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The Day the Earth Stood Still

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When Elliot arrived home to their flat in Rome, it was immediately apparent that Kathy was unhappy, and Elliot couldn’t determine why that was until he saw the envelope on the counter between them. “I asked one thing of you when we left New York, Elliot,” she said, tears welling in her eyes, “you needed to leave it all… her… behind.” Elliot’s brow creased in mingled confusion and frustration because he had done as she asked… a choice he regretted daily, “Kath,” he began, stepping towards her, trying to reason with her. She stepped back from him, maintaining the distance between them but remained silent. Elliot heaved a sigh and reached for the envelope, suddenly aware of the address listed in the upper left corner. There was no name accompanying the sender’s address, but he would know that address anywhere. The 16th Precinct of the NYPD… home of Manhattan’s Special Victims Unit… home of Olivia Benson… home. Kathy didn’t move, her eyes locked on the envelope that he held between his hands. It was heavier than just a letter and there was an odd shape in the bottom left corner that seemed to press against the confines of the letter, as though the message was desperate to escape. In silence, he ripped open the letter and reached inside. When he did, his blood ran cold… the object that had been fighting to escape the bonds of the envelope was a miniature police shield with the number 4015 etched into the front of it. His heart hammered in his chest as he was reminded of the one time that he broke Kathy’s rule... the one time he reached out to Olivia during the past decade. He had gotten a mini shield of his own shortly after departing the NYPD and had held onto it for a while before sending it to Olivia with a small note that read ‘Semper Fi, El’… it had been such a small gesture, far less than Olivia deserved but it had been all he could muster. So now, as he held the miniature shield in his right hand and examined it, he wondered if Olivia had finally put in her papers… if this was her way of telling him that her journey as a member of the NYPD was over, as his had resumed as the NYPD’s liaison in Rome.

 

He kept the miniature shield tucked safely into the palm of his right hand as he turned then to the brief note. Immediately, without reading a single word, his blood ran cold… the handwriting on the note was not Olivia’s. The message was brief, too brief, and Elliot could feel the words numbing his soul as he tried in vain to process them,

 

Elliot,

 

Despite everything, I thought you should know that Olivia was shot in the line of duty last month… She’s gone. I don’t know much, but I know she would’ve wanted you to have this. She kept yours close when you sent it. The service will be this Friday at Green-Wood Cemetery, if there’s any chance you can make it.

 

-Fin Tutuola

 

“Elliot?” Kathy said finally, her voice shaky as she spoke. Elliot hadn’t realized he was crying until Kathy spoke, reminding him that he wasn’t alone in the universe… despite the fact that in that moment he might as well have been. “Elliot… what is it?” she said, repeating his name and trying to bring him back to reality, in vain. His watery eyes rose to meet hers and she saw the devastation within them… and she knew. “Oh god…” she whispered hoarsely, unable to pretend that she was unaffected by the news that Elliot hadn’t the strength to verbalize, “how?” she added, a hand rising to settle upon her chest. Elliot couldn’t speak, even if he’d wanted to, so he simply extended the letter to her in silence. She took it with a shaky hand, and he could see her read through it once, then twice… as if she too couldn’t believe that the letter was real. The silence between them hung heavily, as though it were a physical being… like a heavy winter blanket draped over the pair of them as they came to terms with the death of someone who used to be their friend. He felt as though everything had stopped, as though time itself had shattered into oblivion, and the earth itself ceased its revolution around the sun. He wasn’t sure how long it had been when Kathy finally spoke in a tone that was bordering on distant devastation, “You have to go…” she said simply, her eyes finally finding their way back to his. For the first time in a decade, Elliot saw what he knew was guilt within the depths of her blue-green eyes. For a moment, just a moment, Elliot was angry… angry that she finally understood and now it was late, far too late. And then the anger faded, because no amount of anger would bring Olivia back… and he had no one to be angry with but himself. He swallowed dryly and offered only a nod to Kathy, turning to move away from the kitchen. He thought she might call after him, that she might change her mind… but she didn’t, she was struck into silence by the force of a devastating blow. A blow that felt as though it had suddenly and swiftly killed a part Elliot Stabler’s soul.

 

Everything was moving in slow motion and, as Elliot haphazardly packed a bag for his flight, he found himself staring in front of him with eyes that saw nothing. If his bag had been flagged to be looked through, he was certain he couldn’t have told them a single item that was in it… and he didn’t care. Nothing mattered anymore, he wasn’t sure anything would matter ever again. He was going through the motions… buying a plane ticket, checking himself in for his flight online, calling for a ride to the airport, and saying a small, “Bye,” to Eli and Kathy as he carried his bag and left their flat. He was lost in thought, reflecting on every choice he’d ever made… reflecting on each decision that had led him here.

 

How many times in the past decade had he sat in his flat, in Rome, and thought of Olivia?

 

How many times had he imagined her brown tresses with flecks of honey gold swirling about her face as a gust of wind caught hold of them?

 

How many times had he dreamt of her deep brown eyes that filled to the brim with kindness?

 

How many times had he fantasized about the day he would get to see her again?

 

How many times?

 

Did it matter?

 

Olivia was gone… a fact that Elliot’s heart was simply unable to accept. He wondered, his heart aching as he did, if he would even get to see her… if he even wanted to. He was silent in the car ride to the airport. His temple pressed against the cool surface of the window as he stared off somewhere in the distance, far outside the bounds of the vehicle. The whole experience felt like the worst nightmare he’d ever experienced, and he wondered if he’d ever wake up… but he knew that this was real and that someday he would have to accept it. As with all grief, it wasn’t linear, and he had moments where he managed to forget why he was going to New York… moments where he forgot the letter that had given him the worst news, he’d ever received… And, then again, there were moments where all he could do was think of the letter and each decision that had led him to this moment… each moment that had led him to this loss. Despite the choices he had made, there was always a part of him that had held onto some hope… Hope was a dangerous thing, it lingered in the place where possibility existed and, as long as they both drew breath there had been a dim, glimmer of hope that someday Elliot would finally enter the parallel universe where he and Olivia were meant to be together. Her death was also the destruction of that last glimmer of hope and tore away the safety net beneath every decision he’d made. Regret was a fickle thing… some days he hadn’t regretted leaving, he hadn’t regretted choosing to be a good father to Eli and a better husband to Kathy… and the hope that someday he could fix what had been broken, even in some parallel universe, had given him the comfort to ignore his regrets on those days. But now all that was left was regret… now all that was left was to face the world in which he would never be with Olivia Benson. As his plane drifted high over the Atlantic Ocean his mind wandered through each stage of grief as though grief itself were a continuous loop that would never cease to swirl within his mind.

 

Hope. He thought.

 

Hope had led him here.

 

Hope had made him complacent; hope had let him live in a way that made his choices seem less permanent…

 

Hope had allowed him to pretend as though his choices were ‘right’ simply because he had done the ‘right’ thing… and that there was hope that someday he would be rewarded for being the good father, the good husband…

 

And now hope was gone.

 

She was gone.

 

Olivia.

 

He hadn’t realized that he had drifted off into a restless sleep on the long flight until the sound of the fasten seatbelt sign echoed through the cabin in preparation for their descent into New York’s JFK Airport. Elliot looked out the window, across the person he’d been sat next to, and saw the familiar skyline of home before him and, once again, a pang of grief his him square in the chest. He’d visited New York a handful of times over the years with Kathy and the kids to see his mother... and each time he had hoped, by chance, he might bump into Olivia, but fate hadn’t smiled upon him. Now, he returned to New York knowing he would never see her again… knowing he would never hear her laugh or see her smile light up a room. A single tear rolled down his cheek and the woman beside him offered him a tissue, extending the small plastic travel-sized package with a look of the deepest sympathy… as if she knew without him telling her. He took a tissue and, under his mask, smiled at her, though he knew it hadn’t reached his eyes. She didn’t know the depth of his pain, perhaps, but in that moment the woman beside him had seen him and felt for him… and somehow, despite her bearing no physical resemblance to Olivia, he felt as though Olivia was there with him, if only for a moment. They didn’t speak, they didn’t need to, but Elliot used that tissue to dry his eyes as the sporadic tears emerged from within his heart and found their way to his eyes. He was still using the same tissue when he exited through the automatic doors that led out into the pickup area at JFK. It didn’t take long for him to spot the familiar face of his former colleague and friend, Fin Tutuola, who was waving him over to one of the unmarked SUVs that Manhattan SVU had been using over the past few years. At first, they said nothing and simply embraced one another in the sort of hug that they’d never shared, one of share grief… one of shared loss.

 

Fin was the first to speak, “I wish I could say it was good to see you, Stabler,” he began, his voice sounding as tired as Elliot felt, “but you know…” Elliot nodded solemnly, unable yet to voice what he was hoping to request. He fought to find his voice, speaking his first full sentence since he’d read the letter, “I… wish the circumstances were just about anything else,” he admitted, fighting the knot that had formed in his throat nearly 12 hours prior. It was Fin’s turn to nod and, before Elliot could make his request, Fin spoke, “Look, I don’t know what you’d planned… or if you even wanted to, but in case you might, I took the liberty of setting up a meeting with the M.E. before they transfer Olivia to the funeral home. If we go now, you can say goodbye…” It was what Elliot had hoped to ask for, but at the same time he could hardly believe the weight of the blow that came from those words… the reality of the loss stunning him into silence yet again. Elliot nodded, unable to speak, and Fin understood his meaning. Wordlessly, Fin opened his trunk and let Elliot deposit his suitcase within before shutting it once again. For once, the pair was in sync… not as in sync as he and Olivia once were, but a close second. Fin let the radio do all the talking as they drove through the crowded city streets, making their way closer and closer to the place where Elliot’s universe would officially come crashing down. Elliot wanted to talk, he wanted to ask how her life had been… he wanted to know if she’d been happy… but he simply couldn’t force the words to come now. He couldn’t stand the thought of acknowledging the truth any sooner than he had to… every question he asked would have to be in the past tense and he wasn’t ready to let Olivia Benson stay in the past tense. Before he could help it, the knot was back in his throat and he felt his eyes brim with tears once again… they were rounding the corner, drawing ever closer to the M.E.’s office and he could feel his stomach ball into a knot. “I’d ask if you’re okay,” Fin spoke suddenly, his eyes firmly on the road ahead, “but I know better…”

 

Elliot couldn’t see Fin’s eyes well because of the shades he wore, but he was certain that he too was on the verge of crying… Olivia had been one of his close friends for over two decades… Despite Elliot having been closer to Olivia before he left, he somehow knew that Fin had kept an unspoken promise he’d made Elliot many years ago… that Fin would watch her back when Elliot wasn’t there. The car slowed to a stop as Fin found a parking spot near the entrance of the M.E.’s office and Elliot could feel his heart ache deep within his chest, as though he’d already been stabbed but someone was simply twisting the knife. “You should know,” Fin said suddenly, his voice somber, “she wasn’t shot in the head… the bullet snuck in between gaps in the vest.” If there was any consolation in a moment like this, it was that Elliot’s last look at Olivia’s face would be one in which her face was unmarred by bullet holes. It was a small consolation, but in this moment, Elliot would take what he could get. If Fin hadn’t been walking beside him, setting the pace, Elliot wasn’t sure if he could’ve made it through the doors of the office… he wasn’t sure he could’ve made each turn through the sterile corridors of the medical examiner’s office until they found the last autopsy room on the left. Pushing through the metal doors and entering the cool room, Elliot was met with another familiar, sad face. Melinda Warner was there to meet them and, before he could speak, she reached for him and tugged him into a tight embrace. As they hugged, Elliot could feel Melinda’s body quiver with the pain of a silent sob, and it was all he could do not to join her. His eyes were transfixed on the table behind her… the white sheet that covered the silhouette of a woman he hadn’t seen in person for over a decade. He couldn’t tear his eyes away; he couldn’t stop absorbing the scene in all its details.

 

The clean, metal table.

 

The pristine white sheet.

 

Even in death, Olivia Benson was shrouded in light.

 

“Are you ready?” Melinda whispered, pulling back from the embrace. Three simple words that made Elliot almost laugh in their irony. He shook his head, “Melinda… I’ll never be ready for this,” he whispered back as two singular tears tumbled down his cheeks. She nodded, understanding better than most how difficult this moment was for anyone… and understanding, in her own way, that for him this would simply be the worst moment of his life. She stepped back, receding to the other side of the table as though she was a wave receding from the shore. Her hands moved to grasp the white sheet and her eyes found his face, searching for the go ahead… waiting for him to say he was ready, when she knew he never would be. He swallowed and stepped closer, lingering a mere foot from the motionless figure beneath the cloth. He held his breath, unable to tear his gaze from the place where her face made an impression on the soft white material and forced himself to nod his head. After a moment’s hesitation, Melinda pulled back the sheet and laid the truth of it bare. The sob, he was certain, started somewhere in the pit of his stomach and made a sort of choked sound as it fought to escape him. The tears that had managed not to fall yet came tumbling from his eyes like the leaves that cascade off an autumn tree on the first truly cold day of the year. He couldn’t hold them back, nor could he hold himself back… he stepped forward and, without thinking, he pressed his left palm to Olivia’s cold, soft forehead. He stroked the hair he’d touched a handful of times in accidental, on purpose moments of intimacy shared between two people who had never been able to act upon their emotions. He couldn’t believe how she was still so beautiful, even in death… how even a decade hadn’t worn away the timeless beauty she’d had since the moment they met. He wanted to speak, he needed to speak, but nothing came… no words could escape the fortress his lips had built with a broken heart. He was simply unable to accept the truth, even as it was laid out before him. Words wouldn’t change anything, and he wasn’t sure when he’d be able to speak again… or if…

 

So, in place of words, he leaned down and pressed the softest kiss to Olivia’s temple, where her hairline met her perfect face. How sad it was that their first, their only kiss, was limited to this bleak moment. How he was robbed of watching Olivia’s face light up… how he was robbed of the touch of her lips on his skin… how he had robbed himself of those things… As if the kiss were magic, like true love’s kiss in a Disney movie, he found his voice and whispered a soft, “I’m so sorry, Liv…” Though no amount of apologies would ever be enough. In his mind’s eye there was a memory reel of every moment they’d shared… a reel of over a decade’s worth of happy memories, sad memories, painful memories, and so much more. He thought of herand all the things that made her the amazing woman he still loved…

 

He missed her laugh…

 

He missed her smile…

 

He missed her eyes…

 

He missed the vein in her forehead when she got annoyed or upset…

 

He missed the warmth in her voice, the way she said his name…

 

He realized, not for the first time, that it had felt as though half of him had been missing for over a decade… Half of him that he would never get back. He wanted to fall to his knees, to give up the fight… he wanted to break every rule in the book and join her somewhere over the rainbow or whatever happened when someone died… and yet, he somehow knew that she wouldn’t want that. He knew she was there telling him that his story wasn’t over yet… that he’d sacrificed this much to be a good dad and he needed to continue to do that, for her. Melinda was watching him, so was Fin, he knew… and yet, he might’ve been alone in the world in that moment. The world around him once again slowed to a halt and he was certain that time itself had ceased its every continuous motion. Losing Olivia was not a new pain, but the knowledge that he would never have a chance to redeem himself… the knowledge that all hope of a reunion was gone… that was what hurt the absolute most. “I wish I could—” he began, but his voice faltered, and he just shook his head, letting it fall into his right palm as his left stroked her hair once more. He knew that he needed to say goodbye… that he needed to let her go one more time… and he was realizing that he’d been right all those years ago. If he had seen her, or heard her voice, he never would’ve been able to leave… even now, he was wondering if he would ever be free to leave this very room. Pressure on his arm indicated that it was time, but his heart ached at the consideration of leaving this space… as though leaving this room sealed his fate. As if leaving this room was the thing that made this reality. He wanted to change it all and he knew, with a throb of pain in his heart, that he never could… He leaned down once more, this time placing a tearful kiss to her forehead, and whispered a small, “Goodbye, Olivia…” before standing and, reluctantly, releasing his grip on her. He backed away, his heart aching as he stared at her lifeless form upon the autopsy table. He didn’t look away, not once, until her perfect white shroud was returned to cover her visage and conceal her from view.

 

Even in death, Olivia Margaret Benson was shrouded in light.

 

And with her death, the earth stood still for Elliot Stabler.

 

 

Elliot was the first to arrive to Green-Wood Cemetery on Friday, the morning that Olivia Margaret Benson was set to be interred. He’d stood quietly at the back of the crowd to observe from the outside, the way that he had lived for the past decade… on the outside of Olivia’s life… but when the officiant asked if anyone wished to speak, he stepped forward and took his place at the foot of the casket, his eyes locked on a vibrant picture of the woman whose soul had been a twin flame for his own. He was speaking to her, in the way he wished he had been able to before this moment… before it was too late. “Olivia… it’s not often that someone comes into your life and turns everything you once believed over on its head,” he began, his gaze locked on her eyes in the picture, “but that’s exactly what you did for me… I didn’t even come here with the intention of speaking; you know how I hate public speaking but a part of me will never forgive myself if I am not fully honest with you at least once in my life. I only wish this honesty hadn’t come too little, too late…” Before he knew it, the tears were rolling down his cheeks and he was speaking directly from the heart, “The truth is, Olivia, that you scared me… you were everything I had ever wanted and nothing like I could’ve imagined… You were beautiful, yes… everyone knows that, but it was more than that… You were magnetic. You were vibrant. You were warm. You could light up the room with a smile as quick as you could scare the pants off a perp in interrogation… I can say with confidence that there has never been anyone else quite like you, and I very much doubt there ever will be. People gathered here today may or may not know the way that I departed your life about a decade ago… but certainly they don’t fully know why. Neither did you. I think that its finally time that I open up that pandora’s box, so that as you are laid to rest you may go into eternity with the truth and maybe we can both find some peace…” his voice faded as he mustered the strength to share his truth, to lay it bare before the group of familiar and unfamiliar faces that had gathered there.

 

His eyes shifted over the group of people who had gathered to pay their respects. Near the front, a small boy was watching him with eyes that suggested he’d cried all his tears. Elliot hadn’t officially met him, but Fin had mentioned that he was Olivia’s adopted son… and that he and Phoebe would be taking him in for the time being. Fin’s hand was laid gently upon the boy’s shoulder in a protective way, as if to say he would never have to go through this alone. Beside Fin was his fiancé, Phoebe, his first partner on the job… and their intertwined fingers brought a distinct pain to Elliot’s chest. Beside them were members of Olivia’s more recent squad, the people who had come in after his departure… and after Munch and Cragen retired. Among this group was Amanda Rollins, Sonny Carisi – who was now an ADA – Katriona Tamin, a young detective who’d recently earned her badge, and Nick Amaro. Beside the new squad, there was a group of ADAs past, including Alexandra Cabot, Casey Novak, Rafael Barba, and Peter Stone. And, finally, were the members of the unit that had seen Elliot and Olivia grow together as partners, as best friends. Cragen was there, standing beside Munch, as was Monique Jeffries and even Brian Cassidy had shown up for the service. Elliot tried to smile, but he just couldn’t… he spoke directly to the crowd for a moment, “Many of you know that I was Olivia’s first partner at SVU… and we were partners for twelve years,” he said, his voice wavering as he spoke, “and in that time I got to know Olivia better than most people in her life… in fact, she once told me that I knew everything about her, even the parts she’d rather forget… And if you know that, you likely also know that about ten years ago, after a shooting in the squad room involving a teenage girl, I left SVU… I left New York… and I never said goodbye. What you don’t know, what Liv didn’t know, was why that was.” He let a heavy pause hang in the air as his eyes shifted back to the image of Olivia, as he took in her smiling visage once again, “the reason was—is that I knew I chose Olivia over the job… and I had finally hit a breaking point in my life where I knew I was going to choose Olivia no matter what, because I loved her… because I still love her,” he continued, his voice breaking as he spoke the truth aloud for all to hear, “Olivia had the unique ability to make you feel seen, to make you feel as though you were never alone… and after well over a decade of being partners, she had done such a good job seeing me that I began to realize that I could no longer see a future that she wasn’t a part of. Unfortunately, as many of you know, I am also married and a father… and when I was faced with a choice, I took the easy route. I stuck to a safe comfort zone of being a good father and a decent husband rather than taking the risk of telling Olivia the truth… rather than running the risk of losing everything. I ran away… and, in my moment of cowardice, I couldn’t face Olivia. I couldn’t even have the decency to tell her goodbye…”

 

Nearly every mouth in the small group was agape, not with shock per say, but at Elliot’s decision to share the truth now… when it no longer mattered and only served to hurt him more. He shut his eyes for a moment, letting tears stream down his face again, “The reason I am admitting this today is because losing Olivia is the worst pain I have ever felt in my life… and this loss is a reminder to all that you need to live in the moment, that you can’t wait on the ‘hope’ of reconciliation forever… because someday, your time will run out,” he said, his voice somber, “I lost my chance to tell Olivia the truth… and now all I’m left with is an eternal goodbye and a heartache that will never cease, for the rest of my days. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is… be more like Olivia and less like me. Olivia knew how to face her fears, she knew how to overcome them… she was a fighter, a survivor, and she… loved fiercely…” His gaze lowered again and he turned his gaze back to Olivia’s picture, gazing upon the face he’d loved for over two decades… the eyes that he’d dreamt of each night when he went to sleep, “Olivia Margaret Benson… if by some miracle you can hear me, I just want you to know that I have loved you since the day we met… and I will love you until my last breath. The fates weren’t in our favor in this life…” he said softly, wishing he could caress her cheek as he said it.

 

 

After a long pause he finally said, “but in a parallel universe, it will always be you and I.”