Actions

Work Header

Vows

Chapter Text

It’s two weeks out from the wedding, a late Friday afternoon when he presses her to meet him. He does this when there’s something he wants to discuss outside the math worksheets, soccer practices, and Bernie’s twice-a-week 6 pm dinner rule that make up their life at home.

“Let’s grab that”, Elliot nods to a bench ahead.

They’re down in DUMBO, walking along the East River, threading their way through a stream of selfie-takers and advertising people on whatever has replaced coffee breaks, 'smoothies?' 'matcha?' Elliot doesn’t know. It’s not their scene but Eli’s therapist is down here and he makes a point to always pick him up after the appointment.

Olivia slides onto the bench without really looking – she’s deep in text.

“I’m gonna take that phone.”

“I’m sorry.” She’s really getting better about a work/life balance but sometimes she still needs a reminder, to be present, “I’m here.” She pockets the phone and turns to him with a smile, that smile, “What’s up?”

It grounds him, the knowing that emanates from that smile, he throws his arm across the back of the bench. The late April sun is transforming from the passive winter ‘light in the sky’ to actual warmth and he feels it. He feels her. Through his pores. It gives him the kick to say what’s on his mind.

“I want us to write our vows.”

Olivia sucks in a breath, “I thought we agreed to do the pre-written, the traditional route.”

“I need to say some things, that I’d like the room to hear.”

“Detective, are you getting married or being called to the stand?”

“Olivia.” He turns to her, a warning in his voice. He’s serious about this wedding. Prickly when she tries to treat it too lightly. Probably because, over the course of three years, he's formally proposed twice and informally proposed, well – let’s not count up those.

She tries again, “El, a wedding is usually proof enough of deep – feelings, commitment. You don’t need to – convince the room.”

She’s staring out at the river, talking with her hands, trying to land her point without meeting his eyes. He knew she wouldn’t be on board. He’s fine with that. He’d never admit it but there lurking, in some primal part of his mind, he sometimes likes to see if he can push her to submit.

“You’re chicken.”

Her head flips to him, startled, “Excuse me?”

“Oh yeah, Benson. You’re scared.”

She scoffs, “Of what?”

He shifts closer to her, nudging his face within a couple of inches from hers, “Of going off book, getting caught – saying something that reveals you.”

She lets out a short laugh, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Let me ask you this.” His voice dips an octave, “When we’re in bed and – and I’m inside you, lifting your hair, so I can see your lips part to say my name – what’re you thinking about?”

It’s hard to fluster Olivia Benson, but she’s wide-eyed, “Jesus, Elliot. I’m well, I’m usually thinking about – you, being there with you.”

He smoothes a piece of hair from her face, “Gonna need you to get more specific.”

“I hardly think this is something we need to tell the room.”

“We can keep it PG.”

This is still hard for her. But she knows he needs it. She needs his love in service. His dedication to her, his kids, to Noah. But he needs to hear it from her, he needs to physically feel it. Sometimes when he makes love to her, it seems like he can't get deep enough – that's he's trying to join them, wanting all of her beating inside his muscle. 

Olivia squares her shoulders. She can do this, she can be vulnerable on the spot, “Alright. I’m focused on your eyes. How many hours I’ve looked at them. How long I’ve known them. How everything changes. How everything will continue to change but your eyes – they don’t. They’re an anchor. God, even when I hadn't seen you for a decade. I saw your eyes and..." She shakes her head, "They’re my home.”

He’s quick. The arm that’s been hung over the bench swings back, so both of his hands can cup her neck. He points her face up to meet his eyes, but he doesn’t kiss her. He holds her there, looking up to him. Tracing her lips, her laugh lines, her eyelashes with his eyes. He thinks, in that dark way he’d never speak out loud, that he might have been the first person who loved her own huge, dark, all-seeing eyes. That being the first to love them meant they were always his – just waiting for him to claim them. 

“Is that sufficient?” She interrupts their staring, a little breathless.

“It’s not bad.” His voice is thin too, “But now that you told me – you’ve gotta think of something else.”

She dips her head back and laughs, “God, you’re incorrigible.”

He brings her face back to him, “Hey, no five-dollar words either – it’s gotta be stuff I can understand.”

“Oh yes, I have to remember. I’m marrying a cop from Queens.”

He grins and pulls her all the way in. Her lips are slightly chapped, a remnant of the last winter she'll have a solitary last name. He nips at them as he covers them with his, “That you are, Captain. That you are."

Chapter Text

“So Liv?” Kathleen stands there, smiling and expectant in front of a table at the florist’s loft, “What do you think?” 

In front of her, resplendent in their simplicity are sample garlands for the ceremony and a "rough draft" of Olivia’s bouquet. Centering on a rosy spectrum of dahlias, it has, what Kathleen calls, “a picked-from-a-garden feel”. Olivia supposes this “feel” is translated from one of the impromptu directives she gave the Stabler girls, who three months ago cornered her in the kitchen after dinner. Three pairs of those all-seeing blue eyes imploring her to make some wedding decisions to which Olivia mostly responded with, “I guess things that are good outside? Since your father would like this thing outside.”

All of this already felt like too much of a thing. The girls took it over (dragging Noah’s excitement along with them) and were oh so helpful but she feels like maybe she had been in warm, shallow waters accepting the proposal and now she’s out of her depth – trying to tread in a dark ocean where the shore keeps getting farther away.  

Olivia nods slowly at the table layered with flowers, “This looks good. Solid.”

“Solid?” Kathleen smiles. 

“I’m sorry this – they are lovely.” And by the grace of some higher power, Olivia’s phone rings. 

“Benson.” She turns from the table, walking towards a large picture window on the other side of the room overlooking the cobblestone streets of SoHo. 

“When you gonna start answering it “Stabler”?” Fin jabs.

“When did you start having a death wish?” 

“Hey, I just need to prepare myself.” Fin shifts his tone, “So the guy who went from “Me Too” harasser to our potential rapist, we got ‘em here. He’s slippery.” 

“I’m actually –”  Olivia hesitantly turns back to Kathleen who is now in deep conversation with the florist, “Doing some stuff.” 

“Ah, of course. One week out.”

She’s just about to ask Fin to call if they can’t make any inroads with the perp, when she overhears the florist use the phrase “extraneous greenery” and she immediately flips on her decision, “Actually, I can be there in 20.”

“You sure? I know you got stuff.” 

“Kathleen has it covered.” 

Fin tsks, “Making that poor girl plan her dad’s wedding to her new mom. That’s some evil step-mom shit.” 

“Hey, she seems to have a passion for this and I’m no one’s new mom. I’m more like an old, missing aunt.” 

“Really selling yourself there, Cap.”

Olivia sighs, rubbing her forehead with her free hand, turning back to the window. What is she doing having a wedding? With garlands? She can feel a former version of herself safely on the shore, waving, and laughing.

“You doing okay over there?” 

Fin rips her from her self-questioning. It’s hot. How is it only May? It feels like deep summer. She’s going to be pledging eternal devotion to Elliot fucking Stabler on an outdoor patio while having a panic attack. 

“I’m – this is...” She tries to settle herself, “I can’t believe I let him and Noah talk me out of the courthouse.”

“You know I get it.” Fin laughs, making Olivia think back to his own non-wedding years ago, “But you’re not gonna get a "Get out of wedded bliss" card – not with that groomzilla on your hands.”

“God.” She doesn’t know why she feels like confessing this to Fin but she needs to get it out, “You know we’re writing our own vows?”

Thankfully Fin doesn’t go for the easy laugh, instead, his voice drops the sarcasm, “Come on Liv. You know that man. It was always gonna be like this. Everything with him is a scene.”

Olivia groans. 

Fin continues, “I think the kids would call it extra. He’s extra. Or is he thirsty? It’s one of those.”

Olivia starts flexing the fingers on her right hand, starring down at the gold band, peppered with small diamonds. Their alternate hand, understated compromise after she said she didn’t feel comfortable wearing something to work, but Elliot hated the idea of her being “bare – without me in the world”. His late-night words, not hers. 

“So are you coming down here or are you Runaway Bride-ing it?”

“I’m coming down there. Just let me say goodbye to Katie.” 

“You know Liv, you can’t fault him.” 

She starts walking back over to the flower explosion table, “Hmm?” 

“He’s a lucky SOB. He wants to show the world that he’s fucking lucky.” 

Olivia blows out a breath, “I don’t know. Maybe he just needs to prove something.” 

“Or maybe he had to move 4,000 miles across the world because he was so in love with you and now he gets to live it and he likes being loud.”

Olivia lifts her head up, “I can do this.” 

“You sure? You’re kind of a lightweight when it comes to scary, brutal shit.” 

Olivia smiles. More comfortable with the sarcasm back in Fin's voice, “I gotta go.”

“One more thing, at this point if you book it you better get all your shit on lock because Stabler will get that little goth hacker on it and find your ass so fast.” 

“Don’t be sexist. She’s a detective.” 

“How is that sexist? She freaks me out.”

"Sure." Olivia smirks, "I'll see you in 20."

Chapter Text

“Alright!” Elliot claps to get the attention of the boys, ”Suits. Katie, you coming?” 

Kathleen, who is whispering to her grandmother in the kitchen, leans back to look at her brothers, dad, and Noah assembled in the living room, “Um, yeah just – yeah, I’m ready.” 

“Elliot!” Bernie calls to him. 

“No!” Kathleen squeezes one of Bernie’s hands. 

Elliot looks over at them, suspicion sparking in his spine. 

“She’s getting green around the gills!” Bernie declares, “I knew it!” 

“Let’s go get the suits!” Kathleen yells trying to cover up Bernie’s flare gun declaration. 

Elliot strolls up to the kitchen island with his patented brand of false nonchalance, “Who is getting green around the gills?" 

It’s not a question and Kathleen knows it. Knows how her father likes to play oblivious when he sets out on a fact-finding mission. The boys, Rich, Eli, and Noah, all look over. They, minus Noah, who is learning, know this tone, know this move.  

“Hey, let’s go wait downstairs,” Rich says, placing his hand on Noah’s curls tilting his head at Eli towards the front door. 

“Dad we’ll see you down there,” Eli shouts.  

Elliot waits for the front door to close and then turns his attention back to the wide-eyed women in his kitchen, “Ladies,” he drawls. 

“I –,” Kathleen clicks her tongue trying to hedge her words wisely, “I went with Liv to look at the flowers today.”

Elliot nods, “Great. How they looking?”

“Beautiful,” Kathleen smiles, “A beautiful kind of wild.” 

“That’s not the only thing looking wild,” Bernie mutters to herself.

Kathleen shoots a look at her grandmother, “Liv, seems worried – anxious which is weird you know for a person who is always solid as a rock.” 

“She’s got cold feet!” Bernie shakes her head, “Hope she doesn’t run! What will we do if she runs?” 

“No one is running.”

“Grandma!”

Elliot and Kathleen state and shout to Bernie in unison. 

“Well! We need to plan for it. I love her but the woman’s like Gray sometimes. Let’s you love up on her one day and then gets that faraway look in her eye and you gotta spend the next evening coaxing her all over again.” 

“Gray?” Kathleen furrows her brow. 

Elliot rubs at his eyes and takes a deep breath, “I would appreciate it if we didn’t compare Olivia to the stray patio cat.” 

“They’re both very lovable.” Bernie adds, “But you know – can you keep them? Or do they feel,” She waves her hand towards the patio, “Like they belong out there?” 

“You think I’m trapping her?” Elliot says lowly. 

“Dad…” 

“I think you ask for a lot!” Bernie declares. 

Elliot pushes up from the counter, “What did she say today? Katie, when you saw her?” 

“It wasn’t so much what she said,” Kathleen gives a nervous smile, “She got a phone call and just drifted into that and then had to leave.” 

Elliot puts his hands on his hips and starts to pace, “She’s supposed to be on a reduced schedule this week.” 

“Where is she right now, dad?” 

“Great question!” Elliot bellows. 

“Now he’s upset,” Bernie tuts. “Elliot, go pick up the suits. The boys are waiting. I’ll talk to her.” 

“No, no, no,” Elliot grabs his coat off the rack, “I haven’t been able to reach her all afternoon. And now this, I need to find her.” 

“Good lord, no wonder the woman needs space! She’s gotta come back here to sleep!” 

“Actually, she can sleep at the precinct,” Kathleen grimaces, “Dad used to when mom and him were – you know, not great.” 

“Elliot! Do not go hunting for her. It will not make it better!” 

“Dad,” Kathleen gently reaches for him, grabbing the arm that’s clutching his jacket, “I agree with grandma. Maybe let her have today?” 

Elliot looks down at Kathleen’s hand on him and then warily up at the two of them. 

“Maybe we can think of a way to make it easier for her?” Kathleen looks at Bernie and Elliot hopefully. 

“I don’t think they know that word, Katie.” 

“Grandma, be helpful, ok?” 

Elliot throws his jacket on the kitchen island and braces his hands on the edge of it and thinks of the him from twenty-plus years ago. How that him would storm into her office right now, hands burning with the desire to pull her from her chair and just fuck the wedding – find a way to just meld her to him. It's at best controlling. It's at worst psychotic. And he will absolutely keep it to himself. 

He looks up to his mother and his daughter, eyes shining, “Tell me what to do. Tell me what won’t spook her.” 

Kathleen and Bernie trade looks. 

“I think you should text the guys, who I’m sure are having pizza by now, and go get the suits.” Kathleen supplies. 

Bernie nods feverishly, “Yes! Agree with Katie. And I’ll call Liv. She’ll pick up.” 

Elliot looks at his mom skeptically. 

“When you’re old everyone picks up, could be the last time they’ll ever talk to me!” 

“Grandma will find out,” Kathleen shoots daggers at Bernie, “She will find out how Liv is feeling, get her to say – grandma listen, you’ll subtly get her to tell you her plans for the night.” 

“I know how to get the information I want, Katie. I’ve been manipulating people for a very long time.” 

Elliot closes his eyes and takes a deep breath through his nose. He thinks of what Liv said to him once, “You’ve spent too much money on therapy to act the way you did at 40.” 

“And then we’ll update you, dad. I will call you. But we’ll find out what she’s doing in a very non-threatening, “you do you Liv” way.” 

“Well not too much of “you do you” or she might hop on the Concorde.” Bernie huffs. 

“Mama,” Elliot sighs and looks up at his mom, who is worrying her hands and bouncing her eyes between Katie and him. He thinks of Liv again, fuck when is he not, but even if she did bolt on him, slice herself completely from him, disappear like he did – in a way it wouldn’t fucking matter. Because he won’t be able to get rid of her, everything smart he thinks is something she's said. And what he’s thinking now is her saying to him once in a different century, ponytail bobbing in a New York July, “Everything you want to use your fists for – I want you to spend a month communicating it with words instead. Can you do that for me?” 

“Mama.” Elliot repeats, “I want to rip this kitchen island from the floorboards.”

“Elliot.” 

“No. At just the thought of – I don’t know if I can survive getting this far and then losing her.” 

Bernie seems to sober in some way. She steadies, stands up straighter, “You won’t lose her. Not today. I promise my boy.” 

She reaches across the counter for Elliot’s hand and then tosses her head at Katie to grab the other. And the three of them stand there. In some kind of quiet prayer circle, holding hands, refusing – in a loving way – to let Olivia get away.

Chapter Text

It’s loose, very loose, on all of her fingers. Thick, brash, unignorable – it makes sense that this is what Elliot picked for his wedding band. 

What would happen if she just threw it off the roof? That’s not good. That’s not how she feels. That’s a panicked response. Why doesn’t she have one married friend to talk about this with?

Olivia blows out a stuttering breath and leans against an air duct. Everything on the precinct roof is wonderfully still. The Empire State, of course. Even the cranes – building whatever new modern monstrosities that will pop up over the next couple of years aren’t moving. There’s no wind. There are no clouds. She loves the roof. Maybe she’ll move up here. Noah would like it for a couple of weeks. It’d feel like camping. Camping. Another thing she’s out of her depth with that the Stablers have turned him on to. A thought that starts to close up her throat blooms in her mind, how much would it break Noah’s heart if she called this off? While she’s feeling like she’s slowly drowning, Noah is thriving. Every part of her personality she isn’t the biggest fan of that Noah happened to absorb by osmosis is now slipping away. That slight remove he has with new people, his quiet questioning long after facts have been revealed. He’s tactile and loud now. Jumping into pizza topping debates with his soon-to-be step-siblings, letting Maureen’s sons wrestle him while they watch cartoons. Olivia feels Serena’s voice slink up behind her, cold and imposing, "Maybe he’s happier with them than you?” 

This is fucking crazy. She made a decision and she’s going to stick with it. She loves Elliot. She loves this family they’ve blended together. She loves that she can give Noah so much more support and care. It’s messy, it’s good, it’s real life. Full stop. 

With that, she calls her son, and on the third ring, her soon-to-be step-son picks up instead. 

“Hey, Liv.”

“Eli!”

“Don’t worry.” A son of a cop knows to immediately stomp out fear, “Noah’s here – he’s just trying on his suit.” 

“Of course, of course.” Liv lets Elliot’s wedding ring slide between her thumb and index finger, “Thought that was happening earlier?”

“Yeah, we got delayed – by things.” 

Olivia hears voices in the background, Elliot’s voice cutting above the rest with something pressing and intense she can’t quite make out beyond the word “where” but just that is enough to know the rest. She’s been playing with fire being MIA today. Someone must have convinced him not to blow up her phone or he’s furious. She’d bet her pension that both are true. 

Eli seems to position himself away from any interrogation though because his next question is unrelated and lovingly conspiratorial, “Hey, wanna see a pic of Noah suited up?” 

Olivia smiles to herself, “I’d love that.” 

“Ok. Hold on. Noah!” Eli calls out. 

While she waits she thinks – maybe if she doesn’t hyphenate her name? Maybe that would make her feel better. 

“You gotta pose!” she hears Eli laugh, “Oh, yeah! That’s it. Ok. Liv,” his voice is back in her ear, “Sent.” 

Olivia’s phone chimes, she takes it away from her ear and there he is, her boy in his first suit. It knocks the non-existent wind out of her, “God. Wow.”

“He looks slick right?” 

Olivia laughs, “Yes, god. I don’t know how it happens.”

“My mom said we grew up while she was busy grocery shopping.” 

“Your mom was right.”

Eli gets quiet, clears his throat, “Sorry, you wanna talk to Noah.”

“I like talking to you too Eli.”

She can hear his sheepish smile, “Yeah, you’re not bad to talk to either. Hey, Noah – here's your mom.” 

“Hey sweetheart, how are you?”

“Great!” Noah answers, breathlessly, “We got pizza at this place that had pinball games and I scored like 200,000 points on this – Eli, what’s the movie? "Back to the Future" game and Rich told me that was a really high score. Eli couldn’t beat it even after Rich gave us like $20 dollars in quarters!” 

“Sounds like a lot of fun – and like you had a lot of soda.”

“Maybe!” Noah laughs. 

It’s at that moment that Olivia’s phone starts vibrating, another call – Bernie. Oh god. All the Stablers are at this fitting, why is Bernie calling her. 

“Noah, I have to take another call, ok? I love you.” 

“Love you more!”

And with that, Olivia switches over, “Bernie?”

With no hello or preamble, Bernie announces, “I’m making bolognese with a wide noodle tonight.”

“Alright…” Olivia has learned to let Bernie lead. 

“I was setting your plate but then I realized you might have caught a case. And then, I was thinking some more and I called a friend Anthony, well Anthony is dead but his son – I called his son.” 

“Ok…” 

“Well, the family owns a restaurant in the East Village, an Italian restaurant. I mean, of course it’s Italian, his name was Anthony, the father who is dead is named Anthony. The son is – actually the son is Anthony too.” 

“Two Anthonys,” Olivia repeats to make sure she’s following, “I know it.” 

“Oh good! Because I thought, you know what would be nice?” Bernie pauses her monologue here, obviously waiting for Olivia’s response.

Olivia could think of a handful of things that would be nice. A simpler brain, the ability to slow down time, an irrepressible desire to get married, but she’s sure none of these is the answer to Bernie’s rhetorical question, so she responds, “I’m not sure what would be nice.”

“Dinner for you and Noah at Anthony’s! I made the reservation and I’ve taken care of it, you know tab wise. He owes me a favor. It’s a long story about stolen dishwashers when we all lived in Queens – actually, I’ll tell you later.” Bernie takes a breath, “Rich can just drop Noah off – or maybe that skinny blonde who works for you can scoop him up if you need a day free of Stablers. God knows I do.” 

Bernie did know what would be nice for Olivia. She did need a day free of Stablers. 

“Bernie, that’s really kind of you.” 

“Oh, it’s no big thing. I don’t have enough noodles for everyone, so this helps me. Dinner’s at 7! Let me know if you need Rich. Bye sweetheart.” 

And with that, Bernie just hangs up. 

Olivia looks down at the phone in her hand and shakes her head slowly. Is there an interaction with this family that doesn’t feel slightly disorienting? 

Chapter Text

For the past month, Amanda has been asking what she could do to help with the wedding to which Olivia replies with a variation of, “Believe me. There’s enough cooks in that kitchen.” But now as time is rapidly closing in, Olivia requests a favor from her – so menial it seems weird. Can she pick up Noah from the Stablers in Long Island City and bring him to a restaurant in the East Village. Amanda didn’t mean to be rude, and she didn’t say it to Liv, but it’s not like the woman is non-stop busy this week. She is officially on half-leave and is either spending her time doing paperwork with her office door closed, climbing up to the roof, or going for long walks – alone. Also, Liv absolutely loves any time she can eke out with Noah. A ride from Queens to the East Village with him might seem trivial to the uninitiated but to those that know her, they know it's invaluable.

“Is she uh, doing okay?” Amanda asks Fin as she stares at Liv’s office from her desk. 

“Not really,” Fin doesn’t even look up from his phone, “She’s realizing she’s about to be legally bound to Elliot Stabler.”

Amanda stifles a laugh. She didn’t really get Stabler’s appeal, sure he is gorgeous for like a late-50’s man, but his intensity just overtakes everything. She thinks if Liv met Elliot minus all their history, she’d write him off immediately. But she also has a suspicion that Stabler represents something Liv keeps tucked away – a lighter, brighter Liv. A Liv before a lot of shit happened. There is something optimistic in that to Amanda. Something worth protecting. 

“You know – even if it doesn’t work out they don’t have any kids or property together. It’d be a clean divorce.” 

At this Fin looks up from his phone and lets out a barking laugh, “You’re funny.”

“What?”

“The last woman that man was married to had to die to get rid of him. And mind you, he wasn’t even that into her.” Fin points at her, “Don’t repeat that.”

Amanda mimes zipping her lips. 

“He’d put my head through a wall for that comment.”  

“What do you think happens if she calls it off?”

“No one’s getting a deposit back. I’ll tell you that.” 

“Okay,” Amanda rolls her eyes, “Besides that, cheapskate.”

Fin leans back in his chair, “I don’t know. I think it’d be a big reset moment. Maybe she’d retire. Move upstate.”

“Really?”

“At this point, I don’t think they can be in the same city together, not together, you feel me?” 

“What about Stabler? What would he do?”

“Be put on suicide watch.”

“Jesus, Fin.”

“What do they say in the south? If you ain’t got something nice to say, come sit next to me.”

 


 

Her menial favor delivers Amanda to the Stablers’ front gate at half-past six. Ringing the bell three times until the man of the hour struts out, pausing dead in his tracks when he spots her.

“Rollins.”

“Stabler.”

“What are you doing here?” 

“Uh, picking up Noah.”

“Why?”

Isn’t this obvious? “For Liv.”

“Why “for Liv”?” Stabler air quotes the last part as Amanda stands on the other side of the locked gate.  

“Because he’s her son?” She changes tones, “I’m not sure what’s going on…”

“Nothing’s going on,” She hears how he means it – non-negotiable, non-pry-able.  

“Okay. Then could you pass over the kid?”

At that moment, Stabler's mother pops out the apartment’s front door, waving, “Oh the blonde’s here! Let me get Noah for you!”

Stabler’s head shoots back at the woman and then back at Amanda, “Wait here.” 

“Sure,” She yells at his departing back, “It’s not like you’ve let me in!”  

Lord. And she thinks her family is dysfunctional. 

 


 

As Bernie balances herself down the hallway to Eli’s room, Elliot grabs her bicep, swinging her back around, “You need to tell me what is going on, now.” 

Bernie screws up her face, “What is this tone! Who do you think you’re talking to?”

“Why is Rollins picking up Noah, mama?” 

“Get your hand off me,” Bernie swings her arm, which Elliot promptly drops, “I made a dinner reservation for Liv and Noah at Two Brothers. The place with the gnocchi. The one that isn’t soggy.” 

Elliot rubs his palms down his face so quickly it must burn, “I thought you were going to help me get her back here tonight. Not give her our most valuable chess piece so she can disappear into the goddamn night!” 

“Do you hear yourself?” Bernie looks at him like he's grown hair again, “You’re calling the boy you’re desperate to adopt a chess piece!”

“Lower your voice!”

“You lower your damn voice! You don’t know how to look at anything from an angle that isn’t about you!” Bernie slaps Elliot’s chest with both hands, “You want to marry her? Then you’re gonna have to play it her way!”

“I’m always playing it her way!” 

“I don’t speak ill of the dead, but this isn’t Kathy – she’s not an appendage, or if we want to get all Biblical, she is not one of your ribs. She’s an independent person! She needs to come over here because she wants to, not because we are holding her son hostage!”

“We don’t use the word hostage in this house!”

Bernie shakes her head fast, trying to erase it, “Sorry sorry, I know, I know.” 

Elliot stops himself from escalating it, flexing his hands on top of his head, once, twice, “Go get him, give him to Rollins.” 

“Rollins?”

“The blonde!” 

“Alright, alright!” 

“Just him!” Elliot adds, “No Switch, no dance shoes, no overnight bag!”

“God Elliot! What no shoelaces next? Are you sending him to his mother or a holding cell?” Bernie shoots back as she pads down the hall. 

Chapter Text

Snow rocked the city all week, Tuesday included. It started around noon and now at ten after five, it’d stopped with a good half of foot stuck to the ground.

Olivia was over it, but at least she didn’t have to worry about Noah. Remote school forever canceled snow days plus it happened to be a “Stabler day”, which is what she called the days they spent at Elliot’s. Under the eye of Bernie and the revolving cast of Stabler children, Noah was happily encased in front of a screen at his second home. For the past four months, she'd been easing into making “Stabler Days” all the days. She kept her apartment but two or three days a week Noah and her, or just her if Noah spent the night with one of his friends from his dance troupe, spent the night at the Stablers.

“Keep an eye on that,” Elliot mentioned after the second time said dance troupe had their sleepover at the Stabler residence, “Everyone’s about a year away from wanting to kiss each other.”

She liked that. How much Elliot knew about kids growing up, how he never tried to take the reins but he’d throw in his two cents when he saw a blind spot. She also liked making the two or three a week “Stabler days” the actual permanent arrangement, but she knew, in no uncertain terms, that it had an expiration date. They’d been together for roughly three years, she’d had plenty of time to decide what she wanted. But she also secretly felt like maybe, just maybe, she’d always need more time when it came to Elliot.

On Tuesday, she’d wrapped up her day, surprisingly on time, when the man texted her. A simple, cryptic, “Come outside.”

Someone must have told him she finished on the dot, “Why?”

“Got something to show you.”

“You came down here? In this weather?”

“It’s plowed,” His text bubbles appeared, disappeared, then, “Just come.”

Their inside joke, his constant refrain when she waffled.

Olivia sighed and shut off her office lights, for Mr. Safety they’d now be taking two cars home but she’d choose her battles.

The snow hadn’t totally settled yet. A light wind and flurries still percolated as she exited the prescient – and there down the steps was Elliot, leaned against a dark, late 90’s, unmarked Crown Vic.

“I was looking for a time machine, but I found this,” Elliot yelled up at her.

It couldn’t be.

“Is that?” Olivia pushed her hair out of her face, as she walked down the steps, “Is that our old squad?”

“Not the one, that one had a huge dent on the hood.”

“Yeah, from where you hit it.”

“Same make, same model, less damage.”

“You or the car?”

Elliot smirked, that boyish impishness playing at his lips, “Get in.”

He opened the door for her and she slid in. It went beyond a time machine. Sure there were the worn bucket seats, a similarly cracked radio, and the never-used tape deck. But after Elliot clicked his seatbelt in and looked over at her – his former boxy suits and short dark hair locked into place and that wave took her. That magnetic wave. The wave she defined as working chemistry back in a former century and every day swiftly paddled against. The wave that would cleave her life in two: a before Elliot Stabler and an after.

She swallowed, “This is a boat. I don’t think I could parallel park this anymore.”

Elliot scoffed and put the sedan in drive, “Like you drove that much to begin with!”

“That’s wasn’t very feminist of me was it?”

“No, you really needed to work on that along with your neediness and codependency issues,” He teased.

“Codependency? Five dollar word right there.”

“I learned it in therapy so it’s more like a $125 dollar word.”

She laughed, openly, honestly and he flashed her that smile, which seemed to always work in tandem with his eyes.

“So what’s the deal with this?”

Elliot pursed his lips, “A little here, a little there – going on a journey.”

“Philosophical.”

“Right now, we’re in the past.”

“What year?”

“First year. Eighth year. Doesn’t matter,” Elliot slowed the car down for a red light and studied her face for a second, “Best years of my life were driving with you.”

She immediately wanted to volley back, “Does it make you feel guilty?”, but then she thought she could be here, in this sentimental moment. She could meet his truth.

“You know it’s hard for me,” she pulled her bottom lip in, “But it’s true for me too.”

“Is that so?” He threw her another smile and Olivia thought he might be the only man alive whose eyes actually fucking twinkled. She needed to regain some control. She would not be a nearly sixty-year-old woman who swooned.

“Alright. We’re in the past, right?”

“Yes, captain.”

“Marry, fuck, kill. ADAs.”

He cracked up, “Out for blood tonight!”

She shrugged her shoulders playfully, then pointed, “Your light’s green, go!”

 


 

He took her to dinner at a place she’d avoided for ten years – a hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen whose booths they used to silently slide into, exhausted after not eating all day. And now, after their plates had been cleared, Elliot had that same vacant look on his face that he had back then after they’d worked some particularly awful case.

“You ok?” She reached for his hand.

“Yeah, yeah,” He sighed, unwilling to open his balled-up fist that she placed hers on, “Just this is the middle part.”

“The middle part?”

“The car was the beginning.”

“Okay,” She didn’t know there was an actual journey to this impromptu date night he took her on. But if the car was the beginning and this was the middle, that meant – oh. Oh. “This is where you –”

“Where I leave you,” Elliot nodded, finishing for her.

A silence descended between them, silverware, chatter from other tables started filling up the air. She slowly slipped her hand from his fist, when he grabbed it back, stacking their hands on top of each other.

“It’s always going to be here, me leaving you,” It was a statement, not a question.

She pressed her lips together in a sad smile, “It is.”

He swallowed, his eyes drifting to the door that chimed with new patrons, “It took a minute to get this.”

His balled-up fist opened slightly and she heard the necklace chain slowly snake down to the plastic table. She didn’t need to see it, she knew what it was. She remembered the sound on her own dresser when she could bear to take it off. She remembered the day she awoke from a hyper vivid dream about him and needed space so she took the chain off and placed the mini badge on her weapon instead. She remembered the after when the mini badge no longer belonged to her. Stolen away, like so many things, and shut away forever.

She exhaled and realized she’d been holding her breath. Both of her hands, and one of his, still covered it – shielding it as if it could infect everything if released, like some dangerous toxin.

“I don’t want it. Either of them.”

She needed to tell him why, how they were both an albatross but her words stuck in her throat.

“You were dead. And that’s all I had.”

Elliot kept his eyes trained on the front door, “I get it.”

They fell into silence again, until Elliot slid the chain, covered with his hands off the table, “Would you consider something else?”

“Something else?”

“Something living.”

“That’s what you are, in front of me.”

“No Liv,” His hands reappeared on the table, a small blue velvet box cupped in one, “I can’t go half on this anymore. I’ve had the past, I put you through the middle, and this is the last time I’ll ask – but I’m a selfish bastard. I want the future. I need your whole future too.”

“Elliot.”

“Put me out of my misery, Liv”

Olivia had lived through things that would break others, but on this topic that society so celebrated, so cherished she froze. She froze because it felt like surrender. It felt like complete forgiveness to a man who had done so much personal work but whose impulsiveness still had a hold.

“I’m so happy, El –”

He was already shaking his head.

She sighed, “You’re never gonna let this go.”

“Because I can’t, Liv. I just can’t. I can’t love you this much in the shadows.”

“The shadows?”

“I’ve loved you for decades, decades and it’s been hidden and less hidden and then this relationship –”

“This relationship?”

“It’s not,” He panted out a breath, “It’s not enough. I need you as my wife. I need everyone to know.”

She wanted to be cheeky and say he needed to take the advice she gave her son and care less about what other people thought, but she also didn’t want Elliot to walk out on her. She took a beat instead and listened for something, a sign perhaps, but all she got was the sizzle of a wok cooking in the kitchen and a server’s laughter floating in from the back room. She’d never be ready and he’d never let this totally go.

“I love you, Elliot.”

“Then jump.”

“I’d be jumping off this cliff with my son in tow.”

“I know.”

She threaded her fingers through her hair, “It won’t be like your first marriage. It will be a totally different thing, you know this right? We’ve talked about this.”

“Jump Liv.”

“Fuck Elliot.”

“It’s me.”

“I know.”

“I’ll catch you.”

“Show me the ring.”

“Really?” His voice immediately sobered and he smiled, “Didn’t know this would be dependent on a carat size.”

“Open the box, Stabler.”

Elliot opened it and there it was. Subdued, thin, unalarming, “We can talk about if you’d wear it to work or if it’s –”

“Okay,” She replied, “Okay.”

“Is that a “yes”?”

Olivia imagined standing on the edge of a plane's open door, hands splayed against the frame. She closed her eyes. Ed, Italy, Serena's voice all seemed to slap her like gusts of winds. But she ignored them all. She jumped.

“Yes. It's a yes." She felt her eyes well, "Fuck. Of course." 

Chapter Text

“It’s going to be a big week.” 

Noah nods, twirling his fork into his spaghetti. For the past twenty minutes, she’s been trying to have a conversation with her son who is busy shoveling pasta into his mouth like he’d didn’t just have a gratuitous amount of pizza with the Stablers this afternoon. 

“Could we – slow down here, please?”

Noah looks up, “Is that what you’re going to say to Elliot?”

Olivia, who is mid-sip of water, coughs, “What?” She manages to get out before pausing to cough again. 

“I don’t know,” Noah shrugs, “Everyone is whispering about you needing to slow things down.” 

She really doesn’t want to interrogate her son over angel hair pasta, but weddings make people crazy, right? 

“Who is everyone?”

“Rich, Katie, Mo, Bernie with the man who came over to spray the patio for rats,” Noah uses his fingers to count up the people, “Eli, hmm. Who else?”

“Okay. Put your fingers down, please.” 

Noah smiles, “Are you scared to get married?”

“No. I’m just – I’ve never been married before. It’s a big change, for both of us.”

“Well, I’ve never had a dad before and I’m not scared.”

Noah is bringing this up more these days. When he does it in both Olivia and Elliot’s presence, Elliot finds something to do with himself while she takes over the conversation. But she sees the quiet satisfaction on Elliot’s face like he’s winning some secret tug of war. 

“You know Elliot isn’t automatically your dad when I marry him. He continues being a friend to you. We’ve talked a lot about this.”

“Yeah, but you know I want him to be my dad. He told me he wants to be my dad too.” 

This last bit is news to Olivia, she takes a beat, turns her phone over, and when she speaks it is with a soft measuredness usually reserved for work, “What have you and Elliot talked about exactly?”

Noah knows he’s stepped in it, he looks at her wide-eyed, spaghetti halfway to his mouth, “Nothing. I swear.”

“Noah,” A warning. 

“We just, sometimes, I tell him I love him and he tells me he loves me. And then I said, twice, I wish I could be Eli’s real brother.” 

Olivia knows she’s upset because instead of delving into her son’s feelings, she presses for more information about Elliot instead, “And what did he say to this?”

“Mom,” Her own son warns her right back. 

“You’re my son Noah. I know you may want Elliot to be your father, but right now it’s just you and me and I’m your mom. You need to tell me.”

Noah puts his fork down, “He said, he’s going to work really hard at it. That it’s next on his list after the wedding.”

Unfuckingbelievable. 

“The audacity,” She whispers to herself, a bitter smile dawning on her face.

“Don’t be mad, mom.”

“Are you done with your pasta?” Olivia signals for the check. 

“Why are you mad?” Noah throws his fork against his plate, startling Olivia out of her now rolling anger. 

“Excuse me? Noah!” 

“Don’t get mad at Elliot. I didn’t tell you because I knew you’d be mad!” 

“We don’t act this way in a restaurant!” 

All their words overlap as her son defends a man over her. Don’t get mad at him. How has a man who left her in a lurch for a decade have her son stating with verve, don’t be mad at him? What has she let him do? She has let him in and in turn, he has pissed all over her side of the street. 

“I want you to marry Elliot!” 

“That’s not your decision to make.” 

The young server comes over, sensing the atmosphere, she starts slowly, “Mrs. Stabler –”

“That’s not me,” Olivia snaps. 

“No, no. Mrs. Stabler took care of the dinner.”

“Of course, I forget. They just take care of everything.” Olivia stands, “Get your coat.”

Noah doesn’t get up, staring her down from his seat. 

“Noah, I’m not in the mood.” 

“You’re supposed to be happy. You’re ruining it.” 

A chill runs through her, it’s not nature, it’s nurture. It’s Serena’s voice like a poltergeist threading from her to him. Some terrible response she’s modeled without realizing it. She sits back down, her coat and phone lax in her hands. 

“Noah,” her voice comes out hoarse, she wants to say she needs him on her team but she knows that’s not appropriate and absolutely sad to say to her soon-to-be eleven-year-old, she chooses the truth instead, “This is really tough for me.” 

“What is?”

“Getting married. It's like going to a brand new school, but in a different country.” 

Noah stays silent but listens. 

“You're right. Your mom is scared.” 

Noah reaches for her arm across the table, “It’s fine to be scared. Being brave doesn’t mean you can’t be scared.” 

Olivia huffs out a breath and stares at the ceiling, willing her tears to stay in her eyes, “You shouldn’t be trying to make me feel better.” 

“It's okay. We're a team.” 

“Still you and me,” Olivia drops her head back down to look at him, but Noah’s mood shifts, “What baby?”

“I just – mom. I want Elliot and Eli and Bernie and Katie. I want them all on our team too.” 

Chapter Text

The car ride is silent. Her son, in the passenger seat, stares out the window. She’s buying time, she’s settling her mood, she’s going to lie.

“Hey, I need to drop by work, ok?”

Noah says nothing. 

Excellent. Truly, excellent. 


 

As they slip off the elevator, Fin walks over to meet them, “Noah my man, just the person I wanted to see.”

He catches Olivia’s eye and cocks his head at her office, where the broad-shouldered idiot she’s betrothed to faces away from them. Olivia groans in her throat, before Fin turns back to Noah, “Did you get any dessert at dinner?”

“No, mom made us leave,” and then adds, “I know why you’re asking.”

“When did you get so cynical? Did you ever think I'm the one who wants a cannoli?” Fin pushes Noah back towards the elevators.  

It’s expected. Olivia closes her eyes for a second and wonders if this is where it’s over. Right, where it began. 

She opens the door to her office and he doesn’t turn around. His suit jacket flung over her own chair, which just pisses her off more. 

“I only have one question,” his voice seems to shrink the room, “Are we getting married Saturday? Or not?

No “How are you?” “I know this is a lot of change.” “I was so worried about you.” Nope. This is a case he’s working and he wants to know if it’s gonna close. 

She knows not to say it, she feels the smart part of her try to pull back, but then it snaps out of her mouth anyway, “Of course, we’re getting married,” she replies sweetly, “Because I don’t abandon people.” 

He whips around and she’s reminded why people hesitate when dealing with him, the look on his face is this awful mix of panic, anger, and fear, with anger pushing to the forefront. 

“Alright,” he’s starving for this as much as she is, “Let’s go, let’s hear it. Liv.” 

He unbuttons the collar on his dress shirt, does the same to his right cuff.

“Are you trying to intimidate me?”

He rolls up the sleeve, “That’s funny,” and then works on the other sleeve’s buttons, “I’m trying not to have a panic attack,” he booms, “While I fight with you!” 

She lunges at him, “You turned my son against me today.” 

His eyes bounce to her lips, “What the fuck are you talking about?”

“He told me, Elliot! That you have been talking about adopting him when I told you that discussion was closed until further notice!”

He backs away, wagging his finger, “No, no, no. Liv!” 

She sputters out a laugh, “Are you saying Noah is lying?” 

“I’m saying, I’m not going to run to you every time your son – who lives at my house and is a person I love, asks me how I feel about something! He’s not five years old!” 

“You make me into the bad guy, do you get that?” 

“Do I get that? Of course – this is marriage Liv. This is parenting. Sometimes we don’t like the other’s style. And we talk about it!” 

“You didn’t use to do this, you used to leave everything that had to do with my son – up to me. His mother!”

“Sorry for thinking that by marrying his mom, I could answer his question honestly – and appropriately!” 

She’s so mad. She’s so mad at herself. She digs her palms into her face before she explodes, “I have no one to blame but myself! I let you push and push and push. I’m such a fucking pushover for you!” 

“You think you’re losing so much ,” he emphasizes sarcastically, “You never look at what you’re getting!” 

“Don’t give yourself a fucking compliment right now!”

“You judge me as a person I’m not even going to be anymore!” 

Olivia’s face screws up, “What does that mean?”

“I want you to judge me on my record as a husband. Not the fucking partner that left you!”

“Your record as a husband?” Olivia laughs, “Careful Stabler from what I hear you were in love with another woman for twenty yea –.” 

He cuts off her words, her space, driving her body against the wall, “Yes, judge that asshole. Who told his wife he loved another woman. And recommitted. And moved across the world because he made a vow. A vow that he kept above all others, including our partnership,” he’s seething, “And if you think for a second, I wouldn’t work myself into the grave to fix anything that came up in our marriage, we shouldn’t get married, because that means you don’t know me at all.”

Toe to toe with the wall digging into her back, they’re breathing so heavy she doesn’t know what air is her own. On a clear day, you can see forever, that’s what she thinks when she’s caught in his eyes. But it’s too much right now, she looks away but he grabs the side of her head, his fingers digging into her scalp, forcing her eyes back up to his own, “Olivia,” all the fight is out of him. 

She stares at him for what feels like hours until he finally pushes off her. 

“You know what,” his voice hoarse, “It doesn’t matter,” he grabs his jacket from her chair, “You could call this all off, call me up in a year – and I’d be here.”

Olivia is still glued to the wall. His hand is on the door handle when he looks back at her. 

“You’re a pushover? Then I’m a sucker,” he opens the door, “You just, think, do what you gotta do, and call me with your decision. Tomorrow. Around 11 am.” 

She shakes, “Why 11?” 

“That’s when the bars open,” he replies and slams the door. 

Chapter Text

Once he’s on the street, he hits the first thing he sees – window scaffolding surrounding a former dental office. 

“Stabler!” 

He hears his name right as the thin wood splinters. 

It’s Fin – with both his hands shot up in the air in a “what the fuck are you doing” expression, but much, much worse it’s Fin plus Noah – who is all eyes, no expression. A curly-headed sponge absorbing. 

Elliot chuckles to himself, brushing his hand across his mouth, his jacket. This is perfect. Noah’s never even seen him yell before. Fucking perfect. 

“Hey, hey” he finally jogs over with a “don't worry, I've gotten it out of my system” tone but Fin puts a protective hand on Noah’s shoulder and Elliot feels what he’d been trying to extinguish nastily spring forward.

“Relax I won’t do anything else you’ll have to report back.”

Fin doesn’t say a word, which makes Elliot want to continue but he thinks better of it and swerves off that road, “What’d you get?” He points to the box in Noah’s hand.

“We got cannolis,” Fin replies, “You need to go home.” 

“I wanna go home,” Noah looks at Elliot. 

“We gotta give your mom her dessert.”

“I don’t want to,” Noah mumbles. 

“She’s waiting for us.”

“Yeah, go up to your mom.”

“I don’t want to go up to her right now!” Noah nearly shouts, not with malice but an exploding panic, “She’s going to ruin everything! She constantly tells me to be brave and she won’t be! I don’t want to – ” 

“Okay, I know, I know,” Elliot beckons him over.

Noah crashes into him, not a hug, just exhausted, Elliot smooths his hands down his head and onto his shoulders, bending to his level, “Listen, I’m not going to lie to you. Your mom and I are deciding some things about the wedding and you need to be kind to her. She’s feeling a lot of things and she’s got good reasons to feel those things.”  

Noah doesn’t say anything and turns his head towards the street.

“Look at me, look at me,” Elliot continues, “It’s fine to be mad, but you’re going to respect her and any decisions she makes. You understand?” 

“But what if I’m not allowed to see you or Eli or anyone anymore?”  

“You’ll always be able to see me, us. Always,” Elliot forces a smile, “You’ll never be able to get rid of me.” 

“Stabler,” Fin shakes his head, signaling to stop promising things he doesn’t know if he can deliver on.

“Go have dessert with your mom,” He steps back from Noah, “I’m gonna go home and have dessert with my mom too.” 

“Will I see you later?” 

He catches Fin's eye and then softly repeats, “Go see your mom.”  

Noah stands there for a beat, staring at Elliot like he’s trying to memorize him. His blue eyes page from hopeful to defeated to accepting. And Elliot can't stand it. It’s the last time he saw Olivia across the floor as Jenna died. It feels like the last time he'll see this boy until he accidentally bumps into him as a 22-year-old uni on the train. Noah’s halfway down the block before Elliot yells. 

“Noah! Noah Benson!"

Noah whips back around.

"What?" Noah yells back.

"I love you!"

A pause and then, "I love you too!" 

Elliot grins, "Don’t forget it!”

 


 

“What are you guys watching?”

Olivia walks out to Fin’s desk where they’re seated, huddled around Noah’s phone. 

“Birthday surprise fails.” 

“What?” 

“I wanted to watch gender reveal fails but Noah wasn’t into it.”

She has no idea what either of those mean.

“Stay awhile.” Fin drags over a chair and passes her the box of cannolis. 

They’re all quiet for a minute, watching a suburban teenager in a backyard blow out candles and then accidentally set her hair on fire. 

“Oh, man!” Noah exclaims. 

“These are, Fin?” Olivia’s face screws up, “These are bad!” 

“Hey, he showed ‘em to me.” 

“Can we find a funnier, less mean one, please?” 

“I can try but I only save the bad ones,” Noah takes his phone and starts walking around.

Olivia watches him walk away, slightly unbelieving, “God. I’m knowing him less these days.” 

“How old did you turn last birthday Liv?”

“Why?” She unwraps a part of her cannoli. 

“Birthday fails got me thinking.” 

She eyes him. 

“I can just look it up, you know?” 

“I turned fifty-six.” 

Fin whistles.

“Not tonight, ok?”

“Hey,” Fin puts his hand on his heart, “I’m older.” He pauses before continuing, “How many good, active years you think we got left? Twenty? And maybe what, four on this job?”

“I suppose,” She says unthinkingly, licking ricotta off her thumb, "But Bernie Stabler would prove otherwise." 

“Well for us mortals, really makes you think how you wanna spend ‘em, what’s a waste of time.”

“Telling me to settle, Sarge?”

Fin gives a slight shrug, “I’m saying it's kind of like last call.” Before she can raise an objection he hurries ahead, “Not because you still can’t pull, lord knows how many men, hell women would give for you to walk on their throat.”

“Fin?” She gestures towards Noah, “Lord!” 

“Eh, he’s watching teens light their hair on fire – he probably already knows.” 

“Could we just pretend that he doesn’t though?” She gets up from the chair, “I think we’re gonna head to the old apartment tonight.” 

“Wait,” Fin tilts his forward, “Would you marry him if he say, back in the day, he divorced Katie?”

“Kathy. Katie’s his daughter.”

“Irish semantics. But say he knew how to pull out, didn’t take off – ” 

Olivia stifles a laugh. 

“And actually got divorced like he should have – would you be singing a different tune?”

She shakes her head, “I can’t deal in fictional realities.”

“Nah, I know – but you want to. Because at the end of the day he’s your man.”

“He can be my man without me marrying him.” 

“No, you fucked up there. You finally said yes to him and this ain't me and my situation – he might dress smart now and act like he can chill but that's the same possessive asshole, sooner rather than later he’ll be sulking and this will all be happening again.” 

Olivia volleys her cannoli wrapper into a nearby trash can, “So what then?”

“I’m saying you either go up there to his mama’s house and say you’re out or you go all the way. Bench trial."

Bench trial. Bench trial. 

She's nodding, walking away, and then, just because, "Out of curiosity, which of our friends at court you think are early risers?"

Chapter Text

She doesn’t go back to the old apartment, it’s all boxes and mayhem plus she’s had her poor son shuttled all over the city today and it’s enough. 

It’s all enough. 

She sits in her squad outside Elliot’s, Noah dead to the world in the passenger seat. She hates to wake him but he’s too old to be carried inside. Not so much physically, Elliot, or hell even Eli, could handle it – but mentally it’s a no-go. He’d be livid if he woke up, being babied like that. He’s becoming his own person and he wants out of their cocoon. It’s healthy. Extremely healthy when compared to her who has spent all day attempting a slow, disappearing retreat. 

It’s embarrassing to be fifty-six years old and this is how you’ve decided to handle things. 

“Noah,” she squeezes his arm, “Wake up, we gotta go upstairs.”

He groans and doesn’t open his eyes.

“Come on, we’re home.” 

 


 

It’s surprisingly still in the apartment, but it’s not quiet. A steady sleek sound like a sword coming in and out of its protective sheath starts stops and repeats. 

“What’s that noise?” Noah yawns, shucking off his Nikes in the foyer. 

Like so many things that happen in this house, Olivia has no idea what’s going on until they both enter the kitchen, and there, with all of the cooking knives laid out on a big hand towel in front of her is Bernie gracefully sharpening a large butcher knife – with headphones on at 10:30. 

“Oh!” Bernie holds up the knife in her hand, dropping the sharpening stone that’s in the other, “Liv, Noah!” She taps on one of her headphones, “Hold on!” she screams. 

“I’m going to bed, mom.” 

Olivia’s face pings from Bernie to Noah, back to Bernie. 

“She returns!” Bernie, knife still in hand comes over and pats Olivia’s shoulder.

“What exactly – ” Olivia angles herself away, trying to extract the knife from her hand, “Can I –” 

“Oh don’t get like that, it’s not a threat – or a metaphor,” Bernie releases it to her and turns back to light the kettle on the stove, “I’ve been on your side all day!”

Olivia stares at the knife in her hand then returns her gaze back to Bernie, “Sharpening knives at eleven at night?” 

“It’s a good time! No one’s here,” Bernie pulls out tea options, “And the jury was still out on you!”

“Where’s Elliot?”

“We tried to keep him but he escaped.” 

“When?”

“No idea, but he didn’t take one of these knives so that’s good news,” Bernie stops mid-tea arranging, “Of course, he could have his weapon.” 

Olivia exhales, deeply. 

“English breakfast or green?” 

“I don’t – ”

“Non-committal even about tea,” Bernie digs further into the cabinet, “Okay. There’s also hibiscus. Earl Gray. Some Italian thing. Is Italy is a big tea country?” 

“I don’t,” Olivia waves her hand, “I’m not in the mood for tea.” 

“Alright. How about a cigarette?”

Oh. 

Bernie takes the pack out of her vest’s pocket and throws it to her, “You’re gonna need more than one.” 

 


 

Elliot stops at the threshold of the open patio door and watches her. His hands playing with the change in his pocket, “I’ve never seen you smoke before.” 

“I used to at the bar every once in a while,” She plucks it away from her lips, “Pre-Bloomberg.” 

“I don’t think so.”

She lifts an eyebrow in challenge. 

“I cased you pretty thoroughly.”

“Like what I wore?”

“It goes much farther than that,” Elliot chuckles, “Let me get that.”

Olivia passes the cigarette to him. He stands right above where she’s sitting, looking down at her. His stance is that mix of domineering and tender that makes her heart feel trapped in her throat. He takes a long drag. 

“I memorized the necklines, the color of your highlights – how they appeared in squad lights, station lights, the jewelry.” His finger does a loop, “How the necklaces hung. In Rome, sometimes I’d lay there wondering if you were wearing my medallion. Thinking about how it’d be right on your skin.”

It’s so easy to get caught in this, all their history, all their years of pining, it’s like a pure hit of dopamine that makes Olivia do things, agree to things she otherwise wouldn’t. 

“I need to go back to therapy, El.” 

“I think we need to.”

“I lost my mind this week,” She shakes her head, “Noah’s going to remember all of this – it’s going to affect his relationships.” 

“Noah saw me punch scaffolding.” 

“I know,” She motions for the cigarette back. 

“I got you beat on fucking up kids,” Elliot sighs as he lowers himself into the seat beside her, “And you know what? It’s okay as long as you’re there for them,” He pauses, “But maybe I’m wrong I mean, Bernie’s got you smoking.”

Olivia stretches her legs out, “I need more space.” 

She feels him, even from a seat away, stiffen.

“I need more space here. A room of my own to think in. That unit has been open, since that Wheatley plant, I mean my apartment is being sold.”

“Let’s buy it. We’ll combine them.”

She nods and continues, “I need anything about Noah, anything big, adoption, school problems, anxiety. Any big conversation has to go through me. But I won’t ice you out, you’ll be included.” 

“I get it. Of course.”

Now for the hard part.

“I need to keep my last name.” 

It’s silent. Elliot leans forward and steeples his hands, “Hyphenating it is what we agreed to.” 

“I agreed to too much and I freaked out.”

He huffs out a breath. They’re quiet for another moment. 

“What about your wedding ring? Would you wear it on the right finger?”

“We said the alternate hand.”

“I need a compromise here, Liv.” He shakes his head, “All of today, this week, I feel like I’m making you do this.” 

“Well, Elliot I was fine with the way things were.”

He stands up suddenly, “Let’s call it off.”

It feels like a door opening. But she knows. She knows from him, she knows from Fin, she knows from herself. They might be able to stay together but they’ll always be a little bit more distant, a little bit more closed off. It’s not a door at all, it’s a wall painted like one. 

“What if we got married right now?”

He flips back to face her, “What?” 

“Saturday can be a party – for the kids, but I called Donnelly – ”

“Donnelly? The judge?”

Olivia nods, “I asked if she’d marry us tomorrow, she said she’d marry us tonight.”

“You just said,” Elliot scratches his neck and laughs, “You’re scrambling my brain. Donnelly. I haven’t heard that name in forever.” 

“I can’t do all the pomp and circumstance. It just makes me want to run.”

“Why didn’t you just say that,” Suddenly, he’s kneeling in front of her.

“You were so excited and Noah was so excited and I wanted to be excited.” She pauses, her eyes tracing his jawline, “I just thought if I gave it time being scared would give way to being excited.” 

They let her statement stand for a moment. 

“I’m not going to marry you tonight.” He grasps one of her hands, tightly, “I want you to want it. I want you to wear my ring or take my last name – it doesn’t have to be both, but I want one of those too. I want you to want to compromise.” 

She nods again, feeling the night air prick her all of sudden glassy eyes , “You know, I’ve been a New Yorker my whole life, a cop for fuck twenty-five years, a mom for almost eleven. This is just a whole new thing, new identity, something I put away so, so long ago.”

“I know. Mama told me today that I ask you for too much.” He sighs, “I’ve done this before, all of my life I’ve spent like this – and yours you’ve been –”

“I’ve been alone, El.” 

“I know,” A sweet look slides on his face, “But maybe, that could change. Maybe you’d like it.” 

“You’re so pushy,” she says, touching his ear. 

“Yeah, but you have all the power,” he moves his still kneeling body, between her knees, taking her other hand between his, “Really, I’m so desperate to be your husband. It’s sad actually.”

“What are we going to do with ourselves,” It’s not even a question to him. She looks beyond him into the ether.  

“We’re going to sleep on it,” he answers anyway, “After I make sure my mother is done with the knives.” 

 

Chapter Text

Elliot sleeps on the couch. He wants to give her space, physically, emotionally. But what he really wants is to be woken up to her hand drifting down into his sweat pants. 

Instead, he wakes to the din of spoons hitting cereal bowls and the call-and-response of “Dude!“ from Eli and Noah, watching something obnoxiously loud from one of their phones. 

He slides his own cell off the coffee table.

8:02

Liv can’t still be sleeping.

“Get up,” his mother shakes one of his socked feet hanging off the arm of the couch. 

He arches himself up, “Where is she?” 

Without preamble, Bernie slaps a pink post-it to his forehead. 

The test of his patience. The test of his patience this house puts him through – daily.

9 am. Donnelly’s chambers.

As he’s reading, his mother slaps another post-it to his head. 

“I swear mama –"

Your mom made something for you.

He eyes Bernie, who with a Cheshire grin, reveals a simple, yet elegant boutonniere of lavender and a white flower, tied in a dark blue ribbon.

“For your lapel,” She hands it to him, “Now get up! Eli’s driving you.” 

“She laid out a suit for you too,” Eli’s states, standing over the sofa, cereal bowl in hand, deep smirk on his face, “Mr. Benson.” 

 


 

They pull up, 11 minutes to nine. 

Elliot’s patting his pockets, making sure he has everything, about to hoist himself from the car. 

“Dad, wait,” Eli squeezes the steering wheel, not looking at him, “I think mom, she’d be happy for you.” 

Elliot doesn’t know what to say. Doesn’t know if he agrees. 

“She’d want you to be loved by a good person, you know?” 

That Elliot might agree with that, but more importantly, he knows his son is trying to do the right thing, say the right thing. He reaches back and clutches the top of Eli’s head, kissing it, “I love you.” 

“Yeah, yeah, get up there!” 

Just as Elliot’s about to bound up the steps, he hears Eli yell again.

“Your tie!” 

He catches it as it’s thrown from the passenger window. 

 


 

He’s still trying to adjust the tie’s knot as he strides through the upper floors of the courthouse. His muscle memory falters as he doubles back through corridors trying to remember where Donnelly’s chambers are. He makes a wrong turn, then a right one because there’s the judge herself eyeing him outside her front door. 

“Detective Stabler.” 

He nods in greeting, still fiddling with the knot. 

“I heard you were back – but marrying Olivia too. Impressive.”

“Yeah, well, how does this look?” He means the tie but Liz gives him a full body once over.

“Looks like she’s getting a decent version of you.”

“She’s definitely dealt with the shitter ones.” 

“Come on in.” 

It’s trite. But time stops when he sees her. 

She’s in white, a cream actually. A v-neck dress, that wraps around her and ties on the side. Her hair swept up in some kind of bun. She gives a smile that’s half embarrassment, half anxiety. She has a small bouquet of flowers in her hands that match the ones his mother made for him. 

“Hi,” she says with a softness reserved for their most private time at home when she’s sated and soft and he can trace each freckle on her face. 

He realizes he must be staring at her like he wants to absorb her and shakes himself out of it, mustering a nearly speechless, “Wow”. 

Donnelley clears her throat, “You’ll get her alone right after this.” 

Olivia blushes, which makes her bronze skin glow and he just wants all of her. He can’t believe he’s getting all of her. 

 


 

The ceremony is so short that Elliot asks to slow it down. He wants to savor it. He has things to say. 

“I’m glad we did it this way.” 

“Yeah?”

He pulls out his wallet, unfolding a small piece of paper, “Without the kids, I can give my real vows.”

A look of understanding passes between them. His kids aren’t kids anymore. But none of them need to hear how much their father pined for his partner while married to their mother. 

“Okay,” Elliot gives a quick look around the room, assessing who exactly is going to hear him lay it all out in a public forum, and it's just Donnelly, her aide, and his bride. 

“The day I met you….” Heat immediately floods his eyes. He has to blink it back, imagines digging his feet deeper into the carpet, and tries again, “The day I met you, it went to my veins. And it wasn’t your beauty, which is enough to take anyone out. It was,” he licks his lips, pauses, looks up at her, “I’ve studied, memorized saints. And people who aren’t Catholic, think saints are some kind of religious superheroes. But a lot of them are just everyday people, who pushed their own needs aside, dedicated their lives to serving others. Meeting you, knowing you, running alongside you, I met one of the figures I prayed to.”

He crinkles the rest of the paper in the fist that isn’t holding her hand, “I know you’re human, but you’re also holy. Your heart, your dedication. I fell in love with that light, from the first day - that power that’s just… you.” 

Her body slightly wavers and he pulls her in by the waist. 

“To be in that light, I’ll never deserve it. But I’ll try to live up to it.” 

She’s crying now. Her palms reach up to hold his face, wiping the tears pooled at the edges of his own eyes. 

“Olivia,” Donnelly prompts, “Can you beat that?”

“No,” Olivia cries out with a laugh, “I can’t. This feels like – I think I’m going to wake up. God, that’s how I’ve always felt with you. That someone who just got me so – it couldn’t be real.” 

She’s shaking her head, willing herself to calm, “When you left, after a while, it made sense. You were a dream that I woke up from. And now, even if I’m dreaming – it’s fine. It’s fine. Just stay in it with me."   

“Ok,” He promises, he’d promise anything, “Ok.” 

They don’t wait for permission. One of Olivia’s hands moves to the back of his head, her lips close in on his bottom one. He works them into a kiss. Into a kiss that’s not totally appropriate for the venue. 

She lets him put the new ring on the right finger, on the left hand. She keeps her last name. 

 


 

On Saturday, they use the flowers that Katie so painstakingly planned. The outdoor patio that Elliot chose. The playlist that Noah had too much free reign over. It’s chaotic, loud, and rowdy with an open bar that Eli's definitely partaking in. 

At some point in the night, she catches herself in a reflection of a mirror and sees Elliot slide up behind her, one arm encompassing her waist, "My love," his voice cupping her ear, “What made you finally jump?”

She looks at them in the mirror, slightly elbowing him to get him to look up into the mirror too, "Same reason I always do – because it's you.”