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That "Off" Feeling

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May 23rd, 2023

She seems off today, but he can’t quite place it. She’s extra jumpy, has been for the past day and a half and it’s so unlike her that he’s starting to get concerned. This day has always made him feel uneasy as well, ever since Paris when he’d spent two days feeling like the world was about to end.

It hasn’t quite left him that feeling, even though he had never gotten it again. When he finally has a moment to himself in his chaotic life, he sometimes reminisces about that day and tries to run through everyone once more, the kids, Kathy, even that stupid ass detail, trying to place what could have been so awful that had been happening those two days.

But he can’t quite figure out why she’s so off. He wonders briefly if Garland had said something to her that threw her off kilter and that’s what has thrown her, but he can’t quite explain why it looks like she’s watching around every corner, waiting for the worst.

He takes her to breakfast after they drop the boys off at school, trying to preoccupy her and maybe get her to say what’s on her mind. But she picks at her eggs, steals a piece of bacon off his plate that she only eats half of, but doesn’t say much of anything else.

He drops her off at work, another red flag since usually she is insistent about driving herself and watches her as she walks into the 1-6. She even stops to give him a small smile before she opens the door to let her in, but instead of it comforting him, it just worries the hell out of him.

And it’s not that Liv doesn’t show her affection in public. In fact between the two of them, she’s probably the one more likely to initiate contact. But the smile she gave him, it had seemed like more of a smile to reassure herself more than anything else.

It stays with him all day, that uneasiness. He knows that tonight, he has to finally address it because she’s starting to scare the shit out of him. 

Even Ayanna calls him out on how distracted he is halfway through the day and it finally makes him come to his senses, even if only for a little bit.

He texts her periodically throughout the day, just easy things like “I love you” and the such. She responds to all of them, but it’s missing something and he just wants to wrap his arms around her and take her home.

Even though he knows he should be staying late tonight, the smuggling case they’re on is a fucking black hole of information to be dug through, Ayanna takes pity on his soul and sends him home around 5.

“Go home to Liv.” She says suddenly, folders upon folders of intel surrounding them both.

He looks up from his own pile to look at her, confusion filling his face.

“Why? We’ve got enough we’ve gotta do tonight between the two of us as it is.” Ayanna shakes her head.

“Elliot, you've been staring at that same piece of paper for almost ten minutes now. You are useless right now.” He has the state of mind to look a little ashamed, and rubs his hand on the back of his neck.

“Is everything okay? You’ve been off all day.” He hesitates for a moment, but he knows Ayanna and Liv have gotten closer the longer he stays on Organized Crime, the common thread of himself and their children giving them even more to talk about since their mentorship.

“Liv has just been… off.” Ayanna looks at him funnily.

“Off?” She asks, her eyebrow raising with her voice.

He shrugs.

“Yeah, she’s just… I don’t know something’s up and I haven’t quite figured it out yet.” He sees Ayanna glance down at her computer screen and he watches her body sag.

“Oh.” She says and she shakes her head before meeting his eye again. 

“Well I hate to tell you Stabler, but at least if you’re gonna be useless, I don’t have to watch you be useless.” He scoffs and rolls his eyes as Ayanna laughs and he nods.

“Yeah I guess. But you’ll call if something comes up?” Something in her has softened since the beginning of their conversation and she gives him a small smile.

“Yeah, yeah, if I need you. But make sure you’re sharp for tomorrow okay? We’ve gotta get through this.” He nods and shrugs on his suit jacket.

“You got it Sarge. Have a good night.” And he starts to walk out the squad room.

He calls Liv when he walks out, taking the stairs down to his car.

“Hey, you still at the squad room?” He asks when she answers.

“Yeah, I’m about to leave.” Elliot opens the door leading to the road and he hops in his SUV.

“Well I just got done so how about you hang tight and I’ll be there in ten?” He can almost hear her smile and it’s the most relaxed he’s been all day.

“Yeah. Yeah, I’ll be waiting.” 

“Good. See you in a bit, Liv.” She hangs up then and he drives in silence to the 1-6, hoping that whatever has had her so hung up has slowly dissipated with the day. 

But when he pulls up and she’s not outside, his worry comes back full force, especially when he watches her come out of the building, looking back and forth quickly as she walks towards his car and he sighs.

When she climbs in, he leans over to give her a peck on the cheek and she looks over and gives him a small smile before grabbing his hand and pulling it into her lap.

He starts driving back home, letting the silence permeate the car as he drives, glancing over at Liv to watch her stare out the window, her fingers rubbing small circles into his hand that she still has trapped in her lap.

They pull up to the apartment building and Elliot turns off the car and turns to look at her. She’s still staring absentmindedly out the window, still rubbing circles into his hand.

He finally puts his other hand on top of hers and she jumps a little before looking over at him and giving a small smile.

“Hi.” She whispers. He leans forward and gives her a quick kiss before pulling away.

“Hi. You good?” He asks, leaning his weight against the console so he can be close to her. She nods before squeezing his hand.

“Yeah, I’m good. Just... a weird day.” He wants to press more, but the absent look in her eyes makes him hesitate before she’s opening her car door and heading out onto the sidewalk, looking at him expectantly.

He sits there for a minute before finally getting out of the car, walking around to stand next to Olivia, who suddenly wraps her arms around him.

It startles him and he tenses up at first before melting into her embrace, squeezing her tightly as she nuzzles her face into the crook of his neck.

They stand on the sidewalk for a minute, the noise of the city surrounding them, the longer they stand there, the more Elliot becomes concerned.

“Baby, are you sure you’re okay?” They stand in silence for a minute before he feels Liv shake her head against him and his heart drops into his stomach. He squeezes her even more tightly against him and he feels her start to shake against him.

He debates for a second putting her back into the car, letting them both sit there while she finally breaks down so the boys and any strangers passing them on the sidewalk don’t have to be witness to it when she finally pulls away.

Tears are running down her face, and her eyes are just swirling with sadness. He gently wipes the tears away, cradling Olivia’s face in his hands, and Liv looks up at him and he melts.

The only comparable look he has right now is when she had showed up on the stairs outside his house, debating if SVU was worth it. She looks lost and he just wants to guide her back to him, guide her back to their boys.

“I’ll be okay. I promise. We’ll talk about it after the boys go to bed.” She reaches up and sets a hand on Elliot’s cheek, reaching her other hand up to settle in the crook of Elliot’s elbow as he continues to hold her in his hands.

They stand there for a minute, just staring at each other as both of them try to figure out how to broach the other. Finally, Elliot pulls her head close to him and kisses the top of her head, holding his lips there for a couple of seconds before finally pulling away.

They go upstairs then, Liv settling her hand into the crook of his elbow and leaning against him.

Lucy is sitting on the couch behind the boys as they play Mario Kart, and they walk into Noah celebrating.

“Yes! I finally won!” He cheers and he does a victory lap around the living room before noticing that his mom and Elliot are home.

“Guys, I finally won at Mario Kart!” He launches himself at Olivia, who wraps her free arm around him and Eli turns back to look at them, a small smirk gracing his face.

“Yeah, he finally won.” Elliot smiles at his son, knowing that he’s finally let Noah win since they had gotten the game last week.

Lucy stands up then and Olivia finally lets go of him to talk to her in the kitchen.

He takes her spot on the couch and Noah clambers up next to him and gives him a hug.

“Hey bud, what’s up?” Noah squeezes him tightly before climbing off the couch and sitting back down next to Eli.

“Oh nothing, I just missed you guys today.” He looks over at Eli who just shrugs at him before starting the next round. He wants to comment on it, but Olivia comes back in from the entryway and curls up next to him, laying her head on his shoulder as they watch the boys play a couple rounds.

Finally, he decides that between him and Olivia, neither of them probably wants to cook so he decides to call their favorite pizza place a couple blocks down. He calls in the order and the boys cheer because they’ve been begging for pizza for the past week.

After a couple rounds, Eli starts to glance back at them and he keeps looking at Olivia, his eyes getting more concerned each time she looks back at her and Elliot wishes then that he could see her face to know why Eli keeps getting so worried.

The pizza finally arrives after forty five minutes and Eli is the one who grabs it from the delivery man, setting it on the kitchen counter and grabbing paper plates for them all. Neither he nor Olivia eat dinner, they each grab a slice, but neither of them touch it and they watch the boys devour the rest of the pizza down on their own.

Before they head back to their game, Eli suddenly hugs Olivia while she’s cleaning up, and she is taken aback by it, but pulls him tighter into her arms nonetheless. He stands there for a couple minutes, and at one point Olivia even meets eyes with Elliot over his shoulder in concern, before closing her eyes once more and pulling Eli closer.

When he lets go he gives her a small smile before heading back to the game console, not without riling up Noah, teasing him that he’s gonna beat him.

Elliot watches Olivia as she stands in the kitchen, leaning on the kitchen counter watching their boys in the living room. He stands up and walks behind her, wrapping his arms around her waist as she stands up and leans back into him. They stand there in silence for a couple minutes, the noise of the boys playing filling the apartment and they just watch.

Finally though, she pulls him back to the couch and there they sit until it’s Noah’s bedtime.

Elliot stands up to get him ready but Olivia sets a hand on his chest and gets up herself. It settles him to watch her do it, showing him that she’s somewhat coming back to them from wherever she’s been the past two days.

Eli waits until they’ve both left the room before he turns to look at Elliot.

“Dad, is something wrong with Olivia?” He sighs and scrubs a hand over his face before letting his shoulders sag.

“You know bud, I really don’t know. Something’s up, but it’s nothing to worry about.” 

Eli looks away from him then, like he can’t meet his eyes when he tells Elliot, “She just looks really sad.”

Elliot pats the spot next to him on the couch and Eli clambers up next to him, and the look he gives him is so much like Kathy that it takes his breath away.

“Sometimes, we just get sad. I don’t know why Olivia’s sad today, but it just happens. Just like how you and I get around mom’s birthday.” Eli nods slowly then, comprehension crossing his face.

“Oh. Well, I hope she’s not too sad. She just looked like she needed a nice, long hug.” Elliot leans forward and ruffles his hair. Eli shrugs away from him, a small smile on his face.

“I’m gonna go to bed too. Or at least I’m gonna hang out in my bedroom until it’s time to go to bed.” Eli stands up. “Night dad.” He heads back towards his bedroom and Elliot sits on the couch for a minute before heading back to Noah’s bedroom to check in on him and Liv.

When he gets back there, Olivia is in bed with Noah and he’s cuddled up into her chest as she softly sings a song to him. He stands in the doorway, watching as she just stares at Noah, softly running her hand from the top of his head down to his chin over and over as she continues to sing. He can’t quite hear the words from the door, just the soft melody floating across the room.

Finally she looks up and meets his eyes as she sings the last line. She kisses the top of Noah’s head and gently slides him off of her and onto his bed, softly covering him up before leaving his room with Elliot.

They head back to the living room where they both sit back down on the couch as Elliot turns the tv to some type of movie, just to have some background noise as they sit in the living room and Olivia nestles back in close to him.

He let’s it go for about thirty minutes and they continue to just sit there in silence. Elliot doesn’t register a single detail from the movie even though he stares at the screen so he doesn’t stare at her.

At some point, Olivia reaches over and grabs the remote and turns the volume almost all the way down.

“It’s been ten years.” She says quietly. Elliot tries to wrap his head around her statement. It’s been ten years since what? He tries to think of what it could be, thinks of what could have happened in that gap he was gone that has now been ten years since it had occurred.

It’s not Noah’s adoption because he isn’t ten quite yet. His birthday is close, but he has not yet hit double digits. Until suddenly it slams into him.

“Lewis?” He chokes out. Olivia nods against him.

Today?” He asks and he’s suddenly brought back to ten years ago in Paris and his heart just sinks. He wants to throw up, in fact he feels it rising up his throat and good God he is actually about to vomit. 

He’s running for the kitchen sink and thank God he hasn’t eaten since breakfast today because he vomits right into their sink and it’s straight bile. 

The nausea overtakes him as his brain runs a mile a minute. 

“You knew something was wrong, you should’ve just grown a set of balls and called, what the hell is wrong with you, you selfish bastard, you knew-“

“Elliot.” He hears Olivia’s voice calling out for him, breaking through the fog that has overtaken his brain.

They’ve talked about Lewis before, hell he hadn’t had this much of a visceral reaction as she had described every horrible thing he had done to her, guided him through the scars that had scattered her body that night after the boys had gone to bed.

But this? This is almost too much. 

He had known something was wrong that day. Had known it for two days, those days where death was knocking at her door, waiting for Lewis to crack it open and welcome it right in.

He continues to dry heave into the sink, even though he hears Olivia’s voice rising in panic behind him and he wants to get himself back under control but he can’t because oh God he knew. 

Finally, his stomach is completely empty and his body gives up. He tries to compose himself for a second before turning to face Olivia, whose face is filled with panic and worry.

“I’m sorry.” He rasps out, his voice hoarse from the acid of his stomach and Olivia hands him a bottle of water and he chugs it down. His stomach turns as the water hits and he thinks he’s going to throw up again when finally it settles.

He looks up at her and now she looks like she’s worried he’s about to break down in front of her and God damn it if he isn’t close to it, but he can’t, he can’t be selfish right now because this isn’t about him.

They head back to the couch and Elliot turns to face her, grabbing both her hands in his. He lets out a heavy sigh before looking at her.

“So ten years ago, I was in Paris. I was on a protective detail one of my old Marine buddies had hooked me up with. It was probably my third job like that after leaving the force.” He takes a deep breath, wants to scrub his hand over his face but holding onto Olivia is more important at this moment.

“That morning, I had woken up and I just felt so... off. Like something had or was going to go very wrong that day. And I texted all the kids, and it was like, 3:30 in the morning in New York and they told me everything was fine. I thought maybe something was going to wrong on the detail that day, and everything went fine. And then I called Kathy and she said everything was fine.” He swallows roughly.

“But she told me to call you, to touch base even though I hadn’t talked to you in over two years.” He takes another deep breath to push down the nausea that is rising up his throat.

“And I thought about it. I stared at my phone for an hour that night and I almost called you, almost called Fin to make sure everything was okay.” He feels his eyes fill up with tears.

“I knew something was wrong Liv and I never called to check up on you-” She puts her hands on both his cheeks and forces him to look at her.

“You wouldn’t have been able to do a thing.” She interrupts him, forcing him to keep looking her in the eyes, even though he tries to look away. 

“I felt like that for two days, Liv. Two days.”  He feels the tears escape his eyes, no matter how hard he tries to rein them back in.

“Even if you had come, I would’ve been in no place to deal with it. I would’ve already been rescued by the time you made it home. There is no point in letting it bother you now.” He swallows hard once more and rests his forehead against hers and they sit on the couch in silence as they both let grief wrap around them.

“I’m so sorry Liv.” He whispers, feeling the guilt of forcing her to deal with his own breakdown instead of herself curling tightly around his heart.

“There’s nothing to be sorry about. There was nothing you could’ve done.” He picks up his head and kisses her forehead before resting his forehead back against hers.

“I’m sorry he did that to you.” He watches as her eyes slide close for a moment before she opens them up, her eyes watery. She doesn’t say anything, just leans forward to capture his lips with hers briefly before leaning forward to rest her head on his chest. 

They sit on the couch in silence for a while, only moving so they can lay on the couch, Olivia laying almost on top of him, nuzzled into the nook of his shoulder. They lay there so long that the movie in the background finishes and moves on to the next before Olivia finally raises her head off his chest to see that he’s fallen asleep. She taps his chest lightly and he shakes awake before catching her gaze.

Silently, they stand up and head back to bed where Elliot pulls her tightly into his arms and they drift back to sleep.