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‘Captain Benson!’

He’s waiting at the entrance of her building, one foot propped up on the steps in a casual pose, hands shoved carelessly into the pockets of his brown leather jacket. As she walks towards him, he flashes a wide grin, all surface-level confidence, yet she can sense an underlying tension humming through his entire body as he straightens up on her approach.

He’s blocking her pathway to the door, and she’d like nothing more than to shoulder her way past him, pushing him aside without bothering to speak any words to someone she knows is a corrupt asshole and instead going upstairs to greet Lucy and give Noah the biggest hug he’ll allow. It’s been a long day - a long week, all things considered with this case - and her energy levels are depleted even before considering what bad tidings this man is about to introduce into her life.

However.

However, she has not spoken to Elliot for several days now, not since the abduction of Sara Santos and all that followed.

‘Stabler is facing a delicate situation right now,’ Bell had told her, the day after they closed the case. ‘He wanted me to let you know that he would…feel better if you stayed away right now. And that he’d call you as soon as he was able.’

Nothing about that message gave her any relief, and applying trust to a scenario that has Elliot radio silent and out of her life once more was never going to be easy; yet she had dutifully agreed with Bell to wait to hear from him. But now it’s been several days of no contact, and she knows whatever “delicate situation” Elliot is currently embroiled in, it’s dangerous, and most likely has something to do with the very man in front of her.

She can’t walk away now.

‘Detective Donnelly,’ she announces, pasting on a smile that is both polite and slightly quizzical, playing the unsuspecting mark perfectly. ‘To what do I owe the pleasure?’

He’s quick to come closer now she’s engaged in conversation, bringing both hands up in a conciliatory fashion as he shrugs, the picture of innocence.

‘I’m sorry to bother you at home, Captain,’ he says, edging nearer until he’s inappropriately within her personal space. Years of perpetrators getting up in her face, of her smirking at them without budging an inch, has her standing her ground, although half her instincts are telling her to back down and walk away before this conversation goes any further. The other half of her instincts are telling her something is wrong with Elliot, and it’s to these, as always, that she listens.

‘I didn’t know you knew where my home was,’ she replies smoothly, her eyes glancing upwards and registering the fact that Donnelly has been careful not to show his face on any of the security cameras mounted on the outside of her building. ‘How can I help, Detective?’

‘It’s about our mutual friend, Stabler,’ Donnelly says, and she doesn’t like the way his eyes darken slightly when he says the name. ‘He really needs your help with a case, and so I’ve come over to collect you.’

‘Collect me?’ she can’t help but scoff at the wording. She’s starting to think Elliot’s delicate situation is the fact that the Brotherhood have made him as a UC, but that still doesn’t answer why Donnelly has come to her. ‘He can call me himself if he needs me so badly. In the meantime, I’ve had a very long day and I’m going home. Good night, Donnelly.’

She tries to shift past him, but his hand snakes out to grip the top of her arm tightly, yanking her towards his body until they are almost touching before she has a chance to protest. Something cold and metallic digs into her ribs. She stares into his eyes unflinchingly.

‘So what, you’re going to shoot an NYPD Captain in cold blood on her doorstep?’ she says, her voice low. ‘I don’t think so - that’s not your plan here.’

They’re at an impasse. She knows Donnelly wasn’t prepared for her to call his bluff, but she’s also well aware that he’s a dangerous man with more blood on his hands than she’d care to think about. Still, she’s unwilling to play into his hands right now, to be taken somewhere or forced to do something that will get her tied up in this mess, rather than escaping to safety and calling Bell to send the cavalry in after Elliot.

‘You’re right, Captain,’ Donnelly sneers, after a moment’s hesitation. ‘I don’t want to murder you here, because it would ruin my actual plans. But you know what else I would hate to do? I really, really hate to bring children into dangerous situations, but if you don’t do as I tell you…You’re going to leave me no choice.’

Threats against her are one thing - against Noah, they are entirely different. She won’t call his bluff on that, and they both know it.

‘Fine,’ she says, as his hand releases her arm, running down the side of her body until it lands on her service weapon. He keeps his own gun against her ribs at all times, prodding it into her skin once he’s unarmed her.

‘Move,’ he orders, spinning her around so he can wrap his other arm around her shoulders in a facsimile of an embrace. ‘Black SUV around the corner. Don’t try anything stupid.’

She has a warring sense of fear and anger, but does as he commands, sliding into the back of the vehicle and feeling Donnelly clamber in behind her. There’s a man in the driver’s seat up front, one she knows is another corrupt Brotherhood officer by the way he is dressed and holds himself, making her wish she could remember the faces and names of the crew down at the 3-7 in order to recognize who he might be.

She’s silent as they drive off, staring out the window and refusing to turn to meet Donnelly’s eyes, his breath hot on the side of her face as he sits too close, his weapon never wavering. Perhaps she should be striking up a conversation, trying to build camaraderie and tease out their plans, but she’s too tired and angry to trust any words that could come out of her mouth, more likely to insult than appease. Besides, Donnelly is far from stupid - they’ve both had the same training, similar experience on the job, and there’s no way he’s going to fall for the usual tricks of the trade.

Instead, she inches her hand slowly into her coat pocket, where her fingers grasp onto the metal of her keychain, the hard edges pushing into her flesh and reminding her that all she needs with these men is time. If anyone is going to have a bad evening, she’s determined to make it them, and not her or Elliot. Elliot, who for all she knows could already be hurt and at risk; right now, she’s the one who can help him the fastest.

She exhales slowly, her breath fogging up the back window as the SUV pulls into an empty parking lot, somewhere deep in an industrial area of the city. Up ahead, an abandoned warehouse looms in the dusk, and she bites down the urge to chuckle hysterically at the stereotypical aesthetics the Brotherhood clearly aspires to have.

‘Out,’ Donnelly instructs, and the driver is around by her door in an instant, pulling her roughly out of the seat and then marching her towards the warehouse, Donnelly leading the way with large strides.

‘We have an esteemed guest joining us this evening!’ Donnelly announces to the room as she’s hauled inside. Multiple pairs of eyes turn to stare at her - a group of men that have her blood boiling, who have betrayed the badge and allowed corruption to seep through their bones, the exact type that represent the NYPD at its worst. And in the middle, Elliot sits, bound tightly to a chair, his face growing pale as they lock eyes with one another.

‘Liv,’ he starts, and then falls silent as Donnelly waggles his gun towards him.

‘That’s right, Stabler!’ he crows. ‘The indomitable Captain Olivia Benson of the 1-6, gracing us with her presence!’

One of his lackeys drags another chair forwards, and hands press roughly on her shoulders until she sits, where her ankles and wrists are efficiently restrained with duct tape. She hates this feeling, the memories evoked in her mind from being tied to a chair, but she concentrates all her focus on Elliot instead, trying to make him understand that she’s alright, that she has everything under control even if it doesn’t seem that way. By the look of fear on his face, he either doesn’t catch her wordless message, or doesn’t believe her.

‘Here’s how it’s going to go,’ Donnelly announces, tapping his gun against his thigh for a moment as he surveys the scene. ‘Elliot here has unfortunately shown himself to be not only a liability to the Brotherhood, but a liar and a betrayer at that, working against us from the beginning when we invited him into the family with open arms. And then he didn’t have the good grace to die in the hit I so carefully set up for him via Preston Webb. So apologies, Captain Benson, but it’s really all his fault that you’ve been dragged into this mess.’

Her blood runs cold at his words - not simply from the confirmation that they made Elliot as a UC, but that he already had to survive a hit against him that she knew nothing about. Internally, she curses Bell for letting it get this bad, that he was still allowed to walk into the lion’s den even after a set up. He’s supposed to be safe and home with his children after the year they’ve had, not galivanting around on yet another undercover mission that has guns trained on him once more, risking his life to pay penance for imagined sins. She’s angry at him too - angry and tired at everyone.

Donnelly continues, switching his focus back to her.

‘I saw you both in the car the other evening, and I thought…Well, you must be fucking each other again, right? Ten years apart, but if the wife didn’t stop you back then, her death certainly wouldn’t be stopping you now, and this creates a perfect opportunity for us now that Webb’s attempt failed.’

‘Shut up, Donnelly,’ Elliot snaps, struggling against the ropes holding his arms and chest in place. Immediately, two men hold his shoulders, trying to prevent him from moving. ‘We’re not like that. You didn’t need to bring her here.’

‘Don’t bruise yourself too much, Stabler,’ Donnelly instructs with a small frown. ‘Those won’t look good for the narrative when it comes to your autopsy.’

This only makes Elliot struggle more, despite the men trying to pin him down, and he doesn’t stop until he finally looks back into her eyes, and she shakes her head briefly. She doesn’t want him to get hurt more than he already has been, and there’s no point in trying to fight them.

‘See, she has you by the balls even now,’ Donnelly chuckles, witnessing the exchange. ‘And you should know, Olivia - sorry, Captain - that your own death will seem very tragic and heroic. Poor Captain Benson, betrayed by her corrupt ex-partner, gunned down by the man she once loved and trusted.’

He pulls her own service weapon out from his waistband, where it glints in his other hand.

‘But don’t worry, you’ll manage to shoot him too - get your revenge before you die. It’s all very romantic and tragic, great for headlines and sympathy. You’ll be remembered well.’

Donnelly moves now to stand by Elliot’s shoulders, two guns in hand and facing her with a darkness in his eyes, a mixture of grandstanding for his men and intimidation towards herself.

‘The real question, Elliot, is how mutilated you’ll allow her corpse to be when they find it. Tell me exactly what intel you shared regarding the Brotherhood, and the names of everyone you’re working with, and we’ll give her a clean, quick death. Screw around with us, and let’s just say she’ll be bleeding from a lot of holes before she dies.’

She looks at Elliot calmly, and shakes her head. His eyes narrow, clearly disagreeing with her vehemently in his mind, but then he exhales slowly, clenches his hands, and lowers his shoulders.

‘I don’t-’ Elliot starts to say, but before he can finish talking, Donnelly raises a gun, lightning fast, and squeezes the trigger. Olivia closes her eyes, feeling a rush of air as the bullet speeds past her head, too close for comfort. No-one dares to speak for a second, the echo of the gun’s explosion the only sound filling the warehouse.

‘That’s the only warning shot you’re going to get,’ Donnelly hisses. ‘Next one will be piercing her flesh somewhere.’

‘Fuck you,’ Elliot says, but his voice is shaking.

Olivia knows instinctively that he is going to break. He’s a good man, and a good cop, and if it was only him in this situation, then he’d be able to taunt his attackers for hours, refusing to name names or share any information whatsoever. But they’ve been used against each other before, and all these years later, neither of them are able to pull the trigger still to hurt the other, whether the gun is in their own hand or someone else’s. Elliot is going to betray the badge, betray his colleagues, and talk, all because she’s sat in front of him. And then he’ll be killed anyway.

It’s something she refuses to allow.

‘So, that’s it?’ she asks, breaking the showdown between Donnelly and Elliot with an unimpressed tone in her voice, her first words since arriving at this place. ‘You think you can intimidate me by dragging me to some broken down warehouse you probably picked because it looked like something people would use on television?’

Donnelly laughs at her instead of getting angry, like she knew he would. He’s the type of man who doesn’t want to show weakness in front of his followers, the type who can’t indicate that a mere woman can pierce his ego with her words, and if he chooses to act amused instead of insulted, then she’ll just have to challenge him more.

‘I forgot you were a wild one,’ he says, leaving Elliot’s side to come closer. ‘You know Stabler, once you stopped fucking her, she kept it in the family, or so the rumors go. First it was some cop…Cavendish? Callahan? Oh no, Cassidy. Hey, didn’t he rape a prostitute or something? Seems you have a bit of a double standard between work and play, Captain. Fucked an IAB rat to make lieutenant, before dumping the poor man. I heard he committed suicide, so I guess he really missed your “assets”.’

The men around her are chuckling slightly at his insinuation, but Elliot is turning red with rage, and that wasn’t how Olivia had wanted this to go. She needs Donnelly’s attention on her, not on Elliot, so before he can blow up in anger, she shoots him a warning glare. He stares mutinously at her and then Donnelly, every muscle in his body tense, and she can see his knuckles turning white where he clenches them against the chair.

‘You would think the 3-7 has wild gossip, but the stories that come out of the 1-6, man,’ Donnelly continues blithely. ‘Your old partner here clearly enjoys ruining men’s lives and careers, and they walk willingly into her trap. Chief Dodds too, right? Slept with him to make Captain, and now look where the poor bastard is - dealing with traffic safety in a dead-end career.’

‘You seem to really enjoy that rumor mill, Detective Donnelly,’ she says evenly, shifting her gaze up to the man in front of her and refusing to blink. ‘Is your sex life so boring that you have to live vicariously through mine?’

His smile at her is more hate-filled than humorous.

‘Officers say all sorts of interesting things about you, Captain Benson,’ he replies, his voice hard. ‘And there are some files in evidence that are extremely illuminating. As a dutiful Detective, I made sure to read them all before I came to collect you today.’

He tucks her own service weapon back in his waistband, then uses the other to trail a cold path from her cheek down to her chest, the barrel of the gun pushing aside her shirt on one side so he can peer at her bare skin. She knows even without glancing down exactly which scars will be on display - can tell from Elliot’s facial expression that he can see them too, and it makes her raise her chin stubbornly, refusing to give Donnelly the satisfaction of a response.

‘Four days alone with a sick freak like that, and we’re supposed to believe he didn’t actually rape you, Olivia? Is that why you use sex for power against men now? Or was he right, in his court testimony…that you were obsessed with him? Enjoyed it, got off on the pain? After all, you may have some scars, but he was the one who left that place with a shattered leg…broken ribs, fractured skull.’

She’s shaking, she realizes to her own disgust. She hadn’t wanted Donnelly’s words to get to her, but with a gun pressed to her skin and her arms and legs still bound to the chair, she knows she’s been placed in a position that could open the door to flashbacks if she isn’t careful.

‘Olivia,’ Elliot’s voice is soft. ‘Liv, look at me.’

She slides her eyes away from Donnelly’s smirking expression, locking focus once more with Elliot.

‘Look at me,’ he repeats, and she squares her shoulders, feeling her racing heart begin to slow down as they stay connected. He’s calmed himself for her sake, and she finds herself breathing in sync with the rise and fall of his chest.

‘Touching,’ Donnelly says drily. ‘You may think she’s Saint Benson of SVU, Stabler, but I’m pretty sure your old partner is better suited to fit the Brotherhood than you are, considering all you did with us was for show. But Olivia Benson? Beat a man almost to death when he was incapacitated, then perjured herself in court to make herself sound the innocent victim. Blew the same man’s head off before pretending she was innocent in that too, and he “killed himself”. Hell, even that baby she has…comes from a prostitute that was torched and a pimp her partner happened to shoot to death. All so very convenient, right?’

She knows Elliot’s mind must be in turmoil, hearing all these vague references and disgusting insinuations, and probably wanting nothing more than to unleash his rage on the man. But he’s refusing to break her gaze, refusing to let his breathing speed up when he knows she’s grounding herself through his rhythm, and it’s working, because both of them are remaining calm despite the threat of violence, despite their compromised position right now. Donnelly’s fixated on her still rather than Elliot, and she’s succeeding in buying them the time she knew they needed.

There is a very faint buzzing noise in her pocket, a small metallic object attached to her keychain humming to life and vibrating gently against her skin.

Time’s up.

She allows a smile to spread across her face, the type that hardens her expression instead of softens it, the type that darkens her eyes, the type she uses in interrogations when she knows she’s about to get the confession she wants. Elliot knows what that smile means.

‘It’s a good attempt, Frank,’ she says, her voice smooth as she shifts her attention back to the man hovering over her with a gun. She lets her earlier anger and frustration seep back through her body, warming her from the inside out with its blaze. ‘But you think that’s enough to threaten me? Waving a gun around and implying I’m a slut? You think I’m afraid of a few washed up cops in an abandoned warehouse? Far worse monsters have kidnapped me. I’ve been held hostage in a fucking beach house, a townhouse - even a recording studio, don’t you remember, Elliot? That bastard Rook?’

Donnelly’s hand is tightening around the gun, and the other members of the Brotherhood are exchanging glances with each other, unsure of what to do. Elliot simply looks at her and nods, trying to force himself to appear unaffected; he doesn’t know what she has planned, but he’s telling her that he trusts whatever she’s trying to do.

‘And where are they now, Donnelly?’ she hisses, throwing down the challenge. ‘They’re all six feet under, cold and dead. I’m the one still standing, so don’t fuck with me. Because you might call yourself the Brotherhood and pride yourselves on loyalty, but you’ll never be as loyal as my people.’

And then the door to the warehouse bursts open, people streaming inside, Fin and Sergeant Bell leading the charge with their guns aimed high.

‘Put your weapons down and get on the ground!’ Fin yells out, drowning out any protests from their captors about “being cops too”. He looks her way quickly, and she nods towards the men, her message clear: secure the room, and then bother with her release, because she’s unharmed and fine for now. He obeys her wordless command seamlessly.

Ayanna is already cutting through the ropes holding Elliot in place, half-pulling him to his feet as he staggers upright on unsteady legs, and Olivia can feel the relief hit her in full force when she sees he’s also avoided serious injury. His sergeant is trying to hand him a badge and gun, gesturing to the chaotic scene, but her words are going in one ear and out the next, because Elliot’s entire focus is on Olivia.

And then there is a movement out the corner of her eye, a distraction that makes her twist her head. Donnelly, kneeling down, gun placed on the floor as instructed. But his right hand is inching towards his back, towards the second gun - her gun - that she knows he has hidden under his shirt. Even if he starts shooting instantly, there’s no way he’s getting out of this scenario alive, but she can sense that’s his plan as he shifts to have Elliot in sight. Suicide by cop, and if he can take a particular enemy with him, then all the better.

‘ELLIOT,’ she calls out in desperation, wishing she had told Fin to untie her first when now she’s unable to do anything other than watch Elliot once more face the line of fire. He had already been moving towards her, but she sees him register the danger the moment she calls out.

At the sound of her voice, Donnelly swings around also, and the last thing she sees before she slams her eyes shut is the barrel of the gun pointing towards her chest.

BANG.

A warm liquid splatters her face, across her cheeks and forehead, and the similarities are suddenly too close - the spray of blood, her limbs being bound. Lewis is whispering in her ear, and she can feel her breathing stutter as she keeps her eyes closed. He’s dead, he’s dead, but she’s back in that room, and…

And there are warm hands on her face, wiping away the blood, and a forehead pressed tightly against hers.

‘Liv,’ Elliot says, his voice low. ‘Olivia, it’s me.’

Someone is cutting through the tape around her wrists and ankles, and as soon as she’s free, he’s pulling her into his arms. They collapse together onto the floor, not far from a widening pool of blood seeping from Donnelly’s body, and she takes a moment to bury her face into his shoulder, breathing in the scent of Elliot rather than the scent of death around them.

‘Sorry you had to kill a man you admired,’ she mumbles eventually, lips brushing against his neck. It’s not very professional for a Captain to be clinging onto a Detective in the middle of a crime scene, but everyone here is either from her team or Bell’s, and she meant what she said about her people’s loyalty.

Besides, after the day she’s had, she doesn’t exactly care what other people are thinking.

‘Fuck him,’ Elliot growls, tightening his grip on her. ‘I just…thank you, Liv. I’m so sorry you got dragged into all of this because of me. I don’t know how you managed to tip Fin off, but I wouldn’t have made it out of here without you.’

His hand comes to stroke the back of her head, and she knows she’s probably getting Donnelly’s blood all over his neck, but she tucks her nose against his skin anyway.

‘That’s why I’m your best partner,’ she tells him. ‘And a panic button in my pocket. Fin insisted.’

She knows they still have a lot to discuss, that Donnelly’s speech has opened a myriad of topics she’s been studiously ignoring for the past year when it comes to herself and Elliot, but right now she just wants to enjoy the fact that they’re both safe and able to return to their children tonight.

Elliot seems to feel the same way, because he simply relaxes into their embrace further, happy to stay on the ground for as long as she needs, and when she finally shifts in an attempt to stand, he’s instantly supporting her arm as they scramble upright.

‘Come on partner,’ he tells her, never ceasing to touch her as if it’s impossible for him to let go, hands sliding down her arm so he can grip onto her fingers. ‘Let me take you home.’

It’s not that simple - they have statements to make, paramedics to visit, teams to debrief - but she senses the promise underneath his words. He’s coming home properly now, no more running.