A/N: PLZ listen to Arcade Fire's Porno while reading. Ees life changing. Thank you.

When she gets home, there's a note on the counter next to the banana rack (they have one) from Brian.

Got called in. Tell me about that exhibit with the pedophile and the cats when I get home. It sounded pretty nuts. Love you.

She thinks momentarily, Thank God he's gone, and then remembers how much she loves him. Here, standing in her kitchen, smelling like a brothel and filled to her forehead with well-rehearsed lies, she loves Brian Cassidy. She doesn't overanalyze it—she might not be in love with him, or she might love him simply because he was there at the right place and the right time, but she does. She loves him. She's got an affinity for what he's given her, she's got a soft spot for the way he can talk for hours and never actually say anything. He could never hold a conversation with her mother, but Serena would have liked him anyway.

She likes him, so she takes a shower and goes to bed guilty.

X

"Hey." Brian's voice is gruff as he gets into bed, but it's the cool air on her back from when he lifts the covers that wakes her up to hear it. She rolls towards him, decides to keep her eyes closed but doesn't, smiles. Mocks herself internally for needing to check and double check that it is her boyfriend climbing into this bed.

Boyfriend. She feels twelve.

"Hey," she mumbles. Her hands find the cropped bits of hair at the nape of his neck. "Mm. How was work?"

"Shitty." He kisses her for a second. "I like bein' home with you."

"Better than the Bronx though?" she asks, partly because she hopes so and partly because she hates Internal Affairs and wants him to hate it with the same gusto.

He makes a shrugging noise as if he doesn't know whether or not it's better, and she remembers that he can't actually tell her things about his workdays now. "I'm sorry," she offers. "I know you can't actually tell me anything." The about the trial goes unspoken. Christmas will come in the next week, and then the new year, and then her court date. He makes the shrugging noise again.

"You're gonna be fine, Liv."

She sighs. "I know." She doesn't.

"Was the exhibit good today?" he asks, of Balthus's Cats and Girls at the Met. She nods although she has no idea and then kisses him when the lie slides over her skin. His hand locks up gently in hair someplace and she thinks, I am allowed to have friends. I am allowed to have friends. I am allowed to have friends that are Elliot.

"I love you," she tells him.

"I love you too." Brian traces her jaw and she focuses very intently on things like normalcy and keeping her breaths even and how people kiss every single day and they don't flinch and think of things like duct tape, vodka, bedposts, etc. She wonders if Brian ever feels her hands on his cheeks and thinks about them beating a man unconscious.

She does. She definitely thinks about that.

X

She still feels a little hungover when she wakes up the next morning. Her body screams for caffeine or something to settle her stomach, but it's only four thirty and she's not waking Brian and she doesn't really want to walk around the new apartment alone when it's still dark. The fear is disgusting, and she pushes herself out of bed because of it. She wants to shower again but does not; her hair is still damp from the night before. This, she thinks, as she liberally doses her coffee with sugar, is functionality.

Brian finds her at six watching the morning news and working her way through a second full mug. She's glad he does, because for the past hour and a half, something inside her has been saying, Call Elliot. CallElliotcallElliotcallElliot. It's a weird, pernicious whisper that she doesn't think she likes.

"You goin' in early today?" he asks her.

"Normal time." Neither of them quite know when that is.

"You seein' Lindstrom later?" Ah, she thinks. The Therapist.

"Yeah. Lunchtime."

He nods. She nods. He's probably proud of her, but she thinks that silly, and she's glad they're still bad at talking a year or so into whatever the hell this is.

On her way out the door, he asks, "You move my longhorn skull again?" right before he kisses her.

"Yup."

"Where?"

"Back of the closet."

He grins. "Next to all my skeletons."

She laughs, resists the urge to commend his improved wit or comedic timing. Resists it when she starts to wonder if Elliot's wit was ever noticeable, or just there.

X

He calls her on her way out of Lindstrom's office.

"I catch you at a bad time?" he asks, and she's never analyzed the way he speaks before, but now the accent is noticeable to her ears, like it's something new. Maybe that sort of thing comes with time and distance. Maybe she'll be even more attuned to all of his details now, if that's even possible.

"You talk weird," she tells him. When he doesn't answer, she adds, "And no. I was just leaving my—I was just finishing up lunch."

"You all good?" he asks, and there it is again.

"What, after yesterday?"

He's quiet, and she can tell he's nodding on the other end because maybe he forgot she isn't next to him. "Yeah. Yesterday was—"

"I'm fine, Elliot," she tells him. "I'm good."

The Therapist today had asked her the same. He had asked her about the holiday cards, if she'd sent them, and God if that's not how this whole fucking mess started. She had nodded and spoken very tightly at first—her throat itched, could she have a glass of water please, but yes, she sent them. Calvin called from up in Vermont, and he hates eighth grade, he's kind of sick of his math teacher. Jeannie Kerns is volunteering more now and painting this mural up in Morningside with her daughter. They're bonding, and they sent her this lovely return letter with a Virgin Mary stamp. The Therapist is good at knowing when to push her buttons, so he stopped asking questions at all and waited for her to say something else. She gets antsy in silence now, and that's only weird because until this summer, she'd been used to living in it.

"I sent one to the Stablers."

Lindstrom's eyebrows are on the up and up and she remembers this weird would you rather type question, like Would you rather sweat cheese or have your eyebrows constantly moving around your face?

He doesn't say anything so she adds, "That's my old, um. That's my old partner. His family."

"Elliot?"

She nods. And then, "His wife called me."

"And what did she say?"

"Found out she was actually his ex-wife. He's been living in the village for a little over a year now."

Dr. Lindstrom is very quiet, and before he can ask her anything she says, "I've been with Brian for a little over a year now."

She is guilty as soon as the words leave her mouth. The Therapist's eyebrows keep crawling.

"What makes you relate the two, Olivia?" he asks her, and she shrugs.

"Do you think that if you'd known about Elliot's divorce earlier, your circumstances would be different?"

"I... he wasn't speaking to me. We weren't... when he left, I called. I left messages. He wanted to move on. From the job. If I'd—If we'd—," she gets flustered. Cuts herself off.

"I'm sorry, Olivia," Lindstrom says. "Let's not play the 'What If' game. That's not fair. What I meant was, now that you know about Elliot's divorce, do you... do you want your circumstances to be different?"

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

He says, "You can interpret it any way you like, Olivia."

She swallows. "I love Brian."

"That isn't the first time I've heard you say that."

"This doesn't change anything."

"Does it?"

She evades the question with, "I went to see him. Elliot. Yesterday."

"And how did that go?"

Her eyes close. "I, um. I think... fine. I think it went fine. I think we're going to try and be friends, or something." Actually I can't tell you how the fuck it went, because I was drunk as shit when I got there and passed out on his couch before we actually got to discuss anything. Although I'm pretty sure I said enough for the both of us.

"That's good, Olivia. I'm happy for you."

"I'm happy too," she says, even though that wasn't the question, and she believes it. She does.

"Liv?"

Elliot's voice catches her attention, and realizes she's missed whatever he's been saying into the phone. It's ridiculous that his voice sends her into spirals. It's ridiculous that she feels like a walking process analysis essay in his proximity, even if that proximity is by phone only.

"Sorry." The words rush out of her mouth a little too quickly. "I, um. I missed that."

He chuckles on the other line. "I asked if you wanted to meet someplace for coffee. Or food." She's thinking of Brian, back at their apartment. She's thinking of that time he tried to make clam sauce and it actually wasn't disgusting, and of how he'll fall asleep in front of an infomercial one night and two to five business days later, she'll find some shit like the No No or the Slap Chop at the front door.

"Elliot—"

"I'm buying, Liv." Her heart melts and she thinks, No, No, stop that.

"El, I... I don't know what I said to you, and I know you want to try to—"

"To what?" he asks, and it's quiet, rough. "Be friends?" She says nothing. "Liv, we don't have to go for coffee right now."

"Oh."

"Just... eventually."

"Eventually."

"Yes," he says. "I, um. Wanna talk to you."

"About what?" she asks, more seriously than she intends to, because this can't turn into one of those situations where he puts his hand over hers across the diner table and asks her (again) between bites of his omelet and her pancakes what the fuck happened to her this summer. This can't turn into one of those situations where her whole body screams Run, run, run before they get you, run before they realize that you're so, so full of shit.

If anyone in this world can see through her, it is Elliot Stabler. And he will see through her again and again and again.

"Anything," he tells her, honestly, and she feels the tension leave her shoulders. Whoosh. Simple as that. Old man just wants to be chummy. But then, darkly: "It was you, wasn't it?"

She sucks in a breath. The hand that grips the phone is suddenly freezing in the December air. She feels a compulsion to buy gloves, she should do that, she really should, she lost her leather pair two winters ago and never replaced them because she thought they were on the hat rack at the precinct, but—"Liv. Answer me." And then, in a more desperate whisper, "Please. You can't... you can't leave me with nothin' here, Liv. I've got nothin' to go on, here."

She swallows. "Was what me?"

Her eyes slip shut, and she knows it's coming. It's taken him her entire walk back to the 16 from Lindstrom's, but he's about to hit her with it.

"This summer," he says. "Cop they found in the house on Long Island." She can tell it's making him sick just to say it, just to consider the possibility that yes, of course it was her, of course it was, he just hadn't realized.

"I can't talk about this now."

"They never released a name, Olivia. News had everybody thinking that it couldn't have been anybody from the city, press got no details about the kidnapping, everybody kept it quiet because they—they got the guy, at the end of it." It's an apology, she thinks. A justification for why he didn't come and save her the way he was supposed to. Supposed to. It's an ugly thing to think, and she wishes she hadn't. Into her silence, he pleads, "Olivia."

She feels her body locking up as her voice does. "IA wanted to keep it quiet that nobody realized a cop got nabbed til two days after the fact. Thought it was some major department fuckup."

"It—" I would have known. It wouldn't have happened. I would have checked on you. I should have been there.

"I gotta go, Elliot," she tells him, and she's so stoic. Her whole body feels heavy, feels like brick. She's leaning against the sedan and her gaze settles onto the row of unmarkeds parked in a line before her. She shivers. Two unis walk into the building carrying Starbucks cups, and one of them tosses her a wave despite the fact she thinks she cursed him out at a scene last week for getting too close to the body. She's panicking, and she says it again. "I gotta go."

"You're not gonna do this with me, Liv." It's foreign the way he's already telling her no, she isn't allowed to sink down and away from this, she isn't. "You're not gonna shut me out."

She could laugh in his face. She is not the one who abandoned ship here.

"I'm sure as hell not about to tell you anything over the phone." And then, "Probably told you enough last night anyway."

"You never were a quiet drunk, Benson."

She sighs.

"I'm serious about that coffee, Liv."

"I know."

"I'm gonna... you're gonna be the one to call me though, alright? Just... whenever. Whenever you want. Whenever you're ready."

She nods. "Okay."

Whenever you're ready.

Whenever.