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Unspooled

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After she meets with Rafa at Forlini’s, after she takes herself back to her apartment, hugs her boy and gets him to bed, after she pours herself a glass of wine and lets herself sink into the couch with it, Olivia Benson thinks about what Lindstrom has said to her.

It’s time to think about what she, Olivia, deserves.

It’s a foreign concept for her, daring to want something for herself. Olivia has spent most of her life now working in service to others, and she’s always felt that the feeling she gets from helping others, the high she gets from making the difference in even just one person’s life, well, those are her earnings. They are what she deserves. 

But something just for herself? 

She does have Noah, thank God, but she will always think that however the stars aligned to give her that precious, sweet child that helps her move when she feels like she just wants to crawl into the covers and never come out of them was something that was pure chance and not anything she could have predicted or earned. He’s her everything, and she knows she doesn’t deserve him. Which is not to say she isn’t grateful every single day for him. She is. So damned much.

But what Lindstrom doesn’t understand - or maybe he does because he’s coaxed so many things out of her over the years, and he’s sharper than she always wants to give him credit for - is that she doesn’t feel like she deserves anything. She’s certainly never been handed anything; anything she has has been borne from a desperate and relentless work ethic usually gained despite what those around her are doing. 

How does she even begin to assess this?

She starts with what she wants, and the list always starts with the same thing, the same person, really, and she doesn’t want to derail things entirely by thinking about Elliot Stabler at this particular moment, but he’s had that placement at the top of things Olivia Benson wants for literal decades now, so why stop at this point? So he’s there, and she’s acknowledging that, as painful as it is, and now she’s adding to the list of wants.

There’s Elliot, and there’s… what else?

She supposes she would like some rest. Some real rest, maybe a vacation or just a weekend getaway, a time where she can recharge her batteries some and just get a full night’s sleep, maybe have her coffee without having to gulp it down from a travel mug as she’s dragging her son out the door to get him to school or dance or a birthday party or a sleepover or whatever extracurricular activity Noah has happening 20 times per week. She’s sucked into this vortex of hurry so often, and she only bears a tenth of the load with it, really. 

She stops for a moment to think about what Lucy deserves, and she notes to give that woman a raise.

List of Wants:

  1. Elliot Stabler
  2. Rest

What else? 

Olivia takes another sip of her wine and truly, truly thinks about what else she wants. Her mind drifts to the abstract concepts that all decent people want: world peace, an end to human suffering, all of the things she truly wants resolved from her life of service but is adult enough to know are too broad of concepts to be on her list.

Chocolate. Can she add chocolate? She decides it’s her list, and she can add chocolate. Dark chocolate, maybe a mousse, and it can have dark chocolate shavings in it as well so she can just dive into the endorphins it’ll give her for at least five full minutes of bliss.

List of Wants:

  1. Elliot Stabler
  2. Rest
  3. Chocolate

She’s getting somewhere, she thinks. 

But she knows she’s full of shit. She’s avoiding the painful things she wants (outside of the top of the list, which honestly, encompasses every form of emotion she’s capable of feeling), so she knows it’s time to take some of those out, examine them, and add them.

List of Wants:

  1. Elliot Stabler
  2. Rest
  3. Chocolate
  4. Reconciliation with Rafa

This one’s hard. It’s in direct opposition to the default top of her list of wants, and it hurts to know that Barba has placed them in this position. And it hurts worse to know that, given their conversation earlier this evening, that he’s refusing to take any responsibility for his actions, instead throwing fireworks on top of the sparks by mansplaining how she doesn’t know her own heart, her own motivations.

And fuck him for that. It hurts her that he’s doing whatever he’s doing for whatever deluded reason he has. It’s not unconditional love - that’s for fucking sure - but she isn’t responsible for his misplaced feelings towards her, and only Rafa can bring Rafa around to normal.

But she still wants it. What else?

List of Wants:

  1. Elliot Stabler
  2. Rest
  3. Chocolate
  4. Reconciliation with Rafa
  5. McGrath to leave her the fuck alone to do her job

Oh, this one. This one has been ingrained in her for his entire tenure as her boss at SVU. “Real rapes.” His anger management. His abuse towards his daughter. 

What. The. Actual. Fuck. This one has the power to shoot her anger level to a point where it will derail the entire exercise, so she leaves it alone for now.

List of Wants:

  1. Elliot Stabler
  2. Rest
  3. Chocolate
  4. Reconciliation with Rafa
  5. McGrath to leave her the fuck alone to do her job

There’s another one, but she can’t add it. Burton Lowe sneaks into the back of her mind, and her brain fogs into pain, depression, hurt, confusion, and she can’t touch it right now, can’t throw it on a list of things to will herself into receiving some peace of mind because it’s too fresh. Too new. And maybe the want is for those feelings to turn into some sort of healing, but right now, it’s a scrape with raw nerves exposed brushing repeatedly on a carpet and it’s too much.

It stays off the list, even if it takes up her mind's periphery.

So. She examines the list she’s compiled for now.

List of Wants:

  1. Elliot Stabler
  2. Rest
  3. Chocolate
  4. Reconciliation with Rafa
  5. McGrath to leave her the fuck alone to do her job
  6. To make peace with the abuse in her past

But what Lindstrom wants her to do is figure out what she deserves, not what she wants, so she takes a look at her list with that angle.

Elliot Stabler. Well. Does she deserve Elliot? She grins, and she practically has an entire smartass conversation with him in her head where he tells her she’s deserving of everything and she tells him that nobody would deserve the shit he tries to peddle, and then they smile at each other and her stomach flips and…

What is she doing? A woman in her 50s should not be making heart eyes over a man as messed up as Elliot Stabler in her daydreams like she’s a teenager letting her mind drift out the window as she ignores her chem class.

Shut up, her drifty brain tells her. This is about what you deserve.

She makes herself approach things from another angle. What’s on the list she can’t control? What, if examined, are things she cannot make happen, even if she does feel she deserves them?

There goes McGrath. It pains her, but the limited control she has on that situation is already in play.

Rafa. She’s already worked through her thoughts there. She can’t control his feelings, his actions, his insecurities. That’s going to be up to him. She deserves his friendship, but only when he’s ready to be her friend instead of whatever pod person he’s become at the moment.

So, she’s left with a shortened list now.

What I Deserve:

  1. Elliot Stabler
  2. Rest
  3. Chocolate

Rest and Chocolate. She knows she deserves these things. Without question. 

Elliot. 

He terrifies her, and not just because she knows intrinsically that there’s nothing she can do to burn him out of herself. She’d tried for years, and all of her work there obliterated itself the moment she saw him again over a smoke-filled crime scene where his wife was being loaded into an ambulance.

There’s good. Nights of diner dinners and stakeouts and laughs and inane conversations where they learned each other inside out, genuinely enjoyed each other’s company, and cemented bonds of friendship that not even a decade apart could sever completely. There’s bad. There’s lots of bad. The fights, the abandonment, the feelings they’d stuffed away, never coped with, never even discussed with one another and the pain that comes with suppression. But there’s also the steel forged in the fire of their partnership, their friendship, their… whatever else it is.

And maybe the dichotomy of that is what ultimately makes Olivia keep Elliot on the list of things she deserves. There’s balance in the relationship. If she’s not entirely good, if she deserves someone who, from time to time, can bring her down from what Munch once called her “ivory tower of judgment,” if anyone can be that person, then it’s Elliot. 

She deserves Elliot Stabler.

(And rest. And chocolate.)

Having made this determination, she decides to leave the “how” for another evening (even as Rollins’ voice urging to “get a room and get it out of your system” plays in her ever-so-helpful head). And with it comes something Olivia hadn’t expected. 

Her entire body shrugs, and with it the stress of not knowing strips away. It’s the unspooling of a tension so built into her that she doesn’t even realize the weight of it until she feels its release. Her shoulders lower, her biceps loosen, her thighs settle into the cushions, and she feels a warmth permeate throughout her body, beginning with the sip of wine she’s taken that throws a small glow of heat as it travels down her throat and into her stomach.

She’s enjoying the feeling, luxuriating in it, really, when beside her, her phone buzzes. She looks down and sees a name: Stabler.

She decides to take the call. After all, she deserves this.