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Uncharted Waters

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“But in a parallel universe—” she began, her voice hardly a whisper that sputtered out like a failing car engine. Her heart hammered in her chest, each beat like the blow of the truths that had been shared tonight. Her mind was racing and, despite being stone cold sober, the room spun. She felt as though she were the one who’d been drugged.

 

“It was always you and I,” he finished in a determined tone, though he slurred his words as he said it. There was a pause, so brief that Olivia barely felt it.

 

“I wrote that,” he whispered, his gaze rising for the first time since he’d begun to discuss the letter to meet hers as he uttered the words. A sign that he didn’t feel guilty about this act… that placing this truth in the letter was not a regret of his.

 

Her face fell slack, for this was the most important truth of it all… the most important sentence of the letter had been written by him. That one sentence had given her hope amidst the destructive words encased within the few sheets of paper… and hope was a dangerous thing.

 

“I slipped it in there before sealing the envelope,” he admitted, his voice surprisingly clear for a man who’d been drugged. His gaze lowered once more, a sign of yet another wave of the guilt he felt – though the source of that guilt was not abundantly clear… Did he regret telling her? Did he regret giving her the letter? Did he regret Kathy’s demise? Did it matter?

 

“Liv…” he whispered, moving to lean forward, as though trying to stand. She jumped up, her impulses taking in and whispered, “Hey…” as she reached for him, the shock of it all still evident on her face as he reached for her. They crashed together and he hugged at her waist, kneeling on the ground before her as she fought to support his body weight. He clung to her, as though she was the only thing anchoring him to this earth… as though she was gravity itself. He groaned and she looked down at him, her heart and mind still racing as she struggled slightly to support him.

 

He leaned back and she did her best to keep him steady, but she was certain her own knees would buckle from the intensity of the moment… from the depth of the truth, their truth. He reached up, slowly, as though his arm were made of metal that had seized up and his hand found the side of her face, his fingers lacing into her hair. The tip of his thumb grazed her lip and she felt her entire body tremble. She looked down at him, unable to process being this close to him in such a dangerously intimate way… but before she could say anything, before she could tell him they needed to slow things down… his eyes rolled back into his head, and he lost consciousness.

 

She felt his grip on her slacken and she groaned slightly, though not loudly, as she fought to support his now limp weight. Her only focus, for the moment, was getting him to the couch… getting him settled onto the cushions so that she could process all that had just been brought to light. She strained against his weight, looping her arms under his armpits, and dragged him over towards the couch. She wasn’t sure how long it took her to maneuver him, but she finally managed to get most of his upper body strewn across the couch. Her heart hammered in her chest and she moved, quickly, to lift his legs so that he would stay put until she figured out who to call. Once he lay there, unmoving but still visibly breathing, she sank to the floor beside the couch, her shoulders pressed against the coffee table and her gaze locked on him. Locked on the face of the man she’d been in love with for the better part of a quarter century.

 

“In a parallel universe… it’s always been you and me…” she whispered aloud, mimicking the sound of Elliot’s words echoing within the confines of her mind. As she sat there, the emotion of it all hit her square in the chest… the truth of it all. Her heart crumpled like a house of fallen cards, because for the first time Elliot had truly confirmed that every moment – every second of their partnership had been so much more than that. He confirmed that had they met under different circumstances, or had he been a lesser man – a man willing to betray his marriage and his faith – that it would’ve been them. It would have always been them.

 

Emotions swirled within her like a sandstorm… all at once she was relieved by this truth… and devastatedby it… and livid because of it. Elliot Stabler, she now knew, loved her – in the way she had always loved him – and he had never told her because he felt, in some way, that despite the depth of that love it was not for this universe. Perhaps, a decade ago, he had been correct in thinking that… a decade ago, their love would’ve torn apart his family, their unit, their partnership. It might’ve been the sort of love that blazed like a wildfire, only to burn out once it consumed everything in its path, leaving only scorched earth.

 

But now?

 

Everything had changed. Elliot and Olivia had entered uncharted territory. That parallel universe he spoke of was the present… because they were in love – despite all that had happened – and Kathy was gone.

 

Kathy.

 

Olivia felt a figurative punch slam into her chest as she realized the woman she had fought so hard to save over thirteen years ago had been the very reason that Elliot had left… the reason he’d disappeared. Kathy Stabler had done, in reality, what any desperate wife would do… she gave Elliot an ultimatum. She had asked Elliot to decide – to choose between his wife and children and his partner, his best friend… the one true love of his life. A lesser man might’ve been selfish… a lesser man might’ve forsaken God, family, and everything else for even the glimmer of a chance to have the one woman they’d dreamed of for over two decades… but not Elliot Stabler.

 

Elliot Stabler made the noble choice… he chose his family over his own happiness, as he always had.

 

And, even after a decade of torment and hurt, Olivia still couldn’t blame him for doing so.

 

After all, a family is all she’d ever wanted.

She couldn’t place him at fault, in spite of it all. Because now, if she were asked to choose between Noah and Elliot… she would choose her son, her family.

 

Finally, she truly understood Elliot. She understood every part of him.

 

Despite what Amanda had warned her, that she had known him, it was clearer now than ever that Olivia Benson knew Elliot Stabler as though he were the streets of her hometown… so familiar to her that she could navigate him with her eyes closed.

 

She knew why he’d chosen Kathy… and it had nothing to do with who he loved more.

 

Kathy was safe. Kathy was the status quo. Kathy was a known factor.

 

Olivia was a wild card… because, despite her actions screaming the truth, her love was not a guarantee.

 

Elliot had picked stability over instability, because stability was what he needed… it was what he’d always needed… he picked his family over the unknown of what his relationship with Olivia could have been. He picked the sheltered harbor with its consistent lighthouse and familiar docks over the mystery of uncharted waters that might hold the world’s treasures.

 

Elliot had chosen the mother of his children over the woman he was in love with, and Olivia understood.

 

But now?

 

Here they were… face to face after a decade of smooth sailing on different courses… but now they found themselves lost in uncharted territory. Elliot had admitted his truth. He’d even said he loved her, though at the time she had assumed he was confused… but now?

 

His words echoed through her mind.

 

I was afraid, if I heard your voice, I wouldn’t have been able to leave…

 

Liv, you mean the world to me…

 

I love you…

 

To Partners…

 

I need you… to let me in…

 

In a parallel universe… it was always you and I…

 

And now, it was Olivia’s turn to fear the unknown… it was her turn to wish for stability for herself, for Noah. She wasn’t sure what would happen if they crossed the line barring the threshold between friends and more.

 

What if Elliot had been right to run from her a decade ago?

 

What if their love – as strong as it was – was simply not enough for them to navigate through the unknown?

 

Olivia’s heart ached with the pain of that question.

 

A decade ago, if he’d asked her to jump… she would’ve only asked how high…

 

But now?

 

Now, Olivia was the one who was seeking stability amidst the unknown. Now she was seeking a safe harbor amidst a stormy sea.

 

In an alternate universe… it would always be them…

 

And here they were.

 

In an alternate universe.

 

Star-crossed lovers whose stars had, against all odds, aligned.

 

Olivia felt fear clutch at her heart… fear of losing him again, this time for good.

 

She wasn’t ready to brave it. She wasn’t ready to abandon the safe shores of her cozy little harbor. She wasn’t ready to venture out into the storm with reckless abandon.

 

She was Captain of SVU. She was a mother.

 

This time it was Olivia that had everything to lose…

 

And she was afraid.

 

With a shaking hand, she reached for her cell phone. A swipe of her finger unlocked the screen, and she found the contact for Ayanna Bell. She pressed the call button and lifted the phone to her ear. Two rings. “Bell,” came the familiar voice, with sleep laced into the word.

 

There was a beat of silence and Olivia debated hanging up.

 

Fear didn’t let her.

 

“Ayanna, it’s Olivia Benson,” she said, her voice wavering dangerously, “Stabler showed up to my apartment… he’s been drugged. He seems okay, but I wanted to let you know so you can come make sure he gets the help he needs.”

 

Dead silence on the other end of the phone.

 

“Sergeant?” she inquired; her tone more formal but urgent as she required confirmation that someone would come. Her heart hammered in her chest as she awaited the response. “Yes, I heard you,” Ayanna replied, her voice alert now and laced with an undertone of concern, “I’ll be right there… text me your address,” she added, her own tone laced with authority.

 

“Sure,” Olivia replied, letting the phone lower from her ear as her thumb found the red circle on the screen, terminating the call.

 

She’d called in the rescue boats… they would retrieve Elliot and keep him safe.

 

And she could slip away into blissful stability and, if she was lucky, pretend this conversation hadn’t happened. At least for a while.

 

A decade prior, Elliot had run away from her. He had taken the easy route, the safe course of action and chosen his wife – a woman he’d loved for much of his life – over a woman he’d been secretly in love with for over a decade. He’d made the safe decision.

 

And now?



Olivia was at a similar crossroads. Stuck between choosing a life with Elliot Stabler as her friend and former partner… and a life where they crossed a line into a parallel universe, a universe where the secret love they’d concealed for well over two decades might come to fruition.

 

A universe in which it had always been them.

 

A universe in which it would always be them.

 

Elliot’s words echoed in her mind yet again as she let her head tilt backwards against the coffee table and her eyes fall shut.

 

It was always you and I…