Olivia heard it through the gossip mill. Elliot Stabler’s back and he’s working organized crime. Getting murmured, in various iterations, sometimes by people who know he used to be her partner, sometimes by people who have never even heard his name.
And that makes sense. It’s been ages since he retired. Eli wasn’t even in kindergarten yet the last time they had a case together and he’s already a teenager she realizes when she does the math. Elliot was angry when he left and Olivia was too. Things happen. Life goes on.
Plus, they were never really good at the keeping in touch thing, even when it seemed like they understood one another in a way no one else would. She easily recalls how they barely talked when she was with computer crimes, when either of them would be on leave or vacation. They worked in the squad room and had never quite figured out the rest. They were partners, which is different than friends.
Olivia starts three congratulatory emails to him that she doesn’t send and looks for the old Christmas card Kathy had sent a few years ago. They were all at a Mets game and smiling. Elliot was wearing these sunglasses that didn’t seem very much like him, and there were some faces she didn’t recognize. She knows at least one of his daughters has gotten married, but not which one, or if some of the others have also tied the knot by now. He might even be a grandfather for all she knows.
Elliot had told her once that she was going to be a great mother.
He doesn’t even know Noah exists.
As soon as his name is getting spoken again with regularity, he starts appearing in her dreams. Conjured from the folds of her subconscious.
It’s not that odd. He used to crop up from time to time.
Once, he was selling her ice cream, in an old timey uniform complete with a hat and a repetitive tune playing in the background. Another time, they were both floating in a lake, the water warm and the sun too bright, the tips of their fingers brushing. She’s pretty sure that he sometimes was a dog. This scrappy little one with a white spot and blue eyes.
But now, during the typically five hours of sleep she’s averaging a night, she dreams about Elliot fucking her.
The first time it happens, she wakes up panting and sweaty. The image still there behind her eyes of his neck, strained. She reaches into her underwear, muffles a moan against her pillow, and then lays there in the dark under the spin of the ceiling fan. Feels the weight of him for ages even though he’s never been there at all.
Two nights later, he’s spreading her legs on the edge of her desk in the old squad room. She can smell the burnt coffee as he adjusts her over his shoulders, down on his knees. She is wet and open and feels like she is herself now and then at exactly the same time.
One Saturday that’s late enough it’s actually Sunday, she jolts on the couch because Elliot was pulling her hair and telling her he loved her, buried so deep there didn’t even seem like there was air between them.
Olivia takes cold showers. She makes lunches for her son and refuses to think about Elliot’s tattoos. His scars. All the ways he used to say her name.
Rollins calls in the wee hours of the morning before Noah’s camp recital with nothing but apologies. “The Commissioner just felt, under the circumstances...” Trailing off without saying the rest.
“Yep, no, I understand. I’ll be there as soon as I can,” Olivia says, thinking about how much extra to offer Lucy, and that this is another event she’ll have to miss and watch later on a screen.
It’s easy to drift to Elliot trying to get the twins a birthday gift in the middle of a manhunt while she brushes her teeth. Listening to his voice over the phone as he heard about soccer goals and spelling tests while she hunts in the dark for her shoes. She used to judge him for it sometimes and now here she is, just the same, running out in the middle of the night to help someone who isn’t her child.
Maybe if her phone hadn’t rung, Elliot instead would have held her breast. Kissed her mouth until she couldn’t breathe. He could have been present and hers.
But it did ring, because there was a rape/homicde in Little Italy, the victim found shot four times outside a restaurant with known ties to the Genovese crime family. By the time SVU had been contacted, it was already out that she’d been undercover, trying to build a RICO case. She was 29 years old and they left her in the gutter.
When Olivia arrives at the scene, with its flashing lights and spectators at the yellow tape, it’s the first cool night she can remember in ages. The wind is just strong enough to raise some goosebumps on her skin. She looks into the too pale face of this young woman and there’s that thought there always is of how much longer can I do this?
The ME says at least she went quickly based on the location of the wounds and the spread of exsanguination, but that he’ll have a better sense of everything once they get her into the lab.
“Keep me posted,” Olivia says, turning, thinking as much about what their official statement to the family might say as how she needs to get more sleep and that it’s time to buy school supplies for Noah.
And then there’s Elliot. Standing right beside her like the last eight years have never happened.
Except they have.
He looks older and she feels it.
“Captain,” he says, with a nod and this proud set to his mouth which seems out of place given the circumstances. “Been a long time.”
She wants to tell him that she’s missed him. That it hurt her, the way he left, and that by the time she’d moved beyond that, it felt like much too late to reach out again. She wants him to know that someone calls her mom now and it still surprises her sometimes that that’s real, how she’s gotten the gift of it after becoming okay with the notion that she might not. She wants to tell him that she’s been so lost and yet is still somehow here. That she kept showing up even when he didn’t. That she’s been dreaming about him and it seems so incredibly unfair.
But all she says is, “Yes.” Her voice just a little thick. “It certainly has.”