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it's you that I hold onto

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“I don’t want tonight to end.”

Olivia’s soft whisper – a confession, comes as a welcome melody to his ears. And he has to agree with her; it’s been nice catching up with his friend, on one of those seemingly all-too-rare nights where she’s not staying late at work with a case. There’s a new Italian bistro within walking distance of his apartment, and their carbonara rivals the best of those he remembers from his time in Italy.

The look he’d seen on Olivia’s face as she took her first bite – the one of sheer, unadulterated bliss – is one he wants to catalog and remember for the rest of his life. Makes him wonder if there’s other expressions of hers he’s never seen, and if he might be so lucky as to find them out.

It’s so rare for either of them to be truly happy, but she’s been smiling and laughing, regaling him with stories about raising Noah, and he’s caught her up on how his kids have all been doing, and in the whole course of the conversation, their work never came up once.

And now they’re meandering through the park near the bistro, enjoying one of the first evenings in months that’s actually nice, and she’s leaning against his shoulder, their gloved hands wrapped together as they walk in a slow shuffling unison. “I don’t want it to end either,” he confesses, squeezing her hand tenderly in his.

Because for tonight, she isn’t Captain Olivia Benson of Manhattan Special Victims Unit, she’s Olivia, his friend – best friend, even. For now, for almost the past twenty-four years – time doesn’t matter, not when it comes to them; because when he’s with her like this, when he can drop all the pretenses and simply be Elliot for a while, the years all dissipate, leaving only them.

She hums to herself, nuzzling her cheek against the wool fabric of his peacoat, and he’s never wanted so desperately to shed his outer layers and draw her closer against him.

These moments of intimacy have always been rare for them – for good reason, because he knows that once he truly allows himself to touch her, to feel her warmth beneath his touch, he’s never going to want to stop. But they’re gradually becoming more of a thing, and he’s going to value each of them for everything they’re worth.

From somewhere nearby, he can hear the melodious notes of someone playing a saxophone, riffing on Coltrane, and when he searches for the source of the song, he sees a busker standing near a lamppost. A thought catches alight in his mind, and he nudges Olivia. “Hey, my friend Olivia,” he says, with a slight smirk, because he’s never going to get over the fact that they’re mending their friendship. That he can call someone like Olivia – with all her unending grace and fierce loyalty, not to mention stunning beauty – his friend. “Care to dance?” He motions to the busker.

“You don’t dance,” she says. “Scratch that, I don’t dance. Noah says I have two left feet.”

“We don’t have to dance well.” And while he knows that he has about as much rhythm and grace as a newborn giraffe, but now that he has the idea in his head of the two of them dancing together, he’s grown quite fond of the idea. “I want to dance with my friend. Friends do that, right?”

She’s silent for a moment, and he thinks he might have scared her, even only a little, before she tilts her head and gazes at him, with those deep brown eyes that speak volumes in their depths. “Yeah, I think friends can do that,” she says, finally, exhaling softly and catching the corner of her lower lip between her teeth.

They shuffle together to where they’re facing each other, and he draws his arm around her waist, and her arms loop around his neck. Those same eyes look at him, and he sees so much reflected in their darkness – including the light from the lamppost that catches its reflection in her eye, making it glimmer and gleam.

He’s reminded of another evening, another night when it was the two of them in each other’s arms, and the entire world melted away except for them, together. The night of what should have been Fin’s wedding – the night he’d told her he was staying, the night that they should have been able to begin again – they’d shuffled together awkwardly under the moon and stars, as the DJ played all of Fin and Phoebe’s most favorite songs.

The moment then had only lasted for about two and a half songs, before her phone rang, shattering the illusion they’d created – and nothing had been the same since, not until now.

But now, they’re swaying together in the park, holding onto each other, and maybe this, now, is their true new beginning. He’s never appreciated the saxophone as much as he does tonight, as it provides the backing track to Olivia in his arms, looking at him like he’s the only person in the world besides her. Nothing else matters, not now, not when he can smell the faint smell of some floral body wash and whatever perfume she’d dabbed on; not when he can feel her warmth against him, see the tiny exhalations of her breath puff out in the slight chill of the cooling air.

He’s not entirely sure that what they’re doing is technically considered dancing, but it’s close enough for his standards, and from the slight quirk of the upturned smile on her face, he thinks it meets her standards too. Dare to dream, Stabler.

The notes from one piece fade out, and in the brief moment before the new piece can start, she tilts her head up to look him in the face. “I missed you, you know,” she says,

There’s the slightest glint of a tear reflected in the corner of her eye, and whether it’s out of instinct or what, he takes the pad of his thumb and delicately wipes it away. He knows his touch can be rough, but he’d never harm a hair on this woman’s head. She’s incredibly precious to him, in a way that little else of this earth could ever hope to be.

God, I missed you too,” he says, and he draws her in closer, so that she’s flush against him. They fit together, better than he could have imagined, and thoughts race through his head at the other ways they might fit together, complementing each other in every way.

She laughs, rubs her hand along the nape of his neck, feeling the first shorn hairs that are beginning to grow back into their place. He loves the look in her eyes when she laughs, when all that tension from their jobs and the world around them melts away, and she can be exactly who she wants to be. “I’m so glad you’re home,” she says, pressing her lips along the collar of his shirt. It’s not a kiss, not exactly, but it’s as though that place has been branded on him by the ethereal press of her lips.

“I’m never leaving again,” he says, and he knows that’s true, because home isn’t a place, not for him, not when his home – his true home, the one place he’s always felt safest – is here in his arms. And as long as they’re together, he’s never truly gone. She’s the best parts of him, because she has his heart.

“Good.” Her fingertips trace loose whirls along his neck and the expanse of his shoulders, and she sighs contentedly. “I don’t want you to.” And she hums, and she breathes against him, and he can feel the hesitation in her breath. “I want you here. With me.”

Before, they couldn’t have said this; before, their feelings, whatever they were, had to be carefully hidden away and not vocalized or acknowledged in any way. But now, in this moment of new beginnings, as the busker picks back up his playing with an additional gusto, the tempo of the whole night has shifted.

He wants to kiss her. He needs to kiss her.

It’s been a long time coming – honestly, since the day she’d wandered into the 1-6 as a freshly-minted detective and they’d been introduced to each other – but the waiting ends tonight.

He takes one of his hands and raises it to her chin, tilting it so that their eyes make contact. Hers are nearly pools of black, and he can only imagine that his own clear blue eyes are closer to a midnight blue themselves. His finger crooks under her jaw lazily, and she looks at him with wonder. “El,” she whispers; her voice is so soft, but hearing her call him El will never not break him.

Their lips meet, and it’s soft, and encouraging; she lets out a slight whimper that graduates into a moan, as her body sinks against him, molding herself to the planes of his body. And he’s trying to keep it relatively tender, and sweet, and not go too far, but when their lips meet, it’s as though it ignites some long-hidden part of himself.

His mouth slides against hers, eagerly seeking her out – tasting, wanting, telling her without words how much she means to him. He’d chase the high of this kiss every day, and the only way to do that would be successive kisses with her – only her, it’s only ever been her, even when it didn’t seem like it would be.

She gives as good as she gets; he feels her teeth graze hungrily along the swell of his lip, and he knows from the swipe of her tongue that she’s a magician with her mouth; she’s already cast a spell on him, that much he knows, and he yearns to find out what other tricks she’ll be able to demonstrate for him. And there’s a symphony of small sounds – the whimpers and moans, the sighs and breathy, unintelligible whispers – that echo from her, and he wants to find out all of them, learn how to make her hum with pleasure by his doing.

They drift apart, foreheads resting against each other, and the power of the moment is enough where he has to close his eyes. It’s too much to take in, this fact that he has her here, and whatever this is between them – it’s reciprocated. She feels as strongly for him as he does for her, and that thought robs him of his very breath.

“I’m so in love with you, Olivia,” he says. Expecting her to say it back would be a difficult ask, especially now, but she has to know that when he’d said it before, he meant every word of it. “I always have been.”

Her eyes slowly blink open, and she pulls him closer for another kiss, and then another, each sweeter and more insistent than the last. “I know,” she says, and the acknowledgement of her knowledge seems to be an admission in and of itself, especially when she leans into his touches and gives him that little smile that seems to say – you’re home now, Elliot Stabler, you’re safe here. With me.

And there’s no place he’d rather be than here, in her arms. Loving her, letting her love him, in whatever form that takes. As long as it's them, that's what matters most.