Disclaimer: Characters belong to Mr Wolf and I'm just playing.

AN 1: For Sam, Laura and Hannah, who despite everything else always manage to make the world a better and brighter place.

AN 2: This ff (and the current JAG one I'm updating) mark the last ffs to be posted on this site for a while. I am taking a break - it may be a month, it may be six, I'm unsure. There are 60 stories in my portfolio to check out in my absence. Thanks to all who have supported my writing. Feel free to PM me or email me.


Early Friday morning Elliot sat silently at his desk and watched his partner with concern. Olivia had been distant and distracted, since she returned from sick leave on Tuesday. He had tried to get her to talk to him, to gain any information but she gave him nothing. He had phoned Casey in the hope she would know something but she was none the wiser and so he was on his own.

Thinking all sorts of things, Elliot had finally cornered her Thursday afternoon in the locker room and begged her to tell him. Tears welled in his eyes as he pleaded with her to let him help her and when she wouldn't speak he pleaded with her to tell him she was alright but Olivia couldn't do that either. Instead she went with her stock standard reply of 'I'm fine, now drop it', before walking out leaving early.

Now, here she was in front of him again, her eyes darker than yesterday, showing her lack of sleep, yet again. She had consumed three cups of coffee in record time and was edgy and irritable with everyone, including him. Elliot knew he couldn't push her on the matter; he didn't want to take the risk of her running from him. He also knew he couldn't ignore it, something was seriously wrong and on the back of her taking sick leave, something she rarely did, he was scared she was ill…very ill.

Olivia glanced up from her paperwork and smiled sadly at his intense gaze. She knew he was worried, she knew he cared and she wanted to tell someone, just not him and not now. She would deal with it on her own, as always…it would just take some time. She knew if she could get through Friday, then the weekend would give her breathing space away from him and the watchful, sympathetic eyes of her colleagues.

Elliot sighed; she was hurting, hurting badly. It was in her eyes, the sparkle was gone, replaced by an innate sadness she just wouldn't explain. He smiled back, hoping it would coax some response from her but it didn't, she just continued with her work.

"You two, in here," Don Cragen called from his office door, Olivia and Elliot responded quickly, Don closing the door behind them.

"You spoke to Carla Williams last month, a witness in the Diane Neilson case," Don said, sitting down behind his desk.

"Yeah," Elliot said. "Wasn't much help, she was pretty vague about it."

"Seems to have come back to her," Don explained.

"Is she coming in?" Olivia asked, not really wanting to venture out of the precinct.

"No, you'll need to go to her." Don handed her the message slip.

"Rochester?" Olivia questioned. "We've got to go to Rochester?" Panic began to bubble up from her stomach.

"Got a problem with that, Detective?" questioned Cragen, staring at her.

"No, just a little far for a day trip, especially in the forecasted conditions," Olivia lied. It had to be 250 miles to Rochester at least. She knew they'd end up staying over, the snowy blast expected in the region guaranteeing a slow, strung out trip. There was no way she wanted to spend that length of time with anyone, let alone Elliot. She could tune out his care and concern during work hours when he was across the desk from her, or short trips in the squad car, but not for such an extended period of time.

"Already got that covered, twin share at the Strathallen Hotel in East Ave, Rochester for tonight, you should be back by lunch tomorrow," Cragen said, handing Elliot the reservation number.

Olivia sighed heavily, this was going to happen whether she wanted to or not. Tears began to well in her eyes; this was not going to be easy.

"I'm going home to pack a few things, pick me up when you're ready," she said, looking at no one. She was gone before Elliot could reply. He turned to look back at his boss.

"Any idea, El?" he asked, nodding towards the now vacant doorway.

Elliot shook his head. "None. She won't speak to me."

"I don't have to tell you I'm concerned about her. It's so unlike her to take leave and she really hasn't been herself," Don said, coming from behind the desk.

"I've tried to find out, she won't tell me," Elliot said sadly.

"See what you can do during this trip?" Don said, "and if you need more than tonight, take the time.' Elliot watched Don's eyes cloud over; he knew his boss had the same negative thoughts about Olivia's wellbeing.

"Thanks, Don."

Within the hour, Elliot had been home grabbed a few things and had parked out the front of Olivia's apartment. He clambered up the stairs and was just approaching her door when it opened and she came out, quickly pulling it closed behind her.

"ESP?" he asked, reaching out to grab her bag.

"Sorry?" she replied, having missed it.

"Do you have ESP? You opened the door before I'd knocked," he explained.

"Oh, yeah," she replied, without a smile. She wouldn't tell him she'd been watching for his arrival, wanting to make sure her apartment was closed and locked before he got there.

Elliot made a sweeping gesture for her to go on ahead and she smiled briefly. From his position two steps behind her on the staircase he noted a few bruises across the back of her neck, fingertip sized, the centre was still blue, with yellowing edges surrounding them. A sickening feeling engulfed him but he promised himself he wouldn't say anything - yet!

The initial part of the trip was fine. The traffic flowed reasonably well, considering it was early Friday afternoon and the conversation in the vehicle was solely related to the Diane Neilson case and the contents of the new witness testimony. They discussed and debated it but in the end simply conceded they'd have to wait until they spoke to Carla Williams.

By the time they hit the I-80, talking had waned. Olivia rested her head against the cold glass of the window. Hoping the chill would take away her dull, throbbing headache. The relief was fleeting. She closed her unbelievably tired eyes; her chocolate orbs dry and heavy. Despite praying the warm air blowing from the heater, the radio on low and the soothing movement of the car would lull her into slumber, she knew sleep would not come. The sandman hadn't paid her a decent visit since last Wednesday weekand as a result she hadn't slept for more than a few minutes at a time since.

Vaguely, she became aware of Elliot's voice. She couldn't make out what he was saying and didn't respond. She kept her eyes closed, not wanting to speak to him about anything other the job. Elliot looked over at her, waiting for her answer. He knew she wasn't sleeping but wasn't surprised to see her head back and eyes closed. Taking the opportunity to steal a few more glances, he realised the bruising around the back of her neck started from a much bigger one at the base of her throat. Bile rose in his own throat as the shape made itself known; the shape of two hands, which undoubtedly had tried to strangle her.

Gripping the steering wheel tightly, he tried to compose himself. Elliot was utterly relieved she didn't have some serious, life threatening illness which he had begun to believe was what she was hiding. But he was utterly devastated that his partner and best friend had been attacked and not only hadn't he been there to protect her, she hadn't felt she could tell him. Between the opposing feelings was another; hatred towards whomever had done this. He vowed he would find out who and impart some of his own justice…he had a few friends he knew who would be more than willing to help out.

Elliot fixed his eyes on the long stretch of asphalt ahead of him, hoping the solid, grey road taking them to their destination would be long enough for him to discover the truth. Praying that when they travelled back along the same stretch of road he'd have his answers and Olivia would be able to smile again. It was a lot to ask of the asphalt.

Driving in near silence, Elliot let Olivia have her deception. He fought his overwhelming urge to reach out and just hold her hand. By the time he had gotten to the I-81, it was too much for him. Checking the traffic around them, he pulled into the service road and headed to Sam's Diner. Hoping for lunch, coffee and a chat, he parked the car and gently shook Olivia's arm.

"Liv, come on," he said quietly. Olivia's eyes blinked a few times as they adjusted to the light.

"Can't be there yet," she remarked, taking in the scenery.

"Nah, neither of us has had lunch yet. Come on in, my shout," he smiled climbing out of the car.

Olivia didn't want coffee; she had maxed out her caffeine intake that morning. She didn't want lunch either; though she really couldn't remember the last thing she ate. And she definitely didn't want to sit across from him in a small cosy booth and have him watch her, or worse, want to talk to her.

"El, I'm not…" she stopped, her words unheard by her partner as he shut his door. He made his way around to her and opened the door. She knew he wouldn't take no as an answer. Reluctantly she climbed out, shivering in the icy wind.

Wrapping her arms around herself she rubbed her arms for extra warmth. Elliot locked the car and looked at her. She had made no effort to move on her own accord and seemed to be mesmerised by something. He followed her gaze and found her staring at a black corvette parked a few spots away, it meant nothing to him but he stored the information, just in case. Placing a supportive hand on the small of her back they both startled when she flinched violently at the unexpected contact.

"Sorry, Olivia, didn't mean to scare you," he said soothingly, leaving his hand in place.

"My fault," she said quickly. "I was in my own little world." She shook her head to hide the tears bubbling just below the surface.

"You wanna let me into that world?" Elliot asked quietly, as he opened the diner door for her. She shook her head. "You just let me know if you change your mind, okay?" She gave him a half hearted smile, she wanted to tell him but she couldn't. Firstly, she wasn't sure he'd believe her and she didn't want him thinking anything less of her, but her deepest fear was he would take things into his own hands – that wouldn't help anyone.