A/N: With his impending departure, I feel we owe it to him to tell his whole story. Or, maybe he should tell it. But just to whom is he telling it?
DISCLAIMER: SVU and characters belong to Dick Wolf. TStabler© owns this story.
He sits with one foot on his other leg, one hand on his knee, the other arm outstretched on the couch back behind him. He takes a deep breath and he thinks for a moment he might change his mind, and then he looks into the eyes of the person sitting across from him.
"You don't have to do this," she says, biting her lip. "I know talking about it is hard, that's why I..."
"I have to do this," he interrupts, shaking his head. His propped up foot falls to the floor, his arms drop down in front of him, and he folds his hands as he leans forward. "This is gonna lead to something, and I can't skip anything, so just...hear me out, okay? Don't stop me, just...just listen."
"Okay," his companion states with worry in her voice.
He clears his throat and looks up for a moment, as if asking God for the strength to talk. Maybe that's exactly what he's doing, his thoughts are too jumbled to tell. "So, uh, it started when I was four."
"Four?" she asks, horrified.
"I asked you not to interrupt me," he tells her, rolling his eyes.
She apologizes and promises to shut up, and she slides a glass of chilled beer over to him.
He takes it gratefully and takes a long sip, letting out a refreshed sigh before continuing. "Yeah, four," he says. "It came out of nowhere, and for the longest time...I thought I was the problem. It never occurred to me that it was him. I can still hear his voice," he says, suddenly making a face.
" 'Elliot Joseph Stabler!' he yelled from the foot of the stairs. 'What the hell did you do to the kitchen?" He takes another sip of his beer and shakes his head, remembering it all so vividly.
"I remember being so terrified by just his voice that I ran as fast as I could, down the stairs, and I stood in front of him, straight, almost saluting. He looked at me with this...face, like...like he wanted to kill me." He chuckles. "It's the look I gave Dickie when he told me...well, you were there."
She watches him take another sip of beer, and she nods. "Yeah, I was."
He takes another breath and says, "He had this vein in his neck that would throb, and at this point it was ready to burst. I swear, I thought he was gonna drop dead right in front of me, I thought I had given my father a heart attack." He runs a hand down his face and blinks.
She simply nods, keeping her promise to be quiet. She does, however, get up and move over to him. She sits next to him and she rests her hand on his knee, she squeezes.
He grabs her hand and tightens his fingers around hers, and for a second she flinches, still not used to this side of him. A part of her knows she will never get used to it. "He pointed at the wall in the kitchen and yelled, 'Who the fuck do you think you are? Picasso?" He chuckles and his eyes flicker up to the ceiling again.
"You drew on the wall," she whispers "Every child..."
"He'd just retiled the entire room," he interrupts, "And we didn't have the money to do it again. Besides, I didn't do it. My brother did. I tried telling him, but..." He shakes his head. "Where do you think I get my stubbornness from?" He tries to laugh and he shrugs.
"That was the first time he hit me. Almost broke my arm," he says to her, and the flare of recognition in her eyes frightens him. He squeezes her hand even tighter. "He made me scrub the wall with bleach, and my toothbrush, and as much as I wanted to, I couldn't cry. It wasn't even because he used to tell us that crying was for pussies, it just...I physically couldn't cry. I was just..."
"Numb," she whispers, her eyes fixed on his. "Scared into hiding everything you felt because you didn't know what would set it off again, what else would make him hit you."
He nods and his heart breaks for her, but at the same time he feels a glowing heat rising through his body, because now she realizes that they're more alike than they thought.
They are more than friends, more than partners. They're soul mates, and now they're bound by this shared past, bonded together by the scars they've been given alone, just as the ones they've earned together.
He drops his gaze from her and says, "The worst part was when my mother walked into the kitchen, she looked at me and she cried. She came over to me, and she knelt down, and she said she was sorry." He swallowed the cry in his throat and took another shaky breath. "She said she knew I didn't do it, and she was sorry she couldn't stop him."
She leans forward and kisses the side of his forehead, wishing she could somehow take away the pain of the memory, keep it with the pain of her own. "Did she..."
"She thanked me," he says with a bitter laugh. "She thanked me for taking it, because there's no way Noah would have been able to, and he was so little, and she told me what a man I was because...because I didn't cry."
He lets go of her hand and raises it to his face, squeezing the bridge of his nose and sniffing deeply. "Is there any more beer?"
She gets up and runs to the kitchen, giving a slight glance to the tile in the corner. It had a red scribble on it. Permanent marker. Eli's handiwork. She smiles, remembering how it had made her laugh, how neither she nor Elliot were mad, and how she'd left it in her kitchen to always be a reminder of how small he once was.
She takes a deep breath and sighs sadly, because now she knows why he didn't get mad. She opens the fridge and grabs a can, and she walks back into the living room. She sits and she hands him the cold aluminum, watching as he pops it open and chugs.
He swallows and looks at her. "Relax," he says. "I'm not gonna get drunk on you, I just...this is harder than I thought it was gonna be."
She folds her arms and says, "I told you that you don't..."
"Yes," he almost yells. "I do. You need to know, okay? There are things about me, things that I've been through, thought, felt, things I've done that you don't know about, and you need to know. I know it all might change..."
She stops him with a scoff. "Nothing could ever change the way..."
"You say that now," he cuts her off with a laugh. "My son is asleep down the hall," he whispers. "I need to be the kind of man that my father never was. I need to tell you everything, because I never told Kathy anything and that's why she..." he bites his lip, knowing that bringing up his ex-wife is a bad idea, especially in the presence of the woman who had taken her place.
He looks at her and says, "I need you to know. Everything. I'm gonna scare you, I'm gonna disgust you, I'm gonna hurt you, and I'm gonna prove to you that I'm probably not worth half of what you think I am. And when it's all said and done, I'm gonna know something, too."
"What?" she asks, her voice breaking in anticipation.
"If you're still here, after hearing everything I tell you tonight," he stops again, he sets the can down on the table, and he turns in his seat. He takes both of her hands, looks into her eyes, and says, "If you can still look me in the eye, if you don't take Eli and leave, then I'll know that it wasn't all for nothing. I'll know that you..."
She pulls a hand free and lifts a finger to his lips. She silences him and she closes her eyes. "Just tell me," she whispers, letting her forehead drop to his, closer than she planned on being tonight.
"This could take a while," he whispers, moving his head, nuzzling her gently, trying to decide if it's safe to kiss her.
She lets him know that it is by pressing her lips to his so lightly it's almost as if they don't touch at all. "We've got plenty of time," she says, and he can feel her lips moving against his.
He sighs a bit and moves in, kissing her tenderly. He pulls away and takes a shaky breath, looking into her eyes, and he smiles. He runs a finger over her cheek and across her slightly pursed lips. "He makes this face," he says quietly. "Eli."
She grins. "Only when he has a stomach ache," she teases. She sits back, making herself comfortable.
"I'm still sorry," he says, moving with her as he reaches for the phone. "Not sorry for him, but how he..."
"Hey," she says, stopping him again. "You were here, and we were happy."
"We could have been happier," he tells her as he dials the number for a local pizza place.
She sighs as she watches him, studies his face as he orders two large pies with the most random of toppings, and she raises an eyebrow. She smirks when he hangs up and says, "Peppers and pineapple? I ate that when..."
"Yeah," he says on a heave breath. "It'll be here in forty-five minutes." He looks at her and his voice drops. "Where was I?"
"The kitchen," she says, her eyes falling to her lap. "You were four."
"Ah," he says, a noise of affirmation. "So, uh, long story short, that was the night I realized that I would be expected to take the blame for anything Noah did, for the rest of my life, and I couldn't cry about it. So I did. I still do."
She runs a hand over his peach-fuzz head, and he looks at her, trying to smile.
"My arm was in a sling for a week, he dislocated my shoulder. I had to tell everyone I fell down the stairs," he tells her, relaxing into her touch.
"I know what that's like," she says.
He shakes his head and he says, "Something happened that night, too, in the kitchen. When I couldn't cry, all I could do was think. Sadness became anger, and I promised myself...God, it's so stupid. I was four. There's no way...no way I can possibly remember this."
"You're remembering it all pretty accurately so far," she offers. "What, El?"
He tilts his head and he says, "I think that was the night I promised myself, for the first time, that when I grew up, I would be a better cop, a better man, and a better father than Joe Stabler." He chuckles and says, "I made that promise a lot when I was a kid." He reaches for his beer, takes a long sip, and drops it back down. "Once, I actually told him to face that I hoped I would never be like him."
She leaned into him, resting her head against his, and she said, "You gonna tell me about it?"
"You know I am," he says, wrapping an arm around her.
She nods, and she wonders why he chose now, tonight, to tell her everything she didn't know, everything she'd always asked about and everything he'd kept hidden. She decides that she'll listen to him, and she knows that nothing he says will change the way she feels, nothing would alter their bond, shift their relationship. She'd bet her life on it.
But then, of course, she'd lose.
A/N: More stories from Elliot's past, a revelation about Eli, the truth about Kathy, and a long-forgotten meeting. Review here, or on Twitter.