This is what Normal is like
The next couple of weeks in the Stabler household ran like clockwork. Olivia noticed a significant change in Elliot after all was squared away with the Harris investigation and he had come clean to her about everything. He went to work the weekend before in DC and she managed to care for both of the kids with little help.
When he returned he surprised her one morning by taking her with him to Kathleen's gravesite. She wanted to be strong for him but soon found herself in tears when confronted with her stepdaughter's headstone. It had become so real and although she had comforted him numerous times regarding his daughter's death, she was pleased to see that he was now strong enough to console her with her own grief towards the child she was closest to back when they were partners. He brought sunflowers and set them next to the grave and told her stories about his previous visits there. The cemetery had gone from a place of solace and sadness for him to a place of peace. He had reconciled the fact that his daughter was gone. Instead of spending his time out there wallowing in guilt over how he believed he failed her as a father, she held him close and kissed his cheek while he told her that he spent his time now talking to her about everything that was going on with him and the rest of the family.
Elliot hadn't been there since Charlotte was born so she held his hand and watched him in awe as he talked to Kathleen describing their daughter. She laughed quietly when he joked that he was concerned that he would be to old to hold a shotgun straight when it was time for Charlotte to date. Before they left he said a silent prayer and as they walked back to the car she asked him to come with her to visit her mom's grave. It wasn't a part of her life that she normally shared with anyone. Olivia kept the feelings about her mom's death to herself but she had opened up in ways she never thought possible since Elliot waltzed back in her life. His willingness to be so vulnerable by bringing her to Kathleen's grave inspired her to do the same. There were very few instances that she was comfortable being vulnerable but for her husband she was willing to strip herself bare in every way.
She was only two weeks away from the end of her maternity leave and having to report back to work. She was having mixed feelings because although she missed the hustle and bustle of SVU, she enjoyed being able to witness every one of her kids milestones. Charlotte had her first smile, Noah was almost fully potty trained and she was in love with both of their little personalities. Noah was a little jealous of his baby sister at first but was beginning to learn to share his mom. Charlotte on the other hand was quite the quiet observer. She loved to people watch and was a very alert baby.
Olivia was going to miss not being with them all day everyday. She never thought she would be content being a stay at home mom but early in the morning and in the evenings when she was waking them up or putting them to bed, she couldn't help but start to wonder if she should retire. She quickly pushed the thoughts out of her mind each time, believing that her work with the victims wasn't done. When she expressed her concerns to Elliot he told her simply that she would know when the time was right and when it was time to go. In the meantime, she had more than enough of a support system with him at home now more often than not to take care of the kids. He had missed so much when his other children were younger that he was looking forward to getting a second chance and being there for Noah and Charlotte.
Olivia was preparing breakfast and getting Noah ready for his doctor's appointment when Elliot came down the stairs with Charlotte in tow.
"What time is the appointment?" he asked giving her a quick kiss.
She kissed both him and Charlotte before he made his way over to Noah in the high chair. "It's at 10 so I have plenty of time before I have to leave."
"Why don't we go with you?"
"Who?" she asked confused.
"Me and Charlotte."
Olivia looked a little perplexed for a second. "Why?"
He was amused at her reaction. For the most part they had been using the divide and conquer method with the kids and then they switch out.
"You really want to bring her to his doctor's appointment?"
She placed the plate of food in front of him and a smaller bowl of oatmeal in front of Noah.
"Well I had a few errands to run anyway and I'm sure they wouldn't mind going to the park so why don't we all go together? We've never all been out together since Charlotte was born and she's almost three months old."
Olivia considered what he said and quickly agreed. It took a few trips up and down the stairs before she was comfortable that they had everything they needed to go out. Between diaper bags, the double stroller, bottles, pampers and sippy cups, Olivia felt like the entire car was packed down with their gear. During the drive, she kept turning around to check on them especially since Charlotte's car seat was turned backwards and she couldn't see her as well. Both kids were quiet and content on the ride over and she stole a glance every few seconds at Elliot who was driving. The worry lines from his face were less pronounced, he had a hint of a smile on his face and his eyes were glowing. His calm mood was contagious and she finally turned to face forward in her seat instead of worrying over the kids and closed her eyes. She rolled her window down slightly and just enjoyed the feeling of riding along on a random Tuesday afternoon with the people who mattered most to her in the world. There was no radio on, no distractions, no cell phones ringing.
Just her and her little family.
"What's on your mind Stabler?" he asked peeking away from the road for an instant to look at her.
She smiled back at him and let out a content sigh. "For once, nothing. Absolutely nothing."
His answering grin told her he knew exactly how she felt.
Noah's doctor appointment went well. The doctor and nurses fawned over him and the baby and in the waiting room she caught several people watching the four of them and when she would make eye contact they would smile at her.
Noah had a prescription to fill so they stopped at one of the small grocery stores to pick up something to eat for lunch since Elliot had the idea for them to take the kids to the park and have a small picnic. While he grabbed the food, she stood in line waiting for Noah's medicine with Charlotte strapped to her chest in a baby bjorn. She was straightening the baby's pacifier when she heard someone call her name.
She turned around and it took her a moment to recognize the figure staring back at her. He had aged, his hair was gray and he was a bit thinner but it was definitely Kurt Moss.
"Olivia wow," he began, his eyes immediately honing in on the baby. "You look great."
"Hey Kurt hi," she replied clearly taken off guard. "How are you?"
"I'm doing great," he answered awkwardly.
"Good, that's good to hear."
"And how are you?" he asked in return clearly referring to the bundle she was holding.
Olivia looked down at the baby and nodded. "I've been a bit busy as you can see. This is my daughter Charlotte."
"Wow she's absolutely gorgeous. I guess I shouldn't expect any thing less."
"Thank you. She is 10 weeks old."
He shifted self consciously looking as if he wanted to ask more and he couldn't see her wedding ring because her left hand was under the baby and her right side was facing him.
"Here you go Mrs. Stabler. Noah's prescription is all ready to go. That will be $25," the pharmacist said to her. When she pulled out her credit card with her left hand to pay for the medicine she could see Kurt's gaze travel to her ring for a second and then back to the baby. He stood to the side patiently as she finished her transaction.
"Well I guess there is another congratulations in order as well. You're married," he stated.
"Stabler, that was Elliot's last name right?" he asked already knowing the answer. Journalists never forgot a name apparently.
"Yes it was, I mean it is."
"So you married Elliot," he said and she gave him a guilty smile. "Well I guess I know the reason why you never mentioned me to him."
Olivia opened her mouth to defend herself but quickly stopped. There was no need to say "no it wasn't like that" or "it's not what you think" because the truth it's exactly what he thought. Elliot always directly or indirectly played a part in her love life even after he left. She always compared every man she dated to him and always felt that no one quite measured up. Instead she just shrugged her shoulders and laughed off the comment.
"Good for you Olivia. I'm happy to see that you are settled down with a family. I wish you all the best," he said giving her a weird side hug.
"Well what about you? What are you up to these days?" she asked for the sake of being polite.
"Eh, you know how it is. The job, the job, a little sleep here and there and the job."
"You still with the paper?"
"I retired from there last year. I'm working on some other independent projects," he divulged and her eyes gazed down at his hand. He wasn't married and now that she was really looking at him, he seemed very tired and worn down. She remembered that was the one thing they had in common when they first met. They were both workaholics but while life had taken her in one direction it had clearly taken him in another.
"Hey baby did you get the—" Elliot stopped mid sentence when he approached her and saw Kurt.
"Hey you remember Kurt Moss right?" she asked gesturing in Kurt's direction.
"Yeah I do. Nice to see you," Elliot stated more politely than she imagined he would.
"And this is our son Noah," she introduced and Kurt looked surprised again for a minute then shook his little hand.
"Well I should get going," Kurt announced. "It was good to see you both. Take care," and with that he was off.
As he walked away slowly she examined him closely. His hands were shoved in his pockets, a grocery basket with enough food for one person and checking his emails incessantly on his phone. She saw in him the reflection of what she would've been without her husband and her children. She was thankful she found the balance.
At the park, Olivia and Charlotte sat on a blanket near a tree while Elliot and Noah kicked around a plastic ball he bought from the store. She held Charlotte up on her lap so they could watch them run around and she snickered whenever Noah would clap in excitement at kicking the ball past his dad. Elliot chased him around and held him high in the air and her heart melted as the sounds of her son's giggles filled the air. She basked in the fresh air and made funny faces at Charlotte who smiled back at her.
"Play ball mama," Noah squealed running up to her a little out of breath.
"I've got your sister sweetie," she explained.
"I'll take her. Go ahead and play mama," he said mocking Noah.
"Are you sure you just don't need a rest old man? You guys were running around quite a bit out there."
"That's exactly what it is but don't tell anyone," he said winking at her and taking Charlotte from her arms.
"Ok Noah come on," she announced running after him.
She kicked the ball back and forth with him and chased him around for a little bit. He kicked the ball a little too far and it landed near another mom's blanket. She ran over to retrieve it with Noah close behind.
"I'm so sorry about that. We didn't knock anything over did we?" she apologized looking for any signs of a mess.
"Oh no, you are just fine. No problem at all," the petite blonde lady responded. She smiled and gave the ball back to Noah. "Here you go little guy."
"Noah what do you say?"
"Thay you," the little boy answered taking the ball and running back towards the blanket where his dad was.
"You have such a beautiful family," she remarked looking over to Elliot who was feeding Charlotte.
"Thank you," she said. "I certainly do."
After eating lunch together, they packed up and headed over to the swings, which were still Noah's favorite. She stood by and Elliot pushed him to his delight. On their way back to the car Noah insisted on walking instead of being held. He walked in between Olivia and Elliot holding each of their hands while Elliot carried Charlotte. They walked slowly to make sure not to rush Noah and he swung their arms while they walked. She let out a relaxed sigh and caught Elliot smiling at her.
"What?" she asked slightly blushing.
"Nothing," he said grinning at her.
"Spill it Stabler."
"I had fun today," he said modestly.
"Yeah," she responded and glanced down at Noah. "And so did this little one it seems."
"Yeahhhh," Noah squealed.
"So this is what normal is like," she quipped.
"Yes it is. I guess we haven't had nearly enough of it in our lives," he responded honestly as they walked up to the car.
She took his hands into hers and placed a chaste kiss on his lips. "Well it's about time we change that."
They ran a few more errands including stopping at the toy store. Elliot claimed Noah deserved a gift for doing so well with potty training but she suspected that it was just an opportunity for him to spoil the little boy. They played with a few of the toys in the store to Noah's delight and had him pick out something for Eli before heading home for the day. Olivia ordered pizza for dinner and Elliot gave him a bath while she sat in the bathroom holding the baby who was starting to doze off.
"Hey buddy do you want to pick the movie for tonight?" Elliot asked him while washing his hair.
"Yep," Noah answered while trying to stifle a yawn.
Olivia rolled her eyes and put Charlotte on her shoulder. "You know this means we will be watching Inside Out for the 500th time right?"
"Yes!" Noah squealed hearing the name of the name and Elliot and Olivia laughed.
"If it makes you feel better he's pretty s-l-e-e-p-y," he spelled out so the tot wouldn't catch on. "He will barely be up long enough to finish dinner."
Noah started splashing water and she laughed. "It's fine. I'll watch it a thousand times if he wants."
After Noah's bath, they ate pizza and settled in to watch the movie. Noah sat in between them on the sofa and Charlotte rested in her daddy's arm after waking up briefly to nurse. As Elliot predicted, Noah lasted about ten minutes into the movie before he was knocked out. His sister was not that far behind him.
"See I told you they wouldn't last long," he murmured in a low voice so they wouldn't wake them.
She smiled down at her son and stroked his hair gently. She laid her head on the back of the couch thinking over the day.
"Penny for your thoughts?" he asked breaking her trance.
She sighed and smiled up at him. "I had so much fun today. Thank you for suggesting that we take them out. It was easier than I expected."
"You expected disaster?" he grinned at her and she smiled back.
"Look I've seen those parents in the grocery stores and malls with young kids throwing tantrums and crying. I didn't want us to have to abandon our shopping cart in the store," she teased.
Elliot squeezed Noah's little foot that was resting on his lap. "These two guys, c'mon. You have no faith. They are pretty chill kids."
"I have no idea where they get that from," she scoffed.
"From me obviously. I'm pretty chill," he said winking at her.
"You don't even believe that yourself," she rolled her eyes at him.
He watched her for a little longer before he brought up the inevitable. "So that was pretty interesting running into Kurt."
"And there it is," she snickered shaking her head. "I knew it was coming."
"What?" he tried to ask innocently. "It's just a question."
"Coming from Mr. Chill," she countered sarcastically. "Seeing him made me think about some things."
He furrowed his brow a little concerned for a split second.
"No no no, not that," she replied. "It was never like that with me and Kurt and you know that. It's just that we were both always the job and seeing that after all this time he's still in the same place was just kind of sobering. He seemed…lonely and sad. I know what that was like."
Elliot stayed silent giving her the chance to say what was really on her mind.
"El today was the most normal I have felt in probably my entire life," she declared putting her hair behind her ear and looking him straight in the eye. "I don't know how I feel about disrupting that again. The phone calls, the late nights, the-"
He realized then what her concern really was. "You're thinking again about not going back to work aren't you?"
She nodded her head.
"Liv you know whatever you decide I will support you. I have to say when you mentioned it the first time I thought it was a fleeting thought. I didn't think you were serious. If it's finances you are worried about we are fine so if it's what you want to do then do it. Life's too short," he said his hand reaching out to touch her cheek.
"But you think I shouldn't," she said.
"If I had to guess I don't think you are fully done with SVU but no one knows better than you. I knew when I was ready to leave even under the circumstances. I knew I was done."
Olivia thought about his words and whether she was there yet. She finally had her own team and they had made some big collars over the past few years. Most importantly, she felt like since she was in the office more now she had more time lately to devote to the victims.
"It's like I told you before. You will know when you are done. There will be no question or second thoughts," he assured her. "And when you are we will be right here. We aren't going anywhere Liv. You have us to come home to no matter what."
She smiled satisfied with his answer and leaned over carefully to place a chaste kiss on his lips. "You are stuck with us Lieutenant," he added with his mouth moving against her lips and kissing her again.
"That's the best news I've heard all day. I love you."
"I love you too."
He rubbed her back and she leaned into his touch. Being in Elliot's arms was one thing, but being in his arms surrounded by their children made her heart overflow.
"I'll make you a deal," he offered as she brought her eyes back up to his. "You do whatever you want to do and if you go back to work I will make sure that days like today happen all the time. I promise we won't lose our normalcy even in the midst of the chaos. Deal?"
He kissed her forehead and grabbed the remote to turn off the movie.
"No," she said stopping his hand. "Let's finish watching it."