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SOS.

It’s probably not the best idea to send an “SOS” text to a cop, but Eli Stabler is desperate. He hasn’t slept in what feels like days and it looks like a tornado just tore through the middle of his Long Island City apartment.

There’s a baby bouncer in the middle of the living room and what he’s counted to be four baby bottles laying around the apartment. He vaguely recalls Maureen telling them she’d packed five bottles when she’d thrusted the diaper bag in his hands yesterday and he wondered how one four-month old could go through so many bottles, but here he is now, crawling on his hands and knees looking for the fifth.

Olivia’s told him, on more than one occasion in fact, to call her if he ever needed anything. He hasn’t had to yet - been able to calm Bernie down on his own during one of her episodes and distract his dad with stories about his day after a particularly hard day at work. He’s come close a few times, he’ll admit. When he’d walked in on his dad pacing around his bedroom almost trancelike, mumbling how he was going to kill Richard Wheatley, or when Bernie had disappeared for hours after a bingo night with a friend and neglected to tell anyone they’d decided to go out for a late night dinner. 

Eli Stabler could handle anything. Until he’d met his match in the form of his four-month old niece.

His cell phone buzzes in his back pocket and he reaches for it and scrambles his way into his bedroom.

“Hello?” His voice is calm as he leans back against his closed door and closes his eyes, takes a deep breath.

“Eli? Eli, I got your text. What’s happening? Are you ok?” Her voice isn’t as calm and his head hits the door with a thud as he looks up towards the ceiling. 

“Olivia, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have -” he pauses and grasps the phone a little tighter in his hand. “I just didn’t know what else to do. She won’t stop crying.” It’s desperate, almost pleading and Olivia can practically hear the tears in the back of Eli’s throat. 

“Ok, Eli, who won’t stop crying?” She sounds less panicked now. Her words slow and deliberate and Eli scrubs a hand down his face.

“Quinn! Maureen dropped her off yesterday for the weekend and I swear she hasn’t stopped crying since she got here.” He hears a door click on the other end of the line and what sounds like bags rustling and he shakes his head because if his dad knew he’d texted Olivia -

“Honey, where’s your dad?” Eli pushes himself from the door and kneels on his bed to look out the window.

“He’s out on the patio with Quinn. They’ve been out there for a while.” Sweatpants and t-shirt and a rag tossed over his shoulder, Elliot’s holding the baby to his chest, bouncing her up and down as he walks in circles and whispers what Eli assumes is some sort of baby talk into her ear. “I called Kathleen but she’s away on some girls trip and won’t get home until tomorrow, and Liz and Dickie are busy and my mom would know what to do if she were here and…” He’s rambling and sinks on his bed, head in his hand and Olivia hears him take a slow, shaky breath. “I’m sorry, Olivia, I shouldn’t have texted-” 

“No, Eli. Listen to me. I told you to call me if you ever needed anything.” He hears what sounds like heels clicking along hardwood floors and drawers opening and closing. “I’m going to pick up some dinner for you and your dad and Bernie and I’ll be over in an hour, ok?” 

Eli runs a hand through his hair and flops back onto the bed and what the fuck .

He arches his back and reaches behind him under the sheets. Teething ring. He tosses it towards the end of the bed.

“My dad is gonna be so pissed I told you.” Eli picks at his thumbnail and he swears he hears a quiet scoff.

“Let me deal with your dad, ok? I’ll be there soon.” 

The line goes dead and he lays there for a moment, eyes closed, and wonders if he’ll be able to squeeze in a ten minute nap before -

“ELI!” It’s loud and booming and he huffs out a deep breath through his nose and sits up with a strangled groan, rubbing his hands along his thighs. He pushes himself up from the bed when he hears his name for a second time and swings the door open.

“Yeah,” Eli calls and steps into the kitchen, turns the corner and sees his dad at the counter, arms extended with the baby over the sink.

“Dad?” 

“She threw up.” Elliot’s voice is flat and Quinn is still wailing and Eli’s eyes widen as he moves towards him.

“Ok, uhm…where? I can-”

“On me. On my shirt.” Elliot’s still holding her eerily still, like if he makes a sudden move she could throw up again, and his eyes are focused straight ahead. “I need you to take her for a few minutes while I go shower.” 

“Yeah.” Eli reaches for his niece and brings her to his shoulder, rocking her gently and patting her back. “Yeah, ok. I got her.” 

Elliot whispers his thanks as he turns towards his room and shuts the door behind him. 

“You and me, kid,” Eli says and bounces Quinn on his shoulder, hand on the back of her head. “Please don’t throw up on me.” 

His phone buzzes again in his back pocket and he reaches for it carefully and opens a message from Kathleen in the sibling group chat.

Eli - Everything ok? Sorry I can’t be there to help.  

He pulls back and looks at Quinn, whose screams have turned into whimpers and he presses down on the text and gives it a thumbs up.

She threw up on dad. He types and Dickie laughs at the message a second later. 

Seems to be quieting down a bit. Olivia is bringing us dinner and coming over to help. Kathleen reacts with a heart.

See why we call her Saint Olivia? :) 

Eli smirks at his phone and sets it back down on the counter.

“Alright, Quinn. How bout we put you in your bouncer for a little.” He walks into the living room and sets her in the bouncer, watches as her whimpers turn to babble when she reaches for the plastic monkey dangling in front of her face. He plops down onto the couch with a deep sigh and hears the water turn on behind Elliot’s closed doors. 

It’s a little after five o’clock and Olivia should be there by six if there’s no traffic. He presses his fingers between his brows and tries to will away the dull migraine that’s been looming for the last several hours. He’s grateful, so grateful, for Olivia’s willingness to help, but he can’t help but feel a sudden guilt for lying yet another Stabler burden at her doorstep. 

She’s been good for his family, good for his father since his mother’s death over a year and a half ago. She’s apparently always been good for the Stabler's, his siblings have told him. He doesn’t know the details of stories, only that she’d been there to help Kathleen and Dickie through some tough times, and that she was with his mother the day he was born. He knows that she was his father’s partner for over twelve years and that sometimes he’d hear her name spill from his mother’s lips through the walls of their apartment in Rome. 

He knows his brothers and sisters would speak her name with a hushed reverence and that his father had not once spoken of her in front of him. He vaguely recalls a night on the terrace where he’d watched his dad remove a picture from his wallet and rub his thumb along the crease before stuffing it back into his pocket. And it wasn’t until a few weeks later that he’d found the photograph mixed in with the laundry and carefully tucked it back into his dad’s wallet without a word. 

It was black and white and what looked to be from a New Years Eve party from somewhat early in his father’s career. Matching hats and confetti on clothes and his father’s eyes trained on everything that was her.  

At the time he’d wondered why he had kept this specific photo. Maybe, he thought, it was because it’d been so early in their partnership, so early in his career that it symbolized a time of light and good, before he’d seen the worst of people and found out just how cruel the world could be. 

But a few years later, he’d learned the truth, sat in a dark rental apartment just weeks after his mother died and watched his father blurt out a twenty three year old confession that seemed to rock both of them to their core.

He loved her. Always had. 

The photo in his wallet the proof.

Eli had been indifferent towards Olivia since that night. Neither cold, nor warm, and it wasn’t fair, he realizes. She’d been nothing but supportive and kind to his family throughout their tragedy, but it was hard now, to see her as anything but the woman his father had loved even as he slept next to his wife of over thirty years. 

He doesn’t suspect anything physical happened between his father and Olivia during their partnership. His dad is a man of great faith and he doesn’t see Olivia as being that type of woman. He’s heard from his siblings that his mother and Olivia had become friendly over the years. That his mother had grown to trust the woman whose job it was to make sure her husband came home to her every night, not knowing that her inherent need to protect him stemmed from her own deep-seated love and dependence. 

Olivia had been there for him too. When one of the Wheatley’s had tried to frame him for murder just before Christmas, she’d dropped everything to help clear his name, and maybe, more importantly, keep his father sane. Kathleen had told him once that Olivia gave their father stability. He’d seen it then, in its truest form, a hand on his shoulder or a familiar pace to walk step in step with, she grounded him in ways he’d never seen anyone be able to do before. Not even his mother. 

Olivia’s part of the family, Kathleen had said with a shrug as they’d decorated the Christmas tree and prepared for the Bensons’ arrival. And from that day on he’d tried to treat her as such.

Some nights he’d come home from soccer practice and his dad would be cooking dinner, his phone lying next to the stove and a familiar laugh would chime through the speaker and he’d just give him a knowing nod and head in to do his homework. Other nights, he’d stumble into the kitchen for a snack before bed and they’d be sitting on the patio, a wine bottle between them and rosy cheeks and smiles a bit too shy for it to be considered simply platonic. 

“Olivia and I are just friends.” Elliot had told him one night when Eli had given him a suspicious look after he’d kissed Olivia’s cheek and let his hand linger a little too long on her lower back as they said goodbye. “And if that ever changes, you’ll be the first to know.” 

“So I can kiss all my girl friends goodbye now?” He’d called as he backed his way into his bedroom with a brow raised and a tiny smirk.

Smartass.” 

“She’s quieted down.” Elliot’s voice startles him and he wonders how long his dad’s been out of his room. He’s shirtless with a pair of gray sweatpants and the sun reflects off the chain around his neck through the window.

“Uh, yeah, she really likes that monkey thing.” Eli nods towards the bouncer where Quinn had been babbling and batting at the plastic monkey above her head for some time. “Think I was able to close my eyes for like five minutes.” Elliot laughs and Eli hears the tea kettle whistle behind him.

“Think I mighta fallen asleep in the shower,” Elliot says and Eli stands and walks towards the counter as his dad drops a chamomile tea bag in a mug and stirs. 

“For grandma.” He shrugs when Eli eyes him and walks over to Bernie’s bedroom door and knocks gently.

“Mama!” He calls and Eli hears a shuffling around behind the closed door. He taps his phone and notices a message from Olivia he’d gotten seven minutes ago.

Be there in ten. It reads, which means she should be here any minute.

“Oh thank you, honey.” Bernie opens the door and takes the mug from Elliot’s hands. “I’m on the phone with Gladys, I’ll be out in a minute.” And before Elliot could respond, she shuts the door in his face and he shrugs and makes his way towards the baby.

“Alright, baby Q. Whatta you say about some dinner, huh?” He picks the baby up from her bouncer and brings her to his shoulder, laughing as she lets out a loud giggle and palms his cheeks. “Ok, I forgive you for throwing up on me. See? I learned my lesson. I’m not wearing a shirt this time.” 

“Dad-” Eli tries to give him a warning. That he’d texted Olivia and she’d be here any minute and he might want to put some clothes on, but the doorbell rings before he can say anything, and Elliot raises a brow.

“You order dinner? Thanks,” he says as he walks with Quinn around the counter and reaches into the refrigerator for her milk. Eli stands motionless while his dad fills Quinn’s bottle and puts it in the microwave, and the doorbell rings again and the baby’s face starts to turn a little red with an impending outburst. Too many noises and her plastic monkey suddenly gone, it’s all too overwhelming and Elliot looks over to Eli, eyes wide in a small panic.

“Eli, can you get the door please? Before it rings a third time,” Elliot pleads and starts bouncing Quinn when she lets out a whimpered warning and Eli turns and jogs down the hallway, swings open the door.

“He doesn’t know you’re coming,” Eli blurts before Olivia can get a word out and she nods and steps past him through the threshold. 

“What’d you get, Eli? Chinese? Burgers?” Elliot calls from the kitchen, balancing Quinn on his hip and reaching for a stack of plates in the cabinet next to the sink. 

“Pizza. And subs.” Elliot whips around at the sound of her voice and there’s a small smirk on the corners of her lips and he wonders what could possibly be so funny to her at a time like this. It couldn’t be the aftermath of the tornado in his living room, or the microwave that’s beeping incessantly, or the fact that he’s standing shirtless in the middle of his kitchen with a wailing baby on his hip.

“Liv?” Her name is a question and his brows are furrowed when he tucks Quinn to his chest and rocks her, hand on the back of her head. Olivia bites her lip and sets the takeout on the counter with a small shrug of her shoulder.

“I was in the neighborhood,” she reasons and the curve of his lips tells her he can see right through her bullshit, and Eli knows it’s a part of their past or a secret joke that he hasn’t been let in on, so he clears his throat as he moves around the island and reaches for his niece.

“Dad, I’ll take her for a minute while you…” Eli’s eyes flicker down to his dad’s chest and he motions his head in the direction of his bedroom. 

“Yeah, be right back.” Elliot mumbles and hands Quinn over to his son before padding across the kitchen to his room. 

“I”m sorry, Olivia,” Eli whispers when Elliot’s behind closed doors. “I didn’t get a chance to tell him you were coming. Quinn threw up on him just after I got off the phone with you and he went to shower and by the time he came out you were almost here and…”

“Eli-” she interrupts his rambling with a hand on his arm and squeezes. “I told you, I’ll take care of your dad. Why don’t I feed the little one while you get some food for yourself, ok? There’s cheese pizza and an Italian and turkey sub.” Eli nods as Olivia takes the baby from his arms and he turns towards the microwave for Quinn’s bottle. 

“You’re a lifesaver, Liv,” he sighs and sets the bottle on the counter and quickly shakes his head. “Olivia…”

“It’s ok, Eli. Liv is fine, too,” she promises and turns her attention to the red-faced baby in her arms. “Hey, baby,” she cooes and presses her lips to her temple, shushing her as she bounces her up and down. 

“It’s okay,” she soothes, hand on the back of her neck as she walks with her around the kitchen. “I’m Olivia. O-liv-i-a, yeah,” she whispers and strokes the little patch of hair at the nape of her neck with her thumb. “Are you hungry? Do you want some dinner? How about we eat some dinner.” Her voice is calm and soothing, and if he weren’t so damn hungry, Eli swears he could fall asleep just from the sound of it.

“Eli, can you hand me that, please?” She gestures towards the bottle on the counter and he sets his pizza slice down on a plate before passing her the bottle. 

“I’m gonna sit over here and try to feed her,” she says as she moves towards the living room and plops down in the middle of the couch, shifting Quinn face up against her chest and holds the bottle to her lips. 

“There you go,” she whispers as Quinn’s lips find the bottle, her little hands gripping the sides. “You’re just a hungry, baby, huh?” Olivia murmurs and pulls her closer to her body when she hears Elliot’s door open. She glances up and notices he’s still in sweatpants and wearing a plain white t-shirt and offers him a small smile when he finds her eyes. 

He walks to the couch and touches Quinn’s cheek before sneaking his fingers up into Olivia’s hair, scratching gently at her temple.

“Hi,” he whispers and if Eli wasn’t a few feet away he’d drop a kiss to her forehead, but instead he lets his fingers dance just above her ear, thumb rubbing the shell and feels her tilt her head slightly into his palm.

“Hi,” she breathes and her eyes are hooded and lazy when his hand falls to her shoulder. “Go get some food before it gets cold.” He smiles and squeezes the back of her neck before walking towards the kitchen.

“Whatta ya got there kid?” He pats Eli on the back and slaps a slice of pizza onto a plate. “Did you thank Liv for the food?” Eli nods, mouth full and hand to his lips and hums in affirmation. Elliot takes a bite of his slice and brushes the crumbs away from his hands before rounding the island towards Bernie’s room.

“Mama, we have dinner and company!” He knocks and there’s a shuffling behind the closed door before it swings open and Bernie leans against the frame.

“You’ve interrupted my gossip time with Gladys, so it better be for something good and someone good.” 

“I hope you like ‘Uncle Joes’ pizza and subs, Bernie.” Olivia shifts on the couch and tilts her head back to give the woman a small smile.

“Oh, Olivia! You’re always good company, honey,” she says and pushes past Elliot to the pizza box, taking a bite and sinking into the barstool. “And I’ll never say no to a slice of Joe’s.” 

“Worth interrupting your gossip time?” Elliot asks, brows raised and rests his forearms on the counter next to her.

“Only because it’s Olivia.” He huffs and glances back at the couch where she’s rocking Quinn back and forth, eyes focused on the baby’s face, lips curved to a small smile, and if he could, he’d whip out his phone and snap a picture because this was a sight he wouldn’t mind savoring. Instead he just takes another bite of his slice before plating another and grabbing a bottle of water from the fridge.

“Here,” he says as he sits down beside her and sets the plate on the coffee table in front of them. “When she’s finished, hand her to me so you can eat.” Olivia smiles, one of appreciation and nudges his leg gently with her knee.

“I’m fine, El. Just feed yourself and I’ll make sure I get something.” 

“Liv-” He’s interrupted by the shrill ring of his cell phone and he pulls it from his pocket and flashes her the screen. “Bell. I gotta take this.”

“Go ‘head.” 

“Stabler,” he answers as he walks to the patio, hand on his mother’s shoulder as he passes, and shuts the door behind him.

“Alright, baby girl. It looks like you’re about done, huh.” Olivia cooes and sets Quinn’s bottle down. Luckily one of her drool bibs is hanging across the back of the couch, so she grabs it and stands, holds the baby to her shoulder. 

“Let’s see if we can get a big burp,” she whispers and pats her on the back, bouncing her as she moves towards the kitchen.

“I remember when Elliot was that tiny,” Bernie says and takes a sip of her tea. “He was a good baby, but boy could he scream. Seems like this one’s got his genes.” Olivia smiles and cranes her neck to look at Quinn’s face.

“I remember when Noah was about this big.” She wipes Quinn’s mouth with the bib. “And you too, Eli.” 

He glances up from his phone and gives her a small, confused smile.

“Really? I mean I know you were there when I was born but that was like fifteen years ago.” Olivia huffs, shakes her head.

“I remember it like it was yesterday.”

“Olivia saved your life, kid. And your mother’s,” Bernie quips and there’s almost an uncomfortable tension when Olivia stops bouncing Quinn for a moment and turns to look outside the patio window. Elliot’s pacing back and forth, brows furrowed and phone to his ear. 

“I knew you were there, but I didn’t know that.” Eli says, almost in disbelief and eyes wide and sets his phone on the counter. He meets Olivia’s gaze, hesitant and teary and Bernie clears her throat. 

“I uh, think I hear my phone ringing. Must be Gladys again,” she says and scurries quickly into her bedroom and shuts the door. 

“Eli,” Olivia sighs when he bites his lip and she wishes she could wrap him in her arms, but Quinn is babbling something loud and fierce against her shoulder.

“Your mother had a doctor’s appointment, and your dad was stuck in the field so I volunteered to take her,” she pauses and leans against the counter, still bouncing Quinn up and down. “Someone t-boned us on the way there and your mom got the worst of it. She was trapped and went into labor. I had to stabilize her neck and give her fluids while they cut the roof of the car off to get her out.” Eli twists his mouth and pushes his napkin back and forth on the counter. 

“When they got her into the ambulance they had to do an emergency delivery. I was…right there when you were born.” She squeezes Quinn a little tighter to her chest and blinks back a few tears she knows are about to spill over. “Your mom, she passed out and they handed me you.” She shrugs and tilts her head back to look at the ceiling.

“I was the first one to hold you…just like this,” she whispers and cradles the baby’s neck just as she did for Eli that day. Bloody and crying against her chest.

Eli swallows hard and picks his plate up to deposit into the sink. He’s quiet when he turns and leans back against the counter, mirroring her but his eyes remain downcast.

“Thank you. It sounds stupid to say that now but… I’m grateful my dad had a partner like you. That mom had someone like you.” 

It’s a mix of relief and a sense of acceptance when she breathes out and presses her mouth against Quinn’s head, still patting her back as she cooes against her chest. 

“I would’ve done anything for your dad. For your family. Still would,” she promises and Eli nods, finally meeting her gaze with upturned lips. 

“I know,” he pauses, and picks at his thumbnail, glances at his dad out the patio window. “Hey, I’m gonna try and catch a little bit of sleep if you don’t mind.” He gestures towards the baby in her arms and she nods. “I didn’t sleep much last night.” 

“Of course. I got her. Plus your dad should be in soon. I’ll make him help me.” Eli puffs out a laugh and he almost wants to hug her, but he only straightens and touches the back of Quinn’s head.

“Thanks,” he murmurs and before she can offer a response, he’s shutting the door to his room. Olivia sighs and presses her forehead against Quinn’s temple, breathing in her scent and stroking her hair at the nape of her neck. 

“Hey, I’m sorry about that,” she hears a moment later and turns to find Elliot stepping back into the apartment before walking towards them, pressing his hand against Quinn’s back. 

“Everything ok?” 

“Just wanted to update me on a few things. Nothing that urgent,” he says, glancing around the kitchen. “Where’d everyone go?”

Olivia puffs out a small, nervous breath and tilts her head back to meet his gaze.

“Well, Bernie said something about how I saved Eli and Kathy’s life when he was born, so I think it sorta scared them both away. Bernie faked a phone call and Eli said he needed to catch up on some sleep.” Elliot’s eyes widen and he laughs slightly, bracing his hand on the edge of the counter next to her hip. “I’m sorry, it probably wasn’t my place to tell him about it, but…” 

“No, no it’s ok. I guess I never really told him the full story of how he was born.” Olivia scoffs and raises her brow.

“You guess?” she asks and his hand is dangerously close to her hip, and her eyes are sparkling and he wonders what would happen if he slid his fingers along her waist, just for a moment.

“Was he ok? I know it’s still hard for him to talk about Kathy sometimes.” Olivia twists her mouth and shifts Quinn onto her hip. 

“He seemed ok.” She shrugs. “Thanked me. Said he was gonna go take a nap.” 

“I’ll talk to him later,” he says and smiles a wide, toothy grin as Quinn turns her head towards him.

“Hi, baby Q,” he cooes, his voice an octave higher than just a moment ago and she has to bite the inside of her lip to keep from laughing. “Were you good for Olivia?” 

Quinn babbles, a string of nonsense that only another baby could make sense of, and reaches for Elliot’s face, wrapping her fingers around his nose. 

“You want your Grandpa El? Wanna go see Grandpa?” Olivia shifts Quinn in her arms and hands her to Elliot before walking over to the coffee table for the bottle of water he’d set there earlier. 

“She hasn’t burped yet,” she tells him, taking a swig from the bottle and picking up the slice of pizza from her plate. “I’d keep patting her back and bouncing her for a little.” She hoists herself up onto a barstool and takes a bite of her slice as he circles the counter.

“Eli call you?” He asks when he’s behind her and she twists her head around to look at him.

“No.” She shrugs and tears a piece of her crust and holds it up to his mouth. He laughs softly and bites it from between her fingers. She’s not technically lying. Eli hadn’t called her. He’d texted her. 

“So you just happened to be in Long Island City?” 

“No.” She smiles and looks up at him from underneath her lashes as he walks past the sink across from her.

“Ok, uh…owl mail?” She shakes her head and picks at the label of her water bottle. They’d discussed Eli and Noah’s shared love of the Harry Potter books just a few weeks ago, argued about which one was the best. 

Chamber of Secrets. Hands down,” she’d said as they rounded a lake in Central Park and he looked at her, brows furrowed, expression almost perplexed.

“Seriously?” 

“Yes, seriously. Let’s hear yours.”

Deathly Hallows.”

“Figures. The darkest one,” she said and he grinned, tossing his empty coffee cup into the trash. 

“Also the one where good triumphs over evil.” She’d only hummed and bumped her shoulder against his.

“You could hear Quinn crying all the way in Manhattan?”

“That’s the one.” She tips the top of the bottle in his direction and he narrows his eyes and she knows if she doesn’t tell him he’s just going to keep up this guessing game until she does.

“Eli texted me,” she relents and bites into her pizza. 

“Ah, we’re into semantics now,” he teases, brow raised to the ceiling and she leans her forearms against the counter.

“All about the details, detective.” His lips curl to a smile and when he opens his mouth to respond, Quinn lets out a big post-bottle burp.

“Hah, alright there ya go, kid. Good one!” Elliot laughs, craning his head to look at his granddaughter’s face and Olivia tosses him the bib from her shoulder. He’s smiling, a genuine, toothy smile, one that looks like the Elliot Stabler from years past. The Elliot she knew before Richard Wheatley turned his world upside down and before he grew a beard and transformed into someone he wasn’t. 

He looks like Elliot. Her Elliot. And it makes her smile just the same.

“I think she needs changed,” he says and lifts her diaper level to his nose and scrunches his nose. “Yeah, definitely needs changed. I’ll go do that while you finish eating.” 

“Why don’t we just give her a bath?” Olivia asks, plopping the last bite of crust into her mouth and dusting the crumbs from her fingers. “It’s almost seven now. We should probably try to get her ready for bed and down by eight if you wanna try to catch some sleep before she’s up for another bottle.” 

And it’s hard for him to contain his smirk at how effortless the term we rolls off her tongue, like they’d been both solving crime and changing diapers together for decades, but he only nods and gestures towards the living room.

“Maureen packed her little basin in the bag over there. I don’t think the sink’s big enough so we can do it in my tub. Let me take care of the diaper and then we’ll give her a quick bath.” She nods as he brushes past her into his bedroom and she carries her plate over to the sink with the rest, busying herself with rinsing them off and throwing them in the dishwasher. 

She braces her hands on the edge of the counter and drops her head to her chest, breathing deeply. This scene, she knows, to any bystander would look incredibly domesticated. Bottles and bibs and toys and stuffed animals scattered across the apartment and a crying baby passed between two people with such ease, it would seem like their hundredth time doing so instead of their first.

She sighs and spins around, stares at her purse that’s laying propped against the diaper bag in the corner of the living room. It feels, in this moment, incredibly domesticated. And it scares the shit out of her.

“Hey Liv!” His voice breaks her trance and she clears her throat and pads across the kitchen and to the threshold of his bedroom. 

“Yeah?” She calls and hovers in the doorway, because she’s never been in his bedroom before and stepping into it without clear invitation feels a little strange and unfamiliar. 

“Can you go into my top drawer and grab me another shirt?” There it is.

She steps through and opens the drawer, rustles through it and pulls out an old, faded Marine Corps t-shirt.

“She throw up on you again?” she asks, leaning against the bathroom door and he twists his neck around from his spot on the floor in front of the bathtub with a grin. 

He’s shirtless, again.

“You hear about that?” She shrugs and tosses the shirt to him and he catches it with one hand. 

“Would explain why you were walking around shirtless. Or do you just like to show off?” He looks at her narrow-eyed with a hint of glimmer as she cocks a brow and when he opens his mouth to respond, Quinn lets out a shrill cry from the basin in the tub. 

“Hey ok, we’re comin, we’re comin,” Elliot soothes and flips on the faucet, lets his fingers dip into the stream of warm water, testing its temperature before letting it fill the basin halfway. “Can you pass me the body wash on the sink there?” 

She grabs the bottle on the counter and hands it to him, kneels down onto the towel beside him on the floor.

“Our knees are going to be fuc…” She remembers little ears are listening, even though a four-month-old would never be able to comprehend what’s being said. “Messed up after this.” 

“We’ll take Advil before bed.” And it’s so natural, so insanely natural the way it flows off the tip of his tongue. The simple assumption that she’d be spending the night. That they’d be going to sleep together. It’s foreign, the concept exhilarating, even if he didn’t mean it that way.

The shirt lay forgotten on the floor beside them. 

Again, it scares the shit out of her.

Olivia reaches out and replaces Elliot’s hand on Quinn’s back, steadying her as he squeezes a dollop of body wash into his palm. He scrubs his hands together and rubs them gently along Quinn’s body, shushing her as she lets out a little whimper when he reaches her toes.

“I”m sorry, Liv,” he says, and it’s so out of the blue that she raises a brow, thumb stroking along the soft skin of Quinn’s shoulder. “You’ve been here for us… for me, through everything. It’s not fair to keep leaning on you like this.” She sighs, and when his hand sneaks beside hers on Quinn’s back, she brushes her index finger against his.

“No need to apologize. I’ll always be here for you. You know that.” 

He takes a deep breath and his muscles flex as he rinses Quinn’s soapy body and Jesus, he looks good shirtless.

“I know,” he breathes and Quinn babbles and Olivia feels her body vibrate against the palm of her hand. 

“Good.” She scoops up some water in the palm of her hand and shields the baby’s eyes with the other before pouring it gently over her head, lets her fingers stroke the peach fuzz hair along her forehead. 

“I think I mighta gotten an hour of sleep last night, if that.” Elliot arches his back, the muscles of his abdomen flexing tight against his skin. “This kid has a powerful pair of lungs. Coulda named her Celine.” There’s a pause and he side eyes her when she’s too silent. “You know, like Dion.” 

“Ah, I forgot you were such a fan,” she says, eyes wide and mouth open when Quinn giggles up at her. “Yes, Grandpa loves Celine Dion! Yes he does!” He smirks, but won’t deny it. She’d caught him humming My Heart Will Go On more than once over the years.

“Maybe she’ll audition for American Idol one day.”

“Is that show still on?” she asks, brow raised in amazement and Quinn splashes her fists in the water, nearly spraying the pair on the floor. 

“Whoa, whoa, easy partner,” Elliot chuckles, wrapping his fingers around her wrists and steadies her so she doesn’t fall onto her back. Olivia puffs out a breathy laugh when Quinn pouts her bottom lip and squeals in protest at the sudden restraints. She reaches out, wets her fingers in the basin and flicks them towards him and his lips curl as he eyes her with a renewed sparkle. 

“What? Afraid to get a little wet?” She does it again and the droplets cling to his neck before sliding down his chest. Bare and now wet. Her eyes follow their trail until they reach his abdomen and she quickly tilts her chin to her chest, letting a curtain of her hair shield her face, her suspiciously flushed cheeks. 

“Liv.” And when she snaps her head up, she’s met with a smirk and before she can react, his hand is under the faucet and her face and chest are soaked .

“Elliot!” She shrieks, water dripping from her cheeks and she can hear him laughing as she brings her hand up to clear the droplets from her eyes.

“Shit Liv, I’m sorry.” He’s still laughing, hand placed firmly on Quinn’s back as he reaches behind him for a towel. “Here.” He tosses it towards her and she wipes her face, a smudge of mascara streaked under her eye. 

“You’re an ass. ” She mouths the last word and his eyes flicker from hers to her chest, her t-shirt clinging to her skin and he can see now that she has on black lace underneath that shirt. “Can I?” She asks, reaching for the Marines shirt she’d brought for him and he glances back up to her, clears his throat.

“Yeah. ‘Course.” And instead of moving to the other room to change, she simply turns her back to him and slips the wet material over her head, tossing it to the floor with a slap. Her skin is tan, golden, even. And there’s a dimple in her right shoulder that he’s suddenly itching to touch. That he wants to dip his tongue into after he traces every freckle, every tan line and -

“Elliot-” Her voice is sharp as she waves a hand in front of his face. “Hey.” He snaps out of his trance with a shake of his head and offers a small hum in response.

“Why don’t you go get her pajamas and I’ll dry her off?” He nods and passes Quinn off to Olivia before making his way into the bedroom and rooting through Quinn’s bag. 

“What’re we thinkin, lemons or ladybugs?” Elliot leans against the bathroom door and holds up a onesie in each hand. Olivia shifts Quinn in her lap, wrapped in a towel against her chest, and cocks her head, weighs the options. 

“Lemons,” Olivia says after a moment and he turns around and tosses the ladybugs onto his bed. 

“Lemons it is, Miss Quinn.” He leans down and scoops her from Olivia’s arms and holds out his hand for her. She takes it and he pulls her up and into his bedroom. 

They’re back in the living room fifteen minutes later. Olivia bouncing a whimpering Quinn around the coffee table and Elliot packing away the leftover food from dinner into the fridge. They’d changed Quinn without much incident. A few shrieks and grunts and kicks here and there but they’d finally been able to get her in a diaper and onesie after a few tries.

Elliot had also thrown on his third shirt of the night.

“Want me to take her?” He calls over his shoulder when he hears a whimper turn into more of a soft cry.

“No, but do you have your phone on you?” Her voice is steady, calm, afraid that if she raised it any, the cries would turn into screams. 

“Yeah.” He fishes it out of the pocket of his sweats and walks towards her. 

“Go to YouTube,” she instructs and he taps his screen a few times and looks up at her when he has the app pulled open. “Search ‘vacuum noises.’” He furrows a brow and she gives him a ‘just do it’ glare when Quinn shrieks in her ear. 

“Let me see,” she says after he finishes typing and holds out the phone for her to see. “The fourth down. The hour long one.” She shooshes the baby as she cries louder against her shoulder, hand on the back of her head. Elliot presses play and makes sure the volume is all the way up before setting his phone on the coffee table. 

“Any white noise would help Noah, but vacuum cleaners for some reason usually always knocked him out.” She rocks Quinn side to side, lips pressed to her forehead. “I think this was my most played YouTube video for a good three months.” Elliot smiles and watches as the cries turn back into whimpers after a few moments. 

“That’s it,” she soothes, thumb stroking the peach fuzz at the nape of her neck as she moves towards the couch to sit down. He follows and settles next to her, holds a blue and white striped throw pillow in his lap. 

She’s beautiful like this, his granddaughter in her arms and his Marine Corps t-shirt on her body. Her eyes are soft, her jaw unclenched and Quinn’s fist is wrapped tight around her index finger. Olivia’s jabbering, voice high pitched and eyes wide as the baby reaches for the ends of her hair and he can’t believe he missed this.

“Hmmm?” she hums, eyes flittering up towards his and he knits his brows after a moment, confused. “Missed what?” And shit he hadn’t meant to say that aloud. He clears his throat and straightens, turns his body slightly towards hers and rests his arm across the back of the couch, fingers brushing the hair along the back of her neck as he does.

“This.” He pauses and tilts his head, gestures towards Quinn. “You…being a mom.” His eyes are somewhat glazed as she lets hers fall to the now sleeping baby in her arms. 

“I bet it was beautiful,” he murmurs and she puffs out a small breath and blinks, stroking the soft hair along the top of Quinn’s head with a gentle smile. 

“You missed a lot.” It’s hushed and he wonders if she knows she’s said it out loud, or if it was supposed to stay a hidden secret on the tip of her tongue. He shakes his head, lets his hand fall from the couch to her shoulder, thumb dipping into the dimple he’d longed to touch not long ago on his bathroom floor. 

“I know. Never gonna miss anything again,” he breathes, his voice gravelly, unsteady as his fingertips graze the skin of her arm beneath his shirt. She blinks up at him, eyes filled to the brim with unshed tears and stolen memories and she’s moving slowly, so slowly that he wonders if she’s even moving at all. But she has to be because his chest is pressing against her side and his hand is slipping further down her arm until it finds the curve of her waist and Jesus her lips are right there . She breathes slowly and deeply. In. Out. Her breath mingling with his and he’s still, so still that he wonders if time’s stopped, but when she tilts her head just so, his bottom lip is between hers and her eyes flutter shut as she presses further into him.

Jesus, he’s kissing Olivia. He’s kissing Olivia.

He sighs against her lips and raises a steady, careful hand to her face. Her cheek feels flushed against his palm and her hair is soft and silky between his fingers when he curls them just slightly, scratching along her temple and the shell of her ear. She releases his lip with a soft pop but the hand splayed along her waist quickly surges her forward and he can feel her smiling when her mouth falls against his more fully. 

She kisses him once, twice. Chases after his top lip and shifts her hips towards his when his fingers push up the hem of her shirt, tickling the patch of bare skin above the waistband of her leggings. 

“El,” she mumbles against his lips as he starts to lay back against the couch and he opens his eyes, meets hers through narrow slits and oh shit, he forgot she was holding a baby. His granddaughter. 

He could laugh at how absurd this is. Olivia Benson looking up at him with hazy eyes, mouth parted and swollen from his lips. Hair tousled from the hand that’s still twisted there and the only thing stopping him from pulling her on top of him and really feeling her is the sleeping four month old in her arms. 

Jesus.” He laughs, forehead pressed against hers as his hand slides from her hair to the side of her neck. “That was…” He shakes his head and pulls away slightly, tilts his head back to get a read on her. “Unexpected?” She twists her lips and tucks Quinn tighter to her chest. “But I’m not complaining… Just didn’t imagine our first kiss would be with a baby between us.” 

“Think about kissing me often, Stabler?” She’s quick, brow raised as she stands and moves with Quinn across the room and lays her gently in the bassinet next to the television. He’s smirking when she makes her way back to the couch and he wants to wrap his hands around the back of her thighs and tug her into his lap, but he resists and watches her plop back down beside him, leg tucked underneath her body. 

“Should I remind you that you’re the one who kissed me, Benson.” She rolls her eyes, elbow bent against the back of the couch, cheek propped into her palm. 

“You’ve been wanting to kiss me,” she teases and his expression is one of amusement as his eyes widen and lips curl. “On the patio. Walking in the park. In your bathroom.” She says it so matter-of-factly, as if he’s been walking around with a big I WANT TO KISS OLIVIA BENSON tattoo on his forehead. And by the sly grin on her face, he’s not so sure he hasn’t been.

“That obvious?” he asks and she huffs, scratches her thumb across her brow.

“You have a pretty shitty poker face for a detective.” She’s teasing him he knows, but he knits his brows together and scoots a little closer. 

“Ok, then what’s my shitty poker face saying now?” He’s in her space. Fingers brushing against her elbow as it stretches across the couch and she tilts her head deeper into her palm, a lock of hair falling and framing her face.

“You want to kiss me again. Right now.” It’s quiet, but confident and the way she’s looking up at him, hair in front of her eyes and mouth upturned into a lazy smile makes him want to even more. So he reaches out, tucks the stray lock behind her ear and tilts her chin up with a mischievous glint in his eyes. 

“And you’re going to let me.” She’s smiling when his lips find hers again. The hands that had been occupied with the baby just moments ago are cupping his cheeks and sliding around the back of his neck as he pulls her flush against him. She reaches down and tosses the pillow from his lap onto the floor when his lips trail from her mouth to her jaw and latch onto her neck. She knows he’s going to leave a mark when his teeth nip and suck at the skin along her collarbone, but she only tilts her head back, lets him finally learn the dips and curves he’d studied from afar for over a decade. 

“You’re so soft,” he breathes against the column of her throat as he eases her onto her back, fisting the hem of her shirt in his hand and dragging it up along her side. He stops at the underside of breast, fingers trailing along the bare skin above her ribs and smiles against her neck when he feels goosebumps beneath his fingertips. 

“Feel good?” He murmurs, and he’s so goddamn smug she thinks about pushing him off of her, but he’s soothing his palm along the outside of her thigh and bending her knee so he can settle between her legs and Jesus he’s everywhere.

He kisses her harder when she drags him back to her, hands sweeping along his broad shoulders and the dip in his back and when her tongue skims his lower lip, he parts his and sucks it between his teeth. Her hips lift and she rocks against him, nearly moaning into his mouth because he’s solid and warm and fuck he’s hard against her leg and if they weren’t on his couch where his mother or son could walk in on them at any moment -

“El,” she rasps, mouth against his jaw and he’s rocking and rocking, whispering how good she feels and cupping her breast in his palm, thumb flicking over her nipple and shit if he doesn’t stop rocking- 

“Elliot.” She’s firm, slides her hands to his biceps and squeezes when he tightens his grip on her thigh. He grunts and lets his head fall to the crook of her neck and she steadies him there by wrapping her fingers around the back of his skull. She’s nearly panting, can feel his chest rise and fall against hers with each intake of breath as she skims her fingernails along his temple to his five o’clock shadow.

“If we were anywhere else.” It’s a strangled growl against her skin that makes her cheeks flush when his mouth finds that spot underneath her ear and she nods against him, rests her lips against the top of his head.

“We have time,” she promises and feels his body relax against hers, his lips dusting kisses along her jaw. She sighs and drags her hands to his shoulders, pushing up gently and he tilts his head back, cocks a brow. 

“Have to use the bathroom,” she says and he chuckles, presses one final kiss to her throat before pushing himself up onto his knees. She rolls out from underneath him and straightens her shirt as she stands, legs a bit wobbly as she moves towards the bathroom. Her head falls back against the door when she shuts it behind her and she presses her face into her hands.

Jesus, she’d kissed Elliot. She’d kissed him and he’d nearly made her come in her pants on his couch without even touching her. She rubs her hand against her chest and pushes herself from the door to stand in front of the sink and good God. Her hair is a tangled mess from his hands and her shirt, well his shirt, is wrinkled and there’s a smudge of mascara just beneath her right eye.

“What a mess, Benson,” she says to her reflection and smooths a hand through her hair. She splashes some cold water onto her face, wiping away any residual makeup and dries it with a towel she finds underneath the cabinet. 

It’s just Elliot, she tells herself when she braces her hands on the sink and drops her chin to her chest and she wants to laugh because that’s the irony of it all. It’s Elliot. Her protector, her comfort, her shield. The one she’d resigned herself to believe that he would forever be out of reach. The one who broke her and the one she grieved like he was hers. 

It’s Elliot, she thinks when she looks up at herself in the mirror and runs her fingers along her neck. 

It’s her Elliot. And with his marks on her neck and his imprints in her skin, she feels like she is his, too.

She opens the door and tip-toes across the hardwood floor, not wanting to disturb the sleeping baby in the room. She glances into the bassinet and finds Quinn is still sleeping soundly, fists curled into a ball over her head and when she turns around, she notices Elliot sprawled out on the couch, pillow beneath his head with his arms at his side, eyes closed and mouth slightly agape. She pauses for a moment and bites her lip, wonders if she should take the chair in the corner of the room. But instead she lets out a deep sigh and crawls gently between his body and the back of the couch. She rests her head against his chest and settles against him, wrapping her arm around his stomach and soothing slow strokes along his ribs. 

“Pretty sure you’ve been wanting to kiss me, too.” His voice is muffled against the top of her head and she smiles to herself when his hand curls around her hip. 

“What can I say?” She closes her eyes, digs a little deeper into him. “A shirtless man holding a baby is really sexy.” Her voice is slow and lazy and he rumbles beneath her as his lips curve into her hair and he pulls her closer.

“Good to know, Benson.” He drops a kiss to her crown and it’s the last thing she remembers before drifting off. 

Eli’s cell phone vibrates against his nightstand, and he cracks an eye open and taps the screen. It’s almost midnight which means he’s been asleep for nearly five hours and he stretches his arms above his head before opening the text message from Kathleen in the sibling group chat. 

Everything ok with Quinn?  

He flops onto his back for a moment. It’s quiet, surprisingly. No footsteps to be heard and no muffled voices or shrieking cries from an upset baby. He swings his legs off the side of the bed and arches his back as he stands and moves across his room. The apartment is mostly dark when he steps into the kitchen, the only light is spilling from a lamp in the living room and he glances around for any sign of his dad or the baby. He walks softly towards Quinn’s bassinet and smiles when he sees her sleeping peacefully, a sight that had been rare during the last thirty-six hours. He snaps a photo with his phone and sends it in the group chat with the message: Sleeping like a baby.

Kathleen and Liz react with a heart almost immediately and when he turns around he’s nearly frozen because Quinn isn’t the only sleeping occupant in this room. His dad is spread out on the couch, one arm dangling off the side and the other wrapped around a sleeping Olivia, hand protectively splayed across her back. His face is buried into the top of her head, a lock of her hair slipped between his parted lips and her leg is hooked around his hip, tucked snuggly in between his.  

Eli tip-toes towards the pair and studies them for a moment. His father’s face is relaxed and he swears there’s a ghost of a smile on Olivia’s lips. Her hand is curled, clutching at the material of his dad’s shirt where it rests at his side, almost as if she’s afraid he’ll be swept away if she’s not holding onto him. Or at least, if she’s holding him like this, she’ll go where he goes. 

It’s rare for him to see his father like this. Usually it’s knitted brows and a tense smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes. But around Olivia it’s relaxed shoulders and a certain calm that Eli can never quite recall seeing before. Only once, he thinks. In that black and white photo from all those years ago, tucked safely away in his dad’s wallet. 

He shakes his head and looks at his phone, weighs his options before snapping a quick photo and scurrying quietly to the kitchen. He quickly types: Everyone sleeping like babies, attaches the picture and sends it off to his siblings. 

HOLY SHIT, Kathleen is first to respond and Dickie emphasizes the message a second later.

Does this count as sleeping with your partner? Dickie’s reply comes and Liz laughs at his message.

Wait isn’t that dad’s shirt? Liz writes and Eli opens the photo again and zooms in. Half of the Marine Corps emblem is visible along her chest and Eli emphasizes the message.

Don’t wanna know. Dickie responds and he reacts with the exclamations again. 

Eli sets his phone down on the counter a little too loud apparently, because a second later Quinn is stirring and a muffled whimper turns into two and three and then she lets out a shrill cry. Eli moves towards the bassinet but as he gets close to the back of the couch, Olivia’s arm shoots up in the air and he stops in his tracks before ducking behind the wall. 

He hears her sigh and when he peers back around the corner, she’s propped up on her elbow, arm still stretched above her head and arching her back. His dad’s hand soothes its way up her spine and wraps itself around her neck and Eli grimaces when he pulls her back towards him, her head disappearing behind the back of the couch. Quinn cries out again and Elliot grunts and Eli thanks God for his niece’s timing. He hears Olivia chuckle softly before whispering a muffled I got her, and Eli shakes his head because why were those words muffled. Olivia uses his chest for leverage and pushes herself into a sitting position to stand and pads over towards the bassinet. 

“Hey baby,” she cooes and lifts a crying Quinn into her arms. “You’re probably hungry, huh? Let’s get your bottle.” Eli curls around the wall a little further as Olivia makes her way into the kitchen, pulling the milk from the refrigerator and heating the bottle. 

“I’m gonna feed her on the patio, ok?” She calls softly, and Elliot waves his hand in the air in acknowledgement. When the door closes behind her, Elliot lets out a deep sigh and sits up, swinging his legs to the floor and scrubbing his hands down his face. He stands a moment later, presses his hands to his lower back and stretches and Eli takes the opportunity to scamper across the hall, opening and closing his bedroom door with a thud. He shuffles into the kitchen, rubbing his eye with the heel of his hand in a feigned haze and Elliot turns around with a soft smile. 

“Hey,” he greets, moving towards him and leaning his forearms against the back of one of the barstools. “Get any sleep?”

Eli nods and pulls a bottle of water from the refrigerator, tossing it to his dad before taking one for himself. “About five hours. Passed out right after dinner.” 

“Good,” Elliot says, twisting the cap off his water and taking a large gulp before setting it down on the counter. He sighs, those knitted brows are back as he watches Eli lean back across from him, arms folded. 

“Eli,” he starts and the teen lifts his eyes to meet his dad’s across the room, pensive and serious. “Olivia told me about the comment grandma made about the day you were born.” Eli squeezes the bottle a little tighter in his hands and twists his lips to the side. “I’m sorry I never told you the full story.” 

“It’s ok.” His response is quick and Elliot raises a brow, seeks assurance. “Really, I get it. It’s probably hard to talk about.” There’s a lull and Eli glances out towards the patio, sees Olivia perched in one of the metal chairs, Quinn nestled against her chest and bottle to her lips.

“I’m glad Olivia was there,” Eli says, gaze still fixated on the pair outside. “I’m glad Olivia’s here. ” He feels his dad’s eyes trained on the side of his face, the refrigerator is humming beside him, but he presses. “She cared about mom. She cares about us. About you. And I know you care about her too.” He watches as Olivia stands and holds the baby against her shoulder, hand on the back of her neck and lips pressed against her forehead. 

“I like her. She’s cool.” Eli shrugs and finally meets his dad’s gaze across the room. Elliot’s eyes are still pensive, glossy now, full of unspoken words and wonder at an unexpected approval. “Plus she’s not afraid to put you in your place. Could use someone like that around here.” He’s smirking and tilts his head back towards the patio as Olivia moves towards the door, and when Elliot looks up again, Eli’s gone, his bedroom door closing behind him. 

“Hey.” Her voice is soft when she comes up behind him after putting Quinn into her bouncer. “Everything ok?” She asks, noticing his hazy expression and knitted brows and he puffs out a small laugh, cranes his neck to look at her. 

“I think my teenage son just gave me permission to ask you out.” Her expression, she imagines, matches his now. Mouth slightly agape and wide, questioning eyes. 

“Oh.” She chuckles, mostly in disbelief, and bites her bottom lip between her teeth. “Wasn’t expecting that.” She’s honest and he shakes his head, rests his forearms on the counter in front of him. 

“I wasn’t either.” She leans forward and mirrors him, shoulders brushing when she scratches her brow. They’re silent for a moment, the refrigerator is still humming and Quinn’s whimpers are softening with each passing second. 

“Dinner tomorrow?” His tone is light, but she knows he’s serious, can tell by the way his hands are fidgeting and her lips curve slightly. 

“Only if you make me pancakes in the morning.” She feels him let out a deep breath and he drops his chin to his chest before looking over at her. 

“I’ll even throw in some chocolate chips.” 

She smiles, presses her lips against his shoulder. 

“And I get to keep this shirt.” He leans forward, smiles into her hair.

“Whatever you want, Captain.”