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     Sergeant Ayanna Bell had a little field trip she wanted to take Detective Stabler on this morning - they were looking into Contrapos and the medications his company was providing to various Pharmacies - Slootmaekers had obtained the billing information and shipping information from the Pharmacies that she’d sent Washburn and Morales to the other day. Jet had cross-referenced the various addresses and names on the file she had downloaded and then pulled up recent cases with the names, finding an overabundance of names that were both on the mailing list and Evidence Files. Suspicious deaths that had things collected from the scene as to ascertain answers.

     “Stabler, these names are the ones that we’ve found that have been recently deceased and they were also on the billing information from the Pharmacy. We want to pull these records because we believe it has something to do with Wheatley’s business.” She handed him the manila folder with the paperclip holding the list of the last 20 names that had popped up on both lists.

     As his brow raised, he flipped open the folder. “So all these people were overdoses and the drugs were obtained?” He asked, lifting the paper up and tilting his head as a single name caught his attention. “Wait – “

     “Yes?”

     “This name - MARSDEN, SIMON.”

     “What about it, Stabler? Someone you know?”

     “Um. Yes, actually. He was involved in an old case with me and my old partner.”

     “Captain Benson?” Bell asked, her brow raised elegantly, her eyes searching into Elliot’s blue ones. There was something hesitant about the way he had answered her, like he was dancing around something. She watched his reaction when she said Olivia Benson’s name.

      “Yes. Simon was Liv’s half-brother.” Elliot answered, rubbing his forehead. How had he not known that she had lost her brother? She hadn’t said anything about it during their short conversations that they’d been having recently. Trying to fix their broken friendship. He couldn’t blame her for not sharing this small bit of information, but he would’ve thought she would’ve said something about it knowing how he was grieving over Kathy’s death. He was such an idiot.

      “Oh. Captain Benson means a lot to you, doesn’t she?” Bell asked, shutting off the car in the parking garage and pulling her lanyard out of the middle console. Elliot was just staring at the folder and he looked up at his Sergeant and closed the file.

     “We were partners for a lot of years.” He answered, automatically. Despite the fact that he had all but word vomited out the three words that had always been on the edge of his tongue for all those years the other night in his apartment in front of his children. The look on her face was identical to the one he had during the whole Gitano situation back in the day, before she ran away to Computer Crimes – he knew he had messed up. They didn’t do that – talk about feelings. Or, they didn’t used to do that. He’d tried calling her but she had been avoiding his calls.  He supposed that he couldn’t really blame her.

     “Yeah. You keep telling yourself that.” Ayanna answered, giving him the ever-appraising side-eye. “So, we’re going to go into the evidence locker and compare all the medications that we find – see if there’s any connection.”

     After checking in, they were escorted back to the newly renovated Evidence room. He looked at the boxes and their identification numbers written on the outside of them, the last name, first initial written in thick black marker with a case number beneath it. He took the list Sergeant Bell had given him and began looking for the numbers on the list, lining up the boxes on the large table in the middle of the room. But, as he was looking for one of the boxes from seven years ago, he froze in his steps.

What the hell?

His blood ran cold and he felt his face lose all warmth and color.

Written in big, bold, black letters on the outside of this white evidence box along the lid was the name BENSON, O.M. and the sticker on the front of the box had a date from 2013 on it. Collected by SVU. The thing that caught his attention the most is that there was a number on the side of the box.

In the corner of the lid it had 1 OF 2.

What the fucking hell?

He looks at the next line on the sicker. OFFENSE: ASSAULT, KIDNAPPING, RAPE.

Without thinking, he grabbed the box and headed for the table. Not even looking for the second box at the moment.

He felt like he was going to be sick. What the hell was this box? Was this some sort of sick joke? Why was this in the evidence room? He felt like the whole world was spinning around him as he pulled the box closer to his body as though shielding the information on the front from his eyes. Bell came around the corner at that moment, and saw the look of terror on his face. “You alright, Stabler?”

“Uh, yeah. Sorry.” He looked down at the box and then nodded to his boss. “Got distracted for a moment.”

The Sergeant studied him for a moment, her eyes narrowed as she surveyed his body language. Deciding whatever it was must’ve been temporary, she nodded and then turned to go back down the aisles looking for additional boxes on her list. “Alright, Stabler, if that’s what you say.”

He tossed the folder down on the box next to him with the name KLINISKI, J. on it. He really shouldn’t look in this box, but no one had said anything about Olivia having a box in this room.

The fact that the box had the worst of the worst crimes on it – that was what killed him the most. He opened the top of the box quietly, and felt all the air in the room disappear as he saw it was a full box.

The first item he pulled out was a paper bag. Years of being a Detective had taught him the packaging for evidence at Crime Scenes. Typically, if any item had Body Fluids on it, they were air dried and packaged into paper bags or boxes. Opening the top of the box, he was surprised to see a black shirt that was folded into the paper bag, he could swear he smelled stale alcohol on this item of clothing, but couldn’t be too sure. Either way, along the top of the neckline he saw a brown stain – blood.

He pulled out his cell phone and sent a quick text to Jet, he wanted to know what the fuck this case was about. Seeing this evidence was one thing, but what the holy fucking hell had happened to Liv? Is this why she flinched when he had grabbed her arm at the funeral? Was this why she had identified his PTSD? He felt like there were eighty million unanswered questions here that he needed to know the answer to. He felt like such an asshole. Was she – he couldn’t bring his brain to finish the question, it was written on the box but no.

The next paper bag in the box had a pair of black jeans. He couldn’t pull those out of the bag, and his blue gloves he was wearing felt like they were collecting an obscene amount of sweat within them, he was going to need a towel to dry his hands after this excursion.

He’d never felt so out-of-body as he did in the current moment. Not even when the car exploded and sent Kathy flying through the streets a couple of weeks ago.

He was beginning to wonder if this was actually in fact, the same Olivia Benson he thought it was.

He folded the top of the bag back over and sat it to the side.

His phone notification went off just then, Jet had responded quickly and quietly. The e-mail contained attachments that she had named alternative things so no one would become suspicious. He tucked his phone back into his pocket and turned his attention back to the box.

Reaching in, he saw that there were two smaller bags – he could only guess that these were her undergarments and couldn’t bring himself to look at the bags. Quietly setting those to the side, he saw a plastic bag with a familiar necklace inside of it.

“Damn.” he breathed out.

She was never a victim. Not his Liv, but here he was looking through a box with her belongings in it, and his heart sank into his stomach. Why hadn’t anyone said ANYTHING to him about this?

The next thing he saw happened to be a bag with what appeared to be keys in them. They looked…burnt? That couldn’t be right.

No, absolutely not. He shook his head, moving the plastic bags to the side. Cigarette butts? What the actual fuck.

When he saw the neat pile of boxes inside of the bottom of the box, he took a deep breath. There was a rape kit and a box in the bottom below everything else that he knew what it contained. Her service weapon. Inhaling, and realizing he had been holding his breath, he flipped the top of the box up. The evidence tag on the cardboard next to the gun contained more information on it that was relevant to the whole case. But it was what he saw on the bottom of the gun that made his breath hitch in his throat along with bile. He felt like he was going to be sick just staring at this weapon.

Attached to the bottom of the gun was his shield.

He felt goosebumps rise to the surface and suddenly felt as though the entire universe had collided with his brain. The black dots in his peripheral vision had obscured the fact that Ayanna was standing next to him now, looking down at the box. Her eyes widened as she saw his fingers touching the shield on the bottom of the gun. Her eyes studied the numbers on the badge.

“Stabler. Is that your badge?”

“Yeah.” He answered automatically, looking up she saw that his eyes were suddenly dry and red from lack of blinking. “What happened to her?”

Sergeant Ayanna Bell studied her Detective’s face and his slowed actions carefully. “Stabler, you didn’t know? This is only one box.” She looked at the corner of the top, “You shouldn’t even be looking through this box, it’s not what we’re here for today. “

“Why didn’t they give this back to her?” He asked, pointing at his shield. “This was for her. She was supposed to have it. To remind her.”

“Remind her of what?” Ayanna asked, placing her gloved hand on his arm.

“Not to hesitate.” He answered, shaking his head and closing the box. He quietly put all the bags back into the box and then closed it, finally meeting Ayanna’s brown eyes. Bell looked at him with her brows lowered now, “Can we find out if we can get the shield off? I mean, it wasn’t theirs to take. It was my shield. I sent it to her with a note after I left.”

“You’re asking me, Stabler? Isn’t that a question for the DA’s office or IAB? Besides, I don’t see anything if you don’t.” Ayanna crossed her arms, looking at the man in front of her – he looked almost broken at seeing this box in front of him. “She really does mean a lot to you, doesn’t she?”

“I’m her partner, for better or worse.” He answered quietly, his hand resting on the top of the box. “What happened to her and why won’t anyone answer my questions? They keep telling me to ask her.”

“Stabler, listen, you were an SVU detective, you’re telling me looking through the box you don’t have even an inkling of an idea what happened to her? You never saw her face plastered on the news?” Bell asked, mouthing ‘wow’ she shook her head, “It was the biggest news in New York in 2013. Focus, Stabler. We got work to do on our case. You’ll have time to spiral later. And you should ask her. Not that she will give you an answer…you left and didn’t reach out.” Bell rolled her eyes, “If I were her, I’d punch your ass and then ignore you for ten months.”


After they had finished up for the day, cataloging all the medications and evidence that obviously were linked to his case, Simon’s death included - he headed back to his now empty apartment.

Eli had left to go to Maureen’s and honestly, he felt like this was the best course of options for Eli at this point. Elliot was still dealing with a lot and felt it was better for Eli to have some stability at the moment, and with his courses all being online and remote until he could register him for school in New York – well, he didn’t need to be woken up to night terrors from his dad. The older kids had seen it before, but Eli had been blessed to not know this part of his life.

 He made a quick stop at the corner bodega and picked up a six-pack of beer. He would order a pizza when he got hungry later. The headaches from the lack of a good cup of coffee were probably not healthy for his PTSD.

Sending a quick text replying Kathleen letting her know he was doing okay and asking how her day had been, he sat down at his dining room table. Lizzie had sent him an e-mail with funny videos attached earlier, and he was grateful for the easy-going personality of his youngest daughter. Almost as grateful as he was for the headstrong and determined personality of his middle daughter. He hadn’t heard from Dickie since the failed intervention, and Eli had sent him a text telling him that he had met some other kids at the park and was playing a pick-up game of soccer with them on Saturday.

The intervention - THAT was quite something to take in. Dickie was standing there, resigned to the fact that whatever had come out of his father’s mouth was probably just grief and a hallucination…Dickie had always suspected that there was more to their relationship than just work partners. He’d accused her of it multiple times, growing up. Each time, she had resolutely looked him right in the eyes and told him that there was nothing happening. Each time, Elliot had cringed when his son would accuse the most honest woman he’d ever met of lying. So, when he blurted out “I love you” to her in front of the kids – her eyes immediately shot over to Dickie. She looked absolutely mortified.

The older kids, and even Lizzie, had seen the admission for what it was…twenty-two years of biting it back, he had cracked. Kathleen probably took it the best, to be honest, because she was the one that always knew how important Olivia was to him. Olivia was important to her, too. Kathleen understood what Olivia meant for both of her parents. She knew Kathy had sought Olivia out multiple times because she knew Olivia was Elliot's holy ground.

He had said it before; Olivia Benson was a saint. She had put up with him when no one else would. Just like Olivia had told him that if Kathy thought he was a pain in the ass at home, she should try to work with him. Olivia gave as good as she received; she was brilliant, followed her gut, and by some triple threat blessing, she was beautiful. She was still as gorgeous as she had been when he first met her. Her brown eyes held within them all the secrets of the universe, and he was thirsty for answers.

Opening one of the beers, he took a swig before wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he logged into his computer and clicked on the e-mail that Jet had sent him earlier that afternoon.

He couldn’t get the sight of her necklace in the plastic bag out of his brain and the fact that her clothes -  Her jeans and shirt as well as undergarments – had been shoved in a box in the Evidence room. She had a rape kit. If he wasn’t trying to work on his rage, he would’ve probably broken everything in the apartment. He thought about the various boxes in the main box and the fact that her service weapon was in the box with what had obviously been his badge attached. He never thought for a moment that she would keep it. To be honest, he thought she would’ve tossed the badge in the garbage at her earliest convenience. Or keep it tucked away somewhere, out of sight, out of mind - just like he had been for the last 10 years. 

He remembered that he sent it to her before he left. He wanted her to know he would always be her partner. He would always have her back. He’d always watch her six.

Seeing the evidence box had been like being doused in cold water. He obviously failed her.

He had thought that when he had caught up with Fin it sounded like she thrived in his absence. But how much of it was really just a farce, he couldn’t help but wonder. Obviously, she’d been able to move up in the ranks, she’d obviously been given awards and medals, she'd been made the poster child for the NYPD and SVU.

Shaking himself out of his reverie, he clicked on his contacts on his phone and tried to call her again. It went to voicemail. He just sighed and hung up. If she wasn’t taking his calls, he’d have to just deal with it. Biting the inside of his mouth, he read the note Jet attached to the e-mail before clicking the first file.


T: ES
F: JS
SUBJECT: Acceptable Flower Arrangements

E

The Victorian language of flowers states that red carnations are acceptable.

For they signify that “my heart aches for you” in a grieving situation. Hope that answers your question.

J


There, on his screen was a pdf file with thumbnail images numbered with evidence captions below. Scrolling down the file, he saw the photos. Her apartment, trashed, a blood stain on the rug he’d walked on so many times in his many visits. He saw the photos of the stove with the metal coat hanger bent and sitting in the pan, the keys in the pan. His breath suddenly felt labored and he couldn’t focus. He stood up and put his arms behind his head, his fingers interlaced as he paced back and forth across his living room. He was drowning, but he knew this wasn’t his time to drown. He wanted answers, and he was getting them.

He had to get through this, he wanted to know what she had been through, he didn’t want another Sealview Corrections situation, which he suspected the truth to, but he could never get a straight answer from Fin or her. It was the one secret she had kept from him. She refused to talk about it…and it made him hate to do this because he knew how pissed she would be to find out he went behind her back, but this was Olivia – and he needed to know the truth. He needed to put his mind at ease, or at least, attempt to put his mind at ease.

He had seen things in all his years as a detective that had been disturbing, but this was just the first photo and all the details he’d picked out were beyond anything he could even comprehend. What had happened to her? He needed to know. He needed answers. He needed solid ground. He needed her, and she wasn’t answering her phone.

He tried calling her again, but it went to voicemail.

Shit…Liv, it’s Elliot. Don’t make me beg for you to call me back. I know where you work. Please.” He paused for a moment, taking in two deep breaths, “Please call me Olivia. I know we don’t do this – but…please.”

Sitting back down at his computer, he scrolled down. Each photograph was more terrifying than the last. When he closed the document, he wasn’t sure he was still alive. It was like the entire earth had fallen out beneath his feet. He felt like he was in a free-fall.

He was pretty sure that the photos had killed him.

Clicking on the second file, his eyes widened. One look at her face and he had to grab the trash can next to the table and vomit. After composing himself, and taking a deep breath, he continued to scroll through the files and he saw the other photos.

He saw the injuries that had been documented, and entered into evidence. He saw the photos of her handiwork, of her fight. That’s my girl. He thought. She was a fighter. She was a survivor. She had a deep fearlessness that he appreciated and a fight within herself that he couldn’t even comprehend.

Clicking on the Deposition file, he read through the whole thing. The details becoming clearer to him, and as he read further through the document, something didn’t quite sound right about her testimony, but she wasn’t a liar. Olivia Benson was many things, but a liar was not one of them.

Clicking on the next file, he was shocked to see blood dried and splattered across her face. Her eyes wide, her hair shorter. She looked petrified, in shock, broken.

He wanted to throw his arms around her and just hold on to her just like he had done in the hospital after Sonya had been murdered. He wanted to dig his fingers into her back to ground himself to her, to feel her pressed against him. But she wasn’t that person anymore. She wasn’t his Olivia anymore, this, he was sure of. This was a different Olivia all together, and suddenly he’d started to piece together the differences between the old Olivia and this present Olivia. She’d been through something traumatic, but she had a son. She was Captain. He’d taken advantage of the distance and believed she’d been better off.

Glancing over at the clock, he saw that he must’ve been staring at the photo for an hour.

He read through the statements attached with this case, and by the time he was finished with them, he let out a deep breath. She played Russian roulette?

Did he read that right? He scrolled back up to that part of the report and re-read it multiple times. Visions of her with the barrel of a gun pressed to her temple flashed through his mind. He shook his head at these thoughts and couldn’t help but bring his hands up to his temple and his eyes widened as he remembered he needed to blink.

He searched the internet for any blog post, video clip, news article he could about these events surrounding his former partner.  

Leaning back in his chair, he wiped his hand across his eyes and pressed his thumb and index finger against the bridge of his nose. He needed to hit something, anything – but that wouldn’t solve anything. He needed to scream, shout, cry – something.

The irrational part of his mind seemed to disregard that she was okay because this had been years ago, but there was a basic instinct inside of him that was yelling that he needed to make sure she was okay. Of course she was okay, he’d seen her.

She must hate him. She must want to beat the shit out of him and then shoot him herself.

He couldn’t blame her.

He pressed her name again. “Look. I get it, Olivia. You aren’t the same person I knew ten years ago. I’m sorry. You wanted to talk to me about the letter, that night - but every time we’ve gotten the chance to speak to one another I just keep…fucking it all up. I’m sorry. Actually, I’m not going to apologize because you don’t need to hear it. What you need is someone who has their shit together. I’m not that person right now. Liv, I do love you and I meant it when I said it, even though…you know what, I don’t feel guilty. I fucking meant it.” He paused for a moment, “We’re working a case and your brother’s name came up. I’m sorry that you lost him…just…give me a call. Anytime. Any hour. I’m here, and I’m not going anywhere. Partners, for better or worse.” He hung up and made his way over to the couch, tossing the phone on the table at his head.


OLIVIA BENSON’S APARTMENT – 3 AM

    She watched as another call came in. Watched as the voicemail icon popped up on her phone. Taking a deep breath, she grabbed the phone and her glasses and clicked the transcribe button. The last message, she wasn’t sure what the hell that was about – but he was working a case that related to Simon’s death? Sitting up in bed, she looked at the alarm clock. She had to get up in a few hours and take Noah to school.

She sighed as she clicked his name in her contacts and when he picked up on the first ring, she really wasn’t surprised.

  “Elliot, are you drunk?” Was the first thing she said.

 “That’s impossible, Olivia.” He answered, staring at the ceiling, listening quietly to the sound of her breathing. “You didn’t tell me that you have PTSD.” He stated, matter-of-factly.

   Olivia crossed her arm over her chest and took a deep breath and stared at the wall. “You didn’t ask. You just told me to back off. You told me I meant the world to you, and then you told me to back the hell off.”

  “When the hell have you ever listened to me, Olivia?” he paused, “Obviously my kids know better than I do and sought your assistance.”

  “You have a point. I don’t listen to people who think they know better than me what’s good for me.” She spoke quietly. “Your kids are smarter than you – they must’ve gotten that from Kathy.” she heard him inhale sharply.

Glancing down at the clock she watched the digital minute number change. “You might not have your shit together, Elliot, but…it doesn’t mean that I don’t need or want you. I just have to be careful.” she whispered the last part about being careful so low that he had to strain to hear it. “It’s not just me anymore, I have Noah.”

 “I saw the badge I sent you today.” His voice broke as she suddenly realized what he was saying. “I wanted to take it back and give it to you.”

“What the hell were you doing in evidence, Elliot? And why did you look through that box?” Suddenly, her voice had a sharpness that he recognized as a biting anger, good, he wanted her to get mad, it meant he might see her sooner. She put her hand over her face. “Please tell me you didn’t – Elliot. I wasn’t ready to talk about this with you. Please tell me you backed off when you saw it. Please tell me you didn’t do it… “

    “Didn’t read the files? Didn’t go through the box? Olivia, what the actual fuck happened?”

    “I don’t want to talk about it, Elliot. Just drop it. It happened, I’m dealing with it, and I don’t like to talk about it.” She felt the panic rising into her chest and she just wanted to run away. She wanted to hang up on him, she wanted to curse him, she wanted to scream, yell, punch something. She wanted to beat the shit out of him…no, she didn’t want to beat the shit out of him…what she wanted to do was hold onto him while she broke down, get back that chance that she hadn’t had the opportunity to do so when it first happened. “Besides, you read the files…you bastard, you probably saw the photos.”

    “What went through your head when you pulled the trigger?” He asked, sounding actually sober. She took a deep breath as she shook her head, she wouldn’t answer this question. He added, “The last time, when you knew the bullet was really meant for you…”

 "I’m not going to have this conversation over the phone, Stabler.” She answered in her authoritative voice.

 “I love you, Olivia Margaret Benson.” he whispered. “With all your scars, anger, PTSD, and abandonment issues that I helped contribute to. I hope you know that.”

 “Who the hell are you and what did you do with Elliot Stabler?” She asked, sliding back down in bed, her head resting on the pillow.

“Liv, do you have FaceTime?” He asked, he had to see her face.

“It’s three am. I’m not presentable.”

“Liv, I’ve seen you worse.”

“Fuck you, Elliot.”

"Is that an offer?”

“You’re drunk.” She responded. “Keep dreaming. Besides, isn’t that against your religion or something?”

“I’m not married anymore. She’s gone. Liv, Kathy is gone. You’re all I have. You and my kids and the job, which, frankly I could take or leave. I’ve done it before.”

“You don’t even know me.”

 “Liv, I’ll always know you. You are a part of me just like I’m part of you.” he answered. “You give me stability.”

 “I’m a headache to deal with.” she answered, ignoring him. “Are we really talking about this letter at three am? Can we just meet tomorrow after I drop Noah off at school?”

“So you want to see me?” He asked, hopeful.

 “You have to do something for me though, Elliot. You have to get counseling. I don’t care if it’s from a therapist or a priest or whatever it is you catholic boys do…but you have to get healthy. You have to deal with your problems. I can’t talk to you about my trauma until we’re both on solid ground. Do you understand?” she was all but pleading. “Now, you’re working a case that involves Simon?”


 

The next morning –

He made a pit stop before he came to meet her. When he gets in her SUV, she looks into his blue eyes and he’s staring at her warm chocolate eyes. They don’t have to say anything at the moment to reach an understanding of whatever this is. She glances down at his lips as he looks down at hers and they re-establish eye contact once again. They can feel the familiar magnetism and they both know it’s too much for them, at the moment. They both know that if they cross the line that they’ve danced along all this time, they’ll spontaneously combust.

He places a cup of coffee in her cup holder, breaking eye contact for a moment.

She takes a deep breath as he takes her hand. “I’m grabbing onto you, Olivia Benson. I don’t want to drown. And I’m going to go see Father Hogan for counseling. I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks.”

A small smile tugs at the corner of her mouth. “You’re an ass, Elliot Stabler. I’m glad you listened to me, for once.”

He reaches in his pocket and pulls out an object and pulls her other hand off the steering wheel as he places the object in her palm, closing her fingers around it. “When I wrote semper fi, I meant it, Liv.”

She looked down at the badge. She knew how he got it, but she wasn’t going to report it because honestly, it was the only reason she fought as hard as she did. She fought for the hope that she would see him again, that she could have a family – that she could grow and flourish. She knew, at that moment, that despite past evidence showing people incapable of change, maybe hope was going to have to be enough. Her own words about hope not being enough coming back to bite her in the ass.

She allowed herself to feel it for the first time since he had come back into her life. She had an appointment with her psychiatrist later that afternoon as well. They had that in common, the two of them, the ability to remain always faithful – and this badge, it might as well have been a wedding ring, in her opinion. Because even though he’d disappeared and abandoned her, he was back – and she knew in the back of her mind that he wasn’t going to be going anywhere on her this time. She wouldn’t allow that.

No one says partners for life to Olivia Benson without meaning it.

“I know, El.” She answered, calling him his nickname for the first time. “You know everything about me, even the parts I’d like to forget. You have half my soul.” She whispered.

“Only half?” He questioned.

“Noah has the other half.” She smiled at him. “He puts up with me.”

“You’re a good mom, Liv. Don’t ever doubt yourself.” He squeezed her hand, allowing for another silent understanding to pass between them, “Now, about Simon...”