Disclaimer

They belong to Dick. My therapist says I need to deal with that and move on. I say I need a new therapist.

Author's Notes

Hope i haven't managed to destroy characters too much, and have gotten all the pesky grammatical errors :o) I have more in the works, but as usual will wait to see what y'all think.

Queens, New York City

Olivia moves the vehicle along the unfamiliar suburban streets, searching for an address scrawled in indigo ink on scrap paper. Eyes that had once been described as a union between dark ginger and chocolate trace the lines of the road and take note of the rapidly fading dew on the grass, a sign that morning has prematurely broken and another day has dawned in New York City.

Above her, thick slivers of sunlight are beginning to paint the sky in a jumbled compilation of rose and gold. Like an abstract painting that isn't quite finished, she never tires of watching the shapes shift and change as the day grows older. It is still early in the day, yet experience has taught her that all too soon blackbirds and shadows will bounce along the rooftops in search of a transitory amnesty from the blistering sun even before the disembodied tone of the broadcaster seeps through the radio, warning residents of boiling temperatures and advising against unnecessary excursions. It will, of course be advice gently ignored when overworked air conditioners groan under the demands of their masters and children tire of watching condensation drip from glass to table. It is then that they will move from the relative comfort of their homes into the blinding heat of the day in search of relief.

The sedan crawls past shopping malls and street signs, moving parallel to sidewalks that are eerily congested for this time of day. It seems to her that with his morning call the proverbial rooster has warned them that the swelter of the season has begun. People are scattered along the street walking pets that hate being outside in the heat, steering strollers around cracks in a pavement that has seen better days, moving hands and heads in greeting as they pass one another on their journey.

Houses begin to blur into a colorful parade of brick and board as she drives along a road that shimmers under the burden of heat, reflective mirages pooling at haphazard intervals on burning asphalt. Olivia imagines that inside these homes with painted roofs and charming window dressings, slumberous pursuits are being discarded in favor of greeting the day. Children are waking to cereal and cinnamon pop-tarts and parents who do not chastise when milk and cheerios leak from silver spoon to tarnished linoleum. Everyone knows on days like these sugar and frivolous messes don't count; parents are too busy thinking of Pina Coladas and boardwalk barbeques while their children dream of trips to Coney Island and raspberry popsicles. Everyone knows that on days like these the ills of the world are just lines in a newspaper and that pain and darkness and death are a distant memory. Only Olivia Benson knows that on days like today, she is truly free.

A sigh escapes lips brushed with the barest hint of gloss as she turns the car towards its final destination; eyes scanning numerical epitaphs on identical white mailboxes that sit on lawns peppered with lavender and yellow daisies, beside paths that lead into the homes of the settled. She knows that outward calm does not always match the intrinsic reality, but she hopes that for the fractured family at number twenty-seven Sycamore Street peace has settled above their portion of the world.

The engine gurgles in slight dispute as she turns the key and moves from the comparative cool of her vehicle into the early morning warmth. Irregular ripples of heat assail perfectly tanned skin and she shivers slightly despite the heat. She rubs the fabric that stretches along her arms as she bends to collect the paper from its resting place on the path, pausing momentarily to watch as fragments of dust mix with scarlet nail polish. She tucks the paper underneath an arm and pushes her toes further into flip-flops that coincidence rather than design has matched to the color of her jacket. It is almost too warm already for the fragile covering, but today, when she is about to face her partner and his family without her badge and gun she is glad of the protection.

She takes the steps that rest against the front verandah two at a time, the denim of her skirt protesting against the movement as it collides with toned thigh. Despite outward appearances, she feels ridiculous in these clothes and she thinks she might kill Casey for talking her into buying a skirt with a hemline best left to those born in the decade after the Beatles ruled the world and a jacket the color of lime that reminds her of nights filled with tequila and hangovers that last for days.

Manicured fingers tap against dark timber and apprehensive eyes trace the myriad of indentations on a door that has been opened and closed countless times before. Square. Rectangle. Oblong. Square. Rectangle. Oblong. The pattern is predictable, and she supposes that some might take comfort in the knowledge of routine

The problem with patterns, she thinks, as her eyes catch on an unexpected knot in the wood, is that they continue in a comfortable cadence for so long until a shape is slightly distorted, a moment is moved unexpectedly or a truth revealed. It is then that the pattern falls to pieces and a new one begins. Olivia wonders when it was that the pattern of her own life had begun to shift and change. She had never been one to care for fashion, how her hair looked or whether her lipstick highlighted the color of her eyes; her pattern had always been about others, about the oath she had taken so many years before. Protect. Serve. Protect. Serve. There had never been room in her existence for anything else.

Patterns, someone had once told her, were guided by unconscious choices. Job. Hurt. Love. Her thoughts stumble over the last for a moment. She had never understood why some people chose to continue a pattern, follow a path well after the mold had moved in another direction. For her, broken hearts and blue eyes had always been for the foolish; she had always thought secret smiles, heated arguments and stolen glances would never travel beyond the metaphorical bump in the road. Some might call that pessimism. Olivia thought of it as self-preservation.

She can't help but wonder now, as she waits on a verandah that is in desperate need of aesthetic ornamentation and a coat of paint if her insentient choice to accept an invitation, to appear in a private world will cause another pattern to form, whether the ultimate line in a professional sand will forever be demolished. If a door that has always been slightly ajar will be irrevocably opened. If she is ready to accept the inevitable alteration to a blueprint that has long been etched in her destiny, beneath the surface of her soul.

The sound of footsteps and thoughts of choices made deluge her consciousness. Break up. Stay together. Hate. Love. Fight. Flight. Butterflies march a merciless trail between heart and soul as locks click, the door gives way and eyes that have always reminded her of an island ocean welcome her. Her lips curve in greeting and another choice is made. Sink. Swim. She has always thought that swimming was a good idea. Especially when you were drowning.

Confusion lights his gaze and spills along the lines of his face before meeting and bonding with the surprised arc of his lips. "Liv? What're you doing here?"

Muscles ripple under a momentary strain as he stretches the last vestiges of sleep from his body, weathered hands drift across features that tell of restless nights. Her breath catches in a throat suddenly dry as her eyes meet naked chest and move along the lines of his abdomen towards white linen that covets the muscles of hip and thigh like a painter does a faultless canvas. To her, he is perfection personified and the art critics of the world are idiots. Michelangelo could never have created something so beautiful.

"Liv?" Amusement flickers in his gaze. Busted. She'd always known she would make a hopeless criminal; the evidence is splashed across his features for the entire world to see.

"Paper." She thinks it funny how small words could slip easily into a suddenly awkward silence as she reaches for the newspaper under her arm, a metaphorical olive branch that is taken with tired fingers.

"Paper? You came all the way over here to bring my paper in from the front lawn?" His enjoyment grows and stretches into a smile that she has missed more than the he will ever know, more than she will ever admit, even to herself.

"Yes, actually no. Kathleen asked me to help her with something."

"Oh." Disappointment drips from his tone like ice cream left in the sun as he moves aside to let her enter; lime fleece brushing momentarily against bare skin as she crosses the threshold. "She's not up yet. You want some coffee?"

"Sure." If she were being truthful, she would say that it is already too hot outside for artificial warmth, but she never has been able to refuse him anything. Her head moves slightly in acceptance and she watches as he moves away, dropping the paper on a coffee table that like him, is scarred with age and all it has seen.

Absence affords her the opportunity to wander around the room, eyes inhaling walls that are peppered with posters of the city but are otherwise devoid of color and emotion. She moves closer to the mantle, smiling at the pictures placed in metal frames at haphazard intervals along polished teak. Elliot and Maureen at her high school graduation, Elliot and Kathleen at a soccer game, Elliot and Kathy with the twins on their seventh birthday. She smiles as her eyes catch the final image. It is of them; a candid photograph at a long forgotten crime scene, when they had managed to find a moment of mirth between sorrow and sadness.

To others, she thinks, as Elliot appears once more, the d├ęcor may seem mismatched, the room empty. To her, it is like the poster that sits on the wall, its ramshackle edges curling in silent protest to air that overflows with arid heat. The Brooklyn Bridge, majestic in its simplicity and with its cables and towers illuminated in the darkness of night had always made her think of Elliot. Like the bridge he is strong, stoic and beautiful, the essence of a man building a new existence amidst the ashes of a former life.

He hands her coffee that she doesn't really want in a cup that tells her his children love him and they sit side by side like a couple in a fifties sitcom, on a sofa that is a kaleidoscope of disastrous color. Cushions that in the days of Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball would have been popular are scattered along the back without thought of co-ordination or cohesion.

Leave it to him to pick the most hopeless sofa in the store and then attempt to turn it into a work of art, to try and fix something that had no business being saved. That was Elliot, pure and simple.

"Great sofa," her voice is loud in the silence of the room. "I didn't know brown and orange were back in style."

A chuckle emerges from lips rimmed with caffeine colored moisture. "What? You don't like?"

Olivia lifts the mug to her lips and resists the urge to sigh as the liquid slides down her throat and into her veins. "It's an interesting choice." She loves that he knows how she takes her coffee. "Your home is great, Elliot." She feels the need to reassure, to protect against shattered feelings despite the presence of optimism. "Seriously."

"It's only a home when my kids are here. Other times," he shrugs "it's just a house."

Silence falls like summer rain between them, for idle conversation has no place in moments like these. She knows blue eyes are tracing the lines and curves of her face, that he needs her to comprehend the depth of emotion beneath his simple words. She reaches out, placing a hand on a bare leg, lips curving in a semblance of a smile as he encases her fingers with his own. It is a fleeting contact that speaks volumes. I know. I understand. I love you.

"Elliot?"

"Yeah?" She removes her hand and turns her body towards his.

"Are you ever going to put some clothes on?"

He looks at her in confusion for a moment before realization dawns and he remembers that heat and misplaced agitation had caused him to throw his Yankees t-shirt across the room in the dead of night. He looks up and his eyes meet hers for the first time in forever. "Nope. I thought I'd walk around like this and see how long it took you to resist my charms."

"Oh please," she laughs through perfect teeth, amusement causes her eyes to light into a million shades of mocha. She will never know how beautiful she is to him in that moment. "Seven years together Elliot. I'm immune."

"Huh. You think?" He stands, flicking a switch on the radio as he moves past the hall table and towards stairs that groan with age and will complain under the force of his weight. "You want me to wake Kathleen?"

"Nope," she turns towards him as a maudlin melody exits the radio and fills the space between them. "I'm sure she'll be up soon enough."

He makes a sound that tells her she has no idea about the sleeping habits of teenagers before he disappears up the stairs. She lifts a magazine from the coffee table, only half paying attention to the images of perfect women and beautiful fashion as she listens to the lyrics of a song that has always been one of her favorites.

Upstairs, she can hear Elliot moving about his room, and imagines him searching in a closet that is too large for clothes he didn't buy himself. On the radio, Tom Waite is hoping he doesn't fall in love. In the living room, Olivia Benson knows that she already has.

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tbc?