The gravel crunches underneath her boots and her uber zooms away the second both her feet touch the curb. "Goodbye to you, too," she mumbles, glaring over her shoulder. She takes careful footsteps toward the entrance of the unfamiliar Queens park, looping the strap of her bag across her torso. She's not drunk. At least that's what she tells herself as she forces one foot in front of the other. Tipsy is more like it. Wine with dinner and tequila shots with dessert will do that to you.
He'd asked her to meet him here and the answer had been an emphatic yes. Because... why not?
Why the fuck not? They're friends. They can meet up at beautiful parks and watch the sunset together and be totally normal, right?
Olivia spots him all the way from the entrance of the park and she takes the moment to prepare herself. He's pacing in front of a line of empty picnic tables, his hands shoved into the pockets of his leather jacket and she knows from however many feet away that something has happened. His pacing is the first sign and his perfectly rigid posture is the second. When he turns, it's with his entire body, and the column of his neck stays fixed and geez, she feels the tension already.
On the plus side, he looks good. His jacket is black with metal hardware and an attached dangling belt at the hem. The white cotton Henley shirt he wears expands across his chest and leaves little to the imagination and the same can be said for the black jeans that are fitted in all the right places. The black NYPD ball cap matches perfectly and brings his little ensemble together.
As she walks toward him, she tries to pinpoint what she's noticed first. It took her all of five seconds to find him and she refuses to believe it's the innate attraction there. That's fantasy, she reminds herself. The magnetism she's always felt is not real. It's probably his familiar gait, or his perfect posture, or the outline of his ears and she wonders if all of those things had been attractive to her years ago. Because the closer she gets, the point of his ears is... cute.
And when had he started dressing this way? Like some biker bad boy? Where were his ugly, predictable ties and work shirts from when they were partners? The dad jeans and too big shirts and New Balance sneakers. She is used to that. Not this new guy who has tailored pants and vests and expensive ties that he never would've looked at back then. This new Stabler wears leather and boots and doesn't shave every day. He leaves stubble on the weekends and she curls her hands at her sides just to ensure she won't have a slip and accidentally touch his jaw. Don't touch him, she reminds herself. They're friends.
She does her best to join him quietly, but there are leaves on the ground already and she isn't exactly in tiptop cop shape, so when she's about fifteen feet away, his head snaps up. His grimace falls and is replaced with a tight smile.
"Detective," she greets, because she's not so sure if she's actually here as just a friend or if this is work related. God, she hopes it's not work related.
His eyes lazily take her in. The dark blue jeans, the thin green sweater that is modestly cut, but still exposes the curve of her breasts. Her hair is parted in the middle, hangs far past her shoulders, and is tousled just enough that he wonders what she was doing prior to agreeing to meet him at 6 PM on a Saturday.
"Captain," Elliot smiles.
It's weird having a different title than him. It makes her feel like she has one up on him and if she wanted to, she could pull rank at any moment. She wouldn't... well, maybe to piss him off, she would. "You ever think about climbing up the ranks?"
"To do more paperwork? I think not."
Olivia chuckles. "You don't want to run your own squad?"
"I wouldn't handle the stress well. I'm not diplomatic enough. I have a million reasons why I'd like to remain Detective Stabler."
"Understood." She nods and it's enough of an explanation for her. A moment of silence settles between them and she dips her head forward, an attempt to catch his eye. "What's up, Elliot?"
"Let's walk," he says, nodding toward the path in front of them.
"This park is beautiful." She finally takes the park in, her eyes scanning from one end to the other. There are tall trees, rose bushes, and manicured greenery in every direction and she remembers years ago when he'd tried to convince her that Queens was the suburbs. Maybe he was right. To their far left are basketball courts and fields for various sports, playgrounds with slides and swings, but right in front of them is an incredible field of green that she could just imagine Noah running wildly through. She imagines if it wasn't as cool as it was, there'd be more families littered about, having picnics and enjoying the scenery.
"What were you doing in Queens?" he asks as they walk down the winding cement path that extends in one giant loop around the entire park.
Elliot's been back for seven months and they only see each other on the rare occasion their work paths cross, or in times like this when he outright asks to see her. "Anywhere will do," he'd told her on the phone earlier. Eli had a game and he'd been watching his children pack up Maureen's car before they all drove off, leaving him standing there. And she'd happened to be in Queens, just 25 minutes away when he called.
"I met up with a friend. Had a few drinks. Don't worry. I took a car."
"A date?" he asks. When Olivia just smiles cheekily in response, surprisingly, he lets it go. "I'll have to bring you home then?" he offers.
"You're gonna go over the Queensboro on a Saturday?"
"Yes. I might even pay the toll and take the midtown tunnel," he teases and her smile widens. "You wanna walk by the water?"
Olivia drags her eyes away from him and that's when she sees it. Francis Lewis Park is in Whitestone, a neighborhood in Queens and its most beautiful piece of architecture is the Whitestone bridge. Far out to their left, across the river is the Manhattan skyline but they are barely able to see it. Straight forward is the Bronx, and Olivia is encapsulated with the view. Of the bridge, how tall and mighty it is, of the sky that's slowly bleeding from orange to purple to a faded blue.
"Can we go to the beach?" Olivia asks, peering over the black rails. Beneath them is a small shore and the entrance has been closed off with a rusted chain, but that doesn't matter to Olivia. She glances around them, most people are headed for the exit as the sun sets and it's nearly desolate by the water. He never gets a chance to answer her as she steps over the chain and even in her boots, she begins walking on the sand.
"Liv," Elliot calls after her, standing just beyond the barrier. But she's not listening. Nothing is going to stop her journey to the water.
It's a small beach and it is New York City, so there are abandoned bottles and garbage littered about, the water is muddy and you can't see through even an inch but still she's amazed by the sight.
Instead of fighting her, Elliot finds himself sinking into every step he takes as he tries to catch up to her.
"I have never been here," she says when he gets close enough to hear her. "Why were you here today?"
"Eli had a game."
Olivia spins around, her eyes doing a sweep across the beach, across the park behind them and she rises to her toes to see if she's missed him.
"He's gone," Elliot continues.
"Yeah," he says, his eyes climbing up the length of the bridge. They can hear the faint sounds of horns blaring and sirens and an ice cream truck far off in the distance.
"Tell me what happened."
He thinks about asking her how she knows something has happened tonight but it's all in his mannerisms, all in the way he won't complete a sentence more than a few words. "I found this in his bag."
Elliot reaches into his pocket and hands Olivia a thin tin box. She arches an eyebrow at him before she takes it into her hands. She flicks it open with her thumb, the lid flying backward revealing a row of neatly lined joints and a lighter.
Little Eli has been smoking marijuana. Wow, she's old. "You freaked out."
"I did," he admits. "I yelled. Couple of his teammates heard. He stormed off with his sisters. I need to 'cool off.'"
"You yelled?" she asks smirking. The tequila from earlier is still on her tongue, still sending waves of heat throughout her body and maybe if she was in parent mode, she'd share the devastation on his face. "It's just weed," she says instead with a shrug.
"It's just weed? The hell it is," Elliot grumbles, his eyes narrowing on nothing in particular. "Eli hates me just like the older kids did. Kathy would've handled it better."
Olivia shrugs again. "So you overreacted."
"Real father of the year."
"Hey," Olivia says, tapping him with the back of her hand. "I have an idea."
Elliot's eyes drift over to her just in time to see her fitting a cone-shaped spliff between her lips.
"I need your hands," she says, turning into him.
"You're fucking kidding."
"El," she whines, her eyes watching him expectantly. When he makes no move toward her, she turns her back to the water, to the wind, and she cups her left hand around the end of the joint, lighting it with ease despite her hair flying around her face.
"Don't tell me you've never smoked a little pot before," Olivia says, her pink lips pulling from the joint. She takes the spliff away from her mouth, looking down at it, her eyebrows dancing for a moment before she finally allows a white cloud of smoke to fly out of her nostrils and her mouth. "Good shit."
Elliot laughs. "Good shit?"
"Good shit," she repeats. "Here." Olivia reaches out and she offers it to him, the Whitestone bridge lit up behind her, the sky finally settling into a baby blue.
"Were you drunk when you got here?"
"Buzzed," she answers smirking. "Don't be a pussy. Here."
Elliot takes the joint from her and looks between his former partner and the joint before he shrugs and puts it to his lips.
Olivia bounces her knees, her arms lifting up in a small victory dance, though it's short-lived.
Elliot is bent over at the waist, hacking up his lungs seconds later.
"I have a question," Olivia says suddenly. The wind became too harsh and even with the bridge illuminated and the full moon, the beach is eerily dark. It took their iPhone flashlights just to make it through the sand and once they were on cement again, Olivia plopped down on the nearest bench. He'd sat right next to her without protest and for that, she's thankful. She needs the time to recuperate from their workout in the sand and she feels too lethargic to walk the entire length of the park again.
The crashing waves in front of them, the natural rustle behind them, and the distinguishable smell of marijuana still lingering around them lulls them into an easy silence. Olivia's eyes are low and there's a small smile on her lips and she feels herself relaxing into the natural lullaby. She could sleep here, she thinks. Comfortable, next to him, and fuzzy and still a little buzzed. She feels a subtle chill all over her body and everything feels good, even the wind on her face. She pulls his jacket tighter around her body. He'd wordlessly dropped it onto her shoulders once they sat down and the subtle, clean scent of eucalyptus will probably stick to her long after she returns home. Her eyes dance from the Whitestone to Elliot and she's never seen him look more pensive. His eyebrows are puckered and the white of his eyes are red. He looks like he's considering something grand like the meaning of life. She used to do that in college. Get stoned and ask herself questions she never had any real answers to.
"El," she says and she finds herself smiling at just his nickname. There'd been a stretch of time where she hadn't even uttered his name aloud and now she calls his name. And he answers. Holy shit, it's still a shock to her system.
"Hmm?" he asks and he barely even moves. His arms are crossed against his chest, his long legs are hooked at the ankle, outstretched.
"What are you thinking right now?"
"Just that..." his hand reaches for his jaw and he rubs the stubble there for a moment before continuing, "I can't believe I'm here. With you. Feels very surreal."
"Still?" she asks, fitting her linked fingers around her knee.
"Think about it. Ten years. You have a kid," Elliot says. "I could barely even say your name and now we're here."
"This whole time we've been sitting here, we've been thinking about the same exact thing."
His eyes drift over to hers and they share a smile.
"How's Noah? Where is he today?"
"Hm," he says, nodding.
"I didn't think he'd like you. He gets jealous. He's used to having me to himself."
"Eli wants to go to a Knicks game. Think he'd be up to that?"
"Yeah. He'd love it."
"Cool. I'll get us tickets," Elliot says nodding, smiling. "We've got a lot of time to make up for."
"We do," she agrees. "I'm sorry I was hesitant about you meeting him. We are still figuring this out..." she lets her sentence float between them for a moment. They are still figuring it out. There are still so many unanswered questions between them. What are they now? Where do the boundaries end? Where do they begin? "Now that I know you're staying..."
"Were you really afraid that I was leaving again?"
"I wanted you to find your footing," is her answer. She had been afraid of him leaving again. Once Kathy's case was closed, she figured he'd stick around for a bit and leave again. Even after he'd told her he was getting an apartment, it all felt too good to be true. It'd taken some time, but she introduced him to her son and though it was brief, it was notable. It had felt like the beginning of something; a starting point.
"I couldn't leave you again, Liv."
"I can't believe you ever did," she mumbles. "Did you ever think you'd never see me again?"
"That's a little dark."
"It's not. It's not dark at all. I really thought I'd never see you again. I feel like I went through bereavement." She is still smiling, but her words slice through him. "So now that you're here, I almost don't want to let you out of my sight."
"As I said, I'm not going anywhere," he responds and it feels like a promise. Like he means it. Their eyes meet briefly and she nods once before looking forward. She sees from where they're sitting that traffic is moving slow and red brake lights glow in the distance. She focuses there so that the tears that want to fall stay at bay. He's staying. He's here and he's staying and they're friends again. "Are you hungry?" His deep voice brings her back to him, to the bench and wind that's beating them both in the face. Is she hungry?
He pulls her to her feet and they stand there for a beat. She has her bottom lip between her teeth when her eyes meet his and she feels a spark deep within her that makes her breathe deeper. His eyebrow lifts, his smile deepens and she shakes her head and looks away. The silent conversations were always her favorite.
He steps away from her and he turns back in the direction they came, but she grabs for his elbow. Instead, they head in the opposite direction. She wants a better view of the playground and she's tired of seeing things they've seen before and doing things they've done before. She's ready for something new.
Also, at the edge of the park, just outside of the playground is an ice cream truck.
An ice cream cone is the goal, but Olivia takes strides ahead of him and she dips into the playground, giving him no other option but to follow. "Push me!" she says over her shoulder and he laughs as she practically skips to the swings.
This isn't the Olivia he left. This isn't even the Olivia he came back to.
She looks... happy.
She kicks her feet out ahead of her and she leans backward before pushing forward. When she swings back, he's behind her and his hands cover hers on the chain. He pulls the swing back, her back colliding with his chest and he leans forward, so close that his lips brush her ear. "I never knew you were like this."
Olivia turns so that she is able to look at him and just like a second ago at the bench, she gets lost in him. "Fun?" she asks finally.
"Yeah. Who knew?" Elliot lets the swing go and she goes flying through the night air, laughing jovially. He pushes her for a moment before he takes a step back and he watches her swing back and forth like nothing in the world matters.
"Swing with me!" She yells, throwing her head back. Her long highlighted hair sways behind her and she looks at him, her face upside down and still remarkably beautiful. How could he say no to that?
He sits on the swing next to her and he allows himself to sway back and forth, but it's nothing like her. Her legs are pumping and she's laughing and for the first time since touching down in New York City, Elliot feels unconstricted joy. His heart swells and his cheeks burn from how hard he's grinning.
The stars are brighter away from the bridge and the trees loom over her and the moon hangs brightly and the wind touches every piece of her. When she glances over at him, she sees that he's watching her in awe and that's all it takes to slow her down. When she comes to a full stop, with her hands on the silver chains and her hair still flying around her, she looks at him with something unfamiliar in her eyes.
"Why did you never ask me out?"
It isn't what she wanted to say, but it is what she's thinking. When she thinks of their partnership, she doesn't repaint history. She knows exactly what it was and that it was never perfect, but she knows they've always had the potential to be happy together. They've always fit together and it's always been seamless and effortless, even during fights and periods of separation, they've always been able to fall right back into this. She doesn't believe in fairytales, but deep down she's always believed in them.
"Which Bible verse would you like me to recite?" he cracks. "There's Proverbs-"
"I don't mean to be presumptuous. I just... we've always..." As hard as she tries, she doesn't know how to conclude her thought without disrespecting Kathy. "When you were separated, El. We could've... do you never think back to all the decisions we've made? How if we just altered one thing, our lives could've been different?" Just when she's admonishing herself inwardly, he looks her directly in her eyes.
"I wanted to."
"You did?" Olivia asks.
"Fuck, yes," Elliot answers solemnly and she nods her head in acceptance.
She doesn't need anything else. That is good enough for her.
"Come on, Liv." He stands to his feet and he reaches for her hand. Olivia slips her hand into his and they hold each other for a beat before the ice cream truck jingle plays one last time.
"Buy me a cone?" she requests and he laughs as he leads her to the truck. He only lets her hand go to reach into his back pocket for his wallet.
One vanilla cone with rainbow sprinkles later, they head towards his car. She takes a lick from the bottom of the cone collecting sprinkles on her tongue before she smiles up at him. "You look like a kid," he tells her. Her smile widens but she says nothing as they fall into step together.
He opens the car door for her, but before he can walk around to the other side, Olivia reaches for his hand, just her fingertips showing through the sleeves of his jacket. She can't put her finger on if it's the alcohol or the weed or his scent or the literal vibrations she feels buzzing off her skin. Maybe it's the salt and pepper stubble or his confession that he wanted to pursue her, but couldn't. It strengthens her resolve in them. All these years later and her mind has always drifted back to what could've been.
The interest is mutual and that alone rouses a fire in her.
He stops and his eyes connect with hers as her slim, soft fingers lace with his. Olivia holds her ice cream cone off to the side and she wraps their linked hands around her waist, pulling him into her. Her cold, wet mouth is open when she kisses him. She doesn't want there to be any room for misunderstandings or misinterpretations here. His bottom lip is in her mouth first, before her tongue is sliding against his and he actually groans at the contact. It's quick and it's calculated and when Olivia pulls away, a slow smile splits across his face.
"You haven't seen my apartment yet," Elliot says and it's an invitation.
"So show me."