Against his own better judgement, Elliot finds himself lingering by the coffee cart that he knows Fin frequents – or, used to frequent, at least – the very next day. He knows – he knows – that it’s a bad idea, that it’s a good way to get himself punched, but he can’t help himself. He has so many questions about the decade he has missed, and he knows it wouldn’t be fair to ask Olivia – that she would well and truly kill him if he tried – so he has decided to ask Fin. The odds of actually getting some answers are ever so slightly better with Fin. And his curiosity is killing him – he can’t help it.
“Oh, what the fuck?” He hears Fin’s familiar voice as the other man approaches him. He is with a blonde woman that Elliot doesn’t recognize, and it occurs to him to be relieved that it isn’t Liv.
And, before he can fully come to grips with the situation, Fin has sucker punched him. Hard. Elliot is quite sure that his nose is broken, but he has no intention of complaining or hitting back. He’d more than deserved it. It’s almost a relief.
“Hey, Fin,” he greets, holding his nose.
The blonde woman looks alarmed, and the coffee vendor has started shouting at them to get away from his cart, but Elliot just waves them both off. The punch had been warranted.
“You’ve got a lot of nerve showing your face here, Stabler,” Fin spits.
“Yeah,” Elliot nods, swiping some napkins from the vendor, “I know. Want to hit me again?”
Fin snorts, looking like he’s seriously considering it, before shaking his head. “Nah,” he replies, “a lot less satisfying when you’re expecting it.”
“Wait,” the blonde interjects, “this is Olivia’s old partner?”
“Mhmm,” Fin nods, “the very same.” He turns to the woman. “Not a word about this to Liv, Amanda, understand?”
The woman – Amanda – nods, though she still looks confused.
Fin turns back to him. “What do you want?”
“Can I buy you a coffee?” Elliot asks. “Catch up a bit?”
“If you want to pump me for information, you’ll have to buy me a hell of a lot more than coffee, Stabler.”
Elliot nods. That’s fair.
True to his word, Fin has brought them to a steakhouse about a half hour from the precinct – and ordered a very large lunch. Elliot assumes he will be footing the bill.
“What’s he like?” Elliot finally asks, as the other man is tucking into his baked potato.
“Who?” Fin asks, “James?”
“Unless I’ve got another kid out there I don’t know about.”
Fin just smirks at him. “Wouldn’t put it past you.”
Elliot huffs and shakes his head. He’s hardly going to tell Fin that the entire list of women who could have ever conceivably been pregnant with his kids is composed of just Liv and Kathy. Unless James has a twin, it simply isn’t possible.
“He’s a sweet kid,” Fin finally answers. “Takes after Liv more than you, thank God.”
Elliot smiles. That is a good thing.
“Maureen says he plays soccer?” He hates that it’s a question – that he doesn’t know something so basic about his own son.
“Yeah,” Fin nods. “He’s pretty good, too. None of us were expecting that. He crashed out of baseball so hard that Liv didn’t want to put him in sports again, but he likes it.”
Elliot has so many questions that It's hard to pick just one. “Crashed out of baseball?” is what he finally settles on.
Fin nods, laughing. “Hated it so much that he’d just sit in the outfield by himself. Liv tried to make him finish out the season, but he ended up getting hit by a bat about two games shy. Goose egg the size of my fist,” he holds up his hand. “Course Liv was hysterical about it – first time the kid had got properly hurt. I’m still not sure he didn’t do it on purpose,” Fin smiles. “The boy hates baseball.”
Elliot laughs, but it hurts. Not that James hates baseball – he couldn’t care less about that – but just how much he has missed of his son’s childhood.
“Do you-” Elliot starts, hating that he has to even ask this, “do you have a picture?”
Fin gives him an odd sort of look, before obviously taking pity on him and reaching into his jacket for his phone. “I’m sure I’ve got one on here somewhere,” he looks through the device, “just don’t go looking through my camera roll if you know what’s good for you.”
Elliot grimaces. He has no desire at all to do so.
“Here,” Fin hands him the phone, “I think that’s the most recent one of him I’ve got.”
Elliot takes the phone from Fin, and suddenly he can barely breathe for the lump in his throat. God, he looks so much like Liv. James is holding up some kind of lizard for the camera, positively beaming, and Elliot cannot stop staring. Everything about the boy – his smile, his face, his unruly hair – is Liv. Except his eyes. Elliot’s own eyes are staring up at him from the photo. All his children have blue eyes – both he and Kathy do, so it was basically a given – but James’ eyes are not just blue, they are his. Exactly the same as his own. He can feel his vision going blurry, and he shuts his eyes, trying not to start crying in a restaurant for the second time in as many days.
“Can you-” he clears his throat, “can you send this to me?” He knows that Fin has no good reason to agree, but Elliot is desperate at this point.
Obviously sensing this, Fin again takes pity on him. “Yeah,” he nods, “but not a word to Liv.”
Elliot barks out a watery laugh. “No worries there, she’s not exactly taking my calls at the moment.”
Fin nods, and Elliot feels his phone buzz in his pocket. How the hell did Fin have his number?
“I’ve got my ways,” the other man smirks, having seemingly read Elliot’s mind.
Elliot just laughs, shaking his head, before sobering again. He has one more pressing question – one that he isn’t sure he wants the answer to.
“How is Liv?”
Fin puts down his fork and considers Elliot for a moment, blowing a breath out his nose.
“She’s a survivor,” he states, simply.
“Yeah,” Elliot nods, voice hoarse, “she is. I, uh, I saw the article in the Post. She alright?” There is so much more he wants to ask, wants to demand answers about, but he knows that it’s fifty-fifty whether Fin will even answer this general question.
“Like I said,” Fin responds, “she’s a survivor. Anything more than that, you’ll have to ask her yourself.”
Elliot nods again. That had been a bit of a long shot anyways.
“And, uh-” he can feel his face heating, “is there anyone, you know, in her life?”
Fin starts laughing so abruptly that he nearly spits out his drink, and Elliot knows that his ears have definitely gone red.
“Seriously?” he laughs.
Elliot just shrugs.
“Nah,” Fin shakes his head. “Liv doesn’t really date. James and the job are her whole life, man. There was a guy, a while ago, who things got kind of serious with – but you’ll have to ask her about it, because she’d have my head if I told you.”
Elliot picks at his meal absently. He knows he has no right whatsoever to be jealous, and that he really ought to be happy that she’d moved on and been happy with someone, but there is still a small, dark part of him that feels possessive. He shakes it off as best he can and shoves a roll into his mouth.
“Honestly though,” Fin is appraising him again, “leave that alone, man. It fucked her up when you left – more than she’ll ever admit to anyone – and I don’t know that she ever really got over it. She’s made a nice life for herself though, and I really will bury you if you come in now and wreck it.”
Elliot nods. Much as he might not want to hear it, he knows Fin is right. He has no right to expect anything from Olivia after all this time, and he’ll just have to make his peace with that. What stings more than anything else, though, is the idea that he is now someone that she has to be protected from – the thought makes him physically nauseous, and he folds his napkin over his plate.
When Fin comes back from his lunch with Elliot, Amanda corners him before he’s even gotten to his desk. He’d been expecting it, but had at least hoped to be able to put his things away before he explained himself to her. Because there was no way that she was going to let his midday assault – no matter how justified – go without a discussion.
“Let’s do this somewhere else,” he heads her off, nodding towards the break room. She follows easily, but once they have shut the door behind themselves, she is in full on interrogation mode.
“What the hell was that?” she demands. “Do you know how much trouble you could be in if someone recorded that?”
Fin scratches his head and shrugs. He’s aware of that, of course, but in the moment, the cost-benefit analysis had swung in favour of hitting Stabler – consequences be damned. He still doesn’t regret it.
“Relax, Amanda,” he tells her. “Stabler’s not going to make a problem, and it’s not like I was in uniform.”
She deflates ever so slightly, but keeps her probing gaze on him. He will have to cough up some sort of answer, he knows, but he can hardly tell her the whole truth. The identity of James’ father has always been something Olivia has kept very close to the chest. He knows – of course – and he’s quite sure Munch and Cragen had known, but to everyone else, the topic has always been strictly off limits. Even ignoring Olivia’s own feelings about Elliot and the way he had left, the fact that he had been her partner – her married partner – could still easily be used against her if it were to come to light that he’d fathered her child.
“That was Olivia’s old partner?” Amanda asks.
Fin nods. This, at least, provides an explanation for the punch that he can legitimately give her. The topic of Olivia’s old partner is one that even the newest hires know is to be avoided. He knows that there has been all kinds of speculation about it over the years, and everybody knows not to bring it up with Olivia herself, so it has become something of an urban legend over time. Olivia’s old partner: the one who left, the one who no one dares mention.
“Yeah,” he confirms, “that was Stabler. He deserved that hit, and more.”
Amanda seems to accept his explanation, but still looks uncomfortable. “What’s he doing back, after all this time?”
This, Fin really cannot tell her, and so he just shrugs. “Jury’s still out on that.”