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The Rules of the Game

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August 5, 2008
9:14 P.M.

When it comes to dating, she’s never understood the rules to live by. On date one, she’s ordered pasta with sauce, because at a young age, she learned how to eat without needing a bib. While she’s been told to never keep someone waiting, her “special” someone needs to understand that dating a cop means that sooner or later, he’s going to be left alone and hailing a cab without her beside him. She’s laughed at jokes to be polite when her suitor was being serious, and kept grim at something she didn’t realize was supposed to be funny. She’s slept with men on the first date without adhering to the third date rule, and kept men out with her until date six when she knew all along the sex wasn’t going to happen.

In her entire life, Olivia Benson followed the rules at every turn; relationships, however, were her one exception. And when she accepted that first date from her partner, both of them knowing it was against policy, she realized that the newly (once again) single Elliot Stabler lived his life the same way. She didn’t care what he saw her eat when they had spent long nights and late dinners beside one another. If she was fifteen minutes late because she misplaced her badge in some dire need to get ready fast, he would understand without a word. She’s never felt the need to laugh at his jokes, and she’s never hidden all the moments in which she’s found him to be funny. But the sex…that was something else when it came to her partner.

And now, after a three hour dinner, with wine that has perfected her buzz, and the smell of his cologne surrounding her, she’s thankful that she never bought into the bullshit of the third date rule.

Olivia turns around at the door, leaning against the cool wood. It touches her bare back, and even against the cold, her skin burns like it’s been scorched too many times. She smiles at him, and for a second she considers laughing at the schoolgirl she can become when pushed hard enough.

“Oh, I forgot to tell you.” Elliot takes a step closer, and the air diminishes as if it was never between them at all. “You lost that bet. The hostess slipped me her number on the way out.”

“She did not!” Olivia exclaims, extending her hand. “Show me.”

For them, the first date actually consists of nine years, with no boundaries in between.

Elliot reaches into his pocket, and within seconds, produces a small card. “Suzanne. 867-4901.” He crumbles it in his hands, the paper crinkling with creased lines. “She’s young enough to be my daughter.”

Olivia nods, strands of dark hair falling into her face. She reaches to sweep them away when his hand intercepts hers. He brushes the bangs to the side, his fingers delicate, and she wonders how the same man who holds a gun with force can be this gentle with his hands. “Thanks,” she says quietly.

“You’re welcome.”

Her ankles cross, and while she wishes she wouldn’t, she can hear her best friend from childhood reciting the diatribe that Cosmopolitan once taught her.

A simple kiss on the first date. No tongue; you must be a lady.

As a forty year old woman, tongue on the first date is the least she can hope for.

Don’t be someone you’re not. Sooner or later, he’s going to find out.

If she knew who she was, she figures she’d probably be married by now. At least when she kicks the shit out of a perp or spends an hour doing combat with the heavy bag, Elliot doesn’t question, merely accepts.

Don’t make judgments. Even if he’s not funny or says something offensive, he could just be nervous. First impressions count, but they’re not everything.

Elliot is never all that funny; at least not intentionally. She’s learned to accept his sarcasm and his bitter wit, and learned that her first impression long ago of a man who held his anger and his love as one hasn’t changed all that much.

Don’t date your best friend. While it can end up amazing, it can also end in tragedy.

What doesn’t end in tragedy? She’s been single for the past seven years. If she doesn’t date Elliot, who does she date? Munch is too old; Porter spends more time on his hair than she spends on her own, and Fin, well she’s not exactly Fin’s type. Oh wait, there was Kurt. So, she hasn’t exactly been single for seven years, but he was nothing more than a distraction from her life.

The woman never makes the first move. After all, remember, she is a lady.

No, she’s a cop, who hasn’t had sex in…how long ago had she broken up with Kurt?

“Do you want to come in?” Olivia asks, motioning behind her.

She watches as his eyes flit between her and the door. Within seconds, he smiles—that tight smile that she’s seen after long cases, even longer days. The smile that means it’s time to head home.

“Thanks, but I think I’m going to go.” Elliot shoves his hands in his pockets, finding something particularly interesting on the floor. Yes, the dust bunnies of her hundred year old apartment building are fascinating. “I have an early morning tomorrow.”

Olivia’s arms cross, and anger ebbs while happiness abates. “You do realize that we have the same exact job, right?”

If she could see past her own annoyance, she’d have seen the hint of pink now tinting his cheeks. “You know what I mean.” He leans forward, and with her arms still crossed, he kisses her cheek. “Night, Liv.”

Fuck dating. At least her vibrator never turned her down.


August 6, 2008
7:27 P.M.

“Would you slow down?” Elliot asks, catching up to her outside the precinct. “What the hell is the matter with you?” He grabs her arm, forcing her to stop, to turn around.

She wonders if Cosmo is accepting new submissions on lessons in love.

Cosmopolitan Rule # 1: Men are moronic, plain and simple.

Olivia sighs, and inhales the smell of that damn cologne he’s wearing. How had she not noticed that he wore that daily? “Elliot, nothing is the matter. I’m tired, I want to go home, and I’m not in the mood for this right now.”

“Look, Liv…” He stares down at the ground, and instead of those damn dust bunnies of her apartment, all that remains is the tarnished ground of the earth. “I’m sorry.” Elliot looks up again, with the same tight smile he had given her a few nights ago. The same tight smile that was followed by, I have an early morning. “I know you’re pissed about last night, but in my defense the last date I went out on had me crawling back to my wife.”

Cosmopolitan Rule # 2: Men, while moronic, never fail to surprise you. Whether it’s good or bad is another question all together.

And when she doesn’t answer, he cringes, shaking his head.

“Not that our date had me crawling back…Look, let me take you to dinner tonight.” Elliot touches her arm, and the smile widens into something real, something light. He always did have the cutest damn smile. “Would you stop being impossible?”

“Is this your way of charming me into a second date?” Olivia asks.

“It’s my way of telling you you’re a pain in the ass.”

His smile remains, and she finds herself nodding in confirmation. “Tomorrow night.” She smiles herself this time, the sly gesture covering her lips. “I have an early day tomorrow.”

Cosmopolitan Rule # 3: You might not follow all the set laws to being a woman, but playing hard to get, no matter what age, no matter what the occupation, is always in her best interest.


August 7, 2008
7:59 P.M.

“It’s ridiculous,” Olivia mentions, taking a sip of wine. “It was one of those things that started in childhood and for some reason, it always helped.”

Elliot smiles, dragging his fork through a piece of strawberry cheesecake. “How do melted Girl Scout cookies help a sore throat? What the hell even possessed you to try that?”

“It was an accident. I was six, I think, and I was so sick. I don’t think I’ve ever been that sick before or again. I’m not exactly the easiest person to deal with when I feel like shit under the best circumstances—”

“I’ve never noticed that,” Elliot says sarcastically.

She glares at him, shaking her head. “Anyway, there was this huge snowstorm, and we had no food in the house. I wouldn’t stop crying, so my mother just searched through all the cabinets, looking for something. She, uh…” Olivia pushes a strand of hair behind her ear, glancing down at the table before staring back up at him. His eyes are focused on hers, taking in her words, and she smiles gently at him. “She made me hot chocolate and got this box of Girl Scout cookies that we bought from a neighbor. She let me dip the cookies into the chocolate but one fell in. It was disgusting and gooey, but we fished it out of the bottom of the mug with spoons and just ate it like that. I went to sleep and woke up and felt better. Every time I would get sick after that, if she wasn’t…” She doesn’t dare taint the night with her mother’s wrongdoings. “She would do that for me. She actually did it for me long after I’d grown up.”

Elliot’s smile widens, and he tilts his wine glass as the crimson liquid curves along the bottom of the glass. “What kind of cookies?”

“Thin Mints.”

“Do you still do it?”

The music plays softly in the background, and over the noise, and the lyrics lingering somewhere in the distance, she wonders if this is the epitome of a good date. “No, I haven’t in eight years,” she answers softly.

And in words she refuses to say, he merely nods his head in understanding. “Can I ask you something?”


She expects questions of her mother, of the life of a child who was far from naïve, yet more innocent than he realizes, of things he has always wondered but had never known. But the words that come from his mouth are not what she expects, not when she has spent the entire night forgetting the fact that consequences do in fact lie in the realm of their dating relationship.

“What are we doing about work?”

The bomb has been dropped, and all along, she should have realized that sometimes rules were made for a reason.

“You had to bring it up, didn’t you?” She smiles, but it’s the same tight-lipped smile that they share, the one that brings them back to life, to consequences, to the longest days only the other can understand.

“One of us had to.”

Olivia rubs her finger across the tablecloth, one shoulder lifting in a shrug. “I think that partners split up all the time, that you and I have split up before and the world didn’t end. It’s not going to get better if we end this date now and then continue to work together. It shouldn’t determine whether or not we start to see each other.”

He nods, taking a sip of his wine. “Okay. That’s all I wanted to know.”

“That’s it?”

“I just wanted to see where we stood. So yeah, that’s it. Tell me something else.”

She purses her lips and rests her elbow on the table. The wine glass remains in her hand, and without realization, she continues to tilt the drink back and forth watching the gentle waves weave. “My favorite song that I hate admitting I love is Against All Odds by Phil Collins.” He laughs, and her eyes narrow, a small smile lifting her wine moistened lips. “Be nice.”

“I love that song.”

“You don’t have to be an ass about it, El.”

“When we were first partners there was that one radio station that only played songs from movies. You used to listen to it all the time and that song would come on about once a day because the DJ loved it. I heard it enough times that I actually started to like it.”

Huh. Well, then.

“I didn’t realize that.”

“Now you do. Give me another one.”

“I’ve never seen a full Disney movie. I’ve seen parts of a lot of them, but never in full.”

“You’ve never seen a full Disney movie?”

Of course the father of five would find this absurd, almost inhumane.

“What’s so great about them?” Elliot lifts an eyebrow and she laughs. “I’m serious. Bambi’s mother gets shot. Sleeping Beauty spent most of her life asleep. Cinderella gets treated like crap by her family—”

“You do know there is a Prince in the end, right? He comes in and saves her?”

“Do you really think that a movie where a woman is inferior to a man and she needs to be saved sounds like something up my alley?”

“No,” Elliot smiles. “I guess it doesn’t.”

“So, what about you?”

“What about me?”

“Book, movie, I don’t know. Something I wouldn’t have learned in almost a decade of working with you.”

He doesn’t even think about it, like he’s been conjuring the answer in his mind all along. “I’ve read Goodnight Moonover five hundred times and probably could recite it as well as I do the Miranda Rights.” He grins, and it strikes her as odd that the last time she saw him smile remotely close to this was the start of their working relationship. Was Elliot Stabler only happy at the beginning of something? “And I’ve read all seven Harry Potter books, which has nothing to do with my kids. I actually like them.” He gauges her reaction; the one of shock that she’s sure is evident on her face. “Your opinion on me has changed, hasn’t it?” he teases.

“No, it just surprises me. You never said anything that time Warner mentioned her husband read it.”

“We were in the middle of a case. I guess I just didn’t think it was important. I don’t watch the movies though. Oh, and for the record, I’ve seen every Disney movie at least forty times.”

“My turn to ask you something you might not want to answer.” Olivia taps her fork on her plate, the gentle chiming matching the beats to the music. “After all we see everyday I think it’s incredible how good you are to your kids. But everything you just mentioned, it was about them somehow. At a certain point, do you still have an identity separate from them?”

Maybe rules were also made so you don’t end up sounding like a moron when you’re actually asking an honest question.

“I love my kids, I—”

“I know you love your kids, Elliot. That wasn’t what I was asking. I’ve never had children, and I probably never will. I’m only wondering if you become so wrapped up in who they are, in their lives, that the part of you that existed before them no longer does. I’m not asking to start an argument. I’m genuinely curious.”

Elliot’s silent for a moment, and she wonders if date two is going to end in a crash course on romance. Too personal too fast. Too serious a question when the night has been mellow. And then he responds, and too personal too fast doesn’t exist for people who spend their days taking care of the other’s life.

“You become your kids, Olivia. You still have your life, your interests, but you care more about theirs. Elizabeth loves Gossip Girl. For so long, she’d always hint that she wanted me to watch it with her, and for the longest time I didn’t because I didn’t know that was what she wanted. When I finally figured it out, I sat down with her while it was on. I hated it. It was horrible and the epitome of what I hate about television, proving that it’s okay to mess around with the opposite sex at such a young age, to hang out with the wrong crowd, to be a spoiled brat, but I shut my mouth. It’s not that I’ve forgotten my identity. But seeing them happy is bigger than that.”

Cosmopolitan Rule # 4: If men tell stories of their children on the first date, the second date, anytime before the third date, the sex rule gets tossed aside. There is nothing more attractive than a good father.

Olivia finishes off her wine because in the end, I want to take you home and have sex with you, probably wouldn’t go over so well, and That’s such a sweet story, Elliot, might actually make her more pathetic than she figures she already is. Instead she smiles again and says, “That answers my question. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. You ready to go?”

Kiss my cheek at the front door, El, and we’re done.



August 7, 2008
9:48 P.M.

“Do you want to tell me why you have a teddy bear with a cop uniform on? With an unfortunate pair of sunglasses?” Elliot takes the brown bear off of the shelf and stares at it as she comes up behind him. “Are these the sunglasses you wore our first year together?”

“Shut up,” Olivia mumbles, handing him a glass of wine. She takes the bear out of his hands, placing it back on the shelf housing her CDs. “Maria Recinos got it for me after she got out of the hospital. She was the one who—”

Elliot moves to the couch and sits down with this back against the armrest. “Do you really think I don’t know who she is?”

“You weren’t there for it,” Olivia answers, and she sits in his exact position on the opposite side. She wonders if that’s hurt in her voice, or if it’s merely what she sounds like when she speaks of the little girl. “I wasn’t sure if you’d know her by name.”

He looks at the bear before turning back to her, ignoring her accusation, if that’s what it was. “It’s cute. Did I ever tell you the gift I got from Tommy Keegan?” She shakes her head, and Elliot shifts his wine glass from his left hand to his right. “Most of the kids we deal with get attached to you. You’re so good with them, you have that maternal instinct that most of them are craving, but Tommy wouldn’t let go of me the entire time he was with us.”

She nearly closes her eyes, the memories remaining filled with pain, with love, with emotions she has never come to understand. “I remember.”

“It was right after Eli had been born and I came into the precinct and the box was waiting for me. You were…” He pauses, and she goes back to that day again, to the moment things had changed, the moment he had touched her and she knew nothing would ever be the same. “You must have been at home, but Munch was there. He was convinced it was a bomb. A bomb or Jimmy Hoffa’s head.”

Olivia laughs. “Of course he did.”

“I opened it anyway, probably just to spite John, and there was all this Superman stuff inside. A couple of pencils, a notepad, and there was a note from his aunt inside. She kept saying that Tommy called me his Superman, that I was some kind of superhero. You always look at this job in technical terms. I never looked at it like that before, in terms of some kind of hero.”

She leans forward, resting her hand gently on his thigh. “For them, you are. You’re incredibly good at your job, Elliot.”

He puts his glass of wine down and pulls her closer. Inches sit between them now, yet no moves are made. She wipes her thumb over the rim of her glass, watching as the imprint appears and then fades. It’s ridiculous to her that at forty, games are still played when neither participant is willing to make the first move.

Screw it. If given the advantage in any game, whether it is life or something else, always make the first move before it’s too late.

Her glass of wine now rests beside his, and she doesn’t ask the questions that still plague her mind. She doesn’t ask why he had turned her down two nights ago; she doesn’t ask why, if she looks down at him now, his hands flutter on his lap, as if he’s shaking. She moves closer to him and places her lips on his. She doesn’t make a move again; she doesn’t do anything but get the feel of his mouth on hers. And when his lips falter, she captures his upper one, gently nipping the soft skin tasting of wine. She lifts her head and stares at him, watching him. She doesn’t look at the hesitance in his eyes; she looks past it, into something that she has deciphered for the past nine years.

Olivia leans down and kisses him again, her tongue brushing across his lips. His mouth opens; his hand carefully grazes her right hip. She takes the control, like she has so many times before, guiding the kiss into a fevered moment, slowing it down when she can no longer breathe. She doesn’t think of the rules, of the amount of dates, of the number of years they’ve spent building, breaking, and rebuilding their partnership. She moves closer to him, and she’s surprised at how much she wants him, how nine years had passed and it wasn’t until this moment that she realizes how much.

Elliot’s hands remain in place and she straightens. She wonders if this is supposed to be uncomfortable or if the sex should have just worked between them because walking beside someone for so long automatically means you know their moves. He’s tense. She can feel it in the way he sits, in the way his fingers grip her hip as if he’s holding on to the wreckage from the Titanic or something. Not the sexiest thing she can think about right now. She sighs, her breath hitting the corner of his mouth, and she moves to the other side of the couch.

“Elliot, if you don’t want to do this, it’s fine.”

He moves closer to her, his lips grazing hers. “Would you believe me if I said it’s not you, it’s me?” he asks, and she can swear his voice hints at the slightest lilt of a crack.

“We had a good date, a good couple of dates, but if that’s all it was, then it’s fine. We gave it a shot.”

“Is that what you think?”

At least the vibrator has never fought with her, not normally anyway. “Elliot, really, it’s fine.”

“Olivia, stop.” He sits up and leans his elbow on his thigh, glancing up at her. “I don’t…it’s not you, Liv. I slept with one person before I went back to Kathy the second time. But with you…” He lifts his head, planting both feet on the ground. “I’m going to go.”

“Elliot…” She places her hand on his thigh, forcing him to look at her. “It’s not a big deal. Look, all relationships at this point take time to get used to. You find a rhythm. Just because we’ve worked together for so long, it doesn’t mean…well, it doesn’t mean this is going to automatically work.” She holds her hand out to him. “If you fuck up, you know I’ll tell you,” she teases.

“Is your gun around here?” He looks around the expanse of her living room. “Just kill me.”

Olivia grabs his other hand, dragging him off the couch. She turns around to him, brushing her lips across his. “It doesn’t matter,” she whispers. “Stop thinking that it does.”

And without another word, she tugs him into her bedroom, the door slamming shut behind them.


August 7, 2008
11 P.M.

“To the left,” Olivia guides, shifting underneath him. She lifts herself off the bed slightly, gripping his shoulders with her nails. “Little more to the left.” She moans, drawing small scratches against his skin. “Oh God, like that.”

Elliot stops moving, nipping at her lips. “I was hesitant at first, Liv, it doesn’t mean I don’t know what I’m doing.”

Olivia flips him over, now on top. “Don’t be a wiseass.”

“Not being a wiseass.” He leans up, running his nails underneath her breastbone. “But I have done this right before.”

Give a man some confidence and he runs with it, as if he’s never had a problem at all.

“Then shut up and do it.”

She grinds over him, and as his fingers slip through her hair, he grips her hips with that shit-eating grin appearing on his face, the one he’s been known to give the accused. “Harder,” he mouths, jerking her hips forward so he tightens inside of her.

Olivia smiles, kissing the corner of his mouth. “You can be such an asshole.”

“You took control out there…” His fingers skim her right breast, massaging her beaded nipple between his fingers. “I think I’ve got it covered in here.”

She rolls her hips, and his teeth grind, his head falls back. “You should know by now,” she whispers, her voice husky, “that I never hand over my control.”

“Until now.” And before she can utter a sound, she’s on her back again. His movements are fast, hard, and she grips onto his shoulder once again, onto the map of scratches that have reached their destination. He lifts himself slightly, raising himself higher, and she moans the moment he slides himself down. “Is that good?” he asks, stroking his tongue around her edge of her nipple.

“Yes,” she mumbles, tightening her muscles. “God, Elliot, now.”

Elliot moves inside of her again, slowly rising in and out of her wetness. She brings his mouth down to hers, kissing him hard as he gives one last thrust inside of her, and she comes around him, his name loud in her bedroom. And moments after he comes behind her, he rolls off of her, his breathing deep, labored.

“You let me come first,” Olivia says. “Most of the time, I…Well, I can’t remember the last time that happened.”

Elliot laughs, brushing a piece of hair from her face. “I was raised to always put women before myself.”

“Oh.” She moves against him, her lips placing a gentle kiss against his neck. “That’s good to know.”


August 16, 2008
7:30 P.M.

“Don’t forget my pickle,” Olivia says, reaching into the large fridge next to the deli counter. She pulls out a diet coke and water, letting the door slam closed with a burst of cold air. “Here.” She hands it to him, and lets the icy drink brush across her heated skin. “I hate summer.”

Elliot wraps his arm around her, his lips touching her temple. “Get over it. It’ll be gone soon.”

“Not soon enough. What did you order?”

“Corned Beef, so you can have half of it since you never actually order it yourself.”

“You never used to let me eat your food.” Olivia smiles, knocking into him, his hand falling from her waist. “You used to grab it away like I had stolen your toys or something.”

“I did not! I just—”


They both turn at the sound of the deep voice, a man around Maureen’s age standing behind them. He’s good looking, with short dark hair, piercing green eyes. She wonders if his oldest daughter knows him, if this man belongs to his former life.

“Mark! Hey, man. I haven’t seen you around in a while.”

“I know. I was at my parent’s house in the Hamptons for a couple of weeks. Summer in this city sucks a lot.”

Olivia laughs, both men looking at her. “That’s exactly what I said.”

“Mark, this is Olivia Benson. Olivia, Mark Johnson. He lives in the apartment next door. Every once in a while he’ll take pity on me and let me watch a game with him.”

“I’ve been back for three days, Elliot, and there has been a whole lot of noise coming from our joint wall. I don’t think you need the pity. Hell, I think I need it more than you do.”

Olivia can feel the blush on her cheeks, the way Elliot stiffens beside her. Leave it to some college aged kid to make them feel like they’re fucking at one hundred. Mark doesn’t seem to notice though, not when she can feel his gaze on her, looking her up and down.

“Olivia. Elliot’s mentioned you a couple of times. His partner, right?” Before she can answer, he continues, taking a step closer. “I have to admit, I don’t think there is anything sexier than a female cop. I can’t explain it, but…look, this is totally presumptuous, I’m sure you think I’m too young, but would you ever want to go out some night? Maybe for dinner? A drink? I think Elliot can attest to the fact that I’m a decent guy.”

She stifles her laughter. Oh God. Is this guy actually hitting on her? She wants to make some comment, let herself smile in the face of his ridiculous question. She looks at Elliot, for the first time noticing that his hands have clenched, that he looks pissed off. Hell, it looks like he’s about to pummel some suspect who has just admitted his guilt.

“Olivia’s my girlfriend,” he answers, his arm finding a home back on her waist.

Mark doesn’t seem intimidated, not when he smiles, takes a step back. “It figures two cops would have amazing sex,” he mumbles. He holds up his hands, shaking his head. “Didn’t mean to step on toes, El. Listen, I have to go meet some of my guys for the Yankee game, but Elliot, we should have a beer soon.” He holds his hand out to Olivia, and she takes it, shaking. “I’m so sorry. Didn’t mean to hit on you. If I had known—”

“Don’t worry about it,” she laughs. “After a sixteen hour work day, it was good to hear.”

Olivia moves out of Elliot’s embrace the moment Mark is gone, grabbing the food that has been put on the counter. Men are idiots; all of them.

“What?” Elliot asks, stepping into sync beside her.

“Nothing, let’s go.”


August 16, 2008
8:15 P.M.

“You haven’t spoken to me since we left the supermarket,” Elliot says, pulling their food out of a paper bag and placing it onto his table. “You want to tell me what your problem is?”

Olivia leans back in his kitchen chair. She pours ketchup onto her plate, dumping a bag of fries. “You should have just peed on me when we were talking to Mark. I don’t think you claimed me quite as successfully without.”

“Is that what this is about? Some twenty-something kid was hitting on you. What did you want me to do?” He hands her half of his sandwich, stealing some of her fries in return. “Let him take you to his senior frat formal?”

“Would you have called me your girlfriend if he had just been saying hello? I don’t do the territory thing well, Elliot. I’m not your property to stake claim to.”

“You think that’s why I did it?” He moves his chair closer to her, his leg locking with hers underneath the table. “Look, Liv, maybe I should have…We haven’t discussed it, what we are to each other beyond friends, partners. I do know that this isn’t just sex to me.”

“I’m not saying it is. But are we just having fun, seeing where this is going, or are we dating?” Shit, she has never been good at this. She’s like the anti poster child for a decent relationship. “I’m not one of those women who asks where a relationship is going, because most of the time, I’m honestly not that invested to care. But if we’re…with work, I have to be the one to ask it. It’s more than sex, but is it something we’re continuing with?”

Elliot leans forward, kissing her jaw. “I called you my girlfriend because I wanted the punk away from you, but it felt right to do it. I come with a lot of baggage, Olivia.”

“Who the hell doesn’t? I know you have the ex-wife, the five kids. I’m not a newcomer to your life, El.”

“You’re never that invested. Are you now?”

How the hell did she get involved in this serious conversation so early on? Maybe Cosmo was right all those years ago. Was dating your best friend ever that smart?

Olivia closes her eyes, his mouth brushing against hers. “You mean a lot to me. I…We’re two weeks into this.”

“We’re nine years into it. You were right to ask. Are you willing to continue with this?”

“Yeah,” she finally whispers. “I’m willing.” Her eyes open, and she smiles at him. “I feel too old to be a girlfriend.”

“You just got hit on by someone my daughter’s age. You are not too old, Liv.”

“Thanks.” Her eyes narrow. “I think.” She pushes him back on his chair, and dips her French fry in ketchup. “Come on, let’s eat. I’m starving.”


August 21, 2008
5:45 A.M.

Cosmopolitan Rule # 5:
Sneaking out of a man’s bedroom—no matter what the circumstances—is sort of like taking a very long walk on a very thin line of barbed wire. One wrong move, one misstep and you’re done. There are no tricks. You just have to hope like hell you have soft feet and a hell of a lot of luck.

She didn’t want to wake him, at least not at this time of morning. The bright lights of his alarm clock shone into her eyes; the mattress was too hard. So, on night six of staying here this week, she had given up the notion of sleep. After seven years (with the exception of Kurt—although, she’s still not sure he counted) she’s come to figure out that she can do without sleep, as long as she’s getting sex. Well, as long as she’s getting sex from Elliot Stabler. She didn’t want to tell him of her dislike, instead remained on all other mornings, pretending to sleep but really staring up at the ceiling, at the shadows and shapes that formed and merged.

It wasn’t that she hated his room, or his apartment. She just never realized how much she would miss her own place, the mattress that had so perfectly formed to her over the years. But with month one, she treads lightly. Well, lightly for her, anyway. She complains when necessary, but keeps it to a minimum. Sure, she loves his bed. Sure, that alarm clock is great. Sure, her back feels like it’s lying on the hard ground all night.

Olivia tip-toes through his kitchen, and pulls a bottle of water out of the fridge. The lights from within cast a soft glow throughout the room and for the first time, she notices the colorful magnetic letters draped haphazardly across the surface. She’s surprised she hadn’t noticed it before. She’s also surprised the moment she spots raspberry yogurt in the back of his fridge, the kind she always has with her during mornings. Then again, stumbling through the apartment for sex makes fluorescent letters and raspberry yogurt so much less important.

There are remnants of an old message up, and she wonders which one of his children had put it there, what it had said. The ‘y’ and the ‘o’ remain pieced together, and she pulls some of the other letters off, creating a spot for herself. She stares at it for a moment, wondering what to write, wondering if he’ll even see. And then it comes to her, and she smiles, gathering the letters in her hand.

Is there a memo in Cosmo about what to do when you realize you’ve become the person you’ve always wanted to be?

She places a letter on the refrigerator door, followed by another one. A smile flits across her lips, and in the darkness she continues to write her message. Crap, she needs another couple of E’s.

He’s going to think she’s insane. Mentally, emotionally insane.


August 21, 2008
7:21 A.M.

“You are the unique one that really knew me. That’s poetic.”

Olivia laughs, cradling the phone between her ear and shoulder. “You saw the fridge message,” she says, pulling on her jeans. “Where did you get the translation?”

“Babelfish. I don’t think it’s ever translated anything correctly.”

“Tu eres el único que realmente me conoció.” The accent flows off the tip of her tongue, and she sits down on her bed, staring out into the city. “You’re the only one who really knew me at all.”

He’s silent for a moment, and shit, what were the rules for month one? Was she supposed to be somewhat romantic or was writing a lyric from one of her favorite songs moronic? Was it even more moronic when it was in another language?

“Why that lyric?” he asks, quietly.

“There was raspberry yogurt in your fridge.”

It’s not a full answer, but it’s enough. Maybe it’s always been enough.

“You were gone when I woke up.” There’s a pause in his words, and she breathes in between his. “I missed you. You about to leave for work?”

“In a minute. Do you mind if we sleep here tonight?”

There’s laughter in his voice when he responds, “You hate my bed, don’t you?”

“Hate is a strong word. Dislike immensely. I have to get going. See you soon.”

Cosmopolitan Rule # 6: Even when you survive bullets, knife wounds, the worst creatures on the face of the earth, the start of a relationship is something else entirely. The potential of falling in love has even the strongest person weak in their knees.

Chapter Text

Month Two: September, 2008

September 2, 2008
4:57 A.M.

Cosmopolitan Rule # 7:
In the first few months, there is never a bad time for sex. You can be on the train, in a car, in the middle of Times Square, but when you want it, you want it and not much is going to stop you from getting it.

“If you scream any louder…” Olivia trails off, pushing herself against him. Her tongue slowly licks his lips, his fingers tightening in her hair as the shower washes over them. “Then you’re going to have the entire NYPD up here in thirty seconds.”

Elliot grinds against her, pulling her slick body further against him. “It’s five o’clock in the morning,” he mutters, “and no one is here.” His mouth travels down her neck, lips moist from the fallen rain inside the stall.

“It’s a police department. There is always…” Olivia jerks her hips, causing him to falter, to brace the wall behind him. “Someone…” She pulls back, holding his throbbing dick in her hand. She massages the tip until his eyes glaze over, and then he’s back inside of her, barely able to keep his control. He comes inside of her, and as she watches his eyes flutter, his mouth remaining slightly parted. Her nails skim his hips and she brings her lips to his ear, her warm breath tickling his chilled skin. “Here.”

Elliot smiles, sliding his fingers through her wet hair. “I didn’t scream that loud.”

“Like a little girl,” Olivia teases.

“Just remember…” He pulls out of her, placing his feet on either side of hers. “I haven’t made you come yet. And now…” Elliot lowers himself onto the wet tiled floor of the shower, pushing her legs apart. “I know how to make you scream.”

He runs his tongue along the length of her, slowly, methodically. The good Catholic boy is good no longer. Olivia moans, but over the lukewarm drops of the shower nothing is heard, their secrets have yet to be discovered. She grips each side of his head in her palms, bringing him closer, forcing his tongue to dip inside of her. “I love when you do that,” she mumbles.

His tongue slides along the inside of her thighs. “I know you do.”

“You’re so damn smug,” she whispers. “If you know what I love, then make me come.”

His head is between her legs, and he licks the inside of her lips, her breath catching in her throat. She whimpers the moment his tongue touches her clit. Her knees buckle and she reaches behind her for leverage, fumbling to find something to hold her.

“You’re trying to kill me,” Olivia mumbles.

Elliot’s teeth scrape the sensitive bundle of nerves, making her gasp. “Killing you would require me stopping.” He braces the soles of his feet on the floor, and does just that. He licks her stomach—slow trails from her belly button to the underside of her breast, to the spot just behind her ear that he had discovered within the past couple of weeks. Her body hums, vibrates with the need, desire that he is withholding.

“Elliot,” she repeats, her voice stern. She pulls his head back, and the amusement in his eyes almost makes her smile. “Stop being a prick.”

He kisses her earlobe, his breath hot against her. “Stop complaining, Liv, because…” Elliot slides a finger inside of her, and her head falls back against her shoulders. “You know…” Another finger in and she whimpers, barely able to stand. “I’ll do it right.”

“Fine, Elliot.” She surrenders, just like he knew she would. “You win.”

“Mmm.” His lips trail down her neck. “Say it again.”

“Don’t push it.”

His hands now trail down the length of her slick legs and he pushes apart her thighs, his tongue finding the perfect angle on her clit. He gently sucks it, pulling her to the edge. She positions her hands on the sides of his face, bringing him closer.

“Elliot,” she pleads. “Now.”

His tongue works feverishly, and as the dizziness overwhelms her, she grabs onto whatever she can, anything that will keep her sturdy on her feet. She comes, his tongue dipping and weaving around her, and when the world steadies and the earth is once again upright, she looks down at the heaviness in her hand, at the teal plastic shower curtain she has just torn down.

Elliot looks up at her, and using the wall to pull himself up, he starts to laugh. “We need to get out of here before someone comes and sees this.”

Olivia kisses him softly on the mouth, her lips widening against his. “Thank you for that, Stabler.”

“If anyone asks,” he replies, turning off the shower. He nods in the direction of the torn, mangled curtain. “Lake did it.”


September 2, 2008
8:14 A.M.

“Benson, Stabler, I want you two to sit on Mancuso. If he leaves the apartment, follow him,” Cragen orders. “Lake, Fin, go to the hospital, interview the vic again, see if she remembers something. She’s been out of surgery for a day now; she might be a little more coherent.” He turns on his heel to leave, when Lake interrupts. “What is it, Detective?”

“I just thought I should let you know that there’s a curtain down in one of the showers.”

Olivia bites her lip to keep from laughing, forcing herself not to chance a glance at her partner.

“Well, Detective Lake, when I assign you and the other Hardy boys to the case of the torn shower curtain, I’ll be sure to ask for more details,” Cragen snaps.

She knows he’s going to do it before he does; Elliot starts to laugh and in a split seconds time, Cragen is no longer shooting venom at Lake. “Is there a problem, Elliot? Something you care to share with the group?”

“No problem, Cap. Olivia and I are going to head over to Mancuso’s. We’ll call you if there’s a lead.”

Olivia walks quickly out of the squad room, and in seconds, Elliot is beside her. She tilts her head, the smile evident on her face. “The case of the torn shower curtain?” she mumbles, stifling a laugh.

“I think that’s one case better left unsolved.”


September 2, 2008
11:32 A.M.

Cosmopolitan Rule # 8: When it comes to flirting, there are no specifics. You can bat your eyelashes all you want; you can lightly graze someone’s skin and think that means something. But you want the truth? Real flirting is not in the flicker of eyelashes, or a touch, or anything mediocre like that. Real flirting consists of a look, of laughter, of a personality so unlike your own, but one that has been inside of you all along.

“Does that make you Nancy Drew?” Elliot asks, handing over a packet of sugar.

“You mean if you’re the Hardy Boys?” Olivia takes it, pouring it into her coffee. “I guess it does.” She laughs and takes a sip of the hot liquid. “Lake’s a great guy, but what the hell possessed him to tell Cragen that?”

“He thought he was being helpful. I just remember that one time when Munch broke the desk lamp and instead of calling maintenance, he decided it would be funny to put it in Cragen’s office with that note that read—”

“I’m broken, please get my owner a new one so I can continue to brighten the world,” Olivia laughs. “I think if anyone aside from John did that, they would have been fired. Cragen just threw the note at him and told him to get a new one himself.” She leans back against the window, one eye trained outside. “He’s changed. Cragen, I mean.”

“We all have.” Elliot blows on his coffee, a cloud of steam billowing in the air. “Did you take Spanish in college?”

She stares out the window, gazing into the streets. She can feel the heat even in here, and she shifts uncomfortably. The air conditioner will come on, only after it’s unbearable. Olivia looks at him, with one eye still trained on the fourth floor window of their suspect’s apartment. “High school and college. I don’t think I’ve ever heard you speak another language.”

“I don’t, not really. I slept through most of Italian in high school.”

“Of course you did,” Olivia laughs. A gentle breeze blows through the morning, and she fumbles with the dials on the radio, turning the volume down low. “Listen, El, Simon invited me to dinner at his place when he gets back to town in a couple of weeks. Will you come with me?”

Cosmopolitan Rule # 9: When you’re asking the new boyfriend to come meet the little family you have, there’s always some sort of pressure. When that family was once accused of rape? It’s a whole new ballgame.

Elliot looks at her, and nods. Short, curt. “Sure.”

“That’s it? Sure?”

“He’s your brother, Liv. Of course I would go with you.” He opens his window a crack, the humidity seeping into the warm leather seats. “How fluent are you in Spanish?”

“Fluent,” she responds. “Why?”

“Teach me something.”

“Hola,” Olivia deadpans. “Can you close the window?”

“I know how to say hello in Spanish.” The automatic window slides closed. “Come on, we might have hours to kill in here. Give me something.”

She takes a sip of her coffee, before letting a smirk form on her lips. “Quitate la ropa.”

“Quit the ropes?”

Olivia laughs, covering the back of her hand over her mouth. “Quit the ropes? What the hell does that even mean in English?”

“Beats me,” Elliot shrugs. “What is it?”

It means that she wants to get him out of this car, up against a wall, on a bed. In moments like these, she wishes she had a nine to five. She wishes she had lunch breaks and supply closets to mess around in. When Kurt had tried to take her into the newspaper’s darkroom and make out with her, she had made up some excuse about work, about needing to run to an appointment. He wasn’t a bad guy; no, he was actually rather decent. But he wasn’t the kind of guy she had the raw sexual desire to do him anywhere and everywhere.

“Ropa is clothes.”

He lifts an eyebrow, and grins. “Quit the clothes?”

“Something like that. Quiero verte en mi…” Laughter spills from her lips, and she looks at him sheepishly. “Thong-o?”

“Thong-o?” Elliot grins. “You are profound. Quiero, that’s want. Did you just ask me if I wanted to do something to your thong?”

“No tengo calzones puestas.”

Elliot stares at her, confused. “Are we talking about pizza now?”

“No.” She rests her head back against the seat, the cup of coffee still warm in her hands. “Whatever happened to that radio station that played the movie theme songs?”

“They discontinued it when Against All Odds was beaten into everyone’s brains.” Elliot looks down at his watch, and while she hates stakeouts, she almost doesn’t want this one to end. “What was the theme to Top Gun?”

Take My Breath Away, I think. I once dedicated that song to my boyfriend at the time on the radio.”

“You’re such a romantic at heart, Detective.”

The rim of the cup touches her mouth. “Shut up,” she mumbles. Olivia turns her head towards him, and God, she wants him. She might hate his bed, his alarm clock, but she loves how his muscles fight against the sleeves of his shirts, the Marines tattoo, the way his eyes get a shade darker when he’s inside of her.

“Te quiero,” and she says it so quietly, she’s not even sure it has slipped past her lips.

He leans over the console of their car, his lips brushing against hers. “Me too.”


September 14, 2008
8:15 P.M.

Cosmopolitan Rule # 10 (with points A, B, C) :
Cosmo’s rules on bringing your boyfriend (and partner) to your brother’s (who was once a suspect in a rape) house for dinner. A: Don’t attempt to bring up work. All that animosity will come up again and nothing makes a night awkward like reminding your flesh and blood how you believed him to be bad. B: No speaking of the parents. The uncomfortable mention of “Hey, remember how your dad raped my mom?” isn’t the greatest way to get close. Nor is “Well, my mom started to drink a whole hell of a lot after your dad came along.” C: Make sure no fights break out. When your boyfriend knows your brother shot someone—even on accident—and vise versa, well, it’s not exactly the best impression you could give.

“Elliot, you have children, right?” Simon asks, over dinner.

There are candles lit in the middle of the table, and Olivia almost wants to laugh. Candlelit couples dinner with her partner and her brother. She should have tried this whole life thing a while ago. As it turns out, she’s not as pathetic or depressing as she once believed.

She’s surprised at how well Elliot’s behaving tonight—well, not surprised so much as…no, surprised sounds about right. Elliot Stabler in a relationship is almost like watching Bambi walk for the first time (not that she’s ever seen the movie.) Tentative at first, until taking charge, until finding it as natural as breathing.

“Five of them,” Elliot answers. “The youngest is nine months; the oldest is twenty-five.”

“How do you handle five kids?” Simon’s girlfriend asks, shaking her head. “There are times I can’t handle my one.”

“My ex-wife is more to credit than I am,” Elliot answers, honestly. “How old is your son?”

“Seven. He’s with my mother tonight.”

Olivia takes a sip of wine. “How did the two of you meet?”

Does something akin to a blind date count when it’s your brother?

“Luce?” Simon smiles, and for the first time, Olivia feels as if she’s known him her entire life. “You want to explain that one?”

“Simon and I met on the top of the Statue of Liberty.” She rolls her eyes, and a tendril of curled red hair slips from behind her ear. “I had taken my son, and Simon was up there with some old college buddies of his. One of his friends came over and started to flirt with me while my mother was showing James something. I’ve been a waitress for most of my life, used to the guys who do that, but I hate it. Swear I almost hit him, until Simon came over and broke it up. Hate to admit it, but I love the knight in shining armor routine.”

Elliot laughs. “You are so unlike Olivia.”

The glass of wine that is halfway to her lips stops in mid-motion. “He makes it sound like I have no investment in romance.” Olivia rolls her eyes, turning to Elliot. “For the future, I have some investment.”

She can feel her brother watching her like he had done on that first night, taking her in. “You probably intimidate the shit out of any man, don’t you?” Simon asks.

“You don’t know the half of it,” Elliot responds. “I’ll make note of the romantic in you, Liv.”

Lucy lifts her fork, bracing it against her now empty plate. “How long have the two of you worked together?”

“Too long,” they both mutter.

Simon and Lucy laugh and Elliot holds his hands up in defense. “I mean that in the best way possible.”

“You do not, and neither do I. You’re a pain in the ass to work with most of the time.”

“So are you, sweetheart.”

There’s a quiet lull in the room, and for the first time she hears the music that she wasn’t aware was on. It’s something soft, sweet and as the melody fades into a new one, Elliot’s foot touches hers. She looks up at him and smiles, and she considers that this could be romance enough. It’s simple, and in nine years it’s hardly the first time their feet have knocked against each other. But in the dining room of Simon’s home, it holds more meaning than any other relationship, any other man.

Wait, did he just call her sweetheart? There are no rules in Cosmo about that, because for normal people this is…normal.

Lucy reaches for the bottle of wine on the table, pouring the remaining bit into her glass. “You know what Simon and I were discussing the other morning? Have either of you ever been to Nunley’s? It was this amusement park on Long Island on the middle of Sunrise Highway. I grew up in the Bronx, but in high school my friends and I would always go there.”

“Wow, I haven’t thought of that place in a long time. I used to go there every summer,” Olivia responds. “My friends and I used to sit watching the roller coaster. You couldn’t pay me to get on that thing. It always looked like it was going to ram you face first into the fence. I also never understood why it was just there on a highway, right next to a high school.”

“I never understood that either,” Simon says. “I think I was always waiting for some kid to run out in the middle of the street because it was right there. I never understood the indoor carousel either. Always thought those things should be outside.”

“I had my first kiss on the carousel,” Olivia remembers. “What made you think of that?”

“We had passed by it on our way to see Luce’s father.”

“Isn’t it an auto place now? I think Elliot and I once drove past it when we were checking out a scene.”

Elliot stares at her, confused. “We did?”

“In our first year, I think. You’ve never gone?”

He shrugs. “We always went to Coney Island. I’ve heard of it, just never been.”

“Your first kiss was on the carousel?” Simons laughs. “Mine was on their Ferris wheel.”

She wonders if they had ever been there at the same time, if fate chose its time and place to make itself known, but was there between them all along.

“Do you ever wonder if we were there at the same time?”

She’s startled that he’s spoken the same things she was considering, like blood could determine thought process, the ability to read minds.

“I spent a lot of summers going with friends when I was growing up. I wouldn’t be surprised if we were. I thought you grew up in Jersey? You came all the way to Long Island?”

“When you’re that bored, it doesn’t matter where you live. I was on Long Island all the time back then. I used to love Jones Beach summer concerts.” Simon steals a left over piece of food on Lucy’s plate. Olivia almost smiles; she wonders if the true test of a relationship of any kind is when you can steal food off of someone’s plate as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. “Elliot, did you grow up in New York?”

“Flushing. I spent a lot of summers on the Jersey shore though.”

“I love the shore,” Lucy responds. “We were just there for a couple of weeks with my son.”

If Simon and Lucy were to marry, would that make James her nephew? Okay, so she’s the anti poster child for relationships, and apparently for understanding the confines of a family as well. She wonders if there are medals for people like her; either a medal or a dunce cap.

“You know what I’ve been meaning to ask?” Simon stares at Olivia. “What was your favorite game as a child?”

Olivia lifts an eyebrow, a whisper of a smile crossing her lips. “You’ve been meaning to ask me that?”

“Simon is like a child when it comes to games.” Lucy wraps her arm around the back of his chair. “I think he likes them more than James does, if that’s at all possible.”

“Let me guess,” Elliot muses, “Your favorite is Simon Says.”

Her brother laughs, and there’s something so childlike about it, so innocent. “I love that one but I don’t think the neighborhood pharmacist should be playing it with his customers. I used to love it as a kid, though.”

“I don’t think I have a favorite one,” Olivia shrugs. “I used to love playing Jacks. Or tag. Stuff like that.”

“You really don’t like games?” Elliot asks, turning to her. “You are the most competitive person I know. How did you not love stuff like that?”

“Jacks is competitive!” Olivia exclaims. “I kicked a lot of ass back in the day.”

“We should play one time,” Simon offers. “I bet I can beat you.”

“I think you might live to regret that, Marsden. When someone challenges her, she fights to the death.”

Olivia grins. “Yes, Elliot is my spokesperson. Challenging me is not a good idea.” She puts her arm around Elliot’s back, rubbing his shoulder. “He answers for me, because he’s lived to regret it.”

“No, I’ve never lived to regret it, Liv. My muscles, maybe, but…” And when he realizes what he’s said, when the blush has perfectly tinted his cheeks and the laughter around the table is evident, he speaks again. “I meant in combat.”

“That’s my sister, man. I don’t wanna know about it.”

“And on that note,” Lucy laughs, “I’m going to go clean up a bit. Would either of you like coffee?”

She’d like a new brain, maybe The Idiot’s Guide to Normal Conversations, Dating for Dummies: The Olivia Benson Edition but none of that will be happening anytime tonight.

“I’d love some coffee,” she says, instead. “Let me help you with that.”

“I got it.” Simon stands, taking her plate. “Elliot, coffee?”

“I would love some, thanks.”


September 14, 2008
9:00 P.M.

“I didn’t know that was where you had your first kiss, on the carousel.” Elliot wraps his arm around her shoulders. “How old?”

Olivia shifts beside him on Simon’s couch, crossing her legs. “Thirteen. He wasn’t even cute. He was the brother of my best friend at the time, a couple of years older than me. I have always liked them older,” she teases.

“Watch it, I’m not that much older than you.” He brushes the hair from her face, his knuckles rubbing against her cheek. “I had a lot of fun tonight. He’s actually not so bad.”

“No, he’s not.” She leans into him, and she often wonders if others can smell him on her even after she has showered. She’s come into work, still able to smell him on her like a new body wash or a second skin. Her hair slips onto his shoulder and she rests her head there, the exhaustion of the week taking hold. “Did you see the new message I put up on your fridge this morning?”

“I need a Spanish dictionary.”

Elliot massages her neck, and she closes her eyes, thinking of that moment in the car after she had first found her brother. It was in those weeks, his protection like it had once been that she found herself falling for him. There were feelings there, but not like it had been in that moment when he had selflessly decided to save her when she could no longer save herself.

He tilts her chin now, rubbing his mouth against hers. “You look beautiful tonight,” he whispers, his breath fluttering across her lips.

“Is this part of the romantic investment?”

“Is it working?”

She smiles, inhaling the fresh smell of coffee. “You’re not generally a romantic man, are you?”

“After nine years I would think you know the answer to that.”

“I used to think I did.” And then he kisses her again, and it’s soft, perfect. “Now I’m not so sure.”

Elliot bites her bottom lip, sucking it between his. She’s like that teenager who has just fallen in love, who wants her boyfriend anywhere she can get him. He slides his hand underneath her shirt, and his fingers warm her stomach as she deepens their kiss. God, he tastes like too much wine, and her tongue slides across his lips the moment his hand raises higher, gently cupping her breasts. There’s a moan that transpires in the room, a desire as she brings him closer, leaning back on the couch.

“Would you stop groping my sister, Stabler?”

Cosmopolitan Rule # 11: When you’re just beginning a relationship with a family member, try not to make out with your boyfriend on his couch on your third dinner together as family. Also, when you reach a certain age, don’t use the phrase making out.

Elliot’s hand slides out of her shirt, and she sits up straight. Shit. Hell of a way to impress her brother. Had she actually moaned? Oh God.


“What are your intentions with Olivia, Elliot?”

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” he mutters. “Do we really have to do this, Marsden?”

Is this what having a brother is like? Hell, it’s almost funny.

Olivia leans in close, her breath warm against Elliot’s skin. “I think this is what the girls go through when you grill them.”

“Shut up,” he mumbles. “I don’t think you want to know my intentions, Simon.”

“Do you—”

“Leave them alone, babe,” Lucy interrupts, placing two cups of coffee on the table. “Just because she’s never seen you, it doesn’t mean you’ve never been caught with your pants down. Figure of speech, of course.”

“How about we just forget it?” Olivia asks, standing up. “Because the last thing I want to think about is catching…” She stops, because does she really want to finish that sentence? “The coffee smells great.”

She makes her way over to the dining room table, with Lucy beside her. Despite their first meeting, the lies that had once been told, a decent relationship has started. Maybe Elliot had been right in the car that night. Maybe family is everything.

“Lucy, I am so sorry about—”

“Are you kidding me? Olivia, if he was my boyfriend, I wouldn’t have even left the house.”


September 14, 2008
10:15 P.M.

“Now that the guys are in the kitchen,” Olivia says, holding a hot mug of coffee in her hand, “I just wanted to apologize to you.” She looks at Lucy, one arm draped over the back of the couch. “I don’t think I ever said I was sorry for how we first met and—”

“Olivia, stop. You have no reason to apologize.” She nods her head in the direction of the kitchen. “I wasn’t kidding before. Elliot is gorgeous. I’m surprised you even made it out here tonight.”

Okay, this whole girl talk thing like she’s sixteen? She doesn’t really know how to do that. Or how to admit that her boyfriend is “gorgeous.” She’s attracted to Elliot; she thinks he’s extremely good looking, but he’s not exactly George Clooney “gorgeous.”

“Really?” It’s out of her mouth before she has the chance to realize she’s indulging in the world of women.

“You didn’t know?” Lucy asks, laughing.

“I, uh…” Olivia shakes her head, with a smile. “I’ve noticed he’s attractive, yes.” She wonders what questions to ask, what is allowed, what isn’t. Oh what the hell; she’s never not been direct before. “Are you and Simon considering marriage anytime soon? I know you’ve been together for a while.”

“I think so, yeah. He didn’t want to get married for the longest time. When everything happened with his parents…” Lucy pauses for a moment. “Sorry, I—”

Olivia touches her arm, giving her a small smile. “It’s fine.”

“It made him not want to get married for a while. I think he’s seen the harm it can do, you know? He seems to be interested in it these days, though. You ever think about marrying Elliot?”

If she had been drinking, surely that would have made her choke. Her eyes widen, and she quickly shakes her head. “No. I mean, we’ve been dating for a little over a month. I don’t think he’d even be willing to get married again.”

“What about you? Would you consider it if the time were right?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think you necessarily have to be married to commit to someone and I’m not sure I’d be all that good at it. I can barely handle the dating.”

“No one handles dating all that well. It’s when you get far enough into it that it becomes something else.” Lucy reaches for her coffee, the heat still rising from her second cup. “I’m really glad Simon has you, Olivia. You coming into his life was one of the best things that could have happened to him. Your relationship means a lot to him.”

The truth tightens in Olivia’s throat, and she nods. “It means a lot to me, too.”


September 20, 2008
3:51 A.M.

Cosmopolitan Rule # 12:Once upon a time, when man was created, these little things called temptation and curiosity were brought into the world along with it. It was temptation that caused Eve to take a bite of the poisonous apple; it was curiosity that had Adam following when death was not bestowed upon his love like once promised. From the beginning, the start of a relationship has been filled with questions. Some are simple, easy answers while some are nothing more than the temptation of knowing, the curiosity that never seems to leave until questions are asked. Curiosity killed the cat, and temptation damned women for all of eternity and the truth is, we can never escape either no matter how hard we try.

“How many men have you slept with?”

The Elliot in her dreams needs to shut the hell up, because when he’s doing that thing with his tongue, his mouth should be otherwise occupied. But when she feels his fingers on the back of her neck, tickling her, and that dream with his tongue has been tossed aside and she’s been thrown back into reality, into a question that she has no idea how to answer, she knows she’s being forced to awaken.

Olivia opens one eye, adjusting to the light from the alarm clock. “It’s almost four in the morning, Elliot,” she mumbles. “We haven’t slept for almost three days, and I don’t know why you’re even asking me that question, let alone now.”

“I can’t sleep.” His voice is soft, his touch even softer as he massages her neck.

She rolls over so that she’s facing him, her eyes adjusting to the darkness. “So, you decided to wake me and ask me that? Why does it matter?”

“I don’t know if it does, but I’m asking you to tell me.”

She sighs, not knowing how to give this answer. He’s a man who is committed to God, who has slept with three, maybe four women in his entire life doesn’t need to know her extensive history of bed partners.

“Elliot, I…I don’t know. I don’t have a list written out in my journal of all the men I decided to sleep with over the years.”

“Stop being defensive.” He brushes his lips across hers, and these days, even when she wants to hate him, she can’t find it in herself to do so. “I’m not asking because I’m going to judge you based on the number.”

“Then why do you need to know?”

“Liv, I don’t…When people date, they discuss this stuff.”

She stares up at the ceiling, her eyes closing. “We’ve been friends for ten years. I just…” She turns back onto her side, lifting herself so she’s level with him. He watches her, running his hand down her bare arm. “I don’t have a number for you, El.”

“More than twenty?”

“If I answer your questions, are you going to answer mine?”

“Three women, including you.”

“Was Dani Beck the third?”


“You want me to answer your questions, then you need to answer mine.”

In the darkness, Elliot shakes his head. “I never slept with Dani, no. You, Kathy and someone I casually dated during the separation. Anything else you want to know?”

“Yeah, when the hell did you become so willing to talk,” she mutters.

So, he’s slept with three women. He’s going to think she’s a whore. God-fucking-damnit.

Olivia captures a loose thread from his blanket between her fingers. He’s staring at her, the heat of his gaze burning the crisp air of fall into fire. “I’ve never been married, and I don’t…I don’t do long term relationships. I work too hard, I’m never home, I barely get the chance to talk to the few friends I have left let alone go out on dates…” She closes her eyes, taking in a breath. “I’ve had one-night stands; I’ve had dates that resulted in sex. It has to be more than twenty.”

“Liv,” Elliot murmurs, softly, and it’s now the heat of his hand against her arm that causes the fire to burn, to erupt. “I’m not judging you. I’m asking. I’m not going to end this if you tell me you’ve slept with a hundred men or two hundred men or--”

She laughs, “Okay, I know it’s not that many.” She moves closer to him, resting her head on the edge of his pillow. The thread slips through her fingers, falling onto the corner of his pillowcase. “If I had to guess, it’s somewhere between thirty and forty. I…I’m careful with who I sleep with, and it’s been a long time since I’ve been with someone I wasn’t dating, but when you’re not married, sex is, well it is what it is.”

“You keep telling me you don’t do long term. Are you going to be the one who leaves this relationship after a few months?”

She wants to tell him that it’s been almost ten years and she’s never left him, but the words split apart on the tip of her tongue. She has left him, twice. “I don’t do long term because I can’t when it comes to our job. Kurt was extremely understanding, and I know he tried his best, but he couldn’t get it.”

“Is that why you broke up with him?”

“It was one of the reasons. He asked me to move in with him. We were about three and a half months in, and I couldn’t do it. I liked him a lot in the beginning, but I couldn’t force it to work and I didn’t want it to work badly enough for me to try.” She smiles at him, and in the darkness, she can see him return it. “Are you done interrogating me, Detective?”

“How come when you say that it sounds like a turn-on?”

“It wasn’t.” Something in her heart stirs, and she wishes morning weren’t so soon, that work wasn’t once again going to invade their lives. “El, I’m not…I wouldn’t just end this with you. I hope you know that whatever—”

He cuts her off, pressing his lips to hers. He tastes like toothpaste and she wonders how long he’s been up, how long he’s been thinking of things like the number of people she’s been with in her life.

“Are you still tired?” he murmurs, sliding his hand across her skin.

“You mean am I going to give up my precious hours of sleep, so we can have sex?”

Olivia sits up, climbing on top of him. Her legs slide on either side of him as she gently rocks over him, her mouth lingering above his. “You never said anything about the amount of men.”

He lifts his head, captures her lips between his. “It doesn’t matter,” he breathes. “It was a question, nothing more.” He slides his hands through her hair. “So, are you giving up your precious hours of sleep for sex?”

She can feel the stirring of his erection as she moves against him. She can sleep tomorrow; she can sleep when she’s dead.

“I’ll give up the precious hours,” she whispers.


September 23, 2008
6:12 A.M.

On the first night of fall, they had broken his bed.

It’s still a haze, not because there was alcohol, but because it had been so fast, so filled with passion that it was like a fading dream that would always be memorable. Her clothes were half off before they even made it inside the door, items shed across his living room as he backed her hard against the wall. There had been a yell, followed by laughter as he lowered her black lace underwear to the ground.

And then there had been his tongue, all over her, inside of her. The moisture of his mouth as it chilled her skin, as it breathed against her clit. She had screamed; she must have. She can’t be sure if the bruises along her back were from him fucking her against the wall, or if it had happened later when the bed had lost balance and stability.

He had wanted her on that night two days ago. There had been a beer or two with their co-workers down at Maloney’s, and she had watched him. She had watched how his shirt and tight jeans clung to him, how his lips lifted into the smirk he had perfected over time. She had been cold, and without thinking, he handed her his leather jacket. It had smelled of him, and she remembers how she nearly pulled him into the bathroom, probably would have if he wasn’t kicking Munch’s ass in a game of pool.

There was a car ride; she thinks it was the Jeep and not the sedan. He tried to make conversation, as she tickled her fingers across the nape of his neck distracting him. He scolded; of course he did. But the second they reached the entrance to his building, his hand had snaked underneath her shirt, her nipples hard, peaked.

He had pressed himself against her in the elevator, and it had nearly happened there until he dragged her out and into the door to his two bedroom apartment, clothing gone. At some point they reached his bed. She had pushed him down, slid over him.

It happened at some point within the next few minutes, the crack that sounded over her name, her screams. The bed had tilted, and she had stopped, the laughter uncontrollable as he remained inside of her.

Last night his daughter had spent the night, and at around midnight, alone in her own bed, she saw his text message sent earlier that night. Liz wants to know what happened to the bed. Think she’ll believe I jumped on it?

She hasn’t spoken to him since that, and as she enters the locker room of the precinct, she wonders if he’s here. The room is silent and she opens her locker, a pink frosted cupcake sitting inside, with a note attached to it. Two red gummy bears sit on top, and she has that desire to laugh uncontrollably again. She wonders how long it will take before Cragen sends her down to psych for a hysterical consult.

Olivia lifts the note, his handwriting scrawled across it.

Bake sale for the Booster Club. Thought you’d want one. You coming with me to get a new bed?

Chapter Text

Month Three: October, 2008

October 1, 2008
7:11 A.M.

Cosmopolitan Rule #13:There are generally sixty days during the first two months of a relationship—give or take. On day sixty-one—the start of month three—prepare for the honeymoon to end. Sure, the sex is still great, the laughter is still there but on day sixty-one, maybe sixty-two or sixty-three, the haze lifts and the real relationship begins.

“There’s something we’re missing,” Olivia says, flipping through the file on her desk. “We’ve been on this case for over a week now. What the hell aren’t we getting?”

Elliot leans back in his chair, and she sees the exhaustion there, the ring of red around his eyes that hasn’t ceased in the past eight days. She doesn’t think either of them have left work for more than an hour every third day, and she’s come to realize that sanity isn’t a requirement, but more a welcoming gift. She’s lost that gift somewhere between day six and day seven when running on four hours of sleep in a week became impossible.

“We’re not getting it because we don’t want to,” Elliot answers. He rubs his hands over his eyes, and she notices how the red has gotten even darker. “To know a cop could have done this—”

“No, that makes me want to catch the son-of-a-bitch even more. We questioned every officer who was at the school that night. Usually I get a feel for the perp, but…” She needs sleep, or an orgasm, or something that can refresh her. “I’ll never understand how someone who has vowed themselves to this job can turn like that.”

“Yet it happens all the time. What if it wasn’t a cop? What if it was someone who was pretending to be a cop? He knows the school is armed with them, what better way to get away with a crime than blame it on the uniform? Someone who has an issue with authority, who has been in trouble before.”

Olivia sighs, turning another page with no more answers than the one before it. “What are we supposed to do? Question every male student and teacher in that school?”

“What other choice do we have?”

While stumbling through his apartment, dinner with her brother, cupcakes, and Spanish that has become quite dirty, she has almost forgotten how infuriating he can be. “It’s here, Elliot. Marissa saw the badge.”

Elliot clenches his fists, the white of his knuckles pressing against the edge of the desk. “So, we rule out students and teachers because she saw a badge that could have been picked up from a costume shop? Come on, Olivia. Why the hell are you so sure it’s a cop?”

“Why the hell are you so sure it isn’t?”

The door to their captain’s office opens, and Don Cragen doesn’t look all that thrilled. Not that he ever does these days. “I thought I told the two of you to go home and sleep. Munch and Fin are out talking to Marissa Calloway now. I want the both of you out of here for the next few hours. You need a break.” And when Olivia opens her mouth to argue, her captain closes it with a glare. “I won’t listen to the two of you bicker. Go home, sleep for a couple of hours and then come back. You’re not doing anyone any good at this point.”

She almost finds it in her to laugh when she remembers that Elliot still hasn’t purchased a bed. There hadn’t been enough time and when Maureen had crashed there two nights ago while he was at work, there had been another inquiry about the state of his sleeping arrangements. His oldest daughter had questioned it, and then stopped, letting out a squeal of disinterest and disgust. There had been a rant about Days of our Lives and some couple who broke a former ex’s bed. And then a dial tone when she realized she already knew too much.

Don shuts his office door, and Olivia looks up at Elliot, lifting an eyebrow. “You coming home with me?” she asks, quietly.

“We’re not discussing the case,” Elliot answers, grabbing his jacket off the back of his chair.

“Don’t come with me if you’re going to act like this. I’m not in the mood.”

“You’re still discussing it.” His voice is tense, and it’s been a while since she’s wanted to kick his ass. At least now she feels more like herself, instead of that idiotic schoolgirl with a new boyfriend. “I really need a new bed.”

“At least now we agree on something.”


October 8, 2008
10:59 P.M.

Cosmopolitan Rule #14: Men and women are nothing alike. Forget the bullshit of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. It’s more like Men are from the land of not giving a crap, and women are from the land of competition and holding onto grudges. A week after a fight, women are still angry, but when asked why most will have no idea. On a man’s end, give him a beer, a television remote and all the mistakes of the past are long since forgotten. It’s said that women live longer than men; in reality, women only live longer because they’re too busy being pissed off to let go.

“You need to get a bed, Elliot,” Olivia mumbles, rolling over in bed. The glare of the television blinds her when she cracks open her right eye, the random movie Elliot has chosen filling the room with a soft glow. “Can you turn off the TV?”

“In a minute, I like the end of this movie.” He lowers the volume on the remote, glancing at her. “You want to tell me why you’re pissed off at me?”

“What are you talking about?”

“I’ve worked with you for almost ten years, Liv. You do this thing where you act like you’re not pissed, but clearly are. So instead of telling me to get a bed, or slamming my car door shut, or throwing your files at me, why don’t you just tell me what I did this time?”

“I’m not doing this right now,” she mumbles, pulling the covers over her head. “I’m exhausted.”

“You don’t even know why you’re mad, do you?”

Olivia peels the comforter off of her, glaring at him. The blue of his eyes seem lighter in the glow of the television and there’s a battle raging inside of her—good verses evil. The good wants to break her own bed with him; the evil wants to take her Glock off the nightstand and kill him.

“Do you always have to be so infuriating, Elliot?”

She likes to think that the Elliot she worked with for so long would storm out of the apartment, go to the precinct and beat the crap out of something heavy. But he merely smiles, his lips never fully parting. He slides his hand through her hair, and she sighs, closing her eyes.

“You were right about Marissa Calloway’s case. I should have listened to you, and I’m sorry.”

Olivia’s eyes pop open, her lips tugging upwards. “Did you just admit you were wrong and apologize?”

“Isn’t that why you were pissed?”

“I’m just tired, El,” she whispers. “It’s been a long couple of weeks.”

He turns off the television, the darkness rising over them. He slides halfway underneath the covers, and she finds herself resting against his chest now, the beat of his heart vibrating against her cheek. He’s gentle, and it scares the shit out of her sometimes that he can be like this, that their pasts, their dramatic lives don’t always seem to matter.

“Dickie asked about the bed this time.”

“What did you tell him?”

“That I dropped something heavy on it.” Olivia smacks him in the chest, and he laughs, grabbing her hand. “We both broke it, Liv.” He brushes his lips against her hair. “You smell so good.”

She shifts beside him, placing her hand over his heart. The steady rhythm is like a metronome in her brain—concise, constant. “When do we tell Cragen about us?”

“Let’s hold off for a while, okay?”

For as strong as she can be, Olivia Benson will always be tangled in her web of doubt. “El, if you don’t want—”

“Olivia,” and his voice is so tender, so warm, “I’m not getting out of this with you. I’m not waiting for some shoe to drop, or for us to split up. You’re a pain in the ass to work with sometimes, I don’t agree with you a lot of the time, but you’re still my partner. Until we absolutely have to, then no one needs to know.”

She thinks about that dinner with Simon, about the people she works with that know nothing of her life except the faults, the caked on armor. “It sucks sometimes.”

“What does?”

“Being in a relationship and keeping it a secret.”

Elliot’s hand slides across her shoulders, down her neck. “When was the last time you ever broadcasted a relationship of yours?”

“I’d like the option,” she smiles.

“Fine, but the moment we tell people and Munch starts asking questions you don’t want to answer, remember that we had this conversation.”

“This is going to come back and bite me on the ass, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, it is.” His lips whisper across her skin, and the goose bumps form, chilling her. “You once mentioned you can Mirandize in a bunch of languages. Say one for me.”

“What is with your love of other languages all of a sudden?”

“I want to hear it.”

“What language?”

Elliot considers it for a moment, before smiling. “French.”

Olivia sighs, propping herself up on an elbow. “Vous avez le droit de garder le silence. Dans le cas contraire tout ce que vous direz pourra être utilisé contre vous devant un tribunal. Vous—”

Elliot kisses her, flattening her against the mattress. “It’s like dirty cop talk.”

“You’re an idiot,” she laughs. A slight breeze comes in through the cracked window, and she moves closer to him. There’s a brief moment where she wonders how she had lived without this when it came to him, how nearly nine and a half years brought her here. “Where were you when you had your first kiss?”

“What?” She can feel his smile against the crown of her head, the way his fingers weave through her hair like it’s a piece of art.

“You know mine.”

“I was best friends with this girl when I was fourteen. Her name was Missy, and she lived down the block from us. Her uncle had a boat on one of the docks on Long Island and one summer I went with her and her family. She kissed me while her dad and uncle were fishing.” His fingers go limp in the tangled mess of her hair. “Wow, I haven’t thought about her in a long time.”

The wind is loud tonight, the whispering gusts acting as haunting ghosts in her bedroom. She closes her eyes, and finds her sanity within the beats of his heart. “What else don’t I know about you?”

“When you were in Oregon, I’ve never hated someone and missed someone as much as I did then.” His grip on her tightens, and she wants to remind him that he once had a wife who made him feel exactly the same way. “You did the right thing in leaving.”

There had been some mention of Days of our Lives recently, and every once in a while she thinks her life is as pathetic, as dramatic as some soap opera. What’s more serialized than a cop who’s the product of rape, whose father and mother were drunks, whose relationship is secret with a boyfriend who has as dramatic a past as her own. God, when she thinks about it like that she is more tragic than the character who got possessed by Satan.

Olivia opens her eyes, and sees nothing there but his compassion and she wonders how long it takes to fall in love with someone you’ve known for the most important years of your life. She wraps her hand around his neck, bringing his lips down to hers.

“How long do you think it’ll take before we break this bed?”


October 19, 2008
11:23 A.M.

Cosmopolitan Rule #15
: The truth of the matter is that most beds survive longer than most relationships. When marriages end (and the couple doesn’t have children or pets that are loved as children), the fight for custody is about the bed you spent all that time sleeping next to each other on; that one mutual decision that you’re probably still going to agree on. Before the purchase, there are intense discussions on the hardness of the mattress, the framing, the kind of headboard needed. However, if forced into a new purchase and the relationship is still too young, how much of a say does the significant other have? You can hate the mattress. You can want something softer, something harder, something in a different color, but how long do you have to be in a relationship in order to be heard? Here’s a word of advice. Don’t break the bed until both your names are on the lease. Or there’s a large diamond on your ring finger.

“I can’t believe it’s taken you a month to finally come look for a new bed,” Olivia says, glancing at a price tag on a full sized mattress.

“I can’t believe you’re still complaining about it.” Elliot stops, sitting down on the mattress she has just looked at. “What about this one?”

There’s a good chance that spending a Sunday in IKEA is somewhere along the lines of spending a summer in hell. She’s noticed how people seem to stand still, like the world has become frozen, and all at once insanity resumes. She’s had three carts jammed into her heel in the one hour she’s been here, and shit, she hates Elliot’s choices of hard mattresses. She can swear she’s getting the hives from all these people crowded around her, from the yelling, the amount of noise.

“Do you like it?” Olivia asks, leaning against the wall.

“I don’t know.” He moves against it, and this almost causes her to smile. Like he’s drawing her in with the insinuation of sex. “Get over here, and tell me what you think.” He reaches his hand out to her, and she takes it, falling onto the bed beside him.

Does she like it? No. The damn mattress is as hard as rocks.

“It’s fine, El. Why are you getting a new mattress anyway? It’s your frame that broke.”

“Maureen’s moving into a new apartment and she wants it. She says it helps her back.” Elliot lies there, staring up at the ceiling. “You’re going to be sleeping on it. You can tell me if you hate it.”

“No, I can’t.”

He tilts his head, and she finds it amusing that they’re lying on a bed in IKEA discussing their lives. Yeah, she hasn’t gone insane at all. “Olivia, we spend nearly every night together. I’m not going to get a bed you hate sleeping on.”

She really cannot comment on the bed. She can comment on his driving when they’re going to interview a victim. She can comment on the tea he still gives her even when she’s made it clear that lack of sleep means dire need for coffee. Hell, she can even comment on his sexual performance, but this. No. This is not her place.

“Like I said, it’s fine. If you like it, you should get it.”

“Do you think after all this time I still haven’t figured out when you’re not telling me the truth?”

Fine. Then commenting it is.

“It feels like I’m sleeping on a grate. I need a softer mattress, and for the frame, you need something darker or else it won’t go with your dresser and this one only comes in white or that light color.” She smiles at him, resting her hand on his arm. “That being said, it’s still your apartment. You can feel like you’re sleeping on concrete, you can have your room mismatched, and I’ll see you on the nights you decide to come to me.”

“You’re never opinionated enough, Olivia. Sometimes you have to take a stand for what you believe in.” And damn, did he just drown this entire store in his sarcasm. He sits up, reaching his hand out to her. “Come on, let’s go find a softer mattress and a frame that matches the damn dresser.”


October 22, 2008
7:09 P.M.

“Three miles.” Olivia lowers the speed on her treadmill, her pace slowing the slightest bit. “In twenty-seven minutes.”

Beside her, Elliot turns his head. “Three miles in twenty-five minutes.” His run turns into a light jog, and in the precinct gym, he smiles wide. “You used to be able to do this in twenty-four, Liv. You’re slacking.”

“I’m not slacking, I’m tired. Give me one more mile. I’ll catch up.”

“You’re on.”

Both of them speed up on their treadmills, the slamming of feet against the black mat mixing in with the television on the wall above them. The picture fades against the static, squiggles wiggling across the small screen. She hadn’t noticed until now the game show that remains on, and she strains to hear over the pounding of their feet.

The host, one of many over time, reads from his perfectly constructed cards. She wishes her life was like that; instructions, rules and procedures drawn up on cue cards that she could read off of when the words wouldn’t come themselves.

Top Five Excuses to Get Out Of A Blind Date.

“I have to work late,” Olivia says aloud.

Elliot looks at her, one eyebrow raised. “What are you talking about? We finished work an hour ago.”

She laughs, nodding in the direction of the television screen. “Family Feud. Question was the top five excuses for canceling a blind date.”

“I have to work late, huh?”

Survey says: Number two answer on the board.

He keeps his pace steady, a smile lingering on his lips. “Go on. Get number one.”

She can impress him with interrogation tactics, compassion for the victims and apparently answering questions on Family Feud. These things are good to know.

“Some kind of emergency. Family, friend, anything related to an ER.”

The person on screen answers with the same response Olivia has just given.

Survey says: Number one answer on the board.

“You’re good. How many blind dates have you cancelled on in the past?” She can tell by the rhythm of his voice that he’s slowly losing his battle to run.

“More than enough.”

“All right, we’ve got one and two. Give me number three.”

At least this is taking her mind off the fact that her legs are starting to become heavy. “I’m too sick to go out.”

Someone on screen—a male who has probably never been stood up to his knowledge—says something about a pipe bursting and not being able to make it. It’s no surprise to Olivia when the big red X blares out of the speakers.

His wife, obviously embarrassed at her moronic husband, gives him a little slap to the arm. “Getting sick!” she exclaims, way too excited. Olivia figures this woman misses the moments where she could fake sick, instead of being out with her dopey husband. She must fake a lot of headaches.

Survey says: Number three answer on the board.

“I’m impressed, Liv. We should stick you on a game show.”

“Yeah, Elliot, let’s take time out of my boring schedule and go do that.” The sweat slides down the back of her shirt, and she picks up her pace a bit. Damn, she has to finish this mile already. “How many blind dates have you ever cancelled?”

“You mean with all the dating I’ve done?”

“You’ve never bailed on a date? Even in those couple of years Kathy and you separated? You didn’t get set up with someone who you had no interest in going out with?”

“I’ve cancelled twice. But I really was working.”

Shit, there’s a cramp in her side. Has she really gotten this old? “You would have given the pipe bursting answer, wouldn’t you?”

“I thought it was a good guess,” Elliot admits with a smile. “I guess you won’t let me onto Family Feud with you.”

“Shut up.”

“So, what was your favorite excuse?”

“I usually was working, but if I wasn’t and didn’t want to go and I didn’t want to use work as an excuse, I would tell them I had to go take care of a sick girlfriend. A couple of them then proceeded to ask if I was a lesbian, and they would come help me as long as when she was feeling better, they could watch.”

With bated breath, he laughs. “You’re joking, right?”

“I told you. A lot of blind dates in the past.”

There’s a buzz on screen and she looks up. She hadn’t even noticed the board had changed, that new questions were being asked, new lists were being made.

Top Five Things Someone Does To Relax.

“Have sex,” they both say in unison.

“Well,” Elliot laughs, “at least we both have the same idea.”

She hears the squeals of a woman on the television, excited over her answer. Taking a bath.

Survey says: Number one answer on the board.

“Soaking in a bath is not relaxing,” Olivia disputes. “You’re just sitting there, soaking in your own filth and wasting time. How is that relaxing?”

“Because most people know how to relax better than you do, Olivia.”

“When was the last time you took a bath?”

“Probably when I was three. Men don’t bathe.”

The moronic husband who mentioned pipes bursting gives sex as an answer. It figures she would give a man’s answer; it figures the woman who spends every second of the day with guys would choose sex as a number one.

Survey says: Number three answer on the board.

“What do you think two is?” Elliot asks.

Despite being out of breath, despite being exhausted, the stress of the day helps lessen the moment her feet hit the faux pavement. “Working out.”

“I don’t think normal people find working out relaxing. People relax with a beer, with television. Cops relax with sex and working out.”

“People who are having good sex relax with sex. If you’re having bad sex it’s a hassle, not relaxation.”

“You just named sex as your number one.”

“Yeah, well, I’m having good sex.”

“Thank you.”

She doesn’t need to look at him to see the grin he’s giving her. “Don’t flatter yourself, El. I do have a vibrator.”

“You haven’t used it since—”

“I think I’d rather not discuss it here. And what do you mean normal people? We’re normal.” But even as she says it, laughter bubbles up in her throat. “Nevermind.”

When she looks at the television again, all five answers seem to have appeared. She spots working out as number five, TV and beer as number two. A massage has made it up there as number four. Somehow having a stranger’s hands touching her, that doesn’t seem relaxing. Target practice, however… He was right. She really isn’t all that normal.

“We’re down to the final question.” The host’s voice is filled with fizzling volume, and she needs a remote or something to make it louder. “Name Something A Woman Might Leave A Lipstick Mark On.”

“A penis,” Elliot answers, just as “A condom,” comes out of her mouth.

“We’ve been doing our job for too fucking long,” Olivia mutters.

“No kidding.” His treadmill slows, his breathing deep. “One mile, seven minutes.”

“Fuck. I won’t hit it until eight.” Her run turns into a slow jog as she catches her breath. She takes a long sip of water, throwing Elliot the towel hanging off her machine. “Next week, I’ll outrun you.”

“You’re getting old, Benson.”

“And the older I get, you’re still a few years older. Don’t ever forget that.” She lowers her head to her neck, attempting to bring air into her lungs. “I need a shower.” Elliot steps off his treadmill, soaked in sweat, and she smiles. “So do you.”

He lifts an eyebrow, grinning. “We can go—”

“Not showering with you here,” she whispers, lightly kissing his lips. “I don’t think anyone’s going to buy the case of the torn shower curtain twice.”


October 29, 2008
1:11 A.M.

“Hey, you awake?” Elliot asks, placing a gentle kiss on the back of Olivia’s head.

The hair on the back of her neck tickles her skin with his heated breath. “Yeah,” she murmurs. She turns over on her side, finding his eyes in the darkness of his bedroom. “Can’t sleep.”

She can feel his stare on her, the watchful protection from his gaze that she’s gotten so used to over the years. “I’m sorry.”

“For what? You didn’t wake me.”

“No, I mean…I just wasn’t thinking about it, and if I had remembered—“

“Elliot,” she interrupts, confused. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“Last month, I forgot your mother’s anniversary. I had remembered days before but you know how it is. Sometimes a whole month will pass and you have no idea how you got there.”

When did she start sleeping with the King of All Things Random?

“You’ve never remembered before, and I’ve never expected you to. It’s no different now.” She smiles at him, staring up at him from the cushion of his pillow. “If it makes you feel any better, we had great sex that night.”

“Olivia, I’m being serious.”

She sighs, and props herself up on an elbow. Sleep will once again be in short supply. “What did you want me to say, Elliot? Hey, today’s the anniversary of the day where my mom got drunk and fell down the stairs? There’s no good way to bring it up, so I didn’t. Why does it even matter?”

“Because she was your mother. Because I’m not just your partner anymore and you should have talked to me about it.” He brushes his lips against her forehead, chills forming across her skin. “You never talk about her.”

“You never talk about yours either. Look, El, I didn’t remind you because we were two months into a relationship. We were two months in and we were either working or having sex, and bringing up that kind of anniversary isn’t…it doesn’t feel right. We worked, and that night we came home, relaxed, had incredible sex, and whether you knew the date at the time or not, it was fine.” She flattens herself on her back, staring up at the ceiling. Shadows shimmer across the white surface, their reflections a dim glow against the night. “What do you want to know about her?”

“Anything you want to tell me.”

She wants to tell him everything and nothing all at once.

“She loved her job. I think most teachers end up hating what they do, but she loved it. She was incredibly smart, and it was intimidating as hell to get into a literary conversation with her. You wouldn’t believe how she could outsmart anyone when it came to novels, how she could change someone’s opinion on a book so they’d agree with her.” Her chest clenches, and for the first time in a long time, the ache runs deep for her mother. “She was a mean drunk but in the moments she was sober, she’d light up a room. She, um, she loved wine. I know it’s a weird trait to mention, but she did. Never white though; it made her sick.” Her voice lowers, breaking at the seams. “It’s never failed to amaze me how much a parent can fuck up and you still love them anyway.” There are tears in her eyes when she turns to him, a sliver of salt water gliding down her cheeks. “Thank you for even mentioning it tonight. Whether or not it was a month late, it doesn’t matter. I appreciate it.”

He catches a tear with his lips, gently kissing it until her emotions disappear on the tip of his tongue. “You’re incredibly strong, Liv. If I’ve never told you that, I wanted you to know.”

She thinks it’s funny that they’re the same people they’ve always been, yet not at all. He’s still the same man who pisses her off, who disagrees with her, who lives his life on edge just as she lives hers. But there’s something more now, something she hasn’t quite figured out. It’s not love—no it can’t be, not this soon—but it’s there, clawing her skin, reminding her of his presence.

Olivia pulls his head down, her lips finding his. Thanking him with words has never held meaning before, not when they’re overused, simplistic.

Not when he’s deserving of so much more.


October 29, 2008
3:41 A.M.

“Tell me,” Elliot breathes, drawing her lower lip into his mouth.

He blows air onto her moistened lips, his elbow propped up beside her head. He strings his fingers through her hair, continuing to kiss her, and her mouth smiles against his.

“Strawberry shortcake,” she answers, and it slides into his mouth with another kiss.

“How old?”


Elliot’s finger stills on her chin, and he grins. “You dressed up as Strawberry Shortcake for Halloween when you were nineteen?”

“There was a costume party in my dorm sophomore year. My girlfriends thought it would be funny.” She moves slightly against the mattress, his mouth catching the corner of her lips. “I like your new bed.”

“How long do you think it’ll last before we break it?”

“Neither of us can afford to break it. Your turn. What was your favorite costume?”

“I was a pirate when I was eight.” The laughter tumbles out of her, and he places his finger over her lips. “You were nineteen when you were Strawberry Shortcake, Olivia. You shouldn’t laugh at this.”

“You’re right,” but her laughter lightens the room, “go ahead.”

“We went all out at the costume shop, and for two weeks, I wouldn’t take off the eye patch. People on the street would give my mother sympathetic looks because they thought I only had one eye.”

She bites her lip, but the laughter continues. “You must have pictures of that somewhere.”

“I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.” Elliot slides a leg in between hers, lifting himself up. He’s hard, and he settles against her, nestling his lips in her hair. “Was there a big hat with strawberries involved in this costume?” he mumbles.

“Elliot.” She lifts his head, her fingers delicately touching his chin. “Stop talking.”

Chapter Text

Month Four: November, 2008

November 1, 2008
8:18 P.M.

Cosmopolitan Rule #16
: It’s true that God must be a male because no woman in her right mind would ever invent that lovely cycle known as our period. For seven days (sometimes less, sometimes more) we’re bitchy, hungry, and losing so much blood it’s a wonder we don’t drop dead. For men, the female menstrual cycle is an excuse to call us moody, emotional and impossible, yet bitch when we don’t want to have sex with them. Here’s the thing, guys. When we’re crampy and clearly not as clean as we’d like to be down there, do you really think we want to have sex? And the question is, why would you even want to?

“What are you reading?” Elliot asks, nudging his foot against hers. She glances up at him, lifting the book so he can see it. “You’re reading The Catcher in the Rye?”

“You sound surprised.” She shrugs her shoulders, lowering the book back down to her lap. “It’s one of my favorites. Before my mother was a college professor, she worked in a high school. I was either going to end up falling in love with this one or To Kill A Mockingbird. I loved that Holden was such an anti-hero, though. He was pissed off, bitter and at the time I related to him a lot. I still found him so likeable, though.” She sees the smile on his lips, and her own lift in return. “What?”

“For the first time since I’ve met you, you sound like the daughter of an English professor.”

She wonders what her mother would think of him in her times of sobriety, if like with Simon, there would be dinners, moments together where she felt like she actually belonged in a life, instead of an occupation. “I used to have a lot of discussions with her about the books she taught. I breezed through high school English.”

He runs his foot up and down her leg, the material of her sweatpants rustling against her. She leans her head back against the couch, closing her eyes. “Why have you never told me that?”

“It’s never come up. What about you? Was there that one class you breezed through in high school?”

“History. I knew I was going to end up in the Marines and I think I always found it interesting that no matter how many lessons we learn, history still repeats itself.” Elliot pulls his foot away from her, shifting on the couch. He climbs on top of her, and kisses her; short, quick. “What was a class you almost failed?”

She almost wants to make some lame comment about sex ed. But no, telling your boyfriend that isn’t all that romantic. Moron.

“Any sort of science. The worst was the Regents. Does New York still make everyone take those?”

“I’m a father with four kids who have dealt with it recently and I have no idea.”

“What was your worst?”

“English.” Elliot slides his hand underneath her tank top, and they’re warm, rough with years of the job, yet soft against her skin. “I never read the books and Cliff’s Notes weren’t always reliable.” He rubs her nipple, and her breath catches as it hardens against his touch.

“El,” she whispers, and his cheek is warm in her palm. “We can’t have sex tonight.”

“Why?” he mumbles into her mouth, and she wonders if he’s spoken, or if it was just his lips rustling against her own.

“I have my period.”

Elliot’s finger stills, but his hand remains as he looks up at her. “We’ve had sex when you’ve been on your period.”

“We had sex as often as we could at that point,” she reasons. “Plus, I wasn’t on my first day of it. I feel like shit and believe me…let’s just leave it at we’re not having sex.”

“When we were in the shower at work, wasn’t that the beginning of the month? How did you not have your period then?”

Okay, did Elliot Stabler suddenly become an expert on her menstrual cycle? Does he keep a damn calendar of their sexual encounters and whether or not she needed a tampon?

“Skipped over my period that month so we could have sex whenever. Satisfied? Do you have any more questions?”

He smirks, rubbing against her. “How do you skip your period?” he murmurs, gently nipping at her bottom lip. “And why didn’t you do it this month?”

“Shut up.” She smiles against his mouth. “I’m not discussing this with you.”

“What do we do then?”

She can swear she sees the pout on his lips, and she kisses him, her mouth lingering for a second. “You make it sound like we can’t go a night without sex when we have numerous times before.”

“Work doesn’t count. We were occupied.”

“Come on.” Olivia pushes him off of her, and walks to his bookshelf. “There’s got to be something here we can do.”


November 1, 2008
9:04 P.M.

“You’re such a cheater,” Olivia laughs, pounding on the back lever of her hippo.

The children’s game rattles, and Elliot’s hippo eats another white marble. There might not be sex tonight, but God bless those hungry, hungry hippos.

“You can’t cheat in this game, Sore Loser.” He presses on the hippo again, and another white marble slips past him. “So, Eli’s birthday is in a couple of weeks. Kathy’s throwing a party; the whole squad is invited.”

“Yeah, that sounds like something Cragen is just dying to go to,” she teases, before sobering. “What about me?” Olivia looks up at him, her hand braced over the green hippo.

“If the squad is there—”

“No, I mean…” She takes a deep breath, the moment of fun lost against the truth in the night. “I was there when he was born, El.” And for as hard as she searches, the right words don’t come to mind. “I’m just not sure that I’m someone Kathy wants there.”

Elliot leans forward, touching her leg. “You saved her life, Liv. You saved Eli’s life.”

“But how long is she going to feel indebted to me, even after I’ve taken her husband?”

“You didn’t take me,” he answers, firmly. “You weren’t an affair, and you aren’t a rebound relationship. If Kathy and I stayed in that marriage, we would have ended up hating each other. I knew it, she knew it, and before it happened, we were smart enough to get out of it. It has nothing to do with you.”

Olivia nods, pressing down lightly on her black lever. “How would you feel if Kathy showed up with a new boyfriend to your son’s first birthday?”

“I would be fine with it.”

She smiles, shaking her head. “You’re lying.”

“Okay,” Elliot laughs, “It would be a little awkward. Olivia, if you don’t want to come, I understand that. But don’t not come because you feel guilty for something that was beyond anyone’s control. Now,” he says, pressing his hand down on the hippo, “can I go back to kicking your ass?”

She nods, allowing herself a small smile. “You mean cheating?”

“You can’t cheat in this game!” There are some slams, some marbles rolling into the mouth of his little blue hippo. “It’s a skill.”

“Why do you even have this game? Eli is too young and the other kids are too old.”

“Dickie brought it here one day. It’s his choice for game night. We’ve never played it, and the girls make fun of him non-stop for even bringing it here. Either way, poker always wins out. It scares me that two of them are old enough to gamble at the casinos.”

“Well, when you put it like that—” Her hippo eats a white marble, followed by another. “You do sound pretty damn old.”

“See, now I just want to kick your ass more,” Elliot says. He presses down again, the rattle of marbles replacing the silence in the room. “Just think about it, Liv. The party.”

“Yeah,” she answers, as her hippo eats the last marble. “I will.”


November 16, 2008
2:32 P.M.

Cosmopolitan Rule #17
: When it comes to a relationship, you never want to meet your significant other’s ex. She can be the nicest person in the world, and it won’t matter. You don’t want to know a person who has slept with him, who has seen him at his best, at his worst. You don’t want to know someone he has said I love you to, that he has shared a part of his life with. But what if you knew her before you were together? What if you liked her? There is no proper protocol for this one. But with a little hope and a hell of a lot of luck, there will be alcohol to help you through.

“You’ve been sitting here alone for a while.”

Shit. She knew she should have opted out on this day. Elliot hadn’t spent the night with her last night, and sometime after one in the morning, he had texted her. It had been short, and she had laid in bed, staring at the lit message, smiling. Srta. usted. It had taken her minutes to figure out what he meant and she wondered where he had gotten the translation—Babelfish probably.

Miss you.

Olivia hadn’t moved for a few minutes, staring at the message, at his name underneath it. The truth was she missed him too. She hadn’t expected to, actually, but when the silence of her apartment crept into her skin instead of his scent, when she slept on the right side of the bed without him on the left, she knew she was doomed. After nine and a half years, Elliot Stabler had successfully chinked her armor.

In the commotion of Elliot’s former living room, she turns to her left, and gives Kathy a small smile as his former wife sits down next to her. She should be writing a letter to the dictionary companies of the world. That under the word ‘awkward’ it should say: See ex-wife chats with new girlfriend; most common symptoms of awkwardness include (but are not limited to) fake headaches, nausea, and the overwhelming feeling of stabbing yourself with very small pins.

“Yeah,” Olivia answers, and it sounds almost strangled.

What the hell do you say to a woman whose life you helped save one year ago today? Or better yet, what the hell do you say to the woman who was married to your boyfriend for more than half their lives?

Olivia takes in a breath, and she wishes she had stopped nursing this beer long ago. She wishes she were drunk, or better yet, somewhere else. The bottle tilts slightly in her hand, as she looks at Kathy. “Eli’s adorable. He’s starting to look a lot like Elliot.”

Cosmopolitan Rule #18: Cosmo’s guide to the most uncomfortable moments you can encounter in a relationship when regarding the ex (with points A, B, and C). A: When meeting or spending time with “the ex”, please don’t take the time out to mention how absolutely gorgeous your boyfriend is. “Oh, so-and-so is so sexy, don’t you think? Of course, you were with him too. And we both know it wasn’t for his brains.” B: Also, please try to refrain from mentioning your number of orgasms. You never know when that might slip out. “I am so sore today. So-and-so gave me so many orgasms last night.” Thanks for the update. Now go crawl in a hole. C: If your guy has kids with this woman, mentioning how adorable they are and then saying how much they look like him is bound to make the air a bit tight. You might as well just say, “Your kid is so cute. Thank God he didn’t come out looking like you. But isn’t my boyfriend handsome?” Foot, mouth, enter, stop. Just stop.

“Yeah he is,” Kathy answers. She takes a sip of her water, rolling the bottle between her hands. She speaks again, and it’s soft, the rest of the room fluttering by with activity. “Before I say anything, I need you to know that Elliot and you…” She pauses, and God, this is not going to be good. “It’s not easy for me to see him with someone else, it’s not easy for me to see him with you, but I accept it. But I need to know…”

She trails off and Olivia looks down at the ground. There’s a streamer on the floor with the number one written all over it. One year since it all started, all ended. “You need to know what, Kath?”

“Elliot and I, I know he dated when we were separated. You were…You know that for so long I thought he preferred spending time with you—”

“He didn’t—”

“Look, I’ve always liked you, Olivia. I have. But it was extremely hard being married to someone who was completely devoted to someone else. I came to you about the divorce a couple of years ago because I couldn’t do this with him anymore. I couldn’t continue being second in his life. I need to know…” Kathy stops, watching her son play in the other room. “Before Elliot and I got back together, did you two date?”

She’s seriously about to write that letter to the dictionaries about the word awkward. “Does it even matter now?” Olivia asks, gently.

“To me it does, yes.”

“Kathy, I wouldn’t have…If I had been with him before, I never would have taken you to the doctor the day you had Eli, I never would have put you in that position whether you knew the truth or not. I never meant…” Olivia looks at her, and the animosity she thought would reside in Kathy’s eyes seems to be absent. “Whatever happens between Elliot and me, please know that I have always respected you and your marriage.”

“I know,” Kathy says, quietly. “I also know our marriage wasn’t working. I’m not pining away for him. But I needed to know you were who I thought you were.” Kathy’s lips lift into a small smile, the bottle of water held tightly in her hands. “You make him happy. Maybe that’s all I can ask for.” She stands, and the streamer flutters beneath her foot. “I’ll see you later, Olivia.”


November 20, 2008
2:14 A.M.

“Do you think it was a mistake?” Olivia asks, and for a second, she wonders what it would be like to sleep without the demons getting in the way, without the world sitting on her shoulders like it was hers to save.

She knows he’s awake; she knows that his breaths hit her back differently with sleep, that the trace of his slight snore (that he never admits to having) is missing.

“Do I think what was a mistake?” His voice is groggy, but underneath the covers, he slides closer to her, wrapping his arm around her waist.

She wants to turn, but doesn’t. Instead, she looks out the window into the darkness, into the one place that holds all the answers she’s never found, all the answers she’s never known how to deal with. “He’s my brother, and sometimes…I’m so grateful to have him in my life and other times I’m just—”

“Turn around.” His voice has gained its power back: still laced with sleep, but stronger, determined, like on those long cases where, despite exhaustion, he fights to save the world right beside her.

She slowly rolls over in bed, a cloud of darkness surrounding him. He’s on his side, his breath hitting her face like the lightest hint of air. The sheets have become tangled between her legs and she carefully shimmies out of them, one foot gently knocking into his leg. His skin is hot, comforting and underneath her blanket, she finds her leg free of bedding and holding onto him.

“Where is this coming from, Liv?”

“He was a rapist, Elliot.” The words tumble out of her, and she doesn’t bother to use names, not when he knows, not when he’s been beside her for so long. “What did I think was going to happen? Simon and I would keep doing dinners together and we’d act as if there was nothing weird about our relationship? We’d act as if the reason we’re related isn’t because his father raped my mother?”

Elliot’s foot slides up and down her leg, and she wonders if he knows, or if it’s become force of habit after a few months. “He had no more control over who his father was than you did.”

“Since when did you become Simon’s advocate? You hated him!”

A rush of air leaves him, and she can smell the toothpaste on his breath, the fight he’s willing to gear up for. “You’re right; I didn’t trust him at first. You were so hell bent on having family and he came on too strong. I was watching your back, Liv. I was taking care of you when you wouldn’t do it yourself.”

“I didn’t ask you to take care of me. I’ve never asked you to do that.”

“No, but you also didn’t give me much of a choice. Why don’t you admit what this is really about?”

She rolls her eyes, but in the dark she figures he can’t see. “Why do you always assume there’s some reason I’m not giving you?”

She can see the smile curve along Elliot’s lips. “Because there usually is. Have we not been over this? After all this time, do you really think I don’t know how your mind works?”

“All right, Detective,” Olivia responds, a trace of bitterness laced in her words, “If you know me so well, then what is this about?”

“You know what it’s about, Olivia. You just never talk about it.”

“Okay, you know what?” She turns away from him in bed, staring at the blank canvas of her wall. She wishes she had decided to paint it when she moved in, a day wasted to make a place more like home instead of rooms filled with stuff that never actually seems to matter. Well, isn’t she ‘The glass is half empty’ tonight. “I didn’t ask you to be my therapist.”

“No, you asked me if I think you made a mistake and then shut down when I was about to tell you something you didn’t want to hear. You want to know what it’s about? You constantly wait for someone to leave you—”

“I do not! You think I’m fragile or—”

“I don’t think you’re anything but stubborn and infuriating.” His voice softens and she closes her eyes, the chill of the night biting her skin. “Are you going to listen to me, or go to bed pissed off?”

Asshole. “Fine, what?”

“Don’t do me any favors, Olivia.”

“Oh, would you just tell me!”

“You do wait for people to leave you,” he says, quietly. “I don’t think you’re fragile or broken or any of that other bullshit you are convinced people think of you. I do think that you put yourself on the line for Simon and you think he can’t quite possibly measure up to who you want him to be. No one does, Olivia. No one is ever who you want them to be.”

She wonders if he’s talking about himself, as well, that he’ll never be the man she wants him, needs him to be; whatever the hell that might be. “Do you have a point in here somewhere?”

“Stop being so damn defensive. I’m not attacking you. All I’m saying is that no, you’re never going to share heartfelt moments about your father. Neither do my brothers and me. It doesn’t and shouldn’t affect the relationship you have with him.”

She inhales, turning back over to face him. The sheets rumple again, and she’s been meaning to take off the damn top sheet despite the cold weather. “When’s the anniversary of your father?” The word death doesn’t need to be spoken, not when you’ve lost someone who’s a part of you.

“August 18.”

She laughs, and she’s not sure if it’s sad, sarcastic, or almost humorous. “You got pissed at me that I didn’t mention my mother’s, but you didn’t mention your father’s, either. Why?”

“Three weeks into dating and he died before I ever met you. It’s never come up.”

It figures she would date someone as screwed up as her. She thinks Kurt’s biggest problem was that his red pen stopped working on daily edits. But good, old reliable Elliot with the fucked up parents and rage that never quits. “I told you about my mother. Tell me something about him.”

“What do you want?”

She returns the answer he had given her a month ago. “Anything you want to tell me.”

“He was a bastard.”

“Nice try. There has to be something good about him that you remember.”

His eyes change, and even without light, she can see the difference, the softening mixed with anger he’s always held onto. “My mom wasn’t…” There’s a slight hitch in his voice, a breath that is released into the air. “She wasn’t feeling well, and my father thought that taking us out in zero degree weather was smart. It was fucking freezing, there was snow and we were all pissed we were being forced to go out. We went to some park in Queens, and he took a couple of sleds out of the back of our car, and told us we were going to race. Whoever won would get a special prize. I won—”


“Do you want to hear the story or not?”

Olivia waves her hand in the air. “Go ahead.”

“The prize was that we’d get to go into work with him for the day. I thought that was quite possibly the shittiest thing I could ever win. He was never home, I hated the job because of it and I had no interest in going there. I went though, and that was when I decided to be a cop. He was such a jackass, but there he was different. He was nicer, he was devoted.” He moves closer to her, and the chill against her skin abates. “I often wonder if that’s how my kids see me.”

“You’re not your father, El.”

“Neither are you; neither is Simon for that matter.”

The smile slowly spreads across her lips. “Was that story even true or were you just trying to prove some point that we don’t grow up to be our parents?”

“It was true. But I did prove my point nicely, didn’t I?”

She laughs, and against the pillow she nods her head. “Well played. I just…It’s not that I’m worried about him leaving; it’s not about that as much as you think it is. I just don’t know how to react to the fact that after forty years I gained a brother because my rapist father decided to settle down and have a family.”

“You can’t change who he was, Liv, but don’t force yourself into believing Simon is bad, either. He seems to genuinely care about you. Sooner or later, you have to let people do that.”

“Like you’re one to talk,” Olivia grumbles. She yawns, her eyes slipping closed. “I have a pile of paperwork sitting on my desk that I need to get to early tomorrow. Can you do it for me?”

Elliot’s laughter fills the room with light. “Not a chance.” His lips touch her forehead, his voice a whisper in her bedroom. “Get some sleep.”


November 26, 2008
6:58 P.M.

“Come with me tomorrow,” Elliot mentions, stealing a fry from her plate. “Maureen makes this amazing pumpkin pie with Lizzie, and while football seems to dominate the afternoon, we still have a lot of fun.”

Olivia rests her elbow on the table, propping her face in her hand. “While I appreciate the invite, you should be spending Thanksgiving with your family, El. You should be helping the girls, or watching football with Dickie, or playing with Eli. You and I can do something later on.”

He moves his chair closer to her, and the rough padding of his thumb washes over her hand. “You’ve come to my house for Thanksgiving before. Please, I would really like you to be there.”

“Elliot, I can’t,” she whispers, and she wonders where her voice has gone, why she can no longer speak. She clears her throat and when she talks, it sounds fragmented, cracked. “Even with Kathy out of town, I can’t do this with you. You have to understand that.”

“If we weren’t dating, I still would have asked you to come. You came to the house a few years ago; you came the year after that. What is the big deal?”

The exhaustion slips through her veins like blood, pumping through her like a wildfire. “You wouldn’t have asked me to come this year if we weren’t dating because you didn’t ask me last year or the year before. And that’s fine, Elliot. You need to be with your family, especially since Kathy won’t be there for dinner.”

“You don’t get it, do you?”

Her phone rings, and she glances at it, sighing. “Benson,” she says, her gaze never breaking from Elliot’s. “Yeah, Cap.” She closes her eyes, and she has to leave this now, leave this conversation before it becomes too much. “No, I can work it with Munch. Yeah, I’ll be there soon.” Olivia hangs up, holding the phone in the palm of her hand. “Cragen didn’t want to call you in if he didn’t have to, but I gotta go.”

Olivia pushes her chair out, and she walks towards the door.

“Where are you going to be tomorrow?” he asks, and there’s an annoyance to his tone, a curiosity.

She shrugs, one foot already out the door. “Work.”

November 27, 2008
6:18 P.M.

“You really don’t get it?” Lucy asks, pouring Olivia a glass of wine.

She hasn’t spoken to Elliot since the night before. She had left his apartment and worked through the night. There was a crime scene to process, a victim to help. She had spent the night talking to the college girl, had comforted her when she blamed herself for a date gone wrong. She had put away the frat boy who thought sex was a given despite the answer no, and at four-thirty this afternoon she had helped the girl into her mother’s car, saying goodbye.

Olivia didn’t want to celebrate Thanksgiving after that, not when she knew that Chelsea James wasn’t going to be participating in the holiday. She had stared at Elliot’s side of the desk, her hands behind her head, and wondered where he was, if it was in the kitchen with the girls or on the couch next to his sons. It was then her brother had called, asked what she was doing and invited her over when she had pathetically answered with nothing.

It was late notice, but that’s how she lived her life, with change and constant movement, and despite her reservation days earlier, she knows it’s where she wants to be, where she belongs, at least tonight. And when Lucy had taken Olivia into the kitchen asking where Elliot was, the story spilled out. There was not enough wine in the world right now.

She leans back against the counter, her hand twined around the stem of the glass. “What am I missing here?” Olivia asks, frustrated. “What don’t I get?”

Lucy smiles, pulling open the oven. The warm smell of Thanksgiving dinner filters into the room and Olivia’s stomach rumbles. She hasn’t eaten since the night before, a single fry that did nothing to help her hunger. “He was telling you you’re family. You’ve been dating how long now?”

“Four months.”

“That’s why he didn’t spell it out for you. You’ve been partners a long time, but you can’t tell your girlfriend of four months she’s like family to you. Sounds to me like he wasn’t tying to pester you, Olivia. He was trying to get you to realize it.”

Olivia closes her eyes, and shakes her head. “I’m an idiot.”

“Love does that to people.”

Love. God, it has been a long time since she’s used that word.

“I’m not good girlfriend material,” Olivia mumbles. She doesn’t even know what possesses her to tell Lucy this. She really is an idiot, sometimes. “I could never cook Thanksgiving dinner. I eat most of my meals from take out, frozen food or coffee. You made two pies, and I don’t remember the last time I turned on my oven.”

“And you think that’s what makes a good girlfriend?” Lucy puts the turkey on top of the stove, the steam rising. “You’re a cop who works your ass off and you’re good at it. I don’t think he gives a damn if you cook. He’s crazy about you, though.”

“Why do you say that?”

“He couldn’t stop looking at you the night you two were here. Even when you didn’t realize it, he was looking.”

“We fight all the time. What the hell am I doing?”

“You’ve basically been married for ten years. Of course you fight all the time. Call him, Olivia. But if it makes you feel better and you need to be more domestic, I’ll give you the recipe for my apple pie.”

Olivia laughs, taking the bottle of wine and a couple of glasses off of the counter. “Thank you.”

November 27, 2008
11:48 P.M.

Cosmopolitan Rule #19
: There are no rules to being a good girlfriend. Don’t cheat, don’t lie, don’t be a royal pain in the ass, but in the long run those are rules to become a good human being, not girlfriend. There are no rules when each person is different, when one relationship can fail off of something and another one succeeds. You want to be a good girlfriend? Then listen, talk, allow yourself moments and things you never did before. Change the things you want to change, but don’t become someone else. Being a good girlfriend is about giving things up, and letting yourself go.

On the night of Thanksgiving, the Christmas music begins.

She had learned this when she put on her radio, and Oh Holy Night blasted through the speakers like she was in church for midnight mass. She had listened for a moment before changing the station, before settling on classic rock that mostly wasn’t all that classic. And with The Eagles on and the oven heating, she had looked at Lucy’s recipe and smashed an apple in half.

She hadn’t called Elliot after dinner. She hadn’t done anything after leaving Simon’s, aside from stopping at the supermarket to pick up ingredients for a pie. There hadn’t been a reason for making it tonight, except that she knew she wouldn’t sleep.

So now—as Thanksgiving slowly comes to a close—she bakes as if it’s something mundane. Well, attempts to bake might be more accurate considering all the flour that has accumulated on her counter, not to mention those damn apple peels. Olivia slides a hand through her hair, white flakes of sugar or flour or something spilling onto the floor.

How does she add a crust over the apples? And there are patterns? What the hell. She can take down a man, squeeze information out of anyone and she can’t bake a Godforsaken pie?

“Whatever,” Olivia mutters, drawing a zig-zag on the crust.

She’s a master artist, indeed.

Olivia stares at it for a moment, the lines diagonal and uneven, the crust out of shape, and she places it in the oven. With her luck, she’s going to get some kind of food poisoning. She looks around the kitchen, flour and utensils everywhere, and picks up the knife beside the sink.

“Are you baking?”

She spins at the sound of his voice, the sharp blade poised in her hand. “Jesus, you scared me! I didn’t hear you come in.” She places the knife on the counter. “What are you doing here?”

Elliot holds up a covered plate. “I brought you pie. But it looks like,” he says, walking towards her. He presses her back against the counter, kissing her. He tastes like the sweetest hint of pumpkin, and she almost wants to laugh because even if she wanted to give up his infuriating self, at this point, she knows she can’t. “You’re making your own.” He swipes his hand through her hair, and white dust falls onto the kitchen floor. “You don’t bake.”

He’s here, even after she’s given him reason not to be.

“No.” Olivia smiles, biting down on her lip. “I don’t.” She rests her forehead against his, as he wraps his arms around her waist. “I shouldn’t have over-reacted about you inviting me today,” she whispers. “I’m sorry.”

His lips brush hers. “Did you work all day?”

“Until five or so. I went to Jersey.”

“Good. I’m glad you went to see Simon.”

“How was dinner?”

Elliot runs his fingers over her spine. “A little strange, but it was nice.” He looks around at the cluttered mess on the kitchen counters. “What possessed you to bake a pie this late at night?”

“I’m being domestic.” She lifts herself onto the counter, pulling him between her legs. He rubs his hands up and down her thighs, the material of her jeans warm against her skin. “I suck at baking.”

“You have a hell of a shot though. That counts for something, right?”

“I guess so,” Olivia laughs. She bends down, wrapping her arms around Elliot’s neck. She kisses his bottom lip, gently tugging it between her teeth. “What made you come here tonight?”

“It’s Thanksgiving. I wanted to see you.”

He lifts her shirt with his hands, lowering his head to her stomach. He snakes his tongue across her skin, tracing patterns around her belly button.

“Jesus,” Olivia hisses, locking her legs around his ass. There’s so much more she wants to say to him, questions about why he had come back when their last conversation had ended in a fight, but she loses her train of thought, her frame of mind.

His mouth is hot against her skin, and she shimmies closer to the edge of the counter. Her body hums for him, soft vibrations weakening her as he kisses the underside of her breast. She can feel his tongue slip against her skin every few seconds, the heat of his breath causing her nipples to tighten against the taut material.

“Elliot,” she murmurs, but nothing else seems to come out.

He lifts her shirt higher, her breasts hit with the cold air from the apartment. She whimpers, his mouth continuing to slide against her skin, and God, her nipples ache for him.

“El,” but he’s off of her, before she can say another word.

He slides his finger into his mouth, and she watches him, her breathing labored, her eyes wide as the intense heat of his blue eyes remain on her. He takes the pad his finger, rolling the moist tip over her beaded nipple. She inhales a sharp breath, and grips his chin in her hand, her fingers digging into his skin.

“Fuck me.” It comes out in a groan, in soft gasps that don’t nearly sound like words.

Elliot lifts her off the counter, his mouth back on her breast, as she wraps her legs around his waist. She doesn’t want the foreplay tonight, the waiting. She wants him here, now, fast, hard.

Olivia slides down his body, pressing herself into his erection.

“Shit,” Elliot grunts. He shifts against her, and she wonders how long it’ll take for them both to come after clothes have been removed, if clothes will be removed. “Do you—” The buzzer for the oven goes off in the room, interrupting him. “You’ve got to be kidding me right now.”

Olivia laughs, hiding her face in the crevice of his neck. “We have to take it out before it burns.” She grips her hands on his ass, and he slams into her, eliciting a moan. “How long could it take to get a pie out of the oven?”

November 28, 2008
1:15 A.M.

“Taste it.”

Olivia shifts on his lap, holding a forkful of apple pie out to him. He grabs onto her hand, guiding the fork towards his mouth as he takes a bite of the hot dessert. “Wow,” Elliot says, around a mouthful of food. “Liv, this is actually good.”

She can bake and she has one hell of a shot; those simple facts alone cause her to smile. “You don’t have to sound so surprised.” She puts the plate back on the table, resting her head against his neck. She remains sideways on his lap, his hand running up and down her thigh. “Tell me one about Kathleen.”

“Kathleen is easy. When she was nine, we spent Thanksgiving in Connecticut with Kathy’s sister. They have a gorgeous home in Greenwich, the kind with too many rooms and too little people so there’s a lot of extra space. We were about to eat but no one could find Kathleen or my niece, Annie. We searched all over the house and finally Kathy decided to check the crawl space that was in one of the spare bedrooms. Annie and Kathleen were inside. They were both frantically working on a cake with Annie’s easy bake oven because they wanted to contribute to dinner. It wasn’t fully cooked; it was disgusting, but Kathleen and Annie were so proud of it that we all ate it. We even made Maureen eat it.”

“You have such a history.”

She watches the surprise flit across the blue of his eyes. His arm tightens around her waist and she presses her lips against the pulse point in his neck.

“That surprises you?”

“No,” Olivia mutters. “I’m envious of it.”

“Give me one of yours.”

“My favorite Thanksgiving moment? I was fifteen, I think. I had been playing football in the park all afternoon with some friends, and to be honest, I had no idea what kind of mood my mother would be in when I got home.” She leans forward, taking the pumpkin pie Elliot had brought off of the table. She poises the fork at his mouth, giving him a taste before she finishes off the bite. “I was so dirty when I got home and when I walked in, she looked at me and laughed, told me to shower and then come down to dinner. She had cooked, and she hadn’t done that in so long. She lit candles and we sat there and we talked the entire night. I learned a lot about Shakespeare and James Joyce that night.”

Elliot kisses the side of her head. “Sounds nice,” he murmurs. “Liv, what you said yesterday about Thanksgiving and being with family—”

Her heart skips a beat, and she closes her eyes. She can’t hear the words, even if she feels the same way. She nods, because if they talk around their words, maybe it’s not too soon. “I know,” she answers, gently. “I know.”

Chapter Text

Month Five: December, 2008


December 5, 2008
7:01 P.M.

Cosmopolitan Rule #20
: On Black Friday, the madness of Christmas shopping begins. In sororities, rush week is also known as ‘hell week.’ For most New Yorkers (or really, anywhere in the world), the same can be said about the month in between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Instead of coming prepared with a list of presents that need to be bought, people ought to come armed with protective gear to keep the swinging bags and overeager people at bay. But the hardest thing to accomplish in the mass of chaos is finding the perfect gift. During the fifth month of a relationship—that teetering point between serious or not—there are no boundaries, just gut reactions. Don’t be dumb, ladies. Don’t get your guy a sophisticated pen when he’s barely used one since graduating from college. Don’t get your guy a membership to Sports Illustrated when he rarely turns on a game. Trust your instincts, and perfection comes right along with it.

“Shouldn’t people be at dinner instead of this hellhole?” Olivia mutters, maneuvering around a group of people at a standstill in front of the escalator. She steps onto it, with Elliot beside her, the soft melodic sounds of Christmas music floating through the overcrowded mall. “What are you getting Liz again?”

She hates shopping during the holidays, forcing herself to rifle through clothes, gifts that--in the end—tend to lack meaning. She would always do it at the last minute, picking through the waste of things no one else seemed to want. It was always on the day before Christmas when she would run into a store trying to find Elliot a gift, something platonic yet nice, before looking for something for his former wife. It would always be tasteful, a little too expensive, as if needing to apologize for spending more time with Elliot than Kathy did.

But now, twenty days before the holiday, she scours a Long Island mall with Elliot. They had been on the island for work, and when their leads ended and their captain told them to pack it in for the day, he had asked her to go. She had reluctantly sighed, and then agreed because she was a girlfriend now, not a partner, and prepped herself for the throngs of people throughout.

“Maureen is getting her a Wii, so I said I would get her Guitar Hero.” He rolls his eyes, his palm gracing the small of her back as he winds her around a crowd standing off to the side of the upper level escalator. “When I was a kid, I was told to go in the yard and play. We didn’t have these machines then.”

“No, I guess they wouldn’t have in 1917,” Olivia teases. She glances at a couple to their right, ducking into Helzberg Diamonds. She thinks that maybe there’s an engagement ring inside there for people who are far less screwed up than them, or if the woman wishes it were and instead all relationships are complicated and she’s merely getting a choice of a bracelet, a necklace. She turns to Elliot, the corner of her bag hitting his ribs gently. “What are we doing for gifts for each other?”

Elliot lifts an eyebrow. “Are we setting a price limit?”

“We never have before. Should we now?”

“How about we just get each other gifts and not worry about the price?”

Shit, she hasn’t bought a Christmas present for a guy she’s been dating since she was probably sixteen. She can just wrap a bow on Elliot and congratulate him for being the longest relationship she’s never had.

“I hate these damn malls,” Elliot groans, his eyes roaming the upper level of Roosevelt Field Mall; a little boy lost in a land of commotion. “I continuously wonder when I am going to start breaking out. Let’s just get Liz’s present and get out of here. I have Maureen and Kathleen’s, and I think I can order Dickie and Eli’s on line.”

On the left, Victoria’s Secret looms, mannequins dressed in barely there undergarments. “Come with me in there.” She takes his hand, and drags him toward the store. “You can get me lingerie.”

“You don’t wear lingerie, Liv.” Elliot glances at the first price tag he sees, a sharp laugh sliding from his lips. “Why would you spend this much money on something that’s going to end up coming off anyway?”

“It’s the chase, Elliot. You really don’t think this is sexy?”

“I’m not a lingerie guy. Never have been, never will be. You’d look sexy in anything…” The smirk flits on his lips, and she can’t help but smile. “You’re also sexy in nothing. Don’t waste the money.”

“All men like lingerie, Elliot. If I walked into your bedroom dressed only in this, you wouldn’t find me attractive?”

Elliot grinds his teeth, resting his hand against the wall. She wonders how many men actually like coming into this store, or if it somehow ruins the illusion of women. “I find you attractive in general. But the lingerie itself wouldn’t do anything. When we’re having sex,” his voice lowers, and he glances around the crowded store. “I want you out of clothes. I don’t want to unhook contraptions to get you there, and most of the time we have a quickie because our jobs are endless.”

“I’ve just never heard of a man who wasn’t into it.”

She can see the fire ignite in his eyes, like the flick of a switch. “Olivia, don’t start. I’m exhausted, I hate malls and I’m not in the mood for this. It just doesn’t impress me. Can we drop it now?” He rubs his hand up and down her arm, and a chill slices her spine, despite the heat inside the store. “I don’t want to start an argument with you. I would just rather get you a present that’ll have more use.”

Olivia glances at the row of black lace bras, the cut that would perfectly accentuate her breasts, the rows of garters and corsets beside it. “You’re right. Give me a minute in here, but why don’t you go look for Guitar Hero and I’ll meet you over there?”

“The sooner the better. I’ll be at that game place a few stores down.”

And when he’s left her alone, with too many garters and lace, Olivia glances at the price tags, at the amount of money she’s about to spend on something he doesn’t even want. In all the months since she’s been dating Elliot Stabler, she’s learned firsthand that he isn’t into the slow, easy loss of clothes, but instead the quick tear away. Three of her shirts have been ruined; one thong unraveled as he bit the material off of her in that first month when sex was constant and need was never ending.

In the end, Elliot isn’t all that wrong. She’s about to spend almost two hundred dollars on something that’ll end up hidden underneath either of their beds, or if she’s lucky ripped to shreds.

Fuck it. Let the games begin.


December 16, 2008
2:31 P.M.

“Olivia, you up here?”

Elliot walks into the crib, the room cast in shadows of darkness that only winter can provide. The snow had started hours earlier, the sky a steely gray, and when she had walked in, in desperate need of rest, she had drawn the blinds on a room that remained empty. She thinks she’s been up here for the better part of an hour, and even lying down, the room spins underneath her, tilting and turning like she is on a never-ending cycle of the Tilt-A-Whirl.

She closes her eyes as his footsteps come closer and he sits on the bed across from hers, his breathing soft in the quiet room. She had hoped he wouldn’t notice when she wasn’t around for lunch, not when the coffee she had drank for breakfast was barely willing to stay down.

“Hey,” he says, and despite the softness of his voice, it’s deafening in her ears, “Are you okay?”

Did he not listen to her on that first date when she mentioned resorting back to being a whiny child the moment she gets sick?

“Fine,” Olivia grumbles. She sits up, and the room continues to spin; there is no end in sight. “We catch anything on Reznick yet?”

“Cragen wants to talk to us about it.” She can feel his gaze on her, and she stares up at him, her eyes locking on his. “Liv, are you sure you’re okay? You look like—”

“I’m fine,” she snaps.

She stands up, the ground uneven beneath her feet as she steadies herself against the post of the bed. Mentally counting to five, she takes a breath, before walking to the door. She has no idea how she’s going to make it through the day, the night if the case causes her to do so. Elliot is beside her on the stairs, and she can swear he's touching her back, guiding her so she doesn't fall.

The lights in the bullpen are bright and she sits down at her desk, pulling the bottle of aspirin from her drawer. It rattles, and the headache that is lightly grazing her temples throbs with pain. She looks at Elliot across their desks, at the way he continues to look at her, and she sighs.

"I'm coming down with something," she says, softly. "I'm hoping it will pass."

"Go home, Liv. We can manage without you."

"No, I'm fine. I'll just get some cold medicine tonight." She leans forward, her voice a whispered hush though no one seems to be around. "You might want to sleep alone tonight, though. I don't want to get you sick."

Elliot smiles, his lips lopsided like they’re filled with sympathy more than happiness. "Don't worry about me."

"Elliot, Olivia." Don comes out of his office, a folder in his hands. He drops it on Elliot’s desk, the sound resonating through Olivia’s ears. "One PP is on my ass regarding the Reznick case. What do you have for me?"

"Not as much as we should," she admits, and it hurts to speak, to swallow. "We can't get in to speak to our vic. Her mother won't let us, and Matt Reznick isn't saying a word except that he's innocent. Not to mention all the press surrounding the house because her father is one of the biggest chefs in the city. The crime scene is giving us nothing." She coughs, and it burns her chest. "Reznick is admitting he was out on the street that night, but won't tell us why, won't tell us who he saw."

"He's hiding from someone," Elliot interjects. "If he's not a part of it directly, he knows who is. Liv and I spoke to his ex-wife yesterday morning. She hasn't spoken to him in months."

"What about a connection to the father?" Cragen asks. "Does our world famous chef know Matt Reznick?"

"Doesn't appear that way. We're at a dead end, Cap."

"No, Elliot, you’re just not looking hard enough. I'm not going back to the brass and telling them my detectives were too lazy to look into new leads because there seemed to be a dead end. No crime scene is ever bare. Go back, search it, get a court order to speak to Megan Goodman, if you have to. She's a traumatized little girl, but we need her help right now."

And like a whirlwind, he’s gone, almost as if he was never there with his rules and orders at all.

"I love when he talks to us like we're five," Elliot mutters, standing up. He takes the keys off his desk, stopping for a moment. "Olivia-"

"Stop treating me like I’m a kid, Elliot. I'm fine. Let's go."


December 19, 2008
6:40 P.M.

Cosmopolitan Rule #21
: There are two kinds of people when it comes to being sick. There are the ones who are desperate for contact, who resort back into childhood and want someone to take care of them, and then there are the people who would rather stew in their misery alone. When in a relationship, when is it too soon to be needy? When is it too soon for the boyfriend to come over with soup and tissues and a stack of magazines that'll make us feel better? If your boyfriend watches you throw up, how long is it going to take before he kisses you again? When God created man, He created them alone to take care of themselves. When He created women, and both genders met, how long was it before the rules were tossed aside? How long did it take to allow comfort when being miserable and alone seemed so much better?

She’s almost positive she left her gun on the kitchen table. If she were to move her head a few inches to the right, she thinks it would be there, all black and shiny and just waiting for her to take position.

It had been thirty hours ago when she could no longer hide the sickness, when her captain had sent her home with direct orders not to return until she was better.

Death. Death would be better.

Elliot had continued to call over the past two days, and when his concern became more of a headache inducer than something sweet, she had turned off her phone. If she were to turn it on now, she wonders how many messages he’s left, if he’s broken up with her over her voicemail because she’s too much of an idiot to answer the phone.

She had spent a full day in bed with tissues surrounding her and a waste basket beside her in case she needed it. She had thrown up twice, and when there was nothing left inside of her, she had forced herself into a Nyquil induced coma. Sleep came with gentle spins and restless dreams, and at four in the afternoon, she had dragged herself out of bed and onto the couch, if only for a change of scenery and the desire to not breathe against her germ infested sheets.

In the darkness of her apartment, silver Christmas lights burn on a timer that Elliot had set up a week ago. She swears, before she shoots herself, she’s going to shoot those damn lights out, bulb by bulb. She buries her head in her pillow, her blanket pulled up around her, although she hasn't stopped shivering in hours.

God. Death. Now.

Olivia closes her eyes, and she wishes there were Nyquil she could pump into her veins by I.V. Restless sleep begins to come with rocking waves of nausea, until she hears the unmistakable sound of a key in her front door.


If he hasn’t left her that dumping voicemail yet, he’s sure as hell going to do it in person the moment he sees her. She pulls the blanket over her head, and as the door closes shut with a gentle click, she knows she's doomed.

"Sweetheart," he says, gently, and she wills herself not to cry at the tenderness of his voice, at the fact that she feels like she’s going to be this sick forever. Elliot pulls the blanket off of her, kneeling down on the floor. She opens an eye, and he smiles, pressing his lips against her forehead. "You still have a fever."

"Elliot, go home." For the first time since she’s left work, she realizes how sick she sounds. "You shouldn’t be here."

Elliot laughs, his touch warm against her clammy skin. "You think I've never seen someone sick before? Have you eaten?"

"Can't," she mutters, closing her eyes. "El, please. Go."

But she should know after all this time that he's relentless, that it's not often he listens to her if he doesn't believe she is right. He kisses her forehead, and she hears the rustle of a bag, followed by his footsteps as he makes his way into her kitchen.

Olivia tries to move, to prove she isn’t weak but her bones ache with resentment. She hates that something as stupid as the flu can keep her down. Sure, it was fine when she was a child, when her mother was willing to take care of her with hot chocolate and cookies, but how is Elliot going to expect her to save him from a bullet when she's such a coward with something as simple as a sore throat?

Screw the relationship, him dumping her; he'll ask for a new partner merely because she's nearly dead on her couch with a cold and flu.

Behind her, in the kitchen, pots clatter and spill against each other, and she winces, burrowing down on the couch. She would yell if she could, but her body’s screams of resistance would be louder than that of her words. So, she keeps her eyes closed, coughs because it's all she can seem to do with skill at this point in time.

"Here," Elliot says, his voice coming closer. She can swear she smells hot chocolate as he kneels down beside her, and when she opens her eyes, she sees the dark liquid inside her favorite blue mug. For a simple moment, she thinks of her mother, of the drink she had often made when Olivia was sick. "I know you like to drink this when you’re sick." And with the hand she hasn’t seen, he holds up a small, dark, round cookie smelling of mint. “Thin Mints, right? That’s what you drop in there?”

He remembered; Elliot Stabler, who for months brought her tea because he couldn’t seem to recall the fact that she started on coffee again, who couldn’t remember his oldest daughter’s boyfriend’s name for four months, remembered that she likes Thin Mints in hot chocolate when she’s sick. Somehow, in December, when the Girl Scouts haven’t yet started to sell, he’s gotten them for her.


"I know it’s been a long time since you’ve done it, but…" He doesn’t finish his sentence, merely hands her the cookie. Small imprints of his finger remain embedded in the chocolate and she takes it from his hand. “Put it in.”

"Elliot..." Her voice cracks in the night, and she doesn’t know if it’s from illness or this different version of the man she thought she knew so well. "You did this for me. Why?"

His lower lip brushes across hers. "Because as much as you will never admit it, you don’t want to be alone when you feel this sick." He rubs his thumb across her cheek, placing the cup down on the floor. "You should get into bed."

“Out here is fine. I don’t want to get back up unless I absolutely have to.”

Elliot stands up, touching her shoulder gently. “Sit up a little.”

She does, and he slides in behind her. She places her head in his lap and she's not sure who they are anymore, who they're supposed to be, separate and apart. With one hand, he weaves his fingers through her hair, lifting the steaming cup with his other one.

"Drink some of it if you can.”

She drops the cookie inside, the slightest splash of hot chocolate bouncing off the rim. She tastes it, and if she were to close her eyes, she'd see her mother sitting there, the snow outside a blanket of white outside of their apartment. The chill is gone, and she settles into his lap once he's taken the cup. His fingers continue to mess with her hair, and despite the congestion, she inhales, letting it out slowly.

"Have you slept at all?"

"Not well," Olivia admits. "You really should go, El. I don't want to get you sick."

"I had a flu shot when I went to take Eli. You should think about getting one next year.”

"I might not make it to next year. What’s going on with the Reznick case?"

“We’re still at a stand-still. Cragen is about ready to kill me. You missed his tirade today on why we’re starting to lack as a unit and if it keeps up, he’s going to fire us all.” His hand stills, her body moving the slightest bit as he shrugs. “Two hours later he came out of his office and he was in a better mood.”

She plays with a loose thread on her blanket, her lips sliding across his upper thigh. "It's December, El. Where did you get Girl Scout cookies?"

“It’s been years since the girls have been in the Scouts, but I still have my sources.”

"I don't know how to thank you for this."

"You don't need to." He lifts the mug again, along with two spoons he had brought in from the kitchen. He hands one to her, lowering the mug so it's at her level. "Do you want to taste it?"

She misses her mother, but she thinks she loves him for this. Fuck, she thinks she loves him.

Olivia breaks off a piece of cookie, sliding the spoon into her mouth. The mint is bitter with the hot chocolate, but it tastes like a moment she has lived in before, in a moment she'd like to remain in forever. "Try it."

Elliot's spoon clatters next to hers in the cup, and he holds his hand underneath, careful not to drip any of it onto her. "Liv, this is disgusting.” The cup is back on the ground; his hands resume their positions in her hair. "You okay?"

“You’re always going to be the protective father, aren’t you?”

“You have the Mama Bear routine down flat, and we both know it.” His comment stings for a second, and she knows he’s aware when he inhales a sharp breath. “Liv, I—”

“I’m glad you came, Elliot.” The silver bulbs of her Christmas lights burn against the background of her mind as she closes her eyes. The pressure in her chest makes it hard for her to breathe, but she settles under his touch. “If you tell anyone I’m this weak when I’m sick, I’ll kill you.”

“If I did that, I think I’d have to explain all the reasons why you let me stay. When Elizabeth was younger, she used to get horrible ear infections all the time. She wouldn’t be able to sleep and when I’d come in from work, she’d be up and miserable. She used to make me read Goodnight Moon to her until she fell asleep. How do you think I ended up memorizing it?”

“When did she stop getting the infections?”

“Around seven, I think.”

“Do you ever read it to Eli?”

“Kathy has tried. He doesn’t like it. He’s big into Wheels on the Bus right now.”

Olivia pulls the blanket around her tightly, the warmth of his heat flush against her. “You can’t still have Goodnight Moon memorized. Liz is fifteen.”

“In the great green room, there was a telephone, and a red balloon, and a picture of the cow jumping over the moon.” He sounds like the father she’s always admired in him, like a man who knows what it’s like to see the worst, who knows what it’s like to come home to the best. “And there were three little bears sitting on chairs, and two little kittens, and a pair of mittens.”

She wants to stop him; she wants to tell him that while he looks like her partner, sounds like him, this isn’t who he’s supposed to be. She’s known him through eight and a half years of marriage, through birthdays and anniversaries where she had bought Kathy’s presents for him and as his voice continues with words and settles the pain in her head, as his fingers consistently massage her scalp, she breathes.

“I can’t believe you still remember this,” she mutters, her eyes closing.

“Easy as the Miranda Rights,” Elliot responds. “Get some sleep, Liv.”

She thinks that maybe this is all a dream, a delusion from sickness or too much cold medicine, or hell, a knock in the head that has caused a concussion.

Sleep starts to come to her now without the medication, the tilting finally slowing to the pace of being tipsy, and as she slips into the state between dreams and awake, she listens to the soft tone of his words, the persona of a man she never thought he could be.

His voice is quiet now, a mere whisper in the cold December night. “Goodnight stars, goodnight air, goodnight noises everywhere.”

December 25, 2008
6:14 A.M.

The smell of coffee filters into his bedroom as she steps inside, quietly closing the door behind her. She watches him sleep for a moment, his leg half out of the blankets despite the frost bitten morning, and tip-toes toward the bed. The sheets are cold beneath her touch as she slides underneath his blanket, her body moving closer to his.

She hadn’t seen him last night, not when Christmas Eve was spent with his kids while she worked late into the night. He had called her sometime around midnight, and when her phone lit up with his name while she was beside John in the car, she wondered if this is what it would be like if forced to get new partners; the same life on a completely different path. It had taken her hours to listen to his voicemail, and in the pitch black of winter, before dawn broke, she drove to his apartment.

Elliot shifts beside her, grumbling into his pillow, as one arm stretches out across her waist. “What time is it?”

“Six-fifteen. I have to go back to work in a couple of hours, but I wanted to see you.” Olivia presses her lips against his, eliciting the slightest part of his mouth. “Merry Christmas, El.”

He opens his eyes, the sleep spooled around the darkened blue. “Merry Christmas. When did you get here?”

“Twenty minutes ago. I started the coffee.” She slides against him, closing her eyes when his strong arms wrap around her. “How was dinner with the kids last night?”

“Dickie wanted to know if you weren’t there because you thought you’d get the third degree. Then Liz smacked him, told him that you’ve been to dinners with us before and that he was an idiot. It took twenty minutes to get them to stop fighting, and the second they did, Eli had a shit fit because Maureen wouldn’t play with him while she was cooking.” Elliot presses his lips against her neck, his words coming out mumbled. “Needless to say, I’m exhausted. Anything happening at work?”

“Munch and I got called to Megan Goodman’s house in the middle of the night. She’s starting to remember things about the night of her rape, but when we got there she was asleep again; mother didn’t want to wake her.”

He lifts his head, the impending morning lightening his eyes. “Don’t tell me you’re going to talk to her on Christmas morning.”

“Elliot,” she sighs, “we don’t have much of a choice. If she can remember something, if she’s remembering anything, we need to get that information as soon as possible, you know that.”

“It’s Christmas—”

“And unfortunately, it’s probably going to be absolute shit for her regardless if we go this morning or not.” She cups his chin in her hand, kissing him softly. “It’s Christmas, I have to be back at work in less than three hours, and I haven’t seen you since Tuesday night. We’re not fighting today.”

He smiles against her lips. “You’re being bossy.”

“I’ve been telling you what to do for the past ten years. Then again, it’s not often that you listen to me. Do me a favor? Listen to me today.” Underneath the blanket, she links her fingers in his. She can feel the pad of his thumb washing over the base of hers and she smiles against the pillows. “Does Eli love the tree?”

“He likes to pull things off of it more than anything else. We’re taking him to Rockefeller Center today. I have them until around five, and then they’re going to Kathy’s mother’s for dinner. I’ll be at work around seven, I’m sure.”

She thinks it’s sad that even when they have each other, even when he has his kids for a portion of the holiday, they’re still bound to their jobs.

Olivia stretches contently in his bed, the smell of his sheets washing off onto her skin. She wishes she could remain here for the day, wrapped in his blankets, up in him while another Christmas passes by.

“We opened some of the gifts last night,” Elliot murmurs, squeezing her fingers. She can feel his breath on her shoulder, her eyes close at the comfort of his touch. “Liz thinks she’s going to get me to play Guitar Hero.”

“I can’t picture you doing that.” She smiles against the pillow, adding, “Although, I would definitely love to see that.” She blinks against the light filtering in the room, yawning against the cotton pillowcase. She reaches across the nightstand, handing him a small bag with red handles. “Here, I wanted you to have this.”

Elliot’s fingers untangle from hers and he leans up on his elbow, reaching inside the bag. Wrapped in green tissue paper is an English to Spanish dictionary, and he smiles at her, flipping through the first few pages. “I thought I was doing pretty well with Babelfish.”

“You made no sense with it. At least now you might know what the hell you’re talking about.”

“How do you say…” Elliot flips another page, followed by another. “I hope there’s a real present out in the living room.”

“Why don’t you look up how to say ‘my girlfriend’s going to kick my ass if I’m not nicer to her.’”

“Now that would be a fun fight.”

She rubs her foot between his legs, smiling. “I put your present under the tree.”

“Mm,” he grunts, moving closer to her, dropping the book onto the floor. He fumbles for the zipper of her jeans and unbuttons them, letting his fingers slide over her lower stomach. “You’re not dressed casually enough for opening presents. You can’t sit at the Christmas tree in jeans; there are rules about that.”

“Yeah? What should I be wearing, then?”

Elliot climbs on top of her, nestling himself between her legs. She moans softly, the stirring of his erection causing her hips to involuntarily lift. He pulls her lower lip into his mouth, biting gently. “Nothing,” he whispers.

December 25, 2008
7:51 A.M.

“Coffee,” Elliot says, handing her a steaming mug.

He sits down beside her on the floor, the colored lights of his tree blinking in the snow covered morning. Dozens of presents remain under the faux evergreen, and he pulls three wrapped packages out from underneath. A hanging ornament wobbles back and forth, until she steadies it with her fingers.

Olivia lifts an eyebrow, reaching for the rectangular box she has for him. “You got me three presents?”

“You’ll probably kill me for two of them, and because of that, you should let me open yours first.”

“I let you open the dictionary.”

“I mean a real gift.”

She glances at him warily, handing over the box. She had spent hours in the city a couple of weeks ago, looking in stores and having no idea what to get. What was she supposed to buy a man who has been in her life for so long, but never in this capacity? She had perused every gift in what felt like millions of stores, and nothing seemed right. Things were too personal, too generic, too expensive, too cheap, and four days later, when she wasn’t looking and he was beside her on the streets, she found exactly what she was looking for.

They had passed it on their way to the car, and she had made a mental note as to their location so she could pick it up later. It had seemed perfect at the time, a little generic, but right for him, but now, as his fingers tear away the red and green wrapping paper, she realizes she’s a moron. Shit, picking his gifts were so much easier when she was picking his wife’s right after that.

Elliot opens the black box, the simple creak of the hinges eliciting a sound into his quiet apartment. He lifts the Tag Heuer watch, the face reflecting off the lights of the tree. He’s going to hate it; he’s gotten her three presents and she’s gotten him a watch and a stupid little dictionary.

“Uh, I know Eli smashed yours last month and you haven’t gotten around to getting another one.” She looks at him, allowing a small smile to lift her lips. “Turn it over. It’s engraved.”

“12/25/08,” Elliot says, rubbing his finger over the bumpy lettering. “EJS.” He leans over to her, kissing the corner of her mouth. She can feel the chill of her bare legs, the soft flutter of his N.Y.P.D. shirt ruffling against his touch. “Did you get this for me so I’d stop being late?”

“You’re always late, even when you have a watch.”

Elliot laughs, his eyes crinkling around the edges. “I love it, Liv. Thank you.” He hands her a gift, the smile on his lips widening. “Present number one.”

She looks at it suspiciously, before looking back up at him. It’s heavy in her hand, as she starts to unwrap it. “I’m going to break up with you for this, aren’t I?”

“You might.”

She tears off the remaining paper, lifting the book in her hands. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” Olivia laughs, tossing discarded wrapping paper at him. “New York Times Dessert Cookbook? I baked one pie, it’ll probably never happen again.”

“Oh,” Elliot frowns, “them I guess this was a mistake also?”

She takes the next gift and even without reaching inside the bag, she has a feeling she knows what it is. She tears the tissue papers from inside, pulling out a muffin tray.

Elliot Stabler is an idiot. An adorable, sexy idiot.

“It’s definitely done between us now,” Olivia teases. “I’m afraid to see the last one. Did you buy me a package of flour? Maybe a little shortening?”

“Do you even know what shortening looks like, Liv?”

“Screw you; you would have no idea, either. What do you think would happen if I came in with baked goods for the squad?”

“Wouldn’t be as good unless you came in with a pink frilly apron on and your hair up in a bun. You could be the squad’s very own Suzy Homemaker.”

“Detective Suzy Homemaker to you, Stabler.” She snatches the last present out of his hand, narrowing her eyes at him. “You are such a jackass.” The shredded paper of the third gift falls to the floor, and when it’s uncovered, a small gasp slips into the room like fallen ice. She opens the small book, flashes of red rushing by as she flips through the pages.

Okay, she was clearly very wrong on the jackass.

“El…” But words refuse to form as she looks up at him, her vision blurred behind tears she hopes she doesn’t cry. “How did you…” The cover falls back into place, the bold lettering of the title stinging her eyes. The Catcher in the Rye. “I didn’t even notice you had taken it.”

“It’s not the one you were reading a couple of months ago, was it?”

She shakes her head, opening it up again. The red pen markings of her mother stare back at her, a handwriting she hasn’t looked at in a long time. “My mother used this one when she was teaching high school. She marked all her notes in there, all the things she thought about the characters. I, uh, I never use it. It was falling apart, but I found it when I was going through her things. I loved that it was hers, that all of her thoughts on it were in here.” She swallows the lump in her throat, the chills returning to her nearly bare skin. “Why did you get it rebound for me?”

“Maureen was getting her thesis bound; I didn’t even know you could do something like that. You should be able to look at her book without expecting it to fall apart, Olivia. I’m sorry if—”

“No,” she mutters, pressing her forehead against his. “El, this was…thank you for doing that. It means a lot to me.”

He slides his hand through her hair, and she can feel the smile on his lips, the taste of coffee on his breath. “Are you still considering breaking up with me?”

“No.” She runs her tongue over his bottom lip, tasting him. “Let’s just hope I don’t kill you with all the baking you expect me to do.”

December 31, 2008
9:48 P.M.

Cosmopolitan Rule #22
: With ten seconds to spare, Dick Clark (and now boy wonder Ryan Seacrest) begins the countdown to the New Year. For single people, New Year’s is the chance to head out into the city, into the world and drink like the entire world thrives on this one night. For people in relationships, it’s that glorious moment where a ball drops, and at the stroke of midnight, you kiss with confetti and champagne. But like any holiday, it’s simply a twenty-four hour reprieve from the real world, a night to let go, to have fun. Once you hit a certain age and you’re newly dating, let your man plan the events (a little test before Valentine’s Day.) Don’t underestimate him; let him surprise you. Like most things in life, relationships are a give and take. Take his surprises, while planning some of your own.

“I never would have thought you could dance,” Olivia says, wrapping an arm around his neck as the music in the restaurant continues to trickle softly into the room.

She inhales the smell of his cologne, brushes her hand across the light blue shirt that lightens his eyes to a startling shade. For as long as she can remember, she’s always hated New Year’s, the whole ordeal of it when it never made much of a difference from one day to the next.

But for the first time—maybe ever—she finds herself having fun, waiting for the moment it turns midnight. The screams and calls from Times Square can always be heard throughout the city at the start of January first, vibrations of a new year decorating each and every street. It’s been days where Auld Lang Syne has remained in her head, an annoying set of lyrics that won’t leave until the romantic music of Valentine’s Day begins. Tonight, though, tonight she’s almost looking forward to it. The music, the yelling, the start of something new.

“We’re swaying. This isn’t dancing.” Elliot holds her tighter, ruffling his fingers over the neck of her black dress. “Where were you last New Year’s? Work?”

“No. I went to a party downtown with Casey. I met Moss that night.”

“When did you start dating him?”

Olivia brushes her lips across his neck, a simple touch. “About two weeks after that. You have to know that he didn’t—”

“I know,” Elliot assures her. “Come on, let’s go sit down.”

He takes her hand, leading her back to their table. The restaurant remains crowded into the night, a sea of faces that have no idea of their story, of the repercussions of something that should be fairly simple. She sits down across from him, and there are times—even five months later—where she thinks this must all be a mistake. There must be a punch line, a shoe waiting to drop, the end of the world waiting to occur. Instead, there’s just Elliot, with his moments of romance, with the surprise he never fails to deliver.

She takes a sip of her wine, the dry red sliding down her throat, warming her stomach. “Have you ever been to Times Square on New Year’s?”

“I’ve been there a couple of times. I hated it. I think the last time I was there was in ’88.”

“I was there in ’88.” She smiles, clearing the red stain from the rim of the glass with her finger. “I was twenty and it somehow sounded like a brilliant idea to venture out there in the freezing winds. There was this guy standing next to us, and I don’t think I have ever seen anyone that drunk.” The irony of her statement almost makes her smile in a room filled with cheerful celebration. “He kept yelling he was the King of New York, and at around ten to midnight, he took off all of his clothes, sat down and vomited everywhere, including on my brand new heels. That was the last time I ever went.”

“Times Square is a nightmare on any given day. New Year’s is torture.” He smiles, leaning back in his chair. “He threw up on you?”

“Don’t smirk, it was disgusting. I was in the shower for about two hours that night and I wrapped a towel around my feet when I slept because they still didn’t feel clean. Of course when I woke up I forgot it was there, I got up and fell right back down.” Olivia laughs, shrugging a shoulder. “Not my finest moment.”

“I would have loved to have seen that.”

“You never would have trusted me to watch your back if you had, believe me.”

The waiter drops their check on the table, and she reaches for it, pulling a credit card out of the small miniscule red bag she had found hidden in the back of her closet. Elliot reaches for the black, leather holder and she snatches it away from him, slipping her credit card inside.

“What are you doing?” he asks, and she can tell there’s a hint of annoyance in his voice, like because he’s the man, it automatically means he has to pay.

“Baking you a pie.” The sarcasm drips from each word, her hand braced over the check so he can’t take it. “What does it look like I’m doing?”

“Give me the check, Olivia.”



“Elliot…” She rests her elbow on the table, leaning forward. “Can I ask you something?” He nods his head, and she looks down at the white cloth, at the breadcrumbs that still remain, at the spot of wine that had slipped from the rim of the glass onto the tablecloth, before looking back up at him. “When I was sick, you brought me the cookie because it reminded me of my mother; for Christmas you got her book rebound. I guess…I don’t talk about her enough for you to know those things had such meaning to me. So, why did you do it?”

A trace of a smile lifts his lips. “You would never do it for yourself. Someone had to.”

“You don’t believe in romance, El. You…You think it’s a waste of time, you—”

“I’ve never said it was a waste of time,” he says quietly, taking her hand. He squeezes her palm, his flesh heated on hers. “Stop questioning it, Olivia. Stop expecting me to be the jackass you work with. It was never who I was when I went home, unless there was a case bothering me, and it’s not who I am. Stop expecting it to be.”

Olivia’s silent for a moment, before lifting her head, smiling. “If you know you’re a jackass, why do you continue to be one?”

“Now I’m letting you pay.”

“You didn’t have much of a choice.” Olivia adjusts her bag in her lap, checking her cell phone. “What do you want to do for the rest of the night?” He lifts an eyebrow, and she’s not sure jackass is the right word to describe him. Cocky; definitely cocky. “Your place or mine?”

“Mine. Your apartment is always too cold. I’ll build a fire and we can relax.”

The hardass cop who used to beat the shit out of lockers wants to build her a fire. Yeah, she shouldn’t be weirded out by this at all.

“You mean you’re going to flip the switch that turns it on? You sound like a caveman when you say you’re going to build me a fire.”

“Sexy, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, Elliot,” she responds, sarcastically. “Sometimes you’re just too sexy to handle.”

December 31, 2008
11:38 P.M.

Cosmopolitan Rule #23
: Because man came first, most of the gender believes that due to this, they are automatically correct. They’re smug, cocky and desperate to be right. Men are known not to ask for directions, because anyone with a dick can surely find their way to a desired location. What they have failed to realize over time is that the power of a penis doesn’t necessarily make them right, and when women came along, we were bound and determined to prove just that. And even when men are right? Don’t doubt that we have the power and ability to make them think otherwise.

The television in Elliot’s apartment remains on mute, the colors and flashes from Times Square emitting light into the room. What looks like the entire world has gathered in a place filled with tourists and neon billboards, the silver of streamers blinking in the winds. The gentle sounds of the radio fill his living room, and she watches him at the fireplace, the newly lit flames casting shadows over the walls. He hasn’t turned the lights on, only the television and the flames casting faded pictures into the room.

The hem of her black dress skims her leg as she walks into the living room, the soft flutter chilling her skin. She watches him from behind, the back muscles that slope and tighten as he pokes the pre-made fire, his ass that sticks out the slightest bit as he braces the soles of his socked feet on the floor. The shadows of him against the flames burn in the irises of her eyes, and with a simple, quick gesture, she unzips the sheath of material that has kept her anything but warm tonight.

“Elliot.” She calls his name, and she’s surprised at how soft it’s come out, how it’s mixed into the slow tempo of the music filling his living room.

The dress slips off of her as he turns like he’s done so many times in the past when she’s called his name. The black material pools at her feet, a puddle of clothes she’s been yearning to take off all night. He stares at her, almost as if he’s never seen her before. She can feel the goosebumps that form over her skin and whether it’s from the look he’s giving her or the cold night, she can’t be sure.

His eyes travel over the cleavage barely concealed from her black lace bra, her bare stomach, the garter skirt that so perfectly matches the bra, and stockings that accentuate her long, dark legs. She watches him stop when he notices her shoes remain on; black with a silver heel that make her as tall as him.

She can almost swear he’s stopped breathing. Mission accomplished.

“Have I made you a fan of lingerie yet?”

Elliot stands, planting his feet firmly on the floor. “Get over here,” he answers, gruffly.

She shakes her head, uncrossing her left ankle over her right, re-crossing right over left. The lace skirt shifts with her movement, and this time she hears his inhale, the sharp breath that fills with the room. “You didn’t answer me.”

He walks slowly toward her, like he’s about to catch his prey, something that belongs to him. She sees the lust in his eyes, the glaze of the blue that she can’t seem to tear her eyes away from. He’s in front of her now, and he bends down licking his tongue methodically down the center of her breasts. Her back arches against the wall, a hiss escaping her lips.

There’s more to tease him with, but the words don’t escape her lips, not when his tongue glides down her stomach, curves around the gentle slope of her belly button. She slides her fingers through the short strands of his hair, pulling his mouth closer to her body. His breath hits the places left moist by his touch, and she shivers the moment he’s back at her mouth, the moment he pulls away.

Without warning, as his eyes make contact with hers, he pins her hands above her head, pressing his body against her. Olivia inhales a sharp breath as his erection slides against the scrap of lace. He jerks his hips into her, and her knees weaken. He keeps one arm pinned against hers, the other holding her steady.

“How long have you been wearing that?”

She can hear the Brooklyn accent slip out, and she smiles, pressing her breasts gently against his chest. Her nipples peak, hard and tight against the lace. “Since you picked me up for dinner tonight. Tell me one more time that you don’t like lingerie.”

Elliot dips his tongue inside of her mouth, grabbing her ass in his hand. Her body arches, as her hands remain above her head, gravity and his strong grasp pulling her closer to him. His cock strains against the material of his pants, and she jerks her hands out of his hold, fumbling for his zipper. It doesn’t take long for him to lose them, as well as his briefs and shirt, and have her back against the wall.

Olivia lifts her right leg, the tip of the heel brushing against his ass. Through the thin lace, he presses himself against her clit. If there were screams outside starting for the New Year, it wouldn’t be heard over her moans, the long drawn out sound that vibrates in her ears. He moves rhythmically, holding her in position until she can barely breathe, until her body aches and she can hardly stand.

“Take it off, Elliot,” she whispers, her voice hoarse. “I can’t do this with underwear on.”

She watches the smirk form on his lips, while he bucks his hips against her. She grabs onto his shoulders, digs her nails deep into his shoulder blades. “I told you I didn’t want anything in the way when we had sex. It’s not coming off, Liv.”

“You are such a bastard,” she grinds out. “You’re going to make me come out of spite.”

He tickles the underside of her thigh he holds in his hand, and her eyes close as he continues to move against her. She can feel the black heel of the leg he holds slip onto the floor, her foot now digging into him.

“No, I’m going to make you come because I know you want me to.”

He’s pressed against her clit again, rocking against her hard, fast. He takes her breast in his hand with firm fingers, and she kisses him when she can no longer scream. She bites his lower lip, draws him into her mouth.

“Elliot.” It’s like a strangled cry out of her mouth; a desperate plea.

He stops, dropping her leg back onto the floor. She learns how to breathe again, how to let the air escape into her lungs. Elliot kneels on the floor, pushing her legs apart. He lifts the scrap of skirt, and before she has any idea what he’s doing, her clit is in his mouth, and he’s sucking her, ready to force her over the edge. She can feel her knees about to give out, but his hands grab the back of her legs, once against holding her steady.

Olivia inhales, mustering up all the energy she has to pull his head back, away from her. “I’m not coming without you.”

He slides his tongue above the rim of the skirt, licking a trail over her stomach, her breasts, until he’s standing, once against pressed between the lace. She can taste herself on his tongue when he kisses her, and when he bucks against her, the lace wet and moist against her thighs, she gives up on her fight. She’s going to come, whether or not two hundred dollars of lingerie is ruined.

Both of his hands slide through her hair as he thrusts against her again. “You’re gorgeous,” he groans, his grip on her tightening.

She doesn’t realize he’s pushed the lace to the side until he thrusts hard inside of her, the feel of his hard dick inside her wetness causing her to scream his name, to orgasm. He’s still holding her, because she’s standing, because he thrusts again, and again, until she feels him come, her back remaining pinned against the wall.

There’s one heel still left on her foot and she kicks it off, falling a couple of inches onto the floor. She presses her forehead against his lips, inhaling his breaths when she’s still failing to inhale her own.

In the distance, she can hear the screams of the city, signaling the start of 2009. She almost wants to laugh that at what was probably the stroke of midnight, she was having her first orgasm of the year instead of her first kiss.

Auld Lang Syne plays on the radio, the softest melodic version she’s ever heard filling his living room. Elliot tangles his hand through her hair, the sweat having turned it slightly wavy. He lifts her chin, kissing her, his body slowly rocking against hers, his racing heartbeat pounding against her chest.

“Happy New Year, baby,” he murmurs, his voice deep.

She closes her eyes, against his touch. “Happy New Year.”

Chapter Text

Month Six: January, 2009


January 6, 2009
4:58 A.M.

Cosmopolitan Rule #24:
Somewhere down the line—whether it be when the earth began or sometime way after—time became a factor in all aspects of life. From birth, we document the time a child is born, the amount of months it takes for them to take a first step, to speak. Classes are kept on schedules; movies have specific seconds when they are to begin. And relationships are given a counter of dates, months, years, or a lifetime to either thrive or fail. When the sixth month hits, there is that center marker, the halfway point in the beginning of a very long race. Surviving half a year together isn’t all that hard; deciding and wanting to survive the other half, well that’s the true test.

“Get back into bed,” Elliot murmurs against his pillow, the whisper of his words caught in the web of the sheets.

The darkness before the morning light seeps into the room, and Olivia bends down on the floor, rifling through a pile of clothes that had been discarded the previous night. She pulls her underwear out of the batch, shimmying into the soft blue cotton. Goose bumps slide up and down her skin, the edges of his blanket caressing her arm as she reaches for her jeans sprawled across the floor, slipping into them.

She leans down on his side of the bed, her knees cushioned by the shirt he was wearing the night before, and runs her fingers through the short stands of his hair.

“I haven’t been home in a week. I need to pick up new clothes.” Olivia kisses him gently on the lips, wishing she could climb in next to him for another hour instead of heading back to her cold, dark apartment. The snow still coats the earth, the tainted white that is never as gorgeous as it once seemed. “Sleep for a couple more hours. I’ll see you at work.”

She stands up to leave when he takes her hand, pulling her to the edge of the bed. She sits down, nearly on top of him, and obliges when he pats the space next to him for her to lie. There are clothes that await her, clothes that she hasn’t worn in weeks, a hot shower to ward off the bitter morning chill, but for five minutes, it can wait. For five minutes, she can lie beside him and pretend that this is all their lives consist of, instead of the brutality that comes to them daily.

“I have a favor to ask you,” Elliot says, rubbing his knuckle over her cheek.

“I never like when you start sentences like that.”

He smiles, and it never fully widens his lips. “Maureen’s best friend is getting married in two weeks. I’ve been good friends with Lauren’s parents since the girls were four. Come with me to the wedding, Olivia.”

Five minutes was too much. She needs clothes, a hot shower, time to load her gun and kill him.

Is he kidding with this?

Olivia sits up in bed, shaking her head. “No.”

It doesn’t matter that the light hasn’t filtered fully into the morning. It doesn’t matter that he could still sleep, not when he sits up in bed, the sheet draped around his waist as he gears up for an argument that is bound to happen. She thinks that somewhere in the Morons Guide to Dating, it mentions something on how to avoid arguments at some ungodly hour of morning, and if not, she wishes someone would write one. Not that Elliot and she would ever listen to the advice given.


“First of all,” she interrupts, “you’re inviting me to a wedding that’s in two weeks. Shouldn’t you have RSVP’d by now?” She takes a deep breath, looking down at the tangled sheets. “Look, El, it’s not that I don’t want to go with you, but is it the best idea for me to go to a wedding with you when I’m assuming Kathy will be there as well?”

“Are we seriously having this conversation again?”

The clock continues to move with each sixty seconds, another minute to herself lost. “You’re not dating someone new, Elliot. You’re dating someone who your ex-wife once worried you liked spending more time with. You’re dating someone who has known your ex for the same amount of time she’s known you. I don’t feel right going to this, not when I know it’ll make her uncomfortable, all of us uncomfortable. She might know we’re dating, but that doesn’t make this any easier.”

“Do you want to stay in this relationship, Liv?”

There is no accusation in his voice, but there’s anger. So much has changed in the past six months, but she still knows his rage as well as she knows her own.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means that yes, this may be awkward. It might be uncomfortable. But Kathy and I are still friends, and with five kids, she’s still going to be around—”

“It’s not about her being around—”

“If we continue dating, she’s going to be there. The only way to stop making it uncomfortable is to do this as best as we can. Come with me to the wedding. It’ll be fun.”

She smiles, shaking her head as she rests her forehead against his. “No wedding is ever fun.”

If relationships were to survive on sacrifice, she wonders if this is hers.

“If it means that much, then fine, I’ll go with you.” She nuzzles her nose against his lips, inhaling softly as his arm wraps around her waist. “You couldn’t have told me about this when you got the invitation?”

“Do you always have to argue with me?” But he smiles now, nipping at her lips. “Go home and change. I’ll see you at work.”

She doesn’t want to move from him yet, not when the goose bumps have dissipated, when the exhaustion has crawled back into her bones, and she wants nothing more than to sleep beside him. “Can we spend the night at my place tonight?”

“What’s wrong with here?”

“I’ve been at your place all week. Believe it or not, I actually like my little apartment. I like my worn-in mattress, my shower—“

“Your shower that doesn’t let water down half the time because your hair gets stuck in the drain?”

“My shower that has better pressure than yours.” Olivia’s lips travel down his neck, her words muffled against his scruff. “Besides, you owe me now.”

“How long are you going to hold this over me?”

“Basically, as long as I can.” She glances at the clock, gently kissing his lips. “I have to go. And go brush your teeth.” He swats at her ass as she stands, the shadow of a smile outlining his lips. On the floor near the door, she grabs her bag, turning around to face him. The darkness remains in the room, but against the streetlamps that never burn dim she can see the blue of his eyes. “Is she okay with me coming?”

“It’ll be fine, Liv. The night of January twenty-fourth. Black tie optional.”

She nods, turning back towards the door. “You want my New Year’s lingerie on underneath it?”

“We’ll never make it to the wedding if you do,” Elliot calls back.

She smiles, walking out of the room. “Wouldn’t that be a shame?”
January 12, 2009
9:41 P.M.

“Is my nail polish in here somewhere?” Olivia asks, pushing open the door to her bathroom.

Elliot stands at the toilet, his head snapping towards her. She doesn’t bother to look at him, but instead rifles through her medicine cabinet. Half a bottle of Nyquil from her trip to the sick-induced-hell hall of fame last month; a pair of nail clippers; the xanax her doctor had prescribed when she was on edge, pills she had never bothered to take; the band-aids she had that she never used. No nail polish with deep red tints, though.

“Olivia, can you give me a second in here? I’m trying to…”

She looks up from the first drawer underneath her sink, shrugging. “It’s nothing I haven’t seen before,” she says, going back to the drawer. Condoms, cotton balls, nail polish remover, a tampon. Shit, where the hell is the damn nail polish?

“Olivia.” He clears his throat. “I can’t pee with you in here.”

In the second drawer she pushes aside a pen, a magazine she had stuck in there, another loose tampon. And that glorious red nail polish. “What’s the big deal?”

Elliot pulls up his pants, sighing. The flaps of his jeans hang open, the belt dangling precariously from the loops. “It took me fifteen years to go to the bathroom in front of Kathy.”

“Something to look forward to then,” she responds, sarcastically, palming the bottle of paint in her hand. “Only five more years until I have that privilege. Or is that fourteen more years?”

“Get out, Olivia.”

She laughs, closing the door behind her as she walks back into the bedroom. The television remains on, the soft sound of an episodic drama filling the corners that once bled with silence, and she places a magazine in front of her toes. The dark red—almost rustic brown—covers her big toe with the gentle stroke of the brush, each line depleting the white of her nail.

“Since when do you paint your toenails?” Elliot asks, stepping out of the bathroom.

“Were you able to pee, El?” she asks, sweetly, wiping the brush over another toe.

“Your sarcasm is really in full swing tonight, sweetheart.”

Olivia laughs, glancing up at him. “I paint them when I have the time. Haven’t had much of it lately, though.” She leans her head back against the pillows, stretching her toes in front of her. “You really can’t go with someone else in there?”

“Can we drop this line of conversation?” He grabs the remote that rests between them on the bed, flipping through the channels, an endless array of reality shows and television that remains the same week after week. “Did you get a dress for the wedding?”

“Not yet. I’ll go this weekend if I have the time. If not, I’m sure there’s something in my closet I can wear.” Olivia finishes her pinky toe, sliding the magazine over the slightest bit, so she can paint her other foot. “Greylek’s been doing well in court.”

“She’s fine. Most of the time it doesn’t make a difference anyway.”

She tilts her head, the brush stopping midway across the toe. “How many times a day do you think about quitting?”

She’s back to focusing on her feet before she can see his face, before watching the surprise, yet expectance wash over his features.

“Six or seven times on average. Fifty if it’s a bad day. Maybe five if the day only marginally sucks.” Elliot shifts in bed, his shoulder now flush against hers. “What about you?”

“I always think about it, but I’ll never do it. I’m not sure anything will ever push us out of there for good.” The soft strokes of paint to nail continue, the night almost silent around them as if there were no victims, no consequences, no harm. “I can’t listen to someone clip their nails.” Olivia looks up at him, a small smile lifting her lips. “There’s something about the sound and the action of it.”

She closes the bottle of polish, flexing her toes. Some crack, while others remain in place, and she stretches her legs across the white down comforter. She thinks there’s a duvet stuck somewhere in her closet—one she had washed and never found the time to put back on—but turns her attention back to Elliot when he slides underneath the blanket.

“I’ve done that in front of you before.”

“I hated it. I just didn’t think I should be neurotic with you quite yet.” She turns out the lamp beside her bed, darkness illuminating the four walls of her bedroom, with the exception of the TV light. Elliot’s hand reaches across the space between them, and he takes it, pulling her beside him. She thinks there might be a stain of darkened red in the morning from the polish that hasn’t completely dried. “It’s been bothering me,” she admits into the chilled room. “The Mackenzie case, I mean.”

“I knew,” he whispers softly, his breath tickling the back of her neck. “I was waiting for you to bring it up.”

Olivia turns over in his arms, sliding her foot between his legs. “I think about leaving the job more than I should.”

“We all think about leaving more than we should, Liv. It never stops being shit and even when it’s better than most days—”

“It’s still shit. I know.” She closes her eyes, and despite it being before ten, she thinks she could sleep herself into a coma for the next decade. “What was the first thing you ever wanted to be?”

The shadows flit over his face, a lifetime of memories washing through the deep blue of his eyes. “An architect,” he answers, rubbing his finger over her hairline. “It wasn’t for very long, but that’s the first thing I ever remember loving. What about you?”

Olivia smiles, and she knows she’s going to get crap from him for the rest of their lives. “A princess.” And just like she expected, he laughs with no barriers held, filling the room with more light than a bulb ever could. “You can stop laughing at any time, El.”

His laughter fades the slightest bit, and he brushes his lips across hers. “A princess? Really?”

“Did you think I was born with a badge and gun?”

“I figured a teacher, maybe. Or…something that doesn’t come with a tiara and a long flowing dress. Did you want to waltz with your prince?”

“I considered it, until I realized most men were like you and had no rhythm.”

“I can sway. It’s close enough. You really wanted to be a princess?”

She rolls her eyes. “Yes, Elliot. Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, one little girl longed for her prince. Then she realized that she could kick some ass herself, ditched the prince and became a detective. The end.”

“You forgot the happily ever after,” he grins. He folds his fingers between the crevices of hers, sliding his finger over the ring she wears on her left hand. “You’ve never seen a Disney movie.”

“Doesn’t mean I never wanted that kind of life,” she answers, although no real question has been asked. “Which is your favorite?”

“Why? Are you going to watch it with me?”

“Shut up.”

“I’ve seen The Little Mermaid the most. All three girls loved it. Not sure I have a favorite, though.” Elliot slides his hand through her hair, and her eyes close again, the night wrapping around her. “Do you want to talk about it? The Mackenzie case?”

“Not really.”


“Don’t push me into discussing it, Elliot. You never do and I never force you to.” His fingers loosen in hers, but never unlock, a life force held between them that no one else can understand. “What kind of architect did you want to be?”

She can hear the smile in his voice when he answers, “Builder of all things Lego.”

January 16, 2009

There was a point in her life where she used to crave the moments she spent with Elliot Stabler. Back then, it wasn’t so much about him, but that need to be with someone, to have someone to talk to when there was no sound in the air but the whispering winds of the ghosts in her past. She would spend nights at home with the lights dimmed and the television on, staring into an abyss that didn’t make her think, that didn’t make her feel so alone.

He would call her sometimes in those days when there was nothing more between them than friendship, a partnership which always managed to walk the fine line between sanity and complete and utter chaos. His voice would be hushed and she knew Kathy and the kids were sleeping, and as she settled into bed or onto the couch, there would be discussions of things that held no meaning. No past, no present, no future; just storylines from TV that didn’t dictate their lives, movies that were seen, silence that wasn’t filled with ghosts but with serenity.

Olivia would come into work, and find comfort in the fact that while things changed, people changed, something between them was always right. It wasn’t always necessarily in the moment, but there was a glimmer of who they used to be, of who they could still be again if they could simply find their common ground.

But as she sits across from him now, the paperwork piled high on the desk across from his, there are times she wishes she had that space she once did. The silence never lingers anymore; there’s never a moment to be inside of herself, to be alone. Not when she’s always with him here, always with him at home.

She’s fallen in love with him.

In six months—or maybe ten years—she’s fallen in love with the man who was once assigned to save her life. He did, she guesses. Either that or he has put to rest the woman she used to be, the one who had stopped believing in love.

There are things she understands now, like how love can be born in recreated memories, how happiness can be found in the smallest of things.

And she understands that being alone was never the punishment she thought, but instead something meant to cleanse, to consider yourself reborn.

She’s fallen in love with him, yet lost the silence she had once run so far from without ever knowing it was what helped keep her at peace.

She’ll never tell him she’s in love with him—not right now—just like she keeps quiet on the fact that sometimes she can’t spend twenty-four hours with him, day after day after day.

She craves her silence on certain nights now; she craves her ghosts because even in love, she still has her demons, her thoughts that never seem to cease.

Love, she thinks, is the tool that can help a person appreciate who they've always been and make them become the person they've always wanted to be, all the while contradicting the person they currently are.

January 24, 2009

Cosmopolitan Rule #25
: In the movie Closer, Jude Law states, “I owe you an apology. I fell in love with her. My intention was not to make you suffer.” While for women this is usually stated with ‘him’ instead of a ‘her’, this reigns true for any girlfriend who is forced to have a relationship with her boyfriend’s ex, especially when a previous relationship with the wife or girlfriend existed. When sitting in a room together, you can dream up all the apologies that you want, but nothing being said can ever really make up for it. It doesn’t make you wrong, not when there was something else not working in their relationship, but it doesn’t make it easier either. That first moment where you really have to spend time together (short conversations aside) is the true test on whether or not your relationship with your boyfriend can survive. The bottom line is, if the man is friends with his ex, you do everything in your power to gain her trust, her friendship, and her respect. Then again, make sure the same thing happens in return before he goes back to her and you’re left alone, wondering what the hell has just happened.

If there were a list of the most awkward things she’s lived through, this would be up there in the top five. There was that time when her mother had walked in on her in the middle of sex with one of Serena’s students, eliciting a scream from all parties involved, a lecture on sex with an underage girl and the importance of the use of condoms. Also, that time when she and Elliot had gotten stuck inside a warehouse (long before Victor Gitano redefined the damn places) and she had made some comment related to sex and her current boyfriend, a comment that had him looking at her as if she was insane for a good three weeks.

Now that she thinks about it, most of the awkward moments in her life involve something related to sex. Tonight, she figures, isn’t all that different.

She’s had sex with Elliot. Kathy’s had sex with Elliot.

Enter the awkwardness, the first one in 2009.

They’ve been at the reception for almost an hour now. There had been mediocre conversations so far; something about the weather, about the line of work Kathy’s date was in. Elliot had surveyed him, given him the third degree like he was Kathy’s father instead of her ex-husband.

She had almost laughed out loud when she thought of Freud and the amount of fun he would have with all of them. Olivia never had a father, so she falls in love with a man who acts like a father to every fallen victim; Elliot never had a stable mother, so he marries someone who is willing to bear nearly half a dozen of his children, and then dates someone who reacts to every child she comes across like a sympathetic mother. Kathy’s current date, a children’s transplant doctor, handles sick kids daily, and she can only imagine the trauma that exists in his past.

No, Dr. Freud. None of us have parent issues at all.

“Olivia,” Kathy’s date says. What was his name? Oh, right. Jesse. How could she forget when the chorus to Jessie’s Girl has been in her head since she met him. She’s wondering at this point if Elliot wishes he had Jesse’s girl. Shit, her sarcasm has gotten the best of her these days. “How long have you been in SVU?”

Olivia reaches for her glass of wine, and drinks nearly half of it. The warm red alcohol slides down her throat, warms her stomach, gives her the bout of courage she needs to stay inside this room. “Ten years.” She can swear her voice cracks; a sliver of ice smashing to the ground. “Where do you practice?”

Beside her, Elliot squirms and she’s tempted to hit him. If she can remain straight up in her seat, her legs crossed, her movement limited, he sure as hell can too.

She wonders if this is what karma feels like; being stuck in this damn room living in Elliot’s former life, when she’s part of the reason he’s no longer in it.

“Columbia.” Jesse looks around the room, the crystal chandeliers shimmering across the wood floors, beaming over those who dance. “This place is beautiful. Have any of you ever been here before?”

“Elliot and I were, uh…” Kathy pauses. “Our wedding reception was here.”

Olivia finds it hard to breathe all of a sudden, a weight on her chest that causes her heart to skip, her chest to hurt, like all the air from the room has suddenly diminished between couples who seem to find the easy road in life.

Karma, prescription for death, the most uncomfortable wedding in the world, Satan’s lair…this event could have so many names right now.

“God, hide me,” Maureen interrupts, sidling up to the table, slicing the tension in half. She comes up behind Elliot, wrapping her arms around his neck from behind. “The photographer is after me for all these shots and I think I’m going blind.”

Elliot holds onto her hands, and it strikes Olivia as odd that she has never seen him like this with his children, even since they’ve been dating. There were quick moments when one or another would come into the precinct, dinners that existed of conversations on school, their lives, but she’s never seen him as strictly the father without the cop, the father without the rules of the world.

“Hey, Mo, I think I saw little Jimmy Delmonico when we got here. Do you still talk to him?”

“Elliot,” Kathy warns, but there’s laughter in her voice, reminding Olivia of dinners she used to attend in Queens. “Stop it.”

“First of all, I dated him for like ten minutes when I was fifteen. Second, the last I heard he was engaged to Morgan Schaffer, who by the way, isn’t here because little Jimmy got her pregnant a few months ago and she just wasn’t feeling all that great to come here since morning sickness is a total killer. So, now they have to get married, and yeah, it probably won’t last, so no, I don’t really talk to Jimmy all that much these days.”

Sex. Awkward.

Works every time.

Olivia watches Elliot, the white shade of his knuckles as he holds onto Maureen: his daughter that caused him to get married; a marriage that didn’t last.

Kathy clears her throat, her right hand grabbing the stem of her wine glass as she drinks down the contents. “Sweetie, you should go have some fun. This is your best friend’s wedding.”

“I can’t have fun if I go blind from the crazy cameraman. I think Lauren stole Eli, though. Seriously, if either of you ever need a babysitter for him, Lauren has volunteered herself.” She reaches for Elliot’s fork, stealing a bite of his mashed potatoes. It takes her a second, her mouth in mid-bite, when Maureen looks around the table, the blue of her irises widening. She swallows, placing the fork back down on the table. “I just realized how weird this seating arrangement is,” she mutters. “Crap.”

Olivia can’t help it; a small, almost unnoticed laugh slips from her lips. Nail, hammer, head.

There’s that silence again, filling the table like a tidal wave about to break open across their table. Dating someone who is divorced suddenly seems like the worst idea, even if that someone is Elliot.

“Well, I should go,” Maureen says. “I promised Dickie I would introduce him to Mike’s sister, and he’s so annoying that he won’t shut up about it. Plus, this is weird.” She kisses the top of Elliot’s head. “See you guys later.”

For the first time, Olivia hears the music, the soft melody that seems to settle her. She can do this. After all, she’s had her throat slashed, she’s been shot at, and she’s looked down the barrel of a gun more times than she can remember. She’s stared at Elliot when the world seemed as if it was about to end, and she’s met a brother that she never knew existed until she was nearly forty. This is simple. This has to be simpler than those, right?

“Maureen looks great,” Olivia says, and she wonders where the hell the other six people at this table are. They were probably smart enough to get the hell out of Dodge at the most uncomfortable table in the world. “How long has she been friends with Lauren?”

“What was it, El? Since she was four?” Kathy asks.

“Yeah,” Elliot agrees. “The girls always used to joke that we had no idea what we were getting into when we put the two of them together. I think they’re right. They’re good girls, but there were so many nights that none of us got sleep because they wouldn’t shut up.”

“Do you remember that night when we were out with Steve and Ginny and we let Lauren and Maureen take care of the kids?” Kathy laughs, and it’s pure, untainted, evident to the reasons why Elliot had once loved her. “We came home and the place was a mess. Dickie was running around with one of Maureen’s bras strapped to his head, Kathleen’s underwear on each arm like he was using them as pool floaties, and what else was it?”

It’s like this once married couple are the only two in the room, which would be lovely if the girlfriend and the date were not involved. Or if this was some kind of reconciliation moment. Looks like Elliot might get Jesse’s girl after all. Rick Springfield would be so proud.

“The girls had put makeup on him to make him look like a clown.” Elliot Stabler, the sudden master of hysterical laughter. “He stole their stuff as revenge. We found Maureen and Lauren chasing after the kids and Kathleen was sitting in her room just watching TV and ignoring all of them. She said that the noise level was giving her a headache, but if she had to choose, she’d help Dickie.”

“It’s better than the time Kathleen snuck out with Mo and Lauren and they came back home, all of them drunk and vomiting on the front porch.”

Elliot’s lips tighten into a straight line, no longer amused. “I don’t remember that. Kath, when was that?”

Jesse’s beeper goes off, and at least one of them was saved by the bell. Maybe two, considering Kathy has just gotten Detective Stabler into high protective father mode.

“I’m so sorry, but it’s a 911 call from the hospital,” Jesse says, standing. “One of my patients. If there’s—”

“Go,” Kathy urges, “I completely understand.” After being married to Elliot Stabler for over twenty years, she knows what it’s like to let someone go the moment a phone or beeper sets off in the night. “I’ll walk you out.” She turns to Elliot and Olivia. “If you two will excuse me for a minute.”

And then there were two.

Elliot turns his attention to Olivia, and as his eyes narrow, she’s happy to know their communication without words still rings true.

“What?” Elliot asks.

“Oh, where do I even begin? You got married here?”

“We had our reception here. It was a long time ago, Olivia.”

She will not start a war here. She will not start a war here. “Fine.”

“Don’t do this. Yes, I got married here. I’m divorced now. When Lauren and Mike got engaged, Maureen mentioned this place to them. It’s not a big deal.”

“Elliot,” she sighs, “we’re stuck at the same table as your ex-wife in a place where you had your wedding reception, and the two of you are acting like you’re still a couple. I don’t care if you’re friends with her. I really don’t, but at least respect me enough not to throw your marriage in my face, okay?”

“How am I throwing my marriage in your face?”

“I just…” Olivia takes a deep breath, staring at him. “I knew you for about eight years of your marriage. I know how hard it was for you when she left. You have to understand that as much as I respect the relationship you once had with her, it’s not easy watching the two of you together. And truthfully, I’m sure it’s not easy for her to watch us, especially here.”

“I know,” Elliot agrees. “I’m sorry. Lauren is like a daughter to us and I—”

“I understand it.” Olivia’s phone vibrates, the bright blue illuminated against the white tablecloth. “Shit,” she mutters, lifting the phone. “Benson…Uh huh. “ She presses her finger against her ear, doing her best to block out the music, the laughter of those around them. “No, it must be the television…Shut up, Munch. I’ll be there in twenty minutes…Yeah, I’m honored to be working with you.”

“He sounds like he’s in top form tonight,” Elliot goads, the smile reappearing on his lips.

“He’s always in top form,” Olivia mutters. “I need to take the car. Can you get a ride home?”

“Of course, I’ll have one of the girls drive me.” Elliot leans over, planting a gentle kiss on her cheek. “I appreciate you coming tonight, Liv. Thanks.”

“I’ll call you later.” She glances at Kathy’s empty spot, the one she’ll return to in a few moments without the man she had arrived with. Fear and doubt shimmies across her skin, into her veins. “Do me a favor, El?”

There’s a smile on his lips as she grabs her small purse, one almost made of sadness. “Don’t even think it. I’ll talk to you later.”

January 24, 2008
8:30 P.M.

“Olivia, do you have a second?”

In the shadows of the night, Elliot’s ex rushes towards the car. Kathy wraps her jacket tightly around her, her jog coming to a slow stop as a puff of air slides out of her mouth with every breath.

“Just,” Olivia says, opening her car door. “I have to head into work.”

Kathy digs her hands into her coat pocket, shifting back and forth in her heels. “It’ll be quick. I realize this was probably weird for you—”

“Kathy, I can’t keep having this conversation with you or with Elliot for that matter,” she says quietly. “It’s hard for all of us. We need to leave it at that.”

“I know. I didn’t come out here to rehash that, and I know you have to go so I’ll be quick. The twins are turning sixteen next month and I was thinking about doing something for them, throwing a party maybe. I know Elliot will invite you when there are details, but I wanted to ask you.”

The wind picks up; time continues to move far faster than she can keep up with. “Why?”

“Because sooner or later, we’re going to have to stop making this awkward, especially with the kids involved. We might as well make it sooner, and I realize I’m the one who has to take that first step.” Kathy turns her head in the direction of the reception hall, her blonde hair splaying in the wind. “I should let you go. Have a good night.”

If shock belonged in nature, it would be freezing winds, the first flake of snow.

“Yeah,” Olivia answers, “you too.”

January 31, 2009
2:07 P.M.

“War,” Olivia calls, placing three cards on top of her six. She turns over the fourth as does Elliot, stealing his cards with a triumphant smile when her ace beats his king.

Outside, the rain slams against the windows, the crashes of thunder booming against the steely gray afternoon. His apartment is warm and she pulls her right leg onto the couch, crossing butterflied in front of her.

She had debated coming here today when her own apartment called to her on a rare day off in an insane filled week, but with the cold, rain soaked streets and the sweatpants and hoodie she rarely got to wear, she had given in and gone to his apartment instead. She doesn’t know what possessed them to play War like bored children, but twenty minutes ago game one had started and doesn’t seem as if it’ll ever stop.

“I still don’t think ace beats a king,” Elliot argues. “Ace is one.”

“We’ve been over this a dozen times. How come when you get an ace, you suddenly believe it’s the higher card?”

“Fine, ace is higher. Even though, it’s not.”

“I should have known you’d get irritated when you started to lose,” Olivia laughs.

“I’m not losing. It takes fifty years to make it through this damn game. I’ll get you on the next round.” And as if to prove his point, he throws another king onto the pile, taking a hold of her queen. “This is more pointless than Hungry Hungry Hippos.

“It kind of is.”

She pulls her cards together, placing them on the table in front of them. With the night slowly creeping into the already darkened afternoon, Olivia stretches her legs across his couch, her feet landing in his lap. He doesn’t need the words from her to drop his cards as well, and he pulls her up and toward him. She falls and settles against him, as a shard of lightning breaks through the gray.

A chill slices down her spine and he brings her closer, his other hand reaching for the remote beside him. There are times their entire relationship makes her want to laugh, like how for two people who live their entire lives saving others, they’re surprisingly mundane and boring as a couple. She’s never really sat at home before with nothing but television and games and sex; she’s never known how to remain still in the confines of someone else’s life.

“Did you know I used to watch Days?” Olivia asks when Elliot stops on the channel that runs endless soap operas.

He lifts an eyebrow, a smile fluttering across his lips. “A princess and Days of our Lives? Who the hell are you, Benson, and what did you do with my partner?”

“My girlfriends in college loved it. I used to have to sit through it when we lived together.” She points to the screen, and sometimes she loves forgetting the detective she forced herself to become all those years ago. “That’s Bo and Hope. They’re cops. I think she used to be a model, though. The first six months after I graduated from the academy, the girls would call me Hope. The first time they came out here to see me after that, I showed them my gun and told them if they called me Hope one more time I’d kill them. They never did again.”

Elliot smiles at her, amused. “Please, enlighten me on more.”

Her own smile erupts across her face and she nods. “That’s Stefano. He never dies and he likes to destroy lives. I’m not sure we’ve ever found out why, though—”

A knock on the door interrupts them and Olivia leans forward, allowing him to stand. “Keep going, Liv. I want to know all about Stefano and his life destroying plans.”

“Don’t test me, Stabler. I’ll torture you with it all day long if I have to.”

Elliot pulls the door open, his oldest daughter standing there, soaked to the bone. Her blonde hair drips onto the linoleum floors outside of his apartment, and she shivers from the cold, damp afternoon.

“So, I guess it’s raining outside,” Maureen says, walking into Elliot’s apartment. She turns to him, smiling. “I heard through the grapevine you had today off. I was in the neighborhood, thought I’d drop in and say hi. If I’m interrupting—”

“No,” Elliot says shaking his head, “it’s great to see you, baby. An umbrella might have helped though. You didn’t think to get one with all the water pouring from the sky?”

Maureen shrugs a shoulder, more water slipping onto the floor. “You would think, but it’s just one of those days. Hey, Liv.”

“Sweetie, do you want a change of clothes?” Olivia asks, planting both feet onto the ground.

“I would love that. It was not this bad out when I left my apartment, I swear.” Maureen glances at the screen, a smile lighting her lips. “I don’t even want to know why the two of you are watching this, but I totally love Marlena and John.”

Elliot groans. “Who?”

“Stefano got her possessed by the devil, Elliot.”

“Wow, Liv, I never would have pegged you for knowing detailed history from a soap opera. I’m impressed,” Maureen teases. “They used to be the best. John was all knight in shining armor back in the day, and totally in love with Marlena, until he died, got brought back to life and now thinks he’s some kind of robot. I mean, not really, but he’s sort of dead inside.”

“Oh, that’s why he’s talking like that?” Olivia stands, reaching for another sweatshirt that’s thrown onto Elliot’s kitchen table, one arm draped over the back of a chair. “I thought he had taken on a new acting style.”

“Yes, because he’s such a brilliant actor,” Elliot cracks. “I bet he’ll win an Emmy. Sweetheart,” he says, turning to Maureen, “go change before you get sick.”

She rolls her eyes, pulling her hair up into a ponytail. “I’m going, I’m going.”

January 31, 2009
3:16 P.M.

There has always been common ground at the start of each new relationship for her, whether it is romantic, friendship or innocence lost far too young. She’s found similar interests with men, things generally liked between her and other women, the knowledge of all that can happen in life with the victims. She’s just not ever sure she believed that when it came to Elliot Stabler’s oldest daughter, it would be a soap opera.

Elliot had left them minutes before to go pick up food, and for the sake of not making things awkward with her father’s (somewhat) new girlfriend, Maureen had started to discuss the soap Olivia had once watched. To be honest, it’s the last thing she actually wants to talk about when she doesn’t have Elliot to tease, but she gives into the discussion because it’s probably better than the inevitable questions about where her relationship with Elliot is going, if Maureen will be the maid of honor at the wedding or one of the other kids. Yes, Days of our Lives and all its ridiculous plotlines are so much better.

She smiles sheepishly, taking a sip from her water. Olivia’s sweatshirt hangs off of her hands, the cotton material draped over the base of the bottle. “Sorry, I can’t imagine you actually watch soaps now.”

Olivia smiles, one that never fully lifts her lips. “How’s life, Maureen?”

“It’s awesome, actually. I love my new apartment, and I actually really like grad school a lot. Look, Liv, about Lauren’s wedding…I didn’t…When I was doing the table arrangements with her, I didn’t even think about it, putting them together. Plus, Dad hadn’t—”

“Maureen, you don’t have to explain it to me. Your parents are still friends, and that’s the way it should be, especially with all of you.” She takes a deep breath, and bites a bullet that probably shouldn’t be hers to chew. “Are you okay with me dating your dad?”

His child’s eyes widen the slightest bit, softening within seconds. “We’ve all known you a long time, Olivia. I mean it’s…” She stops for a moment, the blue of her eyes the same shade as her father’s. “I think it’s hard to be upset over something that you sort of expect, anyway, you know?”

She doesn’t know how to respond to that, not when the implications hang in the air like thick clouds of smoke. “Maureen—”

“No,” she shakes her head, pulling a leg up on the couch, “please don’t think I mean that…hey, shit happens,” Maureen says, bluntly. “I lived in that house through the last years of their split the first time and it sucked. I love my parents more than anything but seriously? In the end, I wanted them to end it to save all of us, especially Eli, from their stuff. And really, as much as I think it’s totally weird to discuss this with you, you should know that none of us think there was like an affair or something. Dad’s too Catholic to do that, and Mom would have taken his gun and killed him if he did.” She smiles then, and Olivia sees Elliot in her. “We’re kind of like our own version of Days, huh?”

“Your father’s not as forgiving as John,” Olivia teases.

“Yeah, no kidding.”

“Did you have a good time at the wedding?”

For the second time that afternoon, there’s a knock on the door and Olivia stands. With her luck, it’ll be Don Cragen, or hell, even Kathy. They can all play War and see how that game ends up.

“Mark!” Olivia opens the door wider, staring up at Elliot’s next door neighbor, the same one who had asked her out what seems like decades ago. “What can I do for you? Elliot just ran out for a few minutes.”

“I wanted to give this back to him,” Mark answers, handing Olivia a wrench. “He loaned it to me a couple of weeks ago and I forgot I had it.”

“I doubt he even realizes it. I’ll let him know you stopped by.”

“Thanks. I’ll see you, Olivia.”

“Okay, who is that and why have I never met him?” Maureen asks, when the door closes behind Mark. She stands up, taking a step towards Olivia.

She looks behind her, confused. “You’ve never met Mark? He lives next door to your father. I would have introduced you, but I figured you already knew each other.”

“I clearly don’t come here enough! Invite him to lunch. Dad won’t mind, will he?”

She thinks Elliot still holds that grudge from when Mark hit on her all those months ago, but for the sake of Elliot’s daughter, she shakes her head. “He might if he realizes you like him.”

“Yeah, well, let’s skip that part. Besides I can’t like him. I don’t even know him. I look like such a slob right now. Should I go change?”

“Stop it, you’re beautiful. Besides, your clothes are still wet.”

“It’s pouring out there,” Elliot mumbles, pushing the front door open. Despite the umbrella in one hand, the brown paper bags from the Chinese food are soaked. “Only for you would I go out in the rain for food that doesn’t deliver,” he teases, staring at Maureen. “Not to mention, we ordered what feels like four pounds of food. Do you think Mark is home? Should I invite him?”

Maureen stifles a laugh, shoving her hands into the pocket of the sweatshirt. “Who’s Mark?” she asks, naively. “Is he another cop and I’m going to be bored out of my mind during lunch? You two are fine, but when you get all of you in a group, it’s more than my little grad school mind can handle.”

“He’s around your age, smartass. I’ll go get him.”

Elliot hands off the food to Olivia, closing the door behind him.

Maureen smiles triumphantly, sitting down at the kitchen table. “God, he is too damn easy sometimes.” She unpacks the cartons of food, glancing up at Olivia. “What do you know about Mark? Only the important stuff. Job, likes, does he have a girlfriend?”

Olivia can hear the unmistakable chatter of male voices coming toward the door, the inevitable discussion of sports having begun. “Looks like you’re going to have to ask him yourself,” she says as the door swings open. She takes a seat across from Maureen at the table, grabbing a pair of chopsticks that now rest beside the food.

“Mark, this is my daughter, Maureen. I’m not sure the two of you have met.”

Mark makes it to the table within seconds, smiling, as he extends his hand to Maureen. “I’m sorry, I didn’t even realize you were in here before.” Olivia bites her lip to keep from laughing; men, no matter what the age, always find a way to turn a statement into something idiotic. “Maureen, you’re the oldest right? Grad school, studying to be a therapist? You just moved into your own place?”

“Christ, Dad,” Maureen mumbles, “Did you also happen to mention when I fell off the stage during my first grade play?”

“I would have, but I thought that was Kathleen,” Elliot answers, sitting down next to Olivia. “Mark, take a seat.”

Food is passed across the table, the sounds of chopsticks hitting the plates, a now constant rhythm against the rain. The torrential winds rattle the windows, the rain slapping hard on the glass panes. There’s an odd comfort to this, one Olivia hadn’t felt days ago at the wedding, one she’s not sure she’s ever felt when it came to this aspect of Elliot’s life.

She reaches across to Elliot’s plate, taking a steamed wonton from him. She can sense Maureen watching her, and she looks up at her, giving her a small smile. “So Mark.” It’s then she sees Maureen smile back, thankful for the buffer in this game of matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match. “How’s school been?”

“A lot of work,” he admits, looking up from his food. He turns to Maureen, his chopsticks poised in mid air. “I’m in business school. I’m looking into starting my own internet company with some friends of mine.”

“Oh awesome,” Maureen responds. “What kind of internet company?”

“We’re trying to market this social network type of thing. It’s along the same lines as FaceUnion, but we’re incorporating new bands, and one of my best friends is actually on one of those CW shows, so we’re hoping she’ll do some press for it.”

Maureen’s eyes widen, as she takes a bite of her chicken. “Have you started it up yet? I’d love to see it when it’s done.”

“Really? That would be great. I have some friends who have seen the beginning stages, but I think at this point they’re all so involved in it and we haven’t had a good outsider’s opinion. I’m working on it for class as a final project, but hoping to launch it after that.”

“Can someone explain the point of FaceUnion to me?” Elliot asks, attempting to break up the conversation between his daughter and now potential threat to date his daughter. “Use a phone and call your friends. Why do you put all your personal information up there? No offense, Mark, but it doesn’t seem safe to me.”

“Nothing seems safe to you, Dad. You were reading my emails at fifteen. Do you remember when you forced Kathleen and me to go to cop camp that one summer and we came home within five days of being there?”

“You sent them to cop camp?” Olivia asks, curiosity etched across her features.

“It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

“The point is,” Maureen says, “when I was there for all of six seconds, I became friends with some people that I never spoke to again. Well, one of the found me on FaceUnion a few months ago and we’ve gone out for coffee a couple of times. Your generation just doesn’t get it.” She smiles at Olivia, shrugging an innocent shoulder. “No offense.”

“None taken,” Olivia answers. “I get the appeal of it.”

Mark smiles at Maureen, running his chopsticks through the pile of food on his plate. “Would you mind if I added you on?”

“No, that would be cool.” She chances a look at Olivia, the bond between two females—even if one of them is your father’s girlfriend—evident as the younger girl smiles. “Liv, think we can get Dad to make one?”

“Over my dead body,” Elliot answers. “I don’t even like it that you kids have it.”

“We should make Munch one,” Olivia teases. “He hasn’t had a wife in quite some time.”

“God, please don’t let Uncle Munch get married again,” Maureen whines. “They work with this guy named John,” Maureen explains. “He’s been married like sixteen times and might be the most sarcastic, cynical, conspiracy driven person I have ever met. Nicest guy, I love him to death, but you spend more than five minutes with him and you kind of want to poke your eyes out with a sharp knife. Plus, he has a picture of JFK on his desk like they’re lovers or something. It always creeped me out.”

Elliot groans, “That was a mental image I didn’t need, Maureen, thanks.”

“Can I ask a personal question?” Mark lifts his head, staring at Olivia and Elliot. “I thought it was against policy to date someone you work with? Do your bosses know? Do they care? Should I not be bringing this up?”

Leave it to a business school kid to bring up semantics of the work place.

“I have to admit, I was sort of curious about that too.” Maureen takes a sip of water, swallowing hard, as if afraid of an answer, not sure if she wants one when everything else in her world seems to have changed.

“It’s against policy,” Elliot answers, carefully. “Yes.”

“I sort of get why, but I mean, what’s the big deal? You’d protect someone you’re…” Mark stops, turning sheepishly toward Maureen. “I’m sorry. You probably don’t—”

“No,” she shakes her head. “It’s fine. I mean, it’s not like I don’t know you two are dating. You can answer.”

Olivia leans back in her chair, hoping she’s not the one to answer this question. She knows all the reasons she shouldn’t be partners with Elliot. That’s another thing she can credit Victor Gitano with: teaching her that having feelings for your partner could fuck you over. Royally.


It’s like a history lesson on the rules of cops. Or teaching their children the rules on dating someone in the work place.

Olivia lifts an eyebrow, with a simple shake of her head. “I’ll let you handle this one.”

“Our boss doesn’t know. Olivia and I have…” He stops, and looks at Maureen, the bright blue of her eyes staring at him like the little girl Olivia imagines he always sees. “Sweetie, I don’t feel right having this conversation in front of you.”

“Stop it. You can answer Mark’s question. I’m fine with this. Really.”

Elliot looks at Olivia, and there’s something there, a sadness, a pleading that she can’t move past. He wants her to explain this, to be the reason his daughter finds out things he might never want her to know. And with a simple nod, Olivia answers for him, because maybe sacrifice in a relationship always exists. “Elliot and I have worked together for a long time. We know how the other thinks, we know how to deal with the cases together, and we’re not willing to risk that at the moment. When it comes to not dating your partner, your emotions…You have to be in the mindset of work all the time. If a situation arises, you can’t be thinking about the person you’re dating. You have to think in terms of the job and unfortunately, it’s not easy to switch off between the two.”

Maureen thinks about this for a moment, twisting her lips in consideration. “So, then wouldn’t it be better to break up as partners if it means you’re safer?”

“Maureen, I always have your father’s back—”

“I don’t doubt that. I do get it, though, why you shouldn’t be involved with people you work with.” She looks down at her plate before looking back up. “You really think Don doesn’t know?”

“I think Don doesn’t want to know,” Elliot responds, honestly.

“Well, are you guys gonna tell him at any point? Because it’s kind of weird that like, Olivia comes to functions with you, spends all this time with you, and no one really thinks otherwise. What happens when you both get called in? Do you show up together and say you ran into each other in the parking lot?”

“You have your father’s interrogation skills,” Olivia notes. “You’ve never thought of becoming a cop?”

“Don’t get her thinking about it, Olivia. She’s not handling a gun.”

“I’ve gone to a firing range,” Maureen shrugs. “I’ve already handled a gun.”

“I love the firing range,” Mark gets in, before Elliot holds his hand up, pausing the room.

“You’ve what?”

“Come on, Dad. You think I never got curious about shooting a gun after growing up with you? I went with a few friends last summer. I’d never want to do that for a living, but it was kind of cool.” She looks down at her watch, groaning softly. “I hate to do this, but I have to go. I promised my roommate I’d meet her and her date at the movies.” She turns to Mark, a flash of trepidation washing across her features. “Do you want to come with me? We’re just going to see the movie, maybe grab some dinner after.”

“I’d love that.” Mark tosses his napkin onto his plate. “Elliot, thanks so much for lunch. Do you two need help with the clean up?”

“Go,” Olivia pushes. “Have fun.”

Elliot sits there, and she almost wonders if he’s in shock as Maureen kisses the top of his head. “I need to go change, but Mark, I can meet you next door in a minute?”

“Sounds good.”

It isn’t until the door to his apartment and his bedroom close that Elliot turns to Olivia, blinking his eyes a few times. "Okay, what the hell happened here?"

Olivia smiles, lifting the steamed white rice to her lips. “I think you just found your daughter’s new boyfriend for her.”

Chapter Text

Month Seven: February, 2009


February 7, 2009
7:18 A.M.

Cosmopolitan Rule #26
: The concept of space in the first six months of a relationship tends to be an urban legend. For days, weeks, months all you can think about is that person as the rest of the world becomes obsolete. Friends are seen less, thoughts are consumed and each minute without them seems like the end of the world. Annoying habits are seen as endearing, quirks are seen as adorable. But what happens when time wears you down, when annoying habits are, well, annoying, and quirks are no longer adorable but instead something equivalent to nails on a chalkboard? Soon spending so much time together becomes grating on the nerves, and a relationship that once seemed like forever begins to break you down. Here’s a piece of advice. Make sure to keep your life throughout a relationship because when enough becomes enough and you’re left all alone, it’s never the place you want to be.

He likes wintergreen toothpaste, tepid showers despite the cold weather, the blankets all to himself.

In the beginning, it didn’t bother her. The couple of times she had used wintergreen instead of spearmint, she had sucked it up, relishing in the fact that she could taste him on her lips. When the showers were tepid, she had used his slick body and warm hands as heat, as survival from the cold. And when she would wake up in the middle of the night, wrapped in nothing but a sheet, shivering from the cold night’s air, she would slide against him taking back what was once hers.

Now, she throws his toothpaste back into the drawer when he can never do the same, showers without him, makes sure the blanket is tightly around her when she falls asleep. The hot water scorches her skin, and from the other room, she can hear as Elliot steps on her hardwood floors. He walks too loud, and sometimes she wishes he would sleep at his own place, step a little softer, leave her for at least an hour so she can find the stability that used to belong without him.

The door to the bathroom cracks open, the cold air from her bedroom seeping into the room. His footsteps are loud in here as well and she sighs, pushing her head back into the splay of hot water. It sprays into her eyes, and she tightly closes them, trying to remember if he was always so loud when he stepped beside her or if the chaos of New York City tended to block out his harsh step. She counts the seconds in her head until he interrupts her, the ticking of a time bomb sounding in her brain.

Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven. Six…

The shower curtain flies back, the bomb detonated four seconds before it was destined to go off. Elliot reaches for the nozzle without so much of a word, and even morning sex to keep her warm seems grating at this point.

“No,” Olivia says, shaking her head, knocking his hand away. “I’m freezing, Elliot. I hate when you do that.”

He leans against the wall in nothing but his briefs, his arms crossing tightly over his chest. “What the hell is your problem this morning? You’ve been pissed off ever since we woke up and I know I didn’t do anything this time. So, care to tell me why you’re so damn mad?”

Soap bubbles formulate at the base of her feet, and she turns off the shower. The water continues to drip just the slightest bit, small pings sounding against the tub that resonate in her eardrums like the aftermath of an explosion. “Can you hand me my towel?”

“Can you tell me what the hell is going on?”

“Nothing is going on,” Olivia mutters, stepping out. Her wet feet leave imprints on the floor, and she steps around him, grabbing her towel off the rim of the sink. She notices the empty roll of toilet paper on the holder, rolling her eyes. “Did you pick up more toilet paper?”

“Is that what this is about?” Elliot asks, confused. “Because it’s not like I sit on my ass all day without a job. I’ve been a bit busy in case you didn’t notice.”

When volcanoes erupt, she wonders how long it takes for the lava to completely let loose, if it ever ends or remains as a disaster for eternity.

“It’s common sense to replace a roll of toilet paper if it’s out. It’s common sense not to turn my shower lukewarm when it’s twenty fucking degrees out, and while you might be busy, learn how to pick up toilet paper from the store down the street. If I can do it, you can too.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” he mumbles. “You going to act like this all day?”

Olivia clenches her fists, inhaling a breath of steamed air. These are the reasons why she’s never bothered to remain in a relationship for so long. Because most men were far too infuriating to keep around for more than a minute or two at a time. However, most men she didn’t have to work with every second of the day.

“Screw you,” she retorts. “I’m sick and tired of having to pick up after you in my own apartment. I’m sick of your socks all over my living room and—”

“And you think you’re such a picnic, sweetheart?” Elliot yells. “You think I like your bras hanging on my doorknobs when they’re drying? What, you spend half a year in a relationship and suddenly become an expert?”

“Oh, like you are? Do you think you’re some kind of master at the game because you’ve managed to keep up a relationship with your ex? Well, bravo, Elliot. You’re clearly the winner on the dating scene.”

The yellow towel around her is damp against her shivering body, and as he stares at her, his blue eyes wild with a rage that hasn’t been present in what seems like months, she wonders if this is what it’s like when love ends. If there’s no explosion, no life changing moment, but one second to another with the wrong words said in between.

“How many times are you going to bring up Kathy, Olivia? How many times are you going to continuously throw my marriage in my face? You know what? At least I know how to have a successful relationship!”

The chill from the bitter morning continues to filter into her bathroom, the steam fading, replaced with a frigid atmosphere that all the warmth in the world can’t restore. “Really? Because the last time I checked that didn’t really work out for you. Either time!”

“At least it lasted over twenty years! When the hell was the last time you even let a relationship make it past a year? I mean, hell, Olivia, you broke up with Moss after four or five months because why again? He gave a shit? You left me for fucking computer crimes because you couldn’t handle confrontation! It must kill you that I’ve managed to remain in your life for as long as I have.”

Her hands shake against the opening of her towel, and she swallows, fighting her tears. “Fuck you. You have no right to throw that at me. Yeah, Elliot. You’re the longest relationship I’ve ever had. If you could stop reinforcing what a failure I am, I’d really appreciate that.”

Elliot’s hands grip the sink, but his gaze remains on her. The anger burns deep within the blue, trimmed with an outline of red; fire maybe. Desecration. His voice is made of steel and metal and things that cannot be cracked or broken as hard as one might try. “You started this, Olivia. Not me.”

“No, but you sure as hell got your say in, didn’t you?” Her breath hitches, and she’s almost forgotten what it’s like to breathe. She didn’t want this. She didn’t want to fight with him before going into work; she didn’t want to fight with him when he’s meant more to her in the past seven months than she ever thought imaginable. “El, I didn’t…I’m sorry. I just…I need space sometimes. Please understand that.”

He turns his head towards the mirror, slowly nodding. She watches him, her heart pounding into her chest as his back slowly straightens, his right heel turning towards the entrance of her bedroom, followed by his left like he’s mechanical, almost robotic.

“Fine,” he answers, his voice fading into her bedroom. “You can have all the space you want.”

It takes minutes, but the front door slams, the walls vibrating against the harsh closing. The yellow towel remains damp, her skin flush yet chilled, and she inhales a deep breath, hearing the slight hitch of her tears.

She doesn’t move from her place inside of the small cramped bathroom, but instead wonders how long it’ll be before space becomes completely overrated, how long before love begins to merge with the will to hate.

February 14, 2009
9:22 P.M.

Cosmopolitan Rule #27
: Valentine’s Day is that beloved holiday where Hallmark milks your wallet for all it’s worth and Jenny Craig thanks you for signing up after you’ve eaten three pounds of chocolate while celebrating your love (or lack thereof.) For the cynics, this day is a crock. If you’re single, you’re forced into watching couples make out on the streets, holding hands at dinner, and you find yourself in front of the television watching Lifetime, because hey, at least you don’t have that husband on your tail. When you’re in a relationship, you almost wonder why some calendar needs to tell you a date to order flowers, to be romantic. But for the believers out there this day is more than flowers, candies, lame cards. It’s about surprise, dedication, moments unexpected. In common culture, Valentine’s Day is also known as V-Day. Believers find no coincidence that it sounds remarkably similar to D-Day. For they know that Valentine’s Day is also a day in which some significant event will or has formally occurred.

“What’s going on with you and Stabler?” Munch asks, handing Olivia a beer.

Olivia takes it from his hand, glancing towards the bar. She hasn’t spoken to Elliot—really spoken to him—in a week. Their fight had infiltrated into work, into cases that couldn’t get solved, and when the days had ended, she found herself alone with the space she had so desperately needed. On the mornings she blindly reached for her toothpaste, the wintergreen was gone, nothing left but the taste of spearmint that was never as sweet as she had once believed. Her showers remained hot; her blanket was still tightly around her once morning came, and truth be told, she missed him.

She didn’t dare tell him, not when the looks he gave her were filled with venom, when his words were short, precise, a bomb just waiting to blow. She had her pride, her anger, and her ability to let someone go when it’s what she’s done her entire life.

So, on Valentine’s Day, she finds herself in a bar with her boys in blue, instead of out to dinner with Elliot. She had agreed, God knows why, and regrets it the moment she looks toward the crowded bar, filled with single people desperate to get laid on the most romantic, ridiculous night of the year. Her “boyfriend”—if she can even call him that this week—is sitting next to some hot cougar blonde that might or might not be wearing her shirt as a dress.

This is just fucking fabulous.

“What do you mean?” she asks, turning to Munch, diverting her attention from the cougar who looks like she’s about to claw Olivia’s man.

John pushes his glasses down on the bridge of his nose. “He made a comment about you baking him muffins a few weeks ago. You laughed. Normally you would have kicked his ass if he made a comment like that.”

Leave it to John to know all the conspiracies of the world, including hers. “What, are you taking notes? How the hell do you remember these things, John?”

“Being defensive isn’t an answer, my dear. It only proves your guilt.”

She wraps her lips around the mouth of the bottle, taking a long sip of the amber liquid. It slides down her throat with the faintest hint of lime, cold against her vocal cords. There is no use in denial, not when the relationship is most likely done. There’s nothing to tell when it’s all gone away. “Who else knows?”

“No one is as perceptive as I am.” He takes a sip of his beer. “Shouldn’t you be out feeding each other Bon Bons?”

“Is that what you did with your wives on Valentine’s Day, John, because it would certainly explain why you’re no longer married to any of them?”

“Words bruise, Olivia.” There’s no hurt in his voice, however, merely a look of understanding. “If you’re in a relationship, or whatever it is you two crazy kids are calling it, why is he up at the bar with some older tart who seems to have forgotten to put her pants on and you’re sitting here having a delightful conversation with me?”

Olivia smiles, and the bottle tilts in her hand as she brings it back down to the table. “I’m not discussing it with you, John. I appreciate you asking, but we’re not going to have this conversation.”

“Okay. But while we’re not discussing things that should not be happening, you might want to get your ladies man away from the three broads now crowded around him.”

She turns back to the bar, watching Elliot with the two other women that have joined him and the shirt-turned-dress wearing older woman. One of them has got to be twenty, the other around Olivia’s age, the one he’s been with that could quite possibly be sixty. It’s like some goddamn family outing of a daughter, her mother, and the mother’s mother. Of course. Why wouldn’t women of all ages respond to the brooding, arrogant nature of Elliot Stabler?

With nimble fingers, she touches the weapon at her waist. She had taken it from her locker, the one she usually kept at home, and strapped it to her as if she would need some sort of comfort, some sort of guidance tonight. She might not wear a dress that shows off the latest thong she’s bought, her crotch might not be issued in the morning paper like this woman’s might, but at least she has her beautiful, black Sig.

Around the bar, red and pink decorations hang, and she finds this almost ironic. No couple in their right mind would ever come to this place on the most romantic day of the year, not to mention all the people here that seem desperate to forget about this godforsaken holiday.

Over the shouts of those around them with a mix of classic rock booming from the speakers, John says, “The Olivia Benson I know would never let him get away with this.”

The Olivia Benson that John knows got lost somewhere between breaking Elliot’s bed and falling in love with him. Well, no. She’s still got that self-preservation thing down, like the world is bound to screw her over. “There’s nothing I can do about it.”

“We both know that’s a lie, Olivia.”

“I don’t play games, John. Let him be an asshole if he wants. It’s not my problem.”

The tart—the grandmother, not daughter or granddaughter to clarify—whispers in Elliot’s ear, and Olivia wonders if they’re playing telephone, if he’s muttered something like You shouldn’t be out with your nearly underage granddaughter and she’s heard something about him wanting an orgy with her and her daughter.

Fuck this.

Olivia reaches for her bag, finishing off the rest of her beer. “I’m leaving. Have a good night, Munch.”

“You’re really not going to say anything to him?”

“With all due respect, John, it’s none of your damn business. If Elliot wants to act like a petulant child, then let him. This isn’t work related. It’s not your place.”

“It’s my place when your relationship can end up screwing with who I’m partnered with, not to mention the fact that the underage bimbo up there is getting mighty close to a father of five. I keep waiting for Stabler to bust out the handcuffs and lock her in a jail cell to keep her innocent for one more night.” There’s a smile that lifts John’s lips, but it’s slight. He never truly gives full smiles, not when the sarcasm is just a crutch for all the shit he’s learned to deal with over the years. “Does Stabler use handcuffs?”

Elliot was right all those months ago. She does not want to answer these questions for John Munch.

“You don’t want the answer to that question. Believe me.” She slides out of the booth. “I’ll see you on Monday.”

As she turns back to the bar, Elliot still remains, laughing with the middle-aged woman this time. It’s honest, pure, the kind of laughter he’s given to Olivia on those late nights when secrets had been exchanged, when sleep wasn’t a necessity, when being in this seemed easy, right.

God, Valentine’s Day is such a crock. It figures she would get stuck with the guy who spends the holiday pissed off and flirting with other women, instead of giving her flowers and chocolates.

Cupid didn’t strike her in the heart; he got her right in the ass.

She can feel the gun moving against her hip as she walks, gaining her confidence as she heads to the bar. In all his obnoxious prodding, John had been right. She’s not a coward, and she sure as hell won’t let Elliot Stabler end this relationship. She can do this. Yelling at Elliot has become something she’s good at, a natural talent.

She stops right in front of him, each of the three women turning, youngest to oldest. But it’s Elliot she watches, his blue eyes darker than she can remember, almost as if she hasn’t seen him in years, with his poker face on as if he’s in interrogation.

“We need to talk,” Olivia says, and her voice is stronger than she would have thought.

The cougar notices Olivia’s gun, her eyebrow lifting while nothing else on her face moves, due to what Olivia can only assume is Botox. “Jesus, Christ,” she mutters, shaking her head as she turns to her daughter. “Ris, I thought I told you that the next time you picked a bar, it had to be one where we weren’t going to run the risk of meeting a felon.” She turns to Elliot, her knee knocking gently into his as she spins to face him. “Is this your parole officer? Are you on the run?”

All right, if this situation wasn’t so pathetic, it might actually be amusing.

“I’m not on parole,” Elliot snaps. The blue of his eyes are the darkest shade of midnight; the color of challenges, determination, fight. “Not tonight, Olivia.”

The base of the gun brushes his side as she leans over him, her words hot against his ear. “Get your ass outside now.”

She doesn’t say another word, instead walks briskly out of the bar, the cold air assaulting her as she steps outside. It has to be below twenty out here, and she inhales, watching the cloud of frost form as she exhales. Behind her, she can hear the door open, the unmistakable sounds of his footsteps on the concrete.

“What you did in there—“

She spins around, cutting him off. “What the hell is your problem?”

Elliot’s legs widen, standing his ground as he crosses his arms over his chest. “You needed your space. I was giving it to you.”

“Jesus, Elliot. That’s not what I meant and we both know it.” People mill in and out of the bar, their laughter and chatter evident, and she sighs, looking down at her watch. Two more hours until this damn holiday is over and maybe, just maybe, normalcy can restart the process she’s never quite figured out. “Follow me back to my apartment. We need to talk and I won’t do it here.”

“Not tonight.”

Oh, the sweet release of the trigger against her finger.

“Either follow me back to my apartment or end this with me right now.”

Lightning flashes through his eyes, a quick moment of peace in the brewing storm. “Is that an ultimatum?”

“Do you really want to test me to see if it is?” She takes her car keys out of her pocket, moving one step away from him. “I’m not kidding, Elliot. Come home with me or find yourself a new partner and girlfriend.”

February 14, 2009
10:45 P.M.

Cosmopolitan Rule #28:
Falling in love is like admitting you’re willing to take a leap off a very large cliff into the unknown. Once those three words are spoken, the edge slips away, and you’re left hanging, just waiting to see if you can survive the fall. If looked up, love thrives on millions of definitions. Profoundly tender with passion for another person. A feeling of warm personal attachment for a parent, a child, a friend. Sexual passion; desire. A love affair. An intensely amorous incident; amour.But love can be defined, described in as many terms as possible and the truth is, there will never be enough words in the world to describe it. At the end of the day, the admission of love is the one thing in the universe that defies logic, sense, and all control.

“What am I doing here, Olivia?” Elliot gripes, leaning up against the far wall of her apartment.

She thinks of that wall in his place, the one they had christened on New Year’s. Something so simplistic—the structure that held his apartment together—had become so much more simply because it had been them together. She wonders if she’ll look at the one he leans against now as something complicated, a wall that no longer housed but instead crumbled when their lives were about to take separate paths and wrong turns in different directions.

The couch is uncomfortable beneath her and she shifts, the upholstery brushing against the back of her jeans. She watches him lean with all that damn brooding intensity, and the fire of her anger rushes through her veins. “First of all, do you think you can stop being an asshole for five minutes?”

Elliot crosses his arms in front of his chest again; his own form of armor, protection. “How is it that I am always wrong here? You asked for your space and I’m the asshole?”

“No, Elliot. You’re an asshole because I asked for space and you took it to mean that it was okay to go out and flirt with three women I can only assume are related and out partying together! You walked out on me, you haven’t spoken to me all week except when it comes to work, you—”

“And what about you, Olivia?” He pushes himself off the wall, but doesn’t walk, doesn’t stray from his post. “How do you always come off as the perfect one? You kick the shit out of some guy and Cragen tells you to go home yet understands. You decide I’m not good enough to work with and I get blamed—“

“You’re going to throw that in my face, again? For Christ’s sake, Elliot, how the hell did we last this long when you’re still harboring resentment for something that long ago? You gave me an ultimatum. You started that.”

His eyes darken, the storm settling. “I did not!”

“You asked me to choose someone over you and I couldn’t!” She stands up, moving towards him. The air is suffocating despite the frigid weather outside, and she’s desperate to breathe in the cold, to fill her lungs with something other than anger, than love. “I left you because I had to do it. I don’t regret my decision and if you’re still pissed about it, then we have much bigger issues here.”

“I won’t stand here and take the blame for whatever problems we seem to be having!” He sidesteps her as he makes his way to the door. “We’re done here.”

“Right, because God forbid you stick around and talk about something, is that it, Elliot? You let people walk out on you because you just don’t want to talk about it! You did it with me, you did it with—“

He turns around, and his fingers clench, unclench, clench. “I let people walk out on me? Look in the damn mirror, Olivia!”

She can live without love. She can even live without him. That little house in Oregon that she lived in during her undercover assignment might still be available, the peaceful nights, the calmness that is never found in the city, never found in the confines of her life with him. “You know what? You’re right. We’re done here.”

Elliot laughs, and it’s like the night outside; brisk, cold, unforgiving. “You can accuse me of leaving all you want, but I’ve never been the one to go. You do it countless times and if I walk away, it’s not by myself. You push me away the second I get too close.”

She wonders if the neighbors can hear their screaming, if they’ll call the police despite the fact that two officers are inside, simply because they don’t know that the greatest fighters on earth are the ones who battle the world on a daily basis. “I asked for space! I asked to not spend every fucking second of my day with you and that means I’m pushing you away? You never take responsibility for a damn thing, including when you’re wrong! I swear to God, falling in love with you has been like trying to control a bull in a damn china shop! So walk out if you want, Elliot, but at least admit you’re the one who is ending this!”

“That is such bullshit!” And all of a sudden, Olivia watches as his posture changes. His stance becomes pliant, no longer rigid but relaxed almost like he has discovered the secret to a peaceful life. The corners of his lips twitch, lifting just slightly. “What did you just say?”

The bastard is smiling and it’s nice to know the end of their relationship is about to end in him smiling, and her kicking his ass.

She shakes her head, as if confusion can be erased with a quick movement, like her brain could become readjusted and make sense in the wake of exasperation. “What are you talking about? I—“

“You don’t realize what you said, do you?”

She’s still wearing her gun. It’s probably not healthy that she has thoughts of killing him as much as she sometimes does.

“I said I hated you. Do you really want to hear it again? Because believe me, right now, I have no problems saying it.”

“No.” Elliot stands in front of her now, inches apart, as his voice lowers to a whisper. He brushes his lips against her ear, and she shivers beneath his touch. “I want to hear you tell me you’re in love with me, again.”

“I didn’t…” Oh, fuck. No. She couldn’t have just told him that, not when she was this mad. She can feel the blush on her cheeks, the warm heat that rushes over her. The words surge through her mind, and shit, shit, shit. She shakes her head again, because this time she thinks the puzzle pieces of her mind will fall back into place. “I didn’t tell you that.”

“Yes, you did.” He wraps his arms around her waist, pressing his lips against her forehead, as he pulls her to him. “Tell me again.”

Olivia presses her hands against his chest, pushing him off of her. “You can’t just…This isn’t over, Elliot.”

There’s a calmness to him now, and as he holds his hand out to her to guide her to the couch, she feels her defenses weaken. She sidesteps him, sitting down without taking his offering hand. The fight has left her gasping for air, and she inhales, struggling to get her breath back.

“Liv,” he says softly, and she looks up at him. There’s something in his eyes she can’t read, a look, an emotion, something. “You just…” He looks down at the couch before looking back up at her, and she almost misses the familiarity of his anger instead of the newness of his compassion, his devotion. “I don’t harbor resentment for you leaving. I told you I understood it and I do. But…When you asked for space, I needed to…I can’t let you walk away again like that, even if it is your first instinct.”

Against her better judgment and raging temper, she softens at the sound of his voice, the soothing tone of inflections that comes off of each word. “The reasons I left you before, it’s not the same now. You have to trust me, Elliot, trust that I’m not going to just decide I’m done with this. I spend sometimes twenty hours a day with you at work. We fight, I can’t stand you sometimes, and once in a while I just need to know I can come home and have five minutes to myself. You’re always there and I just needed silence once in a while.”

Elliot slides his hand through her hair, the tips of his fingers massaging gently into her scalp. “Then do me a favor. The next time you feel like that, instead of screaming at me over the toilet paper or whatever else it was, tell me.”

“You still need to learn to replace the roll if it runs out.” She smiles, though, resting her forehead against his. “I’m sorry. You’re right.”

“Hm,” he smiles, and it stretches across her lips when he kisses her. “I love when you admit that I’m right.”

“Don’t get used to it.”

Elliot pulls her toward him, and this time she obliges, the space between them diminishing. She’s missed him, more than she had even realized. “This was some shitty Valentine’s Day, huh?”

“I can’t imagine us having a romantic one. I think New Year’s was as romantic as we’re going to get.” Olivia stares at him, pressing her finger into the crevice of his chin. He’s not fully shaven, and she likes him like this, like the small amount of scruff he allows when he’s too tired, too worn down to shave. “Look about what I said…I didn’t want to tell you like that, but I…You know everything about me, El, and you’re still here. And I…these last six or seven months, they’ve meant a lot to me.” She directs her eyes down to the couch, but he lifts her face, forcing the words out of her. “I did, uh…I did fall in love with you.”

Elliot slides his lips over hers, and she tastes him for the first time in a week. The wintergreen no longer remains, instead it’s beer and regretful words that no longer matter, and as his tongue slips between her lips into her mouth, she learns how to breathe again.

“I can’t believe that’s how you let it slip,” he laughs, breaking away from her. “You must hate yourself for that.”

Olivia lifts her head, smiling. “You really are an asshole, sometimes.” She doesn’t want to question that he hasn’t said it back, doesn’t want to force him when for all she knows, he’ll still end this in days, weeks, months. She leans back against the couch, her heart having returned to its normal speed for the first time in seven days. “You shouldn’t have been flirting with those women at the bar. It didn’t help your asshole status.”

“I wanted to lock the youngest one up. She shouldn’t have been out with her mother and grandmother like that.” So, Olivia was right. God, she’s been doing this job for far too long. It’s like she has radar for this. “I was trying to make you jealous.”

“What are you, sixteen? You looked like a moron. John wanted to know why the sixty year old was wearing her granddaughter’s shirt as a dress. He knows about us, El.”

“No, he doesn’t. You always think he knows everything that goes on and he never actually does.”

“He always does, but besides that, he told me. You made a comment about me baking muffins and I apparently didn’t kick your ass.”

“Did he already start in on the questions?”

Olivia smiles, with a nod of the head. “He asked me if you liked to use handcuffs in bed.”

“Did you tell him about that one weekend where we—”

“No, Elliot. I didn’t tell him anything about that weekend.”

He laughs, pressing his lips to her forehead. They remain for a moment, branding her, settling her when nothing else has. “Te amo,” he whispers, and the soft syllables of the two words cause her heart to skip a beat, to beat too fast.

His lips remain, and she can feel the build up of tears that settle on the cusp of her lids, her voice strong, yet evenly cracked as she responds, “I guess that English to Spanish dictionary finally taught you something.”

“Yeah.” He slides his hands against the side of her face, through her hair, kissing her on the mouth until his taste is once again hers. “I guess it did.”

February 20, 2009
11:22 P.M.

Cosmopolitan Rule #29:
There are certain times in a relationship where instead of wanting to spend the night with your boyfriend, you crave the need for a girl’s night out. It doesn’t matter what age you are, it doesn’t matter if the location is classy or a complete dump (you already have a boyfriend, so if the place is scummy, please make sure your single friends aren’t off hooking up in a bathroom somewhere trying to relive their youth), all that matters is letting loose. Drinks are poured, shots are taken, dancing—even on feet that are exhausted from a week’s long hours of work—is done. And when the night begins to come to an end, the point of sobriety lost with the dollars that have accumulated on the bar for tips, the phone comes out and the drunk texting begins. Here’s the thing, ladies. While drunk texting might be amusing to you in the moment, please make sure you have a designated texter by your side at all times, making sure you don’t do something stupid. After all, when the morning comes, all you are is hung over and wishing you had left your phone at home.

“Liv.” Casey leans over in her seat, gently swaying to the music on above. It’s like jukebox hell in here with endless love ballads to soothe single people’s tortured souls. “Short stuff down the bar just sent you over a shot.”

It’s like she’s in college again, a night where shots had been endless and she’s not all that sure how she’s gotten herself drunk. It’s a Friday, she thinks; at least it was when she got in here. She hadn’t intended to go out. She had wanted to go home alone, spend the night in the silence of her bathtub with darkness invaded with candle light. But Casey had called, in desperate need of a reprieve from her new job (in which she believed it to be the law equivalent to McDonald’s) and Olivia had obliged, calling her probable future sister-in-law to join them.

That was about four shots ago. Sobriety is one lost memory against the haze of her skull.

Olivia looks down the long bar, forcing a smile at the short man on the other end. He sort of looks like Kurt; shit, she thinks she saw his byline the other day, something about animals and the nutrients if you ate their…wait, no, that was two different articles and Kurt had added a sentence or something like the good ole editor that he is.

She puckers her lips around the shot, throwing it back. She needs a lime, or some salt, but the short, faux Kurt has only sent her the tequila. She assumes he thinks he’s going to get her into bed or something.

Mm, bed.

“I think I’ve put half these guys in jail before,” Casey whines, licking the salt off her empty shot glass. “Is Elliot good in bed? He looks like he’d be good with all that pent up anger he has. Oh and those muscles. He’s so muscular.”

On the bar stool to Olivia’s left, Lucy laughs, another drunk in a row of three. “I haven’t had sex in—”

“Whoa, whoa.” Olivia shakes her head, standing up. She wobbles a bit on her feet, leaning over the bar. She holds up three fingers, signaling the bartender for new shots for each of them. “That’s my brother. No sex talk.”

“Elliot’s not my brother,” Casey chimes in. “Answer the question.”

It’s probably a good thing Casey no longer works with them; she might have broken the rules enough times to the point of suspension, but her mouth would never keep this secret hidden for long.

“We broke his bed a few months ago. Figure it out yourself, Case.”

“You also could barely control yourself on our living room couch,” Lucy retorts. “I think that when Simon hoped for a sister, he wasn’t hoping for quite so much.”

“Wait, hold on. You broke a bed?” Casey takes the shot sliding two down to her left for Lucy and Olivia. “You must be an animal when it comes to sex.”

She needs another shot for this; she also needs a shower, because she’s starting to smell like a tequila factory with a bit of lime perfume. Hm, Elliot would probably lick that right off of her.

“Take another shot, Case. Because I’m not telling you about my sex life with him.”

“Does the future sister-in-law get a say?” Lucy asks. “That piece of man meat has to do something good with his—”

“Okay!” Olivia exclaims over the loud music. She sucks down another shot the bartender is now just passing off to her, licking her lips. She leans forward in a conspiracy whisper Munch would be proud of. “I’m forty and a cop. I can’t discuss this.”

“I’m thirty-seven and a lawyer. Now that we know what our professions are, spill!” Casey winks at the bartender, raising her shot as a toast to him. He laughs, shaking his head, as he walks down to the other end of the bar. “He’s cute. All right, Olivia, one detail or…” Casey snags Olivia’s phone from her bag, dangling it in her hand. “I’m going to text him something very dirty.”

Olivia snatches her phone back, closing her fingers tightly around it. “Fine, one thing. He…” Olivia blushes, resting her face in the palm of her hands. Being drunk is bad, bad, bad. “He does this thing when he’s…when he’s going down on me,” she whispers, “where he twists his tongue around my…Done, there’s your one detail.”

“Around your what, Olivia?” Lucy asks, the irritation slipping through her New Jersey accent. “Say it.”

“I like you,” Casey laughs. “You should come visit me at my McDonald’s law job. I work in Jersey now. It’s like…it’s like New York took a shit in a dumpster and shipped it over to Jersey.” She props an elbow on the bar, her eyes widening at Olivia. “Tell us. I don’t even work there anymore, because Donnelly has some stick up her ass, so give me some dish and make me feel like I’m better than the new supermodel who has taken my job.”

“Fine,” Olivia whines, and crap, there’s a new shot in front of her. Down, down, down goes the shiny alcohol. “He does this thing with his tongue when he’s working on my clit and he does this twisting motion…Fuck,” she groans, shifting on her seat. “He’s so good at it. It’s like he took some class on how to give the perfect orgasm.”

“Oliver Twist,” Lucy jokes, sidling her untouched martini towards her. “I love when men work down there. It’s like building a new landmark in a town every time. Best move ever done to me involved a vibrator and his tong—”

“If we’re discussing Simon, please stop.” Olivia flips open her phone, swaying on her seat. The room spins the slightest bit and it’s perfection. Absolute, drunk perfection. “Oliver Twist. That’s good. He hates that book, but damn, he’d like it if I told him that.”

She has to find Elliot’s name so she can text him. Elliot, Elliot, Elliot. It’s like a chant in her muddled brain. There it is. Elliot. She presses her fingers on the small keys of the phone. I wnt u to sldede your tongge in me Olivis Twist.

There’s another shot in front of her. Did the bartender give her this or one of the girls? Or little Kurt. Kurt was sort of little. Olivia shrugs and downs it, not realizing when a new man has come up beside her. Does she look hot tonight or something because there are a lot of men here for her? Not Elliot, though. She looks up at this new man and squints, reaching for the lime beside her. If she squints enough, he could be like a younger, stockier Harrison Ford. She narrows her eyes a bit more; okay, maybe he’ll look like Harrison Ford if she closed her eyes completely.

“Slow down, sugar,” he says, and she doesn’t know what he’s babbling about because her shots are already gone. “I’m diabetic.”

Olivia laughs, and it draws attention from those around her. Shit, it’s been a long time since she’s been this drunk. “Have you ever actually picked up a woman with that line?”

He looks offended, and she wonders if this last shot was from him. “You don’t have to be a bitch, lady.”

“Shit, Olivia, don’t turn off men. I need your hand-me-downs,” Casey mumbles, standing up. “I want to dance. Can we dance?”

“I wasn’t a bitch,” she defends. “That was a horrible pick up line.” She glances down at her phone, opening it so the bright LCD screen is illuminated. “Elliot hasn’t texted me back.”

“Asshole,” Lucy mutters. “I’m going to make Simon pick me up tonight.”

“He’s going to be pissed he’s coming from Jersey,” Olivia muses. “You can come home with me.”

“You should go to Oliver Twist’s and get some action, honey. Because sooner or later, the amazing sex is going to—”

“You mention sex with him one more time, I’m not coming to your wedding whenever it happens.” Olivia looks at the phone, at the pretty new message she has. “Elliot texted back.” She opens the phone, staring at the message. Detective Benson. Oh God, she loves it when he calls her that. Maybe she just likes it when she’s drunk. The next time you decide to get drunk and send out what I can only imagine is some sort of mating call, please do not send it to the person who can fire your ass at any moment.

Underneath the words that blur is her captain’s name in big, bright letters.


“Uh oh,” Olivia grumbles. She looks for Casey, but she’s out there dancing with Faux Kurt. She could have the real one; he did this thing in bed with red markers and…No more, Kurt. No more. “I sent that to my captain,” Olivia tells Lucy. “That I wanted his tongue in me like Oliver Twist.”

“Do you?”

“No! I meant it for Elliot.” She hands Lucy her phone. “Find me an old text for Elliot and open it so I can send him a message. At least I didn’t tell Simon I wanted him to do that.”

“Thank the Lord for that.” Lucy hands the phone back over to her. “It’s opened on Elliot’s last text.”

Olivia Benson is not a quitter. She might be fired, but she’s not a quitter. She braces her fingers over the keys, while the nice bartender leaves her another shot. For a bartender, he’s kind of moronic. She’s already drunk and sending dirty messages to her boss. Shouldn’t it be the point of cut off by now?

I think I justy told Diojn that I wanted jhis tonguw in me. Where are youi

She takes the shot, downs it like all the others. She doesn’t know how many she’s had, but if she was single, she might check out Faux Kurt right about now.

Her phone buzzes and she prays that she didn’t text Munch about her tongue. Or his tongue. Or someone’s tongue.

I thought you were going out for one drink with Casey, Liv? I’m home. Do you need a ride? Who is Dijon?

Why is he talking about mustard? Elliot is silly. Maybe he’s a little drunk.

Dont sget druinl. A little.a Wil you sgo down on me tonighrt

Lucy seems to have now disappeared as well. She could be off dancing with Casey, bonding over the love/hate relationship of New Jersey, or maybe she’s calling Simon to let him know that his sister is a drunk, freaky animal in bed. It’ll be like she never had a brother at all.

Baby, you need to go home and sleep it off. You’re going to feel like shit in the morning. But for the record, I’d do more than go down on you. If you need a ride, call me.

Who knew Elliot Stabler would be such a good boyfriend. He really is. Even with all that brooding he sometimes does, and the fact he flirted with women on Valentine’s Day like an asshole, she still kind of loves him a lot.

I neerd to eride you.

“Can you stop texting Man Twister and come dance with us?” Casey asks, pulling on Olivia’s arm. “I never see you anymore, and even when I did, we never bonded like this, you know? I miss you, Liv. You’re the best.”

“I need to have sex,” Olivia answers, staring down at her phone. “I haven’t slept with him in a week because of work.”

Ooh, the vibrating buzz of her phone.

You’re going to be pissed when you read all these drunk messages in the morning. Do you want me to tell you what I wanna do to you, Liv?

“I haven’t slept with a man in like two years. Does Elliot have any friends you can hook me up with? What about that pompous ass, Mutney?”

Shut up, Casey.

“Murphy. I’m sure he’d have sex with you. Go dance. I’ll be there in a second.”

Olivia doesn’t want to dance. No, she wants to know what Elliot’s going to do to her when…either it just got cold in here because her nipples could cut glass, or she’s turned on when her boyfriend isn’t even in the room. Wait, how did she work ten years with him without spontaneous orgasms?

Ha. That would have been interesting.


Exit, exit, exit. Where is the exit?

If Simon is coming, would he drop of her off so she could get a booty call? Hey bro, since we never grew up together, you can be the designated driver for me now that I’m getting old and need to find my boyfriend’s apartment.

Drunk is bad. Silly and bad.

I’d start at your neck and lick a slow path down your clavicle, while I gently push my fingers into your pussy. You’d squirm and moan my name so loud. I’d reach the top of your cleavage which I know you have tonight because I saw you before you left and slide my tongue between your breasts…Message 1 of 2

Mother fucker, mother fucker.

She fumbles for the next message; she also might want to breathe so she doesn’t start moaning into her empty array of shot glasses.

I’d take one in my hand that’s not inside of you and squeeze it as you clench around my fingers and you’d be so wet and willing to come for me. What bar are you at and how close are you?

Uh, she’s pretty close to an orgasm in her stupid bar seat, thanks to Oliver Twist.

Stp makin me wnant to come s on the bar stol,. Maybe Im s litrle drunk bt I want you dto do that to me, I wane tto rride you. I ant push you back agsint the bed and slide your cokc in my mouth and I want you to comwe for me. Comwae for me so harsd and fasts. Also if I nwgever told you, you h ave the magincifent ass.

“I called Simon,” Lucy says, sitting down beside her. “He’s picking me up. Do you want a ride to Elliot’s?”

“Can’t ask my brother to take me for a booty call, Luce. I think there are rules or codes against that.”

“You’re dating Elliot, it’s fine. We’ll tell Simon that you get sick when you’re drunk and need him to take care of you.”

“Oh I plan on him taking care of me. He’s turning me on by his damn text messages. I didn’t think he’d be good at it, but he is.”

“All right, let me see.” Lucy takes the phone, opening up the new message. She squints at the wording, bringing the phone closer to her face.

I have a magnificent ass, huh? You’re going to be pissed when you realize you’ve given me this power. I wasn’t finished with what I wanted to do to you. You’re so tight and wet around my fingers as I plunge them inside of you. You’d be so hot, and I’d lick my way down your thigh until I was kneeling in front of you. I’d touch my finger to your clit and watch your head fall back, your eyes close as you moan my name again. I’d hold the back of your legs, bring you into my mouth and twist my tongue around your clit until I could taste you, until I could feel you shake…Message 1 of 2

“What the fuck is with message 1 of 2?” Lucy grumbles.

And as you were about to come, I’d slide inside of you and you’d be so ready to orgasm that you won’t even notice until I thrust into you and you come around me.

“Jesus, even I want to have an orgasm from this.” Lucy hands Olivia back her phone. “If you ever get sick of him, send him to me.”

“Not getting sick of him yet.”

Shit, she has to write him another message, but she needs him, now, now, now.

Simon is picking upp lucy. Wil m be at your pkmace within the sohour.

February 21, 2009
1:48 A.M.

There are stars on the ceiling of his elevator. It’s like little flecks of light, and she blinks, because there might not be stars, and she might just be drunk. Really, really, delightfully drunk. Her body hums as the elevator rattles and slides its way up to the third floor. Elliot had wanted to pick her up; she had wanted to have sex with him in his car and he had agreed to let Simon take her home so they didn’t get arrested. Crap, did she text her boss at some point tonight?

Oh no.

The doors open onto Elliot’s floor and she walks out, looking up and down each direction. There are lots of wooden doors on this floor, and she turns right off the elevator. What’s his apartment number? 3B? No, wait, that’s Mark’s. She doesn’t want to knock on Mark’s door, especially when she hears some sort of moan…uh, note to women everywhere: when your boyfriend lives next door to his daughter’s boyfriend, please make sure to never tell of the sex noises you heard coming behind door number 3B.

She turns the knob on Elliot’s door, walking inside. It’s dark; he couldn’t have thought to keep the lights on for her while she’s intoxicated? She shimmies out of her jeans, stumbling a bit, and leaves them on the floor as she makes her way into Elliot’s bedroom. Huh, did she take her underwear off too? Because by the chill in that area, she’s assuming she did. She looks down, and yeah, the red satin has come off as well. Good, because the wetness was kind of uncomfortable.

“You work fast,” Elliot grins. He’s leaning against his pillows with his hands cradled behind his head. She watches as his eyes sweep over her body, and with his pointer finger he motions for her to come over. “How drunk are you?”

She climbs up on his bed, nearly falling. She’s so smooth. Smooth as his ass…too many thoughts right now. Must concentrate on getting onto him like a ride. Ride, ride, ride. Olivia makes it onto his lap, facing him, her legs positioned on both sides of his. “Drunk,” she whispers, licking a trail along his lips. She rocks against him, and damn, he’s already hard. That was fast. Good, big detective.

“Did you have fun with Casey and Lucy?” He slides his fingers through her hair, nipping at her lips.

She doesn’t want to talk about her night at the bar. That would just be dumb right now. “Your fingers are in the wrong place,” she drawls out, taking his left hand from her hair. She brings it down between her legs, their hands still locked together, sliding one of his fingers inside of her. How has she never done this drunk with him before? It’s like heaven on orgasm. Orgasm in heaven? Whatever. His finger glides inside of her, and her hips jerk, because she’s been waiting for this for hours, and how is it he’s better than she remembers? She groans as his finger pumps inside of her, and this is going to be the quickest sex ever. Tequila is awesome. Even when you’re forty.

Elliot lays her back against the bed, and the room spinny, spin, spins. “Baby,” she murmurs. Her eyes close; his tongue has hit her spot. “Oliver Twist.”

He’s like a fucking tornado with the way he’s doing that thing with… “Oh God. You’re so fucking good.” Her fingers claw at the bedspread, her back arching off the mattress. “No one gives oral like you do.”

There’s this cool breeze against her clit, and she realizes he’s laughing. The moron shouldn’t laugh; he also shouldn’t always service her first because when he’s an asshole she doesn’t want to do it to…no, she always wants to give him something in return. She’s a good girlfriend sometimes.

His tongue stops. “I’m the best oral you ever had? Shit, Olivia, you’re drunker than I thought.”

“I’ll give you more compliments about it later, just continue you what you were doing.”

Elliot slides his hand up her leg, and oh, his tongue is back. Twisting, twisting, fuck, fuck…”Fuck,” she moans, her body writhing. He’s doing inhuman things, and she can’t breathe, except it’s perfect, perfect, so fucking perfect. She squeezes the blankets in her hand, her body arching against the mattress as she comes into his mouth. His warm, hot, amazing tongued mouth. “Never, ever stop doing that,” she manages.

He crawls beside her, licking his way down her clavicle like he had promised. “You’ve never come that fast,” he mutters across her skin. His tongue slides down her cleavage, and hell, she might as well just come again for the fun of it. “So, you like my ass and that thing I do with my tongue. What else do you like, Liv?”

Olivia sits up, pushing him back against the mattress. She grabs his cock, sliding it out of his briefs. He’s such an old man with those damn, tight briefs. “I love,” she purrs, bending down. She pulls his dick into her mouth, lapping her tongue over his head. “How hard you get for me,” she breathes, and one of his hands locks in her hair, pulling it tight. Tight, he’s so fucking tight.

The salty taste of him with the remnants of tequila and lime mix, and she sucks him harder, massaging him with her tongue, the tips of her fingers. He’s so deep in the back of her throat, and he’s grunting, fisting his fingers in her hair. She’s sucking faster and faster and she knows he’s going to come, and there’s some sort of pride in that because she’s drunk and there’s always pride in doing things well when drunk. He quivers in her mouth, and the sound of him groaning her name, God, it’s so fucking hot when he moans her name. Really, how were there no orgasms in ten years?

He releases himself into her mouth, and she swallows it, licking her tongue over his cock one more time before sitting up. He looks satisfied, like she’s just given him a really good…well, yeah, she has.

“Did I ever tell you that I hooked up with my roommate in college?” Olivia’s eyes widen, a mischievous smile filtering onto her lips. “We were drunk, worse than I am right now, and we were in our common room.” She stares up at the ceiling, and it’s cool how it moves. “Do you have any food?”

Elliot flips her over on the bed, and wow, that was like a fun little aftershock to her ride. He’s on his side, tickling his finger down the side of her face, and it’s feel so nice, so, so nice. “I love you.”

She just sort of wants to pet him, he’s so damn cute. “I love you, too.”

“Liv, when you wake up tomorrow, how long is it going to take before you deny everything you’ve said to me tonight.”

She laughs, sliding her leg between his. “I do love you.”

“I’m talking about the best oral you’ve ever had, the fact you’ve done God knows what with your female roommate—which I will ask you about when you’re sober—, how much you love my magnificent ass.” He slides his hand underneath her tank top, warm and flat against her stomach. “Who’s Oliver Twist?”

“He’s a character in English literature.”

“Yes, but why were you calling me Oliver Twist?”

“Oh.” She brings his face down to hers, drawing his bottom lip between her teeth. “Because you do that amazing twisting thing with your tongue.”

The grin on his lips widens; it’s like he thinks he deserves a gold star or something.

“Stop smirking,” she jokes, shimmying a bit against the covers. “Am I going to be really hung over tomorrow?”

“Unfortunately, yes. I’ve never seen you this drunk.”

“Doesn’t happen all that often.” She stares up at him, and she really did luck out in the looks department. “I know I can be an idiot in relationships and that none of them have ever lasted all that long, but this thing between us, I want it to last, El. Cragen, we need to tell him…” Cragen. Cragen. “I think I’m fired.”

Elliot arches an eyebrow before smiling. “You’re not fired, Liv. But we shouldn’t be having this conversation about telling him when you won’t remember in the morning.”

“No, Elliot, I think I texted Cragen tonight. I think I told him I wanted to slide his tongue inside of me.” Oh man, if she did that…The laughter spills from her lips, and crap, somewhere deep down she knows that when she’s sober this is going to be a very bad thing.

“You didn’t...” Elliot draws out. “Olivia, tell me you didn’t use my name—”

“No, no.” She shakes her head, “I think I wrote Oliver Twist. Do you think he thinks I want to—”

“Please do not finish that sentence, sweetheart. It’s a mental image I don’t want to have to think about.”

She secures one arm around his neck, pulling him down until his lips touch hers. “Thank you for putting up with me.”

“I think we’re about even on that. You’ve dealt with a lot from me over the years.” He braces his elbow above her head, weaving his fingers through her hair. “What do you want to eat? I don’t have a lot of food here.”

She smiles up at him, her eyes closing at the lazy strokes of his fingers against her scalp. “You never have a lot of food. We live off of take out. Tell me about your night.”

“I met Murph for a drink.”

“Oh!” Olivia’s eyes open, and sometimes she wonders how the color of his could be that blue. She’s so lame when she’s drunk. “Casey wants to have sex with Murphy. Also, I think I found out some things I don’t want to know about my brother’s sex life.” And your daughter’s but she’ll never be drunk enough to let Papa Stabler come out and ruin all their fun.

“I’m sure Murphy would have sex with her. Eleven women hit on him in the span of two hours. He went home with one of them or two of them or maybe three of them.” She startles when he slides a finger inside of her, bucking against him. “It’s dangerous for you to not have underwear on right now.”

“No, actually,” she slams her hips up, his finger sliding deeper inside of her, eliciting a moan to slip from her lips. “It’s perfect.”

February 21, 2009
11:58 P.M.

“Captain,” Olivia says, holding the phone between her ear and her shoulder, “I didn’t want to call your cell again, but thought by some chance you might be in the office. I wanted to apologize again for the text message last night. I’m well aware of how it made me come off, and if you’re sticking me on desk duty as some kind of punishment, I’m not all that sure I can blame you. See you on Monday.”

“Still no answer?” Elliot asks, looking up from the fridge with a smile. He leans against the open door, his tie loosened around his neck. “He’s not going to fire you.”

“You just ate at the party, what are you rummaging in there for?”

She collapses onto the couch, kicking off her heels. The remnants of her hang over still settles into her bones, causing her body to ache with exhaustion. She had spent the last five hours at a birthday party for the twins, and it was only into hour four when her headache started to settle against the beating dance music and the smell of wine that permeated into the room for the adults. Elliot had raised his glass to her while she was talking to Maureen, and she had given him the finger subtly, or so she had thought. His oldest daughter had laughed, covering it with her hand as the conversation continued and the night came to a close.

“I didn’t eat. I was too busy making sure that no kids were making out in a bathroom stall.” He takes an old box of pizza out of the fridge, sliding the remnants into the oven. “You feeling okay?”

“I’m exhausted. So, are you ever going to tell me what I said to you last night?”

Elliot grins, and folds the box up, stuffing it into the trash. “I will. Let me take out the trash and—” His cell phone rings and she lifts her head, wondering if their captain has found out their truths, if he’s calling Elliot to let him know that Oliver Twist and his girlfriend are fired. She might not remember last night, but she had seen the text messages this morning when Elliot had held her phone up to her, the light from the LCD causing her headache to throb. “It’s not Don,” he says, answering the phone. “Hey, Kathleen. What’s up?”

He walks into the other room, and she sits up, noticing the overflow of trash in his kitchen. With a slight groan, she stuffs the box further into the bag, tying the two red ribbons together. The smell of pizza filters into the kitchen, and for the first time all day, the hunger gnaws at her stomach.

“I’m taking out the garbage!” she calls, dragging the bag out of the pail.

Olivia walks out of his apartment and up against the door of 3B, Elliot’s daughter is most likely being groped with her boyfriend’s tongue in her mouth. This is just fabulous. She almost looks out the window at the end of the hall to see if Elliot has sent in the storm troopers. “Just a warning, Mark,” she says, passing them, “Elliot keeps a gun in his apartment, and he’s never been known to miss his target, especially when they’re making out with his daughters. Go inside, kids.”

She’s off then, down the hallway and into the trash room. She remembers what Mark had said to them on the first day she had met him, something about thin walls and being able to hear through them. She hopes to God that Maureen hadn’t heard the apparent drunk escapades from last night; she hopes even more that Elliot never hears his daughter on the other side of that wall, because she’s sure Maureen will never forgive herself for the stroke she’s caused upon her father.

“Liv!” Maureen rushes into the trash room, her face flushed. “Oh my God, I thought Dad said you two were going back to your place! Seriously, if he had walked out of the door—”

Olivia squeezes Maureen’s shoulder with a smile. “You should thank Kathleen for calling your dad when she did, otherwise it would have been him. Sweetie, do me a favor? For your father’s sanity and for your own, go back to your place tonight.”

“But Mark and I—”

“Don’t tell me the details. When Elliot starts to interrogate me, it’s better if I know nothing.” She smiles at Maureen, walking out of the trash room. “Take Mark if you want to, but believe me, let your dad have another night of thinking you’re eight.”

“Okay, okay, we’ll go back to my place. You’re not going to tell him—”

“No. I do not want to get into that conversation with your dad.”

Maureen stops outside of Mark’s door, her hand on the knob. “It was cool you came tonight, Liv. You and Mom seem to be…well, you sort of seem to be friends and while that’s weird and I’m sure it’ll totally never happen for real, it’s nice for us, you know?” She smiles, opening the door a bit. “Thanks for not telling him. Hey, maybe we can go out for lunch sometime soon? I know your schedule is insane, but—”

“I’d love that, Maureen. You should sneak out of here before your father comes looking for me. I’ll speak to you soon.”

February 22, 2009
12:23 A.M.

“All right, tell me one thing I said to you last night.”

Olivia slides her chair closer to Elliot, resting her legs over his thighs. He rubs his hands up and down the bare skin, and she leans forward, their proximity close. The dining room table is littered with bottles of water, paper plates, the crusts of pizza too burned to finish. It’s quiet and warm and exactly what she wanted tonight, what she needed after the long twenty-four hours she has suffered.

“Do you really want to know?” Elliot asks. “You’re not going to be happy.”

She closes her eyes, a smile filtering onto her lips. “I already told Cragen I wanted him to slide his tongue inside of me. Does it get much worse than that?”

Elliot laughs, his hand sliding underneath her calf, gripping the hard muscle. “Do you want to tell me which college roommate of yours you hooked up with? And what exactly that entailed?”

“Oh God.” Olivia covers her face in her hands, shaking her head. “I did not tell you that.”

“Which roommate, Liv?”

She takes a deep breath, peeking at him through her slotted fingers. She’s an idiot. A hung over, moronic, post drunk idiot. “Heather. I…I don’t remember that night, but I’ve heard stories about it from Zoe. She walked in while we were…You know what? We’re not going to have sharing hour right now.”

“Come on! I took care of you when you were drunk last night. I wish I could have taken care of you that night—”

“Shut up, El,” she laughs. “It was a long time ago.”

“At least tell me how far you got.”

Men. All of them are morons when it comes to the idea of women hooking up with each other. He’s still an oversexed little boy at heart. Well, he never was until it came to her apparently.

“Not as far as you’re thinking. No, I didn’t have sex with her, no I’ve never had sex with any woman, no I never would so stop thinking about it, and no we didn’t have pillow fights, either. Can we move onto the other embarrassing things I said to you last night?”

The smile on Elliot’s face widens. “No one gives oral like I do.”

Wonderful. Just wonderful.

“Let me guess, you’re never going to forget I said that to you, right?”

“No, that one is burned into my memory. You also said I have a magnificent ass.”

She leans forward even further, placing her hands over his legs. “No, I didn’t.”

“Check your text messages. I’m surprised you even tried to spell magnificent. You also said you loved me.”

“I must have been really drunk then,” she teases. “El, listen, after what happened last night, we need to tell Don about us. Your name wasn’t mentioned but it was too close a call for us not to deal with it. I know you said you wanted to wait, but we’re seven months into this. I don’t…” She looks up at him, the smile that crosses her lips seemingly filled with sadness. “I don’t think we’re going to be ending this anytime soon, maybe it’s best we say something now before it’s too late.”

Elliot nods, “You mentioned something about that last night, I told you to hold off until you were sober.”

“I’m sober now,” she says, quietly. “We have to do it, El. Maureen was right. I can’t make the right decisions on the job knowing…I need to make sure someone is always thinking about you as a cop and not as their boyfriend.”

“Then we should cancel out Munch. You know he loves me.”

“Yeah, Elliot.” Olivia rolls her eyes. “He’s just dying to get you in the sack.”

He laughs, cupping his hands around her ankles. “We’ll tell Don as soon as we can.”

“Thank you.” She presses her lips softly to his. “I’m sorry about last night. I don’t drink like that, but the shots kept coming and I—”

“You have nothing to apologize for. You’re entitled to go out and have a good time.” He lets go of her ankles, bringing her legs down to the floor. “You should get into bed. You must be exhausted.”

“Let me help you clean up.”

“No, it’s okay. Get into bed. I’ll be there in minute.”

Elliot stands, and she grabs his hand, pulling him down to her. He’s in her space now, his body hovering hers, and she likes it like this. She still needs her minutes, hours, sometimes days away from him, but in the end, this is still where she wants to be. “I do love you. If there’s anything I don’t regret telling you last night, it’s that.”

“See,” he grins, and it’s so wide that she finds herself smiling back, “and I already knew that one.”

Chapter Text

Month Eight: March, 2009

March 4, 2009
5:32 A.M.

Cosmopolitan Rule #29:
Secret relationships are somewhere along the same lines as sneaking into a bar underage. It’s exciting at first: the dare of doing something wrong, the exhilaration of attempting not to get caught, but sooner or later it becomes a hassle more than anything else. After eight months, you almost hope to get caught just so you can stop, just so sanity can resume when hiding secrets has become like a second skin. When it comes to dating, you start to wonder if it’s about you, if you’re a dirty little secret that is going to remain for as long as you stay in the relationship. Self esteem takes a plunge; you begin to question his motives, your motives. Here’s the thing about secrets; someone will always find out. They lurk, hover in the air, but they never stay hidden forever. At some point, you’re either going to tell or make damn sure someone figures it out, simply so the charade can end.

In the span of seven minutes, she’s gone through nearly a box of ammo.

The Sig remains poised in Olivia’s hand, the gun aimed at the bullseye target in front of her. There were days in the beginning of her job as a cop where she loved practicing on the human form. The bullet would pierce the heart of the unsuspecting paper, and in her mind, she’d see her father, the perps, the ones who had been set free with a glimmer of gratitude in their eyes, a glimmer of deceit. She had seen enough evil, dealt with it enough that soon the human outline became too much. She stopped seeing those she wanted to lash out at, instead saw the victims, their pain. It had taken seven years into the job before she started to use the bullseye; it’s now three years later and even with the bullseye, she still sees the ones she wants to hurt.

Hundreds of casings gather at her feet as she fires another shot, kicking away the pile of bullets that have come back to her. The feel of the trigger against her fingers is invigorating, the stress of the week sliding off her back and onto the ground next to carnage of bullets.

She hadn’t wanted this. She hadn’t wanted to keep this damn relationship with Elliot a secret, but when a new month filtered into another and their partnership remained in tact, the frustration began to eat at her, sending her to the firing range long before the sun had risen.

God, sometimes she thinks the release of her trigger against the target is better than an orgasm. There’s another hole branded in the center of her target, lost amongst all the others.

“I wish it would surprise me that you’re here this damn early, yet somehow it doesn’t.”

Olivia doesn’t bother to turn as his muffled voice seeps in through her hearing protection. She knows that he’s taken the lane next to her, and she rolls her eyes. The last thing she needs is more shell casings surrounding her feet, the noise of someone else’s frustrations when she can barely handle her own.

“What are you doing here?” she asks, opening her new box of bullets.

“You weren’t in bed when I woke up.” Elliot slides the goggles over his eyes, aiming his gun at the now hung target. Elliot Stabler, who doesn’t give a shit about his anger, aims at the outline of a man. “What’s up, Olivia? The last time you came here at five in the morning we were in the middle of a crappy case and you weren’t sleeping.”

Shells fall between their lanes, and she knows they’re hot to the touch, that metal can scorch and burn much like love.

“Do you love me?”

Four more casings fall to the ground, two shots fired for each of them. It’s a quiet competition between them; the shots fired, the placement of bullets, the one who will ultimately give in first on this game of hide the relationship.

Elliot holds his gun out to the target, his arm steady. “That’s not an answer.”

“Neither is that.” She presses the ammo into her gun, the bullets filling the empty space. “I agreed to keep this relationship a secret for a while, and I understood why we were doing it. I can’t keep doing this. I am so sick and tired of walking around that precinct on egg shells because I’m worried Munch might open his mouth or I’ll tell Cragen I want to lick him or something obscene.” She shouldn’t be stressed in her happy place. She should not be stressed with a gun in her hand. “I can’t keep working with you, at least not in the same capacity.”

“You’re stressing with a gun in your hand. Stop it.”

Olivia smiles and allows it to briefly flit across her lips. “Then stop stressing me out with this and let’s tell Don.”

Elliot lowers his gun and sets it down, pulling the protection off of his ears. “We haven’t told him because we’ve been working.” He looks at his watch. “We’ve closed the case. We can tell him when we get in.” He secures the headphones over his ears, turning back to his lane. “This isn’t going to be as easy and simple as you think it is.”

“I don’t think it is easy, Elliot.” She raises her gun, her eyes narrowing at the target. “I would just rather do it before we’re in a situation that we don’t know how to handle.”

She wonders if Ryan—the owner of the firing range—can hear them over the sounds of their shots, bothers to listen when he knows two officers need their release before the morning has even begun. She had met Ryan nearly a year ago when her firing range had closed down, and after seven months, he had let her know that if she ever needed the range (even at five in the morning when most normal people remained asleep) it was hers. Elliot had claimed that the man who was ten years younger harbored a crush for her; Olivia had rolled her eyes and called him an idiot. But the truth was, she needed it here. She needed to know that the control still existed in her life, that despite love and relationships and all the stuff she never dealt with, she could be the cop she’s always been.

Olivia fires off a round, the trigger snapping back. “You should be in bed asleep.”

“So should you.”

“I’m too wound up. I needed something to do to relax.”

Even without looking at him, she can hear the smile when he speaks, the slight lilt in his voice that burns with the tiniest bit of his accent. “You should have woken me.”

“That wouldn’t have helped me right now.” She fires her last shot and places the gun down on the small counter. Her bullets are gone, her strength and energy rejuvenated before the sun has risen. “Are we sure we know what we’re doing with this relationship, El?”

Elliot stops, his gun now down as well. He takes off his goggles, the protection over his ears and steps around their barrier. She turns to look at him, and there are still times she hates being vulnerable around him, like the woman he fell in love with no longer exists. “What is this, Liv? You can’t come here at five in the morning because you’re pissed Cragen doesn’t know and then question it.”

“It’s been ten years,” she says, quietly. “I know we have to do this and if I have to be the one to force it, I will be. But it doesn’t mean I don’t worry what’ll happen tomorrow or next week or whenever we’re forced apart. I hate working this job without you. I just…I need to be sure we’re giving work up for something more.”

“If you mean marriage, I—”

“No!” She almost wants to laugh at the word that flies from her mouth, like such a thing is a curse instead of a gift. It figures out of all places to have this conversation, it’s here. Guns, the dawn before the light, the solitude of only them. “Jesus, Elliot. Do you really think I’m asking you for a proposal?”

“Then what are you asking?”

On most days she loves him; on all days he gives her a headache that never seems to fully cease. “As much as I know it, I need you to tell me that we’re giving up being partners for a reason.” A small smile stretches across her lips, and she shakes her head, glancing down at the ground. “I’m starting to feel like a girlfriend around guns and I don’t like it.”

“Believe it or not, sweetheart, you can actually be a girlfriend and a cop. I know it sounds impossible but—”

“Shut up.” Olivia presses her hand to the side of his face, and she can feel the faintest bit of scruff on her palm. “One more round in here. Whoever hits the focal point the most wins and loser has to be the one to tell Don?”

“We’re both telling Don,” Elliot answers, kissing her cheek. “But whoever loses has to be the one to say the words. You’re on.” He goes back to his side of the lane, lifting his goggles. “And Liv? You might want to practice what you’re going to say to him when I kick your ass in here.”

“I’m suddenly not feeling like a girlfriend anymore.” She flexes her fingers, the gun poised in her hand. “Best of ten. Let’s go.”

March 14, 2009
8:09 P.M.

“All right, so we’ve bought our tickets for that last weekend in May and we’ll be staying at the W. Now, are you going to remember this or am I going to call you the week before to remind you that we’re actually coming?”

Olivia slides her mail out of her box, her phone cradled between her ear and her shoulder. There must be a week’s worth of mail here, and she groans, quickly skimming the pile in her hand. Bill, bill, Victoria’s Secret catalog, bill…she’d probably have been better off not checking her mail today. She hasn’t been home in seven days; seven days of sleeping in the crib on a spare moment, in Elliot’s bedroom because he lived fifteen minutes closer to work than she did. She transfers the mail to her left hand, while gripping the phone in her right.

She presses the button on the elevator, mentally reminding herself to write down the dates her college roommates will be there. Hopefully a time when Elliot is out of town, merely so he can’t ask for a replay of her and Heather’s drunk night.

“I’ll remember the dates you’re coming, but you know weeks can go by and I have no idea. Call me the day before so I at least know what month I’m in.” She steps inside the elevator. “Kim, you know the three of you don’t need to stay in a hotel. I have the room.”

On the other end of the line, laughter filters through, and Olivia smiles. “Olivia, I love you, but your apartment is smaller than my bathroom. Besides, I need the lounge and spa. The kids and Matt are driving me insane and I need this vacation away from them. The girls and I have booked two rooms. You’re staying with us.”

“In that case, you should come visit more often.”

The elevator door opens and she heads down the hall towards her apartment. There has to be some mistake, or maybe it’s been so long since she’s been here that she’s forgotten where she lives because there are a dozen roses sitting outside her door. It has to be someone else’s apartment, because there’s no reason for flowers to be outside of her. 2D. No, this is definitely her apartment.

What the hell.

She bends down, fishing the card out of the bouquet. She knows Kim is telling her something about the kids, that she probably should be listening since it takes her a month to ever return a call, but she can’t. Not when she reads the card, the words settling inside of her.

We seem to do things a month later than we should. Better late than never, right? Happy Valentine’s Day. I love you. E.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Olivia mutters, leaning back against her door.

“Liv? Are you okay?”

There’s shock in her tone when she answers, a numb block of ice stretching over her vocal cords. “Elliot just sent me flowers.”

“First of all, this boyfriend of yours better be in town when we’re there, because I find it ridiculous you’ve known him for ten years and I’ve never met him. Second, men don’t change for the better, Olivia. At least not like Stabler seems to have. Are you sure you’re dating the right person? I mean this is the same guy who was a dick more often than not, right?”

“He’s still a dick more often than not,” Olivia muses, walking into her apartment. She places the flowers onto the kitchen table, along with the mail, and sits down, resting against the back of the chair. “This thing with him scares the shit out of me sometimes,” she admits, closing her eyes.

“Do you want the shrink or the friend when I respond?”

“Let’s pretend I’m saying friend, but know me well enough to know I mean shrink.”

Kim laughs, and there’s a part of Olivia that wishes it were May right now. “Sweetie, I’ve known you for over twenty years, and you’ve never been this happy with someone before. Do you remember when we were in college and Zoe had that whole fascination about falling in love with her best friend? She wanted to meet someone, be friends with him forever and then one day miraculously realize she was in love with him?”

Olivia smiles, leaning her head back. Her eyes close, the filtering light fading from her vision. “I remember telling her she was an idiot.”

“She might have been an idiot, but that’s what happened between Elliot and you. Love is hard under the best circumstances, but when you fall in love with the person who has been your best friend for ten years, there’s a lot more to lose. You can’t guarantee love, Liv. You can’t think that there’s some formula or some magic plan that can make it work out. It either does or it doesn’t. But, you needed this. You needed this with him. God, Liv, when the hell was the last time you were this happy?”

“You make it sound like I’m so miserable all the time.” Olivia’s eyes open and she stares out the window, the night an explosion of red and faint blue. “Am I?”

“You work a really crappy job that you can’t ever escape. You’re entitled to be miserable when you want to be. All I’m saying is that now, even though you work a shit job you also have someone to come home to who understands and who loves you.” Kim clears her throat. “Speaking of, did you tell your Captain?”

“You’re killing me here, Kim.” She brushes her fingers across the soft petals. “He separated us two days after we told him. He yelled for a good ten minutes on the rules of the NYPD and how we’ve broken them time and time again and how he should have separated us years ago.”


“You’re such a pain in my ass.”

“Well, I have to go take care of my kids in a second, so do me a favor and just tell me, because I’ll have Zo and Heather on your ass if you don’t. You know I’m the best one to deal with out of the three of us,” Kim teases.

“We had a really shitty case this week, and there were points where I didn’t think I could do this without him. And then I went back to his apartment, got into his bed and figured if anything was worth dealing with this job without him, it’s probably that.”

“I wish you could hear yourself. You’d be so pissed off if you realized how sappy you sound.”

Olivia laughs. ‘We’re done here. Tell the girls and Matty I say hi. I’ll talk to you soon.”

She places the phone on the kitchen table, staring at the red roses she hasn’t yet bothered to put in a vase. The card rests beside it, and she picks it up, holding it in the palm of her hand. She had been more than willing to forget the Valentine’s Day debacle, the fight that bruised more than she thought possible, the week of not speaking, of challenging each other simply to see who would cave first. In the end, she guesses she did. She had let three words slip amongst her yells and it had ended, as if it never happened at all. It had been over and done with, the annoyance of flowers and candies gone for another year.

Until Elliot ‘I’m apparently a really romantic boyfriend despite my nature of punching the shit out of things’ Stabler decided to throw her a curve ball with the bouquet of red roses.

Olivia slides her phone across the table and it lands with a thud in her hand. She presses the three on her speed dial, his cell phone number illuminating the screen. It rings once, twice, and she thinks that he’s out on the streets with his new partner, while she’s here-

“You got the flowers,” Elliot answers, and she smiles, because he knows he’s thrown her for a loop, that she’d never expect him to be this thoughtful, this romantic after the Valentine’s Day mess.

“Since when do you send women flowers, Stabler?”

“You can never just say thank you, can you?”

Her smile widens, and she leans back against the chair. She needs to fill a vase with water, put the roses in there, but she can’t move, not yet. “You’re spending the nights here until they die, I hope you know that.”

“You’re welcome, Olivia.”

“Thank you, El.” The static rises on the other end of the line; the city becomes alive for him, while the night becomes a reality, a comfort for her. “Can you do me a favor, though? Can you punch a locker or a garbage can or something so I at least remember the man who was my partner?”

“You’re asking me to make my knuckles bleed?”

Olivia laughs. “I might be. Where are you?”

“Fin and I are heading out to interview Cantor. Are you home for the night?”

“Is there somewhere else I have to be?”

“Well…” She loves the sound of his voice, how even though the once there anger of his words rest in her memory, she can hear the change in him, the devotion. “You could go to my place, wait for me to—”

“Christ,” Fin gripes, “the two of you hook up, and I gotta listen to this crap on my car rides.”

“I can’t believe Cragen put you with him.” Olivia rubs another finger over the soft petal of her roses. “Do you think it’s punishment since you’re the one who had to break the news to him?”

“I’m not the one who has to field questions on our use of handcuffs and other—”

“Swear to God, Stabler, you finish that sentence, I will toss you outta this car. Don’t need or want to know the details of your freaky sex life.”

Olivia walks into the kitchen, reaching above the counter for the glass vase. She fills it with water, the phone tucked underneath her ear. “How much does Fin want to kill you right now?”

Elliot snorts, and she can picture him inside of that car, leaning against the window in an attempt to shield this conversation from his current partner. “A lot, I’m assuming. I should go. I’ll give you a call if I get off at a decent hour.”

“Okay. I love you.”

She can imagine the smile on his lips, the way his eyes take a glance at his now partner as he answers, “Me too.”

“Don’t not tell her on my account,” Fin says, his voice coming through the phone. “Love you, Liv.”

“Wow,” Olivia laughs, “Good luck with that. But please, tell him I love him too. In fact, why don’t you just tell him that I want him to-”

“I’m hanging up now. Talk to you later.”

March 21, 2009
7:04 P.M.

Cosmopolitan Rule #30
: When it comes to a man who has kids, there are a few rules that one needs to abide by in order for them to like you. Number one: Don’t attempt to be their mother. They either already have one (and as much as they might like you, you’re still not their mom), or they no longer do and the last thing they want is someone attempting to take that place in their life. Number two: Don’t try so hard. Like animals, children of a single parent can smell fear. If you’re nervous around the kids, then it gives them the advantage. Keep calm under pressure. Answer all inquiries as honest as possible without getting too personal. Bite your lip, even if their words deserve a smacking. Number three: Like most things in life, pray there is a little liquid courage around you to keep sane. Do not get drunk. But if need be, allow a little alcohol to calm your nerves. Number four: If the kids already know you, then don’t pretend to be someone you’re not just because you’re now dating their father. Be yourself, and if they liked you before, there’s a good chance they’ll still like you now. And if not? Take the alcohol and run like mad.

“Okay, Olivia,” Dickie says, pouring the rest of his coke into a glass. “You’re given the option to either spend the day with Mark Messier, who is arguably one of the best hockey players of our time, or Jose Canseco, who is clearly an incredible baseball player but a total narc.”

The lights are dim in the sushi restaurant, tinted with a red glow that permeates across the walls filled with old Japanese traditions. Olivia sits beside Elliot, her elbow resting on the table as she dabs wasabi into her soy sauce. She looks up at Dickie, the chopsticks poised at her mouth. There’s a part of her—the part that lived for her work, for the victims, for her mother—that sits here with his family and wants to laugh. Not because there’s something amusing, but because when she first walked through those doors of the precinct and met Elliot Stabler, she figured within three years, she’d be done with him. Three years in the unit and she’d leave or he’d leave, or the laughter would stop and the bitterness would begin. To a certain extent, she guesses it did. There were no jokes after her third year, the laughter had been kept at bay, but he remained. Through all the shit, he had infiltrated her walls, broken them down, and brought her the family, the life that she had always secretly craved.


“Why?” Dickie asks.

“She’d want to interrogate him,” Elliot muses. He steals a piece of chicken from Kathleen’s plate. His middle daughter glares at him, one eyebrow lifting. “You weren’t going to eat it, Kath, stop glaring at me.”

“Is that why Canseco?” Dickie leans forward, shielding his ears from the constant chatter of his sisters beside him. “Because you’d want to interrogate him about why all those players got juiced and why he decided to spill?”

“Elliot, answer your own questions,” she teases. She turns back to Dickie. “It’s not about interrogating him, but I would be interested in knowing what made him admit the truth and why he chose to rat out other people, instead of just himself. Was it for safety reasons or was it because he didn’t want to take the downfall alone?”

Elliot grins, like he’s the king of all knowledge, like he believes he’s the king of the world. “Isn’t that interrogating, Liv?”

“You can ask questions without interrogating, Elliot.” She picks up a piece of Yellowtail between her chopsticks, dipping them into her soy sauce. “What about you, Dickie? Out of those two, who would you choose?”

Beside Dickie, Eli bounces in his high chair. His hands are filled with sticky rice as he swats them at his older brother. Dickie grunts, pushing the baby’s hand away. “Eli stop,” he mumbles, turning back to Olivia. “Canseco is an idiot. I mean, I learned enough from being Dad’s kid that narcs are so not cool. It’s an American sport. Like, do you really think that football players aren’t injecting themselves? That other unnamed baseball players aren’t? Just shut up about it before you ruin the sport, you know?”

She can tell Elliot’s going to join this conversation when he sits up, straightens himself out. He might as well put on his police cap now and raise the stakes with his gun on the table. “People are killing themselves with that,” Elliot interjects, and he’s off, like the start of a race. “You don’t think that Canseco should have let people know? What would you do if this was happening in your school and you found out? Would you let those kids continue to do it?”

Dickie groans, shaking his head. “Okay, I so did not say this so we could get into a lecture about the drugs in school. Do jocks do ‘roids? Maybe, but I have no idea. Besides, there’s enough pressure from the leagues that kind of force these guys into that lifestyle and—”

“Olivia,” Maureen whispers beside her. Olivia turns her head to the left, Elliot’s three daughters facing her. It’s like a tribunal of estrogen, forced into their own corner to bypass the sports talk, the lectures their father will surely start to give them at any point in time. “I have a quick question while Dad gives Dickie a speech about how bad drugs are. Liz wants to know—”

“No, I don’t!” Elizabeth exclaims in a hushed whisper at the end of the table. “Maureen, shut up! Can you not ask Dad’s girlfriend? You suck so bad.”

Oh shit. Is she really going to have to answer some kind of question about sex in front of Elliot? Is this some kind of test to see if she answers correctly and if not, Elliot will end it? She needs another book for this. Something like, Dealing with Your Boyfriend’s Kids For Dummies or How To Successfully Survive Questions from Teenaged Girls. She deals with kids every day, for fuck’s sake. She can deal with Elliot’s kids.

“Calm down, Pipsqueak,” Kathleen mumbles before Olivia can answer. “You would ask Mom.”

“Olivia isn’t Mom!” Elizabeth closes her eyes. “I didn’t mean…” She opens them, the blue spooled with embarrassment. “Dude! Seriously? This is like the worst dinner ever. This is worse than that time that Dickie puked all over my plate and then I puked on him! And that was like the worst freaking day ever.”

“Liz,” Olivia says quietly, leaning towards Elliot’s youngest daughter, “you don’t have to ask me anything you’re not comfortable with.”

“No, it’s not…it’s fine. You guys can just…just ask her the question.”

Kathleen rolls her eyes, stabbing her fork around her chicken. “It’s so not that big of a deal.” She glances at Elliot, making sure the Detective of the Year isn’t listening. “Liz wants to know when is too soon to kiss a guy? I don’t think I’m the best person to answer since I’ve slept with half of New York—”

“Kathleen,” Maureen warns, “Come on. Don’t do that. You were—”

“Yeah, yeah, I was sick, I get it, I know. Sarcasm works, Mo, it’s fine. Okay, so Liz has gone out on like how many dates?”

Elizabeth buries her head in her hands. “Please kill me. Take a chopstick and poke it in my eye and just kill me right now.” The spaces between her fingers widen and she takes a deep breath. “Two,” she mutters. “And a half. Sort of. Too soon?”

Is there a book store around here where she can pick up one of those self-help dating a partner who has kids book? She’s not a moron; she can deal with children. In fact, she deals with kids better than he does most of the time. But if she’s being honest, what is she supposed to say? Well, I nearly jumped your father on date two, kids, so no I don’t think it’s too soon to kiss. Please listen to me if you want your dad to dump me immediately.

“Who are you dating, Liz?” Elliot asks, snapping his head towards the women.

The man has some kind of parental radar when it comes to his daughter’s dating. Men around the world with teenaged daughter must be so proud.

“This is why we can’t discuss things like three feet from Dad! Not dating anyone,” Liz mumbles, resting her head on the table. “In fact, for sanity’s sake—no offense Kathleen—”

Kathleen smacks Elizabeth on the side of the head. “Bitch.”

Olivia knows it’s coming before it does. She can hear Elliot intake a breath of air, the gentle hiss as he releases it. “Elizabeth!” Elliot scolds, a few patrons turning to stare. As a cop, Elliot has never given a shit when people are staring. As a father, she imagines he’s a huge pain in the ass because of that. “Don’t you dare say that to your sister—”

“Chill, Dad,” Kathleen groans. “Everyone is staring at us like we’re dysfunctional. Which we are, but we can keep it between us? She’s joking. Can we just laugh about it. Please?”

There’s a vulnerability to her, a gentle softening of her eyes as Maureen reaches over, touching Kathleen’s hand gently. “You know what I need? I need sake.”

“You’re not old enough to drink sake,” Elliot mutters.

She takes out her wallet, tossing it in Elliot’s direction. “Been old enough for four years, Dad.” She nods at their waitress, a short petite Asian woman walking quickly over to them. “Can I get a large hot sake? Oh and also, a bottle of Asahi?”

“Wow Mo,” Dickie goads, when their waitress has walked away. “Could you be drinking more alcohol right now?”

“I’m doing a sake bomb, Loser. And you,” she says lifting her eyebrow at Elliot, “Are doing one with me.”

“No,” Elliot shakes his head, “I’m not.”

“Oh come on. It’s one sake bomb. You are not going to ruin my youth by having one drink with your legal daughter.”

“I don’t drink sake, Maureen. Ask Olivia.”

Olivia’s head snaps up, glancing at Elliot. She wasn’t surprised when he had said no to the alcohol, in fact, she expected it. He wasn’t going to be the father who took shots with his children in an attempt to be young; he wasn’t going to forget about all the kids daily who deserved more protection than they got. So, when he had told his daughter to take a shot with her, well, maybe he needs a guide to dealing with his kids, as well. They can form a book club for idiots who can deal with children all over the city, but not with his.

“Liv?” Maureen asks, the blue of her eyes lit amongst the dimness. “You game?”

She hasn’t done a sake bomb since she was twenty-six; then again she hasn’t had a drop of alcohol since the hangover from hell last month. She had smelled the open bottle of beer Elliot had drunk three days later, spotted the bottle of wine they had left on her counter for a future night. None of it had the appeal it once did, not after telling her Captain she wanted to do sexual things with him, not after the looks he had given her when finding out it was Elliot she was dating. The realization had washed over his face once the news had been told and in that minute, Olivia knew she was doomed. Donald Cragen now knew that Elliot was amazing with his tongue.

It’s what every boss wants to know about their weathered employee.

She has nothing to lose, though. She’s off for the weekend, and one bomb is not going to kill her.

“I’ll do one with you.”

“Huh,” Dickie says, dropping a big scoop of wasabi into his soy sauce. “This surprises me.”

“What surprises you, Little Buddha?” Elizabeth asks. “That you’re a dumbass for putting like a pound of wasabi in your soy sauce? You’re going to choke or something. And why do you sound all like philosophical or whatever?”

“How do I sound philosophical? I know I’m smarter than you, but still,” Dickie shoots back. “What I meant is that I was surprised Dad was telling Liv to do a shot, and then Liv agreeing to do the shot…it’s all very 90210. You know, parents trying to be cool and what not.”

90210? You’re such a girl sometimes. Oh Brenda,” Kathleen mimics. “I know you’re my best friend but I’m going to steal your boyfriend, because I’m the easy girl in school and I love everyone!” She rolls her eyes, stabbing her fork through a piece of chicken. “Besides, the Walshes weren’t that awesome. I mean, they were super cool parents but Mama Walsh wasn’t taking a shot with those kids.”

“I mean the new parents, dummy,” Dickie retorts. “Aunt Becky is a hottie.”

Olivia leans over in her chair, her arm brushing against Elliot. “Why is Dickie calling his aunt Becky hot?”

“Dickie,” Elliot speaks up, “what are you talking about? You don’t have an aunt named Becky and please, don’t call any of your relatives a hottie.”

Full House, Dad,” Maureen grins. She takes the sake the waitress has dropped off, along with the beer, and fills a glass a little more than halfway. There’s an empty water glass on the table and she takes that as well, sliding it over to Olivia. “Do you remember how to do them?”

She took about twenty shots with her brother’s girlfriend last month, yet she’s not exactly sure doing a bomb with her boyfriend’s daughter is the best route to take. It’s going to get back to Kathy that she’s encouraging their kids to drink and that Dad just has to date the lady who tries so hard to be one of them. Right, this isn’t a bad idea at all.

“Put the shot on top of the chopsticks, bang the table and drink as fast as you can?” Olivia recalls.

“I want to bang!” Dickie yells out.

“That’s what she said,” Kathleen and Elizabeth respond simultaneously.

“The five of you together is a lot to handle,” Elliot jokes.

“Oh, we are not. We’re fun. Okay,” Maureen says, balancing her chopsticks on top of the glass of beer. She places her sake shot between the two sticks while Olivia does the same. She must be mentally insane for this. “Dickie, after I say sake bomb, pound on the table.”

“The restaurant staff is going to hate me, but okay.”

“Dickie,” Elliot warns, “try not breaking the table when you do it.”

“You’re making him out to be much stronger than he is,” Elizabeth teases. “I’m pounding too. All right, go, Mo.” She giggles, her strawberry blonde bangs ruffling in the laughter. “That rhymed.”

“You’re freaking brilliant.” Dickie rolls his eyes. “Okay, go.”

Maureen looks at Olivia. “You ready?”

Oh, what the hell. “As ready as I’ll ever be for this.”

“Sake…bomb!” Maureen calls out, as fists pound on the table.

The two shots fall into the glass of beer, exploding within the liquid. For one minute, it’s like she’s back in college with her girlfriends. There are no victims, no thoughts that burn through her brain and cause her to lose sleep, nothing but fun. The beer and sake spills down her throat and into her stomach, the glass emptying. The last of it slides into her mouth and she puts down the mug, seconds before Maureen does.

“Whoa,” Dickie says, astonished, “Olivia, that was actually really awesome of you.”

It’s nice to know she can charm his kids because she can suck down a sake bomb faster than a twenty-five year old.

Elliot’s arm drapes around the back of her chair. He leans into her—the rest of his kids now involved in another conversation, minus little Eli who continues to stick rice everywhere—his voice a whisper. “That was impressive.”

She grins, turning her head the slightest bit so their eyes can meet. “I’ve worked with you for ten years, and this is what impresses you?”

“Among other things.” He turns back to the rest of the group, rubbing a napkin over Eli’s messy hands. “Once we get the check, are we ready to go?”

“Dad.” Maureen finishes off the sake, pushing it to the side. “There’s something wrong with my bathroom sink. It leaks every time I turn it on. Come you come over and check it out? I’ll make coffee or something. The kids can play with my PlayStation.”

“Where’s Mark? Not man enough to fix your sink?”

“Really with the being mean to my boyfriend? Come on, you like Mark, so don’t do the overprotective dad thing where you say you want to hurt him, but deep down you like him considering you were friends with him before I started to date him. Besides, he’s in Aspen for spring break skiing with his parents.”

“Do you mind?” Elliot asks Olivia.

“Not at all. Let’s go.”

March 21, 2009
9:52 P.M.

“Mo, how do you play this American Idol game?” Dickie asks, looking up from her PlayStation. “Do you have to sing or something?”

Maureen adds four scoops of coffee into the machine. She fills the pot with water, spilling it into the open hole in the back. “You have to know how to sing, D, and you can’t for the life of you. So, unless you want to hear Simon tell you you’re the most horrible singer in the world, please don’t do it.”

“Actually, I want to hear Randy call me dawg.”

“Yeah, what I actually meant was no one here wants to listen to you sing. You’ll make Eli cry.” Maureen rests her elbows on the counter. “Thanks for doing the bomb with me, Liv. I haven’t done one in forever, but doing one alone is kind of, well, it’s kind of lame.”

There’s some sort of odd familiarity about being in Elliot’s oldest daughter’s apartment. She has known Maureen since she was fifteen, ten years of watching a bratty, boy crazed, friends obsessed girl turn into a smart, mature young woman. There’s still an element in youth in here—the mess of clothes thrown into a corner, the pictures of hot actors on the refrigerator door, the brightly colored posters of youth’s perspective on art—but she likes it. She likes knowing that despite the shit of the job, despite these kids growing up with a father who has seen far too much, they’re still normal, able to have fun.

“It was fun.” Olivia glances towards the bathroom where Elliot is. Tools clatter on the back of the toilet tank, and Olivia rolls her eyes. “You didn’t want to wait for Mark to come back to fix that?”

Maureen shrugs. “Not really. I mean, when I’m with Mark…” Her eyes widen, and she stands up straight. “Oh shit.”

She runs out of the room and into the bathroom. Olivia leans back on the kitchen stool, confused. There’s rummaging and muffled voices belonging only to Maureen, and Olivia nearly laughs. Even without seeing him, she knows how baffled Elliot must be. He says something to her, the words not loud enough to contend with her mission. Something comes flying out of the bathroom, a box that lands in front of Dickie with a thud.

Oh shit was right. Olivia stares at the box that Dickie has now lifted, her eyes closing for the briefest of seconds. This is not going to be good.

“Trojan Pleasure Pack,” Dickie grins, a pot of gold now in his hands. “First of all, gross, but you have a nice assortment here, Mo. What does Marky Mark like to use?”

“Dickie,” she growls, taking a step towards him, “Shut up. Give them back to me or I’ll tell Dad about the time you stole his car and—”

“Here, geez,” Dickie says, handing them off. “Chill. Not like I was really going to show Dad. Although, Olivia now knows what you use too. Isn’t coincidence and chance totally awesome?”

The words form in Olivia’s brain, something along the lines of No, I will never tell your father you’re having sex. Please, never bring up the brand of condoms you use again, although a pleasure pack does sound interesting. Can I buy them at any major drug store?

“Olivia,” Maureen starts, when Elliot walks out of the bathroom.

She throws the box of condoms behind her, and Kathleen grabs it, passing it to Liz. It’s like a football match, an endless game of toss and catch to keep the object from the big, bad monster. Liz throws it backwards, and it lands in Maureen’s bedroom with another loud thud. And Elliot…poor confused Elliot stands and watches, having no idea what the hell has just happened.

“I was going to ask where a wrench was, but now I’m more curious about what was just happening in here.” Elliot narrows his eyes, the infamous interrogation stare that Olivia has become used to. “So who wants to tell me what was just being thrown around the room?”

“El,” Olivia says, softly. “It was nothing. Go fix Maureen’s sink.”

Elliot eyes them all warily, walking back into the bathroom like a punished little boy. Maureen breathes a deep sigh of relief and walks back to the counter. “Thank you so much. If Dad saw the condoms he would have freaked, killed Mark, called it an accident and he would have gotten away with because he’s a cop.”

Music filters into the room, guitar strings and drums blasting. Olivia and Maureen look at the television, at Dickie who stands in front of it with a microphone in his hands. The familiar chords of Bon Jovi begin to play and on the couch, Eli starts bouncing on Elizabeth’s lap, clapping his hands together.

“Shot through the heart, and you’re to blame, darling, you give love a bad name! An angel’s smile is what you sell, you promise me heaven but put me through hell. Chains of love got a hold on me, when passion’s a prison, you can’t break free.”

“Why is someone slaughtering an animal out there?” Elliot yells out of the bathroom. “Dickie, stop singing!”

“No, no,” Kathleen laughs, rolling her head back against the couch. “Keep doing it so we can hear what the judges have to say.”

“Shot through the heart and you’re to blame! You give love a bad name! I play my part and you play your game, you give love a bad name!”

Three judges pop up on the screen, the animated forms of the ones on American Idol. She’s seen the show a couple of times, been forced to watch it when on the phone with one of her girlfriend’s and hated every single minute of it. She has to admit though, she’s fascinated by this game, by the fact judges who look and sound so much like the real ones. God, technology these days is insane. As is her age because she’s actually having these thoughts. She might as well go on a rant about how phones are magical and can do so much these days, and in five years, they’ll be able to solve crimes for her.

“It was okay, dawg, it was okay,” Randy Jackson says, on screen. He rocks back and forth on his seat. “You were pitchy, but you had fun, man. You need a lot of work, but you know, it’s cool.”

“Oh Dickie.” Paula speaks softly, delicately. The 80’s pop star smiles, a creepy animated smile. “You have such a light about you. You’re not the greatest singer, but if you keep trying, I’m sure you can get so much better, sweetie. You do your own thing though, and that’s so wonderful. Keep on doing what you’re doing and I really think you have the potential to make it one day.”

“Dickie, you are absolutely, bloody horrible.” Of course, Simon Cowell—with his British accent and tight gray shirt—would think so. As does Maureen’s entire fourth floor. “William Hung sounded better than you when he sang She Bangs. Never ever sing again and spare everyone from dying a slow, painful death.”

“Well,” Maureen says, “Now that we have that established, can you promise us you’ll never sing again?”

March 21, 2009
10:20 P.M.

“Liz, you’re doing so awesome!” Kathleen exclaims. “Looks like Mo’s Christmas present was worth it and Mom can’t kill you for making so much noise when you become a rock star.”

Elizabeth stands in front of the television with her guitar, rocking out to Livin’ On the Edge. She hits the yellow, the red, the green and blue, gaining points. Olivia sits on the couch next to Elliot, Eli resting comfortably against her chest. Despite the noise, the baby sleeps on her, her fingers tangled in the soft blonde curls of his hair.

“We should probably take them home soon,” Elliot murmurs. He rests his arm behind her on the couch, and brushes his lips across his youngest son’s forehead. “He’s dead to the world.”

“The older ones can spend the night here,” Maureen adds, twisting her head to face him. “It’s ridiculous for you to take them to Queens tonight. I mean, Kathleen can head back to the dorms if she wants, but let Liz and Dickie stay here. Then just take Eli back to your place.”

“Does that work?” Elliot asks Olivia.

“Of course.”

“So, Dad.” Elizabeth holds the guitar in her hand. “You going to dazzle us with your guitar playing?”

“You’re not getting me to do that thing, Lizzie.”

“Come on El,” Olivia badgers. “I’d love to see you attempt that thing.”

Elliot glares at her, shaking his head. “Why don’t you do it, Liv?”

“Because I took the sake bomb. Time for you to take one for the team.” Olivia grins at him, her shoulder gently knocking into his. “One song, Elliot.”

“Come on, Dad,” Kathleen whines. “Be a totally cool dad for five minutes and do one song. We will never ask anything of you ever again.”

“Until one of you needs money,” he mutters. He holds his hand out to Elizabeth, “Fine, give me the guitar.”

“Oh this is the greatest moment of my life!” Dickie exclaims. He spreads his legs out in front of him on the floor, leaning against the back of the couch. “Dad, what song are you going to do?”

“He’s doing Love in an Elevator because I’m too lazy to take out the Aerosmith version,” Elizabeth says. She works through the settings, before moving out of Elliot’s way. “Do you even know how to play this, Dad?”

“You push buttons. It can’t be that hard.” Elliot positions the guitar in his arms, and Olivia attempts to stifle a laugh. She wishes she had a camera, something to create some kind of evidence that Detective Stabler is about to rock out to Aerosmith on PlayStation. “I don’t want any of you saying I don’t give you anything. This is plenty.”

The music starts on screen, and Olivia thinks Dickie might be right. This might be the greatest moment of all their lives.

Elliot stands rigid in front of the television, the animated band coming to life. The audience cheers, and in the corner of Maureen’s living room, Elizabeth whispers something in Dickie’s ear. He starts to laugh, giving his own secret in return. Five little circles come up and with the guitar solos in full force, the game has officially begun.

“Um, Dad,” Maureen laughs, “you see those circles? You’re supposed to push the buttons on the guitar when you hit them on screen. Do you need me to demonstrate or something?”

Elliot grumbles, pressing down on the red button, missing it as the game quickly moves to yellow. “Shit,” he mumbles, “Did you give me expert settings or something?”

“No,” Elizabeth grins. “But good job on the cursing in front of us. You’re on beginner. It’s easy, though. Seriously, just watch the screen. I mean, like, it just takes concentration and I know you have that. You can do it!”

“Did you try out for cheerleading?” Kathleen asks. “Because I kind of want to throw a pom-pom at your head right now.”

“All of you, shut up,” Elliot scolds. His legs widen, the guitar finding a more comfortable position in his arms. “It really cannot be this hard.”

Against Olivia’s chest, Eli opens his eyes, staring at his father. He watches with keen interest, the lines of color sliding across the screen as Elliot picks up more points. He’s not doing all that bad at the moment; in fact, he almost seems to be enjoying it. She needs to remember to call Kim about this. There has to be something wrong with him when the man who used to kick the shit out of things is suddenly rocking out to Aerosmith.

“I kinda hope we get stuck, nobody gets out alive,” Kathleen sings.

“She said I’ll show you how to fax in the mailroom, honey, and have you home by five. Love in an elevator, livin’ it up while I’m going down,” Maureen finishes.

“Hey, do you think Dad knows this song is ultra dirty?” Dickie whispers to Elizabeth.

“Dude, he’s a sex cop. Don’t be dumb. Of course he knows.”

Elliot braces his fingers over the red, the blue, the yellow and blue. And when his body starts to move to the song, dancing without realization with the guitar in his hand, Olivia finds herself laughing. Eli moves slightly from the vibrations of her chest and she covers her mouth with her hand.

“El…” But the laughter continues, as he misses another note, followed by another. “You apparently can’t dance and play. Just stand still.”

“No,” Dickie laughs, “Please don’t make him stop dancing. We need to put this on YouTube or something. He dances like such a white boy.”

“You put this on YouTube,” Elliot says, “And I will ground you until you’re sixty.”

Eli fusses in her arms, and Olivia stands up. She bounces Eli in her arms for a couple of seconds, but she can tell the cries are coming unless he settles down, falls back asleep. “Maureen, can I put him in your room until we leave?”

“Of course. Just take the pillows on there and surround him with them. They’re pretty big.”

She almost hates to leave Elliot while he’s playing this. Over the past eight months of dating, she’s discovered things about him that she can mock. She’s learned that despite all his bitching, he doesn’t hate romantic comedies as much he claims. She’s learned that in fifth grade, he had eaten a bottle of glue because his brother had dared him to and spent two days in the hospital. But nothing she has learned over time has compared to the bad ass who plays guitar hero, all the while shaking his ass.

Olivia places Eli in the center of Maureen’s bed, surrounding him with the large pillows stocked on her bed. The little boy reaches out for her, his eyes glassy, his whimpers evident that he still hasn’t gotten what he wants. She lifts him in her arms, holding him against her. He smells like baby powder and shampoo and she closes her eyes, her lips gently brushing against his blonde hair.

“Daddy’s silly when he plays, isn’t he?” she says softly.

“No one is ever gonna mention Daddy playing that game ever again,” Elliot jokes, walking into the bedroom. He sits down behind Olivia, and she leans back into him. “We should get going soon. Dickie called Kathy and let her know they’re staying here and that we’re taking Eli.”

Olivia nods, as Eli nestles his head against her neck. “I’m ready whenever you are. If you want to stay longer, we can just put him down for a while. I think the other ones love spending the time with you.”

“Yeah, so they can make fun of me.” He smiles, kissing the back of her head. “We’ll stay for a few more minutes. Maybe long enough so I can get you with a guitar in your hands?”

“Not a chance, Elliot.”

March 22, 2009
12:01 A.M.

“He’s down,” Elliot says, climbing into bed.

The darkness obscures his face for the faintest moment as Olivia rolls over. She watches the shadows of light play out across his face, lighten the blue of his eyes. He looks exhausted, but it almost surprises her how happy he seems. The Elliot she had known four years ago—the one who had just broken up with his wife for the first time—had known nothing but rage. He stalked, punched, lit the night on fire with anger and determination. Over time he had mellowed out, found solace in a fifth child and in the four who came before him, but there was still something dim in him, a bulb that seemed faded for eternity. She won’t credit herself for the change in him, but she has noticed that he’s not as grumpy these days, that he smiles more, that he plays guitar hero when one of his kids ask.

“I’m impressed, El. You weren’t as crappy at guitar hero as I would have thought.”

“It’s like I’m a rock star,” he grins. “You should be throwing your underwear at me like a groupie.”

Olivia rolls her eyes. She slides her leg between his, the base of her foot pressing against his calf. “You weren’t that good. I had fun tonight, though. It was nice seeing you with them like that.”

On the night stand, the baby monitor comes to life, Eli muttering something in his sleep. The static filters in the room and he moves a strand of her hair from his pillow. “Like a moron?” he responds, massaging her scalp with the tips of his fingers.

She moans softly, her lips brushing against the pillowcase. “You shook your ass like a pro,” Olivia teases. “They really like spending the time with you, El.”

“You mean when I’m not being an overprotective asshole?”

“I wouldn’t say overprotective asshole. Pain in the ass, maybe. A little too controlling when you don’t have to be.” She smiles, rubbing her fingers over the trace of stubble on his skin. “Either way, when you’re doing guitar hero and letting Maureen do a bomb with me, they love that.”

His voice is soft when he answers, a whispered web spun in his words. “I was watching you when you were putting Eli down in Maureen’s room. You looked good with him.”

She closes her eyes, calm under his touch. “You have great kids and I love spending time with them, but with Eli…his opinions are so innocent. He doesn’t know who I used to be to your family, he doesn’t…there’s nothing there but devotion and love.”

“Liv, all my kids—”

“Stop. I’m not saying I think your kids hate me. But, they grew up for years with parents who were married. They knew who I was when I was only your partner and whether or not they have a problem with us dating, I’m still the woman their father is involved with after their mother. With Eli, he doesn’t get anything. He loves you, he loves Kathy, and he knows me as being in his life and nothing else.”

Elliot nods, brushing his lips over hers. He pulls her bottom lip into his mouth, and slides his hand through her hair. His kisses are soft, delicate, and she sighs.

“You’re falling asleep on me,” he murmurs.

“I haven’t been in bed before two in the morning in a week. Sleeping sounds amazing right now.”

Elliot kisses her lips once before lying down beside her. “Can you sing?”


“That game Dickie was terrorizing us with earlier. Would you be able to do it?”

She opens one eye, her smile mischievous. “I guess you’ll never know.”

March 29, 2009
4:44 P.M.

Cosmopolitan Rule #31:
: When you first start dating someone, their bad side refuses to come out. You could have known their rage for years, but when it comes to a romantic relationship, the claws are withdrawn, the anger is subdued and you’re left with a person who is calm, collected, someone so different from the person you once knew. However, as time passes and the honeymoon period has ended, anticipate the rage and know that sooner or later, it’s bound to make its fateful return. Anger, like most things in life, manifests itself differently depending on the person. It comes out with harsh words, with an attitude you just don’t have the energy or desire to deal with. The real fight begins when you’re forced to face it, deal with it, and diffuse the situation before the bomb explodes and the world—and your relationship—ends.

The door to the locker room slams open, and Olivia turns, stunned, her shirt threaded through her fingers. Elliot storms into the room, the cold air blasting across her bare stomach. The goose bumps form along her cleavage and she inhales a deep breath. She should have known to expect Elliot’s rage today. He had been in interrogation for the past four hours, questioning a pedophile who had finally cracked under Elliot’s intense line of firing. But she knew he’d embrace the desperation on this one, feel for the two little girls who had been kidnapped, forced into a crawl space and been molested for four days until a housekeeper had found them.

She had watched through the double-sided mirror as he teamed up with Fin, and after an hour, she had come upstairs, worked out. She didn’t want to see that side of him; she didn’t want to watch the pain in his eyes, the rigid nature of his stance.

He comes up beside her now, and she thinks that he’s not even aware she’s there. His fist extends and he punches the locker. She doesn’t flinch, instead closes her eyes for a split second, opens them and puts on her shirt.

“Elliot,” she says, her voice low, even. “Calm down.”

He balls his hands into fists at his sides, his teeth grinding. “Piece of shit didn’t even have remorse. He kept them for four days. Didn’t even give a crap. Confessed for the hell of it.”

He doesn’t even find the time to string together full sentences, just a few words, a few pieces that make enough sense that she’d understand.

“It doesn’t matter if he confessed for the hell of it or because he felt remorse. He’s still going to prison for life.” Olivia moves to touch him and he steps back, resting his palm on the locker. “You need to get a hold of yourself.”

“Why?” Elliot turns his head, the hurt, the rage evident in the blue. “What the hell has calming down ever done in this fucking job? It never changes, Olivia. There’s never a goddamn upside to any of it.”

“So what, Elliot?” she challenges. “What are you going to do? Dent every locker in here until you feel better? Because we both know I’m not taking you to the hospital when you’ve cracked every bone in your hand.”

He closes his eyes, his breathing deep, loud. Standing here and arguing with him isn’t going to help either of them. She walks quickly out of the room, and into the gym, coming back a minute later. He still hasn’t moved from where he stands; he still hasn’t caught his breath.

“Hit me,” she says, attaching a hand target to her.

Elliot tilts his head, peeking at her through his bent arm. “I’m not hitting you, Olivia.”

“I’m not your girlfriend right now. I’m your ex partner who is sick and tired of you taking your anger out on metal.” She stands in front of him, tossing him a pair of boxing gloves. “We used to spar all the time. Go ahead. Hit me.”

She holds the target in front of her while Elliot reluctantly puts on the gloves. She hasn’t gone toe to toe with him for as long as she can remember. Even before they started to date, she didn’t have the energy to fight his battles with her own; she didn’t know how to stop his rage anymore than she knew how to deal with her sadness from each and every case. But in the cold light of day, she knows she has to do this with him. That in order to calm him, she needs to let the anger win.

He extends one arm out to the target, the blow coming hard as the cushion presses into her hand. Pain slices her hand for the quickest of seconds, but she holds it steady as each new punch hits the padding. He’s grunting, pissed, but she can tell by the look in his eyes that he’s slowly calming. The case will sit with them tonight, will be with them as they climb into bed, talk into the night if he’s willing, but he’ll be able to breathe, to survive another day of hell.

His fists continue to hit for minutes, neither of them saying a word. She’ll deal with the throb of her hands later (most likely while he deals with the cuts from punching the damn locker for what must be the hundredth time) but for now, she allows him to continue. His hits become less intense, until it finally slows, stops.

Elliot’s staring at her now, and it reminds her of that afternoon in the warehouse so long ago. How his eyes had been so intense, but calming. How his presence alone allowed her to see he was all right.

“Feeling any better?” Olivia asks, undoing the straps on the target.

He sits down on the bench, letting his head fall to his neck. “You should have left the shirt off,” he returns, looking up at her with a smile.

“Right,” she laughs, “because it would look great if Don walked in here with you punching a hand target while I’m in my bra.”

“On the bright side, he wouldn’t be able to separate us. Besides, you said you wanted me to punch something so I reminded you of the old me.”

“Oh, so you did this for me?”

“I did.” He takes a glove off his hand, followed by the other one. “I needed that. Thank you.”

“That’s what ex partner’s are for, right?” She takes the gloves from him as he stands, working the combination on his locker. “If you want to be alone tonight—”

“I don’t. We can go back to your place. Let me just change.”


Olivia’s halfway out the door when he calls her back, “Liv, what is this?”

She turns around, her lips widening. Wrapped around his finger, he holds her teal lace thong.

She shrugs, turning back towards the gym. “You’re a rock star in interrogation, El. I figured you deserved my underwear for that.”

Chapter Text

Month Nine: April, 2009


April 2, 2009
2:11 A.M.

Cosmopolitan Rule #32
: For most of us, the event of doing laundry has been with us since our mid teens. When our parents are sick and tired of doing it for us, the inevitable lessons on never mixing whites with colors, never using bleach on colors, and never stuffing too much in at once is given to us—our first big task into the real world. Throughout the rest of high school and into college, we do it alone while studying, with headphones to keep us entertained, with a book that there’s never time to read otherwise. But when you enter into any serious relationship, laundry becomes a joint task. One day you might find yourself washing a pair of polka-dotted boxers, while your boyfriend is left confused on how to handle the delicate lace of a brand new thong. There are late night conversations over nothing in particular, the exciting game of ‘Guess what kind of underwear I’m wearing when all mine are dirty’, (which isn’t as exciting when a man discovers the meaning of granny panties) the annoyance of getting a couple of white socks back pink because they were just too small to notice. Laundry, like most things in a relationship, is a challenge, and a new place to discover things you never knew about your significant other.

“Don’t put that in the dryer,” Olivia says, looking up from her paperwork. “Keep all my bras out.”

“You know you could get up and do it yourself,” Elliot answers, tossing two of her bras onto the bare counter in her laundry room.

It’s quiet down here at this time of night, everyone in her building asleep. She had forced him here tonight so she could get to the stacks of laundry that had accumulated over the past couple of weeks. She had continued putting it off, finding another pair of underwear, another bra stuffed deep into her bottom drawer that would save her for one more day. But when there was nothing left, when desperation came and buying underwear at midnight wasn’t an option, she had given in. She’d waste the hours of sleep, so she could use machines that were old and in imminent danger of breaking down.

“You could also be a decent boyfriend and not complain, but you’re not.” Olivia puts down the stack of files that rest in her lap. She reaches into her washer and pulls out a pile of soggy clothes, tossing it into the dryer. “I need more underwear,” she grumbles.

Elliot lifts her teal thong on his pinky. “You have more underwear than anyone I have ever met.” He tosses another pair in, this one made of satin. “How did I not know you wore these for so many years?”

“You know, I meant to send you the memo on the brand and style of underwear I was wearing every day, but considering you were married and I was actually working, it must have slipped my mind.” She rolls her eyes, before holding up a pair of boxers with a little yellow sponge all over it. The smile splits across her lips, and he’s going to wish like hell he had taken this batch. “Honey, what the hell are these and why have you never worn them in my presence before?”

Elliot snatches the boxers from her hands, grumbling something under his breath. Something about the stupid square pants? “Leave it alone, Olivia.”

“El, you have a cartoon character on your underwear, and you don’t wear boxers to begin with. How have I never seen these?”

“You know, I meant to send you the memo on the brand and style of boxers I was wearing every day, but considering it’s none of your business, it must have slipped my mind.” She stands there with her hands on her hips, the smile never ceasing. “Murphy got them for me.”

“Was it a special occasion? Your third date together?”

“Olivia,” he warns, tossing another thong at her.

She catches it with a laugh, throwing it into her dryer. “All right, I’m dropping it.”

They work in silence for a couple of minutes, both of them loading the dryers. She drops coins into hers, sets the machine for thirty minutes. She leans against the counter and waits for him, the clothing beginning to tumble, patterns and items spinning in a never-ending cycle. Within minutes, Elliot finishes what he’s doing, more clothes spinning out of control. He tosses another one of her bras onto the counter behind her, a stockpiled group of satin, lace and cotton.

“Hi,” he says, leaning into her.

His lips lift into a smile, as do hers, and she wraps her arms around his neck. She hasn’t seen him in days aside from work, but even then it had been sporadic. She’d been in court since Monday, giving support to a victim who she had interviewed a month ago. The minutes stretched into hours, hours had stretched into days while he had spent nights working cases without her. She still misses him as a partner on those endless days, still wishes he was the one driving when it was John instead.

“Hi. How’s the case going?”

“We might have a lead. Are you in court again tomorrow?”

“I think so,” Olivia nods. “I think Marnie feels more comfortable when I’m there. Closing arguments are tomorrow, though. How’s Fin been all week?”

“He wishes to hell he had gotten put with you instead of stuck with me.” He pulls at her bottom lip with his teeth, and she leans back, the edge of the counter hard against her back. His hands roam down her back, slip into the waistband of the pajama pants she had put on when she had gotten home. Elliot’s fingers press against her ass, travel down her backside slowly and remain there for a moment before he releases her lip from his teeth. “What are these?”

“Underwear?” she answers.

“Liv…” He slides his hand further down. “These are huge.”

She rolls her eyes, pushing him off of her. “Thank you, Detective,” she responds, sarcastically. She heads back to the bench, picking up her files. “I ran out of underwear, El. Why do you think I’m doing laundry at two in the morning?”

“You didn’t want to go commando?”

“Not when I’m expecting my period in less than twelve hours, no. Did you really think I was going to have sex with you in my laundry room?” She’s amazed that men, no matter how old they are, still act like twelve year old boys at heart when it comes to women. She focuses on the work again, absentmindedly tapping the pen on the paper. “How are the kids doing?”

“Dickie wants to know when you’re playing guitar hero.”

“Dickie wants to know? Or you want to know?” Olivia flips a page, the material swimming in front of her. She’s far too exhausted for the hell of NYPD paperwork. “What do I get for being a rock star if I do it?”

Elliot grins, sitting down beside her. “Do you want my SpongeBob SquarePants boxers?”

“Are you going to tell me why Murphy got those for you?”

“I lost a bet. For right now, that’s all you need to know.”

She smiles, and nods, looking down at her work. “I’ll get it out of you sooner or later.” She jots down notes for a few minutes, the constant hum of the dryers working. Her knee sways and knocks into his, the marking of the pen nearly uneven at the movement. “Did you wear SpongeBob under your suit? Was he keeping you safe out on the streets?” she asks, attempting to stifle her laughter.

“You’re wearing granny panties, Olivia.”

And it’s Elliot Stabler for the win on the perfect comeback.

“It’s almost two-thirty in the morning. Does it matter what I put on to do laundry?” She pulls a file out from underneath the top one, tossing it into his lap. “There’s fifteen more minutes on the machine. Help me do one while we wait.”

“Liv, I didn’t even help you when we were partners. I used to shove all of mine onto your desk.”

“I know,” she says, “I used to shove them back.”

Elliot opens the folder. “You’ve made me soft.”

“That’s what she said,” Olivia mutters while flipping another page and it’s out of her mouth before she realizes what she’s said. She can hear the laughter tumble from her lips, followed by his. “Is this what happens when you spend time with your kids?”

“That and you become a rock star. Shouldn’t it be ‘That’s what he said’?”

“I don’t know, why don’t you call Dickie and ask?” she grins. “I’m sure he’d love to know we’re having this conversation.”

“The sad thing is,” Elliot says, “he’d be so proud.”

April 11, 2009
10:55 P.M.

Cosmopolitan Rule #33
: When it comes to sex, there’s no way in hell it’s always amazing. When the honeymoon phase ends and you’ve been together long enough to know quirks, annoying habits, and all the ways to make your man squirm, sex becomes perfunctory. The sex in random places stops; the excuses of headaches, your period suddenly appearing for three weeks out of the month, and the faking of orgasms begin. In 1989, Meg Ryan perfected the sound of a phony orgasm. She screamed, moaned, and threw her head back in such passion that men around the world believed that’s what it would be like when their woman faked it (not that any of them ever did in their presence, of course.) But the truth is, if we’re faking an orgasm, we’re not going out of our way to make him or ourselves believe it’s anything more than an attempt to get it over with. It’s only when men realize that we’re not Meg Ryan that the anger starts and the questions about faking begins.

“You want to tell me what’s up?” Elliot asks.

She rolls out from underneath him, the sheets pulled up around her. “What are you talking about?”

“Come on, Olivia. We’ve had sex four times in the last two weeks and you’ve faked an orgasm each time.”

Shit, do people in relationships actually have these conversations? He’s got to be joking with this. What does he want her to say? That she’s faked orgasms her entire life until she met him? That his penis is all powerful and she can never resist the urge? For Christ’s sake, she’s almost forty-one and works for days at a time; she’s allowed to fake it when she’d rather sleep for three hours instead of have a quickie.

“I’m exhausted. We’ve been working, I’ve slept like shit, and it happens. It’s not a big deal, Elliot.” She lies on her back, her arm draped over her forehead. “And can you do me a favor and not count the number of times I fake it? Jesus, are you keeping a tally?”

There are times like these where she wishes she were single, where two double A batteries and a hot bath didn’t talk back to her, didn’t judge her if she failed to climax after a long, hard day with too much on her mind.

“If you’re not in the mood for sex, then tell me.”

She sits up, slamming her palms down on the bed. “Fine, Elliot, I wasn’t in the mood tonight for sex. I wanted to come home, take a hot shower and sleep.” She smiles without baring her teeth, one laced with contempt, annoyance. “Happy?”

Elliot mutters something unintelligible under his breath, turning over so his back is facing her. She sighs, flipping off her light switch, the darkness penetrating the room.

“What the hell is your problem?” she asks quietly.

Her back is now to his, as she threads her top sheet between her fingers. Without the overhead, the soft blue cotton looks navy from the streetlamps, the soft glow spilling across her wooden floors. She can’t remember the last time she had dealt with this in a relationship, the twinge that crept into her heart when the fights came for no reason at all. She was used to arguing; it’s what she found herself doing daily. For years, she had found herself in wars with Elliot for no reason. They fueled her, carried her through the days, but now it was different. Now it mattered, and she hates herself for changing to that extent, for letting him win when she never had in the past.

“Nothing,” he responds, and the annoyance remains, a sharp tone that she’s gotten so used to over the years. “Let’s just go to sleep.”

She stares at the wall in front of her, the bare white dull in the night. She hates men. She can officially, without doubt, admit she hates men. If women are given a time of month, a week where men can explain away their bitchy attitude as if it’s an insult, she wonders what it is men have. A time of the month where someone is squeezing their balls too tight? Seven days of being cock blocked so their attitudes are sour?

On the other side of her bed, Elliot breathes loudly, and she shoves her head into the pillow.

Shit. If only she were Meg Ryan.

“Did we make a mistake in telling Don?” Elliot’s voice breaks through the silence, like a knife taking its first slice. It’s sharp, unforgiving. “What if this thing between us only worked because we were keeping it a secret? We’re cops, we live off of danger, is that why the sex was so great?”

She almost wants to punch him, make him become the man he was weeks ago when he needed to fight her to be calm, when arguing was how he vented, unlike this shit.

“Elliot,” she sighs, and against the shadows, she can see her mouth move on the white walls, the form that lays waiting for the next shoe to drop. “Do you know how long it’s been since I slept? You really think this is because we stopped hiding it?”

“We haven’t had good sex in almost a month—”

She will not shoot her boyfriend; she will not shoot her boyfriend; she will not—

“I’m sorry I’ve been less than amazing in bed, El, but thanks for tip,” she answers sarcastically. “You’ve never not been in the mood for sex but had it anyway because it was something to do? For Christ’s sake, it’s been nine months. It happens.”

He’s quiet, and all that’s left is the sound of breathing, resonating words, thoughts that linger in the air. Her sanity hangs by a thread, swinging in front of her face, taunting her. Despite the fact that she was never in one, she wanted the long-term relationship. She wanted someone who understood, who would love her despite all the crap in her past, but she doesn’t want this. She doesn’t want to deal with someone else’s irrational fears when she has a million and one of her own.

“Forget I said anything,” Elliot murmurs.

“El…” Her voice softens, while her eyes close. “I don’t…it’s really not a big deal.”

She thinks he mumbles something, ends the fight without ever truly ending it.

Her vibrator, she misses that thing. It never did learn how to fight back.

April 13, 2009
2:08 P.M.

Stakeouts suck. That’s the bottom line.

The idea of it sounds kind of nice, or so she had always thought. She figured it would give her the time to relax when she’d been running the streets for days. She could catch up on conversation with her partner, enjoy a cup of coffee without moving non-stop. Stakeouts, in theory, seemed like every cop’s wet dream. But as Olivia sits in the sedan now, the slightest April breeze slipping in through the crack in her window, she wishes she were anywhere else. Munch has been discussing some sort of theory about something; to be honest, it wasn’t often she listened to him unless it had to do with a case or it involved her and not JFK, the government, or the new dog he wanted from the pound (but didn’t think he had the time to take care of it.)

Her phone rings and she reaches blindly for it, without bothering to check the I.D. Anything is better than the rant on pet stores in all local malls that Munch is giving her at the moment.

“Benson.” On the other end of the line, Elliot voice comes through filled with static and the ever passing noises of Manhattan. He’s still annoyed with her, that much she can tell. She hasn’t seen him much in the past two days, avoids him whenever she can after the lack of orgasm incident two nights ago. “I don’t know. It depends how long we’re out here today.” She rests her head back against the seat, eyeing the front door of the fifth floor walkup their suspect lives in. “Would you stop it?” she whispers, her voice low, deep. “You know what, Elliot? I don’t care. Either way, I really don’t care. Bye.”

Olivia throws the phone into the console, listening to the thud that comes as a result of this. “Asshole,” she mutters, crossing her arms over her chest.

“Trouble in paradise?” Munch asks, amused. He stares out the windshield, his shaded glasses pushed down to the bridge of his nose.

“Shut up, John.”

“He’s always an asshole, Liv. You know it, I know it, Stabler knows it. But if it’s actually bothering you more than normal, did you ever consider that maybe something else is going on?”

Yeah, John. I’ve been faking orgasms and Elliot thinks this means I’ve cut off his dick. Are we done with sharing time now?

“John.” Olivia rubs her hand over her eyes, resting her left elbow on the window. “I’ve never discussed my relationships before. What makes you think I’m going to start just because I’m dating Stabler?”

“Because you want to commiserate with someone who understands what a royal pain in the ass he is. Do you want some unsolicited relationship advice?”

She takes a sip of her coffee, the liquid cold, bitter as it slides down her throat. “From you?” she asks, her lips lifting in a smile.

“I’ve gotten a number of women to marry me. I must be doing something right.”

“And the same amount of women to divorce you,” she teases. “What’s the advice, Munch?”

“Didn’t think you’d give in so fast.”

“I’m giving in so you shut up about it. So come on, Love Guru. What’s this unsolicited advice that I need to hear on how to deal with the woes of my relationship?”

John smiles, tilting his head towards her. “You’re mocking, my dear.”

“Yes, John, I’m mocking. Let’s go with the advice already. And how do you know that I don’t know why he’s pissed off?”

“Because even when Stabler is pissed off, he never admits the real reason. Despite the fact you’ve spent months of connubial bliss with him, I doubt that’s changed.”

Connubial, right. She almost corrects him on the word, and then decides against it. She might as well be married to the asshole. After all, isn’t that what marriage is like? Great at first, the sex turns to shit, and…Oh, shit. Olivia grabs her phone, staring at the black, bolded date written on her home screen. Her hand stiffens around the frame of the phone, as she lifts her eyes to the outside world.

“You just realized why he was pissed off, didn’t you?”

Olivia nods, clearing her throat. “Yeah,” she says quietly, and for the first time since the other night, she actually feels bad for her moronic boyfriend. She glances at Munch, placing the phone in her lap. “Do you know?”

“You mean aside from the fact that he seems like it’s his time of the month?” John shrugs, pushing his glasses up. “I’ve worked with him for a long time. I figured it out. You want that advice?”

She takes it back. There’s something worse than stakeouts; stakeouts with a side of therapy far defeats the original recipe of sitting in a car for hours on end with nothing but bad conversation and horrible coffee.

“If you must,” Olivia murmurs.

“Men are like pigeons, Olivia.” Oh, Jesus. This theory is bound to be interesting. “They’re always around, never really mean to bother anyone. That is until they start shitting up a storm and dropping it onto people who don’t deserve it. You can’t stop it, so you let them shit, clean up the mess if it happens to hit you, and forgive the pigeon, because they know nothing else. Then maybe buy the pigeon dinner, because it hasn’t been a good day.”

She laughs, and for the first time in days, it’s real, honest. “John, that is the biggest load of crap I’ve ever heard. This right here is the number one reason you will never ask to give me advice again.” She smiles at him faintly, her eyes adjusting to the apartment building once again. “It was a good try, though. Thank you.”

“Aren’t you glad you got stuck with me and not Fin? He would have grunted the entire car ride, muttering under his breath. Instead, you get me and I’m just full of delightful conversation.”

“Not sure delightful is the right word, John.”

The car settles, the hiss of the winds slithering through the slot in her window. In his muddled metaphors, maybe there was a point in there. With Elliot, buying the pigeon dinner wouldn’t suffice. He would continue to shit on her, until she was no longer willing to clean it up, leaving them both miserable and pissed off.

Olivia looks down at the phone in her hand, her fingers working through her address book. If she is going to end this, she’s going to need reinforcements from the damn pigeon’s friend.

April 17, 2009
7:41 P.M.

Cosmopolitan Rule # 34:
When you’re underage, the idea of a sex shop seems tantalizing. After all, behind those beaded curtains, behind the door with the little bell that rings when you enter is a world never experienced. However, when you’re allowed to enter one, you come to realize that it is not in fact the most amazing thing in the world, that there are only so many pairs of handcuffs that can be bought, that condoms made of taste aren’t actually that tasteful, and that the amount of condoms that exist in the world is just scary. But the truth is, when you let your guard down and get over the fact that you just shouldn’t be in here—despite your age—sex shops can be quite amusing. There’s nothing more humorous than a cake pan in the shape of a penis; there’s nothing more interesting than edible underwear and body paint that lasts anywhere from two to eight hours. So while sex shops might seem scandalous, embrace it. You never know how much fun you can find and how much little items can make a big difference.

There are sperm on the concrete outside of Condom Kingdom. Not real sperm—although at this point, she’d almost expect something so ridiculous—but little blue paintings to welcome you inside.

She’s going to kill her brother’s girlfriend. When she had agreed to drive to Jersey after work, she figured she’d have dinner with Lucy, spend a few hours there before driving back into the city. She had considered going to Elliot’s tonight, but when he had snapped at her during work, she had rolled her eyes, looked at Munch, and walked out. His moods had been a swinging pendulum, sometimes pleasant, other times not and when she told him to take the weekend off, that she had a surprise for him, he had looked at her like she was insane. He wasn’t the kind of person who took weekends off if he was set to work, and she sure as hell wasn’t the kind of person to plan a surprise. He had grumbled something incoherent (as he did often these days), shut down his computer, and gave a slight nod of his head as if he was doing her a favor.

“You’re not here because you’re getting stuff for you and Simon, right?” Olivia asks, looking skeptically at the wall of edible underwear beside her.

Lucy laughs, shaking her head. “I have an eight year old. Do you really think I’m coming here for myself? I have a bachelorette party this weekend.” She looks over at Olivia, lifting an eyebrow. “How’s Elliot doing?”

“When do you…” She pauses as she passes by the cake pans, wondering how many people have made a cake in the shape of breasts. She wonders if she’ll snap Elliot out of his bad mood by baking him that and telling them they’re hers. “He’s fine,” she answers quickly.

“Dry spell, huh?” Lucy asks, picking up a vibrator. She glances at the price, scowls, and puts it down.

“How did you know that?”

“You’ve been dating for a while,” Lucy shrugs. “Sooner or later all that incredible sex you were having has to stop, otherwise everyone you know would hate you. You’re sure as hell in the right spot to remedy that situation, though. Where are you going this weekend?”

“Hamptons. His best friend has a summer house in Sagaponack.”

“Do men use the phrase best friend?”

She’s almost tempted to tell Lucy about the underwear; only a male best friend would buy another guy underwear. “They might not, but that’s what he is. I haven’t told Elliot that’s where we’re going. He’s been…it’s a hard week for him, and…” Olivia takes a deep breath, following Lucy through the aisles. “I don’t know how people date.”

“You’re not dating. You’re in a relationship, there’s a difference.” Lucy tosses Olivia a large box. “Get that for your weekend. It’ll spice up your sex life. Get his tongue working again.”

Olivia turns over the box, staring at the pictures on the back. The woman looks satiated, thrilled. She puts it back onto the shelf, the image doing nothing but taunting her of her job. She’s been in these places one too many times for work, always a reminder that sex can turn fatal, that places meant for fun are sometimes anything but that. “I don’t think this helps the tongue. I don’t even know why I’m going this weekend. I understand why he’s upset, but I can’t…I have spent the past decade dealing with his shit when he’s too pissed off to do it himself. I don’t know if I can keep handling these things for him when he won’t admit to it.”

“Of course you can,” Lucy shrugs, lifting up a package of garter belts. She flips it over in her hands a couple of times, surveying them. “Can I get this as a gift?” She doesn’t wait for Olivia to answer, instead drops it into her basket. “Look, you love him, right?”

“Does it matter? At what point do you stop using love as an excuse?”

Lucy stops in the middle of the aisle, turning to face Olivia. “If you love someone, it’s not an excuse. He’s a good guy. He’s a pain in your ass, well, welcome to any real relationship. I’d like to kick your brother’s ass more days than not, but I still love him enough to put up with it.” She takes the box that Olivia had put down, shoving it back into her arms. “I promise you, you’ll have fun with this. You go through a rough patch, you get over it. It’s not like I’m telling you to get a whip that you can spank him with.”

Olivia laughs, shaking her head. “Luce, do me a favor? Let’s never discuss this again.” She looks at the price on it, the sex detective in her yearning to put it back down, to run like hell out of there. The woman in her, however, gazes a second too long, needs to know how to fix the problem when she’s never been this far before, this committed. “How do you know this is going to revitalize our relationship?”

“Because regardless of if the sex sucks now, it was amazing before. If it was amazing once, it’ll be amazing again. Buy it, or I swear to God, I will and use it with Simon—”

“Stop it,” Olivia says, holding up her hand. “I’ll get it.”

“Good. Oh, I’ve been meaning to tell you. I’ve met Casey a few times for lunch now that she’s in Jersey. She’s right, that job of hers is like the McDonald’s of law. Smells like it too. We should all go out in a couple of weeks. She needs a lot of drinks with that job.”

“Sure. That would be nice.”

Lucy drops a pair of underwear with the words SEXY BRIDE written on it into her basket. “All right, I think I’m done here. Unless you want to go shop for lingerie for your brooding boyfriend.”

Olivia’s lips lift into a smile. “Everyone always calls him brooding.”

“What would you call it?”

“Childish. Immature. Obnoxious. Annoying.”


She places the box on the check out counter, not bothering to answer the question. “You can have him.”

“Honey, don’t tell people that. You look at the man and he’s like a solid sheet of hard muscle. I will snag him if you’re offering him up.”

“I’m sure Simon would be thrilled.”

“Tell Simon to work out like Elliot does and we’ll have no problems. Do you ever just wanna get under Elliot and—”

“Stop,” Olivia laughs, and really, when the hell did she start discussing sex in a…well, a sex shop? She watches as the cashier puts the box in a bag, the pictures fading, her credit card charged with something that will sure to be interesting. “He’s going to think I’m insane.”

“Not if it fixes the dry spell he won’t.”

April 18, 2009
11:01 A.M.

“You couldn’t have picked a better weekend to have come here?” Elliot mumbles, pushing open the door to Murphy’s summer home.

The rain falls in sheets of water, each drop harsh and bruising against her skin as she makes her way inside the large Hamptons home. It had taken fifteen minutes into their ride for the rain to start, another fifteen before the thunder joined it, as well as lightning—a mocking trio on a journey to hell. His questions had become incessant after about forty-five minutes, and when she had told him where they were going, he had remained silent. The bitching had begun an hour in, mutterings about the weather, about the fact that she didn’t need to go to Aidan Murphy for things that were none of his business. She had considered turning the car around, dropping him off on the side of the road, but she refused to let him win. The bastard could sit outside in the rain for the next two days for all she cared.

“We shouldn’t have left the city. If a case comes in—”

“Shut up!” Olivia yells, whirling around. He steps back against the door, closing it shut with his back, the surprise flitting across his face. “I am so fucking sick and tired of you acting like an ungrateful bastard. I understand why you’ve been pissed off and I’m sorry, but I am not your Goddamn scapegoat.” She hikes the overnight bag up higher on her shoulder, turning towards the hallway leading—hopefully—to a bedroom. “Take the car and go back to the city. I’ll take the train tomorrow night.”

The long, wide hallway splits off into the kitchen, and she walks through it, searching for the bedroom. There were supposedly four of them in here somewhere, and she makes a right turn, entering into what she assumes is one of the guest bedrooms. Olivia tosses her bag onto the bed, and looks out the double doors leading to the deck. Waves crash against the shore, slapping the sand with force, as she stares into the dreary morning.

“You knew what this week was?” Elliot asks. “Did Murphy tell you?”

She doesn’t turn as he enters the room, instead remains staring out into the well manicured world of Sagaponack. “We were partners for almost ten years, I bought Kathy her anniversary presents time and time again. I knew what this week was without Aidan telling me.”

For the first time, the fear enters into her bones like a cold chill. She hadn’t let herself think about it before, but now it lodges itself in her brain as goose bumps slide and settle across her skin. What if he wanted his wife back? What if on what would have been the twenty-fourth anniversary of his marriage that he regretted his choices, wanted Kathy and his kids back in his home, in his life?

“Liv…” His voice catches for a second, the sounds of the bed shifting slightly as he sits down. It’s beautiful out here and she wonders if it’ll clear up, if she’ll spend tomorrow alone out on the patio while he heads back to the city. “I’m…Sit down for a second.”

Olivia turns around, leaning her back against the cool glass of the doors. “I’m fine where I am.” She crosses her arms over her chest, like she can somehow brace herself from answers, from the frost it’s going to leave upon her heart. “Do you want to go back to Kathy?”

Elliot’s eyes widen, and then soften, and she can swear she sees the shadows of rain in the irises of his eyes. “Come on, Olivia, do you really think that’s what I want?”

“You don’t talk, Elliot! How the hell am I supposed to figure it out when you won’t tell me?” Thunder shatters into the air, and she jumps slightly at the sound before regaining her composure. “I can’t keep doing this with you, I just…I can’t.”

“What does that mean?” He stands up, and it’s like so many fights before. Too much anger to sit still, too much animosity instead of reasonable words. “Are you ending this?”

“I never said—”

“You’re telling me you can’t do this. It’s the same exact thing. After all the years you’ve known me, do you actually believe I would have told you I love you and then decide I want to go back to Kathy?”

“I don’t know,” she answers, quietly. Olivia’s eyes lift to meet his, and she sighs, moving to the bed. The blanket is soft underneath her, but her wet jeans stick to her, forcing her to shift uncomfortably. She wonders if this is the end, if he goes home and they’re finished if she’ll remember the feel of her wet jeans, the damp ends of her hair tickling her neck like she remembers all the bad things of her mother, all the insignificant things of her job. “No, I…You have shut me out the entire week. You do this, Elliot. You get pissed off and you shut down. I had to deal with it when we were partners, but I won’t deal with it now. I just…I understand that you’re upset, but you have to let me in. Or at least tell me why you’re pissed and then tell me you’re not talking about it.” She smiles, slightly. “You don’t have to tell me everything. You just have to let me know that…that you’re still here.”

Elliot sits down next to her on the bed. He touches her face, gently, his fingers skimming across her cheek, as her eyes slip closed. “What did you want me to tell you, Liv? How much do you need to hear about why I’ve been freaking out?”

“I don’t know what that means, El.”

It takes him a minute but it comes faster than she would have expected, faster than what she was ready for. “When my marriage started to fail…When Kathy and I would…have sex…” He clears his throat, his hand dropping from her face. “Our sex life wasn’t working for months before we split up. You starting to fake orgasms a week before my anniversary…it, uh…” He shrugs, looking down at the ground. “You know.”

“So, you think because I faked some orgasms after all this time, I’m suddenly not interested?” A small rumble of laughter falls from her lips, mixes with the rain. His eyes narrow, and she moves closer to him, resting her hand on his thigh. “I’m sorry, but look, El, I don’t know what you want me to say. We had amazing sex for, what was it? Seven months? Eight months? We’ll have it again. And to answer the question from the other night, telling Don has nothing to do with it. You’ve been distracted, I’ve been busy with Marnie’s case, but I’m still…” God, they’re both fucking idiots when it comes to relationships. “I’m still in love with you, and as much as it annoys me sometimes, I don’t really see that changing.”

Elliot slides his hand through her hair, his lips brushing across hers. “I’m sorry. So, how many times this week have you wished I’d punch something?”

“A lot, actually.”

“What made you go to Murph?”

“No one has called me Sin in a while,” she jokes, rolling her eyes. “I missed it.” Elliot laughs and it falls into her mouth like a kiss. “You needed the weekend away. We both needed it. I’ve heard you mention that you love it here, so I figured I’d suck it up and ask him for his help.”

“Did he hit on you?”

Her nose nuzzles against his neck, and she’s calmer, more relaxed. “The man can’t breathe without flirting. Look, the rain sucks, but we’re here. He has to have something we can entertain ourselves with, right?”

Elliot looks around the room, cocking an eyebrow. “I don’t think we entertain ourselves with the same things he does.” He takes her hand, pulling her up off the bed with him. “Come on, I’ll show you around.”

April 18, 2009
1:14 P.M.

“C-O-M-E,” Elliot grins, placing down his tiles on the Scrabble board. “Double letter score on the M which is…fourteen points.”

Olivia groans, stretching across the plush white carpeting. Outside, the sky remains a charcoal grey, the sounds of the winds hissing through the illustrious neighborhood. Mansions line the beach, and if she were the kind of person willing to settle for nothing but a home and wealth, it would be here. She’s been on the floor with him and a board game for the past twenty minutes, the rain dancing against the large balcony doors, the room dim without the sun. It’s quiet, relaxing, and she can’t remember the last time she has been this comfortable. Her shorts brush against her legs as she slides closer to the board, staring at her letters. Shit, none of them are good. She’s never going to win like this and she’s really not a good loser.

She picks up a B and a D, placing one above an E on the board, one below it. “B-E-D. Five points. And I hate this game.”

“You hate this game because you’re losing. I bet you wish we were playing Jacks right now.”

“Asshole,” she mumbles.

Elliot mixes some of his letters, forming another word. He adds an H, an A, an R and places them above the D. “H-A-R-D. Hard.”

Her lips crack into a smile. “Were you ever in spelling bees when you were a kid?”

He looks at her skeptically. “Right after I finished being in Mathletes. Speaking of math, hard is eight points and on a double word score, I think that would be…what is that? Sixteen?”

“Screw you, Stabler,” but she laughs, skimming her finger across her tiles. She looks at the new ones she has just taken, and fuck, how hard is it to pull decent letters? “H-O-T,” she says, adding them onto the board.

Another clap of thunders slices through the afternoon and she wraps a scarlet chenille blanket she had found on the couch around her. The entire damn house is like an ad for Pottery Barn, something that had surprised her when they first entered. The interior, painted in shades of white and grey, was modern, sophisticated. It was the epitome of wealth without the pretentiousness. Two couches remained in the living room where they sat, along with three overstuffed chairs. There was a flat screen, a home entertainment system, a life when no one really lived here. It fascinated her how she had lived so long with nothing because she chose to, because it was easier while another cop found things outside of the job, allowed life to breathe around him when for so long she hadn’t.

Elliot glances up at her, and smiles, her fingers grouping his letters together. “B-I-T-E. That is—”

“I know how many points it is.” Olivia takes two letters and places them on the board with a T. “P-E-T.”

“I thought you were the daughter of some literary genius,” Elliot teases. “All you can get are three letter words?” She throws one of her letters at him, and he laughs. He moves closer to her on the floor, skimming his hand down her spine, as he focuses on his letters. “O-R-G-A-S-M. Nine points, triple word score, twenty-seven points.”

She shakes her head, a smile flitting across her lips. “Orgasm?”

“Don’t look at me like that. Pet, hot, bed. Come on. This game hasn’t been innocent since we started.” He steals the pen out of her hand, writing on a small piece of white paper. “Twenty-seven points.”

“I was just trying to use my letters! Unlike you with come, hard, bite…” She rests her elbow on his thigh, shielding her letters from him. “We should play something else. Or…I don’t know. Watch a movie. I think the Yankees are playing today.”

“We can stop playing, Olivia. Just admit defeat, forfeit and we can do whatever you want.”

She glares at him, snatching the pen out of his hand. “Fine.” She picks through her tiles, a smile splitting across her lips. If he wants to play dirty, she’s willing to endure the fight. “O-R-A-L.”

April 18, 2009
3:45 P.M.

“Turn the game off,” Olivia whispers into Elliot’s mouth, her lips barely brushing his. “I don’t need to finish it to know they’re going to lose.”

Elliot’s right arm tightens around her shoulders, and he leans in, drawing her lower lip into his mouth. She can feel the vibration of his laughter against her throat, like a soft rumbling, and she sighs against his lips as he speaks. “You’re watching the game right now?”

Despite the laughter, she knows he’s uneasy, that the past week has done nothing but shift the trust in their relationship, even the slightest bit. He still trusts her, she knows that, but she also knows Elliot well enough to know that the tension hasn’t negated, at least not fully.

She brings his face closer, clutching his chin in her palm. She slides her tongue into his mouth, his hand brushing up and down her arm. He smells like a hint of the beach as if their surroundings have washed off on his skin through osmosis, and she tilts her head to the side, as her lips skim his neck. “I’m not watching,” she murmurs against his skin, “I’m just not deaf.”

Olivia stretches her legs over the down comforter that rests on the bed of the guest room. Her body shifts slightly, and she leans back against the pillows. Elliot leans over her, combing his hand through her hair, gently kissing her. His lips remain parted, and it’s been so long since he kissed her like this, like there was no urgency, no case to get to, no desperation. The nips are gentle, a slight, continuous brush of his lips on hers.

“It’s still raining,” Elliot says, pulling Olivia onto her side.

His knuckle skims across her cheek, and she slides a bare leg between his. She can feel his breath on her skin, warm, comforting. “Is that why they pay you the big bucks?” Olivia asks with a smile. “Because you’re such a good detective?”

“If we’re going off what I make then I’m a lousy detective.” Elliot rolls her partway on top of him, sliding a hand underneath her sweatshirt. His palm warms her stomach, and she kisses his jaw, the corner of his lips. “I should have gotten into real estate on the side like Murphy did. Look at this place.”

“Can you not discuss Murphy while your hand is up my shirt? Not to mention, you would hate real estate, El. You haven’t done anything to your apartment and you’ve lived there for a year.”

She pulls herself up so that she’s the same length as him, taking his bottom lip into her mouth, sucking gently. Her mouth moves to his cheek with gentle kisses, to his ear as she licks his tip. Elliot’s hand tightens around her waist, and she bites gently, pulling his lobe down with her teeth. It’s soft and supple, and every piece of his skin is somehow getting to her today.

His fingers tickle her stomach and she shivers, sidling closer to him, their bodies nearly on top of each other. Elliot pulls her lip down with his finger, sliding his tongue across her mouth. “You hungry?”

Her tongue catches his, and she pulls him to her. She can feel the stirring of his erection, the soft groans that slip from his mouth into hers. “Starving.”

With one more peck to her lips, he rolls away from her, his hand sliding out from underneath her sweatshirt. He throws one leg over the side of the bed, followed by the other. “There are takeout menus in the kitchen.”

“You’re leaving me for takeout menus?”

“I’m leaving you so I can go to the bathroom. Then I’ll get the takeout menus.”

“Am I allowed to watch you pee yet?” Olivia asks sarcastically.

“The fact that you want to, Benson, is a little disturbing,” he calls over his shoulder, closing the bathroom door behind him.

She sits up in bed, adjusting her sweatshirt and shorts. Thunder slams against the sky, and Olivia mentally counts the seconds in her head until the lightning is aimed to hit, until the grey comes to life with shards of fire.

It takes three and a half seconds before it hits; she learned long ago that while life was unpredictable—even weather on a daily basis—the courses of storms were not.

Olivia takes her cell phone off the nightstand. There’s one new text message and even months later, she still fears a message from her captain, an alert that would garner the perfect payback from her drunken mess months ago.

Did Elliot like what you bought him? Call me when you get home. Lucy.


She had forgotten about it until this minute, forgotten the little bottles she had stuck inside of her makeup bag. The same bag that was open in the bathroom…with Elliot. Olivia pushes herself off the bed, her mouth open to call his name when he steps out of the bathroom, a small white bottle with a red top held in the palm of his hand. He smirks, and God, she loves him for it, hates him for it, like most of the things he does.

“Elliot,” she warns, before the words even leave his mouth. “Let me explain.”

“Edible body paint, Olivia?” The smile widens, and she closes her eyes for a brief second. “Were you going to show this to me or keep it hidden all weekend?”

“Stop being so smug. Lucy had to pick up a present for a bachelorette party and she made me get it. You know I don’t…” She could kill Lucy. Couldn’t her brother have been single? “I don’t really use things like this.” She snatches the bottle from his hand. “And neither do you.”

“No,” Elliot shrugs, “But we’re here for the weekend, we’re stuck inside…maybe it’s something we should try.”

“El…” But there’s no use arguing. She nods her head, unscrewing the cap on the tiny bottle. Her eyes gleam, as she walks into the bathroom in search of the paintbrush. “Consider this payback for Scrabble.”

April 18, 2009
4:43 P.M.

“Lay still,” Olivia laughs, straddling the back of his legs. She takes a sip of her wine, and puts the glass down, leaning over him so her eyes are level with his ass. A stencil sits on his left cheek, and she brushes cherry red paint over the shape of a heart.

Payback is a bitch, and she’s having a hell of a good time with her revenge.

The white sheet they had stolen from the closet moves underneath them as Olivia shifts the slightest bit, and she nearly laughs out loud as Elliot twitches. She doesn’t know if it’s the fact that they’re away from the city or in a house belonging to a man that has more women than he knows what to do with, but this isn’t them. There are a lot of things expected when it comes to the two of them. They fight their cases to the death, argue, and fight the law and the rules if it didn’t fit into their realm of justice. However, she imagines no one thought of them like this, like two people who can be loose, free if they give themselves half the chance. Hell, she doesn’t even imagine herself like this, always surprised when she steps out of her comfort zone.

She lifts the stencil from his ass, the perfect red heart on his upper left butt cheek. She runs her tongue over it, the cherry bitter.

“You’re not being fair with the paint, Olivia,” Elliot grumbles. “Don’t you think I should have a turn to draw on you?”

Before she realizes what he’s doing, he has her by the waist, flipping her gently onto her back. Her tank top rides up to just below her breasts, and Elliot straddles her, rocking against her gently. His ass is bare, and he’s hard against her cotton shorts. She moans softly, pinned underneath his weight, and he reaches behind her, picking up the stencils. He takes the blue paint—she thinks it’s blueberry—and unscrews the top. While Elliot places it on the floor, she slides her tank top over her head, leaving her chest exposed.

“What do you want? We can paint the word love on your breast, or a cloud, or—”

“This is not love,” Olivia jokes, arching her hips the slightest bit. She pushes herself back onto the ground, settling against what she can only imagine is a very expensive thread count. Well, she figures Murphy would be proud of something like this. “Just get it over with.”

He places the cutout of the cloud over her right breast, licking the area methodically. Her nipple peaks, and her body squirms underneath him as he squeezes drops of blueberry paint into her. It’s cold, chilling her. The brush soothes the area with gentle strokes, and she rests her head back, staring up at the ceiling. The rain pounds the doors, the antithesis to the smooth caress of the brush. Elliot lowers his mouth to her breast, and she wonders if he’s done or if he’s just given up and moved on to tasting the blue substance. He places an open mouthed kiss on the side of the cloud, his lips barely touching the blue. It’s just his breath on her skin, and her body quivers, her breathing is labored. He holds down her hips, takes her breast in his mouth, sucking her gently. Her fists are curled; her head is arched against the floor.

“Elliot,” she whispers, as his tongue darts out of his mouth, slips over her awaiting nipple.

His mouth travels back up, takes a taste of the paint he has just used. It’s drying on her skin, but he moistens it, taking with it the sweet fruit. He brings his lips to hers, and she wraps her arms around his neck, pulling him down. She doesn’t bother for the slow, long kiss. Instead, she thrusts her tongue into his mouth, tasting the tang of the blueberry. His hands fist in her hair, and she rolls them over so she’s now on the top. She presses her clit against his erection, and lets out a long moan when he grabs her ass, keeping her in place.

“One more,” Olivia whispers, her voice strangled.

She reaches for another bottle, and tosses it aside when it’s not the one she wants. Pina Colada and banana do nothing to impress her and she takes the cherry and blueberry. She climbs off of him, her center throbbing for his touch, and spreads his legs apart. His dick is firm, full, and she wants to taste the salt of him on her tongue instead of the bitter cherry. She has a mission though, and she bends over, taking the brush to his left inner thigh.

“What are you doing?” Elliot asks, gliding his hand underneath the waistband of her shorts. With both hands, he lowers them over her ass, and she kicks them off before returning to her artwork at hand.

“Just reminding you who’s boss,” she answers, finishing the loop on her O.

She’s a grown up, a cop…she shouldn’t be lying in a house in the Hamptons with body paint. The hell with it though; she’s been alone for most of her life, picking up the slack, surviving for only herself. She can be normal, she can.

The L is finished with the blue and she switches back to red when she draws the I. There’s no point for mixing the colors, but she does so anyway.

“See, the rain’s not that bad,” Olivia says, idly making conversation. “Indoor activities can be fun too.”

Elliot takes a sip of her wine. “You know I let you believe you’re the boss of me, right?”

She shakes her head, the V now complete. “No, you act as if I’m not, even though we both know I am and always have been.”

“Are you finished yet?”

She’s on the A now, the last letter. The brush glides over his skin and when she’s done, she pushes the paints to the side. She lies down on the sheet, slowly running her tongue over the O. It moves in a circle over his leg, breathing air onto the moisture left by her tongue. Elliot’s hands fist in her hair, bunches of strands sliding through the crevices of his fingers as she moves onto the L. The paint doesn’t taste all that well, but she loves how his body moves in reaction to her mouth, that even after the past month nothing has changed. He twitches in response to her touch. She’s branding him with each new letter she licks onto his skin, a constant reminder that even though he’s no longer beside her in the car, no longer watching her back, he’s still hers. He’s still her partner in all the ways that matter.

Eliot grunts as she hits the A, the smooth curves of the letters being licked into his skin. She’s so close to his dick that she can feel it straining and without missing a beat, she finishes the A, and brings him into her mouth. He gasps in surprise, and she strokes her hand over his penis, sucking the head as she draws him to the edge.

“No.” His voice is raw, thick and he’s so close that she can hear it in the accent of his words. “We’re doing this together.”

Olivia obliges, and maybe they’re both the boss of each other. She’s so wet as she rubs her finger over her opening. He doesn’t take his eyes off of her. He pulls her finger away, bringing it into his mouth, his tongue rolling over her desire. She settles over him and slides inside of her. Elliot grabs onto her hips and they involuntarily jerk, causing them both to moan. They’re sticky and hot and he rolls them over, a tumble on the bed of paint they lie on.

“Thank you,” he mumbles against her mouth.

“You have a heart on your ass and my name branded on your thigh. Do you really want to be thanking me for this?”

Elliot gets on his knees, making sure he remains inside of her. “Wrap your legs around my lower back. And that’s not what I’m thanking you for, Liv.”

She does what he asks, and he braces his palms down on the floor. He’s deep inside of her, and she moans when he thrusts lazily inside of her. He’s unhurried, despite the desire racing through both of them, just long, languid strokes that bring her closer to the edge. He bites at her lower lip, and she follows suit, a game of cat and mouse until she captures him. It’s slow, and she can still taste herself as she kisses him.

She wants to tell him to go faster, to let her release herself, when he reads her mind. His thrusts are harder, and every time he moves to drive into her, she lifts her hips. Her breathing is labored, and God, it has been a long time since she’s truly let go. She tightens herself around him, keeps him in place as he throbs against her walls. And without warning to him, she lets her muscles relax, as he thrusts one more time inside of her. His mouth is muffled against her neck as he grunts her name, filling her as he comes.

Elliot looks up at her once his breathing has returned to semi normal, the blue of his eyes dark. “You didn’t—”

“I was letting you first.” She smiles, scraping her nails down his solid chest. “Let me have my fun now.”

There’s a trace of a smile when he moves over her again, and it’s hard, fast. He glides so effortlessly between the walls of her wetness, and the thought alone has her nearly coming, that she can be this willing for someone, this ready. A sweat breaks out across her skin, and she thinks about that scrabble game and how she had lost because he had used words like come, orgasm, clitoris.

And when the thought came into her mind, like always, he has read it, flicking his finger over her clit. Once, twice, and fuck, fuck, fuck. She screams out, and it’s strangled, desperate. She’s pulsating between his fingers and as much as she wants to prolong this, she needs to let go, she needs to scream, to break free.

The words fail her, but she doesn’t need them, not when he gives one more thrust. She grabs onto his shoulders, pushing him deeper inside of her. She cries out some form of his name, losing her breath as the spasms overtake her body. Her legs fall limply off of him, but he continues to hold her until she catches her breath, until the world stops spinning.

“Shit,” Olivia mutters against his arm. She should probably say something else, but nothing comes to mind, no words sound right within the confines of her throat.

Elliot’s hands are in her hair again and he smells like cherries and blueberries and sex. “We need to shower this stuff off.”

Her body still aches for him, still needs his hands on her. Between the stress, the arguments, everything, she has needed this release. She takes his pointer finger, guiding it back to her center. She drags it along her wetness, and he stares at her, the desire and the need evident in his own eyes. She pushes his finger inside of her and he strokes her several times before sliding it out. He’s been with her long enough to know that she comes faster when he works on her clit and it only takes a second before she’s in his mouth, his tongue working the twister around her nub. She arches her back, bringing herself further into his mouth as he holds tightly onto her ass, keeping her steady.

“Make me come again,” Olivia breathes.

He doesn’t need to be asked twice.

April 19, 2009
6:02 P.M.

Like always, the weather patterns of New York are unpredictable.

It had stopped raining at some point during the previous night, and when Olivia and Elliot had awoken this morning, the sun had been bright; the air warm with the slightest hint of a breeze like the weather had never been bad at all. They had breakfast out on the patio and a walk on the beach, and when their hands had knocked together, he had slid his fingers between the crevices of hers without a word. She had looked up at him while he told a story about Eli, his eyes animated with tales of his youngest child, and she had smiled, because even with all the changes in their relationship, their personalities, he was still the same man he had always been.

The streets of Southampton were filled with people shopping and after a quick lunch and a couple of stores, they had returned to Murphy’s summer home. He had given her another tour, this one complete with stories of his children from the times they had visited, and it amazed her how she continued to see new parts of him, how for so many years she had believed he was an angry, strong, devoted cop and family man and nothing else. She had kissed him in the hot tub and before they had time to move inside, he was inside of her. It wasn’t her, it wasn’t them, but with enough invisibility and distance between the houses, she had bit into his shoulder when she had come, stifling her cries. He had ruffled his fingers against her cheek, murmured something about needing to head back to the city. She hadn’t wanted to go back to the crime, to their lives just yet and she had convinced him to stay the night and leave first thing in the morning. Exhaustion would follow them, but it always did, and he had agreed, willing to spend another night.

The sun begins to lower now, the sky an iridescent red. It’s like fire against the ice of the remaining blue sky, and Olivia walks outside with two glasses of wine in her left hand and a small box balanced in her right. The scarlet chenille blanket is wrapped around her shoulders and she places a glass down on the end table beside Elliot. She starts to walk to her lawn chair when he takes her hand, pulling her down onto his chair. She sits between his legs, and rests her back against his chest. He takes the blanket from around her shoulders, spreading it across them as a shiver slices her spine.

“What is this?” he asks, and she had forgotten for a second about the box once it had fallen onto the foot of the chair. Elliot opens it and laughs, pulling a magnet out of the box. “Sex magnet report card. Where did you find this?”

“In the closet in the guest bedroom.” Olivia smiles, taking the magnet from his hands. “I didn’t mean to look in it, but when I saw it…if this is what NYPD cops are like, then we’re either doing something wrong or Murphy should be finding himself another job.”

“He’s different on the job, dedicated. You get him out in the real world though and he forgets the rules even exist. He’s a good man, though. He’s never crossed the line, he never would. He just likes to have fun.”

“I don’t think he’s a bad guy, El.” She rifles through the box, pulling out a handful. Black markings and female handwriting graces a couple of them and Olivia scans the card. “Here’s a card of someone who rated Aidan. Foreplay Commitment. He gets right to the good stuff, but hell, with a man who looks like that, who needs the foreplay?” Olivia laughs, scanning the rest of the card. She’s about to throw it back in the box when Climax Attainment catches her eye. “The sex was great, but A+ on the oral. The man has a tongue like a tornado and he sure as hell knows how to use it with all those twisting motions. It was the most amazing moment ever. Good job, Aidan. You deserve a million gold stars.” She twists her head to look at Elliot, lifting an eyebrow. “You have the same sex moves as him?”

“Olivia…” He takes the card from her hand, throwing it back into the box. He’s upset, the slightest bit angry, and she wonders if all the work they’ve done this weekend has unraveled as it comes to a close. “When I started to date you…” This is killing him, she knows that. She knows that a man in his forties—especially when that man is Elliot—does not want to talk about these things.

“It’s fine,” she says, before he’s forced to say more. Her head twists again and she kisses his lips with a whisper of a touch. “You didn’t need his pointers regardless of what you might have believed.”

She leans forward and puts the box down on the floor, but when she settles against him, the mood has shifted. She can’t put her finger on it, but when his breath hits her ear, his words following despite their normalcy, she knows it isn’t over, that their fights never end without another fight in between.

“Did you have a good weekend?” But she knows Elliot, knows his tone, knows that he’s really asking Was it faked or are we okay?

She considers turning to face him, but remains staring ahead at the ocean, at the waves that roll across the sandy shore. She takes a sip of wine, placing the bottom of it in the palm of her hand. “We can’t keep going through this. Sex is—”

“It’s not about the sex, Olivia. There’s a trust factor involved.”

And now she does turn, the glass back on the table, the fire in her eyes. “Are you kidding me? I’m not Kathy, Elliot. You can’t keep…Why is this such an issue for you? You don’t wallow in anything and you’ve been stuck on this for weeks. You know you can trust me.”

“I don’t think you’re Kathy, but I fucked up enough times with that marriage to know that I have to do something different. It’s not that…Nevermind.”

Olivia rests her hand on his cheek. “You can trust me,” she repeats. “I’m not good at relationships and sometimes I have no idea what we’re doing and I need you to reassure me that we’re not going to blow this all to hell in a month or two or whenever. And some days, I’m better at it than you. Stop making an issue out of something that is not one and believe me when I tell you that I love you and that the weekend was amazing.” She picks up her wine, taking a long sip. “Next topic?”

“Next topic.” He leans over to his right, and takes the book off the table. “When did you start reading Harry Potter?”

Olivia laughs, settling back against his chest. She hears the book fall back on the table with a gentle thud, and before she can answer, his hands have settled on her shoulders. He starts to massage her and her eyes slip closed, moaning softly as he works the knots in her back. “Last week,” she mutters. “I knew you loved it. I thought I’d give it a shot.”

“Do you like it?”

“Not all that far into it to tell. I don’t get the whole wizard phenomenon, though.”

“It’s about more than that. After everything we see every day, it’s nice to know that there’s this world kids can get into, a world where the underdogs sort of get the glory. You see enough of this crap daily and it’s nice to get lost in a world that isn’t real.”

“You surprise me sometimes, Stabler,” Olivia says softly. She leans back and rests the back of her head against his chest, running a hand through her hair.

“I think the feeling is mutual.” The massage on her shoulders stops and he takes her left hand in his. He rubs his thumb over the gold band that rests on her ring finger. “You’ve worn this for as long as I’ve known you. I’ve never known why.”

She looks at the ring, and as the night becomes an overshadowing cloak of darkness, she takes another sip of wine. She lets the silence speak for a few minutes in the crashing waves, the mutterings far down on the beach. The wine is warm, bitter and she swallows it, wrapping the blanket tightly around her.

“It was my mother’s,” she finally answers. “She used to wear it all the time. When I was ten, her ring was sitting on her nightstand and I tried it on because it was hers, because I always wanted to be a bit closer to her, even when she made life hell for me.” A smile flits across her lips. “Her fingers were really thin, thinner than mine and it got stuck. I thought she was going to get mad and I did everything I could to get it off. I couldn’t though, and I went to her, expecting the worst. She laughed though, got some soap and got it right off. When she died, I didn’t keep the majority of her stuff, but I wanted that memory with me.”

“Why on the ring finger, though?”

Olivia shrugs, “Because it’s where she wore it. I never thought twice about it, to be honest.”

His voice is low upon her skin. “What about if you get married?”

She doesn’t think she can do this. There’s been too much conversation today, and she knows this is what relationships are, or should be, but it’s still too much sometimes, too overwhelming with all the emotions, the honesty. “I, uh…” She clears her throat, but it still doesn’t sound like her when she answers. “It’s never mattered before.” She wants to ask him if that’s some kind of proposal for the future, but she’s not all that sure she wants to know. “I don’t take the ring off. It’s one of the few things in my life that never changes and I need that. With everything that we deal with, I need one or two constants.”

“My dad had this old radio from the force lying around in the basement. It didn’t work, I don’t know why he had it, but my brothers and I would play with it. My mother threw it one day when she was in the middle of an episode and I thought it was the end of the world when it shattered completely.” Elliot laughs, but there’s nothing amusing in the mindset of broken memories. “The sonofabitch never did a nice thing for me, but days later he brought me home a new radio. It didn’t negate the abuse, the neglect, the cheating on my mother but in his own twisted way, he thought he was being decent to his kid.”

They’re like the poster children for the most fucked up parents on earth.

“Did he cheat a lot?”

She can see him lift his glass from the corner of her eye, feels the swallow in his Adam’s apple as it vibrates across the back of her head.

“When he could, I think. I didn’t ask, never really wanted to know.”

“Have you ever cheated?” she asks, and she expects his rage at a question she already knows the answer to.

“No. I saw what that can do to a family. Have you?”

She finds it funny that sometimes normal conversations for them are hard, but they can calmly discuss the most devastating things in life as if it’s nothing.

“No. I’ve been cheated on, though.”

As if he needs to prove something, he wraps his arms low around her waist. “Who was it?”

“I dated him about six years ago. We had been dating about five months and I wasn’t that serious about him but I could have gotten there, I was starting to get there. Work was distracting, I was distracted, I couldn’t…I couldn’t be who he wanted me to be. He didn’t hide it; he told me which I respected him for.”

“Did I know him?”

“No. I didn’t…I didn’t bother to mention him. I would have if it got serious, but…” She shrugs, letting the rest of the sentence evaporate into the night. “In the end, his cheating didn’t bother me as much as it should have. It bothered me more when Kim did and even though she did it years later, that said something to me.”

Elliot’s fingers flit across the bottom of her hair. “Kim? College Kim?”

“Yeah. Before I met you, Kim was the one person I could always rely on. Heather and Zoe are great, and I love them, but Kim was always different. She was the first person I had ever met who I felt I could trust implicitly. She never understood what I was dealing with, but she understood me, did her best to understand the situations. We left college and I joined the force and then I joined SVU and there were times I would just call her because I needed to know she was there, that this world outside of ours existed. About three years ago, she had a short fling with a psychiatrist she used to work with when she was practicing. It lasted about six weeks and then she broke it off, admitted it to her husband and they worked through it. Matt had forgiven her, but when she told me…for some reason I couldn’t get over it.” She smiles sheepishly, although he can’t see. “It’s not who she is. She loves her kids, her husband and it was mistake. It was a trust thing, though. I thought if she could do that to her husband, someone she loved then what did that mean for me? I didn’t know if I could still trust her when it was so hard for me to begin with.”

“What made you forgive her?”

Olivia closes her eyes, rubbing her hand over his thigh. “After the warehouse with Gitano…” There’s a flutter of defeat in her voice, and she takes another sip of wine. “I called her when I got home that night and despite what was happening between us, she was there for me as if nothing had happened at all. I knew then that despite any arguments, she would always be there.” She swallows another gulp of wine, along with her pride. “You haven’t cheated, and I know that. But please don’t…if you did that to me…Sometimes it happens and I need…”

“Hey,” Elliot whispers, kissing her neck softly. “I’m not going to cheat on you, Liv. I understand things happen, but I would never do that to you. Trust me.”

“I do.” Olivia tilts her head, so her eyes meet his. “I’m sorry. About the issues we’ve been having. I probably should have been honest about it, but…I don’t always do this well.”

“This whole apology thing is new for us, huh? We never used to do that.”

“Maybe we’re maturing,” she jokes. She bends down onto the ground and pulls out a magnet and a black marker, before leaning back against him. “Come on, we’re filling this out. Reciprocity of effort. Oh, you’re quite good at that,” she remarks, writing something down. “What are your comments?”

“You’re ridiculous.” His laughter rumbles in her ear, as he leans over her shoulder. “You’re not too shabby.”

“Not too shabby? Wow, El, thank you. I reciprocate well. Knowledge of terrain. It took you about an hour, but you found your way.”

“It did not take me an hour! You don’t give me nearly enough credit. And I’m a man. What is there to learn? It’s standard.”

“There’s nothing about you that’s standard,” Olivia laughs, writing in comments. “Attention to detail. You learned what I like and what I don’t like. I assume that counts.”

“That is the least detailed response you could give, Liv.”

“What do you want me to write? That you’ve watched me during sex so you know what makes me orgasm? Should I go into details?”

Elliot rolls his eyes. “Dirty mindedness,” he reads over his shoulder. “You can’t be that dirty and work in SVU. I think we’d both fail that category. Same with the fantasy exploration. Oh but deviation from routine…” He lifts the hair from the back of her neck, a spot of yellow paint still left on her skin. He licks his tongue over it, and she startles, shivers. “I think we’ve done well with that.”

“Arousal maintenance.” She can still feel the warmth of his mouth on her neck, the way his hands brush through her hair and down her arms, gently touching her breast. “Yeah,” she mutters, settling further into his arms. She can feel the beginnings of an erection, and she rubs against him, eliciting a small growl from him. “I think you have that.”

“You too.” Elliot grabs her chin, turning her face. His lips crash on hers and she turns over on the chair, lowering the level so they’re lying down. She’s on top of him now, the night filled with silence. “We should work on the climax section. Just in case.”

“Right,” Olivia laughs, bucking against him. She presses her lips to his again. “I think we have that part figured out. We might want to work on the follow-up cuddling, though.”

He snakes his hand underneath her shirt, her breast filling his hand. “We’re putting the magnet on your fridge to remind us of this.”

There are still clothes on, but despite this, she grinds her hips. “It sure as hell beats alphabet magnets, doesn’t it?”

Chapter Text

Month Ten: May, 2009

May 7, 2009
1:01 P.M.

Olivia sits at a table in the back of Panera, glancing out the window. Like always, the city streets remain alive on the warm spring afternoon, people weaving around each other, dodging in and out of stores, walking briskly to their destination, and in the chaos and bustle, she looks for a glimpse of her lunch partner. There are blondes that pass the large windows, but none of them are the one she is looking for.

Elliot’s oldest daughter had called her line at work the previous day and Olivia had nearly told her this wasn’t her father’s phone when Maureen had casually asked her to have lunch. The request was surprising, and it had taken a minute for her to respond, but with a voice she had hoped wasn’t shaking with curiosity and the slightest hint of trepidation, she had agreed. Elliot had merely smiled when she told him, and that was that, like it wasn’t at all weird that his daughter wanted some one-on-one time with her dad’s girlfriend.

Her phone vibrates on the table and she answers it, not bothering to look at the ID. She has stopped doing that for the most part; after all, most of the time it rings she expects it to be work, and for the briefest of seconds, she likes the surprise of knowing that maybe the world hasn’t completely shattered just yet.


“Liv,” and there’s no emergency at the moment, just her best friend and the sounds of her kids laughing in the background, a constant reminder that life is sane, normal for people. “This is your reminder that we’re coming in a couple of weeks. Did you take off of work, yet?”

“I’m doing my best, Kim. Do you need me to pick all of you up at the airport?”

“No, we’ve got it,” Kim says. “Zoe and Heather are flying in together and I get into JFK about an hour before them. We’ll take a cab to the hotel and we’ll have you there by nine that Friday night if it kills you.”

The front door opens and Maureen walks in, looking around. She spots Olivia, a smile flitting across her lips. It’s a surprise to Olivia that this girl is willing to have lunch and she almost asks Kim to give her a crash course on what to do if Maureen begins to lash out, if the sweet young adult act is nothing more than that. But she doesn’t say a word, not when Maureen motions to the counter and nods when Olivia lets her know to order. She seems innocent, and she reminds herself that she had seen Maureen grow up, that Elliot’s oldest was always the most level-headed, the most honest.

“Kim, I have to go, but I’ll call you before you leave.”

“No, you won’t, but we’ll call when we get here. Can’t wait to see you, Benson.”

Olivia puts the phone back down on the table as Maureen sits down across from her. She drapes her bag over the back of her chair, and her smile remains as she leans forward in the chair, resting her elbows on the table. She’s still a kid at heart, and Olivia is envious of such innocence regardless of whether or not it exists.

“Hey, thank you so much for meeting me,” Maureen says.

“I’m happy you asked.” Happy, surprised, scared, curious. She’s like a playbook of adjectives, all of which settle into different bones of her body, touch different pieces of her heart. “What’s going on, Maureen?”

It’s remarkable how much she looks like Elliot sometimes, how the slight lift of her lips is a trait of her father’s, how her eyes burn the deepest shade of blue against sunlight. She looks up when both their food is put on the table and speaks a quiet thank you to the waitress before digging her fork into her Caesar salad.

“You’re wondering why I called, aren’t you?”

Olivia is startled, and she wonders if Elliot knows how smart Maureen is, if it’s amazing to know that despite the bad parent he sometimes thinks he is, he’s raised such an astute child. She considers lying, but she finds herself nodding. “I’m a little curious, yes.”

“There are no ulterior motives. I just thought it would be nice if we went to lunch.”

Olivia stabs a piece of lettuce onto her fork. “Does your mother know you’re here?” she asks quietly.

“Does she know we’re having lunch this second? No. She knows I was planning to ask you, though. Look, Liv, I think you’re cool. I’m twenty-five, I don’t expect my mommy and daddy to get back together, and clearly you’re important to Dad. I’d like a relationship with you, even if we grab lunch a few times a month or every couple of months and that’s it.”

She’s blunt like her father as well, and Olivia smiles. “I’d like that.”

“So,” Maureen mentions, “I hear Mark hit on you when you first met.” Olivia nearly chokes on her iced tea and Maureen smiles. “He’s such an idiot. When I told him I was going to lunch with you, he looked up from his pizza and asked if I had heard the story about how he hit on you and Dad basically pissed on you to claim his property.”

“He told you that?”

“He assumed I would find it funny. I mean, I’ve seen his last girlfriend and she’s not exactly, um, well, I think it makes me feel better knowing he has good taste, especially after her. Which probably sounds really catty, but you’re beautiful, so it makes me feel better about myself.” Maureen scrunches her nose. “If that makes sense. Sometimes I think I spend so much time in my textbooks that I’ve forgotten how to have a normal conversation.”

So, her boyfriend’s daughter just called her beautiful. For a cop, she’s kind of a moron because is she really supposed to say thank you to that? Seriously, she’s been called pretty before; why is she suddenly at a loss for words? Idiot.

“How are things with Mark?” she asks instead.

“So good.”

Olivia watches the way Maureen’s eyes light up and she wonders if this is what it looks like to be in love, if women around the world have the same sort of glow in their eyes, if she—the detective who figured she was bound to remain single for life—has the same one.

“He’s just…he’s such a decent guy, you know? He’s so dedicated and he’s so into his website and his work and he knows what he wants and he doesn’t let anyone stop him from getting it. He’s romantic and he talks about taking me to London in the summer because his brother lives there.”

“Your father likes him.”

“My father likes him when he’s his next door neighbor he can watch a ballgame with. However, when Mark becomes my boyfriend, Dad stares at him and interrogates him. He looks like he’s going to pounce on him. Poor guy probably thinks Dad’s bi-polar or something…”

And as the words come out of her mouth, she stops, looking down at the table. It had been a joke, something light-hearted, but it resonated with forceful realizations.

“I didn’t…Sometimes I say things and I forget.” Maureen lifts her eyes to Olivia. “When Kathleen came home after everything, I spent the night at home. You never really saw us together, but we were inseparable for so many years. She told me what you did for her, Liv. That you stayed with her and wouldn’t leave her. She never…she never knew how to thank you for that, but you being there for her, she needed that. She needed Grandma B there, she needed someone there who wouldn’t judge her like she thought Mom and Dad would because they expected more. Even if Dad, uh, couldn’t…It was just a really cool thing you did for her.”

Heaviness settles in Olivia’s chest and she can feel the thick emotion that builds up behind her eyes. She hadn’t expected a thank you for what she had done for Kathleen, not when protecting Elliot’s family had felt like part of her job. She was supposed to have his back, keep him safe and at some point, his kids and even Kathy became a part of that. It was second nature to ask if he needed her to take Kathy to the doctor when a case had called him away; it was instinct to deliver his child because he was a part of Elliot, because by protecting his offspring, she was helping to save him as well. She had seen the look in Elliot’s eyes when Kathleen had been arrested, seen the blood and bruises on his knuckles after hitting that parking sign and she did the only thing she knew how. Protect the ones Elliot loved, when she could no longer protect him and he could no longer protect them.

“There’s no where else I would have rather been,” Olivia finally answers, and in the crowded eatery there’s a peaceful silence that settles between them. “How is she doing?”

“She’s great. The meds are really working for her, and she’s back in school and she’s working to make the best of it. It’s hard for her, but she’s stronger than she realizes.” Maureen pushes her food to the side, and the constant motion is a pattern back and forth like clockwork. “I heard Dad saying your college friends are coming soon. Where did you go?”

“Siena. It’s up near Albany.”

“That’s so cool you’re still friends with people from college. I feel like Dad’s only friend is Uncle Aidan and sometimes I don’t get how the two of them are friends. Uncle A is so…fun and a little bit out of control. Did Dad ever tell you about the time that Aidan took us jet skiing?”

“No,” Olivia muses, “but is there a reason I haven’t heard it?”

“Probably. I think it was like, um, four years ago? Mom and Dad had separated the first time so A told us to come to his house in the Hamptons. It’s such a gorgeous house…”

Good for relaxing out on the deck and body paint sex on the floor…

“…And there was a point where none of us even wanted to go out because we just wanted to lay around with the flat screen and board games. But A drags us out onto the jet ski and bets my dad that he can beat him. Now if you’ve ever seen them bet, for years they’ve bet over the dumbest things, like how many cookies they can shove in their mouth at once. Seriously, the dumbest things on earth that have no relevance to anything and are so unlike my dad that it cracks me up. He’s so damn competitive so of course he agrees and the two of them take off on their jet skis. Aidan is gaining control and Dad, like a moron, tries to cut in front of him. Aidan, being Aidan, totally sees what is coming, moves out of the way and Dad completely flips over into the water, I mean like a total wipeout. The four of us are hysterical and Dad’s totally sputtering out water. So the bet? You ready for this? Aidan makes Dad parade around in SpongeBob boxers and a SpongeBob tank top. I mean, really? They are the two biggest idiots on the face of the earth.”

SpongeBob. The answer to all of her questions.

Olivia laughs, and it’s real, human. There’s life inside of her, and before Elliot and his children, she can’t be sure there ever was. “How pissed off was Elliot when he was walking around like that?”

“Oh God, he was so mad. Like he seriously was grumpy all weekend. This is why I don’t get how the two of them are friends. If that had happened to Aidan, he would have run all over the beach in that outfit and picked up like forty women while doing it. I love my dad tremendously, but he’s so uptight.”

“He played Guitar Hero, though,” Olivia points out. “I never thought I would see him do that.”

“That’s true. When are we going to get you up there?”

“I don’t think that’s going to happen, Maureen.”

“You did a sake bomb with me, which Dickie is still impressed with, by the way. I think you can get up there and do a little guitar magic. Or sing, perhaps?” Her eyes glisten mischievously. “Dickie wants Dad to sing this time.”

“I’ve heard your dad sing. He’s about as good as Dickie. I thought he went by Dick now?”

Maureen rolls her eyes. “He sort of does. At least he’s trying to. We’re so used to calling him Dickie that no one has bothered to change it, unless of course, we’re actually calling him a dick. He gets this really excited look in his eyes like we’ve finally started to call him the right name and then he realizes what we meant.”

There’s a part of her that wonders if people believe she’s out with her daughter, that in the chaos of life, they’ve had time to sit and enjoy each other’s company. She wonders if she were to have her own child if it would be like this, if growing up meant that nothing else mattered except a new slate and all the future could hold.

She’d be lying if she didn’t consider what it would be like to have kids with Elliot. If it would have the blue of his eyes because she hated her own; if her son would let her teach him how to hold a gun when he was old enough; if Elliot would stare down their daughter’s boyfriends over the years. But none of it matters now, not really, at least it shouldn’t. She has the children of the city to care for, and sometimes she forces that to be enough.

“You have to feel bad for him,” Olivia finally answers, the lull between them closing. “He grew up in a house with three sisters and Eli is still too young to be his ally.”

“He tortures us in his own way, though. Plus, he’s actually not too bad with women. I guess he has a girlfriend or something. Only Liz knows her name though, and she’s not telling. It’s their twin bond or something.” Maureen’s phone vibrates and she presses a button, a smile flitting across her lips. She looks up from her text message, sheepishly. “Sorry, I just…It was Mark. He says hi.” She clears her throat, almost as if she’s embarrassed, and shoves it into her purse. “Tell me about your college friends! Has Dad met any of them?”

“No, not yet. I think he’ll be a bit surprised to see me with them, though.”

“What do you mean?”

“The four of us are very different, but when we get together we’ve been known to act like we’re still in college.”

Maureen grins, and spears a tomato onto her fork. “That’s so weird. I kind of can’t picture you like that. I mean, bomb aside, you seem pretty controlled. You girls sound like you belong on Sex and the City or something, though. Then again, I think most friendships do. Which one are you most like?”

Youth in America: Where everything is compared to television.

Is she really supposed to determine which one she is the most like? Slut, prude, whiner, bitch. Well, out of all of those, she assumes she’s probably the bitch, at least when it comes to her job.

“The lawyer. Male dominated job, working long hours. What about you?”

Shit, please don’t let Maureen tell her the slutty blonde. The last thing she needs is to know that while Maureen is in a serious relationship now, she once slept with every man in Manhattan and Queens.

“Carrie, probably. The whole internal monologue thinker, always there for her friends. I don’t know. Sometimes I think I’m like all of them, sometimes I believe I’m like none of them.” She glances at her watch, her fork clattering to the table. “Shoot, I didn’t realize what time it was. I have a class in thirty minutes that I have to run to. I’d really love if we can do this again soon.”

“Me too. Take care of yourself, sweetie.”

“I will. And have fun with your girls. Try not to surprise Dad too much, okay? You know how he handles change.” Maureen winks, slinging her bag over her shoulder. “See ya, Liv.”

Olivia watches Maureen walk out of the restaurant, her phone safely tucked against her ear. There’s a smile on her face, and Elliot’s daughter laughs into the receiver, looking both ways before she jogs across the street. She sees so much of him in his daughter, in the way her eyes crinkle with laughter, in the first words she speaks that are tainted with happiness.

Her phone rings, and she takes it from her pocket. “Benson.” Her partner is on the other line and in a whirlwind, life resumes, as if peace never existed at all. “All right, I’ll be right there.”

May 15, 2009
11:57 P.M.

Cosmopolitan Rule #35:
At some point before Christ, the famous poet Virgil stated that love conquered all. Back then, when there was no God to define ourselves by, people believed in this written tale that love was the most important thing on earth. While still stated today, the truth is that while love is fantastic and soul shattering and life altering, it does not in fact conquer all. When someone dies, the comfort is nice, but the emptiness remains. When we’re hurt, love doesn’t change it, only numbs the pain and allows us to keep breathing. Love has the ability to change us, to guide us, but not save us from ourselves. It’s not one single word that conquers all or defines us, but every once in a while the acknowledgment of knowing someone cares, the show of emotion with the slightest of touches is the beginning of the end. Compassion—when we need it the most—is the one thing that will always break someone without so much as a word.

There’s a startling darkness when Olivia enters her apartment minutes before midnight. She closes the door and stands there, adjusting her eyes to the curve of her couch, the outline of her dining room table. But as she adjusts to the darkness, she notices the sliver of light shining underneath her closed bedroom door, and she sighs. She hadn’t wanted him here tonight. She wanted to be alone to recount her mistakes instead of hearing she did nothing wrong; she wanted to list her regrets one by one with the job, with her life, without Elliot breathing beside her proving that she’s finally okay.

The ground is uneven beneath her feet and she thinks this is what it must feel like when you’re drunk but no longer have feeling or memories or inhibitions: an uneven ground that spins and shakes as if feeling the world turn on its axis is possible.

Olivia takes another step and another until she reaches her bedroom door, slowly turning the knob in her hand. The television shines in a faint glow across her walls, and Elliot lies in bed wrapped underneath her blankets. She can tell he’s awake by the small slit of blue that peaks through his closed lids and when the floor creaks beneath her, he opens them, staring up at her. There’s an openness there and without a word, he folds back the blankets for her to get in.

She turns away from him and towards her dresser, slowly unfastening one of her earrings. “What are you doing here, El?”

The sheets shift, but she can tell he hasn’t yet gotten out of bed. “The case was hard for you. I didn’t think you’d want to be alone tonight.”

She stares at herself in the mirror, at his reflection behind her. There are ghosts with them in the room; ghosts from the past, from cases and parents and lives that never became theirs. The other earring falls onto the dresser with a ping. “I’m fine.”

“Just because you’re not punching lockers doesn’t mean you’re fine.”

“I didn’t ask your opinion.”

“I hate when you do this, Benson. You bitch and moan when I won’t talk to you, when I punch something, but you’re not any better than I am. You shut down and claim you’re fine when all you’re really doing is bottling it up inside of you.”

Her voice is whispered, strained. “If I wanted a lecture on keeping things to myself I’d go sit with Huang.”

“Get into bed.”

“Elliot…” She can feel the sob bubble up in her throat and she inhales, smelling nothing but him. “You can’t give me one night alone?”

“If this was about space, then I would, but it’s not, Olivia. Now, get into bed.”

She’s won a lot of arguments against Elliot, but it’s clear she’s not winning this one. The truth is, she’s not all that sure she has the fight in her to try. She exhales, turning towards the bed. In the pale light that filters into her room, he stares at her, the reflection of the television shadowed in his eyes. He looks haunted, or maybe it’s her own reflection she sees staring back at her.

She pulls the covers back into the rightful position, so she’s on top of them and turns away from Elliot. Outside the window, streetlamps flicker; the world is always awake, always there to allow one minute for it all to change. It takes seconds for his arms to wrap around her waist, and she inhales sharply, desperate not to cry.

“I’m fine,” she whispers, and it sounds foreign on her tongue. “I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m fine.” She notices how each word gets quieter as it leaves her lips, like it’s some mantra that no longer sounds like words, just sounds.

She’s only aware the tears have started when she tastes them on her lips, when the salt settles on the tip of her tongue. She waits for her downfall, for the breakdown that will come when she’s no longer strong enough, when the reality of her job, her choices tear out of her like a raging wildfire.

“Has Jill been placed yet?” Elliot asks, his words a silent whisper in her ear.

He places a gentle kiss against the back of her head, and she thinks about how different they are—how he breathes rage with the punch of a fist, while she cowers in the corner, lets the sorrow overtake her—and yet they’re so much the same. It haunts them both, steals their souls, their words, their love of life.

Olivia closes her eyes, and his touch, it’s too simplistic, all the while meaning everything. “She’s been put into foster care.”

“Liv…” His voice is too big in this room, too strong for her at the moment. “I know I’m not easy to deal with when we’ve had a bad case. I don’t talk, and I know it annoys you. But you gotta give me something here.”

“What do you want from me?” she asks wearily. “You know the case. You don’t need to hear about it from me.”

“I want you to stop telling me you’re fine for one. You’re not fine.” The tips of his fingers tangle in the bottom strands of her hair. “I know she reminded you of you.”

“Not every child born as a product of rape reminds me of myself,” she tells him hastily, but they both know that isn’t true. It’s more than that, though. It’s so much more than that and she’s not sure he’ll ever understand, even if he tried. “And I hate that’s how you see me.”

“You and I both know that’s not how I see you. Now will you talk to me?”

Olivia sighs, skimming her hand down his arm. Her fingers stop on the Marines tattoo, and she gently drums them against it, a ticking metronome of events, lies, love. “She’s been abused since she was a toddler.” She finally speaks, and it’s hollow, and too loud, and not loud enough all at once. The sound is deafening in her ears, but she wonders if she’s even spoken aloud or if it’s just in her head, a swirling range of emotions. “It wasn’t about me. My mother was horrible at times, she was abusive both emotionally and physically every once in a while, but she loved me. In her own fucked up way, she did as well as she could. The truth is, I think she drank because she was afraid to love me, because it was the only way she could really let herself feel the regret of her rape. But with Jill…her mother didn’t love her at all. For reasons far beyond Jill’s control, she’s getting the brunt of it.”

“She’ll be adopted by a family who’ll treat her right,” and his breath is a whispered legacy against her skin. “You can’t do everything, Liv. You can’t be everything to every victim, to every child. You know that.”

Of course she knows that, but there’s always more to every story. There’s more to it but the words refuse to come out, to brand the room of her failures, her regrets.

“Doesn’t make it easier, though.”

“Can you turn over?”

No, Olivia wants to answer, because even after all this time, she hates being weak in front of him. But she obliges, his arms loosening around her as she rolls to face him. In the flickering lights from the fading pictures on the television, she watches his eyes, the strong devotion that she has seen aimed at the job for so many years. She wonders if this look is for her, or merely because they’re speaking of work, of things they both try so hard to control.

“You’re amazing at your job, baby. I’ve always admired that about you. Sometimes at the end of the day, you have to know you did everything you could. You got a three year old out of that environment and Jill’s going to be taken in and treated how she deserves to be treated. You gave her what she needed.”

It doesn’t help, but at his point, she’s not all that sure anything will. She presses her lips to his, and leaves them there, no movement, no desire to take it further. She needs to know he’s there, that even when she feels alone, she’s not. She can feel his lips moving beneath hers, and she closes her eyes.

“What do you think it would take to quit this job?” she asks, and it’s muffled between their mouths.

Elliot backs away from her, rubbing his thumb over her tear stained cheeks. “Honestly?”

Death. The answer that sits on the tip of his tongue frightens her even when he hasn’t yet spoken. She doesn’t want to be in this job until it kills her, but the truth is, she knows there’s nothing else that will make her leave, nothing that is pushing her to find another path, another goal in life.

“I talked, El. Can we change the subject now?”

“You’re impossible.”

“So are you.” The weight on her chest shifts, and while it’s hard to breathe, she feels like she finally can. “I’m glad you’re here.”

“I needed to do laundry and my machine was broken.”

“Oh,” Olivia smiles, “so you just came to do laundry? Did you happen to throw any of mine in with yours?”

Elliot unfastens the button on her jeans, yanking the pants down to her hips. He finds the straps of the bright red thong, his fingers pressing into her bare ass, pulling her forward. “You’re still in thongs,” he mutters, kissing her jaw. “You don’t need to do laundry yet.”

The case still rests on her shoulders, in her heart, but tonight she needs to get lost in something, in him. She thrusts her hips gently against his pelvis, releasing a small moan as he moves his own with rhythm.

“I might need to sooner than I thought,” she says, licking her tongue across his bottom lip.

“Will you at least go commando for me this time?”

“I guess you deserve it. Can I wear your SpongeBob boxers instead?”

Her jeans are lost onto the floor before she’s aware, and he’s against her, yearning to get him inside of her. “Olivia,” he groans, nipping at her lips. “Shut up.”

She does.

May 29, 2009
9:01 P.M.

“Hey, I thought you were getting out of here to go meet the girls.”

Olivia looks up to find Elliot leaning over her desk. His arms are braced over her files, his head level to hers. She gives him a small smile before looking back down at the ten page report that has yet to be filled out.

“That was the plan, but I have too much to do here. They’ll have to wait until morning.”

“Liv,” he holds out his hand to her, and she looks around the empty squad room for a second. “Come upstairs with me.”

“Our days of having sex here are over.”

She smiles though, placing her hand in his as he pulls her out of the chair. The darkness has captured the outside world, and she notices the few cars that meander through the streets as he leads her upstairs, away from the little civilization that exists on their floor tonight. There hadn’t been surprise in the voices of her friends when she had admitted she had to work tonight, but as she hung up the phone, the anger she held for this job started to take hold. It is a love and a hate and all the things that make her proud and yet despise herself at once.

The locker room is empty when he walks her inside, and he seats them on one of the benches so they’re facing each other. She should tell him she has to go downstairs, that he’s only delaying her work further, but as he leans over, brushing his lips over hers, she doesn’t say a thing.

“Go to the hotel, Liv,” Elliot says, moving a piece of hair from her face.

“Did you miss the part where I said I was going to be stuck here all night doing work?”

“I’ll do it. Go be with them.”

Okay, where exactly is her boyfriend and who is this lovely man who is willing to do her work for her?

Olivia slides back on the bench, lifting an eyebrow. “I’m sorry, what?”

“You heard me loud and clear. How much do you have to do?”

“Elliot, I…You’re not doing my paperwork for me. You have never once offered to do this for me, why are you starting now?” She thinks that’s maybe rage in her voice, and really, she shouldn’t be mad at him, but what the fuck? He keeps changing the rules on her, and there must be something wrong with her if him being so decent makes her…well, this. “Are you doing this so I tell them what a good guy you are and they’ll like you?”

“I’m doing this because you never see them, because after the last few weeks, I think it’ll be good for you.” He grins, with that shit-eating smile she loves. “Stop acting so surprised when I do nice things for you.”

“If you weren’t an ass for so many years, I wouldn’t be so surprised.” But she returns his smile, moving closer to him. Her forehead rests against his and she can taste the coffee on his breath, the faint smell of her lip gloss that had taken to his lips when he had kissed her. “Are you going to be around this weekend to meet them?”

“Do you want me to meet them?”

“Yes and no. I want you to know them; I want them to know you, but…”

How is she supposed to tell him that she fears they won’t like him? That the four people she loves most in this world could potentially hate each other? She never thought of stuff like this before. She never really had to.

“But you’re worried what will happen if they see me for who I used to be?”

Olivia presses her lips to his neck, inhaling slowly. “It’s not just about you. I would love for you to meet them if you’re around, though.”

“I might be working this weekend, but because I’ve been in court all week, John and Fin are still on that case together. I’ll do what I can to stop by. If I don’t—”

“Then I know it’s because you have a very demanding, important job.” Olivia braces her hands on his shoulder, lifting her head to him. He’s calm, almost innocent looking, and there’s a part of her that doesn’t want to leave him right now. “How indebted to you am I going to be if I let you do my paperwork?”

“I haven’t decided on terms yet, but I’m sure there will be something down the line.”

She laughs, “You’re not as decent as you like to believe you are.”

“Keep testing me and I won’t be decent at all.” Elliot rests his hands on her thighs, and it reminds her of the beach house in the Hamptons, of branding each other as if that alone guaranteed forever. “I miss you. We haven’t spent the night together in a week.”

Her heart skips a beat, and she clears her throat, as if one action can somehow settle the other. “Nature of the job. How about Sunday night? Since I have to work Monday I figured I’d sleep at home instead of the hotel.”

“Deal. Now, get out of here before I change my mind.”

She kisses the corner of his lips softly. “I love you. Call me if you’re free to stop by.”

“I will. Apologize to the girls if I don’t get to see them?”

Olivia swings one leg over the bench, nodding. “I will.” She walks to the door, bracing the frame as she turns around. “Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me. Payback’s a bitch.”

May 30, 2009
11:19 A.M.

She’s not the kind of person who worships the sun. Sure, it’s nice when it doesn’t rain on her crime scene, and it’s nice when the golden rays sunkiss her skin during the coldest winter days, but she’s never been one to put on a bikini and lie around until her body is perfectly golden. She’s always had more important things to do, or too much nervous energy to ever remain still, but today, on the last Saturday of the month, she’s never been more relaxed.

Her best friends had gotten in the night before and after dinner and a round of drinks, she had spent the night in a hotel room, remembering what it had been like to be nineteen. There had been late night conversations and laughter and while she knew she could never go back to the person she once was, the one who didn’t know quite how harshly the world could scorn, it had been something.

Elliot loves her; while it’s strange to her sometimes, she knows that. But she thinks that he’ll never understand this part of her. He’ll never understand that when she’s with these three women, something inside of her changes and she’s not the product of rape, the daughter of an abusive mother, an SVU detective. She’s merely her, and sometimes she wonders if he’s ever seen that part of her, if he ever looks past all the circumstances that have made her who she is to see who she once was before they had met.

“Here’s your mimosa, Liv.”

Olivia opens her eyes, and sits up, taking the drink from Zoe’s hand. The three of them sit around her and it reminds her of Elliot’s daughters for a moment. Six sets of eyes that are all inquiring, all knowing.

She lifts an eyebrow, taking a sip of her champagne and orange juice. “You’re all about to gang up on me, aren’t you?”

“You came to us at ten last night, Olivia, and none of us grilled you about Elliot. We figured if we did, you’d run the hell out of here and we wouldn’t see you again until five minutes before we had to leave.” Zoe rolls the bottom of the glass over her palm, and her green eyes are mischievous, full of life. “But it’s morning now and while Kim knows some details on the ex partner, Heather and I do not. So, spill.”

She’s at the pool on the roof of a hotel with three girlfriends and alcohol. Maybe Maureen was right to compare her to Sex and the City.

“There’s nothing to tell. We were partners, now we’re dating.”

“Wow,” Heather says, her eyes widening. “I don’t think you could have been more ambiguous if you tried.”

Friends are overrated. Really, really fucking overrated.

“Why is it that the three of you come here and I feel like I’m being interrogated?”

“Speaking of interrogation,” Heather grins, “have you used handcuffs?”

Of course it would be Heather to ask this question. She had always been the wild one, the free spirit, the one who lived her life without consequences. Olivia had always admired that in her, had never understood how someone could live life without the world settling on their shoulders. Even without the job, she knew it always rested on her. She had Serena to take care of, grades to improve on as if that validated her to her brilliant mother. There was always something to accelerate in, always something that kept her fighting. She thinks she envies Heather, though. Even at forty-one, with a job and a life not all that different from twenty years ago, she lives life with a reckless abandonment Olivia has never known.

Olivia smiles, and today, she promises herself that she won’t be with the victims, with her job. Today she will live in reckless abandonment; well, okay, she’ll live with drinking before noon and relaxing and knowing that for her, it’s enough.

“I used them on him.” She takes a deep breath. It’s now or never. “All right, ask the questions.”

“Okay, even I wasn’t expecting that,” Kim responds. She tilts her head to the side, her long brown hair falling across her face. It reminds Olivia of their trips to Florida on spring break or the random nights at the beach when summer in the city hit and the ocean air was perfectly cool.

“Well, I’m full of surprises,” Olivia mutters sarcastically. “Ten minutes and then we’re spending the rest of the weekend with the focus off of me.”

“How’s the sex?” Zoe asks.

“Okay and I wasn’t expecting that from you,” Olivia laughs. “I thought for sure that would be Heather’s question.”

“I resent that!” But Heather smiles, the mimosa poised at her lips. “Although, Zo, you did take my question.”

“The sex is amazing. We went through a rough patch, but for the most part, it’s great. Next.”

“You needed good sex,” Heather muses. “After the red pen man, what was his name? Kermit? Hold on, Elliot questions aside, can I ask what the hell you were doing with him? We all saw the picture you sent of the two of you together. Honey, he was not your type at all.”

Shit. So this is why it always takes years for them to get together. Poor innocent bastards that she forces to sit through interrogation every day. This is hell.

But maybe Elliot has made her different, or the constant presence of the three of them has because she finds herself answering. She looks down at the ground, at the planted grass and the water stains left over by the pool. “Kurt. And I was thinking that he was a good guy and that I was nearly forty and so damn tired of being alone.” She looks up at them, and there’s compassion, concern, love on each of their faces. “He would have given me the things I wanted if I had asked.”

“You just never asked,” Kim finishes. She rests her hand on Olivia’s bare leg. “Look, Liv, we get it. I got married because it was right for me, because I love Matt and even though we’ve been through some stuff, it works. Zo got married once, it failed, and she got married again. Heather’s in love with being single, but you’ve always wanted it. You’ve just never been willing to let yourself have it. Because of your mom, the job…whatever reasons you could think of. With Elliot though, maybe it’s right.”

“How is it that I always get stuck answering the questions?”

“Because,” Zoe shrugs, “we all speak to each other. You’re the one who works her ass off and it takes us flying across the country to get in touch with you.”

Olivia watches as Zoe leans over Kim’s chair, stealing the suntan lotion off of the ground. There’s over twenty years of history in each of them, and there’s something comforting about that. Zoe had always been the little sister to them all. She had come into their quad a year younger, and despite her smarts and determination, they all felt the need to look after her. She was headstrong, and impulsive, and while she lived with the pain of a man who no longer loved her, she found it in herself to find another. She didn’t hide; instead, she fought. It was Zoe who laughed the most, who always knew stupid jokes thanks to her students.

Between the four of them, each of them had a role to fill in the lives of the other three. Olivia forgets about that sometimes. She forgets when distance separates them, when life gets far too complicated.

She finishes off the rest of her mimosa, and she needs another one. Without a word, Heather lifts her glass to the bar, holding up four fingers, and Olivia smiles because time and distance have never changed any of them, as much as she sometimes thinks otherwise.

“What else do you want to know?”

“Has he gotten you flowers again?” Kim asks.

“He got you flowers?” The shock is written all over Heather’s face. “Wait, this is your ex partner, right? You didn’t get a new boyfriend who doesn’t dent lockers?”

Kim laughs, “I said the same thing.”

“He’s an asshole a lot of the time. He doesn’t intend to be, but I’ve known him for so long that he doesn’t try to hide it. But he’s...he’s compassionate and he’s caring and he does these gestures sometimes that surprise the hell out of me.” Olivia takes the mimosa the waiter is handing her, drinking nearly half of it before continuing. “Do you remember my mom’s copy of The Catcher in the Rye?”

“You mean the one she wrote in?” Zoe questions. “I love teaching that book. It always reminds me of Serena. What about it?”

“He took it from my apartment and rebound it for me because he knew it was hers.”

“I hate romantic men,” Heather says. “This is why I love being single. If a man did that for me, I’d tell him he’s insane and probably laugh at him and then dump his ass.”

“That’s because you’re a bitch,” Zoe teases. “That’s big, Liv. I love Andy, and he’s an incredible man, but I’m not sure he’d ever even consider doing that for me. You tell him you love him?”

“Screamed it at him,” Olivia admits with a twitch of her lips. “We were in the middle of a fight. I think I was telling him that we might as well end it, and I let it slip. He dropped the anger, forced me to repeat myself, and needless to say, I was doomed.”

“You are such a liar,” Kim laughs. “You say you’re doomed but this suits you.”

“How do you not lose yourself to someone else, though?” Olivia asks quietly.

“Damn, Benson,” Heather groans. “You used to have my back in this whole love is bullshit thing. Sure, there was a time issue for you, a job issue, but you used to agree that love was crap. I swear to God, if you stop being a cop to become Suzy Homemaker, I will come back to New York and kick your ass.”

Right…about that.

“On the bright side, I will not stop being a cop.”

“Wait,” Heather holds up her hand, “Wait. What does that mean?”

Kim grins, and Olivia hates the three of them more than words could ever describe. Then again, the same goes for love. “It means she’s already baked for him.”

“Some shrink you are,” Olivia mumbles, throwing her tank top to Kim because throwing a shoe isn’t proper for a forty year old cop.

Kim catches it, laughs, and tosses it back. “Start paying me and we’ll discuss doctor/patient confidentiality.”

“Not a chance. And I didn’t bake for him. I attempted to bake, he liked it, and then bought me a cookbook and muffin trays for Christmas.”

“Wow,” Zoe whistles. “I have to admit, I thought Heather would get married before you did.”

“I’m not getting married!” Olivia and Heather exclaim in unison.

“Jesus, it’s not a curse,” Kim mumbles. “You,” she points to Heather, “are not getting married because you think being tied down to one person is going to make you lose independence, despite the fact that it’s possible to be married and have freedom. And you,” she nods at Olivia, “are still waiting for Elliot to become Detective Stabler, despite the fact that he’s clearly proven that he’s in love with you. Both of you make my head hurt.”

“Then stop shrinking us,” Heather jokes. “So, are we going to meet him, Liv?”

“As far as I know, he’s working. You’re going to grill him a lot worse than me, aren’t you?”

“We’re not going to throw him to the wolves.” Heather trails off, her body leaning towards the entrance of the pool. She slides her sunglasses off her eyes and up on top of her blonde hair, a low whistle coming from deep in her throat. “Okay, the most gorgeous man just came up here, and it looks like he’s sans woman.”

It’s nice to know that some things will always remain the same. Olivia doesn’t bother to turn around, not when she’s perfectly comfortable, and Heather will hit on anything with nice clothes, good teeth, and a dick.

Olivia clears her throat. “Meanwhile, you were saying about Elliot?”

“I was saying…” Heather looks out at the pool from the corner of her eye. “He’s coming over here.”

“Well, if it isn’t my favorite sin.”

Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit.


Olivia closes her eyes. “Crap.”

“You know him?” Heather hisses.

So much for being comfortable.

Olivia leans forward, swinging her legs over the side of the chair. She turns around slowly, and standing before her in a crisp white linen shirt and jeans, is none other than Aidan Murphy.

“Murphy…what the hell are you doing here?”

He looks at the three women around Olivia, grinning. “Jesus, Sin, if I had known your friends looked like this I would have been here a lot sooner.” He extends his hand to Heather, and really, this is not going to be good. “Aidan Murphy.”

“Heather Donovan.”

Olivia doesn’t listen as he introduces himself to Kim and Zoe, as he mentions something about being Elliot’s friend; instead she watches the gate to the pool. There is no way in hell Murphy would have come here alone and within seconds, she watches as Elliot exits the elevator, walking out onto the roof. His eyes meet hers, and he merely shrugs, a smile lifting his lips. Big bad Elliot Stabler, who can take down men twice his size, who can bully a confession out of anyone, can’t say no to his best friend.

What a man, what a man.

“I’m so sorry,” Elliot mutters, bending down to kiss the crown of Olivia’s head. His words are muffled against her hair and he turns, smiling at the three staring women before him. Let the games begin. “Elliot Stabler. I’ve heard a lot about all of you.”

“Not as much as we’ve heard about you,” Heather grins.

“Shit, El, this is not going to be a good day for you,” Murphy laughs. “Can I get you ladies a refill?”

“Mimosas,” Olivia tells him. She smiles, and despite her whining, she thinks Elliot needs someone like Murphy in his life. She sure as hell doesn’t, but Elliot does. “Thanks, Murphy.”

He leans over, and braces his hand on the back of her head, placing a gentle kiss on her forehead. “I knew you were glad to see me.”

Elliot adjusts his position on Olivia’s chair, partially obstructing her view from the girls. She moves a little to the left, and there’s too much anticipation on each of their faces that she almost laughs. The poor bastard might have Murphy, but he’s nothing compared to Kim, Zoe and Heather.

“All right,” Elliot starts, “I’m assuming there are questions.”

“Hm,” Heather answers, surprised. “You’re blunt. I wasn’t expecting that.”

“It’s nothing against you, Elliot,” Kim shrugs. “Whenever each of us dates someone new—these days that means Heather and Liv—they have to get the third degree. It’ll be quick and painless.”

“Not really,” Zoe muses. “What do you do for Olivia when she gets sick?”

Elliot turns his head, grinning at her. “They work fast. You’re not going to help me out here?”

“They’ll find some way to ask you, whether or not it’s right now. You can handle it.”

“Hot chocolate and thin mints,” Elliot answers, so he’s now facing his tribunal. “Next?”

“You’re cocky,” Heather nods. “I have to admit, I like that. It works for Olivia. What is the most relaxing thing in the world to her?”

“Shooting her Sig, specifically in the morning when most people are asleep. Do I win something at the end of this?”

“I think it means you can keep seeing me,” Olivia whispers against his ear. “If you don’t get their approval, you and I might be through.”

“What was the first profession Olivia ever wanted?” Zoe asks.

“Oh, I like this one,” Elliot teases. “A princess.”

“All right, Builder of All Things Lego, just keep answering the questions, okay?”

“Lego’s? Interesting,” Kim assesses. She sits up, and Olivia thinks this is what she must have looked like with patients before she quit her practice; calm, composed, eerily wise. “Look, the truth is, Elliot, whether you know what she wanted to be as a kid or not isn’t an issue. You can learn meaningless trivia about someone and still not know the person.”

Olivia catches Kim’s eye, and she’s suddenly not sure about this, about Elliot being with them. This isn’t her forte; this isn’t what Elliot expected when he heard of the Siena Four. Shit, shit. Maybe Murphy will attempt to get into the waitress’ bikini bottom and she’ll scream bloody murder in surprise before falling at his feet like every other woman who comes across his path—Olivia, not included.

However, Kim continues, and Olivia rests her head back against the chair. Is she allowed to disown her friends if they’re causing her to potentially lose her boyfriend?

“All we really want to know, and I’m sorry Liv, I know you hate me for this, but we want to make sure you’re taking care of her. We all know she refuses it sometimes, but we need to know she’s in good hands. Not as a cop, but as a woman.”

“Kim,” Olivia warns, but Elliot’s hand over her bronzed leg stops her.

“I have five kids. I understand what it’s like to protect people you love, so I get what you’re doing by asking these questions, it’s why I’m letting you ask them because I would do the same thing.”

He’s not a man to show emotion often, but his voice softens, and damn it, she’s not comfortable listening to this. Murphy’s still at the bar, and that’s a conversation she can engage in. Banter, humor, and definitely no heartfelt fucking emotion.

She doesn’t move, though. She can’t with his hand still rough on her skin.

“How uncomfortable are you right now?” Elliot asks, twisting his head to her.

“Enough that I wish Aidan would get his ass back over here,” Olivia grumbles. “Like I said, they’ll ask anyway, so go ahead.”

They’re watching this exchange, she knows that. Get angry, Elliot. Stop being this person who makes me love you. People leave, people leave… But he hasn’t left. She has over the course of ten years, but he’s remained, sometimes bitter, resentful, but he was always right there.

“I’m a cop, I see a lot of shit in the world and I’m sure you’ve heard enough about me in the past ten years to be put off. So if you’re waiting for me to confess my undying devotion for Olivia in front of you, it’s not going to happen, it’s not who I am. That being said, I do love her, she knows that, and of course she’s in good hands. Anything else, trust Olivia on it.”

Shit, how does she love him more for that answer?

“I like you a lot more now,” Heather confirms. “I kept waiting for you to spring into some romantic speech and I probably would have broken up with you for her. Good answer. One more trivia question. What was the name of Olivia’s favorite vibrator in college?”

If shock could be made into one action, it would be that of choking. If there had been a drink against her lips, or food in his mouth, they’d both be dead.

Dead. Dead. Dead.

Like Heather will soon be.

“You’re forty-one!” Olivia scolds, but there’s laughter in her voice, because she misses them, even more than she had thought. “Ignore the question, Elliot.’

“No, no, I want to know the answer to this one.”

“Oh Heath,” Zoe laughs, as she places a strand of dark red hair behind her ear, “You couldn’t have let the conversation end?”

“I’m going to kill you,” Olivia groans. “You asked me not to stop being a cop. I don’t plan on it, Heath. I have the gun.”

“I expected some blood shed by the time I got back,” Murphy grins, passing around the drinks. He bends down, reaching for Elliot’s groin. “Does Elliot here still have his balls?”

He smacks his hand away. “I swear, Murph, I will deck you.”

Olivia laughs out loud. When did she start dating Elliot? Ten months ago? Nine months ago? She thinks back then, she was sort of desperate. Sure, she had some friends, she had her brother, she had boyfriends here or there (all right, she had Kurt and a few one night stands) but she never would have pictured herself up here, on the roof of a hotel with her best friends, Elliot, and Aidan Murphy. Maybe Elliot would have come up here to find her if a case called them in, or he’d bitch at her for not being responsible, that playtime didn’t occur in the NYPD, but she never figured this.

Happiness was always something tangible, reachable. She had been happy before, and even when the hell of the earth lived inside of her, she’d force herself to remember that. It had never been like this, though. She thinks that maybe love can be defined, because this laughter, it’s pure and real and she knows they’re all looking at her as if she’s insane.

“You’re giving him more attention than he’s worth, Liv,” Elliot mutters, leaning back against her shoulder.

“No, she just knows I’m funnier than you. Not to mention smarter, better looking…I’m quite the package.” Aidan takes a swig of beer, and she can swear Heather is watching him. That’s the last thing she needs; for Heather to write out a sexual report card for Aidan Murphy. “How about we ditch this hotel and all of you come back to my place. We’ll fire up the grill, maybe play some games,” he winks.

“How come when he says he wants to play games, I’m suddenly fearful for my life?” Kim asks, eyeing Olivia.

“Not a bad assumption,” Olivia muses.

“We should go,” Heather speaks up. Of course she does.

“He’s going to sleep with Heather,” Elliot whispers, turning his head to face Olivia.

She rolls her eyes. “All I ask for is that it’s not while we’re there.”

“Kim? Zoe?” Murphy asks. “I can fire up a grill like you wouldn’t believe.”

Zoe nods. “I’m starving. I’m in.”

“Why not,” Kim answers.

This is going to be one hell of an afternoon.

May 30, 2009
1:16 P.M.

Cosmopolitan Rule #36:
Don’t fool yourself into believing that your friends have nothing to do with your relationship. While in the first few months the idea of spending time with them seems non-existent, in the months and years following, their advice—and most importantly, their acceptance—is necessary. If they think he’s an asshole, they will continue to remind you of this fact as much as they can all the while saying they want what is best for you. If they love him, then the constant calls on when he’s going to propose will flood in, and while it’s annoying, their trust and faith in the relationship means more. The first time your closest friends meet your boyfriend is crucial. They’re watching him like a hawk, and one wrong move, one misplaced word is all it takes. So ladies, train your men before he meets your friends. Have him on his best behavior and pray like hell for the rest.

“What do you do for a living?” Heather asks, dangling one leg over the other. She’s tilting towards Murphy, and if there were words on her forehead at the moment, it would read something along the lines of Just Fuck Me Now.

To be honest, Murphy wouldn’t need the words. He can punch holes on a sexual report card and wear it as a necklace. Even then, however, Olivia figures this game of horny cat and mouse would continue. It’s great that Elliot and she both have that one friend who is bound to forget age and regrets, and just live. Even better when the two meet, and the end of the world looms in the near future.

“NYPD. Homicide.”

Heather’s eyes widen and she licks her lips from the moist condensation of her beer, or maybe because she’s forgotten everyone else in this room exists aside from Aidan. “Liv, no offense, I love you, but you get paid shit. How the hell do you afford this place, Aidan?”

“Old money,” Elliot jokes.

He sweeps his hand across the room of the large penthouse apartment, as if proving his point. Like the beach house in Southampton, this place is classic, modern, with simple gray walls that exude wealth, without being conceited. It’s a man’s apartment, but there’s a tone of femininity to it, like he needs something to keep women there when he knows all along, he has that power himself.

There are two double French doors in the corner of the room, leading to the large terrace, and even after all this time, Olivia has a hard time believing this man is real. He’s cocky, arrogant, but he cares about Elliot, his kids, probably even Olivia despite the damn nickname from hell. She’s heard reports about Detective Murphy in the field, all of them professional, good. She thinks there are people out there like Aidan, who can still do a shitty job and know what happiness means, like there’s not some big, governmental mystery to it all.

“Stabler’s jealous because he was too much of an idiot to get into real estate like I asked him to. He gets my hand-me-downs though.” He winks at Olivia. “Except for Sin, of course.”

“I have to ask,” Kim speaks up from the couch across from Olivia. “Where the hell does Sin come from?”

Elliot groans, pushing himself up. “Are we grilling or what?”

“Because Murphy likes to piss off Elliot in any way he can,” Olivia answers.

She moves towards the kitchen, the other three women following. Standing against the marble counter, both men rifle through the cabinets pulling out apron after apron. Different colors, words of cooking advice, ones with different lengths. Murphy pulls out a pink frilly apron, and grins.

“Don’t ever cook pancakes naked in this one. Doesn’t cover enough to keep you safe from splatters.” He tosses a black apron with red lettering at Elliot. “For you, man.”

Elliot holds the apron up, the black unraveling in his hands. “Will Grill for Sex,” he reads.

He whips it at Murphy, and the snapping sound vibrates off of his solid ass. Olivia rolls her eyes, and leans against the counter. Her friends must be wondering if this is some kind of joke, if Elliot and Murphy are merely here to test them, gauge their reactions and prepare them for the man she’s actually dating. The cop, the aggressor, the brooding turned sweet person that he’s become in her life.

To the left of her Zoe, Heather and Kim chat and laugh in hushed whispers, and it continues to remind Olivia of Elliot’s daughters, of times that are long since gone, but never forgotten. It’s almost ironic that while she’s still the same nineteen year old girl with her friends, Elliot is younger with Murphy as well, like innocence exists with people who understand the parts of them that aren’t broken, crushed.

“I don’t know, Murph,” Olivia teases. “He’s never grilled for me before. You need the one for him that says something like Don’t be an ass or I’ll kill you with my food.

“You mean this one?” Murphy pulls down another stack of aprons, and shit, she thinks he might have robbed a store or told each woman he slept with to leave one at the door when they’re done. “Be nice to me or I’ll poison your food.

“Don’t tempt me,” Elliot shoots back. “Murph, get your damn apron so we can start up the grill.”

“Don’t get your panties in a twist, I’m coming.” He grins, with a flash of white teeth, the blue-gray tint of his eyes narrowed and mischievous. He slips an apron on, turning to the women. “If any of you ladies were worried about your carb intake today, I happen to…” He positions the black apron over him, the white letters bold in their message. “Have your low carb diet right here.” The white arrow points down to his crotch and only Murphy would own something so offensive, yet so perfectly him that it’s almost amusing.

He walks out of the kitchen and out the balcony doors, and Heather pushes herself off the counter, like an animal ready to stalk its prey. “I have never wanted to cut carbs out of my life more than I do right now.”

May 30, 2009
2:59 P.M.

“That is not how it happened!” Olivia exclaims, crossing one leg over the other. The bright sun hits the corner of her skin and she shifts a little to the left, her knee knocking into Elliot. He slides his hand underneath her thigh, so that it rests on her other knee, and she smiles at him, his view partly obstructed by the light. “You were as drunk as I was, Heath. There is no way you could remember that.”

“Neither can you. You don’t know how far it went. I remember something about kissing you—”

“Liv, if I had known you were this wild, I would have asked you out when Stabler was still married,” Murphy says, winking. He winks a lot, she’s noticed. Like he always has some damn secret just waiting in the wings. “He would have killed me if I did, though.”

“She would have killed you if you did,” Elliot grins. “It had nothing to do with me.”

“I can’t believe you got drunk and told Elliot that story,” Zoe laughs. “You denied it for about a year after I told you that it happened. I feel like you two have probably had some wild times together,” she adds, nodding at Elliot and Murphy.

“Not when he had the noose around him,” Murphy goads. “The wife didn’t like when he’d come out to play with me. Unlike Sin here; she’s all for it.”

“No, I mind,” Olivia teases, taking a pull of her beer. “You’re a bad influence on him.”

“I’m wounded. Speaking of bad influences, who wants to tell me why there was a thousand thread count sheet crumbled on the floor of the beach house? Fuck, it looked like Jackson Pollack had been in there.”

Elliot’s hand grips her thigh, and she nearly chokes. “I thought you tossed that,” Olivia whispers through clenched teeth, and if everyone could stop staring at them right now, that would be fucking fantastic.

“I thought you were washing it!”

“It’s body paint, Elliot. It’s not going to come out of the sheets.”

“You used body paint?” Kim asks, shocked. “You used to freak out if someone tried to lather you in chocolate syrup when we were in college.”

“That was me, actually,” Heather answers. “If someone wanted to lick me, they weren’t going to do it with all that sticky stuff on my body. Made me break out, anyway. So does body paint for that matter.”

“Hypoallergenic,” Murphy affirms with a smile. “You wouldn’t believe what a turn on it is.” He turns to Elliot and Olivia. “I can afford the sheets, but the next time you do it, bleach will take that sucker right out. I brought it home for you two. In case you wanted to mount it on the wall and sign it.”

Olivia grimaces, tilting her head toward Elliot. “Get a new friend.”

“What else happened on this beach house trip?” Heather asks, her interest piqued. “I have a feeling there’s something you’re hiding from us.”

“We can always check out the security cameras,” Murphy reveals.

“What?” Olivia croaks. “Uh, what…you’re joking right?”

“Murph, tell me you do not have cameras set up in that house.”

“There were some break-ins last summer. I’m hardly ever there, figured the security would help. The two of you on the kitchen counter. That was impressive with the legs and the contorted bodies. Liv, were you ever a dancer?”

She hides her head in her hands, her dark hair collapsing in front of her face. She had almost forgotten about the incident in the kitchen, about how Elliot’s hands had slid underneath an apron with only her bare skin against his touch. She had moaned, and…oh God. She’s in a fucking porn video that Murphy has in his possession. She’s going to need new friends, a new boyfriend, a new job, a new…

“Really? The kitchen counter?” Murphy voices and she’s back on that balcony, back in reality. “I’m completely fucking with you both. Didn’t think either of you had it in you.”

“There were no cameras?” Elliot asks.

“I don’t tape the women I’m with. Unless, of course, they ask.”

“You fascinate me,” Kim tells Aidan, leaning back in her chair. She’s hit shrink mode, and Olivia wants to kiss the Gods or whoever, because it’s not her at the moment under Kim’s scrutiny. “You’re a well respected cop; you served the country in the Marines, yet you parade around with a ton of women. It’s not what I would expect.”

“You’re ballsy, Doc.” He leans forward, his voice low, lulling. His hands dangle by her knees, and this little experiment is bound to be interesting. “You do this job and sometimes being alone is hard. Women are beautiful creatures, they’re loving, but maybe I go through all of these women just looking for the right one. Don’t you have to go through all the wrong ones to find the best person for you?”

A smile splits across Kim’s lips. “You are so full of shit, Aidan.”

“I love a woman who calls him on his crap,” Elliot laughs.

“All right, so I’m full of shit.” Murphy shrugs, sitting back in his chair. “I like women. Nothing wrong with that.”

“No, there isn’t,” Heather agrees.

“Do you two want us to leave so you can do whatever it is you two are clearly going to do?” Zoe questions.

Olivia shakes her head. “Can we not go there?” She leans into Elliot, her shoulder pressed against his upper chest as he wraps his other arm around her shoulders. She can feel the heat of him, and she missed him last night when she had been with the girls. It had scared her, that after all this time she had missed him after one night. Shit, love has made her screwed. Her eyes narrow at Kim, and she waits for the bomb. “You’re not going to make a comment about the kitchen counter?”

“No, I’m impressed with that, actually. You deserve to have fun.”

“You know what you never answered?” Elliot knocks against her. “What was the name of your vibrator in college?”

She glares at him, shaking her head. “You’re never getting sex from me again.”

“I feel like I’m learning so much today!” Murphy rubs his hands together, gleefully. “Let’s go, Liv. What was it?”

Oh fuck it. She’s a woman; all women are allowed their toys. So, she’s not the detective today. She’s a doppelganger of her former self, one that she sometimes misses greatly. Her eyebrow lifts, along with her lips. “Which one?”

“I forgot there were two!” Zoe declares. “Oh, right, there was that whipped cream incident with Connor what’s his face. Dark hair, smelled like too much cologne.”

“Masters,” Kim remembers. “But that wasn’t him. It was—”

“We are not doing this here,” Olivia interrupts. She turns to Elliot, and she can tell that he’s thinking about her back then, about whipped cream, and vibrators, and all the things he’s never known. She skims her nails down his leg, and he stiffens, just barely. “They were both named after 80’s movie characters.”

“A trivia game.” Murphy’s eyes light up. “I’m a master at trivia.”

“You are not,” Elliot scowls. “You were too busy getting laid in the 80’s to watch movies.”

“I studied up on the men the ladies liked back then. It was a good conversation starter in the bars.” He puts his finger to his chin and within seconds, his eyes light up. “Tom Cruise, Top Gun. What the hell was his name? Maverick!”

Heather starts to laugh, pulling a strand of blonde hair behind her ear. “I had Maverick.”

Murphy’s smile is easygoing, light. “I should have known. You look like the kind of woman who would appreciate that commanding power.”

“Rob Lowe,” Elliot guesses. “St. Elmo’s Fire.”

“No, but it should have been. He aged much better than the two I chose.”

“The quintessential 80’s movie with an actor who didn’t age all that well…” Murphy thinks about it for a moment, pointing his finger at Liv. “Got it. Swayze. Girls fawned all over that ‘Nobody puts baby in the corner’ shit.”

“Johnny Castle,” Olivia nods, impressed. “He was the second one.” She brushes her lips across Elliot’s ear. “You want a clue on who the first was?”

His hand tightens on her leg, squeezes once, twice, as he whispers, “The thought of you with one is killing me right now. Come home with me tonight.”

Maybe it’s not Aidan and Heather who need the room right now.

“Wax on,” she mutters, the words a slow drawl out of her mouth. “Wax off.”

Elliot grins, pulling his face away from her, the moment broken. “Karate Kid. Not what I would have expected, sweetheart.”

“Cheater,” Murphy accuses. “Doesn’t count when she gave you the answer.”

“You are such a sore loser,” Heather laughs.

“Speaking of…” Murphy puts down his beer, and there’s trouble brewing in that damn brain of his. “Who’s ready for a game of Twister?”

May 31, 2009
8:45 P.M.

“Liv? Are you here?”

“In the bedroom!” she calls, fastening an earring onto her lobe.

She looks on her dresser for the other one, listening to Elliot’s footsteps as he steps around the mess in her living room. She hasn’t been home in days, not bothering to pick up the pile of laundry that needed to be tossed in, the mail she had thrown haphazardly across her kitchen table in an effort to get in and out of her apartment as quick as she could. She had run home from the hotel with the promise she’d meet the girls at a bar close to where they had been staying, and with fifteen minutes to spare, she is never going to make it in time.

While when it came to work, she was never a minute over the dot, the same couldn’t be said for her social life.

“What are you doing here?” she asks, watching him walk into the room from the reflection in the mirror. He stands behind her, staring at her through the sheath of glass, and she lifts an eyebrow, tilting her head so she’s facing him. “What?”

“You, uh…” Elliot clears his throat, nodding in her direction, at her reflection in the mirror. “Where are you going?”

“Meeting the girls at a bar.” Olivia turns around, clasping the back onto her second earring, now facing him. “What’s the matter with you? You look like you’ve seen a ghost. And you never answered what you were doing here.”

“I think I left one of my case files here the other night.”

He takes a step closer to her, and runs a finger beside the emerald strap of her satin tank top. She inhales a breath as he continues to glide it down her skin, tracing the V made by the cut of her shirt. Her breasts are lifted, perfectly molded against the delicate, sleek material.

“I don’t want you wearing this out to a bar,” he murmurs.

She shivers, despite the warm night. A small smile lifts her mouth as she leans into him, her lips brushing softly against his cheek. “Don’t get possessive on me, Stabler.”

Elliot’s finger trails slowly down the V, into her cleavage, and down the front of her shirt. He rubs him thumb over the green stones in the center, and pulls her closer. “You look gorgeous.” He nips at her lips, a wicked game of cat and mouth. “Men are going to be all over you.”

“They are not.” Olivia smiles against his lips, inhaling the scent of his neck, his cologne. “El, I’m running late. I have to leave.” She breaks free of his grasp, and walks back to the dresser. She grabs her bottle of perfume, spraying her wrists and neck with the tantalizing smell. “What are you doing tonight?”

“Heading into work to catch up on files.”

His voice is gruff, low, and he walks up behind her. She rests her back against his chest, staring at them in the mirror. A year ago, she never would have expected this. She never would have expected that one date with Elliot Stabler would turn into ten months, that she ever seriously could have fallen in love with someone who infuriated her as much as he did. Sure, she had feelings for him before, but love was something she wasn’t expecting, not with him.

He snakes his hand underneath the silk covering her breast, holding her firmly in his hand. She moans, arching her head back, capturing his lips with her own. Her neck is strained the slightest bit, and he licks his tongue methodically over her lower lip.

His fingers squeeze her breast, his thumb swiping over her nipple. “Stay here with me tonight,” he whispers into her ear.

Olivia’s watching them in the mirror again, and shit, she’s so aroused right now. “I can’t. I see you every day, I never see them.”

She takes his hand from her chest, lowering it until he reaches the waistband of her jeans. He flicks the button from its home, sliding his hand underneath the lace scrap. She’s already wet and waiting and he pulls her back into him, his hard dick and the trace of his finger against her center forcing her head back against his chest.

“I’m willing to be a little late.”

She jerks her hips slightly, and one finger slides inside of her. The touch of him against her has her writhing in his arms, and she grips her hands onto the dresser, arching into his touch. She can’t take her eyes off of them in the mirror, at the way he grinds his teeth with each forceful thrust inside of her. Elliot drives his fingers in and out of her, his strokes accelerating, her knees buckling, and watching him do this to her, God, it’s bringing her even closer to the edge with each satisfied twist of his lips.

“I love you,” he murmurs, gripping her chin with his free hand.

He turns her head toward his, and plunges his tongue inside of her mouth. She moans, and it’s cut short by a gasp as he slides another finger inside of her.

Olivia’s breathing is rapid, and she lets go of the dresser, wrapping an arm around his neck from behind. “Elliot, Elliot, Elliot.” She chants his name like he’s a God, and maybe he is because he’s the only thing she’s ever truly believed in. “Finish me off,” she mutters, and it has nothing to do with time now, but need, desire. “Please.”

He continues to stroke her and she lifts her hips into his touch, slamming into his hand. She can feel her body spasm, and he tightens his grasp around her waist, holding her close as she comes around his fingers.

“Was that supposed to tire me out for tonight?” she says as her breathing returns to normal. She turns around in his arms, handing him a tissue off her dresser. “Here.”

He smirks at her, kissing the corner of her lips. “No, just reminding you what a good boyfriend I can be.”

Olivia laughs, pushing him away from her. “You’re too old to be a boyfriend. Not to mention, you’re an idiot. I’m not going to flirt with men. I’m going to spend one last night with three people I probably won’t see again for a year.” She goes back to the mirror, pulling her hair up in a clip. “Has Murphy hooked up with Heather, yet?”

“I was going to ask you that,” Elliot answers, sitting down on the bed. “If they haven’t yet, I’m sure they will by the time she leaves tomorrow. He’s not working tonight.”

“The two of them together scares me.” She slides out of her jeans, and digs through her drawer for another pair of underwear. He’s clearly aiming for laundry day very soon. He’s watching her, she’s aware of this. She shimmies slowly into a new pair of lace, lifting her jeans back over her hips. “I have to go.” She leans down to kiss him.

He grins, biting gently on her lower lip. “Now remember, if you get drunk, be sure not to send anything to Don.”

“You’re so funny,” Olivia mocks, straightening. “I don’t think I ever plan to be that drunk again.” She grabs her purse off of the bed, walking to the door. “Lock up when you leave. Love you.”

May 31, 2009
9:27 P.M.

“I’m so sorry I’m late.” Olivia slides into the booth next to Heather, taking the drink Zoe has shoved across the table for her. She takes a long sip of the cold martini, lifting an eyebrow at the three sets of eyes staring at her. “What? You know I’m always running late.”

Heather leans over, sniffing Olivia’s shoulder. “You smell like Elliot. Don’t get me wrong, the man smells great, but you’re not fooling anyone.” She shrugs, crossing one leg over the other as the heel of her shoe touches Olivia’s leg. “So, before we start in on the evening’s discussion, do you want the official review on Detective Stabler?”

Olivia rolls her eyes, and she’s going to need more than one damn martini for this. “Do I get a performance review from each of you on his behavior? Or is this a group collaboration?”

“The night’s just beginning, Benson. Lay off the sarcasm,” Kim teases. “To be honest, I’m sorry, but I didn’t like him. I didn’t get a good vibe from him, and I think he’s too controlling. And his best friend is an asshole.”

The glass stills in Olivia’s hand, her knuckles turning a ghastly white. Um, she wasn’t really expecting this. Sure, Elliot can be an asshole, he can be a bit to handle, but she needs the three of them to like him. She can feel her heart hammering in her chest, and she will not cry. She will not fucking cry.

“Kim, tell her you’re kidding before she has a coronary,” Zoe admonishes. “She’s joking, Liv.”

Olivia’s eyes narrow and she shakes her head. “You are such a bitch.” She drinks down half of her martini, because in the moment it might as well be the same as oxygen. “You’re supposed to be the nice one.”

“Hey!” Zoe smiles. “The truth is, we loved him. He’s smart, he’s attractive, he attempts to be funny which is endearing because he’s really not, and most importantly, it’s obvious he loves you. That’s all any of us wanted for you. No matter what shit happened with you two in the past, about his marriage or you leaving, this feels like you’re in it for the long haul.”

She will not cry. She will not fucking cry.

“I was serious about Murphy being an asshole, though,” Kim affirms.

“Oh, he’s not an asshole!” Heather exclaims. “You have to admit, he’s charming, and he’s a decent guy. So, he’s a flirt. You love me and I’m a flirt.”

“Do you still call it a flirt when you’re in your forties?” Olivia teases, relaxing against the black leather seat. “Did you sleep with him yet?”

Heather doesn’t even pretend to be offended. She merely shrugs, lifting her toothpick with olives to her mouth. She grips the green food with her teeth, sliding it over her tongue. “Not yet. The man writes a dirty text message like you wouldn’t believe, though. I might see him for a few hours tonight. Do you think he uses his handcuffs?”

“I’m sure if you ask nicely, he will.” Olivia rolls her eyes. “Do me a favor. Please don’t give me the details on your night with him.”

Kim rests an elbow on the table, leaning forward. “Do you think he shares things with Elliot?”

“He does, it’s come up before. I don’t need to know what moves they share. Some things in a relationship should remain a mystery, and that is one of them.”

“Do you care if I sleep with him?” Heather asks, seriously. “Your best friend, Elliot’s best friend. If you’d rather I not—”

“No, to be honest, you’re perfect for each other. No strings, no commitment. Like I said, just don’t give me the details.” Olivia looks down at the table, at the ring of condensation left in the wake of her moving glass. She looks up at them again, the feel of Elliot still fresh on skin. “I…I know I got your answer about Elliot, and I wouldn’t…” She laughs, but it’s tainted with nervousness, fear. “I need to hear it again. The three of you have been my sounding board for every relationship, but with him…”

“Shit,” Heather says softly. “You’re really in love with him.”

Olivia turns her head, a small smile lifting her lips. “Did you think I wasn’t?”

“No, I just…” She touches Olivia’s arm gently. “You were never like me,” she whispers into Olivia’s ear. “You always wanted someone who would love you like he does.” Heather kisses the side of Olivia’s head. “To repeat what Zoe said earlier, we loved him, now snap out of this love shit, Liv, because if I knew we were going to be crying into our drinks tonight, I would have ditched you for Murphy long ago.”

“And I’m the bitch?” Kim lifts an eyebrow. “It’s always been Heather.”

“The bitch of Siena College,” Zoe teases. “Who started that? I swear, we had been at school for less than a week when that happened.”

“Josh something,” Kim answers.

“I remember him!” Olivia exclaims, lifting her martini glass. “He was a junior when we were freshman. It was the fourth day of classes, I think, and he came up to Heather and me telling us he was on the Rugby team. Then he asked us if we wanted to join the cheerleading squad because we were some fine looking babes. Heather looked at him, told him his dick must be small if he needed to play such an angry sport like rugby and walked away.” She laughs, taking a sip of her drink. “That was the day the nickname started.”

“It was an accurate portrayal of why most men are morons.” Heather’s lips widen against her martini. “I slept with him a year later.”

“Who didn’t you sleep with?” Zoe asks.

“We all slept with our fair share of men in college. Olivia slept with her professor.”

“I dated my professor,” she corrects, biting into an olive. “For a year. There’s a big different there.”

“Does Elliot know about him? What was his name again?” Kim inquires.

“Dennis. His name has never come up. He knows how many men I’ve slept with, but no, never told him about Dennis. I wonder if he’s still teaching there.”

Heather lifts an eyebrow. “You mean if he’s not in a wheelchair, swinging a mallet for croquet down in Florida?”

“He was fifteen years older than us. You’re making it seem like he was sixty when I dated him.” Olivia finishes off her drink. “Next round is on me. I’ll be right back.”

“I’ll come with you,” Kim says, sliding out of the booth, as well. “You could use the help carrying it back.”

For the first time since she’s entered the bar, Olivia hears the music on above. The stereos pulse with some sort of rock song and it makes her think of Dickie, of Elliot with the guitar in his hands. It’s amazing the amount of things that remind her of him and his family these days: songs, television shows, a certain flower she knows that Kathleen loves. She had found out long ago that family existed in friends, in memories that could be relived over and over again. She didn’t need the husband, the children, the definition that most thought of when it came to the word. But sometimes she thinks she’s found that in him, in the life she had watched him create, build and collapse over the past ten years.

“Liv, about earlier, I didn’t mean—”

“Stop,” Olivia interrupts, her voice soft against the people yelling, the music. “You were fooling around. Believe it or not, I do have a sense of humor.” She leans over the bar, and she thinks maybe Elliot is right, because she can feel at least three sets of eyes on her barely concealed breasts right now. If only he were here so she could see his face. “Four martinis, please.”

“How long do think it’ll be before Heather ditches us for Aidan?” Kim asks, a smile igniting across her lips.

She looks down at her watch. “It’s 9:45. I give her until 11:30.”

“You’re giving her that long? She’s been checking her text messages all night. She showed us one before you got here. I’m surprised she’s still here. I’m saying 10:15.”

Olivia holds out her hand. “Fifty bucks?”

Kim grins, shaking Olivia’s outstretched hand. “Fifty bucks.”

May 31, 2009
11:20 P.M.

“Would you rather…” Zoe purses her lips, shooting the once olive clad toothpick between her hands. “Be stuck on a deserted island with Russell Crowe or Colin Farrell.”

Heather rolls her eyes, finishing off the last of her third martini. “Zo, what is with asking the most boring questions on the face of the earth?” Her phone vibrates beside her, and she smiles, pushing a few buttons. “Crowe, but back before he gained all the weight.” She types something quickly, putting the phone back down. “Liv…”

“You say my name like I should be scared of this question.”

Heather’s eyes gleam. “Would you rather have love but never achieve an orgasm again or settle for really great, incredible, earth shattering sex without the love?”

“It depends. If I’m dating Elliot, then I choose love. I’ve done the no orgasm thing with him, and it was a pain to deal with on so many levels, but I still choose the alternative. If it was someone else…I don’t know, probably the orgasm. You’d choose orgasm?”

“Of course. I’ve been in love. I know the three of you like to believe I’ve never experienced it, but I have. That being said, I like not being tied down. Men are too much work to deal with on a daily basis, but they sure are good for some things.”

“Most of them anyway,” Zoe concludes. “Liv, your turn.”

“I’ve always hated this game.” Olivia finishes off her drink. “Do you remember that car ride we took down to Florida the summer Zo decided she couldn’t deal with New York anymore? That car ride scarred me from ever playing it again. I still can’t see a Georgia license plate without recalling the—”

“Oh God!” Kim yells, covering her face in her hands. “I forgot all about that jackass. I almost wish that had happened when you were a cop, Liv. You would have made Heather stop the moving car and you would have arrested him.”

“He shoved his bare ass against the glass window.” The memories of the bright summer afternoon, the soft breeze filtering through the windows rush her mind like a tidal wave. “It wasn’t even a nice ass.”

“Which Heather promptly screamed out the driver’s side window,” Kim laughs. “I have to admit, I miss those car trips. I think we went everywhere we possibly could in those four years. Nothing compared to that weekend of camping in the Catskills, though when Zoe—”

“No!” Zoe exclaims. “We are not discussing that.”

“Oh come on, Zo,” Olivia teases. “Anyone could have gotten poison ivy from squatting in the woods to pee.”

“I swear to God, Liv, I have more dirty secrets on you than you want to test me with. You still don’t know the whole story about the drunk night with Heather.”

“So, Olivia and I kissed. What’s the big deal?” Heather’s phone vibrates again. “Jesus,” she mutters, before looking back up at the girls. “All right, I love you all, but I’m going to see Aidan. He just wrote—”

“No.” Olivia shakes her head. “I don’t want to know.”

“You used to be so much more fun,” Heather teases. Four untouched martinis sit on the table, and Heather passes them around, lifting hers, the rest of them following suit. “Before I head out, I wanted to give a toast.”

“Since when are you the one giving toasts?” Zoe asks.

“Since I’m ditching the three of you for a man and have to prove my loyalty somehow. I don’t know when we’re going to see each other again, maybe for Olivia’s wedding to Macho Man—”

“We’re not getting married, and I won’t even get into the nickname—”

“Don’t interrupt. Like I was saying, I don’t know when we’re all going to be together in the same place again, but I just want you to know that while I’m incapable of loving a man—and proud of that—I love the three of you more than you probably realize. Liv, thank you for taking the days off, when I’m sure it was hard as hell for you to do it. We miss you, Benson. Even when we give you shit for not calling, for never keeping in touch, know that we’re always there if you need us.”

Olivia bites her lower lip, nodding. “Thank you,” she whispers. She lifts her glass. “To…What are we toasting to?”

“Friendship?” Zoe suggests.

“I’m sorry I even bothered with this.” Heather rolls her eyes. “We’re in our forties and toasting to friendship?”

Olivia grins. “The bitch of Siena.”

“To the bitch of Siena,” Heather laughs.

Four glasses clink in the middle of the table, the martinis downed halfway before they’re all put back on the table.

Heather leans over and kisses Olivia’s cheek. “I love you. Try to answer your phone once in a while, okay?”

Olivia stands so Heather can get out of the booth. “Yeah, yeah, I will.”

“I’ll see the two of you later. Wish me luck,” Heather calls over her shoulder.

“Not that she needs it,” Olivia mumbles. She smiles, holding out her hand to Kim. She’s going to miss them, more than she even wants to think about. “It’s 11:30. You owe me fifty.”

“You bet on when she’d ditch us for Murphy?” Zoe raises an eyebrow, shaking her head. “I wish I had gotten in on that action.”

Olivia leans back against the seat, the threat of work looming in the air, the reminder of all the things she’s tried so hard to forget this weekend. She holds the martini in her hand, smiling against the rim.

“I’ll bet you another fifty that Murphy makes her fill out a sexual report card.”

“He does not do that!” Kim shakes her head, laughter bubbling in her throat. “She has a box of those at home.”

“Of course she does,” Olivia laughs, once again raising her glass. “To the four of us.”

“To the four of us.”

Chapter Text

Month Eleven: June, 2009

June 2, 2009
7:01 A.M.

For June, the morning air is surprisingly crisp. There’s a bite to it, a whisper of a breeze hitting her skin with each new pound of her sneakers against the blackened asphalt of Central Park. She’s sweating, and with the winds, there’s a chill that forms across her skin as she quickens her pace to catch up to Elliot. He’s a little more than a foot in front of her, but then again he’s always been able to outpace her despite her protests otherwise.

Even so early in the morning, New York lives inside of this sheltered park, strollers meandering across the pavement, light conversations traveling through the air. On her left, two little girls whisper secrets to each other as their mothers walk and talk, a tradition that’s probably been around since the children were born. From the corner of her eye, Olivia watches them, and she thinks about what Maureen had told her last month, about two sisters who used to be inseparable. A twinge pierces her heart, and she picks up speed because she’s not going to do this now. She can be happy, she can.

“I’m not going another mile with you,” she states, catching up to him.

Elliot turns his head to look at her, smiling. “You’re getting old, Benson.”

“It’s not going to work.”

“What isn’t?”

Laughter tumbles from her lips, and she jogs ahead of him. “You’re not going to challenge me so I go another round with you.” She stops, bending her head to catch her breath. “We have a couple of hours before we have to head in and I need coffee now.” With a quick intake of air, she looks up, starting to move forward. “I’ll let you buy me breakfast.”

“You’re too good to me,” Elliot grumbles, sarcastically. “How about we head back to my apartment and you can put on a pot of coffee and make me some eggs while I shower?”

“Make you some eggs?” she asks, patting his shoulder. “Honey, that is not going to happen.”

They walk out of the park and onto Central Park West. The morning commute is well under way, an endless bustle from one side of the city to the other. People knock into them as they walk, and it reminds her how different Oregon was, how the streets had been silent most of the time, how if someone knocked into her, they’d stop, smile, and apologize. She’d never admit this to anyone, especially Elliot, but she misses it there sometimes. The quiet serenity that used to seep in through the fog in the early mornings, the rain storms that brought about thunder and lightening and the washing away of all memories she had been trying so desperately to forget.

“Do you want to stop here?”

Olivia glances at the half filled coffee shop in front of them. There are few empty tables left outside and Olivia nods. She’s not yet ready to go back to his apartment, to get ready for work when there are still hours left before the precinct awaits.

“Take the table over there,” Elliot points. “I’ll run in and get us coffee.”

A smile lifts her lips, and she squeezes his shoulder. “I knew you’d be a gentleman and buy me a cup.”

He swats at her, and she laughs, sidestepping him. “Don’t push it, Liv.”

Elliot walks into the café, while Olivia sits down at one of the empty tables. The breeze rushes past her, and she moves her chair so the sun hits the corner of her shoulders. She squints against the heated light, and the people walking in front of her become nothing more than a shadow, an illusion in the morning. It’s been a long time since she’s sat down and watched those around her without seeing her job in each of them. She’s spent so long looking inside of people: inside the wounded, the villains, the ones she just can’t be sure of, that it’s everywhere she turns now—in each face, each emotion, each word.

The sun moves behind a cloud, and she sees the masses that pass. Some on their cell phones, some talking to someone else, some talking to themselves. It fascinates her sometimes; the world. It fascinates her that she lives inside of the evil day in and day out and she’s still thriving, breathing, not quite as broken as she once believed.

“I got you a croissant. Figured you might be hungry,” Elliot says, placing a plate and a cup of coffee in front of her.

She looks up at him with a smile when he sits down beside her. There’s a paper in his hand and she nearly laughs. When the hell did they become two people who had time to sit down, drink coffee, eat breakfast and read the paper?

Olivia rips off a piece of the croissant. “Thanks,” she answers absentmindedly, turning back to the street.

There’s a quiet easiness that washes over them, and she crosses one leg over the other, letting it dangle. She can feel the moment it hits his foot, the gentle kick that he gives back to her that reminds her of the past, of young love, of love at all. The steam from the cup filters through her senses as she places the rim against her lips, and she takes a long sip, shielding her eyes from the ever rising sun. Down the block, out of the blinding light, she can see a couple walking through the street. They’re in their twenties, Olivia thinks, and there’s a sort of innocence to them, an expanding amount of time to grow, to live life together even if all the answers don’t currently exist.

“I love you,” Olivia admits, but she doesn’t turn to face Elliot.

She continues to watch the couple, and she wonders if their friends have met each other, if all the obstacles that she’s faced in the beginning with Elliot are the same as two people who must be twenty years younger than them.

Elliot glances up from the paper, smiling. “I’m not doing more of your paperwork for you.”

She laughs, and the black coffee ripples into waves from it. “I had to re-do half of what you did for me anyway.” She sobers, and she turns her head toward him. His eyes are lighter in the early morning, almost encased with a softer coating of the blue of his irises. “I know that sometimes I’m…surprised when you do things for me that I don’t expect, but…” She pauses, but she doesn’t look away from him. “I know I don’t tell you all that often how much you mean to me, but you should know that I love you.”

“I do know.” Elliot touches her hand, drawing small circles over her thumb. “I guess this means the girls approve?”

“Because I’m openly admitting I love you?” She shrugs a shoulder. “They said you were fine.”

Elliot laughs, nodding his head. “Fine? That’s all you’re going to give me?”

“That’s all I’m going to give you. Oh, I meant to tell you.” Olivia takes another sip of coffee, and God, the day is going to start too soon. “Simon is looking for engagement rings.”

“That’s great. They’ve been dating how long?”

“Five years, I think. Were you heading to court today?”

“It depends on the load when we get in. How’s Casey doing?”

“She hates her job.” Olivia picks at the pastry, chewing another piece slowly. “She’s heard how great Kim is doing, and I’m sure it pisses her off Alex was back for a little while. But she’s been spending time with Lucy, which seems to be doing her good.” She leans over the table. “Can I have the front page?”

Elliot hands it to her, and she leans back in her chair. She doesn’t read the paper often. There’s never time for it, but more than that, she doesn’t need to see the destroyed lives that have made it onto the front page of the Times or the Ledger or the Post. She lives enough horror, sees enough of it to know that what’s happening on page one is no worse than what she sees daily. She skims the articles though, and there’s news on the war, on a murder that has taken place twenty blocks from here. It takes one and a half minutes before she tosses it onto the center of the table, staring back out into the world. The minutes tick, a continuous sixty seconds that brings them closer to work.

“They loved you,” Olivia says, without looking at him. “They loved that you attempt to be funny, even if you’re not—”

“Oh, like you’re such a barrel of laughs.” She narrows her eyes at him, and he smiles, holding up his hands in defense. “I’m sorry, go on.”

“Nothing, like I said, they thought you were fine.”

“Nope, you said they loved me. Tell me more.”

Olivia laughs and she focuses on the street again, on the life in the city. “You must think it’s ridiculous that I need their approval.”

Elliot touches her hand gently once again, and she turns her head. It still amazes her how much she loves him now-a-days, how even in his sometimes anger she finds his compassion. “I think that a year ago I never would have expected that you would need their approval, but I love that you have people like them. So, what did they think of Kurt?”

She takes it back. She hates him. But there’s laughter when she answers, “Shut up, Elliot.” She looks at her watch, groaning. “We need to get out of here.”

“Are we spending the night at your place tonight or mine?” he asks, folding up the paper. He places it under his arm, and pushes his chair back to stand up.

Olivia follows; the morning resumes. “Mine if one of us isn’t stuck at work.”

“You’re never going to like my bed, are you?”

She rubs her hand over his back, smiling. “Well, it’s much better than your last one.”

June 6, 2009
12:12 P.M.

Cosmopolitan Rule #37
: When it comes to relationships—hell when it comes to life—honesty is subjective. No matter how much you trust someone, no matter how much you love them, some things remain hidden, spooled somewhere between doubt and fear. We all lie. Men will tell women they look beautiful even when she hasn’t showered for days; women will tell their boyfriends or husbands that they love their boring history shows when they’d rather be watching anything but. The thin blue line between truth and lies is a tight rope that is walked constantly, an ever growing battle on what should be told and what should remain a secret. However, when it comes down to it, you have to know when honesty stops becoming subjective and starts becoming deceitful. And when the truth is exposed and the lies have settled for far too long, prepare for the explosion. Because sooner or later, it’s bound to detonate and erupt.

“What do you want to do for your birthday?”

Olivia looks up from her book, digging her toes into the couch. Despite the summer month, the air is chilled this morning with rain, an incessant tapping against her window as it pours down onto the city. Work hasn’t called either of them in yet, and as she gazes out into the soaked world, the rumblings of thunder distant, she slides further down on the couch, taking her blanket with her. Elliot sits on the opposite side of her, one eye focused on the television, the other on her, a lazy day for each of them. A lazy day that will end in about an hour when neither of them knows how to sit still any longer, when relaxing becomes more of a pain than a luxury.

But right. Her birthday. God, she can’t remember the last time she actually did something for her birthday, let alone with someone else. She had gone to bars in college, had a surprise party at twenty and had laughed about it for hours because no one had ever done that for her before. But over time, as work became priority and an outside life consisted of sleeping and once in a while talking to the girls or going out on a date, she had neglected it. Turning thirty-eight or thirty-nine or even forty had no relevance in her mind. All it meant was another year in a unit she couldn’t escape, another year without any so-called future waiting in the wings.

She shrugs, sliding her toes underneath his thighs. “Nothing?” She should celebrate this year, because for once she’s not single and alone, and shit, sometimes she wants to laugh at how pathetic she can be.

“Do you want to go to dinner with the kids?”

“You’re going to force them to spend my birthday with me?” Olivia lifts an eyebrow. “That’s not going to happen. Besides, I thought Maureen was going to Florida with some friends now that her semester is done?”

Elliot’s lips lift into a smile. “She didn’t tell me that. Have you seen her again?”

“She called me last week. To be honest, we’ll probably be working on my birthday. How about you get me a cupcake and we’ll call it even?” She holds up Harry Potter to him, wiggling the book in her hands. “I really thought Snape was the one trying to get the sorcerer’s stone. Somehow that makes me feel like a bad detective because I couldn’t figure out it was Quirrell.”

“You should feel like a bad detective,” he teases.

Olivia kicks him, lodging her foot deeper under his leg. “It took you the entire two hours of The Usual Suspects to realize that Keyser Soze was a complete fabrication. You’re not always the quickest either.”

“You’re insulting me, sweetheart. It’s not very becoming on you.”

“Go back to watching TV and let me finish this.”

Outside, a clap of thunders booms against the afternoon. Olivia shivers, pulling the blanket around her tighter. The noise from the television sifts into the room, every other word heard in between the pauses of her reading. She hasn’t looked up all that often to figure out what he’s watching, but then again, she’s not all that sure he has any idea himself. He’s fidgeting and she knows that he’s almost done with relaxation hour.

“We never speak Spanish anymore,” Elliot muses, and just because he’s not into being lazy anymore doesn’t mean she feels the same at the moment.

“You never learned how to speak it,” she answers, turning a page. “The dictionary was a waste.”

“Te amo.”

Olivia looks up at him with a smile. “You already knew that one. I meant to ask you, Lucy’s throwing a little end of the school year party for her son next month. Will you come with me?”

“As long as we’re not working and I don’t have the kids that weekend, sure.” He fidgets, shifting against the couch.

“Since you’re sick of sitting here, would you mind getting me the bottle of aspirin that’s in the top drawer of my nightstand?”

He leans over, kissing her cheek. “I swear; the things I do for you.”

“Yeah, Elliot,” Olivia rolls her eyes, “You’re a Goddamn prince.”

His laughter trails him as he leaves the room, and she reaches for the remote to mute the television. She flips to the last page, checking how many she has left, and sighs. Ten pages and she might actually finish a book this year. She can hear Elliot rummaging through her drawer; she can hear the moment it stops and he walks out of her bedroom.

It’s quiet, eerily so, and she looks up to find him standing in front of her. It takes her a minute to see the book in his hand, the one she had shoved in the back of her drawer nearly a year ago. She opens her mouth, but nothing comes out, not when his lips move first, when his voice is filled with surprise, the kind that comes from tragedies, from loss.

“Were you going to tell me?”

He tosses the book onto the couch where he had once remained. Knock Yourself Up: A Tell All Guide To Becoming A Single Mom. Exactly what you want your boyfriend to find hidden with your aspirin and vibrator (not that that’s getting the job done on the baby front.)

Olivia sighs, and those ten pages aren’t going to be completed for the time being. “Was I going to tell you what? You knew I wanted a child.”

“You haven’t mentioned it since…” He’s thinking about it, running the cases through his head, their conversations spiraling through his brain.

“Since right after Eli was born.” She presses her lips together, the overwhelming emotion building up behind the walls of her chest. “Elliot, I…It doesn’t matter.” The lie tastes like blood on her tongue, like sacrifice. “I can’t do this right now. Please, let’s just…” Rewind the past three minutes. Rewind the past. “Please.”

His resolve melts onto the floor, shadowed with the rain dripping against the window panes. She looks down at Harry Potter that is still nestled in her hands, but the words blur with the tears gathering in her eyes. She can feel his weight when he sits down beside her again, the sound of the baby book as he holds it in his hands, a big white elephant in the room. The tap of his fingers on the book, the intake of breaths that sound dangerous and almost unforgiving are magnified in this now claustrophobic space.

The rain is louder than she remembers, and her knuckles become white and strained as she holds onto the novel. There are minutes that pass, maybe seconds, but it’s too much, fuck, fuck, fuck it’s too much.

“Say it.” Her voice is cracked, and she clears her throat, wondering how long it’ll take for her vocal cords to unravel. “You want to say something, so say it.”

“Did you stop taking birth control?”

Olivia lifts her head. She narrows her eyes at Elliot and she has no idea how she fell in love with someone she’s hated more years than not. “You bastard,” she grinds out through clenched teeth. “You are such a self-centered asshole. Is that what you think? You think that I started to date you and somewhere in month five or six or hell, last week I decided to forego protection and trick you into having a kid with me?”

Elliot holds up the book, tossing it into her lap. It lands on top of Harry Potter with a thud and somewhere deep down she’s glad that The Catcher in the Rye isn’t sitting out so her mother can be privy to another one of her failures.

“Chapter four. When You Know the Donor. You earmarked it, Olivia.”

“You never just ask, do you? You throw accusations, you assume, but you never ask!”

“And you never willingly give up information!” he explodes.

She’s off the couch in a matter of seconds. She needs to calm down, to breathe, to think of the shooting range at five in the morning where she has found her peace. In the far corner of the room, resting on her kitchen counter, she locates her badge. If she can focus on the shield, on the image of it in her hands, then she’s not this woman who needs a child, who cares about relationships. She’s a cop; it’s who she’s been since the moment she made the decision to go to the academy, it’s who she’ll always be. There’s solace in the reliability of those numbers. Solace when the rest of the world is unbalanced, unidentifiable.

“You don’t get it,” Olivia says quietly. “You have no idea what it’s like to sit in a room and hear the state tell you you’re not fit to be a parent.” A laugh tumbles from her lips and it’s bitter, final. She leans her head back against the wall, staring at the ceiling. “You have no idea what it’s like to deal with children every day, to help them, and then be told you’re not good enough to be a mother.”

Elliot doesn’t speak, and she swallows the salty taste of her tears, clears her throat again because she can do this. She’s battled him before; she’s lost him before.

“I considered artificial insemination, but I…I couldn’t go through with it. I couldn’t give a child even less knowledge of a gene pool than I had. So I, uh, I considered asking you. I earmarked the chapter because two years ago I considered asking you to be a donor.”

“You never came to me about it.”

Well, no shit Sherlock.

“It wouldn’t have worked.”

He’s up now. His rage is powerful; like the suffocating loss of air, like the end of the world as it crumbles and folds its hand. “Cut the bullshit, Olivia. You’ve lied to me long enough—”

“I never lied to you! Did you think that all of a sudden I didn’t want children anymore? Did you think the desire to have kids vanished the second we got involved because I was that desperate just to have someone? You didn’t want to know! You never asked!”

“You’re going to blame me for this? Why didn’t you ask me? Two years ago, why didn’t you ask me?”

She lifts her head, and she can feel the brunt of his glare scorching her skin, her soul. “You just found out Kathy was pregnant with Eli. Months after he was born, you told me you would do whatever you could to help me but I couldn’t ask you that, not when I saw you struggling to go home more often, to balance work with your home life.”

It’s the silence again, and she can’t, she can’t do this silence. She needs words because the hammering of her heart is too loud; she needs words because desperation has this sound—something akin to shattering glass beneath the feet or listening to a victim talk of their attack, listening to the recording of her mother discussing her own brutalization so many times that it’s all that can be heard, when it’s all that exists.

“You wouldn’t have asked,” Elliot responds defiantly. “Whether or not Kathy was pregnant, you never would have asked.”

“No, I probably wouldn’t have.” Olivia slides down the wall and onto the floor, the rug rough under her. “Because I knew you wouldn’t have said yes. You would have helped me in a lot of ways, but I knew that wasn’t one of them. I couldn’t ask that of you.” She tilts her head, her neck exposed as her hair slips down around her shoulders. “I don’t…”

But there’s nothing to say when she doesn’t know how they’ve gotten here, how an afternoon of being lazy turned into their war because sitting still seemed too mundane for people like them.

“That case last month.” She speaks with all the fading words in the span of Manhattan. “The one that bothered me so much. You were so hell bent on believing that it bothered me because Jill Fisher was a product of rape, but it was never about that. She went to foster care and she’s still there, Elliot. She’s been there for almost a month and I can’t…It was never about her being a child of rape.”

She watches as he leans back against the wall, his eyes closing. She can see him forming his rejection with the twitch of his lips, the flutter of his eyelids. She’s read his mind so many times before; she knows where this is going. But she doesn’t know his thoughts in this exact moment. She doesn’t know if he wishes they were other people or if all along he knew it would end up where it always did with them. With one of them walking away without a word.

“How many more cases have there been, Liv? How many more times have you lied to me about what was really bothering you?”

“I never lied to you,” she affirms once again.

“You didn’t admit the full truth, either. How many others were there?”

She considers withholding the information, keeping the scattered secrets deep within, but as she exhales, the breath leaving her body in a gentle hiss, she unravels her truths. “Do you really want to know?”


“Do you remember that case with the teenagers who had a pregnancy pact?”

Elliot nods, and she wishes he would speak, hell she wishes he would yell. She can handle his rage; she’s always been able to handle his rage. She hates him for the urgency to know her, because that’s not the Elliot she once knew, once relied on to save her day in and day out.

“Fidelia Vidal was murdered, and…that case destroyed me. I had to sit there and listen to a teenage girl tell me that I was jealous of her. The sad thing is, she was right. I was jealous of a teenager who had no business being pregnant in the first place. When I thought she committed suicide, I wanted to hate her for taking that baby with her. There are children out there who need homes, who are being murdered, who are being ripped out of their mother by the child’s father or some deranged psychopath and I’m not good enough to adopt one? It killed me. It kills me all the time.”

He’s counting back in his mind, through all the months, all the cases. “We were dating during that case.” He takes the easy way out, because in the end, there’s nothing to say to her outburst, there’s nothing left but the flooding wave of truth.

“We had been dating for three months. What did you want me to tell you, Elliot? That it literally hurt to breathe for that entire case, for days, even weeks after? You wouldn’t have understood.”

“I worked on it—”

“You have five healthy, amazing children. You have told me for years that I can’t understand what it’s like to have a kid, but you know what, El? You can’t understand what it’s like not to have one.”

“There have been more, haven’t there?”

“Yeah,” she whispers, “there have been more.”

“Maria Recinos?”

She almost laughs, because he hadn’t even been there. The rumors had surfaced for days after about how she had selflessly talked to Maria for hours, how she had given her mouth to mouth when anyone else wouldn’t have tried so hard to find her when the evidence pointed elsewhere.

“I want to say she was the one who started it, and she was by far the worst, but it’s been building up for a long time.” She glances up at the window, at the pouring rain and finds it ironic that their fights seem to occur when the storms rage, as if Mother Nature has been pre-determined or maybe it’s their fights that long to occur when the rest of the world is feeling like shit. “Tommy Hoffman, Isabella McKenzie, Patty Branson, Sarah Brown, Antonio Montoya. Is that what you want, Elliot? You want the name of every child who has stayed with me over the last ten years?”

“Olivia, I can’t,” Elliot mutters, and even with him here, he’s started his trek out the door, out of her life like she’s done to him so many times before. It becomes harder for her to breathe, but she doesn’t blame him. Maybe it was love that has changed her anger towards him, or maybe she doesn’t blame him when she knows this is who he’s been all along. “I’m sorry, Liv, but I can’t…I can’t have another child.”

The chill in the air slices across her skin. Her blanket remains on the couch, and it’s soft and warm and ten minutes ago...ten minutes ago it had all been different. She looks up at him, nodding, because what the hell else is she supposed to do when the world falls apart? “I know you can’t.”


He slides too, down the wall, onto the ground. She wonders how many people have fought on the floor because the lower it is, the harder it is to fall. She listens as Elliot inhales a breath, exhaling on a grunt, and if she were to close her eyes, it would be like she was walking in on him when he was working out, the grunts nothing more than the force of the weights. If she were to close her eyes, the doom that covers her like a cloak wouldn’t be so overwhelming.

“I’ve missed so many school plays, birthday parties, dates because of the damn job. I swore with Eli it would be different, but it’s not. I’ve missed things in his life I should have been there for and I can’t…I can’t do it again.”

He wouldn’t be Elliot if she didn’t know his thoughts long before he ever spoke them. “I understand that.”

She smiles at him sadly, raising her knees to her chest. She tightens her hands around them so she doesn’t rock back and forth, so she doesn’t remember things from long ago.

“I was thirty when I came into this unit and I thought I had time. I knew the job was important but I really believed I would find the time to fall in love, have a child, but first I had to prove to my mother that I could do this, that while I couldn’t change what happened to her, I could help other people. The job became consuming that I neglected kids for too long. But I’m going to be forty-one in three weeks and I…I just…” She looks down at the ground. “You know.”

“You should have told me, Liv.” The anger is gone, defeat lined in the subtext of all that’s left unspoken.

“I probably should have. When we started to date, I thought it would last around three months and it wouldn’t matter. We…God, we have spent the last ten years fighting and I thought we would kill each other in a relationship. I never expected…I never thought I would fall in love with you. But I won’t…I won’t give this up for you, El. I love you more than I thought possible, but I need to have a child more than I need this.”

“Come here.”

There are tears in his voice, the rough, raw accent that he whispers during sex, yells during an interrogation. Ten years of memories rush through her, and she thinks it’s possible that a needle of air to the skin can do the same. A pressure that doesn’t stop until it kills.

She finds herself moving closer, and it’s new for her not to run. She digs her nails into the floor, because if she doesn’t, she’ll find it in her to leave now before this gets worse. Elliot rubs his finger over her tear stained cheek, and she recalls being surprised at how gentle his touch is, how someone who holds a gun with force can be this calming with his hands.

“We didn’t end after three months because the person you were in this relationship isn’t who you are at work. I didn’t think you could do it to be honest. I didn’t think I could be someone else, either.” Elliot laughs, pressing his forehead against hers. It’s warm, or maybe those are tears: his, hers, it doesn’t matter. “I didn’t think I would ever want or be willing to love someone again. I didn’t think you could be someone other than the detective who needed to prove something to herself, to everyone around her. But I’ve seen who you can become. I’ve seen who you could be as a mother, Liv. I know I’m a selfish prick sometimes, and a part of me is wishing I could tell you to drop this, but I can’t. I can’t let you sacrifice what you’ve always wanted.”

She sobs against his lips, and his salt tastes a bit different than hers, like selflessness isn’t as harsh as it seems.

“Liv, we have to—”

“No.” She shakes her head, and finds her voice because it’s there somewhere, even in times of absolute hell, she has her voice. “I don’t…You don’t need to say it. I know.”

“I have to let you go,” he whispers.

Elliot slides his hand through her hair, the strands slipping between each crevice of his fingers. There’s compassion in each stroke, and she thinks of all those victims she’s shown care for over the years, how many of them had broken simply because someone cared.

Olivia allows her chest to split open, the fault line of her heart cracking beneath the skin. She can live without him; she can be happy without him as long as she has a child, but nothing—not even her mother’s truths—have annihilated her quite as efficiently as this.

She’s not sure how much time passes as they sit. Instead, she focuses on the rain, on the deep sounds of his breathing, the hitch of air that is laced with tears. She thinks of the last ten years between them. How in the beginning he had been calm, amused despite the hell of their jobs, a man devoted, dedicated to his family. The years had broken each of them down, a collapsing tower that eroded until partnership was forced to call its hand, until admitting feelings became all that was left.

She closes her eyes, and she can feel his nervous touch on the night they first slept together, the way he had found his footing and taken charge. She thinks of how he had gone to Simon’s with her despite the past because it meant something to her, how she had kicked his ass in a game of Family Feud and impressed him in other ways than being the cop he had known for so long. There were heartfelt conversations late into the night and muffin trays, and God, she can’t do this, she can’t relive this, even though she will for countless nights after this. She thinks that she can sit in a rocking chair nursing her child, and she’ll still think of games of War, text messages she’s far too old to send, nights with his family she’ll never get back.

“I should go,” Elliot murmurs, and she blinks back into the reality of it all.

Olivia nods, standing up with him. Her legs wobble and she presses her palm against the window, noticing the five fingers that splay on the glass before it fades into oblivion. Or maybe it’s still there and the tears have covered her line of sight.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

All she has to do is breathe; keep breathing.

“Liv, I…”

He pulls her into a hug before the words escape from his mouth, and it reminds her of the day Eli was born, how different everything had been, how in so many ways it’s still the same. He has his children; she has one moment where it seemed like it was okay when it never really was. She wraps her arms tightly around his neck, while his hands roam her back. He’s gentle, calming, warm, soothing, and heartbreaking. Their bodies sway as if dancing; timeless, choreographed. He’s whispering something to her, but it can’t be heard over the pounding drops outside, over the soft cries.

There are things she needs from his apartment, like her favorite gray sweatshirt, her sneakers that she uses for running. She needs his bed that she still hates despite the newness, the sound of Maureen and Mark’s laughter sometimes late into the night. She’s pressed so tightly against him that his air becomes hers, that both of them breathe on account of the other.

“Did you really think we’d kill each other?” he asks, muffled against her hair.

“Did you really think we wouldn’t?”

He smiles, sadly. “I do love you, Benson.”

Breathing. Breathing is good.

“I know,” she mutters, her lips pressed against his neck. She’s survived before; she will survive again. “Me too.”

Her lips graze his and they move slowly, in remembrance. His hands glide up her back, over her shoulders, through her hair as he slides his tongue inside of her mouth. It’s slow, deep and she remembers the first night she tasted him, how she had considered that maybe in the moment, they were both the same. His tongue slides over the roof of her mouth, grazes her teeth and she wishes she could live on the air he’s giving her, on the chances he’s attempting to save her with.

His mouth moves so perfectly with hers, something perfected over time, and she cries into his kiss, because a rainy, lazy day wasn’t supposed to turn into this. She hadn’t had sex with him last night, not when she had been too exhausted, when the work week had taken its toll. She had rested against him under the covers, and with the lights out, he had tickled his fingers down her arm, telling her stories of his brothers, of the kids. There had been laughter in his voice and she should have taken the time to relive it, to keep it inside of her like a keepsake, a memory. She had fallen asleep nestled against the beating of his heart, and when she had awakened in the middle of the night, tangled in her sheets with his arm wrapped around her, his heavy breaths hitting her cheek, she had merely pushed him away so she could have her space in bed.

Oh God, she had pushed him away. There were supposed to be so many more nights where she didn’t mind being curled up in his arms, nights where sex would go on until the sun came up, where his hands and mouth would so effortlessly pleasure her. She hates herself for telling him about her mother’s book because each red line in The Catcher in the Rye will always be tainted with his gestures. There’s so much he’s torn down inside of her, so many things that are now branded with his memories.

She’d have made it different, all of it. The outcomes, the decisions. Her body shakes, and he pulls himself away from her. She wants to turn away, but she can’t, because for ten fucking months she started to let him take the place of the comfort from her badge.

Elliot kisses the corner of her mouth, and she can already feel the loss deep within her soul. He tucks a strand of hair behind her ear, and she breathes because this is what has to be done, because it’s a child that she has always wanted, needed. “I don’t…How do we…”

She’s survived before; she’ll survive again.

Her voice cracks when she speaks, but it’s stronger than she formerly believed. Maybe she’s always been a little stronger than she’s believed. “I’ll see you on Monday, El.”

He nods, untangling his arms from around her. “Yeah.”

Olivia moves toward the window, watching as he becomes a fading picture in the mirror of the glass. He turns around when he reaches the door, and she sees the tears in his eyes, a perfect match with the rain. It’s like they’re intermixing; a portrait of what it would be like if it rained against a picturesque blue sky. It takes him a while before he faces the hallway, closing the door gently behind him as he fades as if he were never there at all.

She’s about to walk away, when she sees lightning strike, a forceful golden crack splitting the murky sky. It takes twelve seconds before the thunder shatters, and another three before she lets herself truly be free.

That’s all thunder really is, she thinks. Something that needs permission, a signal in order to let itself break, once and for all.

June 15, 2009
11:59 P.M.

Cosmopolitan Rule #38:
There are different levels of pain involved in a breakup, depending on how serious the relationship was. If it meant nothing more than good sex and a casual fling, then it’s quickly vanished from mind after drinks and a girl’s night out. There’s first love that lingers in the heart, a consistent tear that has bled, but slowly begins to heal itself in time. The idea of love isn’t lost for good, and you can think back on being cherished and adored without feeling like you’re stuck in the midst of hell. Marriages can end—sometimes with hate, sometime with mutual respect—and while it takes months, sometimes years, the parties move on and the search through personals online begins. Set ups from friends are arranged and over time—if you’re lucky—you find someone else, someone better in the journey of life. But there’s one breakup that has no end in sight, a forever constant reminder with each breath taken, with each step conquered. The ultimate breakup—the one that occurs when love has never been lost—resides along the same lines as death. The person is taken from you, and you’re left with an ache that never fully fades. Time might heal all wounds, but don’t be fooled into thinking they disappear. In the end, all that’s left is scars and the shell of a person who no longer exists, another thing left in the wake to mourn for.

The lights in the crib are off when Olivia enters, and she flicks the switch, allowing fluorescent bulbs to dimly shine in the room. The beds are empty, each blanket folded as if no one has ever stepped foot in there at all. She wonders who makes them when morning comes or a case interrupts because she knows she never did all the times she slept there. She also wonders who decided on the plaid blankets that look like they’re gearing up for some kind of camp and cold summer nights. Maybe she can start picking linens out because it sure as hell has never been welcoming in here.

These are the things she thinks about these days. She forces herself not to think of Elliot, of how his tongue would slip inside of her before she had fully awoken, bringing her to the edge as her eyes had fluttered open and then closed. She forces herself not to remember his voice in the middle of the night, decorated with good memories and small declarations of devotion. It doesn’t work most of the time, not when she sees him daily, when she can feel his eyes on her as she’s hunched over her desk, as she walks from the room with John.

She’s considered leaving. Oregon would be amazing at this time of the year, or maybe she can go back to Computer Crimes and live a life where she could sleep without the blood, the sweat, the tears, him. Not that she’d be able to. No, she doesn’t sleep much anymore, not when the ghost of Elliot haunts her bedroom. She rests on the couch with the television on, the light and the noise stealing the thoughts from her brain, but it never fully works. He fades into her, nestles himself deep inside where she figures he’ll always be.

Olivia’s phone rings and she glances down at the bench to check the caller ID. Heather. She can handle Heather, who doesn’t believe in love or marriage or being with someone for the rest of her life.

“Hello,” she answers, bracing the phone against her shoulder and ear. She slowly starts to put the combination in on her locker, each number another daunting second alone. Even her fucking locker reminds her how pathetic she is.

“Hey,” Heather says, and her voice is too fucking gentle for the only one who doesn’t believe in relationships. Shit, shit, shit.

“I’m fine. If you’re calling to check up on me…I’m fine.”

“It’s a load of bullshit, Benson. You’re not fine.” She clears her throat, and in the background, Olivia can hear an infant screaming its indignant cries. She should have assumed Heather was calling her from work, but the cries rip at her vocal cords, shred her heart into nothing. “I’m sorry I haven’t called earlier, I just, I wasn’t sure what to say.”

When Serena died, Heather had taken the first flight out from San Diego, and was in New York less than seven hours later. She had given Olivia a small smile, taken her hand and forced her to get dressed; they were going out to celebrate. Olivia hadn’t asked if it was to celebrate Serena’s life or the end of a life that her mother had sometimes cherished, yet usually despised. The bar had opened with them already at the door, and with shots downed before ten-thirty that morning, she had finally understood the drunken haze of her mother like she never had before.

That’s who Heather is. She’s the one who doesn’t wallow on things that can’t be controlled. Life is unfortunate and horrible sometimes, but it moves on without stopping, without slowing. This is who she needed when she had answered Heather’s call; the one who didn’t waste time on emotion when there is nothing that can be done. Figures she would get a Kim in training when she wants it the least.

“Don’t do this to me, Heath,” Olivia responds weakly. “Don’t act like this is worse than when Serena died. Don’t act like it’s worse than all the shit we’ve been through together.”

Heather’s silent for a moment, and Olivia stands in front of her open locker, staring into the darkened abyss. The reflection of her mirror catches the dim lights and she turns away, not wanting to see who she’s become in the past couple of weeks. She doesn’t need to see the dark lines under her eyes, the raw skin of her lips where she’s been biting down too hard.

“Isn’t it?”

“You were the one person who I thought…” Olivia rests her head on the open door of the locker, taking in a breath. “Tell me that I’m better off being single, that men complicate things. That’s what you do, Heather.”

“No, I support you. We don’t always agree on things, but I have always supported you. You want me to tell you that you’re better off being single? Fine, Liv, you’re better off being single.”

Olivia can feel the tears building behind her eyes, and she cannot do this here. But Heather speaks again before Olivia can say a word, and breathing, it’s not as easy as she promised herself it would be.

“You would make a horrible actress, by the way,” Heather muses. “You can’t tell me you’re fine while it sounds like you’re on the verge of a breakdown. You wouldn’t be winning any Emmys.”

“Oh, like you would.”

On the other end of the line, she knows Heather is smiling. Sad, wistful, but a smile nonetheless. “I’m better than you. Now that we’ve established you can’t act, do you want to tell me the truth?”

There’s no point in lying anymore; she learned that nine days earlier. “Sometimes I’m fine. Sometimes I’m not.” Olivia pushes herself off the locker, and takes a shirt off the hook, tossing it onto the bench. “How much did Kim tell you?”

“Baby, breakup, still working together. I figured she gave me the basics, knowing I’d know you well enough to fill in the blanks myself. Okay, so sometimes you’re fine, sometimes you’re not. How’s he doing?”

Kim had asked the same thing and it kills her to know her friends care, that blame hadn’t been placed on Elliot when it’s obvious it’s no one’s fault except life, circumstance, the desire to not give up the wants and needs that each of them have.

“Driving everyone in the precinct crazy. He’s gotten in the face of three perps, been thrown out of interrogation once, and has yelled more times than I care to count. He…He makes it very hard to be around. He doesn’t yell at me, though, and I hate him for it. He takes it out on everyone but me.”

“And that’s bad? I mean, it sucks for the other crime fighters, but for you?”

Olivia slips out of her shirt, tossing it into the locker. The air conditioning that fights to break through the deep summer night chills her skin as she bends to reach for her other v-neck. “If he was an asshole, I could fight him. I know how to fight him, but I can’t, I can’t do this with him. I hate how he talks to me when he actually does, how it’s soft and gravely and…” She inhales a deep breath, slowly letting it out. “I can deal with his yelling. But I don’t know how to deal with this.”

“I assume everyone knows you split up?”

“If they don’t, then they don’t deserve the title of detective.”

Heather laughs. “If you want a baby, Liv, I can just steal one from the hospital when I get off my shift tonight. There were a couple of twins recently born. The parents won’t notice one is missing.”

There’s her Heather; thank fucking God.

A laugh finally falls from Olivia’s lips and it doesn’t break like she expected it would. “Don’t expect me to come bail your ass out of jail when you get caught.”

“You can send your crazy friend Casey to defend me.”

There’s some kind of commotion downstairs, and she assumes Elliot has started another war with someone: Fin, Cragen, the garbage can that is nearly full.

“What do you want me to say, Liv? I’m not Kim, I don’t do the advice, I don’t—”

“And I’ve never asked you to. I would have called, Heath, I just couldn’t deal with telling all of you that I’m a failure in this. You were here, what? A month ago? How did I fuck this up so badly in a month?”

“Benson, I’ve known you for a long time and I’ve never once bullshitted you on anything. Remember when you cut your hair short and sent me the pictures and I told you it looked like crap and to grow it out again?”

“I still never listened.”

“It was longer when I was here, that’s all I care about. The point is, I’ve never lied to you. When you fuck up, I tell you. You didn’t fuck this up. Even Elliot didn’t fuck this up. You both wanted different things, and sometimes, that wins out over love. Liv, I know you. When Serena died, you threw yourself into work and didn’t mourn her until it was about killing you. You need to let yourself deal with this relationship ending before it pushes you over the edge.”

“You’ve never done this, Heather. You don’t know—”

“Are you kidding me, Liv?” Heather interrupts. “This isn’t about me. It’s about watching you for the past million years thinking you have to be the strongest person in the world because God forbid Olivia Benson shows an emotion. Well guess what? You’re allowed to deal with this! I get Kim is the one you talk to and I have always respected that. But I’m here and I hate knowing you’re going to break down in a matter of time. So, do me the favor and talk to me for five minutes.”

Olivia sits down on the bench, her chin falling to her chest. “I miss him. I miss him so fucking much sometimes.” She swipes a hand through her hand, inhaling a shaky breath. “I don’t know how much longer I can stay here.”

“Sweetie, you can run as far away as you want, and you know I’d love if you came out to California, but he’s still…you’re still going to love him. You can run away and he’ll still be with you.”

“I thought I was done. I thought I had finally stopped being…”

Shit. What the fuck does she think she’s doing? What the fuck possesses her to spill her guts to her best friend, nearly naked in the locker room? It doesn’t matter anymore, she figures. Sooner or later, she’ll lose her mind; sooner or later, she’ll have to get out of here if she expects to live life with sanity.

“Why do you never fall in love, Heather? In all this time, you’ve never once told me why.”

“There’s not some reason that’s going to help you figure this out, Liv. You just have to…I don’t know, do something. Take a vacation. Take a break. We’ll get through it together. The four of us always do.”

She knows this, she does. “This is going to sound ridiculous, but I really let myself believe things would work out for us. I thought that down the line we’d get married, we’d have a child.” Tears roll down her cheek, but she doesn’t wipe them away. “It was a stupid thing to think about.”

“It wasn’t stupid. Don’t get mad at me for this, and the last thing I want to do is hurt you more, but he loves you, and I don’t think that’s changed. We were all surprised at who he was around you, at how obvious he was about it without saying it outright. Talk to him, Liv. Because as hard as it is on you, I have a feeling it’s not much easier on him.”

“I can’t—”

The door behind her creaks open and she spins her head around to find Elliot walking into the room. He seems exhausted, and it takes him seconds for him to adjust to the room, almost as if he’d been somewhere else in his mind. Their eyes connect, and neither of them can look away, and God, she loves him. She’s always going to love him, and it’s fucking killing her.

Olivia looks away from him and stands up, pressing her nearly bare chest into the hidden expanse of her locker. “Can I call you back?”

“Where are you?” Another child cries in the background of Heather’s call. “Never mind, you’re where you always are. Call me in a couple of days, okay? And Liv, I mean it. If you need a vacation, my door is always open. I love you.”

“Love you too,” she murmurs and she wishes Elliot would go, but she can hear him breathing a foot away from her, like he’s waiting for her, waiting, waiting, waiting. “Thank you.”

Olivia hangs up the phone, inhaling a deep, shaky breath. She can do this. She’s pretended for so many years that one more lifetime isn’t going to make a difference.

“One of the girls?” Elliot asks.

She reaches for her shirt, and slides it over her head quickly. He’s seen it before, all of it, all of her that it shouldn’t matter. But as she looks up at him, the perfect curve of his lips, the dominating stance, the way his accent creeps into his words like a secret, she…no, no, no. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

“Yeah. Heather.”

Elliot nods, shoving his hands into his pockets. He stares down at the floor, and she has to get out of this fucking room because the air, it’s lacking and suffocating, and there’s never nearly enough of it in here.

She’s perfected the art of walking out. Okay, she’s perfected the art of coming back as well, and shit, why didn’t she break that habit years ago?

It happens before she realizes it, and it’s only the loud screeching of skin against metal that jolts her back into reality. His hand is pounded into the frame of the bed, a trail of obscenities free falling from his mouth.

“Elliot,” she starts slowly. “You have to get some control over yourself. Don is one more incident away from firing you. You have to calm yourself down.”

His back is to her now; his legs spread evenly apart, his head hanging low. “You go about your goddamn day like this doesn’t affect you at all.” His voice is thick, cracking at the seams.

“If you truly believe that, then you never really knew me.”

“I knew you, Olivia,” Elliot grinds out. “I knew you, and I don’t know how I couldn’t figure out—”

“Stop it,” she whispers, because blaming himself is no better than him blaming her. “I can’t have this conversation with you again.” She moves around him to the door, stopping at the threshold. There’s noise downstairs, life, movement. “No one down there has any control over what happened and the more you piss them off, the closer you are to getting kicked out of here. Stop doing what you’re doing before it’s too late.”

“I, uh…”

Olivia closes her eyes, one foot closer to the stairs. “You what?”


She clenches her fists. “Damn it, Elliot! Would you yell at me already?”

“What?” He turns around, and for the first time she notices the red in his eyes, a powerful contrast to the now faded blue. “I don’t—”

“Yell at me! Stop taking this out on every other person but the one you’re mad at!”

Elliot shakes his head, staring down at the ground. “I’m not going to yell at you, Liv.”

“Screw you!” Olivia’s hand shakes as yanks his chin up with force. He’s looking at her, the broken reflection of tears causing her stomach to churn. She bites down on her lower lip, while attempting to keep her hand steady. “Yell at me!”


She can feel the small cracks begin to widen. She’s filled with water, or not enough air or too much goddamn love that she needs to let it out. He’s still staring at her, and for once, she hates her desire to have a child. Through rejection, fear, all the consequences it could cause, she’s never hated her need like she does right now.

Her breathing is erratic, broken. “Yell at me, Elliot. I can’t…I can’t deal with how you look at me, I can’t...You know so much about me, Elliot, things…I…Yell at me. Please.” She’s begging; words sound different when they’re being pleaded with. “Please.”

He takes a step closer to her. She can smell his cologne as he leans in toward her; faint, familiar, no longer. “I’m not going to yell at you,” he says quietly. “I want to.” He gives her a sad smile, shaking his head. “I would love to yell at you for something, but I can’t, Olivia. I can’t…I’m so fucking mad at everything and everyone but at you,” he grinds out. “I miss you.”

Olivia bites down on her lip, tasting the faint trace of blood. “El—”

“I should have known you wanted this. I was so happy that I—”

“Stop,” she whispers, blinking back tears. “Just get mad at me. I need you to yell at me.”

“Quit asking, Olivia. I can’t…I haven’t quite figured out how to let you go.”

He’s making it worse, and her lip quivers beneath her teeth. “We can’t keep doing this.” Her voice sounds like a stranger’s, but then again, she figures it is. She doesn’t know this person, not anymore. “I…I never should have fallen in love with you.”

Yell at me for this. Yell at me. Yell at me.

Elliot bends his head, his breath hitting her face. “You’re not going to bait me. And we both know it’s bullshit.” His hand touches her face, and she gasps, closing her eyes. “I’m sorry that I…I’m sorry I didn’t realize what you wanted.”

“Wasn’t your fault,” she mumbles. The feeling of his hand on her skin scalds her like boiling water. “It’s just what happened. I, uh, I...” I miss you, too. I miss being completely overwhelmed by you. “I should get going.”

She inhales a shaky breath, turning her head toward the door. She wonders how many people have listened to them waste away, how much money has made it into a pool on why Elliot and she have broken up. She’s always a statistic for something; she’s always showcased no matter what she does.

She takes one last look at him, at the lines that are under his eyes as well, at the red that has become far more prominent than the blue ever was, and she wonders how long it’ll take for her to completely shatter under the feet of love.

She’s losing it. Certifiably; uninhibited; completely.

Olivia walks down the stairs, and the eyes that were focused on the crib, on the end of love look away from the train wreck. She’s like a child learning to walk, because she can swear she’s going to fall. One misstep and she’s done. She learned that from her mother on that late night eight years ago. One step that can forever change a life.

John is at his desk when she sits down across from him, and she takes a deep breath, forcing herself to live. She notices how she always has to remind herself to inhale, as if she’d somehow forget until she wasted away into nothing.

“Did I ever tell you my theory about men being like pigeons, Olivia?”

Leave it to John Munch to make her laugh about a fucking pigeon. She picks a pen up off her desk, acting like she’s doing work. Fuck Heather for saying she can’t act; she’s been doing it for most of her life. “Yes, John, you did.”

“There’s another theory that I haven’t told you about. When a pigeon shits, he has no where to do it except in the air. It lands on people, the people get pissed off, and the poor pigeon didn’t mean to hurt anyone or piss them off, he just needed to do his business.”

Olivia looks up warily. “John, I’m not—”

“So, you have this poor pigeon who feels bad because he’s pissed someone off, but he doesn’t know how to communicate so he flies away and punches a locker or a car or something.”

“Pigeons don’t punch things, John.”

“We both know I’m not talking about pigeons.”

“So, you’re saying what?” Olivia leans an elbow on her desk. “That Elliot should take a vacation? It’s none of your damn business. Stay out of it.”

John leans over his desk, looking both ways before he speaks, like he’s crossing a goddamn street. She should have looked both ways before she fucking fell in love, because clearly she’s been hit by a Mack truck.

“It is my business when you’re my partner, Olivia. You have vacation time saved up. Get out of here for a week and deal with it before you get one of us shot out there.”

“John, I’m a good cop.”

“Come on, Olivia, you don’t need to tell me that. Be a Good Samaritan and when the pigeon shits on you, lick your wounds in private. Everyone here knows too much anyway.” He nods in the direction of their captain’s door. “He ran out for a few minutes, but when he gets back you should ask him.”

Behind her, she can hear Elliot walking down the stairs, and she knows John is right. A day, three days, a week, a month, a year, a lifetime…all she needs is some time. Right. Time. Something she’s spent her entire adulthood wasting.

“Yeah,” Olivia mutters, looking back down at her work. “I will.”

June 20, 2009
10:15 P.M.

There’s something about Simon and Lucy’s house that she loves.

It reminds her of what childhood should have been like. Freshly lit candles, the remnants of dinner and dessert and a home cooked meal. She had stepped in the front door of their house hours earlier, and it had knocked her back, caused her to stumble at how much it smelled like Elliot’s old house in Queens. She had been invited to dinner time and time again, by Kathy, by Elliot, once in a while by their kids, and it was hours of children screaming, adult conversations interrupted by phones, questions, answers, the mysteries to life. There had been so much vigor in each of Elliot’s kids, in Lucy’s son, and as she had sat at the dinner table tonight, she wondered if this is what all homes with children smelled like. Food, memories, devotion.

She’s been off of work for five days now, and it hasn’t occurred to her yet to start clawing the walls. Instead, she’s stared at them, at the white that should have been given life with paint, at the shadows that would plague the surface when the sun had been granted sleep for the night. It had taken three days for her to turn her phone back on, and it was loaded with messages from her friends, her brother, her partner all calling to check up on her. She didn’t consider clawing the walls, but she considered throwing her phone against it. She considered Oregon and California and Belize, but even the places she had never been were tainted with his memories. So she had stayed, staring at the walls, allowing darkness to engulf her on the couch because the bed was off limits; it would always be off limits.

It had taken convincing from both Lucy and Simon to drag her ass to Jersey. She had protested, and when not wanting to shower wasn’t a good enough excuse, she had relented. There was no fight left in her, and it’s almost depressing how much this has affected her. She’s still a cop; she can still interrogate the hell out of someone. But for the first time, she understands why the loss of love has known to be so damaging, so painful.

Olivia had seen the looks Lucy and Simon had given her when she came to their doorstep earlier today, as if she’d lost someone to death, as if she’d lost her life and she was now nothing more than a ghost, a spirit left around to conquer and defeat unfinished business. It had taken a total of sixteen minutes before Lucy had pulled Olivia into a bedroom, thirty seconds after that for Olivia to cry. It had broken like a dam, rivers and waves that never seemed to cease and she cursed compassion like she has often these days.

Through the tears, she had started to laugh, and hysterical madness was hysterical no matter what form it came in. She should have been stronger than this, she had confessed, and Lucy had smiled sadly, informing her that love was stronger than all.

What a load of bullshit. Love wasn’t stronger, or more powerful. It was sneaky, and knew the tricks of the trade, but it never really won. No one won when hearts were broken and love never died, just remained with the open wounds that never seemed to heal.

God, she is such a fucking basket case.

The door to James’ bedroom opens and Simon slips through. His steps are light, nearly silent on the hardwood floors, as he walks into the living room. She had watched Simon with Lucy’s son for hours tonight; there was tender laughter of personal jokes only the two of them understood, the rough horsing around because despite his age, Simon was a little boy at heart. Her eyes had welled with tears, and she thought of Elliot, of how—with Eli—he’d hold him, uncurling the blonde of his hair with gentle fingers that had come to know her own hair as well. Lucy had noticed, and touched her hand lightly, and she had felt the welling of tears she had promised to keep down.

In the dim lights from the room, Olivia can see the small smile on Simon’s face as he comes toward her, like this alone can comfort her. It does, she guesses. As much as anything can.

“Do you need anything?” He takes a step closer into the living room. “I know Lucy wanted to talk to you, but she fell asleep in James’ room. I’m sure you don’t want to talk to me about it, but—”

The blanket draped across her fills the couch with ripples and she gathers it into a puddle on her lap to make room. “I don’t know if I want to talk about it with anyone right now.” She gives him a small smile, tilting her head at the open space next to her. “Take a seat.”

“One second.”

Simon walks into the kitchen and she takes the time to stare out the window into the suburban streets of New Jersey. There are lights on in houses, and shadows of those who have lives, families. Her eyes flit to the ring on her left finger, and she clenches her first, watching as the band of gold fades from her line of vision. She hadn’t wanted to take her mother’s ring off, not when she knew that despite death, Serena was the one constant she had. It wasn’t that she was reliable; most of the time she wasn’t, not when alcohol trumped blood, when being drunk stole the memories that existed only in hell. However, while boyfriends could leave, her mother was always hers. She had been right not to take it off. She had been right when Elliot would never slide a ring on her finger, when even the most reliable people walked away because some things never worked no matter how hard she tried.

“Here,” Simon says, handing her a glass of scotch. “I thought you might need this.”

She slides her leg underneath her, her arm resting over the back of the couch. “More than you know.”

She settles into the silence, the burning alcohol warming her throat. He’s looking at her; she knows this because as her eyes sweep across the room, she can feel the heat of his gaze like she used to be able to feel Elliot’s—that intense glare that was able to read inside of her like nothing else could. Simon can look, but he’ll never know her like Elliot once had, like she figures Elliot always will.

“I don’t know if Lucy ever told you this, but there was a point where we broke up for a while.” Olivia snaps her head towards him. There’s a look of understanding in his eyes, and he gazes at James’ closed bedroom door. “I loved her and I loved James, but I wasn’t ready to be a father. You know enough about our…” She closes her eyes, listens to Simon breathe in his wide open living room. “About my dad to understand why I was worried about being a father. Even before you told me about what he did to your mom, he was…he loved me, but he drank too much, wasn’t always the best father. I don’t drink a lot, I rarely lose my temper, but—”

“But you always fear you’re going to become your parents,” Olivia whispers, nodding her head. “I know.”

“It’s not my business, Olivia, but I know what you’re going through. I feel like I should be protective of you and go out and kick Stabler’s ass despite the fact that he could kick mine…” She smiles, but it never fully lifts her lips. She’s not sure it ever will again. “But I’ve been in his place. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you.”

“I just…” She looks up at him, the tears burning her eyes. She’s so sick and tired of people telling her that Elliot still loves her. “I can’t keep talking about this like it’s the end of the world. I can’t keep having this conversation.”

“Then don’t. We can get drunk off of scotch and tell shitty stories about our lives.” Simon gives her a smile, raising his glass to his lips. “What would you rather use? Pens or pencils?”

He’s bringing them back to that first night on her couch, to the beginning when life was complicated, painful, and yet somehow better, less hurtful than this. All of the worst things in her life, all the suffering never seemed as bad as this. She wonders if there’s something worse than the loss of love, than the loss of Elliot.

“Pens,” Olivia answers, quietly. “Blue, not black.”

“Day or night?”

There are demons in both; no one knows that as well as she does. “Most of the time they’re the same.”

“Coffee or tea?”

Olivia’s eyes slip closed, her chest aching. It had taken months for Elliot to start bringing her coffee again after she had given up tea. She had teased him about his memory, about never listening to her even though it wasn’t true. He listened; he listened and brought her tea because he knew she still loved the taste, because even if she claimed her need for dark, black, Columbian caffeine, he knew she was proud of sticking to tea for so long.

“For the longest time, Elliot was the only person I had.” She’s surprised it’s come out of her mouth when she had been all set to answer with tea. “I had friends, but I didn’t see them enough, I didn’t…Elliot was always there. He defended me, watched me in the field. He was my best friend. So, what do I have now, Simon? What did ten, eleven months of a relationship give me? It took everything from me.”

What is she doing? She doesn’t spill her secrets like a little girl at a slumber party, and she’s done it far too much these days. With Kim, with Heather, with Simon…She doesn’t know who this person is, and maybe without Elliot, she’s never truly known.

“I’m not good with the advice, Olivia. I do the math and science thing because it’s logic, not emotion. But if you want some half assed advice from your brother, I’m willing to give it to you.”

“Please,” Olivia says gently, with a wave of her hand in the air. “To be honest, I’m not sure it matters at this point.”

Simon takes a sip of his scotch, the amber liquid tilting on the sides of the glass. It’s like gold in this light, like treasure. “You’re better than this, Olivia. You’re…You go out there every day and you do what you have to do to save other people. Elliot is…I can’t tell you what eleven months gave you. But I know you. You will get past this.”

“You don’t do this job, Simon. You don’t understand how much it takes out of you. He was…he made it easier to deal with everyday. Even when we weren’t partners, knowing he was there somehow made it easier.”

“Nothing is ever easy, but you—”

On the table, her cell phone vibrates, interrupting him. She’s off of work until Monday, and she’s not sure she can handle the compassion of one more person. But when she looks at the caller ID, her heart stops at the name lit up in a faint blue. Maureen Stabler. This is a different kind of compassion; this is what will not only make her cry, but cause her a slow, torturous death.

“Take it.” Simon takes the glass out of her hand, the slightest bit of liquid left inside. “I’ll get you a refill.”

Olivia wants to scream at him to come back; she doesn’t need to take this call. She shouldn’t take this call. She shouldn’t be speaking to his daughter when she’s barely speaking to him, when the young woman who has become a friend can be one no longer. Another thing she’s lost. Another person gone.

“Maureen,” she answers, and there must be ice in her throat, because it sounds numb, frozen. “How are you?”

There’s static and commotion on the other end of the line; a life that knows no bounds, that hasn’t felt too much pain. “Good, I’m good. Look, Olivia, I just…I know this is weird, me calling and everything, but I…I’m going to Florida with some friends next week, and I just, I wanted to wish you a happy birthday. You know, in case I didn’t have cell reception or something.”

Olivia can feel the tears brush against her cheek, the bitter salt that slides into her mouth. Simon was right. She’s better than this. She has to be better than this. She bites down on her lower lip, but it doesn’t stop, the fucking emotion doesn’t let up. She had told Elliot his daughter was going to Florida, and she almost reminds Maureen to let him know, until she remembers it’s no longer her job, that taking care of him isn’t her place anymore.

“Liv,” Maureen mutters, “I didn’t…I shouldn’t have called. I’m sorry.”

Shit, she needs her scotch. “No, I’m glad you did. That’s very sweet of you.”

The lull of silence dangles in the warm summer night. She thinks of the lunch she’s spent with Maureen, the night of Guitar Hero, karaoke, of how she looks so much like Elliot when she’s showing her concern.

“He hasn’t been home a lot,” Maureen blurts out. “Not sure where he is, the precinct maybe. But when he’s home, Mark’s been spending time with him, watching games and stuff. Mark says he’s barely there even when he’s there and I’m not asking you to explain it, Liv, because he’s my dad and I don’t want to know his business. But, like, if you’re both miserable, isn’t it stupid you’re apart?” She laughs then, and it’s quiet, almost sad. “You would think I’d have better words after being a psychology student, huh?”

He’s miserable; she’s miserable; relationships are miserable. Welcome to her goddamn life.

“It’s complicated, honey. Things are going well with Mark?”

“They’re great. Still kind of a pain that he lives next door to Dad, but you know, it’s not too bad.”

Olivia can hear the voices on the other line and she wonders where Maureen is, if she’s next door to Elliot’s apartment. She hadn’t been to work in too long to know if he’s been sleeping there, if his place is also tainted with memories that can no longer be relived.

“Listen, Liv, I have to go, but I just…have a good birthday, okay?”

“I will,” Olivia lies, and she’s gotten good at that. “Have a safe trip.”

Simon hands her a refill when she puts the phone down. He’s filled it more than halfway, and she thinks it’s amusing that two children of alcoholics allow the liquor when bad has turned to worse. She sips it, the burn settling her, numbing her bruised heart.

“It was his daughter,” Olivia says, even though Simon doesn’t ask. She doesn’t know how it had taken so long for her to realize that she had been here with Elliot, that she had kissed him on this couch. It had been the beginning then; it would have been easier to have said goodbye then. “Calling to wish me a happy birthday.”

“That’s nice.” He wipes his finger over the rim of the glass before looking at her. “Having step children can be the same as your own kids.”

Like most men, Simon is a moronic, idiot sometimes.

“No,” Olivia asserts, “it’s not. His kids have a mother and…I know how much you love James and I think you’re an incredible father to him. But this situation is different, Simon.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to imply—”

“I know. What made you change your mind about Lucy? What made you come back?”

“I realized that being a father wasn’t nearly as bad as living my life without Lucy and James.” Simon tilts his glass, and the scotch looks like fields of gold rumbling in the summer winds. “If it doesn’t work out with him, you will move past this. I’ve dealt with enough breakups to know that.”

She wants to tell Simon that it’s not the same. It can’t be the same when she’s relied on Elliot to save her life for the past ten years, when she’s lost her best friend, her boyfriend, her partner, what could soon be her job if they don’t figure this out soon enough. But instead, she nods her head because she’s been through so much, and this is just one more scar to add to her display.

“Did you buy Lucy a ring yet?”

“Last week. I was thinking about asking her on the fourth. Her dad’s family does this big event on the Jersey shore every year, thought it would be nice. You’re more than welcome to come.” Simon looks down at his watch, groaning. “I should get to bed. Have to be up at four for the early shift. Unless you want—”

“No, no. I’m fine, really.” She grips the glass tighter in her hand. “Thanks for letting me spend the night, Simon.”

“That’s what family is for.” He stands up, dropping his hand onto Olivia’s shoulder. “If you need anything, you know where to find me.”

She lies back against the couch, her eyes focused on the dining room. She can see Elliot and her on that night long ago, a month or two into dating. There had been mentions of first kisses, of the game of Jacks that she had always loved. They had still been getting to know each other then, things nine years had never taught them, and it had still surprised her every time he laughed or smiled in her direction. She thinks he had called her sweetheart for the first time that night, and she can recall how it startled her, how even after all the sex she didn’t expect this kind of intimacy. She had felt like she belonged somewhere that night, with people and a life she had never expected for herself.

Olivia stares at those ghosts now, the laughter fading into the night, and she wishes she could tell them to stop. She hadn’t been in love yet, and if she had known then that this is how it would end, she would have let him go. She would have given up the rebinding of her mother’s book, body paint in the Hamptons, her lunch with Maureen. She would have given it up not to end up where she is now.

She stares up at the ceiling, and she knows she won’t sleep tonight. Even her brother’s house is tainted with Elliot’s smell, his hands on her skin.

The longest she’s gone without sleep has been four days due to the job. She wonders how many days it’ll be before she completely shuts down, and sleep claims hold of her without giving her a choice, like everything else these days.

June 28, 2009
11:11 P.M.

Olivia had once been told that when the clock hit the same numbers, she was to make a wish.


She had always glanced at the time before without paying attention, never thinking to make a wish on a childhood game when it wasn’t a reality. Wishing on numbers of the same kind wasn’t going to change fate, or circumstance or whatever was thrown in her direction on that particular day. But as she stares at the clock now, the placement of four ones glowing in an icy green, she closes her eyes. She should be wishing for safer streets, the eviction of all perps, but she finds herself thinking of Elliot like she does so often these days.

Bring him back to me. Let me…

She stops in mid thought, because wishing on the same numbers was like her being a child wishing Santa Claus was real, or wishing her mother wouldn’t be drunk for just one night. There were some things that could be asked again and again and God, or someone up there, had ulterior motives, a different course of plans.

Her eyes open and adjust to the darkness, to the shadows of light from outside that cast objects across the wall. She watches as headlights pass, gleaming across the bland coloring, and how they disappear within seconds, like a lost dream. She had spent her night with a bottle of wine and the darkness, another birthday lost to a hopeless year. There had been calls from the same people who always called her and it did nothing but remind her of the breakup she had suffered weeks before. Too much fucking concern, because turning forty-one and still living life like a damn monk, was clearly a problem.

She hadn’t seen Elliot today. He had been in court, and she on the streets, a carefully, choreographed dance that was a saving grace today. She didn’t need to be reminded of the birthday they never made it to, of cupcakes and late night sex, and a life she had come so close to achieving. She thinks she could kill whoever invented love; either that or kill the muscle inside of her that allowed her to do such a thing.

Olivia reaches for her glass of wine on the nightstand. The crimson liquid is bitter on the tip of her tongue, and it travels down her throat, warming her stomach. It takes minutes to realize that she’s started to cry, the salt mixing with the bouquet of berries in her Cabernet. She could force herself to stop, but as a present to herself, she allows this. It’s slow at first, the steady fall of tears, until she gives herself permission to break. There’s no one around; there’s no one to find her weak.

She can’t do this anymore. She can’t keep letting herself be this person when she has spent so long getting strong. Tonight, she thinks, is the end. Tomorrow, when she wakes up, she will let this go, let him go once and for all.

She doesn’t hear it at first, not over the sound of her sobs, but she hears when the footsteps come closer, the paces that have guided her steps for the past ten years. She inhales on a cry, and her body stiffens. Tomorrow is too late; tonight, she will let him go.

Elliot sits down on the corner of her bed, and she doesn’t falter, doesn’t turn to face him. There’s movement behind her, something being placed on the nightstand that had come to his side of the bed eight months in. He had complained about needing a spot for his water, his book that he never actually read in her presence, and on one sunny Saturday afternoon, she had given him a wooden stand so he’d shut the hell up.

“Happy birthday, baby,” he says softly, and she doesn’t know whether to punch him or say thank you. The use of the word baby on his tongue stings her heart with the smallest pricks of pain.

She can taste the tears on her lips, the bitter regret of a life she wishes she didn’t want. She shouldn’t want children when she’s seen what can happen, when the genes of her parents singe her skin, her veins and have left her lifeless so many times before. She shouldn’t want it when she has him here, when he loves her like nothing and no one ever has before.

There’s a life force on her chest, making it hard to breathe, to survive. “What are you doing here?” she manages, and she gives herself credit because it doesn’t shake with as much sadness as she believed it would.

He shifts on top of the covers behind her, and she wonders what he’s put down on the table; she wonders how long she’s going to be forced into smelling him on her skin, how long he’s going to stay there when she needs him to go, when she needs to find the life that she had before she fell in love.

“I…I’m sorry,” Elliot murmurs. He sounds like a record that’s been played too many times. There are too many scratches in it, and his words are skipping like an endless replay. He shifts again on the bed, and he might be lying behind her now, or maybe she wishes he was, or…or maybe it doesn’t matter anymore. Mother fucker. “I need to say something to you, and I’m asking you to give me a minute.”

Olivia nods, and she can feel the breath of his fumbling words on the back of her bare neck. Her hair has been pulled up into a bun, small tendrils left loose lifting from the heat of his mouth. Her body shakes, and it takes his palm six seconds to reach underneath her shirt to calm her nerves. The shivers continue, but she’s warm, and she thinks that’s love and hate battling the ultimate fight. This is how she’s going to die. Not from a knife, a bullet, the job, but from his touch.

“When Maureen was five, she was the lead in her kindergarten play. She had begged me to come to it, made me promise work wouldn’t get in the way, and one minute before I was about to leave, I got called out on a patrol. She didn’t speak to me for one week. When Kathleen was sixteen, she asked me to let her go out on a date with this boy she liked. Growing up, she never showed interest and when she did, Kathy made me agree to let her go. She was so excited, and I missed it because we were on a scene. When Liz—”

She doesn’t need to hear about all five of his kids, not now, not tonight. “You still didn’t answer my question,” she mutters, without turning to face him. She knows his eyes, how he looks when he rests beside her.

“I’ve missed so much, Olivia, and the idea of having another child whose life I will miss out on scares the shit out of me.”

“Elliot.” She’s firm, her hands clenching the blanket around her. “It’s over. You’re not making this easier on either of us, so please, just go.”

“Listen to me.” His hand stills over her back, his fingers curved around her spine. He’s too soft for Elliot, and she wonders where they’d be now if they had never gone on that date long ago. “I swore with Eli that things would be different. I would spend more time with him, I would be the father that my other kids deserved and never got…but I’m not, Olivia. And I just…I couldn’t do that again.” She can hear the laced web of tears in his voice, and she squeezes her eyes shut, the moisture slipping down her cheek as well. “I thought we were doing the right thing in breaking up, I thought that…that if I was selfless enough I’d let you go and allow you that chance of having a child.” Elliot’s hand moves over her again, the rough skin of his fingers causing goose bumps across her skin despite the heat. “I’m in love with you, Olivia.”


“I love that you have read The Catcher in the Rye at least once every two months since we’ve started dating simply because it reminds you of your mother. I love that even if you’ll never bake for me again, you still can. I love that you have this friendship with Maureen that I never expected you to have. I can’t…I can’t promise you I will be a better father with our child than I was with them, but I can’t lose you over this, Liv.”

Olivia turns over in bed, his face blurred by the tears that refuse to diminish. “And I can’t force a child on you because you can’t lose me. I can’t do that, Elliot. As much as I want to…You can’t come in here and say our child like it’s something you want to give me when it’s not.” She closes her eyes, and God, this is going to kill her. “You told me you had to let me go, so do it, Elliot. Stop…don’t come to me and tell me this when things haven’t and won’t change.”

There’s so much confirmation in his voice that it’s startling, unnerving. “I can’t stop thinking about it. I can’t stop thinking about what it would be like to have a kid with you. I don’t…I’m not telling you I’ll do this because it’s the only way you’ll take me back. I’m not...” She knows him well enough to know he’s struggling to find his words, the ground beneath his feet. “You are the only constant thing in my life, Liv. I need…” He lowers his head, shaking it quickly. “I shouldn’t be doing this to you today. I’m sorry.” Elliot looks up, lifting her chin with two of his fingers. “I love you,” he whispers, and she can taste his words when he kisses her.

There are promises running through her brain faster than she can process, but God, she needs him. Forty fucking years of being independent, and she needs him more than she ever has.

“I don’t know how to make this work,” Olivia croaks on a hitch of tears. “I don’t know how to let you go anymore than I know how to give up the chance to have a child.”

“I thought about it once things ended, I…I thought about a lot of things.”

She doesn’t know what possesses her to ask, but she finds her mouth forming two single words. “Like what?”

There’s hope in his voice now, and it sounds like those mornings they slept in late, the nights his hands would roam her body as he talked about the past, the present, what could be the future. She can’t have hope, not yet.

“If we had a girl, you’d use the name Serena in any way you could. You would be the mother who, if we had a son, would be running around with him, and when he was old enough, you’d take him to the firing range because it’s what you love. You’d want our kid to have my eyes, because you don’t have your mother’s, and you’d want Simon and Lucy to really know our kid so you felt like you were giving him or her a family you never had.” He slides his fingers through her hair, gripping her face in his hands. “I want it, Olivia. I want this with you.”

“You keep saying our kid, you can say you want it, but you don’t, El.” Olivia stares at him, tries to read the emotions that flit across the blue of his eyes. “You don’t go from not wanting another child to suddenly wanting one. In five years, ten years, I don’t need you resenting me because I forced you into this decision, or because you made this decision in fear of losing me.”

A strand of hair twirls around his finger, but his hands remain under her chin, forcing her to look at him. “And in five to ten years, I don’t want to regret losing you over something that would be amazing. I might not be the best father, but I love my children more than anything.”

“I know you do, but we’re talking about you and me and a sixth child in your case.” She wonders where the tears have gone, where conviction comes from when it feels like all has been lost. “It’s a lot, Elliot. I know that, and I’ve respected that the entire time. I can’t…I can’t say yes to this and have you change your mind down the line.”

“I wouldn’t tell you I would do this unless I was absolutely sure.” Elliot nuzzles his lips against her forehead, kissing her lightly. “I’m not giving you the best genes, Liv. My mother is sick, my daughter is sick, and to be honest, you might be better off with a donor whose history is concrete. I want to make sure you’re considering that.”

“When I thought about asking you a few years ago…” She looks down at the blanket, at the outline of his frame on her bed. Her eyes lift until she’s staring at him, until he fills her line of sight completely. “It was never about genes, it was…I’ve only ever relied on the girls. And then you came along, and I…It was never about genes, Elliot. It was about trust.”

“Then let me do this for you.”

She inhales a sharp breath, shaking her head. “No.”


“I don’t want you to do it for me. I don’t want to feel like you’re sacrificing something for me. I don’t doubt that I’ll always love you, but I won’t let myself be indebted to you because you gave me this.”

“What can I do to convince you that I’m in this?”

“Tell me why.” It’s a secret that escapes her lips; soft, yearning. “Tell me why you suddenly want this. And don’t say because you can’t lose me. I won’t have a child with you for that reason alone.”

He looks like he’s searching for words to string into sentences, phrases to be lined with meaning. He’s not a vocal man, and she watches the struggle in the twitch of his lips, the fluttering of his eyes.

“There are a lot of things I didn’t miss out on. I was there when Liz took her first step, when Dickie scored his first goal in hockey. I held Eli the afternoon he was born and forgot what it was like to be that deeply devoted to someone.” His hand travels down her face, to her shoulder, her arm. His touch is gentle, and she sighs because if this were to end again she knows she won’t be able to handle it. “I didn’t…I didn’t want another kid until I remembered how much I love being a father. Until Maureen gave me her boyfriend for the week because she thought it would make me feel better, and Dickie forced me to play another round of guitar hero.” He smiles at her faintly. “Until I realized how much I would love to see you as a mother.”

Jesus fucking Christ.

If someone could return the old Elliot to her, that would be fantastic.

Tears blur her vision and she swipes at them. “I don’t…I don’t know.”

“Olivia, I’ve never disappointed you—” She lifts an eyebrow, and he laughs. “I’ve never disappointed you in this relationship aside from the occasional fight. We can make this work.”

“This is a big deal, Elliot. This is forever. If I had asked you to be a donor, you would have been the biological father, but this…after all we’ve been through…you’d be a dad. If this were to end—”

“Why are you so sure it’s going to end?”

“Because it did end! You and I are not together.”

“Do you really want to sit here and tell me that it ended for any other reason than what we’re discussing? Tell me you don’t love me, Olivia. Tell me we broke up for other reasons, and I will walk out of here right now.”

The anger she’s relying on doesn’t quite reach her lips. She can’t agree to this, not when there’s more at risk with a child, when losing him again would be so much worse than the first time. She can tell him she doesn’t love him. They’re words that result in lies, but she’s falsified the truth before in order to save those who were desperate, in need. She’ll leave New York, find solace in the California sun and Heather and Zoe’s lives. She can move to Texas to be near Kim, or leave the country so that all the time zones in the world stand between Elliot and her. She had told him earlier she couldn’t live without him, and it had to have been a lie, because she has lived without him. Through childhood, her mother’s rage, her best friends, college…she can do this. She will do this.

“I don’t…” The last word cracks like fallen ice, and she inhales. “I don’t…” Love. You. I. Don’t. Love. You. “I love you,” she whispers, and she can taste his tongue inside of her mouth before her declaration fully escapes her lips.

“Then do this with me,” Elliot soothes. “Have a kid with me.”

“El…I just—”

“I’m not going to change my mind.” He runs his hand underneath her shirt, dragging his finger along the wire of her bra, and her inhale is sharp, broken with tears. “We’re not all that good at getting rid of each other, no matter how hard we try, sweetheart.”

Elliot pulls the blanket away from her covered waist, and she’s hit with the cool chill of the air conditioner as it crosses over her bare legs. He climbs on top of her, resting his body over hers, and God, it’s too much. His presence, his weight, the taste of his lips that she’s imagined in the patches of sleep she’s accumulated over the past twenty-two days. He pulls her hair from the band it’s wrapped up in, the gentle waves she hadn’t bothered to straighten spilling across her shoulders. His mouth travels down her neck, into her cleavage, down her stomach. She whimpers into the room, and her façade is gone when he pulls down her underwear, sliding back over her body.

She watches as he peels the clothes from his body, each piece of material falling onto the floor like waste.

“I love you,” Elliot whispers, when he slides inside of her.

Olivia’s gasp is strangled by his lips, and she moves underneath him to match the rhythm he’s created. In the future, she’ll remember how his hands had touched every piece of her skin, and she had ached with need until she thought she’d disperse into dust, ash. She’ll recall how his eyes hadn’t left hers and his fingers had combed through the waves like she had imagined in Oregon on restless nights, how he kept repeating her name over and over again, like blessings and prayers could be granted if asked for hard enough.

He’s grinding faster, but he’s gentle, so gentle, and this isn’t the man she’s known for nine years, but the one she’s loved for nearly eleven months. She had spent so long trying to convince herself that she needed his anger to know who he was, but this is all she wants, this is all that matters. He’s no longer her partner, and while she’s hated him before as a boyfriend, she’s always loved him a little bit more.

“Elliot,” she moans, and there’s hope in it, along with the faint whisper of her tears. She cups his face in her hands, bringing his lips down to hers. “Are you sure you want to do this?” she whispers.

He stops moving inside of her, his elbows braced on the blanket. “Yes.”

The simple statement of his answer, the conviction in his voice causes her eyes to close. There’s so much to lose if she agrees to this, so much to gain. She wraps her arms around his neck, pulling him closer until his heart settles over hers.

“You’re going to have a hard time topping my birthday next year after this one.”

Elliot laughs into her skin, and shit, she’s missed that sound. “I have time to work on it.”

He begins to move inside of her again, slowly. She wraps her legs around his waist, lifting herself so he’s so deep inside of her that he’s invading every part of her, the emptiness from the past month slowly beginning to fade. She lets herself fall back onto the mattress, trusting him to bring her to the edge.

The movements escalate and then slow, escalate and slow, a constant pattern, a constant roller coaster that can easily sum up their lives. His mouth is hot against her skin, and she groans, dangerously close to letting herself go. It’s like falling in love, like one moment that bottoms out beneath her feet and she’s left in bliss, in a haze of words that can never sum up meaning.

“I love you,” Olivia mutters, and the slow moving thrusts turn powerful, rendering her helpless.

She lets herself go, tasting him on her lips, tasting the salty bitterness of too much emotion. He comes seconds behind her, his face buried in her neck, and she doesn’t know if he’s crying or if it’s remnants from her. Her name bites at her skin as he breathes onto her, and she braces her hands over the short strands of his hair.

“You made me want to be a mother more than I ever thought possible.” There’s a sliver of sadness in her voice, but she’s strong, she’s finally strong. “You can tell me a million times what a lousy father you are but God, Elliot, you’re amazing to watch when you’re with them. You just…It never would have worked if I had asked you to be a donor. It never would have worked because I respect you far too much as a dad to not let my child have you.” Olivia runs her hands over the hard muscles on his chest, over the ridges and curves. “You’ve taught me so much more than you realize about being a parent.”

Elliot slides his hands underneath her shirt, and she nearly laughs. He hadn’t bothered to take it off until now and she lifts her arms, letting it slide over her head, onto the floor. He blows air around the curve of her breast, causing her to shiver. He’s still inside of her, and he lifts his head, looking at the nightstand. He takes a cupcake from the surface, producing it in front of her. He smiles, dipping his finger into the frosting.

“You asked for a cupcake. I figured I should bring you one.” He draws it over her lips, and it reminds her of their body paint as he licks the pink icing from her.

“You’re not even going to let me taste it?” she asks smiling. It feels weird, forgotten, right.

Elliot swipes another finger through it, holding his finger out to her. She takes it into her mouth, sucking it off gently. It’s sweet on her tongue, and she loves him for this alone.

He rolls off of her, pulling the blankets up around them. His body is flush against hers, and she takes the cupcake from his hand, peeling off the edge of the wrapper.

“Are we really doing this?” she asks, breaking apart the chocolate cake.

“We’re really doing this.”

She dips a finger into the icing, holding it out for him. He sucks it off of her, his tongue heated. “If we do this, El, if I go off birth control, I don’t want…I don’t want you to ask me to marry you because you feel you have to. If this lasts—”

“Stop saying if, Olivia.”

“Stop thinking it will when your marriage didn’t. I just…I don’t want you to propose because we’re considering having a child.”

“I will never propose to you,” Elliot mocks. “Happy?”

“You’re an asshole.”

“I’ve missed you calling me that.” His arms wrap around her tighter, and with one hand behind him, he reaches for a single white envelope. “Happy birthday, Liv.”

Olivia hands him the cupcake, sliding her finger under the flap of the envelope. There’s a joke on the front, something generic, unfunny. Inside, scrawled across the once white card is his handwriting, the same handwriting she had claimed unreadable for the past decade. He’s staring at her, and she considers that maybe she should read it aloud, but the words stare at her, and she can’t quite speak against the lump in her throat.

Tu eres el único que realmente me conoció.
Happy birthday.

She closes the card, leaning back on the pillows. His smile is wide, the touch of his fingers prancing on her skin gentle. “Did you use your dictionary for that?”

“No, that piece of shit didn’t help me at all.”

She laughs, and God, it feels so fucking good to be here again. “Are you just going to insult my presents from now on? Because believe me, Elliot, I never wanted that damn cookbook.” She pulls down his jaw with her fingers, kissing him lightly. “Tell me something good about the past three weeks.”

“I’ve almost conquered the medium level on guitar hero.” Elliot combs his fingers through her hair, and she slides her bare leg between his. “I think you owe me another pair of underwear for being such a rock star.”

She wonders how it is that easiness can so effortlessly turn to complications; that complications can so effortlessly turn easy.

“Yeah,” Olivia mutters, closing her eyes. “I’ll get right on that.”

June 30, 2009
3:29 A.M.

Olivia turns over in bed, reaching her arm out to the other side. The sheets rustle in her hands, and she groans, opening one eye. Her vision adjusts to the streetlamps streaming through her windows, the shadows cast across Elliot’s side of the bed. For a second, she wonders if it was a dream that he had been here hours ago, if the only sleep she has finally caught has haunted her with dreams of him.

She reaches for his pillow and it smells like him, a breath of relief escaping her lips. He had been here: on her birthday, last night, very early this morning. She remembers now the ringing phone in the middle of the night, the gentle kiss to her lips as he muttered something about heading to a crime scene and how he’d see her at work in a few hours. She rolls onto her back, staring up at the dancing, undulating shadows, listening to the faint honking of horns in the city that never sleeps. Her hair pools around her shoulders, and she moves it to the side, allowing herself to breath.

Her chest lifts—up and down, up and down—and she’s finally calm. She had slept in his arms on the night of her birthday, never pushing him away. There had been whispered admissions long after they had agreed to give this a shot, laughter that was no longer tainted with the weeks before. He had told her about the kids, and she had missed it, missed how his eyes would light up, how his voice would soften. She had told him about Munch’s newest pigeon reference, and when morning came he was still there, still holding her.

And last night, when they had gotten home, she had gone into the bathroom, opening up her medicine cabinet. The package of birth control sat inside and she had held it in her hands for minutes, turning the soft velvet over and over. She heard Elliot in her bedroom rustling around, and she didn’t know how long she had been standing there when he finally peeked in. He had said her name so softly, and he had taken the pack from her hands, tossing it into the trash. Sex had been different after that, more powerful, more life altering, and she still doesn’t believe this is happening, that everything can so powerfully change in such a short amount of time.

Now, she glances at the clock, at the triple numbers. 3:33. She smiles faintly, closing her eyes. Minutes must have passed because when she opens them from the incessant ringing of her phone, the clocks green numbers bleed with 3:52.

Olivia blindly reaches for her cell phone, bringing it to her ear. “Benson,” she murmurs.

“Liv, it’s Fin.”

Both legs swing over the side of the bed before he can say another word. She’s done this job long enough, been with these men long enough to know tones, hitches of the voice, all the things left unspoken when the news is anything but good. She pulls on a pair of jeans, the phone still gripped tightly in her hand, because even without speaking, she knows Elliot’s partner wouldn’t call her at four in the morning without reason.

“What happened?”

“Elliot was shot. He—”

The panic rises in her chest, and she pushes it down, because dammit, she’s not going to lose him to a fucking bullet. “Where is he?”

“Liv, he’s—”

She’s out of the room, scooping her keys off the kitchen table. The door slams shut behind her; the soles of her shoes pound against the stairs. “Where is he, Fin?”

“NYU, but he’s—”

The phone is snapped shut, and she’s pressing hard on the accelerator before she can hear another word.

June 30, 2009
5:49 A.M.

“You never listen, do you?” Elliot grins from his hospital bed. “How long did it take you to get down here?”

Olivia leans against the framing of the door, smiling, despite the glimpse of the bandage wrapped around his leg. “Ten minutes, across town. You would have been proud.” She comes into the room, holding a box in her hands. “When are you going to stop getting yourself shot?”

“When it stops being so much damn fun,” he answers sarcastically. “What is that?” he asks, jutting his head at the box.

She sits down on the corner of the bed, pressing her forehead against his. She hasn’t lost him yet; she hasn’t lost him. “You scared the shit out of me.”

“Hey, Liv, I’m fine. We can’t all be like you and never get hit by a bullet.”

She’s been hit enough: with knives, fists, the loss of love. “I’m serious, El. When Fin called, I panicked. You’ve gotten shot before, you’ve…I’ve never felt like that when I’ve gotten the call. How’s the leg?”

“Sore, but fine. Been hit worse before. I’ll be on desk duty for a while. Bullet hasn’t killed me, but that might.” He presses his lips to her forehead. “You going to show me what’s in the box? Was it for my ashes?”

Olivia glares at him. “Not amusing, Elliot.” She tosses the box at him. “When they were extracting the bullet and Fin said in no such terms that I was a moron for racing down here when you were fine, I went into the twenty-four hour gift shop. Figured since you were going to be down for a while, you could always resort back to the first thing you wanted to be.”

He’s like a little boy as he dumps the Legos onto the gray quilted bedspread, spreading them out as his face lights up. He pats the space next to him and she carefully slides into bed beside him, making sure not to hurt his wounded leg. She holds a section of the bumpy plastic in her hand, absentmindedly turning it over in her hands, as she watches him place piece over piece on top of each other.

“Are you okay?” Elliot asks quietly, tilting his head to look at her.

She nods, smiling. “Fine.”

“Liv, I’m—”

“I know. I know you’re okay. I just…” She clears the tears from her throat. “When do you get out of here?”

“Tomorrow, I think.” His brow crinkles. “Later today, I mean. You’re going to have to take care of me, and feed me—”

“Your hands still work, El. You can feed yourself.”

“What about sponge baths?”

She rolls her eyes, handing him a Lego. “Build your damn empire, Stabler.”

Maybe he’s had too much morphine because he laughs again, kissing her cheek. “Yes, Detective.” He slides one hand over her back, soothing her. “I’m sorry the call scared you.”

“Part of the job.” She adds a green colored piece onto his budding building. “We need to set some ground rules about this injury of yours. One, I’m not your slave. If you can stand up and go to the bathroom by yourself, and we both know you will, then you can also walk to the kitchen.”

“You’re such a hardass,” he muses, continuing his piece of art. “What are the other ground rules?”

“I’m not giving you a sponge bath.” A smile splits her lips, and she leans into him. “Well, maybe once or twice so you’re not putting too much pressure on the leg.”

“I can deal with that.” He holds up his masterpiece. “Thanks for getting this for me. You might save me from killing these asshole doctors around here.”

Olivia leans over, kissing him softly. “That was the point. And El, do me a favor? I’ve somehow managed over a decade of not getting shot.” Her lips stretch across his. “Try doing the same.”

Chapter Text

Month Twelve: July, 2009

July 4, 2009
3:15 P.M.

There are times when her life is like a damn alternate universe.

It was a little more than a year ago when she had been teetering dangerously close to the edge, an endless free fall of one pile of crap after another. She's not sure when it started—somewhere along the time of Gitano, maybe—but since that moment, she had let her life fall downhill. Computer crimes, Oregon, Sealview, breaking down, wanting a child, refusing to break down, needing a child even more. She lived in the path of destruction and while she wasn't aiming for death or the end of her career, she took more risks than she ever would have imagined years ago.

She thinks that's one of the reasons she had accepted Elliot's date eleven months ago. What was one more risk when it came to her job after she'd already taken part in so many? But even on that first date, she hadn't expected much. She hadn't expected to be with him for nearly a year, to fall in love with him, to lose her partnership with him, and she certainly didn't expect this agreement to have a child together. Not when he had five, when their jobs took over their lives more often than not and she had forced herself to believe she’d never become a mother.

All of a sudden the crap dispersed and she was left with Elliot as well as a decent—if not good—relationship with his children. There were still shitty days in her job, moments where she wanted nothing more than to slide into bed and sleep for endless hours until the filth of the day dissipated from her soul, but for the most part she's happy.

Which is why she figures she's living in a damn alternate universe.

The sun beats down on a portion of Olivia's arm not hidden by the beach umbrella, and she moves it slightly to erase any uneven tan line. Elliot's youngest son rests on her chest, his small breaths hitting her skin as he sleeps. His head is crooked in her neck, and she finds herself weaving her fingers through his hair absentmindedly, uncurling the blonde strands, only to have them bounce back into place. She digs her toes into the heated sand, and beside her, Elliot's arm dangles over the edge of his chair, his eyes closed behind sunglasses and she waits. She waits with fear for the argument that is bound to come when relaxing has taken hold of their day, as if she’s forever doomed to believe that peace and quiet comes with a ticking bomb in tow.

"Relax, Liv," Elliot mutters, turning his head to face her. The glasses still shield his eyes, but through the half tinted shades, she notices that they remain closed.

"Look at the pot calling the kettle black. Since when do you even know what the word relax means?"

"Since a bullet got lodged in my leg less than a week ago." Elliot covers one arm over his forehead, stifling a yawn. "I'm sure I'll drive myself crazy in no time at all, though."

"There's the Elliot Stabler I know and love."

Down the beach, Olivia watches Mark and Maureen splashing around in the ocean. For the first time since she's been dating Elliot, she sees Maureen as that fifteen year old girl who lived for her friends, boys, a life of no responsibilities, no fears. Even without hearing her, Olivia can see she's laughing as Mark shoves water at her. Maureen turns her head, her blonde hair flying in front of her face, and she laughs harder, because happiness is never subjective when you're inside of it.

She thinks about it a lot these days; about happiness and survival and these things she never thought of before. She wonders where she'd be if her mom was alive and sober, where Elliot would be if his mother had taken medication, if his daughter hadn't inherited the same traits he had dodged with four other children thus far. There's too much silence inside of her sometimes, although it's better than the screams that used to tear through her soul and awaken her in the middle of the night.

"Have you spoken to your mother recently?" she asks softly, rubbing her hand over Eli's back.

She waits quietly for an answer she doesn’t expect. He’ll give her an attitude, the turn of his head, but he’ll keep his emotions in check. Even since they’ve been dating, the subject of his mother doesn’t come up often. He’ll mention her in passing, mutter something under his breath when the subject comes up, but he keeps his words to himself, like the reserved man he’s always been. But he surprises her out on the sandy shores of Long Island, and she forgets sometimes that happiness is also subjective when it comes to her, to them. He lives inside the job with brashness and determination, but he's been different since he came back to her, more open, more of someone she never expected.

"She called last month. She talks to Kathy more than she talks to me, she always has."

Olivia doesn't let the pinpricks of jealousy stab her skin. "That was your decision, El," she answers quietly.

"She made the decision for me a long time ago." He clears his throat, reaching his hand out to touch Eli's pinky which dangles off the chair. The child stirs—just barely—resting his head over Olivia's left breast. “She accused me of being my father’s son, that I lived a life that was perfectly set and couldn’t handle surprise. She hated him and it was hard for her to be near me.”

“She’s your mother,” Olivia responds, and she’s the last person who has the right to lecture on parents and their sins. “She didn’t want you to make the same mistakes he did.”

Elliot stills, and this portion of the conversation is over. There might be light conversation of the woman who had raised him, but he won’t wade through the waters of her past indiscretions, not when he’s nearly drowned one too many times. “She liked you. It was the first thing she told me when I went to see her after you did. Thought you were aggressive, devoted, cared for me maybe more than I deserved."

Olivia laughs, with a nod. "She was right about that.” She flexes her toes into the sand, staring out into the deep abyss of the ocean. "Is she still living on the beach?"

"Yeah. Been in the same place since right after my father died."

"When I was in college, the girls and I drove down to Florida on a spur of the moment trip. They forced me into Disney World and onto the beach for an entire week. I think it ended up being the best trip I've ever taken."

"Did they hate me?" Elliot slides the glasses over his eyes and in the sunlight, the blue of his irises look nearly pale. A twinge of fear filters into his words. "When things ended between us?"

"No one blamed you, Elliot. Whatever happened between us happened." She blinks, and the moisture behind her eyes stings against the blinding sun. "Simon’s proposing tonight.”

"He is?"

"I think so. Lucy's family does something out on the Jersey shore. He wanted to do it there."

"Did he ask you to go?"

"He did. But," she shrugs, hugging Eli closer to her body, "I wanted to be here."

"He's your family, Liv."

The ocean waves cripple into rolls before crashing onto the shore. In between the quiet winds, the chatter of couples nearby, the innocent screams of children instead of the ones she listens to on the job, Olivia can hear her future sister-in-law. With wisdom—despite the fact that their relationship hadn’t been fully established yet—Lucy had told her that even four months in, Elliot had thought of her as family. It had been unspoken between Elliot and her at the time, the emotions and lines of their dating not yet defined, and it had taken a crash course on men from Lucy to realize what he had been implying all along. It was before the admittance of I love you, before dinners with his children, before truths were fully out in the open, and it was way before she truly felt like whatever this was between them was going to work.

"So are you," she finally answers, and she passes it off like she’s said nothing at all. "When is Kathy picking up Eli and the twins?"

"Soon, I think. What did you want to do tonight?"

"What would you say if I told you I wanted to stay here and watch fireworks?"

"Since when do you like fireworks?"

"Since when do you relax?” Olivia shoots back. “I've always been working on the fourth. I've seen fireworks from the precinct, I've seen them on rides to a scene, but for once I want to actually watch them."

"I guess I shouldn’t deprive you of such an amazing, not at all annoying tradition," Elliot mutters sarcastically.

"Yo, Dad." Dickie jogs over to them, tossing his towel onto the sand in between the two beach chairs. Olivia can already see the grainy particles accumulating on the brown cotton, small beads sticking to the wet material. "Thought you'd want to know Kathleen ran into some old friends and is hanging out in a cabana with them. Said she'll be around sometime later, but not to panic because she’s not running around the city like a crazy. Her words not mine." He sits down on the corner of Elliot's chair, leaning his elbows back. "So Liv, did Dad tell you he actually doesn't suck at guitar hero anymore?"

"He did. I'm impressed."

"When are we getting you to play it?"

Elliot laughs. "I don't think you're ever getting out of this one, Liv."

"We'll discuss it the next time I'm near one," she reasons, and if she ever starts to play guitar hero she'll know she's gone officially insane in her little alternate universe. "What are you doing tonight, Dickie?"

"Who knows. Probably go to a friend's and play a little Wii or something.”

“Is that all you do, Dickie?” Elliot asks. “Do you ever take the time to do some homework or study because if your grades are suffering—”

“Dad, chill. I do my homework, I study, and the truth is, I still suck at tests. What if I have a learning disability? I bet they’d give me that thing where you can have unlimited time on tests. Man, how awesome would that be?”

“You don’t have a disability, Dickie. You’re lazy.”

“Which is sort a disability on its own, right? Anyway, while this conversion has been awesome and fascinating, I'm sort of bored, so do you guys want to play football or something?"

On Olivia’s chest, Eli shifts, his blonde curls a gentle whisper across her chin. "You just say what's on your mind, don't you, Dickie?" she laughs.

"That might also be a disability,” Dickie shrugs. “So, are you guys game? I think Maureen and Mark said they would earlier. Not sure if the old man can do it, though. With the bum leg and all."

Elliot narrows his eyes, swinging both legs over the side of the chair. There was a challenge in Dickie’s words, and Elliot Stabler never does give up his fight. "Let's go."

"Elliot," she groans, "unless you want to be stuck on desk duty for another month, do me a favor and don’t play."

"It'll be fine," Elliot responds. He stands up, and she notices the slight shake of his leg, how his knee nearly buckles beneath his weight.

"Mo," Dickie calls to Maureen and Mark. The two of them continue their trek to the beach chairs. Mark tosses his towel at Maureen to dry her off, and she giggles, wrapping it around her shoulders. "Dad's gonna play some football. You in?"

Maureen lifts an eyebrow, squeezing the water loose from her hair. "To watch Dad attempt to play with the leg injury? Totally." She rifles through her bag, pulling a tank top over her head. "Mark, are you gonna play?"

"I know Liz is," Dickie adds, looking up from his phone. "She's on her way back from those weirdo twins she's friends with. All right, Liv, you’re playing or else the teams won’t be even."

"I will,” Olivia answers. “Your mom should be here within the hour. Once she has Eli, I’ll come join you."

"I think I’ll keep Liv company until Kathy comes,” Mark says, sitting down in Elliot’s unoccupied chair. “Teams won’t be even otherwise.”

Maureen glares at him, crossing her arms. Her lips lift into the rumblings of a smile. "You just want to lie down, don't you?"

"I work hard, honey. Give me twenty minutes to be lazy."

“See, Dad.” Dickie points to Mark. “It’s a disability.”

“You didn’t seriously tell Dad that being lazy is a disability, did you?” Maureen smacks Dickie lightly on the back of the head. “You’re an idiot.”

“Also a disability. I have a lot working against me, Dad. This is why I don’t do well on tests.”

“Dickie, stop talking,” Elliot warns. “Now, let’s play before Olivia calls Cragen and I’m stuck on desk duty any longer than necessary.”

“I’m not calling anyone,” Olivia responds. “But when you get hurt out there, have fun explaining it.”

Elliot glares at her, his lips lifting in a slight smile as he follows two of his children down the beach. She can hear his laughter as it floats back to her in the light summer winds, and she can’t help smiling, holding Eli closer to her chest. On the chair beside her, Mark leans back, tilting his face out of the sun. Silence envelopes them for a few short minutes, wrapping around them in the warm afternoon.

He holds his hand out to Eli, the little boy grabbing onto Mark’s fingers. Whether he’s awake or merely adapting to his senses, he reaches his hand out again.

"You and El look happy," Mark muses, and never in her life did she believe that Elliot Stabler could be friends with his daughter’s boyfriend.

"I hear I should thank you for taking care of him.”

Squinting, he focuses on the game of football down the beach, at his girlfriend who is in the middle of a football game with her family. "Kind of a weird situation. When Elliot first moved into his apartment after everything with Kathy, we hung out. Watched some games, did dinner a couple of times. I felt bad for the poor bastard." He smiles, wiggling his fingers as Eli squeals, grabbing onto them once again, and the little boy is fully awake now, relishing in the summer afternoon. "Then I started to date Maureen, the two of you broke up and I couldn't figure out if he was a friend or my girlfriend's father. Then to have to get him through the breakup of someone not her mother..." He shrugs, but there’s genuine concern there. "Regardless, I'm glad things worked out for you two."

"And what about you two? How’s it going?"

"I'll put it this way. I ditched my friends for a week, I didn't see Maureen for a week because I was spending time with Elliot, and don't get me wrong, I like him, but I wouldn't ditch my life for a few weeks for someone old enough to be my father. I did it because it meant something to Maur."

Olivia smiles knowingly, shifting on the chair. "You tell her you're in love with her yet?"

"Is it that obvious?" Mark laughs. "I have. Hey, I wanted to apologize for that first time when I hit on you. I guess it's sort of weird considering how everything turned out but-"

"Mark, come on. There's nothing to apologize for. It was almost a year ago." In that revelation, she realizes that she's been dating Elliot for almost a year. The anti poster child for relationships might actually be gaining her gold star; well, maybe a silver star would be best for right now, she has been known to fuck things up before. "How's the website going?"

"Finished it for my final grade back in May, doing last minute things now and it'll be ready to launch before Labor Day. It looks amazing, though. You should check it out sometime.”

Eli’s eyes widen, perking up on Olivia’s chest. He reaches his hands out in front of him, his lips lifting into a toothy smile. “Mama!” he squeals.

Kathy walks around the beach chairs, kneeling down in front of Olivia to face her son. There were nights when Olivia had been alone without Elliot—nights after their breakup—when she had thought about whom she had been in Kathy’s mind. There were pleasantries between them, a forgiveness Olivia wasn’t sure she’d ever receive, but it made her wonder if Kathy had been pleased with the ending of Olivia’s relationship with Elliot. She figured one of the kids had told Kathy, and was curious if for even a second Kathy considered going back to Elliot, or if Elliot had considered going back to her.

There would always be niceties, a friendship based on her children with Elliot, but she knew Kathy would never truly like her. Not when her reconciliation with Elliot had failed and Olivia’s hasn’t.

But she’s surprised when she sees Kathy’s date from the wedding months ago come up beside her, pressing a button on his Blackberry to disconnect a call. She’s going back to that damn alternate reality conclusion again, because this whole spending the holiday with the ex’s and their new significant others doesn’t seem fit for the insaneness of her world—or Elliot’s for that matter. The Walton’s would be so proud of this amazing, large family dynamic of happiness. If only she had decided to bake some muffins…

“Hey, sweetie,” Kathy coos to Eli, “you having fun?”

Eli points to the game of football behind Kathy, before clapping his hands together in glee. “Dada, play!”

She turns around, and rolls her eyes, finally looking at Olivia. “He’s playing football after he just got shot? I’m assuming you told him he was going to bust his stitches?”

Olivia smiles, lifting Eli up so Kathy can take him. The sun changes direction as the heat beams down on her chest, left bare from the loss of Elliot’s son. “He doesn’t seem to care. Eli’s been sleeping on and off for the afternoon, so he should be fine until his bedtime.” She lifts her head, smiling at Kathy’s…well, she guesses that would be boyfriend at this point in time. “Hi, Jesse.”

“Olivia, it’s good to see you.”

So, there’s the book on relationships, and clearly a book on the mess of whatever this is that she’s going to have to search for.

Jesse turns to Mark, and it never occurred to Olivia that maybe he knows Maureen and Mark as well as she does, that while Elliot is building a new life, so is his ex-wife. “Hey, Mark, how’s it going, man?” he asks, extending his hand to Mark.

“Good.” Mark shakes the older man’s hand, nodding in the direction of the game. “Kath, good luck getting Dickie and Liz outta here. I’m not sure they’ll be satisfied until Elliot’s wound opens up and he has to be rushed to the hospital.”

“Great kids I have,” Kathy grumbles. “I’m going to take Eli to visit some friends of mine in a cabana down the beach. Either bust Elliot’s leg in the next hour or end the game for me, will you?”

“Will do,” Mark agrees with a smile. The two of them walk away, their footprints left encased in the sand, and Mark looks at Olivia, the grin widening across his lips. “Come on, Detective, time to kick some ass.”

July 4, 2009
6:59 P.M.

“Elliot, I swear, I will bust your leg myself if you don’t get the hell out of my way,” Olivia laughs, dodging his steps. She hurls the football through the air, watching it spiral as it lands in Elizabeth’s open arms. “Don’t challenge me in football, sweetheart. I spent too many years playing it with friends in high school.”

“I wouldn’t dream of challenging you. I’d rather kick your ass plain and simple.” Elliot stands in front of her. “Dickie,” he shouts across the beach, “you know what to do.”

“You know what’s more fun that football, Dad?” Dickie yells, blocking Liz’s pass, and stealing the ball.

“If you mention that damn Wii one more time, I’ll take it away from you.”

Before Dickie can pass the ball, Mark steals it, and this isn’t so much a game of football as it is a mess of tossing and catching and tackling. It had started as a game with penalties, but within minutes it had gotten out of control, the rules of the game long since forgotten. Olivia had already gone down twice, taking Elliot with her, and it reminds her of the past, of who she had been before the job, before him.

The ball sails across the impending sundown, the brown spiraling against the pink and blue of the near night. She runs to get it when Elliot’s arms wrap around her waist, pulling her backwards and into him. She struggles against his grip, her laughter ripping through her as she tries to break free.

“Get the hell off of me!” But he doesn’t, and she extends her arms, the ball rushing hard against her chest. She catches it, smiling smugly. “Even with you on me, I can still get the ball.”

“That’s what she said,” Dickie mutters, running past. He stops in his tracks, scrunching his face in disgust. “So didn’t mean to say that to the two of you. I’m going to go vomit now. Yo, Mo, want to give me a lobotomy. I totally just said something gross.”

“How come Maureen gets to do it?” Elizabeth asks. “I have to put up with your annoying self all the damn time. Olivia, throw the ball!”

Olivia turns her head slightly. “You can get off of me now.”

“Where’s the fun in that?”

“Elliot,” she warns, and his arms unfurl from her waist.

She throws the ball down the beach to Mark, who passes it to Liz, before throwing it back to her. It’s more like a damn game of monkey in the middle, or catch, or something so unlike football, but Elliot is after her again, chasing her down the beach. The limp in his leg is apparent, and if he wasn’t a moron who did this to himself she’d be concerned.

Down their so called field, Dickie stands there with Maureen at his side. Neither of them move, more interested in spending the rest of their time on the beach resting. It might have been their idea to play, but boredom reigned supreme as Olivia, Elliot, Liz and Mark continue their game.

“Doesn’t Dad look like a monkey when he runs around with that screwed up leg of his?”

“Have you ever wondered if you’re adopted, D?” Maureen asks, smiling.

“All the time. None of you are as good looking as me. My looks had to have come from somewhere, right?”

“Seriously, I do not know where you come from. I think they found you on the side of the road when they were taking Liz home from the hospital. I’m going to go get some water. Wanna come?”

“Nah. Mom should be here soon enough anyway.” Dickie jogs back into the game, jumping in front of Elizabeth. “I’m back!”

“Oh,” Liz mocks, “we missed you so much.”

She throws the ball to Olivia, and it flies across the sky. Olivia backs up, the ball landing roughly against her chest, as she hugs it close to her. For one second, the wind is knocked out of her and she struggles to catch her breath.

“You okay?” Elliot asks.

“I’m fine. Just came down hard.”

“I think we’re almost done here anyway. Kathy just texted Maureen and told her to make sure Dickie and Liz were almost ready. Did you want to head back to the city or watch the fireworks here?”

“We might as well stay here.”

The waves crash along the shore, the sound vibrant in her ears. The water has turned silver in the impending darkness, and she turns back to Elliot. She opens her mouth to say something, when she hears a loud bang, reaching to her waist for her gun that she’s not wearing at the moment.


But his laughter cuts her off, and out of her peripheral vision, she sees the green and purple sparks that ignite the sky. She smiles, shaking her head. “If you tell anyone that—”

“That you thought fireworks were a gun shot?”

“It was a loud bang,” she reasons, “I automatically reach for a gun.”

“We need to get you out more often.”

“Shut up.”

“Hey Olivia,” Maureen calls from the beach chairs. She tosses Mark a bottle of water, heading to the group again. “Your phone is going off. Wasn’t sure if you were on duty, but I figured I’d at least tell you.”

“Shit,” she mutters, bracing her hand on Elliot’s shoulder. “I’ll be right back.”

Olivia jogs over to the beach chairs, pulling her phone from the bag. The black screen illuminates with one missed call and in dark letters that know how to steal the life from her, she dials the precinct. “John, it’s me.” The sound of her partner against another round of fireworks confirms that for another year, she’ll be stuck on the ride to a scene. “I’m on Long Island, but I can be there in forty minutes. I’ll meet you there.”

Elliot sits down across from her, flicking the material of his chair between his fingers out of boredom. He looks up at her, smiling sheepishly. “Fireworks are fireworks, no matter where you are. You’re not missing much.”

His kids remain tossing the football back and forth, laughing, as they huddle in a group of their own. The truth is she hasn’t missed anything at all. Last month, she had convinced herself that she would never have a day with his kids again, that the Elliot she had fallen in love with would get lost to a man she remembered from long ago, but no longer recognized.

She kisses his lips, softly. “I’ll call you later if I’m coming by. And El, do me a favor? Don’t do something stupid that’s going to hurt you.”

July 9, 2009

11:23 P.M.

Cosmopolitan Rule #39: If a relationship survives a breakup, the weeks, months after is a constant reminder of what could have been lost. Stories from the times when you weren’t together pierce the heart and become locked away in a place so deep inside of you that locating it would be too much, too painful. Most people who get back together don’t bother to talk about the time spent apart, leaving the air distilled with memories, fear, and a lack of apprehension that has the potential to follow you around like a ghost. But the truth is, maybe long discussions about all the reasons, all the mistakes, all the life altering things you learned in the process aren’t necessary. Maybe you don’t need to bare your soul, but instead give an admission that tells more than all the words in the world. The thing is, love isn’t as complicated as most people believe. It has its moments, its times where it doesn’t work out, but in the end, if it’s meant to be it’ll work out, even in unexpected ways.

“What part are you up to?” Olivia asks, kicking her foot free from the sheets.

She stares out the window, breathing in rhythm with the air conditioning, slow rumbles that fill the otherwise silent room. The light from Elliot's bedside lamp washes across his side of the bed, drifting across the form of her body, spilling into the space in front of her. He's been reading The Catcher in the Rye for days now, and when she had asked him why he was reading her mother's version instead of the store bought copy, he had merely shrugged, mumbling something about wanting to know Serena better. There was a part of her that loved him for it, and a part of her that was scared for him to see who her mother was. Through the power of the red pen, there were marks of drunken discoveries, sober revelations. Serena's soul was tied to that book, much like Olivia's was to the unit, and no one had ever read those observations before, not even her best friends. She sighs as she rolls onto her back, glaring up at the ceiling. The book has left its shadow marked across the white, and there are times she misses her mother more than she ever believed she could.

"Holden's talking about his parents going to Allie's grave."

Her eyes shift toward him, but she remains staring at the ceiling. "You're a hundred and fifty pages into it already? Since when do you read, let alone read fast?"

"Since I go home at seven after being stuck on desk duty all day. What the hell else am I supposed to do?" Elliot turns the page, the paper crinkling between his fingers. "He reminded her of you."

Olivia rolls her neck to face him. "What?"

Elliot's voice soaks into the room, fills her soul like her mother's can no longer. There's strength in it, understanding, curiosity and she looks back up at the ceiling as he continues to talk. "Your mother's notes on Allie's character. She wrote that there was idealism about Allie, an intelligence that was so beyond his years. In her notes, she wrote your name next to his."

"There were times that she hated that I was as smart as I was." Olivia pulls the blankets up around her. The chill from the air conditioner washes over her skin, or maybe it’s those memories of her mother that she longs to forget, the ones she wishes she'd always remember. "Allie's teachers would write notes about his greatness and I got that so often growing up. Honor role, awards, things like that. But I think..." She shakes her head, clears her throat. "You know what? It doesn’t matter."

He slides his hand through her hair, the strands tangled between his fingers. There are still times they have to force each other to talk, a constant reminder of what can happen when secrets remain hidden, unspoken. "You think what?"

"I think that people become immortalized once they've died. Serena was such a bitch sometimes." A short, bitter laugh slides from the curve of her lips. "She was hurtful, she always knew how to get under my skin. But once she died, it didn't matter. Sure, I hated her sometimes for forcing me to live with her mistakes and her regrets, but I still miss her, I still love her. I think to Holden, Allie was the same thing. You love someone, respect someone more once they've died. You can't be jealous of someone who is no longer here."

Elliot smiles, tilting her chin. He bends down to kiss her, brushing his lips over hers. "Do you know how sexy it is when you talk literature?"

"I'm not sure sexy is the right word, Stabler." She glances at the book, drawing her finger over the darkened stain amongst the red words. "Scotch. The night I got into Siena, she wanted to celebrate. I didn’t want her to drink, and the last thing I wanted to drink at seventeen was scotch, but I didn't have much of a choice. She drank too much and ended up spilling it on the book. She screamed at me after that, hit me because it was my fault we were celebrating." The moistening of tears dips into the corners of her eyes, nestles itself there. "Hated the book until she died."

"I still hate my father, Olivia. Death doesn't always change how you feel about someone."

"You had more than him, though. I never really did. Still can't believe you've read that much in a few days."

"The desperate things a man will do when he's stuck on desk duty."

Olivia smiles, but doesn't respond, allowing the silence to filter back into the room. She can't get her mother out of her head now, an imposing figure that dominates the love and hate in her life like nothing else can. She rests her hands over her stomach, and she wonders how someone who has come from two alcoholics, a rapist, a sometimes emotional abuser could ever be a good mother. But her mother loved her; despite all the things Serena had once done, despite the words spewed in moments of hate, she remembers the gentle strokes of her mother's hands on her back when she was sick, the hot chocolate and thin mints, the bedtime stories of Salinger, Shakespeare, Lee. Even her father managed to have two children who knew how to love, and even with fears, she aches for a child, for Elliot's child.

Chills cascade down her spine, over her arms, her legs, and it's no longer from the cold air in the room, but from all the things she worries about. Her age, her ability to bear a child. Her fingers gather onto the soft, worn cotton sheets. She looks at Elliot through the corner of her eye, before staring back up at the ceiling.

"What if I can't get pregnant?"

It comes out of her mouth without warning, and shit, she didn’t want to go here tonight.

Elliot puts the book down, sliding himself down underneath the covers so he's eye level with her. He brushes his hand through her hair again, and she's noticed how he does that with his children as well to calm them, soothe them. "Baby, it's been less than a month."

"I know." She rolls onto her side, his hand falling down her shoulder. "I'm forty-one and I don’t know if-"

"Kathy got pregnant at forty-four. Sometimes it happens."

There have been times in the past where Elliot has said moronic things that he's thought to be helpful. It was an hour after she had found out her brother was a suspect in rape when he had squeezed her shoulder and told her that family was everything. She had been desperate that night, baring her soul to him like she never had before, and in the soft, understanding tone she thought that maybe he got it. Not the situation, but for the first time in so long, she thought that maybe he understood her again. The statement had sliced her skin though like the grazing of a knife; he didn't know what it was like to have nothing, to be alone. Even without Kathy, he had his children, his siblings.

It was that same case where they caught two brothers who had been rapists and he had made some asinine comment about the family. It had struck her in the heart when she thought of her brother, her father, about the person she could become if pushed hard enough.

He opens his mouth and never thinks, and his comment from a moment ago nestles in her heart like a failure forever branded to her skin.

"Do me a favor, Elliot?" Coldness infiltrates her voice, one perfectly matched to the chill in the room. "Don't bring up your ex wife when I'm talking about my fears of not being able to get pregnant. I know Kathy had a child past forty. I don't need to be reminded of that. I don't need you to reinforce it."

"I wasn't reinforcing anything, Olivia," he snaps. "I'm telling you-"

"I know what you're telling me," she answers quietly. She bites down on her lower lip. "I know she got pregnant later on, but it's one more failure if I don't, El. It's one more failure in your eyes, in my eyes, hell, even in Kathy's-"

"Stop it. You do this to yourself, Olivia, and you're going to stress yourself out to the point where you won't get pregnant. The Olivia Benson I know would be determined as hell to get this and if by some chance she didn't, she'd fight like hell to think of something else. We can adopt—"

Moron. Moron. Moron. Fucking. Moron.

"I believe I already tried that," Olivia responds snidely. "Didn't work out."

"You didn't try it with me."

She shakes her head, and she's sorry she even brought it up because the anger, it doesn’t feel good when it’s nestled against her chest. "We're both cops, Elliot. We both work overtime; we both spend our lives in that precinct when it calls for it. What makes you think the state is going to be inclined to give us a child together?"

"You're not single anymore, we have my kids if we're working late..." He pauses, and underneath the blanket he links his fingers with hers. Even with the anger resonating through her bones, she squeezes, searching for strength, resilience. "One of us could go to another unit if we had to, another borough. My point is I know you. If you want this badly enough, you'll get it. So stop thinking this isn't going to happen. If you're not pregnant in six months we can see a doctor."

Olivia blinks back the tears, and she can feel the gentle strokes of his finger against her mother's ring. "Can you indulge me for two minutes on this?"

"No. I'm not going to let you convince yourself this isn't going to happen. There are always options, Liv."

He's right; she knows he's right. She nods her head slightly, inhaling a deep breath. "Go back to reading."

"I will in a minute." He slides his leg between hers, stroking his hand down her side. His nails are short, rough and the touch of them on her tank top causes her to shiver. "Girl or boy?"


"What do you want? A girl or a boy?"

The Elliot who had left her last month lingers in the room, and for a few seconds, she doesn’t allow herself to breathe. She waits for the moment he tells her he’s done, that he must have been insane because he can’t do this with her, he can’t have another child. He looks at her with eyes that have always known her far too well, his fingers squeezing hers, and she breathes, because she can let herself have this, she can.

Olivia inhales, her answer sliding out on the exhale, soft, nearly vulnerable. "I'd be happy with anything, but I’d like girl." Her lips lift into a smile against the pillow. "You?"

"My girls are impossible." He laughs with a smile only brought about by parenthood. "They defy me, they're merciless when they're angry, but they love me more than anything. I love all of my kids equally, but there's something about the relationship between father and daughter that amazes me. I think Kathleen is closer to Kathy than she is to me, but Lizzie and especially Maureen...I’d love to have that again."

Olivia's lips lift wryly. "You're making me think a son is a better choice."

"The boys like Kathy much more than me. Eli is all about her. He's all about you too."

“You were right about what you said.” She stares at him, at the shadows of light that chase each other in the iris of his eyes. “I’d want our kid to have your eyes.” She glances at the book in his hand, her mother’s handwriting scribbled and unreadable as her eyes blur with a new film of tears. She blinks them back, tightening her hold on the blanket. “We haven’t discussed it. The breakup, we haven’t—”

“Why do we have to?” Elliot asks, softly. “It’s over, Olivia. Don’t go back into the past when we’ve dealt with it.”

“Have we? You agreed to have a child with me, we had sex, we got back together, and that was the end of it. We never talked about it.” She smiles at him, but it never parts her lips. Instead, she remembers how it felt to be without him, how the bed had been off-limits, the living room filled with light when she attempted to sleep. “You’re right. Maybe we don’t need to talk about it, but, I, uh….You’re right. Maybe we don’t.”

Silence lingers in the room, a deep static that reeks with the implications of the past. There’s a part of her that believes she will live in those days forever, much like she’s lived in her mother’s regrets for years. Even with him beside her, she’ll see the empty void from when he was gone, the pain that had dominated throughout her veins like a second skin, a new type of blood that belonged only to her. For so long, he was everything in her life, and she thinks that maybe it had been worse for her. Sure, Elliot was sad, but would it have been life altering for him?

Her fingers clench around the blankets, and she counts the beats of silence like one would count music, waiting for the moment when something is played, spoken, anything to end the silence she had gotten far too used to in those three weeks of their separation.

“I kept Mark away from Maureen for seven days because I was that pathetic.”

Olivia laughs, nodding her head. Her hair ruffles against the pillow, and she rubs her hand down his five o’clock shadow. Maybe this was his admission in the subtext she’s gotten so used to. “Wasn’t that your master plan all along?”

“I was hoping I’d scare Mark into having me for a father-in-law. Poor sonofabitch is hard to get rid of.” Elliot extends his arm, placing the book on his nightstand. He turns the light out, darkness filling the corners of the room. “I can’t go back and talk about it, Liv. I know you want to, but I can’t.”

She could force the issue, but in everything he’s not saying, she knows. They can go over it time and time again, the issues, the fears, but none of it will change. She’s seen it before, how fast life moves, how one single moment can disrupt a lifetime. She’s watched the moment a victim’s eyes go soft at the arrest and conviction of their rapist; she’s watched the hardened stance, the intake of air when things don’t turn out how they should. She of all people knows that talking doesn’t change things, not really.

“You done reading?” she asks, instead.

“I figured if I turned out the lights I’d get some action.”

“I’m not ovulating,” she whispers, kissing him softly.

“We’re not going to be those people who only have sex because of that. If we are, it’ll destroy us.” He flattens her onto the mattress, moving over her. “I hate not working when you are. I never get to see you.”

Olivia wraps her ankles around his waist. “Stop bitching, Stabler. You get home at seven-thirty. I haven’t been home in six days.”

“You’d hate it too if you were home that early on a daily basis.”

She grins, as he settles himself between her legs, rocking rhythmically against her. “We’re really fucked up, you know that?”

He slides her shirt over her head, tossing it onto the floor. “So I’ve been told.”

July 18, 2009
2:55 P.M.

The paint roller in Olivia’s hand drips gray onto the clear plastic on the floor as it fills the white of Elliot’s bedroom wall. She stands on her tip toes on the ladder, stretching so she can reach to nearly the ceiling. The heat from the open windows stifles the room in a sticky humidity, and she turns her head, noticing Elliot sitting in a chair near the door. He leans forward, his feet planted firmly on the floor, as he points to a spot on the ground.

“You’re dripping paint, sweetheart.”

She turns around with the roller in her hand, swiping the back of her arm over her forehead. She can feel the wetness of paint as she moves her hand away, and mumbles a curse, knowing she’s never getting it off right now. “Are you kidding me, Elliot? Get your ass up, grab a roller and paint your goddamn bedroom.”

“I have a busted leg.”

She takes a step down on the ladder, lifting an eyebrow. “You have chased down perps with a broken arm; you played football with stitches a week ago. You’ve been on desk duty for three weeks, and you’d be on active again if Cragen didn’t expect you to knock a door down the second you get back, hurting yourself even more. You can paint a bedroom.”

Elliot stands up, and she turns back around, running the roller over the wall. It squeaks, spongy with the ashy gray as the white fades. She hadn’t intended to spend her weekend painting his bedroom, but when Eli had written all over it in a black sharpie marker, the look on Elliot’s face—a mix of horror and defeat—had her giving in to his request for help. She had given up the idea of relaxing in the coolness of her air conditioned apartment because somewhere in the rule book of love, she was being a good girlfriend.

Not that he deserves it at the moment.

She bends over, dipping the roller into the tray of paint, when she feels his hands slide up her leg. She startles when they reach under the cusp of her shorts and she stiffens. His hands are warm, and she wants to ask him why the hell he doesn’t have an air conditioner on at the moment when it’s over a hundred degrees out there, but she’s distracted at the way his fingers move over her skin, how they slide over the hem of her underwear…

“Don’t,” she grinds out, because she has not spent this much time on his damn wall for nothing, “or I swear to God, El, I will walk out of here right now and make you do this yourself.”

“We could have some fun with this,” Elliot mentions, pulling his hands away.

The heat of his hands is gone, and she misses it, misses him even when he’s less than a foot away from her. Her right foot crosses over her left as she reverses her position on the ladder, facing him. She leans back against the steps, keeping her arms balanced on each side so she doesn’t fall. The roller hangs precariously in her hands, dripping splatters of paint across the plastic covers.

“This could be like body paint, Liv.”

“I don’t think this would have the same fruity taste,” she responds sarcastically. “Pick up a brush, Stabler.”

He pouts, taking one step closer to her. “Come on, Olivia. Live a little.”

“Stop moving or—”

Elliot’s right foot moves forward, followed by his left. “Or what?”


She tilts the roller in her hand, dragging it close. His eyes narrow and he slowly shakes his head at her, reaching for the roller. She pulls it out of his reach, but he’s coming at her, and before she can stop it, he’s grabbed her off of the ladder, her feet swinging as she tries to break free from his hold.

“Get off of me!” Olivia yells, but her laughter dominates any fight she’s attempting to put up. She kicks her legs in the air, but he’s pulled her down onto the plastic. Her body is flush against his, and she’s going to kill him because all she can think about is that night in the Hamptons. Her mouth is dangerously close to his and she slides it up to his ear. “We’re not having sex right now,” she murmurs.

She’s tangled up in him, and he moves his arm from underneath her stomach, running his fingers down her back. Her spine tingles as his hands slide underneath her shorts, his fingers pressing into her ass. He thrusts his hips upwards, the stirrings of his erection brushing her stomach. She moans softly, and the asshole is making her lose control, distracting her when it’s his damn apartment. She presses down onto him, rocking her hips slightly. She slides her tongue into his mouth, his fingers tightening in her hair.

“Elliot,” she murmurs.

Olivia pushes his shirt up and off of him, tossing it into the far corner of the room. His bare chest is tight, muscular, and she runs her hands over him. Elliot grunts, reaching for her shirt, but she stops him before the tank top can be thrown aside.

“Not yet. Close your eyes. I have a surprise for you.”

His eyes narrow, warily. “What kind of surprise?”

“Just do it, Elliot.”

He closes his eyes, and she smiles, moving down his body. Her tongue fits into the grooves of his muscles, licking a pattern up and down his chest. Elliot grunts, and with one hand, she reaches for the paint roller beside her. Managing to lather it in paint, she brushes it over his stomach, laughing when he nearly jumps in protest from the cold. The paint sticks to him, the expanse of his chest covered in gray.

“What the hell was that?”

“I told you I wasn’t having sex with you. I’m trying to do you a favor here.”

“Give me the brush,” he growls.


“Benson, give me the roller.”

The use of her last name with that goddamn Queens accent of his is turning her on. She can be strong, she can be strong, she can be strong. “Why? Are you actually going to get off your ass and paint something? This isn’t even my bedroom. Why am I doing all the work?”

“I told you, I busted my leg. You never get shot, Liv. You have no idea how much it hurts.”

“Is that really the excuse you’re going with? That’s weak, Elliot, even for you.” Olivia plants one foot solidly on the ground, bending her knees to stand. “I’m going home.”

Elliot’s hand grips hers, pulling her back down. His stare is intense, nearly earth shattering, as if holding all the secrets in the world. “Move in with me, Liv.” He rubs his finger over her hipbone, and he’s all smiles and this must be his revenge because he’s still Elliot, he’ll always still be the man who grunts more than living inside of happiness.

She clears her throat, looking down at the covered ground before lifting her eyes to his. This has to be a joke, because while they’re ready for this, they’re not at the same time. He had once told her that payback was a bitch. Yes, yes it is.

“I wouldn’t paint the room alone even if we lived together, nice try though. I’m leaving unless you get up and do something.”

“Fine,” Elliot groans, patting her ass so she moves. “I’ll help you paint.”

Despite knowing he must have been kidding, she feels the weight on her chest at his obvious joke. It doesn’t matter if she lives with him, if he lives with her; they’re back together and in a few months, a year, they can discuss it.

Shit, she has got to get out of here.

“Liv, come on. Get up. I’ll grab a brush.”

The room is half painted, and stands, slamming one foot down on the floor, followed by the other. She hadn’t expected to step so hard, but damn it, at least her joke wasn’t bound to fuck him up emotionally. She grabs her roller, and if Elliot could put his shirt back on, that would be fucking fantastic.

Paint splashes up and onto the floor and she pushes the roller against the wall with force.

“You going to give me an answer about moving in with me?” Elliot asks, nonchalantly.

The roller stops its trek across the wall. “What?”

“You haven’t answered me on if you’re going to move in here. Were you waiting for a written invitation?”

She bites down on her lip to keep from smiling. She misses the days where Elliot would do something to piss her off and she stormed out of a room, cursed at him, picked a fight because it was who they were, what they did. Now she just smiles like a fucking moron.

“I hate you,” she mutters.

“I know you do.”

The painting continues, and outside, a car alarm sounds against the humid summer afternoon. Someone yells ‘shut the fuck up’, the chirping of the alarm sounding over the traffic, the children riding their bikes with laughter resonating in their words.

“My lease isn’t up until the first of September.” She turns to face him. “Are you serious about this or is it revenge because of the paint thing?”

“It’ll be a lot easier if you do.”

What the hell does that mean? “Oh.”

Elliot dips his brush into the paint. “I want you to move in with me, Olivia. I’m sick of going back and forth between apartments. We haven’t spent a night apart with the exception of work in a long time. It seems like the most logical thing”

“September,” she confirms, and painting this room doesn’t seem so bad all of a sudden. “I’m bringing my bed.”

“No. I bought a new one less than a year ago. I’m not getting rid of it.”

“We either use my bed or I don’t move in”

“If you hated my bed so much, you shouldn’t have told me to get that one.”

She’s not going to get into a pissing argument with him; not when she knows she’ll end up winning in the end. “We had been dating for two months. I wasn’t going to choose your bed for you and I’m not going to argue with you about it now.”

“I guess this also means I need to make room in the closet for all your leather jackets.”

“Don’t start in on me, Stabler. I’m not bringing a million pairs of shoes or a huge wardrobe. I like my jackets.”

“So do most of the men we work with.”

She flicks her brush at him, paint splattering against the floors, onto his already painted bare chest. “And you’re not one of them?”

“I’ve seen you naked, Liv. I couldn’t care less about the leather jackets.”

“What if I was wearing nothing but a leather jacket?”

Elliot grins, “Well, that we can discuss. I’m not entirely opposed to that idea.”

“Didn’t think you would be.”

July 25, 2009
8:45 P.M.

She’s never been a fan of engagement parties.

There was something about having to walk into a room while being single, and having everyone she knew ask her if there was someone special in her life. When she was younger, it hadn’t bothered her. She had time, she was working, she had her excuses. But over the years, as the job became more unbearable and her biological clock continued to tick like a bomb waiting to detonate, it became an annoyance. What the hell did it matter if she was single of not? The truth was though that it was always a reminder of what she would never have. The happy couple would toast and share in intimate touches, gentle caresses and there was a part of Olivia that was filled with jealousy for a life that was always so close, and yet never close enough.

She’s not expecting marriage, but she has Elliot now, and all those negative feelings that once existed no longer do. He had come with her to her brother’s engagement party with minimal bitching, and for the past hour he’s been helping her prove to people that she’s never met that she’s all right. She might be a little late in life, but she figures after having to grow up far too fast, become an adult before she was ready to, this is her chance to slow it down.

For the past hour, Olivia has been mingling, meeting the people in her brother’s life. She thinks about it; about what it would have been like if her father was still alive. Simon hadn’t had much contact with him in later years due to his alcoholism, but weren’t people supposed to reconcile for weddings? Would Simon have made the decision later on to resume contact with his father when he was old enough to make his own decisions?

“Is it strange?” Elliot asks, handing her a glass of red wine.

She doesn’t pretend to misunderstand what he’s asking. She leans against the wall, watching the people that walk back and forth from the main dining room. She hadn’t wanted to sit at the table, instead she chose to stand around and watch, take in people like she does daily.

The wine is warm, perfect against her throat. “I think it would be worse if my father had siblings. It was hard enough gaining a brother. To have aunts and uncles also…”

“Is he introducing you as his sister?”

“I was from Joe’s first marriage.” The lie tastes bitterer than the bouquet of red wine, and she swallows it, like she has her pride so many times.

Elliot’s shoulder brushes the wall, the collar of his light blue shirt shifting underneath his black sports coat. “You okay with that?”

“It’s his engagement party, Elliot. What is he going to say? That his father raped my mother?” she whispers.

Out of the corner of her eye, she watches Simon and Lucy, away from the chaos of their guests. Simon whispers something in Lucy’s ear, and she turns her head to stare at someone across the room from them. The smile breaks across Lucy’s face, and she covers her hand over her mouth, stifling her laughter. But it peels across the room, and the past, it doesn’t matter. Not when for the first time, Olivia has people there, a life.

“I’m okay with it,” she confirms, turning her body into Elliot’s.

He’s left the first few buttons of his shirt open, the tan upper muscles of his chest showing, and Lucy had made a comment when they walked in. She had pulled Olivia aside, whispered that she should have made Elliot the entertainment for the night. Olivia had told him the same thing earlier, like he was ready to bust his shirt open at any moment. He had cocked an eyebrow at her, and pulled her to him. His kiss had been long, slow, intense, and she was tempted to call in sick to a party that five years ago she never would have imagined going to.

She finds her hands going to that open spot again, prancing over the hardened muscles of his chest. “You look really good tonight.”

Elliot grins, and in the light of the room, his eyes are nearly gray. “You’re not looking so bad yourself.” He wraps an arm around her waist, the ice in his scotch rattling. “How soon can we get out of here?”

“Don’t start with me.”

“I’m not starting.”

One hand slides through her hair, until he reaches the tips, his fingers dancing on the edge of her shoulders. She hadn’t bothered to straighten her hair before they left, not when the condensation from summer rain had already started to infiltrate the night. The gentle spirals tumble down her shoulders, as he makes another pass through them. She had been surprised to learn that about him in the beginning, how he loved doing the most simple of touches in public, even at home. It was a form of comfort for him, something that brought him back to solid ground when the world started to tilt even the slightest bit beneath his feet.

“But if we got out of here, we could go home, get into bed—”

Olivia covers her hand over his mouth, laughing. “Stop it. Give me a few more hours.” She wraps her arms around his neck, gently nipping at his lips. “Please.”

“You hate engagement parties. Do you remember when Martinez got engaged and we had been working together, what? Two years? You forced me out of that party and into a bar. I had to explain to Kathy why I was coming home at three in the morning drunk.”

“From what I remember, you forced me out of the party and I had to explain to Kathy why you were stumbling into your house at four in the morning, not three. Elliot, if you ever get another female partner, I swear to God, I will kick your ass if you come home at four in the morning drunk with another woman.” A waft of his scotch reaches her nostrils, and she kisses him again, softly. “I hated knowing I was never going to find something more. It was never about the party.”

“So I’m your something more?”

“Don’t push it, Elliot.”

He looks through the double doors of the main room, turning Olivia’s body the slightest bit. In the early days of their partnership, when stakeouts were long and their suspect nowhere in sight, they’d stare at people, inventing conversations for them, lives. It was meant to take the seriousness out of their jobs, and after about two and a half years the games stopped. There were no more fake lives to conjure up, no more laughter when day by day the world became less funny. In the months that they’ve been dating, they’ve played a couple of times, but tonight, in a room full of strangers and soon to be somewhat relatives of hers, he wants to play.

“Straight ahead,” Elliot whispers into her ear. “The woman in the bright green dress.”

Olivia smiles, twisting her body. Her shoulder slams into his chest, while his arm remains wrapped around her. She wants to be ridiculous tonight, like a child, a fantasy life she never got to envision and play with when she was younger. “She’s never been married, has maybe four cats, and three dogs. Maybe a bird here or there.” She bites on her lower lip, but the smile widens. “Her favorite show is that Battlestar Earth thing, so she chose that color dress because it reminds her of aliens. Is that the show with aliens?”

“How the hell would I know? You’re getting rusty, Liv.”

“Fine.” Her eyes scan the room, and she faces him fully. She takes a sip of red wine, swallowing as she finds her target. “The couple talking to Simon and Lucy.”

Elliot surveys the man and woman talking to Simon and Lucy. They’ve both studied body language to know when something is off. It doesn’t have to be abuse, neglect, anything that would call them to a scene, but over time they’ve learned signals. The woman smiles, but there are too many teeth involved for it to be real. While it seems as if the man is running his hand along his wife’s back, it’s merely an illusion to appear that way. They learned long ago how to tell the truth from the lies, the happiness from the doubt.

“One of them is having an affair. The woman, I think. Her husband knows, but he hasn’t told her yet. He doesn’t seem pissed off, though. He accepts it, which means he’s either having an affair of his own or they have an open marriage. They seem to be putting up too much of a front, so I take back the one of them having an affair. They both are.”

She’s impressed, and yet saddened by this revelation. “I should have chosen differently. All right, the couple dancing.”

On the dance floor, a middle aged woman flails her arms, moving around in a circle. The man she’s with stares for a moment, tapping his foot to a rock song, before joining in. They spin around and around, and it’s like they’re in their own world, far from civilization.

“Easy,” Elliot responds, and she can see the smile lift his lips. “They’ve had far too much pot.”

Olivia laughs, stifling her laugh against Elliot’s neck as she watches the dance floor. “Should we arrest them?” she jokes.

“Or ask them where they got it. Have you ever smoked weed?”

“I used to in college a fair amount. Have you?”

“Once or twice in high school. I ended up in a car with a bunch of morons in search of the perfect slushie. We drove to about six 7-11’s, bought about a hundred slurpies and I think somewhere in there I passed out. Woke up with a cup attached to my head and in a mess of that crap. Haven’t had one since.”

Her laughter continues, and people stare at her for a moment while continuing into the dining room. She’s probably getting a reputation for being Simon’s insane older sister. “You’re lying, right?”

“You tell anyone that story, I’ll alert people of what you used to call your vibrators in college,” he breathes into her ear.

“You’re such a jerk.” She hits his chest softly. “Looks like they’re serving dinner, I’m starving. How about we eat, then get out of here in an hour since I know how much you hate these things. Maybe we can stop at a 7-11.”

Olivia’s halfway to the entrance of the dining room, when he calls her name. She swivels her hips halfway, her head craned and he motions for her to come over.

“We’ll go eat in a second.”

His voice has changed, the teasing humor gone, the laughter having faded amongst the crowds of people being ushered in to eat. Fears pumps through her veins, because she hasn’t seen him look this serious since that afternoon on her couch, when rain had been the telltale sign of the end.

“Is everything okay?”

Elliot’s eyes dart into the room, before back at her. His right hand is back in her hair, his lips whispering a gentle kiss on the corner of her mouth. “I’m going to ask you to marry me.”

The glass of wine nearly falls from her hands, but his grip tightens on her, keeping her steady. He stares at her, and she knows her lips are poised to say something, but even the word what seems like too much.

“Not today, not tomorrow, maybe not this year. But I want you to know, I’m going to ask.”

Well, Elliot Stabler always did have the lousiest, most wrong timing of anyone she’s ever met.

Olivia clears her throat, “Wh…I told you I wasn’t going to marry you because we’ve decided to have a child together.”

“You’re not pregnant and I’m still telling you I’m going to ask.” He strokes the ring on her left hand, looking at her. “I just wanted you to know it’s coming and to start thinking about it now.” He presses his lips to her forehead. “Let’s go eat.”

Right. She might want to start breathing again first.


July 25, 2009

11:56 P.M.

The only light that shines into Olivia’s bedroom is that of the bedside table lamps. Boxes litter the floor, their flaps open, an arrangement of belongings hiding inside. She hadn’t started to fully pack, but she had thrown in items here and there. The room is a cluttered mess, and sooner or later she’s going to have to clean the place up. While usually a neat freak, she hasn’t been home in what might be a week, items having been strewn about the place.

Tossing her dress onto the bed, she stands in front of her vanity in nothing but a bra and underwear, unfastening a dangling earring. It plops onto her dresser, followed by the other. In the reflection, Elliot walks out of her bathroom, his chest bare, the edges of his belt swinging as the flaps of his pants hang open. He stands in the doorway watching her, and she turns around, leaning against the dresser before taking a step toward him.

“Thank you,” she says, wrapping one arm around his neck.

Elliot’s knuckles graze her cheek, brush over her breasts. “What are you thanking me for?”

“Coming with me tonight, complaining only minimally about how long we stayed.”

She nips at his lips, and he tries to fight back, like it’s nothing more than a game of cat and mouse and for them it is, it always has been. She leans backwards, her breast still pressed against his chest, and she shouldn’t ruin this moment, this time alone with him but she finds herself asking, “Were you serious about the marriage thing?”

“No, I thought it would be a funny practical joke. Of course I was serious, Olivia. I don’t kid about marriage.”

“If we hadn’t decided—”

“If you go into the speech about me only wanting to marry you because we’re trying to have a kid, then I’m never going to ask.” Elliot tilts her chin up with a finger. “I didn’t ask you to move in with me because you might get pregnant, and I wouldn’t have agreed to have a child with you unless I was going to propose at some point. When you’re ready, when I’m ready, I’ll ask you.”

“Okay,” she nods, because it’s enough, it’s more than enough.

“Okay,” he agrees. “We’re not throwing a party when we get engaged, by the way.”

“More than okay with me.” She throws her other arm around his neck, pulling him close.

The contact of their bare skin causes her to shiver, and she presses her mouth to his. He tugs down her jaw with soothing fingers, slipping his tongue inside of her mouth. His kiss is slow, and he takes his time to work her mouth with gentle, tender movements that cause her to moan. His hands tighten around her waist, and she’s closer to him now, his erection brushing across her stomach.

“I love you,” Olivia mutters, and it’s lost in another kiss, in another touch against her skin. She could stand here with him like this forever and thinks it would be satisfying enough to last her a lifetime.

His kisses are hot, deafening in their own definition. His tongue moves across her lips, into her mouth again, connecting with hers. It had been different in the beginning, how he touched her, how he moved against her. It had been about need back then, the overwhelming desire to try something new. But now it was about more; it was about what she liked, what he liked, how their bodies molded to the other, became in sync like Olivia and Elliot both had on the first day they met nearly eleven years ago.

“Liv,” he breathes, and it’s burning against her neck as his lips touch the hollow of her throat.

He moves to her breasts, when the undeniable chime of his cell phone dings on the nightstand.

“Fuck,” Elliot mutters, bending his head to catch his breath. The ringing continues, and he’s gone from her, the room cool with the loss of his heat. “Yeah, Stabler.” She can tell by the look on his face that their evening is over, and she smiles sheepishly at him, lifting one shoulder in a shrug. “Be there in twenty.”

“You said you wanted to be on active duty again,” Olivia surmises. “We always do get called in at the worst possible times.”

She unhooks her bra, the black lace gliding to the floor. She stands in front of him with only a lace thong, pulling him against her, as he groans.

“Damn it, Olivia, don’t do this to me.” He fists his hands through her hair. “I have to go.”

“You might want to do something about that first.” She casts her eyes down at his erection, turning to the bathroom. “I’m going to shower. Call me if you need anything.”

He mutters something about a cold shower, sex, not going into work, the words fading as she turns on the shower. Shimmying out of her underwear, she adjusts the temperature on the water, the gold of her mother’s ring caught in the light. She spins it around her finger, again and again and again, before placing it on top of the toilet tank. The tan line sits on her finger, as if she’s been married all along, and she inhales a deep breath of steam, before stepping into the shower.

The sound of her front door vibrates across her walls and she leans into the spray of the shower head.

He is going to propose. Elliot is going to propose.

She pulls the curtain back, grabbing for her mother’s ring. The metal slides over her skin again, the tan line diminishing, and she closes her eyes against the heat, because sooner or later he’s going to propose.

Sooner or later, Elliot’s going to propose.

Chapter Text

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.”


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.”


“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?”


“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?”


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.


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.”


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.


“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.


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.