Elliot drove home that night, lost in his thoughts. He had tried to call Olivia on her cell phone twice, but it went straight to voice mail. After trying her apartment phone and getting the machine there twice, he was beginning to worry. Needless to say, he was relieved when walked into his own home and saw his answering machine blinking. He hit the play button, relieved to hear her voice.
"El, it's me." She said, exhaling loudly. "I'm sorry about last night…I talked to Huang today… God, I can see your face right now, but it wasn't so bad. He told me I should take this week off, take time to think about everything, grieve."
Grieve. That word never crossed Elliot's mind. He never thought she'd need to mourn. He mentally kicked himself for not realizing how truly difficult this must be for his partner. He was lost in thought for a moment, but the sound of her voice brought him out of his trance.
"…out of town for a few days. Don't worry about me, please. I just need time. We'll talk when I get back Monday, I promise. Or at least I'll talk, you can sit across from me and be brooding and intense, whatever you want." He smiled, she knew him so well. "Bye, Elliot."
The rest of the week went by almost too quickly. Olivia occasionally crossed his mind when he was finishing her paperwork or when John and Fin argued and he missed having his partner there to share eye rolls and sarcastic comments.
On Monday morning Elliot made sure to arrive at the station early. No more snide comments from Olivia about rush hour traffic. He was, in fact, so early that he was the first to arrive, even beating Cragen. He busied himself with paperwork, wondering to himself how Olivia's week went. This was the longest he'd gone without talking to her since becoming partners. He realized, sitting as his desk alone, he missed her. All week, he'd been so busy, he'd barely had time to notice she was gone. But now, sitting here, in anticipation of her arrival, he missed her. Longed to see her smile. Hear her voice.
Elliot nearly jumped out of his seat when he heard Cragen's voice, he was so lost in his own thoughts.
"You took our talk about being late serious, didn't you, Stabler? That's good, that's real good," he said, patting him on the back and heading into his office. Elliot laughed and shook his head.
"What's so funny, Stabler?" her voice came from behind.
"I'm early," he said, grinning and awaiting her praise. She leaned against his desk, stared down at him.
"Well, congratulations are in order," she smiled.
Elliot noticed how refreshed she looked. Her week away from the precinct really did her some good. The dark circles were gone, her brown eyes had a little of the familiar sparkle back. And her smile was back.
"You look good, Liv," Elliot said sincerely.
"And you're still going bald," she shot back.
"And to think I missed you," he shook his head in disbelief as he stood up, now towering over her. "Is it…inappropriate, given our current situation, to give you a great big hug?" he asked, looking down into her eyes, a hint of laughter in them.
"Just make it quick," she joked.
He wrapped his strong arms around her, held her close for a few moments. He planted a kiss on the top of her head.
"You scared me," he whispered into her hair.
"I know," she said.
"Olivia, a minute please?" Cragen called from his office, Elliot pulling out of their embrace.
"I'll grab us coffee while you're in there," Elliot winked at her as he headed for the door. "Good luck!" he called over his shoulder.
He returned twenty minutes and two large coffees later.
"The entire chicken column, which we barely touched, by the way, and now coffee. I owe you big time," Olivia said as Elliot placed the coffee on her desk. "Can I buy you lunch?"
"Make it two lunches and a breakfast and we'll call it even," he said sipping from his own cup.
He wanted to ask her what she'd talked to Cragen about, but decided he'd wait for lunch, when the two of them would hopefully be alone.
"Just so you know, I'm ordering lobster," Elliot said as he slid into the booth at his number two restaurant a few hours later.
Olivia started laughing as she slid in next to him.
"Nothing," she said, still laughing. "It's just that, when I left last week, I just got in my car and drove. I wound up in Maine, all the lobster you can eat up there," she said, laughing so hard so hard her eyes were beginning to water.
"You went to Maine?" he asked incredulously.
"I know, can you believe it?" she asked, her laughter subsiding. "I just wound up there, staying at this little inn on a lake. It was so quiet, peaceful. You can actually smell the grass and the rain there. I thought…a lot. About everything. And I slept. God, I had forgotten how great a full night's sleep could be," she said, a hint of happiness in her tone.
Elliot smiled at the changed woman in front of him.
"I'm glad you managed to make it back," he said, lifting his water glass in a toast.
The waitress came and took their orders, and they sat in silence afterwards, just taking in one another.
"Glasses look good on you," she teased.
Elliot just shook his head, embarrassed at himself.
"What? I just haven't seen you wear them for awhile," she said in defense.
"That morning you threw me out of your apartment," he said, a childish grin on his face, "my contacts were hurting so I took them out and, uh, threw them out my car window."
He paused and watched her stifle her laughter.
"It's not funny! They were my last pair, my new ones don't come in until next week," he said, turning away from her, waiting for the teasing to subside.
"So much rage pent up inside of you, taking it out on your poor contacts," she said, faking a sad puppy dog face.
"What'd Cragen have to say?" Elliot changed the subject.
"Go easy on the sauce," she forced a smiled up at Elliot.
He knew what she wanted to say. He knew she wanted to apologize for the drinking, for calling him. For everything. And he knew it was going to be hard for her. From the look in her eyes he could tell she was truly sorry.
"El," she began, but Elliot raised his hand, cutting her off.
"Don't," he said in a serious tone. "It's okay, I swear. I did it because you're my best friend, and if it was me, you'd have done the same thing."
Olivia blinked hard, trying to stop the tears that threatened to fall.
"You're gonna make me cry, Stabler," she said, her voice wavering slightly.
Elliot knew his next question would be tough, but he thought he deserved an honest answer. He didn't want to hurt his partner, or see her break down emotionally in front of him in a crowded restaurant, but he thought he deserved this. Channeling Kathy's advice, he knew he had to ask.
"Why me?" he asked, his blue eyes piercing her watery brown ones. "Why call me? Why not John or Fin or Casey once in a while? Why always me?"
There was an awkward silence as the waitress sat the plates down in front of the detectives. Olivia mindlessly picked at her fries, avoiding Elliot's question. He wasn't going to push her, but he did want an answer. Just as he opened his mouth to prompt her, she spoke. Softly, Elliot had to strain to listen.
"I was waiting for you to let me down," she said, avoiding his gaze. "I trust you, more than I've ever trusted anyone else. And I messed up. And I was waiting for you to give up on me, like everyone else I've ever cared about."
Olivia raised her napkin to dab the tears from her eyes. She finally looked into Elliot's, noticing that they weren't judgmental, or for once, full of anger or rage. They were blue as ever, full of compassion and love. She shook her head, angry at herself for even thinking that the man in front of her would ever give up on her.
"But you're so goddamned stubborn!" she laughed through her tears.
Her gaze returned to the burger and fries in front of her. Elliot reached across the table and gently lifted her chin so their eyes met.
"You know better than that, Liv. You can trust me," he said, searching her eyes for any sign of understanding. But all he saw was her unwavering strength and love for the man in front of her.
"I know," she smiled at him. A genuine, sincere smile. "Thank you."
Elliot gently wiped a tear that was dangerously close to sliding off her chin and smiled at her. Before she knew it, he had reached down and nabbed her pickle spear off her plate.
"All that so you could eat my pickle?" she laughed, wiping the remaining tears and blowing her nose in her napkin.
"Hey, a man's gotta eat," he grinned at her.
They ate in silence for a few minutes, exchanging grins every couple of bites, glad to know that things were slowly getting back to normal between them.
"So you're done with the drinking?" Elliot asked after he polished off the last bite of his sandwich.
Olivia thought for a moment before answering.
"Yeah, I'm done," she finally answered.
"Good. But if you trust me so much, why not come to me before it became such a problem?" he asked.
"The day after…you know, I realized that this was all actually happening. It's like I woke up from a terrible dream, but it wasn't a dream. It was real, and I hated the feeling I had in the pit of my stomach. The feeling that told me I had made a mistake. And as hard as I tried, I couldn't make it go away. And the drinking…" she trailed off, and Elliot noticed her eyes drift out the window, to the strangers on the sidewalk, enjoying the sunny afternoon.
"Anger, regret, confusion, I was feeling so much. And sometimes, you don't want to feel," she finished, her gaze turning back to her partner.
Elliot nodded. He finally understood. She reached across the table and ran her thumb over Elliot's fading bruises on his right hand.
"What really happened here?" she asked, raising her eyebrows at him.
Elliot noticed she was quick to change the subject, but he didn't mind. She'd said what she needed to say, and Elliot had gotten all the answers she was going to give. For now, anyway.
"I had a fight with my bathroom mirror," he said, laughing at himself now.
"Yeah, they've been known to talk back. Poor mirror never stood a chance," Olivia joined in on his laughter.
It was good to hear her laugh again. A whole-hearted laugh. He'd missed that the past month. Elliot allowed Olivia to pay their bill and the two stepped outside, squinting in the sunlight.
"I still can't believe you went to Maine," Elliot muttered as they started down the sidewalk. "And you didn't even bring me a lobster. Or taffy," he pouted.
Olivia slapped his arm playfully and teased, "But you still love me, Stabler."
"Yeah, but you're still not getting in my pants."
So there it is, the final chapter. Not OE romantic, but at least they're on good friendship terms. Thanks for all the great reviews. I hope you enjoyed it! Let me know what you thought!