This chapter takes place at roughly the same time as chapter one.
Sergeant Olivia Benson is sitting at her desk, attempting to focus on paperwork, but not having much luck.
She is expecting ADA Barba any time now, she has signed all the files he sent over earlier, and they are going out for lunch to discuss the case going to trial next week.
Her mind keeps wandering, but always seems to settle on Noah, and her worries that he isn't developing on track for his age, that she doesn't see him enough, that he seems addicted to the iPad...usually she restricts these thoughts to already sleepless nights, but today for some reason she can't get her mind off her son.
She barely registers her desk phone ringing, and answers automatically.
It's the substitute desk sergeant, letting her know that someone is on their way to her office. No they didn't have an appointment; no I didn't catch their name.
She sighs and wonders when Vickers will be back from vacation- surely he must be tired of the cruise life by now?
Figuring it's Barba, she abandons the paperwork she hasn't touched in an hour anyway, shuts the lid on her laptop, and is digging through the bottom drawer for her purse when she hears a knock at the door.
She calls out a distracted, 'Come In', wondering how she had managed to dump the entire contents of her handbag and not notice.
Focused on shoving random shit back into her purse, she doesn't look up when the door opens, simply says, "I'll be ready to go in a second, you're early for once."
There is a moment of silence, and then the visitor speaks, "I didn't realize you were expecting me."
Olivia freezes. She hasn't heard that voice in years. Not since she stopped calling him and leaving voicemails that always went unreturned.
Slowly, she raises her head and looks at her former partner.
Elliot Stabler looks basically the same, just a little more grey than the last time she saw him; they spend a moment just looking at each other.
He is the one to break the silence, "I understand if you're on your way out, I probably should have called ahead."
Olivia stands up and makes her way over to the door to close it and shut the blinds. "Uh, I have a couple minutes. I have a lunch meeting soon. That's who I thought you were, the regular desk sergeant is on vacation and the filler is useless." She takes a breath to stop her rambling, and adds, "Have a seat," indicating the chairs facing the captain's desk.
'My desk', she reminds herself.
Elliot sits, and looks around the office, noting the many changes.
"Congrats on running the show," he offers. "I honestly never thought you wanted to be in here, though."
Olivia looks at him, and after a moment replies, "Well, five years ago I didn't. But things change."
Elliot looks decidedly uncomfortable at this, and just nods his head, now focused on the pictures that line the windowsill behind the desk.
He recognizes the one of Liv with her mom, and assumes the one showing her in full dress uniform is probably from her promotion ceremony.
He can't tear his eyes away from the one with her and a cherubic baby though. He is gorgeous; big brown eyes and shiny brown hair.
"Why are you here, Elliot?" Liv is starting to get impatient with the silence, but she'll be damned if she's going to be the one to lead this unanticipated conversation.
He still can't look away from the image of her cheek to cheek with that baby. He ignores her question and asks his own, "Who's the baby?"
Though she doesn't need to look to know what picture he's looking at, Olivia follows his line of sight and turns around to smile at the photograph.
"That's Noah," she answers simply.
Elliot's eyes narrow ever so slightly, but Olivia picks up on it.
"You gonna ask the question you really want to ask now?" She baits him, annoyed that after so long he's not even attempting to have a conversation with her; she feels like he's inspecting her life.
Elliot finally looks at her and makes eye contact. "Is he your son?"
"He's beautiful. He has your eyes."
Olivia smiles at that. "Thank you. He's pretty special."
"Why are you here, Elliot?" Since he didn't answer the first time, and she really does want to know, she repeats her question.
"Uh, I don't really know. I wanted to see you, I guess. I don't come into Manhattan very often, so when I found myself in the neighborhood I figured I'd drop in," it is mostly the truth- he just left out the part where the reason he is in the neighborhood in the first place is to see her.
"Right." She replies. "And why today of all days?"
Elliot shrugs, and looks around the room, falling silent again.
"Look, I've got reservations to get to, so it would be great if you could say what you wanna say," Olivia is done with his silence and wants him to get on with it.
"Well, wouldn't want to keep Cassidy waiting, he might miss his nap and get cranky," the insult is ridiculous on so many levels- mainly that Cassidy is about 4 months younger than her; not exactly cradle robbing.
"Excuse me?" She's moved beyond annoyed to pissed off.
"You couldn't keep it from me the first time, Liv, and you still can't," he's bordering on smug, and she really wants to slap that look off his face.
"Not that it's any of your business, but Brian and I aren't together anymore. He's not the person I'm meeting for lunch," Olivia states, voice still raised.
"I don't know who you're getting your information from, but they're way behind the times," Olivia says.
"Is he Cassidy's? He knock you up and then bail for another undercover gig with a pimp? Great choice for fathering your child, Liv."
"Don't call me that," she grits out, furious. "Brian Cassidy is a good man, and I would have been proud to have children with him. He was there for me during the worst time of my life, and he never once let me down. Noah is adopted. I started fostering him after Brian and I broke up."
For some reason Elliot looks satisfied at her answer, but she doesn't want to spend the energy dissecting that.
"You know, I've been expecting you to do this at some point, but I honestly thought it would have been after one of the half dozen times I was in the paper after almost dying on the job; or when I was kidnapped and tortured and it was on the national news for days; or when Lewis was on trial for that; or maybe when he broke out of prison and there was a city wide manhunt that ended in a contested game of Russian Roulette that I almost went to prison for. Even when Cragen or Munch retired- I really thought you'd make an appearance at their parties, but you've held off- until now. I wanna know why."
Elliot just looks at her, expression stony as she goes on. Not one thing she says is making him look even slightly surprised, and that pisses her off. She was holding on to the hope that maybe he hadn't heard of these events, and that would explain his absence. Clearly he had some other reason for staying away.
"Well?" She prompts after he stays silent.
"I don't know what to say, Olivia. I didn't plan for this to happen. After the shooting, I lost it. I didn't want to see you or anyone, really. It took me a long time to get my shit together and when I did, it had been so long that it was so hard- I didn't think you'd want to see me so I just kept putting it off. I really didn't expect you to abandon me like that."
To say she is shocked is the understatement of the year. How dare he?
"Really? How the hell did *I* abandon *you*? You were the one who wouldn't take my calls, then changed your number, fucking retired without even telling your partner of over twelve years! I even went to your house, Elliot. That went well. Kathy was not impressed with that- I'm sure you heard all about it. So don't you fucking dare accuse me of abandoning you!" She is managing to keep her voice just short of yelling, but knows there is likely an audience outside her office due to their raised voices.
"I changed my number? That's your excuse? You're a detective, or at least you were before you decided to sell out and sit behind a desk. How did you get promoted so fast anyway? And a Sergeant running a borough-wide department for this long? Who are you sleeping with, Liv?"
She can't hold back any longer, the relief she felt at seeing him alive after all these years has quickly morphed into incredulity and anger that he was saying these things. But that's the thing about people who know you so well- they know how to cut deep with only a few words.
"Fuck you, Elliot!" She practically screams at him, storming across the office toward the door.
He moves to cut off her path, already regretting his words.
She pushes him away, ignoring his pleading apologies but he won't back off.
She manages to push past him but he grabs her wrist to pull her back. Reflexively she whirls around and slaps him across the face.
"Leave me the hell alone," she warns, voice low and shaky. "You are not welcome in my life."
He's frozen, barely processing her storming from the office and yelling at the bystanders.
He doesn't know how things got out of hand so fast. He really thought he had a better handle on his emotions after years of therapy.
He doesn't know how long he just stands there, wishing he could go back 20 minutes and do it over again.
Finally he takes a deep breath and shuffles out of the office, stopping briefly to exchange a few words with Fin.
The look in her eyes when she told him to leave her alone- he knows it will haunt him for a very long time.
He knows that she will never forgive him for what he said. It's fitting, because he won't forgive himself either.
He doesn't know how to label their relationship- it was more than partners, less than lovers but somehow he thought they'd be together someday.
As he makes his way out of the 16th precinct for what will most likely be the last time, he feels like a ghost; invisible. He slips out onto the street unnoticed and stops at the deli on the corner. He has no appetite but refuses to be this close to his favourite roast beef on rye and not at least take one home for later.
While he's waiting for his sandwich he overhears a familiar order being shouted to the cooks in the back.
He quickly looks to the counter but doesn't see Olivia- it's after the lunch rush and the only other customer is a guy in a three piece suit with over-gelled hair.
Elliot's Spanish isn't great but he catches enough of the man's greeting with the clerk to deduce that he is without his usual dining companion.
"She couldn't get away from the precinct, you know how it is," the customer says with a smile, having switched to English.
"Tell her she's eating too many salads! She needs bread in her diet or she'll go crazy." Elliot recognizes Nick, the deli's owner since before he started at the One Six.
"I'll bring her in soon and you can tell her yourself, Nick. Thanks for taking my order on the phone- I know you don't usually do that."
"Anything for my favourite customer, Mr Barba. And you know I don't mean you!" The older gentleman laughs heartily as he returns to the back of the diner.
The man Elliot now realizes is the ADA assigned to SVU gathers his takeout bags just as his phone starts ringing.
He answers as he makes his way back toward the door, no greeting, just, "Yes, I remembered your pickles. Of course. Nick misses you, pretty sure you got extra. I'm on my way back now..."
Elliot misses the rest of the conversation as Barba has exited onto the sidewalk.
He realizes the clerk is calling his name- his order is ready.
He gathers his sandwich and heads out onto the Manhattan street, turning in the direction of the Sixteenth Precinct, letting his mind wander to the countless times he and his partner would walk this same path.
Sometimes it feels like just yesterday.
Today it feels like another lifetime.