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Whispered Prayers and Whiskey Breath

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Olivia’s Apartment

2 Hours…

Two hours until Olivia and Noah had to be at the Stabler’s Family Christmas dinner, and she had no idea what to wear. She had been stumbling around in the closet for half an hour trying on every outfit she could put together. She quickly realized the usual attire of black jeans and a sweater just wasn't going to cut it for tonight. She had already picked out Noah’s outfit, laid it out, and got him in the shower. Explaining to a nine-year-old why hygiene is important proved harder than expected, but she finally got him in with the promise of an extra piece of pie for dessert, Bernie’s homemade spiced apple pie to be exact.

Now, she stands in front of her mirror with three separate piles laid out on her bed: casual, classy, and sexy. She already put on some light blush, mascara, and a nude matte lip. Nothing too extreme but it was already more than she would usually put on for any other day, but this was not like any other day—she would be meeting Elliot’s grandkids officially for the first time since Kathy’s service, which was hardly the time for a meet and greet.

Finally, narrowing down the options she’s torn between a simple black quarter sleeve dress with a thin red shawl or a deep red strap dress with a plunging V-neck. Both seem like a possibility, but which one screams “I’m here platonically, but I will fuck your grandpa...respectfully."

1 ½ Hours…

After making her final choice, now came the struggle of which shoes go best, but she quickly decided on a classy black strapped red bottom with a block heel. Ever since her ankle surgery she's had trouble with balance, but she's slowly found her way back into her heels, and these seem like that safer and sexier option. She’s satisfied.

While giving herself one final check in the mirror, there's a knock on the bedroom door. Slowly she makes her way to the door and opens it to her handsome little boy in his dark blue slacks paired with his blue sweater vest. His face however, had a frown on it. He insisted he had to wear his favourite red bowtie because he wanted to “look nice.” Olivia tried to reassure him that he looked nice without it, but his determination did not budge. Headstrong—just like his mama.

“Mommy, I don't want to go anymore,” he said while holding up his wrinkled bowtie in protest.
Olivia couldn't help but smile a little at his attempt at pouting.

“Noah, sweetie, it's going to be fine…” At this point Olivia had knelt down to properly tie his bow.

“You're going to have so much fun with Kieran and Seamus. Plus think of all the yummy food and pie you get to eat.” She finishes with a tickle attack to his belly to try and get a giggle out of him—-it worked. Noah happily agreed and latched onto her by the waist and pulled himself in for a hug.

“You look really pretty mommy!”

“Thank you Noah! You look very handsome yourself! Now let's get our coats on okay, we don't want to be late for pie.” Olivia gave him a kiss on the forehead before letting go of him.

Over on her counter sat the small gifts she got for the Stabler kids and Bernie. She grabbed them and they headed out the door. She had one for Elliot as well but was nervous as all hell to give it to him.

Given the time it takes to get from Manhattan to Long Island and the time she already spent picking the perfect outfit, they were in fact going to be late—fashionably late of course.

Elliot’s Place

30 minutes…

“Mama, please get down from the tree. Kathleen, can you help her?”

Elliot had been stir-crazy all day, making sure everything looked perfect for tonight. But of course, it did, Bernie and the kids had decorated the whole place—paper decorations made by the boys were hung up over the doorways, each seat at the table had a cloth napkin in the shape of a tree on every plate courtesy of Dickie and his origami hobby, and everybody even pitched in to get Noah a gift. Elliot had gone out earlier in the day to get Liv something special, but that in itself was torture. What do you get the woman you ghosted for a decade? The woman you love but can't bring yourself to admit it to her when you're not under duress or the influence of an unknown drug. Elliot knew he was probably thinking too much into it, but he couldn’t help but worry that it wouldn’t be enough, and he refused to stop trying to make it up to her.

He even spent an hour staring in his mirror to make sure he looked decent enough, finally settling on a pair of black bootcut jeans, a maroon button up, and tie. Obviously, a decent outfit and gifts aren't going to make up for 10 years of radio silence, but it was a step in the right direction. He hoped.

“Dad, relax! Everything's going to be fine. The house is perfect, the food smells delicious, and she's going to love the gift.” Maureen said from behind him while bringing a tray of assorted cheeses and crackers to the table.

“Yeah. Y- you're right. I just pray Noah will be comfortable.” He prayed both of them would be comfortable.

10 minutes…

Bernie was finishing putting the last decorations on the tree with Dickie's help. Maureen, Elizabeth, and Kathleen were in the kitchen. Eli was in the living room playing with building blocks with Carl and the boys.

“Grandma, is that Bernie Sanders?” Kathleen asked in surprise as Bernie was putting an ornament of Bernie and his gloves on the tree.

“I know you share the same name, please don't tell me you voted for him.” Elliot asked, almost concerned for the answer.

“It's none of your business.” She answered back completely serious.

Dickie stifled back a laugh.

“She voted for him.” That was all the answer he needed. Standing up from sitting on the arm of the couch he makes his way toward the kitchen where Maureen was pulling out the Christmas cookies.

“Fresh from the oven!” She announces.

Elliot picked up a ball and bounced it before attempting to pass it to one of the boys.

“Hey, Kieran!”

Ultimately failing, he threw the ball right into the tower they were building.

“Grandpa!” Kieran shouted, eliciting a laugh from Carl and Eli.

Elliot raised his hands above his head in defeat.

“Sorry about that.”
Immediately after, there was a knock on the door.

“Hey, they’re here! They’re here guys!” His excitement and nervousness filled the room like the thick New York City air.

Everyone stopped what they were doing and waited for Olivia and Noah to walk through the door. The anticipation was suffocating as Elliot made his way to the door.

“Hey guys. Hey-” Elliot cut himself off when he saw who was actually at the door.
Ayanna Bell, with worry written all over her face. Elliot let her in with concern.

“I'm sorry to interrupt. Um, I just heard something, and I didn’t want you to be blindsided by it.”

5 Minutes…

Olivia and Noah pulled up to Elliot’s place with the gifts in one arm and a bottle of red in the other.
As they made their way up to the door Ayanna was walking out with Elliot leaning up against the doorway, stopping Olivia in her tracks.

“Ayanna… is everything okay?”
They met in the middle, greeting each other with a hug.

Ayanna looked back at Elliot with sympathy before answering.
“I’ll let Elliot give you the details, but the D.A. has decided not to retry Wheatley… He won- again.”

In absolute shock Olivia grabbed hold of Noah instinctually.

“Oh my god…”

Ayanna placed her hand on Olivia’s shoulder and gave it a comforting squeeze before walking to her car.
Olivia was stunned. She couldn’t move and instead she lifted her eyes and met Elliot’s—who was making his way towards the two at the end of the walkway. When he reached them, he immediately wrapped his arms around Olivia.

“He’s free, Liv. He won… Kathy’s gone, and he walks free.” Elliot was on the verge of tears.
Olivia rested her head on his broad shoulder and wrapped her arm with the wine bottle around his waist. Never letting go of Noah with the other.

“I know, El. I’m so sorry.” Her voice was barely above a whisper as she nuzzled her nose into the crook of his neck.

Elliot released her, wiping the evidence of grief off his face, and turned his attention to Noah.

“Hey buddy… All the kids are inside, and fresh cookies were just pulled out of the oven if you want to head in. That is, if it’s okay with your mom.” Elliot looked back up to Liv with a cocky tight-lipped smile.

Noah’s face lit up with excitement.

“Can I mom! Please? I promise I won’t eat too much before dinner!”
Olivia couldn’t help but giggle.

“Yeah mom. Can he?” He teased with an eyebrow raise. She laughed a little and gave Elliot the look before giving Noah an answer.

“Yeah, sweetie. Go ahead. I’ll be right in.”

“Thank you, mommy! Thanks Elliot!”

She released his hand, and he was off. She barely lets him out of her sight when he’s not at school or with Lucy, but she knew he’d be okay with Bernie.
Elliot and Olivia watch as he trotted his way inside. They couldn’t help but smile at his innocence.

“Gosh I remember when Eli was that small.” Eliot said while scratching his forehead with his thumb.

“Yeah,” she laughed. “They grow up so fast, don’t they?”

“He seems like a sweet kid, Liv. You’re doing a great job.” Elliot placed both hands on each of her arms, rubbing his thumbs up and down her bicep. Olivia was wearing a heavy black peacoat, but he could still feel the shiver his touch caused her. Her brown eyes gleamed with affection while staring into his own.

They stayed in that moment for what seemed like forever, but in reality it was just mere seconds before Elliot offered to take the bag of gifts.

“Here, lemme take that.”

“Thank you, Elliot… for all of it. What you said means a lot.” She shot him a smile before they both turned and headed back to the door.
Before they reached it though, Olivia paused and grabbed ahold of Elliot to stop him from moving further.

“Uh…El… Listen, I want to let you know… if you need anything, I’m here. I want this…You and I. Being friends again. Anything. I’ll be here.” Olivia’s eyes started to well up. She meant everything she just said. She would do anything for him.

“Thanks, Liv. And just so you know… I’m serious about this too. I want to know everything that I missed. I want to know you again, know us.”

Olivia reached her empty right hand up and placed it on his cheek. He was still freshly shaven, and she reveled in the smooth warm skin under her palm. She let her thumb caress his cheek as he leaned into her hand. Elliot grabbed ahold of it and brought her palm to his lips, kissing it softly. Olivia didn’t pull away, instead she leaned forward and rested her forehead on his; this was quite possibly the most intimate moment they’d shared in a very long time, maybe ever.

“Liv…”

“I know, El…”

They looked back up at each other and basked in the comfort they shared.

Elliot was about to speak again when Bernie suddenly opened the door. She paused for a moment with a wide smile on her face.

“Um… Elliot you two might better get in here. Dickie and Eli are going head-to-head in something called Mario Kart…”

“Ha! Well this is going to be good… I CALL WINNERS!” He exclaimed while brushing past Liv and Bernie.

“Come in Olivia. It’s freezing out there!”

“Oh. Thank you! I um- I brought some wine but I now remember you can’t drink with your medication… I’m sorry- I wasn’t thinking.” Olivia’s face was flushed in embarrassment.

“Oh Olivia, dear! No worries. I’m sure Elliot could use a glass… or two.” Bernie said while ushering Olivia inside.

“Ha! Yes we both could.”

“It is nice to see you two together again. Just like old times… Partners in fighting crime.”

“It feels nice… I never imagined he’d be back.”

“That makes two of us.” They shared a look and headed down the hallway.
They finished their conversation as they walked into the family room. The second Noah spotted her, he’s at Olivia’s side.

“Mommy! I get to play Mario Kart with Elliot next!”

“Wow! That’s awesome, Noah!”

She bent down to him and spoke just loud enough for Elliot to hear.

“Go kick his butt, sweetie.”

Noah ran away with a smile, and a laugh echoed through the room.

The house was filled with laughter and joy, a refreshing difference from what the usual night at her apartment or the precinct would be like. She does make it a point to make the most of her and Noah’s time together when they are home, but many nights lately she had been at the precinct by the time Lucy put him to bed. It’s tough, but they make do.

Bernie made her way towards the kitchen to help finish dinner while Olivia found her way to Elliot where she was officially introduced to Maureen’s husband, Carl, and sons, Keiran and Seamus. She made her rounds to the older kids, and Elizabeth offered her a warm cookie to which she accepted happily. When she made it to Eli, she made sure to ask how he was doing.

“Better now…Thanks to you and dad. I don’t know how I’ll make it up to you guys.” He gave her a hug and she held him tight.

“No need, Eli… I’m just glad you’re doing better.”

She let go and made her way back over to Elliot and Noah. It was their turn to play, and Noah was in fact kicking Elliot’s butt.

Olivia felt a sense of peace wash over her as she watched Noah and Elliot play and talk. The two most important males in her life, and she couldn’t help but feel something she hadn’t felt in a very long time… Home.

Chapter Text

Everyone had been seated except Elliot, as he had just put the Christmas ham on the table and began cutting into it immediately.

“Ahem…” Bernie cleared her throat to get his attention. Elliot's eyes slowly rose up to meet hers at the opposite end of the table. He knew what he forgot, but he had been smelling this food all day and couldn't wait to devour it. Everyone was already holding the hand of the person next to them— was closest to Elliot on his left, and next to her were Carl and Dickie. On his right—Olivia, Lizzie, then Eli. The three kids had a table just off to the side.

“Sorry, mama. It just smells so good.” It was a poor excuse, but Bernie just laughed and bowed her head.

Elliot's eyes met Liv’s as her hand reached up to grab his, their hands fitting perfectly together. Her hands were warm and soft while his were dry and a little calloused. Their thumbs caressed the back of each other's hands. It was simple enough but still created a flutter of nerves in their stomachs.
Elliot broke eye contact to reach for Maureen’s hand as he bowed his head and began the prayer.

“God, thank you for this day and for the love shared by all gathered here. We remain eternally grateful for the gift of Jesus into our world, and we pray that our eyes be opened to the ways in which He continues to be active in our lives, blessing us each and every day. We thank you for family, friends, and for the delicious food on the table. Amen.”

Both tables said their ‘Amens’ and began passing around the bowls of potatoes, gravy, corn, etc. as Elliot went back to cutting the ham.

“That was a beautiful prayer, El.” Olivia spoke softly but loud enough for him to hear. She gave him a squeeze on his bicep and a smile crept up on her lips, her eyes sparkling. She had eaten many dinners with Elliot back in the day but sitting in the car stuffing their faces with greasy burgers while waiting for a perp to make a move was hardly the place or time for heartfelt prayers.

Elliot had gone through and placed a piece of ham on everyone's plate except for Lizzie’s.

“I'm a vegan now, dad… remember?” She reached up and stopped the piece of meat from hitting her plate.

“Right. Sorry.” He hadn't forgotten, it just slipped his mind.

He made his way over to the three boys and placed a piece on each plate.
“Eat up boys, it’s good for you.”

“Actually grandpa, ham has a lot of salt. My teacher told me that ham can give you heart problems and sometimes even cancer… but I'm not old and it tastes good, so I don't really care.” Seamus said while picking the piece of meat up with his fork and taking a big bite out of it.

Every adult in the room had gone silent and were stunned by Seamus’ words.

“Seamus, smaller bites please.” Maureen spoke up with a laugh in her throat.

“Oookay then… glad that was sorted.”

Elliot couldn't help but laugh as he went back to his seat, placing his own carcinogen riddled slab of meat on his plate.

“Back in my day we didn’t care what was in our food and we all survived…” Elliot said while looking up at Maureen.

“Dad, back in your day you guys were throwing metal darts into the air hoping it would hit the ground and not your friends head… People are just a little more conscious of what they do and put into their bodies now.”

“Well back in my day people put all sorts of things in our bodies…most of it horrible I'm sure, but we also minded our own business.” Bernie said while piling a lump of potatoes and gravy into her mouth.

“Yes, thank you, mama, for that wonderful insight into the 50’s.”

“Ha, well. We were a generation that knew how to live. We created colored tv! Not to mention the first legends of Rock n’ Roll. Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Billy Holly!...”

“Mama… You never listened to Rock n’ Roll.” Elliot couldn't help but tease her.

“Hmm… I don’t know, El. Bernie seems like she got down and dirty in her time.” Olivia had to poke back at Elliot, she loved teaming up with Bernie to get a rise out of him.

“The dirtiest…” Bernie replied, with a wink and a devilish smirk.

“Ewww! Grandma!” All the older kids exclaimed in unison.

Elliot had all but choked on his water to his mother’s response. He nudged into Olivia's knee with his own as if to say, ‘thanks for that’. It was a small nudge, but it got his point across, and Liv placed her hand on his leg to apologize, but even with that small touch she could feel him jump a little at the contact. Her hand was warm on his thigh, and he didn't know how to respond. He looked up at her and they shared a smile before Elliot’s hand landed on top of hers giving it another squeeze. They sat like that for a moment until Oliva moved her hand and asked the girls if they wanted any wine. Elliot frowned a bit at the lost contact, but he reminded himself of ‘baby steps’.

“It's nothing fancy… just a simple sweet red.” Olivia said, getting some glasses from the cupboard. It's funny, she didn’t even live there, and she knew her way around the kitchen better than she knew her own. She grabbed four glasses for her and the girls, and asked Elliot if he would like some.

“No thanks, Liv. I will take a glass of Southern Comfort though. But I can get that.” Before he could get up from his seat, Liv placed a hand on his shoulder to keep him down.

“No please, let me get it.” Olivia gave him a wink before letting her hand run across his broad shoulders while walking back towards the kitchen.
He made this day so special, so she wanted to do something for him.

She stood at the island for a moment and soaked in the conversations from both tables. She couldn’t keep her smile contained when she saw the one on her son's face. He seemed so comfortable with the boys. She hadn’t realized how long she had been standing there with the bottle of whiskey in one hand and an empty glass in the other until she felt a warm hand on the small of her back. It made her flinch a little and he noticed.

“Hey… sorry I didn’t mean to startle you. Are you alright?”

He moved both hands up to her shoulders, softly massaging them. The light pressure alone made her knees weak, but the fact that it was Elliot Stabler making her feel that way made it even better. If he was good at this, what else could his hands be good at?
She quickly stopped herself from thinking that way and cleared her throat before speaking.

“Yeah. Everything is perfect. Seeing Noah happy like this makes everything else that’s happened this week kind of minimal.” She quickly regretted her words and began to apologize. Turning around to face Elliot, their bodies just inches away from each other, she could feel the heat off his body.

“Oh El, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean that. I- I…” Olivia was stammering to find the words. Elliot just gave her a smile and grabbed ahold of her hands, rubbing his thumbs over her wrists.

“Liv…I know what you meant. No worries…”

They stood there for a moment just looking into each other’s eyes. They could get lost this way. That is until Bernie’s loud laugh boomed through the rooms and broke them from their trance.

“It’s nice to have the family together like this. Noah seems to get along with the boys really well, and he stomped my ass in Mario Kart! He swears he’s never played before… lucky try I guess.”

Olivia chuckled. Her back was now fully pressed against the counter and her legs were right in between Elliot’s. They weren’t as close as she would like to be, but now was not the time or place. They still had the whole night to get closer.

“Come on, let’s go back to the table…”

Olivia turned around, and Elliot let go of her hands so she could finish pouring his glass.

“Here you go, Detective…”

Elliot felt his gut jump at her words. He had heard her call him that many times before, but this time it was somehow more seductive. So, he played along.

“Thank you… Captain.” His hand reached up to grab the glass from her hand and their fingers lingered there together for some time before Olivia slipped out from between him and the counter. Her right hip skimmed across his groin, and she heard a small groan escape his lips. She pretended not to notice, but a grin snuck up onto her face as she swayed away. Elliot stood there for a moment, quickly and quietly refocusing his thoughts.

She did that on purpose. No. There’s no way. But the way she just walked away! She knew I was watching! This is a sick game she’s playing.

Elliot made his way back to the table. He was content now. His eyes caught Bernie’s as he sat down and with a wide smile on her face, she gave him a wink.
She knows. I don’t know what she knows, but she knows something.
He smiled back at his mama and took a sip of his whiskey. The spice of it warmed his chest, instantly feeling the heat in his cheeks.

The rest of dinner went by so smoothly. Small talk and a little bit of banter is exactly what Elliot needed to keep his mind off of the news Ayanna showed up with.

The kids returned to the living room after rinsing their plates and placing them in the dishwasher. Bernie made her way to the back patio to have her third and last cigarette of the night. It was only 6pm, but the daylight had already started to disappear.

Everyone else was settled in front of the television, debating on watching The Grinch or The Polar Express, while Olivia and Elliot started clearing off the rest of the dinner table.

The whole scene felt very domestic, and they loved it. They moved around each other like a perfectly choreographed dance. His eyes would catch hers from the other side of the room, her hands would linger a little bit longer each time she passed him a plate of leftovers to put away, and their bodies fit together perfectly in front of the sink as they rinsed off the platters and bowls.

They finished putting everything away and got everything wiped down. Olivia poured herself another glass, most likely her last for the night, and Elliot poured himself another glass of whiskey. They stood there at the counter, hip to hip, watching their family bicker over who was sitting where for the movie. Olivia knew they weren't her children, but she was there for a better part of all of their lives. She saw them at both their best and worst, and the love she felt for them never wavered. Even when Dickie asked her blatantly if she had ever slept with “her partner” when he was a punk-ass teenage boy, she thought to herself. And Noah fit right in with all of them which warmed her heart.

She actually got a little teary eyed, but she blames it on the 1 ½ glasses of wine. She feels Elliot’s hand slipped into the small of her back again, and she took the opportunity to lean into him. It was most definitely the wine that made her feel comfortable enough to rest her head on his shoulder. She had slipped her heels off sometime between the end of her first glass and loading the dishwasher, so she was just tall enough to fit perfectly. Elliot turned his head and placed a soft kiss on hers, and just for a moment, they both blissfully forgot the worries and troubles of the week. Olivia closed her eyes and basked in the warmth of his presence and the intoxicating scent that radiated off his body. Both of her hands grasped the stem of her glass, careful not to drop it and ruin the moment.

A soft hum left Elliot’s lips before he spoke.

“This is nice. Being together like this. Me and you… All the kids. We should do this more often. Feels natural.”

Olivia lifted her head and smiled up at him in agreement.

“Yeah… It is nice.”

Olivia didn’t know what to say next, but being that close to him, feeling his body against hers, and the heat of his breath on her cheek, made her stomach turn in the most glorious way. She could feel her chest and face blushing. She reached up and placed a hand on his chest. This is the most intimate they’ve been since his return, the first time she didn’t feel like running at the smallest inkling of hope for their future together.

Her hand pressed against his chest the way it is, made Elliot feel safe, like he could hold her forever. And he could. But he didn’t know if she felt the same way yet. They had been through so much together and separately since he’d been back and up until now, he felt like he was walking on thin ice around her. She made him nervous. Not in a bad way, but not necessarily a good way either.

Elliot finished what was left in his glass and set it on the counter before placing his hand over Olivia’s, grabbing ahold of it and bringing it to his lips.
Their eyes never left one another. He wanted to make sure everything he was doing was okay with her.

He kissed her knuckles at first and slowly turned her hand to place one on her palm.

Olivia’s eyes closed momentarily; a small smile rose on her face. She knew he couldn’t—wouldn’t— go any further unless she gave him the go-ahead, but she couldn’t bring herself to open her eyes again to meet his crystal blue orbs. He continued his trail down to her wrist. Started off as small pecks, and in an instant, he had nipped at her skin just hard enough to tingle yet soft enough to send chills through her spine. Her eyes immediately opened back up, catching a glimmer of something not-so-innocent in his eyes.

Oh God, she thought to herself. We can’t do this yet. He’s not ready. I’m not ready.
She opened her mouth to speak. His name hot on her breath.

“Elliot… don’t- don’t do this…please, "he whispered, though she never pulled away.

“Liv… I won’t do anything you don’t want. Just friends for now… remember?”

Of course, she remembered! She said it! And the problem was that she wanted all of it! She just didn’t think she could handle it at the moment.

“I know, El… I know you- well, I used to. But I want to know you again… maybe we could go talk? Let the kids watch the movie?”

At the mention of the kids, they both turned their heads towards the living area. Bernie had managed to sneak her way in and find a seat next to the boys. Noah had found a spot on the floor that he was comfortable with and was completely engrossed in the film; he loved The Polar Express. Elliot didn’t have a lot of furniture to begin with but with ten people in the living room it seemed like even less.

Knowing that they were all content and comfortable, Elliot agreed. “Yeah. Come on… we can go outback.”

He moved his body away from her and she shuddered in the absence of his heat.

“Well, it’s cold out there…” She stated while placing her now empty glass on the counter next to his.

“Right. I’m not in Rome anymore… uh- one sec.”

He wandered towards Bernie quietly, not wanting to disturb the kids. He whispered something in her ear and her face lit up. Whatever it was he said, she nodded her head to.

Oh god. She caught herself thinking for the second time tonight.
Elliot slowly made his way to the hallway where their coats were hung, removing them from the hook, and also grabbing a pair of boots.

A puzzled look grew on Olivia’s face until she realized she was still barefoot, and that doesn’t bode well with New York winters. Elliot made his way back to her without any of the kids noticing. Mission accomplished.

Olivia took her jacket, put it on and grabbed the boots. She was waiting until they got to the back door before putting them on, that way to ensure she didn’t make too much noise.

She couldn’t help but feel like she’s in college again, sneaking out the back door without being caught by someone in the other room, but this time it was a room filled with Elliot Stabler's children and her own son, rather than her abusive alcoholic mother. Somehow, that made it seem even more scandalous.

Elliot quietly opened the door for Olivia before passing through it himself and quietly closing it again.
Their hot breath instantly showed in the cold air.

Olivia had her back turned to Elliot as she looked up at the light polluted sky, catching a small glimpse of the moon before it was hidden by some clouds.
Elliot walked up beside her and wrapped his arm around her waist, pulling her in tight to his body.
They stood there in a comfortable silence for a few minutes, enjoying the rare quietness of the night before Elliot spoke up.

“So…”

The open-ended statement made Olivia chuckle. She turned her head towards him and looked up at him with an endearing smile.

“So…”

And so, it begins…

Chapter Text

Out on the back patio they stood hip to hip-- Elliots left arm was wrapped around Olivia's waist while her head rested on his shoulder as she looked up into his eyes. Neither of them knew where to start.

Elliot and Olivia found it more difficult than anticipated to start a conversation. Especially for Elliot. He didn't know where to start, what questions to ask, which ones not to ask.

Olivia was the first one to break eye contact. She pulled away from Elliot and made her way over to the patio chairs; Elliot followed suit. He didn't care if they were sitting or standing as long as he was with her.

They sat there next to each other looking up into the sky, comfortably quiet until Olivia spoke up.

“Bernie’s done a really nice job on the little garden she has back here. How is she keeping them going in this weather?”

Elliot snorted a little at her attempt to start the conversation again, but at least it was something.

“Yeah, she’s always had a green thumb. Some kind of magician when it comes to plants…”

He himself was surprised at how much work his mother had done to the place since he's been undercover. When they first moved in it was less than superb but with a little bit of love and Bernie’s addiction to Home and Garden Magazine she was able to turn it into a home.

“But I know we didn’t come out here to freeze our asses off just to talk about my mother and her plants. What’s on your mind, Liv?”

She just sat and stared for a moment before answering. Her eyes bouncing back and forth at each of his own, trying to conjure up the words.

“Uh- this, El. I mean- It’s just nice to see that smug face of yours. You look good, El-- really.”

The mention of his smug face just made his smirk grow even bigger. He turned his head down and looked at Olivia's hands-- she was playing with a ring on her right ring finger and her left knee was bouncing up and down. Elliot knew she was nervous; so was he. He took her hands into one of his own and helped steady her knee. He lifted his head and met her eyes.

A look of panic flashed over Olivia's face briefly before being quickly replaced with a look of admiration. He missed that look on her face. He missed it when she used to feel safe around him; he hopes to get back to something remotely normal for them. Whatever that is.

But that's the problem isn't it? Their past friendship was anything but normal. They needed to get back to a new place-- unexplored territory for the both of them.
Elliot rubbed the back of her hands with his thumb before responding.

“Thanks, Liv. I feel good. This feels good. And I know I keep saying that but I mean it. You look really good too by the way. I mean--that dress; it’s a knockout. I forgot how good you looked in red.”

He had a full blown blush spread across his face that matched the one that krept up onto Olivia’s beginning at her chest-- which was just barely exposed to the night air.

“Oh-- Uhm. Thank you.” She was flustered. The smile she had on her face was the same one she had when Elliot had asked her to come to dinner. A mixture of glee and nervousness all in one. It was stunning.

“Noah actually told me I looked beautiful today and he rarely notices those things so that was nice.”

Olivia had a way of bringing the conversation back to Noah when she didn't know what else to say. It was a buffer for situations she didn't know how to control; and this was definitely one of them. She wanted Elliot to take charge; see how far he could take them.

“He’s a really sweet kid, Liv. I know I keep saying this but you seem to be doing a really great job with him… I uhm-- been meaning to ask you about him. You know-- like who his father is…If you wanna tell me that is. It’s really none of my business but…”

Olivia cut him off with a laugh. She knew he was going to ask eventually-- she just didn't know how to explain it all to him.

“Well-- uh actually it's a long story.”

Elliot pretended to look at his watch and looked back up at her with a coy smile on his face.

“I got time… I wanna know, Liv.” She was taken back by how much attention he was finally able to give her.

“Uhm-- okay. Well, I adopted him when he was a baby. His mother was a 16 year old runaway; Ellie Porter. We caught up to her when she and her pimp were robbing Johns. She got picked out of a line up and that was that. Until, we caught a case involving a couple who were making and soliciting child porn out of the hotel room where we found Noah. He was sleeping in the bottom drawer of a dresser. At the time we didn't know there was a connection to Ellie and the baby-- we actually didn't find out until after Noah had been through four separate foster homes. He had suffered from an untreated viral infection and other forms of abuse.”
She choked on her words for a second-- it was hard enough to talk about her own trauma let alone her son’s who was too young to defend himself.

“When Ellie found out Noah was still alive-- after being told that he died-- she was going to testify against her pimp and get herself clean so she could regain custody. Unfortunately, she skipped out and relapsed. She met up with her former employer and his gang. They tortured her, raped her, and burned her alive.”

She took a breath before continuing. Elliot was shell shocked and didn't say a word-- his mouth just hung open in disbelief.

“We had no idea who his father was and there was no DNA match in our system-- so after I took Noah in and filed for adoption we thought the process would be fairly simple considering the circumstances.”

She scoffed at how naive her past self was.

“But uh-- we caught another case pertaining to a sex trafficking ring and the ringleader Johnny D; who had raped the girls he brought in to “break them in”. One of those girls happened to be Ellie. So of course once he was notified-- he and his snake of a lawyer tried to claim that the investigation was biassed against him for my sake. Which was total BS by the way.”

She left it at that but she knew Elliot would have more questions.

“So what happened to him?”

Olivia cleared her throat and took a deep breath before telling him the rest.

“We uh-- we took him to court on 17 counts of rape, assult, trafficking, and kidnapping. His defence was to file for a dismissal of the case and he had convinced one of our witnesses to deny her earlier testimony that he had infact raped her-- he even had other woman in the audience stand up and slander the witness we had on the stand. The courtroom was a madhouse. Johnny took advantage of the situation and grabbed a court officer and her gun; he shot another officer and the judge before heading out into the halls. One of my officers followed him. Johnny had shot the court officer to death and aimed at Amaro and hit him in the liver and knee; but ultimately Johnny was shot and killed.”

After telling him almost everything; she needed a break. She took another deep breath and stood up from her seat. She loved her son with every fibre of her being and it's hard to imagine that such an amazing incredible little boy could be the result of something so terrible.

“I thank God every day for bringing Noah into my life. He’s the greatest thing that's happened to me in a very long time, El. I wouldn't trade it for the world. He was like God’s apology to me for all the horrible crap that's happened in the last ten years.”

Elliot got up and stood beside her, put an arm around her shoulders and brought her closer to him.

“Wow! That’s uh-- That's one hell of a life for a nine year old. He's a tough kid, Liv.”

Olivia looked over to Elliot and smiled.

“Yeah. Yeah he is. He doesn't know a lot about what happened but sometimes after a long day in the bullpen…I come home and sit with him and he gives me the biggest hugs and thanks me for ‘saving him’ and it immediately wipes away any negative feelings I had about the day. But what he doesn't understand is how much he saved me.”

Elliot gave Olivia an inquisitive look before asking another question.

“What do you mean?”

Olivia looked away briefly before turning her face back towards him.

“I went through a tough time for a bit…”

Olivia rested her head on Elliots shoulder and squeezed her eyes shut before continuing.

“But that's a story for a different time.”

Elliot wanted to keep pushing until she told him but he gave in and left it where it was. He knew she’d tell him when she was ready.

“Well, I know I haven't been around much since I've been back but I can definitely see a change from the stone-cold attitude you used to have. Starting to think motherhood has made you gone soft.”

That raised a laugh out of Olivia and in return she nudged him in the ribs.

“Oh don't worry-- she's still in there. Just gotta have a reason to bring her out. You saw me in that interrogation room with Navaro.”

Elliot chuckled.

“Yeah-- Yeah I did. It was just like old times.”

They both grinned at each other; reminiscing on the hours they had spent together in the interrogation room while working a perp. They could play off each other effortlessly. When they were in that room together it was like a well choreographed dance that they had been doing for the better part of twelve years.

Neither of them could look away. It was as if they were watching the memories playing in each other's eyes. They stayed like that for a moment. Elliot was the first to break.

“I'm really happy you came, Liv. And uh-- believe it or not-- I think the kids were more excited to meet Noah than anything.”

“Me too, El. I'll admit I was a little nervous-- but Noah was so excited to come so that helped. He loves meeting new people-- plus once I told him there was food involved he was immediately game.”

They both got a laugh out of that. Like mother--like son; food motivated.

“And I have to admit I was a little bit more than nervous. I wasn't exactly sure how to go about it. All I knew was that I wanted you here-- with me… with us.”

He motioned his head back toward the kids. Olivia's eyes followed.

“Well, we're both here now. The kids seem to be having a good time and Bernie is just amazing. I really am having a great time, El. I mean-- this whole thing is new but something about it just feels so familiar ya know?”

She turned her body in his arms until they were face to face again. Elliot’s hand slid down to her waist. It wasn't the first time he had touched her there tonight but this time it felt a little different-- her nerves began to shake again.

“Yeah, I get that. And uh-- just so you know-- I'm willing to take our friendship as slow as you need. I just want you here-- and I want to be here for you.”

Elliot took Olivia’s surprisingly warm hand into his own once again and held onto it tightly.

Olivia looked up into his eyes-- she knew he meant it and it calmed her nerves just a bit. The problem is, she doesn’t really want to take this slow. The second she walked in today the tension between them couldn’t be cut with the sharpest knife it was so thick.

He looked amazing— delicious. She wants to give him all the time he needs to heal properly from Kathy’s death, but she’s also waited 23 long years to have this man hold her the way she needs, and those two thoughts dangle in the front of her mind every time she’s near him. She raised her hand and placed it on his chest. Grounding herself in him even more.

“Thanks, El.” She smiled.

He removed his hand from her hip and placed it over hers; held it closer to him. Olivia could feel his heart beat heavily through his thick winter coat.

“But uhm- just for the record. I do want this.”

A smitten smirk appeared on his face and he raised an eyebrow.

“Oh yeah?” He didn’t mean for it to come out so sultry but it did. It made Olivia break out in a nervous smile in return.

“Yeah…” She trailed off into her thoughts while they stared into each other's eyes--speaking without words like the many years before.

They had been outside for a good half hour by now and they were freezing. Their hot breath was visible in the cold air, lingering in between their bodies. Elliot took an opportunity to reach up and tuck a strand of hair behind her ear letting her cheek be the final resting place for his hand, her cheeks were flushed and warm compared to the rest of her, she leaned into his palm. A shiver ran up her spine at the contact but shrugged it off and played it off as if she was cold— wrapping her jacket tighter around her body.

Elliot pulled her into him--embracing her in the warmth of his body. Olivia nuzzled her head into his chest and took a few ragged breaths before wrapping her arms around him as well. They held each other tight for a while-- enjoying each other's warmth.

Elliot knew she had been so distraught while telling him about Noah’s past and was nervous about tonight so he decided to lighten the mood before they went back inside. He wasn't exactly sure if it was the right time but he wanted to do this with just them-- no watchful eyes.

“Hey uhm- I don't know if it's the right time but I’ve been meaning to ask you…”

She was nervous. Didn’t know what to expect now. She lifted her head and pulled away a little.

“Do you want your gift now or later?” He asked with a sly smile.

There shouldn’t have been as much anticipation for that question as there was but a breath of relief passed her lips.

“Oh uhm— well… is it appropriate to open in front of everyone else?” She felt she needed to ask. It stifled a little laugh out of him.

“Of course it is! But uhm— I kinda want you to open it now if that’s alright? Just the two of us.”

He pulled out a little box from the pocket inside his coat. Her hand had been placed there not even five minutes ago and she didn’t feel a thing.

“What— you had that the whole time?” She chuckled.

“Uhm yeah. I didn’t know when the best time to give it to you would be so I grabbed it on our way out just in case.” He outstretched his arm and Olivia opened her hand. Elliot placed the little black box in her palm.

“Elliot, you shouldn’t have… really, I—“

Elliot cut her off before she could protest any further.

“Don’t worry I didn’t spend a fortune… I couldn’t figure out what to get you and I actually already owned this so it’s kind of like a hand me down if you think of it that way…” He was nervous, but he managed to get another laugh out of her.

“Well when you put it that way…” she didn’t hesitate to open the box. Her jaw dropped just a little bit at the sight of a tiny golden cross pendant on a gold chain link necklace. She picked it up with her trembling fingers— careful not to drop it.

“Oh El! It’s beautiful!” She held it up in the light and watched it reflect as it turned with the wind.

“I found it at a small shop near Santa Severa in Rome... It’s a beach with a 14th Century castle on the coast—It’s breathtaking… You would have loved it.” He said that last part with a whisper, remembering what happened the last time he said that to her.

“It’s gorgeous, Elliot. Thank you.”

She met his eyes with a smile. His face looked so innocent and hopeful. He reached out, plucking the necklace from her hand and undid the clasp, the task being harder than normal due to his frozen fingertips. She turned around and lifted her hair from her shoulders; giving him better access.

He reached around and placed the cold necklace upon her rather warm neck, clasping it back together-- his fingers brushed against her soft skin. He felt her shiver as he ran his cold fingers along the chain. She didn't move once it was placed other than to grab ahold of the cross itself and rub it in between her fingers-- saying a whispered prayer for strength and serenity. Elliot took the opportunity to bring his face closer to her.

He breathed in her scent and exhaled his hot breath onto her neck, causing goosebumps to rise on the surface of her skin. His hands found themselves on her shoulders, steadying her in place, as he brought his lips to the exposed skin-- hoping he wasn't stepping too far over the line.

Again, she didn't move, but her breathing faltered a little as she felt his lips on her neck. She debated stepping away and telling him how inappropriate it was but deep down inside this is exactly what she wanted right now so instead, she sunk back into his body and his lips explored further; his final place being the hidden sweet spot behind her ear-- he took another breath in.

“You smell really good, Liv…” Elliot whispered and nipped lightly at her skin, eliciting a small groan and chuckle from Olivia.

“This isn't very platonic behaviour, Detective.” Her voice stayed at the same level of whisper as his-- as if they were at risk of getting caught. He growled at her use of his title.

“Well-- Captain, look at this as part of your gift.” She chuckled at his response and without thinking she ground her backside into his hips; a low grumble escaped his lips-- he nipped again at her neck.

“It seems, Detective-- that it may be part of yours as well.” She teased; pushing back into him again, the tension in his jeans more noticeable to her now. Elliot released her shoulders and wrapped his arms around her body, pulling her back into him.

Her hands dropped from holding her hair and wrapped her arms around his. She revelled in the comfort she felt in his arms-- a nice refresher from the earlier conversation. Elliots lips continued their exploration of her neck, he nipped and sucked lightly-- conscious not to leave any serious markings; as much as he would love to.

“Elliot, as nice as this is; and it is very nice… I think it's time we head back inside. It's getting pretty late and if you want the rest of your gift then we should get in there.” In reality she was just worried someone would come looking for them and see them in this not so platonic position.

Elliot groaned in objection but released his hold on her nonetheless. Olivia turned back towards him and cupped his face in her hands-- looking directly into his eyes.

“Thank you for the gift, El…” A devilish smile crept on her face as she added, “Both of them.” She pulled his head down to her level and placed a chast kiss to his forehead, letting her lips linger there for a moment, saying a silent prayer to herself-- thanking God for this man's return to her life and another one begging him to keep him there.

“I should be the one thanking you… For everything. But uhm-- you go ahead inside. I'm gonna stay out here for a minute to ah-- cool off…” His eyes fell down to his groin, forcing hers to follow, landing on the very obvious tension in his pants.

“Ahah yeah… You do that, El.'' She couldn't help but be proud of the kind of reaction she can elicit from this man after 23 years. She allows herself to wonder if it isn't the first time she got a rise out of him-- in all meanings of the word. She dropped his head from her hold and motioned to the door. She shook her head to herself to clear her mind and chuckled to herself.

“I’ll uh-- I'll see you in there.” She let her hand grab ahold of his as she passed by him and didn't let go until she reached the door, keeping as much contact with him as possible until she couldn't.

“Yup… I’ll be right there, Liv.” He cleared his throat and watched her walk inside; watched her remove the boots and her jacket as she made her way into the living room. His eyes travelled down her body until they reached her ass-- watching the sway of her hips as she took each step. Once she was out of his view he threw his arms up in surrender and ran his hands over his face-- attempting to snap out of whatever spell she cast over him.

He groaned loudly into the night sky; silent prayers for strength and willpower ran through his head. He gathered himself quickly and headed back towards the door. He took one more long ragged breath and prepared himself for whatever else the night brought.

Chapter Text

Elliot made his way back into the apartment; he could hear Olivia's booming laugh in the mix of everyone else’s— he would know her laugh anywhere. They must have finished the movie because the TV was off and all the kids— younger and older— were sitting on the floor with all the gifts placed in the middle.

Bernie was perched in the chair and Olivia was sitting behind Noah on the couch— her fingers played with her new necklace as a smile was displayed across her face— their eyes met from across the room. He stood there lost in the moment when Dickie’s voice pulled him from his trance.

“Dad, come on! We've been waiting for you. Grandma was just telling us how you used to be the first one on Christmas morning to wake up and get into the gifts before anyone else was awake… Now we know where Eli got it from.” Dickie gave Eli a playful nudge on the shoulder.

“Hey! That was only one year… Besides, mom told me if I did it again I would have to wait for all of you to open yours before I could even look at mine…Lesson learned.” Eli defended himself with a smile. They all sat silent for a second remembering Kathy. They missed her, of course they did— even Olivia felt a little ping in her chest remembering all the holiday postcards she used to get before they left. They had a strange relationship for sure—but Kathy always had a way of making her feel like part of the family, especially after Eli was born..

“Yeah, and the following year you were so nervous, you didn’t sleep at all the night before. You passed out in the middle of the floor after you opened all your presents. Dad had to carry you back to bed.” Lizzie added.

“Well I’m awake now and ready to kick some more ass on Mario Kart so let’s get this started people.”
Everyone laughed, including Noah. Bernie, though, had some feelings about the choice of words her grandson used.

“Hey! Don’t cuss like that, Eli. There are kids present… you’re just a kid yourself.” She scolded him lightly.

“Sorry grandma. It won’t happen again.” He looked around to the rest of the family.

“Sorry guys.” He looked over to Olivia and Noah.

Olivia gave him an endearing look that seemed to ease him.

“All is forgiven, Eli… But I would like to take my chances against you in Mario Kart, if that’s alright?”

Eli’s face lit up.

“Mom! You’ve never played Mario Kart! You’re going to lose!” Noah stated so matter of fact. Olivia couldn’t help but laugh.

“Don’t underestimate your mom, kid. She holds a lot of surprises up her sleeve at all times.” Elliot said, giving Olivia a wink— causing her to blush a bit. Her hand lifted up; grabbing a hold of the cross dangling on her neck.

Bernie clapped her hands together to bring the attention back to the task at hand.

“Well, let’s get these gifts open. It is getting late and an old lady like myself needs her beauty rest.” Her statement elicited another laugh from the group.

“I’ll go first since I’m the oldest.” She said, taking the gift with her name on it from the circle—ripping into it immediately.

All eyes were on her while she pulled out an oversized T-shirt that read;

“Grandma; like a mom but without the rules”

Elliot got a rise out of the novelty shirt as Bernie held it up, the older kids got a laugh out of it too. Bernie couldn’t help but giggle and raise an eyebrow towards her son.

“Full disclosure the shirt was all dad's idea. We all got you this one though.” Kathleen pulled a bigger gift bag out from behind the tree. Bernie reached into the bag and pulled out the card. It was in a pink envelope with “Grandma” written in black marker; it looked like one of the younger ones wrote it. She carefully opened the envelope and held back tears as she saw the front of the card.

It was a custom printed card with a picture of all the grandkids in Italy during one of their family vacations; inside the card had a golden trim, the words written inside read;

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people. Ephesians 1:18” and a handwritten note saying; “We love you grandma! Merry Christmas! And Happy New Year!”

Bernie read it out loud with a single tear falling from her cheek. She missed her family and she was grateful to be able to spend this time with them. She took a moment to catch her breath and finally spoke.

“Oh guys! This is so sweet! I’m so happy that you guys are here!”

“Grandma, don’t cry! You haven’t even gotten to the actual gift yet!” Eli responded.

Bernie placed the card to the side and looked into the bag. Inside were 2 blank canvases and a brown bag with “Bernie” stitched into the leather. She pulled the bag out, ran her fingers over the stitching, slowly unzipping she discovered multiple rows of assorted hand sized acrylic and oil paints and a set of paint brushes made for arthritic hands.

Tears were now fully streaming down Bernie’s cheeks. Elliot’s hand lifted to rest on his mothers shoulder and gave it a squeeze. Bernie placed a hand on top of his and looked up towards him.

“We know things have been a little tense lately and I’ve had to depend on you a lot with the house and Eli so we wanted to get you something to help relax you a bit. Do you like it?”

“Oh Elliot! It’s amazing! Thank you kids so much! You don’t know how much this means to me.” Bernie wiped the tears from her face and stood to give her son a hug. The older kids followed suit and stood for a hug as well.

Once they were through with the assembly line of hugs they all took their seats again— Elliot made his way to the seat next to Olivia.

Their eyes met and their smiles widened— as if that was possible.

“Okay, Dad. It’s your turn. This is from all of us as well.” Maureen said as she placed a medium sized box wrapped in flannel paper into his lap.

“Oh boy. Okay, here we go.” He said while haphazardly ripping the paper and opening the box.

Inside was loads of tissue paper which just happened to be covered in his least favourite thing— glitter. As he lifted the papers just about all of it flew into his lap and pieces of it uncontrollably landed onto Olivia’s dress and some even ended up in Noah’s hair.

The room busted out into laughter. Including Olivia and Noah who was now shaking his head vigorously to get what he could out of his curls.

“Don’t worry. It’s all non-toxic and vegan.” Elizabeth explained.

“Where in the world did you get vegan glitter? And what makes it not vegan— you know what I don’t wanna know.” Elliot asked; cutting himself off before he learned something he didn’t really need to know. He continued to search through the box.

At the bottom he found a black faux-leather book. On the cover was a black and white picture of the squad at SVU. There they were—in their prime.

It was taken on the rare occasion that the squad finished early and went for a drink after their shift. Cragen, Munch, Fin, Olivia, and himself— all in their glory.

Elliot went to speak but his breath caught in his lungs. Olivia must have noticed because she placed her hand on his forearm to help sooth him.

“Where in the world did you get this picture?” He was stunned it still existed after all these years.

“We got a hold of uncle Fin and uncle Munch to see if they had any old photos but they only had a few so we got the rest from uh-- Olivia actually.” Kathleen answered.

Elliot shot a look over to Olivia and tears started to form in both of their eyes.

“You kept all the photos?”

“Well yeah, El. It was a time in my life that I had almost everything I could ever want-- before I got this little guy that is.” She ruffled the curls on top of Noah’s head.

“Mom!” Noah exclaimed, patting his hair back down into place. Olivia bent down and placed a kiss on top of his head.

“But open it. You haven't even made it past the cover photo.” She said, giving him a nudge in the side. But he didn't want to stop looking at her. He was mesmerised by this woman-- but he cleared his throat anyway and flipped open the cover.

The first couple pages were an assortment of photos from nights out and newspaper clippings from some of Elliot and the team's bigger busts in his first years as detective. He was in complete awe at how young they all looked-- it was a lifetime ago. He couldn't believe Olivia and the guys kept all these. A lump formed in his throat and his eyes started to water when he flipped to the centre page-- a photo of Olivia and him on a central park bench back in 1999 was spread across both pages.

He remembered that day like yesterday--

****
They had caught up to a serial rapist they had been hunting down for months. The whole squad was ecstatic that the bastard was finally behind bars where he belonged and to celebrate Cragen told the gang to head home early. Fin and Much were more than happy to oblige-- Liv and Elliot however, were practically buzzing with joy and didn't want to call it a day. They looked at each other from across their desks and Olivia had a look on her face that Elliot had not seen before. Her smile was so wide and her eyes had a glimmer in them that he could only describe as hopeful.

“Hey uhm-- I'm too happy to go home right now. Wanna go for a walk?” Elliot asked while grabbing his coat off the back of his chair.

“Yeah! I don't have anything to get back too besides my DVR and left over Indian. Do you wanna grab a drink?” Olivia all but jumped out of her seat and put the paperwork that was scattered across her desk into one pile before grabbing her own coat and ‘over the shoulder’ bag.

“Sounds good, partner…” Elliot walked over to her-- grabbed Olivia’s jacket from her arms and helped her into it.

“Thanks.” She gleamed up at him and gave him a squeeze on his bicep.

“No problem. But uh-- you can thank me by throwing out the leftover Indian because I know it's been there for at least three days.” He gave her his best ‘know-it-all’ smirk and they walked side by side out of the bullpens doors. Olivia bumped into him on purpose a couple of times as they walked down the corridor-- practically skipping like a couple of teenagers who cut class early.

They had made their way to a local pub where some of the 1-6 hung out on weekends. They had a couple glasses of Pinot Noir together-- it was only 3pm so they took it easy and decided to go for that walk. They had strolled through Central Park for a few hours. Enjoying each other's company and the buzz they shared from catching their rapist-- the wine helped too.

They had spent most of the time bouncing their shoulders off of each other while talking about anything and everything. Olivia loved the way he talked about his kids and could listen to him talk about his favourite memories with them for hours.

Eventually they took a seat on a bench and watched the other people in the park walk by. Olivia was so happy and in return made Elliot happy. They had their ups and downs just like any partnership-- but on the up days-- they were really up. Elliot loved being around Olivia. She always had this glow radiating off of her and every once in a while that glow would grow bigger and touch every one and thing around her. Today was one of those days and Elliot couldn't keep from smiling at her.

“We should take a picture.” Olivia said out of nowhere.

“Huh?” Elliot was brought back from being lost in her eyes by the sound of her voice.

Olivia laughed at his obliviousness and knocked into his shoulder once again.

“We should take a picture! Ya know-- for memories.” Her smile widened.

“Ah-- well, we don't have a camera so…” Elliot turned his eyes away from her and focused on a woman walking by with her dog. He hadn't noticed Olivia had reached into her bag and pulled out a panasonic camera.

“Well I guess we’re in luck then.” She said while setting up the camera.

Elliot looked back to her with an inquisitive look on his face-- of course she had a camera.

“Do you always carry a camera with you, Liv?”

“I'm a woman in her 30’s Elliot-- I have half my apartment in this bag on a daily basis.”

They shared a laugh before Olivia wrapped her arm over his broad shoulders and pulled him closer to her-- resting her head on his shoulder. She extended her arm and snapped the photo. Their smiles were wide and genuine.

She wanted the picture for memories but seeing his partner smile like that was something he would never forget.
****

Elliot had been brought back to the present day when Olivia placed a hand on his arm-- a tear streaming down both of their cheeks. Olivia grabbed a hold of his hand and gave it a squeeze before running her other hand up and down his arm.

Elliot took a couple ragged breaths before looking up at his kids-- all of them with a sympathetic smile on their faces. He cleared his throat before speaking.

“Uhm-- I don't know what to say. This-- this is amazing guys. Thank you.” he turned his head back to Olivia.

“Thank you so much, Liv. I-- this is --” He couldn't finish his sentence and instead he pulled Olivia in for a hug. He held onto her tight as she wrapped her arms under his and nuzzled her face into his shoulder for the second time that evening. They pulled apart but Elliot kept a grip on Olivia's hand and she didn't pull it away.

Noah jumped up onto the couch next to her and nuzzled into her side-- slinging an arm around her waist.

“Can I see the pictures, mom?” He hadn't seen many photos of his mother when she was younger and he was curious.

“Here ya go little guy.” Elliot said, passing him the book. He would take the time to look at the rest of the pictures later.

Noah took the book and opened it across his lap before flipping through the pages. The rest of the family started to speak again.

“We're glad you love it dad. We weren't exactly sure what to get you…” Kathleen said while handing Muareen and Carl their gifts.

“Yeah you're kinda a hard guy to shop for, dad.” Eli pitched in.

“Okay guys, it's your turn. The boys helped pick these out.” Kathleen said to the couple.

Muareen and Carl ripped open their boxes and found a couple of matching t-shirts with pictures of the boys on them and some books. Muareen got a book on photography in Manhattan and Carl got one on historical buildings throughout the whole city. They weren't the most spectacular gifts but they came from their children so they loved them nonetheless.

“Thank you guys! We love them! Now we get to wear these to every school event to show the world who our wonderful children are!” Carl said as he grabbed hold of Kieran and pulled him in for a hug.

“Dad! Please don't wear those to school!” He shouted while squirming in his fathers arms.

Everyone got a laugh out of it.

The rest of the group made their way through their gifts-- tearing the wrapping paper and tossing around the tissue paper at each other. Dickie had gotten some beard oils and combs along with a new sweater, Kathleen got a new winter dress along with some thick boot socks and a Saphora gift card, Elizabeth got some cook books on Vegan and Keto meals and the new Taylor Swift and Adele albums, and Eli had gotten new Playstation and PC games that he went berserk over and a new headset with a mic.

It was Kieran and Seamus’ turn to open their gifts. They couldn't wait to get the boxes open-- they tore through the paper and ripped off the tape. Inside each of the boxes were a set of Star Wars Legos and Darth Vader with removable helmet action figures. The boys went crazy the second they saw them; immediately they tore open the boxes with the action figures inside and started playing-- the joy on their faces was so bright.

Noah hadn't expected anything but he was secretly wishing he would, so when Bernie handed him a big box wrapped in blue and gold; he went ecstatic. His face instantly lit up with glee and had the widest smile as he looked up at Bernie.

“For me? Really?” He looked over to his mother for confirmation. Olivia nodded and gave him a wink.

“Go ahead, sweetheart. It’s from all of them.” Olivia reassured him again.

Olivia knew he was getting a gift. In fact, Bernie had called her last week asking a bunch of questions about his likes and dislikes, what video games he liked to play, who his favourite sports teams were, and what size he wore. Olivia had told her she didn't have to get him anything but in reality it was nice to have someone like Bernie in his life-- someone who could be like a grandmother to him-- unlike his biological grandmother, Shelia.

When Bernie had found out Olivia had a son she was over the moon to have another child to spoil. She didn’t get to do much for her own grandchildren-- considering she barely sees her other children; let alone their children and she really only got to see Elliot's kids growing up when Kathy invited her into the city on weekends while Elliot was at work-- but even then it was only for lunch and a few shopping sprees.

Noah quickly and swiftly unwrapped the large box, he struggled a bit with the tape so he asked for help. Olivia reached down and ripped it off. Noah gave her almost no time to bring her arm back to her body before he dug his arms into the box and pulled out an autographed Mets jersey signed by some of the players in the late 90’s. Noah’s smile couldn't have gotten any brighter; or so they thought.

“Mom, look! It’s even signed!” he held up the jersey high above his head in awe.

“Yes, I see that sweetheart. That's fantastic! Make sure you tell them thank you.” Olivia said, ruffling his hair again. Seeing her baby boy so happy brought tears of joy to her eyes. Elliot noticed and brought his arm around her; she took the opportunity to lean into him.

“That came from me. It used to be mine when I was younger but I’m a little too big now and when your mom told me you liked baseball; I knew it should belong to you. There's a signed baseball in there as well, I believe.” Dickie spoke up with an awkward but happy smile on his face.

“Thank you! This is so cool!” Noah shouted while reaching in and pulling out the baseball that was protected by a thick plexiglass case.

“Oh my gosh! Thank you, Dickie!” Noah pulled the jersey over his head and put it on; it would probably go to his knees if he had been standing but he didnt care.

He reached back into the box and pulled out a deck of Trading Cards for a multitude of Baseball teams and assorted players. His small hands could barely hold them all, they were shaking with excitement.

“WOW! There’s so many of them! Thank you so much!” Noah spoke into the group of people surrounding him.

“You're welcome. Uh-- most of them are from the 90’s and early 2000’s but there are some really good players in there. I had them for years but they were just collecting dust so uhm-- take good care of them.” Eli spoke up with a shy smile on his face.

“I will! Thank you so much Eli! These are awesome!” He barely expected to get anything at all and now he had three of the coolest gifts he’d ever been given. He handed the cards to Olivia and reached back into the box; this time pulling two small rolled up posters; he unravelled them with an inquisitive smile-- revealing two of Noah's favourite superheroes; Iron Man and The Black Panther.

“Oh! I love these guys. It's sad what happened to them.” Noah said with a lower tone.

“We picked those out for you! We have the same ones at our house too!” Seamus shouted and Kieran joined in.

“Do you like them, Noah? Black Panther is my favourite!”

“I do! Thank you!” He answered; then turned to look at his mother.

“Mommy can we put these on my wall when we get home?” He asked quite excitedly.

“Of course we can Noah. As soon as we get home, I promise.” She gave him a warm and loving smile.

“SWEET!” He shouted.

There was one more gift in that box and Olivia knew it; she herself was on the edge of her seat with excitement awaiting his reaction. Bernie sat patiently with a wide smile on her face.

“Well go on, sweetheart. You've got one more in there.” Olivia encouraged.

“There’s more?” He was pleasantly shocked as he stuck his hand in the box one last time. After lifting up a couple sheets of tissue paper he let out a loud gasp.

“OH. MY. GOSH! Is this really mine?” He asked frantically while pulling out a Nintendo Switch.

“All yours kiddo! But you gotta listen to your mom when she tells you to eat your dinner and do your chores-- Deal?” Bernie gave him an ultimatum he couldn’t refuse and she knew it. She looked up and gave Olivia a wink; and she returned the gesture.

“DEAL! Mom, I promise I'll eat ALL my vegetables and I’ll keep my room clean forever! Can I PLEASE keep it?” He begged; practically jumping into her lap.

“Haha! Of course, Noah. But I think you owe Bernie a thank you.” She answered; giving him a nudge on the shoulder.

“Right…” He said, jumping from his seat and practically right into Bernie’s arms; he wrapped his arms around her shoulders.

Bernie let out a loud laugh. She wasn’t expecting him to hug her; let alone what he said next.

“Thank you, Grandma Bernie! I love it so much!” He held on tight.

Everyone went silent. Nobody knew what to say next; especially Olivia. She turned her body to look at Elliot. Her eyes searched for answers of what to do or say in Elliot's face; he was as dumbfounded as she was. Noah wasn’t usually the type to hug someone he had only met hours before; so the fact he did it at all obviously meant he was comfortable enough and felt at home in some capacity. It warmed Olivia’s heart overwhelmingly. Her fingers went back to the golden crucifix hanging around her neck and Elliot pulled her body slightly closer to him; just enough for her to lean into him further.

After a moment of shock Bernie was the first to speak.

“Uhm- You’re very welcome sweetie. I’m glad you like it.” She responded; Noah released his arms from around her and made his way back to his mothers side with the widest smile she had ever seen on his face.

Olivia wrapped her arms around her son. She pulled him in and gave him a kiss on top of his head.

The rest of the family went back to their respective conversations about their own gifts as Noah tore open the box to his Nintendo.

Bernie made her way towards the back patio with an unlit cigarette in one hand and her phone in the other and made her silent retreat through the back door.

Elliot and Olivia on the other hand, sat there with very little space between them; his arm wrapped around her waist and her head rested on his shoulder. They took a moment to bask in the warm and comfortable feeling they felt being together like this. All of them.

Olivia closed her eyes and prayed another whispered prayer— thanking God for giving her something she wanted her entire life;

FAMILY.