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It’s almost five a.m. when she wakes to the feeling of him moving.

Olivia keeps her eyes shut, half out of exhaustion and half out of an inability to fully open her left eye. The swelling is probably peaking right now, despite the ice and ibuprofen regimen, and her face feels like it’s been through a meat grinder.

It’s not how she ever imagined waking up for the first time with Elliot in her bed.

He’s in her bed, behind her, and her heart rate picks up as she assesses her current situation. She’s tucked under the covers and he’s laying over them, but that hadn’t stopped him from rolling towards her, his heavy arm draped protectively over her, his palm spanning her stomach above the comforter while he lightly sleeps. Elliot’s chest is flush with her back, his bare skin and hers separated by the thin cotton of his NYPD t-shirt that she’s wearing, while his mouth is nuzzled into the back of her head.

She can feel herself start to shake, not because she is upset or angry, but because the relief is so overwhelming it is painful. She’d clutched pillows in the past, shoved them behind her, against her, anything to feel like he might be holding her through the rough nights, and to have the actual reality of him, lumbering and heavy and reassuring around her is more than she can even bear. Her bedroom had always been her respite from the things she saw, experienced, endured - but in this moment, in the final minutes before dawn, Elliot has made this bed something more.

He’s made it safe.

She is safe.

He is real, he’s got her tonight, he’s here.

It is excruciating. She wants to curl up into a ball and let him cover her completely. She wants him impossibly closer, wants his scent, his breath, his heartbeat in her and on her. She can’t even roll over and face him, because her need might push her straight into him, she will burrow and crawl right into the depth of him.

“Ready for more ice?” Elliot murmurs sleepily, right into the back of her head.

No. God, no. Olivia doesn’t want him to get up. She doesn’t want his arm to peel away, doesn’t want to lose the hard, comforting contour of his body aligned with hers. She’s needy, and that scares her but she can’t make a sound. She doesn’t want Elliot to know how badly, how deeply, how clinically bereft she’d been without him for all of these years.

He is all the weight of gravity, keeping her anchored and shielded.

“No,” she finally manages, whispering into the dark, her hand covering his hand that is on her, fingers sliding in between his to lock what she needs to her body.

Elliot chuckles softy, confidently, against her scalp, his arm pulling her, gathering her in for one second before she knows he will go get ice anyway. She wants him, she wants him buried all the way inside of her to the point of aching, but that won’t be tonight and that is okay. This is more than sex. This is intimacy, this is a sanctuary and all the therapy in the world couldn’t have given her the absolute sanctity of this.

Of him.

Elliot. His name traverses her mind, and she can feel the burn in her eyes again. She’d missed him so much, she’d been hovering around the gaping absence of him for a decade, always quick to pull away from anyone outside of her son, because no one could have been this, could have been stronger than she is, could have reached right inside of her and drawn her truth out.

She’d been waiting for him. For Elliot.

And he’s holding her now. Not in her wildest fantasies had this experience ever been a part of her lifetime. She’d expected to live without this forever, had expected to one day take her last breath with the hollow of him still on her lips.

“I’m getting up in two minutes to get you a new ice pack so be prepared. You hungry?”

Olivia could cry from the ease of it, from how he just lays there, rumbling behind her as if cocooning her, as if tending to her is the easiest thing in the world for him. He’s a natural when it comes to using his body, his voice, his sheer presence to protect her. “How come you’re so good at this?”

Elliot’s laugh is softer now, less cocky and gentler. “Harder to be told I can’t look after you. This is easy. I finally feel fuckin’ relaxed.”

He can’t see it, but she smiles, her eyes closing tightly again. She can feel his heartbeat behind her, and it’s slow, languid, rhythmic and content, proof of his words.

She wants to be absorbed right into him, rooted, no longer the protector but the protected.

When he gets up a few minutes later, Olivia feels the sharp sting of his absence, thinks she can feel the phantom weight of his arm on her, and she craves his return. She almost feels anxious because of the loss, her own pulse picking up speed as the minutes tick on. Maybe he is an addiction tonight, because the shivering came on as soon as he was gone, her body already unwilling to live without.

Olivia doesn’t understand how they’d ended up here so fast. He’d been holding her standing up in the living room a few hours ago, and he’d said one thing and one thing only.

Let me hold you while you sleep.

She’d been instantly weak with the idea of it, with the hunger for it, with the way that his words had conjured a feeling and nearly made her knees buckle with the desperation for it. Exhaustion had weighted her, heavy and deep, and she’d believed him. Olivia had worried for so long that she was just somewhere he had landed after the loss of his wife, but his voice had cracked as he’d confessed to things, to how he felt, his eyes telling her he was dropping the raw, naked truth at her feet.

She knows Elliot far too well to disbelieve him. Truth is a visual on him, and she’d seen it.

And then he’d told her what he would have done to the beast, a lifetime ago.

Elliot told her about how he would have been there - she’d felt the thrum of his conviction - and maybe she had been holding her breath for all of these years, even after he’d returned. Maybe that was the final piece to her fight, to her recovery, to the healing of her wounds.

Elliot would have had her back, with everything in him, and she had needed to hear it from him. She didn’t need him to save her, but she had needed to know he would have tried, that those days that went by without anyone noticing she was gone, they would have never happened under his watch. She needed to know he would have fought with her, that the fight would have been theirs, together, and that he wouldn’t have backed down.

She needed to hear him say that he was as angry as she had been afterwards. For all these years, it was as if no one had understood her rage, but he had. Tonight, he’d told her, and her rage didn’t exist in a vacuum anymore. He was there, swallowed in it with her, not looking at her like she was a victim, but as if she was his partner, and they had both been wronged. Together.

Olivia had felt that, back then. She’d felt like what Lewis had done to others, to her - it had been done to them too, to who they had been together, because she’d known even back then that if Elliot ever found out - the damage wound be intrinsic to him, too. What happened to her happened to him, what he endured, she endured. She’d borne the weight of it alone until now.

Tonight, he’d come at her hard, unrelenting, determined. He’d showed her. She mattered to him in a way that she mattered to no one else outside of her son.

Elliot comes back into the room now, and against the hallway light, he’s a hulking shadow in the doorway, a Cerberus, a mythical guard. He’s holding another ice pack, a fresh glass of water and a clean dish towel. That chest of his is bare and wide and promising, his jeans unsnapped.

Oh. She can’t help the way she looks him over; he can’t help the knowing half-grin that crosses his lips.

“You want some more meds?” His words are low, soothing, a shift of air that moves across the dark.

“Yeah,” Olivia tells him quietly. “Pain is better but it’s swelling.”

He just nods, and then he’s by her bedside, crouching near her head, setting down the glass of water, taking the now melted ice bag away from her, replacing it with the new one and the dish towel to wrap it in. Every movement is paced, nothing hurried, nothing frantic.

She watches him easily rearranging things on the end table, making sure everything is in easy reach for her. Olivia could cry again. Yesterday had hardly been the worst of what she has lived through. It’s not even close. And yet Elliot here, and there is a profound sense within her that she’s not putting him out, he’s where he wants to be.

He’d told her that, too.

The proof is in how relieved he seems, in the peace that radiates from him. He’s good and strong and a warrior, and he’s counting out Advil on a napkin for her right now. She could watch him do this for the rest of her life. It’s such a small thing, but it is more than she had ever expected, it is everything.

Elliot lays out the four pills, and then he stops, inches from her face and yet he doesn’t turn his head to the right to look at her. “I’m toasting an English muffin for you. Try to eat that before you take this round.” He is stoic, down on his haunches and staring at the medication. Seconds pass, and he says nothing, but Olivia can see the way the muscle in his jaw is furiously jumping.

“Say it,” she murmurs.

He still won’t look at her, but his brows draw together and he’s squinting at the ice pack. “I wanna get back in bed with you.” He says it like he’s apologizing for having some needs, too.

That’s when Elliot looks at her. He’s the one with reddened eyes now, she can see that even in the shadows. He’s brimming with unshed tears, grinding his teeth to hold it together.

“You better get back in here,” Olivia tells him gently, reaching her hand out to land on his arm.

He scrubs his left hand down his face, hard. “I know I missed so much, Olivia. I wasn’t here for the…” His voice catches and he clears his throat, shaking his head as if he can clear his mind of whatever he’s seeing off in the distance, in the dark depths of the bedroom behind her. “I wasn’t here for the worst of it. And nothing, nothing -“

Olivia doesn’t move an inch. He’s scraping his teeth over his lower lip, and now he’s the one shaking. He’s starts to speak once, twice and then he stops, unable to focus on her.

Elliot drops his head, still huddled down by her bedside. He’s got his hands braced on the edge of the table, and off in the distance she hears the toaster pop up. Nothing registers for him, and she can’t take her eyes off of him.

“El -“

“No,” he shakes his hung head hard. “I won’t miss anything anymore, I can promise you that.” Elliot is breathing hard, through his nose, intently focused on the knob of the table drawer. He’s trying not to cry, she realizes. He’s really that close to completely breaking down.

She’s about to get up and slip down onto the rug next to him when he finds her face, his fingertip touching the edge of her bruise. “I got this one. And I got the next one, okay? And the next one after that.” Elliot swallows thickly and then his forehead is tipping towards her, the fresh ice pack suddenly in his hands. He presses it against her bruised skin, so softly, so gently, so reverently that she thinks he might have healed it with just that. “I got ‘em all from now on, if you let me.”

Olivia’s eyes burn more from the sting of tears right now than they had from the tear gas yesterday.

“Will you let me?” he pushes.

She could break. She knows what he’s saying. He’s taking a step forward. It’s a pact from him, a commitment. Elliot is actually here in her bedroom, with her, after a bad night, and it’s the best she’s ever felt, the most whole her heart has ever been. She can’t even begin to imagine him here after a good night, when their souls are not damaged, when there is no pain.

She can’t imagine what it will feel like to laugh with him in this room one day.

“Liv -“ Elliot prompts, suddenly looking worried at her lack of response.

She nods. “Yeah,” she says, letting out a fragile breath.

He’s on her then. Elliot drops the ice pack into his lap, grasping the back of her head, and he leans forward, pressing his lips against the middle of her forehead. “I swear to fucking God,” he expels against her skin. “I will take care of all of them. Every time. I know I can’t stop you from taking risks, but whatever shit you wanna walk into, I’m here for it.” His mouth is moving then, a small kiss brushed against her bruised temple, a thumb skimming against the edge of her cut. “Whatever shit finds you, I’ll be here. You raise the flames of hell, I’ll bring the fire extinguisher. Deal?”

That’s when Elliot sits back again, and he’s right there, in front of her. He’s solid. He’s not a figment of her imagination anymore. He’s not a talisman she’s daydreaming up to conjure the safety of their past. He’s real, and present and he’s beautiful. “Deal.”

It’s the quietest word, a featherlight moment in the minutes before dawn begins to creep in. It’s a vow between them, a promise, something oddly hopeful within it, and maybe that’s just them. They will make a pact about cleaning up each other’s wounds for the rest of time, and it will be the gentlest, most intimate thing that has ever happened between them.

It’s the promise of pledged eternal protection, and maybe that is even more sacred and selfless than love.

They sit there quietly for a few minutes, and Olivia curls into her pillow, letting Elliot slide his fingers along her hairline, unashamed of the way she is battered. The scars that have mapped her skin over the years, all of them, they have become something woven together with him.

“I got a better idea than all of that,” Olivia finally murmurs into the lightening shadows between them.

“What’s that,” he says quietly, fingertips still sifting through her hair, as if he’s learning her for the first time.

She’ll eat the food he made soon, take those meds, and then Elliot is going to crawl back in with her. Despite the morning light she’s going to sleep in. She’ll use her rank to call in and keep him with her, she’ll use the deference the brass will give her for the next few days to take some time off, with him.

It’s an indulgence, but after more than a quarter century on the job, it’s about time they acted human.

Olivia’s eyes drift shut, and the ice pack is back. Elliot is dabbing it softly around the raised blood vessels. The cold feels good against her burning skin. Her breathing evens out, her limbs are heavy.

“What’s your idea,” he urges, before she might fall asleep.

“No more getting hurt in the first place,” Olivia whispers while he is slipping the ice pack down, towards her cheek. “No more bruises. No more hurt.”

Beneath the ice, under the touch of him, the swelling feels like it’s going down. The healing starts.

“Genius,” he says, and she imagines he is smiling even though her eyes are closed now, the bliss of the ice he is administering making her lethargic. “Why didn’t I think of that.”

“It’s Captain-shit,” Olivia finds herself half-asleep and smirking. “Big ideas will occur to you one day.”

He’s chuckling softly again, but he must see her starting to drift, so true to his word Elliot gets up and goes to the kitchen, returning with a buttered muffin. She sits up to eat it, suddenly hungry, and then she takes the pills he holds out for her. In fifteen minutes she’s content again, stomach full and the dull pain eased by the ice and the beginning effects of the ibuprofen. Eased by him, wholly by him.

Elliot slides in behind her as the dawn breaks.

Olivia is wrapped up in his t-shirt, his arms, his body, and she lets out a breath.

“S’too bad it isn’t close to Halloween,” he says, exhaling into her hair.

She knows where this is going, and it’s his safety that is about to be in question. “I will kill you, Elliot.”

“I’m just sayin’,” He sounds sleepy, yawning against her, but that doesn’t stop him. “It kinda looks like a pirate’s patch on you.”

“What do you want your bruise to look like?” Olivia tries to sound menacing, but the way she’s tucked into him takes away all of her intimidation tactics. “You haven’t seen my best work, I’d be happy to demonstrate.”

Elliot laughs, full and deep and sated, pulling her even tighter against him. That’s when she realizes he’s under the covers this time, his body warm and solid around her.

Before the sun rises, she matches her breaths to his, and Olivia falls asleep, the nightmares kept at bay by the unshakeable, unending shelter of him.

+++

 

 

Epilogue

 

It’s one of those perfect late in the summer nights, when the humid evenings have given way to the cool down as the days inch towards mid-September. The breeze is light, the sun is pink and deep across the heavy dusk sky.

It’s a Friday, and her son is staying with a friend tonight, so she’d worked until just after dinner time, one of the last people left in the squad room. It was one of those rare starts to the weekend where she’d been able to let her people go, sending them home to their kids and their partners, to lives that exist outside of the 1-6.

The call had come in just after seven, as she was wrapping to leave. The rape vic in one of SVU’s current cases called her – the woman had heard from her ex, the one who had assaulted her. He’d asked the young woman to meet him, to talk things though, to coerce her.

Instead, thankfully, their brave vic had called the squad-room with the information.

So here Olivia stands, outside a three-story warehouse in South Harlem, strapping on her vest. She could have called Fin or Amanda, she could have dragged Velasco or Muncy back from the start of their weekends, but Olivia had instead called someone she knew would be free.

They were supposed to have dinner at eight at her place, and she’s pretty sure he would have brought an overnight bag again, because she hasn’t given him a dresser drawer at her place yet - even though he teases the hell out of her for making him work so hard for it.

She straps her vest on now while standing next to her SUV, grinning at Elliot. “Sorry about dinner,” Olivia shrugs unapologetically as she tightens the Velcro.

Elliot rolls his eyes as he loops his own straps on his vest around his torso. “Right, as if you’re not thrilled we aren’t eating takeout and watching more Bridgerton tonight.”

“It’s just a very slow show,” she complains, checking her holster. He’d lost a bet with Kathleen a week ago, and his penance had been to watch the series his daughter loves. “I can’t believe you lost. Worse,” Olivia checks her weapon and then snaps the Glock into place for the next few minutes. “You’re dragging me into it.”

He’s smiling at her as if he’s lost somewhere beautiful, and he does that sometimes. Over the last three months that they’ve been doing this, that they have been together, she’s noticed there are so many times when he just quiets and watches her, his lips tipping upwards slowly, as if he is content.

She is content, too. She is more than content; she feels better than she has in the last decade. She feels whole and strong and invincible, her legs feel longer, her strides more confident, her purpose clearer. It’s as if a fog has evaporated and she’s emerged again, she is who she used to be only better.

Olivia is running again in the mornings, long, invigorating journeys through the nearby parks that open up her lungs. She’s taking the Krav Maga classes she dropped out of years ago, she’s tried to drag Elliot to her yoga class. Last Saturday, Elliot and Eli had challenged her and Noah to a game of football at the park, and she’d found herself almost breathless from the normalcy. She had locked on Elliot’s eyes underneath the matching sky out there, and the joy had swept into her. Olivia had found herself laughing as Elliot had scooped Noah up into his arms, holding him upside down while her son had futilely and playfully yelled that’s a penalty, that’s a penalty! again and again. She had laughed and laughed, head thrown back and gazing upwards at the heavenly blue beyond, standing in the middle of a city that is hers once again.

The only thing that has suffered in the months with Elliot is her language. She swears a lot now, grins while she says the offending words, dares anyone to challenge her. No one fucks with her.

Ultimately, she’s found a balance between managing the brass and getting out in the field, she takes the weekends off with her boys. With Elliot, Eli, Noah. Sometimes Seamus and Kieran.

Hers.

Place is abandoned,” she tells Elliot now. “We’ve got no intel on anyone else squatting here, but no guarantees. This fucker goes by Flannerty, and he’s got a dragon tatt on his neck so -“

“Liv,” Elliot interrupts. “You’ve told me twice. We’re good.”

“Is that any way to speak to a Captain?” she says, raising her eyebrows disapprovingly.

It’s his turn to shrug, cocky bastard that he is. “If I’m fucking them, figure I’ve got some leeway.”

Olivia blushes unwillingly, and it pisses her off that he can still surprise her. He’s bawdy as hell, brash and sexual and possessive and she likes it, she wants it, she could eat him alive at any given moment. “Them? You got some other Captains in your bed when I’m not there?”

His vest is secure, he’s checked his weapon, so he cracks his neck and then his knuckles, all brawn and testosterone, ready to go. Elliot’s gaze narrows, full of heat. “Hell no, you wear me the fuck out. My body needs time to heal when you’re done with it.”

“And don’t you forget it,” she winks at him.

He’s already undressing her with his eyes, dammit.

God. He’s a smug piece of shit. She’ll wipe that attitude off of him later. She could let him take her right now, against her SUV, in the fading light. She’s always that ready for him.

She has to keep her head clear though, this Flannerty motherfucker isn’t going to wait for his ex forever. Olivia nods at Elliot, and he’s in sync with her immediately. She can see the determination flood into him, can feel the way his pace will match hers in a few seconds.

Less than two minutes later they are making their way towards the open cavern of a doorway in this dilapidated building. The sun is setting, the shadows are growing. They have flashlights in their left hands, weapons in their right hands braced on their opposite forearms - and they move in low, heads on a swivel.

POLICE is stretched across the backs of their vests in bold, white letters.

They are mirror images.

Olivia doesn’t expect much interference tonight. Her vic was strong, convincing, told this piece of shit she’d be coming to meet him despite the fact that she’s home safe with a protective detail on her. This bastard is expecting someone he can prey upon, someone he can manipulate and overpower.

Like hell. Olivia is itching to kick his ass.

Elliot always wants to clear first, so she lets him. She’s at his back, for now. Soon they will switch places, and he will be behind her, keeping her safe as she does for him.

Eternally each other’s backup.

+++

He can’t help it.

As he leans back against her SUV, watching her order half a dozen uni’s around, he smiles. He’s amused as fuck, and he always is when she’s sauntering around. Olivia wears her black pants tight, her hair in a messy ponytail, her Glock and badge strapped to her hip. She’s bossy, as she should be, and when she’s nearly barking orders, he can’t help that it turns him on.

She’s sexy.

Christ.

He feels sorry for every other asshole on the job out here, men and women alike. The young cops, the ones who will clean up this mess and take care of booking Flannerty, they all watch Olivia, mesmerized, each one trying to please her more than the last. Half of them are probably trying to get onto her professional radar, the other half want to get in her pants.

Elliot grins wider. Fuck, he can’t wait to get those pants off tonight. He loves the way she shimmies out of them under his hands. Loves the way they cling to her. Jesus, he’s still wearing his vest, but he’s too focused on watching her to remove it. He crosses his ankles, folds his arms over his chest and thinks about grabbing some cold beer on the way home. He wants to get naked with her, drink cold beers with her in a hot shower until he gets low, gets one of those insanely long, smooth legs of hers over his shoulder. Hell. She’s impossible so she’ll probably keep swigging her fucking beer until right before she comes on his mouth then thank him on her way out.

Jesus, he has to think about something else right now.

Home.

That almost brings him back to earth. Good thing he brought his bag, because she still hasn’t let him leave his things at her apartment. He knows she’s just tormenting him about it now, gleefully, but he’s about to leave a toothbrush there tonight. Some clothes on the floor. If she won’t give, he might take. He’d offered her half his dresser at his place and she’d taken him up on it, for God’s sake.

He watches another late-model black SUV roll up amidst the lights and commotion. Flannerty is in the back of a sedan already, cuffed tight and hurling epithets, but he recognizes the late arrival.

“She didn’t even call me,” Fin grumbles as he slides out of the truck.

Elliot stays where he is. “Some women want to go out for dinner. She calls me for this shit and refers to it as ‘date night’.”

Fin smiles at him, shaking his head. “Man, you knew what you were getting into.” He moves past Elliot, heading for the front of the building, where Olivia now stands with two uni’s, giving orders.

“Can you send her home now?” Elliot calls out. “We’re kid-free tonight.”

Across time and space, Olivia hears him. “Five minutes!”

Elliot believes her. That’s the thing about her these days. She delegates. She gives herself time, gives them time. He’s turned down the two UC’s that have come their way in OCCB, letting the young guys take them or he’s found a way around them. He’s called her half a dozen times for the job, doing everything he can to find crossover reasons in their cases so they can work together. She’s insanely ballsy again, more fearless than ever, physically strong and getting stronger by the day, and while it scares him - there is one thing that reassures him throughout.

She’s open with him.

Olivia doesn’t go in alone anymore; she doesn’t hide things from him. Last week she’d had a nightmare, a leftover from the Lewis ordeal, and she’d woken up softly crying. She hadn’t understood why the nightmares had come back all these years later, even occasionally. They didn’t happen often, but they’d surface now and then on their nights together. She’d seen her therapist and he’d asked her one question. Do they happen on nights you’re alone or is Elliot there? They’d always happened on the nights she was in his arms. Do they recur? the doc had asked her. Each one only happens once, she’d told him. The doc’s answer had been confident, resolute. You’re feeling safe, and you’re the one allowing them to be released. You’re not reliving, you’re letting go of them.

The smile must have fallen off his face now because she’s looking at him at the moment, across the forty feet between them. The distance is a darkness splashed with headlights, with silent siren lights, with moonlight that must exist somewhere up above.

He loves her, with everything in him. He’s said the words, she’s said them back, but he tells her silently now, with just his eyes.

In response, the corners of her lips tip up a little.

She knows.

Olivia uses that signature saunter of hers a few minutes later to stride towards him, leaving Fin in charge of the scene. Her hair is falling in her face a little bit, and she stops only when she’s right in front of him, boldly cornering him against the truck. She doesn’t say anything, but before he can move, her fingers are absently peeling off the Velcro of his vest, uncaring who is watching. They aren’t in the same department, they aren’t technically partners, there’s nothing anyone can say.

He lets her undo his vest at the sides. She’s intently focused on the task, not looking up at him. Her sleeves are rolled up, he can see her forearm for himself and beneath the police lights, it’s only a little bit red.

Forty minutes ago, Olivia had made her way up the stairs in the building first, Elliot at her back. The guy had lunged for her at the top, out of a doorway to their right, but as she had swung back at the bastard and Elliot had prepared to annihilate him, she’d growled. Don’t you dare.

Elliot had known instantly she was talking to him and not Flannerty. She wanted the guy, so be it. Elliot had hung back for the thirty seconds it had taken her to knock the prick’s legs out, twist his arm behind his back and land her knee hard into his back so she could cuff him. At least Elliot had been helpful by handing her his cuffs when she had reached back for them. Besides the initial blow to her arm, the guy hadn’t touched her, and she was proud as hell of it.

So was Elliot.  

It doesn’t mean he’s not concerned. “How’s your arm?”

Olivia looks up at him, the sides of his vest undone. She lifts one eyebrow dramatically. “Is that your ego asking?”

Elliot leans in, until his mouth is at her ear, as if he’s telling her a secret. He undoes the Velcro on her straps in one swift movement, one hand on each side of her waist. “It’s my cock asking,” he whispers.

In the middle of the police lights, the crime scene, another collar for her unit, the people who work for her, with her, because of her, Olivia laughs.

It’s throaty, it’s whole, it’s a reverberation that cleans the air it touches.

Olivia is loud when she laughs, she is unapologetic, and while she spends her life protecting this city, he will spend the rest of his life doing his best to protect her and the sound of her laughter.  

If she is the avenger, then he is her backup.

And by her side will always be his home.