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Elliot was in a good mood. A great mood actually. Summer was winding down but he had a feeling that the coming year was going to be a good one. And after all the stress he had been under, that his family had been under in the last two years, it felt good to be hopeful for a change. The kids were coming to terms with what happened to Kathy. They'd always miss her of course. She was their Mother, there would be a million moments where they wished she was there and she wasn't. But, they were on the path of healing and he would be there, he'd be the best Father he could be no matter what.

Even Eli was doing better. He continued his therapy and Elliot joined in when he could. He was working on making sure he was home more and Eli was learning how to talk to him, and confide in him when needed. Elliot felt good about all of it.

Things with work were better. He knew there would always be people who saw him as a bad cop, a man who constantly pushed his luck and bent the rules. But at the end of the day, he knew who he was. He knew he wasn't perfect, nor would he ever be. What mattered most was knowing that his family believed in him, that they knew who he, was, and that everything he did was for them, always. As long as his children and his Mother knew, he was okay. He would be okay.

But of course, there was one other person he needed to make sure believed in him.

Captain Olivia Benson.

As he walked down the sidewalk towards the precinct on a rare break from work, he was whistling to himself. Things were good. He felt like they were on the right track. Olivia had no reason to forgive him really. Not after ten years of silence and everything else he'd put her through since he'd been back. But, she was as good as ever, even more, amazing than he remembered really. She had been his rock since he'd been back, and for that, he would always be grateful.

In the last few months of summer, they had seen more and more of each other. He never pushed for more but he felt like they were making progress. She seemed more relaxed around him and his kids. He'd seen Noah a handful of times too. On the Fourth of July, they all met up to watch the fireworks and Olivia had been the one to hold his hand when the panic started to set in, something he hadn't even considered.

He'd found out recently about her own demons, and they'd talked through what happened with William Lewis. He'd taken 24 hours to wallow in his self-hatred for not being there and then realized he had to get it together. For Olivia. She deserved better and if he was going to prove he'd never leave her again, he had to man up and be there.

That was a few weeks ago, and again, it seemed like they were doing better. He had every intention of keeping it that way. So when they were having a slow day at the office and Elliot asked if he could go grab lunch, Bell didn't even bat an eyelash at him knowing damn well where he was going. And that was how he found himself walking into her Squad Room, bag in hand carrying their favorite sandwiches from her favorite deli down the street.

Not even a dirty look from Amanda could turn him away, "Afternoon Detective Rollins."

She narrowed her eyes at him, "Detective Stabler."

He pointed towards Olivia's office, "Captain Benson, in?"

She leaned back in her chair and nodded, "She is."

Elliot smiled and lifted the bag in his hands, "Just gonna bring her lunch…"

"Uh-huh." She said with a smirk, "Just lunch. Got it."

He laughed as he walked forward more than sure everyone assumed they were more than friends. Then again, hadn't everyone always thought that? Hadn't everyone always assumed they were having an affair the whole time they were partners and he was married? Hadn't they assumed he left because of said affair? Little did they know they'd never even kissed. Oh sure, they'd kissed a million times in his mind (and then some), and if an emotional affair counted, he'd been fully committed to Olivia Benson for over two decades.

No, nothing had happened other than the occasional flirting, the hand holding, the smiles, the knowing looks, and a handful of hugs. But, he had a feeling that was about to change. Yes, things were good. He felt confident that they were headed in the right direction. When he walked into her office, he smiled as he saw her behind her desk, bent over, glasses perched on the end of her nose, writing notes and giving orders.

God, she was sexy.

She glanced up at him, offered a little smile, and held her finger up to let him know she wouldn't be long, "Yeah well, McGrath can bitch all he wants. I'm not turning my back on Alyssa or Megan. They just need a little more time. I'll send one of my Detectives to talk to them in the morning and we'll go from there. Okay?"

He sat down across from her desk and watched her in her element. It was hard leaving her, probably one of the hardest things he'd ever done. But now, looking at her, he knew she was exactly where she was supposed to be. If he had stayed, he felt like he would have held her back. Some might have said he deserved to be Captain of SVU, but deep down in his bones, he knew it was always meant to be Olivia. No one deserved it more. She was the heart and soul of this place, always had been, always would be. He watched her finish up her call, put the phone down, and sign something on her desk before looking up at him, "Hey. What are you doing here?"

Elliot smiled and held up the bag towards her, "Was kinda dead at the office so I thought I'd bring you lunch."

Olivia smiled and stood up, walking around her desk she took the bag and peered in, "Chicken Salad from Katz?"

He nodded, "Course. Got a few minutes to eat?"

She smiled and took out the sandwich, handing him his own, "I think I can spare a few for you, sure."

He smiled and settled into his chair as she sat beside him, "How's Noah?"

She smiled, he'd seen him three days ago but she loved that he cared enough to ask, "He's good. He's hoping to get a rematch with Eli at the park soon. I didn't have the heart to tell him he'd probably never beat the kid who grew up in Italy playing soccer."

"If he calls it that in front of Eli again, my kid will lose it. He's been trying to play nice. You know it's football to him." He teased.

Olivia laughed and broke off a piece of her sandwich, "So European of him."

"Yeah…" He said with a sigh, "But...he's settling back into New York life. He was little when we left...but this is his home. Just...gonna take a while for it to sink in."

She gave him a sympathetic smile, "He'll get there El. He's already going so much better. I'm proud of him." Elliot smiled softly, "Proud of you too."

At that moment, his heart skipped a beat and he leaned closer, "Listen, Liv-"

A knock on the door startled them both and Liv turned, "Come in."

Elliot sighed inwardly but smiled, knowing she still had a job to do even if he wanted her all to himself. A moment later, Amanda came in and smirked, "Sorry to interrupt. But wanted to give you the heads up. That guy Austin just walked in."

Olivia groaned and Elliot's ears perked up, he sat up straighter, "Please tell me you're joking."

Amanda laughed and shook her head, "I guess Phoebe left something in his car when you all went out the other night and he was dropping it off to Fin. But...probably gonna use it as an excuse to see you again too since he was so smitten."

Olivia growled and looked behind her into the squad room, trying to find him. Beside her, Elliot's heart was pounding, his mind was reeling, a million different thoughts running through his head. He heard Olivia muttering something to Amanda but he was thinking about what the hell Amanda had meant.

When you all went out the other night…

...probably gonna use it as an excuse to see you again too since he was so smitten.

Had Olivia gone on a date with this guy? Had Fin encouraged her to go on said date? A double date? Did she like him? Had they kissed? Did she want to see him again? It didn't seem like it because she looked irritated but still, where had they gone? What had they done? Had Austin held the door for her, pulled out her chair, and hung on every word she said like she was the second coming? Had he gone home and dreamed about getting into bed with her? Of course, he fucking did. Any man lucky enough to be in Olivia Benson's presence would have those thoughts but God damn it, they had no right.

Olivia was the love of his life and no other guy was going to get to take her out ever again. Or...so he thought.

He wasn't sure how long he had been sitting there, but suddenly they weren't alone in her office anymore. He looked up and there was Austin was standing in the doorway looking at Olivia like he wanted to bend her over her desk and -

"Sorry to just show up like this. But Phoebe left her wallet in my car...figured she might need it."

How convenient Elliot thought.

Olivia nervously rubbed the back of her neck, "Probably...yes."

Was she nervous because she liked this moron or was she nervous because she didn't want him here? She looked over at Elliot quickly, then back at the tall, preppy guy standing in her doorway. He looked to be younger than Elliot, maybe even a little younger than Olivia too. He had a full head of hair (fucking prick), deep-set blue eyes, a perfectly white smile, and a suit that fit him in all the right places. He seemed polished, put together, and probably had ten times less baggage than Elliot did.

Son of a bitch.

"Can't say I'm sad about it though. Gave me a reason to see you again Captain Benson."

Elliot groaned, loudly and Olivia shot him a look which he shot right back. "Um...Austin, this is my friend Detective Elliot Stabler."

Friend. My friend Elliot Stabler.

He pursed his lips, put his own sandwich down, wiped off his hands, and held it out to the annoyingly perfect man in the doorway, "Hello."

Austin looked between Olivia and Elliot, then awkwardly held his hand out to him, "Ah, yes I've heard of-I mean I've heard about-" He cleared his throat anxiously this time and shook his hand, trying not to grimace at the tight grip that Elliot had on him, "Austin O'Leary. Nice to meet you."

Elliot narrowed his eyes at him, still gripping his hand tightly even though he should have let it go by now, "Lawyer?"

They both heard Olivia mutter something under his breath, Austin looked at Olivia and then back at Elliot, "Uh...yeah. That's obvious?"

Elliot smiled at him, "Little bit."

Olivia crossed her arms over her chest, "Austin does pro bono work for families...helps single Mothers get back on their feet and get their kids back."

Great, the pretty boy was a saint too.

"Well, that's...honorable." Elliot said with a smirk, "How do you know Olivia again?'

He could practically feel Olivia's eyes boring into his but he didn't really give a shit right now, "I'm an old friend of Phoebe's. Just moved into Manhattan from Hoboken and she invited me out with her, Fin and Fin's friend…." He turned to Olivia and smiled, "Not sure I was worthy of such a woman though. Although...I'm not sure anyone is worthy of Olivia Benson."

Oh now Elliot wanted to puke, he crossed his arms over his chest and huffed, "I think you mean Captain Benson."

Austin cracked his jaw, "Hm." He turned to Olivia, "If this is a bad time...I can come back later. Or...maybe we could grab dinner sometime and continue our conversation about-"

"She's busy," Elliot muttered quickly.

Olivia gasped beside him, "Elliot…"

Austin smiled, "Didn't mean it had to be tonight…"

"She's busy tomorrow too." Elliot said, he felt Olivia gawking at him and Austin started to laugh, "And every night after that."

"Jesus, Elliot!" Olivia stepped closer to them, "Austin, I'm sorry. Why don't we-"

"Look, I'm sorry if I stepped in the middle of something here?" Austin said, hands held up between them, "I was under the impression that she was single. Had I known she was involved with someone...I wouldn't have-"

"I'm not involved"

"She is involved-"

They both answered at the same time, then froze and looked at each other quickly. Both of them were wide-eyed, both irritated.

"What do you mean you're not involved?" Elliot said quickly.

She crossed her arms over her chest. "What do you mean I am involved?"

"Okay...I'm gonna go." Austin said awkwardly from the doorway, "Olivia-"

"Captain Benson." Elliot snarled at him and then turned back to her, "You're telling me that you don't think we're involved?

"Captain Benson." Austin muttered, "I'm gonna just-"

Olivia reached out and grabbed his arm, "No. Stay. I want a witness for when I lose it and murder Detective Stabler."

Elliot snorted, "If you haven't murdered me in the last twenty-four years, you won't do it now."

She stood up a little straighter, her voice dropping an octave, "You missed ten years of my life Stabler. You don't know what I'm capable of anymore."

He leaned in closer to her, "You're right. I did. But, I still know you better than anyone else in this world and you know it. Which is why I know you won't kill me even if you want to."

Once again, Austin tried to step back, "Really, I wasn't trying to "

"You seriously went on a date with this guy?" Elliot said, pointing a finger at him, "You just...thought 'hey, this seems like a great idea. Let me just get all dressed up and spend an evening listening to Mr. Prissy Pants over here fawn over me?"

"Prissy pants?" Austin muttered, "Listen, I think that-"

"Fin asked me to go out with him and Phoebe. It had been a long week and I wanted to blow off some steam. They mentioned one of Phoebe's friends would be there and I didn't think it would be a big deal."

Elliot snorted again, "Right, because you're not involved with anyone."

"No. I'm not." She spat back at him, "Last time I checked, I was a single woman who would do whatever she damn well pleased. But if you know something I don't know, please, fill me in, Detective."

Elliot stood up and huffed, "Olivia…"

"Don't you mean Captain Benson?" She snarled at him, "You were so insistent on Mr. Prissy Pants calling me that-"

"Can we stop referring to me as Captain Prissy Pants?"

"Stay out of this." Elliot snapped at him, "Why are you even still here?"

"He can stay because I said he can stay." Olivia said, holding onto the poor man's arm even though as far as she was concerned, she didn't care if she never saw him again, "Austin is my friend."

Elliot nodded slowly, "Seem to have a lot of friends these days, Captain Benson."

"What's that supposed to mean?" She growled back at him, "Are you trying to imply something about me? Trying to call me a-"

"Don't even." He shouted back, hand on hip, the other pointing at her, "I would never, ever refer to you as that and you know it. Stop putting words in my mouth."

"Says the man making assumptions about my life. Claiming I'm involved with someone when I'm not." Elliot went to protest again but she shook her head, "Because to be involved with someone they'd have to ask me out first and I'm pretty sure no one has."

"Technically, I was trying to ask you out-" Olivia and Elliot both glared at him, "Sorry. Shutting up again."

Elliot turned back to Olivia, "What do you mean I never asked you out? Of course, I did!"

She crossed her arms over her chest, "No. You didn't."

"Yes. I did." He nodded, "I asked you and Noah over for dinner at Christmas."

She rolled her eyes, "That wasn't a date though. That was...you potentially meeting Noah and me spending time with you and your kids."

"I meant it as a date." He said with a huff, "I thought that was clear."

"Well, it wasn't." She said with a frown, "I mean...a first date with all our kids and your Mother?'

He frowned and leaned back a little, "I thought it might break the tension a bit…"

"Oh come on man, after twenty-three years you thought dinner with your families was enough? She deserves more than that."

Elliot looked at the man in the doorway again and then back at Olivia, "I...you didn't realize I was asking you out on a date?"

She shook her head, "No. I just...thought it was a way to get our kids together. And I mean...the first Christmas without their Mom wasn't the place for us to...not to mention Eli wa still struggling and-"

He grimaced slightly, "You're...I mean I didn't think...I just assumed you knew. I'm...I'm sorry."

She looked down, "It's...fine."

"It's not...fine." He ran a hand over his face and said, "Liv….I thought that I was clear in how I felt."

Olivia frowned, "Nothing has ever been clear between us Elliot. Nothing. Especially now…"

He looked back at the sandwiches he brought, "I…"

But nothing else came out and he didn't know where to even begin because deep down he knew she was right. An awkward silence washed over the three of them until Austin cleared his throat again, "I...just remembered I have a meeting downtown. I should really be going…"

Olivia looked over at him sadly, "Austin…"

He smiled and shook his head, "Fin has my number...but I don't think you'll need it."

She didn't try and stop him as he walked out of her office, there was no reason to. After he left, it was just the two of them. Benson and Stabler. Right back where they'd always been. In this weird, uncertain territory where both of them had so much, they wanted to say, needed to say but couldn't. After a moment, Elliot moved forward, gathering up his things, "Elliot…"

He shook his head, "No...it's...fine. You're right. I screwed this up...again."

She moved closer to him but froze at the last second, "Elliot…"

He lifted his head, looked her right in the eye, and whispered, "You deserve better, Liv. You always deserved better than what I could give you. What...I have given you."

She felt tears burning in her eyes and she stood up a little straighter, "I just meant…"

His phone started to ring in his pocket and he looked down, seeing Ayanna's name on the front, "I have to go back to work."

She sighed and tried to reach for him, "Can we talk about this please or-"

"Nothing to talk about." He smiled and stepped towards the door, "I'll see you later. Okay?"

She frowned and watched him go, "Will I?"

He knew she thought he was running again, and quite frankly, maybe he was. "Course. Bye, Liv."

Olivia watched him walk out of the office feeling so many different things. Frustration. Regret. Guilt. Heartache. She never knew where she stood with Elliot. Her feelings were even deeper than she could understand. It was always...complicated. And maybe she had been harsh but she was tired. Tired of the unknown. She needed the words. She needed to know what the hell she meant to Elliot Stabler. Didn't she deserve that much after all this time?

With a heavy sigh, she reached for the sandwich he'd brought her. A small little gesture, but one that clearly meant a lot to him. Tossing it on her desk she wondered when the hell it would get easier or if they were destined to be stuck in this limbo forever. Both of them to damn stubborn or afraid to do anything about it…


Later that evening, Elliot found himself at work long after he could have gone home. Eli had plans with friends, his Mom was out with Kathleen and Lizzie at some art gallery opening. Dickie had a date with the girl he'd been seeing all summer and Maureen was upstate visiting her in-laws with the kids. He had every intention of spending time with Olivia tonight. Then again, he realized he had just assumed it would happen rather than taking the time to ask, to romance her, make his intentions known.

He was leaning over the desk, his hands clasped in front of him, staring down at his phone. He'd spent the last hour scrolling through weeks and weeks of text messages. Yes, there was a flirty tone to them, but there was nothing that said Hey Olivia, I love you. I'd like to take you out to dinner tonight and every other night you can spare because I want to be more than friends.

She was right. He'd never made it clear. And it was always him that needed to make it clear. He was the one that had been married. He was the one in their partnership that should make the first move to let her know he was ready, that it was okay for them to pursue something. He was never good at saying the words. He was much better at brooding and hoping that everyone else around him could read his mind. And the thing was, in their partnership, Olivia usually could. At least when it came to a case. But their feelings...that was a whole other issue that he had to figure out.

He was so lost in his thoughts, that he hadn't heard someone sneaking into the empty office. It wasn't until he heard the scraping of a chair that he looked up to see Fin sitting down, "Thought I'd find you here."

Elliot looked up at him, resting his hands on his desk, "Fin, what are you doing here?"

Fin smiled and propped his feet up on the desk, "Phoebe had to work late tonight and I had nothing better to do than come watch you pout over once again losing Benson."

Elliot frowned and looked over at him, "You're a really great friend, you know that? Empathy just exudes from your bones, deep down in your soul. Phoebe is a lucky woman."

Fin was chuckling and he shrugged, "Trust me, she knows."

Elliot huffed and leaned across the table, "While I have you here though, let's discuss how I probably wouldn't have lost her if you hadn't dragged her on a double date with-"

"Mr. Prissy Pants?" He said with a louder laugh, "Yeah. Rollins told me all about your little showdown. I'm pissed I missed it. But her reenactment with Valesco was pretty damn funny. Valesco has got your glare down good...the one that you used to scare off every guy that came within a ten-mile radius of her the whole time you were partners. Wonder if he uses that look on anyone who comes near Kathleen-"

Elliot gawked at him, "Why does everyone think something is going on between Kathleen and that schmuck?"

Fin shook his head, "Because it's obvious there is. But as usual...you are too blind to see it. Just like you were too blind to see that Olivia was waiting for you to be a bit more open with your feelings."

Elliot ran a hand over his tired face, "Don't start. You're the one who took her out on a date with someone else. I thought we were friends man...what kind of friend does that?"

Fin smirked at him, "The one that did it on purpose so that his friend would wake the hell up and do something about his damn feelings for their other friend."

"What do you mean you did it on purpose? This was a test?"

"Yep. I knew the minute you found out about the date you would lose your ever-loving mind and Jelliot would come out to play. Same reason I tossed Phoebe's wallet in his car when he dropped us off at our place. So he would have another reason to come into the Precinct and see Olivia. God's the one who made sure you were there for that and I gotta say...he's a real one for it."

Elliot laughed angrily and stood up, "Fin what the hell are you playing at?"

He shrugged and said, "Phoebe's niece is really into that movie the Parent Trap. You know the one where Lindsay Lohan plays twins but it's really just her doing both parts?" Elliot glared at him, "Anyway, got me thinking...as fun as it is watching the two of you dance around each other...we're not getting any younger. Especially Munch. And I wanted to make sure you two got married before he was six feet in the ground. That way I'd be able to actually cash in on the money he'll owe me."

Elliot laughed harder, "You were trying to parent trap us?"

"In a manner of speaking, yes." He pushed himself up off the chair, "So, you gonna let another ten years go by, or are you gonna go after her like Nick Parker does in the end and promises to never let her go again?"

Elliot stood up a little straighter, "We've been hanging out all summer…"

Fin nodded slowly, "Sure. I know. And she's had fun...but there is a difference between hanging out and dating. And you know it. So...what do you want Elliot? You want to stay in the friend zone forever or are you gonna finally man up and ask her out on a real date? One without your kids and Mother?"

Elliot frowned, "Fin…"

"Look, maybe her delivery was a bit harsh but she had a point." He shrugged, "Don't you think after all this time? After all these years she deserves more? She needs the words Elliot...she deserves the words. And it's the only way you're gonna fix this now."

Elliot looked down at his desk, "She deserves the world...but what if I can't give it to her?"

"Here's the thing…" Fin stepped closer to him, "She doesn't want the world. She wants you…"

Elliot smiled sadly, "I'll never understand why…"

"Me either." Fin said with a little smirk, "But...she does. So, what are you going to do about it?"

Elliot just stood there staring at him, but Fin knew he was ready. He wouldn't risk losing her again. Putting his hand on his shoulder, he squeezed and started to walk away, "You know...you're not the only one who decided to work late tonight." Elliot looked back at him, "Noah's at a friend's for his birthday...bet she could use some company…"

Elliot turned all the way towards him, "Fin, can I ask you something?"

Fin turned back to him and nodded, "Sure."

"Do you think I'm good enough for her?" He took a shaky breath, "Do you...I mean are you okay with me...with us…"

Fin smiled sadly, "I've known you both for a long time. A damn long time. I've watched you both fight through hell and back again, together and separately. I've had years where I was angry with you...both when you were here working with us and when you were away. Years when I wanted to kick your ass. But...the thing is...in all those years I've known you both I've realized that you fight better when you do it together."

Elliot stood up a little straighter, "Fin…"

"There is a reason Cragen couldn't split you two up. You were the best partners he had. Because that's what you were always meant to be. Partners. In every sense of the word."

I'm your partner, for better or worse.

Elliot smiled at the memory, "For better or worse…"

Fin nodded slowly, "I think you have a lot to make up for. But...I know you can do it. And I'm counting on you to do just that. Understood Detective?"

Elliot smiled knowing it was his way of giving his blessing, "Understood Sergeant Tutuola."


Back in her office, Olivia sat in the unusually quiet precinct. She probably could have gone home hours ago. With Noah gone for the night, she could have done all the things she never had time to do for herself. Got take-out from her favorite spot, the one that Noah hated. Could have drawn herself a bath with all her favorite oils and salts, poured a glass of wine, and gotten a little tipsy without guilt. Instead, she was here. Sitting behind her desk, staring off into space replaying the fight she'd had with Elliot earlier today.

Had she gone too far? Said the wrong thing? Was she supposed to just know what he wanted? How he felt? Deep down, she knew he loved her, in some way. But was it because she was familiar? Someone, he felt safe with? Was he so lost he just wanted to hold onto something that he trusted? Someone who understood him? Someone who was just always...there?

Because that was the thing about them. She was always there. No matter the circumstances, no matter if he was married, separated, widowed, or confused, she was there. She'd always been right there beside him. She'd been his confidant, his best friend, the person who picked him up when he was at his lowest. The only person to never give up on him even when he deserved it. And why?

Because she loved him.

She'd been in love with him for 24 years and everyone who knew her knew it. Including him. But how did he feel about her?

Elliot, tell us what you need.

I love you.

I love all of you.

He'd said the words that day, said them in front of his children. His grieving, terrified children. And then he'd covered it up. Tried to take it back. And as usual, they never discussed it again. Maybe she should have pushed him. But there was so much happening. Kathy was barely cold in the ground. She didn't feel it was right and maybe, if she was honest with herself, she was afraid of rejection. So she'd waited. Just like she'd always done. But that was then, and this was now and she was tired. So damn tired of waiting…

Groaning, she tossed her glasses across her desk and ran her fingers through her long hair, "I'm getting too old for this shit."

"Well, that makes two of us."

Her head snapped up quickly, and there he was.

Elliot Stabler.

How many times had she seen him here? How many times had she spent late nights in the squad room with him? And how many times had she imagined him walking through the door over the ten years that he was gone? Was she imagining it again?

No.

He was here.

And the fact that he was here...had to mean something.

Didn't it?

Swallowing hard, she leaned back in her chair, "Elliot...what are you doing here?"

He sighed and walked further into the room, "No delis open...but I did get some late-night crappy coffee and scones. Hungry?"

She smiled softly, he was nervous. Very nervous. She hadn't eaten anything since he'd been by earlier and the truth was that yes, she was. But she was too nervous to take a bite. What was about to happen here? Was it the end or the beginning?

Nodding slowly she whispered, "I could go for a bite."

You hungry?

I could go for a bite. Who's buying?

Well, you are going through a divorce and you do have four children...so I guess you are.

That's what I thought.

Somehow she knew they were both thinking it. That had been one of those moments, one of those will we or won't we moments? A million years ago now...and here they were again. Would this time be different?

Walking across the office, he placed the cup and the bag in front of her, "I bought again. But...went for coffee. Not tea, that okay?"

She smiled and nodded, "Yeah. It's...it's okay."

Elliot swallowed hard and sat down across from her, swirling the coffee in his own cup. "Quiet night here too?" She nodded slowly, "I'm surprised you didn't go home."

She took a sip and whispered, "Sometimes, I don't like to be left alone with all that...silence."

He looked down at his lap and smiled sadly, "I know the feeling. Swallows you up on nights like these...all the years of regret taking over your head until it's too much to take anymore."

Olivia smiled sympathetically at him, "Spoken like a man who has lived it a time or two…"

He took a deep breath and looked up, placing his coffee down on the edge of her desk, "Try a million."

She frowned, her cheeks flushing as she looked down, "Elliot...about earlier. I'm-"

He put his hand up to stop her, "Please, don't try and apologize." She looked nervous and he sighed, "Please? Because I deserved it, Liv. All of it. You were right."

Chewing her lip softly she whispered, "Austin...he wasn't...the dinner thing was really just me doing a favor for Phoebe and Fin. It didn't...it didn't mean anything. Which I realize now...is screwed up. In a lot of ways but-"

"Olivia."

"I mean he's a nice guy, or he seemed it anyway? Accomplished and attentive. Seemed interested in what I had to say. In my job...asked questions. That sort of thing."

She was rambling now and he thought it was the most adorable thing he'd ever seen, "Olivia…"

"And...I mean we had a fine time? It wasn't terrible? But, would I want to go out again? No. Not necessarily. At least….not just the two of us anyway. We didn't have all that much in common. Phoebe and Fin helped keep the conversation going between us."

He laughed as he watched her hands flailing in front of her, she wasn't even looking at him. He was walking towards her now, moving around her desk but still, she didn't stop.

"And I didn't expect to see him today? Especially not with you here at the same time. And then...you got all weird and I got irrationally annoyed because that's usually how it works between us."

He laughed and sat on the corner of her desk, so close he could smell the perfume she was wearing, "So it does…"

"And I just started saying things...stupid things. Whether they were right or not...it was the wrong time to say them and I'm sorr-"

But this time, he cut her off not with his words. She gasped as he tilted her head up, holding her chin in his hands as he kissed her, softly at first. But when she didn't stop him, when her hand wrapped around his wrist and held him in place, he deepened the kiss, his tongue tracing her lower lip, begging for entrance which she gladly granted. He moaned into her mouth, feeling the years of pent-up desire and want being poured into this kiss.

When he pulled back, her eyes were still closed and he knew that he still had to say the words, "Olivia…"

She licked her lips, her eyes fluttered open slowly and she looked up at him, "Yes?"

Gently, he traced the slope of her jaw, letting his eyes roam over her face, the very face he'd seen every night in his dreams for over two decades, "Will you have dinner with me tomorrow night?"

She sucked in her lower lip and peered up at him, "Dinner?"

Leaning in, he kissed her two more times, with his eyes wide open, "Yes. Dinner. Just us. No kids. No distractions. I'd like to swing by your place...pick you up, bring you flowers, hold the door for you, take you to a nice place neither of us has been before."

She felt dizzy as he spoke to her, "Elliot…"

"And I'd like you to tell me about your day. And all the days that I missed. Every single one of them until I know absolutely everything there is to know about you again. And then I'll take you home, where your son will probably be waiting up to make sure I didn't screw anything up." He heard her start to laugh, but he wiped away one of her tears too, "And if I'm lucky...I'll get to kiss you goodnight." To emphasize his point, he kissed her again and whispered, "And hopefully...if I'm extra lucky. You'll let me take you out again, and again and again and-"

"Why?"

Her voice was soft when she asked it, but he knew what she was saying, that there was still one more thing he needed to say, "Olivia…."

"Why do you want to take me out to dinner? Why do you want to kiss me? Why do you want-"

"Because I love you. And I've been in love with you for twenty-four years."

She gasped, her eyes looking up at him, finally hearing the words she'd been waiting forever to hear, "Elliot…"

"And I should have told you that...a hell of a long time ago. I could sit here and play the blame game...live in my regrets but I think I'd rather finally get it right. So, Captain Benson? Can I please take you to dinner tomorrow night? In more than just a friendly way?"

She smiled and leaned into him, "I...think I could be okay with that."

He let out a shaky breath, realizing up until this moment he wasn't even sure she would say yes. Lord knows he probably didn't deserve this chance, and yet, here they were and he wasn't about to let her slip through his fingers again, "Pick you up at 7?"

She nodded slowly, her fingers rubbing the inside of his wrist affectionately, "Yes. Don't be late...but also don't show up too early. I'll need time to get ready."

He smirked down at her, "You could roll out of bed after a three-day bender and I'd still think you were absolutely gorgeous Benson, so don't feel like you need to try too hard."

She rolled her eyes, "Shut up…"

"Hey Cap?" They both turned to see Valesco looking down at his phone, not even realizing what he was interrupting, "Think I can head out early? I think I'm gonna grab drinks with-"

Elliot cleared his throat, suddenly remembering what else Fin had said earlier, "With who?"

Olivia started to laugh beside him, and Valesco's face turned white as he lifted his head, "Oh. Uh...Detective Stabler, I-I didn't realize you were here."

Elliot narrowed his eyes at him, "Are you getting drinks with my daughter?'

"Uh...what? I…" Nervously, he rubbed the back of his neck, "I...see the thing is-"

"Tell Kathleen we said hi, Joe." Olivia said with a smirk, her hand dug into Elliot's wrist, keeping him in place, "Maybe sometime...we could...double date?"

From across the office, Valesco swallowed hard, "I'd...I'd have to ask-"

"Just go." Olivia said with a deep laugh, "Save yourself, Detective."

"Thanks, Cap."

Elliot stood up to follow him but Olivia grabbed his hand, shoved him back down on the desk, and turned his face towards her, "That little-"

But this time, she cut him off with a kiss, he groaned loudly, his hands wrapping around her waist as he settled her in between his legs, "Elliot…"

He sighed into her mouth and nodded, suddenly forgetting all about the young Detective who had just left her office, "Y-yeah?"

"Why don't we worry about our relationship and then we can worry about theirs later?"

His eyes fluttered open, the corners of his lips turning up into a smile, "Our relationship?"

She nodded slowly, holding the back of his neck with her fingers, "Should I call it a friendship?"

He shook his head, pulling her closer, tangling his hands through her hair, "No. Not just a friendship. Though you are my best friend." He kissed her again before continuing, "But this...this is a...Relationship. Partnership."

She smiled against his lips, "For better or worse?'

He laughed and nuzzled her closer, "For better or worse."

And this time, they both knew exactly what that meant.