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A Better Man

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Why now? Why apologize now? Why had they even come back into her life?

Why now?”

For ten years, Olivia had lived her life without a single member of the Stabler family in it. Not even a hint from them. She’d grieved. Dealt with their absence. Dealt with the absence of her partner and best friend. She had moved on from the loss.

Her heart had been broken. For years, she’d been angry. Damaged even by the absence. Haunted by the ‘what-ifs.’

What if Elliot had been there when Lewis came for her? What if Elliot had been around when Cragen retired? Would she still have achieved Lieutenant…Captain without him?

Would she be in a relationship with Ed? Elliot had sabotaged many of her relationships over the years for him, whether a conscious decision or not. How much of her life would’ve been different for better or worse?

No apology could erase the pain of his absence. Of him abandoning her without a single word. Without the decency of a goodbye. She’d been left to wonder if he was even alive.

Her phone buzzing brought her out of her spiralling thoughts. She felt a weight on her chest. Everything was spinning out of control.

She wanted Ed. His strength and comfort and honesty of his love for her. And her son. She needed him to be the steady anchor for her in the storm Stabler had tossed her into.

He should be there soon. She texted him as soon as she arrived at the hospital in the hopes he’d get Lucy to watch Noah. He’d promised to come give her a ride back to the precinct since Fin had taken the Tahoe.

Her phone buzzed again. Garland, this time, demanding her presence in his office. She had no doubts they’d be discussing Elliot’s display in interrogation.

“That’s my chief. I got go. He needs me at the station.” Olivia was panicking. She couldn’t breathe. She felt dizzy and wanted nothing more than to get out of the hospital. “Where’s the exit? Where the hell is the exit?”

“Olivia? Liv. Maybe you should sit down?” Elliot shot to his feet when she swayed slightly. “I don’t think you should be driving right now.”

“I won’t be.” Olivia checked her phone when it buzzed again. She fumbled to get it out of her pocket, dropping it on the ground. “Damn it. I can’t….”

“Olivia. Please? Let me help.” Elliot bent down to grab her phone and handed it to her. “I can give you a ride.”

“No need, detective.” Ed came striding into the waiting room. Olivia felt an immediate sense of relief. He ignored Elliot and came right up to her, grabbing her hand with one of his while gently cupping her face with his other. “You okay?”

“What the hell is going on?” Elliot glanced between the two of him. “Liv?”

Olivia grasped desperately at Ed’s hand, taking her first easy breath since arriving at the hospital. “This is the father of my son.”

He was so much more than that but he was the only father Noah had ever known. And Olivia saw immediately how the words slammed into Elliot. Hit him like she’d shot him.

Ed tightened his hold on her hand. He drew her back against him while glaring over her head at Elliot. “Detective Stabler. We’ll be going.”

“Wait, Olivia.” Elliot didn’t seem to be processing. “I hoped we could talk.”

“You should sit with Kathy. Make sure she’s okay.” Olivia leaned into Ed. She felt exhausted. Utterly weary from the events of the evening and it was going to be a long while before she could get home.

“Liv.”

“What are you hoping for here, Detective? Captain Benson has a case to solve. Your wife’s, actually.” Ed interrupted, shifting Elliot’s attention to him. “A case you shouldn’t be touching given your connection to it.”

“I’m her partner,” Elliot whispered hoarsely.

“No, no you’re not.” Ed shifted his arm to wrap around her shoulder. “You haven’t been her partner in ten years. Not since you decided doing the work to get your badge back wasn’t worth the effort. You walked out on your partner. Left her behind without so much as a phone call.”

“Screw you.”

“What’s the matter, Stabler? Truth hurt? You can’t lie to me about what happened. I was there. In the room with you.” Ed’s blue eyes drilled into Elliot. “Remember? All you had to do was take two weeks. You had to see a therapist and be cleared by psych. We’d already declared it a good shoot. No one held you back but yourself. And you certainly had no reason not to pick up the phone to call your partner.”

“You wouldn’t understand.” Elliot shot back. He took a step towards them.

“No, I wouldn’t actually.” Ed agreed readily. “I cannot imagine not finding the strength to fight to be by her side. To make sacrifices in order to put her first.”

“Ed. You’re the better man here. You don’t have to do this.” Olivia tried to put an end to the conversation before someone said something they couldn’t take back.

“You arrested her for murder,” Elliot spat out.”

“And she forgave me. She was by my side while I fought cancer. I retired so I could spend as much time with her and our son as possible. I’ve done everything possible to put her first because she deserves it. She deserves people in her life who love her enough to fight for her. To be as selfless as she is.” Ed let go of her to get right in Elliot’s face. “You were never worthy of her friendship. She’s a better cop without you as a partner. She’s the strongest woman I’ve ever met. And you? You threw her away.”

“Ed. Enough.” Olivia tugged on his hand and eased him away from Elliot. “This isn’t the time or place.”

“She’s my best friend.” Elliot insisted.

“Was. Was your best friend. She stopped being anything to you the minute you walked away. And, by the way, I hope every day you think about how a sadistic rapist might never have gotten his hands on her if you hadn’t abandoned on your partner.” Ed looked him over from head to toe then turned away without a second thought. He focused his attention on Olivia. “You ready?”

“I am.” Olivia glanced at Elliot who looked devastated. “Keep me updated on Kathy.”

They walked out of the hospital in silence. Ed kept an arm around her all the way to his vehicle. He stumbled slightly when she spun around and wrapped her arms around her.

“We don’t know that his presence would’ve changed anything eight years ago.” Olivia’s voice was muffled against his coat.

“We know he’d have checked in on you on day one.”

Olivia couldn’t argue with him on that one. Elliot had always been the one to check on her after a rough case or after a perp got too close. “Garland wants to talk to me.”

“Liv?”

“Yeah?”

“Remember you’re a strong woman. A mother. The Captain of one of the best units in the NYPD. You did that. You. Nothing about what he did or didn’t do is a reflection on you or your worth.” Ed continued to hold her tightly. “I’m just the lucky bastard who gets to bask in your presence on a daily basis.”