Elliot and Olivia walked outside of the restaurant where they'd just had dinner together and turned to each other to say goodnight. The sidewalk was full of people waiting for their reservations or walking past them, impatient that the two of them were blocking foot traffic.
He hated saying goodbye to her. He was always left wondering how long it would be before he saw her again. Tomorrow? In a week? A month? After a ten year separation it was ridiculous that he now could not seem to go more than a few hours without wishing Liv was by his side.
They stood on the concrete as swirls of people continued to walk around them. He pulled her by the arm so that they were leaned against the restaurant wall.
"This was really nice, Liv," he said trying not to notice the way her hair fell in soft waves around her face. "We should do this more often." It took all of his self control to not reach out and touch her.
"Yeah," she agreed. "It's been nice catching up with you." She looked into her purse and pulled out her car keys. She looked back up at him and now he tried not to notice how brown her eyes were. Should he compare them to chocolate or coffee? Neither did them justice. Her eyes were dark pools that had unlimited depth and he could drown in them easily. He was no poet and it was truly a trite sentiment, said by many would be lovers, but still true for him nonetheless. He knew he was being insipid but he forgave himself because there was no way his brain could work at full function when she was looking at him like that.
She was smiling and it was like his whole world lit up with it. He always imagined Olivia as being a warm fire on a cold day, all he wanted was to warm himself by her light - and try not to get burned. She'd burned him a lot lately. She was still holding him at arm's length and he was doing his best to respect that. But it wasn't easy. Not since last year when Wheatley had pretty much forced him to acknowledge what he'd kept hidden for decades.
Olivia was the love of his life. He could admit that now.
How did he control himself for thirteen years around her? How did he keep his sanity for ten years without her? How was it that in the year that he'd been back he felt an undeniable pull just to be near her?
The truth of the matter was he'd never lost his desire for her. Desire that was physical or mental or whatever you wanted to call it. He'd spent decades longing for this woman and pushing it away no longer worked for him. He had no marriage to hide behind anymore. There was no family waiting for him to come home. Now there was only Olivia and his love for her to keep him company.
"I'll see you later, El - " she began to say but was stopped short when he pulled her to him and his mouth covered hers in a light kiss. For the briefest moment he felt her body warm against his own and if he could he would have melted into her.
But she pulled away quickly, holding up her hand and stepping back.
"Liv, I -"
She didn't let him finish, though. "I'm not doing this with you, Elliot."
"Olivia," he whispered trying to take her hand, but she moved away too fast for him so that his hand hovered in the air between them.
"I'm not doing this." She shook her head and looked at him angrily. "I told you we were going to be friends, Elliot."
"I know," he answered. And he did know that. He'd laid awake nights thinking about that. Every time he looked at her and felt the desire to pull her to him he reminded himself that they were just friends. Hell, they weren't even partners anymore. They were just two people who occasionally met up for drinks or dinner.
"I told you not to wait for me."
He nodded his head. She had been very clear about where the line in the sand was. Over the last year he had walked that line as close as he could. And in one moment he ruined it.
"Olivia," he started but could think of no response that would placate her. "Olivia, please," he had no idea what he was asking her for, but he was still begging at her feet.
"You promised, Elliot," she was almost shaking in her frustration. "I'm not doing this with you, if you can't handle that then maybe it's best if we don't see -"
"No," he cut her off. "Don't do that to me, don't walk away from me," he pleaded. It was a bit of a hypocritical request, he could acknowledge that, but he asked for it anyways.
She sighed and looked away, worrying her lip between her teeth. "I need you to keep your promise, Elliot. Because this," she pointed her finger between him and her, "this isn't going to happen. I need you to respect that. Otherwise we can't be friends period. It isn't fair to me, Elliot."
She was filled with such certainty and it crushed his heart, but how could he hold it against her?
He nodded his head. "You're right, Liv," he agreed. "I'm sorry, it won't happen again. I swear it won't happen again."
She looked back at him. He was close to full blown panic that she would leave him and never look back, he knew that now she was capable of it. How could he explain to her that she was the most important person in his life? Wasn't that how she had described him once? - but she had used the past tense. And he was very much in the present. He couldn't seem to make their wants and promises line up.
"If it happens again -"
"It won't, I swear it won't." He was ready to agree to anything if it meant she would stay.
She looked irritated but nodded her head in acquiescense. "Okay." She blew out a breath. "Okay then. Goodnight, Elliot."
"Goodnight, Liv," he said softly.
She gave him.a grim smile then turned on her heel and walked away from him.
He wanted to follow after her. He wanted her in his arms. He wanted his lips pressed against hers. He wanted, he wanted, he wanted.
But he also needed her. He needed her in his life. He would have to push away what he wanted to keep what he needed. It was a brutal truth that he didn't want to face.
He watched her until she got into her car and drove away.
He wanted her. But she needed him to do his part. He would have to put her needs above his wants. For once he had to put her first. And putting her first meant that what he wanted didn't matter so much.
He couldn't help but wonder if this was how she had felt all those years ago. What had she done when she watched him go home to his family? How did she feel knowing that some things just weren't in the cards. She was a better person than he was. In all those years she had never made a move, she had never even hinted that she was maybe in love with him.
Respect. That was the difference. Olivia had respected his wife and family. She had respected the vows he'd made to Kathy and she had placed them firmly into the space between them. Could he respect her now that the tables were turned?
He took a deep breath. "I can do this," he said quietly to himself.
Then he too turned and walked away. "I can do this."
For obvious reasons Elliot chose not to mark that as their first kiss. It was too brief, she didn't kiss him back and he preferred not to think of her rejection at all.
So he waited.
She told him not to wait for her. She told him not to expect her to change her mind about them ever having a romantic relationship. And for years they kept to the status quo of being friends, good friends. Maybe they were even best friends again.
It took him seven years to try to kiss her again. Holding himself back for so long created a fortitude he didn't know he was capable of. In all those years he learned to cherish her, not as an object of desire but to really look at her and see the wondrous person she was.
Their lives seemed to be measured in decades and he had a good feeling that this time things would be different.
So he kissed her again. And this time it wasn't on a public sidewalk and it wasn't him grabbing her and pulling her close. It happened in his kitchen of all places. It happened in the space between grabbing a beer for her and checking on the pasta he was cooking for dinner. It happened somewhere in between laughing at an anecdote and being mesmerized by her eyes all over again.
He loved her and so it felt completely natural that one day they would find each other.
So between the refrigerator and the stove Olivia stepped up to him and this time she reached out for him too, and in the space between them they met each other for the first time. Elliot held out his heart to her and she gave him back her trust and when their lips touched there were no fireworks or music swelling in the background, but he still felt the stars align for them.
Their first kiss was in the kitchen. He was barefoot and she was wearing a ratty old sweatshirt with holes in it. A movie was playing in the background and he was almost positive that the garlic bread in the oven was about to burn.
In all the years he had imagined kissing Olivia he had never dreamed it would feel so domestic, it felt like he'd been kissing her all his life.
When they pulled away from each other Liv gave him a smirk of a smile, grabbed her beer and walked back into the living room where they'd been watching the movie. Elliot turned back to making the pasta with his own smile gracing his face.
Elliot knew a secret in that moment. He knew that he would spend the rest of his life kissing Olivia Benson.