It took some time, but there are things that I know now
And I'm glad I finally found my way to you
I used to spend my time not knowing why, just wanting out
Lost in a maze that kept me from the truth
When she realizes the time; realizes what she’s done - completely on accident,110% a mixture of being too fucking busy to even pause to check her watch, and too caught up in an interview to see the sky begin to darken slightly - she is hit with a wave of guilt.
She had texted Elliot earlier in the day, let him know she was swamped, running on coffee and protein bars and that she definitely would not have a chance to go home snd change before their dinner plans. Fin had taken Phoebe on vacation - to some island, no cell phone reception, he’d made sure to to let everyone know - so Olivia was working even more than her normal, every day short staffed situation.
It has been non-stop; another gutting day in a string of them, and the case was nowhere near being closed.
But now it’s 8:15. 8:15, and their dinner reservations were at 8:00. Their dinner reservations for their third date; normally the date, but the two of them, in true Benson and Stabler fashion, have fallen ass backwards into this relationship . They’ve been making out on his couch for two months; sleeping together for one, and bless Elliot and his insistence that he needs to take her out. Just her. Their first two dates had been family friendly - a show with Noah, then a game night with both boys at his place.
He wants to see her in candlelight, charm her a little bit over wine and pasta, walk around and get some ice cream and kiss her under the street lights. Elliot’s told her this, and she’s grinned, agreed, given him the date that worked and now?
Now, she’s 15 minutes late, hair fallen flat, blouse full of wrinkles, and she hasn’t even had a second to tell him she’s at least 30 minutes away from even arriving.
Olivia sighs, takes out her phone. She pulls up his contact, braces herself. This isn’t the first time she’s been late - or absent - from a date; she may be categorized as a chronic absentee date, in fact.
She’s used to the heavy sighs, the apologies she’ll have to make. The excuses, the cancellations, the disappointment and their meek attempts at rescheduling.
The way it was too much, for some of them; the ones who’d wanted her to move on from these sorts of days (and nights).
She is wholly unprepared for the upbeat; almost jovial tone she hears upon Elliot’s answering.
“Hey, Liv!” She can hear chatter in the background, some light, almost jazzy music playing.
“Hey, I’m sorry - I’m running behind. Elliot, I’m so sorry, I got caught up, and - it’s a long story, but I’m on way, I’ll leave in 5 -“
He interrupts her, and he must have stepped outside, or away from wherever he was, because it’s quieter now, the background noise gone as he answers.
“Liv, it’s no big deal. Just…take your time and get here. Safe.”
Olivia slumps back in her desk chair; allows herself a brief respite of relief. A beleaguered sigh across her lips before she replies, her question simple.
Elliot chuckles then.
“Yeah. I’ll be here.”
She spares a glance in the mirror on her way out.
She’s refreshed her makeup, fluffed her hair. Changed out of her wrinkly blouse into the less wrinkly, decidedly more casual short sleeve option she keeps in her office. It’s not the outfit she’d wanted to wear, not the dress she’d chosen carefully from her closet, laid out on her bed, picked earrings and a necklace and heels to match that won’t aggravate her ankle.
She definitely does not have time to go home and change; and that, somehow, is not the disappointment she’d expected to feel.
It’s not the end of the world, but she had wanted tonight to be special. They’ve shared space and time and countless meals together; Chinese and pizza and sandwiches. Beers on barstools, on a couch, even one time on his front steps, Kathy and the kids at the shore for the weekend, and the two of them celebrating some early arrest, but neither willing to push past the barrier of his front door for a drink.
This though; this was supposed to be special. This was supposed to be the two of them - this was supposed to be something romantic; something tangible. Something that two younger people would photograph, put out on social media. This was them, broadcasting to the world that they do this now. They can wine and dine; kiss in public. They can hold hands on park benches and go to cheap diners for brunch with their kids. They can show up to each other’s works with coffee and they can curl into each other’s touches. They don’t ache silently anymore; there is space for regrets and admissions, but they don’t have to live only in the small moments anymore. They can be open, honest; live out loud with each other.
They can date, and everyone can know; and if she’s told herself for 23 years that she didn’t need this; didn’t need him, then year 24 is the one where she admits to herself that she wants this; wants him.
She wants to date him.
So maybe, she is sad, and maybe she won’t dwell on it for too long; but Olivia’s wait for her ride to the restaurant is a little long, and she gives herself a second to linger in it.
It’s the live she lives; the life she loves, actually. The one she’s built, full of choices she’s made; and she doesn’t want to admit that even for him, she’s not ready to change that.
She is sorry that their night is not what they planned, but Olivia knows it will happen again.
She gets in the Uber (she’d taken one to work, anticipating a ride home, since Noah has gotten the sleep over he’s been begging for with his dance friends) leans back into the faux leather of the back seat, and closes her eyes.
She doesn’t know what to expect. She’d expected - well, anything but what she’d gotten on the phone.
Maybe she’d expected anger - they knew how to be angry with each other. How to throw barbs and beat each other up with their words when they’re frustrated with one another. He hadn’t been angry, hadn’t seemed upset or guarded or tense in their short exchange.
Maybe she’d expected disappointment - a sullenness in his tone, some sort of brooding version of Elliot that she also knows, has seen on full display.
Maybe she’d even expected jealousy; churlish behavior and snipes directed at her devotion to her unit; her priorities laying elsewhere - not even remembering to call when she’d be late. God knows, he wouldn’t be the first man to display that - they all had. At least the ones who made it to the third dates.
None of that though, was what she’d heard on the phone. Just - Elliot, was what she heard. Warmth and easiness and the pieces of him she knew had been in there; the pieces she’d missed for 10 years, then stubbornly refused to let go of for the last one since his return. The ones she recognized; the ones she saw when his grief would settle for a moment; when the panic cleared.
The Uber pulls up to the restaurant and she opens her eyes; feeling the vehicle slowly stop.
She thanks the driver, then steps out.
Her eyes adjust to the light of the restaurant streaming out of the large glass windows. She scans them, searching him out, frowning when she doesn’t see him. The place is small, and the windows large - and her mind starts running, just for a millisecond; because she knows him, knows he wouldn’t, but life until now has prepped her to expect the worst. Olivia frowns, worries a lip between her teeth, another anxious sweep around the tables searching; and then -she sees him.
Elliot is sitting on a small bench out front. He has one leg crossed over the other, a jacket draped over his forearm. He is wearing the rest of the suit, the vest and pants fitted perfectly.
Olivia’s gaze travels up from his crossed legs to his face, and she can’t help it, can’t help the smile that erupts when she meets his eyes, finds him looking directly at her, a wide grin on his face.
Olivia strolls over to him, taking her time, not dropping his eyes the entire time. She reaches him, tucks a strand of hair behind her ear, then shoots an inquisitive look at the seat next to him on the bench.
“This seat taken?”
Elliot pats the seat, inviting her.
She sits down, draws herself close to him. Settles in to his frame, hips close; and knocks her shoulder into his. The pair are silent for a moment; taking in the movement around them before she speaks again.
“Elliot, I’m sorry I messed up our dinner plans.”
Olivia doesn’t elaborate, doesn’t make excuses or draw out her apology.
Elliot makes a small noise in the back of his throat, then nudges her foot with his. He puts a hand on her thigh, palm up; inviting, then looks over at her. Olivia slides her hand into his and waits.
“Didn’t ruin a thing, Captain Benson.”
She lets out a sarcastic chuckle, then makes a point to check her watch.
“By my account, I am almost an hour late for our reservations; and my date for the evening is sitting outside so…”
Elliot grins at her as he drops his hand from hers and ducks his head, moving to the side. He pulls out a large paper bag with handles, the side emblazoned with the restaurant’s logo.
Olivia raises her eyebrow at him as he stands, motions for her to follow him.
Elliot turns back to her, pulls her close and threads the fingers of the hand not holding the bag through hers as they stroll. As they walk, he begins to speak.
“I’ve got about 5 pounds of different pasta in here, a whole loaf of that garlic bread you said you liked, and a flourless chocolate cake.”
“Yeah?” She tries not to laugh, picturing him ordering every pasta dish on the menu, and enough bread to feed all of his kids.
“Yep.” He continues to walk until they spot his waiting SUV. Elliot opens her door, waits for her to get in, then leans in.
He smiles at her quickly, before he ducks his head. Puts his hand on her chin and tilts her face up gently, then lowers his mouth to hers.
It is a long, slow kiss; the type that envelopes both of them. They block out the rest of the world; all of it, and only feel each other for a moment. His tongue traces her top lip lazily, and she opens her mouth to him.
It is soft and bold and easy; it’s him and her and the rest of it just falls away. As she nips at his bottom lip, slides her own tongue past his now open mouth; everything, for a moment, is forgotten. The day, the case, the short staffed unit she runs. The twinge in her ankle from being on it for too long; the fact that she forgot to Venmo Rollins for the last 5 coffees in a row. Everything just slows, and they are there, with each other.
Making out like kids while he tries to balance on the curb.
Elliot breaks away reluctantly, backing up and out of the open car door as he squeezes her thigh. He slides the paper bag by her feet, then walks around to his side of the vehicle.
As he turns on his signal, eases them out into traffic, he turns to Olivia and smiles again.
“See? Didn’t ruin a thing.”
It is, Olivia thinks, the perfect evening.
Elliot has pulled over, parked them on a busy street. He reaches over her, one hand on the middle console, the other on her leg, as he grabs the paper bag. He winks at her as he takes the bag back, letting his hand linger. There’s a crooked grin on his face; all of it a big show of over exaggerated touches and prolonged eye contact - and she’s hit with the knowledge - he’s wooing her.
Elliot Stabler; master of grump, man who defines dwelling on an issue, he is light and happy and flirty; and he is definitely wooing her.
He is at her side then, opening her door. He leads her to a small urban park, lit up with different string lights and peppered with small picnic benches; and waits until she’s sitting before he sits down himself.
“Ravioli or manicotti?”
“Umm, manicotti - wait, no - what’s in the ravioli, is it the squash?”
Elliot eyes her, a boyish grin crossing his face. He opens the plastic container, puts the lid on the table, and starts using his fork to scoop ravioli on to the clear lid.
Olivia raises her eyebrows at him, but doesn’t question him, just sits back and waits.
Elliot repeats the process with the other container, then combines the two dishes into each container. He reaches in the bag, grabs the plastic silverware and hands them over to her, followed by what now is a shockingly heavy bowl of steaming Italian food.
“Both is good,” he says.
Then, Elliot reaches in the bag, rustling and making a small frustrated sigh as he digs through. When he finds what he’s looking for, his head pops back up, and he places two tiny tea lights switched to ‘on’ on to the table.
Olivia bites back a giggle. It’s deep inside her but threatening to erupt and she can’t tell if it’s the sight of him, earnest and trying so hard; or a nervous giggle at the fact that all of this; all the fanfare here is for her.
“Both is great,” she answers, her voice low as she tries to tamper down the sudden wave of emotions she’s been hit with.
“Really, really, great.”
Then she looks at him, and he at her; and it’s just the smallest moment; the tiniest beat of time, but the look they share then is all of it.
All the gratitude; the longing now recognized; the trepidation and the cautious dance thrown to the side as they both welcome this, their most deserved life. Together.
Olivia breaks their eye contact; the air heavy all the sudden, her need to lighten the mood before she tears up overtaking her.
She glances out past the gates of the tiny park, and nods her head at a young couple walking their dog as she takes a bite of her meal.
“Real or undercover?”
It’s a game they used to play, when they were on all night stakeouts. Anything to stay awake, keep their brains firing.
“With that dog?” He responds. “That’s the type of dog that someone would have to really love to take out in public. Real.”
He picks out the next couple, two older men strolling, the shorter bending down to pick up some litter.
They continue on, letting the game die out as Olivia details him about her day, the case; the reminder written on a sticky note on Fin’s desk to lose his cell number until he’s back next week.
When they hit their limit, filled to the brim with carbs and sauce and soda (because, as he pointed out - an open container in a city park and an NYPD captain is not the smartest idea), she puts her container back in the bag, and looks over at him.
That this is the same man who routinely forgot his wedding anniversary, had to rely on her to buy his own wife presents; the man who had to have John Munch explain why Kathy was upset when he suggested an action movie over The Notebook is almost astounding. When she laughingly points this out, motioning at the battery operated tea lights he’d begged off the waiter, he smirks and mouths the word “growth” as he leans over and brushes a smudge of sauce off her bottom lip with his thumb.
“El, thanks for this, for tonight.”
She catches his eye, and he nods. She continues.
“Thanks for you know. Being so understanding.”
He hands her his own empty meal container to put away as she finishes speaking.
Elliot shakes his head at her; bites his lip before he responds.
“Liv, you know I want to take you out, date you - really date you - but you don’t have to feel guilty if it falls apart. You don’t have to apologize to me for doing what you have to do.”
Olivia reaches over the table, bracing her arms on the metal and pulls him close with one hand. He smiles at her, before she draws his mouth to hers.
This kiss picks up the speed their last couldn’t. It quickly accelerates from gentle, soft and easy to open mouths, tongues searching; her hands grasping at his vest as she tries to get as close as the small table between them will allow.
They’re interrupted by a dog barking, as two giggling teens dash by. They break apart, breathless.
Olivia slides her hand over to grasp his, then sits back into her seat. She eyes him, smiles with a glint in her eyes as she reminds him of what she’d texted this morning.
“Should we take this chocolate cake back to my place? Noah’s at that sleepover so…we wouldn’t have to…”
His eyebrows shoot up, and she laughs as she finishes.
“I was going to say share the cake, but I’m guessing you have something else in mind.”
Elliot squeezes her hand once sliding out of the bench. She stands, and they walk, side by side to his waiting SUV. She waves him away when he tries to come around, rolling her eyes at his gesture. As they slide into their seats, and he pulls into traffic, he looks over at her slyly.
“We can eat the cake, too.”
They both smile as he takes her hand in his once more.
She settles back for a moment, takes it all in. How somehow, he has turned pasta in the container with plastic silverware, Diet Sprite sipped from the bottle, and a park on the side of a busy city street into one of the most romantic nights of her life. It makes her catch her breath, count her blessings for a second; that she gets this Elliot Stabler.
This Elliot Stabler, who knows her. Knows who she is, and doesn’t hold it against her. Understands and adjusts to make room for all the pieces of her.
This Elliot Stabler; who is driving her home, and now - now he can come up. With her.
She breathes his name out; a ragged cry on her lips as he drives her higher; his mouth and fingers working her over and over.
He stops for a second, eyes traveling up her body, and she whines, frustrated and loud at his actions stopping.
“Please,” it’s a plea and an order all at once, and there is a smile on his face as he complies, lowers his lips to her clit, resuming what he’d paused.
Elliot has two fingers deep in her, the opposite arm splayed across her mid-section, his strong forearm an anchor for her to grip, keeping her hips frustratingly still.
Olivia arches up into him; desperately cants her hips forward to no avail. He slows down slightly, long swipes of his tongue against her bundle of nerves, pushing her closer, and closer, but not over the edge.
When she whimpers, a groaned out “‘more” coming from above him, he doubles down. Elliot changes his motions, curls his fingers just so; finding the slick patch deep inside her that he knows, now.
Olivia gasps, and as she does he sucks in her clit, hard, relentless for a moment; and feels her shatter. His head between her thighs as she shudders; his fingers locked in place as she moans his name again; her walls contracting around the digits.
Elliot holds her through it; slow passes of his tongue as she comes down; back to earth; back to the bed they share tonight. When she is still, satiated for the moment, he moves his head. He rests his chin on her thigh and looks up at her.
“What?” She asks, a husk in her voice as she echoes the grin on his face with one of her own.
Elliot smirks at her, clearly pleased at himself.
“Just like you, like this.”
She beckons him up, and he obliges, resting on his side next to her. He rests a hand on her belly, soft and supple and warm, and she threads her fingers through his.
“Like what? Naked?”
“Nah. I mean, yes, Liv, I like you naked. But I just mean - I like you like this. Messy. Happy. Warm.”
He eyes her body again.
Olivia turns toward him, rolling to her side.
He meets her eyes with his own, again.
“I mean it, Liv. I just like this. Us.”
She feels it again, then. The drum that’s been beating all night, the one in her chest that’s been echoing through her body. It’s them; how they move, how they are; together . In sync, the drumbeat the same between them; able to move and shift and change when the other needs it. Always aware of the other; always adjusting to the pace.
It’s love, buried in them; latent for decades, but always there.
That’s the difference, now. That’s the change. This is the love she’s earned; the one she’s deserved. This Elliot Stabler is hers.
Olivia kisses him then; pulls him over and above her. He slides in easily; holds still as he looks down at her. Whispers words of love and devotion and truth to her as they rock together, in the dim light of her room.
When she wakes up the next morning; and he is there, slumbering next to her, she burrows closer, nuzzles into him. Slowly falls back asleep, knowing - no more regrets. No more steps back.
Only steps forward, together.