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74 Minutes

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Elliot Stabler is dead for exactly 74 minutes.

It had been 10:45 on the dot when her phone rang, Tutuola flashing on the screen, and Olivia had let out a heavy sigh of disappointment. Her son had been safely tucked into bed, her dishwasher had been running, her kitchen counters wiped clean. She’d showered, she’d done a luminizing mask, she’d brushed her teeth.

She’d changed into her favorite pajamas—the lavender ones, made of buttery soft cotton, a simple shorts-and-t-shirt set with deep purple piping along the edges. They’re nothing fancy, but she loves them, so she’d chosen them for tonight.

She’d been feeling a little bit tender-hearted, a little bit raw, after the week she’d had. After this case, after seeing Rafa again, after I miss you too and love someone unconditionally and all the emotional garbage that had pulled up. So she’d chosen her favorite set, and she’d slathered herself with softly-scented body butter, and she’d made a cup of chamomile tea.

Little things. Self care.

What she deserves, on a small scale. (She’d been trying not to think too hard about what she deserves, on a grander scale, because she’d wanted to sleep tonight and brooding about Elliot is not conducive to nodding off.)

She’d been about to crawl into bed at a reasonable hour for the first time in who knows how long, and while she hadn’t had any illusions that sleep would come quickly for her, she’d been happy to be in her warm bed, between her soft sheets, in her dark bedroom.

She’d been two steps away from the mattress, mug in hand, when her phone rang, and she could see clearly, she’d thought, how the conversation—the rest of the evening—was going to go. An apology for calling her so late, and the brief rundown on a case that required the gravitas of a captain on site. Calling Lucy and apologizing profusely herself. Dressing. Drying her hair. Putting on her makeup. Lucy is 24 minutes away via Uber; she’d have just enough time to pull herself together and then go out into the night again to face some new horror.

Her tea would go cold, and her pajamas would be folded up and tucked away for another night.

That is how she had imagined the conversation would go.

It had never occurred to her—not for one second—that it would be what it had turned out to be.

That she’d have to say Fin’s name twice before she’d hear him draw a deep breath, his voice pained and quiet, sympathetic and hurt as he’d told her, “Liv, I wanted you to hear it from me first. A call came over the radio a little while ago—officer down, up in Harlem. It’s Elliot. He’s gone.”

He’d said something else after that, he’d kept talking, and she thinks she’d responded, she thinks she’d said, “Oh,” maybe and, “What happened?”, and she knows he’d said the word “Shot” and she has a vague recollection of, “Trying to find out more” and “do you need me to come over?”

She thinks, she’s pretty certain, he’d said that last part, because as the world had spun around her, as her vision had tunneled in on the sides, and her hand had gone limp and her mug had fallen to the rug beneath her feet with a heavy thunk and spilled hot tea all over her toes (she hadn’t felt it, not really, she had registered hot but she’d been frozen like a statue, and the physical discomfort had been nothing—nothing—compared to the numb, squeezing, burning, breaking pressure in the middle of her chest), she remembers that she had told him, “No.”

She had told him not to come, and she had hung up the phone before he could offer again, because he could not come, nobody could come there, not now, not in that moment, not just then, because her world was spinning and spinning, and her heart was breaking and breaking, and she could not bear to have a witness.

Her eyes had welled with tears so quickly they’d blinded her, her bedroom a blur like looking through thick glass, the sensation stabbing and hot, and she’d bent forward, stumbling the two steps to the mattress, tripping over the mug, her knees buckling like they were made of paper, like they were nothing, until they’d solidified again in time to collide with the floor. There’d been a sob in her throat, stuck there, blocking her breath, clogging her lungs until they burned, ached, until she’d pressed her face into the edge of her mattress, buried it into the plush softness of her duvet and let it loose on a low wail.

Elliot was dead.

Elliot was dead.

Elliot had taken this assignment—this assignment she had asked him to take, one she had helped him work his way into—and it had killed him.

No matter who had pulled the trigger—whether it was a job gone wrong, or the Brotherhood had made him and caught him unawares—one way or another, this assignment had gotten him killed.

Shot.

He’d bled out somewhere, a few dozen blocks north, while she’d been rinsing the pot she’d used to make mac-and-cheese, while she’d been skimming Noah’s science worksheet, and checking off his free reading chart for the day, and tucking him in, and kissing his forehead. While she’d been lathering herself with citrus-scented body wash, and dabbing anti-aging cream under her eyes, Elliot Stabler’s life had been running out of him, spilling onto the sidewalk, and she couldn’t breathe under the weight of it.

She loved him.

Unconditionally, that is how she loved him. Rafa had been right about that—she’d told him not to tell her how she felt, but he had been right about that. She had been thinking about Elliot, stewing about Elliot, wondering about Elliot for days now. Since Lindstrom, since Amanda, since fucking Forlini’s Bar, and she’d been wondering if she could risk her battered heart for him. If she was willing to barter the friendship they’d been forming for a life of more with him.

For the big family Christmases, and the small Sunday mornings, and the chance to feel his hands on her hips, his lips on her own, his body moving with hers. For hearing him say he loved her and mean it this time, in the hushed quiet of one of their bedrooms, not ripped from him in a moment of displaced grief on display in front of his children.

Oh God, she’d thought, his children.

Someone was going to have to tell his children.

It should be her, she’d thought. She should be the one. But the idea had been unfathomable, unthinkable, impossible.

How—how—could she have faced any one of them right then and told them that they’d lost another parent. That they were orphaned now in this big, terrible world, and that she had sent their father down that path that took him from them. She’d spent so many years trying to protect his family and in the end, she’d contributed to its ruin, and she didn’t know how she could ever live with that. How she could ever face them again.

She couldn’t, it had been too much. The task too great and too devastating. She hadn’t had it in her, just then, to do more than clench her duvet in a tight fist and sob.

She’d call them in the morning, she’d thought. When she’d had time to purge this first godawful wellspring of grief and pull herself together, she would find out more and she would call them and give them answers, if not comfort. She’d let them have one more night of peace before she pulled the world down around them.

But for the moment, she’d been locked in her misery, every imagined moment, every thing she had dared to hope for, dared to wonder about, shattered to pieces at her feet. Ripped apart by a bullet before she’d ever had a chance to decide whether she was going to move forward or retreat.

She’d heard Lindstrom in her head again—You deserve happiness, Olivia Benson—and it had made her sob harder, a dry, heaving, agonizing hitch in her throat, in her chest, in her soul. She’d never been able to trust that happiness was in the cards for her, and this, she thinks, is exactly why.

Because life hadn’t meant it for her.

Because the universe and whatever malicious force was driving it had looked upon her and thought Suffering will do. Had rewarded every time she’d come close to hope, every time she’d come within fingers’ grasp of reaching for her own happiness, with a terrible, unspeakable, traumatic cataclysm.

She hadn’t realized she’d still been clutching her phone until it buzzed to life in her palm, jolting her out of her paroxysm, making her suck in a deep, shuddering breath.

She’d seen the name on the screen Sgt. Ayanna Bell and her stomach had rolled, lurched, pitched dangerously. Ayanna was calling to inform her. Was calling to tell her that Elliot was gone, and Olivia couldn’t bear the thought of it. She couldn’t bear the sound of another sympathetic voice, could not bear to hear the words again—Elliot’s dead, Olivia—and more than that, she could not bear to let anyone hear the desperation of her own grief.

She was a pillar, an island, an institution. She hated to think of herself that way most days, but she had carved herself into a formidable figure of respect and authority, and she could not let anyone hear her like this. Choking on tears, trembling through gasping breaths, sniffling back snot.

She’d punched the power button on her phone, held it down until the screen went dark. She hadn’t wanted to speak to anyone right then, except perhaps the only person she would never get to speak to again.

She had lost people before. Lost officers (she’d thought of Mike Dodds, another good man whose death rests on her shoulders), and lost lovers (she’d thought of Ed Tucker, and the shock that had settled into her bones when she’d heard of his passing), had lost family (she’d thought of Serena and Simon, the numb, cold heartbreak left in their wake) but it had never been like this.

Losing Elliot had felt like losing a limb, like losing an organ, something vital, something she needed to draw a full breath or straighten her spine. She’d told him twenty years ago that Burton fucking Lowe had been her soulmate, and, God, she had been so wrong about that, could not have been more wrong about that. She hadn’t known, then, that if she had a soulmate—if there was such a thing as two hearts meant to take on the world side by side—that he was hers.

But she’d known it tonight, because the loss of him had felt like her own death. Like a part of herself that had lived in him was guttering out like a doused flame, like a part of him that lived in her chest was being wrenched from her. His departure a decade ago had been agony, but at least she’d had the solace of knowing he was safe. That he’d chosen a happy life, with his happy wife, and his happy children, away from the darkness and trauma of and danger of their day-to-day. Away from the darkness of her.

He hadn’t been at her side anymore, but he had been somewhere, and that knowledge had been a comfort.

The reality of a world without Elliot Stabler somewhere in it had been unthinkable, untenable, and she’d felt that shaky nausea rise up in her belly again, never having quite faded away after the phone had rung. It had felt urgent, suddenly, demanding, a hot, sickly climb up her torso, and she’d managed, somehow, to get her feet working, to push her leaden limbs up and stumble down the hallway to the bathroom.

The air had still been a little bit humid, the scent of bergamot and shampoo still faint in the air as she’d dropped in front of the toilet and retched. She’d emptied her stomach, emptied her heart, emptied her aching, pounding head, until there was nothing left inside of her, and then she’d slumped back against the vanity and stayed there.

Her back against the wood, the porcelain edge of the sink cool against her temple as she stared at a spot on the opposite wall and felt the numbness settle in. This, she’d thought, was what grief felt like. This was how she remembered it. Not the hot, snotty, ripping, weeping feeling she’d felt at the edge of her bed (the bed he’d never sleep in because she hadn’t been bold enough to invite him), but the cold, hollow emptiness.

It was almost a comfort. Almost a relief.

But then she thought of his smile, and her heart found a new angle at which to rip and rend, her eyes pulled enough liquid from God only knew where to summon a fresh flood of tears.

The numbness ebbed and it flowed, a tidal pull between it and agony, and Olivia stayed there for long minutes, lost in its rocking.

She’d finally stopped crying when she heard the first knock. It had sounded dull and far away, soft and entreating.

Olivia wasn’t going to answer it.

There was nobody on this earth that she wanted to see right now. Nobody she would want to see her the way that she was.

But the knocking came again, harder, more insistent, loud enough that if it kept going, it would wake her sleeping son.

All she could think was, Noah cannot see me like this.

It was enough, just barely, to force her to her feet, to have her palming water from the tap to swish the sour taste from her mouth with a trembling hand, before she careened unsteadily through her apartment on weak legs.

It was Fin, she was almost sure of it. Coming to check on her even though she had made it very clear she didn’t need him to, didn’t want him to.

She wanted to be angry about it, but for a brief second between the breakfast bar and the bookshelf she imagined the way he might wrap his arms around her and hold on tight, and the idea brought her comfort. She’d purged out the first awful wave of grief, so maybe, maybe, she was ready for a friend to lean on for a little while.

She didn’t bother to check the peephole before she pulled the door open, and then her jaw dropped in utter shock, the world spinning wildly on its axis again, making her sway with a sudden surge of vertigo.

Elliot Stabler had been dead for exactly 74 minutes, and now he was standing on her threshold smiling at her.

His grin drops almost at once, his brow furrowing as he takes in the sight of her, and all at once realization slams into Olivia: he is alive. He is fucking alive. The surge of relief comes first, giddy, dizzying, and then hot on its heels is a red-hot blinding rage.

She knows one thing for certain, in this moment where it felt like she knows nothing at all: Odafin Tutuola would not call and tell her that Elliot was dead if he did not have rock solid reason to think so. He wouldn’t rip her guts out on a hunch, or a supposition; he would have made sure of it before he called.

Which meant that Elliot had made sure that the NYPD thought he was good and dead, and then went on radio silence.

He was alive, and he’d let her think he was dead for seventy-four fucking minutes, and the betrayal of it gnashes through her gut like sharp fangs.

She isn’t quite aware of moving, isn’t really cognizant of Elliot’s mouth moving, of his low voice rumbling, all she knows is that he was alive and he hadn’t bothered to fucking tell her, and it makes her hands shake with fury. She balls them into fists to quell the trembling as she barrels toward him and then she slams them right into the wall of his fucking chest and hisses, “You bastard!”

He sways under the impact (if she’d been thinking—if she’d been able to form a thought—she’d have been surprised by that; Elliot Stabler is a fucking tank these days, solid and strong and immovable), grunting and grimacing, and she wallops him again, pounds her fist against his shoulder and shouts, “You absolute fucking bastard!”

He catches one fist in his grasp, and then the other as she takes another swing, shackling her wrists with his big hands, wrestling them out away from their bodies as he asks, “Liv, what’s going on? What happened?”

Olivia sees red again, reeling, her head pulling back as she lets out one harsh, barking, laugh and repeats, “What happened? You fucking died, Elliot, that’s what happened!” She thrashes in his hold and accuses, “You faked your fucking death and you didn’t think to tell me?”

That stuns him, his grip slackening, her right wrist wrenching free, the flat of her palm shoving against the center of his chest before he can stop her, and he winces again, deflates a little and then glares at her, tightening his grip on her left arm and using his own to yank his shirt up to his throat.

There are bruises on his chest, angry and purple and dark, three indigo splotches around three deep, dark circles, the telltale sign of a bullet to the vest. It stuns her enough to stop her assault, even before he grinds out, “Please stop hitting me. Or at least, aim somewhere else.”

She nods slightly, struck dumb for a moment as he lets the fabric fall back to his waist. He really had been shot. Taken three to the chest and was still standing—a feat in itself, but if it had been a near-miss Fin would have known that, Fin would have made sure, and sure enough, Elliot is stepping closer, looping her right wrist in his firm grip again for good measure, and telling her, “Ayanna said she called you.”

Oh.

Oh, God.

Everything spins again, Olivia’s heart pumping hard, so hard, harder than it has in years, the swiveling tilt-a-whirl of emotions leaving her unsteady and grateful for the anchor of his grip on her.

Ayanna had called her.

Fin called me,” she tells him darkly. “Fin called me, and he told me you died, and I turned my fucking phone off, Elliot, because you were dead, and I was—”

The tears are back again, springing up, hot and angry, and she tries to wrench a hand free to wipe away the few that spill out and burn tracks down her cheeks but he won’t relinquish his hold on her.

“I turned my phone off,” she tells him again, tearfully, and then all of a sudden, he’s there, against her, his arms around her, cradling her against his body. His warm, blessedly alive body that smells like sweat and cologne and Elliot, and she could weep with relief if she wasn’t so fucking furious with him. He’s muttering apologies into her hair, but she’s not ready to hear them yet, is too busy asking questions of her own: “Why didn’t you call me? Why didn’t you call me sooner? Did you think I wouldn't hear? Did you think I wouldn't know? Did you think of me at all?

Because there was no way—simply no possible fucking way that Fin found out Elliot was dead—found out with certainty—before Elliot himself had had a chance to call her. No fucking way that Ayanna had not known what was going on before the Sergeant on call at SVU.

So maybe they had called her, eventually, but not until the damage had been done, not until her heart had been crushed, and the fact that he left her heart so utterly vulnerable and exposed to devastation—the fact that he would her let think he was gone forever when he knows full well how much his leaving had wounded her the last time—has her apoplectic in his arms.

But she’s also so goddamn grateful that he’s alive. Relief wars with fury, winning out just enough to let him hold onto her as he soothes, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Liv.” She delves her hands beneath his coat to feel the living, breathing warmth of him and then digs her nails into the back of his shirt as he tells her, “I was so focused on tracking down these guys before they realized I’d survived that I—but we did think of you. I was on my way to grab Parnell and I thought of how fucking happy I was that this was almost over, that maybe now you and I could have some time to figure things out—and I realized we hadn’t told you, and I asked Ayanna if she’d called, and she said she’d handle it.”

Olivia scoffs, darkly.

“Well, you should have called me before you were on your way to—”

“You’re right,” he mollfies, cupping her jaw, tipping it up, until she can look in his eyes and see the sincerity when he tells her, “I should’ve called, right away when we decided to let them think I was dead. Or texted—something. I should have let you know first, so you didn’t worry. I’m so sorry.”

The part of her brain that can hear him thinks Worry isn’t even the half of it, but the rest of her is preoccupied with his face, with the way it is inches from hers, with the darker blue flecks around his irises, and the familiar slope of his nose, and the stubble starting to show on his chin. With his breath warm against her cheek and his mouth just... right there.

His lips are moving, but all she can hear is the sound of her every shattered hope coalescing back into one bright and shiny ball of possibility. He is not dead, and he is right here, and if she wants family holidays and Sunday mornings and his hands on her skin and I love you on his lips, she’d better make a goddamn move before the universe yanks him away again.

The universe, it seems, has fired a warning shot across her bow, has added to the cacophony of voices telling her to take a step, to take a leap, and she’ll be damned if she’s not going to listen now, when there are three bullet wounds swelling bruises above his heart.

When she knows now what it would feel like to lose him, for good.

She loops an arm around his neck and drags him down to her, crushes their mouths together hard, and hot, and desperate, pours every ounce of her grief and terror into a kiss that is bruising and brutal. Elliot hesitates for only a moment before he surges against her, giving as good as he gets, his tongue delving past her lips, his hands at her waist, sliding up her back, tangling in her hair.

They sway back and forth, once, and then stumble, Elliot pushing her backward as he lurches forward, and it’s not until her door swings shut with a thunk that she realizes they’ve been having this confrontation practically in the hallway.

They fumble backward together until Olivia’s shoulders hit the wall and she grunts softly, still kissing, kissing, kissing, and it’s everything, God, everything. He tastes like cinnamon and smells like leather and aftershave, and his hands are huge, are everywhere. He kisses the way he does everything else—with his whole chest, with his whole heart, passionate and strong, and Olivia melts under the onslaught.

She is kissing Elliot, finally, finally, after this long, dark year, after ten years without him, after a dozen by his side, sharing dirty water dogs and bodega coffees and the heavy responsibility of the duty they’d chosen. After lying in the dark of her apartment and feeling guilty as she’d wondered how he’d kiss, how he might hold her, how he’d feel between her thighs and in her arms, she is kissing him, and it is glorious.

The heady, giddy thrill of it is a shock to a body still trying to recover from the aching trauma of sharp grief and the whiplash of it all makes her hands shake, makes her eyes flood with fresh tears. She clutches at him—shoulders, arms, his waist, his neck, runs her palms over his body just to feel him alive against her. A sob hitches in her chest, puffs its way into his mouth from hers, and Elliot pulls back just enough to murmur another, “I’m so sorry, Liv,” before he presses a warm, damp kiss to her chin, another along her jaw, then two more. Working his way back toward her ear, his breath hot against her neck, his words soft when he whispers, “I’m never leaving again, I promise.”

She shakes her head at that, swallows back the tears, tries (and fails, mostly) to keep her voice even and strong as she tells him, “Don’t promise that; you can’t keep it. The job is the job.”

He pulls back, just until he can see her face, his palm rising to cup the side of her neck, his thumb sweeping low on her cheek. His lips part to say something, but he halts before the words come out, and they both know why—she’s right. There are no promises in this job, and he’d come damn close tonight, been damn lucky.

“God, El,” she breathes, “what if they’d aimed for the head?”

His forehead drops to press against hers, and she squeezes her eyes shut tight, tries to push away the image of him on some dingy sidewalk uptown with his brain splattered all over the concrete. Their noses bump as he lifts his head, the tip of his skimming up the bridge of hers; he presses his lips right between her brows and then again just a few centimeters higher. His sigh ruffles the hair at her crown, and his lips brush her skin as he murmurs, “I’ll do everything I can to not die.”

It’s the best he can do. The best any of them can do, the most they can promise. That they will do their best to come home at the end of the day, and not leave their loved ones reeling and grief-stricken. But they both know that the reality is out of their hands, and on nights like tonight, the risks percolate close to the surface and send anxiety clawing up her spine.

Olivia tightens her arms around his middle and tilts her face up toward his, relieved when his mouth sinks down to cover hers again. The kiss is less frantic this time, but only just. She’s still grasping restlessly at his shirt, he’s still sweeping his tongue into her mouth with a moan. One of his broad hands rests at her throat, the other sweeps down her back, skittering to a stop at her waist. She shifts a little, lifts an arm to wrap around the solid muscle of his shoulder; the move lifts the hem of her t-shirt just enough that Elliot’s fingertips slip beneath it and land on the bare skin of her back.

She gasps at the contact, and Elliot groans sofly. It feels like an overreaction. It’s nothing, really, that touch. Just the warm pads of his digits against the soft skin along her spine, but the intimate contact is new and electric, and it ignites something in her. She wants him, she realizes.

Not just the palpable reassurance that he is warm and alive, but a low, simmering desire that she’s been trying to keep at bay for twenty-odd years. The gut-gripping fear of losing him has pushed her past all her usual why-nots, and her brain is still struggling to keep up with the giant leap they’ve taken from friends-for-now to obviously-more-than-friends, but her body? Her body has gotten the memo, her body is nodding her head to encourage him and arching against his torso when he takes that as permission to slip his hand beneath her shirt and spread his palm over the base of her spine.

He’s so fucking warm, and he’s moaning into her mouth as the five points of his fingertips press briefly into the muscle of her back. Like he feels the same surging, sudden want that she does, like the idea of simply touching her is enough to turn him on. She’s jealous, suddenly, and greedy. Wants to get her hands on him too, to feel all that ridiculous muscle he’d gained in their decade apart rippling under her palms. She yanks at his shirt, delves a hand beneath the fabric and up his back, and he is hot here, and a little bit sweaty, and alive, so goddamn alive.

Her hand roams his back, spreads up, up, and then around and down his ribs, taking him in, touching him everywhere. Their hips are notched together tightly, she realizes, his cock hardening between them, poking low on her belly and it makes something in her middle go liquid and hot. She wants him to touch her, wants him to fuck her, wants to take him inside of herself where she knows he’ll be safe and hold him there for a few desperate minutes.

She grinds her hips against his and Elliot groans, his hand at her ribs now, her belly, skimming up beneath her t-shirt until the tips of his fingers brush against the bottom of her bare breast, and she feels her nipple go tight at just that grazing touch.

He murmurs, “Can I?” into her mouth and she nods frantically, hisses Please against his lips, and then, Jesus, his hand is covering her breast, cupping the weight of it in his palm, his thumb brushing back and forth against the generous swell. His breath stutters out against her lips and it thrills her—the knowledge that just the feel of her in his hands is enough to make him breathless, the reassurance that she isn't the only one so affected.

He groans a tight, desperate, “God, you feel…” and then his mouth is careening off down her neck, sucking hot kisses there the same way he’d devoured her mouth. The sensation is electric, zinging through her, drawing out a sharp gasp as she tilts her head to make room for him. He kneads her breast in his hand, then shifts his grip just enough to rub his thumb back and forth over her stiff nipple. Olivia’s head hits the wall with a thunk, a soft sound of pleasure tumbling out of her. Elliot moans against her throat, and rubs her again with his thumb, then grasps her between his thumb and forefinger and gives her nipple a soft, lingering pinch.

Her hips lurch against him, her breath catching, both from what he’s doing to her breast and the pleasure of grinding against where he’s thick and hard for her. For her. He wants her, and he’s alive, here in her arms, his mouth on her skin, his hands on her body, and she feels another frantic surge of anxious possessiveness wash over her.

“Harder,” she gasps near his ear, and he listens, gives her nipple another firmer squeeze, rolling it a little at the end and making her squeak. There’s no other word for the blissful little sound that pops out of her, and her cheeks heat with embarrassment.

Elliot just does it again.

Olivia’s eyes roll back, her jaw dropping open, her hands moving over his skin again, drinking in as much as she can. She runs one up his belly, over his chest, feeling every sinful dip of muscle until he sucks in a quick breath and murmurs, “Careful,” into her skin.

Right, she remembers. Bruises.

She draws her hand away, moves both of them down to his hips, then lets one drop further, her heart thudding in her chest as she tells herself if he can touch her breast, surely she can do this. She palms his ass and gives it a squeeze, and Elliot’s hips buck against her belly, his cock grinding against her.

“Want you so much,” he gasps against her neck, and that’s it. That’s all it takes, really, to have her pushing them from zero to sixty again, to send that hand not currently groping his ass around front to fiddle with his belt buckle.

“So have me,” she breathes, feeling a giddy spike of anticipation the moment the words leave her lips. She’s just invited Elliot Stabler to fuck her by her front door, and it’s ridiculous, reckless, too fast, but in that moment she doesn’t care.

In that moment all she knows is that it suddenly feels very much like if she doesn’t get him inside her, she’s going to wake up back in that moment of desperate grief at her bedside, with him gone from her life forever.

Elliot, she realizes, has frozen in place. One hand warm at her breast, the other slipped down to knead her rear, pressing her tightly to him, his mouth near her rapidly beating pulse—but all of them unmoving. He’s breathing, quick and deep, but aside from that, he might as well be made of stone.

“You sure?” he manages, his voice tight, thin, like he’s had to push it out through lungs that have seized at her proposition.

Olivia nods, tugging at his buckle, and telling him, “I need to feel you. Need you alive.”

He comes back to life at that, his grip tightening on her chest, on her ass, his lips tickling her neck as he promises, “I’m alive; I’m here.”

She gets his belt free and starts on the button, entreating, “Show me.”

Elliot nods, and kisses her, all scorching heat and promise, his passion enough to make her fingers fall slack and her breath whoosh out when they part long enough for him to ask, “Where?”

For one brief, addled second, she can’t comprehend the meaning of the question. And then she realizes he wants to relocate, to move them further into the apartment, and maybe they should but the sofa seems so far, the bedroom even farther, and that seems such a waste when she could have him inside her in seconds if they really put their minds to it.

So she tells him, “Here,” and “Now.” and watches as his brows bounce up.

“Are you—”

“Now, El.” She tugs his zipper down, dips her hand inside to cup his hard length through his briefs, giving it a slow stroke that makes the breath freeze in both of their lungs. He nods, once, dumbly, and then his hands are on her hips, pushing at the waist of her pajama pants, shoving it and her underwear down to the floor as she does the same to his jeans and boxer briefs. They don’t even bother with their tops, both too caught up in the moment, and the sudden influx of bare, private skin they’ve uncovered.

Elliot’s fingers sink between her thighs, rubbing over her clit, then dipping even further, his other hand running down her leg until he can hoist her knee up to his waist and open her up for him. He strokes through where she’s wet and warm, then sinks a finger inside of her, and Olivia freezes.

She’s just wrapped her hand around the thick length of him, just run her thumb over his soft skin, his hard shaft. Neither of them had been quite prepared for feeling each other so close, so intimately, and for just a second their gazes lock and hold while they realize exactly what they’re touching. Just a second and then they surge together again, mouths pressing, tongues tangling, hands moving again, his thrusting inside her, curling in search of her sweet spot, while hers give him a long stroke up to the tip, down to the root, and back.

He’s warm here, too—hot, even. Her touch had made his cock twitch, and that combined with the heat of him reminds her that he is here, alive, with her, really and truly. It feels like a fever dream, being with him like this. Discovering the way he moves his fingers in her, the rhythm he sets, the way he huffs a breath out through his nose when she circles her thumb over the head of him, and the way he moans when she rubs back and forth beneath his head.

She wants to know more, to know all of him, to feel all of him, and she doesn’t want to wait another second. She parts their lips with a wet smack and gasps, “Inside me. Want you inside me. Right now.”

For a second, she thinks he’s going to protest, going to ask if she’s sure again, so she tightens her grip and strokes him a little faster, watching his brow furrow and his mouth drop open. She tips her hips toward him, drags his cock down to stroke against her clit, and his hand slips out of her to make room.

His fingers are damp when they wrap around hers, the two of them guiding him to her entrance together, and then he meets her gaze and presses forward, up, in. They’d rushed the foreplay, so she’s tight around him, he can only sink in halfway before he has to draw back a little and ease in again. It’s uncomfortable for a second—but only a second—the sudden stretch of her around his cock twingeing before it eases. She’ll take it—it means he’s here, solid, inside of her. With her.

Never leaving again, that’s what he’d promised, and while she knows it’s a promise he may not be able to keep, it feels real right now. Now, when he’s sinking even deeper, until she can feel him deep in her belly and her eyes roll shut with a low moan, it feels like everything might actually be alright.

He has a vice grip on her thigh with one hand, and his head is buried in her shoulder again, his soft, “Jesus Christ,” breathed out close to her ear.

All she can think to say is, “Yeah,” and “God, move, I need you to—mm!”

He does, pulling back almost all the way and then surging in deep, and the swift, swooping pleasure makes her gasp. She hasn’t been with anyone in months, and even then, it hadn’t been like this. It hadn’t been Elliot, thick and strong inside of her, with his hand on her thigh and his fingers in her hair, caressing her neck, cupping her breast. It feels unreal, it feels unreal, and she needs it to feel real, needs to feel rooted in this, grounded in it, safe and secure in it, so she gropes for his jaw and pushes his head up so she can meet his eyes.

“Don’t you fucking die on me again,” she growls, and Elliot nods fervently, fucks up into her and swears that he won’t.

“God, never, gotta stay alive so we can keep doing this,” he groans, giving her another firm, deep thrust.

Olivia laughs, breathless, then drops both hands to his ass and pulls him harder against her, gasps, “Faster,” because she still feels that itchy, restlessness under her skin, still feels shaky and on edge. “Be with me.”

“I am, I’m here,” he swears, looks her right in the eyes, lets her hold his gaze and drown in all that blue as he picks up speed, moves faster, harder, until her jaw drops open and every time he fills her up it pushes a moan up from deep in her chest. Dimly, she realizes that they should be quiet, that they aren’t the only ones in this apartment, so she drags his lips back to hers again to muffle their moaning and groaning.

The kiss is sloppy, all panting breaths and nipping teeth and eager tongues, but, God, it’s good, and she finally, finally feels alive with him. Feels him pushing out every drop of grief and rage from inside of her and replacing it with pleasure and relief. His free hand is under her shirt again, cupping her breasts, plucking her nipples, and he shifts his stance just a bit, just a little, just enough, so that he’s hitting her clit every time he bottoms out.

Olivia moans deliriously into his mouth, digs her nails into his ass cheek, into his jacket (why is he still wearing his jacket?; she shoves it off his shoulders, down to the floor), into the fabric of his shirt and the sweaty spot at the base of his spine. She can’t get enough of him in her palms, in her cunt, in her heart, God, he’s lodged so deep in her heart she can hardly breathe around him sometimes, and right now it is all too much in the best way.

She feels the pleasure rising, rising, gasps, “El!” and “I’m—” and he rumbles something that sounds like Please, yes, and then it hits her. Pleasure like a punch, knocking her head back and wrenching an ecstatic cry from her lips, making her knee buckle so he has to drop both hands to her ass and grip there to hold her steady. She’s pinned between him and the wall, between him and his hands, and held there by his steady pounding, by the sheer agonzing grip of orgasm, and he is so fucking alive against her, inside of her, that it pulls a grateful sob from her throat.

Three thrusts later, Elliot follows after her, pressing in deep and groaning as he comes inside of her. Fills her with proof that he is alive and well and virile and strong, and hers. He collapses into her, his solid weight pinning her even tighter to the wall, his cheek pressed against hers. He grunts; she can feel him wince. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea for a man who got shot three times tonight. Maybe, she thinks, this wasn’t a very good idea at all.

It hits her like a bucket of cold water—he hasn’t even pulled out of her yet, she hasn’t even caught her breath yet, and she is already feeling the wriggling tendrils of embarrassment and insecurity wrap around her heart.

They haven’t even talked yet—about anything. They’d been parked firmly in the friendzone with no immediate plans to vacate, and then she’d gone and thrown herself at him on her doorstep in a moment of grief and anger. She is ass-out in her foyer with Elliot, and as he eases out of her and eases her knee back down, she feels his semen drip down her leg, and she hasn’t even let him convince her to take him up on a lunch date yet.

What was she thinking?

She bends down wordlessly, stepping back into her shorts and tugging them up as Elliot takes another moment to lean against the wall before he reaches down and does the same. She uses her underwear to wipe up some of the wet on her thighs before straightening the waistband, smoothing down her t-shirt.

She can feel him warm and slippery in her panties and it makes her cheeks flush hot.

“We shouldn’t have done this,” she mutters.

Elliot goes still, and then reaches for her elbow, trying to turn her toward him again as he says, “Liv—”

“I’ve thought of this—imagined how we might—” She looks at him, then pointedly, “—a hundred different ways. It was never desperate in the foyer because I thought you’d died.”

Olivia crosses her arms over her chest, a protective move to guard her vulnerable heart. It’s been through the wringer tonight, and now she just feels spent.

“I’m sorry,” Elliot scowls, all worried eyes and furrowed brows and tilted head. “I thought you wanted—I asked if you were sure—”

“I was,” she nods, reassuring, “I did. It just shouldn’t have been like this.”

He winces, both hands on her elbows now, his thumbs rubbing back and forth. “I should’ve slowed it all down. I—”

“You should have called me yourself,” she tells him, “And not half an hour later when you were on your way to…”

Because if he had, she wouldn’t have spent an hour and change thinking he was gone forever, and she might have had a little more self-control when he turned up on her doorstep.

Elliot blows out a heavy, worried breath, catching her eye and saying, “Please tell me I didn’t just ruin any chance we have of… of seeing what there is here.”

“No. You didn’t,” she tells him softly, letting him draw her in a step closer, then another, until she unwinds her arms and slips them around his waist, letting herself have the comfort of his nearness for a little while longer. She leans gingerly against his chest, careful of his bruises now that she’s not desperately groping at him, and for a minute they’re quiet. For a minute, they just hold on. And then she whispers, “I lost you tonight, El, and I never— I don’t want to feel that way again.” She swallows hard, her heartbeat knocking a sudden, frantic thumpthumpthump before she confesses, “I love you. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to risk everything, to maybe have it fail, and… lose you again. Lose our friendship. And then you were gone, and the idea of never knowing, or never having taken the chance was so much worse.” She lifts her head to look at him, her eyes welling with tears again as she admits, “I regretted every time I told you no, every text I didn’t answer. I don’t want to regret you like that. I spent ten years missing you; I don't want to keep missing you while you’re right in front of me. I’d rather know and lose you than spend the rest of my life wondering what could have been if I’d just had the guts to take what I wanted.”

“You’re not gonna lose me, Liv,” he promises, as she wishes she could trust that, trust him, trust the universe not to screw her over again, but life has not exactly been kind to her and she’s going to need a little more time before she can really believe that this is hers to keep. Still, it makes her heart tumble giddily in her chest when he brings a hand to her cheek, holds her gaze with his own, and tells her softly, “I love you. I want to be in your life, I want to know your son, I want you guys to spend the holidays with my kids and I want to fall asleep in your bed at night, and wake up there in the morning. I want everything we couldn’t have when we were partners.” She blinks, and it sends a pair of tears tumbling down her cheeks that his thumbs rush to chase away. “We got a second chance here, and I don’t want to waste it. I wanna make you happy, and I wanna be by your side. For as long as you’ll have me.”

A wild, reckless, bruised part of her wants to tell him she wants him forever. Wants to drag him down to City Hall at nine AM and bind them together so he can’t walk out on her again, but that is insane. It’s putting several carts before any possible horses, and she knows that the urge is just the residual desperation of her grief at losing him.

That they are not anywhere near ready for that.

So she takes a deep breath and she squeezes his fingers, and she warns, “I’m not going to be letting you go.”

“Good,” Elliot tells her softly, rubbing his thumb along the rise of her cheekbone as his smile creases the edges of his too-blue eyes. “Because I don’t wanna be anywhere else.”

She lets out the breath it feels like she’s been holding for years, since the moment he left, and tells him, “Me neither.”

They seal it with a kiss, this one soft, gentle, sweet compared to their desperate and carnal liplocks up until now.

And then she asks, “Do you, uh, want to come inside?”

Elliot laughs, presses a kiss to her forehead and tells her, “Yeah, Liv. Invite me in.”

She snickers, still embarrassed but a little more settled now, and then she weaves her fingers with him and leads him further into her apartment. She makes another cup of tea—for each of them—to replace the one still seeping into her bedroom rug, and then they settle side by side on her sofa and she lets him tell her about his night, about rounding up the Brotherhood, about how he’s going to find Donnelly tomorrow and close the book on all of it.

Elliot Stabler was dead for exactly 74 minutes, and it had ripped her apart and stitched her back together again. It wasn’t the way she had planned to fall into this—into more with him—but when she convinces him to stay the night, to sleep beside her for a few hours and sneak out before dawn, she thinks that maybe it had been exactly the push they’d needed.