | So only the places I get to see?

“You texting her?”

“Nah, my son-in-law. Had a question about their hot water tank.” Hot water tank? Jesus Christ, Elliot, real smooth there. He feels the buzz of his phone again and snaps out of the need to self-deprecate.

Liv | Don’t push it 

Elliot | You didn’t seem to stop me, Captain

If Fin hadn’t called, if McGrath wasn’t there—he wasn’t sure what would’ve stopped them. Surely her hands would have created more distance, would have ended the wet smacks and needy tugs. No, instead she wanted him to remain there, hands on her, not even curtailing their downwards path towards her ass. He’s curious when the red light would’ve flashed. What would be too much for him. Too much too quickly in her office.

Part of him is thankful for the deflection, a twisted want for their first time to not be rushed, to not be where she has to hold back, where he can’t give her everything she deserves. Everything his sick fantasies have pictured while his finger burned from the golden band that scolded him each time. He’s like a shaken soda can, a burst of feverish desideratum ready to explode. He does not want her quiet, no hushed breaths, no chaste kisses. They deserve a symphony of sounds and movements when she lets him in. And it’s not like he’s been innocent now, letting peaks of the pressurized, fervent ache for more hiss out through each kiss. 

It will suffice, for now

Liv | Focus on work. We’ll talk soon.

Elliot | Copy that 

She may have convinced him to keep her in the game, to keep her in this fantasy of a pawn in Elliot’s game for his badge and respect—but he would not let this ruin them. Maybe she was right, maybe he really did need her to balance him out. 

Frank breaks the silence Elliot was growing fond of, the silence that kept his mind filled with flashes of her smile, and far away from the crooked glance of a former friend turned sour. Turning in his seat, he cocks his head and rubs his jaw, “Well if that didn’t work, I got one more idea.”



 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

CW: discussions of w*lliam l*wis, description of a panic attack

 

 

 

 

The bruise on her neck is fading and Olivia thinks it’s probably symbolic. A visual representation of the inner voice that let out the decade old sob where her hands clutched her chest, feeling each individual vein slowly suffocate her heart with the news that he was gone. But that was so long ago, it was history. Now he was back and the veins unfurled, open wide, ready to welcome him in. Ready for him to come home. And his lips had rushed that frozen blood that bled for him back to the surface, making her feel alive again—making that voice hide so far away, and bury itself in the scent of his nearness. 

She thought it would be easy to keep her distance, she got so good at it over the years. So, when the purplish hues and exposed nerves that once proudly decorated her neck dissolve back into their neutral olive tones, she feels childish wishing that the hickey was still here. 

At least if it was, she would have something to hold onto while the air around them fills with a tension so sharp, so dangerously active, neither of them even wants to speak. 

It’s been three days since she last felt his hands on her, the caloused hands that groped her fervently, laced with a hungry desire for more. It’s been three days since their lips pressed together and their tongues fought for control (the taste of them combining so sweetly that she thinks she might be addicted to it). It’s been three days since he looked at her like she was his everything, telling her (with his mouth or fingers) how much he wanted her and she almost believed him. 

With each day, each hour, that voice clawed its way up, telling her this is exactly what was always bound to happen. How foolish of her to think that his need for her was anything more than the pure convenience of physical affection. He was merely touch-starved and she was too. 

But something kept her checking her phone, kept her slightly out of focus, kept her mind full of him and she’s unsure if that tether to him will ever be cut, or if truly there is no life without Elliot Stabler. 

“When?”

“Friday.”

It’s Monday morning and the two sit in her work-issued vehicle when the argument starts. In her car, merely seconds after she’s said her goodbyes to Noah, Olivia welcomed him into her vehicle with a tight smile typically saved for her boss. He asked her to park a little further down, requesting more discretion, after he tossed her a casual ‘hey’ and offered his gift of a warm cup of coffee to her. 

Unlike mornings prior, they’re keeping their distance. Although both adults have that overwhelming, desperate need to touch the other viciously bubbling up to the surface. Instead of succumbing to the ache, they don’t touch. 

They barely speak

She takes a few long sips of the creamy drink, which varies from her usual orders, a little sweeter. It’s no different from the coffee in the mug he had ready for her that Friday morning, and yet, it tastes completely foreign.

“Did he say anything else?”

“Only what I already told you.”

“…okay. I’ll get a sitter.”

 


 

Ayanna was tentative to welcome Olivia fully onboard, not particularly understanding her insistence to keep the rouse going. Elliot was safe, back to work, with a firmer understanding of how cautious he had to be. How one wrong move can make him a target again. 

Maybe even her. 

And as she sat across from the Sergeant on Saturday afternoon, hearing an outsider say it aloud, Olivia questions if maybe she is being naive. Forgoing her own responsibilities and duties for the man who has yet to ask her anything more than out for meals and how many men occupied her 'time' without him. But his mark is still on her neck, sheets still lingering with the scent of him, and she assures the younger woman that she is aware of the risk.

“It is never my intention to overstep, Captain. I know there is a lot I do not know about you—about you both. But what I do know is how reckless he gets while under. How stubborn he can be and how it puts him, and our whole operation, at risk. I know you can handle yourself, but he is not your problem to take care of.”

“I appreciate the concern, Ayanna, I really do. But I got myself involved by going to the bar—”

“Which I should have stopped.”

Olivia laughs, letting a sharp exhale out from her nostrils, shaking her head lightly. “I don’t think you would’ve been able to.”

Ayanna smiles back, “No, probably not.”

She gives it a minute to speak for itself, the understanding that Elliot and Olivia are not a force that can be easily stopped. That their unspoken words rang deeper than Shakespearean sonnets or Dickonson poems. A simple command from an officer would not have been enough to stand down, that was a constant across their long-winded tale. 

But the air shifts slightly, and Olivia catches the minute change in expression from the woman across from her, and she stays quiet, waiting for her to continue. 

“About the bar…” Ayanna begins, but trails off. 

“What about it?”

The woman definitely doesn’t want to talk about it, but Olivia nudges her with a cock of her brow and tilt of her head. Reluctant, she continues, “There’s been some talk about it. Mostly staying within the brotherhood and their connections, but I wanted you to hear it from me first.”

Oh.

“…what are they saying?”

The Sargeant clears her throat, “I wouldn’t worry—”

“I’ll hear it eventually.”

She sighs, “Right.” Taking a moment, Ayanna surprisingly does not shy away from Olivia’s gaze. There’s a level of respect between the two that is evident here, even as personal conversations trickle into the workplace, like they always seem to. “It’s just locker room talk. How the Special Victims Captain is sleeping with a dishonorable subordinate who is desperate to get his reputation back.”

“That’s all?”

“I took a few liberties with the language, but I’m not comfortable stooping down to the ‘back the blue’ shop talk.”

“Right,” Olivia nods, ingesting the rumor. Trying to sort it in rightly in her head so it doesn’t read as the truth. She knew he had a cover, one that would have to make her be someone expendable to Elliot, but this was her first instance of hearing it outloud. Desperate to get his job back, he’s using his old friend, a NYPD Captain to climb back up the ranks. 

She wants to say how ridiculous it is. But he chose a great cover, and there’s just enough believability to it to make her skin itch. Right where he’s marked her. 

“I’ll get this filed right away and try my best to keep you updated.”

 


 

“You really want to do this?”

“It’s just drinks with them. Ayanna has my papers in now, so if it ever becomes an issue that I was seen with them, we have proof I’m undercover.” 

“That’s not what I’m talking about. I just told you what they’re planning on doing. They want you gone.”

“With words, Elliot. There’s nothing they can say to me that I haven’t already heard as a woman who’s been on the force for over 20 years,” she huffs, wishing they weren’t in her car. Weren’t side by side with their walls up, making this conversation nearly impossible. “Besides, are they going to threaten me? Are they really that dumb to do that to a NYPD Captain?”

“These cops? Yeah.”

 


 

She spent the past two days finding her old self again, armor slowly reshaping around her. Not Elliot’s Olivia. Instead, Noah’s mom. Her squad’s Captain. Titles without him. Places she blossomed while the distance between them was large enough for an ocean to divide the pair. 

Two days should be nothing. 

How pathetic of her—she did ten years without a word. Three more months after his return. Not talking to Elliot was more consistent than talking. She could not allow him to invade her this violently, couldn’t let him shake the stability she had worked so hard to balance. 

Focusing on her son, she made a big dinner with him by her side, needing his unconditional love to blind her worries and replace the hole of Elliot with his innocent giggles and stories of classmates. And when he fell asleep on her while they rested on the couch, she stayed with him for a bit, needing the embrace before he grew up too much. 

Hours later, when Noah is tucked in his bed, she’s in her own, unable to roll over to the untouched territory that Elliot lay claim to. Sleep comes eventually, and the Captain finally gets some rest. 

 


 

“What about Noah?”

“What about him? I already told you, I’ll call my sitter.”

“That’s not what I meant.” She sees him raise his daggers up in her peripheral vision, but she doesn’t have time to stop them before he lets them go. “You see how Eli is. You heard how upset he got over this. You’re willing to let Noah be the same?”

“Don’t you dare bring up my son like that. You are way out of line.”

“He’s younger too, you’ll be leaving him—”

“Eli’s not upset you went undercover, it’s that you went undercover again after promising him you’d be present, Elliot. For the record, you do that a lot.”

“What, lie?”

“Leave.”

 


 

It’s nearly midnight on Sunday night when she finally hears from him. She had slept less than an hour before the call came through, unknown ID, but Olivia knows it’s him. From a pay phone, his speech sounds slightly slurred on a few syllables, but otherwise coherent. 

“Olivia,” her name sounds heavy in his mouth, like it was a smooth shot of whiskey, warming his lips.

“Elliot? Where are you calling from?”

“I need you to back out.”

She’s barely awake, eyes still struggling to open, but an annoyed huff escapes her breath after being held for much longer than just tonight. “We’ve talked about this already.”

“Olivia, stop being so—” He’s agitated, she knows him too well to ignore it. “Can you please just do this for me?”

“I am doing this for you.” It’s the truth but he is not in the mood to hear it. He needs her to give in, needs her to do what he wants. “Are you drunk right now? Where are you?”

Words sharp, he’s still tense. She pictures his stance—arm up, fist clenched so the knuckles turned white. His brows are probably furrowed, head hanging down, hand gripping the phone so tightly, she wouldn’t be surprised if it broke. It should make his muscles ache—make them sting from being squeezed for so long, make his body far too tired. She wishes she could reach out and grab him, have her soft touch ease his hold, relax him again.

“I’m not drunk. I just need you to listen to me.”

But he is far too focused and she is far too tired—literally and figuratively. Exhausted from being woken up by his call, exhausted from his inability to listen and take her as is. Exhausted from having him be a ‘him.’

“Elliot, go home. Get some water and sleep. We can talk tomorrow.”

“Olivia—”

“Six hours, Elliot. I’m asking for six hours.”

“…okay.”

 


 

“Jesus, Liv. I’m not getting into this with you.”

“You just played the ‘I’m a bad mother card,’ but I can’t call you out on the truth?”

“Can we please not go there?” 

“Fine.” 

 


 

She should have known it wouldn’t have ended with the first call, that he was bound to ring her up again. That her voice was an addiction he could not fight, her timbre akin to the soothing sting of antiseptic on a fresh wound. Necessary, but temporarily tortuous. Elliot was the stubborn bull, unable to slow down, unaware of the path of destruction he caused until it was too late. Olivia was the lion tamer, gentle hands and kind words, soothing the animalistic tendencies to self-destruct. 

But as the phone goes up to her ear for the second time this night, she is beyond the point of exhaustion, no longer able to speak in hushed tones and in understanding words. Her claws are out, ready with her defenses up, “Elliot, I told you to go to sleep.”

“You didn’t have to answer.”

It strikes her deep and she wants to strike him across the cheek. “You’re right—”

“No, don’t hang up, please.” His voice softens for the first time and Olivia starts to recognize the man she originally knew, the one much warmer than the one who has shelled himself so deeply away, a wall of grief and repentance blocking her from entering. The plea lodges itself in her throat, a thick ache that takes nearly all of her remaining energy to swallow it down.

She can’t respond with anything insightful, can’t get too deep into a conversation turned argument. Not at this hour. And so, for the third time this evening, she asks, “Elliot, where are you?”

And he finally answers.

“Home. In the garden,” his voice remains unarmed, much less forceful, much more the man whose fingers laced through her hair, whispering words of desire, decorating her skin with short and simple pecks. 

“Elliot, you need to sleep.”

“Can’t,” his voice shakes and Olivia understands now.  Understands this is more than stubbornness, more than his need for control. This wasn’t control he was seeking, but rather protection he was after.

“I’m safe in bed with my front door locked and a very strict doorman. You have nothing to worry about—”

“Frank has plans for you.”

It hangs in the air for a moment before the woman can register what was actually said. 

“What?”

And like a dam breaking, he’s loosened, pouring out the truth, sounding small in her ear. “Told me the other day and I can’t stop thinking about it. Didn’t give me details.”

“...what kind of plans?”

“I don’t know, Liv. He’s paranoid.”

“Did he make a legitimate threat?”

“No, no. I think…” She hears a heavy sigh on the other end and wishes—just once—that she can hold him. “I think he just wants to test you. See where you stand.”

A small silence fills the space once again, but she uses it to give him time for another deep breath, and her time to think of an answer. She knows what she wants to do. Knows the silver of her that foregos logic for him has decided already. 

All she can say is “…okay,” soft, almost hesitant, but firm enough for him to know she’s serious. 

“Olivia,” he drags out her name in a broken prayer. “Just please let me do this alone. We can keep a low profile, I’ll only see you when we’re away from everyone, I’ll get a new phone, just please—please?”

It takes everything in her to not give in, to not let his pleas slice through the barriers she has so carefully laid. “Rest for me, Elliot. I can stay on the phone if you’d like, but we aren’t going to talk about this anymore tonight.” 

 


 

By now, that hovering tension turns into full force frustration, each clouded in the chaos of the other, wanting—no, needing—the air to cleanse itself, brighten the fogginess and just allow them to touch again. But it lingers. Stays like the smog of the city they lay claim to, edging them both to just yell it out. 

Her volume doesn’t rise, but her voice gets firmer, more direct. It’s much too early for a screaming match outside her son’s school, less than an hour before they both have to begin a full workday. She can’t look at him, only focused on her words, “I don’t know if it’s a man thing or an Elliot thing, but you keep trying to push and push me far away from this case—far away from you.” Sighing, she takes a moment to let the emotion die within her, needing logic as the lead, needing to not show any of her cards. “Before I got involved, you were begging to take me and Noah out for lunch and now you’re begging me to stay away. You confuse me, Elliot. It’s always, ‘you mean the world to me,’ but ‘back off.’ Or asking me for more, but then leaving before I can decide.”

“You know this is different. This is me trying to keep you away from my work, not me.”

“Yeah, well we’ve only ever really been involved in each other’s work, Elliot. That’s kind of what we’re good at.”

“Were we?”

It’s a lie to question it and he immediately feels the regret of doing so. Like he damn well should. She snaps back, “Don’t do that, I hate when you do that.”

He can’t apologize, not yet. That would be far too communicative—far too appropriate. So, he holds his ground. “I don’t know what you want from me.”

Eyes locked, she’s desperately searching his gaze for the man she kissed the other night. The one who looked at her like the stars and the moon, the one who held her tight and begged for forever. It’s much too cloudy in his usually clear blue eyes and she sighs, giving up, “I just want honesty, Elliot. That’s all I’m asking for.” 

“I’ve been nothing but honest with you. I want you to back out. Get a protective detail on you and Noah until this wraps up, and then we can move forward.”

“And what if it doesn’t? What if you’re after another group? The work over at Organized Crime doesn’t exactly end with an arrest.”

He dares to look at her.

“I will finish this job. And then I will be done.” 

She looks back.

“No,” a tear threatens to fall, but she knows better. “You won’t.”

Christ, Olivia, nothing I say is good enough for you.”

“You know what would be good enough? If you tell me what you want from this.”

He pauses to look at her deeper and he can see the pools of water hanging onto the edge, threatening to fall. “I want you to be safe.”

“No, not what you want for me, what do you want for us?”

“Liv—”

“Elliot, please just tell me so I can move on.”

It halts his next move. Move on. Like either of them ever could. Instead, he tames the animalistic instinct to yell at her. Yell how ridiculous this is, how she isn’t seeing what he means—why he needs her safe. The momentary silence gives him the chance to breathe, gives him a chance to speak calmly and not let those tears fall down her cheeks. “I’ve been telling you, I want you to be safe. I want you far away from this mess I’m in right now because…” 

He feels that sting in his throat, and he attempts to get it away by clearing his throat, but it remains lodged there, his own eyes wanting to water, but—like her—he knows better. “Because I failed Kathy. I failed to protect her from the job, and I lost her. I failed her, and I failed my kids. And I look at this life you built all on your own, and I see how I keep wrecking it piece by piece.”

Shaking his head, he thinks of the blue-eyed boy he hopelessly wanted to know. Wanted to learn his hobbies, see the mini version of the woman he adored. Wanted Noah to not think of Elliot as a stranger, but as the protector he always wanted to be for her child. “You have a son now, this isn’t like back in the day when we were partners. My kids only have me and Noah only has you. It’s not that I think you can’t do this, it’s that I don’t want you to. I want you to go home, get to hold your son, and be the mom you deserve to be. And if that means I stay away so that you can thrive without me again, I think that’s exactly what I want to do.”

She lets it hang there, taking the time to ingest it piece by piece, slightly overwhelmed with the rare and raw honesty he had just poured out to her. But it catches her. This ‘life she built,’ this vision of gold he sees when in reality it’s nothing as beautiful as he describes. It stings as it grows, becoming the only thing she can pull out of his words. “Why do you think it was all wonderful while you were gone? That suddenly you left and everything good happened to me?”

“Look at where you are. A Captain, a mom—”

“That’s so far from everything, Elliot,” she cuts him off. “Yes, those are two amazing things that have happened to me, but that doesn’t mean my life was better with you gone,” and she looks away, letting that single tear fall before she wipes it away as quickly as humanly possible. When she speaks again her voice is hoarse, and she hates how vulnerable she feels. “There were plenty of times when I used to not be able to sleep because I would think how I would have been safe if you never left. How you were the one person in my life who cared about me enough to—”

“What happened?” He cuts her off now, brows furrowed, eyes frightfully searching.

“...what?”

“You said you weren’t safe, what do you mean?”

It’s too much—far too much for her to handle this morning. She shakes her head, “No, I’m not doing this right now.”

“Olivia—”

“Please,” she begs. ”Not now?”

“...okay,” he concedes, glancing away out the window, hand grabbing at his jaw as if it was sore from the built up tension. 

She doesn’t want to fight. Doesn’t want to start her morning—her week—off in this car crying while he runs again. Taking a deep breath, she trudges through the sharp air, hoping her brightness can break through and clear up the murky waters. “My point is, we were good partners. We are good at this, at the job.”

“But not the other thing?”

“What other thing?”

He tosses her a smug grin, and it surprisingly warms her that she is starting to recognize him again. “I’m sorry, was I making out with someone else the other day?”

“I don’t know, were you?” She teases.

“Seriously?”

Shrugging, she prodes, “It wouldn’t be the first time.”

Olivia.”

“Sorry,” and she chuckles softly, the tears beginning to evaporate. 

“Don’t be, you have a point.”

It didn’t fix everything, but the deflection lightened the mood just enough for them to speak again. Just enough for them to not flee and to be adults. 

This thing is hard for me,” she gestures with her hands, signaling that ‘this’ is in reference to the two of them. “It’s unexplored territory for us.”

“You mean, us? ” He pokes, cocking a brow. 

She rolls her eyes, “Stop.”

“No, I like saying it like that,” he nudges her arm, smiling a real, genuine smile. “You get flustered.”

“I’m not flustered—”

“Mhmm, you are,” he teases. “I think you like me, Captain.”

Once more, she rolls her eyes, “You’re a child.”

“It’s called puppy love, Liv.” 

The minute the two hear it leave his lips, they both lock eyes again. 

“I—I didn’t mean love like—”

Thankfully, Olivia just smiles, shaking her head as if the movement was actually knocking the words out of her ears. “You got to learn to keep that to yourself, Stabler.”

And maybe Elliot should feel embarrassed. Should feel regretful that he has now said the words twice. Love. Once in front of his children, it slipped out so abruptly, it startled even himself. But now, seeing her here, despite them fighting, he has had her now. Has held her, kissed her, knows what her skin tastes like and has marked her for his own. Remorse and regret can never be associated with his feelings for her. Even if it might be too soon. 

“Guess I can’t help myself,” he responds, voice light, doting

Olivia is beckoned by the change in tone, finally feeling peace after the tornado of each other’s destruction. She catches his blue eyes on her, that clear color back shining through, and it eases the air. “Are we good?”

“Which ‘us’? The job or the other thing?” 

“Both.”

Reaching out slowly, he grabs her hand in his and brushes his thumb across the skin, needing to remember how soft she really is. “I’m all in on you, Olivia. I mean it. But, the minute this job gets too dangerous—”

“Pull me out.”

It surprises him, the shift in stance, her willingness to resign to his wishes. “No pushing back?”

“No, you’re right. I couldn’t do that to Noah…or you.”

Elliot sighs, the wave of relief washing over him, releasing the tension in his muscles, the creaks in his neck subsiding. “Thank you. For trusting me.”

She lets out a sigh of her own, the relief moving past him and onto her. Starting the car, she mumbles, “Yeah, well sometimes I wonder why I still do.”

“I guess that whole partner bond never really goes away.”

Olivia takes a deep breath, hands on the wheel, looking at him once more before pulling away. “Friday?”

“Friday.”

 


 

“A week?”

“You can skip going out for one week, Eli, it’s not going to kill you.”

“Dad, this is ridiculous.” 

“Yeah, well, I’m trying to keep you safe, kid.” His youngest grumbles something inaudible and Elliot sighs, “You still have soccer.”

“I don’t get why I keep having to be punished because you chose to go undercover.”

Elliot raises his voice, “I didn’t ask to!”

“That’s what you said last time!” Eli slams the door to his bedroom and Elliot feels the agitation bubble over, wanting to storm down the hall and rip open the door and give his son a piece of his mind. 

Like his father would’ve. 

That thought breaks in, the vision of his father, hands raised, ready to come down, and his own frustration subsides. Leaning his hands on the cold kitchen counter, it’s days like this that he misses having someone else with him, misses Kathy being a foil to his parenting, misses not having to be the sole responsibility for the son who blames him so much. 

He wishes he could call her

It’s sick that in this moment of vulnerability, he’s seeking out his ex-partner over mourning the mother of his child, but he desperately wants her gentleness here, wants her help to soothe the child he keeps ruining with his own impulsivities. 

His phone rings. There’s no way—

But it’s not the woman he was aching to hear from, to talk to and see and invite over and have her tell him what to do. It’s Frank and he knows exactly why he’s calling. 

Shaking off the leftover tension, he unlocks the phone and holds it up to his ear, beginning his usual pace around the kitchen. “Frank, hey—you need something?”

“She say yes?”

“Who?” He knows exactly who. “Oh, Benson? Yeah, yeah, she said she’s excited. Think she’s got the wrong idea.”

“Girlfriend getting clingy already?”

“Not my girlfriend, Frank. Just a good lay to get me out of the mud.” He lowers his voice for the second part, wishing those words never came out of his mouth, hating that they came out so naturally. 

“Well, you might have to say goodbye to your little play thing. The brothers and I are going to give her quite a time on Friday.”

“Excuse me?” He freezes, breaking for a moment at the thought of what Frank means, ready to ruin the entire operation if the man so much as lays a single finger on Olivia. 

“Nah, not like that man, c’mon. It’s gonna be fun. Just a couple of old stories to let her know that we know. Plant our flag. Feel her out and see where she stands. I told you, Stabler. I’m doing this for both of us.”

Like hell he is. 

Elliot’s cracking under the pressure of vague threats, knowing that Olivia will show up no matter what, unless the brotherhood forgets the hit, disregards her appearance that night and moves onto the next victim. But it’s Frank. And Frank never forgets. 

“I don’t know, maybe we’re jinxing it to bring her back—”

“Lemme ask you, what was going on between you two before the hit on the bar?”

“What do you mean?”

“Why would she come track you down?”

Elliot shrugs to himself, “She had a bad day and I told her I was busy. That I couldn’t come over.” 

“Bad case?”

“Probably? I didn’t ask.”

“How’d she know about the bar?”

Elliot’s annoyed now, “It’s a public place, Frank. Didn’t know we were keeping it a secret.”

“Look, maybe I’m going hard on this, but I’m not going to risk everything I’ve helped create because you can’t keep it in your pants.” 

If only he could choke him out through a phone call—

“Friday. Bring her and I’ll take care of the rest.”

 


 

Olivia has been far too busy this week to keep in touch with Elliot. Cases have her overworked, Noah had a slight cold, and yet McGrath was the biggest child she had to deal with, as he is hounding her to reopen his daughter’s case. Olivia left Amanda in charge of it for a while, letting her wonderful boss know that the case is in good hands, and when things slow down, they can look into the details. 

He didn’t want to hear that. 

But Olivia didn’t care anymore. 

It’s 4PM on Friday and she hasn’t even had a second to give to the man she has 24 unread text messages from. She probably could have responded to a few, but she called Ayanna instead, going over the important details she needed to know. On a work level.

Ayanna could do that. Keep those two lanes separate. Keep phone calls to the facts and important details, leaving out the other stuff. Elliot came with all of the baggage and honestly, after Monday, she had zero energy in her to even eat a solid meal, let alone discuss the romantic feelings her and her ex-partner were avoiding.

So now, she flicks through her closet, wondering what the hell to wear to go undercover as herself (well, a much needier version of herself) at a shitty cop bar in an area she rarely ventured out to in her free time. 

A dress would be too much, but slacks were too professional.

Jeans were an easy go-to, but she wants to laugh because she can’t even remember the last time she was in jeans around Elliot. The simplest of pants and it was still uncharted territory for the two. 

Bottoms were the easy part. A top was where she’d really have to to think. 

This was work, but not work so she couldn’t throw on whatever top covered her, she needed to be the version of herself that wanted Elliot to see her. 

Which is technically this version of her too, but—

You know what, this is getting too confusing. 

Her phone buzzes and the screen lights up with his name, a simple text that just says:

Elliot | What are you wearing, Captain? ;) 

Oh, she was going to kill him.

Liv | Well, hello to you too.

At this point, she’ll wear a turtleneck.

Elliot | Sorry, I shouldn’t have said that. Just wanted to ease the tension before tonight.

Okay, maybe a button up?

Liv | It’s fine. 

Liv | I actually have no clue what to wear. Got an idea?

The last time she had a casual night out she wore that red top, but—Christ, where is it?

Elliot | …I don’t know if you want me to answer that. 

Turtleneck is sounding better again. 

Only issue is her room is a disaster and she can’t remember if the one she’s thinking of is clean or if she wore it Tuesday…

Elliot | Katie says black top and jeans is a safe option?

Liv | You asked Katie??

Elliot | Was I not supposed to? I didn’t say it was you.

She does have the loose black v-neck with short sleeves…it would pair well with the jeans. And her belt with the gold buckle would match the new earrings she got which would match the necklace…

Liv | Tell Katie thank you.

Elliot | Thought you didn’t want her to know it was you???

He has a point. 

But of all the Stablers, Katie would be the first to find out anyways if this went anywhere. And she really was thankful for the daughterly advice. 

Liv | I’ll see you soon.

 


 

He makes sure to thank Kathleen—twice. First was when Olivia asked him to, but the second is when he sees her in the garden, walking up to the back door, even though she originally requested to stay in the car. She’s in jeans that hug her waist and draw out the curves of her body, and she’s wearing a top that she definitely wouldn’t wear to work. Her hair is long and wavy and she’s decorated in thin jewelry that makes her seem even more of a rarity. Like she really should be something for more of the world to see. 

Although, he wants his claim well-documented. Wants people to look, but not touch.  

They exchange ‘hello’s briefly, and Olivia’s limited time is mostly spent catching up with Bernie and Kathleen, who both were equally surprised and not surprised to see the familiar brunette. 

“See?” Kathleen nods, pointing up and down Olivia’s outfit. “Always a good option.”

“You were right,” Olivia smiles, and she gives the younger woman a welcoming hug to thank her. The girl has grown up so much, no longer a girl, but now a woman, and it stings a little to realize how tall she really is. Remembering the days when she was a child, bounding up to her desk, wanting Olivia to braid her hair and tell her stories about her past. When she would say her goodbyes, Katie would always hug a little longer, counting an extra three seconds before letting go. 

And today is no different. She feels Kathleen holds onto her for the extra seconds, just like she did as a girl, and Olivia reminds herself to check in more with the kids.

It’s been a while since they’ve had a hug from a mom. 

And Eli makes a brief appearance to grab some water while Olivia is finishing up a conversation with Bernie about the flowers in the garden. The young boy looks miserable, donning sweats and a baggy hoodie, and Olivia wishes he remembered how close they used to be. How she would soothe him while he cried, and sometimes he reached out for her over his own parents. Now, he wants no one around him. Like every teenage boy going through it. 

She attempts to start the conversation, “Hey, Eli. How’s school?”

“Fine,” he answers sharply, chugging his fresh glass of water and putting the empty cup in the sink. 

Elliot cuts him off when he tries to walk away, barking a quick, “Dishwasher or clean it.”

Groaning, Eli slumps back over, flinging open the dishwasher door and quickly shoving the glass in the top rack, slamming it shut and walking away again. Before Elliot can speak again, Olivia has a hand on his arm, and is shaking her head—his bedroom door slams louder than ever. 

“I don’t know what’s up with him.”

“He’s a teenager, Elliot. Give him some space,” Olivia whispers, giving him a small smile. The brightness of her here, her arm on him reminds of days ago when he ached for this, ached for the other half of him to not let him stoop down to the father who raised him, not let the cycle continue. 

He places his hand over hers for a moment, squeezing it briefly. If his mother weren’t death-staring him and daughter behind her, he would pull her hand to his mouth and kiss it. Or just lean in and kiss her lips. 

She pulls away, eyes flicking to their hands, then the oven clock, “We should get going.”

Following her lead, he pulls back too, grabbing his coat and hers, helping her get it back on. Bernie and Kathleen remain against the counter, eyes analyzing their every move. 

“Have fun you two,” Bernie taunts as Elliot opens the door for Olivia and she waves a friendly goodbye. 

They don’t say a word. 

Not a single word. 

Just get into her car, like Monday, silent and surrounded by tension.

Although it’s a different tension.

“Liv, can I—”

Her lips are on his within seconds, cutting him off. Hands fisting his leather jacket, she’s pulling him over the console to get as close as humanly possible. And her ache for him has Elliot groaning into her mouth, leaving a teasing buzz across her cherry flavored lips. 

She’s needy for his touch and she tells herself it’s because she’s really good at her job, but there’s a part of her that knows the truth. If they didn’t have somewhere to be and weren’t still parked right outside his house, she would be on him in an instant. 

It’s been a few years since she’s had sex in car—well, actually did that time with Edgar count?

Quickly, Elliot’s hand shifts from her hip to her breast and the thoughts of Edgar fly out the window as her body ignites with desire at the touch of his hand grabbing there. She stops kissing him. Tilting her head up to let out a breathy moan, he takes it as an invitation to place wet, open-mouthed smacks across the more accessible area of her neck. She knows exactly where he’s headed, and she doesn’t care. She wants it. Not that Olivia, but this one—Captain Benson, mother of Noah, single for far too long—wants him to bruise her neck again and give her something to look at tomorrow morning. 

He understands her without words, not lightening up his moves, kissing her fervently. It’s been too long without this, without her under his hands. 

There’s a knock at the passenger window—thank god for tinted windows—and they scramble apart, rolling it down to see Bernie standing there holding Olivia’s cellphone. 

“Almost forgot this, sweetheart,” she laughs, handing her son the forgotten item and giving them the look that she knew what they were just doing. Despite Olivia’s lipstick being smudged and her dampened skin, it's Elliot who gets them busted. 

“Might wanna wipe off that lipstick before you hang out with your cop friends.”

 


 

“Captain! Such an honor to be graced by your presence,” Frank bellows and all eyes are on the pair as they enter deeper into the bar.

Elliot has a hand on her lower back, ushering her to the group’s usual table, practically flaunting her as his life’s greatest work. Her waves are a little looser, lipstick devoured off her perfect lips, cheeks flush with heat.

He’s glad he convinced her for one last session before they exited the car. 

Even more glad that he got out in record time, opening her door and grabbing her denim covered legs to wrap them around his waist. The feeling of her body pushed him into overdrive, hands roaming the curves of her, exploring the newly authorized territory of her breasts. And as his hands cupped her, she let out these whines that Elliot would think about until the day he died

That part definitely didn’t have to be in their debrief with Ayanna.

Now, she’s standing, all smiles, like the gem she has always been. Shaking a few hands, she waves politely at those she’s missed. “Pleasure’s all mine. It’s nice to meet everyone. I apologize if I’ve worked with some of you before, I’m not so good with names anymore.”

Carling points to the two of them, teasing, “You two make a very attractive couple.”

“Oh, no—”

Definitely not—”

“We’re just—”

“Captain Benson is just a very good friend, isn’t that right?” Elliot taunts, wrapping his arms around her shoulders, patting her like she was a child. 

If a screaming match in the middle of 1PP was uncomfortable, then what the hell was this.

“Yes,” Olivia swallows, feigning disappointment, playing into the role she was assigned. “Just friends.”

Frank laughs, taking a swig of his beer and gestures for them to sit down. “Ah, c’mon…don’t lie to me. We all saw the show you put on last week. Quite a lot of tongue for just friends.”

Frank—” Elliot warns.

“Hey, we don’t judge here. We’re happy to have the incomparable Captain Benson in our presence. To the Captain!” He raises his bottle and the others follow suit.

Olivia blushes (not that she really is shy, but she’s committed now), and Elliot takes control again, leading her to the two empty seats across from the man who is essentially the boss for the rest of the crowd here. 

They’re on display, the game has begun, and for some innate reason, Elliot can’t let his body have any space between them—unsure what was really going to happen tonight. Olivia picks up on his nearness and reaches out with her hand again, providing him that touch to let him know she’s here. That she’s with him, in every way imaginable. 

Even now. 

She follows his lead, taking the seat right across from Frank, not backing down from whatever he may throw at her. Defenses up, she’s preparing herself to get through the night, keep Elliot safe, and prove that she was simply a woman so transfixed by a man, she had to race across town and makeout with him publicly. 

“Well, thank you. I’m glad Elliot asked me.” And she smiles, prepared for the worst to come, knowing that same man would crawl through fire and glass if she was on the other side. 

Frank eyes her down, and she wonders if he can read her mind, see how defiant the two partners really are. See that he has greatly underestimated who he’s trying to play. 

He gives her a crooked smile, shrugging at the sight of her, “Oh, no need to thank me at all.”

 


 

Two hours pass and nothing has happened. 

The conversation has been full of old stories of everyone’s time on the job, with much of the focus on Elliot and Olivia from their time as partners, but not the stories she thought. They’re rehashing cases where justice prevailed, where it felt like the job was worth it after all. Where the survivors got some peace of mind and the squad could sleep that night. It’s slightly refreshing, bringing back great memories of her across from his desk, of her in interrogation, knowing his every move, able to pick up on his tactics and he could do the same for her. 

And here they were again, moving in tandem, knowing where the lines were, keeping each other in check so effortlessly, so naturally, it would be impossible to tell they were undercover. She was overtly touchy—hands on his chest, bicep, thigh. He had to play it cool, like he isn’t phased by the electric shock of her touch. Like he didn’t want to touch her back. 

She’s too damn good at her job. 

Flirting with him, beaming at the strangers around her, lighting up the room with such joy…

Whatever Frank has planned definitely hasn’t happened yet. 

He made a few sly comments about Tucker and Cassidy, and Olivia expertly brushed them off, holding her ground and deflecting (Elliot takes note to ask her about them both at a later time, when they’re on solid ground again). Frank doesn’t push her, doesn’t continue proding into her personal life. Testing the waters, he seemingly retreats, letting her move on and she wonders if their plan is working. If she really does just seem like a love-struck woman for Elliot to use. 

But both await something larger, and she feels Elliot masking his innate need to protect her with fake acts of sexual desire. 

Elliot’s hand is deep on her lower back, fingers scrunching in and back out as kind of a hidden act of intimacy between the two lovers. Her chair is incredibly close to his against the wall, to the point where he is facing her, legs wide enough for her chair to fit between. Back laid against the wall, he has the perfect view of only her, her side profile is ingrained in his brain and he wants nothing more than to trace his finger down the slopes. 

She keeps her hands around her glass, and slightly regrets ordering a glass of wine. It’s a cop bar—beers, shots, sticky floors. Not a place for red merlot. 

Olivia keeps quiet as the brotherhood starts ripping into each other again, eyes flicking to Elliot’s here and there, tossing over closed-mouth smiles. He joins in the conversation, playing along with the boys, and she’s grateful he’s undercover, because this version of him is aggressively annoying. Speaks far too loud, practically screaming at some points, but her Elliot is underneath all the show, hand still on her back—in and out, in and out.

A few guys get up for another round, while she thinks she hears some others go play pool, and Elliot takes advantage of the smaller crowd by pulling his focus back to her. Not that it ever really wasn’t on her. 

Scooting forward, the hand previously on her lower back now crawls higher, landing at the nape of her neck. He gives it a gentle squeeze, feeling the typical knots that he would love nothing more than to knead out, and leans in, whispering low. “You okay?”

“Yeah, I’m good.” 

“You sure?” His breath is hot against her ear, mouth barely an inch away, and she simply nods, turning to place her mouth gently on his. 

Giving him a quick peck, she whispers, “I’m sure,” before smiling at him again. A real Olivia smile. 

It’s going too well. 

Time is ticking.

But, it inevitably comes. And far too fast.

“Hey lovebirds, don’t get too cozy, we got shots for everyone!”

Olivia cannot remember which brother this is, but he’s placing a tray of clear shots in the center of the table, and the immediate whiff of pure disgust is hard to fight off. 

Oh. 

Oh.  

Not this— 

Every nerve on her body suddenly feels exposed, feels raw. It’s an indoctrinated reaction from years ago, the sharp sting of vodka is something that she hadn’t quite ever been able to shake off. 

And when the bottle is slammed down on the counter nearby and she feels nauseous as her eyes catch the label. 

Almost instinctively, she’s remembering duct tape and feeling damp, whether from sweat or from whatever had poured on her. The clamminess of her hands mixed with the exhaustion from the sleeping pills—it’s still right there. An access point that never truly faded, even with consistent therapy. 

Deep breath in, deep breath out. 

It’s not him. He is dead. It’s just a bar and that is a widely sold brand of liquor. 

This is the exact reason why she favored wine—because there was no world in which her drink would remind her of the singe from vodka, and her prior lovers knew very well to keep it out of the house. Without conversation, Brian, Tucker, and even Trevor never ordered it. Brian preferred beer, thankfully. And Olivia couldn’t tell if the other two actually knew or if they were simply more distinguished drinkers, replacing vodka with heartier whiskey or scotch. 

Lewis had been a memory, a simple piece of her history for so long, that it was quite rare for him to make a reappearance, with the exception of three things—cigarettes, squeaking metal, and vodka.

And everytime she encountered one, and that glimpse of his beastly face flashed across her brain. She felt immediately ill, needing water instantly and as much fresh air as her lungs could hold. But now, she was sandwiched between a fellow officer and Elliot, on a wobbly wooden chair with no natural way to leave. And the air got hot. 

“Captain, as our special guest, I demand you do the honors,” Frank gestures, placing a very full shot right in front of her. 

Stomach dropping, she’s completely overstimulated. There’s too much noise, too much heat. Elliot is hovering right there, and she knows that he can see something is wrong, which only makes it worse. All these eyes are on her, but nothing can overpower the wretched stench of the liquid a few inches from her. Surprisingly, she’s able to maintain a neutral expression, despite the backflips her stomach is doing and the intense wave of anxiety tickling her arms, threatening to cause a shiver. 

She simply shakes her head, swallowing down that large lump that blocks her throat, threatening to take her voice from her. But she speaks clearly, letting out a casual, “Ah, sorry Frank, I don't drink vodka.”

A chorus of groans echoes, and she can pinpoint Elliot’s voice joining. 

If he nudges her, she will break.

And when his body gets closer and closer, Olivia anxiously awaits his next move, praying he doesn’t do this. She feels his eyes on her, but those aren’t the eyes she’s worried about. Frank, seated once again, right across from her, has a look that tells her this is exactly what she thinks it is. 

That his shakedown wasn’t gross comments about her (fictional) sex life with her ex-partner. 

He was dangling William Lewis over her. 

Olivia is much stronger than any of these officers, she shouldn’t feel overpowered by the fact they know. Many already know, it was hard to miss it if they were working at the time it happened. But something about Elliot’s body leaning in, something about the way Elliot (her Elliot) is picking up the shot glass in front of her and bringing it up to her nose—

She can’t ground herself. The comfort and intimacy of Elliot Stabler is now twisted with the image of the beast and all she can think about is how she wished he’d been there to save her at the time. How her mind thought of an airport parking lot and how he cradled her, held her while officers scurried around them. How he didn’t care, was only focused on her. 

She’s back in that damp room, on a bed, body drenched, begging for the man who would’ve never let that happen to her. 

Instead that man is holding the poisonous shot up to her nose and mouth, smiling

Swiftly, he slides his arm away and takes the shot, tipping his head back and downing it quickly. Olivia is grateful for a nanosecond, thinking this is over, but his hand that rested on her neck suddenly tangles in her hair and she feels him pull. 

Hard

The memory is recreating itself, tainting the face of her lover, and Olivia is begging to get out, begging for her to wake up and to be in his arms and far from here. But, it keeps worsening when he tugs her hair and pulls her in, cupping her face with his other hand to kiss her violently. 

Olivia feels sick. 

His breath on her is suffocating, the scent of vodka so overpowering and all-encompassing. She needs to leave. Needs to get out now.

He’s kissing her and the minute the taste of it hits her tongue, her eyes shut and she is no longer with Elliot in the present. He’s groaning into it as a sexual display for his fake friends and she is trapped in the hell that Frank intented to place her in. 

She can’t. She simply can’t.

With all her might, she pushes him back aggressively, hearing the chair scratch the floor loudly, and she scrambles to her feet to cleanse her nose—her tongue

“Captain?” Carling calls out. 

But she’s out the front door before she realizes it, not able to take a first breath until the night air hits her. 

And it isn’t better out here. 

A man smoking to her left watches her chest heave, putting out his cigarette the minute she empties her stomach onto the concrete. 

It has been so long since something like this happened. Since the memories became all too real and the panic attacks could not be controlled. Rubbing a comforting hand to her chest, she slumps back against the brick, much preferring the acidic taste of bile in her throat to the horrendous taste of vodka. 

How pathetic of her.  

After eight years, that bastard still has the tiniest thread attached, trying to rip her apart. All the growth, all that strength, lost to nine dirty cops at a grimy bar. 

Her eyes sting and she feels sick again. The once soft, protective, loving lips of Elliot are tainted for her (possibly forever) by the foul flavor of shitty alcohol and the flashes of a wicked man who promised to never leave her memories. 

How could she separate them ever again when her brain had attached the image of the beast to that of her lover?

“Liv?” He followed her out here. 

She feels it come up again, that burn, and she leans forward slightly, flinching when his hand suddenly reaches for her. “Don’t. Don’t touch me.”

He raises his hands and stays back, “I’m sorry.”

Are you?” she asks and the acidity of her throat decorates each word she speaks. They’re painful, deadly words and Elliot feels the hole they scorch as he sees the tears in her eyes. 

Opening his mouth to speak, he cannot seem to formulate the proper response, but he’s desperate to try. “Olivia, I didn’t mean to—I had no idea you didn’t drink—”

“No, no. I need you to stop the act,” she bites back, standing, focusing on her breath to keep everything inside her, except the accusation she was about to throw his way. “Are you in on this? Was this the plan all along? Drag me here to bring that up?”

He looks lost. And he is. “Liv, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

She almost interrupts him, shaking her head, face full of hurt. “Why did you pull my hair?”

“What?”

Rambling on, it’s like the pieces are connecting themselves in her head, but Elliot is unsure where they’re coming from. “You’ve never done that before, why would you do that unless you knew—”

“Knew what, Olivia?”

“No, I can’t,” she’s backing up, eyes squeezing shut.

It’s breaking him, little by little, seeing her so wounded by his stupid action that meant much more than he intended. He pauses, waiting for her to open her eyes again so he can meet hers. “I told you already, what I say or do while we are under has nothing to do with us.”

That familiar intensity is back. Between them, it hovers again—this palpable cloud of hurt, anguish, desire, fear—their glares deadlocked. It’s tense. Frightening. 

Her mouth is open, eyes still glossy from the tears that now fell, and her eyes plead for this to not be real. “I wanted—want—to believe you, Elliot, I really do. But the line is blurring to a point where I can’t tell if the Elliot who promised me the world is the same one who was in there. You warned me about tonight, meaning you knew something was going to happen. And of all the things, I didn’t think that was on the table.”

“Olivia,” like a prayer, he whispers her name. “Please believe me. Frank never told me anything beyond what I told you.”

The words sound right but her mind is foggy from the anxiety that is still trickling through her. She’s staring at him with those watery eyes that beg for him to be back here, beg for her body to ache for his touch again and not retreat like it’s doing now. 

But it’s lost on her. That desire—that need for him—is buried so deeply in distorted memories of handcuffs and blood. 

“You were right,” she whispers, voice cracking. “I shouldn’t be involved. I’m dropping out.” 

“…okay,” he nods, eyes not leaving hers. 

“And I need space.”

“...I can do that.”

She shakes her head, volume almost inaudible, “I mean it. No calls, no texts, nothing.” 

His chest is stinging from the urgency to touch her, hold her, to wipe those tears away and make her smile again. And the pain only worsens when she continues in that broken whisper, “We shouldn’t have done this, shouldn’t have done anything. This was a mistake.”

“Liv, you don’t mean that.”

“I do.”

He dares to take the slightest step forward, hoping she’ll let him in, but he wants to rip out his heart when she flinches again. “Please don’t shut me out.”

This time, she’s the one who’s running. And she has every right to. 

“Elliot, maybe you were right about that parallel universe.”

“Don’t say that.”

“It’s too late for us,” she’s crawling back into herself, letting the armor back up, wiping salty tears from her cheeks and trying to reset herself to the woman she was before he fell back into her life. 

“You’re lying to yourself.”

“No, I’m protecting myself.”

She turns, heading to her car, thankful her keys and phone haven’t left her pockets. And every morsel of Elliot tries to go after her, begs himself to just move, but his feet stay cemented to the ground, unable to shake the look of pure hurt that came across her face. 

That he caused. 

Again.




 

“She gone?” 

Elliot rubs a hand on the back of his neck, mind still racing from what just happened. From having to be the person who didn’t care about her, while internally he’s shattered into fragments of himself, hearing that she may never want him back. May never want to be held by him, touched by him, kissed—

He mumbles, “Yeah, she wanted to get home to her son.” 

Spotting her coat on the chair, he realizes that she was so desperate to leave, she didn’t even grab her jacket. Just wanted to get away from this—from him— as fast as possible. 

It makes him sick.

Frank laughs, and Elliot’s fist instinctively clenches, taking all of his focus to prevent it from making contact with the center of the man’s jovial face. “Damn, thought that was going to be harder.”

“What do you mean?” Elliot asks in a monotone voice, eyes not on his, distracting himself with another shot and taking a seat back where he once was. 

“Well, you know—the vodka.

Everyone keeps emphasizing the word like he should know the meaning beyond it but it’s lost on him. He shrugs, “She have one too many sometime?”

“You could say that…” Bolton murmurs, taking a swig from his beer bottle.

Yoshida chimes in, “C’mon Stabler, you don’t remember? Every officer on shift that week was dragged into it.”

“Elliot’s been abroad, man,” Frank answers and Elliot suddenly feels like a child left out at recess, like the whole school knows something he doesn’t. 

“Oh shit, you’re right.”

“Longest four days of my life.” Another swig.

“Same, thank god for overtime.” Another.

They’re drinking so casually it’s like they’re talking about a damn sporting event instead of the woman who was just in here, all warm smiles, and friendly banter. He can’t take the secrecy anymore, grunting an annoyed, “What are you talking about?”

“That, um, guy—shit, what was his name? Lucas?”

Lewis.”

Bolton continues, “Lewis… right, right. My ass did not realize how long I would be working that weekend. I was halfway through a breezy shift and my fucking Captain pulls us all aside, tells us that a detective over at Special Victims is missing and it’s all hands on deck.”

Parnell cuts in, leaning back in his chair, huffing, “I had an hour left before my weekend started. Next thing you know I’m running around Long Island.”

The picture starts formulating, but it all feels too unbelievable, too distanced. Four days? She was gone for four days? But he’s still under, supposedly as a man who doesn’t care enough about the bad times Olivia has, only focused on how she can help him. So, he pushes that pain down, twisting it into curiosity, and asks, “He took her?”

“Oh yeah, she looked brutal. The photos?” Carling shivers at the thought and Elliot is slowly cracking at the idea of photos of her being passed around like she was exposable. Like she was something to be sensationalized. 

“Hey, look, I’m just saying we’ll never know the full truth. Guy was a psycho, but after that press conference? Maybe she really was sex-crazed,” Bolton chimes in again. 

“You think she lit herself with cigarettes and branded herself with hangers? People are crazy, but not that crazy. Don’t be an idiot.”

“Hey, you never know. Plus, what? She randomly has a kid right after? Adopted? No one else is suspicious?”

It’s too much. It’s all too quick, the details of a story he’s had yet to hear, remembering her outside the courthouse telling him he has yet to ask her about what has happened to her

“Was she…” 

He can’t get the word out. Doesn’t want to talk about this at a loud bar with people he doesn’t like. But there’s an overwhelming need to know that takes precedence, seconds away from grabbing her coat and running after her. 

“Eh, don’t think so? The guy wasn’t charged with that. Maybe the second time…?”

Second time?  

“Thank god I was off that round. Wasn’t going to run around again looking for the same needle in a haystack.”

“Yeah, but see? That made it weird too. First time, I felt for her, but to go after him?” Elliot reminds himself to really give it to Bolton before this operation is over. Find a way to choke the breath out of him so he can’t ever speak about Olivia or another woman like this again. Like she’s an online conspiracy to entertain the day. “We still don’t know what happened in that warehouse.”

“She was duct taped to the table—"

“She’s also an experienced detective. You really think she didn’t have a plan at all? And then she suddenly becomes Sergeant? Keeps climbing up the ranks?” Bolton gives it a second to hang there, let the history of Captain Benson play through the other brothers' minds as it remains a mystery in Elliot’s. “Something happened. There’s no way a woman gets to the top that fast.” 

He can’t take it anymore.

Grabbing another shot glass he downs it, and feels Frank’s eyes bore holes in him. 

The man doesn’t look away, just reading into Elliot’s white knuckles, seeing past the facade he’s been playing up so well. 

Got him. 

“It’s all theory,” Frank echoes, glaring around the table, landing his eyes back onto the detective across from him, burrowing holes deep under the man’s skin. “At the end of the day, we all have done stuff against policy. Even your little girlfriend, Stabler. I just wanted to remind her that maybe we aren’t so different after all.”

 




 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

CW: g*n violence, profanity, s*xual content, description of depressive thoughts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He hasn’t spoken to her in over three weeks. 

Respecting her wishes to stay far away, he sequesters himself to leave Olivia as a thought—a memory—again. Cherry lips and soft curves haunt his dreams and his mind plays sick games as it envisions her there, in his bed, sleeping gracefully when the alarm goes off. These nightmares once belonged to Kathy, the hallucinations of his wife resting there, to his right, like she always has. But after he’d spent the night with Olivia, felt her warm, steady breath on his chest, felt her fingers curl into his skin, she was now the ghost that filled the empty space. 

Three weeks. 

Three weeks since she ran from him, told him to leave her alone through thick tears and a heavy voice. 

Three weeks sequestered to the hell that has been solitude.

The operation has been busy, and Ayanna says it’s dangerously close to coming to an end. Something he should be happy about—he should be grateful to be himself again, get to be home, spend time with his family—but it wouldn’t make her miraculously want anything to do with him again. Even if the work was done and he never went back. 

A bit of silver lining was his son, who asked, every day, if it was over yet. 

And when he could finally say yes, Eli would be thrilled to hear he was fully home once again. Well, maybe not thrilled, but the two would have a chance to repair their relationship (again). Get back to the father-son dynamic they had before (kind of). Show him that he was a priority to his old man, like fathers should be (emphasis on ‘should’). 

It wouldn’t be much longer. Which meant he had to be ten times more careful. 

The final days were always the messiest. And turning on cops was a whole ‘nother story. 

 


 

After Santos was arrested, Frank's been on edge, and the rest of the brotherhood is starting to eye Elliot up as they relax in the dining room of their boss’s home. 

During his young wife’s baby shower. 

“None of this started happening before he showed up,” Stanwood dares to say, fingers wrapped around his second bottle of beer. 

God, if only he could—

Elliot doesn’t have to fake hating this man. He’ll never forget him and Bolton tossing around petty complaints about their long weekend on the job while Olivia was out there, missing. The unspoken four days marked by vodka, duct tape, and deep burns. 

How great would it feel to wrap his own fingers around the man’s neck and choke the life out of him—see if he’d want pictures of his own marks and scars passed around squad rooms like they did to her—and make him unable to speak another word. 

He didn’t even deserve a mouth. 

But he stays in character, biting back his desire to tear him apart recklessly—no, instead he needs to defend his honor, show his loyalty to the group before him. He already has the ink to prove it beyond his word. There, on his back, was his dedication to the brotherhood, saying look! You own me! 

(Although they didn’t need to know it had been reclaimed by her lips. That her soft kisses to the sickening tattoo untwined each tether that held him here. That their morning together had erased any shred of commitment to anyone other than her.)

It’s as if his thoughts are displayed on a screen above his head, because Bolton cuts in, “And your girlfriend?”

“Cut her off weeks ago,” he barks back. “Haven’t spoken to her since.” When both men roll their eyes, Elliot’s fist immediately clenches, “Got something you wanna say to me?”

“He already said it,” Stanwood snaps. 

And Frank chimes in, cutting them both off, a feeble attempt to ease the ever-growing tension. But Elliot keeps an eye on the instigator, wanting Olivia’s name kept out of his—and the entire brotherhood’s—mouth. 

Truly, they hadn’t brought her up (in front of him) since she bolted out of the bar. Hadn’t mentioned her once, never letting her name slip, and the only time someone ever did was the occasional wisecrack from Frank. 

“…I’ll get you someone younger…” 

“…I know you’re probably all pent up without your fuck buddy, but you gotta get your head on straight...”

“…She looks flexible—probably bends better than the last...”

All the same grotesque remarks to ignore until he got home. He was in too deep to fuck it all up now. To fail, after everything, would leave him with nothing. No job, no purpose, and still no her

 


 

Thumbs ghost over her name in his phone, and he hates that the last message from her is decorated with an emoji heart. 

Anything would be better. 

He wonders if she saw him try to reach out. If she saw the bubble bouncing, the three dots lighting up as his brain tried his best to figure out what to say before giving up and repeating her demands in his circling mind.

Sorry was probably necessary. 

No, it was definitely necessary—mandatory, in fact. 

He owed her an apology for that Friday, for leaving once, and leaving again. For not giving her the man she deserved. The man he was so desperate to be. For her, for his kids, for hers.

He never wanted her involved with these cops. Never wanted them to even look her way, let alone dangle her past over her, as blackmail, as a way to shake her down. To “let her know, we know.”

But Elliot still didn’t know.

There was no world in which he could continue hearing the story from anyone but her. Not from the brotherhood, not from his team, not even from case files and formulaic internet articles. Even though he knew he could easily know more in minutes—ask around, see the photos, read the writeup. He could clear up the visions of her that haunted his nights, picturing her body laced with burns, hands on her, hurting her. 

He keeps telling himself he would’ve never let that happen.

Except…he did. 

He left her—broke his oath. Took her trust and threw it out the window, abandoning her after everything. After all the times she saved his life, saved his kids, his wife, he just left her alone and the beast got her. The name he will never forget, the name that sits on the edge of his tongue, his fingertips, begging to know if he’s already in a prison cell or if Elliot is miraculously spared from having to put the nightmare into the ground himself. 

Only once did he let his curiosity overpower him, and it was hours after her exit, as he headed into his Sergeant’s car. Something in him dared to ask Ayanna if she knew, but by the look on her and Jet’s faces, they both were well aware. 

“When?” he mumbles from the passenger seat, Ayanna not even looking towards him, just immediately starting up the car to get far away. 

“2014.” 

He sighs deeply, hand swiping at his chin, eyes locked on the darkness outside. Suddenly, she’s everywhere—those cloudy brown eyes, tears falling, echoing the cracks in her voice. Chest aching at the pictures of her in his head, he nods, allowing the pain to deepen and punish him as he so rightly deserved. “Can you—"

“I’ll get her statements tomorrow and she’ll be done. Officially.”

“Thank you.”

And he left it there. Left her alone as requested, selfishly keeping a version of her quietly to himself, docking in his thoughts and dreams. 

 


 

No one would have to know that everything he saw, touched, smelled—heard—reminded him of her. 

Coffee, tea, soft blankets, the hum of traffic, his mother’s newest vanilla candle. 

Even the grimy bar was tainted by her—by her lips attacking his in the corner, by her hand on his thigh, by the pained look she had when she shoved him back.

But of all the things that strike reminiscent memories of her to the forefront of his troubled mind, the worst is her abandoned jacket, slung over the chair in his bedroom, laid there on display to twist the knife deeper with every tempting glance. 

It was the first thing he saw when he woke up, and the last thing he saw before he closed his eyes. 

He knew he could’ve easily given it to Ayanna before she paid Olivia a final visit, but he clutched onto it with white knuckles and she would’ve had to kill him to pry his hands off of it. As if he let go, Olivia would suddenly evaporate from his world forever, leaving only staticky memories that distorted themselves with present ones. 

Her smile was fading from the forefront and he could barely remember how it looked anymore. If her nose still scrunched, if her eyes still softened. 

He needed something there to keep the thinning tether between them alive, even if it was barely holding on. And right now, that historic bond was resting all on the black jacket she had left behind. 

“Rise and shine, sweetheart. I made breakfast,” Bernie announces, waltzing into his bedroom like she did when he was a child. No preliminary knocks, no peering in to see if he was still asleep, just welcoming herself inside.

He wasn’t—asleep, that is. 

Lying fully awake on his side, his eyes were cemented to the jacket on the chair, the bags and dark circles speaking for the lack of sleep he’s been able to get. And when he doesn’t move, not even an inch, Bernie shuffles in further, taking a seat on the edge of the bed, letting her delicate hand rest on his muscular arm. “Guilt is a tragic thing to waste so much time on.”

Elliot ignores her—like his own teenager did with him now—he didn’t want or need the all-knowing advice from a parent right now. Moping was sufficient. Staying in the darkened headspace of punishment and consequences made him feel dutiful. An eye for an eye. 

“Hmph, you need to get out of there,” she hums, taking her hand off his arm, using the pointer finger to gently tap on his temple and give him a sad smile. His eyes close instinctively, his mind was pulling him in deeper, refusing to let go of the chains that locked him into the shelled-up hole he dug. “You know I’m just going to keep being a bother until you open up. It worked when you were a kid.”

He softly grins at the faint memory, a dreamy moment that was definitely altered by the decades of distance. “It’s getting close. Just waiting for it to end,” he replies.

“Ahh, yes, the case,” she exhales a short chuckle, dropping her grin to get her eyes back on him. “Sure this ‘sad sap’ stuff isn’t about that?” and she nods her head over to the chair, exposing him and his vulnerabilities right for them both to see. “I’m pretty sure it’s theft to keep another’s belongings. Even if you miss them.”

He groans, “Mm, ‘s not like that.”

“So all this bruiting depression is just the case?”

He shakes his head, still on his pillow, letting his cheek rub against the soft cotton fabric, knowing his mother already knew. 

Honestly, he could try to keep up the charade—keep pretending that it was just the job. Keep acting like nothing was wrong, like her clothing was more a nuisance and less of a crutch. But something about this position, his mother close to him, a consoling hand to ground him, makes him feel young again, almost as if he has a hall pass to be a little childish. Like he’s allowed to be upset a girl doesn’t like him back. Like he was a teen going through his first heartbreak, instead of the tragedy that his life had actually become. “I messed up, Ma.”

Bernie sighs a breath of understanding, nodding slowly, fingers back to tracing the comforting lines up and down his arm—exactly like she did when he was a boy. “We all do, sweetheart. We all do.”

 


 

Things take a turn when he overhears it halfway through his second beer, Bolton’s voice carrying a little louder than he probably intended to, his head lowered to Frank’s shoulder, his phone tilted to show something off to his boss.

“The bitch got Kubiak.”

It’s an innate sense to think they’re talking about her, because this child of a man has been so gung ho that Olivia was the source of their recent misfortunes. Elliot doesn’t move an inch, pretending to be invested in Yoshida and Carling’s argument over some boxing match. Eyes on them, hand on his beer, he trains his ears to tune out everything but the two men to his left. 

“Kubiak is not our problem.”

“Frank—"

“He isn’t one of us, has never been.”

“But—"

“Are you listening to me? I said drop it.”

Bolton looks taken aback and the tension between the two shifts into something else. Without looking too long, Elliot tries to read into it, tries to time his movements precisely to let his eyes flick to the pair quickly, unnoticed. He manages to sneak the smallest peak, seeing Frank slide his phone over to Bolton inconspicuously as he takes a swig from his beer. 

Recognition washes over Bolton’s eyes when they scan over the phone, while Elliot’s leave the two alone again, with only his ears to clue him in anymore. 

“When?” 

It’s nearly inaudible. In fact, Elliot can’t promise that’s exactly what Bolton even uttered under the booming voices of the other patrons and a Bon Jovi classic filling in the voided space. 

“Soon,” is all Frank says. 

That he hears. 

Elliot’s bottom lip almost bleeds from the sheer force of his top teeth clamping down on it, the tension building once more as he sits in the muggy bar, in the seat where she once sat. 

He’ll tell Ayanna tonight, see what cases SVU closed recently and try to tie Kubiak to the brotherhood somehow. 

The job didn’t stop, even if this anger building was less about cops abusing their power and more about his own possessiveness over the brown-eyed brunette. 

He wants to call her.

Not now, he can’t. Not when Frank and Bolton are heading back over to the table. Not when both of them scan him like a metal detector, eyes on him, trying their best to pry in and prove the other wrong. 

He wants to call her. 

But she hasn’t reached out to him yet. He could be shattering everything into smaller fragments if he does—no calls, no texts, nothing—she told him outright not to. 

He wants to call her.  

 


 

He calls. 

Not her, but Ayanna. 

Lets her know how the conversation went down, doesn’t even mention Olivia, just that someone got “Kubiak,” and to look into what that could possibly mean. She simply confirms receipt of his tellings and shuts him out from knowing too much more. 

But he knows. He sees the look on the face of his Sergeant and feels it stab deep down. 

Even while keeping away from her, he still managed to dragged her into his mess.

 


 

It’s days later at an ungodly hour when he receives his own call from the youngest member of the OC team, voice alert and urging him to come in. 

Before their Sergeant does.

Elliot groans at the request—the lack of sleep still not helping his aching joints to remold themselves. 

It probably also didn’t help that all the pent up energy only seemed to get out of him when he was working out, dripping sweat and making his muscles ache with every move. After several, long sessions of blending in with ”gym bros” (as Kathleen likes to say) at his local center, his body finally began to feel the punishment his brain wanted him to. 

Everything hurts. 

Muscles are tight, tired, and echo the tension he hasn’t stopped feeling in weeks. But there isn’t time for recovery today. Isn’t time to sleep in or even sleep at all really—as Jet woke him up at 4:30 in the morning. 

Showering quickly, he pops on jeans and a henley afterwards, incredibly grateful today that this newest stint didn’t require him in a suit before the sun rose. 

Tiptoeing through the apartment, no one is awake (thankfully), so he scribbles on a notepad that he had to leave early and will call them later, before he grabs his wallet and keys to make his way out the door.

 


 

“Jet, what the hell—"

She cuts him off, her eyes wide awake, likely from the several empty/near-empty iced coffee cups that surround her skinny frame. “I’m sorry, I don’t want to be here this early either.” 

Climbing up towards her desk, he’s blinded by her desktop screens, and wonders how long the kid will have before needing glasses. “Did you even go home?”

She shakes her head, “Ayanna had me going through the brotherhood messages yesterday, trying to decipher some of the cryptic ones in preparation for the indictment.” 

The caffeine is definitely working for her—she speaks fast, but not enough to where he can’t understand her. Her monotonous timbre remains, though, and her fingers type and click around like he was supposed to know what the hell he was looking at. “Most of these trace to specific locations we are aware of—the houses to rob, the meetups with the Marcy Killers.” 

Screens flash, each pulling up the corresponding information she’s rambling on about. “I’ve been able to match nearly all of them back to either somewhere we knew they were, or a corresponding police case. Except,” she clicks her mouse, “For two.”

She gives him a second to remain confused, a recurring part of their routine she refuses to drop, before she continues. 

“One message,” click, “Sent the morning after the hit,” click, “Pinged here,” and on the third click he sees it.

Finding some clarity.

Reading the address. 

“Captain Benson’s apartment,” it comes out like a breathy whisper, almost as if his lips did not intend for it to escape. But her name has been lost on him since that night she left. He hasn’t been able to say it. Say Olivia—Liv—since. 

“Yeah,” Jet glances at him for a moment to gauge a reaction, but moves along when she sees his intense stare keep its focus on the screens, “Looks like Frank sent a memo to the group from outside her building.”

“What’d it say?”

She hesitates, “…I don’t think we need to read it, that’s not the important part—"

Jet.”

Her lips purse, clearly trying to avoid the conversation from going down this route, but she should’ve known better. The man would probably want to know when Olivia’s last root canal was if he could. “Fine,” she clicks open the new window. “Right before the location moved, Frank sent ‘Find out what makes her tick,’ to 5 numbers. Stanwood, Santos, Bolton, Carling, Yoshida.”

The sonofabitch must’ve sent it while Elliot sat in the passenger seat, seconds before they drove off. 

Elliot’s skin was probably still stained with her lips. 

“…what’s the second one?” He asks, getting out of his head, not letting the six words get to him when there was still more to be revealed. Honestly, he shouldn’t be surprised it was sent—Elliot knew Frank wanted to get under her skin—but to know he sent his goons on a witch hunt, wanting to find the worst for them to use, made his blood boil. 

“Look, this is why I called you, but you can’t go all rogue again. Ayanna will kill me.”

“Jet. Tell me.” he demands, glaring

She raises her brows, both offended and concerned by his intensity. “Maybe I shouldn’t.”

Now.”

It hangs in the air for a second, and he can see the gears turning in the young detective’s mind, debating on what to do—if this was the right move. But there’s a finite level of respect—camaraderie—between them that causes her to back down, swivel back to face her desktops, and click the new window open. 

“Bell told me to be on guard for any movement regarding the whole Kubiak situation. Now, there hasn’t been anything directly tied to it. But then, this was sent yesterday, and I’m having trouble connecting to anything else in our timeline, so I can't say for sure—"

“Jet—the message.”

“I was getting there,” she huffs, then clicks her mouse again. “Yesterday, Frank sent this to Stanwood. And only Stanwood.”

His eyes glance over the text, taking in every word methodically.

‘Wrath wants movement now.’

It means nothing to him. 

In the weeks he’s spent with the brotherhood, Wrath was not a name he’s heard before. If it even was a name. 

“Anything else?” he probes, hoping she can provide some clarity. 

He sees it then—the seriousness settling in to keep him guarded, prepared. Jet pauses, taking a deep breath, finger hovering above the mouse. 

She’s teetering over it, taunting him, his heartbeat quickening with each second she does not click it. But she finally hums, clicking the screen forward, revealing her findings.

“An address.”

Where?” 

“…a school.”

 


 

Ever since he was little, Noah Benson knew never to trust anyone blindly. 

His mom would always clench his hand a little too tight whenever someone came close or took a notable amount of interest in him. 

It puzzled him why his mom was so jumpy, why he couldn’t stray too far ahead, why he couldn’t roam around the playground without her trailing behind. And those times where she grabbed him fast, hand on his, he would whine about how she was crushing him, snapping her out of the trance she fell in, before she would apologize and give him a gentle hug or kiss (or both, mostly both). 

She always takes forever to say yes to a sleepover invite, and never lets him go to crowded places like the mall he went to with Grandma Sheila as a boy, unless his mom or Lucy is there, practically tied to his hip. 

He used to hate it. 

He wasn’t a baby anymore, he could walk and talk perfectly fine on his own. The world was not scary to Noah, it was something to be explored, without his mom hovering. 

It wasn't until the lights and sirens flashed behind him, his mother ushered out of the car, body bent over, a man patting her down, does he ever coward away. Seeing the world through her eyes for the first time, he becomes desperate to keep her as close as possible. 

She let him sleep in her bed that night, wiping the tears away from his cheeks, shushing him delicately and letting him know that everything was okay—his mom was right here. And he clutched onto her, afraid to let go, afraid that if he fell asleep, someone would take her away from him again. 

The thumping of her heartbeat in his ear eventually lulled him to sleep, knowing that as long as the rhythm drummed along, his mom was safe with him. 

Noah didn’t know that his mother was fearful because she lived constantly in that world. He only knew she worked at a big building, one with an elevator, and that she had her own office, decorated (by them both) with awards and pictures of them together. He knew she had a shiny badge that clipped on her jacket or pants and a gun that he was to never touch. Never.

And when she came in on career day years ago, she told his classmates about how she helps people—how she and her team find out who did bad things, and make sure that they can never hurt people again. It enthralled a class of five year olds, the vision of the woman like the superheroes from those movies. 

But Noah knew she wasn’t really one. 

She didn’t have a fancy uniform with a cape. 

Unless you could count her blazers as one. 

He picked up on the looks from teachers at the school, the soft smiles they would toss him, how some looked at his mom like she was angel from above, doting their reassurances on the days she apologized for running behind, knowing that she was out there, overwhelmed with work that begged for her every waking second. And in the same room, there would be parents who whispered about those late arrivals, alongside some teachers who sighed as they tried to call her to no avail—her beeping line letting them know she was busy. 

The adults he could ignore.

It was his classmates that really got to him. The ones who teased him for being adopted, for not having a dad, for having a single mother be too busy to care about her own son. 

They would talk about their family, about her, but he did his best to ignore it. There was no world where Noah Benson could believe that their team wasn’t solid, that the woman who held him close and hugged him with such care, kissing his curls and brushing her fingers through them, was any less of a parent than the people around him. 

And he didn’t want to tell her about what people said because it wasn’t true. There was no need to let her know what he heard through hushed breaths and in the theatrical tales of students and bullies around him. 

And he most certainly would never tell her what Hunter showed him online. 

“C’mon, you’ve never Googled your own super famous mom?”

“She’s not famous,” he whined back. “And no, mom said not to. That if I have questions I should ask her first.”

“Well, maybe this is why.”

It becomes a recurring nightmare he dares not ever tell her.

The photo of her from years ago—the one that didn’t even look like his mom—cheeks too hollow, hair too short, her eyes were not the warm pools they usually were. 

It lives in his head, like a ghost story. 

Someone hurt her and he wasn’t there. 

He didn’t know who was—if anyone was. 

So, when the power abruptly goes out a few days later and she’s slightly shaking (from adrenaline, she says), he doesn’t care that he is almost nine, he hugs her with all his might to get the trembling to stop. And on the nights she comes home late, where Lucy makes sure he’s asleep, he fakes it just enough to hear her come through the front door, peak into his bedroom, and whisper a faint “Love you lots, little cub,” before he would roll over and mumble, “Love you more, mama bear.” 

No longer aching to let go of her hold onto him, now he squeezes her, needing to feel her smush under his grip (not like the bony version from the photos), needing to press close to her chest and hear the thump-thump of her lively, loving heart. 

“Elliot Stabler for Noah Benson.”

It rings in his ears right as Cassie asks him if she’ll see him at dance, the two fourth graders standing amongst a group of their fellow classmates, and his brows furrow at the voice calling for him. 

The man is tall. Not as tall as Uncle Trevor, but he hovers over the crowd of children, flashing his badge at Mr. Andrews, who holds onto the electronic sign-out sheet. 

“Hmm, Miss. Benson doesn’t have you on file.”

“What? She texted me,” he pulls out his phone, unlocking it and showing the screen to the man next to him, eyes flicking to Noah.

Lucy was supposed to come today, mom told him well in advance, knowing that she would be working a late night ‘thanks to her chief.’

And this man certainly was not his babysitter. 

“Look, two hours ago—‘Lucy is sick, can you do me a huge favor and drive Noah to dance’? And see, this is the number. Check it against your files, sir, it’s her.” 

Noah stays where he is, something deep down telling him that his mom usually prepared him for a new person at pickup. Only one time did he ever leave with strangers in uniform, and after that moment, his mom insisted the school secured their process even further. 

But this was Mr. Andrews first year here. He missed the stern talk she gave them all. He doesn’t know the hell he’ll have to pay if he’s wrong. So, after verifying the phone number to his little iPad, he looks up at Noah, waving his hand, beckoning him over to go home with the brown-haired, brown-eyed man who called himself Elliot

“Hey buddy,” Elliot says, plastering on a smile. “Your mom asked me to drive you home. That okay?”

Noah doesn’t stop staring, just nods sheepishly, hoping Mr. Andrews is right and triple checked his mom intended for this man to take him home. But the man—Elliot—simply places a firm hand on his upper back, and guides him out of the crowd, away from the safety net of his school before he can protest. 

There’s too much going on around them. 

Parked cars are packed on the street, children and adults all wandering to and fro, wanting to get home before the others, and attempt to avoid the inevitable traffic of the day. 

The man’s hand feels heavy on his back and Noah almost feels locked under it, like he can’t really move, can’t reach for his phone, can’t call his mom or snap a picture of her “friend” to have her confirm that’s him, sweet boy! See you soon! 

Everything happened so fast and Mr. Andrews has moved onto another parent, checking them in—nobody is paying any attention to Noah and his ride tiptoeing away. 

Elliot doesn’t ask him about school, doesn’t even really introduce himself, just grins (although his eyes don’t wrinkle like he’s actually happy) and points to a small car parked a small ways down, muttering, “That’s our ride.”

And with every continued step in silence, Noah feels worse. 

Like this is not safe—not right

This is not something his mom would ever do to him. Not send him off with a stranger, even if they had a fancy badge. They’re getting close to the sedan he pointed out and alarms are going off in the young boy’s head. 

Halting his hesitant shuffles, he stands frozen as the man flings open the back door for him to glide into, “…I think I left my notebook—"

“You didn’t leave nothing,” and the man clamps down harder onto the back of his jacket, ugly smile fading into a rough scowl. “Get in.” 

He wants to yell. 

Scream. Punch. Anything.

He feels it lodged in the back of his throat—right there, desperate to escape. 

Just do it! Shout for help! Do not get in this car!!

But Noah spots it on his hip, just like his mom wore. The black gun, holstered on his side, and that plea for help stays lodged as his body tenses.

He couldn’t scream, couldn’t do anything but look up with big blue eyes and hope that this was just an officer. A mean, aggressive officer, but someone mom trusted enough to pick him up. 

And when the grip on him tightens, he reluctantly gets in. 

Tiny chest rising and falling at an alarming rate, suddenly breathing feels really hard.

Everything feels heavy, limbs struggling to even move.

He’s trying to think of how to get out of this, but his body is betraying him. 

He can’t outrun a bullet.

But he can turn on his tracking. 

When the man is out of reach, headed to the driver’s seat, he reaches back for his phone, usually tucked in his side pocket, but it’s not there. 

“What?” the man taunts, hopping in the driver’s seat before lifting Noah’s phone in between his index and middle finger, wiggling it back and forth. “Looking for something?”

Noah’s stomach drops.

Quickly, he reaches for the handle of the door but he hears it lock shut and he has the sudden and powerful realization that he’s trapped. 

It buzzes in his ear, that click, and he feels the gaze lock on him in the rearview mirror. 

It actually scares him, makes every nerve open and beg for his mom’s arms to help him breathe again.

What would she do? What would she—

The car starts with a rickety roar, and the gear shift clunks under them, and time slows down. 

His hands feel clammy, heart pumping. 

He messed up. 

She wouldn’t be able to find him.

The car is about to pull away, take him somewhere far away, and there’s nothing he can do about it. 

I’m sorry, Mom—

But loud tires suddenly squeak, and it’s not their own. 

Instead a large black car (like his mother’s) pulls up to their left, blocking them in from exiting the line of cars parked by the school. 

The man groans sharply and he’s ready to pounce out the door to scream at the other drivers, but he’s stopped as quickly as they came.

On the other side, the passenger door is yanked open, and another man gets in, eyes not dark and cold, but rather piercing blue like his own. Noah sees the driver jerk his head over swiftly at the new guest, hand rushing to his hip for his gun, but slipping his hands away when his eyes glance down at something in the other man’s lap. 

Noah tries to swallow down the fear at the man’s frightened move, but his view isn’t so good, and he doesn’t know what is going on. 

“Hey Noah,” the second man says lightly—friendly—body remaining forward, but head craning back to meet his wide-eyed gaze. “I’m gonna get you to your mom, okay?” 

His voice sounds gentle, and his eyes actually crinkle when he smiles, so Noah nods furiously, needing to clutch onto his words, hopeful they were the truth. 

“Good, good,” he continues, eyes now back on the driver, body still locked in that same position, right hand pressed low to his chest. “Look out the left window, right there. You see Lucy?” 

He does as the man says, and is blessed to recognize his babysitter through the glass, in the backseat of the big, black car, smiling with her hands out, welcoming Noah towards her. 

Noah clutches his backpack tight, oxygen starting to return to his lungs at the sight of his potential escape. 

Oh, thank god.

The man continues, “Go out that door and run as fast as you can to her. She’s gonna ride with you to your mom, okay?”

And within seconds of his instructions, Noah’s out of the car, climbing into another, body immediately crawling into Lucy’s embrace. Elliot can barely see the color come back to the young boy’s face just as the door slams shut and the car speeds off, lights and sirens on. 

Back in the sedan, Elliot doesn’t blink. 

Doesn’t even move an inch. 

He keeps his eyes so firmly onto Stanwood, as his voice deepens in a growl, “This wasn’t a smart move.” 

His gun is no longer low against his chest, no longer needing to be hidden from the boy’s view. 

No, it’s ready to go off now. 

He wants to kill him. Wants him to stare down the barrel of his gun and have no chance to save himself. 

But, he can’t do that. 

Ayanna is parked in front of them, hidden in an unmarked car, and he’s lucky she even let him do this—to let him even speak to the man.

It’s over. 

After this moment, there is no way he can go back to pretending he’s on their side. The brotherhood is finished. 

If he could, he would let the tattoo fade off his skin and would probably feel ten pounds lighter. Would feel the irritation, the gnawing of the ink, evaporate into nothingness. 

He desperately wants to pull the trigger. 

Noah’s face, those saddened eyes, just like his mom’s, shrouded in fear, dripping with pain. All the anger bubbles up again, wanting nothing more than to escape, wanting to finally squeeze the trigger and end it all for the man who threatened to hurt the Bensons. 

He can’t. 

He can’t. 

Legally and morally, he cannot shoot this man with his boss in front of him, her eyes on him. 

Not in front of Noah’s school—a place where he hopes to return, where he can be on that exclusive list of those who pick up the bright-eyed child, where he can sit in a cramped auditorium and watch him shine onstage while a hand rests on his mother’s knee.

“If you so much as breathe near that boy again, your own family won’t even recognize you at your funeral.” 

“Go ahead,” Stanwood croaks, exhaling a sharp, breathy exhale, “Kill me.” 

But Elliot simply chuckles back, one corner of his mouth curled up, hand still tight to his gun, “You would be so lucky.” 

And in one swift motion, he slams the metal into the brother’s skull, knocking the man unconscious instantaneously, blood dripping down his forehead onto the dashboard ahead.

 


 

Her head is throbbing—has been throbbing—and she would spend her life's savings to be able to walk out those doors and be home.

McGrath has her tied to her desk the entire day, rereading and refiling piles of paperwork he so graciously slapped down in front of her this morning, complete with a disappointed frown on his face to really seal the deal. She almost feels like she’s back in grade school, being disciplined by her teachers for poor remarks (which, let’s be clear, never happened to her, she was always a shining star, it’s purely a metaphor).

And you know what, finally, at fifty years old, she’s getting really tired of dealing with shitty men.

Luckily, the squad room is quiet.

Amanda and Fin are out on the streets, and Velasco is…somewhere. He’s either on his way to the Andersons or dropping by the M.E.'s office, whichever he ended up getting to first. 

Left alone in her office, she has her glasses on and shoes secretly slipped off, eyes heavy with exhaustion. If she was truly lucky, an entire coffee shop would appear in the room and the teenage baristas would shove every type of caffeine in front of her, keeping her awake, shaking her out of the sleeplessness the past month brought her. 

The simple act of sleep was not her friend right now. 

And the lack of it had a lot to do with her “friend.”

It feels like she almost has a sneak of what it was like for him ten years ago, building up the walls to shut the other out. 

Was it this hard for him back then? To see call after call coming in from her, knowing she deserved a conversation, but never giving it to her? Not that her phone is ringing now—no, he actually listened for once and she’s mildly surprised (a slightly hurt) that he hasn’t reached out once. 

Maybe it’s time to—

She hears her son before she sees him, and thoughts of her ex-partner can be damned.

His eyes are red, skin blotchy from tear stains and he barrels into her office, throwing himself roughly into her arms, practically leaping into her lap. 

It also happens so quickly—her brain is still shaking out the pitying thoughts she began to dive into—suddenly, everything is meaningless, except for her son. 

“I’m so sorry, Mommy,” he cries into her chest, words slightly muffled, hands tight around her neck. She adjusts in her chair to hug him back properly, unsure at what caused him to be here, but falling right into mom-mode. Her fingers instinctively rub his back, the same pattern since he was a baby, the other hand landing in his curls to calmly scratch at his scalp, a trick she picked up during his terrible twos. 

The cries shift into a harsh sob, and he’s shaking in her arms, she can feel him nearly hyperventilating, “Honey—honey, what happened?”

He pulls his face back just enough for her to see directly in his eyes, all watery and puffy, and it kills her to see them look so sad. 

Trying to speak, he sniffles, hoping the tears stop coming down and his throat would clear, but it doesn’t work, and he almost chokes, starting to cry once more. 

“Oh my poor baby,” she whispers, hand cupping his cheek delicately, thumb swiping away the flood of tears. His breathing picks up again, and she rushes to place her free palm gently over his chest, hoping to ground him, “Shh, let’s breathe, okay?” 

He can only nod, but it’s enough for her to begin.

“In…” both of their stomachs expand as they mirror each other, “…out…” and the air releases slowly, the thumping of her son’s heart slowing itself in the process.

She fights her own anxiety off. That panic attack prickling at her skin, horrified at why her son is here and violently sobbing. 

And why two officers from Organized Crime are in her squad room, right next to Lucy. 

Her phone buzzes.

Instantly, she flips it over with her free hand and sees Ayanna’s name flash across the screen, her son still holding onto her for dear life, and she just knows

It’s all ending. 

 


 

“Take only the essentials, you have five minutes before that car is taking you both to Jersey.”

“Dad, what is going on?” Eli asks, frantically shoving electronic after electronic into his weekend bag, moving without even glancing up at his pacing father. 

Elliot can’t even explain, has no time to—just ran in the house, yelled for them to start packing and got to work helping. Stanwood was arrested (kind of, he was unconscious, but he’ll come-to in cuffs), and there was no chance he was acting alone. The area was clear of any other assailants, yet it was only a matter of time before the dominoes would fall and Elliot’s betrayal could be heard by the boss. 

Ayanna has been running the operation as efficiently as she possibly could, with new pieces falling apart each second. There was no way to know how low the brotherhood was willing to go. No clue it would stoop down to terrorizing an eight-year-old. It makes everything that much more real. 

Everyone vulnerable is sent to hide, with the biggest target on the Stabler family’s back. Five cars across the region, sent to each child, with the last here, awaiting his mother and youngest to shuffle in so it can speed off to safety. 

Elliot refused to go, despite the risk. Frank was nowhere to be found, and he could be coming straight for his right hand man

This began with him, and would have to end with him. There was no backing out now.

Heading towards a fumbling Bernie, he helps her grab what he can for her, zipping up the bag quickly, “Ma, I got it. What else do you need?”

“That’s everything.”

“Meds?”

“I got them, Elliot.”

She’s surprisingly calm, but he knows deep down she’s keeping it cool for him. For Eli. He grabs her face with both his hands, leaning in to kiss her forehead, “Good.”

“Is it over?” she asks faintly.

“Yeah,” he hums, “Yeah, it is.”

 


 

The now-empty apartment is overwhelmingly silent.

His gun rests on the wooden coffee table, metal handcuffs latched on his hip. Sweat pools on the edges of his brows, muscles tight, back aching. 

All he can hear is the heavy beating of his own heart, the loud pounding stiffening his neck, blood roaring through his veins. 

The car is long gone and his throat is tight with the echoes of Eli’s pleas for him to come with them, his scrawny arms hugging him tightly, no longer shying away from his father. Instead, the boy was terrified to lose him, terrified that if he let go he would have to bury his father just a year after his mother. 

It took everything in Elliot to stay strong and hold his ground, but he somehow managed to finally let go and whisper an apologetic goodbye. And his son’s deep brown eyes joined the other pair ingrained in his brain—saddened and pained, just like her’s—and he’ll die knowing he caused them both to fill with tears. 

Seated on the couch, body tense, he’s waiting for the unexpected, walking right into the path of destruction. His phone is off, not wanting to be stopped—wanting this to end with him, here, alone. 

Too many people have been hurt by him, but not today. Everyone would be safe if he remained here. 

He stays in the fire, prepared to burn down with it all. 

And in the silence, he waits. 

Waits for…something—he isn't sure.

Perhaps death will show up and free him from the sins of existence. 

Or perhaps no one will come, the world already desecrated into a disastrous pile of nothingness. 

Perhaps…

The hard knock at the door cuts through the quiet like a knife.

A sharp slice clears the silence and he swallows, hand reaching for his gun immediately, standing to his feet, ready for whatever’s about to come. 

He won’t let himself die, that’s all he knows.

He will go down fighting, if that’s what it takes.

The doorknob is jiggling now, the unexpected visitor getting impatient, and he holds his weapon at the ready, careful to not be too excitable, but prepared for the worst. 

Reaching forward, his firm, sturdy hand combats the shaking, halting the person’s attempt to break in. 

And as he takes a one more deep breath, he counts his last minutes.  

With all his might, he yanks open the door, gun up and pointed, ready to fire. His breath is hitched, no longer steady, finger hovering over the trigger when he meets his end. 

Brown eyes drown him in an explosive combination of fear and shock, and a shaky breath exhaling from her lips buzzes in his ear, carving its way permanently into his chest next to his son’s cries. 

Lowering his gun, he can’t move, just stares at her like she’s a dream, like she is an apparition who will fade if he so much as blinks. 

“Olivia?”

It’s silent between them, and his mind is racing, wondering why she is here, why she wasn’t hidden away like everyone else he held near to his heart, why she’s starting to cry...

“Liv?"

He gets no answers. 

Before he can whisper her name a third time—the name he’d been shelled away from for weeks, the name that drips with need, the one that makes his fingertips ache to touch—she’s pushing him inside, slamming the door, locking it behind with her fingers, arms snapping around his neck before their lips slam together in a beautiful, breathtaking embrace. 

With no time to even think, he lets her take control, lets her grab at him, kiss him deeply, fervently, waiting for his brain to catch up with him, still shaken from the anticipation of potentially meeting his end. 

But after it catches up, her lips persistently continuing their mission, he realizes Olivia Benson is back in his arms.

Every nerve wants to simultaneously explode with relief and elation, although he knows this may not be the right move. He should stop this, talk to her, tell her he’s sorry, that she should run, but his brain short-circuits when he feels how desperately needy she is for this—for him. Fingernails digging into his back, her lips are pressed so hard to his, they could both very well suffocate and die like this, wrapped in their other half, be buried into the earth together, a wondrous fossil to discover years from now—their two skeletons converged into one. 

But they’re both very much alive, he can feel the blood pumping through them both, his own heart quickening as he’s pushed against the front wall, can feel her beating heart when his hand rests on the side of her neck, her pulse fluttering under his fingers.

Their breaths are a glorious symphony of desire, alternating between short, staccato gasps, and elongated, lusty inhales that allow her mouth to part, tongue hungry and ready to explore him. 

He gladly accepts, and they’re making out with such visceral passion, it overwhelms him with every emotion.

They’re a tornado of self-destruction, the two consistently punishing themselves for the world around them, unable to see what is so clearly drawn in front of them, unable to accept the one they yearned for, afraid everything would crash around them.

But in this moment, he sees it now. Sees the clarity he’s been longing for, realizing that she was the answer, that her hands, her lips, her eyes, hair, body, soul were the only things that kept him balanced, afloat, stable

And when she lets out an aching whine—one that says it’s just not enough—his hands slide down to her ass and grope at the flesh, needing to feel something, to give her more, before his knees bend—lips never parting from hers—and he tucks his arms under the curves to lift her off the ground. 

She’s suddenly ten years younger, legs wrapping around his waist after a slight gasp, body clung to him like they’re on the cover of a goddamn romance novel. Her verbal cues only grow, absolutely ravenous, head completely free of trepidation, only needing and wanting this. Wanting his hands closer, wanting his mouth closer, wanting them to breathe for the other, wanting him to fuck the pain out of her and have him so deep inside her that he’ll never be able to leave her or let her walk away again.

His gun is now hooked on the back of his pants, cuffs still on his side, digging into her thigh, but she doesn’t care—nothing matters because he’s walking her backwards, deeper into his apartment, hands kneading into her ass again, wishing that this was not happening like this. 

Five minutes ago, he thought he would meet his fate with a bullet to his chest. But fate instead arrived in soft curves and smooth skin, crashing into him like the Big Bang, as if life hadn’t existed prior to that initial kiss. 

And it really didn’t. 

This was their story, this was their happy ending, this was the destination they both were exhausted to reach—wandering aimlessly their entire lives, parched for the truth, pained to find their purpose, trudging through darkness, never knowing the healing light on the other side was the one they are kissing now. 

He’s crossing into his bedroom, not wanting to let go of her, but wretched with the violent need for her clothes to be off, for his hands to feel her olive skin, for his lips to paint her entire body with anguished apologies and devastating adorations. She’s moaning again, her hands having left his back somewhere during the trek here, now cupping his cheeks, locking his lips to hers. 

He stops right before his knees hit the bed, holding her close to his chest, akin to two freefallers about to jump out of a plane, the build up leading to the penultimate leap.

It’s the first time they truly part, sparing the few seconds between kisses and sucks, when she looks at him, really looks at him, fingers rubbing up and down his cheek, scratching his scruff. She leans in again, pecking him softly, before she lets her lips linger only millimeters from his. 

“I need you,” she whispers in a wavering voice, urging him to take the fall with her. 

The temptation is overwhelming—the siren in his arms, praying for release, begging him to take her, right here, right now, through flames and the crackling storm, to claim her. It comes back again, that familiar guilt that sunk him into the very sheets she’s desperate to be tangled in. It tells him to end it now, that she will be better off if—

Oh fuck that.

He lays her down onto the mattress carefully, looking down at the absolute goddess he has managed to spread onto his bed—no longer a symbol of restless nights and unshakable depression, now a place for a new chapter to unfold, the one they take together. Her eyes are still watery, threatening to let loose the flood, and he can’t have that. He reaches for her hand, pulling it up to his lips, kissing each finger lovingly, as he starts to lean over her frame, ending his journey with a tantalizing kiss on her lips. 

She breathes deeply into it, hands anchoring themselves to his biceps, fingers curling into the muscle to secure him in place. Her hips buck up from the shear agony that the distance between them creates, needing friction, needing this to go faster, but not be rushed. He’s taking his time, traveling with his lips again, swirling over the place he’s missed so dearly on her neck with rousing strokes of his tongue and light nibbles with his teeth. 

“Mm,” she whimpers, fidgeting at the sensation—it’s too much and not enough all at the same time. Her hands leave his arms, seeking relief, sliding in between their bodies, fingers fumbling with her belt buckle to try and break it free. 

He’s still sucking at her skin when he realizes what she’s doing, and he grips her wrists, halting her movements. “Let me,” he drawls, guiding her arms to land above her head and stretching her out before him. Running his fingers down her stomach, he feels it hitch at the tingling sensation and he smugly smirks at her reaction. 

He isn’t even touching her skin yet and she’s falling apart. 

Leaning forward once more, his hands keep working to relieve her from her restraints, unbuckling her belt, unbuttoning her pants, while his teeth bite down on the hem of her blouse. Tugging it up just to expose enough of her bare stomach to dip down and tease it with his tongue, he then soothes it with his lips. Feeling the shiver it causes her makes him cocky, and when her hips jerk up again, he hooks his fingers through the belt loops, liberating her long legs from thick fabric—leaving her panties on for him to explore later. 

This was a masterpiece he was in control of, a painting that deserved patience, deserved tender care, he was going to take all the time he could. 

And there was one thing he still needed to give attention to before they kept heading in this direction.

Well, two.

Sneaking his hands above his head, he keeps his mouth busy by tormenting her with more wet kisses above her waistband, while he runs his rough fingertips under the fabric of her shirt, gliding over her bra-covered breasts to fondle both of them in his hands. He elicits another whine, the first, a higher-pitched “Mmnh,” before he kneads them a little firmer, and she exhales a lower, deeper gasp. 

This shirt needs to come off now.

She’s thinking the same thing. 

In a frenzied attempt to undress each other, they’re accidentally smacking limbs, and it’s just too fast for him, too messy. So, he draws back, leaving her to melt into the linen sheets, her eyes dripping with the crave of his body on hers again, and yanks off his own shirt. 

Her expression softens enough for him to see the gears turning in her head, and the corners of his own mouth turn up into a playful grin. “What are you thinking about?” he asks, because he has to. She’s here, shirt half off, stomach dampened, lying in her underwear, arms over her head like an angel, with eyes that demand more, and he wants (needs) to hear her say something. 

She hums, mind racing, not wanting to think about anything, just wanting to keep her body in motion, get him back on her, get these remaining clothes off and have him fuck her senseless. Words don’t want to come out right now, it’s too much for her to formulate a sentence, so she simply lifts herself up into a seated position, never glancing away from him. Crossing her arms, she finishes what he started, pulling at the bottom of her blouse, yanking it over her head, to leave her in a plain white bra and those skin tone briefs. 

If she would’ve known this was happening, she would’ve pulled something nicer from the back of her drawer. Maybe a lacey set, something he could rip with fingers or teeth, something thin that he could taste her over. 

But even in the simplest set of lingerie, the sight of her knocks him back. The combination of pure bliss from the beauty displayed here before him, joining the pained glimpses of twisted marks that adorn her body…

He’s lost in her. 

Eyes finding a path between the scars, his hands are desperate to relieve the never-forgotten, long-since healed burns, wishing he could go back for a moment. Wishing he was there to help soothe them sooner. 

She knows where (and why) he’s looking. She doesn’t mind, knew this was inevitable, but she doesn’t want that look of regret to come wreck their beautiful dance. Doesn't want it to stop them before they even start. 

Holding a hand out, she beckons him closer, and he listens, he’d do anything she’d want to right now. And at this angle—him still standing, her now seated—she gets to tuck her face into his abdomen, pecking the area lightly as he did to her. 

“Don’t go there,” she mutters into his skin, the vibrations from her words striking him fiercely, sending a rush of heat running down his torso. Continuing her task at hand, she’s nibbling and sucking at the area above his waistband, his own pants starting to restrict him to an uncomfortable degree. 

Well, she can’t have that.

And as he did for her, she finishes unbuckling his belt, unbuttoning his pants, and she stares straight into his eyes as she glides the material down, letting him step out of the bottoms, wishing she took the boxers down too.

He doesn’t move when she suddenly stands up to meet his gaze again. 

They’re about to cross the once forbidden threshold, there isn’t much else left between them. 

Elliot Stabler was about to have all of Olivia Benson, decades apart from the first time he imagined this. 

It makes him soft (not literally, he was very much not soft down there but), he is overwhelmed with the need to show how thankful he is that she is here, allowing him to enjoy her this intimately, trusting him enough to not pull his fingers away when they begin to trace the textured skin from where the beast once bit. 

When her eyes squeeze shut from it all, he crouches down onto his knees, coming face to face again with her stomach, spotting the marks more clearly this time. He breathes her in, taking account of her beating heart, and sighs against the ones he can touch, placing gentle, but insistent, kisses to them, rasping out a broken, “I’m so sorry, Liv,” when he reaches a particularly deep scar on her side.

It’s all too much. 

Her hands find his face, tilting his chin up so their eyes meet, “Not now,” she sighs. There’s a look of resistance as if he’s about to protest, and send himself down the spiral again, so she hums, “I know—trust me, I know,” and gives him a softened smile.

Her words assuage his anguish temporarily, arms snaking around her waist to hold her tight to him, but she’s wiggling out of his grasp and he’s worried he ruined the moment. She isn’t fleeing though—instead, she twists her body, nudging him up, and pushes him down to take her spot on the bed (he stays sitting up so he never loses the view of her). 

Standing above him now, she gives him a look. A look that he’s longed to be on this side of. Bottom lip disappearing as she’s plotting out her next move, her legs crawl up to settle on either side of his hips, lowering her bottom to land down on his lap. 

Everything is so warm, so tight, her lips back on his, the slow roll of her hips, her heat grinding against—

There’s pouding at the front door, and it’s nothing like the firm sound she caused before. 

This person, whoever it may be, is not waiting for someone to open up—no, no, they are storming right in. Jolting them apart, the two adults both gasp off each other’s mouths, hearts racing, eyes fearful. 

Elliot stands, helping her get onto her feet as the sound of the wood practically cracking grows louder and louder. 

It’s too late for her to escape, she can’t make it to the back patio without the risk of being seen—or worse, there could be another blockading them in, right outside, ready to kill. 

Panicking, he’s quick on his feet, “In here! In here!” he whispers pointedly, guiding her nearly naked frame into the bedroom closet, her eyes wide with fear, hand barely stopping him before he shuts the door, pulling him in for one last kiss—just in case.

He makes it quick, but lets her know with his lips that he wants to live, wants to finish what they started, no longer seeking punishment, only wishing for their chapter to continue. 

Shutting the door, he knows it’s a tight space, and he’s praying his solution doesn’t make things worse, won’t trigger any further anxiety due to the lack of light and little room for movement. But he has no time to think. Frantically gathering their clothes, he's hiding hers under the bed, grabbing his gun just as the front door flies open and he realizes—

She’s unarmed. 

It’s far too late to slide her weapon inside, because Frank is trailblazing into his living room, knocking things down on his way towards Elliot, grunting and yelling, with his own weapon tight in his hand, swaying wildly.

“I fucking knew it!” He shouts, right before making eye contact with Elliot in the open door frame, gun up, pointed, face horrifying. 

Elliot has his up too, drawn up at the man he once called his brother, finger on the trigger, remembering he wants to live, for himself, for his kids, for her. “What are you doing here, Frank?” 

“You tell me, huh? How long have you been screwing me? Huh?” 

He’s erratic. Elliot has to be careful with this one. 

Shaking off the fear, he plays off Frank’s prodding with a simple tilt of his head, “I don’t know what you’re talking about man.” It’s either the smartest or dumbest move to act innocent as he’s not sure how much the man knows, but it’s what he’s chosen. 

“You lied to me, Stabler. You told me you got rid of her and instead you let that bitch get right to us!”

“What are you going on about—"

Franks groans in frustration, neck creaking from tightness, head shaking furiously, metal in his hand waving a little too recklessly, “Pfft,” he starts to let out a low laugh, “I don’t like being lied to, man, you know I don’t.”

Nodding, Elliot’s playing into it, backed into the corner he has run right into, “Not lying, man, just—let’s put the guns down, okay?” His brows raise, hopeful to ease the tension, his left hand up, displaying it to prove that he means it—he wants the guns down and unloaded. 

Frank isn’t as quick to concede, his piece still up as he takes a quick pace, and his eyes explore the room. It's all happening fast, the tower beginning to crumble around them. He should've known it was going to happen like this—should have insisted she left the moment she walked through those doors. Instead, he let Frank get right to them both, dead set on a mission to know the truth. 

And Elliot sees it just before Frank does, with nothing to do to stop it from happening.

“She’s here…” he whispers, and the calmness of his tone shakes Elliot more than the yelling did.

“Hmm?” Elliot prays he misheard him. 

But the man points at the coat—the fucking coat on his chair, the one he kept to remind him of his bad deeds, to punish himself, to have a fragment of her near—the coat that would now be his (their) tragic downfall. 

Elliot tries to pretend once more, slipping on the edge of control, but perilously needing to hang on, “What do you mean?”

“That’s her fucking coat.”

Elliot glances over, like his eyes are meeting it for the first time, and he purposefully furrows his brows. “Frank, she left it at the bar,” he feigns relief, like he figured out what is causing Frank to tick and it’s all a big miscommunication, “Remember?”

“And what, you kept it as a trophy?”

“I haven’t exactly seen her since—I told you I wouldn’t—so, I just left it there—"

“Yeah, yeah, and why the fuck are you prancing around in your fucking underwear, huh? Putting on a show for the neighbors?”

He’s manic, now—a loose cannon—and Elliot has to tread very carefully around the minefield his 'friend' has become. “I was about to take a shower before you burst through my fucking door.” He says it with a firm tone, low and serious, trying to ground the guy with the gun, not wanting either of theirs to go off. 

Frank is shaking his head slowly, attempting to fight off the fairytale Elliot is spinning, not wanting to be tricked, “Ha, I know we’ve gotten close, but sometimes I feel like you forget I’m still a cop, Elliot.”

The man’s eyes wander around again, glancing all over the room, and even beyond the four walls, with one treasure to find in mind, anger seeping out of his every vein, not even caring that Elliot has his weapon pointed right at him. 

Elliot knows he can’t kill him, that they very much need him alive, and if he did shoot and misses, or gets himself killed, Olivia could be right behind him, both bodies to be discovered hours from now. 

And when Frank’s head droops down, Elliot thinks maybe it’s over—that he’s surrendering—but his head just continues shaking in disbelief, his voice almost infernal. 

“Who’s in the closet?” 

Elliot’s insides freeze, keeping his exterior neutral, not letting the man see even an ounce of guilt wipe across his face. No, not in front of another cop—if he blinks, swallows, breathes too hard, he’s made. “Is that some kind of joke?” 

Frank chuckles for a second, but not remotely in any kind way, “The house is empty, your kid’s video games are gone, and you say you were about to shower, but you were in here.” 

Christ—are you okay? Do you hear yourself?” 

“Tell me who it is.”

Everything around them stills—the air feels shallow, the silence filling with a palpable energy, the tension trapping them both on this pathway to death. 

“Nobody,” Elliot mutters, but Frank rolls his eyes. “What? You want me to show you? Prove you’re acting nuts?” And he tiptoes over to the closet door, hand on the handle, hoping she’s managed to hide herself so deep into his Italian garb that if he flings it open, she’ll be hidden from sight. 

Frank sighs, “No, no,” and Elliot exhales, feeling a smidge of relief, taking a step away from it, hoping Frank will follow suit and they can move this out of the bedroom, away from her. But Frank is still transfixed on the door, muttering, “Keep it closed.” 

Elliot nods, gun in his clammy hand, waving the other over to him, “We good? Can you tell me what the fuck is going on now?”

“Hmm? Yeah, yeah,” Frank responds, lowering his own gun, convincing Elliot to do the same, shuffling over slightly to create more distance from her. But it doesn’t feel right, and despite his weapon no longer being up, ready to fire, Elliot feels the suspicious need to draw it again. 

“How bout I get you a beer, huh? You can take a breather, let me know what’s been happening and I’ll help you with a game plan.”

“No, I’m good,” Frank answers decisively, head tilting up, eyes blackened like the devil. “What I’m going to do is count to three,” and he raises his piece back up—this time, not on Elliot, but pointed straight at the closet door. “Then put a bullet through that fucking door.”

Elliot wants to reach for his weapon, but knows if he does now, Frank will already know he’s right about the woman inside, and it’ll be too late. 

He won’t even have a chance to cover her bleeding body. 

Jesus, Frank—"

“You can stop me at any time, Elliot. Just tell me who’s in there, and I’ll drop it.”

He cannot believe him. If he tells the truth, says you got me, a bullet goes through the wood and Olivia is dead. 

But he’s impatient, gun cocked, and the lack of response from Elliot prompts Frank to hiss out a cold, “One.”

“You seriously need help. You sound psychotic.”

“Huh,” he exhales, “At least I’ll die an honest man.” His cold eyes meet Elliot again, and that sick, twisted smile returns, “I told you, you could end this right now. Just tell me who is in there.”

“Frank—"

Two.”

He’s frantic now, trying everything he can to stop him, “You barge into my house, waving your gun—"

But it doesn’t work.

Three—"

“No!” Elliot shouts, leaping in front of the barrel, as she slowly pushes the closet door open to reveal her barren torso, still scantily dressed in only a bra and panties. 

Surprisingly, Frank does not fire right away—instead lowering his handgun slightly at the sight of her there, doey eyes wide, her breath the fairest bit shaky. 

She takes a deep breath, attempting to calm the room, whispering, “Frank—please listen to me.” Her voice is smooth like whiskey, despite the fear percolating around them and the gun. “I am not against you, or your group, now or ever. This,” she gestures to Elliot and back to her with a wave of her hand, “Has nothing to do with work. I promise you.”

He stares her down, not wanting to be fooled again, “The hit—why did you come to the bar the night of the hit?”

“I didn’t even know it happened until the next day, Frank,” she replies, and even Elliot is convinced by the sweet sound of her voice. “It was stupid of me to show up there and—do what I did—but I wasn’t thinking with my head. I just needed some release.”

Frank chuckles and he’s slowly slipping—but which direction, they do not know. “You don’t realize how much you’ve fucked up for us, Captain,” he almost sounds regretful, like he feels sorry he has to do this, like he doesn’t have the choice to leave her here, standing. “This is so much more than just me, than just the brotherhood, you don’t even know.” His gun is back up and Elliot reaches for his, drawing it up quickly and shielding her body with as much of his as he can, and Frank laughs, “Even if you kill me, shoot me dead center in the head, this isn’t over. You know that, right?”

Olivia’s hands clutch at his back, eyes unfortunately meeting the ugly tattoo of the makeshift oath Elliot took, unsure of how they will get out of this room without a bullet slicing through her lover’s chest, or without the key piece of all of Elliot’s work dying by his own hand. 

“Frank, you don’t want to do this,” Elliot begs, cocking his gun slowly, “Think of your wife, your baby—"

“Yeah, okay, like I’ll be better off in prison!”

“You don’t want to do this,” Elliot’s voice lowers, deepening, “I can't let you hurt her.”

“Oh, how chivalrous,” he mocks, “Guess she got the upgrade from the fuck doll you told me she was?” And he peers past the solid wall of muscle that is Elliot Stabler, barely finding her frame behind his, stepping forward, hand sliding across the top of the dresser, “You like that, Benson? Being used like that? Fucking him in front of a picture of his dead wife?”

Frank picks up the framed photo of Kathy, smashing it to the ground, letting the glass shatter all over their bare feet. “You finish telling him about Lewis? How you lied under oath, hmm? Beat a restrained man with a metal bar? Or what about the more recent stuff, huh? Rob Miller? Or maybe—maybe you haven’t gotten there yet, right? Does he know about Cassidy? Tucker?”

His veins are visible, pumping intensely throughout his body, keeping his agitation alive, “Oh, Captain, my Captain—how lucky you are to have risen up the ranks so quickly, ready to boss all us chumps around, acting like you’ve never done anything. Like we’re the bad guys for looking out for each other, when you’re here, hiding behind a man whose list is dripping with blood!”

Elliot’s eyes darken, matching the sadistic glare Frank has been giving him, voice rich with hatred, “Get out now.” 

“Nah, nah,” he laughs again, “All the sinners must pay for what they’ve done.”

His finger goes to pull the trigger, but he’s abruptly halted by a baton to the back of his head—both Olivia and Elliot ducking down to avoid an accidental firing, but thankfully, nothing goes off.

Time feels frozen—there’s no time to think. No time to realize it’s over, that they’re not at gunpoint anymore, that they are not going to die this way. 

And on the other side of the room Ayanna is panting heavily, the baton still clutched tightly in her hands, Frank’s unconscious body below her. Taking a solid second to catch her breath, she inhales deeply, dropping a knee, tugging her handcuffs free, and restraining the unconscious man on the floor—for the second time today.

Elliot saw her sneaking through the garden door halfway through Frank’s poisonous spats at Olivia, but knew it was risky, and had no clue if it would work. 

He’s beyond grateful that everyone here is free of bullet holes—especially the woman trembling behind him. Turning his body, he wraps an arm around her waist, not able to see her face because her head is tucked deep down and she’s squeezing her eyes shut, terrified—wanting to cry. He presses a warm kiss to her hair, letting the air return to her lungs, while she clutches onto him with all her might.

His Sergeant gives them another mending minute, but only one, knowing backup will soon follow and neither wants to be caught like this—this free of uniform.

“Go get dressed,” she orders, “We got a lot to talk about.” 













 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

cw: smut and...the ending. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Her face is tucked so deeply into the curve of his neck, arms locked under his, fingers digging into his shoulders—nearly clawing into the skin—desperately holding onto him as she’s about to have her third orgasm of the night. 

The sweat is dripping down her back and her body feels nearly on fire, but he’s hitting her right where she needs him to—right where she’s been aching for him to—since they started this with an innocent kiss after Noah was put to bed. 

“Shh, gotta keep quiet, Liv.” 

The fucking audacity he has to remind her of how careful they have to be makes her wanna yell, as if he’s not driving into her a little harder, a little faster than usual. 

She’s not going to be able to move after this. 

And she already thought that after she rode his face, coming down hard, thighs burning, just before she came a second time, when he picked her up, tossed her down (roughly but not roughly), and started thrusting into her from behind. 

It’s now round three for her (he really wanted to look at her when he finished) and she needs him to come inside her soon or she’s going to literally suffocate from trying to keep quiet. The sheets will be ruined—actually, they already are, but still—she’s far too overstimulated now. 

“El, I can’t—mmph—please!” 

God, her voice is shaking, hushed whispers in between gasps of air, desperate to get any amount of oxygen back into her lungs. She lost all the control she specifically aimed to have this evening, and she started off so well. It’s been a while since she’s had a man under her like that, so exposed, but Elliot has been hinting at it and she figured it was time. 

And that competitive bastard couldn’t even hand off the control for the entire night. 

He fucking laughs, the vibration of his body buzzing against hers—if she wasn’t nearly dead—she would smack the pretty little smile off his face. It must fade quick though, because he’s grunting “So perfect,” in her ear, kissing her and holding her tight. 

When he speeds up (fucking hell, he could go faster?), Olivia thinks this is it.

This is how she dies. 

Her poor son is going to have to look this man in the eyes, and know one day that he killed her in bed. Fucked her so hard she choked on air. 

She’s seeing stars as this man feels like he’s somehow in her throat, and there’s no way this can be real. 

They’ve been doing this for the past month, ever since Frank was arrested and Elliot was finally Elliot again. That day felt like years, where everything ended and began. 

It took Noah’s shaky voice telling her about the man who saved her, and Lucy confirming it was the blue-eyed beau she’s been ranting to her about, for Olivia to get some clarity. For Olivia to see that she’s too old for this, that she’s too tired to keep pushing him away. She needed him. Before he was gone forever.

And sure, was it stupid to show up at his doorstep, desperately seeking his body against hers, wanting to be destroyed by his lips, his tongue, his—well, you know

If it weren’t for paperwork and disclosures, this would’ve begun a day earlier. And they really didn’t have to wait that much longer (she came over the next day and practically stripped off her clothes in the garden). Even though the 24 hour difference really didn’t change much, that’s a whole other day she was missing out on this

God, he was good at this. How was he this good at this when he was tied down to one woman for 40+ years? 

Olivia was supposed to be the rockstar in bed. Her very long time of being single has made her a bit of an expert in the field of pleasing partners, and no man (nor woman) has ever had any complaints. She had intended to show that power tonight, to let herself orchestrate their evening, to make him squirm, make him sure that he could never walk away again. 

Suddenly he shifts the angle slightly and she rasps out a breathy, “Oh, God!” 

He’s getting close, she can tell, and of course he has to pry a hand between their sticky bodies to circle her clit and make this even more unbelievably difficult. 

They’re both holding on. 

It’s their one drawback of doing this—they both punish themselves into pulling back, dangling their own ecstasy over their head, wanting the moment to last as long as humanly possible. The word ‘relax’ meant nothing to them, even though they both asked the other to do it, to let go and just come

No, they were pained individuals. Even in the thick of sex, a fair bit of suffering was needed. 

She’ll draw blood from his back soon that’ll match her crimson nail polish if this lasts any longer, her weakened breaths transitioning back into heady moans hushed by his skin. “You—hngh—bastard,” she pleads.

He’s slipping too, but it’s still Elliot fucking Stabler so he pulls her head back (gently, not pulling her hair—he could never do that again) to take her in. 

They’ve been fucking like rabbits for weeks, not letting even a single day go by without finding a chance to do this. To watch her mouth part, to watch her eyes get heavy, to feel her breath shake and stomach hitch as she plummets into pure bliss. 

He knows she wanted control tonight. That she wanted to be as dominant here as she is throughout the day. To be the boss here, as if she doesn’t already have him wrapped around her fucking finger everywhere else. But he couldn’t let her do it. 

When she went to get down on her knees, ready to free him from his jeans and take him in her mouth, he had to switch gears—had to get her on top of him, had to suffocate under her perfect thighs as he made her almost scream. He couldn’t let her take care of him. Not when he owed her so much. 

They’ve…talked

Kind of. 

They weren’t really known for their impressive interpersonal communication skills. If they were, this would be 2007 and he’d be pushing back her freshly cut bangs to give her sweet kisses on her forehead while he made love to her, instead of where they were right now.

Fucking. They were fucking

The ‘talks’ would come eventually, he tells himself (like clockwork). After she comes. 

“So beautiful,” he drawls, thumb swiping across her puffy bottom lip. Her eyes squeeze shut, walls fluttering around him and he knows it’s all over soon. 

It’s been a good chunk of time since they began tonight’s fun, and his body is starting to burn, but he can’t have that happen. He’ll have to resume his lengthy gym sessions just to maintain his stamina for this and to be able to try some new things on her that he's been reading about. 

“That’s it, Liv,” he dips down and captures her lips in his own, swallowing down the noises and whines she’s releasing through the wave of her ecstasy. Against her lips, he smiles, “I wish you could see yourself.”

She’s whimpering because he’s still moving in and out of her, elongating the ride even further—pushing it a little too far now. “You got about one more minute or you’re gonna roll me out of here in a bodybag,” she pants through depleted breaths.

He smirks, “I’m that much?”

“Do you want to come or not?” she huffs, pinching her eyes shut again as she tries to not croak out under him.

He very much does—and he will—but he wants her to keep going, needs her to keep talking, keep looking at him like this, “I love it when you get frustrated.” 

Using his middle finger, he swipes the loose strands of hair off her face, tucking them nicely behind her left ear. She’s calming down now, but it definitely is getting too much for her—he’ll have to stop soon, yet he wants to stay like this forever. Wants to have her in his hands, decorated with pouty lips and furrowed brows, falling apart from how much he absolutely needs her. 

“When you can’t hold on anymore,” he finishes, placing a simple smooch on her cheek, one that’s over the top and mushy. One that she wouldn’t allow to cross over to the daytime. 

Switching gears slightly, he pulls back to look at her before he’s drawing close to her again, millimeters from her lips, letting his sweet hands lace around her throat delicately. She fidgets under him, seeing the shift in tone, and swears that they’ll never leave this bed as he nearly growls, “And you let your dirty mouth run.”

Oh, so they’re playing this game. 

She’ll bite—not literally (unless?)—control was what she sought out tonight and his orgasm was dangling in her hands right now. He needed a little dirty talk after holding off for so long and after all he’s done for her, the man deserves it. 

“You can’t come unless, what?” she teases. 

Snaking her arms over his shoulders now, she wraps them around his neck and scratches lightly at the sensitive skin to see him shiver. He was melting already, focused now on his own pleasure, and the way he looked at her, gripping so softly against her neck—it felt like a dream she had before. 

She pulls him down to place her hot breath right against his ear, “Unless I tell you how good you feel inside me?” 

Eliciting an immediate moan, she’s the one smirking now, willing to extend that threatening minute just enough to have him shatter at her words. “How you hit me so deep I couldn’t even speak?”

His mouth parts at her taunting, a low groan, before he whispers, “Shit…”

It’s working.

“I can’t decide which was my favorite tonight. Your tongue,” her fingers move again, scraping up his abs, causing them to hitch, “Or from behind.” 

There’s no way he can hold back much more. 

“But then again, I love this,” she hums, leaning in to drag her tongue across up the column of his throat, before landing one gentle kiss onto his scruff. “I love seeing you, feeling you, right above me, fucking me so good—"

And that does it. 

He bottoms out, spilling into her with one last thrust, muffling his moan deep into her chest, head hung down as if in prayer. And her hands immediately cradle the back of his head, letting him catch his breath against her bare chest with him dripping inside of her. 

In the silence of heavy breaths and little gasps, with her holding him so intimately, with her body starting to relax into the mattress, it all feels so…

Olivia begins to chuckle and he can feel the light buzzing under his face. He just finished coming inside her and now she’s amused by something after she nearly cut out his jugular a minute ago. 

“What?” he mumbles into her tits, and she shakes her head.

“Nothing,” she recedes.

But that innocent chuckle is turning into a real laugh now, and he’s not very sure that’s not the reaction he was seeking after the night they just had. 

“It’s just funny.”

“What’s funny?” 

“We are,” she whispers and she glides her nails up his spine. 

He wants to fall asleep like this. Head against her breasts, dick in her, as her hands keep him close. But he knows they can’t. He’ll eventually carry her to the bathroom in her bedroom (even though she should be able to walk by now), and get ready for bed with her, changing the sheets—again. Then they can snuggle in their pajamas, after unlocking the door in case her son needs her, before they tumble in the abyss that is the oh-so desired sleep. 

He tilts his head so he isn’t face first in her breasts anymore (not that he was complaining), instead resting his cheek against them, listening to her quickened heartbeat slow back down. “Why’s that?”

She sighs, dropping the jovial tone, “We’re just really good at that. And not so much…the other stuff.”

He doesn’t need her to expand on that. There was so much to catch up on, so much that he still didn’t know, so much that she really didn’t want to have to share, but needed to. Someday. For now, they can keep doing this. Keep up with the hurried pace of domestication, like they really have been together all these years. 

That slow burn was tiring. Olivia wanted some happiness and peace for once, and Elliot needed some warmth and kindness. They could do that for each other—be the balance that the other needed—and also have really great sex. 

“We’ll get there,” he promises, shifting again to place a warm kiss to her, right above her heart. It’s corny and he knows she’ll fake hating it, that it’s too gushy and romantic for Olivia Margaret Benson, but he knows deep down, she loves it.

We’ll get there.”

 


 

“Well, Captain, if you weren’t running off playing cops and robbers with your boyfriend, maybe you would’ve had more time to look at the facts.”

Oh, she’s actually going to kill her boss right now. 

This was it—the line in the sand, the ending she’s been seeking. 

She’s been in his office for only ten minutes and he’s already said about 30 things that have threatened to make her tick, but this was the icing on the cake. McGrath dangled Elliot over her like it was the end of her career. Like being undercover with him was a disgrace to the job and would make her soft. 

“I’m sorry?

What she would give to really be able to lose it right now. To go off on her boss, for how he treats her and the work they do. It would be so gratifying if she could, just once

But Fin is too good of a right hand man, and even more of a better friend, stopping her before the conversation crosses over to that place she would never recover from. “Chief, this was on me. I reassured my Captain that there were no charges to be made.”

For a moment, she thinks it might’ve worked. His reaction to Fin is calm, almost accepting. Maybe he just needed to hear it from a man. Maybe he will concede to the facts, ending his little nonsensical tyraid and letting them get back to the mountain of cases she had to deal with. 

“Well look at where that got us, Sergeant.” 

Never mind

He really should get a refund for all those anger management classes, they really screwed him on that deal. 

“I told you this boy was trouble, and now my daughter—my own kid—is his victim. Because you wouldn’t do your job!”

It hovers in the air, ringing, and the three adults all just stare intently at each other. 

To blame her for this, for his child reporting a rape, it’s deplorable. As if she would ever wish it upon any person, let alone a child. That anger is bubbling again, her deep desire to smack him across the face and have those words fade into nothingness. How dare he. 

“Sir,” voice firm, she’s not letting this man ruin her day, not again, not this time. She is a damn good Captain because she cares about people, and she won’t allow this man to paint her any other way. “With all due respect, there was no incriminating evidence at the scene. The cocaine found was planted by a detective Bolton, who has since been arrested and charged for his involvement with an internal police scandal. We had no indication that this would lead to an assault.”

McGrath rolls his eyes, “You know, if this was your kid—"

“Do not bring my son into this,” she snaps—breaking.

“You broke the rules looking for him when he was kidnapped. So don’t act like a Saint,” and he slams his desk drawer shut, the sound echoing across the walls of his office. 

She opens her mouth to respond, but he cuts her off with a hand raised as he takes a seat in his makeshift throne. 

“You arrest that kid and make him pay for what he did to my little girl,” and he gestures for them to walk out the door.

 


 

“Then Cassie and I went, and Ms. Pierce said it was the best presentation on elephants she’s ever seen!”

“Wow, that’s incredible,” Elliot shovels a mouthful of pasta between his lips, absolutely ravenous from the busy day of trial prep and paperwork. Team Benson didn’t eat nearly enough meat around here, how were they ever sated? Next time he’s over (probably tomorrow because he’s practically moved in here), he’ll make a bigger meal for them—order some good meat from the local butcher and let them feast for weeks. 

He glances briefly across the small table, catching Olivia’s tired eyes. She looks so warm and full, like she could fall asleep in a single second. Tossing her a closed-mouth smile, he keeps chewing as Noah rambles on. 

She smiles back, swallowing down a sip of the wine she’s been drinking, a very much needed glass of wine. Her own helping of spaghetti has a considerable dent in it, she simply can’t finish it all, but she’s grateful to even eat. 

Elliot got here before her, using the key she’d given him to prepare dinner for her and her son. No questions, just heard about her day and popped over to help. It wasn’t new for him to be here, but to arrive home to him, that was a first. 

When they walked in, she was hit with the homey aroma of a fresh meal, and even more blessed by the man making it, his dress shirt sleeves rolled up and a cheesy smile plastered on his face. 

Life moved so fast for them, and it really should startle her with how giddy she is, how really, truly blessed she feels, but it doesn’t. 

She already kept him at a distance—look how well that worked out. 

And her son was the only real reason left to take it slow. But after he rescued him at school, Noah demanded Elliot come by more often. That he has dinner with them, sometimes breakfast—that he helps with homework and watches cartoon movies with them.

The way her child looks at him…

His blue eyes shine at everything the man does, wanting to mimic his every move, wanting to someday be just like him

It overwhelms her sometimes to see them together. To see the two most important men in her lives seated next to each other, to see him so invested in her child’s life while her baby boy asks Elliot question after question about himself. 

They all needed this, especially Elliot. 

After such a hard year and the last case creeping a little too close to home (literally), he told her how he didn’t mind Noah’s intense attachment. It reminded him that he can sometimes still do good at the end of the day. 

And well, she couldn’t keep him away from that. 

So now, here he is—and where he has been—at her apartment with her and her son, acting almost like a family. 

“Noah, eat,” she scolds, halting his play-by-play so her son doesn’t go to bed starving. “You can finish telling us about school after you finish.” 

Noah frowns, his big eyes trying to guilt her, but she’s done this for eight years. Cuteness be damned, the kid needs some food. 

She raises her brows, and he picks up on her cue, knowing that he doesn’t want the non-verbal warning to turn into a verbal one. “Okay…” he whines, picking around the noodles with his fork, not really grabbing any to actually eat. 

Olivia can’t handle this tonight. 

She really is too tired after her visit with McGrath and having five open cases that all demanded her full attention. She just needed her son to eat dinner—let alone his favorite dinner—and she can’t even manage that. 

Elliot notices her take a deep breath, holding in the paralyzing exhaustion that washes over her. She needs a break, and that’s exactly why he’s here—to help. 

And probably because he’s done this five times already as a father and now twice as a grandpa, he feels like he has a knack for understanding children, and getting them to eat. 

“Yeah, Noah, I’m starving,” he jokingly groans. “I gotta finish so I have enough energy to hear all about the science fair. And dance, too.”

The young boy smiles softly, “You want me to tell you about dance?”

“Of course I do. I even made sure to take off for your show next month.”

The confession surprises both Bensons—the younger, elated with the news, starts to copy the man before him, twirling a decent sized bite of pasta onto his fork, and scarfing it down just like Elliot did. 

But Olivia’s eyes widened just enough for him to see, right before her wine glass was tilted back and emptied into her mouth.

 


 

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to not be running around again undercover,” he mumbles and continues brushing his teeth next to her, hand landing on the small of her back as he sneaks past to spit. 

How romantic.  

“But this trial prep stuff? It’s all politics and phrasing and…are you good?”

She’s been zoned out for a bit. After finishing her extensive skincare routine, full of pretty, pastel creams and fancy smelling oils, she brushed her own teeth and then just froze. He doesn’t know how long she’s been trapped in her head, but he can tell something is up. 

“We can’t have sex tonight.”

And his arm slows down its movements, brows immediately furrowing in confusion as the toothbrush leaves his mouth and he spits again, keeping his eyes locked on hers. 

“…I wasn’t—What about ‘trial prep’ made you think I was about to ask for sex?” 

“No, no, it’s just…” 

She’s avoiding eye contact, but they’re in front of the mirror still and he can see her face, can see her walls building themselves back up again. It’s such a minute shift in tone, barely recognizable by an outsider, yet Elliot knows. He sees the train heading down the track and does not want it to go that route. 

“We’re going really fast, Elliot, and it kind of just hit me all of a sudden.”

“…okay.” 

He’s treading as carefully as he can, not wanting to startle her or cause her to run. Navigating difficult personal conversations isn't his strongest asset, and he definitely wouldn’t put it on a resume. Keeping his eyes off hers, he places his toothbrush back in her holder as quietly as possible. 

Even the sight of that proved how quickly this all came about. 

Their toothbrushes in that little metal holder. 

“Do you want to talk about it?” he whispers.

“No,” she sighs, “Not tonight, I’m exhausted.”

“…okay,” he mumbles, staying there in the bathroom with her, both unsure of what to do or where to go next. 

It was an abrupt turn and truthfully the first time either of them really took a step back to look at where they were at. They tumbled right into habitual sex-capades, with either these sleepovers or morning visits—sometimes only having five minutes in the car, or when she (hypothetically) had to work late one night and he (hypothetically) stopped by to help it go by faster with his…handiwork

They didn’t kiss in front of anyone else, didn’t hold hands. Hell, he still called her Captain and she called him Detective. Liv and Elliot only existed in the confides of each other, and so far Noah was the sole witness to any indication of a relationship. 

Even though they weren’t dating. Olivia was sure about that. 

Elliot wouldn’t say they were dating either. Would never be able to call her a girlfriend or anything else as juvenile. She was his partner, in every way, shape, and form. The word became more synonymous with romantic dynamics recently, as Kathleen loved to tease, but to him, it was so much more than that. They were there for each other, knew each other better than anyone, and had each other’s back still after all this time. 

The sex was just a bonus. Another way to express their bond. 

So if they weren’t dating, why did this feel too close to a potential breakup? 

“Is this about the dance recital?” 

He doesn’t mean to ask it out loud. It barrels out of his mouth, straight after forming in his brain. 

“Elliot, I said I didn’t want to talk.”

“I know, but I saw your face at dinner. I just—"

“Elliot, I’m exhausted. I’ll say please this time, but can we please not talk right now?”

The white flag is raised, and he’s surrendering to her, mostly because he knows how hard her day was. How her muscles are tense, how her mind is running a mile, still in work mode, attempting to keep up with the cases at hand. 

…she needs a release. 

“Can’t have sex or talk, hmm…” 

They’re in front of a mirror, so she really has no excuse for not stopping him from coming closer, for not stopping his arms from slipping around her waist, and for not even stopping him from pulling her tight to his chest. 

She needs to say no. But she doesn’t want to.

He leans in, tucking his face into the curve of her neck, peppering her with light pecks, thankful her hair is still in the clip from when she was applying her products. Hints of lavender hit his nose, igniting him even further, and those feather kisses transition into deep smooches. “What will we do then?”

“Oh shut up,” she laughs, hands landing on his forearms. She’s telling him to stop—she knows those are the words she said before—but her body is betraying her, head tilting to expose more of her skin for him to claim. 

“Ah-ah, you’re talking. You’re breaking the rules, Benson.” 

She rolls her eyes, “You know what I meant.”

“Hmm,” he mumbles against her, lips traveling up and down, landing right behind her ear. “Well if you keep talking then I guess I can…” 

And his hands become naughty, roaming from the anchored position they were in, to sneakily slide under her sleep shirt. Grabbing at her breasts, he kneads them in his calloused palms, and the separation between her body and mind could not be further.

“…I said no sex,” she rasps, back arching into his touch.

“This isn’t sex,” he kisses her again, hands still massaging—fondling—while his lips and tongue tease her skin. “This is to help you relax. You’re too wound up.”

And when his thumbs sweep across her nipples, she lets out an involuntary whine and he chuckles against her at her reaction. 

Bastard. 

Bastard, bastard, bastard. 

“If you keep kissing me like this, we’re going to end up having sex.”

“What? Really?” he teases, voice dripping with sarcasm. “Noooo…

“Oh my god, you’re a child.”

“Mmm, no,” he presses another deep kiss to her shoulder. “I just want to make you feel better. And since I can’t talk…” 

His fingers stop teasing at her breasts, instead tickling her stomach as they glide down her freshly moisturized skin. 

Is he? 

Fingers slip right under the waistband of her satin pants, and he whispers, “I figured this could work.”

He is.

Her back arches further as he keeps her against him, nearing her core, and her hips buck back into his, eyes meeting his seductive gaze directly in the mirror. 

He’s looking at her in a way that hitches her breath, corner of his mouth curled up into a smile, eyes telling her three words that she’s not ready to hear out loud. 

This has to stop now.

“I am already ready for bed,” she pants, “We can’t—"

We won’t,” he rasps, urging her thighs open with a knee, and her needy body fucking gives him access right to her, double-crossing all logic for their sex streak to not end quite yet. 

“Just let me take care of you,” he pleads, “Okay?”

And her voice is gone, lost to his hand in her panties, and the torment of his fingers not being where she needs, forces her to abandon the covenant she had set to follow. 

He’s right, she needs this. 

Elliot was here, at her home, and to not take advantage of his particularly skillful hands would just be foolish. The man made dinner for her and her kid, and if he wanted to give her an orgasm before bed, then be her guest. 

She gasps when he reaches her clit, beginning with slow, methodical circles that make her release little whimpers that she hates to hear leave her throat.

Stupid body, melting at the hands of a man, she didn’t need—

“Fuck!” 

And he’s changing up his tune, drawing a different pattern against her heat with his middle and ring finger, before they slip down further, approaching her entrance, and suddenly, they’re both inside her. 

“Oh?” he smiles, raking his other hand up into her hair, removing her clip to scratch at her scalp, and the new sensation is all too much. 

She’s melting in his touch, eager for his comfort, chasing the release he was willing to provide her. And—without pulling—he tilts her head towards his, capturing her lips, drawing back and sucking harshly at her bottom lip as she lets out more minute moans. 

Elliot…”

It’s exhaled breathlessly as he overpowers all of her senses, speeding up the thrusts of his fingers—palm providing the perfect friction against her clit—driving her towards ecstasy, all while his lips and tongue lick, nibble, and suck at her skin, his hand securing her to him with his fingers still locked in her hair. 

He’s on a mission, needing to take care of her, needing to say he’s sorry this way, with her writhing and wiggling in his grasp as she’s about to come. She’s dripping, absolutely soaking his fingers as they continue plunging into her, and he feels her begin to clench around him. 

Shuddering, her whines abruptly turn into high-pitched cries, and she’s yelling in a whisper, “Off—take them off!

“Hmm?” 

He’s too focused on his pace, his forearm burning slightly from the tension, not realizing she’s asking him to help her get out of her clothes. 

I’m gonna—"

Twisting in his grasp, her hands frantically try to remove her pants and underwear on her own, but she’s unsuccessful as she refuses to leave his pleasing fingers. But he recognizes the need now, and yanks them down for her, kneeling down as he does, all while keeping his movements headed deep inside. 

Tossing the clothes to the side, he turns her hips so her bottom lands against the edge of the counter, her red nails curled around the granite. With this new position—on his knees—he takes his free hand, spreading her open with his index and middle finger, mouth immediately finding her clit while the fingers inside her pick up the speed, penetrating deeper, curling into her.

He’s sucking and licking, just enjoying the taste of her and she’s going to lose it. Eyes rolling back, one hand grips the back of his head while the other massages her own breast, feeling a rare ache building, threatening a powerful release she hasn’t had in a while.

“Don’t—oh!

She jerks her hips, feeling the pressure increasing, wanting so desperately to let it go, to release the stress from today with this climax. A sharp intake of oxygen helps her pleading demand finish coming out, “Don’t stop.” 

He doesn’t change a single thing—and thank god he doesn’t—because she’s falling apart, holding onto him, trying to relax into it, but it’s so powerful, so sensational, that she isn’t sure if her legs will keep her standing. 

Elliot can tell she’s slipping, sees her wincing, and can feel the spongy flesh he’s hitting, praying to God (for her pleasure and for his ego) that she’s about to come as hard as he thinks. 

Moving fast, he takes the hand not inside her and uses it to hook a thigh over his shoulder, mouth still sucking, fingers still pumping, and the other now gropes at her ass. 

It gives her just enough support (temporarily) for her to finally finish—a gush of sweet fluid releasing all over him and the tile floor—with a slap to her mouth to muffle the guttural moan she groans out.

Oh my god.

Completely spent, her chest is heaving as she scrambles to catch her breath and Elliot has the balls to look at her like she’s a goddess, when she knows she’s flushed, freckled, and free of makeup. 

And from this angle? 

But she stops the hate train as soon as it starts, letting her eyes fall back on the man who’s now reaching for a towel, wiping at her sticky thighs and bottom, before cleaning up the floor around them. 

She hasn’t moved or said anything, still recovering from a rare, but mighty, ejaculation (God, the last time she did that was years ago and she was definitely a little drunk at the time. Olivia couldn’t even remember the woman’s name as she lapped at her and made the NYPD Lieutenant—at the time—do this all over the floor of the woman’s art studio deep in Brooklyn).

Now, she has this memory of Elliot, the man currently kissing up her thighs as he puts her underwear and pants back over her legs, to take the place of that drunken one night stand. 

“Better?” he asks, standing in front of her, one hand on either side of the counter, caging her in. 

So much,” she whispers, leaning in to give him a grateful kiss, smiling through tired eyes. 

He smiles back, hugging her close to him, and he places a loving kiss in her hair. “C’mon, let’s get you to bed.”

 


 

“How’s Eli?”

“Better.”

His phone rang just as he and Olivia were about to crawl into the sheets, and he promised if it was work, he would make sure that he didn’t need to come in. 

Thankfully, it wasn’t, and instead his eldest gave him an evening ring, reassuring him that everything was fine and she was just up later than usual for no reason. 

“Can I talk to him?”

“I’ll ask, but—It’s dad, Eli—just—"

She lets out a heavy sigh.

“I’ll take that as a no.”

“I don’t know what’s wrong with him.”

He’s seated on the living room couch, head tilted back, reminding himself of the first night they really spent time here. Where Olivia massaged his arm and kissed him breathlessly. Where it all really began. Where he had excused himself for a phone call just like this, Eli’s panicked voice on the other end instead of Maureen’s. 

“Nothing, it’s my fault.”

It was definitely his fault. He looked that boy in the eyes and pried his son‘s arms off of him, risking his life and almost letting himself die because of the job. Of course he didn’t want to talk to him. 

“How about we all get together this Friday? I can invite everyone over, make some dinner, and we can get you two in a room together. It’s gotta be lonely in the apartment with Eli and Grandma here.”

He clears his throat at the final words, doing a horrible job of masking his little secret (if it still was supposed to be that anymore), but regains enough composure to (kind of) recover, “Uh, yeah, that sounds great, but—and I’ve been meaning to tell you this, but I…"

It’s not coming out. The words, her name, the confession about how he and Olivia have reconnected in some type of way but aren’t dating is something for another day. 

“Actually? You know what? Never mind, I will be there.”

But it doesn’t slide by Maureen.

“…Dad. What’s going on?”

“Nothing, nothing.”

“…you’re not at the apartment?”

“Mo, I said never mind.”

It’s quiet for a second, and then her voice gets softer. 

“It’s that serious now?”

“What?”

“I mean Katie and Bernie told me forever ago that you two were—"

Oh my god, he and Olivia were becoming family gossip. Again. 

“That was work, Mo.”

“Grandma caught you making out in the car, Dad.”

Nope—he wasn’t doing this tonight. Nope, nada, never. 

“Alright, good night—”

“No! Don’t hang up! Just—"

He hears her sigh again, this time a little heavier, a little more exhausted.

“Look Dad, we are all rooting for you guys, I swear. We’ve talked about it a lot and we love Liv…why don’t you bring her along? She can bring her son too, we’ve all been dying to meet him.” 

He gives it a second, reminding himself how she was even hesitant to hear he was committing to a dance recital next month, and isn’t too sure she’ll be too thrilled for a large family dinner at his daughter’s in a few days time. 

“…I will ask, but don’t hold your breath. We’re still...figuring things out.”

“Okay, I get it. Just let me know?”

“Will do.”

“I should go though, Carl’s on his fifth bedtime story with the boys and I gotta go play bad cop. Talk soon?”

“Of course. G’night, Mo—I love you.”

“Love you more.”

 


 

“Everything okay?” 

He definitely did not expect for her to still be awake, especially after how drained she was from their little bathroom adventure, but he can tell she's a second away from passing out. 

Laying on her stomach, she has one leg curled up, arms clutching a pillow to rest on as a cheap replacement for where his chest usually was. He barely even heard her sleepy voice, half muffled by a pillowcase and half hushed by the fact she was nearly asleep, clutching onto consciousness purely to welcome him in. 

Shuffling over to her side of the bed, he leans over her frame, rubbing her back gently before placing a gentle kiss over the satin fabric. “Yeah, ‘m good.”

“Good,” she yawns, “C‘mere.” 

And she shoves herself back, eyes still closed, tossing the pillow version of him aside and reaching for the mass of muscles to lay upon. He abides by her request, foregoing the easy route to walk around, and alternatively climbs over top of her, letting his lips continue kissing her back and shoulders as she chuckles in the silence. 

Settling in the space beside her, her hands don’t ever part from his body, and he readjusts to fill the spot the pillow previously was. Her head lifts just to flop back onto his chest while his arm shoves under to curl around her shoulders, and her foot tucks neatly in between his legs as they settle into their typical nightly embrace.

“Who called?” 

Her voice is so tired, he instinctively kisses her hair from the mere sound of it, running his hand up and down her spine. 

“Maureen. She invited us over for family dinner.”

“Us?”

“Yeah,” he mumbles into her waves, “You, me, and Noah.” 

And when her hand on his chest stops its sweeping, he knows what’s coming. “I told her I’d ask, but that it might not be a good time.”

“El, I—"

“Nope, shh,” he hushes and kisses her once more, “Go to sleep. We can talk tomorrow.”

 


 

She was knocked out. Completely and utterly dead to the world, practically glued to Eliot’s chest as she leaped into the darkness—aching to rest. 

“Mom?”

And the darkness dissipates as she jolts awake, quickly rising off Elliot’s still-sleeping frame and turns abruptly towards the now-open bedroom door. 

It’s definitely not morning—the room is still pitch black and her son is standing in the doorframe, rubbing his eyes with his fists. The sight reminds her of his littler days, where he was waiting for mommy to come read him another story, and her heart continues its quickened pounding. 

“Honey, are you okay?” 

Rolling over, she rubs at her own eyes as she lets out a tiny yawn, stretching her aching muscles just a little bit and getting a peek at the time.

1:34AM. Great.

“I had a nightmare about…” 

And he trails off, not finishing the thought, but she knows it’s about the school and Stanwood—the same thing it’s been since it happened. She doesn’t need him to continue, so she simply pats the little space to her right, welcoming him to shuffle over in the dark. 

He immediately accepts her offer, not really caring that he might be getting too old for this—she was grateful for it too, no matter if he was eight or 28, he would always be her baby boy. 

“Is Elliot here?” he whispers as he approaches the edge of the bed. 

“Mhmm,” she answers, reaching a hand back to gently nudge the man’s sleeping frame. “Want me to kick him out?” 

Noah shakes his head, messy curls bouncing slightly, and he climbs right in, “No, I want him here.” 

Like he was a baby again, he wraps his arms tight around her frame as she lays back, letting his head rest over her right over heartbeat. 

Just like Elliot.

She kisses his curls, running her fingers through them, as she sweeps her hand across his back and lowers her voice to keep quiet, “I’m sorry you keep having bad dreams, but I’m glad we get to spend more time like this together.”

Squeezing him gently, she drawls on, “You know you’ll always have me, right? I would never let anything happen to you.”

“I know,” he nods, voice small—soft. “But now we got Elliot.”

And her heart sinks with his tiny remark in the darkness of the night, starting to realize just how attached Noah has become. How Noah insisted Elliot came over regularly and how he wanted him to spend the night. 

The man did save him and she knows Noah felt like he failed her, failed to protect himself, but she reassured him that none of this was his fault. And she thought that was enough—his mom was his only protector for so long, she didn’t need another to step in and take over.

“…we do,” she whispers. “Though he’s got nothing on me. Your mom’s always gonna be there for her little cub.”

He giggles softly and her chest wants to burst at the sound of it, but he squeezes her a little tighter, then mumbles, “I know. But now someone can protect you.”

And heart shatters in the night. 

 


 

“Where are we at with Megan McGrath’s case?” 

“Miles Vorhees—no confession, but the kid didn’t deny it. I’m telling you something’s not right. I’m not sure how to get through to him.”

“What did he say happened?”

Amanda sighs, leaning back in her chair, arms crossed behind her head, “Nothing, Captain. Kid took a vow of silence and hasn’t said a word.”

“Great,” her fingers rub the bridge of her nose and she squeezes her eyes shut for a second, racking her brain to think of something. “Rape kit come back?”

“He’s a match,” the blonde nods. “You thinkin’ this is just guilt?”

Olivia shakes her head, stirring her coffee once more with the wooden dowel. “I’m not sure what this is.”

“Well,” the detective huffs, “I guess I’ll just follow protocol. I know the chief is hounding you about this one, so I’ll stick to the script and keep you posted.”

“Thank you, Amanda.”

Finally heading back to her office, she tilts her head back, and downs a good swig from her cup. The warm coffee hits the back of her throat and slightly singes its way down, but it’s not enough. 

She’s overtired, having somewhat of a restless night after her son’s little midnight confession, and it didn’t make it easier that she woke up sandwiched between her son and Elliot. Noah was still curled into her chest, and somehow Elliot’s arm ended up snaked around her waist, gently landing right near her baby boy. 

That was a little too much for her at 6AM. 

She had told Elliot it was too fast, and then it got faster. It’s like a merry-go-round that she can’t get off of, just spinning and spinning, with everything so unreachable. 

Her phone buzzes and she huffs—there is nobody she can really stand speaking to right now. Not work, not Elliot, not Noah’s school. For once, she just needs a conversation that is completely pointless, someone with no bearing on her life to just have a simple talk with. 

But Kathleen flashes across her screen and Olivia immediately answers, not able to sink into the fantasy of a carefree life.

“Hello?”

“Hey, Olivia! Sorry to bug you, but does Noah have any dietary restrictions? I told Mo I’d run to the store for her since she’s doing all the hard stuff.”

Oh, this was certainly not the simple conversation she’d been seeking. 

“Hey Katie. I—um,” she scratches her thumb across her brow. “I actually don’t know if Noah and I will be there on Friday.” 

It’s silent for a second. The only sound is the chaos of the grocery store the younger woman must be in, with clattering metal and muffled voices from behind. 

“Oh, okay…I…ah, I should’ve asked before I—I just thought—"

She wanted to claw her eyes out. Stab herself with a pencil. Eat her gun. Anything but continue this. 

“No, no, it’s okay. You didn’t know.”

And Olivia really wishes she could go back in time to tell herself to not pick up the phone. To just ignore it for once in her life, and not be at everyone’s beck and call. 

But after another uncomfortable silence, Kathleen starts to speak again, and her tone takes a more mature tone.

“I hope you know there’s no pressure on you. We—Mo, Liz, Dickie, and I—just want you to feel comfortable around the family again, without all the stress of something else. I know it's been complicated, and you’ve done so much for all of us, but regardless, we don’t want you to be a stranger again.”

Goddammit. 

She lets her head flop back, glancing up at the sky, wondering how she scorned God so badly that he’s forcing her through all of these emotional rollercoasters at once. “Kathleen, I—thank you.”

“Of course, Liv. Just keep me posted—no pressure if you can’t come!”

“Will do. Bye, honey.”

“Honey?” Fin smiles, hovering in the doorway as she hangs up the phone. “Glad to see you and Stabler found better pet names than title ranks.”

“Wrong Stabler,” she sighs, rolling her eyes. 

“Which one of his kids did what now?”

Fin—"

He laughs, taking his typical seat across from her, enjoying himself. “Sorry, force of habit.”

The threat of silence creeps back in and Olivia immediately makes herself useful—her hands finding anything to grab at and move, desperate to make herself busy, to get her mind back to work and off of personal conversations. 

“You guys okay?”

“Hmm?”

She leans over an open drawer digging through nothing, hoping to magically come across something that will fulfill her time. But flicks her eyes up to pretend, “Oh, Noah and I are doing fine, really.” 

Slipping on her glasses, she sifts through a folder, keeping up the charade, “He had some nightmares but we’re—"

Liv.” 

And he gives her a look. A look that halts her in her path, a look that tells her to stop playing around. It’s Fin, he’s too smart for this.

And she takes a deep breath, letting out a heavy exhale, his gaze not wavering. Pushing her glasses up, she drops the act, swiping her hand down her profile, “Everything is moving so fast, Fin.”

“Well, you had two decades of winding up, I’m surprised it took you a year.”

“His wife died, Fin. His wife that—need I remind you—never stopped thinking I was the other woman. And now I’m…” 

She waves her hand to fill in the words she does not want to speak, but they don’t come.

“Shagging her man?”

Fin!" she scolds. “We aren’t—”

“C’mon, don’t lie to me. You two were making out in here like high schoolers weeks ago, you mean to tell me you haven’t—”

“I’m not talking about my sex life at work.”

“So you are having sex?”

Goddamnit

“Don’t you have some business to attend to?” she nags. 

“You are my business,” he declares and she drops the attitude, shutting her eyes to try and combat the compassion. 

But he stays relaxed in the chair, looking her dead in the eyes as he waits for her to return his gaze. “When he left, I told you I would look out for you. And he may be back, but that doesn’t change a thing about our deal.”

Her eyes flutter open, slowly letting him back in, allowing her friend to see her slightly more vulnerable. 

“…he wants me to bring Noah over to meet his family.”

“All 45 of them?”

It makes her laugh and she rolls her eyes at him to ease up the tension before carrying on, voice tired and slightly frustrated, “I’m hesitant to even let Elliot come to Noah’s recital. He’s been over a lot and Noah really likes him, so I’m trying to be okay with all of this for them. But then last night, Noah had a nightmare and tells me how he’s glad Elliot’s here to protect me now.”

Fin’s brows skyrocket and she gives him a tight, sarcastic grin. 

“I woke up to my kid snuggled on my chest and Elliot’s arm on my waist, like we’re some happy family or something, and it just scares the hell out of me.”

“I can see why,” he hums. 

Continuing on, she’s pinching her nose again, feeling a slight migraine risking formation, a pressure appearing behind her eye. 

Please, not today.

“He left me once and it took me a long time to get over that. But if he leaves Noah…”

“That man won’t get far if he tries to run again, I promise you that.”

Shaking her head, she protests, “You don’t have to do that—”

“Wasn’t talking about me. There’s a scrappy blonde out there who’s been missing a good fight,” he laughs again, letting her join in with a weakened chuckle, but eases back into seriousness when she slips back into an uncertain grin. 

“At the end of the day, we’re still your family here, and none of us are going anywhere—like I’ve said before, we’re the last two assholes standing. You go, I go. You stay, I stay.”

“And I appreciate that but—"

I’m not done,” he cuts her off, glaring at her to let her know he’s serious. “We will always have your back, but all of us want you to be happy. And let me ask you, are you happy?”

Oh, boy. 

What a loaded question.

Olivia Benson didn’t really strive for happiness. She became quite accustomed to peace, to normalcy as her highest standard of living—as long as her life wasn’t falling apart, she considered the day a success. 

But it had gotten so monotonous, so…simple. Life was alarm clocks and work, morning drop-offs and evening dance classes. Her happiest times were seeing her son smile. Or seeing a victim become a survivor. Getting to feel like she accomplished something at the end of the day—that’s what manifested in something close to happiness. 

And then he came back. 

Happiness was still an unreachable entity, with funerals and fights to deflect from her ever truly being able to reach it. But one night she’s standing in a floral dress with his body next to hers, music playing, and they finally had a chance to breathe.

She saw a glimpse of bliss come through the clouds. 

It took its time keeping them apart, giving them plenty of obstacles to overcome before they could find each other in these woods again, but she did. She found it. It was warm and wonderful and bright and she’s clinging onto it—onto him

She’s happy. 

She’s happy when he wakes her up with a delicate kiss and a cup of coffee. 

She’s happy when she comes home to his loving embrace, wrapped in his strong arms as he peppers her with featherlight kisses. 

She’s happy when he looks at her like she’s so much more than she really is, his delicate touches reminding her that he’s here now and no longer a memory that will fade. 

And with all that realization, she relinquishes her armor, letting go to her Sergeant with a sigh of content.

“Yeah,” she grins, “Yeah, I am.”

“Good—you deserve some happiness,” he smiles. “Now, put some trust in it. He may be a dumbass, but you’ve made more progress in the last month than you did in 20-something years. Take that as a win.”

She laughs, shaking her head, “There’s a reason I call you the philosopher.”

“What can I say? It’s a gift,” he quips, standing up after giving her one last cheesy grin before turning to head out the door. 

“Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s an old friend I gotta call who suddenly owes me a lot of money.”

 


 

It was all going so well. 

Genuinely—for once—things seemed normal and calm, like they were going to get through this insanely overwhelming dinner party without a single thing going wrong. 

The trio had arrived on time. Olivia settled for jeans and a sweater, Elliot in a coordinating henley, and Noah snagged on a simple outfit as well, just excited to finally meet Elliot’s kids. 

And they were welcomed with open arms. Olivia—insistent on bringing something, but having no time—gifts a simple floral arrangement to his eldest, who gladly accepts with a warm smile. 

She recognizes nearly everyone, who all say their individual ‘hello’s, and Olivia officially gets to meet the littlest Stablers. They both shy away from their newest guest, until she kneels down and offers up two toy cars (one for each of them) and suddenly they excitedly hug her back. 

Elliot tosses her an annoyed glare, chuckling at the sight, “I thought I told you to not get them anything.”

Olivia simply shrugs, still holding them tight, before they both let go and set her free. “I wanted to,” she smiles and accepts his hand to help her off the ground. 

But it’s Elliot, so she should’ve known that this was a rookie mistake, because he pulls her a little too roughly and she trips right into his chest. 

“Oops,” he chuckles, wrapping his arms around her waist, “Gotta be careful, Captain.”

She rolls her eyes, patting his chest, “Not now, El,” and her eyes glance across the room, trying to hide from the soft glances from his children. “We’ve been here for five minutes, you can hold off.”

“It’s been too long,” he swoons, “Too long.”

But Olivia is firm and shoves him back with a smile.  

Tonight will go well, because it needs to. 

It was not the night for public affection, for their explicit routine to even be hinted at—not here in front of his entire family. 

And she keeps that promise, keeping a healthy distance away from Elliot, spending much (all) of her focus on his mother, on his children, on his grandchildren

Not him. 

He already had his fix of her before they came here thanks to Noah’s proclivity to long showers and loud music. 

And it really was going extremely well—she must emphasize this because there was no indication to warn her how quickly it would fall apart.

To warn her of how it would all burst.

The ticking time bomb came in the form of his 15 year old son, who—from the moment they arrived—was definitely not interested in anything to do with his father, nor the woman he had invited along. 

And despite his reluctance to welcome them in, he seemingly made friendly conversation with Noah, who beamed at him, completely captivated by the teenager. His innocent energy even elicited an actual smile from Eli, and Olivia’s hand patted Elliot’s chest at the sight of it, hopeful for them both. 

They were going to get through this. 

There’s an hour of small talk, then another of mingling—where Bernie took Eli outside with Noah, showing the young boy how she recused Maureen’s dying garden, while Elliot was sprawled on the floor next to Dickie, being tackled and climbed over by the twins, and Olivia stayed with the girls, drifting in and out of the kitchen to see if Carl needed any help. 

Dinner was done by 6:30, and the table was set. 

They are doing so well. 

And this was the easy part—eating was such a perfect buffer, they wouldn’t have had to worry about a thing. 

But it was 6:43 when Eli’s chair scraped against the hardwood floor and he ran out to the backyard, moments after snapping—

“Why are we sitting here acting like they’re a part of our family?” 

And Elliot roared back.

And it was 6:44 when the tears fell down Noah’s cheeks—so overwhelmed by the amount of eyes on him, that he slid out of his own chair, escaping through the front door. 

And it’s still 6:44 when both adults immediately stand, Elliot’s fist clenching, turning toward the back of the house, until Olivia places a gentle hand on his shoulder and shakes her head, whispering, “I got him, can you…?"

He nods, understanding, and the two both part their ways. 

 


 

The teenager is seated at the top of the twin’s playhouse, long, lanky legs hanging over the edge when she finds him and he says, “If you came out here to get me to apologize, it’s not happening.” 

But Olivia keeps her voice soft, heading closer to the boy, approaching the playhouse cautiously, “Why would I do that?”

He glares at her, eyes pointed sharply, “Because of what I said.”

“You’re upset,” she shrugs, and shuffles over to the hanging swings. Taking a seat carefully—not really wanting to trust a wooden structure meant for toddlers to carry her weight, but it doesn’t even creak. 

She hums, clutching the chains and looking out onto the rest of the yard, “And you have every right to feel what you feel. 

Eli doesn’t want this—doesn’t want the modern Mother Teresa here to soothe his anger, to try and calm the chaotic waters. He wants the fight, wants her to try to discipline him so he can spit back at her, can push and shove and not let her continue to widdle her way into his life. 

“Why are you out here?”

“Well,” she sighs and kicks her feet out, letting herself start to sway gently back and forth, rocking in the evening air, finding some odd serenity in such a heated moment. “It was either me or your father, and I really didn’t think that would be a constructive conversation.”

He laughs coldly, a sharp exhale releasing from his pouty lips, “I wouldn’t have talked to him anyways.”

She just keeps swaying, focused on her feet, trying to give him a feeling of distance by not suffocating him with her stare. “Why not?” 

It seemingly works. 

Lifting his legs up, he curls them into his chest and wraps his arms around them, tucking his face deep into his knees. He mumbles, “He wouldn’t care.”

And her voice lightens even more, heart aching for the kid she helped come into this world. “I wouldn’t say that. He cares about you very much.”

“You’re just saying that.”

“No,” she shakes her head, “No, I’m not.”

“And why should I believe you?”

“Because I have no reason to lie,” and she finally glances up at him, still swinging back and forth, back and forth, but looks at him deeply.

Eli glances away, unable to keep maintaining their gaze. “He’s playing dad to your kid, now. He doesn’t need me anymore,” he mutters, and climbs down the structure, landing firmly in the grass. 

He’s on the move, trying to walk away again, but Olivia stops him before he gets too far, reaching out to grab his arm gently. 

Eli…

“Will you just leave me alone!” he shouts, yanking his arms away and she quickly retreats, holding her hands up to let him know she won’t touch him again. 

And it happens so quickly. She sees his anger shift, fading away, and hears his panting turn into wet sniffles, eyes pooling with water. 

“Why wouldn’t he come with us?” 

It breaks her heart. 

The tears roll heavily down his cheeks now, and his head divies down, body leaning forward, falling right into her open embrace. 

“Oh, Eli,” she soothes. Holding onto him tightly, she wraps her arms around his back and tucks his head under her chin, gliding a tender hand up and down his back. 

He’s shaking slightly in her embrace, the hot tears landing on her chest, and her chest continues to shatter slowly for the poor boy before her. 

“Your dad loves you so much, Eli, I promise you, he does. Sometimes…” 

She takes a steady, calming breath, wanting to be strong for him, needing to be a pillar for the broken boy. “Sometimes this job makes us have to make really tough choices and sometimes those choices hurt the ones we love.”

In more ways than one.

Eli’s breath starts to even, matching hers. Settling down a little bit more—those waves of fury subsiding—he tilts his head to rest on her shoulder, still letting her hug him close, needing the long-missed maternal embrace. 

“He could have died,” he whispers.

“I know,” she strums, “I wasn’t happy with him either.”

“Really?” and Eli lifts his head, pulling back a little to give them some distance.

She chuckles, “Oh yeah,” and she pushes back some of his fallen hair, mesmerized by how long and dark it has become. How it unfortunately reminds her of her own locks the first year she was his father’s partner, and she wonders how those bright blonde curls really turned so eerily familiar. 

“I don’t agree with a lot of what your dad does. But, I know his heart is in the right place.” 

Placing her hand lightly on his shoulder, she gives him a soft smile, hoping he maybe got the relief he needed—that a good cry curtailed his anger and the evening could continue. And the teen uses a sleeve to wipe at his eyes, sniffling to try and shake off the saltiness of hot tears, offering up a small smile back. 

“I’m sorry for what I said,” he exhales, “I didn’t mean it.”

“I know,” she hums, cupping his cheek. “Now, c’mon, food always helps me feel better.” 

 


 

On the other side of the house, Elliot didn’t need to go too far to find the saddened eight year old, who was still fearful of being lost or roaming too far without a supervised guardian. He’s seated on the front steps, curled up into himself, and all Elliot could really see was his tuft of curls, but he heard the soft cries he had unfortunately become a little too familiar with. 

“Noah?”

He doesn’t move. 

Elliot’s heart starts to crumble at the sight, and he heads down the steps to take a seat on the stoop next to the young child. Placing a steady hand on his back, Noah keeps crying softly, and Elliot just sweeps his large hand up and down the child’s back. 

He lets them sit in silence for a little, solely wanting to be there for the kid—but needing a second of his own to let all his unwanted frustration release through deep breaths. He knew Eli was hurting, but he never expected him to take it out on their guests. On her or her son. 

“I’m sorry,” Noah mumbles and Elliot almost misses it. 

“Why are you sorry, bud? You did nothing wrong.”

The boy lifts his head and his cheeks are rosy, eyes red, the tears continuing to flow. He swallows, bottom lip threatening to jut out, “I know you aren’t my dad. But, I just liked having you around.”

Shit

Elliot takes a deep breath, pushing down the overwhelming feelings that were far too much to unpack right now as he looked at her son’s eyes and saw reflections of his own blue. And yet, he was still so much like her.

What a cruel joke for the universe to play on them

“I like being around you too, Noah—very, very much,” he reassures. “And even though I’m not your father, that doesn’t change how much I care about you and your mom.”

Noah’s eyes are still big, lip quivering slightly, but the tears start to slow down. “But you already have a family,” he laments.

Elliot smiles, shifting his hand to gently grab his shoulder and give it a comforting squeeze, “Your mom has always been my family. And she’s still a part of that, just…in a different way now.”

“Really?”

“Mhmm,” and he laughs softly at the bright eyed boy’s suddenly shining face, “She was my best friend. Still is.”

Noah’s brows furrow, “You kiss your best friends?”

Elliot chuckles, “No! No! What are you talking about?”

“You’ve kissed my mom a bunch, I’ve seen it.”

“No, you haven’t,” he insists. 

“Yes, I have. You kissed her in the kitchen before we left, when I was tying my shoes,” he clarifies.

Whoops

“Ah, so you saw that?” Elliot asks, and the boy nods. He laughs to himself, pulling his hand away to clasp onto his wrist, caging in his knees. Leaning to the side, he nudges Noah’s shoulder with his own, “Keep a secret for me?”

The boy nods again.

“I like your mom a lot,” he confesses. “Like how you like your friend, Ivan, a lot.”

“You do?” he asks, trying to hide a smile. 

And Elliot smiles back softly, “Yeah, I do.” 

He looks away, out onto the front yard, bringing his hand up to clasp the child’s shoulder again. “She has a pretty cool son too, and I very much enjoy getting to know him. Even if I’m not his dad.”

Noah isn’t hiding his smile anymore, and the sight of it is all too much for the older man. Taking his index finger, he swipes at the lone teardrops under the boy’s eyes, helping the brief pain disappear. 

“Thank you, Elliot.”

“Anytime time, kid,” and he opens up his arms, letting the boy flop into his embrace so he can squeeze him tightly. “I will always be here for you,” he promises. “I’m never going anywhere.”

He says it with certainty for the boy, but also for himself. 

As if it was now a vow sealed in the universe—concrete words that could not be broken. Elliot’s oath to this child and his mother was sealed on these steps.

Suddenly, the door behind them squeaks open and a shy, but friendly voice is heard, “Hey, everything okay out here?”

He turns to see Lizzie tiptoeing towards them, with Kathleen and Dickie close behind. “Hey, kids. Yeah, yeah, everything is good, right Noah?”

Noah pulls back and wipes at his cheeks again, smiling at the trio and nodding. “I’m good,” he reassures. “Sorry for ruining dinner.”

And Lizzie brushes forward, stepping down a bit so she can pat his shoulder lightly, “You didn’t. It’s still nice and warm for you.”

“Although, Grandma might lose it if she has to wait any longer,” Dickie jokes, and the rest join in the simple laughter. 

Elliot grunts, standing up, “Well, we can’t have that,” and he turns towards Noah, reaching his hand out to help him up. 

“Whaddya say? You hungry?”

 


 

They remarkably survive through the rest of the evening. 

After eating, Eli pulls Elliot aside and the two talk for a while—coming back to join the group after a good hug, cracking some jokes and falling back into their normal. 

Olivia smiles at the sight, thankful the pair is no longer in strife. She wasn’t sure how she could handle knowing how hurt the boy really was. But she only gets a second to herself before she’s being tugged away by Seamus, who’s absolutely insistent that she helps him and Kieran build a large block tower. There’s no hesitation from her—except maybe from her ass after it goes numb on the living room carpet. 

And eventually, Elliot sneaks in behind her, whispering, “I can help with that,” as he slips down onto the floor close beside her and joins in the fun, tossing her a flirty wink.

They stay at Maureen’s for a while, her phone free of notifications thanks to Fin, and for the first time in a very long time, Olivia feels like she is home. 

Or at least starting to make one. 

When it gets late—Kieran and Seamus nodding off while the adults chatter and play games—only after the fifth round of cards, does Olivia realize that they really should get going. 

Everyone stands to say their goodbyes to the guests (even the twins miraculously wake up to give her the biggest hugs they can manage), and they all make sure to properly part with both Olivia and her son, who’s tired face still manages to shine brightly at his new friends. 

Eli gives the younger boy a hug too, telling him that he’s sorry again for earlier, and that he owes him another Mario Kart tournament to make up for it. Noah excitedly agrees, prompting Maureen to offer to have him back next weekend—that her dad and Olivia deserve a formal night out, like a real good old-fashioned date—and Elliot tells her, “That would be wonderful,” before Olivia can even entertain the idea of saying no. 

Now, the trio is in his car on their way to her apartment—Elliot asked for one more night with her before he officially heads back to his place and Olivia couldn’t say no to him. Not after the night they had.

And as her son sleeps in the backseat, she grabs her partner’s hand tightly, interlocking their fingers, staring out the window into the night sky as they head back home.

 


 

Bliss be damned—the following week was awful. 

Absolutely fucking terrible.

She lost a victim after doctors tried their best to do everything they could to save her, but it was far too late. And with no ID, she had to spend every day searching and searching for who this girl may be, only to finally figure it out and have to watch her parents’ faces shatter right in front of her. 

And Elliot went back home.

No longer having him here every day, she’s back to exhaustive nights of work mode clicking off and mom mode coming into full force—happiness becoming an afterthought as her body was too tired to function.

Elliot pretty much only existed on her phone, with them making time for late night phone calls and keeping up with consistent texting throughout the day (Kathleen would be so proud). And he even managed to stop by her office twice—once for lunch and once for dinner—but they had to keep it tame, since her squad was working overdrive. 

She was dying to kiss (fuck) him again. 

And as she’s zipping up her skirt, she’s excitedly thinking of how grateful she is for him to undo this later. For him to yank down the leather and lift up her top to reveal the lacy set of lingerie she’s hiding underneath. 

Even though tonight—they’ve established prior—was for talking and not for sex. 

They were on a small (very small) break from sex, both realizing how quickly this “relationship” train was moving, and that there was really no more stopping it from chugging along. 

This was happening— they were happening.

Tonight, they would talk about what they’ve missed and catch up like they should’ve before, but never did. 

Tonight, he was taking her out to wine and dine her, picking her up at 7, and whisking her off to a fancy (surprise) restaurant.

And tonight, Noah was sleeping at Maureen’s. 

No need for muffled anything tonight. This was exactly what she needed. 

Her phone buzzes and—thinking it's him—she answers without looking, “Hey, I’m almost ready, I promise.”

“Captain Benson?”

“Megan?” 

McGrath’s daughter. 

Her voice sounds shaky and Olivia puts down the jewelry she was about to snap on for a second, focusing fully on the young girl over the phone, “Honey, are you okay?”

“Yes. No. I mean—"

“Talk to me, Megan, did something happen?”

“No, nothing happened. Nothing ever did.”

Olivia takes a second, before slowly prodding further, “What do you mean?”

“I can’t let Miles go to jail.” 

“Sweetheart,” she sighs. “I know you care about him, but people who love you don’t—"

“You don’t get it, Olivia. He never did anything to me. My lunatic of a father caught us and is using this case to punish Mile’s dad. I’ve been trying to tell you, but he tracks everything I do nowadays.”

Olivia freezes, taking a seat on her bed, foregoing the thoughts of this evening’s plans to dive back into her Captain role. 

“…why is your father trying to punish Mr. Vorhees?”

“I…” 

The teen falters.

“I’m not supposed to say.”

“Megan, I know this is difficult but I really need you to tell me.”

“This was a mistake.” 

She’s panicking.

“You’re a cop, you aren’t going to help—"

“Megan, stop,” she scolds. “I am here for you. Not your father, not Miles, not anyone else. Just you . I need you to trust me, okay?”

It’s quiet for a second, but then she hears a soft, “Okay.”

“Good. Now, what happened with Mr. Vorhees?”

“…he knows about my dad.”

“Knows what about your dad?” 

“About what my dad did.”

“Megan…” she urges. 

“Look, I don’t know much. I just know that my dad told me I can never see Miles again because of it. My dad’s been crazy, threatening him, threatening Miles—even me. I just can’t take it anymore.” 

Olivia’s head is spinning, trying to make sense of it all, but the loud sound of a ‘whoosh’ over the phone pulls her back into focus.

“Megan, sweetie, where are you right now?”

“A payphone. I’m heading to my aunts for a few days.”

“Good, that’s very good,” she soothes, brain clearing up enough for her to get back on track. “I want you to listen to me. We didn't talk, okay? I need you to take my lead on this—we go through everything as planned while I personally look into what happened, alright?”

“Yes, thank you.”

“Of course. Call me if you need anything, and I mean anything.

And when the call ends, she’s suddenly overwhelmed with shock and anger—mouth parted, head shaking. 

Oh, this bastard is finally going down.

Liv | Fin—call me when you can. We may have a break in the case. 

 


 

The clinking of silverware around them is becoming nauseating and Olivia starts to really regret wearing the tight black skirt and turtleneck. 

She feels like she’s suffocating. 

After updating Fin, he assures her to not come in—being the only one she told about her preplanned evening. She protested, but the knock at the door begged for her to answer and she agreed, promising him she would be there tomorrow afternoon to help with the investigation.

She dropped the Captain title for the night, refocusing on Elliot and the evening they had ahead. And so far, they’ve been keeping it light and breezy since he arrived to pick her up, with surfaced-based conversations about work, the kids, his mom. 

He’s being more affectionate than they usually were in public—where hands that were typically shoved in pockets or wrapped around coffee, now find their place on her back and his fingers intertwine with hers. 

It feels so odd to be doing any of this in front of others. 

Hand holding and light caresses weren’t necessarily new to them, but any time prior to now had been for the job. Undercover operations were the only time his wedding ring came off back then, and—up until recently—the only time she could let herself relax into his touch was when she didn’t have to be herself. 

This was their first time being one hundred percent, purely and solely themselves. 

In public. 

On a date

She dressed up for him—like she did in the past but will die before she’ll admit—wearing heels, jewelry, and making sure her hair looked voluminous and grabbable—for later

He’s in a suit himself, and when she first opened the door to see him, she almost said fuck dinner so he could take her by the door. 

But, this was supposed to be their night of talking. A night where they did not deflect from the conversations they’ve been avoiding, a night where they caught up on the missing ten years. 

No sex.

Not in this fancy restaurant in front of everyone. 

No, wine has been selected and poured, food has been chosen and the small talk has been exhausted. 

And the man dares to break the ice with, “So, what do you want to talk about?”

The thought is sweet, but she lets out a breathy laugh at his attempt, “There’s ten years to catch up on, Elliot. That’s kind of a vague question.”

“Right, right,” he sighs, smiling sheepishly, shifting slightly in his seat. Nerves widdle their way through his taut muscles—he’s exercising something he hasn’t had to in a very long time, trying to navigate the concept of approaching deep conversations on a date after 4 decades. “Guess I don’t really know where to begin.”

“Me either.”

And as expected, they don’t say much more.

Both simply grab at the clutches of their wine glasses, thankfully giving them the excuse of something else to do rather than speak. Absolutely despising conversations about themselves was something they bonded over, both adults never really fancying the spotlight. 

And when his glass comes down to meet the table after another deflecting sip, he clears his throat, eyes flicking down, then back up at her, “I know I said this already, but you look beautiful.”

“Thank you,” she’s smiling sheepishly now, and a heated blush spreads across her cheeks from the combination of freshly consumed alcohol and his tender compliment. “You look good too,” she nervously responds (Olivia, why are you nervous, this man has been inside you). “You always do though lately, with the upgrade to three-piece suits.”

He laughs, “Oh yeah? You don’t miss the wrinkled dress shirts?”

“I never said that,” she joins his light laughter. 

“Well, I like the Captain Benson ensemble lately. Especially the leather,” and he lets his eyes travel down to her long legs wrapped in a pencil skirt that grazes her calves, hugging her curves in that same fabric he loves so dearly. 

She hums, reaching for another sip of wine as she feels him nearly undressing her with his eyes, “Well, it’s in these days.” 

And the silence comes back, but this time it’s not as awkward. 

Rather, it’s leaning towards the opposite end they were supposed to stray far away from this evening. It’s all lustful glances from across the table, teasing grins that mask dirty thoughts, and when his foot nudges her calf under the table, her mouth suddenly feels very, very dry. 

God, they were so bad at this.

Either they weren’t speaking at all or their mouths were filthy, hands groping at wet flesh, driving each other on a pathway to ecstasy. 

It takes their food arriving before them, their glasses being refilled, for her to realize just how long they’ve been here and how little they’ve managed to accomplish. 

“This looks delicious—"

“We can’t do this.”

His mouth freezes open and a forkful of steak halts its way inside, retreating (regretfully) back to his plate so he can solely focus on her. 

“…okay,” he falters. ”Do you want me to take you home?”

“What?” Eyes going wide, she realizes his confusion and clarifies, “No! No, I mean not talk.” 

She sees his shoulders relax and continues on, “Our food is already here and the most we’ve discussed is our attire and the weather.” 

“Ah, yeah,” and he takes the bite he’s been holding off, incredibly thankful she isn’t running out the door this time. He wipes his mouth as he finishes chewing, and takes a deep breath, “Yeah, we can do that.”

But the sight before him is depressingly familiar—her bottom lip becoming trapped under her teeth, her mind somewhere far away from this dinner. She has yet to look at her own plate, let alone actually enjoy any of her meal as she’s disappearing slowly into thoughts he wishes he could read. 

“Talk to me, Benson,” he probes. “What’s going on?”

Her eyes glance up to his briefly before retreating back down in shame and she exhales a tiny sigh, “Just—just trying to figure out how to navigate all this.”

Shaking his head, he folds his hands and rests his chin on them, leaning in, “Take a deep breath. It’s just us having dinner, okay? We will get to talking, but eat some food first and try to relax a little. We’re in no rush to discuss everything in one night.”

Keeping her head down, she flicks her eyes up and he’s reminded of the hospital where they first got to speak again. When Kathy was slipping and Olivia was a distorted memory, the uncanny valley of seeing her ten year older, replacing that old vision he held onto tightly. 

He takes a bite of his own, hoping that maybe his trick for Noah (albeit somewhat childish) might work on the young boy’s mother, helping the spotlight leave her plate and make this a joint activity. 

It works—her fork snags some eggplant, and she takes a small bite. 

“Good?” He inquires. 

The taste elicits a pleased look across her face, and she realizes he was right about how much she would enjoy this place. “Amazing,” she insists. 

And they resume, falling into the silence one more—knowing this time, it’s temporary. 

His reassurances of this simply being a meal where they can talk but don’t have to, helps her breathe a little smoother, and eat enough to calm her growling stomach. And besides, it would just be cruel to keep Elliot from a professionally cooked slab of meat—although, it would be a true tell of how much he actually cared for her to see how long he could hold off. 

“Alright,” she prompts after making a decent-sized dent in her dish, with enough wine in her to curtail the unwelcomed anxiety from earlier. “Let’s set some ground rules.” 

He keeps eating, nodding along to keep her going, and she does with an assured tone, “We each get to pick something that’s completely off limits. After that, we can both bring up a topic for the other and if we agree, we can continue. If not, we move on and pick something else.”

“I’m good with that.”

She nods once, accepting his agreement, while seemingly trying to convince herself to start. 

The rules were set—this was going to be fine—but she exhales through a shaky breath. 

Just say it. He already knows. 

“Nothing about my scars, or anything remotely close to that conversation.

His eyes go soft, offering her this look of pure understanding before he shakes his head. It’s overwhelmingly beautiful in his pools of blue and she feels the sheer honesty as he replies, “Wouldn’t dream of it.”

And he takes a long second to think.

For as clueless as he is about her life for the past ten years, she’s just as lost on his. There isn’t even a list of bullet points of what to prod into, of what he did during that time without her. In fact, she doesn’t think any of her pressing questions even reside in the years of his overseas abandonment. 

There’s a shift in his demeanor, those once comforting eyes slightly saddening, and his body slides back into the seat a little as he decides. 

“…don’t ask me what happened when I left.”

The words practically punch her in the gut—she hadn’t even thought about driving into that topic, if it was still a topic.

But clearly, something happened. 

In all her years of knowing him, she hadn’t quite seen him as closed off about a subject, and hearing how defeated he sounded over the idea of it being discussed causes her to bow her head in agreement—moving on, but remembering it for later.

“You go first,” she strums, “Pick a topic.” 

Within the mere nanosecond after she finishes speaking, he utters a sharp, “Tucker.” 

The immediacy of his decision raises her brows, and she should’ve known his head has been trapped here for weeks. She wants to laugh at him, all bowed up like Tucker was still an issue for him. Like she dared dream of being with anybody but him right now (or ever). 

Holding back the chuckle, she simply nods slowly at his request, enjoying how he squirms a little, before she takes another sip of wine and purses her lips, swallowing through her request, “…Angela.

Elliot cocks his head, and echoes her acceptance, nodding in return. Diffusing the fake tension slightly by slicing his next bite for the ready, he complies, “Okay, deal,” and the knife clinks against the plate. “How long were you two together?”

“Over a year.” She takes her own bite quickly, then spits out, “Did you sleep with her?”

He chokes at the reveal of her question, coughing slightly, and he reaches for his drink, “Wow, I—" Taking a sip to recover, he confirms, “No, no I didn’t.”  

But she isn’t buying it, and tosses him that knowing look, the one Kathy tried on him for years with her. 

“Liv, I promise you, we didn’t. We just kissed, once.”

“That’s it?”

“Yes, Olivia. One kiss.”

Licking her lips, she reaches for her glass again, “She was pretty attached for one kiss, Elliot. She said she was in love with you.”

He shrugs, “I guess I’m just a good kisser.” 

She laughs loudly, prompting him to immaturely mutter, “Can’t imagine Tucker was that great.”

Elliot,” she scolds.

Feigning innocence, he simply shrugs and starts on another bite, “What?” 

“He was good to me.”

“Oh,” he groans, “Oh, I do not want to know about that.”

Her eyes widen as she drops her silverware back down, “I didn’t mean sexually, Elliot. Not that he was—”

He lifts a hand to cut her off, “Please don’t. I’d like to keep this food down.”

She lets out an annoyed laugh—it’s jovial but dripping with sarcasm, “You’re such a baby.”

“I’m sorry, it’s just hard to imagine…” 

Waving a hand, he’s filling in the gap where words should go, crass words of unwanted sexual visions of her being pleasure by another man, “Tucker?

“Well, don’t think about it then,” she resigns, popping a forkful of saucy food into her mouth. 

He concedes, needing the thoughts of her unfortunate ex to evaporate out of his brain forever. Distracting himself, he begins running his middle finger along the rim of his glass, bouncing the spotlight back to her. “Is that all you wanted to know about Angela?”

“Why,” she raises an inquisitive brow, “Is there something else I should know?”

“Not at all,” he answers decisively. “Next question?”

“Sure.”

Keeping his eyes on the glass under his finger (he really has to stop it because the way his finger is swirling the ring is stirring her up), his voice lowers, “Last person you slept with before me.”

The asshole knows exactly what he’s doing.

“Man, you are a possessive piece of work,” she mumbles, chuckling slightly, and downs a little more wine this time, “Fine, same to you.”

He smiles at her concession, “Flutura, but you knew that.”

“I suspected it,” she clarifies. “How many times?”

“Ah, you have to answer first before asking follow-ups.”

Her eyes draw daggers, but the corners of her mouth upturn into the tiniest grin, “…Langan.”

When?” 

Man, it was too easy to rile him up.  

“Ah, me first,” she teases.

He drops the stern look, smirking at her playfulness. “Once,” he declares and chews a little more, this time diving into the untouched vegetables. He snags a few on his fork and feels her eyes boring into him.

“You don’t sound very sure of that.”

“I am very sure of it,” and he holds the packed silverware out towards her, urging her to take a bite. “Try this.”

She cocks her head slightly, “Elliot, you have to eat some vegetables.”

“I will,” he whines. “I just know you’ll like them. C’mon,” and he moves his arm closer. She shakes her head, but quickly gives in to the blue eyes, opening her mouth to wrap her lips around the fork and taste the sweetness.

He was right, they’re really fucking good. 

“Hmm?” he smiles.

Very good.” 

“Good,” and he grabs his own forkful, shoveling some into his mouth. “When did you sleep with Trevor?”

Of course it was a fucking distraction. 

“There was an adoption gala a few weeks before…” She trails off, waving her hand like he did earlier, then takes another sip of wine.

…before or after we kissed?”

“Before,” she grins, swallowing down the red. 

“Good.”

This time, she cuts a small piece of her eggplant for him, stabbing it with her fork, holding it out for him to snag. He smirks at her gesture, letting his fingers come up to wrap around her wrist gently, keeping her hand in place as he leans in and shoves it into his mouth. 

Without letting go of her hand, he pulls back to pop the metal out from the edible bite, and rubs his thumb across the inside of her wrist. 

He’s chewing so fucking slow —eyes dead to hers, just circling the sensitive skin—before he finally swallows. And then, he’s guiding her hand to his lips, kissing her palm deeply.

God, she was such a sap for this.

His gesture causes her to splay her fingers against his scruffy cheek, as she sweeps her thumb along his bottom lip and tosses him a sparkling grin. 

They still had more to discuss (even though she would be more than content to abandon their meal and head back home). 

But this was so sweet too, and she realizes she has the upper hand right now—he’s practically melting in her touch—so she pinches his chin lightly, before asking, “Why’d you sleep with Flutura?”

Ah, so she’s all in now. 

He laughs, kissing her hand once more before letting her pull away and rest back in her seat. “Well, she had been flirting with me and I had been dodging it for a while, but it got to a point where she was too suspicious and insistent. I didn’t want to risk my cover being blown that close to everything ending,” he shrugs and takes another drink. “Even though it almost backfired.”

She catches that last little mumble, probing him further, “What do you mean? What’d you do?”

“Well, I—" And his eyes quickly display a twinge of regret and he shakes his head, “Never mind.”

“No, no, you have to tell me.”

“You’ll be bothered by it.”

“I’ll be more bothered not knowing.”

“Fine,” he unwillingly concedes. “I…I called her the wrong name mid...”

Her face brightens just before she laughs loudly, “You called her Kathy?

His mouth parts. 

Then closes. 

“…no.”

And Olivia freezes. 

Oh.

Sighing, he leans back, rubbing his hand over his face, grumbling, “I told you would be bothered by it. That’s why I didn’t want to tell you.”

“No, no,” she shakes her head, ”It’s just—was this after you were drugged?”

“Yes.”

She whispers a breathy, “Okay,” yet it’s not decisive. Instead, it’s as if she’s asking herself if it actually is— if him thinking he was about to die, confessing dreams of a parallel universe, then running off and having sex with another woman (while thinking about her) was something she could come to terms with. 

But she can’t keep running, it’s too tiring, so she’s pushing jealousy—or whatever feeling forming is—aside, repeating a more definitive, “Okay.”

He’s nearly done with his meal now, grabbing at his wine, cleansing his palette, needing to change gears from ‘I moaned your name while having sex with a criminal’ to anything else. “Can we move on?”

Thankfully, she’s onboard, nodding and he nudges her this time, “You go.”

“Was the ‘I love you’ for me or your kids?”

She shouldn’t have said it. 

Really shouldn’t have. 

Wondering how it slipped so easily out of her mouth—wondering where the hell it came from—she sure as hell did not plan for this to be on the table tonight. 

It was probably something about the way he looked at her, the way his foot nudged her under the table, the way she felt warm and full and relaxed because it tumbled out of her lips before she could stop it from happening. 

And now, she’s panicking at his surprised reaction, breathing quickening minutely as he stares back at her, eyes unreadable.

You idiot.

In the moment he takes for himself, she’s worried the fun will be over—that it’s done, she ruined their evening—but he stops her spiraling by softly asking, “Why didn’t you come to the Christmas get together?”

And now Olivia takes a second to breathe. This really didn’t feel like a fair trade for him, but it’s what he’s asking for, so she agrees, “Deal.” 

Suddenly, it’s quiet around them—even though nothing in the environment has changed, it feels like they are the only two people here. Just his blue on her brown, two lovers ready to take a leap, a shift from the shallow to the deep end. He’s easing in, readjusting his position in his chair, coming to rest his elbows on the table and place all of his attention on her. 

She really regrets asking—it all feels too real as he looks at her, eyes full of something.

When he speaks, his voice is much more gentle than she’s ever heard it before, “I want to preface my answer by saying that I don't regret it, but I do wish it wasn’t in that way.” 

Her chest twinges, and that overwhelming sense of nervousness crawls its way back over her, begging to shut this down before he can confess that she had been delusional. That those words were for the five children behind her, and not the brown eyes he’d been locked into.

But she pries through the uncomfortability, hushing her voice just a bit more to give them that much more privacy, as if it mattered. Needing a break from thinking about three little words, she answers his question, “I wasn’t ready for Christmas. I just needed some more time before Noah got too close with everyone.”

“I get it,” he grins politely, knowing she’s seconds from the edge but desperate for her to stay with him. Slowly, that grin turns into a beaming smile, as he shakes his head to pull himself out of the happy thoughts of Noah and their potentially blended family. “You were right about him. I’m surprised how much he wants me around.”

Oh. 

She really doesn’t want to do this to him—to twist the conversation down another path—but it’s honesty that they're after tonight, so she confesses, “He’s scared.”

His brows furrow, face mollifying into a more neutral expression, “Of what?” 

“Of not being able to protect me. He told me when he had another nightmare.” 

Elliot doesn’t respond, just tilts his head slightly to let her know he’s here, he’s listening. 

“I wanted to tell him that I’m an NYPD Captain and I’ve done just fine on my own—thank you very much—but he’s only eight and went through a lot,” she sighs. “He wants you to stay so you can take care of me, but I’m not sure why he feels like I need someone to, all of a sudden.” 

She feels her eyes begin to pool with tears, but she refuses to cry, not here, not now. Glancing up towards the ceiling lights, she tries to suck them back in, to clear her throat, before continuing on, “Sometimes I feel like I’m not enough for him. That maybe people are right about single parents.”

“Don’t say that,” he protests. “You’re a great mom.”

“I know. But I’m only one person, Elliot.”

And like you said, you’ve already done it all yourself. Look how great he turned out,” he tosses her a soft smile. “So, he’s just a little shaken up from what happened. Trust me, he’ll despise me soon enough, all my kids do at some point.”

My kids.

She knows he didn’t mean anything by it, but the way it fell out of his mouth so naturally, makes her chest flutter for a second.

At the family dinner, her son was so enthralled by the older children (who really aren’t children anymore), and for as overwhelming it was to think about, hearing him potentially adding Noah into his life has her back on her original question, teetering on the edge of letting him in again. 

But he’s oblivious, reaching forward to tuck a fallen strand of hair behind her ear, and letting his fingers linger across her soft cheek before they fall back into his lap.

Olivia feels dazed—both wanting to remain warm and blanketed by his affection, but tandemly, desperately anxious to go back to his regretful confession. 

“Did you mean it?” she rasps. 

“Mean what?”

“…that you loved me.”

His mouth parts, and the look on his face makes her immediately want to shove those words back into her mouth and act like she never even dared to inquire deeper into the topic. 

Why do you keep doing this?

“Sorry,” she splutters, “I should not have asked that, that’s too much—”

But he stops her by grabbing her hand, giving it a tight squeeze and lowering his head to find where her gaze drifted off to. “It’s not,” he assures, but she refuses to connect their eyes. “Don’t start running again,” he insists.

Her walls are tough and fast, already starting to build back up and return to the safe zone. 

I’m not the runner.”

It’s harsh, pointed. 

Meant to sting him, bite him away. 

Keep her guarded. 

And it works—he bites his bottom lip, lets her hand slip out of his, and he rests back into the chair. She feels the burst of regret come over her when she hears how defeated he sounds, whispering, “Okay, I deserve that.”

“No, no,” and she squeezes her eyes shut, hoping she could travel back in time and take it all back. To see his smile again and feel the warmth of his touch. “I’m sorry,” she resigns, “Maybe we should just finish dinner.”

But he’s not retreating this time. 

Keeping his eyes locked to her, he takes a deep breath, sighing when he’s finally ready, “To tell you the honest truth, Liv? I did mean it. But I didn’t know it. I can't sit here and tell you that I knew all along or I was ready to say it back then, but I am realizing more and more each day we spend together, that what I feel for you is love.” 

He takes another second to swallow down the wave of emotions that he does not wish to tumble into—instead, resetting himself and carrying on with a gentle tone, “I love you, Olivia. And probably have loved you for longer than I’ve even known or would care to admit.”

Her stomach drops ten floors. Mouth parting, her eyes do not widen with fear—rather, relief pours through them, a slight glimmer appearing in the dark brown, “You love me?”

And he’s surprisingly not shying away, not pushing away from the subject, not telling her to back off or that he doesn’t want to talk about it—no, he’s here, in front of her, committing to this. 

“I don’t know what else I would call it,” he smiles. 

She’s still in shock and he falls back a little, “I’m not going to ask you it back, or—"

But she cuts him off. 

“I loved you back then,” she interrupts, her body still stiff, eyes so deep in his—she feels like this is a sick dream she’s had before. 

Elliot remains present, planting himself in this moment. Not grabbing at silverware or a glass as a meager attempt to deflect. No, there is nothing pulling him away from the warm brown eyes on him, the ones that snuck into his dreams, the ones that he knew would be the last he saw before death. 

Her voice is so soft, it’s threatening to be inaudible, but she continues on, “I didn’t know it at the time, since I never really let myself entertain the thought for too long. But then you left and it hurt a lot more than it probably should have.” 

She lets out a breathy laugh to not drown in the memory—to be just as present as he is.

“I figured it was just the abandonment issues in me. And then, when I first heard someone say those words to me—when I realized I was supposed to say it back—I couldn’t.” 

The tears are loose now, one slowly slipping down her cheek and she’s too paralyzed to wipe it away. “I couldn’t fathom loving any of them truly because of—all my romantic relationships—none of them even came close to the bond I had with you.” 

And she takes another second to breathe, hoping the break will help her throat not be so tight and she can get through this without shutting down. But it doesn’t, so she reaches for her wine to soothe the throbbing, clearing it up enough for her to carry on, “I came to terms with the fact I could be happy with other people, but I would never be in love with them. It worked for a while, but then I just gave up entirely—decide I can live my life alone and fill in the gaps with dates and sex. Focus all my energy on my job and my son.” 

Inhaling deeply, she smiles, but it’s not cheerful, and another tear falls. “You ruined love for me, Elliot.”

And at the conclusion of her confession, he doesn’t know what to say. Only able to shake his head so slowly, his eyes cemented on hers, he whispers, “I’m sorry, Olivia.”

“Don’t be. You have plenty of time to make it up to me,” and she forces that weakened smile to widen, to crawl back to their happiness again. 

And surprisingly, the relief of a 20 year long secret finally being released has her feeling lighter—has her reaching for his hand, which he happily provides. 

“I just need you to be patient with me while I learn to let you in again,” she asks, rubbing her thumb across his calloused knuckles. 

And he repeats his actions from earlier, placing a loving kiss on her palm—but this time, giving a gentle peck to each finger before he sets her free again. 

“Of course,” he promises.

“Good,” she blushes, giving them one more second in this fantasy of a life they’ve stumbled into, needing the cheesy romance for just a touch longer. 

When the desire fades, she exhales a heavy, “Now,” drawing her hand back to wipe away the wetness before taking a deep and low breath. “Since that that’s settled, you can tell me more about your sex life over dessert.”

He laughs, “Sounds perfect.”

 


 

After swapping bites of tiramisu and chugging off the second bottle of wine, the two adults are both warm and cheery, and incredibly excited to get back to her place. 

He helps her back into her coat and the feeling of his hands on her has her melting, like every one of her nerves is exposed and hanging onto all that is Elliot Stabler. 

Exiting the restaurant, he places a hand on her lower back, and this time, she does not retreat, does not shy away. She’s drunk off him—buzzed from wine, but completely intoxicated from his longing stares and gentle touches. 

“So what’s next, my friend Olivia?” he asks as their shoes meet the concrete sidewalk, walking towards their car parked a ways down. 

She’s smiling to herself, solely thinking of the lingerie underneath all of these layers, “I have a few ideas.”

“Oh really?”

“Mhmm,” she laughs, reaching for his hand to hold it tightly. “I think you’ll like them.”

His tongue shoves deep into his cheek, and he has to literally shake out the filthy thoughts he has of her onto this street in the middle of Manhattan, before he doesn’t manage to make it home. “I think so, too,” he agrees, squeezing her hand gently.

And suddenly she stops walking, leaving their hands intertwined, and he is pulled back by the abrupt end, turning to look at her. 

“What?”

Her eyes are just staring—he knows she’s right there with him—so she smiles at him, tiptoeing closer and closer, landing right in front of where he’s standing. Grabbing at his open coat, she’s fisting the fabric in her hands, before she tilts her head up, lips needy. 

“Kiss me,” she demands in a breathy exhale, smile fading slightly, but eyes remaining laced with something that looks like love.

He raises a question brow, voice low and dripping with cockiness—she’s so close to him, their bodies pressed together outside on the streets of New York, he cannot even care about the few people still near who can see this take place. 

“Yeah?” he smirks, hands dropping to grip her waist. He takes a step forward, forcing her to step back. She fumbles slightly, but is steaded by his hold and she’s nodding, biting her lip—he swears to God he’s never seen her this eager, this beautiful, this ready for him. 

And with her insistence, he smiles smugly, tucking back the stray strands to get perfect access to her—letting his left hand grab her chin carefully, his right hand still steady on her waist, giving her a tight squeeze as he closes the space between them, capturing her lips with his. 

She tastes like the beautifully sweet combination of the tiramisu and wine they just enjoyed, and she’s melting into his embrace, exhaling tiny whimpers as he deepens the kiss, parting his mouth to slip his tongue inside her to taste her more. 

They’re making out under the lights of the city, the few passerbys not even paying them any mind, and he feels like he’s on top of the world. 

Her breath is hot, lips weaving together with his, pulling apart and coming back to, tongues desperate to collide. 

Their hands don’t move, it’s far too risky. If they did, if he even shifted an inch, she would drag him to the car and fuck him senselessly. 

No, she wants this—needs just his lips, tongue, teeth, needs deep pressure on her mouth, needs swipes of wetness to tease her, needs nibbles and sucks on her bottom lip. 

He loves her.

She’s kissing him back with such force, her hands still fisting his jacket, gripping so hard her knuckles are white.

He loves her.

He’s still got a hold of her chin, keeping her still for him to provide her what she needed, wanting to kiss her like asked, wanting to ravish her lips, bruising them so hard that she had something to touch on the way home.

He loves her. 

They really should stop, they know each other better than this. That kissing leads to sex now, that the days of only making out were no more, that their passion would get the best of them. 

And so she pulls back just enough—her lips are swollen, glistening with wetness, cheeks flushed. But her eyes blink open, heavy with love (he tells himself it has to be love), and she’s grinning widely.

Swiping his thumb across her jawline, he opens his mouth to speak, wants to say those words, wants to say them properly, right here right now but—

He is cut off by a loud bang.

And he feels her body slump hard against his chest.

She exhales a sharp gasp and he looks down at those once-loving eyes—now wide with shock—and those beautiful lips part as she slips through his arms. Quickly, he holds onto her tightly, making sure she doesn’t fall, but letting gravity win, lowering both their bodies to the cold sidewalk ground. 

Panicking, he notices his hand around her lower back is dampening.

With a dark red liquid.

“Liv?” 

There’s another sharp bang and a high-pitched scream, but it seems like the gun was fired into the air, and the shooter’s car speeds off before Elliot can get a good look at it. 

His heart is racing, rushing to put pressure on her open wound, trying to stop the blood from seeping out, but it’s not enough. 

“Call 911!” he shouts, “Tell them an officer is down!”

A stranger immediately steps in to help, phoning up the ambulance and Olivia’s grip on his forearms start to loosen. 

“No, no, Liv, don’t you dare. Stay with me, okay? You’re not dying tonight,” he scrambling, taking off her coat, trying to get more access while keeping her still—but she was shot in the fucking back and he can’t flip her over. He can’t lose sight of her brown eyes, can’t look away for even a millisecond.

Her breath is becoming labored, him settling her on her side now so that her eyes remain on him, but he can keep covering the wound.

Riding through the shock of what happened, she realizes—

She’s going to die on this street corner. 

People are making their way out of the restaurants and shops around, all crowding around the couple on the ground with panicked gasps and frantic shouts, and Elliot cannot fucking handle all the noise. 

His hands are coated in her blood, absolutely soaking every crevice, and he feels his own eyes start to water, “Liv, you’re going to be okay, you hear me?”

But she doesn’t move, just keeps trying her best to breathe for herself, for him—for her son.

“Olivia Margaret Benson! You cannot leave me—not like this, okay?”

Sirens are heard in the distance but she’s slipping into the darkness that’s dragging her down, weighing her every breath, telling her to let go.

“Liv! Olivia! Stay awake, goddammit!” 

He’s shouting now, hands trying his best to keep as much blood from pouring out of the bullethole, eyes losing sight of her through thick, cloudy tears. 

The sirens are getting louder, but breathing is nearly impossible, and darkness welcomes her in with such a warm hug and promises of a wondrous sleep—a rest she craves so much.

“Olivia, help is almost here—just stay with me, please?”

His voice is helping to keep her from the new friend on the other side, as she’s hanging onto it by a mere thread. The burning sensation is fading, but so is his voice—she’s trying so hard to decide—to stay away from the temptation of peace.

His voice is muffled now, sirens too loud.

All she hears is the slow pounding of her heartbeat as she manages to form the smallest smile, eyes heavy from devastating exhaustion. 

“I…” she begins to whisper—

But the thread is cut. 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Chapter Text

A/N: idk if you've noticed but they will kiss in every chapter lol so i promise u that

C/W: description of blood, panic attacks

 

 

 

 

 

 

He wonders if one day he’ll know the exact number of freckles that decorate the honeyed skin on her face. If (maybe) he’ll be able to recognize the new ones when they appear and add them to the list of those already memorized. If he could be able to give each of them the attention they deserve, peppering them with kisses and tracing them with his finger, connecting them together like a constellation.

“I can feel you staring,” she groggily grumbles, body still and eyes remaining shut.

He chuckles, voice warm and low, “Can’t help it.” 

“Mmm,” she groans, “I think you can...”

Rolling over to tuck her face into his bare chest, she’s stretching out her sleepy body, spreading her curled up limbs through the soft sheets, all while holding a monotonous tone of exhaustion.

She was still not a morning person after all these years.

“Good morning,” he smiles, before tilting his head down to kiss her frizzled hair. 

“Mhmm,” she shakes her head, nose rubbing across his pec, her fallen locks tickling his abdomen. She’s burrowing herself deeper into him, trying to avoid the sunlight that’s peering through the curtains, not wanting her peaceful slumber to end and for the day to begin. “Five more minutes.”

His hand slides up her spine, arm still locked under her frame to keep her curled in, and lands at the nape of her neck where he starts to weave his fingers into her hair, letting them spread open and closed, scratching her back into the blissful relaxation she so desired. He keeps his lips close to her, practically inhaling her floral-scented shampoo, not wanting to part—not after what they went through. 

Not when he thought he almost lost her. 

A need for more hits him with the thought of her potentially out of his reach (even though she’s right here, Elliot—she’s not going anywhere), and his free hand crawls up, placing his fingers under her jaw, thumb on her chin, and tilts her head up so he can look at her again. 

She’s really keeping her eyes shut, not letting morning come through, and Elliot is grateful for this chance to look at her so intimately. To be able to let his thumb graze across her pouty lips he kissed so fervently last night—it’s something out of his confessionals. There wasn’t any guilt on this morning (well any is a reach as guilt is the foundation of his personality, marked vibrantly by the large tattoo on his bicep), he could do this now. Elliot could be blanketed by her warmth, could be entranced by her soft whimpers and tiny groans, could hold her over his heart that thumped a rhythm solely made for her.

He was the luckiest unlucky man, graced by the sweetness of a lily in the desert, and the rarity of Olivia Benson was a gift he truly would never take for granted again. 

To find her once was a blessing. To get her back was a miracle. 

With her face cradled in his hands, he leans in to brush his lips across hers, kissing her tenderly, knowing that this is how she will start her day. She deserves so much more than what he can offer, but for some incredible reason, she chose him, trusted him, to be the orchestrator of her mornings and evenings—the one who welcomed her into the day and helped guide her into a nightly rest. 

Something like love is percolating, but he knows it’s too soon. 

Pulling back he continues sweeping his thumb, this time across her perfect cheekbones, eliciting a sunny grin from his sleepy lover. “You can open your eyes now,” he whispers.

She shakes her head, “No, I don’t want to.”

Pouting now with furrowed brows, she’s youthfully whining, feigning a childlike innocence to not wake up, wanting and needing to sleep just a little more. 

He laughs at her gentle resistance and glides his fingers along her jaw, pushing them into her hair again, pulling her to his lips so he can plant a quick succession of pecks to the top of her forehead. “Mmm, I wanna see you,” he hums.

“You were already watching me sleep,” she taunts, although it’s muffled against his skin. “Wasn’t that enough?”

He dips her head back again to see her grinning at him and gives her another kiss, this time, deeper and longer. She lets out a tiny whine through their embrace, one that sparks a more urgent desire from him—he needs to see her brown eyes again.

Keeping their movements poetic, he slowly maneuvers their tangled limbs to position himself over her, hovering. Their lips don’t part, but she’s releasing these contented sighs, letting her hands plant themselves around his muscular forearms, gripping tightly. He delicately pulls away from her, their lips separating with a slight pop, and she still hasn’t opened her eyes.

Exhaling a breathy chuckle, he shakes his head subtly, “So, so stubborn,” and she smirks back at him.

“Says you.”

He plants another kiss on her, shifting from her lips to her neck, hoping his practiced methods reliably hold up. It starts soft with only his lips pressing into the sensitive skin, but her sighs let him know she’s clinging onto rest, being lulled by his lips. 

No, no, he can’t have that. And so he continues, his tongue now swiping across, dampening where he just was, combining the sweeps with the pressure of his lips, turning it into heady sucks on her pulse point. 

As the intensity builds from the sensation, she squirms meekly under him, back starting to arch off the mattress, breasts shoving a little closer against him. 

He only stops for a moment to see her flutter open her eyes, to actually see her this morning, but she hadn’t let up yet.

“Open your eyes,” he rasps, lips and tongue gliding down the column of her throat, down to her bare chest. She shakes her head again as her fingers seek to search his body, all without sight. He wants to laugh at her for this. Wants to ask her why she won’t just open her eyes, why she doesn’t want to look at him right now, but he can’t. At least not yet. 

He was going to earn it—first with his lips, which now land in the valley between her breasts, traveling from one to the other with rhythmic circles of his adventurous tongue. But when it still doesn’t work, when her eyes have yet to open, he readjusts to free up a hand and palms at her breast, kneading it gently, using his thumb to flick at the peak until it becomes stiffened for him to suck at. 

She moans out the most delicate noise, fingers starting to claw at his back. Her brows furrow and eyes squeeze shut tighter, but he can tell she’s going to give in soon. That mischievous hand halts it groping, tickling down her stomach until it teases the waistband of her underwear to feel her belly shiver at his touch. 

“Open your eyes,” he repeats, voice dripping with need. His mouth continues to paint her skin with his lips, roaming everywhere to coat her with his desire. 

She whimpers, “No,” and keeps her eyes closed, but hands anchored on his shoulders. 

Lifting up, he’s back where he began, lowering himself to her lips, but not colliding with them yet. “Look at me,” he begs, breath hot and lips so close, the words buzzing against her.

She shakes her head.

His fingers slip under the fabric, grazing down to cup her heat, prompting her to clench her thighs together in protest. 

“Your tricks won’t work on me,” she insists, just before biting down hard on her bottom lip when his middle finger manages to brush against her clit. 

“Oh really?”

She nods. 

“Hmm, well then…” and he teases her with a few tantalizing circles, moving so slow, she starts to writhe beneath him. It’s breathtaking to watch her. To hear her soft exhales and see her face scrunch before gasping, mouth parting, fingernails digging deep into his skin. He wants to keep kissing her—he really could but that would make him lose this battle and he’s determined to win—and when she lets out another little whimper, he removes his hand right as her hips buck. 

“I think I’m gonna shower,” he states, body hovering over hers still, and she pushes him back.

She huffs, “I hate you.”

“No, you don’t,” he retorts, taking a patient moment to insert his finger into his mouth, tasting her sweet arousal, and he sees her eyelids begin to flutter. He chuckles softly, pulling it out with a wet smack, and she fidgets again, seemingly awaiting his next move, unprepared. 

But he does not continue his game. No, instead he leans in, giving her another teasing kiss, willing to surrender to her anyday. 

She sighs into it, a mix of contentment and frustration being heard as the heated energy relaxes into a sensual moment of morning intimacy. When they part, he tucks his hands around her hips, sweeping at the soft skin momentarily. 

“Wake up, Olivia,” he whispers.

Another shake of her head.

He smirks, leaning down to kiss both of her cheeks, one long and loving smooch to each, before he tries again. “Wake up,” he repeats, voice languid and dreamy.

But she doesn’t move at all this time.

…and her smile is gone.

“Clear!” 

It comes out of nowhere. 

Not from her, not from him, not from anyone in this vacant home. 

He instinctively shakes the strange voice out of his ear, not recognizing the sharp tone in their peaceful, empty bedroom. It’s odd, foreign. Unwanted, he’s trying to push it away, but everything is becoming slightly muffled. 

No. 

No, no, no.

Focusing back on her, he places a chaste peck to her each of her closed eyelids, pleading now, “Wake up, Liv.”

“300!”

The voice is back—louder this time—and the bedroom is quickly fading from his view. He’s glancing around, heart racing, clinging onto her below him as the walls keep shifting, darkening the bright windows, enclosing in on them. 

“Olivia, wake up!”

She’s pale below him. 

That once warm skin is like ice in his hands and her eyes won’t open—why won’t she fucking open them?

“Liv, please,” he’s begging, desperate, stomach sinking. Nothing makes sense, what happened to their perfect morning? 

“Clear!”

He sees crimson red start to seep out of her lips, which part open with a faint whisper, “I…

And as quickly as it came, the memory suddenly evaporates, the end distorted by his current reality—the warm, bright bedroom replaced by the steel, cramped walls of the speeding ambulance. 

He was not there right now. Not with her, smiling in bed. Rather, he was here, with her, body cold and bloody and his ears are still ringing from the high-pitched beeping that faded into that horrific single note that told him he lost her. 

They wouldn’t let him touch her—wouldn’t let him hold her hand one last time or kiss her forehead and give her the peace to rest easily. Sequestered to the corner, he stood, suit ruined by crimson red, with only visions of her wide eyes racing through his mind until the memory began to blossom. 

The morning after their first time together.  

Watching her sleep. Holding her close. Kissing her cheeks, lips, breasts. Her fingernails digging into his back, his shoulders. 

She wouldn’t open her eyes that morning, wanting to stay in her peaceful bliss, jokingly teasing him by pushing him to get her awake, to use his hands, lips, tongue

Eventually she did. He saw those warm pools of brown finally sparkle, open and locked to him, before Olivia was awake and in his world, pushing him down to say thank you for his morning welcome.

Her eyes weren’t opening now. 

And her heart stopped fucking beating. 

Elliot would’ve ripped his own out to give it to her, but he had to stand back, listen to the paramedics hurriedly rushing to revive her with pads on her chest, and there was nothing he could do.

Olivia, wake up.

God, could it just fucking beep again?

Open your eyes.

One more note—he’s praying for the note to change, to hear the beeping shift and burst into the symphonious melody of her heart thumping that he had cemented into his ears. The one he heard when they rested together (temporarily until morning would come) as his head laid on her chest and her hands rubbed his back or shoulders.

Look at me.

“Clear!”

And the rhythm begins again.

 


 

When they arrive, the chaos doesn’t end. Voices are shouting, people all moving with incredible speed, and there really is no place for the detective in these trenches. But he can’t pull away from her, can’t stretch the tether between them that thin. 

He’s desperate to stay at her side, her usually warm and honeyed skin, now pale and cold. If he could just give her some heat, if he could revive her with simply his presence. He does manage to grab her hand quickly (even for a mere moment, he needed it in his again) as she’s being wheeled into the front doors of the hospital, but he knows it’s futile.

He has to let go, he can’t help her anymore—he’s staring at her hand, knowing he has to, but his clench refuses to pry open.

“Sir,” a nurse places a gentle hand on his back through the rush, and it breaks through his spiraling mind. “I promise we are going to do everything we can to save your wife, but we really need you to stay here, okay?”

His mind steps in to tell him They need to take care of her now, you’ve done everything you can, and his fist reluctantly unfurls. 

In an instant, she’s down the hallway and out of sight. 

Out of view. 

Gone.

Staring straight ahead, his eyes don’t leave where she disappeared when it repeats in his ears.

‘Your wife.’

And with the echo of the misspoken words from the young woman, he suddenly realizes—

This is the same hospital where Kathy died. 

The one where the pillar from his youth was desecrated and his life was thrust into unknown, unannounced shambles. The one where he cradled his children while they cried, tears of his own falling onto the makeshift church floor. 

And the one where she held him when he was first alone. When they were still on a bumpy road, where neither knew how to navigate the next steps, fumbling through the rest of the year, hoping the pieces would fall together soon enough. 

Death clung to him here—Kathy, taken from him, Morales, gunned down. 

He’s reminded of Hades, the tale fresh on his mind from Noah’s homework last week, and wonders if this is what the deity felt when he fell for Persephone. If he knew it was selfish of him to bring someone so beautiful, so bright, into his dark and solemn world. If he was dragging her down into the hellscape he had unfortunately fallen into, all because he was greedy and wanted to love the bringer of spring. 

She asked to wait until he was no longer undercover and he couldn’t even give her that. 

And this last month has clouded the full story, overtaking their history. They simply existed in this tiny bubble of pure bliss, just grateful for once to live in the moment together. Barreling into domestication, he met her son, consoled him while he cried, and she did the same for his own. They have routines, no longer unaware of the next time their paths would cross, rather the opposite. Never knowing when to part, not wanting to leave the other. 

If she leaves him now, if she dies—

No, do not even entertain that thought. 

The streak would end tonight. No more lives would be lost to the sins of his seeking atonement. 

Olivia was going to be fine.

Just fine. 

 


 

The blood seems to never dry, remaining dyed across his suit, like splashes of an abstract painting symbolizing destruction. It had darkened though, looking much less vibrant than the blood being drawn from his arm. The blood that traveled through long tubes to be collected and rushed off to her. 

So he couldn’t give her his heart, but maybe his blood would suffice. 

“Thank you again, detective. If you want to head back to the waiting room, I’ll see if we have any updates for you.”

He can’t speak, just grins tightly and does what he’s supposed to, not wanting to be the bull in the glass shop here. He would abide by the rules, do what he’s told, and not cross a single line. He would do everything right for the chance to see her again.

Catching a glance of himself in the reflection of the window, he walks alone, back to the semi-private waiting room they’ve allotted for him and other police officers (when they inevitably arrive and this is no longer about how his other half was wretched from him on the night he told her he loved her, but instead becomes an attempted murder investigation) and he feels sick to see that she’s still on him, her blood to remind the world of what has happened.

He said it. Almost twice. 

She could not leave him before he heard it once.

He still has to prove it to her, how much he loves her, how much he will love her, how he will grow to love her more and more each day. This was all so new for him and yet, not at all. To love her wasn’t new, but to label it as love? 

And she loved him. Past tense.

In another life (a parallel universe), their timelines would’ve aligned and they would’ve loved each other so vibrantly that the rest of the world couldn’t handle it. A curse, to know he had fled when her heart bled for him, to know that when he had awakened and tumbled into love for her, that her heart bled onto him. 

He had to get out of these fucking clothes. 

Reaching for his phone, he pulls it out of his back pocket, but when it lights up, a picture of her smiling with Noah stares back at him and his throat tightens as he realizes it’s not his. When the picture fades, he taps the screen again, just to see the brown eyes bright and glistening, her cheesy smile as her little son smooches her cheek. 

His finger glides across the picturized photo of her before he squeezes his eyes shut tight, taking a deep breath to stop the unwanted tears from forming. Tucking it back away (he’ll pull it out later, just to see her again), he grabs his own phone and hovers over the names he has to call. 

What could he even say?  

But the scent of blood begins to disgust him beyond words, the thought of him displaying her potential death on his chest, and the phone begins to ring.

And when it stops, he doesn’t give it a second before muttering, “Katie, something happened.” 

 


 

“Stabler! What the hell?”

The sickening tornado of self-implosion was ending—it was bound to, with the way he made sure everyone knew she was a NYPD Captain, that an officer was down, made certain that she would be handled with the utmost grace, as if these doctors haven’t already known her, haven’t already seen her hold a victim’s hand through a rape kit, haven’t had to help her son heal years ago.

He should’ve known they would begin to come. 

The Sergeant’s eyes do not part from the blood that stains Elliot’s clothes as he makes his way closer to him, “How is she?”

It takes so much for him to finally speak. His throat felt dry, choked up, lodged with the ‘I love you’ he had intended to say again but couldn’t when the bullet interrupted. “I don’t know. Haven’t gotten an update yet,” and his voice sounds so heavy, he almost doesn’t recognize it as his own.

Fin nods cautiously, staring up at his old co-worker, seeing the absolute shock and emptiness of the man, reminding him slightly of last year, but more so reminding him of a bus station, reminding him of a disconnected phone number—Elliot without Olivia. Those unbalanced days on the job, when the man was drained, confused, untethered. 

“…what happened?”

Elliot clears his throat, shrugging lightly, “We left the restaurant around—I dunno, 9:30? Walked towards the car and then someone shot at her.”

“You see who?”

“No, we were—we were…”

He can’t say it—that they were making out on the sidewalk—even though of all the people they both knew, Fin was the one person who was probably the most aware. The one with the most history, the one who was aware of where they stood now and who they were to each other before. 

“I gotcha, don’t worry,” he reassures. “…you okay?”

No, how could he be? 

Bringing his hands up, he cups his face for a mere moment, inhaling deeply, before wiping them down (as if he was washing away the pained expression and utter despair he was feeling) and sighing, “I can’t answer that.”

“I meant physically, were you hit?” Fin clarifies, understanding that in no way, shape, or form is Elliot Stabler ‘okay’ right now. But the man glances again at the blood across the other’s clothes, and knows that shock can sometimes make someone miss their own injuries. That Elliot’s body would be filled with such adrenaline over protecting Olivia, his own pain would be damned. 

Elliot catches where Fin’s observant eyes land, now recognizing the actual question, and simply shakes his head, “She was targeted, and by someone who knew what they were doing. What cases has she been working?”

Elliot,” Fin tosses him a look, “you know she wouldn’t want you doing this.”

He’s still shaking his head (slowly now, as if he can deny what is happening and make it all go away), unable to soothe the restlessness that begs for him to find whoever did this and make them eat their own gun. “The back, Fin. They shot her in the back.”

“You should change outta these,” Fin deflects, “take a seat, call your kids or something.”

Tutuola!

It’s a booming voice. One that Elliot doesn’t quite recognize at first, although it feels unfortunately familiar. However, Fin knows the timbre all too well and he mutters a quick, “I swear—” before being cut off by a shorter man waltzing towards them both. 

“Sergeant! I thought she had the day off? What’d she do now?”

And the way Elliot’s blood boils at the man’s words, prompts him to respond with, “You must be Chief McGrath.”

And the chief’s eyes scan over him before he grins tightly, “Ah, the boyfriend.”

Elliot almost chokes, “I’m sorry?”

“Chief,” Fin interrupts, “you really didn’t need to come.”

McGrath’s eyes linger over Elliot’s threatening frame, letting them all stay in a brief pause before he focuses on his Sergeant. “When I hear my Captain’s gunned down, of course I come. What was she even doing on the field?”

“She wasn’t,” Elliot sharply retorts.

Olivia, please let me kill this man. Please? I’m trying my best to be calm right now but can I punch him just once? 

“What, she decided to go off on her own and work another little undercover stint with you again?”

“Man,” Elliot chuckles, “you really are a piece of work.”

“Excuse me, Detective?”

Elliot snaps, “You know what—”

But before he can really give the guy a piece of his mind (or fist), he hears a tiny voice, panicked and shaky, come from behind Fin, right towards him.

“Is that my mom’s?”

And he sees the little boy—his blue eyes wide and watery, focused solely on Elliot’s shirt, still spattered in red, as he clutches onto Kathleen’s hand tightly, her other holding onto a bag of clothes. 

Shit

Elliot doesn’t have time to process anything (he never does, he hasn’t had a moment of peace in the last 40 fucking years) as the tornado of chaos is building again. As if Olivia being shot wasn’t enough, the walls of his lives were all beginning to crumble. 

If he could just catch his breath. If she could be here to help him breathe.

He pushes through the swirling storm, immediately stepping out of his spiraling head and shifting into the parental role for the young boy. Olivia needs him to be there for her son, Elliot was the adult here. 

“Noah, buddy, it’s okay—”

“Is my mom dead?” the boy mumbles, tears threatening to fall over the edge, face so beyond hurt, he looks more frightened than even when he was in the locked car, fearful he was going to be taken. 

No,” Elliot tells him in a soft tone, something light, something Olivia would use (but it is stern to emphasize that she is very much not dead, she cannot die), “no, she—she’s just hurt right now.”

But the boy is too scared, face scrunched up in that fear, that unknown, unable to remain calm because— well, he’s eight-years-old and how could anyone not panic at the sight of someone’s blood all over. 

“Where’s my mom?” he cries again, letting the tears tumble down. 

Kathleen squeezes Noah’s hand as a meager attempt to help soothe him, “Dad, I’m sorry I didn’t—”

“Katie, it’s fine,” he cuts her off, “you couldn’t’ve known.” 

And he’s right. He never said what happened over the phone, just that something happened, Olivia was in surgery, and he really could use a change of clothes if she could. Never told her to bring Noah or Eli (who he notices is on the phone near where they first entered), although it is the young boy’s mother. 

There really isn’t a handbook on how to handle this.

Elliot raises a hand to her to emphasize his words, that everything is fine, before he refocuses his attention to the young child, taking a step towards him, “Noah, it’s okay, come here—” 

Shouting an abrupt, “No!” he rushes behind Kathleen’s frame, curling into her, desperate to stay away from the man that has been caring for him for the past month. The man who he begged his mother to bring over, the one who he was sandwiched between those few nights when he slept in the middle of Olivia’s bed and the adult’s hands met over the boy’s frame, holding each other, holding him.

The boy who cried on the porch steps. The boy who said that he had no dad, but that he liked being around Elliot. The one who hugged him tightly, like his mother did, helping him feel important to somebody.

It startles him to see the boy he has grown to love so dearly, as if he was one of his own, cowering in fear when he tried to approach. 

His heart will simply shatter if he loses both Bensons tonight. 

Katie‘s eyes scan her father’s, noticing his breath quickening and (while keeping a tight grip on Noah's hand) points out in a hushed whisper, “Dad, your clothes.”

And then he realizes it.

He’d been so absent-minded, so focused on helping, he didn’t register how traumatic the image of seeing his mother’s blood all over probably was for him. 

…and he tried to hug him while coated in the crimson.

Noah stays out of sight of Elliot, but his shaky breath is still heard clearly, so Katie turns her body towards him, keeping her father out of view, “Noah, why don’t you come with me, okay? Let my dad change and we can take a second to breathe and get some water?”

He nods at the blonde and does not dare look at Elliot again, just keeps shuffling away with the older woman, and goddammit Elliot wishes the bullet hit him instead. 

Olivia would’ve handled all of this so much better. 

This night was hell. He should’ve known things were going too well for the tragic, hapless man he was. 

Fin is eyeing him up again (why does everyone keep analyzing his every waking breath?), this look of concern dripping from his gaze, “You alright, man?”

And once again, the privacy of a personal moment is desecrated by an annoying little twat of a man who has come here with absolutely no purpose other than to raise Elliot’s blood pressure, and really make him question his choice to take the moral high ground for her. 

“Fin, I think it’s obvious to say SVU isn’t taking this case. Too close to home and it could get political, especially since it’s out of our wheelhouse. Detective, uh—” he cocks a brow, “Stabler, was it? This is probably more appropriate for your team to take, although maybe folks down at homicide may be best.”

His jaw, fist, everything clenches, as he spits out, “She isn’t dead,” inching closer to McGrath, hovering, chest bowed out, seconds away from clocking him. 

And the man has the fucking audacity to narrow his eyes and poke, “Is there a problem?” 

“You prick—”

But before any more blood is spilled tonight (although it’s safe to say no one would mind the Chief’s gushing out), Fin steps in, snapping, “Get out.”

It catches even Elliot off-guard. The typically level-headed man, who somehow found contentment even in the toughest situations, is suddenly breaking in this hospital waiting room where more officers crowd around inside, overwhelmed with frustration at his commanding officer. 

McGrath shifts his glare onto his own Sergeant, “You wanna watch how you’re talking to me?”

But Fin shakes his head, “With all due respect, Chief, I have had to endure a lot of your bullshit over the last year with you, and I’m done. You disrespect our squad daily, even our victims, and most of all, my Captain.” 

Taking a second to compose himself, he carries on, “Olivia has been shot and you storm in here to take charge of the politics, without even giving a damn if she is okay,” and he doesn’t dare move, eyes like daggers, pointed at his Chief, waiting for a reaction he does not quite get. “So, I’ll say it one more time. Get out.”

McGrath nods once, lips pursed, eyes cold, reminding him of the glare Frank had when he held that gun towards the closet door. 

The man grunts, readying up as if he could even stand a chance in a physical altercation with Fin or Elliot, let alone both. Honestly, Fin deserves the first punch for having to deal with this asshat for more than 7 minutes. And he must realize that there is no point in fighting (or maybe he just is too prissy to handle the heat) because he grumbles, “Okay, commanding officer, SVU is your ship for now. Have fun with that, DD5s are still due on time.”

He takes a step back from the men with their fists ready to go, heading towards the door to finally rid the garbage from the room. But he turns right before the scent of his shitty attitude is fully gone to say, “And if, or when, she passes, we’ll have a talk about your career here and if maybe this is the right team for you.”

And then he’s out the door. 

 


 

She finally got Jackson to sleep. 

After an hour of trying everything she possibly could, wanting to prove to Denise that she was not incapable, that she was his mother too, and despite their petty arguing, Ayanna was here and present.

She sat in a fancy rocking chair, letting her little son scream and cry and dampened her sleep shirt because she is his mom and she would crawl through glass to soothe her baby boy. 

The case was wrapping up. Deals were made, arrests were issued out. 

She (and her team) successfully have Donnelly, Stanwood, and Bolton behind bars, awaiting prison time that was racking up the years. 

Murder, conspiracy to commit murder, theft, grand and petty larceny, attempted kidnapping charges…

The list was long and luscious, and for as much as it disgusted Ayanna to know that these were officers on the job, it’s a win to know that at least some changes were being made. That these three wastes of space were off the streets.

It wasn’t a clean sweep. 

While charges were filed against the entire Brotherhood, a lot of work would be needed to take them down. Trials would be exhaustive, the amount of preparation it was going to take to convict fellow officers is something that she doesn’t want to even begin to think about. 

Santos was charged for his little diamond thieving stint, but hints of legal offers for information made that arrest foggy. That, if he was willing to talk, maybe—just maybe—he would be able to not be in jail while his daughter was still young and being treated. 

The DA’s office wanted snitches. They needed the tatted gang to turn on each other and break the oath that was inked onto their bodies. This was the time for them to fight for themselves, to be selfish, and to say to hell with their fellow officers.

Carling and Yoshida bit. 

Both had kids, both weren’t as scummy as the other Brothers, not having any blood dripping from their hands, and both were much more involved in the smaller (still shitty) crimes, making deals a feasible conversation without keeping her up at night.

Only one Brother was a problem. Parnell.

After the hit that drove Captain Benson to the bar, Parnell evaporated from the Brotherhood. Elliot tried to investigate into the details of what happened during his time under, but Frank brushed it off, letting him know that Parnell’s exit was amicable and he should worry about his own goddamn business.

Jet had nothing on him. 

And when he was arrested, it was clear to everyone that their whole team had nothing on him. 

He walked. 

(Well, he would walk until Ayanna could figure out how to lock him up for life.) 

It’s nearly 11 o’clock now, and work really needs to get out of her brain or she won’t be able to sleep, but her phone lightens up in the dimly lit kitchen where she currently resides, mind racing and running, the job feeling never-ending.

10-13 OFF-DUTY OFFICER DOWN, SHOTS FIRED. LOCATION NOT YET CONFIRMED, VICTIM IN CRITICAL CONDITION 

She clicks into the notification out of habit, something in the back of her head always needing to know what was going on around her, almost obsessively driving herself into the badge that she wanted to prove was not just for show. 

THE OFFICER INVOLVED HAS BEEN CONFIRMED AS NYPD SVU CAPTAIN OLIVIA BENSON. BADGE 4015. 

And suddenly sleep is pushed aside, home is abandoned, as the work begins again and she’s off. 

 


 

He’ll likely draw his own blood if he keeps scrubbing this hard. 

Standing in a family restroom, he is shirtless—having thrown off his suit coat and ripped off his dress shirt as it became harder to breathe and his hands shook with each button he had to undo, his fingers having to touch her blood again.

He couldn’t do it.

Couldn’t be patient and go one by one, and honestly, what for? He would never wear this shirt again. Never wear this suit again.

God, he couldn’t even look at it right now on the fucking floor.

He yanks off his undershirt, still shaking, and he crumples the discarded items into the bag his fresh clothes were delivered in and shoves it so deep into the garbage can to never see the ruined fabric again. 

Taking paper towels—the scratchy kind, the ones that don’t even absorb anything—he rubs them against his chest, trying to cleanse himself from the massacre that feels melded into his skin. 

It’s not enough.

The prickling anxiety that he has never been too fond of recognizing has returned. 

Damn PTSD. 

The panic attack is rising in a looming wave as he is finally alone with himself. No child to save face for, no air of professionality needed to work on the case. No, here he was, in the bathroom, throat tight, hands clammy, heart pumping, mind racing, breath quickening as he scrubs and scrubs and scrubs—

It won’t get off of him. 

The blood may wash off, but no amount of scrubbing would ever make it go away. 

 


 

“…Elliot?” 

Seated in the waiting room, Elliot’s head rests against the cold brick wall, eyes heavy, avoiding conversations from those who are coming in and out, awaiting the news on Captain Benson—his Olivia. Thankfully, he’s in that fresh set of clothes, soft fabric henley, his most worn-in pair of jeans, free of blood, free from the night he desperately wished would end.

It’s nearly midnight, he’s exhausted from the rollercoaster of tonight, and yet, he’s wide awake, staring back at the little boy a few feet away who nervously called his name. 

“Hey there,” he smiles, and he realizes that it’s probably the first time he’s done that tonight since everything went down. Adjusting himself, he straightens his hunched-over back so he’s sitting up in the cheap chair, careful to not startle the boy anymore. “How are you doing?”

“I’m sorry,” he mumbles, eyes widened. Elliot is reminded of the porch steps, where Noah’s face looked equally as hurt, where he heard the same muffled apology he unnecessarily gave the man. 

Elliot shakes his head, gaze locked on the boy, “You have nothing to be sorry for.”

Noah teeters where he stands, wanting to come closer, but nervous of how the closest person he has to a father will respond. “I’m just scared,” he confesses in a hushed whisper. 

When this is all over, Elliot was going to make sure this boy would get all his brightness back again. That there would be no more tears, no more apologies. That the nearly-nine year old would have the carefree, loving life he was supposed to. Not have to be here, sobbing in a hospital, unsure if he would lose a second mother to the sky.

He cautiously reaches a hand out, knowing the last time spooked him (and he knows the blood has disappeared, but he’s not taking any chances), offering his comfort in case he wants it, “Come here.”

It doesn’t even take a full second before Noah runs into his arms, practically leaping into his chest, clinging to his neck and he squeezes tightly, breath beginning to waver. 

All Elliot does is hold him. 

Doesn’t try to console him, or tell him things are all going to be okay, he just rests his open-palmed hands on the boy’s back, and he thinks he probably needed this just as much as Noah did. His own children kept their distance, unsure themselves on what to do, on how their father would react to another monumental loss. 

But this? A Benson hug? 

This made things feel a little less fatalistic.

“I don’t want her to die,” he mumbles.

Fuck.

Swallowing down the newly formed lump in his throat, he breathes through the salty tears that threaten to fall, “Don’t even think about that, everything is going to be just fine.”

 


 

She offered to work tonight.

She remembers saying she wouldn’t mind when Liv hinted that she had plans, but was willing to cancel if they needed her there.

Amanda reassured her, No, go have fun. She should enjoy her night with whoever she might be enjoying her night with.

So she missed spaghetti night with Sonny and the girls. There would be plenty more nights filled with the Italian classics, it’s kind of the one constant in her life right now. And as sweet as it is, there’s something serene to her about the job. About being Detective Rollins and not mommy, mama, or ‘manda

She misses the badassery of casework sometimes. Hell, she clung onto that little undercover stint despite the dangers, and she knows exactly why Olivia did the same. Not that they had anything to complain about, but the recognition from mom to mom, cop to cop, that some days this was better than spaghetti night. 

That domestication and simplicity were wonderful to have, but that younger self with all that passion and grit is still there, aching for the work. 

So, she stays, taking the night here to connect the dots Fin and Olivia had updated her on. Velasco had to stay in the dark on this one, and with him on a break, she can finally dive in. But knee-deep into researching McGrath's involvement with Miles Vorhees and his father, she is stuck. 

The paper trail ends. 

She repeats the story to herself, knowing Liv said Mr. Vorhees talked to the police, but there’s nothing there. 

She tries again. And again. Looking, searching, scouring, but she is at a dead end.

And when she’s about to dial Fin’s number, let him know where they are at, she gets the call. 

 


 

It’s hours after the bang when he hears, “Family of Captain Benson?” and he has to carefully maneuver Noah (who’s laid across two chairs, head resting on Elliot’s lap) so he can head over to the woman hovering in the doorframe. 

She’s tall with long blonde hair, and it’s probably the delirium of the night and lack of sleep, mixed with the cascading memories of the brunette across from his desk, but he almost thinks it’s Alex Cabot.

“That’s us,” he confirms. He says ‘us,’ but the waiting room has quieted down greatly, with only family left—his family, Katie, Eli, and Noah all nodded off to sleep in the waiting room chairs. 

“Hello, sir,” she grins, but it’s tight, and the tension makes his heart beat just a bit quicker than before. “I’m very sorry we have to meet under these circumstances. I’m Doctor Hoffman,” and she reaches out her hand.

“Hi. Detective Stabler,” he shakes it back, “how is she?”

“She’s stable.”

Oh, thank god. 

His shoulders relax just a bit at the relief of hearing that she had miraculously survived, but he’s heard this tale before. When Kathy woke up and he had those moments with her, not aware of how precious they really would be. He keeps quiet, patiently awaiting the rest of the news, not wanting to be railroaded by a ‘but.’

And it comes through with a heavy sigh, and a slight shift in demeanor, “I won’t lie to you, it was touch and go for a while, hence the lack of updates. The bullet was lodged in her lower back, fortunately missing her spine, but there’s no way to gauge the full extent of her injuries just yet.”

Elliot nods slowly, ingesting the words one by one, making sure to listen and hear her, making sure he doesn’t miss a single thing. “…until she wakes up?” 

But there isn’t an immediate affirmation from the woman, so he probes again, “She is going to wake up, right?”

There’s a brief, almost minute pause.

“That is the hope.”

Oh, that is not what he wants to hear right now.

She continues on, “There is no easy way to say this, but due to the severity and the amount of blood loss, we had to place her on a ventilator.”

It stabs him in the chest. 

He feels numb, heart pumping so fast it could very well explode, but body still, frozen, as the word strikes him again and again and again—

“A ventilator?

“To help her breathe,” Doctor Hoffman clarifies. “I know this is difficult to hear, but this is truly what is best.”

“Can I see her?”

“Yes, but—”

“Oh, what now?” he bites back, but immediately kicks himself in the head for it, “Sorry, sorry, I don’t mean to be short with you.”

“No need to apologize, this is certainly not an easy situation for anyone,” she grins politely, “I just want to warn you that it might be jarring.”

"Elliot?” Noah chimes in from behind, rubbing his eyes, trying to slowly get them adjusted to the lights. “Is mom okay? Can I see her?” he mumbles. 

“Hey Noah, your mom is okay, but just give me a second to finish talking to her doctor, okay?” And the boy nods, sitting up in the chair, exhaling out little yawns. 

The doctor tosses a kind smile at Noah, letting it fade as she refocuses on Elliot, “Is that your son?“

Her son,” he clarifies. 

“How old?”

“Almost 9.”

She takes a second, nodding while glancing back at the child, lowering her voice slightly, “It may not be my place to say this so forgive me if this is overstepping, but…” 

And when she pauses for a moment, deep in thought, Elliot mirrors her gaze, looking back at Noah to see him bring his knees up to his chest, before Doctor Hoffman begins again, “…coming from a mother’s perspective and not a professional one, I think it might be a little scary for him to see her right now. But, of course, that decision is yours to make.”

Elliot’s eyes don’t leave Noah, his face echoing his exhaustion, and making him look even younger than the 8 year old he is. 

She’s on a ventilator. Which means there is a tube shoved down her throat and a plethora of wires surrounding her. Her eyes will be shut, but mouth will be pried open to make space for the tube, and her body will be still, with the rhythm of beeping to haunt their ears as they pray she will wake up.

Noah was already scared. He really didn’t need to see that.

“Okay, yeah, um,” he inhales a deep belly breath, exhaling an audible release, “lemme go tell him and then I can go.”

Olivia, please forgive me if this is a mistake.

And the heartbreak he elicits from telling Noah that he has to stay behind will be cemented in his mind, right next to the last look his mother gave him when the bullet struck her back.

He’s upset, a mixture of sadness, hurt, anger, “Wait, why can’t I see my mom?”

“Noah,” Elliot sighs his name, absolutely hating himself for what he was doing. For keeping this little boy away from his mom, for trying to protect his innocence. “Your mom is still hurting, and needs a lot of rest right now.”

“But why do you get to go, and I can’t?” he cries back, “She’s my mom, that’s not fair!”

Doctor Hoffman slides back through the doorway for a moment (he didn’t even realize she’d exited), “Detective? If you want to follow me—”

And Noah is out of the chair, sliding past Elliot who knelt in front of him, marching right up to the doctor, “Let me go! I want to see her!”

“Noah…” Elliot stands, knees aching from the hard concrete floor, trying to grab Noah carefully before he escapes out of the room. 

Noah is wriggling out of his grasp, kicking, screaming, yelling, “I want my mom!”

And Elliot is strong, but only physically, and the cries from the boy are far too much for him to handle right now. He’s about to break down, to sob on the fucking floor with the child, but he feels a hand on his shoulder, and looks up to see Eli close by.

“Dad, go. I got him,” and Eli steps in to take over, helping to grab Noah, carefully angling him as he kneels in front of the younger child, “Noah, hey, it’s okay.”

But Noah is still resistant, especially as he sees Elliot walk away with the doctor, not aware at how much it was killing the man to leave him behind, “I need to see her, let me go!” 

He tries to push Eli back, but Eli won’t let him and he breaks down in a full sob again, desperately empty without his mother, wanting more than anything to have the other half of team Benson here.

Noticing the younger boy’s shaky breath, Eli shifts into gear, calmly telling him, “Hey, hey, breathe, buddy,” and he holds both of Noah’s biceps, looking at him as the tears keep coming, “Can you do that for me?”

Noah nods and Eli begins to exaggerate his breath, counting as he deeply breathes in and out, hoping he’s somehow being helpful. 

He’d been the youngest for so long, it was kind of nice to have a little—well, not ‘sibling,’ Noah was not a sibling, Olivia was not his new mom. But he liked Noah, thought it was neat that he admired Eli so much, especially when Eli never had that before. He admired Dickie, his father, the older men in his family, who, in turn, treated him like a little brother and the youngest son. And now, that had flipped a bit as they welcomed Noah Benson into their home, who squeezed in between Eli and Maureen’s twins, becoming the end of the generation instead of Elliot Stabler Jr. 

Noah has calmed down immensely, and Eli just knows Kathleen is watching him, ready to text all the others about how sweet Eli is being, but he empathizes with the boy a lot more than anyone probably realizes.

And that little voice is minuscule as Noah manages to sniffle out, “…it’s just me and her,” as he wipes his cheeks with his sleeve, “she’s all I have.”

Eli shakes his head, “I know it feels that way, but that’s not true. You have all of us now.”

Noah tries to smile, but his worrying tugs those upturned corners back down real quick, “What if something happens? What if I can’t say goodbye?”

And he doesn’t know quite what to say. Not because it was sad or difficult to hear, but because—

“I didn’t get to.”

It hangs in between them for a moment, this small shared connection tethering these two children (yes, although he would hate to admit it, Eli is still a child) and Noah stares back to listen.

Eli has to pretend that the room is empty, forgoing his sister’s presence so he can carry on, confessing something that he’s held in through the year of grief, but wanting to release to help the poor boy. 

“When my mom was hurt, I wasn’t even in the same country,” he grins unhappily, “I remember hearing what happened and not getting to see her or say goodbye, and being so upset. But you know what I realized?”

“What?”

“My siblings had to see her when she was really hurt and that became their last memory of mom,” he whispers. “I heard them talking about it one day, all the tubes and wires, and I couldn’t even picture it because the last time I got to see her, she was hugging me really tight, telling me she loved me, and was smiling like she always did.”

The memory warms Eli’s heart, the vision of his mother, so full of life, knowing that he got to at least talk one last time on the phone before she passed, with her bright smile in his mind and not whatever the true reality on the other end was.

“Actually, you know, it was a lot like when Olivia dropped you off,” he nudges Noah’s arm, causing the boy to smile just a bit. “And at first I was really hurt, just like you are. But I’m really glad I didn’t have to see her in pain. I don’t know if I would’ve been able to forget that,” he sighs, “I don’t think my siblings have.”

Noah understands, can hear Eli and starts to understand now why he was forced to stay back, replaying his mom’s goodbye smile in his head, over and over. Glancing down for a second, he mumbles, “I don’t want her to…to…”

“She won’t,” Eli reassures.

“How do you know?”

“I just do,” and he grins. Noah smiles softly back and Eli stands, and he pats the boy gently on the shoulder, “Now, c’mon, I bet we can convince Katie to give us some money for candy.” 

 


 

Doctor Hoffman guides him right to her room and lets him know that she will be right outside if he needs anything. She leaves him there with his hand on the handle, his eyes avoiding the frame of glass that could ready him for the sight inside, knowing that he has to simply take the plunge, knowing that he has been desperate to get his hands on her again, even if it was not how he would’ve liked it.

It took everything in him to twist that handle open, breath held in his lungs, and walk right into the room filled only with the sound of mechanical breathing and beeping. 

Reciting a prayer, he repeats it to himself over and over in his head, needing to just do it—to just look at her.

And he does. 

She looks so small in the bed. Like a person caught in a spider’s web of wires and tubes; he could barely see her face. 

He stands by the door, cemented to the ground, trying to take it all in. There’s a chair to his right, her left, and he knows that he belongs there, but he has to remind his body to move

She needs him.

He wants her. 

Taking small steps, he pays attention to the precision of her breathing, the unnatural cadence of the inhales and exhales as the machine guides her every breath. It feels unreal to see her eyes closed, like she was sleeping, but to not see her brows furrow like they sometimes did, or to not see her lips partially parted, small exhalations of her resting self escaping through. 

And as he nears the welcoming seat by her bed, he sees the bags of fluid hanging ahead. One, a red that he saw earlier tonight and it somehow makes him smile. Laughing quietly to himself, he mumbles, “I said I’d give ya a kidney, but s’pose this works too.”

It’s not funny, in a way that would make anyone truly laugh, but a simple promise in an elevator 15 years ago somehow (unfortunately) was tested today, even if it wasn’t as big as an organ. 

He finally takes a seat, pulling it as close as he could to the bed, hand immediately reaching out to rest on her head, his thumb brushing across her forehead. 

“Hey kid,” he whispers, eyes threatening to water again as he shoves on a tiny smile, “You gotta get better, you hear me? We never finished our talk, and you owe me.”

She doesn’t say anything—of course she doesn’t, but it all sinks in with how real this has become. 

God, he doesn’t want to be doing this all over again.

Losing Kathy was hard enough, but if he loses her? 

He can’t even entertain the thought of being alone. Of inadvertently causing her death. Of being the reason her son would lose his mother. Of not being able to live the life he had planned for them, one full of the love he ached to give her and begged for in return. 

Clearing up his closing throat, he takes a sharp intake of air, “Besides, you hate when I watch you sleep, and you’re kind of leaving me no choice here.”

He keeps his hand on her, fingers in her hair, his thumb trying its hardest to soothe her. Hoping maybe she could feel him back by her side and would be able to heal more easily. 

The lack of reactions makes his chest ache, despite having a hold of her again, it’s just not enough. 

He leans forward, having to lift himself momentarily off the seat, to place a soft kiss on her forehead, and he stays close by, seeing those freckles again, and he feels a lone tear fall.

“Me and you, Benson. Till the end of the line.”

 


 

He doesn’t know how long he’s been in here before he hears a soft knock on the door and lets the unknown visitor know to come inside. 

A familiar blonde opens the door, not Hoffman or his daughter, but instead, Amanda Rollins, who tosses him a soft smile that falters when she catches her Captain lying in the bed. 

It hits her like a ton of bricks. 

For all that she’s seen her through, she’s never seen her like this—this immobilized. She somehow manages to speak through the shock, asking softly, as if her voice might disturb Olivia, “Hey, how is she?”

“She’s hanging in there,” he answers, looking back at Olivia, hands no longer on her forehead, but instead clutching her hand gently. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah, yeah, just…” she shakes the sight of her Captain out of her focus for a second, “I have to ask you a few questions about tonight.”

“You working it?”

It’s a little too pointed to be disguised as a genuine question.

“Helping your Sergeant,” she clarifies. 

He doesn’t look at her, only focused on the hand in his, “There’s no way I’m letting them kick me off.”

“Cause working your wife’s case worked out so well last time,” Amanda mutters and realizes her mistake the minute his eyes glare back at her, “I’m sorry, that was—”

“Don’t worry about it,” he mumbles, brushing his thumb across Olivia’s palm, knowing exploding at her friend would do nothing good or help the situation at all. 

Amanda feels bad for him. Sure, was he her favorite person? No, not in the slightest. But he lost his wife last year, and—although she wasn’t sure why—Olivia had been much happier the past few weeks with him. 

And she might not know why, but that didn’t matter. None of it did, only finding out who did this to her was important. 

“Can you tell me about tonight?”

“Not much to tell you,” he sighs, “got to the restaurant at 7:30, left around 9:30, walked to the car, then a shot was fired.”

“What did you see?”

He shakes his head, “Nothing.”

“Nothing?” she probes, “Not while you were walking…?”

Elliot turns his head towards her, bottom lip sliding under his tongue, under his teeth. “We stopped walking for a moment,” he mutters. 

Amanda tilts her head, “Why?”

“Why do you think? We just went on a date,” he bites back. Again. He takes a deep breath, “Sorry, I’m—”

“Hot-headed, trust me, I remember.”

Elliot shifts his gaze back to her, eyes softening, focusing on the feeling of Olivia in his hand, clutching onto her to help him, to balance him, like always. “She wouldn’t want everyone to know and I’m really trying not to air our business, but now it’s part of an investigation—her investigation—and I don’t know what to do.”

“I think,” she starts, walking a little deeper into the room, leaning against the opposite wall, “Liv will understand why you told people. S’probably better to just tell the full story so we can find who did this.”

He resigns, knowing that she was right, that everyone around him was right and he keeps royaling fucking up all night, but he really was struggling to navigate everything all at once. 

Trying to do this right, he takes a balancing inhale through his nostrils before exhaling slowly. Once he feels semi-balanced, he tells her, “We were leaving the restaurant, just talking on the way to the car. Then she stopped, came in front of me, and kissed me.” 

He takes a second, “We were…kissing for a while, then she…” A shake of his head fills the space where the words would go, “Right in the back.”

“One bullet?”

“Yeah,” he confirms, “I heard only one shot, then she fell. But once we were on the ground, another was fired. Nothing around us was hit, though, not that I saw.”

“Think they were in a car?”

“Had to be. Must’ve missed it, but nobody was around really. Just a few strangers, and I didn’t see anyone running.”

Amanda nods, “Olivia mentioned working with you on the Brotherhood case, any of them have motive to do this?”

“The ones that would, are in jail. The rest? I dunno, maybe,” he shrugs.

“Okay. I’ll report this all to Sergeant Bell,” she grins, “thank you for your cooperation.” 

And she turns to exit, but is cut off by his low voice, “Amanda?”

“Yeah?” 

He’s still focused on Olivia, when he whispers, “I’m sorry,” before glancing at her, “I know how close you two are and I really don’t want us to not get along.”

“S’okay,” she smiles, “I’d be the same way if this happened to my partner.” 

And she reaches for the handle to open the door, ready to find the bastard who did this, who caused this tenson, caused the man who just glued himself back together to shatter all over again, and she hums, “Take care, Elliot,” before exiting. 

 


 

She hasn’t run into Sergeant Bell yet, so Amanda takes a quick moment to make a call on her way back down to the waiting room, “Hey, Sonny, she’s…she’s alive. I’ll know more later, but they got her stabilized.” 

But once she nears the threshold, she sees her, hand on her hip, leaning against the wall, eyes on the Stabler children and Noah.

“I gotta go, give the girls a kiss for me tonight.” 

Walking toward her, she grabs her attention with her voice, “Sergeant Bell? I’m Detective Rollins.”

“Nice to finally meet you, Rollins. Although I wish it wasn’t this way,” she shakes her hand, “How is she?”

“Alive.” 

“Good,” Ayanna smiles meekly, “Stabler’s with her?”

“Yeah, he’s…” Amanda isn’t sure what to say, what was appropriate to even tell her. She decides against the details and just mumbles, “…there.” 

“Good, let’s make sure he stays here,” Ayanna insists, knowing that as long as Elliot was by her side, he wasn’t doing anything stupid.

She continues, diving right into work mode once more, at roughly 4AM, alongside the blonde. “I’ll need you to update me on recent SVU cases to see if there’s any overlap. In the meantime, let’s question who we can and see where that leads us.”

Amanda nods, prompting Ayanna to falter slightly from the authoritative position to acknowledge the other half of this case. “I know this is difficult for everyone, but we have to do this right and be careful with this one,” and she gestures to the door, “You ready?” 

 


 

It’s currently 6AM and Fin hasn't slept.

Currently acting as the commanding officer of SVU, he is far too out of it to even remotely appreciate this position of power he was placed in. 

This title was not meant for him. This was hers—always was. She handled this job with such ease, with such care and grace, he still didn’t know how she handled all of it even after watching her do it all for these last 20 years. 

She was the peace within all the chaos.

Amanda updated him last night on where they were with McGrath’s case, that there was no record of Mr. Vorhees having talked to any officer, that their paper trail ended there and the next step would be to bring him in for an interview. 

It was risky. Far too dangerous to meet in the precinct, and—if Megan was really right about her father’s threats—was probably just as dangerous to meet at his place either. 

Deciding on a vacant parking lot in the middle of Queens, Fin really wished they had more than three people at SVU. And with Amanda gone, it was just him and the new kid. 

Who wasn't allowed to know anything about this side of the case.

The job truly never gets any easier. 

The haunting vision of Olivia’s blood all over Elliot hits him again, and he reminds himself to call Phoebe the minute he can, just needing to hear her voice, but Mr. (Michael) Vorhees pulls up, and the silence ends.

“You know, I wasn’t going to come,” the man confesses, window rolled down, car parked off, “The last time I did this, you guys didn’t do anything. Now my kid is being framed for a crime he didn’t commit. Why should I even trust you?”

Fin holds his eye contact, understanding this man’s hesitation, but wanting to know that there was no chance in hell he would ever protect McGrath (or any officer, really) over doing what is right, “…you remember Captain Benson?”

“Of course,” Michael nods, “she was very nice despite the circumstances.”

“She got shot last night,” he reveals. 

Michael’s mouth parts, eyebrows raising, then dropping down as he whispers out, “I’m so sorry to hear that.”

“Craziest part is, Megan called her earlier that night. Told us about this, about you,” Fin continues, “and the next thing you know, I’m on my way to the hospital, and sure enough, my Chief, Tommy McGrath, shows up too.”

The man furrows his brows, “You think…?”

“I don’t think anything right now,” Fin clarifies, “but it’s my job to find out the truth because that’s the right thing to do, and that’s exactly what my Captain wanted. She was ready to talk to you, ready to hear you out, because we don’t like innocent people going to jail.”’

Michael nods slowly, starting to break down his intense (and necessary) walls of defense, “Is she okay?”

“She’s alive, but still critical.”

And it must be something about the news of the fallen Captain, the woman who had kindly told the man about her own son, and about how she was going to work this case to the full extent. There was something that made the man want to trust her, and therefore her Sergeant, because he takes a deep breath before he begins to recollect what had happened.

“It was last year. We were at this little function for a mutual friend and he was drinking—a lot. Heard him arguing with his wife, his daughter, and it just kept getting worse. Everyone just ignored him, kept on minding their own business, but I couldn’t help myself. 

“I went inside the house for a second and when I came back, he was gone,” Michael shakes his head, “I had a bad feeling about it, so I went looking for him. Found him getting into his car, and before I even could stop him, he slammed the car door and drove off. 

“I ran inside to grab my own keys, hoping that if I followed him, maybe I could help make sure he got home safe. But he was definitely drunk and missed the turn for his neighborhood. Everything was happening so quickly, that I forgot my phone in the rush and couldn’t even call 911. I was right on his tail until I got caught off and then I lost him.”

He takes a second. A shaky breath is exhaled and Fin can see a glimmer of saltiness form in his eyes, “The next day, the news reported that a mother and her child were hit by a car, on a street right near where he was, and the suspect fled. I knew it was him. Didn’t even take me a second thought, I just raced to the police station and told the man there everything. But, he didn’t write anything down, didn’t even really care, just told me he would take care of it and thanked me for coming in.

“I go to work, still a little shocked from everything, and when I come home, Tommy is there with a gun. He tells me I did something stupid—that no cop would turn on a fellow officer and I should’ve kept my mouth shut.” Michael chuckles softly, “Funniest part is I didn’t even have proof it was him until then.

“I thought he would shoot me—he’s got these anger issues and I didn’t know how else I was going to make it out of that alive. But, he just threatens me, tells me I’ll pay for what I’ve done, and the next thing you know he’s gone.”

And at the conclusion of his tale, Fin almost wants to say it’s fake. A part of him is saying that there’s no way the Chief could’ve gotten away with it, with something so horrible, but he remembers the case. He remembers hearing about the little girl and her mother. He remembers the crime scene photos and he—with the utmost certainty—remembers the case was considered closed, with no arrests made.

Michael’s story could very well be the truth. And how sick would it be. 

“The thing is,” Fin drawls, trying to make everything make sense in his head, but needing to stay professional, stay in control, “we don’t have anything about this in our system.”

“I’m not lying—”

“I didn’t say you were,” he interrupts, holding a hand up to calm the anxious man. “Do you remember the name of the officer you spoke with?”

“No,” Michael fidgets, eyes locked on Fin, “but I remember his face.”

 


 

Elliot was told very clearly to not leave. 

Ayanna had called him after she left interviewing Yoshida, wanting to verify his ass was still at the hospital and not off doing anything he shouldn’t be. Honestly, he was just grateful someone was treating him like normal, not walking on pins and needles around him. 

He reluctantly agreed, and when the nurses asked him to step out for a moment, he went back downstairs to the kids to make arrangements. 

“I’ll call his school, Dad,” Kathleen offers, “and if you give me the key to her apartment, I’ll take Noah over to grab his stuff.”

“Yeah, yeah, that’ll be good.” 

She smiles that unhappy smile everyone has been doing tonight, “I’ll also sneak into her room to get some comfy clothes for when she wakes up, but also…for your place?”

He sees what she’s doing, prodding ever so slightly, and he lets the faintest chuckle escape his lips, “It’s a nice gesture, but we’re not quite there yet. I’ll let you know if I hear anything. And please—make sure those two get some sleep?”

Kathleen nods, hugging her father quickly, “Of course. And you too. If you want any of us to step in, just call.”

Elliot hugs Eli tightly, and Noah too, tells them to take care of each other and then they’re off, and he’s still here.

After how long do you leave the hospital your loved one is trapped in, clinging onto their life? 

Hours? Days?

Could he shack up here? Make this his temporary home? (Even though it already was—wherever she was, wherever she resided, he would be here, stay with her, and try to make it their home.)

But it’s too quiet. 

There’s no one here anymore and he can’t go back in her room just yet, the nurses haven’t cleared it for him, so he paces around the hallway, feeling a rush of adrenaline, feeling antsy, needing to do something.

He needs to work (he shouldn’t). 

He needs to find whoever shot her (he should stay here). 

But the agitation inside needs him to move, needs to feel like he’s helping, so he pulls his phone out and rings up the only person who would understand.

 


 

“You know I can’t tell you anything.”

“Jet, please.”

“There’s nothing to tell you.”

“Jet—”

“No, I mean I have nothing.”

“Cameras didn’t catch the car?”

“Nearest working camera was a block away. For the prices those places charge, they really have no excuse for shitty security—”

“Jet.”

“Sorry,” she mumbles, “I’m working on the Brotherhood messages, seeing if there was any communication recently, but there isn’t much to see. If anything, this was either not them, or we missed something big time.”

“Bell and Rollins got any leads?”

“Besides the Brotherhood? No,” she sighs, “look, just don’t do anything stupid. We’ll find the guy.”

The call ends and he stands there, still pacing in the hallway.

The nurses have yet to leave. 

Besides the Brotherhood? No.

Flashes of her second night of the bar race across his mind, glimpses of the not-so friendly faces, then the low voice of Bolton whispering the bitch got Kubiak, the mysterious text Wrath wants movement now, and the address right to Noah’s school.

It was all right there. 

It had to be someone in the Brotherhood. And if it was someone in the Brotherhood, there was one person who would know exactly who did it.

Olivia wouldn’t even know he was gone.

 


 

“What do you want?”

It’s nearly 8AM when they arrive at the second home in the middle of Queens, the newly paired duo having crossed off a clean alibi from Yoshida, and move onto the next target on their list. 

“Officer Carling—”

“Not ‘Officer’ anymore. Remember?” she laughs coldly, “You took that from me.”

Ayanna tilts her head, narrowing her eyes as she stares down the ex-officer before her, “You did that to yourself.”

“Why are you here?”

“Have to ask you a few questions,” Amanda chimes in.

“Is this about the trial?”

“Maybe,” Ayanna answers, “Where were you last night?”

“Here. Hosting my son’s birthday party.” 

“Can anyone vouch for that?”

“My husband, and probably the 14 teenagers sleeping in my living room.”

“You didn’t leave at all?” the blonde inquires, “Step out for some air? That‘s a lot of chaos to deal with.”

“You think I’m going to trust a bunch of high schoolers to be alone in my home?” Carling scoffs, rolling her eyes, “What’s this about?”

The Sergeant steps in, trying to get a read on the ex-officer’s reactions, already finding it unlikely to be their perp, but needing confirmation, “Captain Benson. Heard you and the boys weren’t too big of a fan of her.”

“Olivia?” she furrows her brows, “I have nothing against her.”

“But the other brothers did?”

Carling shrugs, motioning with her hand for emphasis at her lack of knowledge on this subject, “Frank was suspicious of her after the hit, and Bolton and Stanwood had their own issues as well, but I think that was more about her IAB fling with Tucker than about her.” 

“And the others?”

“I mean, Yoshida and Santos worked with her before, they didn’t have much to say.”

“What about Parnell?” 

“I haven’t heard from him since the night of the hit.”

“Heard he left the Brotherhood,” Ayanna points out, “thought it would be a little harder for people to walk away from a gang.”

“Frank said he was done,” the woman clarifies, “I first thought they killed the guy, but I saw him a few days ago.”

“What’d you talk about?”

“Nothing. Asked him how he was and he didn’t say anything.”

Some movement is heard inside the house behind her, and voices begin to pick up in volume. Carling looks behind at the slightly open door and back again, “Is this little interrogation almost done? I got a football team of kids to feed.”

But Amanda steps in, a small scowl decorating her face, “You said you had nothing against Olivia, so why didn’t you say anything when they were plotting to kidnap her son?”

“You think any of those men would listen to a thing I would say? Hard enough being the only woman around them.” 

Ayanna understands, letting out a sharp exhale of agreement, but refocuses, “One last thing—does the name, ‘Wrath,’ ring any bells?”

She scrunches up her nose, shaking her head, “Heard the nickname before, but Frank kept a lot from us. We just knew where we had to be and when. Not always who or why.”

When a loud crash is heard inside, followed by a wave of ‘oooooh’s, the mother huffs, “If you’ll excuse me, I think we’re done here.”

And they’re down to one. 

 


 

Fin couldn’t show him every officers’ face in the system, but he asks him to recollect the precinct he went to, and reaches out to Jet for photos of every male officer there. Sure, he hasn’t really worked with the kid much, but it was too risky for anyone else. And besides, he let OC take Amanda, he could borrow the hacker for a bit.

“No, not him,” Michael confirms as Fin swipes his finger across the iPad screen again, showing another photo.

“No,” he sighs, “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay, take your time,” Fin reassures. 

He swipes once more and Michael’s face beams, “Him! That was the officer!”

“You’re sure?”

“Absolutely. I’ll never forget his eyes.”

Fin exhales a small breath of relief, shoulders slagging as he grins, “Okay, good, good. I’ll work on this with my team, but you should lay low, go stay somewhere safe. I’ll be in touch with you soon.”

And the dominoes begin to fall.

 


 

“You sure got balls showing up here.”

Elliot didn’t intend to come (he did).

Only meant to go on a drive to clear his head (a drive specifically here), take a break (to kill him), catch his breath (to kill him), but it stared at him again, like a sickening spirit. 

Her coat on the passenger seat. Just like it haunted him on his bedroom’s chair weeks ago. 

And he didn’t stop driving until he pulled right up to the front. 

Right to the jail. 

Right to his cell. 

(To kill him.)

Elliot stands close to the metal bars; there is no fear for the animal caged inside. His hand is clasped over his wrist, hung low in front of his hips, chin lifted, “Who’d you call?”

Frank cocks a brow, “Excuse me?”

“Nah,” Elliot shakes his head matching the rhythm with his hand he waves back and forth, smoothing out his voice into a deep, low tone, “none of that—answer the question.”

This is Elliot’s show now, he is the one in control, and the man narrows his eyes, standing in the middle of his cell, having yet to answer the question. “I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. S’not like they’re handing out fucking phones here.” 

Elliot’s knuckles whiten, and he lets out a silent prayer to Olivia, begging for her forgiveness for what he may be about to do. “I’ll ask one more time,” he seethes, “who did you call?”

“Jesus Christ, didn’t you hear me?”

And before Frank even finishes, he gives a slight nod to the officer a few feet away, keys in hand, who immediately strides over, opening the cell and allowing Elliot access right inside. 

“What the hell—”

And once more, Frank is cut off by him, as his fingers wrap tightly around the man’s throat, and he is thrust against the hard, steel wall. 

He squirms in Elliot’s grasp, choking for air, face reddening as he tries to fight back, to say something, to get his old number two’s hands off of him. But Elliot is too strong for him—the adrenaline and hatred bubbling beyond words, needing with every fiber of his being, to do this. 

To kill him. 

He could right now. He could keep his hand right here and tighten them until breathing was impossible and Frank would die slowly, painfully. 

You need to be at the hospital.

The words repeat from when he begged to barge into her interrogation over a year ago. When she reminded him then of where he should be, of what he should be doing. 

She wouldn’t want this. She would want him to stop, to take a second, and walk right out of this cell and be back by her. 

With the memory of her voice, his fingers loosen their grip, and he watches as Frank tumbles to the ground, gasping, choking, before he bends down low, growling at the weakened man, “If I find out you had anything to do with this, you’ll wish I killed you right here.”

And he stands up, leaving the nightmare to catch his breath, hearing the click of the cell locking behind him.

“I’ll see you, Frank.”

 


 

“What?”

“I know the case went nowhere. Hit and runs are hard to close, but Amanda, the guy’s story sounds legit.”

“Fin…”

“Look, if I’m wrong, then good, I’m glad. But if I’m right, this is a lot more than just a drunken accident.”

She shakes her head, holding out her phone on speaker, still trying to wrap her brain around the story Fin has brought to her and Ayanna, “…Vorhees ID'ed Parnell?”

“Instantly.”

And Amanda doesn’t know what to say, she simply glances over at Ayanna, who’s eyes narrow and brows furrow.

Things just got a lot more complicated.

“Well, he’s next on our list,” she resigns, “We’ll keep you updated.”

And they’re off. 

 


 

“Mr. Stabler—”

“Why is her room empty?”

“Mr. Stabler—”

“Where the fuck is she?”

He was only gone an hour. 

One hour. 

Sixty minutes. 

And when he arrived back from his little stint, he walked straight back to her room to find nothing. 

No wires, no tubes, no Olivia.

Nausea hit him immediately with the flashback of Kathy’s empty room, only this time, there was no Olivia at the end of the hall. 

“Surgery. There was some internal bleeding—”

“How long ago?” he snaps.

“About an hour,” the young man sighs, “they are doing everything they can.”

He shouldn’t have left, he should have stayed here, done as he was told, not run around, breaking the rules, trying to kill a man. 

Once again, the king of the dead has dragged the flower down for winter. A selfish retreat to abandon her for his own need for punishment, and God turned that around on her, making her bleed again, but lacking the crimson. 

An hour ago.

Minutes after he turned on the car.

He could’ve been here. 

He should have been here.

 


 

They could be walking right into the fire. 

With the potential news that Parnell and McGrath may have some secret connection through a murderous coverup, Ayanna isn’t sure if this was a risky move to pull up to his home, ready to ask him questions.

This man could be a lot more dangerous than she originally had thought. 

Luckily, Amanda picks up on her hesitation, nodding at her in a silent gesture of agreement as they walk up the porch to an unkempt home where Jet had tracked Parnell to be.

They both take a second to survey the area, wanting to guard themselves, before Ayanna takes a deep breath and knocks on the front door.

The anticipation is deafening.

There’s silence on the other side of the door and the lack of movement has the hairs on the back of her neck standing up. She wraps against the door again, “Officer Parnell! Police!”

It’s barely audible but there’s shuffling on the other side, and it gets closer and closer to the women, who both instinctively place their hands near their waists, wanting to be ready to fire if needed.

But suddenly the door is swung open and they are met with the green eyes Michael Vorhees could not forget, and he glances at them both, “Hey, g‘morning officers, how can I help you?”

He’s in sweatpants and a grey t-shirt, leaning on his left leg only, seemingly keeping weight off his right side, Amanda notices, and looks back up.

“You weren’t at work today,” Ayanna confirms, “Everything alright?”

“Hmm?” he tilts his head, “Oh, oh, yeah, I hurt myself at the gym. Pulled my hamstring. Hurts like a bitch.”

“Mind if we come in? We have a few questions for you.”

“No, no,” he winces as he gestures inside, having to step down on his leg for a second, “c’mon in.”

They’re both attentive, being careful to not be fooled, not be trapped, not risk anything. But the man is being friendly, is smiling, offering them water, guiding them to the living room where they sit. 

Ayanna cuts right to the chase, not wanting to be here long, “Scott, where were you last night around 9:30?”

“Here,” he shrugs, “why?”

“Can anyone verify your whereabouts?” Amanda nudges.

“Does my dog count?” he laughs, but sees they’re not receptive to the humor, “Uh, no, no, s’just me.”

“You said you hurt yourself at the gym? When did that happen?”

“Two nights ago.”

“And which gym?”

“Paulie’s, down the corner. It’s a small boxing spot,” his eyes dart between the two women as he leans back deeper in his chair, “What’s this about? Thought my lawyer already told you, I have nothing to do with the Brotherhood.”

Amanda lifts her head, cocking it slightly, lips pursed, “Who said anything about the Brotherhood?”

Scott grimaces for a mere second, they both catch it.

“Scott, do you remember a hit and run last year? Around the fourth of July, a mother and her daughter?”

He shakes his head, “No, that’s not ringing any bells.”

“Really?” Amanda prods, “Cause, someone remembers you. Remembers telling you about a drunk driver—”

“That’s what this is about?” he snaps, “What, I forgot some paperwork?” 

Ayanna raises a calming hand, hoping to keep the peace for a little while longer, “We just want to know why there was never any follow up done. The case was closed quickly with no leads, but we want to know what you were told that day.”

He’s glaring now, jaw clenched as he practically bores holes into Ayanna, “No one said nothing to me about no hit and run. I did my job.”

“I’m not sure why you’re getting upset then, Scott. We’re just doing ours too.”

“Well, I think you’re done then,” he scowls. “Get out.”

The pieces start wobble, one by one, although they are not quite ready yet, it's not quite time for them to fall.

Ayanna and Amanda abide by his demands, both standing to leave, preparing to exit without any answers for Olivia, only more questions, but then the Sergeant sees it.

Crimson comes through the cotton sweatpants, right on his right thigh.

“Scott,” she challenges, eyes on the blood stain growing on his clothes, “what’s that?”

And it all comes crashing down.

 

 

 

 











Chapter Text

A/N:

TW: thoughts of self-harm in the section that begins with "Ayanna offers to come inside when they arrive" - this is the only section that includes this type of content, feel free to skip!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DAY 23 

BELLEVUE HOSPITAL, BUILDING H

WEDNESDAY 8:14AM

 

“Good morning, Mr. Stabler.”

“G’morning, Amber,” he tosses the woman a tight grin, shifting the bouquet and coffee in his hands to reach over and quickly scribble his name on her iPad with the tiny stylus, “how’s she doing?”

“Increased brain activity, could be a good sign, but—”

“You’ll keep monitoring her,” he finishes for the nurse, already a little too used to this speech. 

Amber nods, pointing at the plastic-wrapped flowers in his hand, another regular as of late. But unlike yesterday’s batch, these are pink and bright, and solely unique for Olivia. At least that’s what the salesperson said. 

“She’ll love those,” the petite nurse declares.

“Think so?” he half-smiles.

“Mhmm,” she finishes signing him in (Olivia’s room was placed under high security due to the circumstances, so he didn’t mind the 15-step process it took for him just to see her), and pats his arm, “ready?”

“Always.”

It’s a habitual walk to her room at this point. 46 steps from the front desk to the elevator, 6 floors up, and 83 more steps to her door, where there was a final ID check with one of his co-workers. There wasn’t any outside officer the team was willing to trust, so Maldonado and Cho volunteered, understanding this was not a job for regular Unis and wanting to ensure Olivia’s utmost safety.

Day 23. 

A sunny day for her to continue resting and for him to spend at her side. He’s getting far too accustomed to the steady beeping of machines and clicking from the ventilator, it almost felt weird to go home without it. Harmonious melodies of Olivia Benson’s continuing breath, her echoed heartbeat, all signs that she was alive and here. 

Even though she wasn’t awake yet.

Maldonado looks exhausted. In fact, everyone these days looks exhausted and nobody spoke about it. They didn’t want to. Elliot nods at the man who sleepily grins back. Sticking his hand out, he gifts the man a typical cup of coffee from the cafe next to the florist—the good stuff, the coffee that actually tastes like it was made to ingest.

“Thank you, man,” the detective responds, immediately taking a long swig to revive his dwindling energy, “I needed this.”

Elliot glances at his watch, still outside the door, no longer racing to get inside right away (that anxiety stopped around day 9), and focuses back on him, “30 more minutes until the switch?”

“Yes sir, Velasco should be here soon.”

“Ah, the new guy.

Maldonado chuckles softly, “Hey, he passed the test, and OC is a little short-staffed so they need Cho today.”

They really were. He hadn’t been back to work since the night Olivia was shot—and no, him choking Frank did not count as work, that was more for himself than the job. Trial prep shifted to phone calls, Facetime videos, and sometimes Zoom through a laptop Jet had to set up for him. They were rearing up for a long and arduous year of trials, paperwork…and then the charges were extended pending Olivia’s investigation, as the Brotherhood’s web kept on expanding.

For once, Elliot was letting the case happen around him, only spending his time orbiting the woman in the hospital bed, memorizing her every feature, drowning in the sound of the heart he ached to belong to. He held her hand, hoping that it would miraculously squeeze him back and her eyes would open again, but they haven’t.

Yet.

Opening the door carefully, as if he could startle her, he closes it right behind, giving them the privacy he always requested and she so greatly deserved. 

“G’morning, Liv,” he rasps and gets no response, like he knew he wouldn’t, but dreamed to hear. Shuffling over, he steps right into his little routine, leaning down to kiss her forehead, brushing his thumb over where his lips landed.

He smiles, straightening back up, “Brought you peonies today, which—fun fact—are not panties , like I thought the woman was saying.” 

Releasing a soft chuckle, he heads over to the window sill, overflowing with vases of all varieties of flowers, all lively (he couldn’t bear to see them wilt, and tossed them the moment they did), and he places the newest bundle next to yesterday’s daisies.

One of them is bound to wake her. 

“Coincidentally, they were also by far the most expensive, but I can see why.”

Once they are perfectly placed, he moves onto task two, reaching into his coat pocket to tug out the folded up piece of paper, unraveling it and smoothing it out as much as he can. Carefully snapping a piece of tape off, he looks for an open spot to hang the picture on the left wall, already covered in several other drawings. He finds the perfect spot, as always, and sticks it up, admiring the work when he takes a step back.

“This one is—”

But he can’t finish. Can’t tell her what Noah drew last night, can’t describe the perfectly shaped and decorated artwork that now resides on the wall before them because he is cut off by a noise. 

Not a machine, not the wind, but from the bed. 

It’s the sound of a very sudden, throaty cough—the sound of someone choking—and his head darts her way the minute it is heard. Her eyes are shut, but squeezed tightly, not the typical rested state they’ve been in for the last three weeks. 

Her brows are furrowed. 

Her heart rate increases, causing the beeping to speed up as she coughs again, around the tube shoved down her throat—she can’t breathe.

“Liv?” he’s at her side in seconds, hand lightly on her forehead before he slams his fist against the call button above her, “Olivia, I’m here, it’s okay, I need you to calm down—”

She’s still choking—of course she is, there’s a goddamn tube shoved down her throat—and he just prays his voice isn’t suppressed by the loud drone of the alert button.

He reaches for her hand and squeezes hard. 

And then, suddenly, after so long—

They’re open. 

His stomach drops when he sees her eyes again, the rush of reality coming back to him. 

She’s awake.

 


 

24 DAYS PRIOR

 


 

The guy got blood on her pants. 

Ayanna thinks it might be from when they shoved him in the back of the police car, when his leg nudged her and he let out a stifled cry, tugging against the handcuffs he had on despite the circumstances. He had a damn good aim shooting Olivia in the dark from a car window—they weren’t going to take any chances with him now (even if he was possibly dying himself). 

The blood is wet and sticky, and it forms a dark stain on her left thigh. It’d be a bitch to get out, but it was a subtle reminder that it was over. That Olivia had such good friends around her, they didn’t even need a full day to catch the perpetrator.  

Idiot.

The bastard dripped blood from a wound he tried to heal himself—he couldn’t go to a hospital or he’d be caught—and the idea that he at least suffered awake through the night after he shot her, made her somewhat satisfied. And if it wasn’t her friends, Ayanna knows Elliot would’ve tracked them down himself, finding him at his home, choking the life out of him until all he could feel was the throb from his bullet wound, the thumping sting of his failure. 

Elliot.

She had to update Elliot.

Excusing herself from Rollins, she tells her that she has to take care of some business, and Amanda picks up on the cue right away, telling her to take care of him, and the Sergeant nods back. 

It doesn’t take long before Ayanna finds him. 

Knees up, he’s seated on the cool concrete floor with his head hung down and a hand clasped around his wrist, all wrapping his bent legs. He’s outside Olivia’s room—not in—and when she glances through the open doorway, she sees that the room is empty. 

But before she can assume the worst, Elliot cuts off her own fearful thoughts, muttering, “Internal bleeding. They rushed her off.” 

Still trapped on the ground, he can’t even look up at his Sergeant. His voice sounds hollow, yet wet, as if the tears have run out and are ricocheting off the numbness. 

She almost can’t believe this is the same bull who trampled over her work so vibrantly. The man who jumped out of windows, hopped onto motorcycles, who’d done heists, fist-fought hitmen, is now empty on the floor of this hospital.

Nodding once, she slips into the empty space on his right, letting her back hit the wall before she slides slowly down to mirror his position. Her knees creak when her ass hits the floor, the exhaustion of the past two days starting to finally get to her. 

Neither move at first. 

They don’t talk, just sit shoulder to shoulder, together in silence on the cold hospital ground. 

It’s somewhat comforting. It’s close to their normal. 

They both weren’t much for communicators (her wife let everyone know that fact) and Elliot was in a likely boat. There was enough established trust between the two that they could sit like this, on the floor of a busy hospital, and do nothing but watch the world move without them there. Be flies on the walls of the place that brought new life in and took lives out. Watch the entire cycle of life before their eyes, finding their piece in the puzzle, wondering if maybe this was purgatory.

She hears a single sniffle to her left and her eyes dart to catch a tear fall and a tight sigh be exhaled. The rock of a man next to her may be the most stubborn man alive, may increase her heart rate and cause her stress, but he’s been through so much in only one year. She’s already seen him lose his wife, more trauma would do him no good. 

He sits here, looking utterly defeated, looking emotionally drained and spent on the floor of this hospital room. And when Ayanna hears another shaky exhale, as if he’s going to ask the question, she takes a deep breath of her own, filling in for him, “Parnell.”

Elliot’s head perks up, but only for a moment before he slowly rolls back until it taps the wall, where he lets out a heavy, wet sigh, “Why?”

“Dunno,” she shrugs, “SVU thinks her chief has some involvement.” 

He hums a short, breathy chuckle—just one—before he shakes his head to seemingly reset himself. “Figures.”

And then they sit.

And sit.  

Nurses and doctors and patients all continue to pass them by, the two adults just sitting on the floor in an equilibrium of grief and guilt, never expanding on their connection, only letting it eat at them here.

Internal bleeding. 

Being pragmatic, she wants to circle back, to know the details, the ins and outs, but he’s in no place to answer that. So she tries—dares to try—for a simpler question, one that maybe he can answer, one that is more beneficial to him now.

“How are yo—”

But is stopped by him, “Please don’t ask.”

“Okay,” she concedes, and when his head flings back down again, heavy, guilted, she reaches for his hand, giving it a gentle squeeze before she hears him softly sob away. 

 


 

“I don’t think you understand, Scott. We’re trying to help you.” Carisi uses a gentler pitch than Amanda would’ve preferred, but there’s no more good cop, bad cop with them. 

The whole ADA thing ruined that. 

She misses the old days with Sonny. The day when Noah was kidnapped and they both were unhinged—where they had no fear of anything, just needed to find baby Benson and bring him home to his mama. Amanda wants to bring that same fire back here, right now. Wants Sonny to lose the tie, the suit jacket, go back to the detective she knew and loved and be her other half where it matters. Let her scream and yell and threaten Parnell in ways that cannot go on record. 

Not this. 

Not helping him.

There was no world in which Amanda Rollins would toss this guy a life jacket. She would happily watch him drown, watch the water coat his lungs and fill them up until he sank down and down. 

Maybe people were right. 

Her and Stabler had some similarities.

And as she looks at the guy, picturing his demise, tuning out her boyfriend’s words, she can’t help but notice how sick Parnell looks. His face is still pale, decorated with an oxygen tube shoved in his nostrils, an IV dripping slowly into his prominent veins. 

His wound was infected, the doctors told Amanda. She saved his life—what a hero! 

And the man has the audacity to act like he isn’t an idiot. That he didn’t have the proof etched in his skin. That the bullet hole was merely there, it had nothing to do with the attempted murder that happens only the night before. He shifts slightly in the bed, accidentally nudging the handcuff locked on the rail, “I’m not talking.”

“You’re acting like we don’t already know you did it,” Amanda grins viciously, stepping in for the lawyer. No more niceness, no more discussion of deals. He needs to know he will suffer a fate most foul for what he has done. 

“I didn’t—”

She takes another step forward, gripping the edge of the bed, tilting her frame forward slightly, knuckles nearly white from where they met the metal. Voice light and airy, it’s much scarier than any increase in volume. It’s nightmare fuel. “You really messed up when you shot yourself, you know that, right? Cause when the doctors dug the bullet out of you, we made sure to ship it off to the lab.” 

Parnell remains stoic, although Amanda knows it’s all a cheap façade. The bastard has no balls. She tosses him a fake smile as she continues pestering him, “And you wanna know something funny?” 

He does everything he can to avoid her eyes. If he met them, he might turn into stone. Might bleed from the sockets until all he saw was red. 

“It’s a match to the one found in Captain Benson.”

This gets a reaction. It’s small—miniscule—just a flinch, but a flinch nonetheless. He knows he’s been caught, knows that little instinctive reaction made him done for. Parnell purses his lips, taking a deep breath, “…and what if I talk?”

Carisi steps in, “I’ll see what I can do for you.”

“That’s it?” He dares to rebut. 

“Well, the other option is you being charged with the attempted homicide of a NYPD Captain all on your own, which I gotta say, probably won’t be a great time for you.”

He glances away, focusing on where his wrist is chained to the bed, “I’m a dead man either way. He’s got connections.”

“So does she,” Amanda growls. “And let me just say, hers are much scarier than anything he could possibly have.”

Carisi tosses her a quick glance, recognizing that anger pocket threatening to leak out of Amanda, warning him that she was seconds from pouncing. He nudges her, unseen by the other man’s eyes, stepping in once more to balance out the rage, “It would be wise for you to talk to us. Because the minute we walk out that door, any unaccepted deal is gone and we’ll toss you to the wolves.”

Parnell’s eyes finally make contact with them, and Carisi raises a singular brow, “Who hired you?”

They both can visually see the gears turning in Parnell’s head. Can see the contemplation, the if this, then this scenarios looping, wondering which door to hell would be nicer. If he was willing to face his maker, willing to rat on the operation in order to survive himself.

And he is.

“…s’not like that,” he mumbles. 

“Well, enlighten us then.”

 


 

Twenty minutes later, the door of Parnell’s room is slammed open by Amanda, who is teetering on the edge of an explosive rampage, her fists tight, her breath exhaling in short, fuming exhales. 

“Amanda!” 

Carisi tries to catch up with her, careful not to bump into Detective Cho who was sent to guard Parnell’s room. The petite blonde is halfway down the hallway, fumbling to get her phone out of her pocket, not readying to settle at all. 

“Are you coming or not?” She huffs at Carisi, not even turning to face him. She manages to finally yank the phone free from her pocket, and the frustration of everything makes her want nothing more than to desperately lodge her fist into the nearest wall. 

When he gets closer, he tries to reach out, to put a comforting hand on her back, but Amanda is still too fired up, flinching away from him. “I’m going to call Fin and put a bullet in his fucking head!” she growls, shaking her head. 

“Hey!” Sonny snaps, grabbing her arm, “Will you please take a breath?”

“Take a breath?” She dryly chuckles, “Take a breath? McGrath has been working with the Brotherhood this entire fucking time!” 

When he tries to reach for her again, she shoves him back hard, “You heard him! Frank was getting check after check—covering up the chief’s fucking murder! He went after Noah, then tried to kill her! How are you not angry at this?” She’s practically screaming in the hallway of the hospital, ignoring the eyes around her, staring, fist clenching her phone. 

Carisi stands still in front of her, waiting for her to move first, not wanting to add any fuel to the fire. 

Looking right at him, she’s almost shaking with rage, but it's him and he can see right through her. A tear rolls down her cheek and she whispers, “Goddamnit,” falling into his chest, letting him hold her close.

“Hey, ‘manda, it’s okay.” Carisi soothes, placing that anchoring hand on her back, “We’re gonna get him, alright? But we’re going to do this right.”

Amanda squeezes her eyes shut for a moment. She doesn’t need the all-knowing eyes of a loved one right now. She still wants to hit something. Wants to get this anger out of her system. 

And a bullet in McGrath’s head sounds really nice right now.

 


 

Fin didn’t wait for a call. He didn’t need one. 

He knew this prick would be the guy, and he wanted to make sure—with the utmost assurance—that there was no way for him to not be caught. 

There would be no ‘out’ of this one.

He’d been trailing his chief all day, wanting to make sure the bastard didn’t dare try to skip town and run off. The guy was dirty, willing to fake crimes for his own kid, willing to shoot the one person who actually did her fucking job because she wanted to do what was right. 

It makes him uncharacteristically angry. 

And violently so. 

This guy had no remorse for what he did. He showed up at the fucking hospital and looked at her blood all over Elliot, fully knowing he’s the one who caused it. Knowing that he had ordered her execution, that he expended her life for his own selfish needs. 

And he saw her kid there, sobbing, worried he would lose his mother—his one lifeline—still not caring. 

More than anything, Fin wants to kill the guy. 

Slowly.

Phoebe’s voice through his phone breaks the spiraling thoughts, “He still there?” and the visions of blood on his hands evaporate.

They’re on hour six of a phone call he started after the exchange with Mr. Vorhees, when he couldn’t get the sight of red out of his head. The sick bastard tried to kill his Captain, who knows how low he’d be willing to go. If Phoebe was just as vulnerable to his sick plays.

“Yeah,” he confirms. 

“I got two of my guys on the way. Can you wait for them?”

No. There was no more waiting. He tried to kill Olivia—

“Fin? Babe?”

“I’ll do my best,” he answers, finger daring to hang up—he wants to storm in, break the guy’s fingers one by one. But before he can do anything, he pauses, taking in a deep breath. That crimson on Elliot’s shirt comes back into view, that look of pure and utter emptiness stabbing him in his own chest. Fin tries, really tries to shrug it off, but he’s alone with his girl on the line. He could be vulnerable for once.

“Hey, Phoebs?”

“Yes?”

“I love you.”

“I love you too.” 

And with that confirmation, he hangs up the phone. 

 


 

Everyone keeps telling Elliot where to go. 

He can’t stay on the floor outside—in fact, they shoved someone else into Olivia’s room. And when that stranger rolled in, his stomach churned at the thought of what that meant, that maybe—maybe she was—

But a nurse just lets him know that things move quickly around here and rooms get shuffled a lot. It’s no big deal, just protocol. 

Desperate, he asks for an update, which is responded with a flat smile and a message that Olivia is still in surgery and she will keep him in the loop—she promises —but he has to sit in the designated waiting area, not be in the open.

He concedes because he has to. 

He’ll do whatever anyone wants, he really doesn’t care anymore. What matters to him is her, that’s it. That she’s okay, that he didn’t get her killed, that she will wake up and call him an asshole for letting her clothes get ruined.

Anything but this. Anything but the waiting.

Stuffing himself in a cramped wooden chair with a scratchy cushion, he rubs his hands over the denim on his thighs, hoping to God that his heart will stop racing. That he can wake up out of this nightmare. 

Maybe the adrenaline will stop. Maybe he’ll crash and wake up, wrapped in silk sheets, will see her sleeping peacefully next to him with frizzy hair and pouted lips.

Right?

But another hour goes by, and Ayanna is not there anymore, so he sits alone. Not able to even touch his cellphone. Not able to speak or talk to anyone really. His mouth is dry and desolate, a place where words would land if they could but it’s too difficult of a terrain.

So, instead, he focuses on the faint music in the background of this empty area, letting the people pass by, never stopping to sit. It’s a jazz song, something with a sharp trumpet and a soft, rhythmic piano. It clenches his chest as he listens. Closing his eyes, his hands grasp the life out of the wooden arms of his seat when he hears—

 

The way your smile just beams

The way you sing off key

 

The sudden vision of her final smile before the fall flashes again, nearly on cue, and it makes him nauseous. Makes his empty stomach threaten to launch acid out his throat and singe it along the way. 

If he never sees her again—if that was his last time—

 

The way you haunt my dreams.

No, no, they can’t take that away from me. 

 

He doesn’t know what he’ll do.

 


 

Still outside McGrath’s house, Fin gave it a solid minute and a half before he had to jump out of the car, slamming the door behind to head up the brownstone steps of his chief's home. 

He could apologize to Phoebe later, although he knew she wouldn’t have asked for one. She wouldn’t judge him for his lack of patience here today.

He has him now, Amanda called to confirm, Phoebe’s backup was on the way. Olivia could rest tonight knowing they got the guys, and justice would be served. And for Fin, he can finally get rid of the splinter that’s been agitating him ever since the moment he widdled his way into leading SVU. Can eliminate the gnawing gnat that was his current chief—he’d be gone, done for, behind bars.

But Fin isn’t sure how to place this visit. If it’s safe for him to pretend like nothing is going on, that it’s simply a friendly visit from the temporary commanding officer to his chief, wanting to check in on a case, or if this was a gun in hand situation. 

The first would be best. He could keep the peace, slide in before flipping the script. But Parnell was arrested, how soon could McGrath have been notified?

Approaching the door, he’s cautious, wondering if maybe Phoebe was right—if maybe he really should wait for her team. But a loud slam rings behind the front door he stands next to, then the sharp sound of a scream.

Megan.

He breaks open the door immediately, gun in hand, prepared to fire. McGrath got Olivia shot without hesitation, he’ll pull the trigger if he has to. 

Only, it’s quiet again. 

Muffled noises come from…somewhere.

Nothing in front of him. 

He tiptoes around, playing hot and cold with the low voices, trying to pinpoint their location, needing to hear something loud again.

And it comes. 

Upstairs, a crash and a yell. 

Fin turns towards the staircase and treks up each step carefully, sticking his body close to the wall, glancing around to see which room the yelling is coming from. 

Like before, it goes quiet, muffled, then the BOOM comes again and his eyes dart to the end of the hall. 

“Dad, stop!”

“Pack your shit up! We’re leaving!”

“No!”

CRASH—

BANG—

“Dad, please stop!”

The sound of glass shattering alerts Fin further, right to the propped open door, where he can barely peek inside. He catches a glimpse of Megan, tears rolling down her cheeks, with his chief right there, tossing her belongings into bags, onto the floor, making a mess.

You did this to yourself, little girl,” the man grunts. “Now shut up and get your ass out of here.”

That’s his cue. 

Kicking open the door, Fin shouts, “Police! Hands up!” and Megan screams while McGrath stays still, eyes darkening. 

Acting quickly, Fin stays focused on his target, awaiting any sudden movement. “Megan, go outside,” Fin orders and the girl swiftly makes her way out of the bedroom. 

McGrath still doesn’t move, just stares, boring a hole into Fin’s skin. 

“Hands up, Tommy.”

The man chuckles darkly, “I wouldn’t do this if I were you, son.”

But Fin takes a step closer, roughly, gun still pointed on his soon to be ex-boss, and the movement prompts his hands into the air. “The only reason you don’t have a bullet in your head right now is because I’m not a coward like you,” Fin says, voice low, dark.

“You know nothing.”

“Well, Wrath, I know enough to do this,” and he grabs his wrist aggressively, twisting it behind the man’s back, shoving his gun back on its holster and snagging his handcuffs. “Tommy McGrath, you are under arrest for the attempted homicide of a police officer. You have the right to remain silent…”

 


 

Glued to the chair, eyes closed, the threat of sleep willing to tug him into the funhouse of his nightmares, wanting to drag him down and down, looping his biggest fear until he got sick again, Elliot is thankful for the buzz against his lap that pulls him back awake.

He can’t make conversation, but he can’t throw away all responsibilities. The man was a father and now a temporary guardian to the little boy’s whose mother remains in the balances of life and death. 

But it’s not his kids and it relieves him.

Tutuola | It’s over Stabler. We got them both.

Fingers gliding over the words, he’s nearly in disbelief, surprised at how quickly they worked. How the question was answered and he could at least give some good news tonight. 

The bastards were in custody and in the right hands. 

Taking that long awaited deep breath, he feels his eyes begin to well with tears again and he wonders just how long he can keep putting it off. If this breakdown will squash and disappear so he doesn’t have to cry over her. Crying may imply that something bad would happen, that the worst was yet to come, but maybe he should get it out of the way soon. Maybe a cry would be relieving. Maybe it would symbolize the end of punishment, the end of pain.

It doesn’t matter though, he can’t do this now, not while he still doesn’t know anything. He should be angry right now, should want to fight, march all the way to Parnell’s room to pull the plug (so to speak). But he’s exhausted. 

All he can do is show up. No feelings, no emotions, just being where she is. Once he knows she’s out of an OR room, then he will let himself go—let himself feel what is inside and set it free. Let salty tears stain his cheeks and his fists curl until they hurt. Punch a wall or bag until his hands go numb and his head is empty. 

Later, he tells himself. 

Later he can focus on himself, can focus this energy. For now, he will shove it deep down until it fills him wholly, and there’s no way he can ignore it anymore.

And as the minutes go by, rolling into hours, he sits in silence, meditating in a cloud of nothingness, deflecting every bit of anger, sadness, and even hope, to become the void he wishes to be. 

It comes through steady breaths, in and out, in and out, like Olivia would do with Noah. He manages this stability himself, although he swears he feels the ghost of her hand on his chest. And when the hand starts to feel too real, his breath gets trapped, and he’s shocked back to reality when he notices a nurse entering the barren space. 

This area has been free of life since he has lay claim to it. No one dared come near the broken soul, the destroyer of all joy. But she approaches, and that peace—that rare bit of peace—flies away with the rest of his happiness. 

“For Olivia Benson?”

He stands almost too quickly, eyes still connected to the younger woman’s, hoping to pry out some truth merely from their uneasy glance. “Yes, how is she?”

 


 

1999

 

“If I die, don’t throw me a funeral.”

“What?”

Olivia nods as she shovels another spoonful of white rice between her lips, using her fork to accentuate her points, mumbling around a mouthful of Chinese food, “S’too expensive. A colossal waste of money just to put someone in the ground.”

Elliot laughs and reaches his own fork out, snagging a bite of her rice, nearly in unison as a piece of his chicken is taken by her. “Funerals aren’t for the dead, Liv. They’re for the living.”

She pokes around at the rice again, not quite snagging any, just moving it across the container, dismissing him. 

“What’s all this about?”

“Hmm?” 

“Why are you ruining lunch with funeral talks? Going somewhere?”

Olivia shakes her head, smiling slightly, her bob barely brushing her shoulders. “No, just thinking,” she tucks a strand behind her ear, showcasing her rookie status further. 

God she looks young, looks like she still has some energy about her. 

“Today was a close one. If something happened, I wouldn’t want my mother pretending like she knew what I wanted. She’d bury me in a pageant gown.”

Elliot laughs again, but hushes when her response is a lazy grin. Not even a year as partners and she already shared lunches, already trusted him enough to have her back, to be her go to in case something happened, which he never would allow to. 

“Well, I’ll at least make sure it’s a pantsuit,” he teases and hands her the extra eggroll.

 


 

“Mr. Stabler?”

He refocuses back to his surroundings, noticing he’s seated back down, not remembering how that may have happened. “Sorry, sorry, I just—what did you say?”

She grins softly, “Olivia made it out of surgery. She’s stable and doing well.”

“But?”

There’s always a ‘but.’ He knows there’s a ‘but.’

It comes with a heavy sigh and an apologetic expression, the nurse firming up her voice, speaking as clearly as she can. “Due to the extremity of her injury and the amount of stress it has put on her, Dr. Callihan made the difficult decision to place Ms. Benson in a medically induced coma, in an aim to aid the recovery process and avoid another bleed like today.”

Now he remembers why he sat—he can almost feel where the words slapped him the first time, knocking him off his feet. 

It wasn’t any better the second time, the weight of the words dragging every part of his very being down into the abyss of shame and horror, hoping to land him into his rightful home where guilt resides, welcoming him with open arms. Elliot didn’t have time for self-pity now, though. He needed to stay present for Olivia, needed to know the facts and fulfill the oath he had promised would flourish again.

“For how long?” He asks, keeping calm.

“These things don’t have an exact timeframe—“

How long?” He doubles down, a slight steam of frustration letting loose. 

The nurse frowns, “I can’t say, sir.”

Logically, he knows she can’t, but it hurts to hear. If he had a date, any time, even years from now, he would count down the days and make sure the world was ready for her return, like Persephone in spring. But the unknown, that was worse. The guessing game of if she will even wake up and who knows how long. 

He can’t think that way though, can’t even place an ‘if’ there. It’s certain she will wake up because she has to. So he instead asks, “You said this will stop the bleeding from happening again?”

She nods, “It helps,” and takes a seat across from him as she continues on, “You see, when she woke up, she jostled a little too harshly, which caused the bleed in the first place. She was disoriented and startled by her surroundings, and the adrenaline made her try to get out of the bed, leading to the damage. In a coma, her body is focused on healing first, assisting that process and letting it move forward more smoothly.”

…she had woken up. 

She had woken up and he was not there.

While his hands were around Frank’s throat, she had opened her eyes, and he only stopped because he heard her voice in his head. And to think, she had woken up. 

She had woken up and he was not there for her. Was not there to hold her hand or calm her down. She was scared and he had abandoned her for his own selfish desire, leaving her to panic and cause a tear, sending her off to a life-saving surgery.

He nearly killed her by running again.

His voice is shaky, unwilling to steady, “Can I see her?”

“Of course,” she smiles.

And he finally gets to leave the waiting room.

 


 

2009

 

“You know, I’m getting really tired of seeing you in hospital beds.”

He chuckles, “Yeah, yeah, lemme have it.”

She shrugs, a cheek smile forming on her face, walking closer to him, tossing him his (their?) grey hoodie, as she makes her way over. “What’s there to say?”

He snags the familiar fabric with one hand, “Kathy know?”

“First person I called.”

“She mad?”

“She’s not happy, but that's not new.” Olivia nudges his leg, sitting on the edge of his bed, narrowing her eyes, furrowing her brows, “You okay?”

“Yeah,” he flashes a forced, closed-mouth smile, “yeah, I’m okay.”

Her eyes stay on him, reading him like a book, “You sure?”

“Mhmm.”

“El,” she doesn’t give up. “I can tell something is wrong. Just talk to me.”

He makes eye contact with her, despite his great desire not to, it was as inevitable as her coming here to check on him. They’re just over a decade into their partnership, hospital visits were cyclical—a constant for then both. Except the scale was skewed in her favor, he was usually the one in the bed while she got to ridicule him like her heart didn’t pound of her chest with every unknown. Elliot would never let her end up here. Would take a thousand bullets before letting her take one, because that’s his job.

That’s what he tells Kathy, that’s what he tells himself, and that’s what he tells God.

Looking away from her, his blank stare shifts to his lap while each thought slowly rolls together again to form a coherent response. He settles on the truth. There are few he would ever share that honesty with and unsurprisingly, she always comes out on top. “When I hit my head, I was worried, ya know, if—if maybe I wouldn’t wake up right away. I tried fighting it off.”

“You can’t fight everything, Elliot.”

“I know. But it scared the shit out of me for a second. I didn’t want to…” and he gestures with his hand to fill in the superstitious word. 

She sighs, but it lands in a small half-grin, “Only you would try to kick death’s ass.”

That makes him chuckle, allows him to see her brown eyes again, allows him to push the thought of finalement out the window and be back in the present with her and that cheeky grin. “You would too, I know it,” he says and it comes out playful, despite the weight of his words.

What he loves— not love, like love, no, he didn’t mean—

What he appreciates about his partner is her ability to move forward, to end conversations when they both don’t want a free therapy session, and want to act like nothing happened, that everything is fine. 

“Yeah, well, I got work to do, I can’t die,” she exhales, propping herself off the cheap mattress and back onto her feet. “Speaking of—“

He groans.

“C’mon, no excuses, we got a case to close.”

 


 

She somehow looks paler—smaller—than yesterday. He doesn’t quite understand how so, logically, but time did feel never-ending here. It felt like his life had come and gone eight separate times and each life span shortened in the sharp, disinfectant air of the hospital. 

This room is bigger than the last, which clues him in to how permanent this actually is becoming. A ventilator is replaced with something even more intricate. Something that has her jaw locked and crowds her face to the point where it almost feels fake. 

She hardly even looks like his Olivia right now, but he knows she’s there, under all those tubes and wires. That fiery woman who eclipsed his every waking thought as of late. Memories playing through his head the entire as though they were fresh, these reminders of the person he knew, the one he gave his oath to. 

4015, 6313. 

Etched in pen and paper, a combination that remained locked in the back of his mind, forever sitting there, stagnant.

The oath didn’t end when he left. 

That oath would keep him here, keep him from what his father had done, from what Frank and the other brothers did. No, Elliot Stabler was not like them. He made a vow to keep her safe, and God almighty he would do that.

“I’ll give you some privacy,” the nurse offers, and Elliot didn’t even remember she was here. He doesn’t know if she leaves after she said that, or if maybe she stays behind him, watching his back, concerned with the lack of response he’s been providing. 

It’s crazy how heavy everything feels. How his feet stay cemented on the ground while his heart tries to escape, desperate wings fluttering rapidly to get to her, to hold her tight and close, to pepper her with kisses until the right one wakes her up like a goddamn fairytale. His brain stomps that down, crushes the paperlike wings, grounding his heart back into his chest so it can go back to its true purpose, pumping blood through his veins, keeping him alive. 

How selfish of him to love her right now while she laid in hell. Maybe he wasn’t Hades after all, maybe he was Orpheus, and maybe he looked behind too soon. 

(God, could he just fucking think right now? Just be here, not spiraling off into despair?)  

He’s here, alive. She’s here, alive. 

That’s it. 

Olivia Benson was alive. In a coma, but her heart was beating and she was breathing. There was nothing else to think about, no other folktale to take their place. 

Elliot Stabler was madly in love with Olivia Benson. So much so, he confessed it twice. Nearly a third before life came between them again. But she was resilient, a fountain of strength like no other, and despite his fear, despite his anger, she was still alive. The men who did this were caught, the bad times were over. All she had to do now was rest and recover.

So he washes away all the pain, all the spiraling for now, pulling up a chair to take his place by her side, holding her hand gently in his, and giving it a delicate kiss. 

“Rest now, sweetheart,” he whispers. “I’m right here.”

 


 

2012

 

“Liv?”

He gets no response, just a soft snore. 

Of course. She fell asleep. 

Nights with Calvin were keeping her up late, distracting her from the job at hand, and now here she was, on a stakeout in the back of this van with him, eyes shut.

She mumbles something inaudible and he really should wake her up, but he can’t. She’s exhausted, he knows that, she’ll even admit to it, and she won’t be any help if she’s too tired to catch the guy. 

Besides, the stakeout was at a standstill. The suspect was inside and the hours approached the point of the night where a few minutes of beauty sleep wouldn’t kill their whole operation. 

He glances over again, sees her mouth part open slightly, and her head tilts forward. Catching her before she wakes, he pulls her gently towards him, giving her head a spot on his shoulder to relax on. 

They’ve done this before, it wasn’t anything too much—just helping her not slam her head onto metal. That was it. 

He’d give her 30 minutes before he would wake her. 

Besides, she needed the rest, and who was he to ruin that?

 


 

Two nights. 

One partially in the waiting room, the other in her current room, the one where she would be staying a while—he slept in hospital for two nights. 

Although, “sleep” might be a stretch. Sleep may imply that he managed to nod off comfortably, that his mind and body stilled. He rested, perhaps even dozing off for an hour or so, but everytime someone would enter her room for a test or check, he was awake and anxious to know what the hell was happening. Nobody had an answer. Nobody knew exactly how the timeline, but he knew the first 48 hours were where it mattered most. 

His body aches, but the pain feels well-deserved. She’s the one in a hospital bed. Beeping, wires, needles, poking and prodding her. He’ll sleep on a bed of nails if it’ll make it better.

But this afternoon, he gets the look. 

The look of ‘you have to go now.’

The ‘hospital policy dictates’ look and he knows his time is up, the tether is stretching again, and he will have to leave Olivia here. 

And although abandonment was what it felt like at first, he knows it’s different this time. 

A decade ago, when he had fled and kept running, he tried not to think about her and how she may have felt. And last year, when he hid in an undercover operation—when things became too much—he cut off nearly all contact to avoid things advancing too quickly. And a few days ago, when he had selfishly walked away to go kill a man, he had missed holding her hand before she was rushed back off to surgery.

But this time, people are making him leave and he couldn't even say no. 

Ayanna made sure he didn't. 

She comes prepared with any arguments he may have, showing him that Maldonado and Cho would be here, keeping watch, so Elliot wouldn’t have to worry. No one was to enter that room besides the nurses and doctors cleared with the hospital security guard to the left, and an extensive background check was done before they let him stay. 

The fact Ayanna had this all planned (it must be the reason why she left so quickly) makes him feel a little better about having to go, and he doesn’t put up much of a fight. 

He’ll be back tomorrow, anyways. 

She lets him kiss Olivia goodbye, standing at the door, trying not to invade their privacy, but he can see her own tears start to form at the sight of the woman she looked up to so dearly, nearly lifeless in a hospital bed.  

Elliot pats her shoulder before they exit the room, taking one last moment to glance back at Olivia, hoping that this lingering hope can stay with him just for a little longer. That the osmosis of feeling her with him alone would fuel him through this treacherous journey. 

But—and perhaps it’s the exhaustion alone—he already feels it dwindling, like air releasing from a balloon, hiss by hiss, the further away from her he gets. 

He and Ayanna don’t speak on the way to the car, and he thinks it’s because she’s waiting for him to lead the conversation. There isn’t much to say right now, anyways. The woman knows how his life is going, so the drive home remains long and silent. 

He’ll thank her when the ride is over. He’ll call her when he can and express his gratitude for all that she’s done, for catching Parnell so quickly, for sitting in the hallway with him. For now though, his head will lie against the headrest, eyes on the road ahead, hoping to God that he can do this. 

That he can stay afloat just for the night.

 


 

(TW: for thoughts of self-harm, feel free to skip the last 5 paragraphs of this section)

 

Ayanna offers to come inside when they arrive, but Elliot shakes his head and does his darndest to reassure her that he is fine. A tilt of her head and rise of her brow indicate that she isn’t convinced, and she really tries to persist to no avail. He tells her he will call, he promises.

“Go home, hug your wife,” he urges. “You did good today.”

As he turns to leave, hoping to make his way inside, she stops him with a call of his name. He looks back, her eyes are big and full of concern, but she tosses him a soft smile, asking once more, “Promise me you’ll call?”

He gives her the same empty smile back, “I will.”

And she drives off.

Walking through the garden, tugging out his keys, he pushes out Olivia’s voice telling him to come home , her gentle hand on his neck, her eyes similar to Ayanna’s just now, except laced with something he hopes was love. 

Unlocking the door to the apartment, he finally makes it inside, realizing quickly he was alone for the first time, in utter and complete solitude.

No beeping, no background chaos. 

Nothing. 

The sun was planning to set and the faint noise of the city was the soundtrack of this sad tale. His apartment, frozen in a time where she was awake and lively, churning his stomach at the memories of them together here. And with each glimpse, that draining hope dwindles further, eyes transfixed on the closet door, remembering the panic set in when Frank held that gun up. 

He failed her then, nearly got her killed.

Why does he feel like he keeps failing her? 

Goddammit

He rushes off, needing the sudden adrenaline to guide him through the night. To get him to think and do anything but wallow in the misery of what could’ve been.

Deflect. Compartmentalize it. Just get through this, one day at a time.

His plan could work, forcing down everything was practically one of the Ten Commandments, a root of Catholicism, right next to guilt. He wouldn’t need to feel anything. 

Even when he showered for two hours, scrubbing and scrubbing, he barely noticed the redness beginning to form, the threatening blood willing to creep out of the near open wounds, until it finally made him sick to see. Immediately hopping out from the water, he snags a towel, no longer wanting to see any blood. 

No more crimson red. 

Please.

And as he moves throughout, that deflating hope makes him feel almost like he is trapped in a dreamlike state. One where his nerves are numb, where his head is empty, and even the act of thinking feels like he’s crawling his way through molasses to even get anything done. 

It shouldn’t have surprised him with how quickly he placed his own metal in his hands. 

Sitting in the bedroom that once awaited their arrival, waiting to welcome them home after a dinner that seemed so far away now—he’s clutching it, eyes closing to stop his mind from wandering, eyes closing to pretend she was here. That her brown eyes would be on him again, her fingertips doodling across his chest, spelling out her name in cursive like she always did. 

He sits too long, in that empty bedroom—simply a man with his gun—not moving, not thinking, just so, so tired.

How freeing would it be? An eye for an eye. He can take the bullet for her now. He can drag himself into the hell she fell victim to and maybe they could meet on the other side. Maybe she’d be there, that bright smile, glistening brown eyes that were so lively. 

Maybe.

 


 

Dark thoughts are broken by the sound of his phone ringing and the background of his two grandkids lighting up the screen. He holds onto it, shoving the gun away, ill at the thought of where his mind just went. 

Hearing the voices of his children (and of her child) wakes him out of the draining nightmare, snapping him back into gear. There was no world in which that was ever an option for him. He couldn’t do that to his family, to her. No, no, it was time for him to get back to his zen of nothingness, get ready to meet his family, and drive across town, arriving in one piece.

Physically. 

It’s nearly ironic that, of course, this conversation will have to happen at a family dinner—everything major seems to happen at a family dinner lately.

They are all going to be packed in at Maureen’s house—Noah and Bernie too, who were all there already, waiting for him, waiting for news that is set to arrive with the tragic guest of honor. A messenger who could (should) be blamed, a messenger with blood on his hands. 

(Stop it. Her son is there, don’t be self-pitying.)

He parks eerily in the same spot he did the last time he was here with Olivia, when they were making it work and there was hope for them to get over themselves. To show up for each other, for the kids. He planned their date right here, in his head as he drove away with her son in the backseat.

And now, he is alone. There is no Olivia to ease tensions, to grab his hand and squeeze. There is no “Livie” for the grandkids to call out for, no maternal energy for his kids to cling onto. 

He knocks on the door, silently praying that this goes smoothly, that one thing could go right today. That Olivia would be okay because he is here with family, with Noah, spending time doing something good for him. She would have to know that.

“Hey, Dad,” Kathleen greets, softly welcoming him, her arms immediately wrapping around her father before he can even cross the threshold. 

He squeezes her back, “Hey kiddo.” 

It has been a while since he’s been hugged. It helps fill the ever-emptying void, shining a glimmer of light through. A hug was needed much more than he ever knew. 

He holds his daughter who squeezes him back, and must feel his tension, his achiness. Basking in the moment of peace for a second, it ends when he sees behind her, into the house. Hears the quietness, the stillness upon his arrival, and sees that all eyes are on him. 

The hug falters and the eyes don’t leave him, just stay locked there, on the man, awaiting his update which would come. 

It will find its way out of him somehow. 

But he doesn’t even get a chance to get through the door when Noah pipes up, “Is my mom okay?”

And he’s suddenly forced to rush through the overstimulation, needing to reveal the truth to the worried eyes and breaking hearts. 

“Why don’t we all sit down?”

 


 

TWO WEEKS BEFORE THE SHOT

 

Exhaustion got the best of him.

Well, both of them.

Sure, they were fucking like rabbits now, the rush of the Brotherhood being wrapped up, their hearts still living in his bedroom with her body trapped behind a closet door and a gun pointed to it. They weren’t as young as they used to be though, and sometimes he’s pissed at himself that she isn’t getting him during his best years, when he could go all night without a single creak of a joint. He’s still far too fit for his age and has the stamina for her, for this, but now that he has her, it’s hard to believe they haven’t been doing this for far longer.

And while he loves the sex—missed having good sex greatly, missed that urge to slide into the heat of someone he desired, someone he craved—he finds himself aching for these moments more. When their bodies are sticky and spent and the distance between them is non-existent, where they spoon and snuggle in the sheets as they catch their breaths. 

He holds her tight and lets the energy of them vibrate him slowly to sleep, wanting to take her with him, but she’s wriggling out of his arms and he tries to stop her from leaving. 

“Liv,” he whines, his half-sleeping form squeezing her close as she continues to try and scooch out of the sheets.

She giggles at his innocent plea, “I gotta pee,” and he reluctantly lets her go.

“Mmph, okay,” he sighs, “but come back.”

“I will, you big baby.”

 


 

“A coma?”

“For how long?”

“What does that mean?”

It’s far too many questions at once, the eyes of his kids on him, surrounding him in the living room as he leans against the wall, “I don’t know exactly, the doctors can’t say a definitive date.” 

But his eyes dart across the bunch, landing on the little boy sitting next to his mother on the couch, a gentle hand on his back, and he looks like wants to cry. It twinges, the all-too familiar sight, bright blues clouded by tears, and he evens out his voice to reassure the boy, “They are keeping a close eye on her. The important thing is that she is alive. This meant to help her get better.”

“What are her chances?”

“Eli—”

And then little Kieran asks, “Is Livvy going away like grandma?”

 


 

“There,” she snuggles back close to him, back to his front, his arm immediately wrapping around her waist, squeezing her tightly, “you happy?”

“Mm, incredibly,” he hums into her skin before pecking it with little kisses. “You’re so warm.”

“Yeah, well, I’m getting older.”

He chuckles, “We both are.”

Sighing into his embrace, she stays awake, eyes open as his palm lands under her shirt, flat on her stomach, and his thumb brushes across. He knows she’s not resting peacefully, her body feels too tense. 

“What’s wrong?” He asks, the question muffled against her skin.

“Just thinking.”

“…about?”

“You,” she answers. 

“Oh really? Good things I hope?”

“This time,” she teases.

He laughs, vibrating against her, “Wow.”

And her enjoyment warms his heart, the sound of her laughter against him, the feeling of her shaking under his hand. He has no choice but to kiss her again.

She tugs his hand up to her mouth and gives it a soft kiss of her own (she must’ve had the same needy urge) before intertwining their fingers together and holding them close to her chest, in between the tighten valley of her breasts. “If you must know, I was thinking about how I was right. Noah loves you, and…and I’m glad.”

“Well, he’s a great kid. Bet he gets it from his mom.”

Olivia smiles, “He trusts you.”

“Do you?”

He’s almost worried when she doesn’t answer right away, but then they’re moving. She’s rolling over, facing him now, and she takes a hand to his cheek, leaning in to kiss his lips. 

Pulling back, she whispers, “With my life.”

 


 

The question made Noah run off, eyes wide and throat closing, desperate for some space—for his mom. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Mom always came home.

She wasn’t even working, she was just going out to dinner with Elliot someplace really fancy. She was supposed to pick him up the next morning and do their routine walk through the park, stopping at whatever stands they wanted. He would pick the prettiest flower for her and she would tuck it behind her ear like always. 

But that never happened.

He still hasn't gotten to see his mom. 

Did she even know how much he needed her?

Breaking through the eight year old’s anguish, the child hears a soft knock on the bedroom he tucked into. It’s Elliot’s voice calling, “Noah?” and then the door opens and he’s there with an unhappy smile and worried eyes. “Hey buddy.”

“Hi,” Noah whispers.

Noah’s as far back on the bed as he can get, knees into his chest, arms holding them close. He misses his own bed. Misses his mom’s bed. Mom’s bed was big and always warm. 

Elliot tilts his head, asking with a small expression if he can join Noah, who nods slightly. Carefully swinging a leg over, he makes sure to give the boy space, just how his mother likes it. Olivia had been minutely surprised how good Elliot was with her son, forgetting Noah was a mini replica of the woman who raised him—the woman Elliot spent years at her side, watching her, comforting her, being her person. 

He could do it all over again for the new Benson, but this time not leaving. Never leaving. 

“I know this is a lot for you,” he says, keeping his eyes on the boy, who avoids his stare like the plague. 

They let the uncomfortability take its place dead center, with its right hand man of grief sliding into the spotlight. Grief for what could be lost, grief for the time that passed now. That fear of everything evaporating, everything changing again. 

It goes for Noah first, who starts to sniffle, croaking out, “Where am I going to go?”

Elliot stays strong, holding his ground against the pull. Grief and fear were only strong against those who still had light left in them and his was flickering out each day that passed by. 

“Wherever you want. Wherever you want to stay.”

Noah wanted his bed. Wanted her bed—no. No he didn’t. He wanted her. The mattress didn’t matter, it was having someone to hold him and love him. Someone who made the sadness drift away and who told the bad dreams to leave him alone. People who sheltered him.

And with that realization, with Elliot’s blue eyes meeting his own, his own bed doesn’t seem so friendly now. “I don’t want to go back home.”

“Okay,” Elliot nods. “You don’t have to. Do you want Lucy or Uncle Sonny—”

Noah cuts him off by launching himself into his arms, skinny arms around his neck, curly hair tickling his nose, a damp spot forming on his shoulder from salty tears. Elliot isn’t a stranger to this anymore. His large hand pats the kid’s back, sweeping when it lands, letting him sob a little before offering, “You can also stay with me?”

“Can I?” 

It’s muffled against his shirt, burning into the skin, quieting the little bit of hope he had. 

“Of course. I’m not going anywhere.”

 


 

2008

 

“Liv, I think my kid likes you more than me.”

“As he should,” she teases, bouncing baby Eli on her hip again, cooing at him. “Isn’t that right?”

Elliot laughs, clutching his beer bottle, bringing it up to his lips for a long swig as he glances around the fourth of July party around him. Kathy’s running around the place, taking no time to enjoy the damn thing she put together, and driving herself nuts in the process.

“I wish she would stop and sit. I’m getting dizzy.”

Olivia glances over, catching Kathy’s eyes, smiling and urging Eli to wave over, who does in the most elaborate way, eliciting the first smile she’s seen on the kid’s mother all night. Turning back towards Elliot, she shrugs, “Some people find joy from feeling stressed.”

“Really?”

“Yes. It’s a control thing, sometimes. Like figuring out a puzzle.”

“Hmm,” he raises a brow, “not me.”

Olivia chuckles, “Yeah, we already knew that, but thanks for the confirmation, El.”

She takes a seat across from him, Eli sits on her lap facing her, babbling on in his little toddler way, and Elliot can’t help but stare. 

“What?”

He shakes his head, “Nothing. You’re just—“

“If you’re going to say good with kids, please don’t.”

He laughs, “Well, you are.”

“El—”

“Hey, you just said conversations about you being a mom were off the table. Nothin’ about you with kids in general.”

She rolls her eyes, “Fine. Amendment—no conversations about that either.”

“Fine,” he agrees, grinning before he takes another sip of beer, giving them a minute to fall back into their comfortable silence, listening to the music that blasts in his backyard. 

“But for the record, your kids will love me SO much more than you,” he laughs and she tosses her empty cup at him. 

 


 

His kids make him stay the night. 

Well, mostly Kathleen. Her psychology degree was working overtime right now, reading right through him and the dinner he barely touched.

Luckily, Maureen’s house fit them all (thank you, Dr. Carl), although people would have to bunk up. Elliot politely declines Seamus’s offer to stay in a tiny toddler bed with him, knowing that it would probably be just as bad as his previous sleeping arrangements. 

After playing a round of grandpa, then dad, he is guided to the room where Noah has been staying, and the boy asks if Elliot could talk to him about his mom, talk about next steps.

He knows that Noah just wants him around. That he needs a parent, and right now he’s the most familiar one that isn’t on duty right now. So he agrees, telling him he can only stay for a bit before Noah should sleep. And that Elliot should probably rest himself, too.

After parenting the kid, trying to emulate how Olivia did it herself, Noah is finally in pajamas, teeth brushed, and off his electronics all before 10PM. 

(See, Liv? He’s crushing it.)

Watching the kid crawl into the blankets, Elliot wants to laugh at how small the eight-year-old looks in this giant bed, but manages to just give a small smile instead. One of the rare, genuine ones as of late. 

Once he’s finally settled, Noah gives a sassy look that’s very Benson of him—one that reads, look I did what you said, now please answer my questions. And he bombards the man right away, “So, she’s okay?”

“She’s okay. Still healing, but doing really good,” Elliot reassures (he doesn’t really know if it’s the truth—he’s not a doctor—but it’s what he believes, and what he wants her kid to think too). 

“And she’s sleeping.” 

It’s not a question. He indeed listened to Elliot earlier, but now he now needs to go over all the facts again, just for some sort of closure. 

(God, he’s too much like you, Liv.)

“And she’s sleeping,” Elliot repeats for confirmation.

Noah makes a contemplative face, taking a second before mumbling, “The longest I’ve ever slept is 10 hours.” He shrugs, “So it shouldn’t be too long, right?”

Elliot smiles softly, “We won’t know for sure, kid.”

Taking a deep breath, Noah nods, still seated upright under the covers, and it makes him think of Eli at this age, when his son asked him question after question, needing to know every detail about his father’s next job—where he would be, how long he would be gone, every minute detail

He’s at least glad Noah trusts him enough to have him around. That the kid is starting to look up to him like a pseudo-father, wanting him around, seeking out support and protection. 

It’s like the old days when Olivia would drop anything for a mini Stabler (even staying in Rikers for Kathleen). Now, he gets to repay the favor and play dad for a little bit. 

When Liv wakes up, she’ll know that her son was well taken care of in his hands. She’ll no longer need to hesitate at a dance recital invite, worried if he should get this involved yet. He would’ve showed up then, but would even more now and every time in the future that Noah needed him to, because that’s her kid. 

And he loves her.

And he loves the kid like he does his own sons.

“I know it’s a lot right now, but you got a whole bunch of people around that are all here for you. Your mom was there for me and my kids way before you were born, and I’ll do just the same for you—if you want me to, okay?”

He expects a nervous nod or a soft yes, but Noah doesn’t do either. Instead, he grins, looking right at Elliot and asks, “Mom helped your kids?”

Elliot laughs at the question because it’s wildly innocent, yet funny considering how involved Olivia really was (is?). “Oh boy, that’s an understatement. She practically saved Eli’s life when he was born in the back of an ambulance.”

“What! Why?”

“That’s a long story, and—” Elliot checks his watch, “—it’s getting late.”

“Please?” Noah begs. “I’ll sleep right after!”

Elliot chuckles again, shaking his head as he perches on the empty side of the bed, unable to ever say no to a Benson. “Okay, just one though. Your mom would kill me with how late it is.”

And so, Elliot stays. 

One story of Eli’s birth (adjusted slightly to get rid of the scary, oh my god they all could’ve died details) turns into another story—this one of Olivia’s surprise for Elliot’s birthday, how all the kids showed up at his desk. 

And then another. 

And another.

Until Noah’s eyes are heavy and his breathing evens out, and Elliot finally feels enough peace to get some sleep himself. Carefully lifting himself off the mattress, he tries to not jostle the boy awake, and when he’s successful, he tiptoes out of the bedroom, flicking the light off on his way out the door. 

Only staying right across the hall, he takes his place in the half-office, half-guest room, spotting the premade sofa bed with a little basket of toiletries set up for him and he finally takes that deep breath he’s desired to for so long. 

Hours ago, he felt alone without her. And now, he’s with his family—with her son—who all sat with him tonight, trying to give him a normal night despite the chaos. They took care of him, just like he did when they were young, and he was gifted a night where he didn’t feel like the world was ending. 

All ready for bed himself, he slides into the sheets, letting the fresh smell of linen drag him back from wherever he was today—that dark abyss of despair he fell victim to—back to the surface where life bloomed around him. 

Where fresh linen soothed an aching heart, and let the man finally get some well-deserved rest.

 


 

 

Pink and green hazes, gleams of golden lights dancing through dark skies, a crackle of fireworks and the hint of smoke. Her brows furrow, neck tilted up to catch the bright explosions as her little legs try to keep up with the hand that’s tugging her along. 

Her brown eyes gleam at the sight, the bright lights and laughter around her, the other children running around as they please, not tethered to their parents as she was. She wonders where the light goes when the crackle is gone. The burst is so quick, then dissipates, like it was never meant to be there in the first place. A manmade moment of joy, right there for everyone to grab onto. 

“Olivia! Focus.”

Until it evaporates.

“Sorry, mama.” 

Her white shoes click against the sidewalk as she catches up, still holding her mother’s hand, and the sounds of booms are suddenly scary when she’s not seeing the lights shine with them. 

They’re walking away from the crowd, back towards their apartment, where the pretty sky presents can no longer be seen. Where she’ll stay inside, tucked into her bedroom, leaving her mother alone to enjoy the rest of the night. 

Olivia knows the drill. Where they will stop first, where she’ll have to stand, how long she’ll have to wait. The store with bright lights and a lot of glass. A lot.

“Stay here. Two minutes.”

It was never two minutes.

She nods, “Yes, mama,” and her hand is finally freed. 

The bright lights continue to glow up the sky, the booms still echoing through the air, but she’s missing the sparkles. Only the outer glow is visible to the four year old. 

If only she were taller, older, she could see. She wouldn’t have to stand outside. She could follow the light.

Another loud BOOM and the faint glow of red calls to her. Feet teetering, shuffling as people pass her by. Nobody even notices the child outside of the store. No one would notice if she left.

One more BOOM and it’s blue. A beautiful, bright blue. 

For some odd reason, to her, this one is the prettiest. Like the ocean, it’s…familiar. This color, this shade of blue, quickly becomes her favorite on the streets of New York, brown eyes locked on leftover glow before the next goes off. 

Her feet move before her mind realizes it, needing to follow it, chase after it. She just takes a few steps, until she’s running, oxfords clicking, dress blowing as she moves, sneaking through the long legs from the strangers. 

She tries to keep a steady breath as the lights get brighter and the BOOMs return. Yellow, then pink, green—if it’s the same, she’s got one more left until the blue. 

Moving as fast as a malnourished four-year-old can, she tries her hardest to get closer, can see herself getting there, almost…

BOOM! 

The red blasts. 

She just needs to round the corner now and she can see it, can see the pretty blue sparkles again. 

The people around her are loud—too loud—but oddly enough, the laughter is gone. 

And she swears it wasn’t this far before. They walked this short distance in half the time it’s taking her right now. 

It’s coming, the blue, she doesn’t want to miss it, she needs it back, right there, she wants to see but she’s still running and running, and for some reason, the corner is getting farther away. 

This isn’t fair! 

She sees it! Let her see it!

 

“Olivia?” 

 

A distorted voice rings in her ear, not mama’s. Not anyone she recognizes. It’s low and hushed, muffled as if underwater. 

No one is looking towards her—towards the voice—no one else seems to have heard it around her. 

Still, there’s not much time left until the blue goes off and if she misses it, who knows when she’ll ever see it again. 

But, everything around her goes silent. 

She can only hear the sound of her breath, panting as she keeps running and running and running. An empty chamber with the faintest notes left from the mysterious man—

“OLIVIA!” 

BOOM! 

The blue goes off and the sky stays black. 

It’s not there—why isn’t it there? 

The blue, the blue is gone. 

She swore it would be there! It would! She knew it would!

Her mother is storming up to her now and the world comes back in view. She didn’t even make it to the street corner. 

Why did it feel so far?

“Olivia Margaret Benson! What did I tell you to do?” Her mother grabs her harshly with one hand, tugging her towards her. The bottles clink in the bag she holds with her other, eyes narrowed, angry.

Olivia’s bottom lip starts to creep out, quivering just so. Her big brown eyes well with tears and her throat feels so scratchy. 

“I wanted to see the blue.”



END OF PART ONE



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

A/N: i'm calling this "part two of two" in reference to the coma, but the story as a whole is not over - if that makes sense? lol also some scenes have flashbacks in the middle of them, just know that anything indented and italicized is a flashback!! okay, enjoy~

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EPISODE II.

 

day 3

 

Nights become the biggest challenge. 

There’s something about the daylight that shines through those hospital windows that keeps him peacefully numb. Not hopeful, no that was not the feeling he had there. Just, not drowning anymore. 

Acceptance, maybe. 

It’s kind of fucked up considering it’s over a human being’s life, but he was expecting the worst and hoping for the best. If he goes there prepared for it to be his last moments with her, he will make it a damn good day and give her the peace she deserves. But when night fades in and he is asked to leave, that numbness wears off like a cheap drugstore alternative to prescription meds; the voices spiral and shout, telling him that she will die while he closes his eyes. That if he sleeps, he is selfish. How dare he prioritize himself, his own rest over being there for her? 

Luckily the apartment is full. Three bedrooms stuffed with his mom and Eli in their typical rooms and his own bedroom now occupied by her son. He takes the living room couch, mostly so he can walk around in peace without the worry of someone being awake before him. He can toss and turn and pace and do little chores at any time of the night, leaving those who deserve to sleep peacefully unaware. 

On this night, the ceiling becomes a projector, flashing every bad thought he could have on a cyclical display. The memory of her in his arms twists further and further from reality, the hours going so far by that he starts to question if he’s the one that shot her in the back. 

God, he feels like he’s at a sideshow. A sick funhouse of manipulative thoughts and memories taunting him. Reminding him that there isn’t enough guilt in the world for him to toss on his shoulders—it will never be enough. 

1:42AM.

Could he even survive the night? 

“Elliot?”

The visions all vanish and the ceiling becomes that simple ceiling again, erasing the maniacal faces away, blasting him back to reality. Noah is shuffling out of the main bedroom with puffy cheeks and a tiny frown, looking at his lying form from the short distance away. 

He wonders if this kid knows how much he’s saving the grown man right now. 

“Hey,” Elliot rubs his knuckles across his half-closed eye, swiping towards the point of his nose, pretending, as if he had gotten any sleep. “You okay?”

The boy shakes his head, messy curls bouncing slightly as he stays frozen to the ground. “I can’t sleep.” 

“Not tired?” Elliot asks. He lifts himself up, needing a new view, needing to not be trapped again in his own self-pity. Body aching, it’s sore when he sits upright, and he stretches his back slightly before patting the couch cushion next to him, which the boy quickly fills. 

“I’m just…” Noah’s voice gets ever-so-shaky and his head tilts down. “…nervous.”

The amount of times he’s had to comfort her son over the past months is both a blessing and a curse. He shouldn’t be grateful that he’s bonding with him when the only reason why is because Noah’s had to go through so much. 

And he can tell Noah is approaching the level of exhaustion he is. He can see his heavy eyes, he knows what’s behind them—he had five kids who’ve all done this before. Maybe not the same level of severity, but Elliot needs to get him distracted and out of the bad thoughts. He wants this kid to finally get some rest. 

(Hypocrite.) 

(Shut up. Focus on the boy. Self destruct later.)

“You know,” he manages to fake a small smile, “your mom had a trick for when we both couldn’t stop our minds from racing.”

The thought of his mother must revive him because for a moment those matte eyes glisten again and Elliot is starting to realize they have been avoiding the topic of her. Any mention, honestly. Good or bad. 

Noah misses her. 

“Really?” 

“Mhmm.” Elliot grins at the sound of the slightly cheered voice, chasing after it, wanting for once to do something good, to combat his damages, to make reparations for his inability to protect her. “Lemme go grab something.”  

“Grab what?”

“You’ll see.”

With each footstep, he’s stepping into a younger version of himself at his desk, and the vision of the young brunette across from him suddenly appears. 

She’s shuffling through her drawers, popping off the cap of a stray marker, smiling to herself. 

Good memories, that’s what he needs. 

That’s what they both need. 

His present state starts shuffling through the drawers himself, finding a stack of printer paper and a baggy of miscellaneous writing utensils. Pulling out two markers, he bites the cap off one and heads back towards the eight-year-old who watches him intently. Elliot chooses to sit on the floor this time, not wanting to return to the prison of fluffy fabric that sucked him into snippets of hell. He would return to that later. Not now. 

He tugs the coffee table closer, flopping all the items down in front of him, looking like a mini Office Depot. Taking a piece of paper off the top, he uses the uncovered marker to start doodling random shapes, letting the sound of the friction fill the room. 

The marker is so loud to him and every squeak makes his blood boil. “Liv. What the hell are you doing?”

“Shh. I’m working.”

“Transferring to the sketch artist club now? Computer crimes wasn’t enough?”

“What about ‘shush’ do you not understand?” 

He stops flicking through his papers, watching her now. The squeaks aren’t as annoying when he gets to see them in action, watch her furrowed brow and bit lip with each swish. 

“There,” she passes it over and it stings when his bare ring finger  makes contact with the abstract doodle. 

The squeaks are gone, but inky streaks decorate the blank paper, looking equally as random as hers did all those years ago. And once he’s satisfied, he holds the paper up, makes an exaggerated face of someone deep in thought before handing it over to Noah. “Here.”

The boy is hesitant at first, eyeing up the offer, but he eventually accepts the paper and extra marker, sliding off the sofa onto the floor next to the father, face still unsure. “…drawing?”

“Yeah, it helps clear your head. Whatever is going on up there, just start doodling what you feel.”

“My mom did this with you?”

“You’re too tense. We won’t figure this out with you pouting. C’mon, entertain me for a second.”

He smiles softly at the memory of her cheesy face, never imagining back then he would be doing this with her son. “Kind of. We had these sticky note contests.” 

Noah’s eyes narrow, confused, but seemingly entertained, so Elliot carries on, “If we were working late or having a tough time with a case, she would scribble something, pass it over and I’d add onto it until we had a masterpiece.” 

Elliot nudges the paper again, “Here, your turn.”

The kid’s eyes narrow and a brow lifts, looking puzzled as his gaze tries to decipher the scribbles. “What is it?”

“Whatever you want it to be.”

He laughs, “Liv, what the hell is this?”

She chuckles herself, crumpling another paper and tossing it at him, which he tries to dodge. “Shut up!”

“I’m just saying, don’t quit your day job—”

“Draw something, asshole. Let’s see how good you are.”

Like his mother, Noah presses down hard enough with each stroke to elicit the faintest of squeaks as he works on his additions. The random lines start to connect now, little flowers appearing from nothing and Elliot’s heart sinks when he sees it. “There.”

The sunflower forms from her nonsense, little petals and a long stem, and he wonders if that was her intention or if his subconscious managed to form it himself simply with her on his mind. 

“There.”

She snags it back from him, thumb tracing over the shape. It’s only a brief moment but he tries to find her eyes through her bangs to see her reaction. Olivia’s too good at that though, just sticks it to her desktop and smiles up at him, “Better?”

He exhales a short laugh, “I suppose so. Thanks.”

Noah breaks the memory again, passing the paper renewed with a beautiful sunflower to Elliot, eyes locked on the shapes. “Do you think you can bring that to mom? So she knows I’m here?”

“Of course,” he swallows hard. “I think she’ll love it.”

 


 

day four

 

Her phone buzzes incessantly, full of people unaware of her situation, daring to ask for the Captain, or sending their love to Olivia; hoping that when she wakes up she’ll receive their messages of support and gratitude, and maybe they’ll miraculously help her heal. 

The constant notifications keep him on-edge, but Elliot can’t turn it off.

She never turned her phone off. 

 


 

3 weeks before the shot

 

Mid-sex on a lazy Sunday morning, he wants to surprise her with the small purple vibrator that hasn’t left his mind—not since his eyes accidentally came across it the night before last. He’d smirked down at it in the drawer, thought of Olivia on her bed pleasuring herself with it, wondering if his name decorated her tongue as the toy brought her to ecstasy. 

No, Elliot wasn’t jealous of a battery-operated thing.

…but if he could incorporate it into their routine, it may certainly give her something to think about the next time she uses it. 

So after some easy foreplay—his tongue gliding across her skin, focusing on her breasts until her hips jerk up—he moves up to tuck his hot breath in the crook of her neck, kissing her deeply, eliciting tiny little sighs. Her eyes dare to flutter open but he can’t have that, and he breathlessly urges her, “Just relax.”

Her hair is messy from sleeping so well last night all snuggled in his arms and the side of her face is tinted slightly red from where it was pressed against his chest. 

She's beautiful to him. 

She is all the time, but he is obsessed with her when she first wakes up. There’s something incredibly perfect about the pairing of Olivia Benson and the morning, and he can’t tell if it’s the way the sunshine hits her golden skin or if it’s how low her voice is, all gravelly and rested.

Olivia keeps her eyes closed, exhaling contently as he teases her thighs, slowly, methodically, gliding across them with featherlight grazes of his fingertips and causing her breath to hitch, goosebumps beginning to appear. He could do this all day, just exploring her. One day (if he has the time to), he vows to memorize every detail of her, as if he would suddenly never get to see her again. 

But that day was not today. No, she should be pleasured this morning. Wake up with an orgasm or two to begin their day together with no work. A rarity for them both. 

He crawls down her body, leaving a trail of wetness from his lip as he makes his way to to kiss each thigh, giving them both the attention they deserve. Elliot loves every single centimeter of the woman before him, and yet, it’s right here between her legs, that he finds himself spending the most time. There is something about her thighs... 

The only issue is the longer he does it, the more Olivia writhes, desperately needing his fingers and lips somewhere else. This is a relaxing morning, his time to provide for her, so he gives each leg one more kiss before he reaches back, grasping the purple vibrator. 

Taking one hand, he glides two fingers up her inner thigh, ghosting them over her heat, cocky at the slick arousal. He didn’t even need it, but he adjusts the toy in his other hand, readying it and flicking it on.

Instead of unadulterated bliss, within a nanosecond her eyes are jolted open, hand flying to the nightstand. She snags her phone off the charger instinctually, only faltering when Elliot calls her name and wiggles the source of the noise to show her. 

Dark brown eyes glare at him, then at the notification-free phone, and she shakes her head. Not letting her mistake ruin the moment, Olivia simply laughs it off, “You can’t do that!”

He could live off that sound alone. 

“Scared ya?”

“I’m conditioned. This thing completely controls my life,” she chuckles, placing the phone back down on the nightstand and shaking her head once more at him, this time with her lips pouted. “If you wanna use things that buzz on me, you better keep a tab on my phone or I’ll never relax.” 

She’s staring down at him and he thinks he could drown in her eyes—how did he last twelve years as her partner when he can’t even go five seconds without needing to touch her?

“Mmm,” he leans down again, placing his lips on her warm skin again, letting the buzzing roam on. “Deal. Now close your eyes.”

Without reluctance, she listens, giving him the freedom to explore the sweet spots where she squirms and sighs; thoughts of her phone vibrating far out of her mind, only focusing on where his lips and the buzz meet her, eyes closed to make it just that more exciting. 

Olivia thinks for a moment that this could be her forever, but she can’t bring herself to that commitment so soon. She’ll settle for great sex, an orgasm, then two, his name rolling off her tongue and hands gripping him, etching her nails into his back to claim him as her own. 

But forever is a word that has to stay far away for now. 

Not yet. No need to ruin their fun. Even though she can see it on his face, can see it in the way his fingers and lips mark her skin. 

His excited mouth stays quiet, though, as Elliot tests her limits, not sure when they’ll get another perfect morning like this—another chance for him to drown in everything she is. 

It’s only two weeks into this newness. He’ll hold off from what he wants to say, replacing the confessions with repeated urges again and again (and again), “Just one more, Liv, can you do that for me?” until she becomes one with the sheets, overstimulated, spent, and ravenously hungry. 

So he can’t say he loves her. 

But he can show her how much he wants her. 

Kisses land on her shoulder and chest as she attempts to catch her breath, and he abandons her only to grab a warm washcloth and a glass of water, leaving it on the nightstand near her phone.

“No new messages, must be our lucky day,” he chides, leaving her sleepy smile to see how far she’s willing to let him take care of her. 

He takes over the kitchen, cooking them up a real breakfast, one that echoes the hominess and domestication of today, and  smiles down at her plate and coffee, unable to register that this is not a dream. That Olivia is here, with him, in bed with kisses only for him, happily eating within the sheets, sipping on coffee and sliding bites of soft pancake through her lips while he lazily rubs her back. 

If this really is forever, there’s not one thing either of them would change. 

 


 

He misses being able to touch her. 

Not even sexually—just holding her, fingers tracing her skin. 

Olivia felt like she belonged in his arms; she fit perfectly into him, legs locked together, arms encapsulating the other, their breaths synced in a way that they could feel the rise and fall of their chests pushing and pulling them together. 

At the hospital he can only hold her hand and kiss her forehead. It feels too detached for them, especially compared to the month they came off of—where they nose-dived into the middle of their story, skipping much of the cautious tiptoeing. After how long it’s been and everything that’s happened, they really didn’t need to wait anymore. 

The phone buzzes again, lighting up, and his eyes instinctively dart towards it. It’s plugged in to charge and always within arms’ reach, just in case. 

Noah showed him the code (sorry, Liv) and he vows to not snoop, but keeps up with his secretary role, checking messages and answering important calls. He gives his cell number to those who need it and sifts through the other texts, forwarding any victim’s messages to Amanda and Fin, reaching out to those he knew on his own cell (updating the contact information while he’s at it). 

There’s so much thrown at him, things that he didn’t think about. From the cell phone to her apartment, bills, and mail, the things that she had so indoctrinated into her own routine, he didn’t notice until she wasn’t there. 

The phone was just the loudest problem.

He marks down the names in an old-fashioned list, pen on paper, to make sure he can keep track of who has called, who has texted, and who he’s responded to.

He groups people together, placing those most important in one column (at least based off what he knows—which isn’t much, considering they haven’t exactly caught up on the ten-year gap, but he tries), then unknown numbers on another page (quickly scribbling what they needed), and a middle list of people that he was a stranger to but must’ve filled her life when he left. 

There’s…a lot of male names. 

He tries—really tries—to focus on the fact that he has nothing to be jealous of, that she is his now and won’t be anyone else’s anymore. But, at first, she had only vaguely mentioned Tucker (failing to clarify Ed meant that Ed), then whispered a few other names during casual conversations, clarifying they weren’t long-lasting relationships and that’s why she answered the way she did. 

He does the nicest, most true-to-Elliot thing by responding with a copy-paste message to thank them for reaching out, telling them she is stable and that he will be sure to keep them posted. It gets sent to Cassidy, Langan, Dodds, Garland, a man named Edgar, and one named Amaro, then to a handful of women who are a mix of the mothers of Noah’s friends, dance teachers, and other work acquaintances. 

Elliot bites his lip at the long list of names in front of him, all people he knew at one point or another. He doesn’t know where or how to begin, if they know he’s even back in New York, if they even want to hear from him. For some of the names on the list, it’s been over a decade. 

He’ll start with Melinda. He owes her and her husband a proper thank you for the condolences last year, and he craves the familiarity of the medical examiner, hoping it’ll bring him some peace again. 

And when the phone starts to ring, he once again ignores the texts coming in from Rafael Barba, knowing that there’ll be a day when he’s up for that conversation. 

Not today.

 


 

4 weeks before the shot

 

Phone held up to his ear, laid on his back atop his mattress, his breathing is heavy in the small room as he confesses to her, “I wish you were here.”

“It’s one night, Elliot,” she lets out a singular laugh. “Noah’s gotta learn to sleep here with just me again.”

“Or…”

“Elliot.”

“I’m just saying.”

“Not yet,” she sighs softly and he can hear her sheets ruffle as she tosses and turns again. 

“Are you sure it’s only Noah who wants me there?”

“Hmm?”

“Well…it’s almost one AM, Liv, and you’re on the phone with me.”

Silence.

Then she breaks it. “…you texted me.”

He chuckles, “I texted ‘goodnight.’ I’m not complaining, but that usually means we’re sleeping and will talk tomorrow.” He waits for a sarcastic response but the other end goes quiet again. “Liv? What’s going on?”

There’s another brief pause before a sleepy, “Nothing,” is released.

“Nah, you gotta talk to me,” he yawns back. “Can’t sleep?”

“Can you?”

Ah. 

He turns over in the sheets and thinks of her long waves across the pillows, how silky it is in his fingers, how warm she is when she crawls closer to him and lays upon his chest. “Of course not.”

“I keep thinking about it. About how close Frank got to Noah, to you—”

“To you, too,” he interjects. 

She falters, “Yeah.”

He pictures her on the other end, eyes up at the ceiling he was growing to love, profoundly awake despite the exhaustion they both felt. Perhaps her fingers were reaching for the empty space he quietly began to claim, just as he is here with hers. 

“So,” he continues on, wanting to distract her just enough that sleep will take over and he can hear her miniscule snoring through the phone. “Noah…”

She chuckles softly, warmly, “He hasn’t asked yet. I’m just letting it happen.”

He smiles to himself in his empty bedroom, “Good.”

“El?”

“Mhmm?”

“Do you want to stay tomorrow night?”

 


 

day 6

 

He arrives with a tote bag of belongings in tow, a crinkly flower bouquet, and a large cup of coffee. It’s almost a sick joke that he’s a regular at the hospital now, but the faces grow familiar and he barely has to look where to go. 

It’s like clockwork. 

“Good morning, Mr. Stabler. Can I lend a hand?” 

…Kevin? No, this is Ethan. Kevin is taller. 

“Oh, yeah—yeah, that’d be helpful. Thank you.” Elliot lets him take the flowers, not wanting them to get crushed. Their bright yellow petals reminded him of her floral printed pajamas, the soft jersey ones he likes. “Last night was okay?”

“Yes, she’s doing great. But we’re keeping a close eye on her,” he reassures with a smile. 

They continue the walk down the hallway, and normally Elliot would hate the escort, but he appreciates the few moments of peace he has with her caretakers, getting updated while they make the journey to her; it’s a small send-off. They know how important the woman in the bed is to the city as an NYPD Captain, but now they know how important Olivia is to Elliot. To the son whose pictures hang up next to her bed, to the friends who come by, to the ones who guard her door. 

Not Captain Benson, but Olivia M. Benson. The name that decorates her chart. 

“Any news?”

Ethan nods and tosses a small grin at him, “Her back is healing up nicely, but we’ll know more when we do the one-week exam tomorrow. Vitals are all healthy, strong—she’s a trooper.” 

Kevin was right, Ethan is sweet. He can see why they’re together now.

They approach the last leg and Elliot is welcomed by a soft smile from Cho, a flash of Ethan’s nurse's badge, and a quick ‘hello’ between the three of them before the room is cleared for entry and they make their way inside. 

There’s his girl.

His chest instinctively warms when he sees her, despite the situation. The stability of simply being in her presence is enough for him. 

“I’ll put these over here for now,” the nurse interjects, laying the flowers down gently on the windowsill. “I think we have an empty vase in the break room. I can go get it for you, if you’d like?”

“That would be great, thank you.”

Ethan smiles again and leaves the room, and the white noise of Olivia returns.

“Hey pretty lady, I brought ya some flowers,” he leans down, placing a tiny kiss on her forehead, fingers in her hair, thumb swiping across the areas of her face not covered in tubes or tape. “Reminded me of you.”  

At first, it was unnerving to see so little of her. But now, he’s becoming used to how she looks here, in the bed, covered up with scratchy fabric she would hate, intricately spread wires and tubes. Far from the Olivia he was growing used to—the one with a bedtime routine, with a collection of lotions and cleansers, with pajamas that were so soft that he would find himself making excuses just to run his fingers up and down her. 

She’s still beautiful—she will always be beautiful and nothing could change that—but he’s learning to love her this way. Replacing his vision of the woman in the doorframe, washing her face, brushing her long hair, rambling on about a case or her son, with the peace of hearing her heartbeat and seeing her chest rise and fall. That is all he needs. To know that his Olivia is alive and here, recovering like a champ, becoming the most well-loved patient even while in a coma, because of course she would. She’s Olivia. 

Everyone loves her. And he doesn’t know how, but he’s growing to love her more and more—from the moment he said it out loud—and he is going to be here, every day, until he can see her eyes when he says it to her again.

For now, he has to keep up the hope that that day is coming soon. That she will wake up today, tomorrow, or the next and reach for him and he’ll be here this time. 

He has to form his own routine now, no longer able to follow her along, needing to lead this for the two of them. His chair is pulled up right beside her so he can run his fingers through her hair or grab her hand when the anxiety starts to prickle through his veins and he needs that steady reminder that she is here, with him. His coat is hung over the back of the chair, Noah’s newest artwork is hung, and the flowers now have a perfect vase to rest in. 

Today, he feels refreshed. 

Each beep of the machine keeps him going, keeps his spirits high, and he’s actually excited to be here now. The room is prettier, feels more like her and less like the prison of a hospital room it used to be. 

 


 

the night before

 

“Many believe that environmental enrichment and sensory stimulation can accelerate the recovery process. Sensory stimulation should focus on verbal conversation, familiar objects and memories, such as personal blankets, recordings of favorite music, pets, and posters. Some researchers recommend vigorous stimulation of the senses, using, for example, ringing alarm clocks, rubbing the skin, pleasant and unpleasant flavors and smells put on the tongue or held to the nose, or bright lights flashed in front of the eyes.” 

Kathleen looks up from her phone, eyes catching her dad’s stiff frame staring into Olivia’s bedroom, gaze locked on her unmade bed. “Dad?”

He shakes his head, throwing himself out of the hole he was digging. “Sorry, sorry—what were you saying?” 

“Familiar things,” Kathleen carries on, refocusing him on the task at hand and grounding him in the moment. “Her favorite blanket, smells she likes, that kind of stuff.”

“Okay.”

Kathleen pushes past him, entering the bedroom, looking around. It’s frozen in time. Olivia must have been rushing to get ready for their date, leaving a trail. He can almost follow it, envisioning her going back and forth, deciding on what to wear, on what is best. 

“Dad, are you okay to do this?”

Elliot grins, “Yes, Katie. I’m fine.”

“Well then let’s get moving. Noah’s dance class ends in forty-five minutes and I don’t want to be late.”

He nearly laughs at the absurdity this domestication has become. He and Olivia went from ten years apart, not even knowing if the other was alive, to his kids learning her son’s routine, taking him in like he was another one of them. He wonders if it would’ve gone slower if this hadn’t happened. If the sex wouldn’t have kept them going, if one month together wasn’t enough and she would’ve run away. If this would all be too much, too quick, for her. 

Hell, she might wake up and want to run. 

She was hesitant to even let him go to Noah’s dance recital. Now, Noah is nearly moved fully into his house in Long Island City, slowly growing more Stabler tendencies with each day that goes by, loosening up his perfect Benson self. The kid could use a little of the controlled chaos that a single father provides. 

“Okay, grab a couple of the framed pictures. We can put those on the windowsill,” Kathleen directs.

Elliot obliges, snagging one of her and Noah off her nightstand, then heading to the living room to grab one of his favorites. In it, she’s next to her squad in what looks like a church, holding up Amanda’s eldest in a floral dress. She looks happy—genuinely happy—and his thumb swipes over her stilled-self, grinning down at her cheery face. 

He’s glad she had this while he was gone. Not that he assumed she would be miserable forever, but he’s just grateful she had support. Had her own little family with her team and made a life for herself. 

And yet, his eyes glance around, remembering the days where he filled her apartment, where frames were filled with memories of them. He was nowhere to be found here anymore; she packed him away. He doesn’t know when, maybe it was immediate. Maybe she was so angry at him, she couldn’t bear to stand his face  anymore. Or maybe she waited. Maybe she held out hope he was coming back and left the photos up, hoping he would just talk to her again. 

Shit. 

The corners of his eyes start to prickle with the familiar sting of those pesky tears. Maybe he couldn’t do this today.

“Dad? You good?”

He shakes his head again, reminding himself to focus, stay grounded in today, in what he’s doing for her now. “Yeah, I’m done,” he shouts, snagging another pretty one of her with a much smaller Noah, not even thinking of giving himself time to regret missing out on the kid’s early days, and simply heads back into the bedroom.

Kathleen smiles at him while she finishes hanging up the last of the thrown-around clothes. Having made the bed, she’s seemingly tried to reset her room, unable to leave it the way it was, all scattered. The sight of it makes him breathe a little better, seeing it brand new again, as if in default mode. Olivia would like having it all tidied up, although she would’ve been embarrassed someone else was cleaning for her. 

“Perfect. Now, is there a blanket she always uses? None of these seem right,” she crosses her arms and glances back at the neat bed, nose scrunching as her eyes glance over the options.

He’s scouring his memory bank of them in this apartment to find a constant in the visions of her, but in his defense, their main activity didn’t require a lot of coverage. He isn’t sure what her favorite blanket is and it feels like a slight blow to not know. They didn’t have enough time together before this happened. But there was a night she dozed off on his shoulder, body close to his as her son snored away on the other side of her, the woven blanket covering them both. 

“She used the one in the living room sometimes.” 

Maybe it’s not her favorite, but it’s definitely better than the hospital’s.

“Okay I’ll grab it,” Kathleen nods. “Why don’t you work on the next one?”

“What’s that?”

“Smells and stuff. What lotions she used, that type of thing.”

Oh, he could do that. 

Heading into the bathroom, memories flood of them in here together—his toothbrush there from his days sleeping over staring back at him. He pictures her with hair clipped up, water running as he stands behind, watching her move. He snags the purple bottle of lotion that smells like lavender, the one she rubs across her arms and legs after a shower or before bed, the one that has became synonymous with her. This, this is good. 

Kathleen is back, blanket folded neatly and placed on the bed next to the pictures, “Got it?”

Elliot wiggles the bottle back and forth, showing his daughter. “This one.”

She reaches for it, popping the cap open and giving it a quick sniff. “Yeah, this is definitely Livvy,” she confirms and tosses it on the bed. 

“Should I bring this stuff?” Elliot asks, gesturing to the other products in the bathroom, the stuff that went on her face with two gentle fingers or a stone roller, gliding across her skin. 

“Uh, I’m not sure you’ll be able to use any of it, because of the…” Her voice trails off, but Elliot knows what she means. Her face is well-covered, he wouldn’t want to accidentally touch something he shouldn’t.

Elliot clears his throat, “Right, right.” 

“Grab a hairbrush though. That might be nice for her, and the article says hair care is good.”

 


 

The frames are placed, the hospital blanket is gone and replaced with her own, and her phone is plugged in, a Fleetwood Mac playlist going softly in the background. He’ll have to sit with Noah tonight and ask what his mom listens to since it’s been a bit for him. A brief memory of that Lady Antebellum song crosses his mind, but he wonders if Need You Now even makes her current playlists. If she still looped Love on Top, smiling at the first notes from Beyonce. 

Scrolling through, he sees a lot of classics scattered between a lot of music that is clearly Noah’s, but also catches newer artists, ones that he’ll have to ask the girls about. Her music truly is all over the place, but recently played was Gold Dust Woman

She’d always be a Stevie girl.

Music on and sleeves rolled up, he uncaps the bottle of lotion, slathering a little of it on his palms, lifting her arms carefully as he starts to spread it across her skin. He’s methodical as he moves, being gentle, but kneading in like she always did. 

And then he finds his voice again.

“Part one of the Married at First Sight finale was last night. I know we were betting on all divorces, but shockingly, everyone said yes so far. Even Katina, which I know we were worried about.” 

He continues on, finishing her right arm, moving over to the left. “Oh, and Noah showed me Queer Eye. I thought it would be a nice show before bed, but wow, it’s kind of a tear-jerker.” 

Arms smooth and dewy, he lifts the blanket and tries to apply some wherever he can, but the machines make it a little difficult. He decides to cover her back up, instead moving his hands under the fabric of her gown to circle her shoulders. 

Lotion would be more of an arm type of deal for now. He clicks the cap back shut and reaches for the hairbrush, continuing his care. 

She would hate everything about this. 

But he loves it. 

Her hair isn’t as soft as usual, he’ll have to talk to the nurses about that, but for now, he grabs strands in a loose fist, gently pulling the brush through to the ends, repeating slowly until it’s unbelievably silky in his hands. 

She isn’t responsive yet, but he hopes she can somehow enjoy this. Hopes that maybe the feeling of his hands on her can help bring her back to him. 

He tells her about the twins—not the adults, but the grandkids—finishing up her hair and tucking the brush away as he makes his way back to his seat, grabbing her hand and laughing as he retells a story of Seamus trying to trap the tooth fairy and how Carl nearly broke his leg from his child’s attempts. 

As he beams over the sweetness, his—no, her—phone buzzes again and Elliot clicks it off, leaving another lengthy text unanswered.

 


 

2007

 

They sit on the steps for a little longer, him sipping at his cheap coffee—his preferred kind of brew—while she has her tea, both of them recovering in the silence of the city at night. 

“How’s your leaf juice?” he asks, eyes glancing over to find her hands still restless. 

She smiles, “Good.”

But this time when he catches her eyes, it’s different from any time they’ve met before, holding onto something else when they connect—bare finger burning as his chest flutters, hands strangely wanting to reach out and brush those damn bangs out of her eyes. 

Instead he shakes his head, face plastered with a grin to match her own. “Yeah, yeah. You’ll be back.”

 


 

day 9

 

Olivia had a scare last night. 

The doctors do not go into detail on his behalf, but let him know that everything is fine now, that there is nothing to worry about, but his heart doesn’t stop pounding. He didn’t sleep, he can’t rest. His hands are shaking and his breath never seems to even out. 

He didn’t even notice it had become morning until he hears his mother shuffle into the kitchen, filling the kettle and prepping some tea for them both. Elliot even tries to pretend he wasn’t awake already, reminiscent of his youth when he would be out late and sneak back in, but it didn’t work then and it doesn’t work now. 

“Coffee makes you more jittery,” she says as she hands him the mug, patting his back and ushering him out the patio doors to join her at their table and chairs. It’s still too cold for this but the tea is warm and the fresh air is nice. A woven caftan decorates Bernie’s shoulders and she stares at him intently. 

Elliot doesn’t like it. “What?”

“You didn’t sleep.”

He rolls his eyes, shaking his head. “I slept, Ma.”

“No, you didn’t. I can tell.”

Elliot huffs, “I slept.”

She lets it hang there for a moment, breathing in the crisp morning air and thumbing at the edge of her mug, analyzing her son, noticing just how tense he seems.

And then, “Are you going to tell me what happened or do I have to pry it out of you?”

His initial reaction is to snap, fueled partially by the lack of sleep he’s been insistent he got and partially because it is just in his nature. But his eyes fly to hers and he’s unable to keep up the annoyance, caving in to the maternal love she’s been gently providing. Sighing out the pressure, he resigns, “Doctors called at three-thirty. I don’t really know what happened. She’s fine now.” 

“Was she waking up?”

Elliot simply shrugs, “I wasn’t there. I don’t know.”

“Oh, Elliot, it was the middle of the night. She’s okay, that’s all that matters.”

The hot mug is placed on the table that separates them and he bows his head, elbows resting on his knees. 

He was doing so well. 

“I was just thinking that I was finally doing everything right. That we were gonna be okay. Just makes me remember how fragile this whole situation is.”

She reaches for him, delicate fingers barely reaching him, but even this slight bit of contact  grounds him. “And look how well you’re doing, son. You’ve been going to the hospital every day, bringing her flowers, being there for her, for her son. Hell, look at Noah. He’s practically made this place his home already,” she chuckles. “And you know Eli loves the attention. I even got a person with tiny enough hands to help in the garden that won’t eat dirt like the twins. It’s a win for everyone.”

“Except Olivia,” he mumbles, eyes down on his fumbling thumbs.

Bernie shakes her head, “She’s recovering. The poor thing was already so exhausted before, she needs to heal up and wake when she’s ready. In the meantime,” she sips her tea again. “...it’s a great opportunity for you to prove you’re ready for her.”

He furrows his brows, “What do you mean?”

“Well, you want her to commit to you and she wants to trust you won’t leave her again but you’re both so stubborn. Now’s your chance—you can prove you’re not going anywhere—take care of her, set up your home, and when she wakes up, you’ll show her that you’re not going anywhere.” 

Bernie stands, snagging her empty tea cup with her, “And stop running.”

 


 

2012

 

There’s a phantom ringing in the back of his ear that keeps causing his hand to reach into his pocket for a phone that no longer exists. It’s been months—he should be over this by now—but he’d gotten so used to her name displayed across his screen, he feels guiltier now that she won’t even be able to reach him. 

“Elliot, are you listening?”

His wife’s voice cuts through the ever-glooming guilt and he can only muster up another pathetic apology. “Sorry.”

Her bright eyes stay locked on him, “Are you okay?”

“M’fine Kath.”

“I want to believe you.”

“Then do,” he grumbles.

Seated on the plane, he knows this new life is the right choice for their marriage, for their bubbly son who’s asleep against his mother’s chest. The entirety of his life has been changed within the past weeks as he just got through the days, listening to what his wife offered, what she thought was the next right move, what she so desired. 

Elliot had no more wants, wishes, or needs. Not after the gun went off and he held onto the girl who bled out. 

“You’re doing what’s best for both of you.” Kathy repeats the mantra she’s been echoing since he finally agreed to quit, since his papers were given to Cragen and he headed home, all without even so much as a hello to the poor woman who deserved a proper goodbye. He couldn’t do it; that would mean it was truly over. 

He settles for a sigh and his default pivot, “I’m not having this conversation again.”

But it doesn’t go unnoticed. 

“Of course you won’t,” Kathy mutters back before she turns away. 

He hears the ringing again, but there’s no stopping it. 

He’ll never get it out of his head.

 


 

day 10

 

McGrath’s lawyer is good and he isn’t making justice for Olivia easy. They’re getting buried in semantics and paperwork and legal clauses and Elliot can’t stand it anymore. He tells Ayanna to only update him if necessary, or else all his hard work will be for nothing.

He’ll kill the man himself. 

Ayanna knows (thinks) he’s not serious, but she agrees and extends his leave of absence, unsure if he even wants to come back in the first place. Regardless, there is no world in which he is ready to be back in the field. 

Knocked back by that all-too-familiar sensation to break something, he steadies his breath as he calmly drives back home, nothing but rage coursing through his veins. 

He hasn’t felt this emotion since the day in Frank’s cell. This level of anger has been surpassed by deep contemplation and sadness, but it trickles back through and battles his peace to weigh him down. Fists forming, knuckles whitening, he needs to find a place to put all this energy or there’ll be a new hole in the wall he’ll have to fix. 

In his car, he misses the turns for the house several times, and ends up driving with no destination (or so he thinks). Logically, there’s only a few places his subconscious would guide him, and it’s either the gym or hospital, but Olivia is in tests all day and they pushed back her visiting hours. 

So he should’ve figured he’d end up here, in front of stained glass. 

The church is far emptier on a weekday, as if the sins of the troubled absolve themselves during the week. This feels normal to him, walking to the tucked-away place he often found himself clinging to, as the Catholicism suffocated his every move.

Another cyclical pattern in his life: the absolvement of sins and guilt that grace his soul. 

The sign of the cross is made.

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. My last confession was over a month ago.”

(After the bar, after she ran—after the brothers brought up the forbidden name, and she thought he had betrayed her.)

Elliot hesitates, unsure  where to begin and what to say. His mind is a never-ending swirl of wrong-doings right now, and he surprises himself with how feeble his voice sounds when he speaks. “My—” 

He pauses just as he begins, the label too unknown to say, but this is confession—there is no one else to hear. “…my significant other is in the hospital right now. And I can’t help but feel that this is all my fault, that my actions are the reason she’s there right now. If I had listened to her and waited until I was done with my assignment, Olivia might not have been hurt.”

Taking in a steady inhale, he squeezes his eyes shut and shakes his head, “People keep telling me that’s not true, but I can’t help to think that there was a way to prevent it. That I didn’t do everything I could to protect her. If I didn’t leave the first time, if I had just stayed—”

He shakes his head.

Don’t go back that far.

“If I didn’t run off to Frank, I could’ve been there when she woke up from surgery. I could’ve calmed her down and she wouldn’t have hurt herself again. And now, even though I try to stay, I’m being forced to leave.”

Tears threaten to form but he clenches his fist to retaliate against them. “I almost lost her again,” he continues, with the slightest bit of waver to his voice. “I’m starting to think Kathy was right. Maybe she is better off without me.”

The relief of confession doesn’t wash over him; instead, the hushed declaration opens that door again, sending him down that wretched pathway of never-ending punishment. Olivia’s face echoing again and again, that face bright with terror, the weight of her in his arms.

“You have PTSD.”

He laughed at her. “I’ve been on the job for 35 years.”

“And your wife was murdered right in front of you.”

He understands it now; what it is to be a man fallen overboard with no lifejacket. How with Kathy’s death he could hold onto Olivia, have a crutch, have support. Now, he floats alone, his legs and arms tired from treading the all-encompassing water with no relief in sight. 

“Why did you run?” The voice breaks his thoughts, interrupting the spiral through the grates that separate the two.

Elliot clears his throat, “The first time, I didn’t have a choice.”

“Everyone has a choice,” the man of God retorts.

“…it was easier,” Elliot concedes.

“Easier than what?”

“Than—than making the wrong decision.”

“What ‘wrong decision’?”

He shrugs, leaning back so his head can rest for a moment. His eyes bolt up as if a timeline of his life with every decision, every choice he made, was displayed right out there for him to review. “…I don’t know. I followed my wife, my family, because that’s what I was supposed to do. But now Kathy is dead because I chose to stay with her, and Liv went through hell because I was gone. Kind of seems like a sign.”

“Son, you chose your family. You did the right thing. You did your duty as a father, as a husband. You followed through on your oath to God, to those you love. To regret that, that would be a wasteful decision.”

“I don’t regret my family. Never,” Elliot clarifies sternly. “Kathy practically demanded a divorce after…” 

Jenna’s name approaches the tip of his tongue and retreats back quickly.

“…right before I quit my job.” 

“And you denied her?”

“I told her that I would do anything she wanted, follow her wherever she wanted to go. I just wanted some normalcy—wanted my son.”

There’s a brief silence before the man speaks again, probing, “Who is this other woman?”

Elliot doesn’t like the way that sounds, as if Olivia was an affair, an afterthought, a vice. 

“Her name is Olivia. She was my old partner on the job.”

“The one you quit?”

“Yeah.”

“And what is the nature of your relationship with Olivia? I’m having trouble understanding what sins you feel you committed. Under God’s eye, to leave your wife would have been the wrong decision. But you stayed, chose your family over another woman—that is nothing to feel guilty about.”

“Even if staying meant Kathy would die?”

There’s a heavy beat before a deep sigh, “Death is inevitable, my son. To think we can control it by our actions is merely a way to exhaust yourself.”

“But if I left Kathy, if I signed the papers, she could be alive. She could have found another person to make her happy, I could have—” He stops himself before he says what he was going to say, not needing to think about a fabricated timeline from ten years ago. 

It’ll only make things worse.

“This Olivia, when did she become your significant other?”

“Little over a month ago.”

“So you reconnected after your wife’s death?”

“Yes,” he confirms. “She helped with my wife’s case. We were…we struggled a bit, but eventually made it work.”

“May I ask, why is she in the hospital?”

“She was shot by a member of a group I was investigating. The guy was hired by her boss, though, so the fault lines are a little blurry.”

“Did you know she would be shot?”

He’s almost offended at the question. “What? No, of course not.”

The priest politely resigns, “Then again, I am not sure which of your actions requires repentance. You fulfilled your oath of marriage, of fatherhood, and only after the tragic loss of your wife did you act upon your feelings for another woman. And while her accident is awful to hear about, at no point did you know she would be hurt. You may not be revealing the entire truth here, but to me, you did what God asked of you.” 

He continues, “If there is someone you have hurt, whether you feel that be Olivia or your wife, it’s your purpose to make amends. To apologize for your actions. Only then would your confession be honorable.”

At the conclusion, the air does not change. That gnawing pain does not leave him. The church does not wash away the blood like it did so many times before; it does not ease him of the guilt he feels. 

He finishes the ritual as he is meant to, but he leaves the stained glass no better than he entered it. 

Heart heavy, mind racing, he slams his car door, head against the seat as the tears begin to fall and he pictures her gentle hand squeezing his, the whisper of “One step at a time,” ringing in his ears.

 


 

1 week before the shot

 

“Aww, look,” Elliot flips his phone around as she’s changing into her chosen pajamas for the evening—a lilac tank and short set. “Carl snagged a few pictures of us with the grandkids.”

“Us with your grandkids,” Olivia clarifies, not able to look yet as she’s tugging the shirt over her head. Once it’s on, she smooths it down, smirking at Elliot, who rolls his eyes playfully. She steps closer to him, teasing him with the lack of distance, grabbing onto his wrist and curving it slightly toward her so she can get a closer look. 

“They’re cute,” is all she says and Elliot winds an arm around her waist to keep her close when she tries to retreat.

She tries not to, but she lets out a small laugh as his lips find her ear, his hot breath tickling her. “You’re cute,” he rasps then drops his head down to the crook of her neck, planting a row of kisses there in quick succession. 

Olivia groans, “Not ‘cute’.” 

Elliot chuckles against her skin, mouth still on her, his fingers now tracing little circles on the fabric over her abdomen. “Mhmm, you are.”

She leans her head back to rest against him as he squeezes her close and she exhales a sleepy sigh, giving into the embrace, “Thank you.”

“For what?”

“For helping Noah.”

He breathes her in, giving her another kiss, just because he can. “Well, thank you too. I don’t know how you calmed Eli down.”

“He’s a good kid, El.”

“So’s yours.”

She twists around in his grasp, eyes locked to him, the words filling themselves in within their stare: words of gratitude, words of desire, of peace. And just because Olivia can now, she leans in, giving him a soft peck and wrapping her arms around his neck, cocooning herself into his hold, finding the serenity of it all.

Softly, she whispers a simple demand of “Bed,” and Elliot is quick to act. 

“Yes, ma’am,” he chides, bending down to wrap his arms around her legs, lifting her as he stands and she protests. 

The sound of her laughter fills the air and that night, they sleep soundly, tangled in each other’s arms.

 


 

day 11

 

The night he first saw her after a decade apart, she was in a dress and heels on the rainy streets of Manhattan, face floored at the sight of him. He couldn’t look anywhere but her eyes, relieved that they still grounded him like they did all those years ago. He greedily held their contact as Kathy was being taken away, unbelieving that she was really here, within reach, right now. 

Elliot thought there was no way she would be the same as when he left her, seated on that plane on the way back to New York for her award ceremony. The folded paper burned his coat pocket with the words from his wife and the sinned confession he had selfishly snuck in as he stared and stared, absorbing the dark pools of brown before he awoke from the dream he was trapped in.

And now he sits beside her, a year later, in another hospital room, afraid to lose another woman he loves. 

The only problem is there is no Olivia to turn to, there is no comfort for him, no sun to shine through the cloudy sky to keep him going. Only himself, aching for the eyes that rested shut for the past few weeks.   

Left with her phone and the few photos on his, he made it a habit to scroll through her pictures, past the hundreds of screenshots and nonsense, clicking only ones where her smile was bright and her eyes sparkled with life—anything that could replace the haunted look of death that threatened to keep him awake at night.

At first, he promised himself that he wouldn’t snoop. That he wouldn’t click onto pictures that he didn’t think she would want him to see, only needing a slight boost to remember her outside of the purgatory that was this hospital bed. 

But one extra scroll landed his fingers on a snapshot of a familiar head (his own), and he realized that Olivia had sneakily taken pictures of him, of them, and he had never known. 

3 weeks ago

Laying on her chest, face down, her left hand on his back, softly smiling at the camera as he slept heavily, comforted by her embrace

3 weeks ago

She and Katie; he’s clueless behind as the blonde pretends to crush his head with her fingers, making Olivia laugh that wide, toothy smile

4 weeks ago

His hand in hers, walking through the park, slightly blurred as if she was capturing it quickly—not wanting to be caught

5 weeks ago

Him lying on the floor of Noah’s room, both boys asleep, Elliot with an arm slowly slipping from where it was slung over the bed, gravity removing it from Noah’s back, merely moments before she would wake him up and take him to bed

5 weeks ago

In her office, he’s unpacking takeout, back to her, containers clouding the table 

She wanted to remember them. Wanted to capture these (and several other) moments of whatever they were, whoever they were to each other—the label didn’t matter. He said he loved her, and she couldn’t say it back, but it was all right here, in between work reminders and her bright-eyed boy, she loved him privately. Loved him through the little moments, the ones he didn’t even notice, the ones he took for granted.

 


 

2011

 

“Are you sure about this?”

It’s odd to be in here—in this building, in his Captain’s office—hiding out from her and the blood that never seems to wash off of him. He sees her face again, but he doesn’t know how long her hair has gotten. All of the memories end on the precinct floor, Jenna ingraining herself onto his skin, like a horrific tattoo he can never rid himself of. 

“Yes, sir.” 

God, his voice sounds feeble—weak—and the way Cragen looks at him, he can’t tell if it’s shame or sorrow. Or both.

“I don’t know what to say,” Cragen mumbles, swiping a hand over his mouth, desperately hoping the right words come to mind, but they don’t. 

Elliot thinks for a moment that anger washes over the man’s face and he wouldn’t blame him. He almost wants him to yell, wants him to say no. He can’t just leave.

But the older man simply sighs, nods once, the thoughts not quite tying together. “Take care of yourself, Elliot.”

The detective—can he even call himself that anymore?—is no longer able to look at his Captain; the nausea hits him like a ton of bricks. 

“Will do,” he manages to croak out, hesitating to turn towards the windows, praying she’s not on the other side, and by the grace of God, she isn’t.

He walks out of the office, no relief to be had, no peace settling in. His desk cannot be touched, cannot be closed in on. From a distance, he looks at their shrine, the home they’ve created out of a partnership, and watches it burn before him.

Her handwriting stares back, a scribbled doodle on a post-it. Body aflame, he dares to enter the danger zone, reaching for it. 

A little leaf sits next to the words: Prospect Park.

It’s in his clutches now. The last thing he’ll have of her isn’t even his to have. A stolen note, no memory attached to it, but the curves of the letters are hers and the leaf is an unfinished drawing.

He was not there to finish it.

Slipping it in his pocket, he forces himself to look away from everything else, needing to race home and hold his son, a reminder of why he had to do what he had just done. 

 


 

day 13

 

“Wow, he really is back.”

“Don,” Elliot smiles, clapping a hand out to shake his old Captain’s, leaning in for a quick hug. “Good to see you.”

Nearly two weeks later and Donald Cragen would be the first visitor beyond their trusted co-workers to step foot inside the highly protected room. Elliot let his defenses down just enough to allow other guests, but from a very small list he had curated. 

And surprise, surprise, number one on that list was their nearly family member of an ex-Captain, who tightly held onto a small gift. 

The older man’s eyes nudge towards the open door, “How’s she doing?”

“Stable,” he responds, gesturing for them to go inside.

It has become the go-to word for him. Encompassing everything, her physical health, his mental and emotional state, their relationship or lack thereof—everything was just stable.

Cragen tiptoes over to the bed, eyes on the woman deemed stable, his gaze darting around her rested features, usually so full of life. He takes a deep belly breath, no longer able to look at the body in the bed, squeezing his eyes shut tight and shaking his head, “I thought coming here would make it feel real.”

“It never does, trust me.”

“How are you doing with all of this?” It’s a genuine question from probably the only person other than a priest or therapist that he would answer to.

But Elliot can’t do it, so he exhales a stiff, “M’fine.”

Cragen analyzes him, eyes dancing across the man’s sturdiness, the masked pillar he has morphed into—all concrete walls and locked doors. The gaze shifts back to her, a gentle hand resting on her shoulder, and Cragen’s thumb brushes across the hospital gown delicately. The man doesn’t know what to do. Doesn’t know where he stands in this dynamic, wanting to be here selfishly, not as her Captain, but as family—or as close as he could get to it.

Taking his eyes away for a moment, he catches Elliot, whose arms are tightly crossed, staring at the pair before him. The ex-Captain almost wants to laugh at his brutishness, but settles for a small smile, “Can I ask, how long has this been going on?”

He cocks a brow, “…the coma?”

No, Elliot,” he clarifies, directing them to his intended conversation as they both head to their respective seats for the evening, each with a paper cup of coffee next to them. 

It throws off the detective, who stammers, “Oh, uh—we haven’t actually—”

Don chuckles, “I’m not your Captain anymore, Stabler, you can tell me.”

And he tries to hide a cheeky grin, mumbling like a child caught with his hand in a cookie jar, “S’complicated.”

“You two always were.”

“Mm,” he agrees, slowly sipping from his coffee. Their history was far too expansive and rich for him to dive into right now. Or ever. The past was not a healthy topic for Elliot, at least outside of therapy. Deflecting, he looks at her again, anchoring himself in her breath, “We just kind of…stumbled into it. It’s only been about two months of something and yet it feels so much longer.” 

“Makes sense.” Cragen takes his own sip, glancing at his twiddling thumbs that fiddle with the plastic lip of the lid. He‘s lost in thought, coming to with a flat voice, akin to what a father probably should’ve sounded like. “You know, when you left, I had half a mind to tell you no. Or at least tell you off for not saying goodbye to her.” 

Elliot glances up, meeting his ex-Captain’s stare before the man carries on. “She is the closest thing I’ve had to a daughter, and when I had to break the news to her that you weren’t coming back, I was kind of relieved it was me.”

Elliot tries to not think about what he did. About the missed calls, about his wife hovering, about the emptiness he hoped he would never feel again, unaware of how bad life could get. He doesn’t know what to say, but tries to justify something, starting, “Don—”

But is cut off. “No, don’t,” and Cragen shakes a hand at Elliot. “It was over a decade ago, choices were made, and I understand why you left.” He sighs, but chuckles sadly, continuing on, “Back then, the both of you were so hard on yourself for every decision you made, especially when it came to your partnership. And I never wanted to get involved, but boy, did you two make that difficult for me.”

Elliot mirrors Cragen’s grin as the man takes another stabilizing gulp of the shitty coffee. He clears his throat, taking a deep breath, one that sounds heavy and tired. “I don’t know much about where you kids are at now, but all I will say is that life only moves forward. Don’t waste your time wallowing on what you should or shouldn’t have done. Just be here, with her, now.”

They both shift their focus onto the woman on the bed, the center between them, the life force in the room. Her clicking breath fills the void, fluffs the spiral that Elliot desperately is fighting off, the one that wants to drive that shame deeper until he’s drowning in it.

He is here. He can’t imagine not being here. But he recognizes the desire to run, the habitual need to protect others by freeing them, even though the damage he does on the way out desecrates any good he had intended to do. 

But he made the decision—that running was not an option—and he wants to tell Don that he’d die in that bed with her if it came to it, but he doesn’t. He can’t. 

And with only the mechanical soundtrack of Olivia in his ears, he misses the tears that begin to pool, choosing to purse his lips and fall back against the chair. Cragen notices the shift, and Elliot doesn’t know why (he knows this man owes him nothing, maybe he just needed a dad for a second), but he confesses, “When I last came to you, we weren’t on the best terms. I missed something big in those ten years, and I still don’t know what it is, but the thought of it sent me on a spiral. I was her partner, and I just left her.”

He then shakes his head, “This whole time I’ve been focusing on if my father was a good cop, and if I am a good one, and I realized—I never questioned that when I was with her.”

“You kept each other balanced,” Cragen confirms.

“Ha, yeah we did,” Elliot chuckles. “Most of the time.”

Cragen smiles, “Yeah, most of the time.”

Flashes of brown eyes, bangs, chewed pencils, and pouty lips dance across his eyes, and Cragen’s words come back to him, tainting the memories, clouding them in the visions of her reaction to his abandonment of her. 

Did she cry? Did she yell?

“Can I…” He falters, “Actually, no, I shouldn’t.”

“What?” Cragen nudges. 

“When I left…was she…”

Cragen cuts him off, understanding where he’s going, “She struggled at first, but she found a new groove. It took her a bit, and not everything was perfect, but she survived then, and she will survive now. Except this time, she needs you here. And that’s an order.”

“Copy, Cap.”

 


 

december 2021

 

He does not let go of her hand. 

Maybe it’s lingering too long, but she isn’t pulling away. Instead, her thumb is still swiping across his knuckles and he can tell that her eyes flicker down at where they converge.

In the chaos of his late wife’s trial and his missing son, he finds peace in her presence as the car continues on and the sun begins to rise.

 


 

day 16

 

A week after confession, the guilt has not only made a home inside him, but it painted his blood and coated his soul, suffocating him from the inside out. A prior sanctuary now felt grim, useless, felt like it only justified his selfishness all for the sake of God, with no care for the reality of how he hurt Olivia. 

He thought the routine of seeing Olivia, of apologizing to her, of holding her hand and kissing it deeply, would fulfill the petentance he was meant to make. That her presence would keep him grounded, like she always did. But she could not forgive him like this, not with her eyes closed and breath mechanic. 

And the silence, the lack of her, was eventually going to drive him deeper the other way. Spending hours seeing her frozen still, going home to her son who missed her so much, would cause the balancing act to end and he would fall once again. 

He couldn’t do that, it wasn’t fair to his family, and it most certainly wasn’t fair for Noah. So he’s here, seated across from the woman with a clicking pen and scratchy notepad, his back against the couch cushions in her bright office. 

“Guilt seems to be a common reoccurrence in your life.”

“Yeah, well, Catholicism can do that to you,” he darkly chuckles. 

“It sure can establish a pattern,” she acknowledges. “Do you feel it tends to solely come down to your relationship with the church?”

“Guilt?”

“Yes.”

“I think…that’s beyond me,” he shrugs. “When I feel guilty, I turn to God. Not sure if it stems from it. Kind of ‘chicken or the egg,’ I guess. But, hey, I guess this is a first. The church says I have nothing to be worried about, so why do I feel so guilty?”

“Is all of the guilt concentrated on what has happened to her?”

He thinks for a moment, then forces himself to stop before it gets too grim in his head. “I feel guilty for a lot of things.”

“Like what?”

Elliot chuckles once more, although for all this laughter, he has no reason to laugh. “We’ll be here all day.”

The woman scribbles on her paper and he wonders what it might say, if he said a psychology no-no, and he has too much in the concern column again, trapping him in the desolation of mandatory time-off and check-ins. Her pencil settles, and her green eyes flick back up to him, pensive, “I mean this with all sincerity, but what good do you think feeling guilty will do? Is it benefiting anyone?”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re pushing yourself into a state of devastation over events that were, or are, out of your control. Will anything positive come from this guilt, or is there perhaps another avenue we can try?”

“Like what?”

“Well, have you cried?”

His brows raise, “Cried?”

“Yes. It’s quite upsetting to hear what has happened to her. Have you cried?”

“She isn’t dead.”

“She doesn’t have to be dead for you to cry, Elliot.”

“...I’ve cried, but that doesn’t really help anything either, does it?” 

“It’s better than guilt, is it not?” 

She tosses him a weak smile, pushing her glasses up so they pull back her hair, and Elliot thinks of Olivia on the couch, case files in hand, glasses resting just like this as he bent over to kiss her lips and offer his help. “Guilt seems to come with an implication, does it not? That you feel like you caused the situation to occur in which she was shot. Is that true?”

“One of the brothers shot her. That is a fact.”

“But he was hired by her boss.”

Elliot shifts in his chair, agitation flooding in, something the therapist called out as his default line of defense. 

“I’m not trying to be difficult, Elliot. It simply seems to me that you have inherently blamed yourself for what has happened, which you also did when your wife passed away. And from past stories, it’s the same thing over and over. Guilt, guilt, guilt. Guilt over cases, over outcomes—guilt for leaving SVU, leaving New York, guilt for coming back. The weight of it—is it not paralyzing to carry all of that around?”

“Guess that’s why I go to church,” he unhappily grins.

She tilts her head, narrowing her eyes, and Elliot doesn’t like that look.

“What?” He prods. 

“By your logic, the church should rid you of guilt. And yet, you’re here because—according to you—they did nothing to help. So has it actually ever absolved you of guilt at all?” 

He doesn’t reply.

She smiles, “The church was right about one thing, though. You do need to apologize to the person you hurt.”

“I told you, I already have been trying—”

“Not Olivia. Yourself.”

Elliot’s chest twinges with ache.

“You did nothing wrong, Elliot. I need you to hear that and take it in. Really take it in. It’s the only way to heal. Being there for her, for her son, for your family—living, Elliot. Take care of you and let yourself feel everything. Happy, sad, angry. Don’t you think she wants that?”

“I suppose.”

“What if it were you? What would you want her to do?”

“Live,” he whispers.

“So why don’t we start there? What’s one thing you want to do this week? One thing that will make you happy?”

He shrugs, “I’m not sure.”

“How about with the kids? Maybe you can take a night and do something fun with them? You mentioned earlier that you wish you got some time to bond with Noah instead of having to comfort him. Why don’t you plan one thing with him this week that is easy—something that’s low-stress and doesn’t make you feel like you are overstepping those boundaries you were worried about?”

“Yeah,” he mumbles. “Yeah, I can do that.”

“Good,” she smiles. “One step at a time.”

He smiles back and laughs lightly.

The therapist’s brows furrow as she tosses a curious look his way, “What?”

“Olivia said that to me once.”

“She gives pretty good advice. Maybe you should take it,” she laughs.

 


 

4 weeks before the shot

 

“How much time do we have?” Elliot asks while unbuttoning his shirt as quickly as possible, fingers fumbling as he moves with quickness. 

“An hour,” she responds, pants sliding down her long legs as she yanks her blouse over her head.

He’s nearly naked, left in his briefs, when he reaches for her waist and plants his mouth on her neck immediately, tongue swirling, lips sucking. Mumbling against her skin, he hums, “Plenty.”

Olivia tilts her head back, exposing more of herself for him to take. Fuck, he can have her all if he asks. There isn’t an inch of her that doesn’t belong to his lips, his tongue…

She shakes her head as he explores her body, “That’s an hour total. Meaning twenty minutes to get there, ten to clean up and look presentable. I don’t want Ms. Keo to think—”

The sound of fabric ripping stops her immediately and she watches the lace fall away from her body, clutched tightly in his fist. 

This man just ripped her underwear off.

“So, I gotta go quick, is what you’re saying?”

There’s a part of her that wants to kill him but another, stronger part that is highly turned on by how smooth he is. His strength is something she’ll never get over, the feeling of his muscles under her touch. She has yet to respond, only has her mouth parted slightly as Elliot drops to his knees, planting wet kisses down her body.

He tilts his head up, eyes on her, and Olivia thinks for a second that this has to be a dream. His voice is low, gravelly, and she falls apart when he speaks. “Tell me, Captain—how do you want it?”

(Christ.)

(Any fucking way, that’s how.)

She runs her hands down his back, nails scratching slightly as they travel along, and she bends at the waist, ass pushing out and away from him, her lips approaching his, and she stops when there’s but a millimeter of distance between their mouths. 

“I want you…” 

She kisses him gently; he groans, she pulls back.

“…to show me…” 

Another kiss, this time with tongue. He doesn’t want her lips to leave him, but they do and she rasps, “…how much you want me.” 

He cocks a brow, “Yeah?”

She nods, leaning in to place her hot breath right over his ear, commanding in a whisper, “Fuck me, Detective.”

It takes him no time to get her off the ground and onto the bed. In fact, he probably could have done it faster and he regrets even that nanosecond of time he lost before getting to have his way with her, her face content, body open and ready for him. 

He doesn’t know where he wants to begin, but there’s no time to think. His arms immediately hook under her thighs, yanking her down until her needy cunt is eye-level with his hungry tongue. His knees will ache from this position on the floor, but he couldn’t give a fuck. All he sees is her spread open for him and his lips can no longer stay away. 

It’s only been a few days of this—of getting to have her in this intimate way, getting to taste her and make her writhe beneath his touch. Their time is limited, they have to pick up her son from school, but he can’t bear the thought of  one more day of his life going by without getting to do this. 

Her thighs will end him, but the taste of her on his tongue will pull the trigger.

“El—oh, god—please—”

Words fill the room in between sounds of her wetness and his mouth on her, sucking and circling, testing every which way makes her twitch, makes her cry out. Her hands are everywhere on him, on the bed, gripping the sheets, gripping him. 

He learns the exact way that drives her to the edge and now, she’s so close he can feel it. Wanting to feel her when she comes, he slides a finger into her, curling it up to hear her moan, and suddenly he’s thrusting. 

When they’re alone, she’s noisy, and every little squeak, every little sigh, has him chasing for more and more. He needs it more than air. Another finger is added and her hands get more frantic in their search for something to hold on to. 

“I—mmph! Elliot, I—”

He does not stop, does not relent. She asked him to show her how much he wanted her and this isn’t even close. There is no way he could ever truly encapsulate how badly he needs and wants Olivia. Not unless he tore his heart out of his chest and she could feel it herself, see how he was controlled by his ache for her, see how every waking thought has been her since the day she was at his door and their lips collided. 

He didn’t even know how strong that need was himself. 

The thrusting of his hand is starting to cause him to cramp, but he continues sucking on her clit, soothing her with his tongue, all while his (now three) fingers penetrate her deeply. His free hand has been exploring the rest of her, thumb circling over her nipple, pinching every so often to add to his desire, but his hand eventually lands on her lower stomach and he presses down. 

She’s broken. 

The noises that leave her should be illegal. No one else should get the pleasure of hearing her come, or seeing her face as she releases and soaks the sheets, soaks his chin. 

She is his. 

And only his. 

His eyes quickly catch the time as she's catching her breath and he moves hastily, grabbing her roughly and flipping her over. On her stomach, he glides his tongue up her spine, fingers ghosting over her sides, before his mouth ends up on her neck, then by her ear. 

“I will never stop showing you…” He whispers and pauses with his lips attached to her neck, sucking at the skin, hoping it’ll leave a mark as bright as the ones in the past. “…how much I need you.”

She arches into his body and sighs, “Prove it.”

He tries to be gentle, he really does, but he’s so driven by her demand that he cannot stop himself. Olivia follows along and the sounds of her excitement thankfully let him know that she’s more than okay with it. The briefs are pushed off of him and he looks down at her, grabbing at her hips and nudging them up in the air, taking a pillow to shove underneath. 

His fingers return to her heat, pleased to find she’s still ready for him, the slick arousal coating his fingers as he brings them down to her mouth. “Taste yourself,” he orders and she does, eyes never leaving him as she sucks around his fingers. 

The sight of her makes him throb with that ache again and he removes his hand, wet from her, wet from her mouth, to pump himself a few times, groaning at how hard he is. 

She’s a vixen though, eyes over her shoulder, watching his loose fist move up and down. “My mouth would be better.”

(Jesus fucking—)

He pulls her ass towards him again and she gasps from being startled, only to do it again when he slides his dick through her folds, teasing her clit, then her entrance. “I think your cunt will be just fine.”

It takes two to tango and unfortunately, the clock is running out.

He is careful despite his filthy mouth, entering her inch by inch, making sure she stretches around him and pulling back when needed, until he’s fully inside her and reveling in how tight she is. If he could die with the sound of her ecstasy in his ears and the warmth of her body in his touch, he would. 

Elliot would sacrifice himself—all of himself—to have her like this forever. The feeling of her as he pounds into her, his name and God’s rolling off her tongue in succession. Going deeper, slamming harder, he’s hitting places he hasn’t before and the moans that release from her are so sweet to hear. 

Hands gripping her hips, this is the perfect position to rile her up, but now that they’re both close to the edge, he needs her closer. Leaning down, cock still penetrating, the angle changes slightly now that he practically lies on top of her. Her eyes have been squeezed tight for a bit, overwhelmed by him, by the places he’s hitting, and Elliot brushes the hair out of her face, tucking the strands behind her ear and kissing her cheek.

“You’re doing so well, taking me like this,” he huffs in her ear, voice soft and low. 

“Mm,” she whines. Her hands grip the sheets around her even harder and she struggles to breathe through the pleasure. “Don’t—don’t stop.”

Elliot continues peppering her with little pecks, hips slowing down, but deepening his reach, and Olivia mouth drops open, letting out guttural moans with each movement. “You close?”

She nods, eyes remaining closed.

“Look at me.”

She focuses on her breathing, his cock still thrusting, one hand sliding over hers, fingers intertwining on top of the sheets. The other holds himself above her, fingers landing near her hair, giving it a slight tug. 

“I want to see you when you come.”

She squeezes her eyes shut with this last thrust, but they flutter open to seek his, and he adjusts himself just enough to look at her properly, smiling and kissing her once. “Beautiful,” he whispers.

And then he speeds up, wanting to watch her eyes as he does, pounding into her faster. Learning her body more and more every time they meet this way, he feels her walls clench and knows her orgasm is right there, ready to topple over, and he is as well. 

He shows her this way today, this is how much he wants (needs) her today. It’s fast and rough and not perfect, but it’s his truth. 

He comes deep inside her when her walls flutter around him, and after they fall back against the mattress, he runs his fingers through it for himself to feel his work. They bask in the mere seconds they have before they need to move again—before they need to clean themselves up, pretend that they rushed to Noah’s school right from work, and lay low. 

And as they get redressed, her knees weak, her bright laugh echoes in her bedroom telling him, “Shit, I might need my crutches,” and he thinks of how excited he is to show her how he feels tomorrow.

 


 

day 18

 

He feels a gentle pat on his shoulder as he signs in to pick up Noah on Friday afternoon, ready to fulfill his promise of pizza for dinner and a Mario Kart competition (which he will sorely, but happily, lose). 

Listening to his therapist? Liv would love this.

“Mr. Stabler? Do you have a moment?”

Staring at him with a soft smile is Noah’s teacher, the woman with long, straight black hair whose name he has yet to remember. He hands back the stylus to the check-in man (Arnie, he had that learned by heart) and turns to face her, “Uh, yeah, yeah—everything okay?”

This girl is young. She can barely be in her 30s and if she is, it’s early 30s if that. 

Eyes go wide as she realizes the ominous delivery of her questions, and her head nods intensely to make up for it. “Yes! Yes! Sorry, everything is good—great, actually! I just—I just wanted to speak to you. Privately? If that’s okay?”

“Of course.” 

The kid looks terrified of him. He holds back a chuckle as he tosses a polite wave at Arnie and follows her inside. Elliot can see the gears turning in her head as the teacher tries to think of small-talk topics, but she gives up. 

Oh well, Elliot doesn’t mind the silence.

They approach her classroom door and Elliot smiles at the colorfully decorated room, remembering the days where his own kids were this young and classrooms were decked out with every color under the sun and more crayons than a Crayola factory. 

Ms. Keo (he caught her name after a quick glance outside the door) gestures for him to have a seat and he obliges as she neatly stacks a set of papers and follows suit, scooting her chair forward to sit. “I’m sorry about the mess. Fourth graders tend to not be the tidiest.”

“I have a teenage son, high schoolers aren’t any better,” he jokes and it seemingly helps to diffuse some of the tension.

“I know we’ve met briefly a few weeks back, but I—and the other staff members—just wanted to check in. With everything going on, we want you to know that we are here for Noah, but also your family if there’s anything we can do to help.”

Elliot feels that familiar sting creep into his chest, the one that reminds him how the people around him see him, view him as fragile, someone to feel sorry for, and he clears his throat to help it stay down, keeps thinking about the boys and video games. 

Take her words as respectful and kind, not a sign of weakness. 

(Look Stabler, you’re learning.)

“I appreciate that,” he responds with a gentle half-grin, and he means it. The kindness of everyone around him had been difficult to handle at first, but now he knows that it’s nothing to be uncomfortable about. It means they care about Olivia and want the same thing he does—for her to get better—and will do anything they can to help be a part of her recovery. 

And if not her, then Noah. 

Because as hard as this is for Olivia, she is not aware of what is happening—no, not like her little boy is. When she wakes up, she will learn how much time passed and how much things have changed. But for the past weeks, Noah has been without his crutch, his person, and has been doing so well with a new routine, without letting his light fade despite the circumstances. And Elliot will do everything in his power to make sure that bright-eyed kid keeps his spirit alive.

“I hope this isn’t overstepping boundaries, but may I ask if…” Her question falters at the end, unsure how to get the words out.

But Elliot is used to these questions, not finding any offense to the curiosity, and he politely answers without her needing to finish the ask. “She’s doing well. Vitals and everything are…good.” 

“I’m glad to hear that. Olivia is a wonderful person.”

A cheeky smile creeps across his face as he warmly responds, “Yeah, she is.” 

His wonderful person

He takes a second before pivoting back to the topic at hand, the little boy whose school day is nearly done and will be bouncing around, ready for pizza and sugar and fun. “Is Noah doing alright? Here, I mean.”

“Oh, that’s what I wanted to talk about,” Ms. Keo reminds herself, grabbing a small stack of papers out of the larger pile and flicking through. “Noah is doing a phenomenal job. His grades are up, he has been active in classroom discussions—he seems happy. I know a lot of us were cautious about how he would feel but I must say, I’m pleasantly surprised and grateful that he still seems like our Noah.” 

Finally finding the piece of paper she was looking for, she smiles, turning it over for Elliot to glance over. “He talks a lot about you, but also a lot about your son. Eli, right?”

“Yes,” Elliot confirms, hesitant and eyes begging to get a proper look at what’s on the paper decorated with Noah’s shaky handwriting. 

“Well, I think he’s been a great influence on him. And yourself, as well.” 

She nods to the paper, and Elliot lets himself see what it is. On the top, the name Noah Benson sits proudly and down a few lines, answering a question of who’s in your own superhero squad are his and Eli’s names, right above Olivia’s. 

 

Eli because he helps me with my homework and teaches me new things.

Elliot because he is strong and takes care of me. 

My mom because she is brave and kind and loves me.

 

Goddammit. 

He nods through the emotions bubbling up, not wanting to tear up in front of this woman, but shit. That’s her kid’s handwriting and Elliot made it on his list of people. 

There is nothing more precious in this world to him than knowing her son—a child he thought about a decade before he was even born, imagining how close they could be, wanting to be that figure in his life—had accepted him into his life. And not only him, but his family, his mother, his son. 

For all of Olivia’s worrying, he had this right here, proof they were going to be fine—more than fine. They could be a family.

“Can I keep this?”

“Of course! There’s also…” She fumbles through the pile again and pulls out two sheets, bright colors laced across the page. “…these. He has been doodling here and there. He said he learned it from you.”

Da Vinci be damned, this was better than any museum piece. Elliot lets his fingers dance over the paper, retracing  the drawings as he chuckles softly, “Can’t take credit for this—I got it from his mom.”

“Well, I just wanted to say that he’s doing really well, Mr. Stabler. I thought you should know that.”

“Thank you.”

“But! No need to take up more of your Friday! Or his,” she laughs. “I heard about the Mario Kart competition tonight. I would be worried if I were you!”

“If I can handle driving in the city, Rainbow Road has nothing on me.”

They both stand and head back out to the drop-off/pick-up area, and he watches Noah’s wandering eyes beam when they catch Elliot coming closer.

“Hey kid, ready to go?”

“Mhmm!” He nods, waving excitedly back to his teacher before they turn and head to the car. 

There’s so much Elliot wants to say. He wants to thank the kid, wants to reassure him that he will always take care of him, will always be a part of that superhero squad if he’ll have him. But it’s a Friday afternoon on the third week of their time together and Elliot doesn’t want to ruin it with sentimentality. 

He settles for patting the kid on the back, keeping the gratitude inside, saving it for a rainy day.

“...you hungry?”

 


 

Elliot loses horrifically at game night, which would’ve made him agitated if not for the pure joy his failures gave his son and hers. Seated between the two on the living room couch, open pizza boxes on the counter behind them, he’s getting used to last place. He didn’t have time for video games back when Dickie was young, and besides, those had bigger remotes—or whatever they’re called now—not these tiny little things his hands swallow up with buttons that could all be covered at once by his thumb. 

But he knew Eli was good. He had watched the kid grow up with these gadgets and saw him get the high score time and time again. So when Noah keeps speeding ahead of him, Elliot can tell he’s holding back to let the younger boy win. 

Hours later and the sugar crash hitting Noah, Elliot helps get him ready for bed and heads back into the kitchen, right towards his son. 

Patting Eli on the back to give him a quick hug, he whispers, “Thank you.”

Eli plays it off, shrugging as he pulls away and goes back to helping his father finish cleaning up the kitchen. “For what?” 

And Elliot simply ruffles his hair, jostling him back as they both laugh and spend that final hour of night together as father and son.

 


 

2010

 

He watches her eyes continuously flick over to the piece of paper laid flat on her desk, not-so-hidden under a pile of files. She’d told him what it was that very morning, what Calvin did for her—the name that was signed so specially on the artwork. A child with her last name, extending the Benson name by one more, no longer leaving her as the sole owner. 

She’s getting sloppy; distracted. And he doesn’t know why he’s frustrated with her, but everything in his blood, in his bones, feels that this is simply another way for him to watch Olivia be slighted by the system, by those who can’t be trusted. 

Her happiness is rare; it is something that hangs over him, like he is the owner of the missing piece. 

When the boy’s yelling subsides and they’re alone again in the squad room, he wishes his arm was still around her waist so she had something to hold onto. The world is only them right now, even though he hears a muffled command from Cragen. All of his focus is on her.

And in the blink of an eye, she disappears from his view when Cragen calls his name and he is ordered to head home. 

His feet move for him, like they know this pattern already, and he finds her in the locker room, holding off a sob she is desperate to let go of but is too stubborn to release. 

“Talk to me, Liv.”

She keeps her hands preoccupied, her attention all placed on her bag as she shoves it full and readies herself to head home. Her eyes are down, but he knows that they’re teetering on the edge of breakage, a flood of tears teasing her.

“I’m fine, El,” she says but it’s forced. “Cragen wants me out of here.”

“Liv—” He takes a step forward.

She snaps, “And I’m not going to say you were right, if that’s what you’re after.”

Her movements hault, but he can tell this anger isn’t real. He knows her well enough to see the defenses built from straw and silk, scraps to cover her for now, veil her for a moment to let her keep herself protected. It’s an attempt, a hasty one at that, and it doesn’t slide past him. Elliot claws through the tension to approach her, gently grabbing her elbow, stopping her from continuing. It’s meant to ground her, to allow her to drop the facade, to just get her to look at him. But in his grasp, the cracks deepen and her head hangs down, hair following.

Esther has fallen. 

“Olivia.”

Her shoulders shake from the pain of abandonment. Grief finds its home in her garden, destroying the pretty flowers she has planted. The family she was building on her own is now another failed attempt at curing her loneliness. 

She stays silent while the tears drip down and it tugs on his chest so deeply that he has no choice but to pull her closer. Olivia doesn’t even refuse his arms around her and that fact makes him realize just how deeply this cut her. Cocooned in his embrace, her head curls into his chest and he feels the wet spot where her tears land. He sweeps at her spine, keeping his head up and away as the wedding ring reminds him of the bright eyes to whom he belongs. 

A part of him wants to shove his head down, whisper into her soft hair, have her arms flung over his shoulders or even claw at his chest. He wants to cradle her in his embrace. Wishing this wasn’t work, wishing this wasn’t his partner, wishing that he could help her more than just a few words and a hug.

Instead, he pats her back and she lets herself be held only for another moment before she’s back, shaking off the emotions. They slip away from each other and he wants to say something, but it’s too late.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” she mutters. 

And then she’s gone.

 


 

day 19

 

“C’mon, rise and shine!”

“Mmph,” Noah whines. “What time is it?”

“It’s morning.” Elliot taps the side of the bed, “Breakfast is made and we’re going for a walk.”

“A walk?” he yawns.

“Mhmm, a walk in the park. S’not as fancy as Central Park, but we’re getting fresh air.”

Forty-five minutes later (the kid eats ten times slower than the average Stabler kid—probably because he was an only child and never had to rush), Noah is ready to go and they’re out the door. Despite the fresh air he’s seeking, Elliot still drives there, parking close by and he can see Noah’s face glance around the area.

“Forgot you’re a Manhattan baby. Welcome to the other side of the river.” 

“I’ve been on this side before.”

“Dumbo doesn’t count.”

“But—”

“And neither does the rest of Brooklyn.” 

Noah shuts his mouth and Elliot laughs. 

“Tell me, before me, how many times have you been in Queens?”

“A few times.”

“A few times?”

“There’s nothing to do here.”

“Wow, you’re really going to insult the best borough in New York City while being in it?”

Best borough?”

Elliot caves in as they continue walking down the path, right by the water, the view of Manhattan catching Noah’s eyes and keeping his attention. The kid probably misses home. Probably misses his own bed. 

“You still liking school?”

It brings his focus back to Elliot and he nods, “Yeah.”

“How’s Ivan?”

Noah’s cheeks turn slightly pink and he turns his head away again. “I dunno.”

“You don’t know?”

“He made me a card. But a lot of my classmates did.”

A larger group of people is coming towards them and Elliot protectively places a hand over the boy’s shoulders and guides him closer to the right to let them pass by. It’s natural, like this kid is his own by now.

“…have you talked to him?”

He shrugs, “We’re friends. We talk. But I don’t think he likes me that way. And I don’t know how he’ll react if he finds out.”

“Having feelings for him doesn’t mean the friendship has to end.”

“...it doesn’t?”

“Not at all. You can be best friends with him, even if you have a crush on him.”

“What if he finds out?”

Elliot chuckles, “Don’t put the cart before the horse kid.”

“Huh?” 

“It means don’t worry about that right now.” 

Noah sighs and they walk in silence for a few strides, Elliot unable to ignore the quiet boy to his right. 

“Me and your mom were best friends for years,” he blurts out. 

Noah’s eyes perk up, “Really?”

“Mhmm,” Elliot smiles, “for longer than you’ve been alive.”

“And you had a crush on her?”

Oh. Nice going Elliot.

“Uh,” he’s trying to think of what to say, understanding why Noah kept rushing into silence. “It was complicated.”

“How?”

Damn, he’s such a mini Olivia. 

“Well, I was married and I loved my wife very much.” 

“But you loved my mom too?”

“I cared a lot about your mom. We had a very special relationship back then and I’m glad we reconnected.”

“Do you love my mom now?”

“More than I could ever have imagined.”

 


 

2010

 

“No, Elliot. We need to talk about this now.”

“Kathy, I’m working.”

“You’re always working!” 

Eli’s screams grow in volume from his mother’s arms, the three year old desperate to get down. Kathy sighs in frustration, hiking him further up her hip, not realizing it’s exactly what he does not want and he yells even louder. 

“Eli, shh, it’s okay,” she attempts, to no avail.

Olivia sits back and watches, sees Elliot pinch the bridge of his nose with frustration right as Kathy looks like she’s about to break. It’s 11PM, she knows her godson is exhausted, but she also knows that Elliot’s phone has been off for the last five hours, leaving Kathy with no word from her husband. 

Cautiously, she stands up and the movement catches Eli’s eyes. His bottom lip juts out and his hands reach for her, hoping she can free him so he can rest. 

“I can take him,” Olivia offers. 

Both parents glance over, one more willing to give in than the other, but there’s no time for that—Eli is placed in Olivia’s arms and the parents are long gone, finding a room where they can yell without the eyes around them.

Surprisingly, Eli does not want the floor anymore. Instead, he clings to her, arms around her neck, shaking his head when she tries to let him down. Olivia lifts him up again, and sits back in her chair, waiting for a clue as to what he wants next. But the cries begin to subside when she rubs his back and whispers, “I know, you’re so tired. It’s okay.”

Her. 

He wanted her. 

And so Eli falls asleep against her chest as the night rolls into midnight, comforted by her heartbeat under his ear. 

But he is the only one who will rest well tonight.  

Under his embrace, Olivia’s heart (although it beats) stings with a desire she cannot utter aloud or even in her head. One that sees a ring glisten on her finger and watches the blonde completely disappear from the child’s hair, replaced by a brown that matches her own. She shakes it off, burying it deep, ears finding the muffled voices of his parents reverberating in the air and pushing it aside.

She will not know how often her name is said. 

All she will remember is Eli’s soft snore and his tiny hand wrapped around her finger. 

 


 

day 21

 

Eli asks it after dinner while Noah is showering off the dance rehearsal sweat (loudly blasting the music from his newest choreography) and Elliot is mid-bite, packing up the leftovers and eating the excess that won’t fit into the containers. 

Elliot’s instinct is to think that he misheard his son, so he hums a curious, “Hmm?” and continues chewing, focused on the tasks he has created for himself. Scooping pasta into the tupperware, grabbing another bite, clicking the lid shut to move onto the next dish.

The teen is still acting nonchalant, moving about the kitchen with his eyes down, and repeats the question as he continues tidying up, “Oh, I just asked if I can see her.”

Elliot takes another bite. 

“…Olivia?” 

“Yeah. I…” Eli rubs the back of his neck, “I dunno, I just want to see her.”

Elliot pops a final bite of leftovers into his mouth, continuing to play this conversation off with a casualness, despite the shock. He has talked to Noah plenty of times about Olivia, giving positive updates on her progress, even through the unknown. The child needed it and so he provided it between their light conversations of memories and school time rundowns. But Olivia wasn’t a topic Eli mentioned—at least not in the past three weeks. He didn’t ask for hospital updates, didn’t have a book of memories to remember her by (despite the ones they share of a much smaller Eli, with tiny hands and the biggest hugs). 

“You’re sure you’re up for that?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Eli nods. “I’m good.”

“Okay, I can take you tomorrow. After school, if you want?”

“Sounds good.” 

“Okay.”

 


 

It’s two hours later and Elliot is still awake in the living room, working on something that Eli didn't pay attention to earlier. Repacking his bag for the next day, he readies himself for tomorrow as Noah lays in the new bed placed on the other side of the room—an area that’s slowly becoming more and more of the Benson’s. 

“Tomorrow?” the younger boy asks.

“Yeah,” Eli confirms. “He’s gonna take me after school and then tomorrow night I’ll tell you how she is, okay?”

“Okay,” Noah nods.

Eli doesn’t know what to say, so he zips up his schoolwork and tucks his backpack near the door, flicking his (their?) light off before snagging his headphones and flopping into his bed. He could fall asleep right now, but he knows he shouldn’t. At least, not yet. Glancing over at Noah, his head is tilted down, but Eli knows he’s still awake. 

“I’m sure dad would understand if you wanted to go,” the teen mumbles after a second. “We’d be with you, so it may not be that bad.”

But Noah just shakes his head, “…I don’t want to yet.” 

“That’s fine. I just figured I’d ask.”

“…you’ll read it though?” 

Eli sits up for a moment so Noah can see his face as he promises, “Of course I will.”

“Okay,” Noah relaxes. “Goodnight, Eli.”

“Night, Noah.”

 


 

Eli doesn’t ever remember being in a hospital. 

He knows that he was in one the day he was born, although his circumstance was definitely different from the typical birth story. The sterile scent and clean walls of the hospital, brightly lit with squeaky floors, make him feel tense and he wonders if he’d have had that normal entrance into this world, would he find it as uncomfortable as he does now. 

Rushed here in the arms of another woman, his mother bleeding out—his mother died in this same hospital only a year ago. And merely weeks ago, Eli himself entered this hospital for the first time to find his father’s shirt covered in Olivia’s blood, echoing how hers had looked when he came into this world. 

It was a story told after his mother’s funeral, his three sisters filling in the memories when he asked why Olivia was such a huge part of their lives, even though he’d never heard of her. 

“She saved mom. And you.”

“I remember how scared she was to take you home, how she didn’t want you anywhere near a car again.”

“And then Olivia came to give mom and dad a police escort home.”

Of course, Eli doesn’t remember that. He wasn’t even a few days old. But he saw it though, in the way she looked at him—she was sad, but smiling. Said things like, “You’ve grown up so much,” and kept a safe distance, picking up on the fact that the teen was clueless as to her existence. And she stayed around to help; she was there when his dad was not. She never tried to bombard him with stories he wouldn’t remember, only lived in the present and asked about him today. How school was, how he was liking the city—everything that was safe for them both. 

Then her presence in everyone’s lives got to be too much. When his father chose her over him, not coming home to his own son but playing dad to hers. The days where Olivia and Noah began to have a seat at the table and Eli missed when the chair next to his father was filled with his mother. When his hand would reach for his mom’s, bringing it to his lips; Eli would learn what love really was. Only his mom was no longer here, and instead, his father kissed Olivia’s hand like he used to kiss his mother’s back in Rome.

Eli couldn’t even take it anymore. 

“Why are we sitting here acting like they’re a part of our family?”  

The knives stung as they were thrown, but she did not fault the child for the anger he felt. She hugged him with all the maternal love she could offer, and for a second, Eli didn’t feel as hopeless. 

Only a week later would she get shot and Katie would be panicked, accidentally waking Noah as she scoured the house, searching for an extra outfit for her father. 

“What’s going on?” Noah rubbed his eyes.

“Not sure, lemme find out.”

Katie told him something had happened, that something happened to Olivia, and Noah overheard in the doorway. Eli sat with him in the backseat, eyes locked on Noah, who suddenly looked like him on the airplane from Rome. Lost, praying his mom would be okay, even though he knew. 

He was not nearly as religious as his family members, but he pleaded with God that night that Olivia would make it (for Noah’s sake). 

And now he prays she’ll wake up. 

When they get to her room, his dad pats his back and places all his attention on Eli. “Remember, if you get uncomfortable at all, just let me know.”

Eli nods and then the door is opened.

Everything sounds mechanical at first until Eli’s ears pick up on the playlist looping from her iPad, Carole King’s voice helping to drown out the clicking of her breath. 

Oh.

He understands now. Why dad is reluctant to have Noah come along, why he even questioned if Eli was ready. Her face is hardly visible under the tubes, eyes closed to heighten the point that she really isn’t here. Even though she is here

Eli watches his father fall into habit and witnesses him move about the room, giving her a proper hello, refreshing the flowers, hanging up Noah’s latest doodle.

How his father got through this—he must be the strongest man on Earth. 

“You okay?” Elliot asks, eyes on his son who has yet to move. 

Eli shakes himself out of his head, “Yeah, yeah. M’good.”

“Okay.”

“Can I…” he begins, but falters. He runs his fingers through his hair to muster up the courage to ask properly. “Can I have a few minutes alone?”

Elliot’s brows raise and his face softens, looking surprised when he stands. “Sure,” he clears his throat. “Let me go get some coffee and breakfast. If you need anything, call me.”

He squeezes his son’s shoulder and quietly exits, leaving his chair empty for Eli to occupy. Sitting down hesitantly, Eli takes in all of her features from this distance; his throat feels tight as he realizes how hard she’s fighting to survive. All of those wires…all of those tubes…

“Hey, Olivia,” he mumbles. It’s uncomfortable for him to be talking to her like this, and a sick part of the back of his head thinks this is just an elaborate prank and she’ll pop right up. 

Right? 

She won’t.

“Dad said you look better…I hope that’s true.”

The machines click again, a sign of life for her, but it makes Eli realize just how serious all of this is and his own breath starts to pick up a little. 

Is this how bad mom was?

Unzipping his bag, he pulls out the small paper he folded up last night and holds it in his hand as he dares to make eye contact with her resting form again. Thumbs twiddling with the paper, he takes his time. All of this was so weird to him.

“Noah misses you. A lot. We moved him out of dad’s room and into mine a couple weeks back, so he’s been my little roommate. I think my dad was worried I would be upset, but it’s nice to have him around. He thinks I’m cool, so that’s fun.”

Click. Click. Whoosh.

It repeats.

The noises reverberate through his body and cause a shiver, which he brushes off with a shake of his head.

“I never saw my mom like this. I’m glad I didn’t," he confesses, ghosting over the paper in his hands again to ground himself. Taking that deep breath, he finally looks down at it, then back at her stiff frame before slowly unfolding it.

“Uh, Noah wanted to say stuff to you, but didn’t want to see you hurt. So, I told him I would read it to you.”

Paper open, the child's handwriting stares back at him and he bites his lip before he begins. 

Hi mom, this is Noah. I wish I could see you but you are not awake yet and Elliot says you need your sleep. I really want you to wake up soon so I can see you again. I miss you a lot and miss your hugs. I’ve been with the Stablers and even saw Lucy a few times, but I want you there. 

“I hope you are feeling better like Elliot says and that you wake up soon. 

“Love you more, mama bear. From, your little cub.”

His voice cracks when he finishes and he folds the letter back up, feeling like he’s at his mother’s grave all over again. But this time, he’s watching a younger version of himself desperate to not lose a parent, holding on with all his might. 

And it makes him realize…he doesn’t want to lose her either.

Not that he ever wanted anything bad to happen to her, but no—he wanted Olivia back in his life. He wanted her to ask about school and sit with him in the garden and be on his team for game night. He missed her bright smile in their grim home and how she softened her father’s rough edges. How she balanced him. 

It makes him plead for himself now. 

“Please don’t die, Liv,” he begs. “I like having you around. My dad is happy, we all were happier, so you can’t die, okay? If my dad doesn’t have you, I don’t know what he’ll do. And I—”

He takes a steadying breath, “I need you too. We all do. So please, just get better.” 

Click. Click. Whoosh.

It repeats again and Eli prays that this time the pattern will stop, that this story ends with her walking out of this hospital—together, with their family. 

Instead of in a field with a stone that looks just like his mom’s.

 


 

 

The pink and green hazes have returned with gleams of golden lights that once more dance so beautifully in the dark sky, and Olivia is back to hear that same crackle of fireworks, that same hint of smoke. 

She’s been here time and time before. It hasn’t ever worked.

Like before, she keeps her neck tilted up to the sky, hoping to catch the bright explosions now, before she will be dragged away and forced to leave. If she can just see the blue, maybe it will all be over, maybe this time would be different. 

“Olivia, come here!” Serena barks with her hands out, urging her to follow.

But Olivia doesn’t want to go. She shakes her head and in the strongest voice she can manage as a teeny four year old, she tells her mother, “No, I’m not ready.”

Brown eyes continue to gleam at the sight of the bright lights and she focuses hard on the sound of the laughter around her. She sees the other children running around as they please, not tethered to their parents as she is supposed to be. 

Not anymore.

“Olivia Benson! Come here, now.”

“No.”

Her white shoes will stay plastered on the sidewalk, her eyes will remain on the fireworks until she sees the one she wants to. She will not follow her mother down the street, she will not wait outside the store with the blinding light, she will not do anything but stand here and watch it come. 

The dazzling lights continue to glow up the sky and the booms are still echoing through the air; this time, from this angle, she does not miss the sparkles. The glow is powerful and beautiful and all-encompassing, and she feels lighter. 

“Olivia! You listen to me when I’m talking to you!”

Another loud BOOM and the shine of red makes her smile, ignoring the commands of the woman behind her. The woman no one else seems to notice or hear, only Olivia. 

She could easily come here and drag her away, but her mother is stuck behind her, unable to come towards her, unable to stand being under the lights that Olivia resides by. 

It’s coming—she knows it’s coming—the blue firework that’s the color of the ocean. The one that shines the brightest of them all; the one that belongs to her. She will not miss it, not this time. 

Her firework. 

Her blue. 

She waits with anticipation, her mother’s yells, now muffled and distorted—all her focus is on the sky. 

She waits. 

And waits. 

And then finally—

 


 

day 23

 

She can’t breathe.

There’s a tube down her throat and she’s gagging on it, eyes watering and head pounding. The world around her is hazy, she feels groggy and a suffocating wave of panic dares to come over her, but Elliot is here.

Elliot is here and his hand is clutching hers and he’s here and she’s awake and—

She can’t breathe.

The beeping behind her is nauseating, the sounds all too quick or loud and time feels to be going so slow as people rush into her room that is cloudy from her tears.

She can’t breathe. 

(Please let me breathe!)

“Olivia? I need you to lie back.”

Her head was lifted off the mattress from the fear, her muscles aching as she tries to hold this position. She wants to tell them to fuck off and rip this out now for Christ’s sake, but Elliot’s thumb is swiping the back of her hand, urging her, “Liv, please.” 

And she doesn’t know why, but she listens.

Wet breaths try to escape her, her mouth still open, eyes watering, and the sound of tape being removed makes her want to gag even more. 

“You’re doing great, Olivia, just try to relax for us,” a light voice hums, but Olivia squeezes her eyes shut and clenches the familiar hand, feeling Elliot bring it to his lips for a comforting peck.

(What is happening?)

She’s clutching him tighter and tighter, the voices of the nurses telling her what they’re doing before they do it, but it doesn’t matter. All she can focus on is one voice and the hand it belongs to, squeezing her tightly as the tube snaked inside her is being pulled out and suddenly she’s hacking and gasping for air. 

“Good job, sweetheart,” Elliot soothes her, his other hand moving up to brush the hair out from her eyes. “Breathe, Liv,” he pleads, and it sounds like he’s about to cry.

When her eyes flutter open, she sees he is. 

But the tears do not last forever, his smile emerging when their eyes meet and she can finally see the blue again.

“I’m right here, you’re okay.”

The room still swirls around them as everyone is moving with a quickness that seems almost supersonic from the bed. While her eyes comfort themselves in his gaze, the pain hits her all at once and her heart races, mouth seemingly locked open. Still, the chaos of the room has yet to end and she only really sees him. Eyes locked, hands holding the other’s, tubes and wires are adjusted, medicine is given, and she is awake. 

She wants to cry, so she starts to. 

He wants to cry, so he does too. 

“Nice to see you again,” he chuckles, taking an index finger to wipe at her falling tears. “I've missed you.”

She manages to crack a small smile for him, overwhelmed with the sight and feel of him here, and her mouth opens to say it back.

But she can’t. 

It’s there, right there, in her head—on the tip of her tongue— his name, the ‘I miss you too.’ It’s there, she’s thinking it, but her mouth can’t find the way to get it out despite how hard she’s trying to move it.

His eyes narrow slightly at the sight of her attempt, and he shifts his free hand up to her face, cupping her cheek and brushing across her freckles lightly. “Liv? Do you want some water?”

Water, maybe she just needs water.

She nods, and quickly a nurse is holding a plastic cup towards her, another nearby to help adjust the bed so she’s no longer forced to lie flat. With a little assistance, her lips eventually find the straw, wrapping around them to try and soothe her raw and burning throat. 

Everything feels fuzzy, and the IV she notices hanging next to her is probably the reason why. Her brown eyes are still trying to adjust to the lights that flash and blur around her. Stinging pain reverberates down her spine, centering in a fiery pressure in her lower back from where she was struck. 

“Olivia Margaret Benson! You cannot leave me—not like this, okay?”

She remembers everything up until the sweet slumber that took her from him. His hands on her at dinner, his confession of love, his lips on her as they stood atop the sidewalk. It’s all there in her head even though she feels so exhausted, sore, heavy.

The water soothed an ache, but something is wrong. 

His scruff is longer. 

“What do you need, Liv?”

Her lips try to find the words, try to ask What happened, try to say that something is wrong, that she can’t say it, but if she could find out how to, she wouldn’t be in this situation.

“Olivia?” a nurse pipes up as she catches onto something, brows furrowing. “Olivia, can you understand me?”

She nods (albeit slowly; her body feels like it’s surrounded by molasses). 

“Good, good. Do you know who’s next to you?”

Olivia nods again. 

“Can you tell me his name?”

And Olivia tries, really fucking tries, but her mouth is open, moving slightly, and nowhere near able to utter a word. 

This does not get missed by the nurse, who smiles softly and places a hand up, freeing her from trying too much longer. “That’s okay, Olivia. You’re doing great,” she reassures and turns away for a moment, grabbing another nurse’s attention. “Kevin, page neuro—”

Elliot furrows his brows, focusing now on the workers around them both, “What’s going on?”

And Olivia’s mouth opens and closes again as she tries to ask them the same question, but it’s helpless.

The words never come out. 



END OF PART TWO