It was over. After four and a half months undercover, the case was closed and he could return to his life. At first, pretending to be someone else had been a nice reprieve...a welcome distraction from the pain and guilt of the last year. But after seeing Olivia during the Navarro case, and again while trying to save Rita, it became increasingly difficult to run away.
Eddie Wagner had taken enough from him. He was ready for Elliot Stabler to return.
Home looked different these days. It wasn't a family home in Queens with five kids running around. Now it was an industrial apartment with his son and mother. Before he had returned home to dinner and homework and a wife that he loved. Now he brought home takeout and slept in a bed that was much too cold. And yet, home held so much promise.
The first thing he did when he got home was head for the bathroom. He showered, washing off the remnants of the KO, of Flutura, of those poor Albanian girls, watching the evil as it disappeared down the drain. Stepping out, he wrapped a towel around himself and turned toward the mirror. He didn't hate the beard, but he knew she did. The beard represented Eddie. She wanted Elliot. He covered the beard in shaving cream before slowly running his razor down his cheek. Once he got the bulk of the beard off, he reapplied more shaving cream and carefully removed the rest of the stubble. Rinsing the remains of cream and facial hair into the sink, he stood up straight, taking in his reflection. It felt good to look in the mirror and see himself again.
He wanted to be himself before he called her.
He waited as it rang once, twice, three times - and then he heard her voice. It was a luxury he would never take for granted again, to be able to pick up the phone and call her the way he had wanted to every day for ten years.
"Hey," she said softly. "Hey," he answered. "You busy?" He heard the shuffling of papers on the other end, but she said she had a few minutes. He knew it was a lie. She was making time for him, and it made him feel all the more indebted to her. "It's over, Liv. Kosta and the Briscus are in custody." There was a silent pause on the other end of the line, then an intake of breath. "Does this mean you're coming home?" He could hear the hope in her voice...felt it deep within his bones because the same hope filled him. "I'm already home. Would you like to come over for dinner tonight?" Another pause. "I'd like that," she said, her voice barely above a whisper. "So would I. Be here at 7?" He could hear the smile in her voice when she said, "I'll be there. See you soon."
He busied himself cleaning the apartment. Eli was gone for a soccer clinic this weekend, and his mother was staying with Kathleen. After straightening the living room and cleaning up the kitchen, he walked out onto the terrace.
This was by far his favorite part of the apartment. He felt at ease here, like he could finally breathe again. Bernie had planted some flowers, and Kathleen had convinced him that he needed an herb garden. He let them do as they pleased...he was just grateful that the two of them had worked so hard to turn this place into a home while he was off pretending to be someone else. He began straightening up out there as well, pruning some plants back and sweeping the patio. She deserved so much more than this, but he hoped she would enjoy his company at the very least.
The rest of the afternoon passed by slowly. Around 6:30 he began prepping for dinner. The pasta was boiling and the sauce was simmering when he heard the doorbell. Slowly, he made his way to the front door where she was waiting on the other side. A vision in an olive green tunic sweater, dark wash jeans, and boots he was sure she shouldn't be wearing after her ankle surgery, but damn they were sexy. He was staring, and she was flattered. "Are you going to invite me in?" she asked, the laughter in her voice evident. "Yeah, sorry. Please, come in." He held the door open for her, then placed his hand tentatively on the small of her back as he led her into the kitchen.
"Elliot, it smells amazing in here. Since when do you cook?" she asked as she sat down at the island. He smiled, happy that she was impressed. However, he had learned to make this dish in Rome, and right now he had no desire to talk about anything or any place that didn't include her. He reached for two wine glasses and poured them each a glass as he answered. "I picked it up while I was away. Nothing fancy, but I promise it's edible." He handed her a glass as he slowly took a drink from the other.
He could feel her eyes on him as he turned back toward the stove, stirring the sauce. Then he heard her chair scrape against the floor and felt her approach. His whole body reacted to her proximity as she glided up next to him. “Do you need any help?” she asked. He glanced at her, then scooped a small amount of sauce onto the spoon. Holding his other hand under so he didn’t drip it on her, he carefully brought the spoon to her lips. “Tell me if this needs anything else?” he said softly. She slowly opened her mouth as he held the spoon out to her. Licking her lips after, she smiled. “I think it’s perfect,” she replied. He reached for his wine, needing something to steady him. She put a hand on his forearm before backing away, sensing he needed a little space. “Would you like me to set the table?” Again he grinned, gesturing to the terrace. “Actually, I set the table outside. I thought a moonlit dinner might be fun. Is that ok?” She peeked outside for the first time and saw the lights strung overhead and the table set for two. She smiled in response, and he was certain then that he would never tire of making her smile like that.
He plated the pasta, spooned some sauce over each dish, and carried them out to the terrace. She followed with their wine glasses, setting his down as he pulled out her chair. “El, this is all so beautiful. You didn’t have to go to all this trouble.” He looked up into her deep brown eyes. “Say that again?” he asked. Confused, she repeated her last statement. “I said you didn’t have to go to all this trouble.” Shaking his head but never breaking eye contact, he said, “No, before that.” It took a second before he saw the recognition light up her eyes. “El,” she breathed. He reached out, taking her hand gently in his. “It’s been a long time since you’ve called me that. It’s good to hear it again.” She met his gaze with a gentle, unwavering resolve. “It’s been a while since you felt like him. I’m glad you’re back,” she said softly.
Throughout dinner they talked mostly about work and the kids. Noah had a dance recital coming up, and Eli was in the middle of his soccer season. Work would slow down for him now that the KO had been taken down. He could tell she was wrestling with a question, so he waited. Finally, she found the courage to ask. "Will you be given any more undercover assignments?" She looked down at her plate, avoiding his eyes. For once though, he didn't have to break her heart. "Actually, I requested not to." She looked up at him and he saw the tears that had welled up in the corner of her eyes. "I'm home, Liv. For good. This apartment, this city, the kids...you…" he said, brushing a strand of hair from her face, "this is home."
A tear ran down her cheek as she steadied her breath. He smiled, tapping a couple of buttons on his phone before standing. As the speakers came to life on the terrace, he extended his hand to her. “Dance with me?” he asked hopefully. Taking his hand, she stood and closed the distance between them. He felt her arms wrap around his shoulders as his hands found the small of her back. This type of closeness between them was new, but she felt so familiar. How many times had he imagined holding her? It was as if there was some sort of muscle memory from years of picturing her in his arms.
He lost track of how many songs they danced to. Eventually a song ended and she took a small step back in order to look into his eyes. Immediately he felt the loss of her body against his, but those eyes...those eyes held so many of his yesterdays and all the promise of his tomorrows. "I've missed you," she said, bringing her hand to his face just as she had a few weeks before. This time though, she let her hand trace the outline of his shaved jaw, over his chin, before coming back to rest on his cheek. "I've missed this Elliot." Slowly, he brought his hand to rest on top of hers, leaning into her touch. "I've missed you, too. More than you know."
Gripping her hand, he brought it to his lips and softly kissed her palm. He felt her shiver as he brought both of their hands to their sides and took a step forward. Then his other hand was in her hair and he could see each emotion as it flickered across her face - surprise, fear, and then longing. He knew because it was exactly how he felt as well. His voice wouldn’t work, but the two of them had never needed to speak to convey a message. One look, an entire conversation. Slowly, he leaned toward her, letting his lips hover in front of hers. “Liv,” he whispered, his breath warm against her skin. It was an unspoken question...one he had been avoiding for two decades.
Her lips brushing against his was her answer. Her kiss was like spring rain...soft, gentle, with a touch of melancholy. He could taste the missed opportunities, the lost years together, and the loneliness on her tongue. As badly as he wanted every part of her, he held back. After so many years of waiting, it felt right for their first kiss to be unhurried as well.
When she put her hand on his chest, he pulled away, looking into her eyes. "El...I know you said you're home, but I need to know that it's for good." Her voice dropped to a whisper as she traced her thumb over his bottom lip. "I can't lose you again."
He kissed the pad of her thumb, then leaned in and kissed her forehead before bringing his own to rest against hers. "I give you my word, Olivia. I'm never leaving you again."
Bathed in moonlight and the contentment of finally knowing how her kisses taste, He felt more at home than he had since his return to New York City, but it wasn't surprising.
He had known all along that home is wherever he is with her.