Actions

Work Header

show a little faith (there's magic in the night)

Chapter Text

It all happened fairly quickly. He’d met Olivia at the door with a glass of Cabernet and a your day good? as she shucked off her coat and tossed it onto the back of his couch. For the last few months they’d been meeting, or trying at least, to meet for dinner, for coffee, for a couple of spare minutes at least once a week. Usually at his place, rarely at hers. Sometimes on a bench in Central Park or in one of their SUV’s outside of their respective precincts. Working on this so-called friendship for now , trying to find the perfect balance of reminiscing on the old all while learning the new. 

“Never took you for a Springsteen fan,” she’d hummed, and he swore her shoulders were slightly swaying as the New Jersey native’s grovely voice swooned through the bluetooth speakers and into his kitchen. 

Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays

“No? Who’dya take me for then?” he’d asked and she’d twisted her neck with a soft smirk and leaned against the patio door, wine glass dangling loosely between her fingers.

“Guns ‘n Roses, AC/DC, Metallica type guy.” She’d been quick, answered him without hesitation as her lips found the rim of her glass. “Something you could bang your fists against a locker to.” Her eyes were mischievous, lips upturned as he lifted his gaze and paused to match her expression.

“Not like you ever witnessed that, eh?” 

“Never.”

He’d topped off her glass when she’d rounded the counter to peer over his shoulder as he stirred chicken and vegetables around in the skillet. 

“Smells good,” she’d told him after a long sip and he’d craned his neck back to look at her with that boyish grin, dimple prominent.

“Hope you still like stir fry.” 

“Love it,” she’d confirmed with a smile and another swig. Halfway through dinner she’d emptied the remainder of the bottle into her glass and asked him to open another. Pinot Noir this time, she’d specified, if he had it. 

“Pinot it is.” 

“So, what about me? Whattdo I like to listen to?” she’d asked, watching as he uncorked the bottle with ease and he shot her a knowing little grin, tossing the cork onto the countertop between them.

“Easy. Fleetwood Mac. Sheryl Crow. Something smooth to wind down to at the end of the day with a glass of wine after Noah goes to sleep.” 

“Yeah?” 

“Yeah. You like Gypsy and Dreams and Rhiannon .” She’d finished the last of her Cabernet and set her glass down, folding her arms across her chest and leaned against the counter, studying him as he poured the Pinot into her glass. “ Silver Springs is for when you’re on your second or third glass. You usually stick with one, but sometimes the day’s been hell so you let yourself indulge. Takes the edge off a little more.” 

I’ll say I loved you years ago, and tell myself you never loved me no

“The lyrics. Somethin’ about the lyrics.” 

She’d narrowed her eyes from behind the rim of her glass and watched his lips curve up into a tiny smirk. 

“M’I wrong?” 

“Plead the fifth, detective.” 

A moment later when he’d cleared their plates, back turned as he rinsed them at the kitchen sink, he heard her softly humming.

Give me just a chance, you’ll never get away from the sound of the woman that loved you

By the time he’d set a slice of cheesecake with two forks in front of her, she’d finished her third glass. 

“Got any strawberries?” she’d asked, tipping the bottle and splashing a healthy pour for her fourth. He’d shoved a bite of cake into his mouth before rounding the counter and swinging open the refrigerator door.

“Your lucky day, Cap.” He’d grinned, mouth full as he plopped a few berries onto their shared plate, and only when she smiled back, that small, shy smile behind the curtain of her hair did he notice her cheeks were a little more flushed than usual. 

“Mmm, that was all really good. I’m stuffed,” she’d told him, setting her fork down onto the empty plate as she stood up from the barstool, and it hadn’t escaped him when she’d stumbled slightly to find her footing, her hand falling to his shoulder to steady herself. “Jus’ goin to the bathroom.”

When the door shut behind her, he stood and cleared the plate and silverware from the counter, catching a glimpse of the half-empty bottle of Pinot by her seat. Mouth twisted, he’d picked up his own glass, eyes flickering between his glass and hers and the bottle on the counter. He’d had one and a half, possibly two full glasses of wine since she’d arrived a couple of hours earlier, meaning she’d had four and a half or five at that point. 

No wonder she’s stumbling, he’d thought, re-corking the bottle and stashing it away in the cabinet next to the refrigerator. 

“You could have a party in that shower, Stabler,” she’d called and he turned just in time to see her rest her forearms against the back of one of the barstools. “Things bigger than my whole bathroom.” 

He’d chuckled and pulled out a bottle of water from the fridge, sliding it across the island in her direction. 

“What’s this?” She’d picked it up and eyed it like it was something positively offensive before sliding it back towards him with a huff.

“How many glasses of wine you have, Liv?” She’d narrowed her eyes as the water found its way in front of her again and straightened up with extreme confidence.

“Two.” She was matter-of-fact in her answer, holding up four fingers with a proud smirk and he’d had to hold back a laugh because she was so damn sure of herself with her semi tousled curls and rosy cheeks that he wondered how hard she’d hit him if he told her she was adorable.

“It’s hot in here,” she’d mumbled, stripping her cardigan away and tossing it onto the barstool. The clock on the microwave read quarter to 9 P.M. and he knew full well that she wasn’t going to get home on her own accord tonight, nor was he willing to send her off in an Uber or a cab. He could’ve gone along with her, he’d supposed. Made sure she got into her apartment safe and tucked her into her own bed with a glass of water and Advil on her nightstand for the morning. 

But instead she’s here, sitting on the edge of his bed as he roots through his drawer for a t-shirt and pair of sweatpants. 

“Your bed’s comfy, El,” she hums, arms stretched above her head as she flops back against the mattress with a giggle. “We havin’ a sleepover?” 

“Technically,” he tells her, pulling out a faded navy blue NYPD t-shirt and a pair of gray sweats. “Here.” He turns, holds the clothes out towards her. “Why don’t you change into these, Liv?” She cranes her neck to the side and looks up at him with a soft smile and hooded eyes, stretching her arms up into the air.

“Help me,” she beckons and he grasps her arm with his free hand, pulling her up and she lands with a soft bounce against the edge of the bed. 

“Hi,” she giggles, wisps of hair falling in front of her eyes when she tilts her chin up, brow furrowed as she leans back, palms braced on the mattress. “You’re tall.” 

“You’re drunk,” he retorts, a soft whisper as if he’s letting her in on a guarded secret, and she rolls her eyes, straightening up with the same air of confidence she had moments earlier in the kitchen. 

“If I was drunk, would’I be able to do this?” Slowly, deliberately, she holds up her index finger in front of her face and moves it towards the tip of her nose. Eyes crossing, her finger lands just under her right eye. 

“Impressive.” 

“Close enough.” She shrugs and before he could stop it, her hands were at the hem of her shirt, lifting it up and over her head in a clumsy but swift motion and he watches it float to the ground. Black cotton landing with a soft whoosh in a ruffled pile next to his feet. 

Golden. The only word that comes to mind as his eyes trail up her body. Her skin, slick and dewy with a thin layer of perspiration, neck glistening as she tilts her head to the side, chest heaving and Jesus she’s a goddess in black lace that would bring any man to his knees in worship. 

The scars . She’d told him about her scars not long ago. About what had happened to her in the years he was gone. About the monster that had sunken its claws into her and tried to destroy her, but failed because Olivia Benson was stronger than any sort of evil that dared to cross her. How she’d thought of him, wanted him in the moments she was sure she was going to die. How she’d wanted his face to be the last thing she’d remembered if she were to be taken from the Earth because if she couldn’t have him in this life, perhaps his memory would follow her into the next.

A bead of sweat gathers between the swell of her breasts and he swallows heavily as his eyes follow its trail over her puckered skin. She’s beautiful, exceptionally so, and he nearly lets it spill from his lips when she reaches out for the t-shirt in his hand. 

“I sleep without a bra,” Olivia tells him, holding his shirt tight against her chest and raises her brow. “Don’t look.” 

“Yeah, of course.” He turns his back to her and hears the soft thud of material joining the black cotton on the floor. 

“Ok,” she hums after a moment and he turns back to find her running a hand through her soft curls, his NYPD shirt falling to the middle of her thigh. “Too hot for sweatpants,” she mumbles, fingers falling to the button of her jeans and he whips back around, rummaging through his middle drawer in search of something lighter. 

“Gym shorts ok?” He asks, arm outstretched in her direction, a pair of nylon shorts dangling from his fingertips. 

“Thanks,” she murmurs, denim joining the clothes on the floor and he keeps his back to her when she pulls his shorts up past her hips. He hears her shuffle against the sheets and turns in time to see her pushing herself up towards the head of the bed, resting her back against the headboard. Stretching her legs out in front of her and crossing her ankles, a soft giggle escapes her lips as she brings a hand to her mouth to stifle it. 

“What’s so funny?” He asks, eyes crinkling with a bemused smile as she shakes her head. 

“I’m in your bed,” she laughs, smacking her palms against the mattress. “M’wearin’ your clothes.” She stretches the t-shirt away from her body and watches it float back down against her skin. “Past Olivia wouldn’t believe this.” 

He pauses, still clutching the gray sweats in his hands and leans back against the dresser. 

“Yeah,” he starts, clicking his tongue against the roof of his mouth and tilting his head to the side. “Past Elliot wouldn’t believe it either.” 

She nods, sucking her bottom lip between her teeth and shimmies her body down a little deeper into the mattress. 

“How does uh,” he stutters, closes his eyes and wills the image of the love of his fucking life in his faded NYPD shirt from his brain, and pinches the tip of his nose between his fingers. “How does current Olivia feel about it?” 

“Mmm,” she hums, her head rolling against her shoulder and smiles lazily over at him. “Current Olivia thinks that current Elliot should get into those sweats.” She points to his hands before flopping her arms back down beside her. “And get into this bed.” 

“Liv,” he nearly groans and she reaches out towards him with another giggle. 

“C’mon, my friend, Elliot. Don’t be shy. Jus’ me.” 

He sighs, scrubs his palm down his cheek and lets it fall against his chest. He wants more than anything to climb into bed beside her, to run his hands through her hair and touch the flushed skin along her cheeks, her shoulders, her back. Wants to trace his fingers along every dimple, every scar and kiss her neck and the freckle just behind her ear. Wants to make up for past mistakes and missed opportunities and fucking lies in a letter and for seeking comfort in meaningless women because he was too much of a goddamn coward to go after a twenty-three year old truth.

Her lips, plump and parted, call out for him again and he runs his hand up to the back of his neck as he turns and makes his way into the bathroom, shutting the door behind him. Palms braced against the counter, he sucks in a deep breath and catches his reflection in the mirror. He’s not going to let anything like that happen between them tonight. Not going to take advantage of her in a situation where she’s not fully coherent, and even if she was, he’s not even sure they’re quite there yet. 

It’s a flirtationship. Kathleen had told him over coffee the week prior when she’d asked how it’d been going with Olivia. You know? That weird stage between just friends and something more.

Elliot had noticed that their goodbye hugs had started to recently morphe into longer embraces. That her arm would more often than not find itself looped through his as they walked a path through Central Park, and that her pinky would hook around his until the moment they parted ways. That his fingertips would dance dangerously close to her neck while they’d sit on his couch and how every now and then she’d tilt her head to the side and let his hand graze the very ends of her hair. And how just last week she’d let him lean over and brush his lips to her temple before she hopped out of his SUV and strode back into the 1-6. 

He shakes his head and straightens, shucks his jeans down his legs and tosses them into the hamper and replaces them with the sweats meant for her. Stripping the black Henley from his body, he pulls his old ratty Marines shirt off the towel rack where he’d left it this morning after his shower and throws it over his head. 

“Thought you fell in the toilet or somethin’,” he hears when he steps back into his bedroom. She’s on her side now with her back to him and he circles the bed and holds his palm out to her. 

“Made it out unscathed this time. Here, take these,” he tells her and she lifts herself up onto her elbow, brows knitted and stares at the three circular pills in his hand.

“Why?” 

“Future Olivia will thank me.” 

She huffs, stealing the Advil from his palm and dropping them into her mouth before reaching back to the nightstand for the glass of water he’d set there when he first brought her into his room. Flopping onto her back, arm outstretched in the air in his direction, she wiggles her fingers and tilts her neck to her shoulder with a tiny grin.

“I have a secret,” she whispers and he can’t help but smile as he turns toward the headboard and tucks his leg underneath his body, easing himself down onto the edge of the mattress.

“Well, lucky for you I’m good at keeping secrets,” he tells her and she sighs, turning onto her side and digging her head a little deeper into the pillow. 

“Top secret, secrets?” she asks, voice light with an innocence that reminds him a little of the wide-eyed pistol he’d met nearly twenty-four years ago.

“Especially top secret, secrets,” he promises, fighting the impulse to reach out and smooth the runaway curl from in front of her eyes. Smirking, she tucks her arm beneath her head and rests her cheek into the crook of her elbow, eyes crinkled as if she’s about to reveal the identity of the Zodiac Killer himself. 

Instead, she scooches her body a little closer to his leg, stretches her free hand out in the space between them and whispers, “ I had more than two glasses of wine.” 

She laughs loud and hard and if he could, he’d capture the sound of it in a bottle and save it for days where the world seemed a little too dark and cruel because this, he’s sure, is what pure happiness is. 

“You mean you lied to a New York City police detective?” He asks with feigned seriousness and she bites at the corner of her lip at the accusation, chewing softly at the skin as if considering the possibility that she might actually be in trouble for such an offense . That is, until her lips curl into a Cheshire Cat grin and she scrunches her fingers against his comforter. 

“Lucky for me,” she starts, walking her index and middle finger over towards his thigh, voice light and airy, “I happen t’know a New York City police Captain. ” 

“Yeah?” He twists his body a little towards her, nudging the side of his leg against her fingers. “Tell me about her.” 

“Well,” she sighs, burrowing her cheek a little deeper into her arm. “She keeps dark chocolate in her desk instead’a Red Vines.” 

Elliot chuckles, feels her pinch the material of his sweatpants between her fingertips. “Dark chocolate, I’ll have to remember that.” 

“Mhm.” She nods, rubbing the gray cotton in small circles as she studies the red and black emblem of Eli’s high school logo on top of his thigh. “But no nuts,” she clarifies, fingers pausing their movement as she holds his gaze. “Jus’ pure, like God made it.” He smiles, eyes softening as she nuzzles deeper into the pillow with a soft hum. There’s already a smudge of mascara and a hint of lipstick on the white pillowcase, but he doesn’t mind. If this is the only time he’ll get to have her in his bed, at least his sheets will smell like her when she’s gone. 

“Dark chocolate. Extra nuts. Got it,” he affirms with a slight nod and Olivia’s eyes widen almost in panic as her fingers dig in against his thigh. 

“I’said no nuts, Elliot.” 

“No, I could’ve sworn you said extra nuts.” Her brows furrow, deep with consideration at the prospect that she could’ve said extra nuts, but she shakes her head seconds later and relaxes her grip on his leg. 

“No nuts,” she hums and the sound of raindrops against the window adds to the already tranquil atmosphere of the dimly lit bedroom. Her hand slides off his leg into the space between their bodies and she pats the mattress twice, murmuring a muffled, “Come ‘ere.” 

He breathes her name almost in warning as she props herself up onto her elbow, bottom lip tucked between her teeth and cheek against her palm. Hesitating, he sighs and twists his body fully onto the bed, resting his back against the headboard and stretching his legs out to parallel hers.

“I’m good up here for now, Liv,” he tells her when she raises a brow and peers up at him behind a veil of tussled brown hair. “Seriously,” he says, laughing when she narrows her eyes and flops back down onto the pillow beneath her. Rain falls harder against the glass as she stretches her hand out, index finger drawing small circles along the white cotton sheets. Elliot turns his head and watches droplet after droplet race one another down the windowpane as the sound of another New Jersey native croons something about flying to the moon in the distance.

“I like the rain,” she murmurs after a moment and he tilts his neck so he can see her face a little clearer from where he sits, eyes half-closed both from red wine and exhaustion. “Used’ta put Noah right to sleep.” 

“Yeah?” He asks with a small grin. “Helps me sleep too,” he says and her lips curl just slightly to match his. 

“Sometimes he still crawls into my bed and asks me to put on rain sounds on my phone when he can’t sleep,” she tells him and Elliot’s heart leaps at the thought of the smaller Benson curled up in his mother’s bed in the middle of the night, head on her chest with the rhythmic pitter patter soothing the pair to sleep. “Likes when I run my hand through his hair,” she whispers and before he can give himself too much time to think, he’s reaching out for her, fingers threading through her dark waves and brushes them away from her face, her eyes fluttering completely closed when he grazes the shell of her ear. 

“Like this?” He asks, voice low and hand lingering against the back of her skull and she nods into his palm. 

“Yeah,” she hums. “Jus’ like that.” 

“You gonna fall asleep on me, Benson?” He asks, feels her head shake against his hand in response as she scoots herself a little closer to his legs. 

“Just keep rubbin,” she murmurs and he lets his thumb slide down the back of her neck until he’s sweeping slow, delicate circles just beneath her ear. Her head next to his hip and leg stretched out alongside his, it’d be easy to wrap his hands around her and hoist her up onto his chest. Let his fingers sift through her hair and scratch along her lower back. Let his lips press against her forehead as he tells her about all of the nights he yearned to have her in his arms. Nights both in a city that had once been theirs, and in one a universe away.

But he’ll take this. He’d take this any day without question and would never consider it as any sort of consolation. Wouldn’t dare consider her in his clothes, in his bed, with his hand in her hair as anything but a gift because quite frankly, it’s more than he deserves. 

“Tell me a secret,” Elliot hears and his palm curls a little tighter around the nape of her neck, encouraging her to tilt her chin up to meet his eyes. He smiles a lazy, crooked grin as if she somehow could hear his thoughts and lets out a deep sigh, his head thumping back against the headboard with a dull thud.

“A secret, huh?” He asks, and it’s a loaded question, he knows. And he wonders if she’d rather know that The Backstreet Boys are one of his musical guilty pleasures (he did have teenage daughters in the 90s) or about the reason he turned away from a boy in a bus terminal sixteen years ago. If she’d laugh that he’d once cried after watching some Nicholas Sparks movie with Kathy, or that he’s wondered, more often than he’d like to admit, what things would be like now if his feet had carried him to a different doorstep in the aftermath of Malcom Royce’s wrath. If she wants to know that sometimes he likes those way too sugary drinks from Starbucks with extra whipped cream and caramel drizzle or how the minute he’d locked eyes with her son in the middle of the street, that parallel universe, once unattainable had transformed into something very real, into something that felt like it could one day be theirs.

Her hair feels like silk when he wraps a few strands around his fingers and lifts them away from her neck and lets them fall in waves back against her skin. He does it again, once, twice until she hums, nuzzles her head against his palm and his fingers curl instinctively against her skull. 

“Your hair’s soft,” Elliot murmurs, thumb swiping back and forth against her crown and she tilts her chin up just so, studying him with a lazy smile and narrowed eyes. 

“The secret, El,” she says, persistent even in her wine-induced incoherency and he sighs, pressing his free hand to his chest. 

“One of the first Sundays after we moved to Rome, we took Eli out to breakfast and afterwards Kathy had to go pick up some stuff for the apartment. Eli wanted to go with her, so I sorta just walked around. Learned the area.” Olivia’s hand curls into a fist against the mattress and he has no idea what could possibly be possessing him to tell her this, but he just lifts his eyes to the ceiling and brushes his fingertips along her temple. 

“There was this little church off one of the side streets near Piazza di Spagna. I could hear singing coming from inside so I snuck in, stood in the back. My Italian still wasn’t great at that point, but I could tell the Mass was close to being over.” He hesitates. “At the end the priest stood up and recited this beautiful prayer: strengthen me in my faith, establish me in virtue, guard me in conflict, that I may vanquish the foe malign and attain to glory everlasting...Santa Olivia, prega per noi.” 

Saint Olivia, pray for us.

“It was the Feast Day of Saint Olivia. To be honest, I didn’t even know there was a Saint Olivia. Some Catholic, huh?” He breathes and bites his bottom lip between his teeth, grounds himself with the warmth of her neck in his palm. “They had her Mass cards sitting on a little table, so I took one and put it in my wallet. It had that prayer on the back. Whenever I needed guidance, strength. Whenever I wanted to hear…” He pauses, noticing her fist tightening its grip on his sheets, and chooses his words with heavier consideration. “Whenever I needed a little extra faith, I’d take it out and read it…Still do.” 

His fingers scratch lightly across his pecs as a clap of thunder rumbles low in the distance. 

“Not’a saint, Elliot.” Her voice is low, somber. A direct contrast to the Olivia who, just moments ago, had scolded him for suggesting he bring her chocolate with nuts in it. 

“I know you’re not. Nobody is. I just -” His hand slides away from her neck as he turns and props himself up onto his side. “Made me feel safe. Almost like I had you with me.”

She nods in a quiet understanding, because she does understand. A medal of faith around her neck and a badge on the bottom of her gun, she understands with an aching familiarity what it’s like to yearn for someone and have to settle for symbols of their memory in return. 

She tilts her head back and rests her palm against his cheek. His eyes are tired as she brushes her thumb along the creases just beneath his bottom lid, and can tell he’s fighting every impulse to lean further into her touch. He’s exhausted. They’re exhausted. A brutal, physical exhaustion that ruminates deep as a result of day-to-day stresses and from two decades worth of running from what lately seems more and more like the inevitable.

“Hey,” she urges, fingers pressing firmly into the back of his skull. “Lay down with me.”

Elliot raises a brow, whispers her name when she slides her hand from his face to his shoulder as she breathes out a heavy “ please” and his body falls just as easily as his defenses. Their noses nearly brush when his cheek lands on the pillow next to hers and her fingers curl around the sleeve of his t-shirt, fingertips softly trailing over the permanent mark of fidelity on his skin.

“Don’t think I’ve ever been this close to your face before,” Olivia smiles and her breath is warm and smells a little like oak and berries as his hand settles in the small gap between their torsos. “I like it.”

“Yeah?” He asks, a mixture of surprise and something like relief laced in his voice. “You mean my face or being close to me?”

She closes her eyes and tucks her bottom lip between her teeth. “Both.”

The rain taps a steady rhythm against the window as lightning illuminates the sky behind her, goosebumps rising on his skin as the air conditioner kicks on and Olivia’s palm brushes along his collarbone to his chest. 

“I have another secret,” she breathes the words against his chin and he smiles when he feels her fist the material of his shirt. “I thought the beard was kinda’sexy.” It’s a sleepy admission and Elliot’s laugh is low and rasped against her forehead. 

“You want me to grow it back?” He asks.

“No,” she mumbles, quick with rejection, palm flattening against the faded Marines emblem. “Like seeing your face.” 

“Scruff?” She tilts her head back to scan his face, mouth pouted in consideration.

“Never saw you with scruff,” she says and he shrugs and settles a hand on the pillow beneath his cheek.

“First time for everything,” he supposes and Olivia hums in response as her eyes flicker down to where his fingers are flexing into the sheets.

“You can touch me, Elliot.” It’s a whisper and if his face wasn’t literal centimeters away from hers, he would’ve sworn this was all part of some elaborate dream. Still, he raises a brow in question, seeking assurance and he thinks she rolls her eyes as her hand slides from his chest to clasp his fingers in hers. “Touch me.” She’s firmer this time as she brings their joined hands to her hip, letting his palm settle into the dip of her waist. 

They’re silent for a few moments and Elliot is content to let her drift to sleep knowing these moments of peace for her are few and far between. He shifts, the pads of his fingers dragging the material of her shirt as he moves and skims the bare skin of her lower back. She jerks slightly and hums.

“Ticklish, Captain?” He grumbles, feeling goosebumps pucker against his skin and she bites her lip to contain a smile and shakes her head.

“No,” she sighs and when his fingers dig a little deeper into her back, she shrieks with laughter and kicks and tries to squirm away, but his arm just tightens and locks her in place against his chest.

“No?” He grins and she’s laughing so hard there’s tears pooling in the corners of her eyes and he wonders if he’s ever remembered seeing her laugh like this before.

She breathes his name in an exasperated sigh as his fingers stop their movement and he feels her breathing even in the shallow rise and fall of her chest against his. Her hand steadies itself against his bicep, thumb dipping underneath his sleeve as she presses her forehead to his chin. 

“Kiss me.” 

It’s quiet. So goddamn quiet that he’s afraid to ask what it was she said in case he’d imagined it, because there is no fucking way that Olivia Benson is in his arms, wearing his clothes, in his bed, asking him to kiss her. But her hand slides from his arm to his neck and she tilts her head just so and lets her lips fall into his jaw.

“I’m tired, Elliot,” she sighs into his skin and he rests his chin against her crown, palm gliding up her spine to cup the back of her head.

“You can sleep, Liv,” he soothes, but she digs her nails into his nape and pulls back slightly and he understands. He understands she’s not talking about sleep, but a shared twenty-three year exhaustion and he leans his cheek against her temple and breathes deeply. A lock of her hair catches between his lips as he nudges her foot at the end of the bed as if to say so am I.

His bluetooth speakers must have lost power at some point because the rain and the air conditioner and Olivia’s steady breathing lull into one constant buzz of white noise and when she snores softly a moment later, he peels his body carefully away from hers and rolls off the bed. Shuffling quietly into the kitchen, he grabs his phone from the island and a bottle of water from the fridge before shutting the lights off and locking all doors. The glow from the microwave tells him it’s 10:18 P.M. and he opens an unread message from Eli and taps out a quick response, thanking him for letting him know he’d arrived safely at his friend’s house after a movie and to be safe. 

Elliot tip-toes back into the bedroom and shuts the door behind him, clicking the lock. His mother is away on a retreat with a few ladies she’d met at the local recreation center and isn’t due back until the next afternoon. But still, he decides not to chance it in case she comes home early and peeks into his room to let him know, because he’d never hear the end of it if she caught Olivia in his bed before he even has a chance to try to explain himself.

He plugs his phone into the charger behind his nightstand and only when he moves to slide into bed for a second time does he notice that Olivia’s back is now to him and she at some point nestled herself beneath the blankets. He turns the bedside lamp off before pulling the covers back and easing himself down onto the mattress, careful not to jostle her as he does. He settles onto his back, arm falling across his chest and eyes to ceiling and lets out a deep sigh because it’s just hitting him that he hasn’t shared a bed like this with anyone before except his wife . He turns his head, watches the slow, rhythmic rise and fall of her back and shoulders and he should’ve fucking kissed her when he had the chance. 

“D’you think I’m unattractive?” The words are whispered, calm and monotone into the air and Elliot lifts his head in surprise and furrows a brow, mouth opening and closing and when his silence gives her what she thinks is an answer, she puffs out a caustic laugh and digs her head deeper into the pillow, grumbling a heavy, “That’s what I thought.” 

“Olivia,” he breathes, imploring her to turn over, but she’s steadfast and unwilling to meet his silent request to look him in the eyes. “Why are you asking me this?”

She’s quiet, her shoulders rising and falling in sharper intakes and he swears she mutters a bitter fuck you beneath her breath. 

If this was ten or more years ago he’d take her response as a hint that she didn’t want to talk any further and let it drop, but their communication skills have really done them no favors in the past so he sighs deeply and rolls towards her, propping himself up onto his elbow.

“Hey.” She ignores him. Curls her body a little tighter into herself and he hesitates for a moment before reaching out and threading his fingers through her hair. “What’s going on in here?” He asks, tapping her temple with his index and middle fingers. She reaches for the sheet that’s around her waist and pulls it up to her shoulders with a huff and he bites his lip to keep from grinning because he swears Katie and Maureen and Liz had given him this exact treatment before when they were teenagers

“Alright.” He laughs, brushing the hair away from her neck and before he can stop himself, his lips are pressed against the juncture between her neck and shoulder. 

“I think you’re beautiful, Olivia Benson.” And he doesn’t know how, but suddenly his back is pressed against the mattress and Olivia is hovering over him. Nearly straddling him. The ends of her hair are tickling his cheeks and her leg is tossed over his thigh and Jesus her eyes are on fire

“Don’t lie to me,” she grits and his brows are raised in confusion and there’s tears in the corners of her eyes and oh.

Angela Wheatley’s testimony is up next. Any reason I shouldn’t be there? 

That’s none of your business.

Come ‘ere.

You can touch me, Elliot. Touch me.

Your friend, Flutura. 

Kiss me.

Do you think I’m unattractive? 

He is a fucking idiot. 

He sighs, brings his palm up to cup the side of her neck and his thumb curls itself around her throat and dips into the hollow spot of her collarbone.

“You think I don’t -” She swallows against his hand and averts her gaze, eyes wider and a little glassier than they’d been just seconds ago and his fingers tighten their grip around her neck. “Shit, Liv.” 

And he wants to throw his head back and laugh because the fact that she could think she is anything but his personal deity is both absurd and entirely his fault. 

“We’re so fucked up,” he breathes and half expects her to pull away, but instead she bites her lip in a valiant effort to stop her laughter as her head falls to his chest. Elliot cradles her against him, arms around her shoulders and belly against his side as he presses his lips to her temple, nostrils flaring as he breathes her in. 

“There is absolutely nothing more I’d rather do than kiss you right now,” he murmurs and she flexes her fingers along his ribs and tilts her head back with a lazy grin, challenges him to do it with wicked eyes and his hand sneaks under the veil of her hair to squeeze her neck.

“I’m going to,” he promises, lips falling to the bridge of her nose and mumbles, “Just not tonight.” 

Olivia huffs, uses his chest as leverage to push herself away from his body and rolls towards the edge of the bed. 

“Gotta go,” she says and he laughs and grips her arm, pulling her back to his side. Her face hovers above his again and he reaches up and tucks a loose wave behind her ear, palm settling reverently on her cheek. 

“When I kiss you Olivia, I wanna do it when we’re both clear-minded.” 

“Elliot -” 

“No Cabernet clouding any judgments. Need to know this is what you really want.” His voice is soft as his thumb swipes a half-moon beneath her eye and she smiles because he’s so goddamn respectful but she has half the mind to pull his shirt right over his head and tell him to screw respect . That she’s a subject-matter expert in the art, having spent over a decade respecting his beliefs, his God, and the ring on his finger and that maybe it was about time they start learning how to respect each other’s needs.

“Plus,” he breaks her train of thought, traces her nose to the corner of her mouth. “When I kiss you I want you to remember everything clearly.” He tugs gently at her bottom lip. “Everywhere I touch you.” Her breath catches as his thumb dips slightly into her mouth like it had that night in the middle of her apartment when he’d stumbled to his knees like a lost apostle and fell at her altar. “Every moan.” He presses deeper. “Every sigh.”

Olivia reaches for his wrist and tugs his hand away from her lips, his fingers grazing her jaw as his thumb leaves a wet trail down the column of her throat, her eyes set on his as if to say, another word and all that respect talk is going out the fucking window. His grin is smug when he finds her pulse point, feels her heartbeat against his chest as her arm slithers its way around his midsection and she props her chin against his shoulder. 

“If you won’t kiss me, will you at least rub my back’n play with my hair?” she asks, and he smiles wide at her doe eyes and can’t help but press a chaste kiss to her forehead. 

“Yeah Liv, I can do that.” He lifts his arm so she can turn a little further onto her stomach and toss her leg over his. She lets out a deep sigh into the crook of his neck as his hand settles between her shoulder blades, fingers arching to dip underneath the collar of her t-shirt to skim along the bare skin of her nape. 

“Make a nice pillow,” she hums, nuzzling her cheek a little deeper into him and he chuckles, hand sweeping up and down her back in a broad circle. 

Her fingers soothe their way up his side, over his ribs and she lays her palm flat over his heart. It’s comforting. The sound of the storm, the whirl of the air conditioner and the beat of his heart against her skin, it’s a sense of comfort she hasn’t felt in God knows how long, and it’s terrifying. Terrifying, because this is the same man capable of causing her the greatest pain she’s ever known.

“What are you afraid of, Elliot Stabler?” Her voice is small and mumbled against his collarbone and he hums, bending his free arm behind his head as he stares up at the ceiling. 

“Spiders,” he answers without hesitation and her laughter is the purest sound he can ever remember hearing, so he pinches a bit of her flesh between his fingers hoping to prolong it for as long as he can. “I don’t care how small they are, nothing should ever have eight legs.” 

She smiles and hums in agreement, presses her face a little further into him. “What else?” 

He’s silent for a moment, hand drifting slowly up and down her back and she waits patiently, listens to his heart beat strong and steady. 

“That my kids are gonna see me the same way I see my dad.” Olivia closes her eyes. Feels their chests rise and fall in heavy synchronization.“That I waited too long to reconcile with Mom.” He picks up a piece of her hair, twirls it loosely around his finger, and lets it fall back along her neck. “That I’ll never be half the man you deserve.”

Olivia breathes his words in and lets out a shaky exhale. It’s bold and vulnerable, this whispered confession and it makes her heart flutter in tiny spurts against his chest. He feels it, she knows, by the way his grip tightens around her neck and the beat against her palm thumps harder and faster. 

His phone vibrates twice on the nightstand and goes seemingly unnoticed.

“Clowns.” His voice startles her and she tilts her head back an inch. His eyes are closed as his hand untangles from her hair and slides along her side to her hip. “They’re creepy and give people nightmares.” 

Olivia’s lips curl, breath catching when his fingers push past the bottom of her shirt and graze the skin along the small of her back.

“This ok?” He murmurs and she grins and nods into his neck because there’s that respectful bastard again, even with his hand half an inch from the top of her ass. 

“I was never afraid you were dead.” It’s blurted, and she has no fucking clue where it’s coming from but the words are out of her mouth before she has the chance to think.

He pulls back and asks her to repeat herself with knitted brows and she wants to laugh because she’s just as confused as he is at her sudden confession. They are sharing secrets tonight, she supposes.

“When you were gone,” she elaborates, his five o’clock shadow tickling the skin along her hairline when she presses her forehead to his jaw. “I didn’t know where you were, but I knew you were alive.” 

He’s quiet, encourages her to continue with soft strokes in the dip of her waist and she exhales a shaky sigh into his neck. 

“Knew if somethin’ happened to you I would just know,” she whispers, pursing her lips together as he anchors her a little tighter against his body. “I’d feel it.” She bows her head, rests her mouth against his collarbone for a split second before lifting herself up onto her elbow. She studies him, forehead creased and mouth slightly agape and she wonders when exactly this man became so inextricably connected to her soul. A split second decision in a bus terminal or a desperate embrace in a hospital hallway, covered in his newborn’s blood, or maybe it was sprawled out on concrete, her head cradled against his chest in the aftermath of yet another life or death altercation. 

In truth, there probably isn’t one singular moment to pinpoint. It’s moments scattered, a multitude of invisible strings of a thirteen year partnership woven together that not even a decade of silence or the goddamn Atlantic Ocean dared try and sever.

“You’re a part of me, Elliot,” she confesses, face inches from his and he wants to reach up and thread his fingers through her hair and claim every part of her as his, but instead he’s frozen, clinging to the magnitude of her words as she presses her palm a little deeper against his chest. “Ten years apart didn’t change that.” 

His mouth curls to a small, sad smile and the hand on her waist glides up her spine to cup the back of her head and he leans forward, brushes the tip of his nose to hers and if she could read minds she’d know just how close he was to telling her how much he fucking loves her. Instead her palm soothes its way from his chest, over his shoulder to the back of his neck and she dips her fingertips beneath the collar of his shirt. 

“You want me to go with you when you get this stupid thing off?” She asks, her touch skimming the skin between his shoulder blades, over the mark of what he’d described as the worst sort of betrayal and he tilts his head to the side with a small grin when she reaches for the hand behind his head and tangles their fingers.

“You serious?” His brows arch as she brings their joined hands to rest over his heart and props her chin back down against his shoulder, a soft mmm humming in the back of her throat.

“I’ll even hold your hand,” she promises, thumb brushing back and forth over his knuckles. 

“I’d like that,” he says, tugging her a little closer when she tucks her face back into that spot just between his neck and shoulder. 

“Can think of several other things you’d like.” It’s whispered and flirty and light and he laughs out loud at her sudden brazenness and fuck he thinks this woman is going to be the death of him.

“‘Livia I’m trying to be a gentleman , here,” he nearly groans as she hooks her leg a little tighter around his with a huff. 

“I didn’t ask you to be,” she retorts, almost too quickly, but her thumb continues its soft strokes across his knuckles and he opens and closes his mouth, clears his throat and he can tell she senses his hesitation when she squeezes his fingers in hers.

“It’s okay,” she tells him, voice a hoarse whisper as she breathes out, “always wanted to do this.” 

“Tease me?” 

“Be with you,” she murmurs and he feels like someone’s punched him straight in the gut, knocked the breath from his lungs because Jesus he wasn’t expecting that. “Just be with you.” 

And he knows what she means. Means co-existing in the same space, not because of a job’s demands but their own desires of wanting to spend time with the other. Means allowing themselves physical touch out of the shadows of some life-threatening situation. Means interlocked fingers and hands on skin and laughter in the dark because fuck if they don’t deserve all of that and more. 

Elliot swallows, notices the way her thumb lingers around his bare ring finger as he drags his fingertips along the column of her spine, sighing and tilting his head into her crown and breathes out a faint me too.

She tenses, flexes her foot against his calf and puffs out a sound of quiet disbelief against his throat. 

“How can you say that when you…” 

“When I left. You can say it, Liv. I left.” 

And he’s so matter-of-fact about it that she wants to scream. Wants to punch his chest and tell him to go fuck himself because he left her. He left her. He’s the one who found solace in a temporary partner that made her wonder if she should just dye her hair blonde because he certainly has a penchant for them. Who told her he loved her in front of his children and then ran off and put his lips and hands on their mother’s murderer. Who called her his rock in one breath and jumped into bed with a sex trafficker in the next. 

“I’m tryin to make up for it now. Tryin to make up for every stupid thing I ever did to you, Olivia.” 

“Like give me that letter?” It’s quick and caustic and a little harsher than intended and he closes his eyes, curls his palm around her shoulder and exhales a heavy sigh into her hair. 

“That probably ranks in the top three dumbest Elliot Stabler moments, yeah.” 

She giggles despite her best effort not to and tucks their threaded hands underneath her chin. 

“The other two?” She’s curious, and he inhales deeply, tugging her body a little further into his side and presses his nose to her temple. 

“You smell good,” he murmurs and she tilts her head back with narrowed eyes, digging her fingernails a little deeper into the back of his hand.

“Stop with the sweet talk,” she deadpans, dropping a quick kiss to his pec and rolls towards the edge of the bed, laughing when his fingers stay linked with hers as she stands. “I’m just goin to the bathroom. Don’t get clingy on me.” 

Elliot smiles and lets her go, his hand falling limply on his chest as she arches her back and stretches her arms above her head. When she shuts the door behind her, he reaches blindly for his cell phone, tapping the screen and skimming the emergency alert about flash flooding and power outages in the area and tosses it back onto the nightstand. He props himself up for a sip of water before flopping back down onto the bed, rubbing his palm back and forth over the top of his head with a sigh because this night can’t be fucking real. It’s a dream and if he pinches himself, he’ll wake up to an empty apartment and begin his day like any other. Olivia’s clothes won’t be on the floor at the foot of his bed and her scent won’t be on his pillow. The feel of her body against his will be a distant memory and her voice asking him to kiss her will be a haunting fantasy. But when the bathroom door swings open, Olivia is there. Ethereal and the prettiest fucking human he’s ever laid eyes on and it takes everything in him not to close the distance between them and rip his shirt right off her body and bury himself deep inside her because after twenty-three years, he needs to know what it’s like to belong to her, mind, body, and soul. Not just mind and soul. 

But instead he props his arms behind his head and watches her step through the threshold, hands on her hips as she scans the room in front of her. The half-moon shines through the window and casts a shadowed glow on the floor and she twists her mouth and follows its path to the foot of his bed. 

“You good?” Elliot asks, watching as she bends over and picks up her discarded jeans and fishes through her pockets. Brows furrowed, she mumbles something about her phone, and blows a piece of her hair away from her eyes with a short huff. She hears him smirk and glances over at him and he’s looking up at her with that boyish innocence that makes her ball her jeans up and toss them at his stupid face. 

“What?” She asks as he catches them with ease, a grin toying at the corners of his lips as he shrugs a shoulder and tosses them back in her general direction. 

“You’re cute,” he chuckles, pointing in the direction of the dresser against the opposite wall. She follows his gaze to where her phone sits next to a small wooden chest and she grabs it and taps in her passcode, scrolling through a few hours worth of unread messages. Olivia bites her thumb between her teeth and wanders slowly back towards the side of the bed with a small smile. 

“Noah and Rollins’ girls,” she tells him, sliding onto her belly beneath the sheets and hands him her phone, and he smiles at the photo of her curly-haired boy and two beautiful little blondes holding up huge bowls of ice cream.

“Those bowls are bigger than they are,” he says and she laughs and steals her phone back, laying it next to her glass of water on the nightstand. 

“My son is very serious about his ice cream,” she says, pushing herself up onto her forearms and he chuckles, brows raised and turns onto his side. 

“Who isn’t?” He teases, propping himself up with his cheek in his palm and asks, “What’s his favorite flavor?” 

“Used’ta be Rocky Road. But he’s been on a Cookies and Cream kick lately.” 

“Kid has taste,” he offers, and she bites down on the skin at the corner of her lip and there’s a question lingering on the tip of his tongue, but he’s afraid to push too much and disturb this delicate peace they’ve found themselves in. But his t-shirt is slipping off her shoulder and she’s looking at him with soft eyes and a lazy smile and he wants so badly to dive in head first, to forget boundaries and respect and whatever other barriers they’ve formed over two decades. So he swallows and rubs his hand over the top of his head and down his cheek until it lands with a thud on the mattress between them.

“There’s this really good gelateria near Little Italy. Eli and I sorta stumbled on it by accident a few months ago,” he says, fingers twisting around in the sheets. “I think Noah would really like it. I’d -” he pauses, flicks his eyes to meet hers. “I’d like to take him… you…the both of you. I’d like to take the both of you there sometime. If that’s okay with you. It’s the closest thing to authentic gelato in the city and -” He’s rambling now and Olivia chews harder on her lip to stop from laughing because he’s adorable when he’s flustered. And exceptionally so when he’s flustered over the prospect of taking her son on an ice cream - scratch that - gelato date. 

“I think that’d be okay,” she tells him, putting him out of his temporary misery and she can see, even in the dark, how his smile spreads upwards and reaches his eyes. “But I need’ta talk to Noah first.” 

“Course,” he breathes out, relieved that she’s even considering the idea since his last two attempts hadn’t ended quite like he’d wished, but he understands her hesitancy in letting him get close to the most important person in her life. He had been that person once, he knows. So he knows from experience just how close she’ll guard and protect her son. Just as she’d once done for her partner. As she still does for him, he thinks, undeservingly so.

Elliot reaches out, threads his fingers through her hair and brushes a loose curl away from her face. “I meant what I said earlier,” he tells her, voice low and thumb sweeping along her cheekbone. “You really are beautiful.” 

Olivia smiles, teeth catching her bottom lip as she takes his hand from her cheek and holds it up in the air between them. She stretches her palm flat against his, his fingers dwarfing hers in size when he curls the tips over hers. 

“Big hands,” she murmurs, thumb bending around his and he raises a brow with a Cheshire smirk and she already knows what he’s about to say before it’s out of his mouth.

“You know what they say about big hands…” 

“Elliot Stabler…” she laughs, half-chiding and threads the rest of her fingers through his. He mumbles a half-hearted sorry that makes her shake her head and roll her eyes up toward the ceiling. But after a beat, she sighs and leans forward, resting her lips against the back of his hand and rasps a small I missed you against his knuckles. He swallows the lump in his throat, heart thumping faster and before he has the chance to respond, she untangles their fingers and nudges his chest so he falls backwards onto the mattress. 

“Want my pillow back,” she murmurs, scootching up towards him and he lifts his arm in the air, signaling for her to crawl back into his side.

“At your service,” he says with a smile and she makes a small noise in appreciation when her head lands on his shoulder, hand stroking across his abdomen and curling her palm around his ribs as his fingers dance between her neck and the curve of her shoulder. 

“Never thought you’d be a cuddly drunk,” he murmurs and feels her lips curl against his skin. “I’m not complainin’,” he clarifies quickly, mouth skimming her crown and adds, “Just didn’t expect it.” 

“I’m not usually,” she counters, eyes fluttering as his hand drifts into her hair, fingertips scratching back and forth along her temple. “Haven’t really been drunk in awhile. Feel like a lightweight.” He chuckles and there’s a brief pause as she shifts slightly, tossing her leg over his.

“Maybe just wanted an excuse for you to take me to bed,” she breathes, and his mouth goes dry and his hand is cradling her head and he closes his eyes and he tells himself to count to ten.

“Jesus, Liv,” he chokes, voice low and hoarse as she presses her fingers into his side, and the rain falls harder outside at this exact moment, pelting the windows a little louder as if on cue. As if this moment, their lives, their history needed a dramatic chorus in the background.

Her breath is hot and labored against his throat as she presses her pelvis in against his hips and breathes into his skin. He rasps her name, both in reverence and wonder and she smiles a wicked grin against his collar. 

“I want you,” she breathes, and he feels he might completely lose every inhibition when she dusts a few soft, deliberate kisses along the underside of his jaw. 

“Liv-”

“...to tell me about the dumbest things you’ve done,” she says, lips pressed against his earlobe and he thinks he could kill her.

He groans something about an evil woman into the air and she laughs and angles her head back to scan his profile as her hand soothes its way up his side.

“Liv, you have to know -”

“I want you to tell me.” 

No more guessing, she means. No more inferring. No more reading between the lines of heavy stares and half smiles. They owe it to themselves and their past litany of unspoken words if they want to have a chance of any sort of future together. 

Elliot sighs, fingers resuming their soft strokes along her temple as her head falls back onto his shoulder. 

“Leaving the way I did,” he says after a pause and sucks in a deep breath, her chest sinking with his as he exhales. “Leaving in general. God, Liv I was so fucking in my head I didn’t know what to do.” 

“You could’ve talked to me,” she says, her fingers skimming across his pecs until they nudge into the silver chain around his neck and she clasps the cross between her index finger and thumb. He laughs, because there’s a certain irony there in her statement, he thinks, and cradles her a little tighter.

“You and I both know that wasn’t possible.”

She’s silent because she knows he’s right. If I’d heard your voice… he’d told her months ago.

“Did’you always know you were gonna leave?”

He’s silent, keeps his gaze steady on the ceiling and she feels him swallow beneath her and she closes her eyes, suddenly terrified of the answer. Lifting her head from his shoulder, she braces herself up onto her elbow, wills him to turn and face her. Her eyes are clear and her voice is steady when she breathes his name. 

“Elliot did you know you were leaving SVU when you walked out the door that day?” He sighs and brushes his hand through her hair, fingers curling around the back of her skull and presses into her nape. 

“‘Course not,” he says. “I did my IAB interviews and went home and that’s when…that’s when everything went to shit. I started questioning everything . My ability to do the job. Six shootings, Liv? Two people’s blood on my hands. Jenna… she was just a kid. Just like any one of mine.” Olivia’s palm flattens against his chest, soothes a path over his heart and across his collar, up his neck and to the side of his head. 

“It all just came crashing in on me at once. Like…suffocating.” Her thumb brushes the shell of his ear in silent encouragement because she knows the exact feeling. She’d experienced it for the first time five years prior to when he had. Tightness in her chest so pronounced it actually made her feel like she was choking, like she was being held underwater with no way of coming up for air. That for the first time on the job lines had become way too fucking blurred after screams of Olivia shoot him and whispers of it’s alright and I would’ve done the same thing across an abandoned warehouse, and when he stared at her when the battle was over, a dead man on the ground and tears in their eyes, she knew theirs was just beginning. 

What about me? It’d slipped. 

You and this job are the only things I’ve got anymore. I don’t wanna wreck that. I couldn’t take it. The panic and the numbness and the fear bubbled to the surface and suddenly she was alone behind the desk of another precinct. 

I want a new partner. She ran. 

I work here. She came back.

Elliot put his papers in. He ran.

Elliot’s not coming back, Liv. He didn’t. 

“Kathy asked me that night, ‘Why do you stay? You’ve done this job long enough. Why do you stay?’” He swallows, wraps his thumb around the front of her neck and stretches it across the long, thin scar. A reminder of the first time he thought he’d lost her. 

“You ever read the eval Rebecca Hendrix did on us?” He asks and her right brow shoots towards her hairline, the backs of her fingers pausing their exploration of the stubble along his cheeks and he nearly laughs at the way she opens and closes her mouth a couple of times before shaking her head.

How far does your loyalty to your partner go?

“No. Rebecca Hendrix…That’s a blast from the past.” There’s an aloof indifference in her tone. Subtle, but there.

If you had to choose between saving your partner and saving a member of the public, which would you do?

“Cragen handed me my file when I left to go to 1PP after the shooting. Wasn’t ready to go in when I got there, so I just sat in the car for a few minutes. Tried to collect myself. Listened to the radio. Started flippin through my file,” he tells her, eyes fluttering closed for a moment as her thumb presses into the deep furrow between his brows. He sighs, presses his own into the hollow of her throat just above Gitano’s mark.

I saved my partner. A boy died.

“That’s when I saw it. Realized I’d never actually read it before. So I did. And then I read it over and over and over.” 

Yeah. I’m done.

His eyes remain closed and he pictures the words printed in black and white. A single sentence encapsulating what at the time was a nine year history of blink your lights and morning coffees on desks and screw you and look how great you turned out. Of she made me turn away and a gray hoodie and it was just too complicated and I’d give you a kidney.

Elliot blinks, shifts his hand from her neck to her jaw and smiles softly at her doe-eyes and tousled hair and breathes without any note of hesitancy, “Detectives Benson and Stabler have a degree of mutual reliance and emotional dependence that compromises their effectiveness as police officers.” 

Olivia purses her lips, shifts her gaze to the sheets and exhales a deep sigh. His touch lingers along the puckered skin on her neck and she turns her head slightly, pressing a kiss against the heel of his palm.

“What happened to Ryan wasn’t your fault, Elliot,” she tells him and he sort of wants to shake her because here he is trying to give her some sort of consolation for a decade’s worth of hurt and she’s comforting him.

They’re too close.

“That’s not the point, Liv,” he says, almost exasperated and his free hand toys absentmindedly with the drawstring of his sweats as his eyes find hers in the dark, a little wider and wetter than they’d been just moments ago. 

“I told Kathy I stayed because every time we locked up one’a those bastards I felt like I was makin the world a little safer place for our kids.” Her mouth curls into a half smile as she soothes her palm from his cheek to the crook of his neck, swiping her thumb along the dimple in his chin. “You and I both know that for every creep we put away there’s ten more lurking right around the corner. Kathy wasn’t stupid, Liv. She knew there was more to it.” 

Do you have any idea how much I used to worry that he preferred spending time with you than with me and the kids? 

“Elliot, we never did anything -” 

Ever sleep with your partner, detective? 

“Technically speaking.” And in between the lines of technically is a litany of he has the hots for you, you know, and Dick, I’m married, and c’mon, admit it detective, you know you wanna bang your partner and I actually watch her back and not her backside. 

“We had to be close… trust each other…that…it was part of the job,” she falters, tries to defend, but he’s not on guard. He’s the opposite, in fact. Looking up at her with lazy eyes, fingertips of his free hand skimming across his abdomen and his lips tip upward into a smirk as if this is funny .

“I mortgaged my house to bail you out of jail and didn’t tell my wife.” She bites her lip to keep from smiling because it’s not funny. It’s not. “I’d say that goes beyond the parameters of the job.” 

Olivia sighs, twisting her body and falling back against the mattress, her side pressed into his and his arm stretched out beneath her neck as she stares up at the ceiling. 

I can see why you scare the pants off of Kathy.

“I needed you,” he says after a moment, voice low and gravely and she closes her eyes. “In a way that went far beyond being your partner. Think that happened early.” 

You talk to Olivia about it? 

“Yeah well, I sure as hell wouldn’t mortgage my house to save your ass,” she says quietly with a faraway memory of an early morning in a studio apartment, an inherent need to protect and a shared glass of orange juice and he scratches his fingers from his stomach to his chest and shrugs a shoulder, a silent yeah you would passing between them in the dark.

The truth is, you know things about him I will never understand.

“We let each other get too close. I let you get too close. And that wasn’t fair to either of us.” 

She’s my partner.

The rain had slowed to a soft drizzle, its rhythm matching the soft drumming of his fingertips against his sternum and her breathing evened out beside him, deep and steady to the point that he thought she might’ve fallen asleep, but out of the corner of his eye he notices her hand flatten against her chest, palm soothing small circles over her heart as she lets out a heavy sigh.

“You’re right. It wasn’t fair, but we can’t change it. I don’t know that I would want to.” 

We’re best friends.

He’s silent, breathes her in because there are still moments in the past year that he can’t believe she’s here. At the beginning, they were consuming and overwhelming. In the midst of grieving his wife, confusing and palpable. Recently they’re rare and fleeting. 

Tonight in his bed, revisiting the past for the sake of a future, scared and hopeful, he breathes her in.

“Can I ask you something?” she asks, fingertips tracing the faded NYPD emblem along her chest and he turns his head, lips nearly brushing the side of her face and nods.

“‘Course.” 

“If I had asked you to stay,” she trails off and he watches her hand skim along her stomach to the top of his gym shorts, nails scratching just underneath the elastic waistband. “If you had come to talk to me about it, and I asked you to stay, what would you have done?”  

Elliot sucks in a breath and blows it out in a short puff past his lips, the hand not trapped under her neck scrubs up his face and over the top of his head, and she waits. 

I thought if I talked to you about how I -

You walked away. 

“I don’t know,” he says. It’s honest and brutal, but it’s what she’d asked of him. “We were tap dancin’ that line, Olivia. That last year. I don’t know what would’ve happened if I had stayed another.”

She swallows, sensing the short chip in his tone, the obvious discomfort as if the man etched in permanent ink on his arm had lifted his head from the cross and taunted thou shalt not commit adultery into the air. She reaches out, curling her palm around his thigh. 

“And here I am in your bed ten years later and you still won’t kiss me.”  

The sound that comes from the back of his throat is both incredulous and exasperated and he shakes his head, eyes to the ceiling.

"You’re incredible,” he breathes, palm over his chest as she bites her lip between her teeth, nails scratching over the emblem of his sweats.

“I never would’ve done that to your family, you know. To Kathy. No matter how I felt about you. I respected her far too much.” 

Elliot sighs, crooking his elbow up beneath her neck and resting his hand flat on top of her head, her crown cupped in his palm, his fingers drawing slow circles against her scalp.   

“I know. But I don’t know how much longer I could’ve gone without needing more. And then Jenna happened and it was this perfect storm of realizing I needed to do something before my life spiraled out of control.” 

And I wasn’t going to leave my family. It’s silent and unspoken. But it’s there and it’s true and it’s just as poignant of a sentiment as it was a decade prior. 

“It was always temporary,” she murmurs a moment later and he looks over at her, brows knitted, his fingers still massaging small patterns into her crown.

“You told me that, when they took Calvin from me that day at the precinct. Then you were gone not long after and that’s all I could think about. That everything good in my life at some point comes to an end. Calvin was always temporary and you were always temporary. We were always temporary.” 

What we were to each other was never real.

“I’m sorry, Olivia. Despite everything I was feeling, you still should’ve heard it from me. I owed you that and a hell of a lot more.” 

She sighs, swallows the lump in her throat and wants to tell him that it’s okay, that she’d forgiven him some time ago, but her breath is shaky and her eyes are welling when she exhales and feels him press his fingertips a little deeper into her hair. 

“I’m sorry if I ever made you think that leaving was easy for me. Or that you meant nothing to me. Jesus Liv, that’s the irony of this whole fucking thing. You were -”

Everything.

He trails off and for a moment they’re both silent, so silent that she thinks if she listens close enough she can hear his heartbeat and she brings her hand up from beneath her shorts and presses her palm over her own.

“Was it worth it?” she asks, eyes closed and rubbing small circles on her chest and he watches her lick her lips, jaw clenching as her thumb stills atop his thigh. “Were you happy?” 

It’s a loaded question. One that cannot be answered with a simple yes or no because the complicated truth of the matter was that yes, he and Kathy had been content, happy even in their life after he’d left SVU. But for every happy memory of sightseeing and museums on weekends and dinners on the terrace and watching his first born marry a good man and holding his grandbabies for the first time, there were moments of missing the smell of stale precinct coffee and times where he’d catch himself putting one cream and two sugars in Kathy’s coffee out of habit. She’d liked hers black. The moment when his daughter had tossed the bouquet at her wedding, and he downed a shot of whiskey at the thought of Olivia taking a new last name. He’d just squeezed Kathy’s hand and ordered another round. The moment when he’d made the passcode to his phone 4015 without second thought, and the morning Kathy stood, arms folded on the railing of the terrace and told him he’d mumbled Olivia’s name in his sleep for the second time since moving across the Atlantic.

“I feel like I’m living with her ghost sometimes,” Kathy had said and Elliot didn’t argue, just closed his eyes and pressed his lips to her forehead, and she sunk into him, accepting that she’d have to learn that their new life, their new happiness would have to be shared with the memory he’d left thousands of miles away.

Elliot clears his throat, tilts his head and rests his lips against Olivia’s temple.

“Yeah,” he breathes and the hand in her hair continues its soft strokes to her scalp. “We were happy. As happy as we could be I think.” She nods, doesn’t push any further and he turns onto his side, free arm slipping across her stomach and presses his face against her shoulder. 

“And you,” he says, squeezing the dip in her waist. " Captain Benson.” She smiles softly, running her hand from her chest to wrap around his forearm. “Absolute badass…” he trails off, drops a soft kiss to the bare skin along her clavicle. “Mother of a beautiful boy,” he murmurs into the skin of her neck. “Look at everything you have. Everything you’ve done. I stood in your way of all of that.” 

She furrows her brow, turns her face towards his, nose nudging into his forehead. “What’re you talking about?” she asks, breath puffing against his skin as the hand in her hair slides down onto the pillow beneath her head. 

“When Fin called me about your award ceremony, told me you were Captain, I was so fucking proud, Liv,” he tells her, voice low and it’d be so easy to lean forward and press his lips to hers, but instead he compromises, tugs her a little closer and slips his leg over hers. “Then he told me you had a son. You were a mom. And that’s when I knew Kathy was right.” 

We got in the way of each other being who and where we needed to be.

Olivia sighs, turning her head back towards the ceiling and reaches up for the hand on her pillow. Threading their fingers together, she pulls his arm around her chest, tucks it under her chin and holds it steady.

“You were the one who made me believe I deserved all of that.” 

It’s not all about the genes, Liv.

Elliot leans forward, rests his lips on the thumb that’s curled around his and skims the hand that’s on her waist up and under her t-shirt. His palm is warm and soothing on her skin and she loves this. She fucking loves him. And she thinks if she opens her mouth she might tell him, so she just closes her eyes and squeezes his hand a little tighter.

“You’re a nice blanket, Stabler,” she says, trapping his leg in between hers and he chuckles softly into her neck and tips his chin up, sliding his nose along her jawline.

“More than just a pretty face,” he teases and she laughs lightly, stroking her thumb along the inside of his palm. A quiet hush falls over the room, their breaths mingling as hands caress bare skin and she knows it would be so easy to say fuck everything . To push his hand higher along her ribs and pull his body fully on top of hers. To scratch her nails down his back and let him claim her as his because after tonight she knows there will never be another.

You deserve happiness, Olivia Benson, her therapist had told her a few months ago and it had taken her some time to come to terms with that. That her own happiness was independent of life as Captain Benson or as Mom. That her happiness as a woman, as Olivia, didn’t have to be dependent on how many perps her squad put behind bars in a week, or on breaking down alone in her bed after her son had told her he was bisexual because she knows just how fucking cruel and scary of a place the world can be. 

Her happiness, she knows, is here. Resting inside the man that’s dropping kisses to her shoulder and leaving goosebumps along the skin of her waist. It’s here, in this bed a little punch drunk and handsy and she knows this is where it’s always been, even when it shouldn’t have been. It was here, even with a gold band on his finger and an ocean apart. It was here in the decade of silence and it was here when she tried to give her heart to another. It was here in every forehead kiss goodbye and it’s here now, in this universe, and it is hers. 

She rolls away from him, back to his chest and pulls the arm around her waist a little tighter against her, his body curling around hers from behind. The arm that had been locked around her chest is just beneath her cheek, and her eyes are level with the Marine Corps emblem etched into his skin. She sighs, bringing her fingers up to trace the ink along his arm as his palm splays out across her stomach. 

“Were we happy?” she murmurs, fingertips skimming the black U and S and she hears him hum in muffled confusion into the back of her head. “In that parallel universe,” she whispers, soothing the vein along his wrist and flattens her palm into his. “Were we happy?”

Elliot lets out a deep breath, presses his forehead to her temple and kisses that freckle just behind her ear. Something, he thinks, he gets to do every night in that universe.

“Yeah, Liv. We were happy.” 

She drops an open-mouthed kiss to his tattoo before nuzzling her cheek in against his arm and he lets his nose fall to the crook of her neck and holds her close. 

“Dove,” she breathes after a beat, and his brows crease, thumb brushing just above her belly button. “Dove has the best dark chocolate.” 

Elliot smiles, digs his fingertips a little deeper into her skin. 

“Extra nuts.” 

She squeezes his hand.