Laughter rang through Elliot’s normally quiet apartment, the pair lounged like old friends on the couch, reminiscing more with each drink. Tia’s head was thrown back as she laughed at the memory of Elliot’s first attempt to speak Italian to her and the way he had accidentally said, ‘Sono arrapato’ in place of ‘Sono eccitado’ when telling her he was excited to work with her.
“That’s… unfair,” Elliot replied between laughs, clutching at the stitch in his side that had formed from repeated laughter, “I had only started learning! Was trying to impress the big scary Italian cop.”
“Who? Me?!” Tia protested, her facial expression incredulous, “BAH. You had nothing to prove to me, Elliot.”
“No,” he replied, more somber, “I suppose I was trying to prove something to myself.”
Tia leaned in, her elbow resting on the back of the couch and her chin resting on the back of her hand as she stared across at him. “Then who?” she inquired, suddenly more serious than she’d been.
Elliot looked away, his mind drifting to the SVU squad room… looking down at Jenna and wondering how he had gotten there. His heart ached as he looked down at her sad, cold facial expression. Elliot Stabler, champion of women and children, had killed a teenager… an innocent teenager who had everything stolen from her. Jenna’s hair was splayed around her face, her eyes, unmoving and empty, stared blankly up at the ceiling. Swallowing the ache in his chest, his gaze rose, and his eyes met those familiar, deep chestnut orbs that haunted his dreams. She looked horrified… horrified by what he had done.
“Hey,” Tia spoke, moving her hand to rest it on his shoulder, “where’d you go?”
Elliot shook his head, ridding himself of the memory as quickly as it had come, “Nowhere…” he pushed himself to his feet, “another drink?” he added, grabbing her glass before she could answer and making for the kitchen. He slammed the glasses down on the counter, hard than intended and glanced out the window. The moon hung in the sky, as lonely as his heart felt.
“You’re a terrible liar,” Tia spoke, her voice closer than Elliot had expected. He jumped slightly, turning to face her and backing up a step, “I wasn’t lying,” he replied, but even he didn’t believe it. She rolled her eyes, stepping towards him again, “you don’t have to tell me, but don’t insult my intelligence by lying to me.”
“Sorry,” Elliot replied, lowering his gaze slightly, “Just some wounds… they don’t heal all the way,” he admitted, his voice soft. Tia’s head tilted slightly and she pressed her lips together in a sad smile, unsure of what to say. “I’m sure with time the pain of Kathy’s death will—“ she began, but Elliot’s eyes shot up to meet hers and his expression halted her words. “I’m not talking about Kathy,” he said, somewhat sharper than she’d expected. She held up her hands, like a perp afraid of being shot, “Sorry…” she began.
Elliot sighed and shook his head, dragging his hand down his face, “no… no need to apologize. I just… as much as losing Kathy has hurt me, that wound is well on its way to healing. I know that she wouldn’t want, nor permit, me mourning her for the rest of my life. I have our kids to look after,” he replied, more honestly than he expected. Tia smiled sadly again, but nodded, “Kathy was special… I’m sure you’re right, she would want to see you find happiness - for your kids, for you, ” she replied, her voice softer.
She reached out, tentatively and placed a hand on Elliot’s upper arm. He didn’t pull away, but something in his gut told him he should. His brain was practically abuzz from the drinks and, given the amount she’d had, he knew Tia must be feeling the same. There was silence that hung between them, their eyes locked on one another’s. After a moment, Tia leaned in for a drunken kiss, gripping his arm more tightly to steady herself as she did.
Elliot didn’t reject her kiss directly, but when he reached out and touched her hair, smiling dreamily, she froze. Her eyes searched his face, “Elliot?” she whispered.
He wasn’t looking at her, his icy gaze focused on the tendril of hair between his fingers. Then he spoke, his voice so soft she hardly heard him, “I think hers would be even softer…”
Her eyes widened with surprise and she stared at him with a quizzical expression, “whose?” she inquired, wondering if he might be thinking of Kathy again. Regardless of who it was, the mood was immediately killed… like a fire that just had water thrown on it.
Elliot turns his gaze to a window, finding the moon’s silhouette once again… and thinking of how many times he stared up at it, thinking Liv might be watching it too. “Hers…” he said, almost absentmindedly.
“You’re speaking in riddles Elliot,” Tia protested, backing away from him and throwing her arms up in exasperation, “we might as well have a language barrier at this rate. Who’s the mystery woman?”
“Olivia,” he said, his heart racing at the mere mention of her name, “I… I am in love with her. Have been for… more years than I care to admit…”
Tia arched a brow, “What about your wife? ” she inquired, covering her own jealousy with a protest on Kathy’s behalf. Elliot sighed and shut his eyes, shaking his head, “she knew… that’s why we moved to Italy. Kathy told me I had to choose … between my family… and my happiness.”
Tia was silent, her mouth slightly agape. In her mind, the marble palace she had built that represented Elliot’s perfect marriage to Kathy was crumbling, collapsing into the sea of his eyes. She had idealized their relationship, building up a healthy jealousy of Kathy over several years… had it all been… a L I E?
“So,” Tia finally spoke, her voice hoarse, “this woman… who is she?”
Elliot turned his gaze back to the moon, his lips curving upwards slightly in a small smile, “Who is she…” he repeated, his voice softer than Tia had ever heard it, “She is… everything. And she doesn’t even know it. She’s the sort of person who is so irrefutably beautiful… and strong… but she doesn’t see that in herself. She is humble, despite being the pinnacle of what any woman, any mother, any cop… could hope to be.”
Tia was silent for a moment, coming to terms with the loss of what she had perceived as the ideal marriage in her mind. She tore her gaze from him looking down at the floor as she thought over his words… in the years she’d known Elliot, he had always spoken kindly of his late wife, but he had never spoken with such fervent admiration. And, for the first time since meeting him, and, perhaps, the first time in her life… she recognized the stark contrast between loving someone and being in love with someone .
“You’re in love with her,” Tia remarked, her tone almost defensive, “this Olivia .”
Elliot’s gaze never left the moon and, when he spoke, he didn’t reply to her accusation, “when I was in Italy, I often spent the late hours of the evening staring up at the moon… hoping that Olivia might be watching the same moon here in New York. I left to save my marriage, to protect my family… but at what cost? Perhaps I made the wrong choice…”
He sighed, tearing his gaze from the moon and looking at Tia for the first time in several minutes, “when I met you, it was like finding a shadow of Olivia… a guilt-free version of her that didn’t make Kathy feel threatened the way Olivia always had… when I looked at you, I caught a glimpse of her… a glimpse of us . A glimpse of the partnership I had missed for so many years…”
Tia shrunk backwards, more hurt than she’d been by the initial rejection. She twisted her neck slightly, her jaw clenched.
For the first time, Elliot read the room.
“Tia… I’m—“ he began, but Tia cut him off with a hand held aloft.
“Please, don’t apologize… it will only make me feel worse,” Tia spoke, her voice laced with hurt, “Just…tell me where I can sleep. I’m quite tired.”
Elliot nodded, gesturing to the bedroom, “Sheets are clean, bed is all yours,” he spoke softly. Tia turned, silently, and made to walk towards the room. Without thinking about it, Elliot grabbed her arm, and she turned back to him, not daring to hope.
“I won’t apologize,” he said, promising to honor what she’d said, “but I want you to know that I… admire you. Far too much to ever cross the line with you, because I know that it wouldn’t have been sincere. And… even if Olivia wasn’t in my life, I couldn’t cross that line… Kathy loved you and somehow crossing that line would be like dishonoring her memory. Violating the 10 years of trust we rebuilt during our time in Italy…”
Tia arched a brow at him, extracting her arm from his grasp, “I understand, Elliot… although I almost wish you’d just apologized.”
Without another word, Tia made for the bedroom, grabbing her phone from the coffee table en route. Elliot watched her go in silence, admiring how, from behind, he could almost pretend he was watching Olivia enter his room. Almost.
He grabbed his own phone and wandered out onto the terrace, opening his phone to Olivia’s contact for the thousandth time and just starting at the call button. He knew he shouldn’t, he knew that it was late and she was likely asleep… but he also knew that he had yet to manage to tell her how he was really feeling, instead blurting it out in a weak moment in front of his family… or vaguely describing a parallel universe from a letter he transcribed before Kathy had even been killed… or reciting that letter in a drugged state of mind.
Why haven’t I told her? he thought to himself, his brow furrowed. His own words echoed through his mind, ‘ I was afraid… ’
He frowned and locked his phone, pressing the top of it to his forehead and shutting his eyes. The world spun slightly and he opened his eyes again, unlocking the phone and clicking the “send message” button on Olivia’s contact.
<<Hey, sorry to text so late. I know you’ve been busy and I don’t want to push boundaries, but I would like to grab coffee this week. Just… coffee. We don’t even have to talk. Okay? Let me know.>>
He sent it before he could chicken out, smiling slightly at his phone. He lifted his gaze to the moon once more and wondered to himself if Olivia was awake… if somehow she was looking up at the moon with him.
He looked down at his phone.
<<Coffee sounds good. Thursday? Your treat.>>
He smiled more broadly at his phone before texting a quick <<10-4>> and locking it. As he did, he turned his eyes to the sky once again, staring up at the moon and feeling less alone than he had in over a decade.
He no longer needed a ghost of her.
Or a glimpse of them.
He just needed her .