Olivia clutched her phone and knew she had one of two choices to make. She could just go to work, forget she'd even seen Elliot Stabler this morning, and push it all to the back of her mind. “Or,” she mulled over the other possibility.
“Fin” she spoke into her phone, “I'm going to be late. I have to take care of something”
“You ok?” Fin wanted to know
“I'll be alright” she lied, “You're in charge until I get in”
“You got it!” came the reply
Liv glanced around in the direction Elliot had stalked away. By now, throngs of New Yorkers made their way up and down the sidewalk.
She headed in the direction she'd seen him travel.
“This is ludicrous” she chided herself. The worst case scenario would be that she'd waste time trying to find out just where he disappeared to. The best case scenario – well, the less she thought about that right now, the better.
She made her way through the pedestrians, doing her best not to be seen in case Elliot turned around. Finally, her patience and persistence was rewarded when a familiar grizzled head made a turn and she saw him duck into an alley. She walked faster now, and closed the gap as best she could.
By the time she reached the alley, Elliot was gone. She glanced around, A few stray recycling bins and a trash dumpster were pushed up against the back of what must've been a restaurant, while the other wall was the back of what looked like a store, judging from the cardboard boxes lying in man-sized heaps by the back door.
Olivia tried the restaurant first, quietly opening the door.
Unfortunately, she only saw cooks, waiters and busboys rushing back and forth. A teenage waitstaff noticed her. She ducked away before anyone could ask questions. Quickly, she tried the store. The back door opened without an alarm and she slipped inside.
The storeroom, or back room, was cluttered with mannequins in various states of undress, boxes of clothes and shoes arranged haphazardly, and a general mess about the place. Still, Liv saw a door ajar and could hear voices speaking in hushed tones.
She neared closer. She could just make out what they were saying,
“Since you're so late, we had to send them ahead without you” a man chided
“But I'm the one spearheading this” she heard Elliot sound upset
“We had to let Porter take the lead” the man replied
“What, I can't have a life now?” Elliot was just as angry as he sound
“No” the man was matter of fact, “you knew that years ago. This is old hat, Stabler, and by now, you shouldn't be making these kinds of mistakes”
Olivia heard Elliot sigh. If Cragen had said anything like this, El would've stormed off right away
“Don't get me started on family” the man went on, “I don't want to hear any excuses. Just head back to the office and be done with it. There's enough cases piling up already”
“Fine” Elliot finally replied. Olivia was too close to the open doorway. Without warning, Elliot burst through the door and ran right into her.
“Who the hell are you and who sent you?” a voice shouted. It wasn't Elliot. The other man in the conversation, Olivia now could see, had his pistol trained on her. His dark suit contrasted with Elliot's casual clothes.
“Go on” he continued shouting, “spit it out before I drop you where you stand”
Olivia was no slouch, “NYPD” she whipped out her badge and flashed at the men. She knew Elliot wouldn't aim a weapon at her, but she had no idea what this other guy would do.
“Don't tell me” he smirked, “going shopping?”
“There was a complaint that some men were casing this place” she lied, “I came to check it out”
“NYPD sends a woman on her own?” he laughed, “Sounds about right”
During all this time, Elliot had been painfully silent.
The man glanced from Elliot to Olivia, “Go on, Stabler. What? You're going to leave her alone? What about all the shit you've said about how the NYPD can't find it's head out of its ass with a GPS?”
Elliot didn't say a word. He glared back at the man, and then turned toward Olivia.
“I knew you couldn't handle an investigation like this. Looks like I made the right choice with Porter” the man lowered his pistol, slapped Elliot on the shoulder and headed to exit the store's back room. Just before he left the room, he glanced back, “Be at the office by the time I get back”
The door slammed behind him.
“You shouldn't have come” Elliot glared at her, his eyes two icy pools
“I didn't think that--” Olivia began
“That's right” he was cold, “You didn't think”
“How dare you talk to me like that” she shot back
“Do you know what you even did?” he spoke to her like one would a child, “I have been building this investigation for years, years, and now, its given on a silver platter to Porter of all people”
Olivia's mind flashed back to how a reporter named Jackson Zane had blown her cover while the team had been searching for children harmed by anthrax. She'd lashed out at him with nearly the exact same words.
“No one could've known that” she hardened her gaze at him, “the way you've been so secretive”
“It doesn't matter now” he scowled, “I got to change clothes and back to the office”
“A case – with Dean Porter” she put the pieces together mentally, yet aloud, “You're with the FBI?”
“Might as well let it out” Elliot sighed, “Huang pulled some strings, years after the shootout” he alluded to the death of Jenna Fox. “I couldn't get work, and didn't want to end up being a mall security cop” he grinned momentarily, then the smile faded just as soon as it had appeared, “so Cragen talked with Huang, who talked to Porter-- and here I am”
“Here you are” Olivia stared at him. He'd been gone for so long, and now, here he truly was, right in front of her.
“I had no idea” she was honest, “Elliot, if I'd known, I'd have let you work without – well” she left the sentence unfinished
“I suppose nothing could really keep us apart for too long”, a smiled played on his face once more, “It really was good seeing you again, Liv” he stepped toward her, “and there's no real sense now of me keeping away from you. You already know my secret” he sighed, “one of them, anyway”
He seemed to sense what she was thinking, “I'm not saying it'll be easy, and you might not believe it when I say this, but it was the hardest thing not being able to talk to you, to hear your voice, to even be this close to you”
“And you stayed away – because?”she questioned him
“The short answer is the job. I had work, and while my kids know a little about it, they're at least partially kept in the dark, for their own safety”
“And you were worried about my safety?”
“I was” he stepped closer still. They were barely inches away from each other now. “It killed me when that bastard Lewis-” he stopped, “I couldn't do anything to help you. It wasn't just about losing my job. I wouldn't have been able to take care of my kids without that job”
Olivia remembered how he'd once said that the job, and his kids, and her, were the only things he had left in this world. They'd chosen each other that time. Could this be another opportunity for them?
“I do have to get back to the office” he began, “but I'd like it if you could call me” he paused a moment, “if you want” he added.
“Right” Olivia nodded, “I've got to get back to the precinct” she turned to leave. He followed her.
They stood outside the store, out in the alley, neither making any real attempt to leave
“Cute kid you've got” Elliot finally spoke
“His name's Noah. He's almost seven” as soon as she spoke the words, she realized their significance as a measure of time.
Elliot seemed to see that as well, “Seven years” he grinned, “People don't think that he's – uh”
“He's not” the smile dropped from her face as she remembered everything about Ellie, Johnny D and Sheila. “No, nobody thinks that”
“Right” he nodded, “I shouldn't have mentioned---”
“No” she said hurriedly, “It's alright” she reassured him, “you were right, by the way. Being a mother is something else”
“I knew you'd always make a great mom”
Olivia blushed momentarily, despite herself
Elliot went on, “I bet you think his Dad's pretty cute, too”
Olivia's blush and budding smile vanished in a heartbeat. How could she explain things to Elliot. Did he actually know more than he was letting on?
“His father's dead” she explained quickly, “his mother, too. I adopted him”
“Oh” Elliot didn't really seem to know what to say after that. Somehow, that did something to partially bridge the chasm of seven years apart.
He couldn't say much else. Just then, his cell phone buzzed and he answered it.
“Yeah?” he stared into the screen
Olivia could hear the other man on the phone, the same man who'd laughed derisively at Elliot earlier. Now though, he was screaming in terror.
“Get down here, now. The whole thing's gone south”
“What about Porter?” Elliot asked, meaning Dean Porter.
“He's been made. They're rushing him to the ER now”
“I've got to go” Elliot had hung up the phone and spoke the words to Olivia.
“Right” she understood. He had work to do.
She let him jog down the sidewalk, break into a run and be gone before she realized it. She looked back, after him, sighed, and hailed a taxi to get her back to SVU.