Since their conversation about William Lewis, something seems to have shifted back into place between her and Elliot, Olivia thinks. It’s still hard, sometimes, to be around him, and she knows that forgiving him is still a ways off – but now she can actually see the possibility of forgiving him, in time. That in itself is a big improvement.
Still, their first appointment with the therapist that Kathleen had recommended has been giving her a low-grade anxiety attack for the past few days. She knows that it’s necessary, that it’s a good first step in trying to improve their relationship, but the idea of opening up all the wounds of his abandonment again – in front of both Elliot and a total stranger – makes Olivia physically uncomfortable. As much as she’s long joked with Elliot about his therapy aversion, she knows that she herself is not much better. Sure, she’s comfortable with Lindstrom now, but that had taken time, and she knows that it’ll take her a minute to get used to this new person as well.
The therapist – Dr. Gallardi – is an older woman with a severe grey bob, and her office is so compulsively neat that Olivia is concerned she will knock something over and make a mess. Still, she has an oddly calming presence, and after a few deep breaths, Olivia finds her anxiety ratcheting down a bit. Just a bit, but it’s enough for now.
“Alright guys,” Dr. Gallardi starts, looking between the two of them, “if you had to give me a rough overview of your relationship, how would you describe it?”
Olivia looks over at Elliot, and he just shrugs, indicating that she can speak if she’d like to. She huffs out a breath and tries to gather her thoughts a bit – of course she’d have to start.
“Maybe that was too open ended,” Dr. Gallardi smiles. “Elliot, how did the two of you meet?”
Olivia lets out a small sigh of relief that the task has been delegated to Elliot.
“We were partners, at work,” he answers.
“You were detectives, yes?”
They both nod, and the doctor makes a note on her pad.
“How long were you partners for?”
“About thirteen years,” Olivia answers. “With a few breaks.”
Dr. Gallardi cocks an eyebrow, and Olivia knows she should elaborate.
“Temporary assignments, advanced trainings, that kind of thing.”
“So you’ve known each other for quite a while then; thirteen years is a significant amount of time.”
Elliot clears his throat, clearly uncomfortable. “We’ve known each other about twenty-three years, actually. We met in ‘98.”
“Oh,” Gallardi looks briefly surprised. “Would you care to elaborate, Elliot?”
“Yeah,” he nods, clearing his throat again. Olivia can tell that he’s uncomfortable, but she has no intention whatsoever of helping him out on this. He can struggle. “That’s, uh, kind of the reason we’re here,” he says. “About ten years ago, something happened at work, and I left. Retired. And, uh-” he pauses, looking pained. “I didn’t keep in touch. I should have – it's probably the shittiest thing I’ve ever done – but I didn’t. Just took off without a goodbye.”
“I see,” Dr. Gallardi nods again, still taking notes.
“I was pregnant at the time,” Olivia interjects, finding the way that Elliot cringes perversely satisfying. “With his kid.”
“Ah. Yes, well, that would complicate things – wouldn't it?” Both she and Elliot nod in response, unsure of what else to say. “So, you were colleagues for thirteen years,” Dr. Gallardi continues. “Did you have a sexual relationship for all of that time?”
“No,” Olivia answers, firmly. “He was married. We only slept together the once. It was a mistake.”
“It wasn’t a mistake,” Elliot interjects, surprising Olivia.
“What do you mean it wasn’t a mistake?” She asks, incredulous. “You were married, Elliot. Eli wasn’t even three. You were fucked up about Jenna – it was a grief response. I can’t regret it, because I got James in the deal, but it was a mistake.”
“That’s all true,” Elliot nods. “And I regret the way it happened. But it wasn’t a mistake, Liv.”
Before Olivia can even begin to formulate a response, Dr. Gallardi interjects. “Alright, I’m clearly missing a few steps here guys,” she says. “If I’m understanding correctly, there was a traumatic incident at work that spurred your one and only sexual encounter, and Olivia, you became pregnant as a result?”
“Yeah,” she nods.
“Okay,” Dr. Gallardi taps her pen against her paper, nodding. “Elliot, is your contention that it wasn’t a mistake related to James, the child that resulted?”
“Yes and no,” Elliot grinds out, seeming frustrated.
“Can you explain that for me?”
Elliot lets out a hard breath, dragging his hand down his face, and Olivia finds it a bit comforting that he’s just as uncomfortable as she is.
“She’s not going to like my answer,” Elliot sighs, and it puts Olivia on edge.
“That’s okay,” Dr. Gallardi responds. “That’s why people come to therapy. I want you to be honest, Elliot.”
“I was in love with her,” he shrugs. Olivia’s heart jumps into her throat at the casual way he says it – he has deliberately been avoiding bringing it up since their last disastrous attempt to talk things through, and hearing the words again has set her heart beating at an alarming speed.
“So a sexual relationship was something that you had wanted?” Olivia cringes at the clinical way that Dr. Gallardi says it, but Elliot just shrugs again.
“Yeah,” he nods. “Not just a sexual relationship, but yeah.”
“Olivia,” Dr. Gallardi turns to her, “you seem startled. Was this something you were aware of?”
“I-” she clears her throat. “He’s told me that once before, but I didn’t know at the time.”
“You seem doubtful,” Dr. Gallardi observes.
“I don’t know,” Olivia shrugs. “I find it kind of hard to believe.”
Elliot makes a strangled sort of noise to her left, and when she looks over at him, he seems to be restraining himself. She has no idea if it’s from shouting, or from insisting again that he loves her, and she doesn’t especially want to find out. She doesn’t think she could deal with either at the moment.
“How’s the couples therapy going?” Kathleen asks him, popping a french fry into her mouth. They make a point to meet for lunch at least once a week, and Elliot could kick himself for just how long he’s been gone, because all his children have turned into really interesting people.
“Okay,” he shrugs. “It’s still therapy, but I like the woman you suggested.”
Kathleen nods. “Yeah, she’s good. Used to be an Army shrink.”
Elliot chuckles. “I could see that. You could eat off any surface in that office.”
“She’d disembowel you on the spot,” Kathleen snorts. “But it’s helping? You and Olivia, I mean.”
“It’s-” Elliot hesitates. “I think it will help. It’s still awkward though. I’ve got a lot to make up for, and she’s still mad. Plus, I can’t seem to shut up about my fucking feelings – I've told her I love her more in the last two months than in the last twenty-three years.”
Kathleen chokes on her soda, spluttering and sending ginger ale across the table.
“Lovely, Katie,” Elliot laughs, handing her a napkin.
“Jesus, Dad,” she mutters. “Give the poor woman a minute. You’ve been gone ten years.”
“I know,” Elliot winces. “Believe me, I know. The first time, it just slipped out, and then Dr. Gallardi asked me about it, and told me to be honest. So I was.” He shrugs. “She doesn’t believe me, though.”
“No,” Elliot clarifies. “Liv.”
Kathleen nods. “Can you blame her?”
“No,” Elliot shrugs. “I get why she doesn’t. And I really don’t mean to keep bringing it up – I don’t want to make her any more uncomfortable. It’s just-” he pauses. “It’s at the root of it all – my feelings for Liv. The way I walked out, all the shit decisions I’ve made, it’s all tied in to my trying to deal with the way I felt about Liv. The guilt I had about having the feelings in the first place.”
Kathleen studies him for a moment. “Sounds like the therapy’s helped you, at least.”
“Yeah,” he nods. “It has. Thank you for pushing, Katie. It’s not fair that you had to, but I want you to know that I appreciate it.”
His daughter looks so pleased that it makes Elliot feel both warm inside and so incredibly ashamed. He’s the parent here, it shouldn’t have been down to Kathleen to push him to be better.
“I’m glad it’s helping,” she smiles. “You seem happier, Dad.”
“I am,” he nods. “Things are still complicated, but I’m glad everything’s out in the open. I don’t want to do secrets anymore.”
Kathleen beams at him, and Elliot thinks that everything’s been worth it, to see his daughter looking at him like this.
“So, we’re going to start with something a bit different today.” The vaguely amused look on Dr. Gallardi’s face makes Elliot nervous, and he can tell without even looking at Olivia that she feels the same. “I want each of you to tell me – to tell each other – something that the other doesn’t know about you. One serious thing, and one lighthearted thing.”
Elliot looks over at Olivia, warily, and finds that she looks equally skeptical. She’s probably worried that he’s going to profess his love again, judging by the pinched look on her face.
“I know it seems silly, but humor me.” Dr. Gallardi still has that infuriating smile on her face, and the last thing that Elliot wants to do is humor her. But he will, because he wants this to work.
“Uh,” he clears his throat, “I can go first, if you want.”
Dr. Gallardi beams, but Olivia is starting to look genuinely frightened. He wishes she’d give him a bit more credit.
“When we were living in Rome, Kathy made me take a baking class with her. She was a disaster at it, but I, uh, I actually liked it. Wasn’t bad at it, either. I make a decent tiramisu.”
Olivia looks startled, but she has an amused little smile on her face, and Elliot is glad that he started with something lighthearted. She smiles so infrequently around him now, and he loves her smile. He also still hasn’t quite decided what serious thing he will share.
“You bake?” She asks, laughing lightly. Elliot gives her a shrug and a smile in response.
“I’ve got all kinds of layers, Benson.” He jokes, and she lets out a little snort, seeming to surprise even herself.
“Very good,” Dr. Gallardi smiles. “Olivia, would you like to share something lighthearted, or would you like Elliot to continue to his serious thing?” The panicked look is back on Olivia’s face, and Elliot’s heart sinks a bit.
“Um, I’ll go,” she stutters, before pausing for a moment. Finally, looking chagrined, she admits: “I’m afraid of geese. And swans. Really any large bird with an unnaturally long neck. They just-” she huffs out a breath. “They freak me out. They’re so stupid looking, but they’re vicious.”
Elliot wants to laugh. He wants to laugh so badly. Because how is Olivia Benson – genuinely one of the toughest people he’s ever met – afraid of birds? He’d never known that, in all the time they’d known one another – and judging by the pink tinge her cheeks have taken on, she’d never intended to tell him.
“You can laugh, Elliot.” She rolls her eyes. “I know you want to.”
“I wouldn’t,” he says. Though, he is laughing even as he says it, so he doubts that she’s buying it. She is, however, laughing a bit herself – so he’ll take it as a win.
When their laughter peters out, Elliot is all too aware that he will now have to share something serious. Everything that he can think of is likely to upset her, and – while he knows that it’s a necessary part of therapy – all he wants is for her to keep laughing. Dr. Gallardi seems to sense his hesitance.
“Would you like to continue, Elliot?”
He nods. He needs to do this – it’s important. Still, it doesn’t mean he has to like it. He’s decided on a serious thing to share, but he knows that Olivia really won’t like it – knows that it’s only likely to hurt her. It’s the last thing he wants to do, but he’s committed to being honest, and this is a secret that he cannot keep from her.
“When Kathy and I separated – the first time – I spent months trying to work up the nerve to ask you out.” He cringes a bit at just how juvenile he sounds, but continues anyways. “I had a whole stupid plan of where I’d take you and everything, but I ended up chickening out, worried about how it might affect work. Then everything happened with Gitano, and things went all to hell anyways. It’s stupid, and it probably would have blown up in my face, but I’ve always regretted not asking. At least so that you’d know that my feelings aren’t new, and aren’t a whim, and aren’t going to go away.”
Jesus, Elliot thinks, he’s just basically fucking told her that he loves her again. Suddenly, after more than twenty years of keeping it to himself, he is unable to shut his big stupid mouth. And, when he looks over at Olivia, he’s unsurprised to find that she looks vaguely nauseous. Excellent. Really well done, asshole. God, he’s like some unstoppable idiot, running his mouth.
“Olivia,” Dr. Gallardi prompts. “Would you like to carry on?”
She just nods and squares her jaw, and it is so Liv that it makes his heart hurt a bit.
“I didn’t realize that I was pregnant with James until I was almost four months along,” she states, voice painfully neutral. “I’d put the missed periods and bouts of vomiting down to stress, or poor diet, or bodega sushi – predictable consequences of my own actions, you know? I only actually found out when I was at the ER getting checked out for something else. I thought the doctor was playing a sick joke.”
Now Elliot’s the one who feels nauseous. Of all the many, many regrets he has, the fact that he had missed Liv being pregnant comes in near the top of the list. And even though it was a decade ago, and everything has obviously turned out fine, he is still – somehow – so insanely worried about everything that could have gone wrong. What had she been at the ER for when she’d found out? Had she been working the whole time she was pregnant? Chasing perps? Getting into scuffles?
“Elliot,” Dr. Gallardi interrupts his spiral. “Are you still with us?”
“Yeah,” he rasps. “Sorry. I just-” he drags a hand down his face. “Was everything okay? With James? With you? With the pregnancy?”
“Yeah,” Olivia nods. “He came a bit early, and I was sick a lot, but otherwise everything was normal.”
“Jesus, Liv. I hate that I missed that. I’m so fucking sorry that I missed that.”
She nods. “I’m sorry you missed it too, Elliot. I wanted so badly for you to be there.” Her voice is brittle when she speaks, and it puts the lump back in Elliot’s throat.
They’ve mostly avoided talking about her pregnancy, thus far, and while Elliot isn’t surprised at the pit it puts in his stomach, the intensity of the feeling still floors him a bit. With Kathy, he had always been able to comfort himself with the fact that – despite all the other issues they had – he had been there for her while she’d been pregnant, and he’d done his absolute best to be a good father once the kids were born. It had long been the one redeeming quality in himself that he’d focused on, while he’d been busy falling in love with a woman who was not his wife. He hadn’t loved Kathy the way he ought to have, but he’d been there for their kids. With Olivia, it was very much the opposite. He loved her in a way that had been entirely forbidden – completely inappropriate, but all-encompassing – and he’d failed to be there for her or for their child. The guilt is suffocating, and Elliot can barely breath for the burning in his throat. As much as he is working to move forward – to be better – he still hates himself for this, and doesn’t know that he’ll ever stop.