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Ayahuasca

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The mat beneath her is not rubbery and soft; it is musty and fraying.

There are no lululemon clad twenty-something's in the circle that surrounds her; it is peppered with forty to sixty year olds with faded clothing and unreadable expressions.

She sits cross-legged in the dimly lit hall that will become home to their daily community gatherings, but her mind is still catching up with the five-hour plane ride, the shocking turbulence that had sparked off her first bout of nausea.

She'd only just managed to keep breakfast down as the small plane, a quarter the size of a 737, landed at the Juan Santamaría airport, and it was the lunch options she was faced with in town that she couldn't quite stomach despite knowing it would be her last real meal.

This isn't a corporate retreat in the Florida Keys or a spiritual sabbatical in the red rocks of Arizona: this is the harsh outskirts of Costa Rica, where a thick, brash, endless jungle surrounded them. Food options are limited, and people came here for one thing.

To be healed.

She starts to pick at the corner of her fingernails, a nervous habit she hasn't reverted to since college, trying to figure out how in God's name she got here. From the moment she'd arrived, the room had been cloaked in silence, save for the occasional cough or creaking floorboard, and there is still no sign of this gathering commencing anytime soon.

Her eyes have moved from participant to participant, taking in the faces, familiarising herself with the attendees she will spend the next five days with. There are a few stray solo attendees, but for the most part, they are predominantly couples, all whose cultural variances rivalled the UN.

They seem content to be here.

She isn't.

At all.

In fact she is already counting down the days until this will be over, and it hasn't even begun.

Some of the participants are mirroring back her stare; others are deep in silent prayer, and a few look like they are asleep on their mats. She doesn't get anxious easily and she hadn't been concerned prior to the flight. It is only now that she is surrounded by couples nestled intimately into each other's arms that reality was hitting.

She needs air.

And now.

The room is thick with bodily perspiration and overripe fruit, and it is doing nothing to settle her already-upset stomach. She tries to slow her heart-beat with deep, steady breaths to dispel the nausea, but it's her hips that are taking precedence as she shifts them uncomfortably in an attempt to alleviate the stiffness from the plane.

Maybe she is getting too old for this..

Then she hears it, the subtle clearing of a throat next to her, and she turns towards the sound, her eyes locking with the man to her left, and it's in one look that he gives her that the panic in her body slowly starts to dissipate.

Elliot Stabler, her former partner, two inches away, giving her a gentle smile and a reassuring look as if it were twelve years prior and this was old hat for them.

And just like that, she doesn't feel so far from home.

 


 

He hadn't known quite what to expect, but it hadn't been this. 

He is sticky, hot and agitated, and the lack of chairs in this room coupled with the nauseating, prolonged silence was getting to him already.

The little information they'd been given about this place could fill a napkin: the details online had been scarce but intentional. The thin manilla folder he had tucked in his luggage didn't mention the 90-minute trek on foot from the remote airport, nor did it mention the crumbling infrastructure and questionable bedsheets.

There were dips and cracks in the walls, allowing slivers of sunlight to peek through, and he wonders what will happen when the predicted downpours flood this place, given that it's peak monsoon season.

He doesn't like to be unprepared.

But he is here.

Incredibly so.

He's used to working a case with, at minimum, a brief rundown of what's to be expected. Even when he infiltrated as Eddie Wagner he was privy to the wider network and hierarchy involved but the underground popularity of this place was known to very little.

The local shamanic healer who has yet to grace them with his presence was well-renowned locally but a ghost globally, and if it hadn't been for Casandra Stacks, the high-profile Manhattan DA who had stormed through Olivia’s precinct two weeks ago recounting tales of the trauma she'd experienced here, they never would have known about this place.

Cassandra ran in elite circles of Wall Street, with key connections spanning the tri-state area including the NYPD, Organized Crime, right down to the White House – and with Costa Rica being well out of jurisdiction, it hasn't been easy, but between Olivia, Belle and the commissioner, the right amount of strings had been pulled.

And now here they were. 

Trepidation was brimming mostly due to the fact that the local detectives who were originally assigned to this case had ceased their investigation within days and were allegedly shut down from the powers within. 

That in large part was what made this case so unorthodox and risky: usually they'd work hand in hand with local authorities — a duel operation, but they hadn't been brought in to aid an ongoing investigation. This was a covert inside job, plain and simple and even when the appropriate amount of evidence was gathered - or witnessed, they still don't have clearance to act. In fact, they are under strict instructions to only document and record any criminal activity, which will then be processed back in the States -  only then can the formality of any charges commence.

In the meantime, their job was to keep their identities under wraps under all circumstances.

He wasn’t worried about their abilities as partners, the Santos case they recently worked confirmed they weren’t rusty or out of sync. They fell into their familiar ways immediately - like inbuilt muscle memory, not to mention their undercover closure rate still remained unrivalled to this day, but this was their first undercover job since he left.

And there was a difference.

She was different.

And as a result, they were different.

He wasn’t as privy to her tells anymore - he was still learning to navigate her as a new woman, not to mention the fact that they were both still piecing together their fragmented relationship in a very slow and deliberate way.

Hello, my friend Olivia.

He bites into his lower lip. 

Maybe he should have thought this through a little more but he had tunnel vision when he got clearance from Belle, adamant they would both nail this in their sleep - or maybe that’s just what he kept telling himself. Maybe he wasn’t willing to face the fact that he was simply jumping at the chance to work with her again - in any capacity.

This time for five days.

Benson and Stabler.

Man and wife.

And perhaps he got lucky with Wagner..

He was grieving - torn up - hyper focused, determined to throw himself into the task. 

He didn’t care if he lived or died at that point.

Now he does.

Now he has her.

Them.

Possibilities.

I love you..

Not to mention the fact that her welfare was entirely in his hands. 

He scans her profile for reassurance, but he can’t get a reading on her. He eyes the perspiration on the column of her neck, the soft sway of her pony tail, her expression that is paling by the second but it was as if they had left NYC and their connection had completely severed. 

He half expects her to run.

He wouldn’t blame her if she did.

Even he wants to run.

He let his misguided confidence throw them into a pit of danger, isolated from stability and backup, and now it suddenly didn’t seem worth it.

You mean the world to me..

But he knows it’s too late to call it, too late to take her back to safety, too late to take her back to the familiar.

Too late to take her back home.

 

TBC