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Lovefool: How a decade changes everything and nothing

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Olivia moves on autopilot. With Lucy out the door, Olivia turns the deadbolt, chains the door. Her mind carefully blank, she moves to the kitchen, opens the dishwasher and uses all her concentration to put the dishes away quietly. The task done, she makes her way to her work bag, lifting out a set of files, intent on paperwork. 

Staring at the manila folders in her hands, considering the laptop still stowed in the bag, she feels weary. The paperwork seems overwhelming, although in truth it is lighter than an average night. She doesn’t want to focus her eyes on anything, but is afraid a lack of focus will allow her mind to wander. 

I love you

Work. She needs to work. But even as she sits down her brain skitters back. The look on his face as he said it. The infinite moment before he even realized. The stammered backtrack. It all kept looping through her brain, try as she might to shut it off. 

He didn’t mean it. He did...but he didn’t. Not really. Not like that . Of course they cared about each other. Of course, even after a decade apart, he has this ability to read her, she feels that same click with him she always had, a key in a lock, a piece in a puzzle. So yes, calling him her best friend had always been inadequate. And yes, what they had was more than fondness. 

But still. They didn’t use words like that. It skated too close for comfort. After all, he was married. They were partners. Expressing a deep emotion for someone could be misconstrued in a romantic fashion. And that’s not what they were. She had spent thirteen years convincing herself of that party line. Then a decade denying he had even meant all that much to begin with. 

So he didn’t mean it like that . Her brain conjures up the look on his face as the words leave his lips. Her stomach clenches, her skin feels too hot, the mere memory a denial of her entire narrative. She decides a glass of wine is most definitely in order. 

Olivia’s in the kitchen uncorking the bottle when her phone starts buzzing. Her eyes land on the screen and her heart stutters at the sight of his name. Before she can think her finger is hovering over the green button but just before she hits it she pauses. What is she going to say if she answers? What is he going to say?

The more honest part of her brain recognizes that his sudden reappearance has caused her carefully constructed world to fall off its axis. She had been doing a fair job of pretending otherwise, in spite of the letter, in spite of his ‘you mean the world to me’. And even though pretty much everyone else, Fin, Amanda, even Garland, could see through the charade, Olivia didn’t care. She had long come to believe in fake it till you make it. 

But since those three little words she is quickly realizing the illusion of normalcy is over. And she isn’t ready in the least to confront what that means. 

She pulls her hand away from the phone and resumes uncorking the wine bottle. 

For the rest of the evening, she keeps her wine consumption to one glass. She finishes all her paperwork, answers a half dozen emails, and ignores multiple phone calls from him. 

As she gets ready for bed she considers listening to the growing heap of voicemails, but again, afraid of his words, she decides instead to go to bed. She tosses and turns for a while and when the phone rings yet again, she engages her Do Not Disturb. 

When she forces herself out of bed the next morning, uncertain she even managed a solid hour of sleep, she sees that the missed calls and voicemails have only grown. 

 


 

By the time she’s reached work, she has listened to his voicemails and before she can second guess herself, sent him a text. 

I need some time

She puts the phone away because she knows he’ll respond to that, and that it won’t be a message of acceptance. 

She’s grateful when Kat needs her right away and she proceeds to silence his hourly calls as they come in. 

By lunch, Fin is leaning in her doorway. “Why is Stabler texting me about you?” His face has the patina of innocence, but she knows this ruse. Fin had always been pretty damn blunt about his interpretation of her relationship with Elliot. And unlike all the whispers behind their backs, Fin had always had the decency to just tell it as he saw it. Of course, every indication she’d ever received from him always came off as encouragement. She had never directly asked him, but by now she suspected it had a lot to do with his own former partner, now fiancé. Still, his encouragement always brought up a dangerous line of thought and she could never allow that. 

Olivia rolls her eyes. “I’m not answering his calls. Just tell him I’ll get back to him when I can.” She attempts to wave Fin off, but of course that doesn’t work.

Instead he walks in and closes the door. “Why aren’t you answering him?”

Olivia stares Fin down, but he just smirks, crosses his arms and waits. He’s known her too long for her to pull The Captain on him when it comes to something personal. Olivia gives up, slides her glasses off and leans back in her chair. Fin takes it as an invitation and slides into the seat across from her. 

She takes a deep breath. “He’s not dealing and I can’t hold his hand through this. If he gets help…” Olivia shrugs. 

“Sounds great in theory, Liv. But this is Stabler and I don’t think 10 years has changed him that much.”

She scoffs in agreement and presses a finger between her brows, fighting off other thoughts. Not that it stops Fin from noticing. 

“What else happened.”

“Why do you assume anything else happened?” she shoots back, but she can’t meet his eye. 

Fin takes a breath and nods. “Look, I get it’s none of my business. But I’m still gonna say a couple things because I’ve known the two of you pretty much forever.” He waits until Olivia nods slightly. “I know what I see between the two of you.”

“There’s nothing-” Olivia attempts to interject and stops at the raised eyebrows on Fin’s face. Her mouth snaps closed.

“Like I said, I see. And I have some experience myself. But honestly, it’s the years I did nothing that I regret and not the chances I took.” They look at each other for a moment in silence. 

“It’s not that simple,” Liv whispers. 

“Is it ever?” Fin shrugs, before getting to his feet and leaving without another word.

 


 

Despite Fin’s words, Olivia knows she still isn’t ready to talk to Elliot, let alone follow through on whatever Fin’s hints were pointing at. But, ready or not, there was Elliot. 

She looks up at the knock on her office door and can’t quite decide if she wants to throw something at him or smile. She settles on a sigh and waves him in. He shuts the door before he takes a seat and looks at her expectantly. 

“What part of ‘I need some time’ sounded like an invitation to stop by?” she scowls. 

“Did you listen to my messages?” he matches her tone. 

“I know you think you’ve found something-” Olivia starts.

“I did find something and I need help.” Elliot interrupts.

“Yeah, you do need help. We tried to tell you that last night and I’m not inclined to encourage whatever you think you’ve got going until you finally agree to do something for yourself first.”

Elliot pushes back, nearly jumping to his feet, agitatedly pacing the length of her office. “I can’t- Solving this is what’s going to help me!” he grinds out. 

It’s so much easier to slip back into cop mode than it is to try to be his friend. She gets up, her hands out in front of her, her de-escalation tactics kicking in without a thought. “Hey, let’s take a breath.” She rounds the desk, approaching him slowly and he closes the distance with one large stride. He’s not more than 3 inches away from her, close enough that the rapid rise and fall of his chest radiates heat towards her. Up close she sees how red his eyes are, how weary he looks. They stare at each other for a long moment, his breathing regulating as he relaxes into her nearness. 

“Liv….what I said last night…” Elliot starts. 

“No.” Olivia’s eyes drill into his. “Just….no….” She doesn’t know what would be worse, hearing him take it back; saying he didn’t mean it like that ; telling her he meant it exactly like that . All of the options are terrifying and terrible. So instead she steps back, putting the distance back between them. She stands behind her desk chair, bracing herself against it and looks anywhere but at him as she says “Just go home.”

He hesitates and Olivia isn’t sure if he means to argue about the case, or about what she wouldn’t allow him to say. But instead he scrubs his hand over his face, turns on his heel and leaves silently.

 


 

Elliot’s still riled up when he reaches the ground floor, pacing outside the precinct as he decides what to do. He wants to go back upstairs and insist that she talk to him. Turns out some things have changed in a decade - 13 years of never quite saying the things he wanted to say had left him with a lot of regrets. 

He knows it was bonkers to tell her he loved her, even if the kids hadn’t been there. But even as he backtracked, he knew it was the truth. Hell, he’d known it was the truth sometime around their 5th case, when she’d looked up at him across their desks, smirked and his stomach had plummeted through the floor. Their time as partners from that moment on was filled with all the things he said instead of saying the one thing he meant most.

He should have done a lot of things differently. He knows that. He’s known that for a long time. He should have done something when he and Kathy separated. He should have not done something with Kathy when he really wanted Olivia. He should have stayed 10 years ago or left 20 years ago. But any way you cut it, it’s been his mistakes over and over. 

And he felt guilty. Because he’d done so many wrong things, but it was Kathy that paid for it. And if he had just done any one single thing right ages ago, she’d still be alive and he wouldn’t be drowning. 

He spends the next three days wanting to call Liv. Over and over he’ll pick up the phone, then reconsider. He’s very aware that she hasn’t reached out, and he knows he owes her some penance for the weeks of phone calls and messages he dodged from her. 

He had been cowardly. There really wasn’t anything redeemable to be found in it. What he had told her was true - if he’d heard her voice he would never have left. But in a lot of ways that was just an excuse. Once his papers were in, he had still decided not to pick up the phone. 

He had even gone to the precinct one afternoon and stood across the street and watched her leave the building. He had every intention of calling out to her, but even yards away he could see the devastation on her face and he couldn’t confront it. For weeks after that he kept reaching for the phone when she’d call before he’d wuss out again. And when the calls stopped, he figured it served him right.

So he decides it’s only fair to respect her wishes, just this once, no matter how stupid they seem. And he buries himself in the case of his wife’s murder because he knows that’s the other penance he must do. 

Without Eli in the hotel he can feel himself sinking further. He knows obsession is taking hold and at least part of him knows that Liv and the kids were right from the start, but it’s not until he snaps at Ayanna and she tells him to get his shit together that it becomes obvious how badly he’s doing. 

Alone in the hotel, wide awake at 2am, it fully sinks in that nothing is working. If he has any hope of solving this case he needs to figure out how to sleep again. If he ever wants to sleep again, he needs to see Liv.

Chapter Text

He’s bracing against the doorframe with both hands when the door swings open. Whatever he had planned to say vacates him as his eyes sweep over her. Pajama pants and a tight tank top and all he can see is cleavage and hips. Goddamnit if she wasn’t sexier than before he left. He stares down at her and tries his damndest to think. 

“I’m sorry” is what finally makes it’s way past his vocal chords. 

He thinks she’s blushing, but she also looks sleepy and irritated and somehow it’s an irresistible combination on her features. He watches her purse her lips, blow out a breath, and it conjures up a multitude of fantasies his brain has stored away over the years. She finally comes to some sort of decision and steps back, turning away from him and leaving the door open. He figures it’s the best he’s going to get by way of invitation and follows her in, closing the door behind him. 

She turns a lamp on in the living room and swivels around to face him, her arms crossing over her chest self consciously. “It’s late” is all she says and he doesn’t take it as a good sign that she hasn’t offered him a drink or taken a seat. 

He nods, shifting from foot to foot, his eyes taking in the room. “Elliot” it’s half whispered, full of exasperation and yet he feels himself harden at the sound. 

He clears his throat and tries to focus. “You’re right. I need help” he stares at the floor as he says it and hears the relief in her exhale. 

“Okay….talk to me” Liv replies quietly. She sits finally and he joins her on the opposite end of the couch. 

“I can’t sleep,” Elliot scrubs his hands across his face. “I really need to sleep.” He stares down at his lap, knowing she’s searching him with her eyes and feeling like if he returns her gaze he may fall apart. Or kiss her. 

She gets up, “Take off your shoes, El,” and walks past him, disappearing into the next room. He obeys, removing his shoes and jacket and when he’s done she’s standing over him with a blanket and pillow. She leans forward to place the pillow on the end of the couch and she’s close enough that he can smell the soap on her skin. His eyes drift to the curve of her top, too fitted to gape, but giving him a spectacular view nonetheless. He tries not to stare and when his eyes shift to hers, he knows she caught him. He’s sure she’s blushing now and he watches her throat work, swallowing hard. 

She straightens suddenly and he rubs his eyes as he lays back without prompting. She covers him with the blanket and turns off the lamp. Before she can go, his hand shoots out, wrapping around her wrist. She pauses and though it’s dark and he hasn’t said a word, she sits on the coffee table and allows his fingers to slip into hers. He holds her hand until he falls asleep. 


 

He’s disoriented when he wakes. It’s quiet, except for a soft tapping coming from somewhere nearby. He sits up slowly, remembering last night.

“I thought you’d sleep the whole weekend,” he turns to see Olivia sitting at the table behind the couch, smirking, her glasses held between her fingertips. 

“What time is it?” He’s hoarse and realizes how thirsty he is. 

“11am...it’s Saturday” she teases. He watches as she gets up from the table, walks to her kitchen, fills a glass of water and returns to hand it to him. Had he asked? He’s pretty sure he didn’t have to. He smiles and takes it. 

“Where’s Noah?” He says when half the glass has emptied.

“Weekend school field trip, they went to DC.” She returns to the table, flipping through some files. “You must be hungry. I was thinking of ordering brunch.” 

He stands up and takes a good look at her. At first he’s relieved she’s no longer wearing those pajamas, but he thinks this might be worse. Black leggings, a thin sweater, so thin he can see the black bra she’s wearing and there goes his brain generating all sorts of new possibilities and sending blood rushing south. 

He walks over to the window and stares outside, trying to distract himself. Maybe he should go. He’d slept better than he had since...going was probably a good idea. Before he did something stupid. 

“El?” She’s right behind him and when he turns suddenly she stumbles back. His hands reach for her automatically, wrapping around her arms and hauling her towards him. Her eyes open wide and there’s that blush again. He knows he’s hard and he’s pressing against her hip and when she gasps it helps nothing. 

She pulls away. “I’m fine” she mumbles. . 

Any thought of leaving abandoned after seeing that blush, he smiles. “You don’t happen to have an extra toothbrush?” 

She nods. “I have something you can wear if you want a shower.” She’s moving before he responds, and he follows her to the bathroom and watches her pull out an extra toothbrush and towel. 

He’s blocking the door and she pauses, her eyes tracing over his biceps showcased in his snug t-shirt. She’s been trying to ignore every physical aspect of him being here in her home, but that moment by the window makes it exceedingly difficult. “Excuse me” she rasps, and he gives her a funny look at the odd politeness before he shifts aside to give her just enough room to pass. She brushes him as she goes and he can’t stop himself from grinning. 

And this is exactly the stupidity he knew he’d employ if he stayed. Teasing her had always been fun. But before he had refrained from this level of flirtation. It was safer to be far more subtle. And he knows there’s nothing appropriate in this right now, but he can’t seem to help himself.

She returns from her bedroom and hands him a pile of clothes. He glances down at it. “Ya know, I’m pretty sure I’m not going to fit in your clothes.” 

She looks askance, “Well they weren’t originally mine.” 

He clears his throat “Whose...?”

She sighs “Cassidy”. She’s not looking at him, so she misses the way his eyebrows jump. 

“You and Cassidy...again?” When she nods he thinks back to the conversation with Fin. “Fin said you got pretty serious with someone.” 

“Oh Fin said that, huh?” She laughs softly before she takes a deep breath. “It was sorta serious. But I don’t think Fin was talking about Cassidy.” She finally meets his eye. 

Elliot lifts his eyebrows and waits. 

She shakes her head. “I need food before we have this conversation. Go take a shower.”

He doesn’t like the sound of that, but he nods anyways. 

“I’m going to order. The usual?” She asks, her back turned as she reaches for her phone.

“You remember my usual?” He’s smiling openly at the thought. 

“Unless it’s changed in 10 years,” he doesn’t miss the disappointment in her voice as she says this. It tempers his smile.  

“It hasn’t.” He replies quietly. He sees her slight nod of acknowledgment and steps into the bathroom, closing the door. 


 

While he showers, Olivia decides she’s crazy. She’d watched him sleep for a while last night and it had only made her realize just how much she’d missed him. She’d slept better than she had in weeks, with him so close by. And this morning, with the easy teasing and the feel of him pressed against her, it made her think of future weekend mornings and other more raunchy activities. 

This was bad news. His wife had just died. He was clearly experiencing trauma. Even if he was ready to get help, it didn’t mean that he was going to be ok tomorrow. And above all, no matter how it felt when he looked at her, it didn’t mean a whole hell of a lot. 

They’d shared plenty of those moments over thirteen years of partnership. Lots of dangerous eye contact, borderline inappropriate physical touch, saying things that could mean something else. The only difference is that she can’t seem to control her responses anymore. And he’s finally free.  

Olivia physically shakes the shameful thought from her head. His marriage had been reason number one that lines had never fully been breached. Their partnership a close second. But what she continued to be convinced of was that whatever may seem to be there was nothing more than smoke and mirrors. 

After all, he still was the longest relationship she’d had with a man. So there was a level of trust there that was hard to build with anyone else, especially with walls as high as she had raised around her heart. And yes, she could sometimes admit her attraction to him - especially on the nights she made herself cum thinking of his voice, imagining his hand between her legs. 

But none of that meant they should be more than friends. None of it meant they could possibly work. And if they didn’t work, where did that leave them? Was she willing to lose him all over again? He’d barely returned and the thought of him leaving again made her queasy with anxiety. 

She hears the water shut off and busies herself with her work again. She tries to not notice when the door opens and he strides out, standing beside her at the table. She looks up slowly. The sweats cling a bit more than they should, but the t-shirt looks cartoonishly ridiculous, barely able to stretch over his muscles. At least the hem reaches his pants, which helps him look slightly less silly. She laughs hard, covering her face with her hands and he gamely smiles down at her. 

When she stops laughing at last he takes a seat. “Mind if I do some laundry? I can’t let anyone else see me like this.”

She nods and he follows her to the machine and while she watches him throw in his t-shirt, jeans and boxers she tries not to think about him wearing nothing under his sweats. 


 

Over brunch and coffee, Elliot back into his own clothes, they talk about his kids, about the case work at organized crime. And as soon as their plates are empty he gets down to business. “So who was Fin talking about?”

She struggles to swallow the last of her coffee then rolls her eyes, running a hand through her hair nervously. “When did Fin become such a gossip?” 

“Don’t try to dodge the question.” He tilts his head down and eyes her. 

“Ya know, we’re having a pleasant morning here.” Liv attempts again to avoid the topic.

“So I know this guy…and I don’t like him.”

She laughs softly, nervously, “Very good, Detective.”

He continues to gaze at her as she looks pointedly away. “I can wait all day,” he intones.

She sighs, “Tucker.”

She looks up at him and watches his face as it scrunches, the confusion crossing his eyes, the irritation and anger following. And then he takes a breath, nods and looks back at her. “IAB…”

She looks at him impassively and waits. 

“How…?” He finally says. 

She shrugs. “Things happen.”

“He arrested you for murder.” He grits out.

“Funnily enough, I do remember that.” Liv replies sarcastically. 

“Come on, Liv,” he admonishes, barely managing to keep his anger in check.

“Ya know, I’m not going to sit here and get lectured by you about my relationship choices. You haven’t been here and I don’t owe you any explanations.” She gets up, clearing the table with jerky movements that belie her anger. 

She’s standing in the kitchen taking deep breaths and he gets up from the table and hovers near the counter. “You’re right. I don’t like it, but it’s none of my business.” He tells her softly. 

She nods but won’t turn and face him. 

“What happened?”

“He wanted us to retire and I wasn’t ready to do that.” She pauses, and adds “He got sick not too long after we broke up. He’s gone now.” 

Elliot doesn’t say anything for a few minutes. “I’m sorry...I think.”

“Elliot” Olivia warns, turning back to him, eyes sparking with anger.

He holds up his hands in surrender. “Ok...ok. If he made you happy, then I’m sorry you lost that. Even if I’m sure you deserve better.” 

She rolls her eyes at him. “So typical,” she spits out. “You don’t get to say anything when you weren’t there. You’ve got your history with the guy, fine. But you certainly don’t know him the way I did and you don’t get to be the arbiter of what I deserve.” She’s nearly shaking in anger at this point and Elliot feels small in the face of it. 

“I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. For all of it. Really.” He adds when she looks at him skeptically. He moves towards her and tentatively pulls her into an embrace as he says again, lips pressed into her hair “I’m sorry.”

She doesn’t return the hug and pulls back instead, walking around him and out of the kitchen. 

He follows her back to the living room where she paces, one hand at the neck of her sweater tugging absentmindedly as she moves. “You were gone a long time, Elliot,” she tells him softly. “You missed a lot.” She’s still fiddling with the neck of her sweater and as Elliot steps closer his eyes focus for the first time on the marks on her skin. 

Maybe, without realizing it, she had worn this top on purpose. The sweater gapes more than what she’d usually wear to work, or even leave the house in. She’s not necessarily self-conscious, but the scars draw more notice than she wants to attract and she’s found the inquiries she gets when they’re seen are too uncomfortable. So it’s usually easier to cover up. 

But that day Lewis invaded her home, her first thought had been of Elliot. Her mind drifted to him over and over as the hours and trauma added up. What would he have done if he’d been there? Would he have found her sooner? How would he have taken care of Lewis? At the very least, how much comfort would he have given her just by being there?

So she needs to have this conversation with him. It wasn’t just that he left. It’s that she suffered through the biggest trauma of her life and he wasn’t there for her when she needed him the most. 

She watches as he steps closer, his eyes tracing along her skin. She knows he can’t see everything that’s there. But she also knows that what he can see is alarming enough. 

“Liv?” Elliot frowns, lifting his fingertips to reach towards her. “What happened?” 

She shakes her head and pulls back, takes the long way around him to the couch and sits at the furthest end. “Just another thing you missed.” She wants to sound angry, but she can hear it’s not just anger lacing her voice. It’s bitterness and disappointment and pain and sadness. It’s too much. She brings her legs up and wraps her arms around her knees. 

“Tell me.” Elliot’s voice is demanding, but he manages enough restraint to sit at the other end of the couch. Perched there at the edge of the seat, his elbows bracing against his knees, bent forward, he looks anything but relaxed.

Olivia hates talking about this. Even after all this time and therapy and healing, it’s so difficult. It would be so much easier if he just knew without her having to say. She blows out a breath and looks at Elliot, seeing the agitation in his posture. Sealview had been a difficult enough conversation and she’d withheld a lot. She hadn’t told him much about the nightmares or spoken to him about the PTSD. And it seemed like he had been scared to know. This was going to be so much more than that.

“I was kidnapped and tortured for four days.” She looks past him as she says it, her voice just above a whisper. 

Elliot’s on his feet again and he’s pacing, rubbing his hand against the back of his neck. He has so many questions, he actually doesn’t know where to start. “Did you get him?” he asks gruffly.

She shrugs, “He killed himself…of course that was during the second time he held me hostage and after I’d lied on the stand about what led up to me beating the shit out of him during the first incident.” She’s crying now and she’s not really sure when that started. She wipes her eyes and tries to breathe evenly.

“Jesus Christ,” Elliot swears. He moves closer to where she’s seated, trying to see what she’s not saying. “When was this?” 

“Two years after you left. Before Noah. Before I made Captain.” She can’t sit anymore, so she gets up and circles behind the couch, attempting to maintain some distance. 

“The PTSD?” He asks, remembering their conversation in the car.

She nods, “That’s why you should believe me when I say you need help.” She turns back to face him.

“Yeah, I know you’re right,” He meets her eye and hopes that she believes him when he says that he gets it.

He closes the distance between them slowly, “You beat the shit out of him, huh?” He can’t help but be proud and it brings a smile to his face.

She rolls her eyes half heartedly and smirks, “I made sure I wasn’t the only one leaving with scars.”

Elliot’s eyes shift back to the scar just above the neck of her sweater. He steps closer and she exhales and backs up. She watches him, eyes widened, as he steps closer again. She feels a bit like prey, but it’s a good kind of thrill. Still she steps back again, the wall that meets her back finally stopping her. He places a hand on the wall beside her as he closes what remains of the distance. 

He lifts his fingertips again and gently traces the edge of the scar. She gasps softly at the sensation. “It doesn’t matter,” he says, his eyes lifting to meet hers. “You’re still breathtakingly beautiful.”

She swears her heart stops at his words and all she can manage is a weak “El…” He’s staring at her mouth now and it’s doing things to her insides. She struggles to breathe, every movement of her chest brushing her lightly against him. 

“Liv,” his voice is husky and deep.

Her hands dangle at her sides and she can’t decide what to do with them. Part of her wants to touch him, feel the flex of his muscles under her fingers, the heat of his skin through his shirt. Part of her wants to push him away before things get completely out of control. 

“What are you doing?” She thinks the question will help stop them, but she is breathy and the whole thing makes her sound wanton, desperate. 

“Nothing,” he’s so close that his lips brush hers as he speaks and now there’s no stopping him. He presses forward, his lips crashing down on hers. His hands wrap around her hips and he pushes her up the wall, sliding his thigh between hers, pressing against her hot center, pushing his cock against her hip, crushing her breasts against the hard wall of his chest.

She groans and now off balance, her toes barely touching the floor, her hands grab onto his shoulders. Her mouth opens to him and she has a vague thought that he isn’t really kissing her, he’s devouring her. 

His tongue slides against hers before he sucks her lower lip into his mouth. She moans in response and he lifts one hand and slides it behind her neck, turning her so that he can delve deeper into her mouth. 

She whimpers as his other hand slides up her rib cage, beneath her sweater, his thumb slipping under her bra and brushing the underside of her breast. She realizes that she’s rubbing hard against him, the rough material of his jeans and the hardness of his thigh providing a sweet sort of agony.

He pulls away from her lips. “God, Liv,” he groans and trails wet kisses down her jaw, towards her neck, to the juncture of her shoulder. 

She gasps for air and opens her eyes. And that’s when it hits her. What the fuck are they doing?

“Elliot.” She’s moaning when she says his name and he groans in return, the sound amplifies the throbbing between her legs. 

“Elliot.” She tries again, managing something closer to stern in her voice and shoves him hard enough that he pulls back and they both stumble, regaining their footing, catching their breath. He’s still staring at her mouth. 

Liv pulls her gaze away. She brings her arms to her chest, trying to will away her hardened nipples, regain her composure. “I can’t-“ is all she manages, trying desperately to ignore the way he’s breathing. 

“Liv,” he tries to step towards her, but she puts up a hand and he stops. 

"We shouldn’t...we can’t” 

“Why not?” He takes a small step forward, ignoring her still raised hand. 

She finally looks up at him, incredulous. “You’ve lost it.” She moves towards the kitchen and he follows and watches as she fills a glass of water and puts all her focus into drinking it. 

“I know I’ve been on edge. I know I need help. I know it hasn’t been that long...But Liv...what I said the other day...that was true.”

Her back has gone stiff. She is still facing away from him, the glass placed on the counter, her hands wrapped around the edge of the sink so hard her knuckles have turned white. 

He approaches cautiously, places a hand on her shoulder and turns her to face him. Her expression is unreadable and she’s quivering. He places a fingertip under her chin and lifts her face up so that her eyes reluctantly meet his. “I love you, Liv.” She gasps and tries to pull away, but he tightens his grip on her shoulder just a little and she stays put. 

“I shouldn’t have said it then. But I was exhausted and all of my filters were gone. But I don’t regret saying it. I’ve been in love with you for so long-“

“No. No.” She shakes her head and pulls away and he can see a tear drop from the movement, another falling onto her cheek. “I can’t do this. I’m not going to play pretend with you. I won’t be your consolation prize. And I’m definitely not going to be responsible for saving you. You need to go. Now.” She walks past him, into her bedroom, shutting the door behind her. 

Elliot moves to the door “Liv, please.”

“No, just go home.” She insists on the other side of the door. He can hear the tears in her voice, and he thinks it’s a bad idea to leave and a worse idea to stay. 

“I’ll call you later Liv. We need to talk about this” when she doesn’t respond, he picks up his jacket, puts on his shoes and walks out. 

Chapter Text

She thinks she has herself mostly pulled together by the time Noah returns Saturday evening, but her very perceptive son takes one look at her and asks what’s wrong. 

“Nothing honey. Just feeling a little tired.” He nods solemnly at this but doesn’t seem to really believe her and ends up doing his best to cheer her with stories of his adventure and being very obedient at bedtime. 

It helps that on Sunday there’s always so much to do between Noah’s dance classes and errands for the coming week. Every time her mind drifts to Elliot or she sees a message or call from him she resolutely pushes it all aside and finds a work email to respond to or a phone call she needs to return. Anything but thinking about him and his mouth against hers. 

She isn’t remotely surprised when he shows up at her office on Monday afternoon. It would be simpler to send him away, but she knows he’ll just keep showing up. As he takes a seat in front of her, the door closed, she glances past his shoulder and spots Fin at his desk smiling at her. She glares at him until he turns around and then swivels her glare to Elliot. 

“This isn’t the place for whatever it is that you want.” She mutters. 

“Well you’re still not taking my calls, so…” he shrugs nonchalantly. 

“Have you figured out why I’m not taking your calls?” She keeps her voice low, but the anger is completely unmistakable. 

He nods slowly. “I went to a therapist this morning.”

She looks at him, unimpressed. 

“I mean...it’s just a start…” he tries, but still she watches him, unmoved. “If you’re upset about what I said, I just wanted to be honest.” He furrows his brow and looks at her. 

“Honest.” Liv says the word like she’s spitting out something sour. “Fine, let’s be honest. You leave for 10 years and now you’re back, you’ve lost your wife, you’re feeling guilty and lonely and here I am ready to shoulder your burdens and fix it all for you.” 

“Why do you keep saying that? I’m not expecting you to fix anything.” He leans forward in his chair. “I love you-“

“Stop saying that.” She grits out, her eyes closing momentarily as she shakes her head. “We meant something to each other for a long time. But then you left. And everything is different now. And whatever you think you feel, it isn’t real. You’re traumatized and you’re not thinking clearly.” Her eyes are wet and he can see the way she’s trying to suppress her feelings.

“Liv, I-“ he starts to argue when there’s a knock at the door. Olivia dips her head and clears her throat. When she glances up the next second her eyes are dry and she is every bit the captain. 

“Yeah?” She calls out and Amanda pokes her head in. 

“Sorry to interrupt, Captain,” Amanda’s eyes dart from Olivia to Stabler and she looks fairly embarrassed to be invading the tension in the room. “Caught a case, sounds urgent. We’re needed at the scene.”

“Ok,” Olivia stands and Elliot follows. He opens his mouth but she waves him off before he can speak. “It’ll have to wait.” She’s out the door before he can say anything more and he’s sure she’s running away from him. 


 

“You wanna talk, let’s talk.” Olivia rushes the words out as soon as Elliott’s door opens. It’s only once she’s said this that she takes him in, shirtless, leaning against the door jamb with one arm, the other hand propped against his hip. Did he always do this much leaning and flexing? 

He’s smiling at her in this soft way and she can feel the heat rising up her neck and to her cheeks. Dammit, she swore she had more control than this. 

“It’s nice to see you,” he grins at her and she rolls her eyes and slips past him. 

“You need to put on a shirt.” She gripes as she takes a look at the dining table and wall with its papers and theories. 

When he doesn’t respond she turns to find him smugly smirking at her. “Why?” He scratches idly at his eyebrow, and she swears he’s flexing, showing off. “Are you feeling...distracted?” 

“I’ve forgotten how arrogant you are.” She scolds.

Elliot chuckles, a deep husky sound emanating from his chest and her knees go a little wobbly. 

He steps a little closer, his fingers slide down a lock of hair framing her face, “Well, I haven’t forgotten how your lips taste.”

She could easily fall into his arms. And for a moment it seems like she might. Her brain is screaming at her to put a stop to this nonsense, but her body leans forward, her eyes sliding down to his mouth. 

Just as he steps forward, she pulls her body back to submission and placing her hands on his chest gives him a small shove. The result only being that she’s now touching his oh so bare chest and he’s maybe an inch further away. 

He looks at her like he’s won something and steps towards the hallway, calling over his shoulder “What did you want to talk about?”

She watches him return to the dining room as he pulls on a sleeveless shirt. Ridiculous she thinks Like that’s helping . She drags her eyes away resolutely. 

“You’ve gotta stop showing up at my office when I don’t want to talk to you.” She pulls out a chair at the table and sits and watches with irritation as he pulls out the one next to her, plants himself down and leans towards her. His legs frame hers, close enough to feel the whisper of his movements.

“I mean what I’ve been saying.” He tells her sincerely. He wants to say the words again, but she doesn’t seem to want to hear them and he doesn’t want her to walk out. 

“No, you don’t.” She replies, just as certain.

“Liv-“ he furrows his brow.

“No. Stop it. I need you to stop this.” Her voice is just above a whisper. “You are in pain. You’re feeling guilty. And this thing you’re doing-“ Olivia gestures between them.

“What? Flirting with you?” He grins.

Liv scowls “It’s a response to what you’re going through, but it’s not real.” He shakes his head as she says this but she plows on. “ This was never us and after you’ve been gone 10 years we’re not just going to suddenly…” she can’t bring herself to define where any of this behavior is headed and leaves the sentence hanging. 

“I am in pain and I do feel guilty, I won’t pretend otherwise. But this thing between us has always been there. Yeah, maybe I wasn’t so open about it, but it was always there, like background noise. We ignored it for a lot of reasons, but it was real.” He pauses and watches her stare at the table instead of look at him. 

“Liv, I don’t expect anything from you. It’s not fair, I’ve been gone for so long, I understand all of that. And yeah, Kathy…” he pauses, sighs. “I loved Kathy and I need to solve this case and I will probably always carry guilt when it comes to her. But frankly I’ve been doing that long before she died and pretty much all of that comes down to the way I’ve felt for you.” 

She shakes her head but doesn’t speak and he pulls her hand into his, seeking comfort. “None of that is your fault. I know it’s my doing. And you’re probably right that I shouldn’t be doing this right now with you. But I’ve waited too goddamn long. And I know you need time too. But staying away from you...I’ve done that for too long. So if you need me to back off a little, fine. But you can’t ask me to not seek you out. And I’ll try to not be so forward, but I’ve missed your face and I can’t promise I won’t slip.” He smiles, trying to lighten the tension. 

Olivia still isn’t looking at him. He waits her out and finally she takes a deep breath and looks at him. His face is open, waiting for her. But his eyes still hold a heat that causes her heart rate to pick up. 

“It’s barely been a month, Elliot. You’ll come to your senses and change your mind.” The sadness on her face is nearly overwhelming to him.

“I won’t,” he insists. 

She shakes her head. “I should go,” she sighs. 

Olivia stands but Elliot doesn’t give her any space, and now she’s hovering above him, his hand still gripping hers, his face right in front of her belly. For a moment she wonders if he can smell her arousal. 

She’s trapped between his knees, blocked on all sides. And she watches as he lifts their joined hands and brings the inside of her wrist to his mouth. His lips part, his tongue tracing along her pulse point as his mouth closes against her skin and he stares into her eyes. 

She shudders. The smallest physical contact with him  makes her loose limbed, and here he is tasting her again. She wants to climb into his lap and resume what they started the other day. But out of the corner of her eye there’s a picture of the burnt car and she yanks her hand back. “Elliot.” It’s an admonishment and curse. 

He sees the desire slide off her face, replaced with frustration and a hint of anger and he backs off, picking up the chair he’s sitting in and moving back so she can slip away and out his door. 


 

He pulls the Lewis file the next day. When he googled her name the case was one of the first results and he had cursed himself for his decision upon departure to not keep tabs on her. In a way it had been the right thing - him trying to fully focus on Kathy. But even then he had worried about what would happen to Liv without him around backing her up. 

The search results were a mishmash - some having that ridiculous PR gloss to them - a clear attempt to showcase her heroism and avoid the dark details. Many questioned her veracity, accusing her of brutality - a charge he found insane since she had always been the calmer one between them. And anyways who could blame her for anything she did after the psycho took her hostage? 

There were a few links about Lewis’ eventual death. But they were scant on details and only vaguely mentioned Liv. 

So when he gets the actual copy of the file, he’s nervous. He knows already that it’ll be hard to read. 

He thumbs through, taking notice of the rape kit results which show only the bruises and burns and indicates no signs of sexual assault. He would be relieved that at least she hadn’t suffered that, but the pictures of what he had done make him sick. 

He goes through crime scene photos and the statements of the other victims and he’s sure it could have been so much worse. She could be dead. 

The pictures of Lewis’ injuries offer some comfort. She had certainly left him with scars. He can’t help but think it would have been pictures of a corpse, if he had been around.

He reads her statement last. Written as any cop would, the language sterile and precise. The emotions removed. But he knows her and he can hear her voice through it. The terror of finding him in her home. The two days she was tied up in her own living room, alcohol and pills forced down her throat, beaten, burned, taunted. The two days she was on the road with him, barely aware of what was happening at times. At other times forced to watch him murder and rape and torment without any ability to stop him. 

When he reaches the second statement he needs to pause. The description of Russian roulette with the madman disturbing him to his core. The idea of Liv raising a gun to her head, unsure if she would be breathing the next minute causing him to shudder. 

He’s not surprised she survived it. Not surprised she found a way to overwhelm him, to get out alive. And certainly not surprised at everything she’s done after, despite the trauma. He knows how resilient she is. And he’s proud of her. But also ashamed he wasn’t there, that he didn’t know until now. 

He thinks back to her telling him a few days before. And he knows fully how disappointed she must be in him. He knows exactly how much he’s let her down. He’s not sure she’ll ever be able to forgive him for it.

Chapter Text

He won’t stop saying her name. Every utterance turns the coils within her tighter until she feels like she could shatter apart. 

Her name on his lips sounds like prayer, worship. The sound envelopes her, catching her up.

Elliot’s kissing along the edge of her shirt, against the swell of her breasts. His scruff scrapes along her skin before his tongue and lips soothe away the friction. His breath is hot against her as her name keeps tumbling forward between kisses. He holds her close with one arm, fingers spread between her shoulder blades, locking her in place.

It would already be enough for her to lose her senses, but his other hand is pushing against her heat. His fingers circle against her with perfect pressure, building an inferno within her. 

His lips latch onto her clavicle, sucking. Her panties are already soaked and she can feel the thin material of her dress pants becoming damp from his ministrations. 

Olivia was supposed to be here helping with his case. Spending a precious free evening being his second set of trusted eyes. She has no idea how they’ve ended up on his couch with him leaning over her and her moaning.  

She throws her head back as he continues and she keeps promising herself that she’ll stop him. Any minute now, really. Especially if he palms her breast or goes for her belt. But she feels wanton and loose and every touch is delicious and when was the last time she felt like this? Has she ever felt this fucking good in her life? 

“God, you’re wet,” his voice is full of reverence. “Fuck.” He releases his hold on her, scoops his left hand under her neck and pulls her back towards him, his tongue skimming along her parted lips, then slipping between them. All the while his right hand continues to work magic between her legs.

It’s like he knows just what she needs. Like all their years as partners, the entire conversations without words, the single glances conveying everything that needed to be known, could only lead to this moment of perfect lust. 

That’s all it is , some voice inside her assures, lust

If he keeps this up, she thinks she’ll combust. She’s unraveling and she can’t take much more before - 

She comes hard, nearly screaming, her hands fisting in his dress shirt at his shoulders. She loses herself for a moment. 

“Fuck, you’re gorgeous.” Elliot’s lips continue along her exposed skin. 

“Wait…” Olivia breathes. His hands are skimming along her waist and she finally comes back to her senses enough to push him back and bring herself up to sit. She plants her feet on the ground and turns away from him, runs her fingers through her hair. “How does this keep happening?” She asks herself more than him. 

He grins and slides a hand up the inside of her thigh. “It’s kind of hard to keep my hands off of you.”

“Jesus Christ,” Olivia swears, pulling away and pacing across the room. “We cannot keep doing this! I cannot be alone with you if we can’t figure out how to not end up like that,” she gestures back towards the couch.

“Hey, ok,” Elliot catches her mid stride, holding her by her shoulders to force her to face him. “I know our timing is terrible...,” Olivia scoffs in response, her eyes glancing past him to his evidence wall, a pang of guilt hitting with full force.

“Do you realize how many times I fought for your marriage?” Liv looks up at him desperately.

It’s like whiplash. A sudden turn in the road he wasn’t expecting. The surprise on Elliot’s face is clear. “My…”

“Every time you fucked up, I was there, playing referee. She came to me when she needed you.” Olivia pulls away from him and paces over to the wall, picking up a crime scene photo and staring at it as she speaks. “Maybe I thought it was part of my duty, part of me watching your back. Maybe I needed to hold on to some sort of faith that a family outside of our work was possible.” She laughs derisively to herself. “Maybe it was just some co-dependent bullshit. The third in your marriage. Any which way, I fought for the two of you.”

She throws down the photo and sinks into a chair, Elliot hovering behind her speechless. “And now here I am, doing god knows what with her husband.” Her shoulders slump in defeat, her face hidden by the fall of her hair.

Elliot stands behind her silently. When he doesn’t speak, she continues. “Is this really how you want to honor her memory? According to you, I was the other woman. I was the one you wanted.” There’s a cruelty in her tone, mixed with a note of disbelief. “She didn’t even believe us that last day - that we hadn’t been in touch in so long. What does that say?” Olivia’s words are filled with shame.

Elliot finally finds his voice. “You’re not responsible for any of this, Liv. It isn’t your fault I was a bad husband, that I couldn’t love her enough.”

“Then why didn’t you leave sooner?” She challenges. 

“At the time I would have said I couldn’t leave the work. It was true. But I couldn’t leave you just as much, maybe more.”

“Then why did you leave at all?” She sounds angrier now as she turns towards him and looks up from where she sits. 

“I finally knew I had to choose. Those last few years, it was becoming more obvious all the time. Either I needed to leave her or leave you. And you know me and my Catholic guilt.” He tries to smile at this and fully fails. Instead he reaches up and wipes the tears off his cheeks. 

They’re quiet for a while before Olivia speaks again, the words hoarse as they leave her lips. “Sometimes I’m glad you left.” She had the thought many times over the past 8 years or so. Once the initial pain had worn off, she had started to realize how stuck she was. “For 13 years my life was the same. In a lot of ways it revolved around you. When you disappeared...it was at least two years before I stopped missing you all the time. But then my career started to advance and there was Noah.” She smiles softly at the thought. 

“I started to think that maybe you had held me back. Or maybe I held myself back, for you.” She furrows her brow as she continues. “But I’d still miss you. I’d be in interrogation and forget sometimes that it wasn’t you in the room with me. Or I’d remember some stupid joke and I’d wonder where you were, if you were ok….if  you were happier than you had been with me-” She chokes on the words and he moves towards her, kneeling down in front of her. 

“I don’t know El,” she says sadly, she wraps her arms around herself in a feeble attempt at comfort. “I’m still so hurt that you left. And then in some ways I’m glad you did go. And I’m so glad that you’re back...and I also hate you for coming back here and screwing with my life.” She shrugs, her voice quiet. “And this thing that you keep insisting on...I still don’t believe you.” Her eyes fill with tears, her voice lilting up. “I don’t think I ever will.”


 

Olivia sits alone on her couch, swirling a glass of wine and watching the liquid slosh. She thinks about Elliot’s face from a few days before when she told him she didn’t believe him. He had been hurt and sad and a part of her had enjoyed inflicting it on him. She hadn’t really realized how angry she had been at him until recently. She thought she had let it go a long time ago.

There had been nothing left to say after that and when she left his place she had driven around for a while, unable to settle herself enough to return home. They hadn’t spoken in those few days since, and for the moment she was glad. Everything was becoming too much. He’d promised her he’d give her space and time and the very next week when they’d seen each other she’d ended up cumming on his couch. Her stomach clenches at the memory and she takes a big swig of wine.

It was becoming harder to deny her attraction to him, her desire for him. She’d woken up more than once these past few weeks, an erotic dream slipping from her mind, but the thought of him on top of her lingering. 

But it wasn’t just the desire that kept coming to mind. There had been a case a few years ago that had been haunting her lately. A female cop, in love with her male partner, covering for all his crimes. Olivia still remembered the interrogation well.

You’re what, 40? Probably wondering if you’ll ever have a family, or if riding around with him for the next 10 years will be enough for you. I mean what did you think? That he was going to leave his wife and his kid for you? You spent the last five years sitting in that car, hoping that one day, he’d look over at you and suddenly realize that you were the woman that he couldn’t live without.

She might as well have been talking to herself. 

As much as she kept running from it, deep down she was very aware of the truth. She had wanted him, been in love with him, for a very long time. It hadn’t been any one thing, but at some point she had begun to realize the place he held in her life. Her first thought as she woke. The way they could read each other without a word spoken. How she compared every date and boyfriend against him. 

The first time she really knew, felt it in her bones and couldn’t pretend otherwise, that’s when she’d taken off for Computer Crimes. But ultimately she couldn’t stay away from him. 

And maybe it was those feelings that made her fight so hard for his marriage to Kathy. Because then he could remain off limits. She didn’t have to worry that he didn’t love her back or that she’d lose him as a partner - the one man, one person, she trusted above all others. His family was more important than all of that. Olivia Benson, always ready to sacrifice for others. 

That’s part of why his separation had been hard on their partnership. If he wasn’t going back to his wife, why wasn’t something happening between them? She could still clearly remember the moment he told her Kathy was pregnant. The combination of anger, resentment and relief had been potent. 

So it was easier - still is easier - to refuse to acknowledge these feelings. After all, if she can only pretend she isn’t in love with him, then she doesn’t have to risk her heart on this impossible thing. She doesn’t have to risk this one person who still means everything.

Chapter Text

Elliot finally does give Olivia some space after she tells him she doesn’t believe him. Partially it’s him trying to stay true to his word, but also it’s their combined workloads. Liv has a few weeks of an unusually high caseload and Elliot gets a breakthrough that takes Organized Crime closer to Wheatley than ever before. 

He checks in with her by text, messaging her about Kathy’s case, or Eli’s school, asking about her and Noah. And to his surprise she responds. Sometimes it takes her a day or two, but other times her message comes back lightning quick and he can’t help but smile. 

For weeks his attempts to see her in person are ignored or deferred, claims of too much work, which he mostly believes. He doesn’t mind if she’s avoiding him. He’s actually not sure what to say to her after that last conversation. He’s scared that maybe she’d really rather he left her alone. 

Finally, the following month, and maybe his fifteenth ask, she says ok. Just like that: “Ok” He stares at the screen and figures she was only begrudgingly saying yes out of obligation. But he worries this will be when she tells him she’s had enough.

They arrange a weekday afternoon, before Liv is planning to pick Noah up for a doctor’s appointment. Which means they only have an hour. She insists on a public space and sends him a location near her precinct, a little café. 

He’s early and nervous, fidgeting with his tie and jacket, checking his phone over and over. She’s a few minutes late and when he spots her walking down the street, he sighs in relief that she’s showing up at all. He lifts his hand and he thinks she smiles in return.

“Sorry,” Liv says as she meets him at the outdoor table he’s snagged. She slips into the seat across from him and takes the cup of coffee he’s ordered for her with a small smile of thanks. 

He’s so happy to see her, but he’s concerned about scaring her off, so he looks down at his coffee cup instead of staring at her too directly. “How’ve you been?” He asks, taking a drink as he peers over the top of the cup and takes her in. 

She nods, “Busy, but good. You?” The worry crosses her face as she asks and he can see she’s scrutinizing him. 

“Yeah...ya know…” he brushes his hand over his shorn hair. “Doing better, I guess. Still going to therapy. Working the case.” He shrugs and turns his gaze towards the street and the passing traffic. “Been missing you.” 

Olivia laughs softly, “El, it’s only been a few weeks. It’s not like it compares.”

“I know...but…” he looks back at her with that nervous grin and shakes his head, doesn’t try to explain. 

It should be awkward after everything that happened before, but they slip back into their easy banter. When she laughs at one of his stories he thinks they could spend the rest of their lives with this and nothing more and he could be blissfully happy. 

The time goes by too fast and as she is getting up to leave, he rises with her and pulls her into a hug. He tries not to linger too long and pulling back he asks “When can I see you?”

She smiles softly, tosses her head a little shyly. 

“We didn’t really spend a lot of time on the case. I could still use your help.” Elliot suggests hopefully.

Olivia gives him a pointed look. “Best behavior, I promise.” Elliot raises his hands. “I was good today wasn’t I?” He grins.

She laughs, “Outside, in public. Not the same thing, El.”

“You have no idea how much self control that took.” He tells her mischievously. 

“You’re not exactly selling the idea of the two of us alone very well.” Olivia shakes her head at him. “I gotta go. We’ll figure something out, ok?”

He nods gamely and watches her walk away. He knew there were still so many obstacles, so many things left to say, but he was hopeful they had turned a corner.


 

A few evenings later, Elliot calls. Olivia frowns at her phone. He hasn’t tried calling her in awhile and as pleasant as coffee was, she was still feeling uncertain about so many things. She sighs and answers the phone, closing the folder in her lap as she does.

“Hi,” Liv says tentatively. 

“You picked up,” Elliot sounds genuinely surprised on the other end. 

Liv laughs, “I did...don’t tell me I’m going to regret it.”

She can hear him smile as he says, “Well I am calling to see when we’re going to get together again.”

Olivia presses her fingertips to her temple, “Why can’t we catch up like this?”

“What, on the phone? Afraid to be alone with me, Benson?” Elliot says it jokingly, but he fears the answer nonetheless.

“You’re not going to dare me into hanging out with you, Stabler.” Liv teases back. “But you are the one with self control problems.”

“Guilty,” Elliot acknowledges. “But looking at you, who would blame me?” His voice has taken on a husky tone and Olivia feels it from the top of her head to the tips of her toes. 

“Whoa. We’re on the phone because you can’t control yourself in person. Keep that up and we’re going to have to start using carrier pigeons.” Liv chides him.

“What, the flirting?” El asks, mock innocently.

“You said it.” Liv can’t stop herself from smiling. The banter allows all the years and difficulties between them to fade into the background. 

“I can be very well behaved, for your information.” Elliot insists. “And just to prove it to you, we’re going to have a friendly, non-flirtatious phone conversation right this second.”

When she gets off the phone an hour later, she thinks he mostly managed to stay true to his word. With perhaps the occasional borderline flirtatious comment thrown in.


 

The phone calls slowly become part of their routine. He usually calls her a few times a week, sometime after Noah is in bed, and they’ll chat for a little while or a long while. They share stories about their time apart, sometimes it’ll leave Liv sad for all that they missed in each other’s lives. But it feels good to tell him about all the times she had longed for him to be there.

One night when she’s working late and misses one of his calls, she sends him a late night text and then texts at all times of the day or night become part of their routine too. Sometimes just to say hi or to share something that reminded them of each other. Often Elliot’s messages cross well over the line of flirtation.

Over the next few weeks her squad starts to notice. They’ll watch her check her phone and see the pink tinge to her cheeks, the happy little smile that flits over her face. Olivia will glance up, back to the meeting or discussion and she’ll see Amanda or Fin grinning at her, Kat looking a little surprised. She’ll clear her throat and attempt to act like nothing has happened. 

After several of these incidents, Kat watches her captain walk back towards her office and goes over to Amanda’s desk. “So, what is that about?” Kat’s not usually a gossip, but she looks up to Captain Benson and after working with her these past 18 months, that look on her face has been unexpected. 

Amanda grins at her impishly, all too happy to fill in the younger detective. “I’m pretty sure she’s seeing her old partner.” 

“The guy whose wife just died?” Kat whispers looking scandalized.

“Hey, it happens,” Amanda shrugs. “It’s just nice to see her so happy.”

Amanda glances up as Fin walks by. “Come on, Fin. You must know what’s going on?”

Fin takes a sip of his fresh coffee as he raises his eyebrows at Amanda, looking wide eyed and innocent. When the other detectives continue to appraise him, he shrugs. “Look all I can really tell you, is whatever is or isn’t happening is a long time coming. A long time .” He gestures between the two detectives, “What I know for sure is you better not let Cap catch you talking about her love life.”

“My what now?” Olivia is standing outside her office, a hand leaning against the door handle as she smirks at her squad. They turn towards her, looking like their hand was caught in the cookie jar. 

“Nothing Cap.” Fin pipes up.

“Uh-huh,” she looks skeptically at Fin. “My office, Fin.” She turns away but then swings back. “And you two,” she gestures to her detectives, “back to work. I know you’ve got plenty to do.” Liv scolds mildly. 

“Uh-oh,” Fin mock whispers as he puts down his coffee and follows Liv into the office. 

Amanda laughs lightly as Kat ducks meekly back to her desk. “Don’t worry, Kat. She’s too happy to actually be mad about that.”

Chapter Text

On a beautiful June afternoon Olivia is making her way through Central Park with Noah, carrying a picnic basket and blanket. They spot the rest of the squad gathering beneath a stand of trees, setting up their own blankets and pulling out food. 

“You picked the perfect Sunday for this!” Olivia calls out to Phoebe as she approaches. 

“Hey! I did the inviting!” Fin interjects, “Why aren’t you congratulating me?”

“Ya know, Fin, in all the many years I’ve known you, you have never once planned a picnic. So I think we owe this all to Phoebe.” Olivia tells him with a grin.

The squad laughs, teasing Fin and beginning to pass around plates, cups and napkins. Kat opens up a tupperware of homemade baklava and they all ooh and ahh over it.

“Kat, it’s been an insane week. How on earth did you find time to make these?” Amanda asks as she pulls out one and offers it to her oldest who takes a hesitant bite, smiles and gobbles the whole thing down. Her youngest remains unconvinced and continues to eat her goldfish crackers instead.

Kat shrugs a little shyly, “Baking relaxes me.”

“Meanwhile the rest of us only managed to make a grocery store run.” Phoebe laughs. 

Kat’s girlfriend, Delmi, a gregarious woman with dark curly hair adds “The baking is nonstop. If I’m not careful I’m going to gain 50 pounds.” She nudges Kat in the ribs gently and Kat nudges back with a small smile. 

“Well anytime you want to get rid of baked goods, I’m your guy.” Carisi offers as he piles his plate high with everything in sight. 

There’s another round of ribbing as everyone starts to eat. “I am really glad we could get everyone together,” Olivia tells Fin and Phoebe. “Seems like we hardly have a chance to just enjoy each other’s company.”

“It is hard to find the time,” Fin looks over her shoulder into the distance. “Good thing the last of our party could make it.”

Olivia turns back and there’s Elliot Stabler, grinning, his long strides bringing him closer by the second. He’s carrying a blanket and a bag of groceries, Eli just behind him with another bag in his arms.

Liv turns back to Fin. “I thought this was a squad get together.” Her tone is mostly light, but Fin hears the reprimand beneath it.

He gives her a mischievous grin, “Once SVU, always SVU.” 

“Right.” Olivia says, suspiciously. 

And then he’s there, towering over her. “Room for one more?” He smiles at everyone, his gaze finally landing on Olivia, an extra sprinkle of charm just for her. 

Kat and Amanda exchange a look. Phoebe and Fin appear victorious. There are introductions all around and then blankets and food are being moved and next thing Olivia knows, Elliot’s blanket is spread next to hers. 

“Hey stranger,” He says to her softly. 

“You put Fin up to this?” Olivia replies quietly, a warning note in her voice.

He laughs, “Are you always this wary?”

“Only when it comes to you,” She half-jokes, her eyebrow lifting in emphasis. 

“How else was I going to see you?” He asks, moving towards her, covering the hand she’s leaning against with his own. 

“Elliot.” She says gently in warning. 

“I’m being very well behaved.” He promises in a murmur. His gaze shifts past her to where Noah is watching them surreptitiously. “Hey, Noah. You know I can’t believe we haven’t had a chance to meet until today. Your mom and I are really old friends - actually she used to be my partner.”

Noah tilts his head, then nods seriously. “Yeah...you look like a cop.”

Fin guffaws, “Kid always knows what’s up!”

Elliot chuckles, “I guess you know a lot of cops, huh?”

Noah’s eyes round, “A. Lot.” The adults smile at the assessment.

“Well, I’ve worked with a ton of cops, but your mom was always the best cop I knew.”

Olivia swallows as the emotions from Elliot’s unabashed compliment overwhelm her.

Noah looks keenly at Elliot, then his mother and nods, “Yeah. Makes sense.” He is both very confident in this and maybe slightly unimpressed. Olivia chuffs him in the shoulder and he grins at her happily. Elliot watches the exchange and enjoys the swell of warmth it brings him.

Once Elliot moves away to grab some food, Noah tugs on Olivia’s sleeve. “Do you think Eli will play frisbee with me?” He asks her quietly.

She glances over at the teenager, talking baseball with Carisi and Amanda over lunch. “I don’t know. But why don’t you ask when you’re both finished eating?” 

Her son nods nervously at this suggestion and then returns to his lunch, sneaking glances at the older boy. 

Elliot returns and gives her a proper once over, taking in the sleeveless cotton dress that stops just below her knees before remarking appreciatively, “You look good.” 

She gives him a look and he chuckles, “That was completely innocent.” 

Fin starts up some stories from the old days, careful with some of the details for the sake of the younger ears nearby. A little while later Olivia notices Noah speaking to Eli and then watches the two of them move away to begin tossing the frisbee. She nudges Elliot who turns around to follow where she’s pointing. 

“It’s not every teenager who would play with a little kid. He’s a good one.” She tells Elliot softly. 

He nods, “He’s great. And he knows how much you mean to all of us.” He turns back to Olivia. “Kathy used to tell him the story.” They share a long look before Amanda jumps in.

“What story?” She asks, unashamed to be eavesdropping. 

“Amanda!” Carisi laughs at her lack of compunction. 

“What?” Amanda smiles, “I’m curious!”

By now everyone is paying attention and Elliot glances around at the attentive faces and back to Liv who looks embarrassed, but seems to know better than to ignore the question. She grimaces but gives him a slight nod. 

“When Kathy was 8 months pregnant with Eli, Olivia was taking them to a doctor’s appointment and another car hit them. Liv saved both of their lives that day.” Elliot’s gaze never leaves Liv’s, full of admiration and awe, even after all these years.

“Sounds like Liv,” Amanda intones, matter of factly. There’s a chorus of agreements to that, which Liv waves off as usual. 

“Well I could use more of these stories, I’ve definitely missed a lot!” Kat prods. 

Liv laughs, checking her watch “You’ll have to depend on Fin and Elliot for that, because I’ve got to get Noah to a dance class.” 

“Actually, we should probably get going too,” Elliot stands with Olivia. “I gotta take Eli back to his sister’s and we usually try to do Sunday dinner as a family.”

They gather their things and after a round of goodbyes and hugs, the four of them are walking away. 

“Fin, I thought you didn’t know anything.” Amanda scolds him.

“Hey, it’s their business. But sometimes we all need a little help.” He smiles at Phoebe who nods in agreement. 

“Help with what?” Carisi asks in confusion. He’s somehow still eating. 

Amanda rolls her eyes at him, “Are you blind?”

Fin and Phoebe exchange a look over that, but that’s a project for another day. Kat tries to suppress a laugh at the irony, already well aware of whatever isn’t actually happening between Amanda and Carisi. Delmi nudges her with a question on her face. “I’ll tell you everything when we get home.” Kat whispers in response.

On their way to their cars, Elliot and Olivia walk behind their sons, who are deep in conversation about Manga. “It’s nice they’re getting along.” Elliot tells Liv quietly. She nods and smiles softly in return. 

“So, I was on my best behavior today…” Elliot begins

Liv laughs and looks away. “Again, we’re in public.” 

“Just a short visit. We’ll talk shop. Totally on the up and up.” He looks at her hopefully. 

Olivia blows air through her lips and against her better judgement she nods, “Yeah...ok.”

“Ok.” Elliot grins.


 

They’ve eaten dinner already and so far he really has been on his best behavior. After all, it’s not his fault that she’s always had a thing for his button down shirts. And she knows she’s never told him what it does to her when he rolls up his sleeves. 

They’ve moved to the case, Olivia standing over a pile of papers while she absently rubs at the ache between her shoulders as she reads Elliot’s notes. 

“Here,” he says quietly. And the next thing she knows he’s rubbing her shoulders, his thumbs pressing at the base of her neck. She lets out a low moan as he kneads at sore muscles and she feels tension draining out of her body. 

The other thing that’s not his fault is the variety of dirty thoughts she can’t seem to stop having about him. Full fledged fantasies popping in her head at all hours of the day and night. So when he steps a little closer, she automatically leans back and presses her ass into the erection he’s developing. 

She hears him grunt, just next to her ear, a rumble of a sound that brings a new kind of tension to her body. She circles her hips, just a little, and his hands still on her shoulders. 

“Keep that up and I’m not going to be able to stop myself from tasting you.” He warns, his voice low and gravelly with lust. 

“Me first,” She turns then, her hands landing on his chest and she walks them into the back bedroom, shutting the door with her foot. 

“Liv?” Elliot questions before she reaches up and brings their lips together. 

The kiss is a fiery thing, full of the pent up emotions and desires of several weeks. His mouth opens easily to her, welcoming the slide of her tongue against his. He groans into the kiss as it deepens and consumes. Without breaking the kiss, her fingers fumble with the buttons of his shirt, until finally she can touch his bare chest, her fingers sliding over taut muscles. 

He reaches for the hem of her shirt, but she bats his hands away, reaching for his belt and making quick work of the button and zipper on his pants. Her lips kiss down his neck and across his chest as she reaches into his boxers and frees his cock.

She pulls back to look down at him, taking in his generous size, something that comes as no surprise to her. She looks back up at him as her hand slides over him and the look on his face nearly knocks her over, filled with not only passion, but love. He fists his hand into her hair and pulls her lips back to his with an urgency that takes her breath away. 

When he releases her she drops to her knees and slowly swirls her tongue around the tip of his cock. “Liv,” he croaks, his hand cradling her head as he fights to remain upright. She continues on, her tongue stroking a path from the base of his cock to the tip. She slips one hand into his shorts to cradle his balls. She strokes him with the other hand, her mouth placing wet kisses over the length of him.

Finally, she takes him in slowly, breathing steadily as he enters the back of her throat. She’s wanted to do this for a long time. She’s wanted to have him at her mercy, singing her praises as he is now with a litany of curses and worship. “Liv...God, Liv. Fuck…So good...”

He looks down at her, watching as she pulls back, her cheeks hollowing and he groans loudly at the sight. She looks up at him and he can feel her moan as their eyes meet. It’s definitely the fucking hottest thing he’s ever experienced. 

She works him over, enjoying herself, making the moment last and suddenly he can’t hold out “Liv, I’m gonna-” She pulls him close and swallows him down and before she can sit back he’s hauling her up, kissing her before he pushes her down on the edge of the bed. 

He undoes her belt and pants swiftly, dragging the material and her panties away until she’s bared to him. And then he’s on his knees, drawing her thighs apart, taking in the sight of her, the scent, already wet. He touches a fingertip to her building arousal, drags the wetness up and swirls the digit around her clit. Olivia gasps and lifts her hips. And then he’s repeating the motion with his tongue, swirling over her. He slides his tongue into her entrance to taste her, as promised. 

He hooks her knees over his shoulders and then reaches up, pushing the material of her blouse out of the way and nudging the cup of her bra aside so his fingers can play over her nipple. Liv leans up on her elbows, gasping, overwhelmed by the sensations he’s creating. Overwhelmed by him.

She’s at his mercy now, moaning in ways she swears she hasn’t before, pushing his face between her thighs to coax him on. “El,” she gasps. A plea, a demand. 

She’s so close, her body trembling as she feels her climax building. He pushes a finger inside of her, his tongue laving against her clit and she throws her head back, tumbling over the edge, crying out. But the crescendo is building again because he’s adding a second finger, his tongue still working over her and it’s too much. “El…” she whines, her fingers grasping at his head. 

“More” he commands gruffly, latching his lips around her clit and sucking hard and then she’s screaming his name, the second orgasm ripping through her and leaving her boneless.

Her eyes are still closed as he shifts onto the bed with her, both of them too tired to worry about covering themselves. The room contains only their breathing for a few moments as Elliot leans on his side, watching her. 

“Sorry,” she mumbles. Wanting him had overridden everything else; all the voices inside of her telling her to stop, silenced. Now the regret is starting to kick in. 

He guffaws quietly, “Don’t ever apologize for that. In fact you are welcome to do any and all of that anytime you’d like.”

She laughs at that, covers her face with her hands.

“Hey,” he says as he moves her hands away from her face. She finally opens her eyes, looks at him. “That was incredible.” He tells her seriously. He cups her face in his hand, “Liv...I lo-”

“Can we not do that?” She flinches away. And then she’s moving, pulling her shirt down, plucking her pants and panties from the floor. She disappears into the bathroom, just long enough to dress, cover the signs of what’s occurred and when she steps out he’s zipped up his pants and is sitting on the bed waiting. 

He looks up at her uncertainly. “I didn’t mean to push you…”

“You didn’t,” she assures him. “You’re not the only one with self control issues, apparently.”

He smiles at her, but she isn’t meeting his eyes. Instead she opens the door and moves out to the table, looking for her purse. 

“You don’t need to leave.” He offers.

“Yeah...I do.” She finally looks at him and takes in the concern on his face. “I’m fine. You didn’t do anything wrong. It was me.”

“Liv...you don’t have to feel bad-”

“But I do.” She replies firmly. She takes a deep breath and pushes the emotions back, to be dealt with later. “I’ll talk to you later, El.”

Chapter Text

Olivia lays in bed, another restless night. She glances over to her clock. If I can fall asleep this second, I can get 3 hours . She takes a deep breath, closes her eyes. But moments later she is still staring at the ceiling, wide-eyed. 

She hasn’t spoken to Elliot since the last incident - as she’s taken to calling it so that she doesn’t end up with her hand down her pants at the memory. About two weeks now and he has stopped leaving her messages. She can’t decide if she is relieved or sad. 

She thinks back to the intervention, the catalyst for her current state. No, that wasn’t right. The letter...that had been the problem. If he hadn’t given her the goddamn letter, she wouldn’t have seen how he was teetering on the edge and maybe she could have resisted Kathleen’s plea for help. She wasn’t sure she bought the line of reasoning, but it felt a lot better to blame him than blame herself. 

The letter and its contents come back to mind and now she can’t stop thinking about those words. Even after the past few months and their multiple talks they still hadn’t circled back to the letter and all the questions it had left her with. 

As it swirls in her mind, she feels the need to reread it. A week hasn’t gone by when she hasn’t pored over the words. Still trying to read between the lines. Still trying to understand what he hadn’t said. Except, maybe he has said it all, which is what is causing the current predicament. 

By now it’s bothering her enough that she knows if she doesn’t read it, she’ll just keep staring at her ceiling. So she flips on the bedside lamp, squinting as her eyes adjust to the light, and reaches into the bedside drawer. She puts on her glasses, pulls out the well-worn envelope, takes out the pages and carefully unfolds them once more.

 

Dear Olivia,

 

I’ve sat down to write this so many times over the years that I’ve lost count. It isn’t just that I haven’t really known what to say. It’s that everything seems inadequate in the face of our partnership and the way I left. Even now, I’m considering wadding this up and throwing it in the trash. 

Fin told me I should come to your award celebration, that I should reach out to you, but I’m not sure I have the guts to do either. I’m pretty sure you’ll have me thrown out. Or perhaps worse, you’ll give me a polite smile and it’ll tell me that you’ve let me go, while I’m still here, holding on from a distance. 

It’s not fair, I know, to expect you to still care. Not after I left and just cut you out. But even after all this time, I’m still me. And I still value what we had, even if it was lifetimes ago. 

This is the part where I need to apologize. Beg your forgiveness. For leaving. For the way I left. For the many phone calls and messages I never returned. For missing years of your life. For not having your back. I’m sorry for all of it, for every second of the last decade. 

If it helps at all, I never stopped thinking of you. Not one day. And I never stopped feeling bad about all of it. 

I should try to tell you why. I’m sure you want to hear it. The short answer of course was Jenna Fox. It didn’t really matter if it was a good shooting. After all, what’s good about shooting a child? But Jenna was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. The one thing that was just too much. Too many years of painful cases and doing a lot of right things that felt wrong. 

The work had been rewarding, for the most part. And I owe that to you, your partnership, your friendship, when I had a right to it. I wouldn’t have lasted that long at SVU without you. The fact that you’ve stayed so long after I’ve left means perhaps that you didn’t need me as much as I needed you. 

But it wasn’t just the shooting or the devastation of the cases adding up. It was me and you. Not the fact that I’d pick you over the job - I accepted that a long time ago. But how important our relationship was in other ways. Too important, often. I don’t think this is something I have to explain to you, or something I can fully dissect myself anyways. 

I can say this. You became so primary in my life, I didn’t know who I was without you. And I didn’t think we could continue on that way. When I left, I was lost for a long time.

Anyways, maybe none of this matters to you anymore. Maybe it was me, making our relationship more, while you, my steadfast partner, just tried to make the best of the situation. Maybe you did care once - I certainly like to tell myself that - but now, you’ve moved on. 

Maybe you’re still hurt, even angry and if so, please, blame me, for whatever blame you have to lay. For all the things you felt, any pain I inflicted, any regrets I caused. 

You’ve come so far - not the least bit surprising, I assure you. A captain now, being celebrated. You deserve all of it. 

I do hope you’re happy. Of all the people I’ve known, you’ve deserved it the most. 

And maybe someday, you’ll find it in your heart to forgive me.

 

Yours Always,

Elliot

 

Olivia slides her glasses off her face and folds the letter back up. She thinks back to the day he handed it to her as the snow fell around them, sticking to her eyelashes and nose. How she couldn’t take her eyes off of the paper, apprehensive of what it might say, but desperate to know and unable to refuse him.

Meeting him that day, she had thought would be one of the last times she’d see him. She hadn’t assumed she’d be asked to attend Kathy’s funeral. And she thought that he’d solve her case and return to Italy with Eli in a few weeks. Or maybe that was just a lie she told herself, a way to avoid the thought that he might be back in her life after so long. She hadn’t even introduced him to Noah. 

So when he told her about the letter, his hand offering it to her as he said it was up to her, that he understood, it had knocked her sideways, just like the conversation at the hospital. She hadn’t been ready for any of it. Hell, he hadn’t bothered to warn her that he was back, so how on earth could she have been ready? Leave it to Stabler to reappear the same way he disappeared, no warning, no consideration.

She had thought about it for days, whether to read it or not. Stared at it sitting on her dresser as she lay in bed, fiddled with it over coffee in the morning and wine at night. She had put it in her pocket and carried it around like a totem, her fingers glancing over it, even pulling it out to flip it over in her hands and consider the weight of the paper, both physical and emotional. 

At some point it had become clear, it wasn’t if she was going to open it, but when. It wasn’t the words he’d say, but whether it meant she could finally move on. Of course that last thought had been wrong. She thought she knew what he’d say, the apologies from the hospital or how he had to walk away. But it was more, deeper, truer than what she’d expected after all these years. So the words, it turned out, had mattered immensely. 

That had been a question for many years - what would he say if she ever did see him again? What would she say? It had been a strange sort of fantasy, almost the way you imagine a first run in with an ex. How great you’d look, how their sudden appearance couldn’t possibly throw you because you were just so over them. A laughable thought really - her getting over Elliot leaving her. 

But after these last few months it had been a different question. What if the car hadn’t exploded? What if Kathy Stabler had never been hurt? How would she have reacted to seeing him at her award ceremony, like an apparition out of thin air? 

She wonders if she could have mustered the polite smile. But mostly, she thinks she would have looked at him the way she did in the street - shell shocked, breathless, fighting between reaching out to him and running away. 

They would have exchanged a few words, maybe promised to keep in touch, and he would have been gone again, all her questions unanswered. Because what could have possibly been said in front of everyone, in front of Kathy? What could have been done, except to play nice and walk away?

By the time she pulled it out of her pocket with the determination to read it, she thought she was ready. She sat in her car at Hunt’s Point, too windy that night to sit outside, not wanting to go home to relieve Lucy until she had dealt with the letter. She had chosen that spot because it wasn’t too far to where Elliot was staying, and seeing him would be possible, if she was ready for that.

Reading it had been overwhelming. It took her ages, as her eyes took each word in turn, traced back, reread once and then again, just for good measure. When he said he didn’t know who he was without her she had to stop, sob out the memory of those months after he left and the pain that was still imprinted in her as she found her way without him. She stared at the sign off and signature until she could picture it with her eyes closed.

By the time she was finally done reading, seeing him was no longer a question, but an imperative. She didn’t know what she was going to say, but she knew she had to see him. She had to understand if the words were real, if he’d meant all of it and then if he did, what exactly did that mean between them? She was glad for the forethought of being so close by as she strode through his building doors. 

Of course, all those well laid plans had amounted to nothing. And instead she had gotten frazzled Elliot, looking guilty and agitated, brushing her off. All the questions filling the space between them as he waved her off and she stared at his retreating form. 

Even months later, she still wants to know so many things. Why did he never reach back out, even at any point later? Did he think about what he was doing to her by walking away without a word? Did he consider how she might have needed him? How important he was to her? How him leaving the way he did actually could have broken her? 

She’s not sure having any of the answers to these questions will help anything, change anything. But still, she needs to know. And she supposes no answers will ever be possible until she lets him in, at least a little.

Chapter Text

It seemed that it was one step forward and five steps back with them. Elliot was sure they were making some progress, he was regaining her trust, earning her love. But once again she isn’t answering his calls or texts. 

He hasn’t tried to leave a message in days, hanging up when her voicemail clicks on. Things are better on a lot of fronts. He is dealing better when it comes to Kathy. Or at least acknowledging his pain and trying to figure out what to do with it that isn’t self-destructive. Organized Crime is getting closer to Wheatley and he knows it is only a matter of time before that house of cards falls and with it the answers to his wife’s murder. The kids are resilient in spite of everything.

But on the Liv front, he is at a loss. He is kicking himself for every time he got carried away with her. She is right to be upset about him expressing his feelings. It is too much after too long and with so much other baggage in the midst. Getting physical with her had been a mistake. Just a month after she dies and I’m kissing someone else, he thinks angrily. I always was a shit husband.  

And yet, he knows if Liv was there this second, he wouldn’t be able to stop himself from kissing her and doing anything else she was willing to let him do. 

When his phone rings and it’s Liv’s name on the caller ID, he’s surprised. It’s 3 am, but he’d been restless anyways, lying awake on the couch. He fumbles with the phone in his eagerness to answer and has to take a deep breath to calm himself before he hits the accept button. 

“Liv?”

He hears her sigh, “I was hoping you wouldn’t answer.”

“Well...I got tired of not answering you a long time ago.” He tells her softly. When she doesn’t respond, he prods, “What’s wrong?”

“I couldn’t sleep….and it seems like there are things we need to talk about.”

“I’ll come over.” Elliot’s already on his feet, pulling on jeans as he says it.

“It’s late-”

“And we’re not sleeping anyways.”

“Noah-”

“We’ll be quiet...while we’re talking.” He finishes, hoping she won’t hang up on him.

Liv sighs again in resignation, “Ok.”

His hand is already on the doorknob when the word leaves her lips.

When she answers the door, 15 minutes later, she’s wearing a bulky sweatshirt and jeans. He wonders if this is some version of armor. Too bad she still looks so enticing with her feet bare, her sloppy ponytail and the sleepy way she regards him. He wants to wrap is arms around her and curl up in bed.

Instead he follows her inside quietly, refusing her offer of a beer as she pulls one out for herself. When they sit down on the couch, he sees the familiar envelope sitting on her coffee table. 

He thinks about how nervous he was to write it, to give it to her. He almost hadn’t written it at all. But he had been too cowardly to call her before the award and he knew he owed her so much more than showing his face for one evening. The letter had seemed like something he could do for her, however small. Some sort of mea culpa. And some way for him to cope with the loss that had followed him for so long.

“I guess we never talked about it,” his eyes are trained on the envelope.

“Never had a chance after you left me standing in your lobby,” Liv shoots back, cooly. 

“Have I said I’m sorry about that?” 

She ignores the apology. “I keep reading it. I keep thinking it’s going to give me some answers or some new knowledge.”

“Has it?”

Liv gives him a watery laugh, a shake of her head. “More questions, is more like it.”

She looks over to him and he gives her that slight nod, the one that says he’ll follow her lead, he trusts her. The small tilt of his head that’s always meant I’ll follow you to the ends of the earth .

She turns away, the tears are already spilling and she’s not sure how she’ll get anywhere with this conversation if she can’t keep her emotions in check. 

Olivia lifts the envelope from the table, turning it over in one hand as she tries to calm herself. 

“How come I never heard from you? There was all this time after you left. If you needed time to settle...if you thought you couldn’t walk away if you spoke to me...there was plenty of time once the ink had dried.”

“What would I have said, Liv? I left because I loved you too much?”

She pushes forward hard, her hand shaking as she throws down the envelope, tries to put her beer down. The glass makes a rocking sound and she has to steady the bottle before it spills. 

He waits while she leans forward, cradling her forehead in her hands. 

“The damage was already done. You had stopped calling. If I had reached out then...wouldn’t it have been worse? More unfair?”

“That sounds like an excuse,” she accuses.

Elliot draws a hand down his face, “It probably is.”

“I really nee-” Olivia hiccups over a sob, breathing hard and trying again. “I needed you. Did you think of that? What it would do to me, you just abandoning me? That you couldn’t be bothered to say sorry or goodbye? You broke me.”

Elliot leans forward, tries to comfort her with a hand on her shoulder. She shakes it off hard, getting to her feet as she dries away her tears. He watches as she drops her head back and takes a breath before she turns to face him again.

“Liv, I’m sorry.” 

She knows he means it, but she’s so tired of it. She laughs, harshly, “You have got to stop saying that like it can fix this.”

He falls silent, watching her. He deserves her anger and spite. Maybe this punishment can help absolve his sins.

Olivia signs, “You know, we’ve been getting along. Sometimes it feels just like the old days. But it’s not enough for us to just keep pretending everything is fine.”

He nods at her words, his eyes dropping to his hands. 

“Did you really think I was going to let you go? That I wouldn’t feel something when you showed up after so long? Out of the blue?”

“I thought maybe you’d hate me so much that you wouldn’t allow me the satisfaction of getting upset with me.” He glances up at her with a small smile that vanishes at the anguish in her eyes.

“That might have been easier. But seeing you…” Olivia pushes the heel of her hand against her heart. “El, it was like every thought I’d had of you over the last 10 years hit me all over again. Every moment I missed you. Every ounce of pain revisited.”

He sits up, leaning forward with the urgency of his words. “I never stopped thinking of you, Liv. I did hold on, the whole time. I never actually let you go.”

Olivia doesn’t respond, just swipes the beer bottle from the table and takes a few large gulps. 

“I pulled the Lewis file.” He watches her as he speaks. Waits as she takes it in and then meets his gaze with a hard look. “I should have been there.”

She scoffs, “Yeah.” She can’t look at him anymore, and instead stares at her thumb picking at the edge of the bottle label. 

“But you didn’t need me, not really.” He wants to assure her that she survived it. That she’s the strongest person he’s ever known. The assurance falls flat.

“How do you figure?” Her voice is brimming with unspoken rage. “Yeah, I got myself out of it. I dealt with that psychopath. But after? I think after is when I needed you most. When I was traumatized and terrified, that’s when I needed you. Who was I going to talk to? You were my best friend. You were everything-” She gasps as she tries to swallow the sob. 

Elliot moves, shifting his weight onto his feet to reach her. But she pushes out a hand and he stops, sinks back down.

Olivia presses her lips together, steadying herself. “Brian was hurt...that I didn’t talk to him. I don’t know...maybe I wouldn’t have talked to you either. But I think....I think if you had been here...maybe…” she’s looking past him as she confesses. 

She laughs sardonically, wipes her eyes. “I don’t know why it matters. You weren’t here, right? End of story.”

“I’m here now. You can talk to me now.”

She shakes her head, putting the beer bottle back down and wrapping her arms around herself.

He wants to go to her, but he can see she doesn’t want that, so he clenches his fists together instead.

“You told me, at the hospital, that I was the most important person in your life. That’s what you were for me too. I don’t know how it happened. But at some point it was like I didn’t know where I ended and you began. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t fair to anyone. Not to you, not to Kathy. But it was true. I think it still is.”

“What do you expect Elliot? You waltzed back into my life when I honestly thought I would never speak to you or see you ever again.” The look on her face is heart shattering. “I figured I would never have the chance for closure, I’d never be able to tell you what you did to me or ask you why. And now you’re here and you have all these feelings that I’m not prepared to deal with. You seem to think we can pick back up where we were. You act like I should be ready for you. Like I’ve just been hanging around for the past 10 years waiting for you like I did for the 10 years before that. Things change, Elliot.” Her voice is raw over the words.

“I didn’t expect you to wait for me.” Even as he says it, he’s not sure it’s true. Maybe it was less that he expected it and more that he had wished for it for so long. That when he would be ready, so would she. He’d worry that when the time finally came she would really have moved on - married, left, hated him - and then he’d know he had missed his chance. But here they were again and despite all the changes, so much still remains between them. 

“I know it’s been a lifetime. I know things are different. But we’re still the same. I know you feel it when we’re together. How everything just fits.” 

“So what? You act like that means something.”

“It means everything. I have never known anyone the way I know you. No asterisks, no exceptions.”

“10 years, Elliot.”

“10 years, 10 decades!” His voice rises and she shoots him a sharp look. He quiets down and continues, a soft smile playing on his lips. “I will always know you Liv. I know what you’re thinking when you’re looking at me right now, like you can’t believe I can be so dumb. I know how you sound in the morning before your first cup of coffee, the look in your eyes when you can’t think about anything but finding justice. I know when you’re angry at me, because you only ever call me Elliot and you say it with-”

“Why are we doing this?” She interrupts, spreading her hands open. “Why are we revisiting any of this? You left all that time ago for a reason, right? You thought it was for the best. So why? What’s the point of any of this now? When we’ve gone our separate ways, why should we go back?” The words are vicious as she spits them out in a hush.

“Because we love each other.”

“No.” Liv shakes her head stubbornly.

Elliot gets up, ignores how she turns away from him, the way her hands try to hold him off. He grasps her hands between his and pulls her towards him gently. She looks at their joined hands, slides her gaze up to meet his.

“You love me.”

“No, I don’t.” There’s a moment of silence as she looks him squarely in the eye. “Not anymore.” She doesn’t waver, but he knows all her tells.

“Liv, can you just stop fighting us?” Elliot whispers the plea. 

“There is no us, Elliot. Not now. Not for a long time.” She stares at him for a long moment and then pulls her hands away hard.

“You uh….you begged for my forgiveness. In the letter.” She glances away, frowns and looks back at him. “But I can’t. I can’t trust you and I can’t forgive you.” 

It hits him squarely in the chest. He staggers back, his eyes searching hers. “Liv, I thought...I thought you might give me a chance.”

“I can’t.” She’s stopped crying. Her eyes are dry, her whole demeanor cold, stoic. “After everything we were to each other, everything we went through, that you could just walk away…”

She looks away from him and sighs softly, all the emotions of just a few minutes before walled off. “It’s late, Elliot. I have to be up in a few hours. You should go.” 

He waits, rooted to the ground, desperately wishing she’ll take it back. 

Olivia’s gaze returns to him, detached. “We should leave this all here. I need this to be done.” Her voice is gentle now, almost like she’s letting him down easy, instead of ripping open his heart.

He wipes away tears he hadn’t even realized were falling. “Liv…” her name is a supplication. But she just shakes her head and moves to the door, opening it for him and waiting expectantly. 

He follows her in a daze, moves backwards as he crosses the threshold, watches her close the door between them.

Chapter Text

 

The cold December wind cuts through Elliot’s jacket as he makes his way across the rows of headstones. He slows as he reaches Kathy, the grave marker still hard to fathom, even after all these months. 

He places a bouquet of flowers in the holder and steps back, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his jacket and furrowing his eyebrows. He glances around, not wanting to be overheard and yet feeling the need to speak out loud.

Satisfied he’s alone, Elliot takes a deep breath. “Sorry...that I haven’t come to visit sooner. The kids...they’ve been telling me I should be here, how much visiting has helped, but...I didn’t feel like I could. At least not then.”

Elliot pauses, furrowing himself into his jacket, taking measure of the guilt and relief coursing through him. “We got him, Kathy. We got Lenski and Wheately and his whole operation. We got everyone who was involved in your murder.” 

He shuffles his feet, as tears form in his eyes. “I’m sorry I didn’t protect you. That I lied about the work and that you paid with your life. You deserved so much better than me, Kathy. I always knew that. I hope you know I tried, even if I failed.” 

Elliot looks away from the headstone, across the cemetery as he weighs what he needs to say next. He pulls his hands out of his pockets, his right fingers immediately encircling the bare skin that once held his wedding band. “I took it off. When I woke up this morning, I knew I needed to. It doesn’t change the fact that I miss you, or that I know I should have done better by you, or that I’ll never be ok with your life being cut short, but I still knew it was time. You were always the best mom. I’ll always love you for that. I’ll forever be grateful for everything you’ve done for me, for the kids - I know they’re so amazing because of you. But…”

Elliot glances down at his bare hand and chuckles quietly. “Well, I’m sure you won’t be surprised.” He looks back to the headstone, swallowing back the swell of emotion. “Olivia…”

He shakes his head, tucks his hands back into his pockets. “We never really talked about it, about her. Sometimes I wish we would have. Maybe it would have been better to clear the air. But I know you always knew. So I’m sorry for that too. I really am. You didn’t deserve it. I hope you can forgive me for all my failures as your husband. And I hope you’ll forgive me for what I need to do now.”

Elliot holds himself against the wind as he considers the past few months. “She hasn’t spoken to me in a long time. Can’t say I blame her. And she said she doesn’t love me, trust me. But I need to fix it with her. I need to find a way. Maybe now I’m ready to.”

He gives her headstone a long look. “I hope you understand.”

Elliot turns and makes his way back to his car. As he sits in the driver’s seat, he thinks he really is ready to move forward. Before he can turn the ignition, his phone rings, Fin showing up on the caller ID.

“Fin-” Elliot pauses, panic rising at Fin’s words. “I’m on my way.”


 

An hour earlier

 

“Captain Benson” Olivia identifies herself as she walks up to the Sergeant in charge at the scene.

“Sergeant Choi,” comes the reply. “Captain, we have a 7 year old boy being held by his 15 year old brother. He’s armed and he’s holding the store clerk as well. We’re lucky they were the only ones in the store at the time of the incident.”

“Do we know what happened?” Olivia straps on her vest as she looks towards the building.

“Maybe an EDP. Clerk only managed to say that he was behaving erratically when he entered and then when he couldn’t find what he needed, the gun was brandished.” 

Olivia nods, “We have a line in?”

The Sergeant directs one of her officers and a phone is handed over. Olivia speaks in calming tones, suggesting she come in and help things along. After a few minutes, and several promises of ‘no one else’, the teenager acquiesces. 

She leaves instructions with the Sergeant and listens as they are relayed to the other officers on the scene, then she steps around the barricades with her arms up. She can see the boy standing at the door and she pauses before he nods her closer. He opens the door with one hand, the other training the firearm on her. She’s just steps away when there’s a yell from behind her. She sees the panic in the kid’s face and before she can say no or do anything to calm him he fires twice, the bullets making contact. The force of the impact knocks her back as she hears a chorus of shouts and then the sound of more gunfire, three shots, originating from different spots behind her. She wants to yell, to tell everyone to stop but she can’t breathe. 

Olivia lays on the sidewalk, struggling to catch her breath, pain blooming in her chest. There’s a pounding of feet and then an officer is leaning over her. “Fine,” she manages to wheeze out, but she can see him wave to the paramedic. Before he can move away, she grabs onto the officer’s arm, “The kid?” she still can’t really catch her breath, but she has to know. The officer shakes his head sadly and moves aside as the paramedic steps in.

They insist she go to the hospital, even though she’s sure it’s just some cracked ribs and all they’re going to do is prescribe some pain meds and tell her to ice. 

A little while later Olivia is sitting on the bed in the ER and checking emails as she waits for the doctor. 

“Liv,” Fin calls as he approaches. “It doesn’t look like you’re bleeding,” he teases, but she can see clear relief in his face. 

“The bullets hit my vest...the kid wasn’t so lucky.” She says regretfully, wincing as she sits up. “I told you I was ok. You didn’t need to rush down here.”

Fin shrugs and smiles, “You were shot. And you are known to downplay your injuries, superwoman. I couldn’t just leave it at that.”

Olivia gives him a small, grateful smile. She’s about to tell Fin how glad she is to have him around when she hears a very panicked “Liv!”

Elliot is suddenly there at her bedside, his eyes fervently scanning her for injuries, his hands following suit - jumping from her shin, to her arm, to her hand and her cheek. He looks terrified and it startles her. 

“I uh...gave Stabler a call.” Fin says quietly. Olivia hears it, but all she can do is stare up at Elliot in surprise. “I better get back before the squad falls apart.” Fin chuckles, leaving the two of them to their reunion.

“I’m fine.” Olivia whispers as Elliot’s hands settle over her open palm.

“You scared me.” He responds quietly, the panic finally fading from his face.

Her eyes move to their joined hands, his right hand holding hers, his left hand settled on top of the joining. She stares hard as she realizes the wedding band is gone. Elliot sees her looking and waits as she takes it in. 

Finally he breaks the silence. “What happened?”

Olivia clears her throat, dragging her eyes away from his bare fingers and back up to the intensity of his gaze. “Two to the vest. Probably just cracked a few ribs.”

“Well let’s find out if that’s right, Captain.” The doctor interrupts. Olivia hadn’t even noticed the doctor’s arrival. 

Elliot hesitantly leaves them behind the curtain and paces the free space outside as he waits. When the doctor finally exits he calls through the curtain, waiting for Olivia to give him the ok before he re-enters. She’s still trying to adjust her blouse, grimacing as she moves and he reaches out, moving the fabric into place, his fingers skimming bare skin with the effort. They both pause, a moment of heat passing between them before he pulls his hands away, reluctantly.

“Well?” He asks gruffly.

“Bruised ribs, don’t even need the x-ray.” She smiles with a bit of triumph.

“Then can I take you home?” Elliot stuffs his hands into his pockets.

“I’m headed to the precinct.” Olivia nods to the nurse bringing by her prescription and paperwork. 

“Liv.” Elliot frowns at her.

She finishes signing and looks back at him, slightly exasperated. “I’m fine.”

His frown deepens and they hold a long look before she finally rolls her eyes and gives him a begrudging nod. 

On the drive to her place, he glances across at her. “Can we be speaking again?” 

She sighs heavily, the movement causing some discomfort. “I wasn’t intending to never speak to you again.”

“That’s a start…” 

“It just seemed like we needed some time apart.” 

Elliot frowns, “And now that it’s been a few months?”

“I don’t know.” Olivia says resignedly as she stares out the window. 

“As far as punishments go-”

“Is that what you think this is?” Olivia asks, the undercurrent of irritation cutting through the words. “You think I’m being petty?”

“No. I think you have every right to be angry at me and if you want to teach me a lesson-”

Olivia laughs harshly. “Not speaking to you for 5 months is not nearly the same as not speaking to me for 10 years.”

“So you are punishing me?” Elliot looks over to her with a flick of his eyebrow and Olivia falls silent.

Things remain tensely quiet as Elliot finds a spot near Olivia’s and parks. He jumps out of the car, holding the door open for her by the time she’s managed to unbuckle her seatbelt. “I’m fine, Elliot. You can go home.”

“You’re injured. Can you just let me help you?” The plaintive request throws her and she allows him to take her keys and lead her inside. 

They’ve both missed lunch while waiting in the hospital and there’s still a few hours before Noah will be home from school. He puts in an order at the cafe down the block and when he hangs up, Olivia is moving towards her bedroom. 

“Need help?” he calls. 

“I’m fine.” Olivia repeats and wonders just how many times she’s said it today. 

A few minutes later, her work pants replaced with leggings, she struggles to move the blouse up and over her head. She hears Elliot softly tapping at the door. “Liv? I’ve had enough bruised ribs to know you probably need help.”

Olivia groans in frustration. “Okay...you can come in.”

Her back is turned to the door, her blouse lifted and exposing a swath of skin. She hears him pause after he opens the door, clearing his throat and then moving towards her. They work silently in sync so she can maneuver the blouse of her arms before he gently lifts it over her head.

“Can you get me a wet washcloth, from the bathroom?”

“Yeah” his voice is husky. She listens to him move away, the running of the tap and his footsteps bringing him back. He stands behind her and hands the washcloth over.

“Can you…” Olivia swallows. “Undo my bra?”

He clears his throat again and she feels him slide his fingers under the bra at her back and oh so gently work the clasp. He moves slowly, sliding the straps off her shoulders, his fingers leaving trails of heat along her skin. 

She lets the bra fall, taking the wet washcloth to the two lividly forming bruises, the coolness providing a bit of relief to the ache. 

As she puts the washcloth down, she can feel Elliot move closer. He dips his head and then his lips are brushing against her shoulder. His hands touch gently over her arms, just barely holding her. His lips trace along the back of her neck to her other shoulder. 

“El…” Olivia isn’t sure what she wants. His actions are bringing desires to the surface that she’s managed to suppress for months now. 

But he takes the sound of his name as a signal to stop and slowly pulls back. Spotting the worn fleece sitting on her bed he reaches down for it, opening it and carefully sliding it onto her, one arm at a time. 

She closes the buttons and turns towards him. The hunger in his eyes is obvious and she shivers. She doesn’t stop him as he leans forward and reverently presses his lips to hers. He reserves the urgency and instead pours tenderness into the kiss. When he pulls back she’s breathing shakily. 

She stares up at him, confused and uncertain and full of want. The door buzzer breaks the spell and he steps back, turning away and leaving her to recover in her bedroom.

Chapter Text

Elliot focuses their lunch conversation around the kids, one of the few topics that feels safe. He can feel Liv’s continued wariness towards him. Their last conversation hangs like a cloud in the room and he knows they can only ignore it for so long. 

After lunch, Liv opens the dishwasher, wincing as she does so. “Olivia.” Elliot sounds fed up. He wraps a hand around her wrist and pulls her to face him. “I’m here, just stop being so stubborn and let me help.” She allows him to steer her out of the kitchen and onto a barstool and then he returns to the dishwasher and starts loading.

“You said you didn’t think you could trust me again.” Elliot speaks with his back turned, too nervous to look at her. “Is that still true?”

She’s silent as he finishes loading the dishes, closes the door and turns back to her. She’s staring at him intensely and he swallows anxiously under her scrutiny. 

“I’ve never trusted easily. And you were the person I had given the most trust to in my entire life. Why should I trust you again, after the way you left?” 

“I’m not asking you to give me your trust blindly. I know I need to earn it again. I just want the chance to do that. I’m not going anywhere this time, Liv.”

He leans over the countertop and covers her hands with his own. Liv looks down at his hands, again noting the bare fingers. She raises her eyes to his and lifts her eyebrows in question.

“It was time.” He says simply. 

“Just like that?” She asks skeptically.

He sighs, “No...I won’t pretend it’s effortless. But the therapy is helping. Wheatley’s behind bars. And…” He squeezes her hand as he looks up at her. He can see the fear in Olivia’s eyes as she pulls back, emotionally, physically. His hands move to her forearms, gently holding her in place. “Why are you so scared of us?”

She furrows her brow, this time shaking him off. “Scared?” She moves off the stool, uncertain what to do with herself.

“Terrified.” Elliot rounds the bar. “I just can’t decide if it’s me leaving, or if it’s more than that.”

Olivia scoffs, “So I tell you I don’t trust you because you left me and you want to blame me for not giving you what you want?” 

“Dammit, Liv. Stop trying to pick a fight and tell me what’s going on here!” Elliot’s grits out. “If you don’t think you can trust me, then tell me what I can do to earn it. But don’t find reasons to keep pushing me away.”

Olivia stares at him, her chin trembling. She would rather be angry. It would be so much simpler. But the anger she’s been grappling with since his return has been fading with his every apology, his every admission of the depth of his feelings. Instead she’s beginning to realize just how much her anger was covering her disappointment, her fear that he would let her down again. 

“Liv?” Elliot takes a step towards her.

“You never chose me.” Olivia blurts. The admission takes both of them by surprise. Olivia frowns, tucks her chin and stares at his feet as she continues, “You were married and I wasn’t going to cross any lines. But when you and Kathy separated...everything got harder. We were closer in a lot of ways. But I was waiting for you.” Liv swipes a tear away, shocked she’s actually voicing these thoughts to him. “I was waiting for you. And instead of choosing me, you pushed me away. You dated anyone else you could find. You did god knows what with Dani Beck. And then you went back to Kathy.” She finds the strength to look back up at him. “You never chose me.”

“I was afraid you didn’t want me. I thought I’d ruin everything and I couldn’t lose what I had with you. It was simpler to hang onto our partnership than it was to risk everything. It was simpler to go back to Kathy.” Elliot speaks softly. 

“Why should I believe you?” Olivia whispers. “After all the waiting and the pain and you abandoning me, why should I believe anything you say?”

He moves closer, closes the gap between them. He lifts his hands to cup her face, presses his lips to her forehead and then leans his forehead against her. “Because it was always you, Liv. I always loved you. More and better than anyone else.”

Despite her fear, her skepticism, she wants to believe him. For the first time since he’s come back, she can admit to herself that she wants it all to be true. Maybe it’s that he hasn’t wavered in all these months. Even after she’s tried to push him away, he keeps coming back, he keeps insisting he loves her. Maybe it’s simply that he’s here. After so long he’s here to take care of her, to show concern when she could use the support. After 10 years of being everyone else’s rock, of refusing to show weakness to anyone around her, he’s back and he’s offering to shoulder her burdens, to relieve some weight. She had gotten so used to keeping everyone at arm's length. Truthfully she had always done that with everyone besides Elliot. And it figured he’s the only one she’ll let close, despite everything that’s happened between them. 

She stays silent and allows him to wrap his arms around her, cradle her head against his chest. 

“What if it’s not real? What if it’s an illusion?” She whispers the words against him, still afraid.

“What illusion? I know how I feel. I know how you feel…”

Olivia pulls back, looking up at him. “How?” 

Elliot smiles, the certainty so clear to her. “Because I know you better than I know myself.”

“I always hated that.” Liv allows a ghost of a smile across her lips and Elliot chuckles quietly in return.

“And you’ve always known me.” He adds with assurance.

Liv closes her eyes, overwhelmed. 

“You believe me, don’t you,” It’s not a question, because he can see the acceptance in her face, though the fear still remains. 

She nods slowly, a tear escaping from her closed eyes and Elliot thumbs it away, tilts her face up to his. He leans down and kisses her gently. As he pulls back again, Olivia looks up at him, the walls between them dropping away. She finally feels ready for him to be there with her, wrapped in his arms, vulnerable. 

She’s watching him look down at her happily, and finding herself returning a smile and it feels like peace. It feels like home. She hears the key turning in the lock and pulls back gently, “Noah’s home.”

Elliot nods, “Let me stay?” And it’s so easy to say yes, so she does.

“Mom?! You’re home?!” Noah’s excitement breaks through the reverie and Olivia is turning to him and grinning as he speeds towards her and wraps his arms around her hips. 

“You remember Uncle Elliot?” Olivia ruffles her son’s hair. “Why don’t you say hi while I talk to Lucy?”

Elliot kneels down in front of the boy as Olivia ushers Lucy to the door. “Hey Noah, Eli was just asking about you the other day. He said he had a new comic book you’d like.”

Elliot’s pretty sure the seven year old is sizing him up. “That’s cool,” Noah says, sounding a bit wary for his age.

Olivia returns, sending Noah off with a snack and instructions to finish his homework. “I think I’ve got some work to win him over.” Elliot says as they sit on the couch, leaning towards each other. 

“He’ll come around. He doesn’t meet a lot of new adults, so he’ll need a little time.” Olivia frowns a bit, “What about your kids?” She brushes her fingertips against his bare knuckles and Elliot takes the opportunity to twine his fingers with hers. “Do they know about this?” She taps his bare skin.

“Not yet, but I think they’ll understand. My feelings for you aren’t exactly a well kept secret.”

Olivia grimaces, “That seems like it would make things worse.”

Elliot shakes his head, “They’ve always loved you, Liv. Even when they got older and started to realize my feelings for you were...complicated. They were upset with me, not you.”

Olivia raises her eyebrows, “From what I remember of that interrogation with Dickie, I’m not entirely convinced that’s true.”

Elliot laughs lightly, “He apologized for that.”

“Doesn’t mean it wasn’t something that was bothering him.”

Elliot squeezes her hand, “It’ll be ok.” He reaches towards her, cups her palm in his hand, “I promise.”

They sit for a moment in silence as Elliot works up some courage. “So what does this mean?” He wants her to admit her feelings, but he knows she needs time to come around.

Olivia pulls his hand away from her cheek. “I need to go slow. I need time to...trust. I’m not ready to tell Noah or say anything to your kids. I’m sorry-” 

“No, don’t apologize for that. Slow is good. I can do slow. I’ll do whatever you need to earn your trust.”

She nods, still nervous, but hope blossoming within her that maybe they can make this work. “I did miss you, these last few months. I kept wondering if I was making a mistake pushing you away. I thought I had gotten used to not having you around, but I guess I never did. I always wanted you here. Although you being here at first...it was a lot.”

“For me too. I think I had resigned myself to leaving you in the past, as painful as that was. I think that’s why I was scared to call you before I came, afraid to stir things up.”

“You were right, I was scared...still am. But you being here now…” Olivia trails off, their eyes holding each other, communicating more effectively than they ever have with words.

“Does that mean I can stay for dinner?” Elliot asks hopefully.

Liv laughs softly, “Not tonight.”

Elliot nods, “Then dinner, next week, just us?”

“You asking me on a date, Stabler?” Olivia teases. 

“Absolutely, Benson,” Elliot grins, leaning in to kiss her.

Chapter Text

 

“Noah? Don’t forget to grab your toothbrush,” Olivia calls from her bedroom as she puts on her earrings and takes a quick glance in her mirror. 

“I got it!” Noah presses himself against the doorjamb of her room and gives her an assessing look. “Are you going out with Uncle Elliot again?”

Olivia turns, mimicking his expression, “I am…”

Noah ponders this then smiles suddenly, “You look nice, Mom.”

“Thanks, sweet boy,” she ruffles his hair as she walks past him. “Noah? What do you think of Uncle Elliot?” She turns back to her son, who is furrowing his brow in concentration. Before he can reply, there’s a knock at the door. 

“Who is it?” Noah yells in excitement as he bounds forward. 

“It’s Elliot,” Liv can hear his muffled voice and watches as Noah swings the door open.

“Hey Noah,” Elliot smiles down at him and the boy flaps his arm wide in a gesture to enter. “Hey Liv.” Elliot turns to her and it still surprises her how fast her grin splits her face in response, how such a simple and familiar greeting still makes her feel euphoric. 

She watches him turn back to her son. “Eli asked me to bring these to you,” Elliot holds a bag out to Noah who grabs it with a quick thank you and starts rifling through the stash of comic books. Elliot takes the moment of distraction to walk over and plant a kiss on Liv’s cheek. 

“More comic books? We’re going to be drowning in them if you keep this up. It’s only been a few months and I had to buy him another bookshelf,” She quietly scolds.

“I am not above bribery,” Elliot grins and she laughs helplessly in response.

There’s another knock and Noah is again bounding to the door and calling out. This time it’s his company for the evening, one of his newer friends coming to pick him up for a sleepover. 

Olivia shares a few words with the father and helps Noah with his jacket. As she leans down to hug him, Noah grabs her shoulders and leans towards her ear, whispering, “I think I like him.”

Olivia pulls back slightly, “Uncle Elliot?” she whispers.

Noah nods and Olivia cocks an eyebrow. “I think you like him because he keeps bringing you comics.” Her voice is still hushed as she teases her son.

His expression suddenly turns serious. He tilts his head for a moment in thought and then shakes it. “He makes you happy. That’s why I like him.” Noah smiles again.

Her eyes fill with tears and Olivia laughs softly. His assessment is so precise, so correct. It’s a relief that her son has accepted Elliot. But it’s more - the realization that she really is happy. The fear that he’ll disappear, that he doesn’t really love her, is gone. Months together now and she understands that he’s managed against all odds to earn her trust. She wonders now how she ever doubted he would. “He does make me happy. And you make me happy.” She kisses her son’s cheek then watches him wave goodbye to El and follow his friend out the door. 

Olivia’s quiet for a long moment and Elliot asks, “You ok, Liv?”

She pauses and looks up at him and there’s a shine in her eyes and he steps towards her, tucking her hair behind her ear. 

“I love you, El” it’s soft and sweet and the best thing he’s ever heard.

He grins and hauls her towards him, his lips finding hers and their bodies entwining. He pulls back when they’re breathless, pressing kisses to her cheek, her forehead. Finally he pulls back to look into her eyes, “Just remember, I said it first, Benson.”

She laughs giddily, “Yeah, you wouldn’t shut up about it, Stabler.” She smacks his arm lightly.

“I love you, Liv” and then he’s kissing her again.

She reaches for his belt, the first time they’ve toed a boundary they set when they started to date 7 months prior. They had both wanted to take the time, to ensure there were no misgivings, no regrets. He stops kissing her, pulls back and looks at her questioningly. “What about dinner?”

The smile she gives him is sure and filled with love. “We can order in later.”

He grins down at her, his eyes so full of love that she feels her chest constrict. Olivia takes a shaky breath, trying to memorize the moment, this feeling. And then she knows so suddenly that there will be so many more of these moments. A lifetime left of moments and she feels dizzy with happiness.

He reads her expression with understanding and smiles softly in return. Elliot takes her hands, drops a kiss to each palm and then turns her gently around. His hands wrap around her ribcage, his thumbs drawing small circles as he holds her. He noses underneath the fall of her hair, skims his mouth up her neck, under her ear, nuzzling. He’s learned it as a favorite spot and returns to it so she’ll gasp and sigh and lean back against him. 

His hands slide up and over to the top of her zipper and he slowly opens her dress, his knuckles skimming her flesh as he goes. He allows his lips to travel the exposed skin as he peels the dress away from her body. 

He turns her back to him, takes her face in his hands and kisses her lips, her forehead. She reaches again for his belt but he steadies her hands, “Not yet.” Elliot unclasps her bra allowing it to fall away, his eyes greedily roving her breasts as her chest rises and falls with each shuddering breath. Not satisfied just to look, he skitters his fingers up her arms across her collarbone and down her breasts, teasing her tightened nipples. “El,” she gasps and he responds by pressing kisses along her collarbone, across the valley of her breasts, down her stomach, kneeling in front of her. His tongue traces the edge of her lace underwear before gently pulling it off, his mouth moving along her thighs. 

Olivia reaches for his shoulder, steadying herself against him and he looks up, “You’re so beautiful,” he breathes and for once it feels good to hear a compliment and she doesn’t shy away from it, just moans her acceptance. He stands, wraps his arms around her, allows his hands to press over her shoulder blades, holding their bodies together. His hands slide down her back as he kisses her shoulders, her neck, breathes in the scent of her shampoo, her perfume, her. 

He picks her up, carries her into the bedroom and lays her down. His mouth wanders, sucking at the inside of her knee, nipping at her hip, his tongue swiping into her belly button. He tastes all the spots he’s wanted to know over the years, his fingers seeking out pleasure points between her thighs and he catalogues all of it as he goes, every moan and sigh, so he can do it all again and again.

He’s waited so long for this moment and though he feels impatient for the moment he’ll be inside her, he wants more to treasure every second, make up for all the time lost, savor this momentous shift. And he wants her to feel worshiped, loved and adored. To show her all the things he had to hide and bury for so long. She deserves that and more, so much more. 

She reaches for him once more and this time he allows her to help with his tie, his shirt buttons, his belt. They work together, sharing kisses, sharing air. 

It’s her turn to explore his bared skin as the clothing falls away and he takes pleasure in her touch, a touch he’s craved for so long. His fingers glide through her dark hair as her mouth traces along muscle and flesh, surveying his ribs and his hips. 

She takes him in her hand and guides him into her and they sink together, eyes locked, blissful. He stills inside her and she sighs. After all the years of longing, this is so much more, more beautiful, more real than she had ever dreamed. It’s overwhelming and impossible to fathom, but when he kisses her she knows they’re finally here, they’re finally home. He presses his forehead against hers, “Liv….Liv…” he whispers, fervent, adoring. His eyes are welling and she reaches up, cups his cheek in her palm. He closes his eyes, pushing his face against her palm and a tear slips onto her thumb. Olivia kisses his cheek tenderly, then his jaw, his neck just below his ear. Each kiss shifting the mood slightly until finally he moves and she gasps beneath him. 

They begin to move together, a slow, emotional pace giving way to a more heated passion. He changes his angle and she moans as he increases the speed. The moment builds between them and he reaches between their bodies, playing his fingers against her clit. As she careens towards her climax she looks into his eyes, “I love you, El. So much.”

“Olivia,” he responds, the rest of it unspoken but there in his eyes, his hands. And then she’s falling and she can feel him there with her, calling her name. 

They cuddle together, they’re breathing evening out, and she looks up to find him watching her and he doesn’t need to say it for her to know he’s thinking it too. Finally.


 

The squad is standing outside the courtroom congratulating Carisi on a win when Fin glances over at Olivia, “Hey, don’t you have a dinner that you need to get to?” Olivia tosses a glance his way that Kat recognizes as annoyance. The same look the captain always gives Fin when he brings up things that are too personal. But Amanda had been right over a year ago now; Olivia‘s been too happy for a long time to get too irritated with Fin and all his knowing looks. 

“Oooh tonight’s the big family dinner. How ya doing, Liv? Nervous?” Amanda chimes in and when Olivia laughs, brushes a fingertip against her temple, it’s only confirmation. 

“Look, want my advice?” Fin asks, genuine care instead of teasing.

“Think you’re going to give it to me anyways,” Olivia ribs him. 

“El’s kids have known you forever and they already love you. You don’t have to do anything special.”

She gives Fin a watery sort of smile, “Well, I’m sure you all have this under control, so I’ll see you Monday. Enjoy your weekends.” As she walks away she can hear Carisi ask, “Her and Stabler? That’s happening?” and Amanda guffawing, “Where have you been?!”


 

Liv stands by the dining table, rapping her fingers nervously on the surface. She surveys the table, the living room, sure she’s forgotten something important. 

Elliot approaches softly from behind, gently slides his hands to her hips, pulling her back into his chest. “It’s going to be great. You don’t have to worry.”

She sighs, turns, “I just don’t want it to go wrong.” 

“And it won’t. They all know, they’ve known for months. Most of them have seen you since. Noah and Eli get along already. And there hasn’t been a single word against it. What are you so nervous about?” He tucks a strand of hair behind her ear, his fingertips lingering in the sensitive spot there. 

“It’s your family.” 

He smiles at her concern, her care, at the fact that soon enough it’ll be her family too. But he thinks maybe she needs this evening to go well first, before anything else. 

“They love you and I love you.” She leans into him, as he cradles her head against his chest, then startles when the bell rings. 

Olivia pulls back, “Oh god…”

He grins easily, “Come on,” and takes her hand, walking them over to the front door. He pauses, let’s go of her hand so he can scooch her towards the door. 

She stills her hands and opens the door and there’s bright greetings and happy faces and she breathes slightly easier as she hugs the Stabler kids and accepts plates of cookies and ushers them inside.

It’s so much easier than she expected, so much more welcoming. And everyone had been right, there had been nothing to worry about. There is an awkward pause when Elizabeth mentions Kathy’s famous pot roast and no one knows where to look until Olivia agrees it’s the best and asks if Liz needs the recipe. And then there’s several relieved faces and Elliot reaches under the table and squeezes her knee. 

The evening is filled with laughter and Olivia holds back a swell of emotion when she thinks about how she’s longed for more family over the years, how this is something she’s been waiting for. Noah is asleep on the couch by the time the Stabler kids leave and she watches Elliot pick up her sleeping boy and follows as he tucks him into bed. They collapse onto the couch together, her leaning into his chest, his arm around her shoulders. 

“See, nothing to worry about,” Elliot says as his fingers brush through her hair. 

She tilts her head up and smiles at him and he’s sure he’s been blessed. He kisses her. “Are you happy?” He asks her softly. And she hums, “So happy. You make me so happy.” And he thinks he might cry, because that’s all he’s ever needed to do. Make her happy.