Title: A Soft Place to Land

Author: mindy35

Rating: K, all welcome

Disclaimer: Not mine, no money made.

Spoilers: thru to the start of s13.

Pairing(s): Elliot/Olivia, Elliot/Kathy.

Summary: Shortly after Elliot puts in his papers, his partner receives a visit from his wife.

A/N: Set sometime after Elliot's departure – don't ask me when, it'll ruin my lovely little fantasy.


She hadn't been home two minutes when she heard a tap at her door. Kicking off her heels and shedding her blazer, Olivia moved to answer it. She was surprised to find Kathy Stabler on the other side, wrapped in a black coat, hands stuffed in its pockets and eyes on the scuffed carpet of her threshold. She looked up as the door swung open, apparently almost as surprised as Olivia to find the two of them standing face to face.

"Kathy."

Elliot's wife attempted a smile, shifting slightly on her heels. "Hey, Olivia."

Her brow furrowed, instantly detecting the other woman's anxiety. "Is everything okay?"

Kathy released a breath. "Everything's fine."

"The kids—?"

"All fine," she assured her quickly. "I'm fine." There was an infinitesimal pause before she added, "And Elliot."

"Good," Olivia nodded, though the question remained in her tone.

Kathy glanced at her feet before answering her unspoken query. "Actually, I was hoping I could talk to you. If it's not a bad time."

"No…" Olivia shrugged then waved her inside. "No. Come on in."

She stepped back, allowing her entry. Kathy gave a nod of thanks then unbuttoned her coat and headed for the couch.

Olivia closed the door but lingered by the entrance. "Can I…get you a drink?"

"No. Thanks." Kathy slipped her coat off, revealing a little black dress paired with a simple string of pearls. "I've already had a few and I need to drive home."

"Big night out?" she asked, indicating the lack of her usual mommy-wear.

"My first in a long while," she replied with a slight roll of her eyes. "Just drinks with some old school friends but I thought it could be my alibi." Kathy sat, smoothing one hand over the skirt of her dress before adding under her breath, "Not to mention giving me the courage to do this."

Olivia disregarded the muffled comment, instead asking, "What do you need an alibi for?"

"Coming to see you." Kathy looked up at her. She took a breath and held it. "Elliot…doesn't know I'm here."

Olivia nodded slowly and approached the couch. "Okay…"

"I wasn't even sure if you'd be home," she went on, glancing about her un-lived-in living room. "But…you are." She gave a nervous little laugh which swiftly expired, then turned her gaze back on her husband's ex-partner. "So. How're you doing? Without your partner in crime?"

Olivia opened her mouth to answer but it remained mute for several moments. She filled the silence by taking a seat in a deep armchair and folding one leg over the other. "It's…been a big adjustment," she said eventually, quietly.

"For me too," Kathy mused, head bobbing. "I always thought that once Elliot left the force, things would return to normal. He'd be himself again, we could….spend time together, time with the kids. I've lived most of my married life in a state of suspense, just waiting for this day to come. And now…"

Olivia watched the other woman's fingers knit and unknit themselves in her lap. "What is it, Kathy?"

"I don't know what I was thinking," she muttered, shaking her head and getting to her feet, "how I could be so stupid, thinking things would go back to normal when they never were normal." She wandered toward the window then turned abruptly, interrupting herself with a fresh wave of emotion, "And I know, I know he's trying. He's doing everything right but it's like….he's all emptied out. He's a walking shell of the man he used to be."

Olivia shifted in her seat, brow crumpled. "Elliot left under some pretty stressful circumstances," she said carefully, unsure how much of those circumstances Kathy would be privy to. "Is he getting some counseling?"

Kathy dipped her chin. "Yes. He goes every week." She stood with her back to the window, arms folded and one thumb rotating the ring on her left hand. "And we see the Father every week for marriage counseling. Not that it changes anything. He promises to unload the dishwasher more and I promise not to nag him about leaving his wet towels on the bathroom floor. But neither of us mentions what's really…" she looked up and gave a resigned huff, "missing."

"Kathy…" Olivia pressed her lips together, scooting forward in her seat, "are you sure I'm the one you want to be telling this to? Elliot should hear this or your priest—"

"No." She headed back to the couch and sat determinedly down. "I came here to do this and have to do it. Because it finally clicked the other day, why it feels like something's missing, like…I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop."

"Kathy—"

"At breakfast, on Monday," she pressed on, eyes wide and urgent, "I noticed him check his phone three times in two minutes. I thought it was odd. So I watched him throughout the day and do you know how many times I saw him check his phone?"

"Ah…no."

"Forty-three. He checked his phone forty-three times to see if you called."

"I'm sure that's just habit. Years on the job—"

"Only I don't think it's the job he wants to hear from," she interjected gently. "I think it's you. He wants to hear your voice, he wants to see your name come up on the screen."

"Well…" Olivia stood, ducking her head and heading for the kitchen, "I called, Kathy. He didn't answer. I assume he wanted a clean break."

Kathy rose too, shoulders sagging and voice losing its urgency. "I told him he was wrong to do that. I said he should go have a drink with everyone, say a proper goodbye." She moved to the breakfast bar, facing Olivia across the counter. "Do you know what he said?"

She cast her a quick glance as she picked up the kettle and stuck it under the tap. "No. What?"

"He said he wouldn't even know where to begin saying goodbye. He said it was impossible to even try."

"Well…" Olivia nodded, filled the kettle then flicked the switch to make it to boil, "El is nothing if not understated."

Kathy gave a small smile, drifting away from the bar to tour her living room. "You know, hardly anyone else calls him that but you. His friends don't. His mother doesn't, his father never did…"

Olivia shrugged, staying by the kettle. "It's more expeditious is all. We work at a fast pace."

Coming to a bookshelf with a small collection of framed photos, Kathy paused and frowned. "Do you miss him?"

Olivia turned away, opening a cupboard and taking down two mugs. "Elliot…was my partner for twelve years. My back-up, my friend, my...—"

Amongst the photos, Kathy had spotted one of her husband with his partner from at least ten years earlier. Both were smiling, their heads tipped together and an arm slung about each other's shoulder. She lifted the photo out from where it hid behind a sparse selection of other images. "So do you miss him?" she asked again, eyes fixed on the photo.

Olivia set the mugs on the counter then flattened her palms on the cold, white surface. "Like I'd miss my right arm if it were cut off."

"The other night…" Kathy set the photo back in place then continued her slow circuit, "we went to this parent-teacher thing at Eli's school and there was a mom there called Olivia." She threw her a sidelong look, muttering dryly, "Elliot went so pale I thought he was gonna pass out on the spot. He could barely even say the woman's name." She halted, facing her across the length of her apartment. "He said it later though. In his sleep. Over and over again. Olivia, Olivia…Liv, Liv..."

Olivia glanced up then quickly down again. "Dreams are a common symptom of post-trau—"

"I was going to call you the next day," Kathy went on, waving off her rationalization. "But…I decided I needed to do this in person."

Olivia's gaze skated over her as she placed a mug on the bar. "Kathy…Elliot and I were close but nothing ever—"

"Oh, I know," she said lightly, returning to the bar.

Olivia frowned at her. "…You do?"

Kathy nodded and took her tea, blowing on it a moment. "When you first began working together, I used to get a bit antsy, jealous. Especially after him working with that Marlowe woman who did her best to get into his pants." She sipped her tea and gave a shrug. "But Elliot just told me straight-up that you would never do that. Not to him or to me."

"He's right," she said with a short nod.

"I know," Kathy told her, gaze clear and direct. "I believed him. I trusted him. And you. And I never worried about it again." She headed back to the couch with her tea. "Truth is though…I sometimes wish something had happened." She turned and sat, one hand gesturing at her vaguely. "Then you wouldn't be this big mystery to him, this…untouchable, unattainable saint."

Olivia wagged her head, following behind. "I'm not a—"

"You're his," Kathy interrupted. "He believes in you like I believe in the Mother Mary."

Olivia sat with a sigh. "But he loves you, Kathy."

"I know he does." Kathy Stabler sipped her tea and smiled sadly. "He loves me and I love him. We've known each other far too long and been through way too much for that to ever change. That's why I'm doing this. I'm doing it for him – because I know he never will. He'll never leave his family, he's too good. But he's not happy and he deserves to be. He's given us twenty-seven years of loyalty and love and support. He's given me five beautiful children. And I know a part of him will die not seeing the young ones every day. But I also know – I can see with my own eyes – that another part of him is dying now. He's wasting away not seeing you. His heart's too big. Either way, it's going to be broken. So before I end our marriage for the second time, I had to come here and ask. I had to make sure."

"Of what?"

"That he has a soft place to land."

Olivia's lips parted, her eyes narrowed. "I…don't think I understand."

Kathy put her tea aside and folded her hands in her lap. "Olivia. I'm asking you to tell me honestly if you love him."

Her brows rose in shock. "You're…?"

"I'm not going to be angry if you do," she added hastily. "I'm not even going to be surprised. He's an amazing man – not that I need to tell you that. You know him as well as I do, if not better. Which is why I think I know what your answer is going to be." Kathy paused, her voice dropping low. "But I still need to hear it."

Olivia was silent. She blinked a few times, raised a hand to her forehead then lowered it again. Eventually, she put aside her mug and answered simply, haltingly, "Then yes."

"You're in love with him?"

"Have been for years."

There was a pause. Kathy tilted her head and asked:

"How many?"

"Twelve, probably. Not that I knew it for all of them."

"Must have been very lonely for you," she murmured after a moment. "In a way I know what that's like." Kathy drew in a breath and released it. "I think…I think it's time all three of us didn't have to feel so lonely. Don't you?"

"I don't know…" she stammered, head shaking with bewilderment. "I know I don't want to be the cause of…— I mean, I know how seriously Elliot takes his vows—"

"We both do," Kathy said softly. "I promised to love and honor him. I think the best way I can do that now is by letting him go, letting him be happy. And as far as I can tell, that means letting him be with you." She rose to her feet, a small smile on her face as she reached for her coat. "Trust me. I've thought about this. It's the best thing for everyone." She slid the coat on, buttoned it and swept her hair out from the collar. "So if you get a knock on your door in the next few days, don't be surprised if it's your long-lost partner."

Olivia got to her feet, stunned speechless.

Kathy reached for her hand and held it tightly in both of hers. "Bye, Olivia. I'm sure I'll be seeing you soon."

A moment later, she was gone. Olivia heard her door click closed and turned to look at it. Turning back, she faced her empty, silent apartment. She blinked down at the two mugs of tea she'd prepared, fragrant steam rising from both. Then, taking her mug into the bathroom, she stared blankly at her own reflection as she began unbuttoning her shirt. Lying flat against her chest was the medallion that had arrived in the mail with a terse two-word farewell. The words always and faithful had been echoing dubiously about her head ever since. Twisting the taps of her shower, she allowed the water a moment to heat as she shed the rest of her work clothes with their ever-present film of filth. Then Olivia took off the necklace, set it on the basin and stepped into the shower, presenting her face to the hot stream of water.

-x-x-x-

Two days later, she was in her kitchen preparing pasta when there was another knock at her door. Licking sauce from her fingers, she moved to answer it. And when she opened it, this time Olivia found herself face to face with her partner. One look at him and all the confusion, all the rage, all the betrayal she'd felt at his unexplained departure instantly vanished. Even with all the heartbreaking and harrowing things they'd seen in their twelve years with SVU, she'd never seen Elliot Stabler look like this. His eyes were bloodshot, his jaw unshaven. In the short time he'd been absent from her life, his hair had thinned further, his face had gained lines and he'd even lost weight. That impressive bulk he'd maintained throughout their entire partnership now just looked like a burden he could no longer bear to carry.

For several long, strange, tense moments, the two of them simply stood. Silent and staring, on her threshold.

Eventually, Olivia opened her mouth and managed to mutter a succinct, "Hey."

Elliot responded with a hoarse and broken, "Hey."

There was another, briefer silence.

Olivia bowed her head, unable to stand the intensity of his gaze. "Do you—"

She was cut off by his hands reaching for her, one curling about her neck and pulling her close. His face buried itself in her shoulder, in her clothes and hair and scent, breathing her in like she was his only chance at air.

"Can I just kiss you now?" he rasped into the skin of her neck. He burrowed against her then drew back so his stubbled cheek dragged over her heated one and his lips hovered by the shell of her ear. "Can I finally, finally kiss you, Liv?"

"You better," she whispered back, dazed hands lifting to hold his drained body.

A moment later, her back was against her door and his mouth on hers. And a moment after that, Olivia was swinging her door shut and kissing Elliot back.

END.