AN: Here it is, the long awaited final chapter of this opus! Thanks to everyone who read and encouraged me and stuck it out to this point. The complete story will be up in a few days on my site jezykfic(dot)com/forum or you can email me for a proofread (for the most part) version in a Word file. Enjoy this last installment!
It had either been the longest eight days of her life or the shortest, though she could hardly pick which. It had only been one week of going to the precinct, taking her regular seat at her regular desk and staring over the mound of paper to which she'd been assigned until she received an additional clearance from an orthopedist regarding her shoulder. But when she looked at the man sitting across from her, it was hardly regular. Or at least, it was a new definition of regular that her psyche had yet to comprehend. She had nothing against Fin, and she had the good sense to thank some benevolent and merciful all-powerful being that Cragen had decided to pair her with Fin rather than Munch or Lake, but he was still Fin. And while in the grand scheme of things, Fin was a perfectly acceptable cop and friend, in Olivia's narrow world, Fin was not Elliot and therefore not acceptable as her partner.
Every time she looked over and met his eyes, she had to force herself to smile while she bit back the urge to ask why he was at her partner's desk. She wasn't ready to deal with that fact that he was at her partner's desk because he was her partner. She was pretty damn sure it would be at least a decade before she got her mind wrapped around that.
And that mound of paper, the same one that Elliot had supposedly been working on between the time he'd busted his hand and transferred to the 46, hadn't gotten much smaller since she'd taken it over. Temporarily disabled or not, paperwork wasn't her thing and she was willing to lay money on the idea that she'd call Fin her partner and mean it before she developed an effective system for completing paperwork.
Each day felt like a year as she faced the monotony of forms and the utter disruption of everything she knew. It seemed as though a hundred years had gone by since that night Elliot told her that he was transferring.
So while each day dragged on so long it felt like a forever, it still shocked her to her core when she woke up that Tuesday morning and realized it was already time for her to testify in Howie's trial. Casey had called her the previous evening, reminding her that she was on the witness list and expected to be called. While she'd known the call would come eventually, she hadn't expected it would be so soon.
She didn't feel like she was prepared. Huang told her she was ready. Elliot told her she was ready. Casey told her she was ready. Still she wasn't sure.
She tried going over the events in her head, forcing herself to recall all the details she didn't want to remember, demanding the same level of command over the facts of her own kidnapping as she would have expected of herself had it been any other case. It was always important to her to leave a good impression on the jury. Facts aside, she knew jurors were human and it was as much a popularity contest as anything else.
Lying in bed, she made herself disconnect from the events, pulling them through her mind, turning them around, making sure she wouldn't confuse herself or leave room for Howie's lawyer to challenge her. She'd never felt so nervous about testifying; she'd never felt so unprepared. There were holes in her memory, times when she'd been asleep, times when she'd been confused, times when her mind refused to record anything.
She heard the shower shut off and she knew she needed to get up. Elliot would know something was wrong if she hadn't moved by the time he returned. But she was more concerned about disappointing herself in court than worrying Elliot, and so her body remained in place, stubbornly unwilling to move, while her mind searched for an answer that wasn't there.
She didn't even notice when he entered the room; she only noticed that he was suddenly leaning over her, his brow wrinkled in fear.
"What's wrong? Are you ok?"
She pulled her bottom lip between her teeth, wanting to reassure him, yet knowing she wasn't about to lie. "I'm just trying to get things straight for my testimony."
He smiled, one of his hands reaching out to smooth her hair. "You're the victim, Liv; it's not all going to be facts and chain of evidence shit." He leaned over and pressed a kiss onto her mouth. "Besides, I'll be there to beat the shit out of anyone who's mean to you."
Unable to force back the laugh, she let it out, hoping it might take some of her gnawing anxiety with it. It didn't. "I don't remember leaving the basement." She searched Elliot's eyes, looking for an answer there. "I remember hearing your voice and then you being there, but I don't remember leaving."
He smiled again, obviously finding something pleasant in the memory. "The medics knocked you out with something. You were in a lot of pain and you were screaming, so they tried to help."
She nodded, deciding it was ok to not remember if she hadn't been conscious. But something about Elliot's smile caught her attention. "Then I didn't walk out."
He shook his head. "I carried you."
No wonder he was smiling, she thought. He knew she'd never agree to such a chauvinistic gesture, not even if it was necessary, had she been conscious. She narrowed her eyes at him. "You took advantage of me when I was drugged."
He grinned. "Damn straight." He leaned down, kissing her once more. "And I have every intention of taking advantage of you again as soon as we get home tonight."
After several more kisses, that she ruefully interrupted because she didn't want to repeat their humiliating experience from the week before, Olivia felt strong enough to get up and prepare herself physically for the day. A hot shower did a world of good, as did the fact that she was concentrating on Elliot's promise for that evening instead of what she'd say on the stand. As she stepped out of the bathroom, she found Elliot dressed and ready in the bedroom.
She smiled at the image of him, dressed in one of his nicest suits to go sit at the trial that he'd sworn he wouldn't miss a moment of. "You don't have to wait for me, El. Casey said they weren't going to call me first thing."
"You sure? I could drive you." He looked worried, as though she might break without his watchful eyes on her.
Nodding, her smile spread wider. "I want to do this on my own." And it was true. She wasn't going to let Howie's attack on her change her life. She hadn't broken yet and she wasn't going to.
As she waited on the uncomfortable bench just outside the courtroom door, she wondered if she shouldn't have taken Elliot up on his offer. She didn't need him there; she knew she was strong enough to survive alone. But she had to admit it would have been nice to have him beside her while she waited. Although, she pretty much always wanted him beside her, no matter what the circumstance.
The world disappeared while she stared at her watch, her eyes following the second hand as it made its impossibly slow journey around the face. She concentrated on that and that alone, telling herself she was relaxed until she actually was.
And then, the whine of the door hinges, the slapping of shoes against the tile. "Detective Olivia Benson?"
Her eyes jerked up, momentarily confused by the bailiff's words. She'd preoccupied herself so deliberately on her watch that she nearly forgot what she was waiting for. But her body responded automatically, giving her brain a chance to catch up. "Right here." She stood slowly, following the man back into the courtroom.
There were hundreds, thousands, millions of eyes on her. She could have sworn the entire world was staring at her as she walked up the aisle. Everything felt foggy, disjointed, unreal. She went through the motions as Casey swore her in, as she took her seat, as she tried to find Elliot in the sea of faces watching her.
Casey was asking her questions and she felt herself replying, but she didn't know how or what she was saying. Casey could have been speaking a different language for all she understood of it, but somehow, some distant part of her knew the language and was answering.
And finally, just when she thought she might find a way to voice that she didn't know what the hell was going on, her eyes locked on Elliot's. It only took a second for the world to come back into focus. Elliot was staring at her, his eyes narrowed, his jaw clenched, his lips set in a straight line. He was visibly distressed, a reaction so painfully familiar to her she wanted to cry. He wanted to protect her. He could read her and saw how nervous she was and it was driving him crazy that he couldn't intervene.
A rush of warmth surged through her at his desire to protect her. Just like with his children, his first instinct was to take care of her. And just like with his children, she knew that his drive to protect was rooted deeply in love. He'd said he loved her a million times since he'd carried her from Howie's basement and while she hadn't doubted his words, seeing his face right then made her understand that they were the absolute truth.
Casey's form shifted in front of her and Olivia recognized the silence meant she had missed something. Clearly the redhead had realized the source of her distraction, but Olivia wasn't the least bit embarrassed. Casey smiled. "Detective Benson, is the man who abducted you in the courtroom today?"
Olivia shivered, for the first time allowing her eyes to shift over to the defendant. He was dressed up in a cheap suit and tie, his hair brushed and his face clean-shaven, but it was still Howie. Olivia pulled her attention back to Casey and nodded. "Yes, he is."
Casey nodded back, obviously pleased that Olivia's attention was once again on her. "Can you identify the man who abducted you?"
With a deep breath, Olivia lifted her arm and pointed at Howie. "He's right there. That's the man who kidnapped me."
Casey moved then, allowing Olivia's eyes to immediately fix back on Elliot's. He was calmer, recognizing that she was on the home stretch. Olivia thought about how safe she felt when he put his arms around her and a smile spread across her face. She had enough strength to do what she needed to do, and when she didn't, she had Elliot's.
She was better. She knew Huang was right about that. But he'd been right about something else too.
They were good for each other.