Still Frames in Your Mind
Story 1: A Very Safe Place, Chapter 1: i'm too tired to have a pissing contest
She started to show up in places.
First, it was outside of his practices, her watchful eye making sure that he showed up and stayed the entire time. Then, it was his games.
She didn’t say anything to him at all, she just stood, watching, a stoic expression on her face.
At the games, she would take a seat next to Kathleen on the bench and smile, while watching him play. Sometimes, she brought her kid with her, and when the things were over, she would leave, quietly. Without a word to him, but with a smile and nod to his sister or grandmother.
He wasn’t sure what she was doing there, what she was doing anywhere. As though she just fit.
He was never sure why she just seemed to be present.
All he knew is that she had been the one who had discovered the pills he’d dropped on the floor a couple weeks ago. The one that had been the catalyst for the cameras that his father had installed. The ones that made the apartment feel like East Germany during the Cold War.
Then, his dad came back from being undercover.
She stopped showing up places, and instead, his father was standing there, sometimes in view, sometimes out of view. A couple of games he’d caught her sitting next to his father, but she’d disappear before the end of the match. She didn’t have her son with her when she was around his father though.
He’d get up to go get a glass of water at night, and they would be sitting on the back patio, a bottle of wine between the two of them and each holding a glass. He’d watch as his father would lean forward and say something, with a grin on his face that Eli had never been witness to, and she would throw her head back, laughing.
Eli began watching from around the corner. She’d show up, have one glass of wine, talk for about an hour, and then she’d leave.
His father would come back into the kitchen, a smile on his face, place the bottle of wine in the fridge, the proceed to the couch.
He didn’t understand why. He wanted to.
Then, she showed up at his school one day in February, waiting on him in the office. He’d gotten called out of class and had been instructed to take his things with him, he would be leaving for the afternoon. When he caught sight of her standing there, hands in her winter jacket, brows furrowed in concentration. It was odd, to have her picking him up from school.
“Where’s my dad?” He asked, his eyes wide. “Olivia?”
“He’s fine, Eli.” She took a deep breath, taking her hand out of her pocket and placed it on his shoulder. She gave him one of those quiet smiles he’d seen her give his father once or twice. The quiet, sad smile. He wasn’t sure what this look meant, but “We’ll talk in the car. You have everything?”
He looked into her eyes. Whatever it was, wasn’t anything major, otherwise, he was convinced that she would be a total basket-case.
Eli missed his mother. He missed the way she’d take him out for Gelato after soccer practice. Missed the way she’d laugh while they watched the movie Café Express together, a bowl of popcorn with grated Parmesan cheese and crushed Italian seasoning sprinkled over the top – Eli would turn his dark eyes towards her and watch as the laugh lines on her face would crinkle.
In many ways, he’d been told by his older siblings that he was lucky because he got their parents when they were more carefree. But, he’d also been told by them that he was also royally screwed because there wasn’t much he could try to pull over their heads – because having four siblings that came before you and that had been mostly grown by the time you were born, was a major buzzkill.
Climbing in the backseat of her vehicle, he reached around for the seatbelt and waited patiently as she climbed into the driver’s seat.
“Olivia. Are you going to tell me why you’re picking me up?” Eli asked, pulling his phone out of his bag and turning it on. She glanced back and held out her hand.
“Eli, listen carefully, I’m picking you up because your father asked me to.” The tone of her voice is sad, flat, and she doesn’t have that spark that he’s begun to make note of when she is around his father, grandmother, or sister.
“Why couldn’t he do it? And why pick me up before the end of the day?”
“Look, I have to go get Noah. You also need to hand me your phone, because of security. So, can we have this discussion later?” Eli handed Olivia the phone begrudgingly and watched as she dropped it into her bag, shutting it off as she did so.
“I don’t want to have this discussion later.” Eli’s finally had enough of dancing around Olivia Benson and seeing her dance around his family. She’s been somewhat of a silent fixture in his family’s life. “I see you everywhere, and you’ve just kind of slid your way into my family, and I don’t understand.” He feels the anger boiling in his stomach, “No one will tell me anything about how or why you’re always around. No one talks about it at all. They just accepted you.”
“Eli.” Her tone isn’t as cutting as the one he’d heard the one night when she’d gotten into a heated discussion with his father, not finished her glass of wine, and had stormed off. He’d heard his dad on the phone with her an hour later, apologizing profusely. Whatever it had been that he’d said was bad enough that his father was practically begging the woman in the Driver’s Seat to forgive him. “I have a history with your family. I knew all your siblings very well. Your father and I were partners.”
“I’m fully fucking aware of that, Olivia. Do you have a savior complex or something?”
She closed her eyes, jaw clenched, and took a deep breath. When she opened them he suddenly saw the shift in her dark eyes. How dare he use that language with her.
“Listen. And listen closely.” Her voice suddenly has an edge to it, and Eli sat back in his seat, phone still in hand. “I know you hate me, for whatever reason. But let me tell you something, Eli, I was there on the day you were born. And no, I don’t have a savior complex.” She takes a deep breath, her hand still resting on the steering wheel and her elbow on middle console.
“I helped put the IV in your mother’s arm, I helped cover her while they cut her out of the car…She begged me not to leave her. So I didn’t. I kept whispering to her that I was right there for her, and she was doing great. When you finally came out – bloody, and perfect, she was so relieved. But then she crashed, and they handed you to me, and when I held you to my chest as we raced through the streets – I made a promise.”
Eli swallows, his mother had never told him the story of his birth, only that it was traumatic, and he was perfect, and she was grateful that he’d been healthy.
“I made a promise not only to your mother, while she was being resuscitated – but to you, and I whispered a promise to your father even though he wasn’t there. I’m a woman of my word, Elliot Joseph Stabler Junior.”
“What was that?” A moment passes, and when she gets the first opportunity, she turns off the Bluetooth on her phone and quietly presses Elliot’s contact information on her ‘quick contacts’ screen, leaving the phone in between her thigh, she knows that Elliot has picked up on the other end of the line, because it says connected. “What promise did you make?”
“I promised that if anything ever happened to either of your parents, I would do everything within my power to make sure that you were taken care of and looked out for. You can hate me all you want, Eli, but I’m never going to stop loving you or your family. Regardless of whether or not your mother wanted to convince me that everything I felt was real or not, I know what’s real.”
He suddenly saw the vein to dig into, “Do you think you can just take her place? I bet you wish your son was his, don’t you? God, why is it that everyone is in love with you? Even Dad, and mom just died this last year. Are you going to ignore me now?””
“Eli, maybe you should talk to your dad about all of this. Don’t ask questions you’re not prepared to hear the answer to.” She wasn’t going to approach what Eli had just said, what Elliot had said once in the midst of an Intervention, had a half-assed mention of on a partial voicemail, and then never brought up again.
“You show up – everywhere. I want to know the answers. Otherwise I wouldn’t have asked.”
“Because your family was my family for thirteen years.”
They pull up to a stop light and he sees her hands clench on the steering wheel. She knows Elliot is listening on the other end of the line, and she should feel bad about doing this, but she’s had enough of his insolence when all she’s trying to do is keep her promise to make sure he stays safe, alive, and on the right track. “Why does my Grandma think you hung the stars? Why do you and dad sit outside every single night but refuse to acknowledge whatever it is you’re doing. What’s your endgame, here?”
“My endgame?” She asks, incredulous. Choose your words carefully, Benson. Elliot is listening. “Eli, I would never try to take your mother’s place. I fought for your parents’ marriage sometimes harder than they did. I kept my walls up all the time because I valued their relationship and devotion to something I always dreamed about but was never lucky enough to find. Up until recently I had thought your mother and I had become friends.” She states so matter-of-factly, as though it were as simple as breathing, “Yeah, I wish Noah was your dad’s son. Hell, you should have been mine and your father’s son. But you aren’t. I’ve learned to live with disappointment.”
Eli swallows thickly, maybe he shouldn’t have been such an asshole. She’d been right when she’d said not to ask questions he wasn’t prepared to hear the answers to.
“Why is everyone in love with me? I don’t know. Have your siblings spoken to you about their teenage years? Let me tell you something, sweetheart, compared to Kathleen and Richard’s problems, yours is nothing. I have been present because I don’t want to end up putting handcuffs on three out of five of your father’s children. I want to make sure you don’t end up in a box next to your mother. I fought like hell to help her bring you into this world, and by God, I don’t want to see you leave it.” She takes another deep breath as she turns down the street about five minutes away from Noah’s school. “I’m fiercely protective of the people I love.”
He thinks about apologizing, but he knows she’s not done talking when he catches her dark eyes in the mirror. It was funny, when he thought about it, his mother and father both had bright blue eyes just like all his siblings. Just like his Grandma Bernie and the photos of his Grandpa Joe. His mother’s parents had blue eyes too. He didn’t understand where his brown eyes came from. He wanted to understand. Someone said something about his great grandmother on his mother’s side had brown eyes, and he knows enough Biology to understand that it’s very possible their recessive gene was brown eyes.
But he’s stuck on the thing she just admitted. He should have been hers. What did that even mean?
“I never asked for your father to be in love with me, Eli. I don’t think he is. I think he’s in love with the idea of who I used to be, but he’s still learning who I am now. I didn’t ask to fall in love with your father, either. But I would go to the ends of the Earth for him, because…he’s my partner.”
“But you’re not, Olivia. You’re the Captain of SVU and he’s a Detective in OCCB. You haven’t been partners for over ten years.”
“A partnership doesn’t just go away, Eli. I’m going to go in and get Noah. If you have anything more to say, hold it until later – none of this gets repeated in front of him, do you understand me?” The teenager’s steely gaze is fixed on the woman in the front seat as she turns the vehicle off, grasping her phone in her hand and stepping out of the truck.
As she walks to the school, she puts the phone to her ear. “Liv, you there?”
“I have that photo tucked away somewhere.” He speaks softly into the phone, “The one of you holding him, with your shirt all bloody, - that goofy grin on your face.” She feels her breath catch in her throat. Unsure of what to say, “It’s actually wallet size, in the back of my wallet, right now.”
She’s not sure what to say about what he’s just admitted, luckily, she doesn’t have to.
“I’ll talk to Eli when you get here. Are you getting Noah now?” Elliot’s voice finally speaks directly to her and she stops for a second.
“Yeah.” she answers, walking to the front door where she pulls it open and is met with the Security Checkpoint. “Here to pick up Noah Benson.” She tells the guard, who pulls up her son’s information in the computer and then picks up the receiver, notifying his teacher to send her son to her.
“So, you’re in love with me?” He asks, expecting her to just say yeah again, because he can tell she’s rattled. Just wasn’t going to let his son intimidate her. Listening to her speak to him was eye-opening.
“Shut up, Stabler.”
“Yes, Captain.” A moment of silence passes while she takes a seat on the hard plastic chair in the Security Vestibule.
“El? We’re going to be okay, right?”
“Liv, we’re going to be more than okay. And just so you know, I’m not in love with the idea of you. I know you’re not the same. Hell, I’m not the same. I’m not an idiot.” He chuckles at his last remark and she lets out a huff of air.
“You are an idiot, Stabler.”
“I’d be your idiot.”
“Don’t say that.” She whispers. “I’ll see you in twenty.” She places her hand on her son’s backpack as she steers him out of the building and to the SUV where Elliot’s youngest child is waiting, she hangs up the phone and takes a deep breath, opening the back door and watching as Noah climbs in.
Once she’s in the driver’s seat again, she turns around.
“Eli, this is Noah, my son. Noah, this is Eli, Elliot’s son.”
As she began driving through the streets of the city, towards the safe house, she couldn’t help but be grateful for the silence in the backseat. Her son was studying the teenager next to him suspiciously and it made her chuckle slightly. Eli had pulled a book out of his bag and when she saw the title, she had to shake her head.
He was reading ‘Angels & Demons’ by Dan Brown. Better than the Graphic Novel she saw on his shelf while she was giving herself a tour of Elliot’s Apartment.
At least that was something they had in common, they both liked to read. She hoped that eventually, he would warm up to her, but at the moment, she was just chalking it up to teenage hormones.
“So, Eli, do you like playing video games?” Noah asked, finally deciding to make contact with the teenager who was trying to ignore him.
“Yeah, I do.” Eli answered, lowering his book and Olivia watched in the mirror.
“Do you want to play a game? I have my Switch.” Noah asked, his eyes perking up.
“Nah, but I’ll watch you.” Eli tucked his book back in his bag and Olivia just watched the two boys finally interact. She watched, grateful that she didn’t have to intervene and grateful that they had found something to talk about.