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A/N: Happy belated Halloween! This is not a Halloween story but these were the vibes all weekend. If you're looking at me crazy for starting another story, blame the usual suspects. -notf

October 29, 2021

Olivia hates to be this woman, truly she does, but one phone call and an offer to dinner later, she's packing up her belongings and slinging her coat over her forearm. She's not even embarrassed by her own eagerness to see him. She's asked him to come home and he's coming home! When he asks to see her for dinner and drinks, just the two of them, the answer is an emphatic yes.

Fin catches up to her to walk out with her and he makes sure to dominate the conversation while there are listening ears. "Phoebe will be happy to have me home in time for dinner," he offers and it's an easy enough subject to talk about to not raise any suspicions, but she can tell by his demeanor that he's just waiting to get her alone. Given that he'd seen her as she freshened her makeup, applied new coats of mascara and lipgloss, he knew. He watched right through the opened blinds of the window into her office as she brushed out her hair and let her waves fall sensually around her face, and he knew this wasn't her usual 'I have to see my child's face' getaway. She was leaving to see a man. Fin watched his boss quietly as she prepared to meet whoever it was that called her phone and he gives her the courtesy of waiting to ask who the lucky man is until they're on the elevator alone. "Is it Stabler?" Fin prods, smirking. "The streets are saying his UC stint is done. Jon Kosta is going down."

Olivia glances in Fin's direction. "Why do you know that?"

"I know a lot," Fin answers cryptically. "So? Is it Stabler?"

"No," she lies, but she's smiling and Fin knows his friend. She should have just said yes.

They step out into the parking garage together and their cars are in the same general vicinity. He waits until they come upon her car to speak again. "Look, have a safe night. Tell Elliot I said what's up."

"If I run into Elliot tonight, I will let him know you said hi." And that's all he's getting. "Good night, Fin."

He stands there until she's in her car, pulling her safety belt on and she has to wave him off to get him to walk away. He's a great friend, really, but he also happens to be nosy and horrible at keeping secrets. It was a bad combination. She'll tell Elliot when she sees him, how suspicious Fin still is of them. Even all these years later, and she's sure it'll be something they can laugh about together.

As she's pulling out of the parking garage, a taxi pulls out behind her but when she looks in her rearview mirror she finds nothing about the driver to be suspicious. All day she's been like this. Looking over her shoulder at the cart when she was waiting for her coffee, on her way to and from court. She looks and there's no one there. She isn't usually this way, but Noah has been on a slasher film kick and she's been forced to watch the PG-13 cuts of all the cult classics. Too many movies where a stalker is literally following his prey waiting for the perfect moment to pounce and it's left her feeling like prey. One more glance in her rearview mirror and she sighs. There is no one following her or even cares at all that she is on her way to have dinner with her old partner, so she does her best to rid herself of the paranoia as she texts him to let him know she is on her way.

It's only 7 in the evening when Olivia gets to the restaurant, but the sky is jet black and the wind is blowing hard enough that she slips her trenchcoat on. Once again, the eerie feeling that someone is following her settles in and she's happy that her gun is still on her hip. Quickly scanning her surroundings, she finds that no one is looking at her or again, even looks suspicious. A kid on his phone, a couple in matching costumes walking hand in hand, and a gang of teenaged girls all dressed as black cats crossing the street.

It's nothing, she tells herself as she turns back toward the restaurant and starts walking. Next year they're not doing this— they're not watching any hardcore bloody movies and she misses the days when all this stuff used to scare Noah. It's sending her paranoia to new levels and it is very unlike her to ever, ever let these things affect her. Not when she's this badass cop with decades under her belt. The spider webs and fake ghosts and people trying to scare her with giant plastic weapons? It shouldn't rattle her this way.

She'll be happy as hell when it's November 1st.

She misses when Noah used to try and scare her with plastic spiders and when they carved pumpkins together. Now he's into blood and guts and eww— she shakes off the recent memories as she gets closer to the restaurant.

Standing there, right outside with his hands stuffed into the pockets of his dark sweatshirt, with his wide shoulders flat and his beard stretched, Elliot is grinning from ear to ear. Olivia points to the restaurant behind him. "Mexican food?" she asks.

"Felt like tacos today," he says as a quick explanation.

Olivia only laughs and his grin broadens and they share a silent beat before he's opening the door to the restaurant. Once they're seated, he orders two margaritas and they begin eating the provided chips and guacamole, reading the menu, both smiling awkwardly as they do. It isn't until they both have their first sips of the strong drinks that Elliot begins to talk.

He pulls the hood off of his bald head, unzips the hoodie halfway down before resting his forearms on the table. He looks younger dressed this way. The super casual, big, bushy beard look has been a bit of a treat, but she misses his face and seeing those dimples. She's just about to ask him about it, if he's excited to shave and step back into those stylish suits again, but he looks at her with those pretty eyes of his and she knows that he's about to speak. He leans forward, the concentration evident on his face. "My birthday was last week," he says before chuckling dryly.

It's his first birthday without Kathy is the first thing she thinks. How hard that must've been for him, how different. She fights the urge to touch him, to grab his hand that's resting on the table, and squeeze— but she's been touching him too much lately, getting a little too comfortable. So instead, she threads her hands on her lap and she waits for him to continue.

Elliot bites at his lips, and shyly shrugs his shoulders. "I didn't get a chance to really celebrate. Had dinner with the kids and Bernie and then I had to run out soon after," he continues finally, dipping a chip before popping it into his mouth. "So I thought I'd do something for myself." The smile on his face surprises her. She'd thought he was leading in an emotional direction but he looks happy to just be here with her. "Like grab a drink with my favorite partner," he adds and the burst of excitement she feels in her chest is borderline embarrassing.

"So you didn't get to celebrate fifty-five?" Olivia asks, pouting a little before smiling back at him.

"For one hour I did," he says chuckling. "Then it was back to Eddie Wagner."

"Well, I'm happy you're home now. That's why we're here right? To celebrate?"

"No, actually. I'm here because I just really wanted to see you."

And just like that, all of the hope she had gathered in the last hour or so begins to crumble. "So you're still under?"

"Yeah but I'll be home soon," he says seriously, but he's said that before and he sees that she doesn't believe him at all.

Her entire body deflates. "Soon?"

"Yeah, I—"'

"Elliot," she breathes with annoyance in her tone. "I thought you asked me here to tell me you were home. I got excited."

"We're laying low for the weekend, Liv. Arrests will be made soon. I'll be home within a week."

"You should've waited the week," she spits. She feels the race of her heartbeat begin to speed up, so she goes for the drink in front of her, taking a sip to hopefully numb the anger she feels. She'd been so excited, practically ran from her office just to do this and it was for nothing. "You had to see me that bad?"

"Yeah," he answers quickly. "I wanted to see you," he echoes from before. "I had to. There have been so many times I wanted to call and couldn't."

Is he serious? She wants to crack that she knows the feeling... but arguing won't fix this. Making little comments about his ghosting techniques won't solve anything so she chuckles quietly, breaking the tension. "I bet," she responds, keeping it as short as she can.

"Well, Liv... thank you for still coming when I call."

"It's more than you deserve, isn't it?" she jabs, but it's playful. She is smiling but not looking up at him. Her interest is suddenly on the chips and guac again, so she snags a chip takes a small bite.

"Thank you for being a good friend," Elliot adds.

Her eyes lift to his and they've softened a little. "You're welcome."

"So," he says, going for the menu again, "you gonna take a shot with me tonight?"

She shakes her head. "I'll toast with a beer. I have work to do tonight."

"It's my birthday. We can do better than beer."

"See I would've if this was a celebration for your homecoming, but seeing as it's not..." She shrugs a shoulder, smirking. "I can't ruin my entire weekend by having a hangover tomorrow." Her weekend admittedly is full of horrible Halloween events. Noah is at a sleepover tonight and is due to walk in some parade with his classmates Saturday afternoon, a haunted house following that, and then trick or treating on Sunday. She refuses to spend her Saturday hungover while being chased by ghouls and goblins.

"You used to be more fun."

"You used to be more responsible," she says back. "I probably can still outdrink you."

"We'll test that theory one day. When I'm home. You and me, shot for shot," Elliot challenges.

"You know how much I enjoy beating you," she agrees, tucking her hair behind her ear. "So fifty-five," Olivia breathes.

"Fifty-five," he echoes.

"Well, since you didn't get to celebrate," Olivia begins, picking up her menu, too. She pauses and takes a sip of her drink as she decides between fish tacos and a taco salad. "We're getting dessert and hopefully they sing to you."

His head shakes, his eyes telling her no before his lips. "Absolutely not."

"I remember you turning forty and God, I would've loved to see you freak out for fifty. You thought you were so old then."

"What am I now?"

Old, they both don't say.

"Well, you look good," Olivia says, not looking at him.

"For my age?"

"No." If her eyelashes bat in his direction, it isn't her intention to flirt. It's the tequila. "You just look good." Their eyes meet and his bushy brows lift, impressed with her forwardness. "What? You do."

"Thank you," he says, praying his cheeks aren't as red as he thinks they are. "You, too," he adds, his eyes dropping to her blouse before gliding back up. His eyes pause at her smiling lips, at the cute scrunch of her nose and then they land back on those expressive dark eyes of hers. "I mean for fifty-five."

"I am not fifty-five."

Elliot laughs and he shrugs a shoulder. "Almost."

"Shut up, Stabler," Olivia says, picking up her glass. She holds it up and tips it toward him. "To aging gracefully."

They finish dinner quickly and they both do their best to keep things light and cordial. They do a good job at being friendly but there is so much unsaid and so much that has happened with once again, so much distance between them. It's not until long after he's paid the bill and is walking her to her car that he gets the nerve to really talk. To stop dancing around the tension that lingers underneath every smile, touch, or friendly exchange. She's disappointed that he's leaving to be Eddie again and she's probably also disappointed that they weren't able to even approach any of the unfinished conversations between them.

"Listen, I'm sorry I misled you into thinking I was home and I know there's a lot we need to talk about... we don't have to do it now, but I just don't want tonight to end..." They are standing right outside of Madison Square Park and he angles his body toward it. He senses Olivia's hesitation, but then she nods quickly before buttoning up her jacket and tucking her head down as she follows his lead through the black steel entrance of the park.

He notices quickly that she keeps looking behind her, her gaze shifting from one end of the path to the other.

"Liv?"

Olivia turns her head softly behind her one last time and she rolls her eyes. "You ever feel like you're being followed?"

"You are asking the wrong guy. I've been under for all these months... all I do is look behind my shoulder. What's up?"

She shrugs, embarrassed. "Probably just all the shitty horror movies I've had to watch with Noah."

"Never knew you to be a pansy."

"A pansy?" she stops walking, standing in the middle of the path, both her hands shoved in her pockets. "This pansy has saved your life a hundred times."

"Hundred is a stretch," he mutters, reaching out, his hand grabbing at her elbow. "C'mon," he grumbles tugging her along.

"Say I'm not a pansy first," she says defiantly, attempting to hold her ground and stay put.

He just glares at her playfully before forcing her feet forward, looping their arms together, still pulling her with him. "Fine." You're not a pansy, goes unsaid but she accepts it anyway.

They walk for a little, through the yellow, orange, and brown leaves, allowing the street lamps to guide them. It's only as silent as New York City ever gets with sirens still in the distance and horns honking. Someone in a fluorescent vest jogs past them with their dog and when they're alone again, it's Elliot this time who stops walking. "Listen, I know I haven't really been as transparent as I should be, or as much you deserve but I just don't know where to start..."

"What about sorry," she whispers softly, her eyes closing as she steps away from him. She exhales a cold breath into the air and looks over at him to find him with watery eyes, from the cold or her words she can't tell, and she doesn't really want to know.

"I can't even begin to say that to you. There needs to be another word for it... for what I owe you, for the feelings I have, and…"

"It's getting late," Olivia says cutting him off. This isn't right. This isn't a conversation they should have before saying goodbye again. He says it'll only be a week, but how could he possibly be sure? "Look, maybe we just shouldn't right now..."

"I fucked up with the letter but meant what I said to you in front of my family. If you're gonna end this conversation here, you need to at least know that."

"I appreciate that and your honesty but I need time." Olivia is speaking softly, delicately, as she takes another step away from him. It would be nice to stand here and attempt to settle this with him, but they need far more than a couple of minutes chatting in a park. This can't be rushed and she deserves to not live in limbo while he's still living life as another person. "I hope you understand that this is all... you are… it's all a lot for me."

"We keep doing this. Speaking... in riddles. Can we please just—"

"No. Absolutely not," she says curtly. The disappointment in his voice isn't enough to get her to do this with him. It's cold and it's getting late and she just needs him to respect her decision, even if he doesn't understand it. It's quite literally for her mental health. If she's going to open up about her unresolved feelings from their past, it needs to be done correctly. It needs to be done in a way that will allow her to sleep this week because if only he knew, she has enough already keeping her up at night. "Look, El, you've asked me to back off before and I'm gonna have to ask you to do the same. At least until you're home."

He nods, agreeing, though his eyebrows are wrinkled and his eyes are displeased. "I hear you. I hear you but I just need you to know that when I come back I want things to be different between us. I want to work on our relationship and I'm asking... if we can do that?"

"How about you come home safe first? How about you do what you've said you'll do and then we can work on whatever it is you want to work on?" Olivia snaps, her eyes locked with his. Her eyes widen, looking for understanding, and the second he nods, Olivia takes off toward the exit of the park. "Have a good night," she tosses over her shoulder and he stands there, stuck, watching her leave.

She's a flash of brown hair blowing in the wind until she disappears behind the wilting trees and uneven pavement. It isn't how he expected the night to go. She'd flirted with him for a bit but the disappointment had probably been too much. He's failed her again and all he wanted was to just apologize and to prepare her for him to come stumbling back into her life again. And selfishly he wanted to see someone who really knew Elliot. Someone familiar, someone who made him feel safe to speak freely.

That didn't happen.

He clammed up embarrassingly, and now finds himself alone, slowly following her footsteps back up the windy path. He starts planning in his head, how he'll show up next time when he's home for good. He'll ask her on a date. A real one. Ask her to get dressed up, maybe bring her flowers. Maybe he'll kick everyone out of the apartment and he'll cook for her? Something easy enough where he'll be able to follow a recipe. His planning gets interrupted when he hears muffled voices arguing. Liv? His footsteps quicken, just in case... and that's when he hears it. Her name.

"Olivia, you've gotta be fucking kidding me!"

By the time he sees them, Olivia is standing five feet from an older man in a suit with tousled, white hair and a red face. He's yelling at her, animatedly, but he keeps the space between them. She hadn't even gotten that far from him and is still a ways from the entrance.

"Liv?" Elliot hollers, but neither of them turns to look in his direction. He breaks out in a light jog when the man takes a step toward her. Olivia steps back and her hand slowly goes to her side and she flips her holster open but doesn't go for her gun.

She's speaking again, much lower than the man had been moments ago. "Please... tell me... Burton, have you been drinking?" he hears Olivia ask.

"You don't get to ask me any fucking questions, Olivia. Not anymore!"

Is this... a dispute with a lover? He slows his pace but continues walking, trying to assess what's going on from where he is.

"So what? Are you gonna attack me? Hurt me? I think adding the assault of a police officer to your-"

"Fuck you, Olivia. You're so fucking-"

"You need to calm down," she says softly, calmly. Elliot sees it the second her eyes flash to his and he nods. Now, this is something they've done hundreds of times before. She knows she's got back up now, so her hands lift up in surrender and Elliot goes for the gun he has tucked into the back of his pants. "I know things between us are screwed up. I get that Burton and I'm so, so sorry."

Burton is too focused on Olivia to even hear Elliot's approach.

What the hell have you gotten into, Liv? He tries to keep himself from reacting, from doing too much, considering he isn't even supposed to be here. He's supposed to be Eddie Wagner and Eddie Wagner was told to get out of town for a bit to allow things to settle with the Kosta Organization. He'd been told by Jon Kosta himself to lay low and that sentiment had been echoed by Ayanna Bell and fuck, he has to behave.

"Are you sorry?" Burton spits. "'Cause you had the opportunity to help and you didn't. I helped you! I helped you and then you accused me! Me! Of hurting you!" He's slurring his words, looks unstable on his feet, and Elliot is sure Olivia could take this man, armed or not. Elliot keeps his gun lowered, and stands back, trusting Olivia to calm this man down. "You and those women have destroyed my name and you've been living your life like nothing ever happened! My life ruined and—"

Olivia steps back. "Have you been following me?"

"No!" the man roars.

If this guy Burton doesn't see it, Elliot does. Olivia deflates as the realization settles. "You've been following me, Burton," she says, and it's not a question this time. "Stalking me?"

"Now I'm a fucking Stalker?" Burton lunges for her, but she's quick enough that he only grabs a handful of her necklace, violently yanking it off before Elliot has the millisecond to stuff his gun in his pants again and jump into action. Everything happens quickly, the scuffle. Elliot almost has both of Burton's arms behind his back before he realizes he doesn't even have cuffs and for a sloppy drunk, the man is coordinated enough to finagle his way out of Elliot's hold and they come face to face.

"Liv, you okay?" Elliot asks but his back is now to her and he's too focused on holding Burton off, one hand out to him, the other reaching back into his pants for his gun. "Burton, is it? I need you to get on the ground." He whips his gun out, holds it steady, pointing it right at him and... Burton laughs. Elliot's gun does nothing to scare this man at all.

"You're her new boyfriend, aren't you?" he asks boldly.

"Captain Benson is a colleague. That's it. I need you to—"

"Fuck you!"

"Calm down. Nobody needs to get hurt," Elliot says calmly to him. "Liv?"

"I'm fine," she whispers, but it's weak and thick with emotion so Elliot steps back, tries to get at a vantage point where he can see Olivia without losing his view of Burton. He glances over to find her touching her neck and looking down at her own blood on her fingertips.

"On the ground, Burton," Elliot yells this time, before lowering his voice, angling his head toward Olivia. "You have cuffs on you? I need you to get out your phone."

"Do yourself a favor, buddy." Burton wags his finger in Elliot's direction, a drunken smile slanted across his face. "Stay far away from this one."

"Liv!" Elliot rumbles. Why isn't she answering him?

"She'll fuck you real good but I give it 3 out of 5 stars, given that it's twice now that she's fucked my life up."

"I was sixteen," she says and this time her voice is stronger. Elliot turns to look at her finally. She has tears streaming down her face and her hand pressed over the new scars on her chest. She's standing there, but her eyes aren't even focused. "Sixteen."

"Olivia," he calls and her watery eyes finally lift to his. She looks stunned, hurt. "You're fine, you hear me?" he says reassuringly. "You're okay. I need you to get your phone."

She nods, holding onto Elliot's soothing voice as she frantically reaches for her purse. She doesn't even get the phone in her hand before the shuffle of Burton's sloppy feet brings their attention back to him. He's coming full force, running, but moving too slow to be an actual threat. Elliot could shoot him, and he considers it, given that he's hurt Liv, but instead he lifts his hand and uses the butt of his gun to strike Burton across the face. It sends him stumbling backward, his red-rimmed blue eyes wide and stunned as he falls, landing knocked out cold, banging his head on the edge of the brick border of the cement path.

They both hear it, both wince at the deafening sound his skull makes colliding with the earth.

"Liv, call for backup. Who the hell is this?" Elliot's voice has turned urgent as he kneels beside the fallen man. Should he know this guy? He looks around and there's no one. Not one soul around them. Just him crouched down over this man he doesn't know and Olivia standing there again, helpless, not saying a word. Grabbing the man's chubby jaw, he turns his face to get a good look at him and that's when he sees the pool of blood. So much blood, seeping into white hair and black pavement.

"Fuck," Elliot grumbles. Ayanna is going to kill him.

He reaches to feel for Burton's pulse. He finds it, it's faint but he finds it. "Liv, call a bus," he begs, but Olivia remains unmoving. With one hand pressed against the side of Burton's neck, he uses the other to pull out one of his phones. It's his intention to call Bell, but it's the wrong phone. 

"Fuck!" Elliot mutters and it's then that he notices the thumping of Burton's heartbeat has gone still.

There's nothing. There's no pulse at all.

"Liv..." he rasps, and he doesn't even need to tell her. He doesn't even need to say the words. She knows and she bends over at the waist, both of her hands on her thighs. She's hyperventilating and fuck, he thinks.

"Fuck."

Burton is gone. The man is dead and Olivia has checked out and it leaves him with only one person to call.

Elliot raises the phone to his ear, waits for the ringing to stop, for the person to answer. He rises to his feet, his eyes now trained on Olivia. He wants to reach out, to touch her, to pull her in his arms but his hands are wet with blood.

"Hello?" he finally hears in his ear.

"Hey... it's Eddie. I need your help."