A/N: A few episode summaries I've read online make it seem like this week's episode is going to set up a whole bunch of new tension and not-getting-along-ness between Elliot and Olivia, which I'm not happy about. (Got that, writers? I've liked seeing them get along this season!) So, just in case "Shattered" sends me into a conniption fit, I wrote this little ditty that I can cling to in order to stay in my happy place. Sadly, I fully expect that this will cease to be cannon within the next 48 hours. : (
Shattered Pre Ep
Elliot glanced over at his partner, who was still studying him from under her bangs. He'd spent the better part of the afternoon under observation and Olivia didn't seem to care whether or not he was aware of the scrutiny.
Ahead, the traffic light flicked from green to amber. Elliot eased his foot off the gas, coasting to a stop a few silent, tension laden moments before the light clicked up to red.
Silences, particularly tense ones, weren't a new phenomenon in their partnership, but they'd been doing well lately, largely lapsing into bouts of comfortable quiet when they were so in tune with one another that no words were needed.
The quiet that Olivia had imposed on them this afternoon, however, was anything but comfortable. It was at once accusatory, angry and hurt, and Elliot was tired of it.
"What's eating you?" He demanded and fixed her with a steady look of his own.
Unlike Elliot, Olivia didn't seem bothered by her partner's unwavering regard. She met his gaze and held it, continuing to study him in search of goodness only knew what.
"Well?" he prodded.
"Jo asked if we'd ever slept together." Straight forward. Matter of fact. Pure Liv.
Elliot resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Like Olivia, Jo was a straightforward person, but she lacked Liv's tact. "She was out of line. I'll talk to her."
Olivia didn't react. Instead she continued to study him. "I told her that you and Kathy are still married."
A fist of unease clenched uncomfortably around his stomach. He could guess what had his partner so preoccupied, but he wanted nothing more than to go back to being oblivious.
"I told her that you and Kathy are still married, like that means something, and she said 'so?', as if your marriage means nothing at all," Olivia continued. Long, thin fingers came up to brush her bangs out of her eyes, leaving her accusatory gaze unimpeded.
The light turned green again and Elliot made the most of the brief reprieve. He returned his attention to the road, managing to go a whole three blocks in silence before the next red forced him to stop.
Anxious fingers twitched on the steering wheel as he looked over at Olivia again.
"Jo doesn't know me," he said simply. "She hasn't known me for a long time now."
"But when she did know you, you slept with her."
She'd already guessed the truth; there was no point in denying it. Elliot sighed and ran a weary hand over his face.
"Once. It was a mistake."
Olivia's expression didn't change, but the tone of her voice had shifted the next time she spoke.
"Does Kathy know?"
"It was a long time ago, Liv."
Sometimes it felt like a lifetime ago.
"Does Kathy know?" she repeated firmly.
Elliot sighed again, wishing he were anywhere but here, having this discussion. "Yeah, she knows."
For some unfathomable reason, Olivia relaxed slightly and rolled her head to stare out the passenger window. Her shoulders were still rigid with tension, but for the first time all afternoon, she'd given up her surveillance efforts.
Elliot chose to take that as a good sign.
"I'm not that person anymore, Liv," he assured quietly. "I made a decision not to be that person, not to put my family through that, and I've never looked back."
She glanced at him over her shoulder briefly, carefully avoiding meeting his gaze, then turned her attention back to the world outside. He knew he'd disappointed her. Even though he wasn't surprised by her reaction, it hurt. Probably more than it should.
The light turned green again and Elliot eased his foot off the brake, suddenly grateful for the distraction of Manhattan's rush hour traffic. It gave him something to concentrate on other than the shame bubbling deep in his gut.
The steady crawl of traffic covered an unprecedented nine blocks before a red light brought traffic to a halt once more.
This time it was Olivia's turn to break the silence. "Was she really the only one?"
"Why didn't you tell me?"
Elliot glanced at the light, hoping for another brief respite, but it wasn't forthcoming. One deep, steadying breath in and out, and then he dutifully recited the next line from the revised version of the script he'd run through with his wife so many years ago.
Strangely, it was harder to do this with Liv than it had been with Kathy. He wasn't sure whether that awkward truth said more about his partnership or his marriage.
"Like I said, it was a long time ago."
"El, I've said it before: you know everything about me, even the things I'm not proud of, and yet, there's still so much you keep from me." Olivia turned in her seat, facing him again. "I deserve better than that."
"Yeah, you do," Elliot agreed easily.
She cocked one eyebrow, conveying her surprise that he'd admit it so easily.
"You do deserve better, Liv, and believe it or not, by not telling you, I was trying to give you better."
Olivia scoffed. "How do you figure?"
Elliot shrugged helplessly, not sure how to explain without the whole conversation devolving into a shouting match. Fortunately, before she could jump down his throat, the light turned green again, pausing their discussion for another five blocks.
As the car came to a stop, Elliot focused on the brake light in the back window of the car in front of him and delivered the only real reason he had for keeping the truth from her for so long.
"By the time we knew each other well enough, you thought I was a good man. I liked you and I didn't want to tell you because I was afraid you wouldn't want to work together anymore," Elliot said quietly. "Then time passed and one man after another kept disappointing you... You trusted me, and I didn't want to be like all those other guys."
Olivia's eyes narrowed and her mouth opened, no doubt to deliver a harsh blow about the unfairness of blaming it on her or how he'd abused her trust, just like all those men he'd tried so hard not to be like.
Elliot continued before she could lash out.
"I wanted to be someone you could count on."
The tension didn't leave her body, but her features softened. "You are, El."
Warmth bloomed in his chest, as it always did when Olivia confirmed that he was still as important to her as she would always be to him.
"You're still disappointed in me though," he said, calm and accepting.
He deserved whatever she threw at him – whether it be anger, disappointment, disgust or distrust – because years ago, when she'd confessed to sleeping with Brian Cassidy, he'd had the chance to tell her the truth and instead, he'd offered vague suggestions that sleeping with a co-worker didn't preclude her from continuing to work with said co-worker.
Of course, his and Jo's partnership had come to a spectacularly disastrous end not even six months after they'd slept together, but that had more to do with their personalities than their mutual mistake. That's what he liked to tell himself, anyway.
"I'm a little disappointed," Olivia admitted awkwardly. "But I'm also a little in awe of you and Kathy."
Elliot looked at her askance. "You are?"
"You stuck it out, you made it work and you're still together – what? – 11 or 12 years later?"
"Fifteen," he corrected.
"That's pretty amazing, El. Marriages have failed over a lot less."
He shrugged noncommittally. His marriage had been tested time and again, and if it weren't for Eli, he and Kathy would have divorced years ago. "Amazing" wasn't the word he'd use to describe what he and Kathy had.
But as far as Olivia was concerned, almost didn't count. In the end, he and Kathy had decided to stick it out. That's what mattered to Liv.
"I guess if Kathy forgave you, then I can't be mad that you didn't tell me about something you did before we met, huh?" Olivia asked.
In spite of himself, Elliot smirked. If it were anyone else, he'd have snarled that it was none of their business and ended this conversation before it was even underway. But this wasn't anyone else, this was Liv, someone so much a part of him that most of the time, his business felt like her business by default. He couldn't be angry with her for asking, but still...
"It'd be nice if you weren't," Elliot admitted.
Olivia bit her lip and nodded slowly.
He watched her emotions battle for dominance. Anger giving way to acceptance, acceptance giving way to disappointment, before disappointment finally gave way to sadness.
The first three, he understood, but the last was a mystery.
She shifted in her seat and ducked her head briefly before meeting his eyes. "I'll never know you as well as you know me, will I?" she asked quietly.
"You'll never know the person I used to be as well as I know the person you used to be," he corrected. "But the person I am now? You know him better than anyone, Liv."
She flashed him the shy smile she usually saved for times when she thought he was being particularly sweet. Olivia didn't give him that smile very often, but when she did, it made Elliot want to hug her and this time was no exception.
But he was driving and they were both buckled up, so, also like usual, he waited for the impulse to pass.
"Okay, then," Olivia said and just like that, the discussion was over.
Silence descended again, but this time it was the companionable silence of two people completely at ease with one another. Traffic crept along in stops and starts. Elliot concentrated on the lightshow that dictated who moved where and when, while Olivia made notes on their investigation.
They didn't speak again until they were parked outside the precinct. Just as Olivia was about to get out of the car, Elliot stopped her with a hand on her forearm.
"I'll talk to Jo. Ask her to lay off you."
He wasn't entirely sure what had happened between his current partner and his ex-partner, but the two women had gone from getting along almost frighteningly well to being at each other's throats. Whatever the cause, Jo had assumed the role of instigator, going out of her way to rile Olivia up whenever the opportunity presented itself, which, unfortunately, was turning out to be pretty damn often.
Olivia shook her head. "It's fine, El."
"No, it's not," he argued. "We're in a good place right now. I don't want anything to screw that up."
Liv gave him that shy smile again and this time, Elliot gave into temptation, leaning across the front seat to hug her. She was surprised, but went with it, slipping her arms around him.
"Are we okay?" he asked into her shoulder.
She squeezed him once, good and hard and assured, "Yeah, we're good."
Then she pulled back, putting a professional, respectable distance between them. But that shy smile that he loved lingered as she got out of the car and hunched her shoulders against the cool early evening breeze.
She'd just slammed the door behind her when Jo appeared, hustling out of the precinct. Her approach spurred Elliot to move faster, getting out of the car and coming around to stand at Olivia's side, presenting a united front to their incensed ADA.
"Where the hell have you been?" Jo demanded.
"Investigating," Liv replied shortly. "You remember what that's like, don't you?"
Jo's gaze panned across to Elliot. She studied him for a few moments, then her scowl transformed into a knowing smirk.
"Right. Investigating," she drawled disbelievingly.
"Liv, why don't you head inside and make sure there's coffee on the go."
"This place used to run on coffee," Jo stated.
"It still does," Elliot informed her. "But if you ever see Munch near the coffee pot, run." He turned to Olivia and said, "We'll be up in a minute."
She looked like she wanted to argue – for whatever reason, Olivia now liked Jo about as much as the older woman liked her, and he could tell his partner was itching for a fight – but for once, his pointed look dissuaded her from arguing.
With a sharp nod at his former partner, his current partner left them standing on the sidewalk in the rapidly falling twilight. He waited until she'd retreated inside before speaking.
"Have you got a problem with me?" he demanded. He kept his voice down, conscious of the fact that the end of shift was coming up and any minute now the street would be flooded with cops heading home for the day.
Jo rolled her eyes, and for that one moment in time, he might as well have still been that rookie she'd been saddled with so long ago. "Stabler..."
"Or is it Liv you've got a problem with?"
"Don't flatter yourself, Elliot," Jo retorted. "My problem is with shoddy police work that jeopardizes my case."
Elliot narrowed his eyes. "We're going by the book, Jo."
"That must be hard for you," she retorted. "I know the kind of stunts you two pulled on your other ADAs. It's a wonder Cabot and Novak managed to do the job as long as they did, let alone how you and your reckless partner have managed to avoid being fired."
"Watch it," he snarled.
"No, you watch it, Elliot," she snapped back. "I know how you operate and if I catch even a whiff of impropriety, I'll report it to IAB so fast your heads will spin. Every last member of your unit is a loose cannon. Someday one of you is going to screw up and take all the others down with you. I'm not taking the fall with you."
"No one's asking you to," Elliot retorted sharply. "Just do your job."
"And you do yours," she said angrily.
His blood was heating, rapidly approaching its boiling point. His grip on his temper was slipping¸ but before their conversation could devolve into a shouting match where anyone and everyone could listen in, Olivia returned.
She jogged toward them, a thick file folder in hand. "Warner's results are in. We've got a new lead to check out across town."
"You mean in the part of town we just came from, in the middle of rush hour?" Elliot asked, exasperated.
Liv grimaced sympathetically. "That would be the one. You can drive."
"We've got to get Warner to work on her timing," he groused. "It's been off lately."
Olivia slipped behind him and into the passenger seat before he could insist that she drive this time. She ignored Jo completely, apparently not trusting herself to behave in the other woman's presence.
If only Jo would start taking that approach in her interactions with Olivia, they all might make it through this case without bloodshed.
Elliot took two big steps backwards, moving around the car towards the driver's side. "We'll talk in the morning."
Jo looked less than pleased, but she didn't protest. "Remember, Elliot: by the book or not at all."
Ignoring the implied threat in her words, he waved a distracted goodbye and hurried into the car. Olivia was already buckled up and had her nose buried in the file.
"So, where are we headed?" Elliot asked as he slipped the key into the ignition.
"Well, I don't know about you, but I could go for Chinese," she replied, not looking up.
Elliot flicked his signal and eased out into rush hour traffic for the third time that day. "What about Warner's lead?"
"There's no lead, El."
He didn't need to look. He could hear the smirk in her voice. An answering smirk took up residence on his lips.
"Did you just rescue me from Jo?" he asked incredulously.
"Actually, I think I rescued her from you. You looked like you were getting to the point where you either needed to hit something or throw something. I didn't think either would go over well."
In spite of himself, the smirk widened into a grin. "Probably not."
Giving up the pretence of reading up on Warner's findings, Olivia dropped the folder at her feet. "You're welcome."
"You owe me," she warned, one finger coming up to wag at him playfully.
Elliot grinned again and added another tick to his mental tally.