"Come on Liv. One picture."
Olivia looks up at him from her desk, "Elliot…we're working right now."
He throws her that stupid little pout that she wants to hate but secretly loves, "Just one? You know…for the kids?"
Looking away from him she tries to hide her smile, covering her face with her hands and her hair, "Elliot…Ayanna is going to be here any minute and we both promised to keep our…we agreed to keep this out of the workplace. Especially this case since we are working together."
He turns to look at her and smiles, "This what Liv? What is this?" She shoots him an annoyed look and he shrugs, "Come on…say it…"
His voice is soft and sweet, and she hates him for it, "El, I'm warning you."
But they both hear the edge of laughter she's trying to hide, "Come on and say it and I'll drop the whole conversation."
Her shoulders shake with laughter now, "Elliot…"
He reaches out, pulls her up, and presses her against his chest, wrapping his arm around her chest, "What is this, Liv? What are we?"
She sighs, biting the corner of her lip as he lifts the phone up in front of her, "It's a relationship."
"Uh-huh." He says with a nod, nuzzling in closer as she reaches up to touch his arm, her glasses hanging from her fingers, "And am I just a friend? Or am I your boyfriend?"
She presses back into him and smirks, "What are we, 12? Are you gonna pass me a note in study hall and ask me to go steady with you?"
"Yes. Are you circling yes or no?" He teases, biting down on her earlobe.
She laughs harder, "Elliot!"
He tickles her arm where his arm is draped across it, "Yes or no Liv? Am I your boyfriend?"
She sighs, realizing that maybe it sounds ridiculous at their age, but damn him. Isn't this the one thing she's always wanted? For him to claim her, to commit himself to her? "Yes, Elliot. You are my boyfriend."
"Good." He kisses her cheek and holds the camera out again, "Cuz I've been telling everyone I know you're my girlfriend for the last two months so that would have been really awkward if you said no…"
He snaps the picture just as she turns to look at him, "Elliot."
He shrugs, leans in, and kisses her, not noticing the people walking in, "Don't start. I love you. You know that. This is happening Liv. It's finally happening."
She sighs against his mouth, leaning into him as he angles her backward, her back arching over her desk. It still feels strange yet oh so exciting to be able to kiss him. After all those years of waiting and wondering, it feels even better to know that it wasn't all in her head after all. The twelve years of their partnership meant something to him too. All those late nights here, those looks of longing across their desks, the little touches that no one would ever know about, it was real. And though it had taken longer than two decades to get here, it still felt amazing to know he loved her too.
They jump apart, a file falling off her desk, papers scattering, floating to the floor. Her heeled boots step on his foot and he grunts, at the same time that he elbows her in the ribs making her gasp. As they turn, they both wish they could crawl under the desk and hide. Had it just been Fin, they would have endured the teasing, in a way they deserved it from him. But it's not just Fin, it's Ayanna too, but that's not the problem.
The person standing next to her is Chief McGrath.
"Captain Benson, can I have a word with you?"
She swallows hard glances at her boyfriend, and nods, "O-Of course. Sure."
The Cheif walks further into the room and focuses his gaze solely on Elliot, "Alone."
Swallowing hard, he turns to look at her, but she shakes her head letting him know he can't intervene. When he looks up, Ayanna is giving him the same look. Slowly, he steps around the desk and out into the main part of the squad room with Fin and Ayanna.
"Nice going, Stabler." Fin barks at him, "She's gonna hear it now."
Elliot grimaces and looks at Ayanna, "I-"
"Why don't you do us all a favor and make yourself scarce? Probably better that you aren't here at the moment."
He starts to move, then freezes. He can't run. He won't run. He did that once, left her behind to pick up his mess and he promised himself and her that he never would leave her behind again. Ayanna gets a call and walks away, leaving him with his thoughts. After a moment, Fin turns and leans into him, "Interrogation room 3 is open...if you want to hide out in there for a minute."
Elliot looks back at Olivia's office and sees McGrath clearly laying into her but she stands there and takes it like the pro that she is. He looks back at Fin, "Tell her I'm still here?
Fin nods, "Course. Glad you aren't running this time around... show me you are serious about this. About her."
Elliot stands up a little straighter, "I am. You know I am."
He cocks his head to the side, "Go."
Elliot gives her office one last look before he turns and walks away, walking the familiar path towards the integration rooms he once haunted with her. Everywhere he looks there is a memory, of her, them, the ghosts that lingered in his mind each night. How many cases had they worked on together? How many endless nights had they spent here trying to make a perp crack or get a victim to talk? How many times had she pulled him back from the brink before he went too far with a perp?
Sighing he settles in, knowing it could be a while, but he won't leave. He won't leave her again. No matter the consequences.
In her office, Olivia feels like she's in grade school getting scolded by a teacher. She has little glimpses of her time as a Detective alongside Elliot while Cragen laid into them about some crazy scheme they'd come up with. Elliot was always beside her then though. They made a pact early in their partnership, one that she made him make, that if they went down, they'd go down together. Of course, there were times when both of them tried to back out, only to save the other. But in twelve years, they did it all together.
Until one day...they didn't.
Until one-day Cragen called her into his office alone and told her that Elliot would not be returning. She'd refused to believe it. Refused to believe that he would leave her alone. But over time, it became clear that he wasn't coming back. Yet here she stood, the Captain of SVU now getting scolded for making out with her boyfriend in her office during the work day. She was only half listening really, hearing bits and pieces of what McGrath was saying.
I warned you about him.
He'll drag you down.
I told you that you had to keep this out of the office.
If you can't be professional, maybe I should look into hiring a new Captain.
When it was clear he was done, she lifted her head and took a deep breath, "Chief, I apologize. I can promise you it won't happen again. You know how important this job is to me. From now on...my professional and personal life won't get mixed up."
He took a deep breath, "I wish I could believe that…"
As she watches him go, all she can think is how hard she's worked to get here. As much as she loved her years working with Elliot, she knows what everyone thought. They assumed they were sleeping together. She'd heard the muttered rumblings about how she'd only gotten to where she had because of what she did in the bedroom. She brushed it off, and didn't let it show how much it bothered her, more to protect him and his marriage than to protect herself.
But then he left, and she'd been on her own. Feeling tired of the sympathetic looks, the whispered poor girl comments. So she'd sucked it up, stood taller than she ever had before, and made sure to show them who was boss. She'd endured more in the ten years without him than she ever had with him. Climbed out of the hole that William Lewis had created for her and built herself back up again to prove she was stronger than anyone could have ever imagined.
And now, here she stood. In her office. It said Captain O. Benson on that door and she had no intention of giving that up. But she didn't want to give him up either...so how did she have both?
Feeling frustrated, and a bit lost in her head, she walked out of her office, looking left and right expecting to see him. But he wasn't standing there and a pit formed in her stomach. That all too familiar feeling of being left behind. But when Fin whistled to her and cocked his head to the left, she tried to breathe. He held up his fingers indicating room 3 and she turned without hesitation to find him.
As soon as she pushes open the door, he's standing up from the rickety table and walking towards her, "Liv-"
She puts her hand up, unable to stop herself. She loves him. That will never change. But another thing that won't change is that sometimes fear and hurt stay locked in her mind, in her heart and she only knows how to protect herself, "El...I told you that was a bad idea."
He looks down, feeling slightly ashamed and he reminds her of her son when she talks to him about something he's done that is wrong, "I know. And I'm sorry….I should have listened to you. I really, really am sorry."
"I know when we were partners, we bent the rules. And Cragen was usually there to back us up...brush it all under the rug but that's not how it works anymore. I'm Captain. I'm in charge. I have to set an example for everyone. And making out with my boyfriend isn't a great way to do that."
She hates herself for the words coming out of her mouth but she can't stop herself, "You're right."
"I just…" She lifts her hand, running her fingers through her hair, "I need you to respect my boundaries, especially at work. I have to be professional. Okay? We both do. We're constantly being watched. We can't give the brass more ammunition to come after us. We're lucky we're still standing as it is."
Elliot nods slowly, "I know."
"You should...go." He looks nervous and she tries to smile, "Thank you, for waiting so we could...talk. But I think it's best if you go. And we'll...catch up later. Okay?"
Chewing on his lip he steps closer to her but then thinks better of it, "Dinner? Noah's going to his friends, right?"
She nods slowly, "Yes, it's Luke's birthday so he's sleeping over."
They both stand there awkwardly, not sure what to say or do. He wants to kiss her but he knows that's the last thing he should do at the moment. "Okay...great. I'll...I'll text you?" She nods again, "I'll...get my info about the case from Ayanna then?"
She nods again as the door creaks open, "Yes. You're dismissed, Detective."
His lips form a straight line and he nodes, "Thank you, Captain."
And before she can utter another word, he slips out past Amanda and out of the squad room altogether. Olivia sighs and leans against the table, still warm from his body heat and she hates that they left it like this.
Glancing over at her, Olivia nods slowly, "Fine."
Amanda holds up her phone, "Carisi called, has some files he wants Fin and I to go over so we can nail this guy in court tomorrow. Okay if we head down to his office?"
Olivia nods slowly, "Sure. Yes. Go ahead." As Amanda starts to walk out she calls out to her again, "Rollins." The blonde turns to look at her expectantly, "How do you two do it? I mean...how do you balance work and your relationship?"
Amanda smiles sadly, "It isn't always easy. But we both want to make sure this works...and we both want to keep our jobs. So...we set boundaries. And we make sure to talk it out. Although I'll admit that Dom is better than I am at talking. I usually get defensive and argue, and push him away. Lucky for me...he knows I don't mean it and is still there when I'm ready to try again."
Olivia looks back at her sadly, "I do the same thing...but I can't figure it out."
Amanda sighs and lifts her shoulder, shrugging slightly, "Because, we're women working in a male-dominated world. Everyone has their opinion and we don't want to look weak, give them ammunition to push us back down. Makes us...harder. But...I have a feeling that Stabler will understand that the way that Carisi does too. If you explain it to him…"
Olivia smiles softly at her, "I thought you weren't a big fan of his?"
"Stabler?" Olivia nods, "He's...growing on me." She smirks and taps the doorframe, "Especially because he makes my Captain and more importantly, my friend really happy…"
Her cheeks blush, "Is it that obvious?"
Amanda smiles at her, "All I'll say is that in the decade that I've known you...I haven't seen you smile the way you have been smiling for the last two months. That's all I need to know."
When she turns to leave, her words ring through Olivia's mind and she realizes she's right. She is happy. Happier than she thought she could be. Mostly because she would never allow herself to give into her feelings for her partner. But now she can and she has. She just has to figure out how to balance it all.
Elliot spends half the afternoon messing up at work until Ayanna gets frustrated and makes him leave. Tells him to take a few laps around the city to sort through whatever is going on in his head. So he does just that. The only problem is that everywhere he goes reminds him of Olivia. There are about a dozen different times that he almost goes back to the Precinct to make her talk to him but he's afraid that McGrath will be lurking around. And even if he isn't, one of his little snakes will more than likely be slithering about, looking for any reason to get Olivia in trouble.
He's never been good at talking things out. Usually, when he argued with Kathy he would eventually just give in, tell her she was right, nod his head a lot and she'd accept it. It would end and he'd go about living his life even if he didn't agree with what she was saying. In his partnership with Olivia, they fought. Oh, they fought. In the twelve years that they worked together, they'd butted heads more times than he could count. But there was always one way he could break the ice, the same way he could now that they were...more than just friends.
Making her laugh.
She tried to suppress it, but he'd do something stupid, something silly and she'd crack. And it would be enough to break the tension, allowing them to have a calmer conversation until they both came to some sort of understanding. And so that's how he finds himself outside her apartment door that he knows she is going to hate but hopefully...just hopefully she'll at least laugh.
So he lifts his hand, knocks, hides behind it, and holds his breath.
In the apartment, she's standing at the counter pouring two glasses of wine as Elton John rings through the speakers. The rest of the day was long, irritating, and more than once she had to throw something at Fin to get him to stop laughing. She'd even had to field texts from John teasing about how they really needed to learn how to keep it out of the office. She spent the four hours they were apart trying to think of what to say, how to explain it to him without creating more of an argument.
But when she hears him knock on the door, all the things she'd rehearsed seem to vanish right out of her mind. Taking a long gulp of her wine, she walks to the door and opens it. Only, it's not her boyfriend she sees standing there but rather the most ridiculous white, fluffy bear she's ever seen. "What the-"
And then, his adorable little bald head peaks around it, "Hey…"
She hates herself for laughing, but she leans against the door frame and frowns, "What the hell is this?"
"My apology." He pouts and she tries to hold it together but he knows he's almost got his in, "I saw it and thought...Olivia has to have this."
She narrows her eyes at him and asks, "What about me screams the type of girl who wants her boyfriend to buy her an oversized bear?"
"Nothing." He smirks, "You actually give off the energy that you'd burn this damn thing given the chance."
He shrugs and leans in, "But...I'm hoping you let me in still because you still called me boyfriend…"
Sighing, she steps aside, "Oh get in here already."
Smiling triumphantly, he walks into the apartment, dragging the damn bear with him, "I knew he'd help soften the blow."
"Uh-huh." She points to the counter, "There's wine."
"We love wine." He grabs his glass and drags the bear back towards the couch, "Come sit."
But she hesitates, despite how annoyingly adorable he is, she still has things she needs and wants to say, "I think I'm safer over here."
His eyebrow lifts slowly, "Okay?"
Maybe the bear didn't help as much as he thought it would. As he watches her, he sees she's clearly thinking hard and he knows they still need to talk, "Look, Olivia…"
She nervously sits down across from him, speaking at the same time, "El…"
He smiles nervously, holding onto the bear without even realizing it, "No...go ahead."
She sighs and places the wine down on the coffee table in front of her, "The thing is...being a woman in this business...it's hard enough as it is. And I've worked my ass off to get to where I am."
He swallows hard and leans back, "I know."
But he realizes he only knows half of it. The half that he stood beside her, he'll never know how much harder she worked once he was gone. He'll never know how she clawed her way to the top when everyone assumed she'd fall to the bottom again without him.
So he smiles sadly, "Or...I know part of it I suppose."
"I'm happy...I am." She whispers, "With you...with this...thing…" She nervously motions between them and she grimaces when he looks defeated, "But, I won't let it come between my position. I won't let it interfere with how far I've come. And McGrath already doesn't like me. I don't need to give him more of a reason to want me fired."
"Well, he hates me. "He said with a smile, "Then again, everyone in New York does. I probably should have stayed away and-"
"No." She says softly, "No...that's not…" Standing up, she walks towards him and sits down beside him, "El, I'm glad you're here. I mean it hasn't been easy...but I missed you. Let them say what they want to say...I know who you are. This isn't about you…"
Looking over at her over the bear he says, "I don't want to make things more complicated than I already have. Not for you. So if it's too much...if us being together is too much…"
Reaching out, she takes his hand and squeezes tight, "I think...it may take some getting used to. But as long as we keep it out of the office...I think we can do it."
He takes a deep breath and smiles, knowing she's trying to meet him halfway and he's grateful, "Then...you should stop being so sexy so I don't want to kiss you constantly."
She laughs as he leans into her, expecting a kiss but she pushes him back until he falls on his side, "Shut up."
He huffs as she stands up again, "Come back...I wanted to snuggle."
She rolls her eyes but she's smiling again as she walks back to the kitchen to grab their dinner. "Oh snuggle your stupid bear."
He knows she's teasing and he plays into it. This playful side has always been there, and he likes it even more now that they are together. So he kicks off his shoes, wraps himself around the bear the way he would like to wrap himself around her, and puts, 'Fine."
When she looks back at him again, she laughs even harder, "Elliot…"
He huffs and looks away, "Nope. I heard you loud and clear Captain. The only love I"m gonna get tonight is from Elton here."
She laughs louder, "Elton?"
But she realizes it was the first thing he thought of because of the music playing through the speaker.
Hold me closer, tiny dancer
Count the headlights on the highway
Lay me down in sheets of linen
You had a busy day today…
She stands there watching him, seeing this man she's loved for so long, lying on her couch holding a damn bear he bought for her. And while she knows they have to keep it out of the office, they don't have to keep it a secret here. They don't have to hide. They don't have to pretend they don't feel what they feel. Not anymore.
Here they are free. Free to be Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler, not Detective and Captain. Not ex-partners. Just two people who love each other, who have loved each other for over two decades. And God that feels good.
As she steps toward the couch again, she hears him humming along to the song and her heart beats even faster. Kicking off her boots, she climbs up over the couch and nudges him forward. She feels him laughing softly as she wraps herself around him and the bear, "Elliot…"
"Oh, how it feels so real, lying here, with no one near." He sings off key to her and she ducks her head into the crook of his neck, "Only you, and you can hear me...when I sing softly...slowly."
She kisses his cheek, "The bear is cheesy but…"
"Hold me closer, tiny dancer…." He leans back into her, "Count the headlights on the highway…"
"I love it."
"Lay me down in sheets of linen." He rolls over, the bear falling to the ground in front of the couch, "You had a busy day today…"
"And I love you."
He smiles and traces the lines of her face, "I know. I love you too. And I hear everything you are saying." He leans in and kisses her softly, then pulls back, "And you should know...I am so, so proud of you."
Hearing those words from her mean more to him than she can explain and she snuggles in closer, "You are?"
"Liv, I always knew you were amazing. I knew when Cragen made you my partner that you were destined for greatness. That you would blow us all out of the water. And you did…"
She swallowed the lump in her throat, "Yeah, but I had an amazing partner who helped me get there."
Elliot shook his head, "You were amazing with or without me Liv. And you proved that a million times after I left. I knew it the moment I came back...when I saw you in that office...that's where you were always meant to be. I will never stand in the way of that for you."
Resting her forehead against his, "There were so many times I wanted to call and tell you...when I was moving up the ladder. It was always you I wanted to share it with. Always you I imagined becoming Cap-"
"No." He cuts her off with a quick kiss, "It was always going to be you Liv. That's where you belong, I knew it back then and I know it even more now."
She sighs softly and nuzzles the side of his face, kissing him again, "Thank you El. That means a lot, especially coming from you."
He smiles and adjusts their position on the couch so that she's resting against his chest, "So...are we good?"
Her leg slips between his and her fingers slid up and under the bottom of his henley shirt, "We're good El. Thank you for hearing me out and letting me...take some time."
He nods, "Course. Like you said, it will take time to figure it all out and we will. Just wanted to make sure you were still circling yes on the whole boyfriend/girlfriend thing."
She laughs and presses her nose into his chest, "Elliot…"
"And I also have to say it's a real shame…" He sighs dramatically, running his fingers up and down her back, "I always had this fantasy about us having sex in that office. Even hotter now that it's yours…"
She looked up at him and smiled, "I had that fantasy too…"
He raised an eyebrow, "Interrogation room?"
She nods once, "And the cribs."
He sighs and leans back again, "Real shame…"
They sit in silence as Elton starts singing a new song, "Heard a rumor McGrath is going on vacation next week…"
Elliot begins to smile and he looks down at her, "Oh really?"
She shrugs and pulls his face down to hers, "Just thought you should know…"
He growls at her, flips them over on the couch, and covers her with his body, her laughter ringing through the living room, "Look away Bear Elton...what we're about to do is not safe for your eyes."
Damn him for being so cute she thinks as he attacks her neck with kisses. McGrath and everyone else can think whatever they want. But she knows who she is. She knows who he is and what she wants for both of them. And if she has it her way, she'll never let him go again. Little does she know, that even if she tries, he'll still be right beside her no matter what.