Disclaimer: Can't be creative. Too tired. Suffice to say not mine, and you can't prove anything :)
Authors Notes: Okay, what started out as a fluff piece ended up like this. Apparently, I just can't write the stuff. Anyway, I think there will be more to this, but would love to hear your thoughts on the issue.
Olivia moves along the darkened street, the heels of her boots clicking on the pavement. The echo bounces from storefront to sky and back again to mingle with the cacophony of sound that is New York City.
As she walks, she finds herself thinking of the reason she is heading towards a nondescript vehicle with a couple of Venti Macchiatos and an armful of Chinese takeout. They had been working on this case for months, and so far Samuel Milczek had managed to evade their grasp; changing his name, and moving his operation from one seedy locale to the next.
Milczek imagines himself to be a brilliant entrepreneur, a man who recruits children off the street to perform in his productions. Olivia knows he promises these damaged souls the world, convincing them to sell their self-respect for a pittance.
She sighs as she remembers Casey's request for more evidence. She wonders how many lives need to be fractured, how many more lies will to be told before the truth can be discovered. Olivia and Elliot know the bastard is guilty, but the scales of justice are not so easily convinced, and so here they are.
She taps on the window of a darkened SUV with a gloved hand, worn in a futile attempt to ward off the chill of the late night air. Above her, the sky is painted black, and she supposes far over her head there are stars that shine light onto less colorful parts of the world. The door opens and she slides with natural grace into the worn leather seat, glad of the transitory reprieve from the glacial air of the evening, handing Elliot a coffee and maintaining a precarious grip on a small army of boxes.
"Hey." She nods her head towards the boxes. "I brought Chinese."
She watches as he runs a hand across his face. His tone, like his features are worn with fatigue, and a myriad of indefinable emotions.
"Jesus, I fucking hate stakeouts"
"It's a little early in the evening for blasphemy, Elliot."
"No you're not. And just so you know, being in a confined space with you and a bag of half cold takeout is not my ideal way to spend an evening either, Stabler."
Olivia has never been good at poker, and as he turns his head in her direction, she knows he has seen through her diaphanous fabrication. She chooses not to respond to his repartee, instead, she hands him one of the boxes, watching as he opens it with an almost innocent enchantment, and she feels a modicum of laughter bubble in her chest at the scene; her amusement reflected in her tone as the next words flow from her lips.
He complies, out of necessity rather than desire, as the door to the building opens. They watch, as a man emerges, pulling his coat tightly around his body, and stuffing a package underneath his arm. Olivia allows her eyes to rest on the man's face for a moment before he pulls a cap over his dark head. He is young, and she feels an inexplicably familiar sorrow that perversion and depravity has once again intruded on the whimsy of youth. Then again, perhaps it has always been that way, and an opaque layer of lies has protected them all from the truth of life.
"That our guy?"
Olivia, lost in her thoughts hears his gruffly melodious tone, but not his words. She tears her gaze away from the boy for a moment; long enough to gather he thoughts and register his query.
"Milczek, or whatever his name is now. That him?"
She looks back towards the doorway, but their quarry has already moved on, a darkened shape of gloom walking away from the scene of his transgression, and towards the cultivated myth of his reality.
"I swear, Milczek changes his name more often then that rapper, Puff Dragon, that Dickie's nuts over. "
"Puff Daddy. "
"Whatever. Point is, if he keeps up with the changes, then he is bound to lose track soon enough. Lies have a way of catching people out."
Olivia moves her head in the universal sign of concurrence, but does not engage in further conversation. She knows Elliot speaks the truth, for she knows herself that she is sick and tired of lying. She has been lying to him and to herself for months now. She knows that one day he will discover the truth and instinct tells her that it will be sooner rather than later.
It had started out so simply, an untruth meant to pacify his shattered soul. She loved him, and so she had been sorry that his life was falling apart. To say that she had expected Kathy to leave would be another lie, and one that she was not willing to perpetuate. She remembers the moment she heard him utter the words, the desolation in his tone and the devastation in his eyes. In that moment, she had lied to herself, but told him the half-truth she knew he needed to hear. It will all work out. She thinks it funny now how such a simple deviation can divide and conquer until all that is left are the ruins of a semi-perfect life. She sees it every day in the families of the victims, her partner, and her own life.
She is unprepared for his next intrusion into her consciousness, and it takes her a moment to assimilate his question and draw the imaginary line between the truth of her thoughts and the reality of his inquiry.
"Why do people lie, Liv?"
She twists her body into a more comfortable position, unsure of whether she is turning to face him or trying to escape his inquiry.
"Maybe to protect themselves from being hurt, getting into trouble. Who knows?"
"Is that why you lie?"
The question is as unexpected as a snow flurry in July, and her head snaps up to see curiosity reflected in the sapphire depths.
"No. I lie to protect the people I love."
"Ever lied to me?"
Yes. "Loaded question, Elliot."
"Come on, Liv. It's not a hard one."
She drops her head, and studies her coffee cup in feigned fascination. She can feel the intensity of his stare, and prays for an end to his scrutiny. Like an old swing, she knows that if he pushes her too hard, she will break. It is not the shattering of her soul that she fears the most, it is the uncertainty of knowing whether he will be there to put the pieces back together once he knows the truth, whatever that may be.
She opens her mouth to answer him as the shrill ring of his cell phone permeates the air, severing her train of thought and their conversation. She watches as Elliot fumbles inside the pocket of his jacket for the offending item, frowning as he contemplates the darkened name on the neon screen. He answers, and although she cannot hear the voice of the caller, she suspects from the content of the conversation that it is their shepherd checking in on his flock.
She smiles, sending a silent message of thanks, breathing a barely audible sigh of relief. Like the saying goes she had, quite literally, been saved by the bell.
She allows her tired eyes to drift, her gaze snagging on an electrical store across the street. It is painted in the familiar hues of a superstore chain, but the weathered lettering of the sign above the door tells her that for a time at least, it had belonged to a man called O'Malley and his son.
Her eyes catch the sentence underneath and she smiles at the simple irony. 'Forget the big stores! We are here to stay'. She thinks it paradoxical that life can change so much in little more than the proverbial blinking of an eye, and wonders if O'Malley feels the same, wherever he may be. Her gaze slips towards the window, and she watches as a television casts luminous flashes onto the pavement, bringing a fleeting and unpredictable light to the darkness of the street.
She observes the screen as it flickers in an inexhaustible rainbow of color, and it reminds her of the one that sat perched in a corner of a tiny apartment a million nights ago. She remembers watching images of families, laughing together, sharing together, being together. There was no death, destruction or disappointment. She knows now that life - families - are not like that. And, as she glances over at her partner, she wishes, for both of their sakes, that it were.
Olivia shakes her head in the darkness, unhappy with the direction of her thoughts. She chooses not to wallow in dark memories or the lies a child was once told. Instead, she lightens the cloak of gloom that has enveloped them both in its dark hold.
"What was your favorite TV show as a kid?"
Elliot alters the trajectory of his gaze to look at her, his mouth filled with food, and his eyes brimming with a mildly amused curiosity.
"You're kidding, right?"
"You have no idea how much I wish I was."
"You know, Huang would have a field day with that one."
'You know what I think? I think Huang would have a field day with you, if you let him."
"Is that an offer?"
"No. Hand me that egg roll, will you?"
When he doesn't answer, she shifts her gaze to look at him. Beside her, Elliot is motionless, his attention shifted to a darkened shape moving silently down the street towards their transitory hiding place. The intermittent shafts of light from the street lamps provide momentary glimpses of daffodil hair and dark jeans, but no more.
As the figure moves closer they come to a simultaneous realization that the figure belongs to their suspect and his vigilant gaze is turned towards their vehicle, threatening their precarious anonymity and placing them in danger of being discovered.
Several things move through Olivia's mind in that moment. She remembers their reasons for being here, and that detection would mean failure. It would mean that once again Samuel Milczek would know that the police had found him. He would move his operation to another city, under another name and countless more children would be violated. Failure was not a word that belonged in her vocabulary, and although she knows that they are seconds away from discovery, her mind refuses to admit defeat.
It is Elliot who reacts first. He reaches through the tangible tension that has engulfed their vehicle, placing a finger under her chin and turning her head to meet his.gaze
"What for? Elliot, we're gonna – "
He interrupts her protestation with a guttural elucidation. "For this."
She catches a momentary flash of a deep and sparkling cerulean sea before his mouth settles over hers, silencing her protest and wreaking havoc on her confused heart. Like the mythical goddess of temptation she had read about in school, she fears his actions will open the doors to a corridor that is better left in isolation.
Olivia allows her eyes to flutter closed, her rational mind and treacherous heart locked in a vicious battle between reason and insanity. She knows they are simply playing a role and his actions are meant to deflect disaster rather than invite ardor, but as his tongue traces tiny patterns on her lips, she allows herself to float away from the reality and her fear. She is in the arms of her protector, and so she is safe for now.
She remembers moments ago, feeling afraid that if she let him too close, he would see through her carefully constructed layer of half-truths and into her hopeless heart. She thinks now how imprudent her thoughts had been, the musings of a courageous woman fearful of facing the truth. As she feels his lips move over hers in a perfect duet, she knows that none of that matters now; For the moment at least she can step out from behind her curtain of lies, and embrace her truth.
Somewhere in the distance, the sound of a car horn pierces the perfection of their private world and somehow Olivia finds the strength to pull away. Elliot is not so willing to break the contact, and she smiles slightly as he rests his forehead on hers for a moment. Their vehicle is filled with the sounds of their tandem exhalations, erratic in the darkness and tangling with the emotional uncertainty that has taken residence in the air around them.
He touches her face, running his fingers around her swollen lips before leaning back into his seat, and away from temptation. Olivia shivers against the sudden loss of his heat. She knows that their moment has ended, and it is with that realization that Olivia the hopeful has left the stage, and Olivia the pretender reenters the building.
"Elliot." The word exits her lips in a husky whisper and dance for a moment in the cool evening air like a leaf on the autumn breeze. "What the hell was that?"
He does not answer for a moment, his gaze focused on the retreating figure of Milczek, watching as their suspect enters the building.
"You think he made us?"
"No. Answer the question."
"You had a better option?"
"No, but can I ask a question?"
"Do you think Munch and Fin would have pulled that stunt on their watch?"
She sees the flash of white, accompanied moments later by a melodious sprinkling of laughter that, like a flawless symphony, fills her heart with hope. She answers his smile in the darkness and they continue their observation, waiting for their suspect to emerge with the evidence they need to arrest him and end his reign of depravity.
She does not know how many seconds pass before he breaks the companionable silence, but his voice is a welcome intrusion into the silence.
"Your favorite singer, when you were growing up. Who was it?"
"Jesus. Six years together, and this is what you come up with?"
"You're dodging, Olivia."
"David Cassidy. And if you ever tell anyone that, I'll hurt you."
"Why would I kick your ass? Do I need a reason?"
"No. Why was he your favorite?"
She sighs into the darkness, unsure if she is willing to unlock the door to the truths of her past just yet. Like a master thief, she has become adept at stealing reality and covering her tracks with falsehood. She knows Elliot's question is simple in theory, but the actuality of answering causes her heart to leap in a cadence of fear and her hand to reach for the door of the car. Olivia has had much experience in running from the truth, and she does it well. She does not know why, but for once she chooses fight over flight.
" I uh, I have this one memory of my mother, when she was sober. I think I must have been about five or six, but I remember my mom coming home from work and she was glowing. I mean, her face was radiant, and she was smiling and laughing. She was wearing this cornflower blue sundress, and I remember thinking that she was the most beautiful person I had ever seen, and how one day I wanted to grow up to be as lovely as her."
"Liv you -"
She lifts a hand from its resting place between them in a non verbal plea for silence. He ends his protest, understanding her need to share this with him.
"Let me finish." She waits for his nod of understanding before continuing her tale.
"She had brought home a record, and I remember watching as she put it on. She knew I loved the Partridge Family, and she had found a David Cassidy record at a flea market. She turned it up so loud, that I remember worrying that the neighbors would complain or that the windows would break. She picked me up, and we danced around the room – me in my jeans and old t-shirt, and she in her perfect dress - without a care, like all the moms and daughters in those happy family TV shows. It was like all of my dreams had come true. I remember we fell on the floor in fits of laughter, and she grabbed my hand and told me she, loved me. I don't think I ever heard her say that to me again, and you know, I don't think I ever felt like that again."
Beside her, he is silent and she fears her leap of faith has been ill received. She turns her head and allows her eyes to glide over his beautiful face, reading between the lines to find the answers she seeks. She meets his gaze and is momentarily dazed by the sentiment glittering in the depths of his eyes like stars in the midnight sky. She knows that those emotions are borne of pain and that he feels her truths like they were his own.
Olivia feels as though she is naked, for it is not often she allows her lies to be exposed and the truth to be seen. The intensity of his inspection is almost too much to bear, and she moves to look away. In that moment, he reaches for her, skimming fingers along the perfect lines of her face and holding her gaze with his own. She feels some of his strength seep through his hands and into her heart and she allows her lips to curve in the semblance of a smile. Like an actor with a myriad of roles to play, she knows that Elliot is many things to many people; husband, father, protector and friend. But it is the role he plays with her that brings peace and hope to her fragile existence. He is her cartoon superman, and in his gaze she finds the strength she needs to leap from the skyscraper of lies, for she knows now that he will always be there to catch her in the certainty of his embrace.
Some say that truth is stranger than fiction, but Olivia knows that there is another adage that is far more fitting to this situation. She knows now that the truth may hurt, but it will also set you free.
"I think I love you."
Olivia knows his words are meant to make her smile, and so, like a subservient automaton following the command of its ordained master, she complies. She knows that to believe his words will mean a deviation from her chosen path into a forest of idealistic hope. It is a journey that will devastate the savings in her bank of emotion, and one that could tear down the carefully constructed wall of lies around the truth of her heart.
Despite this - despite her knowledge of the truth - for the moment at least, Olivia Benson is willing to take a chance and allow herself to believe it to be reality. Like the lyrics to the song that started this sojourn into treacherously unfamiliar territory, she does not know what she is up against and she does not know what the truth will bring. She knows only that her truth is right here beside her.
She closes her eyes, severing the contact, and moves her head towards the window. She hears the slight thump as his fingers hit fabric, and she resists the devastating compulsion to reach for him and find solace in his strength once more. Instead, she invites wit back into their party of two, closing the door on truth and lies, for the moment at least.
"Damn it, Elliot. You can be such an ass."
"It's all part of my charm."
"Huh. You think?"
He sighs in mock resignation, and she watches as he drifts away on a life raft of contemplation, and she wonders where his thoughts are leading him tonight.
"Why do they call them white lies? Is it because they're insignificant?"
Olivia thinks on his question for a moment, for she has no definitive answer. She does not believe that any lie is insignificant. All have the power to harm, and some have the power to heal. She wonders now why they do call them white lies. When she thinks of white, she thinks of purity. She sees Central Park covered in snow at Christmas time, she thinks of children building sandcastles on the beach in the middle of July. White is meant to bring peace and serenity, not despair. White lies, like the neon lights peddling flesh in the window of the building before them, damage all those they touch.
"We're back to that?"
"Little white lies are what get people into big messes, Elliot."
"Kathy sent me the papers. She wants a divorce."
Olivia exhales a breath she hadn't realized she had been holding. Whatever she had expected him to say, it hadn't been that. She loves him. That she knows for certain. It is because she loves him, that she utters the next words although her heart splinters into a myriad of pieces as each devastating syllable exits her lips.
"Did you call her? You've got twenty years with her Elliot, there's gotta be some way to work it out."
He doesn't answer, and she doesn't push. It is not how they operate. Like a purgatorial maze, they turn corners and avoid dead ends, but they cannot escape. Instead, she builds a bridge across the chasm of damaged emotions between them, weaving her fingers in his, waiting for him to begin the precarious trek across the void.
"I lied, Liv."
"You lied? About the papers?"
She knows he is aware of her scrutiny, and she thinks it strange that it is in this situation they are contemplating candor, after months of half-truths and dalliances with dishonesty.
"No. About Kathy's reason for leaving."
She furrows her brow in a semblance of confusion, sliding her glance from pavement to partner. She knows the moment he senses her scrutiny, and she thinks he avoids her gaze for just a little longer than necessary.
"Elliot, what the hell are you talking about?"
"She asked me to make a choice. I did."
"You chose the job."
"I didn't choose the job, Olivia."
She turns her head in the shadows to meet his gaze, and sees the sentiment simmering in his eyes, and she thinks that she has found the stars that were missing from the night sky.
He takes a deep breath, and she watches as a myriad of emotion dances across his face before he finds the courage to speak.
"The choice I made was you."