The snow is falling, the air is chilled. The holidays loom, putting everyone into a frenzy. For Elliot, this means Christmas presents for four kids on a detective’s salary and Midnight Mass. But tonight, he has something else on his mind: the precinct's annual holiday party.
It's the first time he'll be attending in years, the first one Olivia will be attending with him. Not with him. Just there, at the same party.
They had missed the one during her first year, the two of them chasing down a perp who liked to hunt a little too close to Christmas for him to be comfortable with. And while they've been out together several times – for drinks and meals galore – this is the first time he’ll get to see her dressed up.
Well, that's not exactly true. He's seen her get ready for dates on days when work time blends too much into personal time. She's always stunning, stop-in-the-street and stare stunning, but on those days when he sees her getting ready to meet another man, she's spectacular. It's not just the extra layer of makeup or the short, tight dresses and high heels, it's the coyness she exudes, the lightness in her eyes, the heavy sense of desire.
No man should be so lucky. No man is worthy.
It's been days of anticipation, an unusual excitement building. It's as if Elliot has never looked forward to anything else, though he knows that's not true. It's not like he's going out with her, alone, just the two of them. What would that be like, to see her at her best and her worst? To know every part of her? To know her so intimately that boundaries between them ceased to exist?
Elliot doesn't have many excuses to get dressed up anymore. He and Kathy have long since stopped attempting grand date nights out, opting on the rare occasion they do go out together to stay casual and close to home should he have to leave at a moment's notice. These days, he has more meals with Olivia than with his wife and spends more time trekking through the city with her than exploring it with his kids.
Fixing his tie, he doesn't notice as Kathy walks out of the bathroom. It isn't until she unobtrusively clears her throat that he looks up.
Kathy shouldn't be surprised by the way her husband quickly glances at her and resumes working on his tie. It's not like she expected him to whistle or anything, she wouldn’t have liked that anyway, but a little appreciation would be nice. She may not have gone out of her way to purchase a new dress that would hopefully leave him breathless , but his look felt more like a disinterested dismissal than she liked.
"Well, what do you think?" She almost regrets asking when he answers.
"Yeah, Kath, you look nice. Real nice."
Nice. The kiss of death for a woman with a place to be. Her pale blue beaded dress was modest, floor length and cut high on her chest. It was one she had worn to a church function two years ago and suited her well, at least so she thought.
Sighing silently to herself, Kathy looks at Elliot expectantly. "What's Olivia wearing?"
She can't help herself. She and Elliot hadn't been to a precinct party in years, and she doesn't want to stand out wearing the wrong thing. These are his colleagues, his other family. A tiny part of her also wants to know if her husband is dressing up for her. Matching his black and red striped tie to her.
It's not like Kathy doesn't like or trust Olivia. She even thinks Olivia is a good person. Elliot has certainly spoken a lot about how she'll stay late to finish his paperwork so he could get home to see the kids. Or how Olivia saved his ass from another “perp.” Or how she remembered his favorite breakfast dessert and brought it for him with a coffee last week. Isn't that nice?
If anything, Kathy knows that it isn't Olivia that she needs to worry about. It's Elliot. She's never felt this way before and doesn't know how to handle it. He's always been a respectful man, a dependable man, proposing to her before he graduated high school after their premarital sexual experience landed her pregnant. He was a good provider and father. Busier than most husbands, but that was the nature of his job. She had no qualms about that. Well, not many anyway. Okay, some qualms, but she's no saint.
It wasn’t until last year when Olivia Benson had strut into his life that she noticed a change in him.
His eyes lit up. His face held more laughter lines. He had somebody to talk to, somebody he trusted, somebody he opened up to. She's not sure exactly when Olivia went from Elliot's partner to his best friend, but the transition was seamless. Suddenly, Elliot had another person in his life he would die for. Another person he loved. Another woman he loved.
Kathy is under no illusion. Her husband is falling for another woman. It’s in the softness of how he says her name. It’s in the evenings she hears them talking, the silence as he listens, just listens to her. The breaths he breathes when she’s around, like he can finally relax, like he can only truly breathe when she's near. She's not even sure Elliot understands the depths of his own feelings.
Well, too bad. Olivia can't have him. He's mine, I need him.
She's not going to raise four kids, two under the age of six, near alone. Her possessiveness isn't necessarily a romantic one, but a practical one, and one built on jealousy if she allows herself to admit it. Olivia is beautiful, smart, free. She's not burdened by kids who weren't planned or a husband who she questions if he was ever truly in love with her to begin with.
Olivia went to college, she found a job she loved and excelled at. Kathy knows only a little about Olivia's personal life from Elliot, she knows Olivia had it rough at times. But it doesn't seem like her childhood was all that bad. Who had a perfect childhood anyway?
Lost in thought, Kathy almost jumps when Elliot finally responds. "I don't know what Liv is wearing, it's not like we exchange beauty tips."
He says this almost like it's an absurd question, absurd for him to talk to Liv about that. But it's not, it's not absurd at all Kathy thinks. Because for the lack of attention he pays to her, she's sure that he notices everything about Liv.
The two of them finish getting ready. Their sitter is already here, preparing to take on the Stabler brood for a nice lump cash payment. It's not that they don't trust Maureen, they just feel better knowing an adult is around.
Saying bye to the kids, they grab their puffy winter coats that do not go with their formal wear, not at all. Kathy grabs onto Elliot's arm for support as she walks through the light snow that has accumulated. She's glad she wore the double layer of panty hose for warmth. Elliot doesn't seem to be bothered by the cold though, his mind is already a million miles away.
45 minutes later, they've made it to the hotel lounge without any issue. Elliot is still distracted. Working the room, his head swivels back and forth – searching – searching for something, no, someone. All he finds are Detectives Munch and Jeffries, both laughing. The drinks are strong and flowing freely. Apparently, a Detective Cassidy was stuck on call tonight, something that made Elliot gleeful for some reason. She doesn’t ask why.
They're in the middle of a thrilling conversation about the benefits of real trees versus fake trees when Elliot feels the air shift.
Olivia walks into the room and for a moment everything stops. The sounds fade away and his eyes focus on her until he can see nothing, nothing but her. She's a vision in red. A deep ruby red gown that fits her like a glove, not even teasing at modesty. There's a slit that goes high on her thigh and her breasts look like they could spill out of her top at any moment. This was a woman who knew she looked good. Incredible. Stunning.
And so, so different from the oversized suits she wore to work, the baggy clothes that did nothing to hide her beauty, nothing but muffling it slightly from prying eyes. But if anyone was used to seeing Olivia hide herself, this look would put out anyone’s doubt that she wasn't the most gorgeous woman to ever grace the precinct. Elliot briefly wonders why, why she would draw attention to herself like this. Why, when she has to know it'll keep other cops chasing after her like a dog in heat. It'll be even worse than Cassidy and his lovesick puppy dog eyes that follow her around everyday.
She is too much tonight. Already. Elliot feels the tension rising, feels the anticipation of getting his hit.
Making her way across the room, he knows that Olivia isn't oblivious to the stares, the wagging tongues, and the jealous eyes. She simply does not let them bother or distract her from her current destination. Which was where? He can’t tell where she’s headed. Everyone can see her, but their group is standing around a table in the far back. Is she looking for them, looking for him?
Belatedly, Elliot notices that she brought a date. When he had asked her a week ago if she was seeing anyone and bringing them to the party, she had said no. What changed? Who was this man? Standing over six feet tall from Elliot's estimate, the blonde man bore an uncanny resemblance to a viking in a suit. At least a date would keep most, or at least some, of the precinct's single (and not single) men (and women) from spending the evening flirting with her, a job Elliot fully intended to have to be responsible for. But who was he?
Eliot could feel discomfort spread through him and took a steadying breath. He couldn't lose it here just because Olivia happened to find a date in the last week. It didn't have to mean anything, not really. Still, that didn't stop him from angling for a better look as Olivia and her
partner date hit the bar for a glass of champagne.
Waiting for their drinks, Olivia laughs, a genuine smile spilling from her lips. It takes Elliot aback. He can't hear her laughter, but he can imagine it. It's not soft and airy, but full of life. It’s a rare sound, a sound Elliot treasures when she lets it out. When he brings her a hot dog from their favorite vendor. When they conspire behind Cragen’s back to keep out of trouble. When he tells her stories about his kids.
Olivia doesn't seem to be making a concerted effort to find
him them, which hurts more than he'd care for. This was their first holiday party together. But, just as the thought enters his mind, Olivia's eyes swerve to land on his. The smile that was already put there from her companion widens. She's happy to see him. Of course she is, why wouldn't she be? He’s her partner. Her friend.
Tapping her date's hand, she leads them over to the group, getting closer and closer until Elliot can feel his face heat up. If Elliot thought that Olivia was stunning on any given day, she is heart-stoppingly breathtaking right now.
She slows down as she gets closer, taking in the faces and outfits, never stopping too long on any one person. But her eyes return to Elliot more than once. She hugs Munch and Jeffries with a tenderness she doesn’t usually demonstrate. Olivia laughs when Munch tells her they're the luckiest bastards in the city. Elliot agrees, but wants to correct him – they're the luckiest bastards in the world.
Kathy gets a quick half hug, the kind you give to a passing stranger you've just met. When it comes to Elliot's turn, Olivia seems to slow down even more. Her eyes go up and down his body, quickly, but appraising.
Elliot gets his first closeup look at her and his body seems to forget how to breathe. Olivia has left her hair down and straight, the sharp angles brushing past her chin. Her eyes are smoky and seductive, lined in black. She’s a sight to behold. A remnant of classic beauty and a centerfold at the same time. A seductress. A goddess he would like to worship.
Her dress, God, her dress. It's like it came out of his wildest dream and worst nightmare. It's too much all at once, too much Olivia for his eyes to feast on.
He doesn't know where to look, his eyes make their way down to her high heels, just peeking out from the side with the slit. The slit that goes all the way up, up, up to the top of her thigh. If she moves the right wrong way, he wonders if they'd all be able to tell what kind of underwear she's wearing – or not wearing. The thought makes him pulse with need. He can see her take in a few deep breaths, drawing attention to her breasts – not that they needed the help. They’re straining against her top, heaving with each breath. He can already imagine lowering her zipper, taking each breast out and licking, sucking-
Christ. She’s going to kill him. She’s a fantasy come to life, and for the life of him, he can’t stop staring.
Olivia pulls him in closely, wrapping her arms around him like she did to Munch and Jeffries. But it's different too. It's softer. It lingers slightly. They hold onto each other as she whispers, "Hey there, you look good."
Elliot can't help but smile at that, only she would say that while looking unimaginably beautiful. "Me? I'm not the one who has everybody in the room staring, I may have to fight the guys off you even more than usual."
Liv lets out a gentle laugh, her breath tickling his ear. Still holding onto each other's arms, she moves a little, looking up slightly, looking straight into his eyes. Her own eyes sparkle at him, wordless communication once again flowing between them, like nobody else is there.
Somebody jostles them and he and Olivia part, albeit him doing so more reluctantly. It felt good to have her in his arms. It felt right.
Olivia looks around and he remembers everyone else, remembers Kathy had been next to him before he moved toward Olivia. Remembers Olivia’s date. Now that she's greeted everyone individually, Olivia steps back and turns to the man accompanying her, the asshole who looks like fucking Tarzan in a suit. She sees their expectant gazes, their scrutinizing expressions.
"This is Michael. An old friend." The complexity of his feelings grows with the simplicity of her statement.
An old friend? What does that mean? Olivia never mentions her friends outside of work. He assumed she had a small number of friends just like him, but also just like him, rarely gets to see them.
He also knows her tendency to not let others in, to close herself off, to protect herself. She let her walls down for Elliot (for which he will be eternally grateful), but how many others truly know her? Is there another side to her he's not privy to? There must be. He’s thought about this before, but now he’s seeing it firsthand. They’ve known each other for less then two years, even though to him it feels like forever.
While she and Elliot spend 14 to 16 hours a day together, he doesn't have the pleasure of coming home to her. He doesn't know where she spends her time on the weekends when they're not called into work. It had felt so superficial before. He may not know that side of her, but he knows her. The inconsequential details don't matter, not when he could find her in a room full of people just by feeling. He knows how she looks when she's overworked and underfed. He knows she acts tough, but that her heart cries out at the injustices of the world. He knows the strength of her character and her courage. He knows how to make her smile when things feel like they'll never get better. He knows how to anticipate her movements, a single shift in her body can have him on alert. He falls in line with her steps without even thinking.
That was what mattered, not the people who saw her on days she pretended, pretended just like he did. Who cares if they weren't the type of traditional friends who went out together, they’re more than that. Now, Elliot can't help but wonder about this other part of her life.
He never let himself think too much about her dates, never wanting to think about the way a man could enjoy the pleasure of her company, enjoy her jokes and wit, caress her, take her home, sink into her, and experience what must be the greatest feeling in the world as she comes apart around him. That thinking would only lead to trouble, to him having to confess his impure thoughts. Not that he did. He should. But he and Olivia – they were private, they were his, theirs alone.
How long had Olivia and Michael known each other? Is their friendship platonic or is it more? Elliot knows he shouldn't be thinking these questions, but they come without provocation.
Munch beats him to the punch before he can say anything stupid. "What kind of old friend are we talking about here, Benson?" He says this with a conspiratorial smile. Elliot thinks if he had asked, he would have said it bitterly, angrily.
Elliot understands that he has no right to feel this way and is grateful for small favors that his practiced poker face is holding up. At least, he thinks it's holding up as Oliva sends him a slightly questioning look. Shit, was he glaring at the guy? His posture rigid, Elliot attempts to look non-threatening, like a friend, a co-worker.
"Well," she draws out, "we've known each other since I was a beat cop, making my way in the world. Michael's a fireman and we crossed paths once or twice. We've remained friends."
"Just friends?" Munch asks once again, probing, curious as they all were about Olivia's rarely glimpsed personal life. Thank goodness for Munch because Elliot doesn't want to know what would happen if he had been the one forced to ask.
Olivia smiles coyly and doesn't answer, turning to Michael with a gleam in her eyes. Michael speaks and Elliot despises him immediately.
"Olivia and I are, well, Olivia and I. We have fun and if both our schedules would allow it, we'd have more to say. But getting her to take more time off is impossible. I'm still working on that all these years later." If Olivia hadn't laughed along with everyone else, Elliot would have decked the guy. How dare this Michael speak about Olivia like they didn't know her. How dare he make jokes when he's the one who gets to have pieces of her that Elliot will never get to enjoy.
Still, his answer gives Elliot some sort of relief at least. So, they weren't dating . Just casually hooking up sometimes. Is this a thing she does?
While the thought of her with other men irritates him, the thought of her getting serious with someone causes an ache so deep it’s a miracle he’s still standing. He shouldn’t feel this way. (He's married. He’s married. He’s married.)
Elliot always wondered how a man who got to experience Olivia in a relationship (of any kind) was ever satisfied with just one night or just a few weeks. Her serious relationships were few between from what he could tell, something that confused him more than anything. How could they taste her, see her lying in bed – hair tousled and lips swollen – and want to do anything other than pray to God, thanking their lucky stars?
Of course, it probably had to do with the fact that Liv was the one who left them hanging, opting to protect herself once again. Or choosing her job over a chance at love. What would happen if she let herself be loved though? How quickly would someone snatch her up? Any smart man would. It makes him a little sad that these men don’t fight hard enough for her, but it also means that he has just that much more of her.
But here's Michael. Michael the fireman. Michael who also saves people. Michael who looks like he could pick Olivia up with one hand while putting out a fire with the other. Michael who probably picks Olivia up while he f-
“What Michael means to say is that we’re friends and the world is our oyster.” Olivia says this with a slightly warning smile, telling them to drop the subject before anyone else can tease her more.
Olivia turns her attention to Kathy, looking for something to say and asks how the kids are. Small talk. The bane of existence. Elliot wants to roll his eyes, except he knows that Liv truly does care about his kids.
He stops paying attention to the words as he sees Michael’s hand creep around Olivia’s waist, fingers stopping to relax at the dip so evident in her tight dress. Her waist looks so small in his hand. It’s a possessive move. One that feels uncalled for given the admitted casual nature of their relationship. It must not be quite so casual though because Liv doesn’t shrug it off or react at all. If anything, she leans a little into Michael, comfortable. Elliot looks away, gulping down his drink.
The group makes small talk for a while longer until Cragen comes over and tells them to mingle – and to be good, a warning look sent to all of them, lingering perhaps on Elliot for a moment longer than the rest.