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The Rules of the Game

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One Year (Plus): August, 2009


August 5, 2009
8:14 P.M.


“I’m so sorry I’m late.” Olivia bursts through the door of Elliot’s apartment, out of breath. She rummages in her bag, searching. Papers shuffle inside, the sound of her keys hitting against something hard and metal. “I was—”

Her head snaps up, the smell of Italian food filtering through the room. In the kitchen, Elliot stands at the counter with his oldest daughter, and she can swear he’s…well, it looks like he’s cooking. She blinks a couple of times, and she’s almost tempted to pinch herself to see if she’s somehow fallen asleep at her desk because in the entire ten years she has known Elliot Stabler, he has never once cooked. Not for his former wife, for his children, or for her.

“I’m out of here,” Maureen says, smiling at Olivia. Her voice lowers when she leans into Elliot, but the teasing tone of her words lightens the room. “You can take the chicken out in fifteen minutes, but make sure you—”

“I can follow directions, Maureen. I’ll be fine.” He braces the back of her head, kissing her forehead. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

“Hi Liv, bye Liv. Enjoy dinner. Oh, and happy anniversary.”

Olivia doesn’t answer, not when Maureen has already closed the door behind her and the words dissipate across her tongue in shambles. Elliot is standing in the threshold of his kitchen, his arms braced above the doorway. A smile splits across his lips, and she notices how the arms of his lavender work shirt are pushed up, the muscles bulging against a color she has never seen him wear before.

He looks so different than the man he was this morning at work: he is now relaxed, happy whereas then he was stressed, pissed off. The smile widens across his lips, and with a shake of his head, he says, “Don’t ask me to punch something. I’m still me.”

She pulls a black, wrinkled dress from her bag, smiling sheepishly. “I guess this means I don’t have to borrow an iron?”

Elliot laughs, letting his arms fall from the doorway as he walks to her. He wraps an arm around her waist, kissing the corner of her mouth. “Happy anniversary, sweetheart.”

“Happy anniversary,” she murmurs into his neck, dropping her bag onto the floor. “I thought we were going out.”

“I canceled the reservation. You were so busy when I left, didn’t think you’d want to get dressed up.”

“Sometimes you’re a really good boyfriend, Stabler.” Olivia leans back in his arms, his hands clasped tightly around the small of her back. “I can only assume Maureen cooked dinner while you supervised? It smells great.”

“You have such little faith in me. I cooked while she supervised. Whether or not it’s edible is another story, but I have takeout menus on the counter in case of an emergency.”

Olivia’s eyes move around his surprisingly tidy apartment. The clothes that had been strung along the floor, the surface of his table, and the living room furniture have all been removed. The few boxes she had brought over in the past week are gone, packed away in a closet somewhere she imagines. There are candles sticks on the table, the wicks not yet lit, and she notices the bruschetta there, like this is a normal dinner for them. She releases herself from his arms, and walks to where the first part of her meal sits.

“It actually tastes pretty good,” Elliot says, and his grin becomes wider like the proud man that he is. “Dinner should be ready in about fifteen minutes, so sit. Do you want wine?”

Does she want wine? Well, she wants to go back to about four years ago when Elliot Stabler was driving her insane with his anger and issues that would never be spoken of and tell herself that this is who he’d become. Of course she would have laughed at this version of her, who was all romantic and actually used the term making love on occasion instead of sex. But, sure. Wine will do, as well.

Elliot leaves her for the kitchen after she’s nodded her head yes, and she scoops the seasoned tomatoes onto a piece of baguette. She catches an onion on the tip of her tongue as it hits the corner of her mouth, her eyes widening in unexpected shock before softening again.

“You have payback coming to you. I’m buying you a cookbook for your birthday.”

“I’ll take that as a good sign?” Elliot asks, twisting his torso so he’s facing her.

“It tastes better than that pie I made you last year, I’ll tell you that much.”

“You bake me some muffins, and I’ll make you dinner again.”

Jackass.

She lifts the bowl and plate of bread, bringing it into the kitchen. She places it on the counter, lifting her ass up so she’s sitting on the Formica. Her legs swing back and forth, and he lifts an eyebrow, nodding in the direction of the living room.

“Go sit at the table.”

“I’d rather sit in here with you.” Olivia pours her own glass of wine, the bouquet mixing with the lingering affect of the appetizer. It heightens her taste buds, and she grabs a tomato between her fingers, popping it into her mouth. “You didn’t have to do this.”

“You’re welcome, Olivia.” She kicks his ass with the back of her foot, and he leans into her, kissing her lips softly. “What happened in interrogation? Did Meyers crack?”

Her legs wrap around the back of his calves, pulling him closer. She piles a spoonful of bruschetta onto a piece of bread, feeding it to him. “Six hours later. I never thought I was getting out of that damn room today.”

“Did you call Stephanie and tell her he confessed?” he asks around a mouthful.

Olivia shakes her head. “I wanted to tell her in person. She deserved a face-to-face for that. She stopped by before I left.”

Elliot unlocks himself from her hold, her legs dangling over the edge of the counter again. He bends down to open the oven, the muscles in his back and ass tightening, and she leans against the cabinets, watching his every move. The ridges in his back strain against the lavender material, and she has no idea when the hell he had gotten so buff. The Elliot Stabler she had met a decade ago had been scrawnier; he was muscular, but not like this, not like someone who could take down an army with one step, who could tackle her in bed at his whim.

“Stop staring at my ass, Benson.”

She smiles, her lips never parting as she tries to hold in her laughter. “Don’t flatter yourself.”

He twists his head. “Oh, so you weren’t staring at my ass?”

“I was. I just said don’t flatter yourself. I like the lavender. When did you get that shirt?”

“The girls got it for me for my last birthday. It was shoved in the back of my closet. That’s another shirt of mine you like.”

Olivia rolls her eyes, twisting her ankles together. She traps another tomato between her fingers, a trickle of juice running down her finger. She slides her tongue over the pad of her thumb. “Can’t believe you still remember that.”

“Can’t believe that’s what came out of your mouth.”

She smiles, shaking her head. “How the hell have I put up with you for a year?”

“How the hell have you put up with me for ten?”

August 5, 2009
10:10 P.M.

Cosmopolitan Rule #40:
Pliny the Elder first began using the term ‘In vino veritas’ after hearing it from the Greek poet Alcaeus. In English, it breaks down into ‘In wine there is truth’. Anyone who has ever been drunk knows how correct this is, but what about ‘In amore veritas?’ In love there is truth. While it doesn’t have nearly the same ring to it, after being with someone for a year, it’s not alcohol that brings out people’s honesty, but instead a trust that has built itself up over the last three hundred and sixty-five days. As human beings, we keep our secrets sheltered in our hearts, building a wall around it so no one can hurt us with the things that are most painful. However, it’s when love enters the picture that the walls start to split apart, cracking at the seams. It is wine and other alcohols that bring out the embarrassing stories, the crushes that we’d never admit to otherwise, moments we’d never get into if we were sober. However, it is love that defies even the nature of drunkenness, and it is those truths that end up changing our lives.

The lights in his apartment are out, the only glow coming from the withering flames of the candles that had been lit during dinner.

Shadows flicker across the walls, meshing with the outlines of their wine glasses that had come with them to the couch after they had eaten. She had been surprised at how well the food tasted, at how she had spent the last ten years with Elliot in some form and never knew of his hidden talents. It is much like her and baking, though, and she knows she can bug Elliot as much as he has her and he’ll never cook again unless it’s some sort of special occasion. She figures it’s who they are, that in the end, they’ll always be this crime fighting duo who has somehow managed to figure their personal lives out. At least for the moment.

The flame of the candles ignites in his eyes as he laughs, and as she tucks her feet underneath him. She faces him, running her nails up and down his arm that remains on the back of the couch. Her feet dig deeper underneath him, chilled despite the fairly warm night.

“You didn’t let me finish,” Olivia grins, taking a sip of wine.

“How did I never know you smoked this much pot?”

“I didn’t smoke that much pot. You just happen to be hearing all the stories at once. So, we had no bowl, no bong, no rolling papers and Heather decided we should use a can. We stuck holes in it, and after four failed attempts finally managed to get it working. I had never been as high before or since then. Meanwhile, the entire room filled with smoke, and our porch door wouldn’t open.”

Elliot smiles, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear. “What did you do?”

“I worried that the apartment security was going to come arrest us for illegal use of marijuana. No one else seemed to agree with me.” Olivia rests her right elbow against the back pillows, tilting her head as pieces of her dark hair slip around her face. Her fingers continue their trek up and down his arms, over the outline of his Jesus tattoo. “How often do you talk to your priest?”

“You’re bringing up my priest after discussing pot?”

“I’m serious, El.”

He lifts her feet up, pulling them over his lap. His fingers gently massage the soles of her feet and she closes her eyes for a brief second. “Not as often as I used to, but enough,” he answers. “The last time I was there, he asked me to bring you with me next time.”

She doesn’t know how she feels about the whole idea of church and this belief in a higher God. She’s found that religion causes more problems than it should, that the Lord has never been an answer when brutality will always exist. It’s what had fascinated her the most about Elliot in the beginning. This devout Catholic who lived inside of monsters day in and day out without an escape still found it in him to go to church on Sundays when he could. He would speak to his priest like she would to her friends, like a source of survival, a sounding block. Sure, he had questioned God time and time again, but it was where his trust always lied, where it always would.

“We’ll see.”

“Liv—”

“I’m not opposed to it, Elliot. I’m not saying no. It’s just not someplace I’ve ever felt all that comfortable. I’m willing to give it a shot if you want me to, though.”

“You give in so easily nowadays,” Elliot jokes, and she slaps his arm.

“I don’t know why I bother to do anything for you.”

“Because now you know I can cook for you.” He stops massaging her, swinging her legs so the bottoms of her feet hit the floor. “We haven’t exchanged presents.”

Olivia grins against the rim of her wine glass. “You’re quick, Detective.”

“Does that mean you don’t want it?”

“It depends. Did you buy me a cookie pan?”

“I think they call them cookie trays, Liv.”

“Go get the damn present, Elliot.”

When he walks off, she reaches into her bag on the floor. Rummaging through, she pulls out a small black box. She hadn’t found the time to wrap it in between her long hours at work, and the truth was that a slab of wrapping paper wasn’t going to make much of a difference. She holds the box in her hand, listening to Elliot in his bedroom. The closet door swings shut, and she makes a note to see if he’s cleared the room for her jackets at some point tonight.

Elliot sits back down on the couch, handing her a gift bag. Yellow and light blue tissue paper is haphazardly thrown about in there, and while she never expected most of who Elliot is in a relationship, it’s nice to know his ability to construct a well gifted present is still lost. She reaches in, and pulls out a roll of toilet paper. With a red bow on it.

“You gave me toilet paper,” Olivia muses, unable to keep the grin from sliding across her lips. “I don’t really know what to say to that.”

“There’s another twenty-three rolls in the bathroom. Think of it as a moving in present.”

“I’m honored,” she responds sarcastically.

“There’s something else in there.”

“I can only imagine.”

Olivia digs into the bag, pulling out a white envelope. Turning it over in her hands, she swipes her finger underneath the closed flap, loosening it. She unfolds the piece of paper, skimming the contents.

“It’s a lease,” she murmurs, lifting her head to him.

He caresses his hand over her leg, rubbing his knuckle over her pants. “On your first wedding anniversary, you’re supposed to give paper as a gift. I know we’re not married yet, but I wanted you to know that when I asked you to move in here, I wasn’t asking you to move into my place. I spoke to my landlord. He added you onto it.”

“Elliot…” The words form on the tip of her tongue, never coming to fruition. We’re not married. Yet. The statement formulates in her brain, and she clears her throat because she’s a big girl; she’s a fucking cop for Christ’s sake and she can handle words like marriage coming from him. “I, uh…” Her fingers tremble as she holds on tightly to the paper, and she laughs, shaking her head. “That’s a lot of big relationship words, Stabler.”

“Don’t do this. Don’t freak out on me—”

She places her hand on his lap to calm him. “I’m not freaking out on you. I…” She hands him the black box. “You should open yours.”

“You didn’t want to wrap it for me?” Elliot asks, and she rolls her eyes.

“Do you want me to take the gift back? Because I will.”

The box cracks as it opens, and in the moonlight and the flame of the candles, the gold chain shines. Looped in the center is a ring, and he lifts it, the necklace collapsing into his hand in a heap. He looks up with a smile, closing his palm over it.

“Thanks, sweetheart, but I’m already wearing my pearls tonight.”

Olivia laughs, squeezing his thigh with her left hand. She opens her mouth to make some smartass comment back, when he slides his thumb over her ring finger. He lifts his head to her, surprise etching across his face.

“You’re not wearing Serena’s ring.”

“You’re making such astute observations tonight,” she jokes. She uncurls his fingers, pulling the chain of the ring until it dangles in her hand. “The necklace is for me. I wore the ring on my left hand because there was stability in it, because it was all I had, she was all I had for so long. It’s always going to mean something to me, but I have more now.”

She cups his chin in her hand, the stubble rough against her skin. “You asked me to start thinking about marriage at Simon’s party, and I…” She thumbs the ring with her left hand, noticing the pale skin of her finger against the dark. “I don’t care when you ask me, or if you ever ask me, but I wanted you to know that…” She struggles for her words; it’s times like these she wishes she had inherited her mother’s knowledge of the English language. “If you ever do ask me, the answer is yes.”

She presses her lips to his, gently sucking the wine that lingers on his lips. He slides his hand over the back of her neck, massaging her.

“I guess this means I have to find you a ring,” he mutters, nipping at her lips.

“You might want to wait awhile. I’m sure you spent a lot of money on the toilet paper. Oh.” Olivia reaches into her bag, and pulls out a colored envelope. There are squiggles on it, designs that look as if they’ve been made by a ten year old. “Munch wrote us an anniversary card.”

“Great, I’m sure it’s brilliant.” He drags Olivia’s feet back onto his lap. “All right, read it.”

To our once thwarted lovebirds. On the eve of your first anniversary, remember that I was the first one to know about the two of you and kept your secrets, which means that you two are indebted to me until I collect. Anniversaries are like a child hopped up on too much sugar.

“He has the worst analogies I have ever heard,” Elliot mumbles.

“He thinks he’s a genius. During the actual event, it’s exciting and it seems like it’s going to be amazing. Then you wake up, the high is gone, and alimony is just around the corner. But if anyone can beat the woes of a relationship, it’s you two. (There was more of a chance of another JFK assassin than that happening. You two are surprising.) Have a good evening, and as a favor from the NYPD, if there is a call tonight, Fin and I will handle it. We demand coffee and donuts in the morning and as little details as possible. John.

Olivia tosses the card onto Elliot’s coffee table. She folds her legs underneath her, sliding closer to him, resting her head on his shoulder. His fingers undo the clip in her hair, and it falls down around her neck, collapsing over her eyes, covering her face. He lifts her chin, brushing the dark strands away from her face.

“Should we give him the details?”

His touch causes her to shiver, and it amazes her that after all of this time together, all these years of working side by side, he still makes her feel like an adolescent girl in love.

Jesus Christ, an adolescent girl in love? The Olivia of their sixth year of partnership—the one who couldn’t stand him more often than not—would be oh so proud.

“If he tells me one more pigeon metaphor, I’ll kill him.” She leans into him, bringing his bottom lip between hers. His hands make their way up her face, fingers brushing against her cheek. “Now, can we stop talking about Munch?”

With his thumb below her chin, he pushes her head back, with a smile. “My pleasure.” He kisses the corner of her mouth, wrapping his other arm around her waist. “You know you didn’t give me a real gift, right?”

“You gave me toilet paper and a lease. How is that any better?”

“You always have to have the last word, don’t you?”

She smiles, nipping at his lips. “You know I do.”

August 6, 2009
12:01 A.M.


“I did not sit outside of your apartment until you flashed your lights!” Elliot exclaims.

The shadows of the flames still flicker over the walls, and in the semi darkness, Olivia rubs her hand over his back. “Yes, you did. I waited five minutes after I got inside to do it when I realized your sorry ass was still sitting in the car in front of my building.”

“I was watching your back.”

With a smile, she lies back on the couch, her head hitting the arm rest. Her arm dangles over the side, and she reaches for her wine. The crimson liquid slides down her throat before righting itself around the bottom curve of the glass. The sole of her right foot remains rooted to the cushions while her left slides over his lap.

“You were being stubborn like you usually are,” Olivia responds. The base of the glass rests in her palm as she gazes at him, watching the reflections of the candles burn in his eyes. “It was never all that complicated, was it?”

Elliot places her leg back onto the floor, leaning halfway over the couch so his upper body rests over her legs. He rubs his finger over her hip bone, lifting his eyes at her. “What wasn’t?”

“Us.”

“Have you forgotten the past decade?” He lowers the waist of her jeans, blowing a gentle kiss onto her skin. She sucks in a breath, his hot mouth whispering a story. “We were always complicated, Liv. Maybe that’s why this works.”

He lifts his body over hers, pressing his hands down on the little room still left on each side of her. He lowers himself down, kissing her softly. The muscles in his arms bulge as he does a push up over her, his lips sliding over hers.

“Do you want more wine?” he whispers, his breath heated against her mouth.

“No.” She wraps her arms around his neck, pulling him onto her. “I love you, El.”

“I love you, too.” He brushes his fingers over her cheek. “I can’t have sex on this couch.”

“Since when?” Olivia laughs, burying her head in his neck. “Have we become that boring that we need a bed?”

“I hurt my back at work yesterday. Don’t want to risk it.”

“Do we need to put you into geriatric care?”

“Only if you’re coming with me.”

He pushes himself up off the cushions, planting his feet onto the floor. He extends his hand to her, and she takes it, pulling herself up. She falls into his embrace at the force, his arms locking securely around her waist. He presses his lips to hers, sliding his tongue into her mouth as he starts to walk backwards into the bedroom. His hands stroke her skin, each touch delicate. She’s desperate to get him into that bedroom, her steps uneven to his, and she nearly trips over his feet. He grabs onto her waist, laughter spilling into their kiss, and drags her inside his room.

Elliot’s legs hit the bed, and she releases herself from him, pushing him back onto the mattress. He bounces slightly, propping up his elbows as he stares at her. She stands between his separated knees, lifting the shirt from her head. Her breasts heave with each breath as she tosses it onto the ground, before reaching for the button on her jeans. He lies there watching her, rubbing his foot over her calves as she slides her pants down.

Despite the heat, a chill runs down her spine, her nipples peaked underneath the black lace demi bra.

“Your bra has bows on it,” Elliot grins, amused. “Since when do you ever wear bows?”

She rolls her eyes. “Forget it. We’re not having sex.”

He sits up, grabbing her bare ass in his hands as he pulls her forward. The same black lace from her bra is nothing but a scrap of underwear on her, and he bends his head, running his tongue above the waistband, dipping right below. She stiffens, a low moan escaping. Heat pools between her legs, as he lowers her underwear to the ground.

“Are we still not having sex?” he says, his voice gruff, hoarse.

Olivia knocks him back onto the bed, climbing over him, slowly unbuttoning his shirt. “One of these days, I’ll deny you.”

He lifts his hips, slamming against her wetness. She gasps at the impact, steadying her hands onto the mattress. He smirks, running his fingers through her hair. “Will you?”

“Yes.”

He flips them over, and she’s pressed into the bed, his lips trailing over her skin. She squirms underneath his touch, but the fight leaves her body when he presses a kiss against the inside of her thighs. His fingers brush over her wetness, and she inhales a sharp breath.

“You’ll really deny me?” Elliot goads.

“Jesus, Elliot, just shut up and do it.”

Without warning, he slips his tongue inside of her and she arches her back, lifting her feet so her knees are elevated. He pushes his tongue deeper inside of her, twisting, sucking at her, and it’s been weeks since he’s done this for her, weeks since she’s had time to spend with him when work has been a constant. His tongue laps through her like a wildfire, and she raises her hips, but despite how inside of her is, she needs, she wants more.

She grinds her teeth, her breathing labored. “Fuck.”

And just like that he stops. He had done that to her in the beginning, stopping so she could catch her breath, so he could steal it away just as quickly. “Tell me,” he grunts, sucking her clit between his lips.

“You’re an asshole,” she mumbles, her chest rising and falling rapidly. She grips the comforter with force, teetering dangerously close to the edge.

“That wasn’t what I had in mind.” He kisses down her left thigh, moving to the right. “Tell me what you want.”

“I want you to make me come,” she murmurs.

“How?”

Her fists tighten around the blankets. “Shit, Stabler, I don’t fucking care how.”

Elliot laughs, muffled against her. “So vulgar.”

“So infuriating.”

Her mouth snaps shut, her feet digging into the bed, as he dips his tongue inside of her again. He has this power to bring her to the edge before he’s barely begun. She hadn’t expected it at first, but over time she knew her limits. Over time, he learned the exact spots that would make her come, that would drive her over the edge if she was in dire need of it.

A year ago, he had fumbled; tonight, he knows her just as well as she knows him.

The twisting of his tongue on her clit startles her, and even with knowledge, there is still surprise. He drags her to the edge, her breaths erratic, as the room tilts. The ceiling is filled with shadows, narrowing and fading as her eyes close, her knuckles white with the force of her grip.

“Now,” she whispers throatily. “Now.”

He sucks on her clit hard, slipping two fingers inside of her as she rides out her orgasm. Her body quivers, her hips lifting and falling. She breathes hard, opening her eyes again as she adjusts to the room. He moves into the space next to her, his tongue rolling over the pads of his moist fingers.

Olivia rolls over, climbing on top of him. His cock strains against his dress pants, and she smiles, flicking the button free. She rocks over him, his hands gripping her bare ass as he holds her steady. He lifts his head, nipping at her lips, and she flexes over the length of his body.

“Stay still,” Elliot croaks, catching his breath.

She lowers his pants around his hips, followed by his briefs. Rolling her fingers over the head of his dick, she smiles, her eyes filled with mischief. “What’s the fun in that?”

But she doesn’t want the games, not when he grabs her breasts in his hands, pinching her nipples until they harden beneath his touch. She slides him inside of her, lifting her right leg onto his shoulder. Her body stretches and she moans as he thrusts. His dick brushes over her G-spot and she gasps, her motions stilling.

“Are you kidding me?” she teases, her lips lightly touching his. “Go back there.”

He slides his fingers up her leg, across the inside of her thigh before gently touching her clit. She clenches her muscles, holding him between her walls that are frantic to collapse. With a deep breath, she starts to ride him again, twisting her body a couple inches to the left. She squeezes around him, once, twice, and on the third time, he grabs her chin, thrusting his tongue into her mouth.

She continues her motions, and she can feel herself losing control, feel them both ready to come. Carefully lowering her leg, so that it rests beside his thighs, he drives into her again, his fingers gripping her hair. He pulls the strands lightly as he comes, her name filling the room, as she follows close behind.

Olivia’s head is bowed, her layers sticking her to face, as she catches her breath. She rolls off of him, pressing a kiss to his chest before resting her head there. The room still spins the slightest bit, the smell of him settling into her skin.

“What are you doing with your bed when I force you to get rid of it?”

Elliot grazes the back of his hand over her chest, underneath her breasts. “Storage until one of the kids needs it, I guess. And Olivia? Let’s be clear. You’re not forcing me to do anything.”

“Really?”

He pries her chin down with his fingers, kissing her. “I let you win this battle, because in the future, I’m going to want something more than this bed.”

“Oh, good to know.”

August 15, 2009
6:11 P.M.


“Give me the ball,” Elliot says, snatching the bouncing item in mid air. “You were supposed to pick up four. You only caught three. Plus, the jacks aren’t supposed to move.”

Olivia glares at him with contempt. She groups the jacks together, forcing them into his hand as the edges of them press hard onto her skin. “You are such a competitive asshole. I haven’t played in what is probably over thirty years. I never said I was good now.”

He throws the jacks, the small pieces scattering onto the hardwood floors. He picks one up, bounces the ball again, picking up two. The rhythm and animation of the ball fills the apartment with noise, as the jacks slide across the floor and into Elliot’s hand.

“I’m kicking your butt, Benson.”

She leans her elbows onto the ground. “You know, Elliot, there are times I love you and there are times where I want to do nothing more than kill you.”

“So, if you were winning, you wouldn’t be rubbing it in my face?”

“That’s not really the point.”

“Oh,” Elliot laughs, and a sound that used to be so foreign to her sounds so normal these days. “Right. Because you would never do that.”

She’ll be damned if she lets Elliot win at this game. He tosses the ball into the air, listens as it thrums over the floorboards, his hand picking up the four jacks intended for this turn. Just as his hand comes out for the ball, she moans. It’s low, throaty, and his head jerks up to look at her, the ball narrowly escaping his hold.

With a satisfied smile, Olivia leans forward, catching the escaping ball. “Looks like it’s my turn.”

“Is this how you used to win as a child, Liv? You’d cheat your way through the game?”

“I was stretching; it’s not my fault you got distracted.”

“We can both play dirty.”

Her eyes twinkle. “I’ve noticed that.”

“Toss the damn ball, Olivia.”

She’s about to do that, when the front door swings open. Maureen rushes in, frazzled, nearly running past them as she makes a beeline for the bathroom. Her hair is pulled up into a bun on the back of her head, dressed in one of Mark’s shirts and a pair of his boxers, and she skids across the wood when she realizes that Olivia and Elliot are sitting there. Her face scrunches up for less than a second, and she clears her throat.

“Do you two ever work anymore?” Maureen asks nervously, her ankles twisting around the other as she stands. “Didn’t think you’d be here.”

“Is that why you’re wearing your boyfriend’s clothes and mentally debating how long it would take 911 to get here while you give your father a heart attack?” Elliot responds.

“You’re not going to have a heart attack, Dad. Calm down. I was doing laundry and needed something to change into because all mine are dirty. You know I don’t have laundry at my place. No biggie. Hey, Liv, do you have a second?”

Olivia eyes Elliot, warning him without a word to remain where he is. She braces her feet onto the floor, and stands up, a small tumble in her step as she follows Maureen into the bathroom. The door closes behind her, and Maureen exhales a breath, sitting down on the toilet.

“Please, please tell me you have a tampon,” Maureen begs.

Her period came three weeks ago. A little earlier now that she’s off birth control, but it was there all the same. Goddamn menstrual cycle.

“In the medicine cabinet. Do I want to ask if you were really doing laundry?”

“Well…Mark and I were in bed, you know, after—”

Olivia holds up her hand. “I get it.”

“Right. So, I totally wasn’t supposed to get my period for another week, but it decided to surprise me a little bit early, and needless to say, Mark’s sheets are in the wash and my loving boyfriend is trying to console me that he doesn’t care I ruined a very expensive thread count that his parents gave him with my stupid period.” She buries her head in her hands.

“First of all, Mark probably doesn’t know what a thread count is and it’ll come out in the wash. Second, these things happen. Go into the medicine cabinet, take what you need, and come out. Did you two eat dinner yet?”

“No.” Maureen inhales a large breath, standing. “Alright. I’ll be out in a minute.”

Olivia exits the bathroom, surprised that Elliot hasn’t been standing outside ready to pounce like the papa bear that he is. He looks up at her when she steps into the living room, cleaning up the jacks on the floor.

“What was that about?”

“Nothing to worry about. By the way—” She juts her head in the direction of his palm, anything to avoid that overprotective father look in his eyes. “Our game isn’t over. You haven’t beaten me yet.”

Before he can answer, the door to the bathroom opens. A crimson blush covers Maureen’s cheeks, and she crosses her arms over her chest. It makes her look like a little girl as she steps into the middle of her father’s living room, and Olivia can see that fifteen year old girl she had met a decade ago. Maureen had been on the phone at the time, and in the existing sunlight, she had given Olivia the once over before muttering a hello. There had been an attitude to her, vivaciousness that Olivia hadn’t seen in his other children growing up, and it was what connected her to Maureen more than any of Elliot’s other children.

His oldest daughter was him. She did what she wanted to, but with compassion and heart and while she might not manifest her embarrassment in the same way as her father, the same look in her eyes was there. She had seen it in Elliot in the aftermath of Gitano, in the honest truth of the conception of Eli. Maureen was Elliot in all the ways that mattered.

Elliot crosses his arms over his chest, the third degree registering in his brain as he glances back and forth between both women. He puts the jacks down on the coffee table and they clatter against each other, the metal colliding with the wood top.

“You okay, sweetheart?”

The bomb has been disarmed; thank fucking God.

Maureen rolls her eyes, rolling back on her heels. “Totally fine. Just needed to borrow something from Liv. So, how about dinner? Mark and I were thinking about ordering a pizza.”

“And because your father lives next door, you figured you could swindle a free meal out of me, is that how it is?”

“Don’t be a jerk, Daddy,” Maureen teases, kissing Elliot on the cheek. “Dickie was actually going to come over tonight, thought you two might want to hang out. We’re in the middle of a rock band tournament, but you guys can play with us.” She looks at Olivia, lifting an eyebrow. “Here’s the thing, Liv. I know you have this Detective Benson role down pat, but I also know you can have some fun. So, I’m asking you for one round. Besides, I think if you do, Dickie might actually fall in love with you.”

She finds herself nodding, giving into the request because in the end, what the hell does she have to lose? She’ll play a little guitar hero, have Dickie fall in love with her, and be the anti Detective Olivia Benson for the rest of her life. Alternate universe, here she comes.

“I’ll do one song. But after I do, I never want to be asked to do it again, got it?”
Maureen’s eyes glimmer, and she nods. “Got it. See you guys in ten.”

 

 


August 15, 2009
9:11 P.M.


There’s something about Mark’s apartment that reminds her of college. The décor is that of someone who has grown up his entire life with money; museum photos are framed up against an off white wall; the furniture is a mix of wood and leather, well kept like he had gotten lessons on how to take care of things of beauty early in life. But inside a world of wealth is the young man who Olivia has known for nearly a year with an entertainment system and rock band set up in the corner, like youth is forever attainable.

Pizza boxes—some empty, some halfway filled—remain on the kitchen table, their covers open as the smell of food permeates Mark’s living room. Bottles of beer topple the coffee table save for the one coke that Dickie had complained about when everyone was drinking but him. He had claimed he had beer before in protest, until Elliot’s eyes had widened and Dickie had merely grinned and laughed, telling his far too overprotective father that he was joking. Elliot had grunted, shoving the can of soda in his son’s hand, narrowly missing the moment Dickie took a swig of Mark’s just opened bottle.

Like always with his children, there is life and laughter, and Olivia sits quietly on the couch, picking at the cheese on her pizza. She can’t help but think of having a child with Elliot, if his children will love this one as much, or if because it is only a half sibling, it somehow means less. Since the moment she’s met Simon, she’s loved him without pretenses, without boundaries despite their father, and she wonders if all half siblings are the same.

The weight on the couch shifts and Olivia looks up, blinking her eyes once, to find Elliot sitting beside her. He smiles at her, the corners of his eyes crinkling and she’s never noticed how much better looking he is when there’s life in him. She knows him; she knows the job burrows into him, ripping away at skin, at heart, at a certain love of life that might never be attainable again. But she sees this different side to him now, and maybe even pain can be masked with the right ingredients.

“You’re quiet. Is everything okay?”

“Just tired.” She shoves her plate onto the table, uncrossing her legs. “I should get this guitar thing over with. All right, Mark. Give me a guitar.”

“Oh God.” Dickie rubs his hands together, lifting himself up onto a leather armchair in the corner of the room. “This is going to be so awesome. Can I videotape it?”

“Sure,” Olivia responds, casually. “Put it up on the internet and we’ll see how fast we I can find something to torture you with.” She smiles at Dickie, grabbing onto the guitar Mark has handed to her. “I heard John was willing to come over here and tutor you in History.”

“When you say over here,” Maureen says, “you mean in Queens where I don’t have to listen, right?”

Dickie rolls his eyes, leaning his head back against the smooth leather. “You don’t even live here, Mo! Which I’m sure is good because Dad would have multiple heart spasms in a row and you’d be left with the guilt brigade, basically forever, which would be so much worse than Munch and his dumb lessons. But well done, Olivia. I will not be videotaping you today.”

“Didn’t think you would be,” Olivia smirks. She looks at the list on the big screen television, an array of songs listed, some she’s heard of, some she hasn’t. “Hotel California. Let’s get this over with.”

“You’re such a good sport, Olivia,” Mark teases. “You know how to play, right?”

She nods, lifting the guitar in her arms. It cradles across her chest as the music on screen begins. Cheers come through the set of speakers, and there’s a part of her that wants to break into hysterical laughter. It happens to her often, these days, like it’s an overwhelming urge when life seems too good outside of the confines of her job.

Her fingers glide over the colored keys, yellow trails tailing along the smooth surface of the stage. Orange and green follow close behind, the guitar solo filling the room, as she maneuvers her fingers around the keys. From the corner of her eye, she can see Elliot exhale a breath, leaning back against the couch in surprise. It’s a universal sign, the same look of shock that registers on each person even without their knowledge.

“Liv, you never said you could play!” Dickie exclaims. “You’re like really good.”

She laughs, her eyes focused on the screen. “I dated someone in college who was in a band. I learned a few things.”

“You never told me that,” Elliot muses.

“It never came up.”

“Some dance to remember, some dance to forget,” Maureen sings, flipping through a catalog that she’s picked up off the floor. “So I called up the captain, please bring me my wine, he said we haven’t had that sprinter here since nineteen sixty-nine.”

“Sprinter?” Elliot asks, nudging Maureen with this foot. “I think you meant to say spirit.”

“Sprinter, spirit, whatever,” she shrugs. “Isn’t this about Charles Manson and the Sharon Tate murder or something?”

“It’s not documented,” Olivia answers. She lifts the guitar up, gaining more points. She misses a couple in a row, muttering under her breath as Dickie snickers in the corner from her use of bad language. “I’ve heard that before though, about it being connected to Manson.” The song ends, and she tosses the guitar onto the couch. “I’ve done my guitar hero duty. Am I done being badgered for it?”

“Play against me,” Elliot states, standing up. “Mark, you can set up rock band instead of guitar hero, right?”

“Dude.” Dickie perches himself on the edge of the chair, leaning closer to Maureen. “Dad is using terms like he’s cool.”

“I’m standing right here, Dickie,” Elliot grinds out. “Come on, Liv, play against me.”

“This is exactly why I held off for so long. I knew you would make this into some type of competition. I’m not playing against you, Elliot.”

Elliot’s lips lift into a smile, an eyebrow quirked. “Scared you’re not going to win?”

The room is silent, and she inhales through her nose, letting the air out in a gentle hiss. Their eye contact doesn’t break, a million thoughts being passed between them, and she groans, picking up the guitar again.

“One song. I won’t do a tie, I won’t do best out of three, this is it. And when I kick your butt, do me a favor and accept it like a man.”

“Wow,” Maureen laughs. “I don’t even have words for that.”

“You don’t need words,” Elliot mutters, grabbing another guitar. “She’s not going to win.”

“Right,” Mark says, standing up. “Before there’s bloodshed, I can either keep it on guitar hero or I can just as easily do rock band. What do you guys want?”

In the corner, Dickie smirks. “Rock band. I want to sing.”

“Seriously, D, do you hate us? Was I such a horrible sister to you that you feel the need to screech the kind of vocals that only animals and things in the wilderness can hear?”

“Calm down, Mo. I’ve heard you sing, and you’re not much better. I’m sixteen and I am spending a Saturday night hanging out with my sister, her boyfriend, my father, and his girlfriend. You have to at least give me the pleasure of singing. No offense to all you awesome people, but I should be out robbing banks or drinking.”

“It’s so great the things you’re willing to say in front of two cops, D,” Maureen teases. She twists her head to look at Elliot, and can’t help but laugh at the look on her father’s face. “You’re so hoping Eli isn’t like Dickie, aren’t you, Dad?”

“I don’t choose favorites, but it worries me a little, yes,” Elliot jokes.

“In that case,” Dickie retorts, “I hope you kick his butt, Liv.”

Mark scrolls the list of songs on the television screen. Most songs and bands on there she’s never heard of, and she feels old, standing there with a guitar in her hands, about to battle her boyfriend, former partner, and moody cop for the winning championship in rock band or guitar hero or whatever the hell they’re doing now. Even in her changed personality of what she must call happiness, she thinks that she’s going insane.

Don’t Fear the Reaper,” Olivia says.

“Not at all depressing, Liv,” Dickie jokes. He bends down onto the floor, picking up the microphone. “But hey, at least you didn’t choose Fall Out Boy. They’re so damn emo. Oh no, I’m Pete Wentz and my hair is black and I got married and had a kid at like nineteen with that girl with colored hair because I’m dumb and can’t sing real music so I sing this crap.” He rolls his eyes. “Lame.”

Olivia looks across the room to Elliot, who is staring at his son in utter disbelief. It could be the mention of marriage and a kid at nineteen or just the fact that while they can stand here and have a little fun, they’re still in a room with a generation they might never understand.

“I have no idea what any of that meant, Dickie, and I don’t think I want to,” Elliot muses. “Start the song, Mark.” He moves around the couch to stand beside Olivia, leaning over so his whispered voice infiltrates her ear. “Consider this payback for cheating at Jacks.”

“You’re on.”

Olivia slams her finger down on the guitar when the music starts, focusing on the screen. Her points rack up as she hits the buttons, maneuvering the guitar as she moves to the music. She doesn’t pay attention to Elliot, to Dickie, to Maureen or Mark who are all watching her. She’s spent the last ten years battling Elliot: in cases, opinions, love. She can sure as hell fight to beat him in this.

“Uh, El,” Mark mentions, “you should be playing with her.”

The laughter falls hard from Olivia’s lips, slipping into another note that she conquers. Elliot mutters a few choice curse words, and lifts the guitar, his fingers pounding over the colored buttons, desperate to gain points off of her. Dickie starts to sing, the lyrics scrolling across the screen that remind her of former nights of college karaoke.

“I think I’ve just gone to hell,” Maureen mumbles, dryly.

“Sucks for you then, doesn’t it?” Dickie responds during the instrumental segment.

Elliot grimaces, glancing over at Olivia. “Damn it. Are you cheating again?”

“You are such a sore loser, Stabler!” Olivia argues. “You don’t have to fight to be better on every little thing!”

“Neither do you.”

Mark leans over to Maureen. “Do you think this is foreplay for them?”

“Okay, seriously, Mark?” Maureen scolds, smacking him on the arm. “Why would you think I want to hear something like that? That is disgusting.”

“Yeah, that was a dumb move, Mark,” Dickie mentions. The screen hesitates on the words for a moment, almost as if this little machine can hear the hell of his voice. But the words start again, and he continues over the guitars. “Come on, baby, don’t fear the reaper, baby, take my hand, don’t fear the reaper.”

Next to Olivia, Elliot begins to catch up, the points spiraling out of control as both of them rage in the war of rock band. She glances at the score, her fingers working harder to score higher than him.

“Jesus, Elliot. You sucked at this the last time I saw you do this.”

Dickie holds the microphone to his lips, belting out the lyrics. “Love of two is one, here but now they’re gone.”

“Okay, enough of this shit,” Maureen exclaims, standing up. “Sorry, Dad, I know about the cursing, but he’s horrible! Give me the mic. I’m gonna sing.”

Without much of a fight, Dickie hands over the microphone. “It’s all yours. But I’ll sing in the corner. You will not be rid of me yet!”

“Came the last night of sadness, and it was clear she couldn’t go on.” The entire room stills for a second. Maureen, who had for all intents and purposes sucked earlier on, actually has a good singing voice. She smiles without looking at any of them, her eyes remaining focused on the screen. “I can sing. I just usually prefer to sing like an idiot off key.”

“Damn it,” Dickie mutters. “Totally ruins it for me.”

The game continues, the song coming to a close. Elliot leans to his left, nearly knocking into Olivia and she nudges him with her shoulder.

“Stay on your side,” she mumbles.

“You’re trying to cheat!”

“What are you, twelve?”

“You two give me a headache,” Mark mutters, resting his head against the wall. He tilts it to the side, watching the points rack up, and breathes a sigh of relief when the songs ends. “Thank God that is over.”

Olivia smiles, and tosses the guitar onto the couch. It bounces softly, and she collapses onto the couch beside it, looking up at Elliot. “We do act like children sometimes.”

“I hear it enough from Don,” Elliot grumbles. “All right, Mark, who won?”

Maureen sits down between Mark’s legs on the floor, avoiding the watchful eye of her father. “Please let it be, Dad. No offense, Liv, but if he loses—”

“I know,” Olivia confirms.

“Mark,” Elliot demands. “Results?”

“Crap,” he breathes. He looks up at Olivia and Elliot, shrugging one shoulder with indifference. “You both got the same amount of points. Neither of you won.”

Crossing her arms over her chest, Olivia gazes out the window into the summer night. The smile splits and widens across her lips, until she laughs, with a shake of her head. “I said no tie breakers, didn’t I?”

“No, no, no, no!” Dickie exclaims. “You two battling it out is just too much for my little brain to handle.”

“Little sure is accurate,” Maureen snorts, covering her mouth in laughter.

Mark leans around Maureen, picking up the remote. “That’s what she said.”

“Oh shut it, both of you. All I’m saying is that, Liv, you’re awesome for playing, and Dad, you know, you are actually pretty cool when you attempt to be. But that was a little much, even for me. You’re too competitive.” He looks to Mark, “You in for a game?”

Conversation between the two younger men commences, and Elliot sits down on the arm of the couch, his foot lightly hitting Olivia’s leg. “We just got scolded by my fifteen year old kid, didn’t we?”

She pats his knee. “So now adults and kids are telling us we act like children.” She stands up, gathering a few plates in her hands. “That sounds about right.”

August 15, 2009
11:01 P.M.


“You don’t have to clean up,” Maureen says, walking through the doorway into the kitchen. She tosses a couple of napkins and paper plates into the trash, taking another bottle of beer from the fridge. “Liv, seriously. Mark and I can do it later.”

Turning the knob on the hot water, Olivia angles her head to look at Maureen. A tendril of dark hair escapes her ponytail and with a swipe of the wrist against her forehead, she moves it out of her way. “I needed to get out of there for a couple of minutes. There’s only so much of Dickie’s mumbled singing I can take.”

“Just be grateful he’s not doing it loudly.” Maureen sits down at the kitchen table, her fingers restlessly playing with the pile of mail that sits there.

Silence exists between them, and it reminds Olivia of Elliot, of how for years the quietness of all they never knew how to say filtered into their lives. She’s learned a lot about silence over the years. The different variations that exist have always stunned her. Comfortable, unfortunate, awkward, peaceful, lingering. Without sound, the entire world tells secrets, nothing left but the black and white of it all.

From outside the kitchen, she can hear the guys arguing over something, the silence lost with the gray that follows the silence.

“Are you okay?” Olivia asks.

Maureen’s head snaps up, clearing the fog from her head. “Oh yeah, I’m fine.” She rests her elbows on the table, a curtain of blonde hair surrounding her face. “I know I never said it to you, but I’m really happy you and Dad worked things out.”

The sponge in Olivia’s hand stops its decent over a glass. There are times when she forgets what had happened a couple of months ago, when she believes what she has with Elliot hasn’t ever been cracked, faltered. It’s a silly notion, especially for someone like her, but the pain of the breakup still hides in a piece of her heart, gnawing at her on the days when the self-doubt settles inside of her like an old enemy.

The scrubbing continues as she searches for the right words because thank you isn’t really an answer to anything, it never has been.

“You know, when he told me about you two deciding to have a child together—”

The dishes are long since forgotten when Olivia spins around. Water sloshes over the side of the counter, as she presses her back against it. Her mind spins, her voice strained when she answers, “When you…Your father told you that?”

“I’m not stupid, Liv,” Maureen answers without preamble. “I didn’t know what happened between you, and truthfully, I didn’t want to. He was miserable, I figured you were the one who broke it off, but when I called you on your birthday…I know you tried to hide it, but—and I mean this as nicely as possible—you sounded like shit. I still didn’t want to know, not really, but I asked him because watching him like that, it was hard, Olivia.”

There’s such honesty in Maureen’s voice that it all comes back to Olivia: the heartache, pain, the fear that things would never be the same again.

“What did he say when you asked?”

“He lied.” Maureen gives her a small smile. “He said something about work, made some excuses, but I knew it wasn’t true. After a lot of convincing, he told me the reasons why. And you know, I never thought that Elliot Stabler, protector of Manhattan would ever really be truthful with me. He’s always so busy trying to keep us sheltered, but for once, he actually treated me like an adult.”

The world spins the slightest bit underneath Olivia’s feet and she releases the counter, sitting down across from Maureen. The younger woman stares at her, the blue of her eyes attempting to read her like his always could, like color being passed off also comes with the power to read minds. She looks down at the table, at the bills piled high, at the faded color of the Formica before back up at Maureen.

“How do you feel about that?”

“Honestly?” Maureen taps her fingers on the table, the vibrations mixing in with the music from the other room. “It hurt me a little.”

“Maureen, I never meant—”

“No, that’s not what I mean. It hurt me that he said no because he thought he had been such a bad father to us. Dad is…he was a huge pain the entire time I was growing up. In the beginning, he was home as soon as he could be, but over the years, sometimes he’d spend nights working and it was hard. He missed plays, he missed things I wish he had been there for, but when he was home, when a case wasn’t affecting him, he was such a great dad, he still is. Did he ever tell you about the time I was really sick and had to go to the hospital?”

Olivia shakes her head, the tears gathered at the base of her throat. “No,” she whispers.

“I was six, I think. I don’t remember much, but I was really sick with the flu. My temperature got up to about 104, and Mom freaked. She took me to the ER, and I remember she kept leaving messages for Dad to come, but he was on the job and she couldn’t reach him. I cried more, because I didn’t want my mom, I wanted my dad. Mom tells me that I cried for so long that I finally fell asleep. I guess I woke up in the middle of the night and my entire room was decorated with Strawberry Shortcake stuff—my favorite. There were streamers, and balloons, and new coloring books. He had come in and done all that for me. He was beside my bed and didn’t leave until I was released two days later.”

She stares at Olivia, resting her cheek in the palm of her hand. “He’s so…him that he goes through all the stuff he’s done wrong and never what he’s done right. He’s always been like that.” She smiles sheepishly. “Do I think it’s weird that there might be six of us? Sure. It was weird when Eli was born and there were five of us, when for so long it was four. The age difference is huge, but I don’t know. I think it’s a stupid reason not to be with someone you love.”

She feels like she’s in another world, another lifetime. “Do your sisters and brother know?”

“I don’t think the twins do, but I’m not sure. I told Kathleen. Look, Liv, you sort of lucked out. You became Dad’s girlfriend, but because we’ve known you for so long, it just…We all already like you, you know? Anyway, all I was really trying to say was that, well, I’m not sure what I was trying to say,” she laughs. “But I just wanted you to know—”

“Maureen!” Mark yells from the living room. “Both of you, get back in here. Your girl talk can wait for later!”

Maureen rolls her eyes, pushing her chair back. “He’s so demanding sometimes.” She takes a couple of steps toward the exit of the kitchen, before turning back around. “Before we go back out there and I’m sure never speak of this again, I think you’d make a really great mom.”

And then she’s gone, and this time, silence is filled with hope.

August 16, 2009
12:34 A.M.


“You told Maureen,” Olivia calls out into the bedroom.

She stands in front of the bathroom mirror, her makeup gone, as she pulls her hair up into a high ponytail. She can hear Elliot rummaging around in his closet, muttering something under his breath about her boxes and the three leather jackets she’s already added to his closet.

“What did I tell her?” he asks. He stands in the doorway to the bathroom, leaning against the wooden frame.

“Why we broke up.”

She watches him in the mirror, his eyes meeting hers in the square pane of glass. He nods his head slowly. “Before you yell at me, let me—”

“I’m not going to yell at you,” she answers softly, opening the medicine cabinet, as he fades from her vision. She places her toothbrush back inside, her hand held firmly on the mirror. “I…I actually want to thank you for it.”

“You want to thank me for it?” he asks, skeptically.

Olivia turns around, her back pressed against the cold porcelain of the sink. The bottom of her tank top has ridden up, and she shivers, crossing her arms over her chest. “For you to tell your daughter that…” She laughs, rubbing her hands over her face in embarrassment. “You wouldn’t have told her if you weren’t serious about it.”

“Olivia, if I wasn’t serious about it, I wouldn’t have come back to you. I wouldn’t have thrown out your birth control pills and I wouldn’t—”

“Would you stop arguing with me?” She wraps her arms around his neck, kissing him softly. “You told her and I know it probably wasn’t easy for you.”

Elliot grips her chin in his hand. “I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t serious about doing this with you,” he adds gently.

“I know that. I do. But I’m me, Elliot, and sometimes it’s second nature for me to panic about things like this.” She rests her forehead against his, taking slow, deep breaths. “I have something for you.”

“Is it skimpy?” he murmurs, nipping at her lips.

“This coming from a man who hated lingerie a year ago.”

She pushes back on his chest, escaping his embrace, and walks into his bedroom. Boxes of hers litter the floors, and she rummages through one of them. She pulls out discarded items, tossing a couple of books onto the ground, a sweater she had forgotten she owned until cleaning out the back of her closet.

“Fridge magnets,” she says, tossing him a package.

Elliot catches it, frowning. “This is what you have for me?”

“Don’t look so disappointed, Stabler.”

She steadies her feet onto the floor, and walks the couple steps toward him.

“Te amo,” she whispers, one arm wrapping around his neck.

“Will you say I’m coming in French tonight?” He murmurs, brushing his hand over her breast.

She smacks his chest. “Te odio.”

“That goes beyond my Spanish, Benson. What does it mean?”

“Take a wild guess.”

“You either called me a jackass, or told me you hated me.”

She grins, impressed. “The latter. See, you learn new Spanish every day.”

August 28, 2009
9:59 P.M.


“I like unpacking,” Elliot grins, holding up one of Olivia’s thongs.

She looks up from a box, grabbing onto an armful of clothes, and rolls her eyes. “Yes, I wear thongs, Elliot. We’ve been dating for how long?”

“I like this one,” he says, twirling it around his finger. “I don’t know how you do the job in them, though.”

“And yet somehow, I manage.”

She tosses a couple of shirts into a box, giving up for the night.

“Are you done?” Elliot asks, and she focuses her attention back to him.

“For now. I’m starving. I’m going to get cereal. Do you want anything?”

“No, I’m fine.”

She walks out of the bedroom and into the kitchen, pushing a few boxes to the side that has accumulated over the past couple of weeks. The previous night, she had stood in her apartment, everything she had once owned stripped and gone, and surveyed the damage of the last eight and a half years.

Memories came rushing back to her in a tidal wave: taking a shot of vodka in honor of her mother on the night she died; spending a night with the girls in her living room with bottles of wine and a life she craved back; sleepless nights with cases that haunted her; staring out the window into the bright lights of Manhattan wondering what would have happened if she was given another start in life, who she would be if the state found her privileged enough to have a child; sitting with her brother in awe and astonishment that what she always believed of life never really was; Elliot saving her ass without a word; sifting through the classifieds after Sealview because she could do another job and learn to survive; being with Elliot for the first time over a year ago.

Time had passed without her realization, and she found herself standing there long after midnight, rehashing all the mistakes, all the things she had done right.

It was nearing sunrise, when Elliot had opened her front door, and sat down beside her. He hadn’t said anything, but instead placed his hand over her thigh, giving her the proof that the past no longer mattered. It was still inside of her, still a part of her, but as he ran his finger over her ring less left hand, she had closed her eyes, leaning into him. Her mother’s band rocked rhythmically around her neck, and for one moment time stood still; nothing but her and him and promises that had been made when the end seemed so defined.

She had left the keys on the kitchen counter with one last look around, before leaving it all behind: her mother’s ghosts, regret from her life, most importantly, her fears.

And now, walking into their bedroom, a bowl of cereal in her hands, she feels more at home here than she ever did in a place that seemed so hard to leave behind.

“You can stop unpacking,” Olivia says around a mouthful, collapsing onto his bed. She rests her head back against the pillows, taking another bite of Lucky Charms. “And by stop, I mean I’ll unpack my own underwear.”

Elliot laughs, throwing another pair of Victoria’s Secret underwear into a drawer that she’ll have to refold later. He lies down on the opposite end of the bed, resting his hands behind his head. “I still can’t believe you eat Lucky Charms.”

“Shut up.”

“Give me a bite.”

“After you just gave me shit for it? Get your own cereal.”

He sits up, trying to grab the spoon from her, but she jerks her arm back. A drop of milk splashes onto his wall, blending into the gray paint. She digs it into the cereal, gathering some onto the spoon for him.

“One and that’s it. I’m hungry.”

He takes a bite, satisfied, before he lies back again. He rubs his foot up and down her leg in a rhythmic motion. “I can’t believe you’re making me give up this bed.”

“Give it up already.” She rests her head back on the pillow, stifling a yawn. “El, did you talk to Nicki Minnow after the verdict was read?”

Elliot’s hand stops massaging her leg, hooked around her calf. “She had already left by the time I got out of there. She has a good support system, Liv,” he says gently. “She’s going to be okay.” He begins the slow caress over her skin again. “Don’t do this tonight. It’ll still be there on Monday when we go back in.”

“You’re right. Do you have Eli tomorrow?”

“No. Kathy went Upstate for the weekend with Jesse and brought him with her. Maureen is staying with the twins in Queens. Did I tell you that Eli wants to take karate?”

“What?” A smile splits her lips. “Does he even know what karate is?”

“Liz has been taking lessons. He’ll watch her practice and try to kick one of his legs up. He’ll fall down about three seconds after that and pout for the rest of the afternoon.”

Olivia puts the bowl on the night stand, skimming her hand over Elliot’s ankle. She gives him a smile, urging him to continue. He talks a lot about Eli these days. He always has, but she finds him doing it more often, along with mentions of their child. It surprises her every time, the casual mentions of a child not in existence, but she loves him for the commitment, the dedication.

“He calls it ra-ree,” Elliot continues. “He can’t wait to show you his moves.”

Out of the corner of her eye, half buried underneath a pile of clothes, she spots the colored fridge magnets she had given him weeks ago. Her hand sweeps across the floor as she picks them up.

“You haven’t opened these,” she muses. She tears open the package, the letters spilling out onto the bed in an array of brightly lit colors. “How do you feel about Kathy going away with Jesse and taking Eli with them?”

“What do you want me to say?” he asks quietly, lifting his gaze from the magnetic letters.

Olivia looks up with a small smile, shrugging one shoulder. “The truth.”

“I don’t like it, but he’s a good man. He’s good to the kids.” Elliot gathers some of the letters in his hand, propping an elbow up on the mattress. “Does it bother you that I don’t like it?”

She starts to piece together the letters to the song lyric she had written on his refrigerator a year ago, the one he had written inside of her birthday card months ago. She had never realized before how small gestures, things that once seemed meaningless could ever come full circle. She glances up at him, before splitting the letter apart, the meaning all but lost.

“If it bothers you because she’s moving on with someone else, yes. If you haven’t let her go—”

“Is that what you think?”

“Normally? No. I know you love me, El. But sometimes it’s still hard knowing you have this other woman in your life who at one point meant everything.”

“So have you for the past ten years.”

Olivia narrows her eyes, warily. “Coulda fooled me.”

“I wasn’t always perfect, but—”

“Understatement of the year, Stabler.” She smiles, again, tossing a letter at him. “I understand it, why it bothers you. You just have to let me freak out sometimes.”

“Is it going to freak you out if I tell you I let the twins know we were trying?”

The surprise filters into her heart, shifting and settling until it feels like an old friend. “You did?”

“Maureen and Kathleen knew. I figured I had to let the twinners know before they had a sixth sibling all of a sudden.”

“What was their reaction?”

“Dickie said that the kid is going to be a champ in guitar hero by the time it’s old enough to hold one. Then he muttered something about too much competition being in that little unit of a family and he was going to have to steer the child away from us at all costs. Liz apparently knew. Kathleen told her.”

“They didn’t tell Dickie?”

“He gets left out on a lot of things. When he was younger, he used to try to be one of them so he didn’t feel left out. He was about five and he put on one of Elizabeth’s dresses, found a tiara in Maureen’s room and ran into the living room exclaiming he was ready for girl talk. When he got old enough to hear the stories, he swore he’d never be into family gossip again.”

Olivia laughs, “I can see him doing that.”

“If we have a boy, Dickie might convince him to do the same just so we stop telling that story. Unless of course he gets Eli to do it first”

She stops what she’s doing, mixing the letters that had started to form a word. Two B’s mix in with other letters while two E’s remain to one side. The pillows behind her back shift as she moves the slightest bit, lifting her knees to her chest. He’s looking at her, studying her change in demeanor and she takes a breath, gripping a letter in her hand.

“I’m late,” she blurts out, and the eye contact between them fails to cease.

“What?”

“I think my period is late-”

“I know what you mean,” Elliot answers, the ends of his lips twitching. “You didn’t want to mention this earlier?”

“My dates are off since stopping birth control, but last month I got it three weeks in and it’s approaching four now.”

“Did you take a test?”

“I bought one, but no. Elliot, I don’t…my cycle is screwed up. That’s all this is.”

“Why are you so convinced you’re not?”

Her voice is soft when she answers, filled with vulnerability that only he has witnessed. “Because I’ve wanted this for too long to assume it’s going to work out now.”

Elliot throws his legs over the side of the bed. “Where’s the test?”

“I’m not-”

“Olivia, where is the test.” The question is no longer in the inflection of his tone. It’s a statement now, a demand.

“In my bag. I bought it two days ago, haven’t been home long enough to take it.” She watches as he rummages through her bag, pulling out a brown paper bag. “I’m forty-one, Elliot. It doesn’t just…there’s a really good chance I’m not.”

“You’ll never know unless you take it,” he answers, throwing her the bag. He stands in front of her, lacing his fingers through the long strands of her hair. “If you’re not, we’ll keep trying.”

She inhales deeply, slowing letting the air out as she stands. She takes the box from inside, walking into the bathroom. The pounding of her heart is magnified. She had taken three of these in college, desperately wishing that her life wasn’t about to change yet again when a condom had broken, when one wasn’t worn. She had been reckless at times back then, and with one of the girls beside her counting down the minutes, she had held her breath. It had been a relief every time the negative sign infiltrated the colored parchment, a drink raised in honor of good news.

However, the potential of a negative sign now stills her. She can convince herself again and again that it’s a false alarm, but hope lingers as she holds the test between trembling fingers.

“Talk to me,” Olivia calls through the ajar doorway, as she sits down on the toilet.

“Are you kidding me?”

She rolls her eyes. “I’m not you, Elliot. I can pee with other people around.”

“You’re such a picnic sometimes, sweetheart.”

“You’re just realizing that now?”

She rips off a piece of toilet paper, placing the test gently over it. She looks down at her watch, the second hand winding toward the twelve.

Three minutes.

Three fucking minutes that once again feels like torture.

Elliot’s on the bed when she walks out the door and into his bedroom, restlessly flipping a bright yellow letter between his fingers. She sits down next to him, and she wonders if this is what it had been like with Kathy all those times, if nervousness filtered between them like an electric force. She lies back on the bed, staring at the ceiling, a metronome of time dinging in her brain.

“Munch talked more about pigeons today on our stakeout,” Olivia mentions.

“If I wasn’t stuck with Fin who grumbles his way through a day, I’d almost feel bad for you.”

“I never have a problem when I work with Fin.”

He bends down, one elbow resting on her side as he wraps his other arm around her waist. His lips brush delicately over hers. “He likes you. He can’t stand me.”

“Why do you think that is?”

“If I don’t answer, are you going to tell me why I’m impossible to work with?”

“I might.” She glances down at her watch: one minute remaining. “I can’t look at it. I’m sure that sounds ridiculous to you, but-”

“I’ll look first. Did you ever think we would be these people?”

She shakes her head, the fan of her hair sweeping across the blanket. “But I also never thought I’d be able to put up with you for more than a month, so what do I know?” The second hand hits the twelve again and she brushes her hand over his arm. “Three minutes are up.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to look?”

“I’ll be there in a minute.”

Elliot walks into the bathroom, and she waits with bated breath. She plants one foot down on the ground, followed by another as she pushes herself off and up. She’s halfway there when he stands in the entranceway, holding the wrapped stick in his hand.

It’s all in his eyes: the emotions, the answers.

“Liv—”

Cosmopolitan Rule #41: In the beginning, the rules of the game are simple. All relationships begin equally, no matter what the circumstance. But as time progresses, it’s not about the common things that all couples do but the things that over time have become your own. It’s about the adventure, moments, inside jokes that mean the world to you, but would mean nothing to someone outside of the relationship. Love exists out there between millions of people, each one dedicated and devoted for an array of reasons, but too often fear comes in, tears people apart when the fight seems too hard and the rules don’t seem to be working in your favor. But the thing about love? You have to bend the rules, break them, and fight them. It is only then that love can survive and the game becomes something so much more.

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finis