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Cuddle Therapy

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“You deserve to be happy, Olivia Benson.”

 

She doesn’t know if she believes that.  Wouldn’t happiness have happened for her by now if it were true? Serena, Joe, Simon. The only biological family she had in the world all succumbed to their addictions. Could it be that none of them thought they deserved happiness either? Why else drink yourself to death or shoot heroin?

Or, did they do those things because they never found it?

Olivia’s addiction? SVU. Obviously. But sooner or later, it will kill her just the same.  It’ll be a bullet, a fatal high-speed chase or dropping dead at her desk. She’d told Dodds years ago not to make this job his life. That she wished someone had offered the same advice. Olivia knew she’d already made the mistake of staying too long at the party. And while she knows she’s helped countless victims over the years, the idea of her pension doesn’t make her want to smile, keep her bed warm or hold her after the harshest of days.

Want, need, deserve.

Olivia wanted to be a mother and Noah came along. He’s given her a ridiculous amount of joy and she loves him endlessly.

Olivia needed to heal. Mostly post William Lewis but after those conversations were over, she’d discussed everything that had come before.  Every trauma she’d set aside for later or buried altogether.  Her childhood with Serena, lives she’s taken on the job, Sealview, the losses of Gladys’ baby and Calvin, and the aftermath of Jenna Fox’s death which led to the exit of Elliot Stabler. Her sole support system, best friend, sounding board, and… so-called idealized relationship.

Where the fuck did that come from?

Idealized? No. The people in her life that came after Elliot left just don’t know him or understand their dynamic. Maybe Lindstrom wasn’t listening to the part where he ghosted her for a decade. Or perhaps there was wax build-up when she mentioned how he did it again three months after the prodigal former partner’s return. Wait. That’s right. The captain’s been lying to her shrink and saying she’s fine where Elliot’s concerned.

Ah well, back to the third thing…deserve.

The good doctor believes in order for her to stop waking at 4 am crying and riddled with anxiety, she should find the happiness she deserves. Apparently, that starts by pissing or getting off the pot with that “friends for now” bullshit she initiated with Elliot. He’d put her on the spot by trying to name what they were.  How the hell else was she to describe them? Calling them ‘former partners who have feelings for one another but are both too chicken shit to do anything about it seemed too long of a title. And since she’s been putting him off all year, it’s up to her to move things along for the sake of her…happiness.

But how?

He still hasn’t really said why his departure went unannounced. How he couldn’t manage a phone call, text, email, note strapped to a carrier pigeon or a smoke signal for a fucking decade. She doesn’t know whether or not he heard about the four days in hell with William Lewis. He probably still thinks Noah is biologically hers and she doubts he’s put together who the “Ed” she spoke of around Christmas was.

Is she really supposed to wait for their schedules to align to discuss ALL that? Which, if she’s being honest, are just the tips of a gigantic iceberg of things he’s missed. And Olivia’s more than positive he has his own shit to divulge. At the rate they’re going, her son will be in college by the time they manage to get through half of it.

But, if it’ll help Olivia get a full eight hours of rest and not have to use extra concealer to cover puffy eyes from sobbing, she’s willing to space out those necessary, ocean-deep discussions one uncomfortable tidbit at a time.

So, with Noah spending Saturday with Fin & Phoebe, no doubt playing endless video games and eating anything he wants, Olivia invited Elliot for dinner. Amanda and her mama would be disappointed at the lack of a hotel reservation. But for what she plans on proposing to her former partner, the Georgia peach would likely still approve and…question.

She’s made baked chicken, rice, and veggies. Simple. Restaurant take-out and pizza are getting tiresome and there’s no way she was going to try to make Italian and have him compare it to his time in Rome.

Olivia’s just taking the chicken from the oven when two knocks sound through her apartment.

“Hey partner,” he says when she opens the door.

He wears a green Henley pushed to the elbows, dark blue well-worn jeans, and boots, having gotten the message that this was a casual meet-up.

“Hey,” she responds, noticing his temporary visual dip to the bit of cleavage she’s showing in the V-neck of her burgundy sweater.

“You look great, Liv.”

And since she doesn’t have her son as a distraction this time, she’ll have to actually respond.

“Thank you,” she tells him. “You do too.”

“What? This old thing?”

Olivia can’t help but smile as she shakes her head and returns to the kitchen.

“Make yourself at home,” she throws out. “Dinner’s almost ready.”

“Anything I can do to help?”

He approaches and watches her from the living room side of the counter.

“You can pour that wine while I take these to the table,” she instructs, after plating the food. “There’s beer if you’d rather—

“—Wine is good,” he says, filling two glasses of the pinot noir.

They sit to eat and Elliot gives two thumbs up after digging in. Olivia just smirks and shakes her head.

“I’m guessing you’re wondering why I asked you to dinner,” she begins. “Especially after turning you down.”

“I am,” he admits. “The only time I hear from you is usually work-related.”

“It is what we do best,” she tells him, sipping her red. “And…the only time I hear from you is when you’re having a personal crisis.”

The statement prompts him to take his own gulp.

“Made a promise to myself to stop doing that,” he informs her. “I heard you when you talked about things being one-sided,” he adds. “I don’t want that.”

“Neither do I.”

“But I’ve noticed…every time I ask to take you out you—

“—I know,” she interrupts. “But between Wheatley, the Albanians, the MK, and taking down the Brotherhood, things haven’t exactly been…stable for you.”

“And Noah needs stability,” Elliot surmises. “I get it. So does Eli. It’s why my undercover days are over. Well, that and the fact that Wheatley broadcasted my face over every network in the city.”

He shrugs in a ‘what are you gonna do’, kind of way and continues eating.

“How is Eli?”

“Good…better,” he corrects. “We’re both going to therapy.”

“Willingly? No court orders?”

“Yeah,” he answers, smiling. “It’s…necessary. Now stop stalling. You obviously have something on your mind.”

“Been talking to my own shrink,” Olivia admits. “I told him I’ve been feeling sort of…anxious and sad this last year.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” he offers. “I hope he had some kind of insight into how to make things better.”

“He had a few ideas, actually,” she says, taking a deep breath. “The most important seemed to be getting myself to admit that I deserve happiness.”

“Course you do,” Elliot asserts, taking her hand. “You give so much of yourself, Olivia. If anyone deserves to be happy, it’s you.”

His touch is warm, unexpected but not unwanted. She holds on. If the feelings he conjures from a simple handhold are this soothing, this exciting, then Olivia thinks perhaps her plan may be exactly what she needs.

“He also suggested that I…either explore whatever’s between us or let you go and open myself up to the possibility of a relationship with someone else,” she says, raising his eyebrows. “Apparently, our history prevents me from moving on completely on top of the intimacy issues he’s labeled me with.”

But he doesn’t let go. In fact, he intertwines their fingers creating a less platonic hold, sliding his palm against hers.

“I think he’s right,” he rasps.

“What?”

“Not about the intimacy issues,” he corrects, smirking. “About exploring what’s between us…been between us,” he adds. “I’ve wanted the same thing.”

“Okay,” she says, releasing his hand. “But there’s something I need to try first.”

Elliot tilts his head and raises his eyebrows as she stands to clear the table. He follows her into the kitchen with their glasses.

“And what’s that?” He asks. “I’m willing to do whatever you need, Liv.”

It’s her turn to smile as she rinses the dishes before he loads them into the dishwasher.

“It’s not exactly a conventional ask,” she explains. “But before we take the time to explore whatever’s here I—

“—Well at least you’re not denying something’s there.”

“No,” she says, leaning against the opposite counter. “Everyone seems to know that,” she adds with a smirk. “It’s been…a lot.”

He refills their glasses and offers one to her.

“So, what’s the ask?”

“There’s a theory called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs,” she explains. “You heard of it?”

“Uh, yeah,” he tells her. “Kathleen took an Intro to Psych course and I helped her study for an exam,” he reveals. “Something about universal needs we have as humans.”

Olivia’s pleasantly surprised. Maybe it won’t be as hard as she thought.

“What’s that have to do with us?”

“My shrink has pointed out that most of my needs are being met,” she informs him. “I have the basics. Food, clothing, and shelter,” she goes on. “My job gives me respect, a sense of accomplishment—

“—Security, confidence, acceptance,” he interrupts. “Noah and your friends provide family and belonging if I remember right.”

“Right,” she agrees. “But maybe what’s waking me up and upsetting me is what I’m missing,” she adds, her eyes shifting to the floor. “A certain…level of intimacy that’s not present in my life.”

He puts his glass down and lessens the distance between them.

“Whatever you need, Liv,” he rasps, repeating his earlier assertion. “Despite my history of asshole behavior, your happiness is important to me.”

When Olivia raises her eyes to meet his, a lone tear manages to escape but she’s quick to wipe it away. 

“Thanks,” she manages. “There’s this…type of therapy I’ve been researching,” she adds. “I want to try it…with you, before we go any further,” she tells him. “To see if it helps.”

He takes her hand and caresses the top with his thumb.

“And if it does?”

“Then we’ll need to make time to get to know each other again,” she answers. “Because working with you is effortless,” she adds. “But dealing with the way you look at me now that it can be…acted on, is sort of nerve-wracking.”

Elliot’s smirk is immediate. He loves that he affects her so easily, and steps closer to her just because he can.

“What do you need me to do?”