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It wasn’t until nearly 17:45 when Elliot Stabler finally strode into the Special Victims Squad room and Olivia couldn’t help but smile to herself thinking, ah, that’s normal. Despite the anger she had felt at his abrupt departure from her life with no goodbye and his sudden return to her life with very, very little explanation and about a decade in between, there was something so natural about his return to her life. As he walked into her office, he offered a small, distant smile and said, “Good afternoon, Captain,” in a tone that was both reverent and slightly teasing. She rolled her eyes at him, standing and swinging her bag over her shoulder, “You’re late, detective,” she retorted, a teasing tone evident in her own voice. He smiled more genuinely at that and shook his head, “I was thinking we could walk?” he suggested, his tone gentle. She nodded and strode towards him, “sounds good to me, I might drop this in the car,” she replied, gesturing to the large black bag she’d swung over her shoulder. As they made way for the elevators, Kat perked up from behind her computer and waved, “See you, Captain!” she called. Olivia waved to her, “Night, Kat! Great work today,” she replied, careful to add in a well-deserved compliment. As soon as the elevator doors closed Elliot spoke, “She one of your detectives?” he inquired, his tone laced with casual curiosity. Olivia shook her head, “Officer, but she’s well on her way to earning her Detective’s shield,” she replied, a hint of pride evident in her tone. Elliot couldn’t help but smile as he thought of the way Cragen once spoke of Olivia, “I see… she reminds me of you, you know. Always working late,” he commented, glancing sideways at his former partner. She rolled her eyes and nudged him with her elbow, “Watch it, Stabler,” she warned, somewhat playfully.


After depositing her purse in her SUV, they walked side by side to a coffee shop in relative silence punctured by the occasional small talk topic. Elliot’s hands were shoved into the pockets of his coat, and he glanced at Olivia now and again, working up the courage to give her the letter… to tell her everything. She glanced at him sometimes, but less frequently… she was trying to avoid his eye and the look of mingled sadness and longing that she would find there. His return to her life was natural, but they were still navigating their new dynamic and uncovering what it might become. After they’d gotten their coffees, they made for a nearby park and found a bench to sit on as they chatted idly about the kids and work. It had been over thirty minutes of idle chatter since they met in the squad room and the same question was gnawing at Olivia’s mind. “Why did you ask me for coffee?” she inquired finally, unable to conceal her curiosity any longer. Elliot’s entire demeanor shifted as she asked, and she could practically feel him tense up beside her. With a shaky hand he placed his nearly empty coffee cup on the ground and reached within the breast pocket of his grey jacket to retrieve an envelope. He paused, briefly, before extending it to her, “I, uhm,” he began, his voice wavering nervously, “I know we talked… before Kathy… but I felt that you deserved to hear the whole truth about… everything. I also felt that you deserved to hear it when… or if you were ready, so I wrote it down.” Olivia took the envelope from his hand, her own hand shaking as her fingertips brushed against his. She was speechless and her eyes were wide, locked on the letter as though her gaze had been glued to its off-white surface.


“Read it… or don’t,” Elliot continued, filling the space of the silence between them, “I will respect whatever you decide is best for you… for Noah.” She tore her gaze from the envelope and looked at him, her eyes still slightly wide. She wasn’t sure what to say, so she just said a small, “alright.” Elliot leaned down and grabbed his coffee before pushing himself to his feet, he could sense that their idle conversation was over, and he hoped that they would speak again, more freely after she’d read the letter… once she understood. “I’m sorry, Liv,” he said softly, frowning slightly, “I know that nothing I say, not even the truth, can change what the last ten years were for you… and my only wish is that I’d been stronger the first time around.” She nodded, but was quiet once again, still clutching the letter in one shaking hand and her coffee in the other. “Do you want me to walk you back to the 1-6?” he added, wanting to let her set their boundaries. She wanted to say yes, but she also wanted to be alone… she let a pause hang between them and, just as Elliot was readying himself to say that he wouldn’t she replied, “Yes, on one condition.” Elliot’s lips twitched upwards in a smile, “Anything,” he said softly, a whisper. She tucked the letter into the pocket of her own black trench coat and forced a shaken smile, “we don’t talk about the past ten years for the rest of the walk?” she suggested, her voice quivering slightly. Elliot nodded his agreement and extended his hand to her to help her to her feet. Hesitantly, she took it. His skin felt warm against hers and, for a moment, everything was gone. The moment was fleeting however, as an ambulance with sirens blaring wailed past them on the street. Elliot chuckled and shook his head, “there’s no place like home…”


The remainder of their walk passed the way the start had, a mixture of comfortable silence and chatter about work. Elliot hadn’t realized how short the walk would be, despite being so familiar with the area and found himself disappointed when Olivia’s SUV came into view. By this point, they had both finished their coffees and disposed of them, leaving their hands free to be shoved deep into their respective pockets. As they approached Olivia’s car, she moved to step away from him but a quick, “Liv?” from Elliot stopped her in her tracks. She turned to face him, a quizzical look evident on her elegant features, “Yes?” she asked, her heart suddenly beating hard. Elliot smiled warmly and said, “Thanks for getting coffee with me… it was nice to just be around you for a bit, it felt… normal.” She offered a small, genuine smile and nodded her agreement, “it was nice… maybe we can do it again sometime,” she replied, her voice quiet but honest. His face lit up with a glimmer of hope and Olivia waved as she turned back to her SUV, trying to make herself leave before she flung herself into his arms. A part of her still hardly believed he was real… and to have him tell her it was nice to just exist in her presence made her entire stomach do a somersault. She still wanted, in some way, to be angry with him… to make him earn his place in her life, but with each passing interaction she could tell that she was losing the will to be mad at him. As she got into her car, she pulled up Lucy’s contact and sent a text using text-to-speech, <<Hey Lucy, can you stay a bit later? I got hung up with something… I’ll text when I have an idea of when I’ll be home.>> She hated asking Lucy to stay, but reading this letter wasn’t something she could do while around Noah… and as much as she wanted to consider what Elliot had said, to think about whether she wanted to read it or not, she knew that she couldn’t wait much longer. She had waited a decade to know the truth about why Elliot left the way he did… and while she had some ideas of why, she had sense (and now knew) that there was more to the story. She needed space to think… space to decide… even if she already knew her own decision.


She drove for nearly twenty-five minutes before finding her way to Hunter’s Point Park, a place that Olivia had been with Elliot more than a few times. She used to meet him there when he had the kids sometimes to help him keep them occupied so Kathy could have a break now and again. They’d also gone there to just talk sometimes, and Olivia felt there was no better place to sit and read his letter of truth. She got out of her car and began to wander, looking for a place that called to her… a place that would serve as a safe haven as she reopened wounds that she’d fought for a decade to heal. After a few minutes, Olivia found a bench that she and Elliot used to sit on, near the water but away from where most of the people spent their day in the sun. She stared at the water for a while, her mind racing as she decided what to do with it… the letter. It was in her hands, but she hadn’t decided if she would open it or not… she felt frozen in time as she sat in the cool evening air twisting it between her fingers. She slid the long edge between her thumb and forefinger, pinching at the corner and turning it before sliding the same thumb and forefinger along the short edge. She wasn’t sure how long she sat there, repeating this pattern… it might’ve been ten minutes, or it might’ve been an hour. The lights around her began to illuminate as the sun began to set and she knew, with a pit of nerves in her stomach that it was time to make her decision. She lowered her gaze to the envelope, to her name scrawled in Elliot’s familiar slanted writing on the outside, and she opened it. She unfolded the paper inside slowly, as though it might burst into flames if she moved too quickly… as though she was opening a bomb, because in some ways, she was. All too soon, its message was revealed to her, and she began to read…


Olivia Margaret Benson,


            I can’t begin to tell you… how many times I’ve tried to write this letter to you. Not just tonight, but over the past decade. Each time I start, I hate the way the words come to me and so I have decided to do the only thing I can do… just write.


I’ll start with this, Liv, a promise… I promise that everything within this letter is the truth – mytruth – because of all the things you deserve, the truth is the first and foremost. I don’t know where to start with the truth, so how about I simply start at the beginning… my whole life, I have had very few things that were solid, very few people I could count on no matter what, and because of that I gravitated to the stability of religion, of Catholicism. Being raised in the church, I learned that there was a map of how to be a “good man” and I have spent my entire life following the map that I was showed as a boy… desperate to be the “good man” that my mom, my wife, my family deserved. I thought that if I simply followed that map that I could never be steered wrong, that I would make all the right choices and my moral fiber could never be called into question. For many years, I believed that was the truth and I never questioned my own moral fiber… until I met you.


You see, Liv, when I met you, everything began to change. For the first time I found someone who made me call everything I had ever known into question. You made me think and feel things that I had only seen in movies or books… things that I had grown up thinking were unrealistic and unattainable. I had felt glimmers of them once with Kathy, before the marriage… before the kids… before I had followed the map that I’d been given to be the “good man”. But I felt those things every day I was around you and, worse than that, those feelings grew with each passing day… to such a point that I would have done anything to see you smile, I would’ve done anything to be the one making you smile. Just your smile and nothing more was enough to sustain my happiness… even if I couldn’t have any more than that. You see, you were outside the borders of the map. Everything about you contradicted the formula I’d been given and so I knew that I couldn’t, no matter how much I wanted to, have you. I also knew that you deserved more than I could give you… my map had no space for grey areas. Nowhere was I told that it was better to let Kathy be free of me and to seek happiness than to cling to the ruins of the castle that had once been the fortress of our marriage… No one told me that despite divorce being a sin, that it was worse to stay in a loveless marriage that was simply a trap for both parties involved… No one told me until it was far, far to late.


I’ve told you the truth, Olivia… that I left SVU because I chose you – because I would alwayschoose you – and that is the absolute truth… but there’s more to the story. After I left SVU, I ran, not just from you but from Kathy and the kids. I avoided everything because I had called so much of what I had been told was true into question that I didn’t know what to do. I was gone for about six months and in that time, I fought to come to terms with the map I had been raised on… but all the maps led to you. When I came back to the city, I went to Kathy first… I wanted to tell her that I had made my choice. I wanted to tell her that I had chosen to follow the maps that led to you, but when I went to her, she shared a truth of her own with me… well, part of a truth. She explained to me that whatever I chose would have a cost… if I chose her and the kids, I would lose you but if I chose you, I would lose her and Eli.


You see, Liv, Eli isn’t my biological son… I had once called his paternity into question, as Kathy and I had only slept together once during our separation and the timing seemed a little off given that one moment of weakness… but, when asked, I followed that map I was raised with… the map that told me to be a “good man”. As it turned out, in the time I had been gone, Kathy had received several threatening messages from a source she wouldn’t name… Specifically, Eli’s biological father was threatening to sue for custody. So, Kathy had made a choice to move to Europe with Eli… and it was my choice to follow her there or lose the son I had raised for over three years as my own. Make no mistake, Liv, Eli is my son… he just isn’t mine by blood. I couldn’t… I just couldn’t lose him. If the choice had been Kathy or you, I would choose you every time… but this time I had to choose between my happiness and my son, and how could I truly be happy if I lost Eli?


Things have changed now, Liv… every map that I ever learned growing up has been throw away and I am not going anywhere ever again, unless you tell me to. I don’t have to choose between happiness and family anymore… I don’t have to do anything other than follow the maps that have been in my heart for nearly a quarter of a century. The maps that lead to you… I understand that the last ten years have changed things and that you may not feel the way that I do but know that I will respect whatever decision you make… whatever role you assign to me in your life. If that’s just a friend, so be it… if that’s more, you need only say the word… The power is in your hands to draw the route of this map and I will follow whatever path you lay down.


No matter what you decide, just know that…

 in a parallel universe, it will always be you and me.


Your partner for life,

Elliot Stabler



Olivia read the letter through three, maybe four times… it didn’t matter though because the end result was the same: tears. Olivia finally understood why he’d left… and why he wouldn’t have been able to leave if he’d heard her voice. Elliot had already chosen her when Kathy gave him an ultimatum… and the only thing that Elliot loved more than her was his own kids. As she thought of Noah, she understood… she knew that the only person she had ever loved more than Elliot Stabler was her sweet boy… and she finally understood why Elliot had needed to leave. He’d been right in saying that he ran… he’d been right in saying that it was the wrong choice in the end, but she understood why he’d made it. She thought of how she’d felt when Johnny D resurfaced… when he threatened to take Noah from her. She thought of when Sheila Porter had successfully kidnapped Noah and nearly escaped over the Canadian border with him. She thought of all the times she’d nearly lost Noah… and finally she found some semblance of peace with why Elliot Stabler had left and why he hadn’t tried to explain. She knew that it would take time for her to heal, and she deserved the patience that she somehow knew Elliot would show her, but this had truly been a start. A piece of her had been holding back, unwilling to forgive Elliot for his trespasses… but now? How could she not be at least open to the idea of forgiveness? When she had been at her worst, when all her hope had been gone and she had wondered if she would survive to see the next sunrise, it had been thoughts of Elliot that gave her the strength to overcome. In the moments she thought were her last, she had wished to see him… to say goodbye. In a different way, all the maps in her life had always led to him and there was nothing else she could do but follow the maps that led to him.


She reached into her pocket and pulled out her phone. The time on the screen read 19:57 and it was dusky, the sun had set nearly thirty minutes prior. As she moved to call Elliot, her phone rang and the name Stabler was emblazoned across her screen. Furrowing her brows in confusion she answered and made a quick joke, “You just couldn’t wait for me to call you, huh Stabler?” The voice on the other end made her entire body tense and she flew to her feet, “Hey Liv? It’s Ayanna Bell… there’s been an incident,” she stated, her voice cool but there was an undertone of concern evident as she spoke, “I need you to get to Mercy Hospital as soon as possible. Elliot asked me to call you.” Olivia’s blood ran cold, and she could barely take in full breaths of air, “What happened?” she breathed, her voice wavering as she immediately broke into a run heading back to her SUV which was parked a five-minute walk away. “I don’t feel comfortable explaining over the phone, he’s going to be fine, but he has asked for you, specifically, and won’t talk to anyone else,” she said, her tone firm. Olivia swallowed, hard, but replied, “I’ll be there as soon as I can.” Olivia didn’t bother with pleasantries and hung up, her mind racing with possibilities. She was furious that Ayanna hadn’t specified what was going on, but that was only part of how she was feeling… a very minor part. As soon as she got into her SUV, she fired up the sirens and sped off through the park, practically ignoring stop signs. She hadn’t felt this level of panic since she’d nearly lost Noah to kidnapping a few years prior and she was uncertain if she could hold herself together any better now than she had in that moment. When she finally arrived to Mercy Hospital what seemed like an eternity later she brandished her Captain’s shield to every nurse and doctor she passed demanding she be told where Detective Elliot Stabler was. She must’ve looked as distressed as she felt, because they all gave her pitying looks and tried their best to explain. It was Eli’s voice that finally caught her attention, however, “Olivia!” he called from down an empty corridor. Olivia jogged down the hall, appraising Eli as she approached and realizing that he looked as though he’d seen a ghost. “Are you alright?” she asked softly, her mother and cop instincts all kicking in at once, “Yeah, I’m fine,” he said, though his tone was somewhat unconvincing, and he was clearly shaken. Olivia reached out and gripped his shoulder gently as she asked, “How is he?”