TITLE: "Darkling"
AUTHOR: Haili (aka: Waris, Haifever)
PAIRINGS: None specified
SEASON: Late Season Four. Alex Cabot is still around and the Stabler marriage is still, well, stable-ish.
WARNINGS: Language, some disturbing imagery in later chapters
ARCHIVE: Don't care :) But an email informing me where it's going would be nice.
SERIES/SEQUEL: Companion piece to "Sibling Rivalry". Familiarity with the latter chapters of that story is recommended, but not mandatory. Holds its own as a stand alone.

SUMMARY: The Special Victims Unit fights crime every day, but sometimes even superheroes get help from somewhere else.

DISCLAIMERS: I don't own any of the characters of L&O: SVU. Never have. Don't ever want to (too much responsibility!). I'm just using them as a work avoidance tactic again.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: This is only my second work of Fan Fiction, of any genre, ever. First was "Sibling Rivalry", go figure :D I gladly welcome and would greatly appreciate any and all feedback. But go easy on the flaming tomatoes. :) Huge thanks to any and all that reviewed "Sibling Rivalry"! The comments were very much appreciated!

Extra Note: I promised myself I'd never write another one. Aaaaaand, just like New Year's resolutions, it didn't keep :) I won't upload this one all in one chunk like I did "Sibling Rivalry" (mainly because I didn't know how to use the Chapter feature then and I do now, lol) but instead will try to update weekly. More often I hope if I can get my act together fast enough :) Reviews eagerly welcomed.

"Never Easy"

Sunday Jan 12th
7:00 pm
Stabler household

"Well I think you'd look great."

"In this."

Kathleen Stabler nodded, a grin on her face and an almost teasing nod bobbing her thick dark-blonde hair around her shoulders. She looked at the mirror, her hands on her hips, then looked at the woman standing next to her. "Yeah, you'd look blitzed!"

An incredulous stare arched one of Detective Olivia Benson's dark eyebrows. "I don't think so!" She half laughed as she looked at the ridiculously pink dress Elliot Stabler's daughter was coaxing her to put on.

It had been five days since Olivia'd been released from the hospital. The Stabler family had, upon learning from Elliot of her shooting, offered themselves immediately as her caretakers when the doctors had told her - Elliot within earshot mind you - she wasn't allowed on her own for the first few days following discharge. Being that she lived on her own, she'd had no argument with which to contend the order, so she'd found herself bundled into her partner's car, showered with goofy balloons and a garden of flowers by the boys of SVU, and tucked away in the spare bedroom on the second floor of Elliot's home.

Tomorrow was her official first day back at work and Kathy had decided that, for some reason, that was cause to celebrate. They were going to dinner tonight. Benson, try as she might, hadn't been able to talk any of them out of the gesture (it was no secret that Olivia Benson did not like attention drawn to herself in any way, for whatever reason), so here she now found herself standing in front of the full-length mirror on the back of the door holding a pink dress by its hanger in front of her body.

"Kathleen, 'blitzed' when I was your age meant drunk. It still means drunk." Olivia shook her head. With her left arm still in a dark blue sling while her shoulder continued to heal? The dress was made of shimmering dri-silk, had thin straps, a low back and was, well... pink. "There's no way." She handed her the dress.

Kathleen shook her head and pushed the hanger back towards the detective's chest. "C'mon," the young woman practically begged. "Mom had it dry-cleaned. She only wore it once, before she had the twins. It's perfect."

"Kathleen, Liv, you guys ready up there?" Elliot's voice sounded distantly from the first floor, his tenor echoing up the staircase and drifting into the room like smoke.

"Just a second!" Kathleen shouted back making Benson cringe slightly, even though she'd been leaning out the doorway when she'd hollered. Girl had a set of lungs on her.

"Well put a move on! We're outta here in fifteen minutes!" Footsteps sounded on hardwood as he moved away from the banister towards the kitchen where Kathy was trying to finish tiding up the twins.

Kathleen grinned and, with a look back at Benson, started to leave the room.

"Get back here right now," Olivia hissed in a frantic whisper, now slightly panicked. "I am not wearing this!" Go head to head with psychopathic criminals, sit in stand-offs with desperate armed juveniles for hours, stare rapists in the face and not bat an eyelash...you name it, Olivia Benson could do it. Put on a nearly back-less dress and go to dinner with her partner's family? Uh-uh.

"JUST put it on, Olivia," Kathleen exasperated from the doorway with an impatient flick of her hands. "You look good in pink."

Olivia snorted a laugh as she stared at the resistant and skeptical reflection staring back. "Says who?"


Benson's head shot around to see Kathleen's casual shrug as the girl left the doorway and jogged down the stairs.

Same night
9:45 pm
Stabler household

"I really can't persuade you to stay longer? Another night?"

The kids had gone upstairs and, hopefully, to bed, immediately after coming back from a fantastic Thai dinner, leaving the adults to chatter away in the front sitting room. Which they had for nearly two hours. Kathy was, again, fussing over the fact that, since tomorrow she'd be going back to work and had the all-clear from her doctor, Olivia was planning on going back to her apartment in the morning and not here.

Olivia smiled politely. "You've done enough. Kathy, really. I appreciate all of it. But I really should get back to my own place. My plants are probably dead."

"...they were dead before you left."

Kathy smacked Elliot upside the back of the head at his jibe, making him jerk forward from his position slouched into the leather sofa. His tie was loosened, the top button of his shirt collar unfastened, his shoes by the door. He was full, he had a healthy buzz from the drinks of the night, and, for the moment, New York didn't need saving. He was content.

"I'm going to go make sure Kathleen's alarm is set," Kathy chuckled throwing a 'you're so in trouble' finger at her husband as she left and padded out the room and upstairs.

Olivia took a deep breath and let it out slowly through her nose. The gas fireplace was cracking and sparking quietly in the far corner, throwing the shadows from the room into eerie dances against the walls and ceiling. The atmosphere was rich and subdued, and Benson found herself getting drowsy.

"Get enough to eat?" Elliot asked. He left his head leaning against the back of the couch.

"Mm-hm." Olivia murmured, her own head leaning against the cushion behind her neck. She closed her eyes...then groaned softly. "Too much."

He chuckled. "Good."

A pause. The clock ticked on the wall above the mantle.

"How's the wing?"

"It's fine."

Silence hung in the air like a tendril of spider web, drifting aloft and never quite touching down anywhere. Knowing what to say was like either of them trying to touch it - they both knew it was up there, they just couldn't find it.

"You look good."

Olivia lifted her head from the back of the sofa and opened her eyes. "What?" His sudden candidness took her by surprise and sent some of her walls, which during the evening had started to slip, right back up.

"Good," Elliot repeated with a nod. "You look good." As if suddenly catching what he'd just said, and to whom, he added lightly, "Better than last week."

"Ah." Benson nodded slightly in return. The silence changed from a waif of silk to a block of concrete in an instant. "Thanks. I feel better." She sat up straighter and crept to the edge of her seat. "What time we need to be in again?"


"Right." Olivia stood. She didn't know what to do with her good hand, so she ran it down her auburn hair and left it hanging at the nape of her neck. "Think I'm gonna crash. See you in the morning."

"Yeah." Elliot turned and looked at the fire. He listened to her footsteps retreat up the stairs and closed his eyes. Sighing, he pressed the heels of his hands against his eyelids. God, the night had gone so well up until this moment. Then, as had happened several times over the last just two days, he'd said something kind, she'd gotten that defensive expression and posture of hers, and the walls crumbled around the moment as she tucked tail and ran.

"El?" Kathy called from the landing.

"Down here."

She came down the stairs, looking back briefly as Olivia's door shut quietly. "Olivia hit the sack already?" She sat next to her husband and rested her feet on the coffee table. She'd changed clothes and was comfortable in sweats and a t-shirt.

"Yep." He dropped his hands from his face and rubbed his jaw. He let his hands plop limply in his lap. His partner was an enigma wrapped in mystery and it frustrated the hell out of him that, even after four years of knowing the woman, he hadn't fully mastered the puzzle.

"Are you sure you can't convince her to stay the week?" Kathy's voice broke through the billowing haze of musing that had formed. Little lines creased her forehead.

"I'm sure." He nodded. "She needs it."

"I worry about her going home by her--"

"Kath." Elliot cut her off curtly but not unkindly as he got up from the couch himself. "Just trust me on this, okay? Don't press it." Over the course of this last week, Elliot had learned that fussing over or dolling attention towards Olivia Benson was like trying to scratch behind the ears of a caged animal. Reach your hand in the door, all you'd succeed in would be getting it severed.

Stabler bent down and kissed his wife on the cheek. "Come on. Come to bed."

The fire was turned down, lights were turned off, and the Stabler home was sent into darkness as a tenuous calm descended like fog.

Next Day
Monday Jan 13th
7:57 am

It felt good to be back. It felt really good. Nothing had bothered her more during her week with the Stablers than knowing that while she was being waited on and checked on and fussed over, Elliot was here doing their job without her. Doing her job for her. They'd not spoken the entire drive here and, at the moment he wasn't at his desk so she was spared actually having to make eye contact.

"Well. The prodigal daughter returns."

Olivia looked up from where she was standing by the coffee machine in the corner and a broad grin removed her expression of consternation. "Hey John."

John Munch, smart black shirt, pants, and suspenders all obsessive-compulsively in place, strode into headquarters and shook snow from his hat. He draped his coat over a hook on the wall and came to stand by her, watching as she man-handled the pitcher.

"Good to see you back. Captain's getting tired of spell-checking my files." He eyed her for a second rather inventfully maneuver a mug from the shelf and slip the pitcher from the strainer. "Want some help? Not easy I imagine runnin around with only one arm."

"Pull up some desk." She jerked her head at the empty one just beside her. "You can be impressed with my fending for myself."

John, missing the tartness of her tone, snorted a chuckle and moved to his desk.

"Yo 'livia!" Fin came blustering into the precinct as she was sitting down with her first mug.

Being as she had one arm in a sling, and a mug of steaming liquid occupying the other hand, all she could do was wiggle the last two fingers of the hand holding said mug of steaming liquid at him as she finished her swallow carefully. The ceramic connected with her desk in a dull 'ca-lunk' as she set it down. She quickly slapped her hand down, stopping the fluttery getaway of some loose papers as Fin had breezed by her desk.

His dark hair and the shoulders of his jacket had beads of melted snow on them, making it look as though someone had sprinkled shards of glass over him. "How's it hangin?"

Grinning ruefully, Olivia shook her head. "That was bad, Fin. Even for you." His ribbing was refreshing and she was grateful at least one person wouldn't be asking her if she needed anything. She took another sip as he found his own desk. "How's it been?"

"John's drivin us crazy," Fin groused.

She quirked an eyebrow but didn't glance up again. "This is abnormal?"

"It's his date."

Olivia looked up from the file she was perusing and stared at John at this. He'd come between them and was sitting on the edge of Fin's desk, his hands clasped together. "You have a date?"

"It was not a date," John protested at Fin. Then, launching into one of his infamous attempts at logic, added, "It was a meeting between professionals with a mutual interest in the vocal arts."

"You took her to the opera?" Olivia sat back in her chair, its back creaking on its hinges. "John I'm impressed. I didn't think your neuroses allowed any room for originality."

"It won't last," Fin went on from behind him. "Unless she thinks she has Anthrax every other week."

"That hurts," John said, mock-insulted with a look over his shoulder. "I could need therapy."

"Yeah you ain't kiddin about that. Now get off." Fin shoved John's knee away. "It's freezing in here and your ass's making steam marks on my desk."

"Mm," Olivia mumbled from her mug of coffee. "Noticed that when we got here." She licked her lips and set the mug down. "Elliot went to talk to Maintenance about it, see what was up."

"That where your charming partner is," John mused as he plopped down into his own seat and flipped open a folder. He and Fin were in rare form today and, after a week of Kathy's politically-correct doting and Elliot's subtle worrying, Olivia was basking in the lack of tact the two men generated. "How was it living with the Munsuns?"

Benson opened her mouth to reply but a, "Morning people," from Captain Cragen interrupted it. Murmurs of greeting were sent back. "Olivia," Don acknowledged as he passed. "Good to see you. Why's it so damn cold in here?" He asked with an annoyed look around headquarters.

"Wind last night. Came in through a vent in the basement, blew the pilot lights out." Elliot came in through the wide doors of the unit wiping his hands on what looked like a dark red mechanic's towel. "Rodney's on it. Place should heat up again by afternoon." He tossed the grimy cloth in the trash bin by his desk and sat down.

"Great, so until lunchtime I'm sittin here freezin the boys off," Fin muttered.

"As engrossing as your ruminations over your reproductive organs are," Cragen began. "Let's say we just put on an extra layer for now and get some work done, hm?"

Each of the detectives took the captain's good-natured reproach in the spirit in which it had been intended and, shrugging on jackets, got to work.

Same day
2:50 pm

"How long they been gone?"

Olivia stifled a sigh. "Elliot you've asked that four times in the last twelve minutes now. If you're really that hungry, go get something. You don't have to wait for them." John and Fin had sprung for lunch and had left nearly twenty minutes ago.

"Aren't you hungry?"

"Not really." She was rubbing her eyes with her thumb and two fingers and couldn't keep the annoyed sharp angle from her voice. She'd not realized that sitting in a desk answering phones and reading file folders put so much strain on the muscles in the back and shoulders...until one shoulder already hurt. She longed to just rip the sling off and wave her arm around, it was stiff, the joint aching and throbbing in time to her pulse.

There was a 'clink' as Elliot tossed a pen into his pen mug. "All right. What is it."

"What is what?"

"You. You look like John just rearranged your phone list and you've been avoidant and ornery since we got here." Elliot leaned forward, his forearms resting on his desk. "Spill it. What's wrong?"

Olivia's shoulders sagged. Busted. She turned to her partner looking defeated. "I'm sorry," she apologized wearily. "It's just... the looks, the sympathy, everyone asking if they can do anything. You'd think a family member just died. It's been what, over three weeks since the junkyard? It's aggravating."

"We're a team, Olivia. Everyone around here cares."

"I don't want their pity," she replied hotly.

"It's not pity," he returned levelly. So this was why she'd been so curt with him since dinner last night. Why couldn't she just tell him these things? "They're just concerned. You scared the hell out of us."

"I wish they'd stop."

He didn't have a chance to talk her out of her mood as Cragen came out of his office and approached the two of them. "What do either of you know about Chaumont?"

There was a moment of nothing, then Olivia spoke up. "Ranching community, isn't it? Near the state line?"

"Yeah." Something was sparking for Elliot too. "Yeah, up North. West-ish. Big horse breeders up there."

"Why?" Olivia inquired. They had no jurisdiction up there.

"I just got a call from the PD up in Watertown. A fire earlier this morning burned an estate up there to the ground. Multi-million dollar property, eleven racing horses dead. They're pretty sure it's arson."

"What d'they want us for?" Elliot shot a confused look at his partner, who just shrugged. "Why not just let ATF up there handle it, isn't that more up their arson division's road?"

"They're already there," Cragen appeased his bewilderment. "And they just found a body. Female, probably mid-twenties. Didn't get many details over the phone, but something they found's lead them to think she'd been sexually assaulted."

"What do they need us to do?" Benson asked.

"Warner's going up. Chopper's leaving in ten. She's had a little experience with arson cases. I called John and Fin, Fin's experience in narcotics could be useful to them, he's going to meet Warner on the tarmac." Cragen turned to Stabler. "Elliot I'd li--"

"Actually, Captain," Olivia interjected. She had no way of knowing what he'd been about to say, really, but she was not going to be pushed out of a chance to do something other than sit here and read and catalogue. "I'd like to volunteer to go up with Warner. It might be advantageous to have another SVU mind up there with Fin." She'd already felt like her skills had atrophied right along with the muscles in her left arm - she wasn't about to let them wither further away when an opportunity to flex them again had just been handed to her.

The captain stared at her for a moment, then nodded. "Elliot I'd like you to dig up what you can about the residents in Chaumont, see if any of them have any enemies, any reason someone might have to torch their ranch. Warner's on her mobile," he said to Olivia. She was already grabbing her coat and awkwardly sliding it on.

"Olivia no way." Elliot hadn't had the chance, till now, to protest his partner's suggestion. And he was going to now, dammit. Vehemently. It was ludicrous, sending her to an arson crime scene with one arm in a sling. Debris, uneven ground, hell just people not watching where they were going; she'd end up doing more damage than'd already been done.

"Elliot don't start with me," Olivia warned as she got the coat on and slid her scarf out of her locker. "I've been useless for three weeks now, I'm not just going to sit here." She grabbed her cell phone, stuffed it in her pocket, and left headquarters at a half-jog.

"Captain." Elliot turned to beseech his superior but the look on Cragen's face stopped him.

"Just let her go, Elliot." He'd sensed something Elliot had as well, but, unlike her partner, Cragen was more inclined to act on what he'd felt. Olivia needed to do this. Not just to prove to him that she could (like she'd ever needed to prove anything to him anyway)...but to prove it to herself. He turned and walked back into his office to continue what communication he could with Watertown PD.

Elliot huffed a frustrated breath. With a sweeping angry arc from his arm, he toppled an empty trash can from the top of a desk, sending it clanging to the hard floor as he passed and stormed back to his own desk.

Why wasn't anything ever easy?

End Part 1