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September 20, 1999 

“Sex crimes.” 

“Olivia Benson.” 

“Elliot Stabler.”

It hadn’t been raining that particular day, so it’d taken the production team a good five hours to create the illusion that New York City was in the middle of an absolute deluge. The rain served no real purpose to the scene. Added solely for dramatic purposes as the pair of detectives sidled up to a wrecked taxi cab, bent over to observe a male victim in the driver’s seat. 

“Can you believe it took them like half a day to set that up for what - a forty second scene?” Chris laughs, eyes trained on the television, arm slung along the back of the couch and tips the bottle of beer to his lips. She huffs beside him, hand scrubbing through her short dark hair. 

“It’s for aesthetics. Think about it, would that scene feel the same without the rain and the lightning? I don’t think it would have the same effect if Benson and Stabler rolled up on this guy in broad daylight,” Mariska says, back against the armrest with her leg slung comfortably over his thigh. 

“Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Is there a specific reason why you called us out?”

“You’re always right, you know that?” His voice is light, playful when he smacks his hand against the top of her thigh. She rolls her eyes to the ceiling, beer bottle to her lips. 

“Better you learn that now.” He smiles, lets his hand linger.

“Works for me.”

His fingers tap a delicate rhythm to the theme music against her knee until she leans forward, brow furrowed and slaps his arm.

“Hey, why do you get first billing?” She asks and he shrugs, lips twisted into what she’s described to others before as a boyish grin.

“Guess I’m the better looking one.” He ducks away from her swatting palm and wraps his hand tighter around her thigh to pull her closer. 

“You’re an ass,” she teases and he grabs her wrist in mid-air, holds her gaze. 

“I’m teasin, Rish. You’re the prettiest princess.” He presses a kiss to her knuckles and she huffs and flicks his nose. 

“Stop with the sweet talk,” she chides, albeit in jest and a commercial plays after the beginning credits so she stands and plucks the empty beer bottle from his grasp. 

“Another?” She asks as she pads towards the kitchen, and he cranes his neck to watch her pull two more bottles from the fridge, smiling when she returns and hands him a cold Heiniken. She settles back down beside him, resuming the same position she had been in before and his hand falls back to its familiar spot on her thigh.

“Hey,” he calls, eyes trained to her profile and she turns her head towards him, the tips of her hair skimming her bare shoulder. “You’re beautiful,” he assures her and she fights back an instinctive smile and tucks her foot around his calf.

“Soft,” she teases, poking his bicep with the rim of her bottle and resting her head against the back of the couch. 

“Just for you.” His thumb is stroking small circles against the inside of her thigh and she puffs out a small, breathy laugh and picks at the label on her beer bottle.

“Doesn’t this seem sort of surreal?” She asks a moment later when they both reappear on the television screen, Benson perched atop her desk sipping from a coffee mug with Stabler behind her, case file in hand. “Like this could be something really big.” 

Chris smiles and tilts his head, lets his bottle rest on her knee as he studies her. 

“Don’t get ahead of yourself there, partner,” he cautions. “We’re five minutes in. Gotta see if the public likes us first.” 

Mariska huffs, curls her beer to her chest. 

“Debbie Downer.” He smirks.

“Realist.” 

“Are you obsessed with sex, Detective?”

“They’ll love us if we do our jobs right,” she counters and he raises a brow, puffs out his bottom lip. 

“Won’t argue with that.” 

“I requested the assignment because sexually-based crimes are a major law enforcement problem.” 

“Good cause if you’re not up for it, I’ll just call John Slattery.” He laughs at that, head tipped back against the couch cushion. 

“Yeah you seemed to be really excited to act with him. Maybe they got the wrong pairing.” She narrows her eyes and pulls her leg a little tighter against his. 

“Don’t even say that,” she murmurs. He squeezes her shin. 

“Hey, how’d it go?”

Her on-screen partner flashes that boyish grin, dimples prominent as he shucks off his jacket. 

“You’re a smug bastard with that smile, Meloni.” 

“He waved his flag at them before they had a chance.” 

“Nobody saluted.” The pair on the couch chimes in unison, clinking their bottles together in mocked cheers before sipping. 

Mariska swings her other leg across his lap and relaxes a little deeper against the armrest. 

“You think Dann really likes those Red Vines? They taste like plastic,” she says as his hand skims along her shin. 

“At least let the man have Twizzlers. Probably outta the budget. You’re expensive.”

“Me?” She knits her brows.

“I’m not the one with monogrammed towels,” he deadpans and she rolls her eyes and folds her arms across her chest. 

“Police work.”

“You have to stop staring at my lips,” he says and she snaps her head up but his eyes are still trained on the screen.

“Excuse me?” 

“On camera. You keep looking down at my mouth…See, you just did it again.” Chris gestures with his bottle towards the television and she huffs and shakes her head. 

“I did not.”

“Just tryin to help you, kid.” He shrugs and she gently nudges her knee into his gut, tells him not to be condescending.

“Why do you think they picked us?” She asks a moment later and he finally lets his gaze drift to her. “What did they see?” 

He sighs, eyes crinkling and lips twisting to a half smile as he shifts his body slightly towards her.

“I think they saw two people with genuine chemistry. A spark. Think they knew we could be somethin really special together.” She’s silent but reaches over and gives his forearm a gentle squeeze.

“Now it’s our job not to screw it up,” she mumbles and he laughs, pulls her legs tighter against him.

“I have faith,” he says, eyes twinkling and she smiles and lets her fingers trace over the faded faux Marine Corps tattoo on the inside of his arm. 

“Oh, I’d hurt you.”

“Kinky,” she teases, beer to her lips. “Although I don’t see Elliot Stabler as the whips and chains and hidden sex dungeon type.” 

“It’s always the ones you don’t suspect,” he counters, but Mariska shakes her head, still focused on the screen.

“He’s a missionary, sex once a month type guy if he’s lucky.” He clicks his tongue to the roof of his mouth and leans forward, holding her in place to set his empty bottle on the coffee table. 

“He does have four kids,” he argues, shoulders shrugging but she huffs beside him.

“That only means he hates condoms and can’t pull out, and is really unlucky.” She tips the last sip of beer to her lips and he nearly chokes and cranes his neck to look over at her, but she doesn’t relent, eyes forward watching their on-screen selves skip down the steps of a diner.

“You really don’t sugar coat anything, do you?”

“Why sugar coat the truth? I have to pee. Let me up.” She pats his arm and swings her legs to the floor, sets her bottle on the table beside his. 

When she’s gone he relaxes back against the couch and studies the two of them onscreen. Matching aviators and oversized suits, a natural ease and words exchanged through simple glances, it’s easy to see how they were cast in these roles. They look good together on camera, walking step in step with a distinct rhythm where one could mistake they’d been doing so for over twenty years, and he attributes it in part to the instant chemistry he’d felt with her the moment they met. 

“How’d it go?” His wife had asked when he’d arrived home after their first audition. “Think you got the part?” Chris had shrugged as he tossed his keys onto the counter. 

“Don’t know yet. But I can tell you I definitely met Olivia Benson. Kid was unreal.” 

“What did I miss?” Her voice interrupts his thoughts and he looks over just in time to see her plop back down onto the couch, bowl of popcorn in her lap.

“You won’t believe it, they aired the take where you pretended to kiss me on the street outside the victim’s apartment.” Her eyes grow wide for a split second until she sees the smirk on the corner of his lips and she kicks the side of his thigh with her heel. 

“Abuse,” he mutters and reaches for the popcorn. 

“Didn’t two of Spicer’s married johns take a bust?” 

“Yeah, about six months ago. Vice was targeting the piers.” 

“I’m sure their wives must’ve been thrilled.”

“Stop smiling at me like that.” Her words are muffled as she chews and he looks over, brows furrowed.

“Like what?” 

“Like you’re in love with me.” He all but scoffs and leans his head back against the couch, rolls his neck to look at her but she’s too engrossed with the television to notice. 

“I’m married,” he reminds her and she wonders briefly which persona is speaking, so she clears her throat, plays it safe.

“That’s right, Elliot’s a good Catholic boy. Gonna live with his boring missionary sex once a month for the rest of his life.” He smiles, squeezes her ankle.

“Olivia and Cassidy would be a cute couple,” she says after a moment and he reaches for the third beer she’d set on the coffee table for herself and moves it out of her reach. 

“What?” she laughs, and he shakes his head.

“You’re obviously impaired.” 

“Oh come on, don’t you think it would be a sexy little office romance?” She’s egging him on, he knows, so he shrugs and steals a sip from her bottle. 

“Why would Elliot care who Olivia’s sleeping with or not?” 

“Because he’s in love with her.” 

“Did we not just establish the whole Elliot being married thing?” 

Mariska rolls her eyes and holds the bowl towards him in exchange for her beer. 

“Come on, you know they’re gonna put Benson and Stabler together at the end of all this, right?” He grabs a handful of popcorn and shoves it into his mouth.

“What are they gonna do? Kill Kathy off?” She shrugs, eyes focused back on the screen. 

“Divorce. Tragic accident. Or my favorite, is Elliot Stabler really above cheating?” Chris shakes his head and stands, pads over to the refrigerator for his third. 

“We’re not even guaranteed a second season, Rish. Hell, they could kill us both off at the end of this season if we don’t get renewed.”

“We’ll get renewed.” 

“Plus, I’m not even sure I like the idea of them together,” he says, resuming his spot next to her and she pushes her hair behind her ear, sips at her beer. 

“My wife’s bisexual, but she prefers women.”

“Why’s that?” she asks and he shrugs, stretching his arm across the back of the couch.

“Didn’t Dick say Elliot and Olivia were supposed to be like brother and sister?” 

“Might’ve made a casting mistake then,” she murmurs and can see his lips curl just slightly out of the corner of her eye.

“Her name is Clarissa, and you should give her a call.”

“You’re such an ass,” she chuckles, noticing the way he looks at her on screen as his fingers find the back of her neck. “Who knows, maybe they’ll make Olivia bisexual or something.” 

“That’s hot,” he says without hesitation and she rolls her eyes, leans her head back against his palm.

“Such a guy.” He shrugs.

“Just sayin.” 

“I heard that’s not the only thing John never gets to uh… eat.” 

“Poor Belzer.” 

“Speaking of eating, want some real food?” she asks, noticing the popcorn bowl is already empty as he sucks the butter and salt off his thumb. 

“I could eat some pizza or something, yeah.” 

“Pepperoni?” He nods and she uses his thigh for leverage to push herself up from the couch and pads over to the phone. 

“Your partner may not like this.”

“Throw in an order of garlic knots too!” He hollers from the couch and twists his neck around to see her give him a thumbs up from across the room.

“About twenty minutes,” she tells him a second later as she steps over his legs, now propped up on the coffee table and he jerks his knees up, causing her to lose her balance and she nearly trips into his lap.

“Just don’t let her forget we don’t get to pick the vic.”

“I can’t stand you.” She tries to hold back a laugh as she flicks the side of his head and falls into his side, her thigh pressed against his. 

“Bad liar.” 

“Steven Panaceck wasn’t Steven Panacek.” They watch their on-screen selves walk towards the squad room window and Chris shifts, tucks his leg under his body.

“Somethin really sexy about a gun at your hip.” 

“Stefan Tanzic.”

“No one told me my hair looks freshly fucked.” He laughs and she ducks away from the hand that’s reaching for her head. 

“Get your buttery fingers away from me.” He rolls his eyes and reaches out for a napkin on the coffee table and wipes his hands, holds them out for her to see. 

“I think it’s cute. The messy little half ponytail thing.” She huffs, but leans back towards him, lets his arm fall behind her back.

“He was a rapist.”

“You do that a lot,” he tells her, tipping the neck of his bottle towards the screen. “Tuck your bottom lip into your mouth. Nervous habit?” She studies Olivia and sees what he means, but she shrugs, rests her head against his arm that’s slung along the back of the couch.

“I don’t know. I never noticed it before. Don’t do it intentionally.” He nods, brings his beer to his lips.

“Just wonderin.” 

“I hate to complicate your lives, but you’re looking for more than one killer.”

“They make those dead bodies look so real,” she says, mouth turned upward in mild disgust and he nods. 

“Sorta freaky, isn’t it?” She hums in agreement, lets her head fall against his shoulder and he smiles, turns his face into her hair. 

“Tired?” he murmurs, but she shakes her head, his t-shirt bunching along his bicep. “Old lady,” he teases and she pinches his side between her fingers. 

“Hard work bein around you for sixteen hours of the day.” 

“You love it.” 

“Let me ask you a question. What was it like sleeping with somebody who raped dozens of defenseless, terrified women?” 

Olivia’s eyes are deep and dark as she corners Tanzic’s wife and he grunts, “You’re terrifying.” 

“Sometimes.” 

“I never wanna be on the receiving end of that stare.” 

“Don’t piss me off then.” She feels a rumble beneath her and lifts her head up, the dimple in his cheek prominent as he laughs.

“Feel like I’ve already done that a few times.” 

“Well, that’s the dumbest move I’ve ever seen you make.”

“Yeah and then when I act mad you pout so much I can’t take it, it’s so pathetic.” He huffs, watches her sit up and reach for her beer.

“Just don’t like fightin with you,” he admits, quiet, and a small smile tugs at the corner of her lips and she presses her palm to his knee. 

“Soft,” she mumbles against the rim of her bottle. He nudges her shoulder with his. 

“I’m a good cop, Elliot.” 

“Yeah, I know.”

“Y’know, I think Olivia’s in love with Elliot .” His voice is light and Mariska tilts her head to the side, puffs out her bottom lip.

“Could be. If she is, I don’t think she knows it yet. But Elliot definitely knows he’s in love with Olivia. The Catholic guilt is just making him push it away.” 

“You just have it all figured out, huh?” 

“Didn’t you see that on the character description for Elliot before you auditioned? Tough, hard-nosed, ex-Marine and New York City sex detective with a boring marriage that happens to be in love with his beautiful, single partner.”

He leans forward, elbows on his knees to match her and twists his neck, studies her profile.

“Mmm, I must’ve stopped reading right after the boring marriage. I was sold.”

“I just want you to know he’s dead.” 

“Don’t you think if they get Elliot and Olivia together at some point they’ll eventually have to break them up?” He asks and juts his chin towards the screen. “They can’t be involved and partners.”

“They can keep it a secret for a while. Plus, it’s television, Chris. They can bend the rules however they want.” 

They watch as Olivia retches into the bushes and Elliot opens the car door for her, lectures her how there’s no crying in baseball. 

“Isn’t the chase more fun though?” He asks a moment later. “Don’t you think it’s more interesting for the audience if it’s a will they/won’t they dynamic? They might get bored if they just put them together.” 

She rolls her eyes and cranes her neck to the side, hair falling in front of her face.

“Didn’t know you had such strong feelings about this,” she teases, lets him reach up and brush the fallen strand behind her ear. “I’m not saying put them together right this second, I just think at some point it’d be silly not to get them together.” Silly to ignore the natural chemistry .

“Stefan Tanzic’s the father of that boy.”

“I mean look how you’re looking at me,” she says and gestures towards the screen. “The more we do shit like that on camera, the more the audience is going to want us to end up together, wife or no wife.” 

He looks up, notices the way Elliot’s smiling at her as she brushes a hand through her hair, and decides arguing is futile. 

“I got a conference with one of my daughter’s teachers. You want me to drop you?”

“Um, I’m just going to walk this off.” 

“There was absolutely no reason to touch me like that,” he tells her as Olivia’s hand trails down the length of Elliot’s arm. “I know it wasn’t in the script.” 

“It was actually, it said ‘Benson caresses Stabler,’ you just didn’t read it close enough.” He chuckles, his palm soothing soft circles along her lower back, just above the bare skin of her bunched up tank top. 

“That’s right,” he appeases. “Now I remember.” 

They watch as Olivia confronts a suspect, learns how the vic, the father of her child, had tortured and raped for days and maybe that’s why she hadn’t been affected with the news of his death. 

“Good acting there, kid.” He nudges her leg with his knee and she huffs her thanks with the beer to her lips. 

“Ugh,” Mariska grumbles and he lifts his eyes, notices his on-screen wife next to him and puffs out a small chuckle. “Nothing against Isabel, just…Kathy’s boring.” 

He laughs as she flops back against the couch, bottle curled to her chest. 

“I am upset! Fine. Let’s talk about it in the morning, ok?”

“Don’t yell at me, asshole,” she mumbles and he smirks, mirrors her position, shoulders brushing.

“Don’t go talking to suspects behind my back,” he counters and she grunts and steals another sip of her beer.

“I like this scene,” Mariska whispers when Serena appears on screen, two glasses of wine between them. “Think it gives the viewer a good understanding of why Olivia’s so passionate about what she does.” 

“I hate him for what he did to you.”

“So do I. And if he hadn’t, you would not be here.” 

Chris looks over at her and rests his hand against her thigh when she sucks her bottom lip between her teeth. 

“You ok?” She nods, wraps her fingers around his and squeezes gently. Her own mother, he knows, is a touchy subject in itself. He’s only known her a short while, but she’d opened up about her mother’s death fairly early in their relationship. Trusting him with the ins and outs of how it affected her, how it shaped her growing up, how it’s made her want to make her mother proud in the worst way, both in her career and in her personal life when she eventually, hopefully has a family of her own. 

“Where do you see yourself in twenty years?” she asks after a beat, eyes trained on the screen, palm still resting against the top of his hand. 

“Twenty years?” He nearly laughs as he shakes his head. “I don’t know where I see myself next year let alone twenty, Mariska.” He’s honest at least, she thinks, as she purses her lips. 

“He murdered my husband and my four-year-old grandson with a hatchet.” 

“What about you?” He asks and she lifts her shoulder and gestures towards the television. 

“Hopefully this.” She’s matter-of-fact and he raises a brow, lips curled in almost boyish amusement.

“This?” he breathes and she nods and looks up at him with those big brown eyes, still worrying away at her bottom lip. “This as in SVU?” 

“Yeah,” she confirms with a breathy laugh and he shakes his head just slightly. “Why not?”

“You know how rare it is for a network television show to run ten years, let alone twenty?” 

“Doesn’t mean it can’t be done.” 

“That fingernail could have been in the cab for a month.”

“This is where you kept groping me on the side of the street.” He changes the topic for a second and her eyes flicker towards the television.

“You act like you weren’t the one who kept bear hugging me every other take.” 

He shrugs, “Told you, don’t like fighting with you. Even if it is on camera.” She’s silent for a moment, studies the two of them as they walk in tandem down the street and lets her head fall back against the couch with a dull thud. 

“So you really can’t see yourself doing this long term?” She asks and twists her neck just in time to see the furrow of his brow relax.

He sighs and leans forward, sets his bottle on the coffee table and mutters, “I didn’t say that.” 

“You did, sorta. In so many words.” 

“Marta Stevens, you’re under arrest for the murder of Stefan Tanzic.”

“Think the world will still care about Benson and Stabler in twenty years? Think anyone will ever remember who we are?” He asks, his tone lower than it was just seconds ago and she’s silent, weighs her response and knocks his knee with hers. Once. Twice.

“I think, if we play our cards right, Benson and Stabler could be one of the greatest pairings in TV history,” she tells him as her eyes scan his profile, watches as his lips twitch to a small grin as he considers her words.

“Lucy and Ricky. Sam and Diane. Elliot and Olivia,” he rattles. “Got some pretty heavy company there.” 

She lifts a shoulder, offers him a small smile.

“I’m up for it. If you aren’t, I’m sure Slattery would be.” He laughs, squeezes her knee in his palm.

“Please, don’t help me.”

“We can’t have that.” 

The intercom buzzes, breaking their trance and she lifts herself from the couch muttering, “Must be the pizza,” as she shuffles towards the door. He stands and walks to the kitchen, pulling two dishes from the cabinet as she rounds the counter a moment later, pizza box in hand. She plates a slice on each and grabs napkins and two bottles of water from the fridge before they retreat back to the living room. 

“In my office now.”

“I have a feeling we’ll be spending a lot of time in that office,” he mumbles, mouth full of pizza and she hums her agreement, brushing her hands together to wipe away the crumbs from her fingers.

“Chris, promise me something,” she says as she leans forward, setting her plate on the coffee table, and the tone of her voice urges him to do the same. “Promise me that no matter what happens, we’ll end this thing together. I don’t wanna do this without you.” 

He purses his lips, reaches out and holds his hand palm up, an invitation for her to intertwine her fingers with his if she chooses. She does. 

“I’m your partner, for better or worse. No matter what happens, no matter how this story ends, no matter how many years it takes, we’ll end this thing together. I promise you.” 

He brings their joined hands to his lips, places a soft kiss against the top of her hand.

“You gotta stop looking at me like that,” she half breathes, half laughs. Her eyes are glassy and he can see themselves on screen out of the corner of his eye, expressions nearly identical. 

“She said something to you, didn’t she?”

“I just want to be with my family.”

“You staying?” Her voice is quiet, almost shy as she turns her attention back to the television.

“Special Victims Unit.”

He smiles, rests his lips against her temple and breathes, “Twenty years if I have to.”