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Someone to Fall Back On

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It’s impossible not to hear about the attacks that happen on Christmas, and it kills him to know that Olivia got dragged away from the 48 hours of uninterrupted time with her son that she was so looking forward to.

He’d talked to her on Christmas Eve morning, ringing her up while he drank his coffee and munched on what was left of his mom’s latest batch of sugar cookies.

“You find a church yet?” he’d teased, in lieu of a hello.

He’d been needling her about it since last weekend, when she’d sat on the floor next to his Christmas tree and built an impressively perilous skyscraper out of blocks with her son and his grandsons (and, God, what a world it is that he can say that). It had come up somehow that Noah had never been made to sit through Christmas Mass—something Kieran and Seamus had found incredibly unfair. In fact, Noah had never been to church on Christmas at all. Elliot had joked about her not even managing to get him there for the big holidays, teasing that he might just kidnap Noah and take him to midnight Mass with the whole Stabler clan.

“We don’t make jokes about kidnapping,” Noah had told him matter-of-factly. “Mom doesn’t like it.”

Olivia had said her son’s name in quiet warning, shaking her head pointedly. There was something in the look on her face that had Elliot making a mental note to ask her later (when it wasn’t Christmas) if there was more to that than just the inherent paranoia of parents who work SVU.

She’d changed the subject almost immediately, smiling and brushing a hand over Noah’s curls, telling him, “Maybe we’ll go this year. Now that you’re old enough to sit still for an hour.” Elliot had been on the receiving end of Olivia’s next pointed look as she’d added, “It’s harder to wrangle energetic little kids as a single mom.”

He’d thought of every missed Easter, every Christmas he’d been called in, leaving Kathy to wrangle not one, but four little kids on her own during services. His smile had been soft, and fond, and a little sad as he’d told Liv, “I know.”

A second later, Seamus had turned to ask Carl something, one foot slipping along the floor and sending their tower tumbling for the second time that day. The conversation had shifted away, but Elliot hadn’t forgotten.

In fact, he’d texted her twice this week, once with the address of the church they’d always attended (I’m not schlepping him out to Queens, she’d replied, adding, We’ll find somewhere nearby), and once just to tease that she had two days left to find Jesus. She’d answered, Funny, and he hadn’t been able to tell if she’d meant it or if he’d stepped in it with her.

If it had been the latter, she must have gotten over it, because when she’d answered him on Christmas Eve morning, it had been with a scoffing little laugh, her voice light as she’d told him, “I know where the churches are in our neighborhood, thank you very much.”

“You tell your kid that?”

“Shut up. He knows, too.” She’d been smiling, he could hear it. He remembers wishing that he’d Facetimed her so he could see it. She doesn’t smile enough these days—had smiled a lot last weekend, though. After she and Noah had left their Christmas get-together, Kathleen had teased him for being obvious.

“You guys were grinning like idiots at each other all day. I kept trying to nudge you under the mistletoe but Liv got wise after attempt number two.”

He’d grimaced, feeling the tips of his ears go red as he’d reminded her, “Katie, your mom just died. Stop trying to hook me up with other women.”

She’d looked at him for a moment, serious and searching. “It’s been almost a year, Dad, and Olivia’s not ‘other women.’ And besides, after you confessed your undying love for her at your intervention—”

“I did not—”

“You did,” she’d insisted. (He had, he admits to himself.) “And it wasn’t like we didn’t already know. Well, everyone but Eli, maybe. We were all here before.”

“Nothing happened bef—”

We know,” she’d insisted, and Elliot had swallowed down a lump of panic with a mouthful of hot toddy. He knows damn well how he’s always felt about Olivia, but he doesn’t want the kids to ever think he and Liv had done anything about it. That he’d been unfaithful to their mom. But it seems he doesn’t have to worry about that, because Kathleen had gentled her tone, and smiled at him, and said, “We know, Dad. But she’s Olivia. We know how important you guys were to each other, and if you think any of us would be surprised—or upset—if the two of you… decided to pursue something more… We wouldn’t.”

He’d looked at her for a long moment, a small guilty part of him settling down at her reassurances. “You guys are ready for that?”

“Eli might need a little more time,” she’d shrugged, “He’s still getting to know her. But the rest of us have seen it coming since the spring.”

He’d nodded slowly, absorbing that, adding it to the stack of Good Reasons To Date Olivia Benson, and then she’d tacked on, “Besides, we’re not dumb—you invited her and her kid to our family Christmas and then when the doorbell rang you acted like your prom date had finally arrived; the writing is on the wall.”

She’d been right, he thinks. They were being obvious—or at least, he had been.

He wonders, sometimes, if he’s being too obvious. If he’s been too pushy since that day she’d said she wanted to call their relationship a friendship for now, that “for now” giving him all the hope he’d needed that this was going somewhere. That she wanted it, too, even if they were going to have to put in some work before they got there.

So he’d called her the other morning, and he’d teased her about churches, and he’d asked if she was taking Noah to Midnight Mass like a proper Catholic.

“We’re not Catholic. And he’s nine,” she’d reminded him. “I’m not taking him to church at midnight.”

“Why not?”

“He has a bedtime,” she’d pointed out. “And I thought the whole point was for him to remember the experience, not sack out halfway through during ‘Silent Night.’”

He’d grunted his agreement, told her that if they didn’t make it to a service, she owed him a coffee, and Olivia had hesitated for just a second. When she’d spoken again, it had been in that same soft, sweet tone she’d used when she’d asked if she could think about it, only this time she’d said, “Well, then, maybe we won’t go after all.”

He’d grinned, wide, his chest going warm for reasons other than the hot coffee he was drinking, and told her, “Go. I’ll get the coffee. Your kid needs Jesus.”

He’d been jokey about it, not preachy, and she’d taken his humor for what it was this time, laughing at him again.

And then Noah had been up, and she’d said she needed to go, and Elliot had wished her a Merry Christmas and hung up the phone feeling like he’d already gotten the best Christmas gift anyone could ask for.

And then night had fallen and all hell had broken loose across the city, and his first thought had been for her.

He’d texted, asking, You get called in on all this? and hoping she'd tell him no. That she was safe and warm in front of her own Christmas tree, drinking cocoa and watching Rudolph with her son.

But he hadn’t been surprised by her answer, or it’s brevity.

Yes

I’m sorry. You need someone to watch Noah?

No it’s handled

Stay safe. Go catch the bastards.

And that had been that. He knew that it would be all hands on deck, especially when that next bomb went off. The last thing she needed while chasing down home grown terrorists was to have to field texts from some dope who wanted to date her. So he waits until he gets the news alert that the ringleader behind the Christmas Eve attacks has been apprehended, taken out by NYPD officers in a fatal confrontation.

He hopes to God—actually prays to God—that Olivia hadn’t been the one to pull the trigger. Nobody should have to shoot someone on Christmas.

He gives her the rest of the afternoon, because he knows that whoever fired the gun, there will be paperwork to file, and crap to slog through, and she’s a captain now.

When the sun starts to sink low in the sky, he texts again: You got the guy?

She sends back three words that break his heart: I shot him.

Elliot sighs, lifts his phone a little higher and thinks of calling her, but he doesn’t want to interrupt if she’s still at work, or push if she needs space. So instead, he settles for asking, Are you okay?

Her answer is short. Only two words.

Come over.

So he does.