“Nice work on the Santos case,” Fin says to Olivia, saddling up next to her at the coffee station.
“Yeah, thanks. I’m just glad we got to her in time. Doctor said another half hour and - ugh, I don’t even want to think about it,” Olivia answers.
“Well, I’m glad it all turned out okay. For her, anyway."
She knows he’s not finished. She knows what’s coming next.
“How was it working with Stabler like that again? Ayanna says it’s like you two didn’t miss a beat,” he continues.
And there it is.
“Like what?” she asks, trying to sound casual.
“Side by side as partners,” he answers, as she finally turns to look at him. “Cap, what happened to your eye?”
Olivia sets down her cup, ignoring his question. “This coffee is so shitty and today I’m not in the mood. Want to take a walk with me?”
She needs to talk to someone, and she doesn’t exactly have a lot of options. While Fin may be nosy, he also knows her relationship with Elliot better than anyone. He’s a quick study and intuitive as hell, which she hopes means she won’t have to spell out certain things.
“You finally ‘bout to update me on what’s going on between you two?” he says, raising an eyebrow and giving her an I’ve been waiting look.
Olivia rolls her eyes. “Fin, you in or -“
“Yeah, you already know. Let’s go,” he answers quickly, and Olivia swears she sees - is there a pep in his step?
Her suspicions are confirmed when she notices he’s still grinning at her as they exit the precinct.
They’re sitting outside next to the Citizen Caravan Beverage cart, and it’s a beautiful day. Olivia’s playing with the lid on her Vietnamese Iced Coffee, which she’d finished a good ten minutes ago and is now nothing more quickly melting ice cubes, and Fin’s leaning back in his chair, hands cradling the back of his head like a makeshift hammock. She knows he’s waiting for her to initiate the conversation, but she doesn’t exactly know how . Another three minutes of silence pass, and he just can’t take it anymore. He starts laughing.
“What? What’s funny?” she asks, looking behind her in the direction Fin is facing.
“Man, Liv, it’s hard to get you to shut up sometimes,” he teases.
She opens her mouth to say something but the only sound she makes is a squeaky sigh.
“Benson, I gotta tell you. I never see you trip up this bad over anything except for that man,” Fin tells her. “Y’all talked yet? About anything? Well, not anything , but you know what I mean.”
“Not exactly,” she says, rubbing at her eye and succeeding only to further irritate it.
“Yeah, you never answered my question about your eye, but,” he continues, “does he know about - you know?” He doesn’t dare say the name, and she loves him for it. “Or Tucker? Cassidy?”
She shakes her head.
“Jesus, Liv, he’s only been back, what, well over a year?” Fin points out, narrowing his eyes and inching closer to the table. “You know, your romantic life was one of the first things he asked me about. Man’s been gone 10 years, left without a word, prances back in and wants to know your body count since he bolted,” he says, a hint of admiration in his voice. “I gotta give it to Stabler. He’s nothing if not ballsy as hell.”
“What an enviable trait,” she says sarcastically. “You men are pretty typical when it comes to that. And yeah, he asked me the same thing the day Eli was arrested. I just told him about Ed.”
Fin seems shocked at the revelation. Well, as shocked as Fin is capable of looking. “Damn, how’d he react?”
“Fine, I guess. I mean, I didn’t specify it was Ed Tucker , but-”
“Ahhh,” Fin laughs. “That makes so much more sense.”
“He thinks he’s such a good detective - then he can figure it out,” she quips, sounding saltier than she intended.
“Liv,” Fin says gently. “You and Tucker - that’s probably so far outside the realm of anything he thinks possible. He won’t figure it out.”
Olivia’s face goes from generally annoyed to painfully sad in a matter of seconds.
“Look, I got you and Tucker,” he explains. “ I know how it all developed and I can make sense of it. But Elliot? He’s flying blind here. The only thing he probably remembers about Tucker is how he made your lives a living hell back in the day. The man cuffed you in the middle of the squad room, Olivia. In front of all of us. While you were sick. What I’m saying is - without any context, it won’t make sense to Stabler.”
Olivia considers this, and she knows Fin's right about that. She’s often wondered if Tucker was one of the last people Elliot spoke with before he put in his papers. She’d always wanted to ask Ed, but she could never find the right time - or the right way - to ask the question. And anyway, bringing up Elliot was always unpredictable.
“A part of me died when Elliot left, Fin. That pain, I - I didn’t think I’d ever get over it” she confesses, and he nods. He knows. He saw it all go down in real time, but he’s never heard her articulate it before.
“But,” she says, her voice strained, “he did the right thing.”
Now she sees real shock on Fin’s face - and it’s normal people shock, not Fin Tutuola ’s brand of shock.
“If he’d have stayed and we’d continued down that path, we probably would’ve both imploded - our careers, our lives, ourselves,” she says solemnly. “Whatever would've inevitably happened, it wouldn’t have been good for anyone.”
“And you wouldn’t have Noah,” Fin adds, hoping the mention of her son brings her some comfort.
Olivia shakes her head. “Probably not.”
“That’s why you’ve been the way you have about Elliot since he's been back, isn’t it, Fin? Because, lets face it, you were never his biggest fan and-” she asks. “Will you please take those goddamn sunglasses off so I can see your eyes?”
“Hey, I’m just trying to protect my retinas,” he defends, but does as she asks. “I hated how much you suffered those first six months after Stabler left. It was entertaining watching you be such a bitch with ‘manda and Nick, I admit. But yeah, Liv, it was right for him to go because whatever was happening between you two couldn’t go on forever- and if it had destroyed you, then I woulda hated him.``
“And now he’s back - but so much has changed. What if - what if too much has changed?” Olivia asks, clearly unsure if she can trust him - trust herself.
“Maybe the things that changed are the things that needed to change. But Liv, listen. If you ever want me to start hating him, you let me know because he’s a selfish sonofabitch sometimes,” he says in the ~serious yet somehow still amusing~ manner that’s his signature.
“I know no one gets Stabler the way you do and whatever it is y’all got, I’ve never seen anything like it. And there’s a part of me that understands Stabler, even if I don’t always agree with the shit he does. And yup, sometimes I want to knock him on his ass. But I’m not great with words either and I just prefer to do rather than say , you feel me?”
Olivia nods, because she absolutely does.
“But Liv, he’s the only man good enough for you.”
Olivia opens her mouth to say something - either to be self-deprecating about how difficult she is or to be obstinate about how she doesn’t need anyone - but he holds up his hand, and she shuts it instead.
“Hold up. Let me finish. You don’t need a man. I know that. You don’t need anyone to take care of you. No one knows that better than me. But you deserve it. Your whole life has been about taking care of other people. I’ve never seen anyone as fiercely protective over another human being as Elliot is with you. That man would jump in front of a moving train to save you."
“I never thought I’d ever hear from him again, let alone have him back in New York - and in my life,” she admits.
Fin shifts uncomfortably in his seat, and Olivia notices right away. She’s nothing if not a detective through and through.
He can see the exact moment she connects the dots.
“Wait. He - he kept in touch with you?” she asks him, shaking her head in disbelief.
“No. I kept in touch with him ,” he answers.
“What does that mean?” she asks. “Don’t play semantics with me, Fin Tutuola.”
“He set up a voicemail here in New York. Once a year, on your birthday, I’d call and leave him a message. Your age that year, like ‘45 this year,’ and that was it. I never heard back from him, not until he reached out to thank me for the messages and let me know he would be in New York."
“And that’s when you told him about the awards ceremony?” she clarifies.
“Fin, why didn’t you tell me?” she asks, softly.
“You never asked, Liv,” he responds. “Every time anyone mentioned Stabler, you either got pissed or bolted, so I thought it better to leave well enough alone.”
She lowers her head and nods. “Did you ever tell him about -“
“I never gave him details about anything . A few months after he left, you got a letter, right?” She nods. “So did I. It was actually just a brief note asking me to look out for you and that if I'd leave him a voicemail at a specific number letting him know you’d made it to your next birthday, it would mean everything to him.”
“And you did,” she whispers.
“You would have wanted me to,” he answers, shrugging his shoulders.
Olivia reaches across the table and takes hold of his hand. “You’ve always been such a great friend to me, Fin. I know I had a brother, but you’re the brother I’ve always wanted. Thank you.”
“Alright,” he answers, pulling his hand away but smiling. “Enough with all these emotions and shit. You know I always got you. But I want to hear what’s up. Let’s start with the eye,” he says, and her hand immediately goes up to it. Her cheeks have darkened two shades.
“Ahhh,” she says, clearing her throat. “Let’s just say Elliot is responsible and the man has problems.”
Fin looks at her confused for just a split second, then his eyes go wide and his expression reads as incredulity and discomfort.
“Oh shit. What the - you know what, don’t tell me. I don’t even want to know,” he corrects himself, and then she starts laughing.
“It’s been a wild ride, Fin,” she tells him.
“Damn, looks like. So does this mean the two of you are-?””
“I don’t know what we are , exactly. But I need to talk about it, and you’re the only one who will understand. I just have to trust you won’t say anything, Fin. Not to anyone. Elliot would kill me,” she says.
“He ain’t doing shit to you on my watch, but I won’t say nothing,” he assures her.
“Fin, I’m serious. You have to promise me.”
“C’mon, Liv. Yeah, I like to be in the know, but I’d never do or say anything if you ask me not to,” he tells her.
She takes a deep breath. “Okay, well fasten your seatbelt.”
He’s jumped out of his chair and run around in circles various times during her story, and she keeps telling him to calm down because they’re attracting attention. He’s currently taking another lap after hearing about the dating app date-not-date .
Of course, she’s left out various intimate details, using lots of “well, you know” and “and then yada yada” but she’s painted a pretty accurate picture of that past month or so.
Fin’s got tears streaming down his cheeks when he finally sits down again, and Olivia has never - in their two and a half decades of knowing each other - seen him laugh this hard or be this animated.
“You’re an asshole,” she tells him, and he holds out his hand for her to give him a minute, coughs, and then breathes in deeply to get his wits about him.
“And people think all you do is work,” he says, shaking his head.
“Fin, I’m serious. I’m glad you’ve found this so entertaining, but I need advice,” she tells him.
“Well, first of all, thank you for sharing the best story of all time with me. Secondly, good for you for making him suffer and sweat it out.”
“I wasn’t trying to make him suffer. I was trying to figure this out - to buy myself some time,” Olivia explains.
“Yeah, yeah, I hear you, but that man has definitely suffered,” he tells her. “Lastly, I can totally believe that Stabler, with all his macho tough guy swagger, don’t know shit about technology.”
Even Olivia has to laugh about this. “Fin, at first it was so pathetic. But then I sort of found it endearing.”
“Y’all gotta cut this bullshit, Liv,” he says, his tone suddenly serious.
And she knows this.
“Head first, Liv. Just do the damn thing already.”
“He told me he loves me, you know?” she says, filling him in on the intervention and subsequent letter saga, reciting the words forever immortalized in her memory: “In a parallel universe, it’s always been you and I.”
“What the hell,” Fin says.
“I know. Wanted to talk to me about it the night he showed up high as hell when he was OC with the Albanians.”
“Well, let’s not talk about Kathy because neither of us really want to, but I’d forget about it,” he says, and Olivia’s surprised at this.
“You’d - forget about it?” she repeats.
“Yeah. You two didn’t know what the hell you were to each other anyway. He wrote it to make his wife happy, made sure to tell you his truth before he sealed it, and then gave it to you when he was so completely fucked up that he wasn’t thinking straight. Elliot is motivated by Catholic guilt, Liv. That shit plants roots deep,” he adds.
“So-“ she asks.
“Burn it,” he tells her. “Or give it back to him, and tell him you’re giving him a do over.”
A do-over .
She smiles at Fin. This man never fails her.
He’s gotten a message in the GC that there’s a family dinner-slash-meeting on Friday night, and everyone is required to attend.
The message is from Kathleen. Because of course it’s Kathleen.
This makes him a little nervous because the last time he was called to a family meeting, it didn’t go well. His dumb ass had decided that it was the perfect time to tell Olivia he loved her. In front of his children, no less.
The memory still makes him cringe.
Kathleen’s text unsettles him even more when he gets a message from Olivia, whose contact name he has proudly changed from “Olivia Benson” to “Liv” last week, all by himself without needing to look anything up.
Liv: I’ve been invited to your house for a family dinner/ meeting on Friday. By Kathleen. Any idea what this is about?
Elliot: Kathleen just let me know about this in our family group chat, so no. I don’t.
Liv: How are you managing a group chat? <smiley face emoji>
Elliot: Haha, Benson. Just fine, thank you.
Liv: Well, before I say yes, I’d like for you to do some digging. And the invitation was extended to me only, so I am figuring it’s something serious. I’ll reach out to the sitter for Noah.
Elliot: Will do. How’s your eye? <sorry face emoji>
Liv: Still a little red. Apparently I have very sensitive eyes. It’s been fun dodging questions about it.
Elliot: I don’t think I’ll ever not be embarrassed about this.
Liv: Well, you could use a little humbling.
Elliot: Hey, I am humble. I am the picture of humility.
Liv: <side eye emoji>
Elliot: I miss you, Olivia Benson.
Liv: I miss you too, El.
“It’s nothing to worry about, Dad. It’s just a family dinner. A chance to catch up. It’s been a hard stretch for us all, and the last time we were together, you seemed so distracted,” Kathleen tells him.
He holds the phone tighter against his ear because he’s having a hard time hearing her amidst all the ambient noise.
“I seemed what ?” he asks.
“Distracted, dad, like you do now,” she clarifies.
“I’m not distracted, Kathleen, I just can’t hear you well."
“Seriously, don’t stress over it. We just want everyone together,” she assures him.
“Olivia seems to think the invitation isn’t extended to Noah."
“Well, I…” she starts, but her voice trails off.
“Kathleen,” he warns, taking a deep breath and scratching his forehead.
“Dad, of course Noah is always welcome, but it’s more of an adult thing. Maureen isn’t bringing the boys either. Did Olivia seem upset about it?”
“No, she didn’t. But she did ask me to find out what this is all about. And I don’t want her ever to think her son isn’t welcome in our family,” he stresses.
“Dad, we love Olivia. And that extends to her son. You don’t ever need to worry about that, okay?”
Elliot knows his daughter well, and there’s something she’s leaving out. But he doesn’t feel like pressing anymore because, honestly, he doesn’t have the strength. And he trusts Kathleen. He loves all his children equally, but he recognizes Kathleen is the one who gets him the most. Maybe it's because she reminds him so much of his mother. Maybe it’s her natural maternal instincts.
Or maybe it’s the fact that she is the closest to Olivia and leans on her for anything involving him.
“Okay, Kathleen,” he agrees.
“Dad, I have to go. I love you and I’ll see you Friday.”
“I love you, too,” he says.
He’s hangs up and thinks of what to text Olivia about Friday, but instead of opening his iMessages, he opens up the Wickr app. He’s not even sure why.
Right away, he sees he has zero contacts. That can’t be right.
He closes the app and opens it again. Maybe it’s a glitch. But nope, still zero contacts.
He goes to his iMessages and sends Olivia a text.
Elliot: Talked to Kathleen.
Liv: What did she say?
Elliot: She said they’re trying to “Parent Trap” us? No idea what that means.
Elliot: I’m kidding.
Liv: Elliot, I swear to god, that’s not funny.
Elliot: I kind of thought it was.
He sees the typing indicator appear then disappear. This happens three more times.
Elliot: Liv, I was kidding. Seriously. It’s just dinner. She said they would like you there for us all to catch up. It’s been a while since we’ve been together.
Liv: Yeah, I know.
Elliot: Sorry about the “parent trap” thing. Bad joke.
Liv: <side eye emoji>
Elliot: <sad eye puppy emoji>
Liv: You’re really going to be a menace now that you know how to work your iPhone.
Elliot responds with a gif of a man nodding his head with the words YUP in all caps.
Liv: Alright, Stabler. <side eye emoji>
Elliot: Liv, can I ask you something?
Liv: Depends. Is it PG?
Elliot: I think so?
Liv: Go for it.
Elliot: Why isn’t your name under my Wickr contacts anymore?
Liv: What? It’s not?
Elliot reads her response and momentarily panics, thinking once again he’s been bested by this newfangled technology.
Elliot: No, and I swear I didn’t do anything.
Liv: <laughing emoji> I know. Relax. I deleted my account.
Elliot: You did? Why?
Liv: Because we don’t need it anymore, Elliot.
He’s not exactly sure what that means, but he decides it’s good news.
She’s showered, fixed her hair, and applied enough makeup to look like she put in effort but not like she tried too hard. She’s also changed four times. First a floral print silk dress that stops right below her knee. Then an off-white maxi dress with a cropped jean jacket. She'd decided dresses were a no-go and put on a pair of khaki slouchy trousers and a white scoop neck tee. Despite telling herself that this was the outfit, she’d looked at herself in the full-length mirror over and over until she’d convinced herself that that scoop neck brought too much attention to her cleavage.
Finally, she put on light washed high waisted jeans, a v-neck satin effect flowy shirt with a lapel collar in a muted blue, and beige braided wedges. She added simple gold hoop earrings, a gold collarbone-length herringbone necklace, and one gold ring on her left index finger.
She’s not sure if this is what one wears to a “family dinner/meeting” but it’s been 45 minutes of wardrobe shenanigans and she’s going to be late if she changes again.
Olivia has never felt nervous around Elliot’s family. Ever. She’d let herself into his apartment and felt free to search his place, even with his mother in sight, but somehow this feels different.
This feels new .
“I’m too old for this,” she mutters to herself, and she starts to have second thoughts. Maybe she could back out. She’s considering acceptable excuses other than “I got called into work” when she hears her phone vibrate against her bathroom counter.
It’s a text from Elliot: I’m looking forward to seeing you.
Olivia bites her bottom lip to keep from smiling but fails. She’s still smiling when she emerges from the bathroom to find Lucy and Noah enthusiastically engaged in a Mario Kart battle. They pause the game when they see her.
“You look lovely, Olivia,” Lucy says.
“Yeah, mom. You look really pretty!” Noah adds.
“Thank you both,” she says, making her way over to Noah and kissing his curls. “I love you, Noah. Tomorrow I’ll make you chocolate chip pancakes and we can decide what to do for the day, okay?”
“Yup,” Noah says, his smile highlighting the dimples that make her melt with affection.
“Thanks, Lucy,” she says, as she grabs her keys and shoulder bag.
“Of course. Have a good time. We won’t wait up,” Lucy tells her.
“I want you to meet him too, Joe. It’s just going to take time. I’m hoping Liv can take that one for me.”
Elliot overhears his middle daughter on the phone. She’s trying to hold her voice down, but his hearing is still sharp as hell. Her tone is unfamiliar to him.
And did she just mention Olivia?
He comes into her view as soon as he hears, “I miss you, too. I’ll call you later.”
"Oh. Hi, dad. How - how are you?” Kathleen says, palming her phone and shoving it into her coat pocket.
His daughter is terrible at hiding anything and he almost wants to laugh.
“I’m the same way I was when you asked me fifteen minutes ago, Katie. Who were you talking to?”
“What, you mean just now?”
“Kathleen,” he warns, making it clear he wants her to cut the bullshit.
“Okay, dad. I promise I will talk to you about it soon. Just - not now. It’s not the time,” she negotiates.
He considers this for a moment. Elliot is not one for waiting on information, especially when it involves any of his children, but his daughter’s gentle, reassuring hand on his shoulder convinces him now is probably not the time to get into whatever that was. Elliot thinks maybe this ~not needing to know everything all the time~ thing he’s trying out may be good for everyone. Especially for him.
Kathleen kissing him on the cheek seals the deal. Elliot shakes his head. “I’m going to let this go for now, but don’t think I don’t know what you’re doing,” he tells her, but his voice is light and so she laughs.
“What, I can’t just kiss my dad because I love him?” she asks innocently, before winking at him and making her way back inside.
The Stabler house is active.
Elliot takes stock of the current chaos: Elizabeth is in the kitchen navigating between the veggies she’s chopping and the water she’s boiling. She nicks her finger and while she’s trying to wrap a makeshift paper towel bandage around it, the pasta water boils over, spilling all over the stovetop and immediately forming a crust that makes the kitchen smell like the house is on fire. Kathleen is chiding Eli for his outfit, telling him he can’t sit down for dinner dressed like a “street urchin” while attempting - and failing miserably - to grab the phone out of his hand. “What the hell is a street urchin?” he asks, to which Elliot warns him to watch his mouth and to which Kathleen rolls her eyes and tells him if he spent more time studying and less time on his phone, he would know. Maureen rushes into the kitchen with a band-aid for Elizabeth’s finger, knocking over a serving platter, which shatters into tiny porcelain pieces all over the kitchen floor, in the process. Richard is trying to teach his grandmother how to use Alexa to play her music. He’s getting frustrated because she keeps saying “Lester” or forgetting altogether to say "Alexa" or saying it after she says the name of the song she’s wants to hear.
“Grandma,” Richard says, trying to be as patient as possible. “You have to say ‘Alexa’ first, then the name of the song or album, then the artist. Like this. 'Alexa, play ‘Fly me to the Moon,’ by Frank Sinatra.' But before Alexa can confirm the request, Bernie is shouting, “No, Lester, don’t play that rat’s music. Play Tony Bennet!”
Richard sighs in defeat, and Elliot can’t help but laugh when Alexa says, “Hmm, That Rat’s Music. I don’t know that one. Would you like to play something else?” Bernie, however, is not amused. She mutters something incoherent under her breath and stomps over to the turntable.
It’s not long before Elliot hears “It’s not for me to say, you love me,” by Johnny Mathis. Another one of his mom’s favorites. And one of his, too.
He crosses over to his eldest daughter, taking her by the hand. “Dance with your old man?” Maureen smiles at him, nods, and steps into his arms.
“You seem happy, daddy. It’s a good look for you, you know?” she tells him, as Mathis croons perhaps the glow of love will grow with each passing day.
“Oh yeah?” he responds, feigning surprise and pulling her closer.
“Yeah. Let’s keep it that way, okay?” she responds, but he doesn’t answer, just places a kiss on the top of her head, closes his eyes, and takes in the beautiful simplicity of dancing with his daughter in his living room. When he finally opens his eyes, he sees Olivia standing there, a sweet smile on her face. Eli is next to her, still in his unacceptable ensemble, and when Elliot looks at him pointedly, he shrugs and says “Clearly no one heard the door,” then shouts “Everyone, Liv’s here,” before throwing himself back on the couch.
Elliot releases Maureen and walks over to Olivia, but the rest of his family has already beat him to her. There’s a cacophony of “Hey Liv,” and “So glad you could make it,” and “It’s so nice to see you dear,” before Elliot cuts in.
“Hey, let’s give Olivia some space.” When he manages to pull her aside, he stands back so he can get a good look at her. He wonders how in the a c t u a l fuck this woman looks sexier every time he sees her.
“Sorry about that. They’re a lot sometimes,” he apologizes.
But Olivia shakes her head. “They’re never too much. They’re perfect.”
“You’re perfect,” he says instinctively, and he can see her cheeks turn every imaginable shade of pink.
“Well, yes. But we weren’t talking about me, Elliot,” she retorts.
He laughs at that and they hold each other’s gaze until they hear Maureen.
“Olivia, what can we get you to drink? We have wine - a red blend, Rose, and Friulano, which is like a Sauvignon Blanc, beer - a Pale Ale and sour, I think - hard cider, iced tea, and lemonade,” she offers.
“And don’t forget dad’s shitty Michelob,” Kathleen calls from the kitchen. Olivia immediately laughs because she knows about Elliot and his shitty beer.
“Joke’s on you, Kathleen. I drank the last Michelob an hour ago,” he answers. Kathleen lets out a loud sigh and turns back to the pasta.
“A glass of red would be lovely, Maureen. Thank you,” Olivia says, and two minutes later, she finds herself out on the patio with Elliot. She’s surveying the area and taking an occasional sip of her wine. Elliot can’t keep his eyes off her.
“This is such a nice space, El. So much possibility,” she says, her back to him. He doesn’t respond and when she turns to face him, she can see why.
“Elliot, you can’t - you can’t look at me like that in front of your family. Please. Play it cool,” she tells him. “This is already - already a little overwhelming for me. I almost didn’t come, you know,” she says, and it’s not meant as a warning but rather a disclosure.
It makes him sad. Sad that she would even feel the slightest discomfort around his family.
“Are you kidding? Don’t you see how happy those kids are to see you? Well, most of them anyway. Nothing really excites Eli. He could meet Jesus himself and you’d ask him how it was and he’d say, ‘It was cool, I guess.’”
Olivia laughs because he’s really nailed the impression of his teenage son. “Cut him some slack, El. Being a teenager is hard, and he’s been through a lot” she says, and Elliot thinks that out of all the things he loves most about Olivia Benson, her capacity for empathy is his favorite.
“Yeah, well, he’s a shithead sometimes,” he says.
“Elliot,” she chides.
“What? He is. Why don’t you take him for, say, six years or so?”
She laughs at that. “Oh, hell no. I’m barely surviving pre-adolescence as it is.”
“Seriously, we can trade. You take Eli, I’ll take Noah. It’s a great plan,” he jokes, but he notices a sudden change in Olivia’s demeanor.
“You don’t even know Noah. You’ve seen him once,” she says in a hushed tone. He can see it hurts her, and he can’t stand it. He closes some of the space between them, but when he gets too close, she takes a step back.
“And I hate that. I hate that I don’t know your son better. I’m hoping you can let me fix that,” he tells her. She doesn’t answer him, but he can see she’s no longer stiff.
He’ll take it.
They both hear the sliding door open, and Eli pops his head out. “I have been ordered to summon you both for dinner,” he says, before putting his headphones back on his ears. As Elliot passes him at the threshold, he grabs them. “Put these away. Don’t make me regret getting them for you,” he tells his youngest.
“You were in your weirdo phase then, dad. Actually, come to think of it, you’re always in your weirdo phase, but that day it was so ext-“
Before he can get out the rest of his sentence, Elliot warns him: “Keep running your mouth and I will sell those things on EBay, Eli.”
“Ebay? No shade, dad, but you wouldn’t know how to sell anything on EBay. Also, no one uses EBay anymore,” Eli counters. Elliot looks at Olivia with a “see what I deal with,” look, but she just shrugs and mouths “he’s not wrong” at him.
Yeah , he thinks. She fits into the Stabler family like a glove .
The dinner plates have been cleared and coffee is being passed around. Everyone has gathered in the living room, and they’re in the midst of a pretty animated debate about streaming services.
“It’s just ridiculous at this point,” Richard is saying. “You have to subscribe to like five services to watch the things you want,” to which Elizabeth replies “That’s why you need to get out more, Richard. Or read more.”
“Getting out more is expensive, Elizabeth. And I read enough, thank you.”
“When did you start sounding like Dad, Richard? You’re like an elderly person,” Eli interjects. The girls, and even Olivia and Bernie, all laugh at that, and Elliot interrupts with an “Excuse me, I’m not that-,” before Richard responds with a “When I started paying bills, Eli. And don’t you all realize we are getting ready to go into a recession?”
They all respond with a collective groan.
“You’re really a buzzkill sometimes, Richard,” Kathleen says.
“Hey, I’m just a realist. Right, grandma? Tell them. You lived through the Depression,” he says, looking to his grandmother for support.
“I most certainly did not. How old do you think I am?” Bernie replies.
“Good going, Dickie. You hurt grandma’s feelings,” Eli chides, and Richard just glares at him.
Elliot looks at Olivia, who seems beyond amused with the situation at hand and very relaxed. But when he looks at his watch, he sees it’s nearly 11 pm and he knows she’ll be saying her goodbyes soon.
As if on cue, he hears her voice.
“Well, Stablers,” Oliva says, rising to stand. “I think it’s time for me to get going. This has been -“
“Wait, Liv. Already?” Kathleen says, getting up from the floor where she has been sitting criss-cross and glancing around nervously at her siblings.
“Yes, honey. It’s almost 11 and I should make my way home. But dinner was delicious and you all are great company,” she offers.
“Oh, um, okay. Well,” she continues, looking straight at her father. “Do you think you could stay for just a few minutes longer? We were hoping to talk about something.”
Uh oh , Elliot thinks, and when he looks at Olivia, he can see she’s having the same thought. A nearly imperceptible momentary panic flashes across her face, and she swallows hard before looking in his direction, telepathically sending him an SOS DANGER message.
“Yeah, sure,” she tells Kathleen, because what can she say? She gingerly lowers herself back onto the sofa and looks again in Elliot’s direction. He sees her question: What the hell is going on?
He answers with his own look: I have no idea.
Kathleen chuckles, but not in a haha funny way. “Phew. This is more awkward than I thought it would be,” she admits.
“Way to make it even weirder, Katie,” Eli retorts, and Kathleen shoots him a look of death. Eli crouches behind his grandmother.
“We wanted to have a family dinner and we asked you to join us, Olivia, because you have been there for us through some of the hardest times in our lives, and we consider you part of our family. We wanted to tell you that and to thank you,” she starts.
Olivia smiles. Okay, this doesn’t seem bad, she thinks.
“And -“ Kathleen continues.
Oh shit. Not “ and."
“And, we wanted you both - you and dad - to know that we are all okay with…happy even…if your relationship evolves into something more,” Kathleen says. She’s looking around again at her siblings, wondering if they plan on chiming in at any point.
Olivia is completely frozen. Elliot is staring at Olivia, willing her not to bolt.
“We don’t mean to be presumptuous, or stick our noses in your personal business, but we wanted to make sure you both knew that it was fine with us. Right, guys?” Maureen continues.
All the Stablers shake their heads in agreement. Even Bernie. Especially Bernie, who looks the most pleased out of everyone. She meets Elliot’s gaze and immediately defends herself. “I had absolutely nothing to do with this. Your children came to me. But I thought it’s a great plan,” she adds, crossing her arms defiantly.
Everyone turns now to look at Olivia, who is still frozen and hasn’t said a word or even made a sound. In fact, she looks like she hasn’t even blinked.
“Liv?” Kathleen says.
“What? Oh sorry. I’m - where did this come from? I mean, what gave you the idea that your father and I were-,” she asks.
The siblings all look at each other. None of them wants to say it, least of all Elizabeth, who shakes her head and sinks further into the sofa when she hears her twin say “Lizzie-“
“Oh for crying out loud, Elizabeth saw you two,” Bernie blurts out.
“Grandma,” Elizabeth scolds, but Bernie is undeterred. “You all are acting like children,” she says, to which Eli raises his hand and says, “Um, technically I am a child,” before he‘s swatted across the head by Maureen.
Olivia still hasn’t moved an inch. She is beyond mortified, and she looks it.
Elliot, however, rises to his feet, wanting more clarity.
“Hold on. Elizabeth. You saw us? Where? When?” Elliot questions.
“Umm, dad. It’s, it’s really not important,” Elizabeth says, offering him a way out.
But now it’s Olivia who is undeterred. “Please answer your father, Elizabeth,” she commands. Her tone leaves no room for negotiation.
“I was out for drinks with some people from work, and - well, I saw you and dad,” she offers. “I had excused myself to - to go to the bathroom, and when I rounded the corner, you were leaning against the wall, Olivia. I was going to go up and - and say hello, but then I saw dad come out of the men’s room -“ Elizabeth’s voice trails off.
“Oh my god,” Olivia says, lowering her face into her hands.
“Okay, Elizabeth. That’s enough. We know what you’re talking about,” Elliot says.
Kathleen cuts in. “But it’s no big deal! That’s what we want to tell you. Dad had been acting weird, and I thought maybe he had met someone because he was spending a lot of time on his phone, and then Eli told us-“
“Eli-“ Elliot says and he looks at Olivia, but her face is still buried in her hands.
“Elliot, you are a detective. I’m not sure what you expected from your kids,” Bernie offers, her “I told you so” tone apparent, but snaps her mouth shut when Elliot gives her a stern warning.
“I’m just saying,” Bernie mumbles, but she doesn’t say anything else.
Olivia finally looks up and scrapes her hands against her jeans. “So, did you just see us in the restaurant or did you follow us?” Because she has to know.
“No, I waited for you two to leave through the back exit then went into the bathroom,” she assures them.
Olivia feels herself trembling and she knows she’s got to get out of there before she has a full-blown panic attack. She stands, a little wobbly on her feet.
“I’m sorry. I can’t - I can’t do this. I don’t know how to - I need you all to know I loved your mother and respected your parents’ marriage so much and…I’m sorry. I just. I have to go,” Olivia says, in a shaky voice that’s barely above a whisper, as she makes her way to the front door.
Elliot follows after her, “Liv, wait.” He takes her by the arm, but she yanks it out of his grasp. “Elliot,” she says, desperately. “Please. Don’t. Let me go. I need to go, please.”
“Don’t leave, Olivia,” he pleads, but she’s already at the door. It closes with a soft thud.
Elliot stands staring at the door for a second before turning back to his family, a pained look on his face.
“Good going, guys,” Elliot tells his family. “I’m - I know you were trying to do the right thing, I just - I have to go after her.”
“Wait. Dad,” Kathleen says. “Let me. Please,” she tells him, but he’s shaking his head “no.”
“Daddy,” Maureen says softly, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Let Katie go. Let her. This part isn’t about you,” she tells him. And she’s still soothing him as Kathleen runs out the door.
“Olivia!” she hears Kathleen call, and she can’t get her key ring out of her bag fast enough because her hands are trembling so goddamn bad. She’s crying and she’s a mess and she just needs to get home.
“Liv, please. Wait. Please. Give me a minute,” she begs when she catches up to Olivia. She reaches for her, and Olivia turns around. Her cheeks are wet and flushed and she’s holding one of her shoes in her hand.
“Oh no,” Kathleen says. “Your wedge broke? Those are such nice shoes.”
“I don’t care about the shoes, Kathleen. I just-“ Olivia’s voice trails off.
“Liv,” Kathleen says softly. “I’m so sorry that we made you feel so uncomfortable. That wasn’t my intention. It wasn’t our intention. Quite the opposite, actually.”.
Olivia wipes her cheek on her shirt sleeve. “I know, honey. It’s not your fault. It’s…it’s complicated,” she says between sniffles.
“You know what’s one of my most favorite things in the world?” Kathleen asks, and Olivia shakes her head no.
“The way my dad loves you. And the way you love him. I know it's ‘complicated,’ and I know some of the reasons why and the rest is none of my business. But god Olivia, it would kill me if - it would tear me apart if we were the reason the two of you didn’t give this a real chance.”
“Kathleen, I will always always be here for you and your brothers and sisters but this - I don’t know how - I don’t know how to do this,” she admits.
“Why, Liv? Can you help me understand why?”
“Because, Kathleen. I’ve known you all since you were practically babies. I was always your dad’s partner. His work partner. Your father was married, he had a family. It wasn’t my place-“ Olivia’s voice breaks.
“My dad is not married anymore. You don’t think we know how many times you made sure our parents stayed married? I gotta tell you, Liv, I never understood it, but I was grateful for you and I respect the hell out of you for it. Olivia, you’re the closest thing to a hero I’ve got. And you are family. You always have been,” Kathleen tells her.
“I wasn’t though,” Olivia says, her voice deep and low. “I wasn’t family. Your parents and you all, you were a family.”
“Are you kidding me, Olivia? You saved my life! You saved my mother’s life. My little brother is here because of you. My dad is still with us, alive, because of you. Eli is probably not currently in jail for murder because of you! You are MORE than family, Olivia. I don’t even know if there is a word for what you are to us,” Kathleen says, practically hysterical, because she has to make Olivia understand.
Kathleen's tear-streaked face and look of desperation are too much for Olivia, and her instinct is to wrap her in a hug to comfort her. As she makes a move to do just that, Kathleen backs away
“No. See, Olivia, this is what I mean. You’re so upset and overwhelmed, and you’re more worried about me. You are always looking out for other people, no matter what. It’s your turn,” Kathleen says.
“I don’t -” Olivia starts, but Kathleen won’t let her finish. She needs to get it all out.
“You know, my mom, she…she was a good woman,” she continues. “ A wonderful mother. She never said anything negative about you in front of any of us. In fact, she told us how grateful she was that there was someone who loved dad so much making sure he came home to us every night. I’m sure - I mean, I imagine it was hard for her at times, but…she loved dad. And dad loved you, so she loved you in the way she could.”
The emotional control Olivia had regained has once again gone, and she’s really crying now, the sobs wracking her body, but Kathleen doesn’t stop because she knows she needs to say these things and Olivia needs to hear them.
“Maur and I overhead mom and dad only one time discussing you. It wasn’t a fight. It was a negotiation , I guess you could say? It was after he got the call from IAB, the day he decided he wasn’t going back. Mom was actually angry with him that he wasn’t planning on saying goodbye to you. He kept saying, ‘I can’t Kathy. Please understand. I can’t do that.’ Mom said you deserved better, and dad agreed. He said you deserved a shot at a life that would give you all the things you deserved.”
“Kathleen, please. I can’t - I’m not sure I can take anymore,” Olivia pleads.
But Kathleen goes on. “My family, we - we carry the guilt of leaving you to believe that you didn’t matter to us when the truth was, none of us knew the right thing to do. But I hope you believe me when I say we love you, Olivia. We always have and we always will, no matter what does or doesn’t happen with dad. And we don’t want to be the reason you make a decision about that, one way or the other. Are you hearing me?”
The only thing Olivia can muster is a slight nod in agreement.
“When I saw you at the hospital after all that time, do you remember what I said to you?” Kathleen asks.
Olivia shakes her head no. She takes a deep breath to settle herself and says, “There was a lot going on. I think we were all in a bit of shock. And suddenly your dad was there, after 10 years, and at first I thought he was a ghost.”
Kathleen shakes her head in acknowledgement. “Mom was adamant about going to your ceremony. I think she felt guilty, which is weird, I know, but that’s mom. Deep down, she didn’t blame you.”
“And when I saw you, I said ‘Olivia, you’re here.’ Because of course you were but also, we didn’t deserve it. That doesn’t matter to you, though, does it? You just love - no matter what. And it’s when I saw you that I thought mom actually had a chance of making it,” Kathleen says through her own tears.
“I’m so sorry, Kathleen,” Olivia whispers, and it’s then that Kathleen allows Olivia to pull her into an embrace.
“I love you, Olivia. We all do. More than you’ll ever know,” Kathleen says. “I love my mother and I miss her so much. But my time with her here is - it’s ended. And so has dad’s.”
“Thank you, Kathleen,” Olivia says, pressing her lips into her temple. “Thank you for telling me all of this and for being the person you are.”
“You needed to know. We owed you that,” Kathleen says. “You’re an angel to us all.”
At that moment, Kathleen’s cell vibrates, and she pulls out her phone. “I bet it’s dad. Maureen is probably holding him hostage right now,” she says, and Olivia laughs at the image. Kathleen is so happy to see her smile.
But then it happens.
Kathleen’s holding her phone in Olivia’s full view when the contact’s name flashes on the screen.
Olivia looks down at the phone and then up at Kathleen and then down again - and suddenly it registers. Velasco on his phone too much. Rollins and Fin teasing him about “dating apps.” Overhearing him mention a “beautiful, smart, sassy blond” that he’s “head over heels” about.
“Oh my god,” Olivia gasps, and Kathleen brings her hand up to her mouth.
“I- Liv, I swear I was going to tell you."
“Kathleen Stabler, why is Joe Velasco texting you?” Olivia asks sternly, the previous subject effectively ended, as she wipes the last of the tears from her face.
“Um, because. Well, because we are dating?” Kathleen says sheepishly.
“Oh my god,” Olivia repeats, squeezing her eyes shut and using the index and thumb of her left hand to put pressure on them. She thinks she’s about to get a migraine.
“I promise, Olivia, we were planning on telling you and dad,” Kathleen explains.
“How long, what?” Kathleen asks.
“How long have you been seeing each other?”
“Not that long, I promise. We met on Hinge and at first, I only knew he was in law enforcement. It wasn’t until we started meeting in person that I found out he worked for NYPD. Then I found out he worked in Special Victims, specifically the 16th precinct, and that his boss was none other than Captain Olivia Benson.”
Olivia can’t help but burst out laugh because WHAT THE FUCK.
“What the. How did this happen? What the FUCK,” Olivia says, but it’s more to herself. She starts laughing at the absurdity of the situation and then she has Kathleen laughing and they’re both in stitches.
“Jesus Christ, it can’t ever just be easy, can it?” Olivia asks, before adding “your father is going to have an aneurism when he finds out you’re dating a cop. A ‘sex cop,’ no less.”
Kathleen grins and says, “Yeah, well I happen to know ‘sex cops’ are the best of the best,” and decides now’s the time to ask Olivia for a big favor.
“If it comes from me, yeah, he may stroke out. But if it comes from you -“ Kathleen proposes.
“Oh no. Hell no. No WAY, Kathleen. This is your mess,” Olivia says.
“Please Olivia. Please . Think about how much you love me. If you do me this favor, I promise I will never ask you for anything again."
“Ha! That’s real cute. And a lie,” Olivia responds.
“Okay, maybe it is. But tell me you’ll think about it at least,” Kathleen says as Olivia unlocks her car and gets in.
“I’ll think about it, but I highly suggest you have a game plan,” she says, shutting her door and unrolling her window.
“Liv. What are you going to say to Joe? He was completely freaking out when he found out who I was. Well, when he found out who my dad is,” she says.
“Yeah, I bet he was,” she says, shaking her head in disbelief.
“I guess he asked Detective Rollins, is that her name? Asked her about how close you were to the Stabler kids, and she said something along the lines of ‘she’d take a bullet for them’ and ‘god help anyone who decides to harm those kids in any way.’ He says he went into the bathroom and threw up.”
“Well…” Olivia says, thinking on one hand it’s good her new detective has a healthy amount of fear and respect and on the other wondering if she’s a monster.
“Liv?” Kathleen says, her voice serious now. “I really like him. Like like him like him could see this being a long-term thing like him.”
Olivia sighs. “I’ll think about it. Okay?” she offers, and Kathleen grins because she knows what that means.
“Anything else you’d like to tell me or ask me before I go?” Olivia says, and she’s joking but Kathleen goes for it anyway.
“Lizzie could probably use your help talking to dad about deciding to move in with her girlfriend.”
“Does your father even know Elizabeth has a girlfriend?” Olivia asks.
“Dad doesn’t know Elizabeth has ever had a girlfriend."
Olivia shakes her head. “Goodbye, Kathleen. I’m leaving now to save myself.”
“Bye, Liv. I love you so much,” she says.
“Yeah, yeah,” Olivia says as she drives off. She looks in her rear view mirror and sees Kathleen waving. For the first time ever, Olivia allows herself to imagine an actual future with Elliot Stabler.
Thank you, Katie , she says silently, the words ghosting her lips, before they turn up into a smile.
There is a soft knock at her door. She uses Face ID to unlock her phone and texts him that the door is unlocked.
She knew he would be coming over.
He quietly enters her apartment, kicking off his shoes, and gently closes and locks the door. Courtesy of the soft yellow glow coming from a floor lamp, he can see her laying on the sofa. She’s changed into sleep shorts and a T-shirt, and Noah is nestled comfortably in her arms.
“Hi,” he mouths to her.
“Hi,” she says, giving him a sleepy smile.
“Look at those curls,” Elliot whispers, and Olivia gently runs her fingers through them. “I know, right? I love them.”
“Are you okay?” he asks, and she shakes her head yes. “When I got home, he and Lucy were passed out. They must have fallen asleep watching a movie. I let them be and changed, then woke up Lucy so she could go home. Noah woke up and begged to ‘sit with me a while.’” She shakes her head. “And, here I still am.”
“Liv, can I - will you let me carry him into his room?” Elliot asks, worrying he may be overstepping but wanting so badly to hold the boy - her son - in his arms.
“He’s heavy, Elliot. I can wake him-“ she starts.
“Liv, don’t wake him. Please, let me,” he beseeches, and she grants him permission. He walks over to the sofa and scans the scene for a moment to determine how best to lift the sleeping boy without waking him up. He leans over and slips one arm underneath Noah’s torso and he uses the other to scoop up his legs. Before he stands completely upright, he leans in to place a kiss on Olivia’s lips.
It’s such a perfect moment - and it’s not lost on either of them.
She stands up and crosses in front of him to lead the way to Noah’s room. She stops to switch on the nightlight in the hallway and peeks her head through the door to make sure Noah’s sheets are pulled back.
“It’s ready,” she mouths, and Elliot moves as gingerly as possible. Olivia thinks Elliot looks like he is carrying a piece of Styrofoam rather than a 90-lb child, and she still marvels at how he’s in fitter form now than he was in his 30s and 40s.
She watches as Elliot places Noah on his bed, cradling the back of his head and lowering it onto the pillow before lifting the top sheet and comforter over his body. He takes a moment to push the boy’s curls off his face and run his thumb over his eyebrow. “Sweet dreams, Noah,” she hears him say.
Olivia remembers what Elliot had said to her earlier about wanting to get to know Noah better, and suddenly she feels struck with a feeling of urgency about it.
“El,” she says, as he follows her into the kitchen. “I was thinking that maybe we could have you over for dinner on Sunday. Would that - would that be okay?”
He takes a few steps towards her and gently nudges her backwards so her lower back is flush with the kitchen counter. He reaches out and tucks an errand strand of hair behind her ear, and then his mouth is on hers.
“There’s nothing I would like more,” he whispers.
Olivia can’t help but marvel at the place they are in. She almost wants to cry at the magnitude of it all, but she’s done enough crying that evening to last her a lifetime, and she’s sure her puffy eyes give that away.
“I’m sure I look so sexy at the moment,” she tells him, gesturing to her face, but he just kisses both her eyelids.
“You look as beautiful as ever, Olivia."
“Elliot, I’m - I’m sorry I left the way I did. I just - “ She starts trying to explain herself, but he cuts her off.
“Hey, Liv. You have nothing to apologize for. Nothing, you understand? If it isn’t already clear, my family adores you. But I don’t want them putting pressure on you, either. We do this our way, at our pace. Whatever you’re comfortable with. There’s no rush,” he tells her.
Olivia can’t help but laugh because Elliot Stabler is currently standing in her kitchen after having tucked her son into bed and is telling her he’s letting her take the lead on their relationship.
Relationship. She and Elliot are in a relationship.
She’s the one lunging at him now, kissing him passionately and promising him not to go “too slow” because “that ship has sailed,”
“So you think we are ready to take this to the next level, then?” he asks.
“What do you mean, ‘next level?’” She eyes him suspiciously, crossing her arms and reminding him that she can be as petulant as she is sexy.
He loves this about her.
“I mean, it’s a big step so I just want to make sure you’re ready,” he teases.
“Elliot,” she warns, shaking her head. “Didn’t you just say there's no need to rush this?”
“Yes, but then you said that ship has sailed,” he reminds her.
“I was talking about sex , Elliot,” she clarifies.
“Well, technically we haven’t had sex yet, Benson,” he corrects her.
“Don’t Bill Clinton me, Stabler,” she chides, and he huffs out a laugh before pulling out his phone.
“Where’s your phone?” he asks.
“On the coffee table, I think. Why?” She’s still not sure where this is going, but she follows him into the living room anyway. He picks up her phone and asks, “Password?”
“Ha,” she answers, swiping the phone from his hand and unlocking her phone but not handing it back to him. “You wish.”
Suddenly her phone buzzes and she looks down. It’s a notification.
Elliot started sharing his location with you. Would you like to share your location?
“Figured this is easier than having Jet track your phone,” he jokes.
“Elliot,” she warns, “I swear to god I will break your fingers if you try that shit.”
He quickly backs away, miming a “surrender” motion, and puts down his phone. “Okay, okay. We can talk about it another time."
“Unbelievable,” she mutters. A few months ago, you couldn’t even use emojis and now you’re airdropping me your location.”
“Told you I’m a quick learner, I just have to have a reason. And besides, aren’t you glad I was such a dumbass when it comes to all this A.I. stuff?” he asks, lowering himself onto her sofa and reaching for her waist to pull her onto him.
“A.I.? Elliot this isn’t …” she starts. “You know what? Never mind. Yes, I’m glad you accidentally sent me a voice recording of you fantasizing about me while watching shitty porn, which despite not knowing your way around technology, you somehow managed to find.”
“Like I said, I just have to have a reason,” he says, grinning.
“Elliot,” she says, leaning down to kiss him. “Shut up and take me to bed.”
He quickly stands, lifting them both, and carries her to her room - both their phones left on the coffee table.
Maybe once he convinces Olivia to marry him, he can go back to a flip phone.