A/N: Okay, so for the record, Zebras was just utter brilliance. But since most people tend to take the "Horse" point of view, it left far too much unspoken. So here you go, this is my interpretation of what went down...and a way of keeping with what Neal tweeted about how the ending of Zebras would explain the distance between Elliot and Olivia. The characters and dialogue are not mine--they belong to Dick Wolf and his fabulous writers who have far more fun than I could ever hope to have. Anyone want to trade places...
The door swung open in front of her and Olivia held her breath, pushing her body forward in time to the rapid beating of her heart. Her mind was racing, her legs pumping her forward with a vigor born out of deep trepidation.
The single word reverberated through her head as she drew her gaze up slowly. Elliot didn't do sushi. Neither did O'Halloran. Raw fish? Hell, Ryan O'Halloran was a vegetarian, and Elliot Stabler wouldn't take a dinner break from a case with a serial killer preying on one of their own if he had a gun to his head. So the only reason that Stuckey could possibly have for claiming that they were both…
The thought shriveled up instantly as panic swept over her again. Her voice was unsteady, unsure. "El?"
And that was when she saw him. He was right there in front of her, and even the nervous energy that had drawn her here hadn't prepared her for the sight in front of her now. He was bound, his hands pinned to his side, a strip of duct tape over his mouth. But it was the blood that got to her. Her eyes were drawn to the crimson stains on his chest. Time stood still as she watched the blood seep through the fabric of his dress shirt as if draining the life out of her at an excruciatingly slow pace.
Her eyes swept over him as her feet somehow managed to comply and continue moving forward. Instinctively, she reached for her Glock. She wasn't sure how long it took for the shaking of his head to register, but somehow in the furthest recesses of her mind it did. She followed his gaze to the floor as O'Halloran's lifeless body came into focus.
"Don't move." The voice that came from behind her was familiar except for its commanding tone.
Olivia froze in place. Her mind was spinning as it tried to sort through the truth spoken in those two words and the voice that emanated them. She swallowed hard, and the silence that followed was permeated only by her every attempt to draw in oxygen. Her chest heaved as if mocking her futile effort to hide the terror mirrored in Elliot's eyes. She drew her arms up slowly and the voice that escaped was suddenly tentative. "Dale?"
"Put your gun down."
Her back was to him, and suddenly she felt vulnerable, exposed. As she started to turn toward him, Olivia tried again, her voice a little bit stronger. "Dale?"
"Put your gun down," he repeated coldly. The sound of Dale cocking the trigger barely registered as she turned back toward Elliot.
Put your gun down.
It wasn't the words themselves. It was what they did to her. The voice that spoke them was cold, unforgiving—demanding. Demanding the one thing that she wasn't ready to give up. Because it was her inability to resist that demand that shattered her. And all of a sudden the room in front of her dissipated, and she was left in a cold, dingy basement. Her hands were trapped over her head, imprisoned by the handcuffs encircling her wrists. And she was helpless. She was helpless then. She was helpless now.
Olivia swallowed hard. "Okay, Dale…okay." Raising her arms slowly, she drew her weapon out of its holster and set it down on the table. As soon as it left her grasp, she realized she had nothing left. He had stripped her of her last defense—stripped her of the one thing that still gave her control, that still gave her power. He had stripped her of the one remaining thing that Harris hadn't been able to take from her.
The one and only thing that still gave her a sense of security, of safety. The one and only thing that could protect her when all else failed—including Elliot.
She needed it because somehow she needed to believe that she wasn't as powerless as she had been in that moment. In that basement. With Harris. At Sealview.
"What are you doing here, Liv? I didn't want to have to hurt you too."
"Then don't." She had known as soon as the words left her lips that they sounded false, that somehow he would never be able to believe them.
"I don't have much of a choice now." Dale's voice shifted, its tone molding itself into something lighter—something that despite its acidic words was somehow more familiar. "You've seen a little much."
She was unarmed. She was broken. She was powerless. She was weak.
Except this time she wasn't just letting herself down—she was letting down her partner. She was letting down Elliot. Olivia drew her head up slowly and for a brief moment, everything else in the world melted away as she held his gaze.
In that moment, Harris faded away. Dale faded away. And all that was left was him. Elliot. Her partner. Her rock. Her stability. Her strength. And in that moment, as their eyes locked together, she understood that he knew everything—understood everything. He knew about Sealview, about Harris, and her desperate need to escape both of them. He understood her need for silence and her inability to confide in him the truth of what had happened in that basement. He understood the one thing that she had been struggling to come to terms with for the last four hundred and fifty seven days.
She wasn't broken. She wasn't powerless. She wasn't weak. And she sure as hell was not about to let him down again. Olivia took a deep breath, shifting ever so slightly toward Dale and raising her hands as if to reassure him. "Let's all calm down, okay, Dale. Just relax." Her mind was racing, struggling for the words held within Elliot's gaze. She nodded convincingly. "Cause you did good…really good."
His voice was hesitant, unsure."What?"
Olivia turned toward him. "Well, I think it's pretty clear what happened here, right?" She drew in a shaky breath, turning her gaze toward Elliot for a brief moment. "One of Harrison's crazy followers must have gotten in here. He attacked these two. You found the bodies. You secured the crime scene, and then you called me, right?"
Dale shifted, wiping away a bead of sweat. His eyes darted back and forth between the two of them. "I did?"
Olivia nodded. "That's what I'm gonna tell Cragen. And then you can finagle the forensics so everyone else believes it too." She watched Dale struggle to maintain his composure, and her voice was suddenly more confident. She turned toward Elliot, pointing an accusing finger toward him. "SVU hero is killed in the line of duty." Her stomach turned as she turned back toward Dale. Her words were breathless as they escaped. "It's perfect."
"You're lying," Dale shot back, punctuating every word as he pointed Elliot's Glock toward both of them. "You're lying."
Olivia smirked back at him, her confidence level rising. Because all of a sudden, she knew she had him. She began to back away from him toward Elliot. "You think that you're the only one whose life is hell because of this prick?" She turned back toward Elliot, a new air of determination in every step. Her gaze was suddenly steely, confident, with no trace of remorse. Her hand came up and slapped him as hard as she could. His head reeled to the side. Her voice rose, fueled by anger—an anger for Harris, an anger at her inability to trust in Elliot earlier, an anger that she had wasted more than a year of her life trying to find.
"Liv, do this…" With one quick movement, she back-handed him and watched his head whip back in the other direction. She didn't hesitate. "Liv, do that…" Her hand came down again, and she watched in satisfaction as Elliot struggled to recover from each blow. She leaned forward and met his eyes. "I'm sick of it," she whispered breathlessly. She reached forward to tear the duct tape away from Elliot's mouth.
She met Elliot's eyes and instantly knew he understood. Understood that she was ready to hand her control over to him, ready to open herself up to him again and work together as a team. To trust him, and to allow him to trust her without worrying that she would push him away in the process. She was sick of it--sick of the effort it took to pretend that she could handle what had happened on her own. Sick of pretending she didn't need anyone else.
"Sick of it," Olivia managed tersely. She nodded confidently at Elliot. "I want to hear him scream."
Elliot didn't miss a beat. "Don't you touch me again."
She tossed her hair back, tilting her head toward him eagerly. "Did someone say you can talk?" she challenged him.
From behind her, she could hear Dale tense up, could see the expression in Elliot's eyes change from one of terror to one of understanding…and hope.
"Both of you shut up." Dale hesitated for a long moment as if trying to gauge her reaction. After a moment, he finally dared to speak. "Hit him again."
Olivia stared straight ahead, her chest still heaving from every ounce of adrenaline still coursing through her veins. And she waited for her cue.
Elliot shook his head, meeting her steady gaze. "Don't do it, bitch." She made her move. Elliot's voice rang out before he had even recovered. "Don't hit me!" he shouted.
"No more orders out of you, pal." Olivia leaned forward, pulling him into a chokehold and waited for Dale's response from behind her.
"I don't believe you." Dale drew in a cautious breath. "I don't believe you." The hesitation in his words was all she needed.
Olivia released her grip and backed away, raising one hand to gesture toward Elliot. "If you knew half of what this prick has done…" She turned toward Dale, studying the confusion in his gaze with a smirk. "Somebody needs to take him out." She took a step closer, sidling up beside him. "I just didn't know that you felt the same way as I did," she murmured softly. "I've never had anybody…"
"Stuckey, don't listen to her. She'll turn on you the way she's turned on me." Elliot's voice rang out from behind her, fueling her confidence.
Olivia turned toward Elliot with a glare. "Damn it—shut up!"
"Shut up!" Dale agreed. She watched Dale step toward Elliot and land another blow.
Olivia blinked for a moment and fought back the impulse to step in between them. As Dale turned back toward her, she tossed her hair back and raised an accusing hand toward Elliot. "And when this son of a bitch is out of the picture…" She locked eyes with Dale, encouraging him gently. "I'm gonna need a new partner," she finished breathlessly.
Dale hesitated, turning toward her with unsteady hands. "What about Cragen?" he ventured carefully.
The corner of her lips turned up in a satisfied smile. "I've got Cragen wrapped around my little finger," she assured him. She kept her voice intentionally soft, watching as he leaned closer to hear her. "The same goes with Munch and Fin." She shook her head and raised an eyebrow at him, watching with satisfaction as every wall broke down between them. She went in for the kill. "Dale, if I say the word…you're it. Think about it, Dale."
He nodded eagerly. "I like the sound of that."
He was close—just a foot away from her. Olivia nodded, her gaze softening slightly. "You like it because...we get each other." She drew him in with her eyes and waited. "We're connected."
Dale lowered the gun hesitantly, his body poised to spring into action when she attacked. But she didn't move. She searched his eyes, a half smile on her face. And she waited for him to trust her. She nodded. "We're connected," she repeated softly.
Dale relaxed slightly, leaving the gun at his side and cautiously reached over to circle her wrist with his free hand. "We're connected."
Olivia's eyes dropped down to study his hand over hers, and she gently opened up her palm to circle his wrist. "Yeah," she whispered breathlessly.
"Let's take care of the third wheel." Dale raised the gun toward Elliot again, but Olivia kept a gentle grip on his other hand, pulling him toward her so he couldn't get a shot.
"Wait!" Olivia pulled him toward her gently. "Just wait one second." She stared straight ahead--at Dale, at Elliot, and silently she asked for his permission. Asked for him to tell her whether or not she was going too far. She tilted her head, her heart racing wildly. There was only one thing left to do. It was the one thing that would challenge her and empower her all at the same time. It was her turn to take control, to realize that what happened was within her power. It was her decision.
Her sexuality didn't have to be a weakness—it could be a strength. "Just wait one second," she breathed, moving in closer. Her voice was suddenly trembling with a mixture of uncertainty, fear, and finally…relief. "I want him to watch."
Dale glanced back and forth for a moment. "Watch what?"
With one final look at Elliot, Olivia turned her attention fully to Dale and closed the distance between them. Her heart was pounding. Her head was pounding. And for the first time, Olivia pushed back the image of Harris and refused to let him rule this moment—refused to allow him to pull her back to another time, another place. She wouldn't let him break her, wouldn't let him destroy their partnership, or their future. "Watch this," she purred. Hesitantly, she leaned forward, tilting her head in toward Dale until her lips brushed over his.
She felt his initial surprise and waited, her eyes closed tightly, her mind spinning wildly. She raised both hands up to his face, stabilizing his neck and keeping him from turning away from her. And she waited until she felt him relax into her, waited for him to trust her. Her eyes opened to meet Elliot's waiting gaze, and then she counted…one, two…she jerked back on three as Elliot landed the first blow. Her rhythm was in synch with his as she waited for Dale to bounce back in surprise before bringing her elbow up to land the final blow.
Elliot's Glock was in her hand before Dale even hit the floor. She kept it trained on Dale's unconscious figure for a brief moment before finally turning her attention back to Elliot. Her breath was shaky as she relaxed her hand to her side and reached for the knife still on the lab table. "Are you okay," she whispered, her voice flooded with emotion.
Elliot nodded. "I'm fine."
With two quick swipes, she cut the restraints binding his arms to the chair. Her voice was still shaking. "Okay, are you...okay? Are you alright?" She reached forward, gently pulling his jacket over his shoulders as she helped him up.
Elliot grimaced as he drew himself up to his feet. He kept his gaze straight in front of him at the two unconscious figures on the floor. "How'd you know?" he asked quietly.
Olivia followed his gaze. "Stuckey said you went to get sushi," she answered softly. She glanced up at him. "You and raw fish…"
His lips turned upward in a smile as they both turned back away from each other. Away from the words that didn't need spoken because they already had. Because in eleven years, they had long since learned that the best words were those left unspoken. The best communication was that which never needed to be said.
Because finally, they could move forward again—could leave behind four hundred and fifty-seven days of a distance that didn't have to consume them anymore. When Elliot spoke, she knew his words were about much more than what was right there in front of them.
"What a way to end."