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Teaghlach

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Noah takes his time on Saturday mornings. He floats into consciousness around 8:30, gives his growing limbs a nice big stretch, and then lays in bed, cuddling his blankets for as long as his little bladder will let him. After going to the bathroom, Noah usually goes to the kitchen to get some juice and plays on his Switch until Mom gets up. Then, they make breakfast together.

This Saturday is different. Last night he went to bed a little later than usual because Elliot had come over. He and Mom were supposed to go to some art thing but Mom ended up having to stay at work, so Elliot decided to come over and hang out with him instead of going home. Lucy had been so happy to go meet up with her new boyfriend and Noah had been so happy when Elliot ordered his favorite orange chicken and told him to pick out a movie. He’d had fun with Elliot and, most importantly, he remembered how when Elliot had tucked him in, he had promised to make French toast in the morning. So, the moment Noah is up and out of the bathroom, he makes his way to the living room to find Elliot.

Except, there is no Elliot.

Elliot has only slept over twice, but when he does, he sleeps on the couch. This morning, there is no Elliot on the couch, no blankets and no pillows, no sign that anyone slept over at all. Noah remembers hearing his mom walk open the front door and coming in to kiss him goodnight. He remembers hearing her and Elliot talking and laughing in the living room. He doesn’t remember hearing the front door open or close again, so Elliot has to be here. He promised to be here in the morning.

Noah takes a deep breath and breathes out slowly the way Mom taught him to when he feels like he needs to calm down. It’s when he lets out his second breath that the door to Mom’s room opens.

It’s Elliot!

“G’morning, bud,” Elliot says, pulling Noah in for a hug and dropping a kiss on his head. “You ready for some breakfast?”

“Yeah,” Noah replies into his chest.

Noah watches Elliot starts humming, pulling all of the ingredients out onto the counter. Noah doesn’t know what song it is but it sounds familiar. Something about Elliot seems different to him. He’s not wearing the same clothes as he was last night, he’s wearing black sweatpants and his mom’s favorite hoodie, and for a moment Noah thinks that that’s what’s different; but those pants are the ones he keeps here for emergencies and Noah knows that the hoodie used to be his from before he was born. Something is different, but Noah is just not sure what it is.

“Do you want to crack the eggs?” Elliot asks and Noah nods, always eager to help in the kitchen.

Noah cracks 1-2-3 eggs into a bowl and eyes the empty couch as Elliot pulls a measuring cup out of the dishwasher.

“Did you sleep with mom?”

The cup must still be wet because Elliot almost drops it.

“W-what? What do you mean?”

“There’s no blankets or pillows on the couch and you came out of Mom’s room.”

“Oh,” Elliot sighs. “Yeah. Um, yes, I did sleep in your mom’s room. Is that, uh, okay with you?”

“Did she have a nightmare?” Sometimes, when Noah has a nightmare, he sleeps with his mom. He knows Mom sometimes has nightmares, even though she tries to hide it, and he hopes Elliot can take care of her when he can’t.

Elliot shakes his head. “No, no. We stayed up talking. She had a long day yesterday and needed to some cuddles and then we fell asleep.”

“Oh, okay.”

Milk, cinnamon, and a dash of vanilla are added to the eggs in quick succession and Noah is so focused on mixing and not spilling the dredge that he doesn’t notice Mom’s bedroom door open.

“Good morning, sweet boy,” Mom says, giving him a quick hug and kissing his head and cheeks.

“’Morning, Mom. We’re making French toast!”

“I see!” She turns to Elliot and her voice does that funny thing that it tends to do around him where it goes low and kind of whispery. “Good morning, my friend Elliot.”

Elliot chuckles and quietly says, “You already gave me a good morning.”

Noah scrunches his nose. How can someone give a person a good morning?

*

Eli practically jumps out of his skin when Noah bursts into his room.

“Dude, you need to start knocking!”

It is ten-thirty on a Saturday morning and he hasn’t even gotten out of bed yet, hell, he is just starting to become a conscious person again.

“They slept together!” Noah whisper shouts at him. “My mom and your dad slept together!”

“What?” Eli shakes his head and runs his hand across his face in a very Elliot Stabler way. “Do you even know what that phrase means?”

“Yeah, last night they cuddled and fell asleep together; but now they’re all smiley and Mom touched his butt. Like, she squeezed it,” Noah explains, turning around to demonstrate on his own tush. Eli doesn’t know if he’s exaggerating, but it seems like a hearty squeeze.

Eli studies Noah, his mind becoming sharper as each moment passes, as he takes in the kid’s wide excited eyes and the buzzing air radiating off of him. This seems worth getting out of bed for.

Walking out of his room, they turn towards the living room and find his dad and Olivia helping Bernie fold laundry. They do, indeed, seem...happy. And relaxed. Very relaxed.

Even Bernie seems to have noticed the change in them because she keeps looking at them and folding the same pair of pants over and over again.

“Good morning, Eli!” Olivia says, her smile brilliantly bright in a way he’s never seen before.

“’Morning Liv. Dad.” He takes a step forward and Noah follows. “You two look…rested. You guys got a good night’s sleep?”

Bernie squints and puts the pants aside.

“Yes, we did,” she answers.

Eli nods. “Together?”

Bernie scooches closer to her son.

Dad bites back a sigh. “Like I told Noah this morning, we were talking and we fell aslee- Gah!”

None of them noticed when Bernie had slipped under Dad’s nose, and none of them had ever seen her move as fast as she did when she pulled his shirt down low enough to reveal the massive hickey on his neck. Well, the space where his neck meets his shoulders.

“I knew it!” Bernie practically screams before dissolving into a fit of giggles.

Noah looks very concerned at Dad’s red face and his bruise. “What is that?”

“It’s a hickey,” Eli explains.

“What’s a hickey?”

“She kissed him so much she left a mark.”

“Eeww!”

Olivia looks back at them with concern, not seeming to care about Dad’s embarrassment at all. She steps towards both boys and pulls them onto the couch. There’s a trace of fear in her eyes and Eli can’t see why it should be there at all.

“Look, this, me and your dad, Elliot, it just happened yesterday. We wanted to wait a little bit and tell you boys individually,” she tells them, looking them both in the eye, her voice soft and reassuring. “It’s a change. We’ll probably be sleeping over at each other’s houses a little more and spending more time together, just the two of us. Your dad and I, we love each other very much; but we love you kids even more. So, if you’re not okay with this change, then just tell us and we’ll figure something out.”

“Why wouldn’t we be okay with it?” Noah asks, his little brow furrowed in a combination of worry and confusion.

“Yeah,” Eli adds, “now we can finally be a real family again.”

Olivia lets out a breath she seems to have been holding in, a few treacherous tears escaping as she pulls both boys into her arms and squeezes them tight, dropping kisses on their heads.

“Oh, I’m so happy!” Bernie cries, clapping her hands gleefully. “Let’s open a bottle of wine to celebrate!”

“Mama, it’s 11 a.m.”

“Fine, champagne, then. We’ll do mimosas.” She pats his shoulder soothingly on her way to kitchen. “Oh, my darling boy, I’m so glad you finally pulled your head out of your ass.”

*

It takes two weeks before anyone can get all five Stabler siblings are able to sit down at one table at the same time and, frankly, Eli feels that it has been two weeks too long. Elliot and Olivia made Bernie and the boys swear to secrecy regarding the change in their relationship status, telling them that they want to tell the “big kids” in person. It’s a big deal to them, to Olivia, especially.

From the moment all four of his siblings confirmed they were coming over for dinner, Olivia has been the most nervous Eli has ever seen her. She keeps wringing her hands and rearranging throw pillows, keeps making sure that Richard’s favorite ice cream is in the freezer. The part that has Eli just a little concerned is how much she keeps hungrily eyeing the bottles of wine they set out.

By 5 o’clock his siblings start to arrive one by one and by 6 o’clock they are all in the back patio, sitting at a big party table that seems to have come out of nowhere, looking expectantly at Elliot and Olivia over plates of meatloaf and potatoes.

“So, where’s Noah?” Kathleen asks. “You said you wanted all us kids here.”

“Noah is at Fin’s tonight,” Olivia answers before downing her glass of wine in a matter of seconds.

Maureen nods almost eagerly. “Because you have an announcement to make, right?”

“Yep,” Elliot says, nodding his head excitedly and turning to Olivia who looks at him with pleading eyes. He threads his fingers with hers and breathes in deep.

All four adult Stabler children hold their breath, Eli holds his phone just high enough to get everyone’s faces, and Bernie watches it all unfold with a mouth full of mashed potatoes.

“Olivia and I are together now.”

The patio is quiet.

Bernie takes another forkful of potatoes. Eli’s phone is still recording.

Elliot tries again. “Olivia and I are a couple now.”

His adult children look back at him in confusion.

More silence.

Eli rolls his eyes, “Two weeks ago. They got together two weeks ago.”

The patio is no longer quiet.

“What do you mean ‘two weeks ago’?!” Kathleen all but shouts.

“I thought you were getting married,” Lizzie whimpers.

“I can’t believe this. I can’t believe this. I can’t believe-“ Maureen murmurs as she frantically texts her husband the news.

“I KNEW IT!” Richard crows, earning a glare from everyone at the table, save for Olivia. “I told you guys, I TOLD you. There was no way they would be doing it without telling us.”

Lizzie purses her lips in thought. “So, you only got together two weeks ago?” Her dad and Olivia nod their heads as her grandma rubs her back. “We thought you got together at Christmas. We thought you were gonna tell us you were engaged.”

Olivia’s jaw drops in horror. “You all thought that your dad and I were together and we didn’t tell you?”

“Not me. I knew,” Richard says, taking a swig of his beer.

Olivia ignores him. “I have spent the past two weeks, hell, longer than that, terrified at the thought that you might be upset if your dad and I got together. You loved your mom so much and I was afraid that you might think I was trying to take her place. That’s why we decided to tell you kids here, all together and in person, so we could discuss this as a family.”

Kathleen shakes her head. “Liv, I know Grandma and I are the certifiably crazy ones but you’re nuts if you thought we wouldn’t be happy for you guys.”

“You were always part of our family, Liv,” Maureen adds. “We always knew that if Daddy could be with anyone other than mom, it would be you.”

“Yeah, we called it after the funeral,” Richard says into his beer before his father takes it from him.

Olivia turns to Richard, her eyes wide. She can’t forget the anger in his eyes when he asked her that question all those years ago, ‘You ever sleep with your partner?’. It’s his reaction she’s been nervous about all night, making sure his favorite ice cream is in the freezer, his favorite beer in the fridge, the throw pillows he bought on the couch.

“Dickie?”

She’s the only person outside of blood who still calls him that.

“Olivia, I knew you wouldn’t keep it from us. I knew you would do this – have us all over for dinner and tell us. You were always honest with us and this wouldn’t be any different.”

And suddenly, that angry teenage boy is gone and in his place is a grown man with clear eyes and a tender heart and her love for him grows and grows.

Elliot pulls Olivia close and brushes a kiss to her cheek.

“See, I told you it would be fine.”

*

Miles away, somewhere between the Upper West Side and Midtown, Noah sits at his Uncle Fin’s coffee table and works diligently on his homework.

“Whatcha’ got there, little man,” Uncle Fin asks him.

“Something for school. I’m almost done with it. See, it’s a family tree.”

The boy proudly shows off his unfinished work, the only thing needing to be done being the color of the tree itself. Fin looks over it carefully. His smile grows as he works his way from the top down. He sees his old captain in the space reserved for ‘Maternal Grandfather’ and himself in a space reserved for ‘Uncle’. He laughs when he sees Elliot under ‘Father’ and all of the Stabler children beneath him, Noah’s own name squeezed in for last. Kathy is there too, which catches Fin by surprise, her name sitting next to Elliot’s with a small cross beside it.

“Looks like you’re going to run out of paper there, kid.”

“Yeah,” Noah sighs tiredly. “I’ve got a big family.”