A/N: A new one. One-shot, maybe more...I must warn you, it's not that simple.
DISCLAIMER: SVU and related characters belong only to Dick Wolf. This story belongs to TStabler©
It isn't that simple.
She hears the words over and over in her head as she walks away from the station. His voice rings in her ears. The darkness of his eyes flashes in her mind every time she blinks.
It isn't that simple.
She brings a hand to her lips, her fingers running lightly over them, feeling them still tingling where they'd briefly touched his. Before he'd pushed her away, before he'd cursed himself for letting it happen, before he'd looked her in the eyes and told her he loved her. Before he'd said it.
"But it isn't that simple."
That's when she'd snapped. "Simple? This isn't simple for you, but running away was? Leaving me alone for the last seven months was easier for you than this is? Well, then, fuck, Elliot, why don't you just go back to your cave and leave me alone again? Huh? I mean, shit, your timing is fucking impeccable because I was almost over you!"
He'd tried to interrupt her, but she'd long passed the point of caring. "Yeah, I said almost! I have a date tonight, you son of a bitch! I'd finally given up hope, and I finally let myself go and I meet this great guy, and he likes me, so I think I can finally date someone without thinking about you! And then all of a sudden you show up, ask if we can talk, take me up here...get me to pity you, get me to forgive you, get me to kiss you...kiss you! And then you're the one that pushes me away? You're the one that decides it's not... that... simple? Go to hell, Stabler."
She hadn't looked over her shoulder, she'd just taken off. Her heart's beating faster and harder than it ever has now, her feet are hitting the sidewalk at a punishing pace, and she can taste the salt of her tears as they slide down to her lips. She wipes her eyes, sniffles, and that when she runs into something large, firm, hard.
"Liv," the name rolls off his tongue so softly, it's almost as if he hasn't said it at all. "I didn't mean..."
"What the hell...did you fucking fly?" she asks, interrupting him. "I ran. Fucking fast. You weren't behind me, I made sure you..."
"I drove," he cuts her off, his large, calloused hand cupping her chin. He tries to smile as he looks into her eyes. "I got in the car, I drove around the block, and I waited here for you. I knew you'd..."
She shakes her head out of his grip and scoffs. "What part of anything I said back there makes you think I want to talk to you right now?"
He brings both of his hands to her face now, holding her steady, looking her in the eyes. "You flipped out on me, baby. It's not that simple...I meant, we can't just rush into this. I can't dive into this with you like I was about to up in the cribs. I need to take my time with you, if you even want..."
She watches him stumble, watches him swallow. "So now you care what I want?"
"Liv," he breathes her name again; for him, it's like praying. "Please, I...if you want me to go, I will, but...you deserved an explanation. You deserved to know everything, and a phone call wasn't right." He brushes her hair back and kisses her forehead. "When I kissed you...I was being selfish. I saw something...someone...I have been waiting for, for what seems like an eternity, right in front of me. But you've got a life that doesn't include me now. I didn't think of that when I..."
"My life," she interrupts, her eyes narrow and her jaw clenched, "Will always include you. That's why it hurt so much when you..." she stops, even thinking about it hurts, and she shakes her head. "You should have told me. You shouldn't have had to go through all of that alone, and fuck, I didn't deserve to be miserable for so fucking long without you."
He laughs, as much as his guilt will allow him to, and he kisses each of her cheeks. "You didn't," he whispers to her. "But you didn't deserve the man I was, then, either. I knew I had to stay away so I wouldn't blame you, so I wouldn't take out all of my anger and guilt on you, because you are the only person in the world that didn't deserve it."
She blinks again, feeling the sting of tears at the back of her eyes again. She knows he's right, but part of her wants to make him work for what he wants, make him suffer like she has suffered without him. "What time is it?"
"Eight-thirty," he answers with a smirk. He presses a chaste kiss to her lips. "This...us...isn't that simple. Not anymore. I know that. I want...I need to start over with you."
"I can't just wipe the last twelve years from my memory, El," she says as she tilts her head, wondering what he means.
His eyes widen and he turns a pallid yellow color. "God, no, I don't want that...I meant...if I had gone to you that night, after...after what happened...I would have hopped into your bed without a second thought, and then I would have shut you out, I would have hurt you. We both know that." He runs his hands down her cheeks, her neck, her sides, and rests them on her hips. "That's why I left, and coming back..."
"You came back," she interjects. "You went through a divorce, a custody battle, you moved, and you've been working with Brooklyn Homicide...without me, so...why now? Why did you come back, El? A solid answer would be great."
He takes a deep breath and he knows he has to spit it out, plain English, no more dancing, no more metaphors. "I came back, single and stable, ready to be everything you wanted from me, that I couldn't be for you before. I came back, for you. My partner, my best friend, and hopefully..."
"I have a date, El," she looks away as she speaks. "I'm sorry. You can't just walk out and in whenever the hell you want and expect..." she stops. She turns, and her eyes widen. Her mouth opens just a bit and it's easy to see the light bulb flicker. "Oh, my God. That's exactly what I did to you. Twice."
"This is different," he says, assuring her that she has no blame in this. "Believe me, Liv, I...I don't expect you to drop everything for me. Go...go on your date. When you get back...we'll talk."
She bites her lip, thinking, then she asks, "Your place or mine?"
"You don't know where I live, now," he says with a chuckle.
Her eyes close, she sighs, and her head drops. "Yeah," she whispers. "I do."
He furrows his brow, he blinks rapidly for a moment, and he tilts his head. "Hang on," he says, a realization hitting him. "I didn't tell you about my job with Brook...Liv, how did you know about..."
"I missed you, Elliot," she says, her voice breathy and shaky as she tries to hold back the tears. "I just...I wanted to know why...why you..." she pauses, her voice cutting out, and she cups her mouth with her hand. She takes a deep breath, one that hurts her lungs, and she shakes her head.
"Liv," he begins, no longer confused but worried. "Liv, don't cry."
She backs away from him. "I ran your name through the system, okay?" she snaps. "Every Friday, Six PM, like I was programmed. I kept praying I wouldn't find an obituary, or find out you moved to Florida or something. When you..."
"Divorce records, the transcripts from my custody case," he lists, "The real estate listings of the house, my transfer into Brooklyn..." he shakes his head in disbelief. "You knew. About everything."
She scoffs as she nods. "I had to find out from a search engine, Elliot! I have seen you at your worst! I've been there when you were accused of murder, when you went blind, when you almost died...I stood right beside you when Kathy filed for divorce the first time, when she took you back, when you almost lost her and your son..."
She wipes the tears as they stream down from her eyes, unstoppable now. "I was there for you when your daughter was in trouble, when your son was trouble...so tell me, what the fuck was so horrible that you didn't want me there? Why couldn't you have just picked up the phone, or come by the apartment? You have a fucking key, Elliot! It could have been three in the morning, and I wouldn't have cared."
He takes a step forward, he wraps her in his arms, and he feels her whole body shudder as she cries, her head buried in his chest and her tears soaking his shirt. "Baby, please...stop." He kisses the crown of her head, pulls her tighter into him, and he whispers. "Everything you just said...Liv, you've been saving me for years. I needed to do this one on my own, away from you. I didn't want you trying to convince Kathy to stay, I didn't want you telling me it wasn't my fault, I wanted to deal with it all on my own. I had to save myself so I could come back to you and..."
"Save me?" she asks, sniffling. She doesn't realize how tight she's holding him until she tries to move and feel her arms ache. "Why do you think you need to save me?"
"Not save you, Liv," he whispers, urging her head up so he could look into her eyes. "Love you." He watches her eyes light up, her head straighten, and he sees the tears stop running. "Yeah, you heard me."
She blinks twice, sniffles once, and looks up into the blue eyes she's missed so much. She moves the tiniest bit, giving in to her desire to kiss him, when it hits her. "I have to go," she breathes against his lips. "I have..."
"I know," he whispers. "I'll be waiting for you when you get back. Your place."
She nods, offers him a smile, and wipes her eyes one last time. Just when she had believed she could make it through a date without a single thought of Elliot Stabler, he's made sure that he is all she'd be thinking about tonight. She smiles as she rounds the corner, heading for the restaurant, and she realizes that she doesn't even mind thinking about him tonight. In fact, she welcomes it. It feels like home. But, she admits to herself as she stops in front of the door and catches her dates eyes through the glass, it's not that simple.