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Sonnet 116

Chapter Text

“Well done, sweet boy!” exclaimed Olivia as she scooped Noah up in her arms from the bottom of the slide.  He had a smile on his face from the fun of coming down the slide, and he happily let his mother kiss his cheek.  Then he looked over her shoulder and reached out to what his gaze had just caught.

Olivia followed his gaze and she grinned.  “Ah, you ready for your favorite part of the playground?” she asked as she began to walk them there.  “Alright, Noah, let’s grab a swing before they all get taken.”

Thankfully, one of the structures with two baby-swings was completely free.  In her peripheral vision, Olivia noticed a young woman carrying a little one in her arms coming her way.  She carefully put Noah in the seat, laughing as he squirmed with excitement.  “I have to get your legs through the holes, sweet boy,” she said, working his chubby legs through the openings.


Automatically, Olivia turned her head towards the voice, which registered as somewhat familiar in her mind.  It came from the woman she had seen coming towards them, who now stood by the other swing with a little girl in her arms that looked around Noah’s age.  It took Olivia a moment of looking at the woman to recognize her.  When she did, the recognition hit her like an explosion.


Elizabeth Stabler’s face burst into a grin and she nodded.  She had her father’s eyes and smile; this memory hit Olivia like a second bomb.  Lizzie stepped forward and wrapped Olivia in a one-armed hug, slightly encumbered by the little girl she was holding.  Olivia returned the hug, still in a state of shock. 

Lizzie pulled away when the little girl she was holding made an impatient whine.  “Okay, snuggle-bug, we’ll get you settled,” she placated.  As she placed the little girl in the empty swing, Lizzie looked at Noah and gasped.  Looking at Olivia, she smiled again, her blue eyes sparkling.  “Oh, my God, Olivia, is he…?”

Pulling herself together, Olivia nodded and stroked her son’s dark head.  “Yes, Lizzie.  This is my son, Noah.”

Lizzie knelt down to be at eye-level with Noah, and squeezed his hand.  “Hi, Noah Benson!  It is an honor to meet you!”

As she stood back up, Olivia motioned to the little girl Lizzie had brought.  She had wispy blonde hair scrunched into two pigtails, but her eyes were brown and warm.  “And who is this?” asked Olivia, smiling and waving at the little girl.

“This is Rosie, Maureen and Karl’s daughter,” said Lizzie, rubbing the little girl’s back. “I’m babysitting her today.”

As Olivia pressed a hand to her heart and cooed at Rosie, Noah began kicking his little legs and making impatient noises at his mother.  Rosie saw this and began to do the same.

Both women laughed and moved to stand behind their respective little ones.  As soon as each had settled into a slow and steady rhythm of pushing, they looked at each other again.  Olivia was the first to break the silence with a smile.  “I can’t believe that Maureen’s a mother,” she said. “I remember when she was just starting to like boys.”

Lizzie laughed.  “I know.  But being Auntie Lizzie is the best role of my life thus far.”  Looking at Olivia again, her expression sobered a little.  “I think the last time I saw you was Maureen’s wedding.”

Olivia nodded, turning her gaze back to pushing Noah on the swing.  She had last seen all of the Stabler kids at Maureen’s wedding.  She’d only been able to stay for the ceremony because she’d needed to go and help Munch and Fin on a case, but she’d been able to greet and hug each child in congratulations.  A few weeks later, Jenna Fox had come into the precinct with a gun…

Determined not to turn this conversation sad, especially in front of Noah and Rosie, she smiled and said, “I remember you were about to graduate high school with dreams of NYU.  Did they pan out?”

Lizzie smiled and nodded.  “I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from NYU two weeks ago.”

Olivia’s face broke into a grin.  “That’s wonderful!  Congratulations!”

“Thanks,” said Lizzie.

“And what about Dickie?  Or is he even going by that name anymore?”

Lizzie laughed.  “No, it’s Richard now.  He joined the army, like he wanted to.  Now he’s out and he’s training to be an EMT.”

Olivia smiled.  “Wow, that’s amazing.”

“Yeah.  His first assignment was training to be a field medic and I think it did for him what being in my first play in high school did for me, you know?  He’s really happy.”

Olivia nodded.  “I’m glad to hear that.  Is that what you majored in, then?  Acting?”

“Theatre Studies, yes,” said Lizzie, then she grinned. “With a minor in English.”

Olivia couldn’t help but chuckled.  “That was my B.A. but the other way around.  How about your older sisters?  And little Eli!  He would be around seven now, right?”

 “Yep, he just finished first grade,” said Lizzie. “He’s a little firecracker, just like Richard was at his age.  Kathleen is working on her M.B.A. to be a therapist; she’s been doing really well.  And Maureen and Karl live out in Queens, and they’re expecting their second baby.”

Olivia shook her head, overwhelmed by all of the new information, and turned her attention back to Noah, whom she hadn’t stopped steadily swinging.  To know that all of the Stabler children were doing so well warmed her heart to no end.  She’d lost touch with all of them after Elliot had left without a word.  It hadn’t felt right to reach out to them if their father wasn’t taking her calls anymore.

As if reading the wavelength of her thoughts, Lizzie brought Olivia’s attention back to her by saying her name.  Looking at the young woman, Olivia saw that she had stopped swinging Rosie, so Olivia automatically stopped Noah.

“I…I don’t know where to start, Olivia.  After he quit the police force, Dad just…he wasn’t the same.  He barely talked about it, even to Mom.  When we asked about you, he only said that he couldn’t talk to you.”  She raised her arms in a helpless, struggling shrug, as if reaching out to Olivia for some help.

Olivia nodded and squeezed her hand.  “I get it, Lizzie.  My connection to you guys was through your father.”

The sound of their two charges fussing from staying stationary caused each to let go of the other and resume swinging.  Olivia took a few deep, fortifying breaths before asking the question she didn’t want to ask but needed to ask.

“How are your parents doing?”

“Well…my mom is fantastic, actually,” said Lizzie, carefully watching Olivia from the corner of her eye. “Still the best nurse at her hospital.  She’s the one that all the new nurses come to for training and help.  Calls them her ‘work daughters;’ she loves it.  Though she tries to hide it, she’s really excited for her wedding later this year.”


The word burst out of Olivia before she could temper it and release it more gently.  It was a miracle that she only paused in swinging Noah for a moment.

Lizzie nodded, her expression carefully neutral as she focused on swinging her niece.  “They divorced for good a few months after Dad left the police.  Mom got together with a cardiologist at her hospital about two years ago, and they’re getting married at the end of the year.”

Olivia let out a shuddering breath, and each push she gave Noah felt heavier and heavier as her body went numb with shock.

Lizzie continued, answering the question before she could ask it. 

“Right after the divorce, Dad took a job overseas.  Some kind of liaison job with an international task force.  Terrorism, I think.  He’d come back to visit us on holidays and the occasional birthday, but he made sure to speak to each of us every day, even if it was only a text.  But now he’s doing private security; he moved back here a few months ago.”  A smile lit up her face as Rosie let out a loud squeal of delight on the swing.  “I think becoming a grandpa was the hook that slowly reeled him back across the Atlantic.”

Elliot is a grandfather.  More overwhelmed than ever, Olivia stopped swinging Noah and swiftly lifted him out of the swing.  Before he could protest, she said, “It’s time for your snack, sweet boy.”  She looked at Lizzie, who stopped swinging Rosie.  “I brought some banana pieces, if Rosie would like some?”

Lizzie nodded as she lifted Rosie out of her swing.  “That would be great, she loves bananas.”

The two women walked to a nearby bench and, once seated, settled their respective little on their laps.  Olivia brought out a plastic bag filled with banana slices and held them out to Lizzie.  They both chuckled as both Rosie and Noah eagerly reached for them.

Once the babies were happily and messily chewing, Lizzie resumed the conversation.  “So, how old is Noah?  Rosie’s fifteen months.”

“He’s eighteen months,” said Olivia, relieved that they were no longer talking about Lizzie’s father.

“And is…are you married now?  Or is the father not in the picture or something in between?” Lizzie asked somewhat awkwardly.

Olivia mercifully threw her a smile.  “Noah is adopted.  I found him when he was a baby while working a case; I fostered him for a year and I formally adopted him just a few days ago.”

“That’s so awesome, Olivia!” said Lizzie. “And are you still with SVU?”

Olivia nodded.  “I’m actually the commanding officer there now.  I made Lieutenant in the past year.”

“Wow…”  Lizzie shook her head and looked at her in awe.  “A boss and a single mother.  I mean, that’s what a modern-day Wonder Woman is!  If anyone can do it, though, it’s you.”

Olivia’s cheeks flushed as she lowered her head, resting her cheek on Noah’s dark head.  “Feels more like juggling while walking a tightrope, but that is so sweet of you to say.”

Then, as if on cue, Olivia’s phone began to beep in her bag.  She dug it out and saw that it was a text from Fin.  Reading it, she groaned.  Looking back up at Lizzie, she hadn’t even opened her mouth before Lizzie spoke, an understanding look on her face: “A new case?”

Olivia sighed but smiled.  Of course Lizzie would understand; she was a cop’s daughter.  “Unfortunately, one where the boss needs to be there.”  She then kissed Noah’s head as he dug in the bag for another banana slice.  “Sorry, Noah, you’ll be seeing Lucy sooner than we thought.”

“Is that your nanny?” asked Lizzie.

Olivia nodded and held out the bag for Rosie to take one more slice, which she did.  “It was such a pleasure to meet you, sweetheart,” she cooed to the little girl.

When both women were standing up again, Lizzie was the first to speak as she settled Rosie on her hip.  “Listen, Olivia, I’d really like see you again.  There’s something I’d like to talk to you about.”  She caught the look that started to come over Olivia’s face and she immediately held up her free hand.  “It’s nothing serious, or anything like that, I promise.  But would that be okay with you?”

“Of course,” said Olivia, who immediately dug into her inner blazer pocket and pulled out one of her business cards.  “Call me anytime and we can set up a time to have coffee or a meal.  Just keep in mind it might be short notice, what with my job and everything.”

“That’s fine, Olivia, I will,” said Lizzie, taking the card and pocketing it.  The two women then awkwardly hugged, careful not to smush the little ones.  “I’m so glad to see you again, Olivia.”

“Me too, honey,” said Olivia, and she meant it.  She was indeed very glad to see Lizzie Stabler again, and to meet the newest edition to the Stabler family.

But, duty called, so she broke away and waved before she turned to walk away with Noah.


She stopped and turned at Lizzie’s call.  The younger woman had an anxious and apologetic look on her face.  Her words expressed those emotions, too.

“I don’t feel comfortable not telling my dad about this.”

Her words were not exactly chilling to Olivia, but they were sobering.  Reconnecting with Lizzie had the possibility to open up a lot of doors (or ‘can of worms’ depending on how she looked at it) that she had only recently come to accept would always be closed.  She had a lot to think about now, but right now, that had to wait.  She had to drop Noah off at Lucy’s and then get to the precinct.

So, she gave a small smile to Lizzie and gave her honest response: “I would never tell you to keep secrets from your father.”

They shared one last smile, waved, and then Olivia turned and walked away, holding Noah to her tightly as she did.

Chapter Text

Soon after Olivia had left the park, Lizzie took Rosie back to the apartment that she shared with her two best friends, Maisie and Becca.  Both girls were out, which for once Lizzie was grateful for.  There were two other women that she needed to talk to right now.

As soon as she’d put Rosie down for a nap, Lizzie texted Kathleen to come over in an hour, which was when Maureen was due to come pick up her daughter.  Thankfully, Kathleen had responded in the affirmative.

Both women arrived within minutes of each other.  Lizzie let them in with a finger to her lips – Rosie was still sleeping – and brought them into her bedroom so that they could speak normally.

“Lizzie, what’s going on?” asked Maureen once the door was shut behind them. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong, Mo, I promise,” Lizzie reassured her sister.

“But something happened,” said Kathleen, ever perceptive.  Her mind immediately went to the worst-case scenario.  “Is it about your play?  They didn’t change their minds, did they?”

“No, no, nothing like that, and it’s nothing wrong,” said Lizzie, sitting down on her bed.  She took a breath before spilling the beans.  “I took Rosie to that playground she loves today, and we ran into Olivia.”

Two sets of blue eyes looking down at her widened in shock.  Each took a seat beside Lizzie as she told them the whole story and everything that she’d learned.  When she was finished, it was Kathleen who spoke first.

“I’m so relieved,” she said. “And so happy for her.”

“Yeah,” said Maureen. “She’s really built a new life for herself.”

“I hate how Dad cut her out of his life like that, even after he and Mom split,” said Kathleen.

“Do you know anything about that?” asked Lizzie curiously. “It’s just…I could feel the tension rolling off Olivia the few times I mentioned Dad.”

Kathleen huffed out a sigh and rolled her eyes.  “I tried to ask about Olivia right after Dad left SVU, but it was like talking to a brick wall.  I’ve been meaning to talk to him about reconnecting with her ever since he moved back, but I haven’t known how to bring it up without him shutting it down.”

“Well, perhaps this is it,” said Maureen. “Hearing that one of us has seen her again – that’s not something he can just brush aside.  I want them to reconnect, too.  Mom’s found her happiness, but Dad…he’s lonely.”

“And Olivia’s done so much for us,” said Kathleen. “She’s the reason I got the help I needed when I got diagnosed bipolar.  Hell, she’s the reason Mom and Eli are still alive!”

“What about Olivia?” asked Maureen to Lizzie. “Did you get the impression she would want to reconnect with Dad?”

Lizzie scrunched up her face.  “I honestly don’t know.  I got the feeling that talking about Dad any more than was necessary would be too much for her.  But when I told her I couldn’t keep this from my Dad, she didn’t object.”

“She would never do that,” said Kathleen. “So…when are you going to tell Dad about this?”

“I’m going to go over there tonight,” said Lizzie. “The sooner, the better.  I thought about asking one or both of you to come, but that might be a bit too much.”

“I agree,” said Maureen. “Neither of us were with you.”  Just then, the sound of Rosie’s cries interrupted the conversation.  Maureen immediately got up and left the room to take care of her daughter.

“I just don’t know why I feel nervous about this,” groaned Lizzie, resting her head on Kathleen’s shoulder.

Kathleen wrapped an arm around her.  “Don’t be.  I think this is the opportunity that Dad needs to reach out to her.  Just tell him exactly what happened.”

Lizzie nodded, reassured, and lifted her head.  “I’m getting together with Olivia again soon.  I want to talk to her about the play; I think she could really help me.”

“Tell me more about the role again?”

“It’s Isabella from Measure for Measure.  A Shakespeare play, one of the lesser known but better written plays.  It’s not done too much because it’s classified as a comedy but lots of it is anything but.  For example, my character is a postulant in a nunnery whose brother is condemned to death for having sex out of wedlock.  When she goes to plead for his life, she’s given the choice of sleeping with the judge to get her brother off or remain chaste and watch her brother die.”

Kathleen’s eyes widened and she let out a long whistle.  “Wow, Lizzie…I can see why you’d want Liv’s help.”

“It crossed my mind to ask Dad,” said Lizzie. “But he was always so careful to keep that world away from us, and he walked away from it, so it didn’t feel right.”

Kathleen nodded.  “Well, keep me posted on how everything is going.  Tonight, just tell him firmly and calmly everything that happened and everything you intend to do.  I agree with Maureen: the fact that you’ve already seen her will make a difference in his potential reaction for the better.  This could be exactly the opening that Dad needs.”

That evening, Lizzie arrived at her father’s building with a bag of Chinese takeout.  He buzzed her up and let her in with a grin and a hug.  Her text offering to come by and bring dinner had been a pleasant surprise.

As they dug into their dinner, Lizzie took the opportunity to study her father.  If he’d had a bad or stressful day, she knew she wouldn’t be able to tell him about Olivia tonight.  But she saw no signs of tension or stress on him.  To be sure, Lizzie asked, “You have a good Sunday?”

Elliot nodded.  “Spent it at the shelter with the boys.  Must have played half a dozen games of basketball.  Feel like an old man keeping up with them.”

On days when he wasn’t working private security or with his family, Elliot volunteered at a youth shelter for young men who’d been through the school of hard knocks.  It warmed Lizzie’s heart that her father took so much joy out of it.

Seeing the grin on his face, Lizzie teased, “Well, you are a grandfather now.” 

Elliot chuckled.  Then his eyes lit up as he asked, “Speaking of, didn’t you babysit Rosie today?”

Lizzie took a deep breath and nodded.  Showtime, she thought.

Oblivious to any shift in Lizzie’s mood, Elliot the grandfather grinned and asked, “Any new pictures you need to send?”

Lizzie had to laugh at that.  “Dad, you already have about a thousand photos and almost that many videos on your phone.”

Elliot shrugged nonchalantly.  “So?  Neither your mother nor I could ever have enough.  Are you telling me you have a limit?”

“Ok, fair enough,” said Lizzie with a smile, but then she sobered herself.  “Actually, Dad, I didn’t really have a chance to take any new photos.  I took Rosie to the playground, and I wound up talking to a woman who was there.”

Elliot looked only slightly put out and casually asked, “Oh, who was it?  A friend of yours?”

Lizzie slowly nodded and waited until she was sure he’d swallowed his latest bite of food to drop the bombshell.

“Dad…it was Olivia.”

Lizzie kept her expression neutral and her demeanor calm as she watched her father react.  He went still, dropping his chopsticks onto his plate, and his eyes widened ever so slightly as a storm of emotions passed over them.  It took him at least a full minute to be able to speak in a low voice. 

“You…you saw Olivia…at the playground?”  A slight panic came into his eyes.  “Was she working a case there?”

“No, no, nothing like that, Dad,” said Lizzie, realizing just how much she had to tell her father.  “She was there with her son.”

Again, shock washed over his face and he leaned back in his chair.  His gaze shifted to his now-empty plate, and he looked like a single touch could knock him off the chair. 

“Dad?” asked Lizzie quietly, instinctually knowing to keep any worry off her face or voice. “Do you need a minute before I tell you the rest?”

Her father ran a hand over his face, folded his lips, and tightly nodded to his lap.

“Ok,” said Lizzie. 

She got up from the table and took their places and empty containers into his kitchen.  After taking her time cleaning up, Lizzie slowly walked back to the living room.  Her father was still sitting at the dining table, but now he held his face in his hands.  Compassion filling her heart, Lizzie walked to her father and stood behind him, placing her hands on his shoulders. 

“Come on, Dad, let’s sit on the sofa,” said Lizzie calmly.  She had no idea how she knew what to do; perhaps she had taken Kathleen’s advice to heart and was trying to do what the future therapist would be doing right now.

Thankfully, it was working.  Elliot scrubbed his face with his hands and got up from his chair.  They walked over to his leather sofa and sat down beside each other.  After a minute, Elliot took a deep breath, looked at Lizzie and asked, “So?”

Lizzie nodded and said, “I was taking Rosie to the swings and she was already there, putting her little boy in one.  We were both surprised, safe to say, and we hugged.  Then I introduced her to Rosie and she introduced me to Noah.”  She smiled at the way her father’s eyes lit up upon learning his name.  “Yeah, his name is Noah.  He’s three months older than Rosie and absolutely adorable.  As we swung them, I caught her up on what we’ve all been doing and where we are now as people.  Then, while the kids were having a snack, I asked about her.  Turns out she got Noah on her own; she’d fostered him and then adopted him.  And she’s still at SVU.  More than that, she’s a lieutenant now and the commanding officer there.  Then she got a text about a new case and had to leave, so we said goodbye.”

Lizzie conveyed the concise facts clearly and calmly, and not in any rush.  She paused here and there so that her father could absorb each new fact, because she knew it would be a lot for him to take in.  When she was finished, she sat back on the sofa and watched her father.

Minutes passed before Elliot finally sat back on the sofa like her.  His expression was a stew of emotions as he let out a long breath.  Finally, he murmured more to himself than to Lizzie: “A son…good for her.”  A small, soft smile was on his lips.

Relief poured over Lizzie as she smiled, too.  “Yeah.  She’s a great mom.”

“I always knew she would be,” murmured Elliot, his eyes far away.

Lizzie bit her lip before laying her final bombshell on her father.  “Dad…I’m going to see her again.  I think she could really help me with my play.  Maureen and Kathleen want to reconnect with her, too.”

The finality in her tone caused Elliot to look at her again.  “Honey, you don’t need to ask my permission.”

“I know,” said Lizzie. “I’m telling you because…if there’s anything you’d like me to pass on to her for you…just let me know, ok?”

For a moment, Lizzie thought that tears were in her father’s eyes.  But then he blinked and nodded, rubbing a hand over his face again.

Feeling the shift in the atmosphere, Lizzie stood up and said, “I’m going to head home.”

“Alright,” said Elliot, getting up and walking with her to the door. 

Before she left, he pulled Lizzie into a very tight hug, and Lizzie hugged him just as tightly back.  “I love you,” he murmured.

“Love you too, Dad,” said Lizzie, pulling back to look at him.  “It’s going to be ok.”

Elliot almost laughed but looked at her gratefully.  He then kissed her forehead and opened the door with a “Text me when you get home.”

An hour later found Elliot walking the streets of Manhattan like a haunted man.  That is what he had been since he’d walked away from SVU, from her, but ever since he’d moved back to the city, he felt it like a presence beside him all the time.  Nearly everywhere he went, he could see her.  So many places were places they’d been together on the job. Memories, so many of them insignificant, would hit him like a strong breeze. 

He and Olivia had gone into that bodega after a stakeout across the street…he and Olivia had chased a suspect down that block…he and Olivia had gotten hot dogs and laughed under that streetlight…

But tonight, it wasn’t only memories in his mind as he walked the streets.  Lizzie’s revelations also played in his mind like a broken record.

“I saw Olivia…she was there with her son…his name is Noah…eighteen months old and adorable…she adopted him on her own…she’s still at SVU…the lieutenant and commanding officer…she’s a great mom…”

How could his heart feel so warm and so cold at the same time?  Warm because this knowledge had been music to his ears; Olivia had not only risen in the ranks at work but had achieved her dream of being a mother.  Cold because Elliot knew that it was a very real possibility that Olivia did not have any place for him in this new life that she’d made for herself – and that she wouldn’t be willing to make one for him.

Thinking back to Lizzie’s words again, Elliot had the smallest hope that Olivia didn’t hate him by the fact that Lizzie offered to pass along any message from him to her.  Surely she wouldn’t have offered that if Olivia had given the impression she wanted nothing to do with him?  Still, Olivia had always loved his kids, and would never give them any reason to be angry at him. 

More than any fear, though, Elliot finally felt free to hope.  Ever since moving back to the city, he knew that he had to make things right with Olivia.  But the thought of reaching out to her out of the blue after four years daunted him.  The best idea he’d had so far was to get in touch with Fin or Munch or Cragen first, as a way to test the waters.  Now, though, a door had opened for him in a way he hadn’t expected: this chance meeting of Lizzie and Olivia.

He wasn’t going to let this opportunity slip by, and he had to start now.  And that meant finding the nearest store that sold paper and pens still open at this hour.

Chapter Text

Olivia walked from Noah’s bedroom back into her living room with a grin on her face for her soon-to-be former partner.  Nick was seated on the couch, his injured leg stretched out, and a matching grin on his face as he looked over his shoulder at Olivia.

“He was asleep before his head hit the pillow,” said Olivia, sitting down on the sofa beside him. “I don’t know how you managed to wear him out from that spot on the sofa.”

Nick shrugged, pleased with himself.  “Call it a gift.”

Olivia chuckled.  “So, what time is your flight tomorrow?”


“Do you need a ride to the airport?”

Nick shook his head.  “Thanks, but Amanda’s doing that.”

Olivia nodded, her expression carefully neutral.  She knew that something had been going on between the two of them for some time, but it had never interfered with their work so she had wisely kept her mouth shut.  After all, who was she to call out two partners for giving the impression of getting too close?  She could only imagine the gossip that she and Elliot had generated when they had never even crossed a real boundary.

The thought of Elliot caused Olivia to lapse into silence, and it wasn’t until Nick said her name and patted her shoulder that she remembered where she was.  “Sorry, Nick, just…”

“Liv, what’s up?” asked Nick. “Something’s been on your mind since I got here.”

Olivia took a deep breath and nodded, looking at her hands in her lap.

Nick let out a long sigh.  “Look, Liv, if this is about Amanda –”

“No, Nick, it’s not that,” said Olivia.  She contemplated how to start this conversation for a moment, and then she looked at him again.  “I never talked about my old partner much, did I?”

Nick raised his eyebrows in surprise.  “Ummm…honestly, Liv, I can’t remember if you ever mentioned him at all beyond what you told me at Noah’s party last week.”

Olivia nodded.  “Yeah.  And I meant every word I said, Nick.  I bring him up now because…well…”

From there, Olivia told Nick exactly what had happened at the park just two days ago.  It was a relief to talk about it to someone.  Her first thought as to who she would confide this in was Fin; after all, he was the only one of the squad who had been there when Elliot had been.  But Nick’s observation had offered an opening, and she found that she was glad for it. 

When she was finished, Nick sat in silence for a minute, processing this new information.  When he spoke, his voice was calm but concerned.  “Wow, Liv, that’s…that’s a lot to take in…and out of the blue like that.”

Olivia let out a breathy laugh and nodded.  “In all honestly, I’m glad that Lizzie was the Stabler that I ran into out of the blue; if I had to pick one, it would have been her.”


“Well…I think I could identify with her the most when I knew her, as a child and a teenager.  She was the shy one of the family, the quiet one who never gave any trouble.  Not really surprising, given that she has two older sisters and a twin brother who is so much like his father…I was a lot like her at that age.”

Nick nodded.  He knew the history Olivia had with her mother, and it didn’t surprise him that she’d kept her head down growing up.

A little smile came to Olivia’s face as she continued.  “Another way we’re alike is that we’re both bookworms and have a love for the theatre.  She just graduated from NYU with a B.A. in Theatre and a minor in English.  I don’t know if I ever told you this but my B.A. was the reverse: major in English, minor in Theatre.”

“Oh, I’m sure you never mentioned it to me or to anybody, because we never would have stopped teasing you,” said Nick, grinning as Olivia laughed in embarrassment.  “Wow, Olivia, an actress…did you try to pursue that?”

Olivia shook her head.  “No, not really…it was always just fun for me.  By the time I graduated, I knew that the force was the path I needed to go on.  But I admire Lizzie for pursuing it.  She was so shy growing up, and it wasn’t until she discovered performing that she really came out of her shell.  Anyway, it was actually really nice to see her again, and to meet little Rosie, too.”

Nick smiled.  “I’m glad of that, Liv.”  His next words were spoken carefully, his eyes on her face.  “I’m guessing it wasn’t seeing Lizzie, but what could come after, that’s weighing on you.”

Olivia let out a long breath and rubbed her forehead.  “I just…I know she’s going to tell her father about this, and…I have no idea how he’s going to react, what he’s going to do…I’m still wrapping my mind around all of this new information about him – he’s divorced, he’s been living abroad, he’s moved back here…Four years of complete silence and I’d finally gotten to a place where I’d accepted that he was out of my life for good.  Now…I don’t know.”

“Let me ask you this, Liv: are you more afraid of his response, or are you afraid he won’t respond at all?”

Olivia sat back on her sofa, leaning her head back against the cushion.  “I’ve had four years of no response, so I’m prepared for that.  Honestly, I don’t see how he can stay silent anymore, now that I’ve seen Lizzie.  She’s sure to tell not only him but her sisters, and if they’re like I remember them, I don’t see them letting their father get away with completely avoiding me now.  What he’ll say or do…”  Olivia shook her head, her forehead pinched.

A new possibility occurred to Nick.  “Liv…do you want to see him again?”

It took a long time for Olivia to respond, and when she did, her voice was small.  “I don’t know, Nick…it’s been four years and so much has happened.  It’s not just me anymore, I have Noah…and what I’ve been through that he missed…”

Nick pursed his lips and nodded, the name of William Lewis unspoken but heard nonetheless.  Learning that this man had been abroad in Europe during that whole ordeal, Nick couldn’t help but be a little glad that there was a reason her old partner hadn’t been there for her, that he hadn’t been in close proximity but chose to stay away anyway.

After a pause, Olivia resumed speaking, “I’ve been mulling that question over and over in my mind since seeing Lizzie…and I can’t answer that yet.  All I know right now is that I need answers from him, especially about why he left like that.  Even if I hate the answers, I need them.  After that…I guess it depends on what those answers are.”  She lifted her head and looked at Nick.  “I’m really just trying to look at this one step at a time.  Keep my mind focused on when I meet with Lizzie and talk to her about what she needs to talk about.  I’ll learn then if or what Elliot has to say through her.”

Nick nodded.  “That’s smart, Liv.  Let the answers come to you when they come.”

Olivia couldn’t help but smile ruefully at him.  “You know, a part of me is surprised that you’re not telling me to just tell him to go to hell and stay there.”

Nick laughed.  “Not gonna lie, Liv.  I would love nothing more than to give this guy a good beating for what he did to you.  You’re the last person who deserves to have someone important disappear from your life without a word and stay away like that.  But more than that, I want you to be happy.  I want you to get the answers that you need, and if that leads to reconnecting with him…if that would make you happy, I’m not gonna object.”  He smiled.  “Just to be clear, though: he does anything you don’t deserve again, I’m on the next plane from California and taking him down, even with this limp.”

Olivia gave him a grateful smile and squeezed his hand.  “Thanks, Nick.  I really appreciate you listening to me go on about this.”

“Liv, don’t apologize.  I’m glad I can help, especially now.  I hate that I’m becoming another person who’s walking away from you.”

“Hey, none of that,” scolded Liv. “You’re doing the right thing, for you and your kids.  We’ll miss you, but we’ll be fine.  And I know you’ll keep in touch, so it’s not the same thing at all.”

“Absolutely, I will,” said Nick, squeezing her hand before letting it go with a sigh.  “Well, I should get back and make sure I’ve got everything in the right boxes.”

Olivia nodded.  “I’ll call you a cab.  I’d walk you down but I can’t leave Noah.”

“Of course.  I’ll hop in and give him one more kiss goodbye; I’ll be sure not to wake him.”

Olivia leaned against the doorway after she’d shut it and locked it behind her.  She’d just hugged Nick goodbye, not knowing when she’d see him in person again.  He’d been a good partner to her, and a necessary one.  He had pushed her in many ways, most of them unconsciously, to grow, to be more than she had been with Elliot.  She could never have become a sergeant and then a lieutenant had she not had the experience of partnering him.

With Elliot, she’d been content where she was.  She hadn’t had to grow in so many ways with him there because he did that for her.  They had been two halves of the same whole.  When he’d left, she’d had to learn to not just be half of something, but a whole person on her own.  Partnering with Nick had been the first step in that. 

Nick wasn’t perfect; he was a very flawed man, but ultimately a good one.  His decision to leave the force and start a new life in California with his kids was the proof of that.  She would always be grateful for the part he’d played in her life.

Once, it had been Nick entering her life just after Elliot had left.  Now, just like hers and Lizzie’s degrees, the situation could be reversed now.

The sound of Noah waking up from his nap by crying out for her was a very welcome distraction.  She hurriedly went to his room and lifted him out of his crib with soft coos.  “I’m here, sweet boy,” she murmured, cuddling him close.

Olivia had learned some time ago to focus on what she could do in the moment rather than what she couldn’t do in the future.  So, she resolved again to focus her attentions on her son and her work until she heard from Lizzie.

And if she had to remind herself of this every few minutes to keep remembering it, so be it.

Chapter Text

A week later, Lizzie Stabler was just packing her large purse to leave when there came a knock at her door.  Both Maisie and Becca were here, so she left it to one of them to open the door; she was on her way out to meet Liv for lunch, anyway.  However, her attention was drawn by the call Maisie was sounding:

“Lizzie, your dad’s here!”

Lizzie let out a breath of relief that she didn’t know she was holding in.  She had called Liv five days ago and they had set up a lunch meeting (for lack of a better term).  Immediately after that call, she had texted her dad to let him know that he had until then to decide on any kind of message she could pass along, if he had any.  And she hoped more than anything that he had one for her to pass along to Liv. 

After telling her father about seeing Liv again, Lizzie was convinced that her father’s feelings for Liv went well beyond professional respect.  When she’d talked to Maureen and Kathleen about it the next day, both had confirmed her suspicions with their own, and they’d seen more than she had when they had worked together.  All could agree that their father had never been unfaithful to their mother while they had been married, but they could also agree that their father’s heart had been Olivia’s for quite some time.

Lizzie picked up her purse and left her bedroom.  When she came to the front door, she saw her father standing there awkwardly, his hands behind his back.  He smiled when he saw her, but Lizzie could feel a nervous tension radiating off him.

“Hey, Dad, I’m just on my way out,” she said casually.

Elliot nodded.  “I know, honey, I just wanted to…uhhh…”  He brought his hands from around his back to in front of him, and Lizzie saw that he was holding an envelope.  It looked to be filled with at least several folded pieces of paper, and on the front was one word in her father’s handwriting: Liv.  “If you could just give this to her…tell her to read it, not read it, throw it away, it’s up to her…whatever she does, I get it.”

“Of course, Dad,” said Lizzie, taking the envelope from him and carefully putting it in her purse.

Elliot nodded and then pulled her into a hug.  It was brief, but he held her tightly.  “Thanks, sweetheart.”

Then he was turning away and walking down the stairs of the walk-up building.

Lizzie felt like she wanted to cry.  Her father had clearly been holding back some very strong emotions during that encounter.  Was he hopeful or was he scared?  Probably both.  Him saying that Olivia could choose to not read the letter or throw it away…clearly he was trying to prepare for the worst.

For her father’s sake, Lizzie dearly hoped that she wouldn’t.

The two greeted each other outside a cute bistro that was just a block away from the precinct with a warm hug.  “Come here often?” Lizzie asked as a server who seemed on first-name terms with Olivia led them to a table.

Olivia shrugged.  “The food is great and it’s close by.  You know how it is: you find the right place and it becomes a part of your routine.”

After the two had placed their drink orders, Olivia began the conversation.  “So, Lizzie…what did you want to talk about?”

Lizzie let out a chuckle.  “As I said, Olivia, it’s nothing serious or wrong.  In fact, I hope you’ll be happy for me.”  She reached into her large purse and pulled out a paperback book.  She handed it to Olivia, who got a spark in her eyes when she read it: Measure for Measure.  Lizzie nodded excitedly.  “I’ve just been cast as Isabella.”

Olivia’s face burst into a grin and she grabbed Lizzie’s hand across the table.  “Oh, Lizzie, I’m so thrilled for you!  This is fantastic, and what a great part!”

“I knew you’d get it,” said Lizzie, her own excited grin on her face. “Everyone else I know has never heard of this play.  Not exactly one of Shakespeare’s better known plays, even though it should be.”

“Absolutely,” said Olivia vehemently. “So much about it is still relevant today, especially how women are viewed and treated.”

“The problem is that it’s labelled a comedy,” said Lizzie with an eye roll. “In Shakespeare’s time, the definition of a comedy had nothing to do with the subject matter; it just meant no one dies in the end, unless it’s the villain.”

“Yep,” said Olivia. “In a tragedy, everyone dies.  In a comedy, everyone survives and is usually paired up.”

“Mm-hm,” said Lizzie.  “Simple definitions.  But nothing about Measure for Measure is simple.”

“Nothing…I learned that when I got cast as Isabella in college.”

Lizzie gasped.  “Oh, my gosh, Olivia!  I never knew that!”

Olivia nodded, a small but proud smile on her face.  “Yeah.  I also played Juliet, as in Romeo and Juliet.”

Lizzie’s hands went up in shock, and the expression on her face was comical.  “Olivia!  Why didn’t you tell me this before?  Especially when I told you I was reading it in middle school?”

Olivia laughed.  “Because your father would have found out and he would never have let me live it down at work.  But enough about me, we’re here for you.”

Just then, their waiter returned with their drinks and took their lunch orders.  As they waited for their food, Lizzie told Olivia about her upcoming show.  The play was being produced by a small but well-respected theatre company that owned a small performing space downtown.  They had a long-standing tradition of hiring young actors just out of school and giving them a metaphorical foot in the door of show business in New York.  Shakespeare plays were their bread and butter, but they also sprinkled in other classic Greek and English plays to round it out.  Their productions were usually very stripped down, sometimes set in modern day, but always put on in a way that the words were the main event rather than set-pieces and costumes.

“I couldn’t be happier to hear that,” said Olivia after their waiter put down their lunch orders. “When do rehearsals start?”

“Next week, and then we open in two months.”

“So, the middle of August.  How long will it run for?”

“Three months.  Romeo and Juliet is being done now, and the next one is A Christmas Carol.  Perfectly timed for Christmas.”  She took a deep breath.  “Anyway, the main reason I wanted to talk to you, Olivia, is because I really want to get this right.”

“And you will, honey,” reassured Olivia. “You were amazing even in your high school shows.  I’m sure you’ve only gotten better since then.”

Lizzie shot her a grateful smile.  “Thanks, Liv.  But I’m talking specifically the situation that Isabella is in.  The terrible choice that is forced on her.”

Olivia inhaled sharply through her nostrils and nodded.

“I’m thankful every day that I have never been in a situation remotely like this,” said Lizzie softly. “I want to make sure that I give the truest performance I can.”

Olivia nodded, proud of Lizzie.  “We must ‘hold the mirror up to nature,’ I know.”  She held out her hand to Lizzie.  “Can I see the script?”

From there, the two women went into an intense discussion about the reactions that someone can have to serious threats of sexual harassment.  Olivia spoke patiently about the subject, and Lizzie listened intently, taking notes in a tiny notebook she had brought with her.  By the time the check came, Lizzie felt that she had enough to think about.

“Remember, Lizzie, that everyone reacts differently,” said Olivia. “There are certain consistencies, yes, but the levels always vary.  So really work with your director and your co-star on this, and trust you’ll instincts.  You’ll find the right way to play it.  And I’m here if you get any more questions on the way.”

Lizzie gave her the most grateful smile.  “Thank you so much, Olivia,” she said.  Then she reached for the check, but Olivia had grabbed it first.  “Hey, no fair!  This lunch was my idea, it’s only fair.”

“But the restaurant itself was mine, and you’re a starving artist now,” teased Olivia, taking cash out of her wallet with enough for a generous tip.

Lizzie laughed and got up from the table.  “I hope I didn’t take too much time out of your day or kept you from something.”

“Don’t worry about it,” said Olivia, getting up and leading her out of the restaurant. “If something had come up, I’d have gotten a call.”

“Ok,” said Lizzie.  They stepped out into the sunlight of the beautiful June day, and Lizzie followed Olivia’s lead, assuming they were walking back to the precinct. “So, how is your beautiful baby boy doing?”

Olivia beamed and laughed.  “He’s just fine.  He’s got the wobble-walk down and is getting to be quite active on his feet.”

Lizzie giggled. “Rosie’s just the same.  Hasn’t said to many words but her names for all of us are precious.  I am ‘Wissie,’ Kathleen is ‘Kaween,’ and Dad is ‘Gampa.’”

Olivia had to laugh at that.  The name ‘Gampa’ and Elliot might seem hard to imagine as a pair, but the thought wasn’t hard for Olivia, and it melted her heart.

Taking this as the right opening, Lizzie stopped them on the sidewalk and reached into her purse.  “Olivia…I have something for you.”

Olivia’s laughter melted into a curious expression.  She then watched as Lizzie pulled an envelope out of her purse and hold it out to her.  Olivia took it, immediately feeling that it was full of folded pages.  Turning it over to the front, she saw her nickname written in very familiar handwriting.

For a moment, she forgot how to breathe.  Then she remembered Lizzie, and looked up at her.  The young woman was looking at her with apology and pleading.

“I’m sorry, but…he told me to tell you to do whatever you want with it, that he understands if you don’t read it and throw it away.  I hope you read it, though.”  She sighed.  “I know it’s not my business, and I don’t know the whole story by any means…but he really misses you, Olivia.”

Tears filled Olivia’s eyes, but she quickly blinked them away.  She then slid the full envelope into the inner pocket of her blazer.  “I’ll read it, Lizzie,” she said in a voice that was much calmer than she was feeling. “Tell him I’ll read it when I’m ready.”

And she meant every word.  Like she had told Nick before he left: she needed answers, even if that meant closure from Elliot for good.

Lizzie was so relieved that she pulled Olivia in for another hug, which Olivia returned.  When Lizzie pulled away, she asked, “And is it still okay if Maureen and Kathleen reach out to you?  I know Kathleen is eager to reconnect and Maureen even talked about making a playdate for Rosie and Noah.”

Olivia grinned.  “Absolutely, to both of them.  And I’m counting on you to keep in touch, alright?”

Lizzie nodded.  They then said goodbye and parted ways.

Meanwhile, Elliot was taking his own lunch at a diner before he had to report to his private security firm to start his shift. His phone buzzed in his pocket and he pulled it out.  It was a text from Lizzie.

She said she’ll read it when she’s ready.  Hang in there, Dad.  Love you.

For a split second, Elliot felt like crying.  But it passed quickly.  He let out a long breath he felt like he’d been carrying for years.  Then he texted a simple ‘thanks’ to Lizzie.

He then turned his focus to finishing his lunch.  Then, he would turn his focus to getting to work.  Patience had never been his strong suit, but he was going to do his best now.  He’d poured everything that was in his heart into that letter because she deserved nothing less.  The ball was in her court; he’d finally thrown it back to hers from his after four years – a true Hail Mary pass.  He would forever regret making her wait that long, and he had to accept that the ball would never come his way again.

Karma was a bitch, but she was on the side of justice.  And Elliot Stabler had always been a man who fought for justice.

Chapter Text

When Olivia returned to her office at the precinct, she immediately locked Elliot’s letter into a desk drawer.  For the rest of the day, she threw herself into her work as if nothing were out of the ordinary.  No one except Fin seemed to notice that anything was going on.  During a quiet moment, he had come to her office door and simply asked, “Everything good?”

Under almost any other circumstances, Olivia would have said something like “Yep, all good” or “I’m fine, Fin,” and he would have either decided to leave well enough alone or come in, shut the door, and push her for answers.  This time, though, Olivia said softly, “No, Fin.  But I can’t talk about it today.  Tomorrow, ok?”

Fin looked at her, and Olivia held his gaze, letting him know that she wasn’t brushing him off.  He nodded.  “I’ll pick you up in the morning.  That ok?”

She nodded.  Then, the moment was done, and she asked him about the current case they were working on.

Olivia had to admit to herself that she took her time putting Noah to bed that evening.  Even after he’d fallen asleep, she’d kept reading The Wizard of Oz until she was nearly done with the book.  Guiltily, she marked the book in the place where she thought he’d fallen asleep and kissed him goodnight.

After shutting his bedroom door, Olivia slowly walked into her bedroom.  She’d dropped her purse at the foot of the bed.  Bending down, she pulled the letter out of it.  She then threw it on the bed and, defiantly, took her sweet time getting through her nightly routine and refused to look at it.

But nothing lasts forever, and eventually, Olivia couldn’t push it off any longer.  Now, she sat in the middle of her bed, in her pajamas with her legs crossed, about to open the letter.  She knew that she couldn’t put it off until tomorrow or any other day.  Fin was expecting answers tomorrow and, while she was certain she wouldn’t have an easy night of sleep, she knew that she wouldn’t get any sleep at all if the letter remained unread.

So, telling herself to get this over with, Olivia opened the envelope and pulled out the folded pages inside.  Unfolding them, she had to take a breath.  Seeing her nickname in his handwriting had been jarring enough – seeing full pages of it after four years of nothing was enough to make her feel like passing out.

But she took some deep, therapeutic breaths before finally beginning to read.

Dear Olivia,

I wish I was better at writing letters.  Seriously.  I haven’t written a letter since I was in the Marines and those were horrible.  Most of them just said things like ‘I’m fine’ and ‘don’t worry.’  I cared more about the news from home than I was about telling my family what Marine life was like.

But that’s not the case here.  You need answers.  Hell, you deserve the world, the universe, everything.  And I let you down.  I made a promise that I was your partner, for better or for worse, and I walked away.  And you deserve to know why, even if you won’t like the answers I have.

Even though it’s been four years, I don’t need to remind you of my last day.  We had sworn to get justice for Jenna and her mother, and she bled out in my arms from a bullet that I’d put in her.  She was no older than Lizzie at the time. 

I don’t remember much about that day that wasn’t holding Jenna’s body while she died.  But I do remember meeting your eyes across the room, Jenna in my arms and Sister Peg in yours.  We were both shocked, devastated, and…I’ll never forget your face in that moment, Liv.

The rest of that day is all a blur.  I know you tried to talk to me before I left, but it was as if I was in a tunnel.  I got home, somehow, and I brushed Kathy off before locking myself in the basement with a case of beer.  The days that followed were full of IAB and interrogation and Kathy trying to get me to talk and drowning myself in a bottle.  When the ruling came back that I had been justified in shooting her, things got even worse.  The thought of coming back into the precinct after what happened, to carry on as if nothing had happened, case after case, each one nightmare after another…I just couldn’t do it anymore, Liv.

Anyways, things didn’t get better after I put my papers in.  The final straw for Kathy was one morning when Eli woke up first, came downstairs, and found me passed out drunk on the sofa, surrounded by a mess I’d made.  I’d shut her out completely by then, so I wasn’t shocked.  She wouldn’t let me see Eli again until I’d gotten help, which was the motivation I needed. 

Once I felt sober and strong enough, both of us knew that it was over.  We’d gotten back together for the same reason we got married: it was the right thing to do.  Now, even though Eli was still little, we knew that we would be better parents to him and the rest of the kids if we stopped pretending.  The divorce was surprisingly quick and not nearly as painful as the first had been. 

Right after it was settled, I got a job offer to work overseas.  They wanted an experienced cop from America to be a liaison with certain task forces working on international terrorism.  It was Kathy who talked me into it.  I’d been sober since she kicked me out, so she wasn’t trying to get rid of me or anything.  But she knew I missed the work, and she saw this as a chance for me to have a fresh start.  If modern technology weren’t as good as it is now, I couldn’t have left Eli.  Thank God for Skype, that’s all I can say.

I was based in Rome, but I frequently made trips into Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, France a few times.  It was the first time I truly lived for myself.  The work was good and it kept me busy, but I was still able to look around and realize how damn lucky I was.  I came home as often as I could for holidays or birthdays, and I spoke to each of my kids every day, even if it was just a text.  That was my biggest rule along with staying sober.

When Maureen had Rosie, a lot of the appeal of Europe faded away, and I found myself wanting to be closer to my family again.  So I moved back here a few months ago, just in time for Rosie’s first birthday, after I’d tied up every loose end I could.  Now, I’m working private security.  Not the same as being on the job, but the pay is great, and I still have Eli to put through school, so that helps.  To make up for work, I spend quite a bit of free time at this youth shelter geared towards young boys that came from the school of hard knocks, be it their home life or bad choices they made or both.

So, in a nutshell, that’s what my life has been and is now.  But all of that doesn’t matter in the face of the question I have to answer: through all of this, why did I never reach out to you?

I wanted to answer each time you called or texted me, but I didn’t.  I knew that, if I heard your voice, I wouldn’t have been able to leave.  And I needed to leave.  I know that you would never force me to stay.  You know me so well; you’d have seen the pain I was in and understood why I couldn’t come back, however much you didn’t like it.  But that wouldn’t have mattered, Liv.  Seeing you or hearing you would have meant facing the reality that I was abandoning you to face the work – and all of the ugliness that makes it up – alone, without me watching your six.  And I couldn’t face it.  I tried to make excuses for myself: you’d be better off without me, I would drag you down, I was holding you back, I’d be no good to you now…you deserved better than me.  The irony is that I proved all of those things true by not answering when you called.

By the time I’d pulled myself together, divorced Kathy and started my new life abroad, your calls and texts had stopped.  It broke my heart but I couldn’t blame you.  I still wanted to reach out to you, but with each day that passed where I lost my courage, it got harder and harder.  I didn’t realize it, but I was making new excuses for myself now: you’ve moved on with your life, you’re better off, I can’t be there for you so why bother, etc.  But one excuse was still there: you deserved better.

And you do, Liv.  That means the whole truth, too.  There’s one more reason why I couldn’t face you anymore.  It took me a long time to come to terms with this reason, and I don’t know how you’ll take this.  But you deserve the whole truth.

I fell in love with you, Olivia.  I don’t know when – maybe from the start – but at some point you became so much more than my partner to the point where you were the first thing on my mind when I woke up and the last thing on my mind when I fell asleep.  I suspected this while I was separated from Kathy the first time, but I was too scared to really examine that.  So much about my life had changed, and the thought of risking our partnership for any reason was unthinkable to me.  Ironic that I still lost you twice during that time, but you came back and, especially after the second time, I vowed to myself that I wouldn’t do anything to risk our partnership again.

So, I turned to Kathy for comfort when I needed it.  Because she was familiar and safe, not because she’s who I truly wanted to turn to.  I will never regret my little boy for any reason, but it is what it is.  If I’d been a braver man, a man who was worthy of you…but I’m not.

I’m a coward, Liv, and you don’t deserve that.  You’ve had so much heartbreak and people letting you down, and it kills me that I’ve become one of them when I once swore that I wouldn’t.  Please understand that my life was all settled by the time I’d met you.  I never imagined I could fall so hard for someone, let alone someone I wasn’t married to and who I worked with.  It went against so much that I believed in.  And when I couldn’t face the work anymore, I convinced myself that a clean break with you was the best thing for everybody. 

I thought that I was doing the right thing for everybody.  It’s a reason, not an excuse.  I’m so sorry, Liv.  For everything.  I always will be.  I wish I could change the past, but I can’t.  I must accept what I cannot change.

When I moved back to the city, I made it a goal for myself to finally reach out when I’d settled in, but I had no idea where to start.  My best idea was to reach out through Fin until Lizzie told me she had run into you.  When she told me, it felt like the sky clearing up after a storm; I found a starting point.  So, I’m writing you this letter.

Believe it or not, this isn’t the first letter I’ve written to you.  I’ve written many letters to you since I’ve been sober.  When I’ve felt lonely or lost, I wrote to you as a therapeutic technique.  My sponsor told me he did something similar as a coping mechanism on his own road to recovery, except he would write it to his past self.  I tried that once, but it always came back to you.  I would give these letters to you now if I could, but I destroyed each after I wrote them; after all, I did it for myself rather than you.  Yet another thing I regret.

But in those letters, I had no idea how you were doing or what was going on.  There’s still so much that I don’t know beyond what Lizzie told me she learned, but what she did tell me…Liv, I am so proud of you.  Becoming a lieutenant and heading the unit – can you honestly tell me you would have done that if I’d still been there?

And you’re a mother now.  Oh, Liv, I’m so happy for you, and doing it all on your own.  Screw every person who said you weren’t fit or that you couldn’t do it; you’re the best that any child could hope for.  Noah is the luckiest little boy in the world to have you, and I’m sure you would say the same thing for him.

I think I’ve written everything there is to write for now.  You have no reason to believe me, forgive me, or ever see me again; my past four years of silence speaks for me.  But I’m back in the city now; I have no intention of going anywhere else, and I’m here to stay.  I know that my kids want to reconnect with you, and I will never stand in the way of that.  I’ll also never use them as a way to try and see you or do anything you don’t want me to do. 

My feelings for you haven’t changed.  If four years without you hasn’t changed that, nothing will.  If you can find it in your heart, I will take whatever you can give me, Liv, even if it’s a request to stay out of your life.  I’ll accept whatever terms you set.  The ball’s in your court.  My new address and phone number are on the back of this page.

Semper fi,


Olivia was sobbing long before she finished reading the letter.  She cried herself to sleep surrounded by the pages of the letter.  Her self-control only stretched so far as to not make enough noise to wake her sleeping son.

Chapter Text

Fin was right on time outside of Olivia’s building to pick her up the next morning.  His alarm bells began to ring when he saw her practically burst through the front door of her building.  She stormed up to his car, wrenched open the passenger door, and collapsed into the seat.

“Liv, what the –”

“Just drive to the precinct, then we’re going up to the roof to talk,” commanded Olivia.  Her whole posture was rigid, her arms were crossed, and she looked like she’d barely slept.

“Got it,” said Fin, merging onto the road with his usual offensive driving tactics.

For a minute, there was silence.  Fin desperately wanted to ask but knew better than to push her.  Besides, it looked like Olivia was bursting to tell him.

When she did finally speak, she only spoke two words:

“Elliot’s back.”

And Fin could only say two words in response:

“Oh, shit.”

They didn’t say anything else until they were on the rooftop alone.  Fin leaned against the brick wall beside the door while Olivia paced and told him everything.  The only thing she glossed over was the contents of his letter, saying only a general outline of where he’d been and that he’d explained his reasons for leaving her behind.

When she was finished, Fin stepped away from the wall and walked towards Olivia slowly, speaking calmly.  “Breathe, baby girl, come on,” he said.  Her pacing slowed to a stop and she did as he asked. “That’s it, in and out.”

When Olivia felt calm enough, she spoke again.  “I just…I had written off the possibility that I would ever see him again.”

Ever?” asked Fin, a little surprised.

Olivia huffed out a sigh.  “Fin, I had to just to get by, especially that first year.  Then, after Lewis…”  Olivia ran a hand over her face, shoving down the nausea that saying his name always caused in her.  “…and I didn’t hear anything…I hadto mourn him like a death.  When all of that happened to me and still I heard nothing…” 

Olivia shook her head, unable to continue, but Fin understood her.  He put a hand on her shoulder and said, “Well…you said he’s been in Europe until a few months ago.  So there’s a good chance that he didn’t know, probably still doesn’t know.  Would that be better?”

“Yeah,” said Olivia, having already thought about this. “I’ll gladly take he didn’t know what was happening over he did know but still chose not to reach out…”  She ran a hand through her hair and sighed.  “Anyway, he’s back in the city now and says he plans to stay.  I’m reconnecting with his kids, and I’m thrilled to be able to do that…”

“But you don’t know about him yet,” concluded Fin. “How you want him back in your life…or if you do.”

Olivia was shaking her head, looking down at the ground.  When she spoke again, her voice was so soft that Fin almost didn’t hear her.  “I’ll always want him in my life, Fin.  I can’t lie to myself about that anymore.  I tried to, for a long time, but now that this door is opened and I’ve read that letter…”  She looked back up at him and spoke in a normal-volume but strained tone of voice.  “Everything is different now.  I’m not the same person I was four years ago, and it sounds like he’s changed, too.  And it’s not just me anymore – I have Noah to think about, too.  I won’t bring anybody into his life that I’m not sure is willing to stick around.  Even though I understand the reasons he gave, I’m still angry with how he left.  For as long as I knew him, our partnership was our relationship and the boundaries were clear.  Now…”

Fin nodded.  “I get it, Liv.  It’s a lot to process and figure out.  But you don’t have to do it all today.  Take all the time you need to figure out the next step for yourself.  And you know I’m here if you need to talk.  I’ve got your back, Liv.”

Olivia nodded and smiled at him.  “I know, Fin, and I appreciate that.  To be honest, I half expected you to tell me to find him and kick his ass before walking away, or else going to do it yourself.”

Fin grinned at her.  “Oh, it’s tempting, and I’m not ruling that out just yet.  I won’t deny that I’ve had my problems with Stabler, but I always respected him as a cop and a person.  He’s more good than bad, and whatever his reasons were for walking, I’m sure he thought he was doing the right thing.  Am I right?”

Olivia nodded.  “And you would be ok with him being back in my life?”

“Liv, you don’t need anybody’s approval for how you live your life.  Personally, if you’re both willing to figure something out, I think it would be great for you and for Noah.  I saw how much it hurt you when he left, and that wound is overdue to be healed.  Like I said, Liv, take your time to figure it out.”

Olivia nodded, let out a breath, and they looked out at the city for a while.  She broke the silence first.  “Fin…would you do something for me?”

“Name it, Lieutenant.”

She grinned before saying seriously, “He mentioned in his letter that he’d been considering reaching out to you before my bump-in with Lizzie provided the opening he needed.  When I have a response to his letter ready… would you be willing to play messenger for me?”

“Absolutely.  Just give me the word when you’re ready and I’ll make it happen.”

“Thank you.”  She took a resolute breath.  “Now, let’s go to work.”

Fin nodded and followed her back inside.

On the following Sunday evening, there was a knock on Elliot’s apartment door.  He opened it softly and put a finger to his lips when he met Kathy’s eye.  He let her in and pointed to his sofa, where their seven-year-old son was fast asleep.  They walked into his kitchen area so they would be able to talk.

Kathy was silently laughing as he spoke first, “What can I say?  He treats the playground like an obstacle course to be run over and over again.”

“And I wonder where he gets that from,” said Kathy, shaking her head in amusement.  “You guys had a fun weekend, then?”

Elliot nodded.  “And don’t worry, he finished all of his homework this morning before we went to the park.”


“And did you and Andrew have a nice weekend?”

Kathy nodded.  “Neither of us had to work, so it was nice to just have a few days off.” 

She lightly punched Elliot in the shoulder as a smirk spread across his face.  This new ease and friendship between the two of them was something that both were grateful for every day.  Kathy bit her lip before she spoke again, signifying that she wasn’t sure just where this question would lead.

“So…Lizzie came over for lunch yesterday.  She told me.”

Elliot didn’t need to ask what Kathy was referring to.  He clutched the kitchen counter behind him and wordlessly nodded down to his shoes.

“Elliot…”  Kathy placed a gentle hand on his arm.  “I’m glad you’ve found a way to reach her, and that the kids can reconnect with her, too.  She’s been such a blessing to our family.  Eli and I wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for her, and both Kathleen and Lizzie especially got such support from her.  And I don’t need to say how much she means to you.”

Elliot squeezed her hand on his arm before she let it drop.  “I really appreciate that, Kathy.  I’ve written her a letter, trying to say everything she deserved to know.”  He shrugged, trying to mask his anxiousness with the casual gesture.  “It’s up to her now, and I’m just…trying to be patient and be prepared for whatever answer I get.”

“Do you want me to reach out to her?”

Elliot shook his head.  “No, not until I hear something from her.  I told her the ball was completely in her court.  I think that would feel like pressuring her.”

Kathy nodded and pulled him in for a hug.  “Keep the faith, Elliot.  I’m sure it will all work out.” 

Elliot hugged her back and tried to take the message to heart.

Some time later, Elliot got a text on his phone.  As always, he prayed it was Olivia.  But it was Lizzie, and the message simply said ‘Check your e-mail.

Curious, Elliot went to his desk and opened his laptop.  Sure enough, when he opened his inbox, an email from Lizzie was right at the top of the list. 


Something Olivia told me when we had lunch last week stuck in my brain, so I did some research.  I thought you’d like to see what I found.  I know it’s hard on you waiting like this, but keep holding on.  Hope is not lost. 

Love, Lizzie

Below this were two separate URL links.  Reading them, Elliot could see that they were both from the website for Siena College.  His heart rate began to pick up as he remembered that this was Olivia’s alma mater.  He clicked on the first URL.

His internet browser opened onto what looked like an archival page from the Siena College Theatre Department.  The top of the page read ‘Measure for Measure – April 1990.’  Below that was a list of the cast and crew.  One line stood out to Elliot: Isabella…Olivia Benson (senior). 

Elliot remembered that this was the very play and part that Lizzie was doing.  The universe certainly worked in mysterious ways.  He scrolled further down the page and his heart stopped for a moment.  There were about a dozen photos from the production, and Olivia was in most of them.  It was jarring, to say the least.  This was the first time that Elliot was seeing her face after four years, and they were from a time when he hadn’t known her.  Doing the math in his head, Elliot concluded that she was Lizzie’s age when she did this play.

Clearly this character was some kind of nun, for in most of her photos, Olivia was dressed in a simple white tunic and had a white habit on.  In none of them was she smiling.  In fact, she looked to be either arguing or pleading with someone else.  One photo, however, showed her alone on the stage.  Her habit was off, revealing dark hair that was cut very short.  She was sitting, clutching her chest, and the expression on her face…Elliot had seen that look on so many victims’ faces, it chilled him to the bone.

He reminded himself to call Lizzie on a later day to find out just exactly what this play was about and what happened to hers and Olivia’s character.

Remembering that Lizzie’s email had two URLs, Elliot opened the second one.  This page read ‘Romeo and Juliet – February 1987.’

 So, she would have turned nineteen during this play.  Could she have played…?

Looking at the cast list, Elliot couldn’t help but grin when he saw her name: Juliet…Olivia Benson (freshman).

Wow, cast in the lead as freshman.  She must have been really good.

These production photos were even more fascinating.  Seeing a nineteen year old Olivia, in simple but beautiful period dresses, her hair this time long and luxuriantly wavy…Elliot had often, especially when he was younger, imagined what life would have been like if he’d had the chance to go to a four-year school, living in the dorms and not having so much responsibility on his shoulders.  If his nineteen-year-old freshman self had looked across the quad one day and seen this gorgeous girl…perhaps he could understand what Romeo had felt when he’d first seen Juliet after all.

In two of the photos, she looked absolutely devastated, especially in the one where she was about to kill herself next to a dead Romeo.  But in the others, she looked…never had Elliot seen Olivia look so innocent, sweet, and hopeful.  One in particular touched him: Olivia was standing on a balcony, leaning her cheek upon her hand, looking up so that her dark eyes were sparkling, a Mona Lisa smile on her lips.

It was quite a while before Elliot finally closed his laptop.  He texted his gratitude to Lizzie with a promise to call her soon.  Though his future with Olivia was a complete mystery to him now, he was thrilled to have learned something new about her.  At least he had something to tide him over until Olivia was ready to respond to him.

Chapter Text

Eight days after Olivia had confided in Fin, she called him into her office just before he was due to have his lunch break.

Seeing the expression on her face, Fin closed the door behind him before she could ask him to.  “What is it, Liv?”

After a moment, Olivia unlocked a drawer of her desk and pulled out two items: a sealed envelope stuffed with at least a few folded pages, and a single sheet of paper torn from a small notepad.  She held them both out to him and he took them.

The envelope had one word written on it: El.  The scrap of paper had only a phone number on it.

“I didn’t hold anything back, Fin,” she said in a soft, hoarse voice. “About my feelings…or about what he’s missed.  Make sure he’s prepared for that.  Please.”

Understanding immediately, Fin met her eyes as he stuffed both into the inside pocket of his jacket.  “I’ll take care of it.”

“Thanks, Fin.”  She then sat back down at her desk and opened up a file of paperwork, letting him know he was dismissed.

Fin began dialing the number as soon as he left the building.

Elliot was walking home from the youth center when his phone began to buzz in his jeans pocket.  Pulling it out, his heart skipped a beat when he saw an unfamiliar number with a Manhattan area code.  Of course he hoped it was Liv.  He stopped walking and answered the call.  “Stabler.”

The voice he heard wasn’t the one he had been hoping for, but it was the next best thing.

“Hey, Stabler, it’s Fin.

Elliot let out something between a breath and a laugh.  “Fin!  Hey, man, how are you?”

I can’t complain.  Hope you don’t mind me calling; Liv gave me your new number.

Elliot’s heart soared upon hearing this news.  “Of course I don’t mind.”

Are you free to meet for lunch?

“Absolutely, just tell me where.”

Fin then gave him the name and address of a little Mexican restaurant, and Elliot told him he was on his way.

Thank God a free cab was coming towards him at that moment, or Elliot may very well have run there.

Fin was waiting for him at a booth in the back.  On the way over, Elliot contemplated how Fin would react to seeing him again.  He was prepared for the worst: the two had had their differences over the years, and Fin had been the one to truly bear witness to his absence from Olivia’s life.  Hell, he wouldn’t blame Fin if he socked him on first sight after four years.

But when the two men spotted each other, Fin rose from the booth and greeted him with a calm expression and an outstretched hand.  Elliot gratefully took it, and the two men shook and gave each other the kind of man hug that involved hand grasping and shoulder clapping but no embracing.

“Hey, man,” said Fin.

“Hey, Fin,” said Elliot.

The two slid into opposite sides of the booth.  Fin looked him over and asked, “Come straight from the gym?”

Elliot realized that he was wearing sweats and a hoodie while Fin looked like he’d come straight from work.  “Uh, no.  I volunteer a few times a week at a boys’ youth center; we were playing some basketball.”

Fin gave a small smile.  “That’s good, man.  How long have you been back in the city?”

From there, Elliot told him about how the last four years had been from him, prompted by the questions that Fin asked.  He didn’t hold back, either, even about his marriage dissolving or his fall into alcohol after he’d left.  Elliot wanted Fin to see that he had no intention of running or hiding, and the only way he could show that now was by being completely honest and upfront.

Fin, for his part, listened to everything that Elliot told him while observing him closely and feeling the vibes coming off him.  It soon became clear to him that this was not the same man he had worked with four years ago.  How could he be after what he’d been through?  He seemed more grounded, less mercurial, and he was certainly putting in every effort to be as open as he could.  Fin had to respect that.

So, after Elliot had finished telling him about his work overseas and his current job now, Fin turned the conversation to what he knew would be a happier topic: his family.  Elliot happily told him about his children, his new grandchild, and Kathy’s new romance.

“I’m happy for you, man,” said Fin, remembering the various dramas the Stabler family had been through that he’d witnessed. 

“What about you, Fin?” asked Elliot. “How’s Ken doing?”

Now it was Fin’s turn to grin.  “He’s real good.  Still fighting the good fight in social work.  He’s married now; his husband, Alejandro, is a good man.  They’re planning on starting a family, so I may be joining you in the grandfather camp soon.”

Elliot smiled.  “That’s fantastic, Fin.  And you won’t be sorry, believe me.  It’s all the joy and none of the responsibility.  We can spoil them rotten because that’s literally our job.”

Fin couldn’t help but grin back as their food was delivered.  They ate in companionable silence for a while before Elliot broke it, a solemn expression on his face.  “Fin, I have to ask you…”

Fin’s face immediately became guarded.  He wasn’t about to tell Stabler any of Olivia’s business when it wasn’t his place to do so.

“Has my coming back…I know she’s built a new life for herself, being in charge and a mother now and…the last thing I want to do is hurt her any more than I already have.”

Fin nodded, understanding what he was asking.  “Liv is the strongest woman that the both of us will ever know.  I think the shock of you being back in the city is tempered by reconnecting with your kids again.  Honestly, I think it’s better that she saw Lizzie first rather than seeing you.  Softened the blow.”

Those last words hit Elliot the way a blow to the face would.  Fin continued.

“Look, man, I get why you had to leave and so does Liv.  We were both there that day, and we knew shooting a teenage girl would weigh heavy on you.  But the way you left, without a word to anyone, especially her – that’s what cut the deepest.  She told me she had to mourn you as if you were dead just to move on, and it took her a good minute to do that.”  He sighed.  “But I’m not going to give you a hard time about this.  I’m tempted, believe me, but I won’t.”

Elliot’s gaze asked why.  Fin answered.

“One, I’m guilty of leaving a partner behind too.”  He gave a brief account of his old partner, Luiz, and the trauma he’d gone through with his daughter over two years ago.  Elliot listened sympathetically.  “Two, Liv told me that, even after what you did, she would never not want you in her life.”

Elliot let a deep and shuddering breath, in and out, fighting down the urge to cry by running a hand over his face.  Fin patiently pretended not to notice.  Shaking his head, Elliot said more to himself than to Fin: “I’ve never deserved her…”

“Nope,” said Fin. “But she hasn’t given up on you yet, so neither am I.”

Elliot nodded at him rapidly, swallowing down his emotions.  “Thank you, man,” he said huskily. “I know I don’t deserve any second chances, after the way I left.  I certainly didn’t plan on what happened…but you know how so much time has passed that you feel you can’t reach out?  Days turn into months turn into years…I just kept waiting for the right moment.”

Fin nodded before folding his arms on the table and leaning forward, a clear sign for Elliot to listen.  “Just make sure you understand this, man: Liv’s the boss.  I’m not talking about at SVU, I mean about this.  I wouldn’t be here right now if she hadn’t have given me the go-ahead, and I’m sure as hell not going to tell you anything that should come from her.”

With that, Fin reached inside his blazer and pulled out the envelope.  Elliot’s expression became so pathetically hopeful that Fin almost laughed.  Thank God the poor bastard is still head over heels.  But the impulse was replaced by the seriousness he knew that he needed to convey when he spoke.

Still holding the envelope in his hand, he asked Elliot, “Do you still go to meetings, man?”

Thrown by the question, Elliot blinked and nodded.  “It’s gotten a lot better, but there’s still the occasional hard day.”

Fin nodded.  “Make sure you know where the nearest one is before you read this.  There’s a lot that she’s been through in the past four years, and she didn’t hold back about anything.”

Elliot went pale, his eyes never leaving the envelope.  Fin then set it down, pulled out his standard tiny notebook, and wrote down his number.  Tearing out the page, he handed it and the envelope to Elliot.  “Give me a call if you need to, man.”

Elliot nodded, looking down at the envelope in his hands.  Though only a two-letter word was written on it, he’d know her handwriting anywhere.  El.  Not his full name, but his nickname, just as he’d written her nickname on his letter.  Fin’s warnings were sending chills throughout his body.  Learning about her promotions and her son, Elliot had taken those facts as reassurance that she’d been not only fine, but had thrived, without him.  And while that was still true, it clearly wasn’t the whole story.  And if Fin was warning him to the extent of recommending a meeting afterwards…

Finally, Elliot looked up and met Fin’s eyes.  “Thank you, Fin,” he said sincerely. “Really.  I mean, you have every right to tell me to go to hell, and not just for Liv’s sake.  We’ve had our differences and sometimes I’ve been a…what did you call it…a ‘lousy human being’ when it comes to you.”

Fin waved a hand dismissively.  “We’ll always have our differences, Elliot.  But I’ve always respected you as a cop, and you’re a good man more often than a lousy human being.  Even leaving the way you did, you were put through it and thought it was the right thing to do.  Plus, it seems like you’ve matured a bit since I last saw you, and you seem willing to face up to your mistakes and make amends.”

“Whatever it takes,” said Elliot solemnly.

“Good.  Because Liv still needs you, and she’s never stopped missing you.  Plus, I’m relieved to see that you’re still as in love with her now as you were then.” 

The look Fin gave him was a warning to not bother denying his words.  Four years ago, Elliot absolutely would have ignored that look and vehemently dodged the fact.  But now, he gave Fin the final proof that he needed to trust him again by saying:

“That’s never going to change, Fin.  But like you said: she’s the boss.  I’ll do whatever she needs me to do.”

Fin grinned at him, and Elliot grinned back.  Both knew that they were cool with each other.

When Fin walked back into the precinct, he spotted Olivia speaking with Amanda Rollins at her desk.  Their eyes met across the room, and Fin just gave her a meaningful look and nod.

Olivia visibly gulped, nodded back, and turned her full attention back to Amanda.  She had written her phone number on the bottom of the final page of the letter.  Now all she had to do was wait – and hope that he wouldn’t come rushing to find her at the precinct.

Chapter Text

Leave it to Elliot to call her for the first time after four years at the most inconvenient time.  Olivia was seated in the rocking chair in Noah’s room, rocking slowly back and forth.  Noah was falling asleep on her chest, his face pressed against the crook of her neck.  She was rubbing his back and humming “You Are My Sunshine,” one of her go-to lullabies.

She had just finished humming the refrain again when she felt her phone vibrating in her sweater pocket.  This wasn’t the first time this had happened, so Olivia managed to not startle at all and pull out her phone to see who was calling her, hoping that she didn’t have to go back to the station.

But when she saw the name ‘Stabler’ on her phone, her heart stopped for a moment.  Even though Olivia had been waiting for this call, this was still the phone call she’d been waiting four years for.  She took deep breaths in order to keep her heart from pounding out of her chest and disturbing her sleeping child. 

Finally, she answered the phone just before it could go to voicemail.

Pressing it to her ear, Olivia could hear the sound of ragged breathing that was almost sobbing.  She knew that she needed to say something – Benson, Hello, Hi Elliot – but she couldn’t find her voice.  She had been dreaming of this moment for longer than she would admit to anybody, and she needed to hear his voice to believe it.

Finally, she heard it.

“…Liv?  Is that you, Liv?

Olivia shut her eyes, and a tear fell.  There was no mistaking that voice.  “Elliot,” she breathed, as if she were praying.

Oh, my God, Liv…”  He sounded on the verge of tears.

Feeling her son’s hand flex against her chest, Olivia was reminded that they were not alone.  “Um, Elliot, just…I’m sorry, but I’m literally holding my sleeping son right now.  I need to put him down.  Don’t hang up, just give me a minute, please.”

Of course, Liv, I’ll be right here,” said Elliot, his voice forcefully steadier than it had been.

“Thanks,” she said, and set her phone down on the little table beside the rocking chair.  She then carefully stood up, cradling her son to her, and walked him to his crib.  She laid him down gently and tucked him in, cooing softly to him when he stirred but didn’t wake.  “Goodnight, my sweet boy,” she whispered, kissing his forehead. “Mommy loves you so much.”

Seeing that Noah was sound asleep, Olivia grabbed her phone and quietly exited the room.  Once she was inside her own bedroom, she laid down on her bed and pressed her phone to her ear.  “Elliot?  Are you still there?”

I’m here, Liv, I’m right here.

Olivia wanted to sob, but she stopped herself and let out a wet sigh instead.  Elliot, on the other hand, sobbed through his next words.

I’m so sorry, Liv.”

How could four words encompass so much emotion and regret?  Olivia didn’t know how, but they did.  If she’d heard these words from him without having first read his letter, she knew that she would had responded in anger.  Hell, she had every right to still be angry with him, and a part of her still was.  But now, having read his letter at least a dozen times since receiving it, she just felt sad.

“I know,” she finally replied.

Elliot sniffed. “Liv, if I’d known…you have to know that I would have been there if I’d known…I could never let you go through that alone.  Even if you kicked my ass or locked the door, I would have been there.”

Olivia let two more tears fall from her eyes.  “I think I always knew that deep down,” she said. “But I didn’t always believe it.  Once upon a time, I never thought you could cut me out of your life without so much as a simple goodbye.”

I’ve let you down so much, Liv…the fact that you’re even speaking to me at all proves how much better you’ve always been than me.

Olivia sighed.  “Elliot…I get it.  I’ve always understood why you left SVU, because I was there and I know you.  It wasn’t that you left, Elliot – it was the way you left.”

I know.  It was selfish…so selfish.  I see that now.  At the time, I thought I was doing the right thing for everybody…but I was lying to myself and being a coward.  And because of that, you had to go through hell all alone…maybe it would have been better if you never met me…”

“Don’t you dare say that!”  The words burst out of Olivia as she sat up on her bed, and it was hard to say who was more shocked.  But Olivia kept going: “Look, Elliot…I wanted to hate you.  So many times, I wished that I could forget you so that I didn’t have to feel the pain of missing you.  But I never could…and I never will.  You’ve done so much for me.  You were the first person who ever really looked out for me; not just on the job, but through a tough time.  You believed I could be a good mother long before I ever could.  If it weren’t for you, I don’t know if I could have gone through with adopting Noah.  And even when I was being held by…him…when I managed to break free, I beat him with that rod because it’s the least of what you would have done.”

The very least,” said Elliot, his voice hoarse and trembling with rage. “I’d have made sure to break every bone in his body before killing him myself.

“Yeah.  Then maybe it’s a good thing you weren’t there to do that.  You’d have been no good to me locked up while I dealt with the aftermath alone.  That would have been worse than what actually happened.”

She heard Elliot let out a deep, shuddering breath.  Even though she couldn’t see him, Olivia would bet anything that he was nodding and trying to believe her.  He was silent for a minute before speaking again.  “You mean it, Liv?  The stuff you said I did for you?

“Yes, Elliot,” said Olivia. “Just like I meant every word in that letter.  All the good, all the bad, and all the complicated.  Just like you meant every word of your letter.”

It still wasn’t enough, though, Liv.  You deserved everything, you deserved the world.  You still do.

“Stop, Elliot.  We can’t change what’s past, much as we may want to sometimes.  The ‘what ifs’ will just go round and round in our brains until we go crazy and only live in the past.  I won’t do that, and neither should you.”

Then what do we do, Liv?  Where do we go from here?

Olivia laid back down on her bed, the weight and enormity of that question settling on her.  The question that had been repeating in her mind ever since she had run into Lizzie and found out that Elliot had moved back to the city – and that he was no longer married.  Deep down, she had known from the moment she’d seen Lizzie again that the deepest desire of her heart was to have Elliot back in her life again.  Just how…well…

Her silence lasted for so long that Elliot spoke again.  “Look, Liv…I get it if…you’re not ready to –

“What I’m not ready for is to see you again,” interrupted Olivia. “Not in person, not yet.  I’m just not.  Part of me still feels like I’m in an episode of the Twilight Zone.  It’s like you’re back from the dead and…I don’t trust myself to be near you yet.”

Elliot let out a long breath on the other end of the phone.  “I get that, Liv.

“But…” said Olivia, biting her lip momentarily. “I assume you’re going to Lizzie’s opening night show?”

Yeah, the whole family’s going.

“Well…if it’s alright with you…Lizzie invited me, too.  That can be the night that we…meet again.”

A moment of silence, and then Elliot spoke in a breathless voice. “Yeah, Liv.  Of course.  Whatever you’re comfortable with.

“Good.  Then that’s one thing settled.  In the meantime…we can talk on the phone, text, that sort of thing.  Would that be ok with you?”

Yeah!  That would be great, Liv!”  She heard him moving and then some bumping sounds, as if he’d stumbled. “Woah, sorry, nearly lost my footing there.  Just getting up off the floor and now I seriously need some water.

As she listened to him open his cupboard and then turn on the faucet, Olivia’s worry started to rise.  He’d been sitting on the floor this whole time?  Slumped against the wall or lying down?  “Elliot, are you…I mean, I know the letter was a big bomb to drop on you –”

Olivia, stop right there.  I swear to you, I haven’t had a drink.  Right after reading your letter, I found out when and where the nearest meeting was, and I worked out at my gym until then.  I had just come home from the meeting when I called you.  My body was so tired and I was so…overwhelmed that I just slumped to the floor.  But I haven’t backslid, I promise you.”

Olivia let out a sigh of relief.  “Good.  That’s why I asked Fin to give you the letter, so you would understand how triggering the stuff in that letter might be for you.”

Not gonna lie, Liv: If a bottle of hard liquor was within my reach when I read that letter, I doubt I would have had the strength to stop myself.  But I understood how important this was when Fin gave me the letter.  So I called in sick for my shift tonight and looked up nearby meetings before reading your letter in my apartment.

Olivia couldn’t help but smile.  “I’m proud of you, Elliot.”

She heard him laugh ruefully.  “You’re proud of me, Olivia?  Or should I say Lieutenant Benson?  In charge of the unit now.  Not to mention the fact that you’re a mother?  All of this after everything you went through, including what I put you through?  No, Liv, it’s me who’s proud of you.  So damn proud.

Olivia shut her eyes against the tears forming in them, and sniffed before she simply replied, “Thank you, El.”

She could hear him smile as she called him by his nickname for the first time since he’d called, and she couldn’t help but smile too.

A few moments of silence followed, but it was a comfortable silence.  Eventually, she heard him yawn before he said, “I am so tired I feel like I could collapse on the floor and sleep like a baby…but I don’t want to hang up.”

“I’m pretty beat, too,” said Olivia, rolling onto her side.  “But we should.  We’re not as young as we used to be, and at least one of us will be woken by a one-and-a-half year old at 5:30 in the morning demanding his breakfast and a cuddle.”

Elliot’s laughter on the other end of the line warmed her heart.  It was tired but genuine.  “Oh, those are the best mornings.  When I have Rosie over, the best sound in the world is the babbling songs she makes up while she waits for me to come in.  The notes reach operatic shrieks if I take too long.

Olivia joined in his laughter and pulled all of her strength up to end the conversation.  “Goodnight, El.  I’m…I’m glad you called.”

Thank you for giving me your number.  You knew I’d need to hear your voice after reading your letter.

“Yeah…and I needed to hear your voice, too, after reading yours.  It’s going to take me a while to really trust you again, El.  To believe that you’re really back and that you…you…”

She couldn’t finish that sentence because she wasn’t ready to.  Thankfully, as Elliot always did, he understood what she said without words.

I know, Liv.  But I’m going to do everything in my power to prove myself again, and to make up for all the hurt I caused you.  Thank you for letting me try.

“Ok.  Now, seriously: goodnight, El.”

Sweet dreams, Liv.

With that, Olivia hung up.  She fell asleep very soon after, and it was the best night of sleep that she’d had in a very long time.

Elliot, too, slept like a rock that night.  At least, for most of the night.  In the early morning hours, his dreamless sleep was broken by a nightmare of Olivia being bound and tortured and him not being able to help her.  He should have expected this since her letter was so fresh in his mind.  It was a testimony to her strength that she’d been able to write down as much as she had.

After managing to calm himself before a panic attack could set in, Elliot got dressed and headed out of his apartment.  He walked until he came to the Catholic Church closest to his building.  He would have to wait a while before the 7 AM mass service began, but that was fine.  He wanted time to light a candle and pray – not only for forgiveness for his selfishness, but for the strength to be the man Olivia deserved from this moment on.

Chapter Text

Time, as it always must, moved on.  June soon turned into July, raising the temperature and bringing summer fully to the city.  One morning soon after the Fourth of July, Olivia found herself walking up the to the front door of an unfamiliar house with Noah in her arms and his diaper bag slung over one shoulder.  She came to the front door and looked at her son.  “You wanna ring the doorbell?” she asked, pointing to it.

Noah said, “Eyah,” and reached for it.  Olivia smiled and brought him close to the doorbell and helped him push it with the right amount of pressure.  She took a step back when she heard someone approach the door.  It was then opened by a smiling Maureen.  “Welcome, you two!” she said, stepping aside for them to come in.

They shared a hug when Maureen had shut the door.  “Thank you so much for this, Maureen,” said Olivia. “I had hoped I wouldn’t be called to testify today, but –”

“It’s no problem, Olivia,” said Maureen, pulling away and ruffling Noah’s hair. “I know Rosie will be happy to see her buddy again, and Eli is looking forward to meeting you both.”

“You look beautiful, by the way,” said Olivia. “How are you feeling?”

Maureen grinned and rubbed her five-month-pregnant belly.  “Good so far.  This one’s a bit easier than Rosie was, but that could be because it’s not my first time.  Karl’s getting used to stocking our pantry with my insane cravings.”

Olivia laughed and followed Maureen down her hall and into a room that looked like a cross between a lounge and a playroom.  Rosie was seated on the carpet playing with large, colorful blocks.  A man in his thirties with dark-blond hair and glasses was seated beside his daughter on the floor.  Spotting the blocks, Noah immediately reached out to them.  Smiling, Olivia set him down beside Rosie and kissed the top of their heads before straightening up again.

The man who must be Maureen’s husband stood up and held out his hand to Olivia with a grin.  “Hello, Lieutenant Benson,” he greeted. “I’ve heard nothing but wonderful things.”

“Likewise, and please call me Olivia,” said Olivia, shaking his hand and please with his firm grip and direct eye contact.  This was the first time meeting Maureen’s husband.

Since meeting Lizzie for lunch, Olivia had seen Maureen and Rosie several times at various playgrounds, where they had caught up with each other while their children played together.  She’d also met Kathleen for several lunches, her heart bursting with pride at how far she had come.  Richard had come to one of them, and she was equally proud of him too (and relieved that he appeared to hold no more resentment for her).  Lizzie she’d seen less of, but that was due to her now being busy with rehearsals, but they’d had a few phone calls. 

But today was the first time she would be seeing Eli again.  On the phone to set up this last-minute play date, Maureen had told her that Eli would be here because he’d spent the night and would be picked up by Kathy later.

At that moment, that very child came barreling into the room and accidentally bumped into Olivia with an ‘oof!’  Turning and looking down, she saw a seven-year-old boy with Kathy’s facial features and Elliot’s brown hair.

“Eli, what has Mom told you about running inside?” asked Maureen, in a tone that clearly showed this was not the first time asking this question.

“Sorry, Mo,” said Eli.  He then looked up at Olivia.  “I’m sorry.” 

“That’s ok, no harm done,” said Olivia, grinning.  “You must be Eli.”

He nodded, then his eyes widened in recognition.  “Are you my aunt Olivia?”

Olivia’s heart stirred upon hearing that term.  That was how Elliot and Kathy addressed her in front of Eli when he’d been a baby and toddler before Elliot had left.  She knelt down before the little boy.  “Yes, I am, Eli, and it is wonderful to see you again.  You’ve grown so much!”

“I don’t remember you, but I’ve seen pictures of you,” said Eli. “Mom and Dad said you were there the day I was born.  You saved my mom from a car wreck.  That’s so cool!”

Olivia had to laugh at that.  Eli’s simple but enthusiastic description of the day he was born contrasted sharply with Olivia’s traumatic memories of that day.  But all’s well that ends well, so she simply said as she ruffled his hair, “I’m just glad I was there to help you both.”  She then gently turned Eli around so that he faced the two little ones playing with blocks.  “This is my son, Noah.  I hope you don’t mind that I brought him with me.”

Eli grinned and approached them, sitting down beside Noah and joining in with the blocks.  “Hi, Noah!  Want to build a tower?”

Olivia smiled at the children’s easy interactions with each other, wishing that she could stay and watch.  But she sighed and stood up, facing Maureen and setting down the diaper bag by the sofa.  “I’ll call when I’m leaving the courthouse.  Hopefully they won’t make me wait all day.  I’ve packed everything Noah needs, so you should be fine.”

“Don’t worry about anything,” said Maureen, rubbing her arm. 

“Yep, we’re becoming fast experts at herding wild little animals for long stretches at a time,” said Karl wryly.

Olivia chuckled and gave Maureen another hug.  “Thanks again, Maureen,” she said and then looked at Karl.  “It was great to meet you.”

“You too,” said Karl warmly.

Olivia then knelt back down by Noah and kissed his head.  “Have fun with Eli and Rosie, sweet boy.”

Maureen then walked her to the door.

Several hours later found Maureen washing up the lunch dishes in the kitchen.  Karl was outside with the children, playing with a blue soccer ball.  Eli was trying to teach Noah and Rosie to kick it, but the little ones were much more interested in holding it and hugging it.

When Maureen heard her front door open by means of a key, she stayed calm, knowing that it was her mother come to pick up Eli to take him to his soccer practice.  She was a bit early, but that wasn’t surprising; Kathy always loved to have a few minutes cuddling with her granddaughter.

However, the voice she heard call down the hall was definitely not her mother’s voice.  “Hello!”

“Dad?!” she called back, hearing his footsteps approach.

Sure enough, Elliot soon entered the kitchen, dressed casually and smiling.  He gave his oldest daughter a warm hug before gently placing his hand on her baby bump.  “How are you and my second grandchild doing?”

“We’re both just fine,” said Maureen. “Not that I’m not happy to see you, Dad, but what brings you by?”

“Kathy called me,” said Elliot. “There was a bus crash near the hospital and both she and Andrew are staying on to help.  So I’m here to take Eli to soccer practice.”

“Oh, alright then,” said Maureen.  “The kids are in the backyard with Karl.”

“Awesome,” said Elliot, his face splitting into a grin at the thought of seeing his granddaughter.  He then headed towards the back door and opened it, Maureen right behind him.

“Hey, Elliot!” said Karl, waving.

“Hi, Dad!” called Eli.

“Gampy!” called Rosie with glee, flapping her arms in excitement.

Elliot, for his part, immediately rushed to her and scooped her up in his arms.  “Hello, sweetheart!” he said, playfully giving her an eskimo kiss and making her giggle.  “What are you guys up to?”

“Playing soccer!” said Eli.

“Or a version of it,” said Karl good-naturedly.

Eli then gently kicked the soccer ball to Noah.  It stopped at his feet and he picked it up.

Elliot finally noticed the fourth person in the game and set Rosie down so that he could kneel at the little ones’ eye level. “And who’s this?  A friend of Rosie’s from daycare?”

“Um, Dad…” said Maureen, realizing that this could very possibly be a very significant moment for her dad to look back on.  “This is Noah Benson.”

The smile on Elliot’s face slowly melted away to one of shock and awe.  He turned his head to look at Maureen, who nodded in confirmation that this was indeed who Elliot thought it was.

Elliot then turned his head back to look at Noah.  The little boy had taken a few steps towards Elliot, curious about this new person.  He still held the soccer ball tightly, hiding some of his face behind it shyly.

“Hey, little man,” said Elliot gently in a voice rich with emotion. “It’s an honor to meet you, Noah.”

Hearing his voice and feeling no threat, Noah lowered the soccer ball until it dropped from his hands.  Elliot picked it up and said, “Hey, watch this.”  He then spun the soccer ball on his finger as if it were a basketball, a trick that the boys at the youth shelter had taught him to do.  Noah watched in fascination, and a smile lit up his face.  Elliot grinned back and did it again.

“Cool, Dad!” said Eli in admiration. “Can you teach me that?”

“Sure.  Think fast!”  With one hand, Elliot threw the soccer ball at Eli, who then kicked it towards the west-facing fence of the backyard. 

Noah watched this and then began to run towards where the soccer ball had bounced.  However, he tripped and fell over one of Rosie’s toys that was partially hidden in the grass.  As a high-pitched wail began to escape from his mouth, Elliot immediately went to Noah and scooped him up.  He held the nineteen-month-old to his chest and soothed him by rubbing his back and murmuring to him.

Hey, hey, you’re ok, Noah.  You’re alright, little guy.  I know, it’s scary to fall, but you can always get back up.  Shhh, shhh…”

Noah’s wails gradually softened.  Soon, he had cuddled against Elliot, clutching the collar of his shirt and burying his face against his shoulder.  As he let out his last little whimpers, Elliot kissed his head a few times.

The other people in the backyard watched this interaction in silence.  Karl, after discreetly picking up the offending toy, had scooped up his daughter so that she would not get upset as a reaction to Noah’s fall and subsequent crying.  Eli just stood there watching in worry and curiosity.  Maureen, who more than anyone there knew how much this moment mattered, discreetly pulled out her phone and snapped a photo.

When Noah had gone quiet, contentedly snuggled on Elliot’s chest, Eli approached them.  “He’s not hurt, is he, Dad?”

“No, no, buddy,” said Elliot, looking down at his youngest son. “Noah’s not hurt, just startled.”

Eli nodded and then rushed to retrieve his soccer ball.  Maureen then remembered why Elliot had come in the first place.  “Eli!” she called as he picked up the ball. “Come inside and make sure you have everything packed and ready to go, please.”

“Ok, Mo!” he said, rushing past everyone into the house.

After Karl had taken Rosie inside, Elliot faced Maureen while still holding Noah, a new worry filling his eyes.  “Maureen, what’s…is Liv ok?  Why is Noah here?”

“She’s fine, Dad, I promise,” said Maureen as they went inside. “She had to go to court at the last minute, and her regular sitter had plans.  It’s certainly not the first time that he and Rosie have played together, and Eli loved him right away.”  She smiled warmly at her dad.  “And clearly, so do you.”

Elliot couldn’t help but blush a little bit.  Noah, meanwhile, had lifted his head and was watching Elliot almost solemnly.  He then raised a small hand and patted Elliot’s cheek, prompting Elliot to look at him, a mock-serious look on his face.  He then tickled Noah, causing the little boy to giggle and Elliot to grin.

Eli then came into the room with his duffel bag.  “All ready!” he said happily.

“Ok, buddy,” said Elliot.  For a moment, he stood still and looked at Noah, clearly reluctant to put him down.  But he did with infinite gentleness after giving him one last kiss to his forehead.  “I’m so glad I got to meet you, little man,” he said softly.

Then Eli put down his duffel bag, walked to Noah, and gave him a hug.  “Bye, Noah,” he said. “Let’s play together again soon.”

Both Maureen and Elliot watched this interaction with full hearts; Maureen would have sworn that her father got tears in his eyes.  But he blinked them away when Eli stepped back.  He then gave Maureen a hug before taking Eli’s hand and leading him out of the house.

After they were gone, Maureen let out a deep breath and looked down at Noah, who was looking up at her as if to say, ‘Now what?

She smiled and took his hand, saying, “Come on, Noah, let’s see what Karl and Rosie are up to.”

Elliot called Olivia that night, after he was sure Noah was in bed.

Hi, Elliot.”

“Hi, Liv.”  He was pacing already and he fought to keep his anxiousness on a low level.  “Listen, I’m sure Maureen already told you, but I met Noah today when I was picking up Eli.”

Yeah, she told me.”  At least she didn’t sound furious.

“Liv, please believe me when I say I had no idea Noah would be there.  Kathy was supposed to pick him up but she got held up at the hospital.  You have to know that I would never go behind your back like that.”

I know, Elliot, I know.  And I’m not angry, really.  I’ll be honest, though; Noah being the age he is now plays a big part in it.  That and knowing you didn’t plan this.  If Noah were of an age where he could speak to you properly and really remember you…”  She sighed.  “Look, Elliot, I’m very careful about whom I let into Noah’s life.  Once, you were the last person I would peg to just walk out of our lives…

She didn’t have to continue her sentence for him to understand what she meant.  His heart broke every day knowing how much he’d wrecked what they had, especially her trust in him.  “I get it, Liv,” he said, choking back a sob. “But I’m not going anywhere.  I will keep trying to prove myself to you, and do whatever you want me to do to fix this.”

He spoke with all of the conviction he had in his heart.  Since their first phone conversation, they’d spoken every day, but most of the time it was through a few texts each day.  The few real conversations they’d had were all initiated by Olivia.  If it were up to Elliot alone, he would be with her right now holding her as tightly as he could.  But he wasn’t in charge now; like Fin said, Liv was the boss.

And since Olivia wasn’t ready to take that leap of faith yet, she only said, “Ok, El.

Wanting to make her smile, Elliot said, “He’s such a good kid, Liv.”

Though he couldn’t see her, Elliot could sense the smile on her face.  “The best…I don’t know how I got so lucky…I’m so blessed to have him.”

“And he’s blessed to have the best mother in the world,” said Elliot. “Eli adored him, too.  I think he sees Noah as a great future soccer buddy, especially since he has the chance to teach him the game in the future.”

He heard her breath hitch at his mention of the future, and Elliot hoped he hadn’t overstepped or scared her.  But she didn’t hang up.  Instead, she said, “Well, it was amazing to see Eli again.  He’s gotten so big, and such a ball of energy.

Elliot laughed.  “Yep.  Kathy likes to joke that some of the adrenaline you both were feeling the day he was born must have seeped into him and made him into such an active kid.  He loved meeting you, too.  As far as he’s concerned, you’re Wonder Woman.”

She chuckled ruefully.  “Well, he certainly got his energy from you, too.  I could see how much he was like you even in the few minutes I was with him.”

“And is that a good thing or a bad thing?”  His tone was light, almost joking, but both knew that he desperately needed a serious answer.

She didn’t speak for a minute, and his anxiety was rising.  But then her answer floored him in the best way:

The best thing, El.

It was in that moment that Elliot let his hope fully rise in his chest that things between the two of them would get better.

Chapter Text

Throughout the month of July and the first half of August, Elliot and Olivia kept talking over the phone.  After his chance meeting with her son and their subsequent conversation, there was a subtle shift.  From that night on, every night that Olivia and Elliot weren’t at work, they spoke on the phone.  They would take turns initiating the call, falling into a comfortable pattern.  Each conversation lasted at least a half an hour, and they would end only when they felt their exhaustion become stronger than their will to talk.

As the day of Lizzie’s opening night got closer and closer, Elliot and Olivia were getting farther along the path of reconciliation…and towards something unknown, terrifying, and beautiful.

Hey, Liv.”


“…Talk to me.”


Liv, come on.  I can tell you had a rough day.”

“El, you don’t work SVU anymore.  I don’t want to burden you with things that you don’t need to worry about.”

Liv, I worry about you.  I know how strong you are and that you can look after yourself.  But I’m here if you want to talk about whatever case has gotten under your skin today.  Let me do this for you, Liv.  I can handle it.”

His voice was so calm and certain, and it was exactly what Olivia needed to hear.  “If you’re sure…” she said, biting her lip.

I’m sure, Liv.

Olivia couldn’t help but sigh in relief.  “Ok, well…it started as a standard he-said-she-said…”

The next day at the precinct, while Olivia was reviewing some paperwork about the terrible case that they had closed yesterday, there was a knock on her office door.  “Come in,” Olivia called.

Fin came in with a large bouquet of pink peonies in his hands, already in a vase.  “These were just delivered to the front desk for you, Liv,” he said, placing them on her desk.

“Oh, my God,” said Olivia, taking off her reading glasses and staring at the flowers. “Where did these come from?”

Fin shrugged.  “There’s a card, that should tell you.”

A little wary, Olivia reached for it, hoping that it wasn’t from some suspect or felon wanting to taunt her.  Unfortunately, it had happened before.

But when she opened the card, her heart skipped a few beats.

Liv, thank you for trusting me enough to confide in me.  I hope these can remind you that beauty still exists in this world despite all of the horrors.  Semper fi, El

Olivia had to wipe away the tears from her eyes before they could fall.

“Are those from who they’d better be from?”

Olivia looked up at Fin, and all she could do was nod since she didn’t trust her voice.

Fin’s face burst into a grin.  “That’s what’s up!” he said. “Stabler finally gets to be the lover-boy he always wanted to be with you!”

Fin!” exclaimed Olivia, immediately covering her mouth when she realized how loudly she’d almost yelled his name.

Fin just laughed as she tried to hide how red her cheeks were getting.  “Just enjoy it, Lieutenant.  This has been a long time coming.”

With that, Fin left, leaving Olivia to let his words sink in.  She was still absolutely terrified to believe in any of this, but she couldn’t help but let herself stare at the pink peonies and grin like an idiot behind her hands.

“Dad, if you don’t stop staring, you’re not going to see any of the play,” Lizzie scolded with an eye roll and amused smile.

Elliot raised his hands in defeat and turned his face to the empty stage below.  Lizzie had asked him to come and see her theatre company’s production of Romeo and Juliet, the show being done right before Measure for Measure.  She wanted him to see the theater and the way this company put on shows.  Also, since her father wasn’t nearly as familiar with Shakespeare as she and Olivia were, she saw it as a good opportunity to get him more familiar with the language. 

“Sorry, honey,” said Elliot, looking over the mezzanine railing at the minimal stage set-up. “It’s just going to take some getting used to.  You’ve worn your hair long your whole life.”

Lizzie nodded, running her hand through her new short bob.  “Well, I don’t regret it.  It will help with the role and wearing that wimple under the hot stage lights all that time.”

Elliot chuckled.  “Makes me think of all the nuns that taught me growing up.  Wouldn’t be surprised if they all had their hair cut short.”

“It would certainly make things easier,” said Lizzie. “So, are you excited to see the show?”

“Actually, yeah,” said Elliot, and he meant it.  He probably wasn’t excited for the reasons that Lizzie hoped, but he wasn’t about to tell her that.

Nevertheless, Lizzie guessed it accurately with a smirk: “Because Olivia played this part and you can imagine her while watching it?”

Elliot couldn’t stop his cheeks from going pink as he mumbled, “Lizzie…”

“It’s ok, Dad,” said Lizzie. “Since you two started talking again, you’ve become so much happier.  I know how much she means to you, and I hope it all goes well.”

The corner of Elliot’s mouth turned upwards and he squeezed his daughter’s hand. 

“Besides, I don’t think it will be too hard for you,” said Lizzie. “Thinking about it, there are some things that Olivia has in common with Juliet.”  She smirked again.  “And I can think of a few things you have in common with Romeo.”

Thankfully, the dimming lights of the theater hid Elliot’s cheeks going from pink to red.

So, what’s your verdict?

Elliot smiled at her first question after saying hello.  He could hear the eagerness masked by the teasing in Olivia’s tone.  “I liked it,” he replied. “Honesty, I did.  I’ve always known the basic story – everyone in the English-speaking world does – but there was a lot more to it than I thought.”

I’m glad.  It’s still one of my favorites.  There’s a reason it’s endured so long.  I think Shakespeare wrote some of his most beautiful language for this play.

“Mmm…honestly, I’m surprised at how much of it didn’t just go over my head.”

Olivia laughed.  “Well, then, the actors were doing a good job.  Also, El, remember that they’re speaking in English.  The thing with this time period – Elizabethans loved language.  They loved using words in elaborate ways, in new ways, it was the height of entertainment.  Today is so visual and language is so lazy…Ugh, these plays are from a time when people really had fun with the English language.

Now it was Elliot’s turn to laugh as he listened to her impromptu but impassioned speech.  “Where was this side of you when we were partners, Liv?”

When would I have brought it up, Elliot?  The only time Romeo and Juliet got mentioned was when pedophiles would use it as a defense to rape teenage girls.  I hated it every time they did that.  Besides, it wasn’t as though anybody else at the precinct had an interest.  And if you, Munch and Fin knew I’d acted in those plays, you would never have let me live it down.

“Ok, ok, you’re right,” said Elliot. “It’s just…you once told me that I knew everything about you.”

He heard her sigh.  “And I meant it when I said it.  I guess I was only thinking about the negative aspects when I did.  My time in college was the best time of my life for a long time until Noah became my son.  I never liked to talk too much about it because I wanted to leave it alone, like a work of art you can look at but can’t touch.  Plus, you once told me how you always wanted to go to a four-year school, live in the dorms, have the normal college experience, and I didn’t want to rub it in your face that I had the best one a person could have.

Elliot had to shut his eyes as his heart filled with emotion.  She always had his back, always looked out for him, even in such small and simple ways as that.  He would never know how many ways she took care of him…and what had he done?  He certainly hadn’t taken care of her…not when it had mattered the most…

Stop it, El,” Olivia’s voice gently commanded him.  She didn’t need to see him to know what was going through his mind. “Don’t go there.  We can’t change the past.

Elliot sighed, running a hand over his face.  “I know, Liv.  It’s going to be a tough habit to break, so you’ll have to keep reminding me of that.”

So long as you continue to remind me that this is real, El,” said Olivia softly.

“I promise, Liv,” vowed Elliot.

How’s Lizzie doing?  She must be starting tech rehearsals soon.

“Yep, that’s what she told me,” said Elliot. “She explained what those are to me, and she’s equal parts excited and nervous.”

Sounds about right.  Did she enjoy the show?

“Oh, yeah.  She told me that Juliet’s one of her dream roles.  Actually, she said most of Shakespeare’s female characters are dream roles.”

Relatable.  Shakespeare was way ahead of his time in writing great roles for women.

“I have a question, Miss Benson!” said Elliot in a child-like voice.  Olivia’s laughter was the best music to his ears.  He used his normal tone of voice to ask the question. “When Maureen was pregnant, she and Karl told us that they chose the name Rose for a girl.  Lizzie convinced them to name her Rosalind instead.  We all call her Rosie, but her full name is Rosalind.  She only told us that it came from Shakespeare.”

Indeed it does!  Rosalind is the heroine of As You Like It, one of Shakespeare’s comedies.  She’s smart, quick on her feet, charming, and even though she makes a mess, she cleans it up.  Plus, Rosalind is a play on the Latin phrase ‘rosa linda.’  So now your granddaughter isn’t just named after a rose – her name means ‘beautiful rose’.

Elliot grinned like a schoolboy.  “That’s wonderful.”  He remembered something else that Lizzie had said.  “Oh, by the way, Lizzie said that your name comes from a Shakespeare play, too.  Which is it?”

Olivia didn’t respond.  The longer her silence stretched, the more worried Elliot got.

“Liv?  You ok?”

A long sigh was heard on the other end of the line before Olivia spoke in a low, almost dead voice.  “Yes, she’s right.  My mother got my name from the Shakespeare play Twelfth Night.  She was an English professor, so she knew all of her options.  I think she chose Olivia because she could relate to that character at the time. 

Olivia in the play is a noblewoman, highly respected and powerful, but she’s closed off.  She’s imposed this state of severe mourning for her late brother on her entire household and basically lives as a shut-in.  Then, she falls in love with who she thinks is this young pageboy who comes to her delivering messages from a Duke who wants to marry her.  Turns out, the pageboy is a young woman named Viola, disguised as her twin brother, Sebastian. 

Viola keeps rejecting Olivia’s advances and professions of love.  Then, by chance, Olivia meets the Sebastian, thinking it’s the same person she’s fallen for, and again begs him to love and marry her.  The real Sebastian, who only knows she is the most beautiful and rich woman in the land, isn’t about to say no.  So they get married. 

Of course, in a classic Shakespearean ending, all is revealed and Olivia realizes whom she has really been interacting with and that she married a stranger.  It’s all played for comedy in the end and Olivia doesn’t complain, but…I think my mother could relate to the situation of being deceived like that…it wasn’t the same as what she went through, but still…

Elliot listened to this silently.  Learning about her relationship to her mother over the years of their partnership had been heart-breaking to learn.  So many times, he had wanted to comfort her by relating his own relationship with his mother (which was just as complicated if for different reasons).  But he had shut the lid on that topic long before he’d met Liv, and he wasn’t prepared for what would come out if he opened that lid.  It took Kathleen’s diagnosis to break open that lid for good.

Before he could think of the right words to say to comfort her, Olivia spoke in that casual tone of voice that meant she was changing the topic.  “Speaking of, how’s your own mother doing?

Knowing better than to argue, Elliot obliged with an answer.  “She’s doing ok.  We had to put her in a home last year.  Just got to the point where she couldn’t be on her own anymore, you know.  But the home is really nice, right on a beach on Long Island, so as long as she can go outside every day, she’s happy.”

I’m glad to hear that.

“You know, Liv…just after I gave you your letter, Kathleen confided in me about how she decided she needed help after she was diagnosed.  That you reached out to my mother and brought her to see Kathleen when she was in prison.  Liv…you’ve done so much for us…is there anything you wouldn’t have done back then?”

A small pause before she answered. “I don’t think so.  But drop the past tense, Elliot; that statement still applies.

“And it works both ways, Liv.  I would do anything for you and for Noah.  I know you probably can’t completely believe that now, but it’s true.”

Now there was a long pause, and Elliot felt in his bones that Olivia was taking a moment to wipe away tears.  Her response, when it came, was choked with emotion:

Thanks, El.”

Chapter Text

The weekend before the opening night of Measure for Measure, Olivia took Noah to the same park where she and Lizzie had met again by chance.  This time, she knew exactly who she would be meeting there.  As she turned from the sidewalk to the path that would lead to the playground, she squeezed the handle of Noah’s stroller several times to try and quell her anxiety.  Even after everything that had happened and all that had changed, she couldn’t help but be a little nervous.

The group of four were already there, having claimed the closest picnic table to the playground.  Kathleen and Eli were playing ‘rock, paper, scissors,’ and Kathy was bringing out Tupperware containers of food with the help of a man who could only be her fiancé, Andrew.  He was tall, lanky, and had curly salt-and-pepper hair.  Even from this distance, the way he and Kathy worked together and stood together, she could see that their relationship was deep.

Kathleen was the first to spot her.  She grinned and waved her over to their table.  “Olivia!”

Eli saw this, saw her and Noah, and immediately got up and started running to them.  Kathy and Andrew spotted her too, and the former followed Eli towards them.

“Hi, Aunt Olivia!” said Eli, hugging her round the waist.

“Hello, Eli!” laughed Olivia, delighted to see the little boy again and hugging him back.

Eli then turned his attention to the little boy in the stroller.  “Hi, Noah!  High five!”

He held out his hand to Noah, and the smaller boy hit Eli’s palm with his as he grinned in recognition. 

“Alright!” said Eli, thrilled that Noah had recognized him.

“Olivia!” said Kathy as she approached them, Andrew close behind her.

“Kathy!” Olivia said back, genuinely glad to see her again in spite of her nerves.  Kathy, in turn, looked nothing but thrilled to see her.  The former Mrs. Stabler immediately wrapped Olivia in a warm hug, and Olivia returned it.  When they pulled back, Kathy turned to her fiancé and brought him forward.  “Andrew Epstein, this is Olivia Benson – a very old friend.”

“I’m so glad to meet you, Olivia,” he said, shaking her hand firmly. “I’ve heard such great things about you.”

“All true, by the way,” said Kathleen, who had approached them and pulled Olivia in for another hug.

Kathy, meanwhile, had knelt in front of Noah with a beaming smile on her face.  “Hello there!” she said, reaching out to squeeze Noah’s hand. “You must be Noah.  You are even cuter than I was lead to believe, mister!”  She looked up at Olivia and motioned with her hands.  “May I?”

Olivia nodded, and Kathy unhooked Noah from his stroller and lifted him up.  “He’s beautiful, Olivia,” she said. “And so sweet!”

“He’s the best thing that ever happened to me,” said Olivia, smiling as Noah giggled when Kathy tickled his leg.

“Come on, everyone, before the food gets cold,” said Kathleen, grabbing Eli’s hand to lead him back to the picnic table. Andrew chivalrously offered to wheel the empty stroller to the picnic table.  Olivia’s nerves were beginning to die off.

Lunch at the park was truly lovely.  The women and Andrew took turns having Noah on their lap and helping to feed him.  Olivia learned from Kathy and Andrew how they had gone from long-time colleagues at the hospital to friends to something more.  Andrew himself was a widower with two grown sons that lived out of state.  It was immediately clear how much he adored Kathy, and Kathy seemed just as smitten in return.

Kathleen also looked wonderful.  Clearly, she was in a good place in her life, studying to be what she wanted and managing her illness with day-to-day strength.  Olivia, who had seen Kathleen when she was at her lowest point, was proud beyond words.

After the meal, Kathleen and Andrew took the boys to the playground to play, leaving Kathy and Olivia to sit at the picnic table.  Olivia had the feeling that this one-on-one had been planned, and she’d been expecting it.  The nerves that had subsided during lunch began to spark to life, and she waited for Kathy to begin the conversation.

“Olivia,” Kathy began in a reassuring voice. “I want you to know that there are no ill-feelings or past resentments here.  I won’t deny that there were moments when I did resent you; I even wished I could hate you sometimes.  But you were never the real problem.  Elliot and I were kids when we got married; if I hadn’t gotten pregnant, we never would have gotten that far.  Add onto that the job he had and that he thought it best to shut me out of so much of it…you were just the easiest target to blame, even though you never did anything wrong.  In fact, you helped us last as long as we did, from helping pick out birthday and anniversary gifts to helping me and Eli and Kathleen when we needed it most.”

Kathy took Olivia’s hands in hers as she continued, while Olivia was trying her best to keep tears from filling up her eyes.

“I’m sorry about what happened after Elliot retired.  At first, I thought it was for the best that you two weren’t talking anymore.  I thought it could be a fresh start for us.  But that didn’t last long.  He was so lost without you, Olivia, after what happened and burning his bridges.  When he finally started to get help, I realized that Elliot had never really lived for himself.  Growing up, he had to take care of his mom and his siblings.  Then I got pregnant so young and he became a husband and father while still technically a teenager.  I knew then that I had to let him go, that it was the best thing for the both of us.  I only wish I had succeeded in persuading him to reach out to you sooner.”

Olivia looked down at their hands, shaking her head as she kept blinking back tears.  “Kathy, I…I don’t know what to say except…I really appreciate that.”

Kathy squeezed her hands.  “How are you doing with all of this, Olivia?  I’m sure it’s been a lot.”

Olivia let out a breathless laugh.  “A little bit, yeah.  But it could have been worse.  I’m really glad that it was Lizzie that I saw first by chance.  If it had been Elliot that I’d bumped into out of the blue…”  Olivia shook her head.  “I don’t know what I would have done.  Probably froze and become numb…and who knows how long that would have lasted before I lashed out at him.  Or worse…I would have just rolled over as though the last four years were nothing.  Either way…it would be like seeing a ghost.”

Kathy nodded.  “I understand that.  Is that why you’ve been keeping him at a distance?”

Olivia sighed and looked at Kathy again.  “Partly.  I’ve also been trying to figure out just what we would be to each other now.  Before, the rules and boundaries were crystal clear.  And though we were closer than most partners, we never crossed those boundaries.  Never.” 

Kathy nodded reassuringly.  “I know, Olivia.  Believe me, I know.”

Olivia couldn’t help but let out a breath of relief.  “And now…everything is different.  We’re different, our situations are different, and it’s not just me anymore.”  Olivia and Kathy looked at Noah, building a sandcastle with Eli, Kathleen and Andrew.  “Noah’s already had so much loss in his life…”

“Mmm,” hummed Kathy in understanding. “I can’t imagine how much it hurt you when he cut off contact like that, Olivia.  I wanted to reach out to you quite a bit, but I knew it should have been him doing that, and it didn’t seem right.”

“It’s ok, Kathy, really,” said Olivia. 

“But how has it been talking to him again, even if just by letters and phone calls?”

Olivia couldn’t help but let the corners of her mouth turn upwards.  “It’s actually been…nice.  First the letters, then the phone calls…I think we were able to say more to each other than we could have face-to-face.  I think if we’d started by seeing each other in person, we could never have talked about everything that needed to be discussed.  Old habits die hard, and for a long time, there was so much that we just couldn’t talk about, you know?”

Kathy nodded and smirked.  “Like how in love you two are.”  She held up a hand and spoke before Olivia could open her mouth all the way.  “Don’t bother denying it, Olivia.  I’m not angry and I’ve already said I know you two never crossed that line while you were partners.”  Her smirk turned into a gentler smile.  “He’s still so in love with you, Olivia, and he wants to make things right with you more than anything.” 

When Olivia looked back down at their hands and said nothing, Kathy bit her lip nervously.

“I’m sorry if that’s –”

“No, Kathy, don’t apologize, it’s just…”  Now Olivia couldn’t stop the tears from coming to her eyes, and she lifted her face to the sky to stop them falling.  “I just…for so long I lived with the knowledge that I couldn’t have what I wanted because it would be wrong.  I didn’t have a choice back then; at least, there were choices I couldn’t live with so I didn’t choose them.  Now, with everything changed…he keeps telling me that we’ll be whatever I want, and I never thought I would have that choice.”

Kathy immediately pulled her in for a comforting hug.  Olivia didn’t cry, but she was close, so she accepted it gratefully.  When Kathy pulled back, she said, “I get it, Olivia.  For a long time, I was certain where my life was going, but then everything changed.  It was painful at first, but it was worth it.  Andrew is the best thing that has happened to me since my kids.  You and Elliot deserve that happiness, too.”

Olivia couldn’t help but chuckle.  “Well, this is a conversation I never thought we’d have.”

Kathy joined in her laughter.  “I hear you, but…that’s life.”

“I’m a lieutenant in charge of her own NYPD squad, I’m not supposed to be scared of anything.”

“You’re also a woman and a mother, so it’s natural to get scared every day.  But you always find a way to overcome your fears, Olivia, or you wouldn’t have able to make it this far.  And I understand why you’re frightened, but take it from me: Elliot has only changed for the better, and you are still the person who understands him more than anybody else.”

At that moment, Eli began calling out to them.  “Mommy!  Aunt Olivia!  Come and see what Noah and I made!”

The two women smiled at each other, squeezed each other’s hands, got up and walked to their sons.

Olivia never felt nerves around Kathy again.

The night before Lizzie’s opening night, Olivia arrived home later than she usually did.  After sending Lucy home and checking in on Noah, she concentrated on getting ready for bed.  When she was all settled beneath the covers, she debated with herself for a few minutes about calling Elliot.  She’s gotten used to having his voice be the last thing she heard every night.  But it was late, and he might be sleeping.

Then, she got a text message.  It was from Elliot. Just wanted to say goodnight, and I can’t wait to see you tomorrow.

Tomorrow…she was really going to see him tomorrow after over four years.  Butterflies were practically beating their wings against every organ in her midsection enough that she felt like she could float off her bed.  Ever since she and Kathy had talked, her excitement had been vastly out-weighing her fears.  She texted him back.

Night, Elliot.  I’m ready for tomorrow.

He responded within a minute.

Could we do something after the show?  A walk or a meal?  I know that I won’t be ready to say goodnight yet, but if you have to get back to Noah, I understand.  Maybe the next day then?

Olivia couldn’t help but giggle.  The eagerness and nervousness were as clear to her as the words on the screen.

I’ll see how long my sitter can stay tomorrow and let you know when I see you.  Now seriously, good night.

His response made her giggle again.

Copy that, Lieutenant.

Chapter Text

Damnit!” Olivia exclaimed when she accidentally knocked over her purse from her desk.  It was open so most of the contents spilled out.  She crouched down, willing her hands to stop shaking and slow her movements down as she picked everything up.

“Liv, you ok?” asked Fin, standing in the doorway of her office.

“Yeah, just clumsy today,” said Olivia, not looking up at him.  He knew what day this was and she was too on edge to be teased about it.  She’d managed to do her job without a hitch today because this line of work required full concentration.  But now, as she was preparing to leave, the nerves that had seemingly been dying down during the past week were hitting her with full force.

She was seeing Elliot Stabler again for the first time in over four years tonight…and it was completely up to her what happened after that.

Thankfully, Fin knew her very well, and he didn’t try to tease her.  When she stood up and put her purse back on her desk, he walked over to her and put a hand on her shoulder.  “Liv, just breathe, ok?”

Olivia listened to him and took a few deep breaths.

“If you’re not ready to see him tonight, I’m sure he’d understand.”

She shook her head.  “No, I know…I do want to see him again tonight.  So much so that it’s putting me on edge.”

“I get it,” said Fin. “This is a big moment for you.  If it makes you feel any better, he’s probably just as on edge as you are right now.  Probably more than you, considering the circumstances.  Just…let whatever happens tonight happen, Liv. Whatever happens, it was always meant to be.  And don’t worry about anything here.  We’ll hold the fort for you.”

Olivia nodded and smiled at him.  “Thanks, Fin.  For always watching my back.”

“Always, Liv,” vowed Fin.

Elliot felt his phone buzz with a text when he was on his way to pick up Eli from school.  He would bring his son to his apartment in Manhattan, and then Maureen and Karl would pick him up to take him and Rosie to Olivia’s apartment, where Lucy would look after them and Noah for the evening.  Though he hadn’t yet met Lucy in person, Maureen had; besides, Olivia had complete trust in her and that was more than enough for Elliot.

When he pulled up in front of Eli’s school, Elliot checked his phone.  The text was from Fin.

You’d better be at least as nervous as she is right now.  Don’t worry, she’s not backing out.  Remember she’s the boss, and don’t fuck it up again.  You know what will happen if you do.  Good luck, man.

Elliot would have laughed if Fin wasn’t right about him being nervous.  Learning that she was nervous too but was still coming…he couldn’t deny that it felt good to be in the same boat.  But there was a difference.  He’d been the one who’d left, and she’d been the one who stayed.  It was up to him to prove to her that she wasn’t just something to him – she was everything.

His musings were interrupted by the back door being opened and Eli climbing in.  “Hi, Dad!”

“Hey, bud,” said Elliot, looking at his son over his shoulder, waiting for Eli to put his seatbelt on before merging back onto the road. “Did you have a good day at school?”

“Yeah,” said Eli nonchalantly. “My team lost at kickball during recess, though.”

“Oh, that stinks,” said Elliot. “You’ll get’em next time.  Besides, you get to hang out with Rosie and Noah tonight.  Excited about that?”

Eli grinned and Elliot’s heart warmed.  Eli had always loved Rosie (it was still so strange to think of his seven-year-old as an uncle).  “Yeah.  Lucy told us we could order pizza and ice cream!”

He knew that Eli had met Lucy on a previous playdate.  He gave an exaggerated groan.  “Oh, now that’s what I’m talking about!”  His tone became more serious and sincerer.  “I’m glad you like playing with Rosie and Noah, especially when they’re so much younger than you.”

“I like not being the baby anymore,” Eli said simply.

Elliot nodded to himself.  Eli being born when he was, with his brother and sisters all so much older than him, he must have felt like an only child more than the youngest child.  His siblings must feel more like aunts and an uncle than siblings sometimes.  No wonder he’d been so excited when Rosie was born, despite the short-lived disappointment of it not being a boy.

As if they were on the same wavelength, Eli continued. “Now Rosie’s the baby, and I love her.  And Noah feels like having a little brother.”

Elliot nearly had to pull over the car because the wave of emotion that hit him was like a tidal wave.  The concept of Eli and Noah being brothers…He stopped his mind from going any further down that path, though.  He couldn’t let himself hope that far yet.  The past two months had been as good as they could be, talking to Liv again though he didn’t see her.  And tonight…so much would be decided tonight…

But right now, he had to get his kid back to his place, so he concentrated on the road and asked his son more questions about school.

As requested, Lucy arrived at Olivia’s apartment early, so that she could be with Noah while Olivia got ready for the evening.  She knew that she would need to take her time and do that alone.

“Hey, Lucy, thanks so much,” said Olivia as she let her in.

“No problem,” said Lucy, immediately smiling at Noah and took him from Olivia’s arms. “We’re going to have such a fun night, huh, buddy?  We’ll have some company!”

Olivia smiled but then bit her lip.  “And you really don’t mind having another toddler and a seven-year-old on your hands?”

“Of course not,” said Lucy. “Remember I worked in a daycare before becoming a private nanny.  Compared to what I used to do on a daily basis, three kids is a cakewalk.”

Olivia then looked down and noticed the familiar duffel bag that Lucy had dropped on the floor.  “You brought your overnight bag?”

Lucy shrugged, the picture of casual innocence.  “Just in case.  You weren’t sure what time you’d be home, so I wanted to be prepared.  Like when you have to work late.”

“So, you wouldn’t mind staying the night tonight?  Because I honestly don’t know when I’ll be coming home –”

“Yes, Olivia, I don’t mind at all,” said Lucy reassuringly. “Now go and get ready.  What time are Maureen and Karl dropping off the kids?”

Olivia looked at her watch.  “Umm…about an hour.”

“Ok, then, go get ready,” said Lucy, smiling at her. “We will be fine.”

Olivia nodded, kissed Noah’s head, and walked to her room.

Elliot didn’t think he’d ever taken such care in dressing up as he did now.  He had never been so grateful that his time in Italy had been an absolute improvement on his wardrobe, especially when it came to suits.  He opted for a light blue shirt and darker blue blazer and slacks.  When he reached for a tie, he stopped.  His mind went back to the last time he and Olivia had gone undercover as a couple.  They had gone to a swingers’ club posing as a curious couple.  The image of Olivia in that sleeveless, skin-tight, leopard-print dress was etched in acid on his brain…

He snapped himself out of it.  He’d already taken a long shower; the last thing he needed was to take a cold one right now.  Whatever Liv wore tonight, she would be beautiful.  She was always beautiful.

Elliot forced his mind back to why he’d remembered that night: he hadn’t worn a tie.  He’d worn a tie with his suit every day he worked SVU (not counting the brief period he’d gone casual after Dani Beck had joined the unit for a while).  He didn’t want to dress as if he was going into work.  So, tonight…no tie.

Looking at himself in the mirror, he knew he had some things to be grateful for.  He hadn’t cut himself shaving.  He was as devoted to his physical routine every day as he had been since he’d played football in high school.  And his clothes were a big improvement over his wardrobe of the past.  Sure, his hair line was receding so he kept it super short, but he didn’t think Liv would care about that.

What she cared about was not what he looked like, but what was in his heart.  He’d poured it out in his letter, and he’d poured it out in the way they had spoken over the phone.  Though they’d both written the L word in their letters, somehow they knew that they couldn’t say it aloud to each other for the first time over the phone.  For his part, he also hadn’t wanted to spook her.  Would he have the chance to say it tonight?  He hoped so.

Her reaction…well, she was the boss.  Whatever she wanted, he would do.

A knock on the front door brought him back to the present.  He heard Eli run to it from where he’d been on the couch watching TV.  “Who is it?” he called out.

Elliot had to smile, glad that his son was remembering to check before opening the door.  He didn’t hear the response, but knew that it was Maureen and her family when he heard the door open.  Smiling, he looked at himself one more time in his bathroom mirror, nodded and walked down the hall to the front door.

Sure enough, it was Maureen, Karl and Rosie.  Maureen looked radiant, as always, wearing a dress that complemented her growing bump very well.  As she was hugging Eli, Rosie spotted Elliot coming and squealed in delight.  She squirmed in her father’s arms and reached for him.  Grinning that silly grandfather grin, Elliot happily scooped her up and gave her a snuggle.  “Hey, guys,” said Elliot.

“Hey, Dad,” said Maureen, looking at him and grinning a knowing grin. “You look very nice.”

“Thank you,” said Elliot, ignoring the knowing smirk on his firstborn’s face. “And you look beautiful.  Feeling ok?”

Maureen nodded.  “I feel pregnant but not to the extent that I don’t want to get out of the house yet.”

“Thank goodness,” said Karl exaggeratedly, laughing when Maureen punched his arm. “Ready to go, Eli?”

“Yeah!” said Eli, picking up his backpack from by the door.  After the show, Kathy and Andrew would take him home with them.

“Alright then,” said Karl, taking Rosie back from Elliot after he gave her a kiss.

“You two behave for Lucy and have fun with Noah,” said Elliot, hugging his son.

As Karl took Eli’s hand and walked out with the two of them, Maureen hugged her father and said, “Good luck tonight, Dad.”

“Thanks, honey,” he murmured before letting her go.

After the front door was shut behind him, Elliot walked back into his bedroom.  He had a bit of time before making his way to the theater.  He couldn’t deny how excited and nervous he was in equal measure.  He was in uncharted territory.  Before he knew what he was doing, he had knelt down by his bedside and folded his hands in prayer.  So, he started to pray.

“Lord…you know more than anyone else all of my faults and all of my regrets.  I trust that, whatever happens tonight, it will be Your will.  But please…help me not to let her down again.  Even if tonight is the last time I see her, let whatever happens tonight be the best thing for her.  Amen.”

From the hot shower to the hair-dressing to the make-up application to the dressing, Olivia moved with purpose and with complete focus.  It helped to calm the butterflies in her midriff, who were flapping as though they were high on meth.  The occasional sound of her son’s laughter from down the hall helped, too.

From the moment she had decided that Lizzie’s opening night would be the night she saw Elliot again, Olivia knew what dress she would wear.  It was the same dress she had worn on the day the judge signed the papers making Noah officially her son.  She loved this dress, and she wanted to wear it for another life-changing event in her life.  For she knew that, whatever happened tonight, it would change her life.

As for her hair, Olivia opted to not wear her hair up this time.  She had blow-dried her hair and then loosely curled it.  Though he had never said it, Olivia had the feeling that Elliot liked it more when she had long hair.  The times she had shown up at the precinct with her hair chopped short, Elliot hadn’t acknowledged it but there’d been a disappointed look in his eyes.  She’d have to ask him about that at some point.

She kept her make-up light and natural looking.  She wasn’t trying to be someone else tonight.

When she heard Maureen and Karl arrive to drop of Eli and Rosie, Olivia remained in her room with the door closed.  She would see Maureen and Karl at the theater anyway, and she was taking the last moments to calm herself down.  She turned to her bedside table and looked at the two photos framed there.  One was of Noah on the day of his christening; the other was one of her and Elliot in the first year of their partnership.  A few weeks ago, she had found the courage to pull that photo out from a box in the bottom of her closet, where she had buried it and a few other pictures of him.  She would bring out the rest another time, when it felt right.

Olivia let out a breathless laugh.  She had thought ‘when,’ not ‘if.’

When she knew it was time for her to go, Olivia grabbed her clutched and exited her bedroom.  She grinned at the sight of Eli, Rosie and Noah all sitting on the living room rug, playing with Noah’s toys.  Lucy was sitting on the sofa, watching them, and she gave her an approving smile.  “Have a good time, Olivia.  Don’t worry about a thing here.”

Olivia nodded, squatted down, and gave Noah a hug.  “I love you, my sweet boy,” she whispered. “Wish mommy luck.”

Chapter Text

Elliot arrived at the theater before Olivia.

He got out of the cab and tried to wipe his clammy palms on his thighs.  He was breathing deeply and evenly to try and calm himself down.  But the moment he stepped up to the theaters doors and saw the poster beside them, he calmed down.  The poster for Measure for Measure consisted predominantly of Lizzie in full costume, staring directly forward with a strong, accusatory gaze.

Tonight was Lizzie’s night, and he needed to remember that.

Feeling better, Elliot followed a group of people arriving into the theater lobby.  His ticket was in his inner blazer pocket.  The lobby was spacious enough, half full of people just chatting before heading inside to their seats.  Looking around, he knew immediately that Olivia wasn’t there.


Two voices called out to him from the other side of the lobby.  Kathleen and Richard were standing by the open doors leading into the theater.  He saw them clearly because several steps led up to the landing where they stood.  He went up to them and gave them both a hug.  “Hey, guys.  The others here yet?”

Richard nodded.  “Mom, Andrew, Maureen and Karl are inside already in their seats.”

“Rich, that’s not who he’s thinking about,” teased Kathleen, and Elliot’s lips pursed in annoyance.

“Ah, of course,” said Richard, his own teasing smile on his face. “Then, in that case, not yet.”

“We’ll meet you in there, Dad,” said Kathleen, squeezing his hand in reassurance before she and Richard walked through the doors of the theater.

Elliot let out a breath and decided to step down from the landing and onto the main level of the lobby.  He didn’t want her to see him on a level higher than her and get spooked.  Besides, he wanted a private moment of seeing her again before she saw him again. 

Selfish, perhaps, but he’d been dreaming of this for over four years.

Olivia’s cab pulled up in front of the theater, and she immediately saw that Elliot was not standing outside.  Looking at her watch, she saw that it was just over five minutes to curtain.  Cutting it close, yes, but traffic in Manhattan was never easy to predict.  At least she wasn’t late.

She got out of the cab and looked up at the modest theater.  She soon saw the poster and she grinned.  She already knew that Lizzie would be great, and mentally wished for her to break a leg.

One more deep breath, and she walked through the lobby doors.

She only had a brief moment to take in the lobby before she realized that he was watching her.

Through the double-glass doors of the theater, Elliot saw a cab pull up, and he knew it was her before the door was even opened.  The first thing he saw was a woman in a very light blue dress, what the color of moonlight or starlight is.  She stood outside on the sidewalk for a moment, and he could now make out a curvy figure and loose brown curls.  His heartbeat was steadily accelerating.  This was really happening.

He then saw her walk up to the doors, open them, and come inside.  For a moment, Elliot was able to look at her taking in the lobby without her having seen him.  A fragment of a line from Romeo and Juliet came to his mind: …for I never saw true beauty till this night.

Then, she froze and turned towards him.  Their eyes met and the world stopped.

Olivia turned her head in the direction she felt his gaze on her, and there he was, standing against the wall of the lobby.  Her breath caught in her throat and her heart stopped beating for a moment.  He was four years older, he was dressed in better clothes, he had less hair on his head…but his eyes were the same, and their complete focus was on her.

She saw more than heard him say her name: “Liv…

As he walked towards her, Olivia murmured, “Elliot…oh, my God…”

Elliot murmured her name and his legs propelled him towards her.  He just barely heard her say, “Elliot…oh, my God…

He stopped when there was only about a foot of space between them.  He could smell her now, and his eyes just kept drinking in her features like a starving man.  His mind struggled to find the right words to say – “You’re here,” “You’re so beautiful,” “God, I’ve missed you,” “I’m so sorry this took me so long,” “I love you so much,” – but he couldn’t settle on anything, so he said nothing.  He was also struggling to not reach out and crush her to him, not to crush his lips to every part of her that he could reach.  Instead, he just stood there.

Then, Olivia began to reach out her hand.

The lights over their head flickered on an off.

When he stopped less than a foot in front of her, Olivia was overwhelmed by the scent of him.  He smelled the same as she remembered, and though his face had a few more wrinkles, his eyes were exactly the same.  She hadn’t known that eyes could be that blue until she’d met him.

She had been dreaming of this moment for over four years; even when her anger and hurt were at their peak, she had never wanted to not see him.  And now, here he was.  No longer was this a voice on the phone.  She could see him, smell him…could she trust that this was real?

Her hand raised of its own accord and began to reach out to him.

The lights over their heads flickered on and off.

Both jumped a little bit as this intense moment was broken.  “What the hell…?” muttered Elliot, looking around the lobby.  The few other people still in the lobby seemed completely unaffected and began to walk into the theater proper.

But Olivia laughed, and Elliot immediately looked at her again, drinking in what he had missed the most: the sight of Olivia laughing.  She met his eyes again and said, “That’s a signal that the show is about to start.  Come on, let’s get to our seats.”

She walked to the open theater doors and Elliot was right behind her.  He wished that the lights had flickered just a moment later; he didn’t know where Olivia had intended to touch him, but he didn’t care.  His own hands were now itching for her.  As she stepped up the few steps to the landing of the doors, his hand rested very gently on the small of her back, a chivalrous gesture that came naturally to him.  Olivia said nothing, but she smiled to herself.

An usher looked at their tickets and pointed out their seats, which were together.  Elliot made a mental note to get Lizzie an extra present for her next birthday for insuring he and Olivia would sit together.  After taking a playbill, they walked to their seats.  Happily, they were in the row directly behind the rest of his family.  The six of them had all turned their heads and were watching the old partners approaching – all were smiling in satisfaction.

When Elliot and Olivia were seated beside each other, Elliot was still at a loss for words.  He looked at Olivia, who was looking at the stage, seemingly examining it.  He took the opportunity to drink in the sight of her again.  Her hair was as long as it had been when he’d left, and she’d loosely curled it.  Her olive skin practically glowed, and the smell of her light perfume she’d used since he’d met her made him clench his hands on the armrests.

Suddenly, Olivia turned her head and looked at him.  Their eyes locked, and Elliot was once again breathless at the sight of those dark eyes.  He held nothing back in his own gaze: his adoration, his nerves, his guilt, and his hope.

As for Olivia, her eyes did not reveal as much just yet.  She was searching his own eyes, listening to the silent message that Elliot was conveying to her.  Sometimes over the course of their partnership, she would swear that they could say more to each other in a look than most could say with words.  Now, even after the distance and time passed and all that they’d gone through and how much they’d changed…they could still communicate without words. 

Another thing that had remained the same: those looks were incapable of lying.

Any last shreds of doubt in Olivia’s mind disintegrated.  She un-shuttered her expression and watched Elliot gasp as he read what was in her eyes: her own nerves, her forgiveness, her relief, and her love.  When he felt warmth cover his hand resting between them on the armrest, he gasped again at the sight of Olivia’s hand resting on his.

Looking back up at her, he saw that she was smiling. “Hi, El,” she breathed.

He didn’t hold back his own smile as he laced their fingers together.  “Hey, Liv,” he murmured.

She squeezed his hand and said, “Let’s watch Lizzie’s show.”

He heard what she wasn’t saying – this is Lizzie’s night, your family is nearby, we’ll talk after the show – and nodded.  As the lights began to dim and the audience quieted, they then turned their heads to the stage.

No one who had known Elizabeth Stabler a long time could quite believe that the dynamic, genius and heart-breaking character on the stage was being played by a young woman who had once been most comfortable hiding behind a book.  As Isabella, Lizzie commanded the stage from the moment she stepped into the stage-lights.  But this role was a tough one, both to play and to watch, especially for those who loved her.

During that bone-chilling scene in which Isabella – a novice in a convent – is told that the only way to save her brother from execution is by sleeping with the man who had her brother charged, Elliot was holding onto Olivia’s hand for dear life.  As people who had and still worked SVU, it saddened them how much things had not changed after 400 years.  When Isabella threatens to tell others what he is asking her to do, his cold reply of “Who will believe thee, Isabel?” caused rage to fill both of their chests.  And then, when Isabella is left completely alone after this conversation, words that both had heard so many times came from her mouth: “To whom should I complain?  If I tell this, who would believe me?

Olivia reached her other hand over and placed it over their joined hands.  When he looked back, Elliot would remain convinced that the only thing that kept him in his seat – in spite of, even because, Lizzie and her co-star were so convincing in their roles – without making a sound.

Thankfully, their pride and love for Lizzie was enough to get all of her loved ones through the performance.  As hard as some scenes were to watch, she and her whole cast did a fantastic job in telling an important story still relevant today. The mark of any good production of a Shakespeare is how much it makes the audience pay attention, how it makes the language accessible rather than intimidating. 

This production of Measure for Measure exceeded that expectation, if the standing ovation the audience gave was any indication.

After the show, the families and friends of the cast waited in the lobby for the cast members to come out.  Olivia stood with the rest of the Stablers, with Elliot by her side.  Though they were no longer holding hands, they stood close, as though distance might make the other disappear.

Before long, Lizzie came out through the theater doors, her face clean of makeup and in her own clothing.  Upon seeing her family, she grinned and ran to them.  She hugged each member of her family while they showered her with well-deserved praise (everyone had gotten her flowers, but they’d all been delivered to her dressing room).

Olivia was the last of them to hug Lizzie.  As she did, she murmured into the young woman’s ear, “You did her so proud.”

Lizzie squeezed her hard before letting her go.  The group chatted for a bit before Lizzie excused herself; she had a cast party to go to.  She listened to her siblings’ encouragement and her parents’ reminders to stay safe with good humor before leaving them.

“Well,” said Maureen, leaning against her husband. “We should relieve Rosie and Eli from Lucy’s hands.  At least she’ll be asleep.”

“You think Eli will be asleep?” asked Andrew to Kathy.

“Ah,” Olivia interjected. “Lucy may have promised him pizza and ice cream tonight.”

Elliot laughed, Olivia smiled guiltily, and Kathy gave her fiancé a mock-exasperated look.  “Up for another relaxing evening?”

Andrew rolled his eyes exaggeratedly. “At least we’re trained medical professionals.”

They all laughed and exchanged goodbyes.  Each member of the Stabler family gave Olivia a warm hug, last of all Kathy.  She exchanged a meaningful look of encouragement after she did so.

Finally, it was just Elliot and Olivia again.  “Can you give me a second?” asked Olivia, pulling out her phone. “I want to update Lucy.”

Elliot nodded. “Sure.”

She stepped away from him and pressed her phone to her ear.  He took a few steps away to avoid eavesdropping.  Shoving his hands in his pockets, he looked down at the pattern in the carpet.  She hadn’t yet told him if she would need to go straight home after the show or if she could stay with him for a while longer.  He mentally prepared himself for the worst case scenario.

After a few minutes, Olivia approached him and he lifted his gaze to hers.  Her expression was calm, but her eyes showed equal measures of hope and nerves.  “Lucy came over prepared to spend the night if needed.  She’s used to it, given how late I work sometimes, and always likes to be prepared.  I just told her that I probably wouldn’t be home until tomorrow.  Can I spend the night at your place?”

Of all the scenarios Elliot had been preparing himself for, that was the last one that he’d been expecting.  However, her tone of voice and expression held nothing suggestive or flirtatious.  Seeing his astonishment and confusion, Olivia stepped closer to him.

“Look, El…I can’t promise anything beyond talking tonight.  I don’t know what I’m ready for yet.  All I do know…is that I’ve missed you so much, and I don’t want to waste any more time.”

Elliot had never wanted to cry so much out of sheer joy since Eli’s miraculous birth.  Impulsively, he grabbed her hand, lifted it, and kissed the back of it – the first time he had kissed her in any way.  He kept his head bent over it for a minute while he composed himself, and she waited patiently.  When he lifted his head, she smiled at him softly and he returned the smile.

They then walked hand-in-hand out of the theater lobby.

Chapter Text

The cab ride to Elliot’s apartment was spent in silence.  As it was during the show, they never let go of each other’s hand.  They were silent when they arrived at his building and while they rode the elevator up.  Only when they were inside his apartment did Elliot let go of her hand so that he could lock the door and turn on the lights.

Olivia looked around, taking in the sight of his new home.  “This suits you,” she said, waving a hand around the living room. “How much did the girls help you?”

Elliot smiled at her light teasing.  “Quite a bit.  I’m glad you like it.”

Olivia nodded, and silence fell again.  Elliot was restraining himself; again, it was taking all he had not to crush her to him.  Olivia broke the silence.  “Do you have something I could change into?  I’d rather not sleep in this dress.”

“Oh, yeah, sure,” said Elliot, relieved that he had a task to do.  He motioned for her to follow him.  He led her down a short hallway, past the guest bedroom where Eli slept on his nights over, and into his bedroom and adjoining bathroom.  She stood in the doorway while he dug through his dresser for a T-shirt and pair of sweatpants.  He held them out to her and nodded towards the bathroom.  “Go right ahead, make yourself comfortable.”

“Thanks, El,” said Olivia, taking the T-shirt. “But I won’t need those sweatpants on a hot August night.  The shirt is more than enough.”

Elliot could only nod, not trusting his voice to not crack like a fourteen-year-old.  Again, though, she spoke without any hint of ulterior motives. 

Olivia then went into the bathroom.  Once the door was shut, Elliot practically ripped off his blazer and kicked off his shoes.  He forced himself to remove the rest of his clothes more slowly, and he put them away with care.  He certainly wasn’t going to make a mess now.  He then put on the pair of sweatpants he’d offered Olivia.  Normally, he slept without a shirt on, but he wasn’t going to make her uncomfortable.  So he put on a white tank and sat on his bed to wait for her.

When ten minutes had passed since she’d gone into the bathroom, and he didn’t hear the sound of the shower running, Elliot got up and went to the closed door.  Knocking gently, he called, “Liv?  You ok in there?”

Yeah,” Olivia called back, but something was wrong.  The tone of her voice was strained, desperately trying to be casual and failing.

“Liv, what’s wrong?” asked Elliot, his worry rising.

Just…please give me a minute, El.  I promise I’m fine.”

He really wanted to go in there, but Elliot knew better.  He huffed a sigh and said, “I’ll be counting the seconds.”

The sound of her chuckling reassured him somewhat, and he went back to his bed and sat on the edge of it.

True to her word, Olivia came out after a minute had passed.  Elliot immediately stood up.  Needing to distract himself from the sight of her body wearing only his shirt (which thankfully landed at her mid-thigh), Elliot looked at her face.  His breath caught at the expression of vulnerability on her face and the tears in her dark eyes.

His mind went back four-and-a-half years to the day Sonya Paxton had died.  How he’d found Olivia walking away looking completely wrecked.  The same expression was on her face now.

Thankfully, his body responded the best possible way: he held his arms out to her, and she immediately rushed into them.  Olivia buried her face in his chest and clung to him, and Elliot finally held her as tightly to him as he had the two other times he’d held her in his life.  When he felt moisture seep through his tank top, he rubbed her back with one hand and stroked her hair with another.

You’re here…you’re really here…

Her broken words broke his heart, and tears of his own fell into her hair.  “I will never leave you again, Liv.  I promise you.

He felt her take a deep, shuddering breath and he kissed her head.  When he felt her loosen her arms around him a bit, Elliot cupped her face, lifted it, and kissed her forehead, nose, cheeks and eyes (he avoided her mouth because he still remembered that she was the boss here).  She let out a long, calm breath and pressed her forehead to his, her eyes shut.  “I’m sorry…”

“Don’t be sorry, Liv,” said Elliot. “Do you want me to take you home?”

“No!” she said quickly, clutching his tank top. “It’s not that, El.  It’s…when I was changing, I remembered…”

“Remembered what?” Elliot asked, still cradling her face.

Her face grimaced as if preparing for a hit.  “My scars…from…I’ve gotten to the point where looking at them doesn’t…but after everything that’s happened…being here with you and seeing them just –”

“Liv,” Elliot gently interrupted her. “I understand why you would still doubt me, but do you honestly believe that I’m the type of guy who would ever reject you for that?  That I wouldn’t see each scar as a mark of your strength and how that makes you even more beautiful?”

Olivia shook her head as she took his hands from her face so she could hold them to her chest.  “No…but seeing them reminded me of how much time has passed, how much happened, and how everything is different now…”  Meeting Elliot’s eyes, she spoke with a new strength in her voice.  “But none of that should stop us anymore.  Whatever happens between us, El, I don’t want the past to hold us back.  Not what I’ve been through and not the choices you made.  Can we try to do that?”

Elliot nodded.  “Yeah, Liv.  I know I’ll screw it up from time to time, but I’m really going to try.  Not having you in my life was hell, and I never want to go back to that again.”

“Good,” said Olivia. “Because as much as you say how strong I am for going through everything I’ve gone through…I could not survive you walking away a second time.”

“Never again,” Elliot vowed. “I love you.  With all of my heart, Olivia Benson.  I always have, and I always will.” 

Hearing how choked with emotion his voice was, and seeing how his blue eyes were burning, Olivia’s soul breathed out a sigh of relief and peace.  “I love you, too, El.”

Elliot shut his eyes and more tears fell out.  Now it was Olivia’s turn to kiss away his tears.  Unlike Elliot, though, she didn’t avoid his mouth.  Once their lips connected, their arms came around each other as they poured all of their heart into this act that was seventeen years in the making.  Only the need to breathe for both of them brought the kiss to an end eventually.

Resting her face on his shoulder, Olivia sighed. “Oh, wow…” she mumbled.

Elliot chuckled and said, “Tell me about it.”  Feeling how she was leaning against him, Elliot rubbed her back. “Ready to get some sleep?”

Olivia nodded.  “Yeah, I’m…it’s been quite an evening.”

Smiling, Elliot kissed her temple and reluctantly let her go.  As he walked to the door of the bedroom, Olivia asked, “Where are you going?”

He paused and looked over his shoulder at her.  “Well, to turn out the lights in the living room, use the bathroom, and then…make up the couch for myself.”  He couldn’t help but blush a little.  “I-I didn’t want to presume anything, Liv.”

A soft smile appeared on Olivia’s face and her eyes sparkled.  She stepped closer to him and held his face in her hands.  After kissing him softly, she said, “Thank you, but I didn’t come here with the intention of sleeping in your bed or on your couch alone.”

Unable to speak for fear of choking up, Elliot took her hands and kissed her palms before reluctantly leaving the room.

Olivia was lying on her back on the right side of the bed when Elliot came in from the bathroom.  He had to grin.  “How’d you know which side of the bed was mine?”

She smirked at him and pointed to the left bedside table.  “You wouldn’t keep a picture of your granddaughter on the table further away from you.”

His grin grew as he switched off the light and climbed into bed beside her, lying on his side to look at her.  “You caught me, Lieutenant.”

She turned on her side and faced him.  “I have?” she joked, though her eyes were bright in the darkness.

Elliot took one of her hands and pressed it over his heart.  “Completely.”

Olivia shut her eyes, letting out a long sigh.  When she opened her eyes, she spoke so softly that Elliot felt more than heard her words.

“I need us to go one day at a time, El…I meant it when I said I don’t want our past to hold us back, but it’s going to take me some time to completely forgive you and trust you again…to be intimate and…to truly believe you’re here and that…you’re mine.”

Elliot scooched closer to her, still holding her hand to his chest.  “I know I’ve got a lot to make up for, and a lot of bridges to rebuild.  But I’m not just in this for one night, Liv, and I’ll go however fast or slow you need me to go.  And each day as it comes, for as long as you let me, I will try to prove to you that I am all in, heart and soul, with you.”

Slowly, Olivia nodded, smiling a hint of a smile.  Then, she gently pushed against his chest and he laid on his back.  His heart soared when she scooched closer and rested against him, and he happily wrapped his arms around her. 

No more words needed to be spoken that night.  Olivia drifted to sleep first, a peaceful smile on her face.  Elliot held out a little longer, savoring this moment of finally being with her like this, and said a silent prayer of gratitude before finally succumbing to sleep himself.

When Olivia woke up, she knew immediately that she was alone in the bed.  Her eyes flew open in panic, but then she remembered that she was in his bed at his apartment.  Then, she spotted a folded note on the pillow next to hers.  Though she had to squint a bit to read it without her glasses, she smiled when she read the message.

I’m in the kitchen making breakfast.  Spare toothbrush is in the bathroom.  Love, El

After having a luxuriant stretch in the bed, Olivia got up and went to the bathroom to take care of herself.  Once that was done, Olivia tiptoed out of the bedroom down the hall.  She wanted to get a glimpse of Elliot before he saw her.

Peeking around the corner into the kitchen, Olivia smiled.  Elliot was turned mostly away from her, wearing the same clothes he slept in and standing at the stove.  She inhaled and smelled eggs and coffee.  Not wanting to startle him while he was at the stove, she softly cleared her throat.  Elliot turned his head and grinned at the sight of her.  “Morning, sunshine,” he said, his eyes twinkling.

Olivia grinned.  “How many times have we said that to each other?” she asked as she walked towards him.

“Too many to count,” said Elliot, returning his attention to the eggs he was scrambling. “But each time I said it to you, I wished that it were in a setting like this.”

Olivia chuckled as the coffee maker beeped.  She poured each of them a cup.  “You still take yours black?” asked Olivia.

“Yep, thanks,” said Elliot. “Just leave it by the maker, I’ll grab it when I’m done here.”  He then looked over his shoulder at Olivia so that he could watch her reaction to the coffee.

It didn’t disappoint.  As she sipped, her eyes widened and then shut in pure pleasure.  “Oh, my God, is this coffee?” she asked him.

“You’ve been a cop too long, Benson,” he said. “When you’ve lived in Italy for a while, you learn what real coffee is and you can never go back to what America passes as coffee.”

“No kidding,” said Olivia, taking another sip. “Do you have this shipped from Italy?”

“No.  I get it from this great bistro in Brooklyn run by two Italian immigrants.  It’s a trip, but it’s worth it.”  The toaster oven behind them beeped.  “Could you get the toast?”


An easy familiarity fell over the two of them as they put their breakfast together and sat at the kitchen island.  This felt like home to Olivia, a feeling she’d only gained after bringing Noah home for the first time.  Elliot felt like dancing for joy at the sight of her eating breakfast in his kitchen – still wearing only his shirt – with her previously curled hair rumpled from sleep.

Olivia spoke first as they ate.  “What did you think of the show last night?”

Elliot let out a long breath.  “I’m prouder of Lizzie than I can say.  She did a great job.  I won’t pretend that I wish the show wasn’t so heavy, though.”  

Olivia nodded.  “Yeah, that play is not easy, then or now.”

A playful twinkle entered Elliot’s blue eyes when he spoke again.  “Thankfully, Lizzie prepared me for it.”

“How?” asked Olivia curiously. “When she took you to see Romeo and Juliet?”

“Not only that.  She also did a little detective work on you and sent me some pictures.”

Olivia froze and narrowed her eyes at him.  “Pictures?”

“Turns out your alma mater keeps a great archive of past theater productions, Liv,” he said in a matter-of-fact tone with laughing eyes.

Olivia groaned and let her face fall to the countertop.  “Oh, God…” she groaned. “You saw those?”

Elliot nodded, grinning.  “I gotta say, Liv…it was amazing to see you like that, and in two such different roles.  I don’t need to have seen those shows to see that you were good.”

“Oh, hush,” muttered Olivia as she lifted her head again.

“Did you never think of trying to pursue an acting career, like Lizzie?” asked Elliot curiously.

Olivia sighed and rested her cheek upon her hand.  “A little.  I loved being able to be other people, if only for a little while.  But it was doing Measure for Measure, that role of Isabella, that decided it for me.  With what she goes through and my past…I knew this was what I was meant to do.”

Elliot nodded.  Seeing her with her cheek resting on her hand, Elliot remembered his favorite picture from the archives: her as Juliet on the balcony, looking up and leaning her cheek on her hand.  “You know,” said Elliot, remembering. “Lizzie told me that she could see some similarities between you and Juliet.”

Olivia smiled a small smile.  “Well, that’s very kind of her.  People who don’t know the play just think of Juliet as this naïve, love-sick teenager.  But while she may be love-sick, she’s not stupid or naïve.  Innocent yes, but also very smart and level-headed.”

Elliot, remembering the play, slowly nodded.  “Yeah, I see that…that balcony scene.  Romeo’s more than ready to sweep her away but she’s the one who tells him they have to get married first.”

Olivia laughed, nodding enthusiastically.  “Yes!  Even though she’s absolutely in love, she never loses her head or acts rashly – except at the end, when she’s lost him.  You can’t say that for poor Romeo.”

Elliot smiled and took her hand.  “Then Lizzie was absolutely right in saying you two were similar.”  He then rolled his eyes.  “She then teased me by saying I was like Romeo, probably because she knew how head-over-heels I am for you.  Now I can see it’s because he’s the screw-up in the relationship.”

Olivia squeezed his hand before he could get too down on himself.  “It’s more than that, Elliot.  Though I don’t know if Lizzie thought of this, you have more important things in common with Romeo.”

Intrigued, Elliot asked, “Like what?”

 “Well, for one, he’s impulsive and a bit of a hot-head but he’s not cruel.  The war between the two families, he never takes a part in that, even before he meets Juliet.  When he kills Tybalt, it’s in reaction to Tybalt killing his best friend, not because he can.  Also…”  Olivia blushes.  “Romeo can’t feel anything by halves, especially love.  When he loves…he loves completely…like Juliet.”

Just as Elliot got up with the intention of pulling Olivia in for a passionate kiss, he was stopped by the sound of a phone ringing.  Recognizing the ringtone, Olivia hurried to her clutch bag that she had left on the sofa when she’d arrived and pulled out her phone.  Seeing that it was Fin, she answered it in her official tone, knowing that he wouldn’t be calling just to find out how her evening was – he would do that in person.

“You got something, Fin?”

Yeah.  Two teenage girls that were reported missing last week just turned up with clear signs of assault and spotty memories.

Olivia sighed.  “Text me the hospital where they’ve been sent, and I’ll get there as soon as I can.  In the meantime, you and Rollins talk to them and see what you can find out.”

Got it, Lieutenant.  See you later.”

Hanging up, Olivia looked apologetically at Elliot.  But before she could open her mouth, he held up a hand and said reassuringly, “I get it, Liv.  Go get dressed, I’ll clean this up.”

She flashed him a grateful smile before rushing back to his bathroom to change.

Olivia came out a few minutes later in the dress and shoes she’d worn last night.  “I have to stop by home and change first, update Lucy and all that.  I’ll text you later.”

Elliot walked her to the door.  “Don’t worry about it, Liv.  You know I understand this life better than most.”

The two then leaned in together and shared a long, tender kiss, savoring it for as long as it could last and rejoicing in the fact that they could do this now.  When Olivia pulled away, she traced his cheek with her fingertips before speaking in a voice overflowing with love.

“Thank you, El.  For everything.”

Elliot caught her hand in his and again pressed it to his pounding heart that was completely hers.  “Thank you for taking a chance on us, Liv.”

Then he let her go, but they smiled as they parted.  They knew that this was just the beginning.

Chapter Text

One year later…

Olivia didn’t know why she had woken up.  It wasn’t a nightmare, because she felt extremely peaceful.  She’d had a long but wonderful day, and had gone to bed exhausted and ready to sleep.  Opening her eyes, the small bedroom was dark but not completely dark.  Turning her head, she saw the outline of Elliot lying beside her.  He was facing her, an arm slung over her middle.  She smiled at the sight.  No, Elliot wasn’t the reason she woke up.

Carefully, she slipped out of bed.  After slipping on the robe hanging on the footrail of the bed, Olivia went through the bedroom door and looked in the room next door.  It was another small bedroom, a queen-sized bed dominating it.  She smiled at the two occupants who were sound asleep beside each other.  Eli slept on his back, his arms above his head and his mouth open.  Noah slept curled on his side facing him, holding his favorite bear tightly.

As it always did when she looked at her boys, her heart swelled.  Seeing that they were safely and sound asleep, Olivia blew them a kiss and softly shut the door. 

When she silently entered hers and Elliot’s bedroom, her eyes went to the double-doors that led onto their tiny balcony.  Even though the gossamer curtains were drawn, Olivia could see that the moon was out.  Grabbing her phone from the bedside table, she tiptoed to the doors and quietly opened one, stepping out into the Italian summer air.

Olivia’s breath caught in her throat at the beauty before her.  The city of Verona lay before her, lit by golden lamps and lights all around.  Lifting her phone, she paused for a moment to look at her lock screen image: Elliot comforting Noah the day they had accidentally met.  Maureen had discreetly taken the photo.  She’d sent it to Olivia a few days after Lizzie’s opening, and the image was also in a pride of place on her nightstand back home in an engraved frame: The Loves of my Life.

After taking a photo of the city, Olivia slipped the phone into the pocket of her robe.  Then she looked up, and her breath was taken away again.  One of the downfalls of living in Manhattan was that a starry night sky was more often seen in pictures than reality.  Now above her, with a full moon as the centerpiece, the sky was lit like the most beautiful and flowing diamond necklace.

When she felt Elliot’s arms come around her and pull her back against his chest, Olivia wasn’t startled.  She had felt more than heard him come out onto the balcony.  She grinned and tilted her head sideways, and Elliot grunted as he buried his face against the crook of her neck.  In the last year, Olivia had become privy to every side of Elliot there was, including those sides that she’d never been privy to before.  Sleepy-but-not-cranky Elliot was one of her favorites.

“You ok?” he muttered. “What woke you up?”

“Nothing wrong,” said Olivia, gazing up at the sky. “I thought something must be wrong at first.  But now…I think I’m awake because everything’s right.  In this moment, everything is ok.”

“You’re right,” said Elliot, lifting her left hand so that the ring he had placed there hours ago sparkled in the moonlight.  “At this moment in time, everything is perfect.”

“Mmm.”  Olivia turned in Elliot’s arms and kissed him. “Thank you for tacking Verona onto our Rome trip.  I’ve wanted to see this city for as long as I can remember.”

Elliot nodded and then led her back inside the little terrace apartment they were renting while in Verona.  Olivia grinned as he shut the door, noticing that he wasn’t wearing a stitch of clothing.  Meeting his eyes, she deliberately took her robe off and hung it back on the bed’s footrail.  Elliot approached her and laid her down on the bed.  “Mio cuore…” he murmured.

Olivia smiled, her hands cupping his face.  “Mia amore…

The End